HC Deb 13 July 1983 vol 45 cc866-7
6. Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what reply he has made to the representations made to him by the Kirkcaldy district council concerning the action he intends to take against the council for its allegedly excessive and unreasonable expenditure proposed for 1983–84.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)

Kirkcaldy district council was informed on 29 June that, having given careful consideration to its representations, my right hon. Friend remained of the view that the council's planned expenditure for 1983–84 was excessive and unreasonable, but that the rate reduction originally proposed should be limited to 2p. As the council is not willing to make a voluntary rate reduction of this amount, my right hon. Friend is therefore seeking approval to a rate reduction of 2p in the report laid before the House on 7 July.

Mr. Hamilton

Why is this moderate and responsible authority being singled out for this cavalier treatment by the Government? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the current rate of the Kirkcaldy district council of 29p is considerably less than the 35p average rate across Scotland for all district councils? Is it not the case that the council is being penalised, as many think in Kirkcaldy, because one of the few Tory councillors is a paid hack of a Minister on the Treasury Bench?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is no basis for that strange allegation. Even with the changes that have been made in the budget following the representations made to myself at my meeting with the Kirkcaldy district council, it is still the view of my right hon. Friend that its expenditure is excessive and unreasonable. The council has accepted that there could be savings that could be returned to the ratepayers.

Mr. Gourlay

Is the Minister aware that the average rate demand over the past five years in Kirkcaldy has been considerably less than the demands of the six comparable authorities that have been chosen by the Secretary of State for Scotland for comparison with Kirkcaldy? How can he regard the rate in Kirkcaldy as excessive and unreasonable? Will he become more objective, rather than subjective, in analysing the rate in Kirkcaldy and for once throw aside his Hitlerian mantle?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman knows that expenditure has been excessive and unreasonable and that there are a number of criteria on which that judgment is based, one of which is the rate level. The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to develop his argument in further detail when the order is debated. If he chooses to do so, I shall answer him in further detail.

Mr. Henderson

Would my hon. Friend imagine from the remarks of Opposition Members that the rate of the Kirkcaldy district council has more than doubled since the Labour party took full control? Is he aware that there has been an increase of 15½p since 1980, while during the same period the rate of the North-East Fife district council has increased by only 2½p?

Mr. Ancram

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that valid comparison. Opposition Members are not best known for their defence of ratepayers, and ratepayers in Scotland have been hard pressed for a long time.

Mr. Dewar

Does the Minister accept that the principal cause of the increase in rates in Scotland in recent years has been the cut in the rate support grant? Does he accept that many councils have a higher rate of expenditure per head than Kirkcaldy, and in excess of the allegedly indicative guidelines? Does that not demonstrate that the Government have acted in an obscure and prejudiced fashion, and extremely unfairly? Will he explain in some detail, either during the debate on the order or by publication before the debate, how the rate reduction should be limited to 2p? The letter of 29 June gives no reason and merely announces the outcome. What was the reduction in the unfair and excessive expenditure, which he presumably accepted should be made, to justify the decrease?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman will have to await the debate if he wishes specific answers to those questions. He knows that this is not the proper occasion to debate the details of the order. He knows also that expenditure in excess of the guidelines is only one part of the criteria upon which my right hon. Friend makes his assessment.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the House knows that I have a great interest in Scottish questions.

Mr. Foulkes

So have many others.

Mr. Speaker

We are running slightly behind time and I ask for shorter supplementary questions and even shorter answers from the Dispatch Box.