HC Deb 23 July 1991 vol 195 cc1072-83

6 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about my proposed local authority settlement for Scotland for 1992–93. However, before giving details of the settlement, I want to refer to one aspect of the consultation process on the council tax which has recently been completed.

As my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Environment told the House earlier today, the Government intend to proceed with legislation along the lines proposed, with a view to bringing the council tax into operation, both north and south of the border, by 1 April 1993. Subject to the enactment of the Local Government Finance and Valuation Bill, the task of valuing properties for the purpose of the tax will be carried out in Scotland by local assessors working under the direction of the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue.

On the basis of the responses to the consultation paper, I have decided, in conjunction with my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for the Environment and for Wales, to create an additional—eighth—band. This new band will cover properties in Scotland worth more than £212,000. Houses in this new band H will be subject to a council tax of twice the amount in band D.

Before coming to my proposals for 1992–93 Local Government Finance, I remind the House of the excellent settlement that my predecessor announced for the current year, 1991–92. Aggregate external finance was increased by 10.4 per cent. The settlement represented an excellent package, a substantial real increase which more than adequately provided for inflation and other pressures on spending.

I turn now to my proposals for the Scottish aggregate external finance settlement for 1992–93. In considering the level of the settlement I have as usual taken into account a number of factors. First, I have had regard to the views which the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has expressed in the expenditure committee of the joint convention and Scottish Office working party on Local Government Finance and at the meeting which the Convention had on 8 July with the Minister responsible for Industry and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart).

Secondly, I have taken fully into account the additional spending pressures facing local authorities next year arising both from new burdens, such as preparation for the council tax and the second phase of care in the community, and from transfers of responsibilities from central to local government.

Thirdly, I have taken into account the scope which exists for Scottish local authorities to make efficiency savings. I think that much more needs to be done on this front. In that context, I welcome the establishment of a joint COSLA and Accounts Commission working party to examine value for money issues.

Fourthly, I have had regard to the general economic background and in particular to the Government's success in bringing down inflation. This will obviously reduce considerably the pressures on local government spending.

Fifthly, I have taken into account the fact that spending by Scottish local authorities is over 30 per cent. higher on comparable services than that by authorities in both England and Wales. I see no reason why central taxpayers should continue to support excessive expenditure on that scale.

Having regard to all those factors, I propose that basic aggregate external finance for 1992–93 should be set at £5,122.5 million. That is an increase of £296.5 million—6.1 per cent.—over the comparable figure for the current year. In order to produce that level of settlement I have had to top up the formula consequentials of the English settlement by £50 million. That means that the resources that I have available next year for other Scottish Office programmes will be correspondingly reduced.

An additional sum of £7.5 million will be provided by the Exchequer to fund the final year of the safety net. So overall, the settlement amounts to a total increase of £304 million. Proposals for the distribution of AEF to individual authorities will be announced in the usual way in the autumn.

In reaching the settlement, I have assumed that local authorities will contribute £11.5 million to the third year of the policy of harmonisation of non-domestic rate poundages north and south of the Border.

This represents a realistic settlement, especially in the light of the fall in inflation. If local authorities budget responsibly there should be no reason why community charge levels need increase significantly next year. But if authorities do not budget responsibly, I shall not hesitate to use the new strengthened capping powers which, subject to the enactment of the Local Government Finance and Valuation Bill, I shall have available. I intend to announce provisional capping criteria for next year in the early autumn, so that local authorities can take them into account in their budget setting.

I commend the settlement to the House.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden)

I start by welcoming the additional banding for the new rating system, although, as I am sure the Secretary of State will understand, we shall want to look carefully at the figures. Band G looks remarkably wide.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will accept that, having been forced to admit that the Labour party was right about the poll tax and the property tax, he is once again in full retreat. On the day on which the new system was announced in the House, the right hon. Gentleman told me: it is right to have a system where the range will vary no more than two and a half times between the top band and the bottom band".—[Official Report, 23 April 1991; Vol. 189, c.930.] During Scottish questions on 15 May the Under-Secretary of State said: owners in the top band will pay about two and a half times the amount that owners of properties in the smallest band will pay, and that is perfectly fair."—[Official Report, 15 May 1991; Vol. 191, c. 270.] Will the Secretary of State tell us what the equivalent figure is now that the additional band is in place? If the system as it stood was perfectly fair why has he been forced to make an announcement today? I regret to say that the Under-Secretary of State gloried in the inequality of the proposal. He point blank refused to concede the case for change. The announcement is a step forward, but why did it take so long for Ministers to accept that on this issue the Labour party got it right?

I cannot share the Minister's optimism on the aggregate external finance figures. I understand that last year's figure was £4,353 million, and for a fair comparison we must add to that the cost of this year's £140 headline poll tax reduction scheme. That produces a figure of £4,841 million for 1991–92 as a starting point for the comparison. The increase for 1992–93 is thus only £281 million in cash terms, and if we apply an inflation figure of 6.5 per cent.—that is realistic, given current pay settlements and the growing responsibilities of local government—we see that, in real terms, there will be a cut.

The Secretary of State speaks of an increase of 6.1 per cent., but however he may dress the figures up, the increase for England was 7.2 per cent., as was announced earlier this afternoon. It is impossible to draw conclusions on local taxation levels until the grant-aided expenditure assessment is known, but what matters to the poll tax payer is the gap between aggregate external finance and the sum that has to be raised by the local authority.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that, in setting grant-aided expenditure for next year, he must take into account the adjustment of 1.5 per cent. for under-provision this year because of pay and price increases, the real cost of local government inflation, the cost of running in the new taxation system and the disastrous shortfall in poll tax revenue? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that in order to maintain services it looks as though the increase in budgets set by local authorities will have to be an aggregate of about £500 million. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the best way of helping to cope with the poll tax chaos would be to abolish the 20 per cent. rule now?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has studied the citizens charter carefully. Does he recall that it promises increased powers for the Audit Commission? Would it not therefore be sensible to listen to the Audit Commission's clear statement that the cost of collecting the 20 per cent. payments is two and a half times greater than the net yield to the Exchequer? The 20 per cent. rule should go now. If we are to take the citizens charter seriously, surely there is an unbreakable case for abolishing the 20 per cent. rule. Would it not be sensible for the Government to pay the money spent on the £140 poll tax reduction scheme across the board, and not to default on the grounds that individuals have reneged, or have been unable to meet their responsibilities?

Does the Secretary of State remember that, last week, the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities gave an assurance that, in finalising grant payments, consideration would be given to basing the community charge grant on an authority's original payment assumption rather than on its actual collection rate payments? Is that still on the agenda?

Yesterday, we had a tidal wave of rhetoric about better public services and the citizens charter. Does the Secretary of State accept that, however good the intentions, if the resources are not provided, there will be nothing of substance? In the light of today's announcement, the citizens charter looks ever more like an exercise in window dressing.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming my announcement of the change in the banding arrangements, although I do not know why he thinks it so remarkable that, following consultation—which was the basis of the publication of our proposals—we listened to the representations that we received and reached the view that it was sensible to add another band to the existing bands for valuation purposes. The effect will be to change the difference between the tax bills at the top band and the bottom band from 2.5 times to three times. The effect will be that the cost in respect of a property in the top band will be roughly twice that for an average-value property and about three times that for a property in the lowest band. The hon. Gentleman asked about the consultation process, and I should have thought that that was exactly what consultation was all about.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the community charge reduction scheme. That, too, will be able to continue forward into next year. The purpose of the scheme is to reduce the burden placed on individuals as a result of high spending by local authorities. It is therefore relevant that the payments in respect of that should relate to the payments made by those local authorities.

Using his own arithmetic, the hon. Gentleman tried to convert an increase in real terms into a cut in real terms. He should look at the figures that I have given him. An increase of 6.1 per cent. is a real increase, over and above the rate of inflation. The hon. Gentleman also compared the figures in Scotland with the figures in England. I must point out to him that, on 1990–91 figures, the local expenditure level per head in Scotland is £1,309, compared with £988 in England. In other words, spending in Scotland is no less than 30 per cent. higher than in England and Wales. The local authorities should reflect upon that. If they could get their spending down to that of comparable authorities in other parts of the country, the burden placed on the community charge payer as a result of local government spending would be substantially reduced.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his announcement but, in allocating resources, will he bear in mind the fact that running services and building houses in rural areas is very expensive and try to weight payments to local authorities in that position? My right hon. Friend said that he would transfer £50 million to local authorities from his own budget, and that gives me some concern. Can he assure me that the momentum on constructing the M74 and on improving the A7 will not be lost as a result?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. When it comes to the allocation of grant to each individual local authority, I shall certainly bear in mind what he said about rural areas. It is certainly true that regions and districts in rural areas have been more successful in collecting community charge than many in urban areas. I also note what my hon. Friend said about the high priority that he attaches to the roads expenditure programme and, in particular, to the M74. However, I am sure that he would not wish me to anticipate decisions that must be taken later in the year.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

Does the Secretary of State accept that the fact that he has had to review the banding arrangements for the council tax before it has even been implemented emphasises, first, what an inflexible tax it is, secondly, that it lacks natural indexation and, thirdly, that he should have adopted a local income tax in the first place? The right hon. Gentleman is not satisfying the House with his explanation of why Scotland should get 6.1 per cent., England 7.2 per cent. and Wales 8.5 per cent. Given the extra burdens that are being placed on local authorities, will not the proposals inevitably put a squeeze on local services and lead to cuts because the Government propose to poll tax cap those that try to find the money elsewhere? When will the right hon. Gentleman explain to us what cuts will take place elsewhere in the Scottish Office to fund the £50 million that he has had to transfer? Are not we being cut both ways?

Mr. Lang

I suppose that, if one is a Liberal Democrat, one may manage to reach that conclusion, but it bears no relation to the truth. The whole point of the consultation process is to hear views and then to react to them and, so far from showing inflexibility, we are demonstrating flexibility by adopting the change in the banding system.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the £50 million transfer from the block to the aggregate external finance settlement. It is true that that diminishes the extra resources that we shall have available for increased spending in the next public expenditure round, but it does not in itself constitute a cut.

The hon. Gentleman made the comparison between Scotland and England. It is true that the settlement in Scotland is smaller, as a percentage, than in England and Wales, and that is because spending in Scotland is 30 per cent. higher than in England and Wales. I repeat that spending per head in Scotland was £1,309 in the year 1990–91, compared with £988 in England. If spending per head in Scotland were closer to the levels in England, the settlement in Scotland as a percentage could be considerably higher.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

In presenting this excellent increase in our benefits in Scotland, will my right hon. Friend remind all those on the Opposition Benches—hon. Members representing all parties—that all that that they have to offer the people of Scotland are increased and multiplied taxes and reduced benefits, as that that cannot be said too often?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I am sure that he will agree with me that it is remarkable that, in the current year, AEF per adult is 22 per cent. higher in Scotland than in Wales and no less than 47 per cent. higher than in England, and that aggregate grants to local authorities have increased by 6.4 per cent. in the past five years. No one can accuse the Government of not funding local government spending in Scotland adequately.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

When will the Secretary of State recognise that he is not engaged in an arid mathematical exercise but is dealing with the real needs and real lives of people in Scotland? He says that £50 million will be transferred. Can he guarantee that that transfer will in no way damage housing, especially in Aberdeen and the north-west of Scotland, where there is a great deal of pressure?

When the right hon. Gentleman eventually announces the distribution, will he take into account the strong representations from Grampian regional council to the effect that it is not getting a proper share of roads expenditure? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, in the Grampian region, where the headline poll tax is less than it was last year, people on rebates, at the lower end of the scale, are paying more in cash terms this year than last because the Government have not properly addressed the support system for them? Will the right hon. Gentleman consider those points urgently?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman asked about the £50 million transfer. I can confirm that the existing housing programme will not be affected because the resources will come from the increased resources that would otherwise have been available to increase spending in Scotland next year.

We do not apportion spending on roads on a regional or district basis; we assess the needs of the roads programme across the whole of Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman studies the arithmetic, he will see that there has been a dramatic increase in real terms in roads expenditure under this Government, compared with a 30 per cent. cut under the previous Government.

The hon. Gentleman asked about rebates for Grampian residents. I can only say that their rebates would be worth more to them, and that the net cost of their poll tax would be less, if Grampian had not increased its poll tax to such a large extent.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I shall endeavour to call those hon. Members who are rising but I again remind the House that we have 36 amendments to the Ports Bill and eight consolidation measures to consider. I therefore ask for single questions because that will help us to get on.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Bearing in mind the fact that members of local authorities who incur irresponsible or reckless expenditure can be surcharged and banned from public office, can we now expect the entire Cabinet, including the Secretary of State for Scotland, to be surcharged and banned because of their collective responsibility for the most blatantly foolish and expensive blunder ever perpetrated in the history of local government—the poll tax? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the poll tax has already cost more than £1,000 million to administer and collect and that the Government should abolish it now rather than waiting until 1993—especially in Scotland, where we had to suffer it a year earlier than England and Wales?

Mr. Lang

As the hon. Gentleman knows, we got rid of the domestic rating system a year earlier in Scotland than in England and Wales. Moreover, the cost of administering the community charge would have been considerably reduced, and the efficiency of the community charge considerably increased, if hon. Members such as the hon. Gentleman and Scottish National party Members had not been so grossly irresponsible as not to pay their own poll tax and to discourage others from doing so.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

The Secretary of State referred to a meeting that the Under-Secretary of State had with the convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The Secretary of State will be aware that Strathclyde has a shortfall of £70 million in spite of the fact that it has done everything to gather in the poll tax. Will responsible authorities like Strathclyde be further penalised? The Secretary of State knows full well that, because of high unemployment, people in my constituency and in many others look to the local authorities to employ labour. There is even more pressure on those authorities than there was 10 or 12 years ago.

Mr. Lang

I acknowledge that Strathclyde has made some efforts to contain its expenditure. Nevertheless, it forms part of the overall problem that we face in Scotland of very substantial local authority increases. Over the past five years, local authority current expenditure has increased by 8 per cent. in real terms. That kind of real-terms increase creates massive problems. However, we will consider the apportionment of resources later in the year and will take account of the client group approach developed in committee, in which COSLA is represented.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

Why does the Secretary of State for Scotland always fare worse than the Secretaries of State for Wales and for the Environment in negotiations on behalf of the spending powers of local authorities? Did I hear the Secretary of State correctly? Is it really his ambition as Secretary of State for Scotland to reduce the spending by Scottish local authorities to the level of English and Welsh local authorities? If that is his purpose in Cabinet, the quicker he tells the Scottish local authorities and the people of Scotland, the better. The effect that that will have on services in Scotland will be absolutely disastrous.

Mr. Lang

Having served as a Minister, the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) must be aware that what matters is the quality of services provided. I believe that it is possible to provide services in Scotland that are comparable with those in England and Wales at far less cost than is being charged at the moment. I do not believe that services in Scotland are 30 per cent. better than services in England and Wales. That is why spending per head in 1990–91 in Scotland was £1,309 compared with £988 in England. That is not a defensible difference, and it cannot be accounted for simply because of the difference in the quality of services.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

The Secretary of State has today announced a cut in real terms. I remind him that I wrote to him three weeks ago about cuts in the infrastructure in my constituency and referred to the Stonehouse by-pass. Will the Secretary of State's announcement today make that bypass more or less likely?

Mr. Lang

The Stonehouse bypass will be covered by capital expenditure, which will he announced later in the year, and not by this settlement.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

The Secretary of State said that adjustments would have to be made in other aspects of the Scottish Office budget to meet the settlement. Precisely what will those adjustments involve? Can he assure us that they will not affect community care or safety in the streets? The Secretary of State paid tribute to Strathclyde, which has tried to balance its budget in the face of overwhelming odds. Will he therefore encourage the Scottish Tory party to withdraw the appalling leaflets that it published and included in free newpapers distributed by people on poverty wages, which blame Strathclyde for the lack of policemen, something which is entirely the Government's responsibility?

Mr. Lang

The shortfall in police numbers in Strathclyde is entirely at the discretion of Strathclyde regional council. We have increased the proportion of central Government funding and have made resources available for the council to increase its resources in that respect. With regard to adjustments to the rest of my spending programme as a result of the £50 million that I have added to the local government settlement, that will reduce the capacity to increase spending in some other areas. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, with regard to community care, the additional costs falling on local government next year as a result of phase 2 of community care have been taken into account in the settlement.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the poll tax is suffering a slow, lingering, painful death, and that his statement today only adds to that pain? How does he justify the fact that senior citizens who do not receive income support are being asked to pay more poll tax this year than they paid last year? How can he explain to that group of people, whose only crime has been to contribute to a wee works pension, that they had been made worse off under the community charge reduction scheme while he has been made better off and they must fork out the extra VAT to pay for that?

Mr. Lang

The increased settlement was 10.4 per cent. last year, and that was substantially above the rate of inflation. The situation has arisen because local authorities have chosen to increase their spending above the rate of inflation and thus to increase the burden on their residents. The solution for the residents is to elect a council that will control its expenditure and reduce the burden on the residents.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Many poor people in my constituency would benefit financially if the 20 per cent. poll tax contribution were abolished forthwith. Thousands of people in my constituency receive social welfare incomes. Will the Secretary of State consider most sympathetically the needs of Inverclyde district council in respect of his comments about allocation allocations to councils? We face many problems in Inverclyde, and I believe that Inverclyde district council is worthy of sympathetic consideration in view of the massive problems with which it is seeking to deal at the moment.

Mr. Lang

That point will have to be considered together with other local authorities later in the year. With regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) about the 20 per cent. rule—a point that was also raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), but which I am sorry that I did not respond to earlier—we have given that careful consideration.

The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow will recognise that the community charge operated as a package scheme. It had a funding arrangement, a rebate, transitional and community charge reduction schemes, and income support was increased to take account of the 20 per cent. balance required from those on maximum rebate. We have developed a new and different scheme in the context of the council tax. Resources have been made available to people on maximum rebates and irresponsible non-payment campaigns and, in some cases, less than enthusiastic pursuit of non-payers by local authorities, have led those people into difficulties.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West)

Are the Scottish assessors happy to work under the direction of the Inland Revenue commissioners? What percentage of the new council tax will be derived from the new band that the Secretary of State has introduced? Will he give us some idea of the gearing effect on the poll tax in Scotland? What percentage of total local authority finance is likely to come from the poll tax? In view of the letter that the Minister sent me about the collection of the tax and cost-effectiveness, will the Secretary of State consider the cost-effective collection of the tax and abolish attempts by local authorities to collect the tax from people on income support and those in full-time education? That cannot be cost-effective by any standards.

Mr. Lang

The answers to the hon. Gentleman's four questions are: yes, Sir; 1 per cent.; 11.3 per cent.; and no, Sir.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Will the Secretary of State explain how the new banding will work in a city like Edinburgh unless he agrees to single dwelling evaluation? In the Royal Mile in Edinburgh which has a palace at one end, a castle at the other and quite low-value houses in the middle, would those houses be in band H, band A or somewhere in between?

Mr. Lang

The scheme will work just as well in Edinburgh and in exactly the same way as it will in the rest of Scotland. The assessors will decide in which band the relevant property should be placed, and it will be open to the householder to appeal against that. The cost to be borne by residents in Edinburgh will depend on the policies of Edinburgh district council. When I reflect on the fact that that council's expenditure has risen by 70 per cent. since 1984—twice the rate of inflation—and that its staffing has increased by 40 per cent. over that period, I cannot help feeling a great deal of sympathy for the residents of Edinburgh under a Labour administration.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Does not the Secretary of State realise that this £5.1 billion settlement means that next year, for the ninth year running, the Government's support for Lothian and Edinburgh will be bottom of the Scottish league table of support for regional councils, and that next year it is likely that spending in Edinburgh will continue to be below the Scottish average for the eighth year running? The Secretary of State is making sure that people in his constituency receive free bus passes, so why is he so much against free bus passes for senior citizens and disabled people in my constituency?

Mr. Lang

That is absolute nonsense. Lothian region had an increase in its revenue support grant of 13 per cent. last year, which is more than double the present rate of inflation. Of course, Lothian residents are quite happy to contend with the fact that the number of staff employed by Lothian region has risen by no fewer than 520 in the past three years, including 62 social workers and 31 non-teaching staff. However, this year 50 teachers have been sacked against that background. The residents of Lothian region should reconsider who should be running the regional council.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

Why is the Secretary of State so determined to keep his party's discredited and demented poll tax system in operation until 1993? He managed to impose it a year early in Scotland. Would it be beyond the wit of the Scottish Office team to get rid of it a wee bit earlier in our part of the country? Will he please address the situation in Lothian regional council and the grotesque distortion of the way in which revenue support grant and other Government support has been directed to that region and the districts within that region? Has not that unfair distribution of grant led to hardship, difficulties and cuts in Lothian this year? Will he please address that point?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman asked me to bring in the council tax a wee bit earlier in Scotland. Obviously, it cannot be brought in a wee bit earlier; it can be brought in either a year earlier or a year later. It must be brought in on an annual basis as compared with the rest of the country. In fact, 1993 is the earliest realistic date on which any change in the community charge could be contemplated. Anybody who suggests that such changes of any form could be introduced earlier is talking absolute nonsense.

I have already outlined the increase in staffing numbers in Lothian. Lothian reduced its charge by £37 million quite quickly and voluntarily after I had announced my undertaking to cap it. The consequence of that was to reduce its budget by £18.5 million, which was actually less than 3 per cent. of its planned expenditure. Any efficiently run local authority would be able to take account of such a reduction without adversely affecting important services.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

The Secretary of State referred in his statement to money being put into the settlement for care in the community. Will he say how much that was? Otherwise, there is unlikely to be a trusting atmosphere about that programme. Is care in the community being properly funded, and to what extent? I cannot see why it is not possible to tell us how much in the settlement is being transferred to care in the community. Similarly, there is reference in the statement to extra funding for local authorities because of the transfer of responsibilities to local authorities. What are those responsibilities, and how have they been costed?

Can we be quite clear about the Secretary of State's attitude to higher expenditure in Scotland? On education, for example, it is true that there is higher expenditure due to local authorities resisting the Government's wishes in respect of education in Scotland, and that yields good results. The Government were saying just last week that higher numbers stay on in Scotland. Is it the Government's intention that local authorities should go down to English levels of staying on and English levels of expenditure on education in Scotland?

The Secretary of State has not dealt with the central idiocy of the 20 per cent. rule. It costs local authorities more money to collect the 20 per cent. than the income that they gain. Is not that a very stupid way of conducting local government? Is it not about time that the Government realised that and abolished the 20 per cent. rule?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman's last point is a matter for local authorities and their auditors and legal advisers. As for staying on at school, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have an excellent record of increasing the numbers staying on at school, and we intend firmly to build on that record. We are keen also to expand further and higher education, and are already doing so with dramatic success, having increased the figures very remarkably from those that we inherited in 1979.

On the additional burdens falling on local government, the cost of the next phase of care in the community has been estimated at £11 million, the cost of introducing the council tax at £24 million, and the cost of other general increases at about £24 million, giving a total of about £59 million.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Falkirk, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I place on record the undying admiration of the House of your endurance, occupying the Chair for four hours and 10 minutes without a break, against the background of yesterday's statements about faulty waterworks somewhere else in England? It is reassuring to know that at least one waterworks is in perfect working order.

Mr. Speaker

I was going to suggest to the hon. Member that he should not raise a point of order, but I am very grateful for what he said.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Is it equally helpful?

Mr. Madden

I am sorry to prolong your occupancy of the Chair. I genuinely apologise for having to raise this point of order, but it is about an important matter.

In the past, you have deprecated the practice of parliamentary reports being released to the media before Members of Parliament received them. The Select Committee on Health—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that I can anticipate the hon. Member on this matter. He is aware that he cannot refer in the House to a report that has not yet been made. It is a Select Committee report. It will be possible for him to do that tomorrow when the report is published, but not today, please.

Mr. Madden

It is about the availability of the report. I wonder whether you would give the necessary instructions so that the report is available to hon. Members simultaneously with the press at 11 am tomorrow. It is particularly important, as allegations are being made that the report in draft—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I know about the allegations. As to the availability of the report, the hon. Member knows that it is a matter for the Committee, and not for me in the Chair. We should move on.

    1. cc1082-3
    2. PORTS BILL [WAYS AND MEANS] (No. 2) 116 words