Surely all right hon. and hon. Members agree that the poll tax is the most obnoxious ever devised by man. Does not the Minister agree that the poorest and neediest—old-aged pensioners, and the unemployed—should have received a 100 per cent. guaranteed rebate since the tax started, and that those who have been forced to pay 20 per cent. of their poll tax should receive refunds?
There is a problem of non-collection in Strathclyde, but the average 20 per cent. increase in non-collection for Scottish local authorities as a whole is mainly due to Strathclyde's 35 per cent. increase. If the hon. Gentleman wants to identify the real problem, he ought to attack the real villain, Tommy Sheridan of the Anti-Poll Tax Federation, who I believe is to stand against the hon. Gentleman. Does not the hon. Gentleman have the guts to do so?
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me in what will be my last Scottish Question Time after nearly 22 years' service in the House. I take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to wish you well on your retirement to another place.
Is the Minister aware that one of the unemployment and social black spots of Cunninghame is the three-towns area of Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston? As a result of prompting by the Stevenston branch of the Labour party, a three-towns initiative has been launched, involving the two Members of Parliament representing Cunninghame constituencies, Strathclyde and Cunninghame local authorities and the two relevant Members of the European Parliament? Will the Minister meet a deputation to discuss what financial help the Government can give to ensure the success of that initiative?
If this is the hon. Gentleman's last Scottish question time, that will be a matter of regret throughout the House. The hon. Gentleman has represented his constituents with a great deal of vim, vigour and dedication; on behalf of those constituents, he has been a thorn in the flesh of successive Governments—especially Labour Governments.
The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is this: I understand what he has said and if he wishes to meet me to discuss that particular constituency matter, I shall of course agree.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem of local government finance in Scotland has been aggravated by those who refuse to pay the community charge? Is it not a scandal when Members of Parliament, such as the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), belong to the "can pay but won't pay" brigade? Law-makers should never become law-breakers.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that potential law-makers cannot and should not be law-breakers.
The settlement announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scottish local authorities in the coming year is extremely generous. The original aggregate external finance settlement of 6·1 per cent. has now been increased by an extra £6·7 million to 6·3 per cent. That figure is well ahead of the rate of inflation, and it is a more than reasonable settlement.
When will the Minister stop hiding behind the "can't pay, won't pay" brigade, and admit that the whole chaos of the poll tax was caused by him and his supporters who instituted the tax? Does he not recognise that the poll tax will come back to haunt the Conservatives during the election campaign as next year's poll tax bills flood through the post boxes? Will he now accept that the one step that he can take to ensure an easier collection of the poll tax during its last year is to abolish the 20 per cent. minimum payment on 1 April this year, rather than waiting until next year?
There is another hon. Member who does not attack Tommy Sheridan.
The Government's position is absolutely clear. Let me point out that the personal community charge for Lothian is to be increased by only 2·6 per cent. May I also remind the hon. Gentleman that, as far as I understand it, his policy is to bring back the rates in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman nods. Good—keep nodding. He will bring back the rates in Scotland, at the levels that will operate after a Scottish revaluation. He could not do that in England. If he thinks that that will help the cause of the United Kingdom, he is making a grave error.