§ 2. Mr. McWilliam
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects the review of the future of domestic rates and possible alternative sources of local revenue to be complete.
§ The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King)
We are concerned to announce our decisions as soon as possible.
§ Mr. McWilliam
Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he will not introduce a poll tax?
§ Mr. Heddle
Does my right hon. Friend agree that domestic and non-domestic rates are inextricably linked? Is he aware that today British Leyland has made a decision to demolish 1 million sq ft of factory space in the West Midlands to avoid paying rates on empty property? Is it not iniquitous that Labour-controlled councils should continue such a destructive vendetta against the commercial and industrial ratepayer?
§ Mr. King
As my hon. Friend knows, we reduced to 50 per cent. the discretionary reduction available to local authorities in respect of rates on empty property. It is a matter at which local authorities should look carefully in view of the present recession. Many companies are keeping premises empty, not deliberately, but because they face great difficulties. I hope that authorities will act with intelligence and concern for the companies in their areas and avoid imposing exceptional rate burdens upon them.
§ Mr. Flannery
Has not the Government's conduct forced not only Labour-controlled councils but Tory councils to impose unprecedented rates increases? Will he accept from me the case of a Tory in Sheffield, the owner of a famous toy shop, who wrote a letter to the Tory Lord Mayor saying that if the rates did not fall the firm would have to be closed? He has now had to admit that he said that only for effect and that there is not the slightest likelihood of the firm being closed.
§ Mr. King
I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman is trying to prove to the House. If he is suggesting that high rates are good for the health of industry, that would be a difficult proposition to put before the House. In the present difficulties, all authorities—the vast majority accept this—should look extremely carefully at their expenditure 833 patterns to avoid imposing any unnecessary burden on any industry, in the interests of protecting employment in Britain.
§ Mr. Farr
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, whatever new system of payment is evolved, the entire country is groaning under the present rates burden, especially industry and local ratepayers? In any solution that my right hon. Friend may seek, will he bear in mind the genuine need considerably to reduce the total number of local government officials?
§ Mr. King
I know that my hon. Friend will be pleased that progress has been made in reducing the number of local government officials. There are 100,000 fewer than when the Government came into office. I recognise that the total is still running at a high historical level. We are concerned about this, and all our efforts have been directed to trying to achieve a sensible economy of expenditure while ensuring good value for money from the essential services that local government properly provides.