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Local Government Finance

Volume 173: debated on Wednesday 6 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received seeking changes in the poll tax legislation; and if he will make a statement.

I regularly receive representations about different aspects of the community charge.

Is not the Secretary of State ashamed of the fact that he offered the people of Scotland as poll tax guinea pigs, that there was not a whimper of protest from Tory Members of Parliament during the first year of the Scottish poll tax, but that when the poll tax hit England and Wales it met with a storm of protest and the Prime Minister was forced to think again? If the Secretary of State is to avoid the accusation of being a silent stooge in the Cabinet, will he speak up and tell the Prime Minister that a few pussy-footed amendments will not satisfy the people of Scotland who are demanding the abolition of this evil tax?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the poll tax applies throughout the United Kingdom——

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to correct me with regard to Northern Ireland. The poll tax applies throughout Great Britain, unlike Labour's roof tax. We have yet to see whether the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), who feels so strongly about these matters, wishes to impose on Scotland alone a roof tax, which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (M r. Galloway) has attacked and which has been attacked by the Scottish Labour party. The Leader of the Opposition has said that he certainly would not wish to impose it south of the border. The Labour party needs to address itself to that.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that it is better to address particular anomalies that emerge in relation to the tax rather than necessarily the tax itself? Does he recognise that there are several anomalies affecting merchant seamen, those who spend a considerable part of the year overseas and some holiday homes, and that individual community charge payers have had to take matters to the courts for a decision? That course of action is not open to every individual. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore make sure that the legislation is amended appropriately to deal with those specific anomalies?

We shall naturally look sympathetically at any constructive suggestions. There have already been important changes to the standard charge, which meet some of the points raised by my right hon. Friend'. However, most of the examples to which he referred involve classification, when the community charge registration officer in one part of the country may have acted in a different way from the community charge registration officer in another area. In precisely those circumstances an appeal to the courts is a way of ensuring uniformity and fairness of treatment throughout the country.