I should like to add my congratulations and those of the House to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Frederic Harris) for the-way in which he moved this Motion, and more particularly on the very long-drawn-out battle which he has fought on behalf of the ratepayers.
This debate has possibly been worthwhile if only to give a moment of pleasure to the Parliamentary Secretary. It is so very rare that the Government think that they have a good case, that it is really a cause for congratulations, and my heart warmed to see the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in such a happy mood. I stress the fact that it was a "moment", because I am afraid that these moments of joy for ratepayers are very passing phases indeed.
I had a most interesting letter from the Secretary of the Rating and Valuation
Association, who explained how this moment of pleasure had been brought about. He said that
Local authorities have entered into the spirit of the freeze.
So one can see local authorities standing like icebergs, their expenditure frozen to the ground, really enjoying themselves "in the spirit of the freeze". But had the Conservative Party been in power, local authority expenditure would have been able to have been paid for out of the growth in the economy which always takes place during our periods of office.
I have to remind the Parliamentary Secretary, even in this moment of ecstasy which he is having over the rate situation, that there are some matters of sleight of hand which very often mask the true picture. He has to realise that in this year 1967–68 there will be very severe drawing on balances by many local authorities throughout the country. In the County of Cheshire, where I live, there will be a rate increase of 3d. in the £, but there will be a drawing on balances also of about 3d. in the £ in order to stabilise rates. In another county, of which I have news, that is Derbyshire, the rate at the moment should have been 9s. 11½d., but they levied a rate of 8s. 6d. because they were drawing on their balances to an enormous extent to keep the rate poundages steady.
This state of affairs is being brought about by the generosity of local authorities in meeting the present Government. I do not criticise them for that. They are doing their best in the national interest, but one must realise that their rate balances are being drawn on very heavily indeed.