HC Deb 19 February 1992 vol 204 cc328-9
14. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment which councils have the lowest level of community charge collection.

Mr. Portillo

For the first year of the community charge, I believe that the authorities with the lowest collection rates are Hackney, Islington, Lambeth, Liverpool, Newham, Southampton, Birmingham, Waltham Forest, Bristol and Greenwich. We have had no return from Manchester.

Mr. Arnold

Is not the most significant point about that list the fact that all the authorities listed are Labour controlled? Does my hon. Friend agree that that is not surprising, since so many Labour councillors backed the "won't pay, can't pay" campaign? As a result, there are large bills to be paid—bills which are being passed on to ordinary community charge payers. Is that fair?

Mr. Portillo

Of course it is not fair. The collection rate in my hon. Friend's area is 94 per cent., which shows that it can be done. There is a very strong link between the list that I have read out and the authorities whose councillors advocated non-payment—Lambeth, for instance, whose councillors were so bad that even the Labour party had to remove them from office. If the Labour party did not want us to vote for its councillors, what confidence can we have in the people that it puts up for election?

Another strong link is that the areas of inefficiency and non-collection are the very areas where the Conservatives have been scoring the most remarkable by-election victories in terms of council seats.

Mr. Blunkett

Does the Minister agree that the performance of Labour councils attempting to collect the uncollectable in the face of the unspeakable is responsible for this dilemma? A total of 172,000 people registered for poll tax payment in Lambeth, where 68,000 summonses and 50,000 liability orders have been issued. In Islington, 127,000 people registered, and there have been 75,000 summonses and a staggering 70,000 liability orders. Does the Minister agree that he and his colleagues are responsible, first, for refusing to take action to clear up the fiasco on the issue of computer records being used, secondly for refusing to abolish the 20 per cent. contribution rule for the poorest in the community and, thirdly, for devising and implementing the wretched tax in the first place?

Mr. Portillo

The hon. Gentleman is being preposterous. The figures that I read out are for the first year. The computer evidence problem has only just arisen. The condemnation of the figures that the hon. Gentleman has read out is that in those boroughs we need never have had so many liability orders or so many people taken to the courts or threatened with prison if they had not been misled by Labour Members of Parliament and councillors into running up enormous debts. Now that those people have run up those enormous debts, where are the Labour Members of Parliament who led them into that position? They have fled the field and left their constituents in the lurch.