HC Deb 25 January 1973 vol 849 cc638-42
Q2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of the public speech he made in London to the Association of Municipal Corporations on 13th December, on the question of local rates and related matters.

Q3. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Prime Minister if he will put in the Library a copy of his public speech on Government policy to the Association of Municipal Corporations on 13th December.

The Prime Minister

I did so on 14th December, Sir.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Prime Minister aware that many local authorities recognise the inevitability of soaring rates—a fear confirmed by an article in the Sunday Times last weekend—and that, unless the Government do something drastically to reform local government finance and in the interim increase the rate support grant, vast increases in rates are inevitable and the promise in the White Paper to monitor rates will be simply eyewash?

The Prime Minister

There is no justification for the hon. Gentleman's comment that local authorities inevitably will face soaring rates. Most local authorities are already assuring me that as a result of my speech exactly the reverse will happen. They tell me that they are keeping their local expenditure under control. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to know what the Government have done, I can tell him that we have increased by about 50 per cent. the domestic subsidy to the rates. For the next year the effect on the domestic rate poundage will be 6p in the £ on the new values, which is equivalent to 15.4p on present values. This compares with 10½p this year.

Mr. Dalyell

Which local authorities have given the Prime Minister that assurance?

The Prime Minister

A very large number of local authorities have told me that my speech in Guildhall was too severe on them and did not accept the inevitability of soaring rates.

Mr. Jessel

As the rates bear so heavily on so many householders, will my right hon. Friend consider transferring the whole of the cost of education from ratepayers to the Exchequer?

The Prime Minister

I cannot give any undertaking on such a question.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker——

Mr. Speaker

If it relates to Questions, may we take it at the end of Question Time?

Mr. Jenkins

It was only to ask you, Sir, to invite the Prime Minister to answer Questions Nos. Q10 and Q11 which are addressed to him as well as Q2 and Q3.

Mr. Speaker

That is not a matter for me.

Mr. David Stoddart

Why is the Prime Minister always so out of touch with what is going on in the country? Will he now say which local authorities have told him that the increases will not be substantial? All the evidence shows that as a result of Government action and increases in cost many local authorities will have to increase their rates by between 20 and 40 per cent. Will not the Prime Minister take stringent action by increasing the grant to ensure that ratepayers are not abused in this way?

The Prime Minister

I have already described the additional grant being made to help domestic ratepayers. If the councils of the Labour Party intend to increase their rates extortionately, the hon. Gentleman had better bring his influence to bear on them to stop it.

Mrs. Knight

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the fact that, although the aim of the revaluation is merely to spread the rate bill more fairly, some areas, notably the big cities, are finding that revaluation will lead to an increase in the rate bill? Can my right hon. Friend hold out any hope that the ratepayers of Birmingham, for instance, may be relieved of a soaring rate burden?

The Prime Minister

In the course of the debate yesterday I said that I was prepared to see the leaders of councils in the great cities and that arrangements were being made to that end. Revaluation does not justify any increase in local expenditure. Revaluation gives a different balance between the rate-paying sectors of the community. It is only right with changing property values in industrial premises and houses that this should be done. The reason why there are more anomalies than usual is that the Labour Government deferred the revaluation which was due in 1968. If fairness is to be maintained between one householder and another it is right that revaluation should take place. The problems of some of the great cities arise from the fact that there have been different calculations about the populations of those cities. This is quite separate from the question of revaluation.

Mr. Harold Wilson

I hope that the Prime Minister will learn to calm himself at Question Time. When he referred to the recent Government assistance towards rates, why did he not mention that the Labour Government's policy of increasing the assistance to the domestic ratepayer each year was interfered with by his Government when they came to office by halving the amount of the increase? At best, he is only catching up with what he failed to do. When the Prime Minister referred to—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Rates are too high, never mind my question being too long. The Prime Minister referred to Labour councils. Will he assure us that no Tory councils will increase their rates, and will he name the Labour councils which he has just attacked?

The Prime Minister

One of the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters was stating his experience. He said that many councils would increase their rates by as much as 20 per cent. I replied that if they were Labour councils the hon. Gentleman had better use his influence to stop them doing so.

Mr. Wilson

Will the Prime Minister answer my question—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I wish that everyone would calm down.

Mr. Wilson

Will the Prime Minister answer the question? In the first place he has altered the wording of the reply that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. David Stoddart). Will the Prime Minister assure us about the Tory councils? Finally, will he name the Labour councils to which he has referred?

The Prime Minister

I will reply to the example of self-control and imperturbability we see before us. We shall monitor what is happening to the rates of all councils. Where they are unjustifiable we shall take action. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] When the Bill is through the House. The Opposition can help in that regard.

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