§ 11.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)
We have had a wide variety of debates on this Bill. I now want to turn to the question of rates, and what I submit are the inadequacies of the Government's proposals on the subject.
At the last General Election a significant pledge was made by the Labour Party that it would provide the electorate with early relief if it were returned to 2271 power. It was significant because it tipped the balance in favour of the Labour Party to the extent of many thousands of votes. Many people believed that this pledge would be honoured, and they were entitled to do so, because it seemed to be a fair and logical one. But I believe it was an unfair and cynical one, because nothing has been done for the vast majority of ratepayers in the last 17 months—ratepayers who were led to believe that there would be quick and substantial help if a Labour Government were returned.
Last week, together with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), I asked Questions of the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The Minister replied:Proposals for four major alleviations of the rating system are on their way to the Statute Book. First, domestic ratepayers are to be derated to the extent on average of about half the usual annual increase in rates. Second, empty property is to be rated. Third, all domestic ratepayers will be able to pay their rates by instalments. Fourth, rate rebates are being provided for 2 million ratepayers of limited means at a cost to the Exchequer of £22 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st March, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 1071.]Let us analyse those statements in some detail, because it is impossible to appreciate them in the quick cut and thrust of Question Time.
First is the granting of rebates for 2 million ratepayers of limited means. This, of course, refers to the Rating Bill with which we have been concerned and which will became law tomorrow if it receives the Royal Assent. That is well and good, but it is an inadequate and badly drafted Bill, which we criticised strongly on Second and Third Readings and in Committee, but whose broad objectives we support. But it is a pathetically small improvement, as any expert on rating knows.
In a country where the average wage is rising month by month, in days of mounting inflation, it means that only the poorest people—those below standard incomes—will be helped. It is right that they should be helped, but there are thousands who can be described as anything but rich who will not be helped by the Bill and who are, in fact, ignored by 2272 it. In effect, they will get nothing, and as a result of the subsidy given to the poorest people by the Bill, they will have to pay more by way of their rates. I am thinking also of my own constituency in this respect, because as it is a typical urban area, the average wage there must be between £15 and £25 a week.
Last year, the ratepayers suffered a swingeing increase in the local rates. In the last 24 hours I heard that the Socialist-controlled Hounslow Borough Council has put up its rate by another 1s. 2d. What can the vast majority of my consituents expect from this Government by way of rates relief? What can the vast majority of the constituents of any hon. Member expect? Nothing whatever. I should have thought that this was a major exposure of an election pledge. We have had many debates in the last week or so about broken pledges, but surely this is the greatest broken pledge of them all.
I turn to the third alleviation which the Minister of Housing and Local Government mentioned. He said that all domestic ratepapers would be able to pay their rates by instalment. This, also, is well and good, and I support it, but paying on the "never-never" has never stopped anyone from paying the full amount in the end. While it may be a help, it still means that, annually, many people will be paying more in rate than in previous years.
The Minister also said that empty property is to be rated. This may be worth trying, but I doubt whether it will bring in very much. At best, it is unlikely to bring in enough to make a significant different, particularly for individual ratepayers.
Perhaps the Minister's most important proposal was the fourth which he announced with all the glittering election appeal which he could muster. This was his panic decision—after so many promises over the last 17 months—that he would do something for all ratepayers. He says that he is doing something here but, in fact, he is only making another promise and hoping for the return of a Labour Government. He said in the reply from which I quoted:…domestic ratepayers are to be derated to the extent on average of about half the usual annual increase in rates.2273 That sounds very good superficially, but what exactly does it mean? A large number of people has not fully understood its significance. It means that when Socialist-controlled councils—like Hounslow and many others—through imprudent policies or inefficient management, have to raise their rates by 1s. 2d., the Government will lop off 7d. and shove the rest on general taxes. There will still be a rise of 7d. in the £ or more each year. Ratepayers can expect an increase in rates year after year. My hard-pressed constituents, and those of my hon. Friends, will have to meet this increase while general taxation, too, goes up, particularly if the Labour Party remain in power.
§ Mr. James Wellbeloved (Erith and Crayford)
From where will the £100 million, which his party is offering the electors as a bribe, come if not from general taxation?
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
It ill becomes the hon. Member to talk about bribes in view of the number of bribes offered by his party. If he will contain himself I will come to the Conservative Party's proposals. When he has known me a little longer he will realise that I try to be constructive in my remarks.
People will be affected seriously by the rise in general taxation as well as by the rise in rates. There is also a great danger that authorities, particularly Socialist authorities, in the knowledge that the Government will repay half the increase, will say, "It does not matter whether we put up the rate by 1s., 1s. 6d., or 2s. in the £". There will thus be a danger of steeper rises and less slashing of estimates than would otherwise have been the case.
The Minister's new statement is intended to mislead the electorate into supporting the Labour Party. When the facts are finally realised, the right hon. Gentleman, who prides himself on being the "director of psychological warfare" for his party, will be exposed and can expect to lose his job and to be passed to some other Ministry.
What else has he to offer? The Minister made vague noises about the need to change the system. He indicated that this will be considered after the report has been received on the reorganisation of local government. Does anyone believe that that will be in the next five-year 2274 Parliament if the Labour Party wins the Election? I do not think so, and I am sure that many other people do not think so. I can see all too clearly that this will be pushed off because it will be difficult to administer, and it will be brought forward as another election pledge—if it were, unfortunately, another Labour Government, this time for five years—in 1969–70, as a last-minute thought.
The Minister knows, as we all know, that the system must be changed so that we have some form of local income tax or an entirely new system. I believe that he has not attempted to change the system because he fears that it might bring electoral unpopularity. Many people who do not pay their fair share to local expenditure might object in the ballot box if it were suggested that they should do so. If we as a nation are unlucky enough to be inflicted with another Labour Government—I do not think we shall be—then I forecast that the right hon. Gentleman will proscrastinate and prevaricate and that nothing will be done to reform the rating system in the next Parliament.
The hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) asked what were the Conservative Party's proposals. They are to take £100 million off the rates, which is equivalent to one-tenth of the rate bill. That is a fairly realistic proposal. It does not go as far as we should like it to go, and there are many other reforms which could be considered, but it goes further than the Labour Party's proposal, which amounts to £30 million in 1967–68. I hope that when we are returned to power on 31st March we shall set in train a full inquiry into the whole rating system and shall reform it so that there is justice and parity for everybody.
§ Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)
Would the hon. Member like to give us the equivalent of £100 million in terms of an increase in Income Tax?
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
No. I do not think that it will necessarily come by way of Income Tax.
Obviously, it must be considered in the context of raising revenue, including Income Tax, and any proposal to take expenditure away from local taxation to general taxation must be borne by the national Exchequer. But we managed over 13 years to reduce taxation while still spending more and more on general 2275 services, but the Labour Party, since it has been in office, has put up direct taxation—and we can look forward to its putting up taxation again in April if it is returned to power at the General Election. Therefore, it is as broad as it is long. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that if we on this side of the House are elected to power on 31st March for a period of five years we shall reduce general taxation.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
No, I cannot give way to the hon. Gentleman. I am trying to answer one point at a time.
I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would subscribe to the idea that it is a good thing to transfer a certain amount of money over to general taxation to relieve the burden on the ratepayers. The services which we in my party propose should be transferred to the Exchequer are teacher training, grants to students, advanced further education, Class 1 and Class 2 roads, registration of electors, births, marriages and deaths, civil defence and the administration of justice. Although all these items have a local context, no one would object if they were borne on the national Exchequer.
I hope that when we are returned to power we shall, besides making these reforms which are just for the nation, also set in train a full inquiry. There are hon. Members who have been pegging away for years with the idea that we should have the whole of the rating system reformed. One of the great difficulties has been that the experts—I am talking in a non-political context now—say that there is no effective substitute. I believe that there is an effective substitute somewhere and it has got to be found, and whichever party is in power, it is their duty to look into the matter and make sure that a substitute is brought forward.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
The hon. Gentleman is advocating a radical change in the rating system. This is a fundamental departure from the point of view expressed by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in the debate on 20th March, 1964. I should like to quote what the right hon. Gentleman said on that occasion—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Interventions must be brief. The hon. Gentleman should give only a summary of what the right hon. Gentleman said.
§ Mr. Wellbeloved
If I may just give this brief quotation, Mr. Speaker, the right hon. Gentleman said:…I do not accept, nor do the Government accept, that the whole rating system…is outmoded and unfair."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th March, 1964; Vol. 691, c. 1939.]
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
The hon. Gentleman is new here. He probably thinks that he has got me on the hook. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East knows that long before the hon. Gentleman considered coming to this House I was clashing with my right hon. Friend on this issue when our party was on the other side of the House. We are a democratic party—not like the party opposite. We have our differences. I have championed a change in the rating system and I shall continue to do so while I am in public life.
I am in a highly marginal seat and I realise that it is problematical whether I shall be re-elected. I think that I shall be, but I face realities and I recognise that there is a chance that I shall not be re-elected. But I fully intend, even if I do not win this time, in due course to come back to the House. While I do remain active in any form of public life, in this House or elsewhere, I shall fight unceasingly to get the tax system, which includes rating, reformed, because there is nothing more crippling to the initiative of the individual to make progress and to make the nation prosperous than too severe a tax system.
Rates are regressive, unfair and out of date, and the sooner we get a change the better. I shall continue fighting for this, and I think many other Members will do so, so that subsequently we shall prevail. When we do prevail, it will be under a Tory Government.
§ 12.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) is not too pessimstic about his return to the House after the General Election. I am not, and I am equally sure that his speech tonight will be a small step in the right direction on 31st March.
2277 I intervene briefly to make a complaint about perhaps not the most important aspect of the rating system, but, nevertheless, a vital one, and I wish to make it as vehemently as I can. I refer to the decision by the Minister not to continue the quinquennial review in 1968.
Rates have always been a troublesome subject. That is bound to be so when we realise that people must put their hands in their pockets and produce substantial sums once or twice a year—or, under the latest legislation, sums ten times a year. This is a considerable burden to place on people. The trouble has been that while rates have not been increased proportionately to the national income, they have, certainly over the last few years, been increasing proportionately to the net incomes left to people. It is because of that that people have been hard hit.
The main result of the 1963 revaluation was to transfer some of the burden to industry. That was all very well for some areas—those with plenty of industry—but for places like Blackpool, which did not have much industry, it was a different story. In any case, the transfer to industry was, to some extent, illusory, because industry increased its prices to the consumer, and in the end the public paid the extra. However, in 1963 there was a general review and the rating valuations were brought to some parity, with a number of obvious exceptions.
It was not long before the mice got at it. Nobody complains about the introduction of a Measure with the principle of helping the less well off to pay their rates. My party has not objected to that recently-introduced Bill. However, the principle that 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. of that alleviation should be paid for by other ratepayers introduces a further anomaly into the rating system.
When one looks back to the period from the beginning of the war to the final 1963 revaluation one sees the terrible results of delaying revaluation. Consider, for example, the position in a town like Blackpool. Over the years house prices changed rapidly. In many cases, by the late 'fifties and early 'sixties, rateable values had not changed for 20 to 25 years. It may be said that that was a bonus for the people who lived in those houses. It was. But it also came as a severe shock to them when 1939 prices 2278 were translated into 1963 prices. The anomaly was far worse and it was not understood by everyone because there had been partial revaluation in the late 'fifties. One found that commercial property which had been brought up partially to the 1958–59 valuation was, for the last few years before the 1963 revaluation, paying a higher rate.
When it came to 1963 this had been forgotten by those who were faced with rate increases and they saw boarding houses and other commercial enterprises apparently not being charged from the rates point of view. They forgot that their rates had increased in the late 'fifties and they said, "Their rates are not going up. Why should our rates go up?" Wrong, no doubt, but understandable.
What are we doing about it now? Everybody knows perfectly well, particularly hon. Gentlemen opposite, the anger there has been in the past five or six years at the inequality of the rating system. It was made use of in party propaganda during those years. Shall we really find that by 1968 we have changed to a new system which will make it more equitable, or are we simply closing our eyes to the realities of the situation? Are we saying that we are stuck with the rates for years beyond the 1968 position? If that is the position, it seems to me to be nonsense—almost criminal nonsense—to say we shall not revalue in 1968. We shall start perpetuating once again all the anomalies, the difficulties and the injustices that occurred over those years.
It will be made no easier by the fact that inflation will continue over the years, perhaps at an increasing rate—who can tell? If it does, house prices will reflect these differences and the change in the value of money. At the end of the day we shall find ourselves back here in the 'seventies, fighting the same old battles, and facing an electorate and the ratepayers, who will say that we have betrayed them because we have failed once again, knowing what was to happen, to make sure rates moved in line with the changing values.
It is for that reason that I wanted to intervene in this debate. The Minister should think again—hard, long and earnestly—to see whether it is not possible in 1968, when the time comes, to say that we will have a revaluation, which is the 2279 only thing that can keep justice between ratepayers.
§ 12.12 a.m.
§ Mr. R. W. Brown (Shoreditch and Finsbury)
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) and I both serve London constituencies so we have some affinity, and as he and I were in public life together in a part of London where we were close together, we know the field in which we both worked. While what he says has some relevance—and I know that he has always resented the idea of the rating system—I must say that his Government had this matter brought to their attention time and time again. It is no good now trying to create a situation, for the benefit of his present electors, alleging that the Labour Government have failed to do something which, presumably, his own Government refused to do.
On the rating issue, it was very clear when the London reorganisation was to take place that the costings would be very high. I was one of those who marched, and petitioned, saw Ministers, and had row after row, asking the then Minister of Housing and Local Government to make up his mind what the financial cost would be. Time and time again he refused to do so. I cast figures for him. In fact, my latest figure on the new valuation was 3s. in the £ increase. He denied that. He said that it was not important, but that the important thing was to get the reorganisation done that he had in mind so as to abolish the London County Council. That was the real reason for the reorganisation. He wanted to get rid of the L.C.C., but would not say how much it would cost to achieve that end.
We petitioned the Queen, and asked her to ask the Minister to say, before taking that action, how much it would cost, so that the ratepayers of London would know. Again, the Minister refused. So the rates of London went up, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that they went up because his right hon. Friend deliberately acted as he did. We went further, and described what would happen in the following year. We said that the increase would be 3s. in the £ in the first year—because of the disintegration of the services and the proliferation of staffs that 2280 would have to be employed—and that there would inevitably be increases in the salary bills in the second year. I forecast something like 1s. in the £ increase for the second year—which is this year—and that forecast looks like coming true.
We are talking of way back in 1962, when the hon. Member's right hon. Friend could have done something, but wilfully refused to do it. Therefore, I cannot accept from the hon. Member tonight that my hon. and right hon. Friends have been guilty in any way, but that they have not given sufficient money to offset what the hon. Member's Government wilfully did. Brentford and Chiswick must know that, whether or not the hon. Member contracted out of what his right hon. Friend was doing, he still sits on the benches opposite and must accept collective responsibility.
There may be argument about the £30 million or so which, as the hon. Member said, my right hon. Friend is allocating, but that is something which the hon. Member's right hon. Friend refused to do. On occasion after occasion when I saw the former Parliamentary Secretary he argued that finance was not important. I gave him many statistics to show that when reorganisation of London came the net result on the rates would be an alarming increase and he said to me, "I think that you are seeing bogies under the bed". I was not. It happens that the very figures I forecast in 1962 have proved about right.
I agree with the hon. Member that the rating system has been the argument year after year and decade after decade. I have had 17 years' experience as a member of an authority and been to local government conferences in different parts of the country when an alternative to rates has been discussed. We have talked about poll tax, local tax and land tax. I am worn out in trying to think of some other way of meeting the problem. My right hon. Friend was faced this year with a problem which was not of his making.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
The hon. Member is rather trying to imply that it is purely a London problem, but we know that rates are going up all over the country and that in the London area it is mainly the Socialist authorities where there are the biggest increases.
§ Mr. Brown
That is not quite true, but, since the hon. Member and I both serve London constituencies and he raised this matter, as he said, on behalf of his "hard-pressed electors", I suggest that we should both talk about London. London electors should know where the responsibility lay for the greatest increase in rates in London. It lay squarely on hon. Members opposite, and they do not deny responsibility. This was the price that London had to pay for the elimination of the L.C.C.
I believe that my right hon. Friend is serious in his wish to do the best he can to find an alternative means of meeting the problem. I am quite satisfied about that. I am also satisfied that the Bill which we hope will become law tomorrow is an attempt to recognise the problem and give such assistance as may be given to help people who are in difficulties. I should have thought that was creditable. It may not be enough and may never be sufficient, but it is at least a recognition. My right hon. Friend will stand high in the esteem of people outside for at least having the courage, at a time when the Government were very hard pressed, due to the inadequacies of the party opposite when they left office a huge deficit for us to face in those circumstances, to be prepared to look at the problem and try to give some assistance.
My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary has been most courteous to me over a particular issue which has affected my constituents. We have rateable value problems. Because of the London reorganisation there has been a situation whereby some of my constituents were being charged exorbitant rates because their rateable value was out of all proportion to that in another part of the borough. I have had many meetings with my hon. Friend and he has discussed this fully with me. He has done a tremendous amount of work to help. This is some-think which I never had from those on the benches opposite when they were in power. They did not want to know or to understand, nor to apply their minds in any way to the problem. My hon. Friend has done me that courtesy in the past months when I have pressed him hard to try to solve the problem. I have to admit that we have not got the solution, but at least my hon. Friend is now aware of the problem and doing his best.
2282 Therefore, I regret that the hon. Gentleman found it convenient to try to make a political issue of this matter because he cannot substantiate one iota of evidence to show that my right hon. Friend has failed to be seized of the importance of the situation. The hon. Gentleman knows that his right hon. Friend not only knew about it, not only deliberately made it worse, but wilfully refused to do anything in the interests of the people of London.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak this evening, because I was anxious to put the situation into perspective. If anybody is to lay blame, it certainly does not lie with the hon. Gentleman to suggest that my right hon. Friend is in any way culpable for what has happened.
§ 12.21 a.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (Mr. James MacColl)
It is, perhaps, not surprising that we have had two contributions from hon. Members opposite with highly marginal seats. I can understand that they want to make a case which they can reasonably take back to their constituents.
I can tell the hon. Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) that there is no mystery about the problem of valuation. There is a tremendous shortage of valuers throughout the country. This is one of the difficulties about the use of valuation in the rating system, and valuation is a highly complicated matter. As one who no doubt practises in these matters, the hon. Gentleman knows that. We have to have skilled valuers, who are extremely scarce, not only in the Government service, but in the whole profession. That is why it has been necessary to postpone revaluation.
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith), if he will forgive my saying so, was not at his best tonight—no doubt because of the approach of the election. He tried to make a party political speech when he knows perfectly well that this is not a party political issue. His Government had a record in these matters of which, I am sure, the hon. Gentleman is thoroughly ashamed.
When he spoke about this subject in March, 1962, on a Motion about elderly 2283 people with small fixed incomes, the hon. Gentleman said:This is not a party matter. I believe in all honesty that it is a bleak outlook, whichever political party is in control, because of the expansion of services which are run by the local authorities.The hon. Gentleman said tonight, rather foolishly—and my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury (Mr. R. W. Brown) dealt with this very effectively—that the increases in local government expenditure were due to the improvement policies and inadequate management of Socialist councils. He quoted the particular swingeing increase which occurred when the London Government Act came into operation. The difficulties which arise in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Shore-ditch and Finsbury arise from the same problem. We inherited that Act and had to accept it and work it as best we could. It was not something which we could hope to improve.
In that same speech in March, 1962, the hon. Gentleman said:I think that today we are in the position in which we cannot look forward to any reductions at all in future years in the rate burden because of this expansion of services. I forecast that probably in the next few years the rise may well be as much as 15 per cent. on the average person's rates."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, March, 1962; Vol. 654, c. 1791–2.]I congratulate the hon. Gentleman more on his prescience than on his constructive approach to the solution of the difficulties.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
The hon. Gentleman is missing the point, deliberately, I think. He has heard me speak on rates many times and he knows that my whole thesis has been that we must reform the rating system. I have said that whichever political party is in power must tackle this problem sooner or later. My point is that the Labour Party promise early relief, but that there has been no relief for the vast majority of people.
§ Mr. MacColl
I am dealing particularly with the point which the hon. Member made, which I thought was so unfair and unworthy, in suggesting that the Hounslow Borough Council had imprudent policies and inadequate management, when he knows perfectly well, from the time he approached them in a detached 2284 and rational way, and he was a member of Middlesex County Council—which we did not abolish—that these increases are a result of the inevitable growth and improvement of the services which he welcomes, as does everyone else.
The hon. Gentleman also said that he wanted to have an inquiry. On that matter the Labour Party's record is pretty good. Shortly after the 1959 election I moved a Motion pointing out the unfair burden of local government expenditure on the rates and calling for an inquiry into the relationship of central and local finances. That was defeated by the then Government and I notice the hon. Member's name among those who took part in the vote to defeat it. From that time onwards, in every contribution that we made on the subject in that Parliament, we were urging the importance of having an inquiry.
Then the question came up on the Rating and Valuation Act, 1960, which has caused so much difficulty and hardship to people, so many technical difficulties, and so many problems arising out of litigation on the matter. We again moved an Amendment to the Bill to the effect that we should not have new valuations until we had an inquiry into the whole relationship of central and local government. The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), one of my distinguished predecessors, with his characteristic oratory, said:As usual, the Opposition are taking a cowardly and negative attitude. They are hiding behind an inquiry. The Opposition are posing as a lifesaver, having thrown away the lifebelts. That is why I ask hon. Members to support this logical, coherent and humane Measure, and to give it a Second Reading by a substantial majority."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th November, 1960; Vol. 631, c. 524.]We could not move in this matter until we had the first beginnings of an inquiry with the setting up in 1963 of the Allen Committee. It reported in February, 1965 and just over a year from the receipt of the report we are enacting an entirely new piece of legislation, the first practical attempt to deal with the very problem to which the hon. Member referred in speaking on that Motion in 1962 about old people with small fixed incomes. The hon. Member says, on the one hand, that this contribution which we are making is fiddling and useless, helping nobody. On the other, he says that the cost 2285 a quarter of which will go on the rates, will cripple local authorities and will prevent them carrying on. The two points are utterly incompatible.
What exactly is the proposal of the party opposite for the transfer of services? The figure of £100 million has been tossed out in an extraordinarily loose way. No one knows how the scheme is to work. Is it all to happen in one year? If so, in what year? Or is it to be phased over a number of years? Our own proposals for grants which we set out in the White Paper are esimated to cost in the third year virtually the same amount, £99 million. There is the further great value in our proposals that they are weighted in favour of the domestic ratepayer.
Even taking the £100 million which the Conservatives say they would transfer to central Government funds, tax on that will come back to the Exchequer from the commercial and industrial ratepayers who will get the benefit of the transfer. Thus, the net cost to the Exchequer of our scheme is more than the cost of the Conservative proposals.
There are three parts to this operation. First, there is the urgent but too long delayed immediate relief through rebates and instalments. Secondly, there are our grant proposals for an increasing proportion of expenditure to go over to the central Government funds. Thirdly, there is the need for a long-term solution. Here, I agree with a good deal of what the hon. Gentleman said. We are unlikely to achieve a final solution within the existing rating system. As my right hon. Friend has said, we are unlikely to reach a solution without a substantial reorganisation of local government because, if there is to be a really effective alternative source of revenue, one must reduce the number of authorities which have to raise that revenue.
We accept that there is no immediate solution to the problem. But we have not done nothing about it, as the last Government did nothing about it in spite of our pleading. The hon. Gentleman himself confessed that he quarrelled with the previous Minister about his failure to tackle the problem. But we have not waited. We have gone straight ahead immediately with quick and effective proposals which are and will be of great advantage to the ratepayer.