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Council Tax

Volume 227: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1993

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he last met representatives of local authorities to discuss the implementation of the council tax.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) discussed the council tax with representatives of local authorities in England in September 1992. My Department has continued to work closely with local authorities on all aspects of council tax implementation.

Is the Minister aware that many thousands of householders throughout England and Wales believe that their homes have been placed in the wrong council tax band, and that they are still waiting for their cases to be heard? Can he tell the House what measures he is taking to speed up the hearing of those cases so that those householders may find some peace of mind? That will help revenue collection in hard-pressed local authorities.

Less than 3 per cent. of bandings have been appealed against and it is intended that the vast majority will be dealt with as speedily and effectively as possible. We anticipate that the vast majority of appeals will be dealt with during next year and many will be dealt with much sooner.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that there has been a great welcome for the introduction of the council tax? In my constituency, in the first week, half the telephone calls to the local council came from people who wanted to know why their bill was so low, because they did not appreciate the generosity of transitional relief. Does he also agree that many people have been misled by Labour party-political broadcasts, which claim that council tax under Labour councils is £16 lower on average than under Conservative councils? Can he confirm that that is extremely misleading? If one compares like with like for homes in the same band, the tax is much less under Conservative councils.

My hon. Friend makes some extremely good points. Six out of 10 people will pay less under the council tax than they did under the community charge. Band for band, Conservative councils cost less and deliver better services. Of course, it is absurd to compare average bill with average bill when the average band in a Labour area is band A and in a Conservative area it is band D. If we simply take the average band in a Conservative area, the tax is £107 less than the Labour equivalent.

Why does not the Minister wake up to the fact that the electors believed us on the council tax, not the Tories, which is why the Tory party was annihilated at the county elections and we had spectacular successes?

While the Minister is singing the praises of the poll tax, is he aware that his Secretary of State, when he was Minister for the poll tax, screeched around the country damning any idea of a property tax based on capital values, such as the council tax? The right hon. Gentleman even claimed that the poll tax was the
"clearest and fairest local tax ever"
and that it was, "a morally superior alternative" to a property-based tax.

Has the Secretary of State yet told the Minister whether he still holds such crackpot views, or does the Minister think that his right hon. Friend's desire to stay in office has got the better of his moral superiority?

Electors should be very wary of listening to any estimates from the Labour party on anything to do with local tax. For example, Labour-controlled Birmingham city council said that the introduction of the council tax and this year's settlement would result in 3,000 redundancies. It then revised that figure to 1,000. In the event, it increased its full-time payroll by 2·3 per cent. So much for Labour estimates.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the main question was about implementation? I must say that, from my postbag, there appears to have been a very smooth transition from the community charge to the council tax. Does my hon. Friend further agree that if people have any complaints about banding, they should write to their Member of Parliament as soon as possible? The implementation has been so smooth that I believe that the council tax is one of the best policies that the Government have introduced recently.

My hon. Friend makes some excellent points. As I said, only 3 per cent. of bandings have been appealed against. That is a sign that the vast majority of people accept that their bandings are fair and reasonable. As I also said, six out of 10 people pay less under the council tax than they did under the community charge. We must also take into account council tax benefit, transitional relief and discounts—all of which further reduce the bills that people have to pay.