HC Deb 27 April 1983 vol 41 cc849-50
3. Mr. Chapman

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is satisfied with the present method of financing local government, including the rate support grant allocation.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Tom King)

We have been reviewing the present rating system and intend shortly to bring forward new proposals.

Mr. Chapman

In any new arrangement, will my right hon. Friend try to ensure as far as practicably possible that all people pay for local government services according to their needs? Is not an inherent weakness and unfairness of the present rating system the fact that a minority are always asked to foot the Bill for the ever-increasing demands of a non-paying majority?

Mr. King

That is one aspect of the criticisms of the unfairness of the rating system that has been very much in our mind, together with our concern about the demands made on a number of ratepayers by the most irresponsible Labour authorities, which appear to have no regard to the problems facing their industrial, commercial and domestic ratepayers.

Mr. Kaufman

What proportion of this year's rate increases is due to the Government's reduction in rate support grant and housing subsidies by £9,000 million?

Mr. King

As I told the House yesterday—I know that the right hon. Gentleman listened with great interest —except for the GLC and ILEA and another 16 Labour authorities, which pushed the average up to 6.5 per cent., there were no rate increases this year.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people living alone have a genuine grievance against those households in which there are often five or six high wage earners? In spite of all the complications, should we not look seriously at the possibility of a poll tax, when the new computer comes in, as such a tax could be collected on a PAYE basis, thereby permitting greater equity between those on high incomes and pensioners who live alone in similar houses?

Mr. King

That is an interesting suggestion. I know that my hon. Friend would be the first to emphasise that, in looking at the way in which funds are raised, it is important to ensure that the demands made are kept as low as possible. I know that he will join me in welcoming the achievements of the Conservative-controlled Birmingham city council, which has reduced its rates by 12.5 per cent.

Mr. Kaufman

I am sure that the Secretary of State would not wish to mislead the House. Therefore, will he comment on the complaint by Surrey county council that 8 per cent. of its 13.7 per cent. rate increase this year is due to the withdrawal of Government grant?

Mr. King

This is a new departure. I have heard of right hon. Members coming back when they cannot think of an answer to the response that they have received, but following a pause the right hon. Gentleman has come back on an entirely different matter. I know that I speak on behalf of all the ratepayers of Surrey who much prefer their rate poundages this year to those imposed by the right hon. Gentleman's authority in Manchester.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Does the right hon. Gentleman expect rating reform to appear in the 1983 Conservative manifesto as it did in the 1979 Conservative manifesto?

Mr. King

I was not aware that it had been announced that we shall have a 1983 Conservative manifesto.

Mr. John Townend

When considering changes, will my right hon. Friend examine the possibility of abolishing completely the industrial and commercial rate and replacing the lost revenue by increasing other corporate taxes and paying local authorities by block grant, thereby making ordinary domestic ratepayers responsible for all marginal expenditure?

Mr. King

My hon. Friend will know that we have conducted a comprehensive review, and he will be pleased to learn that we have excluded nothing from it.