§ Mr. Ancram
I have received numerous representations about the large rates increases made by many Scottish authorities. These increases are particularly disappointing since the rate support grant settlement for 1987–88 is a generous one.
§ Mr. Hirst
Does my hon. Friend agree that, as he has said, in the year in which the most generous rate support grant settlement for years has been given, it is nothing short of scandalous that Strathclyde regional council should be passing on a 19 per cent. rate increase to ratepayers? Does my hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues have any plans to protect Scottish ratepayers from rate increases many times the rate of inflation?
§ Mr. Ancram
Obviously we will wish to consider the budgets of all authorities to see whether action is required. It is disappointing to have a rate increase of 18.5 per cent. in Strathclyde, especially as that authority, if it had spent at guideline for the year just ended and budgeted within the guideline for this year, could have achieved a 5 per cent. decrease in its rates. It only goes to show, as we have always said, that voting Labour means higher taxes, whether local or national.
§ Mr. Maxton
Is it not already clear from an earlier answer that the Minister's statistics are suspect, as he appears to believe that 42 per cent. recorded for the Labour party in an opinion poll is far worse that the 18 per cent. recorded for the Tory party? That is a remarkable fact. Certain Conservative Members are not twitching about the general election, because they are already politically dead.
Every regional council has increased its rates, with the exception of Grampian, by more than 10 per cent. That includes Highland, Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, which are not Labour-controlled. Strathclyde region had a 2 per cent. increase in its rate support grant—not a generous one, but well below the rate of inflation —while Lothian region had a nil increase in its rate support grant — again, not a generous one. The Minister's argument about a generous rate support grant is a load of nonsense.
§ Mr. Ancram
If the hon. Gentleman is satisfied with one sixth of the Labour party's support disappearing within a month, that is a matter for him.
The hon. Gentleman has argued constantly that if the proportion of rate support grant is held we can expect to see low rate increases. The proportion of rate support grant was held in Scotland this year and the average of rate increases is 15.1 per cent. If that does nothing else, it gives the lie to the argument that has been put forward by the hon. Gentleman.