§ 1. Mr. David Shaw
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the average (a) council tax levels and (b) rent levels in (i) Scotland and (ii) Strathclyde region.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)
The average council tax for a band D property is £559 for Scotland as a whole and £562 for Strathclyde. These figures are both exclusive of council water charges and before discounts. The average weekly local authority rent level for 1992–93 is £24.75 for Scotland and £25.21 for district councils within Strathclyde region.
§ Mr. Shaw
Is my hon. Friend aware that council tax and council rent levels have had to be fixed higher in Monklands district council than they need to be because the council has one of the highest employment levels in the United Kingdom? Is he further aware that a Scottish National party councillor has alleged that 40 close relatives of Labour councillors are employed by the council? Does he consider that the revelation by a Labour regional councillor, John Murphy, that all the allegations about nepotism and corrupt employment pratices on the council are true is significant and that the council should be brought to account?
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend is right to point to the relationship between the employment policies pursued by a council and rent and council tax levels. But I have no wish to make any party political points on the matter. Nor is there any need to do so because Labour regional councillor, John Murphy, the Labour member for Coatbridge, North and Glenboig, has said that the council was riddled with cases of nepotism and patronage. We do not need to hear from Tories about the Scottish National party. We only need to hear from someone who has worked for Monklands district council for 17 years and has been suspended—I understand because of the remarks that he made. The only surprise is that the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) have maintained complete silence on the issue. But I can see that 336 the hon. Member for Monklands, West is itching to leap to his feet to give us his views on the suspension of Councillor Murphy.
§ Mr. Norman Hogg
Is the Minister aware that many people in Scotland, but more in Dover, will be interested to know why the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is so interested in Scottish affairs, especially when unemployment in Dover has increased by 137 per cent. since 1990? Is it not about time that the hon. Member for Dover stopped neglecting his constituents and instead concerned himself with unemployment in Dover and how unemployed people will pay the council tax in that local authority?
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is a meticulous and extremely hard-working constituency Member. I must remind the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) that this is a United Kingdom Parliament. I understood from the press that the hon. Gentleman was one of the Opposition Members who believe in that proposition. His question showed the continuing embarrassment of the Labour party in Scotland about Monklandsgate.
§ Mr. Gallie
Is my hon. Friend aware of the policy that has been adopted in Strathclyde, under which privately owned houses that were previously council owned have been rated for council tax one band higher than they would have been rated were they still in local authority ownership? Does my hon. Friend agree that every owner of such a house should appeal?
§ Mr. Stewart
My hon. Friend has raised a point which has already received considerable publicity. It is a matter for the assessor, of course, but my hon. Friend is right to point to the availability of the appeal mechanism. He may be reassured by the fact that no less a luminary of the Scottish left than the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton)—[HON. MEMBERS: "Left?"] Yes, from my perspective. In a statutory instrument Committee yesterday, the hon. Gentleman raised the very point made by my hon. Friend. It was reassuring to discover that Labour Members now have some sympathy for council tenants who have rightly taken advantage of the Government's policy to give them the right to buy.
§ Mr. Canavan
As the advent of the council tax tomorrow means that today is the last official day of the poll tax, will the Minister now admit that the poll tax was one of the most expensive blunders in the history of any Government? Has not the total cost for administration and collection of the poll tax throughout the United Kingdom now reached the staggering amount of £14 billion?
If local councillors were found guilty of that sort of misspending, they would be surcharged and banned from office for many years. Why not surcharge and ban the Minister and all the other Tory Ministers who collectively were responsible for introducing the poll tax?
§ Mr. Stewart
As I understand the import of the hon. Gentleman's question, he welcomes the introduction of the council tax and the fact that it will have lower administration and collection costs than the community charge. I reassure him that there will be no amnesty for 337 non-payers of the community charge. We welcome the hon. Gentleman's apparent underlining of the probable success of the council tax.