§ 2. Mr. Heddle
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what measures he proposes to protect ratepayers in high spending local authorities during 1982–83.
The Minister for Local Government and Environmental Services (Mr. Tom King): The ban on supplementary rates and precepts provided for in the Local Government Finance (No 2) Bill will protect ratepayers from unexpected additional rate demands after the start of the financial year. Ratepayers will also benefit from the continued efforts of the Government to encourage local authorities to achieve greater economies in their expenditure.
§ Mr. Heddle
Does my right hon. Friend accept that the Government's measures will receive widespread support throughout the rate-paying electorate, especially from industrial and commercial ratepayers, who have no vote or voice on the way in which high-spending authorities are spending their money? Does he agree that the only way to protect the ratepayer against extravagant Labour-controlled high-spending authorities is to increase accountability of councils to their electorates.
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for putting the first part of his supplementary question. There is no doubt that this year some supplementary rates have caused enormous distress and real difficulties for private ratepayers and for business and industry. We wish to encourage accountability and more information about council activities, costs and expenditures. I know that my hon. Friend supports that approach.
§ Mr. Foster
How does the right hon. Gentleman intend to protect tenant ratepayers in St. Helens, Auckland, who have lost their homes, most of their furniture and most of their clothing because they could not afford to have their heating on all day and suffered burst pipes as a result of the freeze? Is he aware that the local authority faces a bill of almost £500,000? Will he undertake to send one of his colleagues to St. Helens to see the position and to say how the Government will protect the ratepayers to whom I have referred?
§ Mr. King
The hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot answer off the cuff a detailed question about his constituency. The best way in which he can represent his constituents' interests in the serious situation that they face is to approach my Department. It may be a matter for my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction. I know that my hon. Friend will wish to consider the facts.
§ Mr. Major
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the actions of high-spending authorities are of concern also to ratepayers within the areas of low-spending local authorities? Will he assure such ratepayers that they need not fear a contraction of their services next year as a result of the imposition of financial penalties because of the actions of high-spending authorities?
§ Mr. King
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. There is a cash limit on the rate support grant. Under the practice of the Labour Government, high-spending authorities could attract more grant for themselves at the expense of prudent low-spending authorities. That is a practice that we have been determined to change. The previous Government imposed holdback on local authorities across the board. The advantage of our proposals, as set out in clause 4 of the Local Government Finance (No. 2) Bill, is that no longer will holdback be across the board. It will no longer apply equally to the prudent as well as to the extravagant.
§ Mr. Allen McKay
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that some of the high-spending authorities are those in greatest need? The Government have closed schools and old people's homes and removed welfare benefits. Does he further accept that the judgment on a local authority should come from the electors, not from the Government? Does he appreciate that the Government are removing the freedom of electors to elect the representatives that they want to form an authority?
§ Mr. King
No hon. Member could ask that supplementary question without revealing a failure to study even the most basic local authority statistics. If the hon. Gentleman studies them he will find, regardless of political persuasion, that Labour authorities in areas of high need are able to provide adequate services without the levels of expenditure of other less efficient authorities which fail to provide adequate services. The hon. Gentleman should 264 study some of the comparative statistics on the performance of authorities. If he does, he will appreciate the degree of inefficiency in some authorities.