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Local Government Finance

Volume 175: debated on Wednesday 4 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the implications of the Government's review of the poll tax for local authorities in Scotland.

When the Secretary of State meets local authorities in Edinburgh on Friday, will he inform them at least that there will be no capping of local authorities in Scotland? How will he react to their fears, published in the press today, that the poll tax is likely to increase by 25 per cent. in Scotland in the oncoming year? [Interruption.] If Conservative Members wish to intervene, I am happy for them to do so. How will the Secretary of State react to the farcical protests by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) and the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who say that they want to use the Act of Union, which the Government have abrogated by imposing unfair taxes on Scotland?

I have already said that in the current financial year it is not necessary to take selective action. Indeed, evidence suggests that Scottish local authorities have had lower levels of expenditure than local authorities south of the border, no doubt because accountability is beginning to apply.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question and the various predictions by local authorities about possible levels of community charge next year, I have noted that one of the points that they have raised is that a number of people are seeking to evade their legal responsibilities and refusing to pay their taxes. The hon. Gentleman might help his constituents by paying his lawful taxes so that law-abiding members of the public do not suffer.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the generosity of support for Scottish local authorities by taxpayers thoughout the United Kingdom. What steps is he taking to ensure that the revenue support grant that those authorities receive is spent as efficiently as possible?

My hon. Friend is corrrect that it is in the public interest to ensure that local authorities are properly accountable to their electorates for the way in which they use available resources. One of the great advantages of the community charge as compared with the old rating system is that it ensures far greater accountability, because all adults who benefit from local services now contribute towards their cost.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the only sensible outcome, which is desired by the vast majority of Scottish people, is the total abolition of the poll tax? As he may find that slightly difficult, will he in the meanwhile demand from the review committee the abolition of the 20 per cent. minimum payment rule, backdated to 1 April 1989, an improvement in the rebate system, again backdated to 1 April 1989, and a vast improvement in revenue support grant next year to ensure that the odious burden of warrant sales is not imposed on thousands of our fellow Scots and that Scottish local authorities will not be forced to increase the poll tax by a massive amount and to cut services and jobs next year?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. The House and the public will be even more interested to know whether the Labour party is continuing to insist on imposing a roof tax in Scotland, which has been rejected not only by the Leader of the Opposition for England and Wales, but by the vast majority of people in Scotland. We understand the Labour party's embarrassement and sensitivity on that issue, but Opposition Members must realise that it will not go away.