Labour reveals return to sender poll tax protest
By Auslan Cramb
A campaign aimed at blocking the Government’s plans to introduce the community charge was launched yesterday on the eve of the Labour Party conference.
Supporters of the Scottish Campaign Against the Poll Tax (Stop It) believe they have found a loophole which will allow taxpayers to protest legally and at the same time cause a paperwork nightmare for the local councils which have to introduce the new system.
Stop It plans to distribute up to one million leaflets advising people to send back the forms they will be asked to fill in for a poll tax register, with a request for more information.
The return to sender plan has been welcomed by Labour leader Neil Kinnock who described the idea as “different and positive.”
At the campaign launch in Perth, Shadow Scottish Secretary Donald Dewar said the complexity of registration and collection threatened privacy and individual liberty.
The Government itself had provided the opportunity for a successful protest campaign, said Mr Dewar.
However, Environment Secretary Mr Nicholas Ridley said last night that if people failed to provide the relevant information within 21 days they would be in breach of the law.
“This is the effect of what the Labour Party are telling them to do.
“We have come to a sad pass when the Leader of the Opposition encourages people to act unlawfully.”
Next month registration officers will start sending out forms to individuals believed to be the “responsible person” in a household with a duty to supply information for the poll tax register.
Government regulations state: “…if for any reason you consider that you are not a ‘responsible person’ please let me know and return the form to me without completing it.”
Stop It wants people to take up this offer by writing to ask if they should be the “responsible person” and suggests they ask who will have access to the information supplied and why the authorities require exact dates of birth.
The implementation of the tax was dependent on an accurate register and the protest campaign could make the register “wildly inaccurate,” said Mr Dewar.
Labour MP Brian Wilson, chairman of Stop It, said: “It is a campaign of obstruction within the law that does not lead people to incur the substantial penalties that are built into the legislation.” The aim was to have the legislation amended or abandoned.
He claimed that many Tories were coming to believe that the poll tax would be “the rock on which Mrs Thatcher finally founders.”
The new tax, a flat rate for every adult replacing domestic rates, is due to be introduced in Scotland .
Mr Eric Milligan, vice-president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, said Cosla backed the campaign, although he was aware that it could cause a bureaucratic nightmare for registration officers and local government workers.
He said: “Scottish local government is almost unanimous in its opposition to the poll tax. It stretches right across the political spectrum and it reaches communities that do not think of themselves as political.”
There are a number of motions on the poll tax for debate in Perth this weekend, although Mr Dewar said he would be very surprised if the conference endorsed a policy of non-payment.
According to a poll broadcast last night on Scottish Television, one in three Scots is prepared to break the law by refusing to pay the community charge. The System Three poll was carried out and involved a sample of 948 adults throughout Scotland.
Mr Michael Connarty, chairman of Scottish Labour’s local government committee, said the party had to be prepared to give “full blooded support” to people who refuse to pay the poll tax.