HC Deb 07 March 1985 vol 74 cc1177-87

4.1 pm

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

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make an announcement about revaluation and rate support grant in Scotland. As hon. Members know, there has been a revaluation of property in Scotland which will come into effect on 1 April this year. I believe that such regular revaluations are essential to maintain a fair distribution of burdens within the rating system. In considering the rate support grant settlement for 1985–86 I have had very much in mind the special issues which revaluation raises.

It is, however, now becoming very clear that authorities are not heeding my repeated warnings to contain their expenditure. Spending in both 1984–85 and 1985–86 will continue to be above the Government's plans. I will, of course, be closely examining the budgets of all authorities to see whether any are planning expenditure of a level which would make it necessary for me to take selective action to reduce their rates. I would also remind all authorities that the penalties for overspending in 1985–86 will be much more severe than in 1984–85.

I consider that the increases in rate bills now emerging are in general so steep that I must take further action to protect domestic ratepayers. I have therefore decided to increase the total of aggregate Exchequer grant and within it the domestic element of rate support grant by £38.5 million, making it possible to increase domestic rate relief to 8p per pound of rateable value. This is an eightfold increase over 1984–85, from £14 million to £102 million. Domestic rate relief is a direct relief on each £1 of rateable value, and accordingly the benefit from it increases with rateable value. The necessary order will be laid shortly.

The increase in domestic rates will in total now be reduced from 24 per cent. to about 17 per cent. The increases for individual domestic ratepayers will in many cases be higher, and in many cases lower, than this figure, depending on the level of spending in their local authorities and changes in the pattern of valuation. It is, of course, open to ratepayers to appeal against their valuation and we have made improvements in appeal procedures in the Rating and Valuation (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 1984.

The cost of increasing domestic rate relief in this way will be financed by adjustments within my existing policies and expenditure programmes.

As I have said, the object of revaluation is to apportion the rate burden fairly. This means that some pay a larger share and some a smaller share. That is justifiable, but it is necessary to have regard to the effects on domestic ratepayers in current circumstances. This I have done with a substantial increase in domestic rate relief.

Mr. Jim Craigen (Glasgow, Maryhill)

The Secretary of State must think that Scotland's ratepayers are daft if he believes that they will be taken in by this chickenfeed of an increase in domestic rate relief, when he, as Secretary of State, has already cut the beef substantially in the form of the rate support grant settlement for 1985–86. Are we to gather that this mean threepence of an increase in the domestic rate relief is the consolation prize to the chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland for his visit last week to London? Why is this brinkmanship coming on the last day before the district councils must notify the regional councils of their rate poundage?

Did the Secretary of State consider a variable domestic relief, since some authorities will not have such large increases in rates as a result of revaluation as will others? I note, for example, that Kyle and Carrick and Argyll councils come into that category, although the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) — is still, unhappily, on the shelf of a high revaluation authority. Did the Secretary of State consider a revaluation-capping exercise to assist the authorities that will be especially disadvantaged by revaluation?

How can the Secretary of State have the gall to suggest that a 17 per cent. increase is not steep? What will be the increase for the commercial sector in Scotland? I know that areas such as Dumfries and Galloway are extremely worried about the impact of revaluation. As to appeals, is not the Secretary of State thrusting his responsibilities onto the appeals machinery?

The Secretary of State said that the proposal does not call for extra money, and that he will find it from existing programmes. Where will he find that extra money? We asked him to postpone the revaluation or to pay in full the increase in domestic relief that would be required to obviate the impact of revaluation on the domestic sector, but he has done neither. He talked about protecting the domestic ratepayer, but he is giving them as much protection as a grizzly bear gives to his victim as he is about to extinguish all life from it.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that he is the spokesman of a party which recently reaffirmed that it supports revaluation and agrees that it should go ahead. He described the proposal in various splendid ways, including calling it chickenfeed. He might wish to know that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which is not exactly opposed to the views of the Labour party, asked for an increase of £3l million to help domestic ratepayers, and I have today announced a £38.5 million increase for that purpose.

The hon. Gentleman asked why we made the announcement on the last day before the districts must give their rating details to the regions. The answer is that this is the first day on which I could have made the announcement, after putting together the package, following the announcement of the full details of the effects of rate changes on various areas. The hon. Gentleman suggested variable domestic relief, but he has not taken fully into account the fact that the method of payment of the relief means that the higher the rateable value of the property in question, the more help its owner will receive from the change. Therefore, it allows for the fact that some need more help than others.

The hon. Gentleman suggested the capping of revaluation. If he really believes that that is practicable, he must have a poor appreciation of what revaluation is about. The object of revaluation is to ensure that the share paid by each category of ratepayer is more or less fair in current circumstances. As I have already said, the hon. Gentleman's party and the leader of that party in Scotland, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), agree with that system and support it. The hon. Gentleman said that I had suggested that an increase of 17 per cent. was not steep. That is not the case. I consider that it is a very steep increase. The increases that have been responsible for revaluation in Scotland still amount to about 12 per cent. The rest is due to overspending by local authorities which have refused to bring their spending under control. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The hon. Gentleman's party and his colleagues have been more responsible than anybody else for encouraging overspending. As for money, about £26 million will come from reductions in my cash-limited programmes in 1985–86. The programmes mainly affected are likely to be industry, largely the Scottish Development Agency, roads and transport, the urban programme, health and housing. I have also taken some account of the grant penalties that are likely to arise from local authority overspending.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

May I give a warm welcome to my right hon. Friend's statement and congratulate him upon his success in assisting domestic ratepayers in Scotland? Is he aware that this increase to 8p will more than halve the rise due to revaluation and that it will be of substantial benefit to the domestic ratepayer? Will he further confirm that the sum of £38 million is far more than was requested by the local authorities, who asked only for £31 million.?

Mr. Younger

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. He is perfectly correct. The combined effect of all the domestic rate relief that we have produced and largely paid for has been more than to halve the effect of revaluation on domestic ratepayers. I have no doubt that people in general will notice that whereas the Labour party, in the form of its representatives in local government, seems to do everything possible — particularly yesterday — to increase rates by every means that it can, this party has put a great deal of money into helping domestic ratepayers in order to ease the burden upon them.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his 17 per cent. increase is between three and four times the current rate of inflation? How can that be justified? Why is there a second revaluation in Scotland before revaluation has taken place south of the border? Finally, will the Secretary of State at last do something towards redeeming the Tory promise of reforming the whole of the rating system, in view of what Scottish ratepayers have suffered during the past few years under this Government?

Mr. Younger

I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be quicker than most to believe that Scotland should go its own way when it wishes to do so. He may recall that the revaluation system is completely different in Scotland. We had revaluations in 1961, 1966, 1971, 1978 and 1985. The effect of those revaluations has been to keep our valuations much more up to date than those south of the border. As for costs, I am glad to note that the Western Isles council appears to have announced rates increases which are considerably less than those in most of the rest of Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman must be glad about that. I should also have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome, if nobody else would, the fact that one of the effects of this revaluation is to make substantial reductions in industrial rates in Scotland. This is very important for jobs. For example, he might like to know that the assessor in Strathclyde informs me that the result of revaluation will be that standard industrial units in East Kilbride will have their rates burden reduced by 18 per cent. I wonder what they will think if the right hon. Gentleman presses for that not to happen.

Mr. Michael Hirst (Strathkelvin and Bearsden)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be widely welcomed in Scotland, not least by my constituents who are the most highly rated in Scotland? Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the key elements in rates increases is the insatiable appetite for spending of Labour authorities? It is only thanks to the action that my right hon. Friend has taken that rate levels have not been higher. Will he bear in mind that there is deep apprehension in many district councils about the shape of the possible rate support grant settlement for 1986–87. Will he further accept that there is a deep desire, as yet unrequited, for a reform of the domestic rating system in Scotland?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate my hon. Friend's comments on all of those points. On his last point, he knows that my right hon. Friends and I are involved in a further study of what improvements can be made to the rating system. He is quite right in saying that there are gainers and losers in any revaluation. I have mentioned some of the industrial gainers. It is also the case that to quite a large extent such items as sports grounds, in which a great deal of interest has been taken in recent years, do rather better out of this revaluation than would otherwise have been the case. None of these gainers would have gained anything if there had been no revaluation. That is the answer to those who say that they would rather not have had a rating revaluation. As my hon. Friend rightly points out, it is this Government alone who have stood out with determination to ensure that the effects upon domestic ratepayers are not too severe. It is the Labour party, through its local government representatives, that is uncorking the champagne and flying the red flag with joy because of the increased expenditure that it is imposing upon ratepayers.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that when he crept into the House this afternoon to make his statement it was to tell us that the local government financial strategy over which he presides is in tatters and that throughout Scottish local government there is no confidence either in him or in his Ministers? This is just another admission that we are to have statement after statement about local authority finance from the Secretary of State but never any success in administering it. Since so many people are to be so badly disadvantaged by revaluation will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that his officials advise every householder in Scotland of his right of appeal, how to appeal and how to make sure that the result of that procedure will be that some justice will be rescued from the injustice that he is creating?

Mr. Younger

On the latter point, I can certainly confirm that we shall do everything we can, as is usual, to advise people of their right of appeal and how to appeal. I am sure that many people will do so. However, I am slightly puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's intervention. Although this statement is mostly about Government help to the domestic ratepayer, I thought that the hon. Gentleman would intervene to thank me for the fact that as a result of this revaluation Burroughs in Cumbernauld is having a rates reduction, I understand from the assessor, of about 23 per cent. I should have thought the hon. Gentleman would thank me for that.

Mr. Gerald Malone (Aberdeen, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in Aberdeen, where there has been very substantial revaluation, this news will be most welcome? Will he agree with me that during the course of this week Aberdeen district council made an extremely responsible response to his request that it should attempt to meet the guidelines? Does he agree that that salutary example should be followed throughout Scotland?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was pleased to see the press reports of the decision taken this week by Aberdeen district council.' I also welcome its decision on housing. This was in contradistinction to the advice given to it by many people in the Labour party. As my hon. Friend has pointed out this Labour council acted against the encouragement given by many of its friends to councils throughout Scotland to defy the law and increase the rates.

Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

Is the Secretary of State aware that many hon. Members regard announcements of this kind as a very piecemeal way of dealing with the very serious problem of rating valuation? Secondly, are we right to assume—I think we are—that this is not £38 million of new money? The Secretary of State said that about £26 million of the £38 million has to be taken from the Scottish Development Agency, from industrial growth, from the roads programme and from other essentials that had been earmarked for the promotion of industry in Scotland. Did I hear the Secretary of State aright when he said that in order to make this announcement he is taking that sum of money away from industry?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman's first point is valid. The reason why I have acted in two stages is that information about the effect on many classes of ratepayer has been made available at various points during the course of the revaluation. I have acted as quickly as it has been possible to act when I have had the information upon which to act. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman's point that it would have been better if we could have done it all at once. However, we did not have the information to enable us to do so. As for the money, the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly correct. There is no such thing as "new" money. All the money comes from taxpayers and ratepayers. What I have had to do—and it has been very difficult—has been to re-order the priorities within the Scottish budget. If it is necessary to help some people, somebody else has to find the money. That I have managed to do.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the further increase in domestic rate relief will be welcomed warmly by Conservative Members and by those who pay rates? [Laughter.] Labour Members seem surprised. Is it not a fact that only a limited number of electors pay rates? Does he accept that this further increase in domestic rate relief will cushion further the effect of the revaluation, the legal requirement for which was introduced by the previous Labour Government? Finally, will he review urgently the rate support grant distribution fomulae and consider sympathetically the prospect of continuing to seek a better way of raising local taxation?

Mr. Younger

I confirm that I shall continue to do what my hon. Friend urges in the last part of his question. He is right to say that the whole population does not pay rates. The amount of domestic rate relief is proportionate to the rates that an individual has to pay. This means that all ratepayers derive some benefit and that those who have the greatest burden receive the greatest assistance. I confirm that we shall continue to do all that we can to make the rate support formula meet as nearly as possible the needs of ratepayers and the system.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I am sure that ratepayers will welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has bowed under the storm of protest that has greeted the revaluation. However, there will still be considerable dismay at what he is doing. I have received many letters from my constituents on this issue. The right hon. Gentleman has been developing the humbug that the rating consequences are all due to the Scargillites in Edinburgh and Stirling. Gordon district council and the Conservative-controlled Grampian regional council have kept entirely within the right hon. Gentleman's guidelines, yet before his announcement today the ratepayers in those authorities were faced with a 42 per cent. cash increase in what they pay in rates. His announcement will serve to reduce the increase to 34 per cent. I do not believe that those ratepayers will be very impressed with the way in which the Government are helping them. The money that is to be used to achieve the reduction will come from cutting an already savagely cut Scottish Office budget. This will lead to further problems in other sectors of the Scottish economy and he and his Government will pay the consequences at the end of the day.

Mr. Younger

It is appropriate that the hon. Gentleman should have made those remarks. It is only the Liberal party which believes that money can be produced by inventing it and plucking it from thin air. It is obvious that money has to come from somewhere, and the only area from which it can come is from other programmes.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will find that many of his constituents will regard my announcement with dismay. If they are dismayed by the prospect of having an extra 3p in the pound to help towards their domestic rates, the hon. Gentleman's constituents are not the same as mine. I am left wondering whether the hon. Gentleman has had time since the rate support grant debate that took place a few weeks ago to check with the district council in his constituency, whose domestic rate is 9p in the pound, why it appears to be necessary for it to budget for about 80 per cent. of its balances. That seems a strange decision, but it is for the council to make it. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will look into that.

Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Banff and Buchan)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his welcome news today, which will be of considerable value in rural areas. I agree very much with his comments in response to the question from the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). Will my hon. Friend ensure that an appropriate proportion of the relief will go to rural areas of the sort that are to be found in my constituency? The councils in these areas have suffered because they adhered to the guidelines. They will welcome any benefit that they can get from the increased relief that my right hon. Friend has announced.

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I can assure him that the benefit will go in proper proportion to rural areas as well as other areas. I think that it will have an equally beneficial effect on ratepayers in all areas.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that a rate revaluation is designed to remove inequities in a system that is basically inequitable? It seems that he is tinkering with it and trying to create a workable system when in essence we have an unworkable public expenditure system. What overtures has he made to the Treasury to try to dissuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer from making tax cuts and encouraging him to increase real public expenditure as it relates to the needs of the people of Scotland and elsewhere?

Mr. Younger

That is a wider question. The hon. Gentleman will soon have an opportunity to question my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on his judgment of what is the best way of using public money to help many different interest groups in Scotland and Britain generally.

I do not go along entirely with the hon. Gentleman's definition of the purpose of rate revaluations. He suggested that their purpose was to remove inequities, but they are introduced to remove inequalities which arise during the passage of time. That is why, the more frequent the revaluations, within reason, the fairer the system is. It has been said that there is no statutory requirement to have revaluations, but that is not so. There is a statutory requirement to have revaluations in Scotland—

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

The right hon. Gentleman postponed the revaluation.

Mr. Younger

—every five years unless an order is put before the House for postponement. The Government have already put an order before the House to postpone the revaluation for two years. We cannot continue postponing revaluations from year to year without making the system extremely unfair. We have taken what is clearly the right decision.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

May I thank my right hon. Friend for his customary chivalry in handing his water bottle to the hard-pressed domestic ratepayer as he crawls through the desert of death? He has come to the rescue of domestic ratepayers by ameliorating the effects of revaluation. Domestic ratepayers have a vote, of course, but there are many who do not pay rates who also have a vote. The rating system enables the consequences of extravagant expenditure of social administration to be placed as a burden on the backs of ratepayers and to be continued. It also enables Conservative administrations that are not profligate to be punished. It is not a good system and it should be urged upon my right hon. Friend, when he gets back his water bottle, that he redeems an impossible rating system that is unfair and contrary to our principles.

Mr. Younger

I appreciate my hon. and learned Friend's argument. A number of authorities have been trying to increase their expenditure over a number of years. They suffer penalties for doing that, but their general activity reacts on the rest of the system and affects adversely many authorities which have been spending sensibly and reducing their expenditure. That is regrettable and I hope that all authorities will get together to try to stop that happening. I am not sure whether my hon. and learned Friend has chosen exactly the right analogy in referring to me handing a water bottle to ratepayers. When he sees the effect of the three extra pence he may consider it to be something a little stronger — perhaps a wee deoch-and-doruis.

Mr. John Max-ton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Why does the Secretary of State respond so quickly to the screams of that dying species, the Conservative voter in Scotland, when it took him five months to respond to the legitimate demands of Scottish teachers, and then only flatly to refuse to give them an independent inquiry? If the Secretary of State has £38.5 million to spend, would it not be better to use it to increase teachers salaries? Would not parents in Ayr and Eastwood prefer him to spend the money in that way rather than giving it back to them in this form of rate relief?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his somewhat backhanded compliment for the speed of response in this instance. I am glad that I was able to act reasonably quickly when the information became available. The teachers' dispute is a separate matter. I did not turn down the teachers' request out of hand and the hon. Gentleman should know that. I suggested a perfectly good way forward for them. Unfortunately they have refused persistently to take it up. I can assume only that they have turned down my offer, to my great regret.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the domestic ratepayers on Tayside will be relieved that something has been done to prevent what could have happened? My right hon. Friend must be aware that the real problem is that he is constantly faced with high-spending authorities which, for many years, have bought their voters' affections, and that has resulted in the re-election of those authorities. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, until the system is changed, he will continue to battle against the ever-increasing tithe and that, under the present system, there will be no real answer to the problem? My right hon. Friend must ask his right hon. and hon. Friends to produce as a matter of urgency a system that is fair to all those who benefit from the high-spending authorities.

Mr. Younger

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. My hon. Friends and I are far from satisfied that the rating system is working fairly. So many people either do not pay rates or think that they do not pay rates. They therefore appear to encourage councils to spend more and more of the money which they think is not their money. Obviously that is not a satisfactory principle, and we shall, therefore, do everything we can to find ways of improving it.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

As this is the second time this year that the Secretary of State has had to readjust his budget—first on student fees and now on the revaluation contribution—will he say what will be the impact on the industrial, health and housing sectors from which this money is to come? How much money does the right hon. Gentleman have in reserve for his rather phoney offer to the teachers?

Mr. Younger

On the last point, I have given my answer and that answer stands. I shall make clear the details of the changes in my programmes when the necessary gross cash limit adjustments are announced. I expect that the initial gross reductions on most of the affected programmes will be outweighed by increases in the cash limits during 1985–86 to carry forward the effect of the normal entitlement of underspending on those programmes in 1984–85. The size of these increases will not be known until the end of this financial year.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

What effect will the cuts in the other budgets — for example, industry and roads — have on the Highlands regional council which, as I am sure the right hon. Gentleman knows, is not noted for flying the red flag over Inverness? Will not the cuts simply exacerbate the present problem? Since the local government re-organisation there has been a tenfold increase in the road mileage that has to be serviced, repaired and kept up, while there has been only a doubling in the cash available for those services.

Mr. Younger

On the general effects, I shall make a detailed announcement so that hon. Members will have a clear picture of what is happening. We are able to make the necessary adjustments because we are talking about an early period in the financial year and because we can use some of the underspending in the current year. Those funds can be carried through. I believe that the changes in other programmes will not be drastic. When those changes are made, the House will be able to make known its views.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Will the Secretary of State now recognise that Edinburgh district council is determined to implement its mandate to improve services and create jobs? What moral authority does the right hon. Gentleman have to try to prevent the council from tackling years of appalling neglect of Edinburgh's council housing stock and from starting to raise services to the levels in other parts of Scotland?

Mr. Younger

I have read in the press only what Edinburgh district council has in mind. I do not propose making any comment on that until I have an opportunity of seeing the council's budget and the budgets of all the other local authorities in Scotland. It would not be proper for me to comment on that at this stage. I can well imagine, however, the real views of the vast majority of the Edinburgh people at the antics of the past few days. I shall leave it at that.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

If this increase in public spending can be met by creative accounting with last year's underspending, why cannot that same creative accounting be used to meet urgent calls, such as the call to increase teachers' pay? If some industrial premises are having their rateable value reduced, and bearing in mind the fact that a great many industrial premises have been turned back to green fields because of the Government's industrial policies, where is the logic of loading additional spending on to the domestic ratepayer and the SDA, which is trying to build fresh industrial premises?

Mr. Younger

As I think the hon. Gentleman appreciates, revaluation merely alters the share of rates paid by the various categories of ratepayer. It so happens that in this revaluation, which is decided entirely by assessors and not by the Government, the industrial ratepayers will carry a lower share and the domestic ratepayers a higher share of the rating burden. The domestic share of the total burden will increase by roughly 14.4 per cent. and the industry share will increase by 12.7 per cent. That can only be helpful to industry, and that is one of the purposes of revaluation.

I repeat that I have been saying for some weeks that I am prepared to look at a package put together by the SJNC for Scottish teachers. I made it clear that I was prepared to help them, but I am bound to say that it appears, after repeated efforts, that the teachers have turned down this request — I regret that — and that it is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine how one could meet the request as time goes on.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

Will the Secretary of State accept that although the announcement is inadequate, I certainly welcome it? Will he confirm that it will do nothing for commercial ratepayers? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider examining a similar scheme to give some relief in the face of the swingeing increases in commercial rates in areas such as mine?

Mr. Younger

I fully appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about commercial ratepayers. He and his colleagues have seen me about that matter. In general —I do not refer to the Borders particularly — the share of rates borne by commercial ratepayers will fall by 3.2 per cent. I fully accept that there are commercial ratepayers — including those from the Borders—whose valuations are fairly high, because of the assessor's assessment of their economic position compared to that of comparable premises in other parts of Scotland. There seems to be a clear case for making appeals. No doubt that will be considered in the normal process.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

I welcome this acrobatic attempt by the Secretary of State to save one of his own goals. Now that we have this implied admission that it is the unelected Secretary of State for Scotland who has been responsible for the explosion of rates in recent years, will the right hon. Gentleman apologise to the householders and to elected local authorities in Scotland for his deplorable and devious conduct towards local government finance since he came to office? Will the right hon. Gentleman estimate how many jobs will be lost as a consequence of his robbing the SDA's Peter to pay the Paul of Eastwood and Ayr?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman perhaps needs a new scriptwriter. Even by his standards, that was a remarkable question. I remind the hon. Gentleman that is a Front Bench spokesman in an Opposition party which has clearly agreed that the rating system is right and that revaluation is the right thing to do. The hon. Gentleman cannot quarrel with the fact that the independent assessors have decided that the various categories should change the share of rates that they bear. If the hon. Gentleman is at odds with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who clearly supports the revaluation of the rating system, he should say so. I do not think he is.

Mr. Ewing

I am sure that the Secretary of State is greatly relieved that he has quietened the bark of the Buchan bulldog. That bark is now merely a whimper. This shows how cheaply the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie) can be bought. Is the Secretary of State aware that this measure might be a sop and consolation prize to the two Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland who are sitting beside him — they were both disciplined last week by their executive committees — and all right for their executive committees, but it certainly is not all right for the domestic ratepayers in Scotland who see the right hon. Gentleman as one who believes that an increase of 17 per cent. in domestic rates is acceptable?

The right hon. Gentleman talks about local authorities spending above the guidelines, but is he not yet aware that the finer and deeper he cuts the guidelines the more impossible it is for local government to stay within the guidelines? They cannot keep their spending programmes within the guidelines that he has set. If the Secretary of State has a conscience, will he think black burning shame of himself for making the health of the people of Scotland pay for his bungling incompetence?

Mr. Younger

In reply to the hon. Gentleman's various points, I have never said, and do not believe, that a 17 per cent. increase is acceptable. If local authorities had been spending according to the guidelines and recommendations that we have been making for all these years, the increase through the revaluation would be only 12 per cent. Even after the Government help, that is the measure of the overspending which still runs in the system, encouraged, aided and abetted by the hon. Gentleman. We have enhanced the guidelines by £97 million this year to make it easier for local authorities to meet their targets. I should have thought that he would recognise that. I am at a bit of a loss when commenting on the hon. Gentleman's remarks, unfortunately, because I cannot accuse him of having a new scriptwriter. It is all too apparent that he writes his scripts himself.