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Community Charges Regulations (Scotland)

Volume 130: debated on Monday 28 March 1988

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3.33 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wonder whether you can help us in relation to the regulations that are to be debated for an hour and a half at 10.15 this evening, which relate to the establishment of the register for the community charge — the poll tax — in Scotland. There was lengthy questioning of the Leader of the House during business questions last week, and on at least four different occasions the right hon. Gentleman described the regulations as trivial and technical.

May I ask you, Sir, for your assistance and guidance? First, can the Leader of the House describe in that way a very detailed and important measure establishing the whole registration system for this unwanted and unfair tax in Scotland and get away with it? Secondly, is it in order for the Government to lay before the House regulations part of which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has described as unlawful because its provisions require registration officers to undertake something that they have no power to do? Thirdly, can the House give powers to registration officers to undertake something that the House and the Government have refused to define?

Two aspects of the form to be filled in are incomplete. For instance, it asks students—

Order. Those are matters which are best put to the Minister later tonight, although I can answer the hon. Gentleman's first two questions. First, it is in order for the matter to be debated tonight. Secondly, I heard the way in which the Leader of the House described the regulations. I do not think that anything that comes before the House is trivial. I am sure that that is a very important matter and I shall listen with great interest to the debate later tonight.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I take your point, but I was going to ask you for some guidance. This is not something that is happening at some time in the future. The process of registration that—is to be debated this evening—on Monday—starts on 1 April, which is Friday of this week. Hon. Members may think, "Well, that's Good Friday," but I assure them that Good Friday is not necessarily a public holiday in Scotland. Registration starts on Friday, so matters that are not covered are of great importance to the House.

Of course, Mr. Speaker, your ruling is correct when you say that you cannot interfere, but I suggest that it is time that the House asked you to look into the matter to see whether greater control of statutory instruments should be given to the House.

Order. I have looked at the matter and noted what the statutory instruments Committee said on it, but there are precedents for what is happening tonight. It is in order for the debate to proceed. On Friday the motion making it a debate lasting one and a half hours was passed.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that I raised this matter on Thursday, along with many of my hon. Friends. There was an expression of great outrage from the Opposition on Thursday. We hoped that the Leader of the House would take account of that and alter the timetable, but nothing has been done about it. There are 101 or more anomalies, points of question and worries that can be raised and only an hour and a half in which to do it. I know that, of the 72 hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies, the vast majority want to speak on the matter—[Interruption.] We shall have only one minute each if the debate lasts an hour and a half. Perhaps some of the exiled Scots who interfere in our debates from time to time will also want to speak.

Given all the representations that were made on Thursday and the fact that the Labour Front Bench has raised a point of order today, and as I suspect that several of my hon. Friends are also concerned about it, there must be some way, Mr. Speaker, that you can say to the Government that the measure, which is important, and is not trival and technical, must be given proper time for adequate scrutiny by the House. If you are not able to do so, you should be given powers to enable you to do so, Mr. Speaker.

That is a different matter. At the moment I have no authority to intervene in such matters. If the hon. Gentleman had been here on Friday, he would have been able to object to the motion that was passed without opposition.

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. With great respect to what you have just said, Mr. Speaker, about there being precedents, may I say that the nature of the tax and the intrusion into personal liberty have no precedent, particularly in modern legislation? Conservative Members might reflect on the fact that Scotland is being used as a guinea pig—I am not being disrespectful to my country. Therefore, it would behove them to look at what the statutory instruments Committee said and it would behove the House to look at the modern techniques that are available to Government to use information that the registration officers will acquire for purposes outwith the collection of the tax. Therefore, we need the protection of the House. The House exists to protect the people, not just the Executive. If we were doing our job, we should tell the Executive that the statutory instrument is out of order and ultra vires, and should not be debated.

I say to the hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies who are rising that I can do nothing about the matter. A motion was passed on Friday and it is not within my power to do anything about it. A large number of right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in the debate on the Education Reform Bill, which is to take place under a timetable motion, and we should get to it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can we, as a matter of procedure, try to ensure that points of order are raised as points of order and not as arguments about the matter under consideration? On Friday, the House passed the motion without a Division. The Opposition had an opportunity to vote on the matter, but hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies were not here. Can we maintain the proper procedure and not have people cheating?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that it is primary legislation that gives the Government the power to introduce statutory instruments, and that that was the time when the detail should have been debated? It was debated and the Opposition lost. Will you confirm that this is not the first time that legislation such as this has been handled in this way? We can remember the selective employment tax, which was just as hideous and odious as some may believe the community charge to be. Will you confirm that there is nothing out of order in what will happen this evening?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You advised my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) that last Friday it was open to us to object to this procedure. Is it not a fact that that would have curtailed the debate, which is not what we want to achieve? You have said that there is nothing that you can do, but do you appreciate that the problem is that not only is there nothing that you can do but that there is nothing that the elected representatives of the people of Scotland can do? How on earth can we protect the constitution of the United Kingdom in the face of a Government who seem hell bent on breaking up the United Kingdom?

I should like to raise a point of order with you, Mr. Speaker, on the statutory instrument which was not considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and which many regard as a snoopers' charter. Many hon. Members will have a financial advantage if the poll tax and the related delegated legislation is brought into operation. Would there be a direct pecuniary interest to Conservative Scottish Members—handful of them that there are—if they voted for the statutory instrument? It would be worthwhile if you, Mr. Speaker, examined this matter to see whether they can vote for it.

It is perfectly in order for hon. Members to cast a vote where it is a matter of public policy, as this would be.

Because there is a timetable motion, and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) may wish to take part in the debate on the Education Reform Bill. The House might benefit from his speech.