HC Deb 20 April 1989 vol 151 cc449-50
5. Mr. William Ross

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what has been the percentage increase in the regional rate for Northern Ireland for the year 1989–90.

Mr. Ian Stewart

The increase is 12.63 per cent.

Mr. Ross

When the Minister quotes that figure, surely he is quoting the non-domestic rate. Is it not a fact that the increase in the domestic rate is 14 per cent., whereas the council rate increase is an average of 2.38 per cent? Of that 2.38 per cent., some 30 per cent, represents the cost of the local government elections this year. Since the regional rate covers other local government functions also, and since right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government Front Bench support the Government in their rate-capping policy in Great Britain, why do they not rate-cap the expenditure of their own Departments? If they are incapable of controlling the runaway inflation that these figures reveal—and this has been the circumstances for many years—will they please resign and make room for competent people to get the expenditure of Departments under control?

Mr. Stewart

If the hon. Gentleman tables a question asking for the percentage increase in the regional rate, I shall give him that figure. If he wants the answer to a different question, he should table that question. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. It sounds a bit Irish to me.

Mr. Stewart

I am sorry if I am enunciating a revolutionary doctrine, but that is what I have always believed I have to do.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman a mathematical answer. Out of that 12.6 per cent., 2.3 per cent. results from a change in the Treasury formula—a reduction from 82.46 per cent, to 82 per cent, in the amount of Exchequer support as a result of the improvement in economic circumstances in the Province; 4.3 per cent, arises from a one-off credit balance in the account last year, and the remaining 6 per cent., which is the real increase related to expenditure, reflects substantial increases in expenditure on education, road maintenance and other programmes, which I do not recall the hon. Gentleman complaining about when we announced them at the end of last year.

Mr. Peter Robinson

Will the Minister accept that the differential between the regional rate and the district rate is even greater than the figures suggest, because much of the expenditure usually undertaken by the regional rate has been passed on to local government? The general grant factor and community service budgets have been slashed and no money is being given for recreation, and the district councils are having to meet those additional burdens. Does the Minister accept that if he looks at the figures he will see that the differential is all the more remarkable in the cases of the DUP-controlled councils of Castlereagh and Ballymena? Castlereagh has reduced its rate for the second year in a row, this time by 2p, and has the lowest rate in the Province. Will the Minister accept that my question has nothing to do with the local government elections next month?

Mr. Stewart

I shall take the hon. Gentleman's assurance for that.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

Why has a £1 million notional loan charge been added to the cost of collecting the rates and why is there no consultation with the district councils before the regional rate is struck?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman asks me about a specific figure. I shall look up the answer and let him have it. The whole point is that the district councils should be responsible for the district rate and, for the time being, the Government are responsible for the regional rate. Expenditure on local government services in Northern Ireland equivalent to those provided in Great Britain has to be provided through the sum of the district and regional rates. Therefore, the regional rate meets the expenditure, and consulting district authorities about that would not change that picture.