I beg to move Amendment No. 25, in page 10, line 44, to leave out “subsections (4) and (5)” and to insert: “the provisions” .
I suggest that it will be for the convenience of the Committee if with this Amendment we discuss Amendments Nos. 26, 27, 29 and 30. Amendments Nos. 25 and 29 are paving Amendments for Amendment No. 30, which is the substantial Amendment, in page 12, line 13 to leave out “being counted as half a person)” and insert:
“who is not a child of the applicant or in the applicant's care being disregarded, and any child not falling to be disregarded being counted as half a person).
(4a) In the case of a rebate application by one or two or more joint occupiers or, as the case may be, joint tenants, subsection (4) of this section shall have effect as if for the words ‘one other person who is either the spouse or a relative of the applicant’ there were substituted the words ‘the applicant's spouse, if any’.
(4b) If any of the additional persons referred to in subsection (4) of this section represents [column 699]to the rating authority that he has no income and the authority are satisfied that the representation is true, the authority shall make no reduction under that subsection in respect of that person.
(4c) Where a rebate application in respect of, or of part of, a hereditament is made by a person who did not become entitled to make it until more than one month after the beginning of the rebate period to which it relates them——
(a) if the rating authority to whom the application is made are satisfied that, for that rebate period, the applicant has made or is liable to make (and neither is nor will be entitled to recover) a payment by way of rates or rent entitling him to apply for a rebate in respect of, or of part of, some other hereditament, the amount of the applicant's reckonable rates shall be increased by that sum or £3 15s., whichever is the less;
(b) in any other case, the amount of the applicant's reckonable rates shall be increased by an amount bearing the same proportion to £3 15s. as the part of the rebate period to which the application relates falling before the date when the applicant became entitled to make it bears to the whole of that period” .
Amendment No. 30 seeks to delete certain words and to insert a very substantial number of words. This has come out as a glorious composite hand-out covering a number of different points, all of which are reasonable and consistent with our earlier discussions. The first point deals with the excluding from the household fraction, which is the abatement of the reckonable rates because of other people in the household, of those children who are not children of the applicant but of someone else in the house. It is obviously sensible and helpful to the applicant.
Subsection (4a) follows from the discussions on joint occupiers and deals with the particular difficulty that normally under page 12, line 7, where there is a relative acting as the housekeeper in the place of the spouse, the rates are not abated for that relative. This separates them from the joint occupiers and makes it clear that each joint occupier whether a relative or not will reduce the other's reckonable rates by half, which is what we were discussing before.
Subsection (4b) again modifies the household fraction. It deals with the case of a person who would abate the fraction but who has no income. This was discussed in Committee, and, as a result of our examination of the point, we [column 700]think that what is here proposed is a reasonable way of tackling it. The proposal is that, if someone goes himself to the rating authority and says that he has no income and the authority is satisfied that that is true, it will not make the reduction. This is to get over the difficulty of a means test. In other words, it is the individual himself who goes along and says that he has no income.
Subsection (4c) deals with a case raised in Committee by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse), that of the person who changes his house during the same period and who, according to the Bill, would have to pay the minimum of £3 15s. in each case. That point is now removed from the Bill.
I think that those are the main matters covered by this group of Amendments, and I commend them to the House.
May I say here that I have selected also the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) to Government Amendment No. 30, in subsection (4b), to leave out “and” and to insert:
“or only such income as he receives from the applicant and if” .
The hon. Gentleman may say a word about that Amendment in this general discussion. We will put it formally at the appropriate place if necessary.
I am grateful to the Government for meeting one of the points which I made in Committee, which was to allow a dependant to be disregarded. But the definition of a dependant is rather tight here. The dependant must have no income at all. In fact, there is a fairly clear understanding of who a dependant is, and my Amendment in Committee did not require a definition of “dependant” because I took it to be well known.
The Government, in pinning it down to someone who has no income whatever, will raise difficulties. I think, for example, of the young man who has had polio or who is quite incapable of doing any work at all. While he is a child, he has no income and any additional family income which comes in on his behalf from National Assistance will go to the parents. But the moment he reaches a certain age—18 I think—he has to claim National Assistance for himself. At this stage, he will receive an income and, [column 701]presumably will thereby be debarred as a dependant under the Clause. This is a pity. He is not the same sort of person as the lodger from whom we are distinguishing him.
I notice that the dependant must himself apply. Some of these people will hardly be capable of making an application. The mentally ill, for example, will not be able to fill in an elaborate form. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that the form of application for rate rebate will have at the bottom a place for a further certificate to be signed saying, “I, living at the above house, hereby declare that I have no income” . Such a person could then put his mark on it and it would be sufficient for the purpose of the application. It should appear on the same piece of paper as the main application. If this cannot be done, would it not be better if the applicant for rate rebate could himself certify on behalf of the person who has no income?
I am disappointed that one disregard still remains, namely, the one other relative. The income of husband and wife is assessed jointly and, if it is above £520 a year, they will not receive the full debate. A single person, on the other hand, is entitled to have one relative with him, and this relative may be a very wealthy person. That income is not taken into account. The Government have not yet made out a case to show why this further relative should be allowed as a disregard. When we were discussing disregards a little time ago, the Minister said that all disregards were set off in some way or other. But here is a disregard which is not set off. It is a totally unnecessary disregard and one which will give rise to a lot of hard feeling.
Otherwise, I welcome the introduction of provisions in respect of dependants in the way which I suggested in Committee.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Allason) that these Amendments represent a considerable improvement in the Bill but they could go a little further. Amendment No. 30 incorporates two points which I sought to make by Amendment in Committee, [column 702]that is, in subsection (4B) and (4C) respectively. I have a small Amendment to subsection (4B) to which I shall come in a moment.
For the purpose of clarification, I have a question to put on subsection (4C). Why is the adjustment which is now conceded, and which I sought in Committee, to be restricted to those who change house after the first month of the rebate period? I think that that is the effect of the opening words of the subsection, and I want to know what is the justification for that restriction.
Turning back to subsection (4B), I must say in passing that I am always puzzled by Parliamentary draftsmanship—I was puzzled by it when I was a Minister myself—and, on finding the reference to subsection (4) in this subsection, I automatically start looking somewhere else in the Bill for subsection (4). But, to my surprise, I find that I am already in the middle of subsection (4). Indeed, the words
“referred to in subsection (4)”
seem to raise the logical puzzle of the proposition referring to itself with which you, Mr. Speaker, as a doctor of philosophy, will be familiar and to which I was first introduced by the Minister of Housing and Local Government when he was my tutor at Oxford.
Without wishing to press the Minister on that point, perhaps I may now come to my proposed Amendment to the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment No. 30, in page 12, line 13. The sort of case I have in mind is not quite the same as that put by my hon. Friend, although I support what he has said. The case I want the Minister to consider is that of an old lady who is a semi-invalid and who would be living alone if she did not engage a companion help in the house. It seems to me that, as the Government Amendment is drafted, her rebate would be unaffected only so long as she refrained from making any payment at all in respect of her companion's services. If she were to pay her companion even so little as £10 a year, then her rebate entitlement would be reduced.
If the old lady is, in the current phrase “affluent” , she will not be entitled presumably to a rebate anyway but here I am considering a case of genuine hardship and I am sure that the Minister would agree that this is not a purely [column 703]hypothetical case but one which could arise in practice. Such a case of genuine hardship would, I believe, be covered if my Amendment were accepted.
I felt very unhappy about this Clause in Committee and while I appreciate that the Government Amendment will obviate the harmful effect on the rebate of someone living in the house who has no income, I still feel that this is the shakiest Clause from the point of view of logic and of justice in practice.
I do not think that one can claim that the Amendment creates an entirely satisfactory position even now in respect of lodgers or even of shared or joint households. We have discussed this at great length so I shall be brief. Let us take the case of a married couple with one lodger and an income of only £450 a year. They are £70 within the figure for qualification for maximum relief, yet the presence of the lodger will deprive them of one third of the relief. For an increase in income applying with the same effect, they would have to have an increased income on £450 of £110. I think that this sum is considerably more than most people would regard as accruing to a household of that kind through the presence of a lodger. Such a couple would be unlikely to be benefiting from a lodger's contribution to that extent.
It seems to me that, while the right hon. Gentleman has at all times striven to maintain simplicity in the administration of the Bill, he perhaps carries it a little too far in some respects. In this Clause, the only really satisfactory answer would have been to give those with really small incomes and with lodgers in the house an option as to whether or not the present provisions should apply or to have the lodger's presence calculated as an increase in income of £1 a week. This would mean that those whose income was quite substantially below the level of maximum benefit would not lose a half or one third of the rebate merely by the presence of the lodger, who probably was not, in fact, bringing them——
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but it seems that he is now talking about the Clause itself and another Amendment that he might seek to make to it; rather than the Amendments we are discussing.[column 704]
I am sorry if I strayed, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to express my feeling that the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment goes only a small part of the way to meet the views I expressed in Committee and therefore I cannot give it unqualified support.
Sir A. Meyer
I seek clarification. I am completely fogged on the question of joint occupation. I raised this subject in Committee and the Minister gave me a reply which doubled my confusion. I was stating the case of two sisters in joint occupation, and the right hon. Gentleman replied:
“May I start with the case of the two sisters? They have both got to apply. I now have to reveal something very mysterious because under Clause 4(4) each disqualifies the other for half the rebate. However, I will make absolutely sure that they really do, because it does sound to me very mysterious.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 3rd February, 1966; c. 195.]
I wondered then whether I had not misheard the right hon. Gentleman. I thought that he must have used the words “do not” . I think, however, that the Minister said that each sister would disqualify the other for 50 per cent., or words to that effect.
I am entirely lost and I wonder if the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can give us an illustration so that we can see how it will work out in practice that two sisters with joint occupancy who would otherwise be entitled to some rebate will not get anything because there are two of them.
The first point raised concerned a person on National Assistance. If he was over 18 years of age, he would be getting National Assistance allowances which would include something towards his living expenses and his apportioned share of the rates. In Committee the case was raised of a person on National Assistance who, for some reason or another, had no resources but was an adult kept in the household. Under the original draft, he was counted as a separate person and it is to meet this point that we propose this change.
I was also asked about a mentally afflicted person who might be unable to fill in a form. When that was mentioned, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland murmured something to me about curator bonis. I think he meant [column 705]that if a person is mental afflicted there are provisions in the mental health laws to ensure that his needs can be looked after and application made on his behalf. I should not think that aspect something about which we need worry in this Bill.
Then there was the case of the relative living in the household. I am sorry about this. Worry has been expressed about the possibility of a household means test. We certainly do not want that and that is why we have chosen another way of doing it. It would seem on balance that arriving at a reckonable rate is a more effective check on excessive claims than taking into account payments made. It is a substantial reduction in the rebate.
Having listened to the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) I am minded to accept his Amendment if the House so approves. I think that it would improve the Bill. I will try to give an illustration about the joint occupiers, although I have not had very much time to work one out. On the whole, I prefer to have time with an academic exercise to put something on paper, or at least to consult the crib. Supposing there are reckonable rates of £20; the rebate for that for a couple living together would be £10 16s. 8d. If they were joint occupiers, each would be able to apply in respect of £10 reckonable rates and each would be able to obtain a rebate of £4 3s. 4d. The position would be different with the apportionment of incomes, because, whereas the married couple would have £10 a week, the joint occupiers would have two of £8 a week. I hope that that explains the position.
I was asked why there was the provision that they must become entitled more than a month after the beginning of the rebate. I am advised that this difficulty would not arise in the other cases, but it arises where there is a change of abode later in the year.
I thank James MacCollthe Parliamentary Secretary for his explanation of this ragbag of Amendments and I am grateful to him for meeting a number of points which my hon. Friend raised in Committee. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) on his initiative in putting down the [column 706]Amendment to the Amendment and the Parliamentary Secretary's wisdom in accepting it. It meets an important consideration. Certain other points which should have been met are not met, but we must accept that three-quarters of our wishes are better than none at all.
Amendment agreed to.