Will the Secretary of State admit that the Government have not the faintest idea how to deal with the future of rates or, indeed, the whole local government financial structure? This is a very urgent matter. What plans for reform does he intend to introduce in the very near future to put local government on a better and more satisfactory financial basis?
I note the hon. Gentleman's feeling that changes need to be made. As I made clear, I cannot announce anything today. I do not accept the first half of his question, and we intend to announce our decisions on the review as soon as possible.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the last Conservative manifesto made it plain that rate reform could not be given a high priority, many thousands of ratepayers in the country voted Conservative in the belief and hope that we would abolish the domestic rating system? Will he therefore ensure that when the White Paper is published it will propose complete abolition, instead of only tinkering with the existing system?
In the interests of accuracy, although the question refers to a White Paper, I referred to our decisions, and the form that they might take is not yet decided. However, I assure my hon. Friend that I, of all people, am more than aware of the interest in this subject and of my responsibility to produce satisfactory answers.
Does the Secretary of State realise that local government financing will now affect Manchester so much that some 20 community centres will be closed and that that will affect the young, the elderly, the single parents, and the mums and toddlers club? Does he realise that what he is doing to the financing of those projects in Manchester will result in riots on the streets again? Will he, like his predecessor, come to Manchester with crocodile tears when the riots start?
I was proud to be able to announce two major new schemes for Manchester from this Dispatch Box last week, which I hope the hon. Gentleman appreciated. I hope, too, that instead of making speeches, which are now pretty obsolete, about the "bleeding cuts" that are necessary in various areas, he will look at the ways in which economies could be made in other services to ensure that essential provision is made. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes an interest in local government. There may be a question later on the Order Paper showing one or two areas in Manchester where that could be done.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Conservative-controlled Essex county council is proposing to increase rates by 5 per cent., whereas Labour-controlled Basildon district council is proposing to increase rates by between 30 and 40 per cent? Is he further aware that the leader of the Labour group on the county council proposes next Tuesday to try to increase the Essex county rate by 2p in the pound more? Is not the real reform one that people can make for themselves in the May elections by electing Conservative administrations to county and district councils?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the pattern is now well established and well documented, on any statistical basis that one chooses, that Labour-controlled authorities have consistently gone for far higher rates increases, often with catastrophic results for employment and jobs in their areas. I note the stark contrast that my hon. Friend mentions between the Conservative-controlled Essex county council and. Labour-controlled Basildon.
I shall give exactly the same answer to the right hon. Gentleman. I have nothing to add to what I told him the last time he asked exactly the same question.