HC Deb 11 March 1987 vol 112 cc280-1
5. Mr. Donald Stewart

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received on the financial effect on crofters arising from the introduction of community charge.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has received representations on that matter from the Western Isles islands council, the Crofters Commission, the National Farmers Union of Scotland the Scottish Crofters Union and the Harris Council of Social Service, as well as from a number of individuals in the crofting areas.

Mr. Stewart

Is the Minister aware of the concern and resentment felt throughout the crofting community at the imminent disappearance of the rating control concession under the poll tax legislation? Is he further aware that the factors that gave rise to that in the first place still exist to the same extent, and were accepted by a previous Conservative Administration and, indeed, have been by all Governments since? Are we to believe that the present occupants of the Scottish Office are more hard-nosed and uncaring than the Conservatives in 1956?

Mr. Ancram

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his mischief in raising the issue, which he knows from the Standing Committee on the Abolition of Domestic Rates etc. (Scotland) Bill splits the Labour party in three ways. The present relief attaches to property rather than to the individual. The new charge that is being introduced is a personal charge, and the rebate system that we intend to introduce will make sure that those on low incomes are sufficiently protected.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Will my hon. Friend confirm that when it comes to being hard-nosed towards crofters, the policy of a local income tax that is espoused by the Scottish nationalists and the Liberals would be far more damaging than the community charge because of the narrowness of the tax base? Is it not double standards on their part to complain about something that will be to the benefit of their constituencies?

Mr. Ancram

I agree with my hon. Friend. I would go further and say that the type of relief that is being sought by the right hon. Gentleman and by other hon. Members would be given to people in a specific category. Some of them might benefit from it and some of them would not need it. I call in evidence the words of Mr. Brian Wilson, who I believe is a Labour candidate. Writing in the West Highland Free Press on Friday 27 February, he said: It simply is not on to introduce, in 1987 a new scheme which gives the well-paid schoolteacher with crofting status a 25 per cent. tax rebate, while the pensioner next door in a non-croft house is hit for the full whack. That is a sensible approach.

Mr. Wallace

Does not the example that the Minister has given underline the indiscriminate way in which the poll tax will affect people? A local income tax is by far the fairest way by relating liability to one's ability to pay.

Mr. Ancram

I should be interested to hear what figures the Liberal party can produce about how a local income tax would work. On the figures that we have produced, the impression is that anybody earning over £112 a week as a single earner would end up paying more in local income tax than he would in community charge.