HC Deb 27 February 1991 vol 186 cc967-9
7. Mr. Robert B. Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what saving in the community charge there would be in 1991–92 to a couple living in Dacorum in a property with a rateable value of £200, under his community charge reduction scheme.

The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. Michael Portillo)

The community charge reduction scheme will take hundreds of pounds off the bills of many people whose rates were low. The couple in my hon. Friend's constituency would have had a rates bill near the national average, but even so might expect a reduction of about £64 between them.

Mr. Jones

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Is he aware that Conservative-controlled Dacorum borough council has reduced its community charge by £33 per head and that one reason for that is that 98 per cent. of those registered have paid? Is he aware the council has gone about running the borough in an extremely efficient way, to the great advantage of those who live there? Does not that contrast with the nearby Labour-controlled council of Watford, which has a community charge of almost £100 more, with a cost of collection of £19 per head, compared with £7 per head in Dacorum? In those circumstances, will my hon. Friend advise the people of Watford and other areas of Hertfordshire to do what three opposition councillors in my area did last year and join the Conservative party?

Mr. Portillo

I endorse my hon. Friend's advice. It is remarkable that the community charge in Dacorum has been reduced by 8 per cent. Even so, it is remarkable that the community charge reduction scheme would give a couple in my hon. Friend's constituency a reduction of £133 if they were on three quarters of the average rateable value. Watford has no excuse in looking to the county, because Hertfordshire, which is under Conservative control, is spending £16 below the standard spending assessment, so the entire burden and more must be the responsibility of Watford.

Mr. James Lamond

Is the Minister aware that no amount of tinkering with the poll tax in Dacorum or anywhere else will make it acceptable? Can we expect the Secretary of State to make a better job of finding a method of financing local government than he did in 1972 on local government reorganisation when in charge of the Standing Committee on the Local Government Bill, the disastrous results of which we are still trying to deal with 18 years later?

Mr. Portillo

From the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I thought that his sense of geography was not strong. From the second part, I thought that his sense of history was not strong.

8. Mr. Harry Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what information he has on the community charge levels for London boroughs in 1991; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Portillo

Westminster city council has set an example by planning a charge of £176. However, it seems already that some councils are planning charges of over £400: Hounslow, Merton, Hackney, Camden and Islington.

Mr. Greenway

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Ealing's Conservative council on reducing the former Labour council community charge by £40 to under £400, despite 10 per cent. inflation? Does he accept my implacable opposition to council rent increases of £10 a week from 1 January and of £17.87 a week from 1 April? I express my implacable opposition even though the previous Labour council was entirely to blame. Can my hon. Friend find a way of helping the council?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend draws attention to the extraordinary achievement of Ealing in bringing down the community charge, given the horrific legacy to which my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning referred a moment ago. What the council has managed to do on the community charge is remarkable. I regret that rents have had to go up so much, but there is no doubt where the responsibility lies. The Government have been as co-operative with Ealing in its difficult position as they can be, but in the end the sins of the old Labour administration will be visited on the people of Ealing.

Mr. Fraser

Is the Minister aware that in Lambeth we face appallingly savage cuts as a result of the Government's insisting on the writing off of about £40 million of debt? Why cannot we do what any business would do and write off that debt without treating it on the one hand as money that has to be added to the poll tax or, on the other, as expenditure to be deducted from capped expenditure? Why cannot we tackle it sensibly as a business would?

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Gentleman seeks to compare Lambeth with a business. I am afraid that I find that comparison far-fetched.

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