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Lothian Regional Council (Expenditure)

Volume 12: debated on Wednesday 11 November 1981

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied that the expenditure of Lothian regional council is now not excessive and unreasonable.

No, Sir. The council is due to submit a report to me in January on progress towards planned reductions in its expenditure.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the logic of the penalty that he has imposed on the Lothian region is that if Lothian region succeeds in bringing its expenditure down to the base line that he has established during the course of negotiations it will be impossible for him to invoke the 1981 Act against that same base line in the forthcoming financial year? In view of the inability of the Lothian region to open an old folks' home in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) or to provide the transport for a club for the physically handicapped in my constituency, would he care to endorse his hon. Friend's statement that no vital services will be affected by the cut that he has imposed on the council?

On the first point, the penalty imposed on Lothian region referred to the year in question. It does not foreclose any options for other years.

Secondly, on the type of economies made, two points are worth making. First, if the council had even begun to make such economies at the beginning of the time for which I asked it to do so—about one and a half years ago—it would not have made any cuts of the sort that it has had to make at the end of the day.

Secondly, the precise choice of ways of making the economies is no business of mine, but the council's choice is rather strange.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Lothian region are now having to pay for the crass political obduracy of the Lothian Labour group?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that Lothian region had chosen to give £30 million back to the Treasury rather than to its ratepayers. But there it is. We have to live with people who have strange priorities.

Is the Secretary of State aware that all shades of political opinion in the Lothian region are united in thinking that the most excessive thing that has happened in Lothian this year has been the spiriting away of £30 million from the region to the Treasury by the Secretary of State for Scotland? What has happened to that money? Is it not sheer humbug for the Secretary of State, who has spent so much time saying that he is protecting the ratepayers' interests, to hand over their money to the Treasury?

I find myself in total agreement with the hon. Gentleman. All shades of political opinion in the Lothian region are quite mystified by the extraordinary decision of the Lothian regional council to give the money to the Treasury rather than to its ratepayers.

Will my right hon. Friend take our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to one side and explain to him that it is possible to control high spending local authorities without resort to referendums?

I have many responsibilities, but one of them is not to take my right hon. Friend to one side.

The right hon. Gentleman is, after all, a member of the Cabinet. Will he explain why a referendum is all right in England but not in Scotland?

It is not my responsibility to discuss local government affairs in England. All that I can say—I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me—is that the methods of supporting local government in Scotland and in England and Wales are completely different in all sorts of ways.