HC Deb 21 April 1982 vol 22 cc267-8
18. Mr. Durant

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement on the average percentage rate rise for 1982–83 compared with 1981–82.

Mr. Heseltine

Domestic rates in England have increased by about 15 to 16 per cent. compared with 1981–82.

Mr. Durant

Will my right hon. Friend tell us what the difference is between the Labour and Conservative-controlled council rate rises this year? If, as I suspect, the Labour-controlled council rate rises are nearly double those of Conservative-controlled councils, is that not irresponsible, bearing in mind the effect on small businesses, on people on fixed incomes and on many other of our electors who feel badly about the rate rises this year?

Mr. Heseltine

I believe that I can help my hon. Friend with some information.[Interruption.] It so happens that I have the figures that he requests. The Conservative-controlled shires have declared precept increases of only 12 per cent. on average, compared with 30 per cent. for Labour-controlled councils. The GLC rate is up by 91 per cent., which is a larger increase in one year than in the previous four years under a Conservative-controlled administration. In Inner London, local rates in Conservative-controlled areas are less than half those charged in Labour-controlled councils. In outer London they are less than two-thirds of rates in Labour-controlled councils. Over the four-year term since the last London borough elections the Conservative record is far better than Labour's. Conservative authorities on average have increased their rate by 56p and Labour authorities by 94p.

Mr. Frank Allaun

Is the Secretary of State aware that, in addition to the rate increases, mainly due to cuts in Government support, council tenants have had three Government-decreed rent increases in three years? Will he help all tenants by freezing rents for council and private tenants for 12 months, as Labour announced this week?

Mr. Heseltine

I understand that the hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) announced that this week. I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Manchester, Ardwick (Mr. Kaufman), the Opposition spokesman, made quite the same announcement?

I assume that, in reverting to the policies that it pursued in office, the Labour Party is about to begin the process of halving local authority capital expenditure on housing.

Mr. Wilkinson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if one looked into the details of the figures one would find notorious scandals, particularly in Greater London, where the GLC is expending ratepayers' money on gay liberation groups and other fringe and freakish activities?

Mr. Heseltine

My hon. Friend will understand that after some experience in this job I find it better not to look into too many details of Labour authority spending.

Mr. Kaufman

Is not the Secretary of State responsible for half the rate increases, whether by Labour or Conservative-controlled councils, because of his devastating reduction of rate support grant this year by £850 million? When the electors go to the polls on 6 May should they not remember that the Secretary of State. more than their own council, is responsible for their rate increases?

Mr. Heseltine

I am sure that they will draw their own conclusions from the fact that Labour, not Conservative-controlled, authorities have the largest rate increases. I note that the right hon. Gentleman did not rush to explain the statement made by his hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Allaun), apparently on his behalf. Was he speaking for the Labour Party?