Orders of the Day — Scotland (Housing Support Grant)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:57 pm on 14th January 1980.

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Photo of Mr Barry Henderson Mr Barry Henderson , Fife East 10:57 pm, 14th January 1980

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) seems much more in his element juggling with the figures on these orders than he was in arguing against the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill.

One of my points follows from the last point that the right hon. Gentleman made, about the position of Monklands and Caithness. One of the two local authorities that lie in my constituencyNorth-East Fife district council—is in a similar position. The council submitted its return to the Scottish Office, as required, by the end of June. Because at that time the loan charges were not finalised, it included some estimated figures. This the council took the trouble to point out in a covering letter. Since then, it has emerged that some local authorities were altogether late in sending in their returns

At some time—I know not when—it appears that the period for making these returns was extended to the end of August. Unfortunately, this was not communicated to North-East Fife district council, which could by then have provided firm figures. It discovered the fact of the extension, when it was too late to do anything about it, as a result of a fortunate meeting between an officer of North-East Fife district council and an officer of COSLA. It would not otherwise have known that there was an extension.

If it was known to the Scottish Office—as it must have been since it had the district council's covering letter—that the figures were provisional, and if the Scottish Office knew that an extension was to be granted to local authorities which had not even taken the trouble to send in any returns, it would seem a matter of common courtesy, if not of good sense, to have informed North-East Fife district council when something could haw been done about it.

This will affect the ratepayers in North-East Fife to the tune of about a halfpenny in the pound on the rates this year. One would have liked to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to take the order away and bring back another one so that everyone would be happy. I have taken independent advice on the matter, and I am grateful to COSLA and the district council for their help. It seems that unless my right hon. Friend can tell me anything to the contrary, even if he wished to do so—though I am sure he would like to rectify this unfortunate happening—he does not have the power to do anything about it at this stage.

We are talking of an authority which has one of the best records in Scotland in caring for ratepayers' money and public money generally and for dealing competently and timeously with Scottish Office interfaces. I think that the district council deserves the Minister's best endeavours.

We are, however, faced with the reality that there is a limit to what can now be done, but I urge the Minister at least to give a firm commitment tonight that he will exercise his discretion—though he does not have to do so—next year to compensate the authority at the earliest practicable time. That would at least recognise the unfortunate background and encourage my constituents to feel that they will not suffer in the long term. Though they may pay a little more in rates this year, the Minister's assurance would mean that they would be compensated in future.

The second issue which I wish to take up is that of Kirkcaldy district council, which also serves my constituents. I have received a copy of a letter which it has sent to the Secretary of State. Unfortunately, I had no opportunity of discussing the letter with the council before it was sent. I am in the difficult position that, like many other hon. Members, I am more than anxious to support any local authority in my area that will persuade my right hon. Friend to provide more good things for my constituents.

In this instance it seems to me that the case put forward that the council would have liked more money from the housing support grant order now before us is based heavily on the fact that it is getting such a generous contribution from the housing variation order which is also before us.

The council was glad to know that it would receive £1·3 million as a result of the generosity of the Secretary of State in the variation order. It promptly said that that was an excellent reason why it should receive rather more next year. I hope that when the Secretary of State replies to the letter from Kirkcaldy district council he will bend over backwards to satisfy the members that he has carefully considered their case and will explain to them why generosity on the one hand should not necessarily mean generosity on the other.

I return to the case of my constituents. Similar circumstances apply to a maximum of five district councils. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary can give us an assurance about their difficulty.