HC Deb 19 February 1992 vol 204 cc313-4
1. Mr. Butler

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment how many representations he has had on the subject of domestic rates; and if he will make a statement.

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

I receive very few such representations. The overwhelming majority of taxpayers have no wish to see the reintroduction of unfair domestic rates.

Mr. Butler

Does my hon. Friend agree that domestic rates were especially unfair to single people, and will he reassure the House that he, at least, has no intention of returning to a system that discriminated against many pensioners?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend is right. It is extraordinary that the Labour party is planning that widows, for example, should enjoy no discount over households full of wage earners. It is incredible that the Labour party proposes that there should be no limit on the tax that a widow would pay on the house in which she has lived all her life. It is incredible also that the Labour party proposes for a widow four different intrusive valuations of her house, and proposes, too, that that same widow should be penalised with higher taxation if she has made improvements to her property. That is Labour party policy, and I shall have nothing to do with it.

Mr. John Evans

Does the Minister acknowledge that when we had a domestic rating system almost every citizen in the land made sure that he or she registered to vote? Will he now confirm that one side effect of the appalling poll tax is that more than a million citizens of this country have not registered to vote? Will he mount a campaign to ensure that every citizen in the land registers for a vote—especially so that those votes can be cast in the general election?

Mr. Portillo

I know that the Labour party thinks that it has lost the election, and is looking for an excuse. That is what is known as a pre-emptive whinge. If anybody has given up his right to vote, in the misguided intention of not paying his taxes, he will get no sympathy from the public —and more fool he, for listening to the Labour Members of Parliament who urged people not to pay their community charge.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency the majority of people infinitely prefer the council tax to Labour's alternative—the so-called fair rates, which are nothing but a return to the dreaded rating system that we had before, and which was especially hated in the south of England?

Mr. Portillo

My right hon. Friend's constituents were often paying £2,000 on their houses, whether or not they could afford it, and whether or not they were widows or pensioners. Who could possibly advocate returning to such an unfair system? Labour is the only party which could advocate that.

Mr. Alton

If fairness is to be the criterion, does the Minister agree that it is fundamentally unjust that people should be expected to pay twice—that people should be surcharged in cities such as Liverpool, where last year the cost was £71 per head, after people had already paid their bills? Next year it could cost £2 extra a week—£100 per head—to pay for people who have refused to pay their poll tax? Does the Minister agree that that—and the practice of sending vexatious summonses to people who have paid their bills, and who are being forced to pay £12 a head for the privilege of receiving such a summons—must be altered if people are to have any confidence in the system?

Mr. Portillo

It is terrible that people are being made to pay for the non-payers. That is why there will be no amnesty, and those people will be pursued until the moment that they pay up. It is surprising that some people in Liverpool chose not to pay their community charge, when they were urged not to do so by Labour Members of Parliament? One Member of Parliament there was actually sent to prison for non-payment. Is it any surprise that some people took that example and ran up horrendous debts? There will still be no amnesty.