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Rates Relief

Volume 86: debated on Wednesday 13 November 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to announce the amount of rates relief available to domestic and commercial ratepayers in Scotland for the financial year 1986–87.

The level of domestic rate relief in 1986–87 is one of the elements of the rate support grant settlement that I plan to discuss with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 29 November. My right hon. Friend is still considering the future level of the revaluation rate rebates, which affect both domestic and commercial ratepayers.

Is the Minister now in a position to tell us what level of claims has been made in the current financial year of the £50 million earmarked? It would be an interesting figure. Could he give us an assurance that there is a commitment on the Government's part in principle to continue the scheme into next year? If that is the case, it would be necessary to give the important additional assurance that it would be financed by new money and not just by the aggregate Exchequer grant available for local authorities next year.

The hon. Member must be aware that both my right hon. Friend and I fully realise the problems facing ratepayers in Scotland, as shown in the action that we took this year in increasing domestic rate relief eightfold, from £14 million to £102 million. We also gave relief to the domestic and commercial ratepayers who had valuations over three times. That is an indication of our concern. We shall have to consider, in the light of all the circumstances arising out of the rate support grant settlement, the level of future help to be given in these areas.

Will my hon. Friend bear carefully in mind the substantial benefit that came to people through the revaluation rebate scheme, notwithstanding what may have been said by Opposition Members? Will he and his ministerial colleagues do all in their power to ensure that the scheme is retained until such time as we have rate reform in place?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I have found that the scheme that we introduced was warmly welcomed by ratepayers across Scotland, hard hit by revaluation—more warmly welcomed than it was by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, particularly those in the Liberal party and the SDP. At the same time, it is worth remembering that the best protection for ratepayers in Scotland lies in local authorities keeping expenditure down.

Is the Minister aware that there is already considerable anger among the ratepayers in Scotland that the full £50 million promised by the Secretary of State was not forthcoming, and that that anger will be as nothing compared to the anger among ratepayers when bills come through the postbox next year if no rate relief is given? If there is no new money forthcoming, how will he and his right hon. Friend explain this humiliating defeat in Cabinet to the Scottish conference and to the electors in next year's regional elections?

May I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member on his first appearance at the Opposition Dispatch Box, and say that on the Government side, at least, we look forward with relish to his future contributions from that position.

I listened to what the hon. Member had to say and I hope that, as he is so concerned about the interests of ratepayers and the anger that they will undoubtedly show if rate bills go up next year, he will press those local authorities that are controlled by the Labour party to keep their expenditure down and to keep rates down accordingly.

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the rebates? A rebate that does not remove the difficulties of the domestic or commercial ratepayer having his principal bill of the year multiplied by a factor of 10 times inflation is not a service to the domestic or commercial ratepayer. Unless the factor is realistic, it will have no political or economic effect.

My hon. and learned Friend and I have discussed this matter previously. The decision to set the eligibility factor at a multiplying factor of three times was taken after very careful consideration of the proper measure of relief required to be given. I believe that my hon. and learned Friend's constituents have benefited from this. I am sure they will let him know whether they wish a scheme of this sort to continue.