HC Deb 21 July 1981 vol 9 cc171-268
Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There is a matter of what I believe "Erskine May" calls " a direct pecuniary interest". The second motion on today's Order Paper refers to Stirling district, part of which falls within my constituency. If the motion is passed, the Secretary of State for Scotland will have the power to cut Stirling district's budget by up to £1 million, which will mean a savage reduction in the essential services of thousands of my constituents.

Paradoxically—or otherwise—one of the biggest beneficiaries may well be the Secretary of State, because he and his family are among the biggest property owners in Stirling district and they may well hope for a substantial rate rebate as a result of the proposal. Is it in order for the Secretary of State personally to move—and to vote on—such a motion? Should he not at least declare his interest before doing so?

Mr. Speaker

I am quite sure that every right hon. and hon. Member with a direct pecuniary interest in anything that comes before the House—except at Question Time—would be likely to declare his interest. However, that matter is not for me but for the person concerned.

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

I beg to move, That the Report on the Rate Support Grant Reduction (Lothian Region) 1981–82, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House to consider at the same time the two following motions— That the Report on the Rate Support Grant Reduction (Dundee and Stirling Districts) 1981–82, a copy of which was laid before this House on l0th July, in respect of Dundee District, be approved. That the Report on the Rate Support Grant Reduction (Dundee and Stirling Districts) 1981–82, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, in respect of Stirling District, be approved.

Mr. Younger

With reference to what the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) said, I am certainly glad to confirm that I am a ratepayer of Stirling district, and I am excited to hear that I am one of the largest landowners in his constituency. That is news to me, but if the hon. Gentleman will get in touch with my lawyers they will be very glad to hear about it. It is extremely encouraging. All Members of the House are ratepayers in one way or another, so I suppose they could all declare an interest before a rate support grant debate. I note that, in spite of what the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire said, he did not actually declare his own interest as a ratepayer in the same district.

In any event, I am glad that we have the opportunity to debate at full length today the proposals that are before the House and which will be voted on at 10 o'clock tonight. They have attracted a great deal of attention and prior comment, much of it misconceived. I welcome the opportunity of explaining to the House the nature and purpose of my proposals and the background to them.

There are two parts to the case I have to present today. First, I have to explain why it is necessary to have any such measures to control local government spending. Secondly, I have to give the detailed case as to why each of the authorities covered by these orders is clearly proposing expenditure which is excessive and unreasonable.

There is nothing new about Governments of both parties acting to reduce grant to local authorities in order to keep local spending at levels the nation can afford. It has always been so, and both local authorities and the Government have accepted this system even when, frequently, they have been in disagreement about economic and other policies.

When the Government assumed office in 1979, we found local authority expenditure and manpower at a very high level and on a rising trend. For each year of their last period of office, the Labour Administration increased the relevant expenditure figure assumed in the RSG settlement. In 1978–79 actual expenditure by authorities showed an increase of 5.2 per cent. over the level of the previous year. That was a substantial increase by any count, historical or otherwise.

It is quite clear from the public record that Ministers of the previous Administration were concerned about that situation. In moving the order relating to rate support grant for 1977–78, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said: the February 1976 White Paper on public expenditure stated that the substantial rate of expansion in recent years in local authority manpower and in local spending could not continue". He went on to describe the RSG settlement for that year as a tough one and said that he accepted that it would mean that hard decisions would have to be taken by local authorities about their services. On the increase in manpower, the right hon. Gentleman said: I repeat the point which I have made on numerous occasions, that although I do not exclude the possibility of redundancy altogether—I accept that it may be necessary in certain areas in particular circumstances—I believe that the bulk of the problem can be dealt with by the use of recruitment policies, by natural wastage and, in some cases, by early retirement."—[Official Report, 22 December 1976; Vol. 923, c. 850, 858.] It is particularly relevant to our proceedings today that in 1978 the right hon. Member for Craigton urged all local authorities, including Lothian regional council, to exercise moderation in their expenditure.

From what the right hon. Gentleman said, one might think that expenditure at that time was very much below what it is now, and, indeed, that would be right. At that time, Lothian regional council's expenditure was, at constant prices and allowing for inflation, £58 million less than the level which the right hon. Gentleman today appears to defend as the level which he thinks ought to be allowed to go ahead. I hope very much that later in the debate, if he does nothing else, he will explain the reasons for his remarkable change of view and why he appears to be going through one of the larger U-turns of his political career.

The Government rapidly concluded that substantial and progressive reductions in public expenditure were essential to economic recovery. Within two months of assuming office, I advised all local authorities that they would have to play their part just as every individual and business would. Since then, I have consistently urged them, by circular and though my regular meetings with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, to exercise moderation in expenditure and in starting levels, in the national economic interest and in the interests of their own ratepayers.

My purpose has been throughout to afford all authorities the opportunity to plan levels of expenditure consistent with national economic requirements, without the need for any form of intervention on my part. But I am bound to say that, looking at the overall results for both 1979–80 and 1980–81, together with budget estimates for 1981–82, the response of many authorities has been disappointing.

In 1979–80, relevant expenditure excluding loan charges was 1 per cent. above the provision made by the Labour Administration in the rate support grant settlement for the year. For 1980–81, the provisional outturn of relevant expenditure appears to be some 4.9 per cent. above the rate support grant settlement for that year. The excess is of the same order disclosed by budgets for the year, and is a matter of great concern. Of even greater concern is the fact that budget estimates for 1981–82 reveal that, in total, authorities are planning to spend £180 million above the rate support grant settlement assumption. That is 8.8 per cent.—a high figure by past standards.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Has any check been made to separate the functions and services that were foisted on to local authorities by statute by different Governments? If the services are reduced in accordance with the cuts, will the right hon. Gentleman make clear that the deterioration in the services is entirely the Government's responsibility?

Mr. Younger

The right hon. Gentleman has a point, but it is comparatively small. Well over 80 per cent. of the expenditure involved is expenditure that is ongoing over the years and is not affected. Much of the extra expenditure, such as it is, that local authorities have been asked to undertake has been fully grant-aided—in some cases, almost completely so. The right hon. Gentleman's point does not go anywhere near remotely explaining the huge excesses which we are talking of here.

Those total figures do not convey the whole picture. It is perfectly correct that many authorities are planning for expenditure in some measure above the levels commended by the Government, but what is far more significant is that a high proportion of the excess is attributable to a small number of authorities which are proposing expenditure levels quite out of line with the Government's advice.

Quite apart from the damage that they are inflicting on the national economy, the progressive increases in expenditure planned by these authorities have imposed intolerable burdens on the ratepayers. I have some examples of the effects on ratepayers of the increases in rates imposed by Lothian region. A large department store—one of many—in Edinburgh has written to say that its rates have gone up from £181,000 in 1980–81 to £258,000 in 1981–82—an increase of £77,000. That store has pointed out the serious consequences for the employment of its staff, who are likely to suffer as a result.

An electronics firm in Sighthill makes the same point about an increase of £7,000. That is a small firm, for which it is a serious matter.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the survey carried out by the Manchester chamber of commerce which showed that the rate burden on its members in Manchester varied from 0.7 per cent. to a maximum of 2 per cent.? Will he put in perspective what is happening in Lothian?

Mr. Younger

I study the situation in Manchester as closely as I study that in Edinburgh. The Manchester chamber of commerce has one great advantage over all of us: it does not operate in any of the areas suffering from the high rate increases that are covered by the motions. If the hon. Gentleman is maintaining that an increase of £77,000 in the rate burden for one department store is negligible, few people, including those on the staff of that store, would agree with him.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I want the Secretary of State to quantify the figure in terms of the costs of the business. Surely he cannot argue against the proposition that if the costs—the rates, as opposed to the costs of the business—range from 0.7 per cent. to 2 per cent. the increases are putting an intolerable burden on industry and commerce in the areas concerned.

Mr. Younger

I shall, of course, look with interest at what figures I can find about Manchester chamber of commerce.

The point that we must come back to, and which is every bit as relevant to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) as it is to me, is that if such a department store has a £77,000 increase in its bill, it will have to add that much extra to make its profits. I can give the hon. Gentleman more evidence which, I think, may bring him over to my side in this argument.

The examples that I have given are only two of many representations from industry and commerce and, of course, from many domestic ratepayers who have written to say how severely affected they are. For example, the rates bill on a modest residence in Linlithgow has increased from £291 in 1979–80 to £613 in 1981–82—a savage 110 per cent. increase in only two years. It is hardly surprising that I have received an immense number of representations. From the domestic sector one petition alone carried more than 32,000 signatures, and other petitions and individual letters bring the total to more than 40,000.

If further evidence were needed—I doubt whether it is—I shall quote the telegram that I have received today from the Edinburgh chamber of commerce. [Laughter.] That laughter is an interesting measure of the priority that Opposition Members give to jobs. The Edinburgh chamber of commerce, its members and employees will note that its telegram was greeted by laughter from the Labour Benches. The telegram reads: The Edinburgh chamber of commerce sends its full support to you in tomorrow's debate on the Lothian rates question. The latest findings from our continued monitoring of members' opinion show clearly that a major reduction in this year's rates bill is crucial to the survival of many businesses in Lothian. Further, the prospect for 1982, if economies in spending are not insisted upon now, is dismal. Certainly, decisions will be taken to move the centre of operations of a number of region-based businesses to outwith Lothian. Already eleven companies have taken this decision.

Mr. Canavan

Name them.

Mr. Younger

The quotation continues: Private industry has already had to make dramatic savings by cutting back on employment to pay the rates bill and accepts that the range and level of services will have to be reduced to bring spending within the bounds of the ratepayers' capacity to pay. We regret that this could result in a loss of jobs in the public sector. This gives us no pleasure but is essential to maintaining in these difficult times, the current—albeit low—level of employment in the private sector. Business must be left money to stay alive and to provide the finance to ensure that essential services remain available to the community as a whole and the old, disabled and disadvantaged in particular.

That came from a highly responsible body, which is responsible for a large number of jobs in the Lothian region. Anyone who laughs or sniggers at that evidence is flying in the face of his constituents' interests, if his constituency is in that area. I hope that we shall hear no more of such attitudes.

Mr. John Home Robertson (Berwick and East Lothian)

Will the Secretary of State accept that it is appropriate that it is he to whom all those people have made representations about the level of their rates, because the overwhelming majority of rates increases in Lothian region and everywhere else in Scotland are directly attributable to the cuts in rate support grant that he has made?

Mr. Younger

Representations have not been made to me alone. Representations have poured in to Lothian region, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

As the Secretary of State is regaling the House with the representations that he has received about Lothian region, perhaps he would like to draw to the attention of the House the statement that he received from the Edinburgh council of social service. That was not sent by telegram at the ratepayers' expense, as was that which we have just heard, but is in a letter signed by 43 representatives of voluntary organisations in Lothian region, such as the Edinburgh, Leith old people's welfare council, the Calton welfare service and the Edinburgh council for social service. That letter opposes the right hon. Gentleman's attempt to cut the rate support grant without due consideration of the consequences for the provision of services to those most in need.

Mr. Younger

Of course I pay attention to any such views, but I am bound to add what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) has not added. We were specifically told by that organisation that those representations were the views of the individuals concerned, not those of the organisation itself. That considerably weakens the hon. Gentleman's case. As the hon. Gentleman has raised the matter, I may add that the telegram is representative of the views of the organisation, and was properly sent as such. It is signed by the president, no less.

It was in response to an avalanche of cries for help from ratepayers such as those, as well as to the danger to the national economic interest, that I was forced to turn to the powers available to me to act against spending which was excessive and unreasonable. Such powers already existed. They were originally brought in in 1929, and were confirmed by a Labour Government of which the right hon. Member for Craigton was a member, in 1966.I could have used them as they stood, but they had one great defect. They could be used only in retrospect after the end of a financial year. They represented, therefore, a penalty rather than a cure for the disease of overspending, and they offered no help to the ratepayers who are the unfortunate victims of the whole situation. I therefore asked Parliament to allow me to use those powers at the beginning of the financial year, and Parliament recently granted that change.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the retrospective nature of the provisions in the 1966 Act. However, the rate support grant settlement in former years was a genuine settlement. No genuine rate support grant settlement has been made between the present Government and local authorities. It is unjust for the right hon. Gentleman to cite levels such as 1 per cent., 4 per cent. and 7 per cent. when there is no genuine settlement.

Mr. Younger

I am glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman, who I believe was the Minister responsible at the Scottish Office at that time. The powers must have been brought to his attention, and he must have given his approval to such powers to act against local authorities whose expenditure was excessive and unreasonable. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will at least appreciate the reasons why we have been forced to use the powers that he himself once approved.

With regard to the differences in rate support grant settlements, we were living in very different times in 1966. We had not yet experienced all the years of waste and improvidence under various Labour Governments. We had enjoyed a long and prosperous period of Conservative Government between 1951 and 1964, and it was possible to spend much that we could not even think of spending now.

That change was approved by Parliament recently, and we now have it on the statute book. I stress that no new principle is involved in using it. My purpose was simply to ensure that action could be taken through reduction in the rate support grant at an earlier and more effective stage. The new provisions retained the safeguards in the earlier provisions, notably the requirement to obtain the approval of the House for any proposal to reduce the grant, and that is being carried out faithfully.

Before turning to the detail of the reports, there is one further general point which I should stress. It has been suggested from time to time that my action in these three cases has been precipitate. That is quite untrue. I have already reminded the House of the prolonged efforts that I made, before seeking new powers, to persuade all authorities to moderate their expenditure. I not only made it clear that I would have to take action if they failed to do so, but I went out of my way to help them, to compromise, and to make a difficult task easier for them.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The right hon. Gentleman is joking.

Mr. Younger

For example, in 1980 I did not make a general abatement of the rate support grant in Scotland when there was one elsewhere, because COSLA assured me I could trust the local authorities to make reductions. Those, in fact, never materialised, so that a retrospective abatement will have to be made. Yet again in 1981 I contained the reduction in relevant expenditure to 2.7 per cent. in Scotland by making some extra savings in my Department purely in order to help local authorities.

Those are attitudes of co-operation—not confrontation—but they have resulted in not one glimmer of a response in the formal representations I have received from these three authorities. Even this very order has been reduced for all three authorities from the original sums which I proposed—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—mainly because of my desire, even now, to show flexibility and reasonableness. A case for confrontation or unreasonableness simply will not begin to hold water, and Opposition Members had better get that straight.

I now come to the events leading up to these reports. During the proceedings on the new powers, I advised authorities that I would not take action if they moderated their expenditure but would feel obliged to do so if they failed. Along with certain other authorities the three authorities which are the subject of these reports were given preliminary notice on 3 June that their budget estimates revealed a level of planned expenditure which prima facie I had to regard as excessive and unreasonable and that I proposed to initiate action under the new measures, when enacted, unless they could offer material savings. That was repeated in the formal notifications issued on 11 June, the day of Royal Assent.

The representations submitted by all the authorities were subject to careful consideration before my decisions were conveyed to the authorities. When my decision was conveyed to them, it was made clear that I would still, even at this very late stage, be prepared to receive and consider any further representations before implementing the grant reductions, if approved by the House, and that I would allow a short period after approval for that purpose. Two of the authorities, Dundee and Stirling, have already had preliminary meetings with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State during the past few days. The offer remains open to the third authority, Lothian regional council.

The right hon. Member for Craigton asked me at Question Time last week whether I was prepared to receive further representations and proposals before implementing the grant reductions set out in the reports and whether I was prepared to defer action for that purpose. I am happy to assure him that, consistent with the reasonable line which I have adopted throughout, I should be prepared to do so, and I am glad to make the position again perfectly clear to the authorities concerned.

I turn now to the reports. The documents attached to these reports give all the details and the reasons for my proposals in each case, including the past background, the comparisons, and the criteria I have taken into account. I must again make it clear that I have not picked on one particular criterion—such as expenditure guidelines, for instance—and taken action against those who are a certain level over those. I was particularly asked by COSLA, incidentally, not to do that, and I have not. I have assessed each one over a whole range of criteria—past expenditure trends, expenditure per head, levels of rates, amount of rate rises, and so on, as well as its performance in relation to guidelines. There may, of course, be understandable reasons why some of those factors, for some authorities, should be out of line, and that is why the cases before us today are all very substantially out of line on a number of those criteria.

I can give some examples. Stirling district council shows a steady increase in expenditure from 1978–79. Guidelines have been regularly exceeded, and cumulative growth from 1978–79 to planned expenditure for 1981–82 is no less than 28.7 per cent. in real terms. That contrasts sharply with the progressive reductions in spending levels which I have been urging authorities to make since immediately after the Government assumed office. Planned expenditure per head for Stirling district in 1981–82 is 5 per cent. above the average for all district councils and no less than 15 per cent. above the average for authorities which I consider closely comparable. The rate increase in 1981–82 is no less than 122 per cent. No reason can be found in recent population changes for the substantial growth in expenditure proposed by the council.

Dundee district council spent close to the guideline figure in 1978–79 and 1979–80, but both actual expenditure for 1980–81 and planned expenditure for 1981–82 are substantially above the guidelines. Cumulative growth from 1978–79 to 1981–82 was initially estimated at 21.7 per cent.—a figure that can be modified to 17 per cent. after account is taken of a technical point relating to the treatment of interest receipts raised by the council in its representation. Planned expenditure per head is £2 above the corresponding figure for closely comparable authorities. The rate increase in 1981–82 was no less than 150 per cent. The population of Dundee appears to be declining more rapidly than the national population, with an accelerated decline in the under-16 age group and the proportion aged over 65 being slightly higher than the national figure. I can find no reason in population change for the substantial growth in expenditure planned by the authority.

Lothian regional council showed by far the highest excess among regional councils over the guidelines for both 1980–81 and 1981–82. It is planning in 1981–82 for a level of expenditure, at constant prices, no less than £57.8 million—22.7 per cent.—above the level of spending in 1978–79, which itself exceeded by £1.5 million the guidelines issued by the Labour Administration of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member. The per capita figure for 1981–82 is no less than £93.5 more than the corresponding average figure for regional councils which I consider to be closely comparable, and £54 per head above the average for all regional councils. The rate level was increased by 49.3 per cent. in 1981–82, following an increase of 41.5 per cent. in 1980–81—an increase of nearly 100 per cent. over two years. Population change has been more or less in line with national trends.

I should deal finally with the points made by the authorities in the representations annexed to my reports. I can dispose very quickly of the more general points made by all three authorities. In particular, I reject the suggestion that my proposals constitute a threat to local democracy. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] It is very interesting to hear Labour Members saying that. The principle that the Government of the day have an undeniable interest in local authority expenditure levels has been established under successive Governments, and, as I said earlier, the right hon. Member for Craigton, when in office, also adopted measures—albeit of a different kind—to influence spending levels.

Local authorities remain free to determine their own priorities and ultimately to reach their own decisions. But neither the present Government nor the authorities' own ratepayers can afford to subsidise economic irresponsibility. It is particularly misleading to claim that a mandate can be found in the outcome of a regional council election in 1978—in which only 43.9 per cent. of the electorate voted—for reckless expenditure levels in 1981–82, constituting a threat to the national and the local economies. Otherwise, the representations advanced by Lothian comprise a general defence of its policies and an account which I regard as highly misleading of the consequences of the proposed grant reduction.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)


Mr. Cook


Mr. Younger

I think that I had better press on.

Mr. Eadie

The right hon. Gentleman was discussing mandates and subsidising economic irresponsibility. Does he not agree that he is a member of a Government who are subsidising economic irresponsibility to the extent that there are 3 million unemployed? Why does he say that he can carry out his mandate—which is a very doubtful mandate in Scotland—while at the same time preventing the Lothian region from implementing its mandate?

Mr. Younger

The difference is that I do not suppose that anyone could have foreseen in 1978 the expenditure levels in 1981–82. If anyone had done so, the hon. Gentleman well knows that it would have been impossible to run any authority on the basis of such a mandate. As he knows, the rate levels that can be afforded have to be examined each year, and all authorities are doing so. My job is to try to answer the cries for help which I have received from the many thousands of ratepayers who—

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)


Mr. Younger

—as I have spelt out in detail, are suffering because of this.

I draw the attention of the House in particular to the assumption that expenditure reductions will require to be made pro rata over all forms of expenditure, leading to substantial redundancies. There are two comments which have to be made about that. First, I have been warning for two years now that if the necessary reductions in spending plans are to be achieved without redundancies action has to be taken in good time. Those who delay until the last minute are themselves by this action making it difficult or even impossible to avoid some redundancies.

I understand that Strathclyde—[Interruption.] Other authorities have begun to reduce staff, and so far they have done so without any compulsory redundancies. For instance, in Strathclyde, which contains the constituency of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton), the authority has reduced staff in the past year by more than 1,000 and expects to make further reductions this year of more than 2,000. Yet so far that has been done by natural wastage, and the council remains committed to the avoidance of redundancies. It had the good sense to start early, avoiding the need for last-minute crisis measures. Opposition Members should try to avoid being too alarmist.

Mr. Maxton

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Younger

They should bear in mind that in 1976, when they called for expenditure cuts, local authority leaders forecast widespread redundancies, but numbers fell by no fewer than 11,000 by natural wastage, with no forced redundancies. That was the record of the Labour Government, whose members are now making such a song and dance about this matter.

Mr. Maxton

It really is time that the Secretary of State and his supporters got it clear that, just because there are no compulsory redundancies, if Strathclyde is to lose 3,000 jobs, that is still 3,000 youngsters or others in Strathclyde who will not obtain employment as a result of his actions.

Mr. Younger

That is always to be regretted whenever it happens. What the hon. Gentleman totally ignores is that there are thousands of others who have to meet the expenditure to pay those in the public sector. They have been losing their jobs for years while the public sector has grown fatter.

Secondly, it must be said that the scare stories about half the employees being sacked are absurd and cruel to those concerned.

Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

How many?

Mr. Younger

I suppose that it would be possible to devise schemes for reduction in spending which concentrated exclusively on staff cuts and thus ensured that the maximum number of redundancies took place—although I confess that that would not be my approach if I were a member of a local authority. This appears to be the way that some authorities are at least talking about doing the job. No doubt their objects are to cause maximum concern among their staff for their own political purposes and to conceal their own wastefulness in non-staff expenditure.

Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that more cruel than the numbers game that is being played by local authorities in terms of redundancies is the allegation that they are putting about that, if some of their employees do not share their political persuasion, they will be the first to go when redundancies are required?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have not seen such suggestions, but if such activities are going on in any local authorities I am sure that they will be deplored by everyone. I notice that even the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire looks indignant about that, and I am sure that he will agree that any discrimination on political grounds would be absolutely intolerable. I hope that it will not be seen anywhere.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Dunbartonshire, East)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Younger

I think that, in the context of the alleged scare stories about redundancies, I should draw the attention of the House to the much more rational assessments which have been made by the various opposition groups on Lothian regional council, which indicate clearly that expenditure reductions amounting to between £18 million and £28 million could be made by prudent management, including controls on recruitment and staff replacement and substantial economies in non-staff expenditure.

The recklessness shown by Lothian regional council in building up staff numbers in recent years may well make some redundancies inevitable if its expenditure is to be brought to a tolerable level. I firmly reject the alarmist impression which the council has deliberately sought to create in its response.

Mr. Norman Hogg


Mr. Younger

Since my concern is with the total level of planned expenditure, I do not propose to comment in detail on the points raised by Lothian on individual programmes—

Mr. Robert Hughes

Why not?

Mr. Younger

—but I draw the attention of the House to the considerable body of evidence advanced by the council itself acknowledging unreservedly that it is planning for expenditure levels—notably in education, social work and transport—far beyond those commended by the Government and adopted by other regional councils.

Stirling and Dundee district councils also offer a general defence of their planned levels of expenditure. In addition, Dundee has pointed out that the manner in which it accounted for interest receipts in the original budget estimate artificially inflated by £431,000 the figure placed on planned expenditure for 1981–82. I was able to take this technical point into account in considering the amount of the grant reduction.

Most people will find it almost unbelievable that none of these authorities felt able to propose any expenditure reductions at all. I do not believe that any organisation of that size is so perfect that no savings could be found. Certainly no private business could work in such a way. After careful consideration—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Younger

I should not give way, but I am tempted to do so.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that many English local authorities have written to their Members of Parliament imploring them to support the Opposition's attempt to stop the motions being accepted, because they are concerned that this is the thin end of the wedge?

On the question of local authorities getting the figures right or wrong, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he and his colleagues in the Cabinet should be the last people to talk about the need for local authorities to get then-projections correct, because he and his Cabinet friends got the public sector borrowing requirement wrong to the tune of £5,000 million—60 per cent. of the total? So who is he to talk about the local authorities getting their figures wrong?

Mr. Younger

I have not been complaining about local authorities getting their projections incorrect. I have been complaining about their planning to spend excessively and unreasonably above the levels. I am grateful for the intervention of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). His advice is always balanced and worth hearing. I am sure that he will take part in the debate later if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I have taken seriously and looked carefully at all the representations made by the three authorities, but after careful consideration I could see no reason to depart from my original view that planned expenditure in all three cases was excessive and unreasonable. Taking account of the points made by the councils, and having regard also to the fact that expenditure reductions will require to be made during only eight months of the financial year, I decided to moderate the amount of the reductions as originally proposed to £47 million for Lothian regional council, £2 million for Dundee district council and £1 million for Stirling district council.

I assure the House that I shall continue to adopt a reasonable and constructive approach, given approval to the grant reductions that I now seek. They will not be applied automatically and immediately, and I hope that even at the eleventh hour the authorities concerned will feel able to advance proposals for substantial reductions in expenditure and will seriously consider taking advantage of the provision of the 1981 Act which will enable them, if they wish, to pay out a rates reduction to all their ratepayers.

Finally, may I say this to the House and to those who are involved with the local authorities affected by these orders. Of course, I fully understand that people in those authorities are devoted to the services that they provide and wish to improve them in any way they can. That is understandable and natural, but it is not unique. Many people besides themselves are equally keen to provide better services. It is what we all want to do. However, there is nothing clever about providing more and more services without thinking where the money comes from. Any fool could run a local authority, or, for that matter, a business, if they never gave a thought to how much they could afford but thought only about what they wanted to spend.

It will do no good to Stirling, Dundee or Lothian if they have the best services in the world and all their industries have been ruined by crippling rate increases or have moved elsewhere. Nor will it help their ratepayers to have the promise of better services if, at the same time, they face rate demands which they and their families literally cannot afford. These reports, and figures that I have quoted and published to back them up, make an overwhelming case that these three authorities are proposing to embark on greatly increased expenditure which is both excessive and unreasonable. I therefore ask the House to approve the reports later tonight.

4.33 pm
Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)

We have listened to an appalling speech by the Secretary of State which came nowhere near matching the seriousness of the situation that we now face in local government in Scotland. What we are dealing with in these orders is not simply a local issue affecting Lothian, Stirling and Dundee. We are dealing with a crisis affecting central and local government relationships. We are also dealing with a specific situation in Scotland in which there may be—this is absolutely unprecedented, and is frightening in its implications—a breakdown of essential services in a few months' time in one of the major Scottish local authorities, which may have no money left to pay for education, social work, the police force and so on. That is the reality of the situation, yet we get no idea of its seriousness from listening to the Secretary of State's speech today.

The implications of what the Secretary of State is doing are there for every local authority in Scotland, England and Wales to see. England and Wales are promised—or threatened with—similar legislation next year. The fact that we are debating this matter on a day when unemployment in Scotland has reached 318,000—a post-war record—is ironic and tragic and puts into perspective the right hon. Gentleman's crocodile tears about unemployment. He should be thoroughly ashamed of the figure, yet on this very day the Government produce proposals for local authorities which, if implemented, will add thousands to the dole queues in Scotland when they should be producing proposals to reduce unemployment, especially for school leavers. That is the reality of the reports.

It has never been denied that the Government must be interested in the totality of local authority expenditure. They have an interest in persuading local authorities to spend within what they consider to be reasonable limits. However, local authorities are democratically elected, and in Scotland they have a far firmer mandate on the wishes of the Scottish people than have the Government. They, too, have a responsibility.

The Secretary of State and the Government have always had substantial powers. The Secretary of State has the power of persuasion, which is the first power that should be used. It is also one of the most powerful if properly used. He also has power through the financial pressure of the rate support grant, which he can cut, so that local authorities are then faced with pressure on the rates and pressure from the electorate. Although the Government and local authorities may have somewhat different interests, to put it at its lowest, the Government have always been able to exert considerable pressure on local authorities to come reasonably near to conforming with their wishes.

However, it has always also been recognised that, although the Government have the right to determine their contribution to local finances, local government has, at the end of the day, the right to determine its level of services and contribution. Indeed, it has always expressed its role responsibly. It has a far better record in the control of expenditure than the Government both in Scotland and south of the border.

If the Government take away the right of local government to determine its expenditure, what role is left for it? Local government is about determining the services that meet the needs of local communities and how they should be paid for. If that right is taken away, local government is reduced to being simply an agent to carry out the wishes, demands and dictates of the Government—and that is what the Government are trying to do. They are trying to shackle local authorities. The debate is not only about the orders or the three local authorities concerned, or even about the other three authorities that may be involved in similar orders in a week or two. It concerns the rights of every democratically elected local authority in Britain.

The Secretary of State implied yet again today that we are dealing with a number of difficult local authorities; the rest are perfectly responsible. He used to go out of his way to say how responsible Strathclyde was, but that responsibility, for reasons which I shall explain, led to a rate increase last year of 37½ per cent. because of Government cuts in grant. However, he had always gone out of his way to say that Strathclyde and other Scottish regions were perfectly responsible and all that he was concerned about was a tiny handful of local authorities which were not playing the game according to the Government rules. That was the justification for the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act, which is now on the statute book. It was to be discriminatory. It would avoid general punishment of all local authorities in Scotland. It would punish the few, and everyone else would be all right and need not worry about the legislation. So long as local authorities played the game according to the Government rules, there would be no danger. Indeed, the Act was a positive advantage because by the others being penalised the local authorities would escape any penalties.

The reality is entirely different, and in a moment I shall explain why. First, I shall repeat in the most explicit terms what I have already said. COSLA, as well as the Labour Opposition, was completely opposed to the Act. The next Labour Government will repeal these provisions of the Act. Let there be no doubt about that.

The Act gives the Secretary of State an arbitrary power to determine what is reasonable expenditure at any local authority level. We said that it was arbitrary and unjust. We said that it would be implemented in an arbitrary and unjust way, and that is how it has turned out in the three reports that we are now debating.

However, the Government went beyond just deciding that there would be penalties on the so-called offending local authorities. The Government also decided that there would be no loopholes for the offending local authorities, and no provision, for example, for supplementary rates, which has never been a feature in Scotland as it has in England. They then added to the Bill—incidentally, something that was not in the original Bill; it was added on Report—a new power, introduced also without consultation with COSLA, whereby, when a local authority found itself in difficulties because of the penalties, it would not be able to borrow money to meet the expenditure.

Lastly, another new clause was introduced at a late stage. It was put in as a kind of political gesture. By it a local authority would be encouraged and coerced—this, clearly, was the intention of the Secretary of State—to pay money back to the ratepayers. That was put into the Bill for no legitimate reason but because the Government hoped that in some way they would get a political victory by forcing a local authority to pay money back to the ratepayers.

The original justification for the legislation has turned out to be false. We are not dealing with a few offending local authorities which are opposed to the Government guidelines. There are 65 local authorities in Scotland, 59 of which are above the guidelines, 41 more than 10 per cent. above, and 28 more than 20 per cent. above.

The Secretary of State has never told us why, when the complaint was about a few rogue authorities, we reached the stage at which 59 out of 65 are above—most of them well above—central Government guidelines. There is a simple explanation: the guidelines are artificial, and are becoming increasingly so. As each year goes by, the Secretary of State puts out figures which bear no relationship to reality. The total expenditure that he assumes for the purpose of rate support grant has nothing to do with what local authorities are now spending.

To make the situation worse, written into the rate support grants are inflation allowances which are completely inadequate to meet the burdens which local government, through no fault of its own, has to bear because of the general rate of inflation in the economy. As a result, the guidelines bear no relationship to reality.

That is bad enough, but what makes it even worse is that the grant is paid on the phoney figures, not on the figures that the local authorities are planning to spend. The Government say that they are maintaining roughly the same level of grant, but the level of grant that they have paid local authorities in Scotland has already fallen significantly.

Indeed, COSLA reckons that, for 1980–81, while the ostensible rate of grant is 68.5 per cent., the real rate of grant is only 62.1 per cent. While in 1981–82 the Government pretend that the rate of grant is 66.7 per cent., in fact the total grant paid to Scottish local authorities for the year will be less than 60 per cent. The reason for the soaring rates in Scotland—more than 30 per cent. in two successive years, which puts a burden on the rate-payers—is the savage reductions in grants by the Government. That is where the main responsibility lies for the soaring rent increases in Scotland.

The other inevitable result of dealing with local authorities in Scotland in this dishonest way—that is what it is; the Government have dealt with local authorities with complete dishonesty over the past couple of years—is the soured relationship with local authorities. The Secretary of State is not getting the co-operation from Scottish local authorities that he might have got if he had dealt with them honestly and decently over the past couple of years. The silly, inane and prejudiced attacks by Conservative Members on Scottish local authorities over those years have done immense damage to central-local government relationships and, incidentally, have posed considerable problems for the Secretary of State.

Mr. Ian Lang (Galloway)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He talks about co-operation. If the case of Lothian region is as strong as he implies, does he not feel that it might be a good idea if it were to accept the invitation of the Secretary of State to talk to him on the matter?

Mr. Millan

I shall come to the Lothian region in a moment. First, I want to complete this part of my speech. We are dealing not with a few Scottish local authorities which are above the guidelines but with 59 out of 65. For that reason, the whole purpose of the Local Government Act has been shattered. As well as the penalties on the three or six local authorities, there will be a general clawback of local government expenditure.

The Secretary of State carefully avoided saying anything about that matter today, although he knows that it is a key issue with Scottish local authorities and although he has been asked repeatedly—he was asked in the Scottish Grand Committee on 23 June—to make his intentions clear, not just for the sake of the three authorities which we are debating today but for the sake of every Scottish local authority. He says that he wants a general reduction of £100 million and that he intends to get it one way or another. The reports that we are discussing today deal with £50 million. What about the other £50 million? Will it be taken in the general clawback? Why are we not given answers to these simple questions, and why are we not given honest answers? Even when we get answers they are rarely honest. However, on this occasion we have been given no answer. The Secretary of State is not telling us. No doubt he thinks it is clever to play his cards close to his chest, and that if local authorities do not know what is in store for them he will get some advantage from that. So what about the rest of the £100 million?

May I ask the Secretary of State another question? I assume that he knows the answers. If he wants to give them now, I shall gladly sit down and allow him to do so. What happens if the penalty on Lothian region is reduced, say, by £10 million or £20 million? It has already been reduced by £6 million. Does that still go towards the £100 million that he intends to obtain? Will it be redistributed among the remaining local authorities in Scotland?

Mr. Younger

I have already explained that point to the right hon. Gentleman. I shall do so again. There are two ways by which we hope to recover the money. One is by selective reductions, which we are now discussing, and the other is by a revision of budgets that I have asked all local authorities to undertake. I have many qualities, but not clairvoyance. I do not know what the revision of budgets will produce. If it produces substantial reductions and there are also reductions from the selective basis, the amount that must be recovered may be altered. I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman until I know what the reductions in the budgets will be.

Mr. Millan

The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that there will be a general clawback. I asked him a specific question. If the selective penalties are reduced, will the reduction be spread over all the other local authorities in Scotland, or will there be an overall reduction so that the £100 million is reached?

Mr. Younger

This is the fourth time that I have explained the point to the right hon. Gentleman. The overspend is £180 million. We must recover about £100 million. That is a generous figure. I am trying to achieve it by two different methods. We are debating one method today, and if the House agrees to it we shall get some of that money. The remainder must be achieved by a general revision of budgets. Once we know what that is, I shall consider whether the £100 million is necessary in total. I cannot operate through a crystal ball. I must wait to see what the reduction in budgets will be. I made that point clear to anyone who wished to listen.

Mr. Millan

What the Secretary of State has said is rubbish. He knows whether the £100 million is necessary. He knows whether he will, at the end of the day, get £100 million. As he has been so repeatedly evasive on the matter—no doubt the Minister will correct me when he replies if I am wrong—we must assume that if a penalty on Lothian, Dundee, Stirling or anywhere else is reduced, that amount will be redistributed in penalty through a general clawback to all other local authorities in Scotland. That is the only reasonable interpretation of what the Secretary of State said. If that is not the position, he has had every opportunity to say so. That is what will happen.

We are debating not three local authorities but every local authority in Scotland. If the right hon. Gentleman carries out his clear intention of redistributing the reduced penalties throughout every local authority in Scotland, there will be a perfectly justifiable explosion of anger among local authorities because they will have been deliberately misled by his arguments. As well as penalties for the few, there will be a massive clawback that will affect every local authority in Scotland.

The position is even worse than that because the right hon. Gentleman has already said, and confirmed this afternoon, that there will be an additional penalty next year—even before local authorities begin to budget for next year's expenditure—because of a clawback in 1980–81 of no less than £60 million. That will add 5p to the rates of local authorities in Scotland before thay begin to budget. When we hear the usual artificial squeals of surprise and anger from Conservative Members about next year's rates burdens, I hope that they will remember—as will the Opposition—that much of the additional rates that inevitably will be imposed next year will result from the £60 million penalty carried forward from 1980–81 and from the deficits that will be carried forward for the current year. Against all the right hon. Gentleman's protestations, and against his word which he gave to local authorities earlier this year, there will be a massive clawback of all local authority expenditure in the current year.

We are getting the worst of all worlds. We are getting a penalty and a general clawback. The only difference between Lothian, Stirling and Dundee and the generality of local authorities in Scotland is that the first three are being put into an absolute straitjacket, with no opportunity to make any decisions about levels of expenditure, while the other authorities will at least be able to borrow and carry forward the deficit at the expense of the ratepayers in 1982–83.

Mr. Younger

There is one point that should be clarified before the right hon. Gentleman goes further. He has shown a great deal of indignation about the level of spending, the guidelines, and the level to which I am asking local authorities to reduce their expenditure. How does he explain that that level is higher in real terms than the figure that he approved as being a reasonable level of spending in 1977–78, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Millan

I had not reached the question of guidelines. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I shall answer the Secretary of State. That will be different from what we get from him. He does not answer. As the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments pointed out in an interesting report, the guidelines have been given a mandatory significance by the Government which they were never intended to have. They were meant to be no more than guidelines. The Government are not using them in that way.

Apart from the three reports being dealt with today, what about all the other authorities that are above the guidelines—far more so than Lothian? Why is there not an order penalising Orkney, which is 40 per cent. above the guidelines? Why is not there one for Shetland, which is 72 per cent. above the guidelines? Of course, the Secretary of State would not dare to do anything to Shetland because our oil comes into Shetland. It is as simple as that. That is the honest answer to the question. We have asked those questions before. Why is there not an order for Shetland?

Mr. Younger

I do not wish to keep interrupting, but the right hon. Gentleman has invited me to answer. I took special trouble in my speech and devoted a considerable part of it to making it clear that we are not dealing with an assessment made on whether an authority is above the guidelines. I am sorry if the right hon. Gentleman was not listening. When he reads Hansard he will see that I explained clearly that that was not the criterion. That is why that was not taken into account.

Mr. Millan

That is another non-answer. The right hon. Gentleman is saying that the guidelines are meaningless. That is exactly what the Opposition say. They are meaningless, whether we are referring to Orkney, Shetland, Ettrick and Lauderdale at 26 per cent. above the guidelines, Banff and Buchan at 38 per cent., Moray at 35 per cent., Caithness at 33 per cent. or anywhere else. When the right hon. Gentleman is Tackled on the guidelines, he says that they do not mean very much and that other things are not taken into account in the guidelines. If significant local factors are not taken into account, that confirms that the guidelines mean nothing. Yet the argument and the case for Lothian have been about the guidelines.

There are other general arguments, but I shall not go into them in detail—for example, the question of the local authorities with which the Secretary of State has compared the penalised local authorities. It has not been demonstrated that that was done in any sensible, rational or objective way. The use of rate poundages is one factor. In the districts rate poundages are affected mostly by housing, which is not a part of the exercise.

Many other general points have been made in the responses to the Secretary of State's provisional reports. Reading the responses made it clear to me, and to other hon. Members who took the trouble to read them, that the Scottish Office does not have the detailed knowledge of local circumstances to justify its undertaking the sort of exercise on which it is engaged with the three local authorities under discussion, or any other local authority in Scotland. It is an example of centralism gone mad.

The arguments are not dealt with in the reports, which simply state that the arguments are attached and that, having considered them, the Government are carrying on as before. The reports are a farce and a fraud. They are individually and collectively fraudulent. They do not deal with the issues. They do not answer the individual points raised—for example, that Lothian has demonstrated that of the 37p rate increase in the current year, only 11p arises from growth in services. When listening to Conservative Members one might think that all of the 37p resulted from a growth in services. Less than a third of it can be attributed to that.

The Secretary of State referred in a most laborious passage to the 15,000 redundancies in the Lothian response. The Lothian region believes those redundancies to be inevitable if the savings for which the right hon. Gentleman is asking are made in the current year. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. However, he came a long way this afternoon to admitting that there would be considerable redundancies. It was typical of him that he did not want to give a figure. He said that the actual number would be for the local authority to decide. The estimate of 15,000 has been prepared by the officials of the Lothian region. In the absence of a better figure, I am willing to accept that there will be 15,000 redundancies among Lothian region employees in the current year if the right hon. Gentleman implements his £47 million penalty.

It is clear that the cuts demanded by the Secretary of State cannot be made in the current year either for the three authorities that we are discussing or more generally without cutting essential services. Secondly, it is clear that the cuts are not economically justifiable given the present economic position in Scotland. Thirdly, if the cuts are implemented, they will add significantly to dole queues in Scotland. I repeat that 318,000 are unemployed in Scotland. There is another figure that the right hon. Gentleman studiously ignores or refuses to confirm, although he knows it to be true. He knows that his plans for next year will lead to a reduction of no fewer than 6,000 teachers. That will be the reality, although he denied that that is so.

It must be crystal clear to the right hon. Gentleman that whatever happens there is no prospect of cuts of £100 million being made in expenditure in the current year. Whatever is the content of the revised budgets that he receives by the end of this month, he will not get £100 million worth of spending cuts in the current year. He must face that reality.

The Secretary of State knows that it is literally impossible to achieve a reduction of £47 million in the Lothian region in the current year. Why does he not admit that? Why does he come forward with the report and pretend that it can be implemented when he knows that it is impossible to achieve such a reduction?

The Lothian Tories have produced their own budget. It provides for cuts of only £26 million in the current year. Some of the figures are extremely dubious. The Tories charmingly tell us that their alternative proposals will lead to only 4,000 jobs being lost. A saving of only £26 million will lead to 4,000 job losses. Is the right hon. Gentleman happy about that? There are 318,000 unemployed in Scotland and it seems that he is happy about an additional 4,000 jobs being lost. Is he happy about that?

Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)


Mr. Millan

I am not interested in the chairman of the Scottish Tory Party and his sycophantic contributions to these debates. Let the Secretary of State answer. Does he care that even on the basis of the Tory group's proposals there will be 4,000 jobs lost in the Lothian region in the current year? Does he care or does he not?

Mr. Younger

Does the right hon. Gentleman care that far more than 4,000 jobs have already been lost in the Lothian region because of rate increases that businesses cannot afford?

Mr. Millan

That is nonsense. The right hon. Gentleman should be careful when talking about caring when there are 318,000 unemployed and when we have the most uncaring Government that we have had since the war. Apart from a loss of 4,000 jobs, the Tory proposals mean fare increases, the slashing of concessionary fares and an increase in the price of school meals.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Renfrewshire, East)


Mr. Millan

The proposals were designed to produce a saving of only £26 million. The right hon. Gentleman knows that he cannot achieve savings amounting to £47 million in the current year, but we still have the report, we still have the straitjacket on the Lothian region, and we still have the prospect of funds running out in that region. The latter consequence was put to him on 23 June. We had typical answers from the Secretary of State. That meant that he chose not to answer the questions put to him. I do not know whether he thought that the consequence could not arise, whether he intended it not to arise, whether he did not know the answer or whether he did not intend to tell us. The fact is that he did not give us an answer. The Under-Secretary answered the question. He said, in effect, "The money can just run out and we shall stand back and do nothing. We can close schools. We can pay off teachers. We can close old people's homes. We can pay off social workers. We can stop paying policemen and firemen. We shall simply stand back and allow that to happen." That is grossly irresponsible nonsense. It cannot happen and it must not be allowed to happen.

Mr. Younger

Hear, hear.

Mr. Millan

Last week I asked the Secretary of State to withdraw the reports and instead—

Mr. Allan Stewart


Mr. Millan

The hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart) is not the Secretary of State yet.

Mr. Foulkes

He is hoping to be.

Mr. Millan

The present one is bad enough.

Last week I asked the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the reports and allow talks to take place. He refused to do so. He knows that the reports will be passed by the House. He has said—this has been produced as a great concession—that he will not implement them immediately, and that he will talk to the local authorities. I want him to do so. I want him to talk to the Lothian region. The authorities of Dundee and Stirling have already talked to the Under-Secretary of State.

We must be given more information about what the right hon. Gentleman expects to get from the authorities before we can welcome what he said this afternoon. We must know rather more about the proposed time scale. The Under-Secretary of State, who is always jumping into the press before debates take place, has said that the process will be completed in eight or nine days. The implication is that if everybody does not come to heel in that time the Government's proposals will be implemented and they will tolerate delay no longer.

If the Secretary of State believes that he can deal with these matters in eight or nine days, he is a foolish man. He will not be able to deal with them unless he gives the House and the local authorities concerned considerably more information about the basis on which the talks will take place. He has not answered the question about the £100 million that I put to him. He has not told the House whether his proposal of £47 million for Lothian, which I said is an impossible figure, is sacrosanct. He has not told us whether he is willing to reduce the penalty that he proposes to place on the Lothian region significantly below £47 million. He has not given us the relevant information for Dundee and Stirling. The talks will not reach a satisfactory conclusion unless he provides more information. He must realise that the talks will take place against an extremely difficult background.

When the talks take place there will have to be flexibility and give and take.

Mr. Younger

Hear, hear.

Mr. Allan Stewart


Mr. Millan

I accept that. That is what I have been appealing for from the Secretary of State for the past two years. There must be flexibility on both sides. If talks take place after the reports have been put on the statute book, he must not assume that agreement will be inevitable. There is still a danger that we shall go over the precipice and that we shall be faced with the breakdown of essential local services.

The Secretary of State will not get from the talks anything which will be satisfactory and which will prevent a breakdown taking place if he enters those talks with the idea that he can obtain major redundancies in the Lothian region, that he can get the region to cut back on essential services and that he can impose on it, by coercion and for political reasons, a rate repayment for the current year. If he enters the talks with those attitudes, I do not believe that they will lead to a satisfactory conclusion. If he goes to the talks with a genuinely flexible approach and with a willingness to compromise, I hope that we might avert even now the worst of the crisis and the possible breakdown of essential services. So much will depend on what happens when the talks take place.

Mr. Younger

I know that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to he helpful. He has asked me to be flexible in any talks which take place. Will he make it clear that he hopes that both sides in those talks will show some flexibility?

Mr. Millan

I have already said that. It does not make sense for either side to go into talks about anything on the basis that a satisfactory settlement will be only what it wanted in the first place. Everyone realises that that is the situation, and I have already said that.

I hope that the crisis can be averted. However, I am not confident that it can. Nothing in the Secretary of State's speech added to any little confidence that I might have had that the crisis would be averted. It was an entirely negative, self-satisfied and defensive speech.

I hope that on this occasion the ultimate crisis will be averted. However, it has been an unnecessary crisis created by the Government's obstinacy on the terms of the Bill which they have put on the statute book. Whatever happens this year will have done lasting damage to local democracy. The fact is that the present Act of Parliament is misguided. It was misguided in conception and it became worse as the Bill went through the House of Commons. We opposed the Bill at the beginning. COSLA—Tory as well as Labour authorities—also unanimously opposed the Bill. The only satisfactory answer to that Bill is to have it repealed. I repeat that that is what the Labour Government will do.

If I say that I have no great confidence in the outcome of the talks, it is because, incredibly, despite the experience over the last year, the Government are talking about imposing further legislation on local authorities in the subsequent parliamentary year. That legislation would directly set rate limits for local authorities in England and Wales. We understand that that is in the mind of the Secretary of State for the Environment and that there will also be referendums on supplementary rates increases, and so on. That is an appalling prospect for local government and local democracy.

What we have to do in the House is to recognise that local government has a vital role to play in providing essential services on which the health of our communities depends. We need consensus and agreement between local and central Government, not confrontation and collision. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members can also cheer at this. In the economy, the Government have been an unmitigated disaster, which is the reason for today's unemployment figures. In their dealing with local government, they have been equally dogmatic, doctrinaire and insensitive. They have tried to bully local government into submission. We now have the worst crisis ever in relationships between local and central Government.

There is still time for the Government to draw back from the precipice, but the reports which we are now debating are a symptom of the dictatorial approach adopted by the Government which has already done immense injury to local government and its services. That is why we oppose the reports.

5.13 pm
Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I was extremely surprised when I heard that the Opposition were about to use one of their Supply days to debate the conduct of the Lothian, Dundee and Stirling authorities. I should have thought that they would have wanted to distance themselves as far as possible from a local council so spendthrift, extremist and deeply unpopular with its ratepayers as Lothian. However, on the Conservative Benches we are glad to expose the waste and abuse, which we shall do with relish.

It is important to realise that this debate, nominally about three Scottish local authorities, is given wider significance by the fact that Lothian is only one of a small number of Left-wing local authorities, of which, outside Scotland, the Greater London Council and Lambeth are infamous examples, which grossly waste and misuse ratepayers' money, drive out businesses and jobs by their high rates policy, care little about the immediate needs of the majority of their own ratepayers and use the powers of local government to engineer political confrontation with the Government and to promote extremist, Left-wing policies. That is the context within which we are debating the actions of Lothian, Stirling and Dundee.

I should like to direct my remarks mainly to the case of the Lothian regional council because the basis of Lothian's defence—

Mr. Robert Hughes

Why are we not speaking about Grampian?

Mr. Sproat

Because Grampian behaves itself and runs itself properly, to the benefit of the ratepayers and taxpayers of the country as a whole. It is precisely because the local authorities which we are discussing do not do that that we are having to debate their appalling behaviour.

Mr. Robert Hughes

The hon. Member should know that in the last couple of years he and I have had more complaints from the citizens of Aberdeen about the dictatorial behaviour of Grampian regional council. There has been a total failure to listen to reasonable representations about the educational system. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the only reason why Grampian region has managed to hold down its rates is that it has failed to supply the needs and services to people in the area.

Mr. Sproat

I know no such thing. I have not had one representation from an Aberdeen ratepayer about Grampian rates, for the simple reason that the Aberdeen rates rise is four times higher than that in Grampian. In spite of the great burden which has been placed on Grampian by the oil-related industries, Grampian, remarkably, managed to increase its rates by only about 11 per cent. this year.

However, we are talking not about the splendid record of Grampian but about the appalling record of Lothian. The basis of the defence which Lothian would no doubt put to my right hon. Friend, if it deigned to meet him, is, first, that there is no waste of the ratepayers' money. Secondly, it says that there is no reasonable way in which it can make savings. In answer to the claim that no savings can be made, in a minute I shall mention three separate and independent bodies which say that widespread savings could be made by Lothian regional council. As regards waste, I think that it will be within the knowledge of most hon. Members that this very afternoon four councillors and three officials have come down from the Lothian region at a cost of about £4,000 to the ratepayers, yet they have refused to see my right hon. Friend, although they are here for three days.

Mr. Robert Hughes


Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)


Mr. Sproat

In a way my right hon. Friend is lucky. Those people have told him that they would not see him and they told my Conservative colleagues and myself that they would see us, but they did not bother to turn up for the meeting. Therefore, at least my right hon. Friend can count himself rather lucky.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Does the hon. Gentleman equally condemn Tayside region, which, when the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill was in Committee, sent councillors down to hear what was taking place and to brief the badly briefed Members on the Government Bench?

Mr. Sproat

I am informed by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that that is not true. In any case, I am not responsible for what Tayside councillors do vis-à-vis the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg). I was complaining that we know why Lothian councillors have refused to see my right hon. Friend and have not bothered to turn up for a meeting arranged with my colleagues.

Mr. Cook

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sproat

No, I have given way too much.

Mr. Robert Hughes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely it is quite out of order for an hon. Member deliberately to mislead the House, and in those circumstances—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The hon. Gentleman has used the words "deliberately to mislead". They are unparliamentary and must be withdrawn.

Mr. Robert Hughes

It is true. You put me in a difficult position, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I cannot think of an alternative phrase to "deliberately to mislead".

Mr. Deputy Speaker

While the hon. Gentleman thinks of alternatives, perhaps he will withdraw the original words.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I certainly withdraw any unparliamentary expression—

Mr. Cook

Even if it is true.

Mr. Robert Hughes

It is within my knowledge that the remarks made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) are totally inaccurate and do not accord with the facts as I know them. If I am to be rebuked, and rightly so, for using unparliamentary expressions, surely the hon. Gentleman ought to be rebuked for stating that which he knows to be wrong.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) is responsible for what he says in his speech, not I.

Mr. Sproat

Thank you very much, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Ernie Ross

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is important that the House should know that the reason why the Lothian councillors did not meet the Tory group was that it failed to provide a time—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Chair is not responsible for the Lothian councillors.

Mr. Sproat

I shall not continue this argument at great length. However, 10 of my colleagues and myself sat in a Committee Room at 12 o'clock waiting for the Lothian regional councillors to arrive, but they did not come. However, that is so mild a transgression compared with all the other things that they have done that I am happy to leave that point. I have no doubt that the secretary of the committee will settle this question once and for all if he catches the eye of the Chair.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sproat

No. I have already given way too much on what is a fairly minor point about the transgressions of Lothian amid all the great villainies that will no doubt be enumerated later.

Lothian says that there is no waste. I have already shown that it spent £4,000 sending councillors down here. Those councillors have not seen my right hon. Friend. In addition, most of us know of the infamous Jersey junket a few months ago when a couple of Lothian councillors attached themselves to a school orchestra in order to get a free visit to Jersey. We all know that in the last few days Lothian councillors were flown back from holidays in sunny Spain, Greece and cosy trade union jaunts to Czechoslovakia at the expense of the ratepayers.

My right hon. and hon. Friends who have the misfortune to live under that regional council know that the Lothian Clarion is distributed to them, supposedly free but at a cost of about £12,500 per issue. I know that the Lothian council says it is less. It says that it costs only £6,000 per issue, but it subtracts what it calls "advertising". I was interested to learn that when a group of ratepayers tried to insert an advertisement in the Lothian Clarion about the high expenses drawn by certain Socialist councillors, that advertisement was refused. The council also said that it would not enter into correspondence in the columns of the Lothian Clarion.

Those are just a few of the many examples that could be culled of waste that goes on in the Lothian region. It is totally ridiculous, unfair and insulting to the ratepayers of Lothian to say that there is no waste, because there is grave waste by the Socialist Lothian council.

Quite apart from the waste, three separate groups have shown that substantial savings could be made by Lothian council. Those three groups have no connection with each other. Even if we do not agree with the precise savings, each group identified widespread savings that could be made. It is, therefore, prima facie absolutely ridiculous for the regional council to say that no savings whatever can be made. It is doubly ridiculous that the council is not prepared to approach my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to discuss these savings.

The first group that came forward with imaginative and widespread proposals was the Conservative councillors in the region—[Interruption.] Let us deal with the Conservative councillors first. I shall come to what the Labour councillors said in just a moment.

The Conservative councillors modestly proposed cuts amounting to £27 million with no compulsory redundancies and arising entirely through natural wastage. The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) got the figures wrong. It is 3,500 jobs saved through natural wastage, not 4,000.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that Conservative councillors have also come to London, but at their own expense and not at the expense of the ratepayers?

Mr. Sproat

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope that the Lothian ratepayers will distinguish between the Socialist councillors who travel on other people's money and the Conservative councillors who travel using their own money.

Let me mention some of the ways in which savings could be made, because perhaps some Labour Members do not realise the way in which they could be made. For example, of the 15 specific proposals made by the Conservative councillors, one was that there could be a reduction in service costs in all departments at a saving of £6.5 million. They also proposed that the council could reallocate the Scottish bus group's subsidy, which the Minister has already rejected, at a saving of £3.4 million. That money could be reallocated to better means or could be saved within Lothian regional council's spending.

If, instead of free bus passes for all old-age pensioners, the council moved to a system used by its fellow Socialists in Strathclyde, it could save another £2.5 million. If it was to reduce staff training in social work, it could save another £400,000. Six months of natural wastage and the non-tilling of posts that fell vacant would save another £6 million.

Mr. Maxton

Loss of jobs.

Mr. Sproat

Not loss of jobs, because the posts lost through natural wastage would not be filled. Surely even the hon. Gentleman would not compel people to remain in jobs when they did not want to. In any case, that is happening in the hon. Gentleman's region, yet we do not hear him make a fuss or scream about that. Therefore, why should he object when it is proposed in Lothian regional council?

Even if we do not agree with all the details of the Conservative proposals, they at least show that potential savings could be made. If Labour Members do not like what the Lothian Conservative councillors propose, let them consider the contents of the so-called secret budget prepared by the Socialist councillors in Lothian region before this great fuss reached its present level of fury.

Earlier this year, in spite of the fact that the Socialist councillors now say that no savings can be made, they produced a fat report outlining no less than 80 potential areas for savings. How is it that a few months ago they said that there were 80 potential areas for saving whereas they are now saying that there are no areas whatever?

It is interesting to consider some of the areas in which the Socialists suggest that savings could be made. They suggested, for example, that costs could be cut by cutting the commission paid to organisations not their own that collect the rates. That is a very sensible way of looking at things. These are their suggestions, not those of the Conservatives. They suggested cutting back on the cost of Securicor delivering wages in cash. That, again, is a very interesting suggestion. I believe that they suggested that about £75,000 could be saved in that way.

The Socialists also suggested—this is another interesting proposal that my right hon. Friend might like to consider—that the internal audit system could be enlarged with a view to getting, to use their own words, better value for money within Lothian region. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be very happy to look at that proposal from the Socialist councillors. Again, they suggested that the basis on which car allowances are currently paid could be changed from what is known as the "essential" basis to the "casual" basis. They suggest that £100,000 could be saved in what is paid out in car allowances to members of Lothian region. Interestingly enough, they also proposed to increase leisure charges.

The Socialists also suggested—and I put this particularly to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton)—that certain posts in prospect should not be filled. Apparently, although certain Labour Members do not like it, the Socialists on Lothian regional council were prepared to consider that.

The Socialists also wanted to cut back on social work staff, particularly training staff. They wanted to consider increasing school meal charges. It will be interesting to hear what Labour Members have to say about that. It was the Socialists who wanted to consider increasing school meal charges in Lothian and cutting back on primary and secondary school teachers.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Sproat

In other words, all the things that they are now so quick to criticise if my right hon. Friend so much as mentions them, they themselves had considered and put forward.

Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Gentleman does not want to know the facts.

Mr. Sproat

Everything that I have just said was suggested by the Socialist councillors themselves in this very interesting report by the budget review group of the regional Labour group, consisting of the Labour convener, the Labour leader, the Labour secretary, the Labour chairman of the finance committee and the Labour chairman of the manpower committee. Those suggestions came from them only a few months ago. How dare they therefore say to the House that there are no grounds for possible savings in Lothian?

I now come to the third group of people in Scotland who clearly do not agree with Labour Members that there is no area for savings in Lothian. I said that all three groups were totally independent. The Conservative councillors made some suggestions. The Socialist councillors made some suggestions. If we now look at what other Socialist councils in Scotland have done, we find that if Lothian ran its region not even as Grampian does in its cost-conscious way but as other Socialist councils do, in this year alone if Lothian were run on the same basis as Strathclyde is nun with its cost and its manning, there would be a saving to Lothian of £35 million. If Strathclyde can save £35 million, why cannot Lothian? If Central region ran Lothian as it runs its own region, there would be a saving not of £47 million, I must tell my right hon. Friend, but of £81.5 million. Lastly—and I say this to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson), who will be very glad to know it—if Lothian region were run as Fife region—another Socialist region—is run, it would save £90.5 million on its budget this year.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Sproat

I do not say that the proposals made by the Socialists are perfect in every detail. Why should we say that? I am sure that improvements could be made even to the Conservative proposals. But I say that if Conservative and Socialist councillors in Lothian and Socialist councillors in other regions of Scotland can all find ways of cutting costs, Lothian can do so as well. It should do so immediately—

Mr. Foulkes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way before he finishes his speech?

Mr. Sproat

—and the first thing that Lothian councillors could do is to come and talk to my right hon. Friend.

5.35 pm
Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth)

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) will not be surprised to know that I do not intend to follow him in what he said, save briefly to take up two points.

First, I should tell the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South that, for all its good management, Grampian region has received the same letter telling it to review its budget as every other regional and district council. He should therefore not believe for one moment that that "well managed" region will escape the wrath of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Like every other region and district authority in Scotland, it will be caught in the second round of this exercise. I shall be interested to hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say then.

Secondly, with regard to the presence of Lothian region Labour councillors, which the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South seemed to regard with some disdain, I should tell the hon. Gentleman that when Stirling district council asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State for Scotland and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, members of that council were made to come to London at the expense of Stirling district ratepayers. There are five Scottish Office Ministers—four in the House of Commons and one in another place—yet that meeting could not take place in Edinburgh. It ill becomes the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South to criticise Labour councillors for coming to London when Labour councillors from Stirling district who asked for a meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss the very proposals that we are now debating were given no alternative but to come to London.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

The hon. Gentleman should also make clear that while members of Stirling district council came to London to see the Secretary of State—and I personally regret that, as I would have preferred the meeting to be held in Edinburgh—the members and officials from Lothian council who are here today came not to see the Secretary of State but to listen to this debate and for no other reason.

Mr. Ewing

That is far from accurate. The members from the Lothian region are here to lobby Members of Parliament. That is a legitimate exercise for elected representatives. I do not wish to get involved in why a meeting did not take place between the Tories and the councillors, but I understand that the Labour councillors from Lothian were at no time advised of the availability of the Tory Members for a meeting. No doubt that matter will be dealt with as the debate continues.

Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

It may interest the hon. Gentleman to know that at 12 o'clock, which I believe was the time quoted as the time of that meeting, the aforesaid councillors were meeting me in my room, the appointment having been made last week. I think that the fault must therefore lie on the other side.

Mr. Ewing

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston). That proves that I should have said what I originally considered saying, namely, that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South sometimes sullies our debates with his observations.

I turn to the subject of today's debate, which is far more relevant than the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South. The Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, encouraged by their less enlightened Back Bench colleagues, over the past two and a half years have become so anti-local government that they are now unable to reach any rational decision about local government in Scotland. The debate is just as much about the position that the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend have got themselves into as it is about the allegations of overspending on the part of Lothian, Dundee and Stirling and the other three authorities for which orders have already been announced.

Whatever the Secretary of State may say—and I was interested to hear him defend himself against the allegation that he is launching an attack on local democracy—this is an undisguised attack on local democracy, and that ought not to go unnoticed. I know that we are discussing three reports relating to the Lothians, Dundee and Stirling district. But, with great respect to the Lothians and Dundee, my interest is obviously in the order affecting Stirling district council.

I have read with great interest the report that has been laid on the Table of the House for our use during the debate. In the part dealing with Stirling district council I am interested to read that the representations submitted by Stirling district council on 1 July—the report does not give the date, but the letter is attached as an annex—were considered by the Secretary of State but were more or less rejected, and the Secretary of State has gone along with his original idea of tabling the report against the district council.

The Secretary of State read a few letters from the chamber of commerce and various other people who seemed to support what he was doing. May I through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, advise the Secretary of State that as well as reading letters it would be helpful if he would occasionally write some letters. As I understand it, the detailed arguments submitted by Stirling district council on 1 July have been replied to, but a detailed argument has been dismissed in four lines of the letter, which says that the Secretary of State is still satisfied that the planned expenditure is unreasonable and excessive, and that therefore he intends to go ahead with the order.

There was no attempt at a detailed argument against the case put by Stirling district council. The Government's case is that they intend to reduce the rate support grant made available to Stirling district council by £1 million. I am entitled to ask on what basis the assessment has been arrived at. We are told time and again that the Government have used certain comparators. When I asked recently about the comparators that were used, I was given all sorts of flimsy excuses. I was given no good reason why the particular comparators should be chosen. Indeed, the comparator in which I was most interested was that made between Stirling district council and North-East Fife district council. When I asked why North-East Fife district council had been chosen, I was told that it was because North-East Fife 'district council has a university and Stirling has a university. That is the basis on which it was decided to reduce by £1 million the rate support grant to Stirling district council—hardly the most scientific basis on which to approach this very serious problem.

I say to the Government, privately and publicly, that had they chosen two other comparators that were available to them—those of Kyle and Carrick district council and of Cunninghame district council—they would have come nearer to a more comparable position than with the comparators that they eventually chose. Had they chosen Kyle and Carrick and Cunninghame district council, it would have produced a result whereby the spending per head of the population in Stirling district would have been only a few pounds per head greater than the Scottish average.

It is difficult not to believe that the Government have chosen the comparators they did in order to suit their arguments. The Secretary of State has based much of his case on the levels of public spending that prevailed in 1977, as opposed to the levels of public spending proposed for the present. That argument has to be answered, because the oftener it is said, the more people are likely to believe it.

Comparing Stirling district in 1977 and in 1981, we see a totally different district. There are four main employers in Stirling district. We have Cape Insulation, a company which makes thermally insulated material for home installation. It has been on short-time working and has had to pay off workpeople, not because of any increase in rates but because of the Government's policy on home insulation grants. It was purely and simply an act of the Government that caused the troubles with Cape Insulation in Stirling.

We have redundancy at the John Player factory. I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) is present. Fifty jobs are being shed not because of any increase in rates but partly because the hon. Member succeeded in reducing the duty on derv and, as a result, increased the duty on tobacco. The immediate effect of that in Stirling is that 50 jobs have been shed by John Player. That has nothing to do with the increase in rates.

Then we have the university, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan). It has had a 25 per cent. cut. Only today we were told by Sir Kenneth Alexander that if the cuts go ahead at Stirling university, he will need to shed up to 80 or 90 jobs there. That has nothing to do with the increase in rates in Stirling district council. It is a direct result of Government policy, and Stirling district is the largest single employer of labour in the Stirling area.

If those cuts are imposed by the Government, new jobs that might have been created will not be. On this day, when Scotland has 320,000 unemployed and badly needs job opportunities, those opportunities will be denied.

The historic fact about Stirling, as a town council and a district council, is that it has a very low spending record. When the council was controlled by a combination of Tories and SNP members, there was hardly a single new brick laid for housing, and community centres were almost non-existent. The facilities in Stirling were nothing short of disgraceful. It is natural that when a Labour council comes to power it will want: to provide better services and new facilities. So, historically, Stirling starts from a very low base.

The Government's actions are unrealistic, and I suspect that the Under-Secretary of State at least has the intelligence to understand that. It is simply not on for a Tory Government to seek to impose on Labour-controlled authorities a situation in which they are forced to reduce the rates and hand the matter back to the ratepayers, to allow the Minister to say that it was he who forced the Labour-controlled authorities to reduce the rates and hand the money back to the ratepayers. The Minister has had it explained to him that if this 'were to happen in Stirling, the weekly amount handed back to ratepayers would be less than 38p. The Secretary of State lives, as he admitted, in the Stirling district, in Gurgunnock. Gurgunnock is not quite Raploch, St. Ninians, Braehead or Riverside. Something needs to be done for those areas. I am not saying that they are run down. They are anything but run down. We have been able to build up good environmental conditions in them. However, we want to continue to be able to do so.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

I have genuine difficulty in following the hon. Gentleman's point. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that if a local authority is faced with the choice of returning grant involuntarily to the Government or of giving it back to the local community—through a reduction in the rates—there is no case for returning the money to the local economy and that an authority should prefer to give it to the Secretary of State?

Mr. Ewing

The Minister has completely missed the point. He is a good enough politician to understand that, politically, it is no more possible for this Government than it would be for a Labour Government to force Tory councils to reduce rates and to hand the money back to ratepayers. If the Minister wants to take the money back from Stirling district council, he will do so. If he wishes to return money to the ratepayers, the Scottish Office should bear the cost of doing so. The administrative cost of returning that money to Stirling's ratepayers would be greater than the amount to be returned.

Even if Stirling district council and the Government came to some agreement or compromise arrangement, it would not be the end of the matter. Nor would it be the end of the matter for Lothian or Dundee. Stirling, Dundee, Lothian and all the other authorities will be caught, yet again, in the second round of the exercise. If the Minister wishes to tell me that this is the end of the matter for Stirling, I shall be happy to hear that from him. However, that is not so. When the Government make their general clawback, Stirling will be affected in the same way as the Central region, Falkirk, Banff, Grampian and the other authorities.

Falkirk district council, which lies in my constituency, received a letter from the Central Scotland chamber of commerce which congratulated it on its good management. It is a Labour-controlled authority. However, that letter will not save Falkirk district council from the impact of the second round of the exercise. The argument lies between ratepayers and their elected representatives. I do not back away from facts, and I am the first to admit that although several people in the Stirling district do not complain about the rate increase, some do. However, that is not an argument for the Secretary of State to settle. It is not his business. If the Secretary of State paid more attention to the job that he is supposed to do, and left other people's jobs to them, there might not be 320,000 people unemployed in Scotland. The argument is between the ratepayers and the district council. The argument will be settled by the normal democratic process in which councillors face the electorate. Those councillors were freely elected and are prepared to defend their policies and to accept the will of the electorate when the time comes.

This is not merely a bad day for Scottish local government but a disastrous one. The only consolation that I have drawn from the debate is that the Government have not got much longer in office. They will still do a great amount of damage, but when the Labour Party is re-elected we shall at least have an opportunity to repair some of it. This is a disastrous day for Scottish local government.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. It looks as if speeches will be a little long. Many hon. Members wish to speak and it would help if hon. Members bore the length of their speeches in mind.

5.54 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Edinburgh, South)

I hope that the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) will forgive me if I do not take up his argument about his district authority. I wish to concentrate on my regional authority of Lothian.

Many Conservative Members were agreeably surprised and appreciative when the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) was good enough to suggest—for the first time from the Oppositiion Front Bench—that the Lothian Labour group should talk to the Secretary of State. I hope that the message will get through to the Lothian Labour group that its colleagues on the Front Bench—and I hope also on the Back Benches—believe that the time has come, if it did not come much earlier, for both sides to get round the table and to consider the matter sensibly.

Several hon. Members referred to the dangers to local democracy of the Government's proposals. When I hear the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth talking about the threat to local government, it surprises me. When the Labour Party is in power and threatens an English council in Tameside over its education policies, it would seem that that is not a threat to local government. However, when the Conservative Party is in power and does something to local authorities, it is threatening local government. We must be cautious about exercising double standards and accusing each other of attacking local democracy. Hon. Members on both sides of the House believe that local democracy has an important role to play. In many ways it is a sad day when a debate on such a report must take place in the House.

I assure Opposition Members that Conservative Members do not take any pleasure in the report. Most of us had hoped that the Labour councillors of Lothian region would have seen reality many months ago and thus avoided the need for all this. There is a delicate balance between local government and national Government, which has always been fragile. By and large, most local authorities—whatever their politics—have understood that ultimately they must conform to the national economic pattern if the system is to work. Most Scottish regions have done that, including Labour regions such as Strathclyde, Central, and Fife. At least those authorities have tried. That effort has been recognised.

It is a matter of great shame to the people of Lothian that we should be the only region to have abdicated that responsibility and to have necessitated the laying of a report against us. Let us be quite clear. This discussion should be about finance and economies. On our side, it is about that, but it has not and never has been about that for the Labour group on Lothian region. From the start it has seen the argument as a party political issue and as a political fight in which, like some extra-parliamentary opposition, it seeks to make up for what it perceives to be the failings of its colleagues in the House. In the fight, the Labour group's members have been prepared from the start to put the ratepayers and electors of Lothian into the front line to take the flak, regardless of the damage that their stand does to those whom they were elected to serve.

It is not surprising that so many of us in Lothian are angered and saddened by the attitude of the Lothian Labour group. Like some puffed-up soviet, it has refused to talk, to budge or, even now, to think. However, I congratulate it on one thing, namely, its propaganda. If propaganda is distortion by selective fact, or the creation of unfounded fear among people who trust the Labour group, it has done its propaganda job remarkably well. It has frightened parents with talk of savage education cuts. It has frightened pensioners with tales of slashed essential services. It has frightened voluntary organisations by threatening their survival and it has frightened its work force with talk of enforced redundancies for about half of them.

All these threats are based on specious arguments, unsubstantiated assumptions and, in some cases, plain distortions. It knows that its claims are untrue but, for party political reasons only, it continues to proclaim them. If it was genuinely interested in securing the most cost-effective service for the electors, it would not have indulged, I believe, in this language of unreason. It would have looked for a reasoned analysis and negotiated on that basis with the Secretary of State. My right hon. Friend has given it every chance. He still does so. In fact, a provision for consultation is written into the 1981 Act. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), and my right hon. Friend have said all along that they were willing to listen and willing to take part in talks. Lothian region has, however, refused to come to the table for fear, perhaps, that under this sort of analysis its propaganda would not stand up.

Let us recognise, as the right hon. Member for Craigton did, that it takes two to tango, and that it takes two sides to talk. Faced, as Lothian region is if the order is passed, with an inevitable cut in its expenditure, it should, if it really has the interests of its electors at heart, talk and negotiate now. If it does not and if it forces my right hon. Friend to make the full reduction, the responsibility for the consequences is its and its alone. It alone has the power at this moment to do something about the matter by talking. If it fails to do that, it will have failed those whom it was elected to serve. Every week of delay causes more damage to those interests.

Watching the Labour councillors from Lothian region, I get the impression sometimes that it takes a little time to get thoughts into their politics-filled heads. After their two days in the GLC county hall with Councillor Ken Livingstone, it may take a little longer. I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to be patient. I was pleased to see yesterday that he had announced that he would give them a few more days to come to the table to talk.

Seriously, no one likes to have to make economies. That is appreciated. We sometimes have to make them. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Craigton had to make them himself when he was Secretary of State. When we have to make them, we often find surprising areas where such economies can be made without causing too much damage. What is not possible is to find such areas if the will is not there and if the Lothian Labour group remains so attached to its hyperbole and propaganda that it is not prepared to seek them. It knows in its heart of hearts what savings can be made.

I do not know how many hon. Members saw the programme on television when the Labour group of Lothian region, believing in open government, appeared before the cameras to discuss at what level it would set the budget. There was no talk then of only one possible level and that that it should be unanimously accepted that a 50 per cent. rate rise was needed. Two levels were suggested. One of them, if my memory serves me right, was 35 per cent., and the other 50 per cent. One was the level that the Labour group was advised by the report, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) has referred, was needed to maintain services. The other was the level needed to increase growth. It chose the latter, not because it needed the 50 per cent. but because it decided politically to confront the Government. If that had not been its intention, why did the Labour group go on television to let everyone in the country know what it was doing?

Its acceptance of areas of potential saving at that time was based on what I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South is an excellent report. I am surprised that members of the Labour group have not referred to it more often themselves. On the occasions when I have appeared on radio programmes opposing their view, they have denied its existence. I was interested to recieve a copy last night. It is fascinating reading.

Paragraph 28 of the report accepts the fact that falling school rolls will mean fewer teachers and that fewer teachers will enable savings to be made in those areas. That was the talk in January this year. Where has that talk gone? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), from a seated position, says that this was done. I wonder, when the hon. Gentleman comes to speak, if he can explain why 70 new non-teaching staff were taken on by the Lothian region at a cost of £350,000. The report shows, if it shows nothing else, that the argument of the Lothian regional council that it cannot cut anything is shot through with holes. The council knew four months ago the areas where cuts could be made.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not the excuse that Lothian region has made one cut concerned with emergency planning and civil defence services, for which it gets 100 per cent. rate support grant from the Government?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that fact. It illustrates once again that the actions of this council are not based on the interests of those it was elected to serve but are based on its members' personal political view. For the sake of the people of the Lothian region, I hope that those members will soon come to their senses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South mentioned the Conservative proposals put forward last week. A number of Opposition Members have talked about job losses and were surprised when it was suggested that natural wastage was not necessarily a job loss. If the Opposition take the view that every job that has ever been filled must continue to be filled ad infinitum, they will find themselves in a most extraordinarily queer economic mess if the misfortune ever occurs that they govern the country again. One can imagine the areas where jobs would be still preserved 200 years after the Industrial Revolution if that view had been adopted. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) knows it is nonsense. He is right.

Mr. Foulkes

I have just walked in off the street.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman was nodding intelligently. When he nods intelligently, I presume that he understands.

I believe that the Government should look closely at the proposals put forward by the Conservative group. Within those proposals is the basis of a possible negotiation. The group has worked hard to try to achieve a position where the maximum saving can be made before the dangers of enforced redundancy become too hard.

It is not my intention to put forward a figure that I believe is right. To do so would preclude precisely what I am asking. I wish the two sides to get round a table and talk to each other. I believe, however, that the Conservative proposals are worth examining. I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will comment upon them. It cannot be argued that there are no areas where cuts can be made. I believe, as my right hon. Friend stressed, that we must accept that cuts should be made. Hon. Members may be surprised to hear that it is my view, as a Lothian Member of Parliament, that cuts should be made in any areas. It is always unpleasant to see cuts.

I believe, however, that I am a realist. In the present economic situation, we cannot continue to spend at the same rate as we have been spending in the past. It is interesting to note one or two of the facts contained in the report that we are debating showing the trends of expenditure in Lothian region. The chart in appendix B dealing with expenditure per capita shows that in 1978–79, expenditure in what are termed closely comparable authorities amounted to £319.9 per person on average. For all regional councils, the figure was £350-odd. The figure for Lothian regional council was £347, not as high as the average for the whole number but higher than the average for the comparable authorities.

By 1981–82, the current year, the average for the comparable authorities was £332, an increase of 4 per cent. The average for all regional councils, the figure which Lothian was originally below, had increased to £372, a rise of 6.5 per cent. Lothian region was up to £426, far in excess of the average of all the others put together and an increase of 22.7 per cent.

In fairness, I find it hard to see why one council, particularly at a time of economic stringency and when it does not face the sort of problems that I came across while I was working in the courts in Strathclyde, should continue to expand its expenditure.

The second chart that I ask hon. Members to look at is appendix D, which shows the increased rate poundages in Lothian. In 1978–79 rates were 44p in the pound, in 1979–80 they were 53p, in 1980–81 they were 75p and in 1981–82 they are 112p. Those figures represent almost a threefold increase in four years, and that is the burden placed on the ratepayers and businesses of Edinburgh.

Mr. Foulkes

The hon. Gentleman expresses an interest in small businesses, but will he care to pay attention to the situation in Cumnock? A small business man from that area wrote to me to say that he had had to pay off two apprentices because the local district council was unable to place any contracts with him as a result of the cuts in public expenditure that the Government have already imposed on local authorities. Is it not the case that for every job lost in the public sector there could be at least one lost in the private sector, particularly in contracting?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is continuing to perpetrate the distortion that is put forward by the Lothian region. We are not talking about slashing services. The right hon. Member for Craigton pointed out that of the 37p in the pound increase in rates this year only 11p was for new growth in Edinburgh. That was the extra amount, the part that was not reserved for maintenance.

If the Conservative proposals were accepted and £26 million were passed back to ratepayers, it would be the equivalent of a 12p in the pound rebate—almost exactly the amount devoted to growth in Lothian. That could be done without causing the damage that has been predicted by Lothian regional councillors.

Mr. Cook

Will the hon. Gentleman clarify a point that is becoming increasingly confused the longer he addresses the House? Does the hon. Gentleman propose to vote for £26 million being excessive and unreasonable or, as the Government urge, for £47 million being excessive and unreasonable?

Mr. Ancram

I intend to vote for the report because it will enable my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to exercise a degree of restraint on the Lothian region if it continues its intransigence. That is within my right hon. Friend's power.

It must be understood that we are not talking about a massive slashing of services. Labour Members know that. We are talking about trying to bring Lothian region back from the brink of over-expenditure and always going for growth and political confrontation. That has been the source of all the problems in the region over the past three years.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ancram

No. I have given way several times and I wish quickly to summarise and conclude my remarks.

We must never forget that the debate, the legislation and the report are all about the ratepayers. The aim of the legislation was to provide for the first time in our history that a council that had taken too much in rates should be enabled to pay money back to the ratepayers.

I believe that a rebate at 12p in the pound, or higher, would be welcomed by the hard-pressed ratepayers of the Lothian region. The Conservative group's proposal would mean a rebate of £72 this year for the owner of a house with a rateable value of £600. That would be a considerable rebate for the owner of such a house.

Small businesses of the sort to which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire referred would receive a rebate of about £1,500, which might represent the difference between keeping people in employment or sacking them. The Conservatives' proposal could mean a difference of £40,000 for some of the stores in Princes Street where my constituents shop. For some stores, that could be the difference between survival or going under, with all the job losses that would be involved.

Ratepayers are the responsibility of us all. I hope that the message that goes from the debate to the Lothian regional council will be "For goodness sake stop playing politics and start thinking about the people of the Lothian region. Get round the table and talk and give back to the ratepayers the money that rightfully belongs to them."

6.15 pm
Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

The doctrine of monetarism which is being pursued by Conservative Members and the Government is extremely hostile to public services and public servants, as the debate will show when more of my hon. Friends catch Mr. Speaker's eye.

The stated intention of monetarism is to increase the ratio of workers in private industry to those in the public sector. In the Prime Minister's Britain, jobs are fast disappearing in both sectors, as today's unemployment figures dramatically demonstrate. Despite the fact that the Prime Minister has failed to achieve her objective, she continues to ignore advice from such diverse bodies as the CBI, the TUC, the STUC and COSLA and the Government continue an experiment which has obviously failed. That can only be bad news for local authorities and even worse news for their employees.

I should like to bring into the debate some of the points raised by my district council in its submission to the Secretary of State, because it is important to get them on the record so that a wider audience will know how responsible the Dundee district council has been.

Local government is important to democracy. It removes responsibility for large areas of the public services from Whitehall and power is therefore distributed much more widely than the central State machine and can be used as a counter-weight to corporatist tendencies.

If more decisions are transferred to central Ministries, those Ministries will become less accountable, for two reasons. First, centralised decisions are easier to keep secret and, secondly, the sheer complexity and scale of centralised industries make it far more difficult for Ministers to be held accountable to the House. If the process of centralising power continues, local accountability will be transferred away from councillors and eventually to the relevant Ministers. That is the theory, but in practice the process of accountability will inevitably get lost along the way. Therefore, we are about to see a major weakening of the ability of Parliament to call bureaucracy to account for its actions.

Apart from the destruction of vital services, the new Act goes a long way towards turning local government into a mere outpost of central Government rather than a democratic tier of government with a degree of independence and accountability to its electorate.

The Secretary of State has taken the view that Dundee district council's planned expenditure for 1981–82 is excessive and unreasonable in relation to the guidelines issued by the Scottish Office, in spite of the fact that, since their introduction, those guidelines have been accepted by all concerned as having no mandatory effect on individual authorities.

In Dundee in previous years at budget time it has never been possible to keep within the guidelines. In 1980–81 the guideline figures were calculated and adjusted on a different basis and Dundee's figure was reduced by £1.48 million—14.7 per cent. In 1981–82 the Dundee guideline figure was further reduced, this time by 8.1 per cent.—£7.91 million. In those two years, the reported all-Scotland reductions in guideline figures were 3.2 per cent. and 5.9 per cent. respectively. The Dundee reductions of 14.7 per cent. and 8.1 per cent. compare most favourably.

The district council's guideline figure for 1981–82, if calculated on a straight per capita basis and without subsequent manipulation, would have been £8.8 million. If subjected only to the all-Scotland percentage reduction, it would have been about £9.19 million. When the adjustment for interest on revenue balances is made, as has been accepted by the Secretary of State, Dundee's planned expenditure per capita for 1981–82 falls from £60.5 million to £58.2 million. The all-Scotland average expenditure per capita is £57.4 million, and a difference of £0.82 per capita is not considered to be excessive or unreasonable in the circumstances. The comparison with 1978–79 and 1981–82 may be fair, looking at Scotland as a whole, but the district council feels that insufficient consideration has been given to various matters.

First, in Dundee the population has been reducing over the years, largely due to people moving into Fife and Angus to live bat commuting daily to work in the city. The population drift has had a considerable influence on any exercise where population figures are used—for example, the calculation of the standard penny rate product in determining the district rate and the distribution formulae for various Government grants.

Secondly, in 1978–79 the district council was in the process of completing or had just completed a number of large-scale projects, such as the new central library and the new refuse incinerator. For that reason, it has not been possible to absorb the additional running costs generated by those items against savings elsewhere. In a recently published table of rates payable by ratepayers throughout Scotland, the highest average is given as £466.57 and the lowest as £95.16. The all-Scotland figure of £270.63, compared with Dundee's figure of £253.69, does not show that the Dundee figure is excessive or unreasonable. There are only 32 authorities in Scotland where rates are below the Dundee figure and, with the exception of Aberdeen and one or two others, they are mainly rural, not urban, authorities. It has long been accepted that the problems facing urban authorities are different from those facing rural authorities. That is reflected in the services offered to the public.

The district council's view is that the extent of the multi-deprivation problem and the high unemployment in Dundee warrants at least the same amount of expenditure as that of other urban authorities such as Renfrew and Glasgow. The problem of unemployment is extremely serious in Dundee.

In Dundee this year the figures issued by the Manpower Services Commission suggest that 1,685 redundancies have been notified since January 1981. In the construction industry in May there were 1,264 unemployed, or 24 per cent. The regional organiser for the Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians in the Dundee area, Mr. Jack Johnstone, on 3 July this year, made it clear to all those who were prepared to listen that by November this year eight out of 10 of those employed in building and construction would be without a job. At the same time, he revealed that over 300 workers had been issued with redundancy notices that week. There is a continuing and serious problem at Robb Caledon, where 280 workers could lose their jobs. At Keiller's 130 jobs will go this month. At Watson's whisky bond 135 jobs will disappear. The entire work force will leave in October. Valentine's recently announced a job loss of 25 in August.

The local building trade employers approached the hon. Members for South Angus (Mr. Fraser), Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) and myself and asked us to approach the Government as they were concerned about the cuts in Government grants to local authorities.

Mr. Peter Fraser

If the hon. Gentleman wants to make that point, he should set it in the context that if, as the Government requested, rents had been taken up in line, which most other Labour-controlled authorities did, for the construction industry in Dundee alone there would have been more than £3 million to enable it to look after the industry, to allow for new houses and maintenance. However, Dundee district council, in a deliberate political approach, decided not to do that. Accordingly the council must take direct responsibility for the large numbers of people in the construction industry in Dundee who are without work.

Mr. Ross

I am sure that if I pursued the subject of housing many hon. Members would remind me that housing is not dealt with in the reports.

The local authority made six sites available to private builders to allow them to build on those sites. Not one of those sites has been taken off the hands of the district council, nor is it the intention of the local private building industry to take these sites off our hands. Because of high interest rates and the over-valued pound, the private industry cannot afford to develop the sites.

The local building employers made it clear that Most of us believed at first that most of the Government's policies were good and that an improvement would eventually come but now we are disillusioned". They are disillusioned, just as the textile industry in Dundee is disillusioned, with the Government's policies.

The reports will do nothing for the unemployed, especially the young unemployed. There are now more young people aged 18 and under out of work in Dundee than the total number of unemployed of all ages in 1966. It is no credit to the Government that since they came to power the number of people out of work in Dundee has risen by 87 per cent. If the hon. Member for South Angus could suggest how we can reverse that trend, the debate might liven up. It is ironic that the only place in Dundee where employment has increased is at the local labour exchange, where 21 new staff have had to be taken on to cope with the massive increase in unemployment in the area.

The district council's view is that the planned expenditure for 1981–82 is not excessive and unreasonable. The cuts in expenditure of the magnitude ordered by the Secretary of State will reduce services intolerably. However, it appears that the Secretary of State has decided that the increase in expenditure for councils is greater than it need be. It is greater because the councils need to maintain the expenditure on services per head of population at the same level as other comparable local authorities. The Secretary of State implies that there has been an increase in staff in previous years. However, Dundee district council can prove from its records that the total number of staff employed on 31 March 1978 was 3,059 and on 31 March 1981 it was 3,046. An increase in staff for the housing division has been more than offset by savings in other departments.

The Secretary of State has said that expenditure is excessive. One would therefore expect staffing levels to be excessively high, but they are not. In the years from 1978 to 1981 the Government have continued through additional legislation to request, and in some cases compel, local authorities to administer additional services. My council has provided those services and has incurred additional expenditure. At the same time, through co-operation with the trade union movement, it has effected a slight reduction in manning levels. Therefore, increases in expenditure have gone directly on services to the ratepayers of Dundee district council. At the same time, the proportion of expenditure on staffing costs has fallen.

None of that apparently is to be taken into account, but the Secretary of State's proposed cut in the rate support grant directly threatens the livelihood of at least 900 employees and will result in the payment of £2.7 million in unemployment benefits, thereby doubling the cost to the public purse. The district council has said that it will continue to monitor expenditure in 1981–82. In view of the unemployment level in Dundee—which currently is 15,168, or 15.5 per cent.—the district council is not prepared to increase that level by causing redundancies among district council employees.

Yesterday a meeting was held in Dundee of organisations which believe that Government policies might lead to the type of tension which has arisen in other cities. The leader of the administration decided that rather than allow the Government's policies to reach the point where young people, who are already beginning to feel alienated, take part in such action, he would call a meeting in the city chamber. The industrial chaplain, community councils, the Tayside community relations council, the social services association in Dundee, the Scottish Association for the Study of Delinquency, the Indian Association, the Islamic Association, social work representatives, full-time trade union officials and even representatives from the Churches attended to discuss the effects of the Government's policies on the city, which will continue if the motion is passed.

The industrial chaplain, Mr. Roger Clark, who has other responsibilities, said that we must create about 6,000 jobs under the youth opportunities programme. We accept that such temporary jobs are not perfect in the long term; they are but a temporary amelioration for young people. The new jobs will have to be created in the local authorities. Clearly, if the reports are approved and Dundee's rate support grant is cut, such an opportunity could not be offered by the district council.

The Government want conflict between the local authorities and their employees. We intend to refuse to play into their hands. The blame for the situation must be laid squarely and fairly at the Government's door. They are withholding Dundee taxpayers' money from the city.

I hope that the hon. Member for Dundee, East will catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. I cannot avoid mentioning him because he helped to bring this hideous Government to power. The Government are now attempting to take revenge on Dundee by cutting its rate support grant. The hon. Member for Dundee, East has attacked Dundee district council for raising its rates by 150 per cent. He has not said what the SNP would have done. He has attacked the district council repeatedly, but all that he has said is that the SNP would raise rents in Dundee by no more than the increase in average earnings in Scotland.

I have news for the hon. Member for Dundee, East which will also interest the hon. Members for South Angus and Perth and East Perthshire. The Minister responsible for industry in Scotland has informed me that average earnings in Scotland rose by 17 per cent. last year. If rents in Dundee had risen by 17 per cent., rates would have had to be increased by 121 per cent. If the hon. Member does not believe me, let him consult Dundee district council's finance department. He has bitterly criticised the council for raising rates by 150 per cent. He is terrified to mention that the SNP's policy would have meant a rate rise of 121 per cent. That is the type of cowardice that we expect from the hon. Member.

My council will continue to monitor its expenditure. If the reports are approved and the Secretary of State goes ahead and takes £2 million from Dundee's rate support grant, unemployment will be created. That will increase further the gloom and deepen the anxieties among ordinary people in Dundee. That is why I ask right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House not to approve the motion.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I shall be leaving the Chamber shortly, but I must point out that speeches are becoming longer. I am anxious that the other areas as well as Lothian should be covered. We can do that only if speeches are shorter.

6.35 pm
Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)

I shall abide by your instruction, Mr. Speaker. The Secretary of State must face the fact that the course that he is following has attracted not simply partisan, political criticism but general criticism across the board.

I expect that he read in The Scotsman the other day the article by Mr. Arthur Midwinter—a poignant name in the present economic circumstances. Following two years' study, Mr. Midwinter has produced a quiet, cogent but devastating critique of what the Government are doing.

Nobody can deny the Government's right to exercise, or to try to exercise, some control over Government expenditure. However, it is an over-simplification to say that that simply is what they are doing.

Action against Lothian, Stirling and the other authorities is being taken not because expenditure triggers rate support grant contribution from the Government but because they have chosen to maintain high service spending by exercising their statutory right to increase rates or to draw on their own resources.

If the Government argue that rates are unfair or regressive and fall only upon certain elements of the community, they should have done something about it before the issue was such an important priority. If, on the other hand, the Government say that authorities should control rate percentage increases—which is what they have said—they could have passed legislation limiting rate increases to a particular percentage in any year. That would not be regarded as terribly unfair because it is generally agreed, particularly in countries where local taxation is a form of local income tax, that the system should operate within certain statutorily defined parameters. Instead of doing that, the Government have taken powers to impose penalties on an arbitrary basis on those who have exercised their democratic right to raise taxes.

My first point is that if we believe in local government and local discretion, irrespective of whether one likes the way in which that is exercised—and the Tories have always claimed that they believe in that—what is proposed is wrong in principle and must be opposed.

My second point concerns the question of local democracy and the idea of a mandate. If the Government wish, they can limit rate increases, or they can change the form of tax. The Government can set the parameters and then, in theory, it is up to local democracy. However, there is a fair amount of evidence that Lothian, for example, has acted in an unreasonable way in the dispute. In particular, it has demonstrated an almost complete unwillingness to compromise. It cannot demonstrate popular support for that.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) grunts. It must he recorded that the controlling Labour group in Lothian has an overall majority of only one. That rests on a 40 per cent. share of the votes cast. If one considers the whole electorate of the Lothian region, including those who did not vote, it will be seen that only 17.5 per cent. of the electorate voted for the controlling Labour council. Despite that, the Lothian Labour group has been unwilling to compromise, not only with the Government but with any other political groups in the council. Committees have fixed majorities. The place is run as a one-party State.

A rigid, dogmatic approach to local government of that kind is inappropriate. It does not fit my definiton of democracy, local or otherwise. Not only at national level is electoral reform urgently needed. If we do not have give and take and openness in Government, public administration can quickly become impossible and the atmosphere can quickly and gravely be soured.

I draw the attention of the House to a letter from Councillor Donald Gorrie—the only Liberal regional councillor on Lothian district council—in The Scotsman on 7 July. He was commenting on the one-day strike in Lothian in support of the opposition to the cuts. He said: Like other councillors, I have been told personally by participants that employees were told that the Labour Group, their employers, demanded a well-supported strike and that those not striking would be noted for future loss of their union card in a 'closed shop' area—which would mean losing their job too—or for top of the redundancy list in other professions.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Johnston

I shall give way when I have finished this point.

Councillor Gorrie went on: The atmosphere created was so bad that some managers felt they had to advise inquiring employees to go along with the strike in the interests of their own job security. If that sort of development is taking place, it is a matter of profound concern, especially as we are facing real redundancies.

Mr. Norman Hogg

It is important for the record—and the hon. Gentleman should know—that I attended a meeting that was called to discuss whether the Lothian branch of NALGO came out on strike on that day. There was none of the coercion about which the hon. Gentleman spoke. There was free, frank and open debate at a packed meeting in the Usher Hall, where well-known Conservatives, Liberals, members of the SNP and Labour Party all argued the case. A decision was made democratically, and nothing such as the hon. Gentleman and Councillor Gorrie refer to took place.

Mr. Johnston

I simply draw the attention of the House to what Councillor Donald Gorrie, who, in my experience, is an honest man, said.

Mr. Cook

It is not good enough for the hon. Gentleman to say that he is merely regurgitating the words of Councillor Gorrie. He must take responsibility for quoting words that he believes to be correct. Coercion might explain the one-day stoppage, but, if that were so, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could tell me, as one who addressed the demonstration—because it might explain why some people did not turn up to work that day—how 12,000 employees of Lothian region found their way to Princes Street on a day when public transport was not running, to take part with every appearance of willingness and enthusiasm in the demonstration, and why 5,000 of them stayed throughout the rally thereafter.

Mr. Johnston

That is as may be. I simply said that Councillor Gorrie recorded in an open letter in The Scotsman that he had had approaches of that sort, and I think that it is quite proper to repeat what he said. I do not believe that he would have written those words unless that had happened, and I think that an undesirable atmosphere has been created.

My third point is that there has to be a compromise. There is no question about that. Both sides have to talk, as the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said, and both sides must be willing to be flexible The Secretary of State must accept, first, that the proposed cuts cannot be made in the time proposed without a devastating and unacceptable impact on services. One cannot take about £47 million out of six months' expenditure without a dreadful effect, particularly on the voluntary sector. Secondly, he must accept that the basis of the priorities—the so-called guidelines—is very unclear and some people regard them as unfair.

I quote briefly from Mr. Midwinter's article, and I hope that the Minister will respond. Quoting the Lothian example, he says: Although Lothian recorded quite large rate increases, only a small part results from actual service growth, 14.5 per cent. in 1980–81, and 28.1 per cent. in 1981–82. The combined effect of Government decisions is much more important, even omitting the local decision to fund services on which net grant has previously been paid. These Government decisions account for 44 per cent. of the increases in rates in 1980–81 and 48 per cent. in 1981–82. It is, therefore, unfair of Government to be using rate poundages as a means of determining excessive and unreasonable expenditure, when their own decisions have been the major determinant of these rate increases.

Mr. Rifkind

If a local authority refuses to make economies it is inevitable that the proportion of the expenditure that will have to be paid for by the rates rather than by the rate support grant will become much higher than it would otherwise be.

Mr. Johnston

There is some truth in that, but the question then is whether the Government, in operating this particular mechanism, are approaching the matter in the proper fashion. I agree that it is incredible that the council should state that no economies can be made. Reference has been made to the Tory proposal for savings of £26 million; the Liberals and Social Democrats suggest savings of £23 million, which they say can be made without significant service cuts, and the SNP proposes savings of £14 million. It is possible that cuts can be made.

Dealing briefly with the remarks of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), it is unfair to suggest that it is an improper use of money for the chairman and the treasurer of a council to come down and lobby hon. Members on a matter definitely affecting them. It is correct that they should do so.

To return to the point, in Lothian there is no sustained system for evaluating performance or reviewing efficiency, which is a mistake. As a Liberal, I am oppossed to the cuts and appalled at the damage that they do to supportive services, let alone the potential further increase they may cause in unemployment. However, first, I wish to see the efficient use of resources, and, secondly, I must face the fact that we are dealing with a Government who make the law, even if I do not like the law that they make, or reject the mandate upon which they were elected.

I conclude by appealing to the Government and to the local authorities to turn back from the precipice, because it can only do the gravest damage to the provision of services. The job of the politician is to resolve differences in a way which, although it may achieve as much as possible for the view that he favours, must also, if the solution is to be acceptable and durable, take some account of the views of others.

6.45 pm
Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)

I understand that during my temporary absence from the Chamber the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) said that the Banff and Buchan district council had increased by 35 per cent. my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's guidelines. However, that amount is infinitesimal compared with the £47 million for Lothian regional council. The right hon. Gentleman did not point out that last year the Banff and Buchan district council did not increase its rate poundage by one penny, and the previous year it increased it by only 1p. If local authorities in the Grampian region such as Gordon and Banff and Buchan can do that, why cannot Lothian, Dundee and Stirling?

We are supposed to be debating my right hon. Friend's proposals to withdraw part of the rate support grant from three Scottish local authorities that have refused to implement his request to reduce expenditure. Subject to parliamentary approval, he has the powers to make the cuts against local authorities that he believes will incur excessive and unreasonable expenditure. There is no doubt that those authorities have consistently ignored his requests in the past two years and have paid no heed to setting a local budget that takes account of our economic position and the abject need to minimise the burden not only on ratepayers but also on taxpayers, as the greatest proportion of the RSG is provided from the central public purse.

If all local authorities acted in the same manner as the three that we are discussing, there would be cause for widespread concern about the future of local government in Scotland. However, many, including Banff and Buchan and Gordon in my constituency, have gone a long way to meet my right hon. Friend's request. As a result, the ratepayers of those authorities have not been penalised as severely as those in Lothian region and Dundee and Stirling district councils.

Great publicity has surrounded my right hon. Friend's proposals to reduce the rate support grant for Lothian by £47 million. The ruling Labour—perhaps I should say Socialist-Marxist—group is adamant that cuts cannot be found. It has consistently refused to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter. I find that hard to credit when one takes account of the fact that the elected members of the Conservative group on the council, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), proposed measures for reductions and savings amounting to £28 million which could be implemented with very little delay and without the compulsory loss of one job.

I shall not detain the House, because I know how many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, but I wish to set out the Conservative group's proposals, as they were widely reported in the Scottish press and television and by several hon. Members today. However, an examination of those proposals shows what nonsense it is for the Labour group on Lothian—and also the other two councils—to maintain that there are no avenues for reductions in expenditure which would in any way go towards meeting my right hon. Friend's request.

I find it difficult to understand the sudden intervention of that political Marxist, Mr. Ken Livingstone, chairman of the Greater London Council. From a purely domestic disagreement involving the Secretary of State for Scotland and a few Scottish local authorities, we now have this political dictator from London pushing his nose in and saying that the Lothian fight is his fight. If we accept that statement, we must accept that it makes a farce of the outpourings that we have heard from Opposition Members about devolution for Scotland, should there ever be a Labour Government again, when even a regional local authority in Scotland is prepared to be dominated in its campaign by a London revolutionary.

With the experience that we have had so far of this red revolutionary—he organised the removal of the councillor who should have been the leader of the GLC on the Labour side because he was too much of a moderate—it would be a sad day for the people of Scotland if people such as Mr. Ken Livingstone were allowed to become involved in political matters, as he is attempting to become on this occasion. It says little for the Labour members of the Lothian regional group that they have allowed themselves to be conned by this new Left-winger of the GLC, who, in his office across the bridge, has one wall which he calls "Democracy wall", on which is stuck all his hate mail, along with all his cuttings from Private Eye.

Mr. Norman Hogg

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Are we discussing the Greater London Council, or the reports concerning the Lothian region and Stirling and Dundee district councils? Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to refer to the Greater London Council?

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I became interested in what was being said about the London councillor, who appears to be involved in Lothian. If he was not involved, we must get back as quickly as possible to the reports and leave the subject of that interesting person.

Mr. McQuarrie

With great respect, Mr. Speaker, I am trying to get across to the House the farce of these reports being opposed by Opposition Members, when the campaign against the reports is being led by a red revolutionary from London, who is jumping on every bandwagon. Now he has even entered into the discussion on the H-block issue by interviewing the mother of one of the prisoners.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is going beyond the bounds of Scotland.

Mr. McQuarrie

I conclude my remarks about Mr. Livingstone by saying that he has jumped on this bandwagon because he realises, and rightly—I say that because I am one of the people who are penalised by his actions in London—that if these reports are accepted there is a possibility that the same thing will happen in England because of overspending by people such as him. I have a message for Mr. Ken Livingstone: get off our patch and leave it to the many hon. Members on both sides of the House and local elected councillors in Scotland, who are competent enough to fight for Scottish interests without the intervention of a red revolutionary from London. We can look after our interests. Let him look after his. If the Lothian Labour group is stupid enough to fall for this man's devious actions, it is little wonder that the region is in the state that it is in today.

There is no doubt in my mind that these authorities, particularly Lothian, have set their minds against making any of the reductions requested by my right hon. Friend. If they wish to continue that attitude, the responsibility must lie wih them, and them alone. There are powers under the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975, brought in by a Labour Government, for an application to be made to the Court of Session for the appointment of a judicial factor to take control of the local authority. If the authorities are not prepared to come into line with the other Scottish local authorities, the only course open to them will be to have judicial factors appointed, and at that stage the rebel councillors would lose all control of council affairs.

Although such a move would not be a happy one for either the Government or the local authority, it will be necessary if these councillors are determined to have a showdown with my right hon. Friend and the Government. The Opposition may huff and puff as much as they like about what will happen to this legislation if there is ever another Labour Government, but if they are to be a responsible Opposition they must accept that the law must be upheld, as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) rightly said. No council, regardless of its size or political colour, can dictate policy to the Government of the day, who are responsible not only for ensuring that the law is carried out but for providing the money, to a large extent, which the local authorities are given to carry out their functions.

At the end of this debate, my right hon. Friend 's proposals will be carried with a substantial majority. The three local authorities which have already spent thousands of pounds of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money in attempting to defend their actions will be required to fall into line or face the consequences. I sincerely hope that they will see the light, rid themselves of the red revolutionary from the GLC, and reflect that my right hon. Friend's proposals are not only essential for the well-being of the local authority ratepayers whom they represent but for the country as a whole during the present difficult times.

After today's debate, the decision will rest with the local authorities. I only hope that they will have the grace to accept that what is being asked by my right hon. Friend is reasonable and that, having considered the debate in this House, they will decide that it is wiser to meet him now and save themselves dire consequences in the future. His terms are reasonable, and he is prepared to consider the matter in a reasonable light. Similarly, they should accept the fact that he is a reasonable man who will listen to any reasonable proposition that they put to him. Then there will be less of the hassle that we have had in this debate.

7 pm

Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)

During the past two hours we have heard three speeches from Government Back Benchers. With all due respect to the hon. Gentlemen, in all three speeches they provided a parody of themselves. The speech of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) was such a parody of his normal contributions that even he could not keep a straight face while he presented it to the House. The three hon. Gentlemen called for flexibility and reasonableness on the part of the councillors who are affected by these reports. All three spoke with contempt about the councillors. It is impossible to call for a flexible and reasonable attitude from both sides of the argument while speaking about one side with the shower of contempt that we have heard from the Government Benches.

I have served in local government, and have maintained close connections with it since my election to the House. Scotland is fortunate to have local authority representatives of high calibre and great dedication. It is, perhaps, surprising that Scotland has representatives of such calibre and dedication, given how little are the rewards and given the sacrifices that they have to make in their personal lives and careers. We have a better calibre and commitment from those representatives than we deserve in the light of the contempt poured upon them from the Conservative Benches. I hope that there will be discussions, should the House be mistaken enough to pass the reports. They will take place in a more reasonable frame of mind if those councillors who have overheard what has been said from the Government Benches can set that aside.

We are debating three reports that spring from powers taken by the Government in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981. I spoke last December on Second Reading, as did a number of my hon. Friends. I said that it was unwise for the House to grant the Government powers that were essentially arbitrary, open to arbitrary use and, in the nature of arbitrary powers, open to abuse.

The only Conservative Member who has come near to explaining why the three local authorities have been singled out was the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who, in a moment of uncharacteristic candour, said that we were discussing a small group of Left-wing councils. That is so. That is why they have been selected, and that is why we are discussing them this evening.

Although many of us feared that the powers would be used in an arbitrary manner against those of whose political complexion the Government did not approve, I do not think that any of us feared that the Government would use them to the degree that they have. The Government say that no less than 22 per cent. of the budget of Lothian region between now and 31 March next year is, in the Government's words, "excessive and unreasonable". It is a curious concept that the Government can suddenly announce that they have discovered that no less than one-fifth of a local authority's expenditure is excessive and unreasonable. After all, that local authority is governed by statutes. The House passes those statutes. We pile obligations on local authorities. Governments shower out guidelines to assist local authorities to interpret their duties under the statutes.

The last Tory Government produced a positive avalanche of guidelines on how local authorities should interpret the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. Lothian region still under-provides on every one of the major guidelines. It is a measure of the extent to which the Tory Party has moved to the Right that an attempt by a local authority to make provision towards the guidelines issued by the last Tory Government as a decent minimum should be regarded by the present Tory Government as an excessive and unreasonable level of service.

We must look beyond our contribution to local authority spending in a corporate sense, as a House of Commons sitting in Parliament, to the contribution that we make as individuals campaigning on behalf of our constituents for higher expenditure in our constituencies. During the past three years Lothian region has provided eight new community centres. That is one reason why it has a high revenue expenditure. One centre is almost at the bottom of my garden. I take no credit for that provision because it is not in my constituency, but in the constituency of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). He can take credit for it because he led a campaign of local residents demanding the community centre at the foot of my garden. There was a time in 1978 when I could not go to my door without finding yet another leaflet from the hon. Gentleman assuring me that he was doing everything possible to provide me with a community centre. Conservative Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot demand added provisions for their constituents and then run away from the revenue consequences.

Edinburgh is short on places in old folk's homes. It has less than half the number laid down in the last Tory Government guidelines. One home is constructed, but still needs to be equipped, staffed and opened. It is in Sighthill in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). If the report is passed, and if Lothian region is obliged to make the cuts sought in the report, that home cannot open. Even if we forget about the £47 million proposed in the report, had the budget proposed by the Conservative opposition in Lothian last week been accepted, it would not have been possible to open that home. That budget froze any recruitment of new staff, which would be essential to open the home. I do not believe that the Under-Secretary is prepared to return to his constituency and tell his constituents that the opening of that home is "excessive and unreasonable". I do not believe that he has yet grasped the enormity of the consequences of what he is demanding of Lothian region.

The very fact that the Government are so amazed at the redundancy consequences of what they are demanding demonstrates that they do not have the expertise on which to base the presumption that they, sitting at St. Andrews House with their civil servants around them, can determine for Lothian, Dundee, Stirling or any one of 65 local authorities what spending is excessive and unreasonable. The Secretary of State poured scorn on the idea of 15,000 redundancies. The arithmetic is simple and inescapable. It has not been arrived at by the Labour group. The arithmetic has been carried out by senior officials who are well qualified and with long experience in local authority affairs.

Sixty per cent. of all Lothian region's budget is spent on staffing. The remaining 40 per cent. contains elements that cannot be reduced. For example, 12 per cent. is loan charges. I do not suppose that the Government will suggest that Lothian region should default on its loan charges. It is an inescapable fact that a high proportion of the saving of 22 per cent. that the Government are seeking must be found from staffing costs.

The problem with achieving savings through staffing costs is that we are already three months into the financial year. It will require more than 100 redundancies to achieve even the savings talked about by the Conservatives in Lothian region. Once more than 100 redundancies are declared, three months' notice must be given to the Department of Employment so that it can mediate, although I do not know who it can mediate with in these circumstances. Even if, on 1 August, Lothian region issued redundancy notices, they cannot take effect until 1 November. After they take effect, there will have to be substantial redundancy payments. If the region is to make savings of the sum mentioned by the Secretary of State in the report on 1 November, it must declare redundancies of sufficient magnitude to generate those savings net of redundancy payments by 31 March 1982. If we do the arithmetical calculation, the figure to emerge is 15,000 redundancies.

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman has read the representations from Lothian region, he can confirm that the figure of 15,000 redundancies is based on the assumption that of the original figure of £53 million, £29 million would have to be saved from staff and £24 million by non-staff measures. Can he confirm that on the basis of those figures, on which he is placing such great reliance, Lothian will save at least £24 million before the question of staff comes into the operation?

Mr. Cook

The £24 million came out of the remaining 28 per cent.—that is, the 40 per cent. non-staff expenditure less the 12 per cent. loan charges. To achieve that £24 million, it will be necessary to halt maintenance and the purchase of supplies. It is true that that can be done in one year, but in the next year that sum must be recouped.

I turn to the Tory budget in the Lothian region, to which all Conservative Members have referred. It contains a provision to reduce highway maintenance from £2.6 million to £0.6 million. That removes £2 million from the highways maintenance programme. That will produce substantial redundancies in the small local businesses that depend on that expenditure—yet we are told that the Tory Government are in favour of such businesses. Secondly, it is not a saving. It is not an economy. It is not eliminating waste. It means, for example, that holes in the roads will be left unfilled. There will come a stage, either next year or the year after, when the holes will have to be filled or the roads will cease to be trustworthy. If that stage is reached, there will be even more expenditure than if the authority had maintained a reasonable programme of road maintenance.

It is clear that the Tory budget sets out not savings or economies. It contains some odd assumptions. The key assumption in the Tory package that was presented to the regional council, the one that would produce the greatest revenue, was that, if offered early retirement, one-third of all the Lothian region's employees over 50 years of age would opt for that, and would do so by 1 September to enable the Conservatives to get their calculations right. There is not a shred of justification for assuming that one in three of those over 50 would opt for early retirement even if it were on offer.

The Tories were not providing economies or savings. They were providing cuts in services such as highway maintenance. They suggested recouping £2.5 million by reducing the concessionary element in bus fares. That is not a saving or an economy. It means asking the elderly and the disabled to pay more for their bus fares. That is how one obtains more money by reducing concessions for fares. That is the consequence of the budget that they were proposing.

If the report is carried and if cuts of such magnitude are implemented, there will be a reduction in services. In reality the Government are arguing that it is not expenditure that is excessive and unreasonable but the level of services provided in the Lothian region. I am prepared to defend the level of service. The region now has 12 per cent. more children in further education than in 1978. That has resulted in increased education expenditure. I consider it to be a right and proper expansion. We now have more unemployed teenagers than ever before. It is exactly the time when we should be increasing educational opportunity. If the nation has any future, it lies in high technology industries. We shall not secure that future if we continue to under-invest in further education.

Since 1978 the region has increased the number of elderly persons receiving home help from 7,000 to 10,000. I do not regard that as excessive and unreasonable. It is a proper and defensible increase. Indeed, the provision of home helps for 10,000 elderly people does not meet the need that exists in the region, which I know at first hand.

Irrespective of whether Conservative Members share my view that the level of service that I have described is not excessive but reasonable and right and proper, the question that they have to ask themselves is whether it is legitimate for the Government majority in the House of Commons to decide what the level of provision should be in the Lothian region. That is what we are debating.

The Secretary of State argued that all previous Governments had taken a view on local authority expenditure. That is true. It is also true that all previous Governments have used their rate support grant powers to try to influence the level of local authority expenditure. That right of the Government is not at issue. Governments raise the rate support grant and they pay it. Therefore, they have a right to decide the level of that grant. That right is not questioned by the Opposition. As I have said, it is a right that is not at issue. The Government have already reduced the RSG for the Lothian region. It is already receiving £20 million less in RSG than should be made available to it on any reasonable assumption. We are debating a separate and additional reduction of £47 million in the rate-borne expenditure of Lothian region.

If the electors of the Lothian region want a high level of service and are prepared to pay the high rates that are necessary to finance it, that is a matter for them. Some Conservative Members, including the Secretary of State, have suggested that it is necessary to place the reports before the House to protect the ratepayers. That claim is bogus. Within less than 10 months there will be elections in the Lothian region. The regional council will have to go to the electorate to defend the rate that has been struck on the basis of the services that it has provided. If the ratepayers are incensed by what has been happening and if they are not prepared to pay the rates, it will be open to them to turn out the regional council and to put in one of another hue. That is their right, and that decision should be left to them. It is that decision which the Government are seeking to take away from the electors of the regional council.

Mr. Henderson

I go along with the hon. Gentleman up to a point. However, is it not a fact that there are many electors who are not involved in rate paying?

Mr. Cook

It has never been argued in modern times that the payment of tax is a necessary precondition for having qualification for the electoral franchise. That idea was thrown out in the middle of the nineteenth century. Some of my hon. Friends who are historians will be able to tell me whether that happened in 1832 or 1868. It was at about that time that we managed to bring the Victorian Tory Party to accept the idea that those who did not pay taxes had a right to vote. I very much regret it if there are some backwoodsmen among Conservative Back Benchers who believe that what Disraeli did in the mid-nineteenth century was a mistake and that the universal franchise has been one big error.

Our political system is already highly centralised. It is rather more centralised than the political systems of many other countries. Local authorities are the only elected bodies outside Parliament. They are the only bodies that have a popular franchise other than the Government. That is why I recoil with horror from the idea that is embodied in the reports that local authorities should be reduced to the same state of subservience to which the Government have reduced their Back Benchers. If we extinguish the independence of local authorities, we shall be removing the one independent check on the action of the Government.

What is at issue is the right of local communities to disagree with the policy obsessions of the Government and to elect a local authority which represents their own distinctive view and which rejects the policy that is being pursued by central Government, which is the democratic right of a local community. It is that right which is under attack in the reports. If we remove the democratic right of local communities to elect local authorities that resist the policy obsessions of central Government, we are reducing the only practical form of dissent to the street riot. A society in which only that form of dissent was permitted would be a less healthy society, a less efficient economy and a profoundly less pleasant place in which to live. I am not prepared to connive in a step towards that society and, therefore, I shall be voting against the reports.

7.18 pm
Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) has canvassed the principles that lie behind the reports. It is clear that they constitute an invasion of local democracy. They almost certainly represent an attack by the Treasury on the level of services in Scotland. If the reports are implemented, there will be a general contribution to be demanded from other local authorities to make up the shortfall, whatever that might be.

Even before we started the financial proceedings of this year and the negotiations on grants, Scottish local authorities were in the midst of a cash crisis. They had exceeded the spending targets set by the Government. Three factors had accounted for that excess. First, local authorities had started the financial year 1980–81 by approving budgets of £83 million in excess of the Government's guidelines. At that time Lothian, the Highlands and Fife were the main contributors to the excess among the regions, although cumulatively the districts' excesses contributed most to the sum. Altogether there was a 5 per cent. excess on the Government's total planned target for local authority spending within Scotland. Secondly, the Government's cash limits put an upper ceiling on the amount of rate support grant given to cover pay and price increases. Councillors found to their cost that that was inadequate to cover inflation. They also had to bear the costs of additional interest on loans, although that was a relatively minor figure compared to the overall cuts which had been made.

At that stage it seemed that local government was coming more and more under Treasury control. If the reports go through, just as the local authorities will become veritable puppets of central Government, so, in a way, the Scottish Office will be acting under the orders of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Government economic strategy. That strategy has already been found to be at fault in relation to the general economy and our country's industry. Equally, it is begining to have adverse effects on the local authorities concerned.

One of the significant things in the documentation which has been produced to the House is the wide variation amongst the different local authorities. It is right that that should be so. Our system implies, by election of councillors, that they are entitled to take collective viewpoints in their areas of the needs and obligations of those districts. That is the essence of the system. If we did not give them the power to rate or to spend, and if we did not give them the duties to look after their people in terms of their electoral responsibilities, we might as well wipe them away and replace them with a system of prefects, as in France. Direct rule would take away what vestiges of democracy might exist at local level.

It is also significant that such is the compression and such are the twists of the tourniquet that a large proportion of the councils have found that they are unable to meet the guidelines. It is not as if the three councils which we are discussing, which are the leaders in respect of overspending, are the only ones which are affected. Throughout Scotland, in local authorities of differing political complexions, one finds that they have been unable to meet the guidelines which have been laid down. The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) was right to put it on record that at one time the guidelines were meant to be guidelines. Now we find that they are bars which seek to circumscribe the freedom of local authorities and to take from them the right to deal with their local affairs.

It is correct, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central said, that the regional authority in particular will have to account to its electors come May of next year. Although the district councils will have to go for another two and three-quarter years before the elections, the principle at stake is the most important one—they are accountable to their electors. If they go berserk, do daft things and overspend wildly in certain directions, or if they cut back drastically and close old people's homes and so on, they in turn will have to be responsible to the electorate come the great day of judgment, whenever the elections are. The Government are doing a dangerous thing. In a way, they are trying to recast the whole of our local government structure to deal with an economic and monetary crisis of their own making. However, the legacy which they will leave behind will outlast the outcome of our deliberations today, or the crisis which has been generated and which will have to be answered for over the next two, three or four months.

Once those powers are taken and exercised, they will be used repeatedly by the Government. I know that the right hon. Member for Craigton has given a pledge to the House, which I welcome, that should his party be in Government next time round, it will repeal the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act. However, what worries me is that, based on the precedents now established, some of them going back to 1966 and 1919 and quoted ad infinitum, something will take the place of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act, which will be no more palatable to those in local government.

The Government demand that council staffing in Scotland should be reduced by 10,000 this year. In April this year, Mr. William Fitzgerald, the president of COSLA and a Conservative councillor, said that it did not make sense to have people on the dole when they could be engaged in productive work. He warned that the effect of the proposed reductions in the rate support grant would be to lower the level of services provided. Councillor Fitzgerald went on to claim that The disaster I fear is that this generation of school leavers will carry with them throughout their lives a feeling of bitterness and hatred of society. With the responsibility of his office, that was a lesson which the president of COSLA was right to read out to the Government and to the public.

In relation to the budgets which are under attack, it is not possible for me to deal with the budget for Stirling or Lothian. My vote and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) will be cast on the question of principle.

I shall say a few words about Dundee district council. It has told me that its expenditure of £58.20 per head compared with the Scottish average of £57.40—those were the figures, not the £1 million mentioned by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). It said in particular that the needs and resources elements were too low. It directed my attention to the fact that central Government funding, which was cast on that basis some years ago when the industrial climate in Dundee was healthier than it is now, takes no account of either the needs of a city with an increasing level of deprivation or the reduction in resources. In any discussions which the Government have with the Dundee district council, they should take that point into account and they should also consider increases in the variation in the needs and resources elements in next year's figures. The economic rundown in the city is dangerous. The Government must take that into account in their calculations.

However, the 150 per cent. rates increase which was fixed by the Dundee district council this year takes a lot of swallowing. The hon. Member for Dundee, West prompted me to come along with my alternative budget, as if I were a district councillor in Dundee. I sometimes think that the hon. Member for Dundee, West regards himself here at Westminister as a district councillor, because when he talks of his council he acts as if he were a professional apologist for it instead of an independent critic, although he is, perhaps, sympathetic to its political background. He will have to learn that his duty as a Member of Parliament is wider than simply justifying his district council, right or wrong and whatever the consequences.

Mr. Lang


Mr. Allan Stewart


Mr. Wilson

I shall not give way. Not even the temptation of a call from Galloway would encourage me to do so. If such a call had come from the hon. Member for Dundee, West, that would have been another matter. However, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart).

Mr. Allan Stewart

Accepting what the hon. Member says, nevertheless Members of Parliament are entitled to take an overall judgment. Does he or does he not support the total planned level of expenditure by Dundee district for this year—"Yes" or "No"?

Mr. Wilson

I do not know why the hon. Member is intervening, because I have already said that I do not approve of the overall budget, and I believe that it will have to be revised.

The 150 per cent. rates increase is something that will have to be established. In Dundee, even amongst people who voted for the Labour Party, there was considerable anger at the way in which the rates were increased. The Dundee district council Labour group has behaved with all the delicacy of a charging rhinoceros. In its every encounter so far with the Government, it has lost. It was the only council in default in Scotland over housing. It lost that battle after all its wild talk. It lost housing finance, part of which was attributable to the Government, but part of which was also attributable to its own actions. It is almost as if the council was able to touch gold and convert it into lead.

Mr. Lang

I have listened with great care to the hon. Gentleman, and I still find it difficult to establish where the SNP stands on the fundamental principle of the relationship between local government and central Government. He and I both know that the approach of the Labour Party is based on deeply held and strongly felt opportunism. Does the SNP propose that in an independent, separate Scotland the Parliament would allow local authorities to run riot through all national expenditure plans, or would it propose to legislate to control local authorities and thereafter to encourage them to conduct a campaign of civil disobedience?

Mr. Wilson

I shall deal with the question of central control a little later. I was merely indicating that in my view the district council played into the Government's hands and that it has lost sympathy with many ordinary citizens who regard it as spendthrift.

One of the council's problems, when it tries to make responsible points, is that it has a bad reputation. I have with me a copy of a letter that appeared in the Dundee Courier this month from Mr. George Gilmour of Balloch Place. It stated: After reading with anger and amazement of the invitations to 44 Dundee district councillors and their partners to attend four days of feasting and merrymaking I think it is a downright liberty to expect the ratepayers to foot this bill, even if it is a civic festival. He says that he was recently forced to join the dole queue, that he and his wife are now on social security and that they are still only 60 years of age. The end of his letter states: I think it is about time the district council spent more of its time on solving the urgent problems and less time spending ratepayers' money on entertainment for themselves and their partners.

In response to another letter in the Dundee Courier, one district councillor was provoked into defending himself. On 11 July, a letter appeared under the heading "Absent", and stated: Sir,—Re Mr. A. Dawson's letter, it might be as well to get the record straight. Not all the 44 Dundee District Councillors are attending the 'junketing' and the writer of this letter is one who will be absent from every function.

There is nothing wrong with that, except that the letter was signed: District councillor. Name and address supplied". It is almost as if it is dangerous for a Dundee district councillor not to be associated with a waste of public money.

In another letter, Mrs. Ellenor Lynch of 35 Ellengowan Drive, Dundee, said: As a dedicated and lifelong Socialist I find myself wondering if our present councillors are not following the works of Groucho instead of Karl. Those are some of the comments in the local newspapers from people who might well be Labour voters. One of them was certainly a lifelong Socialist.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central dealt well with the question of central control. There is a danger that local authorities are merely becoming local arms of a national bureaucracy and that they are playing a diminishing role. If there is a demise of local authorities, and if we become subject to central Government control, there is a real danger that we shall lose something that is of great value in Scotland.

I, too, pay tribute to the many local authorities, including Dundee district council, which have striven to deal with the fact that Government money has been cut to such an extent that they find it difficult to manage. The Government have put such authorities in an impossible situation.

The debate also raises the question of a local income tax as an alternative to rates, but that is another subject. The SNP does not accept the Tory mandate to implement these cuts. Local authorities should save waste and give good value for money. However, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central said, they should also provide the services that are required by the general public.

The Government have done themselves or Scotland no good by the measures now before us. We do not accept their mandate—we hope that the Labour Opposition also will not accept it—to rule Scotland.

7.35 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Perth and East Perthshire)

As a member of a party that put up so few candidates during the local government elections, and which has so few councillors, it speaks ill of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) to put forward the policies to which he referred.

The hon. Gentleman referred to Councillor Fitzgerald, the convener of Tayside region. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will agree that Councillor Fitzgerald has always supported the Government's policies, as has the ruling party in the Tayside region. Therefore, to quote Councillor Fitzgerald out of context does neither Councillor Fitzgerald nor the hon. Gentleman any good.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) referred to Acts on the statute book that required local authorities to carry out statutory duties. He was right to draw attention to that fact. One of the sadnesses of this place is that we fondly imagine that we can put legislation on the statute book and leave others to carry it out without willing the means to do so.

After the war, successive Governments did just that. They put Acts on the statute book based on growth that did not materialise. The crunch came when the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), had to go to the IMF to get it to bail us out. That was followed by the actions of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), who demanded substantial reductions from Scottish local authorities.

At that time, no effort was made by the Labour Government to change the Acts on the statute book in order to reduce the burden on local authorities, yet that was the only honest course available to them. I hope that the present Government will seriously consider Acts that are on the statute book and bear in mind that at present they do not will the means by which the burdens imposed by those Acts can be carried out. It is dishonest to do otherwise. For example, the Social Work (Scotland) Act was on the statute book when the Labour Government were in office, yet they made no attempt to amend it, knowing full well that Lothian and other regions would have difficulty meeting their statutory requirements because of the reductions demanded by the right hon. Member for Craigton.

My interest in the debate centres around the report relating to the Dundee district. I and my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Fraser) have constituency interests, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will speak later about his. I merely draw attention to the fact that more than 2,000 of my electors—5,000 individuals in all—live in the Dundee district. I therefore believe that I have a real and genuine constituency interest.

We hear so much about local democracy that it is interesting to look at the results of the last district council elections in Dundee. They show that my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus and myself represent 11 per cent. of the electorate of that district. The Labour council was elected by 26 per cent. of the electorate. The opposition parties polled 22 per cent. of the votes, but 52 per cent. of the electorate did not vote. Therefore, based on 4 per cent. of the electorate, the Labour council claims a massive mandate to increase the rates by 150 per cent.

Mr. Ernie Ross

I am sure the hon. Gentleman accepts that, if people are not prepared to get off their backsides and vote, they can hardly claim later that they intended to vote one way or the other. He will also be aware that Dundee district council received the highest vote of any local authority at the last district council election.

Mr. Walker

The hon. Gentleman has just made the point that I was about to make. The sadness of it is that we come here and talk about local authority mandates when the majority of the people living in the constituencies, the districts or the regions do not bother to vote. There must be something very wrong with the way in which we run our affairs if the majority of the people, to use the hon. Gentleman's phrase, are not prepared to get off their backsides. I find that very disturbing.

The Opposition also keep saying that local authorities in Scotland have a mandate to speak on behalf of the people of Scotland. As has been clearly shown, it is a pretty thin mandate. They keep telling us that the Government should call for a fresh mandate. They say that we should go to the people because we do not have the support of the people. Is the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), for example, asking Dundee district council to call for a fresh mandate on the same hypothesis? Why is it right for the Government to go for a fresh mandate but not for Dundee district? I doubt whether those councillors would be re-elected with a mandate on the basis of a 150 per cent. increase in rates.

I turn to the response of Dundee district council to the reports. I draw attention to its comments on the level of rates levied and the reason behind it. Referring to the local authority, it says: Now the whole structure is in danger of collapse due to the determination of the Government to impose cuts at all costs—including the cost of sweeping away the last remnants of local autonomy. I draw the attention of the hon. Member for Dundee, West to the fact that Dundee, West and Perth and East Perthshire share one council, but I have another council, too—Perth and Kinross district council. The degree of independence that we talk about and which is claimed to be at risk is certainly not viewed in that way by the councillors of Perth and Kinross. Indeed, I can think of no more independent group of councillors, both collectively and individually, than those of Perth and Kinross. They were certainly not puppets of the Government, either before or after the Act under which these reports are laid. They are independent and they do not see anything that is happening as affecting that independence.

Members of all parties, I think, would agree that the most critical issue facing Dundee is the problem of jobs in the city. The hon. Member for Dundee, West referred to this, and I certainly agree with him that this problem concerns us all and something must be done about it. I hope that he will agree with me, however, that savage increases in rates may deter firms from coming to the district and, indeed, destroy existing jobs.

Given its geographical location on the Tay estuary, Dundee should be in a unique position to exploit the boom in mainstream and downstream oil-related jobs. It also has additional advantages over other places. For example, a six-apartment house in Dundee would cost about £45,000. In Aberdeen, it would cost more than £60,000. A five-apartment, three-bedroomed villa in Dundee would cost £32,000, whereas in Aberdeen it would be about £42,000. The cost of residential land in Aberdeen is about £60,000 per acre compared with about £25,000 per acre in Dundee.

Dundee therefore has built-in geographical and cost advantages. Why has it been unable to exploit them? Could there be something wrong with the image projected by the city as a result, for example, of the 150 per cent. increase in rates?

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock)

Could it be that there was a Conservative council in Dundee during the relevant period? The oil boom is not new. It has been going on for some time. Indeed, a recent SDA report suggests that Dundee has missed the boat with regard to oil and that it is now too late. The hon. Gentleman cannot blame that on a 150 per cent. rise in rates.

Mr. Walker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is surprising how often Opposition Members are just a little ahead of me. I was about to refer to successive councils in Dundee.

Interestingly, the previous council attempted to redress the balance by reducing the rates. Previous Labour administrations, sadly—I did not wish to refer to this, but the hon. Gentleman leaves me no option—in the key years for the oil boom reflected a shocking image which those of us who are Dundonians would not wish to remember. I give credit to Labour Members for the fact that they took no part in that and are determined to erase that memory, but we must acknowledge that it is there. That is the problem which faced the citizens of Dundee in trying to bring jobs to Dundee. I therefore repeat that it was the cavalier attitude of the local authority towards rates and expenditure, because that relates also to the previous Labour administration.

Could the problem be, for example, the rather naive and silly way in which the council goes about employing people such as research assistants to provide the local ruling group with Left-wing material at the ratepayers' expense? That is hardly a clever way to put out an image of an authority which cares.

Mr. Ernie Ross


Mr. Walker

Could it be the trips to Nablus, again on the charge of the ratepayers? All of those things affect the image of the town.

Mr. Ross


Mr. Walker

When one links that with the attitude of the authority to the rule of law, one must surely acknowledge that a difficult situation is being made more difficult by an authority which does not understand that its image is important and the way that it acts is important. If it does not agree with the Government of the day, it should act responsibly and acknowledge and believe, as Labour Members keep telling us, that one of these days an alternative Government will come to office and will remove this hideous legislation. That is the correct and proper way to behave.

The Government and the Secretary of State have adopted a reasonable posture. They have told the local authority that they are prepared to have discussions with it. Dundee district council argues in its paper that the problem is due to local changes. People have been leaving for a variety of reasons, but services have to be maintained. It also argues that there are problems locally. No one would deny that. Nevertheless, if one examines that council's record and performance as compared with the other authority in which I have an interest, Perth and Kinross, it comes out extremely badly.

Let us consider the situation with regard to the over-65 age group, which calls for additional expenditure and caring. In Dundee district, the proportion of over-65s in the population in 1977 was 14.4 per cent. In Perth and Kinross it was 16.3 per cent. In 1978, the proportion was 14.7 per cent. in Dundee and 16.5 per cent. in Perth and Kinross. In 1980, it was 15 per cent. in Dundee and 16.4 per cent. in Perth and Kinross. I draw attention to this because we must acknowledge that the swingeing increase in rates in Dundee will affect an already difficult situation.

The major employer in Dundee in the service sector is the Tayside regional council, with 16,000 employees. Every penny that Dundee district puts on the rates costs the region £52,000. The Tayside health board has 11,000 employees. It, too, is affected. Government Departments have 1,000 employees. The Post Office has 1,500. The list is endless. They are all faced with swingeing increases in their rates, because every penny that is put on the rates has to be paid for.

Let us consider what is happening in Perth and Kinross district. The largest employer is the General Accident Fire and Life Assurance Corporation, which is currently building a massive new office block in Perth. It employs approximately 5 per cent. of the population. Would it have done this if its rates had gone up by 150 per cent.? Of course not. Nor would Bells, Peter Thompson and Spirax Binding have expanded. That is one of the reasons why draw attention to the fact—

Mr. Ernie Ross


Mr. Walker

I have already given way to the hon. Member and he has made his speech.

My constituents care very much about jobs and about the future prospects for their children, and they want it to be noted in this House that the swingeing increases that Dundee district is proposing are damaging to the prospects of the city and to the people living there.

Labour Members frequently claim that the Government are doctrinaire and that they are monetarists. Yet the Government have spent more money in real terms than the previous Labour Administration spent. Were the Labour Administration monetarists? If Dundee district had been prepared to enter into meaningful discussions and negotiations with my right hon. and hon. Friends, I am sure that we could look forward to something coming out of them.

I said in a previous debate in the House that I do not believe that everything that Dundee district does is bad. It is not, and it would be nonsense to pretend that it is. But there are areas in which it is open to criticism, and it is part of the job of a Member of Parliament representing constituents in the district to make sure that the criticisms are debated in this place at the appropriate time.

If the Dundee district Labour group is prepared to enter into meaningful discussions and to look at how reductions in expenditure can be achieved, through natural wastage, earlier retirement and modifications in recruitment policy, I believe that the Secretary of State will move nearer towards a solution of the problem on a mutually agreed basis, which is essential.

I remind hon. Members that Perth and Kinross district increased its rate by 12.5 per cent. in 1979–80, by 16.5 per cent. in 1980–81, and by 14.2 per cent. in 1981–82. If Dundee district council had done exactly the same, the debate would not have been necessary. No one has suggested that Perth and Kinross is not providing services.

Mr. McKelvey

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member continually to refer to Perth and East Perthshire when there are no proposals and are not likely to be any proposals in regard to clawback in its general expenses?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

The hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) may refer to Perth in relation to the reports.

Mr. Walker

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a typical ploy of the Left to stifle any comment that shows up the failings and weaknesses of its case. The hon. Gentleman does his cause a disservice. I have listened to him in the past, and I believe that he can make his points without endeavouring to stifle honest debate and discussion.

Between 1978–79 and 1981–82, expenditure per capita in Dundee rose. Let us compare that with the average in other districts, which comes out at about 10.2 per cent. That puts the spending proposed in Dundee into perspective. I am confident that the difference can be reduced, given good will. If the authority will stop pretending that it is going into battle against the Government, carrying the flag on behalf of the downtrodden Left, I am confident that we can get a sane and rational answer.

I hope that Dundee district will follow the example of Tayside region and Perth and Kinross district council, both Conservative-controlled councils, which co-operated with the right hon. Member for Craigton when he demanded reductions. There was no question then of these allegedly belligerent authorities demanding something different. They co-operated because they recognised that it was in the nation's interest to do so. The two councils showed by their co-operation and by the reduction in their expenditure that it can still be achieved and should be achieved. Dundee district should follow these councils and co-operate with the Secretary of State, even if he is of a different political party, for the benefit of Dundee and for the benefit of Scotland.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I reiterate what Mr. Speaker said earlier about brief speeches. We have had just over four hours of debate, with 11 speakers. Twelve hon. Members are trying to catch my eye, and the debate must finish at 10 pm.

7.56 pm
Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)

I thought that that was one of the more reasonable speeches of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). At least there was occasionally an attempt to get some kind of understanding beween the authority and the Government. For that reason I welcome his speech and regard it as a change. I shall not comment on some of the other speeches by Conservative Members because I have heard them all before.

We have had some well-documented and interesting constituency speeches from some of my hon. Friends. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has gone. I could not fathom what he was trying to get at. I am a tolerant and sympathetic person. Any party that has Jim Sillars in it needs a bit of sympathy and understanding. As the SNP is hardly likely to form the next Government, we do not need to pay much attention to it.

I make no apology for widening the debate, in the sense of taking it into the Scottish context, because the debate is not only about Lothian, Dundee or Stirling, and none of my hon. Friends would dispute that. It even involves the Greater London Council and some of the English authorities. Hon. Members will not be surprised, therefore, if I make some general comments about attitudes rather than about the detailed case that has already been made by some of my colleagues.

It is a sad day for Scotland, with the announcement of the highest unemployment figures on record. It is also a sad day for local government that we are in this kind of impasse or faced with this confrontation. It is not healthy for local democracy or parliamentary democracy. Therefore, I want to see whether there is a way out of the impasse into which the Government have got themselves.

I do not believe in the gimmicky politics of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown). In case anyone thinks that I am being too personal, may I say that it dawned on me, when I saw the Secretary of State for the Environment, that if ever a man would be totally incapable of getting a response from English local authorities on the problems facing the communities, it is someone who himself has been so disgraceful in his conduct in this House. How anyone—whether it is my hon. Friend the Member for Leith or the Secretary of State for the Environment—can possibly have the brass neck to go to local authorities and try to calm down rioters or riotous situations is beyond me. Even in the difficult situation in which Scottish local government finds itself, I hope that there is room for tolerance, understanding and compromise.

In the past two years we have warned the Government. I shall refresh memories of the Secretary of State and the Minister. The Labour Party lost the general election. That led to frustrations and to problems within the Labour Party. Some o:' those problems and frustrations are well documented. It would be wrong to deny that there is a new political situation as new attitudes have developed within the trade union movement, the Labour movement and local government. The Labour Party lost the election. The people of Scotland were frustrated because we lost the argument about devolution. I am not arguing only about the 40 per cent. provision. Indeed, I thought that the 40 per cent. provision should never have been included. Equally, it was disappointing that we could not get 40 per cent. of the people to support a major constitutional change. That also led to frustration and discontent on the political scene.

I have regularly warned the Government that there are many new members on local authorities. I do not wish to be patronising, but they have not been in local government long and they have not held power for long. As we all know, power corrupts. It should be treasured and guarded, especially when people are new to it. We have warned the Government that they are dealing with Labour-controlled local authorities that are more political than ever before. I am not speaking about some plot by the Militant Tendency. There has been a healthy raising of political consciousness on the part of those active in political life. The Government must take that into account in their dealings with local authorities.

I do not understand how it is possible to justify spending public money on youth opportunities schemes and so on when the job could be done by local authorities. I was a member of a Government who did that. I could never understand the economic justification for it. On the one hand, local authorities are told that they cannot spend money on cutting grass in old folk's gardens but, on the other, that if kids go down the road to the Manpower Services Commission office they will be given the money to do that job. I cannot understand the economic or financial logic of such policies. Again, that has frustrated elected local government members.

The Government introduced three Bills for Scotland. I refer to the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill, the Education (Scotland) Bill and the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which has led to these orders. The Government did not make one concession on the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill although some of us begged them to make concessions and not to adopt such a hard-line approach. Whatever else that Bill may have meant for tenants, it was a vicious attack on the rights and responsibilities of local government. The Government can make a case for the Act, but they should not let themselves be deceived into believing that it is not an attack on local government and the rights of locally elected representatives to make decisions in the interests of their electors. The Government must take some responsibility for what they see as the current intransigence and difficulties.

Again, the Government wrote rights into the Education (Scotland) Bill that will conflict with those of locally elected education authorities. There can be no question of that. In addition, we warned the Government that they were seeking trouble in the provisions of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill. Of course, both sides must be reasonable. An authority must be reasonable and accept the rule of Parliament. The Government must be reasonable and must accept the independence—as far as that is practicable and possible—of local government.

The Secretary of State is normally reasonable. I beg him to accept that he has pursued policies that have played into the hands of some colleagues in local government who wish to take on the Government. That is not healthy. I do not say that because the Labour Party may come into office. Some colleagues in local government would take a Labour Government on as well. However, that is not healthy. No doubt, I shall not be involved in the next Labour Government—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] If, by popular demand, I was pressured into taking a job, I might consider it.

I plead with the Secretary of State to bear in mind that by introducing the three reports he is making it difficult to achieve a balanced and reasonable relationship between the local authorities and the Government. I am not saying that this is all the fault of the Government or of Lothian region. One would think, having listened to the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), that that was the only thing that he could talk about. It is not all the fault of local government. I appeal to the Secretary of State to be reasonable.

Local government is good. It is much more efficient and effective than it has ever been before. Even the documentation received from the three authorities proves that point. That point is highlighted by a submission made by Stirling authority. It states that no two authorities "are exactly alike". That is a most profound statement. The Secretary of State looks a wee bit pained, as if he did not agree. He travels round the country and must know that no two authorities are alike in their rateable value, their size, the size of their respective populations or in the way that councillors approach the problem.

Even those with slide rules in New St. Andrew's House find it almost impossible to make accurate comparisons. The Government tried to write into local government: legislation the ability to make comparisons. They tried to produce criteria to meet that point. However, that is extremely difficult to do. Stirling highlighted a self-evident fact that no two authorities are alike and that it is difficult to make comparisons.

In Stirling the population is increasing as new people come into the area. However, it is almost regarded as a crime if a local authority tries to meet a demand, to improve a service or to create a new one. Is that now a crime? Of course, it is not. I am told that the Secretary of State for Scotland is a ratepayer in Stirling district council. He must know that a Labour Government face a different problem. Labour Governments do not have to chastise Tory councils for spending too much. Tory councils have never provided the services. Argyll and Bute are good examples. What has Argyll county council been doing for the last 20-odd years? Why has it not built some of the schools and houses that are demanded from a Labour Government? The relationship between local authorities and central Government is different when a Labour Government are in power.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman is right. It is different. It was particularly different when his right hon. Friend asked local authorities in 1976 to be economical and to make reductions and received warm and helpful support from the Conservative authorities and outright opposition from many Labour authorities.

Mr. Brown

As a general rule, Conservative local authorities do not spend as much in providing services as Labour-controlled authorities. I think that Conservative Members will recognise that I make a fair point. There is not, therefore, the same possibility for confrontation or conflict as exists when there is a Tory Government with no mandate from the people of Scotland. That is a factor that must be taken into account. There is a greater possibility of confrontation between a Conservative Government and big and powerful—they are bigger and more powerful than in the past—local authorities under Labour control. It is not the case that people are deliberately seeking confrontation. It is simply easier to get into that kind of situation.

The Secretary of State has said, I understand, that even if the reports are approved tonight, he is willing to talk and to continue talking. That must be reasonable. I am not saying whether a week, a fortnight or a month should be allowed for talks. No one in politics likes to be humiliated in public. That is the case whether it is the Government, Lothian, Dundee or Stirling. However, once the right hon. Gentleman acquires this power he must act reasonably and hope that people will come together to thrash out the problem.

Some of my hon. Friends, including, I am sure, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang), will, if called to speak, be stressing the difficulty of even expecting Lothian to implement cuts of the size demanded at this stage in the financial year. There are practical as well as political problems. I beg the Secretary of State to be reasonable. It might be seen as rubbing salt in the wound if he insists that Labour-controlled authorities be obliged to make payments back to ratepayers. That is a clever, well-thought-out ploy. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be reasonable. I hope that he will not rub salt in the wound by insisting on these payments as a precondition to talks. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head.

I have no responsibility, nor am I speaking for any authority. I merely indicate that the House is in the last stages of the parliamentary Session.

If the Secretary of State wants to act against other authorities, he will have to do that before next week or not at all. If he does not, it would seem unfair to single out the three authorities we are discussing in advance of others. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will take the point.

I am not deploying this argument as a device or tactic for avoiding talks. I am merely asking the Government for an indication of whether they are willing to act reasonably, not just with Lothian, Dundee and Stirling, whose cases have effectively been put in this debate, but with the other authorities on the right hon. Gentleman's hit list. It would be a sad day for local government if the right hon. Gentleman was unreasonable. I hope that he will proceed along the lines that I have suggested.

8.14 pm
Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

I listened with great interest to the remarks of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown). The whole House recognises his sincerity and considerable experience in the matters that we are discussing. I hope that I shall do the hon. Gentleman no harm by saying that if the voice of the Labour Party that emerged at this time were his voice, it would be a much more dangerous opponent. The hon. Gentleman is right to have drawn attention to the importance of the issue for other local authorities apart from the three concerned with the reports before the House.

The general taxpayer, and, therefore, Parliament and central Government, have a particular responsibility. They pay an average £2 out of every £3 spent by local authorities in Scotland. That being so, neither the Government nor Parliament can ignore the way in which that money is spent. There is a duty to control the totality of Government expenditure. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) accept the point that there is an undoubted duty and a responsibility upon the House to be concerned with the totality of expenditure. That is the first reason why it is appropriate that the Secretary of State has brought forward these reports.

Equally important is the fact that many people are affected by the high rates increases introduced by some local authorities which do not have an opportunity directly to change the pattern of local government which gave rise to those high rates. It is the duty of the House to concern itself with the interests of all sections of the community, not least minority interests. At a time of what amounts not merely to arguably large and worrying rate increases but to inconceivable increases, compared with past years, in the level of rates, introduced largely for political rather than for rational local government reasons, the Government have a duty to protect those who may be severely affected.

I have a particular reason for supporting and welcoming most warmly what my right hon. Friend has placed before the House. The total sum available from the central taxpayer to support local government is limited. That is accepted. If a few local authorities scoop out of the central purse of available resources a wholly unreasonable amount, it follows, by definition, that there are fewer resources available for those who have been thrifty. If such a tendency is allowed to continue, it must be inevitable that no one will remain thrifty for long.

Many local authorities, including some Labour-controlled local authorities, have, over the years, exercised reasonable discretion in their expenditure. They see years of care and concern in their expenditure being eaten away from total available resources as a result of the actions of a few local authorities. It is for that reason above all that I warmly commend my right hon. Friend for bringing the three reports before the House. We are not concerned in the reports with a marginally greater amount of expenditure by these authorities than one could consider reasonable. One sees at one end of the Tay bridge the vast increase in rates proposed in Dundee. Many of my constituents work and pay rates there. At the other end of the bridge in north-east Fife there was no increase in rates, and that contrast cannot be explained by saying that it is all the Government's fault.

There is no doubt that substantial political reasons and a deliberate attempt to take on the constitutional position of Parliament and the Government in relation to local authorities are behind the vast increased expenditure by a few local authorities. My right hon. Friend was right to bring the reports before the House. I hope that they will be warmly approved, and that we shall make it clear that a few will not rob the many.

8.20 pm
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

I shall be brief, to enable as many of my hon. Friends as possible to take part in the debate. I preface my remarks by making it clear that Lothian regional council was right to send a deputation to the House today, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) made that point.

It is to the council's credit that it has put its case so assiduously in recent weeks, and it would have been a mistake for its representatives not to have been here for the debate, given the extent to which it concerns the position of the council. If Scottish Conservative Members were waiting to meet representatives of the council, there must have been a misunderstanding. The delegation wanted to meet Conservative Members and it regrets any misunderstanding.

Far from putting the council in the dock, we should be commending it as an example of what can be achieved in local government. I am proud of the educational provision of the council, through its nursery school provision and the high standards that we seek to achieve in our schools.

Lothian also has a public transport system which is an example to the rest of Britain. It is one of only two systems in the United Kingdom that are increasing the number of passengers using them. The concessionary fares scheme for old people is an example that should be followed by other councils throughout the land, and the council's general level of provision for the elderly, while falling short of what we should like to achieve, is, nevertheless, a significant advance on what has been achieved elsewhere. That is what local government is all about, and we should not lose sight of that during the debate.

The Lothian regional council has a mandate for its policies. They were worked out with the Labour Party and it is to the credit of the council that they are being implemented. It is remarkable that the Secretary of State can assert that the reports do not threaten local democracy. They strike at the heart of democracy. How can the right hon. Gentleman defend the situation in the Lothian region?

When the council met to fix its expenditure for the current year, it knew what the rate support grant was to be. Whatever decision it took on the level of expenditure, and thus on the level of rates, had no influence on the amount of Government money being paid to the council this year. The Government are making a straightforward attempt to destroy the council's right to determine its level of expenditure and the level of its services in its area. That is why it is such a big issue and why the regional council has been supported by so many other councils throughout the country. We are witnessing a fundamental attack on the principle of local democracy.

I wish particularly to address myself to the effect of the cut that the Government seem to have in mind. I have repeatedly challenged the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary during Scottish questions and in the Scottish Grand Committee to spell out what they expect to be the effect of a cut of £53 million or, as it is now, of £47 million.

The Secretary of State at least gave some acknowledgment earlier that the Government's figure could be achieved only with some redundancies. It is not good enough for the Government to duck that issue. There is no way that the council can make such cuts without making thousands of its staff redundant.

During Scottish questions last week, the Under-Secretary told his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat): My hon. Friend is correct. 1 understand that the Conservative group on the Lothian district council announced this morning that, after discussions with the officials of the Lothian region, it can identify savings of £28 million that could be made without any compulsory job redundancies and without any effect on vital services."—[Official Report, 15 July 1981; Vol. 8, c. 1163.] I should make it clear that £2 million of the net savings that the Conservatives have suggested in public transport will affect only next year's expenditure. Much more important, and this point does not seen to have been fully grasped, far from those proposals being based on official advice, they have been specifically rejected by council officials who have said that it would be impossible to achieve the savings spelt out by the Conservative group without making workers redundant. The Conservatives have also inflated the figure for natural wastage at a time of severe unemployment. They claim that one-third of the staff over 50 would take voluntary early retirement on the spot.

The Conservatives propose savings of £25 million, but the Secretary of State has been talking of cuts of £53 million and £47 million. There is no way that the council could make such cuts without making thousands—and emphasise "thousands"—of public service workers in the region redundant in the current year.

There is a responsibility on the Under-Secretary to address himself to that issue when he replies to the debate. What will £47 million of cuts mean in terms of job losses? Of course, one could make some cuts and save some money without a direct effect on employment within the council, although it would have a severe effect on employment in the firms that supply the council. But it is not good enough for the Government to fail to address themselves to that issue.

The Government are opposed to public provision in all its forms. They are cutting the Civil Service, selling profitable parts of nationalised industries and encouraging private health at the expense of the NHS, and private education at the expense of the State system. It is pan: of their ideology. But they were elected on a manifesto which argued that if they made cuts, held the money supply, cut the level of Government expenditure in the economy and cut public expenditure the forces of private enterprise would be unleashed and would create new jobs and new investment.

Surely, after two years few Conservative Members still believe that. We are in a spiral of decline and the only way that it can be reversed is by more public expenditure through the nationalised industries, public agencies and local government. Far from cutting money from the local authorities, as the Government have been doing on an enormous scale, they should be reversing their policies to put more money into local government, thereby creating more employment in valuable community provision. That is why the House should reject the reports.

8.30 pm
Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)

Although we have been debating the reports for about four and a half hours, it cannot be stressed too often that the approach of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland—although it may be faster, more direct, more immediate and more effective in the current year of the increases in expenditure—represents no essential departure from the idea that it is legitimate for the Government to concern themselves with local government expenditure.

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) might grumble from the Front Bench. I know that it is a recurrent nightmare for him to have to think again about 1977, but he knows that it was legitimate for him at that time, as a member of the Labour Cabinet, to examine what was being spent by local authorities in Scotland. It is a grotesque distortion to suggest that it is anything other than that. The only reason why that principle is not being acknowledged by the Labour Party is that the Labour Front Bench appreciates that if it were to acknowledge that it would find itself in conflict with most of the local authority majorities in Scotland and, not least, the chairman of the Labour Party in Scotland.

I regret that the hon. Gentleman is not here, because I intend to direct my attention to the Dundee district, but the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) stated that on principle he would vote against the reports and, having said that, he set about Dundee district council and without being too specific suggested that the rates increase imposed was excessive.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East uses principles like a fence. They are something that he can sit on and avoid having to take political responsibility for anything. He should remember that principles, like fences, have points and one of these days he will be well and truly impaled on one of them.

What is so utterly bewildering about the point advanced by Dundee district council is that it is unclear what exception it takes to the report being laid against it. Listening to the representations that were made to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to the speech of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), one would think that the Scottish Office had made a ghastly mistake, that it had failed to understand the financial problems of Dundee and that Dundee had behaved totally reasonably; if one made comparisons with other local authorities in Scotland, Dundee had not diverged very far from the norm.

At one time that seemed to be the line of approach. On the other hand, the chairman of the Labour Party in Scotland, Mr. George Galloway, the hon. Member for Dundee, West and the Labour administration on Dundee district council have repeatedly claimed that what they are doing represents the new radical revolutionary seizing of the Socialist initiative in Scotland. They are picking up the banner of Socialism in Scotland that the ageing and fading members of the Front Bench and elsewhere in the Labour Party have let slip from their grip.

What is the argument about? If Dundee district council is claiming that what it is doing proudly is correct yet is doing it as a matter of political principle and in direct confrontation with the Government, let us be clear about it. That is what I have heard in Dundee.

On the other hand, the document that was put to the Secretary of State suggests, in a pseudo reasonable fashion, that he does not understand what is going on. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned that the rates increase in Dundee had been 150 per cent., I thought I heard the hon. Member for Dundee, East say "Highly commendable". If that increase is highly commendable, that is picking up the banner of the new Socialist initiative. That is the one argument that we hear repeatedly. We hear claims and see the documentation that is introduced that there is nothing extraordinary in what Dundee is doing by comparison.

If Dundee district council wants to advance that case to my right hon. Friend, the simple test is that the council, instead of making comparisons with other district councils, should look back to what earlier Tory administrations did. The council is saying that the Tory administration would, if it had been successful in the local elections, have had to maintain the comparable levels of services that it had previously offered. It has not attempted to make that argument. If the Dundee district council could prove by that device that a 150 per cent., 130 per cent. or 100 per cent. increase in rates was necessary, a different complexion might have been put on the argument. However, the council did not do that, nor could it.

In the document to the Secretary of State for Scotland, the council claimed that as a direct result of the original requirement that £2.75 million should come off its expenditure about 900 jobs would be lost. The sum involved is now £2 million, and the council claims that with the reduction of £75,000 only 500 jobs will be lost. The council has in its time employed only 160 people in addition to those employed by the previous Tory administration. It is demonstrable nonsense to say that if a reduction of £2 million has to be made staffing levels must be reduced by 500 when the total increase in jobs is only about 160. The reduction from 900 to 500 is out of a total staff complement of about 3,000.

It is reasonable to conclude that, far from its being a simple problem of the Secretary of State and his officials failing to understand the problems, Dundee has set out to make a deliberate political gesture. Its political motivation is the same as that of the Lothian region. The Dundee council is determined to disrupt the Government's economic strategy. If that is the intention, the council cannot now be surprised that the Secretary of State has decided to respond.

However, if the council claims that the Secretary of State still fails to understand its problems, I cannot see why it is not prepared to continue to argue the case and discuss it. After all, the Secretary of State has already adjusted the figures after examining the position. When the interest figure was lost because of the way in which the accounts were presented and that was explained, the Secretary of State made an adjustment. I hope that once the reports are accepted the council will continue to discuss the issue with the Secretary of State for the good of the people of Dundee.

I turn to what seems to be the most ludicrous and absurd point in what the council has said. It talks about emotive issues. As we have seen in Stirling, when the cuts have to come, councils lead with the most difficult and sensitive cuts. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), at Question Time last week, thought that he was making a bull point by saying that the first people to go would by young apprentices. If anything represents the cynical manipulation of young people, that is it.

What is Dundee district council doing? For years the Tory-controlled authority ran a leisure centre at the weekend for the young and the young unemployed. The council has made that a priority cut. The leisure centre will close. That will not save a vast sum. On the other hand, the council has employed specialist political advisers. No other local authority in Scotland has ever done that.

If the council wants to make cuts and to lead with the cuts that are the most sensitive to the community, let it do that. However, it must be made known and made obvious. The council should get rid of political advisers long before it closes leisure centres which have operated effectively for so long.

Mr. Ernie Ross

If the hon. Gentleman is sincere, will he suggest that the Prime Minister makes a gesture and gets rid of her political adviser, who seems to give bad advice and costs the country at least £25,000 a year?

Mr. Fraser

I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman stands outside the leisure centre in Dundee and makes that point it will be greeted with far more rapture than in the House.

It is part and parcel of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981 that, once the reports are approved, once the reduction in expenditure is required through the reduction in the rate support grant, if the local authority is sensible and makes those cuts in expenditure, the Secretary of State will have the opportunity to make up that amount of the rate support grant if the money is returned to the ratepayers.

One of the silliest parts of the argument that has been advanced so far is that, even when the reports are approved and the rate support grant is cut back, not one of the three local authorities will be prepared to give relief to any of their hard-pressed ratepayers. There is nothing more absurd than that. But what is more ludicrous than anything is that people wear badges saying "Export Younger" and yet they are prepared to leave the money with him and his Cabinet rather than return it to their own ratepayers. If nothing else, I urge the three local authorities to have far greater regard than they have had in the past to their own hard-pressed ratepayers.

8.42 pm
Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)

Despite denials from the Conservative Benches, the reports amount to probably the most savage attack on local authorities in the history of local government in Scotland.

The proposed cuts in expenditure will mean a severe reduction in essential services, but just as serious is the attack by the Government on the freedom of local authorities and the principle of local democracy. The Secretary of State seems unable to recognise that these councillors were elected on a manifesto to represent the interests of the people. They won their elections and, therefore, they feel that they have a mandate to implement the manifesto on which they stood. But the Secretary of State is now standing in the way. Perhaps, in a sense, that is not surprising, because this Secretary of State has scant regard for manifestos and manifesto commitments—even for the Tory Party manifesto, which speaks out boldly in favour of local democracy and the freedom of local authorities to do their own thing.

This action by the Secretary of State is unprecedented. All who have experience of local government have always admitted that there is a possibility of the central Government intervening in some way in local government affairs. Until now we would have said that the general principle was that it was up to the central Government ultimately to determine the level of rate support grant but that local authorities should be left to determine the rate poundage. That now seems to have come to an end, because the Government are using a series of tricks, which can only be described as blackmail, to force local authorities into a situation whereby the central Government will not simply be determining the level of rate support but, in effect, will also be trying to determine the level of revenue that is raised from the people who elected the councillors in the first place. That degree of over-centralisation damages the traditions of British democracy.

Some hon. Members on the Government Benches talk about Left-wing extremists and the fear of totalitarianism. They conjure up images, false or true, about what happens in certain Eastern European States. However, the power that the Secretary of State for Scotland has and the way that he intends to use it is reducing Scotland to a situation even worse that that which many East European satellite States had to suffer under the over-centralisation of Stalin. That is the degree of over-centralisation that the right hon.. Gentleman seems to be in favour of. He is like a Stalinist, dictating to the elected representatives of the people of Scotland. As a result, there is grave concern not only among the three local authorities named but among all local authorities in Scotland and south of the border.

It appears that the initial hit list of three will be extended to at least six, and that there will be a further clawback of at least £100 million that will affect all local authorities in Scotland. The Government also seem hell-bent on using the Secretary of State and the people of Scotland as guinea pigs for a new over-centralised bureaucratic dictatorship. If it works in Scotland, no doubt the hooligan who grabbed the Mace and who is now Secretary of State for the Environment will soon have and use the same powers in England and Wales.

In choosing his initial hit list, the Secretary of State is motivated not by reason or cogent argument but by blatant political discrimination. They are all Labour-controlled authorities, as are all the authorities on the reserve hit list, even though some Tory-controlled or so-called independent authorities have also significantly overspent above his guidelines.

I share the concern of all local authorities, and it is important to have unity in the campaign against the Secretary of State's proposals, but because of shortage of time I shall deal only with Stirling, which covers part of my constituency. Like the Secretary of State, I, too, am a ratepayer there, although perhaps there the similarity ends. Unlike him, I do not own any rateable property, and, also unlike him, I intend to vote against the reports.

The Secretary of State bases his case against Stirling on four comparators—what he believes are local authorities in a similar situation—North-East Fife, Moray, Angus and Clydesdale. However, he has so far failed to respond in detail to the reasonable reply given by Stirling district council in its letter of 1 July. It pointed out that of the four authorities selected, only two—Moray and Clydesdale—have a population density similar to Stirling in that they are below the average Scottish density, and one—North-East Fife—has a density more than twice that of Stirling and above the Scottish average.

Although Stirling is largely rural, around the town of Stirling there is a conurbation, but none of the authorities selected has an urban situation similar to that in Stirling, where 78 per cent. of the population live within a radius of 7½ miles of the town, giving a density of 1.37. The Secretary of State also knows that Stirling district, in its reasoned reply, picked two other district councils which it maintains were more nearly similar than the four that were picked by the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State should be familiar with them, because one of them is in his constituency—the Kyle and Carrick district council. The other is Cunninghame district council, which is in the same area. Some 65 per cent. and 81 per cent. respectively of the population live within the same radius from Ayr and Irvine, with a density of 1.62 and 1.57 respectively. Stirling asked that those district councils be included in the list of comparators. However, the Secretary of State has not said why he did not and the Minister whom we met yesterday to discuss the matter did not give us a detailed reply.

It is worth pointing out that Kyle and Carrick—to its credit, and I believe that it, too, is Labour-controlled—has a planned expenditure of £60.15 per head, and the figure for Cunninghame is £61.50 per head. The corresponding figure for Stirling is not much above that—£62.26 per head of population. That is less than £1 above the figure for Cunninghame, and is less than a fiver above the average figure for all Scottish district councils.

The Secretary of State also says that the growth rate and the rate poundage increase of Stirling district is too high. However, if one takes the rate poundage in 1978–79 as a base, and if Stirling district council from that year had simply levied the national average increase for local authorities, its present rate poundage would be about 36p. The actual rate poundage is now about 40p. Compared with the national figures and with the more reasonable comparators, Stirling district council does not seem too bad.

May I say that I was the first-ever Labour group leader on Stirling district council, at a time when it was unfortunately controlled by a Tory/SNP clique. Before it became Labour-controlled last year, the council was notorious throughout Scotland as being one of the meanest and lowest-spending. When I became the Member of Parliament for West Stirlingshire, I received frequent complaints about the low level of spending on essential services—even or, possibly, especially—from the rural areas with which the Secretary of State is familiar.

The Secretary of State says that Stirling had an abnormally righ rate increase. That is perfectly true, but he forgets to say that part of the reason for it was the inadequacy of the initial rate support grant order that he laid before the House. Now he is cutting it back for Stirling district council, which will make it even worse.

The average domestic rate bill in the district is £290.3, which is about the Scottish average, but not very much so as a percentage. The Scottish average is £270.63, and the figure for Stirling district is only 48p above the average for domestic properties in Strathclyde, which is a more reasonable comparison than some of the comparisons given by the Secretary of State.

No detailed reply seems to be forthcoming from the Secretary of State. He is hell-bent on going ahead with these powers. However, before I finish, I want to mention the employment repercussions of what he is doing. Today a record figure for Scottish unemployment of over 318,000 was announced. The Secretary of State comes to the House and sheds crocodile tears and claims that increased rates will inevitably mean increased unemployment. He has failed to produce one shred of evidence, and I challenge him to produce a shred of statistically accurate, scientific evidence, that there is some correlation between high rated areas and areas of high unemployment.

The right hon. Gentleman produced letters from department stores such as Jenner, House of Fraser and Woolworth—although he did not mention their names. In his reply to me last week, he said that if he were a member of Stirling district council he would not make cuts that would mean that none of the apprentices who finished their time last week would be offered jobs. That is already happening. We are talking about cuts upon cuts. For the first time ever, Stirling district council was unable to employ a single newly qualified apprentice who had finished his training in the property and maintenance department. There will be more and more such unemployment if the cuts go ahead.

In the Stirling travel-to-work area last month 3,291 people were unemployed. How many more will be unemployed? It is no good imagining that the private sector will pick them up. The Secretary of State's pal, the Secretary of State for Industry, has crippled industry throughout Scotland to such an extent that in many areas it is virtually non-existent. That is due to high interest rates, high energy costs, high transport costs and the downgrading of places like Stirling as development areas.

The public sector in that area is a large employer. It also has a spin-off effect for the private sector, which is significant in the generation of jobs. This is the second blow within a fortnight from the Government against the people of that area. The university received bad news less than a fortnight ago. The Secretary of State for Education and Science said that he proposed a cut of about 25 per cent. in its grant and a similar cut in the number of students. As well as being an important educational institution, the university complements the excellent work done by the local authorities in providing a whole range of community services.

I wish to quote a letter that I recently received. I have the permission of the writer. I shall not quote any anonymous letters, as did the Secretary of State-I suspect that they came from such organisations as the House of Fraser and Woolworth. My letter comes from Professor Dunn, the chairman of the MacRobert Centre management committee of Stirling university. It states In early September we had arranged to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our founding. If this takes place it could be the event of the year most heavily tinged with irony. For the centre was opened by the man who became the first Chairman of our Advisory Committee and Chairman of our Appeal Fund, namely, Viscount Younger of Leckie. It is sad that the good deeds of the father should be so soon erased by the doctrinaire obscurantism of the son. But we must remember that this Government was elected to be pragmatic and flexible! We can see the result. The Secretary of State is as flexible as a gauleiter—a gauleiter who has the support of a dwindling minority of people in Scotland. Yet he is hell-bent on imposing his will on the elected representatives of the people of Scotland who have a far better mandate than him to represent their interests.

For that reason, I hope that the House gives maximum support to our friends and colleagues in local government in Scotland to campaign against the Government and to maintain as much as possible of the essential services for the people that they were elected to represent.

8.59 pm
Mr. Ian Lang (Galloway)

As the time is somewhat late, I shall try to be brief. A great deal has been said about the sanctity of local government. Certainly, it is an important part of our democratic process. It might be appropriate at this late hour to try to rectify the balance a little and point out that local government is dependent for its powers, its authority and its activities on the central Government and on what we decide in this House.

As recently as 1975 local government was reformed by Parliament. While we talk about the importance of local autonomy, we should remember that Parliament is the supreme legislature in Britain and should be recognised as such. Some hon. Members have carried the argument further and have said that the Conservative Government have no right to take decisions of this sort involving Scotland. That is to say that the integrity of the United Kingdom is fatally fractured. It is to imply that the previous Labour Government had no authority to legislate for England.

The Government have not only a right but a constitutional duty to ensure that the interests of local ratepayers and local authorities are properly protected. That constitutional duty was neglected in the contribution of the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). He wanted the Government to maintain the rate support grant at a high level while taking no part in what went on in local authorities. That ambivalent attitude, which is adopted while sitting on both sides of the fence and, no doubt, with both ears firmly to the ground, is damaging to his party in Scotland.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) adopted the same ambiguous attitude. He implied that local authorities are being attacked from both sides-by the Government through their attitude over the rate support grant, and by individuals being given more power under tenants' rights and education legislation. He failed to understand that these are two sides of the same argument. The Government are not attacking local authorities. The Government have been seeking to protect the rights of individuals against oppressive local authorities. That is at the heart of the policies that have been implemented.

The constitutional obligation is one that the Government must observe. Their second duty is to maintain their economic strategy and to ensure that it is not sabotaged by local authorities. The strategy is based on controlling public expenditure. The authorities that are the subject of the reports are concerned with expanding expenditure without any regard to the effect that that will have on the economy.

The third reason why the Government are right to intervene is that they supply about two-thirds of local authority expenditure through the rate support grant. They would be culpably negligent if they took no part in deciding how and to what extent the RSG should run. The national interest is supreme. That must not disguise the considerable malaise in the operation of local authorities. That is manifested by the need for the reports. Many feel that the functions and funding of local authorities should be reconsidered. Had I more time, I should embark on a more remunerative and reflective consideration of that issue than the time available to me permits.

There is something unhealthy in local government when we see it used not as a means of administering local affairs in the interests of local ratepayers but as a political platform from which to propagate party political views. One may say that it was a great pity that party considerations came into local government. However, they did and there is no point now in trying to wish them away. Whereas local government may have been used before as a springboard for national Government advances, it is being used now as a weapon against Government policies. That is a much more serious development.

We see the same self-importance manifested in the production of economic reports from COSLA. It does not produce the reports itself. It commissions some smart young economist in a university to draw them up for it, thus trying to set itself up with all the paraphernalia of another great estate of the realm. We even see local authorities trying to enact and implement their own foreign policy, as manifested in the Chamber by the hon. Member for Dundee, West, or perhaps the hon. Member for Dundee, West Bank, which might be a more appropriate description. If there is an abuse of government, I submit that it is at local and not at national level.

There are those who say that the cuts will do a great deal more harm when implemented than if they had been introduced and put into practice in a more leisurely approach. Of course that is so. If we get on a helter-skelter and start sliding down it, it is difficult to get off half-way down. That is because we should never have got on it in the first place. It is inevitable that more harm will be done now and that the process will be more painful. The solution was in the hands of the local authorities when they were mapping out their programmes.

As my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, what we are now producing, in refinement of the earlier powers open to the Government, are measures that can be introduced as preventive medicine rather than a subsequent purge and recrimination. The medicine is selective rather than being a broadside fired across the whole stage. To those who ask "Why pick on Lothian, Stirling and Dundee?", surely the answer is that they are the worst offenders. The answer surely also is that by picking on them and by laying the reports before the House to cut the amounts of money which they will spend, the Government are protecting the other local authorities which have managed to behave with greater prudence and sense, including, for example. the local authorities in the Dumfries and Galloway region.

Therefore, I commend the Government on their sensible action. I believe that they are acting in the interests of the ratepayers not only in Lothian, Stirling and Dundee but those in all the other district and regional authorities throughout Scotland. For that and the broader economic issues which are at stake, I support and will vote in support of the reports.

9.6 pm

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock)

The coverage from Opposition Benches, particularly Labour Members, with regard to the authorities whose conduct we are discussing has been excellent. Perhaps one of the finest speeches was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook). I am sure that that speech will be used as a basis in times to come on the question of local authorities and the destruction of democracy by the Government.

Most of what was said from Government Benches was irrelevant, with perhaps two exceptions. Perhaps one of those was made without thinking-it was certainly not done on purpose. The hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) said that he looks across the Tay at the Dundee complex, where he says that some of his constituents pay their rates, and while there has been a savage and swingeing increase of rates in the Dundee area he is able to stand on the Fife side looking at that complex, from an area where there has been no increase. Anyone standing on the Fife side would see the reason for that. He would be looking across at a development where the rates increases have to be paid in order to keep up services. However, that hon. Member and his constituents jump in a car, pay the toll, go across the Tay bridge and use and enjoy the facilities of Dundee, like parasites, without having to pay the rates.

As a child, and brought up in Dundee, I reversed that process. It was one of our few delights in those days to climb aboard the "Fifie" and go across to Fife to enjoy the amenities there. At that time we could gather whelks from the beaches. I was back recently and although the whelks have deteriorated somewhat in quality, that is still the only amenity available on the Fife side of the Tay. One can gather whelks if the tide is out, but otherwise all one can do is paddle. That is the kernel of the matter. It is a question of two ideologies. On the one side of the Tay bridge there is development by a local authority which is trying to provide services for the people and on the other side, like the whelks and the parasites, the people there are prepared to live off the backs of the people on the other side.

When the Secretary of State for Scotland says that there is no political manoeuvre behind the laying of the reports, that is a joke. He talks about the disease of overspending. He lays stress on the point that it was not the guidelines alone which determined him to lay the reports. He did not go further than that. Of course, he is perfectly correct. The guidelines are only secondary. The principal reason was political.

Lothian, Stirling and Dundee were picked on because of their excessive spending on behalf of their constituents, because of their ideology and because they believe that the services must be provided and that they must be paid for. On the other hand, the Government, under the opiate of monetarism, see only one side of the business. That is a question of telling the local authorities that they must hold the cash tight and it does not matter about the irrelevancies of what happens to the elderly, to children, to education and to universities. How many Conservative Members expressed concern about cuts in university education and how that would affect their constituents? [HON. MEMBERS: "Not one."]

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) made a good point when he said that he could understand reductions in expenditure by successive Governments when local authorities could manage to draw on other funds. For example, if the money is required for the youth employment scheme or a garden maintenance scheme, there seems to be a kitty on which local authorities can draw. So long as an authority has paid off its gardeners, it can employ young people on a temporary basis to look after the gardens.

That does not make economic sense, but it provides an opportunity to suppress local government. In this case, it gives the Secretary of State a golden opportunity to woo the Scottish electorate. At the last general election the people of Scotland rejected the Tories and their philosophy, but in order to induce some of them back into the fold the right hon. Gentleman is using the old trick of dropping a couple of pennies in their pockets.

The right hon. Gentleman is saying that they will receive £32 a month, but he fails to point out that there will be no homes for the elderly and that new nurseries will not be staffed. He is saying "But forget that, you can have £32 which you can hang on to." Yet again, he is using the opiate of monetarism to induce the people of Lothian, Stirling and Dundee. It will not work.

That ploy has worked south of the border, because for some reason people here are attracted to that philosophy. However, as a recent by-election result has shown, they will no longer fall for it. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Labour Party?"] We won the election. We did not lose our deposit.

The speech of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) was the worst that I have ever heard from the hon. Gentleman. It was certainly the worst speech of the debate. I refer him to page 24 of the COSLA critique which says that industry and commerce will be forced to pay higher rates because of Government cutbacks, and that the blame should be laid at the door of the Government, not at the councils involved.

In fact, the Dundee chamber of commerce said of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire that as an individual he was probably more responsible for the loss of jobs than the antics of the Government.

9.12 pm
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. McKelvey) was perhaps a little harsh on the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker). If we are handing out the palm for the most reactionary and unlikely set of opinions, the field is a strong one, considering the speeches that have been made by Conservative Members.

In defence of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire, we ought to say that at least during his remarks he discovered almost by chance—we should record the fact—that the Government's monetary policy was a total failure. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will continue to bear that in mind in future contributions.

We have heard some eccentric remarks during the debate. For example, there was the extraordinary spectacle of the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) plunging into local government statutes. He got the wrong year, the wrong Act and the wrong Government. He also showed a remarkable interest in territorial imperatives, because he plunged into a long denunciation of the leader of the GLC for taking an interest in local government developments in Scotland, which clearly have widespread implications for the relationship between local authorities and central Government throughout the land.

Everyone in the United Kingdom is right to be alarmed by what the Government are doing tonight. We are seeing an attack upon the very fundamentals of the relationship between central and local government which we shall all regret in the years ahead if it is pushed with the blind obstinacy that has so far been shown in these negotiations.

I hope that the Secretary of State will not take it amiss if I say that I thought he made a rather sad opening speech. It is always something of an admission of defeat when a Minister has to rifle his postbag to find arguments which presumably his advisers blushed to write directly into his speech under his name. One may be wrong but put up a spirited defence of one's mistakes. For the right hon. Gentleman, however, there was no more than a whimper. There was no sign that he believed in his policies. The only thing that seemed to give any stature to his remarks was the effort made shortly afterwards by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), who launched what I can only describe as a mean and sneering complaint. Indeed, he was perhaps ashamed of his own remarks as he has not reappeared in the Chamber since.

Listening to the Secretary of State on this subject—and here I make a distinction between the right hon. Gentleman and the Under-Secretary of State—I always have the impression, which is even perhaps something of a plea in mitigation, that the Secretary of State does not really believe in his policies but that he has stumbled and drifted into this confrontation of awesome proportions. If we end up going over the edge and crashing into the abyss, as so many people now fear, the relevant question to ask about the Secretary of State will be "Did he jump, or was he pushed?" because I do not think that his heart is in it.

I wish to consider briefly one or two key questions. The first, obvious and fundamental question is why we have these reports. What is the justification advanced by the Government? As I understand it, we are told that the Government are facing a major crisis, that local authorities are profligate and that a determined group of councils over the years have been distorting public sector spending by indefensible overspending. Any hon. Member who considers the facts and the record will see that that is a generalisation which does not stand up to any reasonable examination.

The Under-Secretary will be familiar, as will most Government Members, with the COSLA critique, produced by that local authority organisation. That document deals fully and effectively with the matter, almost exclusively on the basis of parliamentary answers. The figures have not been dreamt up by people who are party to the opposition to these reports. The information is almost entirely gleaned from answers by the Secretary of State.

I take just one set of figures to encapsulate the position, which is set out with great clarity on that document. Taking Government and local authority expenditure in the period 1975–76 and following through actual expenditure to projected expenditure for 1981–82, one sees that Government expenditure in that period rose by 10.7 per cent. while local authority expenditure in Scotland has fallen by more than 16 per cent. Against that background, the whole foundation of the case for these reports inevitably crumbles. It is simply not possible to maintain the pretence that if Government economic policy is in disorder and disarray—and very few Opposition Members would quarrel with that proposition—it is the fault of profligate local authorities.

Of course, there has been a cumulative overspend on the guidelines of £183 million in Scotland this year. That might be a significant figure if the guidelines had any absolute authority, if they represented some form of truth or static concept, but they are merely spirited up by Ministers to meet the exigencies of the day. The guidelines are shifting and have shifted. Ministers have savagely cut back on the guidelines and when, not suprisingly, they are then exceded, they shout "Scandal" from the rooftops and claim that they need the draconian and unjust measures now before us.

The proof of the argument was presented very firmly by my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) when he pointed out that all but four of the local authorities have currently exceeded the guidelines laid down by Ministers. Indeed, 28 of them are more than 20 per cent. over. The list of shame—or perhaps the roll of honour, depending on one's point of view—is led by such red revolutionaries as those who sit in the council chambers of Banff and Buchan, Moray and Nairn, Gordon and Caithness. The guidelines have become a farce and a standing joke. They are in no way a foundation upon which can be erected the monstrous proposals embodied in the report.

I regard the methods which are to be used as ill-thought-out and muddled. It is perhaps over-dramatic to describe the measures as engines of oppression, but they have been in need of constant running repairs. At the end of the parliamentary process, at the Report stage, after a lengthy and detailed Committee stage, all sorts of major innovations were hurried forward to try to pull together the rather creaking faults that had so self-evidently appeared. We had the blocking manoeuvre to stop borrowing and the great political wheeze that the Government hope will give them some sort of cheap capital with which to face the electorate—the idea of rate repayment.

But the key argument that the Secretary of State has used is that the measures are selective, that it is the bad authorities that will be hit, and that those which are "innocent" shall escape. We know and the House knows that every local authority in Scotland is threatened., irrespective of the level of co-operation and the earnestness with which it has tried to meet the arbitrary standards imposed by the Scottish Office.

I go back unashamedly to the point that was made in the opening remarks of the shadow Secretary of State. If we talk in terms of negotiation at any time in the process, we must know some of the fundamental facts that will affect negotiation. I do not expect the Secretary of State to say in great detail what his hand will be if and when he gets round the table with any of the local authorities, but we are entitled to know whether the £100 million which he is to claw back, or wishes to claw back, from this year's rate support grant—I leave on one side the £60 million from last year which has not been dealt with—is a fixed sum. If it is, the Secretary of State may say "I will forgo from the sums mentioned in the orders £X million." But the concession will be an illusion and a fraud, because he will be saying silently "We shall still be clawing back out of all the other local authorities, by means of a general levy, exactly the sum that we are apparently conceding." It will merely be a case of misery being redistributed, and a final retreat from the principle of selectivity of which the Secretary of State has made so much.

I have raised the point on many occasions. I was told by the Secretary of State: Both rebudgeting … and reductions negotiated by the authorities will make it easier to avoid taking the full £100 million".— [Official Report, 15 July 1981; Vol. 8, c. 1168.] That is just not good enough, because I genuinely do not know what "will make it easier" means in this context.

If Lothian, Dundee or Stirling goes to the table and makes an offer and it is accepted, we are entitled to know that that figure, if it is a shortfall from the original demand, will be deducted from the £100 million total which is apparently the Secretary of State's target for this year.

I have one other point to make on the whole basis of selection, and it is of some importance. I accept that it is clear that the guidelines are not the only test that has been applied by Ministers. That would be too simple a solution. In the evidence that was given to the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments, the guidelines were described as indicative, not definitive, and in no way as mandatory. I should have thought that there would be some virtue in having guidelines that one could stand by. If there are all sorts of factors which distort those guidelines or make them unsafe, it would be better to have them imported into the original formula.

If that is not to be so, we must turn to the way in which the Secretary of State has applied the comparability test. That is the statutory criterion that has been built into the 1981 Act. Sadly, instead of carrying out objective research into the performances of individual local authorities and, if necessary, penalising those who have failed that impartial test, there was probably a list of predetermined victims and the research was probably rigged to achieve the necessary results. There is some complaint about that.

I shall draw the Secretary of State's attention to the "Social and Economic Classification of Local Authority Areas", which has been produced by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. It has been compiled by Mr. Richard Webber and Mr. John Craig. Let us take the rural indicators research, which is a multivariate analysis of district islands, areas and parish data that has been produced by the Scottish Office. That apparently impeccable research, which stems from the Minister's Department, attempts to place what it calls "cluster local authorities" into similar groupings. It applies particularly to district authorities. The extraordinary thing is that if one considers the four comparators that the Secretary of State chose for Dundee and if one then hurries eagerly to the impartial research—some of which comes from the Scottish Office—one finds that only one out of the four comparisons is included in the same cluster. Again, only one of the four comparisons chosen for Stirling by the Secretary of State is included in the research as comparable.

There is something ludicrous about a situation in which the Secretary of State compares Stirling with authorities which, according to the research, do not fall into the same classification of industrial and rural. There is something peculiar about a situation in which Dundee is compared with East Kilbride. A new town is being compared with one of our oldest industrial towns. East Kilbride has a different population and age structure, unless it is out of line with the other new towns.

I object to the fact that one of the other tests is rate poundage. It depends largely on the rate fund contribution, which is dictated by housing policy. However, the Under-Secretary of State specifically told us that that had nothing to do with this mechanism. The expansion of services should be a key idea. However, we all know that there was a lengthy and significant period during which Dundee and Stirling were controlled by low-spending Conservative authorities. I shall not judge whether they were entitled to be low-spending and mean. However, if an increase in expenditure is taken and everything is based on that, everything will be based on a fallacy. The Secretary of State has been remarkably coy about the research material that he has used. He has used a form of intellectual sleight of hand to justify his prejudices. What he has done verges on the fraudulent.

I turn to an equally important matter, namely, how those authorities concerned can be expected to make the cuts. No one I have spoken to pretends that Lothian will be able to make cuts that amount to £47 million in the fag end of this year. Indeed, £47 million is a staggeringly high proportion of a total rate support grant contribution of £158 million. Of course, there have been offers. I would not expect the Conservative group to be keenly running to sabotage the Secretary of State's efforts. I should have thought that there would have been a fair number of eager toom tabards in that lot. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State must know many of them, because he was once a member of the old Edinburgh corporation, in the days when he believed in local government, or at least believed in it as a staging post to Parliament. Many of those in the Conservative group must be anxious to help the Government in every way. The best possible offer they can suggest is £25.8 million, which barely scrapes over 50 per cent. of what the Government demand. It is £25.8 million that will be found at considerable sacrifice. There would be a loss of 4,000 jobs, an attack on concessionary fares, an increase in the price of school meals and many other unpleasant consequences.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) said that savings could be found. That is, of course, possible. One can always find savings. One can sometimes find them at a cost that is insupportable and at a cost that makes them a very bad bargain for the electorate. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South and also the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South produced, with immense pride, what they seemed to suggest were secret documents. They were, in fact, the budget review papers from Lothian region of a year ago. Most of the proposals were incorporated and implemented in the present budget.

The 4,000 jobs that would disappear under the £25.8 million Tory proposals could not be found by natural wastage. According to The Scotsman of 16 July, natural wastage for the whole year in the Lothian region amounted to 3,400. I am indebted to Councillor Meek, leader of the Conservative group, for that information. How, therefore, in half a year, can one find 4,000 redundancies by natural wastage in the cause of achieving only 50 per cent. of what the Government want?

A new and rather remarkable slogan has been produced during the debate. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, or one of his colleagues, made a remark along the lines of No loss of jobs, just natural wastage". My right hon. Friend the Member for Craigton dealt admirably with that slogan. If it is to be paraded around Scotland by Conservative politicians in the year ahead, their present miserable performance in Scotland elector-ally will be well and truly outdone by the ruin that will overcome them.

Mr. Ancram


Mr. Dewar

I shall not give way. I should like to finish by asking the Under-Secretary of State one or two important questions. Hon. Members are entitled to have some idea of where the £47 million will come from. The hon. Gentleman will recall saying in Committee on the Bill that the first job of Ministers was to make a total overall judgment of whether a budget was excessive or unreasonable. The second stage was to break it down into programmes, to examine individual spending areas and to point out where excessive and unreasonable spending arose. That has not been done in the reports. To that extent, the reports are unhelpful and misleading. Presumably, it has been done in private. The hon. Gentleman should at least be able to explain the job loss implications and the services that he would expect Lothian to attack in terms of a £47 million cut in budget during this financial year.

The Under-Secretary of State is entitled to say that he cannot dictate to a local authority exactly where the cuts should fall. The hon. Gentleman should at least be able to convince the House that the cuts are possible and in so doing produce his own model and indication of where the overspending occurs and the implications of the cuts. We have asked time and again for this kind of help but no answer has been given. The hon. Gentleman has the opportunity to put that right.

Hon. Members talk a great deal about democracy and local government democracy. I am prepared to admit that all of us, on occasions, are guilty of rhetoric and perhaps ritual tributes to the ideas of democracy. I have no doubt that, on occasions, we apply double standards. It is easier to be self-righteous about these matters when in Opposition than when one is dealing with the reality of problems faced in Government. However, having made every allowance that can fairly be made, I believe that the reports represent a substantial threat to the balance between the Government and local authorities in this area. It is not just a little local difficulty; it is not just back-biting between friends or a bickering over a few pounds here or there, or even a few million pounds here or there in the annual round of local government negotiations. We are talking about the fundamental role of local government and about the relationship between the Government and local authorities.

The essence of local government democracy, which cannot be removed if the system is to be left whole, is the right of a local authority to determine its own priorities according to its own local needs and to rate to meet those needs. Of course, there will be an enormous input and influence from the Government, who supply so much of the finance from their own funds, and ultimately local authorities must answer to their electorates. If the Tories are right in what they say about Lothian region, they will look forward with confidence, as we do, to the judgment of the electorate next May. That is the judgment which should matter and on which we should rely.

We make our charges against the reports not because they are unnecessary, although we believe them to be so in terms of overall economic planning, and not because they are unfair, although we believe them to be unfair in every sense for the reasons that I have given, and not because we believe them to be unworkable, although we think that the practical difficulties cry out for attention, but because we believe that they are fundamentally offensive and will sour and embitter relations between Ministers and local councillors, not just under this Government but, if we do not get a bit of sense and flexibility in ministerial attitudes, for years to come.

The Statutory Instruments Committee referred to the unexpected use of the powers. That use may be unexpected to those who are not familiar with what has been happening, but for too long the Government have been on a collision course. They have shrown a thrawn obstinacy and an inability to be generous or genuine in their talk of compromise.

The Government must change now or we shall reach an impasse and such a horrible confrontation that we shall do irretrievable and irreversible damage, which every one of us will regret.

9.37 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) defended Councillor Ken Livingstone of the GLC as being one of the new bosom pals of the Lothian region and said that every person in the United Kingdom was right to be alarmed about the issue we are debating.

If it is the official Opposition's view that this is not merely a Scottish issue but a matter of major significance to Labour Members throughout the United Kingdom, it is worth noting that for all but the past few minutes the debate might have taken place in the Scottish Grand Committee, given the absence of Labour Members from other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Will the Under-Secretary give way?

Mr. Rifkind


Mr. Flannery

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)

Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Mr. Flannery

What the Minister said was not correct.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) entered the Chamber less than an hour ago, in the latter part of the debate. Anyone who has sat through the debate knows that.

As the hon. Member for Garscadden made his philippic on behalf of local authorities in Scotland, I had a recurring thought. I pictured him standing on this side of the Dispatch Box as the Minister responsible for local government finance. I wonder whether, faced with local authorities proposing an overspend of £180 million, the hon. Gentleman would have devoted so much of his speech to extolling the virtues of local democracy. I wondered whether, faced with a single authority proposing an overspend of £63 million, the hon. Gentleman would have extolled the local mandate at the expense of the national interest. I also wondered whether, in those circumstances, the content of his speech would have been the same. We know from the practice of the Labour Government, as opposed to the rhetoric of the Labour Opposition, that that is unlikely to have been the case, but if the hon. Gentleman maintains that that is the same speech he would have made in Government we can say, as was once said of Mr. Gladstone, that he can convince most people of most things and that he can convince himself of almost anything.

Mr. Dewar

I am flattered with the analogy with Mr. Gladstone, but I find it inappropriate. No doubt I stray, on occasions, but I manage to be more consistent and find it harder to eat my principles than the hon. Gentleman has done on devolution.

Mr. Rifkind

When we are dealing with local government finance, the House is aware that the case that must be answered on local democracy and local mandates is not a case that must be answered to the Opposition who do not believe in it, but I concede that it must be answered to the local authorities. I freely accept that many people within local authorities genuinely believe that there are great issues of local authority constitutional rights and that they have a local mandate received from a local election which for such matters is superior to the national mandate achieved by a national Government. It is right and proper that I should answer such points because some local councillors believe them.

My hon. Friends the Members for Galloway (Mr. Lang) and South Angus (Mr. Fraser) correctly pointed out the constitutional position. When local authorities suggest that they have an insuperable local mandate which national Governments should not interfere with, there is a straightforward answer. I was astonished by what the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) said, that the local authorities are the only independent elected bodies that can act as a bulwark against the whims of the Government. The hon. Gentleman seemed to have overlooked Parliament. That is the function of Parliament. For the hon. Gentleman to suggest that the local authorities are an independent source of political legitimacy, in the context that he advanced, holds little substance.

Ours is not a federal system. The local authorities do not have a federal relationship with Parliament, with an independent source of political legitimacy. Local authorities in Scotland are, and have always been, creatures of Parliament. Each of the councils that we are discussing was created by an Act of Parliament which we passed only a few years ago. To suggest that constitutionally a local authority is a comparable body with the same status and political mandate as the national Government is an argument that hon. Gentlemen do not believe and which the vast majority of councillors would not advance.

There is another factor. Some would argue—

Mr. Robert Hughes


Mr. Cook

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Rifkind

I shall not give way at the moment. Perhaps later I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Another argument genuinely advanced by local authorities is that, while they do not accept the argument that they have some constitutional equality with Parliament and national Government, it is wrong for the Government to interfere in purely local matters and issues of purely local policy. That is an interesting argument, but it does not coincide with the practice of any Government over the past 100 years. There are multitudes of subjects in the realms of education, social work, transport, roads and housing in which successive Governments have interfered—if one wishes to use that word—in the minutest way with the wishes of local authorities. For many years, even up to the present, Secretaries of State have been able to forbid a local authority from establishing a pedestrian crossing if it conflicted with the criteria laid down by the Government. Is it seriously being suggested that that is not a legitimate exercise of central Government influence and that any attempt to control the expenditure of a local authority is utterly indefensible?

When the Opposition put that case one is entitled to remind them that in the final stages of consideration of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act the Opposition marched through the Lobby seeking to impose on Scottish local authorities a statutory obligation to appoint an access officer to control access for the disabled to public buildings. I am not commenting on the merits of the proposal. I am saying that if there is no fundamental principle that prevents Parliament, the Labour Party or the Government telling a local authority what its statutory obligation should be in respect of one of its employees, to suggest that it is an unwarrantable interference in that authority's freedom of action to seek to control its total expenditure is complete and utter nonsense.

Mr. Robert Hughes

If the Minister is saying that local authorities are the creatures of Government, why does not the legislation put local authorities on the same basis as health authorities, which are not elected? If the Minister is saying that the Government have a direct responsibility for local authority budgets, why is he not doing a clean job instead of hiding behind the facts and asking local authorities to do his dirty work for him?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman had listened he would have heard that I said that local authorities were the creatures of Parliament, not Government. They were created by Parliament, and that is different.

The Opposition might say that they accept that Parliament and Government have a right to determine education, housing and social policy. However, they might seek to make a distinction when it comes to finance—expenditure and revenue matters. The Opposition might seek to suggest that when dealing with expenditure different considerations should apply. They might say that, whatever right Parliament or Government have to intervene in some areas, they have no right to intervene over expenditure. Expenditure consists of capital and current expenditure. For many years the Government have had almost total control over the capital expenditure of local authorities. Until the last one or two years they have had to give sanction to every individual project that a local authority wished to pursue.

Borrowing is vital to the interests of local authorities. For many years a corpus of statutory provision has regulated local authority borrowing powers in a way which has been accepted by successive Governments. The hon. Member for Garscadden conceded that the rate support grant, accounting as it does for a high proportion of local authority expenditure, inevitably is a matter in which the Government take an interest.

It is suggested that while the Government might seek to influence local authority expenditure, they should not seek to ensure that the national interest is observed. The House should reflect that Governments, whether Labour, believing in an increase in public expenditure, or Tory, wishing to reduce it, have always accepted that the totality of public expenditure is an essential and legitimate part of the Government's economic strategy. When one considers that the totality of local authority spending in the United Kingdom this year will amount to about £30,000 million, or between one-quarter and one-third of all public expenditure, not one hon. Member will suggest that such sums can be left out of account when any Government seek to control public expenditure.

Mr. Russell Johnston

The Minister's argument is extraordinary. It is 15 years since the Royal Commission on local government was established. Its object was to give local authorities more independence from the Government. The implication was that at a further stage that independence would apply also to finance. The Minister seems to be throwing the whole idea out of the window.

Mr. Rifkind

I do not seek to throw the whole idea out of the window. However, a settled part of the relationship between the Government and local authorities over many years has been that when the Government requested local authorities to moderate their expenditure in the national interest—as the last Labour Government did—local authorities have responded. The have done that not entirely to meet the wishes of the Government, but they have sought to respond, to a lesser or greater extent, whatever their political complexion and whether or not they agreed with the Government.

I accept that many local authorities seek to do that today. Some have responded, although perhaps not as much as the Government might have wished. The authorities with which we are dealing tonight have deliberately chosen to move in the opposite direction. They have deliberately chosen over successive years not simply not to reduce expenditure enough or to maintain it at its existing level but deliberately and consciously to plan substantial growth year after year, irrespective of the effect not only on their ratepayers but on the national interest.

That is the fundamental problem that the previous Government did not have to deal with. When they requested local authorities to co-operate, of course, they did not co-operate to the extent that they wished, but no authority sought to overspend by £63 million in one year, as Lothian is doing. Conservative and Labour authorities co-operated and did not seek to divide.

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman is an intelligent and well-educated man, so he he must be aware that, if Lothian region raises a certain sum in rates and spends within the region that sum on maintaining a high quality of services, the economic effect on the remainder of Great Britain outwith Lothian region is precisely and absolutely neutral. What possible national interest can he, therefore, claim for interfering by a specified amount in a local authority's budget?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is the Opposition Treasury spokesman, so will be well aware that local authority expenditure is an integral part of public expenditure. When one considers that Lothian's proposed overspend of £63 million is almost as much as the entire sum given to the Housing Corporation in Scotland for housing association activities, one gets an idea of the scale of the problem.

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) asked me to turn to the reports. I shall do so, but I make no apology for dealing with the claims of local democracy, as they formed the major part of the debate.

The right hon. Gentleman complains that the Government's selective actions will not benefit the remainder of Scottish local authorities because of a possible general abatement. Let me make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman and the House what would have occurred if no selective powers were available and if there were a general abatement of the full £100 million. Dumfries and Galloway, which has actually spent under the guidelines by £100,000, would have been penalised by over £2 million. The Highland region, whose excess over the guideline is only £2 million, would have been penalised by more than £4 million. Strathclyde regional council, the right hon. Gentleman's own authority, is £29 million above the guideline and would have been penalised to the extent of £45 million. Would he have preferred that?

Mr. Millan

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will now answer the question that has been asked on numerous occasions. How will the authorities be penalised by the Government? There is to be a general clawback, so how much is involved?

Mr. Rifkind

I notice that the right hon. Gentleman did not say that he would prefer Strathclyde to suffer the brunt of a full general abatement without selective measures. It might have been more honest of him to acknowledge that the selective powers will benefit an authority such as Strathclyde.

The right hon. Gentleman should know by now that the proposed volume overspend in Scotland is £180 million. My right hon. Friend has said that the maximum abatement of grant will be £100 million for the current: year. That sum will be met in two ways—by selective measures against those authorities whose expenditure is excessive and unreasonable and by a general abatement for all authorities. The extent to which that is shared between the two groups of authorities will depend not only on cuts eventually implemented in the selective authorities but also on the extent to which local authorities as a whole revise their budgets. We do not yet know the outcome of the budget revision, and, until we do, it is impossible to say what the size of the general abatement will be. The right hon. Gentleman knows that, and he should not pretend that there is a mystery.

Mr. Millan

The hon. Gentleman has confirmed for the first time that any reductions in the selective penalties will be added to the general penalties and redistributed throughout every local authority in Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman would be correct only if the £100 million was immutable. It is not. It depends on the selective measures and on the revision of budgets that local authorities may indulge in.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked what the immediate consequences of this report would be if it were passed. I think that the whole House was grateful that, for the first time during the past two years, the right hon. Gentleman called upon Lothian regional council to reduce its spending. It is the first time that the has said that. He has been asked during the past two or three years to use his undoubted influence to seek to moderate the expenditure plans of some of the highest spending local authorities in Scotland, but he has refused to do so. We welcome the fact that at this late date he is now prepared to call for a compromise and to ask the Lothian region and the other authorities to meet the Secretary of State and to seek to reach an agreement. We are sorry that he did not feel able to do that slightly earlier, when it would have had a greater impact. Nevertheless, we welcome it now.

If these reports are approved by the House, my right hon. Friend has already told the local authorities that he intends 10 allow a short period during which they can have discussions with him. We envisage a period of about eight to 10 days. If at the end of that time there is no sign that any discussions are likely to lead to some form of agreement, inevitably the report will be implemented. If by that stage discussions had begun and it was simply a matter of a slight extension to see whether the discussions could be fruitful, the Government would not be rigid about the time scale. However, that would apply only if it appeared at the end of the period that further discussions would be fruitful, because that would be in everyone's interest.

It is still open to each of the authorities not to lose a single penny in rate support grant. For the first time ever, Scottish local authorities, faced with a loss of rate support grant, have the specific option, as an alternative to losing a single penny of grant from the Government, of changing their rate poundage in mid-term, reducing their rates, and giving the money back to the local ratepayers. That power has not been available to them in the past. If they exercise that power, it will ensure that the sums concerned remain within the local community and continue to benefit the local economy. In addition, the authorities would not lose a single penny to the Government.

Mr. Millan

The report that we are being asked to approve provides for a reduction of £47 million in the case of Lothian. We have said that that is impossible, and we have asked the Minister to explain how Lothian region can reduce its expenditure in the current year by £47 million without making thousands of redundancies. The Minister has three minutes left. Will he answer that question?

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that every opposition party in Lothian regional council has produced proposals, ranging between £18 million and £30 million, which, before the question of compulsory redun-dancies was even considered, could produce many millions of pounds in major savings. We have not yet heard from the right hon. Gentleman whether that is the kind of savings that he would wish the regional council to implement.

The proposals before the House need not lead to the loss of a single pound by the local authority, or to the loss of a single pound to the local community or the local economy of the area. If the local authorities choose not to implement the rates reduction and insist on giving money back to the Government instead of giving it back to their-local ratepayers, they will have to give an explanation for their action to the communities concerned.

I and my right hon. Friend realise that it is difficult for authorities such as Lothian, Stirling or Dundee—which have strong political views, deeply held, the sincerity of which I do not question for a moment—to make the sort of changes that will be required to bring down their expenditure. I freely accept that it is a difficult problem for any local authority. However, in a few minutes the House will have the opportunity to vote on the matter. I hope that if the authorities believe in democracy and accountability to Parliament, they will acknowledge that Parliament will have spoken on the matter and that the Secretary of State will then be entitled to act. I hope that they will respond not only to what my right hon. Friend has said but to what Opposition Members have said, and will come to my right hon. Friend so that a proper, acceptable and honourable agreement can be achieved in the interests of the people whom they serve.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 302, Noes 245.

Division No. 282] [10.00 pm
Adley, Robert Alison, Michael
Aitken, Jonathan Amery, Rt Hon Julian
Alexander, Richard Ancram, Michael
Arnold, Tom Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Aspinwall, Jack Fookes, Miss Janet
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Forman, Nigel
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Fox, Marcus
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Banks, Robert Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bendall, Vivian Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Garel-Jones, Tristan
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Glyn, Dr Alan
Best, Keith Goodhart, Philip
Bevan, David Gilroy Goodhew, Victor
Biffen, Rt Hon John Goodlad, Alastair
Biggs-Davison, John Gorst, John
Blackburn, John Gow, Ian
Blaker, Peter Gower, Sir Raymond
Body, Richard Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gray, Hamish
Boscawen, Hon Robert Greenway, Harry
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Grieve, Percy
Bowden, Andrew Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)
Brains, Sir Bernard Grist, Ian
Bright, Graham Grylls, Michael
Brinton, Tim Gummer, John Selwyn
Brittan, Leon Hamilton, Hon A.
Brooke, Hon Peter Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Brotherton, Michael Hampson, Dr Keith
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Hannam, John
Browne, John (Winchester) Haselhurst, Alan
Bruce-Gardyne, John Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Bryan, Sir Paul Hawkins, Paul
Buck, Antony Hawksley, Warren
Budgen, Nick Hayhoe, Barney
Bulmer, Esmond Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Burden, Sir Frederick Heddle, John
Butcher, John Henderson, Barry
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hicks, Robert
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Hooson, Tom
Chapman, Sydney Hordern, Peter
Churchill, W. S. Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hurd, Hon Douglas
Clegg, Sir Walter Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Cockeram, Eric Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Colvin, Michael Jessel, Toby
Cope, John Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Cormack, Patrick Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Corrie, John Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Costain, Sir Albert Kaberry, Sir Donald
Cranborne, Viscount Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Critchley, Julian Kershaw, Anthony
Crouch, David Kimball, Marcus
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) King, Rt Hon Tom
Dickens, Geoffrey Kitson, Sir Timothy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Knox, David
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lamont, Norman
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lang, Ian
Durant, Tony Langford-Holt, Sir John
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lawrence, Ivan
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Eggar, Tim Lee, John
Elliott, Sir William Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Eyre, Reginald Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Fairgrieve, Russell Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Faith, Mrs Sheila Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Farr, John Loveridge, John
Fell, Anthony Luce, Richard
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lyell, Nicholas
Finsberg, Geoffrey McCrindle, Robert
Fisher, Sir Nigel Macfarlane, Neil
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N) MacGregor, John
MacKay, John (Argyll) Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Rossi, Hugh
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Rost, Peter
McQuarrie, Albert Royle, Sir Anthony
Madel. David St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Major, John Scott, Nicholas
Marland, Paul Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Marlow, Tony Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Marten, Neil (Banbury) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Mates, Michael Shepherd, Richard
Mather, Carol Shersby, Michael
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Silvester, Fred
Mawby, Ray Sims, Roger
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Skeet, T. H. H.
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Speed, Keith
Mayhew, Patrick Speller, Tony
Mellor, David Spence, John
Meyer, Sir Anthony Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Miller, Hal (B'grove) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Sproat, Iain
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Squire, Robin
Miscampbell, Norman Stainton, Keith
Moate, Roger Stanbrook, Ivor
Monro, Hector Stanley, John
Montgomery, Fergus Steen, Anthony
Moore, John Stevens, Martin
Morgan, Geraint Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Stokes, John
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Stradling Thomas, J.
Mudd, David Tapsell, Peter
Murphy, Christopher Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Myles, David Temple-Morris, Peter
Neale, Gerrard Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Needham, Richard Thompson, Donald
Neubert, Michael Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Newton, Tony Thornton, Malcolm
Normanton, Tom Townend, John (Bridlington)
Onslow, Cranley Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Trippier, David
Osborn, John Trotter, Neville
Page, John (Harrow, West) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Viggers, Peter
Parkinson, Cecil Waddington, David
Parris, Matthew Wakeham, John
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Waldegrave, Hon William
Patten, John (Oxford) Walker, B. (Perth )
Pattie, Geoffrey Wall, Patrick
Pawsey, James Walters, Dennis
Percival, Sir Ian Ward, John
Peyton, Rt Hon John Warren, Kenneth
Pink, R. Bonner Watson, John
Pollock, Alexander Wells, John (Maidstone)
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Wells, Bowen
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Wheeler, John
Prior, Rt Hon James Whitney, Raymond
Proctor, K. Harvey Wickenden, Keith
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Wiggin, Jerry
Rathbone, Tim Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Winterton, Nicholas
Rees-Davies, W. R. Wolfson, Mark
Renton, Tim Young, Sir George (Acton)
Rhodes James, Robert Younger, Rt Hon George
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Tellers for the Ayes:
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Mr. Spencer Le Merchant and
Rifkind, Malcolm Mr. Anthony Berry.
Abse, Leo Atkinson, N.(H'gey,)
Adams, Allen Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)
Allaun, Frank Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd)
Alton, David Beith, A. J.
Anderson, Donald Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Bidwell, Sydney
Ashton, Joe Booth, Rt Hon Albert
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro) Heffer, Eric S.
Bray, Dr Jeremy Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Home Robertson, John
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Homewood, William
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Hooley, Frank
Buchan, Norman Howell, Rt Hon D.
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Hoyle, Douglas
Campbell-Savours, Dale Huckfield, Les
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Janner, Hon Greville
Cohen, Stanley Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Coleman, Donald Johnson, James (Hull West)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Johnson, Walter (Derby S)
Conlan, Bernard Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Cook, Robin F. Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda)
Cowans, Harry Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Craigen, J. M. Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Crowther, J. S. Kerr, Russell
Cryer, Bob Kilfedder, James A.
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Kinnock, Neil
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Lambie, David
Dalyell, Tam Lamond, James
Davidson, Arthur Leadbitter, Ted
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli) Leighton, Ronald
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Lestor, Miss Joan
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW)
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Deakins, Eric Litherland, Robert
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Dempsey, James Lyon, Alexander (York)
Dewar, Donald Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W)
Dixon, Donald Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Dobson, Frank McCartney, Hugh
Dormand, Jack McDonald, Dr Oonagh
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McElhone, Frank
Dubs, Alfred McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Duffy, A. E. P. McKelvey, William
Dunn, James A. MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dunnett, Jack Maclennan, Robert
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. McMahon, Andrew
Eadie, Alex McNally, Thomas
Eastham, Ken McNamara, Kevin
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) McTaggart, Robert
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're) Magee, Bryan
English, Michael Marks, Kenneth
Ennals, Rt Hon David Marshall, D(G'gow S'ton)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Evans, John (Newton) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Ewing, Harry Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Faulds, Andrew Maxton, John
Field, Frank Maynard, Miss Joan
Flannery, Martin Meacher, Michael
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Mikardo, Ian
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Forrester, John Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Foster, Derek Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Foulkes, George Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
George, Bruce Morton, George
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Ginsburg, David Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Golding, John Newens, Stanley
Graham, Ted Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Grant, George (Morpeth) O'Halloran, Michael
Grant, John (Islington C) O'Neill, Martin
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hardy, Peter Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Palmer, Arthur
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Park, George
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Parker, John
Haynes, Frank Pendry, Tom
Penhaligon, David Stott, Roger
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Strang, Gavin
Prescott, John Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Radice, Giles Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Richardson, Jo Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N) Tilley, John
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Tinn, James
Robertson, George Torney, Tom
Robinson, G. (Coventry NW) Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Rodgers, Rt Hon William Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Roper, John Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Rowlands, Ted Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Ryman, John Watkins, David
Sandelson, Neville Weetch, Ken
Sever, John Welsh, Michael
Sheerman, Barry White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Sheldon, Rt Hon R. Whitehead, Phillip
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Whitlock, William
Short, Mrs Renée Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford) Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Silverman, Julius Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Skinner, Dennis Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Smith, Cyril (Rochdale) Winnick, David
Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark) Woodall, Alec
Snape, Peter Woolmer, Kenneth
Soley, Clive Wright, Sheila
Spearing, Nigel Young, David (Bolton E)
Spriggs, Leslie
Stallard, A. W. Tellers for the Noes:
Steel, Rt Hon David Mr. James Hamilton and
Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles) Mr. Frank White.
Stoddart, David

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Report on the Rate Support Grant Reduction (Lothian Region) 1981–82, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.

It being after Ten o'clock, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to order this day, to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Report on the Rate Support Grant Reduction (Dundee and Stirling Districts) 1981–82, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, in respect of Dundee District, be approved.—[Mr. Younger.]

The House divided: Ayes 302, Noes 242.

Division No. 283] [10.14 pm
Adley, Robert Biggs-Davison, John
Aitken, Jonathan Blackburn, John
Alexander, Richard Blaker, Peter
Alison, Michael Body, Richard
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Ancram, Michael Boscawen, Hon Robert
Arnold, Tom Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W)
Aspinwall, Jack Bowden, Andrew
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Boyson, Dr Rhodes
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Braine, Sir Bernard
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Bright, Graham
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) Brinton, Tim
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Brittan, Leon
Banks, Robert Brooke, Hon Peter
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Brotherton, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Browne, John (Winchester)
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Bruce-Gardyne, John
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Bryan, Sir Paul
Best, Keith Buck, Antony
Bevan, David Gilroy Budgen, Nick
Biffen, Rt Hon John Bulmer, Esmond
Burden, Sir Frederick Heddle, John
Butcher, John Henderson, Barry
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hicks, Robert
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Hooson, Tom
Chapman, Sydney Hordern, Peter
Churchill, W. S. Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hurd, Hon Douglas
Clegg, Sir Walter Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Cockeram, Eric Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Colvin, Michael Jessel, Toby
Cope, John Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Cormack, Patrick Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Corrie, John Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Costain, Sir Albert Kaberry, Sir Donald
Cranborne, Viscount Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Critchley, Julian Kershaw, Anthony
Crouch, David Kimball, Marcus
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) King, Rt Hon Tom
Dickens, Geoffrey Kitson, Sir Timothy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Knox, David
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lamont, Norman
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lang, Ian
Durant, Tony Langford-Holt, Sir John
Dykes, Hugh Latham, Michael
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Lawrence, Ivan
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Eggar, Tim Lee, John
Elliott, Sir William Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Eyre, Reginald Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Fairgrieve, Russell Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Faith, Mrs Sheila Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Farr, John Loveridge, John
Fell, Anthony Luce, Richard
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lyell, Nicholas
Finsberg, Geoffrey McCrindle, Robert
Fisher, Sir Nigel Macfarlane, Neil
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N) MacGregor, John
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles MacKay, John (Argyll)
Fookes, Miss Janet Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Forman, Nigel McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Fox, Marcus McQuarrie, Albert
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Madel, David
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Major, John
Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. Marland, Paul
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Marlow, Tony
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Marten, Neil (Banbury)
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Mates, Michael
Glyn, Dr Alan Mather, Carol
Goodhart, Philip Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Goodhew, Victor Mawby, Ray
Goodlad, Alastair Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Gorst, John Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Gow, Ian Mayhew, Patrick
Gower, Sir Raymond Mellor, David
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Gray, Hamish Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Greenway, Harry Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Grieve, Percy Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds) Miscampbell, Norman
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Moate, Roger
Grist, Ian Monro, Hector
Grylls, Michael Montgomery, Fergus
Gummer, John Selwyn Moore, John
Hamilton, Hon A. Morgan, Geraint
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hampson, Dr Keith Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hannam, John Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Haselhurst, Alan Mudd, David
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Murphy, Christopher
Hawkins, Paul Myles, David
Hawksley, Warren Neale, Gerrard
Hayhoe, Barney Needham, Richard
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Neubert, Michael
Newton, Tony Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Normanton, Tom Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Onslow, Cranley Sproat, Iain
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Squire, Robin
Osborn, John Stainton, Keith
Page, John (Harrow, West) Stanbrook, Ivor
Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby) Stanley, John
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Steen, Anthony
Parkinson, Cecil Stevens, Martin
Parris, Matthew Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Patten, Christopher (Bath) Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Patten, John (Oxford) Stokes, John
Pattie, Geoffrey Stradling Thomas, J.
Pawsey, James Tapsell, Peter
Percival, Sir Ian Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Peyton, Rt Hon John Temple-Morris, Peter
Pink, R. Bonner Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Pollock, Alexander Thompson, Donald
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Thornton, Malcolm
Prior, Rt Hon James Townend, John (Bridlington)
Proctor, K. Harvey Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Trippier, David
Rathbone, Tim Trotter, Neville
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Rees-Davies, W. R. Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Renton, Tim Viggers, Peter
Rhodes James, Robert Waddington, David
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wakeham, John
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Waldegrave, Hon William
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Walker, B. (Perth )
Rifkind, Malcolm Wall, Patrick
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW) Walters, Dennis
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Ward, John
Rossi, Hugh Warren, Kenneth
Rost, Peter Watson, John
Royle, Sir Anthony Wells, John (Maidstone)
St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N. Wells, Bowen
Scott, Nicholas Wheeler, John
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Whitney, Raymond
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Wickenden, Keith
Shelton, William (Streatham) Wiggin, Jerry
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Shepherd, Richard Winterton, Nicholas
Shersby, Michael Wolfson, Mark
Silvester, Fred Young, Sir George (Acton)
Sims, Roger Younger, Rt Hon George
Skeet, T. H. H.
Speed, Keith Tellers for the Ayes:
Speller, Tony Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Spence, John Mr. Anthony Berry.
Abse, Leo Carter-Jones, Lewis
Adams, Allen Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Allaun, Frank Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)
Alton, David Cohen, Stanley
Anderson, Donald Coleman, Donald
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Cook, Robin F.
Ashton, Joe Cowans, Harry
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,) Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Crowther, Stan
Beith, A. J. Cryer, Bob
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N) Cunningham, G. (Islington S)
Bidwell, Sydney Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Dalyell, Tam
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Davidson, Arthur
Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro) Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Deakins, Eric
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Dempsey, James
Buchan, Norman Dewar, Donald
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Dixon, Donald
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dobson, Frank
Canavan, Dennis Dormand, Jack
Douglas-Mann, Bruce McElhone, Frank
Dubs, Alfred McKelvey, William
Duffy, A. E. P. MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Dunn, James A. Maclennan, Robert
Dunnett, Jack McMahon, Andrew
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G. McNally, Thomas
Eadie, Alex McNamara, Kevin
Eastham, Ken McTaggart, Robert
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) Magee, Bryan
Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're) Marks, Kenneth
English, Michael Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)
Ennals, Rt Hon David Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Evans, John (Newton) Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Ewing, Harry Maxton, John
Faulds, Andrew Maynard, Miss Joan
Field, Frank Meacher, Michael
Flannery, Martin Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Mikardo, Ian
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Forrester, John Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Foster, Derek Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen)
Foulkes, George Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd) Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw)
Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Morton, George
George, Bruce Moyle, Rt Hon Roland
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Ginsburg, David Newens, Stanley
Golding, John Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Graham, Ted O'Halloran, Michael
Grant, George (Morpeth) O'Neill, Martin
Grant, John (Islington C) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Palmer, Arthur
Hardy, Peter Park, George
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Parker, John
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Pendry, Tom
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Penhaligon, David
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Heffer, Eric S. Prescott, John
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire) Radice, Giles
Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll) Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Home Robertson, John Richardson, Jo
Homewood, William Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Hooley, Frank Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Howell, Rt Hon D. Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hoyle, Douglas Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Huckfield, Les Robertson, George
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Roper, John
Janner, Hon Greville Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Rowlands, Ted
Johnson, James (Hull West) Ryman, John
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Sever, John
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Sheerman, Barry
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda) Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Short, Mrs Renée
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Kerr, Russell Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Kilfedder, James A. Silverman, Julius
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Skinner, Dennis
Kinnock, Neil Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Lambie, David Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Lamond, James Snape, Peter
Leadbitter, Ted Soley, Clive
Leighton, Ronald Spearing, Nigel
Lestor, Miss Joan Spriggs, Leslie
Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW) Stallard, A. W.
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Steel, Rt Hon David
Litherland, Robert Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Stoddart, David
Lyon, Alexander (York) Stott, Roger
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Strang, Gavin
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
McCartney, Hugh Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Whitlock, William
Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Thorne, Stan (Preston South) Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Tinn, James Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Torney, Tom Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Urwin, Rt Hon Tom Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Varley, Rt Hon Eric G. Winnick, David
Wainwright, E.(Dearne V) Woodall, Alec
Wainwright, R.(Colne V) Woolmer, Kenneth
Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster) Wright, Sheila
Watkins, David Young, David (Bolton E)
Weetch, Ken
Welsh, Michael Tellers for the Noes:
White, Frank R. Mr. Frank Haynes and
White, J. (G'gow Pollok) Mr. Allen McKay.
Whitehead, Philip

Question accordingly agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Report on the Rate Support Grant Reduction (Dundee and Stirling Districts) 1981–82, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, in respect of Stirling District, be approved.—[Mr. Younger.]

The House divided: Ayes 301, Noes 241.

Division No. 284] [10.28 pm
Adley, Robert Churchill, W. S.
Aitken, Jonathan Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n)
Alexander, Richard Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)
Alison, Michael Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Clegg, Sir Walter
Ancram, Michael Cockeram, Eric
Arnold, Tom Colvin, Michael
Aspinwall, Jack Cope, John
Atkins, Rt Hon H.(S'thorne) Cormack, Patrick
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Corrie, John
Atkinson, David (B'm'th,E) Costain, Sir Albert
Baker, Kenneth(St.M'bone) Cranborne, Viscount
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Critchley, Julian
Banks, Robert Crouch, David
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Dean, Paul (North Somerset)
Bendall, Vivian Dickens, Geoffrey
Bennett, Sir Frederic (T'bay) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) du Cann, Rt Hon Edward
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Dunn, Robert (Dartford)
Best, Keith Durant, Tony
Bevan, David Gilroy Dykes, Hugh
Biffen, Rt Hon John Eden, Rt Hon Sir John
Biggs-Davison, John Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke)
Blackburn, John Eggar, Tim
Blaker, Peter Elliott, Sir William
Body, Richard Eyre, Reginald
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fairgrieve, Russell
Boscawen, Hon Robert Faith, Mrs Sheila
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Farr, John
Bowden, Andrew Fell, Anthony
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Fenner, Mrs Peggy
Braine, Sir Bernard Finsberg, Geoffrey
Bright, Graham Fisher, Sir Nigel
Brinton, Tim Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N)
Brittan, Leon Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles
Brooke, Hon Peter Fookes, Miss Janet
Brotherton, Michael Forman, Nigel
Brown, Michael(Brigg & Sc'n) Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Browne, John (Winchester) Fox, Marcus
Bruce-Gardyne, John Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh
Bryan, Sir Paul Fraser, Peter (South Angus)
Buck, Antony Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.
Budgen, Nick Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Bulmer, Esmond Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Burden, Sir Frederick Garel-Jones, Tristan
Butcher, John Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Cadbury, Jocelyn Glyn, Dr Alan
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Goodhart, Philip
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Goodhew, Victor
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Goodlad, Alastair
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Gorst, John
Chapman, Sydney Gow, Ian
Gower, Sir Raymond Meyer, Sir Anthony
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Gray, Hamish Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Greenway, Harry Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Grieve, Percy Miscampbell, Norman
Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds) Moate, Roger
Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N) Monro, Hector
Grist, Ian Montgomery, Fergus
Grylls, Michael Moore, John
Gummer, John Selwyn Morgan, Geraint
Hamilton, Hon A. Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Hampson, Dr Keith Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Hannam, John Mudd, David
Haselhurst, Alan Murphy, Christopher
Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Myles, David
Hawkins, Paul Neale, Gerrard
Hawksley, Warren Needham, Richard
Hayhoe, Barney Neubert, Michael
Heath, Rt Hon Edward Newton, Tony
Heddle, John Normanton, Tom
Henderson, Barry Onslow, Cranley
Hicks, Robert Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S.
Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Osborn, John
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)
Hooson, Tom Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Hordern, Peter Parkinson, Cecil
Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd) Parris, Matthew
Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk) Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Patten, John (Oxford)
Hurd, Hon Douglas Pattie, Geoffrey
Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Pawsey, James
Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Percival, Sir Ian
Jessel, Toby Peyton, Rt Hon John
Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Pink, R. Bonner
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Pollock, Alexander
Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Kaberry, Sir Donald Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Prior, Rt Hon James
Kershaw, Anthony Proctor, K. Harvey
Kimball, Marcus Pym, Rt Hon Francis
King, Rt Hon Tom Rathbone, Tim
Kitson, Sir Timothy Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
Knox, David Rees-Davies, W. R.
Lamont, Norman Renton, Tim
Lang, Ian Rhodes James, Robert
Langford-Holt, Sir John Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Latham, Michael Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Lawrence, Ivan Ridsdale, Sir Julian
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Rifkind, Malcolm
Lee, John Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Lester, Jim (Beeston) Rossi, Hugh
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rost, Peter
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Royle, Sir Anthony
Loveridge, John St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Luce, Richard Scott, Nicholas
Lyell, Nicholas Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
McCrindle, Robert Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Macfarlane, Neil Shelton, William (Streatham)
MacGregor, John Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
MacKay, John (Argyll) Shepherd, Richard
Macmillan, Rt Hon M. Shersby, Michael
McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury) Silvester, Fred
McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st) Sims, Roger
McQuarrie, Albert Skeet, T. H. H.
Madel, David Speed, Keith
Major, John Speller, Tony
Marland, Paul Spence, John
Marlow, Tony Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Marten, Neil (Banbury) Sproat, Iain
Mates, Michael Squire, Robin
Mather, Carol Stainton, Keith
Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus Stanbrook, Ivor
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Stanley, John
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Steen, Anthony
Mayhew, Patrick Stevens, Martin
Mellor, David Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire) Wall, Patrick
Stokes, John Walters, Dennis
Stradling Thomas, J. Ward, John
Tapsell, Peter Warren, Kenneth
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Watson, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Wells, John (Maidstone)
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wells, Bowen
Thompson, Donald Wheeler, John
Thorne, Neil (Ilford South) Whitney, Raymond
Thornton, Malcolm Wickenden, Keith
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wiggin, Jerry
Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath) Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Trippier, David Winterton, Nicholas
Trotter, Neville Wolfson, Mark
van Straubenzee, W. R. Young, Sir George (Acton)
Vaughan, Dr Gerard Younger, Rt Hon George
Viggers, Peter
Waddington, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Wakeham, John Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and
Waldegrave, Hon William Mr. Anthony Berry.
Walker, B. (Perth)
Abse, Leo Dormand, Jack
Adams, Allen Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Allaun, Frank Dubs, Alfred
Alton, David Duffy, A. E. P.
Anderson, Donald Dunn, James A.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dunnett, Jack
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.
Ashton, Joe Eadie, Alex
Atkinson, N.(H gey,) Eastham, Ken
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Beith, A. J. English, Michael
Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood Ennals, Rt Hon David
Bennett, Andrew(St'kp't N) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Bidwell, Sydney Evans, John (Newton)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Ewing, Harry
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Faulds, Andrew
Bottomley, Rt Hon A.(M'b'ro) Field, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Flannery, Martin
Brocklebank-Fowler, C. Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Brown, R. C. (N' castle W) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Forrester, John
Buchan, Norman Foster, Derek
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Foulkes, George
Campbell-Savours, Dale Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Canavan, Dennis Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Carter-Jones, Lewis Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) George, Bruce
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Cohen, Stanley Ginsburg, David
Coleman, Donald Golding, John
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Graham, Ted
Conlan, Bernard Grant, George (Morpeth)
Cook, Robin F. Grant, John (Islington C)
Cowans, Harry Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Cox, T. (W'dsW'th, Toot'g) Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Craigen, J. M. Hardy, Peter
Crowther, J. S. Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Cryer, Bob Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Haynes, Frank
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Dalyell, Tam Heffer, Eric S.
Davidson, Arthur Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll)
Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd) Home Robertson, John
Deakins, Eric Homewood, William
Dempsey, James Hooley, Frank
Dewar, Donald Howell, Rt Hon D.
Dixon, Donald Hoyle, Douglas
Dobson, Frank Huckfield, Les
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Prescott, John
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Radice, Giles
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Janner, Hon Greville Richardson, Jo
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rh'dda) Robertson, George
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Roper, John
Kerr, Russell Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Kilfedder, James A. Rowlands, Ted
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Ryman, John
Kinnock, Neil Sandelson, Neville
Lambie, David Sever, John
Lamond, James Sheerman, Barry
Leadbitter, Ted Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Leighton, Ronald Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lestor, Miss Joan Short, Mrs Renée
Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW) Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Litherland, Robert Silverman, Julius
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Skinner, Dennis
Lyon, Alexander (York) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Snape, Peter
McCartney, Hugh Soley, Clive
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Spearing, Nigel
McElhone, Frank Spriggs, Leslie
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Stallard, A. W.
McKelvey, William Steel, Rt Hon David
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Maclennan, Robert Stoddart, David
McMahon, Andrew Strang, Gavin
McNally, Thomas Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
McNamara, Kevin Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
McTaggart, Robert Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Magee, Bryan Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Marks, Kenneth Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Marshall, D(G'gow S'ton) Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Tinn, James
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Torney, Tom
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
Maxton, John Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Maynard, Miss Joan Wainwright, E.(Dearne V)
Meacher, Michael Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert Walker, Rt Hon H.(D'caster)
Mikardo, Ian Watkins, David
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Weetch, Ken
Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Welsh, Michael
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) White, Frank R.
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen) White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Whitehead, Phillip
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Whitlock, William
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Williams, Rt Hon A.(S'sea W)
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Newens, Stanley Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Wilson, William (C'try SE)
O'Halloran, Michael Winnick, David
O'Neill, Martin Woodall, Alec
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Woolmer, Kenneth
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wright, Sheila
Palmer, Arthur Young, David (Bolton E)
Park, George
Parker, John Tellers for the Noes:
Pendry, Tom Mr. Joseph Dean and
Penhaligon, David Mr. George Morton.
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)

Question accordingly agreed to.

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