HC Deb 11 March 1981 vol 1000 cc868-70
6. Mr. John Home Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if, in exercising his powers under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, when enacted, he will ensure that rate support grant is not reduced to a level which prevents local authorities from fulfilling their statutory function.

Mr. Younger

The purpose of the provisions to which the hon. Member refers is to enable me to reduce rate support grant to authorities which plan for excessive and unreasonable expenditure in pursuance of their statutory functions.

Mr. Home Robertson

Since the Secretary of State has already forced up rates in Scotland by about 35 per cent.—

Mr. McQuarrie


Mr. Home Robertson

—as a result of his cuts in the rate support grant, will he accept that he has already reduced the finances of local authorities to a level that makes it most difficult for them to fulfil their statutory functions? Does he accept that it would be monstrous if he were to use the draconian powers of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill to make matters even worse for all concerned, particularly ratepayers?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman again is in danger of scoring an own goal. If local authorities had kept to the guidelines that we issued there would have been no need for increases of that sort. Information so far available shows that among the regional councils those under Labour control have published rates increases of 38.8 per cent., whereas the non-Labour-controlled councils have published increases of only 23 per cent. The difference is even greater with district councils. Labour-controlled districts are averaging a 40.4 per cent. increase, whereas those under non-Labour control have produced an average figure of only 11.6 per cent. The hon. Member and his right hon. and hon. Friends ought to be ashamed of those figures.

Mr. Ancram

Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to point out yet again that the rate support grant is public money that has to be raised by Chancellors of the Exchequer in Budgets, and that past high rate support grants have led directly to the sort of harsh measures produced in yesterday's Budget? Does my right hon. Friend agree that in many cases one council's increased rale support grant is another person's increased petrol price?

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend. If Labour authorities were not being so grossly irresponsible in their local spending, ratepayers and taxpayers would have more money in their pockets.

Mr. Millan

The Secretary of State is grossly distorting what is happening. Does he agree that the rate increases for 1981–82 will now average over 30 per cent., which is exactly what we forecast, whereas the right hon. Gentleman said that they would be modest? As for the comparisons between Labour and non-Labour authorities, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are hardly any non-Labour authorities in Scotland, particularly in the districts? How does he explain, for example, Tayside's 36.8 per cent. rate increase? Is it not a fact that all these rate increases, particularly at the district level, come deliberately and directly from the massive reductions that he has made in grant, rate support grant and housing support grant?

Mr. Younger

We now know why the right hon. Gentleman has been so confidently expecting large rate increases. He has clearly been in league with Labour authorities to make these staggering increases in rates. He is wrong in saying that the elevels will be as high as 30 per cent. In Labour-controlled regions they are 38.8 per cent.

Mr. Foulkes

What about Tayside?

Mr. Younger

As for Tayside, if the right hon. Gentleman takes last year and this year together he will see that the increase was extremely modest. For the Labour districts, in both years the increases were excessively large. He and his party had better start thinking about that before they become very unpopular.

Mr. Sproat

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the totally unjustified rate increases by Socialist authorities such as Dundee, Stirling and Lothian are directly responsible for the loss and destruction of thousands of jobs in Scotland, and that they will be responsible for the loss of thousands more jobs this year? Does that not show that those Socialist councils are far more concerned with putting their own dogma of the far Left into practice than with the true interests of their constituents?

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that such practices by Labour-controlled authorities are putting large numbers of people out of work. I have forborne from mentioning the councils of Dundee, Stirling, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, which have made increases of more than 100 per cent. Such increases will put many local people in extreme difficulties.