HC Deb 23 April 1986 vol 96 cc292-3
13. Mr. Litherland

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what was the average weekly domestic rate bill in April 1979 and in April 1986.

Mrs. Rumbold

It was £3 in April 1979 and £7.70 in April 1986.

Mr. Litherland

Does the Minister agree that those figures show the effect of the Government's vicious cuts on local authorities? Those cuts are estimated at £1 million a week in Manchester, and that means that the ratepayer has to pay more for fewer services. Perhaps Government Ministers would like to come and canvass in Manchester. There would not be a hung council there, but there would probably be a few hanged Ministers because of what the Government are doing to that area.

Mrs. Rumbold

I am interested to learn from the hon. Gentleman that services in Manchester have been reduced, because the real term increase has been in the region of 9 per cent. If local authorities had looked at and obeyed the guidelines set out by the Government year after year for rate increases, they would have been able not only to help their ratepayers but to provide perfectly adequate services.

Mr. Stern

Does my hon. Friend agree that the rate increase over the last seven years, whatever its cause, is a substantial burden on the domestic ratepayer? Will she take every opportunity to make it clear to the electorate that ours is the only party that is prepared to lift this burden?

Mrs. Rumbold

What my hon. Friend says is true. In all instances of carefully managed and well-run Conservative authorities the ratepayers have been the beneficiaries. Sadly, that has not been the case in authorities controlled by Labour or by the Liberal/SDP alliance. Ratepayers can feel safe only under the Conservatives.

Mr. Clelland

Notwithstanding what the Minister said about the Government's policy towards rate increases, does she accept that local authorities have been able to maintain their services over the years only by using creative accountancy methods? Those methods are now running out, as evidenced by the horrendous rate rises that have had to be imposed in Gateshead to maintain services at a high level. Does she accept that only creative accountancy and not the Government's policies have enabled us to maintain a high level of services?

Mrs. Rumbold

No, I do not accept that. Sadly, creative accountancy will not protect ratepayers from the extravagances of authorities which use such procedures. It will not be long before those authorities—and they are mostly Labour-controlled—which have used creative accountancy will find that their ratepayers will, sadly, have to pay the bill.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Is my hon. Friend aware that her figure for this year will include the 26 per cent. rate increase put through by the Lib-Lab pact running Somerset county council? That increase is mostly due to increased expenditure. Does she agree that it makes life very difficult for ratepayers and businesses, and blows sky-high the pretence that the Opposition parties are seriously interested in solving unemployment?

Mrs. Rumbold

I agree with my hon. Friend. Those who are anxious to create businesses find it devastating to have to contend with such rate increases.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Is it not relevant to ask how much of the weekly domestic rate bill is attributable to the late setting of rates last year? That figure can now be worked out. A private letter has been sent by the district auditor to the chief executives of the offending London boroughs. The information should be made public. The figures show that one borough suffered a £50 million loss. My borough of Southwark lost £25 million [Interruption.] Other boroughs have figures that are not much lower. Will the Minister make the figures known so that the ratepayers can judge?

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Gentleman is sightly confused. I say only "slightly confused", which is a great tribute to him. He knows perfectly well that the facts that he wants will be examined by the district auditor, and will be made known as and when those councils which receive such figures have studied them and made them known to their electorates.