Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 5th March 1997.
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the expected levels of council tax for 1997–98. 
Council tax levels will depend on the decisions of individual councils.
I thank the Minister for that blinding flash of insight into the financial affairs of Scotland. I seriously thank him and the Secretary of State for Scotland for the courteous hearing that they gave to me and to my hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) in Selkirk, and for rearranging the capping limit for the Scottish Borders council. However, will the Minister accept that new money is not coming from the Government to the council, but that the council is simply being allowed to raise council tax, to mitigate the worst effects of the Government's starvation of local council funds? Does he recognise that, when the Borders council meets tomorrow to make unacceptable cuts, it will also have to make an unacceptable increase in council tax—all of which adds up to a Tory tax?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for at least being big enough to be thankful for the fact that my right hon. Friend and I listened to his lobbying on behalf of the Borders council. I was surprised that his colleague the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) did not mention that in yesterday's debate. At its request, the Scottish Borders council has the flexibility to spend an extra £924,000.
The council's budget proposals, if no capping was in place, would have increased council tax by 48 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman talks about "unacceptable" increases in council tax, but the local Liberal Democrat administration wanted to increase council tax even more than that. The right hon. Gentleman must realise that the local government settlement is more than fair, and that councils must act responsibly and ensure good value for money in service provision to council tax payers.
Is my hon. Friend aware that residents in south Ayrshire are absolutely delighted that South Ayrshire council has received an above inflation rate grant this year? Does he agree that there should be an element of optimism— [Interruption.] Well, perhaps not when it is a Labour council. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is cause for some optimism that the council could hold the council tax rate this year?
My hon. Friend works on the same principle as I do. A reasonable settlement that allows South Ayrshire council to increase its expenditure next year by £3.5 million, or 3.21 per cent., should be more than adequate to maintain the level of services and to improve them. My hon. Friend is right: the Labour administration, with the level of cuts that it apparently wants to make, has sought an increase in spending of 7.7 per cent. If the council were to have that spending power, it would have to increase the council tax for my hon. Friend's constituents by 27 per cent. That is what the Labour party is like when it is in power: that is the Labour party in local government in Scotland. The Labour party wants a tax-raising parliament in Scotland. It wants to increase the level of government in Scotland, and to increase spending and taxation. That is the Labour party that we all know still exists.
Everyone will notice that, once again, the Secretary of State dodges the column and fails to defend the Government's record on local government. Does the Minister realise how much real anger there is in Scotland about the level of council tax increases and the cuts in education, all of which are the Government's responsibility? Why do the Government continue to pretend that extra money is available, when they have put extra burdens on councils? They know that the cost of the gerrymandered reorganisation of local government, for which they were responsible, makes a mockery of their claims about extra money.
The Government have only a few more weeks left on their deathbed. Why do they not repent, and put some of the money that they are holding back for pre-election gimmicks where the people of Scotland want it—into the education of our children?
Yesterday, the hon. Gentleman used the excuse that he had been stuck on an aeroplane at Glasgow airport for his poor performance at the Dispatch Box. I am not sure what his excuse is today. He implied that the Government will not be re-elected, so I assume that he thinks that his party will be elected. Given that he is critical of this year's local government settlement, he should tell the Scottish people whether he believes that more money should be given to local government, how much and from where. I asked those questions time and again yesterday, but I received no answers. I ask the hon. Gentleman again this afternoon, and I hope that he will tell the Scottish public the answer.
Does my hon. Friend agree that council tax rises by the Labour party are due to its usual financial mismanagement? Is he aware of the deep frustration felt by my constituents down south in my English constituency of Sutton and Cheam, who, unlike the Scots, do not receive the generous 40 per cent. support from the Government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the management of taxpayers' money. The difference between the Government and the Opposition is that we believe that we are the trustees of the taxpayer. I sometimes wonder whether the Opposition realise that central Government and local government funding comes from the taxpayer. I heartily agree with my hon. Friend that such mismanagement is a measure of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrat party. The sooner we get the election over and the Government are restored to power, the sooner we will get better value for money for the taxpayer.