Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:02 pm on 16th December 1987.

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Photo of Jim Cousins Jim Cousins , Newcastle upon Tyne Central 8:02 pm, 16th December 1987

I have only just started.

When we are offered a simpler system in the legislation, we should be very cautious about what we are offered. I find some features of what is proposed quite remarkable. Lloyd George — [HON. MEMBERS: "Knew my father."] He may have known the fathers of some Conservative Members; that is their business.

Lloyd George could not achieve a national property tax, but, in the limited form of the uniform business rate, the present Government are introducing a national tax on business property. The right hon. Member for Henley was right to advise us of the awful possibilities of the future if such a tax were to fall into the wrong hands. That may at least sound a note of caution to supporters of the legislation.

At the same time as we are considering this Bill, the Housing Bill is in Committee. The purpose of that Bill is to encourage more renting of property—to encourage underoccupied property back into use. Yet this Bill confirms the undertaxation of underoccupied property. That cannot be logical, and it cannot be right. For the last generation, this country has seen the steady decline of the extended and large family. This Bill has decided to target for taxation large or extended families, although we all know that—for the purposes of community care and social stability, and for moral and philosophical reasons large and extended families are something we should attempt to defend.

The tax will be difficult to calculate, to collect and to police, but one thing is clear: in areas of high population turnover, the difficulties of tax collection will be particularly great. Our cities already contain many areas with a high population turnover, where no one knows who his neighbour is. Yet precisely that disintegration of community relations will be reinforced and encouraged by what the Secretary of State this afternoon, in a beautiful phrase that will long endure in the annals of the study of British urban communities, called "fiscal migration".

This is a tax on the north, on stable communities and on the extended family. More damaging for the Government's future, however, is the fact that it removes local government as a barrier between central Government and the people of the inner cities. Following the passage of the Bill, the independence, authenticity, quirkiness and diversity of policies in those areas will be impossible to sustain. It will be for the Government to negotiate directly through whatever channels they can devise the patterns of services and expenditure that they wish to see. That cannot be right, either for the inner cities of the north or, indeed, for the Government.

The Secretary of State has devised an enormous heffalump trap. Gently, kindly, firmly—with different motives and ultimate political purposes — can we not find a way to steer Eeyore away from the trap?