HC Deb 17 July 1985 vol 83 cc308-10
11. Mr. Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further representations he has received about the operation of the Rating (Revaluation Rebates) (Scotland) Act 1985.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

I have received a small number of representations on various points. Many of these points were the subject of debates in both Houses of Parliament before the passage of the Act last month. The others, relating more to the detail of the rebate scheme, have all been the subject of discussion with officials of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, rating authorities and assessors.

Mr. Marshall

What has happened to the £20 million shortfall of the £50 million promised at Perth to hard-pressed ratepayers? Will the Minister reconsider the matter in the light of the statement by the Solicitor-General for Scotland, who said publicly that he is in favour, as we are, of the entire £50 million being used? Has the Minister received any representations to that effect from the Solicitor-General?

Mr. Ancram

First, there is no £20 million shortfall. The scheme was always designed to be demand-led—[Laughter.] Opposition Members may mock that, but I remember that about three months ago they were talking about figures considerably below £30 million, which is unprecedented and generous support at this time. I have discussed the matter with my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General. He is content with the scheme that we shall debate tonight, and he assures me that he will join us in the Lobby.

Mr. Fairbairn

As my hon. Friend is in the almost unique position of having been promised more money by the Treasury than he needs, will he use that example to ensure that the Treasury agrees forthwith with the Secretary of State and abolishes the distinction between guidelines and assessed needs, so that the inequity suffered by those who are above the guidelines but below the assessed needs can also be abolished forthwith?

Mr. Ancram

My hon. and learned Friend has raised this matter previously. He will be aware from statements by me and by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that this matter is being seriously considered by the Government.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Do the Government still intend to replace the rating system during this Parliament?

Mr. Ancram

The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Government are reviewing the system of local government finance. We have made it clear that we hope to introduce proposals at about the year end. It would not be right for me to pre-empt the consideration that leads to those proposals.

Mr. Corrie

Is my hon. Friend aware that several large companies, including Roche and Shell in my area, will receive no rebate under this order? Will he ensure that their appeals are heard reasonably soon, because they face large rate increases this year?

Mr. Ancram

I appreciate the need for appeals to be heard as swiftly as possible. Obviously, that is in the interests not only of the appellants but of the assessors, and I shall try to keep an eye on the matter.

Mr. Dewar

Does the Minister stand by the statement of the Secretary of State that a manifesto pledge on rating reform will not be good enough for Scottish Conservatives at the next election? Does the Minister accept that he cannot shrug off the £20 million as though it was small change? Is it not a scandal that the Secretary of State should parade the £50 million that he extracted from the Treasury as a battle honour at the Conservative party conference, and then simply not deliver? What does the Minister mean by the phrase "demand-led"? Is he trying to say that there is no demand from Scotland's hard-pressed ratepayers for the additional £20 million which they were promised, but out of which they are now being cheated?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman will be aware, because we have debated the matter several times, that the Government had to decide on a multiplier beyond which the effects of revaluation would be unfair on those who had to bear them. We decided to have a multiplier of three, which was below the overall effect of the Labour Government's revaluation, when no help was given to ratepayers. It is a fair figure. When I say that the system is demand-led, I mean that the amount spent under the scheme depends on the number of those eligible under that multiplier.

As to my right hon. Friend's statement, the hon. Gentleman will have heard what he said. That remains the case.