Previous Section Home Page

New Clause 47

Scottish non-domestic rate

(1) For section 3A of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 there shall be substituted the following section--

"Unified non-domestic rate 3B.--(1) The Secretary of State shall, in respect of each of the financial years specified in subsection (2) below, prescribe a rate which shall be the non-domestic rate to be levied throughout Scotland in respect of that financial year. (2) The financial years referred to in subsection (1) above are those beginning with the first financial year after the coming into force of section [Scottish non-domestic rate] of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989.

(3) Subject to subsection (4) below, the non-domestic rate shall be levied in accordance with section 7 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975 by each rating authority in respect of lands and heritages in their area being lands and heritages--

Column 1011

(a) which are subjects (other than part residential subjects) in respect of which there is an entry in the valuation roll, accordingly to their rateable value ; or

(b) which are part residential subjects, according to that part of their rateable value which is shown in the apportionment note as relating to the non residential use of those subjects.

(4) In the application of section 7 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975 to the levying of the non-domestic rate prescribed under this section, for the words "to which the rate relates" in each of subsections (1) and (2) of that section there shall be substituted the words "of the rating authority".'. (2) Accordingly--

(a) references (however expressed) in any enactment to the non-domestic rate determined by or prescribed in relation to a local authority under section 3 of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 shall be construed as references to the non-domestic rate prescribed under section 3B of that Act ; (b) in section 109 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 rating authorities)--

(i) for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) there shall be substituted the following paragraph--

"(a) in the case of the non-domestic rate prescribed under section 3B of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987, the regional council and the islands council ; and

(ii) in subsection (2) for the words from "non-domestic district rate" onward there shall be substituted the words "information as may reasonably be required for the preparation of demand notes for the purposes of levying the non-domestic rate".

(3) For section 110 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (payments by regional councils to district councils in respect of district rates) there shall be substituted the following section-- "Division between regional and district councils 110. The Secretary of State may by regulations provide as to the division among the regional council and the councils of the districts within the area of the regional council of the amount collected by way of the non-domestic rate in that area in respect of a financial year.". (4) Section 111(1)(a), (b) and (d) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 (power to make regulations as to certain matters connected with non-domestic rates) shall cease to have effect.'.-- [Mr. Lang.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill

New clause 51

Rate support grant, 1985-86

"The Rate Support Grant Supplementary Report (England) (No. 4) 1985/86 (which was approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on 19th January 1989) shall have effect, and be deemed always to have had effect, as if, in Annex VI (principles for calculating grant-related poundages), for the formula set out in paragraph 4 (grant-related poundages for total expenditure at or above the threshold level) there were substituted--

"GRP = GRP at GRE 0.69p threshold amount

+0.8625p x ".'

-- [Mrs. Virginia Bottomley.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Column 1012

New clause 1

Standard Community Charge Multipliers

(1) In section 10 of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987, the following subsections shall be substituted for subsections (6) and (7)--

"(6) The standard community charge due to a local authority in respect of any financial year shall be the product of--

(a) the personal community charge ; and

(b) the standard community charge multiplier,

determined in respect of that year by the local authority, provided that if the authority sees fit, different multipliers may be determined for properties of different specified classes.

(6A) A specified class is such class as may be specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

(6B) If the Secretary of State so requires by regulations, a multiplier for a specified class of property shall not exceed whichever of the following specifies in the regulations as regards the class, namely, 0, , 1, 1 and 2.

(6C) A class may be specified by reference to such factors as the Secretary of State sees fit.

(6D) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (6C) above, a class may be specified by reference to one or more of the following factors--

(a) the physical characteristics of properties

(b) the fact that properties are unoccupied or are occupied for prescribed purposes or by persons of prescribed descriptions ; (

(c) the circumstances of persons subject to standard community charges.

(6E) In determining the annual revenue support grant, the Secretary of State shall take into account the determination by each local authority of the multiplier for each specified class of property. (7) In subsection (6) above the standard community charge multiplier,' means whichever of the following, namely 0, , 1, 1 or 2, as the local authority which determines the personal community charge to which the multiplier is applied shall, before such date in each year as may be prescribed, determine.

2. (1) This section shall come into effect on the day following the passing of this Act.

(2) This section applies to Scotland only".'.-- [Mr. Wallace.] Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Wallace : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : With this it will be convenient to take the following :

New clause 6-- Power of Sheriff to hear evidence in summary appeals under the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987-- (1) After subsection (1) of section 29 of the 1987 Act, there shall be inserted the following subsection--

"(1A) In considering an appeal under this Act the sheriff may hear evidence by or on behalf of any party to the appeal

(1B) In this section the "1987 Act" means the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987,"

(2) This section shall come into force on the day following the day on which it is passed, and shall extend to Scotland only.'. New clause 44-- Women's refuges -- In section 11 of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987, the following subsection shall be added after subsection (2)--

"2A. This section does not apply to premises which are used wholly or mainly for the purpose of providing protected accommodation to women who are or have been threatened with or subjected to violence by their husbands or partners ; which premises shall be subject to non domestic rates.".'.

Column 1013

New clause 50

Charges for Sewage Services (Scotland)

(1) In Part II of Schedule 5 of the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act, 1987, the following paragraphs shall be inserted after paragraph 18 :--

"(18A) A local authority shall separately identify that amount of the community charge which is attributable to the provision of sewage services, which amount shall be the same proportion of the total community charge, as the amount referred to in paragraph 18 above is of the total estimated expenses mentioned in section 9(2) of the Act.

(18B) The liability for personal community charge of any person solely or mainly resident at premises whose drains or private sewers are not connected with public sewers or public sewerage treatment work shall be reduced by a sum equal to one half of the amount of community charge which is identifiable as being attributable to the provision of sewerage services in accordance with paragraph (18A) above.

(18C) Liability for payment of a standard or collective community charge in respect of premises whose drains or private sewers are not connected with public sewers or public sewerage treatment works shall be reduced by an amount equal to the product of--

(a) the personal community charge less a sum equal to one half of the amount of community charge which is identified as being attributable to the provision of sewerage services in accordance with paragraph (18A) above ; and


(i) in the case of premises subject to the standard community charge, the standard community charge multiplier or

(ii) in the case of premises subject to the collective community charge, the community charge multiplier.".'.

New clause 53

Rebate of Water Charges (Scotland)

. (1)--(1) The Secretary of State may by order make provision obliging a Scottish region or islands area (hereafter referred to as "a local authority") to grant rebates, of amounts determined as provided in the order in respect of the non-domestic water rate in respect of such financial year as is prescribed in the order, on lands and heritages which qualify under subsection (2) below for such rebate.

(2) The lands and heritages which qualify rebate are lands and heritages in respect of which the non-domestic water rate levied in the financial year are more than one and two thirds times the charge levied in respect of the supply of water to the lands and heritages in the previous financial year.

(3)(a) In subsections (1) and (2) above "the financial year" means the period of twelve months ending with 31st March 1990 or in any year thereafter.

(b) In subsection (2) above "the previous financial year" means the period of twelve months ending with 31st March 1989 or in any year thereafter.

(4) An order under this section may contain incidental and supplemental provisions.

(5) An order under this section can only be made by statutory instrument which shall not have effect until approved by resolution of the House of Commons.'.

Mr. Wallace : I noted that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, included new clause 53, which I believe is listed separately. However, with the consent of both sides, I will take it with the others.

I shall explain to hon. Members who are waiting for what I accept is an important debate on dog registration that this issue might take up some time, because there are a number of points all of which, I believe, even the Minister of State would accept are reasonably substantive.

Column 1014

I would say to those hon. Members from the Scottish National party and who have campaigned for non-payment of the poll tax that the right place to campaign for any changes to this monstrous and unjust system of local government finance is on the Floor of the House. That is why we bring forward these new clauses.

New clause 1 is intended to bring Scotland's poll tax rules for the standard community charge more in line with those that already exist in England and Wales. Clearly, many of us, especially those who represent rural areas, have received many representations about the level of the standard community charge in our constituencies. I, perhaps, am almost unique, because I expect that the Shetland island council is only one of the few councils which has not had a multiplier of two in applying the standard community charge. Where there has been an amount of dissatisfaction is in those cases where people over the years have had handed down to them family homes and crofts which they have maintained or which they often use for weekend holidays. They are small houses, probably of little monetary value, but, nevertheless, the fact that they have been handed down from generation to generation means that they mean a lot to the families concerned.

Up to now, usually because of the location in remote island communities or in remote areas on the mainland, their rateable value has been relatively low and the amount paid in rates for those properties was very low indeed. Those properties are now landed with a standard community charge two times, in most cases, the personal community charge in any given area. Therefore, people who previously were perhaps paying less than £100 now have to pay more than £500 for the pleasure and for the genuine value that they attach to those homes. That has caused considerable aggravation and annoyance. These are not wealthy people who buy second homes in the country. The people hit are people who usually have modest means, and are now faced with the prospect of having to give up homes which they had gone to or occupied for many years. No doubt, in turn, those properties will be bought up by people to use as second homes who will make no long-term contribution to the community.

There are other anomalies too. In Scotland we are a year ahead of England and Wales and it is only in recent months that we have had to cope with the injustices and anomalies which the poll tax throws up. In some cases, people have taken in elderly relatives to live with them. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to encourage the idea of ill or elderly people living with their families rather than being put into institutional care. Often elderly people are naturally reluctant to give up the homes they have long occupied, and in such cases they have been landed with a standard community charge at twice the given amount. A schizophrenic person in my constituency lives with his mother but refuses to give up his house on one of the remoter islands. No amount of rational explanation that it might be in his interests to do so will make him change his mind--and who is to quibble with a person who makes such a choice? He is landed now with a community charge much higher than the rates he had to pay before.

Column 1015

10.15 pm

What about a person sentenced to prison whose co-habitee or wife no longer stays in the old family home and who has no income at all? His uninhabited home is subject to the standard community charge and he has no income with which to pay it.

Another great injustice is that people do not qualify in the same way for rebates of the standard community charge--

Mr. Worthington : Would the hon. Gentleman add to that list the sheer complexity now emerging on caravan sites, on which some people now pay poll tax and others continue to pay rates? Will he also add the complexities involved in the European Community ruling, which has brought in VAT on rents for the first time, and the fact that people now find that they must also pay an additional VAT levy on the rates they pay? This is all part of the confusion that seems to be spreading from the Scottish Office and the Department of the Environment, in which one hand does not know what the other is doing.

Mr. Wallace : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point so eloquently. Within the past seven days I have come across a similar case to do with caravans in my constituency. The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight this confusion.

As I said, a number of anomalies have been thrown up, regarding both property and people. Scotland differs from England and Wales in that under the Scottish legislation the standard community charge must be between one and two times the personal community charge, whereas under section 40 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988, English and Welsh local authorities can apply a multiplier, or indeed a fraction, of zero, 0.5, 1, 1.5 or 2. Part of our new clause would put Scottish local authorities in a position similar to that of those in England and Wales. The other part would empower the Secretary of State to bring forward regulations which would specify the classes of property or persons for which local authorities could set different multipliers. That woud give local authorities the flexibility that is necessary if they are to administer an unjust tax with a lesser degree of injustice.

The Minister of State knows that my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) has corresponded copiously with him about this matter, yet he tries to maintain that Scotland is no different from England and Wales and that Scottish local authorities can still exercise considerable discretion about whether to apply a multiplier of one. Although that may be true of one or two cases, many Scottish local authorities have been obliged to set a multiplier of two in the knowledge that if they did not they would lose revenue, because they believe that the revenue support grant that they receive is dictated by the assumption that a multiplier of two will apply. If the Minister of State wishes to deny that that is the underlying assumption in the revenue support grant, I shall give way to him because that would be welcome news.

Mr. Lang : That is the underlying assumption, but it does not necessarily mean that all local authorities would have lost money if the assumption had been different. The assumption is used as a basis for the distribution of a fixed sum of money. Some local authorities on an assumption of a multiplier of one would have had more money and some would have had less.

Column 1016

Mr. Wallace : It is not even very late but arithmetically the Minister's intervention defeats me. He is saying that he takes into account that income is based on the assumption of a multiplier of two, but if there is a multiplier of one the income will be lower. He must explain this further when he replies to the debate. On any rational view there would be net losers. That element of discretion does not exist. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. There are a number of conversations going on in the Chamber, which shows great discourtesy to the hon. Gentleman who is moving the new clause. I would be obliged if those who want to hold conversations would do so on the other side of the swing doors.

Mr. Wallace : Our new clause says :

"In determining the annual revenue support grant, the Secretary of State shall take into account the determination by each local authority of the multiplier for each specified class of property." He will not make an assumption that everyone will go for the highest possible option.

New clause 6 seeks to clarify the powers of a sheriff to hear evidence in summary appeals under the poll tax legislation. I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the points that I intend to make, because we have corresponded about the new clause following a case in my constituency. I can make only brief reference to that case because I think that, technically, it is still subject to a possible appeal to the Court of Session. The sheriff found that he was unable to hear evidence on an appeal about the reasons why my constituent did not give information about the date of birth of his co-habitee. The sheriff took the view that legislation, in particular section 64(5) of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 and section 39(5) of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976, give specific power to the sheriff on summary appeal to hear evidence. The 1987 Act does not.

In that context there is also the opinion of the Lord President in the Court of Session in the case of Cigarro against the City of Glasgow licensing board. In that case the Lord President states : "The proper starting point for ascertaining the precise limits of a sheriff's powers in dealing with an appeal which is disposed of as in a summary application is a statute which provides for the particular appeal to the sheriff, the statute which enables him to entertain and determine it."

For example, appeals to the sheriff may be made on the reasons for not providing certain information in the registration form. They can also arise in terms of a dispute about the location of a person's sole or main residence. I think that there is legal doubt about the matter and the new clause seeks to put the matter beyond doubt. It would enable those who wish to give evidence to explain why a course of action has been pursued or why they believe themselves to be resident in a specific area, to be allowed to give evidence before the sheriff. It does not in any way strike at the heart of the Government's community charge legislation and I hope that the Minister will be able to give a positive response.

New clause 44 seeks to exempt women's refuges from the scope of the collective community charge. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) will deal with that matter at great length if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker. Under the legislation, if a

Column 1017

person leaves home the partner is liable for the poll tax. That means that under current legislation a person could be charged the poll tax twice.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : There is no poll tax.

Mr. Wallace : The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E.

Kellett-Bowman) says that there is no poll tax.

Dame E. Kellett-Bowman : The hon. Gentleman should describe correctly the legislation passed by the House.

Mr. Wallace : Sellafield or Windscale, poll tax or community charge- -it is all the same thing.

New clause 50 deals with charges for sewerage services in Scotland. Aggravation is felt by people who are not connected to the main sewerage but who are nevertheless assessed for full liability to the community charge, a position which is distinct from those who are not connected to a mains water system. In other words, if one is not connected to what is coming in, one does not have to pay the community charge water rate, but if one is not connected to what goes out, one is still fully liable for the charge. It is clear from my postbag that a number of people regard this as an injustice. I accept the public health argument that as a community as a whole we benefit from the provision of a sewerage service. That is why the new clause does not seek to give a total exemption from any liability to make a contribution towards the provision in a community of sewerage services. It would simply reduce that contribution by 50 per cent.

I anticipate it being said that a similar case could be made for those who do not send their children to a local authority school or those who do not make use of the public library. I repeat that such a distinction is already made by the Government in respect of water charges. Also, when some years ago one of my constituents complained about having to pay for clearing septic tanks, the then Under-Secretary, Michael Ancram, said that while there was a point to the argument, in Scotland the fact that one was not connected to the main sewers could be taken into account by the assessor when determining the rateable value of the premises. With the introduction of the poll tax system, there is now no benefit to be accrued by those who are not connected to the main sewers, and the new clause tries to take account of that.

I regret that the structure of our debates is such that important matters such as this have to be debated late at night. The final point I must raise in dealing with this series of new clauses concerns particularly the business community in Grampian and Highland regions, where metered water charges have placed a considerable burden on local government. Our proposal is a stalking horse to enable us to raise that point, and I will leave my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon to deal with it in more detail.

In addition to non-domestic water rates, the whole issue of metered water charges must be considered. We have chosen an arbitrary figure. We have used the basis of rebates which were set out by the Government in their legislation which followed revaluation in 1985. We cannot, from the Opposition, put forward a provision that any sums that a local authority is obliged to rebate should be reimbursed by central Government. The rules of the House preclude us from tabling such a provision.

Column 1018

We were anxious to raise the matter on the Floor of the House because the Minister of State is alleged to have said in an informal conversation with the Federation of Small Businesses that there were no legislative possibilities for him to do anything about a problem which hon. Members in all parts of the House accepts exists. We have, as we debate this measure, such a legislative opportunity. The wording of what we propose may be far from perfect, but if the Government wish seriously to address themselves to a problem that is harming the business community in the Grampian and Highland regions they could act now. This debate may prompt them to take that opportunity when the Bill is in another place.

10.30 pm

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett- Bowman) has told my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) that there is no such thing as a poll tax. When the Government launched an advertising campaign in Scotland to tell people that they could pay the community charge by direct debit, their advertising agency found that nobody knew what the community charge was. The advertisement, paid for by the Government, therefore had to say,

"When you pay your community charge or poll tax, you can do it by direct debit."

Even the Government have been forced to acknowledge that we have a poll tax.

New clause 1 relates to the community charge on holiday homes or second homes, which has caused considerable problems in Scotland. Scotland was a guinea pig because the legislation implementing the poll tax in Scotland went through before that implementing the poll tax for England and Wales. An enormous number of anomalies have cropped up. As a result, the legislation for England and Wales is different from that for Scotland. It seems reasonable that the changes in criteria that it was thought would make the legislation for England and Wales fairer should be applied to Scotland and that is what we are trying to do.

I am not arguing against people who have holiday homes paying community charge on them. That seems reasonable although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland said, there are degrees of holiday homes. I have had exchanges with the Minister about the injustice in the fact that a Barrett's timeshare development qualifies for a non-domestic rate, but when a farmer lets out two of his cottages he has to pay double community charge on them, but in Scotland only. That is a monumental injustice and is contrary to the Government's intention to allow farmers and others who live in rural areas to diversify their income. It is a disincentive, and the Government have a duty to ensure that it is put right.

Some tenant farmers have either inherited or bought a croft or cottage for their retirement. One would have thought that the Conservative party would be in favour of people in tied accommodation having somewhere of their own to retire to, but such people are having to pay double poll tax--once on the farmhouse in which they live as a tenant farmer and once on their retirement cottage. Often, such a household would have been paying nothing in rates, but now has to pay £1,200 to £1,400 out of untaxed income. Is it any wonder that the Tory party is losing support in rural areas?

Mr. Lang : What about your constituency?

Column 1019

Mr. Bruce : I have no qualms. I have just been round my constituency and I did not find many people saying that they would vote for the Tories.

New clause 44 deals with the way in which women's refuges are treated. I have had correspondence with the Minister about this and am waiting for a reply from him. The women's refuges which operate in Aberdeen have been in touch with me, and one operates in my constituency. These provide secure refuges to which women can retreat when they have been battered by their husbands or partners. It is regrettable that this happens--it always has-- but it is a positive development that there are now organisations willing to set up and run such refuges, always as charities which rely on voluntary raising of funds.

Until now, such refuges have been treated as hospitals and rated accordingly. Now the Government are saying that they have to be treated as a multiple-occupancy dwelling in which every individual has to pay poll tax. That presents severe practical problems. The women entering those refuges do so at short notice, and may remain there for a very short time or for a longer period. On arrival they are in an emotionally and physically stressed condition. Organisations whose prime objective is to provide such women with support are not in a position to hammer them for money. Yet the Government are saying that that is what refuges must do.

That is an unsympathetic attitude which underestimates the difficulties facing those organisations and the additional stress placed on the women concerned. Worse still, those women will have left homes where they are jointly and severally liable to pay poll tax along with their husbands or partners. The husband or partner may already have paid the woman's share of poll tax and will remain liable to pay it. The Government are in effect pressing for additional revenue by taxing individuals who are already in an extremely distraught and emotional state.

If that is the kind of treatment that the Government want to mete out, it is no wonder that they are seen as heartless

philistines--which, in the circumstances that I have described, they are. The number of women involved is relatively small and the circumstances extremely stressful, but still the Government aim to collect double tax. The Minister must make a response which both shows compassion and answers the question of whether women in such circumstances should be pressed to pay the poll tax twice. My final point relates to new clause 53, which concerns non-domestic water rates, including the general standard and metered rates. I raised that matter in an Adjournment debate, and it has been the subject of considerable correspondence with the Minister. We believe that the Bill presents an opportunity for a legislative change which would ensure that companies currently confronted with draconian increases threatening not only their profitability but in some cases their viability may know that there is a limit to the rates that they will be expected to pay.

The Government may say that they disapprove of such a measure, but they introduced similar legislation at the time of the last property revaluation in Scotland. There was a massive revolt among Conservative supporters in the business community about the revaluation's implications and the extra charges that it would impose.

On that occasion emergency legislation was rushed through the House, with all-party support, to limit the amount of the increase that any business would have to

Next Section

  Home Page