HC Deb 03 May 1989 vol 152 cc173-5
12. Mr. Worthington

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what research he has commissioned into the impact of a uniform business rate in England and Wales on Scottish business; and what are its findings.

Mr. Rifkind

The introduction of the uniform business rate in England and Wales in 1990 will be phased in gradually over a number of years. It is our intention to move towards a common rate on the same time scale in Scotland. I do not therefore think that research is required.

Mr. Worthington

I congratulate the Secretary of State on his 100 per cent. record; for about the 20th time he has failed to answer the question. What research has been conducted into the impact on Scotland of a uniform business rate in England and Wales? No research has been conducted. It is a gross dereliction of duty. Scottish business will be damaged by the impact of a uniform business rate in England and Wales. Will the Secretary of State confirm that no research has been done?

Mr. Rifkind

I actually said that in my original reply, if the hon. Gentleman had taken the courtesy to listen to it. I pointed out that the reason is that we intend to introduce a common rate poundage in Scotland over the same time scale. Therefore, by the time the uniform business rate is in operation there will be a common rate poundage throughout the United Kingdom. I can keep repeating the point if it helps the hon. Gentleman. I can give him information, but I cannot give him wisdom.

Mr. McAllion

By controlling the rate of increase in the non-domestic rate, the Secretary of State for Scotland ensures that the poll tax payer has to pay more than would otherwise have been the case. What will happen to the poor people who cannot afford inflated poll taxes? So far the Secretary of State has given them no advice. The only alternative that the Government have offered to them is to escape liability by removing their names from the electoral register. Is that what the Secretary of State wants?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman knows that that does not lead to their escaping liability for community charge. I trust that he is making that clear to his constituents, because that is the legal position. The hon. Gentleman also knows perfectly well that those on low incomes can receive up to 80 per cent. rebate on the community charge for which they are liable.

Mr. Maclennan

On the substance of the question, does the Secretary of State believe that phasing of the introduction of the uniform business rate will be to the advantage or disadvantage of Scottish business? What calculations has he made?

Mr. Rifkind

It would be to the disadvantage of Scottish business if nothing of a similar kind were happening in Scotland over the same period. I have emphasised that the introduction of a common rate poundage throughout the United Kingdom will take place over the same time scale north and south of the border.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that Scottish business expects to have an advantage compared with the rest of the United Kingdom? Will he also bear in mind the position within Scotland and ensure that businesses in low-rated authorities, such as Kincardine and Deeside, do not suffer averaging up at the same time as others benefit from averaging down?

Mr. Rifkind

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is precisely for that reason that we are moving towards a common rate poundage throughout the United Kingdom and not seeking to introduce a UBR that involves the pooling of rates income and its redistribution. It is precisely to protect local authorities such as my right hon. Friend has referred to.