HC Deb 16 March 1994 vol 239 cc868-70
7. Mr. Duncan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the correlation between political control and the top and bottom 10 council taxes so far declared.

The Minister for Local Government and Planning (Mr. David Curry)

Of the 10 councils that have fixed the highest council taxes, seven are Labour controlled, two others have Labour county councils, which are the principal precepting authorities, while I understand that Liverpool is split between rival Labour factions.

Mr. Duncan

will my hon. Friend confirm that band for band—A for A and B for B, right up to H for H—Conservative councils cost less? Will he also confirm that while the Labour party continues to play its childish games, the Conservatives will stand and deliver better local government?

Mr. Curry

It is true: those who live in Conservative council areas and whose properties are in band A pay less than they would under Labour. Those who live in Conservative council areas and are in band B pay less than they would under Labour. It applies right through the bands. Whether one has modest means and lives in a modest house, whether one has a middle income and lives in a middle-income house or even if one is relatively well-off and in band H, one will always pay less under the Conservatives than under Labour or the Liberals.

Mrs. Jane Kennedy

Will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State's press release issued this morning recognised that Liverpool's band C figure does not represent what most people in Liverpool will be paying and that although there will be an increase, that is almost entirely due to the unfairness of the standard spending assessment for the city? Will he consider that a fairer way of comparing council tax levels is to look at averages? Liverpool's average of £550 compares favourably with councils such as Wokingham and Ribble Valley, both of which are Conservative controlled.

Mr. Curry

I cannot think of a less intelligible way of comparing council taxes than using averages, for the simple reason that no one pays an average council tax. Everyone pays one band from A to H and that enables us to make a direct comparison. What matters is how much one pays and one pays less under Conservative-controlled authorities than under Labour-controlled authorities, including Liverpool.

Sir Anthony Durant

Does my hon. Friend agree that council tax levels would be much lower if Labour-controlled councils, such as Islington, Liverpool and Manchester, cleared their enormous debts so that they could use some of the capital receipts?

Mr. Curry

It is true that if councils collect their debts, council house rents and taxes, that money can go through into services. That has given councils that have improved their tax collection rates much room for manoeuvre this year. That is one of the keys to good services, not an optional extra. It is part of delivering a good service to council tax payers, and Conservative-controlled councils do it best.

Mr. Straw

A moment ago, in the hearing of the House, the Minister said that the use of average household bills per dwelling was a less intelligible way of comparing what people were spending. If that is so, why did the Department of the Environment, in its press release last March, use average household bills per dwelling? Will the Minister also explain why the research department of Conservative central office, in a brief dated last March, also used the average council tax per dwelling? Did Conservative central office use those figures before it discovered that average household council tax bills per dwelling are £40 lower in Labour-controlled areas than they are in Conservative-controlled areas and that, whether locally or nationally, the Conservative party costs people more?

Mr. Curry

We are clearly getting under the hon. Gentleman's skin. I challenge the hon. Gentleman to demonstrate that the council tax paid in any one of the eight bands is lower in a Labour-controlled authority than in a Conservative-controlled authority. He cannot do it. A council with houses predominantly in the lower bands will have a lower average council tax than a council with houses predominantly in the higher bands. That is a matter of statistics, not politics. The hon. Gentleman cannot escape from the basic fact that Labour-controlled councils are setting higher bills. If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I can read to him the 10 councils with the lowest bills, and he will not find a Labour-controlled council among them.

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend mentioned the high levels of uncollected rents and council taxes in many Labour-controlled areas. When will the Government do something to force those councils to collect the rents that they should be collecting on behalf of the rest of the population?

Mr. Curry

If councils collect rents and taxes, they can spend more on services. A lack of services is the result of incompetence on the part of the councils.