HC Deb 30 January 1991 vol 184 cc924-5
2. Mr. Haynes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to conclude his review of the community charge; and if he will make a statement.

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

Our review covers finance, structure and functions of local government, so is necessarily complex. The Government will announce conclusions as soon as they are ready to do so.

Mr. Haynes

That answer is not good enough. I expected to see the organ grinder at the Dispatch Box today, but he is not here, and obviously the junior Minister is answering for him. When will speed become the operative word in informing the House when the review will be finished and what will happen then? Our local authorities are suffering, and we will not have any more of it.

Mr. Portillo

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important to be as speedy as possible, but he will recognise that the matter is complex—and perhaps he will welcome the fact that we are dealing with functions, structure and financing together. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spent a considerable amount of time in the Chamber and said then that he hoped to give first indications of our thinking in the spring. I hope that that is helpful to the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Nicholas Bonsor

When my hon. Friend is considering when to come out with the results of his deliberations will he please bear two points in mind? First, as whatever he decides will be with us for many years to come, can he resist the siren voice of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), despite the vigour of his presentation, and ensure that we do not hurry this decision? Secondly, can he please ensure, when he does decide what should be done, that the community charge remains part of it, so that people have to contribute to the local services that they enjoy in some form, however little they earn?

Mr. Portillo

As my hon. Friend says, it would indeed be nice to arrive at a solution that would stand for many years, so that we would not have to have constant change. Sadly, there is a certain amount of disagreement about the hon. Gentleman's second point, but I note his views and I know that many of my hon. Friends take the view that accountability is an important principle, which should remain in any of our new arrangements.

Mr. Gould

Will the Minister confirm that the outcome of his review could well mean that the poll tax remains in place?

Mr. Portillo

It could be that and it could be something different.

Mr. Favell

Whatever else comes out of the review, will my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ensure that local authorities remain accountable to the people that they are intended to serve? Local authorities employ one in nine people in this country and, whatever local authorities would have people believe, some give rank bad service—everyone has heard stories of empire building and profligacy.

Mr. Portillo

Yes, I not only agree with my hon. Friend in much of what he says, but I believe that the introduction of the community charge has focused people's attention on the importance of making local authorities accountable. That is why I said, in answer to a previous question, that I believe that that is a principle which many of my hon. Friend's wish to preserve and defend.