My right hon. Friend will be considering carefully the responses to the consultation paper on the new tax. Those responses will no doubt cover the question of the number of bands needed. We do not, however, at this stage envisage a change from the proposed seven band system.
This story is going to run and run. How can the Government justify prolonging the agony of the poll tax for a further chaotic two years or, as is probably more likely, for three years while they try to stitch up all those bands? If the Minister is seriously interested in fairness in local government taxation, will he concede that Lothian region is a moderate-spending local authority, which has been compelled to levy a very high poll tax because it gets £88·68 less per head in grant from the Scottish Office than the Scottish average? Can we have fair banding for revenue support grant this year, instead of capping Lothian's eminently responsible and reasonable budget?
The hon. Member knows perfectly well what the situation is in respect of Lothian region. My right hon. Friend has agreed to meet the regional council if it wishes to make representations to him. As regards the more general question about banding, I think that the whole House will appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable about very big houses, but I hope that he will be reassured by the fact that owners in the top band will pay about two and half times the amount that owners of properties in the smallest band will pay, and that is perfectly fair. The Government have taken major action to reduce the burden of the community charge in Scotland, as in England and Wales, in the light of the quite outrageous increases imposed by many Labour councils.
Before the Minister contemplates looking at any new tax, will he take some time to examine what is happening to local authorities because of the poll tax? Will he consider introducing legislation—we do not have much legislation in Scottish terms—to take out the 20 per cent. rule and eliminate the arresting of benefits, especially those involving social security? Will he do that and get rid of this arduous and hazardous impost on the people of Scotland?
The House has debated that matter and has taken a decision. As regards collection, if the figures being alleged by the local authorities are correct, it is obviously sensible for them to concentrate first on getting the community charge collected from those who are liable for the full payment.
In the light of experience with the community charge, will my hon. Friend keep his two major objectives—first, simplicity in relation to the new tax, and secondly, low costs of administration and collection? If both those are achieved, there will be better understanding among taxpayers and, as a result, better accountability from local authorities.
When will the Minister acknowledge that the disastrous poll tax, of which he was such a loyal supporter until he was told to change his mind, has created an enormous financial crisis for local government and for the many poor people in Scotland? As a result of that crisis, immediate action is demanded—not long consultations about some new tax in the future. In view of that fact, and of the light legislative load, why do not the Government abolish the 20 per cent. rule now and introduce legislation, which will have our full support, to return to the old rating system on 1 April 1992? Thereafter, if he wants to change it, it will be a matter for him and the Government, if they are still in power.
When will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the community charge system was brought in because the domestic rating system was patently unfair, patently unjust and patently did not have the confidence of the people of Scotland? When will he acknowledge that that is precisely the system that he and his colleagues wish to bring back and to enforce on the people of Scotland? It was completely unworkable before.