§ 7. Mr. Wallace
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Scottish office-bearers of the National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses Ltd. regarding his proposals to amend the rating and valuation legislation in Scotland.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)
The federation submitted comments 253 on our White Paper and on the debate on the Second Reading of the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill. My right hon. Friend has been sent copies of circular letters in which the federation states its preference for a reform of the rates, but, given their continuation, supports our proposal to place a general limitation on rates and advocates greater public access to local authority accounts.
§ Mr. Wallace
I am sure that the House is interested to know that the National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses Ltd. shares the disgust of many that the Government did not take the opportunity to reform the rating system, as they earlier said that they would. Given that we must persevere with the present system, would it not be of greater assistance to small businesses and the self-employed if the Scottish Office team were to try to persuade the Treasury to give an abatement of about 10 per cent. for rates presently incurred by small businesses?
§ Mr. Ancram
I noticed how that the hon. Member voted on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I am sure that that has been noticed by those running small businesses in Scotland. The best help that can be given, not just to commercial and industrial ratepayers but to domestic ratepayers is for local authorities to restrain their rates. That is what the Government have been trying to persuade them to do for the past five years.
§ Mr. Malone
Is my hon. Friend aware that the proposals contained in the current legislation insisting upon consultation between small businesses and local authorities will be widely welcomed? There is a precedent in Aberdeen, where the chamber of commerce is consulting highly successfully with Grampian regional council. It would be extremely helpful if that were extended to those district councils which at present do not consult.
§ Mr. Ancram
I agree with my hon. Friend. It is worth remembering that small businesses pay a vast proportion of the rates. It is right that they should have a voice in how those rates are set.
§ Mr. Craigen
How does the Minister respond to the organisation that represents small businesses about the fact that the Government reneged on the promises that they made during the past decade, saying that it was their intention to do away with the present rating system? Moreover, why is he not consulting more business men rather than relying entirely on big business?
§ Mr. Ancram
As the hon. Gentleman is well aware, we consulted about rate reform and the results of that consultation were inconclusive. We felt that there was little point in replacing rates with an unfamiliar and untried system having little support from the outset. The hon. Gentleman's interest simply does not ring true when we study the remarks that Opposition Members have made about our rating legislation. It is clear that it is Conservative Members who care for the ratepayers and the Opposition who do not.