HC Deb 24 March 1976 vol 908 cc391-3
14. Sir John Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether, in the light of present costs, he is satisfied with the current arrangements for the reimbursing of regional and district councillors, and the existing level of such payments; and whether he has any changes in mind.

16. Mr. Dempsey

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, in view of the financial hardship suffered by members of local authorities whose earnings are in excess of the standard attendance allowance, if he will in such cases increase allowances legitimately to compensate those members; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Millan

The present system of allowances for members of local authorities has been the subject of a comprehensive review but I am unable at present to add to the reply I gave my hon, Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) on 13th October 1975.

Sir J. Gilmour

Does the Minister agree that, in view of the widespread concern as to the amount claimed by some councillors, there could be some merit in changing the present system, so that councillors are partly remunerated for salary and claim expenses only in relation to their attendance at meetings?

Mr. Millan

The question of salaries for councillors was discussed during the passage of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill. It is not the easiest of ways to obtain the right answer, but I have noted what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are some local authority representatives who earn much more than the £10 a day maximum attendance allowance and that as a result their household earnings are substantially reduced when they attend local authority meetings? Is this not unfair? Is there not some way in which the maximum figure of £10 could be supplemented to ensure that these people obtain adequate compensation to recompense them for what they have actually lost?

Mr. Millan

I agree that the real value of the £10 allowance has gone down since it was introduced. Although there are sometimes criticisms and allegations in the Press that not all councillors deserve allowances, there is also the other side of the story—namely, that many councillors, by losing wages or salary, find that the allowance has lost a considerable part of its value. The Government have been posed with considerable difficulties in reaching the right answer on these conflicting considerations.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Will the Minister say whether he approves of councillors claiming attendance allowances for attending church services?

Mr. Millan

That raises the whole question of what is an official duty. The matter was considered during the review. But local authorities can take the initiative in defining what is an official duty.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Does the Minister agree that there is general concern among councillors as well as the public that the present system does not operate satisfactorily and that the remuneration paid to councillors does not necessarily reflect the amount of work they do or the responsibility which they carry? Before increasing the sum, does he think it right to carry out a review, in which councils could participate, to find better ways of handling these matters?

Mr. Millan

I agree that there is considerable concern. Before making any decisions, we shall consult the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and no doubt it will be able to put to us the kind of consideration that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.