HC Deb 15 February 1973 vol 850 cc1437-40
Q1. Mr. Carter

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent meeting with the leaders of the large metropolitan authorities.

Q6. Mr. Stonehouse

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the official talks he has held with representatives of municipalities regarding the effects of rating revaluation.

Q16. Mr. Kaufman

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement, following his meeting on rates with representatives of Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield and Bristol city councils.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

I met leaders of six major cities on Friday 9th February, and representa- tives of the local authority associations on Tuesday 13th February. We discussed the problems confronting some local authorities in fixing their rates for next year and I undertook to give careful and urgent consideration to the points they put to me.

Mr. Carter

I thank the Prime Minister for that reply. Does he agree that whenever the present revaluation took place cities like Birmingham would have suffered and been put at a disadvantage with respect to other authorities? Does he think that, as a matter of urgency, cities like Birmingham should get immediate help with the problems with which they are faced and be given parity with other authorities regarding Government help?

The Prime Minister

The representatives of the local authorities who came to see me each left a memorandum setting out the statistics that they had compiled to illustrate the point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. I have today received a further memorandum from the leader of the Birmingham City Council—Councillor Yapp—giving supplementary figures for which we asked. All these are now being studied. A theme running through all the remarks of the representatives of the local authorities was that although revaluation, taking the country as a whole, leads to no greater expenditure, there are differences between areas and, within areas, between domestic and commercial properties, and, in domestic houses, between individuals. This aspect is being further examined.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether any representatives of the Labour-controlled borough of Waltham Forest were at these meetings? If so, was he able to state his amazement that they are able to spend £15,000 on aerials for colour television sets in council houses but cannot find £6,000 for a playing field to be made from a piece of waste land for 400 children in my constituency?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend has made the point that he wanted to make. We did not discuss individual items of this kind. The local authorities, of their own will, illustrated expenditure which was the result of Government policies and expenditure which was of their own choosing.

Mr. Stonehouse

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is genuine appreciation that he saw the representatives of local authorities and heard their cases? Is he further aware that many other authorities not directly represented—for instance, the borough of Walsall—are severely affected and are expecting a 30 per cent. increase in rates as a result of revaluation, and that these charges will bear very much on the lowly-paid in the community? Will he consider imposing a freeze on rate increases for at least 12 months?

The Prime Minister

At the second meeting all the local authority associations were represented. These covered the whole country and each type of local authority, so the right hon. Gentleman may be assured that his authority was represented. A number of proposals were put forward. The local authorities have not put forward the idea of a freeze in the way suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, but various other proposals which were put forward are being examined.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

Apart from asking for extra grants to meet the special problems affecting the Midlands area, did my right hon. Friend form the view that local authorities themselves were going to try to bring in economies which were within their power, in order that they could make a real contribution to the inflationary problem that the country is facing?

The Prime Minister

Some of the figures provided by the local authorities, and particularly by the cities, showed the extent to which some of them had deliberately cut down on their expenditure in order to avoid an increase in rates. I say that in all fairness to them. There were others who so far have not been prepared to do that. We are obviously presented with a mixed picture.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the Prime Minister be mindful that by their very nature local authority services are labour-intensive? That being so, is he aware that unless the Government come forward urgently with sizeable rate aid the choice in many areas will be between massive rate increases and cutting essential services? It will lead to further unemployment in areas such as Manchester, where unemployment is already a great problem.

The Prime Minister

The Government are providing the greatest measure of support grant ever this year, as well, of course, as the increased element for the domestic ratepayer. It has also been our purpose to deal with the various problems of the local authorities, particularly those emanating from inflation and from the programmes which the Government have inaugurated.

But the hon. Member's point becomes particularly relevant in those communities, either cities or boroughs, where there is a decreasing population but where the authorities find themselves committed to almost the same expenditure on the services which they provide. That is one of the matters that we are examining.