HC Deb 26 March 1980 vol 981 cc1421-5
9. Mr. Butcher

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is the average domestic rate increase in (a) inner London, (b) all London authorities, (c) metropolitan districts; (d) non-metropolitan districts in England; and (e) non-metropolitan districts in Wales.

Mr. King

The latest estimates for domestic rate increases next year are:—

per cent.
Inner London 35
All London authorities 30
Metropolitan districts 29
Non-Metropolitan districts in England 25
Non-Metropolitan districts in Wales 31

Mr. Butcher

Is my right hon. Friend aware that some 35,000 small businesses are considering leaving inner London? Is he further aware that one of the main reasons cited is the excessive increase in rate demands? Does he not agree that the predominantly Labour-controlled local authorities should consider bringing their rate increases more in line with their Conservative counterparts?

Mr. King

I saw those figures. I am not surprised that small businesses are concerned about the impact of rate increases in inner London. We are seeking to revive the economies of inner city areas. Councils are responsible for moderating their rate demands. The actions of those that do not make any such attempt will be counter-productive in any effort to make an inner city policy work. One conspicuous fact that shines out all too clearly from this year's rate increases is that the higher levels of rate increase have come from Labour-controlled authorities. The lower levels of increase have come from Conservative-controlled authorities. I hope that that point will be taken on board by electors at the district council elections.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that any attempt to penalise inner London, by means of the various methods concocted in the Bill, will be resisted? Is he further aware that those methods are completely unjustified, because the problems facing inner London are much more serious than those found in some other parts of the country?

Mr. King

The proposals in the Bill merely seek to determine whether certain authorities should get a larger amount of grant at the expense of other authorities, which may have been more prudent in their expenditure and which may receive less. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss penalties, I should point out that there is no question about who has penalised the inhabitants of certain inner London boroughs. Certain councils—as the manpower watch figures will show—have imposed penalties by means of very high rate increases.

Mr. William Shelton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the rate in Lambeth is rising by 50 per cent. this year, while that in Wandsworth is rising by 18 per cent? Is he further aware that Lambeth is increasing its staff, while Wandsworth has lowered its staff numbers? Will he reflect on the fact that Wandsworth's rate base is increasing, while that of Lambeth is dropping?

Mr. King

I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that that is the inevitable consequence of what is happening. People cannot endure the rate increases that have been imposed in certain inner London boroughs. In the case he quoted, I think that rate increases of nearly 100 per cent. have taken place in the past two years. The adjoining Conservative-controlled borough of Wandsworth has made rate increases of, I think, 19 per cent. during the past two years.

Mr. Hattersley

Does not the Minister recall that elsewhere on Tuesdays and Thursdays he has said that he cannot publish the formula by which next year's rate support grant will be distributed, because the information on rates for next year is not yet available? Is it not true that he said that yesterday evening? How does that relate to the categoric information that he has given today on the same subject?

Mr. King

That must rank as the second most confused question today. The right hon. Gentleman has asked about next year's rate support grant settlement. That will be made next November and will accordingly be announced. Work is, therefore, only in the preparatory stages. The right hon. Gentleman is getting very muddled. In view of the encouragement that he has given to Labour-controlled authorities to increase their expenditure, the House will be interested to know whether the right hon. Gentleman regards the figures that I announced in my original answer as satisfactory or disappointing.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the statistics that he quoted—

Mr. William Hamilton


Mr. Winterton

I am not reading, I am referring to the question. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the borough of Macclesfield is included in the statistics that he quoted for the non-metropolitan district councils? Is he further aware that that borough increased its rate by ½p in the pound, having held the rate virtually steady for the past three years? Does not he accept that Macclesfield could do that because it sold its assets and reduced its staff by 4.5 per cent? Mr. Deputy Speaker, will my hon. Friend—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am sure that until then the hon. Gentleman's speech will have gone down well in Macclesfield.

Mr. Winterton

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I was living in the past, because you were not with us yesterday at Question Time. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that he will issue guidelines to all councils to ensure that they take up the example that has been given by certain well-managed and efficient Conservative-controlled district councils?

Mr. King

I am pleased with the efforts of the Macclesfield council and of many other Conservative-controlled councils that have frozen their rates for this year, or reduced them. We shall not issue guidelines. We regard that as a question for individual local authorities, their councillors and electorate to decide. We give responsibility to them. We hope to provide them with the information on which to make properly informed decisions.

Mr. Hattersley

Putting aside the ritual abuse beneath which the right hon. Gentleman always takes refuge when under pressure, does he have sufficient information about rate intentions to publish the formula upon which the transitional arrangements will be based? If he has that information, will he pubilsh it? If he does not, what is the force and strength of the original answer to the question?

Mr. King

That question is a lot more coherent than the previous one from the right hon. Gentleman. He has now got his dates right. The answer is "No". We do not yet have sufficient information. We have received about 80 per cent. of the returns. The figures read out were based on the latest estimates and those in turn are based on about 80 per cent. of the returns. We shall make the final adjustments in the rate support grant when we have the final figures in May or June. It is done every year at about that time. If the right hon. Gentleman had understood the previous system a little better he would have known that perfectly well.