A number of representations have been received from various bodies on behalf of industry and from individual business men expressing concern at the adverse effects of rates increases on industry.
Is my hon. Friend aware that Stockport and Manchester are next door to each other and that there is not a blade of grass between the two? Is he aware that the rates in Stockport are two thirds those of Manchester, that Stockport has half the number of local authority employees per head of population and that at the height of the recession, between 1977 and 1981, employment went up in Stockport by 4 per cent, when in Greater Manchester as a whole it went down by 9 per cent.? Does he draw any conclusions from that?
Is the Minister aware that in my constituency the rates levied on industry and commerce could be at least 30 per cent, lower if the Government of which he is a member had not progressively reduced the rate support grant year by year? Will he therefore make representations in appropriate Cabinet circles for the terrible rate burden to be reduced by restoring the rate support grant to its former level?
The hon. Gentleman's assertion would be more convincing if local authorities elsewhere in the country had not managed to combine a reduction in the rate support grant with modest rate increases. If empty buses did not travel half the night through Sheffield, the rates there would be a lot lower.
Can my hon. Friend explain to hard-pressed employers in Southend, who pay a lot in rates despite the excellent prudence of the splendid Southend borough council, why they should pay quite so much when the agriculture industry makes no rates contribution whatsoever?
Does the Minister accept that the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) has his facts wrong, because there is a considerable area of grass between Stockport and Manchester? The biggest problem is that for years Stockport has neglected many of its old council houses. Is the Minister aware that, like the hon. Member for Stockport, I should like them to be modernised? Is not the problem that such modernisation involves local government expenditure, not only in money but in staff, to ensure that the work is done?
Yes, but other local authorities have absorbed cuts in the rate support grant. Local authority expenditure in England has been rising by about 8 per cent, in real terms. There is no reason why people should expect to be subsidised by the general taxpayer in that respect.