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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 if he will make a statement on the operation of the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987 in relation of the recovery of poll tax arrears.

I am satisfied that the powers available to levying authorities in Scotland to collect arrears of community charge are adequate and appropriate for this purpose, as they were for the collection of arrears of domestic rates.

Having regard to the Minister's legal background, does he acknowledge that anyone surveying the poll tax legislation without realising that he would have to resort to the rigours of poinding and warrant sales is too negligent to hold office and that anyone who did know must have little social conscience? Does he accept that the poll tax legislation is designed to intimidate, embarrass and humiliate the poorer sections of our community? There will be a massive demonstration in Glasgow on 31 March. The people of Scotland are surely entitled to use people power to show their repugnance for the legislation and in the regional elections in May to eliminate the Tories and their supporters from every office in the land.

First, more than 1 million people in Scotland at present receive rebates. That is extremely important and it is especially designed to help those who are not well off. I should point out to the hon. Gentleman who feels so strongly about this matter—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) should refrain from shouting.

Evidently the hon. Gentleman does not want to hear the reply.

The most resented aspects of warrant sales were removed by the 1987 Act—anonymity has been brought in, certain exemptions have been made to the range of goods affected, and redemption has also been introduced—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is shouting from a sedentary position, but under the community charge virtually everyone makes a contribution to local authority services. It was an absurd system to assume a link between services used and the size of a person's property—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should not address me as though I am James "Buster" Douglas when I am merely the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West trying to answer his question.

The individual in a large house pays the community charge required of him by way of a contribution to local authority services, but he also pays through national taxation. I pay my taxes, but the hon. Gentleman is refusing to do so and is urging his constituents to defy the law. The hon. Gentleman is himself paid by the taxpayer, so that is grossly irresponsible.

Order. Interjections from a sedentary position lead the Minister to reply to questions which he was not asked when the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) was on his feet.

The Government's regulations force local authorities to recover poll tax arrears from single people claiming income support who have an income of less than £35 per week. Those claimants are the only group of debtors in Scotland not covered by the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987. Is the Minister proud that the Government have singled out the poorest in society for the most severe poll tax treatment? Does he not understand that although he can make the poor pay the price of the poll tax now, the voters will make him pay the price of the poll tax when he next faces them?

It is for local authorities to decide what method of collection to use. In many cases it will be arrestment of earnings or of bank accounts. It could be by deduction from income support. It need not necessarily be through poinding, warrant sales or summary warrants.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) would have done better to declare an interest in the question as he is not paying his community charge? Does my hon. Friend also agree that it ill behoves any hon. Member, who has been elected to pass laws, to advocate the breaking of laws which he does not want? It makes a mockery of the whole purpose of democracy.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) is rendering a disservice to his constituents, who may end up having to pay extra on their community charge if privileged people such as Members of Parliament who are paid by the taxpayer refuse to pay their own community charge.