HC Deb 26 March 1979 vol 965 cc10-2
8. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what estimate he has made of the average increase in rates in Wales in the coming year.

Mr. Alec Jones

At this stage not all authorities have sent in the returns from which the average increase can be calculated.

Mr. Roberts

It is well known that the average increase is in the region of 23 per cent. What steps did the Minister take to ensure that councils did their utmost to reduce costs and prevent these well-known, large increases in rates, which are already driving small firms out of business and affecting employment adversely?

Mr. Alec Jones

The hon. Gentleman can use any sort of percentage figure that he cares, but I remind him that if the cash increase in Welsh rates was exactly the same as that in England the percentage figure in Wales would, nevertheless, show itself to be higher because we in Wales benefit from the domestic element which is worth 36p, as opposed to the English equivalent of 18.5p. One way of keeping the percentages in England and Wales equal would be to abolish the domestic element, but I doubt very much whether that would be acceptable, even to the small firms to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. Roderick

Is my hon. Friend able to give the average payment of rate per household in each county in Wales, either this year or last year, the average payment in Wales as a whole and the average payment in England?

Mr. Alec Jones

The average rate bill in Wales this year was £78, compared with £131 in England. I realise that some of the counties received less generous treatment this year than others. However, in the three counties that did worst—Dyfed, Gwynedd and Powys—the average rate bill is £66 in Gwynedd, £54 in Dyfed and only £45 in Powys.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that this increase, at this time, is a terrible burden in an area such as Gwynedd which does not have the resources to bear that burden? The 35 per cent. increase in the Gwynedd county rate is quite astronomical compared with the guidelines issued by the Government. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 85 per cent. of this increase is caused by central Government policies, and not because of anything containable by local government?

Mr. Alec Jones

The hon. Gentleman should put these astronomical burdens into perspective because of the overall rate support grant that those three counties received. In fact, 77 per cent. of the expenditure in Gwynedd is supported by rate support grant. In Dyfed it is 78 per cent. and in Powys it is 88 per cent.