MSPs back plans for new law

Gil Paterson
Gil Paterson

MSPs Gil Paterson and Fiona McLeod say they will back any law which serves to prevent local authorities from chasing historic Poll Tax debts.

Mr Paterson spoke out after the Scottish Government proposed new legislation to block councils from using the rise in registered voters to track down unpaid tax.

Electoral rolls swelled in the run up to last month’s referendum, which saw 97 per cent of Scots register to vote.

However, last week it emerged that local authorities would be able to pursue debts accrued almost 25 years ago following the mass non-payment of debt in opposition to the poll tax.

Officials at East Dunbartonshire council say they are obliged by law to use ‘all the data available’ to collect outstanding tax.

However, Mr Paterson described the exploitation of electoral details for the purposes of debt collection as ‘simply unacceptable’.

He said: “It is not right to use someone’s democratic rights to entrap them.

“I would support any move to block such a tactic, without reservation. Interfering in the democratic process in such a manner is just cynical.

“People already have a limited trust of politicians and the government and to use the electoral register in this way is simply wrong.It seems hypocritical for some politicians who flipped their houses and to claim all those expenses to then turn around and call for people to be chased down for tax debt from 25 years ago.”

Fiona McLeod, MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, praised the Scottish Government for its intervention.

She said: “First and foremost, it was a most heinous tax that should never have been brought in in the first place.

“We should never use the democratic engagement we have experienced over the last year in this way. I was pleased to see some Labour MPs coming out in opposition to this as well, and presumably now the likes of Jo Swinson and Gregg McClymont will also do the same.”

Ian Black, director of finance and shared services with East Dunbartonshire Council, said the local authority would comply with ‘guidance and best practice’ in their pursuit of unpaid debts.

He added: “The council has a statutory obligation to use all the data available to it to collect any outstanding debts and this is an on-going process.”