Local Communities — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:43 pm on 1st July 2010.

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Photo of Lord McAvoy Lord McAvoy Labour 12:43 pm, 1st July 2010

My Lords, it is with more than the usual trepidation that I rise to speak because after 13 years in the Government Whips' Office, it is now around 14 years since I last made a speech in the Palace of Westminster. I join other colleagues in thanking all the staff and Members who have made me extremely welcome. I have never been in quite such a warm and friendly place. I have been in many a warm place along the corridor, but the welcome I have received and the friendship shown here augurs well.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, on choosing the subject of our debate today. I also thank her for that because it allows me to speak about something I feel quite comfortable with, which is localism. Most folk would describe me as being a great fan of parochialism, but I make no apology for that. The emphasis in the debate has been on localism and local connections. I have my own local connections to declare because the place I was born and brought up in, and represent, are quite extensive. My wife Eleanor and I were both born and brought up in the Burnhill area of the Royal Borough of Rutherglen. We were married there and we have always stayed there. Our four sons all reside no more than half a mile from our house, and that connection is very important to me. Connections to this House have been mentioned, but I can certainly vouch for the fact that my grandfather, who was an immigrant from the north of Ireland to the west coast of Scotland, definitely had no connections to this House because I still have his marriage certificate. It states, "Bernard McAvoy. His mark here", and there is then a very large cross. I am proud that the traditions of this country have allowed the grandson of a person who could not read or write to become a Member here.

The west of Scotland has a reputation-undeserved-of being male dominated, but in reality it was and still is the women who are the strong characters. In my own family, the three most influential people were my grandmother, my mother and my late sister. I think about them and those connections every day. Before I became a Member of the Commons, I worked in the Hoover factory in Cambuslang as a forklift truck driver. I was heavily involved in the local community council and the tenants' association and became the chair of those organisations. I also became a Strathclyde regional councillor. To me, that council was the epitome of decentralisation because at the time it was the largest local authority in Europe, covering 2.5 million people. But the decentralisation and devolution of power that took place were real. Effectively, the council was divided into six sub-divisions with power being devolved to local people. The combined experience of working with the community and in the then Strathclyde Regional Council has shaped all my attitudes since then to public life. You get the best out of communities and out of people if you work together-not in a deceptive way by pretending to agree with one another, but on real community issues it is so easy to get agreement and people working together.

My first constituency as a Member of Parliament included areas of Cambuslang and Halfway. Again, there is terrific continuity in these areas which continues to be reflected. I was lucky enough to be asked to serve in the then Opposition Whips' Office and I served a terrific apprenticeship under my noble friends Lord Foster of Bishop Auckland and Lord Dixon. I am quite sure that that apprenticeship will continue in this place, as it did in the Government Whips' Office under Nick Brown.

It is not just about systems of local government; I believe that local government is the main tool for delivering to local people. We do not want to return to what some critics said of the last Government and certainly of the previous Government, about the controls and restrictions put on local authorities established during the 1980s and 1990s. The local council can be the deliverer. The trick, if you like, is to inculcate local people with a sense of ownership and a sense of freedom, while also still inculcating the council with a sense of accountability and responsibility. They are the constant threads for delivering well to local people.

In my own life, this is the best example I can give of local people working together. In 1975, the towns of Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway were incorporated into the great city of Glasgow. It is a wonderful city, but we were used to a more localised and accountable structure, and we did not take comfortably to being part of a great city. So, in 1995, in conjunction with the then Conservative Minister responsible for local government in Scotland, Allan Stewart, and the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, we managed to set up a campaign that united the whole area. Every tenants' association, every community council and every local organisation combined in a joint committee to join a more local council, and in 1996 we succeeded in getting into South Lanarkshire Council. The best committee I ever served on was that one-working to get a local council for Rutherglen, Cambuslang and Halfway-because all the political parties combined. We worked with Conservative Ministers who showed a lot of co-operation, and we achieved it. So returning power to local communities has certainly happened in our area.

South Lanarkshire Council has reflected that because it has established local area committees where people can participate. It has devolved matters to local co-operatives, which is important to me. It also works extremely well with the co-operative and mutual organisations. There are many ways in which it can improve efficiency and cut costs. It is also investigating the possibility of joint administration with a neighbouring council-for instance, in regard to the education payroll-thereby cutting costs, sharing administration and saving the public money.

There should be no return to conflict between local and national government; there should be a balance. I believe in a certain amount of centralised direction but, under that, there must be total control for local people. I hope the present Government continue with that policy.