HC Deb 25 May 1988 vol 134 cc311-2
4. Mr. Kirkwood

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the progress of registration for the community charge.

9. Mr. Doran

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has as to what proportion of registration forms for the community charge have been returned properly completed to the registration officer for each of the regional authorities in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

Detailed information on the progress of community charge registration is not available centrally, but it is clear that in many areas very high rates of return of forms have been achieved in the initial canvass. There is every reason to believe that the registration process is going smoothly.

Mr. Kirkwood

Will the Minister assure the House that he will seek a detailed statement of the progress of the registration from the poll tax registration officers, because there is evidence in some areas that the registration process is failing substantially? If some areas can achieve only 80 to 90 per cent. registration rates from direct returns from the public and therefore have to pad out the registrations with information from their own resources, will that not lead to registers being substantially appealed against after October, and will that not cause much delay and time-consuming and expensive administrative procedures?

Mr. Lang

I have every confidence that the registration officers will be able to fulfil their statutory duties without any interference from me. At the moment we are only a quarter of the way through the period for compiling the register, yet the signs from published figures are that the returns are in the region of 75 to 90 per cent. If anything is failing dismally, it is the Labour party's campaign to launch a "Return to Sender" campaign.

Mr. Doran

Is the Minister aware that in my post this morning I received an invitation from the Secretary of State for Scotland to witness the retreat of the bands of the Royal Marines? We have already witnessed the retreat of the Tory party from Scotland, and the cries of anguish were painful indeed.

My information from the Grampian region is that '70 per cent. of registration forms have been returned, but only 40 per cent. have been completed. That means that 60 per cent. of people in the Grampian region have refused to return their forms or have returned them asking for more information. Will the Minister publish similar figures for the rest of Scotland?

Mr. Lang

Those figures are not returned to the Government. They are compiled by the registration officers, and they announce the figures if they so wish. I hope the hon. Gentleman shares my view that the most effective way to get the community charge system to fund local government successfully is to spread it as widely as possible across the adult population. If not, those who complete the form and end up on the register will pay a higher share than would otherwise be fair.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that registration for the community charge will take time, as we expected? Does he also agree that it is interesting that Angus district, which is run by the Scottish National party, and Perth and Kinross, where there is a Scottish National party provost, have clearly declared that people should register, comply with the law and pay the community charge? That is contrary to what Scottish National party members have been saying.

Mr. Lang

I commend the attitude of Angus district council and I hope that its views will percolate through to its parliamentary representatives.

Mr. Dewar

In his obviously carefully prepared initial answer the Minister referred to published figures. Where are they published, and what are they? As far as I am aware, there has been only some speculation in The Sunday Times, which is virtually a Conservative party house journal. Given the depressing spectacle in another place earlier this week of reactionary hereditary power being marshalled cynically to frustrate the views of public opinion—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—what advice would the Minister give to Scots who recognise and oppose the unjust nature of the poll tax, but who are faced by a Government whose definition of democracy does not involve listening to the electorate?

Mr. Lang

That was obviously a very carefully prepared question. The published figures to which I referred were published in the press. The press will note with interest the disdain with which its published articles are treated by the Labour party. My advice to members of the public who are opposed to the legislation is to accept the rule of law. In that respect they will differ from the Labour party.