HC Deb 04 November 1987 vol 121 cc928-9
9. Mr. Wray

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many responses he has received to his consultation document "The Community Charge" published in December 1986.

Mr. Howard

The booklet on the community charge was not a consultation document. We received over 1,200 responses to the consultation paper published in January 1986. Twice as many respondents supported the abolition of domestic rates as wanted to keep them; and the community charge received more support than any other replacement for the rates.

Since the consultation period ended we have not kept detailed records of the letters received. Our proposals have, however, received widespread support.

Mr. Wray

Does the Minister agree that this particular scheme was brought about because of the crippling revaluations in Scotland and the forced increases in rates. because of cuts in Government grants? Does he further agree that the scheme is fraudulent and dishonest and that a quarter of the population will suffer — mainly the unemployed and the elderly? Does he accept that the scheme is not fair because it is not based on the ability to pay? The Government have paid no heed to the organisations, ratepayers and churches that oppose the scheme, and it should be scrapped immediately.

Mr. Howard

The proposals merit none of the epithets applied to them by the hon. Gentleman. We shall make full provision, by way of rebates, for those who need help to pay the community charge. We shall listen more carefully and more responsively to Opposition Members when we know their proposals. However, I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman on one point—it is true that keeping the existing system would involve a revaluation of domestic properties that would lead to as great an upheaval in England as there was in Scotland in 1985.

Mr. Squire

Could my hon. and learned Friend help me? Last week the Government announced that an estimated 16.7 million people would pay more under the new system than they pay now. However, in addition to the 17 million plus who pay no rates and will be estimated to pay community charge, more than 2 million existing ratepayers, especially in inner London, will pay more. Can my hon. and learned Friend tell me how to reconcile those figures?

Mr. Howard

I am not sure that I entirely follow my hon. Friend's figures. In an answer that I gave last week I said that households that would gain from the community charge involved 9.9 million people and that households that would lose overall involved about 7 million people. That seems to be a sensible way of looking at the effect of the proposals.

Ms. Abbott

Is the Minister aware that the community charge in inner London will be at least £600 per head? Is he aware that whatever he cares to call it, in reality it is a poll tax that will force many people not to register to vote and that those people will be among the poorest? Is the fact that the poll tax will cause many poor people and their children not to register to vote an intentional, or unintentional, effect of the scheme?

Mr. Howard

No, there is no effect in terms of the electoral register. A survey published last week indicated that electoral registration was not being affected at all by the proposal, nor is it the case that the community charge will be at the level to which the hon. Lady referred. The figure to which she referred indicates the level at which the community charge would be if councils continued to spend at their present levels. I am confident that the effect of the charge will be to moderate council spending in inner London as elsewhere.

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