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Mr. Greenway : May we have a debate next week on early-day motion 303?

[That this House abhors the prospect of a resumption in the export of horses and ponies to continental abattoirs after 1992 ; urges the European Community (the European Commission, European Parliament and all member states) to recognise that the ending of British export controls linked to minimum values would mean the rounding up of Dartmoor and other wild ponies for degrading and wholly unfamiliar transport to and across Europe ; and calls for changes to proposed European Community measures on the protection of animals during transport, in order to maintain restrictions which avoid cruel treatment to British horses and ponies during long journeys and at continental slaughterhouses.]

It deals with the disturbing situation that will arise after 1992 unless something is done about the export of horses and ponies for brutal slaughter in European abattoirs. The House should give urgent and early attention to these matters to protect equines, as we should protect all animals.

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Sir Geoffrey Howe : If my hon. Friend wants to bring that matter forthwith to the attention of the House, he can seek an Adjournment debate on it. The Government are already firmly on record as opposing any cruelty to animals during transport. In negotiations within the Community, we shall seek in the future, as in the past, to maintain controls designed to prevent the export of horses and ponies for slaughter.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the ambulance dispute next Tuesday from the Secretary of State for Health? On that day, Labour Members such as myself will take part in marches and rallies throughout the country in support of the ambulance workers. Is he aware that, unless the Secretary of State removes the Army and police from the streets of the cities and towns of Britain, withdraws provocative action against the ambulance workers and gives them a decent wage rate, widespread and generalised industrial action of solidarity with the ambulance workers will be undertaken on Tuesday--by workers such as those in several workplaces in Coventry, who have already decided on a half-day strike--and that pressure will only increase? Why does not the Secretary of State do something about solving the dispute by giving the ambulance workers a decent living wage?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman's perception of the matter is entirely the wrong way round. As long as industrial action of the kind that he is prepared to support continues, it will remain the duty of the Government and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health to ensure that alternative arrangements are ready and available to deal with emergencies in a proper way.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : In view of the continuing uncertainty caused by British Rail's failure to announce its final plans for a link from the Channel tunnel to London and beyond, which has brought great distress to the residents of Kent and south-east London, will my right hon. and learned Friend organise a debate in the near future on that extremely important topic?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot undertake to organise a debate. However, I can undertake, as I have done more than once, to bring the anxiety expressed in the House to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and of British Rail.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford) : May I remind the Leader of the House that almost three years ago, the then Home Secretary was quick enough to come to the House to offer a statement about events at Wapping when he saw it as an opportunity to whip the trade unions and to criticise them and others who were present that night? Given that the report of the Northamptonshire police into events at Wapping is now available, will he give a guarantee that there will be a full statement or, even better, a debate in the House? Is he aware that the matter is of the most fundamental concern, not just to trade unions but for the way in which policing is carried out in London and control by the police of events in which trade unions are involved?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot give a guarantee about how the matter should or will be handled. As I have already told the House, the report of which we now have knowledge was submitted in accordance with the statutory procedures for complaint to the independent Police

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Complaints Authority. The prospect of publication will be dealt with by the authority in due course in the proper manner. At all times, the House retains the opportunity to debate the matter if any hon. Member can find an opportunity to do so.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : It is now some weeks since my right hon. and learned Friend promised to give consideration to the possibility of a parliamentary debate on the Polkinghorne report. The report has not been discussed in the House. What was the outcome of his considerations?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend knows a great deal about the matter. She will recollect that the Polkinghorne committee considered that legislation was not appropriate because of the need for flexibility. She will also be aware that developmets are taking place quickly. Granted that, the Government decided to promulgate the new code of practice without delay. That is what has happened. It is open to my hon. Friend and to any other hon. Member to seek an opportunity to debate the matter in the House. I shall bear her points in mind, but I cannot go further than that.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Now that the lady is for turning, will the Leader of the House organise a statement by the Prime Minister next week on the changes to the poll tax, so that we can dismiss rumours of the possibility that educational salaries will be taken away from the poll tax charge before its implementation in April? If he cannot do that, will he appoint an inquiry into the working of the poll tax, in view of the many changes? Perhaps he could put Lord Justice Taylor in charge.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman is testing his capacity for fancifulness to destruction. The community charge has been debated here many times in recent weeks, and there will be two opportunities for discussing the Taylor report next week. The matters should be kept well separate from each other.

Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : Would my right hon. and learned Friend arrange a debate on the creation of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland? As he is aware, there is an urgent need to provide a satisfactory way of dealing with Northern Ireland parliamentary business, and the old Northern Ireland Committee is no substitute.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand my hon. Friend's natural and continued concern with this matter. As he will understand, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Ireland--[ Hon. Members :-- "Ireland?"]--Northern Ireland--has often underlined his willingness to talk to hon. Members on that matter.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. I will call those hon. Members who are standing. May I remind hon. Members for Scottish constituencies that there is a debate on Scotland following this? They may consider that it could jeopardise their chances if we take up more time now on business questions.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Will the Leader of the House join me in congratulating President Moi of Kenya on today destroying a substantial stock of rhino horn seized from poachers and destroying it, just as

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he destroyed the ivory which was seized from poachers? President Moi deserves our congratulations, and I hope that the Leader of the House will agree that he deserves financial support from the Government for the actions that he has taken.

It would be most helpful, because there are disputes about the effect of the Government's decision to allow Hong Kong ivory on to the world market, for us to have a debate on this issue in view of the great amount of international concern. Is the Leader of the House aware that, despite what he said earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), the ivory dealers in Hong Kong are asking for the six-month moratorium to be extended to two years? We must debate the matter urgently.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : If we do not debate it, it will not be for want of trying by the hon. Gentleman. I will certainly keep the matter in mind.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : Could we have time for a debate about the judiciary? I know that there are limitations about removing members of the judiciary recently, but I think that the House ought to have a look at that again and make time for a debate. Many people are concerned that some judges, and one judge in particular, Judge Pickles, displays a continuing arrogance in asserting that he cannot--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has already said that he cannot say that. Now he has. Perhaps he would withdraw it.

Mr. Cryer : I will rephrase my remarks, Mr. Speaker. Some people are very concerned that, although there is a Criminal Injuries Compensation Board for the victims of crime, there seems to be no compensation for people who are sent to prison for contempt, who appeal and who are released immediately. It is time that this injustice, meted out by some members of the judiciary--including one in particular, whom I shall not name--should not go on without any discussion by the legislature to make sure that this arrogance is brought to an end.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman knows very well that if there is a matter of some substance there that he wishes to raise, there is almost an infinity of ways in which he can raise it properly and within the rules of order, rather than in this somewhat curious fashion during the course of business questions.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Will the Leader of the House turn his attention to early-day motion 379 on access to the palace of Westminster?

[That this House is concerned at the continuing lack of facilities for visitors to the Palace of Westminster ; and calls for urgent changes to prevent visitors having to wait outside merely to enter the building, access to refreshment facilities that do not require the attendance of an honourable Member or pass holder and urgent changes to give full access to those who suffer from disabilities, including full wheelchair access to all parts of the building.] Will he arrange for a statement urgently about improving visitors' access, so that they are not waiting outside in the rain and in the cold to get in here, and so that they can get refreshments without having to be accompanied by hon. Members? Most important, since the House has quite rightly passed legislation on access to

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public buildings for people with disabilities, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that we do not have this nonsense of people in wheelchairs finding it extremely difficult to get in or park their vehicles and suffering great humiliation merely in entering the House to attend any sort of meeting? It really is not on that the House should legislate for the rest of the country and not apply the legislation to itself.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman must realise that any holder of my present job readily becomes aware of the large number of shortcomings in the facilities available to hon. Members and members of the public. The House endeavours to improve these things : for example, we recently agreed, although we have not yet implemented, improved access to the line of route, and, for disabled visitors, we have been making some improvements to this ancient building as far and as fast as possible. But I would not pretend that there are not many other matters which deserve attention and to which the House ought to strive to address itself with increasing application. We cannot expand the site beyond its existing limitations. We cannot transform or transplant the site, but we need to apply ourselves fully to the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) : Does the Leader of the House realise that, on a day very much like today 231 years ago in Alloway, Ayrshire, the world's most famout poet was born? Does he further realise that tonight throughout the world Scots and non-Scots alike will be celebrating his memory and will be lamenting the lack of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs? Will the Leader of the House therefore undertake to apply himself vigorously next week to setting up such a committee and abandon his "man's inhumanity to man" stance?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Burns also said :

"Be Britain still to Britain true,

Among ourselves united".

That is a sentiment that also deserves reflection.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware that last week my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley (Mr. Lewis) had an Adjournment debate on chatlines. It was unfortunate that the Minister, in response to requests from both sides of the House that the Government should take action to make these sexually perverted chatlines unlawful, said that the Government would not take action. Will the Leader of the House ask his colleagues in the Cabinet to think again and to support measures from private Members, if not from the Government, to make these disgraceful chatlines unlawful?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I cannot promise to take consideration further than was promised by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs only a few days ago. The matter is receiving, and will continue to receive, proper consideration.

Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : Could the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement to the House on the reason why Bishopton Royal Ordnance factory has to lose a laboratory and the 26 jobs that go with it after the the magnificent case and battle put up by Royal Ordnance workers throughout the country to keep jobs in

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Bishopton? Will the Leader of the House listen to the pleas of the people of Scotland? Enough is enough ; they have suffered too much unemployment. The Government can stop this deliberate creation of further unemployment in my area.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : I will certainly bring the point raised by the hon. Gentleman to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. On the wider question that he raised of employment and unemployment in Scotland, he will have observed the presence in the House of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who continues effectively to conduct economic policy which enhances the growth of employment in Scotland, as it has done for some time under the Government.

Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton) : Could the Leader of the House arrange for the appropriate Minister to make a statement to the House next week on the state of the ambulance dispute in my constituency? Today, ambulance workers set up an emergency service with its own telephone number, which has been disconnected unilaterally by the Scottish ambulance service, despite the Arctic conditions prevailing in my constituency, where many roads are blocked. If people telephone that number, they will not even get a recorded message to dial 999. Can the Leader of the House do something by bringing someone here and showing that the Government, in making a statement next week, have concern for the people?

Sir Geoffrey Howe : It is for the local ambulance service management to decide how to respond to matters of the kind referred to by the hon. Gentleman. For everybody--above all, for the leaders of the unions concerned--the urgent and correct answer is to secure a return to normal working as soon as possible.

BALLOT FOR NOTICES OF MOTION ON MONDAY, 12 FEBRUARY Members successful in the ballot were :

Mr. Keith Vaz

Mr. Michael Martin

Mr. Peter L. Pike

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Points of Order

4.18 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While the news that lumps of masonry are falling off the House may be a cause for celebration in some parts of the country, no doubt with the added hope that some of us do not get out before the whole thing comes down, it is a serious matter. Further to the welcome statement by the Leader of the House, should we not discuss the matter urgently? Obviously it results from the neglect of the fabric of the building, which is symptomatic of a wider neglect of investment for the House. May I encourage the Leader of the House to bring forward new thinking on exactly the manner and way in which we finance the services and facilities of Parliament?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : That is rather an ingenious point of order, but the hon. Gentleman is not unknown for such an approach to these matters. One should not conclude that the sort of damage taking place in today's storm conditions necessarily signifies lack of maintenance, because many other buildings are suffering in the same way from the exceptional weather conditions--which, I am told, are likely to abate as the evening moves on. We shall ensure that the House authorities continue to do what they can in relation to what may happen, and we shall warn hon. Members of further hazards. Yes, I do attach importance to ensuring that we get the best possible arrangements for the management, not only of the building but of other aspects of the Palace of Westminster as a whole, including the House.

Mr. Gerry Steinberg (City of Durham) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the debate on schools yesterday, when summing up--as reported in Hansard, column 942--the Minister of State implied that I was an adviser to the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association. In no way am I an adviser--either voluntary or paid--to that association.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I must warn the House that we have an important debate ahead of us.

Mr. King : I will be brief, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) and I raised the matter of an incident involving three Labour Members which was dealt with. Since then, have you received any report from the Serjeant at Arms about an altercation which took place in the Lobby that evening involving my hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott)? I have had the opportunity to drop a note to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East who is clearly not about the House at the moment. I understand that the incident consisted of some physical and verbal abuse. Have you, Mr. Speaker, received any reports about it? Was it picked up by the video cameras in the House?

Mr. Speaker : It is the first that I have heard of it.

Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sure this point will appeal to you as our

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employer. Suggestions have been made about the fabric of the building collapsing and there has been a request to the Leader of the House to make alternative arrangements, because of the lack of accommodation here, should the building have to be closed. However, only this week we were given to understand that a large building opposite, on the other side of the river, which would have been ideal for accommodating Members today, has been sold to private enterprise. Should the wind and hurricane start blasting off more of the roof of this building, you, Mr. Speaker, will have the responsibility of safeguarding Members' interests because you are our employer. I do not know whether employer's liability is involved in this matter, but you are our employer and it is your responsibility. I hope that you will take action.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. We have an important debate in front of us. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am not his employer, but I do have a concern for the safety and welfare of Members. However, I am not responsible for the weather.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : Further to the point of order of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), Mr. Speaker. I can confirm that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East was last night feeling tired and upset about the points of order raised, there was physical contact between him and me and he uttered some words of abuse. However, I have no scratches on me today. I understand that I am in a long line of Welsh Members who have received the same treatment, including Lord Callaghan of Cardiff. I certainly do not wish to take the matter further.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us not take anything further. We have an important debate ahead.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Well, I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that he is doing a disservice to his colleagues in Scotland who are waiting to have an important debate on the community charge. However, I will hear him.

Mr. Banks : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Do you agree that, if hon. Members wish to raise on points of order matters concerning the conduct of, or anything else about, other hon. Members, common courtesy requires them to advise the hon. Members to whom they intend to refer of their intention? [Interruption.] If I may say so, nothing would suit the hon. member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) better than a good thrashing.

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us get on to a good debate.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have heard of lager louts, we have had Tea Room tantrums and now we have Lobby louts. Can we be protected from such shipboard manners as we proceed through the Lobbies?

Mr. Speaker : Let us get on with the business of the House.

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Housing and Local Government (Scotland)

4.25 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : I beg to move,

That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 12th December, be approved.

Mr. Speaker : I suggest that it will be convenient to debate at the same time the following four motions :

That the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Variation Order 1990, which was laid before this House on 12th December, be approved.

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Housing Revenue Account General Fund Contribution Limits (Scotland) Order 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 2310), dated 7th December 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th December, be annulled.

That the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1989, a copy of which was laid before this House on 21st December, be approved. That the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1990, dated 8th January 1990, a copy of which was laid before this House on 9th January, be approved.

The debate, as the House knows, must conclude at 7 o'clock. I therefore appeal to hon. Members who are seeking to be called in the debate to speak briefly. Then, with any luck, it may be possible to call all of them.

Mr. Rifkind : This is the annual opportunity for the House to debate the revenue support grant and housing support grant orders affecting Scottish local authorities. It is our tradition not only to deal with the details of the orders but to use this as an opportunity to comment on some of the wider matters that arise out of the provision made by the orders.

Because of the time available, I shall speak briefly to the orders and then make some wider 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 1990, about which I need say little. It deals with the interest rate assumptions for local authority borrowing. In the original order, there had been an assumption of a 10.2 per cent. interest rate. As it turned out, the average interest rate for local authorities has been 10.5 pr cent. The consequence of that has been an increase of grant payable to local authorities, which will now be £65.3 million instead of £60.4 million.

The main instrument, the draft Housing Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1990, sets out the amounts of housing support grant to Scottish local authorities for 1990-91. It provides for a total of £59.6 million to be given to 21 local authorities.

In determining the level of housing support grant, I am required to reach a view as to the difference between the estimate of relevant expenditure and the estimate of relevant income for local authorities' housing accounts. There are essentially two components to expenditure--the loan charges that local authorities are likely to incur and the management and maintenance expenditure in which they will wish to involve themselves.

At present, we estimate that loan charges will be 10.2 per cent.--the average rate of interest--but if that turns out to be inaccurate, then, in the same way as this year, there will be a variation order, which is the normal practice.

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For management and maintenance, which is an important aspect, for 1990-91 there is a per house allowance of £407, an increase of 12.5 per cent. in the assumption that we are making of the resources that local authorities will wish to provide for the management and maintenance of their housing stock. I am pleased to say that this is the fourth year in succession that we have been able to put forward a figure well in excess of inflation, recognising the desirability of local authorities improving the management and maintenance of their housing stock, in the interests of their tenants and of housing as a whole.

On the income side, we are assuming, for purposes of housing support grant, a relevant income that is based on rents increasing by £2.37 per house per week. That is an increase of 12.5 per cent., exactly the same as the assumption for management and maintenance. I should emphasise that that is simply an assumption that the Government make to ensure equity in the distribution of housing support grant. It is a matter entirely for the discretion of local authorities whether they wish to work on the basis of the assumptions that the Government have made or whether, in respect of rents or management and maintenance expenditure, they wish to provide for a higher or lower figure. Local authorities have total discretion in the matter, without any penalty from central Government as a result of whatever decision they choose to take. Because, for most authorities, loan charges are not expected to rise significantly above 1989-90 levels, most local authorities can increase their management and maintenance expenditure by significantly more than they increase their rents. That will be true even of those authorities that receive housing support grant. I therefore would not expect average rents to increase by anything like 12.5 per cent. I should also mention that our proposals for limiting general fund contributions in 1990-91 are based on a proposition that they should be limited to £2.8 million. It is our view that the extent to which the community charge payer should be expected to subsidise council house rents should be at the lowest practicable level. The House will be aware that the sums available have been steadily reduced over the past few years.

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride) : On the general fund contribution, I draw the Secretary of State's attention to a matter of concern in my constituency and a problem facing East Kilbride district council. Representations have been made to the Secretary of State and to the Scottish Office about the 58-bed single persons' unit at Lindsay house in East Kilbride. That hostel runs at a deficit of £60,000, which must be borne by 1,138 council house tenants in East Kilbride. That works out at £1.01 per week for each council house tenant. The district council does not receive any entitlement to transfer from the general fund to meet that deficit. Will the Secretary of State give further consideration to the representations made by the district councils and allow all poll tax payers in the district to meet the deficit that has been run up on that unit?

Mr. Rifkind : I am certainly willing to give consideration to the hon. Gentleman's point. However, as he knows, it is a basic principle that there should be a proper balance on the housing account. All local authorities, not just East

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Kilbride, are expected to balance from their income the expenditure that they incur. Only if there was a good reason why East Kilbride should be exempted from that proposition would it be appropriate to apply different rules from those that are traditionally applied to other local authorities.

Mr. Ingram : A special set of circumstances is applicable to East Kilbride. The bulk of public sector housing is run and operated by the development corporation. I repeat that there are only 1,138 district council tenants within the conurbation of East Kilbride. Those circumstances warrant proper examination.

Mr. Rifkind : I note what the hon. Gentleman has said, and obviously we shall have an opportunity to study his remarks in due course.

On the basis of forecast loan charges, and assuming that each authority increases its management and maintenance spending by 12.5 per cent. per house above last year's levels, our calculation is that local authority rents would need to be increased from their present average level of £18.80 per house by about £1.38. That would represent an increase of 7.3 per cent. That is what local authorities would need to do ; whether they choose to do that or to opt for a much higher figure is a matter entirely for them.

Where authorities have opted for a much higher level, it is almost invariably because of the covenant arrangements that some local authorites have established. I understand that Edinburgh district council is proposing a rent increase of £3.50. It should be clearly understood in Edinburgh, as well as in the House, that that is a consequence not of the level of Government support, but of the covenant arrangements that that local authority, along with others such as Glasgow and Dundee, chose to enter into, to finance capital investment above and beyond the levels of capital allocations. As a consequence of that, such authorities may have to contemplate higher rent increases.

The Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1989 deals with the errors that were made by Strathclyde regional council in the figures that it submitted to the Scottish Office in respect of two authorities--Strathkelvin and Argyll and Bute. The effect of the error was to reduce Strathkelvin's grant entitlement in the current year by £323,000. The error did not affect Argyll and Bute's overall grant position in 1989-90, but it did affect the proportion of grant that the authority received from the safety net for that year. If a correction had not been made, that would have reduced the amount of safety netting that Argyll and Bute would receive in 1990-91 by almost £320,000. The order will restore to Strathkelvin the under- allocation of £323,000. That will be achieved by marginal reductions in grant for most other local authorities.

The purpose of the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1990 is to implement the distribution of the sum of £2,479.3 million, which was the figure announced by me in the House on 26 July last. I remind the House that at an earlier stage of our deliberations the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities--COSLA--said that it hoped that the Scottish Office would provide for a 7 per cent. increase in grant. COSLA considered that that would be acceptable as it would meet the requirements of local authorities. The figures that I announced in July met that requirement to the letter. They provided for a 7 per cent.

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increase, and, of course, there has since been a further increase because of the £30 million safety net fund that the Treasury is providing through the Scottish Office, to those local authorities. Together with specific grants, that means an overall increase of 8.2 per cent. There are two stages in the process of the distribution of these resources. First, an amount is distributed among authorities to equalise differences in their grant-aided expenditure, which is determined by the client group assessment approach. The rest of the grant is distributed on a per capita basis.

I should like to deal briefly with the safety netting principle. I remind the House that COSLA said that there should be no safety net at all, either last year or thereafter. Hon. Members from Glasgow and Strathclyde constituencies, who occasionally deem fit to criticise the effect on their local authorities of the running down of the safety net, might like to reflect on the fact that if we had accepted the advice of COSLA, which they normally like to support, there would have been no safety net at all right from the very beginning. So, if criticism is to be the order of the day, I trust that it will be directed towards the right quarter.

Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : Not at all.

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman says, "Not at all." That does not reflect his customary sense of fairness, but perhaps it reflects his realisation of where the strength of the argument lies.

In this, its second year, the safety net will add up to £30 million. The main beneficiaries will be Strathclyde region and Glasgow district, which will receive extra grant totalling £17.1 million and £10.4 million respectively. However, I emphasise that this year those grants will not be at the expense of local authorities in other parts of Scotland, many of which have benefited significantly from the fact that there is no longer a requirement to fund the safety net of Strathclyde and Glasgow and one or two other authorities.

In July I said that, in the light of this generous settlement, there should be no need for many authorities--indeed, most authorities--to consider an increase in the community charge above the rate of inflation. I stated that, in respect of a number of authorities, there would be a powerful case for reducing the community charge when they came to settle the proposals for the forthcoming year. That process has not yet been concluded, but it is interesting to see that, already, a significant number of authorities appear to have reached a similar conclusion. On the basis of the figures that we have currently, it is clear that in the case of quite a number of local authorities, the community charge will be reduced--not just not increased, but actually reduced.

I think, for example, of Ettrick and Lauderdale district council, where there will be a reduction of 4.76 per cent.; Falkirk district council, a zero increase; Grampian regional council, minus 5.29 per cent.; Gordon district council, minus 2.27 per cent.; Badenoch and Strathspey district council, minus 34.29 per cent.; and Eastwood district council, minus 30.16 per cent. In many of those cases, of course, there could have been even greater reductions without any effect on services. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that important progress has been made on that front.

Inevitably, there are one or two other local authorities that choose to spoil the general picture. The House will not

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