HC Deb 29 June 1977 vol 934 cc409-11
4. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what has been the average rate increase in 1977–78 for England and Wales.

Mr. Shore

The average increases in domestic and non-domestic rates over England and Wales are 7.9p and 7.5p, respectively. The House may prefer these expressed in percentage terms—that is, an increase of about 15 per cent. in domestic rates and about 10 per cent. increase in non-domestic rates.

Mr. Knox

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in my constituency rates are going up this year by about 25 per cent? Does he realise that in a low wage and salary earning area this will put a very great burden on people whose living standards have declined considerably in the past two years?

Mr. Shore

I am aware that in the hon. Gentleman's district and in the county of Staffordshire generally there has been one of the highest rates increases this year—not much short of 30 per cent. Even so, the rates that are being paid are below the average in the West Midlands and below the national average.

Mr. Stan Crowther

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in most parts of Britain ratepayers receive good value for money from the local authorities, despite the hysterical campaign mounted over recent years to bring down the rates? Does he further agree that constant calls on local authorities to reduce their expenditure makes it difficult for them to provide not only services which are within their discretion but, at times, the services which are required by statute?

Mr. Shore

I understand the problems that face local authorities. I agree that there is far too much generalised abuse of local authorities about their alleged nondelivery of value for money. I do not agree that that is so. Given the general economic situation, we have had to establish a broad standstill in local authority expenditure. That means that many desirable locally-financed improvements have had to be postponed.

5. Sir George Young

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what consultations he has had concerning his proposals on rates following his recent statement.

Mr. Shore

Consultations with the local authority associations are proceeding urgently under the aegis of the Consultative Council on Local Government Finance. A number of other organisations have been individually invited to comment on the proposals in the Green Paper and my statement contained a general invitation to interested organisations and individuals.

Sir G. Young

Is it not the case that the first-time home buyer, whom the Secretary of State was so anxious to help yesterday, could find himself worse off if the proposed shift to capital valuation took place?

Mr. Shore

That is too generalised a statement. As the hon. Member is aware, a consideration of the implications of shifting to a capital valuation system is taking place. No doubt we shall have a clearer view of this as the consultations proceed.

Mr. John Evans

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those who talk about abolishing the rating system without telling the electorate what they would put in its place are talking absolute nonsense?

Mr. Shore

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is extremely demagogic to put before people the statement that a great national party is proposing to abolish the domestic rating system without saying what is to be put in its place. I want to be fair to the Opposition. Speaking at Ebbw Vale recently, the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition said: An indirect tax, and more grant from central Government should replace domestic rates. I am sure that the House will be interested to hear that.

Mr. Speed

May we have an assurance that no steps will be taken by any Government Department to prepare for the transfer to capital values until the principle of the system has been agreed by Parliament?

Mr. Shore

I hope that we shall have a debate on this subject. A change can come about only through legislation. That would give an opportunity to all those who still feel that this should be opposed to express their opinion.

Mr. Heseltine

Will the Secretary of State make it quite clear that until Parliament has so approved the system it would be wrong for officers of the Inland Revenue to use capital values when assessing rateable values?

Mr. Shore

I am not aware that Inland Revenue officers are using capital values at present. Many discussions must take place. If the Opposition want to bring the matter to a head in Parliament and to seek the view of the House, they have Supply Days which they can use.