HC Deb 19 December 1990 vol 183 cc272-4
2. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the Government's review of the poll tax system in Scotland.

11. Mr. Robert Hughes

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

13. Mr. Harry Ewing

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future of the poll tax in Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has announced the Government's intention to conduct a careful and fundamental review of the community charge arrangements in Scotland, England and Wales.

Mr. Home Robertson

Unlike the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Secretary of State for Scotland has been absolutely consistent on the poll tax. He voted for it no fewer than 35 times on the Floor of the House and in Committee, despite our warnings that that hated tax would be as unworkable as it is unjust. The right hon. Gentleman has since described it as a remarkable success story. Will he now admit that there can be no compromises on the poll tax, whatever minor parties might say, and that it must go as soon as possible? What is more, people in Scotland should be compensated for the fact that they have had to suffer that tax for one year more than the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Lang

The people of Scotland had the advantage of getting rid of the extremely unfair domestic rating system a year earlier than people south of the border. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman has no positive suggestions to make. The community charge has established a greater degree of commitment on the part of residents of local areas, who contribute in far greater numbers to the cost of local services.

Mr. Robert Hughes

May I respond to the Secretary of State's request for positive suggestions by saying that if he wants a fundamental review, the most positive thing he could do would be to scrap the poll tax altogether?

Mr. Lang

Again, the hon. Gentleman offers no alternative. He does not seem to recognise that local services must be paid for. I thought that he might recommend the so-called roof tax, but then I recalled that only 10 per cent. of the Scottish people support the roof tax and only about 20 per cent. of the Labour party—which designed it—supports it.

Mr. Harry Ewing

The Secretary of State had better be careful about criticising the so-called roof tax because, if the Secretary of State for the Environment is anything to go by, that is what we shall finish up with. I look forward to the day when the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box to propose such a tax in legislation.

Has the Secretary of State for Scotland had any discussions with his pals in the Scottish National party, who refused to join in the constitutional convention to discuss the future of Scotland, but are desperate yet again to save the Tories' face on the poll tax?

Mr. Lang

I understand that the roof tax was thought up in two minutes; it certainly looks like it. But perhaps we should take the advice of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), who said that the roof tax should be confined to the dustbin of experience. With regard to the Scottish National party, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made it clear that he is interested in hearing the views of any Opposition party that cares to make a constructive contribution to the debate.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever nonsense we hear from the Opposition Benches, the Conservative party got rid of the rates—that was welcomed in Scotland—and we have no intention of returning to them? Does he further agree that one of the advantages of the community charge is that it makes councillors and councils accountable and that, whatever modifications we adopt, that aspect must remain?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about greater accountability. It is an important achievement of which we should not lose sight. More than 30 changes have already been made to the community charge since the original legislation was passed. It is in the nature of such new arrangements that they come under regular review and that improvements can he made.

Sir David Steel

Does the Secretary of State recall that the Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine), voted for the poll tax in Scotland a year before he took to the barricades against it in England and Wales? In the light of that, will he extract a promise from him that any legislation to abolish the poll tax or replace it with local income tax will come a year earlier in Scotland than in England and Wales?

Mr. Lang

That is rather a facile point. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to take part in the consultations, he will have the opportunity to put such matters to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Secretary of State aware that there will be considerable consternation and anger among the people of Scotland today as it becomes obvious that the Secretary of State has no intention, if he can get away with it, of abolishing the poll tax but intends only a dragged-out review with a few minor changes at the end of it? Is he aware that the people of Scotland want immediate relief from the tax by abolition of the 20 per cent. rule, backdating of all rebates to 1 April 1989 and legislation within the next three months to abolish the tax completely?

Mr. Lang

If the hon. Gentleman and his party care to remove any preconditions, they are welcome to take part in consultations on what should replace the existing arrangements.