Confidence in Her Majesty's Government

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:36 pm on 27th March 1991.

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Photo of Mr Giles Shaw Mr Giles Shaw , Pudsey 7:36 pm, 27th March 1991

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay). In his strong commitment to the rating system, he should recall that revaluation is crucial to its efficiency and success. Revaluation was last done by the Government of my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). Under the Governments of Lord Wilson and Lord Callaghan, no revaluation took place, and we know why. None has taken place since. It is because of the consequences on the market value of housing and the poundage of the rates in a high inflationary period. Tonnage and poundage was a happy little tax in its day, but rateage without poundage is not too easy to tax either.

We are discussing a motion of no confidence, yet there are not many Labour Members present on the Opposition Benches. [Interruption.] This is supposed to be the big setpiece debate before we go on our Easter holidays, yet there does not seem to be much support for the motion. [Interruption.] There has been much criticism of the motion, but I do not hold with it. It is rather a good one. It states: That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty's Government in the light of its inability to rectify the damage done to the British people by the poll tax. About the one thing that can be said is that from day one of my right hon. Friend becoming leader of the party and Prime Minister, action was taken on the poll tax. From day one, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) joined the Government—I am delighted to see him return to the Department of the Environment—the problem of the poll tax was addressed.

In the 100 days of dealing with the problems associated with the replacement of that tax, several things immediately happened. First, a new scheme for the community charge reduction was immediately introduced at double the scale of expenditure involved in the previous transitional scheme, so that one out of every two charge payers would be able to benefit. Secondly, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made major efforts to deal with the existing tax and a proposed successor tax. Thirdly, he it was who said early on that it was impossible to deal with the individual matter of local government finance without, at the same time, looking at local government structure and functions.

My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment have agreed on what should be done about those three issues. They agreed that there should be consultation. For some reason that I do not understand, consultation has become almost a dirty word among some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. My right hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) was upset about it. He is not present this evening, which is entirely my fault because I did not let him know that I was going to address the House—otherwise he would be here. I was surprised that he was against consultation. I thought that he was now officially engaged as a consultant to a major bank, Barclays. It sounds as though his consultation may not get far if he does not believe in it, but that bank is not the listening bank.

There are other problems associated with consultation. There would be absolutely no reason in proceeding to refine local government structure, financing and functions without thorough consultation with those who matter a great deal, not just the public, but those who run local government. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be setting about that shortly after the Easter break. The publication of what is required will be laid before the public to give them a chance to comment on the options, refine the system and, in the light of consultation, definite decisions will be taken.

That seems a far preferable way to go about the process. It reflects the widespread feeling of hon. Members who have spoken tonight that the Government cannot afford to ride roughshod over public opinion with a new and unproven system and enter it in the list as a successor to the community charge.

We must refine the alternative, and take it carefully. I should be happy if my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agreed to take it slowly. There is no need to rush the issue because we know, and the House knows, that the community charge has to be in place for at least two years before new legislation to introduce a new system can become effective. That is why, in the Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor introduced a massive shift of £4·25 billion into local authority financing—there have been no complaints about that from any hon. Members.

That action has ensured that the reduction in' the community charge of £140 for the coming two years will be in place. If that is not a response, in the terms of the Opposition motion, to rectify the damage done", I do not know what is. The motion is a non-starter, because action has already been taken to finance the tax, and matters are in train to determine the future system that will be necessary.

The Opposition chose the motion for another reason, as has been said by my right hon. and hon. Friends. On other issues—the wider parameters of government and what has happened in the 100 days that the Government have been in power—there has been a remarkable series of successes. After only 100 days in office, the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been shown to be a fantastic success. That is true in terms of his handling of the Gulf crisis and the completely new system of European relations that has been established, in particular the relationships with the German republic—which are now on a level where speaking and listening are part and parcel of the membership of the Community. In addition, he has developed relationships with Moscow and President Bush and travelled to Moscow, the Gulf and in the west. All that has been done in 100 days. He has also made major shifts in policy in relation to child benefit and other social expenditure matters such as dealing with haemophiliacs.

My right hon. Friend faces his first vote of no confidence as Prime Minister, but it is absolutely no contest. My right hon. Friend has demonstrated his capacity to lead and to succeed. The Conservative party certainly takes for certain both his leadership and his ultimate victory at the election.