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Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : 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
Column 605future 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
Column 606moderate, 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.
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
Column 607cent., 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.
Mr. Graham : 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.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : 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
Column 608(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.
Column 609In 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.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : 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?
Mr. Wilson : 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.
Dr. Godman : 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.
Mr. Wilson : 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
Column 610order 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 privatisation 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
Column 611of 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, and 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.
Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : 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
Column 612implications 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.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson indicated dissent.
Dr. Reid : 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.
Column 613In 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.
Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central) : 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
Column 614the 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
Column 615crazy 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.
Mr. Salmond : 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?
Mr. McLeish : 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
Column 616day, 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?
Mr. Gallie : 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?
Mr. McLeish : 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.