HC Deb 25 July 1979 vol 971 cc586-7
9. Mr. Guy Barnett

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he hopes to complete his consideration of the long-term future of the rating system.

Mr. King

I refer the hon. Member to my reply on 27 June to the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall).

Mr. Barnett

If the right hon. Gentleman cannot give us a more definite reply than that, why is it that he decided to cancel the revaluation when it was already in progress?

Mr. King

We have made clear that our intention is ultimately the abolition of the domestic rating system. It therefore made no sense to proceed with a rating revaluation exercise, which, as the hon. Member knows, would not anyway have come into force before 1982. I have no intention of taking lectures on this issue from Opposition Members who have never since the war carried out a rating revaluation in this country, and who are past masters at postponing such an exercise at every opportunity.

Mr. Eldon Griffiths

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the present rating system is the manner in which his predecessors handled the rate support grant? Will he give an undertaking that when he next considers the rate support grant he will actively discriminate in favour of those authorities which, by good housekeeping and prudent management, hold down the levels of their expenditure, and against those authorities which spend their ratepayers' money like water?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will understand that I could not at this stage comment in detail on the points he has made. We are now approaching very earnestly our consideration of this year's rate support grant. I have great sympathy with my hon. Friend's points, which we are bearing very much in mind. I have considerable concern about some of the evidence I have found as to the pattern of distribution in recent years.

Mr. Hattersley

Why does the Minister feel unable to comment at this stage? Could not he at least repeat to the House what his right hon. Friend said this morning to the Association of County Councils, namely, that next year's rate support grant will help the shire counties more and the cities and towns less?

Mr. King

The right hon. Member will recall a previous Question Time, when my right hon. Friend made quite clear that we intended to end the drift away from the shire counties, which has been the pattern of recent rate support grant allocations. We stand on that, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend spelt it out very clearly in his speech today to the ACC.

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