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Mr. McLoughlin : Will my right hon. Friend consider the point that has just been made by the Opposition spokesman for the environment, the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) in view of the fact that Toyota has just come to Derbyshire? Does my right hon. Friend agree that one reason Toyota may have come to Derbyshire is that we will have a uniform business rate which will mean that businesses will not be put at a disadvantage by loony Left-wing councils, such as Derbyshire county council?
Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend is right. Had the present system continued, Derbyshire county council would have
Column 944continued to push business out of Derbyshire by imposing high rates. Now it cannot force jobs out of Derbyshire because the uniform business rate will bring down the rates in high-rated Labour authorities and ensure that there are more jobs in the areas of the country that most need them. That shows once again that we are giving to each according to his need and taking from each according to his ability.
Dr. Cunningham : Is it not typical of the confused double standards of the Tory party that Conservative Members congratulate Derbyshire on its successful attraction of the Toyota investment--one of the biggest inward investments ever to come to Britain--and then, for their own naked political opportunism, come here and abuse the same county? As the Minister of State mentioned rate poundages, may I remind him that people do not pay rate poundages, they pay rate bills? May I also remind him that the counties with the highest average domestic rate bills are Buckinghamshire, which is Tory-controlled, where the average rate bill is £664, and Surrey, which is also Tory-controlled, where the average rate bill is £614, and that the three counties with the lowest average rates bills are all Labour-controlled--Durham Lancashire and Cumbria?
Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman represents the party that wants people to pay higher and higher rates on the value of their houses ; the party that would exacerbate that unfairness by increasing the cost in all those areas where the value of housing is high and decreasing it in other areas. The only fairness is to consider the rate poundage. The hon. Gentleman does not understand the present rating system, which is why he opposes the community charge. The community charge will make the system fair.
Mr. Hanley : If my right hon. Friend publishes projected figures for the community charge, will he make sure that he publishes the figures for the five years following the year in question so that my constituents will see the reduction caused by the removal of the safety net, which at present penalises those living in outer London boroughs?
Mr. Gummer : I cannot publish the figures because I do not know what the local authority will spend in each of those successive years. Every pound per adult that a local authority overspends means an extra pound on the community charge. That is why the Labour party hates the community charge--because it means that every time they spend an extra pound on the police monitoring committee or on special arrangements for the gay bereavement cause, that pound goes directly on to what is paid by the ratepayers. The community charge produces a fair system because everybody knows whether a local authority is overspending. If one looks, for example, at the local authorities in London, one has to say that overspending has become a way of life. Until we have the community charge, places such as Ealing, Tower Hamlets and Camden will never begin to cut their coats according to their cloth.
8. Mr. Hinchliffe : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make it his policy to retain the existing district structure of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution.
Mr. Ridley : No Sir. We are currently reorganising the field force of Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution on an integrated basis to produce a much more effective deployment of resources. A three-region structure is being developed covering the north, south-west and south-east. This approach was adopted to ensure large enough management units to secure an adequate mix of skills to match the varying types of processes subject to control by the inspectorate.
Mr. Hinchliffe : Is the Secretary of State aware of the concern that exists among local authorities and industrialists lest the Government's proposals for restructuring the inspectorate result in a loss of continuity at local level, with knowledge that has been built up locally over many years being lost? Will the Government further consider these local elements?
Mr. Ridley : No, Sir. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The new streamlined organisation that we are proposing will greatly facilitate the integration of control of pollution to the three elements--air, water and land--which of course was the point of the integration, which is why the solution that we propose is a good one. The hon. Gentleman may be referring to the fact that one of the five deputy chief inspectors left to take up a post in the private sector. But, then, so did Mr. Robert Kilroy- Silk. Another of the chief inspectors resigned after changing his mind about some of the detailed aspects of the reorganisation proposals. That is exactly what the right hon. Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) did.
Mr. Knapman : Relating to pollution and possibly to underused land, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the port of Sharpness in my constituency has a prosperous future, with three new factories being built? Can he also confirm that it is not suitable as a site for a toxic waste dump, despite rumours to the contrary?
Mr. Ridley : I can confirm that there are no sites taking hazardous waste in the Sharpness area or indeed anywhere in my hon. Friend's constituency and that there are no plans for any such hazardous waste sites there. If any hazardous waste site were to be proposed near the Sharpness canal or any other area in the lower reaches of the Severn, there would be severe water pollution problems, and that would be strictly against the provisions of the Control of Pollution Act 1974. In addition, the necessary consents would, of course, be required.
Ms. Walley : Does the Secretary of State agree that Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution is in a complete mess? It is still unable to recruit staff. Is he aware that Dr. Martin Biggs, who heads the local authority unit in Birmingham, is still working from his front room at home because after eight months it has not been possible to find an office for him? How can the Secretary of State justify the departure from the organisation of HMIP at district level, which used the local knowledge of local authorities? On this very day of all days, when supposedly such urgent discussions are taking place at Downing street, why will he not come to the House and tell us that he will take effective action to ensure that the country has the integrated pollution control system that it needs.
Mr. Ridley : I have come to the House, abandoning the important discussions to which the hon. Lady referred. I am disappointed that I have had to come to the House to
Column 946deal with such a piffling point. The hon. Lady is wrong. Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution is in very good health. The organisation has had to be changed. It is being improved. I think that it would help the cause of protecting the environment if the hon. Lady were to stop trying to make quick, cheap points of the sort that she has just tried to make.
9. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what representations he has received about the case for a system of local government finance based on capital value rates and local income tax ; and whether he will make a statement.
Mr. Gummer : Not surprisingly, I have received scarcely any representations in favour of Labour's two-tax system, which would be cripplingly expensive, would do virtually nothing to restore local accountability, and would replicate the unfairnesses of existing domestic rates.
Mr. Bennett : Is it not the case that two of the many disadvantages of Labour's twin-tax policy would be that under a local income tax Labour councils could bleed their residents dry and under the capital value tax residents would have to pay increases every time house prices rose, irrespective of increases in income? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the silence of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) on the issue is due to the realisation that Labour has shot itself in the foot again?
Mr. Gummer : There is a serious problem about a capital value tax because four out of 10 people who live in more expensive houses have less than average incomes and, therefore, would not have the means to pay the tax. The truth is that Labour Members no longer wish to talk about their tax system because they found it so unpopular on the doorstep.
Mr. James Lamond : Does the Minister realise that the electors whom he is trying to reach with his statements today will treat his remarks about the Labour party's proposal with disdain because they recall that it is not so long ago that he, other Ministers and Conservative Back Benchers were dismissing the poll tax with equal disdain and saying that it was iniquitous and would never be brought in? Now they have changed their minds.
Mr. Gummer : I am happy to say that I have been a supporter of the community charge, not just since the Government proposed it. The reason that I am a supporter is that it is fairer first, because everbody pays his bit, secondly, because everybody who needs help gets it, and thirdly, because it means that the local community has control over what the local council spends on its behalf. None of those three things applies to the two -tax Labour scheme.
Mr. Brandon-Bravo : My right hon. Friend will know that Clifton estate in my constituency of Nottingham, South consists of 9,000 properties ; it is the second largest in England. Nearly half of those properties have been purchased by the tenants under the Government's right to buy. All of them have poured their life savings into what are now their homes. Is there any moral basis for charging those people a higher local tax merely because they have improved their homes?
Mr. Gummer : No, there is not, but it would be worse than that under Labour's proposals. My hon. Friend must remember that all the tenants who have not bought their homes would be charged the capital value of the houses of which they were tenants. So neither they nor their children could even look forward to realising that capital value. Not only would they not have the means whereby to pay the tax, but they would be hit as tenants on the capital value of the houses. It is a scandalously immoral proposal.
Mr. Blunkett : Will the Minister accept that his last answer is such gobbledeygook that it is not even worth commenting on? When people register and find out what the poll tax means, the 21 million people who will lose and everyone else who has a sense of decency and believes in a tax based on the ability to pay--whether in Northumbria, Cumbria, Lancashire or Avon-- will cast their votes on4 May for a fair tax system that takes from people with the ability to pay and distributes grants in a sensible fashion.
Mr. Gummer : A system that takes from people according to their ability to pay cannot be fair if it is based on the value of a house. If one accepts that, how does one explain to the four out of 10 people who have less than average earnings, but live in houses which would have above- -
Mr. Gummer : So it would be done by rebate. What is wrong with the rebate on the community charge? The hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) has again shot himself in the foot. The hon. Member refuses to give the information upon which his tax proposal could be commented, because he is afraid of doing so. He then misleads the public by refusing to point out the rebates which we have in our system.
10. Mr. Baldry : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he next expects to meet the chairman of the Housing Corporation to discuss the corporation's budget.
Mr. Trippier : My noble Friend the Minister for Housing, Environment and Countryside and I meet the chairman of the Housing Corporation regularly.
Mr. Baldry : Further to that answer, can my hon. Friend confirm that the Housing Corporation will enable housing associations to have ample provision in rural areas such as north Oxfordshire? What are the Government doing to encourage local authorities to take advantage of the new planning powers for development, to enable the building of more local homes for local people on low incomes?
Mr. Trippier : We are certainly providing for an expansion of housing association provision in rural areas, and north Oxfordshire will benefit from that expansion. We will soon be issuing to planning authorities a revised version of our guidance on land for housing.
Mr. Madden : Will the Minister have urgent discussions with the Housing Corporation to ensure that any redevelopment of the Lower Grange estate in my constituency has adequate properties to rent at rents that those who wish to live on the estate can afford to pay?
Mr. Trippier : That was the purpose of the Housing Act 1988. It encourages housing associations--perhaps sponsored by the Housing Corporation--to make available properties at rents within the means of those on low pay.
Mr. Bowis : When my hon. Friend meets the chairman of the Housing Corporation, will he express our congratulations to the housing association movements on their contribution to housing? Will my hon. Friend also tell the chairman that it is no part of its remit to lock people out of home ownership and, therefore, will he bring forward plans to give the right to buy to housing association tenants and, in the meantime, encourage equity- sharing schemes?
Mr. Trippier : I shall certainly pass on the congratulaions of my hon. Friend to the chairman of the Housing Corporation. My hon. Friend will be aware that approximately half of the housing associations have properties where the right to buy can exist. It depends on whether they are charitable or non-charitable. If they are non-charitable, they can certainly allow people to buy their homes.
Mr. Matthew Taylor : The Minister will be aware that in areas such as mine young couples have terrible problems in finding a home that they can afford to buy or rent, especially in small rural villages. Will the Minister remind the House of the pitiful proportion of the Housing Corporation's funds that go to rural areas? What proportion does he hope will be spent in future in rural areas, as that is at least one way of alleviating the problem for couples in areas such as mine?
Mr. Trippier : It is not a pitiful proportion. The amount of money that we are making available to the Housing Corporation for the need identified by the hon. Gentleman has quadrupled. The hon. Gentleman also chooses conveniently to forget that we can have private sector finance or even mixed funding going into developments in the rural areas. [Interruption.] I am answering the question. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has the attention span of a gerbil, but I am trying to answer the question.
Mr. Speaker : Order. Remarks of that kind do not help us here.
Mr. Trippier : I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I am answering the question. I am addressing the precise point which the hon. Gentleman is trying to raise. It relates to the development of rural housing which is within the reach of people on low pay. That is precisely what we are doing with the new housing association initiative and the mixed funding which is now allowed under the Housing Act 1988.
11. Mr. Gill : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will give fresh consideration to removing the right to buy out the freehold from shared equity housing schemes.
Mr. Trippier : No, Sir. But we have announced proposals which would allow housing associations in certain rural areas the right of first refusal if a shared
Column 949owner wants to sell, and where a scheme is entirely privately financed, it is already possible to restrict the shared owner's right to buy the freehold.
Mr. Gill : Is my hon. Friend aware of my continuing concern about low-cost housing in rural areas? While applauding the easing of the planning constraints by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Chancellor's announcement about the tax treatment of the proceeds of the sale of land below market prices for the purpose of affordable housing, does my hon. Friend accept that it is the success of this Government's policies in encouraging home ownership which has meant that the modern generation aspires to own their own home rather than to tenant it? Any additional help which my hon. Friend can give to housing associations to provide for that market will be very much appreciated.
Mr. Trippier : I very much welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has mentioned the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the recent Budget about tax changes which will help development in rural areas. My hon. Friend also referred to the announcement recently by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment about the easing of planning constraints. I simply draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that although I accept that he may not have liked my substantive answer to his substantive question, the truth is that the Housing Act 1988 has made it possible to offer privately financed shared ownership schemes with non-staircasing and we are not restricting those in any way at all.
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