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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 April, 2005, 16:08 GMT 17:08 UK
Minister 'sorry over council tax'
Council tax bill
Labour has always pledged to review the council tax system
A junior minister has apologised for suggesting that Labour was planning to scrap the council tax.

Junior transport minister Charlotte Atkins said during an interview with BBC radio that Labour planned to scrap the tax "because it was regressive".

She later acknowledged she had got this wrong, saying: "Our policy is not to scrap council tax but to retain and reform it."

The Lib Dems would abolish it, while the Tories would give OAPs discounts.

This is a government minister admitting the Liberal Democrats are right that council tax is unfair and should be scrapped.
Matthew Taylor
Lib Dem party chairman

But earlier during a round table discussion on BBC Radio Stoke, Labour's candidate in Staffordshire Moorlands said: "It is our policy to review the system. We are scrapping the present system because it is regressive."

However, she said Labour would not be rushed into bringing in a replacement which could hit poorer families just as badly.

Once news of her comments reached Labour party officials, she rushed out a statement apologising and admitting the mistake.

'Lifted the lid'

Lib Dem chairman Matthew Taylor said: "This is a government minister admitting the Liberal Democrats are right that council tax is unfair and should be scrapped.

"Labour needs to come clean and tell the public before May 5th what its plans for council tax really are - who will pay more and who will pay less?"

The Conservatives said Ms Atkins had "lifted the lid" on Labour's plan to replace the existing council tax system with a new 10-band structure which would impose new taxes on hard working families.

Local government spokesman Caroline Spelman said Labour was "all over the place" on council tax.

"Mr Blair does not want to talk about his plans to revalue and introduce more stealth taxes before the election", she added.

'Gaffe'

BBC chief political correspondent James Landale said many Labour backbenchers had strong views about the council tax hitting many poorer people hard.

Many MPs and ministers liked to imply that Labour was planning to ditch the tax, but Ms Atkins had gone a lot further than this, he said.

"Essentially what you've got is quite a large gaffe here," he added.

The Tories say they would give council tax discounts of up to 500 a year to pensioner households.

Labour has said they would give pensioners a one-off 200 discount on their council tax bills.

Other parliamentary candidates standing in Staffordshire Moorlands are John Fisher for the Liberal Democrats, Marcus Hayes for the Conservatives, and Steven Povey for UKIP.





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