HC Deb 14 December 1988 vol 143 cc891-4
2. Mr. Marlow

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make it his policy to inform people of the effects on the community charge of profligate local authorities.

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. John Selwyn Gummer)

I shall take every opportunity to inform voters that profligate spending by local authorities will lead to high community charges.

Mr. Marlow

My right hon. Friend is a considerate man; he is also a very intelligent man. He understands about gearing—in other words, that for every £1 that a local authority increases its expenditure the community charge payer will have to cough up an extra £4. If we look around the country at Labour local authorities and assume that they spend a little over 10 per cent. more than Conservative local authorities, which is highly likely, that will increase the community charge by just over 40 per cent. or almost £100. We know that my right hon. Friend would not want to indulge in low politics as he is a fair man and a Christian, but will he make everyone in this country aware that, although we agree that everybody who is entitled to vote should vote, the cost of voting Labour at next year's local authority elections could be £100 per vote?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is kind in his remarks, but the facts are clear. If there were a community charge this year, the average in Conservative-controlled authorities would be £196.40 per year and in Labour-controlled authorities £294.40, so there is almost £100 difference.

Mr. Mullin

Has the Minister seen recent reports that the poll tax will result in the transfer of about £800 million from the north to the south? Can he, as a Christian, tell us how it is possible to justify the poorer parts of the country having to transfer wealth to the richer parts?

Mr. Gummer

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the reports. The revaluation of the business rate will have the effect of transferring almost £900 million from the south to the north.

Mr. Cormack

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that any expenditure on protecting egg farmers is not counted as profligacy?

Mr. Gummer

Sometimes when one is moved from one Department to another one has much for which to thank the Almighty.

Mr. Blunkett

Will the Minister be good enough today to answer the question that he declined to answer on Monday and say how much money he intends to spend on profligate propaganda publicising the Government's case on the poll tax, including the leaflet published yesterday? How much does he intend to spend on telling the voters of Westminster what was said in the Audit Commission's report, published on 6 December, about the way in which the scandalous sale of cemeteries for 15p has resulted in the electorate of Westminster being faced with a £5.5 million bill to repurchase them?

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to take action against Lady Porter in the same way that he took action against Labour councils during recent years? If so, will he couple that with surcharging his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health for the £500,000 that she has cost the country by opening her mouth once too often?

Mr. Gummer

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new job on the Opposition Front Bench. I assure him that the Government will spend no money on propaganda.

3. Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has as to what a typical ward sister would pay in (a) rates, (b) community charge and (c) a system of capital value rates plus local income tax paid in the proportions of 80:20, respectively, if she lived in a typical one-bedroomed flat in the London borough of Camden.

Mr. Gummer

A ward sister earning £15,000, living in a flat in Camden worth £70,000 with a rateable value of £300, would pay a rates bill of £635, a community charge of £639, disregarding the transitional safety net, and £2,030 under a system of capital value rates plus local income tax.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Can I assume that my right hon. Friend will take every opportunity to produce, for the benefit of those citizens unlucky enough to live in boroughs such as Camden, factual information about the effects of the policies of the Labour party if it were ever given the chance to put them into effect?

Mr. Gummer

Yes, the double tax that Labour proposes would cost a ward sister more than £2,000 per year, but it is particularly bad in Camden because Camden's overspending is £637 per adult. If it brought its overspending down to what it needs to spend, it could have a reasonable community charge. The effect on the community charge is serious in a borough which does not seem to be able to bring its spending under control.

Dr. Cunningham

How does the Minister expect us to believe that rigged question and fiddled answer when he has completely disregarded the loss to Camden ratepayers of £151 million as a result of the Government's national business tax—a cost to each person in Camden of £824? As he is concentrating on nurses in Camden, perhaps he will tell the House how a nurse earning £15,000 or £20,000 per year can possibly afford the average one-bedroomed flat in Camden which costs more than £100,000. Is he not aware that at the royal free hospital Portakabins are being installed in the car parks because nurses cannot afford to rent or buy homes in the borough as a result of the Government's policies? After their treatment at the hands of the Government and this farrago of fiddled figures and dishonest replies nurses in Camden will treat the Government's answer with nothing but contempt.

Mr. Gummer


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that "dishonest" in the context of replies made by a Minister is not a parliamentary expression. Will the hon. Gentleman withdraw that?

Dr. Cunningham

I will certainly withdraw the word "dishonest", and use the phrase "grossly inaccurate" instead.

Mr. Gummer

I am extremely pleased that the hon. Gentleman has now confirmed that the Labour scheme would produce a figure of £2,000 because he has failed to reply to my letter asking for the information, as has the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). It is barefaced cheek for him to come to the House and complain about a reply when he has refused to give the public the facts. He knows perfectly well that any loss that may be thought to come from the business rate will be made up in the needs grant. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not understand the principle, but the fact is true that the hon. Gentleman has produced a plan in place of rates and community charge which he knows would not work and if put into operation it would saddle every nurse with a bill of £2,000.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Labour party has shown, by its questions today and its plans for local income tax and the double tax, that it has entirely abandoned the south of England and wants to spread the disastrous policies of Camden to the rest of London and devastate people's lives there, too?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend will have noticed that the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) tried to deflect the question because he knows that in every case, when the figures come out, the scheme proposed by the Labour party would be demonstrably devastating to Labour-controlled areas because overspending makes them impossible for people to live in.