HC Deb 21 December 1983 vol 51 cc419-20
8. Mr. Fisher

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment by how much he estimates rates will rise on average in 1984 following his announcement on rate support grant for 1984–85.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I refer the hon. Member to my statement last week.

Mr. Fisher

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Government have reduced the rate support grant from 61 per cent. in 1980–81 to a proposed 51.9 per cent. next year? Does he not further agree that this reduction of 17 per cent. in Government support is worth £2,500 million? Does he not therefore accept that the Government have very considerable responsibility for the problems of local government today?

Mr. Jenkin

We were, of course, following the very good example of our predecessors, who equally reduced the grant from 66 per cent. to 61 per cent. in the years before we were responsible for this matter. It is widely believed on both sides of the House that it is important to make local authorities accountable to their electorates, and by reducing the proportion of their expenditure met by central Government and by the taxpayer we are doing just that.

Mrs. Currie

Will my right hon. Friend take time to study the accounts of the London borough of Lewisham. which invested £100,000 of ratepayers' money in a commercial pantomime and then censored the text, claiming that it was sexist?

Mr. Boyes

Is the hon. Lady in it?

Mrs. Currie

The name of the evil monster has been changed from Mr. Ken Livingstone to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) In the spirit of Christmas, would my right hon. Friend care to indicate which member of the Labour Front Bench, including my fellow Liverpudlian, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer), he would like to nominate for the role of the good fairy?

Mr. Jenkin

I commend my hon. Friend's talent as a dramatist. Sadly, however, there are many pantomimes going on among some of the loony Left councils, not least in London, and Lewisham is just one example of that. The Bill that I published yesterday will introduce some sense to those local authorities that are bringing local government into disrepute.

Dr. Cunningham

If the Secretary of State is so concerned about local accountability—as he continues to say—why is he afraid to rest his case and to allow local electors to decide for themselves the level of services and rates? He mentioned the impact of his proposals on certain inner city areas, where the burdens and problems are greatest. But how does he explain the position of shire counties such as Buckinghamshire, or the fact that his proposals will reduce the rate support grant for Surrey by more than £9 million? Who is he punishing there, and why?

Mr. Jenkin

No doubt we shall have plenty of opportunity to explore this issue during the next few months. As I think the hon. Gentleman recognises, the nexus between rates and votes has become pretty slender in those areas that are dominated by extreme Left-wing Labour councils. It is all very well for ratepayers—and many electors are exempt from paying rates—to vote for higher services when the cost has to be met by commercial ratepayers who have no votes. It is the responsibility of this House to prevent the oppression of those who are facing quite unacceptable rate increases in some parts of the country.