HC Deb 19 February 1986 vol 92 cc304-6
7. Mr. Marlow

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about the establishment of an accurate register for the proposed community charge.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

I have so far received a small number of representations covering a range of issues in response to the recently published Green Paper "Paying for Local Government", but it is far too early to draw any conclusions from these.

Mr. Marlow

As both the electoral register and the community charge register will be available for public scrutiny, would it not be sensible and save a lot of bureaucracy if the information for both those registers were collected on the same form? Will my hon. Friend lay to rest the ridiculous red herring that the community charge is a tax on voting, because whether or not someone has paid the tax will have no effect on the right to vote?

Mrs. Rumbold

My hon. Friend is right. The community charge is intended to be a charge for local services, not a charge on voting. It would be better to have separate registers, so that we can register those who would not necessarily be eligible for voting, but who would be eligible to pay the community charge.

Mr. Hardy

Have not the representations made the point that, in addition to the unnecessary bureaucratic cost, the vast majority of people will be worse off and that those who will gain the greatest benefit will be those who live in the biggest houses?

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Gentleman is not correct. The people who will gain most from the community charge will be the single who live alone. That represents many of the worst off in our community.

Mr. Squire

Is my hon. Friend not worried that the scheme may involve considerable administrative costs for local authorities, whether or not it leads to an increase in overtime?

Mrs. Rumbold

The community charge is likely to cause a small increase in administration, but we believe that the system will be so infinitely preferable to the present system that the additional cost will be well worth it.

Mr. Straw

Why will the Minister not at least listen to the anxiety expressed by the Home Office, that using the electoral register will seriously damage the integrity of that register and will be seen, especially by low-income families, as a disincentive to exercise the right to vote? If the Minister is determined to continue with the idea of a poll tax, will she at least recognise the overwhelming need to have entirely separate registers?

Mrs. Rumbold

Indeed, I do, and that is precisely what I said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). There will be a separate register for the community charge, which I must repeat is not a poll tax. It is a charge for local services, to be paid by those who use local services.

Mr. Spencer

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposed community charge would have a sobering effect on councils such as the city of Leicester, which, after an advantageous rate support grant settlement, is gleefully proclaiming that it will increase rates by 80 per cent.?

Mrs. Rumbold

My hon. and learned Friend is right. The great advantage of the community charge is that there will be a direct link of accountability, wholly perceptible and transparent to the voters. That will be of immense advantage to those who live in an area. The idea of an 80 per cent. increase is disgraceful.