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Mr. Ancram: The Minister has told us that tax collection is improving. Will he confirm that the amount of uncollected tax has increased by £150 million in the past year?

Mr. Macdonald: I said that collection has improved vastly since the abolition of the poll tax. There are still problems with collection of council tax, and that is why we are introducing the scheme to which I have referred. No such grant was available in previous years. A new scheme has been introduced, and we hope that it will have the effect that we are seeking.

The hon. Member for Woodspring asked what criteria had changed in the distribution formula for revenue support grant from last year. He asked also whether there were changes on the basis of representations. The formula that we used for distribution continues to be, as it has always been, subject to extensive consultation with local authorities through COSLA. It would not be right for the Government to introduce changes by fiat. The distribution formula cannot be based on picking and choosing between councils. There must be a collective approach that is the result of co-operation, and that must involve COSLA. Indeed, that is the way in which we have approached the matter.

The most significant changes for the coming year include the phased implementation of the review of social work GAEs, which began in 1996. That implementation has resulted in some considerable changes. The process has been based on co-operation and consensus.

Another important change is the phasing out ofthe previous Government's allocation of grant-aided expenditure assessment based on the supposed savings as a result of local government reorganisation. As I have said, to go into back years to try to unpick entirely would result in losers as well as winners. I am sure that, on reflection, the hon. Member for Woodspring will agree that that would not be wise.

We are bringing to an end the mismatch support that was introduced at the time of reorganisation. We have introduced new stability arrangements to ensure that any changes that take place are progressive to enable local authorities to cope with them. Such changes will not be introduced suddenly. As I have said, all the changes to which I have referred are being introduced in co-operation with local authorities on the basis of consultation.

The hon. Member for Woodspring asked specifically about Glasgow's share of GAE. That is determined by the formula that is agreed with COSLA. Again, this is always done on the basis of consultation and co-operation. The formula has been in place for many years. The previous Government, of which the hon. Member was a member, submitted to that formula. I find it odd that he should now raise queries and questions about it.

19 Feb 1998 : Column 1228

The hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir R. Smith) wanted to know how many councils would be able to take up capping flexibility--the additional flexibility that will be introduced from 13 February. That will depend entirely on the decisions of individual councils. A majority of councils could potentially take up the option, but we believe that not all will do so. To take up the option would have an impact on council tax, and not all councils want to go down that road.

The hon. Member for Woodspring asked about the cost of servicing local authority debt and wanted to know whether the cost has increased. The servicing of debt for the coming year will be a bit lower than in the current year--£728 million as opposed to £793 million. That is the result of a change in the system of debt financing. Again, that has been introduced with the co-operation of local authorities and in response to them. Support for loan charges to pay off this debt servicing is 100 per cent. from central Government.

Comments have been made about increased costs for local authorities. I accept what has been said about landfill tax, which is something that everyone is having to bear. The revenue will go into public projects and towards the public good.

As for the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, social work GAE was increased by £24 million for community care. In addition, an extra £15 million was provided in the social work increase. That can be taken account of in terms of additional costs in implementing the Children Act.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute): Why has the Minister failed to recognise the cost of delivery of services to the islands in Argyll and Bute? Was it not possible for him to make an interim award pending the review of the special line of needs allowance in what is one of the most fragile economic areas throughout Scotland? Indeed, it has one of the lowest gross domestic products.

Mr. Macdonald: I understand the hon. Lady's concerns. As I have said, I cannot by fiat begin to pick and choose between local authorities in deciding which will get more money and which will have money taken from them. The special line of needs allowance must involve consultation with all affected local authorities as well as with other local authorities that are not directly affected. The money is top-sliced from the total sum that is available to local authorities. The issue is being considered with all local authorities through COSLA.

It is true that there has been a decline in housing support grant since 1979. Only three local authorities now receive the grant. However, the grant has largely been replaced by housing benefit, which has mushroomed enormously in the years since. The two factors are to be seen directly linked.

There have been several questions about the reduction in housing expenditure. I shall quickly put the figures on record. The total amount of capital investment available for housing for the current year was £222 million. For next year, £230 million will be available--there will be an increase. On top of that, we have provided an extra £50 million in the current year for new housing partnerships and the empty homes initiative. Another extra £15 million will be available for the same purposes next year.

19 Feb 1998 : Column 1229

I understand that rural schools represent an important concern for many Members. The Government make special adjustments in the GAE for rural primary schools. For example, Argyll and Bute gained about £1 million as a result of the rural adjustment.

It has been an extremely useful debate, and one which has covered many important topics. If I have failed to respond to any particular questions, I shall be happy to return to them as soon as I can. I hope that at the very least--

Mr. Ancram rose--

Mr. Macdonald: It would seem that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene at a late stage in my reply.

Mr. Ancram: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I intervene because my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring and I asked about policing and whether the chief constables had asked for £28 million. Are they right in saying that, without that, they will not be able to achieve a standstill? I would be grateful for the Minister's reply.

Mr. Macdonald: Bids are always submitted. An extra £15.8 million was made available for policing this year. That represents a 2.3 per cent. increase. We believe that it is possible to meet the aims of police boards and chief constables with that increase in funding.

I hope that hon. Members will agree that although the settlement is difficult it is fair. We shall try to proceed in an honest and open way in partnership with local authorities. I am grateful that local authorities have responded positively to the settlement.

Question put:--

The House divided: Ayes 241, Noes 29.

Division No. 174
[6.19 pm


AYES


Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Ashton, Joe
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Banks, Tony
Barron, Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bermingham, Gerald
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Boateng, Paul
Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Brinton, Mrs Helen
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Browne, Desmond
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Butler, Mrs Christine
Byers, Stephen
Caborn, Richard
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Casale, Roger
Cawsey, Ian
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chisholm, Malcolm
Church, Ms Judith
Clapham, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Corbett, Robin
Corbyn, Jeremy
Corston, Ms Jean
Cranston, Ross
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Darvill, Keith
Davidson, Ian
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, John
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Dismore, Andrew
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Ennis, Jeff
Fatchett, Derek
Field, Rt Hon Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foulkes, George
Fyfe, Maria
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Godman, Norman A
Goggins, Paul
Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grocott, Bruce
Grogan, John
Hain, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hanson, David
Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Healey, John
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hoon, Geoffrey
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan
Hutton, John
Illsley, Eric
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Miss Melanie
(Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Jones, Ms Jenny
(Wolverh'ton SW)
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jowell, Ms Tessa
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Linton, Martin
Livingstone, Ken
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Lock, David
Love, Andrew
McAllion, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
McDonagh, Siobhain
Macdonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Marek, Dr John
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martlew, Eric
Maxton, John
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Alun
Milburn, Alan
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Moran, Ms Margaret
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Morley, Elliot
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Palmer, Dr Nick
Pearson, Ian
Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda
Pike, Peter L
Pollard, Kerry
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Purchase, Ken
Radice, Giles
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, Nick
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rooker, Jeff
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank
Ruddock, Ms Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Ms Joan
Salter, Martin
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Sheerman, Barry
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Shipley, Ms Debra
Short, Rt Hon Clare
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Snape, Peter
Soley, Clive
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Stevenson, George
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stoate, Dr Howard
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
(Dewsbury)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. Clive Betts and
Mr. David Jamieson.


NOES


Allan, Richard
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy
Baker, Norman
Ballard, Mrs Jackie
Brake, Tom
Brand, Dr Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Burnett, John
Burstow, Paul
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Chidgey, David
Cotter, Brian
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Moore, Michael
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Oaten, Mark
Öpik, Lembit
Rendel, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Salmond, Alex
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Stunell, Andrew
Swinney, John
Wallace, James
Willis, Phil

Tellers for the Noes:


Mr. Donald Gorrie and
Mr. Andrew Welsh.

Question accordingly agreed to.

19 Feb 1998 : Column 1231

Resolved,


Resolved,


    That the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1998, dated 4th February 1998, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th February, be approved.

Resolved,


    That the Special Grant Report (98/1) (Scotland): Local Taxation Collection Grant Scheme 1997-99 (HC 530), which was laid before this House on 5th February, be approved.

Resolved,


    That the Special Grant Report (98/2) (Scotland): Grant in Aid of Local Authority Revenue Costs and Reinstatement Works at Dunblane Cemetery Resulting from the Dunblane Tragedy (HC 531), which was laid before this House on 5th February, be approved.--[Mr. Pope.]


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