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Commons Chamber

Volume 949: debated on Friday 12 May 1978

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House Of Commons

Friday 12th May 1978

The House met at Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

European Community (Agriculture Ministers' Meeting)

Before I report to the House, I should like to apologise to the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) for the very short time that he has had to study the statement I am making. Unfortunately, the Brussels negotiations did not end until half-past two this morning. There was a strike at Brussels Airport and, having got up at half-past five this morning, I had to drive for a couple of hours to find a convenient airport from which I could leave.

I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Brussels from 8th to 12th May, accompanied by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary. After prolonged and difficult negotiation the Council reached agreement on a package of measures covering common agricultural policy prices for 1978–79 and some related issues subject only to the lifting of a formal Italian reserve.

The Council agreed on increases in support prices averaging overall some 2¼ per cent. This is the lowest increase since our accession and the settlement represents a further reduction of CAP prices in real terms. For example, the increase in milk prices has been held to 2 per cent. with a reduction in the co-responsibility levy from 1·5 per cent. to 0·5 per cent., which, of course, does not effect consumer prices. The overall position in the milk sector is to be reviewed in the autumn when the Council will be considering whether to suspend intervention for skimmed milk powder.

Agreement was reached on regulations which fully and permanently safeguarded the future of the Milk Marketing Boards. The earlier proposal for a temporary derogation was dropped, and I sucessfully opposed a new last-minute Commission proposal which would have threatened the boards' viability.

The 100 per cent. Community-financed butter subsidy is to continue until 31st March 1979 instead of ending on 31st December 1978 as originally proposed by the Commission. The rate of subsidy will also be decreased at a slower rate. These new arrangements are worth £26 million net to the United Kingdom. There was also agreement in principle to the payment, if necessary, of a national subsidy to Northern Irish milk producers.

Monetary compensatory amounts on pigmeat will be reduced by 8 per cent. as a result of a Council decision to reduce from 85 per cent. to 78 per cent the proportion of the basic price on which they are calculated. This change, which will be implemented once the opinion of the European Assembly has been received, will, together with the remaining 2½ per cent. devaluation agreed in February, result in a reduction of 16 per cent. in our pigmeat MCAs. In addition, the coefficients used for calculating MCAs on processed pigmeat will be reviewed in the coming months.

The United Kingdom variable beef premium will continue, and target prices for the marketing year starting on 22nd May will be published as soon as possible.

The Council agreed that it should aim to reduce MCAs but only in the context of a satisfactory price policy and of a more stable relationship between Community currencies. This means, in effect, that the proposal for the automatic phasing out of MCAs is now a dead letter. Devaluations of the Irish green pound, the Italian green lira and the French green franc by 6 per cent. 5 per cent and 7 per cent. respectively were agreed.

The Council also agreed on an improved support regime for olive oil and on new arrangements for wine to include both marketing measures and the improvement of the industry's structure.

Agreement was reached on a five-year programme of structural reform for agriculture in the poorer Mediterranean regions of the Community, the rates of the Community contribution varying up to 50 per cent.

Another £45 million is being provided for the individual projects scheme, and projects involving grants on United Kingdom fishing boats will now be eligible for this aid. Community aid is to be given to a joint programme of arterial drainage on both sides of the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The overall effect of the package will be to increase the food price index by one-half of 1 per cent., an amount equivalent to an increase of one-eighth of 1 per cent. on retail prices. Returns to the agricultural industry, net of increased feed costs, could rise by about £35 million to £40 million in addition to the £150 million to £200 million which will result from the 7½ per cent. green pound devaluation. The package as a whole represents a fair balance of interests and makes a definite step in the improvement of the CAP.

We are grateful to the Minister for coming so quickly from Brussels to make his statement. We appreciate the reasons which caused us to see it at only very short notice.

We welcome the Minister's remarks about the future of the Milk Marketing Boards. Does he agree that the very strong feelings in all parts of the House have strengthened his hand? Does he also agree that while his persistence over this matter might have caused some irritation in Brussels, there would have been a great deal more irritation and fury here if he had failed in that regard? Does he recall that we expressed our concern last week that the solution which might emerge with regard to the Milk Marketing Boards might not be permanent? We are very glad that the word "permanent" is included in the statement. Will the right hon. Gentleman make some remarks about how he now sees the future of the other boards, particularly the Potato Marketing Board and the Hop Marketing Board?

With regard to the overall rise of 2·25 per cent. in institutional prices, is the Minister aware that we have considerable concern over this matter? He will recall that, during the pre-Easter debate on the price review, Opposition Members called for an increase in institutional prices by no more than 1·9 per cent. What does he feel will be the effect of this settlement on the creation of more surpluses? Does he see some commodities—and, if so, which ones—increasing the level of surplus in the year ahead?

With regard to the pigmeat arrangements and the MCAs, is the Minister aware that we are still very concerned about the pig industry? Will he confirm that the effect of this settlement will be to decrease the MCAs on bacon by about £40 a tonne to £240 a tonne? That is very close to the level of bacon MCAs before the debate on the green pound at the beginning of this year which caused the House to insist on the 7½ per cent. devaluation. For that reason, will he understand that we are still extremely concerned about this sector?

What further steps does the Minister intend to take in order to reduce the MCAs? There was a passage in the statement which perhaps gave the impression that the Minister was giving up his attempts to reduce MCAs. That was the passage in which the Minister spoke about the phasing out now becoming a dead letter. Will he confirm that he is not giving this up? With regard to the butter subsidy, his statement is not very clear. Will he confirm that what will happen on 31st March next year is that the butter subsidy will be phased out altogether? That was not clear from the statement.

What other discussions went on with regard to the fishing industry besides the announcement about grants to fishing boats? When does the right hon. Gentleman expect to get down to a reorganisation of the common fisheries policy? Were there any discussions on that matter?

Because of the complications of the statement, and since the Minister himself has said, on radio and elsewhere, that this is a very important settlement, we must have a full day's debate in Government time on the Floor of the House. Will he use his best endeavours to allow that to happen?

The question of a day's debate is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. However, I can imagine no subject that I personally would like to spend a day debating more than this particular price settlement.

I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said about the Milk Marketing Boards. It is perfectly true that the whole House was with me on this matter. I felt it, and it gave me a good deal of strength in Brussels in resisting those who wanted to emasculate the whole basis, either by making the boards transitional or, at the latest intervention of the Commission, by destroying their viability altogether. I permit myself the rather sombre reflection that perhaps it would have been better to have thought about the permanence of the Milk Marketing Boards at the time of the Treaty of Accession.

That became much more difficult, unless one was prepared to do what I did last night.

The hon. Gentleman has raised a point in relation to the other boards. That is something which we in the House ought now to be considering. I felt that the first thing was to preserve the Milk Marketing Boards—they are the biggest, most direct and most important—but I agree that there may well be repercussions and I shall look into the matter.

The hon. Gentleman asked about surplus. I was conscious of this the whole time. Of course, when one takes 2¼ per cent. average prices as against 1.9 per cent., one must look at the ingredients that make up the 2¼ per cent. For example, the increase of 2½ per cent. on the price of pigmeat is effective only with regard to MCAs. The support arrangements are not necessary. That weights the average very considerably. I think we were agreed that there would be some margin. Since the Belgians and other Benelux countries were asking for a 5½ per cent. increase on milk alone, I do not regard the 2¼ per cent. as being a totally discreditable settlement to bring back to the House.

With regard to surplus, the fact is that there is a drop in real terms in the income of milk producers, and that is the commodity which is most in surplus. There is a cut on the B quota in sugar, and that will have its effect on producers. We have kept the cereals price to the Commission's original proposal, which I think the House agreed with at the time. Therefore, I think that we have started moving, not as fast as I personally would like, but very fast indeed along the road of cutting surpluses.

The hon. Gentleman is pretty well right with regard to pigmeat. I mentally assessed it as £44 a tonne, but he may be more right than I. I must confess that when it comes to doing mathematical calculations my mind is a little tired after two all-nighters. However, it is somewhere along that level. The fact is, and the House should recognise it, that I started the recalculation of pigmeat MCAs alone. I was joined by the French and Italians in about October. I was still pressing for double the decrease as late as last night, but by then I was alone again. Neither the French nor the Italians were backing me any more. It was, therefore, a case of accepting this for the time being or accepting nothing. I thought it better to accept it. I did get from the Commission, however, the undertaking that it would review the coefficients on the processing of pigmeat. That has a very direct effect upon our bacon industry. I shall look to further reductions in the MCAs as a result of that.

I think that the hon. Gentleman and I have a difference of opinion with regard to the automatic phasing out of MCAs. I have never believed, on the present basis of the distortion of currencies, that phasing out of MCAs is a good thing. The hon. Gentleman has talked about eliminating all the MCAs throughout the Community over the next two or three years. The increase of 10 per cent. in food prices which would result from that is not acceptable to me. The answer on the MCAs is the point which we put and which was perhaps the reason why the Commission's proposal was killed—namely, that we should get the common price level down to where it ought to be and adopt the European unit of account—that is the much more logical one, which is the basket of all the currencies—rather than basing it effectively on the German mark.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the butter subsidy. The effect is that from now until the end of July the subsidy paid by the Community is at the rate of 25 units of account—I am sorry, 28 units of account. I must apologise to the House for getting the figures slightly muddled. Mathematics at the moment is not my strong point.

The effect is that it will be 28 units of account until the end of July, from July to the end of the year it comes down to 23 units of account and from the end of the year until March 1979 it becomes 18 units of account, so that the regression is rather slow. But it leaves open whether that 18 units of account or any other figure is available for next year. It is not necessarily therefore totally destroyed. It is a matter that we can discuss in the context of next year's price negotiations.

I think I have now dealt with everything raised by the hon. Gentleman except the fishing question. It will not surprise the House to know that during all these days and nights no one was really able to concentrate on fishing questions. But, of course, they are very important and I have them very much in mind. The plain fact is that all the experts were busy dealing with these other subjects. I did not, however, totally forget fishing, which is why I managed to get £4 million in the pipeline for new fishing boat aid as the allocation for the United Kingdom in this project.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we share the general satisfaction at the retention of the Milk Marketing Boards and that we particularly welcome his assurance that the decision is permanent? At the risk of appearing to be a minority on this side of the House, I agree with him that he has retrieved the damage done in 1972 at the time of accession.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we congratulate him on obtaining the necessary scope to give financial support to milk producers in Northern Ireland? I hope that he will soon take advantage of that. When does he intend to adjust the meat industry employment scheme to take account of the agreed devaluation in the Irish green pound?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. I think that only his third point calls for comment from me. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will make a statement in due course.

I compliment my right hon. Friend on his usual successful fight against the usual overwhelming odds of so-called partners. We are delighted in the fishing industry to hear that he has obtained what may be £4 million to be spent in structuring the future fleet. In view of our plight on Humberside, how it will affect us there?

I shall let my hon. Friend have the details of that. It affects fishing in the North-East and in Scotland and the South-West as well.

I, too, congratulate the Minister on the news about the Milk Marketing Boards as far as it goes. Does he consider that their future is now assured? I understand that fishing was not discussed in detail, but can the right hon. Gentlemen say when he hopes that there may be some progress? What is the position at the moment about the proposals for licensing in the North Sea?

I managed to talk unofficially with Commissioner Gundelach about when we might resume discussions on fishing. Subject to what our partners may say, we hope that it may be possible in June. Clearly, the question of licensing is important and it is still very much in our minds. There are also other questions, such as conservation and what national measures might need to be taken now that the price negotiations are over. I shall be looking at this matter urgently.

Without wishing to belittle the right hon. Gentleman's achievement over the Milk Marketing Boards, may I ask whether he will acknowledge that this success has nothing to do with doorstep deliveries of milk? Will he further tell us that a threat to doorstep deliveries by cheap imports to supermarkets or other methods of distribution still exists? Will he assure us that he will remain observant to ensure that such a threat does not materialise?

I think that I can carry the hon. Gentleman with me on this matter; I should like to do so. It is true that without the Milk Marketing Boards it is possible to have a system of milk distribution. There was a system 35 years ago before the then Labour Government introduced the concept. I agree with that concept, but we are now dealing with twice the consumption of milk of the early 1930s. It is perhaps the biggest logistical operation in foodstuffs in the world and certainly the most efficient.

I have looked into this question very deeply. This was why the Commission agreed with me that the Milk Marketing boards, it would not be the very big it had some curious ideas of what limits and conditions might be imposed. The trouble is that, if we ceased to have the boards, it would not be the very big dairy companies—the large multimillionaire concerns—that would suffer but the smaller companies on the fringes. This point was well set out by Mr. Ben Davies of the Dairy Trade Federation when he commented on my stance about a week ago. He fairly made the point that the smaller firms were those that would be in jeopardy.

Once the Milk Marketing Boards went, one would also open the door—I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am very conscious of this—to the introduction of milk coming from abroad, which by the very nature of its transport would mean that it was not fresh, whereas our doorstep delivery is of fresh milk. Once we got that sort of import, it would open the door to the carton in the supermarket and the end of doorstep deliveries.

Finally, perhaps I may use the words of Aneurin Bevan, although he used them in a more important context. Why look into the crystal when we can read the book? Holland had milk marketing boards and highly efficient doorstep deliveries. The Dutch have them no longer, and they have had a drastic cut in the consumption of liquid milk.

What my right hon. Friend has reported is a solid if exhausting achievement, and it is a pity that Conservative Members have been so glum and grudging about it. Will my right hon. Friend maintain his efforts to ensure that British pig production can begin to prosper and that adequate marketing for the promotion of greater milk consumption within the rest of the Community can develop quite markedly?

Yes, Sir. This is not the end of the story. As far as I am concerned, it is only the beginning.

Order. I shall do my best to call hon. Members, but I remind the House that this is the last day for Private Members' Bills. Therefore, if those I call will co-operate, I shall be grateful.

I am not surpised that the Minister's mathematics is a little slow today. I for one am rather surprised that he is here at all. I would have preferred him to rest until Monday and I am grateful to him for coming here after such tough sessions.

With regard to the Milk Marketing Boards and the qualifications surrounding them, is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that those qualifications are reasonable and fair?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for what he has said. With regard to the Milk Marketing Boards, yes, it is permanent as long as we maintain our consumption of liquid milk. There is a good deal of latitude in this. The consumption could even come down quite a bit, but in my belief it will not. I am totally satisfied that legally, constitutionally and practically we have saved our Milk Marketing Boards.

Will my right hon Friend accept congratulations on what he has done to protect important British interests this week in Brussels? Will he also accept that the holding of the general price level to an increase of only 2½ per cent. is an important first step to achieving the objective set out by the Prime Minister in his letter to the Labour Party last October, of shifting the common agricultural policy to a more satisfactory basis? Is it not also the case that this year's agreement is good evidence of the opportunity of changing the CAP from within?

The actual figure is 2¼ per cent., not 2 per cent., so we are ¼ per cent. ahead of my hon. Friend at the moment. It was ever present in my mind that we were looking after the interests of the CAP not only in the United Kingdom but in Europe. That being ever present in my mind, I think that we are well on the way to dealing with the greatest evil of the common agricultural policy—the creation of a structural surplus.

Did the Minister discuss the EEC proposal for the sheepmeat regime? If not, when does he think that that process will begin?

In fact, we did not. There is a formal note that the sheepmeat regime proposals are on the table and that we must settle them as soon as possible. I begin to wonder how much EEC agriculture legislation of this far-reaching kind can now be done outside the price fixing itself, because one spends so much time discussing it with perhaps not the urgency that a price settlement brings. If I am right on that—it is only guesswork—it may be nine or 10 months before we come to grips with the problem. However, I may be wrong.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he will earn the thanks of every housewife for the fight that he has put up for the Milk Marketing Board, particularly in view of the fact that as late as 8 o'clock last night both French and German representatives in the European Assembly were seeking to say that it was an illegal organisation and could be opposed by the European Court?

Will my right hon. Friend be vigilant about the health rules relating to liquid milk, because there is a clear indication that European farmers intend to say that our health rules are an artificial barrier to trade? Even the suggestion of any lowering of our standards in this respect would cause tremendous harm to our general belief in clean and free milk.

I noticed, as my hon. Friend said, that there was some disposition on the part of some members of the European Assembly from other countries to question the legality of the Milk Marketing Boards. They cannot now, because they are part of the milk marketing regulation and that is that.

I was also a little surprised at what I felt was the rather tepid attitude taken by, I think, Mr. Brunner at the same time; but that may simply be Press reports; I do not know.

The question of the health regulations is very much in my mind. I agree with my hon. Friend that these regulations must be maintained. I shall do my best to ensure that they are maintained.

Is there yet any move to limit excess Continental milk production by any form of quota system as opposed purely to using the price mechanism?

Secondly, will a copy of the Minister's statement, which was long and detailed, be put in the Vote Office today?

Thirdly, although it is a complicated calculation, is the Minister able to give us any preliminary view on the affect of the other currency devaluations—the green lire and the green franc—on our 7½ per cent. devaluation? Presumably there will be an interrelation between those two subsequent events.

To take the last point first, I think that the effective interrelation occurs between the Irish devaluation and our own position, not the other currencies. There is a marginal benefit to us from the token German mark revaluation of 0.3 per cent., I think it is. That is one reason why I mentioned the measures that we were asking to have considered with regard to Northern Ireland—that is, the giving of national aid. That is why the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Molyneaux) asked me about the meat industry employment scheme.

There was no immediate discussion, though I raised it, about the general reduction of dairy production in Europe. However, the Commissioner said that he would be bringing a new package forward, probably in the early summer, which would be much more embracing than the previous milk action programme. Whether it will contain the idea of a quota, I do not know, but the Commissioner took the view that it badly needed to be done.

I think that there was a third point, but I cannot remember what it was.

I asked whether the Minister's statement would appear in the Vote Office today.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the personal part that he has played in protecting the Milk Marketing Boards. Does he agree that the powers of the EEC over domestic matters in this country depend no longer upon this House but on the happy or unhappy chance of the health and personality of the Minister of the day?

As the EEC budget shows support prices for cereals of about £1,000 million and for milk approaching £2,000 million, of which £600 million in each case is for export rebates, is the agreement on 2½ per cent. likely to change those estimates?

The agreement is 2 per cent. for dairy products. I think that it is bound to increase the figure. I shall need to study much more fully whether it will increase it in real terms. This has been a very low increase in real terms and it requires some consideration.

On the first point made by my hon. Friend, I am glad about the health, anyway. I do not know about the effectiveness. There is some point in the House having its say. As I have said on a number of occasions, if the Minister can get the whole House with him, it gives him far greater strength in the EEC not only in agriculture matters but in fisheries as well.

On the question of pigmeat and the MCAs, clearly we welcome any reduction in the MCAs that the Minister has managed to secure out of our EEC partners, who seem to be remarkably pig-headed on this subject. But if there is an MCA of about 240 or 235 a tonne, does it not mean that the Dutch and the Danes will still be heavily subsidised to undercut our producers? If the situation remains critical for our producers, are there any steps that the right hon. Gentleman can take in the interim period to improve their situation?

Secondly, may we be assured that, if we are not to get surpluses of sheepmeat, mutton mountains or lakes of lamb and higher prices to the housewife, he will resist any moves towards a sheepmeat regime?

I do not think that the question of a sheepmeat regime arises on this price fixing, for the reasons that I have given. We need to be very clear about this matter. I could honestly anticipate a sheepmeat regime which would be beneficial from our point of view. Therefore, I have to consider whether it is better to go for that or to say no sheepmeat regime at all. This is an important matter to consider. After all, the trouble with the non-existence of a sheepmeat regime is the closing of the French market for a large part of the time. There are balancing and difficult considerations.

With regard to pigmeat, I said that we had an undertaking from the Com missioner—it lies within the powers of the Commission and of the management committee, not the Council of Ministers, to get this through—that there will be a review of the coefficients on pigmeat. That could make quite a substantial difference in the bacon trade, as those who are technically concerned will know—a difference quite as good as the change in the recalculation. I shall certainly be alive to every method that we can possibly consider and adopt.

I congratulate both my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the magnificent rearguard action that they have fought on behalf of British consumers. But do they ever reflect, as they drive through the Belgian night, that it might have been better had we never been involved in this war by not joining the Common Market, because then we should have had the benefit of their undoubted talents much nearer home, in this country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, particularly for the mention that he made of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, who acted splendidly with me on the two enormously long days and nights. I think we can leave to my memoirs my reflections as I speed through the Belgian night.

Is the Minister able to say anything about the effects that a reduction of 8 per cent. in the MCAs will have on the pig industry and on curing in this country? He mentioned a lowering of the coefficient from 1·35 to 1·25. What effect will that have upon bacon?

To give a detailed view on this I shall have to write to the hon. Member. I do not have the details with me. It is bound to make quite a difference. As I understand it, a 5 per cent. step-down in the MCAs is equivalent to £15 per tonne on the price level. Perhaps at leisure we can work it out ourselves.

I shall send the hon. Member details about the coefficient. The Commission has undertaken to review it. If it comes to a decision, the Council is not required to accept it. It goes to the management committee, which means effectively that, if the Commission wants to get it, it will get it. I do not know what will be proposed until we have seen the result of the studies. I hope that they will be quick.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that whereas he has earned all our congratulations on his Herculean efforts to save the Milk Marketing Boards and holding down to 2·25 per cent. what might have been a higher percentage for agriculture subsidies, it is a little early to talk about the imminent reform of the CAP and the disappearance of surpluses? My right hon. Friend said that they are disappearing slowly. It has been said that there are 2 million too many cows in Europe. At the present rate of progress, when does he think that Europe will eliminate its dairy surplus?

Too long. But a start has to be made and it has been made. Like my hon. Friend, I sometimes get impatient. Perhaps that is what occurs to me as I speed through the Belgian night. We are in the presence of a trend which accepts that the United Kingdom is enforcing a proper restrained price policy. This was not so before. In two successive years there have been the lowest price increases. This will have its effect. Like my hon. Friend, I believe that it is not fast enough, but it is better than nothing.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that the House admires his long distance staying power. Will he now turn his attention to the fishing industry? The inshore industry is in danger of extinction. What was he aiming to achieve in Brussels for the inshore industry?

In this particular marathon session we achieved nothing for that industry, but I hope that now we have this behind us the Commission and ourselves will be able to deal rapidly with it. I agree that this is a vital issue and a vital industry. I intend to do my best to preserve, maintain, and, if I can, extend it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that his great victory for the Milk Marketing Boards, upon which I congratulate him, leaves us in this respect almost as well off as if we had not joined the EEC?

Yes. That might have been another thought that occurred to me as I sped through the Belgian night.

Orders Of The Day

Rating (Disabled Persons) Bill

(changed from Rating Bill)

As amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause No 1

Rateable Value Per Head

'In the determination of a local authority's rateable value per head for the purposes of Part III of Schedule 2 to the Local Government Act 1974 the total rateable value attributable to the hereditaments granted rebates under section 2 of this Act shall be deducted.'.—[ Mr. Sainsbury.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.45 a.m.

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

It might be helpful if I set the scene for the new clause by reminding the House of the purposes of the Bill which are relevant to the reason for introducing the new clause. The original draft of the Bill set the position out clearly. It said:
"This Bill provides for rating authorities in England and Wales and Scotland to grant a rebate in respect of the rates chargeable for properties used by disabled persons, in place of the existing relief granted unde Section 45 of the General Rate Act 1967".
It is well known that relief granted, or not granted, under that section has proved to be a problem because of the difficulties of interpreting the section. To that extent, this is a commendable Bill which has received all-party support.

It is always easy when we are considering giving financial help to particular categories of people—and in this case we are trying to help the disabled—to overlook the source of that help and to forget those who are expected to provide it.

One can draw an analogy with the attendance allowance which provides a rebate for taxation.

The Inland Revenue forgoes taxation that it would otherwise receive in respect of providing help for the disabled. That loss of revenue to the Inland Revenue is spread throughout the country. It is a burden on all taxpayers. That is the proper place for that responsibility.

That is not the situation provided by this Bill. If relief is granted by way of a rebate on rates, the cost will be a charge upon the ratepayers in the rating authority where the relief is granted. This is clear from the original text of the Bill, which states that there will be no additional Exchequer expenditure. It was not envisaged that central Government funds would be used to relieve the adverse effect upon the ratepayers. I found that a little surprising in view of certain Government intentions to which I shall refer later.

It is clear that the cost of the relief will come from the general body of ratepayers. I shall explain why I am proposing this new clause, first by reference to the effect of it and then by turning to the reasons why I believe that it is required.

In order to explain the effects of the new clause, I must turn to the complexities of the rate support grant. On this occasion I am glad to say that we do not have to consider the infinite and almost incomprehensible complexities of the needs element of the rate support grant. I shall not advance the proposition that I have advanced before, that the multiple regression analysis is defective by reason of its multi-colinearity or even follow my other hon. Friends who have criticised the defects of the needs element. It is the resources element that we are concerned with here.

The rate support grant is fixed each year as a percentage of the relevant expenditure of all local authorities. It is not necessary for the purposes of my argument to go into the make-up of "relevant expenditure", but, broadly speaking, it is all the accepted expenditure of local authorities.

The Government of the day determine what percentage of that relevant expenditure will be made available in the form of rate support grant. In 1976–77, the percentage was 65½. In 1977–78, it was 61, and the same percentage applies in the current year which has just started.

In the allocation of that grant between the various elements, there are deductions of specific and supplementary grants to be made in the first place. Then there is the domestic element, which is 18p in the pound, which goes to all domestic ratepayers, and that, too, has to be deducted. The remainder is then divided between the needs element and the resources element.

In practice, the division between resources element and needs element of the balance has, in every year since the present system of allocation of rate support grant has been in existence, been 32½ per cent. to the resources element and 67½ per cent. to the needs element. As far as I can determine, this division between the two is not fixed by statute. However, because it has been used every year since this system of rate support grant has been in use, I think that it can be assumed for the purposes of argument that it is likely to continue at that level.

The clause that I am proposing would result in a minor reallocation of that part of the total rate support grant which is attributable to the resources element. It follows that all that we are talking about is a little less than one-third of the rate support grant which covers a little less than two-thirds of the total relevant expenditure of local authorities.

The effect of the clause would be to ensure that a local authority's loss of rate income as a result of the enactment of the Bill would be taken into account in determining the entitlement of that local authority to a resources element of the rate support grant.

I am not suggesting that we are dealing with enormous sums of money. The size of the rate support grant is very large. The resources element alone in the current year is £1,901 million out of a total of £6,521 million, so that the resources element there is 29·1 per cent. I suggest, therefore, that it is not unreasonable to reallocate a very small proportion of this enormous total to make sure that the individual ratepayers of an authority where there is a concentration of hereditaments which would be in receipt of rebates as a result of the enactment of this Bill do not have to carry too much of an additional burden.

The allocation of the resources element and the calculation of how it is distributed obviously are very important. It is payable to the district authority; it is not payable to the county authority. The resources element, unlike the needs element, is payable to the district authority. The needs element goes to the county authority.

To distribute the resources element, what happens is that every year the Secretary of State prescribes in the annual rate support grant order what is called a national average rateable value per head. In fact, it is not a national average; it is the figure that the Secretary of State decides is appropriate for the allocation of the resources element of the rate support grant, because it tends to go up year by year and, if it is increased sharply, it pushes more of the total rate support grant on to the resources element and to that extent detracts from the needs element.

For the current year, the so-called national average rateable value per head is £177. Last year, it was £173. Only the local authorities whose aggregate rateable value per head is below that level receive help from the resources element, and the help that they get is the local average rateable value deficiency, multiplied by the population as agreed for rate support grant purposes, multiplied by the rate poundage that the local authority has declared.

Most authorities receive this grant, which supports my contention that the so-called national average rateable value per head is not an average but a figure arrived at by the Secretary of State purely for the purposes of distributing the grant. In 1976–77, there were only 26 rating authorities which did not receive a resources element, and that is only 6.5 per cent. of authorities. That indicates that, if the clause is accepted, we shall be providing help to the vast majority of local authorities which receive resources grant.

Those local authorities which do not receive resources grant—the 6.5 per cent. in 1976–77—would be the better-off local authorities and the ones where help is least likely to be required and where the ratepayers are most likely to be able to carry any additional burden which might be imposed upon them by the reliefs which would arise from the enactment of this Bill. I suspect that in a number of those most wealthy local authorities a substantial proportion of the total rating would fall upon commercial heriditaments rather than upon residential ones, and that again would minimise the problem.

To show how significant this resources element is, of all the estimated expenditure of local authorities in the current year this resources grant is no less than 16.5 per cent.

In the determination of whether a local authority gets a resources grant, the rateable value per head is critical, and Part III of Schedule 2 to the Local Government Act 1974 provides the principle for determining rateable value per head. The clause simply provides for the total rateable value of the heriditaments covered by the Bill to be deducted in making that calculation, thus reducing the numerator and increasing the sum obtained by the local authority.

I take the example of my own constituency, which is contiguous to the borough of Hove. In the case of Hove my proposal would reduce the numerator by £71,000. That is the first rough calculation of the rateable value of the premises which would be eligible for rebate in the borough as a result of the enactment of this Bill. It is a rough calculation which has been done by the borough treasurer, and it is based on his assessment in the light of his knowledge of the extent of the claims for rebate which are likely to arise in the borough. The rebates granted would decrease the rateable value per head in Hove, if we ignore that £71,000 for the purposes of rate support grant, from £161.29 to £160.49. That does not sound much, but, because of the resources element, the effect of the reduction in the current year will be to increase Hove's resources entitlement by nearly £60,000—which is almost exactly the same as would be necessary to compensate for the loss of rate income which is expected to be attributable to the Bill.

12 noon.

The poorer authorities, which receive a greater proportion of rate support grant, will suffer most. They tend to have higher rate poundages because of low rateable values. The new clause will concentrate the compensating help on that type of authority. This method of restoring the position will be effective in concentrating help where it is needed. The new clause will restore the position to what it would be without the original rating relief for charities and the disabled. It would also put the position in regard to resources element to where the Lay field Report and the Government's response implied that it should be.

Talking of relief for charities, the Layfield Committee said on page 168 of its report:
"If the present form of relief is to continue, the question arises how it should be financed. For that element which is discretionary, it seems to us right that the cost of local decisions should be financed through taxation."
I entirely agree; but the Bill deals with mandatory, not discretionary, relief. The report went on:
"But in respect of mandatory relief, over which local authorities have no influence, we consider that the local authorities should be compensated through the grant arrangements."
That is exactly what I propose.

It might help the hon. Gentleman and the House if I were to give an assurance—I was not privy to the details of what went on in Committee—that we propose to continue exactly the same arrangements under the Bill as have been operating under the old provisions. That is to say, the rate support grant will continue to help local authorities which require the asssistance exactly as they have been assisted in the past.

I am very far from reassured. By that intervention, the Minister has justified the new clause. I can only assume that he was consulting someone and did not hear what I said. This is the very worry—that if the rate support grant is handed out as it is now, it takes no account of the mandatory rate relief given to charities or to premises for the disabled.

That is borne out by what the Government said in a document which I hope the Minister has read, the Green Paper on local government finance, paragraph 6.24 of which on page 20 said:
"… and the Government propose that local authorities shall be"—
not "are being—
"compensated for the rate relief they are required by Parliament to give to charities."
I understand that in a circular letter, which I regret I have not seen and which was dated 7th November 1977—the reference was FLGI 91060/3/3—which was sent out to all rating authorities, the Government accepted that local authorities should be compensated for the 50 per cent. rate relief which they are now required to give under section 40 of the General Rate Act 1967.

Of course, this Bill would extend substantially in respect of some authorities that mandatory relief to a new category of hereditaments and would cost some local authorities a substantial amount.

This is a well-intentioned Bill which provides rebates to the disabled, but those rebates will have to be provided by the other ratepayers. The new clause would compensate the other ratepayers through the resources element.

Of course, this relief is entirely justified. The Layfield Report has given it its blessing and until the Minister intervened I had understood that the Government intended to implement that aspect.

My constituency is one of those—there are others, on the coast and elsewhere—where the Bill would have a particular effect. One must take into account that the Government's plans for district expenditure, which we can find in the 1978 public expenditure White Paper, will allow growth of only 1½ per cent. in each of the years 1980, 1981 and 1982. That implies that there is no great extra source of income from Government funds.

Being a progressive borough and very well managed—with 33 Conservative councillors, one ratepayer and two Labour—Hove has held this very week a conference on "Hove in the 1980s". As always, finance was a key element. Representatives of all parties attended and all shared the concern about the effect that the Bill could have. I can do no better than quote from an excellent paper submitted to the conference by the borough treasurer:
"In any discussion looking into the future, there is often a tendency to pursue the unattainable. To produce grandiose plans which subsequently gather dust is to raise false hopes and generally discredit those concerned. One should therefore have regard to the likely cost of any such aspirations and to the ability of ratepayers to meet these costs."
In that context, he had to point out that approximately one in three residents in Hove is on a fixed income. In the 1971 census Hove had 27,718 persons of pensionable age—over 30 per cent. of the population. That is nearly twice the national average. That population, like that of the country as a whole, is getting older. There is an increasing number of people over the age of 75.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Worthing has the highest proportion of over 65s in the country and that the second greatest number of over 65s is in my constituency? We all have an intense fellow feeling in Sussex for the views expressed by my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) is merely drawing attention to the fact that there are many places that have concentrations of the elderly and where one is likely to find a concentration of hereditaments which will be entitled to relief under the Bill.

We have to take into account that, whereas the new pension proposals that have recently come into operation ensure that in future pensions will be inflation-proofed and that everybody will have a second pension, in the next 20 years or so, until that comes fully into effect, many retired people will be largely dependent upon fixed incomes. They will inevitably have difficulty in meeting the inflationary cost of existing services, let alone being asked to bear, through the rate burden, part of the cost of expanding services.

An excellent survey entitled "Beyond Three Score and Ten", commissioned by Age Concern and called "The First Report of a Survey on the Elderly", shows that over 40 per cent. of those interviewed said that they had money worries about meeting the existing burdens on their resources.

In many areas, and certainly in Hove, there is no prospect of large scale redevelopment within the borough because of the absence of land on which to carry out new development and the absence of the need for redevelopment in the parts that are already developed. In many places the loss of rate income resulting from the Bill could be rapidly offset by developments which would bring in fresh sources of rate income. In areas such as Hove this is not possible.

The area of Hove is only 2,386 hectares. It has by far the smallest land area of any authority in East Sussex. Such undeveloped land that we have is mostly north of the borough and forms part of the South Downs. The South Downs are nationally and internationally renowned for their landscape beauty. The policy of district and county authorities and national and European policy is to protect these areas from urban development. Down land is very open and even a small amount of development is visible and damaging to the nature of the area.

In Hove and similarly placed boroughs the nationally-held policies, the existing pattern of development and the land available make it almost impossible to envisage further significant development which will generate fresh sources of rateable income to compensate for any loss from another direction. The increase in the rateable value in Hove over the years, at 1·2 per cent. has been substantially less than the national average.

12.15 p.m.

To make matters even worse in my borough, for good reasons, because the standard of housing accommodation in older property is being improved and the density of occupation reduced, the population is declining. It has declined from 91,229 in 1971 to an estimated 88,300 now. The result is that the borough receives in rate support grant no less than about £350,000 less than it would if the population had remained as it was. Without land we cannot increase the population, and we are not increasing our rateable resources. This means that any loss of rateable income resulting from the Bill will fall as a burden upon the existing body of ratepayers unless we do something about it. My clause is designed to do something about that.

Another adverse factor which lies within the ability of the Government to deal with, and I hope that they will consider it when looking, as they are beginning to look, at the rate support grant allocations for next year. If the Government continue to transfer grant from non-metropolitan areas to metropolitan areas, as they have started to do, there will be a further loss of resources to the very areas about which I have spoken and to which my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne drew attention.

As the complexities of the rate support grant have a damping mechanism which spreads changes over a period of four years, the transfer that the Government saw fit to embark upon in the current year will continue through four years and be accentuated in the years ahead unless something is done to offset it. In a well-run borough such as mine, expenditure has been held down at the request of the Government. There have been substantial economies. I am glad to say that the rates have also been held down. There is no further scope for preventing an increase in the burden on other ratepayers by bringing about economies.

The rate product rules of 1974 now require that the cost of the rate relief to which I am referring cannot be shared with the precepting authorities, namely, the upper tier authorities. Therefore, the cost is bound to fall entirely on district authorities.

I refer briefly to the sort of thing which could be done with the money that I am talking about. There may still be some hon. Members—I hope not—who feel that this is not enough money to worry about. The first and proper priority for Hove must be to provide group schemes such as sheltered accommodation for elderly persons. There is an inadequate supply of such accommodation. That would help people of a similar group to those whom we are trying to help in the Bill. It would be counter-productive if in providing help to one disadvantaged group we took away the possibility of providing help to another similar disadvantaged group.

We are talking about a loss of over £60,000. I am told by the borough treasurer that we could have nearly 20 road sweepers to offset the economies over the past few years. We could reopen public conveniences, some of which have recently been closed. We could provide money to plant 7,000 trees to replace the ravages of Dutch elm disease. If we reopened public conveniences and planted trees, we would be providing relief to the human and animal populations. We could provide an extra £3 per head in travel concessions. That is exactly the sort of help which hon. Members on all sides have wanted to be given to the elderly, some of whom are also disabled.

This is a well-intentioned Bill but, unfortunately, as drafted it puts the burden on other ratepayers in the boroughs where the hereditaments which will be helped are located. There are likely to be in those boroughs, as there is in mine, a concentration of elderly people, a concentration of people on fixed incomes and an absence of opportunities to increase a rateable value by other means.

I hope that I have demonstrated that the burden should be spread more widely. The new clause spreads it more widely through the mechanism of the rate support grant, and I am glad that it conforms with the Government's expressed intentions in the Green Paper. I therefore hope that it will commend itself to the House.

I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). There is a marked difference between my constituency and his. He represents a seaside town with a large number of elderly people. I have the honour to represent a new town which was designated in 1968. Northampton is the fastest expanding town in Western Europe. It is therefore appropriate that I should support my hon. Friend, because one could probably not find two towns more unalike than ours.

I view the Bill as a rating Bill and I consider its impact on local government, a subject in which I am particularly interested. I recognise that my hon. Friends and the hon. Member who has sponsored the Bill see it for the help that it will give to handicapped people. Of course, I share that view about the merits of the Bill and I hope that it will have a speedy passage. I also share their concern. There is in my constituency a very good disablement group and a disabled drivers' group. Anything I can do to assist them I shall most willingly do.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove has put his finger on some of the key points. However, I should like to examine the elements of the Bill which affect new towns, because that is a different dimension. I am glad that the Under-Secretary is to reply to the debate. I have had the pleasure of welcoming him to Northampton. He has shown a degree of understanding of the problems of new towns that we have not perhaps always experience before. He has provided a ready response whenever I have put questions to him. I therefore hope that today he will show his usual understanding of our problems.

The Bill is supposed to impose no cost on the Exchequer. If that is true, it is perhaps disappointing and a reflection on the workings of the House that hon. Members were not told, either during the Committee stage or in some form of preparatory paper, exactly what would be the cost of the rebate and who would pick up the bill. Clearly there will be a cost to someone somewhere. As my hon. Friend said, that will fall on the district council. It is disappointing that we are unable today to be told the global cost of the scheme so that we could then calculate the figure for our own district councils and the extent of the burden that will be imposed upon the rates.

It is necessary here to consider two small elements of Part III of Schedule 2 to the 1974 Act. I hesitate to correct my hon. Friend, but perhaps I may remind him of paragraph 8 of the schedule. It states:
"In relation to the resources element, the national standard rateable value per head of population shall be of such amount as may be prescribed."
So we are talking here not of an average amount but of a standard figure.

I thought I had explained that, although the term used was "average amount", in practice it was merely a figure laid down by the Secretary of State. Therefore, the very fact that more than 90 per cent. of local authorities received the help implied that it could not be an average.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. The key point is that the figure is prescribed, and it is worth getting on the record that it is not an average but a standard.

The fundamental part of Part III, coming under the heading "The Resources Element", is paragraph 7, which reads:
"No payment in respect of the resources element shall be made to a local authority for any year unless in that year the rateable value per head of population of the authority's area is less than the national standard rateable value per head of population."
That is the fundamental element, because it means that if an authority had a certain element of rebate it would be taken off the margin and would then be eligible for extra help.

When my hon. Friend said that the figure for Hove ran into well over £50,000 on an initial guesstimate, he gave some indication that the sum could be significant and could shift a local authority from one category to another. Some hon. Members might feel—and I hope that they do not—that the sums involved would be so relatively insignificant that the total effect could be ignored. The problem is that over the years the rate support grant formula has been changed. Only recently a factor was included to cover unemployment. This has helped to skew resources to the areas with unemployment, which tended to be the inner city areas, which in any case have been helped disproportionately over the last few years.

I think I am right in saying, although I do not wish to challenge my hon. Friend, that the unemployment criterion was put in for 1976–77 but was omitted in 1977–78 and is not included in the future criteria for the needs element of the rate support grant.

I support my hon. Friend in the point he is making about the completely unsatisfactory nature of the criteria used for the distribution of Exchequer aid to local authorities, but, whereas two years ago the Government maintained that unemployment was an important factor, they do not now recognise it as such. That supports my hon. Friend's argument.

I am not sure whether the Government regard unemployment as an important factor, but the fact is that the elements have changed. For all we know, that aspect may be reintroduced in 1979–80. We do not yet know what the elements of the formula will be for that year.

I am deeply concerned about the new towns. I have been unable to do a calculation similar to that worked out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove, although some preparatory work is being done. I am worried, in view of examples provided from similar areas to mine, about the effect on new towns. There is one aspect of this matter that I find tiring. In spite of that, I shall remain as vigilant as possible. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones) will do the same. We tend to have to join forces because he, too, represents an expanding town and we both represent the same county.

The tiring aspect of this matter is that, every time some form of help is provided for a particular section of society, the central Government forget that the population of a new town is always ahead of their statistics. It means that new towns are always disadvantaged. About 5,000 to 6,000 persons a year are coming into my constituency. We say locally that there should be proper financial provision for them. This matter has an unhappy history because, as the Under-Secretary knows, it was only after much petitioning that we managed to get a grant for the county council to cover the undue burden which was arising, particularly in education. That is a criticism not of the present Government but of central Government in toto. In other words, they do not understand—they certainly did not in the early stages—what a burden an incoming population can be to a new town, with all the starting-up costs involved.

12.30 p.m.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry and I thought that the central Government had learnt their lesson over the protracted negotiations which took place following designation. However, in regard to the National Health Service, which impinges on the category of person in question, we found exactly the same situation—namely, that no allowance was made for the increased numbers of persons coming in. Even more surprisingly, there was no understanding that the birth rate was rising in Northamptonshire. We were told that the birth rate nationally was going down and we had to conform. It is a hard fact of life that the maternity services are under greater pressure in Northamptonshire because the birth rate is growing.

Let me give a further example. In the case of Milton Keynes, which is similar to our situation and very close to us geographically, the majority of people when they are ill now come to Northamptonshire. After 15 months of hard bargaining, and after initial rejection by the Secretary of State for Social Services, we have reached the situation that we have now been given—I am grateful to the Government and certainly to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment for their support—an ex gratia grant for three years to support the Health Service element. Initially the Department was less persuaded of our case than was the Minister, but all came well in the end.

We now have the Bill before us and we must consider its effects on those concerned. A recent report by the East Midlands Planning Council says specifically that the new towns must take a larger share of disadvantaged people. I tabled a Question asking what authority there was for that statement, and I was told that it flowed from a statement made by the Secretary of State for the Environment last summer on the cut-back on the total number of people coming to the new towns. It was said that there must be a change of mix and that we must no longer attract those who were coming to take up a job—in our case, people from London—but must take a larger share of disadvantaged persons. The Greater London Council as an exporting authority says "You may not have our skilled people because we wish to keep industry in inner London, but you, as new towns with nice green field areas, must take on many more handicapped and mentally ill persons, as well as the elderly and the one-parent families."

We know that we are under pressure. It is against that background that I have examined the effect of the cost of the Bill. Its purpose is laudable, but one cannot ask district authorities in the new towns, particularly the towns which are still expanding, to take on yet another burden at a cost to their own domestic ratepayers. Each time a further burden is placed on a new town, disharmony is caused in the minds of the long-term residents. I believe that we in the House have an obligation to make sure that the new towns are a success. I believe that the new town concept is a good one and that my new town in Northamptonshire is reasonably successful, but each time an extra burden is landed on us there is a local outcry and considerable aggravation and disharmony. I have not been able to calculate the actual cost to Northamptonshire, but obviously it will be yet another burden.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove was right to say that the clause will help, if only marginally. The nature of the formula is such that the greatest help will go to areas of greatest need. That is a philosophy which I know all Conservative Members will favour.

I believe that it is not a bad thing occasionally for the central Government to aim at a greater degree of statistical accuracy than has been experienced to date. Unless an adjustment is made after rebate has been given, we shall be moving ahead on a basis which is not very accurate. It will help all of us who have to make these calculations, particularly in rating, if the figures are as accurate as possible. I hope that the clause, which has behind it the thought that we should not place any extra burdens on the district authorities, will commend itself to the House.

Both hon. Members who have put their names to the new clause have now spoken, and I must offer my apologies to the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). Because of an unavoidable engagement elsewhere, I missed the first part of his speech. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction was able to report the hon. Gentleman's remarks to me.

I well understand the anxieties felt by the hon. Gentleman, and also by the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), that it is possible that this well-intentioned Bill will impose a burden on other ratepayers. It is important that I should take part in the debate at this point to assure both hon. Gentlemen that the financial effects of the Bill as it stands will be very small and that it will not involve additional expenditure by the Exchequer.

Relief which is currently given under Section 45 will not be substantially extended, but in the case of institutions provision is made for a small extension partly on the ground of equity and partly to eliminate disparities north and south of the border. Compensation to local authorities will be provided by means of the rate support grant.

The hon. Member for Hove suggested that the recommendation contained in the Green Paper on local government finance should be carried out. I give him the absolute assurance that the commitment in the Green Paper to compensate local authorities for mandatory rate relief in this year's rate support grant order was carried out in November 1977. The same is proposed in the Bill.

Hon. Members have asked where the money comes from. If there is no additional Exchequer expenditure, and if the Bill is not to impose any sort of burden on other ratepayers living in a district where there is a high proportion of disabled people, where does the money come from? The answer is that it is contained within that sum of money which is the rate support grant, and that is why it is properly contained within the rate support grant order.

I perfectly understand the purpose of the new clause. It is designed to distribute the rate support grant so as to compensate local authorities for the loss of rate revenue as a result of rebates under the Bill. I am pointing out that the Government entirely accept the objectives of the new clause in principle. In fact, they are already carrying them out. Indeed, when the Bill becomes law, as I hope it will—and as, I believe, Opposition Members hope it will—it will be operated so that the healthy constituents about whom the hon. Member for Hove is concerned will not as a consequence find an extra charge on their rates as a result of the relief given to those of his constituents who are disabled.

I find it difficult to follow the Minister. Apparently he is talking about a global sum which includes the resources element, and within that element there is a figure to support the relief proposed in the Bill. Surely, if that relief did not exist, the global sum would be reduced by that amount.

The fact that there is a global sum which includes a series of elements cannot mean that, if an additional element is put in which has the effect of requiring further central Government support in terms of resources, there is no financial consequences. I think that in Committee—this is col. 17 of Hansard—the hon. Gentleman referred to a figure of £300,000 at 1976–77 prices. Surely there must be an element of additional expenditure from central Government funds, although within a global figure, and, similarly with the rate support grant arrangement at 61 per cent., the balance will have to be found by the ratepayer.

We are dealing with small sums, but some of us regard the principle as important. We are concerned lest the central Government allow legislation to be passed without due regard to its consequences for ratepayers. The Minister will be aware that there have been many examples of that happening in the past. Some of us, therefore, are concerned to examine legislation and the effect that it will have on ratepayers.

I am not satisfied with the Minister's explanation that there will be no cost to the central Exchequer, not outside but within the global sum, since there must surely be an additional demand.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows enough about central and local government finance to know that decisions are made about the rate support grant and what the global sum will be. I gather that the concern expressed this morning is that a local authority—perhaps Hove or perhaps another—which has within its area a high proportion of people who claim and are entitled to relief under the Bill because they are disabled will have to impose an extra burden on the ratepayers in general. I understand that point. What I am saying is that the purpose within the rate support grant is to ensure that distribution of the global sum is made in such a way as to be fair to local authorities throughout the country. as has already been done.

12.45 p.m.

That, briefly, is what I am saying, and I add the point that, in effect, the Bill is designed to clarify the law and to make it possible for rate relief to be given to disabled people without the sort of legal challenge which has arisen in the past. As hon. Members know, rate relief has been given to disabled people in the past under Section 45, and that arrangement will continue. That is the sense in which I have made the point that no significant additional Exchequer expenditure is involved under the Bill.

But that partially denies what the Minister said earlier, that there is no additional demand on central Government resources. One question is that of demand on the taxpayer and ratepayer. The other is the method by which the resources are raised and charged. I agree that across the country as a whole, by reason of the rate support grant arrangement, the Minister is correct, but surely it cannot be right to say that no additional central Government expenditure is involved. It is in the omnibus figure, but it must be a constituent part, and its absence would mean that there would not be the increased charge required when the Bill is enacted.

The hon. Gentleman was not a member of the Standing Committee and he may not have appreciated that the purpose of the Bill is not to introduce a new form of relief in the sense that we have not provided rate relief for the disabled hitherto. We are continuing to do so, but we are doing so by a different method which will not significantly increase the Exchequer contribution to this particular purpose. That is the sense in which I have just explained—though it seems that I did not make myself clear—that there is no significant additional Exchequer expenditure in order to finance the purposes of the Bill.

I take it that the Minister has been saying that the intention of the new clause will be achieved through the rate support grant. I further took him to imply that, in so far as rebates were being granted already under Section 45, this was covered under the rate support grant arrangement. Will the hon. Gentleman explain how that is being achieved now and how it is proposed to achieve the further compensation to local authorities such as mine through the rate support grant in the future?

Secondly, will the hon. Gentleman assure me that any help which is given through the allocation of the resources element of the rate support grant will take into account the rebates which are granted during a year? He will appreciate that somebody applies for relief and gets the rebate that year after the resources element of the rate support grant has been handed out. How will the Minister deal with that? Certainly in the first year's operation of the Bill it could be a substantial matter for local authorities such as mine.

The hon. Gentleman is interested in the mechanism whereby this is done. I have to admit that I could not explain all the details now. Perhaps the best thing would be to write to him. I should like to give him the answer to his question, and these are technical points. On the general issue, however, I give the House again the absolute assurance that the Bill does not involve a significant additional Exchequer contribution and, further, that local authorities such as Hove, about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, have no reason to fear that there will be an increased burden on other ratepayers as a consequence of the relief in so far as it is mandatory—on the discretionary element, yes, of course, but not in so far as it is mandatory.

Therefore, I assure the House that the new clause is not necessary. The purpose behind it is accepted by the Government, and I recommend that it should not be added to the Bill.

My hon. Friends and I are not totally reassured by what the Minister has said. We fully accept the proposition that he has advanced, and that which is printed in the Bill, that there is no net increase in Exchequer funds. But the whole case of the arguments of my hon. Friends the Members for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) was that the redistribution of the burden within an existing global figure would disadvantageously affect the ratepayers in Hove and Northampton.

I hope that on the narrow point of the likely extra burden the Minister will give an undertaking to consider in detail the claim made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove that there will be an extra burden upon Hove ratepayers of about £60,000 as a result of the extra mandatory duties placed upon that borough by the Bill. The sum of £60,000 is substantial in the context of the figures the Minister gave to the Committee on 3rd May of, I think, a total net increase of £70,000-odd arising from the non-institutional beneficiaries of the Bill. He gave a figure of a loss of £235,000 in 1976 rising to about £300,000. That is the increase in respect of the non-institutional section, worth about £70,000, and it is apparently almost entirely taken up by the Hove figure alone, if the Hove figure is right. I hope that at some stage the Minister will look seriously at these Hove figures.

The figure to which I referred covers the relief in both Clause 1 and Clause 2—the institutional and the personal, although I believe that the vast majority of its falls within the Clause 2, institutional, relief.

Then we have an overall figure of £3 million plus £70,000. If Hove accounts for £60,000 of that out of all the 400 local authorities in the country, that still means a fairly substantial burden.

If the Minister is right and the extra mandatory burden imposed by the Bill will be taken up simply by a redistribution within the existing rate support grant, that can mean only one thing as I understand it—that the operation of the social factors in the needs element will operate in such a way that it picks up the extra burden of the disabled in particular situations, in particular local authorities, and causes a shift in the distribution under the needs element head.

Clearly it can have nothing to do with the resources factor, because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hove pointed out, the Layfield Committee said at paragraph 45 in chapter 12, of its report:
"We suggest in Chapter 10 that arrangements should be made to compensate local authorities through the grant system for the mandatory relief from local taxation afforded to charities. This might best be done by basing the resource element distribution only on the amount of rateable value effectively taxed."
That is precisely the purpose of the new clause, but it is clear that this Layfield recommendation has not been taken up, so it must be that the compensation of which the Minister speaks will be effected through the needs element.

I should like to point out to the Minister a serious deficiency of the needs element as a means of redistributing the available global total of RSG in the direction of places such as Hove or Northampton. First, the social factors taken into account in the needs element do not contain the specific sub-head of disability. This means that disability is not picked up as a local phenomenon. It may very well be a feature of places such as Hove with a large retired population. but disability is not specifically picked up as one of the determining characteristics of the local authority area, simply because it is not listed in the social factors.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it has been the cause of a good deal of grievance that in no way has this been allowed since the passing of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act? Those of us who are very much involved in the matter of disability have found this one of the difficulties in persuading local authorities to go as far as many of us would like them to go in implementing that very important Act.

That is a valid and important point. It is striking that the "Social Factor" subhead of the needs element does not contain a disability title.

But the position is worse than that. The social factors as now itemised are counter-productive in terms of the phenomenon of disability, because they include the sub-head "Elderly people living alone". One of the features of a disability phenomenon is that one cannot be alone. Therefore, if there is a disability factor in a local area it almost logically and necessarily diminishes that heading.

Another important feature of the social factor list is that it includes people living in houses lacking basic amenities. Again by definition, when one has a high disability factor one tends to play down not only the numbers living alone but the number of houses lacking in basic amenities, because both phenomena tend to be absent in the case of the disabled. Probably through public funds, disabled people have many of the basic amenities provided for them and some extra ones relating to their disability.

Not only is disability not mentioned, two factors that are mentioned tend to be offset by the presence of disability. This is one reason why places such as Hove will not receive compensation through an internal shift of the resources available under the needs element.

Another factor which supports my hon. Friend's very well argued case is that there is no social factor for over-75s. It is in that population group that we find a particular concentration of those who are disabled and those who are partially disabled but perhaps do not fall within that category.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that additional reference to the limitations of the social factor heading under the broad needs element factor in the RSG.

There seems to be a certain misunderstanding here. The Minister for Housing and Construction, in what I can describe only as a hit-and-run raid, visited the Chamber and burst into the debate to tell us blandly that the whole problem was dealt with by public funds already. The Under-Secretary, with his greater expertise in this matter, has followed the rather different course of drawing a discreet veil over the intricacies of this internal piece of machinery. It is our conviction, however, that the operation of the existing machinery of the rate support grant arrangements, within which this new mandatory duty must be picked up by public funds, will not have the effect that the Minister suspects of helping places such as Hove and Northampton and any other areas where there is a signifiant disability factor. Indeed, the needs element will be counter-productive.

I hope that we may have some further reassurance that perhaps at a later stage—because we do not want to delay matters—the Minister will see whether there is another method to make certain that disability really is taken into account. We are dealing with substantial increases in burdens—the £3 million and so on at stake here.

Perhaps I can help the House on the two points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. The first question was how this was done—through the needs or the resources element. The answer is that it is done through the resources element and it has nothing to do with the needs element.

The hon. Gentleman made the perfectly reasonable suggestion that disability might be used as a social factor, an indicator, under the needs element. I do not know whether this matter has been considered by the grants working group. Perhaps it has been. The hon. Member will know that such proposals need to be considered first of all in the light of available objective statistical information. If they are not so considered, it is impossible to apply them according to the principles upon which the needs element is normally founded.

1.0 p.m.

A possible second reason why this system has not been adopted—if it has been looked at, and I do not know whether that is the case—is that there would have to be shown objectively a definite relationship, clearly established, between the existence of high levels of disability, particularly in local authority areas, and an enhanced need to spend per head of the population in the area. If that can be shown and if statistical information is available to enable the need to be properly assessed, there is no doubt that the working group would wish to make that a recommendation as one of the social factors in the needs element. Otherwise, I am afraid that it is unlikely that such a thing would be recommended.

The Minister will know that one of the objectives of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was that every local authority should determine the number of seriously disabled people in its area. This is something of a chicken-and-egg situation. In so far as local authorities have not completed this work, that may be due to a lack of resources. The whole idea is that they should do so and that the information should be available. If that information is not available, it is because the authorities are not being adequately supported. I suggest that the Minister might give instructions to his Department to break through this situation.

I support the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury), who at the same time has introduced us to the bracing sea air of the South Coast and the intricacies of "Hove in the 1980s". My hon. Friend should not think that he has it all his own way. We have a campaign running called "Wake up Wallsall". The points made by my hon. Friend have their effects in my part of the world. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) spoke about the new towns and of the value of a different dimension being cast on the matters raised by my hon. Friend.

Perhaps I might give a further dimenension in speaking for the urban areas with many inner city problems, problems which the Government have recently accepted as being of such an urgent and pressing nature. I did not find entirely convincing the Minister's explanation as to how, in terms of the financial effects of this Bill, two plus two equalled only three and a half. However, I would not wish to get involved in the intricacies of the rate support grant. When Greek meets Greek, who am I to referee?

The problems of the urban areas, especially the inner areas, are serious. The Minister was on the Front Bench a week or so ago when we discussed the Report stage of the Inner Urban Areas Bill, a Bill which tries to do something about the cycle of deprivation that exists within these areas and in our older urban areas generally. One of the features of such parts of the country is the decline in the economic base as firms have moved to new towns and development areas. As the jobs have gone, so, too, have many of the young and ambitious people. As a result in our city centres in the older towns there is a much higher proportion of elderly people, and that means, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hove pointed out, a higher proportion of handicapped people.

When the Minister seeks to rebut the arguments put forward in favour of this new clause, he should bear in mind the efforts which the Government are making through the Inner Urban Areas Bill to break into the existing cycle of deprivation. The effect of much of this Bill, if unamended, will be to undo some of the help which the Government seek to give through the Inner Urban Areas Bill.

My other point concerns the drafting of the Bill. The Bill is commendably flexibly drawn so as to allow local authorities as much tolerance as possible in its application. I think it is critically important that we obtain the good will of local authorities. The fact that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act has not yet been fully implemented in some parts of the country is a great pity. Perhaps in some cases local authorities felt that something was being imposed on them. If local authorities feel that the imposition of this measure is likely to lead to a deterioration of their general financial position and consequently an increase in the rate burden on those of its citizens who do not qualify for the benefits within its provisions, they are likely to take a more robust view as to how it can and should be applied.

It is important that it is realised that this new clause not only involves the righting of an unfairness and the helping of areas with an undue proportion of elderly and handicapped people but also concerns means of ensuring the good will of local authorities so that the spirit as well as the letter of this measure it complied with. In that way, the help which we all agree is needed for handicapped people can be fully and fairly implemented.

We all feel rather sorry for the Minister, and I do not believe that he is very happy with his current position. He cannot say at one moment that there will be no additional expense upon the Exchequer and then pretend at the next moment that the cost involved will not be put on to the backs of ratepayers in one way or another. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) has made it clear that, on careful and detailed investigations, this measure will cost about £60,000 to £70,000 in his own distinguished borough. We are delighted to have him next door to Brighton. In Brighton, with an even greater number of elderly people, the figure could easily rise, on the basis of my hon. Friend's calculations and comparisons, to £100,000 a year.

What would be totally wrong would be for my constituents in Brighton—of whom about 23,000 are of retirement age, many of them, tragically, disabled in one way or another—to have their rates increased to help other sections within the same town. This is robbing Peter to pay Paul. The Government are doing nothing. They are giving no extra help. We ask the Minister to think about this again.

I welcome the Bill, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery), because we are conscious of the considerable help and assistance that it will give to a large number of people within our district council area. We are concerned about the potential substantial loss of rate income if the Bill remains in its present form. In recent years there have been substantial increases in the domestic rate in towns such as Brighton. We have to bear in mind that there is a high proportion of retired people in these towns living on small fixed incomes or pensions who are gravely affected by inflation. It would be wrong to place on such people a disproportionate burden for helping the disabled. I do not believe that the House would want this to happen.

Brighton is often described as being part of the prosperous South-East. We know that as a whole the South-East is the most prosperous area in the country, but there are areas within the South-East Region which have special problems. We talk gaily and blandly about the region being prosperous and we assume that that applies to all parts of it. But there are pockets—too many in the South-East—of which my own town is one, which have very serious problems. They have problems not only in relation to the numbers of elderly people but also with regard to the levels of unemployment. The unemployment level in Brighton is consistently above the national average.

All these things tie in together on the rate burden, on the numbers who need help, on the disabled and on the ability of the ratepayers and residents of those areas to pay. I hope that the Government will think long and hard about the new clause. If they cannot accept it. I believe we should have from the Minister an assurance that he will look at it with his colleagues. He should concede the principle of the new clause. If he were to do that, I think that it would be warmly welcomed by the House.

During the Committee stage the words of Lord Wilberforce were quoted, when he described the existing law as

"a labyrinth and a minefield of obscurity".—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 3rd May 1978; c. 30.]
Anyone listening to the debates that we have had on the complexities of the rating system would entirely endorse that view of the legal situation. It is, therefore, perhaps useful to reflect on the fact that we are discussing an immensely welcome piece of legislation. It is a proposition which in itself is extremely commendable.

In these difficult financial discussions one tends to forget the original intentions of the Bill. It is worth recalling, particu larly for hon. Members who did not take part in the earlier proceedings, that this is a worthwhile measure which does its bit to relieve the disabled of a rating burden upon extensions to their houses or upon extra facilities that are necessary to help them to overcome some of their disabilities. I offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) on introducing the Bill. He should take comfort in the sure knowledge that the Bill will reach the statute book and will be of real assistance to the disabled.

In the new clause my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) is in no way casting doubt on the intention of the Bill. What he has done, I think very helpfully, is to direct the attention of the House to how these rating reliefs are to be paid for. The new clause is a reflection on our most extraordinary taxation system. We are arguing about whether disabled people should pay taxation on their lavatories or on their bathrooms. We have often heard arguments about minor improvements causing a person to pay extra tax. We have had the whole rigmarole of earlier legislation, court interpretations and further legislation to put the situation right. What is the argument about? It is about whether people should pay a tax on extensions to their homes and whether, in this case, a disabled person should pay tax for the fact that he has an additional bathroom installed downstairs.

The present rating system is preposterous and the sooner we get a major reform of it the better. This is not the time to go into the various options of other tax systems, but if I were challenged I could mention four or five other systems that I would prefer. The example about which we are talking today is a clear demonstration of the follies of the present rating system, with its tax on the notional rental value of property.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove has drawn attention to the question who should pay for this rating relief. My interest in this point was aroused by the Explanatory Memorandum to the original Bill, because it stated quite clearly that there would be no extra burden on the Exchequer. That is a helpful and welcome statement. Any Bill which makes such a statement is to be welcomed. I like the idea. I only wish that more Bills said that. However, it aroused my suspicions. I therefore looked at the reports of the Committee proceedings and read what the Minister had said about the extra cost. It became clear that a substantial additional cost would have to be borne by the local authorities.

1.15 p.m.

Nothing that the Minister has said today in any way satisfies me that there will not be such an additional burden. His remarks today were really in direct contradiction to what he said in Committee. I should like to refer to the Committee proceedings because I am still not clear about what is a very important matter to my constituents. In Committee the Minister made it clear:
"The best estimate by the valuation office is that about 14,000 dwellings currently receive relief under Section 45, giving a total rate loss of about £235,000 The additions under the Bill might take this up to about £300,000 at 1976–77 prices."
He continued:
"In respect of institutions the extensions of relief"—
I emphasise "extensions of relief", because he was rather implying that this was simply a different way of giving the same relief as existed before—
"proposed in the Bill might cost an additional £¾ million in rate loss per annum, in addition to the £3 million per annum which is a broad estimate of the net cost of the present relief to institutions."
He added:
"Therefore, £3 million is the net cost."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 3rd May 1978; c. 16–17.]
It is not clear whether the Minister is lumping the cost all together. It is very confusing, and a degree of clarification would have been welcomed.

What seems to come through quite clearly is the fact that there would be an additional £750,000 in rate loss per annum as a result of the extensions of relief proposed in the Bill. Here we have a quite clear statement that someone has to pick up the bill. We have a clear statement from the Government that there will be no Exchequer contribution. The Minister also said that there will be no extra burden on the ratepayers. But he must be wrong. Someone must meet the bill. Even though the bulk of the cost might well come from the global sum given for rate support, presumably that rate support grant total would be that much less if this extra relief were not being given.

Perhaps the Minister is relying on the use of lotteries for this extra money.

He has not offered that solution. If one were trying to decide which of his answers was correct, that would be a lottery in itself. At present one can take one's pick.

I should like to emphasise how important this matter is in terms of cost. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove mentioned a figure of £60,000. That does not sound unrealistic when we are talking in terms of a cost of £1 million or £2 million throughout the country. My hon. Friend's constituency, in some ways like mine, contains perhaps a larger number of elderly and disabled people. Therefore, that does not sound an unreal figure. A figure of that kind is significant. Some may argue that it is of marginal significance, but to many district councils figures of £30,000, £40,000 or £50,000 present real problems, because they are already squeezed dry.

As evidence of that one has only to look at our experience during the recent flooding. I shall not go into that in great detail, but when calculating the cost of compensation for flood damage in relation to the penny rate product in our own districts I can assure the Minister that amounts of £30,000. £40,000 or £50,000 were absolutely critical. I can also tell him that many housing improvement schemes have had to be postponed because of a lack of money. My own district council in Swale would regard sums of £30,000, £40,000 or £50,000 as extremely important. My district has an elderly population. It is a seaside constituency. I am not saying that we have a campaign for "Swale in the 1980s" or a campaign such as "Wake up Walsall". The nearest we can get is to invite hon. Members to come to sunny Sheppey. We have a large number of retired people in the constituency. I suspect that therefore we have a considerable number of disabled people. But we cannot claim the affluence of Hove. I am not denigrating the prosperity or potentiality of my constituency, but we do not have a very high rate product.

It seems, therefore, quite unreasonable for the Government and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North—in reality, it is the Government—to say to a district council "Parliament will impose on you yet another mandatory obligation" but pass the buck to the local ratepayers. This happens so often. How often do we hear this complaint? We heard it with the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. Parliament passes legislation which generally has universal support, but then refuses to will the means to the district councils to carry out its desirable ends.

This Bill is a classic and bald example. The Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill stated that the cost to the Government would be nil. The Under-Secretary of State proclaims almost proudly that there will be no cost to the Exchequer. But this is the point. Here again we are putting a further and not insignificant burden on the district and other rating authorities to carry out a duty imposed on them by the House. We are dodging our responsibilities.

The Minister has suggested that we are wrong. He tried to argue that the districts would get full compensation. He seemed to get himself rather tied up in an exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) about whether the compensation could be granted. He was in doubt about whether it could be done.

The only sensible way to eliminate the doubt is to accept the new clause. The hon. Gentleman said that he accepted it in principle, and that it was the point he was trying to achieve. But there is at least considerable doubt in his mind, and certainly in our minds, as to whether he can achieve it through the existing rating system. Why, therefore, not accept the new clause? Clearly the Minister has no fundamental objection to it.

It is because we at present do the job being asked for through the regulations, and therefore it would be inappropriate to put the new clause in the Bill. I have explained to the House and have offered to write to the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury).

It is nice to have letters written to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove, but it would be more helpful to have the point cleared up now, for the sake not only of hon. Members but of the local authorities as well. The hon. Gentleman claimed that he was achieving 100 per cent. compensation to the local authorities but he has not sustained his case. If he is saying that, presumably he is also saying that the local authorities are getting full compensation for rate relief on charities. Is he saying that, too? If that is the case, I am puzzled.

The representation of the Rating and Valuation Association says:
"The Layfield Committee proposed that local authorities should be compensated for the 50 per cent. rate relief which they are compelled to give in respect of properties occupied by charities. The Green Paper on Local Government Finance accepted this principle."
That is what we are asking for now. It went on:
"It is understood that in due course the Government will promote legislation to implement this proposal. In view of this undertaking the Association strongly contends that the central Government should extend this obligation by reimbursing local authorities with the full cost of the mandatory relief granted under the provisions of this Bill, together with the full administration costs."
That is another argument, but if the local authorities are already getting 100 per cent. compensation, it is strange that this has escaped the notice of the Rating and Valuation Association, whose members of all people, would be aware of what was happening in rating.

I do not see how local authorities could be receiving such 100 per cent. compensation, since I presume that the means of giving them that compensation are essentially through the rate support grant, and the level of the grant is 61 per cent., so surely at least we are saying that local authorities must be bearing the balance, which in turn means that it is being borne by the ratepayers. The Under-Secretary of State still owes us a clear explanation of how this measure is to be funded, and of the total cost; he has not given it to us so far.

I think that the House must come to a conclusion on this new clause. I have given every conceivable assurance that I should have thought that the House would accept. The hon. Gentleman has just quoted part of a paper, paragraph 2(iii), sent out on behalf of the Rating and Valuation Association. I have already given an assurance that what is asked for in that paragraph has already been done under the rate support grant regulations. I do not know what else the hon. Gentleman wants. I have assured the House of that fact, and that is the reply. I stand by it.

I do not intend to pursue the matter at great length because we are getting into very deep water on the calculation of the rate support grant formula. But if there is confusion it has been caused by the Under-Secretary of State. If we had a clear statement that there is a nil cost to the Exchequer, and that there is a nil cost to the local authorities because 100 per cent. compensation is being paid to them, the hon. Gentleman must have been wrong in the first place, and there is a true cost on the central Government in meeting the cost of the amount of extra relief proposed.

I think, as my hon. Friend says, that the Under-Secretary of State has succeeded in confusing us all. There is a sad alternative. There could be a nil cost on central Government funds because the resources element of the rate support grant is not increased. There could be an almost nil cost to an individual rating authority because its loss of rate revenue through mandatory relief could be compensated through the reallocation of the total rate support grant. This is what I am proposing to achieve through the new clause, and the Minister has been, rather unfortunately, trying to persuade us that this reallocation will be or is being achieved. There would obviously be a slight cost to individual local authorities, but the overall cost would be spread among all local authorities in receipt of resources element rate support grant.

I should be following my hon. Friend into complex arguments if I tried to follow him on that point. However, his new clause meets a real difficulty. I am concerned because we have had a clear statement that the Bill will not involve any additional Exchequer expenditure. I has now become clear that it will involve additional Exchequer expenditure. We do not know how much—it might be £250,000 or £1 million. I suspect that it will be about £1 million. If that is true—and the Minister's an swers confirm that it is—I suggest that we should have another financial resolution before the House. Indeed, I wonder about the validity of the Bill itself in its present form.

I have no wish to undermine the Bill because we want it to go through, but I ask the Minister to give serious thought to this question. I am sure that as the Bill stands it is in order, but let us not jeopardise its future proceedings because of any doubt about this aspect. My sympathies go to the Under-Secretary of State because he probably was not responsible for the bald statement on the original Bill. The situation has now been clarified substantially, but it may be that the new clause would clear it up once and for all and would be very helpful.

1.30 p.m.

I intend to intervene only briefly in the debate. I am sure that as you, Mr. Speaker, have been absent for some time during the debate, both you and others, when you read the debate, will not be wrong if you have the impression that so far more concern has been expressed about money than about the plight of the many disabled in this country. It is unfortunate that the burden of the Bill, which is to assist thousands of disabled people in a tangible way, has so far been debated in this financial penny-pinching way.

It is noteworthy that the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) has not referred to the Conservative Party's past support for the abolition of the rating system. That would transfer responsibilities for such matters as these to the national Exchequer. In turn, we have heard no references to the actions of the Conservative Party this week in obtaining substantial tax handouts, thereby reducing the amount of revenue available to the Exchequer, which for the most part benefit the very rich and certainly do very little to benefit the disabled.

I should like to refer to some rather hard-faced Victorian attitudes and policies of the Tory-controlled Calderdale Council, especially in regard to its housing policies as they affect the disabled. The Bill, which I hope becomes law, will have to be enacted by that local authority. Its latest objectionable policy is to separate rent and rates payments for all council tenants. The rent is paid to rent collectors, but the rates now have to be paid at council offices. That involves considerable inconvenience and—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I inquire what the separation of rent and rates payments by council tenants has to do with the new clause?

Order. During my earlier period in the Chair I had some doubts about much that was said about the new clause. I confess that I have had my doubts during the morning. To make the record clear, I was away only for my lunch. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will link his remarks to the new clause and all that it means.

This is in no way a rebuke to you, Mr. Speaker, but I was drawing your attention to the fact that, while you were absent having your lunch, we were treated to extensive comments about "Wake up Walsall", "Sunny Sheppey" and various references to Hove and other places throughout the country. I am drawing attention to a policy of separating rent and rates payments which is of direct relevance to the Bill. I appeal to the Government, when the Bill is enacted, to give guidance to my local authority to ensure that the disabled are assisted rather than hindered in the payment of rates.

There have been extensive expressions of concern in the Balderdale District Council area, in the local paper and elsewhere, about the extreme difficulty which the disabled have in paying their rates. Although the Bill will clearly be of substantial benefit to them, the benefits that they will receive under it could be dissipated and considerably lessened unless guidance is given by the Department of the Environment to local authorities to ensure that the disabled are not forced by policies of this kind to go to council offices to pay their rates. I think that exceptions must be given to help the disabled if the Bill is enacted.

The hon. Gentleman has raised the important issue of whether guidance will be given. It would be helpful if, before we conclude our deliberations on the new clause, the Minister who is now on the Government Front Bench could give us some indication whether that will be done.

I am sure that the necessary reply to these matters will be given in due course. That is why I chose this opportunity to place on record at the earliest moment my concern for such guidance to be given. Unfortunately, I have not yet had my lunch. As we seemed to be spending so much time on the financial aspects of the matter as they relate to local authorities' procedures and practices, I felt that it was relevant to place my concern on record at this stage rather than at a later stage of the debate.

I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is not present, because I want to pursue, only briefly, some of the points which have already been discussed with regard to the responsibilities which will lie on the central Exchequer and local authorities flowing from the provisions of the Bill. I warmly welcome these provisions and the extension of the financial concessions which are to be made available to the handicapped. We all know of the circumstances of those unfortunate enough to be handicapped for one reason or another, and any help that can be given to them should be made available.

I think that the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) treated us somewhat harshly in looking at the financial consequences of the Bill. Inevitably, we must have regard to where the incidence of meeting the financial responsibilities should lie. I maintain that continuing to introduce central Government legislation and imposing the burden on the ratepayer is wrong, particularly when it is of a mandatory nature. In the past, we have seen much of the burden levied on the ratepayer without regard to local circumstances. They are essentially of an overall character and the bill has to be picked up by local authorities within, of course, the incidence of the rate support grant arrangements.

I am not sure that what the Under-Secretary said about the bill being picked up by the resources element in the rate support grant is correct. Indeed, it is to some extent denied by what the hon. Gentleman said in Committee:
"My advice is that the change to the giving of domestic relief by way of a deduction from the rate bill rather than a reduction of the valuation of the property will not affect the overall cost."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 3rd May 1978; c. 16.]
I recognise that, when what the hon. Gentleman said this morning was that the expense would be picked up by the resources element of the rate support grant procedures. Those will be upset by an arrangement of this kind where the relief is not to be based on a rateable value figure but is to be given by way of a reduction from the rates bill. Here again we have a new introduction of rate relief which is in contradiction to the whole concept of the rate support grant arrangements.

I know that the Under-Secretary has undertaken to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and to set out the detail. However, I am surprised that in the circumstances he is not prepared to accept the wording of the new clause, for which there is widespread support by the Opposition. We have had no positive opposition and, in my judgment, no satisfactory explanation of why the new clause should not be accepted.

I wish to intervene only briefly. First, I observe that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment has left the Chamber. I assume that he has gone for his lunch. If that is the only reason for his departure, I think it is a gross discourtesy, because the debate has largely been an attempt by hon. Members to get information from him before the matter was concluded. If there is some other explanation, I shall apologise to the hon. Gentleman later for that comment.

We are in a ludicrous position, because the only person on the Government Front Bench is the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, who has no reason to know anything about the Bill.

I hope that the hon. Member will not be too hard on my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I hope to respond to some of the points that have been made in the debate.

I have no desire to be unduly hard on the Under-Secretary of State. I have no doubt that he needs his lunch as much as do the rest of us. This debate, however, has been an attempt to extract clarity from the Government about the rate support grant and what the Government's intentions are. It is useless to have a debate of this kind without the presence of the Minister who has some responsibility for the departmental interests involved.

Having listened carefully to almost all the debate, I remain as confused as I was at the beginning. The Minister has given us no clarity. He has acknowledged that there is a net additional cost involved in the Bill. It has emerged in the debate that there are three ways in which that cost can be met. The first is by the Government. But we have been told that it is not to be met by the Government because there is no net cost to the Exchequer.

The second method is that it will be a charge on the ratepayers of the districts in which disabled people live. We have been told that that is not the way in which it will be met because it will be coped with through the rate support grant. That leaves a third possibility—that it will be met by the ratepayers of the districts in which there are not large numbers of disabled people.

That means that the cost of the Bill is to be met by shuffling it from one group of ratepayers to others. I might be wrong, but that is the logical deduction. Districts with relatively few disabled people will have their rates increased to pay subsidies to districts in which large numbers of disabled people live. I find that unsatisfactory.

The costs should be met by the Exchequer through an addition to the rate support grant so that the burden falls on taxpayers and does not add to the burdens of ratepayers in any part of the country. I wish to know whether my deduction is right and, if it is, whether the Minister will do something about it. I cannot get that assurance because the Minister is not here. This is a silly way to carry on since I assume that the Minister is as anxious as the rest of us to ensure that the Bill goes through.

I hope that my intervention will be even shorter than the two that we have just heard. I am anxious not to hold up the Bill, which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), for whom all hon. Members have great respect. However, there are constant complaints throughout the country about the charges that are laid on local authorities by legislation when Parliament does not afford them the funds to carry it out.

The Government say that no charge will be laid in this case. The Under-Secretary of State asked the House to give him the benefit of the doubt. As my hon. Friends have said, he had difficulty in explaining, in an area of Byzantine complexity, how that end would be achieved. Hon. Members who have been present today have been fulfilling the duty of the legislature by coming back again and again to the Government to ask how the objective is to be achieved.

Another complaint that is made in the country is that members of the legislature are not sufficiently tight in controlling the Executive. We have had a good opportunity to do that today. I can understand the impatience of those who wish to see the Bill passed, but the House has been fulfilling its true role by imposing pressure.

I give the Under-Secretary of State the benefit of the doubt. In spending this amount of time, about which the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Madden) expressed impatience, we have been fulfilling exactly the same role as was fulfilled by my constituent Mr. Vandyk in bringing the test case which led to this cause being discussed.

We are dealing with an important issue. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box can undertake to provide copies of the correspondence to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate.

1.45 p.m.

Most politicians begin speeches with the humorous aside "Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking". I should begin by saying "Unaccustomed as I am to public silence". I have been silent for two reasons. When I became an Under-Secretary of State at the Scottish Office under my redoubtable right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), I was advised "Never mind the flowery speeches. Get the Bill through." But perhaps the most compelling reason is that it is difficult enough for me to understand the complexities of the Scottish rating system without becoming involved in the English rating system, which appears from the speeches that have been made to be as complex, if not more so, as the system in Scotland.

I do not complain about hon. Members raising these issues on behalf of constituents. The question of how the cost is to be met is important and it is their public duty to raise the matter. Naturally, I have been bearing my silence with more and more impatience since we have another 15 groups of amendments and little time to consider them.

I have been given an assurance on costs. It revolves around whether the recommendations of the Layfield Committee on mandatory relief are introduced. They relate to charities under Section 40 of the General Rate Act. The hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) referred to a letter, which only English Members have seen, from the Rating and Valuation Association which states that they have not been introduced. I am assured that the rate support grant regulations for 1977 made provision for compensation to be paid to local authorities for the relief that they are required to give to charities under Section 40 of the Act.

I understand that the effect of this will be felt in the 1978–79 year. Provision has therefore been taken to cover that question. I do not know precisely how it will be done, but the regulations apparently already make provision for Section 40 relief.

I am assured that the Government's intention is to introduce similar regulations to cover any additional burden that might fall upon local authorities as a result of this Bill. If that is so, there will be precise compensation for the local authorities and the objectives of the new clauses will be met.

I understand the difficulties of acceping such an assurance from a Back Bencher, but I understood that that was the assurance which the Under-Secretary of State gave on behalf of the Government. I am simply reiterating my understanding. We gave as much information as we could in Committee. I shall draw my hon. Friend's attention to the request that the information that is to be sent to the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) should be sent to all hon. Members who took part in the debate. If they are still not satisfied, there is, of course, the possibility of raising the matter further in another place.

I take it that we have the assurance of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), as the sponsor of this very worthy Bill, that he supports the objectives of my new clause.

There has never been any intention in drafting the Bill to lay additional burdens on local authorities or ratepayers. On the financial side, the intention has always been that there would be compensation to local authorities.

I conclude on what may be thought to be a provocative note. There are times when there are worthy objectives in Bills when perhaps it is necessary to ask ratepayers who are physically and financially better off to make a contribution. Therefore, I do not take the absolute view that at all times local ratepayers have no responsibility to their fellow ratepayers.

I accept the objectives of the new clause. My understanding from Government assurances is that the objectives are met and will continue to be met. Having had that assurance, I hope that the hon. Member for Hove will not seek to withdraw his clause.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I seek your guidance? My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) is just about to wind up this debate. We have had a long debate on this very important matter. I am not sure whether the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment is ill, in which case I shall be the first to offer my condolences. If, however, he is not ill and he is in the House, I wonder whether it might be for the convenience of hon. Members to adjourn for a few moments so that the hon. Gentleman can join us and we can complete our consideration of the clause. In any event, I do not think that we are being altogether fair to the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I hope that the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) will not proceed with that suggestion. If there is any blame attaching to the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment for not being here, I must share it because it is partly for my convenience as well as for his own that he has left the Chamber. I hope that the hon. Member will not pursue his point of order seriously.

In any event, I understand that the Minister has already addressed the House.

We have had a very important and interesting debate. I am grateful for the support that the objectives in my new clause have received from hon. Members representing a variety of different types of constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), with the problems of new and expanding towns, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsall, North (Mr. Hodgson), with an industrial urban area, my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), with, I suppose what is an inner city area these days, and my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden), who has an area which is very similar to my own, my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), with another seaside area, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Jones), who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South, has the problems of an expanding town, and my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), who has a more rural area, have all supported the objectives of my clause.

I am also grateful to have that same support from the Bill's sponsor, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). I thought that his intervention at a late stage in the debate was the most helpful one to come from the Government Benches. He put over much more clearly than did the Minister or the Under-Secretary what we were trying to achieve, which is to spread the relief which will be given by the Bill over the body of taxpayers or ratepayers rather than to concentrate it in specific areas.

I suspect that, if the Under-Secretary of State had been a little more clear in what he said, he would have drawn attention to paragraph 9(2) of Schedule 2 to the Local Government Act 1974, which provides
"For the purpose of subparagraph (1) above"—
which relates to the calculation of the rateable value for resources element purposes—
"'effective rateable value', in relation to any hereditament, means such value as may be determined in accordance with regulations made by the Secretary of State; and any such regulations may make different provision in relation to different types of hereditament."
In the light of the helpful speech by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, I suspect that the Government intend that the regulations will be made to cover the objectives of the clause. I say only that regulations which can be made and unmade without reference to this House are not the most satisfactory way of dealing with a financial matter which could result in some hardship to the ratepayers of an area such as the borough of Hove and the areas of which my hon. Friends have spoken.

However, it is not the intention of any Opposition Member to delay the Bill, because we all wish it well. In the light of the assurances that we have had from the Under-Secretary of State—I am glad to see that he has nearly got back into the Chamber—and his undertaking to write to me about these matters, and in the light of the further undertaking given by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North that that letter will be sent to all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate, I shall seek to withdraw the clause on the understanding that we shall study the letter and, we hope, discover that it covers satisfactorily the matters which concern us. If it does not, I hope that the letter will be received sufficiently speedily to enable the other place to look again at the matter if necessary.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and new clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1

Rebates For Hereditaments With Special Facilities For Disabled Persons

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 8, after 'any', insert 'domestic'.

With this we are to discuss Amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 8, after 'hereditament', insert

'being the main residence of a disabled person'.

I tabled this amendment because of the potential complications introduced into the assessment of mixed hereditaments. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) picked up another point, which is that the disabled person living in a mixed hereditament may not regard the residential part of it as his main residence. It may be that my hon. Friend's amendment is better than my own, and I shall be interested to hear what he says about it, assuming, Mr. Speaker, that he succeeds in catching your eye.

My reason for tabling Amendment No. 2 was that, when I read the reports of the proceedings in Committee, I was a little surprised to find no reference to mixed hereditaments, of which probably the most common instance is a shop, nor to the disabled person who has two homes, perhaps one in London and one elsewhere.

In recent years, we in this House have taken the view, especially in relation to mortgage tax relief, that Government help should be given only in respect of a person's primary residence. I do not take any particular view about this, but I should like to know whether those who are most knowledgeable about disabled people take the view that in such a case there should be relief on both properties. Has there been any consultation about this? Has a firm view been taken that it is right for relief to be given to both homes? It may be, of course, that the matter has been overlooked completely.

2.0 p.m.

I appreciate the concern of hon. Members who have raised this matter. The wording of the Bill, which refers primarily to the need for a person to be resident in the premises, means that it would be mostly domestic places which were covered. I am advised that the effect of the word "domestic" would be the reverse of what the hon. Member seeks. If someone lived above a shop or was a resident caretaker, he would not qualify. I think that the words are unnecessary.

I am not normally in favour of relief on second homes, but they would qualify under the Bill. Some disabled people find it impossible to have a normal holiday and may need a holiday caravan or cottage. Thus, notwithstanding general principles, I think that a second home in these circumstances should qualify for rebate as well as a first home. I hope that the hon. Member will accept those explanations.

In the light of those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move Amendment No. 3 in page 1, line 16, leave out 'there has been provided' and insert 'there is'.

I understand that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following Amendments:

No. 4, in page 1, line 16, leave out 'has been provided' and insert 'is'.

No. 6, in page 2, line 5, leave out 'there has been provided' and insert 'there is'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 5, leave out 'has been provided' and insert 'is'.

No. 29, in Clause 4, page 4, line 36, leave out 'has been provided' and insert 'is'.

No. 30, in Clause 4, page 5, line 1, leave out 'has been provided' and insert 'is'.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) and I moved similar amendments in Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) assured us that, although he felt that the changes were not necessary, he would look at the matter again. I am very pleased that he has accepted our arguments and has introduced the accompanying amendments.

Although the words "has been provided" may have the same meaning in law as the word "is" at least brevity is a virtue. Using one word instead of three is obviously an economy which has appealed to the hon. Member's Scottish nature.

Under these amendments, when a disabled person moves into an already adapted dwelling, he will still receive a continuing rate rebate. It would be invidious if he were denied the rebate simply because he had not done the repairs himself. We are grateful for the hon. Member's acceptance of this principle.

As the hon. Member said, we discussed in Committee amendments intended to achieve this object. I was persuaded then that my amendment was superior. I am not entirely disabused of that idea, but I am always told by distinguished legal friends—I have to rely on them, because I am not a lawyer—that the law is not what one thinks but what it says. I am happy to accept the amendments for the avoidance of doubt. Technically, I think the hon Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) intends to withdraw his amendment in favour of mine.

Indeed I am. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 4, in page 1, line 16, leave out 'has been provided' and insert 'is'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 5, leave out 'has been provided' and insert 'is'.—[Mr Robert Hughes.]

I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 7, at end insert—

'(dd) a hereditament in which there is sufficient floor space to permit the use of a wheel chair used by and required for meeting the needs of a disabled person who resides in the hereditament;'.

I understand that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following amendments:

No. 9, in page 2, line 7, at end insert—
'(dd) a hereditament which has sufficient space to accommodate a disabled person substantially dependent upon a wheelchair for indoor mobility and which is required for meeting the needs of a disabled person who resides in the hereditament.'.
No. 31, in Clause 4, page 5, line 4, at end insert—
'(dd) lands and heritages in which there is sufficient floor space to permit the use of a wheel-chair used by and required for meeting the needs of a disabled person who resides in the lands and heritages;'.
No. 36, in Clause 4, page 5, line 34, after 'of', insert '(a)'.

No. 37, in Clause 4, page 5, line 34, after 'heritages', insert—
other than those within subsection (2)(dd) above'.
No. 39, in Clause 4, page 5, line 37, after 'facility', insert';
(b) lands and heritages within subsection (2)(dd) above shall be equal to the rates which would be chargeable on the special facility for the rebate period if its rateable value were £30 or such other amount as may be prescribed by order made by the Secretary of State'.
No. 40, in Clause 4, page 5, line 39, at end insert—
'An order under this subsection shall be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament and the power to make such an order includes power to vary or revoke a previous order'.
No. 41, in Clause 4, page 5, line 40, after 'rebate', insert under subsection (5)(a) above'.

No. 42, in Clause 4, page 5, line 43, at end insert—
'(6A) The rating authority may, if they think fit, increase the rebate under subsection (5)(b) above by an additional amount equal to one-fifth of the amount of that rebate'.
No. 52, in Schedule 1, page 10, line 7, after '7', insert 'and 5A'.

No. 53, in Schedule 1, page 10, line 29, at end insert—

'Sufficient floor space for use of wheel chair
5A. Where the hereditament is within section 1(2)(dd) the rebate shall be equal to the rates that would be chargeable on the hereditament for the rebate period of if its rateable value were £30'.
No. 54, in Schedule 1, page 10, line 29, at end add—
'5A. Where the hereditament is within section 1(2)(dd) the rebate shall be equal to—
  • (a) the rates that would be chargeable on the hereditament for the rebate period if its rateable value were so much only of its rateable value as is attributable to the extra space required to meet the needs of a disabled person substantially dependent upon a wheelchair for indoor mobility; or
  • (b) in the case of a bungalow the sum specified in Paragraph (a) above or the rates that would be chargeable on the hereditament for the rebate period if its rateable value were £30, whichever is the greater.'.
  • No. 59, in Schedule 1, page 11, line 3, after '3', insert '5A'.

    No. 64, in Schedule 1, page 11, line 32, after first '(b)', insert '5A'.

    In Committee we discussed the difficulties of disabled people who were confined to wheelchairs and the fact that they might need extra space in their homes to allow them to do what needs to be done. I accepted in principle the amendment of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and his hon. Friends, but I was not too happy with the wording. Having considered the matter, I have great pleasure in fulfilling my undertaking to bring forward a suitable amendment.

    I thank the hon. Member for meeting our points. As the House knows, I am always interested in anything to do with wheelchairs. The amendment improves the precision. It could be argued that the point was covered in the original wording, but valuation officers and rating officers are very precise people. Parliament will be making their job a little easier with this precision. I am glad that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has persuaded the Government that this would be right. On this amendment at least, I think that the House can be entirely united.

    Amendment agreed to.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 8, after 'garage', insert 'or carport'.

    I think that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following amendments:

    No. 11, in page 2, line 8, leave out 'or land'.

    No. 13, in page 2, line 12, after 'garage', insert 'or carport'.

    No. 14, in page 2, line 13, leave out 'or land'.

    No. 56, in Schedule 1, page 10, line 35, after 'garage', insert 'or carport'.

    No. 58, in Schedule 1, page 10, line 39, after 'garage', insert 'or carport'.

    The amendment relates to relief for vehicle parking. As it stands, the Bill gives two different levels of relief—one for a garage and one for land which would normally be rated, the rebates being respectively £25 and £5. Presumably the reference to land here means a hardstanding and relates to the view of district valuers about whether that should be rated.

    I have come across property being given a different rating valuation according to whether it had a garage, a carport or a hardstanding. As the Bill stands, those disabled people who put a carport on top of a hardstanding would get only £5 relief, whereas if they had a carport and the rateable value was renewed it would be increased to their disadvantage.

    The amendment would put a carport into the same category as a garage. If it is technically defective, I hope that it can be adjusted in another place.

    I support the amendment, on the understanding that garage and carport are regarded as similar. I shoud like to speak to Amendment No. 14.

    The subsection provides for relief for
    "a hereditament which consists of or includes a garage or land used otherwise than temporarily for accommodating a vehicle"
    By reference to Schedule 1 we find that the relief intended is £5 off the rateable value. If we are to provide £5 of relief off the rateable value, which means £3 or £4 a year relief for land used other than temporarily for standing a vehicle on, the cost of providing such relief will exceed by many times the cost of the relief required. We cannot pretend that the administration of the relief which we support in the Bill will be straightforward. There will be difficulties of assessment.

    In England and Wales, district valuers are required to consider rating valuations, but with such small amounts involved this is not necessary. I suspect that in many cases land used other than temporarily for parking purposes is not rated or detected as being used other than temporarily for that purpose. I hope that the amendment will commend itself to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes).

    I accept that carports should be subject to relief in the same way as garages are. The words in the Bill are wide enough to cover the point. I shall have to consider whether any changes need to be made. Deletion of "or land" would have the effect of taking hardstanding or parking spaces out of the relief.

    I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) wants hard-standing or parking spaces to be exempt from relief altogether. It may not seem much by way of relief, but if it increases the value of the property of the individual disabled person we should allow such relief. I shall consider the point raised and consider whether it is necessary or desirable to make amendments in another place.

    Did I understand that the hon. Gentleman was accepting the amendment on carports?

    I am sorry that I did not make it clear. I was hoping that consideration would be given to withdrawing the amendment.

    In view of the hon. Gentleman's statement that he will give the matter serious consideration, and as the amendment is meant to be helpful, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 12, in page 2, line 10, leave out "and" and insert "or".

    With this, we shall take the following amendments:

    No. 15, in page 2, line 14, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.

    No. 32, in clause 4, page 5, line 7, leave out 'and' and insert 'or'.

    No. 33, in Clause 4, page 5, line 12, leave out and 'and' insert 'or'.

    The first point that I wish to make was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) in Committee, namely, whether the wording of the Bill covered the use of a car by another member of the family in connection with the needs of a disabled person. The specific point concerned a quadriplegic who could not use the car or have the car used for him. Somebody else in the household might need a car in order to meet the needs of the quadriplegic within the household. In Committee, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) undertook to consider the point before Report and say a further word about it, and the amendment gives him the opportunity to do so.

    2.15 p.m.

    The second matter which led me to table three amendments on the same point in different parts of the Bill was whether the words "used by" legally cover a case in which the disabled person is only transported in the car and is not the driver of it. That is a purely legalistic point. I have a feeling that the words "used by" in terms of motoring legislation would normally be applied to the driver and not to the passenger. I am asking whether the term "user" of a motor car in this sense covers "passenger" and whether the Bill would cover cases in which a car was kept simply for the use of the disabled person as a passenger.

    The wording of all the relevant subsections of the Bill will be more generous and less likely to give rise to confusion and dispute if the word "and" is replaced by the word "or".

    This point was canvassed during the "clause stand part" debate in Committee. On the point whether the words "used by" are acceptable in law for someone who is not the driver of the car, off the cuff I cannot give an answer. I think the words "used by" refer to the Bill and not to any other Act. It would not have the usage normally applied to it under the Road Traffic Acts. Therefore, we need concern ourselves only with the spirit and intention of the words in the Bill.

    Do these words imply that the car must be specially adapted? Do they refer to the sort of car which would be used by someone who was disabled or to any car?

    My understanding is that the words apply to any car. It does not mean a car adapted for a disabled person.

    "Meeting the needs" is a broad definition applied to use. If the vehicle was required to take a disabled person who could not drive out in the car, he would be covered under the definition.

    I am in some difficulty on the replacement of the word "and" by "or". In Committee I said that I found it difficult to conceive of a situation in which a house-bound disabled person was so disabled as not to be able to be taken out in the car. I could not envisage the strain of a disabled person on the family being so great as to mean that people other than the disabled person should qualify for relief.

    I invited the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) to write to me and explain the circumstances more fully so that I might consider the matter. He has not so far written to me. Perhaps he intends to do so later. I am not convinced that we should extend relief from the needs of a disabled person to the family of such a person. This does not mean that I have no appreciation of the strain, worry and concern of parents who have a disabled person living in the household.

    I am wondering why the words "used by and" are in the clause at all. The point that we are trying to get at is whether the vehicle is required for meeting the needs of a disabled person. The provision would be far more clear-cut if it simply said that and was not concerned with the words "used by". I appreciate that the hon. Member cannot receive further drafting advice on the matter at the moment, but I hope that he will consider the point again before the Bill passes to another place.

    I shall look at this matter. If it is just a question of tidying up the drafting, that is one thing. If the intention is to widen the scope of the Bill and to extend its provisions to families which include a disabled person who cannot use the car, that would be going a bit far.

    If hon. Members will write to me about specific cases, I undertake to look at them, but at this stage I cannot give a commitment.

    I take the point made by the hon. Gentleman. I shall certainly write to him about specific cases. I hope that if they strike a positive note with him he will consider the possibility of changing the Bill in another place.

    The sort of situation which might arise would be one in which the provision of meals for a disabled household would depend upon a cook coming into the house on four, five or six days a week. On the cook's day off, the normal practice would be for the disabled person, if sufficiently mobile, to be taken in a car or himself or herself to drive a car to a place where a meal would be procured. If the person concerned was a quadriplegic, as suggested by my hon. Frend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), on the day the cook could not come the quadric plegic could not leave the house. If there was a car someone could use it to fetch precooked food or to bring in another cook specially for the day to provide a meal.

    I can think of other circumstances such as that, but I shall itemise a list and let the hon. Member have it.

    Perhaps I may bring the two sides together. I believe that there is no point of substance between us but simply a difference over the wording. The fear among my hon. Friends is that a narrow interpretation of the words "used by" might mean that the provision applied only to a driver of a car. But that point has been well established in the provisions relating to the mobility allowance. If a person is sufficiently disabled to get a mobility allowance, it is irrelevant whether or not he or she can drive. That was the advance that the mobility allowance provision made over previous arrangements.

    As co-sponsor of the amendment, I want to make it clear that we are taking a general view of this. If a vehicle is kept in a hereditament for the use of a disabled person, it should be irrelevant whether or not that person drives the vehicle. On this I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton). It is possibly sufficient simply to insert the words
    "required for meeting the needs of a disabled person".
    That seems to be an omnibus phrase that wraps the whole thing up.

    We find time and time again in this place that the intention of Parliament in legislation is not always reflected in the subsequent Act because of a fault in the drafting. We either write the provision too narrowly or make it too general. I believe that in this instance we should be general rather than narrow. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has fairly agreed to look at the point again. We are all clear on what we want.

    The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) has vast experience in these matters and I listen to him with great care. I give the assurance that we shall look at this matter to ensure that the interpretation is not too narrow.

    On the basis of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 2, line 30, at end insert—

    "(c) the occupier of the hereditament if he makes all or any of it available to the disabled person without requiring any payment of rent".

    With this we may take Amendment No. 35, in Clause 4, page 5, line 33, at end insert—

    "(c) the occupier of the lands or heritages if he makes all or any of them available to the disabled person without requiring any payment of rent".

    In looking through the Bill the other night, it appeared to me that the provisions to which my amendment is directed, which concern a person who would be entitled to a rebate, clearly cover a disabled person if he is an occupier or if he rents a property. They would also cover any person in broadly speaking, the same family who was occupier of the house in which a disabled person lived or upon which that disabled person paid rent. What they would not cover would be a situation of which I know of no practical example but which could exist.

    I am thinking of a disabled person living rent free in a house of which someone else was technically the occupier and was therefore, presumably, liable for the rates. I have not checked the legal side of this matter, but it seems possible that where a relative or anyone else provided rent-free accommodation for a disabled person nobody would be entitled to a rent rebate. If so, that would be a silly and unsatisfactory state of affairs.

    I appreciate the point made by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), but my understanding is that the circumstances he describes are covered by the Bill. Clause 1 (4)(b) reads:

    "Any person who is a member of the same household as the disabled person".
    and so on. It does not say that a disabled person has to be an occupier or a relative or to pay rent, but only that the person has to reside in the property. I shall take further advice on this point, but I feel that it is covered.

    The point is absolutely covered. If a member of the household was disabled, there would be a qualification for relief. Therefore, presumably, if somebody lived in the household rent-free, that person would count as a member of the household.

    I want to take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) about one implication of the amendment. Indeed, it is an implication of the whole Bill, but I shall confine my remarks to the amendment. The thinking behind it is that we have to compensate people for disablement by means of rate rebates. But we should be applying our minds to compensating those who suffer financial difficulty due to disablement. There are many better and more effective and efficient ways of compensating for disablement than through a rebate on the rates.

    There is a confusion of thought in the Bill that disablement of itself must mean financial difficulty and, therefore, that there should be a rebate entitlement. That seems particularly to apply in this amendment, which seeks to ensure that rebate is given not only to someone who, regardless of means, is disabled and occupying property but to someone who provides free accommodation for a disabled person, irrespective of that disabled person's means.

    In the Bill, we should confine ourself to devising a way of compensating to a maximum those who suffer financial difficulty as a result of their disability. This is not a carping point. Perhaps at some later stage this aspect should be considered in another place. There are disabled people who are perfectly capable of meeting their obligations, who do so and who want to do so. There are many more, however, who, through their disability, are unable to meet their obligations, and it is those whom we should be attempting to help.

    I do not want to get involved with my hon. Friend the Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) in an argument which seems to cut at the basic principle of the Bill. The Minister and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) have said that my point is covered. But I am describing a situation in which a disabled person is living alone in a property that he does not own and upon which he does not pay rent. In those circumstances, is the disabled person automatically an occupier? If he is not automatically occupying the premises, nobody will qualify for rent rebate under the terms of the Bill.

    2.30 p.m.

    In those circumstances, I do not think that that single disabled person would count as the occupier.

    Might it not be better if the owner of the property were to grant a licence to the disabled occupier, and would it not be advisable to take that step?

    There are some implications in the amendment which would widen the scope of the Bill considerably, but if the hon. Gentleman withdraws the amendment I shall look into the point.

    The hon. Gentleman having given that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 2

    Rebates For Institutions For The Disabled

    I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 2, line 39, leave out Clause 2.

    With this we may take the following amendments:

    No. 18, in page 3, leave out lines 2 to 10.

    No. 22, in page 3, line 17, leave out subsection (3).

    No. 21, in page 3, line 19, leave out from 'question' to end of line 24.

    No. 43, in Clause 5, page 6, line 42, leave out from 'question' to end of line 3 on page 7.

    I am moving this amendment only to provide an opportunity to speak on the other amendments which are grouped with it because, in the light of the assurance given earlier, I do not wish to propose the deletion of Clause 2.

    I wish to say a few words about Amendment No. 18. I am puzzled by the wording of the Bill when examined in relation to the notes on clauses, a document which was circulated to Members in Committee. The notes on Clause 2(2) read:
    "It requires local authorities to grant rebate on rates chargeable on any hereditament which is occupied by a local authority or other body and used wholly or partly for any of the purposes specified in subsection (2)".
    In my reading of the Bill, the "wholly or partly" aspect does not arise, and the predominant purpose does not seem to me to cover "wholly or partly". Accommodation might be provided predominantly for disabled persons, but that accommodation might include provision for residents who are not disabled or who have ceased to be disabled. In those circumstances, would those running the home say to the person who was not disabled or who had ceased to be disabled "we are sorry, but you will have to leave, or we shall lose our rating relief"? That seems to me wholly undesirable.

    On the other hand, presumably it is not intended that an ordinary residential home for the elderly and infirm, whether operated by a local authority or commercially, automatically will qualify for rebate if among its residents it contained one person registered as disabled. It is not clear what the qualifying circumstances will be. My reading of the provision is that it will have to be wholly in respect of the care of the disabled. I am wondering whether this is a satisfactory arrangement.

    In regard to Amendment No. 22, it is clear that a line can be drawn in respect of surgical or dental work. However, a problem arises in respect of activities within a medical establishment. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) has mentioned the difficulty over the word "predominant". Will the Minister address himself to the question at the margin, so to speak, otherwise there may be an unfortunate effect in terms of the proportions of activity within an establishment?

    The intention of the Bill is to make relief available to institutions where the primary purpose is the care of the disabled. If the primary purpose is to deal with the elderly, including many local authority residential homes for the elderly, such homes are not included within the scope of the Bill. This is not a Bill which imports a whole new principle of treatment for rate rebate. It is primarily an attempt to tidy up the great confusion into which the law has fallen over the years in respect of the interpretation of Section 45. The Bill does not wholly repeal or embrace some of the specific cases which have reached the courts.

    In Committee the opposite argument was canvassed. Hon. Members were concerned with the fact that if there were a residential home for the disabled and some or indeed all the occupants of the home in time became elderly, it would take them out of the scope of the Bill. It clearly does not do so, and we have made arrangements to ensure that that is not the case. Similarly, the fact that some people within a residential home become disabled would not automatically bring them into the Bill if the activities were primarily for purposes other than dealing with the disabled.

    I shall be in some difficulty in replying twice to the debate, but if I have got myself into deep water perhaps the Minister will help me. We are trying to set out clearly the intention of Section 45 in respect of the disabled, and that must be the primary purpose before any qualifying conditions can be applied in respect of rebate.

    As the Bill stands, does that mean that if an old people's establishment or a nursing establishment decided to build a wing for handicapped people it would not be eligible for partial relief?

    The hon. Gentleman is leading me into even deeper water relating to whether an extension at an existing home would qualify for partial relief. If the primary purpose were changed—in other words, if a change of use were applied for—I believe that it would bring that establishment within the ambit of the Bill. However, before I could give a firm assurance, I should require to be given the specific circumstances of what might happen.

    It appears that in the circumstances suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris) it would open to the body which decided to allocate a wing specifically for the disabled to get that wing rated separately and to obtain relief in that way.

    May I confirm what was said by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)? In Committee we were concerned about the problem and it appeared that the existing provisions would be covered by Clause 2. We were concerned about the situation where a large number of people in a home, due to successful welfare activities, reached old age, and that is by no means an unreal situation. For example, it will be known to all hon. Members present that the Cheshire Homes are not essentially homes for the elderly but are homes for the disabled and chronic sick, but in some of the Cheshire Homes, due to the circumstances there, people do happily reach old age.

    This was a matter which concerned us in Committee, and I confirm what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North has said. We wanted to get the matter clear. Therefore, with respect, I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) need be too worried. Certainly, as regards the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Morris), I am absolutely clear that in the circumstances which he envisaged there need be no problem. If an establishment basically designed for the elderly set up a separate wing as a distinct hereditament, it would come under the clause. I think that the Under-Secretary of State confirms that.

    But one cannot pick out a few rooms off a ward or along a corridor in sheltered accommodation. It would have to be a distinct hereditament. I think that this is normal practice in rating law, and no new principle is involved.

    I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will think again about the word "predominant" to make sure that it is the best to use to avoid possible trouble in the future. However, in view of what has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    It will be convenient to take at the same time the following amendments:

    No. 38, in Clause 4, page 5, line 37, leave out from 'facility' to end of line 39.

    No. 44, in Clause 5, page 7, line 15, leave out from 'period' to end of line 17.

    No. 61, in Schedule 1, page 11, line 13, leave out paragraph 10.

    These amendments are all directed to the same purpose, namely, to remove the provision that

    "where the hereditament qualifies…for part only of a rebate period the rebate shall be proportionately reduced."
    First, this is an unnecessary complication in view of the relatively small sums involved. It seems to me that in most cases, if there is an attempt to reduce the rebate proportionately to some part of the rebate period, it will add extra work and make very little difference to the net result. Moreover, it will be unnecessarily mean.

    Given that local authorities can decide for themselves what the rebate period is—it is not defined in the Bill as being a year—to have some fiddling calculation about whether the rebate is needed for 10 days, two weeks, three weeks or two months is simply wasting everyone's time. This is the kind of unnecessary complexity and attempt at finesse which has made utter wreckage of most of our social security and tax legislation. We can well do without introducing it into rating legislation. Therefore, in the interests of simplicity, I urge that we forget it.

    Second, at least in most cases, this provision will be redundant. For example, central heating installations are not rateable at all until the next revaluation under present rating law, and that, by definition, will be the beginning of a rate period, so no question of their being rateable for part of a rate period will arise. There will be no extra rates when such an installation is put in, and the extra rates arise only at the start of the rating year following the next revaluation. In these circumstances, the whole question of a proportional reduction is literally meaningless.

    I am not sure whether that applies to the other types of modification covered in the relevant subsection of Clause 1, but it certainly applies to central heating plants. Therefore, with that subsidiary query about whether the provision is needed at all, I repeat my basic objection that this is an unnecessarily mean and complicating requirement in a piece of legislation which we want to make as simple as possible.

    2.45 p.m.

    I understand the need to keep things simple, and I understand also why the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) takes the view he does about the reduction of the period. Nevertheless, in some circumstances it might be as well to allow for a reduction.

    For example, if a disabled person moves house during the period, it would not seem right that he should have a rebate on two different properties at the same time because he has moved. Someone else may have gone into the house. Similarly, institutions may close or open during the year. Therefore, I think it necessary to keep the provision in. At least, it is not as simple as the hon. Gentleman suggests, and it is not just a matter of bureaucracy.

    However, I shall look at the matter between now and the time when the Bill goes to another place to see whether the points raised need to be taken into account. A local authority still has a fairly wide discretion in this matter, and I hope that authorities will deal with these questions sympathetically. Given the assurance that we shall, without commitment, look into the question, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

    I take the points which the hon. Gentleman makes, and I have no wish to make great trouble for him or for anyone else. But I add one observation before seeking leave to withdraw the amendment.

    In a sense, it is unfair or not right if a man has rebate on two different properties over the same period, but it is the attempt to cope with that sort of theoretical legalistic unfairness which has brought us to a social security system which cannot be understood either by those who administer it or by those subject to it. In my view, we ought to take a firmer line about what is broadly fair and sensible and keep things as simple as possible.

    I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has undertaken at least to look at the matter again, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 3

    Administration And Appeals

    I beg to move Amendment No. 26, in page 4, line 7, at end insert

    'provided that such period shall be not less than three calendar months'.

    It will be convenient to consider at the same time Amendment No. 45, in Clause 6, page 7, line 31, at end insert

    'provided that such period shall be not less than three calendar months'.

    This amendment raises one aspect of the matter covered by the previous amendment. As the Bill stands, rating authorities may define a rebate period however they like. As far as I can see, a rebate period could be anything from a day to a year.

    Again, purely for simplicity, I suggest that a rebate period should be three months at the minimum, so that there need be no attempt to calculate rebates for odd days or short periods. I put that as a sensible suggestion in much the same terms as I moved the previous amendment, and I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will give it careful consideration.

    I fully sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's views expressed on this amendment and in his conclusion on the last one. Few of us, given the opportunity to start from scratch, with nothing to build on, would necessarily tackle the financial problems of the disabled through the rating system. No doubt, if we were starting afresh to deal with the problems of the disabled and the wider issues of social security we should go about it another way.

    Our perennial problem is that we do not start with a clean sheet. We start with existing legislation and existing methods and try to build on them. I think that it was the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) who once said to me that the advance of legislation dealing with the disabled and the welfare of people in special need has proceeded on the basis that each time we do something we move the ratchet forward another notch. It is in this sometimes seemingly painful and slow way that we make the progress which, over the past decade or more, has overall afforded tremendous benefit to disabled people.

    I appreciate that mixing this matter with the complications of the rating system and other problems causes difficulty and apparently unnecessary bureaucratic procedures. Once the Bill becomes law there will require to be further consultation with local authori ties. There has already been pre-legislation consultation. There will also need to be circulars of advice and discussions about the implementation of the Bill.

    Despite the hon. Gentleman's almost compelling plea, it might be better not to make the amendment at this stage but to deal with the matter through the good sense of the local authorities, combined with the advice and guidance which will be sent out by the Department and the Scottish Office once the Bill is on the statute book.

    The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was kind enough to refer to what I said in Standing Committee. I hope that he does not rely entirely on the authority of my opinion. May I support him by quoting what a distinguished former civil servant and industrialist, Lord Plowden, said about the twilight world of the disabled:

    "Nothing in my experience, either as a civil servant or as an industrialist, prepared me for the Kafka-like world in which the the disabled and the handicapped have to exist."

    I am not quite sure what the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) had to do with my amendment. In the interests of general bonhomie and speed of progress, and in the light of the comments of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 25, in page 4, line 19, leave out subsection (5).

    With this amendment we are to take Amendment No. 28, in page 4, line 22, at end insert—

    '(5A) The Secretary of State may refer any question of law arising under this Act to the High Court for determination.'

    Subsection (5) provides:

    "An applicant for a rebate whose application is refused by the rating authority may appeal to the county court".
    If we are introducing the concept of appeals to county courts in respect of rebates, which in some cases—and I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will have second thoughts about these cases—will be as small as £3 or £4 a year because of the £5 limitation in respect of land for parking, we are burdening our courts and administrators unnecessarily. The existence of the subsection reinforces the argument I advanced in respect of the inclusion of land under £5, which the hon. Gentleman undertook to consider. If we are to put a burden on the courts, we want to make sure that it is reasonable to do so.

    We should also take account of the existence of the local government Ombudsman. After all, in a sense the local authority is put in double jeopardy. It can be accused of maladministration, perhaps properly so. That is a matter for the local government Ombudsman. It is a system of supervision that the House has set up and supported. There is the other possibility of the matter's being taken to the courts.

    Local authorities are rightly sensitive to the Ombudsman's opinion. If they know that they can be accused of maladministration for refusing debates, I believe that in the light of the nature of the problem and the near certainty that any local authority will be sympathetic, we need not provide for appeals to courts, particularly bearing in mind the very small amount of money that could be involved in many cases.

    It is with great regret that I have to express myself in respectful disagreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). I can recall no occasion since I have been in the House when I have found myself in respectful or even disrespectful disagreement with my hon. Friend.

    I have to declare an interest. I am a solicitor, and it is true that it could be argued that if subsection (5) is included in the Bill there will be more business in the county courts and therefore possibly more business for the legal profession.

    But the main argument on which I rely in resisting my hon. Friend's amendment is that I do not think it would be right for the House or the country to rely on the local Ombudsman to redress any grievance that might arise if the subsec tion were not included, because the procedure before the local commissioner is fairly lengthy. It would be much speedier to rely on the county court rather than the local Ombudsman.

    Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will not press his amendment. I believe that the Bill as drafted gives more protection to the citizen. It would be wrong to rely on the local commissioner, and it would be as well if the Bill went through without the amendment.

    I support my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and disagree fairly strongly with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow). The House has set up a very good procedure through the local government Ombudsman. The experience of those of us who have used the Ombudsman in dealing with local authority matters is one of great satisfaction that there is an extremely thorough investigation.

    I suspect that very few such cases would arise. My experience is that the disabled lobby is very good and has a very good relationship with local authorities. I think that in the few cases that did arise there would perhaps be a dimension that we cannot today foresee, which would warrant a proper investigation by someone who understands local authority law in depth, who looks at the particular circumstances and then in a sense by making his pronouncement is able to provide guidance.

    That is more satisfactory than having to go through the rigmarole of county courts. If the other amendment were carried, it would mean going to the High Court as well at a later stage. Therefore, I urge the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) to consider the amendment seriously.

    In the internecine warfare on the Opposition Benches, I align myself with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) rather than with my hon. Friends the Members for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury) and Northampton, South (Mr. Morris).

    Perhaps we can have a. referee as it is two all.

    Using the ombudsman would be a very unsatisfactory way of dealing with this kind of problem, not least because—indeed, it is the biggest single problem with the local government ombudsman—whatever his finding he has no power to make the council in question do anything about it. At least one very important part of the subsection is that the county court has power to order the local authority to do something. Therefore, I range myself unequivocally on the side of Eastbourne against Hove in this contest.

    However, I rose mainly to say a word on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), who unhappily has had to leave, about Amendment No. 28, which goes even further in the Eastbourne direction, by providing that:
    "The Secretary of State may refer any question of law arising under this Act to the High Court for determination."
    I am not quite sure whether this subject was raised in Committee. There is a significant point here. I rely on information provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter.

    3 p.m.

    I understand that in some other cases affecting problems of disablement and the like—the attendance allowance for example—there have arisen difficult questions of law which have had to be referred to the High Court for decision. I am not a legal expert, but there appears to be a point here. Difficult questions could arise and it would be sensible to get a High Court ruling on them. This is something which ought to be considered with a view to inserting a suitable provision in the Bill, if not now, at least in another place.

    The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) began his speech by saying that never before in his parliamentary career had he had a disagreement with his hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury). I suspect that this is the first time that the hon. Member for Eastbourne and I have agreed during our parliamentary careers. Like him, I believe that subsection (5) should be left in the Bill.

    Turning to the point about the ombudsman, as far as I am aware he is dealing with maladministration. An authority could perfectly well deal with an application but still decide that the applicant was not eligible and the ombudsman would not be able to do anything about it because the authority had acted properly and fairly, even though it may have been wrong in law not to grant the application. This is quite apart from the length of time cases dealt with by the ombudsman can take. I believe that there ought to be the opportunity to have recourse to the courts to test a point of law or to deal with any grievance.

    I must resist the amendment which concerns the reference of a case to the High Court by the Secretary of State. The difference between social security cases—where a power exists for the Secretary of State to refer a case directly to the High Court—is that in those cases the Secretary of State is a party to the transaction. I gather that in no other area of law is there the possibility of someone not directly involved in the transaction referring a case to the courts. In other words, the Secretary of State for the Environment is not the rebate-granting authority. This is a matter between the two parties—the applicant and the local authority.

    Recourse to the High Court or the Court of Appeal is not ruled out. If the applicant is dissatisfied with the decision of the county court he has the opportunity to go to a higher court to appeal against a decision. I understand that in appropriate cases legal aid can be applied for. It will be seen, therefore, that both points are covered, in slightly different ways. There ought to be a right of appeal. I hope that the House will not press Amendment No. 25, which seeks to remove subsection (5). Since there is an avenue for appeals to a higher court, I hope that Amendment No. 28 will not be pressed either.

    I agree with the hon. Member for Hove, who said that the number of cases involved would possibly be small. The amendment seems to present a cumbersome way of dealing with appeals. It is important, in our system of justice, that every individual should have the right to go to a court on any matter, however small.

    In view of what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has said, and in the hope that he is right when he says that only a few cases are concerned—because we do not want to clutter up the courts, particularly bearing in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) has said about the restrictive powers of the ombudsman—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Amendments made: No. 29, in page 4, line 36, leave out "has been provided" and insert "is".

    No. 30, in page 5, line 1, leave out "has been provided" and insert "is".

    No. 31, in page 5, line 4, at end insert—

    "(dd) lands and heritages in which there is sufficient floor space to permit the use of a wheel-chair used by and required for meeting the needs of a disabled person who resides in the lands and heritages;".

    No. 36, in page 5, line 34, after "of". insert "( a)".

    No. 37, in page 5, line 34, after "heritages", insert

    "other than those within subsection (2) (dd) above".

    No. 39, in page 5, line 37, after "facility", insert;

    "(b) lands and heritages within subsection (2)(dd) above shall be equal to the rates which would be chargeable on the special facility for the rebate period if its rateable value were £30 or such other amount as may be prescribed by order made by the Secretary of State".

    No. 40, in page 5, line 39, at end insert—

    "An order under this subsection shall be made by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament and the power to make such an order includes power to vary or revoke a previous order".

    No. 41, in page 5, line 40, after "rebate", insert "under subsection (5) ( a) above".

    No. 42, in page 5, line 43, at end insert—

    "(6A) The rating authority may, if they think fit, increase the rebate under subsection (5)(b) above by an additional amount equal to one-fifth of the amount of that rebate".—[Mr. Robert Hughes.]

    Clause 8

    Interpretation

    I beg to move Amendment No. 47, in page 8, leave out lines 34 and 35.

    With this we may take Amendment No. 48, in page 8, line 34, leave out 'in relation to Scotland'.

    Lines 34 and 35 on page 8 read:

    "'rates' includes, in relation to Scotland, domestic water rates".
    We are immediately entering a contentious area in that Scotland is treated differently from England and Wales with regard to water rates. Although many of my constituents might wish me to do so, I do not intend to enter into a debate about whether water rates are justified. I would, however, suggest that when we include water rates, even only in Scotland, in the provisions of the Bill, we are presumably looking not at the relief provided under Clause 1—because that is limited in amount anyhow—but at premises having relief under Clause 2, where total relief is given to a certain category of premises. Some of these could be quite large.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) referred to Cheshire Homes. That is an obvious example. I do not know whether there are any Cheshire Homes in Scotland, but I am sure that there are other similar places. To say that there should be relief from water rates is, it seems to me, not a sensible or practical suggestion, because water is a commodity which is provided in the same way as electricity, gas or even coal.

    There is a case for equalising the charge over an area, but I do not think that we should treat the provision of water as part of a local authority service. Furthermore, in the interests of economy and efficiency, the larger users of water ought to have a metered supply. As we were reminded recently, water can be a scarce commodity, although lately it has been rather too plentiful.

    I am rather mystified, because in England the water rate is not subject to rebate since it comes from water authorities as distinct from local authorities, and only local authorities are rebated. Does that mean that in Scotland the water rate is still levied by local authorities?

    Indeed. As has been pointed out, the Scottish situation is different. But in respect of the Bill I believe that we should try to seek equality of treatment throughout the United Kingdom, as well as bearing in mind that it would be far more appropriate if larger institutions received their water supply through a meter.

    This is a very difficult area. I can remember that under the 1974 Act the charitable situation was changed. Charities used to get 50 per cent. mandatory relief across the whole of both their rates and their water rates. That has now changed. I am not sure whether charities still get water rate relief in Scotland, but it seems to be totally wrong that one area of the United Kingdom should get relief when other areas do not.

    We in this House have been striving to achieve a situation where people are aware of the costs of the services provided. We believe that the central subsidy should be removed. We are also becoming much more conscious of the need to conserve resources. In the summer of 1976 we had an unhappy experience with regard to water. That brought home to areas in a drought condition, of which mine happened to be one, that there is great need to ensure that we are careful about the use of our water resources. It is unhappy that this provision is included in Clause 8. I hope that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will be able to assure us that it will be deleted.

    The harmony which used to exist between my hon. Friends who represent Sussex constituencies is about to be restored. You yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, represent an important constituency in East Sussex. You will have noted with the same incredulity as did my hon. Friends the difference of view between my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Sainsbury)—I was about to say "the Member for Sainsbury's"—and myself. But, happily, that unity is about to be restored.

    First and foremost, those of us on this side of the House, and, indeed, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) himself, are Unionists, and those of us who are Unionists believe that there should be, in so far as it is possible, equal treatment between the parts which make up the United Kingdom. I note with profound dissatisfaction subsection (5) of Clause 9, which says that the measure does not extend to Northern Ireland. Why not?

    I am not in favour of giving preferential discriminatory treatment to Scotland, even though, as my hon. Friend has just confirmed, there is a different system of levying water rates in Scotland as compared with England. So I am an enthusiastic supporter of the amendment, and I am very happy, in this short contribution to the debate, to restore the total harmony that exists between Conservative and Unionist Members—I direct myself particularly to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—in East Sussex.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) was so anxious to re-establish and re-emphasise the natural unity between the South Coast towns which he shares in common with a number of my hon. Friends that he was almost lured into an examination of the threat to the Unionist cause inherent in the threat of devolution. That might have extended the debate very considerably.

    But there is a narrow point of some importance here, and I may have to ask the Minister to clarify it. It may not be proper in the Bill to attempt to change the situation in England and Wales under which, if I understand it, water is a specific charge for a specific service and is not susceptible of or eligible for rate support grant or rate rebate. An important change is being made in the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State spelt it out in Committee when he emphasised that we were changing to a system of giving domestic relief by way of deduction from the rate bill rather than a reduction in the valuation of the property.

    In so far as we are switching away from a system of a reduction in the valuation of the property, the hon. Gentleman will notice the situation in local authority areas where the water authority raises its specific charge by reference to a precept upon the local authority. I give as an example my local council, Harrogate District Council, in sending me my latest rate bill in that it included a precept of so much in the pound for water rate and sewerage. I leave aside sewerage.

    My water rate is 15·10p in the pound. That rate is, no doubt, fixed by the Yorkshire Water Authority in relation to the total penny rate product of that local authority area. It determines what it has to levy in order to secure its specific charge. For the individual householder, however, the actual sum he pays is the penny rate in the pound multiplied by the specific rateable value of an individual property.

    We have a situation here in which, as a result of the change we are making, the value of a disabled person's individual property will go up. The rateable value of the individual property will change. It will not be compensated for by a reduction in rateable value, which was the old system. The rateable value of the properties of disabled people will go up and they will be compensated by rebates.

    3.15 p.m.

    The effect of the rateable value going up will mean that their water charge may go up as well, because the precepting water authority levies its rate in respect of an individual property on the basis of its rateable value. That means that there will be a marked increase specifically limited to disabled people's houses because their rateable value will go up. The effect of the levying of the water charge will lay a specially heavy burden on the households of disabled folk, thereby going much further than the existing state of play whereby water rates are borne by the general rate in Scotland, but not in England. Therefore, we are exacerbating the situation for the disabled. I am sure that that is not the Government's intention. I hope that we can find a way of getting round it, but I do not see how.

    It is of no use trying to avoid this issue. There is a difference in treatment between Scotland and England in the Bill in relation to the water rate.

    Looking at Clauses 1 and 4, which are the respective English and Welsh and Scottish provisions, we see that the Bill does not attempt to provide rigid uniformity in the methods of dealing with rate relief. Therefore, we are not saying that everything is exactly the same north and south of the border.

    The water authorities in Scotland are the same as the general rating authorities. One of the reorganisations that Scotland thankfully escaped was the reorganisation of the water services. That was taken care of in local government reform.

    There are two points to be made here. The first is that we are dealing with very small amounts. In Scotland we are dealing with possibly 3p, 4p or 5p in the pound. Therefore, Scottish disabled people will not get a substantial advantage. Secondly, the general intention throughout the Bill has been as far as possible not to make anybody worse off as a result of any changes. That does not mean that some individuals will not be worse off. One cannot give a categoric assurance that no person will not perhaps be slightly worse off as a result of changes.

    The fact that there are these differences in treatment and that we are trying not to disturb matters brings me to the point that we would be imposing an administrative burden on local authorities in Scotland, because they have to break down the rate bills into separate categories to show what would and would not be allowable for rebate.

    I do not want to stimulate a second battle of Bannockburn. However, I should like to know whether in Scotland the water rate is separately levied or is part of an overall total rate. If it is separately levied, there should be no difficulty administratively in separating it. Before we had this nonsense in England of the untouchable water rate from the water authority, the water rate was always a separate levy and was always separated. If it is the same in Scotland, I do not see any administrative difficulty.

    It is separately shown on the assessment. In that regard, it is separately levied. But we are dealing with 3p, 4p or 5p in the pound. It is such a small amount that it seems unnecessary to take the rate bill, as it were, and to diffuse out of it which part is allowable for rebate and which part is not.

    I do not want to become involved in the devolution argument again Heaven knows, we have had enough trouble about that. One of my arguments about devolution is that it seems that many people in Scotland are demanding devolution because they want the same kind of provisions as apply in England. That is curious. I dare say that on devolution there will be a lot of common ground. I am not trying to tempt hon. Members away from what they think is the true path of virtue here.

    I am surprised that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) should argue that we must have uniformity throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, and that there should never be any swings, roundabouts or differences. I am anti-devolutionist, but there is room for treating people in different ways provided that the margin of advantage or disadvantage is not significant.

    I should regret it if hon. Members were to press the amendment. I understand the problems of the rising costs of water in England and the other important issues which only the Under-Secretary of State can answer. I hope that hon. Members will not carry their views to the extent that they would deny to the people in Scotland the rate relief which they already possess, simply for the sake of stressing the problems with the water authorities in England.

    I cannot help suspecting that the hon. Member has not examined in any depth the water rate issue in Scotland. It is cheap to provide water in many parts of Scotland, but it is just as expensive as in England to provide water in certain parts of Scotland. It might be a little tedious to have to examine the water rates at this stage of the Bill, and I accept that that is not a primary part of the Bill, but the hon. Member is not being fair to England and Wales by brushing the matter aside as a tedious administrative detail.

    The hon. Member has confirmed that there is no difference in the detailed calculation in Scotland in that there is a separate levy which is put in with the ordinary domestic rate and billed by the water authority. I am tempted to press this matter. I urge the hon. Member at least to see that the issue is examined in another place. If he does that, we shall back down, but if he is saying dogmatically that Scotland will be treated separately and that he has not time to look at the water regulations in Scotland, he is tempting us.

    I am sorry that the hon. Member is upset. We have come a long way today with good humour and with give and take. It would be tempting for me to say that I will take action without meaning it.

    There is a real difficulty. I am not trying to dismiss it. I accept that it is a serious matter. But there are swings and roundabouts in the treatment of the disabled and the method of calculation north and south of the border. The tariff for England and Wales means that if one could take two individual disabled people who were equal in all respects they would, one way or the other, both get the same amount of relief. There would be a matter of pennies in it.

    I ask hon. Members not to believe that I am dismissing the problems or seeking a peculiar advantage for Scottish disabled people. That is not my intention. I am asking hon. Members to allow for the disparities in the law, treatment and approach between Scotland and England and Wales. I urge them to allow for flexibility and not to press the amendment to take Scotland out of the arrangements. If that were done, we should have to recalculate the amount of money involved.

    I am advised that the balance of advantage between the two sides is none. Taking the Bill as a whole and allowing for the Scottish water rate being treated differently, I believe that the people of Scotland do not have a marked advantage. I know hon. Members feel that the English would be disadvantaged, but I hope that they will not press the amendment.

    I should like brieflly to follow up the logic of my earlier remarks on the need for simplicity on rebate periods and the like—

    With respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have not yet spoken to this amendment. I was referring to my remarks on a previous amendment.

    I appeal to my hon. Friends to drop this amendment. The amounts involved must be tiny by the time water rates in England and Wales are scaled down in relation to the reductions in rateable value.

    The argument which I put forward earlier and which I thought had a measure of support from my hon. Friends was that we should stop trying to make everything fair to the last hair's breadth of legalistic complexity. The same argument applies to this amendment. I think that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has made the case for leaving this matter where it is. If this amendment were pressed, I should feel inclined to vote against it.

    Perhaps I might respond to the matter raised by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison). One of the probably unintended consequences of the Bill was pointed out by the hon. Member, who referred to an anomalous situation whereby preferring the practice of giving rate relief to that of reducing the rateable value of a property in respect of a disabled person meant that it was likely that in many cases disabled persons might be required to pay a slightly larger water rate than otherwise on which in England and Wales it would be impossible to get relief.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) pointed out, the sums involved are very small. However, the hon. Member for Barkston Ash was right to point out the fault. He asked whether I knew of any possible way in which the anomaly could be removed. I know of none. I am afraid that we shall simply have to be content with this small anomaly.

    I wish to raise one minor matter with the Minister, because it may be within his responsibility as well. I am sure that he appreciates that, with the inclusion of the sewerage rate in the water rate, quite a large slice is now taken out of the area of rate rebate in England and Wales. With water and sewerage rates put together, quite large sums nowadays cannot be subject to rate rebate. It makes quite a difference to what we are discussing. It is a consider able disadvantage to the English in this instance.

    Even so, I suspect that the sums are still relatively small, though I accept what the hon. Member for Carlton (Mr. Holland) says.

    It is clear from the discussion that there is a point of genuine concern on this aspect of the Bill. I accept that there can be different treatments in different parts of the country, with the proviso that English ratepayers or taxpayers are not being asked to give a special additional relief to our friends north of the border.

    But, even taking that into account, the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) merits further consideration. I hope that the Minister and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will give careful thought to what has been said in this debate.

    We are in danger of running out of time, and all of us wish this Bill to proceed. I do not want to continue the debate on this amendment, but I hope that in another place there will be an opportunity for this matter to be considered further and to see whether a way can be found out of this anomalous position.

    Having said that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Schedule 1

    Amount Of Rebate Under Section 1

    3.30 p.m.

    I beg to move Amendment No. 51, in page 10, line 5, leave out from beginning to end of line 12 on page 11 and insert—

    "General. 1. The amount of any rebate under section 1 of this Act shall be so much of the rates chargeable for the hereditament for the rebate period as are attributable to so much of the hereditament as is, in terms of subsection (2) of the said section 1, referable to the needs of the disabled person; provided that the rating authority may, if they think fit, increase the debate by an additional amount equal to one-fifth of the amount so attributable."

    I think that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following amendments: No. 62, in page 11, line 18, leave out "4 or 5" and insert "1".

    No. 63, in page 11, leave out lines 31 and 32.

    For the convenience of the House, I should be happy to link all the remaining amendments together.

    In that case, we may discuss also the following amendments: No. 55, in page 10, line 31, after "(e)", insert "or (f)".

    No. 57, in page 10, line 37, leave out paragraph 7.

    No. 60, in page 11, line 3, leave out "or 7(b)".

    The purpose of these amendments, as much as anything else, is to probe matters which were not probed in Committee.

    Essentially, two questions arise. The first is why a totally different method of calculating the rebate has been adopted for Scotland from that for England. For Scotland the rebate is related to the actual amount of the rateable value which can be attributed to the facility for the disabled. For England, a series of arbitrary sums is laid down for a bathroom, a lavatory, another room, a garage or a piece of hard standing. There is no attempt to value them specifically, and there is a whole schedule to cope with them. My amendment would substitute the Scottish method for the English one proposed in the Bill. I simply want to know the reason for the difference.

    Within Schedule 1, relating to this totally different method of calculating the rebate for England, there is an apparently ridiculous and fiddling distinction between garages or land covered in Clause 1(2)(e) and those covered in subsection (2)(f). Both concern garages or land used for a car. It is simply that one covers a garage which is with the hereditament and the other a garage which is not.

    Different methods of calculating the rebate are provided for in the schedule, according to whether the garage is or is not attached. There is an arbitrary figure where the garage is part of the hereditament; where it is not, it has to be valued. It would seem more sensible to have the same arbitrary figure to both,