Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : I have noted your comments, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I promise to be brief.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) clearly finds it difficult to suggest that there should not have been a safety net when there is a 9.8 per cent. increase. He suggests that there is something odd in having a safety net, but he knows full well that cushioning is essential in any transition period. I can only speak for myself in these matters, but I believe that my view reflects Government policy. I have stood at all elections on a platform of prudent Government expenditure and the control of Government expenditure and the reduction of taxes. I do not apologise for that. The present position, with the community charge pending, is very interesting. Tayside regional council has been sending out a delightful blue form. I wonder about the legality of a form from a body that has been set up by statute and which operates under statute. That body is sending out forms carrying references to a tax that does not exist. The forms have been about the poll tax. There is no poll tax, and I believe that the forms are probably therefore illegal. It will be intesting to see what the local authority auditors say about that.

It was also interesting to note that the Scottish National party in Angus is not adopting the policies--as we understand them--of non-co-operation and non-payment of the community charge because it is actively collecting it. More importantly, the SNP provost of Perth and Kinross, Alex Murray, has stated publicly on more than one occasion that the SNP policy is not to break the law. It seems that again we have the humbug and hypocrisy to which we have grown accustomed from that quarter.

It seems that those who are in office and have responsibility behave properly and responsibly. Those who have little hope of ever gaining office behave irresponsibly-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members should not laugh. They aspire to office but have little hope of achieving it. They should think very carefully about their attitudes in this matter. My advice to them is that this is a unitary Parliament. They should not be associated with the funny lot who represent the Scottish National party. Their views are quite clear. They are out to destroy the link that Scotland has with this place. Labour Members have a different view and I hope that they will adopt the view that one day they might be in government.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that I will not associate myself with the Scottish National party in Tayside, which recommended that those who pay the poll tax promptly should be given a discount by Tayside regional council.

Mr. Walker : The hon. Gentleman and I find the antics of the Scottish National party on Tayside amusing. We have witnessed the activities of the SNP and its so-called

Column 953

leaders and the actions of the tiny minority of its representation in this Parliament. We have also seen the activities of those in the Angus and Tayside regions. The hon. Gentleman and I look at those people, and we both realise what a bunch of hypocrites they are and what humbug comes from that quarter.

11.14 pm

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : The Minister indicated that the rate support grant measure makes provision for increases of grant to Scottish local authorities, which total £19.8 million and refer to the five financial years 1984 to 1987-88. The Government will probably take it as evidence of the success of their policy of forcing reductions in local government spending that they are able to return that sum to Scotland's hard-pressed rate and poll tax payers. However, any impression of success is bogus, because the Government's own information shows that between 1975 and 1980, the average domestic rates bill in Scotland fell by 17 per cent. Since 1979-80, when the Tories dashed in on their white charger to rescue the domestic ratepayer, Scotland's average domestic rates bill increased by 81 per cent.

As to the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1988, some may have hoped that one small benefit of poll tax would be that the system for calculating central Government support to local authorities would be made easier to understand. The Minister says that it is simpler, but he is wrong, because that is far from the case. The revenue support grant system is just as complicated, arcane and fundamentally irrational as the rate support grant that it replaces.

The first point to be made about calculating expenditure needs, which underlines the order, is that the new system perpetuates the false and unrealistic assumptions the Government have made over the past nine years about the money required to maintain local government services in Scotland at a tolerable level. Some like to pretend that the Government's estimate of expenditure needs is lower than local authority budgets because local authorities are profligate. Let us look at areas when the Government consider that local authority expenditure is excessive.

In the financial year now drawing to a close, the Government consider that Scottish local authorities, regional and island councils, should have spent about £100 million less than they did on education. The Government wanted £28 million less spent on social work--on providing for the elderly, dealing with the needs of children at risk, and of the physically and mentally handicapped, coping with the menace of AIDS, and combating the drugs problem. Those are all social work responsibilities, on which the Government want less money to be spent.

The Government also wanted £5 million less spent on the fire service, a reduced amount for school crossing patrols, and £7 million less on roads and road lighting. They wanted £1.3 million less spent on sheltered workshops for the mentally and physically handicapped and the disabled, and £1 million less on registering electors. And so it goes on and on.

Over the past nine years, the Government's policy has been to transfer burdens from the Treasury to local authorities. It is a particularly pernicious policy with the

Column 954

move from rating, with all its drawbacks and disadvantages, to poll tax--with its central disadvantage that everybody who is not entitled to rebate pays exactly the same, regardless of their means. It is thus a transfer of tax burdens from a graduated system of taxation to a flat-rate system, and--as we have said often enough in the House--a deliberate exercise of unfairness.

I am disappointed that the Government have still done nothing about business rates. There are huge discrepancies in different parts of Scotland, to say nothing of the United Kingdom. As I think the Minister knows, in my own constituency, Argyll and Bute district council has expressed deep concern about the possible

non-implementation of the uniform business rate. The council considers that any failure to arrange a single rate and harmonised valuations would have a devastating effect on its fragile economy, which depends considerably on tourism. I understand that the Minister is to make a keynote speech on 27 January. If he is going to say anything significant about business rates, I would have preferred him to do so on the Floor of the House rather than at a conference later in the month.

By continuing to fiddle with the level of revenue support grant and thereby with that of the poll tax, the Government have demonstrated that, in the new system as much as in the old, the most important determinant will be not the spending needs of local authorities but the whims of central Government in manipulating the grant. I believe that these proposals are fundamentally flawed.

11.21 pm

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride) : I endorse the criticisms by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). It is important that the debate should not be about individual council settlements. However, I want to refer particularly to my own council, which has suffered significantly.

The Secretary of State has so manipulated revenue support grant as to deny much-needed support to one authority in order to give it to another. That has been done against the best advice of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which has rightly criticised it. I should like the Minister to comment on COSLA's advice and to say why he felt it necessary to reject it.

East Kilbride district council, having been, as I say, particularly badly affected, has, I know, expressed its extreme concern in a letter to the Minister. Over the years, the council has had a reputation as a responsible local authority : it has never been criticised by Ministers for being irresponsible or a high spender, or for acting "out of synch" with the interests of ratepayers and the community that it represents. Traditionally it has been among the three lowest-rating councils in Strathclyde region. But, owing to reasons largely outwith its control and over which it has no influence, it is heading for a personal poll tax of about £99 per head. That will be among the highest poll tax charges--possibly the highest --in Scotland's district councils.

As the Minister will know, as part of the Government's proposals for the distribution of revenue support grant among local authorities, East Kilbride was classified as a benchmark district authority. Accordingly, the district council is to receive no proportion of grant for expenditure needs. Consequently, poll tax payers will lose to the extent of £8 per head of support grant.

Column 955

The unwanted safety-netting procedures that the Government have imposed will result in a further loss of support amounting to £12 per head of population. That represents an overall loss of grant to East Kilbride district council of 91.3 per cent. In both money and real terms, the district council will receive only £107,000 in revenue support grant compared with £1.3 million for the current year. That is the effect of these orders on East Kilbride district council. I understand that Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council is to suffer a loss of grant amounting to 27 per cent.--a significant loss, but it has to be set against East Kilbride's loss of 91.3 per cent. There can be no justification whatsoever for such a punitive measure being taken against East Kilbride. It has always acted responsibly over the years.

The district council's main concern relates to the basic figures, which generate a likely base community charge of about £85.1 per head, before any contingency and growth items are taken into account. That has to be compared with the Government's suggested figure of £76 or £77 per head.

I remind the Minister of the letter he received from the East Kilbride district council requesting a meeting. I ask the Minister to agree to that meeting and to listen to the council's detailed arguments. I seek a further assurance from the Minister that the revenue support grant assessment, which has worked so punitively against East Kilbride in all aspects, will be reviewed in the light of outturn information on rate products, community charge yields--and other relevant data.

11.26 pm

Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : The order forms part of a political fraud. I use those words carefully. The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) referred to the differences over terminology. He prefers to call the poll tax the community charge.

Mr. Bill Walker : That is the legal definition.

Mr. Douglas : All right, but if it is a charge it should be used to provide local authority services.

Is any hon. Member prepared to say that the services provided by local authorities in Fife are in any way inferior to those provided in Strathclyde--or that they are superior? Having thought of a figure--about £275--the Government asked themselves how they could cook the books so that that figure could be applied throughout Scotland. The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) sits there smirking. He should re-read his speech of 9 December 1986 when he spoke about accountability. This proposal flies in the face of accountability. His speech in that Second Reading debate bears re-reading. It was made by a Member who never thought that he would be the Minister running the Scottish Office. Many hon. Members know that he is the man running the Scottish Office. The Secretary of State is not here, but we know that the hon. Member for Stirling is the real guy running the Scottish Office.

The orders fly in the face of accountability. This is a transitional arrangement in advance of the regional council elections which it is hoped will placate public opinion. If we really want to talk about the imposition of a tax, we should consider how we got into this mess in the

Column 956

first place and the measures that the Tory Government took to provide transitional arrangements for the domestic ratepayer. They did not say that there should be safety netting for the regions but for the individual ratepayer. Why do we not have the same provision now? The answer is that it does not suit them.

The Minister has tried to put words into my mouth in relation to the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities. COSLA is opposed to safety netting per se. However, if there is to be safety netting, it should be for individual ratepayers and it should be related to ability to pay. Despite all the obfuscation over the minimum level of rebate, the tax will be a heavy burden on those least able to pay. I have received letters from the chief executive of Fife district council about what might be expected from the revenue obtained from the poll tax. We know that the downturn in rates is less than 1 per cent. A prudent authority in Fife will calculate the downturn in revenue expected from the poll tax as between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. If we find ourselves in that position, we have made a farce of accountability and local government finance.

It was hurtful for the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), with his knowledge of the aircraft industry, to talk about prudent local government services. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) is sitting in a somnolent position. A tragedy occurred in his constituency and the people performing vital public services never asked about ability to pay. No one made the repulsive statement that the Prime Minister made in relation to the good samaritan-that he only provided his services because the person he helped had the ability to pay.

Vital public services must continue to exist and should not relate to ability to pay. Those services are important and are what the Labour party stands for. When we cease to stand for good public services, we cease to be a Socialist party and should not receive the support of the Scottish people. The Scottish people know what the Tories represent. They rejected them in 1987 and will continue to reject them.

11.33 pm

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : We are saying goodbye to the rate support grant system and hello to the revenue support grant system. The old and vastly complicated rate support grant was driven beyond the limits of toleration by Governments determined to use it for purposes for which it was never intended and as part of their battle to do down local authorities. I have the feeling that the revenue support grant will be just as complicated and misused. Already, before its implementation, we are seeing complications, adjustments and anomalies. I predict--it is easy to do so--that the new system will quickly adopt the flaws and inadequacies of the old.

When I was a local government councillor I could see at first hand the treatment meted out by the Government to local authorities. Now I am operating at the other end of the spectrum and the view is just the same. Local authorities are crucial to the economic well-being of Scotland in the daily provision of basic services. However, local authorities have never been properly financed or

Column 957

allowed the autonomy necessary to enable them to get on with the job of providing services without hindrance. The orders simply confirm that.

Central Government have never considered local government as a complete entity. When finance was reformed, the structure and status of local authorities were simply ignored. Now the Conservatives are apparently planning to take yet another short at structural changes which, no doubt, certainly on past form, will totally ignore the necessary finance and status required to produce a better local government system.

It is easy to pick out individual anomalies in the orders which, financially, will disadvantage some local authorities to favour others. I do not intend to pick out particular examples. It would be all too easy to bemoan the transfer of resources from other regions to Strathclyde region, but to do so would play the Government's no doubt intended divide and rule game. It would miss the fundamental point that it should be a question not of robbing one regional council to pay another, but of ensuring that the extra resources required to fund every region and district are supplied.

Is it true that, as COSLA states, an estimated £100 million of essential expenditure has been ignored by the Secretary of State in these orders? If extra cash is required to finance essential services, surely it is up to central Government to play their part in ensuring that the services and duties they place on local authorities are properly and adequately financed.

In introducing the new system of revenue support grant, will the Secretary of State address the points raised by COSLA? Why has an increase of only 4.3 per cent. been allowed for when the RPI has risen by 6 per cent.? At the very time when, as a consequence of school boards, competitive tendering, higher police and fire pay awards and new staffing standards in schools, new burdens have to be met by local authorities, what allowance have the Government made for the RPI increases? The 10.2 per cent. allowed for loan repayment interest looks vastly optimistic as the Government's economic policy is committed to higher interest rates. We seek an assurance that extra cash will be made available to meet further increases in interest rates over and above the 10.2 per cent. allowed for; otherwise services will suffer and the people of Scotland will lose by that system.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is committed to ever higher interest rates which are hammering Scots industry, small businesses, agriculture and fishing. Now it appears that, because of these orders, local government taxpayers will also suffer.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Hurry up ; enthuse us.

Mr. Welsh : I would find it difficult to enthuse the hon. Gentleman, given his record on the subject.

The Secretary of State continually made the claim of high spending by local authorities. We heard it again tonight from the Minister. In terms of volume, local government expenditure has not changed since 1979, yet local authorities are being forced to take on additional responsibilities. Government propaganda is saying one thing, but the reality is quite different. It is reasonable for

Column 958

us to ask why there is no grant penalty in England and Wales in the year preceding the introduction of the poll tax and why Scotland is not receiving similar treatment.

COSLA is rightly concerned about finance and the whole future of Scottish local government. I share its concern. I ask the Minister to understand why councils and local authorities feel that way. I ask the Minister to answer the specific questions posed by COSLA on behalf of its member councils. COSLA is worried because ultimately local authorities have to supply services to their customers which we take for granted, yet they are not being adequately financed to do so. Councils should be helped financially and not hindered, which is precisely what the Government are doing.

11.38 pm

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian) : I shall be very brief as I should have liked to say some of the things that have already been mentioned. As the debate has progressed, the smiles have disappeared from the faces of Ministers on the Government Front Bench. In all the debates in the House in which I have taken part for the past quarter century, I have never seen a Government get such a thrashing as they have on the whole principle of the revenue support grant that they are presenting tonight.

Listening to the debate I was reminded of the story of the little boy who was leaving a village. As he was leaving he said, "Cheerio God, I'm going away to live in another village." The presentation that the Government are making is, "Cheerio rates, we have now gone over to the poll tax." I have never heard a more unconvincing explanation of why we should do it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) was on to a good point when he talked about the safety net. There was no possibility of the Government being able to respond to the question of the safety net, as was shown in one of the most disgraceful episodes in Parliament--I am referring to the Mates amendment. That was based on the ability to pay, but what happened? The whole House was incensed by the fact that ability to pay would not be considered for the poll tax and we had the disgraceful situation in the other place in which Members were wheeled in--although they did not even know that the House of Lords existed--to defeat the equivalent of the Mates amendment. So there was no question of a safety net for the individual.

The financial burdens with which people are being confronted today are nothing to smile about. Already this month, the financial burden of the average family has increased by about £50 a month. As time goes on, as a consequence of the increase in mortgage payments and the terrific strain on social services, problems will fall on the backs of local government. Where in the Government's proposals can one find any contingency plan to take care of that?

The Minister made two specific points about the statement from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. I do not want to repeat them, because he spelt them out in detail, but one noted that the figure of 4.3 per cent. was mentioned when we know that the retail price index is running at 6 per cent. at the moment. No hon. Member would be boastful enough to say that interest rates will remain stable. Increased interest rates are a

Column 959

burden that will fall eventually on local government. The Minister also dealt with the question of 10.2 per cent. for next year. In his opening speech, the Minister dealt with the COSLA document in a hilarious manner and treated this thoughtful document, which we should be debating in detail tonight, as something that was not worth considering. I wish that we had more time to debate the points put by COSLA. The Government are obliged to answer in their defence the points made by COSLA about their proposals. It is a sham debate when we do not have sufficient time to deal with all the points in the COSLA critique of the Government's proposals.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : The hon. Gentleman could have had twice as long if he had wanted it.

Mr. Eadie : The hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) does not know what she is talking about.

Yesterday, a resolution was passed by Lothian regional council which said :

"That the Council expresses its concern to the Scottish Office that documents and statements from the Scottish Office indicate a disturbing lack of understanding of many aspects of the present and proposed systems of local government finance ; in particular, Council :

(1) reaffirms that it fulfilled its commitment to reduce its budget by £23 million and calls on the Secretary of State to withdraw his unjustified statement that Lothian had promised to reduce its expenditure (not its budget) by £23 million ;

(2) calls on the Scottish Office to withdraw its list of estimated poll tax figures because of errors in the calculations, such as ignoring the effect of Councils' deficits or credit balances and giving the wrong figures for legal non-payers ;

(3) calls on the Scottish Office to revise its method of apportioning Expenditure Need for items such as concessionary travel and nursery education ; and

(4) calls on the Scottish Office to abandon the Safety Net provisions, for which there are no logical justifications and which destroy the elements of fairness and accountability claimed for the Government's tax system."

Some of these points have already been made, but I felt it right that the resolution passed by Lothian regional council should be put on the record. I hope that the Minister will answer our questions.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Am I not right in thinking that, if Scottish Ministers had wanted three hours of debate, they could have had it, but some of them were here at the beginning of the debate and decided not to have three hours?

Madam Deputy Speaker : I think that all hon. Members who are now in the Chamber have been here throughout the debate.

11.45 pm

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : If the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) had been here throughout the debate--

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : I have.

Mr. McAllion : If the hon. Lady had been here from the beginning of the debate, she would have realised how

Column 960

unable Conservative Members have been to sustain their argument. Indeed, only two Conservative Back Benchers have been prepared to speak.

Mr. Bill Walker : Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind the fact that Conservative Members made short speeches because we were asked to be brief and because we thought that it would be helpful to the Opposition to enable as many hon. Members as possible to speak?

Mr. McAllion : I am not complaining about the brevity of Conservative speeches, but about their scarcity. The fact that the Government can muster only two Back Benchers to speak shows the weakness of their case.

The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who is gesticulating, made the rash statement that this is a generous settlement. Such an inaccurate statement can only be the result of his ignorance and the complexity of the way in which the settlement was arrived at. I have spoken to the convenor of finance for Tayside regional council and the director of finance for Dundee district council, and both confirm that the councils are receiving less grant than they expected. I suppose, as has already been said, that, the hon. Member for Eastwood can be excused on grounds of diminished responsibility, if nothing else.

We are dealing with the first order made under a new system of local government finance for Scotland. The new system is being tested on the people of Scotland. I say that advisedly. We are dealing with something that can only be described as an experiment. Unfortunately, we have a mad scientist who masquerades as the Prime Minister of Scotland and who has a habit of carrying out experiments. Rashly, she at one time promised to abolish the rating system. She considers herself a conviction politician and is determined to see the thing through, but she needs to see how she can deliver what she promised. The Prime Minister realised that the trouble with experiments is that they sometimes go wrong, so she had to find a part of the United Kingdom where it would not matter to the Tories if things went wrong. Scotland is such an area. The Tories are already doing so badly there that it is difficult to see how they could do much worse. That is the conclusion that the Prime Minister reached. It might not suit 10 Conservative Members, but that does not matter--the Prime Minister does not care what they think. She knows that she can stay in office without their votes, and she is quite prepared to sacrifice them on the altar of the poll tax which she thinks will deliver votes in the south of England.

If we look for evidence which suggests that the poll tax system will work, we look in vain. The Minister promised us that a register of poll tax payers would be available for public inspection on 1 October, but there is still none. In the meantime, authorities have been burdened with extra expenditure on the buildings and staff needed to administer the poll tax in Scotland. The arguments about increased accountability which the Minister advanced have now been contradicted by the safety net measures which have been introduced to lessen the impact on poll tax payers in Scotland. Huge resentment at this hated tax has been stirred up among the Scottish people. There is complete disagreement between the local authorities, regional councils and district councils on the one hand, and the Government on the other, about the likely impact of the poll tax.

Column 961

The published figure for Dundee is £274. Apart from a few Tory yes-men who still survive in Dundee, the Secretary of State is unable to find anyone prepared to agree with that figure. The administration in the Tayside region expects the Dundee figure to be £330. If the poll tax had been introduced last year, it is estimated that the charge would be £291 in Dundee for the current year. The conclusion of the finance convenors of Tayside region and Dundee district was that the figures produced by the Secretary of State were nothing less than a stunt to promote party political propaganda. They have been presented to confuse Dundee's poll taxpayers when they come to decide who is to blame for the charge that they will have to pay in the coming year. It is clear that the Government wish the blame to lie with local councils.

I can understand why the Tories believe that the poll tax is a great wheeze. First, Scottish Ministers will make a great deal out of its introduction. If the Secretary of State's figures are accurate for Edinburgh, he will benefit by nearly £800 a year when a comparison is made with the sum that he pays in rates. That is probably one of the main reasons why the right hon. and learned Gentleman was able to support such a hated measure in defiance of the wishes of those whom he claims to represent. Conservative supporters in Scotland will benefit from the poll tax. That is another reason why the Government think that it is a good idea to introduce it. Their supporters are in the better-off and more highly rated areas and more likely to benefit from the poll tax when it is introduced. More importantly for the Tories, local authorities will be inhibited from providing services when the mechanism of the poll tax takes effect. In the main, the burden of the tax will fall on the poor and those who are average working class. Those are the people who cannot afford to pay the tax. That is the main reason why the Government have introduced it.

The position in Scotland is "Heads the rich win, tails the poor lose." That is why the Tories are introducing the poll tax, and that is why they will lose the next general election.

11.53 pm

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) : Today's announcement means that Edinburgh's residents will be paying £200 more in poll tax than the sum that should be required of them. The Government have prised money from Edinburgh to give to other parts of the country. The Secretary of State for Scotland, an Edinburgh Member, has done nothing to help the city. Indeed, the opposite is the truth. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has calculated that each poll tax payer in Glasgow should receive £336- worth of local services, but he expects every Edinburgh payer to get by on £214-worth. Why is Edinburgh to have £122 less per payer than Glasgow to have its streets cleaned, its housing estates kept in order, its libraries stocked, its bins collected, its roads repaired and its schools equipped and staffed? The answer is that the Secretary of State has sold out the people of Edinburgh to ingratiate himself with the Prime Minister.

I am not saying that Glasgow should receive less than Edinburgh. I am merely saying that Edinburgh should receive its fair share, not the unfair share that the Secretary of State has given it. He is a Secretary of State who is more

Column 962

concerned about the furtherance of his own career than in standing up for the capital city of Scotland. Of the eight Secretaries of State for Scotland who have held office in my lifetime, the present incumbent has done the most damage to Edinburgh. It is little wonder that he is ashamed to stay in his place throughout the debate and to speak for himself. He should be ashamed of his record. The greatest service that he could perform now for Edinburgh and Scotland generally would be to resign.

11.54 pm

Mr. Lang : With permission, I shall reply to the debate. Given the speech of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), one would not think that the increase in revenue support grant to Edinburgh next year, as compared to rate support grant this year, is no less than 17.1 per cent. The increase over the figure, after the imposition of penalties on Edinburgh as a result of its budgeted programme last year, is no less than 44 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is unfair to his constituency, he must have a curious idea of fairness.

Before I attempt to answer some of the detailed points that have been made tonight, it is worth repeating the main features of the settlement--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh no."] Opposition Members have tried hard to lose sight of the fact that public expenditure provision is 8 per cent. more than provision in the current year when measured on a comparable basis.

For the revenue support grant, the specific grant payments translate the increase in aggregate Exchequer grant to a 9.8 per cent. increase in revenue support grant. Even the president of COSLA described that as reasonable and realistic. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) although he choked on the words, almost said that the settlement was generous.

I must reply to the serious point raised by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) on his own behalf and that of his hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith). I have already said that, in general, the Government propose to make no subsequent adjustments to the revenue support grant. There are, of course, some exceptional cases. This year, the grant apportionment to Strathkelvin and Bearsden was £306,000 less than it should have been. That was the result of faulty figures submitted by Strathkelvin and Bearsden regional council, which under-estimated the empty property relief element. It is our intention that the council's mistake should not be allowed to penalise the district, and we shall put that right next year. We have given a written assurance to the district council about that.

Mr. Sam Galbraith (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) : When the Minister says next year, does he mean the next calendar year or the next financial year?

Mr. Lang : When we introduce the next Revenue Grant Support (Scotland) Order we shall make the necessary adjustment. There will be time within the financial year for the payments to be made to the district council. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that those payments do not all come at the beginning of the year, but are phased over the year and will be adjusted so that the council receives the full £306,000.

There is limited time left, but it is important to try to reply to some of the points raised in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) was

Column 963

absolutely right to congratulate Strathclyde region on showing considerably more realism in its approach to the community charge than some Opposition Members. That council's figures are within £1 of our anticipated figure for the community charge. My hon. Friend was also right to point out that Borders regional council's plan to increase its spending by 11.1 per cent. has more to do with the likely community charge level in that area than anything to do with safety-netting or revenue support grant. Its revenue support grant is to be increased by 13.5 per cent.--more than double the rate of inflation--and for districts within that region the increase will be between 8.5 per cent. and 41.5 per cent.

Most comment this evening was about safety nets and that represents no more than the phasing in of grant changes. The large gains in some areas are being phased in gradually to protect other areas, but it is important that, as soon as possible, we should get away from the safety net figure so that there is complete accountability and that is our intention.

The major contributors to the safety net have been the recipients of the largest grant increases, even after safety-netting. Those grants range up to 14.6 per cent. for regional councils and up to 81 per cent. for district councils. Strathclyde regional council is the major beneficiary of the safety net. In some of its districts-- It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted Business).

The House divided : Ayes 203, Noes 146.

Division No. 31] [11.58 pm


Alexander, Richard

Alison, Rt Hon Michael

Amess, David

Amos, Alan

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Ashby, David

Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley)

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)

Batiste, Spencer

Beaumont-Dark, Anthony

Bendall, Vivian

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Bevan, David Gilroy

Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter

Bonsor, Sir Nicholas

Boscawen, Hon Robert

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Mrs Virginia

Bowis, John

Brazier, Julian

Bright, Graham

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)

Buck, Sir Antony

Burns, Simon

Burt, Alistair

Butler, Chris

Butterfill, John

Carlisle, John, (Luton N)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

Chalker, Rt Hon Mrs Lynda

Chapman, Sydney

Chope, Christopher

Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)

Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Cope, Rt Hon John

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Curry, David

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Dicks, Terry

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Dunn, Bob

Durant, Tony

Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)

Evennett, David

Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas

Fallon, Michael

Favell, Tony

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Fishburn, John Dudley

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Fox, Sir Marcus

Franks, Cecil

Freeman, Roger

French, Douglas

Gale, Roger

Garel-Jones, Tristan

Gill, Christopher

Goodlad, Alastair

Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles

Gorman, Mrs Teresa

Gow, Ian

Greenway, John (Ryedale)

Gregory, Conal

Next Section

  Home Page