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LIB DEM CONFERENCE: SHADOW DEPUTY PM ON COUNCIL TAX

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SPEECH:EDWARD DAVEY MP, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT SHADOW TO THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, ON COUNCIL TAX ...
SPEECH:EDWARD DAVEY MP, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT SHADOW TO THE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, ON COUNCIL TAX

'Today, we need to send a powerful message to the Government.

It's a message that literally millions of people want us to send.

It's a message that the pensioners, from Brent East to Brighton, want us to send.

And it's a message anyone who cares about fair taxes wants us to send.

Scrap Council Tax.

Over the months, Britain's anti-council tax campaign has gathered steam.

From the brave pensioners in Devon to the many groups across the country, the demand for change is accelerating.

As the only party wanting to scrap council tax, we must be their voice.

Now, the Government would have you believe they are listening.

Nick Raynsford, Local Government Minister, told a Sunday paper, council tax levels were near the limits of acceptability.

Well, I'm sorry Nick, but they've gone well past that.

Council tax is now the most unfair tax in Britain today. It's time to Axe the Tax.

Let's remember that Britain's whole tax system is riddled with unfairness. It's frankly astounding that after six years of a Labour Government, the state takes relatively more in tax from our country's poorest, than it takes from the richest.

We got used to the Conservatives punishing the poor. Charges for eye and dental check-ups. VAT on fuel. The poll tax. Everyone now expects Conservatives to favour the richest - that's what Tories do.

But we sort of hoped Labour would do something different - to reduce unfairness. If only. If only.

So I'm delighted our Treasury Spokesman, Matthew Taylor, has put fair taxation at the heart of our economic policy.

But let's be clear what Liberal Democrats are saying. Fair tax is not about higher tax. The tax burden wouldn't rise under this proposal. Fair tax is simply about taking account of peoples' ability to pay.

That's why we start with the unfairest tax of the lot.

How can it be right that the poorest pensioners pay SIX times more of their income in council tax than the richest non-pensioners?

How can it be right that the poorest 10% in society pays over FOUR times more of their income in council tax than the richest 10%?

How can it be right that the Government allows 2 million needy households to go without council tax benefit?

No wonder we are seeing council taxpayers in headlong revolt.

Labour's record on the council tax is frankly appalling.

Labour have laser-beamed this stealth tax onto pensioners and the poorest. By forcing councils to hike their taxes.

Average increases of over 70% since 1997. Average bills topping £1,000. A rise of over £400 for the average family. With pensioners and the poor bearing the brunt.

And it's set to get worse. Already the Chancellor's Red Book predicts rises of 10% over the next 2 years. Soon people will be faced with council tax revaluations.

So what have the Conservatives to say about Council Tax?

David Davis told the Today programme, they wouldn't start from here.

Well, hold on a minute, didn't the Conservatives invent council tax in the first place? Didn't he vote for it?

But, let's be fair. Michael Howard did answer a question from the Telegraph on the Tory alternative.

He said: 'I don't know'.

Liberal Democrats, we are the only party who can voice people's anger about this outrageous tax.

Today, with our leader on the Local Government Association, Chris Clarke, I've launched a new national campaign. Imaginatively, and after nano-seconds of debate, we've called it 'Scrap Council Tax'. And this campaign needs you. It needs you to pass today's motion overwhelmingly. It needs you to take this petition to every corner of the country.

I don't think we should underestimate how important this campaign could be for our party.

Like our famous 'one penny on income tax for education', I believe 'scrap council tax' will resonate with the voters all the way to the ballot box.

It certainly proved positive in Brent East. I know from my visits to our council groups across the country it's proving popular in all sorts of communities. And I believe it can play a major part in our campaigning up to the next elections.

Not only are Liberal Democrats the only party pledged to axe the tax, we are the only party with a well developed alternative - local income tax.

Now, of course, local income tax is hardly a new idea. It's been the party's policy for many years.

Indeed, it's a tried and tested local tax - in countries as diverse as America and Sweden, Japan and Denmark.

Local income tax was recommended by a Royal Commission over 27 years ago.

Even the Inland Revenue's computer was programmed so it could administer a future local income tax.

And local income tax will save hundreds of millions on bureaucracy.

By piggy-backing on the national PAYE system, and because no special benefit system is needed, local income tax is far cheaper to operate than council tax.

Fairer and cheaper.

So it's not surprising that when we last campaigned vigorously for a fair local tax - during the days of the poll tax - our policy stood up powerfully to every criticism our opponents could throw at it.

Conference, allow this party to lead the anti-council tax movement.

Pass this motion.

And let's make the case for a fair local tax people can afford.'

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