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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
Parties battle over council tax
John Prescott
Mr Prescott is to go on the offensive with claims about the poll tax
The Tories have "absolutely, categorically" rejected suggestions they want to bring back the poll tax.

Local government spokesman Caroline Spelman dismissed what she said was a misinterpretation of remarks she had made in a newspaper interview.

But John Prescott insisted she had said her party were revisiting "the principles of the poll tax".

Meanwhile the Lib Dems' Ed Davey said the Tories should come clean about their policy on local taxation.

Categorical denial

The three politicians were appearing on BBC Radio 4's Today programme ahead of a Commons debate on local government finance.

Opening the debate Tory Phil Hammond said under Labour council tax had "gone through the roof" - something he blamed on a "meddlesome, interfering and bureaucratic" government.

Earlier Mrs Spelman explained that the Conservatives favoured a "property-based tax".

Asked if the Tories were considering the reintroduction of the poll tax she said: "I absolutely categorically deny this - we are not looking at bringing back the poll tax.

"I have made it very clear that in looking at local government finance, I see virtue in a property-based tax because it is simple and easy to understand."

She added that her party was waiting until a government review of the way local government finance is raised before coming up with its own proposals.

'Unsatisfactory'

Mrs Spelman argued that the Lib Dem policy of a local income tax would be too easy to invade, arguing you cannot "hide a house".

Mr Prescott meanwhile acknowledged that the current situation was not satisfactory.

But he argued the very rich - those not involved in the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system - would slip through the net under Lib Dem proposals.

And he attacked the Conservatives saying "nothing has changed".

He claimed Tory spending ambitions would mean a 2.5bn cut for local authorities.

Lib Dem challenge

Mr Davey meanwhile challenged the Conservatives to "come clean" about their plans for raising local government finance.

"We are just days before the local elections," he said.

"Voters in a few weeks' time are going to be asked to vote on local election issues and Michael Howard refuses to tell the voters his policy."

Mr Prescott pledged he would be focusing during "Wednesday's House of Commons debate on the poll tax.

"We will be reminding people of the misery the poll tax brought and demanding to know which elements of the poll tax the Tories are looking to reintroduce."

Local elections, along with the poll for the European Parliament and the London mayoral contest are due to be held on10 June.




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