HC Deb 09 July 1975 vol 895 cc521-3
15. Mr. Fairbairn

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the effect of regionalisation on the domestic rates in rural areas in Scotland.

Mr. Millan

The effect of regionalisation generally is to reduce disparities in rate poundages between one area and another.

Mr. Fairbairn

Does the Minister appreciate that in many towns and villages in rural Scotland, such as Cried in my constituency, the increase in the rates after regionalisation was between 75 per cent. and 100 per cent.? Is he aware that these are areas which have practically no public services? Does he appreciate that the Socialist concept that we should, in his own words, even everything out merely punishes those who have the smallest income and the fewest services and distributes an equal share of the misery?

Mr. Millan

This position arose from the Conservative Government's Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. I am not sure whether that was a Socialist concept. Last year Crieff had a rate as low as 59p in the pound and Kinross County had a rate of only 38p in the pound. Naturally, with regionalisation some of these areas are bearing disproportionate increases. All of this was anticipated and, indeed, inevitable in local government reorganisation. It was the Government of the hon. and learned Gentlemen's party who introduced this.

Mr. Buchan

Will my right hon. Friend at least show some sympathy to the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) and do something to alleviate the level of rates for those living in castles?

Mr. Millan

I should think that they are probably already derated.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the Minister agree that when a similar emergency arose last year in England and Wales at the time of local government reorganisation, the Government introduced a special scheme to help ratepayers suffering increases of over 20 per cent.? Because it was an English emergency, only a small part of the cash came to Scotland. Why has the Minister failed the ratepayers in Dumfries and elsewhere who are facing savage rises? Why will he not fight and obtain a similar scheme for them this year?

Mr. Millan

I have already explained this in the Scottish Grand Committee last week. Even after the introduction of the scheme, which applied to Scotland as well as England, the increase in rates for the domestic ratepayer in England was 17 per cent. compared with 14.9 per cent. in Scotland. The rate support grant settlement this year in Scotland, which was unprecedentedly high—the gap between Scotland and England has again been widened to 8½ per cent.—was meant to produce for Scotland the same overall rate increase as in England, namely 25 per cent. In those circumstances I have made it clear that it is not the Government's intention to introduce any further relief. I have said this to the local authorities and they have accepted it.

Mr. MacCormick

Does the Minister appreciate the incredible hypocrisy of the Conservative Party in raising this question when they were guilty of the heinous shameful crime of overturning the Wheatley Report and placing Argyll in the Strathclyde Region?

Mr. Millan

The hypocrisy of the Conservative Party never astonishes or surprises me.

Mr. Galbraith

is not the Minister's reply a typical example of double talk? Does it not mean that the rates have gone up? Can he tell us whether the reorganisation of local government—producing, as it has done, increased rates—means that when the government of the country is reorganised and an assembly is set up the taxpayer will find that he has to pay additional taxes?

Mr. Millan

Of course rates have gone up. If the hon. Gentleman had attended the Scottish Grand Committee last week, he would have heard the matter debated at great length. I see that he is indicating that he did attend. He was unnaturally quiet if he did so.