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Rating Reform

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on consultations that have taken place between his Department and local authorities with regard to the appropriate training programme for canvassers engaged on the preparation of the register for the poll tax.

The training of canvassers is a matter for community charges registration officers.

Will the Minister accept that what we are embarking on in Scotland is the compilation of a national register, which will detail every individual from birth to death? In addition, will he give some information and guidance to local authorities about the dangers of disclosing information, obtained for poll tax purposes, for other purposes, put a prohibition or restrictions on those gathering that information, and introduce appropriate penalties for disclosure for purposes other than the community charge?

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. We are not contemplating the compilation of a national register or one that would last from birth to death. The regulation on the registration process is out to consultation and local authorities have an opportunity to give us their views on that. We shall take full account of the consultation process before making the regulation.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in these matters, helpful advice might come from apparently unlikely quarters? May I refer him to column 198 of Standing Committee A on the Local Government Bill, when the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, recommended that the administrative arrangements for the community charge in Scotland should be privatisecl? Will my hon. Friend therefore, at all times, pay appropriate attention to recommendations from Opposition Members?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. It is important that the register be compiled as efficiently as possible.

Will the Minister explain why a leaflet and publicity campaign costing £130,000 and more has been launched in Scotland on the community charge, saying that people on and below the poverty line will pay 20 per cent., when in a written answer to me he revealed that in some parts of Scotland those on basic incomes will have to pay 41 per cent. of the community charge, including the community water charge?

The hon. Gentleman is giving a misleading picture. The leaflet was published as an information document. Its need is justified not least by the fact that so much misinformation is being put about by the Labour party.

Does the Minister agree that if the canvass for the register is to be done in sufficient time to allow the tax to be brought in on 1 April 1989, as is proposed, it must start on 1 April 1988, or soon thereafter? If that is so, how many regulations will have to be laid before the House for that process to start? How many canvassers will have to be advertised for and appointed, and what training will have to be carried out? Does the hon. Gentleman have any hope that the process of making regulations, and advertising for, appointing and training staff, can be completed by 1 April 1988?

We intend that the process should start on 1 April 1988. Three or four regulations will need to be tabled by that date, and we expect that that will happen. The other points raised by the hon. Gentleman are matters for the registration officer.