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Rates (Limitation and Procedure for Increases)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 25th February 1981.

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Photo of Mr Alfred Dubs Mr Alfred Dubs , Wandsworth Battersea South 4:10 pm, 25th February 1981

Yes, Mr. Speaker, I am rising to oppose this proposal.

The hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) seems to be totally obsessed by Lambeth council. In speech after speech in this House over the last year and a half he seems to have talked about nothing but that local authority. Whatever Conservative Members think, there is a whole world outside Lambeth council. The hon. Gentleman's Bill seeks to affect local government in the country as a whole and not just in Lambeth.

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman referred to the coming Greater London Council elections. He said that if Labour were to win there would be an increase in rates because of the extra and improved services which would be provided. He then bemoaned that. However, that seems to be the answer to the argument. If the people of London think that London would be better off under a Labourcontrolled GLC, that is their choice at an election. Why should the hon. Gentleman seek to circumvent the right of the people of London to give effect to their wishes? The Bill would restrict the powers of the GLC to operate.

The real issue is the independence of local government. The hon. Member appears to wish that local authorities should become little more than the agents of the Government. We have already gone a long way in that direction as a result of the Government's efforts. The hon. Member seeks to take that process further. He knows that if the Bill were to have effect, the task of local government throughout the country would be made more difficult. He is advocating a course which would lead to bureaucracy going mad.

Not only would Labour-controlled local authorities be affected by the provision; Conservative boroughs, which are at the moment seeking to impose rate increases well ahead of the rate of inflation, would be affected. For instance, Westminster city council is intending to increase its rates in the coming year by 23 per cent.; Sutton by 25 per cent.; Kensington and Chelsea by about 50 per cent.; Harrow by 36 per cent.; and Havering by 25 per cent. In my area, it is likely that Wandsworth council, which is so beloved of the Conservative Party, will increase its rates by 30 per cent. Why are those Tory-controlled local authorities, as well as Labour ones, increasing their rates well above the rate of inflation? The reason is that the Government's rate support grant procedures have imposed this additional burden on local authorities.

If we are to have index linking of rates, what about index linking of rents? What about linking the rent increases in local authorities to the rates of inflation? I am sure that the council rent payers of Wandsworth would welcome that. In the last two years, the rent payers in council property in Wandsworth have seen rents rise by 88 per cent. when the rate of inflation has been about 35 per cent.

The level of rates in every local authority is a matter of political judgment for the local councillors who have been elected to that local authority. They must take their decisions in the light of the promises which they made when they were elected. It is their job to strike a balance between the services that they offer and the rates that must be levied to provide those services.

The hon. Gentleman's proposals would be costly. Supplementary rates and a separate precept would cost more to collect, and to have to do it eight times over would be an additional burden on the ratepayers.

The Government have already threatened the independence of many local authorities through the rate support grant procedure. The Bill would make a bad situation worse. Therefore, I hope that the House will reject it.