Burden on Ratepayers

Part of Roads – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 13th March 1967.

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Photo of Mr James MacColl Mr James MacColl , Widnes 12:00 am, 13th March 1967

The hon. Gentleman is obviously another of those who forget in the full heat of the chase. He said it during the Second Reading of the Rating Act. Croydon's general rate is going up by 3d. Because of the Government's policy the domestic rate will go down by 2d.

Take the case of Harrow, which is another Conservative Greater London borough. There the rate is going down by 10d. In the case of Hemel Hemp-stead, which is an expanding borough, the position is unchanged. Those are all boroughs on behalf of whom there has been agitation in the House for something more to be done to keep down the appalling burden of rates.

The other point about which the hon. Gentleman complained was the inade- quacy of the rate support grant, and he asked what was to happen. Local authority expenditure was going up by about 9 per cent., and the Government took the responsibility of saying that that was too high in the public interest. They did not say that it would mean cuts and that services would go down, but that it would not be so easy to make improvements which we should all like to see. With the Government cuts, the increase was estimated at 4½per cent. The position now is that we are paying 1 per cent. more on this increased expenditure and directing those payments specifically to help domestic ratepayers.

The hon. Gentleman asked if that did not mean swingeing increases next year. We shall increase the proportion which we are paying under the rate support grant next year, and we shall also double the amount which goes into the domestic element. That indicates that we are taking steps to deal with the difficult problems which arise from the fact that the burden on the local authorities is liable to go up as the social services and the population increase.

The hon. Gentleman talked rather coldly about the rate rebate scheme and dismissed it as being of no particular value. However, let us compare it with the Act which the last Conservative Government produced. The hon. Gentleman may not know that there was one, but his Government introduced a scheme for rebates in 1964. Under that scheme, £212,000 was paid out to poor ratepayers in three years. Under our scheme £15 million has been paid out in one year, which is more than 60 times as much. That means that something like 1 million people on average are getting half their rates met out of the grant.

I did not myself check the hon. Gentleman's figures, but my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Winnick), who is a little more cautious before he ventures into this sort of discussion, took the trouble by means of a Question to obtain the figures of what was happening in London. Under the Tory Act, Croydon was paid nothing, and Harrow was paid nothing. Under our Act, Croydon is getting £130,000, and Harrow is getting £88,500. That is clear evidence of the effectiveness of our scheme.

The hon. Member says that it is a monstrous injustice that we are asking a local authority to pay 25 per cent. of the cost itself. We think of that as being reasonably fair. We think that in any scheme where the local authority is getting the advantage of a more just rate system it is only reasonable that it should pay a fair part of the cost.

Again, what was the position under the Tory Government? Did the Tory Government pay 75 per cent. of nil? No. They paid 50 per cent, of nil. Either the hon. Gentleman's complaint is that nobody ever really thought that the Tory scheme would work or would produce any money, and therefore that was the reason why it had a low grant of 50 per cent., or it is irresponsible to criticise us, who have produced a very much more effective scheme—it is not perfect, but it is a scheme that is producing results—and are paying half as much again as a proportion of the figures. These show that we are not only succeeding in holding the rate increase but that we are increasing the proportion that is borne on central Government funds.