These amendments bring the Scottish report dates into line with those applicable to England and Wales.
There was some discussion about this in Committee, and a plea was made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) for a consistent approach north and south of the border. Although the amendment was tabled by the hon. Member for Maryhill, the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) also spoke about it. He said:
The date of 31 December specified in the Bill could give rise to practical problems. The Bill does not say, 'By the last post on 31 December'—if there is a last post … Can the Scottish Office confirm that an official, or at least a Minister will be present in New St. Andrew's House and that the doors will he open to receive the hundreds of annual reports at one minute to midnight on hogmanay?
I am glad that in response to that my hon. Friend said:
throughout the year Scottish Office Ministers are available.
We did see the force of the argument of the hon. Member for East Lothian. It is no part of my desire to see the terms of the Bill impinge on the happiness of Scotsmen at hogmanay, hence the amendment.
However, a more weighty argument was made by the hon. Member for Maryhill who said that we should have consistency north and south of the border.
What was a practical proposal by the Accounts Commission has simply been rendered redundant by the introduction into the Bill of a further refinement of the audit process.
As previously drafted, reports by Scottish authorities were to be prepared by 30 November and submitted to the Secretary of State by 31 December. The Bill now requires reports by all authorities, including Scottish authorities, to be prepared by 30 September and sent both to the Secretary of State and to auditors by 31 October. The Commission for Local Authority Accounts in Scotland takes the view that it is no longer necessary to have different dates for preparation and submission of reports for Scotland. This is because the Bill now makes provision for auditors to check the statements of rate of return for those activities covered in the Local Government. Planning and Land Act 1980, as well as those covered by this Bill and to highlight any discrepancies in the report. This will ensure that the reports received in the Department are subject to scrutiny and based on audited figures. I am sure that the House will agree that that provides welcome consistency north and south of the border.
I hope that the House will agree that these are uncontentious points. Indeed, they are in response to the hon. Member for Maryhill who spoke, not only on behalf of herself, but the Opposition when she said:
The Opposition believe that it is only fair that England, Scotland and Wales should keep to the same dates, whatever they may be." —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 10 November 1987: c. 620–24.]
It is perhaps slightly ironic that I am responding to the representations of those hon. Members when they are absent today. However, I am sure that in due course the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) will bear that news to his colleagues—[Interruption.] Yes, I
realise that they are in Scotland at a conference. The amendment does precisely what they asked and I commend it to the House.
In response to the Minister, although Labour Members are not present [Interruption.]—although the hon. Members who raised those points are not present—I am sure that they will appreciate what the Minister has said because it shows that the Government have at least some sense of humour. I am glad to note that Scottish custom, tradition and long usage has been taken into account in producing the changes.
I wish that the Minister would convey to his colleagues the same willingness to make sure that the same rules apply north and south of the border and in Wales in other pieces of legislation. On the Housing Bill, for example, it has been strongly argued—but not yet accepted — that what is happening in Scotland should happen in England and Wales. Perhaps the Minister could use his best offices to secure similar provisions across the border in that Bill as he has now secured in this.