Scotland (Local Government)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th June 1981.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr George Younger Mr George Younger , Ayr 12:00 am, 17th June 1981

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to outline to the House the Government's conclusions on the recommendations of the committee of inquiry into local government in Scotland, which sat under the chairmanship of my noble Friend Lord Stodart of Leaston to review the working relationships among local authorities in Scotland and to recommend whether any transfer or rationalisation of functions was desirable and consistent with maintaining the viability of the existing authorities. The committee's report was presented to Parliament in January, and I have considered the comments received since then. I am making available in the Vote Office a detailed supplementary statement of our conclusions on each of the recommendations.

The committee recorded 72 conclusions and recommendations and we have decided to accept about 60 —subject in some cases to minor variations —and to consider a further seven in the context of the separate review of Scottish roads legislation, about which my Department recently issued a consultation document.

I comment now on some of the major issues raised by the committee. It emphasised that a change to a system of all- or most-purpose authorities would involve a major change in the structure of local government, and suggested that if this was to be pursued it should be examined specifically on a country-wide basis. The committee did not, however, recommend that such an examination should take place and, as my hon. Friend has already indicated to the House, the Government do not propose now to reopen the question whether or not there should be a single-tier system of local government in Scotland. We consider that the present Scottish system is basically sound and that the upheaval and expense of further major reorganisation would not be justified. In particular, we accept the committee's conclusions that most-purpose status for the four city districts could not be achieved without prejudicing the viability of the surrounding regions, and therefore that a marked move towards all-purpose status could not be justified.

However, like the committee, we see scope for some redistribution of functions between regional and district authorities to reduce the extent of concurrency, particularly in industrial promotion and leisure and recreation, on which our decisions are as follows.

The majority recommendation that industrial development powers should be confined to regional authorities prompted specific reservation and dissent within the committee. Reactions since the publication of the report have emphasised the important role that districts play in providing and enhancing local employment opportunities. I have concluded that it would not be right to deprive districts of their powers to provide factories and mortgages for industrial purposes and I do not propose to change the present powers available to them for industrial development, but I agree with the majority of the committee that all powers of promotion outside their areas should be concentrated on the regions. Moreover, I intend that any overseas promotion expenditure by regions should be subject to the consent of the Secretary of State. Thus, regions and districts will have the same powers available to them as at present to encourage local employment, but the concentration of promotion powers on the regions will, I hope, facilitate co-operation and co-ordination of external publicity efforts. This decision will greatly simplify the task of the new Locate in Scotland unit, set up recently in response to a report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs.

We accept the committee's recommendations that, in general, district councils alone should have comprehensive responsibilities for leisure and recreation functions. Similar considerations apply in countryside matters, but because some facilities have a significance beyond the district boundaries we believe that there should be a defined continuing role for the regions.

In some cases it will be possible to implement our conclusions by administrative action, after further consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, but many of the proposals will require legislation.

We owe a considerable debt to my noble Friend Lord Stodart and his committee for the work that they did under very considerable pressure. The best proof of our appreciation of their work is the very high proportion of their conclusions that we now accept and our determination to implement them soon.