HC Deb 21 December 1988 vol 144 cc438-40
9. Mr. Douglas

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the level of poll tax which will be levied in Scotland for 1989–90.

Mr. Lang

Our generous revenue support grant settlement for 1989–90 means that if authorities do not increase the volume of their spending, the average community charge should be £267. Indications so far from Strathclyde regional council confirm that our estimates are well-founded.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Minister reflect a little on an answer given by the Secretary of State earlier about the Union being an anomaly? Does he consider that the poll tax is an illustration of the Government making the Union an anomaly when it suits them, by imposing this unwanted and unwarranted tax on the people of Scotland first, and making Scotland a guinea pig for a method of taxation that nobody wants? Will he say clearly that a major anomaly in that tax is the treatment of the disabled? There will be rebates for the disabled, but a substantial burden will be placed on other sections of the population. What advice is he giving to local authorities that find people unable to pay after three instalments, after which the whole year, plus a surcharge, becomes payable? The Minister is the greatest anomaly.

Mr. Lang

The major anomaly that has hitherto existed in local government finance is that only 40 per cent. of the adult population in Scotland contribute to the local government financial burden. The justice that we are bringing to Scotland, a year ahead of England, is the removal of the unfair burden of domestic rates that falls so unevenly on such a small proportion of that adult population.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my hon. Friend agree that some regional authorities are pushing up the volume of expenditure far above the level of inflation so that, even allowing for the very high increased grant from the Government, they can push up the community charge? Before those authorities have the opportunity to set their community charges, will my hon. Friend remonstrate with them and persuade them to move in the world of good housekeeping rather than of increased expenditure?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that problem. Dumfries and Galloway regional council, in whose area both my hon. Friend and I have our constituencies, will have an increased revenue support grant for next year of 12.8 per cent., just about double the rate of inflation. There is every opportunity for that regional council, as for every other regional council in Scotland, to keep down spending and to keep the burden on the community charge payers within reasonable limits.

Mr. Steel

Does the Minister accept the figures produced by the Borders regional council that show that a poll tax as low as the £126 that the hon. Gentleman forecast would mean its budget having to be 8 per cent. below the level of assessed expenditure need, which is the measure that the Government themselves use? Will the hon. Gentleman explain why my constituents in Ettrick and Lauderdale have to pay £45 more and in Tweeddale £50 more to subsidise the safety net procedure for Strathclyde?

Mr. Lang

The revenue support grant for the Borders regional council is being increased by 13.5 per cent. next year. There is every opportunity for it to keep its spending and the burden on the community charge payers at a low level.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the safety net and I welcome his conversion to the policy of accountability in local authorities. That is why we are removing the safety net. If full safety nets had remained in place, his constituents in Berwickshire would have been £29 a head worse off.