In the resumed debate on the Gracious Speech, I welcome the opportunity to debate the Government's proposals to reform local government in Scotland and in Wales. These are two extremely important measures and have both been subject to widespread consultation during the past three years. They will, I believe, be welcomed widely both in Scotland and in Wales, and will have long-term consequences in improving the quality, efficiency, arid coherence of local government and local democracy in both countries.
I and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for local government in Scotland, who has been tireless in his meetings and discussions with interested parties on the matter, will listen closely to all that is said today about our proposals in Scotland, as will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and the Welsh local government Minister regarding reform proposals in that country.
The Secretary of State for Scotland said that the proposals for Scotland and for Wales had been well discussed during a three-year period. Will he therefore confirm that the time scale for both Scotland and for Wales will be identical, and that elections will be held on the same date?
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have proceeded independently in terms of the time scale, and indeed the detail and the content of our proposals. It is interesting that those are reconciled in a large number of areas. The Secretary of State for Wales will be replying to the debate this evening, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend will have heard the point made by the hon. Gentleman and will no doubt wish to address it.
There has been a change of cast in the long-running play on the Scottish Opposition Benches. In welcoming the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) to our continuing deliberations on the matter, may I invite him to make it clear a little later where he stands on a number of specific aspects of the debate. He has a good opportunity now to put his party's approach to the matter back on the rails.
Does the hon. Gentleman propose, if he forgets hi:3 lines, to stamp his foot and lead his hon. Friends on a fatuous walk-out on a spontaneous procession to No. 10 Downing street? If he does so, and he tells me in advance as well as the press, I will try to let him know whether my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is at home.
So far, when pressed on his approach to the legislation, the hon. Member has responded, "Remember Maastricht." Well, some of us will never forget Maastricht. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will not think me insensitive if I point out that the Government won the Maastricht debate. The Bill is now law, as is our entire legislative programme for the previous parliamentary Session. We shall win with our proposals for local government reform in Scotland and in Wales. Indeed, it seems to me that the rebels on those proposals are on the Opposition Benches, not on the Government side. I have taken careful note of the many comments from the growing number of Opposition Members who support what we propose.
However, there is one issue of great importance which I hope the Opposition will be willing to clear up at the outset. The House deserves to know where the hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) stand on an issue raised at the opening of the debate on Thursday by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). He advanced a highly controversial constitutional proposition when he said, in speaking of the local government proposals:
An overwhelming majority of the hon. Members who represent Scottish and Welsh constituencies are against the Bills that will only be carried by the votes of English Conservatives who do not represent the people in the countries concerned."—[Official Report, 18 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 24.]
The meaning of that seems perfectly clear. It is that only Scottish Members should vote in the House on Scottish matters and only Welsh Members should vote in the House on Welsh matters. That is a major constitutional change, which would have far-reaching implications, solemnly expressed by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition in opening the debate on the Loyal Address—the highest profile debate of the entire parliamentary Session.
I ask the hon. Member for Hamilton, for the avoidance of doubt—
No. I am addressing the point specifically to the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and his colleague the shadow Secretary of State for Wales. Is such a constitutional change the official policy of Her Majesty's Opposition? Do the hon. Gentlemen agree with it? I will give way to either of them if they would like to clear up the matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Perhaps they want to think about it. No doubt they will answer the point later. They owe it to the House to do so.
I should like the Secretary of State to deal with one particular point. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I had a telephone conservation earlier today with the Secretary of State for Wales. As I understand it, the Secretary of State for Wales intends to make some announcement later today about the nature and perhaps the timetable of the Bill to reform local government in Wales. At this moment we do not know precisely what are the proposals for Wales because they have already been changed several times.
The Secretary of State for Wales said that he would put a letter on the Board for me and all other Members who represent Welsh constituencies so that we would be informed of the intention of the latest proposals. It is a matter of great regret that I have to say that there is no such letter on the Board for me or any of my colleagues. May I put it to the Secretary of State that we would have a much better informed debate if the Secretary of State for Wales was able to live up to the undertakings that he has given.
I shall come to that matter shortly, and I shall deal with precisely those points. If the hon. Gentleman suggests that he should have been told privately through a notice on the Board before such a matter was announced to the House, I suspect that other hon. Members will be on their feet complaining to you, Madam Speaker, at the impropriety of such a step.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that you agree that it is important for a debate in the House to be an informed debate whenever possible. The Secretary of State for Wales is present in the House, as one would expect. Will you permit him, on a point of order, to tell the House at the beginning of the debate what are the major changes that he has in mind for Wales? For example, if he announced that there would be respectively Montgomeryshire and Brecon and Radnor unitary authorities, it might well change the view that some of us would take of the debate.
Order. May I respond to the point of order? The hon. Gentleman and the House know that we do not have statements from Ministers following points of order.
If the hon. Member will contain himself, I shall be able to announce what my right hon. Friend proposes. He is putting the information on the Board for Opposition Members.
What was noticeable about the reply from the hon. Member for Caerphilly was that he did not rise to respond to the point that I put to him; he rose to create a diversion.
No. I want to deal with this point specifically.
The implications of what the Leader of the Opposition said are clear. If only Scots may vote on Scottish business and only Welsh Members may vote on Welsh business, presumably only English Members may take part in English business. The Leader of the Opposition is a Scottish Member of Parliament. He represents Monklands, East—an area with one of the best known local authorities in Scotland. How, then, can he fulfil the role of the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition for the United Kingdom if he is confined in this place to decisions on Scottish issues? Still less could he fulfil the role of Prime Minister. He demonstrates more and more his unfitness for that office.
The policy of the Leader of the Opposition on the matter is one of great irresponsibility. It would split the integrity of this House and this Parliament. It would create second-class Members of Parliament and lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. The House deserves an answer today from the Opposition on that point. We shall await the necessary clarification with considerable interest and concern.
Having got the knockabout out of the way, as he is going down the road of devolved opinion, will the Secretary of State address himself to the views of Members of Parliament for Ayrshire, and more importantly the electorate there? Will he tell us at this advanced stage in the consultation procedure whether he has had any support for the proposed division of Ayrshire, as set out in the White Paper, other than the support of his hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), who, disappointingly is not with us today, presumably on the ground that he is studying the electoral boundaries of Dumfries?
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) was reluctant to address the point that I put to him. Matters of constituency boundaries are for consideration later in the progress of the Bill.
I very much welcome the opportunity today to debate local government reform in Scotland and Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I will shortly introduce major pieces of legislation that will transform the structure of local government for the better. It is therefore right that we should take time before we necessarily become embroiled in the detail of the changes to discuss in more general terms today the current state of local government, its strengths and flaws and, by restructuring, the opportunities presented for its improvement.
Discussion of the detailed provisions, particularly of the delivery of all the services and the new authority structure and boundaries, is important, but will more profitably follow the publication of the respective Bills. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to announce a number of refinements to the new local authorities, which we proposed for Scotland in our White Paper in July. They affect three areas: the boundary between south Lanarkshire and Glasgow; the boundaries of the city of Dundee; and the boundary between the Lothians and Berwickshire and East Lothian at Prestonpans.
In each case, we have listened carefully to the detailed arguments put to us and studied carefully the facts that have been presented. In the first case, we concluded that the areas of Toryglen and Kings Park should more appropriately remain in Glasgow. We shall redefine that boundary to follow much more closely the line of the old county boundaries in the area.
In the case of Dundee, we have acknowledged the importance of Camperdown Park to the city, recognising that it was purchased by trust moneys bequeathed to the city. We propose to adjust the boundary to include within the city not only the park but the adjacent recreational area of Clatto country park. To the east of the city, we have accepted the reasoned arguments that have been presented for the retention of the West Pitkerro industrial estate within the city. In relation to Prestonpans, we have recognised the problems to which the White Paper boundaries would give rise and propose to adjust the boundary to include Prestonpans in Berwickshire and East Lothian.
I believe that these changes will make far more sensible and effective boundaries in those areas.
I am glad that the Secretary of State has acknowledged that it was an absurd idea to take Prestonpans out of East Lothian. As it clearly makes sense to leave Prestonpans in East Lothian, will he now acknowledge that the case for Prestonpans to remain in East Lothian is every bit as strong as the case for Musselburgh remaining in East Lothian? They go together and it is idiotic to split them.
Given that the hon. Gentleman's responsibilities are in representing Berwickshire, I am surprised that he is not aware of the considerable distinction. We propose to return Musselburgh to Midlothian, where it always used to be. That is a matter that he may wish to pursue later in the debate.
I do not wish to comment on the announcements that the Secretary of State has just made, but does the fact that he has said nothing about the local government boundary in Aberdeen, and in particular about Westhill, where 97 per cent. of the people are opposed to becoming part of Aberdeen, mean that he has a fixed mind about that, or is he still prepared to listen to the views of the people of Westhill?
Of course the Government will listen to the debate on all boundaries as the Bill proceeds through Parliament in its Committee and other stages. The hon. Member represents an Aberdeen constituency. It was indeed the representation on Westhill of Labour-controlled Aberdeen council that cut so much ice with the Government. No doubt the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will want to enlarge on that in due course as the Bill proceeds.
I was about to come to the announcement for which the hon. Gentleman's hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) has been waiting so eagerly.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has been listening carefully to representations and arguments from right hon. and hon. Members and many others in Wales about the boundaries of the new unitary authorities. He has decided to make some changes, including the transfer of Ystradgynlais and Llanelly Hill to mid-Wales, the creation of a larger Flintshire by transferring the communities in the north-east from Denbighshire, the transfer of Cynwyd and Llandrillo from Meirionnydd to Denbighshire, and a modest adjustment to the Bridgend-vale border. My right hon. Friend will comment further on those changes later in the debate. He also accepts the recommendation of the Council of Welsh Districts to have about 1,250 rather than 1,100 councillors elected on district ward boundaries. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has also decided to make a number of changes to the names of authorities. Important among those is the renaming of the proposed Glamorgan valleys authority to Rhondda-Cynon-Taff. That will ensure that those historic names are not lost from local government in Wales.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Scotland for giving way. I understand that he is making this announcement on behalf of the Secretary of State for Wales because his pronunciation of Ystradgynlais and Llanelly Hill is better than that of the Secretary of State for Wales.
None of the changes will address the real grievance that is felt all over Wales— in the communities of the valleys, in Meirionnydd, in the Vale of Glamorgan and in Montgomery— about the fact that the proposals do not meet the objectives of reorganisation. The proposals will sever those communities from any sense of self-determination. Are not the proposals hopelessly out of touch with the people of Wales?
The Secretary of State has lost the argument in the Cabinet because he cannot even have the proposals brought before us in the House of Commons. As the proposals command no public support, should they not be dropped, and should not the Secretary of State go back to Wales and build on a consensus which does—if he is prepared to look for it—really exist?
The hon. Gentleman has given us a foretaste of his wind-up speech this evening. No doubt those issues will be debated more fully as the matter proceeds through Parliament.
My right hon. Friend should bear in mind that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) speaks for no one but himself in respect of the observations that he has just made. I speak on behalf of the communities of Ystradgynlais and Tawe Uchaf. Those communities will be delighted to hear the news from my right hon. Friend, who has recognised their strong links with the county of Breconshire and with Powys. There has been a cross-party consensus in that community of a kind that is beyond so many Opposition Members. The people in my constituency will be deeply delighted with what my right hon. Friend has said.
Will the Secretary of State tell us a little more than the absolute zero that has been said so far about the boundaries of the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend? He described the adjustments as modest. There are four communities affected: Coychurch Lower, Ewenny, Saint Bride's Major and Wick. None of them is difficult to pronounce, so I cannot understand why we have not been told which ones are to stay with the borough of Ogwr and which are not. It is important as they all want to stay in Ogwr.
I realise the difficulty that the Secretary of State has handling a Welsh issue. In the consultation paper, a model for Wales called the Powys model was brought forward that intended to create two tiers in that county to give a greater identity to the three districts there. The Secretary of State suggested that that model may be extended to other counties, which is of some concern to areas that may be affected by such a change. Will he say whether the model still stands in Powys and, if so, is it likely to be extended to other areas?
I understand that the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is yes, if those areas apply for it.
I touched earlier on the strengths of local government, and there are many. The years of the present structure—since 1974 in Wales and 1975 in Scotland—have seen a remarkable development in the quality of many of services. In education, social work, roads, leisure and recreation, and many other services, the improvements in the availability and service and professionalism with which they are run have been enormous. In many cases, local government has also adopted innovative service delivery arrangements and is more and more developing new and more efficient management structure. I have seen many examples of that at first hand and I am delighted to acknowledge innovation and efficiency wherever I come across it.
So why do we need change? That is a question that needs to be addressed not only by the Government, but surely by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru, as the reform of local government and the introduction of single-tier government is as much on their agendas as it is on ours. Of course, I cannot answer for any other party, but from the Government's perspective the need for change lies in the continuing inadequacy of a two-tier structure to tackle certain fundamental flaws that, in Scotland and elsewhere, have been present for a long time in the fabric of local government structure.
In the context of change in local government, the Secretary of State has failed to mention the money it will cost, when pensioners are freezing in their homes and are threatened with VAT on fuel and power and there are people without roofs over their heads. Is it not a fact that, together with the English changes, we are talking of spending £2 billion of taxpayers' money that should be used to provide water and heat for pensioners and to provide proper local government services, instead of spending it on that wasteful idea just because the Tory Government want to shift democracy from local government and turn some of the services into enabling authorities? It is a complete waste of time and money, and the money should be spent on something more useful.
If the hon. Gentleman is still with us when I reach the issue of cost later in my speech, he will discover that the position is very different.
In Scotland, Lord Wheatley's commission, whose work underpins so much of the present structure, identified correctly the flaws of which I have spoken. In the end, the solution that his commission proposed—our present two-tier structure—alleviated but did not cure the fundamental ills. It is worth remembering that, although Lord Wheatley finally recommended a two-tier structure, he did so reluctantly. In 1969, his commission concluded that a system of all-purpose local authorities "has many advantages", being the simplest of all to understand and to operate.
Thus, the legitimacy of the present structure was called into question from the moment its creators recognised the merits of the single-tier option. The Stoddart committee of 1981 expressed the same views more strongly, and almost a decade later the Scottish Labour party said the establishment of single-tier authorities would deal with
the continuing widespread confusion about which tier carried out which function.
So what were the fundamental flaws that Lord Wheatley identified, and to what extent do they still blight local government today? The first flaw described by Wheatley was the complication inherent in the pre-1975 structure—in particular, the "criss-crossing", as he called it, of responsibilities, which made it difficult for the citizen and even the local councillor to know what local government was all about. Wheatley observed, rightly, that such a situation did not make for the best kind of local service.
Although improved by the 1974 and 1975 reforms, problems of the sort identified by Lord Wheatley persist. Almost 20 years after the two-tier structure came into being, too many people in Scotland and Wales do not know which tier is responsible for which service. An ICM survey in March this year showed that one in four Scots did not know that district councils were responsible for cleansing, while one in three did not know that district councils had responsibility for housing—easily the largest district service. Even worse, the survey confirmed that two in five Scots did not know that regional councils were responsible for education—one of the most important local government services.
As it happens, I agree with the Secretary of State about the advantages of single-tier authorities, but does he agree that what he proposes is in fact not a single-tier system? Fire services and the police are to be dealt with by Strathclyde and water and sewerage by three non-elected boards. Only the remaining functions will be dealt with by the new authority. A three-tier system of authorities will replace the existing two-tier system: we are not talking about a single-tier system at all.
The hon. Gentleman is wrong, and when the Bill is published he will become more aware than he should be at present that he is wrong.
The problem is compounded by the continuing lack of any clear definition of the services provided by districts and regions respectively. Different arrangements apply in different parts of the country and, for some services, an overlap of responsibilities continues to exist. Thus, across Scotland, both tiers of local government in different areas may have some involvement in building control, conservation areas, countryside matters and nature conservation, development control, industrial and economic development, leisure and recreation and a number of other services besides. In Wales, there are similar problems. Duplication occurs in development control and planning, in economic development, leisure and so on.
Confusion is inevitable. One small example sums up the problem very well: regional councils are responsible for lighting adjacent to roads, but districts are responsible for some footpath lighting. No wonder the consumer of local services is confused, and no wonder friction, waste and delay have for too many people become the hallmarks of the present two-tier system.
I agree with the Secretary of State that the delivery of service is the critical factor for the public as a whole. In that context, does he think that the Scottish public understand that only 1,000 new houses were built in the public sector last year? Housing is a critical problem with which all hon. Members have to contend. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore specify in any future statement the amount of money that will be made available through revenue support grant, and perhaps by the abolition of capital debt, to enable our authorities, whatever their shape, to address that vital problem?
The public would understand the position very much better if the hon. Lady's party painted the complete picture instead of selecting parts of it to suit the case that she has advanced.
The second flaw in local government is its illogicality. Despite various bites at the legislative cherry since 1974-75, the present divisions of functions between the two tiers of local government in Scotland and Wales remain confused. In terms of its impact on efficient and effective service delivery, the separation of housing and social work is perhaps the most notorious consequence of the present two-tier structure.
I must make progress; I will give way later.
There are other examples. Responsibility for education, libraries and leisure and recreation services, all of which are closely linked, is split between districts and regions. The same is true of consumer protection, weights and measures and food standards. The fact that, after 20 years, it has still not been possible to create a sensible and clear-cut division of responsibility reflects only the impossibility of achieving that under a two-tier structure.
Then there is the expense of the present system. It was the Wheatley commission's view that the complications and illogicalities inherent in the structure of local government before 1975 made the whole system more expensive than it would be to run. The same applies today in Scotland and Wales. There is general acknowledgment among commentators that a single-tier structure can be less expensive to run than a two-tier structure. That is, of course, very much in line with what common sense dictates.
I will refer to transitional costs, but on long-term savings there can be no dispute. Fewer councils, fewer staff, fewer buildings, less bureaucracy, less confusion, less duplication and greater efficiency all point to lower costs. The one consistent point of all studies by all the consultants commissioned by all the councils which had done so is that of savings. It is incumbent upon any Government to seek more cost-effective means of delivering services, and we cannot ignore the potential for efficiency savings when they are identified.
The hon. Gentleman is rather silly to refer to the Western Isles as though that area is an example of what single-tier local government would apply in the rest of Scotland. He knows perfectly well that the population in the Western Isles is very much smaller than would be ideal in a single-tier authority. Over the years, all Governments have recognised the importance of giving a sensible local-tier structure to the islands to take account of their geography and particular problems.
The Secretary of State is making a good case for single-tier authorities, with which many hon. Members would probably agreee. Nevertheless, what criteria are applied to determine the optimum size for a unitary authority? Why is it that Eastwood is just big enough and Gordon, which is exactly the same size, is apparently too small? Are the views of local people taken into consideration? Do the Government listen only to the views of the Scottish Office or Conservative central office? When will local people have a say?
The hon. Gentleman knows that local people have had considerable say and no doubt will continue to do so. However, I give him two examples. In the Western Isles we have local authorities of about 20,000. The largest local authority in Scotland is Glasgow, with 620,000. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that we take account of local circumstances, local demography and natural local boundaries, including, where possible, reversion to the previous historic boundaries and response to local allegiances.
I now refer to the matter of costs, not least because it is the centrepiece, we have been told by the media, of the Opposition's attack in today's debate. Even in that matter there is hope of progress. Already, the wilder claims of last summer are being moderated. The successive claims of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East of £400 million, £500 million and then £600 million in successive weeks are now down to the specific figure in mid-October of £126 million, although still accompanied by lurid claims about the consequences for individual council tax payers.
On 8 November, in the Labour party's position paper, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) settled on a figure of £200 million. That is £4 million above the upper estimate of our consultants and it is almost double the lower estimate, but it is a very big improvement on his earlier calculations. Unfortunately, the hon. Gentleman spoils that improved performance by wildly exaggerating what it means by way of the so-called massive burden for council tax payers. He is wrong in several important respects and by quite alarming amounts.
First, the hon. Gentleman assumes that all the burden falls on the council tax payer. He forgets that more than 85 per cent. of local government current expenditure comes from other sources, mainly from central Government. So he is wrong by a factor of between five and six. Secondly, he assumes that all those costs will fall in one year. In fact, as everyone else acknowledges, they will be spread over several years. So he is wrong again, this time by, shall we say, a generous factor of three or four.
Even at the height of the transition in 1995-96 and 1996-97, total transitional costs are unlikely to exceed £30 million to £35 million in any one year. At its height or at the most, the cost of reform will be less than half of 1 per cent. of total local government current expenditure. That is using the starting figure of the hon. Member for Fife, Central.
Labour Members ignore the other side of the balance sheet—the savings arising from fewer councils, fewer staff and greater efficiency. The figures will vary according to who is compiling them, but all the consultants' reports to all the councils indicated savings from the single-tier structure that they favour. Our consultants' estimates ranged from £40 million to £66 million per annum. The margin is wide because it depends so much on decisions by new authorities and therefore it is hard to be precise.
It is important to recognise that the savings are linked to the transitional costs. Indeed, most of the transitional costs—almost half of them—arise from staff rationalisation and early retirement. If the Labour party's higher cost estimate is right, it is unarguable that the higher savings estimate resulting from fewer staff will follow. Over the first five years, the savings for Scotland will total over £300 million. That will amount to savings of about £1 billion from the reform of local government in Scotland over 12 years.
Does the Secretary of State realise that, after the poll tax fiasco, no one believes any figures that he gives? Does he realise that when the Tories talk about savings they mean cuts—cuts in services for the elderly, cuts for people requiring education, cuts in housing and cuts in our local government services?
Will the right hon. Gentleman answer a specific point put to me by the Scottish Association for the Deaf? One centre dealing with hearing impaired children and others has been set up in Edinburgh but services the whole of Lothian. The association knows that that service, with high-tech equipment and high training, simply cannot be dispersed to a number of smaller authorities. How does he answer the charge that there will be no service in many of the new authorities because he will not make it statutory?
The hon. Gentleman indulges in his usual policy of scaremongering and alarming those who are aged or infirm. I point out again that the figure on which I have based what I said is the one from the Labour party's position paper.
For completeness, I should say that there is a slight time lag between the transitional costs and the savings. There must be an initial investment to secure the savings. But once the investment is made—and central Government will provide for almost all of it—it is recovered very soon and the savings go on year after year for council taxpayers.
I make an offer to Labour Members—I am a reasonable man. In the interests of harmony and enlightenment, I will accept their estimate of transitional costs of £200 million—although I believe that it is on the high side—if they in turn acknowledge what that actually means. It means, first, there will be almost no extra burden for council tax payers; secondly, it will be spread over several years; and, thirdly, it will be recovered and then substantially exceeded by the savings that flow from the costs. So I invite the hon. Member for Hamilton to ratify that agreement and we can then move on to other more productive and relevant issues.
Does the Secretary of State know that all the reports of the Local Government Commission in England include the following statement:
the experience of successive reorganisations in local government and the national health service suggests that transitional costs tend to be higher in practice than had been expected"?
Does he accept that?
If transitional costs are higher, it will be because redundancies and early retirements are greater and, therefore, savings subsequently will be greater still.
I have given way many times and 1 must press on to allow other hon. Members to take part in the debate.
I have another question for the hon. Member for Hamilton: where does he stand on COSLA's policy of non-co-operation? As he knows, his predecessor and his party are strongly committed to it. Indeed, it was they who caused the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities so unwisely to abandon the sensible policy of co-operation that it pursued up to the end of July. We had just had a productive meeting with it and we had agreed to a further one and to the setting up of a working party on finance.
Then, alas, COSLA's president, Charles Gray, was suddenly prevailed upon to stand on his head. Proclaiming the non-co-operation policy, as reported in The Scotsman on 31 July, he said:
It is ludicrous to think that we should co-operate on the implementation of these disgraceful proposals and I have no doubt that councils throughout Scotland will take a similar stance.
From standing on his head, he was soon turning cartwheels because, sadly for him, within one week one of the most senior conveners, Mr. Duncan Macpherson of Highland region, said:
COSLA has been down this road before and this a course of action that would inevitably have to be abandoned sooner or later.
Sadder still, Sir Robert Calderwood, the retired chief executive of president Gray's own council of Strathclyde, intervened with an open letter to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) in which he said:
I would praise you for changing your mind and if you are going to do it, as I believe you inevitably will, it will be so much better if you do so sooner rather than later.
At the end of August, COSLA and the Opposition parties convened a meeting to redefine what non-cooperation meant. A letter of clarification was issued, which prompted The Scotsman to report:
Disarrary remains over the bid to boycott council reforms.
Councillor Peter Peacock, the secretary of the non-aligned group of councils, was prompted to say:
I am afraid the letter does not take matters much further forward and disguises the fact that COSLA is split down the middle on this issue.
Even COSLA's vice-president, Andrew Tulley, said:
To continue to use the word non-co-operation is pointless.
As tensions rose, 20 Labour council groups met at the beginning of September and the president tried another redefinition. Further guidelines were agreed. "The real test," said Mr. Gray,
is not how many councils have publicly declared policies of non-co-operation, but how many are actually co-operating with the Secretary of State.
Six days later, The Scotsman reported that half of Scotland's local authorities opposed the non-co-operation policy. There was another COSLA meeting on 17 September and another definition from the president. Councils should express their opposition
clearly and unequivocally in whatever ways suit their own circumstances and which they feel will be most effective.
So in a last-ditch attempt to save their non-co-operation policy—
It does not excite me, but it seems to excite COSLA.
In a last-ditch attempt to save their non-co-operation policy, the hon. Member for Fife, Central pitched in on 6 October, urging councils to respond to a Government request for reform costings, saying:
They must write in, operating the non-co-operation policy to the letter and spirit of what was decided.
By the end of that month, half the authorities in Scotland were co-operating with the Government.
What a pitiful and humiliating episode for the convention and for the Scottish Labour party. That sorry saga of short-sighted posturing has done nothing to help local government in Scotland. COSLA exists to speak for local government to central Government and to do so with one voice. Driven by the Labour party, it has failed to fulfil that function and it has split its members down the middle. A policy of non-co-operation by COSLA will do nothing to slow or impede the progress of our reforms to the statute book, but I hope that the hon. Member for Hamilton will be big enough to admit, when he speaks, that his party's policy on non-co-operation was wrong and has failed. Let him admit defeat now, before more damage is done, and let him urge COSLA to come to its senses.
No. I will allow the hon. Gentleman to recant at length in a few moments.
It is striking, as one examines the Welsh and Scottish proposals, how far two separate exercises have arrived at similar solutions. In each case, we are proposing a pattern of authorities that range significantly in size, population and character, reflecting different characteristics, geography and local loyalties in each country. In each case, we have decided, where appropriate, to return to historic county names and areas and in both countries we have recognised the potential for a co-operative and enabling approach to service delivery, rather than an assumption of the exclusive provision of services by each individual authority. We have both recognised that authorities should have a much more flexible legal framework, enabling them more readily to purchase services and expertise from each other, and our respective Bills will provide for that.
Progress in the debate and progress in the reform of local government will be helped enormously if we have answers to the questions that I have raised today with the hon. Member for Hamilton. I shall remind him of what those questions are. First, does he share the view of his party leader that only Scottish Members should vote on Scottish matters? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Secondly, does he agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central that the cost of local government reform will be £200 million? If so, we can all agree on that figure and on what it implies, and put the issue behind us. Thirdly, does he agree that his party and COSLA made a terrible mistake in their policy of non-co-operation, and that they should now admit failure and abandon it? The House will listen closely to his answers, and he will be judged by what he says, or fails to say, today.
The proposals that my right hon. Friend and I will shortly introduce will unlock the unrealised potential in local government—the potential powerfully to represent the people in their areas, organise co-ordinated and effective services and provide real value for money for local taxpayers. Those are goals worth striving for, and they should be supported by all people with a genuine concern for local government.
When welcoming me to the debate, the Secretary of State for Scotland was unwise enough to mention Maastricht. One cannot find a braver man than one who dares to say that Maastricht was a success for the Government; the House and the nation know that the Government got Maastricht through without the social chapter only by using the confidence vote, which the Prime Minister had to resort to, so I am not unhappy if he wishes to remind us of that.
Nothing that the Secretary of State said today makes either relevant or necessary the commitment in the Queen's Speech to legislate for the reorganisation of local government in Scotland and Wales. Although the burden of my remarks will deal with the Scottish legislation, my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) will tackle the details in Wales, should he catch your eye, Madam Speaker.
This exercise is an extremely costly, completely unwanted, totally unnecessary and cynical exercise in Tory political protectionism. Simply to try to tie up a few safe havens for that dying breed of Conservative council bosses, Scotland is to be thrown into the expensive turmoil of a wholly irrational butchery of the existing 16-year-old council set-up.
That the legislation should be the centrepiece—indeed, in Scotland, the only piece—of the Government's legislative programme is a remarkable display of wrong priorities. They call it "back to basics" and endlessly parrot sound money and family values to us. When the national finances have been impoverished by ministerial incompetence—to the extent that millions of ordinary families throughout the land will face the burden of value added tax on their fuel bills from April next year—and Scotland's child care laws are crying out for the urgent improvements that were completed in England in 1989, what on earth are we doing in this 1993-94 Session of Parliament with a Queen's Speech that promises us more tax, more disruption and more upheaval, simply to put Scottish and Welsh councils through the mincer? What for? Reform, they say. The definition of reform is an improvement—something that will take us further forward. That is not what we are talking about in the case of Scottish local government.
The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) is the Minister responsible for Scottish local government, which reminds me of the old eastern European joke in which an Hungarian politician said, "We're about to create the post of Minister for the Navy." When someone pointed out that Hungary was a land-locked country, the politician replied, "After all, the Soviet Union has a Minister for Justice, and Bulgaria has a Minister for Culture, so why can't we have a Minister for the Navy?" So the Scottish Conservatives have a Minister for local government.
In The Scotsman last Wednesday, he said:
Our fundamental aim is to establish a strong network of local councils which are both sensitive and accountable to the needs of the people they serve.
Apparently, that is the Government's objective in this exercise. Well, that is not the view of Councillor Brian Meek, the eloquent, pen-pushing journalist and a Conservative member of Edinburgh district council, who wrote in The Herald in July of this year:
So let's get on with the gerrymandering argument. Did Mr. Lang and his Ministers seek to give their party the best possible chance under the new set-up? Of course they did. Why shouldn't they?
There we have it, that is plain enough language—blunt, stark and brutally honest. It is a sight more honest than the Government have been up to now by dressing up gerrymandering as public interest.
I do not know whether Councillor Meek was one of those mentioned by Sir Michael Hirst in that letter to the Secretary of State for Defence which was uncovered in yesterday's edition of Scotland on Sunday. Sir Michael Hirst, a former Member of the House, said:
Sadly, grandness and support of the Party seem in inverse proportion and I never cease to be amazed at how many fair weather friends the Party has.
Frankly, I never cease to be amazed that the Scottish Conservative party has any friends at all. With such openly honest friends as Brian Meek, the Secretary of State for Scotland does not need many enemies.
The Government show absolutely no shame about dressing up an assault on local democracy as a drive for efficiency and accountability. They abuse words such as "cost effective" and "local services" when they are engaged in naked political manoeuvring. As they embark on yet another pick-pocketing exercise on the Scottish public, the party which is currently polling in Scotland at below the level of Kim Campbell's annihilated Canadian Tories, is exposed by one of its own top supporters as simply giving
their party the best possible chance.
Let me come to the issue raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition last week. I would issue a public warning to Conservative Members from England, whose votes will be required to get the Scottish and Welsh Bills through the House against the majority votes of hon. Members representing both countries. We all have equal votes in the United Kingdom Parliament, but the warning still stands.
Not very long ago the same wonderful, silk-tongued people in the Scottish Office sold another idea as being an efficient, accountable, cost-effective change in local government—a change that required blind obedience from English Members to get it through the House, against all the warnings that we deployed against it: that idea was the poll tax, the community charge, the memory of which should send a shiver down the spine of every Tory Member who values his seat. The poll tax was born in Scotland out of panic and ideology; it also was reared on fraudulent, implausible claims about its fairness and effectiveness; and it was to be visited on Scotland first. Then, even in the face of its incandescently spectacular failure in Scotland, it was to be transplanted on to the rest of the country. History tells us the rest of the tale.
I warn Conservative Members to be wary—to be scared stiff—about providing the Lobby fodder for the suicidally bright ideas that they are asked to support by the bewhiskered, funny-money men and smooth ex-bankers camping out in the Scottish Office.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be implying that the Conservative party does not have a mandate to govern in Scotland and Wales [HON. MEMBERS: "It does not."] I am delighted that Opposition Members agree with that. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, apart from the general election of 1945, the Labour party has never had a majority of seats in England? Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Callaghan and Wilson Administrations did not have a mandate to govern England?
The hon. Gentleman's hearing is almost as bad as his political judgment, because I did not suggest that Conservative Members have no right to vote. I simply issued a warning, based on experience, of what will happen to them if they do not listen carefully to the opinion expressed in Scotland and Wales by the majority parties for which people have voted.
Conservative Members have a free right to vote, as they did for the poll tax; as a consequence, they paid a rich price in all parts of the United Kingdom. English Conservative Members should remember that those guys on the Government Front Bench gave them the poll tax, with all the misery and political fall-out that came with it. Today, the Government are offering those same hon. Members the gerrymander tax, which will be just as lethal to them.
Who will pay for the gerrymandering extravaganza that we are about to embark on? Last week, the Minister with responsibility for local government in Scotland said in The Scotsman:
Cutting costs is not, however, the main objective of the reform.
Too true it is not. He went on:
What is abundantly clear is that the reform will pay for itself within about five years and will thereafter save money.
Not a single person in Scotland believes in the sort of accountancy fiddling that is going on.
In the same article, the Minister said that he would "further refine the figures". However, the figures change every time a Minister speaks. Today, the Secretary of State told us that we should accept the figure he gave of £200 million. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) was using Government figures when he proved that, even on the basis of the Government's wildly optimistic figures, the cost to the council tax payer will be substantial. The Minister, however, has now informed us that he has refined the figures yet again. New figures were quoted in The Scotsman last week and new optimism was expressed. Not a jot of new evidence was provided, however, to back up those figures.
It is not surprising to discover that not a single expert agrees with Ministers' rose-tinted expectations. Even the Government's own supporters do not take the figures at face value. Mr. Arthur Bell is a prominent Scottish
Conservative. He is no fair weather friend—one is not a Tory in Lanarkshire and called a fair weather friend of the Tory party for very long. Last week, he addressed a meeting at the Strathclyde business school in Glasgow and said of the Government's range of possible savings:
If anyone came to me with a gap as wide as this I would be amazed. I would not wish to make major changes in my business without being more accurate.
In this case, Mr. Bell is spot on; he is absolutely right.
The apparently precise savings figures are bogus. The Secretary of State confessed that in a letter to my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), in which he was a lot franker than he has been so far in public. He wrote:
the eventual costs and savings arising from reorganisation will depend to a large extent on the activities of local authorities themselves. Most of the decisions on matters such as staffing levels and accommodation requirements will be a matter for individual councils, not central Government. Consequently, it will be for local government to determine the exact level of savings accruing from reorganisation.
What that actually means is that the Secretary of State does not know; he has not got a clue; all he says is that it is up to local government to determine the costing. If that is the case, he should listen to what local government representatives are unanimously telling him about what the reforms will cost them, the country and the individual council tax payer.
It is plain that the hon. Gentleman did not listen closely to what I said. I explained that the gap in the estimate of costings is so wide because it will depend on the decisions of 28 separate local authorities.
The hon. Gentleman asked me whether I will listen to local government. According to the views of local authorities to which I am listening, if Tayside became a single-tier authority, it estimates that it would make a saving of £8 million. Angus district estimates that it would make a saving of £5 million. If Dundee were to become one of three authorities in Tayside it estimates it would make a saving of £2 million and Fife estimates that it would make a saving of £5 million should it become a single-tier authority.
I shall deal with local government figures later. It is worth underlining the bogus and spurious figures. The Minister responsible for Scottish local government said that, having looked carefully at all the evidence and refined their original estimates to reflect input from local authority interests and others,
our conclusions are that one-off transitional costs of between £120 million and £186 million are … quickly offset by ongoing annual savings of between £22 million and £66 million".
Those are precise estimates for something that will lie purely and simply in the hands of local government.
However, I base my figures not on that optimistic crystal ball gazing in which the Secretary of State for Scotland indulges, but on the views of the Scottish branch of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, which puts forward solid, detailed arguments to show that the Scottish council tax payer and taxpayers in general will pay heftily.
The Government still will not say who will pay and the Secretary of State has come out with a new formula today, saying that central Government will pay almost all of the transition costs. He should then be in a position to say what "almost all" means—is it part, half, two thirds, three quarters, 90 per cent? As the Government do not even know what it is, they cannot be in a position to tell us. We must guess who will pay.
Will the Treasury pay? Will the Chancellor of the Exchequer pay for the cost of Scottish local government reorganisation when the Government have a £50 million deficit and, according to leaks from every Department, must even consider cutting dole payments and invalidity benefits? Will they pay for the extravaganza of producing a Tory-redrawn map for Scotland? That is hardly likely. Are Scottish Office and Welsh Office budgets now sufficiently expandable to take account of the money? That, too, is hardly likely. The answer that everybody in Scotland and Wales expects, is "you pay", the taxpayer pays. "Tax today, jam tomorrow"—the usual Tory slogan.
The figures in CIPFA's document are based not on the Government's fantasies but on the concrete example and experience of the reorganisation of the metropolitan counties, which took place in England and Wales not so many years ago. The most respected body in its field, it produced in March a devastating indictment of the Government's Touche Ross calculations. It said that savings had been overstated and potential costs understated. It said that the margin of error was considerable and that the report did not properly assess the likely cost of reforms. It backed up all its claims with the facts and figures that the Government so glaringly have not produced for Parliament or the people.
I offer two examples from CIPFA's report. First, on retirement and redundancy costs, CIPFA says that Touche Ross
seriously understates the potential costs associated with this item.
It uses the actual, not the imaginary, experience of the much less complex reorganisation in the metropolitan counties, Greater Manchester, South Yorkshire and Avon and shows that the figures range between 1·7 to 2·7 per cent. of expenditure. In Scotland, the equivalent is between £125 million and £200 million on that item of expenditure alone.
The second heading is on winding up existing authorities. The White Paper says that Touche Ross calculates that that would cost £88 million in Scotland—only 2 per cent. of local authority expenditure. But it does not even bother to try to prove it. For a much less complicated reorganisation in Greater Manchester, the cost over five years totalled £13·5 million. The equivalent in Scotland would be £275 million.
So for those two items alone—many more items have been catalogued—the one-off transitional cost would be between £400 million and £675 million. That is about a half a billion pounds on two items alone. That is on the recent calculation of the very local government experts, who the Secretary of State for Scotland says will determine the costs and savings.
The shambles has one message for the people of Scotland and of Wales: very soon, there will be more taxes, bigger burdens, more waste. It is all to pay for a sordid exercise in gerrymandering in the Borders. The gerrymandering was casually and openly admitted by Brian Meek and is scarcely a secret in Scotland, but it is a scandal nonetheless. It will appear all the more so when the
outside dispassionate world considers the redrawn Tory map of Scotland, which was described in the editorial of The Scotsman newspaper on 21 August as:
A map drawn to no higher democratic principle, no deeper logic, than the electoral advancement of the Conservative Party in Scotland".
That put it bluntly and accurately.
In the Borders, Berwickshire is gouged out and joined up with a part of East Lothian. The regional convener of Borders regional council, that well-known radical and left-leaning figure the Earl of Minto, said:
The decision to amputate Berwickshire from the Borders is in my opinion the worst decision of any kind that I have encountered in my life".
In Lothian, gerrymandering descends to pure farce. Even our unfair weather friend Brian Meek found it difficult to swallow what was happening in Lothian. He said:
I have to say that I found the proposal to gouge out a slice of East Lothian and send it, via the Balerno corridor, to join up with Mid and West Lothian a little on the contrived side.
He goes on to say—this is really getting back to basics:
Nor does there seem to be a strong political case for it"—
as if that would justify the policy in some way.
In Tayside, despite the changes announced by the Secretary of State today, Dundee city has still lost some of its major commuter communities in Monifieth and in Invergowrie. That leaves the city to pay the hefty bills for services provided to those people who are now taken out of the city boundaries.
In Central region, the obsession with keeping an 81,000 people-strong Stirling safe haven means that a forced marriage will occur between Clackmannan and Falkirk, two distinct and different communities separated by a river estuary and joined only by a bridge that happens to be in Fife region. That bridge, the one connecting point between those two joined-up counties, is scheduled to close for six months in the year that the new council is expected to come into existence.
In Strathclyde, the Alice in Wonderland redrawing goes on apace. Ayrshire is artificially split in two, with South Ayrshire just happening to be Tory-controlled—for the moment. Kyle and Carrick district council has 113,000 people, while North Ayrshire will have a council representing 263,000 people. East Renfrewshire, the home, redoubt and last resting place of the Minister with responsibility for Scottish local government, has a mere 88,000 people. That basic building block in the contrived structure will sit beside West Renfrewshire with 265,000 people and South Lanarkshire with 317,000 people. Helensburgh has been wrenched out of Dumbartonshire. King's Park and Toryglen have been rescued from the original plan to put them in South Lanarkshire and out of Glasgow. The Minister responsible for local government was quoted at the Scottish Tory conference as saying that councils were to be more visible and more accountable to their electorates.
I think that it was again Mr. Arthur Bell who said:
We have got to get it right this time because this will be local government into the next century. What is proposed is crazy.
Last week, Lothian regional Tory councillor Mr. Ian Buchanan said:
The problem is not that the reforms do not go far enough, but that they are going in the wrong direction completely. The White Paper is a backward looking document, a plan for the last century not for the next century".
One statistic says it all. The average population base for the 25 unitary authorities would be 204,000 people, but for the five Tory safe havens it will be 95,800. That tells us everything.
There is one measure that was to be in the legislation for Scotland but is not—full-scale English and Welsh-style privatisation of water. That was the Secretary of State's ambition. All along, that has been the Government's ambition and, although Ministers shake their heads and feign innocence, we all remember that day in March when the Prime Minister told us:
I have no reason to doubt that water privatisation in Scotland will be effective and efficient, as elsewhere."—[Official Report, 9 March 1993; Vol. 220, c. 783.]
That was what the Prime Minister said, but the Government were warned off by united and decisive Scottish public opinion and the message finally got through: the Scottish people want water in public hands. The Systems 3 opinion poll, which was commissioned by COSLA in the past couple of weeks and published this morning, shows beyond any shadow of doubt that 95 per cent. of all Scots want Scottish water in Scottish local government hands. Of those interviewed who said that they would vote Conservative at a general election tomorrow—perhaps a very small sample—86 per cent. said that they wanted to keep water in Scottish local authority hands.
I appreciate that the danger of water privatisation has not gone away. We will stay alert to the Government's plans and their intentions. The Government now know that their own political annihilation would be the price to pay at the next election if they were to dare to tamper with Scotland's water and the way in which it is controlled. The new quangos for water are a paving measure, but they are a climbdown in the face of a public opinion scalding that even this Government have never experienced before.
What is the agenda for the turmoil and upheaval that this reorganisation will cause in Scotland? Who will pay the price, the real cost of the confusion that will be created? Scottish industry has already expressed serious reservations. The Institution of Civil Engineers wrote to the Government earlier this year, making this point:
the case for reorganisation has not been made and an independent committee of inquiry should be set up to fully investigate the present system before further changes are made.
Other business people have expressed serious concerns about the fragmentation of a system that they know and understand and, on transport infrastructure, that they have come to value, especially in regard to what has happened in Strathclyde.
What is in this reorganisation for the thousands of Scots who use concessionary travelcards all over the country—the 340,000 elderly people who benefit from that provision? What is in it for school pupils and parents in localities where catchment areas are being scythed to pieces by new boundaries? What will be the future for special education in the tiny council areas? What will happen to voluntary organisations?
It is a recipe for chaos and waste—chaos in the name of efficiency, disruption in the name of cost-effectiveness and quangos in the name of democracy. George Orwell should have been writing about 1994, not 1984.
Democracy is in question. This reorganisation, if it gets through Parliament, will be the paving measure for yet another lurch to the non-elected state, with more quangos taking decisions but being accountable to no one and more joint boards meeting away from the public searchlight, offering less accessibility but more bureaucracy.
'The hon. Gentleman is waxing eloquent about joint boards and joint arrangements, but his party's paper, "The Future of Local Government", says:
In a limited number of cases it will be necessary to examine joint arrangements. In different circumstances police, fire and water and sewage services may require these joint arrangements.
We know that there will be hordes of those arrangements, not only those that I have mentioned but many more. Joint arrangements already exist in certain areas. However, the sheer multiplication that will be involved in the reorganisation, with tiny councils buying in services, makes everything else pale into insignificance.
I thought perhaps that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), whose roots remain firmly in the central belt, might have enlightened us about events in the Greater Glasgow health board. I will come on to that in a moment, because that is extremely relevant to what we are talking about. More and more boards and committees will be packed by more and more Conservative cronies.
My hon. Friend mentioned the year 1994. Is he aware of a rumour that is running around the Welsh media that the Secretary of State for Wales is to announce this evening a delay of 12 months in the proposals? Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to press the Government on whether there is any truth in that rumour?
My hon. Friend will have noticed that the Secretary of State for Wales scarpered off quickly and, who knows, he may be now holding a press conference. However, that is a relevant question, and I hope that Ministers will rise to dispel that rumour.
At least in Scotland—I say this for the Secretary of State for Scotland—we know precisely what the timetable is to be. Welsh Members on both sides of the House have a right to know the timetable for reorganisation in Wales. I will give way to the Secretary of State for Scotland if he wishes to comment on the matter. The right hon. Gentleman may have been spending so much time rehearsing Welsh place names that he has not got round to asking any real questions to do with Welsh reorganisation.
The Secretary of State for Scotland has addressed the question of the lack of co-operation of local authorities in their own execution. The right hon. Gentleman and I appeared on BBC Scotland's "Upfront" television programme last week, and the Secretary of State was asked penetratingly by Ms Kirsty Wark why he was not abandoning next year's regional council elections. The Secretary of State's reply was very interesting. He said that they could not possibly pre-empt the will of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman implied that the Government do not know whether regional councils are to be abolished, and therefore the Government could not take such pre-emptive action. Yet the Secretary of State expects councils in Scotland to conspire and co-operate in their own demise before even they know precisely what the form of local government will be at end of the process.
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for intervening again, but I am sure that he would not want to mislead the House. The point I made was that the legislation could not pass through Parliament before the date when the regional elections were due to take place. If the hon. Gentleman gives me an assurance that the Opposition will assist in the early implementation of the legislation, the way would be clear to move on those regional elections.
The answer is no. There will be no co-operation in the early implementation of a reorganisation that can only cause chaos and which is purely bound up with the political purposes of the Scottish Conservative party.
It is interesting to note that decisions cannot be taken about regional elections, but apparently everyone else must assume that the Bill will go through in the exact form that is proposed by the Government. The Minister of State, Welsh Office (Sir Wyn Roberts): The hon. Gentleman has delved into Welsh matters. In view of what he has said, why is the Welsh Labour party in favour of the unitary principle?
The answer is that we want to create assemblies in Scotland and in Wales. A parliament or assembly would have the right to decide on the best way or reorganising local government. That is the way to do it, and not in the gerrymandering fashion that is proposed.
I am sure that Welsh colleagues will find it interesting beyond belief that the Minister can stand up to make such a debating point, but he cannot inform the House what the time table for local government reorganisation is in Wales. [HON. MEMBERS: "They've had 14 years."] Fourteen years is surely plenty of time to think up an answer. I cannot help thinking that the Secretary of State for Scotland's training in the Footlights at Cambridge could have been more useful, and perhaps he could give some lessons to his colleagues in the Welsh Office in slick footwork.
Democracy is in question because of the incredible proliferation of jobs and more jobs for the Tory fair-weater friends. No more sinister evidence could we have of the implications of that Tory non-elected state than events within the Greater Glasgow health board in the past few weeks. A top official in the largest health authority in Great Britain is summarily dismissed in his absence after he has allegedly questioned the level of expenses claimed by his chairman—the Secretary of State's golfing friend, whose business has just gone into receivership.
The dismissal of that chief executive reaches the ears of Ministers not through any formal channel but by means of a press release from the Greater Glasgow health board. The Minister who receives the press release is said to be furious at it. Two weeks later, that top official, who was so bad and so useless in his job that he had to be instantly dismissed in his absence, is found a new, unadvertised, senior and extremely well-paid job with the Minister's own National Health Service Executive. Then the very man who dismissed him, and who will now not face the legal action that the dismissed official said that he intended to take, tells us all how wonderful the original chief executive was and how complimented he is that he has been found a job inside the national health service.
Nobody, but nobody, answers questions—not the chairman of the Greater Glasgow health board, Mr. Bill Fyfe, not the Minister, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, not even the golfing friend of the chairman, the Secretary of State for Scotland. Public money is spent; jobs are lost and suddenly found; reputations are damned and then resurrected. "Back to basics," the Government say, their tongues in their cheeks and their hands in their wallets. They tell us all to go back to basics.
I shall ask the Secretary of State for Scotland some pointed questions, but, before doing so, I remind him of the words of the Secretary of State for Wales in the House of Commons only a few weeks ago:
Everyone who operates in the public sector has a clear responsibility to be scrupulously correct in all his or her dealings and to be seen to be above reproach."—[Official Report, 19 October 1993; Vol. 230, c. 148.]
So I ask the Secretary of State the following questions. Why was Mr. Lawrence Peterken sacked? Why was that dismissal instant? What had he uncovered or suspected about Mr. Fyfe's expenses? Who was on the audit committee which cleared Mr. Fyfe of the reported allegations? Did Mr. Lawrence Peterken agree with the decision taken by the audit committee? Was the decision to dismiss Mr. Peterken taken unanimously by the Greater Glasgow health board? Was the job offer at the national health service executive made conditional on the dropping of any legal action against the Greater Glasgow health board? Why was the job of special projects manager at the national health service executive not advertised? How many other jobs have been made in that department without any advertisement?
I ask the Secretary of State those questions because they are serious. The public in Scotland, in line with what the Secretary of State for Wales rightly said, deserve answers to them. There is no other forum than Parliament in which to seek the answers. There is no means by which the taxpayer can question the Greater Glasgow health board other than through the Cabinet Minister who appoints the people who run the board. The Secretary of State is due, in all conscience, to give an answer to those questions to the House. They are important questions. Only Ministers can give answers to them. But perhaps Parliament will have to take more measures to seek answers.
Today, I have written to the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee of the House to ask whether he too will investigate the circumstances in the Greater Glasgow health board. Where public money and public duties are involved, Parliament is the only custodian of the public interest and the Secretary of State for Scotland is answerable to Parliament.
We are told that, with 160 clauses, the Scottish local government Bill will be the biggest Bill presented to Parliament since 1979. We are told also that the Government want to get it through both Houses before the summer. I must tell the Government that we will fight it line by irrelevant line. The gerrymander tax and the gerrymandered map will not get to the statute book easily or quickly.
We will not filibuster to delay the Bill, but, on behalf of those who will have to pay the additional tax and live with the map should the Government get their way, we will ensure that the Bill gets the scrutiny that it needs and should have had before it ever came before the House.
Throughout the country, we will expose this taxing, fiddling and conniving Government for what the proposed legislation tells us plainly that they are: a Government without support and without credibility, now wedded in desperation for their survival to a measure reeking of one thing alone—crude political self-interest. The people will judge them severely.
On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to raise with you a serious issue that has arisen out of the opening speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland, when he made a few brief remarks about the changes that will take place to boundaries in the local government reorganisation in Wales.
I have already intervened to ask whether, during the debate, the Secretary of State can be more precise about what he described as a modest adjustment to the border between the Vale of Glamorgan and Bridgend. I have since been told behind the Chair that, of the four communities affected, only one will be put back into the Bridgend area.
I ask whether you, Madam Speaker, consider that the way in which that information was relayed in the Chamber today is good enough for the standard of debate that you oversee?
That was a good try, but the hon. Gentleman must be fully aware that it is not a point of order. There has been no breach of our Standing Orders. He will have to tease out of Ministers the information that he is seeking, so that it can be properly recorded in Hansard.
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether, in that process of teasing me, we could tease the Minister for a while. The point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) raises is a valid one, because we now face the prospect of having a debate up to 9.30 pm on proposals about which we are not fully aware. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he will be making boundary rearrangements—changes to the published map—in respect of Powys, new Flintshire and the Vale of Glamorgan, to which my hon. Friend referred.
I understand also that the Secretary of State has indicated to the media his intention to change the announced timetable. That puts us in an impossible position. We are supposed to be spending the time between now and 9.30 pm debating the proposals, yet we do not know what, in definition, they will be. Neither do we know the timetable that the Secretary of State is proposing. The Minister of State, Welsh Office is present. The Secretary of State must have taken him into his confidence on these matters.
I ask that you, Madam Speaker, put your expression of concern direct to the Minister so that we can perhaps get a statement from him, particularly on the timetable and the boundary changes.
The point that the hon. Gentleman is raising is a serious matter, but it is not a point of order. It is a matter for debate, and it must be developed during the course of the debate. If the Minister seeks to make a statement, of course I must listen to it, but that is not a point of order for the Chair.
Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. You have often said, as have your predecessors, how unsatisfactory it is if information is given to the press outside the Chamber on matters that are relevant to those being debated in the Chamber and is not made available to hon. Members who are taking part in the debate. That appears to have happened in this instance, particularly with regard to the timing of the introduction of the change for Wales.
I have only what the hon. Gentleman tells me to go on. I am not aware of statements that have been made to the media in any form at any time. I can say only what I am aware of, and I am not aware of that. Therefore, I must assume that, if the Minister wishes to make a statement later, he is going to do so. I cannot interrupt the debate at this stage unless the Minister is going to make a statement.
On a different point of order, which I think you will decide is a genuine point of order, Madam Speaker. When the Secretary of State for Scotland opened the debate, he criticised the Labour party for its views on who should participate in votes on issues relating to Scotland and, for that matter, to Wales. Can you confirm that, at the present time at least, Standing Order No. 86 remains applicable, and that, unless the Government decide to try to avoid a Standing Order which has been a Standing Order of this House for 90 years, all Welsh Members will be members of the Standing Committee which will deal with the Welsh local government Bill when it is eventually allowed into this democratically elected House?
Certainly at the moment I can confirm that Standing Order No. 86 is correct, as the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) has just outlined.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said when he opened today's debate, the debate on the Gracious Speech on Thursday was indeed truly revealing with regard to the current constitutional thinking of the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). His contribution in that debate will be long remembered. He announced new constitutional arrangements that would come into force should he ever become Prime Minister.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland so eloquently said earlier, the conclusion of those constitutional arrangements must mean that English Members will vote only on English matters; Scottish Members will vote only on Scottish Matters and—calthough the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East did not say this—no doubt Welsh Members will vote only on Welsh matters and Northern Ireland Members will vote only on Northern Ireland matters.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland gave the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, the hon. Members for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), ample opportunity to come to the Dispatch Box and say whether they disagreed with his conclusion. Neither of them took that opportunity. Perhaps when they reply to the debate later, they will have thought more about the subject, will have telephoned Monklands and have a line on that.
Will the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen confirm that, should the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East ever become Prime Minister—a Prime Minister representing a Scottish seat—he would never take part in, vote in or answer questions in respect of purely English legislation? Will they confirm that on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 3.15 pm the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East would not answer a question on a matter of purely English or Welsh content?
Would there be an addition to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's usual standard reply about his engagements? Would another standard reply enter our proceedings? When asked a question on an English matter by an English Member, would the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East have to say, "That is a matter which I, as a Scottish Member of this House, am unable to comment upon?"
The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East was talking nonsense last Thursday. The Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen know that. He was making a mockery of the constitution. He was either playing to the nationalist supporters on the Benches behind him or he was playing to the nationalist supporters in his proposed new constituency. Either way, the House has a right to know from the Opposition Front Bench whether that is the latest constitutional thinking of the Labour party. The least that we can expect is an admission that the right hon. and learned Gentleman got it hopelessly wrong. When the Opposition spokesman replies to the debate, I hope that he will clear up the confusion.
Over the summer, the debate that has developed in Scotland on local government reform has been fascinating. Each of the Opposition parties has tried desperately to deny its own past commitments to single-tier councils. They have tried to distance themselves from their manifestos which appeared last April. They have been encouraged by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which is desperate to get in on the act.
It is worth reminding the House about COSLA's role. First, it announced a grand campaign of non-co-operation which we were told would force my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to abandon his plans. When that did not work, COSLA redefined what it meant. When that did not work, it relaunched it. When that did not work, COSLA redesigned it. When that grand plan of non-co-operation did not work, COSLA reassessed it. In November, no doubt, it will bitterly regret it.
A more serious debate than the one offered by COSLA has taken place, and it was most revealing. Over the summer it emerged and became apparent to all that there are two different visions of local government on offer to the people of Scotland. First, there is the vision of my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues that offers strong, accountable and genuine local government. Secondly, there is the confusing vision of two tiers that leads to remote regions, buck-passing between region to district and district to region and people being passed from pillar to post and back again. My right hon. Friend's plans offer a strong, obvious, councillor-elector relationship and, most importantly, a council with which people can identify. Crucially, under those plans, there would be no centralisation and no drain of power from the communities to the centre or from the peripheries of Scotland to the central belts.
The councils proposed would be the most powerful local authority units that Scotland has ever seen. They would be responsible for services that directly touch the lives of everyone living in Scotland—from social work to education, from leisure and recreation to roads, from libraries to fire and from police to planning. All those services and more would be the responsibilities of elected local councillors in town halls throughout Scotland.
The Labour party offers a different vision. Every time its manifesto commitment of single-tier local authorities is quoted, as we heard from the hon. Member for Hamilton, Labour Members shout back and rejoice in yelling that it would occur only with a Scottish assembly. What impact would a Scottish assembly have on local democracy in Scotland? What would be the future for local accountability in a city such as Aberdeen or a town such as Inverness if there were an assembly in Edinburgh? It would have all the relevance of the present Lothian region and the sensitivity presently shown by the Strathclyde region.
Fortunately, we do not have to wait for the nightmare of a Scottish assembly to occur to assess its impact, because in fourteen and a half years, the Opposition have not been idle. They decided what they would do and let us know vividly. The assembly would be one of many and varied powers. The Opposition tell us that it would take powers from this House relating to agriculture, fishing, social security, health and, according to the latest document from the Scottish Constitutional Convention, it would take electricity generation—from whom, we do not know. Probably, the Opposition would not deny any of that.
We have not heard today and certainly did not hear during the summer that, in addition to the powers that the Opposition propose to take from the House to give to a Scottish assembly, they would flesh the powers out with other powers and responsibilities that are currently in the hands of local authorities across Scotland. We are told that they would take education, fire, police, housing, local roads, transport, planning and industrial development to Edinburgh. Opposition Members murmur, but it is no use denying those proposals.
The hon. Gentleman needs some education. The Labour party proposed that the legislative power currently at Westminster, in relation to all the services that he described should be transferred from Westminster to Edinburgh, but that the administration of all those services would remain with the local authorities. If the hon. Gentleman is to continue in such a vein of ignorance, he should sit down and let some of my hon. Friends speak.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would say that. Does he expect the House to believe that the proposed assembly, sitting in Calton Hill, would merely take the administrative power? No, it would not. It would take every other power associated with those responsibilities and the hon. Gentleman knows that full well.
Absolutely. All the proposals are contained in the Scottish Constitutional Convention document of September 1990, which the Labour and Liberal parties have signed. It is a charter for destroying local democracy in Scotland, for stripping local councils for all meaningful powers and responsibilities and for moving decision making from town halls and council chambers to the royal high school in Edinburgh. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of Stale is so determined to sell it off.
The threat facing local government in Scotland is the threat of a Scottish assembly, which in order to have any meaningful role in the life of our nation would have to plunder and claim for itself the responsibilities of local authorities. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has virtually just admitted that. The story does not end with the powers that those who support the establishment of a Scottish assembly have already said it will take and are intent on its taking.
Paragraph 4 of the Scottish Constitutional Convention document—signed by the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats—says:
It must be stressed that this paper represents a summary, and is not an exhaustive listing, of the range of powers which should be held by Scotland's Parliament. Other areas will require… further consideration by the Convention or by Scotland's Parliament itself.
That provision would see powers drain away from local communities in Aberdeen, Dundee, Dumfries, Inverness and Perth to a centralised Scottish assembly on Calton hill. That is the real threat to local accountability and democracy in Scotland.
As one of those present who was involved in the constitutional convention, I suspect that I have a better understanding of the document than does the hon. Gentleman. Does he accept that the interpretation given by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) was accurate and that it is the legislative powers of this House that will be transferred to the Scottish parliament? Does the hon. Gentleman further accept—if he insists on quoting—that the documents contain copious references to the need to strengthen local democracy in the localities and communities of Scotland? He should not be so selective in his quotations.
I was in no way selective. I merely quoted the constitutional convention. If the Opposition parties do not like it, no wonder it is falling apart.
To prove my point and in conclusion, I can do no better than to quote one of Labour's great Scottish local government gurus. Writing in the Glasgow Herald of 6 March last year, Councillor Jean McFadden, the current leader of Glasgow district council and a past president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, gave the following view:
I think we have to be very much on our guard here. There
may well be a tendency for the Scottish Parliament to suck up power from below.
That says it all. That is why my right hon. Friend's reforms are welcome, why they will work and why they will endure.
You will recall, Madam Speaker, that in the absence of the Secretary of State for Wales we tried to secure from the Minister a statement about the timetable. I hope that we shall get such a statement from the Secretary of State immediately. If word is to be sent out to the Welsh media that it is planned to postpone the Welsh proposals by 12 months, every hon. Member is entitled to know it. It is essential, and a natural courtesy to the House—especially those Welsh Members present—that the Secretary of State should intervene briefly to advise us whether he intends to announce a 12-month postponement. All of us invite the right hon. Gentleman to tell us rather than simply sending word out to the Welsh media, which would be an insult to the House. I am offering to give way to the Secretary of State if he is willing to intervene.
I think that that means that there will indeed be a 12-month delay.
Going "back to basics"—back to old-fashioned values—has become the theme of our debate on the Loyal Address. I should like to remind the Secretary of State of one or two of those old-fashioned values as they relate to institutions, to communities and to the behaviour of Parliaments and Governments.
A number of us recall very well the previous occasion on which Welsh local government was reorganised, under another Conservative Government. The Bill foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech is designed to unravel everything that was done in 1972. I remember the reaction in the communities: in Pembrokeshire the reaction was strong, and the very concept of Dyfed was rejected. Ministers were unwilling to listen to those objections. Now, 20 years later, they have come back to the House with the intention of unravelling all those changes.
If nothing else, the right hon. Gentleman should approach local government reorganisation with humility, and be willing to listen and heed. He does not represent anybody in Wales, but he represents the Government, and he has been given the transient job of Secretary of State for Wales.
The alteration of institutions and the constitution of a community and society is rather more fundamental than average pieces of legislation. A good old-fashioned thought that we should plant in the Secretary of State's mind is that, generally speaking, it is a good old-fashioned basic value that in such circumstances one tries to seek consensus. One reaches out and does not exercise the brute force of a majority in the House to railroad through institutional and constitutional changes that will be embodied in such a major local government reorganisation Bill.
It is a total disgrace. No doubt Standing Order No. 86 will also be waived. That shows how miserable and insensitive the Government are to Welsh sensitivities and parliamentary procedures relating to Wales.
The hon. Gentleman has been in this House for a very long time. I would be grateful to know whether he has ever heard of what was supposed to be a major debate in which the Secretary of State for Wales was to make an announcement on timing, according to a letter which I have just received at 4.20 pm, at the end of that debate. How can we debate the issue if we are not told what the announcement on timing is before we hear the Secretary of State's speech?
The hon. and learned Gentleman mentions my longevity in this House. I have spent most of my time trying to achieve parity for Wales with Scotland. We have now reached the absurd situation in which the Secretary of State for Scotland announced changes to Welsh local government, and the Bill will be piloted through the House of Lords by a Scottish advocate. We have gone back 10 steps as a result. It is an outrage. In the spirit of old-fashioned basic values, the Secretary of State for Wales should think again about the way he is treating the House and Welsh Members on this issue.
I must admit that I am a little surprised that my hon. Friend expected anything else from the Secretary of State for Wales or the Welsh Office. As my hon. Friend knows, many Opposition Members have spoken to the Secretary of State and to his predecessor, who said that he wanted to consider adjustments in the light of hon. Members' representations. As my hon. Friend says, the Secretary of State is listening to no one. He is railroading the measure through on the basis of what has been given to him by his civil servants. He has altered the original proposals of his predecessor, the present Secretary of State for Employment—another Englishman—without taking into consideration the views of the people who will be affected by the legislation.
Like me, my hon. Friend represents one of the great traditional communities. Our communities are outraged at the way in which our genuine, legitimate and non-partisan representations to the Secretary of State appear to have been totally ignored.
We put a basic and fundamental point to the Secretary of State: when one is changing institutions and constitutional arrangements within a community and society, particularly within a Welsh community which the right hon. Gentleman does not represent and cannot claim to represent in any shape or form, one should heed as well as listen to the voices of those who make a sensible, rational case on behalf of changes to such proposals.
We accept that the Secretary of State has power to railroad the Bill through the House and that he will have power to waive Standing Order No. 86, but in doing so he will offend one of the basic, fundamental principles which were supposed to be the centrepiece of the Queen's Speech—the sensible, responsible, accountable relationship that should occur in such issues. Since the Secretary of State announced his proposals, he has failed to find a single supporter for one of his major changes to local government. He cannot find a local authority, community organisation or any other body from Blaenau Gwent, Merthyr or Rhymney to speak for the heads of the valleys communities. No one supports the proposal to which he is apparently sticking.
He has managed to achieve consensus on one matter—consensus against his proposal. In the spirit of good, old-fashioned, basic and decent values of the sort that he has talked about, why has he refused to listen to the unanimous voice that stretches across the heads of the valleys, which opposes his proposal for an unwieldy local authority called the heads of the valleys?
Incidentally, it is interesting that the statement by the Secretary of State for Scotland, which has been sent to us, refers to changing the names of authorities:
Important among these is the renaming of the proposed Glamorgan Valleys authority to Rhondda-Cynon-Taff, thus ensuring that those historic names are not lost from local government in Wales.
Alongside those historic names there is an equal, if not greater, historic name—Merthyr Tydfil. It predates most of the other valley communities in its development, its history and the role that it has played, but it is to be wiped off the map.
We are not simply asking for palliatives or changes to place names. In Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and, indeed, other authorities across the heads of the valleys, we believe that our sense of civic identity is tied closely to the responsibilities and powers of local government—they go hand in hand. Merthyr Tydfil was a powerful county borough. Even in the Local Government Act 1972 it was especially recognised as a library authority. It maintained certain responsibilities and powers because of its distinctive role and the role that it played as the centre of the heads of the valleys. Therefore, it is not simply an authority that can be abolished at the stroke of a pen or in a schedule to a Bill.
In the Welsh Grand Committee, many of us made a passionate and reasoned case to change the boundaries. I thought that, when there was some consensus on the change, the Secretary of State would accept it. However, he has not done so, unless he makes further announcements. I should be grateful if he could say whether these are the only proposed changes to the White Paper. He would reduce my speech by a few minutes if he briefly intervened to say that these changes only foreshadow other more significant changes of the sort that we have recommended to him. If he does not rise to his feet, I assume that he will not announce anything further this evening.
The hon. Gentleman is right: I will not make any other big boundary announcements this evening. My proposals reflect many of the representations that I heard, and many communities will be grateful for the changes that I am making. Of course, many parliamentary processes lie ahead, and it is always worth while for the hon. Gentleman to make his points.
I have been here nearly 26 years, and I have been in the same Department as the Secretary of State. Frankly, one knows that it is more sensible to make a change to the schedule to a Bill now, rather than to wait and debate the schedule, when the Minister will use English votes to override our further representations. If he is willing and game to say that he is still open-minded on a fundamental issue such as the so-called heads of the valleys authority, we will take every parliamentary opportunity to press our case. The Secretary of State has already made some announcements. He should realise that, in the case of the heads of the valleys, the representations received have been unanimously opposed to his proposal.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of what my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said, is it not against all parliamentary conventions that on such an issue, the Secretary of State can make announcements at the end of the debate, whereas we are all waiting to participate in a debate on the proposals before us? If it was just sheer arrogance on the part of the Secretary of State I would accept it, but surely we need to know what we are talking about.
I am grateful for the opportunity to intervene. I thought that it was for the benefit of the House if the Secretary of State for Scotland outlined the changes that I am proposing. I have put the statement on the Board. I believe that there are further details in the Vote Office so that we can have an informed debate. I thought that that would be to the benefit of the House because I thought it much better that hon. Members should see what I was going to say later this evening and be able to discuss it rather than being in ignorance. I hoped that hon. Members would appreciate that.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy. May I put on record the fact that I made recommendations to the Secretary of State and I am grateful that he has at least seen in part the wisdom of the case that we put to him. It would be impossible for us to have a reasonable and rational debate today without foreknowledge of the changes that the Secretary of State was proposing to make. I am grateful that he has taken steps to ensure that we are all aware of them.
It would be helpful, however, in furtherance of the argument that my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) is making—and helpful to the rest of us—if the Secretary of State would clarify two outstanding matters. The first is whether he is prepared to reconsider changes in addition to those that he has announced. The second, which is of fundamental importance, is whether he intends to stick with the timetable that was announced by his predecessor to have elections in 1994, with the new authorities taking effect in 1995.
We all know about the nature of government; we know the nature of legislative processes. We have all, in one way or another, been involved in them for a long time. We know that the Secretary of State, having heard all the representations, will not make new proposals during the parliamentary debate.
I have made the case for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney; I argued that as powerfully as I could in the Welsh Grand Committee, and I am trying to argue it now. I cannot, therefore, produce any new arguments for the Secretary of State during the parliamentary stages of the Bill. If a process of repetition works, I shall repeat the argument over and over again until the right hon. Gentleman surrenders, but there must surely be a more rational way to change the Secretary of State's mind. That is to tell him that he has heard our case and I do not understand why he has not heeded it. He cannot possibly claim that he has any representative authority to introduce a local government unit of the type that he has proposed. It was not proposed by his predecessor; it has not been proposed by anyone to him and it has not been supported by anyone since he announced it.
In the spirit of the back to basic values consensus, therefore, I do not know why the Secretary of State is being so stiff-necked about the issue of the heads of the valleys, especially as there is in this case—unlike others—a virtually agreed alternative. He could take some refuge in refusing to change, if he were to say, "There are too many discordant voices offering too many alternatives. I will stick to my original plan because it is the least contentious—everyone else cannot agree on the alternative."
In this case, however, there is virtual agreement on the alternative, which is to divide the so-called heads of the valleys authority into a Merthyr Rhymney and a Blaenau Gwent authority. Its size would be of the same order as that of Monmouthshire, next door to us. What is behind it? I said it before and I repeat it to the Secretary of State. We have the same right of feeling about a civic sense, about roots, about identity, about the relationship between those identities and those roots with local government and local government reforms, as any shire county.
Why does the wonderful word "shire" apparently roll off the mouths of Conservative Members as if it had magical properties, allowing authorities the size of Monmouthshire in Wales? The Government do not heed our views when it comes to an urban community with an equally powerful sense of tradition, civic pride, identity and roots. Our people believe that their community is the basis from which local government services should be delivered. We are not a shire, so we cannot exercise the functions that an authority of a similar size, such as neighbouring Monmouthshire, can exercise.
What is the prejudice against the concept of an urban community with traditions as strong as any shire? Why are those traditions being ignored? Why do they not have the same force in the argument? Is it because we tend to be socialist and because we voted against the Tories? I hope that it is not from any sense of party.
The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. If it is not, why does he not listen to us and heed what we are saying? It will not do much damage to his Bill or to the system of local government. I think that we were delivering local government services in Merthyr Tydfil long before the Secretary of State knew where it was. [HON. MEMBERS: "You think?"] No, I am sure that that is so. We really believe in local government—we believe in ourselves and in the concept of our borough status. That status survived 1972, although we lost powers to the county, and it even survived the attempted changes in the mid-1930s. I am writing a book on that period. So why, in 1993, does the Secretary of State abolish us just like that, without any meaningful support for his alternative?
Surely the answer to my hon. Friend's question is that it is straightforward political gerrymandering. The Secretary of State may not be concocting boundaries to get a Conservative vote in Wales, because he will not get one in our areas, but he hopes that, by appealing to the people of the shire counties, maintaining shire boundaries and being biased towards them, he will scrape—
Perhaps I am naive, but I am not accusing the Secretary of State of gerrymandering, because that is a futile exercise in our neck of the woods. I therefore do not understand why he wants to be so offensive to us, and why he insists on driving through a proposal that offends us so deeply and which has no support.
My hon. Friend is tempting me to stray into other territory. I understand his point. That change has aspects of gerrymandering, but I do not think that that could be the purpose for the change in the case of the heads of the valleys authority.
The hon. Gentleman is making my case for me. If the Secretary of State can make a sensible and rational decision in Ystradgynlais why, in the name of heaven, can he not do so on behalf of the communities that I represent? That is all that I am asking. Why can he not do that for us? I am a great believer in the shires; I am not against them. My wife is a Carmarthenshire girl and was a most bitter opponent of the changes. She has frequently bent my ear on the absurdity called Dyfed and some members of the Government seem to have recognised and acknowledged that absurdity. It was pointed out to them way back in 1972 that it was nonsense.
Let us not create another nonsense called the heads of the valleys authority, which has neither support nor consensus, except a consensus against. If the Secretary of State's nods and so-called pleasant approach to these matters, and the changes he has made already, are to mean anything, I hope that he will say to us tonight that not only will we have future parliamentary processes but that he has listened to our case, not only in the Welsh Grand Committee but in the House this afternoon.
Our case is backed and warmly welcomed by the majority of Members on the Opposition Benches, and I hope that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans)—who lives adjacent to our communities and knows them very well—and the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) will support us in an all-party plea to the Secretary of State to change one fundamental aspect of his proposals: to abandon the absurd merger of the heads of the valleys authority and to restore and retain the powerful civic sense represented by the names of Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.
The Gracious Speech was widely welcomed in Clwyd, North-West and by all sensible people, particularly the passage which referred to the reorganisation of local government in Wales.
This is perhaps the fourth time that Welsh Members have discussed the reform of local government in Wales and I had hoped that, as the Opposition wanted the debate, we would hear something new from them. Alas, it was not to be. As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) said—it seems to be the Opposition's view—repetition works. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that repetition will not work as far as I am concerned, not even if he becomes blue in the face.
The hon. Gentleman said that sensible people would welcome the changes that have taken place in his area—so I am not sure why he is accepting them. Our arguments are repetitious because they are the best arguments; they are arguments which need to be consistently and properly made. We will not fabricate arguments just to make them new. The values on which our arguments are based are there to see; they were transparent to the Secretary of State's predecessor and to the Secretary of State and have been completely and utterly ignored.
Conservative Members would be more inclined to listen to the arguments of the Opposition if they did not spend their time trying to undermine the Government's reform of local government by instructing their surrogates in the county councils not to co-operate with the borough and district councils in Wales, thereby making life more difficult.
The publication of my right hon. Friend's Bill is eagerly awaited, certainly in my constituency. Colwyn borough will form a new unitary authority with the neighbouring Aberconwy borough and Rhuddlan borough council will form the new unitary authority of Denbighshire. There will be a sigh of relief from my constituents when this comes about because they are sick and tired of not being able to identify which local authority is responsible for which service, as are constituents elsewhere in Wales.
One of the concerns of my constituents, particularly in Colwyn borough, is that when the new unitary authority is formed, the number of members from Colwyn will equal the number of members for Aberconwy. There is some concern about that equal status. As to the rural areas of Colwyn borough, there is a general acceptance that Trefnant will and should become a part of the new Denbighshire. My constituents are anxious that the five wards in Colwyn borough should continue to exist, because fewer wards in the rural areas of Colwyn would make it difficult for the new represenatives to operate.
My constituents are also concerned about the status of the county boundary between Clwyd and Gwynedd. There are rumours that it will change. Those rumours have been taken seriously and local health authorities and others are vying for influence in the areas of Aberconwy and Colwyn boroughs which may come into that new health authority area. My constituents would be pleased to know whether the boundary will change.
My constituents' greatest concern about the proposed reform of local government is the point that I mentioned in response to a question from the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers)—the disgraceful way in which the Opposition have been organising their surrogates in the county councils in an attempt to undermine the proposed reform of local government. It is an undemocratic modus operandi, but it is not unique. I accept that the Opposition may not agree with Government policy, but they seem to be trying to undermine that policy instead of trying to make the most of it and make it work. The Opposition have been in opposition for some 14 years and no longer seem able to distinguish between opposing the Government and opposing the country.
Another example of the Opposition trying to undermine Government policy can be found in grant-maintained schools. Their attempts to prevent schools, governors and parents from exercising their democratic right to decide freely whether they wish to opt for grant-maintained status is quite disgraceful.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned me specifically before he made his outrageous accusations. County councils have a right to make up their own minds. I do not know whether Conservative county councils are controlled from central office, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Labour county councils make their own decisions and not on instructions from Members of Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman's other outrageous point related to people confounding Government policy on grant-maintained schools. The hon. Gentleman is well known for his wild accusations: will he give some credit to the House and give an example of Labour-controlled authorities, or other people, specifically doing what he has accused them of doing? Let us have a few names.
There are several schools in my constituency where the Labour party has specifically attempted to undermine their attempts to become grant-maintained. Ysgol Emrys Ap Iwan is a particularly noteworthy example, where not only the county councillors but even council officials were campaigning against its becoming grant-maintained.
My complaint against the Labour party is that, although the borough councils and the districts are trying to get themselves organised to accept the reorganisation of local government, the counties are refusing to transfer the information that is required by those authorities to prepare themselves for that event. The Labour party is also ignoring the future careers of many senior officials within those councils, who may well wish to be employed by the new unitary authorities. Obviously the Labour party has no regard for those people.
If, as we expect, an announcement will be made later today that the elections to the shadow unitary authorities are to be delayed for one year, does the hon. Gentleman agree that that will cause great damage to and uncertainty among local government employees in Wales? Does he share the view that, first, we should be told now what announcement will be made so that we can debate the matter and, secondly, that the elections should take place according to the original timetable?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is speculating, and if he wants me to speculate upon his speculation, he is taking matters too far. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make a statement in a few hours and I doubt very much whether it will add to the uncertainty that the Labour party has already created.
Why has the Labour party created such uncertainty? It is not as though the Opposition are against the principle of unitary authorities—they are not. They have embarked upon this particular campaign for one reason alone—they want an elected assembly for Wales. All of a sudden, the Opposition have changed their mind. They have been converted by the colleagues of the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and have now adopted the nationalist agenda. They have taken up that agenda not because they believe in an assembly for Wales, but because they are afraid of the nationalists at the polls. That is the one and only reason for the adoption of that agenda.
The one thing that the Welsh people will want to learn from the fourth re-run of the debate on this issue is the difference between the Conservatives and the Opposition parties. Every one of those parties wants an assembly for Wales, but the Conservative party does not. We are the party that believes in the United Kingdom, but all the Opposition parties, including the Liberal Democrats, want to break up the United Kingdom. Amazingly, they want to break it up into small pieces which they would then insert into a united states of Europe.
I understand that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) will reply on behalf of the Opposition. Anyone who was present when he last wound up a debate will remember that occasion for ever.
My hon. Friends and I have heard the hon. Gentleman speak on several occasions and he always refers to what he describes as the underspending on various services in Wales. He always says that more money should be spent on roads, schools and hospitals. Bearing in mind the fact that the Labour party wants an assembly for Wales which will have tax-raising powers, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can aggregate what he believes that underspend to be and tell us how his assembly in Cardiff would set about raising the funds to cover that deficit. Would it be made up through direct taxation, indirect taxation or corporate taxation? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman has plans to raise taxation through all those means.
If the hon. Gentleman finds it a little difficult to provide that aggregate, he can merely look at the existing budget of the Welsh Office. Given that he disagrees with the way in which that money is spent, perhaps he will tell us how he would redistribute the budget.
It is a great pity that the sole representative of Plaid Cymru, the hon. Member for Caernarfon, seems to have left the Chamber. For the nationalists, an assembly in Cardiff is the first stage in their campaign for an independent Wales. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to reveal at his recent party conference that his party wants not only an independent Wales, but an independent republic. He appears to have gone so far as to work out the details of the ceremony for the inauguration of the president. If I am correct, I understand that he has it in mind that the archdruid of the National Eisteddfod should inaugurate the president. I can only assume that the arch-druid would be wearing his Sunday best bed linen.
Should the hon. Member for Caernarfon ever succeed in creating an independent republic, he should think carefully about how he would attract inward investment. Given what the hon. Gentleman said at his party conference, anyone with a connection with Surrey or anywhere else in England would not be happy to invest in a republic over which he had any influence, because he seems to object to their drinking habits.
The counter-proposals of the Opposition parties to the reorganisation of local government in Wales are totally unacceptable to the Conservative party and totally unwanted by the people of Wales, as they showed in the 1979 referendum on the issue when they voted 4:1 against them.
One of the consequences of a linked Scottish and Welsh debate is that those of us who usually contribute to Scottish debates have an opportunity to hear our Welsh counterparts, and vice versa. While the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) was speaking, I could not help reflecting on the contrast between him and his distinguished predecessor, who, in 1989, had the political courage and integrity to stand up and fight Lady Thatcher. I understand the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West to be calling on the Secretary of State to stop Labour county councils having the audacity to campaign against Conservative party policies. Such is the fate of pluralist democracy under the Government.
Although the Gracious Speech attributes only 12 words specifically to Scotland and Wales, it is useful to have today's debate. We shall no doubt be told that other measures in the Queen's Speech will affect Scotland and Wales. That worries us and many students, who see the basic services enjoyed by university students threatened by the proposals that will affect the future of student unions.
I am also worried that the Government may try to insert, in a criminal justice Bill substantially designed for England and Wales, measures that will affect Scottish law and that, because of the nature of Committees, many Scottish Members will be unable to examine the proposals in detail. If that happens, it will be a big step away from even the limited advances which the Secretary of State announced in his "taking stock" proposals.
I suppose that teams from Scotland and Wales, like the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, will attend the Commonwealth games in Canada, and we wish them well.
In introducing the debate, the Secretary of State for Scotland announced some modest but nevertheless welcome changes to some of the boundaries.
As my hon. Friend says, those changes are not enough. We are in a different position today from when the Secretary of State made his original announcement on the boundaries. Before that, we had had only four maps with general illustrations on them. Only since 8 July this year have the people in the Scottish communities had an opportunity to consider specific proposals. It is clear from what my hon. Friends the Members for Roxburgh and Berwickshire and for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said, that the proposals to lump Berwickshire with East Lothian, put Westhill with Aberdeen and have Fife as a single unit and not allow diverse local authorities within Fife are all strongly opposed in those localities.
The Secretary of State has a duty to tell the House what criteria he will apply in changing the proposals that he is presently stuck with. Will the views of the communities to be affected by the proposals have a bearing on the Government's decisions when the matter comes before Parliament?
In a radio interview that I did with the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) last week, the hon. Member said that the Secretary of State had told him that Parliament would decide. I hope that that means that the Whips will be off when we debate detailed boundary proposals, and that the views of the people will count for a lot.
Ultimately, the important question when deciding whether to support local authority reform is not whether we should have one or two tiers; nor is it about the details of boundaries. Rather, we should examine the legislation to see whether it will lead to greater self-determination for local communities, how communities and individuals can exercise effective control over their localities, and whether the local authorities will be genuinely democratic, providing voters with genuine choice and an opportunity for local determination.
If we pretend that what we have today is an example of local democracy, we shall deceive ourselves. As the Secretary of State said when he addressed the House on that issue on 14 July 1993:
In the regional elections in 1990, the votes cast and seats gained revealed that it took 3,133 votes to elect a Labour councillor, 6,419 to elect a Conservative and even more to elect a Scottish Nationalist."—[Official, Report, 14 July 1993; Vol. 228, c. 1001.]
He stalled on showing what electoral injustice did for the Liberal Democrats.
That perfectly legitimate point is answered not by gerrymandering boundaries but by a fair and democratic electoral system. Under the present system, even the party that gains the most votes in a local authority will not necessarily form the administration. At the latest district council elections in Edinburgh, 29 per cent. of the vote was won by the Labour party, for which it was rewarded with 30 seats, but 40 per cent. of the vote was won by the Conservative party, which was rewarded with only 23 seats. That is a fundamental injustice and if we are to have local democracy, we must change our voting system.
At best, the proposed changes will lead to a different system, but the outcome is more likely to be a worse situation with more power in the hands of unelected quangos and central Government.
The comments of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) on the situation in Greater Glasgow health board in recent weeks were extremely pertinent. I noticed that the Secretary of State nodded in agreement when the hon. Member for Hamilton quoted the Secretary of State for Wales about the need for considerable scrupulousness in how those public authorities conduct their business.
I think that the whole House would agree on that. If the Secretary of State for Scotland agrees, he is duty bound at some stage—preferably today—to give detailed answers to the pertinent questions put by the hon. Member for Hamilton.
The Government have increased quangos in Scotland year in and year out. In 1988, they were spending £500 million of public money and are now responsible for £1.6 billion of public money. The trouble is that they shield Ministers from direct accountability to the clients of those services. They must remain accountable to the House, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will say clearly that he plans to answer the pertinent questions of the hon. Member for Hamilton.
What is coming down the track but the creation of more quangos in the form of three water authorities proposed for Scotland? The Secretary of State did not refer to water in his speech. It is understood that water proposals would be included in a local government Bill and it is important to recognise that such proposals command no widespread support in Scotland. In the opinion poll referred to earlier in the debate, 95 per cent. of respondents said that they wanted water and sewerage services left in the hands of elected local authorities; only 4 per cent. said that they wanted the three larger water authorities; 85 per cent. believed that privatisation would ultimately result if the Government's proposals were adopted; and 82 per cent. wanted a referendum on the issue.
That raises important questions about democracy: first, about adhering to the overwhelmingly expressed views of the people; and, secondly, about the lack of democracy that will result if powers currently exercised by democratically—albeit not as democratic as most of us would wish—directly elected councillors are handed over to appointed quangos. Those three water boards would be made up of appointees and would have no democratic legitimacy.
Will the Secretary of State agree, even if he intends to set up unelected bodies, that there is a considerable case for allowing the three islands authorities to continue to have their water and sewerage services determined locally? I cannot believe that anyone sitting in Dundee—or wherever he chooses as the headquarters of the board that will represent the north of Scotland—will have the slightest interest in the details of the water supply needed on the islands of Rousay, Papa Westray or Whalsey. I fear that all that we have in common is the water that divides us—either the Pentland firth or the North sea.
I hope that common sense will intervene at that stage and that the islands areas, at least, will not be lumped in with the mega-authorities. The main principle is that water and sewerage services should remain in the hands of directly elected councillors who will be answerable to the people for whom those services are provided.
We want local authorities that are free from outside interference to decide for themselves how to discharge functions. If the Government are trying to say that they want strong local government, those who are elected must have an opportunity to decide. On a simple matter like refuse collection, a local authority can decide whether the refuse will be collected by its work force or whether it will engage contractors. Alternatively, it may wish to devolve some of the responsibility to community councils or have a combination of all threee.
If local authorities are told that it is compulsory to put out refuse collection to competitive tendering, the reason for having local democracy almost evaporates. How can people judge whether councillors are doing a good job if those councillors cannot decide such a fundamental question as who will collect rubbish? If we let the local authority decide such questions, at an election the people will decide whether that authority has done a good job. That is what democracy is all about.
When the Secretary of State suggests that the great problem with the two-tier system has been the confusion between region and district, he does not recognise that the biggest confusion in local government is where local authority responsibility and power end and central Government responsibility begins. Often, the opportunity for local authorities to take decisions that they want to lake in the interests of their local communities is frustrated by the big hand of central Government.
The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) misreads what the Scottish Constitutional Convention and those of us who support a Scottish Parliament want. My party wants to take power from Westminster and to give it to national Parliaments in Scotland and in Wales. We want to go beyond that by increasing the power that is given to local authorities.
Given that, in the past 14 years, the Conservative party has introduced 160 measures taking power away from local authorities and concentrating them in Westminster or St. Andrew's house, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South probably cannot understand that some people believe that power should reside in the communities in which they live. Given his background of Toryism, it is likely that he would not understand such a democratic concept.
We want local government to have a power of general competence. Restrictions on it should be applied by voters through a fair electoral system at the ballot box. A majority of voters should install councillors who will work to provide decent quality services and who will not protect cosy municipal practices, but will try to achieve the best delivery of services for those whom they represent. They will be judged at the ballot box by those whom they represent. One looks in vain for such a policy from a party that does not have a great commitment to democracy.
Today, The Independent reports a briefing from a senior Minister at the Department of the Environment suggesting that English county councils will be the next to get the boot. It suggests that that will not cause the Government any political difficulty because, with the exception of Buckinghamshire, the Conservatives lost control of every county council at the latest county council elections. As we saw with the Greater London council, when the Government cannot win power through the ballot box, they change the rules and gerrymander or legislate a democratic body out of existence.
One would almost believe that, if they were faced with certain defeat at a general election, the Government would introduce a Bill to extend the lifetime of a Parliament. They would do so in the name of efficiency, using the argument that money would be saved by avoiding a general election. The Conservative party has no real commitment to democracy. Against that background, one cannot believe that any Bll introduced to reform local government in Scotland will do anything to improve the quality of our local democracy.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland for not being here at the start of the debate. Perhaps, if the Strathclyde region had ensured that we had a reasonable link between the A77 and the M8, I would have made my plane on time. Once again, we are provided with a good reason for bringing about a change in Scottish local government to ensure that the interests of my constituents in Ayrshire will be looked after.
I welcome this debate and the fact that so much time has been made available to discuss Scottish and Welsh interests. There was much talk about the local government proposals having been brought forward without proper consultation, but we have had two major consultations on the matter, one before and one after the last election. It is time to act and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has faced up to the task. Instead of talking and talking, as the Opposition would want us to do, he has acted in a firm, decisive and, in the main, sensible manner.
When we enter the debate, discussions will be localised, which is as it should be. Of course, Scottish interests as a whole will be of interest to every hon. Member who represents a Scottish constituency, but ultimately each one will be looking at his or her own constituency requirements. That is how it should be, and I offer no apologies for taking that approach myself.
At the last election all the parties promised single-tier local government. It was a Tory party manifesto pledge, and I am delighted that we are now presenting it. It was also a Labour party pledge—the party policy document stated:
All-purpose councils facilitate the move to an integrated approach to service provision and also decentralisation through a local one-door approach.
That statement appeared in a Labour party document before the last election and, for a change, it contained an
element of sense. The one-door approach is wise. It is a pity that the Labour party seems to have thrown it out of the door now, but that does not surprise me.
What did the Liberal party have to say in its 1992 Scottish manifesto? It said:
We will introduce a single-tier of local government, to deliver most of the services currently provided by districts and regions.
We should notice the word "most"—the Liberals thought that a Scottish assembly would have pulled in many of the services. Those were the words of the Liberal party manifesto, not mine. That manifesto continued:
This will end the confusion about who is accountable for what and bring local government effectively within the reach of the local citizens.
That is right—but what happened to those principles? They seem to have been abandoned.
The Scottish nationalists not only supported the idea of single-tier authorities at the last election, but have done so since. "The Scotsman of 1 October stated:
The SNP believe that the single-tier structure will be the most effective
form of local government. I totally go along with the SNP's vision.
When we consider local government reform and the fulfilment of Tory manifesto pledges—a mark of Tory government since 1979—we see that those issues cannot be put behind us. I was shocked the other day to hear the Leader of the Opposition suggest that English Members of Parliament had no part to play in the current debate. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) is supposedly the leader of the United Kingdom Labour party, speaking for all parts of the United Kingdom. However, he suggested that English Members of Parliament should play no part in the debate on the procedures. Hansard of last Thursday gives the facts at column 24. I suggest that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) reads it.
As we were reminded earlier, under Standing Order No. 86—under the present rules of the House—the legislation would be handled by a Committee of Scottish Members in Scotland and of Welsh Members in Wales. That will happen unless the Government decide to set aside a Standing Order that has been in existence since before the first world war.
My understanding is that, within the House, hon. Members represent United Kingdom constituencies. As such, Members of all parties and from all parts of the United Kingdom enter the debate and sit on Committees on United Kingdom affairs. I see no cause for concern about the legislation, and I welcome advice on the issue from all parts of the United Kingdom.
Why has the Labour party changed its views on the issue? There is one specific reason: the voice of COSLA, which is represented heavily by Labour Members from central Scotland. The Labour party founded its strong political base on COSLA and on that central Scottish representation. I should like to think that when we debate the subject in Committee—it will be a long and hard debate on 160 clauses, with many hours of debate—Labour Members will throw aside the vested interests of COSLA and look after their constituents' interests. I offer 100 per cent. commitment to my constituents' interests.
The Labour party in Ayrshire is in the mire. Across Ayrshire, there is great relief that Strathclyde will soon be abolished. The Scottish Labour party will struggle to maintain Strathclyde and try to hold on to its regions, but Labour Members in Ayrshire have shown signs of dissent. We have a new boy in the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), who may obey his party's instructions, but the hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey), for whom I have the greatest respect, may follow their instincts and the interests of their constituents.
The hon. Member for Cunninghame, South is well aware that notification of the debate was given only a week ago. I have a full diary. I have already had debates in the constituencies of the hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and in my constituency. I have no need to run scared of anyone. If the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South wants me to debate the subject in his constituency, I shall arrange a mutually convenient time to do so.
Perhaps I could offer another reason why the hon. Gentleman is unable to attend, apart from his full diary. He has attended two meetings. Out of a large attendance in his constituency of Ayr he was able to get only four supporters from the floor, and he had to leave before the end of the meeting in Cumnock, but I can tell him that we had a vote and no one supported him. He seems to be moving in the right direction. If he went to Cunninghame, presumably some who supported him at the beginning would end up not supporting him at the end.
As the hon. Gentleman and I are well aware, the large attendance in Ayr was of probably about 60 or 70 politically aligned people, and the same applies to Kilmarnock and Loudoun. Both debates were pretty partial. The debate organised by the community council in Kilmarnock and Loudoun was constructive and worth while. I regretted having to leave the debate in Cumnock early. I do not know whether the people who attended were politically aligned, but, in general, for the most strange reasons, they seem to support the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley time and again at general elections. I do not know what the outcome of the debate was, but it was useful and I enjoyed attending. His constituents gave me a fair hearing.
I remind the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley that I sat on a platform with about eight other speakers and was well aware that each of them would speak against the views that I had expressed. It does not surprise me if, having gone first, my voice did not prevail.
Labour Members from Ayrshire are not in tune with their district councillors. Labour-controlled Cunninghame district council wants to go it alone, as do councillors in Kyle and Carrick. I do not argue with them. That is a matter for the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) to pursue. I do not know his view, but I am told that he pledged to people in Cunninghame, North that he would support his councillors in achieving their aim. I shall wait to see whether he does so, because, if he did, it would cut across his party's policy, and on that basis he would probably have to give up his position as deputy shadow transport spokesman.
No, we have heard enough from you—sorry, not from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but from the hon. Gentleman.
Councillors in Kilmarnock and Loudoun are suggesting that they should have a single all-purpose authority. There is something ghastly awry in the Labour party in Ayrshire, and rather than having a go at me, occasionally Labour Members would do better to get together and sort out the problems of the Labour party.
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Labour party in Ayrshire did get together at a meeting in Kilmarnock with representatives from all constituencies and we unanimously supported an all-Ayrshire authority. He should be aware, and I hope that he will admit it, that every Labour councillor in Kyle and Carrick and every councillor in Cumnock and Doon Valley supports an all-Ayshire authority. I hope that the hon. Member will admit that.
I do not disagree with anything that the hon. Member says, but Labour-controlled Cunninghame district council and Kilmarnock and Loudoun council have said that they want their own authority. The hon. Gentleman has emphasised my point: the Labour party in Ayrshire is in a mess, and if it has achieved unity, but the local authorities disagree, that merely supports my point.
What would a new all-Ayrshire authority mean to my constituents in Kyle and Carrick? It would mean a loss of say. Under a set-up between Irvine, Kilmarnock and Cumnock, our people in south Ayr would have little voice and that must be borne in mind.
We are told that we have a Tory fiefdom. What a lot of nonsense. In Kyle and Carrick —the future south Ayrshire, south-west Ayrshire, or even Kyle and Carrick; perhaps that is a small change that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might consider—the local authority is accountable to its people. At each election, its complexion has changed, which is good for local democracy and is what local government is all about. If the council delivers and it offers good services at the right cost, it will be re-elected. If it does not, it is the right of the elector to change the complexion of the council. That will continue to happen in south Ayrshire, and that is a very sound basis for looking forward.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I had just begun my speech when he tried to intervene.
What does the hon. Gentleman have to say to his Conservative party colleagues on the council in the city of Edinburgh? Did not 40 per cent. of the voters turn out to vote for the Conservative party, and yet it got fewer seats than the Labour party and is now in opposition?
My hon. Friend was kind enough to give way to the Liberal Democrat spokesman on local government, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace).
Does my hon. Friend recall the recent Tower Hamlets by-election when a leaflet that was produced by the Liberal Democrats was criticised as racist? The Liberal Democrat party said at that time that it was conducting an inquiry into that leaflet. Will my hon. Friend ask the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland when the outcome of that inquiry will be known?
I must tell my hon. Friend for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) that we are talking about local government in Scotland and Wales. However, since I have emphasised that I am a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament, I should be happy to give way to the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland if he wishes to respond.
I feel that you have saved the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland some embarrassment, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
What is currently on offer from the Labour party on the local government review? There is no doubt that it will say that it wants a commission. The subject of a commission will come up during the parliamentary debate, no doubt on the Second Reading of the local government Bill, and will be pushed at that time. What would the commission be? It would be nothing more than a talking shop which would put a time barrier on a change for which many people across Scotland cannot wait.
It is in line for Opposition Members to seek delay constantly. They are people who, I would suggest, would never do today what can be put off until tomorrow. Their policies are those of the indecisive, of those who shirk responsibility, and of those who would welcome several layers of government to mask their responsibility.
Opposition Members want a Scottish assembly for just such a purpose. A Scottish assembly would achieve another level of restriction that would be placed on the citizens of Scotland. Another layer of politicians would be added to the requirements of Scottish business, Scottish interests and Scottish development. We certainly do not want an assembly. There has been much talk of the powers that such an assembly would either suck in or have redistributed. We have heard very little from Opposition Members on the cost of such an assembly. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and the hon. Member for Fife, Central should take that on board when they are talking about changes in the constitutional arrangements in Scotland.
In finalising—[Interruption.] Maybe I will not finish, given the obvious popularity of my words. I will expand on what the Opposition want to do. I mentioned the loss of democracy in Ayrshire, and the loss of input for my constituents if there were to be an all-Ayrshire authority. I did not mentioned the cost, and what it would it mean for my constituents. I said that we would lose our say, and such an authority would mean my constituents would have excessive amounts to pay.
When I look at the make-up of Ayrshire, I find that, in Cumnock and Doon Valley. 82 per cent. of domestic residences are in the A and B bands of the council tax. In Kilmarnock and Loudon, the figure is 71 per cent. and in Cunninghame it is 68 per cent. In my constituency, 80 per cent. of residences are in the higher bands of the council tax. Believe me, that my constituents are no better off than others in Ayrshire. The facts are that their properties have higher values and their levels of income do not represent that.
Those who are currently worst off, and in particular those pensioners who are just above the levels of social security support, would be the people who would suffer from an all-Ayrshire authority through extra council tax demands. That is one great reason why there is no way that we will go down the path of an all-Ayrshire authority if I have anything to do with it.
Looking at the Gracious Speech overall, there are one or two other issues of importance to Scotland to which I should like to draw to the attention of hon. Members. One is the commitment of the Government to continue to upgrade overseas aid. I applaud that. Considerable progress has been made over the years but, at times, that acts against us. In my constituency, British Aerospace has had to shed jobs because of the misdirection of overseas aid in Brazil. I should like my hon. Friends and right hon. Friends to take that on board and pass it on to the relevant Ministers.
I made that point with particular reference to the interests of Scotland and the impact of overseas aid on Scottish jobs. I apologise, and I will now make my second point.
There are references within the Gracious Speech to law and order issues. I trust that those references are spread on a United Kingdom basis, because there is interest in Scotland in changes in law and order and in criminal justice.
The Government are intent under the local government review to make changes to the children's hearing panel system and to the reporter service. I hope that the review will give some teeth to the children's panels to deal with many of the young hoodlums who come before them. I pay tribute to those who sit on the children's panels. They are dedicated to their task and they are interested in the future of Scottish children, but they are also interested in the protection of the public. I hope that that issue will be kept to the fore in the changes that are to be made to the reporter service.
The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) started his speech by accusing Opposition Members of "talking, talking, talking". The hon. Gentleman has just given an absolutely marvellous example of an hon. Member who has the ability to talk but—as was clear from the rest of his speech—does not have the ability to listen to the people of Ayrshire or to the people of Scotland. The hon. Gentleman's clear interest in the Labour party in Ayrshire leads me to conclude that he is thinking that the only way that he can keep his seat at the next general election is to join the Labour party.
The Government have claimed in the White Paper that they want to make councils more accessible, more accountable, and more reflective of local loyalties. The Government clearly do not listen to what the people of Scotland want. My view, and certainly the view of my constituents in Dunfermline and west Fife, is that the Government's proposals are not in the interests of Scottish people. The Government's proposals are about centralisation of power at the Scottish Office and here at Westminster. They are about the privatisation of public services and the creation of yet more quangos and well-paid jobs for the Tories' friends such as the former general manager of Greater Glasgow health board.
I shall give a few examples of the Government's failure to listen. In the west end of my constituency is the community of Kincardine. For many years that community has been part of Fife. It is loyal to Fife. Yet the people of Kincardine have been told that they will be tacked on to the newly created council of Clackmannan and Falkirk. They protest loudly.
Thinking that the Government might be prepared to listen to their voices, the people of Kincardine and their community council carried out a survey. They visited 1,016 households. They found that 93.12 per cent. of the people of Kincardine wished to remain in Fife. So will the Government listen to the people of Kincardine? Will they allow them to stay in an area which they feel is accessible and accountable, and to which its people are loyal?
The second example of the Government's failure to listen is the proposals on the future of the management of the water service in Scotland. The vast majority of the Scottish people have said that they want the water service to remain solely within the control of democratically elected councils. They say that water is a basic need which should belong to all the people and not just to the ever fewer friends of the Conservative party in Scotland.
If the Government are still unable to accept that that is what the people of Scotland want, are they prepared to hold a referendum on the water service? The Government might as well —it would be a cost-saving measure—include in that referendum questions not only about what people want for the future of the water service in Scotland but about whether they want a Scottish parliament and about the reorganisation of local government once we have a Scottish parliament.
If the Government want strong and effective local government, they should wait and they should introduce legislation to create a Scottish parliament. If the Government want value for money, as they claim, they should ditch the White Paper because no one wants the changes proposed in it and no one needs them. The taxpayer certainly does not want to see yet another £200 million wasted on yet another whim of the Conservative Government.
The people of Scotland clearly want elected councils which are directly accessible and accountable. They are largely satisfied with the present arrangement. They do not want further hiving off. They do not want an extension of the contract culture. They do not want further unnecessary compulsory competitive tendering. I suggest that the only people who should be put out to contract are the Ministers in the Scottish Office. We can safely predict that no one would want them.
I am aware of other hon. Members' interest in the debate, so I shall conclude. I agree with the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) that proposals should be sensitive and accountable to local needs. If the Government are serious about that, they should take notice of what the people and my constituents in Kincardine are saying. They should keep water in public control. They should promote value for money and competition by giving Scotland Scottish parliament and then allow Opposition Members to show how to improve public services, how to introduce accessibility and accountability, and how to govern a country in the interests of all rather than a few.
I realise that this is a debate on Scottish and Welsh local government, but everything that I shall speak about will be of interest and will apply to Scotland and Wales as much as it applies to English local government.
The big issue of the day is the "back to basics" theme, which the Prime Minister is fully behind. The first measure will be the criminal justice Bill. It will strengthen the tight against crime and provide new powers to detect crime and convict the guilty. The second measure will be the education Bill, which will reform teacher training so that new teachers have more practical and relevant experience in how to get the basics right in the schools. There will also be a deregulation Bill, which will remove specific burdens and ensure continuing efforts to leave business, including Scottish and Welsh business, free of unnecessary and burdensome state interference.
I suppose that we were all delighted a short time ago when, after the Police Federation had taken a perhaps difficult stance on the Sheehy report, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was wise enough to accept parts of it but to leave out the fixed-term appointments and the performance-related pay matrix. That was well thought out. It was right that he should take a cautious approach to a service for which the whole world respects us.
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that many members of the Scottish police force still have some serious reservations about the parts of the Sheehy report that have been left in? It is not all milk and honey. Officers from constables to chief constable still have serious reservations about the proposals that have been left in.
I am inclined to agree with the hon. Gentleman. Indeed, in a recent paper the chairman of the Police Federation said:
The battle is not over".
That is true. There must be further and further talks on all the problems that would prevent our police force from working efficiently. We cannot have a police force which is working at half power.
The number of crimes is increasing for many reasons. For example, we have made it far easier for people to talk about child abuse and rape in the home. Brothers and sisters now want to protect each other and will report incidents to the police. The huge volume of crime that we hear about now may well have been submerged and hidden previously. Now it is coming out into the open. That is why crime statistics are particularly horrifying.
I go to the extent of saying that we must all support the police in every way that we can. There is a moral factor here. A police superintendent in my constituency today begged members of the public to come forward as witnesses. There were plenty of people around when a police officer stopped a car and put his hand through the window to remove the ignition key. The young thug put the window up and dragged the police officer along the ground for 25 to 30 yards, giving him some nasty injuries.
Those are the sorts of thing that are happening now. They would have been unheard of 30 or 40 years ago as there would not have been such disrespect for the police. But now there is a moral factor, which comes through the education system, the homes and the behaviour of everyone, including hon. Members in the House. Unfortunately, young people feel the need to express their frustration.
There have been two murders in my area, but not in my constituency. In one of them, a young girl was stabbed 27 times. A form of madness is creeping into our society and we must support the police in every way that we can. We cannot allow youngsters of 14 or 15 years of age to come before the courts and say that they cannot be touched. They know that, at the moment, we cannot touch them. We must give the juvenile offenders courts a new power to send persistent 12 and 14-year-old offenders to secure training centres. The maximum sentence for 15, 16 and 17-year-olds should be doubled to two years in a young offenders' institution.
In the worst cases in my area, youngsters who commit 20 or 30 burglaries confess, go before magistrates, get bail and then commit another 20 or 30 burglaries. We must crack down on what are called bail bandits. The new criminal justice Bill, although it will be subject to much debate, provides that youngsters will not get bail if it can be proved that they are persistent bail offenders.
The right to remain silent, too, is an important part of the criminal justice Bill. That matter will be seriously debated, but it will be possible for the court to draw inferences from the silence of a defendant's refusal to answer questions.
We must use more DNA sampling. There is an idea that it should not be allowed, but really it is structural fingerprinting, and we have relied on fingerprinting for many years. It is a new and possible way for the police to obtain non-intimate samples—such clauses are always included—from all suspects arrested in connection with recordable offences.
There is now a new procedure on squatters which has caused much annoyance. I quote the example of people coming home from holiday and finding that they have squatters in their home.
The question of the disruption of country sport will be fiercely debated, as indeed it should be. We must not waste too much time on that. That measure should go through fairly easily.
However, child pornography must be deeply debated, because there is far too much of it. We had an exhibition in the Houses of Parliament at which the Metropolitan police brought conclusive evidence of what is going on with pornography. We are probably the only people who can deal adequately with that matter in legal terms.
I shall now deal with the police and magistrates court Bill. I have a personal commitment tomorrow to go to the Lord Chancellor's Office, because it is dragging its heels on the new magistrates' building that was proposed for Southampton—another 12 courts. It is no good putting up six more prisons and having far more institutions to look after young offenders; the courts must be adequately serviced and we need extra money to build the magistrates court.
I hope that the Government will not go too far towards taking away from the chairman and magistrates of each area the control of the clerk of the magistrates. I do not think that that is the right way to proceed. It is a team effort and I have been visited by the chairman of the magistrates, the magistrates and the clerk of the magistrates in Southampton, who asked me to say a word against that. It is not a matter that will just go away. If the state gradually makes all the appointments, people working in the system will give up a lot of their moral fibre and think that it is no good proceeding.
Many of us have been lobbied about this measure, about which I have great reservations. The people lobbying us are not radical revolutionaries, or even complaining Liberals. They are often lifelong Conservatives who are unhappy about the powers being taken to the centre. In my area in particular, they are unhappy at the twinning of Somerset with Avon so that more of Somerset council tax payers' money will go into the black hole that is Bristol.
That was a useful intervention.
Another matter that will not be affecting Scotland—so often Scotland is ahead of the rest of us—is the Sunday Trading Bill, which will be very emotive. It is beginning to seem as though the middle course is the only course. Total deregulation is proposed and we are promised a free vote, for which I am grateful, but there will be a need for partial deregulation. Sunday trading has been a complete mess for many years and we should get it right. We are promised that that will happen before Christmas. There must be a precise administration system if we are to be able to get it before then.
I chaired the Committee that considered the Carrying of Knives etc. (Scotland) Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) promoted it. Without crossing any boundaries, I think that the same Bill should be applicable in England and Wales. Hunting knives are pretty fearsome. Any hon. Member who has travelled on the steamers across the channel to France will know that one can buy knives over there with which one can gut an ox. They are freely on sale, and so are guns, but I am talking about knives now, and we must have a uniform law on hunting knives and strong penalties for those who use them against other human beings.
There is a continuing feeling outside the House—as we are told when we go back to our constituencies—that people in certain areas of a city are no longer free to move after dark. Elderly people lock themselves in. We do not seem to have any plan. To my knowledge, no local authority, bar Leeds, employs security police to keep an eye on the emotive corners of large council estates.
There is no doubt that much of the crime on such estates is due to the fact that the youngsters are bored. They gather in gangs and make a nuisance of themselves. If they can find someone to persecute, they will. The future for all local authorities is to consider introducing security arrangements on their high-risk estates. Councils which do that will be highly regarded. Although this may be more applicable to my area than to Scotland, we need security patrols in my area as soon as is humanly possible.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument.
One of the most disappointing things about the Gracious Speech is that the only reference to Scotland is the old news that we are to have a reorganisation of local government. The speech by the Secretary of State for Scotland was extremely disappointing because he did not give the reasons for the reorganisation. From the very beginning, the Secretary of State has not justified his proposed changes. He has cited no surveys, royal commissions or independent studies. He has simply referred to his own views.
Before I consider local government reform in particular, I want to refer to the Gracious Speech in its general terms. The Prime Minister and others have told us that the theme of the Gracious Speech is "back to basics." That sounds like a computer program to me and we should not be surprised about that. The Government have no respect for the individual.
For the Government, people are simply numbers to be manipulated to suit the Government's preconceptions and dogma. The Queen's Speech, and all that has been said about it, shows that the Government are still thirled to short-termism, to which I and others have drawn attention on previous occasions and to which even the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) managed to refer in his resignation speech.
The Government's attitude is to always change the rules and concepts on which they are operating. If the unemployment figures are too high, they change the basis on which they are calculated in order to reduce them. If that does not work, the instruction goes out to take people off unemployment benefit and to put them on invalidity benefit. If the invalidity benefit bill rises to high, people are taken off that and put on income support. At all times, the issue is to avoid responsibility.
We now understand from the press that the Government are concerned that the bill for unemployment benefit is too high. What is their solution to that? The solution is not to get people back to work. Instead, it appears to be to cut benefit back to six months. The Government are always looking for a quick fix. They are doing nothing to stimulate the economy.
We are always told that we are being given new job opportunities and that unemployment is a chance for people to get new jobs. We are told that unfair dismissal is a barrier to job opportunity and to employment. What did the Government do? They reduced the qualification period during which people can raise actions for unfair dismissal.
The Government claim that what they are trying to do in the Queen's Speech, and what they have tried to do throughout their period in office, is to provide people with freedom and choice. The trouble is that that freedom of choice is confined to those who can afford to choose. For example, employers have rights, but employees are denied choice at every level. The same applies in education.
I have no objection to the publication of league tables of how schools are performing. People can then see what is happening. However, the Government fall down because they see publication of those tables as the end of the matter. They do not consider the schools that find it difficult to provide a good service to pupils. The Government do not try to remedy the faults in our education system. The Government ignore all that. They simply publish the tables and hope for the best.
We are now told that if local government is eventually reorganised, there will be no need for a statutory education committee or a director of education. We are told that that also applies to social work. There will be no statutory right for a social work committee or a director of social work.
The Government talk continually about the need for family values. What about the people who are struggling to keep a family together? What about the unemployed who are desperate to obtain full-time work to give their families and children a decent start in life and decent services? They cannot do that, because they are compelled to try to eke out an existence on income support.
The gap between rich and poor is increasing at a rate probably unknown since Victorian or pre-Victorian times. Are the Government worried about that? I do not believe that they are. I believe that the Government want to promote a society in which there is a greater gap between rich and poor. If the Government cannot respect the individual, how on earth do they expect the individual to respect society?
The problem is that, by their actions, the Government debase and debauch the very values that trip so readily from the tongues of Ministers. We need to restore a society that cares for its people and which gives people real rights and responsibilities. Investment in people, in education and in social services is necessary if we are to have real rights and responsibilities in our communities.
Not at the moment.
The Government do nothing to help the elderly and those whom they so often say that they wish to help—those people just above the income support level.
The Government will make an appalling mistake by applying VAT to domestic fuel bills. We were told six months ago that there would be a scheme to protect the elderly and those on state benefits. We still have not heard the details of that scheme. We simply read in the press that we can discuss that scheme only once the public sector expenditure round is passed. In other words, pensioners and those in need are at the bottom of the queue and not at the top.
I want to fire a warning across the Chamber. We hear in the House and elsewhere that, once a VAT rate of 7·5 per cent. or 15 per cent. is applied, there is nothing that we can do about it. I do not accept that. We are told that it cannot be changed because there is a concordat with the European Community—or the European Union, as we are now supposed to call it. I suppose that we will all have to learn the new names. I do not accept that we cannot change the rate of VAT.
I understand that harmonisation of VAT is desirable and even necessary in an open-border economy in respect of tradeable commodities and consumer goods. However, VAT on domestic fuel bills is not a choice or a tradeable commodity. Fuel is a necessity. The Opposition Front Bench as well as the Government Front Bench should be carrying forward the argument in Europe. When Labour comes to power, it will not accept that we have no right to reduce or even abolish VAT on electricity bills. We must carry that fight at every opportunity in the European Community. I want now to consider the reorganisation of local government. I make no secret of the fact that I have always been in favour of single-tier authorities. I was against the two-tier authority system when it was announced by the Wheatley commission. The big difference between now and then, and one of the reasons why the argument about local government has developed, is that at least the Wheatley commission was a royal commission. At least everyone agreed that there were far too many local authorities in Scotland.
Everyone agreed that some of the small boroughs were totally incapable of sustaining the kind of services that we wanted. That, at least, was a common agreement in local government, Parliament and elsewhere. There was at least that consensus. However, the Government have proceeded not on the basis of trying to establish the facts or the record. They have simply dealt with the matter as an in-house exercise. That is what happened in Scotland.
Although I support one-tier authorities, it is a mistake to denigrate the present system and simply to say that regional councils have done no good and have never played a positive role. I believe that they have played a positive role. For example, Grampian regional council—naturally, I speak about the area I know best—has much to commend it. It has an industrial strategy which, by and large, has worked. It is a mistake simply to say that what Grampian regional council has done to promote trade and industry in the area should be cast aside without examining what good it has done.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said in an intervention, the problem is that we are not actually going to get unitary authorities. We are not doing away with the two-tier local government system. We will have unitary authorities for some aspects of local government, but we will have quangos, which will be grafted on to the system, to deal with issues that cannot be accommodated properly within local government. Those quangos will have no real accountability. Experience has told us that joint boards do not work. They have been tried and they do not work.
Many right hon. and hon. Members have become excitable about the new local authority boundaries during the debate. Great concern has been expressed about the way in which the boundaries have been drawn, such as the proposed single-tier authority for the Highland region. The Secretary of State began the entire exercise by saying that the objective of local government reorganisation was to bring government nearer to the people. If that has any validity at all, one single authority for the Highland region is total nonsense. Given the geography and the travel-to-work distances, there must be smaller authorities in the Highland region that are more closely related to the people. It is proposed that Westhill should be tagged on to the city of Aberdeen.
The constituency of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce)—who, I understand, has other engagements—includes Westhill. The hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside and I went to Westhill some weeks ago to receive a petition. The figures are clear: 97 per cent. of the adult population of Westhill do not want their district to be part of the city of Aberdeen. If, as the Secretary of State has assured us time after time, the reason for having different sized local authorities and different arrangements in different parts of Scotland is to allow for individual and community choice holds good, there is no case whatever for Westhill coming under Aberdeen.
Much has been made of the comments by the city of Aberdeen district council—the Secretary of State used them in his argument earlier—that it would be feasible to bring Westhill into the Aberdeen area; but the council went on to say that that would not be desirable. If the argument that many of the Westhill people work in Aberdeen, visit the city for leisure, for shopping, and so on is a good reason for putting Westhill inside the new boundary, it must also apply to Inverurie, Porlethen and Stonehaven, because the travel-to-work area includes all those people too. The people of Westhill do not want to be inside that boundary and nor should they.
I hope that the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch), who at least had the courage to join us in accepting the petition, will not only listen to the people, but vote against taking Westhill into the city of Aberdeen.
If I may refer to large rural authorities and especially the Highlands, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the White Paper made it clear that within one year of the new large rural authorities being set up, he expected them to include firm plans for decentralisation and local delivery of services? Will not that overcome the problem, by creating large enough rural authorities to be able to achieve rationalisation and efficiency of service, while giving a decentralised local delivery of services?
Decentralisation at managerial level is not sufficient to counter the argument for democracy. I understand, although I am no expert, that in Strathclyde there is a great deal of devolvement of managerial responsibility and that does not stop people arguing about it or stop the Secretary of State abolishing it. There is nothing in any devolution at officer level that answers the point about democracy, because individual officers will say that they would like to help but that they cannot because the council, wherever it is based, will make that political, strategic or policy decision.
The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) said earlier that the Labour party thought that commuter communities should be worth a city authority. Does not the hon. Member agree that that description describes Westhill exactly?
The hon. Gentleman has not been listening or, if he has, he has not understood. If there is a commuter-based argument for Westhill, that argument applies equally to Stonehaven, to Inverurie, to Porlethen, to Newtonhill and to a whole range of districts in that travel-to-work area. Why suddenly mark out Westhill and chuck it into Aberdeen? It does not stand alone on that respect.
I am much more concerned about the powers of local government. It has been put to me that what the Government really want are "no-purpose unitary authorities". They want to strip its powers. Local government is desperately important because it represents a direct responsibility for delivering services such as housing, education, social work, and fire and police services. If councillors are to do their job properly, they must have the finance. That is the key. There has never been a golden age. I was a member of Aberdeen town council for nine years between 1963 and 1971—
My mathematics is a little wrong. I was a member of the council from 1961 to 1970. There was never a golden age in which local government was totally free of any responsibility or care for how it spent money. There have always been financial constraints and the need for discipline. It always had to face an electorate and justify how much was being spent and how it raised money. Even under Labour Governments, councils had to hold back and accepted it. The huge difference now is that local government is desperately struggling to provide decent housing, education, and a good physical infrastructure.
The Government deny local councils not just money but any respectability, by constantly highlighting high-spending Labour authorities as profligate. Those Labour councils face the highest level of deprivation and a legacy of past mismanagement of the economy. They have to spend more than rural authorities where deprivation exists but is nowhere near as great.
The Secretary of State says that single-tier authorities will be significantly more efficient. Where will those savings come from? Will the population of schoolchildren suddenly be halved after Third Reading? Children will still be there and will still need education, teachers, and schools. Will the number of people that need housing disappear after Third Reading? People will still need services, but, instead of being delivered by regional authorities, those services will have to be provided by the new authorities. How on earth can there be sudden efficiency savings?
I hesitate to use the word devolution—it gets me into all sorts of trouble—but we need to devolve real power to local authorities if they are to make progress in dealing with social deprivation. That real devolved power must go to the local authorities.
I believe strongly in local government and will seek to defend it as best I can. The restructuring proposals are not based on any demand for restructuring or on flaws in local government. I believe that the flaws could have been rectified in other ways—irrespective of whether I believe in a single-tier or in a two-tier system. I make no bones about the fact that I am happy that we are to return to a single-tier authority in Aberdeen. I am sorry for those who live outside Aberdeen, because I do not think that they will get such a good deal out of the proposals—but that is neither here nor there. It is only 20 years since Wheatley and 16 years since the local government reform.
Constant reorganisation is no good for local services, and they are what counts. I understand the fears of those who work in local government, but local government does not exist simply to provide people with work. It is necessary that local government does that, but that is not the reason for having local government in the first place: it is not a job creation exercise. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The trouble with Conservative Members is that they think that the idea of reorganising local government is to sack people who have given years of service to the local community. That is their reason.
Opposition Members believe—and we say it quite plainly—that the job of local government is to provide the best services. That is what local government is about. If the system is constantly chopping and changing, not only is it more expensive—and that is a shame because it is a waste of money—but my constituents and those of the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) and for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) suffer.
I do not want to be diverted, because I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, but I am beginning to sbecome concerned about the possibility that services that need to be delivered in my constituency and in the part of Aberdeen represented by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South will be held back. How can regional authorities plan ahead and commit new authorities to expenditure when they do not know what is going to happen? It would be very sad indeed if services suffered in that way.
The Government did not opt for an independent report which would have enabled us to see where we stood. On the issue of local government and in every other respect the Government have failed the nation and its people. They are here to serve one purpose and one purpose only. They are time-serving their period of office. They have no clear direction and no principle other than that of self-preservation. I believe that the next election will see them wiped out of office. I believe that they will deserve to go, and that we shall then get a Government who believe in people, who have respect for people and who will command people's respect.
This afternoon's debate is a somewhat peculiar conflation of the problems of local government reorganisation in Scotland and in Wales. There are parallels between the two countries, but the issues are to some extent different. There has been a considerable improvement in respect of Wales, in the sense that this debate is taking place on the Floor of the House, whereas when we last debated the subject, Welsh Members were left to discuss it in the Welsh Grand Committee while the Opposition chose to discuss Scottish local government reform on the Floor of the House. At least this afternoon's debate gives us an opportunity to put that right.
My constituents wholeheartedly welcome and endorse the proposed new Monmouthshire council which will be a unitary and effective local authority of the best neo-traditional type.
I use the word "neo-traditional" to draw attention to a very real problem in the whole approach to local government which has not been analysed this afternoon. There is a tradition of local government in our country and that tradition once reflected very well upon the communities that it represented. There was a tradition of civic pride, which we can still see in the architecture of many of our great town and city halls.
There is another aspect, however. The Government's proposals—certainly in respect of Wales—are part and parcel of a wider Conservative vision, which involves undoing the gross errors of the 1960s and the early 1970s. I see that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) is in his place. I deeply respect the passion with which the hon. Gentleman addressed the House and told us of his conviction that Merthyr Tydfil is a county borough. The hon. Gentleman's remarks reflected a deep sense of history and a deeply conservative conviction—let me say for his benefit that I mean conservative with a small "c"—that things should not be altered. When 1,000 years of British history were disturbed, and privileges granted over centuries to different urban communities by way of royal charters or incorporation as cities or county boroughs were taken away, we entered into an unhappy revolutionary phase that created the problems that we must now tackle.
As a neo-traditionalist who wishes to undo the excesses of the 1960s and 1970s, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the same standards should be applied to central Wales as to Monmouthshire and that the old county of Montgomery should be restored?
I know that the hon. and learned Gentleman will argue his case passionately and persuasively.
What was right in the 1960s was the tradition of city government and urban government. It was a strange situation, though, because, also in the 1960s, we had the model of the counties, which had not been an entirely happy one. We had two-tier local government and urban and rural districts—certainly in my constituency—did not have the financial resources to develop the modern services that were then thought desirable.
The late Richard Crossman recorded in his diaries how, as Minister of Housing and Local Government, he was troubled with the problem of redrawing the boundaries of the county borough of Plymouth with the surrounding Devonshire countryside. He decided to upset 1,000 years of history and unhappily unleashed upon us the Redcliffe-Maud commission and further legislation under a Conservative Government in the early 1970s. The result was that the most bloated model of local government, which did not address the real problems, came into being.
There are a number of serious problems with local government and they need addressing.
The hon. Gentleman has reminded us of the history behind the proposals. The Redcliffe-Maud proposals were not implemented in Wales. We looked at them and produced a proposal, but the 1972 Act was not based on the Redcliffe-Maud proposals in any shape or form.
The hon. Gentleman is right. In the interests of brevity, I did not go into the sordid details. My point is that, once one disturbs tradition, one opens an open-ended can of possibilities as each interest is examined and each argument developed. One is then immediately faced with a difficulty. If a consensus that has evolved over hundreds of years has been destroyed, how can my right hon. Friend be persuaded that in Merthyr Tydfil a simple easy consensus can be restored? That is the difficulty of revolution and the difficulty of the left. [Interruption.] I leave Opposition Members to argue their own causes.
There are a number of serious problems with local government, on which the proposed legislation will have some impact. First, there is the problem of the quality of the administration of local services in many parts of the country. The impartial traditions of our civil service are highly desirable, but I do not believe that political impartiality has always been a mark of local government officers in areas where one party has been in power for very many years.
We have heard a great deal about the democratic deficit. I believe that what happens in relation to local education authorities is a democratic scandal. One side comes into power at a local government election and throws all the school governors of the opposite persuasion out. At the next election, the reverse happens and, in the interests of democracy, we are told, another set of school governors is turfed out and replaced in its turn by placemen of the party coming into office. That is a democratic scandal and an abuse of education. The modern reformed system that has been put in place is far better and the sooner "democratic" interference with excellence in education and decisions of parents and teachers is removed, the better.
As for the proposal in relation to Wales, this was also typical of the slightly colourful and over-the-top introduction to the topic by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) last week. He made it very clear that there was no support for the proposals in Scotland or Wales. I leave Scotland to others, but for Wales there is no doubt that a considerable body of opinion believes that unitary authorities are correct. There is real difficulty when one tries to re-establish traditions after a period of left-induced uncertainty. To recreate what is acceptable generally is a difficult task.
For example, it is not just that my part of rural Gwent is to be called Monmouthshire. Surely those who represent constituencies in the city of Cardiff have found it peculiar and unsatisfactory that that great city has merely been a district council since the present arrangements came into force. These days, likewise, it is not just Merthyr Tydfil. As for the county borough of Newport, which neighbours my constituency, it is very unsatisfactory that it should be a district council and not have the full powers of a proper county, borough or city council, or indeed now the new unitary authority.
The anomalies that the hon. Gentleman is describing so badly were created by a Conservative Government. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will at least have the grace to acknowledge that.
If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard me say at the beginning of my speech that we are engaged upon a wide, far-reaching crusade to reverse the ideological errors of the 1960s committed by his party and indeed—
The hon. Gentleman should listen and have a little patience. If he had listened on the previous occasion that I discussed this historical topic, he would have heard me say and he would have heard his neighbour, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, pick me up on the details of the history, that it was simply because of an accumulation of errors in the 1960s, which the early 1970s Conservative Government fell in with, quite wrongly—indeed, they contributed to the implementation of 1960s proposals—that this unhappy situation has come about. We have seen it in several respects. In contrast, the present four Conservative Governments have set about a systematic agenda of returning to traditional values and to the Conservative principles which have unified our country.
If we implement the arrangements which my right hon. Friend has introduced and which I welcome, what will happen in those parts of Wales where county boundaries as traditionally understood have no place in future arrangements? For example, will my right hon. Friend preserve the county boundary of Gwent for any purpose, for example for the purposes of the lord lieutenancy or the high shrievalty? [Interruption.] I hear mockery from the Opposition, but it would be much tidier to give Newport, for example, exactly the privileges that Cardiff historically enjoyed and to give Monmouthshire the traditional attributes of a shire county.
I find myself in a strange position because, in the light of the Secretary of State's announcement, I ripped up the speech that I was going to make.
On behalf of my constituents, I welcome in part the change of thought by the Secretary of State with regard to the boundaries relating to Flintshire and Denbighshire, which dramatically affect my constituency. As the Secretary of State for Wales acknowledges, strong representations have been made to his Department by me and by many local community councils—for example, Delyn borough council and others in my community—about the boundaries that were initially announced in the White Paper on 1 March. It would be very churlish of me not to acknowledge the movement that has taken place to include in Flintshire the communities of Llanasa, Trelawnyd and Gwaenysgor, Mostyn, Whitford, Caerwys, Gwernymynydd, Nannerch, Ysceifiog, Brynford, Halkyn, Cilcain, Gwernaffield and Nercwys in my constituency, as opposed to the former Denbighshire where they were placed by the original White Paper.
The logic of those moves is obvious to all. I welcome the Secretary of State's change of thought on the grounds of service delivery, representations received, and the sense of community in those areas, together with social, economic and geographical grounds and the sense of identity that people feel. His move to include those areas in a greater Flintshire authority will be much welcomed in my constituency and in north-east Wales.
The proposal when the Bill comes before the House will be based on consensus between the current Delyn borough council and the current Alyn and Deeside borough council: one Labour—Alyn and Deeside—and one not Labour—Delyn—agreeing that the best thing for our local community is the merger of those two councils. I am very pleased that, at least on that score, the Secretary of State has seen fit to accept the arguments that were put to him by many people in my community. I pay tribute to those people, the borough council, the community council and other constituents who have written letters and strongly put their case which has been favourably received.
The arguments that I and others have advanced on behalf of Flintshire and Denbighshire and their respective borders are absolutely no different from the arguments that were put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) with regard to his community and by other colleagues with regard to their local communities.
Although I welcome the statement by the Secretary of State for Wales and the changes that have been announced, I am still slightly suspicious about why my community has been singled out when others which have equally good cases have not been singled out.
There is a very simple answer. Cases are different because the changes in Flintshire do not add to the number of unitary authorities, whereas the changes proposed for Merthyr would.
The Secretary of State's intervention is rather serious. Earlier, he was at least at pains to persuade me and others that, in our future discussions, he will have an open mind on the matter. It seems that he has almost closed his mind to the idea and that there will be 21 authorities and 21 only. I trust that his intervention did not mean that.
I note what my hon. Friend says. I would not wish my speech to be hijacked by the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Perhaps those points will be raised elsewhere. I impress upon the Secretary of State that the arguments of Flintshire and Denbighshire, which have been welcomed by me and accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, are no different from those for community activity by many of my hon. Friends.
I gravely regret that the Bill is to be introduced in another place. Full and frank discussion in this place should be paramount for changes in local government. Now is an appropriate opportunity for the Secretary of State to indicate the timetabling of the Bill. We await the right hon. Gentleman's speech at 9.30 pm, but many of my hon. Friends wish to know about the time scale before that time.
Despite my welcome of the boundary issue relating to my constituency and to the new appropriate authority of Flintshire, the Bill and the discussion that will take place in the next few weeks remain fundamentally flawed. Despite the boundary success, which I very much welcome, the main questions that remain will be addressed in Committee and in the House as the Bill proceeds. The indications in the Gracious Speech are not helpful.
The cost of implementing the changes is enormous. We currently have more than £200 million to implement the changes and additional annual expenditure, falling on whom I am yet to find out, with regard to the running costs of the local authorities. The accountability of the new local authorities, boundaries or not, needs to be considered in the light of the Gracious Speech and in Committee. I do not wish elected local councillors to have powers removed from them and transferred to a growing army of quangos and trusts. Nor do I wish the number of councillors to be dramatically reduced so that officers have a greater say in the running of local authorities, as opposed to those who are accountable for services.
I have great reservations about the services that will be provided. The White Paper, and presumably the Bill that will follow, will mean further privatisation, a further reduction of services, a further erosion of what local government is about, a further erosion of funding and a reduction in the level of public services provided locally by people who are accountable to local communities. I often say this in my constituency and I will say it again today: local government is good value for money. My council tax bill, which I received this week, came in at £550. For that, I get schools, fire, police, refuse, parks and a whole gamut of services. It is good value for money. The council is accountable to me and my local community. I am afraid that—boundaries apart—the Bill will diminish local government, reduce the level of services and reduce the accountability of the people whom I represent and those who deliver services locally.
A major gap in the Bill and in the Gracious Speech is the question of a Welsh assembly. Earlier, the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards) raged against a Welsh assembly. I suggest that the case for a Welsh assembly has been made not by me or my hon. Friends, or hon. Members from other parties, but by the Secretary of State. Following a question from me, the Secretary of State recently produced a document entitled "Public Bodies: Appointments made by the Secretary of State for Wales", which is available in the Library of the House. That document is a list of the public appointments made by the Secretary of State and his Department to run services on behalf of the Government. Those appointments, if nothing else, show the need for a Welsh assembly to bring those appointed to democratic accountability.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that when the Labour party was in office, there were 100 bodies in Wales and the then Labour Secretary of State for Wales similarly made appointments to such bodies? At that time, the question whether there should be a Welsh assembly was put to the electorate of Wales and 80 per cent. said no.
Time has moved on since 1979. The Conservative Government who came to power in 1979 with the commitment to reduce quangos have seen quangos doubled in Wales. Recently, I undertook a study of some 51 quangos across the board in Wales. I found that 452 people sit on those quangos, spending £2 billion of taxpayers' money. Who are those people? For a start, 76 per cent. of them are male. I do not recall 76 per cent. of the population of Wales being male. Twenty-four per cent. of the 452 are female. Only one of them is from an ethnic minority. The majority of them have a public school background.
When we look at the careers of the 452, we find that 62 are in business, 38 are accountants, 31 are in engineering, 26 are in education and 114 are directors of businesses. How many trade unionists are on Welsh quangos at present? Two people give their occupation as trade unionists. Thirty-two of the appointees do not have residences in Wales, the country that they are supposed to govern. What right do those people have to govern on our behalf? What democratic deficit exists that does not allow for an assembly to govern the services of the Welsh Office?
My hon. Friend has made an interesting analysis of the quangos in Wales. But one factor that he has not mentioned is the enormous number of failed Tory party candidates who now chair these bodies and receive huge salaries each year. The Government cannot govern Wales because they do not have a mandate, so they send in those people to do their work for them.
If my hon. Friend gives me time, perhaps I can suggest what the following have in common: Bankers Investment Trust, Beazer Group, Greenalls Group, GKN, Lasmo plc, Leopold Joseph Holdings, Lucas Industries, Morgan Stanley, MEPC, Norcros plc, Pilkington, Steetley plc, Whitbread and Marks & Spencer have all given money to the Conservative party and they all have at least one person serving at a senior level on a quango in Wales at present. What do the following companies have in common? South Wales Electricity, Welsh Water plc, Welsh Water Enterprises Ltd, British Aerospace, British Gas, British Telecom, Amersham International, British Petroleum and British Steel have all been privatised by the Government and they all have senior people on quangos in Wales.
What does the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans) have in common with one of my constituents, Philip Pedley? The hon. Gentleman is a Conservative Member of Parliament; Philip Pedley is a failed Tory candidate. They have both been deputy chairman of Housing for Wales which services my constituents. I could go on. What does the chauffeur to the Secretary of State for Employment in the general election have in common with many of these people? He is on a board and he is a Tory party member. What do the 14 Conservative Members on trusts in Wales have in common with each other, apart from the fact that they are on trusts? They are Conservative party members.
To some extent, I do not mind if the Government wish to fill their quangos with Conservative party members. However, let them be honest and fair about it, and recognise that it is not democratic. They should recognise that there is a deficit and that there is a better way to provide services—through a Welsh assembly.
I shall give three case studies of people who are on quangos at present. When people talk about local government or Members of Parliament being bad value for money, let me cite the case of Michael Griffith who serves on a quango at present. He spends 1·5 days per month on the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales for a salary of £2,140 per year, 2·5 days per week on the Countryside Council for Wales for a salary of £29,295 and 3.5 days per week as chairman of Glan Clwyd hospital trust serving my constituency for a salary of £ 19,285 per annum. According to that, he works six days per week plus an extra 1·5 days per month for that salary, yet he has the cheek to list his occupation as farmer in the book provided by the Secretary of State for Wales. I would like to know when he finds time to do some farming when he spends six days a week on those quangos for a salary of more than £50,000 a year.
Sir Geoffrey Inkin spends 2·5 days per week on the Cardiff bay barrage for a salary of £32,000 and 2·5 days per week on the Land Authority for Wales for a salary of £31,000. However, he lists his occupation as farmer. Finally, Sir Idris Pierce earns £10,700 for spending four days per month on the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. Those people are spending my money and that of my constituents. There needs to be more democratic control. The Labour party and the other parties represented on this side of the House wish to see a Welsh assembly. The omission of one is a major failing and flaw in the Bill.
Irrespective of that, I ask the Secretary of State strongly to consider what needs to be done to democratise appointments to quangos, give some accountability, put the appointments into the public domain and let people know how, when and why they can influence the decisions of quangos in Wales today.
I commend the Secretary of State for the Bill and the changes that he has made today. I condemn him for what he will do to local government and his failure to tackle the quangos which he, of all people, should be tackling.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales because I will not be here when he replies. Although my mother lives in north Wales and I have arguably a Scottish surname, I intend to raise mainly United Kingdom concerns today.
May I start by making a point that will have unanimous support in the House today? The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who happens to be my parliamentary pair, is recovering from a hip operation. When I spoke to him some months ago, he was seething because of some aspects of Scottish local government reorganisation. I do not want to enter into the merits of that issue, but I am sure that he would have liked to be here for this debate. I know that the House misses him—it is a dull place without him. We all wish him a speedy recovery and return to health. I hope that Ministers from the Scottish Office will pay due attention to the concerns that the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, other hon. Members make about local government reorganisation in Scotland.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will remember that in a previous guise he listened to entreaties from me and other Somerset Members of Parliament about local government reorganisation in England. I hope that Ministers will be careful about barging in or supporting commission recommendations for which there appears—as is certainly the case in Somerset—to be little support among the public.
The subject of local government reorganisation has not generated significant excitement among the public, in Somerset at least. I remind my right hon. Friends that if we were to go down the path of abolishing the traditional English counties wholesale without strong local support, we would be getting rid of a tier of government whose history started long before that of this House—indeed, before the Norman conquest. I hope that we will take due caution in going down that way.
I said that I wanted to mention certain United Kingdom matters. One of them concerns Northern Ireland, which is referred to in the Gracious Speech. We all hope for peace in Northern Ireland.
No. 40 Commando of the Royal Marines, which is normally stationed at Norton Manor camp in my constituency, has just started a six-month tour in Northern Ireland. They will be there over Christmas. It is their first tour for six years. When they were there previously they won a sword of peace for their services in the Province.
We hope that there can be progress towards peace, but I warn the House that I detect in the remarks of some commentators about Northern Ireland extraordinarily sloppy use of language—even more so than that which is used about European issues, although in the past few months we have been rather specific in the use of language about European issues. There has been a sloppy use of language which is designed to raise false hopes.
I do not always agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), but his intervention in the Prime Minister's speech last Thursday was, I think, a wise one. He asked what, in the various hopes of talks or talks about talks, was in it for Sinn Fein? We have to be careful not to raise false hopes.
We should also remember that there are at least two groups of terrorists in Northern Ireland. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in his place. If we go down the route of seeking to appease one group of terrorists, we shall almost certainly play into the hands of the other group.
I am appalled to hear commentators, and sometimes hon. Members, drawing an absolutely incorrect colonial parallel with Northern Ireland, as if Mr. Gerry Adams were like Nehru, Nkrumah, Archbishop Makarios or Kenyatta. It is a false parallel. It will land us in deep trouble if we encourage it because Mr. Adams does not even represent a sizeable minority in Northern Ireland, let alone claim to represent a majority. I speak as someone who has been a strong Unionist as well as Conservative for many years.
My view, and that of our late hon. Friend Sir John Biggs-Davison, who died in hospital in my constituency four years ago and with whom I worked on this for many years, is that it is as likely that Northern Ireland can be smuggled into the Republic in the forthcoming generations as that Alsace-Lorraine can be shunted back into Germany.
The hon. Gentleman's intervention aptly underlined my own concern.
I shall now discuss various measures that are referred to in the Gracious Speech, many of which I welcome. I listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Hill). We welcome what is proposed on the subject of law and order, but we shall need to be vigilant in the House—far more vigilant than in the past—because the high hopes that we engendered for law and order measures have been disappointed in practice when it comes to operation in the street or the court.
I welcome the deregulation proposals, but I hope that we shall lay the emphasis in deregulation on getting rid of, or mitigating the operation of, those regulations which have often come in under European auspices during the past three or four years and caused considerable difficulties for businesses, charities, individuals, village halls and so on, especially in alleged food safety, environmental health or health and safety at work.
It has been rumoured that about £20 million is to be spent on the kitchens of the Houses of Parliament to bring them up to the standards that are required by those measures. There is, understandably, resentment outside the Palace that we should spend that amount of public money at a time of considerable stringency, but I emphasise that that is just an indication of what, under the present regime of food safety and alleged food health, restaurants and hotels up and down the country are having to spend.
The Castle hotel in Taunton—I hope that you know it Madam Deputy Speaker—is a fine hotel, outstanding in the west country. I am told that scores of thousands of pounds must be spent to update its kitchens. I find that regrettable and I hope that we shall be able to encourage businesses and organisations, especially in the tourist trade, to suspend their plans until the scope of Government deregulation becomes clear.
On the other hand, it has been said that we should not "throw out the baby with the bath water" in deregulation. That is important because many regulations have been in existence for a long time and exist for good reasons—especially regulations for consumer protection. I think especially of regulations about fire protection for furniture and night clothing.
Some years ago, my wife made a trading standards complaint about an advertisement in the Observer colour magazine that alleged that a type of furniture was fire-resistant when those who know about such things knew that it was not. Eventually, after a year's delay in the courts, the Observer colour magazine was fined a rather paltry sum. Such measures of consumer protection exist for a purpose. I hope that we will not be in the business of sweeping away necessary measures.
I have already referred, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Test, to the proposed legislation for magistrates courts. I have worries about that legislation.
I shall also mention another subject that was mentioned in the debate on Thursday which causes great concern. It is not mentioned directly in the Gracious Speech, but I think that it is mentioned by implication. I refer to the operation of the Child Support Agency. Six of the 20 or so people who came to my surgery last Saturday came to make representations about the operation of the agency.
There was an interesting article in The Independent on 5 November which suggested how the intentions of the Child Support Agency had been distorted and perverted in recent weeks. We all support the direction of the agency—I saw that in the newspapers the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) commented about that—especially in tracking down and obtaining maintenance from the two thirds of absent parents who do not currently pay maintenance. That is where the emphasis and priority must lie, but the current operations are unacceptable in many ways. I hope that we shall reconsider them. I hope that we can consider the possibility of more phasing in of big increases, of taking into account genuine costs, including the costs of visiting the children from whom a parent is estranged, and also of instituting a sensible right of appeal.
That brings me to what is undoubtedly the biggest concern among our electors at present—the outcome of the spending review and the unified Budget, both of which are referred to in the Gracious Speech. At no recent time has either been awaited with so much complex uncertainty as to the outcome. It has been a no-holds-barred review of expenditure, rumours have therefore abounded, and it has been difficult for Ministers to deny every one authoritatively.
During the past weekend we heard a spate of rumours, which greatly worried some members of the public who might be affected by some of the suggestions in the more extreme and exaggerated stories. We all await the announcements on 30 November and thereafter with great concern and hope that they will head off some of the more exaggerated rumours, which I hope will not be repeated after that date.
Whatever the merits of a longer-term review of the welfare state—for example, with regard to pension provision—such a review will not be relevant to the spending plans for the next few years. Nor will it affect the present generation of pensioners, who found some of the headlines alarming—albeit by implication. In the longer term, an element of political consensus will be necessary if proposals are to survive the vicissitudes of political life.
In so far as the rumours of the past weekend related to benefits, I must remind the House of an injustice—the position of the self-employed. During this recession, unlike previous recessions, many self-employed people have found themselves without work. I do not believe that that was the case in the recession 10 years ago. Many self-employed people in my constituency have found themselves in that sad situation. They do not qualify for unemployment benefit, and if they have savings of more than £8,000, or a spouse or partner who works, they do not receive income support. I hope that any review of unemployment benefit will take self-employed people into account.
Taxation is the other side of the unified Budget. Hon. Members may remember that I intervened on the subject last Thursday, during the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. I urge the Chancellor to beware of the Marie Antoinette tax philosophy. She has been treated harshly by history and I shall try to be fair to her. As I see it, that philosophy argues that it is necessary to protect the very poor, but it has also significantly benefited the wealthy. Under that philosophy, the cost of protection for the very poor and benefiting the wealthy falls on people on middle incomes. The public are already greatly concerned about that.
We know about the measures that the former Chancellor proposed in the March Budget, which for the most part will not take effect until next year, and there is considerable speculation about how the present Chancellor may add to those measures. There is a great fear that people above the income support level and on modest to middle incomes will pay the cost, while people on or above, for example, the present salary of Members of Parliament—about £30,000—will not pay what I described in my intervention in the speech of the Leader of the Opposition as a fair and proportionate contribution to the burden.
The November Budget gives the Chancellor the opportunity to right the balance. The introduction of VAT on fuel and the increase in national insurance contributions have already been announced, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will consider that balance carefully.
I also hope that on 30 November he will make it clear whether he sees VAT on fuel as primarily a revenue-raising or an environmental measure. If it is just the former, he must be aware that there are alternatives and, as I have mentioned in the House before, many of our constituents—I am talking about Conservative constituents—are urging him to consider direct taxation. I know that some countries find it difficult to go down that road, but, despite the description of this country given by the leaders of the Labour and Liberal parties, we have not gone so far down the road towards a banana republic that we cannot trust our revenue-collecting authorities to avoid corruption and inefficiency and to raise tax sensibly, although some—including my favourite—European countries have a problem with raising such taxation.
If, however, the Chancellor believes that VAT on fuel is relevant to environmental issues—I believe that it is, which is why I have supported it hitherto—there are ways in which it can be made more effective. For example, he could introduce a significant and effective programme to give assistance for insulation. Considerable sums could be saved if domestic homes were insulated, but the insulation of schools, offices and factories, where large amounts of energy are undoubtedly wasted, could save even more. I appreciate that there could be administrative difficulties, but he might also consider zero rating standing charges, which are not particularly relevant to the actual use of fuel.
As I said, I welcome many of the measures in the Gracious Speech. The majority of our electors—at least 98 per cent. of them—who saw the House interminably debating deep into the night issues relating to the Maastricht treaty, did not begin to understand those matters. They certainly did not understand the strange alliances, devices and manoeuvres in this House while that treaty was pursued. It will come as a great relief to them to see the House dealing with law and order, deregulation and other policies which are relevant to their concerns and to their homes and streets. I hope that we shall successfully carry forward those measures.
I shall be brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wish to return to the subject of local government reform. I join my hon. Friends in their condemnation of the costly, gerrymandered local government reorganisation proposed for Scotland. The procedure on reform should have been either a Parliament in Edinburgh, with powers to seek a consensus of the Scottish people, to find out what form of local government they desired, or we should have had the same as England—an independent public inquiry, which would at least have had a semblance of democracy attached to it.
The discussions here on the proposals for the Lothians, especially those affecting my constituency and the district of Midlothian, are farcical. Midlothian, West Lothian and East Lothian surround the southern, western and eastern sides of the city of Edinburgh. If need be, some amalgamation seems sensible, but it is proposed that a corridor will separate Midlothian and West Lothian.
That corridor is not a natural boundary, although it contains the Pentland hills. In Wales, they would be mountains, but they are just hills in Scotland; they are nae very big, but I wouldnae like to stay on the top of them. Someone referred to it as the Vance-Owen corridor, but I said, "No, it's the Lang-Rifkind corridor." It has nothing to do with Bosnia; it has nothing to do with Muslims and everything to do with Conservative voters.
It is nonsense to have an eight-mile gap between Midlothian and a part of West Lothian. It is not a natural barrier. Such a man-made barrier is totally illogical. Obviously, the situation has been gerrymandered: concocted in St. Andrew's house and endorsed in Smith square, the Conservative party headquarters, to keep their golden boys in office in a certain part of the world.
The argument is that Midlothian may be too small. Our argument is, "Okay, if it is too small, will the Minister look at an amalgamation with East Lothian?" I do not mean part of East Lothian, but all of it. I believe that that suggestion has been put to the Minister by the local authority and it is a sensible concept of a one-tier system.
For 16 years I was a councillor, both with Midlothian county council before reorganisation and then in the Lothian region, and I can say that this proposal does not represent a one-tier system. I remember when it was necessary to hire the Usher hall in Edinburgh to obtain a consensus of all the councillors, when we were trying to get the small boroughs, the landward areas and particular cities together to talk about strategic planning.
The Minister has mentioned the Wheatley report, but, in some ways, it has been totally ignored. He has taken parts out of it and said, "This is what Wheatley suggested, a one-tier system." Well, who ignored it? It was not me. I was in favour of an estuary system, in which the Forth estuary, the Tay estuary and the Clyde estuary would be part of a local authority based on the communications of that particular area. That would make a lot of common sense because they all flow into one another.
The Government are now blaming themselves or their predecessors for the original one-tier system, but what will we get? We will get quangos, boards and multitudes of people coming together by law to be consulted on particular strategic planning. Who is going to pay for that? To whom are they accountable?
There has been no mention of what other aspects of local government the joint boards will consider. For example, is this a back-door method of amalgamating the police into one big authority?
The move that is afoot to form joint water boards worries us. I forecast that the next move will be a joint water board, with a chairman appointed by the Secretary of State, the franchising of the so-called ancillary side of this big board, and competitive contracts for outside contractors, which will do away with direct labour. People will be paid off on that basis. In other words, there will be back-door privatisation of the water facilities in Scotland.
The people of Scotland will never forgive the Government for that. If the Government think that they can do it, there will be as much of a hue and cry about that as about any other aspect of their proposals. There has been no consultation and it is an insult to the Scottish people to put forward this made-up, mocked-up position, and to tell them that it is an update of a democratic process. That is equivalent to insult, not consult.
I hope that the Minister will pay attention—rather than write love letters to himself, or something like that—and look at the Peat Marwick report. For many years, Peat Marwick has been given an opportunity to look into aspects of local government—in other words, it is on the gravy train. To add insult to injury, Peat Marwick has now published a document entitled "November 30th, St. Kenneth's Day", and there is a photograph of Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the front. It is blue in colour, which pertains to our saltire flag, and 30 November is not just Budget day but St. Andrew's day.
That document is an insult to the people of Scotland. Will the Minister and the Chancellor dissociate themselves from this nonsense about a party to celebrate the Budget? Does Peat Marwick know something that we do not know, or is it on the gravy train? I do not think that the unemployed in Midlothian will have a party on 30 November to celebrate Budget day, which pertains to Government spending, and this is an insult to the Scottish nation.
Scotland has a patron saint—if the Minister wants to know who it is, he should go to Central Lobby and look at the mosaic of him—and he is St. Andrew. We are very proud of St. Andrew—as are the Russians and the Greeks, who are also pleased to have him as a patron saint—and we do not want a St. Kenneth. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and I have the same surname as the Chancellor, and we often have to say that we are no relation to the person in that photograph. I can assure the House that the Clarke clan is not proud of all its members.
The document is an insult to Scotland and Peat Marwick should be ashamed to have issued this nonsense on the basis that it is St. Kenneth's day. So far as Scotland is concerned, 30 November is St. Andrew's day and will never be anything else—unless the Chancellor has been canonised. The people of Scotland have been insulted, not only by that matter but by the so-called reorganisation of local government.
I have listened to the majority of the debate with great interest and I have heard many excellent and interesting contributions. Regrettably, some of the contributions have been rather negative and have at times verged on the paranoid. That is a shame, because there are important issues to be discussed.
May I apologise in advance for the fact that, regrettably, I will not be here for the wind-up because I have a meeting in my constituency about Sunday trading. I am sure that all hon. Members will sympathise with me about that.
Sunday trading was referred to in the Gracious Speech and I congratulate the Government on bringing forward the changes proposed to Sunday trading and Sunday trading laws, which are much needed. I particularly congratulate the Government on the way in which the issue is being handled, which I think is genuinely appreciated, not only on the Conservative Benches but in the country at large.
For many years, I have had an interest in local government, and over that period I have observed it from the outside. The proposed reforms to local government structure in Scotland and Wales can benefit from the experience that has been gained in many parts of England.
I first remember observing local government when I was a municipal correspondent for a regional newspaper. Just before the reorganisations of the early 1970s, I remember experiencing and watching local authorities at work when they were very small and consisted of the rural district and urban district councils. I remember thinking that that sort of two-tier authority was particularly inefficient and not respected by the majority of the population.
I have always regretted that that system was replaced by an alternative two-tier system which, although it overcame some problems, left in place a structure which maintained a degree of duplication and a larger degree of inefficiency. I have always been a supporter of the unitary concept and hoped that that would come about sooner or later.
Many years later, I sat on the Standing Committee which considered the legislation that brought about unitary authorities in the metropolitan areas, and I was a keen supporter of that. I sat on two other Standing Committees connected with local government Bills, which continued to sharpen my interest in local government and its organisation.
There can be too much reorganisation of local government and there is a danger that we might end up having a Maoist approach to local government—that of continuous revolution or change. I would not support that sort of approach because there is a need for stability in the structure of local government. There is sometimes a tendency to be too negative about local government and I have never wanted to be that.
I believe that local government has an important role in the political structures of our country. It does good work and achieves a great deal for the ordinary citizen by providing essential services. Its administrative ranks also display a good deal of talent. That good work can be frustrated, however, if the structure of local government is inappropriate, inefficient or costly to run, particularly if that means a duplication of services. The argument for no change in the local government of Wales and Scotland is overwhelmed by the need for change.
The defenders of the existing local government system for Scotland and Wales—I am not sure that I have detected many in the Chamber and, if they are present, their defence was somewhat obscure—must justify, and I do not believe that they can, the cost and inefficiency of overlap. In contrast, the Government have come up with an excellent proposal for single-tier authorities. I admit that it will produce radical change, but I believe that it will greatly improve local government in Scotland and Wales. The proposal has been subject to widespread consultation and a variety of views have been expressed.
The hon. Gentleman has spoken glibly about consultation. The Labour party is objecting not to some form of local government restructuring but to the way in which the Government have restructured it—the gerrymandering that has gone on in the Lothians, Ayrshire and in my part of the country. My local council, Renfrew district council, consulted all the electorate in a referendum. It found that in Barrhead, Neilston and Uplawmoor—which are in the Eastwood constituency of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland—out of a 56·9 per cent. turnout, 78·5 per cent. voted against the Government's proposals. In the Dykebar area of Paisley, in my constituency, out of a 78 per cent. turnout, 91 per cent. rejected the Government's proposals. We object to the reform because it has been gerrymandered.
I am interested in that referendum, because I recently held one on the subject of Sunday trading. I welcome such consultation. As anyone who is responsible for organising or holding referendums will know, however, the answer that is obtained is largely determined by the question that is asked. I do not want to get into a debate with the hon. Gentleman about the specific referendum that he mentioned because that would take the debate down a narrow track, but I am curious to know exactly what questions were asked and exactly what information the electorate had before them. I doubt whether they knew the full content of the Bill proposed by my right hon. Friend.
It is interesting to note that the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) said that the Labour party is not arguing against reform or about much of the principle behind it, but about the detail. I hope that I understood him correctly. The principle behind the reform is to improve the provision of services by increasing accountability. The reforms will introduce clarity to the system so that individuals, companies and others know exactly which body is responsible for providing what service. That is not the case now.
The reforms will also provide an opportunity in which local government can re-examine the quality of the service it provides. Perhaps most importantly, that reform will also provide an opportunity to improve efficiency by making it clear that one organisation has responsibility for providing certain, clearly defined services and has an obligation to pursue their provision by whatever means is thought appropriate to obtain the greatest efficiency.
It has been estimated that in the first five years of reorganisation a saving of up to £330 million will be made. That money can then be put back into the provision of high-quality services in Wales and Scotland.
As the hon. Member for Paisley, South said, the Labour party has made it plain that it, too, supports the concept of single-tier authorities. The Opposition's pre-election policy document entitled, "The Future of Local Government in Scotland", which was published about two years before the election, stated:
All-purpose councils facilitate the move to an integrated approach to service provision and also decentralisation through a local one-door approach.
That is absolutely correct and reveals the merit of having single-tier authorities.
The problem for the Labour party is that, having effectively conceded that it supports the principle behind the Government's reforms, it is now scratching around trying to find reasons to oppose the detail in an attempt to oppose for opposition's sake. That is particularly evident when one considers the behaviour of COSLA. At first, it stated that it would not accept any of the reforms and would not even communicate with the Government about them. When it was pressed by certain of its members, who seemed to take a different view, COSLA agreed to a request for consultation from the Under-Secretary of State to discuss nominations to the Local Government Staff Commission.
The opinion of the Liberal Democrats and that of the Scottish National party is similar to that adopted by the Labour party. The Liberals stated clearly in their manifesto for Scotland in 1992:
We will introduce a single tier of local government, to deliver most of the services currently provided by districts and regions.
George Leslie, the former local government convenor of the Scottish National party, was quoted in The Scotsman in 1992 as saying:
The SNP believe that the single-tier structure will be the most effective".
That is the logic behind the Government's proposal.
I should make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that the Liberal Democrats are in favour of single-tier local authorities, but we believe that they should be set up in conjunction with a Scottish parliament.
The hon. Lady has provided an interesting extra reflection on local government. I am not certain whether he is suggesting that a Scottish parliament should deal with local government matters and that it should be an extension of local government. If so, I am not certain that that would be particularly relevant to most people who live in Scotland. If the hon. Lady is suggesting—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. This precise point was dealt with earlier when the hon. Gentleman was not present. He has informed the House that he will not be present for the winding-up speeches. Is this the sort of valuable debate when people wander in, as ordered by the Tory Whips, to make a speech and then wander out again?
I have been present for virtually all the debate. I listened to the full contributions from the Front-Bench spokesmen and I have been absent for just 45 minutes. [Interruption.] I was aware that that point had been referred to, but I thought that it was important to draw attention—[interruption.]
Perhaps the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) was insinuating that a Scottish parliament would be a branch of local government—I do not believe, however, that that is part of the argument in favour of it. If not, that parliament would have no relevance to the structure of local government within Scotland because it would perform some other role, presumably by exercising devolved powers from this House.
Single-tier local government will deliver for the people of Scotland and Wales a better quality of service and greater accountability. The reforms have been carefully calculated by the Government to ensure that the structure of that single tier will match the traditional natural communities that exist. I welcome the fact that the flexibility within the proposals reflects that. Such a structure will be closest to the people and therefore properly in touch, yet large enough to be efficient as regards economies of scale. It therefore provides the best compromise.
My support for that approach is strengthened by the argument for single-tier authorities that have been shown to work effectively in England. When I first sat in the House I represented a north-east constituency—Newcastle, Central—where local government was provided by two tiers: first, Newcastle city council, which provided a major structure of local government for the large city of Newcastle and which seemed capable of handling all aspects; and, secondly, a metropolitan council, Tyne and Wear, which was imposed over the top of the city council and took on certain strategic functions. It was never clear where the dividing point came and it often seemed that those operating within the metropolitan council, councillors or officials, had nothing better to do and needed to set up committees to invent functions to justify their existence.
The Government then rightly decided that a unitary authority would better provide facilities for people in metropolitan areas, so the county council there and similar county councils elsewhere were abolished. It produced one or two unfortunate side effect, because the people involved in local government at that level then had nowhere to go and had to find something else to fill their time. The then deputy leader of the council decided to stand for the seat that I represented and he now represents that seat in this House. Nevertheless, the experience convinced me that single-tier authorities work more effectively.
Now that I represent an outer London seat, I experience exactly the same thing. My seat has its local government provided by a London borough—a single-tier authority—and it operates much more effectively, directly and democratically than when there was a second tier in the form of the Greater London council. This House must look after the refugees who left the GLC when it was abolished, which may be a less attractive feature of reorganisation. For the ordinary citizen, however, the quality of local government has improved as a result of that reorganisation.
Those lessons can be transferred to the debate on Scottish and Welsh local government and show the successful benefits that will flow from the proposed reform. Not everyone who lives in Scotland and Wales fully realises the real benefits that will flow from the change. In any case, ordinary citizens may not be entirely au fait with the different responsibilities carried by local government units. But the operation of a slimmed-down local government—lean, effective and efficient—will prove extremely popular.
By virtue of being a single-tier authority, my local authority of Bromley borough has been able to take clear steps forward in providing local services. Bromley is a great believer in the concept of the enabling authority that accepts its responsibility but devolves the executive responsibilities that go with it to agencies, to which it contracts out services. It has been in the lead of that process and has gone as far as the law allows it to go, encouraging changes in the law to enable it to continue with the philosophy of an enabling authority. It has proved to be extremely popular to provide services of a greater quality more efficiently and therefore be able to charge less council tax and become a debt-free authority, to all intents and purposes.
I have no doubt that the reform suggested for Scotland and Wales will enable the same forward-thinking approach to local government which Bromley has illustrated. I pay tribute to Denis Barkway, the leader of Bromley borough council, who has been at the forefront of that movement.
The same objectives drive the current local government reform proposals in Wales and Scotland. On the basis of that experience, and the experience of people who have lived in areas that have benefited from single-tier local government, I thoroughly commend that policy and that part of the Gracious Speech to the people of Wales and Scotland.
This debate is in the context of the entire Queen's Speech. Before concentrating on local government in Wales, may I mention two or three other aspects of the Queen's Speech? It is deficient for the needs of Wales and its content is unacceptable. For example, it contains further threats to local government services by contracting out more services, which has a bearing on today's discussion. It contains a threat to social security systems, with talk of limiting benefits within affordable limits. That engenders fears for the future of invalidity, housing and unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, countless thousands of people in Wales still need unemployment benefit. Finally, it contains a ridiculous threat to the future of student unions. The draconian power of legislation is being used to go after something that should be a free association of peoples.
Then there are the sins of omission. The Queen's Speech makes no reference to tackling unemployment, contains no Bill to deal with the housing crisis in Wales, no energy conservation Bill and no Bill to outlaw discrimination against disabled people.
On the main theme of today's debate, it is outrageous that the Bill on local government in Wales should go to the House of Lords for its first hearing. It is a constitutional Bill and I thought that it was a tradition of Parliament that such Bills are heard first in the first Chamber. On what basis is the Bill being sent to the House of Lords for its first hearing?
It is equally outrageous that Standing Order No. 86 is likely to be set aside. We saw how the Government could hold Welsh public opinion in contempt with the Welsh Language Bill in the last Session. Standing Order No. 86 was suspended and a Committee dealing with the Welsh Language Bill consisted of 28 members, 15 of whom were Conservatives. Of those, only six could be mustered from Wales and nine had to be drafted from England.
Are we to see the same again, with English MPs, who do not have to live with the consequences of changes in local government, on the Committee while Welsh constituency MPs, whose areas are affected and whose local authorities expect them to speak up on their behalf in Committees, are excluded from the debate? That will not be acceptable and if the Government intend to go down that road, it is highly undesirable.
Apparently, the Secretary of State may make a comment on timing in the wind up. As a statesman, nothing prevented him from telling the House by way of an intervention at the beginning of the debate what the timing provisions would be. It would have enabled us to deal with the likely timetable. To hold back that information until the wind-up serves no purpose other than to cut across a logical debate.
Given that the hon. Gentleman admits that this is a most important measure, and given that we have an all-day opportunity to debate it, why is only one member of his party present?
Other members of my party are here. In a party of four members, sharing out responsibilities is an onerous job and all four members are taking an interest in the debate. Given the Secretary of State's indication that he expects us to play an active part, all four of us will be delighted to be on the Standing Committee. I shall be glad if the Secretary of State would make provision, through the Whips Office, to enable that to happen.
The concept of local government has been developed over the century—local authorities were first set up in the late 1880s and 1890s. A central weakness is that those authorities have been regarded as a devolved aspect of central Government and not as authorities in their own right. When local authorities stand up against central Government, we know what happens—the Greater London council did so and was abolished. Local government is not regarded as an authority or as a tier or authorities in its own right, but it should be. The powers that local authorities should have are powers as of right and should not be conditioned, limited or circumscribed by central Government directive.
Local government should also have finance as of right. For example, a proportion of VAT collected in each area should automatically go to local government so that it has money with no strings attached. That would give local government real responsibility; it is only when local government has such responsibility that it will attract the calibre of councillors needed to undertake the responsibilities and the services which communities need.
Can we have clarification on the eligibility of teachers and others working at arm's length from local government to stand as councillors in the new unitary authorities? Will there be a preference for evening council meetings so that a broad cross-section of the community—not just the retired and those rich enough not to have to work during the day—will be able to serve on local authorities?
I referred to the weakness of the Government's approach to local government structures. The weakness in the White Paper and in the discussion in the past couple of years is that we have failed sufficiently to consider functions and finance as well as structures. Another inadequacy is that possibly not enough attention has been given to the strengthening of community councils.
The major and central failure is the Government's insistence on ignoring the all-Wales dimension to the considerations. There was a consensus in Wales when the Secretary of State's predecessor started the ball rolling a couple of years ago. That consensus was based on having an all-Wales elected authority. We and the Liberals, I believe, would call it an all-Wales parliament, our colleagues in the Labour party would call it an assembly. Certainly, there is a consensus that there needs to be a democratic, elected Welsh tier of government to take over the devolved responsibilities currently undertaken by the Welsh Office, particularly those undertaken by the plethora of quangos, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson).
We need democratic control over the many functions that have been centralised. For instance, housing has been largely centralised by quangos such as Tai Cymru, and local quangos have taken over responsibilities from local authorities, including the responsibility to nominate health authorities. Therefore, we need an all-Wales elected system of government. The establishment of a parliament or assembly should have taken place before the restructuring of local government. That would have enabled a strategic approach to allow smaller unitary authorities to be created without denying a strategic decision-taking capacity. That is the danger of what we have at the moment.
An all-Wales body is relevant in the European context. With regard to the Government's consultation paper on the structure of local government in England, the Audit Commission commented:
There are signs that the absence of fora in which local authorities can come together to represent the interests of their broader region is beginning to disadvantage U.K. local government in its representations to the European Commission on the use of structural funds.
If that is true, that is another powerful argument for having an all-Wales elected body to give backbone to representations made directly to Brussels.
Many functions have been taken away from local government over the years—certainly since the days when I served as an elected member on Merthyr county borough council between 1972 and 1974. I reinforce the representations made by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands)—Merthyr Tydfil is an historic borough and town, and the county borough which existed provided a model on which unitary authorities could have been based. There is a powerful argument for Merthyr—in its own right, not in combination with widespread heads of the valleys—justifying its continued individual existence.
The White Paper published earlier this year states that the number of fire brigades in Wales will be reduced from eight to three. Will the Secretary of State give a categorical assurance that no other powers will be taken away from local government? What are his intentions regarding national parks in Wales? Is the Secretary of State satisfied that services such as trading standards and social services can be provided with the same expertise, effectiveness and efficiency as at present, without elaborate and undemocratic joint arrangements?
The White Paper makes a number of references to reserve powers that the Secretary of State proposes to have available to him—for example,
for use as necessary to ensure that proper service delivery arrangements are in place".
Will the Secretary of State elaborate on the number and nature of the reserve or default powers with which he intends to provide himself in the legislation? Does not the need for reserve powers show either that the proposed structure is fundamentally flawed or that one of the main purposes of the reorganisation is to transfer powers from local authorities to central Government—or possibly even both?
The Secretary of State will be aware of the recent study carried out by a team of top finance officers that showed that the transitional cost of creating 21 unitary authorities amounted to £202 million at 1995-96 prices over a 15-year period. It showed that the running of the new authorities would cost another £6·2 million per annum more than the status quo. Does the Secretary of State agree with the figures? If not, what are his estimates of the transitional and running costs of the new authorities? I have it on good authority that the figures have been accepted by the Treasury—
The Secretary of State shakes his head—the argument within Government is a matter of interest. Whether the costs are in the right ballpark or the Secretary of State provides alternative figures, I hope that he will be able to give an absolute assurance that none of the cost will have to be taken from the provision of services that fall under local government at present. I hope that he can assure us that any and all additional money will come from the Treasury.
On the definition of the units of local government, clearly there must be fine tuning to maximise the community of interest of the proposed local authorities. It has been said by a number of hon. Members that there is some consensus on the need for unitary authorities in Wales—in the context of an all-Wales elected authority. If we are to have unitary authorities, we must ensure that the boundaries are right.
I hope that there will be a mechanism for fine tuning to allow that to happen as the Bill proceeds through Parliament or soon after the authorities are set up. Parts of Aberconwy and the Colwyn area might want to be in Gwynedd and Denbighshire respectively. I have referred to Merthyr, and we should also consider Montgomeryshire. Half my family forebears lived in Montgomeryshire, and it would be unacceptable if it disappeared off the map. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Secretary of State may find a way round that.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the argument goes further than just the historical and community interests of Montgomeryshire? The proposal for an authority covering a vast proportion of the land area of Wales—about 2,250 square miles—cannot be regarded as a local authority.
That is the conundrum. How do we create an authority small enough to be local and genuinely representative of communities but large enough to be able to undertake the large responsibilities that unitary authorities must have? That is the difficulty wherever we are—to some extent it is a matter of resources. However, there is a balance of argument in each individual instance, and the balance in Montgomeryshire is certainly in favour of retaining it.
The name Caernarfonshire and Merionnyddshire is not satisfactory; I am sure that another name can be found—for example, Eryri or even Gwynedd. There is not a lot of sense in linking the two names, and I do not believe that that is what people in the area want.
I turn to the matter of timetabling in ignorance of what may be said later. The proposed timetable for implementing the Government's proposals grows daily more impractical, which the Secretary of State may recognise later tonight. The impracticality results partly from the way in which the proposals have proceeded up till now. When one compares the process with the timetable for England and Scotland, the Secretary of State seems to be intent on proceeding with unseemly haste. I hope that we shall have an announcement on that.
It is interesting to consider the Local Government Act 1972. There was a period of 18 months after that Act received Royal Assent before the new authorities took over, and a considerable amount of the work had to be undertaken during that time to enable the policies to work. I know that full well as a councillor and as the son of a local government officer who served at that time.
It is proposed that the Bill should be in place no more than 12 months after enactment, an extremely tight timetable indeed. In the 1972-74 period, considerable preparatory work was done on the basis of joint co-operation before legislation was in place. That has not been so this time because of a lack of consensus between counties and districts. Reorganisation was straightforward in 1974 because major local authority units were generally brought together from smaller units. This time, the Government plan to tear them apart, which will take considerably more time to make work effectively.
If there is a 12-month delay, which I suspect will be announced as an inevitable conclusion of the way in which things are moving, I hope that it will be used to secure co-operation throughout Wales about service delivery plans. That time could be used effectively to ensure a better understanding of service delivery than exists at present.
Most of all, I hope that the time will be used to secure an all-Wales level of democracy, which is the key to getting consensus in Wales and which will lead to a more satisfactory restructuring of local government.
I am grateful for the opportunity to say a few words and to follow the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley).
I should like to make particular reference to local government in Scotland, having been involved in Edinburgh corporation, a single-tier authority, as a baillie, and on Lothian regional council, one authority in a two-tier system, at the upper level.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) rightly said that there are many other demands in Scotland and elsewhere for the funds that will be swallowed up by this reorganisation of local government. He said that he had a number of other suggestions for legislation that is necessary in Scotland. He mentioned child care in particular, but many other measures also urgently need enacting.
I should like to mention such a measure, although it is unconnected with local government. There is a feeling of grave injustice, certainly among my constituents and I think far wider, at the way in which company directors are voting themselves huge salary increases and even larger bonsuses and immense share options at a time when their workers are being limited to very small wage increases in their already modest wages. Such increases for directors are immoral and indefensible.
We have had the worst example today of Peter Wood of First Direct receiving a £10 million increase. He does not earn that amount. It is money paid to him by the Royal bank, which is as much to blame as anyone for having allowed this situation to develop. It is not the bank's money: it is its customers' money, which people who can ill afford it are being asked to pay to someone who does not need it.
There are many other examples of such legalised theft, which needs to be stopped now. It is an appalling indictment of our society. If there is a legislative gap, we should introduce a Bill to curb such abuse.
I say to Conservative Members—to those who have managed to remain and to the one or two have dodged in and spoken and returned; I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) has managed to dodge back in again—that I am in favour of single-tier authorities, but a Scottish parliament and a legislative assembly for Wales must be in place first. The hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) said that that is the policy of the Liberal Democrats, too. A Scottish parliament should then decide the structure of local government for Scotland. That would have been sensible and it remains the policy of the Labour party in Scotland.
An independent commission should have decided the structure of local government. A truly independent commission decided the last restructuring of local government. Lord Wheatley, a Labour Member, Tom Fraser, another Labour Member, Betty Harvie-Anderson, a Conservative Member and a Deputy Speaker, and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) were members of that commission. In addition, there were other members who were not involved in party politics.
The commission objectively investigated local government structures in Scotland and dealt with the range of services that were provided. The notable feature of the current so-called review of local government is not only that it is partisan and political but that it is badly incomplete. There is gap after gap in the structure of local government reorganisation; area after area has not been considered. I have written to Ministers about one or two—for example, justices of the peace and aspects of children's panels—which have not been taken into account in the reorganisation. I have had very poor responses, if any, from Ministers.
I tabled a question in the summer about a staff commission and a property commission, which we had in the last reorganisation of local government in Scotland in 1973-74. Lo and behold, not long afterwards, the Under-Secretary of State suddenly realised that he should have done something about it and made an announcement about the staff commission, but only in general principle and not in detail.
I am grateful for that, but the Minister has not said in detail how it will operate, who the members will be or what its structure will be. He still has not said anything about the property commission, which was important.
An Organisation and Management in Local Government report was produced on the structure of local government management. An independent commission was set up by a Conservative Government and there was even a chap on it called Councillor G. Foulkes of Edinburgh, so it must have been independent. It was called the Patterson committee and it investigated the structure of local government. That has not been done this time. Area after area of local government structures has not been considered as part of the current reorganisation. Last time, Wheatley considered the structure in detail and made recommendations, and the House debated the matter. In Committee, we shall have some very searching questions to ask the Minister and the Secretary of State.
In an earlier intervention, I asked whether what the Government propose is really single-tier. I do not think that it is. I am in favour of a good, all-purpose, single-tier authority, with authorities having the clout and the right size to deliver all services without recourse to joint boards, but that is not what is proposed.
The Secretary of State, who is not here at the moment, said that I was wrong, without saying why. Perhaps the Secretary of State for Wales or the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland could say why I was wrong, because, as I understand it, water and sewerage will be dealt with by three quangos, non-elected boards. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton is right: we should give one and a half cheers for that, because at least it is not privatisation, although regrettably it could be one step on the way to privatisation. However, we shall have a Labour Government, so fortunately the other step and a half will not be taken.
Water and sewerage will be dealt with at the Strathclyde level. In Strathclyde, as I understand it, the passenger transport executive is to continue at that level and the police and fire services will also continue at that level. We will then have a so-called all-purpose, single-tier authority and because some of the services are so small, they will have to join together as joint boards. The proposal is a total mess. It is not a single-tier authority, and certainly will not give accountability.
We know, of course, that the Conservative party is not worried about democratic accountability. The House heard my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) talk about the quangos in Wales. It is exactly the same in Scotland. Tories who could not get elected and who do not have the support of the people whom they put themselves up to represent have been appointed by the Secretary of State.
I will give some examples, particularly from the health service. Eileen Bates stood on a number of occasions in a constituency, and did not get elected. She moved to another constituency and did not get elected there either. The Secretary of State then appointed her to the community health trust in Ayrshire.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton referred to the particularly notorious case of Bill Fyfe. I endorse every word that my hon. Friend said. I may tell the House that there was a great cheer in Ayrshire when Mr. Fyfe was appointed as chairman of Greater Glasgow health board and moved away from the chairmanship of the Ayrshire health board. It seems strange that the Secretary of State could not find anyone from Greater Glasgow to be the chairman of the health board. I must say that Mr. Fyfe now seems to be very shy of the media, which he was not when things were going in his direction in Ayrshire.
I do not know of any. Most of the Labour candidates in Wales succeed, just as most of the Labour candidates in Scotland succeed.
I now come to the case of Ayrshire itself. What we have in the local government reorganisation is a series of five or six rotten boroughs which will be set up by the Government. The Minister in particular is the architect of that, and I am glad that he is sitting on the Government Bench today. My colleagues from Cumnock and Doon Valley all support an all-Ayrshire authority, and my Labour colleagues from Kyle and Carrick support an all-Ayrshire authority. They came with me to argue that case with the Minister and they did so in an articulate, responsible, and powerful way. Naive as they may be, they expected an articulate, responsible, and powerful argument from the Minister in favour of his proposals.
The amazing thing was that the Minister could not answer or justify his proposals, because there is no logical justification for them. There is also no support for them. That is why we support an all-Ayrshire authority. First, the public want it, as even the hon. Member for Ayr has to admit. The hon. Gentleman has been at three public meetings and he has been forced to accept that the people who attended those meetings overwhelmingly reject what the Secretary of State proposes. They want an all-Ayrshire authority.
I certainly do not accept the point that the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) makes. He referred to a number of Labour councillors in south Ayrshire who support an all-Ayrshire authority. There are a lot more Tory councillors in Kyle and Carrick than Labour councillors, and they all support the south Ayrshire authority that is to be established. Many of my constituents also support it, as do retailers in my constituency, who have made strong arguments. The hon. Gentleman is totally wrong.
If the recommendations of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission are passed, the hon. Gentleman may no longer represent Ayr. Looking at the demographic make-up of the proposed constituency, he may have to move somewhere else.
The hon. Gentleman attended public meeting after public meeting and argued in his usual articulate and powerful way the case for the Government's proposals. In one meeting, only four people supported him and in another no one at all supported the proposals.
There are one or two people—such as Provost Gibson Macdonald, who wants to keep a little Tory fiefdom in Kyle and Carrick—who want to retain that authority. But those people are few and those views are not coming from the people at all. The people of Ayrshire are cynical about the Government's attitude to consultation.
I am glad that the Secretary of State for Wales is here. We have had a period of consultation in Ayrshire about the setting up of one of the first NHS trusts in Scotland, the South Ayrshire NHS trust. Almost everyone in Ayrshire is against it, with only a handful in favour. All the doctors, the nurses, and the paramedics in the health board area are against the proposal, as were the vast majority of people in consultation. However, the Secretary of State for Scotland went ahead.
One of the main arguments that we made during the consultation was that we would end up with a huge number of grey-suited bureaucrats with the new structure. That was exactly what was argued. Suddenly, just a week ago, the Secretary of State for Wales wakes up from a long sleep, like Rip van Winkle, and realises that that is precisely what has happened in the reorganisation of the NHS. What we predicted has come true, and the Secretary of State was absolutely right. There are far too many bureaucrats, and not enough medics and nurses.
The hon. Gentleman should read more of my speech, which he might find enlightening. The speech said that trusts were excellent, give patients and doctors more choice, and permit us to reduce bureaucracy in England, Wales, and in Scotland in a way that I would like. I am delighted to learn that the hon. Gentleman and his party would also like that. In the past, the Opposition set up a lot of the authorities and a lot of the bureaucracy.
The House will see that the Secretary of State for Wales generalises, and cannot give me a specific example. We know what has happened in Ayrshire. Where previously we had one board with one general manager, we now have one board, three trusts, and four general managers. We have also four directors of finance and four directors of administration. They are not called personnel officers now—they have a fancy title—but we now have four directors of human resources. Those are the grey-suited men, and there are fewer doctors, fewer nurses, and fewer paramedics.
That is what we were saying about local government reorganisation. It is being rejected by the people of Ayrshire, and I hope that the Government will, on this occasion, listen to the people of Ayrshire. The Secretary of State for Wales conceded that we got it right the last time round.
Secondly, Ayrshire is the right size to provide the services. It is the optimum size and was examined by Wheatley, as were Fife, Central and others at the time. Those areas were able to provide a whole range of services. Ayrshire is the optimum size for education, social work, planning, and for a whole range of services. All those services can be provided without recourse to joint boards.
Thirdly, if an all-Ayrshire authority were set up, it would match the other bodies in Ayrshire, such as the health board, the chamber of industry, Enterprise Ayrshire, and the tourist board. Therefore, the boundaries would be coterminous and co-operation would be much more possible.
Fourthly, the authority would have the strength to deal with the European Community in the way in which Strathclyde does to get funds for areas of great deprivation.
Finally, there is the argument of geography. The Secretary of State is proposing an amazing division of Ayrshire, where most of what is to be called North Ayrshire will be in fact south of most of South Ayrshire. It is an astonishing proposal and it defies all logic.
I wish to make two general points before I conclude. First, the councillors who serve on the present authorities and will serve on the new authorities are much maligned, often in the House and a great deal in the press. Councillors strive to do their best. They have to declare their pecuniary interests. I wish that Conservative Members were as scrupulous as councillors in declaring their interests. Councillors receive little remuneration and work long hours. We ought to provide for proper recognition of the place of councillors in the new authorities and proper remuneration. My second point is in some justification of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) who, like many councillors, was vilified by the press, in particular the Scottish press, when he was shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. He was vilified by The Scotsman when he predicted during our annual conference in Brighton that the Welsh reorganisation of local government was likely to be postponed a year. The Scotsman said, "What a ridiculous suggestion. This chap does not know what he is talking about. He has been drinking in the bars and picking up gossip."
Yet today, if what my hon. Friends tell me is correct, it looks as if we are about to hear an announcement that the Welsh reorganisation will be postponed for a year. My hon. Friend the Member for Monklands deserves an apology from The Scotsman. The Secretary of State for Scotland ought to think again about Scottish reorganisation. If the Welsh reorganisation is to be postponed for a year, and there is no Bill to reorganise English local government, why are we in Scotland once again the scapegoats one year ahead of all the other reorganisations?
The proposed reorganisation in Scotland is a gerrymander. It is a gerrymander to set up Greater Eastwood, and so that that does not stick out like a sore thumb, Kyle and Carrick will be renamed South Ayrshire. Someone suggested to me that it ought to be called Gallie-lee in honour of the hon. Member for Ayr. We shall have Stirling authority for the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). It is corrupt gerrymandering and a partisan plan by which the Government hope to retain Conservative control of authorities.
The Government do not want local government to be powerful. They want to neutralise the councils, contract out the services, opt out the schools, centralise the powers as much as possible in central Government and create as many joint boards as possible. The Government are not interested in local government. We are interested in local government. The proposal should be scrapped until we have a Scottish parliament, a Labour Government and proper reorganisation.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You always protect the interests of Back Benchers carefully. Several Welsh and Scottish Members still wish to speak. The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) is a chalk jockey who has been sent in by the Whips and has not been here for most of the debate, including—I will be corrected if I am wrong—the opening speeches. Is it right that he should take up the time of the House when we are supposedly discussing Welsh and Scottish local government?
It is not for me to say who should speak on either side. I do not know how long the hon. Gentleman has been in the Chamber. I have called the hon. Gentleman and he must make his speech.
I was in the Chamber at half-past two this afternoon. I heard both the opening speeches from the Front Benches. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) owes me an apology. I was here until 10 minutes to 5 because I had a meeting at 5 o'clock. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will apologise for accusing me of not being present for the opening speeches.
I apologise to the House that I was not able to be here for the middle part of the debate. I wish that I had been able to be here. I wrote to the Speaker on Friday making it clear that I wished to participate in today's debate. I was here for the opening speeches. I knew that I had a meeting in the middle of the debate. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will now apologise.
Of course I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if he was here during the opening speeches. But it is not right that he should be out of the Chamber for two and a half hours and then speak in a debate on Scottish and Welsh local government when he has no interest in that subject except as a chalk jockey sent in by the Government Whips.
Order. Several right hon. and hon. Members hope to catch my eye in the time available. If we continue like this, some of them who have sat here all day will be disappointed.
I am grateful to you for making that clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have worked on my speech over the weekend so I have not been sent in by the Whips. The hon. and learned Gentleman can apologise to me about that at another time.
The Opposition choose the subjects for debate on the Queen's Speech. It is a good illustration of the Labour party's priorities that it devoted a whole day to local government reorganisation in Scotland and Wales and bracketed law and order and education together and gave them one day's debate. I do not doubt for a moment that local government reorganisation in Scotland and Wales is important, but the matters which worry my constituents are the problems of lawlessness and the need to drive up education standards.
I suppose that it is no more than we should expect that the Labour party shows such scant regard for issues of law and order. As we know, it devoted only 155 words to law and order in its general election manifesto. That was fewer than the words that it devoted to the arts and leisure. Perhaps it also shows the influence of the Scots and the Welsh in the Labour party that a whole day was given to local government reorganisation in Scotland and Wales.
I want to make it crystal clear that, although I am delighted to speak in the debate today, I shall not volunteer to sit on the Standing Committee which will consider the local government Bill. I appreciate that other hon. Members have more expertise in local government in Wales and Scotland.
We have had a lot of hot air and synthetic rage from Opposition Members. I noticed that during the Front-Bench speeches—for which the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery said that I was not here, but has apologised for doing so—there were only 16 Labour Scottish Members in the Chamber. So there was a great deal of synthetic anger in what we heard tonight.
I regret that the Government do not intend to privatise the water industry in Scotland. We have seen clear benefits of privatisation in England in not only the water industry but a host of other industries. We have seen increased efficiency. The water companies as well as all the other privatised companies, such as British Telecom and British Gas, have become more consumer-oriented. The privatised water companies have been able to attract massive investment for the improvements that were needed.
On balance, I welcome the introduction of unitary authorities. I believe that they will lead to more rational decision-making in local government. Opposition Members do not have too much to fear from unitary authorities. My constituency is in West Yorkshire. When we abolished the county council in West Yorkshire, everyone said that it would be disastrous. It has not been. My local council is called Kirklees. It is Labour-controlled. I do not like it very much, but it has not been disastrous. The only reason why it has not worked as well as it might have done is that it has been controlled by the Labour party.
I accept that Kirklees council is too big. I should like to see it split. I hope that the Local Government Commission will examine the status of Kirklees council in the near future. We should create a new council based on the Huddersfield area. That is what my constituents want.
My third point relates to the proposals of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats to introduce regional assemblies. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) admitted that there will be four distinct levels of government—municipal, regional, national and European. What has bedevilled this country for so long is not too little government, but too much government. Yet the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats advocate that we should introduce a new layer.
On that point, surely the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) must be aware that Germany, which is the most successful country in the post-war European economy, has strong municipal government, extremely strong regional government and national Government and was a main player in the creation of the European Community. It does not seem to have suffered from doing all those things.
Germany is not exactly without its problems at the moment. I believe that the reason why it has prospered since the war is that it has had a stable economic framework in which its industries have been able to flourish and invest. I do not put that down to its system of government.
The one thing that we know for sure is that politicians want to justify their existence. If there are more politicians, or if more assemblies are created, which need politicians to man them, one must give those politicians something to do.
Here I am, making a speech in the House of Commons justifying my existence. I know that there are not so many people in the Chamber and I do not suppose that anyone will take any notice of my speech, but I hope that they will.
My hon. Friend says that he will. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, an important Member of the Cabinet, is also here listening to my speech; he is one of the men who are formulating policy and generating ideas in the country at the moment. I am delighted to see him in his place.
The reality is that when politicians look for things to do, they usually start by interfering in the lives of ordinary folk. They want to pass laws. I do not quite understand why the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats want to foist yet more government on the nation when clearly we have been suffering from far too much.
One forecast that I would make is that if we were to set up those regional assemblies, one could be sure that they would participate in the latest fashion—political correctness. County councils are currently voting to ban hunting on most of their land. It is fairly meaningless, of course, but it is the politically correct thing to do at the moment.
The Labour party says that so many women candidates must be selected in marginal seats. I think that the Labour party will get into serious trouble and it has already generated much unrest within those constituencies. It is a time-bomb waiting to explode. I notice that the black section of the Labour party is now saying that 30 inner-city seats should be devoted specifically to black candidates. I would have thought that people should be appointed as candidates on merit. That is certainly the way that we go about it in the Conservative party. [Interruption.] The Labour party ought to follow that example.
I am sorry to say that, even in the national health service, we see a little bit of political correctness at the moment. It is an unfortunate spectacle that right now the NHS is paying compensation to a retired admiral because he did not get the job as chairman of the Cornwall health trust, for one simple politically correct reason—he is a man.
I noticed in Hansard the other day that we are spending half a million pounds on setting up a race unit in the NHS. Again, I must say that I am slightly dubious about such an approach.
The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) should understand that there are certain matters in the health service in which it is important that ethnic minorities have a proper say and in respect of which their illnesses should be properly considered. He will know of the problems of sickle-cell anaemia, which particularly affects the black and Greek populations in this country, about which the NHS knows little and for which it has not done enough to be able to deal with.
I hope that the hon. Member for Colne Valley will not simply discard those matters because he takes a jaundiced view on issues on the basis that he thinks that it is politically correct to do so. It is correct from the point of view of the health service that there are units that look at particular problems that affect different people.
The hon. Gentleman has made a perfectly sound point. However, I do not agree with him that one needs to set up a specialist unit in that way. I have about 3,000 Pakistanis in my constituency. My local council in Kirklees, to which I have already referred, has an equal opportunities unit. Many of those Pakistanis have told me that they do not want that unit to exist. They see it swallowing up a great deal of money. They also see that the unit does not do much for them.
The best way to promote the interests of ethnic minorities is to ensure that the management is well aware of all the problems, the difficulties and the needs of ethnic minorities. I genuinely believe that there is an awful lot of political correctness about the way that we have seen some of those race units, equal opportunities units and so on being set up. If it was left to me, the Equal Opportunities Commission, which currently costs the Government £5 million per annum, would be abolished. It does not carry out any particularly useful purpose.
I hope and believe that the Queen's Speech heralds a break from that sort of approach, and that we will go "back to basics", as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has described. We shall take on the civil servants in Whitehall who justify their existence in such numbers by introducing new regulation after new regulation. I welcome the changes that are taking place in Whitehall—market testing and putting senior civil servants on to contracts. That is a revolutionary but welcome idea. It seems to me that we should make it quite clear in their contract that they will be rewarded for employing fewer civil servants and for spending less public money than was budgeted for. At the moment, it seems to be quite the opposite way around.
We are also going "back to basics" because we are taking on the liberal-minded do-gooders who have dominated Home Office thinking for the past 30 years. We are challenging the legal establishment that says that the British legal system is the finest in the world and should not be changed in any way; the same establishment which defends the right to silence, which has been of such benefit to so many criminals over so many years.
The reality is that it is terrorists, child killers and ordinary criminals who benefit from the right to silence. They have used that right ruthlessly. I have talked to a number of police officers and they all tell me that it is amazing how even 14, 15 or 16-year-olds, when they come into the police cells, say nothing. They are well aware that they do not have to say anything and that the right to silence exists. Their refusal to say what they were doing and where they were at a particular time cannot be taken into account by a court when and if they come up for trial.
I am delighted that the Government have grasped that nettle and that we will be doing something about it. The reality is that the tape recording of inverviews, which now takes place, provides the safeguard for those people who might be mistreated by the police and will ensure that we do not have miscarriages of justice. We have the example of a case in Leeds last weekend, when the judge said that one of the statements made by the suspect in a police cell was not admissible in court.
It seems to me that there are two factors that will deter people from offending: first, the likelihood of being caught; and secondly, when they are caught, the likelihood of being severely punished. We are taking measures on both those fronts. The police Bill should improve the effectiveness of the police. I hope that the reduction of senior ranks within the police force will lead to more police officers on the streets. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary recently made an announcement about reducing paperwork.
Last Friday night, I went to address the Huddersfield police forum with my neighbouring MP, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). The Labour chairman of the forum referred to the changes that we are making to the police authorities. He said that they were anti-democratic and that the police authorities, as currently constituted, represented true democracy. He said that police authorities were where people could look to obtain redress and ensure that their views are known.
I asked the people present at the forum to raise their hands if they knew the name of the chairman of West Yorkshire police authority. The only person who knew that individual's name was the Labour chairman of the police forum.
We want police authorities that are professional in their outlook and depoliticised. I believe that the new police Bill will achieve that. It is time to reintroduce the concepts of deterrence and punishment. I welcome the changes that have been made to cautioning. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary made a very robust change to the cautioning regime only recently. I also welcome the tougher punishment of juvenile offenders and the crackdown on bail bandits.
I obviously support a settlement that will bring peace in Northern Ireland. However, we must not forget that the initiatives that were taken over the past 20 years were designed to bring peace. Sunningdale and the Anglo-Irish Agreement were meant to bring peace. At the end of the day, the objectives of the IRA terrorists were not fulfilled by those agreements. Therefore, they continued to kill, encouraged by the political movement which their violence had brought about.
The IRA, the SDLP and the Irish Government all have a united Ireland as their ultimate objective. That is something which the British Government cannot and must not give ground on, certainly not by allowing the Irish Government a greater say in how Northern Ireland is governed.
If the peace process involves the nationalist factions giving ground, that is absolutely fine. However, I do not see how the British Government can give any further ground. We have already allowed the Irish Government some say in how Northern Ireland is governed. I do not see how we can go any further than that and I hope that we will not. Tonight's debate is about local government and I should like to see more and proper local government in Northern Ireland.
I welcome other measures in the Queen's Speech such as the reform of student unions, the reform of teacher training, the privatisation of British Coal and the fact that, at long last, we are going to sort out Sunday trading. Those are all very positive measures.
This autumn's Conservative party conference and this Queen's Speech will prove to be a turning point. There can be no doubt that this year has been very difficult for the Government. We will not become popular overnight. However, I believe that the Conservative star will undoubtedly shine bright once again because we have returned to our fundamental philosophy.
We allowed public spending to rise to an unsustainably high level and we are now tackling that. We put aside our belief in free markets when we joined the exchange rate mechanism, but we now have appropriate economic and monetary policies. As a result, economic growth has resumed; we have low inflation and unemployment is falling. That is good news and it has come about because we are now following Conservative policies.
It was interesting to see how grumpy the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) was during the debate on the Queen's Speech last Thursday. He was grumpy because the unemployment figure had fallen by 50,000 on that very day and he had just taken on the job as Opposition employment spokesman. He was fed up because we had already shot his fox. The Opposition are also fed up tonight.
The Queen's Speech heralds the fact that we are now following Conservative principles which are acting as our guiding light. Those principles include our belief in free markets, our belief in private enterprise and in personal freedom and personal responsibility and the reintroduction of proper deterrence and punishment into the law and order system.
What a contrast all that is to the Labour party. After 14 years, the Labour party still has not developed a coherent policy and philosophy of its own because, in its heart of hearts, it still believes in the old philosophy of equality, state control of industry, politicians running the lives of ordinary people and higher taxes. That is what the Labour party truly believes. Labour cannot say it, because it knows that that does not win elections. People do not want it.
The Conservative party and Conservative politicians, not least my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, are generating ideas. The Queen's Speech is full of policies that go with the grain of human nature and the grain of Conservative philosophy. That is why I will support it enthusiastically.
This Queen's Speech will be a drag anchor on Wales. It contains no strategy for industry, for full employment or for building housing and overcoming the homeless and housing crisis in Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Instead, we have a fatuous set of new right dogma involving deregulation and cutting safety and conditions at work. There are more private mines in my constituency than in any other. Over the past 20 months, two miners have died and one has been paralysed from the waist down. That situation will become worse as a result of the deregulation measures.
The Queen's Speech is the product of an exhausted and bankrupt ideology which the Government are seeking to progress. The Secretary of State for Wales should spend more time looking after the interest of Wales and not seeking out scapegoats like single mothers or broadcasting on every possible Thatcherite fad into which he can get his claws.
With regard to local government, my hon. Friends have quite properly paid a great deal of attention to boundaries. Neath has an historic tradition of which it is proud. The town of Neath dates back to Roman times. It has a strong sense of community and it wishes to retain a viable identity in its own right.
We are very proud of our extremely strong sense of community in Neath. That is a strong tradition on which we are building and we will build on it for the future. Either I or my hon. Friends—if I am not a member of the Standing Committee—will move an amendment to the Welsh local government Bill to keep Neath's identity.
If there is to be a shotgun marriage between Neath and Port Talbot, the Secretary of State's proposal to bring in the Upper Lliw valley is logical. The removal of Ystradgynlais and Tawe Uchaf from the original White Paper proposals is also welcome. There are details around the edges which must be examined. It is illogical for Pontneathvaughan to be outside the new Neath, Port Talbot and Lliw West Glamorgan authority. However, perhaps that can be addressed later.
I will be brief as others wish to speak. The new Bill on local government and what the Government have been doing and plan to do in future will destroy the principle of local democracy. The Government are creating a situation in which town halls will simply become agents for administering contracts. The leader of the new authority will effectively be the chair of the board of a giant company and the chief executive his or her managing director. Local services will be hived off, opted out, contracted out and privatised.
Apparently, there will be pressure from the Government to sell the assets of local authorities to cut the ability of local government to perform the innovative role that it has traditionally played, especially in Wales. There are even proposals from some Conservative Back Benchers to abolish local education authorities entirely. That has always been the Government's agenda under opting out. As local education authorities are effectively abolished, local government will no longer have a strategic approach to education.
There has even been another proposal put forward by a Back Bench Conservative Member of Parliament. We cannot dismiss it as an outpouring of some demented Thatcherite because, inevitably, the proposals will appear in a pamphlet and, a year or two later, will appear in the Queen's Speech. The hon. Member proposes that local authorities should be required to sell off all council housing at a rate of 10 per cent. a year until it is all sold off. That will destroy the ability of many local families to enjoy the prospect of owning their own home. In my constituency, families face the desperate plight of having no opportunity to get a home—no council homes are being built because local authorities are prevented from doing so.
The more fundamental issue at stake in the Government's approach to local authorities is the destruction of the principle of citizenship. We are all being forced to become consumers of education services, consumers of health services and consumers of social services. As individuals, we are being turned from citizens into consumers in which the market rules rather than the principle of service and provision according to everybody's need, either as individuals or as a community. It is a fundamental change that is not being acknowledged.
Local government and public services are being compartmentalised. Every little service, agency and area of activity pursues its own narrow self-interest and that destroys democracy through democratic institutions and so destroys citizenship and the ability to take a general interest in affairs that are in the broad public interest. We are all being segmented into each area of government and it is destroying the democratic tradition that goes back to the ancient Greek polis, where one became a real citizen through political activity and participation in politics. Politics meant a system of services to provide for the needs of society and the nation. That tradition is now being undermined because citizenship is being destroyed and local government is no longer able to express the needs of local citizens.
That entire thrust is to be seen most sharply in what I term as the "quangoitis" that has broken out in Wales unlike almost anywhere else in the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) eloquently described the problem of quangos and how the number in Wales has doubled since 1979 from 40 to over 80 bodies that are filled with men and women appointed by the Secretary of State.
The hon. Gentleman informed the House that there were 40 quangos in 1979. Why did the Wales for the Assembly Campaign in 1979 claim that there were 100 during the referendum on devolution?
It depends how one defines quangos, but I have quoted the official figures. There is now a new elite of 1,400 place men and women in those "quangia" who are responsible for administering services that were previously accountable either to Members of Parliament or to local councils. Those "quangia" control budgets of well over £2 billion—almost the same as the entire local government budget in Wales.
As privatisation, opting out, contracting-out and market testing are driven through remorselessly, almost every public service will be run by a quango or a private company. Members of such "quangia" are in some cases paid more money for a couple of days work in a month than a nurse or a postman earns in an entire year. 'That is destroying the whole principle of democratic government. National government is being hived off into hundreds of different agencies and local council work sub-contracted to private operators or opted-out boards. The whole civic structure is decomposing.