HC Deb 27 February 1991 vol 186 cc963-4
4. Mr. Patchett

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to introduce a modern and fair rating system; and if he will make a statement.

18. Mr. Callaghan

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any plans to introduce a modern and fair rating system; and if he will make a statement.

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

Our review of the structure and finance of local government will look at all the options, including domestic property taxes. I hope to be able to give a first indication of our thinking in the spring.

Mr. Patchett

Does the Secretary of State agree that the poll tax is now untenable? When will he admit that it should be abolished?

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman is aware that all those matters are being considered. When we have something to say, we will say it, but not until then.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Callaghan.

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Speaker


Mr. Winnick

In view of the comments that the Secretary of State made about the poll tax when he was a Back Bencher, will it be possible for him to remain in government if it is decided by the Cabinet to retain what he himself described as a Tory tax?

Has the right hon. Gentleman any comment on the absurd statement by one of his predecessors that if the rating system was brought back, there would be rioting on the streets? The only rioting that has occurred has been brought about by that Tory tax, the most unfair tax that has ever been introduced—the poll tax.

Mr. Heseltine

The hon. Gentleman may be aware that many millions of people now realise that the community charge reduction scheme is bringing them substantial reductions in community charge.

Mr. Latham

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his reputation over many years for radical policies is well deserved and that the best way in which he can proceed in this matter is by radical change?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend is extremely flattering. I shall, if I may, refrain from comment until we produce the conclusions of the review.

Sir Rhodes Boyson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable support on the Conservative Back Benches for national expenditure on schools and further education? That would achieve two objects. It would halve the community charge and make all schools grant-maintained schools responsible to parents and not inspectors, which would improve education throughout the country.

Mr. Heseltine

I know how much my right hon. Friend is concerned about this matter. He will know from speeches that I have made that I am a strong supporter of the grant-maintained school principle. When suggesting the switch, my right hon. Friend does not draw my attention to the national taxes that he would wish to be increased to fund his proposals.

Mr. Gould

Will the Secretary of State reassure the millions of people who want to see the back of the poll tax by making it clear that he has refused to be bound by the ideologues in his own party and that he at least is prepared, indeed anxious, to see the abandonment of the poll tax principle?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is never possible to discern any ideologues on the Conservative side of the House because there are so many on the other.

Mr. Hayes

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend is doing his best to see that the landed gentry do not riot too much on the streets of Tewkesbury, but will he do what he can to assist my poor beleaguered constituents in Harlow? Their left-wing authority has increased its expenditure by 44 per cent. this year, announced a community charge of £459, and eaten into reserves. When the review is presented, will my right hon. Friend protect people from left-wing authorities such as Harlow?

Mr. Heseltine

As my hon. Friend is aware, by and large, it is beyond any question the practice for Labour authorities to charge significantly more community charge than the Conservatives.