Orders of the Day — Rate Support Grant (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 21st July 1981.

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Photo of Mr Bruce Millan Mr Bruce Millan , Glasgow Craigton 4:33 pm, 21st July 1981

I have already said that. It does not make sense for either side to go into talks about anything on the basis that a satisfactory settlement will be only what it wanted in the first place. Everyone realises that that is the situation, and I have already said that.

I hope that the crisis can be averted. However, I am not confident that it can. Nothing in the Secretary of State's speech added to any little confidence that I might have had that the crisis would be averted. It was an entirely negative, self-satisfied and defensive speech.

I hope that on this occasion the ultimate crisis will be averted. However, it has been an unnecessary crisis created by the Government's obstinacy on the terms of the Bill which they have put on the statute book. Whatever happens this year will have done lasting damage to local democracy. The fact is that the present Act of Parliament is misguided. It was misguided in conception and it became worse as the Bill went through the House of Commons. We opposed the Bill at the beginning. COSLATory as well as Labour authorities—also unanimously opposed the Bill. The only satisfactory answer to that Bill is to have it repealed. I repeat that that is what the Labour Government will do.

If I say that I have no great confidence in the outcome of the talks, it is because, incredibly, despite the experience over the last year, the Government are talking about imposing further legislation on local authorities in the subsequent parliamentary year. That legislation would directly set rate limits for local authorities in England and Wales. We understand that that is in the mind of the Secretary of State for the Environment and that there will also be referendums on supplementary rates increases, and so on. That is an appalling prospect for local government and local democracy.

What we have to do in the House is to recognise that local government has a vital role to play in providing essential services on which the health of our communities depends. We need consensus and agreement between local and central Government, not confrontation and collision. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members can also cheer at this. In the economy, the Government have been an unmitigated disaster, which is the reason for today's unemployment figures. In their dealing with local government, they have been equally dogmatic, doctrinaire and insensitive. They have tried to bully local government into submission. We now have the worst crisis ever in relationships between local and central Government.

There is still time for the Government to draw back from the precipice, but the reports which we are now debating are a symptom of the dictatorial approach adopted by the Government which has already done immense injury to local government and its services. That is why we oppose the reports.