HC Deb 15 February 1995 vol 254 cc1056-104 7.12 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)

I beg to move, That the Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 1995, a copy of which was laid before the House on 2nd February, be approved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

I understand that with this it will be convenient to discuss the following motions: That the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995, a copy of which was laid before the House on 2nd February, be approved. That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved. That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved.

Mr. Lang

This is the annual opportunity for the House to debate the local government finance and housing support grant orders. Traditionally, the debate provides an opportunity to consider not only the detail of the orders but the wider issues relating to local government and housing finance.

I propose to speak briefly to the orders and then make some general comments on matters relevant to them. I hope that that will enable the debate to move forward.

I start with the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1995, about which I need say little. It is necessary because of a reduction in the pool rate of interest used to estimate local authorities' loan charges. It is accepted and normal practice for Ministers to bring forward a variation order in these circumstances. That will reduce total housing support grant payable in 1994–95 from £25.7 million to £24.2 million.

The draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995 provides that the total level of housing support grant payable in 1995–96 will be £22.3 million. Broadly speaking, that sum represents the difference between the eligible expenditure and the relevant income of those authorities which, in the absence of grant, would have a deficit on their housing revenue accounts. Its purpose and the assumptions used are explained in detail in the report that accompanies the order.

Our estimate of management and maintenance expenditure is based on an assumed average spending level of £748 per house. That represents a 7.5 per cent. increase over the equivalent average for the current year and is further evidence of the Government's commitment to the maintenance of the physical condition of Scotland's housing stock.

For the purpose of the HSG formula, the assumed average standard rent for next year has been set at a notional £37.48 per house per week. I should stress that that is not a forecast, nor is it a guideline or even a recommendation: it is an assumption used solely for the purposes of grant calculation. The actual rents charged by authorities may be higher or lower according to the local decisions about housing income and expenditure that local authorities have taken over the years.

I shall discuss the implications of the subsidy settlement for actual rents in a moment, but before doing so I should draw the attention of the House to the question of general fund contributions. Such contributions represent a subsidy from council tax payers to council tenants. That kind of subsidy is indiscriminate in that it benefits all tenants, regardless of their personal circumstances; and it is unnecessary to the extent that tenants who are unable to meet the costs of their housing receive assistance in the form of housing benefit. As in previous years, therefore, the proposals in the Housing Revenue Account General Fund Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order 1995 prevent authorities from budgeting to make general fund contributions next year.

The effect on local authority rent levels will be relatively small, as the large majority of local authorities in Scotland do not receive housing support grant in respect of their mainstream council housing. Clearly, the subsidy proposals will have no impact on the rent decisions of those authorities. On the 11 authorities that will receive grant in respect of their council housing, the effect of the change in grant will vary. In most cases, grant is a relatively minor component of housing revenue account income and the impact is likely to be outweighed by the authority's own decision on such matters as management and maintenance spending.

As Government subsidies form a small proportion of housing revenue account income, it is difficult to forecast average rent increases with any degree of accuracy. I expect, however, rent increases for 1995–96 to average between 4 per cent. and 5 per cent., as was the case in 1994–95. That is on the assumption that local authorities will wish to make real improvements in the housing services that they provide to their tenants, and it is right that the extra costs should be met by the tenants who benefit.

The Government's proposals for housing support grant next year are, I believe, a fair and reasonable subsidies package that balances the interests of the tenants, the council tax payer and the national taxpayer.

I now turn to the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995. Its purpose is explained in detail in the report that accompanies the order.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Before the Secretary of State does that, can he perhaps explain to the House why, once we remove the community care element of about £40 million from the settlement—money that is, of course, rightly and properly set aside for the community care developments that we all want to see—he is imposing on Scottish councils a cut of some 10 per cent. or 11 per cent? How does he expect the councils to maintain the level of service to their tenants without pushing rents through the ceiling or cutting services drastically?

Mr. Lang

I do not recognise the figures to which the hon. Gentleman refers. The grant to which I have just referred is payable only to 11 authorities and represents a relatively small proportion of support for council housing. The vast majority of support comes through housing benefit, where an anticipated £800 million will come through next year.

The purpose of the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995 is explained in detail in the report which accompanies the order. The position is relatively straightforward and, again, I do not think that I need say very much about the order itself.

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

The tenants of Greenock and Port Glasgow are slowly beginning to stand on their own two feet, and I understand that just over the horizon is the enticing promise of several hundred jobs. May I plead with the Secretary of State, however, to respond favourably to the representations of Inverclyde district council concerning what a constituent recently described to me as "that damned eyesore"—the Gourock rope works? I personally have made numerous representations—I would like the thing to be pulled down—but will the Secretary of State please respond to sincere representations made to him and his ministerial colleagues by members of the council?

Mr. Lang

I share the hon. Gentleman's hopes for the employment prospects of Greenock and Port Glasgow, and I note what he has said about the Gourock rope works. I know the building well. The matter involves Historic Scotland, however—the building is listed—and it would be inappropriate for me to comment, even if the issue were covered by the terms of the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995. I suspect that if I tried to respond in any detail I would be ruled out of order, so I shall press on.

Under the so-called AEF guarantee, the level of revenue support grant payable to local authorities for each of the years 1990–91, 1991–92 and 1992–93 is adjusted either up or down in the light of any variation between their estimated and their actual level of non-domestic rate income. The objective of the arrangement—which has been fully accepted by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—is to ensure that each authority receives the combined amount of revenue support grant and non-domestic rating income that they were promised at the time when authorities were first notified of their settlement for the year in question. At that stage, my Department made an estimate of the level of NDRI that each authority would receive. The guarantee arrangement has been necessary because of the difficulty of estimating NDRI with any accuracy, mainly because of appeals against valuation that take some time to be resolved.

The order makes a further adjustment to the levels of revenue support grant payable for each of the three years covered by the guarantee in the light of returns that local authorities submitted to my Department last autumn showing their actual levels of NDRI for the years in question. Because of the effect of successful appeals against 1990 valuations, there has, in general, been a reduction in the level of NDRI in comparison with previous estimates. The order, therefore, provides for the payment of extra revenue support grant, totalling nearly £65.7 million, to compensate for the reduction.

I should make it clear that that figure is net. Although 61 authorities will receive extra rate support grant, the remaining four will receive less. That is because, against the general trend, their level of NDRI has increased as compared with previous estimates. Subject to the House's approval of the order, the extra RSG will be paid to the authorities concerned in April.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

This may appear to be a convoluted question, but it is not intended to be. The health board in my area proposes to close Ravenscraig, Bridge of Weir, Merchiston and Dykebar hospitals. Has any consideration been given to the stress and strain that that would cause to Inverclyde and Renfrew district councils, which would have to provide health care in the community? Has the Secretary of State included that in his budget?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record very effectively, but it does not relate to the order that we are debating—and, to the extent that it might relate to it at the margin, it would relate to the distribution formula used for the allocation of resources between different authorities. That formula is agreed with COSLA and reviewed every year.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

The Secretary of State must know that, owing to a combination of the financial arrangements that he is imposing and the capping regime, Highland region will be down £12.9 million this year. That will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on local services. The council currently faces a choice between closing its job and enterprise unit, with the loss of about 120 jobs—which would be a very bad thing—and sacking an uncertain number of teachers, perhaps 200 or 300.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman anticipates me: I have not yet reached the order to which his comments relate. However, in the light of what I am about to say about the Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 1995, I shall be happy to give way to him later if he wishes to pursue the point. The order that I have just been, discussing relates specifically to the adjustment of non-domestic rating income to take account of the outcome of valuation appeals, so that local authorities receive exactly what we undertook to give them.

Certainly in terms of the amount of money involved, the Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 1995 is the main order that we are debating. It represents the final stage of the local government finance settlement, details of which I first announced on 29 November last year. The settlement provides for the level of Government-supported expenditure—that is, total grant-aided expenditure and provision for loan and leasing charges—to be set at £6,116,900,000, an increase of 1.72 per cent. on the current year's figure. It also provides for aggregate external finance—which comprises revenue support grant, non-domestic rating income and a number of specific grants—to be set at a level of £5,306 million.

The report that accompanies the order provides a detailed explanation of its purpose, but it may be helpful if I briefly summarise the position. The order has three separate purposes. The first is to distribute the revenue support grant and NDRI components of AEF for 1995–96 to individual local authorities. The specific grants component of AEF, which for next year totals just under £397 million, is distributed on the basis of claims by authorities, and is therefore not covered directly by the order itself. A total of just over £3,716 million is distributed as revenue support grant, and £1,193 million is the distributable amount of NDRI.

As in the past two years, NDRI is being distributed to regional and islands councils only, with the agreement of COSLA. That means that district councils will again receive their AEF support solely in the form of revenue support grant and specific grants.

The distributable amount of NDRI takes into account my Department's estimate of the amount of business rate income that local authorities will collect next year on the basis of the unified business rate poundage of 43.2p which I also announced on 29 November. When we took over control of business rates from local authorities, businesses in Scotland faced a local business rate that averaged 76.6p in the pound. The Government, with the full support of the Scottish business community, have spent the last five years, and £440 million, working towards a unified business rate throughout Scotland and England.

Next year, for the first time, Scottish business will operate on a level playing field with business south of the border. Our unified business rate policy has already delivered significant benefits to Scottish business—at least £440 million worth per annum. What is more, the guarantee that we have given to maintain that level playing field permanently will ensure that the benefits continue.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I acknowledge and welcome the movement that has been made to try to reconcile the positions north and south of the border, but will the Secretary of State re-examine the exemption scheme carefully? I do not think that the orders for the exemption scheme that he has announced have yet been laid. I think that, when the revaluation details are known to small businesses in south-east Scotland, they will cause considerable concern. I know that transitional protections will limit the amount of the actual bills, but the increases will nevertheless be substantial in relation to anticipated inflation rates. That will affect small businesses throughout Scotland, not just in the south-east. Will the Secretary of State look again at the exemptions and transitional protections that he has announced, so that the amounts paid by small businesses can be restricted even more than he intends them to be?

Mr. Lang

I constantly review such matters, but I must point out that the benefit of the reduction in the business rate from 76.6p in the pound to 43.2p makes a dramatic difference to businesses large and small throughout Scotland. We have also introduced transitional relief schemes in the light of revaluation—schemes that are specifically more beneficial to small businesses than to larger ones. I expect the benefits to be widely felt by businesses in Scotland.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

On the subject of assistance to business, will the Secretary of State reconsider the effective prohibition of purchase and lease-back schemes from the end of this financial year? Does not he appreciate that, in a range of regional councils in Scotland, those schemes are an important part of industrial strategy, and that their effective cancellation will cause great damage to many businesses? Will he reconsider that point?

Mr. Lang

I do not accept that anything like the damage implied by the hon. Gentleman will be caused. There is no reason why local authorities should not, for the rest of this year, continue to take advantage of the schemes that we have announced. Most local authorities are doing so. The exception is Grampian regional council, which seems unwilling to deal with the realities of the scheme. My officials are more than willing to continue to make the position clear to that council.

The schemes are available until the end of the current financial year and we are considering various aspects that we may wish to clarify further. I am confident that the limited effect of the schemes in relation to local government expenditure overall does not justify the sort of comments that have been made. Our measures are sensible in the context of overall public expenditure.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Does the Secretary of State agree that his figures and calculations are based on a notional figure of £37 average rent throughout Scotland, when the average rent is only £27? On the general fund contribution, does he agree that everyone who applied last year was refused?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman rose to make a point that I covered some five or 10 minutes ago. I made it clear to him that the rent figure of £37.48p per house was used exclusively as a notional figure, and solely for the purpose of grant calculation, in the context of local authorities' resources under the HSG formula, and taking account of management and maintenance costs. He is right—rents are some pounds lower. Indeed, they are some pounds lower than in England. But making a direct relationship between rents and the figure that I mentioned is not relevant.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Is the Secretary of State creating a level playing field by setting that universal business rate level? How does he react to the criticism that the estimated target yield will be exceeded by almost 3p in the pound, which will put an extra burden on Scottish businesses?

Mr. Lang

If the estimated target yield is exceeded, the chances are that it will do so because the rating base has grown, which will he the result of the expansion of Scottish industry. I thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that, rather than detract from it.

We are creating a level playing field. It is astonishing that, just as we have secured our goal, the policies of Opposition Members seek to throw away the benefits that Scottish business enjoys. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), speaking with all the authority of an official Front-Bench spokesman for the Labour party, has confirmed that a future Labour Government would return control over the level of poundages to local authorities.

The hike in business rates that would inevitably result from local authority control and the destruction of the level playing field that we have achieved would seriously undermine the ability of Scottish companies to compete in the marketplace. Existing businesses would be threatened, new businesses would be deterred and our efforts to attract inward investment to Scotland would be jeopardised.

Labour's motives in proposing such a policy have patently nothing to do with the needs of business and nothing to do with the needs of the Scottish economy. I have not heard a single Scottish business man calling for business rates to be returned to council control. Labour clearly aims to satisfy the desires of its free-spending councillors, irrespective of the needs of business.

I wrote to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) on 18 January asking him to confirm whether that policy would, indeed, apply in Scotland. I pressed him on the matter again in the House on 28 January.

Despite that, I have yet to receive an answer from the hon. Member. I know that developing policy is a difficult and novel experience for Opposition Members, but the hon. Member for Hamilton only needs to tell the House whether he supports the policy of his colleague, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras; or is the hon. Member for Hamilton afraid of admitting Labour policy, as it would be so damaging to the interests of Scottish business? The hon. Gentleman need not fear answering; I can assure him that this is not a planted question from the Scottish National party.

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

That was a Conservative Central Office comment, meticulously delivered in the music hall style that has become the hallmark of the Secretary of State for Scotland. In the Secretary of State's consideration of the consultative document, which was published by my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), and which relates solely to England and Wales, did the Secretary of State read the autobiography of the right hon. Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson), the other man with the whiskers? In his fine book entitled "Speaking My Mind", he says that the universal business rate was a mistake, that it has separated businesses from their areas and diminished the calibre of councillors because local businessmen no longer stand for election to be financial watchdogs on local councils. Conservative Members are not unanimous about the future of the UBR. Labour's consultation will take place in Scotland. It will have a Scottish policy to protect Scottish business and Scottish industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras will do the same down south.

Mr. Lang

I am not sure if I am supposed to take it from those latter remarks that policy will be the same north of the border. It is astonishing that the hon. Gentleman is not yet prepared to say that it will not be the same. He plans to allow a free-for-all for local business rates. That would lead back to the 76p in the pound level achieved by Labour authorities before we introduced the uniform business rate. It will be noted throughout the business community in Scotland that the Labour party shrinks from committing itself to maintaining the level playing field that we have so painstakingly secured for the Scottish business community.

The AEF total for next year has been distributed among individual local authorities using exactly the same methodology as in previous years. The methodology involves equalising, first, for variations in authorities' assessed need—as determined by their grant-aided expenditure assessments—to incur expenditure and, secondly, for variations in their tax base and, consequently, in their ability to raise income locally from the council tax. Just over £1,303 million of the AEF total for next year is being used to equalise differences in authorities' GAE assessments, while a total of nearly £3,962 million is being shared among authorities in proportion to the number of council tax band D equivalent properties in each authority area. I hope that the House finds that clear.

Sir Russell Johnston

Does the Secretary of State regard this as an appropriate moment for me to pose again the question that I asked earlier? In the case of Highland regional council, the combined effect of the measures and the financial and capping arrangements will lead to 12.9 per cent. less money for services. That means that the council immediately faces the choice of closing its job and enterprise unit, with the loss of 120 jobs and of a great opportunity for people to enter new employment, or sacking X number of teachers. Is that the sort of choice that the Secretary of State wants to give local authorities?

Mr. Lang

It is not; nor do I accept that it is necessarily the choice that they face. Of course I acknowledge that Highland regional council has been one of the authorities that has argued about the distribution formula from time to time. Its argument, however, is not with me; it is with other local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which has agreed with that formula, on the basis that money is equally and evenly distributed, taking account of relative need through a sensitive formula.

As for the overall quantum, it is well known that expenditure has risen sharply in local authorities in recent years. There has been an increase of some 20 per cent. in real terms in the past 10 years. Last year alone, in real terms, local authorities have had 2 per cent. more expenditure than had been anticipated following inflation rates estimates at the beginning of last year.

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

The Secretary of State's convoluted prose serves only to obfuscate the truth. He is trying to pull wool over our eyes. The position described by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) is replicated throughout the whole of Scotland, so it is not a question of distribution. Strathclyde is facing terrible options.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

It faces a crisis.

Mr. Foulkes

Indeed. Community education is one the services that is threatened. Voluntary organisations will not have places in which to meet. That means that we will have more crime and more drug taking among young people. That is sort of thing that will happen. The Secretary of State knows that, as he has made cuts, local authorities have made efficiency savings year after year. He must give them some guidance. Where will they find the savings? Will they have to sack teachers or will they have to accept any of the other options? He must say, and he should not leave it to local authorities. I know what he is up to. He is hoping that they will get the blame for the problems when the election comes on 6 April. He is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is the end of a lengthy intervention. Interventions are supposed to be short and to the point.

Mr. Lang

If I were to seek to give guidance to local authorities of the kind that the hon. Gentleman suggests he would be the first on his feet, accusing the Government of intervening in local government decision making. The fact is that local authorities have had a substantial expansion in resources at their disposal over the years.

If the problem in Strathclyde is so severe, why did the authority expand its staff numbers so substantially last year at a time when some other local authorities were retrenching? When the hon. Member for Hamilton makes his speech, perhaps he will be able to confirm whether the report in The Scotsman last Friday was correct. It reported that Hamilton district council is contemplating not an increase in next year's council tax but a 10 per cent. reduction. That is hardly the action of a council under the sort of pressures to which the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

Several hon. Members


Mr. Lang

I think that I shall give way to a Conservative Member this time.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

Is not the previous intervention typical of the Opposition? They call for devolution and responsibility, but when they get that responsibility, what do they do? They whine and gum and try to pass the buck back to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Lang

I could not have put it better, so I shall not try.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lang

No, I have given way many times and I must make progress.

The second purpose of the local government finance order is to increase by relatively small amounts the level of AEF payable to two local authorities for 1994–95. The authorities involved are West Lothian and Western Isles. In the case of West Lothian, the increase is the result of the district council taking on additional housing benefit responsibilities, and in the case of the Western Isles the additional AEF is to enable the islands' council to subsidise the costs of internal air travel in the Western Isles following the introduction of the air passenger tax last November.

The third purpose of the order is to redetermine the level of AEF for 1993–94, taking into account changes in each authority's council tax base since the original distribution as a result of, for example, successful appeals by householders regarding the tax band in which their property should be located.

I should make it clear to the House that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has been consulted about the detail of all four orders and has had no points to raise on any of them. I fully recognise that COSLA is unhappy about the overall level of next year's local government finance settlement—I shall say something about that in a minute or two—but the convention has raised absolutely no complaint' about the way in which the settlement total is being distributed among authorities.

The methodology for determining authorities' grant-aided expenditure assessments is kept under regular review by the distribution committee of the working party on local government finance which comprises representatives from the Scottish Office and the convention. While there are inevitably complaints from authorities which lose as a result of a change in the distribution methodology, I think that one of the strengths of the system is the extent to which it operates on the basis of consensus. I hope that tonight we shall not hear from the Opposition the sort of allegations that have been made in these debates in previous years—that, in some way or other, the distribution penalises particular authorities or that it has been manipulated by the Government. It has not.

I said earlier that I proposed to say something about the overall level of next year's local government finance settlement. I fully accept that it is a tight settlement, but it should not come as a surprise to anyone in local government or to Opposition Members. I have consistently warned local authorities over a period of years that they needed to bear in mind the limits on the levels of public expenditure and to look closely at ways of delivering their services more efficiently. For the most part, they have chosen to ignore that advice. Most councils have continued to increase the numbers of staff that they employ.

I believe that local government must play its part along with the rest of the public sector in helping to control the level of public expenditure. Every extra £1 spent on local government would mean £1 less for health, £1 less for industry and £1 less for all the other areas for which I am responsible at the Scottish Office. If Opposition Members are arguing for more money to be given to local government, they should tell the House which other vital public services will be deprived of resources to fund this higher spending. How many millions would these services lose to finance the spending desires of local councils? Or perhaps they will tell us what taxes they would raise to enable local government to spend more. Would business rates be the first target? Or would they raise income taxes? Without those answers, no one need attach any credence to the Opposition's cries of underfunding.

Although I have acknowledged that it is a tight settlement, I certainly do not think that it is an unrealistic one, given low inflation. Nor do I think that it is unrealistic to expect local authorities—in common with the rest of the public sector—to fund any pay increases from efficiency savings. If authorities had made some attempt to find efficiency savings in the current year to meet the cost of 1994 pay increases, they would not have stored up for themselves the need to find savings in the forthcoming year to cover the cost of 1994 and 1995 pay increases.

Almost every year in these debates, we hear allegations from Opposition Members that the Government are underfunding local government in Scotland and have destroyed local services and local authority jobs. The hon. Member for Hamilton was no different in last year's debate. He claimed that the consequences of the 1994–95 settlement would be thousands of job losses, service reductions and an extra 10 per cent. on council tax bills across Scotland. What was the reality? The numbers employed in local government rose instead of falling; the average increase in council tax levels was, in fact, riot 10 per cent., but 5.5 per cent.; and the hon. Member for Hamilton and his colleagues were also wrong about cuts in services.

The reality of the situation is very different from what is suggested in the Opposition's rhetoric. Let us consider the facts. In the past 10 years, expenditure by Scottish local authorities has increased in real terms by more than 20 per cent. and nearly doubled in cash terms. In the seven-year period up to June 1994, staffing levels in Scottish local authorities increased by more than 6 per cent. while, in the same period, staffing levels in English authorities reduced by almost the same percentage figure. Even after the 1995–96 settlement, the level of Government-supported expenditure is 33 per cent. per head of population higher than the comparable English figure.

I could go on to talk about improvements in particular local authority services and, if pressed, I should be happy to do so, but these figures demonstrate clearly that the Government, far from underfunding and attacking Scottish local government, have made it prosper.

It is against that background that next year's settlement must be viewed, and it is also against that background that I commend the orders to the House.

7.46 pm
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)

The Secretary of State described this year's settlement as extremely tight, but that is surely an understatement. In fact, for two of the regional councils in Scotland—Lothian and Strathclyde—it is not only tight but punitive and arbitrary and it will lead to reductions in real services for real people. The Government's decision will force up local council taxes, all local charges and, in the process, inflation, at the very time when the Government are yet again claiming that in Scotland and elsewhere the recovery has just started.

The Secretary of State did not have the gall to describe the housing settlement as extremely tight. It is not just extremely tight; it means strangulation. Without doubt, it is among the most savage and vindictive housing settlements for many years. Those who will pay the price will be council house tenants and the thousands who languish on council house waiting lists all over the country. Council taxes will be forced up by 10 per cent. on average, even after stringent cuts by many local authorities. There is little doubt about that now. Services will be affected and the quality and availability of housing will decline all over Scotland.

Why? Why are local authorities and the Scottish people being expected to bear all this pain? The reason is simple: the Government's need to find cash this year to fund election tax cuts next year. They want to pass on a tax increase one year in the form of a tax saving next year. It is a cynical, brazen abuse of central Government power so that tax bribes are available for an election Budget.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South)

The hon. Gentleman said that this year's settlement is not sufficient. He has clearly done his sums but, if he wants to be taken seriously, he must tell us by how much this year's settlement is short. Which aspects of the block should be cut to fund the local government settlement? If new money is needed, has the shadow Chancellor agreed? If not, which of his shadow Cabinet colleagues' budgets will have to be cut to provide the hon. Gentleman with the money that he wants?

Mr. Robertson

I do not know whether that speech was given to the hon. Gentleman as a consolation for not being the new Minister. If so, he was sold cheap. Believe it or not, the Tory Members present on the Back Benches are the reservoir of talent now available to fill future resignations. I exclude the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) from that reservoir as he beached himself long ago.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) asked about the savings. Let us start with the money that was wasted on Health Care International. If that is not enough to fund the increases that should be made available for services, let us take the £700 million that will be wasted on the unnecessary and unwanted reorganisation of local government. That is a start for the hon. Gentleman. I suggest that he writes it all down and puts it in his next speech—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)


Mr. Robertson

I am slightly more understanding than you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand the hon. Gentleman's frustration.

All those cuts to keep back money for next year will be in vain because nobody will believe the Government on taxation ever again. A Government who lied so clearly and unequivocally before the last election are unlikely to be trusted on anything to do with financial management in the future. That is the verdict not of the Opposition but of an opinion poll that gives the Secretary of State for Scotland a rating only 2 per cent. higher than that given to Gerry Adams and Sinn Fein in the last elections in Northern Ireland. It is the Scottish people's verdict on what the Government have done for the past 16 years and what they are doing now. The Scottish people will not be fooled by a Government-dictated council tax increase this year, which may be followed by the same amount of money next year in tax reductions. They are much too intelligent to be taken in by that.

The Government's disgraceful discrimination policy is in sharpest relief in their housing budget. The statistics speak for themselves. Fourteen years ago, the housing support grant stood at £228 million, with a further £100 million from general funds. Next year it will be reduced from £328 million to £22 million. That tells its own story.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House clearly about the difference in housing benefit during the same period, because that money goes directly into the housing coffers?

Mr. Robertson

It demonstrates the poverty that exists in Scotland. It is astonishing that a Conservative Member boasts about the amount of housing benefit being paid in Scotland. That is public expenditure to help people in need because of the poverty created by the Government's economic policies over the past 16 years.

Mr. Walker

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robertson

No, I have been generous enough in what I have said.

Over the past 14 years, some £200 million has been taken out of housing, in a housing environment where the Government's statistics tell the story of the problems that face Scottish housing. A survey carried out by Scottish Homes paints a bleak picture. Statistics collected and collated by that Government agency show that 4.5 per cent. of all Scottish housing is below what is defined as a tolerable standard. That is a total of 100,000 Scottish homes in both the public and private sectors. They also show that 13.5 per cent. of those homes suffer from dampness and 20 per cent.—one in every five—of houses in the public and private sector suffer from condensation, mould and dampness. Those conditions affect 500,000 houses.

That is the extent of the problem facing Scotland today, yet the Government's public expenditure White Paper tells the Scottish people that they intend to cut expenditure on housing by 20 per cent. over the next three years. So, in response to a housing crisis that is unparalleled in modern times, the Government will cut the amount spent on housing. Under their convoluted system of calculating, rents for council house tenants will be forced up yet again by at least 5 per cent.—2 per cent. more than the Government's calculation of inflation. When the Government took power in Scotland, council house rents were on average £4.92 a week. When the new settlement comes in next week, they will be £27.77. That is a stark fact about the rents paid by ordinary Scottish families.

Now, 40 per cent. of Scottish housing investment goes not to local authorities but to the super-quango, Scottish Homes, which has been given more generous relief and flexible financial surroundings to spend the money.

Mr. Graham

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Robertson

May I just give my hon. Friend the benefit of a further statistic? No less than 80 per cent. of Government grant in aid now goes to Scottish Homes for it to spend.

Mr. Graham

My hon. Friend will be aware that I represent an area with one of the biggest concentrations of Scottish Homes property. It recently gave notification that, once again, rents would go up massively. Bearing in mind the fact that ever since Scottish Homes has been in operation, we have had year-on-year, massive rent increases, when will we reach the end of it?

Mr. Robertson

We shall reach the end of this bleak and dismal point of view at the next general election. It is part of a strategy, not an accident. It is not even a policy of the Scottish Homes board—weird, wonderful and highly political as its policy decisions are. It is a decision by Her Majesty's Government to drive people out of the rented sector. Using the excuse of choice, they drive people into a single form of housing tenure: owner-occupation. That is why rents have been artificially increased in both the rented and Scottish Homes sectors.

Two years ago, Scottish Homes received £250 million to write off its capital debt following the sale of 30,000 of its houses, presumably at a discount, which left it with an on-going capital debt. Why have not local authorities in Scotland, which, after all, had to dispose of some 300,000 houses, received relief for the capital debt that they continue to hold following the sale of council houses? Where is the equity of treatment? Are the Government interested in a balanced housing policy? Do they care for people who need a house, or are they simply obsessed with getting locally elected and democratically accountable councils out of the business of providing housing for rent? I fear that the answer to those questions is ominous.

Given the contrast between the housing settlement and the favourable treatment given to Scottish Homes, a new and sinister aspect is creeping into how that quango is operated. Not only is it taking over the bulk of Government assistance to housing, but it seems to be taking over the political job of the Government. The members of the Scottish Homes board, whose names the Secretary of State on Monday could not recall without referring to his notes, has taken on itself the decision deliberately to deny tenants—

Mr. Lang


Mr. Robertson

The Secretary of State could not give the names when my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) asked him to tell him the names without looking at his list.

Mr. Gallie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robertson

I will give way to the Secretary of State if he would like to give me the names—

Mr. Gallie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robertson

No, I am not interested in the hon. Gentleman. Would the Secretary of State like to tell me now, without looking at a piece of paper, the names of the members—

Mr. Gallie


Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman is bobbing up and down like a jack-in-the-box, but it is the Secretary of State who cannot recall the names of those on that powerful board. He cannot name them, but they have taken a decision in his name. That board has made a policy decision deliberately to deny its tenants the right to choose a local authority landlord.

At least I know that the board includes Councillor Daphne Sleigh—who is one of that last remaining number of Tory elected councillors. Those board members get paid in salary and expenses £250,000 a year—that is what the Scottish Homes board pays its members. The chairman of the board gets paid more than a Member of Parliament, but rejects the advice and views of Members. The board of Scottish Homes is now dismissing the views of all Scotland's Opposition Members by deciding that it will deny its tenants a choice. We are beginning to see the untrammelled arrogance of the Tory quango state.

Last week, the chairman of Scottish Homes, Sir James Mellon, sent me a letter not just defending his board's indefensible decision to deny choice to tenants—defending it might have been technically legitimate—but going beyond that and attacking the Labour party and challenging it on its housing policy. He ended with an unconcealed sideswipe at Scotland's local councils. Sir James Mellon, a former diplomat, who has never stood for election in his life, said: Real democracy is once again at work. Yours sincerely, Jimmy". He and Mr. McKinlay then offered themselves for interview and press conferences. They happily threw the whole weight of their publicity machine behind an unconcealed attack on the Labour party. Ministers are now able to stand aside and let the quangos do their political dirty work for them.

Why is Scottish Homes now engaged so blatantly in the party-political debate? Quangos are supposed to be responsible to Ministers; they are not supposed to free, party-political agents in their own right. The Secretary of State, not unelected placemen, is supposed to be responsible for policy, Scottish Homes should leave politics to the politicians.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

Is my hon. Friend aware of another negation of democracy concerning Scottish Homes? When hon. Members table questions to Ministers about Scottish Homes the only response we get is that the chairman of Scottish Homes will reply to us. That letter is sent to the Member rather than being published in Hansard, available to the public gaze.

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend speaks with great wisdom and perception on this matter. He has underlined, as I have also sought to do, the remarkable and disturbing new development in the way in which that public body is now deploying its financial resources, and its considerable publicity resources, in the party political interests of the Government.

I find the behaviour of Scottish Homes quite extraordinary, because it represents a major and disturbing shift in the way in which quangos are run. I must inform the Secretary of State that I intend to write to the Prime Minister and to the Secretary to the Cabinet to ask whether that behaviour is in line with present policy. It should also be drawn to the attention of the Nolan committee that unelected chairmen of quangos are now entering into the party-political arena. As a consequence, the independence of public service is seriously in question.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

When my hon. Friend writes to the Prime Minister he should point out that tonight's debate, which is a political one, essentially involving civil servants, is also being repeated not only in the media but door-to-door on Scottish housing estates, because the staff of Scottish Homes, who are understandably trying to make sure that they have a job to go to, are promoting a particular option, because that is all that Scottish Homes will allow. It will not allow free choice.

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, because people are being denied the right to choose a local authority as their landlord. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that other choices are also being limited as a result of the deployment of the resources of Scottish Homes.

On previous occasions I have spoken highly of some of the work of Scottish Homes. Perhaps I should regret that, because Sir Jimmy Mellon quoted my commendable words in his letter to me. I accept that Scottish Homes has a creditable record and has done many innovative things. I am saddened by the fact that the chairman and the board have taken it upon themselves to become an extension of the Tory party political machine.

The local government settlement has been a tight one for all councils. For many councils, prudence and careful management—as in the case of Hamilton district council—has produced an outcome that will allow them to keep the council tax level stable or even, in some cases, to reduce it. In the case of Lothian, Strathclyde and other regions, the effects of the settlement will be punitive. The Secretary of State says that no representation about the distribution was made to him by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. However, according to annexe 1 of the briefing note—I am sure that even the Secretary of State has been handed it—Strathclyde's budget will be cut by £15 million in this year. There is little doubt that it is suffering far more than other regions.

Despite Strathclyde's long-standing record of financial prudence and cost-effectiveness, it will have to make serious cuts in service this year and perhaps put the council tax up by about 20 per cent. It will do so reluctantly, but necessarily because of the settlement. Cuts of £107 million are not just extremely tight for the council, but border on dangerous. They endanger key services such as education and the police and will force above-inflation charges for rail, bus and ferry services. That is bound to have an impact on concessionary fares for the most vulnerable. Strathclyde is cutting not at the fat, but at the bone. This year, cuts made by Lothian will also seriously affect the quality of valuable services.

One of the roots of the problem is the Government's failure to cover the pay settlements for this year, especially that for teachers. In the light of inflation increases, the pay settlement—5.1 per cent. over two years—was not generous. It was a cautious one. A Scottish Office observer sits in at the teachers pay negotiations, but this year not a word was heard from that person. The local authorities across Scotland have now been left with a bill for £144 million to cover the pay settlements, £65 million of which is meant for the teachers' pay settlement.

What are the efficiency savings about which the Secretary of State talked? What are councils supposed to do? Are they meant to increase class sizes and the pupil-teacher ratio? This year, the Secretary of State published yet another glossy document entitled "The Parents Charter in Scotland". It was costly publication. On the quality of teaching it says: You —the voter; the public; the citizen; the council tax payer and the parent— have the right to expect that the staff who teach your child will be suitably qualified, professionally competent and well motivated. You can also expect high standards of teaching at all times. The Secretary of State has said that people should expect that, but at the same time he is demanding massive efficiency savings, especially in education budgets. If they want the quality teaching and teacher motivation that is required to comply with their objectives, the Government cannot run away from their direct responsibility for financial settlement this year.

The Government continually tell us that the councils are increasing their staff. We hear that refrain year on year, as though it was a great crime for councils to increase their staff at a time when 250,000 people are out of work. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) says, yes it is. No; he says that it is a crime. [Interruption.] The price that some people will pay to get on to the Front Bench. The Whip said nothing.

We are allowed to believe that it is a crime to increase jobs at a time when 250,000 of our fellow citizens are out of work but, if it is a crime, there are some remarkably obvious culprits in the dock. Tory Stirling district council, Tory Berwickshire district council and Tory Bearsden and Milngavie district council are all employing more people than they did last year.

Moreover, the Scottish Office is employing more people, although the Secretary of State massages the figures. Oh yes, the hard core of the Scottish Office has decreased in numbers, but when one takes account of the impact of the agencies, one finds that—

Mr. McMaster

Sir Jimmy Mellon.

Mr. Robertson

Not even Sir Jimmy Mellon. No; we are talking about the direct agencies such as the Prison Service. It emerges that, in 1990, there were 255,500 full-time equivalents in local government; in 1994, there were 255,300 local government employees, down by 0.8 per cent. However, in the same period, the Scottish Office, the Secretary of State's empire, has increased by 4 per cent. So if it is a great crime that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South will pronounce on, in his propaganda role, let us ensure that the criminals are fully identified.

The Secretary of State genuinely knows—he is not an unintelligent man—that local authorities, in many cases, have had to increase their labour force, including those Tory councils, because he has placed new burdens on them; massive new burdens in terms of community care, and continuing burdens in collecting the poll tax, something for which he and the Conservative Government should bear responsibility until the end of time. We should have no more homilies about the iniquities of increasing staff levels, because there is the same strong smell of humbug as comes so familiarly from the Government.

I should like to add my voice—this may sound peculiar in this week of all weeks—to the opinion that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) expressed in relation to notional receipts. Many councils—including the Conservative councils, because the representations made to the Secretary of State were from every council in Scotland—feel that the decision that has been taken about notional receipts is unfair, unjust and will work against the interests, not only of local government, but of industrial development.

Labour councils will make the best of the settlement, and they will work efficiently and with dedication to ensure that people are spared the full impact of the settlement. However, as usual, the Government have produced a bad deal for local government, especially for housing authorities, and a bad deal for Scotland in general. They simply will not now tackle the real problems confronting the Scottish people.

This is simply one more settlement in a long line of attacks on the power and the services of locally elected councils. Those attacks have wounded more than the structure of local government, which can, and will, be revived by a new Government after the next election; they have hurt the people—many of whom are the most vulnerable in society—that local government helps and serves. The Government will never be forgiven for that, and they will pay a heavy price for it.

8.13 pm
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

I admit that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) put a strong argument to persuade the green vote to join him. Indeed, I suggest that he is the champion of recycling because, if speeches are anything to go by, it appears that he uses the same whining and whingeing speech every year in this debate. He makes the same prophecies every year, but he never looks back and says, "Sorry, I was wrong last year; I will attempt to get it right this year."

The hon. Member for Hamilton spoke about additional expenditure for local authorities and explained to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) where all that money would come from. He would stop waste, like the money that was expended on Health Care International. As Government input of £30 million into HCI attracted private investment of £150 million, I do not regard it as anything to apologise for. As, in the past eight years, people in and around Clydebank have found employment, I do not think that the money has been wasted. I think that many people in that area will have been grateful for the £30 million injected by the Government and grateful for the jobs that have been provided.

At the end of that, we still have a first-class hospital, possibly the best hospital in Europe, which can be used to earn money for the United Kingdom, for Scotland, but, above all, for people who will find jobs in that hospital in the years to come.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I admire the hon. Gentleman's new enthusiasm and conversion to the idea that the Government should be investing in industry to stimulate employment directly. That goes completely against the philosophy of the Government, or is he saying, "No; we do not invest directly in manufacturing, we invest only where private medicine can make a fast buck"? Is that the distinction that he makes?

Mr. Gallie

What I am saying is that when the Government have money to invest, they consider the best means of achieving a sound capital project and the best means of creating work with the money that they have to invest. I am suggesting that that project created a lot of work, and achieved many of the aspirations that I would expect if Government are to use much-valued taxpayers' money to try to support development of industry and commerce in our country.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)


Mr. Graham


Mr. Gallie

I give way to the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham).

Mr. Graham

Does the hon. Gentleman remember the argument that I made earlier about four hospitals in my area that are earmarked for closure? If the £30 million that the Government squandered in Clydebank had been put into our area, we could continue to provide a much-needed service and at the same time stimulate the local economy.

Mr. Gallie

In the past I have used the services of the new hospital in Greenock, and I believe that if the Government invest, as they evidently are, in new hospitals, new clinics and new health centres there must be a reduction in older buildings. Opposition Members appear to fail to recognise that. They appear to think that one can keep everything from the past yet they expect what is new in the future. There is a rationale, and there is a balance to be struck. The hon. Member for Hamilton, in the search for cash, said that he would have stopped local government reorganisation. I would have to say—

Dr. Godman


Mr. Gallic

Give me a break and let me try to get on a little bit.

The hon. Member for Hamilton said that he would stop local government reorganisation because there is no clamour for it. Perhaps that is so in Hamilton, but in Ayr there was certainly a clamour to get rid of Strathclyde regional council. That was a promise that we made in our manifesto and, as usual, Conservatives meet their manifesto pledges and, as usual, we are doing so to a reasonable time scale—a time scale that the hon. Gentleman, in yesterday's argument, said was not achievable, yet now we find that we are bang on track. The elections for the shadow authorities are approaching. In Committee last year, the hon. Gentleman said that that would not be possible. The elections are coming up and the hon. Gentleman probably has his colleagues throughout Scotland all geared up for them. What the Conservatives promise, the Conservatives achieve. We will seek value for money.

Dr. Godman

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gallie

No, but I may give way later. I have only until 10 o'clock to finish my speech.

Labour Members constantly moan and whine that local councils do not receive enough money, yet those councils are currently receiving 40 per cent. of the Scottish block grant.

Labour Members advocate a Scottish Assembly. If an Assembly is set up—I will do everything in my power to oppose such a move—it will place strain on local authority budgets because each Assembly member will want to spend money in his own area. Local authorities will be deprived of the very generous settlements that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has provided for them in recent years.

Just as councils blame all their failures on underfunding from the Scottish Office, so too would a Scottish Assembly look to Westminster—to the seemingly bottomless pit of money that can be dipped into on a whim. The Conservatives recognise that there are no bottomless pits; funding is limited.

Dr. Godman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for displaying his characteristic elegance and courtesy. I simply point out to him that I am the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow. Many people in my constituency are deeply concerned about the inadequacy of the local community care programme that is being drawn up by the relevant parties and they are concerned about the threatened closure of Ravenscraig hospital.

Mr. Gallie

I fully accept that the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) is who he says he is. The concerns that he expresses about community care could be echoed by virtually every Member of Parliament for Scotland. A time of change is a time of anxiety and concern. I was concerned that the introduction of community care meant passing responsibility to Strathclyde regional council. I welcome the fact that in future the new South Ayrshire authority will take responsibility for the provision of community care. I am sure that it will work very closely with the health boards and the health trusts to provide a very good service in the area.

During a recent sitting of the Scottish Grand Committee I asked what increase, if any, there had been in local authority spending over the past four years. I was told that there had been a 14.5 per cent. increase. I was puzzled by that answer because Labour Members are always saying that local authorities face constant cuts. In the past 10 years, local authority expenditure has increased by 20 per cent. I would like to know where the cuts are; I would like Labour Members to justify their claims.

Has staffing been cut in local authorities? No, because since the late 1980s the number of local authority employees has increased by more than 6 per cent. The hon. Member for Hamilton addressed those issues a short time ago. He and his colleagues constantly talk about cuts in local authority services and numbers.

Dr. Reid

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gallie

No, I have been more than fair in giving way. I know that Labour Members will complain about me later for speaking for longer than I had intended.

Let us look at the facts. The aggregate external finance settlement, which comprises revenue support grants, non-domestic rates and other grants, totals £5.3 billion this year—that is 45 per cent. higher per person in Scotland than in England. That is food for thought. Yet local authorities continue to complain. It is a tradition for local authorities to complain. One year they will have something to complain about and no one will believe them—it will be a case of the boy who cried wolf.

Labour Members have threatened the business community, commerce and industry that a Labour Government will go back to the old ways and lift the controls from non-domestic rate contributions. That will also remove the inflation controls on non-domestic rates. If that is not true, I will give way and allow Labour Members to deny it. There is no protest from Labour Members, so obviously they intend to remove those controls.

I compliment and congratulate my right hon. Friend on the moves towards a uniform business rate. Business and commerce in Scotland have called for that measure for years, and we are all grateful for it.

Much has been said about the difficulties that we face in the housing sector, but since 1979 more than 250,000 new homes have been built in Scotland, and 20,000 new homes are constructed each year. Housing philosophy has changed and no Conservative Member should apologise for that. In 1979, 63 per cent. of housing was publicly owned; today, the figure is just over 45 per cent. Scotland is moving into the modern world—a world which recognises that people like to own their own homes, invest in their property, improve their facilities and reap the rewards that flow from that. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hurry up."] No, I have given way a number of times. I warned hon. Members that, on that basis, I was liable to extend my speaking time.

Strathclyde regional council claims that it will be underfunded in the coming year. I must acknowledge that the settlements are tight. I expected them to be tight, particularly in the wind-up year for regional councils. Strathclyde regional council should have recognised before now that there would be financial constraints and it should have planned for them in the long term. However, long-term financial management has never been Strathclyde's forte.

In the months ahead, I expect my right hon. Friend to stick stringently to the statements that he has made about capping. His capping intentions are not idle threats and local authorities must be kept to the strict capping limits. I expect the same to apply next year when the new local authorities are established. I ask my right hon. Friend to cast his mind back to the introduction of the community charge. I believe that it was the right way to fund local government. The Government made one major mistake in introducing the community charge: they did not cap the authorities from the first year. On that basis, local authorities extended their expenditure and community charge payers met the costs.

Finally, having mentioned Strathclyde, I should draw attention to another local council, Tory-controlled Kyle and Carrick district council. When the Tories took control from Labour in 1992, they inherited a £4 million deficit, which they have paid off in just over two years. They have still managed to improve services and provide a range of new capital projects. I predict that this year, despite the tight settlement, they will not impose a 25 per cent. increase in council tax. They will not be talking about a 20 per cent., 15 per cent. 10 per cent. or 5 per cent. increase. I believe that Kyle and Carrick will produce no worse than a zero increase in council tax. Time will tell whether my prediction or that made by the hon. Member for Hamilton is right.

8.30 pm
Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

We have to remind the Government that 25 years ago we were clearing out the slums of Glasgow, which were the worst slums in Europe. People were living at 600 or 700 to the acre in rat-infested houses owned by private landlords. Tuberculosis was rife and people were dying of poverty. Past Tory Governments acknowledged that poverty and allowed it to continue.

We are still in the same position. We have a golden opportunity to look after the people of Scotland and of Glasgow. In Glasgow, there are 22,213 dwellings below a tolerable standard and 7,000 houses are lying empty. In 1982–83, Glasgow received 5,673 applications of homelessness and in 1993–94 the figure was 12,500. No one has laid a brick in Glasgow since 1986.

We hear about all that is happening in Scotland, but it certainly is not happening in Glasgow, where some of the blackest constituencies suffer high infant mortality rates, rat infestation and decaying houses that are unfit for human habitation. The Secretary of State had a golden opportunity to give Glasgow the opportunity to do something about that, possibly by increasing the housing support grant, but what figures have the Scottish Office produced?

Since 1991, £22 million has been cut from the housing support grant, representing a cut of 95 per cent. in 1994–95 and a cut of 99 per cent. in 1996–97. Those are the figures we are given. We understand the policy, as I shall explain later in the debate.

There is an old Scottish saying that the Scottish Office formula should go out the window because the notional figures are a damned disgrace, especially when they apply to some of the most deprived constituencies in Scotland.

The Scottish Office works on a notional figure calculated on rents 10 per cent. higher than they really are. That represents a direct cut for local authorities in Scotland. Rents are calculated at £37.48 when, on average, they are only £27. It is a damned disgrace, a fraud and a lie to the Scottish people and it should not be tolerated.

The Scottish Office has calculated a notional figure for lost local authority rents because of the right to buy as 3 per cent. when the actual figure is 3.5 per cent. That is another cut being exposed.

The Secretary of State for Scotland said that he was expecting rent increases of around 4 or 5 per cent. Why should that be when people find it difficult to pay their existing rents, particularly as inflation is running at 3 per cent.? His figures and his assumptions are wrong because Glasgow is proposing a 6.2 per cent. rent increase next year. One reason for that is the capping and the cutting.

I thought that housing support grants were to get rid of the bad housing in Glasgow and to keep rents down, but the Government policy is to ring fence housing so that it is funded by the people who are paying rent.

Mr. Gallie

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wray

If the hon. Gentleman will let me get started, I shall give way later. A further increase in rents in Glasgow of £1.02 is due to the right to buy, as local authorities have lost that housing stock. That has never been cash calculated as the Scottish Office never took it into consideration.

Then came the crocodile tears from the Government, who said that they were looking after the people who were suffering. They said that they set up a general fund contribution for local authorities that have many problems and are suffering from cuts. Last year, everyone applied to the general fund and everyone was refused, so the general contribution fund holds no water.

Mr. Gallie

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the capital raised from the sale of local authority housing has been passed back to Glasgow district to allow it to reinvest in its housing stock? Will he say what proportion of rents are paid through housing benefit in Glasgow?

Mr. Wray

What a shock I have for this man when I give him the figures for housing benefit and tell him where it is going.

The Scottish Office should release the money to allow Scottish local authorities to build. If they are releasing it, they are not releasing it for housebuilding because they want it back in the private sector. We shall complete the cycle and we shall end up with the slums that we had in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mr. McMaster

The devious trick that has been used in Scotland is that when the Government give a local authority its capital allocation they deduct whatever it has been given in capital receipts. That sleight of hand has stopped many houses being built. Council house tenants are now the most heavily taxed people in the country. They pay the burden of homeless persons units for all local authorities and people are increasingly becoming homeless because many of those who have bought owner-occupied houses cannot keep up the mortgage repayments and council house rent payers are left to pick up that social problem.

Mr. Wray

My hon. Friend is correct. He has experience of a good working-class background and understands what slums are. I came from a family of 10, who lived in a room and kitchen. Seven of the family were bedwetters, which made it difficult—we invented the sauna.

In most cases, housing is the largest single expenditure for individuals and families on low incomes. Governments earlier this century realised that and adopted policies to ensure decent housing for everyone, regardless of income. The policies were successful. The National Consumers Council found in 1977 that those on low income often received better value for money than others—mostly due to good quality, subsidised council housing. Those in private rented accommodation suffered to some extent.

Now we come to the sad story of when the Government took over in 1979. The election of the Tories in 1979 changed the position completely. Their policies totally altered the role of the public sector rented housing. The changes involved minimising public involvement and, as in other sectors, giving way to market forces.

The main thrust of the Government's proposals was as follows: ownership was to be extended; Government expenditure was to be reduced and targeted more effectively; and local authority responsibility was to be decreased by increasing private ownership and transferring homes to housing associations, such as Scottish Homes, with the support of the majority of tenants. In addition, the private rented sector was to be improved and the number of housing associations was to be increased. The Government were taking housing out of local authority control—even though local authorities could probably have done something about the problems.

As well as those UK-wide plans, specific legislation for Scotland was introduced. Scotland, with its history of low ownership and large numbers of council houses, was seen as having plenty of potential. Legislation introduced included the Scotland Act 1980 and the Housing Planning Act 1986. Those Acts were supposed to benefit the poor. They introduced the right-to-buy scheme that allowed tenants to buy their houses at market value minus a discount based on the length of occupancy. They changed subsidies from buildings to households to help those most in need and shield the poor. The decline in council houses and the increase in private sector dwellings and housing associations was meant to increase the choice of accommodation available.

What happened? The policy of increasing home ownership has been a success in terms of numbers—with an increase of 450,000 new owners, but the prospect of home ownership has been unrealistic for those on low incomes. Even with discounts of up to 70 per cent. on the market value, the price was beyond the means of those on low incomes. Recently, they have also been unable to lake advantage of the rent-to-mortgage scheme as repayments were once again too high.

The Government then committed the cardinal sin—the bright Cabinet brought in deregulation. In 1989, the Tories deregulated private rents. Since then, housing benefit for private tenants has increased from £1 billion to £4 billion in 1993–94. That was mostly due to the massively increased rents—public money went straight into private landlords' pockets. That was a disaster for the Tories who said that deregulation would increase the supply of flats and houses and so decrease rents. Rents were also pushed up when council house building came to an end and restrictions were placed on housing associations' building programmes.

The financial consequences of deregulation have not only caused massive rent increases, but misery for tenants, especially the poor, and huge bills for taxpayers. In 1989, public payments to landlords via housing benefit was £1.4 billion; last year that figure rose to £3.83 billion—a 280 per cent. increase. The Government have even suggested that by 1996–97, that could possibly increase to £5.2 billion.

I shall cut short my speech because I know that a number of hon. Members want to contribute. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) has, over many years, represented a district similar to mine in council and Parliament. I want to give him the opportunity to speak. I know that he will be as compassionate as other hon. Members who represent Glasgow constituencies.

The Government's housing record is a scandal and a disgrace. The Government must be reminded of their legacy. We will not let them forget it.

8.45 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I shall make only a brief contribution to the debate. I shall speak purely and simply about housing, which is important.

A civilised society has a duty and a responsibility to provide adequate housing at affordable rates for all its citizens. It is one of the great indictments of this country that we have been unable to achieve that objective with the vast sums of public money that have been spent. That is not because the public purse or taxpayers' money has not been spent; vast sums of taxpayers' money are spent.

I shall give an example from my constituency. Angus district council is being congratulated because it has kept down its council house rent increases. That is why the council has been unable to build up adequate funds to maintain its stock of property in a fit condition for modern people. Angus, like every other council with houses to rent, has failed to make use of housing benefit as a means of pouring vast sums of money into its housing coffers. It is available as of right to individuals—which is what every hon. Member would want.

I listened to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray). I know something about living in a small house with eight children and sharing a bed with four others. The only marvellous thing about that is that today my family—we are nearly all pensioners now—is still as close as we were when we were children. Perhaps there are lessons there for all of us. The entire family was at my eldest brother's home the week before last, and it was great to see everyone there.

There has been a failure to cash in on the £800 million being spent every year in Scotland on housing benefit. Of course, I know that the money does not all go to council houses, but council landlords have failed to cash in on that golden tap because they have set rents at unrealistic levels. The levels should ensure that there are adequate funds to carry out the necessary maintenance repairs and modernisation in the lifetime of those dwellings. If the landlords had done so during the lifetime of housing benefit—which has been with us for a long time—there is no doubt that we would not now be suffering. I see that the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) is shaking his head. The trouble with the hon. Gentleman is that he does not understand that, unless one takes the money that is available as of right, it will be used elsewhere and will be lost to the council house coffers.

Mr. Welsh

Angus district council has kept its rents down by good management and has used housing benefit for the benefit of tenants. The hon. Gentleman fails to remember that when the Conservative party was in charge of Angus district, it wiped out all reserves and left nothing for the ratepayer. The Conservative council gave poor service and poor value for money.

Mr. Walker

If the hon. Gentleman is telling me that there are no problems with maintenance, condensation or damp in Angus district council, he is talking rot. He knows it and I know it. I have to deal with the problems of my constituents who are the tenants of Angus district council.

Mr. Welsh

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Walker

I am about to sit down. I did not say to the hon. Gentleman that there were not some things that Angus had done well. I said that it had not cashed in on all the funds that were available. That is an indictment of the council.

Mr. Welsh

is this an intervention?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Has the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) concluded his speech?

Mr. Walker

I said that I would be brief.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Commendably brief.

8.50 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

I do not propose to be quite so brief. It is an indictment of any party for it to argue, as the Secretary of State did when he met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, that it is all right to thump up rents because housing benefit will cushion the increases. The people who are entitled to housing benefit are those in poverty and in the greatest need. The Government shelter behind those in greatest need to provide some doubtful justification for their policies.

The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) suggested that local authorities should thump up their rents because they could claim the money in housing benefit. One wonders what the Secretary of State for Social Security would do if that happened. It has happened in the private sector and the Secretary of State is taking steps to stop it. The councils would not be allowed to get away with it for long.

Every year one has to go back to basics to work through the various ways in which housing grants are allocated. Housing finance may often appear complex, but the simple fact is that, as investment in housing has been restricted, there has been a rise in homelessness. Nothing in the housing orders before us gives us any confidence that the necessary increase in investment in housing will be provided to meet the problems of dampness and condensation that the hon. Member for Tayside, North mentioned. Nor is there anything to bring any hope or relief to those who have waited too long on waiting lists. I am sure that in our constituency surgeries we all deal with constituents who have housing problems. One fears that one cannot go back and tell them that anything in the orders is cause for hope.

The debates on housing finance and revenue support grant are an annual ritual. When I first came into the House, I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) speak in a similar debate. He said that he had been making the same speech for 15 years. We face this evening a set of orders which, no matter what is said in the debate, are essentially non-amendable. The Secretary of State's word will be law.

It is interesting to ponder the fact that in the regional council elections in May last year, out of 453 regional and islands councillors, only 31 Conservatives succeeded in being elected by the people. Yet we have a Tory Secretary of State who will largely determine the budgets of Scotland's councils. With some 87 per cent. of councils' income in the hands of Ministers and with capping powers, the Secretary of State has taken over the function of council treasurers the length and breadth of the land. To us, that is a travesty of what local democracy should be about. The essence of accountable democracy is that local representatives have a financial responsibility. That has all but been taken away by the steps that the Government have taken.

This year's settlement is particularly draconian.. If one excludes community care provision, it amounts to a 0.5 per cent. reduction in cash terms. One can bandy figures about, but when one puts them in the context of services, it becomes clear just what is happening to, our local authorities and the people who depend on local authority services as a result of the settlement.

The settlement has put strains and constraints on local authorities. It takes no account of the pay increases for public sector employees except those for the police. A 5.1 per cent. increase for teachers over two years is scarcely a generous settlement, not least when we are expected to have a well-qualified and well-motivated teaching profession. To meet the constraints, there will have to be a reduction in the number of teachers, or it will not be possible to employ additional teachers to take account of rising school rolls.

The figures for 1991 to 1993 show that 75,000 primary school pupils in Scotland are in classes of more than 30. That is an increase of 3.6 per cent. There has been a 17.7 per cent. increase in the Borders and a 12.9 per cent. increase in Tayside. In secondary schools, 89,000 pupils are taught in classes of more than 30. That is an increase of 35.9 per cent. over the two years. That must be set to increase even further as a result of the orders that we are debating.

My hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber outlined the choices that Highland regional council will face as a result of the revenue support grant settlement. Grampian regional council will require a base budget saving of some £31 million. Let us consider what £31 million amounts to. It is equivalent to the council's total spend on nursery, special and community education in the current financial year. It is the equivalent of the annual salaries of 10 per cent. of the council's work force. If a teacher's annual salary, including on-costs, amounts to £24,500, £31 million is the equivalent of the salary bill for 1,265 teachers—the staff required to run approximately 18 of the council's 38 secondary schools or 145 primary schools.

The total salaries and wages budget of the police was £31 million. That figure is equivalent to twice the spend on Grampian fire brigade in 1994–95. It was the entire planned spend on road maintenance, including winter maintenance. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland would like to tell us which of those services should be cut as a result of the constraints placed on Grampian regional council. Make no mistake, when the cuts take place, we shall make sure that the responsibility is on his lap and not on that of the councillors whom he is making implement his dirty work for him.

In my constituency, there will have to be a 5 per cent. reduction in spending to keep within capping levels. Some key decisions will have to be taken on the basics such as maintaining the ferry services to some islands, on which the islanders very much depend. Perhaps in 1980 and 1981 there was some fat that could be cut, but now we have had year after year of cuts, so there is no fat )left. We are eating into the muscle. Local authorities are right down to the bone.

Where does the Secretary of State think that the savings can come from? He makes great play of the increases in staffing, yet he has never said what proportion of the increase relates to extra responsibilities for functions such as community care and devolved school management. Those are Government policies which local authorities have to implement. They require extra staff to do so.

In giving his figures, the Secretary of State said that he would like to see a reduction in spending on libraries. For centuries, public libraries have been an important part of the community, yet he wants to see a programme to run them down. The Secretary of State wants fare concessions to be limited. He has even suggested in some of his figures that he looks to councils to make savings on burial grounds. I remember when that was suggested on a previous occasion, when Shetland Islands council was trying to meet its budgetary demands. Someone suggested that it should dig shallower graves. We now have a Government who hold out the possibility that councils should dig shallower graves to fund basic services.

I assume that most hon. Members received representations this week from the National Association of Funeral Directors. It drew attention to the pressures on many families as a result of the limitation on social fund payments for funerals. Now the Government advocate increasing burial charges.

I have outlined some of the real choices that local authorities will have to make. That leads to a fundamental point. There is a breakdown in trust between central and local government. In a mature democracy, there are different centres of power. While there will sometimes be friction, at the end of the day they should work together in partnership rather than in conflict.

I admire people of all parties who intend to stand for election to the new authorities on 6 April. They will have a pretty thankless task. In many of the smaller councils with limited budgets, they will have to choose which services to cut. There will be little scope for innovation or positive action in the interests of the communities. There will be no joy in making choices between cuts. It is no basis for establishing a new system of local government. We need to reinvigorate local democracy and recreate a positive partnership between central and local government.

The Secretary of State has sought to blame COSLA for the problems, but the blame lies fairly and squarely with the Government. When services are cut and when the increased council tax demands fall through the letter-boxes, the blame will lie on the Treasury Front Bench. Our candidates will ensure that people know those facts before 6 April.

9 pm

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I am surprised that the Secretary of State, who has presided over the worst-ever unemployment in Scotland, should say that too many people are employed in council services. He should ask the question: if the councils start sacking employees, where will they go? The railway workshops, the tobacco industry in Alexander parade in my constituency and the shipyards have all lost labour. If it were not for the local authority, there would not be an apprentice in the building industry in Glasgow. The great private sector, about which Conservative Members are always bragging, get benefits from that. When the young apprentices have finished their training in the direct labour departments, the private sector is the first to snap them up. It wants the bricklayers, the carpenters and the electricians, but it does not want to train them.

Hon. Members have already referred to Scottish Homes. That organisation snaps up the young officials who get diplomas and training from housing departments in places such as Glasgow and Renfrew. When' there is so much unemployment in Scotland, the Secretary of State should not say that local authorities should sack staff. He and his Ministers should be creating more jobs in the private sector to take the pressure off local authorities.

One area that could do with more employees is the concierge service, which should operate in every multi-storey dwelling in Scotland. In the old days, people came out of tightly knit communities in the old tenements and went into the new flats. There was no problem then. Now, unfortunately, in some of the multi-storey flats there is a certain element who will not give the other people peace and quiet and there is vandalism.

Great waste is associated with the hospital in Clydebank. I have spoken in debates in the House and highlighted the way in which Government money has been spent on so-called job creation schemes; that money has gone down the drain. Why not spend money on a concierge system that would give 24-hour coverage with video cameras in the multi-storey flats?

Some of the homes in those multi-storey dwellings are like palaces, but the residents are ashamed of the entrances—they are ashamed to bring their friends and relatives into those blocks. It is no easy answer to say, "Pull them down." In certain areas of my constituency that would be the equivalent of pulling down a small town. It would be ridiculous. A concierge system would be a great benefit.

As I said, some of the homes on the council estates in my constituency are absolutely beautiful. Recently, I went into one and I can say that no interior designer could have designed the inside of that house as well as my constituent had done. It would have done a Barratt show house proud. There is that sort of home on every council estate in Glasgow.

People need backing; they do not need a Government who cut the support grant. The Minister knows that in some of the housing estates the people are fighting against terrible odds. In the next tenement to that beautiful home was a house where the damp was so bad that the resident had to pull the bed away from the wall so that she and her children could have a decent night's sleep. Scottish Homes will not provide the money to reroof the tenement.

I did not do my training in the building industry, but I know that if a roof is neglected the rest of the building will crumble. The resident had lived in the community all her life, as had her husband. There is a network of relatives and friends around them. She does not want to leave her home, but if the roof is neglected she will be forced to leave and the local authority will have to rehouse her.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) was brought up in the Gorbals and I was brought up on the other side of the city in the Anderstoun district. We were brought up in the slums, so we know what it is to get a council house. Many people who went into those council houses were very proud of them. Now, the properties need a lick of paint, reroofing and repairs. This is not the time for the Government to neglect them.

As the Minister may know, the chief medical officer in Glasgow appeared on a BBC television programme on Monday evening saying that the life expectancy of young couples on those council estates, compared with people only half a mile up the road in Bearsden, is being reduced by 10 years. In almost every estate people are living in life-threatening conditions. We must do something about the dampness and the neglect. Resources must be provided to combat anti-social behaviour, which is a serious problem. Some young couples who are unemployed are being aggravated by their neighbours and that will cause stress. Any heart specialist will say that such stress leads to heart attacks and shortens people's lives. It is an indictment on the Government. Many people in Scotland have to be on housing benefit, but any person in receipt of housing benefit would say that he would rather have the dignity of a job and be able to pay his own rent—something which the Government fail to understand.

The question has been posed: where is the money to come from? In my constituency, all the good housing stock has been bought by the sitting tenants. I do not begrudge them that—it is their right under the legislation. I was not against the sale of council houses, but I thought that it should have been qualified by an obligation on local authorities to build another council house for every council house sold. Furthermore, they should have been given the money to do that. In my constituency, many council houses have estate agents' "For Sale" signs up in front of them. The unemployed rail workers and tobacco workers will have no chance of buying them; they will go to the highest bidders. If market forces are to prevail, the only way to resolve this problem is to enable local authorities to provide decent housing for the people who cannot afford it themselves.

I have another suggestion for finding the money. There are some signs, thank God, that the troops will be able to leave Northern Ireland. That being so, the Army will no longer need the resources that it used to need to maintain 24-hour security coverage. The same applies to the British Army of the Rhine. The Government did not begrudge the Army, Navy and Air Force the money in the past. If there is to be a peace dividend now, it should go to pay for the basic right of every man, woman and child in Scotland to a decent home and a decent roof over their heads.

9.10 pm
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) has made an impassioned plea, based on hard-won experience, on behalf of his constituents. Too many of our fellow citizens face these problems. That is what the debate is all about: how are we to react to the conditions in cities that we see all around us, to ensure that our citizens enjoy decent homes and living standards?

We have heard a concerted assault from the Opposition on the Government's proposals, but from the Government we have heard no reaction—only a statement that this is the best of all possible settlements. We have heard no justification or rationale from the Government. We have heard about no general plans for local government finance. We have certainly heard no attempt to relate the Government's budgetary proposals to real councils and real services in the real world.

No wonder the Government have not made this attempt—their proposals are wholly inadequate for the purpose. This settlement ignores Scotland's wealth and imposes a freeze on and cuts in essential daily local services. How can it be realistic to make Glasgow, Edinburgh and Renfrew, with all their problems, freeze their spending to avoid capping, and not even to permit them to allow for inflation? Councils such as Clydebank also face cuts. This time, the Government are putting the squeeze on all the councils of Scotland, with the exception of two of the smaller ones. For the second year running, the Government have made no allowance for wage increases in cash or for capping purposes, and their policy seems set to continue.

Even prudent councils find themselves facing massive council tax rises or unacceptable cuts in basic services—all due to this settlement. I thoroughly agree with Councillor Rosemary McKenna who has said: Once again we will NOT be making choices about how we provide the best service to Council Taxpayers. Rather we will be looking at how we can provide a service which meets Government imposed targets. This is the Government's internally driven budget, certainly not the people's budget.

Grant-aided expenditure may appear to be 1.1 per cent. higher for next year, but when provision for care in the community and for other new burdens is taken into account, the settlement turns into a reduction in the provision for current services of about 0.5 per cent. While oil-rich Scotland needs better services and a job creation programme, all we get from this London Government are cuts and closures. It is not good enough. The Government clearly lack the imagination and the impetus required to solve Scotland's problems.

That is why there is no war on poor housing conditions. There are no major housebuilding or improvement programmes that would use Scottish skills and Scottish materials to get folk off the dole queues and to create assets for generations to come—and to meet today's real housing needs. Instead, we are offered only housing support grant, which cuts net spending by 12 per cent. in cash terms and by 19 per cent. in real terms over the next three years. Meanwhile, gross spending is to fall by 10 per cent. in cash terms and by 17 per cent. in real terms over the same period.

In real terms, taking into account capital receipts of £175 million, less will be directly invested from public sources in Scottish housing three years from now. So much for the future offered by this Government. The truth—as opposed to the Government's policy—is that 500,000 houses, 30 per cent. of Scotland's housing stock, suffer from damp, condensation or mould. Forty-two thousand households are homeless. Such massive problems affect all too many of our fellow citizens' daily lives, and they are not being tackled to ensure an end to them even in the distant future. The most vulnerable in society bear the brunt of the failure of Government policies.

When will that unacceptable situation change? I suspect that the same will happen next year and the year after that, as this incompetent Government stumble from crisis to crisis. Those cuts are only part of a series imposed on local government over the past decade. While central Government load more responsibilities on local authorities through legislation, they increasingly impose financial cuts—the worst of all possible worlds.

The budget is hopeless and offers no chance of improving housing services this year, next year or the year after. It is time that finance was related to real need and time for Scottish local authorities to enjoy a period of stability, to permit longer-term planning to meet the actual needs of people in their areas.

No one expects the backlog of Scotland's social and economic problems to be solved instantly, but we have the right to a logical, long-term plan that will do something about them, and the Government have failed totally to provide one. We wait in vain, and this load of financial rubbish will only store up more trouble for local authorities and the people who rely on the essential daily services that local authorities provide. Pocket money instead of investment will not do. Massively rich Scotland deserves better, and now Scotland can do something about that.

The Secretary of State slid away from my point about unified business rate levels and its effect on Scottish business. The first common UBR may not provide a level playing field. Scottish rentals have risen 53 per cent., whereas the figure in the rest of the UK was only 1 per cent. To maintain the same yield, revaluation would require a similar level of 42.3p in the pound in England.

Scottish rental evidence suggests a considerable rise in rateable values. I would be happy if that were a sign of increased business, as the Secretary of State implied, but it is a sign of revaluation. The Scottish Office's lowest estimate of revaluation is that the tax yield on 42.3p would produce £80 million more than was required to meet the Government's suggested yield. The figure could be higher, which would not be the promised level playing field. I invite the Minister to respond tonight to the comments of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry).

It is clear from the settlement that the Secretary of State has no interest in fighting for Scotland. His constant refusal to help overcome Scottish councils' financial problems is based solely on Treasury dogma. His much-vaunted seat in the Cabinet has done nothing to stop Government and Treasury actions in respect of Scotland and our local government system. The Secretary of State should step aside and allow a Treasury Minister to lead the debate, because the right hon. Gentleman is obviously not master in his own house.

9.18 pm
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

Are not thousands of houses in Scotland affected by damp and difficult and expensive to heat? There appears to be no disagreement about that among Conservative Members—but instead of doing something positive, the Government have cut housing support grant year in, year out. If Ministers had to spend a Scottish winter in some of those houses, perhaps they would do something—and double quick.

Such properties may be called houses; they certainly cannot be called homes. In my constituency and in the city of Glasgow, far too many sub-standard houses are causing untold misery, discomfort and problems for tenants, especially health problems, for young and old alike. The incidence of asthma is greatly increasing among young children. Bronchitis, chest problems and poor general health are widely prevalent. Dry, comfortable homes are essential to combat such ailments and are also cost-effective in reducing national health service expenditure.

The housing support grant formula is a framework that shows central Government policy decisions to be implemented. The Government are committed to giving no central Government or local taxpayer support to council housing, and will continue to manipulate the formula—that is what they do—to ensure that that continues.

It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friends and neighbours the Members for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) and for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin). Some of their excellent remarks are well worth repeating, and I make no apology for doing so. I am grateful also to Mr. David Comley, the director of Glasgow district council's housing department, for providing facts relevant to the debate. Glasgow manages approximately 120,000 houses. Rents in Glasgow are due to go up by 6.2 per cent. from 1 March—double the new, increased rate of inflation—an average amount of £1.94 per week, which is not a small amount, as the Secretary of State said, especially to the many thousands of people eking out a miserable existence on very low incomes. It is a hell of a lot of money to those people. It ill-behoves the Secretary of State to dismiss such a large increase for so many poor people in the way in which that he did.

The council's commitment to investing in its housing stock means spending £104 million on improving it in the current year, and that has added 51p per week to the rent. The loss of stock, which has been mainly due to the right-to-buy sales, demolitions and transfers to new landlords has resulted in £1.02 per week being added to the rents paid by a reduced number of tenants. The cessation of direct Government support to the council housing service, which, in the early 1980s, paid for around one third of the service, has added a further 40p per week. At the same time, the council, by a very painful decision-making process, has been trying to reduce tenant-borne expenditure and has reduced employee costs by more than £1 million, yet still managed to increase spending on repairs in real terms.

In addition, other services are being improved. The multi-storey flat concierge service will be expanded to benefit a further 3,000 homes next year. As a Member who has 13 blocks of multi-storey flats in his constituency, I warmly welcome that, because where the system already exists it is popular and cost-effective. Tenants feel safer, especially the frail and the elderly, and vandalism is reduced. It is hoped that the housing alarms service can be made available to a further 3,300 tenants next year. Again, that is a popular and essential service, providing additional security.

Unfortunately, much remains to be done, for example, the 1,000 sub-standard Winget houses in Carntyne, in Glasgow's east end. I must express my gratitude to the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration, who accepted my invitation to visit those houses 18 months ago, and especially for his subsequent decision to make an additional £250,000 available for a pilot scheme to see what could be done. Perhaps he will consider extending his contribution and thus allow the pilot scheme to cover more houses than it presently does.

I must tell the Minister, however, that only last week a tenant of one of the houses that he visited—an elderly widow—came to see me at my weekly surgery, and she was in some distress. She is no further forward than she was five years ago. Her roof and windows still let in rain water and her front door has gaps all around it. She cannot heat her house adequately. It is continually freezing, and one can see that old lady's health deteriorating as each month goes by. It is sad to say, but there are far too many similar cases throughout Scotland.

Why will not the Government accept that there is genuinely a serious problem in far too many houses and do something other than make the position worse by making further cuts? People are dying before they should because of the inhospitable housing conditions in which they are forced to live. The scale of Glasgow's problems is far greater than anywhere else and should be recognised accordingly. Glasgow district council is trying its best; the Government are not.

Let me say a little about the revenue support grant. Do the Government not realise the scale of the crisis facing Strathclyde regional council, which estimates a shortfall of £115 million in grant-aided expenditure, as well as this year's deficit of just over £20 million because the Government would not make any allocation for wage awards to council staff? Just to maintain the current levels of service while remaining within the Government's capping limits, the council would have to cut next year's expenditure by £107 million and raise the council tax by 25 per cent.—all because the Government have shifted the burden from the national Exchequer to local council tax payers. That is just because the Government want to build up an election treasure chest, allowing them to announce a giveaway Budget next year in a blatant attempt to bribe the electorate to re-elect them. It will be a failed effort, because you cannot fool all the people all the time.

A cut of £107 million means an across-the-board reduction of more than 5 per cent., and that could mean the loss of 5,500 jobs. There could be fewer police, firefighters and home helps. Some residential homes, police offices, fire stations and outdoor centres for youngsters could be threatened with closure. Grants to voluntary and cultural organisations are at risk; fees and charges for services will almost certainly increase substantially. All in all, the situation is very depressing and worrying.

Like many other hon. Members, I am receiving pleas from constituents regarding the possible closure of Ad-Tec, a Strathclyde regional council project, as a result of the cuts. Ad-Tec provides courses for people with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. The training that it gives enables such people to find employment. A constituent wrote to me: I am 24 years old and I go to Ad-Tec four days per week. I have a Learning Disability and was shocked to find out that Ad-Tec may have to close due to the budget cuts …Ad-Tec offers us training in clerical skills but more importantly assists us in our search for work. At Ad-Tec we do things like typing, computing, filing, word-processing, communication, literacy, and advocacy. I would like to have a Job when I am finished at Ad-Tec. Vulnerable people like that constituent are most at risk and will suffer most as a result of the cuts. Are there no limits to the Government's lack of compassion or humanity?

The orders only make a bad situation worse. The only welcome order would be the order of the boot for this Tory Government—and the one bit of good news is that it will come at the next general election.

9.27 pm
Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker., I am also grateful to my hon. Friends who have spoken briefly; I intend to speak briefly as well to leave time for my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm), if he is lucky enough to catch your eye.

I do not wish to repeat all the points that have been made about rent rises, and the fundamental housing issue—that everyone has the right to a warm, dry and comfortable home. Those points have been made forcefully by my hon. Friends, and I shall simply associate myself with what they have said. I shall concentrate on a couple of specific points.

The Minister would be surprised if I did not mention floods, and it would be churlish of me not to place on record that the Minister recently awarded an additional borrowing consent of £2 million to Renfrew district council. Local Members of Parliament are very grateful for that, because it will allow us to start clearing up the aftermath of the floods. However, we now need to know exactly what will be provided to finance that additional borrowing. Everyone in Renfrew district knows that not a brass farthing of new money was provided; although an additional borrowing consent was provided, the debt must be serviced and the mortgage paid in future years.

When I met the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) during what turned out to be his last few days as a Minister, he gave me a verbal assurance that there was a formula called top-slicing—an unfortunate phrase, given the source of the assurance—which would build money into the local authority's revenue side in future years to service the debt. He followed that up with a letter dealing with future revenue support grant, and he explained the principle of top-slicing, but no such assurance has yet been given on housing. I ask the Minister to give that assurance either tonight or by way of a letter after the debate.

Flood prevention is the issue that exercises the minds of my constituents who were flood victims. As they begin to move back into their homes that were devastated by the floods, they need to have an assurance that those floods, or anything like them, cannot happen again. That is why I have presented the Natural Disasters (Scotland) Bill to the House. It tries to make someone responsible for flood prevention in Scotland because, at the moment, no one is. Local authorities have a permissive power to apply for additional moneys for flood prevention, but they need not use it; indeed, the Secretary of State need not fund any application.

There are opportunities in that Bill. They will arise again when the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency Bill comes from the other place. I ask the Minister seriously to consider what can be done to assure the people whose homes have been devastated that there will be flood prevention, because they are now buying new furniture and trying to rebuild their lives.

Mr. Bill Walker

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his stand on flood prevention. He knows that he has my full support.

Mr. McMaster

I am grateful for that.

Every Opposition Member supports that Bill, so at least 62 of Scotland's 72 Members of Parliament support it. I have laid a motion before the House to refer the Bill to the Scottish Grand Committee for its Second Reading. On Friday this week, if the Government do not object, that Bill can proceed to the Scottish Grand Committee, where I will happily accept Government amendments if they feel that there are any problems.

I have not given the Minister warning of my next point, so it would be unreasonable to expect detailed replies tonight, but I urge him to consider it. I am in a position to accuse Scottish Homes and its board of, at best, gross incompetence and, at worst, criminal negligence over the case of Waverley court in Paisley. Six years ago, the local management of Scottish Homes decided that it would empty a 56-flat multi-storey block in my constituency. I would have called it a clearance; it called it a diversification of tenure. It decided to empty that multi-storey block and to sell it to the private sector.

Six years later, that multi-storey block of 56 flats remains empty. The reason is that Scottish Homes, in its incompetence, emptied the block before checking that its proposal for redevelopment could happen. It proposed to empty the block and convert it into cheap homes for first-time buyers. Once it had emptied it, it found that no mortgage lender in the land would give a mortgage for such a block. It has been to see housing associations to ask whether they will consider the matter.

I have met Scottish Homes management locally. No housing association wants anything to with that block of flats. It was built only 20 or 30 years ago, yet it stands idle. The Minister has stood at that Dispatch Box before and criticised local authorities for empty housing stock. The number of empty houses in Renfrew district council is lower than not only the national average for councils, but the national average for the private sector. The district council has turned the general situation around, but Waverley court is still a problem. I have here a letter from Mr. John McPherson from the Oliphant Oval in Paisley. I know him well; he is a good man who works hard for the community. He writes: Are Scottish Homes so well off that they can ignore lost revenue in this block of flats for six years? Just how much revenue has been lost over the six year period this building has lay empty? His questions deserve to be answered.

I deal finally with the non-housing aspects of the orders. To illustrate the orders' impact I cite the case of a couple to whom I spoke only last week. The husband works for Strathclyde's community education department and the wife also works for the council—she heads a unit that promotes understanding between European member states, a project encouraged by the Scottish Office. They now find themselves working for departments at the head of the hit list. David and Edna Paterson are good people. Does the Minister think it right that Members of the Treasury Bench and Conservative Back Benchers boast that people who have such a valuable contribution to make are losing their jobs?

There is one aspect of the orders that Ministers have not considered. When local government jobs start to go in the Greater Renfrewshire area, the constituency of Eastwood will be affected every bit as much as mine. I know from when I was a councillor that when local government workers leave their place of work in Paisley they do not return home to some housing estate or peripheral housing scheme but to Newton Mearns and Giffnock. The impact of job losses in local government will be a matter of political regret for the Conservative party.

I still keep on my desk a handy copy of the book written by Nicholas Ridley, and there is no doubt that the Government still see councils as enablers, not providers. The Government want them to meet once or twice a year, have dinner and award contracts but not get involved in the problems of the people whom they represent.

9.36 pm
Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) for being brief, to allow me to speak about Edinburgh district and Lothian region.

I wish to make three points about housing in Edinburgh. First, for years Edinburgh district has not received any housing support grant for council housing. I make my annual complaint, but the result is that rents will have to go up by £1.85 to cover increased interest rates and inflation.

Secondly, the housing support grant for hostels for the homeless in Edinburgh is being cut by £111,000, or 20 per cent. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for housing—the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)—can explain that remarkable cut.

Thirdly, the capital allocation for Edinburgh is being cut by £1 million to £32 million. There is also a strange change. Whereas, before Christmas, the receipts from council houses were said to be going to realise £12.5 million, we are now told that they could realise £13.5 million. I think that the first figure is more accurate, which probably means that in practice we have a £2 million cut in capital allocation for Edinburgh district.

In Lothian region, the problem is that the cap has been set very tight. This year, Lothian region is allowed to spend £596 million and, next year, it will be allowed to spend £600 million. By no stretch of the imagination can £4 million be said to cover inflation, for which £9 million must be allowed; pay increases, for which £17 million must be allowed; and other unavoidable expenditure, which I do not have time to list in detail.

An additional problem to which I draw the Minister's attention is that school rolls in Lothian will be increasing in August by, I am told, 1,400 pupils in primary schools and 1,100 pupils in secondary schools. An extra 130 teachers should therefore be employed, which would mean that from August an extra £3 million has to be found. I should like to hear the Minister's suggestions on how Lothian region's problem can be solved. I expect that we shall hear something about efficiency savings, but what does the Minister mean by that? Does he mean that we must have fewer teachers, larger classes and additional charges for school meals or for meals on wheels for elderly people, or a combination of all those? The Government should deal with that problem.

The amount of aggregate external finance has gone down even in cash terms, once community care transfers are taken into account. From April, it will represent 86.4 per cent. of Government-supported expenditure, whereas this year it represents 87.4 per cent. The Government must do something about the crisis facing Lothian region. They are unlikely to do anything because they do not have the money, having had to pay the costs of economic failure. Moreover, they are storing up money for tax cuts next year.

As I said in the Grand Committee, why not does the Minister put the needs of the children and the elderly of Lothian region before the Government's mad dash for next year's tax bribes?

9.40 pm
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

We have had a good debate, but it would be fair to say that it has been predictable, with Labour Members universally condemning the housing and local government finance settlements that the Secretary of State introduced. Conservative Members who bothered to speak on the Government's behalf weakly tried to defend what cannot be defended in a democratic Chamber.

I suppose that the fact that Opposition Members represent 61 of Scotland's 72 seats and 75 per cent. of all those who voted in the last general election in Scotland shows that we reflect the overwhelming view of the Scottish people on the settlement. If we lived in a real democracy, all the orders before the House tonight would be defeated because those affected by them voted for hon. Members who want to see them defeated. Unfortunately, however, we do not live in a real democracy in Scotland, so we shall have the fiction of a Government majority voting on the orders when every man, woman and child in Scotland opposes them.

Some of the best contributions to the debate have come from my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall), for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) and for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm), all of whose vast experience on housing matters was shown in their contributions. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) reminded us what housing was like in Scotland before council housing was widely available. Rat-infested slums were thrown up by private sector landlords. I lived in one such slum in Springburn and, like all my hon. Friends, can remember the poor housing conditions in the private sector in Scotland which directly affected the health of working-class people. Infant mortality rates were much higher, tuberculosis affected people's chances of survival and working-class people in general lived for a much shorter time than those who lived in better circumstances and better housing.

The contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Provan was timely, given that only last week the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published a report showing that, once again, huge inequalities are beginning to develop in our country and working-class people are again at risk as their health begins to be affected by the poor housing conditions that have resulted from Government policies.

It is because we do not want to return to the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s that we care about the housing settlement. It is because we do not want to return to those bad times that my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) rightly described this as the most savage housing settlement in years.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

May I pose the same question as I posed to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), which he deliberately did not answer? If the settlement is inadequate, by how much is it inadequate? If the hon. Gentleman were a Minister now, on what settlement would he ask the House to vote?

Mr. McAllion

If the hon. Gentleman would stop intervening and listen, he would discover the answer to that question as my speech develops.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton also said, rightly, that the price that has been paid for the settlement will be paid mainly by council tenants. That remark was met by guffaws from Conservative Members, but the point was confirmed by the opening statement in the Secretary of State's speech, when he said that the Government were assuming, in the housing settlement, a notional rent of more than £37 a week. The Secretary of State knows that actual rent levels in Scotland are much lower than that. The Government are assuming income for local authorities which they will not receive. He is denying them the housing support grant that they deserve if we take into consideration the actual rent levels charged in Scotland rather than the notional ones which the right hon. Gentleman assumes in his housing settlement.

If we take the Secretary of State's own area, Nithsdale district council in his constituency, the actual rent is £25.72 a week. If his council were to meet the notional rent level that he assumes, it would have to put rents up by £12 a week, or 50 per cent. Perhaps the local Member has recommended that the council should do that, because he assumes that it has done it anyway. In fact, to take an even better example, Eastwood—the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who is normally present at such debates, is not here—would have to increase rents by £15 a week. What do Conservative Members want? Do they want their local councils to charge current rent levels or do they want them to charge those rents that they assume will be charged, according to the housing settlement? They cannot have it both ways. If they are going to preach in the House that councils should charge rents of £37 a week, they had better go back to their constituencies and preach the same. I suspect that none of them would do that, because they would he frightened of what would happen to them in terms of votes in their constituencies if they made such an absurd suggestion.

The COSLA brief, which was made available to all hon. Members, pointed out that, in the past 14 years, the Government, by reducing housing support grant and revenue fund contributions, have withdrawn about £2 billion of support for council housing in Scotland. We all know the consequences of the withdrawal of that massive subsidy, because we have seen rents rocket by almost 500 per cent., tenants in their tens of thousands forced on to housing benefit and the housing benefit bill rocket.

It really surprises me that Conservative Members force council tenants on to housing benefit. They have impoverished those tenants by forcing them into dependence on housing benefit and then expect those tenants to be thankful for that. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) seemed to think that it was a blessing to receive housing benefit. He should go back to his constituents and ask them whether they like getting housing benefit. They do not; they would like to be able to afford the rents charged by local authorities.

Mr. Bill Walker

The hon. Gentleman should visit Limlathem, which was the first place to introduce the equivalent of housing benefit. My parents were delighted. I would also be delighted today to see people being properly recompensed through rents and living in houses free from damp and subject to adequate supervision.

Mr. McAllion

If the Government continue with the housing policies which they have pursued in the past 14 years, the hon. Gentleman may be in receipt of housing benefit before long.

As the housing benefit bill has rocketed in Scotland, one of the strangest things to note inside the Tory Cabinet is how the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is almost pulling his hair out as he wonders why that bill has rocketed. He seems to be puzzled by that. He does not understand it. The answer is that the housing benefit bill is high because the Government's housing policy makes it high. That policy has forced councils to set rent at levels that council tenants cannot afford. Therefore, the Government have only themselves to blame for the spiralling housing benefit bill. If they truly want to reduce that bill, the best thing they could do would be to resign en masse and let someone who knew how to run housing policy take it over.

I compare the withdrawal of subsidy from council housing under the Government with their parallel injection of subsidy into non-council housing, particularly through Scottish Homes. We cannot discuss the policies of Scottish Homes in the past 14 years because, thankfully, it has existed only since 1989–90. What might have happened if it had existed since 1979? God help us.

Since 1989–90, Scottish Homes, through its various programmes to enable development and investment, has channelled £1,529 million of subsidy into housing associations, co-operatives, grants for rent and ownership for private developers and other low-cost home ownership schemes. On the one hand, the Government have withdrawn general housing subsidies for council tenants while, on the other, they have increased general housing subsidies for non-council tenants and other home owners. Why is that?

Last year, the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for housing, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), was challenged on why he was cutting housing support grant and general fund contributions to council tenants. He said it was because This sort of subsidy is indiscriminate because it benefits all tenants regardless of their circumstances".—[Official Report, 14 February 1994; Vol. 237, c. 745.] That is why he is withdrawing general subsidies to council tenants.

Let us apply the same logic to the Government subsidies that are paid through Scottish Homes. Are they indiscriminate, and do they benefit all, regardless of their circumstances? Let us take housing association grant, which is the main subsidy paid to housing associations. Of course the answer is yes, it is indiscriminate; yes, it does benefit all housing association tenants, regardless of their circumstances. Let us take grants for rent and ownership, which are paid to private developers to bring down the cost of new housing to first-time buyers. Yes, they are indiscriminate; yes, they benefit all, regardless of their circumstances.

Why are indiscriminate subsidies outlawed for council tenants when indiscriminate subsidies are increased for non-council tenants and householders? We need to know the answer. Why is it okay to subsidise non-council tenants but not okay to subsidise council tenants? If the Minister does not have an answer to that question in his speech, he had better think of one before 9.55 pm, because many people in Scotland will be waiting to hear why the Conservative Government discriminate against council tenants in Scotland, and we need to know the answer.

The answer cannot be that there are so few council tenants in Scotland that they do not count, because, according to the Government's figures, there are 12 times as many council tenants in Scotland as there are housing association tenants. If all the council housing, the new town housing, the Scottish Homes housing and the housing association housing are taken together, council house tenants represent 83 per cent. of the total. That is overwhelmingly the dominant type of renting in Scotland.

There are more council tenants in Scotland than any other type of tenant, so the question must be, why do so many people receive so little from the Government when so few people receive so much? We all need to know the answer to that question.

The housing support grant that is paid by the Government goes to the housing revenue account, which, in turn, helps to pay the outstanding capital debt owed by the councils in Scotland. I want to ask the Minister a specific question about a capital grant that was paid to Scottish Homes in 1992–93. It received £250,139,000 to repay a national loan fund debt on its housing.

According to the 48th report of the Committee of Public Accounts, which, the Minister will remember, conducted an inquiry into the sale of houses by Scottish Homes to Waverley Housing, the Department told the Committee that that payment of £250 million was in recognition of the houses that had been transferred out of Scottish Homes' ownership. The Department said that there was a danger that Scottish Homes might find itself responsible for servicing outstanding capital debt on houses that it no longer owned. Therefore, £250 million was paid to Scottish Homes so that it could redeem the outstanding capital debt on the houses that it had lost.

That is all very well. Scottish Homes had lost 30,000 houses at that stage to other forms of ownership, but councils in Scotland have lost about 260,000 houses to other forms of ownership. Where is the equivalent capital grant, which would be in excess of £2 billion, to local authorities in Scotland to help them to redeem outstanding capital debts? The Minister, who will have to answer that question, should think about it. The Government have given £250 million to Scottish Homes at a time when they deny more than £2 billion to local authority government in Scotland.

It is a matter of the way in which we distribute the purse between different forms of tenure. We would distribute it far more fairly, and that is the difference between the Opposition and the Government. We understand very well that there will always be demands on public spending, not only for housing but for health, education, social work and transport. There is never enough money to satisfy everyone, but being in government means having to learn to say no—we know that. As resources are limited, there is an absolute requirement on the Government to allocate those resources fairly, reasonably and in accordance with criteria that ensure that those in greatest need have the greatest priority in respect of the resources available.

According to the Scottish housing conditions survey in 1991, public sector housing, which was mainly council housing in Scotland, needed £691 million spent on it to bring it up to what the Government describe as a reasonable standard. Housing associations required only £30 million—less than 5 per cent. of that total. According to the same housing conditions survey, dampness in council housing is twice as prevalent as dampness in housing association stock, yet last year the Government gave £280 million to housing associations, and gave only £35.9 million to council houses in Scotland.

Why, when the crying need, whatever scheme of priorities one adopts, is to invest in council housing, do the Government concentrate resources in areas other than council housing? The crunch question is not whether we will receive additional resources, but what we can do with the resources that the Government have available to them at the moment. The Government are deliberately discriminating against council housing in Scotland. Deliberate Government policy and discrimination are making it almost impossible for the vast majority of people in the rented sector to live in decent conditions. The Minister must respond to that point.

I do not have much time left to talk about the finance settlement. The Secretary of State for Scotland repeatedly asserts that Scottish local government is profligate in its expenditure and in the number of people that it employs. I have already told the Secretary of State that COSLA will fund with the Government a joint inquiry into those matters. However, the Secretary of State refuses to commission that inquiry.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton is quite right: the joint staffing watch figures which were issued in December last year and which cover the position until September point out that, between 1990 and 1994, the number of local authority employees was cut by 0.8 per cent. There is the Scottish Office staffing responsibility—I refer not just to the Scottish Office core group, but to Scottish Office agencies such as Historic Scotland, the Scottish Fisheries Protection Agency, the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency, the Scottish Office Pensions Agency, the Scottish Prison Service, the Scottish Courts Administration, the General Register Office, the Scottish Record Office and Registers of Scotland. Far from reducing the number of people in his employ, the Secretary of State has employed more staff. To be fair to him, we have not included the people who work for Scottish Homes or for the Scottish enterprise network. If they were included, the situation would be even worse.

While the Secretary of State for Scotland spreads untruths about the way in which Scottish local government is profligate in the number of people that it employs, the reality is that he employs far more people and that that number is increasing at a faster rate. The truth will out eventually, despite what the Government say, because they are the facts.

9.56 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

No less than £800 million is spent on housing benefit in Scotland. It is the Government's policy to move away from generalised subsidies to target subsidies at those who need them. We anticipate that the sum will increase and that next year it may be above £900 million. They are very substantial sums and it is very easy for Labour Members to pour scorn upon the expenditure of such large amounts of money on those who need it. However, there would be massive complaints if a Labour Government ever tried to take that money away.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) raised certain constituency matters. I am glad that we were able to help with the Winget housing in his constituency. We have made certain that councils include condensation and dampness as one of the four key national priorities in their housing plans each year.

Glasgow will receive £92 million to enable the council to invest substantially in improving the housing stock. Glasgow could make greater headway were it not for the fact that it lost rents to the value of £8 million through its failure to let empty houses. Reducing the number of empty houses in Glasgow will make a substantial difference, and it lies within the power of the council to do that.

The hon. Gentleman should take up with Glasgow district council the matter of substantial surpluses. In two out of the past three years it has generated surpluses of more than £25 million. He could put in a strong bid for his own constituency arising out of that.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) asked about housing support grant for Edinburgh. Housing support grant is given to help with the deficits of hostels in Edinburgh and it is expected to amount to almost £441,000 next year.

This has been a wide-ranging debate—

Mr. Chisholm

Will the Minister give way?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

No, I must move on and answer some of the other questions. We must ensure that local authority services are sufficiently provided for every man, woman and child in Scotland. I accept that the settlement is a tight one because of the need to keep inflation down. There has also been substantial growth in expenditure and manpower in Scottish local government. For example, between 1987 and 1994 the number of full-time equivalent staff in Scotland's local authorities increased by almost 6 per cent. In the same period, staffing levels in English authorities decreased by more than 6 per cent. In the year to June 1994 Scottish local authority manpower increased by almost 1 per cent. whereas in England there was a fall of almost 2 per cent. If Opposition Members say, "How will we live with this settlement?" I need only point to the example of the constituency district council of the hon. Member for Hamilton.

On 10 February an article in The Scotsman stated: Hamilton District Council has agreed to cut council tax bills by 10 per cent., and council leaders have pledged not to reduce services to pay for the cuts. Instead they plan to expand services. It continued: The overall package is a vindication of the restructuring which we initiated in 1992".

Mr. George Robertson

The Minister is one of a long line of distinguished failed Conservative candidates in Hamilton, although his forefathers used to own the whole constituency. He has given an example of a highly successful Labour council which, even in the face of adversity being thrust on it by the Government, has managed sufficiently to deal with its own resources. Others have not been so lucky, but clearly it is a successful council that has succeeded in the face of the Government rather than because of it.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

If the hon. Gentleman's local council can do it, so can every other council in Scotland and that proves my point.

What my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) said in his vigorous and substantial speech tonight was extremely important. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Minister is not being given a fair chance. The noise is coming from the Opposition and his own side. Can we now have some order and give the Minister a chance?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I was pointing out that the level of grant-supported expenditure is 33 per cent. higher per person in Scotland than in England and the level of aggregate external finance is 45 per cent. higher in Scotland than it is in England. It is an example of the fact that the settlement is a substantial one.

I now turn to the issue of capping to which Opposition Members object most strongly. I quote the late Willie Ross, the Labour Secretary of State for Scotland. He strongly defended capping and he said: the Secretary of State ought to have these residual powers, especially as they now protect local authorities generally from excessive claims by individual authorities on the pool of grants."— [Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 14 June 1966; c. 10.] It is all very well for Opposition Members to complain about capping powers. When they were in power and had the responsibility—and I am one of the few Conservative Members who knows what it was like to be in opposition—their Secretary of State was only too glad to have exactly the same powers.

Mr. Wallace


Dr. Godman


Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I have already given way.

We shall maintain a unified business rate in Scotland pegged at the same level as in England on a permanent basis, ensuring that Scottish businesses have the same benefits and stability of competing on a level playing field with their English counterparts.

As my right hon. Friend pointed out, it is astonishing that the Opposition should be prepared to contemplate returning control over non-domestic rate poundages to local authorities and thus at a stroke completely to destroy the benefits that Scottish businesses will gain from the achievement of the unified business rate. We spent no less than £440 million in harmonising it, so it would be a tragedy for every small business man in Scotland if that was to be thrown away.

Dr. Godman

I am extremely grateful to the Minister for displaying his characteristic courtesy. Let me remind him of his visit to Gibbs hill in Greenock. What is the likelihood of the east end of Greenock being given partnership status? A promise was made to bring together Scottish Homes. Renfrewshire Enterprise and the local council. The Minister was extremely sympathetic to the idea. What is the likelihood of that area of my constituency being given partnership status?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

That issue will be looked at with great care by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the hon. Gentleman will receive an answer to his request in due course. I am aware of the problems that the hon. Gentleman has in his constituency.

We have provided substantial sums for the reform of local government in Scotland—£5 million to cover the elections of the shadow councils and £36 million for the shadow authorities, to be paid during 1995–96. If an existing authority faced genuinely additional costs, we would expect it to discuss funding with the relevant shadow councils.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) mentioned housing benefit, which is of key importance in Scotland. This year, the figure is no less than £824 million and next year the figure is likely to be £926 million. That is not something to be looked at askance; it is a substantial sum. It is supplemented by no less than £80 million of urban aid.

Mrs. Helen Liddell (Monklands, East)

I am totally at odds with the view being propounded by the Minister. How can he possibly argue that there is a positive incentive in having increased housing benefits, when people apply for them because they are living in poverty that is induced by the Government? They are living in housing conditions that are being made increasingly intolerable by the Government's expenditure cuts. I cannot believe that a Minister would be so insensitive as to take that view.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The houses would be in much better condition if the rents charged by local authorities had been raised so that more could be spent on management and maintenance. Everyone knows that the average rent in Scotland is £7 or £8 less than the average rent south of the border. Some commentators say that some of the housing stock south of the border is in better condition. If that is so, it is because more has been spent on management and maintenance over the past 30 years.

The hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) came to see me; we shall look carefully at the issue of urban aid, not only in her constituency, but many others.

To the hon. Members for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin), for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) and for Glasgow, Shettleston (Mr. Marshall) I say that the crux of the matter is that, when Labour was in power, it spent £215 on each house in Scotland in 1978–79. We have increased that figure to £672 per house for 1995–96—a substantial increase. Opposition Members cannot have it both ways; they cannot say that the Government should spend far more on housing, when a large percentage of public sector stock has been sold to the sitting tenants. Some 300,000 houses have been sold to sitting tenants—a factor that inevitably has to be taken into account.

I studied the reactions of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. We shall ensure that £35 million to £40 million is allocated for community care projects. That allocation will enable the authorities to achieve their aim. Housing capital and resources for rural areas has again been increased, and those areas receive more per capita than the rest of the country.

Substantial resources are being provided for the non-housing revenue account and, as for capital receipts, more than several billion pounds has been allocated to benefit public sector housing. [Interruption.]

Mr. Welsh

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Many English Members of Parliament have suddenly appeared who were not present earlier. They are taking a sudden interest in the debate and appear to have come to vote, but they do not to want to listen to the Minister. Would it be possible to hear the Minister? [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is right. I have already appealed once to both sides of the House to give the Minister a fair chance. So far, that plea has fallen on deaf ears. I hope that the remainder of the Minister's speech will be given a fair hearing.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I am glad to draw my comments to a close. I shall study the points raised. I must stress that more than 300,000 tenants have achieved their ambition of becoming owner occupiers, thus releasing almost £3 billion for investment in housing stock. Almost 300,000 new homes have been built in Scotland since 1979. The number of sheltered and amenity houses has more than quadrupled to more than 50,000 and investment per council house, at £672, is higher in real terms than was achieved by the last Labour Government. Significant inroads have been made and will be made in improving Scotland's housing. It is a success story. We will build on that success, as we are absolutely determined 1.6 do.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 290, Noes 247.

Division No. 75] [10.10 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Alexander, Richard Ashby, David
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Atkins, Robert
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Amess, David Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Ancram, Michael Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)
Arbuthnot, James Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Baldry, Tony
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Fox, Dr Lam (Woodspring)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bates, Michael Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Bellingham, Henry French, Douglas
Bendall, Vivian Fry, Sir Peter
Beresford, Sir Paul Gale, Roger
Biffen, Rf Hon John Gallie, Phli
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gardiner, Sir George
Booth, Hartley Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Boswell, Tim Garnier, Edward
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gill, Christopher
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gillan, Cheryl
Bowden, Sir Andrew Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bowis, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Gorst, Sir John
Brandreth, Gyles Grant, Sir A (SWCambs)
Brazier, Julian Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bright Sir Graham Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Grylls, Sir Michael
Browning, Mrs Angela Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Hague, William
Budgen, Nicholas Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Burns, Simon Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butcher, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Butler, Peter Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Butterfill, John Hannam, Sir John
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hargreaves, Andrew
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Harris, David
Carrington, Matthew Haselhurst, Alan
Cash, William Hawkins, Nick
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hawksley, Warren
Chapman, Sydney Hayes, Jerry
Churchill, Mr Heald, Oliver
Clappison, James Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hendry, Charles
Colvin, Michael Hicks, Robert
Congdon, David Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Conway, Derek Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Horam, John
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Cormack, Sir Patrick Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Couchman, James Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Currle, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Day, Stephen Hunter, Andrew
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Delvin, Tim Jack, Michael
Dicks, Terry Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Jenkin, Bernard
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Dover, Den Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Duncan, Alan Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr)
Duncan Smith, Iain Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dunn, Bob Key, Robert
Durant, Sir Anthony King, Rt Hon Tom
Dykes, Hugh Knapman, Roger
Elletson, Harold Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Knox, Sir David
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Evennett, David Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Faber, David Lang, Rt Hon Ian
Fabricant, Michael Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Fenner, Dame Peggy Legg, Barry
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Leigh, Edward
Fishburn, Dudley Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Forman, Nigel Lidington, David
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling) Lightbown, David
Forth, Eric Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Lord, Michael Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Luff, Peter Shersby, Michael
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Sims, Roger
MacKay, Andrew Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Maclean, David Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McLoughlin, Patrick Soames, Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Speed, Sir Keith
Madel, Sir David Spencer, Sir Derek
Maitland, Lady Olga Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Malone, Gerald Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mans, Keith Spink, Dr Robert
Marland, Paul Spring, Richard
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Sproat, Iain
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Mates, Michael Steen, Anthony
Mellor, Rt Hon David Stephen, Michael
Merchant Piers Stern, Michael
Mills, Iain Stewart, Alan
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Streeter, Gary
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Sweeney, Walter
Moate, Sir Roger Sykes, John
Monro, Sir Hector Tapsell, Sir Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Nelson, Anthony Temple-Morris, Peter
Neubert, Sir Michael Thomason, Roy
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Nicholson, Patrick Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Thurnham, Peter
Norris, Steve Townend, John (Bridlington)
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Oppenheim, Phillip Tracey, Richard
Ottaway, Richard Tredinnick, David
Page, Richard Trend, Michael
Paice, James Trotter, Neville
Patnick, Sir Irvine Twinn, Dr Ian
Patten, Rt Hon John Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Viggers, Peter
Pickles, Eric Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Walden, George
Porter, David (Waveney) Walker, Bill(N Tayside)
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Waller, Gary
Rathbone, Tim Ward, John
Redwood, Rt Hon John Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Waterson, Nigel
Richards, Rod Watts, John
Riddick, Graham Wells, Bowen
Robathan, Andrew Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn Whitney, Ray
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S) Whittingdale, John
Robinson, Mark (Somerton) Widdecombe, Ann
Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne) Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent) Willetts, David
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Ryder, Rt Hon Richard Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Sackville, Tom Yeo,Tim
Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Shaw, David (Dover) Tellers for the Ayes:
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Timothy Kirkhope.
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Abbott, Ms Diane Barron, Kevin
Ainger, Nick Battle, John
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Bayley, Hugh
Allen, Graham Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Beith,RtHonA J
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Armstrong, Hilary Bermingham, Gerald
Ashton, Joe Berry, Roger
Austin-Walker, John Betts, Clive
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Blunkett, David
Barnes, Harry Boateng, Paul
Boyes, Roland Harvey, Nick
Bradley, Keith Henderson, Doug
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Heppel, John
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Hinchliffe, David
Burden, Richard Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld)
Byers, Stephen Home Robertson, John
Cabom, Richard Hood, Jimmy
Callaghan, Jim Hoon, Geoffrey
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Howarth, George (Knowsley North)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Campbell-Savours, D N Hoyle, Doug
Cann, Jamie Hughes, kevin (Doncaster N)
Chidgey, David Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Chisholm, Malcolm Hutton, John
Church, Judith Illsley, Eric
Clapham, Michael Ingram, Adam
Clark, Dr David (South Shields) Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Jamieson, David
Clelland, David Janner, Greville
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Johnston, Sir Russell
Coffey, Ann Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)
Cohen, Harry Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon)
Connarty, Michael Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Corston, Jean Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Cousins, Jim Jowell, Tessa
Cox, Tom Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Cummings, John Keen, Alan
Cunliffe, Lawrence Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S)
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn)
Darling, Alistair Knabra, Piara S
Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral) kilfoyle, Peter
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l) kirkwood, Archy
Denham, John Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Dewar, Donald Lewis, Terry
Dixon, Don Liddell, Mrs Helen
Dobson, Frank Litherland, Robert
Donohoe, Brian H Livingstone, Ken
Dowd, Jim Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Dunnachie, Jimmy Loyden, Eddie
Eagle, Ms Angela Lynne, Ms Liz
Eastham, Ken McAllion, John
Enright, Derek McCartney, Ian
Etherington, Bill McCrea, The Reverend Wiliam
Evans, John (St Helens N) Macdonald, Calum
Ewing, Mrs Margaret McFall, John
Fatchett, Derek McKelvey, Wiliam
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Mackinlay, Andrew
Fisher, Mark Maclennan, Robert
Flynn, Paul McMaster, Gordon
Foster, Rt Hon Derek McNamara, Kevin
Foulkes, George MacShane, Dennis
Fraser John McWilliam, John
Fyfe, Maria Madden, Max
Galbraith, Sam Maddock, Diana
Galloway, George Mahon, Alice
George, Bruce Mandelson, Peter
Gerrard, Neil Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S)
Godman, Dr Norman A Martin, Michael J (Springburn)
Godsiff, Roger Martlew, Eric
Golding, Mrs Llin Meacher, Michael
Gordon, Mildred Meale, Alan
Graham, Thomas Michael, Alun
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Milburn, Alan
Grocott, Bruce Moonie, Dr Lewis
Gunnel, John Morgan, Rhodri
Hall, Mike Morley, Elliot
Hanson, David Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe)
Hardy, Peter Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Harman, Ms Harriet Mowlam, Marjorie
Mudie, George Simpson, Alan
Mullin, Chris Skinner, Dennis
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire) Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
O'Brien, William (Normanton) Smith, Liew (Blaenau Gwent)
O'Hara, Edward Snape, Peter
Olner.Bill Soley, Clive
O'Neill, Martin Spearing, Nigel
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Spellar, John
Pearson, Ian Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Pickthall, Colin Steinberg, Gerry
Pike, Peter L Stevenson, George
Pope, Greg Stott, Roger
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Strang, Dr. Gavin
Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Primarolo, Dawn Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Purchase, Ken Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Quin, Ms Joyce Timms, Stephen
Radice, Giles Tipping, Paddy
Randal, Stuart Turner, Dennis
Raynsford, Nick Tyler, Paul
Redmond, Martin Vaz, Keith
Reid, Dr John Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wallace, James
Rendel, David Walley, Joan
Robertson, George (Hamilton) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW) Watson, Mike
Roche, Mrs Barbara Welsh, Andrew
Rogers, Allan Wicks, Malcolm
Rooker, Jeff Wigley, Dafydd
Rooney, Terry Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Worthington, Tony
Ruddock, Joan Wray, Jimmy
Salmond, Alex Young, David (Bolton SE)
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry Tellers for the Noes:
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Mr. Joe Benton and Ms Estelle Morris.
Short, Clare

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That the Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 1995, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved.

It being later than three hours after the first motion was made, Mr. Deputy Speaker put the remaining Questions required to be put at that hour, pursuant to Order [10 February].

Resolved, That the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995, a copy of which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved. That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved. That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 2nd February, be approved.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]