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Community Charge

Volume 168: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many poll tax payers in Scotland will qualify for transitional relief; and what is the estimated average relief per qualifier for 1990–91.

I expect that about half a million people will be eligible for transitional relief in Scotland. Estimates of average relief for 1990–91 have not been made.

Is not the chaotic nature of the poll tax summed up by the fact that this relief was introduced half way into year one of the poll tax in Scotland and the fact that, despite all the right hon. and learned Gentleman's claims for it, only 10 per cent. of poll tax payers will benefit from the relief, at an average rate of 50p a week?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer. I said that it is estimated that half a million people are likely to be entitled to benefit. That is 10 per cent. of the population of Scotland but, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, all those under 18 are not liable for the community charge. A bit of elementary arithmetic would have enabled the hon. Gentleman to work that out for himself.

Has the Secretary of State taken the time to read the speculative article in The Economist last week, which suggested that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Prime Minister will shortly hold a press conference to announce that the poll tax cannot be satisfactorily amended and must be withdrawn and that they apologise to the people for inflicting it on them? Does not a combination of political resistance in Scotland and political panic south of the border mean that the poll tax is now on the rocks?

The Economist is better at analysing the past than predicting the future. Implementation of the community charge in Scotland is being greatly assisted by the valuable co-operation of Scottish National party-controlled Angus district council. As it is the only nationalist-controlled local authority in Scotland, I know that the hon. Gentleman will warmly welcome the fact that it is co-operating in the implementation of the community charge.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend been able to glean from the Opposition whether transitional relief will form a part of their cracked scheme for a roof tax? Has he had any representations from the seven members of the Labour party, at least, who are refusing to pay the community charge? Are they equally against the roof tax, as are many Labour party members in Scotland?

There is clearly an important distinction between the proposals. Under the Government's proposals, relief is paid to those who are currently paying the charge. I understand that, under the Labour party's roof tax proposals, relief would come to elderly pensioners in respect of their estate only when they died. That is a rather grotesque alternative proposal, which is rightly rejected throughout the Scottish community.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the difficulty of operating the transitional relief underlines the administrative nightmare that now surrounds the poll tax? Does he recall that the administrative costs for 1988–89 are estimated by his Department at above £31 million and that local authorities have already had to find £10 million to organise the rebate system? Does not the ever-deepening chaos, combined with the essential injustice of the poll tax, press the case for speedy abolition? If the Secretary of State is so concerned about a roof tax and the interests of the home owner, should not he turn his mind to the most damaging roof tax of all—ever-escalating mortgage costs, for which he is responsible?

The administrative costs of the transitional scheme are being reimbursed to local authorities, as the hon. Gentleman knows. As for his remark about the roof tax, if he does not accept criticisms from Conservative Members or from the rest of Scotland, he might at least listen to the Labour party in Paisley—[Laughter.] I am interested in the Opposition's reaction. We have been told that Labour's controversial roof tax plans have been blasted by the Paisley Labour party and that it has told the hon. Gentleman to think again. If the hon. Gentleman will not listen to the rest of Scotland, he might at least listen to those protests from his party, including the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who has given him advice on the matter.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It might be advisable if I were called because those remarks were not——

Order. The mere fact that the hon. Gentleman's constituency has been referred to does not mean that he is automatically called.