Local Government (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:53 pm on 17th January 1983.

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Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram , Edinburgh South 8:53 pm, 17th January 1983

I am sure that all hon. Members felt some disappointment tonight when, during the speech of the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan), the leader of the SDP, the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins), left the Chamber. Most of us hoped that, after two years, we would hear the SDP's views on rating and rateable values in Scotland. Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman was so baffled by the famous predictions of the right hon. Member for Craigton that he felt he was outmanoeuvred and decided to leave the Chamber.

I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) say that he believed that local authorities have a responsibility to take account of the overall policy of the national Government, particularly in economic terms. It would have been refreshing to hear the right hon. Member for Craigton applying those arguments while he was the Secretary of State for Scotland. From the moment that the Labour party lost the election he decided that the time had come to switch from being the gamekeeper to being the poacher, and he is now the poacher with a vengeance.

Local authorities have to pay some attention to the national economic scene. It would be incredible and ridiculous to suggest otherwise. The majority of local government expenditure is provided by national Government. The national Government have to find that money in some way. Perhaps, more importantly, the national Government are accountable to the electorate as taxpayers for the way that they raise and spend their money. Local authorities and the national Government will never live together harmoniously until that joint responsibility is accepted.

The right hon. Member for Craigton seemed to suggest that the national Government should always provide money for local authorities when they ask for it. I think that I referred to that last year as the blank cheque mentality. However, towards the end of his speech, the right hon. Gentleman made a prediction that perhaps will be more accurate than the one that he made last year. He said that he expected rate increases this year to be moderate. He explained that they will be moderate because interest rates and inflation are down. The right hon. Gentleman must be true to the logic of his own argument. During the recent by-election at Glasgow, Queen's Park, the right hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. Smith) suggested that a Labour Government would borrow money. In effect, he said, "Of course we shall borrow money. We have borrowed money before, and we shall do it again."

The lessons to be drawn from borrowing money are, first, that interest rates go up and, secondly, that inflation increases. If those consequences took effect, the right hon. Gentleman would see rates increasing yet further. That part of the logic of the Labour party's economic argument defeats me. However, I do not believe that it will defeat the electorate when the time comes for its decision.

When the House debated a similar order last year, I spoke about the effect of rate increases in the Lothian region. I was told mockingly by Labour Members that I should wait until the local elections in May to learn what the electors of the Lothian region thought about the argument between high rate increases and services. We had the answer in May. It was clear that Lothian ratepayers were fed up with constantly being hammered by rate increases. They decided that the time had come for a change.