HC Deb 19 February 1990 vol 167 cc644-5
8. Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales how much has been spent in total by his Department to advertise and provide information on the poll tax in Wales.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

I expect the total expenditure on information relating to the community charge to be around £400,000 in 1989–90.

Mr. Jones

Now that we know that the average poll tax for Wales will be at least £47 higher than the Government's estimate, and that the Government's only response is the ridiculous idea of rate-capping Welsh local authorities that have never been accused of overspending by any Government, why do not the Government accept that all their plans for propaganda for the poll tax to persuade the people of Walls that it is a wonderful tax have been an abject failure? Should not the Secretary of State join his colleague, the Secretary of State for the Environment, and, rather than rate-cap Welsh local authorities, go cap in hand to the Treasury to get more money for them this year, to save hard-pressed Welsh ratepayers from this ridiculous tax?

Mr. Roberts

The hon. Gentleman has knowledge that I do not have—we do not know what the individual community charges will be; all we know is what we read in the press.

As for capping, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has made the position absolutely clear. Of course, we do not like the tremendous increases in spending that are proposed—we were talking about Clwyd county council a few moments ago. It is proposing to spend about 14 per cent. more in the coming year than it did this year—and this year it spent 9 per cent. more than the previous year.

As for the information that we have given, we have published guides for households and for students about the community charge rebate, and four more leaflets are on the way, all of them in two languages.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

In that information, will my hon. Friend continue to make it clear that those who benefit most from the community charge are the least well off in Wales—despite the attacks mounted on the people of Wales by local councils that set the community charge at unnecessary and ridiculously high levels?

Mr. Roberts

We all know that single pensioners and single parents will certainly benefit from the community charge. There is an excellent rebate scheme, and we have published a guide to the community charge rebate.

Mr. Rowlands

The Minister has admitted that he is ignorant of what is going on in Welsh local authorities. It is now mid-February; will he tell us whether there is any possibility or probability that the Government intend to rate-cap any Welsh local authority?

Mr. Roberts

The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that we enjoy a particularly favourable position in Wales, in that the average community charge that we anticipated was about £100 less than the average anticipated in England. He also knows that the percentage of grant that the Government give local authorities in Wales is considerably higher than it is in England.

Mr. Barry Jones

Have not the Government underprovided our excellent local authorities in Wales by about 4 per cent? If the Government resort to charge capping, will they not be attacking, in effect, the Conservative-controlled Vale of Glamorgan district council and independent-controlled Montgomery council? If charge capping takes place, the consequences will be cuts in schooling, housing and social services.

The Secretary of State is seeking an alibi. He is passing the buck to our councils, but he is to blame for introducing a poll tax that the people of Wales do not want.

Mr. Roberts

The hon. Gentleman really cannot have it all ways. He is afraid that we want to restrain local authorities from overcharging their community charge payers. He would far rather allow the tremendous increases that we read about in the press to be imposed by local authorities. If he has any care for the electors and community charge payers, he should join the Government in urging local authorities to reduce their spending and their community charge. We all know the truth: local authorities are raising community charges as much as they possibly can and hoping to blame the Government for the outcome.