Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Rob Marris: It cannot be true then.

Mr. Woolas: Well, it was in the financial pages. On 6 November, not 24 hours ago, it was stated that rising wages and lower unemployment have lifted more than 600,000 households out of the net for council tax benefit. So people are better off under a Labour Government and are less dependent on benefits.

Mr. Pickles: The Minister would do well to listen carefully to what Members say. My point was not about numbers, but about eligibility. The numbers show that those who are eligible are not claiming.

Mr. Woolas: I did listen to the hon. Gentleman closely, and that is why I referred to the article in The   Mail on Sunday before I referred to the proportion claiming and I shall put on record the position regarding council tax benefit. Nobody in this country is being sent to jail because they cannot afford their council tax. Judges do not do that. The only circumstances in which one can be imprisoned for not paying one's council tax is if one is unwilling to pay it. There have been two such cases in the past year—Alfred Ridley and Sylvia Hardy. Opposition Members are trying to whip up a storm on the back of the IsItFair campaign and, in my view, they are exploiting people. Through their scaremongering, they are scaring people, many of them low paid and vulnerable. The Government will not allow that to happen.

The income of pensioners has risen immeasurably under this Government—

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge) (Con): Some £200!
7 Nov 2005 : Column 118

Mr. Woolas: The £200 extra help with the council tax was opposed by the Opposition. Pensioners in receipt of the guaranteed pension credit get a 100 per cent. rebate of council tax. Of course, it is our policy to improve take-up and I join with the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar in making that point. I hope that he will join our campaign, in a non-partisan manner, to encourage take-up of the benefit by pensioners by explaining its advantages. But I would wager that not many people in receipt of, or entitled to, council tax benefit cross the door of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Pickles: That is outrageous.

Mr. Woolas: If I had the time I should like to enter into a debate on the workings of council tax benefit, as it clearly covers—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman may like to enter that debate, but he will not be allowed to do so while we are discussing the Bill.

Mr. Woolas: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your firm chairing of this important debate. I   emphasise the point that I would like to enter such a debate, but I understand why it is not possible.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) made a characteristically well-informed and authoritative speech and argued against postponement of the revaluation. I again point out, to reassure him and my hon. Friend the Member for   Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) who also spoke on   the matter, that the Bill is a postponement not a cancellation. It may give Members further reassurance to know that the Government could have taken the option to propose simply to cancel the legislation in the Local Government 2003 Act, which amended the Local Government Finance Act 1992. We chose not to do that but to include in our Bill the commitment to introduce revaluation at the appropriate time, following the Lyons review. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich will accept that reassurance.

Mr. Raynsford: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but can he tell the House when he and the Government envisage that power being used? The point has been made clearly during the debate that, due to the need to   avoid a clash with the valuation for business rates, 2010 is not possible, but 2011 and the period immediately afterwards would be. Is my hon. Friend prepared to give us an undertaking that the Government will proceed with a revaluation on that timetable?

Mr. Woolas: My right hon. Friend makes an important point. The investment in the Valuation Office Agency—the computerisation, entering information and ongoing work—means that it can give me assurances that it will have the capacity to ensure that those revaluations can take place, if necessary, should Parliament decide on a concurrent timetable. The problem that my right hon. Friend raised is being solved—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Far too many extraneous conversations are going on in the Chamber.

Mr. Woolas: It may be helpful if I remind the House of the words of my right hon. Friend the Minister of
7 Nov 2005 : Column 119
Communities and Local Government at the beginning of the debate. He outlined our commitment to local government, our belief that it is at the heart of national life and that it has a unique role—

Mr. Curry: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Woolas: In just one second.[Hon. Members:"Give way."] Members might have let me finish my sentence, but I shall of course give way to the distinguished former Minister, if only to remind the   House that the right hon. Gentleman spoke against his Front-Bench policy.

Mr. Curry: The right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford) did not ask the Minister whether he had the capacity to carry out a revaluation; he asked him whether he had the intention to order a revaluation in 2011. What is the answer?

Mr. Woolas: The right hon. Gentleman made a learned speech earlier and I think—

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Answer the question.

Mr. Woolas: The hon. Gentleman must listen and be patient.

As the right hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon will know, because he has read the Bill, it proposes that the powers for legislation for revaluation be given to the Secretary of State with the proviso that the House, through affirmative resolution, has the opportunity to debate the matter. Rightly so. That should give him the commitment that he is looking for, but the strategy outlined by the Government and in the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Communities and Local Government ensures that there is the opportunity to review local government's role and functions. Taking on board the important new work that has been done specifically under local area agreements, the three-year local government finance settlement and the certainty and stability needed for all involved requires a serious review of the local government's role and functions. That review is being undertaken on our behalf by Sir Michael Lyons, and I   am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House have and will contribute to that important debate. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Once again, I appeal to the House to come to order. Some Members have been here listening to the debate throughout. Will those who have just come in have the courtesy to allow the Minister to continue?

Mr. Woolas: Thank you very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Curry: We are all familiar with the fact that the House may agree or disagree with a Minister's proposition, but the House does not do so on the basis of some existential musing: it does so because a Minister asks it to do so. Does the Minister intend to ask the
7 Nov 2005 : Column 120
House to proceed with a revaluation in the time scale mentioned by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich?

Mr. Woolas: As the statement of 20 September and as my right hon. Friend has made clear, our policy is to ensure that, following Sir Michael Lyons's review, at the right time—we have said that we do not believe that that   will be in the lifetime of this Parliament—we will introduce in the House proposals for revaluation, and that is why on several occasions at the Dispatch Box my right hon. Friend and I have been able to reassure those who take the right hon. Gentleman's point of view that   this is a postponement, not a cancellation of revaluation.

Mr. Borrow: My hon. Friend has been generous in giving way. May I try to help him on this point yet again? Many hon. Members wish to be reassured about whether he recognises that the longer the current council tax list continues without a revaluation, the more that list becomes unstable and unsustainable.

Next Section IndexHome Page