HC Deb 23 April 1986 vol 96 cc295-7
16. Mr. Madden

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he proposes announcing the rate support grant settlement for 1987–88.

Mr. Waldegrave

My right hon. Friend hopes to be able to announce the rate support grant settlement for 1987–88 in about the middle of November 1986, about a month earlier than in recent years.

Mr. Madden

Will the Minister acknowledge that the massive reductions in rate support grant have led to large rate increases in places such as Bradford, where the Conservative-Liberal alliance has increased rates by 30 per cent.? Will he also take this opportunity to apologise for the slur on the West Yorkshire county council that he made just now, suggesting that it fiddled the books last year? Will he also give a clear assurance that when the grant is announced there will be no further stealing of resources by central Government from hard-pressed local authorities, which are desperately trying to meet the urgent social needs in their areas?

Mr. Waldegrave

I think that I would probably be insulting those outgoing Labour councillors if I apologised. I am sure that they regarded their manoeuvres as being thoroughly successful. Their objective was to put up the rates for successor authorities, and they did it. Then, Parliament did not allow us to prevent such things happening, as we did not have the powers to control the councils in the outgoing year. Such manoeuvres were, I am afraid, inevitable. They have been disastrously brought home in the West Yorkshire area.

Mr. Watts

In setting the rate support grant settlement for next year, no doubt my right hon. Friend will have in mind the problems of the shire counties. May I ask whether he shares my dismay that so many of the shire counties, which bleated so loudly about loss of grant this year, have chosen not to pass on the benefits of guaranteed recycling of grant to ratepayers, thereby inflicting on ratepayers much higher levels of rate increase than were otherwise necessary?

Mr. Waldegrave

If they did not pass it on this year, they have it in the balance for next year. I am sure that many councils will take account of that in due course. More important, my right hon. Friend has heard what my hon. Friend said about the shire counties. The whole process of consultation will begin soon in the normal way.

Dr. Cunningham

Is it not clear to anyone who examines the position that the biggest single reason why rates have increased for all authorities has been the seven successive reductions in rate support grant, enforced as a deliberate policy by the Government, resulting in a cumulative loss to local authorities in excess of £17.5 billion? Will the Minister accept that his right hon. Friend's claim—it is noticeable that the Secretary of State has ducked all these issues today—in the newspapers yesterday that average rateable values are what count to those who have to pay rates is a charade? It is rate bills that count to people faced with these problems, and average weekly rate bills have risen under this Government from £2.98 per week to £7.70 per week. Is that not why the chairman of the Conservative party is running scared about the local elections on 8 May, when the Tory party will get a pasting? Is tnat not why he is blaming poor people for the coming defeat and suggesting that it is because poorer people do not support the Government that they will lose? They will certainly lose, but on the basis of the electorate as a whole.

Mr. Waldegrave

If I may interrupt the hon. Member's not very brilliant hustings speech for a moment, would he like to tell the House straightforwardly on which tax—income tax or VAT—the £4 billion or more additional grant that he is pledging to give back to local authorities will fall? Will it go on to the basic rate, or is it, along with the other £25 billion additional expenditure, to go on all taxes and interest rates? In due course the good friend of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), the good doctor in the International Monetary Fund, will return to give them the bill once again.

Mr. Greenway

Would my hon. Friend like to come, and invite the Opposition spokesman to come with him, into the real world at Witton avenue east in Conservative-controlled Ealing, where he will find that the rates are half what they are on the opposite side of the road, which has been in Labour-controlled Brent for umpteen years? Will my hon. Friend remind the Opposition spokesman, and every voter, that the Labour party, when it took over the GLC in 1981, doubled the rates at the same time as it doubled fares for Londoners?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend is right. Indeed, Ealing must be defined as the centre of the real world. There can be no doubt at all—it seems disingenuous of the Labour party even to try to deny it—that Labour is the party of high spending, and therefore of high taxing and high rating. It would be more honourable of the Labour party to fight openly on that platform—an honourable and ancient platform of that party, on which it normally loses—rather than to try to obfuscate the issue.