HC Deb 20 December 1995 vol 268 cc1524-6
9. Mr. McMaster

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss local government funding. [5203]

Mr. Michael Forsyth

On 19 January.

Mr. McMaster

Does the Secretary of State recall that, last Christmas, hundreds of my constituents in Paisley and Johnstone were flooded out of their homes and that some of them have been unable to return to those homes? When I recently met the Secretary of State, he promised to introduce a new flood prevention Act for Scotland. When will he introduce that Act and, when he does, will he ensure that resources are available to the new unitary authorities so that they can put flood prevention schemes in place?

Mr. Forsyth

I gave the hon. Gentleman those undertakings, and we shall deliver them. He knows that I promised to consult about the matter in the new year, and I shall do that. It will then be a matter of finding a slot in the legislative programme.

Is it not a terrible condemnation of Labour councils that they must be forced by statute to do something about the flooding of people's homes? We shall place a duty upon them to ensure that the present discretion that they enjoy is replaced by a requirement to take action when people are flooded out of their homes. Strathclyde has singularly failed to take such action.

As to the legislative opportunities, I am sure that Labour Members will be delighted that the new procedures in the Scottish Grand Committee and the opportunities for introducing new legislation mean that we may be able to take more action in respect of flood prevention than would have been possible otherwise.

Mr. Bill Walker

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the people of Perth and those living in the Tay valley are very grateful to the Government for their prompt action during the flooding of the Tay last year? We welcome the pledge that my right hon. Friend has given at the Dispatch Box, that he will impose a statutory requirement on the new authorities following consultation. It is absolutely essential that local authorities are made aware of their duties and responsibilities with regard to flooding.

Mr. Forsyth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those comments. However, I do not wish to misrepresent the position in respect of the Tayside region. I think that I am correct in saying that the Tayside region is taking forward a flood prevention scheme using the discretionary powers that I have mentioned. Unlike some Labour authorities, such as Strathclyde or Central region, Tayside has chosen that course of action and the Scottish Office is providing resources through the capital allocation to assist it in that process.

My hon. Friend is right to acknowledge the progress that has been made, but I do not see why that cannot be achieved using the existing discretionary powers. In response to the representations from the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) and the concerns that were expressed not only in his constituency but in Kilmarnock, we have said that we shall consult on the issue of imposing a specific mandatory duty upon local authorities.

Mr. Wallace

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his Department announced earlier today a cut of £400 million in real terms in investment in council housing over the next three years—which is equivalent to some 9,000 houses? How can the Secretary of State justify that decision against a background of too many of our fellow Scots sleeping rough and of overcrowding? When there will be no room at the inn for many thousands of Scots this Christmas, why does he assume the mantle of Scrooge so enthusiastically?

Mr. Forsyth

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he knows that the figures released recently show a welcome reduction in the number of homeless people. He also knows that we have spent £2 billion on housing and that we have been responsible for refurbishing about 750,000 council houses. He knows the figures for the increase in home ownership. I do not know whether he travels through Scotland on his way to Orkney and Shetland, but, if he does, he must see the transformation that has occurred under the Government, and I would have thought that he would welcome it.

The hon. Gentleman puts the worst possible interpretation on the figures. Given that he is a prudent and an honest man who argues for higher taxation in order to provide higher expenditure, I am amazed that he has anything to do with the policies of the Labour party, which seems to want to see Scotland and Scottish local authorities disappear under a sea of debt. It wants to fritter away the resources that we make available for housing by paying interest charges and by reducing opportunities for the future.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

The pretty one—Rachel Squire.

Ms Rachel Squire

Thank you, Madam Speaker. Does the Secretary of State agree that, although the Budget announcement raising Department of Social Security thresholds in respect of means testing for residential and nursing care is welcome, it will place severe additional funding pressure on local authorities? Will he further agree to pursue additional funds for that purpose so that local authorities can ensure that no one in need of residential or nursing care is denied it or is forced into accepting a second-best standard of care?

Mr. Forsyth

I am delighted, Madam Speaker, that political correctness has not found its way into the Chamber.

I should have thought that the hon. Lady would have welcomed the changes introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor, as they benefit elderly people who have scrimped and saved throughout their lives yet are placed at a disadvantage compared with those who have not. As for giving local authorities more money, if local authorities such as Edinburgh were not abandoning projects to spend £400,000 on corporate identities and painting their vans, and other Scottish local authorities were not receiving 45 per cent. more per head in grant than equivalent authorities in England, there might be a case for considering allocating more money to local government in Scotland. Local government in Scotland has grown at a rate of 6 per cent. while in England it has declined by 6 per cent. over the same period. Its expenditure and its borrowing have grown and it is out of control because it is mainly under the control of the Labour party.

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