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Local Taxation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 4th July 2005.

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Photo of Jo Swinson Jo Swinson Opposition Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Liberal Democrat Whip 5:43 pm, 4th July 2005

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House. He will recall that the Liberal Democrats in Scotland consistently argued that the council tax was unfair. Through the many negotiations in which the Liberal Democrats have taken part, we have secured many policy commitments that the people of England and Wales do not enjoy, such as free personal care for the elderly and the abolition of tuition fees. We are campaigning on council tax and I have put forward a submission to the independent review that argues strongly for getting rid of the council tax and introducing a local income tax.

The main problem with the current system is that it bears no relation whatsoever to people's ability to pay. Many of the people who have complained to me about the unfairness of council tax are elderly, which is not surprising because it is an especially unfair tax for pensioners. They might be living in a fairly sizeable family home, but they have a much smaller income than they did in the days when they were out working and paying the mortgage. We have now reached the point at which no amount of tinkering around the edges will solve the problem. The pre-election bribe to pensioners of a one-off payment to help with their council tax did not fool anyone. The problem is the unfairness of the system, which will not be solved by further complicating the council tax through handouts and making special cases. Instead, the best solution is a local income tax.

During the recent election campaign, I found strong support in East Dunbartonshire for the policy of replacing council tax with a local income tax. In fact, I was moved to speak in the debate following an experience that I had last Friday night. I was knocking on doors in Bishopbriggs—what better activity could there be for a Friday evening—and met a gentleman and his wife to whom I spoke about a range of issues. He said that council tax was the most important issue to him and made a plea to me to keep pushing for a local income tax because the council tax was so unfair. He explained the problems that it was causing him and his wife as a pensioner couple who had bought their semi-detached home many years ago. They did not want to feel forced to move out of their home as a result of council tax bills. I promised him that I certainly would continue to argue for an end to the unfair council tax and its replacement with a fair alternative, so that is what I am doing.

In debates such as this, I often find, as I have today, that incorrect assumptions are made. I represent what has been described as the most middle-class constituency in Scotland, so some might assume that advocating a local income tax would be a vote loser in the affluent area of Bearsden and Milngavie—quite the contrary. Amidst the leafy suburbs, there is hidden poverty, often pensioner poverty. While we in the House might be privileged to earn salaries that are far above the norm, let us not forget the reality in our constituencies. Even in my middle-class constituency, the average household income is less than £25,000. Quite frankly, bandying about figures suggesting that an average household in Britain has two full-time wage earners bringing in more than £50,000 a year just helps to reaffirm in people's minds the feeling that politicians are out of touch. Let us not fall into that trap, because I am sure that no hon. Member here wants to be seen as out of touch.


Neil Scott
Posted on 7 Jul 2005 4:25 am (Report this annotation)

Why, then, did the Lib Dems vote against the anti-council tax bill the SSP put forward in Scotland? The SSP bill means those earning less than £10 000 pay nothing. Those earning over that pay 4.5% - someone earning £20 000 pays £450. Those earning £30 000 pay £900. What is objectionable about this?