To ask the right hon. Member for Selby, as representing the Church Commissioners, what further representations the commissioners have received from (a) clergy and (b) tenants or leaseholders of the commissioners regarding the effects of the proposed poll tax.
The commissioners have no responsibility for the rates on properties let to tenants and leaseholders, and have received no representations from them. They continue to receive letters from clergy and church members about the loss of charitable relief on clergy accommodation and the financial implications which the Government's proposals pose for the Churches.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is outrage among the clergy in Nottingham and among the other religious denominations which will be hit very hard by the poll tax? They will have none of the relief on rates currently available, and they will suffer for it. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there are likely to be concessions or exemptions for Anglican and other clergy? If there are, will he ask for them to be extended to old-age pensioners in my constituency, who will also suffer under the poll tax?
I hope that the hon. Member will reassure at least the Anglican clergy whom he represents that it is unlikely that they will have to pay the community charge, any more than at present they pay rates. I am afraid that I cannot speak about the prospects for non-conformist clergy, but I have no doubt that the leaders of the non-conformist denominations will probably follow the pattern of the Church of England.
Does my hon. Friend agree that where someone, cleric or otherwise, has the vote, uses local services and receives an income of some kind, it is quite right and proper that he should be asked to pay the same contribution to local government finances as any one else?
Yes. There is no question but that the community charge will be paid. At present, under the existing rating system, clergy are internally exempted, in that the Church Commissioners pay the rates. Under the community charge, the likelihood is that it will be paid direct on their behalf.
Why does the hon. Gentleman not have a word with his right lion. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? Why does he not put it to him that he should stop bellyaching and knocking the Church and the bishops, and spend a bit more time meeting the needs of the farmers?