HC Deb 04 December 1974 vol 882 cc1530-3
4. Mr. Michael Morris

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what year of population has been used as the basis of the 1975–76 rate support grant.

The Minister for Planning and Local Government (Mr. John Silkin)

The population figures will be those for June this year.

Mr. Morris

I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that reply. Will he explain what exactly is the problem in using the current year's figures, or even, more preferably, those of a year ahead, because either of them would be considerably fairer to every local authority, not least those which are expanding, such as in Northamptonshire?

Mr. Silkin

I should, perhaps, correct one misapprehension. Whatever else I am, I am not "learned". The hon. Gentleman has a point. It is a rather difficult problem to resolve. One can, as has been done in the past, use information that is fairly old, and of course it penalises areas whose populations are increasing, such as his own. But if we were to use, for example, next year's population figures, we should be in another dilemma—one which has occurred in the past when local authorities complained, with some justification, that the very late time at which they received the data made it almost impossible for them to deal appropriately with the grant which they would be receiving.

Mr. Tomlinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the figures being used this year for the rate support grant are a substantial improvement on those used last year, when the needs element was based on 1972 population figures and meant grave discrimination against expanding areas because their figures lacked the dynamic of population growth? Will he accept the congratulations of all of us on the Government side of the House who welcome the advance in the population statistics?

Mr. Silkin

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It was a recommendation of the official grants working committee. It was the best compromise that it could find.

11. Mr. Rost

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he is yet in a position to announce his proposals to protect ratepayers against further substantial increases next year.

19. Mr. Duffy

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he can now say what plans he has for increasing the rate support grant to local authorities for the financial year 1975–76; and if he will make a statement.

25. Mr. Hurd

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the outcome of his negotiations with local authorities on the level of rate support grant for 1975–76.

Mr. Crosland

I would refer my hon. Friend and the hon. Members to the reply I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) on 26th November. This gave details of my proposed rate support grant settlement for 1975–76 and additional grant for 1974–75.—[Vol. 882, c. 154.]

Mr. Rost

How does the Secretary of State intend to protect ratepayers against some of the unnecessary and wasteful expenditure by Labour-controlled local authorities?

Mr. Crosland

We have protected ratepayers by giving a rate of grant of 66½ per cent.—far higher than was ever contemplated by the hon. Gentleman's party when in Government—and by adding an additional £350 million once-and-for-all special element in the increase order. If the hon. Gentleman will speak to any of his ratepayers, or to his county treasurer, or the chairman of his local finance committee, I guarantee that he will find that the settlement was regarded as being much more generous than any of them had expected.

Mr. Skinner

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the county of Derbyshire was, until recently, for six years Tory-con- trolled and run by the friends of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost)? Is he further aware that in their final year of office the members of that council spent £70,000 on installing a bar in the members' room? Is he also aware that when the chairman of the county council had been thrown out of his seat he inserted in the local newspaper an advertisement urging all independent-minded ratepayers to join his association in order to hammer the Labour Party, although it had had nothing to do with the rate increase——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Order. Question Time is for hon. Members to receive information, rather than give it.

Mr. Hurd

Does not the right hon. Gentleman accept that many local authorities will simply not be able to confine their rate increases to an average figure of 25 per cent., because of the high cost of council house building programmes on which he has encouraged them to embark? Cannot the right hon. Gentleman bring himself to swallow a word or two and encourage those authorities to finance new programmes by allowing council house tenants to buy their own homes?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir. Our policy on this matter is perfectly clear. We do not think that what the hon. Gentleman suggests can be right in any area where there is a significant shortage of rented accommodation. Unfortunately, that definition covers a very large part of the country at the moment. With regard to the ratepayers in the area which the hon. Gentleman represents, I must point out that had we not taken the special measures this year the ratepayers would have faced average increases not of 25 per cent. but of 70 per cent. or 75 per cent.

14. Mr. Freud

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the response of the local authority representatives to his meeting with them on 26th November last.

Mr. Crosland

Despite a number of reservations, they were good enough to say that the settlement was as generous as could be hoped for in current economic circumstances, and that they appreciated the extensive and early consultations which led up to it.

Mr. Freud

I welcome the relief given in the rate support grant, but does the right hon. Gentleman intend to approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer regarding the extension of relief to domestic ratepayers for the forthcoming financial year?

Mr. Crosland

No, Sir. I should hope that that would not be necessary. This year we have given an extra £2,000 million compared with last year and the taxpayer is paying a record proportion of the cost of the services from which the ratepayer gains. I do not think that it would be right, on top of that, to ask my right hon. Friend for a further sum of money.

Dr. Marshall

How soon will individual local authorities know how much they will receive within the rate support grant for 1975–76?

Mr. Crosland

Very early in the new year.

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