HC Deb 12 December 1990 vol 182 cc948-50
18. Mr. Terry Fields

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the progress of his latest review of the poll tax; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Heseltine

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave earlier today.

Mr. Fields

During his review will the Secretary of State acknowledge the disgraceful circumstances in which the poorest members of society who cannot afford to pay the poll tax are daily facing the intimidation of the bosses' court and now gaol? Is not it ironic that a former Prime Minister, presumably as a reward for impoverishing the poor, should be given the Order of Merit and her husband a baronetcy?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that we never discuss the honours list in the Chamber.

Mr. Fields

Is not it ironic that a former Prime Minister should be rewarded for impoverishing the poor while old-age pensioners are selling their war medals to prevent their receiving the draconian and immoral treatment of the courts? When will the Secretary of State live up to his leadership election pledge and scrap the poll tax?

Mr. Heseltine

The only irony is that the hon. Gentleman, who can well afford to pay the poll tax, is content to see the very poor people on behalf of whom he speaks forced to pay the bills that he will not pay.

Mr. Oppenheim

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, whatever changes to local government finance are made by whichever Government, they are still likely to have lo face the fundamental problem of profligate, wasteful county councils, such as Derbyshire, which prefers to keep in with its National Union of Public Employees paymasters than to offer value for money and which recently rejected a low-cost tender because it was in the wrong-coloured envelope?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is right to draw those matters to our attention and I wish that the problems were restricted only to county councils.

Mr. Blunkett

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most important measures that he could take in the short term to relieve the pain of the poll tax would be to increase central Government funding for local authorities next year? Given that on 10 May he called for a more realistic settlement based, as he said, on realistic economic assumptions, is he prepared to increase by 50 per cent. the settlement announced on 31 October, thus bringing it to the real level of inflation, and also to increase the revenue support grant element above the 1.9 per cent. announced on that date? Does he further agree that he should bring that forward immediately to allow people to understand that the Government are serious when they say that they are intent on doing something about the poll tax?

Mr. Heseltine

May I say how much I welcome the changed stance of the Labour party? A week ago the Opposition were saying that the only thing to do was to get rid of the poll tax at once, but now they are making suggestions on how we could modify its effect. In view of the hon. Gentleman's question, I cannot understand why he will not come and talk to me constructively about what we can do.