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The hon. Member claimed that the measures would involve more bureaucracy. That is rich, coming from a party that wants a local income tax. The Liberal party wants every local town hall to decide the details of income tax--to have a locally operated income tax supplement. The hon. Member cannot complain about bureaucracy if he proposes a system which would be far more complicated and expensive. Under his system, the whole of income tax would have to be rebased. At the moment, in most cases it is based on where people work. It would have to be rebased on where people live in order to be effective. The hon. Gentleman cannot complain about bureaucracy, given his proposal.
However, the hon. Member lapsed into some rather odd words. He said that he would not want to grass on people. He did not want to be a sneak. He is asked to provide names and addresses so that those people may
Column 915bear their fair share of the costs of local authority services. If they do not do that, others will have to bear more than their fair share.
I accept the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett). We understand that the Liberals are happy to give information when it means that people get their rights, but they are unhappy to give information when it is a question of people's duties. I had always thought that the Liberal party, in its fine old tradition which many people in the past might have liked, believed that duties and rights went together. The late-lamented Gladstone would have had some pretty tough words for the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey about duties going with rights.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) raised a number of points, most of which were spoiled by his rather churlish attitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke. My hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke showed that the hon. Member for Hammersmith had gone as near to misleading the House as it would be parliamentarily proper for me to refer to. The hon. Member for Hammersmith said that my hon. Friend had refused to accompany him on an appointment when my hon. Friend had actually explained that he could not do so because of his duties in the House and he offered another date to accompany him. The comments of the hon. Member for Hammersmith were a scandal. For that reason, I do not see that any of his other points are worth answering.
Mr. Nellist : If the benefits of the poll tax are so self-evident, as the Minister has spent the past five or six minutes claiming, why are we debating 94 pages of regulations and orders in 90 minutes in the dead of night? Why were 21 million leaflets issued before the measures were debated, even though they came into effect before the House had debated them? Why did the Minister two weeks ago send a 620-word article to my local paper the Coventry Evening Telegraph and to the local paper of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)? Indeed, as I discovered today, why did his boss the Secretary of State for the Environment send similar letters to 500 newspapers? If the benefits of the poll tax are so self-evident, why have so much public money and so much Government time been spent on this? Does this not reflect the Minister's panic about the fact that the overwhelming majority of people hate this Tory tax?
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman suggests that it is wrong to write a perfectly fair article explaining the community charge in his local newspaper. I understand that that local newspaper offered opportunities for others to write in as well. However, in its editorial, that paper stated that the opposition to the community charge was a load of old rubbish.
The hon. Gentleman is embarrassed because the Coventry Evening Telegraph wrote a good article in its leader column saying how out of date were the views put forward by the Labour party. I am sorry that it did that.
Column 916I should have liked an article from the Labour party explaining the two taxes that it would like to put in place of the poll tax. I come back to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey on this, because I do not want him to miss out. He asked whether it was true that rich people generally lived in bigger houses than poor people. The answer to that is that four out of 10 people living in above average rated accommodation have below average incomes. That is a fact of life. There is little connection between the ability to pay and the value of the house in which a person lives.
When the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) has explained in the Coventry Evening Telegraph why Coventry city council still will not carry out the ombudsman's directions on the poor people whom it cheated out of money, he could go on to explain to the tenant of a council house who had decided not to buy his house, that he would, under the Socialist tax, be taxed on the freehold value of the council house even though he did not own it and even though his income was not sufficient to buy it. I hope that he will be able to explain that on the doorstep. Very few Labour canvassers have been able to do so, and that is why there is such an argument in the party about it.
Mr. Nellist rose --
Mr. Nellist : Will the Minister accept that, 10 days later, the Coventry Evening Telegraph gave me the opportunity to put our opposition to the poll tax in the same number of words as he put the case for it? I am grateful to my local newspaper for that. Over half the families in Coventry depend on state benefit, and the poll tax will force thousands into penury. Artificial arguments about what will happen in two years' time after an election are hypothetical and cut no ice with people in Coventry who view the tax with horror.
Mr. Gummer : If the hon. Gentleman is saying that, he is saying something that is untrue, so I am sure that he is not saying that. Anybody on social security in the way that he has suggested will get an 80 per cent. rebate and will have their social security uprated to cover the other 20 per cent. The only case in which that would not be true would be if Coventry city council was overspending to such a degree that it should be ashamed of itself. If that is the case, the hon. Gentleman may like to explain to the tenants that he represents that the council is overspending and living off the backs of those who can least afford it. But I am sure that he will not want to explain that.
Mr. Soley rose --
The Minister's weasel-like performance will not enable him to avoid answering one point about the regulations. He has not yet answered one point that has been made about the regulations--but he will answer one at least, and that relates to the alleged generosity of rebates. Will the Minister confirm that in the vast majority of districts in England and Wales, as in Scotland, any 25-year-old single person with a net income in the region of £60, will qualify not for an 80 per cent. or an 8 per cent. rebate, but for none at all?
Will the Minister also confirm that a person earning up to £65 a week and not qualifying for any rebate could have arrested from his wages only £2 a week, which the courts deem to be an appropriate amount? In other words, if a person in receipt of such earnings does not pay, and the Government are creating an incentive not to pay-- [Interruption.]
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Gummer : It is clear that the hon. Gentleman gets his figures from the pamphlet "Ability to Pay" published by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Local Government Information Unit, which unfortunately have their facts and sums wrong. The hon. Gentleman and I can discuss this matter in detail.
The help that is given to those who are not able to pay the community charge is more generous than that which is offered to them under the rating system as it stands. It is a means of making sure that one in four of the population will have the opportunity of a rebate, and 5 million people will get the rebate. Therefore, with the uprating, unless they have a local authority which is maliciously overspending or is unable to bring its spending under reasonable control, they will have sufficient to cover the 20 per cent. Mr. Simon Hughes rose --
There are difficulties in taking any fairer system. It is much easier to have an unfair system such as the rates because it is levied on people's property, even though property has no connection with people's ability to pay and the property does not use the services. We tax property because 19th-century local government services were largely property services. We now have a personal charge, because we are dealing with services which are overwhelmingly personal services ; 80 per cent. of them are concerned, for example, with education and personal social services.
The reality of the argument about the regulations that we are discussing is that the Opposition parties--both parties or both sets of Opposition parties or whatever collection one might refer to nowadays--do not want to have the rates, they both have an alternative of their own and their alternatives are more expensive to collect, less reasonable and accountable and put larger numbers of people in unacceptable positions to pay ; and neither of them has suggested any sensible system of rebating to deal
Column 918with the considerable attacks on poverty that have taken place. I feel strongly about this issue, because, as I have gone round the country, I have discovered why.
Mr. Soley : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are debating statutory instruments, and you will be aware of the complaints about the lack of time being given by the Government to hon. Members to debate them. Is it not out of order for the Minister to stray so widely that he is discussing the proposals of other political parties, rather than the instruments? [Interruption.] We will certainly debate the alternatives, but we want to debate the regulations now.
Mr. Gummer : I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman's attack is based on the principle that he does not like the facts when he hears them. The difficulty for the Opposition is that the more one looks at the alternatives--
Mr. Soley : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must insist that this is a debate about the instruments. If the Minister wants to debate the alternatives, we will do that. I ask you to rule that it is not in order to widen the debate into what other political parties are proposing when we are debating these issues.
Mr. Soley : I am aware that time is short, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am not disputing your ruling. However, I have not yet heard you rule on whether it is order, in a debate on statutory instruments, when prayers have been tabled, to widen the debate to include the philosophies of other political parties. I ask you to ask the Minister to stay in order.
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Member of Hammersmith devoted much of his speech to complaining about the complexity and nature of the orders. I suggest that, if it were ever the misfortune of this country to suffer a Labour Government in which the hon. Gentleman formulated orders, they would be so complex that there would be a longing to return to so simple a series of regulation as those before the House now.
The hon. Gentleman attacks the regulations without saying what he would put in their place. That is a very comfortable position for the hon. Gentleman to adopt. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), who attempts to interrupt from a sedentary position, wrote a newspaper article that was attacked in the editorial as being out of the dark ages. The hon. Gentleman was attacked by his own local newspaper for being totally unable to answer the case that I put in it.
Column 919Perhaps that is why the hon. Gentleman has not favoured the House with a contribution on the community charge this evening. The regulations are the proper way to move forward to the new system, which is fairer than the old because everybody pays their bit. It is fairer than the old because those people who need help to pay the community charge will get it. It is fairer also because, at long last, it gives accountability to local people and not to the management committee of the local Labour party.
It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- proceeded, pursuant to the Order [19 May], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
Question put :--
The House proceeded to a Division--
Mr. Pike (seated and covered) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a Back Bencher, and having noticed that you and Mr. Speaker and Madam Deputy Speaker have occupied the Chair during what has been a difficult debate, I seek your guidance as to whether there is any procedure whereby the Chair can prevent such a sham of a debate and a sham of democracy that right hon. and hon. Members have endured tonight. Many Back Benchers wanted to speak on major issues, but they have been given no opportunity to make points for the Minister to answer.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman makes a debating point that is not a matter for the Chair. The debate was conducted in order. The House decided last Friday that the debate on the group of prayers should last for one and a half hours.
The House having divided : Ayes 144, Noes 295.
Division No. 211] [11.32 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane
Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich)
Beith, A. J.
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)
Buckley, George J.
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)