Sir George Young (North West Hampshire, Conservative)
But how would the Inland Revenue know whether I would stay in that area for the whole year? How would it know what my income would be? The Inland Revenue might have an idea about how much I will earn in the current year, but I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that it is quite often wrong. Under his proposal, the tax would not have the same fixed base on which it could be levied as the council tax. I listened attentively to his opening speech, but he did not begin to address that point. Under the system, there would be questions of where I lived and whether I would have to pay twice. At the moment, the Inland Revenue is relatively relaxed about the address from which I send off my tax return, as long as it gets one. Under the new system, it would be vital that the address was right.
The hon. Gentleman said that an advantage of his proposal was that it would provide a buoyant source of revenue. I am not sure that I want local government to have a buoyant source of revenue. [Hon. Members: "Ah!"] No, I want authorities to have a threshold through which they must go each year before they put up the council tax. I want them to justify their increases year in, year out. The hon. Gentleman wants local government to have a buoyant source of tax revenue so that it does not have to answer the difficult questions that are asked at the moment. I consider what the Liberal Democrats see as an advantage to be a disadvantage.
The real problem at the moment is that too much weight is put on the council tax. It was invented some 14 years ago when the average amount paid was around £500. It could bear that amount of traffic without too much damage to its structure—it is like a bridge with a weight restriction. However, many of my constituents are now paying four-figure, not three-figure, amounts.
Mr. Davey asked at the start of his speech what could be done. I would keep the council tax and complement it with another tax, perhaps a variable vehicle excise duty, for the sake of argument. That would be a much better response to the challenges facing local government than those that he proposed. The debate has shown that the House does not want to axe the tax; it wants to axe the Liberal Democrats.