§ 4. Mr. Newton
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is yet in a position to announce any conclusions from the process of consultation on the Layfield Report on Local Government Finance.
§ Mr. Newton
Is the Secretary of State aware that this week the Essex County Council proposed a rate increase of nearly 20 per cent. together with substantial reductions in services and a reduction of 2,000 or more in staff? Does he agree that, apart from the hardship, this will cause a significant further erosion in confidence in the rating system? Does he not agree, therefore, that his thoughts on the Layfield Report are urgently required?
§ Mr. Shore
It is not for me to comment upon the individual circumstances of councils. They are responsible to their own electorates for what they do. I am, of course, aware that there are a number of problems that have been discussed in the House in the context of this year's rate support grant. Solutions could be found in the follow-up to the Layfield Report, which we are still studying.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that the whole issue of the implementation of the recommendations of Layfield can be seen and discussed adequately only in relation to regional policy? When can we have a debate on that subject?
§ Mr. Michael Morris
As the Layfield Report called for local responsibility, will the Secretary of State explain what is holding up his publishing the names of those local authorities that have overspent in the current year?
§ Mr. Skinner
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that over the years there have been constant arguments about the percentage level of rates as a proportion of average wages and that over the past 20 years there has been little variation? Does he not agree that the Labour movement—and my right hon. Friend is in the Cabinet—believes in the thesis that rates provide services for the working class? Does he not agree that if rates were not paid these services would not be available to those sections of the community?
§ Mr. Shore
I have no doubt that provision through the rate support grant and rates is an important part of the local government financial system. I have no doubt that our system is of benefit to all our communities and particularly, because of the needs element in the rate support grant, to the communities which are most vulnerable and in greatest need. This is a system that we should not lightly discard, which the Opposition have apparently agreed to do by threatening to abandon the whole domestic rating system.
§ Mr. Heseltine
Does not the Secretary of State understand that his party has been in power for three years and is responsible for yet another massive increase in rates next year? It is unsatisfactory for him to say that he is not prepared to give a date for the formulation of his conclusions on Layfield.
§ Mr. Shore
That is not a very good point. As the hon. Gentleman should know and as his predecessor would certainly have known, we asked for comments on Layfield to come in by the end of November. In the last six weeks we have seen a considerable volume of evidence from people who have been consulted. I cannot have it said that we are being sluggardly or dilatory in our consideration of Layfield. We shall put forward our proposals when we have considered what the many interested and expert people have had to say.