§ 9. Mr. Bill Michie
To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he will announce his proposed total standard spending for local authorities for 1992–93; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert Key)
My right hon. Friend expects to make this announcement, as usual, in July.
§ Mr. Michie
What ceiling do the Government envisage for spending next year, bearing in mind the Government's commitment yesterday to placing the capped authorities and their alignment of money which the Government hope will match the council tax guesstimates for local community needs?
§ Mr. Key
This year, total standard spending was £39 billion, which is an increase on 1990–91 of about 19 per cent. We are still considering the pressures that will fall on local authorities' spending in 1992–93. We have discussed the matter with local government representatives and we shall continue to do so.
§ Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman
When considering the standard spending assessment for 1992–93, will the Minister bear in mind the point that has repeatedly been made by me and Lancaster and Wyre borough councils—that the all-ages social index works very savagely against boroughs such as ours? Will he consider the composition of that index and the weighting within it?
§ Mr. Key
Yes, I am delighted to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. We shall carefully consider that matter. We have already received representations from other councils and we shall listen carefully. If my hon. Friend has particular representations that she would like to make, I should be very glad to see her to discuss them.
§ Mr. Blunkett
As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Michie) said, yesterday the capping rules were spelt out in such a way that the proposed council tax figures that were guessed at a couple of months ago are to be applied to spending limits. Will the Government spell out how they intend to do that with the figures that they are to use for next year? In particular, can the Government say whether they intend to take on board the Audit Commission's correct analysis—that, at the very minimum, £800 million of spending that could have been engaged in next year is to be withdrawn from the British public because of the need to retain the poll tax instead of adopting our alternative?
§ Mr. Key
I was pleased to receive the Audit Commission's endorsement—[Laughter.] Oh, yes. It was incorrectly reported in The Times this morning. The hon. Gentleman will discover that Mr. Howard Davies has already written to The Times to repudiate that. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman exactly what I will do. I shall give him further details of our plans if he will give us details of the announcement made yesterday to the House by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), who said that the Labour party has decided on a new way of distributing grant. That was the first that anyone had heard of it.
§ Mr. Cran
When will my hon. Friend be able to respond to the various suggestions made by a delegation that went to see him recently—led by the borough of Beverley but representing the views of about 10 district councils—and in particular the suggestion that there should be a grant system for London on the one hand and for the rest of the country on the other? In so doing, will he accept the thanks of the members of that delegation for the constructive way in which he met and spoke to them?
§ Mr. Key
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. On 22 May I received an important delegation from Beverley, but also represented were Broadland, Harborough, Holderness, North Kesteven, Rutland, Ryedale, Selby, South Northamptonshire and South Ribble. The very serious representations that they made are being considered by me and my colleagues. They proposed that there should be separate formulae for London and the rest of the country that would produce a relatively small gain for a large number of average and below-average need districts and a fairly substantial loss for the metropolitan districts and a small number of urban shire districts. That is the problem, but we shall look at it very carefully.
§ Mr. Nellist
Is the Minister aware that in its representations on the changing of local government finance which the Audit Commission published this morning, the commission—set up in 1983 by this Government—recommends the total abolition of the 20 per cent. payment of poll tax rule? Is he further aware that four of the five people who are currently in prison and at least 13 of the 27 who have been in prison for non-payment of the poll tax have no income, or depend entirely on state benefits? Instead of the platitudes of the past few minutes, when will this Government listen to a body that they set up, abolish the 20 per cent. poll tax rule and stop punishing people for their only crime—that of being poor?
§ Mr. Key
If I could drag the hon. Gentleman into the 20th century and, indeed, into this year, I would point out to him that we have listened. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has made a number of announcements this year about proposals to introduce a council tax to replace the community charge. The point about the community charge relief systems that are in operation is that they are designed to help precisely those 900 people of whom the hon. Gentleman pretends to be a champion. One point that he should continually stress is the need for everyone to pay their community charge so that we do not have this scandal of the honest majority continuing to pay for those who will not pay.