Orders of the Day — Scotland (Housing Support Grant)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:18 pm on 14th January 1980.

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Photo of Mr Gordon Wilson Mr Gordon Wilson , Dundee East 11:18 pm, 14th January 1980

At the start of the debate it struck me that we were engaged in incantations between two financial wizards, neither of whom could fully understand his brief or succeed in explaining to the House what it was all about. It brought to mind that perhaps we should have some system whereby Ministers and those who care to put forward alternative figures should be able to put them up in graphics for the benefit of the rest of us to understand. It would be a far easier way of achieving some comprehension of these important matters.

It also occurred to me that, together with the local government rate support grant order that we are to deal with on Wednesday night, this might have been a better subject for the Scottish Grand Committee arranged for Tuesday next than the arcane and bizarre subject that has been chosen for it.

There is a serious difference between the figures that have been adduced both by the Secretary of State and by the former Secretary of State for Scotland, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). The right hon. Gentleman made strong allegations about the honesty or otherwise of the Scottish Office in concealing figures. I hope that we shall be able to see some of those calculations in future and to consider them at leisure.

I do not wish to make a special plea, as have other hon. Members, on behalf of my local authority. However, if the Secretary of State has some cheer left over from the festive period I am willing to pitch in on behalf of the good citizens of Dundee. I make a general plea. What appears from the papers that accompany the order, whichever figures are accepted—whether those of the Secretary of State or those of the right hon. Member for Craigton—is that rents will soar substantially. My general plea is to ask whether this is necessary at this time. Every action that the Government take stokes inflation. Increases in electricity prices have been estimated at 25 per cent. for this year, gas price increases have been estimated at 29 per cent. and we hear that there will be extraordinary increases in rents. How any Government can hope to keep wage inflation down when costs rise at that rate, I do not know. For that reason, I hope to per- suade the Secretary of State to consider further additions.

More to the point, in the papers that we have received from COSLA there are statements to the effect that it has been left in the dark in relation to the assumptions that the Government have made. Members of Parliament are, by their nature, generalists in their approach to these matters. It is one thing to have gone over the figures in general, but it is to be expected that the Scottish Office should be able to come up with more detailed figures and assumptions so that it can satisfy the experts in local government who are as deeply involved in these matters as are the civil servants at the Scottish Office. It is a wrong beginning for the Government to have left COSLA in the dark in relation to certain figures.

There seems to be no adequate explanation why they have adopted the different interest rates for the rate support grant and the housing grant and why the 10 per cent. deduction for efficiency has been made without the consent of COSLA.

There is a remarkable sentence in paragraph 9 of the explanatory memorandum: If authorities' reasonable expenditure is substantially altered by changes in interest rates, costs, prices, etc., it may subsequently be re-estimated by the Secretary of State. I should have thought that the sentence should read: If authorities' reasonable expenditure is subsequently altered the Secretary of State will bring in the variation order. I know that the Secretary of State hinted that he might consider a variation order. He owes it to COSLA—as do we all, representing ratepayers and those who pay rent—to state fundamentally that if the calculations prove to be substantially and reasonably different he will bring in the variation order.

The right hon. Member for Craigton was right to put much of the blame on the Government for the increases in rents that will take place. As the Secretary of State has effectively said, the cupboard is bare, and he cannot be generous. The Government must accept responsibility. In turn, the Secretary of State has passed back that responsibility to the previous Government. As long as the Labour Party refuses to press for a share of the oil revenues it will be art and part of the increases in rents and rates that will take place. It will also be an art and part of the cuts in public expenditure. We are talking in terms of a housing supply grant of £184 million. Whichever cupboard is bare, it is not that of Scotland. Tomorrow night the House will consider the remaining stages of the Petroleum Revenue Tax Bill. That will effectively bring in, in this fiscal year, the princely sum of £2,090 million. Compared with the miserable £185 million for the housing supply grant, that is a downright insult to the people of Scotland.