Part of Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 19th April 1988.

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Photo of David Wilshire David Wilshire , Spelthorne 7:30 pm, 19th April 1988

Every time we have a debate of this kind I think to myself, "Here we go again: more exemptions, more requests for rebates." The fact is that 9 million people are already receiving some form of relief. Before we know where we are, 20 million people will be receiving help—precisely the number who are not paying rates now or who are getting help to pay them. I make no apologies for saying that I would prefer there to be no exemptions and no rebates—[interruption.] I thought that would excite Opposition Members. I am not in the least bit anti-nurse, anti-student or anti-anybody else who needs help. It is the method of help that concerns me. I am very much pro-nurse and pro-student. The hearts of those who are trying to do something for them are in the right place but their method is wrong. Nurses are paid; students are given grants; the elderly receive help. That is the way to deal with those who will have difficulties over the community charge. Amendment after amendment advocating exemptions is nonsense.

7.45 pm

I want to deal with what is going wrong as we discuss the amendments. These amendments, and all the amendments that we have discussed so far, also affect the principle and the future of local government. The threatened principle, where there are exemptions and rebates, is the link between services and costs. The Bill sets out to link users and payers—hence the name "community charge". I make no apologies for saying that we should charge for services. The term "community charge" gives the lie to the fact that this is a poll tax, because a poll tax is a charge for voting.

I am well aware of the fact that the notion of charging everybody upsets some hon. Members. I have sat through 147 hours of hon. Members being upset about it. During those 147 hours I heard no hon. Member suggest that nurses should be given free postage stamps, and I have heard no call for cheaper water, electricity or coal for students, yet they are just as essential as dustbins, street lights and fire brigades. All exemptions and rebates cut right across the principle of trying to create a link between services and costs. That link is important, because it puts local government firmly in the real world. That is where the Opposition do not want local government to be. Local government has to face the inescapable, economic fact of life that services cost money. Exemptions disguise that fact. Public services affect the pockets of us all. If we look at the track record of local government, we see that it is usually the poorest who are affected most.