Is the Secretary of State aware that that answer, which people may read if they are able to obtain that particular copy of Hansard, will cause great concern to the ratepayers in Scotland? Is he also aware that the reduction of £103 million in expenditure next year compared with the current year, will mean a catastrophic drop in either services or jobs, or both?
Nobody enjoys reducing the amount of money available for public services. I certainly do not. The hon. Member must appreciate that the expenditure plans left by the previous Government were completely unrealistic and quite impossible for the country's finances to afford.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that it is generally recognised that it is a considerable achievement to maintain the rate support grant at 68½ per cent., which is 7½ per cent. higher than the English equivalent? He is thus recognising Scotland's needs.
I thank my hon. Friend. His comments are in sharp contrast to some of the scare stories that have been put out by the Labour Party. It is interesting to note that in spite of the difficulties about public expenditure, we have been able to maintain expenditure on certain services, such as law and order, the health service and the social services. The reductions in education are less than the reduction in the number of pupils, and there is an increase in pupil-teacher ratios.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that one of the aspects of the rate support grant that is most welcome to ratepayers is the fact that he is actually giving positive encouragement to efficient regional authorities, such as Grampian, and introducing a spur to spendthrift Socialist authorities which are wasting the ratepayers' money?
I thank my hon. Friend. It has been a matter of concern to me that the old system would have encouraged authorities that spend excessively and get more grants from doing so. The changes that I have made will make that more difficult.
Nobody knows what the rate increases might be next year until local authorities make their decisions. If local authorities are prudent, and make the reductions in expenditure that I have suggested, there should be no increases in rates above what would have normally been the case.