HC Deb 15 July 1981 vol 8 cc1158-60
2. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how he proposes to respond to replies from local authorities as a result of his request to them to cut their spending; and when he intends to report to the House the action he intends to take.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)

On 10 July I laid before the House reports proposing reductions in rate support grant of £47 million for Lothian regional council, £2 million for Dundee district council and £1 million for Stirling district council. I intend shortly to lay a further report proposing grant reductions in respect of Dumbarton, East Lothian and Renfrew district councils. I do not propose to lay a report in the case of Cumnock and Doon Valley district council. Replies from authorities to my general request for revised budgets are not yet complete, but I have indicated that it may also prove necessary to reduce grant generally if present budgets are not substantially reduced.

Mr. Eadie

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that is a disappointing reply? It articulates the unyielding attitude of the Government towards the problem of local authorities. Does he accept that it is the responsibility of not only his Government but all Governments to subscribe to strengthening local democracy in local government? How can he reconcile the Government's determination, because they have a mandate, to implement their election manifesto with his and the Government's attitude of wishing to prohibit a Labour-controlled council in Lothian from implementing its manifesto?

Mr. Younger

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, especially when he suggests that I have been unyielding. Throughout the controversy during the past two years I have, on every occasion, bent over backwards to try to moderate any difficulties for Scottish local authorities. The hon. Member will especially recall that I made some savings in my budget to reduce the abatement on local authorities. I am asking local authorities to contain their spending to a level that is higher than that approved by the Labour Government. That cannot be unreasonable.

Mr. Ancram

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that he remains prepared to meet the Lothian regional council to discuss proper areas where savings can be made? Does he agree that its intransigence in refusing to see him simply underlines that its action is partly political and is working against the interests of those that it was elected to serve?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate my hon. Friend's remarks. I wish to make it clear that I am only too willing to discuss expenditure and expenditure reductions with any local authorities. I have made that clear all along.

Mr. Millan

Is it not now—

Mr. Ron Brown

May I just put this on the Table, Mr. Speaker?

Mr. Speaker

Order. I name Mr. Ron Brown for gross disorderly conduct. I call upon the Minister to move the appropriate motion.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, That Mr. Ron Brown be suspended from the service of the House.

Mr. Brown


Mr. McQuarrie


Mr. Brown

The point is valid.

Mr. Speaker

I name the hon. Gentleman. The question is, That the hon. Member be suspended from the service of the House.

Mr. Brown

The point is relevant, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

As many as are of that opinion say "Aye".

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

To the contrary "No"—[Interruption.] Clear the Lobby. [Interruption.] Order. I am advised that there were no "Noes". I shall put the Question once more. The Question is, That the hon. Member be suspended from the service of the House. The "Ayes" have it.

Question agreed to.

The hon. Member, having stood before the Table, was directed by Mr. Speaker to withdraw from the House; and he withdrew accordingly.

Mr. Millan

May I now put my question, Mr. Speaker? Is it not now absolutely clear that the way in which the Government have dealt with Scottish local authorities during the past couple of years, and the attitude that they have displayed towards them, has now produced—as we said it would—the inevitable confrontation? The hit list of authorities produced by the Secretary of State cannot possibly be sustained on the justice of the cases that the authorities have produced.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we are now facing a crisis of unprecedented proportions, with the distinct possibility of a breakdown of essential services? In those circumstances, instead of proceeding with these orders, will he now do what he should have done before and hold discussions with all the authorities concerned, including Lothian regional council?

Mr. Younger

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman's description of the effect of the reductions. Perhaps, on reflection, he will agree that it is not strictly fair, because the level to which I am trying to reduce the authorities' budgets is above that which he thought was sufficient some years ago when he was in office.

I shall certainly respond to the right hon. Gentleman's request to talk to the authorities. I am prepared to talk to any of them about their budgets and their reductions. [Interruption.]

Mr. Millan

Will the Secretary of State talk to the authorities before proceeding with the orders?

Mr. Younger

There is no time for me to do that. However, I am already arranging discussions with at least two of the authorities, and they will take place before the order is made. If others wish to see me before then, I shall be happy to arrange it.—[Interruption.]

Mr. Harry Ewing

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you please call for some order in the House so that Scottish Question Time can proceed in an orderly fashion?

Mr. Speaker

We have had enough disorder this afternoon, of a most unusual character.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Is the Secretary of State aware that his proposed cuts in rate support grant will hit areas of multiple deprivation? Does he dare risk the consequences in view of recent events in England?

Mr. Younger

If I were in any local authority in Scotland and I were trying to implement these very reasonable reductions, I would not make any reduction in areas of multiple deprivation. I hope that local authorities will not do so either.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have the right to raise a point of order. I object to Conservative Members trying to anticipate what I might say. Mr. Speaker, I drew your attention to the fact that there were many related questions. I condemn the action of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) because it was sheer gimmickry. It will not have escaped your attention that the Secretary of State has given the names of more local authorities. If questions had been linked, pertinent questions could have been asked. I know that it is for the Government to decide whether questions are linked. I beg you to understand why some of us are a bit annoyed this afternoon.

Mr. Speaker

With every respect to the hon. Gentleman, I shall be able to call many more hon. Members whose local areas are affected if we are allowed to proceed. I hope to call as many hon. Members as possible from both sides.