HC Deb 04 December 1991 vol 200 cc253-4
10. Mrs. Mahon

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many people he estimates will be liable to pay the 20 per cent. contribution to the poll tax in Calderdale for 1992–93; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Key

The number of people liable to pay 20 per cent. of the community charge in Calderdale next year will depend on a number of factors, including the number of people on incomes at or below the income support level.

Mrs. Mahon

My local authority informs me that the proportion of the population will be 12 per cent. In this season of goodwill, will the Minister promise to listen to the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Audit Commission and every other organisation, including the charities, which say that the 20 per cent. tax is unfair, and that it is a bad tax which works against the poor, or is he content to support the Ebenezer Scrooge of the Department of the Environment? That miserable gentleman repented. May we have an assurance that the Minister will do the same?

Mr. Key

I do not think that anyone has ever accused me of being Ebenezer Scrooge. I am informed that Calderdale tells us that about 11 per cent. of its payers are at the 20 per cent. community charge level—which means about 16,200 people this year, 600 of whom are students. I have explained to the House that we shall not change the benefit system or the 20 per cent. system until we introduce the council tax, but of course I will listen with care to any representations that are made, as I always do.

Mr. Dickens

Is it not a fact that because we have introduced up to 100 per cent. rebates on the new council tax, my constituents in Littleborough and Saddleworth, on the border of Calderdale, will gain quite significantly if they are on income support?

Mr. Key

My hon. Friend is right. Those people will benefit in a number of ways. When the next Conservative Government are re-elected, we shall have a growing and buoyant economy, and everyone will be better off.

Mr. Nellist


Mr. Speaker

I know that Coventry is nowhere near Calderdale, but let us see what the hon. Gentleman can do.

Mr. Nellist

Will the Minister still tell people in Calderdale that no one who cannot afford to pay the poll tax will go to prison for that inability? If so, what are they to make of the case last week of Maria Jones, a 22-year-old woman who was 31 weeks pregnant? She offered £5 per week out of her £42 per week benefit, but was sentenced to 60 days in prison by magistrates in Stroud. Will the people in Calderdale still believe him?

Mr. Key

I do not know the details of the individual case; that is a question for the magistrates. My advice to the hon. Gentleman's constituents is not to listen to the advice of someone who does not pay the tax himself and who advises others not to pay.