HC Deb 20 December 1966 vol 738 cc1331-55

10.37 p.m.

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

I beg to move, That the General Grant (Increase) (Scotland) Order, 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th December, be approved. This Order is made under Section 2(2) of the Local Government and Miscellaneous Financial Provisions (Scotland) Act, 1958, and seeks to increase the amount of the general grant payable to local authorities in Scotland in respect of the relevant expenditure for the two years 1965–66 and 1966–67. There is, accompanying the Order, House of Commons Paper No. 245 and an explanation of the circumstances concerning this Order.

The House will recall that the main Order of 1964 fixed the amount of general grants for 1965–66 and 1966–67 at £80.5 million and £84.5 million respectively. Those amounts were supplemented last year in the Increase Order of 1965 to £82.07 million and £86.2 million respectively. The present Order seeks to raise the aggregate amounts to £83.185 million and £93.13 million and is probably the last General Grant Increase Order that we shall see under this procedure.

The main bulk of the increases come out of the increases in teachers' pay. I anticipated this at the time of the debate last year by saying that we could not include a definite amount for that, but that, since the negotiations were proceeding, clearly they would be eligible for inclusion in an increase order this year. The revised salary scales for Scottish teachers were effective from the 1st April, 1966, and they represent the main increases.

If hon. Members will look at the Appendix to House of Commons Paper No. 245, they will see the proportions, in figures, of the amounts that are increased. The three local authority associations, with whom we have discussed this, as is the practice, gave their acceptance to the figures shown in the report. So much were they willing to accept the figures that they denied me the opportunity of meeting them again, saying that they were content to leave the matter at the official level.

I think that the local authority associations deserve some congratulation, not only for their application in this matter, but also for the very reasonable way in which they approach these problems. They could be a matter of irritation, as some hon. Members know, but we have had a very helpful experience with them recently.

10.37 p.m.

Mr. Gordon Campbell (Moray and Nairn)

As the Under-Secretary of State has told us, we expected that there would be a large proportion of a General Grant Increase Order devoted to education and, within that, the teachers' salaries, because of the award which had occurred during the year in question. But, in the accompanying report to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, it is clear that there are considerable increased costs, in addition to teachers' salaries. It seems that they are mostly in education, because so much is shown in the table included in the Appendix as falling under the education services.

But for 1966–7, there is the large sum of £600,000 for rates, £534,000 interest on loans, £180,000 for transport, and no less than £639,000 for fuel, property repairs, food, and what is described as "etcetera". I think that we should hear more about this expenditure, which is in addition to the very large amount for teachers' salaries which we knew was coming.

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned that this is likely to be the last Increase Order of this kind, and I suppose that we ought to record this in some way. But there has been criticism from the hon. Gentleman's side of the House in the past about the scope within which additional expenditure could qualify for an Increase Order of this kind. The successor to the general grant—the rate support grant—is to have Increase Orders on almost exactly the same principles. We went into this at considerable length during our discussions on the Local Government Bill, the final stages of which are due to take place this evening.

No doubt a similar Increase Order will be presented in a year's time, and it will be called the Rate Support Grant Increase Order. It seems that the Government will again have to consider virtually the same factors as they have done for this Order, and we shall see the results in the form of an Order and an accompanying report of this kind. But if the hon. Gentleman gets the permission of the House to speak again, we would like him to tell us when a Scottish Rate Support Grant Order will appear, and when it will be debated, because today we had the English debate, and as this is probably the last occasion on which we will consider an Order of this kind we would like him to tell us about the future.

10.41 p.m.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I should like my hon. Friend to tell me whether in the White Paper No. 245, to which he referred when dealing with increased salaries for teachers, there is provision for an increased number of teachers. Is there provision for an increase, which may be unlikely in this financial year, in the event of the abolition of fee-paying schools in Glasgow, or indeed the abolition of State-aided fee-paying schools in Glasgow? This seems relevant to this Order, in that additional expenditure will be incurred in the event of those things happening.

There appears to be no provision in this Order for such an increase, but as this is likely to be the subject of violent political controversy during the next few months, I hope that my hon. Friend will give us an assurance that, even though this may be the last General Grant Increase Order—and the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) made a constitutional debating point about this—if local authorities are involved in additional expenditure because of the introduction of comprehensive schools, or because of outright changes during the financial year, or because of the abolition of fee-paying schools, the Government will give sympathetic consideration to any applications by them for increased grants.

10.42 p.m.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)

The House can sometimes be a depressing place, but I do not think that we can ever be quite so depressed as when we receive these Orders, because they remind us of two things: first, the enormous increase which is taking place in prices under this Government; and, secondly, the enormous increase in local government expenses.

I think that we sometimes underestimate the extent to which, under this Government, local authority treasurers are facing a real nightmare. The problem has been serious for many years, but under this Government the local authority treasurers really have a terrible time and face an appalling situation every time they have to fix the rates for the year.

To make a brief mention of the extent of this problem, I should like to refer to a letter which I received only this morning from the treasurer of Great Universal Stores. He said that in Glasgow the rates burden for commercial premises would increase quite dramatically from £196,000 to £433,000, an increase of about 120 per cent., the increases ranging from 81 per cent. to well over 300 per cent. When we realise that this could have an adverse effect on trade, and possibly lead to the closure of premises, we realise what an appalling situation we are in.

I have three specific questions to ask on this Order. The first arises out of a point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown). To what extent does the Order provide for possible increases in the demand for local authority services? I want to ask the Under-Secretary whether he interprets Section 2(2) of the Act of 1958 in such a way that the increased demand for local authority services can be taken into account.

The hon. Member for Provan has referred to the possibility of a reduction in the shortage of teachers. I am concerned at the possibility that local authorities could be faced with a substantial demand on their welfare services as a result of the great increase in unemployment taking place under this Government, and which will probably continue in the future. I want to know whether any provision can be made for this under Section 2(2) and if local authorities have done so.

Secondly, I want the Under-Secretary to go into a little more detail about the negotiations he had with the local authorities. We have had this global figure of the increase in relevant expenditure, but I would like to know whether discussions did take place, how long they took, and if final agreement was reached. I am afraid that although we have heard that agreement was reached, from little things we have heard through the grapevine we have the impression that, under all Governments, negotiations with the Scottish Office are not a question of equals discussing a matter—because at the end of the day the Government have to make a decision, and sometimes local authorities are placed in a situation where they have to make the best bargain they can in the circumstances.

There is one final question about the actual figures. I was surprised to see the figures presented, particularly on the question of provision for the various services. We see, for example, a dramatic increase of .11 million in the provision for education in 1966–67. The question which arises: what percentage have the Government allowed, in respect of that increase, for the increase in relevant expenditure? The increase in relevant expenditure for the year 1966–67 has been estimated at the substantial figure of £11.5 million. Under this Order the Government are allowing an increased grant of £6.93 million. From a very quick calculation this would appear to work out almost exactly at 60 per cent.

That estimate may be a little out, but if the figure of 60 per cent. has been fixed for 1966–67 it would appear to be directly relevant to the total increase in expenditure by local authorities which has been accepted by the Government. This figure is about 63 per cent. If we are to ensure that the Government accept the load of the total local government expenditure they have committed themselves to bearing why does this figure work out at 60 per cent., instead of a figure rather above that? This figure should have been arrived at bearing in mind the percentage of local authority expenditure which the Government have indicated they would bear.

This Order does not only make us full of gloom and depression; when we look forward to the future of local government, bearing in mind the comments made by the party opposite before coming to power, it also makes us realise what an intolerable burden is being placed on local authority treasurers when they are trying to face the future with confidence.

I am depressed to read the document. It can only bring more gloom and despondency to local authorities, and before we have another Order of this sort I hope that the Under-Secretary will commit himself to interpreting Section 2(2) more widely, so as to make provision for the increase in demands for local authority services that we know must come. If he will not commit himself to this, at least he should see that the Government make sure that the law will be altered to make such provision possible. All the time, the local authorities are chasing after inflation. They have never caught up with it yet, and under this Government I doubt whether they ever will.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. George Younger (Ayr)

This Increase Order makes slightly strange reading at this time when the whole country is being subjected to squeeze, freeze and all the rest. I understood that the Government's policy was based on the fact that anyone who had to bear or was faced with increased costs should absorb them by economies and savings in other directions. I appreciate that the major part of the increase provided for in the Order is due to the increase in teachers' salaries, which we all welcomed. If the increase were purely for that reason alone. I recognise that it would be acceptable, but, of course, it is not for that alone. There are several other items which also show substantial increases.

It is up to the Government to explain a little more the reasons for these increases. In particular, I hope that the Minister can explain something about the item "National insurance: employers' contributions", which shows the substantial increase of £267,000 over the expected figure. I do not think that there has been a substantial increase in employers' contributions since the original figure was estimated. Possibly it has something to do with adjustments concerning the Selective Employment Tax. It would be interesting to know how this figure is made up.

I reinforce the request by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell) for more information concerning the item "Fuel, property repairs, food, etc." Here, surely, is expenditure which could be curtailed or in which economies could be made to avoid such an increase. Everyone, in industry and elsewhere, is facing increases in cost in fuel, property repairs, food and everything else. If it is reasonable for industries, firms and individuals which suffer such increases to be expected not to pass on their prices to the consumer but to absorb the extra costs by economies and the like, will the Minister explain why similar economies and stringencies should not be applied to expenditure in the public sector? This is a reasonable request. If the remainder of the policy is supposed to make sense and to add up, it is reasonable to expect such economies also in the public sector.

I am not a skinflint by nature. If this extra money can be justified, and is to be spent on services of which we all approve and which we want, I am very happy. In the present conditions of squeeze and freeze, however, the Minister is obliged to explain in a little more detail why there is this difference between the original estimates and the present need.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman is obliged to explain what efforts he has made to ensure that economies are made. I assume that he has made those efforts and that this is the result of the best economy that can be made in these items. Thirdly, he should explain clearly, so that not only we, but the public, can understand, why, if everyone else is supposed to absorb increased costs, the public sector should be glibly granted an increase of £11 million above what it was previously allowed.

10.55 p.m.

Mr. William Baxter (West Stirlingshire)

Lest there be any misunderstanding about the views held on this subject by hon. Members on both sides of the House, I wish to associate myself with the remarks that have been made about the need to curtail expenditure. There can be no doubt that, with the ever-increasing numbers of people employed in Government Departments in Edinburgh and elsewhere, something must be done to reduce expenditure. Great care must be exercised to ensure that when increases are sought they are really necessary.

I was for a long time associated with the Larbert District Mental Hospital Board. At one time, when I was the board's chairman, the board had a part-time employee, Mr. Robb, a well-known Stirlingshire solicitor of the firm of Welsh and Robb. Mr. Robb retired and we appointed a Mr. Johnson to this position of responsibility. Mr. Johnson carried on for a number of years in that position, without assistance, and we thought that he was reasonably well employed. Then one day he sought an increase in his staff; he wanted a typist.

Two of the board's members were given the task of investigating the matter. We did so and, because we felt that it was asking a bit much for Mr. Johnson to be given a full-time typist to assist him, we agreed that he should be helped by a part-time typist. Then the National Health Service legislation was introduced and the Royal Scottish National Institution—which at that time also had a part-time clerk—was merged with the hoard of which I was a member. Today, the general administration of that work involves the full-time occupation of 40 or so people. This state of affairs is being duplicated throughout the land.

This process of increasing staff and expenditure has been going on unchecked under both Conservative and Labour Administrations. As an ordinary ratepayer and taxpayer—and I think that I am the highest ratepayer in Stirlingshire—I object to being called upon to subsidise the lucrative way of life that many officials and semi-officials lead in Government Departments.

It is easy for a Minister to accept the recommendations of his senior officials. Apparently one's salary and status is automatically raised when one has more staff to control. No Government since the war have had the courage to look into this matter as though they were a private business man looking into the affairs of his own business. I had hoped that the new Labour Government would have the courage to do this, but I am beginning to lose faith in the saying that new brooms sweep clean.

The Minister is suggesting increases in salaries and wages—including teachers' salaries; but do not let us think that this is all in respect of pay for teachers—totalling £9,113,000, plus ancillary minor awards of another £900,000. Is this necessary? If I do not curtail expenditure and balance my books in my business I will soon find myself out of business. It would be a good idea if some Ministers were put out of business if they do not balance their books. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There is no need for hon. Gentlemen opposite to agree so readily. Successive Tory Governments allowed this matter to get out of hand and run riot.

Time and again hon. Gentlemen opposite told the electorate that they would curtail expenditure in this sector of the national economy. They purport to be good business people, but they did not do that. If anyone cares to look up the records, they will find that numbers and expenditure increased by leaps and bounds, just as they have under this crowd. There is absolutely no difference between one side and the other in this respect.

I say deliberately that the problem is that there are too many Members in this House who, on the one side, have no business experience and, on the other, have business experience because of their education and because of their fathers. There are few hon. Members with practical business experience. That is the tragedy of government, from whichever side it comes. However, that is, perhaps, a little diversion.

Interest on loans has increased by £534,000. I should like to know why. It is time we got a clear, concise and truthful reason why those things are not being curtailed and contained as ordinary businesses are expected to curtail them and contain them. There can be no excuse for Government to be run on any but the most strict and proper business lines, and this is not taking place.

11.1 p.m.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

The House will warm to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) for his great cry to the Government to exercise a sense of business management, although I join with him in feeling that this business sense will not be exercised, because it simply does not exist.

There is a curious phrase in paragraph 4 of the Order: Since the Increase Order was made, further increases have occurred in the level of costs, prices and remuneration which could not be quantified at that time. That appears to be yet another example of administrative gobbledy-gook of which I complained in another connection a few days ago in this House. What does this mean? It means, I suppose, that increases have occurred which the Government have not planned for. I accept that the increases in teachers' salaries could reasonably come under that heading, but many of the other costs which the House is now asked to approve are the direct result of the Government's own incompetence and bungling, particularly in matters of taxation.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell the House quite clearly what part of this enormous increase, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) referred, springs from the Selective Employment Tax. The impression given to the House was that the tax paid in respect of people employed in the public service locally would be repaid, so that the whole operation would cancel out. Perhaps the Under-Secretary can tell us whether the delay in repayment of the tax applies to local authorities as well as to private employers. If so, is this the reason for the vast increase of many tens of thousands of pounds in the taxpayers' bill?

Will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us what part of this massive increase in fuel, property repairs and food springs from the Government's own increase in the fuel duty in Scotland? The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends boast of sheltering Scotland from the effects of their policy. But when we examine the matter we find that Scotland is not sheltered at all. The costs imposed by the Government on the taxpayer fall particularly sharply on the people of Scotland. The latest increase in fuel duty imposed by this thoughtless Government will cost the people of Scotland £5½ million in one year. How much of that is passed on to the taxpayer and ratepayer through the Government's lack of forethought? To what extent are the people of Scotland being asked, in effect, to pay this added and unnecessary fuel bill twice over?

Will the Under-Secretary tell us what proportion of these increased costs springs directly or indirectly from the Government's increases in taxation? I hope that he will consider that question, and deal with the point seriously, because it is causing concern to people in Scotland. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire referred to that.

The Government, naturally, call on private employers to hold down their costs and not to pass on increases but to contain everything. They say that no matter what they do these costs must somehow or other be met by the employer. But what an example the Government set! Whenever costs go up as a result of Government action, whenever taxes are increased because of Government policy, the Government pass those costs on. Whenever the Government decide to increase postal charges and the like, those costs are passed on.

The Government put themselves into a position of unparalleled privilege in financial matters. I hope that they will look again at the massively increased bill to the taxpayer and let the House and the people of Scotland know to what extent it springs from the Government's own improvident and misguided taxation policies.

11.7 p.m.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

It is necessary at this stage of our discussion to make some observations on the Order. I do so with some trepidation after the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) about qualifications to speak on such matters of finance and business, because I confess that I probably would not meet the standards he put forward.

Nevertheless, I suggest that having been a member of a local authority I have some experience and interest in commenting on the proposition before the House. I wish to ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary some questions about the local authorities' attitude to the Order when the negotiations were going on, and about their acceptance of it. Will any local authorities be worse off as a result of the discussions and negotiations?

I find it very difficult to understand some of the comments of hon. Members opposite, particularly the argument of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) when he talked about the question of the increase in rates. I do not know whether he was arguing in favour of the extension of derating. If he was not, I would point out to him that if we have the examples he quoted of the colossal increase in rate burdens they have sometimes been a consequence of certain firms and undertakings in the area where he resides buying and selling property. As a result, the Assessor had no option but to increase the rate burden, because he must have regard to the Valuation and Rating (Scotland) Act, 1956.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)

Order. I think that the hon. Member is getting away from the terms of the Order, which only allow discussion of whether increases should be made and distributed on the basis proposed.

Mr. Eadie

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart who deemed it right to bring in the question of the big rating burden in Glasgow and quoted a specific firm. The point I was making was that the firms themselves were responsible for increasing valuations.

Mr. Taylor

In relation to the further increase in local authority burdens envisaged in the Order, how does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the group to which I was referring, which was presented with an increase of rate costs this year of 120 per cent., should proceed in determining their prices, bearing in mind the price freeze? Where can they find £237,000 extra and yet keep their prices stable?

Mr. Eadie

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman wants me to cross swords with him on the question of rating valuation, since you have ruled it out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should be glad to discuss it with him, but I am sure I would be ruled out of order. I am certain that I should make rings round him. We have had the case of one firm which has done this and which protested against increased valuation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Both hon. Members are out of order on this aspect.

Mr. Eadie

The Opposition have protested against the whole philosophy of the general grant provisions, arguing against the method and set-out. They forget that the Conservative Government were responsible for altering the percentage grant system to this one. There is something hypocritical about their arguments.

I want to put a specific question to my hon. Friend concerning the term "miscellaneous". We in the local authorities always call "miscellaneous" a "beautiful one". Under "miscellaneous", I understand, there is a rise from £35,000 to £100,000. How was this arrived at? When discussing "miscellaneous", we often find something very revealing in the figures. Perhaps my hon. Friend will be more explicit about this aspect.

11.13 p.m.

Mr. Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The Under-Secretary of State does not seem to be having a happy response to this Order from any hon. Member. Perhaps the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) is rapidly losing faith in his own party, but all right hon. and hon. Members on this side have completely lost faith in the Government's control of local authority finances.

I wish to put some questions about the Appendix. I am glad to see that the teachers and the firemen are getting the awards due to them. It is long past the time when the teachers should have got their rise if we are to have enough of them for when the school leaving age is raised. I ask the hon. Member for more information about the miscellaneous minor awards.

On the apportionment among services, there are even more glaring anomalies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) said, we are concerned about the position of the local authority treasurers and finance committees. They appreciate that, where the grant has gone up considerably, they have to match this with a percentage provided by the ratepayers.

So many of these services are ones over which they have relatively little control, like education. Indeed, where there are joint committees they have very little control at all. I am looking particularly at the Fire Service. Hon. Members will see that there has been a very considerable increase in expenditure over and above the wage award. I would not like to think that fires are getting bigger and better at present, but I would have thought that in this age, where we are having serious restraint put on expenditure, the Fire Service might be one that could resist the temptation to spend as much as it is.

We do know from a Parliamentary Answer the other day that the total population has gone down considerably under a Socialist Government. Therefore, one wonders why there should be this increase in expenditure on the registration of electors. Yet there has been no increase in regard to road safety, and here is something I should have thought should have an increase. The same applies to police traffic patrols. Some of us are very keen to see the highest efficiency in our police force, and I do not think the Government has allowed sufficient for the expansion of this service.

Then, in a reverse way, we see an extraordinary increase in town and country planning. I would like the Under-Secretary to give us more information as to why this is so. Is it to implement the Land Commission Bill? We really ought to know.

We should also like to know why there is a standstill for physical training and recreation. One thing we should look after for the young people of Scotland is to see that they have a fair share of public expenditure for physical training and recreation.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) said, we have completely lost confidence in the Government's control of local authority finance, and it is up to the Under-Secretary tonight to give us a very much more detailed and definite explanation of the figures he is presenting before us, otherwise we can only imagine that the situation will go from worse to worse and the rate will go higher and higher until he resigns his office.

11.18 p.m.

Earl of Dalkeith (Edinburgh, North)

I am sure that I was not the only Member who was most impressed, and refreshed, by hearing the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) speak in the courageous and frank way he did. I am always a little afraid that our population tend to become conditioned to the Government spending enormous sums of the taxpayers' or the ratepayers' money without any questions being asked, and I am relieved to hear that there are some hon. Members on the other side who have the frankness to ask these questions. Indeed the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) put his finger on some pertinent points in the questions he was asking.

I would have expected to see the Under-Secretary coming in here this evening on his knees, offering apologies to the House and to those having to produce all this extra money. And even if he was not going to apologise, I hoped he would give us a detailed explanation why it is necessary for us to be considering these mammoth figures tonight. There must be some good explanation, I have no doubt, but I think that we are entitled to know what it is.

I fully endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), but, whereas he limited his criticism to having lost confidence in the Government on local authority expenditure, our loss of confidence has extended to fields far beyond that, and I hope the Under-Secretary will not leave here this evening thinking that we are satisfied with many other forms of expenditure.

I believe that the House deserves a very full and frank explanation in much more detail of why we have to produce this extra money and what sort of negotiations and what sort of bargaining took place before these figures were reached.

11.21 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

Tonight, we have had complaints that on some items listed in the Order there has not been increased expenditure and complaints that on other items there has been increased expendi- ture. In other words, some hon. Members have tried to have it in every possible direction, saying that expenditure on those items on which it has not been increased should have been increased, and that expenditure on those items on which it has been increased ought not to have been increased.

Trying to deal with an Order of such detail at this hour of the night illustrates the point which I was trying to make last week in our debate on procedure, when I said that in the House we did not have adequate control over the machinery of the Scottish Office and its expenditure. Certainly, we cannot hope to get detailed answers to the detailed questions which have been put from both sides of the House about the figures which have been supplied to us. This is no way in which to scrutinise Government expenditure in Scotland and I hope that the Scottish Office will support the view that one of the new Select Committees which we are to have ought to consider the administration of the Scottish Office.

I have only one specific question to ask the Under-Secretary, and it arises from experience in my constituency. It arises under what is listed as welfare services for the handicapped. I do not know whether this is peculiar to my part of Scotland, but I have a number of complaints about the services for handicapped people, particularly handicapped children, services which at the moment are totally inadequate and which are a part of the welfare services which is not meeting the needs of the people. I am sorry that there is to be such a modest increase in this expenditure which is a service on which expenditure ought to be greatly increased, because the service should be greatly increased.

I conclude by repeating that this sort of late-hour short debate is not the way in which we should scrutinise Government expenditure in Scotland, and I hope that more effective machinery will be introduced.

Mr. W. Baxter

On a point of order. Is there any way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in which you can convey to Mr. Speaker, or to the Officers of the House, the distress which is felt by Scottish Members at finding that Scottish business is repeatedly put at the end of the day's business, so that hon. Members who have to travel long distances to deliberate upon these important subjects often find that they are virtually the only Members here at these late hours? Could you convey to the powers that be the feeling that we are badly treated in the House in this respect? I hope that at least my protest will be registered.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I understand how strongly the hon. Member feels about this matter, but it is not a point of order. It is a matter for the Government.

Mr. Baxter

Further to that point of order. I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but if it is a matter for the Government I shall take it up with Government officials.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I must resist the hon. Member's attempt to make a further point of order out of a point which I have ruled not to be a point of order.

11.24 p.m.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

The usual channels resolve these matters. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. W. Baxter) will find that not only the Government are responsible for matters of business being arranged as they are.

Mr. R. W. Elliott (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North)

indicated dissent.

Dr. Mabon

Yes. The hon. Gentleman had better not interrupt unless he knows what he is talking about, because I do.

It is not fair to blame the Government entirely for this arrangement, but I will not pursue that matter now. There is a certain unfairness about believing that the Government have options in these matters. This is an Order proceeding under an Act of Parliament and is the last to be taken under the present legislation. If we had taken it with the earlier English Orders, Scottish hon. Members could have spoken earlier. However, I understood that we were to take this Order clear of the other two because they are essentially different from this. The previous debate concerned the Rate Support Grant Order for England and Wales. We cannot discuss our Rate Support Grant Order for the very reason, which the next business shows, that we do not have the Royal Assent, as the English have, to our Local Government Bill. We have to discuss this General Grant (Increase) Order separately from a Rate Support Grant Order. That is the reason why we are proceeding in this way, and I understood that it was agreed. Obviously, however, exception is taken to it, and, no doubt, we can pursue that point.

Mr. G. Campbell

The point which has been raised is why the Scottish business could not have been taken before the English.

Dr. Mabon

That is a point which the hon. Gentleman and I might address ourselves to at some other time. We cannot do it now. If I had had notice of this point beforehand, we might have been able to do something about it, but I had no notice whatever that exception was taken to this procedure.

May I point out that we are to discuss other business which is absolutely relevant to the General Grant (Increase) Order, and it is wrong to presume that we cannot take two conjoint measures at the same time, whatever the inconvenience to individual hon. Members.

It is unfair of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) to quote words in the explanatory Paper and describe them as "gobbledygook" when, in fact, those words are taken directly from the 1958 Act. They are words of his own Government, which have been repeated in the Paper as proper words to use. If they are gobbledygook, I do not recall the hon. Gentleman protesting about them and objecting to their re-enactment in the Bill which we are shortly to discuss.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

I have.

Dr. Mabon

We all know about the speeches of the hon. Member for Cathcart. We cannot repeat them, but we get the point.

The hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell), however, who is always very careful when he speaks officially from the Front Bench and not unofficially from the back benches, knows the facts. Neither the Conservative Government nor this Government believed that there should be a fourth element introduced into the Increase Order. We debated this at length during the Committee stage of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. Even if there were a case for saying that there should be a fourth element apart from costs, prices and remuneration, we cannot at this moment be in order in discussing a fourth element. We can discuss only the three elements in the Order, and I cannot, therefore, follow a good many of the remarks which have been made about the inadequacy of the Order.

Mr. MacArthur

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for what he has just said, but, with respect, he has got the point wrong. The objection I made was that the "gobbledygookness" of the sentence arises from the context in which the whole statement is made, a context of further increases in the level of costs and prices. My argument is that a certain part, probably a large part, of the increase in the level of costs and prices arises from the Government's own mishandling of the situation.

Dr. Mabon

The hon. Gentleman is now shifting his ground. Paragraph 2 of the Paper begins by stating what Section 2(2) of the 1958 Act does, and these words are taken from the Act.

Mr. MacArthur

indicated assent.

Dr. Mabon

I am glad that we do not disagree about that.

The Government can only bring in matters which are concerned with any unforeseen increases which have taken place in the three elements, and I can justify the Order only on that basis. This has been done in conjunction with the local authority associations. I thought that the House would be quick to grasp that the local authorities always ask to see the Under-Secretary of State at the end of the discussions at the working party level, then going to elected member level, and then to Ministers. They invariably ask to see the Minister.

I cannot recall "off-the-cuff" any Increase Order since 1958 on which the local authority associations did not do so. This is the first occasion. Perhaps the reason is that this is the last Order of this kind and its effect is to expire at the end of the current financial year. That may be the reason, but after their three informal meetings, they expressed themselves as satisfied and not wishing—as I had offered—to meet me.

The fact is that the local authority associations will be meeting me, acting on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, early in January, to discuss the rate support grant, and we will, as the hon. Gentleman quite rightly suggested, be having to bring a Rate Support Grant Order to the House in late January, or February, depending upon the Parliamentary timetable.

There is absolutely no question of the local authority associations feeling there is no point in asking Ministers to meet them. I met them on 2nd December on a very controversial matter and they were very vigorous in their criticisms and they were anxious to make suggestions, which we have encouraged them to do, on another matter apart from this Order. I do not find anything at all "modest" or "cringing" on the part of the local authorities.

On the contrary, I think that their representatives are quite vigorous and very Scottish in their approach to Ministers; they are not at all frightened of Ministers and do not have a feeling that the Government have the whip hand of them. The suggestion that they have is backstairs gossip which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) ought not to listen to.

I cannot, because of the Ruling from the Chair, speak of valuations on this Order. Nor is it directly connected with this Order. I endorse the Ruling from the Chair on that matter. I am only sorry the hon. Gentleman did not realise that earlier, for I am sure that he would not have raised it.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman will accept that the fact that rating costs have increased by 16 per cent. in one year is a matter with which the Government should be concerned, and that this is a very serious point at a time when prices are supposed to be frozen?

Dr. Mabon

I very much agree; we are concerned about that, though we have done better than hon. Gentlemen opposite—by 3 per cent. at least in that one year.

But if this Increase Order is not agreed to, then the rate burden of those people will be all the greater. So the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Gentlemen opposite have to make up their minds about this, whether they want the Order to go through, whether they want it to be bigger, or whether they want it to be smaller. I have not heard any definite arguments which they want. If there is a standstill the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) complains that physical education must be being cut down or not expanded. If it goes up, that is an outrageous increase. If it goes down, it is a slashing cut. We cannot win.

As for the suggestion that the Opposition have lost faith in the Government, I do not accept it. They have not lost faith in the Government: they never had any faith in the Government. We reciprocate that. We never had any faith in right hon. and hon. Members opposite when they were in Government. Let us not have that humbug talk about their having lost faith in us.

Let us look at these matters in a businesslike way, and I will itemise them, as I was asked, to explain the Order. I have said that we cannot on this Order take into account the development policy. That is a matter which may arise under the rate support grant that we will be discussing shortly. Where there have been no increases in prices, costs, and remuneration—police traffic patrols, physical training and recreation and road safety—those items are stable. Whether the policy ought to be expanded or not in the next year comes under the rate support grant.

The increase in town planning is a very important matter. Scotland is going through a very significant phase in its development. There are planning advances which have to be made in many parts of the country which, frankly, have not been touched. I will not go into all the areas—the Borders, the South-West and the North-East—but all these require major efforts in planning, which can be expensive in professional terms, which we have to countenance. Therefore, the £38,000 estimated here is well justified. I was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) about miscellaneous minor awards. Of course, we have had various wage awards.

I am surprised that hon. Gentlemen opposite have the impression that this is an outrageous or extravagant Order, when something like £9,300,000 out of £11,530,000 will go in increased salaries, all of which were agreed before the freeze and, therefore, have to be honoured. The real size of the increase for which we are asking, putting aside the wage awards, is in the region of £2 million.

If my hon. Friend wants a list of those concerned, I must warn him that it is rather a long one, but it includes nurses, midwives and all kinds of workers in local government who deserve to have their wage and salary increases endorsed. They have been negotiated through the proper machinery before the standstill took effect, and they must be honoured. I hope that no one, in criticising the size of this Order, suggests that they ought not to be honoured.

On the question of interest and loans, there is a broadening view of capital expenditure in these services and, therefore, the servicing of these capital debts is larger in volume. But there is an element in the rise in the market cost of borrowing of something like one-quarter per cent. in that. I do not conceal that for a moment.

On property repairs, the figure for Selective Employment Tax is £45,000. There is nothing in that for the cost of borrowing to meet payments of Selective Employment Tax. The breakdown of the National Insurance employers' contributions concerns redundancy payments, about which I understand there was no quarrel, wage related benefits, and the recent Pensions (Increase) Act. I thought that these were all commendable, and it seems to me that the section dealing with National Insurance in both years ought to be acceptable by the House. The figure for redundancy payments is £75,000, that for earnings related benefits is £146,000, and that for the Pensions Increase Act is £46,000.

Mr. MacArthur

Is the hon. Gentleman making no allowance for Selective Employment Tax? If he is not, I welcome it. Is Selective Employment Tax not charged on local government employees? Can he assure us that there is no Selective Employment Tax burden on ratepayers or taxpayers within this Order?

Dr. Mabon

In these financial years, no. As far as we are concerned now, the answer is, "No." We shall want to give a considered reply on the debate on the rate support grant.

Mr. W. Baxter

What are we saving with a greater degree of efficiency?

Dr. Mabon

This General Grant (Increase) Order arises out of the 1958 Act, which never allowed the Government to take a comprehensive look at local government expenditure. That was one of the major criticisms which we made against the previous Act of Parliament. In the present Bill, we are being given the chance in the rate support grant of looking comprehensively at the budgets of local authorities collectively and, for that matter, individually.

The existence of a Rate Grant Support Order and the machinery following there-from will mean that we will have a better control over public expenditure in the local government sector than we have ever had. I do not conceal my right hon. Friend's concern about local government expenditure, his anxiety to make sure that we get value for money and that the money is spent properly. The control over national expenditure is certainly tighter than the control over local government expenditure. I am sure that no one would deny that. We are seeking to get towards that in our new Local Government Bill, and we are acting as quickly as we can. We have to do what we can to make sure that local authorities get value for money and do not spend unnecessarily in any field of activity.

They have a lot to do in welfare services about which I was asked. There are at present 187 homes for the aged run by local authorities, 15 other homes are in the course of being provided or extended, and plans for 47 homes or extensions are under consideration. In the current grant period the number of places provided is expected to rise by 200. I can hardly see any hon. Member objecting to that.

I was asked about inflation, and so on. I have looked up the cost-of-living indices and all the other factors, but I shall not weary the House by giving illustrations. During the last year we have had a good turn out in the cost of living position. It has stabilised remarkably well, particularly during the last six months. The position compares quite favourably with the first year of this Government's term of office, and compares very favourably with the concluding years of office of the previous Administration. I shall not go into comparisons, but if there were arguments about costs and prices, I could present the figures to show the difference in performance between this Government and the previous one. Ours has been much better.

With regard to the out-turn of the General Grant Orders, I have made an assessment of the kind of out-turn made in all the years, and if one takes the 1959–61 position it shows that there was about a 7 per cent. estimate which had to be made increasing the original Order. In 1961–63, the estimate was more than 20 per cent. In 1963–65, it was 16 per cent., and in 1965–67 it was 13 per cent. I admit that there are reasons for these figures, and I am not seeking to claim anything more than that the pattern of development is reasonable and acceptable in some ways, although not in every year. I think that 1961 was perhaps a bad year for the previous Administration, but there are within that certain legitimate percentages which are well justified. I hope that with that explanation the House will agree that the Order should be made.

Mr. MacArthur

The hon. Gentleman was good enough to say that he would answer all the questions, but he has overlooked one which I believe is important if we are to have a proper appreciation of what he is asking us to approve. The hon. Gentleman said that £2 million was outside the wage awards. He did not say what proportion was accounted for by fuel duty and the other increases in taxation about which I asked. How much reflects increased taxes and increased costs which spring directly from the Government's decisions?

Dr. Mabon

I have a breakdown which shows that on the argument about road fuels, out of the total figure which was mentioned, deducting the earlier comment I made and making it not £639,000 but £567,000, the petrol and road fuel element was £23,000. I think that in the context of this Order the hon. Gentleman's speech, in line with that figure, was not quite up to his usual standard. There was some exaggeration in what he said about fuel.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the General Grant (Increase) (Scotland) Order 1966, a copy of which was laid before this House on 15th December, be approved.