Repudiating the "flagship" of Thatcher Conservatism, the government of Prime Minister John Major announced Thursday it was dropping the deeply unpopular poll tax and replacing it with a new local tax.

The announcement represented a major reversal of policy for the Conservative Party, which under the leadership of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had supported the poll tax despite widespread protests and warnings that it would be expensive to collect and impossible to administer."The public have not been persuaded the charge is fair," Environment Minister Michael Heseltine told the House of Commons. "We have threrefore decided that from the earliest possible moment the community charge will be replaced by a new system of taxation."

Heseltine, whose ministry oversees the poll tax, said the new property tax will take into consideration the number of adults living in a house and the value of the property but said details of the plan had not been drawn up.

Labor Party Member of Parliament Bryan Gould called the announcement "the most startling U-turn in modern political history" and criticized the Conservatives for being vague about the new tax.

Under the poll tax, which began replacing property taxes two years ago, local governments set a flat community charge for every adult resident regardless of income or property holdings.

Heseltine said a comprehensive review would be held to formulate the new local tax, which would not replace the poll tax until fiscal year 1993-1994.

Thatcher had said the poll tax would be the "flagship" of her third term as prime minister. Thatcher, who was not present for Heseltine's speech, was forced from office in a party leadership battle in November that focused on the poll tax and her resistance to Britain full partnership in the European Community.