Orders of the Day — Scotland (Rate Support Grant)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st February 1967.

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Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire 12:00 am, 21st February 1967

The hon. Gentleman is doing his best to explain, but I have been looking at the statements which accompanied previous general grant orders and I have with me those for 1964 and 1962. Of course we studied those when this statement came out.

We now have the new expression, "reckonable expenditure". On previous occasions, the Government were able to agree with local authorities what the figure would be. We did not have to issue any statements saying that because of the economic situation and the growth rate not being what was postulated, we would have to make a cut of this kind. However, apparently having agreed the expenditure which the local authorities could expect, the Government have decided to cut it because of the economic crisis. That is perfectly clear, and it is quite different from the statements accompanying the 1964 and 1962 figures when the estimated expenditure was determined by both the Government and the local authorities and the figures then reached. By producing this figure of £3 million, the Government are positively misleading the House.

If a local authority finds or thinks that it must incur the full expenditure which it has estimated, it will have to obtain the extra from the ratepayers. This is why the ratepayers will find an additional burden, and the Minister of State more or less said this himself. He said that this grant was only a contribution by the Government, and he indicated that if a local authority had to spend more than was estimated the extra would not be covered by grant. That is why, although called a rate support grant, this grant, certainly in the coming year, will not give support to the rates.

This is yet another attempted swindle being perpetrated by the Government. Let us examine the reasons for this and for the economic crisis which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. The National Plan has been referred to. On 10th November last, in answer to a Question, the First Secretary of State said of the National Plan that developments had invalidated many of the assumptions and figures in the Plan. This was not altogether surprising.

What about what has been called the Scottish Plan? What about the White Paper on the Scottish Economy which came out in the January following the publication of the National Plan? We do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman still insists that the growth rate there is continuing as suggested. My own guess is that the growth rate, like that in the National Plan, has had to be abandoned for the moment.

In plain English, this means that it is the Government's mishandling of the economy which has caused this savage cut in the local authorities' expenditure and in their estimates. What has happened to the promises of early relief to rate-papers and the larger part of teachers' salaries being transferred from the rates to the Exchequer? Do these words ring in the ears of members of the Front Bench opposite? They are taken from the 1964 Labour Party election manifesto.

This Grant covers the expected remuneration of local government employees. We ask the Government: what about the pay award of 7 per cent. which many of these local government employees are awaiting? Have the estimates, even with the Government's reduction, included this award, and if so, for what period? Is it for the whole period starting in May, or for the period starting on 16th September, which would mean that the N.A.L.G.O. employees' salary award would be postponed for a further six months? On which basis have the Government worked out this grant?

If there is further postponement we have had little explanation so far of the reason, and the employees' side in the negotiations has stated that the Department for Economic Affairs indicated that it would prefer a settlement of this claim on the English pattern. That was why, it was claimed, the Scottish negotiations had to follow the English.

If this statement is correct, and we have no reason to doubt that the Department of Economic Affairs did indicate that it preferred that kind of settlement, then it was inevitable that the Scottish settlement would miss the date of 20th July. It appears that the English settlement was reached only a few days before that date and no one knew before then, when the statement was suddenly made by the Prime Minister, that this would be a watershed in pay awards.

In this and other matters the Government have completely ignored the interests of Scotland. It is not the system of government that is wrong, it is the way in which it is being operated by the present incumbents. I hope that the Minister who is to reply will tell us, first whether the Scottish award will be put into effect on 16th March as it should be, or whether it will be postponed, and secondly whether this has been included in the calculations on this Order.