asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he will take steps to provide assistance to small business people in meeting increased rate demands in 1975.
The House has already approved proposals under which ratepayers, both domestic and non-domestic, in all areas, will benefit from the unprecedentedly generous rate of grant to be given for 1975–76.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many employees will be made redundant and many small businesses will close during the year, due to this year's high rate demand? Will he reconsider his decision and try to help small business people? I was told today that rates in Aberystwyth have risen by 80 per cent. in 12 months, and unless something is done in the foreseeable future many small businesses will be in dire trouble.
I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would be the first to pay tribute to the exceedingly generous rate of Government grant for this year. That grant was introduced unopposed from either side of the House. Although obviously one would have wanted to do more, the proposal that we put forward was not opposed in the Division Lobby. We have provided local authorities with a rate relief on a more generous scale than ever before.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman acknowledge that whereas the grant may be larger than ever before, the need is greater than ever? Experienced people in local authorities are saying that they are placed in a fearful position because of continuing and expanding inflation. Will he address himself to the question again?
The hon. Gentleman will remember that the rate support grant, on average, is working at 66 per cent.—the highest ever. The Government have given this aid because of the real need of local authorities. At the same time, the Government have also appealed to local authorities—and I have done so myself—for restraint in their expenditure. We are deeply aware of the problems of local government, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the problems of central Government. I would be very surprised if the hon. Gentleman were advocating a wholesale increase of expenditure on this front. I doubt that he would do so, as it would probably be inconsistent with other parts of his philosophy. We have done a great deal, on a far greater scale than ever before.