The community charge will affect most those just above the level at which one can claim supplementary benefit, who may have to pay the full poll tax. Equally, because the income support increase to help people pay the poll tax is based on the national average charge, people who live in areas of high poll tax--which tend to be the most deprived areas--will lose most. The living standards of those on low incomes will inevitably be adversely affected by the poll tax. The analysis by the Child Poverty Action Group gives us evidence to support that. It considered the effect of the poll tax on the living standards of poor and middle-income families. I am sure that the new Secretary of State has recently been briefed on this. He will know that, overall, 63 per cent. of tax units will lose by the poll tax and 37 per cent. will gain.
The key figure to which the Child Poverty Action Group draws attention is this. Of the bottom range of taxpayers, 83 per cent. will lose and only 16 per cent. will gain, and the average loss involved will be more than £1 a week. In contrast to that, of the top range taxpayers--the very rich--71 per cent. will gain and 29 per cent. will lose. That is an almost complete reversal of the figures for the population as a whole. That is why I say that the poor will incur the losses and the rich will gain the advantage.
Mr. Taylor : I do not agree with that figure. Some single pensioners will gain, but not 90 per cent. of them. They might also gain under other systems. That is an argument against the rates, but not for the poll tax.
Combined with the changes in social security benefits, the poll tax will be a particularly bad deal for the worse-off in society. That is hardly a more equitable system than the rates. The two changes mean that families, with children who have a net income of less than £75 a week--which is a third of all families with children--will lose between £4.88 and £5.01 a week. I know that the Prime Minister does not believe in society, but I thought that she and her Ministers made a virtue of supporting family life. These changes will make life harder for families, and there is no justice in that.
This weekend I was approached by a pensioner in my constituency who lives in a residential care home and will be exempt from the poll tax. Did she congratulate the Government on exempting her? No. She said that she did not understand why those being cared for by their families at home should be penalised for the privilege, while she was exempt. She wondered whether the Government really intended to force people into residential care homes. She did not criticise the Government's treatment of her--she understood why people might wish to be cared for in residential homes--but she could not understand why the Government wanted to create a financial incentive to take people out of the family home and put them into care, no matter how good the care was.
The Secretary of State referred to the difficulties of taking up means- tested benefits and said that he would seek ways to alleviate them. I wonder whether much can be done within the present system of rebates. In Scotland, the take-up of rebates by people on low incomes is extremely low. In some areas, it is as low as 25 per cent. The Secretary of State was right to highlight the difficulties. I am not convinced that, under the poll tax and the cumbersome system of rebates and help that goes with it to make it workable, the Secretary of State will be able to achieve his objectives. It is good to hear a Government spokesman speak in favour of helping people to claim the money, but the Government do not have much chance of succeeding in that. Time will tell, but I believe that our fears will be proved correct.
The implications of the poll tax for civil liberties cause great anxiety. It brings with it wide and intrusive powers
Column 878to establish and maintain the register and to enforce payment. Only today, I heard about an example in Rochdale which illustrates the problems of enforcing the poll tax. It is not an extreme example, but it illustrates the effect on people's daily lives, which is unnecessary and would not have arisen if the Government had not insisted on introducing the system.
Since last Friday, 33 canvassers have been calling at homes in Rochdale at 8.30 pm or at weekends to chase people about their poll tax registration. It is bad enough to approach people at a time of day when they cannot telephone anyone to advise them on their rights, but to call on the elderly and infirm at 8.30 pm is to frighten them. That is not simply because they are frightened of officials, but in some cases any unannounced caller at 8.30 pm causes fear and anxiety. Such calls would not be necessary but for the cumbersome nature of the system of taxation that the Government have chosen to introduce. The effects of the uniform business rate are mentioned in the Labour party motion. Non-domestic rates currently raise more than domestic rates. The new rate will be set nationally, yet Ministers talk about the need for more local control and accountability and a greater link between people and their local authority and between businesses and their local authority. Ministers should be aware that the uniform business rate breaks the link. Deprived of locally raised non-domestic rate revenue, local authorities will depend on central Government for about 75 to 80 per cent. of their funding. So much for the supposed increased accountability of the poll tax.
The uniform business rate will penalise local businesses in areas where local authorities have done most to help them by keeping rates down and spending money sensibly. Businesses in my constituency are being asked to pay increases in their rates, in some cases massive increases, to fund local authorities elsewhere which in the past set high rates and provided more services. They are being asked to pay a considerable increase without seeing an improvement in local services in an area already acknowledged to be deprived and where incomes are almost 20 per cent. lower than the national average. We have more small local businesses than almost any other area. They thought that the Government were on the side of businesses, but they are penalising them.
As shop owners discover the effects on their business of this change, combined with the effects of revaluation and a wholly inadequate system of safety nets, they will go bust and change their vote. They will wish that they had not left it so late to change their allegiances.
In Truro, small shop owners paying rates of £767 will be shocked to see them rise to £1,750 over five years. That is an increase of 128 per cent., allowing for an inflation rate of 7 per cent. The bill of another retail outlet that we looked at would rise from £810 to £2, 100. That is because the Government will not acknowledge their responsibility to support businesses. They are simply breaking local contracts.
The poll tax has been completely discredited. My party has never defended the rating system. For years, we have advocted a system of local income tax. Unlike the Labour party, we argued that case throughout the debates on the Local Government Finance Bill. We gave Ministers details of the alternative system that we would introduce. Ministers did not give figures on or make comparisons with our system, but snatched figures out of the air for their version of a local income tax system to mock it. They
Column 879say that they are prepared to consider the Labour party's proposals and produce figures on them, but they dare not do so for a truly accountable and effective system of local income tax.
That is surprising, because every other European country has a system of local income tax, and it is used around the world. No other country uses the poll tax. Local income tax makes more sense. I do not know whether the Minister noticed that I was disturbed by what the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said. It appears that the Labour party is moving away from any attempt to introduce in part a local income tax. The hon. Gentleman said that he sought to allocate a proportion of national income tax to local authorities, which is different. We have read in the newspapers that even the leadership of the Labour party believes that the system that it has come up with is too complicated.
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside) : I should hate another hare to start running, so I shall put the record straight. There has been no change this afternoon. We are in favour of a system based on the capital values of property, adjusted to take account of the income of those in the household.
Mr. Taylor : I may be wrong, but I think we are getting further developments as things go along. It is interesting to listen to what is happening. It would be easiest if the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) would accept the advice of those in his party who I know believe that a straightforward and simple system of local income tax would be the most workable alternative for the party to defend. I regret that the Labour party was unable to put forward any proposals during our debates on the Local Goverment and Finance Bill. It might have done more to put the Government on the spot at a time when we were all agreed that the existing rating system was an inadequate alternative to the poll tax.
In Cornwall, as in many other areas, domestic ratepayers and business men will be horrified to find that they are being asked to work under and pay for a system which means that the least efficient and the highest-spending authorities are subsidised by those which are most efficient and have the fewest local services. I do not believe that that will be any more popular in my local authorities than many Conservative Back-Bench Members believe that it will be in theirs.
Perhaps I should thank the Secretary of State's predecessor for handing me votes on a plate, but I honestly believe that the impact on those who will have to pay the poll tax--it will hit the poorest hardest--is insupportable. I regret the fact that those people will be penalised in that way. Although he was handed a job that he wanted to take and that will allow him to develop many of his ideas on the environment and other areas, which we look forward to hearing, I believe that the Secretary of State will regret the fact that he has to defend the indefensible and put forward a policy that hits those who are most defenceless.
Mr. John Heddle (Mid-Staffordshire) : I join other right hon. and hon. Members in sincerely congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) on his appointment as Secretary of State, and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral, West (Mr. Hunt) on his appointment as Minister of State. I would like to place on record my
Column 880personal gratitude to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewksbury (Mr. Ridley) for the consistently courteous and thoughtful way in which he received many of us who are especially interested in matters affecting the Department of Environment and local government. His attitude and his approach to his parliamentary colleagues bore no relationship to the sort of comments that we have heard from Opposition Members and those that have appeared in some of the less informed sections of the media.
I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) in wanting a closer, healthier link between central Government and local government, and between local government and the householder and the consumer of local government services. I ask my right hon. Friend, as a former Minister in the Department of Education and Science, when he further considers the matters generally, to give further thought to the possibility of the transfer of teachers' salaries to the centre, which would inevitably mean a lower community charge bill for all households.
The whole question of the reform of the domestic rating system has moved since 1974 further and further up the political agenda. All major and serious political parties at the last election committed themselves to a reform of the domestic rating system. However, the Conservative party was the only one to come forward with any credible alternative, having given serious and comprehensive thought to all other alternatives. It was for that reason that I supported, in principle, this legislation through all its stages.
However, the official Opposition simply said, "We will abolish the Rates Act and we will do away with the community charge in Scotland." There was no mention in their manifesto of any alternative, but now it has crept out bit by bit--the twin tax of capital valuation and local income tax. I was delighted to hear from the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) that the official Opposition are still committed to those two unfair strands of taxation. They are committed to them because they represent a wealth tax and have no relationship with the value of a person's property, whether they own it or not, or to the cost of the services provided.
I will give way to the hon. Member for Brightside if he can confirm to me and to all my Mid-Staffordshire constituents, who do not own their own homes, but who are tenants of local authorities, that what they would pay, if a Labour Government were subsequently returned, would be a capital tax based on the value of the property which they occupy, even though they do not own it. [Interruption.] I will willingly give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful for the confirmation that 40 per cent. of local authority tenants in Lichfield and Cannock Chase district councils and Stafford borough council will pay a valuation tax based on the capital value of a property in which they have no personal direct stake.
Mr. Blunkett : In view of the way in which the hon. Gentleman is managing to create himself a scenario, which is completely out of tune with what we are suggesting, I shall put him straight. We are not suggesting that people will be in that position. I made it clear that our tax would be a fair tax and it would therefore take account of the ability to pay of those in the household. That is different
Column 881from what the hon. Gentleman has said. It would be over and above the question of rebates, as all progressive taxes should be.
Mr. Heddle : As the hon. Gentleman has responded to my invitation, I shall push him a little further. I ask him yet again to confirm that the capital taxation that his party proposes to introduce will be based on the value of a person's property, even though he does not own it. In other words, a council tenant occupying a property in Mid-Staffordshire, possibly worth £100,000, will pay tax to the local authority, especially if his income is in excess of the threshold which the hon. Gentleman implied would be introduced. Is that true or false?
Mr. Heddle : I am just about to come to that. The hon. Gentleman has confirmed the worst fears of a significant proportion of the population who do not own their properties. We shall pursue that point relentlessly between now and 1992, until the truth is told.
Mr. Heddle : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his speech. I know that a number of Opposition Members wish to make their contributions. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I would like to pursue the policies of the Liberal party. At the last election, in its manifesto, the Liberal party, under the paragraph beginning
"Local government needs a fair system of local finance which the rates no longer provide",
"We are committed to the planned introduction of a local income tax as the main source"--
not the only source--
"of local government revenue in place of domestic rates. We believe that business rates should be related to ability to pay and we will consult with industry and commerce as to how this can be achieved." The second part of that commitment means that the Liberal party does not have any policy at all on how non-domestic ratepayers should be treated.
Mr. Heddle : No, but I shall willingly give way to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) if he will now tell the House and the nation how much he would put on the standard rate of income tax to take account of local income tax to fund the main contribution of local government expenditure, and then what other additional tax he would impose to take account of the balance.
Mr. Matthew Taylor : The hon. Gentleman is more than welcome to have a copy of our pamphlet on this subject. If he drops me a note, I will send him a copy. The answer is that, as the tax will be set locally, it will, of course, vary, but it will vary between 5 and 8 per cent., roughly speaking.
Mr. Heddle : I am baffled by the hon. Gentleman's answer--between 5 and 8 per cent. of what? If it was between 5p and 8p in the pound on the standard rate of income tax, I would believe that the hon. Gentleman was
Column 882somewhere near the truth because those were the figures produced by the Layfield committee when it reported in 1977.
That brings me back to the position today. Why was the Conservative party committed to reforming the rating system in the first place? The answer is not only because the domestic rating system is wholly out of date and wholly unfit for the second half of the 20th century and bears no relationship to the cost of the services provided, but because successive Governments--both the Conservative Government in the early 1970s and subsequently the Labour Government and then the Government under the control of the Liberal party in partnership with the Labour party--funked the issue of rating reform. It is because there is now no possibility of revaluing domestic property on any sensible scale that an alternative system had to be introduced.
Mr. Turner : On behalf of the people of Mid-Staffordshire, will the hon. Gentleman address the issue that we are debating--the here-and-now position of thousands and thousands of people in his constituency and in mine who will have to pay a heavy price for this change of policy? Will the hon. Gentleman tell the people of Mid-Staffordshire that they will pay precisely the amount that was quoted in the paper produced last week by his right hon. Friend the previous Secretary of State? Is that a correct figure? No, it is a false figure. Will he tell the people of Mid- Staffordshire that they will have to pay more than the Government are saying they will have to pay?
Mr. Heddle : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for inviting me to conclude my remarks. We have established that the official policy of the Labour party is that a significant amount of the money that it would raise if it were in government would be found from the tenants of properties and would be based on a capital value in which they have no interest and over which they have no control. We have established that the Liberal party would increase the standard rate of income tax by between 5 and 8 per cent., or thereabouts. In the absence of any more comprehensive information, I believe that figure to be absolutely correct--
Mr. Matthew Taylor rose--
I turn now to the safety net and to the position of my constituents in Mid- Staffordshire and to those of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Nellist rose--
Mr. Heddle : It is inevitable--[ Hon. Members :-- "Give way."] It is inevitable that anomalies will arise when transferring from an unfair and outdated system. They have arisen in the non-domestic sector and that is why my
Column 883right hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewksbury introduced transitional relief phased over a five-year period. I do not believe that period to be long enough, because it will coincide with the next revaluation in 1995 and, having regard to the fact that most commercial and industrial leases today have rent reviews every five or seven years, it will add to the temporary rates burden on the non- domestic sector. I should like to pursue that matter further with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in correspondence. The transitional relief that my right hon. Friend's predecessor introduced for the non- domestic sector should form the basis for a transitional relief, by way of a safety net, in the domestic sector. I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North in wishing to see the safety net expanded and funded from central taxation, but targeted most specifically on those in particular need.
My constituents in Mid-Staffordshire are sick to death having to fund the expenditure of spendthrift and profligate local authorities, such as the adjoining local authority of the city of Stoke-on-Trent, when they themselves are well provided for by the prudent and Conservative-controlled Lichfield district council and Stafford borough council.
Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : The bonhomie of Cabinet reshuffles tends to pass me by. I fail to see how a rubber stamp can be reshuffled. The only achievement of the new Secretary of State for the Environment in opening the debate was his acknowledgement that he has been handed a poisoned chalice--one that saw off his predecessor yesterday and one that I confidently predict will see off both him and the Prime Minister before the next general election.
Last week, we had a near-riot when Tory Members finally discovered what the poll tax is about in terms of the safety net. They were rewarded for their political cowardice in voting for it last summer when they suddenly realised that between 25 and 30 marginal Tory seats could be affected at the next general election. Again, I confidently predict that that number will be one third, if not less, of the number of seats that will be lost to the Tory party in Scotland, in England and in Wales by the full enactment of the poll tax legislation--if it goes ahead.
Just under two years ago, the Tory Reform Group described the poll tax as
"fair only in the sense that the Black Death was fair ; it is indiscriminate, striking at young and old, rich and poor, employed and unemployed alike".
That description was wrong in one basic respect. At least the rich could catch the plague--the rich will not catch the poll tax. That is why, last summer, when an amendment to the legislation was being considered by the other place, 100 Lords were literally dug up to vote it down. Individuals such as Lord Vestey, the owner of Dewhurst butchers, currently pays £6,000 in rates on a country estate, but will pay only £200 in poll tax, while I and other hon. Members, especially Labour Members, have constituents on £50 or £60 per week who will have to spend between 10 and 15 per cent. of their income on the new poll tax.
The poll tax is a wealth transfusion from the poor to the rich. It was introduced in Scotland this April, and one year later--next April--we will get it in England and Wales. Why the difference? Perhaps there are still some military strategists in the higher echelons of the Tory party who
Column 884remember the basic lesson of not taking on all one's enemies in one go. The Government decided to divide and rule and to have a testing ground to see how the poll tax goes, because that leaves the possibility of withdrawing it later, if necessary.
What happened in Scotland? On the introduction of the poll tax, The Scotsman described the chaos of the poll tax as like "waking up to a nightmare."
Earlier this month, having contacted all the officials of the regional councils, the Scotland on Sunday newspaper estimated that the level of non- payment of the poll tax was 800,000 people out of the 3.9 million people on whom it is levied. However, I believe that that figure of 800,000 is on the low side, for two reasons. First, the numbers who have paid the poll tax have been artificially inflated by counting somebody who has paid the whole year's poll tax as 12 people. Secondly, the figure of 800,000 does not include those people who have paid the first instalment of the poll tax but have now decided not to make the second or subsequent payments. Those 800, 000 people in Scotland have crossed the Rubicon ; they have decided on the illegal non-payment of the poll tax.
If one transposes those figures to England and Wales, and assumes that the conditions here next April will be exactly the same, one must assume that more than 7 million people will be unable or unwilling to pay the poll tax. That is a staggering figure. At that level, the poll tax will be unworkable.
Why are so many people refusing to pay the poll tax? Bodies such as the Scottish Federation of Anti-Poll Tax Unions have played a major part in the campaign. There are now 550 anti poll tax unions in England, Scotland and Wales, most grouped into city or regional federations. I address two or three meetings every week about the poll tax, and the attendance is double the attendance I would expect at a meeting on any other subject.
The poll tax is one of the most serious attacks on the living standards of working-class people and the provision of jobs and services by local authorities in the 10 years under this Government. In the past four months alone, there have been three demonstrations, two in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh, attended by more than 20,000 people. Those in the Press Gallery should ask their editors why the London-based newspapers have never reported those demonstrations. I checked in the Library on the Monday following those demonstrations and there was not a single report. Are they afraid of contagion, of mass non-payment spreading south of the border? That is the only conclusion I can draw from that.
For 15 years, the Prime Minister has been making vague promises and pledges about the abolition of the rates under her Government. In 15 years in politics, most of the complaints I have received about the rates have been not about the method of collection but, in the past eight or nine years, about the amount people have had to pay. The main reason why rates have more than doubled in the past 10 years has been the £31,000 million in rate support grant withheld from local authorities because of cuts in Government funding.
Column 885If people are casting around for simple solutions to the opposition to the rebates, one solution could be to restore Government funding to 1979 levels. That would mean that Coventry would get back some if not all of the £110 million stolen from us in the past eight years. Domestic rates could be halved merely by restoring the level of Government funding to that pertaining at the beginning of the decade.
Another way in which domestic rates could be halved involves a precedent which the Government have developed and exposed most recently yesterday. According to the Secretary of State last week, if the poll tax were in operation this year, it would be £315 per head in Coventry--the highest figure in the west midlands. The lowest figure in the west midlands would be in Hereford, at £167. Conservative Members such as the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) would say that the council in Coventry is profligate or spendthrift, but let me tell him and others who believe such idiotic notions that Coventry has not had the money to build a single council house since 1981. It is closing down old people's homes and children's nurseries because of the cuts in Government funding. It is heading towards a crisis in education because of lack of school provision.
One of the reasons for charging £315 per head is that Coventry was bombed out during the second world war, with the destruction of virtually the entire city centre and much of the housing stock, so it has had to build a large number of council houses. Where do local authorities get such funds? They borrow from banks and finance houses. Over the past 40 years, Coventry's debt has risen to £300 million to build houses, schools, roads and community centres and the city council has to pay interest charges on that money. Every year, Coventry pays £30 million in debt service charges, not repayments. If Coventry were not paying that level of interest, it could halve domestic rates again.
However, is cancellation of debts impossible? Not for Rover, when £640 million-worth of debt was cancelled to give the company away to British Aerospace ; or Rolls-Royce when £670 million was cancelled for privatisation ; or the water authorities, when £5,000 million of debts have been cancelled. Yesterday, in the electricity privatisation statement, £4.4 billion of debt was effectively cancelled by the removal of the Magnox nuclear power stations from that privatisation. If financial restructuring can take place on that scale, I am sure that it will not be beyond a future Labour Administration to tackle the millstones around the necks of local authorities which have had to borrow money to build the infrastructure of cities. If we cancelled local authorities debt and restored the level of Government support, domestic rates would be one quarter what they are today and no one would object about the level of their rates.
The official Government figure for Coventry's poll tax is £315 per head. The city treasurer estimates that it will be £350, and it could be £60 higher, depending on Government grants to Coventry. Last week, we heard that total Government spending on local authorities would rise by about 3.8 per cent. over this year's spending, but inflation is 8.5 per cent. so there will be a 5 per cent. gap in total Government funding to local authorities. If the poll tax is up and running by next April, local authorities
Column 886will control only one quarter of their spending and three quarters will be controlled by Whitehall setting the business rate and the level of Government grant.
How will Coventry bridge a 5 per cent. shortfall in Government funding? The only way is through a 20 to 25 per cent. increase in poll tax, which would increase it to £394. But even the £315 figure assumes that everyone will pay the poll tax. But if, as in Scotland, 20 per cent. are unable to pay, and as the poll tax has to raise the total sum for the council from the people who actually pay it, the tax will have to increase by 25 per cent. so that Coventry council can raise the money it needs.
The head of the local government division of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountancy, Rita Hale, wrote in a recent article :
"building in 5 per cent. inflation and unwinding safety nets, there were increases in local bills"--
that is the poll tax--
"from one year to the next of 30-40 per cent. When you've got that happening by the mid-1990s, you start to question whether it can be sustained as a believable system."
With the reduction of the safety net, and current inflation, particularly if the Government do not match the needs of local authorities with decent grants, the level of poll tax will double or treble in the next four, five or six years.
I shall not speak for long, as some of my hon. Friends have waited several weeks to get into a debate on the poll tax, as I have. I shall briefly examine who will be worst hit by the poll tax. Eighty per cent. of the young people who are in work earn less than the Council of Europe decency threshold of £150 a week, but they will have to pay exactly the same poll tax as anyone earning more. About 10 minutes ago, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) mentioned rebates. Let us examine the rebates for young people. The official Government figure for Coventry's poll tax is £315. Any young person under 25--including any rights to Government funding through family credit or benefit--who takes home more than £61.35 a week will have to pay the full £30 to £40 a month in poll tax. In Birmingham, the estimated figure is £307. Single people under the age of 25 who take home more than £60.55 a week do not have a rebate.
The vast majority of young people escape unemployment by taking cheap labour jobs in hotels, cafes, bars, shops, restaurants, clothing establishments and other places and will lose the minimum protection of wages council rates if the next Employment Bill abolishes those wages councils. How does the hon. Member for Northfield expect those youngsters who are on a maximum of £80 or £90 a week to pay? If they take home more than £60.55 a week, there is no rebate. He should not tell the House of Commons about the rebate system, as it is non-existent.
Last year, 64,000 student nurses were told that they would receive an 80 per cent. rebate. Then, in the guise of a written answer, it was withdrawn. Unless Project 2000 is up and running--and that will take three or four years--there is no rebate for student nurses. The 80,000 homeless teenagers in Britain will increase in number by those who leave home to avoid paying the poll tax. That is what has happened when youngsters have been forced to pay 20 per cent. of rates becauseof cuts in housing benefits and delays in the payment of that benefit.
What about women? On average, women earn between two thirds and three quarters of the average wage of a
Column 887man, but they will have to pay the same poll tax. Five million women in this country cannot go out and take jobs, because they are underpinning the National Health Service or the local authority social services department by being carers who are looking after elderly or infirm relatives, or sick or disabled children. There is no rebate for them under the poll tax if they are not on income support.
What about black and Asian families? I come from a pit village in Yorkshire. When I left home at 18, I did not know that small families existed. I grew up with my mum, my dad, my grandma, my grand-dad, my great- uncle and two sisters. There were eight in our household. As I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, I realised that people liked to leave their families earlier and move away.
That is not the tradition in West Indian and Asian households. Eleven per cent. of West Indian households and 29 per cent. of Asian households contain six or more adults because they look after their old folk rather than allowing them to go into residential accommodation. In Coventry, they could be living in a presently low-rated property and paying £300 or £400 in rates. They will face bills of £2,500 under the poll tax, so it discriminates against the black and Asian community.
We hear about exemptions. The only way to escape the poll tax is to be declared insane or to join a monastery or the Foreign Legion ; and people have been trying that in recent weeks. One of the most disgraceful aspects of the poll tax is that those with a mental handicap, which is a disability from birth, can find some relief from the poll tax if they get the agreement of two doctors, but the level of disability is irrelevant for physical disabilities and there is no rebate or exemption from the poll tax. Some old folk develop Alzheimer's disease, even if it is not assisted by faulty water purification in the south-west. What about old people who become more confused and more infirm as they get older and who develop mental disabilities? They are not exempted from the poll tax.
What about youngsters who stay on at school to do A-levels? They are exempt while they are 18 and their mothers are still getting child benefit for them, but on the day of their 19th birthday, they will lose all exemptions. There are 76,000 families with youngsters who stay on past their 19th birthday to re-take their A-levels. What about the dead? There are no exemptions for them. [Laughter.] That provokes laughter among Tory Members and I hoped that it would. I want to see them laugh when they hear about two real cases. Donald McLean from Elgin died at the age of 39 on 4 April, three days after he was due to start paying the poll tax in Scotland. His grieving father, whose wife also died recently, was sent a £1.43 poll tax bill for his son. That callous lack of sympathy led his father to complain bitterly :
"It's a wonder he wasn't billed for the few hours he lived into the 4th day of April."
Donnie Young, a 43-year old trawlerman from Burghead, was killed at sea on 10 April. He set sail on 26 March and never set foot again on the Scottish mainland. A bill for £6.44 was sent to his widow. Mrs. Young is refusing to pay, and I congratulate her on that. Public pressure forced the Democrat chairman of the Grampian finance committee to back off on the case of Donald McLean and set a limit of £5 below which bills would not be sent out in cases of bereavement, but the Audit Commission has ruled that a poll tax bill has to be sent on