HC Deb 10 November 1964 vol 701 cc816-8
13. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if he will put in hand a comprehensive review of the rating system in order to ensure that the growing burden of rates is more fairly shared throughout the community.

Mr. Diamond

We are examining the whole question of local government finance, including the rating system.

Mr. D. Smith

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, despite the pre-election promises of the Prime Minister, the fact that the Queen's Speech has only an oblique reference to the subject indicates that it will have low priority in the Government's programme? Would the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a very fair measure of social justice if the present unfair and rather discriminatory tax on owner-occupiers were abolished for something shared more evenly throughout the community?

Mr. Diamond

I do not think that this exchange adds anything at the moment. I have said that we are examining the whole question.

Mr. Evelyn King

When the examination takes place, will the hon. Gentleman take particular care to see that regard is had to the position of towns in which there is an over-average proportion of elderly and retired people—towns such as Weymouth, which feel strongly on this matter?

Mr. Diamond

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman by saying that what he is referring to is not the question of the spread of population but the spread of industry. Large numbers of retired people are generally found in places where there is less than the normal amount of industry. That is a very important aspect and will be fully taken into account.

Mr. F. M. Bennett

Can we have a specific assurance, following the Gracious Speech, that the review will be instituted during the coming Session?

Mr. Diamond

I can go much further. The review has already started.

Mr. S. Silverman

Will my hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury explain how long these anomalies, which are giving rise to such anxiety opposite, have been in existence and what attempts have been made in the past 13 years to remove any of them?

Mr. Diamond

I am not in a position to answer fully the second part of that question. But my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) and, indeed, other right hon. and hon. Gentlemen can draw their own conclusions about the first part. I believe that these anomalies existed before 15th October.

19. Mr. Blaker

asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if, in reviewing arrangements for local government finance, he will make a special study of the problems of areas with little or no manufacturing industry, such as seaside towns.

Mr. Diamond

The general examination will cover the effect of factors of this kind on the finances of local authorities.

Mr. Blaker

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that not only do the seaside towns contain many old people living on small fixed incomes, but that in many cases workpeople there earn less than their counterparts elsewhere because of the seasonal nature of their employment? Will he bear that in mind in making his review?

Mr. Diamond

Yes. All these matters will be taken fully into account.

Dame Irene Ward

Can I ask my hon. Friend—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—I am not embarking on any new designation. I want to know whether in this review, which was originally started by the last Government, the differentiation and variation in the assessments done by different valuation officers under revaluation will be looked at, as some houses have been undervalued and some over-valued, especially those in seaside towns occupied by people living on small fixed incomes? Has the hon. Gentleman any jurisdiction over assessments made by valuation officers?

Mr. Diamond

May I say straight away that, unusual as it is for an occupant of this seat to receive such regular and warm regard from the hon. Lady, I welcome it very much? Her question dealt with the problem of valuation rather than with the question of a review. The machinery of valuation is not thought to be unsatisfactory, but I will certainly bear in mind what the hon. Lady has said.

Mr. Shinwell

In view of the friendly attitude of the hon. Lady, expressed on two occasions, will my hon. Friend make her a P.P.S.?

Mr. Speaker

I think that these advances should be restricted at Question Time.