asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what action he intends to take with those local government authorities whose rates assessments are higher than the guideline limit he has fixed.
We shall decide whether to implement the transitional arrangements, and if so, what scale of penalties to apply, when final information on rating decisions is available.
Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the stringent sanctions taken by the Government are hurting tremendously the poorest families and children? Will he make certain that many local authorities that are determined to maintain social and individual standards are not punished?
I can think of nothing that contributes so much to the burden of poorer people, to whom the hon. Gentleman refers, than the level of rates that Labour authorities are imposing on them.
Will my right hon Friend remember, in considering this problem, that one of the reasons why inner city authorities load the burden on to the rates is that so many of their ratepayers get rate rebates? Is he aware that the small businesses which are thereby attacked are disfranchised?
I am sure that those factors can play a part. The House will remember that another reason is that the Labour Party consistently encourages high levels of public expenditure, nationally and locally.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that those local authorities which have imposed moderate rate increases, as he has called them—such as Wandsworth council—have done so at the expense of an increasing number of badly housed people, at the expense of the elderly, the disabled and others in the community who need help? What action does he propose to take in regard to those authorities?
The hon. Gentleman will know from recent by-elections in his area that the local people do not agree with him.
Can my right hon. Friend say what advice he gave to the Cheshire county council on his recent visit to Cheshire, and to county hall in particular, about the fact that it has increased the rate ahead of the Government guidelines, thus offsetting the good management of the borough councils within Cheshire?
The advice that I gave on that occasion was private, and I think it appropriate that it should remain private. However, these matters are essentially for the local people to decide and not for this House.