HC Deb 26 November 1986 vol 106 cc252-4
7. Mr. Home Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from local authorities concerning the proposed community charge.

Mr. Rifkind

In addition to a response from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, I received 37 responses from individual local authorities on the Green Paper and on the subsequent Scottish Office paper on operational issues.

Mr. Home Robertson

How have the Government managed to come up with a system of local taxation that will be even more arbitrary than the rating system? As the Secretary of State for the Environment told the House on 17 November that under a poll tax people would pay the same bill for a given level of service, how can it be that someone on the Island of Mull, who might have access to limited levels of local services, will have to pay the same regional poll tax as someone who enjoys all the benefits of life in places such as Bearsden or Eastwood?

Mr. Rifkind

I am interested to note that the hon. Gentleman concedes that the rating system is arbitrary. As one of the Opposition's spokesmen on agriculture, I hope that he will seek to persuade his party not to impose rating on agricultural property, which he knows would devastate Scotland's agricultural economy.

The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the effect of the community charge. He knows that if those living on Mull or in Bearsden were to live under the same regional authority, they would receive similar regional services. It would be the responsibility of the regional council to provide services. Under our accountable system, it would be for the electorate to determine whether the level of services should be increased, reduced or remain the same.

Mr. Fletcher

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the majority of those who pay domestic rates in Scotland are eagerly awaiting the publication of a Bill that will distribute the cost of local authority services more evenly among those who use them?

Mr. Rifkind

Indeed, yes. As my hon. Friend will be aware, it is interesting to note that among those who have welcomed the proposals for a community charge and the Government's other proposals are the ratepayers associations in Scotland, the chambers of commerce, which represent small businesses, and the CBI in Scotland, which represents industry. These organisations have all given a full welcome to the Government's proposals. As they represent pretty well all the ratepayers of Scotland, that is something from which we can take great satisfaction.

Mr. Maclennan

Has the Secretary of State calculated what proportion of total local authority expenditure will be constituted, on average, by the community charge?

Mr. Rifkind

It will be broadly that proportion of local authority expenditure that is presently funded by domestic rates.

Mr. Forth

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that this long overdue reform is being watched eagerly by people south of the border to see how successful it is, so that we can follow Scotland as quickly as possible? Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise the burden of responsibility that he carries in that regard? Will he take with him my best wishes, and the best wishes of my constituents and everyone south of the border, in making this a very successful measure?

Mr. Rifkind

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks, and I think that I can cheer him up even more. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made it clear that legislation will be introduced to enact similar provisions for England, even before the Scottish measure has come into effect.

Mr. MacKenzie

Is the Secretary of State aware that the list that he read out of friends who support the community charge is very small indeed compared with the number of ratepayers who forcefully demonstrated during the last municipal elections that they did not like the idea at all? The right hon. and learned Gentleman should drop this pernicious tax. Why are we in Scotland to be punished when the people of England and Wales will not be punished in this way?

Mr. Rifkind

I have just said that similar proposals are to be implemented for England and Wales, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made clear. I remind the right hon. Gentleman that one of the basic defects of the present electoral system is that a substantial proportion of the electorate make no financial contribution to the revenue of local authorities through the present rating system. Therefore, it is not surprising that they should be happy to vote for high spending.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it cannot be fair that a widow in a small bungalow should have to pay the same rates as another household where four wage earners are living? The sooner the leglislation is enacted, the better. It will be warmly welcomed by many householders in Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

It is interesting that the Labour party, which is now the only political party in Scotland that wishes to keep the present domestic rating system, seems to equate Socialism with the outcome that my hon. Friend has just described.