Mr. Edward M. Taylor:
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what increase he anticipates will take place in local rates in Scotland in 1965–66; and when he will announce his plans on the reform of local government finance.
So far as I am aware, only 29 local authorities have announced their rate poundages for 1965–66, and they show an average increase of about 7 per cent. over last year. This is too small a sample to justify any general conclusions. The Government's plans for the reform of local government finance will be announced as soon as possible.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the estimate in the last Scottish Question Time of an increase of about 4 per cent. has proved to be nonsense? Has he seen today's Press report that the Roxburgh County rate has gone up by 15 per cent. and the Huntly burgh rate by 18 per cent.? As the Government are themselves largely responsible for these scandalous increases, is it not time that they provided early relief?
I hope that one day when the hon. Gentleman begins a supplementary question with the words, "Does the right hon. Gentleman agree …?" I shall be able to agree. I certainly do not agree with him on this issue. He should not jump to conclusions. There are 233 local authorities. Why did he not also tell us that the Fife rate poundage—and Fife is one of the largest authorities—has gone up by only 1½ per cent.?
It is wrong to jump to conclusions. We all know that there is a rising trend and the Government have taken account of the increases in assessing the general grant. This year, we have put in an extra £1 million. This was promised by the last Government in 1963 but we produced it. We have also increased the general grant by £1·2 million for next year. This is quite outwith the formula for the general grant. Local authorities are better satisfied by the way in which they have been treated financially by this Government than by the last Government.
Will my right hon. Friend discourage this continual depreciation of the value of the rate? Will he take steps to ask the Scottish Films Council, for instance, to produce a film showing people what they get for their rates and the tremendous value of local authority services? While it may be possible for the Government to relieve local authorities, is it not right that the public should be informed that the rates constitute one of the cheapest ways of getting services such as education, sanitation and the rest? It is quite scandalous to talk about the rates as being a burden.
Generally speaking, there may be some truth in what my right hon. Friend says. If people ask the local authorities to do more and more, then it costs more and more. Hon. Members are the first to ask for increased salaries for certain people in local authorities, such as the teachers, but it cannot be done without increasing the rates. They should follow through the obligations that their proposals entail. At the same time, however, there are hardships in respect of local rates and it may be that this is due to a defect within the system. These things are being examined and it is right that we should know about the situation.