HC Deb 15 December 1964 vol 704 cc277-322

6.36 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

I beg to move, That the General Grant (Scotland) Order 1964, dated 8th December, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th December, be approved. It might be convenient to discuss with this Order, the next Order. That the General Grant (Increase) (Scotland) Order 1964, dated 3rd December, 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th December, be approved. We come to what is properly called by the Scottish local authorities the most important financial Order to come before this House. We are dealing not with small sums of money, but with sums of very considerable magnitude and sums which are growing each time we deal with this price of legislation. Some years ago, the sum involved was £82 million: this was the total relevant expenditure estimated after discussion with the local authorities. By 1966–67, according to our latest round of negotiations, the total relevant expenditure has gone up to £140 million. This gives an indication of the pressure upon local authorities of expanding services—services which may well be becoming more expensive.

It is more or less because in the past there have been criticisms of the effect upon this of fixed percentages applied to a rising sum, leaving a widening gap to be met from a system of raising money which is itself inflexible, certainly from five years to five years, and which does not reflect the rise in the gross national product as it comes to the Exchequer through national finance, that I have suggested in the past that there should be a fresh look at this and a transfer certainly to the national Exchequer of burdens presently falling, and falling with unfairness in relation to particular types, on the local authorities.

It may well be—I hope that it will be the last time we shall have a General Grant (Increase) Order of this type, because the equity of apportionment is, to my mind, suspect as between the central authority and local authorities and, indeed, as between the services. Within these large sums creating this difficulty for local authorities there is one service dominating everything else. Important as the smaller services are—local welfare services; welfare of the aged, of children and of the handicapped; road safety; registration of electors, in respect of which we could suggest improvements and increased expenditure—these tend because of this domination to be crowded out and they do not always get the importance and the rate and pace of development, which we would all like to see.

It is for this reason that over many years we on this side when we were in opposition asked the Government to take action urgently to go into the whole question of changing this relationship. As my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) said on the last Order, it was not until 1962, belatedly, that the Conservative Government even thought that there was a problem. The Allen Committee has been sitting for some time. Its Report will not be published until next spring. The Committee is considering the incidence of rating upon various categories of ratepayers. Then there is the interdepartmental review of expenditure as between the central authority and local authorities, and within that there is the problem of the justice of the rating system itself.

So we are faced with the position that we shall get some of the information which will lead us eventually to put this matter right. That will have to be followed by legislation. So I hope that no one will rise and ask me why we have not yet done it. One does not legislate in advance of the facts, and one does not legislate in this House in seven weeks with a majority of four. So it may well be that this will be the last of these Orders.

By Statute we must make provision for two years in advance. This Statute is a weak vessel. I remember that at the time of the original discussions in 1957 the Government suggested that they wanted even further provision made and that it should be at least two years. There was talk then of three years. But we have never advanced beyond two years. After three Orders of this type covering periods of two years—six years altogether—after five years we have been forced into the position of introducing four supplementary increase Orders and another one tonight. We had one this time last year. The hon. Lady the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir) will remember it, because on that occasion she led the field for the Government.

This shows the weakness of the position. The Increase Order can only catch up with certain things laid down by Statute—unforeseen rises in costs, prices and remuneration. Any changes of policy which take place within the two years cannot be covered. Fresh legislation is required for that. Any increased pace of development or change of emphasis cannot be covered. To this extent a new Government coming into power in October are faced with the position that negotiations have been proceeding since the summer and yet, if they want to anticipate the effects of their policy which are likely to arise in the second year, they have the task of trying to see into the future and make the necessary changes. I personally would have preferred, if the legislation had provided for it, an annual review in such circumstances, but in the absence of that we must make the best of the situation as it is. I suggest that we should avoid this kind of difficulty in the future when we come to legislation.

It is because of these difficulties that we have two innovations in the Order. First, there is £1 million, which comes, not from nowhere, but from over a year ago. I think it was in December, 1963, that the then Government introduced the Rating (Interim Relief) Bill for England and Wales to take notice of the hardships caused by rising rates and try to deal with them by directing certain reliefs to particular categories of ratepayers. The legislation came into effect in 1964. That was dealt with, but nothing was done for Scotland, but we got the promise in 1963 that an extra £1 million would be put into the next General Grant Order. So it comes tonight. In other words, the Tory Party promises but the Labour Party fulfils.

The Government at that time knew that there would be another Government. I dare say they hoped it would be a Tory Government who would have to meet the pledge, but the fact was that they committed a future Government to expenditure in this respect. We have fulfilled the promise. In the Order for 1965–66 there is £1 million in respect of that rate relief. It cannot be divided or apportioned, as the sum was in England and Wales. It goes into the General Grant and will be apportioned in accordance with the usual formula. Local authorities in Scotland will welcome it, in that it is not allocated to any particular subject.

Secondly, we have provided in the main Order, outwith what could have been determined by the total relevant expenditure, for additional expenditure of £2 million. That represents an additional grant of £1.2 million. In fact, we are in a very much happier position than my English colleague, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), who, when introducing his Order, said that the figures had not been agreed. I can assure hon. Members on both sides that we were in the happy position of coming to an amicable agreement with the Scottish local authorities and, indeed, it will come as a surprise to them that after that amicable agreement we even managed to give them an extra £1.2 million of grant. This is an earnest of our concern that we will provide that elbowroom in the second year to get expansion of local authority policies and of services and, indeed, of the pace of provision of these services.

I come to the Increase Order for 1964–65. This is the hardly annual. It means that during the last year of the Tory Government once again prices rose and once again salaries rose. Provision was made. If any hon. Member should ask me what happens in the next two years or in the next year, I can tell him that these increases will be met as under Statute by an Increase Order but limited to the actual aspects laid down in the statute. The total relevant expenditure was an additional £1.7 million. It was met by an additional grant, under the Increase Order, of £1.035 million. That made a total for the year which is ending—1964–65—of £74.335 million.

The point is that this is the second time that we have had an Increase Order, and to indicate the fallibility of our calculations in looking ahead I might point out that the original estimate of the grant was £69 million. It has gone up to £74.335 million, that is an increase of just over 8 per cent. in two years. This shows the pace at which these unforeseen changes have been taking place and it covers to a certain extent part of the increased cost of money. I think that about £250,000 of the increased grant is provided in respect of that for the year ahead. Once again I am happy to say that this was agreed with the local authorities.

On the main Order for the fourth grant period, the Report sets out the whole procedure that was gone through—the biennial battle with the local authorities, they setting out their figures and the officials of the Scottish Office trying to bring them down to what they thought was realism, and tempering optimism with what they considered to be the full facts. All this was during the summer when Members' eyes were fixed on other things, the fate of marginals and the fall of Parliamentary kings. I am sorry if I have to do a bit of parodying of Burns.

The local authorities claimed that for the first year the total relevant expenditure was £l33.1 million and we managed by agreement to have that sum brought down to £131.95 million. They suggested for the second year expenditure of £139.9 million and, believe it or not, they are to get £140.35 million. I therefore can assure a smiling hon. Member opposite that the smiles on the faces of the Scottish local authority members are as wide as his.

It is a tribute to the officials of my Department and the local authorities and to the skill of my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State that this agreement has been reached. I do not think that the local authority estimate was over-optimistic. It showed a desire to get the expanded services which they want and which everyone feels should be expanded. To take some of the services for the mentally disordered, the kind of services which we hoped would be provided to make real the provisions of the Mental Health (Scotland) Act, what the local authorities are faced with is not so much shortage of money but shortage of skilled staff. This is one of the facts that come out of the biennial examination of the deep problems beneath the surface—not the financial targets of the Scottish Office but the things which need to be done to carry out desirable services. I am glad that as a result of this examination these are being actively pursued.

The position of school building actively concerns local authorities, and having mentioned the school-building programmes, where we were initially at odds with the local authorities, I ought to take the opportunity to make our position quite clear. Education authorities generally justifiably feel that swifter action should be taken to replace or substantially improve the remaining obsolete buildings where children are still being taught under adverse conditions. I am wholeheartedly behind local authorities who want to see a much larger school-building programme but—as I have already had to reply to representations for much larger capital investments in the next few years—I am not in a position to be more than sympathetic. All I can say to my hon. Friends is that my inheritance is small.

One of the first tasks facing the Government is to assess the level of expenditure which the country's resources can carry in the period ahead and, having determined the total, then to determine our priorities. This goes beyond the question of public expenditure. It goes into the whole question of all capital expenditure and how the nation is using its resources. There is considerable scope for a shift in the balance of these priorities, and the essential must take precedence over the desirable.

I consider that education is a basic essential. Therefore, while in the short term I cannot hold out any hope of a larger school-building programme than the one at present authorised, I do not by any means rule out the hope of something more than that by the time we reach 1966–67, and this holds for further education too. Partly because of this optimism, and because I was impressed by the views made known by local authority representatives to the Joint Under-Secretary of State at a statutory meeting on 27th November, when they suggested that the local authorities tend to lose out in the second year, I decided to add a margin to the 1966–67 level of local authority expenditure on the general grant. This innovation, which I mentioned earlier, is described in paragraph 10 of the Report. As hon. Members will see, the cushion of £2 million extra relevant local expenditure has not been allocated against a particular service, and if it is possible during the second year of the grant period for education or technical education to go further and faster ahead, the £1.2 million grant is there to give that additional cover.

I do not want to make a long speech, but it is desirable to look beyond education and see exactly how the services have been expanding, in many cases slower than many of us would have liked and, it may well be, slower than the local authorities would have liked. But they are expanding, and it is not purely a question of increased money being spent. I hope that within the next two years—and we have given an earnest of this—there will be still further expansion in particular fields. There are the local health services. We shall provide more health visitors and home helps. We have to look in this connection at the question of the expansion of services being held up by the shortage of nurses, of auxiliaries, of psychiatric social workers and other staff.

It is interesting to note that provision for services for the handicapped has doubled between 1963 and 1966, from £122,000 to £224,000, but I warn hon. Members that that is not the only and the total financial provision. A sum of £161,000 has to be added because the cover in that grant is expenditure additional to what was there before the introduction of the general grant. Therefore the figure in the table at the back of the Report is not the total expenditure but the part that is covered by general grant.

There is also the question of services to the aged and infirm, which to my mind are very important, as I am sure everyone will agree. We have an ageing population which deserves dignity in old age. I am glad to see the changes which have taken place in the provision of homes for old people if and when they have to be taken from their own homes because they cannot support themselves. There are now 178 local authority homes and some of them are of a wonderful standard. I wish that I could say that about them all but some of them are pretty bleak houses.

The local authorities and the Government are anxious to see that they are improved as much as possible. Some can be improved, but others have to be replaced. There are 18 more being built now, and I understand that 31 are under consideration. As a Government, we are determined to push this forward as much as possible.

These services—I do not want to go over them all—are essential to a progressing community. Education, of course, is the service on which the very future of our country depends. I am glad to see that the figure for planning, the only aspect of the most important service of town and country planning which is covered by general grant, has gone up to as much as £800,000 for the second year. Going back to the beginning of the last General Grant Order, 1963–64, it was then only £301,000. This is an indication of the kind of development work which is going on in our towns. I leave out Glasgow, because Glasgow is treated in a different way. New problems of planning and development are being tackled by our local authorities, and the figure of £800,000 is a measure of the acquisition of land, the cost of land, and so on, and it shows that expansion is going on in this respect.

What is being done in the welfare services, the humanising services, shows that a progressing community really cares, and I hope that the House will see fit to give its approval to these Orders.

7.2 p.m.

Mr. Forbes Hendry (Aberdeenshire, West)

The local authorities of Scotland, and Scotsmen generally, have been looking forward very much to the White Paper on the Order and this debate for two reasons. The first and, perhaps, the least important, though, to my mind, the most interesting, was that the occasion might give us the chance to hear some pearls of wisdom from the lips of the Secretary of State. We are grateful to him for those pearls of wisdom which we have been missing in this Parliament. The second reason was that we thought that we might have the fulfilment of some of the promises made by the Labour Party before the election. Before the election I studied a very interesting document, "Signposts for Scotland", which hon. and right hon. Members have found rather embarrassing at times and will, I think, probably find embarrassing in the future. Certain local authorities looked into that document and expected great things from the party opposite if it was returned to power. It is now in power, and it seems that all the promises in "Signposts for Scotland", like so many other promises by the party opposite, are being forgotten now that the election is past.

By far the greatest expenditure under the Order is in respect of education. On page 20 of "Signposts for Scotland", the promise was made: The Exchequer will carry a larger share of the financial responsibility for education. This, by reducing the burden on the rates, will help to ensure that the salaries and status of teachers continue to be improved. That is an interesting and most estimable statement. I have frequently expressed a similar view, that the Exchequer should carry a greater part of the cost of education. It does not seem to me that it would require any special legislation as the Secretary of State, under our general grant procedure, has a great deal of discretion in making grant having regard to probable expenditure by local authorities.

What do we find in the General Grant Order? Relevant expenditure for education, which, as I say, is by far the greater part of expenditure in this respect, rises by a mere £7 million.

Mr. Ross

A mere bagatelle.

Mr. Hendry

A mere bagatelle, as the right hon. Gentleman says, considering that it is only a 7 per cent. increase in expenditure. It does not seem to fulfil the promise that the Exchequer would carry a larger share of the financial responsibility for education". What do we find in the White Paper as an indication of what the Secretary of State has in mind?

Mr. Ross

I do not want to stop the hon. Gentleman's eloquence, but if he says that local authority people have been reading these things, why did they agree to the figures which I have put before the House? Why did they not dispute them?

Mr. Hendry

I am coming to that. I am at this point finding out what the increased expenditure is which the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. In paragraph 13 of the White Paper we are told: There will be greater expenditure in all parts of the education service, a major increase arising directly or indirectly from the programme of educational building which will continue at a high level. We are glad to know that it will continue at a high level. The right hon. Gentleman himself must admit that it has, up to now, been going at a record level. Apparently, he in tends an increase over this, and so we look for the places where the increase is to come in educational building. In paragraph 14 of the White Paper we are told: The enrolment of pupils in primary schools is expected to rise progressively … and we are told that the number of secondary school pupils will also increase". We all admit that, but, if these increases are to take place at the level which the right hon. Gentleman suggests, a 7 per cent. increase in expenditure on education will not go very far to expand the school-building programme, if at all. I refer again to the promise made in "Signposts for Scotland" that the Exchequer is to undertake a greater share of education expenditure and so relieve the rates.

In paragraph 15 of the White Paper we are told: The further education service is expanding rapidly. The recent rate of growth (about 10 per cent. a year) of the number of full-time students"— and so on.

I think that we might take this increase of 10 per cent. in the further education service as an indication of the increase in other services, and it plainly bears a very poor relation to the 7 per cent. increase about which we are told.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson-Mabon) indicated dissent

Mr. Hendry

I notice that the hon. Gentleman is shaking his head. Perhaps we shall hear about it later.

We have been told that local authority representatives agreed these figures. It is interesting to hear that, but I wonder how much they were browbeaten by officials of the Department before they agreed. As the Secretary of State knows, I have for a long time taken the attitude that the amount of money allotted for school building in Scotland has been grossly underestimated. I admit that at once. If my local education authority is displeased with the amount of money allotted, it is difficult to see how it could have agreed these figures when the right hon. Gentleman came on the scene. There is one local authority at least which has not agreed.

On 24th June this year my noble Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Lady Tweedsmuir), then Under-Secretary of State, was asked some Questions in the House and was browbeaten by several hon. Members opposite on this very subject of school building. The local authorities which were mentioned at that time did not include mine. Several were involved, and it is difficult to see how the right hon. Gentleman's blandishments could have brought them to agree these figures. It is interesting to look at what the right hon. Gentleman said on 24th June last. He said: Surely, the noble Lady must have been convinced by what has been shown in debate after debate that there is a great distorting factor here in the provision which must be made within a county for a new town. Will she reconsider this business? How long is the Review to take? Are we to be bound by a recommendation made by a Working Party if we ourselves have no great confidence in its ability adequately to deal with this matter? Why cannot this be separated and dealt with now, since the problem is here?" —[OFFICIAL REPORT. 24th June, 1964; Vol. 628, c. 377.] It is strange that, now that the right hon. Gentleman has assumed power, the local authorities which he himself represented as being hightly dissatisfied with the position are now perfectly satisfied with the figures set forth in paragraph 10 of the White Paper. These figures must have been achieved by browbeating the local authorities—unless the right hon. Gentleman is very much more skilled in his blandishments than I thought.

There is a serious omission from the White Paper, the question of the increase in the school-leaving age. My right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) indicated that it was the intention of the then Government to raise the age to 16 in 1970, but there is not a word in the White Paper about the expenditure relevant to that decision. Every hon. Member knows that if provision is to be made for increased school building for 1970 the time to start is now. Experience shows that it takes about five years to get plans finalised for school buildings. If we are to increase school building for 1970, a very great increase must be made now—and such an increase is not reflected in the miserable 7 per cent. allowed for in the Order.

Time and again we have listened in the past to the right hon. Gentleman complaining about the stinginess of the late Government towards the local authorities. I suggest to him that he should now go back to the Scottish Office, put a wet towel round his head and read his own speeches on the subject, so that when next he comes to the House with an Order he takes account of the difficulties of local authorities and deals with them in a very much more generous way than he is proposing to do now.

In "Signposts for Scotland" we read: … once our educational system has been given this new impetus the difficulties will recede. That may be so, but I fail to see where the new impetus is coming from. Obviously, education in Scotland, if we are not to get more than is promised in this Order, will recede. "Signposts for Scotland" instead of leading forward is definitely leading backwards.

7.13 p.m.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

In a debate of this nature at this time there must necessarily, I imagine, after listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry), be two backgrounds; the mental background displayed by the hon. Member and the economic background against which my right hon. Friend is presenting the Report, which he summed up in the words, "mine inheritance is small". I appended a little note to that which I think he failed to hear, which was my fault. I wanted to add, "his desires were at the same time without bounds." I think that is true.

There is nothing in what my right hon. Friend has said that need cause any lack of faith in the signposts for the future, which the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West seemed to feel. The hon. Gentleman can go on reading "Signposts for Scotland" to his benefit and encouragement, and perhaps, if he reads it against the proper mental background, he may find himself drifting to this side of the House.

One or two points have attracted me, and it is with these that I want particularly to concern myself. One of them is a constituency point which binds itself into the remark that was made about school buildings. I emphasise one statement made by my right hon. Friend—that in achieving this White Paper and the sums embodied in it he had to secure the agreement of the Scottish local authorities. I think that he himself will agree, as well as right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that no tougher body of negotiators could be met with than the local authorities of Scotland, and the fact that my right hon. Friend secured agreement with them says at least something for his methods of diplomacy.

I was interested to hear the kindly words he used with regard to the provisions for the old. The Report refers particularly to the mentally disordered and to the mentally defective living at home, but I am certain that none of us on either side of the House will forget those aged persons who are living at home and who are neither mentally defective nor mentally ill in any way, but are ordinary old people living alone who will not go to homes because they have reasonable accommodation of their own.

They are today living lives which are a shock to those who happen to come across particular examples; such as when one hears an old person remarking on "beautiful hot water" and realises that, owing to the price of coal, there are people who have to go to bed at least three days a week because they have no other means of heating themselves. One weekly bag of coal is all they can afford, and it means that in winter it is impossible for them to remain in the kitchen or in their other apartment because of the excessive cold that faces them there. Hot water is out of consideration and can only be got when they are able to put on a fire in order to brew themselves a cup of tea. I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep that type of old person in mind as well as the others, as I am sure he will, and see to it that a greater gain is bestowed upon them under the Labour Government than befell them under the Conservative Government.

In paragraph 23 of the Report, we are told that provision is made for an increase of expenditure on road safety and an increased mileage by police patrols on traffic enforcement work. The amount of money to be devoted to that purpose is a total of £85 million. I welcome that. Many reasons are assigned to the need to provide greater road safety.

Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Is my hon. Friend saying £85 million for road safety?

Mr. Rankin

Two sums are involved—£51 million and £34 million. My hon. Friend will see from paragraph 23 that that money is to be applied to road safety and to increased police patrols. I take it that the sums referred to in the Appendix, road safety £34 million and police traffic controls £51 million——

Sir M. Galpern


Mr. Rankin

That was a lapsus lingucæ. Although the sum is smaller than I should have expected or hoped, it is not an eyesore. I have to make that observation because of the tremendous importance of the need for greater road safety, especially in the large towns, and for police patrols on this work.

I was saying that many reasons are assigned to road accidents and one has been prominently associated with the consumption of too much drink. I do not want to criticise that view. I do not wish anyone to assume that I would encourage any driver to drink. A driver today must have complete possession of all his faculties and should not take alcohol in any form when he is driving.

However, having witnessed the behaviour of drivers alleged to be sober, especially in streets, I am not sure that drink is the chief cause of road accidents. I wonder whether it would not be advisable when an individual is given a certificate entitling him to drive a car to ensure that he has passed the General Certificate of Education, that he possesses the ability to prove not only that he can drive a car, but that his intelligence is a little above that of a delinquent. Observing the behaviour of some car drivers making serpentine curves when overtaking two cars in Victoria Street, London, as I have seen, I have wondered what kind of mental equipment God gave them and what kind of advance they have made on their original endowment.

My right hon. Friend might consider the creation of a special police patrol with the sole job of dealing with motorists. He might use the many admirable women in the police force, equipping them with motor cycles and turning them out as special police patrols to deal with the danger I have mentioned. My right hon. Friend might consult his right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to see whether we could not provide special police patrols which would not interfere with the ordinary regular duties of the police, but which would try to deal with this menace on the roads.

I also welcome the first sentence in paragaph 15 which tells me that the further education service is expanding rapidly. I welcome that because for many years before coming to the House of Commons I was head of one of the largest further education centres in Glasgow where I had long experience of the difficulties of this work. Because of these difficulties, it was recognised by every educationalist in the city, and I think in Scotland, that there was a continual pressure gradually to reduce the number of boys and girls attending evening schools for further education and instead to secure the maximum number of releases for education during some other period of the day.

That created a demand for release from employment to take further education. My right hon. Friend tells us that further education is expected to accelerate. I hope that there is some substantial basis for that expectation, because even today one of the greatest difficulties in cities like Glasgow is to get employers to release their junior and juvenile employees for further education. While it is perfectly true that the further education service is expanding rapidly, one of the things which most people who have not been behind the scenes, as it were, do not appreciate is that the number of pupils who enrol to take evening continuation work is fixed by the monthly return at the end of October, when hope is high and the spirit is keen, whereas by the end of March the numbers on the roll have no relation at all to the numbers embarking on courses at the end of October.

The reason is simply that working all day and studying three nights a week from 7 to 9, or 7.30 to 10, as happens in some cases, is too big a burden for growing youths. Consequently, they get tired trying to undertake the double job of earning a wage and educating themselves at the same time. That fact underlines the immense importance of reducing as far as we can further education centres which meet in the evening and bringing all possible pressure to bear on employers to make sure that their employees are given opportunities to attend education centres during the day.

I come to my final point. I welcome, as I said already, the statement of my right hon. Friend in paragraph 13 in which he says that: … educational building … will continue at a high level. As I say, I welcome that statement. And declare a personal interest in it. As the hon. Member for Govan, I should perhaps let the House know that our high school, which provided a six-year secondary course, was burned down some time ago. Since that unfortunate happening, the boys and girls engaged in secondary education in Govan have been attending Bellahouston Academy. This is no disgrace to the Academy. It is in the Govan division, but not in the old Govan borough, which is a very proud and large borough with two of the most important shipyards in the world and one of the finest football clubs, perhaps, not only in this world, but in any other world which hon. Members on either side may visualise. I know that for a brief time it has been playing second fiddle to Kilmarnock.

Mr. Ross

Hear, hear.

Mr. Rankin

But my right hon. Friend lives in Ayr, and Ayr United is near the bottom of the Second Division. Nevertheless, I pay tribute to Kilmarnock Football Club, which is in its present position because Rangers Football Club sent it its outside right as a manager.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must be good enough to address himself to the subject matter of the debate.

Mr. Rankin

I was merely lauding the constituency which sent me here, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that that is a forgivable sin in the Parliamentary sense.

Our high school has been out of commission for nearly three years. The boys and girls in Govan have to attend Bellahouston Academy, but the indignity is that the local authority said that Bellahouston was no longer fit to be a secondary education establishment and built a new secondary school in its place. It is to the old building which the boys and girls go.

I hope that the figure for increased expenditure on education includes provision for the building of the new Govan secondary school and that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State answers my Question tomorrow he will be able to tell me of that very happy conclusion to out long agitation.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)

I am indebted to the Secretary of State for his clear and explicit statement. I am also glad to note that he has been able to agree with the local authorities concerning the sums to be allocated, as he explained fully in his statement. As one with some experience of local authority work, particularly in the Highlands, I had many times to go on various deputations to St. Andrew's House. I think that the Highland authorities earned the title of, in Scottish language, "bonnie fechters". I should like to compliment the right hon. Gentleman on coming to terms with my friends in the Highland counties.

The Secretary of State made some very important statements. He stressed the need for school building and said that the essential must take precedence over the desirable. I agree with that wholeheartedly. There are many schools in my constituency which come into the first category, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will bear that in mind. He also referred to the need for old people's homes. I am very glad to note that good progress is being made in that direction.

Expenditure on all the social services has been increasing over the years. If we want improved services, we must be prepared to pay for them. Therefore, I cannot see an end to this upward trend in the near future, and this must be borne in mind. It has been suggested that more of the cost of the social services should be transferred from the local rates to the Exchequer. The Secretary of State said that this may be the last Order as a change will be made, perhaps, in two years' time, and I should like to refer briefly to one item which I think should be transferred to the Exchequer, namely, educational expenditure, which places a very severe strain on local authority finances. It hits very hard in areas where there is no large-scale industry to boost the rateable value and the bulk of the rates comes from householders.

Teachers' salaries are by far the biggest item in educational expenditure, and local authorities, I regret to say, are often blamed for this. Yet it is an item over which local authorities have absolutely no control. The position is quite different in respect of some of the other items listed in the Order, such as accommodation for the aged and infirm, fire services, town and country planning, the registration of electors and others which are all very necessary.

It will be generally agreed, I think, that to meet the future needs of education, including the raising of the school-leaving age, and bearing in mind the present shortage of certificated teachers, a massive teacher training programme is required if we are to achieve what we expect of education. This entails a growing burden on the rates, irrespective, I hope, of which party is in office. If we are realistic in our approach to this question, it seems that there is only one answer, and that is for the whole cost of teachers' salaries to be borne by the Exchequer. The sooner that is brought about the better.

Opposition Members said in the earlier debate that they did not have sufficient time to examine the Orders before they came before the House. We in the Highlands expect the Government to move much faster than the Opposition did when they were in office. The aspect of expenditure to which I have referred should be considered very seriously if a change is made in the present system. I impress on the Secretary of State the urgency of taking active steps whenever appropriate.

7.40 p.m.

Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

The most significant and welcome contribution during the debate is the hope expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that this will be the last occasion on which, under a Labour Government we will be discussing this type of grant. I recognise that my right hon. Friend has been in office only a very short period and has not had an opportunity yet to manoeuvre in that direction, but I urge him to see how speedily he can cut the period before we consider an alternative method of contribution from the national Exchequer to local government expenditure.

The need for that is borne out significantly when we look at the figures which have been submitted to us today. Expenditure by local authorities during 1965–66 as agreed between the Scottish Office and the local authorities will amount to £131.95 million. The grant to be received by those authorities during that same period will be £80.5 million, including the additional £1 million which will give us parity with England. That leaves the ratepayers to find £51.45 million.

When we look ahead to 1966–67, we find that the agreed expenditure will be £140.35 million and the grant from the Exchequer will rise to £84.5 million, which will leave local authorities to find £55.85 million. In other words, there will be an increased burden on the ratepayers in 1967 in comparison with 1965–66, despite a substantial increase from the national Exchequer, of £4.4 million. This shows clearly and highlights the tremendous increasing burden which is falling upon the average ratepayer in Scotland.

We now have, as we all know, a system whereby valuations are frozen for five years. Consequently, under our present valuation system, the only effective method for levying rates means that for five years there will be no variation and, therefore, the only way in which the additional £4.4 million can be raised in 1966–67 is by a substantial increase in the amount to be demanded from the ratepayers.

Therefore, I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who is fully aware of this argument and who has in the past used it himself——

Mr. Ross

I have done tonight, too.

Sir M. Galpern

—will recognise the urgency of this whole matter. We in Scotland would welcome an early statement upon the new set-up.

When the general grant system was introduced, we on this side, who were then in opposition, opposed it because we preferred, as local authorities preferred, the old system of percentage grants. In my opinion, what has happened with the introduction of the block grant system is that the adventurous and forward-looking local authorities have had to follow a policy of retrenchment because no longer would they get the percentage that was applicable to a certain item of expenditure.

That is most noticeable, particularly in Glasgow, concerning educational expenditure. There we have had more or less to obey the dictates of the Scottish Office. We have had to curtail somewhat our policy for educational advancement, particularly in the replacement of old school buildings and the building of essential new ones. We would certainly welcome a system whereby a go-ahead, enlightened local authority would be able to get or attract a reasonable sum from the national Exchequer by virtue of its enlightened views.

The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) was evidently making a plea for urgency. I do not know why he particularly, in common with his colleagues on the benches opposite, should make such a plea, because during the past 13 years the most significant thing to happen occurred almost 18 months ago, when one of the most powerful deputations from local authorities descended upon St. Andrew's House to complain about the inadequacy of the provision for the school building programme. In all my long period of local government, I never recall such a powerful and united deputation descending upon St. Andrew's House to make demands of that kind.

I regret to say that even within recent weeks there have been murmurings, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), who is now Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, knows, because she recently met a deputation in Glasgow when the complaint was made that the capital expenditure allowed to the Glasgow education authority was inadequate. I agree. For example, there is no reference in the White Paper to nursery schools, yet every hon. Member will agree that that is an aspect of educational development to which attention should be paid. We in Glasgow have earmarked a number of sites throughout the city, but we are not able to utilise them because we cannot get permission to erect the nursery schools which we would be prepared to erect if we were given the go-ahead.

Mr. Hendry

Would not the hon. Member agree that his right hon. Friend stated that local authorities were perfect1y satisfied with the figures which he has quoted?

Sir M. Galpern

Yes. It should, however, be remembered that the deputation goes as one body rather than each local authority presenting itself and its views. It is a composite body which speaks on behalf of all the authorities in Scotland.

There may be indications in the areas that people are not satisfied with what is being done, but for the sake of unity and being reasonable they agree to let things go through, particularly when they have a Government such as we now have, when we know that the assurances and promises in "Signposts for Scotland" will be carried out if we are given time. Nevertheless, I impress upon my right hon. Friend the tremendous urgency of this matter.

Right hon. and hon. Members opposite, and particularly the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), the former Secretaty of State, were guilty of playing snakes and ladders with their educational building programme. Theirs was a stop-go policy with money granted one year, but cut back the next. Local education authorities did not know where they were going or how far they could proceed with their necessary building programmes.

I estimate that in Glasgow, during the past 10 years, as a result of that policy we have spent about £3 million in transporting children from new housing schemes back to the slum schools in the old areas from which they have been transferred. Three million pounds would have given us almost six new secondary schools. That is a colossal waste of money when, had we been given the opportunity, we could have built the schools. They are still required. We are still engaged in transporting the children at immense cost. For these reasons, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will look at this matter with urgency and that we will be able to spend so that we can save tremendous sums of money and show value for the expenditure.

The other item to which I wish to refer briefly is the registration of electors. I am glad that my right hon. Friend referred to this, because hon. Members may recollect that I initiated an Adjournment debate on the question of the state of our electoral register. I think that we are spending inadequate sums each year on this issue. The total expenditure for the registration of electors in 1963–64 was £345,000. It has now dropped to £336,000, and it is estimated that it will drop still further in 1965–66 to £329,000. I should like some kind of assurance from my right hon. Friend that this matter will be looked into.

Apart from local authorities being happy about the situation. I think that it should sometimes fall to the lot of my right hon. Friend to goad them into taking action in some spheres of activity where they seem to be loath to proceed at a reasonably fast pace. This is one sphere in which consideration ought to be given to urge local authorities to spend a little more money in obtaining more accurate registers, particularly as we have an assurance from responsible Government spokesmen that the whole question of electoral reform is being looked into.

I have already indicated my welcome for the increase in the town and country planning estimates. This is a substantial increase. I wish that I could see the same ratio of increase in other spheres of activity.

I have some mild criticism to make of the provision for physical training and recreation. I submit that the sum of £10,000 is a miserable amount, though I recognise that this is not the whole sum that is being expended. I recognise that education authorities are themselves responsible for spending reasonable sums of money, but I think that the Government have a greater responsibility here. We allow local authorities, for instance those in Glasgow, to erect big housing estates, some almost the size of Perth, and yet the Government feel that the only contribution they can make to physical training is £10,000. I realise that this is to be increased to £15,000 in 1965–66, but it is grossly miserable and a mere pittance when one considers the work that has to be done.

Glasgow Corporation decided that a good thing to do would be to provide public houses on the new estate. I think that it would be better not to provide public houses unless there was a majority demand for them, but to provide, instead, recreational facilities and so ensure that the people living there do not consider that getting a drink provides physical training and the only form of recreation. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider seeing how far the Government can urge local authorities, particularly those engaged in large redevelopment schemes, such as in Glasgow and the neighbouring areas, to spend substantially more money on the socially valuable and necessary aspect of physical training and recreation.

I hope that as a result of this debate and the assurances which we have received, local authorities, who have a mandate from their electors to go ahead in any particular field, whether in education, in the provision for old folk, in dealing with mentally handicapped children, or in dealing with road safety —and I regret that the money spent on road safety is so little, particularly when one considers the holocaust on the roads —will receive every encouragement from the Secretary of State to do so as speedily as possible with projects which will bring fruitful and worthwhile results to the community.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The Secretary of State for Scotland began his speech with a few remarks in general on the problem of local finance. I share his concern. For many years I have considered that it is not a problem of administration but one of finance which has affected local government. I hope that when the review of local government finance that is taking place is completed—and we hope to have the report next summer—local authorities and local finance officers will be given an opportunity to make their represen- tations before any decisions are made, because it is very important that they should go along with the Government in this affair.

I am pleased that this Order provides for an increase in the sum allotted for planning. Over the years it has become more and more apparent that many committees and authorities want to take more positive action in planning. What they want is not just a permissive attitude, but power to take constructive and positive action to do more for their areas. The introduction of areas of high landscape value, and the opportunity to spend money on amenities, provides planning committees with the chance to spend money if it is available, and any additional money for planning purposes will be most gratefully received by them, particularly so if we are to introduce even a mild ration of the Buchanan Report. It is bound to be very expensive to improve even very small towns, and in the larger towns considerable expenditure will be needed before any effective results can be achieved on the lines suggested in the Buchanan Report.

The Secretary of State said that the local authorities were all smiles. As a member of a county council finance committee I am not in a smiling mood, although perhaps I have a smile on my face at the moment. There is grave concern about the increase in the Bank Rate, because so many loans are being called in. County finance officers are having great difficulty in providing money to replace these called in loans, and I wonder whether the Government are considering an increase in loans from the Public Works Loan Board to offset this difficulty. There seems to be no protection at all for local authority interest rates.

Many hon. Members have touched on the question of school building. If the school-leaving age is to be raised in 1970, in our county, as in others, we must begin now to get the schools ready for that eventuality, and it is therefore essential that money is made available soon so we can get down to dealing with this problem.

I support the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) in his plea for more money for sport and amenities. One of the simplest ways in which local authorities can help is to give a remission of 50 per cent. on rates to amateur sports clubs, grounds, and so on. At the moment it is entirely at the whim of a local authority whether a remission of rates is given. Granting such a remission would be a most constructive way of helping to provide amenities, and any additional grant which the Secretary of State could provide would serve a most useful purpose.

8 p.m.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)

I am sure that most hon. Members welcome this Order. I am sure, too, that it will find a general welcome among members of local authorities throughout Scotland. Indeed, they will greet it almost with a sigh of relief.

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) expressed concern about the increase in the Bank Rate. When I heard his comments, I could not but help recall what his party did when it was in power two years ago. When we inherited this balance of payments problem we tackled it with a measure of courage. I suggest that the hon. Member reads the circular issued to local authorities in 1961 by his own Front Bench and finds out about the cuts that they had to make because they did not believe it to be in the national interest to go ahead with any sort of programme of social development.

I therefore congratulate my right hon. Friend in dealing with local government matters as he has tonight, more so because I served for many years as a member of a local authority and I know that local authorities are playing an increasing part in national development in the sense that they are being asked to bear a greater burden of responsibility.

When I was a member of a local authority we were continually asked to take on a measure of responsibility for regional planning. It is part of the duty and obligation of the present Administration to put forward schemes of regional planning in Scotland, and I trust that my right hon. Friend will bear in mind, in respect of the figures that he has mentioned in relation to town planning, the experiences of local authorities which have to play a part in regional development.

We seek in regional development and planning the mobility of labour. If this is to be effective, however, the local authorities concerned must be given a measure of direct assistance. We hope to have their co-operation in respect of the problem of overspill payments, and in regard to housing and roads, and I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend say that he hoped to help local authorities in education.

During the first few weeks of my membership of the House I remember a little concern being expressed about the position of local authorities such as mine, in Lanarkshire, who have within their confines new towns and growing centres of population—part of what could be described as a regional plan. We welcome new towns and growing communities such as that of Bishopriggs, in Lanarkshire. At the same time, we are conscious of the problems that county councils have to face in the matter of school buildings.

These have had a very unfortunate effect on the older burghs of Lanarkshire, such as my own. We cannot get ahead with our school building programme as quickly as we want to. I am sure that the County of Lanark does its best within its limited resources. I therefore suggest that if we are really serious about our programme of regional planning and development an extra allowance must be given in the next few years to local authorities such as that which I have the pleasure to represent.

I hope that it will be done in the future, when we get rid of the notion of the general grant principle. I welcome—as I am sure most hon. Members do, especially those on this side of the House—the statement by my right hon. Friend that this may be one of the last Orders of this sort that he will place. This will in some measure assist in developing the scheme for modernising local government in Scotland. But if we are to have this programme of modernisation which is essential to the economic and social well-being of our country, we must have the co-operation of local authorities, and this can be effectively ensured only if people realise that we are in earnest from the financial point of view. This is something that we have not seen in the past, and I trust that my right hon. Friend will consider this proposal in future.

I now turn to the question of the care of our old people. Much comment has been made tonight about this subject. For some years I served on a local health committee which dealt with this matter in quite a big way. We were always terribly restricted in the things which we could do. In one of my first speeches in the House I suggested that one means of getting over this problem was the construction of institutions known as consultative health centres for old people. I appeal to my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary to consider this possibility, so that our old people may be treated in their own homes.

8.5 p.m.

Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)

Like the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), I have been more often on the receiving end of this grant than at its passing through this House. It is a pleasure to hear the right hon. Gentleman, with his zeal and enthusiasm for Scotland and Scottish affairs, but it is interesting to note the degree to which the zeal and enthusiasm have been hampered in a few short weeks. It gives one pause to wonder how long this will continue, and to what extent.

He said that the sums with which we are dealing tonight have been increasing and that he welcomed this trend. It is the good government of the past years that has enabled these sums to increase. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes. Further-more, the right hon. Gentleman did not refer to the rather important fact that it was possible for these sums to increase annually at the same time that we were maintaining the value of the £. It will be interesting to discover—should the House have the misfortune of hearing the right hon. Gentleman present another Order of this kind, be it in tonight's form or in a different form—whether the same will be true then. These matters must be very much in the minds of those whose responsibility rests with the presentation of the Order.

Mr. Ross

The hon. Lady will be aware that her party maintained the value of the £ so well and so stably that every year for five years we had to introduce an increase Order to make up for the rises in costs, prices, remunerations, salaries and all the rest. She had better think again about that.

Miss Anderson

If the right hon. Gentleman will bear with me he will discover that I am coming to that exact point, very shortly. It is within my recollection that the last devaluation of the £ did not take place under a Government of which hon. Members of the present Opposition were part. My point has been made, and appears to have struck home.

My next point concerns the agreement which the right hon. Gentleman claims to have arrived at with the local authorities. I thought that he was rather rash, in the same part of his speech, to go on to talk about what had been possible with a majority of four in seven weeks. It flashed through my mind, that it was a shortish time in which to get on terms with local authorities. It occurred to me that some omnibus arrangement may have been made whereby it was possible to put forward this grant Order at the requisite time. Although I sympathise with the right hon. Gentleman in this matter, I hope that he does not progress too fast and assume that all local authorities are highly satisfied with the position.

That leads me to a constituency point, which has been touched upon by the hon. Member for Rutherglen, namely, the fact that those constituencies which have new developments of a considerable size in their areas, or which have overspill agreements, are at some disadvantage, especially in education, in which respect they have special schooling problems and special alterations of priorities to consider, some of which are inevitable. I hope that these difficulties will be kept in the forefront of the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Perhaps the Joint Under-Secretary will make reference to this point and assure us that it is very much in the mind of the Government. I do not think that any of us will wish to see new areas or towns being developed without certain priorities being given for schooling. At the same time, this situation promotes problems for the older-established communities, as the hon. Member for Rutherglen pointed out.

As I understand it, the increase which this Order shows reveals one or two weaknesses. First, it seems to me that the anticipated increase paid by the Order is likely to be less than the percentage increase for which the local authorities, or some of them, are budgeting. If we take our largest city as an example and look at the rate of increase, we find that there are two facets. Obviously, this is a rate of increase on the present commitments plus the additional commitments which the right hon. Gentleman said were also desirable.

I scarcely think, then, that, overall, the increase matches this proposition. I am sure we shall hear more on this account from the local authorities. This, of course, presupposes that costs are held at a reasonable rate and, frankly, I do not think that I am the only hon. Member who has grave doubts about whether the Government will be able to hold costs to the extent that they sometimes envisage.

Where we are considering long-term propositions such as this it is as well to remember that we do so on the basis of costs being held at a reasonable rate. While I am sure that the Joint Under-Secretary of State will give us the utmost reassurances that this will be done, I look forward to the day, not far hence, when I shall have supporting facts and evidence to question whether this has been successful. These are two facets of the size of the grant which it is very important to remember.

Reference has been made to the Public Works Loan Board and the part which it can play—and therefore, of course, the part which interest rates generally play—in local authority exercises of all kinds. I think I am right in saying that the largest city in Scotland used the Public Works Loan Board for only some 20 per cent. of its total borrowing. It does not seem to me, therefore, that in respect of certain authorities it will be very effective if this great promise of the Government should come to anything. Quite a number of Government promises have not come to anything, but there is always the hope that in time they may. It is therefore worthy of note that in the largest city in Scotland only 20 per cent. of the total borrowing was done from the Public Works Loan Board. I scarcely think that this would have——

Mr. Archie Manuel (Central Ayrshire)

The hon. Lady cannot get away with this. She knows the game she is playing as well as do other hon. Members. She knows that during the period when the party opposite were in Government local authorities were not allowed to borrow from the Public Works Loan Board when they could get money from outside sources—from the friends of the hon. Lady who were supporters of the Tory Party. Only recently, because of intense agitation from hon. Members on this side of the House, have the shackles been slackened in order to enable local authorities to exercise their borrowing powers in that way.

Miss Anderson

I am anxious lest hon. Members opposite, who now have certain responsibilities, are not aware of the game which they are playing, or how to play it.

Mr. Manuel

The Government have been in office only seven weeks.

Miss Anderson

Yes, I said that there is still hope. So far as the Public Works Loan Board is concerned, that is not the point. Any amelioration of the interest rate in this respect will make little difference to local authorities. That is the point which I wish to make.

Finally, with regard to the educational programme, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) has long been an opponent of the block grant system. I have argued this both in this Chamber and elsewhere. Tonight the hon. Member said that one of the advantages in having a system which was more definite was that the local authorities could administer the grant according to their enlighened views. As I understand it, one of the difficulties is that people differ in their interpretation of what is an enlightened view.

I think that it is worth looking at the facts and figures for the great City of Glasgow. I very much doubt whether there is a single hon. Member present who could claim that the enlightened views in certain respects, particularly in housing, in Glasgow, were, in fact, "enlightened". It is worth remembering in a debate such as this, because it is relevant, that many hon. Members are not eager to pursue this point too far. The right hon. Gentleman used the quotation—"mine inheritance is small." I believe that the maxim on which most Scots were reared was that it is not the inheritance that matters, but what one makes of it, and I shall watch the outcome with interest.

8.17 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

I do not wish to make too much of this point, but we have not had much time to study these Orders. I mention this because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will recall the occasions on which they have made complaints about Orders concerning which more notice was given than the six days which we have had to study these orders. It looks as though I have taken over the rôle which was taken in the earlier debate by the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). I have had to do some work with the sliderule over the weekend in order to get abreast of the figures. One must always have a check. One method is checked by another and we were told in the earlier debate that even the computer has to be checked.

The increase Order should be the result of the normal consultations with local authorities about the consideration of increased costs. My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) has expressed doubts whether the figure in the Order represents those increased costs. No doubt the Joint Under-Secretary will reply to that point. I wish to pass on to the General Grant Order for the two years in question.

I am glad to see that in that Order there is the £1 million which was the equivalent of the English Measure, the Rating (Interim Relief) Act of 1964. As the Minister said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), who was then Secretary of State, entered into this commitment as the equivalent of the rating relief Measure for England and Wales. I was glad to note that the right hon. Gentleman said he thought that local authorities would welcome this extra £1 million. I believe that in Scotland it will now be recognised that this is a better bargain and a more convenient way to receive this assistance than the complex rating relief Act, and so we welcome that provision.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the general review of local authority expenditure was now taking place involving also the question of how the burden should be borne as between ratepayer and taxpayer. Presumably, this is the review which we started when we were in Government. If so, I am glad to have confirmation that this is being continued. In the meantime, the Government appear to be continuing the general grant system for these two years in the same way as we did. The right hon. Gentleman explained why he was doing it. We approve both the continuation of the review that we started and the right hon. Gentleman's continuance of the general grant system on this occasion.

The Secretary of State made it clear that this might be the last General Grant Order of this kind that he would introduce if still in office in two years' time. He explained that in order to make any changes it was necessary to continue this review and to introduce legislation. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry) has pointed to a passage in page 20 of the pre-election publication "Signposts for Scotland", but I want to quote from page 13 of the Labour Party's manifesto which states: … we shall seek to give early relief to ratepayers by transferring a larger part of the burden of public expenditure from the local authorities to the Exchequer. The words "early relief" are used. Those who wrote that manifesto do not appear to have been apprised of the consideration that the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned—the review and the need for legislation, and the fact that all this would take time. A large number of people in Scotland may well have been misled by this pre-election promise into thinking that there was to be immediate relief for ratepayers in Scotland.

If the right hon. Gentleman had intended to do something quickly, I cannot see that there was anything to stop him from changing the percentage figure. That would have been a quick and easy way to carry out this early relief. What I point out, however, is the inconsistency between what was said before the election, and the impression that it may well have given to members of the electorate who are not fully versed in all these complications, and what is now actually happening——

Mr. Manuel

But would the hon. Gentleman consider that the Government, whether they have a large or a small majority, are returned for a five-year period, and could go for four or four-and-a-half years? What would he consider early in that connection? Eighteen months? Two years?

Mr. Campbell

This General Grant Order covers two years, and if the present Government had intended to give early relief they could have altered the percentage now as between the Exchequer and the local authorities. I do not suggest that that would have been a good thing—it is not something that we suggested—but it was available to him. I point out the inconsistency between what was held out to electors in Scotland beforehand and what has now happened.

Does the Under-Secretary of State estimate that for two years it will not be necessary for rates in general in Scotland to be increased? In the earlier debate on the English equivalent Order, my hon. Friend the Member for the City of Chester (Mr. Temple) calculated that on this basis the rates in England and Wales would probably have to go up by about 7 per cent. Can the hon. Gentleman make any estimate of the same kind?

The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the extra £2 million that is unallotted and contained in the estimate of expenditure. I believe, as did my hon. Friends in the debate on the English Order, that there is probably more to this than was contained in the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. My experience is that it does not often happen that the Treasury says, "Let us add another £2 million—the local authorities may have forgotten some items." That seems to me to be somewhat improbable. The version given by my hon. Friend in the English debate was that the figure there had been lopped off the first year and put on the second year. I shall be glad to have rather more explanation of that point.

The formula for the distribution of general grant is in Schedule 2 of the Local Government and Miscellaneous Financial Provisions (Scotland) Act, 1958, but as that Act is also mentioned in the right hon. Gentleman's Explanatory Note I shall seize the opportunity to express the hope that the formula will itself come under review. When we were in office we had hoped that there would be an opportunity in the next year or two to look again at the formula for distribution among local authorities, in order to see whether there was any way of mitigating the feeling of unfairness that some local authorities have. I recognise, having grappled with the problem myself, that it is different to find a formula that suits every local authority——

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can pursue this line of debate. To speak on the principle of the grant is out of order in this debate.

Mr. Campbell

Then I shall not pursue that point any further.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West referred to the important question of school building, as did the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern). I disagree here with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie), who seemed to think that local authorities were entirely satisfied on this matter. My impression is that some local authorities in the north of Scotland, and elsewhere—notably Glasgow, as the hon. Member said—because they have had large and ambitious programmes for school building for the next three years or so, had been somewhat disappointed when the previous Government had to make allocations which meant that in some cases the figures were less than those that have been estimated and applied for. This was because these were very large programmes compared with previous programmes that had been embarked upon, and their sheer size, in some cases, compared with the previous programmes, meant that there had to be some reallocation of the money available.

That was accepted by the right hon. Gentleman in opening this debate. That was when he was talking about education, but this meant some disappointment among those education authorities. That disappointment was played upon during the summer by supporters of hon. Members opposite. They gave the impression that if the Labour Party won the election these allocations would be increased and what were incorrectly called "cuts" would be restored. This clearly is not happening. In reply to a Question last week we were told that this was not happening and the excuse given was the balance of payments situation.

There is no doubt that there has been a balance of payments situation, but I must make clear that the 7 per cent. Bank Rate and the credit squeeze are the result of this Government's actions since then—notably the Budget and the unusual procedure of publicly formulating the next Budget, also the lack of confidence abroad which the Government's handling of the situation and their financing of these Measures has caused.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) in saying that this was a situation which was inherited. The balance of payments situation was inherited, but the situation of 7 per cent. Bank Rate and the credit squeeze with its effects on programmes and interest rates is entirely the result of the actions of this Government in the last two or three weeks.

8.30 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Dr. J. Dickson Mabon)

I am surprised at the ending of the speech of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell). Up to now the debate has been remarkably good-tempered, and free from party bias, but those last remarks of the hon. Member can hardly remain unacknowledged.

We inherited an extraordinary economic situation. When Ministers took up their posts on 16th October—61 days ago, a little more than eight weeks, which gives us 12 years and 44 weeks to go before we would have a record such as hon. Members opposite—we found the country in an alarming state. That reflected itself in all activities of Ministers in relation to plans and the natural process of administration going on in the Department. One thing we found was that negotiations by the officials at the Scottish Office, which had begun in the summer, were coming to the stage when Ministers with knowledge of the position within the Government and appreciation of the economic situation had to meet the local authorities and come to a final agreement with them on the Increase Order and the subsequent Order which we are now discussing.

In the light of that it is quite remarkable that local authorities should show themselves so fully appreciative of the difficulties which the new Government faced. They were more fair than the hon. Member and his hon. Friends in making criticisms. The testimony of their fairness lies in the fact that very few hon. Members opposite can take from their pockets letters of protest from local authorities or local authority associations saying that these arrangements are quite outrageous. As my hon. Friend the Mem- ber for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie) said so well, we are facing a situation today, in terms of the balance of payments crisis, which is even more serious than the difficulties faced in 1961.

Mr. Ross

Much more.

Dr. Mabon

Much more serious, £500 million in 1961 and £800 million this year. That is what we have inherited.

If we look back to 1961 and consider what the then Government did, we see that if we did the same it would not be an Order like this that we should be inviting the House to approve, but we would be imposing quite heavy programmes on local authorities. It may refresh the memory of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn to return to that circular. On another occasion I shall come armed with that circular and read some of the more of its agonising parts.

One of the distortions is on the question of overspill and its effect on the school building programmes of receiving counties. The hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) joined my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley (Mr. John Robertson), the former Member for West Renfrewshire, now Viscount Muirshiel, and myself in helping the county to make representations on this position. That was way back in 1963. It was not taken as a party matter, but as a fair matter of public concern that overspill agreements distorted the school building programme and the whole educational estimate of a county. Having succeeded to office, we found that nothing at all had been done to deal with that problem.

Is it right or fair that eight weeks after taking office we should be criticised for not having tackled this matter when we have so many things in hand? Hon. Members opposite cannot have it both ways. They criticised us for "instant government"—that is their parrot cry. Yet the other horse that they ride at the same time is that we are not acting quickly enough. It is quite wrong to parade these contradictory arguments and expect either the House or the country to believe them. The reason why the country has been more fair minded than the Tory Party and that the Government, despite all the difficulties that we are facing, is as popular, indeed more popular with the public—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That is true. All the Conservative newspapers believe this to be so.

The reason why we are more popular is that the country is fairly assessing the Government in a difficult situation and acting well in the face of all these difficulties.

Miss Harvie Anderson

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to the 8 per cent. drop in the Government's popularity as announced this morning?

Dr. Mabon

The hon. Lady is stretched to try to find figures. There are other pelts than that one, and even by that one poll we still win. But I am a long way from the Order and I was provoked into this by the concluding comments of the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. G. Campbell

I was not criticising the Government for acting too soon. Some of the things that they have done are the wrong things. I was criticising that they were not doing what they appeared before the election to say they would do.

Dr. Mabon

This is another point on which the hon. Member must be fair. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Manuel) asked a very good question when the hon. Member was criticising us on the matter of the manifesto. How long does a Minister, and he has been a Minister, regard the phrase of early relief? Does he mean eight weeks?

Mr. G. Campbell

Less than two years.

Dr. Mabon

If the hon. Member says less than two years that gives us until 1966 before he can complain that we have made promises to the public and not fulfilled them.

Mr. G. Campbell

This particular Order lasts for two years.

Dr. Mabon

The hon. Gentleman is having great difficulty in following the argument.

We are obliged by Statute, which we cannot change, to introduce these Orders in two-yearly periods. We are doing this. We have already made reservations to the local authorities in relation to the second year. That is why, if the hon. Member had listened more intently to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government—as did the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty, who has sat here throughout the whole of the English and Scottish debates, and I commend him for that—he would have recognised right away that the reason for the second year's difference was to deal with the problems that may arise in that second year of the General Grant Order.

The hon. Member said that he could not understand the Treasury giving more to local authorities, which they have not asked for, and before which the agreement had been made. This is very true in Scotland. Our local authorities had agreed to accept £2 million less than we are asking the House tonight to agree to. The reason for that is because we recognise the difficulties of local authorities in 1966–67. It will be a year, I hope of great change. The Government hope in that year to see the fruition of many of their activities which, at present, we cannot bring to public light and examination because they are matters of departmental concern and must be resolved not only in the light of policy commitments, but also in the light of organisational and administrative problems.

I turn to some of the specific items, and I will gladly give way to hon. Members opposite later. I turn to some of the criticisms offered by the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Hendry). He said that the Order represented, in respect of education only a 7 per cent. growth. In fact, the areas of growth differ considerably. I am told that 4 per cent. will be in primary and secondary schools, 15 per cent. on further education and 15 per cent. on loan charges. This is the important point in his argument which, I think, he missed. I was surprised at him regarding 7 per cent. as a mere bagatelle. When my right hon. Friend said that he meant it in a sarcastic way. Seven million pounds is a lot of money, certainly by Scottish standards. I would not regard £7 million as a mere bagatelle.

The hon. Member seemed to be reflecting on these figures as if they were the principal figures of school building, whereas they are not. The matters which we are concerned about are in respect of loan charges. In 1962–63 loan charges on educational building under the general grant came to £8..65 million. In 1963–64, they came to £9.8 million. In 1964–65, they will come to £11.59 million; that is, with the adjustment we shall make tonight, I hope. In the General Grant Order for the two years 1965–66 they will be £12.9 million. In 1966–67, they will be £14.3 million.

The hon. Gentleman went on further to criticise us—this was reflected in the speech of the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn—for bullying—"browbeating" was the word—the local authorities into accepting these figures. May I tell the hon. Gentleman that the only argument, if he likes to call it an argument, between all the delegates representing all the local authorities and myself, having the privilege of representing my right hon. Friend and the Government, on loan charges on educational building for 1965–66 was as between £12.9 million and £13 million. It was an argument over £100,000. Our second argument for 1966–67 was between £14.3 million and £14.5 million, a difference of £200,000.

I admit that we did not resolve that, but in the final analysis we resolved all the other outstanding problems and rounded the figures up to a figure acceptable to the local authorities. I know that this is rather unusual, but I cannot let the comment about browbeating, even if it were made humorously, pass without some defence of the officials concerned and, indeed, of myself.

In the past, as the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn can confirm, local authorities have never been reluctant to upbraid the elected representative, the Minister, if they have not got a reasonable response from the officials. The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie) mentioned the description "bonnie fechters". This applies not only to our councillors from the Highlands, but to councillors from all over Scotland. Although there might be differences in fighting qualities among Scotsmen, nevertheless they are all good fighters when it comes to fighting the Department. I will not bring any officials before us tonight to testify to this, but they can show their wounds from fighting this battle. There is a statutory obligation on the Minister to meet the local authorities so that they can make their complaints, if there are any, and they can be fully ventilated.

I received the most cordial reception. After much hard-headed discussion, we were able to reach agreement. I have a minute here. I agree that it is not approved by the local authority associations, but it is nevertheless a valid minute. I did not prepare it. Item 16 says this: Dr. Macfarlane thanked the Minister for the patient and courteous hearing which he had accorded to them. He wished to take the opportunity to express on behalf of the County Councils' Association their good wishes for a successful term of office. Ex-Provost Smyth and Treasurer John S. Clark expressed similar good wishes to Dr. Mabon on behalf of the Convention of Royal Burghs and the Counties of Cities Association respectively. I conveyed these good wishes to the Secretary of State, and perhaps that prompted him to provide £2 million more for the second year, about which the local authorities were informed at a later stage, much to their surprise and delight, I am sure.

Mr. Rankin

So my hon. Friend has convinced every one of us that he did not need to browbeat the local authorities into accepting £2 million more than they asked for.

Dr. Mabon

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, they were wreathed in smiles. I have no doubt that their smiles got bigger with the knowledge that the extra £2 million has been added for the second year.

Mr. G. Campbell

As the hon. Gentleman has quoted from that document, is it possible for the whole of it to be tabled and made available?

Dr. Mabon

As a matter of fact, it should now be in the hands of every local authority, and I strongly suggest to the hon. Gentleman, who must be in good relations with local authorities, that he should acquire this and read it. I admit that, in practice, there ought to be common documents shared by both sides. I hope that a Labour Government would never for one moment behave like the previous Government in that regard. This is a common document in relation to local authorities.

Let me pass, however, to the question of the raising of the school-leaving age. I repeat that we had just come into office and because of that we find that little has been done. Some preparation is going on, but that preparation will have to be speeded up. I am assured that relatively little building work will be done before 1967. That is hardly our responsibility. It takes a long time to prepare and develop plans for building schools, the letting of contracts and all the rest, but the preliminary work is being speeded and I can assure the House that this, in time, will be part of our programme.

It may cover the second year of the grant and it may not. I cannot say at this stage, but it is a matter which concerns the Department and it will be pushed ahead at all speed.

Mr. Hendry

Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the Prime Minister cannot really produce a new Britain in 100 days?

Dr. Mabon

Our 100 days will be much more fruitful than 100 years under hon. Members opposite.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) referred to the need to encourage day-release instead of evening classes. This is part of the Government's programme. It has been going on at the rate of 10 per cent. per annum and we hope to speed it up to 20 per cent., either next year or in the second year. That is not bad for the first 61 days. My hon. Friend commented on Govan High School. I have no intention of intervening in representations between him and my right hon. Friend. All I know is that if he keeps pressing hard enough he might succeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern), who was kind enough, with the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty, among others, to welcome these provisions in the Order and the statement made by my right hon. Friend that this may be among the last of these Orders, asked for some information about the registration of electors, about planning and about physical training. On the question of the provision for the registration of electors, which is one of the items which seems to fluctuate, in this case between £321,000 and £335,000 in the final year, I am told that in 1963–64, and to a lesser extent in 1964–65, expenditure was high because Glasgow and Edinburgh were buying machinery to print their registers. In the two-year grant period ahead which we do not consider, any printing equipment will be bought and, therefore, there is a drop in the estimates.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston for his reference to planning. There is an appreciable difference between £301,000 in 1963–64 and £800,000 in 1966–67. This is because the rehabilitation area programme, which is very much a part of this operation, is being speeded up by the Government. In opposition we on this side criticised lack of progress in this matter very severely. We now intend to pursue it as fast as we can in the years ahead because one of the disfiguring features in Scotland is the bings and derelict lands which pock-mark towns and villages in the counties of Scotland, particularly in the central belt. This provision is quite apart from Board of Trade help. We are intending to do this with the encouragement of the local authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston had some critical remarks to make about the provisions of physical training. In the context that may have been fair, but we have to consider that these provision relate to adult physical training. I am told that in 1965–66 expenditure will be £1.02 million and in 1966–67 £1.13 million, which compares favourably with expenditure in 1964–65 of £900,000 for youth service and other forms of social and recreational activity.

Sir M. Galpern

What I am more concerned about—I am sure that my hon. Friend shares my concern—is that we should be spending more money on our housing schemes in the provision of playing fields, which I think is a responsibility of the Government, not of the education authority.

Dr. Mabon

My hon. Friend raises the interesting question of what is the responsibility of a local authority and what is the responsibility of the State. This is very much a matter which is being considered in the local government review and by other agencies of Government inquiry. I shall return to it in a moment.

The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) asked about consultation particularly as regards the review and with reference not only to local government representatives and officials, but central Government officials. I gave an assurance about this to the local government representatives at the meeting on 27th November. The hon. Gentleman made a very good point, and I agree very much that local officials are very well informed about developments and can offer a good deal of advice even to the central Government.

At times, the central Government tends to think of itself as a superior sort of body employing superior officials, but this is hardly fair to local government officials who are at least as well informed as some Central Government officials. We shall encourage as much as we can the flow of information between the two sets of officials. We have already had informal consultations with different associations of officials.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the treasurers. The municipal treasurers are in correspondence with us on a number of points about the rate burden, and so on, and this is a matter which will be taken into account in the review. Already, even though we have no basis of review to discuss, we are taking this matter up on the basis of existing facts as they are known to us, and we are going this not from, so to speak, the external standpoint of Scotland vis-à-vis England, but from the internal standpoint within Scotland as well. It is a very important exercise.

The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn and one or two other hon. Members have been concerned about the position of small local authorities. Indeed, the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn rather bravely tried to introduce the subject at the end of his speech. We are thinking closely about it, although it does not come within the context of this particular Order.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with the question of the Public Works Loan Board in his statement on 23rd November and said that the Government were considering it actively. I believe that my right hon. Friend will be making a statement about it in the near future and I should not like to anticipate what he will have to say. Suffice it to say, from our point of view, that we have taken the matter fully into account, including the temporary 7 per cent. Bank Rate, which we hope will not in its effects embarrass local authorities in the succeeding two years. However, good Government though we are, we cannot anticipate everything. I hope that the House will await the Chancellor's statement and see how we go on from there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen made some very kind remarks about several provisions in the Order and was very wise, if I may say so, in drawing attention to the provision for old folk's homes. I was glad that he spoke about the successful social experiment in Rutherglen. I should like to see more local authorities adopting this kind of approach to the provision of old folk's homes and the provision of services to old folk as such who live in their own homes. I say the same about the mental welfare services, both community care and after-care, which deserve to be expanded. Again, we have tried to make provision for this particularly in the second year.

The hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) struggled manfully to find reasons to attack us on this Order, and I am glad that she failed. It was rather sad to hear her challenge us about the value of money. The external devaluation of the £ in 1949 is not closely relevant to this Order, and it is probably less important than the internal devaluation of the £ between 1951 and 1964, which amounted to about one-third of its value. This was to some extent, perhaps even to a large extent, the reason why General Grant (Increase) Orders had to be introduced with a frequency which her Government did not really intend. I cannot, despite what she said, pledge that the £ will remain its 20s. value as at 15th October, 1964, for the next two or 20 years.

When I heard the hon. Lady's argument, I thought that she was rather like Eliza Doolittle, especially when she threatened that she would find facts in the future that would embarrass us. It reminded me of Eliza saying, "Just you wait and see, 'enry' iggins". We will wait and see, as Mr. Asquith said. The hon. Lady tried desperately to make an attacking speech, but, unfortunately, had not the facts to support it.

Mr. G. Campbell

Surely the hon. Gentleman agrees that, under both these Orders, there will be increases in wages and salaries. Indeed, we all hope that they will be increased at a time when the value of money remains stable. It is, therefore, not quite fair to my hon. Friend to say that the Orders are entirely due to the fall in the value of money. The value of money fell a great deal more between 1945 and 1951 than during any similar period of Conservative Government.

Dr. Mahon

That is arguable, but I admit that the hon. Gentleman is making a fair point. One has to take account of rises in salaries and wages, and so on. I hope that I phrased my remarks in such a way as to show that this was not entirely due to the fall in the value of money. But I did not introduce this element. The hon. Lady did. I was merely replying to her. I do not want to enter into mutual remonstrations.

Miss Harvie Anderson

I referred to costs. The hon. Gentleman has tipped this matter to suit himself.

Dr. Mahon

The hon. Lady does me more than justice. I listened carefully to what she says, and, indeed, wrote it down. In HANSARD tomorrow she will find that she hit us for six, so she may think, on the question of the devaluation of the £.

I hope that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn makes many more winding-up speeches from the Front Bench opposite in the years to come, because he is always very good tempered and has great difficulty in working up the party ire which is necessary for such occasions. I agree, however, that it is difficult to do that when the Government have such a good case. We are promoting a General Grant (Increase) Order which is welcomed by the local authorities and about which there is no quarrel. The General Grant Order is also accepted by the local authorities, who are pleased that the promise made by a Conservative Government in December, 1963, should be fulfilled by a Labour Government in December, 1964, and also that the Government should be able, in the second year of the grant, to find £2 million more—£1.2 million of it Treasury money—to be included in these Orders.

That is an achievement and I am grateful to the House for the good hearing that we have had.

Question put and agreed to.


That the General Grant (Scotland) Order 1964, dated 8th December 1964, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th December, be approved.

General Grant (Increase) (Scotland) Order 1964, dated 3rd December 1964 [copy laid before the House, 9th December] approved.—[Mr. Ross.]