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Rates

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 15 January 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

1.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any proposals to assist domestic ratepayers whose rates increase by more than 20 per cent. in 1974–75.

I take it that the hon. Member is referring to 1975–76. He was kind enough to ring my private office.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in July our measures to help householders faced with rate increases of more than 20 per cent. in 1974–75. I have no plans to repeat those measures for 1975–76.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. I apologise for not picking up the typographical error earlier. Since, last year, he said that he was providing a lifeline to the unfortunate ratepayer, may I ask, whether in view of his forecast of a 25 per cent. average increase this year, he will come back to the House if it transpires that the average rate increase throughout the country is in excess of that figure?

There is a major difference between this year and last year. Last year's original Conservative Government's rate support grant settlement provided local authorities with £3,430 million which paid for 60½per cent. of the reckonable expenditure. This year the Labour Government's rate support grant settlement has provided £5,430 million—£2,000 million extra—which will cover 66½per cent. of local government expenditure.

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend? Does he stick to his forecast that rates will on average go up by only 25 per cent., or has he any modification? If the rates go up by more than that figure, will he come forward with extra help?

I have no modification to make of that forecast, which was based on an important condition that I have always underlined. The figure is good if, and only if, local authorities keep within the totals of expenditure agreed between them and Government. The point about another relief operation next year is that if this kind of relief were to become an annual event local authorities would be strongly encouraged to set their rates as high as they liked in the certain knowledge that the Government would bail out their domestic ratepayers.

2.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals he has for giving relief in 1975–76 to domestic and commercial ratepayers in areas of special difficulty.

3.

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make proposals designed to ensure that no undue rate burden falls upon small shopkeepers.

The House has already approved my right hon. Friend's proposals under which our ratepayers, both domestic and non-domestic, in all areas, will benefit from the unprecedentedly generous rate of grant to be given for 1975–76 and the special increase which he has made in the grant for 1974–75.

Will the hon. Gentleman accept our congratulations that his party has now, through the evidence it has given or will be giving to the Layfield Committee, accepted the proposal which started on the Conservative side of the House that teachers' salaries should be paid by the Government? Would it not have made a great deal of difference and saved a great deal of time if, instead of criticising our proposal during the election, the Labour Party had accepted it?

It was not specifically that proposal to which we objected. It was the proposal put forward by the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) to abolish the domestic rating system without any idea of what was going in its place.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the part of Lancashire which includes my constituency serious fears have recently been expressed by responsible people like local councillors that the increase in the rates for 1975–76 is likely to be in the region of 80 per cent.? Is the hon. Gentleman further aware that a large part of my constituency is made up of farming land with a paucity of industrial development? The result is that any rates increase will fall largely upon domestic ratepayers and local shopkeepers who can ill afford such increases. Can the hon. Gentleman say—or, better still, do—something—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—to assuage the anxieties of these people and give them some assurance of future solvency?

All areas, including the constituency of the hon. and learned Gentleman, benefit considerably from the increase the Government have given in this year's rate support grant. If the hon. and learned Gentleman is arguing in favour of agricultural derating because his is an agricultural area and there is a heavy burden on the domestic ratepayer, perhaps he will submit that view to the Layfield Committee.

Will my hon. Friend accept my congratulations and those of the ratepayers of Sandwell metropolitan borough for the generosity of the 1975 rate support grant? Can he also find a few words of sympathy for the ratepayers of the Midlands generally following the increase of 40 per cent. in the water rate for 1975–76 which, together with an increase of 60 per cent. in the current year—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]— means a total increase of 100 per cent. since the creation of the—

This makes a total increase of 100 per cent. since the creation of the Severn-Trent Regional Water Authority—another body created following the reorganisation of local government by the Conservative Party.

The West Midlands area did very badly last year, even when in his "rough justice" speech my right hon. Friend changed the amount of grant to the West Midlands—Sandwell particularly. This year I am delighted to say that the area has done much better. There are problems with regard to water, particularly water from Wales, which my hon. Friend's constituency receives, and this matter is currently being looked at by my right hon. Friend.