Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:33 pm on 16th December 1987.

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Photo of Mr Barry Jones Mr Barry Jones , Alyn and Deeside 7:33 pm, 16th December 1987

I recollect the by-election when the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin) was elected, but I shall not follow him down the highways and byways of his county. I noted that the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) gave him a back-handed compliment while putting a knife between the shoulderblades of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State said that the Bill is fair. It is evidently not fair, and the right hon. Gentleman was floundering when his hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark), for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) and for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) put questions to him. He gave no clear answers. Indeed, he evaded each question.

I agree with the Secretary of State when he says that the measure will bring a new atmosphere to local politics. That is certainly a prophetic remark, because the measure will devalue all hard-working councils. I heard the Secretary of State speak about the problem of fiscal migration—whatever he meant by that. He should know that many Welsh people are migrating from Wales because there are not enough jobs to sustain them and their families. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was perhaps the most abject speech from a Secretary of State on Second Reading for many years. Where were the Cabinet Ministers? Where was the Prime Minister when the right hon. Gentleman sought to put what is arguably the biggest measure in this Parliament before the House? My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) effectively and devastatingly savaged the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) made a speech such as we have not heard for many years. The right hon. Gentleman used his speech as a kind of political teach-in for the benefit of his right hon. and hon. Friends. He told them that if they proceeded down that path, they would lose the general election, and he told them who would be to blame. His speech dealt a brutal blow to the Secretary of State. The right hon. Member for Henley was right to say that the Bill would be expensive and unfair. As he made that broadside, the Treasury Benches were petrified, knowing that they were unable to make a case against him. I heard the hon. Member for Henley clearly say to his hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) "Forgive me", like some modern Brutus.

The poll tax is an unjust proposition which will hit hardest the underprivileged people in Britain. If we take the Bill in its social and economic context in northern Britain, we can see that it is quite unjust. I would call, as the latest witness, the Foreign Secretary's famous letter to his constituency chairman. It is now well read, and it describes his real concerns about the Bill. He cites racial, class, regional and social differences. The poll tax will bear heavily on the people for whom the Foreign Secretary expressed concern. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is not here today. I wonder whether that speech, which was published over the weekend, was his way of distancing himself from the poll tax. Certainly, the Foreign Secretary was not present this afternoon to assist the Secretary of State.

I shall attempt to put the proposal into a new context. About a fortnight ago, I heard a former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), denouncing the Education Reform Bill. I remind the House that in 1985 the Duke of Edinburgh made a report about the severe crisis in housing. All hon. Members will remember the tumultuous scenes in the House yesterday, because our Health Service is in great difficulty. The poll tax will hit those who are in need of National Health Service treatment and those of our citizens who cannot afford to pay for health care at the point of use.

I wish to relate the Bill to the problem of unemployment. Ordinary people—