Exit the poll tax, enter the phone tax.

With Britain's widely hated local government tax barely laid to rest, Chancellor of the Exchequer Norman Lamont has provoked another tax storm with a quip about mobile telephones.Lamont dropped a bombshell in March for unsuspecting owners of the portable telephone - the executive accessory which has become a business lifeline for thousands of Britons needing to keep in touch with clients or bosses.

The devices were a public nuisance, Lamont said in his budget speech to parliament, and users would have to pay the government for the privilege of having such an anti-social instrument provided by their employers.

"I hope that as a result of this measure, restaurants will be quieter and roads will be safer," Lamont said, injecting a lighter touch into an otherwise straight-faced address.

But the Chancellor's joke at the expense of the mobile telephone, which he called "one of the greatest scourges of modern life," has fallen flat.

The proposed tax has been pilloried in newspaper articles.

Defenders of the mobile telephone have called in to national radio stations to complain that the devices are not "yuppie" perks but invaluable business tools.

Even members of Lamont's Conservative Party have cast doubt on the tax. Conservative backbencher Teresa Gorman stuck up for her mobile telephone in parliament, offering a list of personal annoyances as alternative tax material.