HC Deb 20 July 1987 vol 120 cc137-61 11.45 pm
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang)

I beg to move, That the Rate Reduction (Lothian Region) 1987–88 Report, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved. The report was laid before the House in accordance with the provisions of section 5 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1966, as variously amended, which affords my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State power to propose a reduction in any authority's rate, if he is satisfied that the authority's total estimated expenses are excessive and unreasonable. The power for the Secretary of State to act where he detects "excessive and unreasonable" expenditure dates back over 50 years, and the use of the power in its present form is familiar to hon. Members. The report now before the House states the amount of the reduction proposed and the reasons for that amount, and sets out representations from Lothian regional council, together with the record of the meeting that I had with representatives of the authority.

For the sake of completeness, let me mention here that my right hon. and learned Friend also initiated action under section 5 against Edinburgh district council and Clackmannan district council. We shall debate the report concerning Edinburgh later. In the case of Clackmannan, my right hon. and learned Friend proposed a reduction in the council's rate on the grounds of its excessive and unreasonable planned expenditure. After considering representations from that authority, he agreed to its proposal to make a voluntary reduction in its rate of an amount less than was originally proposed. That represents a satisfactory outcome in Clackmannan's case, and for that reason there is no report before the House tonight concerning that authority.

I start with the broader context of our policies on local authority expenditure as a whole, which formed the background to the reports. What Scottish local authorities spend accounts for 43 per cent. of the programme of public expenditure in Scotland for which my right hon. and learned Friend is responsible. In the United Kingdom as a whole, local authority expenditure accounts for a quarter of public expenditure. There is nothing particularly untoward about those figures, but they are highly significant in the context of the Government's economic policy as a whole. That was well understood by the Labour party when it was in Government.

Quite apart from macro-economic considerations, we have to bear in mind the interests of individual ratepayers. They do not understand why, when they see inflation increasing by 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. and their own annual incomes increasing by 5 per cent. or 6 per cent. local authorities should find it necessary to produce budgets requiring rate increases several or many times higher than that. They can find no explanation in the quality of services that local authorities offer them. In many cases, ratepayers simply cannot afford those increases. That is equally true of domestic ratepayers, many on low or fixed incomes, and of business and commercial ratepayers on whose profitability we depend for the maintenance and creation of employment.

Last year, for a brief moment, it appeared that local authority current spending was coming under control. The volumne of current spending by Scottish local authorities in 1986–87 was back to the level of 1978–79. Miraculously, services were not collapsing. In fact, taking account of reductions in demand for education — which itself accounts for around 50 per cent. of local authority expenditure—the volume of expenditure or many other services had increased. But I do not wish to make too much of that point. In overall terms, expenditure volume was back to its 1978–79 level. My right hon and learned Friend responded positively and constructively with a rate support grant settlement for this year, based realistically on local authorities' own budgets for 1986–87, with an increase of 3.75 per cent. in provision in line with inflation. There were further additions in respect of the teachers' pay settlement and some minor transfers of functions. Yet when local authority budgets for 1987–88 became available, it was clear that planned spending was again leaping ahead. Budgets for this year are 3.8 per cent. above even the generous level of provision that was made; and they imply an overall growth in the volume of expenditure of 3.2 per cent. As has also been pointed out earlier this evening, there are worrying signs that inflationary pressures are increasing in the local authority sector at a time when they are still under reasonable control in the economy as a whole. No responsible Government could ignore developments of that kind, and we have already discussed the grant penalties that will apply to all overspending authorities. The Secretary of State's responsibilities in relation to his powers under section 5 of the 1966 Act relate, however, not only to the need for public expenditure control, but to the need to protect local ratepayers from the consequences of excessive and unreasonable decisions by individual authorities.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

The Minister is talking blandly about statistics, in the bland manner that he has perfected over The years, but does he not realise that we are talking about services to individual people? For example, recently 150 parents turned up in Ayr, including people from Kincaidston in my constituency, asking for the provision of nursery services for young children aged three and four. Those services cannot be provided in Ayr because of the Government's cutbacks. What does the Minister say to people who are anxious to have services provided in Ayr as they are in other parts of the country?

Mr. Lang

No one would ever describe the hon. Gentleman as bland. We are also talking about services that have to be paid for, by individual anti commercial ratepayers.

I turn now to the particular Circumstances arising in Lothian. I very much regret that the Government are once again in conflict with Lothian. Its assessed need for the present financial year is £362 million. But its budget for last year was £371 million. The council was therefore given a guideline of £395 million for the present year. This was 8–9 per cent. above its assessed need and no less than 11.3 per cent. above its previous guideline. One might reasonably have expected some criticism for that guideline from those who felt that Lothian's expenditure was already too high. It was undoubtedly a generous figure, but it did not seem realistic to expect the council to make substantial reductions in the present year. In the light of that good guideline it was therefore most surprising and deeply disappointing that the region budgeted to spend no less than £424.4 million, 7.4 per cent. or £29 million over its guideline, and 16.9 per cent. or £61 million over the assessment of its relative expenditure need. The next highest excesses among regional councils are 4.2 per cent. over guideline and 8.4 per cent. over needs assessment. If we look at a different measure, expenditure per head, Lothian's planned figure for 1987–88 of £533.99, is 4.9 per cent. above the average for closely comparable authorities, and the growth in planned expenditure per head over the previous year is 6.3 per cent., which is above the average corresponding figure for all regional councils.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

When the Minister speaks of closely comparable authorities, which authorities does he have in mind?

Mr. Lang

Comparable authorities among the regions are those that have similar responsibilities to those of Lothian. They include Central, Fife, Grampian and Tayside.

Looking at the figures in real, or volume terms, the rate of growth from 1986–87 to 1987–88 is 6.2 per cent., almost double the average for all regional councils and for all Scottish local authorities.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

Will the Minister accept that expenditure per head in the Lothian region is less than average expenditure per head in the regions of Scotland as a whole?

Mr. Lang

It is always possible to find something to suit the hon. Gentleman's case, but expenditure per head in Lothian has been rising rapidly. Indeed, if one looks back to the 1978–79 comparison, to which the council itself looks back in support of its arguments, it overlooked the fact that expenditure then was 10 per cent. more than that of closely comparable authorities, and 3 per cent. above the regional average.

The figures are clear, and the extent to which Lothian stands out among regional councils is also clear. Take any number; double it; treble it — that seems to be the approach of Lothian regional council. It will not do. Lothian's rate has gone up 29.8 per cent., and there is a clear expectation among Lothian's ratepayers that something will be done about it. Parliament clearly intended the Secretary of State to use his powers under section 5 in Circumstances such as this, and my right hon. and learned Friend has done so.

Mr. Dalyell

This is a deeply serious matter. The Minister is talking of doubling and trebling, but what figures are being doubled and trebled? He must be careful about his language.

Mr. Lang

I shall repeat some of the figures that I have already given. The council's budget this year is 16.9 per cent. above assessed need as compared with 6.1 per cent. for other councils. Its budget is £29 million, or 7.4 per cent., above guideline. That also is a dramatic increase. The figures stand out sharply when compared with those for other councils.

It is of course reasonable to ask what excuses or explanations Lothian has to offer. It has had a full opportunity to explain itself, and its case is recorded in the report. Those who read it dispassionately, together with the note of the meeting that it subsequently had with me, will not be surprised that we were not led to change our view. Those aspects of Lothian's representations which will be of most general interest concern what it says about local needs and the need for expansion in services. But if we compare the detail of its budget for this year with its provisional outturn for last, what do we discover? Planned increases in volume terms of 8.4 per cent. in social work, 14.5 per cent. in roads and road lighting, 25.7 per cent. in concessionary fares payments, 32.4 per cent. in bus subsidies, which in most of the rest of the country are coming down dramatically, 46 per cent. in planning, 9.4 per cent. in consumer protection and 6.1 per cent. in central administration. There is no sign in all this, of services being pared to the bone, or of pressing needs going unmet. Indeed, no services show a planned volume reduction.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Before coming here, I worked with the mentally handicapped in Lothian region. Is the Minister aware that people like me are aware of services being cut to the bone by the previous Conservative alliance administration on the council and now by the Government?

Mr. Lang

I have just shown through the figures that I gave that, far from there being cuts, planned increases in real terms are being contemplated.

The impression that I am left with is rather of expenditure programmes running out of control, and of plenty of scope for real priority needs to be met by sensible budgeting and pruning back in areas of lesser priority.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

The Minister mentioned increased expenditure on subsidies for bus services in Lothian region. Is he aware that, because of the Transport Act 1985, the council has had to spend £2 million more on subsidising private companies to operate what is effectively a worse bus service than we have ever had? If the Minister does not accept my word, will he accept that of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who wrote to me in his capacity as a constituency Member more than any other hon. Member about the appalling service in his constituency?

Mr. Lang

I shall not accept that from the hon. Gentleman, or that bus services in Lothian are any more of a problem than they are in other parts of the country. Lothian is planning a 32.4 per cent. increase in bus subsidies when they are coming down elsewhere.

The position is clear. Lothian regional council has ignored the very realistic guideline my right hon. and learned Friend gave it last autumn. It is unconcerned about the effects of its policies on the ratepayers. The Labour party has continued where it left off when it lost control of the council in 1984. My right hon. Friend used his powers to control its spending then and we are again doing so now. I seek the House's approval of the report.

11.59 pm
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang) — I hesitate to describe him as a Minister, because I do not know how anyone with the kind of mandate that this lot have got could possibly describe himself as a Minister — said that he was disappointed to find himself in conflict with Lothian regional council again.

I suspect that conflict with the regional council was left on the agenda by Michael Ancram and that, unless someone takes it off the agenda, the Minister will find himself doing all this time and again, simply because Lothian region is there. It is about time that someone in the Scottish Office started dealing with these matters objectively.

This is the third time in the past six years that the House has taken it upon itself to fix the budget of the regional authority that serves my constituency and the rest of the Lothian region. East Lothian is the biggest constituency in the region, in terms of population and area, and I can tell the Minister, having had recent contact with the electorate, that the people of my constituency and those of most other constituencies in Lothian would like the Government to get off the backs of the regional councillors and let them get on with the job that they were elected to do.

Tonight's Circumstances would be absurd if they were not such an affront to the people of Lothian region. The Westminster House of Commons, in all its glory, is taking it upon itself to assume authority over the road repairs, the drains, the home helps, the school dinner service and the lollipop men of Lothian region, The House, which effectively means the Government, is assuming power over Lothian's budgets while leaving responsibility in the hands of local councillors. Power without responsibility seems to be the prerogative of the Conservative party in Scotland nowadays. I sense that some English Conservative Back Benchers may be getting rather restive at the prospect of spending the next three hours or so providing the votes to sustain their men in the Scottish Office. If the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) keeps pursuing his spite against the people whom he is supposed to be serving, there will be stormy times ahead and it might help English Members to recognise the attractions of constitutional reform in Scotland.

The House is about to determine the budget for Lothian region. I expect that eight of the 10 Lothian Members will vote against the report presented by the Scottish Office. They are likely to be outvoted by Members from far-away places who know little and care less about Lothian region. I wonder whether all those who will vote on Lothian's budget know what they will be doing to my constituents and to those of the right hon. and learned Member for Pentlands. Indeed, I wonder how many of those Members know where Lothian region is and what its responsibilities are. It is an affront to Parliament that it should be used in such a way.

The House has just voted to claw back £51.25 million from Lothian region's rate support grant. Now the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale has invited us to lop £18.5 million off Lothian's budget, on the ground that the Scottish Office thinks that the region's spending plans are excessive and unreasonable—highly subjective terms used by the Government for the purpose of pursuing their punitive policies towards local authorities.

I know that the rates in Lothian have gone up at an alarming rate. Since the Government came to power in 1979 the proportion of local costs covered by rate support grant in Lothian has collapsed from 58.4 to 37.5 per cent. Meanwhile, ratepayers have found that their share of the burden of local costs has been forced up from 41.6 to 62.5 per cent. It is no wonder that rates have been forced up. However, that is not the regional council's fault. It is a consequence of decisions taken by the Government.

Of the net rate increase of 14.1p in the pound this year, only 2.3p is attributable to growth or new policy initiatives taken by the new Labour administration in Lothian. The remaining 11.8p is attributable to a range of factors determined either by the Government or by the outgoing Tory administration in Lothian. All this fuss is about a growth element in the regional council's budget of 2.3p in the pound. The hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale talked about doubling and trebling and about macro-economic considerations—2.3p in the pound.

While we are thinking about that outgoing Tory administration in Lothian, let us reflect for a minute or two on its last budget. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said in the previous debate, it was 6.6 per cent. above the Scottish Office guideline figures, but it was acclaimed by Government spokesmen only a year ago as being the budget of a prudent and responsible authority. Now, just a year later. a Labour budget that is just 0.8 per cent. higher than the guidelines is pilloried as being excessive and unreasonable. Evidently the Government have some subjective view of the threshold of excess and reason. It is either somewhere between 6.6 per cent. and 7.4 per cent., in which case we should be told so that we can avoid these pitfalls in future. or, much more likely, these things have more to do with the political complexion of the council and old-fashioned political spite by the Government and the Scottish Office.

Let us consider some facts about the finances in Lothian region. First, the spending per head in the region is 0.2 per cent. below the average for the rest of the Scottish regional councils. The Minister tried to dismiss that fact. but it is one that he cannot deny, and he knows it.

Secondly, the needs assessment procedure of the Scottish Office discriminates quite capriciously against Lothian region. Despite the growing numbers of underfive-year-old children in the region and the growing numbers of elderly people, there is no increase in the needs element of rate support grant. Nothing is being done to cater for their growing needs.

Thirdly, the Government guideline figures for the region are artifically low and have increased by only 152 per cent. since 1978 compared with the 161 per cent. average increase for the other Scottish regions.

Fourthly, if this cut is imposed Lothian will be the only one of the five supposedly comparable councils with spending levels below that of 1978–79 in real terms. Another fact that ought to carry some weight in our deliberations is that most of us who represent the Lothian region recognise that public expenditure in the region is too low. The people there want better services. That is what they tell me practically every day of the week.

I was interested to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) explain that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) had recently written to him in his capacity as chairman of the transport committee of Lothian regional council calling for more expenditure and better services on public transport. People are asking for better services. In my experience, the people who are pressing most loudly for more expenditure tend to be people in Conservative areas of Lothian. There is something rather schizophrenic about that.

There have been cuts in service in the region, and that is borne out by the facts. Since 1978, when spending in real terms by all Scottish regional councils has grown by 3 per cent., Lothian region's expenditure grew by only 0.2 per cent. Since 1982, council spending has fallen by over £33 million in real terms. We now find ourselves, after the previous Tory administration in Lothian, with significant cuts in the home-help service for elderly people, despite the growing need for such services. There are also cuts in education and in things such as road maintenance. There is a crying need for better services in Lothian, especially for our children and elderly people. That is what the present council was elected to provide and it had a very clear mandate only 15 months ago.

The council's budget provides for modest growth to improve services in six specific areas. First, it wants to extend nursery education. Secondly, it wants to expand children's centres. Thirdly, the council wants to improve both primary and secondary education services and facilities. Fourthly, it wants to extend home care and day care for elderly people. Fifthly, it wants to improve concessionary travel for elderly and handicapped people in the region. Sixthly, it wants to extend day centres and residential care facilities for handicapped people.

From my own experience in my constituency, I can confirm that there is an urgent need for improved services in all those areas. That is not a programme of mindless extravagance, as the Government are suggesting. It is a cautious, responsible and constructive programme to provide reasonable local services in accordance with the wishes of the electorate. Yet the Secretary of State is calling for a cut of £18.3 million in services for the area that he is supposed to represent. I wish that he would tell us precisely what he would like to see cut out of the services that are provided by Lothian region in his constituency instead of trying to hide behind the formula that he has arrived at and is trying to force through the House.

I gently remind the Government that in the regional council elections in 1986 the Conservative party, which stood for cuts, was routed. It received only 23 per cent. of the votes in the Lothian region, and it managed to scrape only 27 per cent. at the parliamentary elections last month.

The Government's case is pathetic and threadbare. Tonight's action by the Secretary of State shows that he is content to be no more than a quisling figure in representing the Cabinet in Scotland rather than the interests of Scotland in the Cabinet. The right hon., and learned Gentleman knows that he has no mandate to govern in this manner. He would be better advised to seek to govern by consent instead of going outright to seek confrontation with the people of Scotland. The majority of Members representing constituencies in the Lothian region and from Scotland generally will vote against this oppressive and unjustifiable measure at the end of the debate. Government Back Benchers should reflect on the recent fate of so many of their Scottish colleagues, including the two Conservative Members who represented constituencies in the Lothian region, on the implications of this sort of measure in the future conduct of Scottish business in the House. The report should be rejected out of hand.

12.12 am
Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

The Labour party has recently suffered the third of three consecutive catastrophic defeats in the United Kingdom, yet it will not learn lessons from the electorate, which wants to see lower expenditure by local authorities throughout the United Kingdom. If we talk to ratepayers in Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland, we find that they all want to see local authorities being careful with public expenditure.

If we do not have care with public expenditure, the Government's important economic policies will fail. It is vital that public expenditure, which includes local government expenditure as much as that of central Government — it all comes from the taxpayer or ratepayer — is kept down. We must be prudent and exercise good housekeeping, yet Labour Members want local authorities to spend carte blanche wherever they like and for whatever they want to budget. Their view is that local government must spend and that ratepayers including taxpayers must cough up.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

Will the hon. Gentleman address himself to the effective argument that was advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home-Robertson)? The expenditure of Lothian region that came from rate support grant has fallen from about 58 per cent. to 37 per cent.— I am sorry, the percentage of total expenditure met by RSG payments has fallen substantially. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that a large contributory element to the increase in rate poundage has been the Government's policy?

Sir Hector Monro

It is public expenditure that matters; and the area of expenditure is not crucial. Public expenditure overall has an effect on inflation, and keeping down inflation has been a key factor in getting the economy right. We have been successful in reducing inflation and keeping it low because we have kept down public expenditure. Do Labour Members want roaring inflation of the sort that we experienced in the late 1970s under the previous Labour Government, with rapidly rising unemployment? I know that unemployment has doubled under this Government, but at long last it is declining, because the Government's economic policies are working successfully. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that unemployment has fallen steadily in Scotland this year. The fall will continue in the months ahead, because we have kept down public expenditure. [Interruption.] Labour Members are nattering away and not listening to any of the debate because they are interested only in boosting their local authorities through COSLA and encouraging them to spend what the hell they like. That is not the way to conduct an economic policy.

We have heard an awful lot about the success of the Labour party in Scotland in the election. In the previous Parliament, there were 40 Scottish Labour Members, and they were no good. Now we have 50, and they seem to be worse. I do not think that we have anything to fear from them. They talk of grinding us into the earth all night, every night, although incidentally only about 25 of them are here [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are Conservative Members?"] They do not need to be here because they know the arguments. Scottish Opposition Members are supposed to be launching devastating attacks on the Government, but I have not heard a speech tonight that will cause any worry at all to the people of Scotland or to the Government Front Bench.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

What about Nithsdale?

Sir Hector Monro

I shall be delighted to come to Nithsdale. Does the hon. Gentleman know that Nithsdale received the biggest rate support grant increase in Scotland this year? It received a 44 per cent. increase on housing revenue account and a 114 per cent. increase on non-HRA. No local authority has been better treated than Nithsdale by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State in the current economic year —[Interruption.] That is what I ask: why are they complaining? The authority has been very well treated by the Government. It budgeted knowing exactly what the repercussions would be. It knew that a heavy penalty would be imposed on it if it budgeted £200,000 over what was reckoned to be admissible. The important point is that the authority will be penalised only if it spends the money. It should think carefully about whether it can reduce its expenditure and avoid those penalties.

Several Hon. Members


Sir Hector Monro

Of course I shall give way; hon. Members should not he so impatient.

Mr. McKelvey

Am I right in thinking that the council is made up of 28 members—seven Conservatives, seven Labour, seven independent and seven Scottish National party — all of whom are totally opposed to any cuts introduced by the Secretary of State for Scotland? The four sevens which go to make up the 28 councillors are together on that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Well done"] It is the result of a comprehensive education.

Sir Hector Monro

There has often been an alliance between the Scottish National party and the Labour party, and somehow or another they manage to influence one or two independents. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Tories?"] They are not in the least bit in favour of increased expenditure; heavens, no. We shall go back to our economic policies of keeping public expenditure down.

Like some Opposition Members and some of my hon. Friends I have some experience as a local authority councillor — 15 years in fact. Every local councillor enters a council full of ideas about how he will spend money to improve education, health and every other service. However, one soon realises that there has to be a prudent balance of expenditure on all services. One cannot have carte blanche to spend any amount that one wishes.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether all this was part of his original speech or whether he decided to insert this part of it when the Under-Secretary of State deliberately left the Treasury Bench and joined him on the Back Benches to bully, nobble and hector him into changing his speech and putting party before constituency?

Sir Hector Monro

As ever, the hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. My hon. Friend was discoursing with me on a completely different subject of far greater importance, and the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) would have loved to have heard our conversation. But we shall leave that to another day.

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) will know that we have seen much miserable weather in East Lothian over the past three days, but a wonderfully conducted golf championship at a golf club that is very well run.

Lothian council has increased expenditure by 29 per cent. We must support the Government in preventing Lothian council from spending so much money. If it continues to do so, there will he a green light to other councils to do the same. On and on we shall go, with escalating public expenditure, inflation, increasing unemployment and all the failures of economic policy that we saw under the Labour Government.

Mr. Home Robertson

The hon. Gentleman talks about a green light for endless expenditure. He suggests that councillors should know that they will catch it in the neck if they spend above a certain figure. How on earth do councils know that? The present Lothian k ministration is almost exactly as far above the guidelines as the previous Lothian administration. It happened to be Tory and was not penalised. This one is being penalised. What has changed? What is the threshold?

Sir Hector Monro

As I said, there will be a green light if Lothian council and Edinburgh district council continue to spend as they have. Other councils will follow suit immediately. There will then be a substantial increase in public expenditure, inflation and unemployment and we will again have the economic circle which we have managed to prevent during the past eight years. That is why I am determined to support the Government I hope that they maintain the pressure on councils to keep down public expenditure and then everyone can have a little more of the available cake.

12.22 am
Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate, albeit in the form of my maiden speech. I pay a sincere tribute to my predecessor Dr. Maurice Miller, who was the Member for East Kilbride since it was formed as a new constituency in 1974. Before that, he was the Member for Glasgow, Kelvingrove from 1964, having spent the previous 14 years as a distinguished councillor on the Glasgow corporation.

Glasgow and East Kilbride may have changed over the years, but Maurice Miller remains the same. He is a quiet, pleasant man who went effectively about his business as a parliamentary representative. He was a Member of Parliament for 23 years, and he made many friends in this place. He was well respected and well liked and his main aim was to serve the interests of his constituents diligently and thoroughly. That he achieved. He was a good and faithful servant of the Labour party and the House. I therefore count it an honour and privilege to follow him as the Member for East Kilbride.

I mentioned that East Kilbride new town has changed over the years. The neighbouring communities which make up the rest of the constituency—the villages of Strathaven, Glassford, Chapelton, Sandford, Auldhouse and Busby — have all retained their distinctive welcoming features, both contributing to and benefiting from the success of their much larger neighbour, East Kilbride new town. Although those communities may riot have changed over the years, the new town has grown from a small, rural, residential community of 2,500 people to the most successful of Scotland's—perhaps Britain's —new towns. It is now Scotland's sixth largest town and it is still growing.

It is not for nothing that East Kilbride is known as Scotland's No. 1 new town— [Interruption.] It has a proud engineering tradition. It has a significant printing industry and textile industry and is also in the forefront of the emerging new technologies. I conducted some research on the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg), who claimed some years ago that the honour of representing Scotland's No. 1 new town should rest with him, but I rightly lay claim to East Kilbride as being No. 1. The second largest employer in the town, employing 1,800 people, is a major manufacturer of silicon chips and related equipment.

I could go on extolling the virtues of East Kilbride. I have lived there for 17 years, it is a fine place in which to live and it is an honour to represent it. Unfortunately, the town's capacity to thrive and prosper has been put at risk because of the policies of the Government. The privatisation of Rolls-Royce has caused questions to be asked, not least among the work force, about the long-term future of the East Kilbride plant. Similarly, Anderson Strathclyde plc, the first major industrial employer within the town—then known as Mayor and Coulson—has been reduced to a mere fraction of its original size and is now threatened with the possibility of closure because of the lack of proper investment in the British coal industry.

A simple, straightforward commitment to a regenerated industrial manufacturing base by the Government could transform East Kilbride's and Scotland's fortunes overnight. The will is there among the people of East Kilbride to succeed, as is the capacity and energy. They just need the right industrial climate —something that they have been denied.

I recognise that the subject of the debate is local government. We have just disposed of an order that will penalise Scottish local authorities trying to provide services in their communities and we are now considering an order that will further penalise the Lothian region and the Edinburgh District Council. I have had the honour of serving as a district councillor in East Kilbride since 1980 and as leader of the administration since 1984. Therefore, I know the problems that those cuts cause to a community.

Although East Kilbride is an expanding community, it has not been provided with the means by the Scottish Office to keep pace with demand. Genuine difficulties exist in housing. A moratorium was imposed by the Scottish Office on the building of new public sector houses from 1983 until just a few months ago. To get a home of their own, young couples born and bred in the town either have to leave the town or live in overcrowded accommodation for unacceptable periods. Schools are badly run down and in need of modernisation. As a new town, East Kilbride has a young population, yet it does not have a maternity facility of its own. The general hospital at Hairmyres is old and inadequate—a sad reflection of the rundown nature of much of Scotland's health services.

This is the 40th anniversary of East Kilbride as a new town. In a foreword in a book to commemorate the event, the Secretary of State for Scotland said: It marks a striking achievement: the creation of a substantial town, an internationally recognised industrial centre, and a community proud of its parks and sports centres no less than of its high-tech factories. All of those achievements have been provided by public investment, and such congratulations ring hollow when one looks at what the Government are doing tonight. A community cannot provide for itself unless it is given the encouragement and resources from central Government to do so.

For the past five years I have served as a full-time union official with responsibility for Edinburgh district council and the Lothian region. I know that the speeches made by Labour Members are supported by the facts. From 1982 to 1986 Lothian region was under Conservative control. During that time 5,500 council jobs were lost, services were cut and the community suffered. The people of Lothian reacted by voting in a Labour administration committed to providing services and much needed local government help for those in need. Likewise, in Edinburgh city council, the electorate expressed itself in 1984 by voting for a spending administration after many years of Tory control.

There has been much talk tonight about who has got the mandate to govern Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland asserted elsewhere that the Conservative Government won the general election and therefore have a mandate to govern Britain.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

We did.

Mr. Ingram

I ask the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State to recognise that the people of Lothian and Edinburgh spoke loud and clear on 11 June. They rejected the philosophy of cuts in local government finance and the Secretary of State's punitive actions against his own city and region. His depleted Scottish support in the House of Commons speaks volumes on that point.

Lothian and Edinburgh councillors also have a clear mandate. The Secretary of State's actions tonight ignore what the people of those areas want. They want more local government services, not fewer; better services, not worse; and caring services, not cuts. Like East Kilbride, Edinburgh and Lothian can prosper, but they can do so only when given the means by central Government. Public service used to be valued by the Conservative party, but the Government and the Scottish Secretary of State now simply view it with contempt. Only by rejecting the punitive and unwanted cuts that have been imposed by the Government can we put public service back on its pedestal again, as a provider of essential services, caring for those in need, and making for a better quality of life for all the community.

12.30 am
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) on his maiden speech. I am sure that he will be an admirable successor to Maurice Miller, who, as he rightly said, was respected and liked by hon. Members on both sides of the House. His speech was clear, direct and well ordered. I am sure that our debates will benefit greatly from his incisive contributions. That is more than I can say for the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Munro). Really, what a cheek the hon. Gentleman had! Perhaps it is because at his age that he has a brass neck. The hon. Member knows that Scotland rejected Conservative party policies. Indeed, for a long time, we cannot have seen an aging emperor preening himself upon his apparel when he stands stark naked.

I have three short points to make. First, I do not accept the basic contention that Lothian council has a genuine democratic mandate and is therefore entitled to proceed with its election programme, irrespective of other views, and, at the same time, to complain of Government interference with it. On that point, I dissent from the remarks made by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). In Lothian, at the last regional election, 41.7 per cent. of people voted for the Labour administration. For that, Labour obtained 65 per cent. of the seats — 32 out of 49. Only 21 per cent. of the electorate positively voted for Labour. That does not justify Labour's claim to speak exclusively for Lothian. We shall repeat the case for electoral reform.

Secondly, although I deny the claim to be exclusively representative, I accept the three basic points that have been made; first, that in the past decade expenditure has been 2.8 per cent. less than the average for Scottish regional councils, and that fact should be recognised; secondly, that expenditure per head — this point was made by the hon. Member for East Lothian—is lower than the average for all regional councils; and thirdly, it is nonsense—I say this as a member of a party who was involved — for the Secretary of State not so long ago to extol the frugality of the Conservative-alliance administration in Lothian, which was 6 per cent. over guidelines, and now ferociously to penalise spending 7.4 per cent. over.

Thirdly, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) clearly put the consequences of the report. I am glad of the rare opportunity to agree wholeheartedly with him. The penalty in Lothian will have the inevitable effect of reducing the established services to the young, the elderly — especially in respect of the transport concession — the handicapped, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) said, and probably the police. If the Government believe that the quality of service is too high and should be reduced, they should say so, because that is the effect of their action and that is why we oppose the report.

12.35 am
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Although neither I nor my colleagues come from Lothian region——

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What are the guidelines for this debate? I claim no precedence, but other hon. Members represent the Lothian area. Is this a Lothian debate or is it a general debate?

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that the Chair has recently changed, but I have attempted twice to catch the Chair's eye and no one from the Conservative side of the House has been called twice in succession. We are curious to know—here I support the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—what the basis of the debate is.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I suggest to the House that it is far better to leave this to the Chair. We are only using valuable time.

Mrs. Ewing

If hon. Members will give me an opportunity to speak, they will be realise that I shall very brief and that they will have an opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Secretary of State suggested that the Lothian region budget is excessive and unreasonable. The Minister who opened the debate on this report followed that up with some extremely colourful language which, when challenged, he was unable to substantiate.

The Scottish National party will oppose this report on basic principles which apply to the whole of Scotland. The Government have brought forward yet again the dead hand of centralisation and have removed from local government its ability to manoeuvre, to set its policies and to decide what is best for the local community. There has been much talk from the Conservative Party about accountability in local government. With this succession of orders and reports, which remove money from the local authorities, the Government are denying to local government genuine accountability by local councillors to the communities. There can no accountability if there is no democratic process in local government authorities. Our councillors should have the right to decide priorities within a budget that is acceptable to their communities.

I remind the House that Scotland is a wealthy nation. Tonight we have witnessed the Government taking £202 million from local government in general through yet another cut in the rate support grant, and Lothian region will have £33 million taken away from it as a punishment by the Government. What are the implications for services in Lothian region of this report, coming on top of the cut in the rate support grant? In the briefing given to all Scottish Members, the regional council suggests how the following services will be affected: home care provision for the elderly will be reduced; hypothermia prevention will be withdrawn; concessionary travel will be reduced; and day care provision will be reduced. For services to people with a handicap, special education classes will be cancelled; living aids and adaptations will be reduced; and day ca re for the mentally handicapped will be cancelled.

Those are some of the stark possibilities facing Lothian region as a result of the Government's policy. If the Minister disagrees with that assessment, will he tell the House where the cuts will be made?

The Government are adopting a policy which reminds the people of Scotland that they are living in a colony. Conservative Members have made much play of the fact that Scotland complains about being treated like a colony. This Government are doing that. Scotland is the only nation in the world to have discovered oil and to have ended up poorer as a result. We see poverty and deprivation in our country but we are not allowed access to those resources.

Finally, on the mandate issue, it was said earlier— [Interruption.]—I assure hon. Members that this is the final final — it was said earlier that the people of Scotland rejected the Conservative Government and that 76 per cent. voted for parties that were not the Conservative party in Scotland. That occurred not least in Lothian region and in the city of Edinburgh

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said that it would appear that the Secretary of State for Scotland has not learnt any lesson from the election because we have not seen any concessions from the Conservative Government. However, the hon. Member for Garscadden should ask himself whether he has learnt from the election result and say what the Labour party will do to deliver us from the type of policies that are being enacted by the Conservative Government.

12.40 am
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

We should get back to the facts. I ask whether the Government agree or disagree with the following facts from the brief that Lothian region has given us. On the reduction in services and expenditure between 1981 and 1986, do the Government agree that the planned expenditure of the council declined by £87.2 million at November 1985 prices? Allowing for falling school rolls and other factors, that represents, a reduction in real terms in council spending of £66 million. Do the Government agree? The effect of such a significant reduction in expenditure has been to lower the standard of service that is available to many client groups that are served by the council, as the following examples show. There are officials in the Box. I do not know what they are doing there unless they have answers to these questions. Therefore, I put the figures to the Minister. On social work and home helps, between 1982–83 and 1986–87 the quality of home care for the elderly has declined as the number of home helps has reduced by 14 per cent., despite a 9 per cent. increase in the frail elderly. Do the Government agree? As a consequence of increasing demand, the number of home helps able to be provided fell, on average, from 6.7 to 5.4 per client per week over four years. Do the Government agree?

On teaching standards, from a position of 1.1 per cent. above the Scottish regional average in 1982–83, educational expenditure per head of population fell to a level of 12.8 per cent. below in 1986–87. Is that an acceptable figure or is it not? Over that period, expenditure constraints moved Lothian significantly closer to Government staffing guidelines in primary and secondary education. In nursery education, Lothian's increasing number of under-fives, which increased 1.8 per cent. over four years, has placed further strains on a service which has reduced staffing levels by 1.9 per cent. since 1982–83.

Finally, on road maintenance, a four-year reduction of 15.5 per cent. in the highways department staffing budget is largely the result of reduced maintenance expenditure and direct Labour organisations' legislative requirements. Expenditure restrictions have led to a marked deterioration in the quality of the road network. From a former position of 15 per cent. above the Scottish average, Lothian's percentage per head of population dropped to 10 per cent., below in 1986–87.

I close with the thought that, if the Government are to take such action against a particular region, they had better get their figures accurate. Quite frankly, what we heard from the Minister was a lot of sloppy, ill-briefed nonsense. He talked about doubling and trebling but had to be forced for figures. Some of us are interested tonight in the hard statistics. I expect answers to my questions, because it is an absolute disgrace, when senior officials from the Scottish Office are in the Box at this time of night and the Minister is unable to answer those questions.

12.44 am
Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

I agree substantially with much of what Opposition Members have said this evening because I find it difficult to understand how any Government, subjectively or even by using figures, can seek to impose on any local authority what it should spend. The Government's document provides a clue on page 2 under the heading Assessments of Relative Expenditure Needs. It states: The assessments of relative expenditure needs of local authorities are prepared using the client group approach. This is a systematic means of allocating a pre-determined level of expenditure provision among local authorities which has been formulated in consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The client group approach does not determine the level of provision in absolute terms nor its distribution between services. I do not understand much of that and, from what Opposition Members have been saying, they do not understand much of it either. No wonder. As soon as any Government set out to assess or attempt to assess the needs of any local authority compared with others, they inevitably get into difficulties.

It has been pointed out several times during this debate that comparisons have been made between Lothian expenditure and that of other Scottish local authorities, and arguments have been made one way and another about whether such comparisons are favourable. It is significant that no comparison has been made between Lothian's expenditure and that of any English local authority. I begin to suspect, as I think many of my Conservative colleagues do, that that is because, as ever in a case like this, there is a cosy Scottish conspiracy to ensure that comparisons are made only between those high spenders north of the border and not between them and any local authority south of the border. [Interruption.] My ratepayers and taxpayers in Hereford and Worcester would be horrified if they knew what was being spent in Lothian region. My ratepayers and taxpayers, who elected a Conservative-controlled county council on the slogan "value for money", would be aghast if they knew the rampant expenditure of Lothian region and all the other regions of Scotland. [Interruption.]

If my right hon. and hon. Friends are to be in the comparison business, I invite them to draw the real comparison, which is between the levels of expenditure that the people north of the border have come to expect as of right and the levels of expenditure that decent people in England have come to expect.

Mr. David Blunkett (Sheffield, Brightside)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what he thinks the electorate of Lothian think of services such as education, particularly the deplorable standards, the lack of books, the reduced number of teachers and the lack of provision for the mentally handicapped and the disabled, in Hereford and Worcester county?

Mr. Forth

I am coming to that— [Interruption.] —and I invite the hon. Gentleman to intervene again if I do not answer his point.

My next point refers——

Mr. Canavan

Answer the question.

Mr. Forth

Be patient. [Interruption.] I invite the noisy Member opposite to be patient. I shall deal with his hon. Friend's point when I am ready.

We have heard many comments from Opposition Members about the paucity of the rate support grant in the Lothian region and others. I wish we had no rate support grant, certainly not for Lothian region, or for any of the other Scottish regions, or for any of the English counties. The rate support grant is one of the most invidious measures that we have had to put up with for many decades. It involves arbitrary decisions from the centre —I am sure that Opposition Members will agree with this—mainly from London although to a certain extent from Edinburgh, about the redistribution of assets and resources from one area to another on no apparent bases other than those devised by the bureaucracy to try to make some sort of assessment of need. That can vary from time to time and from administration to administration.

The reason for all this mess and why successive Governments have had to put up with arbitrary judgments of levels of expenditure and rate support grant is because of the kernel of the matter before us tonight, as so often before: there is absolutely no way in which elected councillors can go to their electorate and find a proper judgment by that electorate of the level of expenditure it is making.

In answer to the question raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), I shall stand four square behind the principle that the electors in Hereford and Worcester county should always be able to judge the expenditure and the services given by the county council against the amount of rates and local taxation levied on those electors.

I invite my hon. Friends and the Opposition to contemplate moving forward together towards a system whereby the electorate in each area may make a proper judgment as to the level of expenditure of the elected councillors and the level of local taxation necessary to provide the services. I am sure that few people would disagree with that—I am sure that the hon. Member for Brightside would not disagree with that.

All of tonight's debate will be rendered quite superfluous once we get the community charge—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] On yes — because that charge will sweep away at one stroke all the arbitrary, artificial and unnecessary arguments about judgments on whether levels of expenditure are necessary, what levels of services are necessary and about the relationship between what elected members in each area want to give their electorate and what that electorate arc prepared to pay towards the provision of those services.

When we get the community charge in Lothian, Scotland and, as quickly as possible, in England, we will finally do away with debates such as this. We will be able to return control where the Opposition want it to be—in the regions and districts. In that way, elected councillors can go to the electorate with the proposed level of expenditure and levy upon everyone who will vote the appropriate level of taxation. When we reach that state, these artificial debates will become completely unnecessary and we will all be as one.

12.51 am
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

I should like to point out to Conservative Members that the purpose——

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not interrupt at the time, but a number of Labour Members used the word "quisling" during the course of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) I do not think that that is parliamentary language——

Mr. Home Robertson

It is highly appropriate.

Mr. Fairbairn

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) says it is "highly appropriate" and that makes its use even more infamous. May I suggest that those who used that word be asked to withdraw it, including the hon. Member for East Lothian sitting on the Opposition Front Bench?

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

I said it and I refuse to withdraw it.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I did not hear the word. If it was used by any hon. Member, it should be withdrawn.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The House appreciates that you did not hear the first use of the term "quisling" during the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). However, a few seconds ago the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) said, "I said it and I refuse to withdraw it". We seek your guidance on this.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The Chair does not always hear everything that goes on, particularly below the Gangway. If an hon. Member did use that phrase, which I did not hear, I ask him, whoever he is, to withdraw it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] Order, I have made an appeal. I did not hear the phrase and I cannot identify the hon. Member concerned, so we had better get an with the debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Fairbairn

Further to that point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must insist on my point of order because the hon. Member for Hillhead not only said, "Quisling", but he said that he said it and that he refused to withdraw it while you were on your feet, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I believe this to be an offence to the House and something that must be corrected.

Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Galloway

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was the hon. Member who used the word "Quisling". If your ruling is that that word in unparliamentary I replace it by saying that the hon. Member is a disgrace to the Scottish nation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. He is a new Member of the House and of course, the words that he substitutes are acceptable. I must ask him to withdraw the word "quisling".

Mr. Galloway

I withdraw the word.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

12.55 am
Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

The debate is not about the taxation of our constituents but about a forced reduction in grants. We are talking about expenditure funded by the Lothian people. A number of hon. Members have said that Lothian region's expenditure excess over guidelines is only marginally greater than that which prevailed under previous administrations. That observation alone is an indication that the Government have been influenced, not by public expenditure, but by political and electoral considerations.

I agree with complaints about the inadequacy and unacceptability of the methods of assessing expenditure in Lothian. This is the third debate of this kind. On the statistics, the Government's criteria are so subjective and inconsistent that one is appalled. One has to look only at the relationship between the expenditure needs figure and the guideline figure over the last nine years to see how arbitrary the whole thing is.

It is clear that Lothian and Edinburgh have been penalised by the Government's approach. We receive no additional expenditure allowance from the Government because of that approach.

That assessment does not do justice to our needs in Lothian. We are consistently and unfairly penalised by the Government because of their assessment of our expenditure needs and because of the guidelines set by the Government. That is the fundamental point of the debate.

Will the Minister admit that expenditure per head in Lothian is lower than the regional average in Scotland? That is a clear, objective statistic. We are accused of excessive and unreasonable expenditure. The onus is on the Government to make their case. The expenditure per head of our regional authority is lower than the Scottish average. That shows how ridiculous the debate is and how artificial the criteria are.

As a consequence of this report, services in my constituency will be cut severely. We shall see an attack on the provision of education and provision by our social work department, which is bound to hit some of the people in greatest need. Almost certainly, there will be some reductions in provision for concessionary travel and a range of other areas, such as law and order, which has been mentioned.

In Lothian and Edinburgh, under Conservative rule, that expenditure and provision has been reduced to a level that is unacceptable not only to those who vote Labour but to the overwhelming majority of the community—even more than the high proportion of people who vote Labour. We have see that demonstrated repeatedly at the ballot box. That is what is so outrageous about the debate. We are discussing cuts that will destroy hundreds of jobs and lead to a real reduction in the provision of services in our area.

There is no justification for that. When the Labour council was elected and took control in Edinburgh for the first time, and adopted what most people will accept was a high profile approach in its policy of improving services and creating jobs, the vast majority of Conservatives in Edinburgh were convinced that it was a tremendously unpopular policy, and that it was doing the Conservative party in Edinburgh a world of good. When the first major opinion poll was carried out by the local evening paper, they were amazed to find that that policy was popular and that people wanted a higher provision. In the elections, the Labour party had said that the price of improving those services would involve increasing rates, among other things.

To a large extent, the regional elections were fought against a backdrop of the argument of a Labour administration that wanted to improve services and a Conservative Administration that had been cutting back. We had outstanding results for the Labour party. It decisively took control of Lothian regional council. Only last month, we had the parliamentary elections, in which again these issues were a factor—I do not say that they were the only factor—in the political debate. Again we had outstanding results for the Labour party, so much so that we replaced two of the sitting Conservative Members of Parliament with Labour Members and almost replaced the Secretary of State for Scotland with a Labour Member.

Therefore, there is no basis for the report in view of what is wanted by the people of Lothian. We are paying for it through the increase in our rates. That is why the report is such an affront to people in Lothian. It is an outrage that a Government who took such a hammering at the polls in Scotland can bring forward this draconian measure, impose cuts and lay down to the absolute detail the expenditure that our councillors will be allowed to implement in Lothian. I hope that this is the last time that we shall go down that road.

1.3 am

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

I congratulate the Secretary of State on still being with us, although he is not leading for the Government in the debate. I noticed that he left for a short while, no doubt to order the taxis that will be required to take him and his Conservative colleagues back home tonight.

We are dealing with a straightforward issue — the amount of money that we spend on services in Scotland, Lothian and Edinburgh. We are not dealing with technicalities or with the Government's figures on guidelines. They are a bogus argument designed to dress up a desire to cut public expenditure in Scotland and to inflict cuts in services. It is a bogus argument that the Government are conducting.

On the one hand, the Minister of State comes forward in the debate with a nice discussion about guidelines and figures, about alleged resources and alleged need. But the fact is that Scottish local authorities stand accused of something that the Government call overspending, as well, I suspect, as being Labour for the most part. Edinburgh and Lothian are accused in the same way of being unreasonable and excessive. It is much to the chagrin of Conservatives in Scotland that they are both Labour-controlled authorities.

The argument tonight should be about the amount of money that we are spending — or not spending, as the case may be — on schools, housing, roads and old people. In Lothian and Edinburgh the need is growing, and the local authorities cannot keep up with that need, merely because we do not have enough money from central Government. If the Secretary of State is committed to reducing rate levels—I accept that there is a case for saying that they are far too high in Scotland and other places—the answer lies in his own hands. If he started to restore some of the £1.5 billion that the Government have cut from rate support grant given to local authorities, we could reduce the level of rates and at the same time ensure that the level of services that we need — for schools, houses, and so on—was properly met.

The Minister has said that it is part of the Government's economic policy to reduce public expenditure. If that is so, it surely behoves the Minister to tell us which services he wants to cut. That is something that the Government have never done. I therefore urge the Minister to say, at the conclusion of the debate, which services he wants cut in Lothian and Edinburgh. We should be interested to argue with him on that basis.

The problem that the Secretary of State and the Government face is that not only do they want to cut public expenditure in Edinburgh and Lothian, but they want to reduce the amount of money the councils spend, in a desperate attempt to make the poll tax more acceptable. They know that independent figure of the officials of Lothian region and Edinburgh district council calculate the poll tax payable by every adult in the area to be more than £400 a head. Before the election, the Government said that the figure would be £200 a head. Last week, the figure had crept up to £289 a head. The Secretary of State must realise that the poll tax, born out of panic following an unnecessary revaluation in Scotland, forced the Government to bring out an ill-conceived and ill-considered measure, which they are now trying desperately to sell and which I suspect Conservative hon. Members know almost cost them the election in Scotland. It was certainly the cause of a number of their colleagues not returning to this House with them.

If the cuts go through, services will suffer, because every one of the Secretary of State's statistics means hardship for members of the community living in Lothian and Edinburgh. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) — I note that he is no longer with us—asked whether we had anything to learn about what the people had to say. I suggest to him that, in 1984, despite the high-profile Government policy on reducing expenditure, for the first time in centuries Labour took control of Edinburgh. In 1986, when the same pattern of early clawback and rate reduction was tabled before the regional elections, Labour was returned with a record majority. Again, in 1987, the message was clear: neither Scotland, nor Lothian, nor Edinburgh is in favour of Conservative policies. The Government should face up to that.

This is not an argument about statistics or about councils being guilty of overspending; it is all about a desire to reduce expenditure. The Government must surely have the decency to accept that their policies find no favour in Scotland, Edinburgh and Lothian. Tonight's debate is about a Government who are determined to pursue policies that they know to be unpopular. The worst of it is that the Secretary of State cannot deliver in his own country and has to bring in the votes of hon. Members from outside Scotland, who know little about the problems that we are facing. Even the Government admit that the so-called economic recovery that they say is taking place has not come far north.

We are facing severe problems. Public expenditure cuts that were forced through by the Conservative and alliance administration in Lothian regional council cost 5,000 jobs. Cuts in public expenditure bring large-scale unemployment. They mean hardship for business, and across the board, because public expenditure is invested in the Scottish economy. The Government's policy is ill thought out and their figures do not add up. As has been asked many times before, how can 7.4 per cent. over Government guidelines be excessive and unreasonable in 1987 when 6.6 per cent. above guidelines in 1986 was said to be the mark of a moderate and reasonable council? Spot the difference—0.8 per cent. The other difference is that Lothian region is now Labour controlled. That is what it is all about. Unfortunately, the Government seem to be attacking Edinburgh and Lothian for electoral advantage. Fortunately, the majority of the electorate saw through them. That is why the Conservatives' stock in Scotland is so low and will continue to slump.

The time has come for us to be honest and start discussing whether it is worth investing in schools, hospitals and social services, because if the Government want to cut such services, they must convince those who they say they represent that they are right.

I want to be fair to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). He did not spend all of his time writing to me because bus services in his constituency were reduced after deregulation; he also wrote to a colleague asking whether they could have a nursery school in one of the schools in his constituency. All of us support him in that, but we will never get nursery schools or decent schools and housing until we get the Government support that we need. The contribution made by local ratepayers would be affordable, and we could then start to rebuild the country, which is what we desperately need.

1.10 am
Mr. Lang

With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to reply to the debate.

We have had an interesting, if fairly predictable. debate and I shall try in the limited time available to respond to some of the points that have been made.

I should like to pay tribute to the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram) on his maiden speech, which he delivered with great fluency and self-confidence. He clearly conveyed the sincerity of his views. He follows a man, Maurice Miller, who was much respectedd on both sides of the House and who will he missed.

The hon. Gentleman has the great good fortune to represent one of the exciting economic growth points of the Scottish economy where something like one new company decided to locate each week last year. It is indeed a flagship for free enterprise. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomed the lifting of the moratorium on general needs housebuilding, which we were able to achieve quite recently, and we look forward to hearing more from him.

I should like to remind the House of the details of Lothian's budget. Against expenditure of £365 million last year, and a guideline this year of £395 million I, the region has budgeted to spend £424 million. That is 7.4 per cent.. or £29 million, over the guideline and 16–9 per cent., or £61 million, over its assessed need. It has planned volume growth of 6.2 per cent. Among all the figures that have been bandied about tonight, these are the figures that count, and they tell a clear story — a story of extravagance.

Even after the selective action, which is designed only to bring Lothian down to the average excess of guidelines, it will still be able to spend 2.8 per cent., or £11 million, over guideline and 11.9 per cent., or £43 million, over its assessed need.

Mr. Ron Brown (Edinburgh, Leith)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lang

No. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to speak in the next debate.

Lothian will still be able to achieve a volume growth on last year of 1.6 per cent. Much has been sad about the effect of these cuts in services, but the very word "cuts" is misleading, as I am sure it is intended to be. There are no cuts by comparison with Lothian's expenditure last year. Even if the House approves the report, there will still be real growth in Lothian's expenditure.

We have heard many scare stories about how the savings will be found. Lothian will not be forgiven if it chooses to make its ratepayers suffer by making savings in the most conspicuous or heart-rending way. It knows that savings can be made. It is its duty to make them in the best possible way, having proper regard to real areas of priority, which I know exist in Lothian.

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Roberson) accused us of exercising power without responsibility, but it is precisely responsibility that we wish to inject into Lothian's attitude to its ratepayers. The hon. Gentleman listed six areas in which it is trying to make improvements. I could list 19 where it is planning real increases in expenditure.

Mr. Home Robertson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lang

I am afraid not. I must reply to the debate.

The hon. Members for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) and for East Lothian said that Lothian was not subjected to a report last year and asked why it has been this year. The answer is that there is no precise basis on which excessive and unreasonable expenditure is automatically triggered. It is a matter for assessment each year in the light of a large number of factors. Lothian's budget is 16.9 per cent. above its assessed needs and the next highest region is only 8.4 per cent. above; Lothian is 7.4 per cent. above its guideline and the national average is 2.8 per cent. above; Lothian is requesting a rate increase of 29.8 per cent. from its ratepayers; the figures speak for themselves.

The hon. Member for East Lothian complained that there was no increase in the needs element and that there were demographic changes that justified an increase. I should point out that the number of children under 16 in Lothian—

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business):

The House divided: Ayes 181, Noes 100.

Division No. 21] [1.15 am
Aitken, Jonathan Davis, David (Boothferry)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Day, Stephen
Allason, Rupert Devlin, Tim
Amess, David Dickens, Geoffrey
Amos, Alan Dicks, Terry
Arbuthnot, James Dorrell, Stephen
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Dover, Den
Ashby, David Dunn, Bob
Aspinwall, Jack Durant, Tony
Atkins, Robert Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Atkinson, David Evennett, David
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Fairbairn, Nicholas
Baldry, Tony Fallon, Michael
Batiste, Spencer Favell, Tony
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fenner, Dame Peggy
Benyon.W Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bevan, David Gilroy Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Biggs-Davison, Sir John Forth, Eric
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Freeman, Roger
Boscawen, Hon Robert French, Douglas
Boswell, Tim Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gill, Christopher
Bowis, John Goodhart, Sir Philip
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brazier, Julian Gow, Ian
Bright, Graham Gower, Sir Raymond
Brooke, Hon Peter Greenway, John (Rydale)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Gregory, Conal
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Burns, Simon Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Hon A. (Epsom)
Butterfill, John Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hampson, Dr Keith
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hannam, John
Carrington, Matthew Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'Il Gr')
Carttiss, Michael Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Cash, William Harris, David
Chope, Christopher Hayes, Jerry
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hayward, Robert
Conway, Derek Heathcoat-Amory, David
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Cran, James Hind, Kenneth
Currie, Mrs Edwina Holt, Richard
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Hordern, Sir Peter
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Sackville, Hon Tom
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Scott, Nicholas
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Shaw, David (Dover)
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Irvine, Michael Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Jack, Michael Sims, Roger
Janman, Timothy Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jessel, Toby Speed, Keith
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Speller, Tony
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Stanbrook, Ivor
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Stern, Michael
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Stevens, Lewis
Lang, Ian Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Lightbown, David Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Lilley, Peter Summerson, Hugo
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Lord, Michael Temple-Morris, Peter
Mans, Keith Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Monro, Sir Hector Thorne, Neil
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Thurnham, Peter
Neale, Gerrard Tracey, Richard
Neubert, Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholls, Patrick Viggers, Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W) Walden, George
Page, Richard Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Paice, James Waller, Gary
Patnick, Irvine Warren, Kenneth
Patten, John (Oxford W) Watts, John
Pawsey, James Wells, Bowen
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Wheeler, John
Porter, David (Waveney) Whitney, Ray
Powell, William (Corby) Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Raffan, Keith Wilkinson, John
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Wilshire, David
Redwood, John Winterton, Nicholas
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wood, Timothy
Riddick, Graham Yeo, Tim
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Tellers for the Ayes:
Rost, Peter Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd and Mr. David Maclean.
Rowe, Andrew
Ryder, Richard
Abbott, Ms Diane Foulkes, George
Alton, David Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Galbraith, Samuel
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Galloway, George
Battle, John Godman, Dr Norman A.
Beckett, Margaret Golding, Mrs Llin
Beith, A. J. Graham, Thomas
Blunkett, David Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Boateng, Paul Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Boyes, Roland Grocott, Bruce
Bradley, Keith Haynes, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Henderson, Douglas
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Home Robertson, John
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Hood, James
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Ingram, Adam
Dalyell, Tam Johnston, Sir Russell
Darling, Alastair Kennedy, Charles
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) Kirkwood, Archy
Dewar, Donald Lambie, David
Dixon, Don Leadbitter, Ted
Doran, Frank Lewis, Terry
Douglas, Dick Livingstone, Ken
Dunnachie, James McAllion, John
Eadie, Alexander McAvoy, Tom
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) McCartney, Ian
Fatchett, Derek Macdonald, Calum
Faulds, Andrew McFall, John
Foster, Derek McKelvey, William
McLeish, Henry Reid, John
McTaggart, Bob Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
McWilliam, John Robertson, George
Mahon, Mrs Alice Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Salmond, Alex
Martin, Michael (Springburn) Skinner, Dennis
Maxton, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meale, Alan Strang, Gavin
Michael, Alun Vaz, Keith
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'I & Bute) Wall, Pat
Millars, Rt Hon Bruce Wareing, Robert N.
Moonie, Dr Lewis Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie Wilson, Brian
Nellist, Dave Wise, Mrs Audrey
O'Neill, Martin Worthington, Anthony
Patchett, Terry Wray, James
Pike, Peter
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Tellers for the Noes:
Prescott, John Mr. Allen McKay and Mr. Allen Adams.
Primarolo, Ms Dawn

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Rate Reduction (Lothian Region) 1987–88 Report, a copy of which was laid before this House on 10th July, be approved.