§ The Paliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)
Rate support grant is paid in aid of local authority services generally. The grant paid to authorities this year, and promised for next, is generous. Prudent authorities make provision for contingencies such as bad winter weather, and in the case of road maintenance the incidence of snow is specifically taken into account, on an authority-by-authority basis, in assessing expenditure need. I therefore see no reason for any special arrangements in this case.
§ Mr. Eadie
Is the Minister aware that that is a dusty and unsatisfactory answer? He must be aware that because of the cold snap local authorities incurred additional expenditure in their roads, social works and housing departments because of burst pipes. Is he further aware that yesterday the Department of Energy said that there were 15,000 extra calls on the Monergy hot line as a consequence of the cold snap? Is the Minister really saying to local authorities "You're getting nowt" bearing in mind that the winter has only just started?
§ Mr. Ancram
I want to take this opportunity first to congratulate local authorities and their workers on the great efforts that they have made to keep our roads clear. Although the severe weather did not last long, it made life difficult for a time and the authorities responded quickly and efficiently. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's point, I must tell him that snowfall and snow lying are not new occurrences this year. That has happened during many winters in Scotland. The figures for 1982–83, 1983–84 and 1984–85 reveal that in Lothian the average number of days when snow was lying were 13.2, 22.2, and 19.8 respectively. That is not a new occurrence and authorities are well able to deal with it. With regard to social work, my right hon. and learned Friend made provision of more than £300 million for social work in 1986–87. There is ample room for sensible management for unexpected costs within that total.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
While I agree with my hon. Friend that rate support grant was a little more generous this year, especially in Grampian and Banff and Buchan, will he accept that there are cold snaps and cold snaps, and that in the north-east of Scotland in my constituency we had a very severe cold snap this winter? We certainly require some additional assistance towards the problems that have been created, because the local authority direct labour department was called out on many occasions in excess of the normal procedure.
§ Mr. Ancram
I note my hon. Friend's comments and I appreciate the reasons why he has made them. However, in the time that I have held my present responsibilities, this is not the first time that Grampian has suffered from cold weather during the winter. It is for that reason that the client group assessments in their secondary indicators make provision on a historical basis for road maintenance in particular, which is the expenditure most affected by cold weather.
§ Mr. Martin
Does the Minister agree that cold snaps not only make life difficult for people but cause severe 304 danger, especially to the elderly? Does he know that in my constituency two people died during the cold snap and many elderly people could not get out of their houses, because my constituency covers one of the highest points in the city? Should not more assistance be given to the social work department and the roads department to make conditions safer, especially for the elderly?
§ Mr. Ancram
The hon. Gentleman referred spcifically to elderly people. The Government have shown their willingness to respond flexibly to the needs of the elderly and other vulnerable groups with the £5 weekly allowance. In Scotland more than 82,000 claimants have already received two payments, with 32,000 cases still in the pipeline, which is a much higher figure than some of our critics suggested. It comes ill from the hon. Gentleman to suggest that cold weather was invented by this Government. It is worth remembering that under the Labour Government expenditure on heating additions amounted to only £90 million, as opposed to more than £400 million under this Government.