HL Deb 22 February 1990 vol 516 cc386-8

3.18 p.m.

The Marquess of Ailesbury asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why local authorities are permitted to raise from the owners of second homes a standard community charge which is twice the personal charge.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe it is right that owners of second homes should contribute towards the cost of fire, police and other local authority services from which they benefit. A local authority may set the standard charge on second homes at any one of five multiples between 0 and 2 of the personal community charge for its area. That is a discretion which enables authorities to balance service costs with what would be appropriate in different types of circumstances.

The Marquess of Ailesbury

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, does he appreciate that some of us who support the principle of the community charge—namely, that every individual should contribute towards the cost of services—regret the abandonment of that principle in this area?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, as I said in my first Answer, we feel that if an individual owns a property he should make a contribution. We have left it to local authorities to determine what they feel the contribution should be in fixing the multiplier, or a series of multipliers if they feel that is appropriate.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

My Lords, does the Minister accept that there are some circumstances where the proposed charge is very onerous, for example where a person is not purchasing a second home but is for a period in possession of a second house because he cannot sell his first house due to market conditions? Such a person is in danger not only of paying exorbitant mortgage rates but also of being trounced as regards the poll tax. Is this not yet another example of the stupidity of the poll tax?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, the regulations reflect those that existed with the system of rates, which is that for the first three months after a house has been vacated no community charge is liable. It is only after that period that it is payable, as was the case formerly under the rating system.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, is not the logic behind the poll tax supposed to be that it is a contribution for services? Do not most people make far more use of the services in their first home than those in their second home? Yet those people will pay a higher charge for their second home. Have any special arrangements been made for people who require a second home not as a holiday home but because, for instance, they have to work in London while they have obligations in the country? I am thinking of Members of Parliament of both Houses. Have any special arrangements been made in their case?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, in the case of an individual who owned a house in London and also a house in the country it would be perfectly possible for the community charge registration officer to designate the London house as the home where the individual and his wife lived and for the children to be educated by the local authority in whose area the house in the country was situated. In those circumstances he would probably gain more in terms of services.

Regarding the situation as it affects Members of your Lordships' House, noble Lords will be able to offset the cost of one standard community charge, regardless of the multiplier applied, in respect of additional accommodation which they occupy wholly or mainly for the purposes of attending the House against the overnight subsistence element of your Lordships' reimbursement allowance.

Lord Shackleton

My Lords, can the noble Lord explain how that can be claimed? Is it claimed against the expenses that noble Lords claim? The provision in expenses in relation to rates is only about £70.

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I do not believe that I can usefully add to the information that I have already given.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, the Minister did not answer the previous question fully. Do Members in another place, most of whom have second homes, have to pay a community charge on both?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, their tax treatment is entirely different. Members with constituencies outside London may in certain circumstances be eligible to claim against the additional cost allowance for the reimbursement of the standard community charge payable on a second home.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we do not legislate primarily for the benefit of the Members of this House or of the other place? Does he also agree that the majority of the people in this country do not have two houses and many of them do not have one? Is it not the case that many of us would be very happy if the charge for a second house were three times instead of twice the personal charge?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, I believe that the question of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, is slightly wide of the Question on the Order Paper and rather broadens the scope of the Question.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there were those of us who had an inkling two years ago that the poll tax was not the best tax to charge? Is he further aware that the convolution of his answers has led me to the conclusion that in no way will it last as long as rates—which were founded by King James I of blessed memory—and that there is no way in which the community charge will last 300 years?

Lord Hesketh

My Lords, one of the great joys of our country is freedom of expression and opinion.

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