asked the Minister of Housing and Local Government (1) whether, in view of the delay in implementing the policy of giving early relief to ratepayers by transferring a larger part of the burden of public expenditure from local authorities to the Exchequer, he will take steps to arrange for a system of grants to be made to those towns where the proportion of domestic rateable value in relation to commercial and industrial rateable values is higher than the national average;
(2) what plans he has for the alleviation of the heavy share of the rate placed on domestic ratepayers.
The Government are pushing on as fast as possible with their examination of local government finance and the rating system in the light of the Allen Report. When it is concluded there will be no delay in announcing our plans.
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the findings of the Allen Report indicate that the weakest members of the community are subject to a very high burden of rates—the elderly, those with relatively low fixed incomes and those men with relatively large families? Will he give sympathetic consideration to the proposals of Newcastle City Council that those boroughs with large-scale, costly redevelopment schemes in areas of high unemployment should receive special help? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this would relieve the crippling rates burden in Newcastle?
The second part of my hon. Friend"s supplementary question is probably a matter of grant or subsidy rather than of local government finance. I accept what he says in the first part of the supplementary question. One of the main conclusions of the Allen Committee was that elderly people particularly who do not have their rates paid by the National Assistance—and it is estimated that half a million of those who qualify for this assistance do not apply for it—are appallingly hard hit even by a rate increase of 8d. in the £ each year. Thus, the case for rating reform is strongly substantiated.
Is it the right hon. Gentleman"s view that we should transfer at least part of the education burden from the rates? If so, when will this be done? Is he aware that this is causing great hardship to many grandmas and grandpas who are having to pay for the education of children of wealthy people living in urban areas?
Part of our election manifesto was the transfer of the cost of teachers" salaries—or a large proportion of it—from the rates to taxation. But, as I have pointed out outside the House, this is now seen to be far too small an operation to achieve the objective required, which is shifting the balance from rates to taxation if the rates system is not to break down. Thus, a far more drastic reconstruction of the system is required.
In view of the concern felt all over the country about the increases in rates this year, can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the timetable which he contemplates will enable action to be taken to prevent further similar increases next year?