HC Deb 01 April 1981 vol 2 cc273-5
Mr. William Shelton

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his Department's estimate of average rate increases in inner London for 1981–82 over 1980–81.

The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)

The average general rate increase in inner London will be 26.9 per cent. and the domestic 37.4 per cent.

Mr. Shelton

Does not my right hon. Frend agree that that is a heavy burden on the ratepayers of inner London? Does he not agree that it is principally due to two causes—first, over-spending by many Labour authorities in inner London, and, secondly, the lack of an adequate safety net to prohibit the move of too much Government grant from inner London in this transitional year?

Mr. King

I am surprised that my hon. Friend left out the most significant factor in the rate rises in inner London, although he may have included it in his reference to Labour authorities. That is the expenditure level of the Inner London Education Authority, which has contributed enormously and disastrously to the level of rate increases. That could have serious consequences for London. He is right about the other authorities. If he checks the figures, he will find that—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Lewis) addressing me?

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I was talking to the Minister.

Mr. Speaker

I only want the House to know that I do not tolerate hon. Members coming up to the Chair when they have not been called.

Mr. Soley

Does the Minister not agree that, although there may be an argument in favour of local authority cuts, with which I do not agree, and although there is an argument for more spending, there is no argument for cuts combined with high rate increases? That is precisely what has happened in the Conservative-controlled authorities of Kensington and Chelsea, Wandsworth and even my own authority of Hammersmith and Fulham. They did not have the guts to put up the rates by sufficient amounts to avoid a supplementary rate later in the year.

Mr. King

The hon. Gentleman should address himself more honestly to the problems which face inner London. The London borough of Lambeth receives the highest grant of any authority in inner London. Therefore, the idea that the Government are somehow working against the local authorities in grant distribution is wrong. Despite that, the rate increases are massive.

I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton). Owing to the station break, I failed to answer the latter half of his question. He referred to the safety net and I understand his point. He will be aware that we discussed that during debates on the Local Government, Planning and Land Act and the rate order. London has done better in previous years. We thought it right to make a switch of distribution this year.

Mr. Mellor

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the London borough of Wandsworth is to be congratulated on seeking to preserve jobs in the borough by passing on to ratepayers only increases due to the ILEA and not increases due to its own over-spending? Does he agree that it is grossly against ratepayers' interests if councils continue to spend wildly during the present economic depression?

Mr. King

I confirm what my hon. Friend said about the London borough of Wandsworth, which has done remarkably well in the present situation. None of the rate increases being requested of ratepayers in Wandsworth is due to the borough itself, but to external demands—principally to demands being made by the ILEA.

Mr. Dubs

Has not the Minister forgotten to explain that one of the reasons for the difficulties facing the inner London boroughs is the effect of the Government's block grant system, which has taken away a large sum of money from inner London? Will he remind the House how much money has been taken away from inner London as a result of the Government's policy?

Mr. King

Our original projection was about £100 million, which was dependent upon sensible levels of expenditure being observed by authorities in London. The largest contributor to that figure being exceeded is undoubtedly the Inner London Education Authority, which has cost inner London no less than £50 million of grant.