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Poll Tax will force people to sleep rough, ministers warned Thatcher; Revealed 30yrs on... decisions that sank Maggie.

Byline: JASON BEATTIE Political Editor

MARGARET Thatcher ignored warnings from senior Tories about bringing in the hated Poll Tax - even when told it could result in more rough sleepers.

Damning files released by the National Archives show a string of Cabinet Ministers told her that replacing rates with the new levy would be a political disaster.

But the Prime Minister repeatedly brushed off their concerns and pushed ahead with her reforms.

The Poll Tax - or Community Charge - replaced the rates system based on house values with a flat-rate tax. Its introduction in Scotland in 1989 and England and Wales the next year sparked protests that helped bring about her downfall in 1990.

Cabinet papers from July 1987 show Thatcher believed the system would stop high-spending Labour councils raising local taxes that hit well-off Tory homeowners.

LOOPHOLE

But the then Welsh Secretary Peter Walker warned that a proposal to exempt rough sleepers would lead to more people living on the streets. He wrote: "This would put an enormous loophole into the system and would be abused. Moreover, it would act as an incentive to people to sleep rough simply to make sure that they escaped having to pay at least 20% of the charge.

"While I appreciate that it is unlikely local authorities would be able either to track down people who sleep rough or to get any payment from them, a specific exemption could be seen as encouraging them to sleep on the street rather than in a hostel."

Even Environment secretary Nicholas Ridley - who was responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament - had misgivings and approached Thatcher in July 1987. An official noted: "Mr Ridley called to see the PM. He mentioned his growing concern about opposition to the Community Charge. He showed some inclination to want to rethink quite major aspects of the Community Charge. The PM discouraged this firmly."

Chancellor Nigel Lawson also warned that introducing the Poll Tax would leave the Tories exposed to "unacceptable political risks". He wrote: "I do not see how we could justify the capricious changes in local taxation which would follow. People, not councils, have votes. More people will pay; and there will be more losers than gainers. Such changes must therefore be introduced gradually and carefully."

Labour peer Lord Foulkes, who was an MP in Scotland when the levy was introduced, said of the revelations: "Ultimately, Thatcher was toppled as a result of the Poll Tax and justice was served.

"These documents show she was the one to blame. When you got to the stage that Nigel Lawson and Nicholas Ridley were opposed it shows she rode roughshod over her Cabinet, just as she rode roughshod over everyone else."

He added: "There is a lesson here for the current Government, which is trying to out-Thatcher Thatcher. Some of the things they are doing to the health service, the trade union bashing and the welfare changes even she would have baulked at."

And Labour MP Matthew Pennycook said: "These releases will come as no surprise to many. From Thatcher's Poll Tax to today's Bedroom Tax, the Tories' out-of-touch policies continue to hit hard-working families the hardest. It shows they haven't changed."

Meanwhile, it was revealed that Thatcher snubbed pleas for help from media mogul Robert Maxwell as he tried to raise funds for the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edin-PLEAS burgh. The competition was in crisis after 32 of the 59 eligible countries boycotted it in protest over apartheid in South Africa and faced falling through.

Then Daily Mirror owner Maxwell vowed to raise private contributions and put in his own cash to save it - but with a shortfall of millions, he repeatedly asked the Government for aid.

Documents reveal the Cabinet Maxwell Office's reservations at the "slightly demeaning" involvement of the PM writing "begging letters". And in one briefing document Thatcher wrote: "I am not going to sign letters asking for money. The organisers must do that."

Maxwell so admired Thatcher's steely resolve that he eventually wrote to her to say he respected the way she had "stuck to her guns".

jason.beattie@mirror.co.uk

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 19, 2016
Words:696
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