§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)
I beg to move,That the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1983, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th July, be approved.In making this order, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was in one sense—and only in one sense—breaking new ground. For the first time this year he has separated from the main rate support grant order for the year ahead the variation order which affects the grant in payment in the current year. Hitherto, the variation of the current year's grant and the proposals for grant in the year ahead have been taken together and debated in January. My right hon. Friend considered it desirable this year to take steps not only to let local authorities and the House know before the summer recess the amount by which he intended to reduce the rate support grant payable to Scottish local authorities this year in order to bring their expenditure more into line with the Government's plans, but to start reducing grant to individual authorities earlier in the financial year. The effect of the order is to reduce the amount of rate support grant for 1983–84 and to enable the reductions in grant to be made more gradually over the rest of this year instead of concentrating them in the short period following the approval of the rate support grant order for the next year, as has been the case up to now. In short, it affects cash flow. This will enable authorities to make the economies we expect them to make over a longer period, and therefore in a more planned and effective way.
Perhaps I might remind the House that the Secretary of State obtained the power to make this order under section 3 of the Local Government and Planning (Scotland) Act 1982. That section provides a general power to reduce or increase grant as circumstances demand and provides for the full implementation of cash planning of rate support grant. In that respect, it corresponds broadly to section 61 of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act (No. 2) 1980 applying to England and Wales. The previous statutory provision in section 4 of the 1966 Act as amended did not enable the Secretary of State to reduce grant though he could in effect do so by adjusting the amount of the increase order, but this is no longer relevant in terms of cash planning.
My right hon. Friend would have been only too glad not to have been obliged to make this order. Ever since 1979, he has been persuading, cajoling and exhorting Scottish local authorities to bring their levels of expenditure more into line with what the country as a whole can afford. Every year, unfortunately, he has had to make some general abatement of grant to bring pressure to narrow the difference between the Government's clearly stated plans and the level of provision proposed by local authorities. This year, as he informed the House on 27 July, local authorities have still not brought their expenditure into line with the Government's plans. For 1983–84 their planned expenditure has been £120 million, or 4.5 per cent. higher than he proposed in the relevant settlement for rate support grant. What was in the settlement was higher than the figures originally proposed in the preceding public expenditure White Paper published in March 1982 by £145 million. My right hon. Friend has all along been remarkably tolerant in making higher assumptions of 936 expenditure for the purpose of allowing local authorities to come into line more gradually with the Government's plans for their expenditure.
Opposition right hon. and hon. Members will undoubtedly say that the variation order which we are debating would reduce the RSG payable this year by £45 million — a higher general abatement than the £27 million in each of the preceding two years. [Interruption.] I am pleased that I have read the mind of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). My right hon. Friend has had little alternative but to withhold more across the board than in earlier years since the lower grant reductions failed to have the desired results. However, I point out that the amount withheld would have been greater if the House had not approved reports reducing by nearly £19 million the rates and expenditure of four local authorities whose proposed expenditure was excessive and unreasonable.
That selective action has two beneficial effects. First, it ensures that the reduction in expenditure by those authorities is reflected in the lower level of rates payable by domestic and non-domestic ratepayers alike. Secondly., the reduction in their case is directly related to their degree of overspending. That does not apply in the case of general abatement, except that the Secretary of State will make arrangements to ensure that no authority will suffer a loss of grant greater than its excess at outturn over current expenditure guidelines for 1983–84. The first step in that adjustment will be made in the settlement for 1984–85 and possibly before. My right hon. Friend fully recognises that the present arrangement, which distributes the penalty in the same way as the original distribution of grant, is unfair on those authorities that exercise prudence in their financial affairs and heed what the Government have been asking them to do for five years.
Apart from the special arrangement I have just mentioned to cater for those authorities whose expenditure remains close to or within guidelines, the effect of this order is to abate grant for all authorities on the pattern of the original distribution of rate support grant for 1983–84. That includes the four authorities which have been the subject of selective action.
As my right hon. Friend has said in the White Paper published on 31 August with proposals for reform of valuation and rating in Scotland,This means of reducing expenditure does not concentrate on those high spending authorities which should bring down their expenditure … The Government believe that a fairer system is needed. They propose to take powers which will enable the Secretary of State to relate an individual authority's share of any general abatement of grant directly to the authority's planned level of expenditure as measured against the authority's current expenditure guideline.The legislation which my right hon. Friend proposes to bring before the House before the recess will, if enacted, have the result that in 1984–85 any variation order such as the one we are debating will be that much fairer in its effects. I believe that this will be generally welcomed, especially by those authorities which have been making genuine and responsible efforts to reduce expenditure.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
How on earth can the Minister make this speech without the slightest reference to the enormity of the damage caused by these cuts? Will he refer to the thousands of teachers who are needed in schools but are walking the streets?
§ Mr. Home Robertson (East Lothian)
Yes, he was. There have been enough snide remarks from the Minister for one day.
§ Mr. Ancram
If the hon. Gentleman was here, he would have heard me talk about the level of expenditure in Scotland this year. Far from cuts, we are still looking at an overall level of local authority spending in Scotland which, in real terms, is higher than it was in 1979. For years, the Government have been making efforts to persuade local authorities that they should reduce their expenditure. In the absence of any genuine attempt by them, a general abatement of this sort becomes necessary.
The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan) drew a wholly misleading comparison on 27 July when he claimed that the general abatement of £45 million related to an excess of expenditure of £120 million whereas in the preceding year the penalty was only £27 million on an excess of £170 million. Those figures took no account of the effect of selective action which in 1983–84 is reducing excessive expenditure by £18.8 million whereas in 1982–83 it achieved a reduction of £31.5 million. The right hon. Gentleman and his friends — I shall be interested to hear what the Opposition spokesman says tonight — have always purported to support divergence of Scottish practice from that in England, particularly when it suited them. What in effect he appears to be asking for is a predetermined scale of penalty geared to the amount of overspend, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, that is the English system. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities categorically told my right hon. Friend in 1980 that it did not want to adopt the block grant system which has since been introduced in England. It preferred to keep the separate system of RSG which I believe is entirely appropriate to Scottish circumstance.
It is perfectly true that when the convention met me and when it later met my right hon. Friend it argued that the scale of general abatement should have been lower than what is set down in the order. It produced various arguments purporting to show that the scale of excess over the Government's planning figures should be regarded as less than £121 million. It has also argued that if at outturn the excess is lower than at present projected—I am sure we all hope that it will be, just as the final outturn figures for 1982–83 show that more local authorities kept within guidelines than we had feared would be the case—then the amount of abatement should be proportionately reduced. My right hon. Friend cannot accept that argument. The abatement is not set at any particular proportion of overspend. Rather, the Secretary of State uses his judgment as to what will persuade local authorities to reduce expenditure in the year. It would of course be easier for local authorities if they budgeted lower rather than having to make savings during the year.
The House will want to know what the effect of the abatement will be on the level of services. In real terms, if this abatement is fully reflected in expenditure reductions—we would of course hope that authorities would at least achieve this—the level of expenditure by Scottish local authorities would remain higher in real terms than in any previous year except 1980–81; and it will still be some 2.1 per cent. in cash above the level provided for 938 in the Government's plans. In these circumstances, it cannot be said that local authority services are being cut to the bone or that the Government are demanding unreasonable reductions in expenditure by this grant reduction.
I hope that the lesson will be learnt this time that budgeting in expectation of a general abatement makes an abatement more certain and probably higher. The Government are looking for reductions in real terms, because we have an overall responsibility for public expenditure, of which local authority spending is part, that we cannot ignore. Local authority spending accounts for nearly one quarter of public expenditure. No Government can afford to disregard what is happening there.
I should prefer to achieve restraint by co-operation, but this year in the budgets fixed by local authorities there are few signs of co-operation and, therefore, this order is necessary.
§ Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)
It is no new experience to hear the Minister introducing measures of this kind. This regulation is one of an endless dreary succession which, over a period, have done a great deal to undermine local government rights in Scotland and restrict the freedom of democratically elected councillors to respond to local needs, to act to meet them and, ultimately, to be answerable to their electorates.
I believe that the Government always hope that the technical nature of Scottish local government, the plethora of rules and regulations, the fact that one often has to return to statute and amendment piled upon statute to discover exactly what will happen, will hide from the public what is afoot and what the Government are doing. The Government rely on boredom to disguise their intent. Having listened to the Minister, I can see that he has a certain talent for that kind of campaign, which I suspect has been recognised in his promotion.
The other great ploy which, inevitably, the Government use, is to blame local government for all the ills that Government policy has created. Local government has the unfortunate job of delivering service and, to a large extent, has no control over the resources which it has to do that. As it is at the point of delivery, it is in the firing line, and having created the crisis, Ministers then turn and with a sleight of hand which I believe borders on the fraudulent, point the finger at the local authorities and blame them for what has been happening.
The regulations are an example of exactly that. In a few brief lines, with a dash of the ministerial pen, £45 million is suddenly spirited away and here we are granting a serious principle. We object to what is happening. We object to it for what it is and for the way in which it is being done.
I can match a cliche with the Minister at any time. I have in my notes the phrase "cut to the bone". The hon. Gentleman went out of his way to pour scorn on that phrase and to say that there was no justification for it. I can only say that although he may sit and listen to local government representatives he obviously does not comprehend what they are saying. He must take an extremely cynical view of the advice offered to him, not just by Labour councillors who have been elected to control large parts of the local government machine in Scotland, but also, to be fair, repeatedly by Conservative local councillors as well. We have representatives from areas that are Tory in their 939 general political outlook but which are feeling exactly the same pressures as their Labour colleagues in view of the parsimony of the Secretary of State for Scotland. For example, the anger that Glasgow district councillors have shown in the Tory interest over the improvement and repair grant is reflected in many other areas of local government as people see what is being done to them.
I accept that on occasions there is an element of shadow boxing in all the confrontations between local and central government. After all, everyone is trying to push their case to gain an inch here or an inch there. But the days of shadow boxing are now over and we are—I make no apology for using the phrase—cutting to the bone when it comes to services, whether in social work, education or any other major area where there is an increasing need and a decreasing provision.
I notice that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, whose constituency used to be Renfrewshire, East but is now Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)—I fear that the beast is the same in the end — said quite cheerfully, "Disgraceful," at one point, about Government expenditure in Scotland. I agree—it is, but in a different way from the way in which the hon. Gentleman used the word. It is a disgrace that we are seeing the clear deterioration in the services that the British people have properly come to expect. I suspect that some of my hon. Friends in the course of this unfortunately short debate will give examples of the exact impact on their areas and the services in those areas that are so important to their constituents.
The details of the regulations are important, if somewhat technical. The abatement of £45 million has the effect of reducing the percentage of the rate support grant from 61.7 per cent. to 60.3 per cent. That is a significant reduction, which the Minister should have acknowledged. We dislike the arbitrary way in which it has been done. It is remarkable that we are talking about an abatement of £45 million in the 1983–84 financial year in November.
I presume that it is common ground between the Minister and myself that the excess is £121 million. That is the excess of local authority budgets over the total provision made by the Secretary of State in the guidelines, Plus the rather eccentric exclusion of £124 million, which was a new and puzzling factor in this financial year. We must deduct from that excess the proceeds of the selective action, to use a neutral term—the smash and grab raid, mounted by the Secretary of State against a small group of authorities. That netted £19 million, leaving £102 million as the excess in which we are interested.
I say in passing—I shall not make a great deal of it because I am not qualified to pass judgment, having been unable to check this in any detail—that I have been told by COSLA, and I tend to think that there is something in it, that another £10 million can be deducted from that £102 million because of the dispute over national insurance payments. COSLA says that the Government have failed to rectify a mistake in their previous calculation. However, let us not worry about that. The excess ranges between £102 million or £92 million. If the £45 million abatement is set against the lower figure of £92 million it amounts to just above 50 per cent., or, against the higher figure of £102 million, to just below 50 per cent. That is a substantial clawback of the excess.
The Minister was right to anticipate my argument. It is a damn good argument but the fact that he anticipated it does not mean that he answered it. Therefore, I shall 940 rehearse it. There is inconsistency in the Government's approach to local government. There is a remarkable contrast with 1982–83. The excess then was not £121 million but £173 million—that is after deducting £30 million for selective action. Therefore, the true comparison is with the £19 million deducted, £102 million in 1983–84 compared with £173 million in 1982–83. In 1982–83 we had an abatement of £27 million. That is a much smaller percentage of the excess that was then being clawed back than the £45 million that we are being asked to contemplate as a percentage of this year's excess, even taking the Minister's figure of £102 million, leaving out the £10 million.
There is no explanation, logic or consistency in what the Minister said. The whole thing emerges mysteriously. We do not even know whether the £45 million was picked because the Treasury dictated it or because there was a gap in the cuts that the Treasury had decided the Scottish Office should find. We do not know whether the Secretary of State was given instructions. We do not know whether the proposal was just dreamed up one day over coffee in Dover house between the Secretary of State and his satrap, the Under-Secretary of State. We ought to know. It is not good enough for the Minister blandly to say that the Secretary of State used his judgment. What on earth does that mean? His judgment is, to say the least, fallible. Presumably, even if he used his judgment, he must have had some criteria or framework within which to exercise his judgment. As the discrepancy between what happened last year and what is about to happen is so startling, the Minister owes us an explanation.
We strongly object to the amount that is being clawed back this time. We base our case on the comparison and, more directly, on the devastating effect on services that are already living too dangerously when measured against need. This is important We also object to the methodology by which the £45 million will be taken from the victims in local government. I understand that there is some protection for authorities that have an excess over guidelines that is less than 4.898 per cent. That extraordinary figure has emerged. I understand that it is explained by the £124 million that was not allocated. I understand that that is of importance. However, we object to the fact that that saving clause and the calculation and apportionment of the abatement among individual focal authorities will be based on the local authorities' budgeted figures and not on their outturn figures at the end of the year.
Perhaps that is a technical point. It sounds complicated, but it is of great practical importance, as my hon. Friends will recognise. If we consider what happened in 1982–83 —I am sorry to go back but that is the best way of illustrating the point—we had the same escape clause for "good"—I stress the inverted commas—local authorities that the Minster wished to exempt. When the Minister considered the authorities that had budgeted and that would escape because they were at or under the guidelines, he found that there were 12. He found three authorities with a greater share of the abatement than Their excess over the guidelines, so they required compensation. The goodies numbered 15. However, that was on budget. The Minister knows what I am about to say. It is important. When we came to the outturn in 1982–83, there were not 15 but 26 that were not due for apportionment or that were to be compensated. It was not all one way. I accept that. Edinburgh had proudly become a goody and 941 had earned its Brownie points by budgeting for a figure that was within the guidelines. At the end of the year when the outturn was examined, it was over the guidelines. Perhaps the Minister will make it clear to me whether that authority had to bear part of the general abatement.
However, the trend was clear. When we got the outturn, many more authorities were included. The picture was different from what it was in the middle of the year when the budgeted figures were examined and this shady operation was being put into practice. The 26 authorities were paid £4.6 million, and there was no reduction in the abatement. As a result, the other 39 authorities had to meet increased burdens.
This year's budgeted figures show that nine authorities will not bear the burden of the general abatement. When we deal with the outturn figures, almost certainly more than nine authorities will be involved. At the moment the other authorities will have to find the £45 million between themselves and about £6.2 million will be added as a result. The present position is totally unsatisfactory and riddled with inconsistencies. Even the guidelines are highly suspect. Leaving that argument aside, it is quite wrong that we should have to work on budgeted figures when experience has taught us that they may be inaccurate and result in great unfairness.
I am in complete agreement with COSLA that it is logical to reduce the abatement on the outturn figures when available or to make the abatement at the same percentage of a smaller figure. Presumably the figure of £121 million will be reduced when the outturn figures are available because some authorities will have spent less than their original budgets.
This is a technical matter, but it has a great bearing in equity. I am sure that the Minister is extremely familiar with the arguments as they have been shouted at him from every quarter of local government in the past few months and repeatedly by COSLA. A doubtful and obscure process has had an unfair and arbitrary effect. Will the Minister re-examine the machinery and try to improve it? If the outturn figures will lower the excess, as happened last year, the abatement should be lowered proportionately if not absolutely. For the Scottish Office to insist that it wants £45 million and to say that the fact that the excess is much lower is totally irrelevant does not enhance its reputation. Local authorities can demand and expect considerably fairer treatment than that.
The regulations are unfortunate, as is the process in which we are being invited to participate, albeit unwillingly. Much talk has taken place about the future of this process. The White Paper on rating and valuation made specific proposals, which I promise the Minister we shall examine in great detail when the legislation reaches the House.
My hon. Friends will remember other interesting proposals in the White Paper, especially those dealing with consultation. One suggestion is that local authorities must consult non-domestic ratepayers before a rate is set and I understand that a code of practice may enforce such consultation. In referring to consultations and codes of practice, a strong case can be put forward for enforcing a code of practice on Ministers consulting local authorities.
A note issued by the Scottish Office referring to the regulations states in the last sentence: 942The Secretary of State invites the views of the Convention on his proposal to reduce rate support grant in 1983–84 by £45 million.Although the Secretary of State invited the views of the convention on his proposals, he did not listen to them. This is another example, irrespective of the value of the argument and the strength of the case, in which the prejudices of Ministers have totally overruled common sense. It is also another example of how the lack of consultation, common sense and flexibility have done great damage not only to the relationship between central and local government but, more tragically, to the level and provision of services in almost every constituency.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
I rise to speak against the order. I hope that my hon. Friends on the Front Bench will understand that this has not been an easy decision to make.
The order seeks to adjust the level of grant paid by central Government to local authorities for the purpose of bringing the authorities' expenditure more in line with the levels assumed in determining the rate support grant.
When the House debated the No. 2 Order for 1982, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said:If authorities keep total expenditure reasonably in line with the settlement assumption, there should be no need for action to cut grant, whether by selective reductions or by general abatement."—[Official Report, 17 January 1983; Vol. 35, c. 89.]Sadly, as everyone knows, local authorities have consistently borrowed, budgeted and spent more than successive Governments would have wished or had assumed. My complaint is that the prudent low-spending and low-borrowing authorities—I emphasise the latter—have been doubly penalised.
The historical basis on which guidelines were introduced meant that authorities with a long record of thrift had with the passing of each year—due to the ratchet effect of measures introduced by successive Labour and Conservative Governments—less and less fat and less room for manoeuvre.
If compared with the guidelines, the Perth and Kinross district council's record of budgeting and expenditure reveals that every effort has been made by that authority to comply with the expenditure guidelines issued by the Government of the day. Only once in seven years, up to and including 1982–83, did Perth and Kinross exceed the guidelines, and then only in terms of November 1980 prices. In every other year the council has performed within the guidelines and kept its borrowing well down.
For doing so it is doubly penalised because in the same years the rate poundage charged by Perth and Kinross district council has been among the lowest of all district councls that carry out a full range of services. Only the smaller authorities in Dumfries and Galloway and Highland and Borders, which do not provide all services, including planning, have lower rates.
Indeed, it is interesting to compare the 1982–83 rate poundage for Perth and Kinross with those of some other authorities. In Perth and Kinross it was 14.5p; Kyle and Carrick 35p; Argyll and Bute 37p and Stirling 40p. I do not suggest that those are proper or adequate comparisons, but they are sufficient to show that there is a massive difference between 14.5p in the pound and 40p, whatever the other difference may be.
943 The same pattern is true of earlier years. In 1976, the rate poundage in Perth and Kinross was 29p; Kyle and Carrick 52p; Argyll and Bute 6p; and Stirling 46p. Therefore, the pattern has been consistent for many years.
Rate poundages alone do not make my case. One must compare the average domestic rates bill to complete the picture. The following figures, which include regional council rates that produce some distortion, still paint an interesting picture. In 1982–83, the average rate bill in Perth and Kinross was £239.89p; Kyle and Carrick £396.18p; Argyll and Bute £287.63p; and Stirling £355.44p.
§ Mr. Walker
I shall do so when I have given the final figure, which is important. In the whole of Scotland, the average figure was £313.62p. If £313 is the average for the whole of Scotland, and Perth and Kinross stands at £239.89p, that clearly shows how prudent that authority has been.
§ Mr. Maxton
Instead of quoting Stirling, why does the hon. Gentleman not give the figures for the two highest domestic rate burdens in the district councils of Bearsden and Milngavie and Eastwood? Why not use that comparator rather than Stirling?
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Gentleman obviously has not listened carefully to the case I was putting. I tried to select authorities that could at least be suggested as comparable. I do not think that is unrealistic. After all, Perth and Kinross is largely a rural area with one large city. I selected the others because it is reasonable to say that they are comparable. I have not attempted to compare Perth and Kinross with any major cities because that would be unrealistic. I am not attempting to hide anything. The hon. Gentleman should realise that I am not speaking in favour of what the Government are doing. I am doing the opposite. I had to make a case that would stand up to examination by my right hon. and hon. Friends. That is why I have not picked the nonsensical examples that have been suggested by the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
Would the hon. Member clarify that? It was not clear to me whether he said that while he is speaking against what the Minister has proposed he intends to vote against it and put the courage of his convictions clearly on the record.
§ Mr. Walker
The hon. Member should know that the one thing I do not lack is the courage of my convictions. I have never been accused of that in my life. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that this evening. The case I am presenting will stand up to close and detailed examination.
§ Mr. Maxton
That was a nice answer about the hon. Member's courage but it did not answer the question whether he will join us in the Lobby tonight. That is where he ought to be if he is to stand firm to his convictions.
§ Mr. Walker
Again, that is a most interesting intervention. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have looked carefully at my voting record on matters on which I have spoken against the Government. I have never hesitated in the past to back by my actions what I was saying. I shall do so tonight. I have advised the Front Bench that this will happen.
944 Let us consider carefully the expenditure per head of population because that is most important. At the end of the day the individual ratepayer and taxpayer has the right to ask what he is getting in return for what he is paying. I remind Opposition Members that a substantial part, indeed the bulk, of local authority expenditure is paid for by the taxpayer. We should never forget that. The taxpayers in Perth and Kinross have every right to ask why they are being doubly penalised because the expenditure per head of population by the prudent authority in Perth and Kinross is £76.04 while in Kyle and Carrick, the amount is £123.95, in Argyll and Bute £146.74, in Stirling £133.73 and in all of Scotland £127.81. That shows clearly that the taxpayers of Perth and Kinross district council are getting less for the taxes they pay because their prudent authority has been doubly penalised by the actions of successive Governments.
This is not the first occasion on which I have pleaded in these debates that something should be done for prudent local authorities which have acknowledged the wishes of successive Governments. Perth and Kinross has been an exemplary council, yet it cannot increase its rate poundage under the present or proposed rules by even as little as 2p or 3p to bring its expenditure up to the level that it deems necessary in circumstances that have been created by the compounded ratchet effect. The authority's spending plan requires that next year it spends £7 million, yet the guidelines stand at £5.45 million. That takes some bridging. The gap could be bridged by the council, subject to inflation and other factors, by an increase of no more than 2p or 3p. Bearing in mind the low level of rate poundage and the low level of expenditure per head, if we are logically to give justice then we must acknowledge that something must be done.
I could make a similar plea for my other local authority. Angus district, which also has a fine record. Under the new proposals authorities with large borrowings and large interest rate payments are again benefiting at the expense of the prudent, thrifty authorities. That is not good enough.
In every debate on local authority funding I have pleaded for adequate—I use the word carefully—special consideration for thrifty authorities. My pleas have failed to produce a realistic response from the Government. I cannot help but compare the performance and treatment of other local authorities —I pick at random the Kyle and Carrick authority—with my two authorities. I am upset at the treatment given to my authorities.
I support the Government's aim to reduce local authority expenditure. I support them in their measures to bring the economy into balance. But I cannot support broad brush, insensitive measures that penalise the prudent and the thrifty.
§ Mr. Foulkes
As the Secretary of State for Scotland, who represents part of Kyle and Carrick, cannot be present, I, as one Member representing that area, must ask the hon. Gentleman to give the House some examples from the Kyle and Carrick budget where its expenditure is excessive and unreasonable. I have examined the budget in great detail and I think that it is underspending. I am constantly under pressure from Kincaidston for additional expenditure for libraries and community centres. I am also under pressure from Girvan and Maybole for additional expenditure on facilities.
945 As the hon. Gentleman appears to have carried out a great deal of research into the Kyle and Carrick budget, will he give some examples of its excessive and unreasonable expenditure?
§ Mr. Walker
It is sad when a hon. Member makes a long intervention that should have been a speech. It is even sadder when that intervention shows clearly that the hon. Gentleman has not listened to my case. I am not suggesting that what Kyle and Carrick or any other authority might be doing is necessarily wrong. I am saying that the differences between the councils, and the differences in treatment in the past, the present and the probable future, are so vast that Perth and Kinross district council merits special treatment. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will realise that, as a simple businessman and not a clever chap like him, I cannot possibly at the drop of a hat suggest where the Kyle and Carrick council can make savings. However, I can suggest that that council visits Perth and Kinross, which can provide the same services much more efficiently and economically.
Even the new plans for calculating local government spending and funding will penalise the thrifty, low-borrowing authorities. My complaint is not about moderate future spending, but about the borrowing and spending patterns of the past. My hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government had been remarkably tolerant. Indeed, they have been far too tolerant of the high-spending authorities at the expense of the prudent authorities. Not nearly enough has been done since 1979. I have said that in previous debates. If the Government are determined that a certain amount is all that the nation can afford to spend in a given set of circumstances, they should share the pain equally. More importantly, those who have been responsible for producing and creating much of the pain should be penalised more than others.
I was interested that my hon. Friend the Minister said:The Government propose to take powers which will enable the Secretary of State to relate an individual authority share of any general abatement of grant more directly to the authority's planned level of expenditure as measured against the authority's current expenditure guidelines.This does not take sufficient account of past borrowing and present interest charges. That is, the high spending and borrowing authorities of the past still benefit at the expense of the thrifty authorities. That is why I advised my Front Bench and the Whips that I could not support the order tonight. I shall listen carefully to what is said in the winding-up speech, and if I get no response to what I have said, I shall support my views in the Lobby.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. Malcom Bruce (Gordon)
I listened with some interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and I have some sympathy with his view. However, I would have much more respect for it if he had widened the argument to take account of what development the Government are pursuing. The Government are advancing a stage further in undermining, and eventually destroying, the concept and validity of local government. I do not challenge the Government's right to set the rate support grant. I accept that the Government's contribution to local authorities is through the rate support grant, and if that were being set in isolation the Government's position would be acceptable.
946 However, it is being set not in isolation, but against the background of the refusal to follow through local government financial reforms.
Althought we were told that the last manifesto did not promise to abolish rates, I remember a number of Conservative candidates in the general election making such unequivocal and unqualified promises. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) is not here, but I represent the next constituency to his and I was fully aware of his publicly stated commitment to this principle.
The Government are abandoning their commitment to reform of the rating system and they have taken control over local authorities, when they cannot even relate to local authority needs. Grants may be capped if they try to compensate. During the course of the year, the Government say that the budget must be changed. Every local authority, whatever its political complexion, must be beginning to find it difficult to live with that.
The Government claim that they are concerned about securing efficiency in the running of the country and in all local authorities. It does not seem possible that a local authority can operate efficiently if it is continually faced with new Government orders to reduce budgets or cut expenditure. The net result is inefficient management of local authorities and perpetual crises in local government, which makes it impossible to set or follow established priorities. That is the problem facing local authorities.
The Minister showed little concern for the dedicated people who work for local authorities in Scotland. I am talking about people who put themselves forward as councillors, of all or no parties. They are prepared to give up time to discuss issues and raise budgets only to find that the time has been wasted because the Minister overrules their decision. The many staff who work long and hard trying to draw up difficult priorities and work within tight budgets and financial restrictions find that they are being penalised. As the hon. Member for Tayside, North said, even when the Government make cuts and feel justified in making them, the cuts do not fall evenly and fairly. Many councils are trying to operate within restraints but are still facing cuts and being penalised.
If the Minister is concerned about local democracy, he should do something about reforming the system of local government instead of seeking to abolish it and giving power to the centre. That is exactly what the Minister is doing. His policy will ensure that in a few years local government will simply cease to exist.
While the Minister is asking local government to act as his agent, a Standing Committee is considering the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Amendment Bill, which could well involve local authorities in increased expenditure. Nevertheless, the Minister reserves the right to cap the rates. I hope that the Minister will accept the consequences of a decision of this nature in terms of the specific services that many authorities will have to cut. I have talked to a number of local authorities' representatives today to find out what effect they believe the cuts will have. They tell me, for instance, that they are already having difficulty in maintaining a reasonable road network in Scotland, particularly the local roads for which the local authorities are responsible. They say that the road network is being undermined because they cannot repair it, and that in a few years' time some roads will require massive 947 expenditure. The Government are cutting expenditure now, but some Government later will have to pay a lot of money if there is to be a decent road network.
I am particularly anxious about the implications for education. I believe that the Government—certainly the local authorities—are considering programmes, in the light of falling school rolls and Government cuts, to close many small schools. In Grampian, my authority, we have already started a programme that will lead to a reduction in the number of small schools in Aberdeen. As I represent a rural area, I have grave doubts whether we shall be able to maintain small rural schools over the next few years. I also doubt in the light of representations now being made, whether there will be any chance to reduce the number of the large composite classes in rural schools.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)
Surely the hon. Gentleman will concede that composite classes have always existed in rural schools.
§ Mr. Bruce
Of course I acknowledge that composite classes have always existed. I do not argue that composite classes should not exist. What concerns me is the size of composite classes in a number of schools, with more than 25 pupils. Those classes should be smaller. They will require more resources, although with measures of this nature it will be impossible for local authorities to provide those resources. With a programme to reduce the numbers of large composite classes, a decision of this nature will make any progress in that direction impossible.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)
Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that in Scotland pupil-teacher ratios are more favourable today than they have ever been?
§ Mr. Bruce
As the hon. Gentleman knows, a simple global statistic of that kind is right, against the background of falling school rolls and a falling population. Rural schools are being closed and threatened with closure. In view of the constituency that the hon. Gentleman represents, he would be unwise not to recognise the dissatisfaction that people in rural areas feel about the threat to rural schools.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I trust that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that rural schools have never closed in the past. Certainly in Tayside many more rural schools closed under the Labour Administration than have closed under this one. It is an evolving situation, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that always rural schools have closed with changing circumstances.
§ Mr. Bruce
I should not like to detain the House too long, but the hon. Member for Tayside, North has raised the subject of the future of rural life in this country. It is, of course, true that rural schools have closed, because during the past 20 years we have pursued a policy of no rural development, and there has been no policy to maintain services in rural areas. We have seen the closure of post offices, ambulance services, and schools. It is a continuing process. Only this week the Government said that they are not prepared to do anything to support positive measures for rural development. The hon. Member for Tayside, North simply says that rural schools have always closed and that therefore those of us who wish to fight that process should give up. I am sorry to have to tell him that I for one do not intend to do so.
948 I believe that the Conservative party claims to be concerned about the future of democracy. I have even heard it use the phrase "liberal democracy", although I am not sure that it means it in the same way as I do. However, the Government should be concerned about measures of expediency that seek to serve the Chancellor of the Exchequer but which may undermine the future of democracy in this country. It is not overstating the case to say that a democratic system needs checks and balances, and some diffusion. The Government are bent on a process that will centralise power in Whitehall. Although I do not suggest that the Secretary of State is a totalitarian subversive, he is creating the sort of machinery that would enable the country to be manipulated more easily by someone. That may seem to be an exaggeration, but local communities have a right to express their own identity and to determine their own priorities.
Given this measure, the Government's refusal to reform the rating system, and their desire to take detailed control over every aspect of local democracy, it is little wonder that councillors of every persuasion and none in Scotland are disillusioned. Only last weekend a Conservative councillor in my constituency said that, as a result of the Government's policy, there would be no local government in Scotland—[Interruption.] Ministers may say rubbish, but they will need to do more than that if they continue to pursue such measures. My colleagues and I will oppose the order.
§ Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)
The debate essentially concerns an abatement of what the Government are offering to local authorities. I am entirely in favour of the idea that the Government should take close control of the expenditure that is levied on some citizens who have to pay local authority rates.
I hope that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) will appreciate my next point, because I am equally concerned about local democracy. The tragedy of local government is that very few people take part in it or vote in the elections. An even greater tragedy is that many people benefit from excessive local authority expenditure without having to contribute. That must be understood.
§ Mr. Maxton rose—
§ Mr. Fairbairn
I can tell hon. Members exactly why I shall not give way. I am not sure who said, "Why not?" but I think that it was the failed monk on the Front Bench below the Gangway, the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). I shall give way later to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) because I love giving way to him. However, I shall not give way now, because so far he has not said anything very helpful or constructive in an intervention. I shall develop my argument first before giving way to him.
If the Government are going to abate expenditure, they should do so fairly. If the purpose of abatement is to control extravagance and to reward thrift —which it should be—why is that not being done? We are talking about next year's position. We need only look at the figures for the local authority of Kyle and Carrick, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and at the district of Perth and 949 Kinross. It is similar to Kyle and Carrick. It has a similar population, though greater; it is landward although larger; it has infinitely more responsibilities—
§ Mr. Foulkes
The hon. and learned Gentleman has been wrong in all the comparisons that he has made so far. Kyle and Carrick is not landward — it has a huge coastline. It is represented not by two indolent Tories but by the Secretary of State for Scotland and an active Labour Member. If the hon. and learned Gentleman keeps going he will find even more ways in which Kyle and Carrick is completely different. One way is that it provides better services for the ratepayers, of whom I am one. I can tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that we want better services in Kyle and Carrick.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
That is a typically nonsensical concept. The idea that coastline does not involve any land — [Interruption.] The sea is on one side and the land happens to be on the other. I dare say that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is so simple that he does not understand the concept. The responsibilities of Kyle and Carrick are infinitely smaller. The services it provides are no better but they cost as much to the Exchequer. The percentage abatement of Kyle and Carrick's grant which is £2 million more for 1983–84 than that of Perth and Kinross is less. That shows not that the Government are wisely pursuing the concept of thrift and the provision of services according to the ability to pay, but that they have embarked on a formula that was set in train by the last Labour Government and from which it is high time they escaped.
All ratepayers are conscious of what they have to pay. Some authorities take the view that the more they spend the better will be their position, even under the present policy of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. That, I regret to say, is true. The Government must ensure that authorities who indulge in thrift are rewarded for that thrift and those who indulge in extravagance and have indulged in extravagance do not escape.
It is unfair that Perth and Kinross district council, which promotes the great industry of tourism and has, since the Stodart report, had many more responsibilities in tourism, theatre and the rest—
§ Mr. Fairbairn
It is important that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in examining the proposal—
§ Mr. Fairbairn
Not at the moment. I might if the hon. Gentleman takes his hands out of his pockets. The hon. Member for Cathcart has priority.
§ Mr. Maxton
How much money has Perth and Kinross district council, which the hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) have been building up, contributed— I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman is a cultured man —to the Scottish National Orchestra, the Scottish Ballet and the Scottish Opera? Presumably members from those 950 district councils travel to Glasgow and Edinburgh to see performances by those organisations, so why do they not contribute?
§ Mr. Fairbairn
That is not a valid matter because those institutions are, or should be, funded essentially by the Scottish Arts Council. The hon. Gentleman will remember that the reason for any contribution for instance to Scottish Opera from Glasgow district council is that the Theatre Royal is in Glasgow. If Glasgow district council did its duty by Scottish Opera, it would not be in the financial trouble it is in. The council encouraged it to create its headquarters there, yet it will do nothing about it. But that is a sideline into which I do not wish to be distracted.
It is important for the policy of the Government to be a policy in which thrift is the guiding factor for all in local government. We cannot have a situation in which, of equivalent authorities, some are spending twice as much of the ratepayers' money as others and as a result are benefiting by £2 million; in which the Government then say, "You will all be punished," but where the naughtiest are punished least and those who have behaved the best are punished most. I say that to the Minister in the kindest way on the basis that he should do well by those who have been least naughty.
§ Mr. Fairbairn
The Minister will understand that there are more serious matters than that frivolous one raised from a sedentary position by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West. It demonstrates that he has no knowledge of English or fact. I have defended 17 people for the death penalty and none has been hanged and, in any case, it is "hanged" and not 'hung".
If the policy is to work—and I want it to work—we must ensure that the guidelines for those who are thrifty are not absurdly ungenerous compared with the guidelines for those who squander and are extravagant. The list of local authorities, which is available for all to see, demonstrates that the policy hitherto benefits extravagance. The abatement tonight in a minor way emphasises the benefit of extravagance and the penalty of thrift, and Perth and Kinross district council is an example. I trust that the Minister will bear that seriously in mind in any future assessment of the control of local government expenditure.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
Of the many themes adduced by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) on which I might comment, on reflection I think that I will not comment on any. I will simply put him out of his misery by saying that I understand that Perth and Kinross district council will get back some of the money that it lost in the incredible formula operated by the Government, money clawed back in 1982–83, because the Government got their sums wrong. That demonstrates the Machiavellian workings of the scheme. But I would rather not dwell on the bizarre speech of the bizarre hon. and learned Gentleman.
I take up the remarks of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) about the closure of rural schools, an issue about which I feel extremely strongly. I am the parent of two small children, one of whom will be going to primary 951 school next summer. I do not know whether the school which now serves the catchment area in the Borders region will remain open. The cuts that are being imposed by the Government on education authorities throughout Scotland mean that the authorities are having to review the continued existence of more and more primary schools. The school in the catchment area in which I live has a question mark hanging over it. If my four-year-old son goes to that school next year we shall not know whether it will still be open in the following year or the year after that. What can be more unsettling for a young child than this sort of uncertainty? This is one of the consequences of the policies that this demented Government are pursuing.
I was as ever disappointed—I suppose that I should know better than to be disappointed — by the supercilious attitude of the Micky Mouse Minister when he advanced his case of the order.
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
My hon. Friend will be sued by Walt Disney if he continues in this manner.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I described the hon. Gentleman in that way advisedly. How else can one describe a Minister in a Government who represent only 28 per cent of the electorate of Scotland? However, he calls himself a Minister. He has no more right to administer or advance legislation—
§ Mr. Canavan
The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), is an earl.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
The hon. Gentleman is not yet an earl. An earldom may come to him in due course. I wish his father no harm, but in due course the hon. Gentleman will find himself in another place, unless we have abolished it before that happens. If he finds himself in that place, he will he able to propose legislation for Scotland. For the hon. Gentleman now to proppse legislation affecting Scotland specifically and exclusively is weird and something that will have to be challenged repeatedly until Scotland can have its own legislature. That is an issue to which we shall return time and time again.
We are hearing a great deal about prudence and thrift this evening. I suppose that those words are personified by the two Under-Secretaries of State. But which is which? I suppose that the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), is prudence and that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), is thrift. Perhaps it might be more appropriate to call them Scrooges in the spirit of Christmas past. The fact remains that they are taking £45 million from the budgets of local authorities this year.
What does that mean? At Question Time this afternoon the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South was being urged by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) to take more money from local authorities' budgets. Why do they have such a hatred of those who provide public services? When they cut public expenditure and place restraints on local authorities, the result is fewer home helps for the elderly. Ministers will probably not wish to look me in the eye while I am on this subject because they know that I am speaking the truth. There are fewer home helps in my constituency. This has been the result, too, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South. Public expenditure cuts in my constituency, which is in the Lothian region, have led to 952 the abolition of free concessionary transport for pensioners and reduced provision for schools. There have been cuts in housing and the standards of environmental services have fallen. I do not know where this process will end. Standards are continuing to fall throughout Scotland.
What authority do the Government have for taking this line? The order is significant. It is a scrappy little document that fills two sides of a nasty piece of paper. It says, in essence, that £45 million will be removed from local authorities' budgets in Scotland for no good reason. It was signed at new St. Andrew's house. Apparently. the Secretary of State has armed guards there. Scotland was paid a visit by one of Her Majesty's principal Secretaries of State, the right hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). It is significant that the order says "We consent'. and was signed by two of the Lords Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury, the hon. Members for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones and for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson). Both are English Members of Parliament. I am delighted that the hon. Member for Calder Valley has come to face the music. He might like to visit Scotland to see the consequences of his actions. He could tell us what he signed. Did he read the paper? Did he understand it? He does not answer. I do not know whether this is dumb insolence or innocent ignorance — either way, it is deplorable.
§ Mr. Henderson
Has the hon. Gentleman ever considered the logical consequence of his argument, which is that, with one exception, all the recent Labour Governments ruled England without a majority? I dare say that a number of Scottish Whips signed certificates for payments to local authorities.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
I fear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you might call me to order if I pursued that line, much though I would love to.
There is such a thing as United Kingdom legislation, as the hon. Member for Fife, North-East should know, because he has been on the Chairmen's Panel, although I suspect that he has been taken off it to increase the Back Bench manpower of the Scottish Tory group so that it can man Committees. I see that he is nodding, so I must be accurate.
Those of us who believe in devolution of power within the United Kingdom accept that there will always be United Kingdom legislation. It is right that Scottish Members should play their part. Today we are talking specifically about legislation that affects Scotland alone. The Secretary of State for Scotland said that he did not believe that there was any Scottish demand for an additional tier of government. I do not know where the right hon. Gentleman has been all these years. If he visited the Scottish Office and new St. Andrew's house—for which he is supposed to be responsible — he might notice that there is already a tier of government in Scotland that is badly in need of some democratic accountability.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Fife, North-East, led me down that line because, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is patently out of order. I assure you that I shall not proceed on that point.
Lothian region, which includes my constituency, has been hit during the current financial year. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South enjoyed referring to it as the rogue elephant local authority. It still is. It has been taken over by Mr. Brian Meek. If ever I saw a rogue elephant, it is Mr. Meek.
953 I have enumerated some of the vicious cuts that he has imposed, which are causing serious hardship in my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South. We have already had what the Under-Secretary refers to as selective action. This means that pensioners in Edinburgh, South and East Lothian no longer have free public transport. There are fewer home helps. We could carry on through the list. In schools more and more classes are affected. I suppose that what the Under-Secretary described as a prudent local authority is one that is not doing what its electorate asks.
The East Lothian district council has been through this before. As with the Perth and Kinross district council, the Government got it wrong. When the Government calculate compensation for abatements they consider local authorities' budgets rather than actual expenditure. It is not surprising that local authorities tend to over-budget because by doing so they can cover themselves against the type of smash and grab raid that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscaddan (Mr. Dewar) has described.
Two years ago—1982–83—East Lothian district council got on with the work that it was elected to do and suffered a cut parallel to that which we are debating this evening. When the outturn of expenditure was discovered at the end of the year it was found that the abatement of the rate support grant that East Lothian district council had suffered as a consequence of the order that the Tory Government had bulldozed through the House was greater than its excess over the guidelines. The Government had to repay it and I understand that they are in the process of doing so. The money goes round and round. The Government cut the rate support grant, take the money, find that they have their sums all wrong and have to pay it back. The Government's way of handling Scottish local authorities is contemptible. We have nothing but contempt for the way in which the Minister and his Administration handle these matters.
The Minister knows that these cuts cause damage in his constituency, as they do in mine. I am astonished that he should describe this action as thrift or prudence or anything that is in any way benevolent because it is not. It is downright destructive. The Government should withdraw the order, for a multitude of reasons including those advanced by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), whom we look forward to welcoming into the Opposition Lobby.
§ Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)
The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) has forgotten that there is not just the United Kingdom and Scottish legislation but English legislation. I am certain he remembers that the then Secretary of State for the Environment, who held that office when his right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan), who was Secretary of State for Scotland, demanded major expenditure reductions from Scottish local authorities without notice, used Scottish votes to vote through the rate support grant variation in England as well.
§ Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)
The argument that the hon. Gentleman puts forward is a good case for federalism.
§ Mr. Henderson
I do not want unduly to detain the House, but the hon. Member for East Lothian raised a point which he seemed to regard as important. I feel that it is worth making a comment on it.
§ Mr. Henderson
The hon. Member for East Lothian spoke in terms which I do not think he believed about the hatred of those providing public sector services. What a load of rubbish. Roughly half the Secretary of State's budget is devoted to providing support for local authority services but a large part of the rest of the budget is concerned with providing health services in Scotland.
§ Mr. Henderson
If he lets local authorities rip, what will hon. Gentlemen say if he does not look after the interests of our patients in our hospitals—
§ Mr. Henderson
He is a great deal more generous than the Labour Government.
The Opposition have not said a word about the interests of those who pay rates but a great deal about those who impose substantial rate increases.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
In my region it is estimated that the extent of the clawback proposed tonight is £1.6 million. The Highlands regional council director of finance has said that, were it not for that clawback, there could have been a rate cut throughout the region of 3p to 3.5p. The regional authority is not the culprit when it comes to raising the rates; the Government are.
§ Mr. Henderson
I shall leave that to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. I should be surprised if he did not draw attention to the fact that the Government made the nature of the guidelines and the rate support grant clear to Highlands region and every other local authority.
§ Mr. Henderson
If the hon. Gentleman had been here throughout the debate he would know that what I have said is true. Until he intervened no Labour Member had mentioned the concern of ratepayers in Scotland about the level of rates. It is undoubtedly a major concern to many people in Scotland.
§ Mr. Henderson
The hon. Gentleman is in a frivolous mood tonight and I shall continue with my remarks, which I hope will not be too lengthy.
It is important that the Government should try to contain local authority expenditure in Scotland for two 955 reasons: first, on broad economic grounds; secondly, because if ever Parliament had a purpose it is to deal with the grievances of constituents. More people come to me with a grievance about rates and local authority expenditure than want my local authority to spend much more money. I have very few of the latter, and most of them are lobbies organised by vested interests.
Average spending per head of the population in Scotland has increased by over 10 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79. The staff of Scottish local authorities have increased by 6,000 since then despite the fact that teaching, one of the largest employment sectors in local government, has experienced substantially reduced school rolls.
Another curiosity, upon which I shall not dwell because it can be partly justified, is that the staffing in Scottish local authorities is more than 20 per cent. greater per head of the population than south of the border. We should seriously consider whether the substantial resources—hundreds of millions of pounds—that are spent in local authorities are being organised as effectively as possible.
§ Mr. Home Robertson
Let me put the hon. Gentleman out of his misery about Labour Members' concern for people who pay rates. Everybody who can afford to do so pays rates, with one exception — farmers. I should know.
§ Mr. Henderson
As a landowner and farmer the hon. Gentleman should know better. Farmers pay rates on their buildings, as other people do, and the hon. Gentleman knows that.
§ Mr. Henderson
The hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to make his speech and he did not talk about ratepayers then.
I thoroughly approve of the selective action that has been taken against specific local authorities. It has substantially reduced the burden that would otherwise have applied to local authorities affected by the matter that we are debating. Without that selective action prudent local authorities would be suffering a much more severe penalty. We should all be grateful for that.
I welcome the fact that we are moving into a slightly better position on abatement, which no one likes in principle. Up to now abatements have been related to the rate support grant. In this case, the abatement was related to overspending. That is an important move. Those who have spent over the guidelines are more likely to have to pay back more than on the old basis. That is a move in the right direction. I agree with what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) said. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to continue making the abatements fairer and more effective and providing more encouragement to authorities that have been prudent in the past.
Looking to the future, I have no doubt that other orders of this ilk will come up from time to time. There may be merit in the client group approach, to which my hon. Friend refers increasingly. I should like him to publish as much detail as he has discussed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on the formula that has been applied and the methodology that has been used. While it might turn out to be a better way of assessing need and expenditure in local authorities, the methodology might 956 need more careful examination. It cannot be without significance that the authorities that have been enthusiastically telling my hon. Friend that they want the introduction of the client group approach are the regional councils. There is not one district council in that group.
When I look at the figures of local authority expenditure and the effects of the order, I wonder whether it has worked out well for the regional councils compared with district councils. I wonder whether one factor is that inadequate consideration has been given to the change of responsibility for tourism from the regions to the districts. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would give wide publicity to the methodology adopted in the client group approach so that we might all have a close look to see whether it is as sound as I hope it is. When we are changing the systems for dealing with these matters, I hope that in a transitional phase some money will be held back by my hon. Friend to be used to help to solve transitional problems.
§ Mr. Hugh Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
I should like to be brief because the House never does itself justice when it discusses, once or twice a year, this complicated matter of colossal sums of public expenditure. I am not sure whether I shall contribute any new or creative ideas. However, it would be a great pity if we did not address ourselves to some of the serious problems.
I have some respect for the application to duty of the hon. Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Henderson). He talked about the differences in rate burdens between Scotland and England. I do not disagree with him. It may be true that the rate burdens in Scotland are 20 per cent. higher than in England and Wales—
§ Mr. Henderson
I was referring not to the rate burdens but to the staffing of local authorities per head of population.
§ Mr. Brown
I apologise. However, my point does not conflict with what the hon. Gentleman said. I am trying to suggest that that is a meaningless statement unless it is analysed, just as the rate burden per head of the population would be meaningless.
I shall give some examples. Water authorities are a slightly separate element in the English system. The level of housing expenditure is also different. There are many more council houses in Scotland than in England and Wales. It is extremely difficult to make accurate comparisons between Scotland and England or between authorities in Scotland.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) on his decision. Although he may be persuaded to vote with the Government, I respect his views. He is a man of independence and I like people who think for themselves. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman or his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) is the voice of Perth and Kinross district council, as different views have been expressed on the same subject.
I do not query the accuracy of the figures that the hon. Member for Tayside, North gave, but he did not make it clear whether he was dealing with the total rate levy or merely with the district authority levy.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I referred to the regional element as well. I said that the figures included the regional rate and the rest was the district element.
§ Mr. Hugh Brown
No two Scottish authorities are comparable. I do not know the population of Perth and Kinross but I do not think that the authority of Argyle and Bute is especially different. Both are Conservative-controlled authorities with similar problems of sparsity but they are not altogether alike because of the islands. That fact highlights the difficulty that Members of Parliament have in making a constructive contribution when dealing with such a detailed and complex subject. It has been examined by professionals and finance officers both in the Scottish Office and in local authorities. We are then asked at the last minute to approve or otherwise the expenditure of almost £2 billion when we do not have the expertise, resources or detailed knowledge to make the debate meaningful. I speak for myself. Other hon. Members may feel that they know more about the subject. I am worried about this because I do not think that we do justice to our task.
I recognise that any Government have the right to oversee public expenditure. I do not think that even the Lothian regional Labour group would dispute that this is all part of public expenditure, although it might argue about Government policy. If we wish to spend more on providing public services perhaps we should spend less on defence. We are all confronted by that problem, especially those of us in Scotland. Councillors are no longer willing to beaver away at providing local services and to be hammered for failing to fulfil election promises while at the same time recognising the public expenditure implications of — but having no status or locus in challenging — defence expenditure. I am not entirely happy about that political situation, but we cannot put the clock back.
The Government have reneged completely on two election commitments to abolish local rates. I know that that promise was not in the Conservative party's 1983 manifesto but it was most certainly in the 1974 and 1979 manifestos. There can be no quibble about that. If the Minister cares to look at the manifesto commitments, he will realise that any reasonable person would assume that the Conservative party gave the impression that it was committed to abolishing local rates. That is one of the reasons why I have always felt that a Scottish Assembly would have been a useful piece of machinery that could have given more time and attention to some of these complex matters. Given the present set-up, we should perhaps have a Select Committee on Scottish public expenditure because we are dealing with large sums of public money.
The Government should come clean. There is always room for saving in a local authority. My accusation—the Minister knows this better than anyone else—is that for years he has built up a reputation by attacking Lothian regional council. It is not because it is a wicked, Left-wing, extremist authority—although there is an element of that — but rather because local government is not popular.
Local government is the whipping boy, and always has been, because no one likes paying taxes or rates. When the Tories tell their friends that they will reduce taxation, it is also popular to add, "And we shall reduce rates as well." That is a myth. The matter is so complicated that the public does not understand it.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) said, the Government are cutting the percentage of central Government support to local 958 authorities. It is all very well saying, "So did you in 1978–79." I accept that. Government have the right to control the totality of public expenditure, but there is no doubt that the cuts in support for local authorities are now substantial. I am not trying to score a debating point, I am merely stating a fact. This has occurred at a time when the demands on local authorities are increasing.
It is all very well Conservative Members saying, "There are not so many kids now and the pupil-teacher ratio is better than it has ever been." There are, however, increasing demands on social work and housing expenditure. What about housing benefits and the confusion that exists in authorities that offer rent and rates rebates? Conservative Members do not begin to understand the problems facing ordinary people in deprived areas. The demands on local authority expenditure are now significant.
§ Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)
Would it not be better if from time to time the local authorities stuck to their own last instead of taking on the mantle of central Government, as they have done recently? For example, there was the recent show trial over Trident by Strathclyde regional council. The Cremer and Warner report produced was a total waste of money, as was the public inquiry, which was simply used to score cheap political points.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Lady will have plenty of opportunity in the next few years to develop those arguments, but that is pure chickenfeed in terms of public and local authority expenditure.
I do not complain about who started this. It does not matter who made the first mistake or who was to blame. There are faults on both sides, and that should be recognised—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Lady concede that the Government have been wrong?
§ Mr. Brown
I do not want to sound like the hon. Lady's old man, because I am not—at least not that I know of. I would have much more respect for the hon. Lady if she was willing to admit that her party is wrong on occasion, just as I am willing to admit some of the faults and weaknesses on my side. In this climate there are faults on both sides. The Government have been vindictive to many Labour-controlled authorities; equally, some Labour-controlled authorities, because of their frustration, have tended to interfere in national matters such as nuclear-free zones. I plead with hon. Members on the Government side to understand that it is because they have not been able to provide services for the people who most need them that frustration has arisen.
I look forward to the so-called proposals to reform the rating and valuation system. If the Government's promise means anything, the rate burden will be relieved on football grounds, race courses and some other categories. I do not disagree with that, but when the Government relieve the rate burden on any category that burden is merely transferred to another category. Therefore, which category will suffer? Will it be the domestic ratepayer or will the Government compensate for the changes they are proposing?
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I know the hon. Gentleman is always just and fair on these matters. Would he agree that it could never be right that any part of Scotland should be rated in 959 a way that disadvantaged it compared with England, particularly when that part of Scotland is in competition with England? I have in mind caravan parks, hotels and so on. Would the hon. Gentleman accept that this anomaly must be removed?
§ Mr. Brown
I agree entirely. There is an element of basic justice that says that if a football ground is to be rated —I admit publicly to being an agnostic Celtic supporter —the burden should be broadly equal. I do not disagree with that. I am merely saying that when the changes are made which have the effect in Scotland of reducing the burden legitimately for some categories, the same amount of money will still have to be raised. Where will it come from? Will it come from the domestic ratepayers or from the friends of the Conservative party, the commercial ratepayers, or will it come from Government? I know that is not a matter for discussion tonight. I am merely using it as an example to show how complex the subject is.
Guidelines have been mentioned. I have great respect for the civil servants in St. Andrew's house but how do they know the needs of the Easterhouse housing scheme? They do not know. They do not even know where it is. There is almost a statutory bullfight between central Government and the local authority. That is not the way to do things. I regret that the Government have made life more difficult for local authorities. I understand the need to control public expenditure although I do not agree with it. I hope that my hon. Friends will vote against what is in effect a cut of £45 million to local authorities in Scotland.
§ 10.3 pm
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)
This order is yet another attack on local democracy perpetrated by the Government. We have already seen various forms of this attack since this rotten Tory Government got in way back in 1979. We have seen selective action being taken against certain local authorities. When the Secretary of State got the keys to St. Andrew's House he virtually locked the door on any form of local democracy in Scotland. He has taken selective powers against certain local authorities, including Stirling district. Indeed, he has a vested interest in Stirling as he is a ratepayer there.
The Minister said earlier that it was wrong for the democratically-elected local authority in Stirling to thwart the will of the centralist dictatorship in St. Andrew's house over the sale of council houses. How would the Secretary of State react if a future Government passed legislation forcing the sale of houses on the Younger family estate to sitting tenants? Would the Younger family react in a receptive and passive way, or in a militant way?
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)
I am glad to respond to the hon. Gentleman's question. I may or may not like such legislation, but I would certainly obey the law of the land.
§ Mr. Canavan
When I become Secretary of State for Scotland I shall introduce legislation to force the sale to sitting tenants of houses on the Younger estate, and every other private sector estate in Scotland. I shall be grateful then for the support of the Secretary of State and his acceptance of the law of the land. I hope that he will not drag his feet and indulge in the sort of nonsense that we have seen from the landed gentry in the past.
What we have heard from the Government this evening has been a wholly unrepresentative view. The son of 960 Viscount Leckie, the son of the Marquess of Lothian and others represent only about 20 per cent. of the people of Scotland — yet they claim to speak on behalf of the people of Scotland. They have no mandate to influence —let alone direct—the level of rates in Scotland.
Before the recess certain selective measures were taken against Stirling, Kirkcaldy and Glasgow district councils and the Lothian regional council. Last year similar measures were taken against Stirling and Dundee district councils and Lothian regional council—[Interruption.] I am glad that Conservative Members are flooding into the Chamber—it is good to see hon. Members from south of the border taking an interest in Scottish local affairs.
There has been an attack on the levels of local democracy that existed in Scotland before the Tory Government took office. I do not claim that the levels of local democracy that prevailed in Scotland before 1979 were perfect. Many members of the Labour party were in favour of improving the standards, especially by devolving legislative powers to a directly elected Scottish Assembly. But there is now a move towards centralisation that is quite contrary to the interests of democratic representation in Scotland or anywhere else.
What we are seeing as a result of the 1983 general election is a move towards centralisation of decision making that would make even Stalin blush, but of which the Secretary of State for Scotland is proud. He is not Scotland's man. He is not elected by us. If I go to the constituency that I represent, or to those represented by my hon. Friends in Scotland, I am asked "Who is this character? Who elected him?" Yet, George Younger, Secretary of State for Scotland is there, acting in a jackboot manner and telling local authorities, most of whom have a better mandate than he, what to do. He is telling these people, the directly elected representatives at local level that he, not they, will determine the level of rates, that he, not they, will determine the level of local services.
§ Mr. Canavan
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, who represents a gerrymandered part of Stirling district council.
§ Mr. Forsyth
If, as he claims, the hon. Gentleman speaks for Stirling district council, why was he in such a hurry to leave his constituency and find pastures new?
§ Mr. Canavan
The reason why I am no longer Member of Parliament for part of the hon. Gentleman's constituency is, first, that the Boundary Commission carved up my constituency into seven different bits—the only constituency in Britain that suffered such butchery. The Secretary of State appointed a Tory sheriff, a former chairman of the Conservative party in central Scotland, to conduct the local inquiry. If he had not, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) would not be here.
The second reason why I am here representing Falkirk, West is that the people there elected me, and the constituency Labour party of Falkirk, West selected me. It includes substantial parts of my former constituency. I loathe gerrymandering, and it is a disgrace that the hon. Member for Stirling should come in on my speech on this matter. He must have a very guilty conscience in classifying me as my own Member of Parliament. I used to by my own Member of Parliament, but now I am not.
961 It is the first time that the area in which I live has had a Tory Member of Parliament, and the first time for half a century or more that the people of Bannockburn have been represented by a Tory. Many other places in the Stirling constituency can likewise lament that they have a carpetbagger who came up from the City of London. That is what he represented before and he still represents the financial interests of the City of London. However, he goes to Stirling and pretends that he represents our interests there.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. All this is very entertaining, but it is not not about local government in Scotland. I remind hon. Gentlemen that they must speak on the order before the House.
§ Mr. Canavan
I have just given way to the Deputy Speaker. In another two minutes I may give way to the hon. Gentleman.
I come back to local government. The hon. Member who claims to be the Member for Stirling used to be a councillor here in Westminster, and I understand that he was well versed in local government affairs here in Westminster. I understand, too, that he is even more experienced in dealing with people who are trying to privatise local government and get rid of it altogether. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That is what it is all about. Conservative Members are saying "Hear, hear." The Tories want to get rid of local government. They want a centralised bureaucratic administration down here in Westminster. They want to treat Scotland and other areas such as Merseyside, the north of England and Wales as colonies. They will not get away with it.
§ Mr. Hickmet
I am constrained to rise because the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) has addressed himself to me for some 15 minutes. Will the hon. Gentleman accept from me, as one who represents a constituency in south Humberside, that many people in this Chamber feel that both the Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament have a very fair crack of the whip. Indeed, we debate their issues ad nauseam. Will he accept from me that he has a very fair crack of the whip?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The House is debating the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order. It would help if hon. Members were to stick to that.
§ Mr. Canavan
I entirely agree with your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is good to know that someone can bring some of these Tories into order. Once we get our own Parliament in Scotland—I hope that the hon. Member votes for it—it may alleviate some of the pressure on this legislative Chamber.
§ Mr. Hickmet
If I had a guarantee that it would mean that the hon. Gentleman would not bore this House with an interminable speech, I might well be constrained so to do.
§ Mr. Canavan
I am glad to hear that. I only wish that we had had the same support in the lifetime of the previous Labour Government when we were trying to get a Scottish Parliament off the ground. I am glad to know that some 962 of the new young Tory dynamic Members of Parliament are now supporting home rule and local democracy for Scotland. If for no other reason, they can go back to their kips at an earlier hour in this place, and we can get on with our business in Scotland. I only wish that the Secretary of State for Scotland and his minions would realise that, too.
I come back to the order. Before I was distracted by some of the Tory Members, I was talking about the selective action that was taken against Scottish local authorities just before the recess. You may remember, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you were in the Chair when the selective action was taken. In this order we have an attack on local government in Scotland in general. Parliament should take serious cognisance of that, if we pay anything more than lip service to local democracy. It is surely the essence of local democracy that locally elected people should have the power not just to determine the level of services locally but to determine the level of local revenue-raising powers. Unfortunately, this Government contravened this principle.
It has always been generally accepted, I think, by COSLA and people of various political complexions in local government — whether they entirely agree with local government legislation or not — that local government legislation is a legislative framework—this Government have made it a straitjacket—within which local councillors must operate. In other words, from that point of view it could be argued that local government is the child of central government.
However, according to our democratic traditions, we should surely be trying to give the fullest effect to the will of the people. But doing that surely does not mean that Conservative Members who do not have a mandate from one of the nations that makes up the United Kingdom can force through legislation on the rate support grant, and on levels of local services and so on in that country. As the majority party in Scotland—the Labour party—surely we have the right to say that enough is enough. We shall therefore fight tooth and nail. Many of our people in local government — whether in Stirling, Falkirk, Dundee, Glasgow, Edinburgh or anywhere else—have a better mandate to represent their people than the Secretary of State for Scotland, whose party was rejected by more than 70 per cent. of the people of Scotland at the recent general election.
The Secretary of State is not quite of jackboot standard, but he is trying to use his wellie boot to impose his will on elected councillors and on the people of Scotland. Whatever reasons he may rightly or wrongly have had for imposing selective measures on various councils in July before the recess, there can be no justification for using a blanket measure now against Scottish local authorities in general. Yet that is what the order does.
The Secretary of State seems to offer us blind monetarist judgments. However, they are probably not his; he just accepts them from the Prime Minister and the Treasury. He is just the hatchet man or the puppet whom the Prime Minister uses to impose Tory rule in Scotland. He is like an unelected governor-general, who is kicking the people of Scotland and treating them as if their country were a colony. The people of Scotland can stand for only so much — [Interruption.] Hon. Members may well laugh. I welcome the interest shown at this time of night by Conservative Members who represent English constituencies. The attack that the Secretary of State is perpetrating on local democracy in our homeland may well 963 be perpetrated on the homeland of the south of England in a few months time, let alone a few years time. We in Scotland are being used as guinea pigs to test the legislation that the Secretary of State for the Environment has in store, so that he can mount a further attack on local democracy in the English home counties. I think that they are called the shire counties, and they are represented by some of the Tory Members now in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
My hon. Friend has made some very proper points about local democracy. However, I should like to draw his attention to a statement that appeared in the Financial Times last week. It said that it was the Secretary of State's intention to send a commissioner to Liverpool, because the Labour-controlled city council was carrying out the manifesto on which it was elected.
§ Mr. Deputy, Speaker
Order. Liverpool is not in Scotland. I very much hope that we will stay with the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order.
§ Mr. Canavan
There used to be a constituency in Liverpool called Scotland Exchange. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) has made a fair point. With the Government sending in a commissioner to Liverpool and planning to disestablish completely the Greater London council and certain other local authorities in England, I wonder whether the Secretary of State for Scotland will acquiesce in legislation to abolish Scotland, never mind local authorities in Scotland.
§ Mr. Canavan
We are seeing an increasing centralisation of power with decisions being taken in Whitehall, in St. Andrew's House or in various Government Departments. Parliament is very often unable to debate and vote on these measures, yet they are being steamrollered through without parliamentary accountability.
Anyone who believes in democracy, whether he is from Scotland, England or Wales—[HON. MEMBERS: "What about Ireland?"] I have never believed that Ireland should be represented in this place, but that is another matter. I do not wish to be sidetracked because I am sure that Mr. Deputy Speaker would call me to order over the railroading of Ireland into this debate. I must get back to Scotland.
The order is about rates. I could get unanimous support from all 650 hon. Members by saying that no one loves an increase in rates. It is an unpopular tax [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]. I am glad to hear that. Scottish Members were probably even more positive than Opposition Members in lobbying for the abolition or the reform of rates. It is a pity that the Government at the time of the recent general election and, indeed, at the time of the 1979 general election built up great expectations about the abolition of rates or the radical reform of the rating system. The Prime Minister gave a specific promise, one of many broken promises on this issue. The promise has been broken all the way along the line. The Government have now fallen into the trap of accepting the advice of the Treasury and other Government Departments that any reform of the rates system or its replacement is out of the question. I am willing to give way to any Conservative
964 Member who is willing to stand up on behalf of his or her constituents and tell me that I am right on that matter. I know that I am. Conservative Members are putting their beds before the interests of their constituents. They want to go home and they are not even interested.
According to the rules of the House this debate will finish at 11.30 pm. Therefore we have time for contributions from Members representing English constituencies about the radical reform of rates which was promised by the Tory Government in 1979.
Nobody likes rate increases. It is a most unpopular form of revenue raising, but to eliminate local revenue raising powers completely would be a serious mistake on the part of the Government, whatever their political complexion, because it would interfere in the balance of power between central and local Government, which has been inherent in whatever standards of local democracy we have had for a century or more.
I hope that Conservative Members who want to abolish rates will come up with a constructive alternative. I have proposed a local income tax, and there might even be a case for a local wealth tax, or some devolved form of that tax. When rates were first introduced, a person's wealth could be measured by the extent of his property on the basis of the rateable value of that property. But that is no longer the case because through rate and tax dodging exercises too many people have taken advantage of loopholes in legislation and today it is clear that the rating system is not a fair system of revenue raising.
§ Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman's idea of a wealth tax that people earning, say, £15,000 a year and living in council houses should be subject to a wealth tax?
§ Mr. Canavan
In case the hon. Gentleman is referring to the fact that I was born and brought up in a council house and still live in one — [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."] Some of his so-called comrades shout "Shame", but I should get more state subsidy if I took out a £25,000 mortgage on a house than I am receiving by paying an economic rent for my house to Stirling district council. There is no danger of an application going in from me to buy my, or my wife's, council house. There is no chance of my application going in, let alone being held up.
§ Mr. Hickmet
Would the hon. Gentleman care to take the example of a local Labour councillor in my constituency who, although he has objected to the policy of council house sales, has seen fit to buy his council house at a substantial discount? I urge the hon. Gentleman to pursue policies—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) will not urge the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr Canavan) to stray further from the subject before the House, which is confined to Scotland and does not refer to Scunthorpe or South Humberside.
§ Mr. Canavan
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for drawing this unruly House to order during what are irrelevant interruptions.
I repeat, if I took out a £25,000 mortgage I would gel more state subsidy than I get by continuing to live in my council house, where I have lived happily for many years.
We are debating rates increases, and the Tory Government try to blame local authorities for the increases 965 when it has been proved conclusively by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that the biggest factor behind them has been the serious reduction in rate support grant since the Tories took office in 1979.
Rates increases are a disbenefit to domestic ratepayers and industrial ratepayers, but those people should not point the finger at local authorities. The finger should be pointed at Tory Ministers, who by a series of measures since 1979 have been responsible for a savage reduction in RSG that has led to a serious inflation of rates for local authorities. This has had a detrimental effect on the living standards of council house tenants and private sector tenants. I have never had anything against those who want to buy a house or to rent in the private sector. We should encourage the maximisation of choice and individuals should be able to decide whether they want to live in rented accommodation or buy their own properties.
We are now seeing an attack on the living standards of those in the public sector and the private sector by a wicked Tory Government who have been responsible for a savage reduction in RSG for Scottish local authorities and for many of the shire counties in England, which are now represented by potentially rebellious Tory Members.
We want local democracy in Scotland to be restored at least to the status quo of 1979, but, more important, we want an improvement in that standard.
The Under-Secretary of State mentioned industry, but he has done nothing for it save to destroy the few remnants. He talks about the destructive element of rates and their influence on industrial development in Scotland, especially if local authorities increase them, but authorities are obliged to increase them to certain levels only because the Government have cut RSG so savagely. I remind the hon. Gentleman, the Earl of Ancram, who is a self-styled expert on local government, having come from the aristocracy of Scotland and having ruled Scotland for many years by hereditary claims and patronage, that he does not have the electoral mandate of the people of Scotland. However, he is now trying to destroy the remnants of Scottish local democracy.
Very little Scottish industry is left. According to a Minister, not long ago, in Britain as a whole—I have no reason to believe that the Scottish figures are different —rates for manufacturing industry were less than I per cent. of costs. How on earth can any Tory, Liberal or Social Democratic party Member argue that that has a crippling effect on industry in Scotland or elsewhere? I could argue in the opposite way, that the Tory Government by their rating legislation—never mind their lack of constructive industrial intervention—have been responsible for crippling industry in many areas, including mine.
Early last year, the Tory Government introduced legislation for the derating of external plant and machinery. This meant a massive rate rebate to multinational companies, such as BP and Imperial Chemical Industries in Grangemouth. Those companies might have benefited, but there has been a negative effect on the whole of the Falkirk district, which is the birthplace of the Scottish industrial revolution.
As a result of that and many other anti-industrial measures by the Government, we have seen a decline in industry and established companies, such as Carrs, go into receivership. This company is to a small extent rising from the ashes. Smith and Wells in Bonnybridge has gone into 966 receivership, and has not yet risen from the ashes. Perhaps the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who is the Minister responsible for industry at the Scottish Office, will enlighten us at a later date about this decline. I shall not stand for the de-industrialisation of my constituency.
Government Ministers have refused to intervene in a serious situation. A company which at one time employed almost 2,000 people has gone into receivership. A few years ago, the Government were partly responsible for a partial rescue operation involving bankers' interests in Scotland. Some of us believed that this project would not be viable unless we had some public as well as local community investment. I hope that the hon. Member for Eastwood, who is a Minister, will put his civil servants on to this matter at an early stage, start discussions about the possibility of a viable rescue operation and give every possible Government support. It seems that the Government will not intervene because of doctrinaire reasons.
Monetarism might work in the south of England, but it does not work or appeal to the people of Bonnybridge. I plead with the Minister to allow Government intervention and to give every possible support to the Falkirk district council and the Central regional council. Rather than allowing multinational interests to take over the Scottish economy, the way to regenerate and to democratise the Scottish economy is to make it a community, and to have Government ownership, if not in whole, at least in part.
What about services? The order is relevant to the standard of local services. Next May people will be electing district councillors and will expect them to have the power to deliver the goods—housing, planning and all other local government services.
In the 1980 district elections and the 1982 regional elections, even the former Solicitor-General for Scotland, the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn), who is busy trying to chat to the Minister, will have to admit that we received more support than the Tories. We received greater support and a wider mandate than the Tory party has ever received at any election.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. Doubtless the election results in Scotland are of interest to many hon. Members, but they are not within the scope of the order. I must beg the hon. Member to deal with the substance of the order.
§ Mr. Canavan
I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was trying to relate the election results to the fact that this order is an infringement of the rights of local councillors who were elected in 1980 and 1982. I should like to be allowed to develop this argument a little. The councillors were elected on a manifesto which promised improvements in services. Many councillors feel constrained by this and previous orders which have been laid by this rotten Tory Government which, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you voted against as frequently as I did. I have no doubt that you still feel a certain sympathy for us.
We have been talking about the balance of power between central and local government. We now have an undemocratically elected Scottish Office which forces its will upon the Scottish people. The only protection that they have are the local councillors.
This order is yet another edict from the Scottish Office to the Scottish people. It dictates to them and tells them what is good for them. In the local elections in 1980 and 1982 the Scottish people had the opportunity to decide for 967 themselves what was good for them locally. The order will result in a serious threat to education, housing, social services for the elderly, the sick and the disabled and every other local government service that one can think of.
I do not know whether this order resulted from the same philosophy as that contained in the White Paper about local government and rating in Scotland which admitted that the Government had failed to find an alternative to the rating system and which was a gross disappointment to many of their friends. Many of them admitted that the rating system was very unfair. They thought that there should be a better system, an alternative to rates.
I mentioned the possiblity of local income tax. In their White Paper, the Government failed to answer the suggestion about local income tax. To this day, I cannot understand it, as we are now in a computer age. The tax system is now centralised at East Kilbride. The standard of computerisation is such that it could cope with different levels of local taxation in Scotland, whether it is income tax, sales tax, VAT, liquor tax, wealth tax, poverty tax, oil and gas revenue tax or any other tax.
Surely the computerisation of tax revenue raising at administrative level—I speak as one who tried a decade ago to introduce computerisation at secondary school level — has reached such a sophisticated level that we are capable of developing a system that can get rid of the Treasury centralist control. The people in Whitehall tell us that it is impossible. Weak-kneed Ministers have no mathematical competence. They just say that the Treasury bureaucrats tell them that it cannot be done and, it is administratively impossible, so they must accept their word. Many hon. Members believe that local revenue raising powers other than for rates are a distinct, feasible possibility. If the political will were there, the proposal would be implemented this Session.
The White Paper is related to the order. In it there is a proposition further to interfere with local democracy. English comrades on both sides of the House will be interested to hear this. I am glad that the Leader of the House is here. We have been used as guinea pigs for many things. The Government think that we are the mugs who should first be subjected to change and then they try it on the people in England and Wales. We are not mugs in Scotland. We shall fight the Government's attitude at every opportunity.
In their White Paper the Government proposed that henceforth the level of rate fund contribution to the housing revenue account of Scottish local authorities would virtually be determined by the Government. What sort of local democracy is that? What have they reduced themselves to now? The Government are now dictating the level of rate fund contribution to the housing revenue account.
The Tory Government are now trying not only further to weaken local democracy but to push up council house rents. Since the Government were elected, the council house rents in Scotland have increased by more than 100 per cent. I do not know the figure for England and Wales. The Government constantly refer to inflation and living standards. They have been guilty of a savage increase in council house rents, which has pushed up inflation as more than 50 per cent. of Scottish people live in rented, mainly council, accommodation.
§ Mr. Canavan
The hon. Gentleman says that they are subsidised, but who is not subsidised? Every industry in the country is subsidised. Practically all householders in the country are subsidised, be they in the private or the public sector. Every farmer is subsidised. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) is subsidised because he is paid from public funds. If the definition of "subsidy" is money coming from public funds, who in the House or anywhere else can truthfully say that he or she is not subsidised? Of course we are subsidised. We believe in the public sector and in its use to subsidised housing, education, the National Health Service, the growth of industries and all the facilities worthy of subsidisation. I am all for subsidies. "Subsidy" should not be a dirty but a good word. A better phrase might be "public investment in our future", be it through central or local government, or both.
Since the Conservative Government came to office, Falkirk district council, which I represent, has suffered a succession of attacks on manpower levels and in the rate support grant. The housing support grant and the housing capital allocation have been cut so that the authority receives virtually nothing for housing except what it receives from the sale of council houses.
When those cuts were referred to earlier, the hon. Member for Stirling said that Stirling district council was guilty of excessive delay and dragging its feet in dealing with council house sales, but when I referred a short time later to the Scottish Law Commission dragging its feet for 12 years or more on warrant sales, the Solicitor-General for Scotland tried to defend that. Apparently it is all right for people to drag their feet when dealing with warrant sales, so the hon. Member for Stirling is two-faced when he says that delay in the sale of council houses is not permissible.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must tell the hon. Member for Falkirk, West that it is not acceptable to refer to an hon. Gentleman as being two-faced.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Irrespective of what the hon. Member may have got away with—doubtless he has got away with many things in the past—I hope that he will on this occasion, at my request withdraw the remark.
§ Mr. Canavan
As it is you who makes the request. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will rephrase my comment. Janus was a god-like figure in Greek mythology who had two faces, one facing one way and ore facing the other. The hon. Member for Stirling, who is my Member of Parliament, has some similarities to Janus.
The hon. Gentleman also tried to send out bribery-type letters during the general election campaign to scarify people who had bought or were buying their council houses out of voting for Labour and into voting for him when he came up carpetbagging from London. So my Member of Parliament has a vested interest in trying to encourage the sale of council houses because he thinks that it may help to buy him a few votes. I have no such interest. I live in a council house and I have no intention of buying it, selling it or anything else.
§ Mr. Canavan
I remind the hon. Member that I should get more state subsidy even from the Tory Government if I took out a £25,000 mortgage than if I continue to pay an economic rent for the council house in which I live now and in which I lived for many years before I became a Member of Parliament.
The order is yet another deliberate attempt by the Government to cut the living standards of working people and their families and to try to put councillors in the front line. They imagine that local councillors are more unpopular locally than the people hiding in St. Andrew's house and so this cut in rate support grant is a better instrument to wound the interests of the people whom we represent.
In the long run, however, people outside will not be fooled. They will realise that this is yet another infringement of the freedom not just of councillors but, more importantly, of the people whom the councillors have been elected to represent. That applies whether it is a cut in real living standards through an increase in council house rents, which will almost inevitably result from the order, or a cut in the social wage, which will hurt some of the most deserving recipients of local government services — the children in our schools, the younger children in nursery education, the school leavers who look to the local authority for the support that the Tory Government will not give them for higher and further education or training in industry and commerce.
One of the most disgusting aspects of the Government's dogmatic monetarism has been their distinction between the private sector people whom they claim are wealth creators and the people whom they describe as wealth consumers—the disabled, the children in our schools, the mentally handicapped in hospitals and local government homes. Is that what they are reduced to? If so, the Government do not believe in making a worthwhile contribution to the betterment of society.
To say that the private sector is wealth-creating and that the public sector is wealth consuming is a gross misunderstanding of the present mix of our mixed economy. Many people in the public sector are creating wealth, while many in the private sector are stealing it and doing nothing whatever to create a better society. One of the best ways of creating a fairer opportunity in education, health and social services for the elderly, sick and the disabled, is by getting central Government off the back of local government.
We must return to the standard of local democracy that existed in 1979 and build upon it. We must give the people what they voted for — freedom for their elected representatives—[Interruption.] The people of Scotland did not vote for that lot on the Conservative Benches—[HON MEMBERS: "They did not vote for your lot either".] They did. Under the British first-past-the-post system of parliamentary representation, we have more seats in Scotland than all the other parties put together. Therefore, we have a better mandate to represent the people of Scotland and their interests.
In many instances, those in local government have a better mandate than Labour and Tory parliamentarians. We shall fight to maintain and implement that mandate. This rotten tory Government have no mandate and are now hell-bent on using £10,000 million plus of public money to thrust on the people of Scotland the Trident nuclear 970 weapon, which they do not want. We shall fight against that with every legitimate weapon at our disposal. We do not want £10,000 million spent on mass destruction——
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Gentleman knows only too well that that does not come within the scope of the order, and the House would be grateful if he now returned to the subject under discussion.
§ Mr. Canavan
I am sorry that the Minister and his impotent friends, including the Secretary of State for Scotland, did not have the guts to tell the Cabinet, "The people of Scotland do not want £10,000 million spent on Trident. They want it spent on local government and local democracy for the betterment of democracy and local services."
§ 11.9 pm
§ Mr. Ancram
As I was about to say an hour ago, before something intervened, this has been a wide-ranging and interesting debate. I hope that the House will forgive me if I am relatively brief, but we have had a lengthy debate and much ground has been covered.
The most relevant point was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown), who, if I recorded his remarks correctly, said that Governments had a right to control the totality of public expenditure. In a sense this order, and what we are trying to do to local government finance in Scotland, has come within that concept.
Conversely, it was interesting to hear the views of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce), who seemed to feel that any attempt by central Government to affect the financing of local government destroyed local government. If we consider those two views at both ends of the debate it becomes obvious that the hon. Member for Provan, who had responsibility in Government himself and knows that Governments are elected to pursue an economic strategy and have a right to see that that strategy is not undermined by local authorities, gave the correct view. He and I will probably disagree this year and perhaps in years to come about the level of the reductions. He referred to them as substantial. I will return to that in my closing remarks. But I was pleased to understand from him at least that on the Opposition side of the House there is an appreciation that Government have a responsibility to ensure on the public's behalf that the overall limits of public expenditure are kept within bounds.
I hope the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) will forgive me if I do not answer all the points he raised. Inevitably he referred to the higher cut in grant in 1983–84 compared with 1982–83. He must understand —he obviously did not understand it from the remarks I made at the beginning — that the purpose of an abatement of this sort is to say to local authorities that we believe that their expenditure is still too high in real terms and we want to see reductions.
Last year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put a fairly lenient abatement against local authority spending in Scotland. He asked local authorities to bring down their levels of expenditure in real terms in the current year. But that message was not accepted by local authorities. I repeat what I said when I opened. The figure of £45 million set by the Secretary of State is not an exact proportion of the level of overspend; it is the level of abatement that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State 971 believes might at last get through to local authorities the message that we mean what we say about their spending patterns.
The hon. Gentleman also said that it is unfair to base the abatement on the budget of individual councils. He may be surprised to learn that I agree with him. That is why we adjust the abatement when the actual expenditure figure becomes available. He will understand that outturn figures of expenditure are not available during a financial year and are often not available for some months after the end of the financial year. If the abatement is to be made in terms of current expenditure, it has to be made provisionally, at least to begin with, on the basis of the budget.
The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) spoke about over-budgeting and about authorities budgeting to meet the abatement. He spoke about it as though this was something on which they should be complimented.
§ Mr. Ancram
As the hon. Member says, it is inevitable. I should like to point out to him a simple fact of life. The Secretary of State looks at the overall level of overspending in terms of budgets before deciding on the level of the general abatement. If a large proportion of the overspend has been created because councils have been budgeting up to meet the abatement, they are in effect signing their own death warrants. By budgeting up in that way they are ensuring that there will be a general abatement. The higher the allowance they make for it, the higher the abatement is likely to be. That is a course of madness. If one message can get across from this debate to local authorities in Scotland, it should be that that is the one way to ensure year after year that there is a general abatement. I hope that they will understand that when they come to deal with their budgets for next year.
I shall deal briefly with the speeches by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker). Both of them made much the same point. I appreciate that they represent an area where the district council has, by and large, made great efforts to act prudently and follow the requirements and requests of the Government.
I am prepared to admit that the system by which abatement is drawn from councils is, to say the least, rought justice. It depends on the basis of distribution rather than the level of overspend against guidelines. Although I understand my hon. Friend's disappointment, I fail to understand how he and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross linked that fact with the order. In introducing the order I explained that that was the only way in which abatement could presently be drawn from councils. But we shall legislate next year to ensure that abatement will fall on councils in proportion to their expenditure over guidelines.
§ Mr. Bill Walker
I trust that my hon. Friend understands that the debate provided an opportunity to express the views and concerns of myself, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Fairbairn) and the councils that we represent. We took that opportunity.
§ Mr. Ancram
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend had to say. I am fully aware that a number of councils 972 have been concerned about guideline methodology in earlier years. We shall have regard to some of the comments when considering the guidelines for 1984–85.
The basic attack against the order has been an argument put forward so often in such cases — that the Government are slashing the expenditure of local authorities in Scotland. To listen to Opposition Members, one would think that over and over again, year after year, we have slashed the level of expenditure. Yet in 1981–82, at November 1982 prices, the actual expenditure of local authorities was £2,591 million. In 1982–83 the provisional figure was £2,608 million. This year, on the budgets with which we are dealing in the order, the figure is £2,661 million—all at constant prices. That is not a sign of budgets and expenditure being slashed; it a sign of expenditure rising in real terms.
I said earlier that in future we hope to deal with local authorities and controlling expenditure by co-operation. Local authorities must accept the realities, as we must. I hope that the lessons of the order will be learnt and that we will not have to return with a similar order next year. We need the order this year, and I call upon my hon. Friends to support it.
§ Question put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 184, Noes 80.974
|Division No. 60]||[11.19 pm|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Colvin, Michael|
|Amess, David||Conway, Derek|
|Ancram, Michael||Coombs, Simon|
|Arnold, Tom||Cope, John|
|Ashby, David||Couchman, James|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Cranborne, Viscount|
|Atkins, Rt Hon Sir H.||Currie, Mrs Edwina|
|Atkins, Robert (South Ribble)||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)||Dicks, T.|
|Batiste, Spencer||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Beaumont-Dark, Anthony||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J.|
|Bellingham, Henry||Dover, Denshore|
|Benyon, William||Dunn, Robert|
|Berry, Sir Anthony||Dykes, Hugh|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Evennett, David|
|Biggs-Davison, Sir John||Eyre, Reginald|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Fallon, Michael|
|Body, Richard||Favell, Anthony|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Fookes, Miss Janet|
|Bottomley, Peter||Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton K'to'n)||Forth, Eric|
|Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)||Fox, Marcus|
|Brandon-Bravo, Martin||Franks, Cecil|
|Bright, Graham||Fraser, Peter (Angus East)|
|Brinton, Tim||Freeman, Roger|
|Brooke, Hon Peter||Gale, Roger|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes)||Galley, Roy|
|Bruinvels, Peter||Gardiner, George (Reigate)|
|Buck, Sir Antony||Goodhart, Sir Philip|
|Budgen, Nick||Gregory, Conal|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Griffiths, Peter (Portsm'th N)|
|Burt, Alistair||Ground, Patrick|
|Butterfill, John||Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)|
|Carlisle, John (N Luton)||Hampson, Dr Keith|
|Carttiss, Michael||Hanley, Jeremy|
|Channon, Rt Hon Paul||Hannam, John|
|Chapman, Sydney||Hargreaves, Kenneth|
|Chope, Christopher||Harris, David|
|Churchill, W. S.||Harvey, Robert|
|Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)||Hawkins, Sir Paul (SW N'folk)|
|Clarke Kenneth (Rushcliffe)||Hawksley, Warren|
|Hayes, J.||Mills, Iain (Meriden)|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Moate, Roger|
|Hayward, Robert||Moore, John|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Morris, M. (N'hampton, S)|
|Heddle, John||Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)|
|Henderson, Barry||Moynihan, Hon C.|
|Hickmet, Richard||Neale, Gerrard|
|Hind, Kenneth||Needham, Richard|
|Hirst, Michael||Neubert, Michael|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Newton, Tony|
|Holland, Sir Philip (Gedling)||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Holt, Richard||Norris, Steven|
|Hooson, Tom||Onslow, Cranley|
|Howarth, Gerald (Cannock)||Oppenheim, Philip|
|Howell, Ralph (N Norfolk)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Hunt, David (Wirral)||Page, Richard (Herts SW)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Jessel, Toby||Pollock, Alexander|
|Johnson-Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Powley, John|
|Jones, Robert (W Herts)||Prentice, Rt Hon Reg|
|Kershaw, Sir Anthony||Proctor, K. Harvey|
|Key, Robert||Raffan, Keith|
|King, Roger (B'ham N'field)||Renton, Tim|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Rhodes James, Robert|
|Knight, Gregory (Derby N)||Ridsdale, Sir Julian|
|Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston)||Sackville, Hon Thomas|
|Knowles, Michael||Sainsbury, Hon Timothy|
|Lang, Ian||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Lawler, Geoffrey||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Lee, John (Pendle)||Speed, Keith|
|Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)||Spencer, D.|
|Lilley, Peter||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)|
|Lord, Michael||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|McCurley, Mrs Anna||Stern, Michael|
|Macfarlane, Neil||Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)|
|MacKay, John (Argyll & Bute)||Stevens, Martin (Fulham)|
|Maclean, David John.||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Major, John||Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)|
|Malins, Humfrey||Thompson, Donald (Calder V)|
|Malone, Gerald||Thurnham, Peter|
|Maples, John||Townend, John (Bridlington)|
|Marlow, Antony||Tracey, Richard|
|Marshall, Michael (Arundel)||Viggers, Peter|
|Mather, Carol||Wakeham, Rt Hon John|
|Maude, Francis||Walden, George|
|Mawhinney, Dr Brian||Warren, Kenneth|
|Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Watts, John|
|Mayhew, Sir Patrick||Wheeler, John|
|Merchant, Piers||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Meyer, Sir Anthony||Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones and Mr. Archie Hamilton.|
|Miller, Hal (B'grove)|
|Alton, David||Kennedy, Charles|
|Ashdown, Paddy||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)|
|Barron, Kevin||Lewis, Terence (Worsley)|
|Beckett, Mrs Margaret||Lloyd, Tony (Stratford)|
|Beith, A. J.||Loyden, Edward|
|Bennett, A. (Dent'n & Red'sh)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Blair, Anthony||McDonald, Dr Oonagh|
|Boyes, Roland||McGuire, Michael|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||McKay, Allen (Penistone)|
|Brown, Gordon (D'f'mline E)||McKelvey, William|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Mackenzie, Rt Hon Gregor|
|Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith)||Maclennan, Robert|
|Bruce, Malcolm||McTaggart, Robert|
|Callaghan, Jim (Heyw'd & M)||McWilliam, John|
|Canavan, Dennis||Madden, Max|
|Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y)||Marek, Dr John|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.)||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton North)||Meadowcroft, Michael|
|Cook, Robin F. (Livingston)||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Cowans, Harry||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Craigen, J. M.||Nellist, David|
|Davies, Ronald (Caerphilly)||O'Neill, Martin|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l)||Parry, Robert|
|Dewar, Donald||Patchett, Terry|
|Dixon, Donald||Pike, Peter|
|Dormand, Jack||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Eadie, Alex||Redmond, M.|
|Eastham, Ken||Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)|
|Ewing, Harry||Ross, Ernest (Dundee W)|
|Fatchett, Derek||Skinner, Dennis|
|Fields, T. (L'pool Broad Gn)||Snape, Peter|
|Fisher, Mark||Steel, Rt Hon David|
|Foulkes, George||Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)|
|George, Bruce||Strang, Gavin|
|Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John||Torney, Tom|
|Hamilton, James (M'well N)||Wallace, James|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Wareing, Robert|
|Harrison, Rt Hon Walter||Welsh, Michael|
|Home Robertson, John|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)||Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Norman Hogg.|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1983, a copy of which was laid before this House on 29th July, be approved.