HL Deb 24 February 1981 vol 417 cc976-7

2.55 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

had given notice of her intention to ask the following Question:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress is being made by local authorities in England, Wales and Scotland to reduce staff numbers.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, all that remains in regard to my Question is to ask this of the noble Lord, who has already answered the Question most admirably: Can he tell us anything about the position in Scotland?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, the same applies in that until we have actual out-turn figures, I am not in a position to say exactly what has transpired in Scotland. So I am very much in the same position as I was in answering my noble friend as regards England and Wales.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm whether the Government at present have powers to intervene in Scotland, or whether additional legislation is required to exercise the same kind of intervention as applies in England?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, at present the Secretary of State has powers only to reduce grants to individual authorities whose out-turn is excessive. In the Bill currently before Parliament he is taking powers to make similar reductions where there are excessive and unreasonable budgets.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that the role of the local authorities in providing employment through the building of houses and roads and through infrastructure work generally, is absolutely crucial in areas of high unemployment, such as those in Wales? Is he aware that the situation in, for example, Gwynedd, in North Wales, is approaching disaster? Does he not believe that the Government should now change their policies and encourage local authorities to carry out essential work, so as to reduce the unemployment figures?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, what is essential in each separate area is that the individual authority should decide in accordance with its problems. We must face the fact that over the country as a whole we must spend only what we can afford. In the past it has been the spending of money that we could not afford that has led us to the present position.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, can the noble Lord inform the House whether any accompanying reduction in services is being monitored as a result of the cuts?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, it is not a question of monitoring reductions in services, or indeed increases, if it comes to that. It is not the function of Government to do that. It is the function of Government to decide what we can afford to spend by way of grant, and it is then for each authority itself, in the light of its own individual situation, to decide which services it can or cannot increase and which services it can or cannot decrease.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the noble Lord please tell us which Question he is answering? I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, was called.

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, I am answering the Question of my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton—

Several Noble Lords

No, Lady Elliot.

Lord Bellwin

Well, my Lords, I did not know that that Question had been called, but I hope that your Lordships will feel that in any event my responses are most apposite.