HC Deb 17 April 1991 vol 189 cc411-2
10. Mr. Wray

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is now the average cost of collecting the poll tax in Scotland including extra expenses for new staff needed and for the processing of rebate applications.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

Overall, Scottish local authorities have budgeted to spend £43 million on the collection of the community charge this year.

Mr. Wray

Does the Minister agree that this has been the most disastrous and costly piece of legislation this century? Can he explain why the Minister of State and the Secretary of State for Scotland let the people of Scotland down so badly by failing to ask the Cabinet and the Secretary of State for the Environment to abolish the 20 per cent. rule? Why did he not raise, on behalf of the Scottish people, the fact that we were a year ahead of England? Why did he not ask for a £280 refund? Why did we have to pay £140 more?

Mr. Stewart

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that we abolished rates in Scotland a year ahead of England. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the speech that I made during the debate on the 20 per cent. rule. I assure both the hon. Gentleman and the House that local authorities will be fully reimbursed for the cost of administering the additional assistance to charge payers that was announced by the Government.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the Minister confirm that the cost of granting 100 per cent. poll tax relief to the poorest people in Scotland would be just £30 million? In all the circumstances with which we are familiar in our constituencies, how on earth can he justify the on-going campaign of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to retain this tax on poverty in Scotland?

Mr. Stewart

The cost of collecting the community charge is about three quarters of 1 per cent. of total expenditure. If the hon. Gentleman is implying that local authorities should concentrate as a priority on pursuing those who are able to pay the full personal community charge but who are not doing so, I agree with him.

Mr. Dewar

The Minister referred us to his previous speech on the 20 per cent. rule. As he was a diehard supporter of the unjust principle that everyone, irrespective of means, including students and those on income support, should pay something towards local taxation, are we to take it from his remarks that the Government intend to stand by the 20 per cent. rule and that the new system to be announced will contain no reprieve? The Minister is known as the truest of blue supporters of the poll tax. Can he explain why he is now prepared to endorse a property tax? He will have heard the Secretary of State say a few minutes ago that the reason for the abolition of the poll tax is that it is not working well —yet only four or five months ago the Secretary of State for Scotland described it as a remarkable success story. What in the interim has changed the mind of the hon. Gentleman and his senior colleagues?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman recognises, I hope, that he will have to await the consultation paper on the future structure of the new system of local government finance. [HON. MEMBERS: "So will you."] I should point out that collection levels are very variable. To take an example at random —[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is from Eastwood district—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"], so perhpaps not chosen wholly at random. The income raised in 1989 from Eastwood district was 103.4 per cent. of estimated income. That perhaps shows the wisdom of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) who asked the main question, in preferring to continue to live in Tory Eastwood rather than in socialist Glasgow with his constituents.