Orders of the Day — Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 17 January 1994.

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Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

I have not selected the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh), but no doubt its content will arise during the debate.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale 3:45, 17 January 1994

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Today's debate marks a major staging post in the long journey towards the reform of local government in Scotland. It is right that the journey should be a long one, for the reform of Scottish local government is a major undertaking, which will have far-reaching implications for the people of Scotland. That is why the Government have, over the past three years, carried out the most thorough preparation, research and consultation before laying the Bill before the House.

There have been two major consultation papers on the structure now proposed, followed by a White Paper. There have been further consultation papers, on internal management, tourism, water and sewerage, the children's reporter service, and costs, and the issues have been extensively debated on the Floor of the House and in the Scottish Grand Committee. Now we have the opportunity for further thorough debate as we take our reform proposals through Parliament and make them a reality. All that is as it should be.

Local government plays a unique and vital part in the political, democratic and administrative life of Scotland. As a provider—or, increasingly, as an organiser—of services, local government touches the lives of all of us, having responsibility for many key services, including education, social work, housing and many more on which the quality of people's lives depends.

In democratic terms, local government provides a local focus for people's wishes, needs and aspirations. It is also Scotland's largest employer, employing more than a quarter of a million people and it is responsible for current expenditure approaching £6·5 billion per annum, and capital expenditure of about £1·5 billion. That works out at about £1,800 of total expenditure for every man, woman and child in the country.

It is essential that an institution of this size, importance and cost should be structured in such a way as to allow it to carry out its functions with the maximum efficiency and effectiveness, and in such a way as to provide Scotland with a source of robust and relevant local democracy. That is why we are debating this Bill today.

Over the years, the role of local government has inevitably changed as the world around it has moved on. Periodically, it has also been necessary to restructure local government to ensure that it has remained in a position effectively to fulfil its role. Experience clearly shows, however, that the timing of any restructuring is vital. Synchronising the change with the changing external environment is essential if local government is not to fall behind the times and become seriously damaged as a result.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

Has the Secretary of State considered whether the gerrymandering proposed in the Bill is worse than the accusations of gerrymandering in Westminster? Lady Porter is accused of gerrymandering only a single council, whereas the Secretary of State is proposing to gerrymander an entire country.

Can the Secretary of State honestly tell the House that he would have been happy if the leaders of any of the other political parties in Scotland had had the right or the desire to draw their own boundary lines on a local government map of Scotland? Would he have been happy with that process?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's charge, and I look forward to debating such matters further with him in Committee.

In 1975, the change came too late. The old local government system had reached a parlous state, and the result was that momentum was lost in key services for a number of years on either side of the reform process. There was a widespread recognition of the need for major surgery. It was not for nothing that the very first words of Lord Wheatley's report were: something is seriously wrong with local government in Scotland".

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I would like to make a little progress first; then I will happily give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The evidence is now plainly there that, despite the Wheatley reform, something is still seriously wrong with local government in Scotland. From the time when the two-tier system was first conceived, its long-term validity was called into question. Reporting in 1969, the Wheatley commission, while ultimately recommending a two-tier system, acknowledged that an all-purpose system has obvious advantages. It is simple to understand and to operate … The problems … of ensuring that functions which go together can be properly co-ordinated with one another simply do not arise, because all services are under one authority". Those are prophetic words. Reporting in January 1981, the Stodart committee of inquiry into local government in Scotland—on which the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) served—considered existing arrangements less than six years after the introduction of the two-tier system, and found a great deal of dissatisfaction with it, particularly among local authorities.

The extent of dissatisfaction among local authorities led Stodart to state in his report: We must take note of this early stage in our Report of the substantial body of opinion—not least among some local authorities—which maintains the belief that only the creation of all or at least most purpose authorities throughout the country will produce a wholly satisfactory system of local government.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Is not the Secretary of State aware of the concern that some of the smaller local authorities that he proposes to set up will not be able to provide the full range of services in, for example, education and social work? A profusion of quangos and local boards will inevitably result from his proposal, which will be expensive and will not provide services efficiently. That is a heavy price to pay simply for the sake of creating a few Tory-controlled councils.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

It is right that, if a small local authority may not be able to provide all services at its own hand, it should have access to a neighbouring authority that can assist it. The structure that we are contemplating should enable us to do that.

In his report, Lord Wheatley said, on precisely the matter raised by the hon. Gentleman: Such a large area"— referring to Strathclyde— would offer no educational advantages; it would be administratively unwieldy; and it would raise the question whether, with one education authority covering almost half the population of Scotland, it was really worth while to have local education authorities at all. Clearly, therefore, there was anxiety when the present regional structure was set up that education would be handled at too high a level and by authorities that were too large.

Photo of John Home Robertson John Home Robertson , East Lothian

The Secretary of State is talking about small authorities. Has he grasped the fact that the smallest authority that he is proposing, to be named East Lothian and Berwickshire, is not wanted by either the people of East Lothian or those of Berwickshire? Can we hope to hear of any concession on that, in view of the overwhelming feeling of the people of East Lothian and Berwickshire that they do not want that type of authority?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill contains a map that is largely unchanged from that in the White Paper, although there is a change affecting Prestonpans, with which the hon. Gentleman will be familiar. I look forward to debating those borders in Committee.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I must make a little progress; then I shall happily give way again.

The issues referred to by both Lord Wheatley and later by Stodart have not gone away over the years, and that is little wonder, for the problems endemic within the present structure are profound. The division of responsibilities within the tiers of the current structure is arbitrary, in some cases it is bizarre, and in many sectors it is far from clear. Not only is the consumer of local services confused; the services that he or she consumes are not delivered as efficiently or as effectively as they should be.

Beneath its inflated rhetoric, the Labour party has often highlighted the shortcomings of the present two-tier system and the potential for a single-tier structure to remedy them. In its policy document, published in 1990, the Scottish Labour party said: The continuing widespread confusion about what tier carries out what functions undermines accountability. All-purpose councils facilitate the move to an integrated approach to service provision and also decentralisation through a local one-door approach … I absolutely agree with those sentiments.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. I wonder whether he can help me. Representatives of Cunninghame district council, including the chief executive Mr. Bernard Devine, have been quoted locally as saying that the Secretary of State has ruled out an all-Ayrshire option. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State is shaking his head.

Yet the Minister of State told a deputation that I took to see him from Cumnock and Doon Valley and Kyle and Carrick that the Government would consider all possible options—including the all-Ayrshire option—in Committee and has also said so publicly since. Will the Secretary of State put it on record that all options, including the all-Ayrshire option, can be considered by the Government and by hon. Members in Committee and on Report?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that all options for boundary changes can be considered in Committee—that is what that stage is about. I recall that the original recommendations of the Wheatley commission were for fewer than 50 local authorities, but we ended up with 65, and quite a different map from the one it suggested.

I am talking about the advantages of a single tier. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman emphasised his view in the House as recently as the debate on the Loyal Address, and that he is among those on both sides of the House who see merit in a single-tier structure.

Photo of Menzies Campbell Menzies Campbell Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

The Secretary of State's references to Lord Wheatley are particularly apposite. If he is so confident of the virtues of the scheme he is proposing, why has he not established an independent commission, like the Wheatley commission, to judge the merits of his proposals?

Similarly, if the right hon. Gentleman is pleased with the nature of consultation that has been afforded, why have the Government rejected the responses in East Lothian and north-east Fife, for example, where people have rejected the very proposals that he is seeking to persuade the House about because they do not regard them as an appropriate way to deal with the problems that he has identified?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

As I have already explained, the Wheatley commission did not lead to the detail that ended up in the reform carried out in the early 1970s, which departed substantially from what that commission had recommended. Nor do I see any evidence of widespread support and enthusiasm for some of the commission's recommendations south of the border. In 1975, we upgraded the structure of our local authority system to an extent that reduced 426 authorities to 65, and we created a much more coherent structure than that which existed south of the border, so the work is largely done.

As far as the proposals for Fife, the Borders or any other part of Scotland are concerned, the hon. and learned Gentleman will have heard what I said to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

No, I must make a little more progress; then I shall no doubt end up by giving way again.

The commitment to a single tier of local government is generally agreed by all parties, and was included in their election manifestos. What is surprising is how quickly the Opposition parties have reneged on their election promises. However, the present system is flawed and is acknowledged to be so—even by Opposition Members—and those flaws are wide-ranging.

The system that we have today is unduly and unnecessarily expensive. On the mainland of Scotland, we have a superstructure of 53 districts and nine regions. Over the years, with many changes to the pattern of service delivery, the role of many districts has become inadequate and the scale of the unnecessary expense incurred in maintaining two tiers of local government has become more apparent.

For example, since 1979, as many as a quarter of Scotland's council houses have been sold to their tenants, yet the number of staff employed by local authorities to provide housing services has actually increased in the same period by as much as two thirds, instead of reducing proportionately, We can no longer afford to burden Scotland with a system that produces such nonsense as that. Nor can we allow Scotland to continue to be burdened with a system of local government that is ineffective, unaccountable and shrouded in apathy.

With two councils for each area of Scotland, there is a weak democratic link between the councils and their communities. One of the malign effects of the two-tier structure has been to blur the identity of authorities in the eyes of the public. It has made councils less accountable and voters more apathetic—the turnout at local elections has been pathetic.

Photo of Mr Tony Worthington Mr Tony Worthington , Clydebank and Milngavie

If the Secretary of State were setting up a single-tier system within Scotland, there would be a great deal of agreement among hon. Members on all sides of the House. The Secretary of State is being extremely disingenuous, however, because he is withdrawing major services from local councils and local accountability and giving them to placemen.

Is it not simply dishonest for the Secretary of State to pretend that he is setting up a single-tier authority when he is taking water and sewerage away from local authorities, when he is taking the police away, when the reporters department is being taken away and when the further education system has been taken away already? That is not a single-tier system; it is a multi-layer mess.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am afraid that it is the hon. Gentleman's understanding of the position that is a multi-layer mess, as he will discover if he comes on the Committee and takes part in the debates about what we propose.

Against the background that I have described, it would be wrong to delay a restructuring exercise when all the evidence from all sides points to the need for one. Lord Wheatley's commission—I will quote from it again—recognised the need when he said: evidence from all sides convinces us that the structure of local government cannot afford to remain static". In 1975, reform had been put off for far too long. To allow that to happen again—by failing to take account of change and to anticipate change in the future—would be a serious dereliction of duty by Government. It would also render a major disservice to local government and those people who use its services. The Bill tackles the flaws that so obviously exist and puts local government on a more effective footing from which to carry out its various functions.

Photo of Mr Robert Maclennan Mr Robert Maclennan , Caithness and Sutherland

Does the Minister recognise that one thing which has not changed since the last reform of local government is the size and extent of the Highland region, and the fact that local government cannot by any test be regarded as local if it covers half the land mass of Scotland? Does he recognise that it is regarded by business men, at least in the Caithness and Sutherland chamber of commerce and others, as being inimical to their economic interests to seek to govern at local level the half of Scotland that is based and centred upon Inverness?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

the hon. Gentleman has a point of view which he expresses clearly, but some of his hon. Friends do not hold the same view. Under the decentralisation that we propose, all those services—the vast majority of local services in the Highlands came before from the Highland Region—will now come again from a Highland council, but they will be decentralised in a way which will lead to a much closer link administratively between the council and its local areas. The existing Highland regional council is already doing a great deal of work in preparation for that.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

No; I must make further progress. I will give way later.

I do not propose today to use up the House's time in describing at length all the provisions of the Bill. With 169 clauses, it obviously includes a great deal of detail, which we will, I hope, debate thoroughly in Committee. I would, however, like to spend a few moments on the principles which underpin our proposals for local government and for water.

Taking local government first, I have already touched on the support which many commentators have given to single-tier local government over the years. However, I think that it is important to reiterate exactly the three key objectives of the single-tier structure proposed in the Bill.

First, we want local councils to be strong, and, in local government, strength comes from being accountable. The ability of the public to call their local authority to account—through the ballot box or otherwise—will be improved beyond recognition where all local government responsibilities rest with a single council in an area. More accountable local government means more powerful local government.

Secondly, we want the delivery of local services to be improved. The fact that one organisation will have responsibility for the full range of services will be a major step forward on service delivery. The benefits of having social work and housing brought under one roof are well known and much anticipated, but many other areas of policy, such as leisure and recreation and education, environmental health and trading standards, will benefit from a single-tier structure.

Thirdly, we want a less bureaucratic, more flexible and efficient structure of local government. The rationalisation of local government outlined in the Bill will soon start to yield savings—savings which cannot be ignored. That has been confirmed by every submission that we have received from a local authority on the matter, and Professor Percy, chairman of the independent organisation the Local Authority Accounts Commission, stated: In our view, the unitary authority structure favoured by the Government's White Paper on Local Government Reform provides a better way of delivering that service. We believe reform will be effective in the long term, and in the short term, once the legislation is through, all of us must get down to making it work.

Photo of John McAllion John McAllion , Dundee East

The Secretary of State mentioned the importance of having a single lead authority in charge of the various functions that will be given to local authorities. He knows that he has just embarked on an ambitious care in the community policy. He has placed the social work departments of regional councils, such as the social work department of Tayside regional council, as the lead authorities in charge of that policy.

The proposed reform will create three different social work departments in the Tayside region. Which of those will be the lead authority in implementing care in the community? Instead of making the system clearer and more accountable, the Secretary of State is taking steps that will make it far less accountable. It will be far less clear who is in charge, who will implement the policy and who will be responsible if it does not work.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to a very important policy which we have devolved from central Government to local authorities—care in the community. The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his understanding of the position on social work, and in his conclusion. The benefit of having social work handled in one unitary authority is that it will be possible to interrelate action on the social work side with action on the housing side. One of the strongest criticisms of the bizarre relationship between the top tier and the bottom tier of the present system concerns the lack of co-ordination between housing policy and social work policy.

Photo of Charles Kennedy Charles Kennedy Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), will the Secretary of State clarify how any of the principles that he has just enunciated can be realised in the context of the highlands? The principles will be rendered null and void as a result of the size of the area.

Will he confirm that Touche Ross based its estimates on average council sizes of 60? That would be a reduction of two thirds in the number of councillors that the Highland region has at present. If the figure is increased to anything resembling the reckonings in the White Paper, there would be more than 130 councillors, which would be more than Strathclyde has at the moment. The Prime Minister described that regional council as a monstrosity. The right hon. Gentleman's proposal is a complete illogicality.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The Highland region will still have only a little more than 200,000 people in it. Of course it is a geographically large area, but everyone recognises that Sutherland, for example, with a population of 15,000 or 16,000, could not constitute a single authority in itself, although it might do geographically. I know that the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends disagree on the detail of what the Highland region should look like. Our proposal will give the most efficient, the most accountable and the strongest local government that we can create for that very important part of Scotland.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat Chief Whip

It is obvious from the interventions that the Secretary of State has already accepted that the most burning issue in the minds of most hon. Members is the boundary map at the end of the process—[Interruption.] What does the rest of his speech contain? I hope that he will take time to set out exactly how the Committee stage and the subsequent stages in the House of Lords will arrive at the final boundaries.

Is the Secretary of State aware, for example, that there is now a unitary alternative for south-east Scotland, the Lothians and the Borders? It has been proposed that West Lothian should be a free-standing unitary authority, and that Midlothian and East Lothian should be put together. That would leave Berwickshire in the Borders region, where it belongs. Will the Secretary of State tell the House on Second Reading exactly how he anticipates that these questions, which are vital for hon. Members, will be resolved during the passage of the Bill?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The hon. Gentleman has served on many Committees, and he knows the form. The boundaries are dealt with at an early stage of the Bill. I expect that a Back Bencher, perhaps the hon. Gentleman, will table amendments affecting precisely the areas on which he has just touched. That will enable the Committee to debate the matter and to reach a conclusion. Thereafter, there will be a chance to return to these matters on Report. The Bill then goes to the House of Lords and back to the Commons if necessary.

We have every opportunity. I look forward to debating these issues, because I acknowledge that the borders and boundaries are important. Scottish National party Members showed clearly during the hon. Gentleman's intervention that not everyone shares his view that those issues are the most important.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

If the Secretary of State believes that his Government are proposing the new, democratic way forward for councils in Scotland, why does he not acknowledge that the proposals for East Renfrewshire council have been utterly rejected by the people? In a democratic vote, 82 per cent. of the people in Ralfston rejected them, 91 per cent. voted against them in Dykebarr and 78 per cent. rejected them in Barrhead, Neilston and Uplawmoor. Those figures are in an official document from Renfrewshire district council. If the Secretary of State is determined to have genuine democracy, should he not listen to the people?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to debate that matter further as the Bill progresses.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

I look forward to that.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

Yes, I look forward to it, too.

I recognise that there are concerns about change to a single-tier structure that are signalled in the Bill. I fully acknowledge that there will be a measure of disruption during the transitional period. That is not in itself a reason for not proceeding with the reform. Just because something involves change, it is not an excuse for shying away from it.

It is the Government's view, backed by many in local government, that the transition is a perfectly manageable process, and that, with early and committed action by local government, the disruption can be minimised. I have no doubt that, given the professionalism of many local government staff, the hurdles which will undoubtedly emerge can be successfully negotiated without undue disturbance to the delivery of services.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

Who did the Secretary of State have in mind when he referred to the many in local government who back his proposals?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am referring to many people in local government at official level and at elected level, to all the submissions that we have received from local government, to all the delegations that have been led by Members of both sides of the House who have been to see myself and my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Planning. The hon. Gentleman will discover, as the Bill progresses, that there is widespread support for single tier—an issue on which his party fought the election on a manifesto that contained such a commitment.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

May I urge my right hon. Friend not to name as requested by Opposition Members all the people who have communicated support for his excellent proposals? Please do not name those people, because many of us want to speak during the debate.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I believe that quite a lot of the names are already available in the House of Commons Library. We have published our reports on the submissions that we have had in the response to the first consultation paper.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I really must make some progress. This is an important debate, and I have a lot to say to the House.

A number of provisions have been included in the Bill specifically to aid the transition process. They include clauses that provide for the appointment of a staff commission—clause 12—which allow the establishment of one or one or more residuary bodies—clause 18—and of a property commission—clause 19. The clauses relating to staff and property transfers have all been drafted to allow local government the maximum flexibility in determining the most appropriate arrangements.

Dwelling for a moment on those provisions, we are fully aware that local government staff represent authorities' most valuable resource, and the Government are concerned to mininise the disruption that staff may face. The great majority of staff, of course, will simply transfer to the new authorities on their existing terms and conditions. We shall be considering carefully over the months, hopefully in discussion with local government and staff interests—if they are prepared to talk to us about the interests of their staff—the arrangements which will apply to those staff for whom there will not be an automatic right of transfer. The staff commission will also have a role to play once its members are appointed, and we will listen carefully to what they have to say.

Still on the question of facilitating the transition, clauses 55 and 56 provide respectively for the provision of information from the old authorities to the new authorities and for the establishment by existing authorities of joint working committees to prepare for the effective operation of the new authorities.

It is therefore ironic that, while the Government have taken considerable steps to assist local government in managing the transitional period, and will continue to do so, the very organisation which was established to assist and represent local government—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities—has chosen to adopt the posture of the ostrich, bury its head in the sand and be as obstructive as possible. Its attitude is short-sighted, short-term and ultimately damaging, not only to local government, but to staff and those who most depend on its services.

I should like to take the opportunity of today's debate to call on COSLA to decide at its meeting on Friday to call off the policy of non co-operation, in the interests of good local government and the people of Scotland. I know that it is difficult for it to admit how seriously it has miscalculated, and that it must regret its short-sighted posturing and the way in which it has split its members and paralysed its own organisation.

Its policy has failed, but it is time to look forward, not back. I for one shall not seek to make any political capital from—[Interruption.]—no political capital at all from COSLA's climbdown, whenever it comes. I hope that Opposition Members will urge it, as I shall, to get it over and done with, and to do it now.

Inevitably, some concerns have been expressed, and I do not dismiss them, but, again, the Government's task is to distinguish them from the often ill-thought-out and generalised protectionism that argues only that the present system is perfect and that any change must by definition be detrimental. I find such arguments deeply unconvincing. They are not arguments to which the forward thinkers in local government subscribe. They frequently seem bound up with the self-preservation of those who articulate them and find little support among other authorities that are thinking seriously about how to deliver efficient and effective services after reorganisation.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

The Minister began by saying that he believed in a local focus and local democracy. Why, therefore, is he creating three giant water boards that are neither local nor democratic? As a Cabinet Minister, he voted in favour of a £7 billion green dowry to English water authorities. Will a similar green dowry be given to Scottish water boards, or does he believe only in putting public money in private pockets?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The hon. Gentleman will remember that some adjustment was made to the finances of the Scottish Office when the changes were made in England. I shall deal with the water industry shortly.

I was mentioning authorities that are looking imaginatively at alternative means of service delivery and are investigating the possibility of co-operation among authorities and between authorities and the private sector. The Bill contains much to encourage authorities to adopt new approaches to service delivery in a range of areas.

Of particular importance is clause 57, which clarifies the legislation in relation to the ability of local authorities to trade with and provide services on behalf of each other. As the Scottish Labour party has said: All-purpose authorities assist the development of local government as an enabling co-ordinator at the centre of a network of providing agencies … Local authorities should be able to develop their enabling role, frequently acting as the commissioning agency rather than the direct provider of services". Again, I wholeheartedly welcome its conversion to our way of thinking.

Part II provides for the setting up of the three new public water and sewerage authorities and the customer protection body heralded in the White Paper. The first 10 clauses of part II and schedules 7, 8 and 9 establish these new bodies and set out their duties, powers and constitutions.

The new structure that will be put in place for the delivery of those vital services will achieve two crucial objectives. It will make maximum use of existing resources through economies of scale, and it will deliver necessary new resources on the best terms possible.

The backdrop to restructuring was described in detail in the consultation paper. The requirements to maintain and renew existing infrastructure and to build new plant to cope with quality obligations are well known and widely accepted and they carry a projected price tag of some £5 billion over the next 10 to 15 years. The challenge outlined in the consultation paper was how to sustain this scale of capital programme without an intolerable cost falling on Scottish customers.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

The Secretary of State spoke earlier of the importance of accountability through the ballot box. At present, members of water authorities in Scotland are directly accountable through the ballot box. How many of them will be under the proposals in this rotten legislation?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

Water authorities will be accountable to me as Secretary of State and, through me, to Parliament. If we were not to make this change and there were to be 28 water authorities, with widely diverging costs for water and sewerage, people would take a pretty poor view of their local authority's handling of their interests if they had to pay almost twice as much for their water.

I believe that the proposals in the Bill meet the challenge that we have set. They acknowledge the strength of feeling expressed in the consultation that services should remain in public hands and, at the same time, promote partnership with the private sector for the ultimate benefit of the customer.

Under the Government's private finance initiative, I look to those new public authorities actively to form partnerships with the private sector to provide the new treatment works and other investment that is required. This will happen without the public purse taking the strain. The authorities themselves, however, will remain public authorities directly answerable to the Secretary of State, and through me to the House.

I call attention in particular to the provisions establishing the customers council. This will be a powerful voice on behalf of the consumer and will exercise a particular role in the setting of charges as well as monitoring service standards. The council will ensure that full expression is given to the principles of the citizens charter in the operation of the restructured services. These proposals are designed to deliver the most efficient and most cost-effective water and sewerage services possible.

Restructuring was inevitable as a consequence of local government reform, and it has afforded us the opportunity to align water and sewerage services to the demands of the future. The status quo was never a realistic option. Twelve authorities currently deliver services, but multiplying this number to 28 makes no economic sense. We have produced sensible measures in response to circumstances, and we shall vigorously defend them in Committee.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Secretary of State said that the new boards will be accountable through him to the House. Will he assure the House that, when hon. Members table questions to him, he will answer those specific questions in this House and not duck out and pass them back to bodies that are not directly accountable? Will he answer direct questions put to him directly in this House?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

We shall answer questions in the same way that we answer them in relation to other comparable bodies. We shall remain accountable in respect of the water authorities as we do with the other bodies.

The Bill represents a comprehensive and concerted attempt to address the need for local government reform. However, the Opposition are so busy facing Janus-like in both directions that they seem unwilling to face up to any of the real issues. I hope that those on the Opposition Front Bench will today clarify where they stand.

In the general election, the Opposition supported reform and talked of "powerful, new single-tier authorities." Yet in last November's debate on the Gracious Speech, they claimed that reform was "completely unwanted, totally unnecessary." Which do they really believe?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in the hope that he might answer that question.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

I will answer that question if the Secretary of State answers a question that I put to him honestly and directly. Because of the Bill's complexity and its implications for every citizen in Scotland, should not the Secretary of State refer it to a Special Standing Committee by way of Standing Order No. 91?

By that means, now that the Bill has been published, at least those people who are deeply concerned about the Bill and its implications would have the opportunity to express their concerns, which have been expressed to me over and over again in Inverclyde. Will the Secretary of State refer the Bill to a Special Standing Committee, which would allow interested parties to be cross-examined by hon. Members?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

No, we will not, because we have already had nearly three years of consultation on the reform of local government in Scotland. We have had more consultation papers, more submissions, more meetings with local authorities and delegations and others, and more debate in this House on these measures than on any that I can remember in my entire time in Parliament. The people of Scotland now want us to reach a decision.

From representations that we have received from many Opposition Members, I know their views and how keen many of them are to move on to implement single-tier authorities. However, I want to know more about the Labour party's position.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

No, I will not give way at the moment.

On the one hand, the Opposition call for "powerful, new single-tier authorities", while on the other they claim that they are "completely unwanted, totally unnecessary." They claim that our reforms would strip powers from local authorities. However, the only substantial service that we are transferring, to other public authorities, is that of water and sewerage.

As I have pointed out, we recently transferred the very important community care service to local authorities. Yet Labour seems to be prepared to contemplate reforming local authorities only if it also sets up a Scottish Parliament —and where would such a Parliament draw its powers but from local government? In the shadow of a Scottish Parliament, local government would be a very sadly diminished institution, whether of one tier or two.

Then there are the costs of reform. We have made our position clear. There will be initial costs which we calculate at less than £50 million net over the first three years and for which we are providing additional resources. Thereafter, net savings will grow and will continue year after year, reaching as much as £1 billion within 15 years. As the main costs are for redundancies, the higher the initial costs turn out to be the higher must be the subsequent savings.

Of course, as it is decisions by the new authorities that will decide the precise figures, we cannot be exact about them at this stage. However, nor can anyone else. But it is interesting how different perspectives lead to different interpretations of the figures.

Where authorities—especially Labour-controlled authorities—are making a case for their own retention under the new structure, our figures are suddenly presented as pessimistic—over-estimating costs and under-estimating savings. Only once the element of self-interest is removed, where the motivation is to discredit the reform process, are our figures portrayed as optimistic. All that leads me to believe that our figures are about right.

The hon. Member for Hamilton and his number-crunching friend the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) are all over the place on costs. On 8 November, the Scottish Labour party published a briefing paper which said that local government reorganisation would cost £200 million. Three weeks later, in The Herald, the hon. Member for Hamilnton said that local government reform would cost at least £500 million. That is a rate of inflation which even the previous Labour Government did not surpass. It would also make nonsense of anything that the Labour party had to say about the costs of local government reform.

There is a curiosity at the heart of the costs debate. In the Labour party manifesto, which provided for the establishment of single-tier councils, there were no reservations about the costs of reform. Nor have we at any stage subsequently heard any mention of the cost factor in the Opposition's proposals, whether those proposals are just to restructure local government or to set up a Scottish Parliament as well. Yet, oddly, the Government's proposals are, once again to quote the hon. Member for Hamilnton, "extremely costly".

I would be very interested to know what it is that is likely to differentiate the costs of the Government's proposals from those of the Labour party. The only significant difference that I can think of is that, under our proposals, the taxpayer will not be obliged to bear the costs of the establishment and maintenance of a Scottish Parliament. In all other respects, I would welcome an explanation from the hon. Member for Hamilnton how a policy which, in his hands, is a manifesto commitment, suddenly, when implemented by the Government, becomes "extremely expensive".

There are, therefore, inherent and fundamental weaknesses in the Opposition's case, which they must address if they are to present a credible case to the people of Scotland. On the one hand, they argue that reform is too costly, while on the other they are themselves committed to a concept of single-tier local government and, in addition, a Scottish Parliament.

They cannot argue that the status quo is an option, if they hold to their earlier manifesto pledge to create "powerful, single-tier authorities". They cannot hold to their manifesto pledge if they claim, as they do, that the reform is "completely unwanted" and "totally unnecessary". I expect that we shall listen in vain today for some straight talking on that matter from the hon. Member for Hamilton.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

I refer the Secretary of State to the most important phrase that he has used so far. On costs, he said that the matter becomes clear only when "the element of self-interest" is removed. Does he not understand that, on such an important issue for the people of Scotland—the tier of government which is nearest to them, which is probably more sympathetic and which is less bureaucratic than any other—it is precisely the self-interest of the Tory party in conducting the investigation and consultation that is at issue?

Does he not understand that, when a party refuses not only an independent commission, like the Wheatley commission, but even a semblance of independence under a Standing Committee, the people of Scotland have every reason to doubt the objectivity of the exercise that has been carried out? Would it not be better to follow the strictures that the Secretary of State imposed on others, and remove his own self-interest, that of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) and that of his party? He might then have a shred of legitimacy in his proposals.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

Since the Opposition fought the last election promising single-tier local government and they now regard it as expensive, unwarranted and totally unnecessary, it is the objectivity of the Labour party that is called into question.

Against the unprincipled and ill-thought-out position of the Labour party, one thing stands out: the Government have acknowledged the problem with the present local government structure. We have defined the problem and we have had the courage to tackle it. The proposals represent a comprehensive and cohesive attempt to get to the root of the structural problems which are currently inhibiting local government.

I fully expect the Bill to be thoroughly debated, and rightly so. I can assure Opposition Members that we will listen carefully to all the arguments that are presented as it passes through all its stages, but I will do so alert to the weaknesses of the Opposition's case and their failure to present a credible alternative.

We want to get back to basics in local government. While opposition parties offer only double-talk on single-tier, we want to get on with this much-needed reform. We want local authorities that are local. We want local authorities that have authority. We want local councillors who are at last able to perform the complete function of local councillors. We want local authorities and councillors who can ensure the coherent and efficient provision of all local services in their area. In that way, we shall help to restore a true sense of local community and local identity and give a new impetus to the growth of strong local democracy.

The Bill will achieve those objectives, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State 4:29, 17 January 1994

Over the weekend, I began to wonder exactly how much trouble the Prime Minister was in with his "back to basics" policy. We heard the Secretary of State for Scotland repeat the phrase "back to basics" this afternoon. Yesterday, when I read the Sunday newspaper that said that only the Secretaries of State for Scotland and for Health supported the Prime Minister in his "back to basics" campaign, I realised exactly how deep a hole the Prime Minister is in.

This is a bad Bill. It is bad for Scotland, bad for democracy and bad for local government. It is even bad for the Government, who are apparently in their death throes. The Bill does nothing for the people of Scotland. It will do much harm to them and to their lives. Once it has done that, the people will pay for it with poorer services and the disruption and confusion of local government. They will then pay again through their pockets. The Bill will be an expensive fiasco.

This reorganisation will be paid for by higher taxes. At the last election, the Government said that they would lower taxes. Higher taxes than we expected will be imposed by those who promised lower taxes but who instead give us higher taxes with every month that passes.

This is a wholly unwanted and unnecessary reorganisation, and it will be costly.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

As the hon. Gentleman seems to be trying to climb the ladder of progress in a party that is declining, I will give way.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

If this reorganisation is unwanted and unnecessary, can the hon. Gentleman explain why, on "Scottish Lobby" on 11 December 1993 he said: The current structure could benefit from a review—a major review"? What is it that he now thinks is unnecessary in the way of a review?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

The hon. Gentleman—I hope that this will help his career—precisely makes the point. We want a review. A review is necessary. If a review concludes that changes are needed in local government in Scotland, that is something that the House should properly consider, not this gerrymandering mess dreamed up by a few individuals in the Scottish Office. No independent review has been undertaken. No royal commission has been ordered which would allow the people of Scotland to give their views and to have them considered.

This reorganisation will be a distraction. It will drive a wedge between the people and those who govern them. It will reduce accountability and increase the rule by that spreading unelected, unresponsive Tory phenomenon—the crony-stuffed quango. It will dramatically centralise power in St. Andrew's house and increase the dead weight of bureaucracy. It is an attack on democracy. Ministers who started by proclaiming it now ignore it. They started by boasting about it, but they will scarcely defend it in public now.

It is just like the poll tax. Not long ago, the Secretary of State defended and proclaimed the poll tax, which came out of the same stable of crazy ideas. A so-called reform of local government was supposed to be the efficient, cost-effective answer to that continuing rebuff to Conservative pride in Scotland, the elected Labour council, but it is now the neglected child of the Government's legislative programme; it has been locked away in a dark room and is now a source of acute embarrassment. Rightfully and justly, the Government are ashamed of this legislation.

The Government cannot walk away from the consequence of their continual self-serving meddling with the institutions of democracy in Scotland. Twist them as they will—bend, break and remould them as they will try to do—at the end of it all is the ballot box, and the Government cannot and will not escape the message which will come from that.

On 5 May this year, there will be ballot boxes all across Scotland and people will have the choice: they will give their verdict on this shoddy, politically corrupt, anti-democratic, wasteful and irrelevant piece of legislation, which they will assuredly reject, just as when they get the chance they will reject this rotten, sleazy and shambolic Administration as well.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

On 7 September last year, The Herald carried a report in the name of Jack McConnell, the general secretary of the Labour party in Scotland. The report said that the Labour party would be launching a national petition against the proposals the following week, which would take us up to 14 September. When was that petition handed to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State?

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

I have no doubt that the petition on local government will be presented to the Secretary of State. I was collecting signatures for it on Saturday afternoon. The petition will be large and its message substantial. The Secretary of State knows that. He has already received petitions, letters and a chorus of disapproval for what he is doing to local government in Scotland.

This is some week to be considering the Bill, as it is only four days since the word gerrymandering hit the headlines across the nation. "Unlawful, disgraceful, improper" said one headline in the Evening Standard. Those were the words used by the Westminster district auditor about a policy to sell Westminster council houses to buyers who were likely to vote Tory. What was illegal, improper and disgraceful was the spending of thousands, indeed millions, of pounds to get officers to prepare plans for what, in the words of the district auditor, was the promotion of electoral advantage". That is what the Westminster council Tories stand accused of and, if found guilty, that is what they will be surcharged £21 million for.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

Westminster is in England.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

The Minister with responsibility for local government in Scotland has suddenly discovered some brand new knowledge of geography which seemed to be absent when it came to dealing with the map of Scottish local government.

Of course, there is another ex-member of Westminster council in the Government—the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), the man who invented the poll tax and who has now departed to an English Department, as well he might.

The district auditor for Westminster, John Magill, works for Touche Ross—an organisation that the Secretary of State might recognise. The district auditor condemned the council when he found that the electoral advantage of the majority party was the driving force behind the policy". If Dame Shirty Porter ever comes back to these shores and needs some comfort before she shells out her large share of that £21 million surcharge—the amount that she and her pals squandered as they pochled votes in the Westminster city council area—let her read the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill and eat her heart out. Here it is: all that she did and more, enshrined in legislation before the House of Commons.

The District Auditor said: the council was engaged in gerrymandering which I am minded to find is a disgraceful and improper purpose. Those words should be repeated, because the Secretary of State for Scotland should be not allowed to forget their full and lasting importance. Today he rejected the accusation that the Bill involved gerrymandering. He said in the House on 14 July: That is not gerrymandering—it is a healthy strengthening of local democracy in all its diversity."—[Official Report, 14 July 1993; Vol. 228, c. 1000.] Lady Porter herself could not have put it better.

The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), should not take my word for it with regard to accusations of gerrymandering. Let them listen to the words that I quoted in the debate in November. They are the words of Councillor Brian Meek, expert columnist and authoritative sports journalist but one of Scotland's top Tories. He is a friend of the Secretary of State for Scotland and of the Defence Secretary. He is part of Scotland's Tory establishment. His words and his views must be of some consequence in Scotland.

Councillor Meek is not a Westminster city councillor. I do not think that he ever was, although his words of praise for Westminster city council in today's Herald may yet come back to haunt him. Two days before the Secretary of State for Scotland denounced the concept or the very thought that he might be gerrymandering, District Councillor Brian Meek of Edinburgh district council told Herald readers: So let us get on to 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? Why shouldn't they give an advantage to themselves—the best chance? There it is. Frank, brutal, to the point, no messing. Councillor Brian Meek of Edinburgh district council got it right. Perhaps he keeps on getting it right. Why shouldn't they? The answer to that involves the words "unlawful", "disgraceful" and "improper" in one order or another. In any Government with any shame, decency or honour left, those words would be ringing around the Cabinet room.

Does any gentle soul—for instance, the innocents among the Conservative Back Benchers about to be condemned to serving on the Standing Committee that will consider the Bill—still care to believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland is right? [HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] I have no doubt that they will read Hansard before they serve on the Standing Committee. Or perhaps they have to commit their offence before they are sentenced on Wednesday at the Committee of Selection.

Quite a selection of people's names come immediately to mind as possibilities to serve on the Standing Committee. If they read my speech in Hansard and if they believe the Secretary of State for Scotland and not me, let them look at Ayrshire. Let them marvel at the unique cartography that carved Conservative Kyle and Carrick out of that ancient county. Let them gaze with astonishment at the proposed East Renfrewshire council, the gyrations of which go round the Renfrewshire Tory houses and middle class enclaves close to tiny Eastwood.

In schedule 1 of the Bill, the description of each council takes a mere four or five lines. The description of East Renfrewshire takes up 49 lines—49 stricken lines in which houses, farm roads, cottages, burns and even fields are all identified in statute. It does not require the skills of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana to smell a bright blue rat in that formation.

So let any of the innocent Conservative Members of Parliament trembling at Westminster council's castigation look at the sheer imagination of the proposed Clackmannan and Falkirk council. Two distinct communities divided by the River Forth and connected only by a bridge are to be carved out artificially and unwillingly from the kingdom of Fife.

Let the Secretary of State, wriggling away as he is from the charge of gerrymandering, explain the separation of Conservative Helensburgh from—[Interruption.] I can tell the Secretary of State's Parliamentary Private Secretary what page it is on. It is on page 117—[Interruption.] I see that the PPS has now been briefed and is reading the page. He should probably telephone the occupants of Nos. 52 to 50 Ben Wyvis drive and check whether they intend to vote the right way so that the appropriate amendment can be moved in Committee, if necessary. No doubt the Secretary of State would look forward to debating that in Committee.

Let Conservative Members consider the separation of Conservative Helensburgh from Dumbarton or the ludicrous and perverse Balerno corridor, which links West Lothian to Midlothian and East Lothian. Let the Under-Secretary of State explain the removal of Berwickshire from the Borders. Let him say how that nonsense can be described, as the Secretary of State did, as creating areas where there is "an established identity."

Westhill into Aberdeen; Monifieth and Invergowrie out of Dundee; Stirling and its knife-edge Toryness preserved like some South African homeland—it is the most crudely and shamelessly gerrymandered map of local government that Britain has seen this century. Here in all its nakedness is the real reason for the Bill, for this unwanted butchery of Scottish local government. It is a cynical promotion of electoral advantage, to use the words of the Westminster district auditor.

The Scotsman puts it well in its new year editorial. It said that 1993's nadir came with the deliverance of a shamelessly manipulated local authority map that spoke eloquently of an administration grown too comfortable with the insolence of office. "Unlawful, improper, disgraceful": let those words haunt those who would put gerrymandering into the law of Scotland.

I have dwelt for some time on the clear partisan motivation behind the Bill because I believe that it represents an outrage and an offence to our elementary democratic standards. Yet the faults of the legislation are not confined to the partisan manipulation of the local political map of Scotland. I would make a further point. It is a serious one filled with consequences for the House. The gerrymandering ambitions of the Government are not confined to local boundaries.

The parliamentary Boundary Commission is redrawing the parliamentary boundaries. It has to ignore the proposed new local authority building blocks. However, the next redistribution will have to deal with the new map. To seek to manipulate the political geography of Scottish local government is offensive enough. But it is easy to see that the party of Dame Shirley Porter and Lady Thatcher has a much more sinister long-term objective to sort out the parliamentary boundaries of Scotland as a whole. That kind of chicanery will be seen even by the faithful in Scotland as unforgivable and unsuccessful.

As for cost, on which the Secretary of State for Scotland is so defensive, we are told that the justification for the Bill is that the reorganisation of local government will save money. A brand new set of statistics has been delivered to the House this afternoon to prove that crazy point. As we know, the Government have no clue about the cost of what they are doing. Frankly, they care even less. They do so at a point in time when in a few weeks they will ask the people of Scotland, who have extra-large heating bills, to pay VAT on those bills to sort out the financial mess in the nation's Treasury—a mess that the Government created.

The Government first produced the Touche Ross report, which showed that we would all be financially better off as a consequence of the reorganisation. It was discredited and abandoned within days. Then came new figures, which showed one-off transitional costs of between £120 million and £186 million, but alleged savings of between £22 million and £66 million annually. The Minister with responsibility for local government, the hon. Member for Eastwood, even went so far as to say: What is abundantly clear however is that the proposed reform will pay for itself within about five years and thereafter actually save money. The Secretary of State told us across the Dispatch Box of the House of Commons only five days after that article appeared that he was prepared to accept a figure of £200 million for transitional costs. As the total climbs and climbs, it is clear that the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary of State and all the rest of them do not have a clue about the cost of what they are doing.

Indeed, the Secretary of State tells us with open and unexpected candour that it is all going to be down to local authorities to make the saving that he is forecasting and which he is to tell them that they must make—as though he can now wash his hands of an exercise that is fundamental to his case, but which is profoundly embarrassing were it to be examined in depth.

The issue of who will pay is much too more important to be left to the Government's propaganda machine, which only a month ago told us of the Secretary of State's public spending triumph over the Treasury, but which then had to go into full-scale reverse when Sir Russell Hillhouse's memorandum told us the truth of that triumph.

In November, I showed quite soberly and accurately how the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy, the most authoritative and reliable source of financial information in local government, had proved that transitional costs could easily be as high as £500 million. There has been no convincing reply to CIPFA's case, which was made in February of last year. The chairman of the Accounts Commission, Professor Percy, whom the Secretary of State had the gall to quote earlier, had this to say in the annual report published in September: The Commission believes that there is a need for a dispassionate and professional look at the priorities and resourcing requirements of the new authorities. That is true, but the fact is that no dispassionate or professional look has been given to the whole exercise for one reason alone: Government fears about the outcome of any such investigation.

I have carefully examined all the evidence, not the guesses or the optimistic gambles, but the hard evidence of the promises and the realities behind the Government's obsessional experiments with local government—the abolition of the metropolitan counties in England, the GLC and ILEA. I have examined each one. It is an interesting exercise because, in every case, Ministers claimed that there would be huge savings, fewer people employed and lower wage bills as part of the new set-up. But in every single case, transitional costs were wildly higher than promised. It all costs money, and in no case did it save it. More people were employed than before, and wage bills were appreciably higher in all cases.

That is the solid evidence to set against the guessses, hopes and completely unconvincing forecasts of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Let me cite just one example, but nevertheless an interesting and illustrative one. Of ILEA, which was abolished in 1990, Norman Tebbit—now Lord Tebbit—said: ILEA … that overgrown, overpriced, overpolitical, underperforming monster will soon be gone, forgotten and unlamented. But after education had been put back from one single all-London authority to 13 London boroughs, what happened? In particular, the number of senior officials—administrators earning more than £20,000 a year—rose from ILEA's total of 352 to a new total of 590 in the highest paid administrative category.

Of course that is the reality. Those are the facts. That is what happens in local government. For example, consider what the Layfield report said about the previous reorganisation in Scotland and what Sir John Banham now warns about reorganisation and the review that is taking place in England and Wales. Those are realities rather than fiction. Sir John Banham warns: The reorganisation is complex. It is messy and picks apart practices developed successfully over almost 20 years. There is no way that some effortless and seamless process can be put in place to avoid the transitional costs, which were found unavoidable in every other reorganisation of local government.

The Government claimed that there would be huge savings on property, which will accrue from the sale of surplus property. But taxpayers in Scotland should be aware of how bogus that prospectus really is. Of course there will be surplus property if the regions are abolished. India street in Glasgow, Tayside house in Dundee, Viewforth in Stirling, and more, will all lose their tenants. Who on earth will buy those properties? Who will rent them? In Stirling, the vacancy in Viewforth will add 60 per cent. to vacant office space. That will be accompanied by a building bonanza in other areas as the new authorities have to build in their own locations to deal with the new functions that they will take on.

One of the saddest aspects of the whole exercise is the way in which local government services have taken second place to the ideology of reorganisation. In the White Paper, education—probably the most important local authority service of all—is dealt with in a mere 15 lines. We have not heard a single word from the Secretary of State for Scotland about education and the implications for it. Social work is disposed of in a mere 12 lines.

No explanation has been given about how education services are to be supplied when the wide range of services provided by the regions are dismantled. No information has been given to parents of children in special education facilities, about where they are to go in three years' time—only the abolition of the statutory requirement to have an education committee and a director of education. What sort of significant signal is that to the people of Scotland, from a Government who are more interested in money than in the need to maintain and improve educational standards and provision?

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Secretary of State's proposals are going to save money, because he seems to have just said that money is taking precedence over education? If that is so, he is at least accepting that we will save some money through the proposals.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

The Secretary of State for Scotland certainly claims that they will save money, but I hope that I have demonstrated and proved that that will not be the case. If the hon. Gentleman is going to climb the ladder of opportunity in the Government—there should soon be plenty of vacancies available for him to climb into—he should make better points than that if he is going to interrupt.

We get no guidance from the White Paper. We have had little guidance from Ministers, even about social work and the myriad services now threatened by the atomisation of social work authorities. Where are the words of reassurance for the voluntary sector? Why are they now left in limbo? Why is their future and transitional financing not worthy of a single comment or reassurance from the Government? There is something shoddy about the whole exercise, from the inadequacy and dishonesty of the consultative process, through the thinness of the White Paper and to the sheer lack of thinking and guidance which has followed its publication.

As a consequence of that, and to allow people in Scotland to present their views to their parliamentarians, I will seek to move at the end of the debate that, if the Bill is given a Second Reading, it is committed to a Special Standing Committee of the House so that people can make their views known—for example, about concessionary travel and concessionary travel arrangements. In Strathclyde alone, 340,000 old people and 78,000 handicapped people now face a threatened service. What about information on the problems of school catchment areas? What about the future of the trading standards service, or the regional chemist? How will they survive in this era of multiple councils?

No information has been given. There have been no background studies, no detailed planning, no conceptual frameworks. There has been nothing but the doctrinaire dash for a new gerrymandered structure, subject to no independent review. All of that, as the Accounts Commission says, is to be introduced on a ludicrously short time scale. All the time, the Government, like some demented parrot, repeat the message about the need for single-tier authorities.

Other parties recognise the benefits that might come from some single-tier councils, but never as suggested in the Bill in its ill-thought-out, gerrymandered, back-of-the-Eastwood-envelope way. A Scottish Parliament, with powers over Scottish local government, is needed more now than it ever has been to look at what Scotland's local democratic institutions should be and should do. Never before has the case for a devolved parliament been so strikingly made as by this half-baked reorganisation proposal.

The next Government, committed as they will be, to a strong Scottish Parliament, responsible for Scottish affairs, but robustly operating within the United Kingdom, will expect that parliament to look urgently at the new set-up proposed in the Bill, if it manages to get through this Parliament.

The Bill does not propose a single-tier system, except on the map. Boards, joint arrangements and quangos will litter the landscape of Scottish local government. Instructions from the Secretary of State jump out of every page of the Bill, ranging from With the approval of the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State may direct to as may be determined by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Just choose any page of the Bill to find such examples. The clammy hand of St. Andrew's house is everywhere, rendering meaningless the very idea of local democracy and accountability on which the Secretary of State has had the cheek to pronounce.

Why do the Government not stop pretending and admit that political control will not even stop at quangos, but will now deliberately reach deep into the last remaining balance to the centralising obsession of the Government—the locally elected councils of Scotland? This is the era of the quango, and the Bill is the quango charter.

The proposed three new water quangos are a better alternative to the Government's undisguised ambition to privatise Scotland's water, but none the less they still represent a foolish and unnecessary move away from genuine accountability. One opinion on the proposed set-up for water states: The present water authorities are accountable to consumers and others through the local electoral process. Restructuring will remove that accountability, which must therefore be substituted by adequate statutory safeguards for consumers and others. Are they the words of the Labour party, some disgruntled community group or members of a regional council? No. They are the words of the Scottish Landowners Federation, which has written to hon. Members about the proposal. Perhaps its opinion is surprising to some, or perhaps not, because some people in Scotland deeply believe that the creation of super-quangos is wrong for the water supply industry and Scotland. They are willing to speak out, whatever their traditional loyalties may have been.

The federation even noted: The Consumers Council, which is intended to look after the interests of consumers, will be ineffective and out of touch with local conditions unless amendments are made. The one amendment that is needed is simple and it would be effective: leave water alone.

If we needed an example of what rule by Tory quango can mean, we need look no further than the continuing cover-ups in the saga of Greater Glasgow health board. A man appointed as general manager, with the full backing of the Secretary of State and Ministers, a Tory to the hilt, was sacked after the health board was told that the Secretary of State had lost confidence in him. That dismissed man was then appointed to an unadvertised, specially created new job, on a salary of £80,000, on three conditions of which we are now aware—no talking, no suing and no cashing of a cheque for more than £40,000.

The Tory chairman of the board was then hung out to dry, to take the blame. We then found that even the top civil servant at the Scottish Office has been the subject of leaks and smears from unofficial, unattributable briefings. All the time the Secretary of State and the Minister of State apparently knew nothing, were told nothing and are blameless.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

In the past few weeks, the hon. Gentleman has been free and easy with his smears and innuendos on this matter. I understand that he has written to the Prime Minister and to Sir Robin Butler. I hope that when he gets their replies he will be as willing to seek a platform as public as this one on which to apologise for his behaviour.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

I will, of course, apologise, but I do not believe that there is anything to apologise for. I just wish that Ministers would tell the people of Scotland the truth about this affair.

In December, during Scottish questions, the Secretary of State responded to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and said: I am satisfied that Mr. Fyfe was told repeatedly that he could not and should not seek to terminate Mr. Peterken's employment and make an offer of a financial settlement to him.—[Official Report, 8 December, 1993; Vol. 234, c. 304.] On 1 December, however, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie told the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs—I was present—that on 8 July he approved an approach by the national health service executive in Scotland to the Treasury relating to a package to sever Mr. Peterken's employment with Greater Glasgow health board, which would have amounted to £185,444.

That was submitted with the knowledge and, in Lord Fraser's words, "the support" of his Department and him. The Secretary of State says that he has been assured that Mr. Fyfe was told that he could not make that submission, but in the Select Committee Lord Fraser seemed to contradict him flatly. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] We would all like to know the answers to those questions. Is Lord Fraser telling the truth? Is the Secretary of State telling the truth? The House and I will note, and, I dare say, a wider audience outside will also note, that the Secretary of State chooses not to answer those questions. The significance of that will be noted.

Why can Ministers of the Crown not take responsibility for what they knew was happening, or carry the can for what they should have known was happening, in their Department? Frankly, there seems to be no honour left in being a Minister of the Crown in the Government.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

The Secretary of State seems to suggest that he knows what Sir Robin Butler's answer will be. My hon. Friend knows that I, too, wrote to Sir Robin Butler, who characteristically replies very promptly. On this occasion, however, there has been no reply from the Secretary to the Cabinet. In those circumstances we are entitled to ask some searching questions, as my hon. Friend has done, about the role of the civil service in this matter.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

That omission disturbs me as well, because I have received no acknowledgement of a letter that the Secretary of State says he knows was received by Sir Robin Butler. I wrote to Sir Robin as head of the home civil service and I am therefore surprised that the Secretary of State—as a Cabinet Minister and a politician—should imply that he seems to know how Sir Robin will reply to me. Perhaps that further deepens the mystery that continues to surround events at Greater Glasgow health board.

This is a wretched Bill, which is of no value to anyone in Scotland, except the handful of people who see a future for the Conservatives north of the border. It follows a long line of follies perpetrated by the ideologues of Scottish conservatism. English Members and perhaps even those who represent Wales should be ware, because those same peddlers sold them the poll tax. The sales pitch was hauntingly similar to that used to sell this monstrosity.

The Government said that the poll tax would be cost-effective and fair. They sold it on the grounds of its efficiency and its power to do good for local democracy. It turned out to be an obscenity. The Opposition said just that when they floated the idea, when they introduced it and when it was transferred, after one dramatically unsuccessful year in Scotland, to England and Wales. Now everyone on the Conservative Benches knows that what we said about the poll tax was right and true, and possibly even underestimated its effects.

I warn Tory Members who see this as just another innocuous, if over-large, Bill to abolish Labour regions in Scotland to think again. A tide of anger will rise in Scotland as people grasp the enormity of the costly damage that the Bill will inflict on services, jobs, taxation arid democracy. The poll tax should have warned and wakened up the Conservative party to the madcap Scottish agenda, which rarely stops at the English border.

We shall use the Bill's progress through the House to fight a measure that is profoundly bad for Scotland and for democracy. We shall strike the first blow in the Lobbies tonight, but the real body blow will be in the ballot boxes of 1994.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. Before I call the next Member to speak, let me say that it is clear that a number of Members are anxious to contribute to the debate. If everyone makes a reasonably short speech, it should be possible to allow everyone who has so far indicated that he or she wishes to speak, to contribute.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside 5:10, 17 January 1994

I welcome the Bill. Listening to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has been most entertaining. It was quite something to see such inconsistency throughout his speech. He said that the proposals were intended purely to save money but that they were costly proposals. I hope that he will explain to his electorate and mine why he is scaremongering as usual when we are trying to achieve a more cost-effective and efficient form of local government in Scotland.

The Bill is large and detailed. I thought that it contained 167 clauses but am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State corrected me in his speech, saying that it contains 169 clauses, covering a vast array of local government matters. During the summer since the publication of the White Paper, the proposals and what they mean for my area have been discussed at length in my constituency. The Bill's general principles have been widely accepted. Although the general public in my part of the world recognise the significant benefits under the existing council structure, they seek streamlining and rationalisation of local government, and improvement in it, and good value for money in local services.

The duplication that occurs between the two tiers in the existing structure, particularly in planning, is not only confusing but aggravating to many constituents. I note at my constituency surgeries that the region often goes one way on planning and the district goes another. It is important that they go in the same direction and have a sense of purpose. The Bill clarifies and simplifies. It provides lines of responsibility within local government and a greater opportunity to act strategically.

I welcome the recognition of the clear difference between cities and rural areas. For far too long, part of the aggravation between districts and regions has occurred because cities' interests differ greatly from those of rural areas. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to introduce individual city authorities and I hope that those will come as soon as possible.

Reinforcing what my right hon. Friend said, I find it strange that we face such vehement opposition. He has already referred to the Labour party's pre-election policy document. Labour Members say that there is widespread confusion, that the functions carried out by the various tiers of local government undermine accountability and that all-purpose councils are needed. So why do they oppose the Bill? What are they scared of?

Why must their proposals for a single-tier authority be linked with an even more costly Scottish Assembly? In proposing a single-tier authority and a Scottish Assembly,, they fail to mention to the electorate, who are extremely interested in such matters. It came to light during the election campaign that they accepted that a Scottish Assembly was likely to cost the Scottish electorate at least 3p in the pound extra in taxation. The Labour party seems intent on walking away from that fact. That is a differential between north and south of the border.

The Labour party is doing the Scottish general public no service by its opposition and by urging the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities not to co-operate. Is COSLA not co-operating because it fears for jobs within local authorities? Let us face it, the Bill is about rationalisation, streamlining and providing more efficient services. Sadly, that means that certain jobs will go, as functions will be better achieved with fewer people. COSLA should direct its efforts towards the people who employ it rather than the people whom it employs. Scottish taxpayers are interested in seeing more efficient and less costly local government.

The Liberal Democrats smile happily when I discuss Labour opposition. I wonder whether they will smile when I read their 1992 Scottish manifesto—[Interruption.] I am glad to hear that they have read it. Had they done so, they might not have opposed the Bill, because it clearly said: We will: reform and strengthen local government, reducing it to a single tier. We will introduce a single-tier of local government, to deliver most of the services currently provided by districts and regions. [HON. MEMBERS: "More, more.'] I shall give Liberal Democrat Members more. The manifesto went on: This will end the confusion about who is accountable for what and bring local government effectively within the reach of the local citizens". Yet the Liberal Democrats oppose the Bill. Their manifesto clearly proposed changing to a single-tier local authority and doing all the right things but, when the Government propose a Bill, they oppose it for the sake of opposition.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat Chief Whip

The hon. Gentleman completely misses the point. He takes the view that local government is all about enabling service contract delivery and compulsory competitive tendering and reducing the role of councillors to compliance contract observation. The Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto encapsulates the idea that local democracy and local government are an essential element in the democratic process. That is the difference between the Tory party and the Opposition.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

I want to see good local services but the aspects that the hon. Gentleman mentioned do nothing to degrade local government service delivery.

Scottish National party members also smile when I discuss Labour party opposition. Mr. George Leslie, former local government convenor of the SNP, said in The Scotsman on 1 October 1992: The SNP believe that the single-tier structure will be the most effective. As far as I am aware, all the parties appear to want single-tier local government. So what are we arguing about? We should be agreeing on single-tier local authorities.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

We have heard the hon. Gentleman's views on the Labour party, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats. Why did not the Government appoint a royal commission on Scottish local government so that we could see what people felt? We could probably have trusted that judgment and would not have had this gerrymandering by the Government.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says and should be interested to know whether, were it ever elected to power, the Labour party would hold a royal commission before setting up a Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

The hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) talk about a commission to ascertain the requirements of the Scottish people, but does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Labour party is particularly unable to identify what the Scottish people want, which is, above all, single-tier local government and the abolition of Strathclyde?

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

I certainly believe that the vast majority of people in Scotland want to see the end of Strathclyde as soon as is physically possible.

On the issue of transition, I understand my right hon. Friend's logic in not wanting regional councillors to have to serve for six years. However, I must admit that I would prefer the 1994 elections to be postponed—

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

—but not for the reason that the Opposition presume.

I should prefer them to be postponed because we need a meaningful transition, and to ask a regional councillor to serve for only two years would not be satisfactory. A councillor who has already served a four-year term might not want to serve the full six years but it is unreasonable to ask a new councillor to serve for only two years. I should have preferred it had my right hon. Friend been able to find a way to obtain sufficient agreement to pass quickly legislation that would enable the council elections to be postponed until 1996.

Further to the issue of transition, reference has already been made to the use of assets and I hope that optimum use will be made of them. I also hope that many buildings occupied by councils may be used in the new structure.

I am aware that the previous local government reorganisation involved an increase in costs, mainly due to a significant increase in salaries. I am therefore pleased that that issue is being dealt with and that employees will get a fair deal out of the transition. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has recommended a staff commission, which will look after employees' interests, and the transfer of contracts to the new authorities should ensure that there will be some continuity. The Bill also provides that he can establish a body to examine excessive salary increases as it is exceedingly important to ensure uniformity throughout Scotland.

I wonder whether the Bill goes far enough and whether the controls are sufficient. I refer my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for local government in Scotland to Monklands district council. I was very concerned to read of the alleged goings-on in Monklands. An article in The Scotsman of 17 December 1992 stated: Councillors are accused of using their position to ensure friends and relatives are shortlisted for jobs at every level within the council. A system of pink and green applications is alleged to have enabled recruiting officers to favour certain applications".The Guardian of 5 January 1993 also reported: At least 22 close relatives of Labour Scottish councillors have secured jobs within the Council". Has my right hon. Friend been approached by either of the Members of Parliament representing Monklands with, suggestions that the issue should be covered in the Bill to ensure that there are adequate controls and that priority will not be given to any particular group of people when staff are recruited for the new councils? The Labour party held its own inquiry into Monklands and The Herald of 5 March 1993 reports that Mrs. Ann McGuire, the chairman of the Labour party's Scottish executive, admitted, on the "jobs for the boys" allegation, that the Council could be open to criticism at the level of involvement that the councillors have in the selection procedures at the lower echelons of council officials". I do not expect my right hon. Friend to respond immediately, but I hope that, during our debates on the Bill, he will seriously consider the provision of adequate controls to ensure that such goings-on do not occur in the establishment of the new council structures.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is a qualified lawyer, so we are entitled to expect him to speak with greater clarity than that. What exactly is he saying is wrong at Monklands district council? If he is saying that there is something wrong with the selection procedures, and if a senior officer of the Labour party is saying that steps will be taken to put it right, why is the hon. Gentleman demanding legislation? I do not understand his point; perhaps it is the cheap point that was made by the Secretary of State for the Environment, who, when challenged about Westminster council, said that it was a matter for the local authority, not the Crown. I think that the Secretary of State will give exactly the same reply this afternoon.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying but the Opposition are again trying a whitewash. I am concerned to ensure that there is no favouritism—

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

No, I will not. I have already given way and shall not do so again.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman who is speaking is not giving way.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

It is because he has not got a point to make.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

I must also correct the hon. Gentleman. I am not sure whether I am flattered to be called a lawyer. In fact, I came from business and was a mechanical engineer by profession, not a lawyer. I have finished with that issue but I should like confirmation that it will be considered as the Bill passes through its various stages.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

No. I shall now deal with the Bill's provisions for decentralisation.

Decentralisation is clearly of particular importance for rural authorities and I speak as someone representing a rural constituency. I understand my right hon. Friend's arguments for having a large rural authority surrounding a city in order to provide a counterbalance to ensure that the authority is large enough to provide local services in a proper and cost-effective way. I also greatly welcome his recognition that one needs decentralisation for the proper delivery of local services. I hope that, under decentralisation, he will still be able to use as much as possible of the existing local government structure.

My hon. Friend the Minister with responsiblity for local government in Scotland is quoted as saying that he recognises the benefit of community councils and their contribution to consultation in the new council structure. Community councils have served a useful function locally as advisory panels for local government and I trust that they will continue to play an important role under the new structure when we shall have larger rural authorities.

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Hamilton had to say about water. He appeared to be worried about cost and the delivery of service but also said that water services should be left as they are. If by that he means that we should leave water services with the nine existing authorities, I fail to understand him because, as I understand the Bill, those authorities will cease to exist and will therefore not be able to manage any water authority. If, however, he believes that water services should be turned over to the 28 proposed authorities, that is a different matter. However, 28 authorities would be far too many to ensure the uniformity that my right hon. Friend mentioned.

Clearly, there will have to be significant capital expenditure in the water industry in the next 10 to 15 years. I can see that nowhere more than in my constituency where, due to the success of oil and the development of the north-east, Aberdeen local services—for example, sewage treatment plants—are bursting at the seams and desperately need renewing to cope with developments in the area. I hope that the funds will be more readily available through the use of private finance as a result of the structures that my right hon. Friend has proposed. I welcome the provisions in clause 80 to introduce capital from the private sector. The Bill means a partnership between public organisation and private finance and should be of immense benefit to consumers.

I would be wrong if I did not mention rural areas and the representations that I have received from the Scottish Landowners Federation, which is concerned about the welfare of its members—many of whom are my constituents—who live and work in rural communities. It wants to ensure that they are not hard done by because of the cost of implementing water services in the countryside. Obviously, I welcome the setting up of a customers council, which will protect the interests of consumers. I hope that representatives on the council will recognise the needs of those who live in rural communities and the countryside.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. At the beginning of the debate from the Back Benches you sensibly and rightly asked hon. Members to be brief. The hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) has been talking for 20 minutes and has a lot of paper left in his hand. Do you have no power to ask him to draw his remarks to a halt?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

The short answer is no.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

I am trying to talk as concisely as I can about a comprehensive Bill that has important implications for my constituents and the people of Scotland. If the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is not interested in dealing with serious matters, that is up to him.

I hope that other aspects of water will be dealt with in Committee, in particular the legal framework for installing new water mains, which is also of interest to my constituents. I recognise that controls are necessary and that the controls built into the Bill are clearly better than the previous ones, but I hope that there will be detailed consideration of the matter in Committee.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Am I not right in saying that such detailed matters are for Committee? We are discussing the principle of the Bill. Surely you have the power to draw that to the attention of the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside. He is going to be on the Committee anyway, so surely he can raise such matters then and talk only about the principles of the Bill now.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

It is perfectly true that we are dealing with the principles of the Bill. Normally one allows reasonable latitude for hon. Members to make particular points, but I remind the House that it is true that we are dealing with the principles.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was endeavouring to keep to the principles of the water provisions in the Bill rather than the detail, which will obviously be discussed at great length in Committee.

During the summer, boundaries were the major topic of conversation in my constituency. This is a significant Bill, which will have much more import for the people of Scotland and to ensure that it works well, it is important to get the fine details right. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State knows only too well that I have approached him and my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for local government concerning two boundaries within my existing constituency and part of that of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce).

Under the parliamentary boundary reform, it is proposed that that area will come within the constituency that I represent. I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend has said that such matters will be debated in full in Committee. I hope that he will listen to rational arguments and that we can get those matters rectified. As suggested by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in previous debates on the subject, I shall ensure that amendments are tabled to enable proper discussion of those subjects.

Regardless of what Opposition Members say about cost—their arguments seem to be totally inconsistent as they go for single-tier authorities, but do not tell us what the cost would be—I believe that the Bill is good for the people of Scotland and for local government in Scotland. I hope that we can get it through as quickly as physically possible.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth 5:34, 17 January 1994

I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute so early to the debate. I hope that the temporary Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) will forgive me if I do not follow all his arguments, although I agree with him on one matter. He said that he did not want elections for the region to be held in 1994, and I can well understand that. If I were an hon. Member serving on the Conservative Benches, I would not want elections for anything in 1994, 1995, 1996 or at any time this side of the turn of the century.

I can well understand why he does not want elections, but he will have to face them. There will be elections for the region and I am sure that, when the people of Scotland are asked how they view the Government's conduct, they will not hesitate to give the reply that they have given so consistently over the years.

In common with all my colleagues in the official Opposition and the other Opposition parties, I am less than impressed by the Government's proposals in the Bill. Nothing that I heard from the Secretary of State this afternoon lessened my fears for the future of Scotland's local authorities. It seems that the aim of local government should be to provide efficient services on a cost-effective basis within a democratic framework, but none of those objectives is dealt with or met in the Bill.

The question that remains to be asked is why we are having the reorganisations at all. The answer is clear. The Conservatives have failed to win councils or parliamentary seats in Scotland and they propose blatantly to fix things. The charge that that is gerrymandering is entirely valid. I think that all hon. Members would accept that redrawing boundaries for Scottish local government is difficult. It is not easy to marry the concentrations of population and the geography, but there is not a shred of evidence that those considerations have ever been dealt with by the Tory Ministers who drafted the plans. It is all too evident that the proposals' aims are political and owe nothing to the provision of effective, cost-effective or democratic local government.

That fact is best illustrated by referring to my constituency. It is proposed that Cumbernauld and Kilsyth should be included in the new North Lanarkshire authority, but the area has not been a part of Lanarkshire at any time in its history. Cumbernauld was in Dumbartonshire detached—it was not part of main Dumbartonshire.

Before borough status and the last reorganisation in the mid-1970s, services were provided by Dumbarton county council. After the formation of Strathclyde regional council and the district council of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, services other than district services were provided by the Dumbarton division of the regional council—I suppose that one could describe that as the county council continuing.

More recently, social work provision moved to Monklands and health services were provided through the Lanarkshire health board. However, my constituents would have preferred their health provision to come from the Greater Glasgow health board. That is said with no disrespect to Monklands general hospital, or any other Lanarkshire hospital, or to the health provisions of the Lanarkshire health board, but is simply a reflection of where people come from.

They come from the city of Glasgow, and Kilsyth has a long historical attachment to Glasgow's hospital service. Lanarkshire and the towns of Motherwell, Coatbridge and Airdrie have never been associated with the provision of local government services for my constituency. Moreover, those locations are not easily reached by public transport from Cumbernauld or Kilsyth. It goes without saying that my constituents do not use—

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

Is the hon. Gentleman saying that he does not want his constituency to be linked with Monklands?

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

No, I am certainly not saying that. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my case, I will make positive arguments for its being part of Dumbartonshire. I pointed out that historically we are part of Dumbartonshire. [Interruption.] The proposal is not to put Cumbernauld and Kilsyth in with Monklands; it is to create a North Lanarkshire authority.

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I think that the House knows my views about seated interventions.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

The hon. Gentleman finds it difficult to jump up and down—I think that that is the trouble.

The obvious new authority for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth would be the council that was identified in the White Paper. That was the point to which I referred earlier. I think that the hon. Member hails from Dumbartonshire.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

We had better get that right, just for the record. The hon. Gentleman represents Aberdeen, South and may not be altogether familiar with Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and its location, but the obvious new authority for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth would be the council that was identified in the White Paper as East Dumbartonshire. That used to be the name of the constituency that I represented here a long time ago—the constituency that I originally represented in Parliament. In that authority we would continue to be part of the geographical and administrative area to which we have always related.

The community has been excluded from East Dumbartonshire because it would distort the Government's aim to produce a Tory-dominated council. To that end, they have decided to create East Dumbartonshire and exclude not only my constituency but part of Strathkelvin which is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and that part of the council area in Strathkelvin which is represented on the regional council by the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Councillor Charles Gray. Strong representations have been made to my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West for that area to be included with Strathkelvin when it goes to the new East Dumbartonshire.

The area of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, currently the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council area, would be better placed in that authority and it would be better if that authority were given its correct name of Lennox. That is the view of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth district council. It is the view of the people of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth as revealed in a parliamentary answer that was given to me recently. There is overwhelming public support for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth being part of the new East Dumbartonshire authority, and no consent whatever from the public for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth to be part of North Lanarkshire.

I will now discuss the services of local government. I think that the Government's proposals pose a serious threat to the continuation of the excellent services that we have enjoyed from Scottish local government. I can honestly say—I think that it goes for most of my colleagues—that we rarely hear complaints about Strathclyde regional council and the provision of its services. It is a first class, well managed, well run local authority. That is equally true of the district councils that have the difficult task of administering, in the main, the housing function.

Throughout the 15 years that I have served in Parliament and Strathclyde regional council and the district councils have been in existence, I have not encountered serious complaints about the administration of the authorities. On very few occasions have I had to fall out with those authorities in any major way. That has not been my experience and I am confident that my colleagues would support me in that.

I believe that the Government's proposals seriously threaten many of the major services of local government. I shall refer only to education—the service which is most threatened by the Bill.

The Government's education policy in Scotland has failed. It has not secured public support. If it had, we would have opted-out schools, but we do not, because parents did not consent to that. They have not consented to the eccentric and somewhat radical ideas that have gained currency elsewhere in the United Kingdom, because they know what is good and what works. They know that education authorities such as Strathclyde regional council have not failed them and that they have dealt well with the difficulties foisted on them by the underfunding that has been such a feature of the present Government.

I believe that the Government will do what my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) hinted at. Scotland will be abused in much the same way as London has been abused, in educational terms.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

I believe that the post-Inner London education authority situation, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, will be the experience of Scottish parents if we allow the Bill to be passed. I am certain that in Scotland or among the Scottish media it will not be popular to draw parallels with London, but the experience in London has not been good and the proposals that are before us have much in common with what has happened here in the metropolis. I am certain that the people of Scotland do not wish that to happen to them and that they are right to reject the proposals.

Much research has been carried out for me into what has happened with ILEA and I will make that available to my hon. Friends who will serve on the Committee. I hope that they will be able to use that material to expose what will happen if we move from the democratic control of elected councillors serving as an elected education authority to the type of diluted quango proposed by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart).

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I do not think that he has read his own Bill. If he reads it—which I recommend that he do, because he might be frightened at some of the things that he discovers—he will discover what the Government propose for education, which is a dilution of democratic control. It is a dilution of parent power, and it is quite deliberate.

The Under-Secretary is doing it because the other policy, for which school boards were designed and opting out was designed, has failed and been rejected. No one agrees with him on education policy and that is why the proposals are before us today. It is one of the reasons why we are having a reorganisation of local government which no one in Scotland asked for and no one in Scottish local government argued for, but which the Minister thought was necessary to bolster a situation in which his policies had been rejected. That is why this is happening.

We shall lose control over major services such as education and social work. There will be a diminution of council—

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I am genuinely puzzled by what he is saying. It is clear from the Bill that education and social work remain the responsibilities of the new authority.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

I am not surprised that the Minister is puzzled. Puzzlement seems to be his permanent condition. Is he really saying, however, that very small local authorities will be education authorities, with all the complex services that such authorities operate, and that they will be able to make the specialist provision that we enjoy in the Lothian region and the Strathclyde region? Is he really saying that the tiny minds of Eastwood, who would be operating the tiny authority of Eastwood, will really be able to do that? Is that what the hon. Gentleman is arguing?

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

The education authority with the best record in terms of the number of pupils going on to higher and further education is Western Isles.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

I am not sure that that point illustrates very much. It obviously pleases the Minister, who is sitting looking awfully pleased with himself for having made that point. I am not sure that the point is worth making. Western Isles cannot be compared with great industrial conurba-tions such as Glasgow, in which education is administered by Strathclyde regional council.

To draw an analogy between an education authority with the complexities of Glasgow and Western Isles is fatuous. I am surprised that anyone who takes responsibility for Government policy in this area should make such a foolish point. The Government's proposals enjoy no respect among the people of Scotland. No support for these policies is expressed anywhere.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

Yes, because the hon. Gentleman has a certain entertainment value.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Is the hon. Gentleman's mail bag as packed as mine is with representations from district councils throughout Scotland urging support for their case for becoming single-tier local authorities? If he is receiving such representations, will he withdraw his comments?

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

No. I cannot say that I am receiving such mail. By the Government's admission, the overwhelming majority of the more than 4,000 letters that the Secretary of State and I have had from my constituency oppose the Government's proposals for local government reform, oppose the proposal that Cumbernauld and Kilsyth should be part of North Lanarkshire and support the proposal that we should be part of a new Lennox authority. On that note, I end my speech. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie).

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South 5:51, 17 January 1994

This is the third occasion on which we have debated the reform of local government in Scotland on the Floor of the House. Despite the three debates, one statement in the House and one debate in the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh, the Opposition still seek to deny their past commitment to single-tier authorities. They continue to opt out of the real debate and they still fail to grasp the issues and the arguments involved. We saw that today when the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) had to pad out his speech by ranting about Westminster city council and by rambling on about the Inner London education authority and the Greater Glasgow health board. None of that had any relevance to the Bill.

The Opposition's approach is interesting. When we debate cost, for example, the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) formulates his attack in a sophisticated way. He thinks of a number, adds a nought and then multiples it by a factor of anything between one and 31, depending on which day of the month it happens to be. If that does not get him a headline, he adds another nought. He goes on until someone, somewhere—anyone, anywhere —picks up his press release and gives him a headline. He then smirks with satisfaction, not realising that out there, no one—not even his own party's council groups—believes him any more.

As we have heard before, Dundee district council, which is Labour-controlled, predicts savings of £1·8 million. Dunfermline district council, which is Labour-controlled, predicts savings of more than £8 million from the proposed reforms.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

Any hon. Member could produce a precedent of a single education authority that has been turned into a dozen education authorities and could then show that the number of officials above a certain level has increased by a factor of about 75 per cent. Why is that irrelevant to the present debate?

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

I shall answer that question if the hon. Gentleman stands by his manifesto commitment to return to single-tier authorities. Is he trying to say that the way in which we propose to achieve single-tier authorities will be more expensive than the way that he proposed? Throughout this debate and our debate last summer, the Opposition have sought to deny their previous commitment to this policy. The hon. Gentleman has just displayed that.

When we debate boundaries, the hon. Member for Hamilton and his party are all over the place. On the previous occasion on which we debated the matter on the Floor of the House, he told us that he believed that commuter communities—those were his words—surrounding cities should be in the same unitary authority as their city and he used Dundee as an example. He now screws up his eyes. If he looks at column 210 of the Official Report for 22 November 1993, he will see it all there.

That is not what the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is saying about Aberdeen and it is certainly not what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) is saying about Glasgow. Perhaps the hon. Member for Hamilton, in agreeing to this diversity of approach, is quietly accepting what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been saying since last summer—that to be genuinely local and properly sensitive, there can be no one solution that is correct for all parts of Scotland. Uniformity of principle does not demand uniformity of approach.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

The hon. Gentleman and I share a surname. Surely the hon. Gentleman can share the same standard. If he quotes me, he should quote me accurately. In relation to commuter communities, I said: 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."—[Official Report, 22 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 210.] That point related specifically to Dundee, which I mentioned in my speech today. Where is the general principle that the hon. Gentleman is now beginning to develop as a policy?

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

Surely the hon. Gentleman is saying—I shall gladly give way to him again—that communities should be with their city. Why is that to be relevant to Dundee, but not to Aberdeen? That is the point that I am making. You are all over the place. You are saying one thing for one city and quite another for another to try to suit your argument—

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that remarks are addressed to the Chair.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is in Labour's opposition to the Bill in general that we see its complete disarray. The grand campaign of non-co-operation by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, about which my right hon. Friend talked, was first on, then off, then on again with refinements, then off, and then on again with refinements. It is now expected to be abandoned by the end of the week. We must not despair.

The hon. Member for Hamilton tells us that, he still has an ace to play. He tells us that to breathe new life into the campaign against the Bill, he plans to motivate a vast army of angry Conservative Back Benchers from English constituencies who, we are told, believe it or not, are fearful of their seats because of the reform of Scottish local government. According to the hon. Gentleman's line, they will, together with Opposition parties, amend, wreck and finally defeat the Bill.

Looking around me today, I have to say that it would have been nice if there had been some more English colleagues here to listen and perhaps to take part. I see no vast, angry army, whom the hon. Member for Hamilton hopes to employ. My hon. Friends show by their absence from this debate that they are far more prepared to take the leadership of my right hon. Friend than they are to take the words of the hon. Member for Hamilton.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The hon. Gentleman has noted the absence of his English colleagues. Would he say that that is a qualification for them to then serve in Committee?

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

I am saying that English colleagues who are not here are behaving as we do when purely English business is being discussed. We tend to do other things and then return to the Chamber.

I return to the point about Aberdeen and north-east Scotland. On publication of my right hon. Friend's consultative document and the subsequent White Papter, the responses from Aberdeen and from the north-east poured in, from all the district councils, the regional council, the Conservative council groups, individuals and other interested bodies.

When listening to Opposition Front-Bench Members, as they fulminate and demonstrate against my right hon. Friend's proposals, one must ask whether the hon. Member for Hamilton is the shadow Secretary of State for all of Scotland or just for the part of Scotland from which he comes and in which his party is especially strong—Strathclyde and Midlothian.

The hon. Member for Hamilton must realise that, if he aspires to the great office of Secretary of State, he must be prepared to back all of Scotland and not simply that part of our country with which he is most comfortable. His attitude seems to be, and his speech confirmed it, that he will fight hard for Strathclyde and Lothian and damn the rest. It is notable that he had little to say about anything north of Edinburgh.

The response to what my right hon. Friend is proposing for Aberdeen is best summed up by a quotation from one of the submissions: In short, local government in Aberdeen can be improved by re-establishing the city as a unitary authority. This would promote a more efficient, accountable, economical and responsive local administration and service delivery. That letter was not from me, but from the Labour group of the city of Aberdeen district council which was unanimously adopted by the council's Labour group, Conservative group, Liberal group and two Scottish National party councillors.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), who is not in his place, has also gone on the record as saying: There will certainly be a great satisfaction at the restoration of a single-tier authority for the city of Aberdeen. Perhaps the feeling in Aberdeen was best summed up by the Press and Journal, which carried this headline the morning after the publication of the White Paper: "Aberdeen Achieves Goal".

Outside the city, an Aberdeenshire council is proposed, which, while large enough to act as a counterbalance for the new city authority, is also of a size which will allow it to be genuinely local and to be accessible and accountable to those who depend on it for their services. My right hon. Friend has again responded to many of the fears and concerns of the smaller district councils in the Grampian region, which were rightly concerned with the principle of accountability and the question of sensitivity in dealing with local matters.

For example, Kincardine and Deeside district council's response stated: Specifically, a combined Gordon/Banff and Buchan/ Kincardine and Deeside unit would be acceptable and said that such an authority would not reflect local loyalties and allegiances. (There is little in common between the residents of say, St. Cyrus, and Huntly or Peterhead). My right hon. Friend's proposals address those concerns. The larger authorities, in terms of land area, must be instructed to come forward with detailed plans for decentralisation and dispersal throughout the authority area, which will further help to alleviate many of the fears.

There has been concern over my right hon. Friend's plans to include the suburb of Westhill in the new Aberdeen authority. Much nonsense has been talked over its similarity with other places such as Banchory, Ellon and Inverurie. Those who have made such statements obviously do not know the geography of the area. The extent of the present district council boundary, measured as the crow flies from Aberdeen's town house, the accepted centre of the city, is 9·7 milses north-west at Hatton of Fintray, 9·75 miles west at Leuchar Moss and 9·5 miles south-west at Moss-side, while the most westerly point of the community of Westhill lies some 8 miles from the town house, comfortably in the radius of the present district council boundary. In road terms from the town house, Dyce is 7·1 miles away and is already inside the city boundary and Peterculter is 7·3 miles and is already inside the city boundary, whereas Westhill is only 7·2 miles away—nearer to the town house than Peterculter.

The city of Aberdeen district council's Labour group acknowledged those facts when it said in its response: Portlethen and Westhill function to a significant extent as dormitory suburbs of Aberdeen. In social and economic terms they are very much part of the overall activity patterns of the city. Their location, close to the existing boundary distinguishes them from other settlements in the Aberdeen area (ie Ellon, Banchory, Stonehaven, Inverurie) where the effect of factors such as distance enable those communities to be more self-sustaining and identifiable in their own right. In all the debates since the publication of the White Paper, I have heard no one deny that the people of Westhill look to the city of Aberdeen and none deny that their focus is the city.

It is to the city that the people of Westhill go in their thousands to work each day. The Westhill people go to Aberdeen to catch a long-distance bus or train, for their weekly shopping, their entertainment, to eat out and for their leisure and recreation. To get to Aberdeen, they travel on the upgraded A944, which has been part-dualled to cope with the volume of traffic.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Legislation Committee, Chair, European Legislation Sub-Committee on Roads Safety Competence

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I find our tour of Aberdeen interesting, but I thought that you ruled earlier that this is the Second Reading of a Bill which covers a bigger part of Scotland than Aberdeen. I hope that you will ask the hon. Gentleman to tell us more of his views on the rest of Scotland after what he said about my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson).

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

It is perfectly true that we are debating the general principles of the Bill, but during such a debate, there is no reason why hon. Members should not use illustrative examples if they so wish. It must be for the Chair to decide whether the balance is right. I am sure that all hon. Members will bear that in mind.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

The hon. Gentleman will know that, unlike him, I am a real Aberdonian; born and bred in the city and the son of a distinguished Lord Provost. I am sure that he would agree that my qualifications for asking him about Aberdeen and the surrounding area are not to be challenged. I am interested in what he says about all those areas. Would not that be a case for Eastwood being part of Glasgow?

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

I knew that somewhere, somebody sitting on the Opposition Benches would fall into that trap. Westhill is a tenth of the size of Eastwood. There is no parallel whatever. A portrait of the hon. Gentleman's father hangs with distinction in Aberdeen town house, which is soon to be the home of an all-purpose city of Aberdeen authority, about which I am sure he will be delighted.

The A944 has been part-dualled to cope with the volume of traffic from Westhill to the city centre. Inverurie, on the other hand, can be reached only by an A class road into Aberdeen or by travelling on a number of tortuous B and C class roads. It is also worth noting that on 10 January, the Bluebird bus service increased its off-peak service between Westhill and the city centre in response to customer demand.

The case for the inclusion of Westhill into the city has been supported by Councillor Geoff Hadley, the former independent convenor of the Grampian regional council and no friend of the Government. In the Press and Journal on 9 September, he said: During the 25 years since Aberdeen County Council fell in with the developers … Westhill has grown and been variously described as a garden suburb, dormitory town and satellite town—all terms which imply a population shunted between home and work locations.But this is not simply about commuting. I would guess that perhaps 90 per cent. of Westhill residents' activities associated with work, cultural affairs, social events, sports, shopping and so on relate to the Aberdeen city locus. Few will look to Inverurie or other towns in Gordon District for promoting their lifestyle.Given this, is there not a certain illogicality in the declared reluctance of Westhill residents to become part of Aberdeen?If local government is to be wholly local, Westhill being no further from the city centre than Dyce or Peterculter lends weight to a logical—if reluctant—acquiesence to the Government's proposals for a merger.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

I do not think that this is the place to debate such matters—that would be in Committee—but will my hon. Friend tell the House, for the benefit of those who do not know where Westhill is, the distance between Westhill and the nearest housing in Aberdeen city and what lies between there and Westhill?

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

A more useful parallel for my hon. Friend to draw is that the commuter suburb of Peterculter, in his constituency, is 7·3 miles from the city centre and that Westhill, not in his constituency, is 7·2 miles from the city centre.

At present, the existing Grampian region gives the people of Westhill some say in the affairs of Aberdeen on a number of, although not all, important issues. In April 1996, all that will change. If Westhill remains outside the city, residents will be left as the poor relations with no democratic input into a city which plays such a large role in their everyday lives. They deserve representation in the city.

Today does not mark the end of the debate on local government reform, but it marks an end of the beginning. My right hon. Friend's proposals offer a new era in the affairs of local government in Scotland—strong, accountable and powerful unitary authorities—yet, at the same time, those councils will, by their very nature, be sensitive to local needs and responsive to local requirements.

That is a stark contrast to what is on offer from the Opposition: an Edinburgh assembly plundering the power of local councils, to grab it and to take it to Edinburgh. It would have denuded town halls in Scotland of their power and centralised it at Calton Hill, thus taking decision making away from the people, rather than empowering the people through one councillor and one council. Two visions of Scotland's future are on offer. I am happy and proud to support the vision of my right hon. Friend, which the people of Scotland will endorse.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 6:09, 17 January 1994

It will have been noted how the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), in his infinite wisdom, patronisingly told the people of Westhill what was best for them, despite the fact that, in a house-to-house survey 98 per cent. of them said that they want to remain part of a rural authority. That attitude should come as no surprise from a member of a party whose Government are proposing a Bill to dictate, to patronise and to tell us what is best.

This is the biggest Scottish Bill since 1979, but it is one of the most disreputable Bills that I have seen since becoming a Member. Rather than being a well-designed vehicle to bring about a smooth reform of local government, we have a hybrid between a bulldozer and a parliamentary omnibus.

The Bill contains six different measures that could have merited separate legislation—reform of local government; a fundamentally changed structure for water and sewerage services; important detailed provisions on local government finance; important changes in the organisation of the function of the reporter to the children's panel, which has scarcely had a mention so far; significant changes to the legislation on road tolls; and important detailed provisions on the reform of tourism—an important part of the Scottish economy which, because of the nature of the Bill, will scarcely receive the adequate consideration that it requires.

Each of those issues could be appropriately dealt with by a Scottish Parliament. The Bill, combined with the Government's proposals to smuggle in sweeping reforms of the police and prison administration under the cloak of English legislation and their failure to find time to legislate for proposals in the White Paper, "Scotland's Children", shows how ill served Scotland's legislative interests are by the current arrangements of the House.

If they were here, Conservative Members for English seats would not countenance a full domestic agenda for one Session being cobbled together in one Bill, and if that would not be good enough for them why should Scotland's legislation be treated in such a second-rate manner?

The Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 was in Committee from early January until May. This Bill requires just as much time and I trust that the Government will make a commitment this evening to secure it.

The Bill is further tarnished by the procedures that have led to the proposed changes in local government structure, which are taking place only 20 years after a Conservative Government undertook the last reform. On that occasion, reform took place against a background of a royal commission and broad consensus. Today, there has been no overall view of local government and of its role and functions and no independent proposals on boundaries. Uncertainty exists among local authority employees about their future conditions of employment and whether they will have jobs—it would be welcome if the Minister could confirm that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 will apply to staff who are faced with dislocation as a result of the reforms. Above all, there is no consensus. That is no basis for the stable reform of local government.

Perhaps the most disreputable aspect of the Bill is the profoundly anti-democratic thrust of its provisions. Should its provisions pass into law, the Government's talk of reviving the dynamism of local democracy will be seen for the fraud that we know it to be. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury expresses concern about the cynicism that he claims is now attaching itself to our national institutions, but he should not be surprised. His name appears on the Bill as a supporter.

What can be a more cynical gerrymander than the provisions that describe the new East Renfrewshire local authority? One wonders whether the Chief Secretary has looked at them. For example, schedule I mentions the southern curtilages of No 43 Ben Lui Drive, Nos 52 to 50 Ben Wyvis Drive and northwards along the western curtilages of Nos 20 to 16 of the said Ben Wyvis Drive". I want to know what has happened to Nos 22 to 48 Ben Wyvis drive. I am pleased to see the Chief Secretary standing at the Bar of the House. He should pay careful attention to schedule I if he wants to know why the population are rightly cynical of the Government's proposals.

Much has been made in the debate, and will be made in Committee, of boundaries. My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), my hon. Friends who represent highland constituencies and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) have expressed deep concern about the proposals that affect their areas and appear to take no account of local opinion. The same applies to residents of Westhill, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce).

Such matters are critical to people who want to identify with their local community—and one hopes that even at this stage the Government will recognise the importance of that—but it will hardly matter where boundaries fall if local government has been stripped of its ability to govern. The Government have already introduced 150 measures to take such power from local communities and put it in the hands of central Government and the Bill goes a long way to completing that neutering process.

More than 180 provisions in the Bill extend the power of the Secretary of State to interfere in the decision making of locally elected councils. The phrase The Secretary of State may by order or words to similar effect, appear more than 70 times in the Bill and more often than not are subject to negative procedures. In addition, the Secretary of State can issue guidelines or directions in a further 47 instances to change, to block or to compel council decisions and in a further 65 instances the Bill is littered with open-ended phrases like as the Secretary of State thinks fit or "as he considers appropriate". Such powers tear the heart out of local democracy and are wholly inimical to what the Liberal Democratic party stands for.

The hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) quoted from the Scottish Liberal Democrat manifesto for the last election. I am pleased that he did. I regret only that more voters in Kincardine and Deeside did not vote for our proposals. My party believes in reforming and strengthening local government, but this Government are interested only in reforming and substantially weakening it.

Photo of Malcolm Bruce Malcolm Bruce Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the argument against a Scottish Parliament advanced by the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) is undermined by my hon. Friend's point about the number of times that the Secretary of State proposes to intervene and direct local authorities? The purpose of a Scottish Parliament would not be to take power from local authorities but to make the Secretary of State and the Scottish Office accountable to the people of Scotland, about which the Conservative party does not care because it cannot win the support of the people of Scotland.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

My hon. Friend sums it up concisely. He will share our party's belief that local government should allow local people the power and opportunity to shape and influence their local communities with minimal interference from outside, from a Scottish Parliament or from the Secretary of State, and to be subject only to proper regard for the law and human rights and, ultimately, to the accountability of the ballot box.

What sticks in my craw as I read the Bill is the Government's arrogant underlying assumption that only a Tory Secretary of State will ever exercise the Bill's powers. That belief might stretch credibility today, but before Conservative Members vote for the Bill I hope that they will contemplate the possibility of a Labour Secretary of State having the kind of powers that are contained in the Bill.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, when a Labour Secretary of State proposed to reorganise local government, he set up a royal commission and put on it Miss Betty Harvie Anderson, a Tory Member of Parliament, and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston)? That was the proper, democratic way to reorganise local government. I hope that he will give credit to a Labour Secretary of State for doing that.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

Indeed. The hon. Gentleman makes a factual point for which I readily give credit. That path should have been pursued in this instance.

Perhaps Conservative Members will read page 17 of the Bill and the proposed new section 62B to be added to the 1973 Act. What in that section would stop a Secretary of State of a different party considering that the local government functions of west central Scotland should be discharged jointly by a joint board comprising Dumbarton and Clydebank, East Dumbartonshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, West Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire and City of Glasgow councils? The whole of Strathclyde region could be recreated. Indeed, any other region could be recreated as a result of the powers which the Bill gives to a Secretary of State. There is provision for statutory consultation, but that is unlikely to save the day if the standards of consultation operated by the present Scottish Office team were to be adopted. I hope that Conservative Members will think carefully about that before they vote to give such unfettered power to the Secretary of State.

Is it the Minister's intention or that of the Secretary of State to appoint persons other than elected councillors to the joint boards? How does the Minister expect the party balance to be established on those boards? While joint boards are less acceptable than directly elected authorities, they are nevertheless preferable to quangos. As might be expected from a Department which has an insatiable appetite for quangos, the Bill creates its fair share of them. The Scottish Office should learn lessons from quangos.

Having listened to the exchanges between the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), I believe that the House should be concerned by the clear and apparent discrepancies between the answers given to the Select Committee by Lord Fraser and the answer given by the Secretary of State in the House. I am also concerned about the fact that the Secretary of State appeared to know the contents of a letter from the head of the home civil service to the hon. Member for Hamilton. Perhaps the House should be informed of the protocol when an hon. Member writes to the head of the home civil service. Is he being tampered with and expeced to bow to political pressure? As that famous phrase in a magazine states, "I think we should be told." Very important constitutional points arise on that matter.

The Bill has its fair share of quangos. Not only is the supply of water and sewerage services to be removed from elected and accountable control, but the consumers watchdog is to become a committee of the Secretary of State's appointees. Those appointees will be paid to be members of that committee and will receive expenses. In addition, they may receive compensation if a term of office expires early. They may receive pensions, allowances and gratuities. I believe that democracy would render the delivery of those services more accountable and that the ballot box is probably a cheaper watchdog than cumulative paid jobs for the boys and girls as proposed in the Bill.

I have several specific questions about water and sewerage services. Is the accrued capital debt of the regional and islands water authorities to be written off and a green dowry given to the new water authorities as was the case when the English water services were restructured? Surely our domestic consumers should receive the same kind of benefits. Indeed, our business consumers should also receive those benefits. How can they compete equally with English competitors which have had the benefit of water supplied by companies whose debts have been written off?

While clause 54 places restrictions on the ability of existing authorities to enter into contracts that exceed £1 million—and if they go beyond 31 March 1996 the limit will be £100,000—unless approved by the successor body, where does that leave the status of undertakings given by a number of water authorities to the Secretary of State two or three years ago with regard to an extensive programme of capital investment required to meet European Community requirements?

While there is dismay across Scotland about the responsibility and accountability for those services being taken from elected people, there is deep scepticism in the islands areas about the reforms of water and sewerage. Problems relating to the delivery of those services are complex and there is little confidence that a remote bureaucracy will be able to understand them.

When Orkney's water was previously supplied by the North of Scotland water board, there was an underestimate by a factor of five of the daily consumption of water by cows. That could make a huge difference to the supply and engineering of water services. We have no guarantee that similar mistakes will not be made again. Different charges that can be made in different circumstances are of particular concern. What safeguards are to be offered, not just to the islands areas, but to remoter rural parts, that they will not be charged heftily by authorities which have the power to charge differentially?

While the islands authorities do not change—apart from the fact that the title "islands" becomes a geographical description rather than a council description—it was much easier when we had a generic term to describe those authorities to adapt legislation and devise solutions to meet different circumstances. I accept that on some occasions the Government did that with regard to FE colleges and the provision of housing for teachers in remoter areas.

The ability to make distinctions to meet particular circumstances may be lost when those authorities are like every other council. The Montgomery committee endorsed the success of the islands areas and urged the Government to "consolidate, develop and extend" their powers. The Bill takes them in the opposite direction. If the islands authorities make specific points during the progress of this legislation, I hope that they will receive sympathetic attention from the Minister and his officials.

The islands authorities persuaded me to support single-tier authorities and the policy of my party involves single-tier authorities, as has already been said in the debate. We are generally disposed towards such authorities, but not to authorities that are motivated purely by partisan and political reasons. We see such authorities within the context of a Scottish Parliament. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon said, those authorities will not suck powers away from local government. They will take the powers of this Parliament to deal with Scotland's domestic affairs and place them where they can be properly, adequately and democratically accountable.

We want that decentralisation of power from the House to a Scottish Parliament. We do not want to support a Bill which continues the trend of centralisation. Nor do we wish to support local authorities that will continue to be elected by a corrupt electoral system which weakens the accountability of the councillor to the people he represents. For those reasons my right hon. and hon. Friends cannot support a Bill which will lead to the emasculation of local democracy in Scotland.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr 6:26, 17 January 1994

I begin by apologising unreservedly for apparently breaking parliamentary procedures with regard to a press release. I will make sure that that does not happen again. Should I become aware that any other Member so transgresses, it will be drawn to the attention of the Chair. As a relatively new Member, I thought that I had grasped parliamentary procedure. Obviously, that was not quite the case.

Having said that, I did take my seat on the right side of the House when I first became a Member—unlike the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) who, I understand, did not quite manage to do so. However, having heard the hon. Gentleman's disorientated remarks, I understand how that occurred.

The Bill is one of the most important and long-awaited legislative measures for Scotland. People in Ayrshire have never been happy with the Strathclyde scenario. Strathclyde was a local authority misnomer: there was very little local about it.

The target set by all the candidates in the 1992 election in my constituency was to get rid of Strathclyde and to move towards single-tier authorities. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench colleagues have driven towards that target.

Having heard the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), I hope that his colleagues, who will vote against Second Reading from loyalty tonight, will consider local interests and local involvement in Standing Committee. I hope that they will work in Committee to make the Bill an excellent one for people throughout Scotland.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will listen to the views that will be expressed in Committee, which may logically justify amendments. Over recent weeks, I have had many contacts with local authorities from north, south, east and west. I have had contacts with Gordon, Renfrew, Argyll, the Lothians, Dunfermline, Cunninghame, Kyle and Carrick, Kilmarnock and Loudoun. They all supported single-tier local government for Scotland. That contradicts the views expressed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in particular.

We should drive home the message that, if people with responsibility or even influence in COSLA opt for non-co-operation, the people they will damage most are council tax payers—the people who will elect whatever local authorities are established in future—and COSLA's actions will be long remembered. When the poll tax—the community charge—was introduced, people in local authorities encouraged non-compliance with the laws of the land. That attitude has rebounded in a most horrific way on many hon. Members' constituents.

I hope that there will be a constructive debate in Committee. Part I, schedule 1, will be considered very early in Committee. I can certainly see much—[Interruption.] Nobody has sought to correct anything that I have said today. I regard that as total agreement with all I say.

As for Ayrshire, I am perfectly happy with the current proposals. To an extent, they coincide with the views expressed by all Ayrshire Members at the time of consultation. I wanted a separate south Ayrshire—a Kyle and Carrick. That was recognised in the Secretary of State's proposals. In the main, it appeared that other hon. Members from Ayrshire wanted an all-Ayrshire authority. The Secretary of State has democratically recognised those representations and, as closely as possible, has met the combined views of all Ayrshire Members. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) knows very little about Ayrshire.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I shall give way very shortly.

I consider that I am the only Ayrshire Member who speaks for local interests in Ayrshire. On that basis, I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to modify his plans and create a third local authority, as opposed to the planned two, in Ayrshire. Already, the wishes of Kyle and Carrick have been recognised, with the intended creation of south Ayrshire. I shall offer no change to part I on that point.

There is no reason why recognition should not be given to the wishes of the people of Cunninghame and their elected representatives to allow a free-standing Cunninghame under the banner of a north Ayrshire authority. That would allow the wishes, as I understand them, of Kilmarnock and Loudoun councillors to have an east Ayrshire or a central Ayrshire authority set up, linked with Cumnock and Doon Valley.

Cumnock and Doon Valley councillors preferred an all-Ayrshire authority, but I understand that my proposal is their second preference. Given the lack of support for their idea, they would no doubt be relatively happy with my proposal.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

I am getting a bit confused. The hon. Gentleman says that one authority or two authorities are just the same, but he is now in favour of three authorities, whereas originally he was in favour of two, which was the same as one. I must say that I find that very confusing.

However, I will not accept the hon. Gentleman misrepresenting what other people think. It is absolutely clear—I spoke today to the convenor of Cumnock and Doon Valley, the leader of the district council—that my council supports an all-Ayrshire authority—first, second and third choice. Will the hon. Gentleman make it absolutely clear that that is the case? He has misrepresented the council. Will he accept that that is the second, third or fourth that he has made tonight?

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

The hon. Gentleman's confusion is not new. I consistently find him in a state of confusion in respect of every issue. If he had listened carefully, he would have heard me acknowledge fully that the first preference of Cumnock and Doon Valley councillors is for an all-Ayrshire authority. That cuts across other Opposition Members' requirement that a Strathclyde authority be maintained.

I acknowledge that Cumnock and Doon Valley would like an all-Ayrshire authority, but, quite honestly, even the confused Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will recognise that he cannot have second, third and fourth preferences that are all the same—it is not logical. However, that does not surprise me.

I ask all Ayrshire Members to back Ayrshire local authorities. Perhaps Opposition Members will support the amendment that I intend to move in Committee, given the opportunity. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) would listen, he would know that I referred to "the amendment that I intend to move in Committee, given the opportunity" I am not trying to second-guess anyone. It would be helpful if Opposition Members would open their ears and listen a bit more.

Let us consider some of the representations that have been made. I am sure that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie) will join me in backing the representatives of Argyll district council, who certainly want to go along with the Secretary of State's proposals. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) seemed to suggest that the citizens of Helensburgh do not desire to join Argyll. He should listen more to public opinion in Helensburgh. People in Helensburgh very much identify with Argyll. It would do the House well to pick up that point.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I now make a plea for the people of Luss. The community council, which has made strong representations, wishes to be linked with Argyll, and asks for that matter to be taken on board. I commend the measures, which extend the involvement of community councillors. They have played a tremendous role in recent years. I hope that community councillors will extend their involvement in the years ahead.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I give way to the hon. Gentleman, as I have been talking about issues which affect his constituents.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

The hon. Gentleman talks about confusion. I have never heard the hon. Gentleman comment on the issue affecting Helensburgh. If he went to Helensburgh and listened to the people there, he would find that the implications of the local government reorganisation in respect of education, social work and transport greatly concern them.

Only today, The Herald pointed out that the unsubsidised return fare from Helensburgh to Glasgow is £9, but, because of the passenger transport authority, the subsidised fare is £4·50. When the burghers of Helensburgh realise that £4·50 is being subsidised by Strathclyde every time they go to Glasgow, they will think again. If anything, the local government reorganisation is about services and the quality of services. That message will get through to Helensburgh and Luss.

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. As many hon. Members hope to catch my eye, lengthy interventions will not assist.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I must agree that quality of service is all-important. However, I must point out to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) that the passenger transport executive will continue under the remit of the Bill, and it will continue to assist his constituents in Helensburgh. When I look at schedule 1 to the Bill, I see some illogicality in the west/mid Lothian situation. I recognise the strong feelings that have come through from Dunfermline.

I will not necessarily get involved in the details of the Bill, but I shall certainly listen with keen interest to the views expressed in Committee by Labour Members. Bearing in mind that this is a local government Bill, I shall certainly listen to the local input from places such as Dunfermline, Cunninghame and Gordon.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I see that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) wishes to intervene. [Interruption.] Obviously, the hon. Gentleman does not want to intervene. I shall cover a few general issues. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is changing his mind again. One minute he wants Strathclyde; the next minute he wants Cunninghame; then he wants an all-Ayrshire authority ; then he wants to intervene; and then he does not want to intervene. If he wants to get up, he should carry on.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

It is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman's press release of that well-rehearsed paragraph will not be accompanied by actions. I will not get involved in his ravings about constituents other than his own. The people in Cunninghame can sort out their problems without his attempt to influence matters or to make party political capital out of them, so I shall leave that aside.

I shall pursue the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) about the Strathclyde passenger transport executive. Recently, the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) said that the problem with the Ayr-Glasgow service, which is certainly the busiest commuter route outside London, is that not many people use it. He now tells us that the Strathclyde passenger transport executive will continue as before. Obviously, he has studied the workings of passenger transport executives in England, where a precepting system fails to operate because the PTEs depend on contributions from individual local authorities.

Can the hon. Gentleman give us an assurance that the proposed passenger transport executive will have access to the same level of funding as the Strathclyde passenger transport executive has at present? If he cannot give that assurance, he cannot give an assurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. A few moments ago, I said that many hon. Members were hoping to catch my eye, and suggested that long interventions do not help. Obviously, that fell on deaf ears. I hope that future interventions will be brief.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

Without an assurance that the proposed passenger transport executive will have access to the same level of funding, the hon. Member for Ayr cannot give constituents any assurances about investment, rolling stock or anything to do with the Strathclyde passenger transport executive.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Obviously, I shall listen with interest to what Ministers say on this issue in Committee. Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am not prepared to make promises that I am certainly not in a position to fulfil.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Yes. I have to say that, if I constantly give way to hon. Members, that will extend the length of my speech.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat Chief Whip

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He made an important statement before the previous intervention. I understood him to say that he wants to be a member of the Committee, and we welcome that. He also said that he is willing to listen to representations.

Bearing in mind that the Standing committee may have a Government majority of one or perhaps two members, is the hon. Gentleman prepared to take representations from local groups and county councils in areas such as Berwickshire which think that they are getting a rough deal from the Bill, seriously consider them, and follow with his vote if appropriate amendments are made?

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

As I have said all along, I intend to listen carefully to the debate. I shall attempt to persuade Ministers along the lines of my feelings, and at the end of the day I will take a combined judgment with my colleagues about the way in which the Bill should proceed. [Interruption.] There is nothing odd about that. I have given an undertaking to listen to representations. The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) is well aware of the procedures of the House. I shall apply pressure in any way that I can to influence Ministers along the lines of my beliefs.

My interest in the matter is to ensure that people in Ayrshire get their just desserts. That is my intention, and it will be my overriding priority. I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. I have given him an undertaking that I will represent the views of the people.

When I examine the wider aspects of the Bill, some matters concern me a little. I am happy that the police authorities in Scotland will be maintained at their present size. I am a little concerned about funding, especially as we have seen the constant underfunding of the police service in Strathclyde recently. I should like to hear something from my right hon. Friend about funding arrangements for the police.

I fully agree with the single-tier option for social work. The link between social work and housing is important, and at present there is a massive gap. I believe that social workers and those in housing management find it difficult to bridge that gap under the current arrangements. I look forward to the future when the Bill comes to fruition and the gap is no longer there.

I commend clause 78, which provides that councillors who fall behind in their payment of council tax should declare that and cease voting in council affairs. The matter was raised during debate on the non-payment of the community charge. I welcome that provision in the Bill. Perhaps we should extend the provision to Members of Parliament; we should not simply pick on councillors.

I welcome clause 38, which relates to the designation of trunk roads. I should like to think that the Secretary of State will take a liberal view on this matter in the future and bear in mind the need to give trunk road status to the A77/M77 into the centre of Glasgow. I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey).

Another important aspect of the Bill is domestic rate capping. The right of the Secretary of State to determine the levels of non-domestic rating poundage is important for the business community. Domestic capping is also an essential element. I should like to think that local authorities will act responsibly in the future. Capping may well be a useful facility in the early days of the council, when there could be a move towards inflating expenditure in the hope that the Government will take the blame for restructuring the local authorities.

I am puzzled by some of the comments made by Labour Members about the cost of the reforms. When we are reducing the number of local authorities from 62 to perhaps 30 or 35—no one knows the final number, because we are still debating the matter—there seem to be areas where savings can be made. I am not the only person who feels that way; local authorities in Dunfermline, Cunninghame, Kyle and Carrick, Argyll and all over Scotland feel the same way. They have presented their case, which shows savings. That supports the arguments of the Secretary of State.

It is worth noting that the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) said at one time that the measure would cost £400 million to £500 million. That figure has been moderated to about £200 million, which is broadly in line with the Secretary of State's statements, which suggest that the costs will be about 120 million to 196 million. At last the hon. Gentleman has a figure with some reality about it and that, if nothing else, is to be commended.

I am looking forward with some relish to April 1995, when the electorate will be able to give their commendation to the Bill by going to the polls to elect councillors to become involved in the new local authorities.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the possibility of some flexibility. Therefore, will the people who took part in the survey in the constituency of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) get the chance to remain within Renfrew district council?

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I said a few moments earlier that it is my understanding that my hon. Friend the Minister will listen to genuine constructive comments in Committee. That did not really need to be said, as I recognise that my hon. Friend takes great regard of what people say to him. It could be that the points raised by the hon. Gentleman will be considered; whether they are justifiable or not is not for me to say. The points should be raised, and I am quite sure that they will be taken into consideration.

I have not spoken about water, sewerage or a number of other issues. The proposals for water and sewerage are in line with the presentation that I made in response to the Secretary of State's consultation paper. I have no difficulty in living with the three public authorities, and I am glad that the Scottish Office listened and recognised the strength of feeling throughout Scotland on the privatisation of water. Scotland did not want it, and the Secretary of State has recognised that. I believe that the public authorities provide a reasonable way ahead and I commend the Bill, but it needs a wee bit of amending here and there.

Photo of Thomas McAvoy Thomas McAvoy , Glasgow Rutherglen 6:52, 17 January 1994

I wish to spend a few minutes on the position of my constituency before moving as rapidly as possible to that of Strathclyde regional council, on which my view is entirely opposite to that of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie).

Some people refer to the wonderful days of one-tier local government in Scotland but in fact before 1975 only the four cities had one-tier local government while the rest was a mixture of district and county councils and boroughs. There was no golden age of one-tier local authorities in Scotland. In 1973, the Wheatley Commission put the bulk of my constituency—Cambuslang, Halfway and Rutherglen—into Glasgow district council. I understand that a decision for a separate council for those areas was lost by just one vote, so in a sense there is a historical injustice because those areas campaigned for a council at that time.

I oppose the Bill and I make no bones about that. Realistically, and like every other hon. Member, I have a constituency interest to look after. My having a view on whether the Bill receives its Second Reading is no worse than, for instance, Glasgow district council having a view on what should happen if the Bill receives Second Reading.

I acknowledge that the Minister with responsibility for local government has recognised that there is a community position in Cambuslang, Halfway and Rutherglen which is different from those areas being a part of a big city council. I am grateful for that, and it would be unfair not to place that on the record. The disadvantages of one-tier local government without a Scottish assembly or Parliament would apply in the same way to a local council for Cambuslang, Halfway and Rutherglen as to any other council in Scotland, and my campaigning for such a council does not mean that I am ignoring the difficulties. In population terms, the addition of other former Lanarkshire areas to Cambuslang, Halfway and Rutherglen would bring the area up to the population size of Eastwood or Stirling, but that is a matter for a later stage.

It is a measure of the desperation of the people in the former Lanarkshire part of my constituency to stop the erosion of their community spirit that they would be prepared to take on a one-tier council. The White Paper stated that King's Park and Toryglen should go into south Lanarkshire, along with Cambuslang, Halfway and Rutherglen. I opposed that, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) rightly opposed the inclusion of King's Park in that council.

I opposed the inclusion of Toryglen as it has always been a part of the city of Glasgow and I regarded it as my duty as a Member of Parliament to make sure that the people of Toryglen should not be included in a council in which they had no interest. Others might pontificate and make gestures, but I did my job as a Member of Parliament. I am sure that the Minister will recognise that I was partly responsible for his change of mind about King's Park.

A referendum was carried out by Glasgow district council in the areas concerned. If one added the votes from King's Park and Toryglen, the area would have voted against its inclusion in south Lanarkshire. When the former Glasgow areas were counted separately from the former Lanarkshire areas, the result was 53 per cent. for inclusion in south Lanarkshire and 47 per cent. against. I asked Glasgow district council not to put the question in such a raw fashion, but to give the people the choice of voting for a local council. In my opinion, the majority would have voted for a local council. If they could not get that, I believe that they would have preferred the status quo of Glasgow district council.

Unfortunately, a Tory and a Labour councillor attacked the council's spending on Cambuslang and Rutherglen. That resulted, in my opinion, in a negative vote for the south Lanarkshire proposal. There is no doubt that Glasgow district council shot itself in the foot. Unfortunately, we are now landed with a situation where the Government can rightly say that the people in my constituency voted for inclusion in south Lanarkshire but I would argue that they voted for that only because they were not offered a better choice.

There is a separate identity in Cambuslang and Rutherglen. While people there are certainly no better than Glasgow people—because people are people—they have a different identity and I make no bones about that. We must look at the gerrymandering aspect of what the Government have done, because it is certainly gerrymandering: the Government want to make sure that the Tory enclaves are kept so as to allow Tory councillors to win elections. The Government have totally avoided the issue of costs in the debate. The Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities analysed the Touche Ross costs and clearly exposed them as false.

The joint boards are undemocratic, which brings me to the thrust of what I wish to say. A while ago, the Prime Minister referred to Strathclyde regional council as a monstrosity. That caused deep offence, not just among political people but among the people of Strathclyde and especially among people who gain from the services provided by the council. I am proud to have been a Strathclyde regional councillor to have contributed in a small way to the council's record in delivering services. I agree that it is not the small local borough so beloved of people in Scotland, but it delivers services to residents and that is what matters.

Another aspect that the Government have not addressed in any of their propaganda is Strathclyde regional council's record of achievement in Europe. Many people take the view that Europe sits there with plenty of our money but that we do not get a fair share back. If everyone followed the example of Strathclyde region and got some of our money back from Europe, we would be a great deal better off.

Strathclyde region has secured £260 million from the European development fund. In addition, it has obtained £90 million in grants from the European social fund. That provided 67,000 training places and helped Strathclyde firms to take on an additional 28,000 employees. If that type of positive approach to Europe were taken by every other council in Britain, never mind Scotland, the financial, economic and employment base of the country would be far better. If Strathclyde goes, the people of Britain and Scotland will lose the progressive, innovative policies of that regional council.

Notwithstanding the comments of the hon. Member for Ayr, one issue that has not been addressed is the concessionary travel scheme for pensioners. More than 400,000 concessionary travel cards are provided for elderly and disabled people, giving them subsidised travel across the region. Before 1975 there was no record of two councils under the old system reaching agreement on a travel scheme. That illustrates what happens if there are too many councils spread about when it comes to implementing and organising a travel scheme. The travel scheme is a first-class example of Strathclyde's reputation for delivering services to people.

Under the Government's proposals, the various services for which Strathclyde council is now accountable will be hived off to unelected boards, including Strathclyde joint police authority, the Mid-Western and South-Western fire authorities, the west of Scotland water authority, the Scottish water and sewerage customers council and so on. Democracy and accountability will be removed in a series of services. There is no doubt in my mind that the Secretary of State will make sure that Tory placemen and placewomen will make up those boards.

With the reduction in size of authorities, especially Strathclyde, there will be a loss of strategic overview of service provision. The closer we get to the elimination of Strathclyde regional council from Scotland's local authority life, the more some of us react in horror. I make no apology for speaking about my area. When I envisage my area without the influence of strathclyde regional council, I see a nightmare.

What has taken place is a disgrace. The Government have no mandate for what they are doing. There has been no royal commission. In a democracy it is wrong for any political party to set political boundaries. The point was rightly made earlier that local government reorganisation will in turn impose political boundaries on the parliamentary constituencies. The Bill has all the hallmarks of a rotten borough Government who have been in power too long, are too complacent and believe that they will be re-elected time and time again. The public will react.

I do not take the view that we have lost and that the Bill will sail through Committee and the House. There will be united opposition against the Bill in Committee. If the Government think that the Bill will have an easy passage, they have another think coming. We shall fight it tooth and nail to save not only Strathclyde but the whole of democratic Scottish local government and to put an end to the dictatorship of St. Andrew's house under the Tories.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East 7:03, 17 January 1994

Like the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy), I look forward to the day when there is a public reaction to what the Government are doing. The sooner it comes, the better.

Today is hansel Monday—the day in the old Scots calendar on which employers gave their employees a gift, a good meal and a day off. Sadly, today the Secretary of State for Scotland—our colonial governor—has not heard of hansel Monday. He bears no gifts. He is starving our local authorities of funding and powers, and is trying to write off real local authority accountability within our communities.

The Secretary of State should try to link tradition with modern-day needs and dump the Bill. The sooner he does so, the better. My objections to the Government's proposals are deep, and are founded on the principle that democratic government should be the norm, not the exception, in Scotland. The Government are inflicting the Bill on Scotland with minimal consultation and even less support. The Bill will be bulldozed through the House and Committee, using the votes of English Tory Members who have no electoral mandate in Scotland or any particular knowledge of Scotland.

The empty Benches behind the Secretary of State—empty even of Scottish Tories, apart from one—show how little the English Members who will appear in the House at 10 o'clock and force the measure through know or care about Scotland. Those self-same English Tories will be packed on to the Committee to bulldoze the measure through against the wishes of the Scottish people. That is not what democracy should be about, however the Bill is dressed up.

The House of Commons claims to be a United Kingdom Parliament. The Under-Secretary has often said it. He has often said that every hon. Member has a right to speak on any issue. But the Bill is oppressive and clearly unfair to Scotland. It does no credit to the Westminster system when democracy is crushed by the Executive, who use a whipped Parliament to force through measures which do not reflect the wishes of the Scottish people.

However the Bill is dressed up, it is an attack on democracy. The Scottish electorate rejected the Conservatives and their proposals. The majority English population were never even asked about the proposals. Yet English Tory Members will be herded through Parliament, and the legislation will be passed using the Government English majority.

The proposals on water command the support of no more than a tiny minority of Conservatives in Scotland—a tiny minority of a tiny minority. Yet the Bill is about to be whipped through Parliament with minimal change. Scotland is already being run by far too many non-elected quangos hand-picked by the Government. If the measure is passed, Scotland will have proportionally the fewest elected representatives in the whole of Europe. That is what the Government are doing to us.

The Bill not only erodes our elected local government system by reducing the number of freely elected councillors, but seeks to replace those elected councillors with a handful of nominees hand-picked behind closed doors by the Secretary of State. The Bill also gives the Secretary of State a massive new batch of delegated powers. The most frequently used phrases in this pathetic Bill are "the Secretary of State will make an order", "the Secretary of State may make regulations", "the Secretary of State shall" and so on. The Bill is not a decentralising measure. It empowers the Secretary of State, not local authorities.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

The hon. Gentleman makes a strong and powerful case, with which I certainly agree. Where does his party stand on the formation of new authorities and small authorities? He said that power will be handed over to the Secretary of State. That will be facilitated by the formation of single-tier authorities in existing districts. Does his party oppose giving single districts multi-purpose status?

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

I wonder what the trap is that the hon. Gentleman seeks to lay. The question should be solved by looking at the communities of Scotland. The last Labour Administration solved the problem by creating the Wheatley commission, which undertook surveys and checked what the population wanted. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the Rowntree Trust report, which tells us that actual size is not important. Therefore, we can fairly look at communities. That is where I take issue with the Government. Their Bill is based not on communities but on a gerrymandered map.

Photo of Mr Norman Hogg Mr Norman Hogg , Cumbernauld and Kilsyth

The hon. Gentleman tells me what the Rowntree Trust thinks, but it would be a great help if he could tell us what the Scottish National party thinks. Is it or is it not in favour of single-tier local authorities founded on existing districts?

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

I will give the hon. Gentleman an example. Angus district authority should be such an authority. I can name others, if the hon. Gentleman wishes.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

The hon. Gentleman plays the Tory game in his own way. The authorities should be based on—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks questions and then does not listen to the answer. If the Bill was based on communities, the problems would be sorted out.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

The hon. Gentleman makes the point. Fine, that is no problem.

The Bill does not empower local authorities. It takes power away from them and from the House. There is a mass of European secondary legislation and general secondary legislation sloshing through this place which is not properly scrutinised by anyone who has been elected to the House. Yet the Bill will add massively to that number, because it gives the Government and the Secretary of State massive powers to regulate. It will not be properly scrutinised. I do not call that democratic.

The Tory minority Government in Scotland are introducing a new word to the political dictionary—"langocracy", which means Government by and through the Secretary of State. In the langocracy system, the Secretary of State rules everything. What he does not control directly will be run by non-elected, hand-picked quangos of his choice. In Lang's land, if one does not get the vote of the people, ignore them: take over their assets, appoint one's own people to run things and use one's own inbuilt English majority to bulldoze it through. That is langocracy. That is how Scotland is now governed. It has nothing to do with democracy. The Secretary of State is acting as a governor-general.

The Bill is littered with extra legislative powers for the Secretary of State, with the Greater Glasgow health board situation now being writ large throughout the country. The points made earlier about that, with the House not being able to get at the truth, are a lesson well worth learning and a matter of which the population of Scotland should be well warned if the Bill is implemented.

The Bill is not an enabling measure for local government. It is disabling. Nor is it a decentralising measure. It gives the Secretary of State massive new powers, and means that central Government will take decisions about daily services in Scotland, which should be the preserve of locally elected councillors. The window dressing of decentralisation schemes shows the power that is being taken away. What use is a council office to a town, which probably had one anyway, when the councillors who are elected by it, are reduced in numbers and powers? That would simply be more window-dressing from central Government, who are notorious for their secrecy and lack of true consultation.

Even the decentralisation schemes are subject to centralised scrutiny by the Secretary of State. I find it objectionable that the Government intend to take billions of pounds of water assets—public assets—in our water and sewerage industries and grab them for the use of unelected, unaccountable quangos, which are only the first stage to eventual privatisation, in which private pockets will benefit.

But then again, that Tory Government invites quango nominees to private fund-raising dinners and pretend that that is perfectly normal and that the invitees are disinterested, non-political spectators. That situation reeks of the goings-on at Westminster, to which the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) alluded earlier.

The water industry's capital assets were not created by central Government. The figures of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities show that central Government contributed only 0·03 per cent. to them. They are public assets, paid for over generations by local taxpayers, who now find democratic control removed and replaced by a Greater Glasgow health board system over which they have no say and absolutely no control.

I want the Minister to tell us how democracy will be advanced by those quangos. Will public accountability be increased? How can there be greater scrutiny when Scotland's billions of pounds of water assets will be controlled by two, perhaps three, football teams, all hand-picked and nominated by the Secretary of State for Scotland? Their meetings will be held behind closed doors. What is democratic about that? It goes against all the words he used, and shows the basic hyprocrisy of the Government and the hypocrisy contained in the Bill.

According to the Bill, local government does not even need to have an education committee. That becomes understandable if the Government are planning enabling councils and not service-providing councils. That perhaps gives the Government's ultimate game away, because the Tories obviously hope for massive school opt-outs, and the break-up of Scotland's national system of education.

That figures, because the Secretary of State has never been taught in a Scottish school or university. Most of his pals pack their kids off to private schools as soon as they can. I do not think that Cambridge Footlights happened in Scotland, apart from the Edinburgh festival.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

What was the other public school in England? I need hardly apologise for that.

If that is the Government's attitude, and if their end product is not to put an education committee in the Bill, I thoroughly disagree with that, given Scotland's traditional importance attached to education.

The boundaries are clearly pochled to suit Conservative party political convenience. I could have used the word "gerrymandered", but "pochled" sounds more appropriate. There has been little or no attempt to match boundaries to communities—far less, real consultation. The motive is plainly gerrymandering. In a two-party electoral system, the Tories now find themselves the third—often the fourth —party. Their response is change the rules to change the results. With revelations about Westminster council, gerrymandering, like telephone canvassing, seems to have become a tried and tested Tory technique.

My objection is that the Bill is based on hypocrisy. The Government state that Strathclyde region is too big, too bureaucratic and remote, and that therefore it must be demolished. Yet they do the opposite when it comes to creating three monster unelected boards to run water services. On their own argument, if Strathclyde region is "too big and remote", why are they creating the giant Western area water board and running it with 11 hand-picked appointees?

The old Soviet Union would have been quite proud of that centralist dictatorship, which no doubt the Conservative Kremlinists are now introducing. When the Soviet Union has abandoned such a system, it is an irony that it has now been foisted on Scotland by English Tories forcing the Bill through Parliament. While England gets a Commission and thought-through boundaries, Scotland gets a rush job. The last time the Tories visited that on us was when we had the fiasco of the poll tax.

No matter what happens in the Bill, when the Government bulldoze it through, Scottish local government will continue, because of the expertise of the officials and councillors who run it. It will be despite—not because—of this ill-thought-out and disgusting Bill, which I hope the House will oppose.

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South 7:16, 17 January 1994

I must declare an interest in the debate and in the Bill. The interest is of someone who passionately believes in the ethos of Scottish local government, and who is appalled by these proposals. The Bill is the latest in a long line of legislative sledgehammers that the Government have sought to use on Scottish local government.

There are a great many reasons why the House should not be debating the matter today. Indeed, the Secretary of State should have had the good sense to stop trying to push through the proposed legislation some months ago, when it became obvious that, even among Scottish Tories, there was no consensus on the reform.

Despite the worst efforts of Ministers to rubbish Scottish local government, it is clear that there is no justification whatever for reforming it at this time, barely two decades after the Wheatley commission debated the matter at length and produced a blueprint which had the broad support of all Scotland's political parties.

Despite the black propaganda campaign pursued by the Scottish Office, the Scottish people have refused to allow themselves to be conned into believing the Tory party, which has spent the past 14 years destroying Scottish local government and which has minimal representation on Scottish councils. They do not believe that the Government can be trusted with the future of Scottish local government. The Bill clearly demonstrates, as have other events not a million miles from this place, the political prejudices of a Government determined to pursue a party political interest before the interests of the people as a whole.

My hon. Friends have referred to the Government's hidden agenda on a whole range of legislative issues. Through the Bill, the Government have changed their attitude fundamentally. They have decided to adopt the not-so-hidden agenda and to parade their political bias to create Tory rotten boroughs across Scotland. The Bill cynically carves out Tory safe havens in Perth and Kinross, Stirling, Eastwood and, of course, in Ayr. As my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has said, Ayr has now become known in Ayrshire as Gallielee.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the different size and range of authorities throughout Scotland. Has he seen the document entitled "The Future of Local Government in Scotland", produced by the Labour party? It states: As the first criterion of any reform, there is no one solution for all parts of Scotland.

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South

I would not argue with that. I am arguing about gerrymandering to create unfair electoral areas, particularly in Ayrshire. When Gallielee was created, it literally meant the promised land to one Conservative Member, until the deliberations of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission, got in the way. Perhaps because of that, I understand that even the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) is now opposed to the Secretary of State's proposals for as they affect Ayrshire. That clearly suggests that there is no obvious consensus on the Government Benches on this matter.

Gallielee will, none the less, be followed by Fairbairnlee, Forsythlee and Stewartlee, because the local government boundaries outlined in the Bill show how the new structures have been gerrymandered. It has been done to maximise the number of Tory-controlled authorities and try to minimise the number of Labour-controlled ones.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South

I am sure that such political criteria are not those on which Lord Wheatley would have based his reforms. They are unique to Tory Administrations.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not the custom of the House for an hon. Member to give way to another hon. Member should he name him in his speech?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

It is for the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) to decide whether he should give way.

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South

Party political prejudice should never be allowed to dictate the structure of local government, because political bias is no basis for good local government.

The Government's central argument in favour of the Bill is that money will be saved and the extent of bureaucracy will be minimised. That was outlined in a report conveniently produced for the Scottish Office by the management consultants, Touche Ross. The report's arguments have been taken apart by costings produced by many organisations in Scotland, which have demonstrated how subjective and irrelevant that report is.

No detailed assessments of the claimed savings were offered in the report. Let us compare those supposed savings with those that Strathclyde regional council currently makes from economies of scale. It spends approximately £60 million each year on fuel. Because of its size, and only because of that, it can negotiate with British Gas, Scottish Power—I am sure that the hon. Member for Ayr would be able to tell us about that—British Coal or whoever to make savings of 18 per cent. on fuel costs. Next year, that will result in a saving of £11 million.

The council has bulk purchasing power because of its size. Because of that, it saves approximately £20 million per annum when purchasing other products and services. That means that it makes a total saving of £30 million each year. Compare that with the new authorities, as proposed in the Bill, which will find themselves paying between 10 and 20 per cent. extra for products and services. That will add £50 million each year to the costs of those new authorities. I should like to know from the Secretary of State whether those costs were included in the Touche Ross report. Are they part of his justification to initiate the reform of local government?

According to the Bill's financial memorandum, savings of between £22 million and £66 million per annum will be gained from a structure of 28 unitary authorities. Even if that is to be believed, no mention is made of the continuing costs I have mentioned, which will cancel out, at a stroke, the Government's supposed savings.

In stark terms, the proposed reorganisation can lead only to more cuts in council services. That effect on vital services to the community will be devastating. On top of those cuts, proposed cuts of £330 million have been made in council spending for the years 1994–97. That will decimate Scottish local government, it will cause further hardship and it will pile further misery on the public who rely on good-quality services.

We have already seen the disgraceful decision of the Scottish Office to press ahead, three years early, with the wind-up of the Irvine development corporation. That is a direct consequence of the Government's reform of Scottish local government. It is clear that that decision was motivated purely by the Scottish Office's need to generate income from the sale of Irvine new town's assets in order to try to offset the costs of local government reform.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Irvine development corporation; he should reflect on the efforts of Cunninghame district council, a number of years ago, when it was Labour-controlled. It attempted to persuade the then Secretary of State to give it the powers of that corporation. Surely, under the Bill, those powers are on offer to the local authority?

Photo of Brian H Donohoe Brian H Donohoe , Cunninghame South

That is my reading of the decision. Irvine new town area and Cunninghame will be deprived of £17 million as a result of the winding up of the development corporation, so the opposite of what the hon. Gentleman has suggested will happen.

When the Secretary of State launched the White Paper, he did not even mention the decision to wind up the Irvine development corporation. The launch was followed by a sham consultation, which ignored the views of thousands of new town tenants. They will now be forced into choosing a new landlord, with all that that means for their tenancy rights and rent levels. People are already bearing the brunt of the Secretary of State's reforms.

The Bill also proposes, almost as a sideline, major reforms to Scotland's water and sewerage services. The transfer of those services to new boards means that their public accountability will be further eroded and that their operation will come under the influence of the Scottish Office. It is sad that that reform is apparently included as one of the etceteras referred to in the Bill's title. Everyone relies on those essential services for their daily existence. They have billions of pounds of assets, and they employ tens of thousands of people, but they are not worthy of separate legislation.

It seems that Ministers are simply more interested in trying to bury the issue of water and sewerage services in order to limit any further damage to the Government. It is clear that the Government's plans for the water and sewerage system is one step on the road to their eventual privatisation, according to the model used in England and Wales. Again, that reform does not command public support in Scotland, and it is irrelevant to the needs of the Scottish people.

As someone who has first-hand experience, as a Member of Parliament for Ayrshire, of the blundering bureaucracy caused by the Government's national health service reforms, as implemented by Bill Fyfe through the Ayrshire and Arran health board, and of Ayrshire Enterprise's roundabout improvement programmes, which begin to look more and more irrelevant to the economic well-being of Ayrshire, I know that the last thing that Scotland needs is more boards and more Government appointees, on the model proposed by the Scottish Office.

Government by boards and quangos is never a substitute for directly elected and directly accountable local councils. If the Secretary of State is keen to cut red tape and to abolish bureaucracy, he should turn his attention to the NHS trusts and the local enterprise companies which he set up, rather than concentrating on local government, which has proved its worth in terms of delivering good public services.

It is clear that there is no justification for the reforms outlined in the Bill. There will be no savings or public support for the reform of local government and, even if those two factors were met, there is no case for reforming local government on the basis of a party political agenda that seeks to gerrymander new council boundaries for the Tory party's political gain.

Local government is too important an issue for one party to manipulate for its own ends. The Secretary of State should note that and withdraw the Bill, before the House wastes any more time debating legislation that would be better known as the 'Local Misgovernment etc. (Scotland) Bill'.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West 7:30, 17 January 1994

My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) is right to say that the Bill's title is a bit of a misnomer. If the Government had a shred of honesty left, they would describe the Bill as the Demolition of Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, because that is the hidden agenda behind it.

The Government do not believe in local democracy or genuine local government because they see those as a threat to their power base, so they are out to destroy what little local democracy remains in Scotland. Their ideal council would probably meet for an hour once a year to dish out contracts to Tory cronies in the private sector and then retire for a liquid lunch.

I do not support in every respect the existing system of local government. It is not perfect, and I am not alone among Opposition Members in expressing a preference for a single-tier system of councils, directly elected by and accountable to the people. But that is not what the Bill proposes. It proposes not a one-tier system but a weakened two-tier and, in some areas, three-tier system consisting of, first, greatly weakened councils; secondly, joint authorities that will administer many of the important functions in many areas; and, thirdly, in all areas, non-elected quangos to administer the important services of water, sewerage and drainage.

Some of the councils will not be big enough in terms of population and revenue base to provide efficiently for some of the important services, such as education, social work, the police and the fire brigade. I note that the chief executive of Central regional council, Douglas Sinclair, referred to that at a weekend conference. One of the councils to which he obviously referred was Stirling, the third smallest council proposed for mainland Scotland. If the Secretary of State is really determined to split Central region into two, surely it would be more logical in terms of population balance, community ties and transport communications for Clackmannan to be linked with Stirling rather than Falkirk.

There are no prizes for guessing why the Government rejected that option. It would probably lead to two Labour-controlled councils in that area and the Government are determined to do everything in their power to retain a Tory enclave in the Stirling area.

If the Government reject the claims of gerrymandering, whether it be in central or other parts of Scotland, why were they so afraid to refer the whole matter to an independent commission? This is the first time in living memory that such a major restructuring of local government is proposed by central Government with no input from an independent body. In the absence of a Scottish Parliament, the severe democratic deficit that already exists in Scotland will be deepened by the Bill.

I warn the Secretary of State that the way in which the Government propose to force the Bill through Parliament will bring the Government into further disrepute and further expose that democratic deficit in Scotland. It will also reinforce the growing view among the Scottish people that the way that we are governed is an undemocratic farce.

Reference has been made to what will happen at the end of Second Reading at 10 o'clock tonight. Look at how empty the Government Benches are now. At 10 o'clock, hon. Members will be drafted in on a three-line Whip—

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Falkirk West

No; I shall not give way because I am making a point.

If the vote were left to hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies, we would win by an overwhelming majority, but the Government Whip will simply crack the three-line Whip and in will come hordes of Tory Members representing constituencies south of the border who have not listened to an iota of the debate. They do not understand the legislation and their constituents will not be affected by it, yet they can use the system to outnumber us in the vote. Government Whips will also draft hon. Members representing constituencies south of the border on to the Committee, which will deprive Labour Members representing Scottish constituencies of an opportunity to represent the interests of our constituents on that Committee.

That farcical procedure reinforces the case for a Scottish Parliament but, sadly, the Government do not believe in democracy for Scotland, whether at parliamentary or at local level. The Government's model parliamentary structure is to retain a unitary, over-centralised Westminster Parliament. Until recently, their model local council was Westminster city council, along the road. Look at its track record. It sold off graveyards for a few pence and then misused £21 million of public money to sell homes and buy votes.

Other hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, compared the activities of the Secretary of State for Scotland and those of Lady Porter. My hon. Friend was being a wee bit unfair to Lady Porter, because she misappropriated £21 million of public money to gerrymander the city of Westminster whereas the Secretary of State for Scotland is hellbent on misappropriating almost £200 million of public money to gerrymander the whole of Scotland. The Secretary of State is, in fact, a bigger villain than Lady Porter and, if there were any justice in this country, action would be taken against him to recover any public moneys misappropriated in the way that he intends.

Recent events have caused the stench of corruption to emanate from the Government. The Bill is part and parcel of that corruption which is a symptom of terminal decline. However, the Government's days are numbered and, if they do not listen now to the views of the elected representatives of the people of Scotland, they will have to do so when those views are expressed in the ballot box. Later this year, the people of Scotland will give the Government a double whammy at the local elections and the Euro-elections, which will be the forerunner to the knockout punch. The sooner that comes, the better for the interests of the people of Scotland and all the other victims of this discredited, corrupt and totalitarian Government.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Wray Mr Jimmy Wray , Glasgow Provan 7:40, 17 January 1994

I have sat here all day waiting to speak and I am very disappointed about the way in which the debate has been conducted. Some hon. Members spoke for 15 or 20 minutes and then intervened on other speakers, although many hon. Members were still waiting to be called. What I have to say will not take long because a great deal of time has already been wasted.

I have had the experience of serving on an all-purpose authority and on Strathclyde regional council. I served Glasgow city for a long time and I know what can happen when Governments intervene. The Secretary of State for Scotland kept mentioning Wheatley and other hon. Members have referred to the disgraceful stance adopted by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and its policy of non-co-operation. I do not blame COSLA, but hope that it will continue to oppose the Government's proposals. The Secretary of State quotes Wheatley, Stoddart and other commission reports but he does not believe in commissions. COSLA echoes the sentiments of every local authority in Scotland—no one wanted reorganisation.

Strathclyde is a very large regional council. I know what that means because I represented the corporation of Glasgow for three years. Strathclyde has a population of 1·5 million and the area of about 66 acres that I represented had 125 public houses and 75 betting shops. Yes, we needed a commission to examine such planning. The Wheatley commission was set up in 1966 but did not report until three years later, in 1969. Other commissions and committees, such as those headed by Baines, Maude and Paterson, also examined management structures.

How can you expect Strathclyde region or Glasgow district council to respect the Government's proposals? Let us consider what those bodies had to deal with: pupil-teacher ratios, a declining population—[Interruption.] Look at that gang sniggering, especially the bespectacled fellow—the Government Whip—the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes). He does not know what hardship is all about, but we saw the poverty and the Rachmanism in Glasgow where your Tory comrade neglected properties. Millions of pounds had to be spent to clear up the mess, and that is what will happen again.

The Government say that one of the reasons for reforming local government is the size of the Strathclyde region—but it is also Labour-controlled. The Government have no control in Scotland. The handful of Tory Members present will be able to vote and to uproot and disrupt council members throughout Scotland. Those people have dedicated years to trying to provide better services. For example, social workers in Strathclyde changed the adoption rules and made it possible for youngsters to live with families, access for the disabled has improved in general and homes for the handicapped have been opened. The pupil-teacher ratio, which the council inherited, has been improved in slum areas such as parts of Glasgow.

I am worried about Glasgow because its population has fallen to 663,000 and the Government want to reduce it further. By rigging the boundaries, they hope to reduce it by a further 47,000. The Secretary of State talked about consultation but the people of King's Park and Toryglen voted 90:10 against becoming part of South Lanarkshire.

If the Secretary of State is serious about reforming local government in Scotland, he must examine why the Wheatley commission was established. Do we want to go back to the 1920s when the Government were telling local authorities to go bankrupt? Any reform must be viable, cost-effective and able to deliver services.

If Glasgow is to survive, there must be a social-economic balance. We cannot provide education and all the other services from a population of 663,000. We must take into account the privileged areas such as Bearsden, Newton Mearns, Bishopbriggs and Milngavie. People from those areas probably travel into the city two or three days a week to work but they do not pay anything towards the city. If the city is to survive, the Secretary of State needs to widen boundary.

Touche Ross was chosen to investigate the cost, but the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy disagreed with one aspect of its findings. CIPFA said that the on-going savings would be £49 million whereas Touche Ross estimated that they would be £120 million. Strathclyde believes that the savings would be minus 17 per cent., and it should know what the services cost.

The Government have yet another figure, so something must be wrong somewhere. Government say that the transitional costs could possibly be £120 million to £196 million but, taking into account the on-going savings over a five-year period, they arrive at a figure of £310 million to £330 million. How can we discuss the reform of local government when there are four or five different figures? The variation in the figures is one reason, Secretary of State, why you need to abandon the proposals.

There is a ham-and-eggs situation and the Government will fail. You will keep people up all night, disrupt every local authority in Scotland and throw people out of jobs, all because you have not taken enough time or given the issue the necessary thought. We are not necessarily against reform, but you should at least have shown the regional and district councils the courtesy of evaluating exactly the work that they had done.

However, you went in with a sweeping brush and swept aside people who had dedicated themselves to serving the council for 18 years. All of a sudden, their jobs have gone. Of course they are worried. COSLA is also worried and is right to do what it can. No hon. Member believes, Secretary of State, that you intend to keep the water—

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

Order. I hesitate to intervene, but the hon. Gentleman keeps using the word "you". The Chair is not responsible for any of the policies.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Wray Mr Jimmy Wray , Glasgow Provan

Secretary of State, no hon. Member will agree that the Government do not intend to take water services out of public control. How much money will be invested'? About £5 billion will need to be spent on sewerage and water throughout Scotland. What is total investment now? I read in a paper that about £2·5 billion had been put up front; we are talking about £5 billion or so. What price will the taxpayers, ratepayers and electors of Scotland pay for that generous amount to be handed in to get the percentage from the boards that will run water services? We see it as privatisation of the water industry by the back door.

Secretary of State, you should look twice and consider the state of the water industry in England, the corruption in that industry and where money was invested in that industry. It was not invested in water and sewerage; it was invested everywhere else. The only people who paid for water privatisation were the electors. I hope that, when you pass the Bill, you will ensure that it is honest and fair to the electors of Scotland.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Legislation Committee, Chair, European Legislation Sub-Committee on Roads Safety Competence 7:51, 17 January 1994

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) is not in his seat. I tried to intervene earlier when he made an outrageous attack on council members from Monk lands. We have heard enough accusations in this place from hon. Members who do not come up with any proof of their allegations; they will make them in here, but will not open their mouths outwith this place. I am sorry that the hon. Member is not here to hear my rebuttal. [HoN. MEMBERS: "He is here."] I apologise. I did not see the hon. Gentleman sneaking in from the side.

The hon. Gentleman referred to certain practices, on which I cannot comment. He talked about patronage. He should consider the fact that Conservative Members who were defeated at the last election have been looked after by being given Government jobs and the chairmanships of boards and quangos. The wives of present and retired Conservative Members are appointed to trust boards and health boards. That seems to contradict what he was concerned about earlier.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said, he would have realised that I quoted allegations that were reported in several newspapers. Also, I talked about a Labour party inquiry and its findings. Does he disagree with the Labour party's findings, which accepted that there were goings-on that were not reputable?

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Legislation Committee, Chair, European Legislation Sub-Committee on Roads Safety Competence

The hon. Member now says that he was only quoting allegations. He obviously does not know much about them. I am not in a position to comment—I do not know much about them either. If he is concerned about patronage, however, he should consider the patronage that has been dished out by his party and he should not criticise others unfairly.

I see that the Secretary of State is smiling. I had a smile on my face myself when, at the end of his speech, he referred to "back to basics". He reminded me of a good lawyer speaking to a bum brief: the local government reforms are unwanted and unnecessary.

What is good about the Bill is its title: Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill. I would support anything that aimed to improve local government, local democracy and local services. We could have a good debate on how to achieve that, but that is not what the Government intend.

Historically, local government has always protected communities against the excesses of central Government. Perhaps that is why, when this Government were first elected in 1979 under Mrs. Thatcher, they were obsessively opposed to local government. They wanted to have their way, to dictate to local government and to prevent it from providing and setting services for local communities. Historically, Labour authorities have always been able to provide those services. It is difficult today for Labour or other authorities to protect communities from the policies of this Government. Not satisfied with that, the Government are making a further attack on local government and local democracy.

Conservative Members have said that this is a decentralising Bill. Far from it; it is very much a centralising Bill. The Government are obsessed with centralising power. We should consider the position in western Europe—and in eastern Europe, where all the moves towards democracy involve decentralising power down to the people and communities. From day one in 1979, the Government have been centralising power in the hands of a few individuals. Power is not being centralised in Parliament; to say that we are Parliament and that we run the show is a load or nonsense.

There was hypocrisy on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill. Some hon. Members—I shall not refer to them as the Prime Minister did, when he questioned their parenthood—were against the loss of sovereignty in this place. They said that power must not be centralised in Brussels, or in Europe, and that we needed decentralisation. They talked about subsidiarity, down to the nth degree of where democracy is. What was meant was down to Downing street and its policy unit: they would not let people have a say outwith that.

As my hon. Friends have said, we are not against change, but we want change for the better. No legitimate change will improve local government unless its first step is to form a Scottish Parliament. That would decentralise power. Surely the way to protect democracy is to pass decisions down to the nth degree. I am proud of the policy of my party, because one of its first acts in Government will be to deliver decentralisation to the United Kingdom, not just to Scotland and Wales. That is what we mean by people's power. One of the farces on television used to talk about power to the people. That is what democracy is about.

With whom will the power to provide services reside in Scotland? Will it be with the councils and councillors? Certainly not. Will it be with communities and council tax payers? Will they be able to hold people accountable to them? Certainly not. Will it be with unelected, unaccountable Tory-placed quangos? Yes.

We talk about unitary authorities and single-tier authorities. We are not talking about single-tier government. We are talking about replacing the present second tier—the regions, which are elected bodies—with unelected quangos. We are talking about the power that the Secretary of State cannot get through the ballot box in Scotland, so he is taking it through Westminster and vesting it in St. Andrew's house. The powers of the regions will be taken by a governing party which has only nine or 10 seats out of 72 in Scotland. That is not democracy or decentralisation and that is not what we want in our democracy.

Plenty has been said about Strathclyde and not merely here tonight. I remember when the Prime Minister went to Scotland and made a speech pledging support for the exchange rate mechanism—we were kicked out seven days later. In the same speech he said that the Government would get rid of Strathclyde. What has Strathclyde done to be so hated by the Government? My grandfather was a trade union official and he used to tell me, "Son, when the bosses attack you, you're obviously doing your job." Strathclyde council should be damn proud of the fact that this Tory Government are attacking it. It certainly means that it is doing something to upset the Government, so it must be doing its job—preserving services and defending the interests of its electors and of our constituents and communities.

We cannot ignore the fact that the Government's motive for attacking regional councils—Strathclyde in particular—is the same motive that drove them to get rid of the Greater London council and the metropolitan councils: that they were all Labour-controlled. The truth is that what they cannot win through the ballot box they intend to get through their policies. It is nothing short of dictatorship.

The education provisions of the Bill worry me greatly. I have a 14-year-old child, who is getting a damn good education out of Strathclyde regional council—an excellent education—as do tens of thousands of other children. What about education for the under-fives? The Prime Minister has been converted to that cause and says that it is now Government policy.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

Back to basics.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Legislation Committee, Chair, European Legislation Sub-Committee on Roads Safety Competence

Yes, we might even get back to the basics on education.

Strathclyde spends £42 million on educating 25,000 children under five. That is not something that it should be condemned for—it should be praised. Who will provide community education? The Bill contains no mention of that. Small authorities, whether in Eastwood or elsewhere, cannot make the economics of scale. What about the 45,000 pupils with special needs? I am seriously concerned about the effects of the Bill on education. The Government's real motive for the Bill is that they are again being driven by dogma. The new local authorities will have to force schools to opt out because they cannot afford to provide an adequate education system. They will be forced to abdicate responsibility and accountability for our kids' education.

I am also worried about social work. Hon. Members often mention the housing aspects of social work and the two must be linked, but it is not merely about housing. When we talk about social work we are talking about livelihoods, about protecting people and about life itself. One cannot leave social work to the fancy rhetoric of buying services. Social work is about trying to help the very needy, those with social problems, socially deprived families and offenders when they come out of prison. The Bill will not help.

What about voluntary organisations? My constituency covers more than 500 square miles and thousands of my constituents are involved with voluntary organisations, such as citizens advice bureaux, but they need financial support from the community. Members of Parliament and councils are not always there to do the work that is done by that much-needed service, but there is no mention of that in the Bill. Our voluntary organisations will be run on a hope and a prayer and my guess is that they will be severely damaged.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was born and bred in his constituency and still have contacts there. He is talking about community care and looking after the elderly. Is he aware that Cornhill house will be closed next year and that no additional members will therefore be accepted into that community? The alternatives are Beattock or Lamancha in Lothian. That is totally inappropriate for the families and the people of the area who are deeply concerned about their elderly parents.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Legislation Committee, Chair, European Legislation Sub-Committee on Roads Safety Competence

Absolutely. I am well aware of that problem and I am making representations on the subject. It is not helped by the financial constraints that have been placed on local authorities. The care in the community provisions cause us great concern. The Government have dumped that policy on local government and now they are saying, "It's your baby." They are walking away and washing their hands of it as they have done all too often.

Public transport policy is also worrying. I mentioned the size of my constituency. As it covers more than 500 square miles, roads and transport feature strongly among the services needed by such a community. The statistics are provided in an excellent brief from Strathclyde regional council. As is probably always the case, negative news gets better coverage than positive news. Strathclyde has an excellent record on transport and roads. I am sure that hon. Members often write to the council to complain about this, that and the other, but its record on some things is excellent, especially on transport. Who will provide travelcards and help with bus fares in the constituency?

I was a local councillor in Newark—now it is Newark and Sherwood—in the east Midlands, where I was a member of a hung council. The power went to and fro. We were in opposition, then we would be in government for six weeks, but would have to resign and let the Tories take over again and so on. I remember negotiating with four independent farmers—who usually voted Tory. They put us in power to set up a travelcard scheme under which we paid half the fare. The scheme had a tremendous impact and was a great service to the community. It did not merely provide a worthwhile service for the elderly and disabled but had a large impact on employment. We have heard from the Government about some of the consequences for employment. They are running away from reality if they do not realise that the Bill will have majjor consequences for employment. There are 400,000 travelcard holders, which means 400,000 people using local transport. If the scheme goes, many jobs with that excellent service will go, too.

The council also has—I speak again as a rural member of Parliament—an excellent dial-a-bus service. When one cannot walk a hundred yards but one can get a bus down into the local town to do a wee bit of shopping and have a wee bit of a day out, it means a lot. One can travel by that bus from Biggar, where the mother of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) lives. She probably tells her daughter that she votes for the Scottish National party, but I daresay that she will vote Labour and not tell her about that. It is a great service to a community. All those services are put at risk by the nonsense and gerrymandering of the Bill.

Then there are the great problems of rail transport. Carstairs is in my constituency. Sadly, the railway has been run down over the years. We keep arguing and writing to the Minister. I see that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), is in his place. He has had loads of letters from me and my constituents about preserving the excellent service to Carstairs.

We also need to extend rail services into the rural community because we have to provide sustenance for rural communities, not just for travelling for leisure, but to improve the opportunities for travelling to and from work. I fear that if the excellent rail services that are provided by Strathclyde regional council go, as they may well do, in whatever form they come back it will not be up to the present standards. That would have a devastating effect on our community.

I have taken the opportunity to mention but a few of my objections to the Bill. I will resume my seat by saying that it is a bad Bill from a gerrymandering, bad Government.

Photo of Mr Eric Clarke Mr Eric Clarke , Midlothian 8:11, 17 January 1994

Having been a councillor for 16 years on Midlothian county council and, after the Wheatley report, a regional councillor in the Lothians, I was aware of the prior organisational problems of local authorities. I object, however, to the Secretary of State for Scotland stating that the consultation was equivalent to the Wheatley inquiry. It is an insult to Lord Wheatley and it is not factually and historically correct. Had there been a Wheatley-type inquiry, many of the anomalies in the Bill would have been eradicated because common sense would have prevailed. Hon Members should not blame Wheatley for what happened to local authorities after his inquiry because much of the Wheatley report was ignored and it was changed in the House before it was implemented.

The reorganisation of local government in Scotland and especially in my region, the Lothians, is not top of the priority list of people who are in need and it is certainly not top of the priority list of Scotland. There is a great desire for a greater say in the autonomy of Scotland and for a Parliament in Scotland. Conservative Members have repeatedly said that the Labour party had in its manifesto that we were in favour of a one-tier authority, after the placement of a Parliament in Edinburgh or in Scotland as a whole, because there would be debate, discussion and inquiries and everyone could be consulted about the type of local authority that would suit their region. The excuse has been made that a one-tier, all-purpose authority simplifies the role oflocal government to the people. It may do so in theory, but I do not think that that is what has motivated the Government.

The Bill is a bit of a farce and it is stripping the responsibilities away from the local authorities.They will lose the police, fire, water and drainage services, in some areas they will have to have joint education authorities and they must come together for strategic planning. We are back to the bad old days when they used to hire the McEwan hall for strategic planning. I went there with the local authorities in the Lothians area. If there were strategic planning matters there was a whole delegation from burghs and God knows where. We had to have a whole host of people.

The chairmen of the quangos will be appointed by the Secretary of State, which certainly does not add to local autonomy or democracy. When I heard the Government saying, "We shall make them accountable to the ratepayers," with rate capping and all the Government's other activities, financial or otherwise, I remembered when we stood by our rates and were voted either in or out of office because of the rates. People were well aware that they either got services or they got no services and low rates. They could pick whatever person they wanted if that was the policy—and many of them did.

The interference with the autonomy of local government is unbelievable. It is centralisation gone mad. If hon. Members do not believe me, I refer to a letter in The Scotsman on Friday, not from any radical left-wing group but from the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, the president of the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents and the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation. They say that the Government are undermining democracy in the police service because a chairman will be appointed by the Secretary of State to talk about, interfere and, yes, take instructions on what type of policing is carried out. In other words, there will be a centralised situation. The letter states categorically that they are very unhappy and that the Government should rethink all aspects of that plan.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

From a sedentary position I mentioned the fact that the Secretary of State appeared to attack that today in The Scotsman. That seems wrong, given that there has been no consultation about that piece of legislation.

Photo of Mr Eric Clarke Mr Eric Clarke , Midlothian

Who else can the Government annoy? They have annoyed the Prison Officers Association lately. Now it is the police. I wonder who else will be alienated by the Government. There is no one left. I do not know of anyone who has not been alienated by them in some respects.

The geographical hybrids suggested by the Secretary of State pertaining to my region, Midlothian—West Lothian and East Lothian or part of East Lothian and the amalgamation of that part is impractical and, in our opinion, unnecessary. This corridor of eight or nine miles—I call it the Rifkind-Lang enclave—is nothing to do with Bosnia but to do with a Tory enclave separating us geographically from Midlothian and the Pentland hills and it is nonsense. Everyone knows that West Lothian has a partly developed new town with a population of 49,000 people, and that the biggest town in Midlothian is Penicuik which is three times smaller. Where do we base our headquarters? Where would be the geographical lead, bearing in mind that the nonsense of people having more access to local government would be turned on its head if the plans were to go ahead?

In the past, Midlothian county council had its headquarters in Edinburgh. That will not be helpful to the people in terms of fostering local identity in the community. I suggest that it is a non-runner. West Lothian has a population of 146,000 people and is a reasonable size. If one takes Mid and East Lothian—the whole of East Lothian—into account, one has a population of 165,000 people, which is also a reasonable size. The policy could work only if we put Berwickshire back into the Borders, where it belongs and where it wishes to stay. I hope that the Secretary of State and others will take cognisance of the feeling generated in that part of Scotland.

It is proposed that there should be an East Lothian and Midlothian trust health board, which will extend across the area about which I am talking. The present education area is acceptable and does not need to extend into the Borders. Our mutual borders connect anyway.

One of my worries, which I am sure is shared by everyone, is the cost of the changes, and the burden on the taxpayers and especially on the ratepayers. If we do not get the formula right for the people, they will bear an unnecessary burden for many years. If we do not get it right, we shall lose services. It is said that some can go to another authority, or that authorities can amalgamate. Can they? What price will be paid? How jointly will decisions be made? How much coercion will there have to be? How much priority will the people who have to go cap in hand receive?

One example of the nonsense talked here today was the proposal for the amalgamation of West Lothian and Midlothian, and for the amalgamation of part of East Lothian with Berwickshire. The Secretary of State must listen to common sense, and I hope that he will. He kept saying that various matters would be dealt with in Committee. I hope that the Committee will not be a secret service Committee and that matters will not be dealt with clandestinely. I hope that the Committee will be given time, and that every aspect covering every area in Scotland will be given the same priority.

The people of Scotland look to us to salvage something that makes sense out of the Bill. Scoring points off one another will achieve nothing. However, one or two anomalies have cropped up. What will happen in areas in which the local authority is the largest employer? Are local authority employees still barred from taking office? Will the vast proportion of the population in rural areas be barred from taking office because they are employed by the local authority?

When do we intend to start paying councillors a salary? When do we intend to stop the nonsense of giving them so-called "expenses"? We treat them like messenger boys. Councillors are responsible individuals. If the Government can give fees to people on quangos who have not been elected, they can give proper salaries to councillors—and I mean proper salaries. People who would otherwise consider standing for office may not do so because they cannot afford it, because they see that there is no career for them and because their pension rights will not be protected.

Are our councillors to be old-age pensioners or Tory wifies who happen to be married—[Interruption.] I use the word "wifies" because I am referring to women who are married to rich gentlemen who are too busy to take office themselves. Are those the councillors we want? Are we to have councils that meet on a part-time basis in the evening—pseudo-community councils with no proper responsibilities? Is that what we are aiming for? No. We want responsible, dedicated men and women. We have such people now and many have made severe financial sacrifices to do their jobs. It is no laughing matter. It is a serious business. Those issues should be considered along with the reorganisation. If it is a proper reorganisation, they will be considered. I wish the Committee all the success that it deserves and I hope that we shall not face the prospect of, as some of my hon. Friends have said, a gerrymandered, blinkered and ideologically bigoted reform.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover 8:23, 17 January 1994

I support the Government's proposals for reorganising local government in Scotland, because local government is important, whether it is in Scotland, in England or in Wales. Local government costs about £80 billion per annum. We must ensure that we are getting value for money and that we have efficient structures in local government, whether in Scotland, in England or in Wales.

Many of us are concerned about bad authorities, wherever they are. We all rise to make points in the House when we hear about bad authorities. I know that many people in the Monklands area will be pleased to see the demise of that local council under the Government's proposals. The council's practices are thorougly undesirable and should be condemned by all hon. Members.

Photo of Mr Jimmy Wray Mr Jimmy Wray , Glasgow Provan

Does the hon. Gentleman feel the same way about the misdirection of £21 million in Westminster, which is being investigated now, as he does about Monklands?

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

I can honestly say to the hon. Gentleman that, if anything were proven in Westminster, I, along with everyone else, would condemn the situation. However, nothing has been proven at present; there is a series of allegations.

The position in Monklands has been written about and accepted widely. The provost's son, daughter and son-in-law are employed by the council. The brother-in-law, son and son-in-law of the leader of the council are employed by the council. The former provost, who was the election agent for the Leader of the Opposition, has his brother employed by the council. Another councillor has his daughter and sister-in-law employed by the council. Another councillor has his wife and nephew employed by the council.

Another councillor has his cousin, his brother-in-law and his sister-in-law employed by the council. Another councillor has his wife, his daughter and, it is believed, six other relatives employed by the council. I have not mentioned another four councillors, each of whom has a relative employed by the council. In total, about 25 close relatives of councillors are employed by Monklands council.

That employment was more than a coincidence; it did not happen by accident. There was a system of pink and green forms. The general citizenry of the area got pink forms, whereas the families of councillors got green forms. As a result, they were efficiently employed, more quickly than anyone else.

Photo of Mr David Shaw Mr David Shaw , Dover

It was a disgraceful practice. My hon. Friend says it was shameful. It was such a bad practice that even the Labour party, when pressed by many of the local ward committees, instigated an inquiry and a report. The Labour party, in what was seen by many to be a substantial whitewash, could not help but say that the procedures operated by the council left councillors open to criticism.

There has been far more than just openness to criticism. Everyone says that it is disgraceful and shameful for so many councillors to have been able to get jobs for so many of the close members of their families. People feel, therefore, that local government reorganisation in that area of Scotland will be of immense benefit if it does away with the practice of nepotism in employment.

There is also concern about the planning regulations in the Monklands area. Some 14 rules in the local plan were breached by a developer. 'This was no ordinary developer; it happened to be the leader of the council. He breached 14 rules in his own council's local plan—an amazing state of affairs. Many other developers cannot understand why their planning applications are turned down while the planning applications of the leader of the council are approved with such speed and such ease, even when they breach 14 rules in the local plan.

People in the Monklands area are also anxious that local government reorganisation should prevent financial abuse. They were worried when the council leader had a property acquired by the council at a very good price. They were worried when that councillor went on to invest the proceeds in a business that resulted in a Scottish Development Agency loan and in the Government having to write off £44,000.

They were worried about a councillor being in a position of such power and about how council structures could result in that position of power, enabling a nursing home to be developed and enabling a £2 million project to be developed. The taxpayer, the council tax payer and the ratepayer lose at every stage of the development of that £2 million project.

Mysteriously, companies lose money and go into liquidation and we find that the council loses money on the way as a result. These are strange affairs, which I hope will yet yield a proper investigation and a police inquiry.

We also find that there has been a £20 million bias to Coatbridge away from Airdrie in the expenditure of recent years in Monklands district council. Therefore, the proposed new council, hopefully, will have less political bias in the area, and, in consequence, the citizenry of Monklands, West and Monklands, East hope that they will have a better authority to manage them than they have at the moment.

We are also concerned with the structures of local government and the way in which it can have an unreasonable, unrealistic and nonsensical control over officers. Every local authority elected official needs a certain control over its officers.

There is concern about how, in the Monklands area, the council leader managed to walk away with a £1,000 cheque, which he paid into a personal bank account, when the cheque was issued by the council to a local builder. It is staggering that such an incident could occur and for the council officers to say that it was their fault, when the leader of the council picked up the cheque himself and paid it into his own bank account.

Why are the council officers taking the blame for something that is nothing to do with them and when it should be the responsibility of the council leader? Again, we must question whether a proper inquiry and investigation of such matters are taking place.

We must also be concerned about the degree to which councillors such as those in Monklands can engage in loss-making projects. The heritage centre and various other projects in the Monklands area are losing the council vast amounts of money. The projects have not been properly discussed at council meetings. Those discussions have taken place behind closed doors. The local Labour councillors do not encourage discussion of those loss-making activities, despite the fact that most of the top-ranking Labour councillors are involved with the boards of directors concerned. The affairs of those companies are carried on in secrecy, well away from the council.

The citizenry of Monklands get to hear about the losses only when they are reported in the local newspaper, which at one stage, pushed by the Labour leader, the council was thinking of suing. In the end, through its columns, the newspaper persuaded the citizenry of the area to object to it, and consequently persuaded the Labour group to withdraw its approval of the Labour leader's litigation funded by the council. That was appalling, and no way in which to run a council or a local authority in Scotland or elsewhere.

My final concern about the way in which the local authority in the Monklands is run under present regime concerns housing repairs. It was well established that certain houses in the area were having repairs carried out. The repairs were allegedly completed and a grant was claimed from the Government on the basis that work was allegedly done. However, the work was not done, it had not been completed and improper pressure was put on certain people to sign that the work had been done. There needs to be a thorough investigation into that matter before Monklands council passes into a new authority.

There is no question but that the people of the Monklands area want to see a new council, and that they will be pleased with the changes that the Government are proposing. They want to see the Bill enacted, and I hope that it will not be delayed in Committee.

My constituents in Dover, and the people of Scotland, need to see radical change in local government in England, Wales and Scotland, so that we can get better value for money out of our local authorities. We are all appalled by what has gone on in Monklands, where the local authority is badly run by bad Labour councillors; they should be ousted from control of that Labour authority.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde 8:33, 17 January 1994

Tonight, we are discussing one of the most irrelevant Bills. It is being foisted on the people of Scotland and is utterly unnecessary. We are fiddling the future of local government and finance when Britain is suffering from the burden of a £50 billion debt, which has been created by the mismanagment of the Government. We will not see a good proposal for local government from such a bad central Government.

I was a councillor for the Renfrew fourth district council—a small fish in local government, but near to the local people. I was a councillor for Strathclyde regional council, which was big local government, but not bad. I remember the day when I spent my time in Strathclyde and felt that I was contributing something worthwhile and that the services provided by Strathclyde were among the best provided by a local authority in Great Britain.

The Tory party's hatred of local government in Scotland is due to the fact that they cannot win enough seats there. They have not managed to win the confidence of the people of Scotland, so they see Strathclyde as big and bad because they cannot control and manipulate it, and because they are not the people involved in delivering good services to the community.

The Prime Minister said that Strathclyde was a monstrous authority. He should get "back to basics" and make a wee study, and he will find that, throughout the years, his Ministers were telling folk all over the world how good Strathclyde regional council was. The past two Secretaries of State for Scotland regularly said how good Strathclyde was.

However, the symptomatic problem with the Tories is that they have never supported local authorities anywhere where a council has been elected by the normal electoral method, such as the Greater London council, which they abolished. One of the proposals for Scotland will clearly abolish Strathclyde and is obvious gerrymandering to anyone who has some knowledge of local or central Government. The editorial of The Herald said: basic or not—against local government. The main aim has been fairly obviously to dismantle Strathclyde region, despite its record of responsible behaviour during the years of Conservative government. The Minister knows that that newspaper is not a Labour party organisation. It may not be a Tory organisation either. However, it is certainly spelling out the message to the Government that gerrymandering is not on, and that the Government's whole aim is to abolish Strathclyde.

As I said, the Prime Minister called Strathclyde a monstrosity. I remember the days of monstrous local government in Scotland, when there was a move to abolish it and make local government more accountable to the public. It was reorganised, and very small local authorites were abolished which were never in a position to provide many of the services which we now receive. The Minister knows well that I served on the Renfrew fourth district council, which was too small to deliver services.

That reorganisation went down the right road. Strathclyde is a good authority and it is also on the right road. However, I do not believe that anything should just be left to roll along. I believe that improvements should always continue to be made, and that reviews should always be made. We are continually reviewing our own lives, so there is no reason why we should not keep improving local government and ensure that there is district machinery.

Strathclyde was a moderate council. It certainly was an innovative council. Its deliberations were always moderate, and it never sought confrontation with Government, be it Labour or Tory. It aimed to deliver the best possible services for the people it represents. It was a flagship Labour authority. I am proud to have been a Strathclyde councillor and to have served under some of the greatest local councillors, such as the late Dick Stewart, an amazing man who dedicated his life to improving our society.

What pleasure do the Government take from setting up a gerrymandering local government boundary? There will be a change of Government. A Labour Government will be elected, and they will repeal the damage that has been inflicted by this Government.

The other night, I sat here trying to take part in a debate on the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, which the Government had guillotined. People and businesses in Britain wished the Bill to be fully debated, but the "back to basics" policy came into play, and the Leader of the House decided it was back to bed for Tory Back Benchers. I understand that Tory Whips were phoning around to ensure that all the heads were on the right pillows. I am sure that they had a problem finding some of them.

We had a great folk singer who sang of the Dunlopillo in the sky. Many Conservative Members will be spending their time with a Dunlopillo in the sky and we shall be in government, because they will be rejected by the electorate, especially in Scotland.

The Government are putting us back to the wall. Scotland has good local authorities, with some wonderful characters and hard-working men and women, who have served them for many decades. Their experience, voices and opinions have been cast to the wind. Many Tory and Liberal Members have objected to this proposed reorganisation.

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

The hon. Member wishes me to name them. I will ring them up after the debate and print their names in an early-day motion.

The Government are in a big enough mess without making a mess of local government in Scotland. We have had Iraq gate, and Westminstergate, and now we have Langgate. It is a big gate. I assure the Minister that the Bill will be exposed to the people of Scotland as a measure that will lead to bad, costly government. The people of Scotland will beg Labour to repeal it and to return to the common-sense government that they have been used to for the past 20 years.

The previous Prime Minister was going to abolish quangos. What did we see? They nearly filled Wembley with quangos. We have thousands of quangos, costing millions of pounds. In future, in Scotland we shall nickname them not quangos but "Langos". Asil Nadir may be over in Cyprus, but the Secretary of State's paid-for Tory boys will be getting a wee bit of dross to fill their buckets and to ensure that the Tory party gets some funs to put up a wee bit of a show at the local elections.

I do not want to take up all the House's time. I believe that the Government's policy on local authorities, especially in Scotland, is fatally flawed. The Secretary of State made a very sweeping remark: that the people of Scotland do not like their local authorities. Renfrew district council asked a neutral, professional organisation to conduct a survey on its behalf. Its findings of satisfaction were: refuse collection, 86 per cent., street cleaning 47 per cent., libraries, 85 per cent., parks and open spaces, 63 per cent., and swimming pools and sports centres, 73 per cent. Overall, 62 per cent. of folk felt that their services were all right. Renfrew district compares well with other district councils in Britain.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Given what the hon. Gentleman is saying about Renfrew district council, may I assume that he will support its plea to become a single-tier authority as opposed to Strathclyde's position?

Photo of Tommy Graham Tommy Graham , Renfrew West and Inverclyde

I wish that I could propose what I would like to see for local government in Scotland. It certainly would be a million miles from this. It would suit the needs of the people I represent.

Renfrew conducted a postal poll, to which 79·5 per cent. of people responded. It covered Ralston, which is part of the Paisley, North constituency, Dykebar, which is part of the Paisley, South constituency, Parkhead, Neilston and Uplamoor, which is in the Minister's constituency.

In Ralston, 82 per cent. of people voted to stay with the council. Ralston has always had a Tory councillor, so one would not expect 82 per cent. of its people to reject the Government's boundary proposals. In Dykebar, the figure was 91·2 per cent., and in Parkhead and Neilston, which is in the Minister's constituency, it was 78·5 per cent.

What an indictment of the Government's gerrymandering of the boundaries. Ordinary men and women call it gerrymandering. They have seen through the Government. They have seen through the Tory party's plans to decimate our local identities.

The Secretary of State will reap the harvest at the next general election, but before that there will be the European elections. I am sure that we will wipe the floor with the Tories in Scotland. There will be none left.

I conclude by referring to an article in the The Herald by Claude Thomson, who covered local authority matters for many years. He is a journalist who is respected by hon. Members on all sides of the House. In that article, Mr. Thomson wrote: All but the most ardent opponents of regionalisation acknowledged that Strathclyde has performed much better than the authorities it superseded. The article concluded: When the definitive history of Strathclyde comes to be written setting out not only its successes but its admitted shortcomings I have no doubt it will stand proud comparison with whatever succeeds it. Even at this late stage, I call upon the Tory party in Scotland and on Tory Ministers to turn back and listen to the will of the people in Scotland, to return to sanity and to leave us alone.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North 8:50, 17 January 1994

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in the debate. During my time in the House, I can hardly think of another piece of major legislation in respect of which the speeches from the Government Benches were so pathetic and desultory in their attempt to present a rational case. In the Secretary of State and the hon. Members for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and for Dover (Mr. Shaw) we had respectively the bland, the bizarre and the plain bonkers. If they represented a selection of the cases that can be made for the legislation, it reflects very poorly on the Bill.

The false premise on which the Bill proceeds is that somehow we are returning to single-tier local government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) and others have said, there never was single-tier local government in most parts of Scotland. All the Government's problems flow from that falsehood. The attempt to balance what cannot really be balanced produces the difficulty in providing authorities that are acceptable to the great majority of people in Scotland.

If an authority is small enough in geographical terms to be viable, the population is often not in keeping with that. For example, in the highlands there is a small population in a huge geographical area while there is a perfectly viable, and perhaps too big, population in Ayrshire for a single-tier authority. As a result, with the kind of balance that the Government are trying to strike, local government services and the places from where they are administered would be taken further away from the people who are represented. That is certainly true of my constituency.

For example, if an all-Ayrshire local authority had district council responsibilities, the centre of that authority would be much further from the people than at present. The same criticism applies to the north Ayrshire authority that the Government suggest for my constituency.

There is nothing new about the dilemma. It is precisely the dilemma that the Wheatley commission examined almost 30 years ago. That commission was faced with the fact that a plethora of authorities had been created by the forces of history. These included district and town councils, royal burghs and county councils. While there was clearly an unevenness of pattern, what had to be maintained from the system was the fundamental principle of two tiers. Some services were best delivered at the level of a large authority while other services were best delivered by a small and more local authority.

I am not expressing my personal views here with any force. However, if I had been starting with a clean piece of paper, I would have believed that there was a case for giving more powers to even smaller authorities than are proposed. Some very local responsibillities should best be decided at a local level. There should perhaps be more of a role for community-type councils.

I grew up in Dunoon which had a town council. That was an appropriate level at which to decide some matters which were of intense and burning interest to that community and to that community alone. Other decisions were taken at a county council level. That was a form of two-tier local government.

However, before this ridiculous legislation was proposed, no one suggested that there should be a pattern of uniformity throughout Scotland in respect of which everything would be decided on a single-tier local government level. That is the basic fallacy from which all the other problems flow and that is why there is so much opposition and resistance to the proposals in Scotland.

I believe that the status quo should be maintained. The status quo works reasonably well and it has a high degree of acceptance among the population in the area that I represent. Where does the obsession to change the way in which things operate at the moment come from? Was it a wicked socialist plot to set up the Scottish regions originally? Of course not. The legislation that is now being undone was passed by Parliament barely 20 years ago under a Conservative Government. There are still some Tory Members today who voted for the legislation which created the regions.

In the interim, a much more partisan type of Tory Government has emerged for whom it is anathema that there are authorities which are Labour-controlled and also deeply effective.

Photo of Mr Raymond Robertson Mr Raymond Robertson , Aberdeen South

The hon. Gentleman referred to the status quo and why it should remain. If the status quo is so perfect and so right, why did the hon. Gentleman's manifesto refer to a return to single-tier authorities? Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that he supports a Scottish Assembly?

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

I support a Scottish Assembly because my party supports a Scottish Assembly. That view was part of the manifesto. The hon. Gentleman answers his own question. We contemplated single-tier authorities because there was going to be another layer of government in Scotland and therefore the concept of two-tier government was going to be perpetuated. I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's difficulty in comprehending that. Just because the brief states that he should ask that question does not mean that the question is very good.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

The gerrymandering nature of the proposals is plainly demonstrated in the treatment being meted out to the proposed East Renfrewshire council and what is going to happen to Inverclyde district council. Thirty thousand people signed a petition which I presented to the Minister just three months ago. Those petitioners begged to have Inverclyde as a unitary council, but that was totally ignored by the Government.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

Again, that is the problem which Conservative Members purport not to understand. Of course there is no contradiction in what I have said. The vast majority of people in my constituency and, I suspect, in my hon. Friend's constituency, are not clamouring for the reform of Scottish local government. They wish to maintain the status quo; they appreciate the status quo. Of course they will take up defensive positions if change is forced upon them. In Ayrshire, and in Cunninghame specifically, given the option, the great majority of people would maintain the status quo. The more they realise what they are going to lose, the stronger their opinion will become. But if the status quo is not an option, of course, some people would support an all-Ayrshire authority.

As I have set out to demonstrate from the first day the measure was announced, if the other options fail, a viable case for Cunninghame is supported on a cross-party basis. But the one thing that nobody supports is what the Government are putting forward. That is the key point. There is overwhelming support for the status quo and there is support for other possibilities, but there is no support for what the Government are putting forward. I have repeatedly put that point to the Minister, with all-party support from the council chamber and from every walk of life in my constituency. I hope that that point will eventually be brought to bear.

I wish to go smartly through two or three points and raise a particular interest, which is the future of the Strathclyde passenger transport executive and the absolute folly of what is being done in respect of public transport in Strathclyde. It is one of the issues that will begin to press home upon even the most mindless Conservative Members. People have to appreciate what they have in order to become angry about what is being taken from them. In Strathclyde, we have the best suburban transport system in the British isles and one of the best in Europe, and we have it because we have a visionary local authority which has the scale and the resources to develop it, invest in it, and put serious backing behind it. If we fragment the basis of that system we will fragment the system itself and it will wither on the vine.

There are now two threats pressing upon the Strathclyde passenger transport executive. One is the pri"atisation of British Rail which, if it were not for the additional grant for which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) has agreed to be a conduit from the Department of Transport, next year alone would add £5 million to fares purely for the reorganisation costs of privatisation. The Minister indicates assent. In the long term, rail privatisation will be a deeply serious threat to the PTE concept. In addition, we have the crazy breaking up of the foundation on which the PTE is built.

I can only briefly explain the point, but it is important to have it on the record. If, under the legislation, a PTE continues, but does not have power to precept constituent local authorities, it will be only as strong as its weakest part. That problem is faced at present by PTEs in England.

Let me give a brief example, mainly from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe). Recently, she and I attended the reopening of an old railway line, which has been closed since the Beeching days, in the north of Glasgow, serving communities which can particularly benefit from having such railway services. I am sure that my hon. Friend will confirm that they are already benefiting from them.

The only organisation that could do that was the Strathclyde PTE, which put the money into reopening stations. It was able to do so because it is a unitary body. In future, in order to make such investment decisions to give stations back to the people of Possil, Summerston, Ashfield and Maryhill, the executive would have to have the agreement of councils in east Renfrewshire, Milngavie and Bearsden—all over the shop. They would have to say, "We are prepared to commit resources which are not going directly to the communities that we represent."

I do not believe for one moment that, if that system had been in place, we would have had the wonderful electrification system in Ayrshire. I do not believe that we would be reopening stations at Whitletts and in other parts of Lanarkshire. I do not believe that there would be cross-subsidisation 'between successful Ayrshire lines, for instance, and routes in Lanarkshire which are inherently loss-making but which provide a social service. All that is being put at risk by the legislation. That is a real liberty to take with something which works so well.

At present, most of the anger about the legislation—let us be realistic; the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill is not the talk of the steamie—comes from groups within Strathclyde who realise the damage that will be done and who are apprehensive about the implications. There are people who are most impinged upon by specialist services. There are people who rely on special needs education and on specialist social work services. There are people who benefit from specialist educational services. Those people are beginning to realise the great threat that exists.

However, there is a very big category of people who are next to realise what will be done. Pensioners and others who rely on concessionary fares in Strathclyde will realise that that system, too, will be dependent on the weakest part of the Strathclyde passenger transport executive. There is no prospect of maintaining a unified concessionary fare system if the legislation is passed.

I shall speak briefly about the county in which I spent the first 20 years of my life. I want to put something on the record because I may not participate in future debates on the Bill. It may be time for Argyll to be floated off. If that is the wish of Argyll, so be it. In passing, I shall give the Minister a history and geography lesson. Helensburgh is not in Argyll. It never was and it never will be in Argyll. The Minister can draw as many lines on the map as he wants, but he will never change that essential fact.

No one should ever underestimate what Strathclyde has done for Argyll. My late father worked for Argyll county council until his dying day. Until that day, wage negotiations for officials were a matter of seeing a local councillor; people who did industrial and manual work did not have proper clothing, much less proper wages and conditions; roads were third rate and single track; and education and social work provisions were all on the cheap.

Strathclyde has taken Argyll and its services by the boot-straps in the past 20 years, and a great many people in Argyll who will never vote Labour in their lives appreciate that. To denigrate what Strathclyde has done for Argyll is to denigrate the memory of people such as the late Geoff Shaw, who worked himself into an early grave ensuring that every part of Strathclyde had an equal deal—Labour and Tory; rural and urban. That is why Strathclyde was founded on such a firm basis.

I shall make my next point because I am sure that it will not be the centrepiece of future debates on the Bill. Clause 138 of the Bill is worth a mention. It has only two lines, which state: On and after 1st April 1995 no shootings, deer forests or fishings shall be entered in the valuation roll". In the midst of spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a reorganisation of local government which few people want, in the midst of money being squandered in all directions, there is only one cash break. Only one group of citizens will be handed money as a result of the Bill: the owners of shootings, deer forests and fishings, who will no longer be entered in the valuation roll.

I shall say one thing about Tory Ministers. They never forget their class basis; they never forget where their support comes from; and they never forget their role as political wing of the Scottish Landowners Federation. It adds farce to the general insult of the legislation that, while there are so many poor people and those who need housing, communications, social work and education, the only ones who will get a monetary handout under this Bill are the owners of shootings, fishings and deer forests in Scotland.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North 9:07, 17 January 1994

I am grateful that I am able to speak tonight because this debate transcends the normal details and, dare I say it, the minutiae of politics in Scotland. We shall have to live with the results of the legislation that we pass in the next few months. More than that, the Government will have to live with the results for many years to come. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) said, it may not be the talk of the steamie, the clubs, the pubs, the buses or the football grounds at present. But as with the poll tax, there will be an increasing awareness as the practical implications of the Bill dawn on people, and they will lay the blame at the feet of those who introduced it despite all the evidence against it.

In the few minutes that I have been given, I shall make three main points. The question of cost has been covered effectively by most hon. Members who have spoken tonight. Frankly, I do not believe what Ministers said—that the net cost will be only £50 million. I do not believe what Ministers said not only because it goes against everything that they said previously. We do not have to look in the crystal ball; to gauge the costs involved we need only examine the history books. The examples given by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) illustrate the vast costs which have been involved in the Government's previous escapades.

Democracy has been mentioned this evening. Let me simply say that it is astonishing that Tory Members have managed to do a complete U-turn. They are about to rid Scotland of regional and district authorities which have served Scotland well. We are not talking here about the GLC, the bete noire of the Tory party. Names such as Geoff Shaw, Dick Stewart, Charles Gray or Bob Gould in Strathclyde have not dripped from the lips of the antagonistic Tory central office, and those people have not been branded as being part of the loony left. They have been credited during the past two decades, even by Conservatives, as practical, common-sense and down-to-earth politicians.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

I see the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. There is no historical justification for the Conservative party getting rid of structures which have served Scotland well. There is no justification on ideological grounds either, because the Government came to power promising two things to their supporters. They promised to roll back the state and to extend choice. I put it to them tonight that no Government this century—Tory, Labour or Liberal—has rolled the state on more, or has centralised more, than the present Government. That is part of the tradition which the Government have maintained.

When Conservative Members shout about centralising socialist Governments, let them look at what they have done. They have rolled over trade union democracy and over ordinary individual rights. They have excluded people from the electoral register and have linked the right to vote to the payment of a tax—something outlawed by the American constitution 200 years ago. The measure is but one more step in that direction, because the Government are taking powers away from local government. Whether it is the police, water or sewerage, services will no longer be accountable to people who are, in turn, accountable to the electorate.

Choice is another slogan of the Tory party, although we have now learnt to be rather cynical about Tory party slogans. How is the choice of an old-age pensioner to travel extended by the taking away of concessionary fares? How is the choice of my constituents who live in parts of Uddingston and Viewpark extended by the creation of a new education authority which prevents them from sending their children to either St. John the Baptist school in Uddingston or Uddingston grammar school? That is because we now have a plethora of education authorities instead of a major education authority.

In terms of strategy, someone said to me at the beginning of the process that this was a stupid Bill introduced by people who knew little about local government. I think that that is wrong. This is anything but a stupid Bill from a partisan Tory point of view. It certainly does not come from people who know little about local government. It is a crafty and clever Bill from people who understand local government because it is a Bill which gerrymanders.

The Bill creates local authorities with a population of over 300,000, but also creates one in greater Eastwood and in East Renfrew with a population of 86,000 people. That authority has less people than my parliamentary constituency. The whole plethora of local government apparatus will be created for 86,000 people in the local government area of the constituency of the Minister at the Scottish Office. I refuse to accept that that is a result of anything other than a crafty and clever gerrymandering operation for partisan and biased party purposes.

That is my final point, and that is why it is so important that the Bill be rejected by the Scottish people. It lacks legitimacy. It does not have a structure which has been designed by an independent boundary commission, or which has resulted from a study by a group such as the Wheatley commission. It does not have the legitimacy of the parliamentary boundaries which have been drawn up. The areas of the authorities have been drawn up by the Conservatives themselves.

The proposals will be rejected because this is not government of the people of Scotland, by the people of Scotland, for the people of Scotland—it is local govenment of the Tory party, by the Tory party, for the Tory party. The Government demean themselves by doing that, but they do not demean the people who will have to operate under that local government, and that is why it will be overwhelmingly rejected by the people of Scotland.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife 9:14, 17 January 1994

One thing is obvious tonight. The Tories have taken a terrible drubbing in the Chamber. For many years we have not seen a set of Conservatives so unconvinced by their arguments giving such a pathetic performance to the House. The brilliant speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was in sharp contrast with the brittle and unconvincing speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland. We must surely be reaching a stage at which the untruths which are peddled throughout the country about the wisdom of the Bill are beginning to sink home even with some Conservative Members.

We have heard some excellent speeches by my hon. Friends. They talked about the new towns shambles, which is to continue as part of the local government reorganisation. The Government have promoted unconvincing figures for the cost of reorganisation. We have heard from my hon. Friends about the need for a Scottish Parliament to bring sanity to politics in Scotland and tackle the democratic deficit.

We had a vintage speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham). He not only entertained the House but spelled out clearly the concerns of ordinary people in his constituency. His experience is mirrored by the experience of Scottish Members from throughout Scotland.

The remarkable thing about the debate today is that we are dealing with a thoroughly bad Bill. The time of the House is being wasted by a Government who are no longer in tune with the reality of the Scottish people and their understanding of "back to basics". Indeed, we have a set of Ministers so divorced from that reality that we face three months in Committee dealing with a Bill that will do nothing for the aspirations of ordinary Scots. Indeed, the Bill will be fundamentally damaging to their aspirations.

The Bill is not about improving the effectiveness of government in Scotland. That was made evident in the speeches that have been made tonight. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton said earlier, the Bill reeks of political intentions. It is naked in its intent; a shameless effort by Ministers, Conservative Back Benchers and certain of their Tory supporters in Scotland.

It is important to put on record again the reasons why we shall fight the Bill every inch of the way. First, the Bill is of course about gerrymandering. Following the debacle of Westminster and the unfolding controversy in Wandsworth no one can dispute that the Bill is about gaining party political advantage, using taxpayers' resources and creating for the first time the alien concept of safe havens in Scottish politics. It is disgraceful. It goes far beyond any knockabout that we want to see in the House of Commons. The Bill is deeply damaging to the interests of democracy, but, unfortunately, that is the nature of government in Scotland in 1993.

The second reason why we shall fight the Bill is that the Government wish to create the context for privatisation of Scotland's water and sewerage services and take the first steps towards it. It is difficult to find appropriate words to describe such a ludicrous and silly measure. It will do nothing for the quality of life in Scotland and the quality of water and sewerage services. It will do everything to satisfy the zealots who still occupy Conservative party headquarters in Scotland and, dare I say it, to promote some of the right-wing lunacy that we see from Ministers.

There is another issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton said that if the Government start to meddle with local government boundaries they will then be involved in parliamentary boundaries. That is an unforgivable step. It will mean that the concept of local government will be devalued. We lay the blame fairly and squarely on the Government. The Bill aims to ensure that the word "enabling" will start to become part of the vocabulary of Scottish local government. "Enabling" sounds innocuous, but it is about contracting out, privatisation, centralisation and undermining the fabric of the collective ethos of local government, which has been developed in Scotland since the early 1920s.

We have talked today about quangos. After the Peterken and Fyfe fiasco in Glasgow, who on earth would want more Tory placemen and placewomen to pack out the administration of essential services in Scotland? Our last concern is another matter that the Government may shrug off. We are about to embark on preventing 300,000 employees from participating in local government. If the Government do nothing else, surely they do not want to disfranchise one in six of the Scottish work force and one in 10 of the electorate by proceeding with the proposed crazy reorganisation, without taking on board the genuine concerns of people who not only work for the community but want to contribute in a variety of ways.

Those are our concerns. We have talked about the fact that the politics of that is the overriding consideration for the Government. Why do Ministers want to joy-ride through £7·5 billion worth of expenditure in Scotland every year, 300,000 employees and, of course the valued services that are given to nearly 5 milion consumers? As my hon. Friends have said, the services—often life and death services—are provided imaginatively, represent value for money, are cost effective and delivered by councillors and officials who care, in sharp contrast to the group of mean-minded Conservatives who simply want to denigrate every effort in which they are involved to satisfy their own political whims. It is disgraceful that the House should have to witness such disinterest in attacks.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The hon. Gentleman has said, as has the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), that he intends to target English Tories on the Standing Committee, and forecast that some of them might be persuaded to rebel to save Scottish local government. In view of our experience this evening—none of them have appeared in order to listen to the arguments—does the hon. Gentleman think that that is a realistically viable strategy or one that is likely to be successful in the Standing Committee?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

I accept that none of the potential recruits to be dragooned into the Committee is before us today, but I remind the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that we shall try to persuade Tories; we shall not go into chambers and do secret deals with them under the pretext of putting Scotland first.

It is sad that the reorganisation will not put an extra policeman on the beat in Scotland, when the Government have presided over the biggest explosion in crime this century. It will not put an extra house in any district council in Scotland, when more than 100,000 people are homeless every night in Scotland under the Tories. Of course, it will not put another teacher in the classroom, where pupil-teacher ratios are still far too high to have the quality of education that we want to see.

We talk about "back to basics", but it is interesting that the Government are willing to put this Bill before the House yet are not willing to introduce a child care Bill. Their irresponsibility could be putting children at risk in our communities. For most Scots, "back to basics" should have a higher priority than the political shenanigans that we see from the Government. It is clear that, for the Tories, "back to basics" means trying to enhance their political advantage whereas most Scots want to see decent services provided by people who matter.

It is evident from the debate that—the Secretary of State should be aware, even though he is completely out of touch—the proposals are not supported by the people. The proposals have been abused by the media, ridiculed by the Opposition, exposed by academics, barely tolerated by the business community and opposed by COSLA. [Laughter.] What more must a democracy do before Conservatives take that seriously? Conservative Members are laughing away, but there have been other developments in Europe where people have fought for freedom and real choices. Conservative Members may laugh but, at the end of the day, there are some very powerful reasons why we should always want to value democracy first and not indulge in the kind of gerrymandering and contempt that we see.

As my hon. Friends have said, the Government do not learn lessons easily. In his exposition, my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton talked about gerrymandering. I do not want to touch on that matter other than to return to a loony authority that we now have in Scotland called Kyle and Carrick. I shall talk more about that in a minute. But what is the case? What can the Under-Secretary of State say to justify the massive upheaval in Scotland? There is no case. We have not heard one. The Secretary of State is quite happy to talk about the public being confused, about the need to respect old loyalties to counties and about waste and duplication. The real agenda, however, is the new enabling authority role, which is linked with the question of privatisation. We know what that means.

We benefited from the Wheatley commission, because it was set up to consider one part of local government in Scotland which was not working. It was clear that that structure had to be studied, root and branch. In 1973, I was privileged to enter that system and to serve 14 years in local government. Today the position is different, because there is no consensus. I accept that there is a point in considering the idea of single-tier authorities and other options, but the Government have plucked out of thin air their idea, which mirrors entirely their political aspirations. To talk about Wheatley in the same breath as the Government's proposed reorganisation is utterly ridiculous and contemptuous.

One argument that we have stressed tonight is the need for constitutional change. The Opposition have argued convincingly on many platforms that we need a Scottish parliament. We have no doubt that if there was a Scottish parliament, of Scots and by Scots, we could propose a local government reorganisation for Scots without being entrapped by the cosy clique of Conservatives in Scotland. That clique has been trumpeted in Parliament by Ministers.

If one accepts that there is consensus in favour of constitutional change, one has to ask why the Government are not prepared to subject their ideas to an independent commission? If I had a case to make, I would be quite happy to put it to the test. Why does the Secretary of State not have the guts to put his gerrymandering proposals to an independent commission? The answer is clear. The Government know that if their proposals were put to any objective test, they would simply fail. No one will demur from that answer. Conservative Members are slouching on the Benches, but they know in their hearts that they are trying to pull off a political wheeze. [Interruption.] I know that I am being extremely charitable. It is clear that the Government are in trouble.

What about the costs involved? Earlier, the Secretary of State tried to suggest that we were in some difficulty about the costs. We have never seen so many back-of-envelope calculations. The Scottish Office has produced documents that have been simply ridiculed in a modern democracy. It takes an extraordinary degree of unprofessional gerrymandering of figures to arrive at the mess that the Government have produced. Will that reorganisation cost £100 million or £200 million? The Government have then tried to make us believe that it will save £1 billion. How many people in the Chamber have ever seen any savings made from any reorganisation of the post-war period?

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Has not the hon. Gentleman, like me, received many submissions from district councils across Scotland, suggesting that they could make considerable savings if they were single-tier authorities with full responsibility for the range of local authority tasks?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

The simple answer is no. The costs are an essential and important part of argument. The Secretary of State has conceded, however, that it is a difficult process. If it is so difficult, my hon. Friends and I are willing to concede that, but why on earth are the Government tramping about the country suggesting that the initial costs will be £200 million and that savings of £1 billion will be made? That is ludicrous. No one believes that claim, so the Government have a problem.

Those hon. Members who represent English constituencies and who will serve on the Standing Committee must heed a warning. We have heard a lot about Tory tax increases. It is one of the "back to basics"—they want to tax people more. If the gerrymandered reorganisation for Scotland proceeds, it will simply mean that council tax payers will pay more and more for a reorganisation that they do not want, from a Government they simply despise. That action is illogical and irrational. I must warn those English Members who will serve on the Committee that they will be enacting something for Scotland that they would not have the courage to enact for their own constituencies.

Another issue for debate is emerging in which I am sure the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) will be interested. A booklet has been produced by the south Ayrshire authority.

For hon. Members who are not aware of what that is, it is the Kyle and Carrick district council at work. The document may be in contempt of the House because the district council has outlined a timetable for proceedings. It has named the day on which the proceedings will start in Committee and given some other information.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

That is more than I know.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

The Under-Secretary of State says that that is more than he knows. We want to know who is preparing information for that council. The provost is nicknamed "the Ayatollah"—a new example of the loony right.

The hon. Member for Ayr will be interested to know that the issue was discussed at a seminar on Sunday. That is interesting, but what is really illuminating is that the council has described what it wants to do after May 1996. It talks of "minimalist south Ayrshire" and uses the word "outsourcing", which basically means that it will privatise everything that moves within its authority. Finance, law, administration and information technology skills will be "outsourced". It will outsource planning, roads, estate work and leave all the development to local enterprise councils. It will privatise environmental health and outsource housing and social services. It will opt out every school and get consortia to run every other service.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

I shall be delighted to give way to the hon. Gentleman in a minute.

The document highlights what the debate is all about—creating puppet councils that are run and administered by the Scottish Office, to which the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State can send willing underlings like the hon. Member for Ayr to do the Government's business. It is unbelievable, and we shall ensure that the document has a wide circulation to let the people of Scotland know what is happening.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

The hon. Gentleman has an advantage over me because I have not seen the document. However, I am delighted that a local council like Kyle and Carrick is forward-looking enough to look into the future, see what is good for its council tax payers and try to envisage the opportunities that lie ahead instead of behaving like the Opposition, who bury their heads in the sand, believing that money grows on trees and that services can be pulled out of the air. Kyle and Carrick is looking forward—good on it.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

"Good on it" sounds more like a football chant. The document talks about ensuring that party advantage is secured so that Strathclyde regional council does nothing in the wind-up. The hon. Gentleman said that he has no access to the document. He can have access to it after the Divisions because we shall ensure that it has a wider circulation.

Photo of Mr George Foulkes Mr George Foulkes , Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley

Is my hon. Friend aware that Kyle and Carrick district council has already started that process? After a meeting at which the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) was present, it proposed to cancel a tender for cleansing and refuse collection, which still has two years to run and was given to in-house contractors. While those discussions were taking place, the provost of Kyle and Carrick council had at least two—perhaps three—secret meetings with a Spanish-based private company that wishes to take over that tender. That is what we shall face under the new privatised Tory councils.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his contribution. On 11 January, Glasgow's The Herald carried an article entitled Refuse Row to be Raised in Commons". I am pleased to say that, unlike the hon. Member for Ayr who speaks to the press before he speaks to the Commons, I have suggested that that matter will be raised.

Conservative Members may laugh at a document produced by their colleagues but my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is right to say that the council's actions are illegal. A £3 million contract with two years to run is being torn up and the zealots who now run the authority will bar their in-house team from bidding. To show that Tory contempt exists not only in the House, the provost at that meeting confirmed that he had had private discussions with Spanish contractors.

Why do not Government Front-Bench Members drag in that Tory convenor and tell him that the attempt to bypass compulsory competitive tendering is not on? The Secretary of State has not said anything. Once again, there are double standards—what is good enough for some authorities in respect of CCT is not good enough for the Tory's new flagship authority, the loony right Kyle and Carrick district authority.

We are worried that the reorganisation process will allow councils to be manipulated. If there is one area that sums up the predicament it is my region of Fife. The scenario is this: Scottish Office advisers or Ministers suggested that Stirling must be a single-tier authority because an ex-Westminster city councillor, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), was advising them. They then had to decide how to achieve that end.

First, they decided to chop up Central regional council. Fair enough, but if they did that they then had to decide what to do about Falkirk and Clackmannan. They decided to link them together, but some bright spark in the Scottish Office realised that there was a river between them and that they were not linked. Hey presto, a genius said that they would take Kincardine out of Fife and provide the necessary link. How on earth can that be described as a logical, sensible or sensitive way to reorganise anything? We shall certainly be discussing such issues in Committee.

I conclude by dealing with two issues which give us great cause for concern. The first is quangos. The Government may rubbish people's concern about government by quango. None of my colleagues wants placemen running the key services but, if it happens, the quality of life for people in Scotland will be diminished. Our preliminary analysis of the Bill suggests that more than 100 new bodies—statutory and non-statutory boards and quangos—will emerge, and the creation of three super-quangos is an insult built on an injury. To try to bring about privatisation in such a corrupt manner is bad enough but to suggest that it is taken out of local authority control and given to super-quangos is worse.

The Bill also deals with water, but the Scots do not accept the Government's proposal. They do not want a further acceleration of quango government, but they want a debate about services. I began my remarks by dealing with services, and I shall conclude on that point.

The Government are ignoring the pressing needs of child care, education, transport and social work. We need investment in those key areas. We are lagging behind Europe and other parts of the developed world because we are pursuing the wrong agenda. If the Secretary of State feels that he wants to do something constructive in his remaining few years in that post, he would be well advised to tackle the issue of services.

What annoys the Scots is not only everything that I have described but the way in which Ministers are undermining the collective ethos of Scottish local government. We believe in community and in individualism being developed, nurtured and promoted, and we believe in aspirations being realised through the idea of community and collective provision. The Government are trying to trample those ideas into the dust as they progress with their political agenda.

We shall not rest after the Bill has been given a Second Reading. We shall ensure that the Government have a bruising battle in Committee and that they are exposed on every front. Our objective remains the derailing of the Bill. We shall have success as the Government move towards the next election but, if we do not, we shall have success when there is a Labour Government. Tonight we shall vote against this daft, dangerous and divisive Bill and ask the Government to scrap it now.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire 9:38, 17 January 1994

When the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) opened for the Opposition he made a number of forecasts. Before the debate he made a forecast, which was carried in the Sunday Times on 12 December, in which he said: Labour is hoping to recruit right-wing Tories in an attempt to wreck the progress of the Scottish local government bill. The article continued by saying that they would be targeted, the offensive would be co-ordinated and there would be discreet discussions. I have checked with my hon. Friend the Whip, who looks less than panic-stricken at the possible gain of right-wing Conservatives in the Labour Lobby tonight. The hon. Gentleman's forecast is about as accurate as many of his other forecasts about the effects of this admirable Bill.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) was in his usual ebullient form. He referred to Fife and local government costs and it is therefore worth reading the odd excerpt from Fife regional council's submission on the matter.

Photo of Henry McLeish Henry McLeish , Central Fife

I am not the leader now.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

I appreciate that, but I assume that the hon. Gentleman has got around to reading the document from Labour-held Fife regional council, which said: We welcome the opportunity to put forward a positive and well argued case for the continuation of local government services based on a single Fife authority. That is what the Government have also concluded in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central also talked about costs and said that he did not believe the Government's figures.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

The hon. Gentleman confirms that that is his belief. I am sure that he must believe the figures of his own Labour-held regional authority.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

Because I can tell him what they are. The authority concludes—it has nothing to do with the Government as they are the authority's conclusions—that the savings over a 15-year period, discounted, would be no less than £42·4 million, and that is for only one proposal. I am happy to say that I see no reason to dissent broadly from the conclusions that Fife regional council reached on savings.

Photo of John Reid John Reid , Motherwell North

I know that the Minister is a fair man. On the ground of fairness, will he give us the estimate made by Strathclyde of the extra costs involved?

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

I shall deal with the costs more generally later. I was referring to the hon. Member for Fife, Central and simply reminding him of the savings talked of by his Labour-held authority.

Opposition Members seemed to be in great difficulty in deciding what their policy was. The hon. Member for Hamilton spent a considerable time talking about Westminster, which is not exactly affected by the Bill. He believes in a Scottish Assembly, where he would be the Secretary of State for Scotland, where he would have no responsibility for Scottish local government but would have a residual responsibility, as a member of the Cabinet, for local government in England. Perhaps he is just practising hopefully for that day when he earns £70,000 a year, or whatever Cabinet Ministers earn, for having no responsibilities in Scotland whatsoever.

What is Labour party policy? I suggest that it appears to be this. For the sake of argument let us assume that Labour were in Government. First, there would be a constitutional Bill to set up a Scottish Parliament which would take two years. A local government commission would have to be set up and would produce its report after a certain period at work. The Scottish Assembly would then take some time to look at the report's findings and draft legislation. That would be followed by a Bill, which would have to complete its passage, and the introduction of a new local government system.

I have worked out how long that would take, on the tightest reasonable time scale. It cannot be done before April 2004 because of the complexities involved in setting up a new Assembly—legislation, an independent commission and more legislation.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that it could be done faster, perhaps he could let me know. Labour party policy therefore means 10 years of uncertainty over the future of local government in Scotland.

Opposition Members have said that there is massive sustained opposition to those policies in Scotland. They have spoken about the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and its opposition. We were promised a mass lobby from COSLA on the date of the Second Reading. I have now discovered that COSLA sent a letter to all authorities saying that, unfortunately, it could not organise a mass lobby after all. That demonstrates a less than total commitment to sustained opposition to the Government's proposals.

Many hon. Members have referred to local government boundaries.

Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow

With regard to the proposals for Renfrewshire, why are the people of Inverclyde treated so differently from the people living in the proposed East Renfrewshire council area? What do the Government have against the idea of an Inverclyde council? Does it not make better sense to have three councils in Renfrewshire?

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because he implied, I think, in his comments that the representations that had been received from Inverclyde—I met an all-party delegation from the council, led by him—had not been considered. Let me make it clear, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have consistently said that detailed changes will be fully considered in the right and proper place—in Committee.

Photo of Mr Archy Kirkwood Mr Archy Kirkwood Liberal Democrat Chief Whip

I asked the Secretary of State a question earlier and I think that he slightly misunderstood me.

The boundary changes are crucial to hon. Members on both sidea of the House. Can the Minister confirm, first, that the Government are prepared to concede substantive changes on some of the boundary issues? Secondly, as I was trying to say to the Secretary of State earlier but did not get across properly, if individual Members table individual amendments applying to individual boundaries, that has a knock-on effect in other parts of the country. Therefore, if the Government wait until the whole of schedule 1 is debated to take it all away and think about it again before they bring back proposals for change, we need to know the ways in which the Government will deal with any substantive changes to the boundaries that they may have been prepared to concede in Committee.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

I also met a delegation from Berwickshire, led by the hon. Gentleman. I cannot forecast today the outcome of the deliberations of the Standing Committee on the Bill. We will carefully consider substantive amendments that are put forward by the hon. Members who serve on the Committee. I cannot make a commitment, but it is worth recording that the proposals for the previous reorganisation of local government in Scotland were substantially changed as the Bill passed through its stages. We will therefore consider carefully the represen