HC Deb 04 December 1991 vol 200 cc255-6
12. Mr. Squire

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what is his estimate of how much more businesses would have paid in rates during 1990–91 and 1991–92 if uniform business rate had not been in operation.

Mr. Portillo

Taking account of actual levels of local government spending for the two years, we estimate that without the uniform business rate businesses would have paid £1 billion more in 1990–91 and £850 million more in 1991–92.

Mr. Squire

Those figures are significant. Given that the Labour party has pledged to abolish the UBR, will not the consequence inevitably be higher business rates for many businesses, which Labour says it is concerned about, leading a number of those businesses to the very edge of bankruptcy and liquidation and increasing unemployment as a consequence?

Mr. Portillo

Yes. In so far as I can make out the policy of the Labour party, it is to give the business rate back to local authorities. We know what the experience has been over the years. Local authorities increased their spending much faster than inflation, which meant that business rates had increased faster than inflation. Under the uniform business rate, the rate in the pound that businesses pay stays in line with inflation and never rises faster than inflation. That is a major gain for business.

Mr. James Lamond

While we are on the subject of the amount paid in business rates, can the Minister tell us whether shops whose rates have been assessed on the basis of six-day or even five-and-a-half-day trading will have their rateable values reassessed on the basis of seven-day trading?

Mr. Portillo

The next revaluation will be carried out in 1993. It will come into effect in 1995.

Mr. Oppenheim

Bearing in mind the need to keep the business rate down, has my hon. Friend had time to glance at a pamphlet entitled "The Citizens' Charter", written in 1921 by one Herbert Morrison, then secretary of the London Labour party, which states that the best way to improve local services is to increase competition? Does that not illustrate that no amount of tacky red plastic roses or glossy image-making can disguise the fact that, far from progressing, Labour policy is regressing?

Mr. Portillo

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It seems that only the modern Labour party is opposed to competition. I have not read that pamphlet. Perhaps during the next hour-long speech by the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) in Committee I will find an opportunity to do so.