23 FEBRUARY 2002, Page 20

A weekly survey of the things our rulers want to prohibit

GORDON BROWN has made much of his targeted tax cuts. There has been rather less trumpeting of a disturbing new trend: targeted taxes, whereby small groups of society are singled out to pay ruinous levies in order to keep down taxes for the majority. Last week the floods minister Elliot Morley came up with a new plan for improving the country's lousy flood defences: he wants to allow local authorities to charge extra taxes on those poor folk whose homes happen to lie within flood-prone areas.

A neat solution, he no doubt believes: why shouldn't the people who benefit from a service be the ones who pay for it, so relieving other voters of the burden? What Mr Morley doesn't say is the reason why so many towns and villages are awash with water after that most unexpected of events — a day's rain. The government already gives money to local authorities to build flood defences; it is just that they have been in the habit of diverting this money into other projects. What is to stop them continuing this practice and spending taxes raised from poor flood-ridden home-owners on a shiny new car for the mayor?

To allow local authorities to pick on people who as often as not are victims of their planning policies is a strange way to approach the problem of flooding. Presumably, among those who will be penalised are the residents of Banbury, who, though never having suffered flooding before, were inundated during a rainstorm in 1998. It turned out that their homes flooded only because a new housing estate had blocked what had been a floodplain between them and the River Cherwell. Expect more of this: once council officials are allowed to raid the pockets of flood victims, they will have a perverse incentive to make sure that as many private homes as possible disappear under the waves.

Ross Clark