HC Deb 25 November 1991 vol 199 cc622-3
29. Mr. Pike

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he next proposes to visit tenants of the Duchy in the county palatine.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Chris Patten)

I recently spent a day visiting tenants on the Duchy's Yorkshire survey, and I was greatly impressed by the efficient and cost-effective running of the estates by Duchy tenants. I very much look forward to my next visit to the county palatine.

Mr. Pike

While that might be very encouraging, did the Chancellor discuss with tenants and others resident in the county palatine the problems still arising from the poll tax? Will he urge the Government, even now, to waive the 20 per cent. payment for which those living in poverty and at the lower end of the income scale are liable? Will he also give councils discretion to waive payments due, when they can see that there is no possible chance of recovering them?

Mr. Patten

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the rebates available to community charge payers are much more generous than they were under domestic rating. When I next visit the county palatine, I will certainly take up—on the hon. Gentleman's part, I am sure—the case of all those Labour councillors who still refuse to pay their community charge.

Mr. Sumberg

If my right hon. Friend had a chance to discuss local government finance when he was last in the county palatine, did he mention the Labour party's proposal to remove all forms of capping on local authority expenditure, which would represent an open cheque book for every left-wing Labour authority, both in the county palatine and outside it?

Mr. Patten

As my hon. Friend makes clear, under Labour not only would taxes imposed by central Government be much higher but taxes imposed by local government would also be higher. That is why there will not be, thank heavens, a Labour Government.

Dr. Cunningham

When the Chancellor next visits the Duchy, will he explain to the people of the north-west why it is that Tory Members of Parliament who supported everything that the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said and did for 12 years are now queueing up at television stations to attack her? Will the right hon. Gentleman set an example, as chairman of the Conservative party, and reaffirm the warm loyalty that he personally showed to that right hon. Lady when he was a member of her Cabinet? Does the Chancellor condemn the things that Conservative Members are saying about and doing to the right hon. Member for Finchley now—or is he orchestrating them?

Mr. Patten

When the hon. Gentleman came to the Dispatch Box, I thought that he was going to say something about the commitment to minimum binding rates of taxation that his party has signed. I will make my position absolutely plain. I agree with what Conservative party leaders have been saying about referendums for the last 15 or 20 years. I am sure that one thing on which everyone in the county palatine and on which public opinion generally is agreed is that after the Leader of the Opposition's miserable little speech in last Wednesday's debate, all should be united in their determination to make sure that the right hon. Gentleman never makes a speech from this side of the House.

Mr. Mans

When my right hon. Friend next visits the tenants, will he take the opportunity to visit the British Aerospace centre at Warton, and see for himself the extent of the facilities there for military aircraft production? Those facilities would be laid waste if Labour ever governed the country.

Mr. Patten

Labour's commitment to £6 billion of defence cuts would, of course, have a considerable impact on employment in the defence industries, as well as undermining the defences of the United Kingdom.