HC Deb 11 March 1981 vol 1000 cc873-4
10. Mr. Allan Stewart

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the latest information on the level of rates being decided by Scottish local authorities for 1981–82; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Rifkind

Eight regional and islands councils have determined rates increases of well under 30 per cent. while four are over 30 per cent. Thirteen district councils have actually reduced their rates or maintained them at the same level. A further 21 have increases of less than 30 per cent. and 19 have increases of over 30 per cent.

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful for that information. Does my hon. Friend agree that that range of figures shows that while there are many responsible authorities in Scotland, there is also a minority of spendthrift, irresponsible lunatics? In particular, will he comment on the situation in my constituency where ratepayers in the Tory-controlled Eastwood district will pay anextra 12½ per cent. while those who labour under the yoke of the Socialist Renfrew district will pay an extra 60 per cent., which has been imposed by a Labour group whose attitude to ratepayers was exemplified by the recent proposal to provide personal car loans at ratepayers' expense?

Mr. Rifkind

The figures that my right hon. Friend has given show that not only Conservative authorities but those which are non-political in composition have imposed rate increases that are far less than the average. It is almost exclusively Labour-controlled authorities that are imposing intolerable burdens on the public. That distinction gives the lie to the suggestion that somehow it was the rate support grant that put an intolerable burden on all Scottish local authorities.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the Under-Secretary agree that the Tory-controlled Grampian regional council has made a severe attack on education standards in the city of Aberdeen, has failed to make adequate provision for the elderly, has savagely increased bus fares for pensioners and concessionary fares, yet has still managed to increase the rates by 11 per cent? Does he agree that that is grossly irresponsible?

Mr. Rifkind

The ratepayers of every other regional council in Scotland would be delighted with a rates increase of 11.4 per cent. The hon. Gentleman should be aware that he speaks for only a tiny minority in his own region if he objects to the policy of his regional council.

Mr. Ancram

Will my hon. Friend accept congratulations from Conservative Members on his announcement last Friday that he will legislate to empower councils to reduce rates once they have been set? Will he confirm that that will give certain councils the choice between, on the one hand, continuing to crucify ratepayers and losing public funds as a result and restraining their expenditure, and, on the other, seeing it backed by a proper level of rate support grant?

Mr. Rifkind

If my right hon. Friend receives the approval of Parliament to reduce the rate support grant for an individual local authority whose proposed spending is excessive and unreasonable, that local authority will have a choice between giving the rate support grant back to the Government and giving an equivalent or similar amount to the local community. We hope that authorities will have the sense to ensure that the local communities will benefit and not suffer intolerable rate burdens.

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Minister concede that the new clause that he slipped in last Friday will make no difference to this year's rate rises? Is he aware that it is nothing but a smokescreen, and that if he had consulted COSLA he would have discovered that it would be impracticable for such a clause to be put into effect, even if the Bill were passed during the next rating year?

Mr. Rifkind

I disagree with those remarks. The clause will be of considerable benefit to those local authorities where spending is thought to be excessive and unreasonable. They will have the opportunity of giving the money back to the Secretary of State or giving it to local people. If the hon Gentleman is saying that he will encourage a local authority whose proposed spending is excessive and unreasonable to insist on giving the money to the Government when it could give it to the local community, that will need some explaining to the people of Scotland.