I hope that I am not being unfair to the hon. Gentleman, because I usually try to be fair, but I can only imagine that he is determined to make a row about something over which no row exists. He has put words in my mouth. I never suggested that there was anything which was in the slightest way improper. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman must stand by his words. He indicated that I said that something improper had taken place. I said no such thing; I say no such thing. He indicated that I suggested that there was connivance between officials and councillors. I said no such thing; I say no such thing. The hon. Gentleman is being less than fair to me. I have made a perfectly fair point with which I am sure the Minister will deal.
I should like to raise three other points. The first relates to the question of allowances for councillors. During the proceedings on the Local Government Bill we discussed what the allowances should be and, indeed, whether there should be allowances. What consideration has the Minister given, in connection with the rate support grant, to the level of allowances which will be paid? I recollect that when the Bill was proceeding assurances were given by myself, or perhaps by my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State, that the Minister would be consulted on the methods of payment of allowances which the authorities would adopt.
I said that we would ensure that the allowances were reasonable in the terms of the assurances given in the debates. I have heard one or two suggestions by local government people that some practices have grown up south of the border which I hope will not grow up in Scotland, such as paying allowances to councillors purely for carrying out "surgeries" with their constituents. I should like an assurance from the Minister that he is keeping a close watch on this matter—if I am allowed by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) to say such a thing, which I doubt.
The Secretary of State said that the question of staff numbers was being carefully considered by him but that he was not allowing for increases in staff. He should be allowing for reductions in staff, because one of the objects of the reorganisation into larger units was to achieve over-all reductions in staff. We hoped that that would happen.
I wish to ask a question about the phasing arrangements which the Secretary of State mentioned. I hope that the Minister will give some more information on the phasing arrangements where rates will be severely different under the new authorities. Will he say whether the three-year phasing period will mean that the difference in rates between one authority and another will be brought together in the three-year period? What will happen if during the second and third years the rate increases, as almost certainly it will? Will the phasing be altered in the second and third years, and at what point will the differences meet?
The difference could be considerable if one takes the lower rates in some existing authorities with the rates in some of the new areas. For instance, I understand that in the burgh of Monifieth the rate is 53p in the pound and in Dundee city the rate is 104p in the pound. The increase is pretty drastic even with phasing. I should like to know how the system will work.
I echo the appeal of many hon. Members to the Minister to say what calculation he made in the rate support grant to allow for increases in support for rural bus services? With the present fuel crisis, it is plain that there will have to be a reappraisal of the help given to rural bus services. Probably a number of them which have not had any help—in fact, they probably have not existed up to now—will have to be given help because of the drastic effect of higher petrol prices, which I entirely understand. I should like to know as much as possible about that.
I general, I join in the welcome that has been expressed for this rate support grant. In the economic circumstances of the country it is a generous settlement. It has to be borne in mind by those who use local government services that the restriction on the development of services, which I entirely accept is necessary, arises from the Government's failure to control inflation. It is their failure that they are having to put right in the order.