HC Deb 06 July 1983 vol 45 cc275-6
17. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he proposes to introduce legislation to reform the rating system.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Early in the new year.

Mr. Atkinson

Does not what is proposed in the Queen's Speech suggest that my right hon. Friend will introduce something that merely amounts to tinkering with the present system rather than abolishing it, thus perpetuating the unfairness and anomalies of the domestic rating system? Will he assure the House that he will grasp the nettle of the domestic rating system and introduce one of the choices set out in the Green Paper?

Mr. Jenkin

I shall make it clear in the White Paper that we shall publish towards the end of this month that the proposals in it represent the Government's considered response to replies to the Green Paper and to the report of the Select Committee on the Environment on the subject. We received more than 1,000 replies from individuals and organisations in response to the Green Paper. As was confirmed by the Select Committee, no consensus for any of the possible choices that have been canvassed as a substitute for rates has emerged. For the foreseeable future we envisage the rating system, reformed as proposed in the White Paper, as providing the main source of local government finance.

Mr. Chris Smith

In the light of the Secretary of State's reply, will he immediately reinstitute the review of rateable values that was scrapped by his predecessor in 1979? Is he aware that that action has led to extreme unfairness of treatment among inhabitants of identical properties in my constituency, to the extent that sometimes the rateable value of one house is three times that of the one next door?

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman should await the publication of the White Paper.

Mr. Benyon

When my right hon. Friend considers reforms, will he give attention to one of the absurdities that is highlighted in the penalties announced yesterday? Is he aware that in a rapidly growing authority such as mine there can be no increase in the rate poundage. but we still suffer a penalty because we have to meet unavoidable expenditure?

Mr. Jenkin

In the few weeks that I have held my present post I have been made well aware of some of the rough justice that is inherent in the target system that my predecessors felt obliged to introduce in an attempt to persuade local authorities to budget responsibly. Not least of the difficulties is that to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, concerning areas of rising population. The leader of Buckinghamshire county council spoke to me about that subject only yesterday. I have those points well in mind. To what extent I shall be able to deal with them in the imminent rate support grant is a matter to which I am giving urgent attention.

Mr. Kaufman

The hon. Member for Milton Keynes (Mr. Benyon) has drawn attention to the fact that his county is penalised to the extent of £7–75 million by the supplementary rate support grant report that the right hon. Gentleman published yesterday. As the Secretary of State said earlier today that he wants local government to become more local wherever possible, how will he convince Mr. Ian McCallum, who described the proposals in the White Paper as yet another big step towards more central control?

Mr. Jenkin

I am working on it.