HC Deb 13 March 1991 vol 187 cc959-1003 4.15 pm
Mr. Bryan Gould (Dagenham)

I beg to move,

That this House believes that the poll tax is beyond reform and must be abolished immediately; condemns the Government's dithering and delay in carrying out yet another review and its reluctance to face the fact that the poll tax must go; warns against any attempt to retain the essential elements of the poll tax in another guise, either alone or in combination with another tax: and urges the Government to replace the poll tax with a property-based tax, linked to the ability to pay, along the lines of Labour's Fair Rates proposals.

Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. A large number of hon. Members wish to participate in this most important debate. I have no authority to limit speeches in a half-day debate, but if hon. Members will

confine their speechs to not more than 10 minutes each, a large number of them will be called. Perhaps the Front-Bench speakers will take only a little longer.

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

What possible point of order can there be in that?

Mr. Oppenheim

The point of order relates directly to the motion. I shall be brief, but I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that, on 17 July 1811, your illustrious predecessor, Speaker Abbot, ruling on the debate on the Gold Coin and Banknote Bill, said this: If hon. Members open their journals they will find it established 200 years ago, and then spoken of as ancient practice, that a personal interest in a question disqualified a Member from voting. "Erskine May" has clearly interpreted that ruling as follows: No Member who has a direct pecuniary interest in a question is allowed to vote upon it; but, in order to operate the disqualification, this interest must be immediate and personal. Mr. Speaker, you will be aware that many Labour Members who are top rate taxpayers are none the less laying extra burdens on people who are far less well off by not paying the poll tax. Surely nothing could be more clear than that they should be disqualified from voting on the motion.

Mr. Speaker

I have seldom heard anything more spurious. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that we are all subject to paying the community charge and if I ruled as he seems to be suggesting, nobody would be able to vote.

Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. William Ross (Londonderry, East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I have already said that this is not a point of order.

Mr. Ross

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Not everyone in the House is liable to pay the poll tax. Are we to infer from the point of order that the only people who can vote on the motion are hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies?

Mr. Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I hope that this is not as bogus as the first point of order.

Mr. Hughes

This is a different but related point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you reconsider your view? On Monday night, when Lambeth council discussed the community charge that it was to set, two councillors who had not paid their community charge were debarred from voting because they had a pecuniary interest in the matter. Therefore——

Mr. Speaker

Order. This is not Lambeth council.

Mr. Hughes

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to pursue this point, he should reflect on what I said to the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim). If I ruled as he wished, no hon. Member would be able to vote, except those representing Northern Ireland constituencies.

Mr. Hughes

This is relevant because we make the Standing Orders by which the House works and we make the standing orders by which Lambeth council works—[Interruption.] That is true. With great respect, that is the local government law. We make those standing orders and we make these Standing Orders. On page 384 of the 21st edition of "Erskine May"—this is a separate reference from that made by my hon. Friend——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have heard enough. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that he is not making a good point. If he seeks to be called in the debate, let him make the points then.

Mr. Hughes


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I hope that it is legitimate.

Mr. Tracey

It is a serious point. On Monday night, Lambeth council——

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not legitimate.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)


Mr. Speaker

I hope it is not about Lambeth council.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I am not referring to Lambeth council, but to the fact that you, Mr. Speaker, are unable to hear the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) because of the noise from the Opposition Benches—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I heard clearly enough.

Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

I spy strangers from Lambeth council.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that is a joke.

Mr. Gould

We have just seen evidence, if further evidence were required, of how the poll tax issue has turned the Conservative party into an undisciplined rabble. [Interruption.] I see and hear that a large number of Conservative Members wish to clothe themselves in the cloak of Lambeth council and are chanting that name, presumably as a justification for their disreputable behaviour.

It was Marx who in 1852 observed that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. The Government's difficulties over the poll tax show that on that issue, as on others, Marx did not get it right. We have had the tragedy and the farce, but they have not followed the one after the other; the tragedy and the farce have been running side by side.

The tragedy is epitomised by the misery of one of my constituents, an elderly widow, who broke down in tears in front of me a couple of weeks ago because she was so worried about being unable to pay her poll tax. That was a personal tragedy which has been repeated on countless occasions all over the country. That personal misery, created for so many people, is one of the worst consequences of the hated and unfair tax.

The tragedy is there, too, in the closure of day nurseries and luncheon clubs for the elderly, in the cuts which go deep into education and social services, and in the assault made on local government independence and on the blighted life chances of those who depend on local government services.

At the same time there is a long-running farce. All the familiar ingredients are there: an improbable plot, deep-dyed villains, the hero as nincompoop, all the major characters—in this case Ministers—at one time or another with egg on their faces, Ministers caught with their trousers down, Ministers coming and going with bewildering rapidity, Ministers misunderstanding each other and at cross-purposes. The pity of it all is that this farce prompts not laughter but disbelief and despair.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)


Mr. Gould

No, I will make some progress first.

The farce has reached a new intensity in recent days. Not a day goes by without some new idea, each more ludicrous than the last, being floated from Government sources. We have had the head tax, the floor tax, the skull tax, the bed-and-breakfast tax, the capital values tax and the bedroom tax. In their anxiety to do something, to tax something—anything, as long as it is not the poll tax—it has seemed at times that there is not a single architectural feature or part of the anatomy that the Government have not considered taxing. It would not be surprising if someone had come up with the brilliant idea of a thumb tax, simply because it sounded vaguely familiar. We are now told that the most likely option is a return to a property tax. One could call it a head tax followed by a "stand on your head" tax.

The source of many of these ideas is, I believe, the Secretary of State himself. His problem has never been a shortage of ideas—they keep flowing ever more ludicrously—but that his ideas are immediately dropped, usually by himself. Indeed, he drops them as fast and as frequently as Bryan Rix used to drop his trousers.

At least the Secretary of State is in a stronger position than the Prime Minister', a political leader—sadly, absent this afternoon—who on all these matters seems to take as his motto: They tell me I must be more decisive but you'll have to be patient for a little while I think about it. This is the Prime Minister who was a staunch supporter, and one of the principal architects, of the poll tax, but who confirmed on the subject of the poll tax as he moved into No. 10 that he did not know what they could do and nor did anyone else.

With what relief must that Prime Minister, bereft of ideas himself, have handed the whole task over to his Secretary of State—a case of the blonde leading the bland. How disappointed he must have been at the Secretary of State's failure to bring forward a single idea which commands majority support even in his own party, let alone in the country as a whole. So the Prime Minister has at last decided to take a hand.

Last Friday we had the announcement that the Clark Kent of No. 10 had finally decided to wear his underpants outside his trousers. The announcement was startling in its directness. The Prime Minister was reported as saying, "My mind is moving." But there was more, much more. The Prime Minister went on to say: I think I know which way it's moving. But before we all got carried away by this display of decisiveness came the bad news: he would not tell us where it was moving to.

This is an amazing spectacle. A Government who have been in office for 12 years, who have made the so-called reform of local government finance a major plank of their programme, who have arrogantly rejected advice from all quarters and who have carried out three fundamental reviews of their own policy, are now reduced to mumbled incoherence, unable to offer a single sensible word on the subject.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

If we can return to reality from oratory, will the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) simply state, for a constituency which he knows I know very well, what the occupier of an average semi-detached house in Dagenham will pay under his proposals this year or next?

Mr. Gould

I will gladly come to that question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] In this House we make our own speeches. Let me answer the hon. Gentleman. My constituents, as those elsewhere, would pay less under our proposals than under the poll tax.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould

This is a Government who apparently pride themselves on their competence. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer".] Never fear, I shall come to the question and I shall enjoy explaining, not just to the rabble opposite, but——

Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I remind the House that this is a short debate and that interruptions inevitably prolong speeches.

Mr. Gould

I shall enjoy answering that question when I come to the appropriate passage in my speech.

Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has been asked a question which he has not answered.

Mr. Gould

We see illustrated yet again the desperation on the Conservative Benches.

This is a Government who apparently pride themselves on their competence, but who have wasted £10 billion of taxpayers' money on an ill-fated poll tax experiment which they are now prepared to abandon but which they cannot summon up the courage to dismiss.

Mr. Bowis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould

No, I am sorry. If the hon. Gentleman can persuade his colleagues to behave themselves, I might be more generous in giving way.

This is a party which professes to be pragmatic but where those prepared to die in the last poll tax ditch are taking their stand on purely ideological grounds. This is a party which has a legendary reputation for unity, but which is now, before our very eyes, cracking up along fault lines which run deep and damagingly, and every statement on the poll tax is contradicted by another member of the same party.

Mr. Bowis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould

This is a party whose members, including the hon. Gentleman who is so anxious to intervene, are queueing up in the television studios to contradict each other and argue the toss. Each new leak of Government intentions is accompanied by threats of resignation, although not yet, I see—or hear—from the Minister, or refusals to go through the Division Lobbies.

The Secretary of State's problem is that there is clearly a majority——

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould

I am sorry, but I am not giving way.

The Secretary of State's problem is that there is clearly a majority in the Cabinet against the poll tax, but he is unable to produce a majority for any alternative. That is presumably why he is so vulnerable to the rearguard action that is being so fiercely fought by the poll tax ideologues. That is why the danger is that he will feel the need to throw a sop to his poll tax opponents which may lead to the survival of the poll tax with all its disadvantages and unfairnesses, even if under a new guise.

Those ideologues defend their position by calling in aid a number of propositions which simply do not stand up to examination. First, they assert that the problems of the poll tax are entirely the result of high spending by local authorities, and in particular by Labour-controlled local authorities.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Gould

Let me develop the point.

That cannot be sustained for a single moment. It has been consistently rejected, to their great credit, by Tory councillors throughout Britain, not least by the Tory-controlled local authority associations—the Association of District Councils and the Association of County Councils. Even this year's figures give the lie to that false proposition. They show that the Conservative councils have overshot their assumed or target poll tax figures fixed by the Government by more than Labour councils have done—by 13.9 per cent., compared with 12 per cent., by £44.72 compared with £43.93. Moreover, Tory councils have, on average, gained £30.70 per head from the new safety net arrangements, whereas Labour councils have suffered a net loss of 59p per head. That difference alone—not any difference in spending commit-ments—has apparently allowed Tory councils to set increases lower than those set by Labour councils.

When it comes to exceeding the capping criteria, the picture is very similar. Not only have Tory councils, like those in Warwickshire, Somerset, Berkshire, and even Langbaurgh, found it impossible to budget within the capping limits that have been set, but dozens of smaller Tory district councils have been saved from capping only by the fact that their budgets fall below the £15 million threshold.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

Wandsworth council is held up by Conservatives as a paragon of virtue. Is my hon. Friend aware that that council receives a total of £843 per adult in revenue support grant, whereas for St. Helens the figure is £357—a difference of £468? Is not that corruption?

Mr. Gould

My hon. Friend will know very well that that point is made not just by hon. Members on these Benches but by our political opponents throughout the country, including those in London itself, who are very clear about the special treatment that has allowed Wandsworth to fail to take account of local government matters and to go in for a prolonged bout of political posturing. There is no comfort there for poll tax supporters.

To find out what has gone wrong, we do not need to go much beyond the high administrative costs and the low collection levels, both of which are attested to in the very bleak report published today by the Audit Commission. We need not go beyond the Government's deliberate attempts to pretend that local government spending commitments are lower than they actually are. The differences are there. That is the problem with the poll tax. Those problems do not arise from party differences.

Mr. Holt

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having mentioned Langbaurgh. He may have given the House and everybody else the impression that the local authority there is Conservative-controlled. It is not. No party has overall control. Every measure of fiscal prudence that the Conservatives sought to introduce has been outvoted by a combination of Labour and Liberal councillors, who have a majority. This year, Conservative-administered Langbaurgh council has reduced its expenditure by £16 per head. By contrast, Labour-controlled Cleveland county council has increased its expenditure by £83 per head. That is the problem from which my people are suffering.

Mr. Gould

I am not at all surprised that the hon. Gentleman should try to get out of his difficulties. One can see why the Tories cannot command a majority—and thank heavens for that. Nevertheless, the council is run by the Tories, and it is their budget that has exceeded the capping level.

Those vociferous hon. Members who continue to support the poll tax make great play of the supposedly great and essential principle of the tax—that everybody should pay something. Whatever is done to present the poll tax in a new guise, we are told that that principle is sacrosanct. It is time to debunk that so-called principle for the nonsense that it truly is. The claim is often made that the merit of the poll tax is that it catches 36 million payers, whereas only 18 million people paid rates. That point has never been more effectively rebutted than by the Secretary of State himself when he pointed out that rates were paid by many more people than the 18 million ratepayers, since many households treated the rates bill like any other household bill—gas or electricity—and made their own informal arrangements to share it out.

Let us face the argument head on. Is it really claimed as a virtue of the poll tax that it seeks to squeeze blood out of a stone, that it demands that people with literally no income—people such as pensioner wives—should pay? On closer examination, it is clear that that supposed virtue is the principal defect of this hated tax. Not only is it immoral and unfair, not only does it cause untold misery and worry; it is simply and wildly impracticable.

As the Audit Commission made clear in its report of 11 January, the costs of trying to extract payment from those with little or no income cannot be recouped from the pitifully small revenue thereby raised. For that reason, the Audit Commission recommends that, on practical grounds, the principle should be dropped. The supposedly great and ineluctable principle, for which it is said that all other deficiencies of the poll tax must be forgiven, is thereby revealed as a moral fraud and a practical nonsense.

In the last resort, we can be sure—and especially sure in view of the rabble that we have heard this afternoon—that the defenders of the poll tax will have recourse to that false proposition, which has served this Government so well over the years, that terrible though their policy may be, there is no alternative. That proposition is false—there is an alternative. We published our "Fair Rates" proposals in July last year——

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Pieces of paper have been produced and are being waved by Labour Members. Perhaps my eyesight is becoming a little dim, but those papers appear to be blank on the front. Is any information available about detail and money?

Mr. Gould

The blank is in Conservative party policy and in the hon. Gentleman's mind. The proposition——

Mr. Bowis

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould

No. I have been pressed to say what is in our document, and I intend to do so.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for hon. Members to bring final poll tax demands into the House and wave them in the air?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is not a point of order, it is a point of debate.

Mr. Gould

The House will understand that we have had to endure so many false points of order that it would be stretching my generosity were I to allow any further interventions.

The proposition that we have no alternative to the poll tax is false. We published our "Fair Rates" proposals in July last year. We sent copies to the Prime Minister and to the Secretary of State. So real and workable an alternative do our proposals provide, so difficult have they been to challenge, that our opponents have not dared to attack them. They have been reduced to pretending that they do not exist. They do exist, and they set out the only practicable way in which we see the back of the poll tax within the coming year.

Our proposals follow a course that most observers have concluded to be the only way forward. They offer a solution which The Times last Monday described as mildly progressive … a modest disincentive to extravagance … an encouragement to sub-let, a lever"——

Mr. Bowis

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In last month's New Statesman and Society, the hon. Gentleman mentioned that his policy was a policy for——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is clearly a point of debate, not a point of order.

Mr. Gould

I must repeat the point——

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I shall, of course, take genuine points of order, but not bogus ones. This is a short and important debate. I hope that the hon. Gentleman wishes to raise a genuine point of order.

Mr. King

I think that it is genuine, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) has introduced into the debate a document that is being waved about by Opposition Members. If a document is to be introduced into a debate, should it not be made freely available to all hon. Members? Is it not correct that, if a document is introduced in the manner adopted by the hon. Gentleman, it must be described in detail—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. As hon. Members have crossed the Floor to give the hon. Gentleman a copy of the document, he appears to have his answer.

Mr. Gould

When the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) can finally bring himself to read the document—I am sure that Conservative Ministers have read it, as they appear to be aiming at a similar solution —he will find that what we propose is set out in considerable detail, and that it is very much supported by all those who have commented on the issue.

The Times last Monday described our solution as mildly progressive … a modest disincentive to extravagance — an encouragement to sub-let, a lever of local democratic accountability, hard to evade and cheap to collect". What we propose is, indeed, a modernised rates system, with all the advantages of an existing system—a tried and tested system that we know works. We propose a modernised rates system, brought up to date and made fairer by being related to ability to pay.

Our proposals have the merit—I invite Conservative Members to listen carefully—of benefiting seven out of 10 families. They promise, and will provide, lower bills than could ever be the case under the poll tax for at least five good reasons.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I draw your attention to the motion on the Order Paper and the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Is this debate about the community charge throughout the United Kingdom, and as it applies to Scotland? If so, in what way can we relate Scottish matters to either the motion or the amendment?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is nothing out of order, and Scottish matters are relevant to the debate.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As there has been a clear and sustained attempt to disrupt the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) by an organised rabble on the Conservative Benches, and as Conservative Members have already been set a bad example by a Secretary of State who waves the Mace, and as they are clearly upset at the prospect of being obliged to stand on their heads within the next few weeks, could you guide us on how we should behave when the Secretary of State makes his speech? Should we adopt the same disruptive tactics? If so, can we have your assurance that you will be as liberal with us as you have been with them?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Let us get on with the debate.

Mr. Gould

I am amazed that Conservative Members, most of whom have been here for some time, have not yet discovered that the performance that they are putting on this afternoon does them far more damage than it does us.

Our proposals have the merit of benefiting seven out of 10 families. They promise, and will provide, lower bills than could ever be the case under the poll tax, for at least five good reasons.

Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould

No. I am sure that the hon. Lady is anxious to hear the detail of our policy.

First, the rates—a property-based tax—are cheaper to collect, and, on independent judgments, lower administrative costs will save between £300 million and £400 million a year. Secondly, the rates—a property-based tax—are hard to avoid and are undeniably more widely accepted, which means, on all the evidence, that higher collection levels would produce up to £1.4 billion over the very low collection levels for the poll tax. Thirdly, rates are broadly progressive. All those on average and lower incomes, who were hard hit by the flat-rate principle, will automatically benefit from reversing that process.

Fourthly, our extended rebate scheme will help those who traditionally have been disadvantaged by the rates, such as widows living in their family homes. Fifthly, the billions of pounds that the Government have had to spend on poll tax sweeteners could, under the rates system, be applied to achieving a better balance between central Government grant and local revenue-raising, thereby reducing bills across the board.

Mrs. Currie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould


The great advantage of what we propose is that it offers the only route to the immediate abolition of the poll tax. No one else and no other option on offer can deliver that outcome.

Even if the Government were to summon up the nerve to abolish the poll tax altogether, in a fit of unprecedented decisiveness, any replacement which involved new administrative arrangements, new income tax rules or a new valuation register as a precondition for action, would ensure that we were stuck with the poll tax for the next two or three years.

Unless the Government are prepared to bite the bullet and concede that we must go back to the existing valuation register, at least as a first step, poll tax bills will keep on coming—not just this year, not just in 1992 or in 1993, but possibly even in 1994. That is the prospect that we now face. It hardly bears contemplating.

Mrs. Currie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gould

No. Will the hon. Lady please resume her seat as I shall not give way—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made it quite clear that he is not giving way.

Mr. Tracey

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. To make this debate meaningful the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) must give comparative statistics for Dagenham.

Mr. Gould

The Conservative party—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I appeal to the House once more. This is a short debate. The hon. Member has made it quite clear that he does not intend to give way again and the House must respect that.

Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Gould

The prospect of the poll tax being in place for the next two or three years hardly bears contemplation. I speak not merely on behalf of millions of poll tax payers, who will view with dismay a Government who say—at least by implication—that the poll tax was a terrible mistake, but a mistake with which poll tax payers must live for another three years, but fearful for the future viability of local government. All the evidence shows that, with each successive year, the poll tax becomes less and less workable.

Today the Audit Commission has produced a report which is sober in its language but chilling in its conclusions. It is really saying that we are on the brink of a further and catastrophic descent down the vicious spiral of high costs, leading to high bills, leading to low collection levels, leading to yet higher costs, higher bills and fewer people who are willing or able to pay.

Imagine that drama played out against the backdrop of a Government who have conceded that the poll tax is no longer tenable and that it must be abandoned. How many people will feel like paying a hated and unfair tax for three years when even its supporters have denounced it and abandoned it? The prospect is truly horrifying.

Even a Government preoccupied with their immediate problems must spare a thought for the future viability of government in this country and for the chaos that they are on the threshold of creating. If the poll tax is to go—as I fervently hope it will—I implore the Government to recognise that it is best done quickly. We have just one chance to ensure that this year's poll tax bill will be the last. To take that chance will require the Conservative party to eat large quantities of words, hats and humble pie, but no matter. If we are to rid ourselves of the poll tax with the minimum of damage, we must take the chance now. Delay at this stage would plunge us further into disaster.

That is why we offer the Government—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition wrote to the Prime Minister yesterday—co-operation in legislation to overcome the poll tax. If the Government will agree to introduce a Poll Tax Abolition Bill and to adopt the staged approach that we have recommended so that we turn to rates as a first, and essential step to abolishing the poll tax, we shall be glad to sit down with the Government to discuss drafting the details of such a Bill. We promise co-operation to get that Bill speedily through the House this Session. This is a serious offer. It is the only chance of extricating ourselves from the poll tax mire and it offers the chance of doing so without doing further and terrible damage.

If the Government refuse the offer, they must take the responsibility for prolonging the poll tax for years to come and for plunging all of local government into unprecedented crisis.

Mr. Wilshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Gould

The Government have committed a crime —[Interruption.]——

Mr. Wilshire

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not taking any further points of order.

Mr. Gould

The Government have committed a crime against the people of this country. The Government have refused to listen. They have insisted, against all the evidence, that the poll tax would work. The Government have run out of excuses, out of ideas, out of time and, on the evidence this afternoon, out of common sense.

The Government have a last chance to redeem themselves—a last chance to lance the festering poll tax boil. We offer the Government that chance, and I implore them to take it.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been a Member of the House for almost 21 years and I have never—[Interruption]—and I shall be here longer. I have never witnessed such disgraceful scenes as I have seen today.

We can accurately describe the behaviour on the Government Benches as that of a rabble. What is more important, there have been between 10 and a dozen—[Interruption.]—it is the truth—there have been between 10 and a dozen bogus points of order. Conservative Members have trampled on the normal rules of debate and defied the authority of the Chair.

We are entitled to demand an examination of conduct on the Conservative Benches, which was witnessed by the Government Chief Whip, although he made no attempt to stop it. In the interests of the good name of parliamentary democracy, I ask you to report these matters to Mr. Speaker and to ask the Select Committee on Procedures to carry out an investigation into these matters so that we shall never have to tolerate them again.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

We all realise that this is a highly charged debate, but the House does itself no good by trying to debate serious matters against the background of noise.

4.58 pm
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: `welcomes the fact that the Government is undertaking a thorough review of local government finance, structure and functions; looks forward to a statement when that review has reached the appropriate stage; and in the meantime notes that, on information published to date the average community charge actually set by local authorities in England will be £393, and welcomes the generous provision made by the Government, by way of the community charge reduction scheme, community charge benefit and income support, the combined effect of which will be to reduce the average net charge actually payable next year to under £275.'. I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), because it is my responsibility to conduct on behalf of the Government the review of the functions, finance and structure of local government. It has been a disappointment to me that I have not been able to engage the Labour party in detailed discussion of its proposals. It is important that the country and the Government should, in reaching their judgment, be able to know how Labour calculates its way forward and what ideas it has.

I thank the hon. Member for Dagenham for taking us a stage further than before. Until now, we have had only the document "Fair Rates", which has attracted some publicity. One of its many characteristics is that it contains absolutely no references or any facts whatsoever, from one end of it to another. It was materially helpful when the hon. Gentleman told us that the basis of Labour's proposals is to ensure that seven out of 10 people will be better off. I believe that was the basis of the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I do not want in any way to put words into his mouth, but I heard him say that seven out of 10 people would be better off under Labour's proposals. —[HON. MEMBERS: "Households."] Very well. I willingly accept that the hon. Gentleman was referring to seven out of 10 households.

That was an extremely helpful observation, because it can only be made if the calculations have been done. I would find it extremely helpful to know, and would perhaps be influenced by, the underlying calculations that the hon. Gentleman has obviously made, to be able to make the statement that he did this afternoon.

I want to help the House a little further, and perhaps even the hon. Member for Dagenham. In fairness to him, he made one important substantiation of his claim. He referred to the collection of the community charge, and I do not want in any way to pretend that I am not looking at that aspect. It will not come as a surprise to the House if I make some observations later about the collection of the community charge by Labour authorities.

I want to share with the House the fascination of the review that we are undertaking. The hon. Gentleman's one substantiation was that there would be a saving of £1.4 billion. Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the hon. Gentleman is able to introduce a system of local government finance that is so much more effectively collected—[HON. MEMBERS: "It is called rates."] I am conceding for the hypothesis all the points that the hon. Member for Dagenham made.

Let us assume that the hon. Gentleman can actually achieve a saving of £1.4 billion. That would reduce the community charge by an average of £38—but if one takes the aggregate of all Labour authorities in the coming year, they have, on the latest evidence, increased their community charges by an average of £61. By what conceivable piece of naivety can a saving of £38 be turned into an economy, when Labour authority community charges are to increase on average by £61? That is the fascination of the review process.

The more that one examines the facts behind Labour's statements, the more one realises that either it has figures that it will not reveal, or, to quote the Leader of the Opposition, it thinks that the way to solve the problem is to shove the whole thing into a computer and hope that will deliver a solution.

The hon. Member for Dagenham, who so extensively suggested that we have not worked out the details, may like to tell the House whether he knows the figures. If he does, will he tell us what they are? If he does not know the figures, how can he claim that seven out of 10 households will gain from his proposals? Does the hon. Gentlemen know the answers? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."].

Let us assume from the hon. Gentleman's silence that he does not have the figures, and refer again to the Labour document, "Fair Rates". Perhaps it is possible to understand from that publication why the hon. Member for Dagenham does not have the figures. For all the clarity that the hon. Gentleman suggests we should bring to the matter, the House will want to know the degree of clarity that Labour has brought to revaluing its property tax.

Page 3 of "Fair Rates" sets out for all who wish to read it the basis on which, and the precision with which, valuers will be instructed to do their job, and upon which the country at large will be able to understand, merely by glancing at the bills that come through their letter boxes, exactly how the calculations have been made. There can be no question that I am not quoting correctly this time, because I will quote directly from the document: We will allow valuers to use a range of relevant factors to help in that task. Of course market price should be one of those factors, but as well, we will require them to take account of rebuilding costs, maintenance and repair costs, and private rents, in order to calculate a rateable value. Does anyone seriously believe that such a formula will produce a system of local government that is comprehen-sible, let alone fair?

Labour has no idea. Those words could only have been devised to obfuscate the issue, and could only have come from a party that has been in opposition for so long that it has forgotten what government is all about.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

I share the right hon. Gentleman's view that Labour's alternative has no credibility, because the document offers no figures, and Labour has never adduced figures for any constituency—be it Dagenham or anywhere else. Perhaps that is why Labour came third in the Ribble Valley referendum, not second. Does the Secretary of State accept that any system that entails collection costs in London of £500,000 per day is one that no Government can justify for a minute longer? Whatever else may come out of the Government's thinking and the right hon. Gentleman's deliberations, are he and the Government clear that the poll tax must go?

Mr. Heseltine

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his view that he shares my approach to many matters. I believe that more and more people will come to see the position from precisely the same viewpoint. I have made it clear that we are considering as part of the review the question of collection—just as we are taking into account the Liberal Democrats' helpful suggestion that the problem would be more effectively dealt with by 7p or 8p on income tax. That would not pay the bills.

At least the Liberal party has come forward with a constructive alternative which has a price tag. We will address that when we conclude our review. I wholly respect the Liberal party's position. We know what the Liberal party stands for and we know the costs. However, the Labour party's position is different. Labour Members have used language to obscure what they stand for and they either do not know the costs or will not tell us what they involve.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

Will the Secretary of State at least concede that, in view of the clear shift of opinion among Conservatives, in the press and among expert opinion, a property-based alternative to the poll tax is a real runner, with strong arguments in its favour? Will he also take from me a piece of mature advice? When he listens to the advice offered to him during the review process, will he not give too much weight to the opinion of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who does not speak for any significant body of opinion in Scotland on the poll tax and whose desperate efforts to preserve a tax which no Scot can abide is causing deep distress and resentment among his fellow countrymen?

Mr. Heseltine

If the hon. Gentleman believes so powerfully in the concept of a property tax, for which his party claims to stand, why will Labour Members not come and talk about it, so that we can understand the basis of their options?

Mr. Squire

I appeal to my right hon. Friend for assistance. With the entire resources of the Department of the Environment, can my right hon. Friend answer the very simple question that I posed more than half an hour ago, but which, for some reason or another, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) failed to answer, despite saying that he would answer it? How much will the Labour party's proposals cost the average semi-detached or terraced household in Dagenham this year or next?

Mr. Heseltine

I must disappoint my hon. Friend. It is not within my Department's capacity to put accurate figures on the Labour party's proposals, because those proposals are deliberately designed to ensure that no one can do just that. The moral of the story is clear. The Labour party will not talk about its proposals precisely because we might ask about the costs and implications.

I want to remind the House of the fact that, from the very beginning, we set out to review the structure, functions and finance of local government. I do not believe that anyone can misunderstand the scale of the opportunity implied in that commitment. People with experience of local government have longed for such a commitment for many decades. There had been profound concern that local government had been compartmen-talised in terms of finance and structure, without those compartments being brought together. We have begun to bring those aspects of local government together.

I have made it quite clear to the House that, by early April, I hoped that we would be able to narrow the focus of discussion and give an indication of the way in which the Government's mind was moving. The Labour party has constantly refused to take part in that process or to become involved in the wider issues affecting local government. Anyone who travels this country will be aware that the quality of service delivery, in the environment, in the state of much of our housing, the quality of education results, in unemployment levels and in the condition of our inner cities demands the kind of approach that the Government are bringing to the issue: asking fundamental questions about the ability of local government to deliver the services on which people depend.

It is self-evident that more and more people in all parties are worried about the ability to attract men and women into the service of local government. It is fundamentally important that we judge how we can give people local government within which quality of service can be delivered. After all, local government costs us about £40 billion a year. Yet all the Labour party does is try to reduce the issue to selective quotations or a non-dialogue on the vital issues involved.

We will continue with our review and with the timetable that we have proposed. We are determined that the matter will be conducted thoroughly and comprehensively. Listening to the Labour party, one would conclude that Labour Members have no problems with the delivery of the quality of service or the quality of councillor in their local government machinery. It is extraordinary that this debate should take place in the shadow of Lambeth's decision to set a record community charge of £590.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Heseltine


Do Labour Members genuinely believe that the hapless citizens of Lambeth are getting the highest quality of service for the highest community charge? Can anyone believe that, whatever system of local government is suggested by the Labour party, it can bring a sense of responsibility to Labour councillors in Lambeth? The Labour party must answer those questions if it is to have and credibility in its arguments.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)

If the Secretary of State is narrowing his focus onto Lambeth, is he going to cap Lambeth's poll tax? He will know that Lambeth's poll tax was based on an estimated collection rate of 82 per cent. When he comes to make his capping decision, what will he assume the collection rate to be?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman asks various questions about services in Lambeth. I remind him that on 29 January he said: The borough's institutions are beginning to break down entirely. The Labour party must address that point. The hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) also asked about capping. It might be helpful if I make my position clear not just in the context of one authority, but in regard to all the authorities that may come within the capping regime.

I have made it perfectly clear that I will not hesitate to use my powers to cap any authority that sets an excessive budget. Last year, authorities complained that they could not set their budgets with certainty, because they did not know what criteria we would use for capping. This year, we announced provisional criteria in advance. Perhaps not surprisingly, many authorities previously subjected to capping have suddenly found that they can make the necessary economies to allow them to budget just below those levels. There are of course a small number of exceptions. According to our present information, 17 authorities have set budgets above the provisional criteria. Among those is Lambeth, which yesterday set the highest community charge in the country, at £590.25.

Clearly it is a matter of concern whenever authorities choose to set budgets which, under the intended criteria, are excessive or represent an excessive increase. I can tell authorities that it is not too late for them to look again at their budgets, to re-examine the scope for savings and improving value for money and, in the light of that reappraisal, to set a new lower budget if they so wish. I should also make it clear that my present intention is to apply the criteria announced last October. Those intentions are, however, necessarily provisional until I take my capping decisions. I will take those decisions as soon as practical, taking account of all the appropriate considerations.

Mr. Fraser

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Heseltine

No, I shall not give way.

It was a part of the opening speech of the hon. Member for Dagenham that the broad issue of the setting of the community charge had no relevance to the political control of the authority concerned. Last year, we know that, whichever class of authority we dealt with, Labour authorities set significantly higher charges than any other political party, particularly the Conservatives. Based on the latest information available to me—that is, today—the same pattern exists. I am able to give the House the best information available at the moment, which clearly indicates that no matter which class of authority we deal with, where the Labour party is in control, charges will be significantly higher than where Conservatives are in control. I can understand that the Labour party does not want the figures, but it is important that they should be made available.

If we consider inner London and strip away the safety net so that we can see exactly what an authority is determining, Conservative inner-London authorities have set an average charge of £235. In Labour authorities the charge is £501. In outer-London boroughs, the Conservatives have set a charge of £369, and Labour £447. If one takes all of London, the Conservatives are £343, Labour at £478. If we take metropolitan districts, the Conservatives are £368, the Labour party £431. If we take the shire districts, the Conservatives are £364, the Conservatives £447—[Interruption.] I am sorry. That will be the day, but it is unlikely to dawn. In the shire districts the Conservatives are £364, Labour £447. If we take England at large, all Conservative-controlled areas have set a community charge of £367 on average. All Labour-controlled areas have set an average charge of £445. Never let it be said that a Labour vote does not cost money. On average it costs £78 to vote Labour in terms of increased community charge.

The position remains as we have always known it. Opposition Members will not talk about their proposals. They will not cost their proposals. They just go on charging people more arid more. We will conclude our review. We will do it in our own time. We will do it thoroughly, and when we produce it I believe that we will command the support of the country.

5.23 pm
Mr. James Lamond (Oldham, Central and Royton)

I have been trying to hear the speech of the Secretary of State for the Environment. It was very difficult to do so, but certainly not because I was interrupting him. His speech seemed to consist not of an explanation of what he will do to help my constituents who are struggling to pay the poll tax, or even an apology for all the stress that he has put them through. He bellowed at the top of his voice a series of meaningless figures that are of no consequence to my constituents—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The House must be fair to the hon. Gentleman. It is very difficult to hear what he is saying.

Mr. Lamond

I was hoping to hear something that I could take back to my constituents who have been coming to my surgery and who have been writing to me about their difficulties with the poll tax. However, we have heard nothing that will be of assistance to them. Indeed, taking the Secretary of State's speech at face value, he thinks that all that is required of him is to defend the present position. One could almost imagine that he is content with what is happening and intends to carry on in the same way. If that is the impression that he intended to convey, he will be faced with a series of by-election results of the same order as his party had in Ribble Valley. The people are totally fed up with the poll tax.

The Secretary of State's comments rang ironically in my ears when he told us that he is examining the function, structure and financing of local government. As I have told him before, in the early 1970s he and I served on a Committee that examined the structure of local government in England and Wales. We pressed hard for local government financing to be included in our examination, but we were told time and again that that was a separate matter.

The right hon. Gentleman, who was a Minister at the time, did much work on the Committee, but he made as big a mess of the reorganisation of local government in England and Wales as he has made with the poll tax and in attempts to reorganise local government finance. Nineteen years later we are still talking about the changes that are needed to try to bring local government back to the state it was in before the right hon. Gentleman tampered with it. At that time, the trick was to begin the White Paper with the statement that the organisation of local government was discredited.

When the White Paper was published, I was a Labour councillor in the city of Aberdeen. All parties on the council sent me to express my opinion to the commission that was examining the matter. I said, "The White Paper states that everybody agrees that something must be done about local government. I do not agree. Why do you print that? I speak for all councillors in Aberdeen who have experience in such matters." The same blind obstinacy and refusal to accept advice was apparent when the Government pressed ahead with the poll tax.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment and that of other Scottish hon. Members that, despite his high profile in the review, the Secretary of State for Scotland is not present? Many Scottish Members hope to say a great deal about Scotland.

Mr. Lamond

I understand my hon. Friend's disappointment, especially in view of the stance that the Secretary of State for Scotland has been reported as taking in the matter. He is reported to be one of the few remaining Cabinet Ministers who are prepared to defend the poll tax.

We have now been told that the rating system was discredited. I take the same stance on that matter as I took 19 years ago. I am a former treasurer of the city of Aberdeen. The rating system was not discredited. There was nothing wrong with the rating system. All the criticism that was aimed at it—about elderly ladies paying the same amount in rates as the half a dozen fully grown adults in the house next door, often earning exceptionally high wages, did not apply because if the elderly lady was genuinely in need, she was the recipient of generous rates rebates. Those rebates did not leave her with 20 per cent. of the bill to pay, as happens with the poll tax, because under the rating system the rebate could be 100 per cent.

When we raised with the Conservative party the question why a wealthy person should pay the same poll tax as, say, a gardener living in a small cottage when those two people clearly did not have the same financial status, we were told that a proportion of local government costs comes from centrally raised income tax. We were told, "The rich man is paying a lot more in contributions to central taxation than the gardener, so indirectly the rich man is paying a lot more towards the cost of local government." Did not the same argument apply to the half dozen adults who were working full-time and who lived next to that old lady? Of course it did.

I shall be brief and simply tell Conservative Members that they need not search high and low for an answer. If the rating system was so unfair, so blunt and hit the poor so badly, why did the Government gradually but tenaciously over their 11 years in office move the burden of local government finance from central Government to the local rating system? When they came into office, 60 per cent. of the costs of local government were met from central taxation. Anyone who believed that the central method was the fairest way of raising that finance would not have reduced its proportion to 45 per cent., as the Conservative Government have done over the years; they would have increased it from 60 per cent. to, say 70 per cent. so that the greatest burden was placed on the shoulders of those most able to pay. However, the Government did not do that; they shifted the burden and when, as a consequence, the rates had to rise, they then said that the rating system was discredited.

Scotland had revaluations at regular intervals, but the same did not happen in England and that, too, distorted the rating system. We understand that, of itself, a revaluation does not increase rates. However, as the years go by, it redistributes the burden more fairly.

The Government should bring back the rating system as an emergency measure, if nothing else. The valuation rolls exist.

We must do something to help the people who cannot pay. I am not speaking about those who can pay but who will not; the folk who concern me are those who come to my surgeries, such as pensioners, who cannot afford to pay but who wish to stay within the law. They are in tears about this. When Conservative Members howl and try to make fun of this debate, I wonder whether they realise the anxiety in the hearts of our constituents. They must because they have constituents of their own. So, let us look at the valuation roll. Let us bring back the rating system——

Mr. Wilshire


Mr. Lamond

No, I shall not give way again.

Let us shift the burden once more from local to central Government in the fairest possible way. Let us go forward in that way. From my experience as a city treasurer I can tell the Secretary of State, who has now left the Chamber, that people complained about the rates. Everybody complains about taxes of one sort or another. However, those complaints were nothing like as serious, loud, long and strong as the complaints about the poll tax. The Secretary of State should take my advice. Never mind looking at the poll tax for another six weeks, bringing his proposals before the Cabinet and all the rest of it. He should get on with abolishing it quickly and I can promise him that the Labour Front Bench will assist him in every way.

5.34 pm
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne)

I must advise the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) that one of the main reasons why so many people are deeply upset about not being able to pay the community charge is that the bills they are receiving are wickedly inflated by the people who are refusing to pay, including Labour Members of Parliament and Labour councillors. The result of the Labour party's unwillingness to get to grips with that issue is that more and more will be added to the bills each year to take account of non-payment, and more and more people will be in tears. That is because of the policy of the Labour party.

Having said that, I address my main comments especially to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. If we are not careful, I believe that, as a party, we are in danger of indulging in what I can only call collective madness. We are in danger of being panicked by the Labour party and the media into throwing away the community charge without giving it another moment's thought. Having thus thrown it out, we are in danger of clutching at whatever comes past in the hope that it will do the trick. However, if we do that, we will have to have this debate all over again in two or three years' time. One of the most serious flaws when we introduced the community charge was that we did not think it through properly——

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

The hon. Gentleman served on the Committee.

Mr. Wilshire

I shall come to that in a moment.

If we panic now, we shall grab at something else that we have not thought through. Having said that, I am not about to make a defence of the community charge—[Interruption.]—and for one simple reason: because I understand—I am sure that all Opposition Members would like my right hon. and hon. Friends and me to understand this—that the message from Ribble Valley must be heeded. However, there is a grave danger of misunderstanding that message. If I understand it correctly, that message is that many people consider that the community charge is too high and many people perceive it as unfair. The message from the by-election was not about what the electors of Ribble Valley wanted instead; the message that came across loud and clear was simply people's view on the community charge. We as a party would be foolish not to respond to that.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that those of us in Scotland who have had a year's more experience of the community charge or poll tax know that the problem does not get better; it gets substantially worse as the level of resentment increases and the local authorities' difficulties in providing services become more aggravated? Can he explain why the Conservative party is now locked into the panic that he is now trying to head off, but cannot address the fact that a local income tax meets all the positive objectives that the community charge was said to meet, as well as providing local authorities with a buoyant source of revenue, and meeting the criterion of fairness? The people of Ribble Valley voted for the candidate who advocated that.

Mr. Wilshire

I do not believe that the people of Ribble Valley voted in favour of a local income tax: they voted against the community charge. Although the hon. Gentleman's party has been fair and reasonable about saying what it would do—I respect that, because it is one way of going about things—he is also making another mistake by putting the cart before the horse. He is trying to redesign local government finance. He is attempting a quick fix, which is impossible, as I shall show later, and which is the wrong way round. The message from Ribble Valley is absolutely clear, and we must respond to it.

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend saw the exit poll that showed that just 3 per cent. of those who voted Liberal Democrat wanted a local income tax. In my constituency, a local income tax would come out at between £800 and £900 per taxpayer, and would take at least three years to introduce.

Mr. Wilshire

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says, but if I go down that track, the debate is in danger of getting locked into the very thing that I am arguing against —the attempt to go for a quick fix when seeking the best way of financing local government. That would be dangerous.

Immediately and on a temporary basis, we must respond to the twin objections about the community charge of "too high" and "unfair". The relief scheme that is being introduced will go a long way towards dealing with the "too high" objection. Many people in Britain will pay less in a few weeks' time than they pay now. That will make a tremendous difference. It does not matter that the charge is increasing notionally: they will pay less. If that is not adequate to meet the demands of the British people, that temporary relief scheme will have to be improved even further. However, it must remain temporary.

As for unfairness, the starting point is to listen to council treasurers—the people who collect the money. They know only too well where the real unfairness and difficulties lie. They lie with the very young, students, the ill and the very old. Council treasurers up and down the land will tell us, if we listen, that it usually costs more to collect little bits of money than the amount collected. If we started by addressing that unfairness, we might save money rather than cost ourselves more.

Sir Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Wilshire

No. Other people wish to make speeches.

If we do the two things that I mentioned on a temporary basis, we shall respond to Ribble Valley. Then we must refuse to be panicked and take our time to get our fundamental review absolutely right. Otherwise, we shall be back where we started. In order to get that fundamental review right, it must be carried out in the correct order.

There is no point in trying to answer the question, "What is the long-term way of financing local government?", until we can answer the question, "What will local government look like in future?" Long before we come to the permanent financial solution, we must decide what the boundaries will look like, whether there will be one or two tiers of local government, and what the structure will be. We must get that right first. Secondly, we must redesign the services. Until we know which services are to be provided where, how in heaven's name can anyone—even the Labour party—get the financial package right?

Thirdly, before we come to finance, we must sort out the changes that we intend to make in local democracy. When we have sorted out our boundaries, services and local democracy, we can ask, "What does local government look like and what is the best way to finance it?" When we come to that question, we must remember that simply how we raise local income is not the only matter of local government finance to be dealt with. We cannot say how we should raise local income in the long term until we have considered expenditure and the point made by the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond) about whether 60 per cent. or 45 per cent. of local government income should come from the centre, until we have decided how we intend to divide up the money according to the need for or lack of resources in local areas.

All that is part of the financial debate and all that has to come—[HON. MEMBERS: "How long?"] We shall take as long as is necessary. I do not believe that the British public are stupid. They will not be taken in by a party which puts up bits of paper without a single figure in them. After the experience of the community charge, they will not believe the Labour party when it simply says, "Here is a quick fix for finance." The public will not fall for that. They will accept honesty, provided that we first address the problems of the community charge on a temporary basis.

I accept what Opposition Members say about the messages from Ribble Valley——

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wilshire

No, I will not give way.

If we ignore the messages from Ribble Valley completely, we shall be heading for disaster. We must respond to them on a temporary basis, and then take as long as is necessary.

If Opposition Members really believe in local government as they claim, they will join us in seeking the long-term solution. If we redesign, get the boundaries, services and local democracy right, and if we improve grant arrangements, the result will be that raising money locally will become consequential. It will become less confrontational. If my colleagues and my party accept that we must keep calm and make a temporary change, the long-term solution will be the better for everyone. It will be respected by the British people, and at the end of it all we may even have a choice of what local system of fund raising we use.

5.44 pm
Mr. Michael Carr (Ribble Valley)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so soon after my election but, given the circumstances, it is appropriate that I should make my maiden speech in this debate.

I am only the second Member of Parliament to represent Ribble Valley. The constituency came into existence in 1983 and, until his recent elevation to another place, had been represented by David Waddington.

David Waddington was a well-liked and respected Member of Parliamenta native of north-east Lancashire who, despite achieving high office, was first and foremost Ribble Valley's Member of Parliament. He was a gentleman. I recall that both the previous general election campaigns were robust and hard fought, but fought without rancour. I mention also his personal kindness, and I pay tribute to the service that he gave to the people of Ribble Valley.

The Ribble Valley constituency is an area of great contrasts. It straddles two local government districts. One is the whole of the Ribble Valley borough, the heart of which is the ancient market town of Clitheroe, looked over by its castle and set in some of the most beautiful countryside in England. The other part comprises some of the borough of Preston, including the whole of Fulwood, a large and expanding suburb at the western end of the constituency.

In many ways, Ribble Valley is like two constituencies rolled into one, and some of the concerns that people expressed during the by-election clearly reflect that. In the Preston area, more than 17,000 people are employed by British Aerospace, but in the next two years, more than 3,000 jobs will disappear. As a result, over £37 million will be taken out of the local economy. The human cost for those who will lose their jobs will be devastating and cannot, of course, be quantified in the same way.

In the long term, British Aerospace must diversify further in producing civilian aircraft, but in the short term, all must be done to firm up Saudi orders for the Tornado aircraft, the performance of which we have all witnessed recently, and to persuade the Germans to commit themselves to the production phase of the European fighter aircraft.

There are two other concerns that I would like to highlight before turning to the poll tax. During the by-election I met many farmers who were facing great difficulties, especially hill farmers. Not only are they facing the consequences of high interest rates, like all other businesses, but they have experienced a sharp drop in incomes. Sheep farmers will suffer further losses as income from wool falls in the next 12 months. The importance of agriculture is still not taken seriously enough by the Government.

A second group who deserve special mention are the many young people growing up in Clitheroe, Longridge, and the villages of Ribble Valley, who wish to stay in the area, but cannot find affordable housing to buy or rent. Allowing young people to remain in their communities must become a far greater priority.

Turning to the subject of the debate, there are three additional reasons this week for stating that the poll tax is finished and must be abolished. First, the Audit Commission report today shows how unworkable it has become. The average poll tax collection rate for shire districts was 82 per cent. for metropolitan districts 73 per cent., for outer-London boroughs 77 per cent. and for inner-London boroughs, 66 per cent. The expectation at the start of the financial year was 90 per cent.

Today's list of charge-capped authorities is a sign of the second reason—the system was supposed to make capping redundant. Some of the councils, such as Lambeth are wilfully incompetent, others are on the list due to lack of fair funding. Either way, the list is a sign of failure. Above all, the electorate of Ribble Valley have spoken for the country as a whole. Their rejection of the poll tax was so overwhelming and so self-evident that it cannot be ignored.

To the Prime Minister, when he talks of dustbin votes, we say only, "Some rubbish, some dustbin." He should also remember that, when ignored, dustbins can fester. If anyone doubts the need to abolish the poll tax, let me remind them why it is so hated. During the by-election campaign, we received hundreds of letters from pensioners who have been clobbered by the poll tax. One case epitomises their plight, shows the difficulties that pensioners face and tells us loud and clear why the tax must go.

I canvassed a house where an old lady of 87 lived. She came to the door unable to walk properly and invited me in. During her life, she had done everything that the Government have encouraged people to do. She was self-reliant and thrifty, she had saved and bought her own house. She supported her family during the 1930s, when her father could not get a job and her brothers were too young to work. After the war, she bought a small house and continued to support her family. On the day she retired from work, her father died. He was not insured, because he did not have a job before the war. She continued to pay the mortgage out of the little that she had saved when she was at work.

Eight years ago, unable to keep the house because it was too much for her, she sold it for the princely sum of £20,000 and moved into sheltered accommodation. Due to her little nest egg of £20,000—which last year would have been worth £90,000 because of property inflation—she has to pay full rent, rates and poll tax. That example is not unique—it is typical—which is why the tax must go.

The Government must not forget that the electorate were given different options to replace the poll tax. Conservative Members who advocate a form of property tax or a combination of property tax plus poll tax should remember that the electorate were offered a similar choice by the Labour party—although, to be fair, it proposed a property tax plus a local income tax.

The Ribble Valley by-election shows that there is no support for the return to the rates, however modified. Property taxes are unfair, would be costly, slow to implement, would require regular revaluations and would not enhance accountability. Many Conservatives will find that, if they abandon the poll tax for a property tax, they will be out of the fat and into the fire.

The Liberal Democrats proposed a local income tax. The detail and cost of our alternative featured strongly in the by-election. We campaigned vigorously on our proposals, as did the Conservatives, although we did not always recognise their interpretation.

I hope that, even at this late stage, the Department of the Environment will finally give serious consideration to a local income tax. The only objections to such a tax have been political, or based on misapprehension of how it works or what it would cost. A serious review in which "nothing is ruled in or out" should have given serious consideration to an alternative which was backed by the Layfield inquiry and many other interested parties.

The undeniable strength of a local income tax is that it is fair and can be seen to be fair, because it is related to ability to pay. The Secretary of State for the Environment will recognise that strength. In April 1988, he spoke in favour of the attempt of his colleague, the hon. Member for Hampshire, East (Mr. Mates) to make the community charge more directly related to ability to pay by banding it. He said: I shall vote for him … I shall do so not from any sense of enthusiasm for the detail, but from an unswerving allegiance to the principles upon which it is based". —[Official Report, 18 April 1988, Vol. 131, c. 624.] Those principles were fairness and ability to pay. They are what a local income tax is about. We believe—it is yet to be contradicted—that a local income tax could be introduced within one financial year, provided that the decision to proceed is taken six months before the start of that financial year.

The Inland Revenue would produce a formal statement setting out how much taxable income there was in each district, based upon a random selection of a fifth of taxpayers in that district. Using that information, the local authority would set a rate of local income tax that met the spending needs of its district. Each taxpayer would be told how much he would be expected to pay by the end of the year. However, a standard rate would be collected through the pay-as-you-earn system and allocated to the local authorities. At the end of the year, each taxpayer would receive a rebate or extra tax demand, depending on how their authority deviated from the standard rate, with the bill arriving just before the local elections.

That system is simple, easy to understand and much cheaper to administer, and everyone makes a contribution to local services that they can afford. Along with the introduction of fair votes, it is also the most accountable system. The cost to households will, as in any system, depend on the level of Government grant and an equalisation system between authorities, but we know from a parliamentary question answered last month that, on the Government's own figures, an average rate of 5.5 p would be needed next year.

Liberal Democrats are not afraid of saying that some people will pay more than they do with the community charge. In the by-election, a Conservative leaflet highlighted one family that would lose—their combined income was £46,000—but even that family would pay only £600 more than they do for their poll tax bill. If it were possible to ask that mythical family, I believe that they would appreciate why it is that they should contribute more than their poorer neighbours.

As a maiden speech should be uncontroversial, I shall leave the last word on the subject to the Minister for Housing and Planning. In the debate on the Local Government Finance Bill in April 1988, he said: With a dismissive sweep of the arm, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that any attempt to raise local revenue by a form of local income tax was inherently impossible—ignoring the fact that it is exactly how the vast majority of civilised countries fund local government and that not one civilised country funds local government in the way proposed by the Bill".—[Official Report, 18 April 1988; Vol. 131, c. 608.] The people of Ribble Valley will hope that the Minister does not allow the current Secretary of State to be equally dismissive of their verdict.

5.57 pm
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch)

This is the first time in my almost 21 years in the House that I have had the honour and privilege of following a maiden speaker. May I be the first to congratulate the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Carr) on his victory, his fluency, his cogency and, particularly, his generosity to his predecessor Lord Waddington? Those of us who knew him know that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley spoke nothing less than the truth when he spoke of Lord Waddington's deep concern and affection for, and empathy with, his constituency.

I had the pleasure of visiting Ribble Valley during the by-election. I can confess in the privacy of the House, that it was not unconnected with the fact that my wife and I had previously visited a small hotel in Slaidburn, which we thoroughly enjoyed—[Interruption.] It was not a Holiday Inn.

I agree with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley that the northern part of his constituency contains some of the most beautiful and desolate countryside in England. I could say that I hope that he will soon have much more time to enjoy it, but that would be unkind. I hope that the hon. Gentleman enjoys his sojourn in this place. As he will have discovered, it is a privilege to be here and, notwithstanding the occasional arguments across the Floor of the Chamber, most of us spend much of our time in easy personal friendships with colleagues in all parts of the House. Perhaps I could take up that theme at this point in the debate. I am sorry that the Dagenham boy piper, the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have left.

There was some noise from this side of the Chamber during the speech by the hon. Member for Dagenham, but I do not agree with the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) that it was the worst behaviour that he had ever seen or heard. To say that was extremely insulting to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and other hon. Members. because events during the passage of the European Communities Act 1972, the Housing Act 1988 and the Industrial Relations Act 1971, to name but three, made today's performance pale into insignificance.

From the beginning, I have consistently voted against the community charge, and nothing that I have heard today or in the past two or three years leads me to believe that I was wrong. My hon. Friends will not mind my saying that some of them who were making noises as if they were friends of the poll tax sounded like people who were friends of the dinosaur when that was going out of fashion.

We all know that the Government have made a mistake. They were elected in 1979 and re-elected in 1983 and 1987, and they should be allowed to make an occasional mistake. This has been a serious mistake, but the Government have had the courage to recognise it. The Labour party is entitled to its fun, but Opposition Members should occasionally remember that we all have a duty to try to put right the problems that have been created by the Government's attempts to improve the rating system. We must put it right by coming up with a better system of local government finance. That is all that we are trying to achieve. Some of my hon. Friends regard the community charge as a sort of totem, but it is not worth dying in the ditches for what is after all a system of local government taxation.

I hope that all hon. Members will agree that Government revenue is not raised for the benefit of the Government and that local government revenue is not raised for the benefit of local government. The beneficiaries of any form of taxation must be the electorate at large. That should be our guiding light. If we can all agree on that, surely to goodness we can find a solution which does not owe its parentage to party political dogma.

Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Adley

No, because I have said that I shall be brief; I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me.

The problems with the community charge or poll tax, as we are supposed to call it, are so well known that they do not need to be repeated. I seek agreement, not disagreement, and invite hon. Members to agree with the following propositions. We should keep to a minimum 1 he cost of raising and collecting any tax, because the more we spend on raising and collection the less there is to spend. Do we agree that most people accept that income tax is a fair tax? We rarely hear people complaining that the principle of income tax is unfair.

Perhaps the system advocated by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Carr) for a local income tax would be just as fair and no more expensive to collect than national income tax. His timetabling was slightly optimistic, but I agree with him, because he agrees with' my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that nothing is ruled in and nothing is ruled out. I plead with the Labour party to recognise that, in the end, there are no bonus points in this for anyone. We must all try to devise a system with which hon. Members and our people can live. The Opposition have had their fun, and are entitled to enjoy themselves.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

It was not funny.

Mr. Adley

The hon. Member says that it was not funny. When he reads the start of the speech by his hon.

Friend the Member for Dagenham, he will find that it contains a certain amount of fun. I do not complain about that, but I am trying to look forward and not backwards.

I seek agreement across the party divide on another proposition. I shall say it slowly, because it may be contentious. Accountability is not related to who collects the tax, but to how it is spent. If we can agree on that and on the other propositions that I have advanced, we shall begin to get somewhere.

My final proposition pushes at the margins of agreement. As we all know, hypothecation of taxation is an unacceptable principle. We do not believe, for example, that a Government who earn money from gambling taxes should spend it on building more casinos. As we believe that hypothecation of taxation is unacceptable, why must we live with the assumption that there must be a permanent and unchangeable relationship between what we call local tax and the provision of local services?

Are we not trying to find a way to raise money as painlessly and as fairly as possible, and as cheaply as possible, to spend on the provision of services that should be administered by locally elected people? If we can agree on just some of the propositions that I have advanced, we may make progress towards working together without preconditions to finding a new form of local government taxation.

My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities, who is on the Front Bench, and I have had many disagreements about the community charge, and I do not propose to seek an argument with him now. Will he think about how much money we have had to spend on rebates and collection, and then consider non-collection and the cost of new local authority buildings in which to house new staff to collect the community charge? If that total could be spent, not on the administration of a tax but on the provision of services, all our constituents would be a great deal better off.

I shall finish as I started. The Opposition have made their point, and I plead with them to accept the offer made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Opposition are putting a precondition on discussions, because they want us to announce the abolition of the community charge and accept their system. That is not what the people of this country expect. The offer is still open, and the Opposition should recognise that all we seek is a fair and honest form of local government taxation.

6.7 pm

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Carr) on his maiden speech. It was eloquent and sincere, and we wish him well during his time in the House.

I should have liked to expand on the theme of a local income tax, but time would not permit that. When I was in local government I had the opportunity to give evidence to the Layfield committee. Its report is still well worth reading, but it does not give much support to the idea of the introduction of a local income tax in the short time that some hon. Members suppose.

I should like to speak about the situation in Scotland. I regret the absence from the Chamber of the Secretary of State for Scotland, or, indeed, of any Scottish Minister, especially in the light of what has been said in today's press about how the review will affect Scotland. I do not think that I am overstating the matter when I say that Scotland is enraged about the representations about the review made by our Secretary of State.

It would appear from what we read in the press that the Secretary of State for Scotland, far from campaigning in the interests of Scotland to get rid of the hated poll tax, is doing his best to retain it. Our Secretary of State is not the sort of man who normally leads campaigns, so we in Scotland are astounded that he is campaigning to retain the most unfair, inequitable, unjust and unpopular measure that we have seen for many a year—the poll tax.

Mr. Home Robertson

I am a scarred veteran of the Standing Committee that considered the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Bill in 1987. Does my hon. Friend accept that it is rather bizarre that the Government intend to repeal the poll tax on the strength of one by-election loss when the Tory party lost half its seats in Scotland in the last general election? The Secretary of State for Scotland appears to be prepared to sacrifice the other half of those seats to keep the tax going.

Mr. Clarke

As always, my hon. Friend makes an excellent and well-informed point.

We are told in The Guardian today: Minister fights to save poll tax". When I saw that, I thought that it might be some obscure Minister whose constituency was the unusual one that would benefit. The article continues: 'Dithering' Major put on the spot by Scottish Secretary's intervention. Incredulously, I read this: Mr. Lang has made no secret that he has been fighting in the Government's poll tax review group to keep the community charge in some form". Nobody in Scotland would regard that as fighting a campaign for a measure that is widely supported by the Scottish people. The truth is that in every test of opinion —local elections, by-elections, opinion polls and the rest —the people of Scotland, including some who benefit from the poll tax, regard it as being utterly repugnant and would expect the Secretary of State for Scotland to reflect their views. How could they feel otherwise? Now that we have seen the poll tax in operation, we realise that it is a tax that is unwanted and unpopular.

We are seeing in Scotland—and we saw it a year earlier than the rest of the country—a tax that has caused divisions, including divisions within families, and that has led to an average increase in Scotland in the past year of 29 per cent., irrespective of the political colour of the councils. Non-payment is a staggering 14 per cent., and if the Chancellor is looking for ideas for his Budget next week, the introduction of a new tax with such a high level of non-response would not be one to recommend.

There has been a 50 per cent. change in the register in local areas. In Scotland we are seeing clear and undeniable evidence of hardship and poverty as a result of the poll tax. We have seen an amazing 1.25 million warrants served, more than 700,000 cases brought before the sheriff officers, 30,000 poinding visits, 8,000 wage arrestments, 10,000 bank arrestments and even 70,000 income support deductions. The latter figure shows clearly that it is not a question of ability to pay, as some of the poorest are being treated in that way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamont), in an excellent speech that reflected his local government background, rightly outlined some of the administrative problems in local government. It is not simply a case of inability to collect a tax, important though that is. We are seeing an administrative nightmare. It is costly, and what it yields is not being applied to the services that local authorities of all political complexions want to provide.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House could tell us of appalling surgery cases. A few weeks ago, in my constituency, in a surgery in Waterside, a man showed me a letter telling him that he would be fined £50 for not having arranged to pay his parents' poll tax. They had both died more than four years previously. Equally, there are serious implications for the provision of services. The poll tax is inefficient everywhere. If the Government have to cap poll taxes to an extent that they did not anticipate when they introduced the idea, then education, social work and other services will not be provided to the standard that local communities rightly desire.

Much of this is happening to disguise one of the most important issues of the past decade. It is the simple fact that, subtly, the Government have quite deliberately restricted the funding and resources from central Government available to local government. In Scotland, we have seen a 12 per cent. reduction in real terms compared with 10 years ago. In the face of that overwhelming evidence, why is the Secretary of State for Scotland apparently taking the view that he is reported as having taken in the discussions on the poll tax? He may have been influenced by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth).

Mr. Home Robertson

What about the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)?

Mr. Clarke

I shall come to him in a minute.

Nobody would disagree about the hon. Member for Stirling who, it might be said, is a person of principle. In the next few weeks, we shall see whether that person of principle will accept a policy based on property valuations, and perhaps more. Last year, he was taking a leading role in an advertising campaign, featuring vultures and other such creatures, aimed against such policies. His principles will be tested if he goes along with what appears to be the policy that the review body has adopted.

It would be unkind not to remember the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). Eastwood has many qualities, and one would not take away from them, but it is not entirely representative of all of Scotland. The hon. Gentleman would be mistaken if he thought that even those who benefit from unfair policies and taxes were prepared to vote for them. That message will apply to Eastwood as well.

The Government, the Secretary of State and seemingly other Ministers in the Scottish Office are haunted by failure. They are obsessed with the need to defend the mistakes of the past. The Scottish people expect honesty. Tory Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies should know a great deal about lost causes, as there are so few of them. However, they should not be influenced in this important matter by false pride and a failure to admit that they were wrong.

In the 1930s, Winston Churchill said of the Tory party: They were resolved to be irresolute. The people of Scotland are not prepared to wait until the Government think they have got it right. There are so many injustices that the patience of the British public, including the people of Scotland, should not be overestimated. The people of Scotland want once again local government services that reflect local needs.

We are appalled that, for example, in community care the needs of the elderly are affected. Organisations like Crossroads, which have done so much to help carers, have suffered in some regions through lack of money because of poll tax capping. Given the unemployment rate in Scotland, we are appalled that training in several regions is being cut because local authorities cannot meet vital training needs. We are appalled that elderly people will lose, for example, the services of home helps, which any civilised society would want to make available for them.

All the evidence of the past few years shows that people are appalled by the poll tax itself. It is unworthy of the House. people expect decency and fairness in taxation policy, especially as it applies to local services. They are not getting that under the poll tax. If the Secretary of State for Scotland does not recognise that, it is time he went, and took the poll tax with him.

6.20 pm
Mr. Kenneth Hind (Lancashire, West)

It is clear from what we have heard in the debate from my hon. Friends and from Opposition Members that there is no quick fix for the difficult and intransigent problem of the community charge. Hon. Members who visited Ribble Valley during the by-election campaign will realise that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Carr) sits among us today, on the Liberal Bench, for one reason and one reason only—the community charge. Lancashire spoke with one voice, a voice that I warned my hon. Friends they were likely to hear because of the deep unpopularity of the tax in the north of England.

The people of Ribble Valley basically told the Conservative party that it has to do something about the tax, which needs fundamental change and which has to be seen to be more fair. That lesson was driven home firmly and strongly. It is interesting to note from the exit poll that, if it had been a general election, 44 per cent. would have voted Conservative, 31 per cent. would have voted Liberal Democrat and 16 per cent. would have voted Labour.

Two questions were being asked on the street. The first was: what would Labour charge under its proposals? I listened to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) with disbelief and anger, which are shared by my hon. Friends. Having said that seven out of 10 households in Britain would benefit, the hon. Gentleman told us that he has not got any figures and cannot say what the average household, living in a semi-detached house in his constituency, would pay. We are being deceived. For the hon. Gentleman to make such a statement, he must have worked out how much would be spent on local government through central Government, how much would be raised from local taxpayers, and how much Labour expected each authority to spend. If that information is available, the House and the public have a right to have sight of it so that they can evaluate it.

The second question was: what changes would the Government make to the community charge? It will take time. The hon. Member for Dagenham wants a quick fix from the Government in three months, yet it took ages for the Labour party to come up with proposals. I could count probably 10 alternatives and various policy documents before it brought forward proposals. Therefore, it is dishonest of the Labour party to expect the Conservative party to find something speedily.

There can be no substitute for the abolition of the single charge poll tax or community charge as it stands. I support its abolition. I am not ashamed to say that I voted in favour of it. At the beginning, I voted in favour of a charge of £175 per head, but I have seen the charge escalate until it is far too high for vast numbers of people. It has resulted in the erosion of the standard of living of people on low incomes.

The community charge has been destroyed by high-spending Labour councils which have used its introduction to screen vast increases in expenditure far and above the increase in inflation. They have used big increases as an excuse to help to destroy the tax. At every turn, they have worked against it to prevent it from succeeding.

Of most importance has been the effect of the tax on the public. I am not prepared to listen in my advice surgery to sad stories from constituents, some in tears, pensioners with small occupational pensions, people with young families and young people just starting work, whose standard of living and livelihood are being undermined by the tax. We must do something to help those people.

Mr. Den Dover (Chorley)

My hon. Friend has mentioned how unfair and high the charge is. Can he confirm that it is most unfair in Lancashire, which we both represent, for a local authority to keep within the guidelines and then see the county bring in a huge increase of £80 per person per year?

Mr. Hind

I fully endorse what my hon. Friend has said.

I will support the Government this evening, because I recognise that many elements are covered in the review. The first lesson is that it is not just an examination of the structure of local government finance. The Government must examine the whole of local government and decide on its structure. If there is to be more than one tier, they must decide which services will be provided for the public by each tier. That will take time. Royal commissions and previous inquiries which made recommendations about local government reorganisation all took time. Allied to the review of local government structure is a need to examine local government taxation.

The Opposition have talked about interim measures. The clearest interim measure that has been introduced is the community charge reduction scheme. In my constituency, 30,000 of 40,000 households will benefit from the scheme. Every household which paid rates of £600 in 1989–90 will benefit. They include pensioners, single people, people on low incomes and single-parent families—the very people my hon. Friends want to do all they can to assist.

My right hon. and hon. Friends who are reviewing the community charge must consider the structure of local government and decide how much central Government should put in. We have heard justified criticism that the amount put into local government by central Government has been reduced since 1979. By giving benefit to community charge payers through transitional relief and the community charge reduction scheme, the Government are giving money back to local government.

The starting point is how much central Government will give to subsidise local government, and how they will raise it. Will it be raised by indirect taxation, by direct taxation or by taking a service such as education out of local government and putting it under central Government? I do not necessarily support a change in the funding of education, but such measures have to be examined carefully.

Those factors have to be taken into account before the Government consider capital value rates, a local income tax or a property tax plus income tax. From what I heard on the doorsteps, I remind the hon. Member for Ribble Valley that the people there did not vote for an increase in income tax of 8p in the pound to get rid of the community charge. They voted against the community charge, and they voted against the Government that brought it in; they did not vote for the Liberal Democrats or for their proposals. Do not let anyone go away from here thinking that they did.

I ask my right hon. Friends to ensure that their new tax, whatever it is, is based on three overwhelmingly important principles. It must be easy to collect; it is monstrous that we are asking people to pay this year for last year's non-payers. It must be seen to be fair. It must reflect the ability of the payer to meet the bill; ability to pay is paramount. The public will support any proposals that meet those criteria. With all due respect to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley, I am sure that, if my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) gets his proposal right, we shall be sitting on the Government Benches after the next general election.

6.30 pm
Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

I should like to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Carr) on his maiden speech. It is never an easy task, and it was delivered on a day when we are debating a subject which has aroused a good deal of heat and which, since the beginning of the afternoon, has also begun to reveal a little light as well. Not one hon. Member has yet spoken in favour of either the principle or the practice of the poll tax.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover)

A number of us were not called.

Mr. Blunkett

An hon. Member on the Conservative Benches has said that he was not called. It is a great shame, because we on the Opposition Benches want to hear what Government Members want to say in defence of the poll tax. We are pleased to hear that these hon. Members want to make their voices well and truly heard, because I must tell the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) that appeals to us to abandon the poll tax as a key domestic political issue for the general election are a little rich.

This shambles is not of our making. This fiasco did not emerge from the Labour party. It was invented and implemented by hon. Members on the Government Benches. They voted it through—I accept that the hon. Member for Christchurch did his best to vote for amendments and alternatives that were rejected out of hand. Those opportunities were given and were not taken, so we are in our present position entirely because the Conservative leadership continued, against all advice and all the evidence placed before them year after year—not over the past few months—to argue in favour of the poll tax.

Conservative leaders said that it was fair, that it would work, that it would bring accountability. They said that it would change the way in which local government operated. I expect that not one of the hon. Members on the Government Front Bench tonight will have the temerity to defend the tax. What we have seen over the past few weeks is a display and an acknowledgement of incompetence and indecision. What a set of clowns we have in the Government—a face for every day, a different answer for every journalist and a different head to stand on every time we kick the feet from under them.

Everything that happens is a shambles. Resignations are in the offing, although so far we know only about Parliamentary Private Secretaries of whom no one has ever heard; but no doubt change will come. Hippocratic oaths have been swallowed by the bucketful. Ministers who have defended the poll tax find themselves in untenable positions. Ministers who have talked about abolishing the rates have talked about doing away with the terrible unfairness that afflicted us". Also: Rates were about as fair and rational as Russian roulette. We have even heard the classic statement: the level of rates bore no relation to council spending". The poll tax, of course, bears no relation either. The coup de grace was: A return to the rates plus revaluation! It is a cynical about-turn which would leave anybody speechless. I hope that the Minister of State, who made those statements in a press release on 11 October last year, will stand up tonight to break his Trappist vows and agree that what he said is no longer tenable; he will therefore have to admit that there is a decision that some remaining poll tax will be seen alongside a new property tax, or else the position that he finds himself in, given his honourable and ideological defence of the poll tax, will lead him to resign. He has no alternative. Every statement that he has made has ridiculed the rates and a property tax. He is an honourable man and believes in what he is saying; I think that he will find that his position has become untenable.

So let us be clear: nobody who has spoken—I agree that there are others on the Government Benches who have not been called—has spoken in favour of the poll tax or of retaining any part of it, but Ministers are in a difficulty of their own making, because the simple answer to their dilemma is to accept our alternative.

There is only a certain number of options. We know that because, without the benefit of the civil service and its computer facilities, we went through them night., after night, weekend after weekend. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) and I trawled through them, sometimes without even the benefit of a calculator to help us do the job, but in the simple knowledge that, if 28 million people had lost under the poll tax, it did not take a genius to see that 70 per cent. of families would gain by going back to a rating system, especially one which was made fairer, and especially with all the money poured into it that has been poured into the present system by the Government.

We know that, under our system, the abolition of the poll tax will begin immediately to bring relief. We must ask what sort of changes we need to make it fair, progressive and acceptable. We must therefore ask questions about the nature of the property tax that is to be introduced.

What sort of valuation system will we have? Is it to be a floor tax, where occupants of large terraced houses pay more than those of a small penthouse suite, where those living in penury pay more than Lady Porter or some hon. Members on the Government Benches? What an absurdity. In any case, people would start building false walls in their houses to reduce the space. Or we might have a different system, under which people went round the outside of the house with a tape measure. What about a bedroom tax, with people getting a do-it-yourself kit to knock down dividing walls?

Mr. Adley

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) for one or two kind things that he said about my speech. He is having a bit of fun, like his hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham, knocking down propositions that have not been put up, except in certain organs of the press. Does he not agree with me that what the country wants is a bit of co-operation across the party divide on this?

If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has, as he has done yet again today, invited the Labour party to participate, will not the time shortly arrive when the Labour party will reckon that it has quite properly rubbed the noses in the dirt of those who can see nothing but glory from the community charge, and that we should now work together to try to find a solution to this problem? Will he please soon drop his preconditions for working, all of us, together as Members?

Mr. Blunkett

We have only one precondition—that the Government say that they will abolish the poll tax and settle for the only alternative, the only one that can remove the poll tax in the next three years. My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham spelled it out clearly this afternoon. There are no alternatives to what we propose which would not mean the poll tax remaining for a substantial period, with impossible problems of tax collection and mounting debt.

Already today, the Audit Commission has told us something scandalous—that 7.5 million people have had summonses laid against them for non-payment in the past 12 months. Those 7.5 million people have been made to feel, and to be, criminals because of this tax. That is a scandal for any Government.

There is no easy way out. By all means let the Government apologise to the British people and ask their forgiveness for the money which has been spent on their behalf in trying to make the tax work. But they should not ask the Opposition somehow to hold out a hand and say: "We forgive you. We will abandon our general election pledges in order to make sure that you win at the polls." What nonsense. What a farce.

That all started when the Secretary of State made his great announcement. He stood at the Dispatch Box and asked the Opposition to capitulate and allow the Government to be forgiven by the British electorate for all the pain, misery, cuts in services and deprivations that the Government have inflicted on them as a result of adopting the principle of a flat rate tax.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett

No, I shall not give way. I want to continue my speech by dealing with the form of valuation.

Only a few valuation proposals are workable. Capital values are workable, but they were ridiculed by Conservative Members, who described them as a roof tax. They said—wrongly, in most cases—that capital values would crucify people in the south of England. They said that their own voters in the marginal seats of the south-east would be irrevocably damaged by capital values. We have it in writing from Conservative Members right across the spectrum.

We are left with one other option—graduated rateable values. That happens to be close to my heart, because I played a significant part in suggesting it. It is not clever; it is just common sense. A number of key valuation factors are put together, and if the professional valuers agree that they can be weighted correctly and say that it will work, common sense says, adopt that option. The only reason the Government will not adopt it is because the Opposition already have. It is as simple as that. Anything that the Government cobble together will be a dog's dinner.

Mr. Bowis

One point that the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) made clear in his interview in the New Statesman and Society, although he was described as saying it "unguardedly", was that the Labour party's policy will pauperise millions of people. Can the hon. Gentleman tell us today who those millions are who will be pauperised, so that we can pass on the glad tidings to them?

Mr. Blunkett

We agree with the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who has had a sudden about-turn on the workability of the poll tax; suggesting that an extension of rebates and the ability to pay a property tax makes some sense. He has adopted it as a philosophy for making the poll tax work. Having rejected banding and progressivity, he now believes in it; and we believe in it in terms of a sensible and workable property tax.

But there is one other solution which the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) has advocated—total transfer. The Secretary of State for Wales calls it a pool tax. Conservative Members are welcome to dive into it if they wish. A variation on it which has been mooted is to transfer teachers' pay, further education, police and the fire service. The cost of that would be £6.5 billion.

I do not know whether the £5 billion for which the Secretary of State is asking is part of that, but where will that £6.5 billion come from? Where has the £8 billion to £10 billion come from which has already been spent on introducing, setting up and operating the poll tax, dealing with non-collection and extending the community charge reduction scheme? That money is not available for services to protect the elderly, children in school or those in need, or to extend the rebate system to make it fair and equitable and based on ability to pay. That money has been spent on a system adopted to keep the Government in office. That is what has happened during the past two or three years.

It is clear, and the British people will recognise, that the amount that has been spent is a scandal. The Government have squandered our money in an act of gross negligence and culpable, indictable incompetence. If the voters were shareholders, they would have sacked the board long ago. If the voters were the Audit Commission, they would have surcharged and disqualified the Cabinet long ago. When the voters are voters, they will eject those who squandered their money and inflicted the pain and misery of the poll tax on them, and they will swiftly vote in a Labour Government who will abolish the poll tax.

6.45 pm
The Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities (Mr. Michael Portillo)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Carr) on his maiden speech. I echo the tribute paid to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), particularly for paying such a generous tribute to his predecessor. He took us on a tour of his constituency, but I am bound to say that for many of us it was superfluous because so many of us have visited his constituency in recent times.

As the hon. Gentleman spoke, I was reminded that his constituency has two districts, both of which struggle with Labour-controlled Lancashire, a vastly overspending county. The difference is that Ribble Valley, a Conservative-controlled authority, still manages to set a community charge which is £41 less than that set by Preston, a Labour-controlled authority.

The hon. Gentleman explained why it was urgent for him to make his maiden speech so early. I entirely accept his explanation, or one might have thought that he was trying to get his speech in fast for fear that he would not be here for long. All I will say to him is that, with all my heart, I wish him a very late general election.

I begin by talking about the timetable which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out. My right hon. Friend has said consistently from the beginning of the review of local government finance, structure and functions that we want to narrow the options by about the beginning of April. There has been no change in that. That has consistently been the Government's position. However, what might not have been expected is that, during our review, we have already taken the important decision to introduce the community charge reduction scheme.

I can genuinely say—I have the figures to prove it—that the community charge reduction scheme benefits seven out of 10 households in many constituencies. I suspect that, in Ribble Valley, close on seven out of 10 households benefit. I have the figures to prove that, and I am not afraid to produce them. My figure of seven out of 10 benefiting is a genuine figure, whereas the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) could in no way back up his sham figure of seven out of 10 benefiting from his plan.

The community charge reduction scheme will give hundreds of pounds off to people who live in low rateable value properties, and those properties are to be found in every constituency. Next year, what they will be paying in community charge will be approximately their old rates bill plus £104 for a couple, plus the difference between this year's and next year's community charge. As my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire) said so eloquently and correctly, many families will be paying very much less in their community charge in the coming year than they are paying this year.

Sir Timothy Raison

The reduction scheme has been of enormous value, but as it will be some time before we have a major new reform, will my hon. Friend acknowledge that one group of people still suffering considerable hardship are those who did not pay rates? They are mainly young, they are now paying the community charge, and they get no relief. There is real hardship, particularly when one or other member of the family is not working.

Mr. Portillo

It has been a matter of priorities, and we thought that the most important thing was to bring relief to those people who might be retired, whose rates bills were low and whose community charge bills turned out to be higher, particularly those who live in Labour-controlled authorities where the community charges have been set at such a high level.

My hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne wanted to know whether we were considering structure and functions as well as finance. I can reassure him on that point. We are considering all three matters.

Early in the debate, the Labour party was graced with a speech by the hon. Member for Oldham, Central and Royton (Mr. Lamond), who said that, in the past, many people did not disagree with the rates. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to that view, but I should point out that his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) has said that Labour agrees that the rates system was flawed, and that his right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) described rates as the most unjust of all taxes. If the hon. Gentleman has a different opinion, he is in disagreement with his own party.

I was pretty impatient when the hon. Member for Dagenham talked about the suffering of people who are unable to pay the community charge. Like me, the hon. Gentleman knows that in many places the reason for the inability to pay is precisely that Labour authorities have been so profligate and have set such high community charges.

I shall give some examples. Last May, there was a change in control in a number of places. In Ealing, where the Conservatives gained control, the community charge was reduced by 9 per cent.; in Southend, where the Conservatives gained control, the community charge was cut by 17 per cent. In Bradford, where Labour gained control, the community charge went up by 32 per cent.; in Kirklees, where Labour took control, the community charge went up by 31 per cent.; in Merton, where Labour took control, the community charge went up by a staggering 47 per cent. People have had their just reward for voting for the Labour party.

Mr. Gould

The Minister put Ealing at the top of his list. He above all others will know that Ealing has had the benefit of a gift of £5 million from his Department and has put up rents by no less than £28 a week. Does he stand by that sort of performance?

Mr. Portillo

The performance to which the hon. Gentleman alludes is the performance of the Labour administration from which we have just taken over, and the people of Ealing know that perfectly well.

Let me repeat a point that I have made again and again. Whatever the system of local government finance, the situation will always be the same. The Conservatives will always offer good, efficient local government and will be able to set lower community charges—indeed, lower taxes of any sort. By contrast, the Labour party will always drive up the community charge, as, previously, it drove up the rates, pauperising people.

Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)

In my constituency, the Tory-controlled Broadland district council held its community charge this year, whereas Labour-controlled Norwich city council allowed its charge to rise to such an extent that it has been announced today that the authority will be capped. Does not that show that it is Labour-controlled councils that impose high community charges?

Mr. Portillo

When I was in Norwich on Monday evening, I heard precisely that story about the contrast between Labour and Conservative authorities. It is a contrast that would exist whatever the system of local government finance was in force.

There is another way in which Labour has pushed up the community charge.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)


Mr. Portillo

As the hon. Gentleman has not been present, I shall not give way to him.

The Labour party has pushed up the community charge through non-payment. We have often drawn attention to the 28 or 30 Labour Members who have signed early-clay motions in favour of non-payment. Today, I can add the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran), who told a meeting of civil servants: A number of my colleagues have refused to pay, and I support them in every way. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) said: I want the Labour party to lead a non-payment campaign. Most tellingly of all, a Labour party newspaper carried an advertisement headed, "Don't register; don't pay". Thus, apparently, the Labour party officially supports nonpayment of the community charge.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Portillo

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who, I believe, supports non-payment.

Mr. Nellist

As the Minister is so keen on facts and figures, would he like to comment on a reply that was given to the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) on 26 February?

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key)—referring to the average poll tax in England for 1990–91, said, as reported in column 421, "It was £357." When asked what the average poll tax would be were the Government this year to give the same amount, in real terms, in support of local councils as was given in 1979, the Under-Secretary said that it would be £152. Is it not a fact that the biggest non-payers are the Government, who are failing to pay £205 for every person in this country? That is why services are so poor and poll tax figures so high.

Mr. Portillo

Almost the biggest non-payer in the country that I can think of is the hon. Gentleman himself. He has asked his constituents who are not as well off as he is to pay what he is not paying. Even at today's level of Government support for local authorities, there are Conservative authorities that are able to set community charges below the amount that the hon. Gentleman has just mentioned. In Wandsworth, the figure is £136. It happens to be that community charge that the hon. Gentleman does not want to pay. In my opinion, that disqualifies him not only from voting in this debate but even from speaking in it. The participants in this debate ought to be willing to bear their civic responsibility.

Yesterday, I was flattered by the hon. Member for Brightside, who wasted valuable air time to call for my resignation. I felt that it represented a certain political coming of age that the Labour party should think it worth while to do so. The crime of which I stand accused is defence of Government policy. So far as the Labour party is concerned, defence of one's policy is a crime indeed. The Labour party is never willing to defend its own policies. It has made 65 changes of policy. It has had a different policy every three weeks. Even the policy that it has now lit upon is one that it is not prepared to defend.

The Leader of the Opposition, when he spoke recently at his party's local government conference, was unwilling to defend that policy, unwilling to explain it. He devoted only half a sentence in his entire speech to a reference to his party's policy. There has been no defence of that policy today, nor has there been any explanation of how much it would cost. We did not hear from the hon. Member for Dagenham what his party's system would mean for his constituents, or from the hon. Member for Brightside what it would mean for his constituents. No examples have been given.

Have the costings been done or not? During the debate, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall), from a sedentary position, called out that the costings had been done. If they have been done, let the hon. Gentleman give them to us. It is no wonder that the Labour party has been entirely unwilling to join in the review. It does not want to have its policies analysed. It does not want to have its figures—which do not yet exist —scrutinised. It does not want to be exposed for the sham that it has produced.

Mr. Maxton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Portillo

There is no point of order, and the hon. Gentleman knows it.

Mr. Maxton

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Portillo

It will be bogus.

Mr. Maxton

The Minister has not yet addressed the point that is made in the motion. The motion is, of course, about abolition of the poll tax; it is not about Labour party policy. Can the Minister, in the last two minutes, tell us whether the Government are in favour of abolishing the poll tax and introducing a property tax?

Mr. Portillo

Clearly my prediction was right: the hon. Gentleman's point of order was entirely bogus.

The Leader of the Opposition wrote a preposterous letter to the Prime Minister. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that there is no basis on which discussions could take place, as the Opposition are unwilling to produce their figures. The Opposition have contrived to produce a policy so obscure that one could not possibly know what one would pay. That is an entirely cynical approach.

The hon. Member for Brightside admitted that his party's valuations will be based on capital values, rental values, building costs and repair costs. That means that 21.5 million properties in this country will have to be valued four times over. There will have to be 86 million valuations.

The Labour party has failed us today. It has proposed the abolition of the community charge, but it has no clearly worked out alternative. It refuses to discuss what its policy will be. During a general election, it will not be enough to wave a blank sheet of paper at the electorate. Some answers will be needed, and the cynicism of Labour's position will be exposed.

The Government will produce their conclusions very soon. The review is on schedule. The first result, the community charge reduction scheme, is already in place, and that will produce benefits totalling hundreds of pounds for millions of people. With the review on schedule, and with this early result from it, I ask my hon. Friends to join me in supporting the amendment.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 189, Noes 331.

Division No. 94] [7 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley, N.) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Fisher, Mark
Armstrong, Hilary Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Foster, Derek
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Foulkes, George
Barron, Kevin Fraser, John
Beckett, Margaret Fyfe, Maria
Bell, Stuart Galbraith, Sam
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Galloway, George
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Benton, Joseph Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Bermingham, Gerald George, Bruce
Blair, Tony Godman, Dr Norman A.
Blunkett, David Golding, Mrs Llin
Boateng, Paul Gordon, Mildred
Boyes, Roland Gould, Bryan
Bradley, Keith Graham, Thomas
Bray, Dr Jeremy Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Grocott, Bruce
Caborn, Richard Hardy, Peter
Callaghan, Jim Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Haynes, Frank
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Henderson, Doug
Clelland, David Hinchliffe, David
Cohen, Harry Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Corbett, Robin Home Robertson, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hood, Jimmy
Cousins, Jim Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Cox, Tom Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Crowther, Stan Hoyle, Doug
Cryer, Bob Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cummings, John Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cunliffe, Lawrence lllsley, Eric
Cunningham, Dr John Ingram, Adam
Dalyell, Tam Janner, Greville
Darling, Alistair Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kilfedder, James
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Dewar, Donald Lamond, James
Dixon, Don Leadbitter, Ted
Dobson, Frank Leighton, Ron
Doran, Frank Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Duffy, A. E. P. Lewis, Terry
Dunnachie, Jimmy Livingstone, Ken
Evans, John (St Helens N) Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Loyden, Eddie Richardson, Jo
McAllion, John Robertson, George
McAvoy, Thomas Robinson, Geoffrey
McCartney, Ian Rogers, Allan
McFall, John Rooker, Jeff
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Rooney, Terence
McKelvey, William Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
McLeish, Henry Rowlands, Ted
McMaster, Gordon Ruddock, Joan
McNamara, Kevin Sedgemore, Brian
McWilliam, John Sheerman, Barry
Madden, Max Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Mahon, Mrs Alice Short, Clare
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Skinner, Dennis
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Martlew, Eric Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Maxton, John Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Meacher, Michael Snape, Peter
Meale, Alan Soley, Clive
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Spearing, Nigel
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Steinberg, Gerry
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stott, Roger
Morgan, Rhodri Strang, Gavin
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Straw, Jack
Mowlam, Marjorie Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mullin, Chris Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Paul Turner, Dennis
Nellist, Dave Vaz, Keith
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Walley, Joan
O'Brien, William Warden, Gareth (Gower)
O'Hara, Edward Wareing, Robert N.
O'Neill, Martin Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Parry, Robert Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Patchett, Terry Wilson, Brian
Pendry, Tom Winnick, David
Pike, Peter L. Wise, Mrs Audrey
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Worthington, Tony
Prescott, John Wray, Jimmy
Primarolo, Dawn Young, David (Bolton SE)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Radice, Giles Tellers for the Ayes:
Randall, Stuart Mr. Ken Eastham and
Redmond, Martin Mr. Martyn Jones.
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Adley, Robert Bottomley, Peter
Aitken, Jonathan Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Alexander, Richard Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Allason, Rupert Bowis, John
Alton, David Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Amess, David Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Amos, Alan Brazier, Julian
Arbuthnot, James Bright, Graham
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Arnold, Sir Thomas Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Ashby, David Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Atkins, Robert Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Atkinson, David Buck, Sir Antony
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Budgen, Nicholas
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Burns, Simon
Baldry, Tony Burt, Alistair
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Butler, Chris
Batiste, Spencer Butterfill, John
Beith, A. J. Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Bellingham, Henry Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)
Bendall, Vivian Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Benyon, W. Carr, Michael
Biffen, Rt Hon John Carrington, Matthew
Blackburn, Dr John G. Carttiss, Michael
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Cartwright, John
Body, Sir Richard Cash, William
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda
Boscawen, Hon Robert Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Boswell, Tim Chapman, Sydney
Chope, Christopher Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Churchill, Mr Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Hill, James
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hind, Kenneth
Colvin, Michael Holt, Richard
Conway, Derek Hordern, Sir Peter
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howells, Geraint
Cope, Rt Hon John Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Couchman, James Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Cran, James Hunt, Rt Hon David
Critchley, Julian Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Hunter, Andrew
Curry, David Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Davis, David (Boothferry) Irvine, Michael
Day, Stephen Irving, Sir Charles
Devlin, Tim Jackson, Robert
Dickens, Geoffrey Janman, Tim
Dorrell, Stephen Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Johnston, Sir Russell
Dover, Den Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dunn, Bob Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Durant, Sir Anthony Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dykes, Hugh Key, Robert
Eggar, Tim King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Emery, Sir Peter King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Kirkhope, Timothy
Evennett, David Kirk wood, Archy
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Knapman, Roger
Fallon, Michael Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Favell, Tony Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Fearn, Ronald Knowles, Michael
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey Latham, Michael
Fishburn, John Dudley Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fookes, Dame Janet Lightbown, David
Forman, Nigel Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Livsey, Richard
Forth, Eric Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lord, Michael
Fox, Sir Marcus Luce, Rt Hon Sir Richard
Franks, Cecil Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Freeman, Roger Macfarlane, Sir Neil
French, Douglas MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gale, Roger MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gardiner, Sir George Maclennan, Robert
Garel-Jones, Tristan McLoughlin, Patrick
Gill, Christopher McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Madel, David
Goodlad, Alastair Malins, Humfrey
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mans, Keith
Gorst, John Maples, John
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Marland, Paul
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marlow, Tony
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Gregory, Conal Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Mates, Michael
Grist, Ian Maude, Hon Francis
Ground, Patrick Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Grylls, Michael Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mellor, Rt Hon David
Hague, William Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Miller, Sir Hal
Hampson, Dr Keith Mills, lain
Hanley, Jeremy Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hannam, John Mitchell, Sir David
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Moate, Roger
Harris, David Monro, Sir Hector
Haselhurst, Alan Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Hawkins, Christopher Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hayes, Jerry Morrison, Sir Charles
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Hayward, Robert Moss, Malcolm
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Moynihan, Hon Colin
Heathcoat-Amory, David Neale, Sir Gerrard
Nelson, Anthony Stanbrook, Ivor
Neubert, Sir Michael Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Steen, Anthony
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Stern, Michael
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Stevens, Lewis
Oppenheim, Phillip Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Page, Richard Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Paice, James Stokes, Sir John
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Sumberg, David
Patnick, Irvine Tapsell, Sir Peter
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Patten, Rt Hon John Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Pawsey, James Temple-Morris, Peter
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Porter, David (Waveney) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Portillo, Michael Thorne, Neil
Price, Sir David Thornton, Malcolm
Raffan, Keith Thurnham, Peter
Raison, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rathbone, Tim Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Redwood, John Tracey, Richard
Ronton, Rt Hon Tim Twinn, Dr Ian
Rhodes James, Robert Viggers, Peter
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Walden, George
Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Roe, Mrs Marion Walker, Rt Hon P. (W'cester)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Wallace, James
Rost, Peter Waller, Gary
Rowe, Andrew Walters, Sir Dennis
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela Ward, John
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Warren, Kenneth
Sayeed, Jonathan Watts, John
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Wheeler, Sir John
Shaw, David (Dover) Whitney, Ray
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Widdecombe, Ann
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Wiggin, Jerry
Shelton, Sir William Wilshire, David
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Winterton, Nicholas
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wolfson, Mark
Shersby, Michael Wood, Timothy
Sims, Roger Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Skeet, Sir Trevor Yeo, Tim
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Soames, Hon Nicholas
Speed, Keith Tellers for the Noes:
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Mr. John M. Taylor and
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Mr. Tom Sackville.
Squire, Robin

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No.30 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 273, Noes 24.

Division No. 95] [7.14 pm
Adley, Robert Baldry, Tony
Aitken, Jonathan Batiste, Spencer
Alexander, Richard Bellingham, Henry
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Bendall, Vivian
Allason, Rupert Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Biffen, Rt Hon John
Amess, David Blackburn, Dr John G.
Amos, Alan Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arbuthnot, James Body, Sir Richard
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Boscawen, Hon Robert
Arnold, Sir Thomas Boswell, Tim
Atkins, Robert Bottomley, Peter
Atkinson, David Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Bowden, A. (Brighton K'pto'n)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bowden, Gerald Dulwich)
Bowis, John Hanley, Jeremy
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Hannam, John
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Brazier, Julian Harris, David
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Haselhurst, Alan
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Hawkins, Christopher
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Hayes, Jerry
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Buck, Sir Antony Hayward, Robert
Budgen, Nicholas Heathcoat-Amory, David
Burns, Simon Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Burt, Alistair Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Butler, Chris Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Butterfill, John Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hill, James
Carrington, Matthew Hind, Kenneth
Carttiss, Michael Holt, Richard
Cash, William Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Chapman, Sydney Hunt, Rt Hon David
Chope, Christopher Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Plymouth) Hunter, Andrew
Clark, Rt Hon Sir William Irvine, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Irving, Sir Charles
Colvin, Michael Jackson, Robert
Conway, Derek Janman, Tim
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Cope, Rt Hon John Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Cormack, Patrick Key, Robert
Couchman, James Kilfedder, James
Cran, James King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Critchley, Julian King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Kirkhope, Timothy
Curry, David Knapman, Roger
Davis, David (Boothferry) Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Day, Stephen Knowles, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Dover, Den Latham, Michael
Dunn, Bob Lee, John (Pendle)
Durant, Sir Anthony Leigh, Edward Gainsbor'gh)
Eggar, Tim Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Emery, Sir Peter Lightbown, David
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Evennett, David Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lord, Michael
Fallon, Michael Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Fenner, Dame Peggy MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey McLoughlin, Patrick
Fishburn, John Dudley McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Fookes, Dame Janet McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Forman, Nigel Madel, David
Forth, Eric Malins, Humfrey
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Mans, Keith
Fox, Sir Marcus Maples, John
Franks, Cecil Marland, Paul
Freeman, Roger Marlow, Tony
French, Douglas Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Gale, Roger Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gardiner, Sir George Mates, Michael
Garel-Jones, Tristan Maude, Hon Francis
Gill, Christopher Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Glyn, Dr Sir Alan Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Goodlad, Alastair Miller, Sir Hal
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mills, lain
Gorst, John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Mitchell, Sir David
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Moate, Roger
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Monro, Sir Hector
Gregory, Conal Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Grist, Ian Morrison, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Ground, Patrick Moss, Malcolm
Grylls, Michael Moynihan, Hon Colin
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Neale, Sir Gerrard
Hague, William Nelson, Anthony
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Neubert, Sir Michael
Hampson, Dr Keith Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Steen, Anthony
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Stern, Michael
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Stevens, Lewis
Oppenheim, Phillip Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Page, Richard Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Paice, James Stokes, Sir John
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Sumberg, David
Patnick, Irvine Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Patten, Rt Hon John Temple-Morris, Peter
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Pawsey, James Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thorne, Neil
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thornton, Malcolm
Portillo, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Price, Sir David Townend, John (Bridlington)
Raffan, Keith Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Tracey, Richard
Rhodes James, Robert Twinn, Dr Ian
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Viggers, Peter
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Roberts, Sir Wyn (Conwy) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Roe, Mrs Marion Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Waller, Gary
Rowe, Andrew Walters, Sir Dennis
Rumbold, Rt Hon Mrs Angela Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Warren, Kenneth
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Watts, John
Sayeed, Jonathan Wheeler, Sir John
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Whitney, Ray
Shaw, David (Dover) Widdecombe, Ann
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wilshire, David
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Winterton, Mrs Ann
Shelton, Sir William Winterton, Nicholas
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Wolfson, Mark
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wood, Timothy
Shersby, Michael Woodcock, Dr. Mike
Sims, Roger Yeo, Tim
Skeet, Sir Trevor Young, Sir George (Acton)
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Speed, Keith Tellers for the Ayes:
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Mr. John M. Taylor and
Stanbrook, Ivor Mr. Tom Sackville.
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Alton, David Kirkwood, Archy
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Livsey, Richard
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Maclennan, Robert
Beith, A. J. Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'I & Bute)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Siilars, Jim
Carr, Michael Skinner, Dennis
Cartwright, John Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Douglas, Dick Wallace, James
Fearn, Ronald Wigley, Dafydd
Howells, Geraint
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Tellers for the Noes:
Johnston, Sir Russell Mr. Malcolm Bruce and
Jones, leuan (Ynys Môn) Mr. Andrew Welsh.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the fact that the Government is undertaking a thorough review of local government finance, structure and functions; looks forward to a statement when that review has reached the appropriate stage; and in the meantime notes that, on information published to date, the average community charge actually set by local authorities in England will be £393, and welcomes the generous provision made by the Government, by way of the community charge reduction scheme, community charge benefit and income support, the combined effect of which will be to reduce the average net charge actually payable next year to under £275.