HC Deb 25 October 1920 vol 133 cc1335-8
38. Mr. HURD

asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the burden imposed upon the community by the heavy and progressive increase of local rates, especially for national services; and what steps the Government are taking to enact this Session an equitable basis of division of local expenditure between the national and local exchequers in accordance with the Government's intention, as explained to this House on 17th July, 1919?


On the 29th March last my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister informed my hon. Friend that it would be quite impossible to make a full settlement of this complicated question in the present Session, and the prospect has certainly not improved since then. In the course of the last few years the Government have dealt with the grants for education and police, on the lines recommended by the Departmental Committee of 1914, and provision was made in the Budget of this year for instituting a comprehensive system of grants for roads. In addition, since the Committee reported, large new grants have been introduced for several public health services, and the State has come to the assistance of local authorities on housing and land settlement to an extent never contemplated by the Committee.

Apart from a possible consolidation of the numerous public health grants, the only considerable reforms proposed by the Committee in regard to grants for semi-national services, which have not been carried out, relate to the Poor-law service, and (as the hon. Member is aware) this matter is now engaging the attention of my right hon. Friend.

The financial result of all these changes is that although the total amount raised by rates in England and Wales has approximately doubled since 1913–14, the Government grants in aid of local taxation services have trebled, and this over a period in which national taxation has increased sixfold. In view of these figures I can hold out little prospect of our being able (when we come to deal with the remaining questions of local taxation reform) to do much more in the way of relief of rates than to attempt an equitable readjustment of the existing Government subventions.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the grievance that is felt in the country is as to the incidence and the way in which those taxes are collected, and that there is growing resentment on the part of local authorities that they should be called on to collect money for expenditure over which they have no control?


I am not aware of what money they collect over the expenditure of which they have no control. I know that the Treasury find a great deal of money in and of their expenditure over which it has absolutely no control.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the growing dissatisfaction at the various anomalies that exist in the assessment of rating and at the whole rating system of rating in this country, and would he appoint a Commission, similar to the Income Tax Commission which sat last year, to go into the whole question of local taxation?


My hon. Friend's question is one of great importance, but is not pertinent to the question on the Paper. He has put his finger on what I think is the real grievance, which is not that the taxpayer is contributing too little to natural services, but it is that the charge among the ratepayers is improperly or unevenly or unfairly distributed. I agree with him. but on that matter he should address his question to the Minister of Health.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the inequality of incidence is very largely produced by legislation of the present Session with regard to housing and other matters?


That is not true, or, as I do not wish to be rude to the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I think it is an inaccurate statement.


Is it not the fact that those who are responsible for the assessment of rates in this country have approached the Government on this matter by deputation to the Ministry of Health?


Obviously questions relating to deputations received by or representations made to the Ministry of Health should be addressed to the Minister of Health.


Has the Government considered the question whether land is bearing its fair share of local taxation?


I understand the contention is that land bears an undue share of local rating.


Does the Prime Minister agree to that?

51. Colonel NEWMAN

asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been called to the burden now imposed on that section of the community which is assessed for rates; and will he give a day to discuss their position?


I propose at an early date to lay before the House a Paper containing detailed information on this subject. The question as to a discussion in the House might perhaps be deferred until hon. Members have had an opportunity of seeing the Paper.

Colonel NEWMAN

Supposing the ratepayers go on strike for 2s. reduction, shall we get a day then?


I should welcome a discussion. We can have a discussion when we know the facts.

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