§ 6. Mr. Douglas
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his plans to reform local government and local government finance in Scotland.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
The review of the financing of local government to which the Government are committed will be careful and fundamental.
§ Mr. Douglas
Why are we having this review at all? Is it because the Secretary of State for Scotland has extreme misgivings about the poll tax, because there has been a capitulation by the Labour party or because the people of Scotland have clearly shown that they do not want the tax? Will the Secretary of State come clean and tell the House whether we are having a review relating to devising a stable and just system in which the poll tax, as presently devised, would be excluded? Is the poll tax dead and are we looking for an indecent way to bury it in 1991?
§ Mr. Stewart
All new systems require regular review as they settle down. The community charge is the biggest change in local government finance for more than a century, so it is entirely reasonable at this stage to take a fundamental look at how the regime is working. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were becoming seriously worried about the fact that the overwhelming bulk of Scottish public opinion believes that non-payers are a bunch of unprincipled freeloaders.
§ Mr. Michael J. Martin
Strathclyde has had to make major cuts in its budget because of the poll tax and because it cannot collect the money. That has repercussions for communities such as mine in which unemployment is severe—[Interruption.] I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) keeps interrupting. He had a hearing and it would be helpful if others could have one, too. I remember the days when the hon. Gentleman stood as a Labour candidate on a Labour party ticket.
Because of the cuts in services, many people in our constituencies will be denied employment. What steps will the Minister take to help?
§ Mr. Stewart
Almost the entire House will sympathise with the direction in which the hon. Gentleman mainly aimed his criticism—two Benches behind him, not at the Government.
Of course, if the hon. Gentleman wants to see me about any of his constituency problems that are my direct responsibility, I shall be happy to see him.
278 As for non-payment, more than 90 per cent. of budgeted revenue for 1989–90 has been collected. Excluding Strathclyde and Lothian, the figure rises to 95 per cent.— [Interruption.] I do not know why SNP Members are laughing. This is a serious matter, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) told the House. It is for the regional councils to ensure that they collect revenue, as most of them are doing very successfully.
§ Mr. Douglas
One of the members of your Chairmen's Panel has used a very unparliamentary word—a shipyard term. I am willing to reciprocate and lower the tone to shipyard language. I invite the hon. Gentleman to repeat it.