Orders of the Day — Scotland (Housing Support Grant)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:32 pm on 14th January 1980.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Scottish Office) 11:32 pm, 14th January 1980

I can certainly sympathise with the point made by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) that the entire system that we are debating—which was introduced by the previous Labour Administration—is not simple to understand. All those who have had the courage to intervene in the debate deserve congratulations for that if nothing else.

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) and other Labour Members suggested that the consultation with COSLA was inadequate. All I call say is that the consultation that we had with COSLA was, in all general terms, exactly the same as has been held in previous years. The housing working party of COSLA, together with officials of the Scottish Office, met over a long period and there was a statutory meeting, which I attended with my officials, when we discussed the problems that the COSLA representatives wished to raise. The right hon. Member suggested that certain information that he gave to the local authorities was not given by this Government. We can bandy that argument about for some time. There was certain information that, no doubt for good reasons, was not presented by the right hon. Gentleman.

The important point is that Labour Members cannot say that the consultation was inadequate simply because the Convention does not agree with the conclusions reached by the Government on a number of points. Consultation certainly means discussion, and wherever possible we have tried to take on board points raised by the local authorities. We accept that in certain areas agreement has not been possible. The Government have had to present to the House their conclusions as to what the most appropriate course of action should be.

The right hon. Member for Craigton also asked whether there would be a second variation order to take account of any changes in interest rates that took effect after the first variation order was announced to the convention. In accordance with past policy, any changes in interest rates that affect the local authorities are normally accepted by the Government as justifying further help. Whether this is done through a further variation order or next year's housing support grant, I can certainly tell the right hon. Gentleman that the local authorities will not suffer as a consequence of any change of that kind.

The right hon. Gentleman also made very heavy weather of the fact that a figure of 85 per cent. is used in the distribution of housing support grant. He suggested that this implied—indeed, he came to the very firm conclusion—that because the Government had not taken notice of it the proposed rent increases of approximately £1·40 were bogus and that the proper figure should be £1·60. The right hon. Gentleman, who is normally very knowledgeable in these matters, seems to have confused himself on this occasion. The 85 per cent. refers to distribution it does not have the slightest effect on the aggregate amount paid to Scottish local authorities. The £l·40 is based on the aggregate housing support grant, which is in no way affected by the distribution percentage.