HC Deb 15 May 1991 vol 191 cc275-6
11. Mr. MacDonald

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland on what date he now expects the Government's new council tax to come into effect in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

Our aim is that the new council tax should come into effect on 1 April 1993.

Mr. Worthington

The Minister forgot to say that growth in the service sector was slower in Scotland than virtually anywhere else in the United Kingdom. Can he confirm that tomorrow's unemployment figures will show that there are fewer jobs in Scotland now than there were in 1979?

Mr. Stewart

I cannot, of course, confirm or deny anything about tomorrow's unemployment figures. [Interruption.] Of course I cannot. I can, however, reassure the hon. Gentleman that according to every indicator—including last month's unemployment figures, employment indicators, business forecasts and independent economic forecasts—the Scottish economy is coming through the current economic downturn very much better than most other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Macdonald

Before the poll tax becomes history, will the Secretary of State finally clear up the confusion surrounding the liability of merchant seamen? Will he confirm that merchant seamen, who are away at sea for long periods, should not have to pay the poll tax while they are away, as they do not consume community services during those periods?

Mr. Lang

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but he will recognise that it is a matter not for me but for the community charge registration officer.

Mr. McKelvey

As the Secretary of State has abandoned all his previous thoughts about the poll tax, why does he find it necessary to continue to penalise those poor unfortunates who cannot afford to pay the 20 per cent. minimum?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman knows that income support was increased to take account of the liability for the 20 per cent. minimum and also that one of reasons why people on low incomes are in difficulty with their poll tax is that they listened to Labour and Scottish National party Members who urged them not to pay their fair share of local government funding.