Rates

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23rd November 1983.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Kenneth Eastham Mr Kenneth Eastham , Manchester, Blackley 12:00 am, 23rd November 1983

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to introduce legislation to implement his proposals on rate capping.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

I hope to do so before Christmas.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Eastham Mr Kenneth Eastham , Manchester, Blackley

Is it not a fact that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Association of County Councils and the Association of District Councils are all condemning the Government because of their attitude to rate capping? I am talking about Conservative-controlled as well as Labour-controlled authorities. Are not the Government creating the conditions for overspending by reducing the rate support grant from the 66ยท5 per cent. of only a few years ago to the proposed figure of 52 per cent.? That will affect the very inner city areas and partnership schemes which the Government say they support. In those areas there is the highest level of poverty and unemployment and the worst housing. They are the very areas that need Government support.

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

We made it clear at the election and in our manifesto that we would take action to control the high rates of those local authorities that spend irresponsibly and excessively. There is no doubt that their ratepayers are very anxious to see an end to that. I am coming under pressure to take action sooner rather than later.

Photo of Mr Charles Morrison Mr Charles Morrison , Devizes

Nevertheless, will my right hon. Friend take full account of the strong opposition expressed by most Conservatives in local government to his proposals as they have been presented to us? Will he note that elected local representatives in Conservative-controlled councils are just as concerned with the interests of ratepayers as he is?

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

My hon. Friend will have read the White Paper carefully and will know that the vast majority of councils that have done their best to keep their spending within the Government's guidelines have nothing whatever to fear from the selective rate capping proposals that I have put forward. Indeed, they have much to gain. I am being criticised because the autumn statement had to cut back the capital spending of local authorities on housing, and so on, because the current spending of local authorities had so far exceeded the guidelines which the House approved in the public expenditure White Paper. If we can cap the rates of the overspenders, the majority of councils can perhaps move into less turbulent waters.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East

Would the right hon. Gentleman care to comment on the opposition that he found the other day in the Tory-controlled Warwickshire county council, when he had a private meeting?

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

I think that at the end of the meeting there was a much better understanding of how a council such as Warwickshire, which has budgeted responsibly over the years, would gain if we could bring under control the overspending of the few authorities which spend far in excess of targets. A council such as Warwickshire would stand to gain from that.

Photo of Mr Richard Hickmet Mr Richard Hickmet , Glanford and Scunthorpe

Can my right hon. Friend offer any hope to ratepayers in local authorities such as Humberside county council, who face the prospect of a very significant rate rise in the next financial year because of the loss of rate support grant for next year? Can my right hon. Friend offer them any hope prior to the introduction of his legislatiion?

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

If the councillors of Humberside county council tailor their spending to the targets that the Government have set, there is hope. The responsibility lies with them. However, the county council would be unwise to proceed with projects that could only increase the burden on its unfortunate rateapayers.

Photo of Dr Jack Cunningham Dr Jack Cunningham Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment

Is it not a unique achievement that the Secretary of State has united all three local government associations against his proposals? Do not his proposals mean that rate levels and local authority budgets will be dictated essentially from Whitehall? Are we not seeing the dictatorship of central Government over local government? Will that not result in more damage to services in many communities where people are already under severe strain as a result of the Government's policies?

Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Wanstead and Woodford

I have much respect for the hon. Gentleman, but he is indulging in absurd hyperbole. There is no dicatatorship in the Government taking steps to ensure that the public spending guidelines, which are approved each year by the House, are observed by local government. Commercial and domestic ratepayers in areas of high rating local authorities are worried and have been calling for the Government to take such action for their protection.