HC Deb 05 February 1973 vol 850 cc9-11
9. Mr. Roderick

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what plans he has to ensure that local authorities in Wales will be able to freeze their rates in the coming year.

Mr. Gibson-Watt

The responsibility for fixing rates must remain with the individual local authority. The Government are taking power in the Counter-Inflation Bill to enable increases in rates to be monitored. Where it appears that increases may be unnecessarily high, local authorities will be asked to reconsider them.

Mr. Roderick

Will the Minister confirm that the Government have been begging local authorities to make sure that their rates do not rise during the next year? Will he also confirm that, with industrial rerating and the reduction in rates from industrial properties, if the local authorities keep up their public expenditure the domestic ratepayer will inevitably have to contribute more and the council house tenant will have to pay even more than the private house tenant? What are the Government prepared to do by way of assistance from central Government funds?

Mr. Gibson-Watt

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the grant for 1973–74 has been increased to a higher figure than ever before—to over £3,000 million. It will account for 60 per cent. of expenditure. The domestic element—the direct subsidy to domestic ratepayers—has been increased for 1973–74 by some 50 per cent.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

Since there are many widespread misconceptions about rate revision, will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to make it clear that the revision of rate assessments provides no excuse to local authorities to make general increases in rates? Will he confirm that it is wrong to take the view—a view taken by many people, including the elderly—that rates may go up by up to two and a half times? Will he now seek to dispel that belief?

Mr. Gibson-Watt

I am glad to confirm what my hon. Friend says. A circular is about to be issued to local authorities explaining the proposed arrangements and the information we shall need. Where we consider that their expenditure proposals are too high, we shall ask them to reconsider those proposals. The powers taken in the Act will facilitate reconsideration and, if necessary, the substitution of a lower rate.

Mr. McBride

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that local treasurers face a natural increase in expenditure every year and, because of the Government's inflationary policy, will have to bear a much higher burden this year? In view of the Government's declared intention to monitor rates and since a local authority which seeks to maintain its services will require to impose an inordinately high poundage rate, will the Government give a subvention to those local authorities which face such a situation?

Mr. Gibson-Watt

I have already given the figures and have told the House what they mean in terms of the increase in the domestic element of rate support grant, which should go a long way to satisfy the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Elystan Morgan

We know from a reply given by the Secretary of State last week that rate valuations in Wales are expected to increase by 138 per cent. Has the Secretary of State had discussions with local authorities to find out by what figure he expects general rates in Wales to increase, and did he convey that information to the Cabinet when it considered housing legislation?

Mr. Gibson-Watt

There are continuing ing discussions between the local authorities and the Welsh Office. These are important matters in our various considerations.