HC Deb 10 June 1981 vol 6 cc404-6
27. Mr. Butcher

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment how many local authorities have indicated that they plan to levy a supplementary rate this year.

Mr. King

I am concerned at the reports that a number of authorities intend to levy supplementary rates this year, although I have had no official notification of their intention to do so.

I very much hope that any such authorities will reduce their proposed expenditure in the course of revising their budgets as we have requested, and that such reductions will remove the need to levy a supplementary rate.

Mr. Butcher

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Coventry recently had a 37 per cent. rate increase imposed upon it, that supplementary rate increases are expected from the West Midlands county council and the Coventry district council, and that the citizens of Coventry are looking desperately to my right hon. Friends for protection against these appalling circumstances?

Mr. King

The first responsibility for the rate levels in those areas is that of the councils concerned. I view with horror what my hon. Friend has just said, considering as I do the impact that it will have on the industrial and commercial activity in those areas. I am appalled at the prospects that such rate levels should be imposed. It is for that reason that we have called for economy in local government. Just as the late Anthony Crosland had to say that such expenditure could not be afforded, for the same reasons we have to deliver the same message.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the right hon. Gentleman stop misleading the House on the crucial issue of the circular? Is he aware that the local authority associations do not regard it as a technical matter, and that they are full of deep anxiety about the interference by the Government that the circular involves? Will he confirm that one association, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, has requested the withdrawal of paragraph 9, because it regards sending auditors into the town halls as unacceptable? Is he withdrawing paragraph 9? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm the—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Front Benchers are no more entitled than Back Benchers to ask more than one supplementary question at a time.

Mr. King

I confirm that this technical circular is under discussion between the associations. If the right hon. Gentleman cares to check, he will find that the matter is now rather better understood by the one association that was concerned about it. I think that there is some misunderstanding about the inflation assumption. I have tried to clarify it across the Floor. It is a technical matter, and we want to avoid misunderstanding. This is a technical circular to treasurers, who have to complete the return forms, and we are anxious to ensure that it is as clear as possible.

Mr. Garel-Jones

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As Question No. 24, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), inquiring about the non-operation of right-to-buy provisions by local authorities was passed over, and as not one applicant in my constituency has yet received an offer—

Mr. Speaker

Order. It seems that the hon. Gentleman is using the guise of a point of order to make a different point, and that is to be discouraged at any time.