Fifth Schedule. — (Repeals.)

Part of Orders of the Day — Local Government and Miscellaneous Financial Provisions (Scotland) (Recommitted) Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 15th May 1958.

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Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock 12:00 am, 15th May 1958

We should recognise that the Bill, to which we are saying a farewell word, is historic. It is the first Bill that has covered local government finance so comprehensively. It makes revolutionary changes in the financial relationship between the central Government and local authorities.

The Bill was sent to the new Scottish Standing Committee, and Scottish Members were guillotined in their ability to sit in that Committee. One would have thought that in order to mark the successful venture of the Government in regard to that Committee, full discussion would have been allowed on the Measure, but the Government introduced a timetable Motion to guillotine the Bill. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. George) said that there was never a more unpopular Bill, and that the Bill had no friends. He said that local authorities, teachers and industries were against it, and he added, "This Bill must have full discussion".

It has not had full discussion. We are now on the Third Reading and there are Clauses which have never been mentioned. What about Clause 14, which will raise the cost of living in Scotland to some extent? It is not a matter for amusement but for gravity that we should be taking leave of a Bill which raises the cost of living, by how much we do not know. We have not had a chance to put questions about it. The Ninth Schedule has not been fully discussed, while not a word has been said about the Third and Fourth Schedules.

The Government cannot be proud of the way things have been conducted. It is a reflection that, in order to pass this sham charter of the local authorities, Scottish Members have had to be denied the liberty of discussion that is their right. We have had the awful spectacle of Amendment after Amendment being passed without justification or a word of discussion—just shoved through. That is not democracy as I understand it. On the first occasion on which the new procedure has been evoked it is not greatly to the credit of the Government to employ it to get this Bill through.

We are dealing with services vital to local government in Scotland, not purely in a local sense, but in a national sense. We are dealing with education and all its ramifications from nursery schools right through to the technical schools for which we hope. We are dealing with the welfare of the aged and of the children. We are dealing with road safety, the fire service, planning, and recreational and physical training facilities. We are making this revolutionary change under Clause 2 whereby local authority expenditure in respect of these things now covered by a specific grant is in future to be lumped together for the whole of Scotland in an aggregate grant. In the Second Schedule there are details of the share-out.

The first point of criticism must arise on the aggregate grant and the fairness of the apportionment. I want to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Pollok to this because he said he was satisfied that there would be adequate financial assistance for Scottish local authorities to meet the challenge in respect of education. He said the Secretary of State has got to take that into consideration. He has to take that into consideration, but that is all Clause 2 says. The hon. Member seems to equate the Secretary of State taking things into consideration with actual financial assistance. Nothing is laid upon the Secretary of State at all in respect of the actual sums of money which have to come out of that consideration. There is no guarantee of anything.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) was quite right. No local authority examining Clause 2 can say, "We will get so much". There is no guarantee of any adequate sum at all. What they will get will be what is decided by the Secretary of State. It has always been part of the case of hon. Members opposite that the man in Whitehall does not know best, but the central Government have to decide these things and the one man who decides them is to be the Secretary of State. Can the hon. Member for Pollok rest satisfied with that? I certainly cannot.

On the apportionment of the grant, we have been given a Schedule which surely is mystic and wonderful. The Secretary of State himself cannot explain it and the Joint Under-Secretary told us he does not know whether it will work. All the evidence we have is that it will lead to dissatisfaction and unfairness. One hon. Member opposite spent hours talking about the apportionment of the grant in relation to his local authority and evidently he does not yet know how it will work.

I do not think this is good enough. One thing we do know. In relying upon this formula we can now appreciate that a progressive local authority, since what it spends will become relevant expenditure and will go into the pool, will draw out of that pool only in accordance with this formula, which equally means that the reactionary local authority will, according to this unchanging formula, draw more from the pool if other authorities spend more.

That is the inequity of it. It means that local authorities which have special problems and need special services will find that they will not get their share of the pool, and those local authorities which are spending nothing on those services will draw a greater share out of it. What justice is there in that? How can this possibly lead local authorities to meet the educational challenge of today or the challenge of humanity in relation to the old folk or the children? It is an insult to their intelligence to expect the people of Scotland to believe that.

These two Clauses, and particularly Clause 2, are the instruments of retrenchment. I do not think that this is a local authority Bill at all; it is a Treasury Bill. The Government are limiting their liabilities, and Clause 2 is the instrument by which they will limit them. We shall get a screen of wondrous words and soothing slogans about education being very important and all the rest of it, but if the educational challenge is to be met, it is not to be met with additional help from the Treasury, but only from the local authorities themselves.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. McInnes) said, at the present time the local authorities are experiencing a financial crisis. Everyone knows that, and things are going to be worse. Are we to meet that educational challenge? Have we to rely on this Bill and on the people who presently occupy the Front Bench opposite? The answer is definitely "No." We were told by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Sir C. Thornton-Kemsley) the real truth about this Bill. I always look on the hon. Gentleman as being the authentic voice of official Toryism.