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Column 590Member 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.
Mr. Gallie : 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?
Mr. Donohoe : 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
Column 591one 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'.
Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : 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
Column 592accountable 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
Mr. Kynoch : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Canavan : 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
Column 593democracy 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.
Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan) : 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
Column 594needed 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
Column 595government 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--
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I hesitate to intervene, but the hon. Gentleman keeps using the word "you". The Chair is not responsible for any of the policies.
Mr. Wray : 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.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : 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 Monklands. 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.
Mr. Kynoch : If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said, he would have realised that I quoted
Column 596allegations 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?
Mr. Hood : 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
Column 597people'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.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray) : Back to basics.
Mr. Hood : 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
Column 598being 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.
Mrs. Ewing : 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.
Mr. Hood : 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
Column 599provide 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.
Mr. Eric Clarke (Midlothian) : 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
Column 600a 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.
Mrs. Ewing : 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.
Mr. Clarke : 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
Column 601people, 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
Column 602consider 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.
Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : 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.
Mr. Wray : 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?
Mr. Shaw : 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.
Column 603That 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.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : Shameful.
Mr. Shaw : 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.
Column 604There 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.