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Mr. Raymond S. 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?
Mr. George Robertson : 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.
Mr. Robertson : 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.
Column 549The 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 Shirly 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
Column 550they 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
Column 551democratic 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,
Column 552which 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
Column 553place 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?
Mr. Kynoch : 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.
Mr. Robertson : 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
Column 554short 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"
"the Secretary of State may direct"
"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.
Column 555If 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.
Mr. Lang : 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.
Mr. Robertson : 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.
Mr. Dalyell : 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
Column 556Secretary 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.
Mr. Robertson : 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 and 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--
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : 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. 5.10 pm
Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : 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.
Column 557The 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 :
Column 558"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.
Mr. Kirkwood : 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.
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.
Mr. Graham : 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.