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Rating Reform

Volume 124: debated on Thursday 10 December 1987

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he intends to publish proposals for a poll tax in Northern Ireland, including a proposed timetable for its introduction.

The Green Paper of January 1986, "Paying for Local Government", which forms the basis of the Great Britain reforms, made it clear that the proposals did not apply to Northern Ireland. That reflects the fact that local government arrangements in Northern Ireland are significantly different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. My right hon. Friend has therefore decided to monitor the development of the proposals in England and Wales before deciding whether, or to what extent, they should be applied in Northern Ireland.

If that reply is not an Irish joke, is it not at least an inversion of logic to suggest that one monitors what one does to 97·5 per cent. of the population before applying it to the remaining 2·5 per cent.? As all local government services of any note in Northern Ireland are now administered by central Government, and as central Government now collects all the local government rates in Northern Ireland, should not the poll tax have been applied first to the 2·5 per cent. and monitored, and then applied to the 97·5 per cent.?

I suggest that the position is eminently logical, as 90 per cent. of local government functions in the Province are carried out centrally rather than by district councils. In those circumstances, and when making a major change in the local government financial system, given that there is a completely different base for local government in Northern Ireland compared with the rest of Great Britain, it seems eminently sensible to monitor the change in Great Britain.