HL Deb 26 July 1990 vol 521 cc1617-9

11.22 a.m.

Lord Mulley asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they plan to introduce a further community charge based on William Pitt's window tax.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Strathclyde)

My Lords, no.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very satisfactory Answer. It will be noted by many people who fear that the Government, having gone back to the Middle Ages to resurrect the poll tax, may be going through their files to see what other taxes they may wish to bring forward. Does the Minister agree that whereas the poll tax has most adversely affected the less privileged members of our society, the window tax, as devised by William Pitt in 1792 so that it applied only to houses with more than seven windows, not only provided the first case of legal tax avoidance when people blocked up the windows but would have a more adverse effect on many Members of your Lordships' House than the poll tax has had, so that such a tax would be received with no great satisfaction?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I cannot say whether or not it was the first case of tax avoidance. Certainly it was a graduated tax with sharp increases for buildings which had more than 10 windows. It did not depend on how many people lived in the house. That was why it was blatantly unfair and why the community tax is much fairer and considerably better related to ability to pay than was the window tax.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, does the Minister feel that there is something in the noble Lord's idea? Does he agree that the number of windows in a property usually bears some relation to the number of rooms in it and the number of rooms in a property bears some relation to the wealth of the people who live in the property? Would not a window tax therefore be broadly a tax according to ability to pay, unlike the poll tax which taxes everyone equally?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, in this Chamber we have 12 windows. I do not think that the number of windows has any great effect on the number of rooms which may appear in a property. The community charge is about raising a certain amount of finance for local government. It is certainly related to ability to pay and raises money from people rather than houses. The Labour Party has an agreement to return to rates, and that is a charter for freeloaders.

Lord St. John of Fawsley

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that, although the window tax was graduated, it was an extremely easy tax to avoid paying? The rich did not pay it because they carried their glazed windows around with them. In thrifty Scotland whole terraces of houses were built without bedroom windows, with deplorable effects on the health of their inhabitants.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, that is very useful information.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, has the Minister considered that there was one advantage of window tax which is not available in the poll tax? It was possible to brick up the windows. It is not possible to rub out the people who are liable to pay the poll tax. Will he also consider that the window tax lasted for only 24 years? Will he take our assurance that he will be lucky if the poll tax lasts for 24 months?

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, the noble Lord's introductory remarks made it sound as though the Labour Party intended to bring back a window tax. The community charge will be with us for a very long time indeed.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, will the noble Lord reconsider the word "freeloaders"? After all, those exempt from rates were often people who were disabled or infirm and those who could ill afford to pay. Therefore he should not persist in making the implicit rebuke that he made today.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord heard me correctly. When I said "freeloaders" my remark was aimed specifically at either those people in multiple occupation of houses who did not contribute to rates or those people who can pay and refuse to pay the community charge. Those are the freeloaders in our society. The worst off in our society are well looked after by the rebate scheme. The noble Lord knows that that is true.

Lord Mulley

My Lords, in order to avoid mistakes will the Minister accept that I in no way advocate such a tax? I only wanted to receive the assurance that it was not under consideration. Secondly, will he allow me to make clear once again that when I speak in this House I do so on my own responsibility? I have no responsibility in any way to bind or speak on behalf of any other party.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am glad that I can agree totally with the noble Lord that neither he nor I have any desire to introduce a window tax.