HC Deb 15 July 1981 vol 8 cc1164-6
7. Mr. George Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland against how many local authorities in Scotland he intends to act under the terms of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981.

Mr. Rifkind

I refer the hon. Gentleman to my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie). My right hon. Friend is now considering whether action of this kind should be initiated against other authorities.

Mr. Robertson

Is the Minister aware that, by acting and continuing to act in this unreasonable, dictatorial fashion, he and his Government are endangering the principle of local democracy and of local accountability and responsibility for local decisions? If the consequence of the Government's actions in this area is the damaging of local services and the sacking of thousands of staff, the blame will lie with him and the Government.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that in every authority that my right hon. Friend has identified, it has already been proved possible to identify millions of pounds of savings which could be made without compulsory redundancies. If local authorities wish to discuss with my right hon. Friend the savings which can be made and if they are anxious to identify the savings which can be made without compulsory redundancies, we shall consider the matter closely. I have said that in the Lothian region alone £28 million has already been identified. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends had better appreciate that, when savings and rate reductions can be made for ratepayers, it is bounden upon local authorities to make a response to the flexible attitude that my right hon. Friend has always taken on this matter.

Mr. Peter Fraser

When my hon. Friend meets Dundee district council tomorrow, will he say that some of the extravagant claims that it has made about the number of redundancies that will be necessary are patently nonsense, as the number that has been mentioned would mean that it was operating with a staff smaller than that operated by the former Tory-controlled Dundee district council without having to impose a 150 per cent. rates rise?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. Not only can the figures which have been given be the subject of discussions with the local authorities concerned, but in Dundee, as in Lothian, major savings can be made with no job losses. The allegations which have been made amount to little more than scaremongering in order to get support from employees where otherwise support would not be forthcoming.

Mr. Cook

Has none of the hon. Gentleman's constituents told him that there will be local elections in Lothian region in barely nine months' time? Why is he not prepared to leave it to the judgment of the Lothian electorate whether services are excessive and unreasonable? Is he aware that, in seeking now to pre-empt that essential local democratic right, he is seeking powers which will lead us towards a much more centralised, authoritarian State than has been sought by any Government in peace time?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the £63 million by which Lothian is above the Government's guidelines is many millions greater than for any other local authority in the United Kingdom. That figure has national as well as local implications, which a Labour Government would not have ignored and which this Government will not ignore.

Mr. Pollock

Now that the Secretary of State has tabled orders against a number of local authorities, is there any opportunity for the local authorities involved to avoid a reduction in rate support grant by further discussions with the Government?

Mr. Rifkind

My right hon. Friend has already said to the local authorities concerned that, in the event of the House approving the report which has been tabled, he will allow a short period to ascertain whether the local authorities are willing to discuss with the Government what economies they can make. In the event of local authorities refusing to have discussions with my right hon. Friend, he would then have no option but to implement the report, if that report is approved by the House.

Mr. Millan

Why does the Minister try to pretend something which he knows to be completely untrue—namely, that the cuts can be achieved without serious redundancies affecting tens of thousands of local authority employees in Scotland? Why will he not admit what he knows to be true: that in the teaching profession alone there will be a reduction in the number of teachers of no fewer than 6,000? Why does he not come clean with the House and with the local authorities?

Mr. Rifkind

If the right hon. Gentleman believes that the figures proposed by my right hon. Friend could not in full be achieved without many redundancies, perhaps he and his hon. Friends will inform the House of a maximum figure that they believe can be achieved with no redundancies at all.