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Mr. McLeish : The Under-Secretary of State says that that is more than he knows. We want to know who is preparing information for that council. The provost is nicknamed "the Ayatollah"--a new example of the loony right.
The hon. Member for Ayr will be interested to know that the issue was discussed at a seminar on Sunday. That is interesting, but what is really illuminating is that the council has described what it wants to do after May 1996. It talks of "minimalist south Ayrshire" and uses the word "outsourcing", which basically means that it will privatise everything that moves within its authority. Finance, law, administration and information technology skills will be "outsourced". It will outsource planning, roads, estate work and leave all the development to local enterprise councils. It will privatise environmental health and outsource housing and social services. It will opt out every school and get consortia to run every other service.
The document highlights what the debate is all about--creating puppet councils that are run and administered by the Scottish Office, to which the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State can send willing underlings like the hon. Member for Ayr to do the Government's
Column 618business. It is unbelievable, and we shall ensure that the document has a wide circulation to let the people of Scotland know what is happening.
Mr. Gallie : The hon. Gentleman has an advantage over me because I have not seen the document. However, I am delighted that a local council like Kyle and Carrick is forward-looking enough to look into the future, see what is good for its council tax payers and try to envisage the opportunities that lie ahead instead of behaving like the Opposition, who bury their heads in the sand, believing that money grows on trees and that services can be pulled out of the air. Kyle and Carrick is looking forward- -good on it.
Mr. McLeish : "Good on it" sounds more like a football chant. The document talks about ensuring that party advantage is secured so that Strathclyde regional council does nothing in the wind-up. The hon. Gentleman said that he has no access to the document. He can have access to it after the Divisions because we shall ensure that it has a wider circulation.
Mr. Foulkes : Is my hon. Friend aware that Kyle and Carrick district council has already started that process? After a meeting at which the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) was present, it proposed to cancel a tender for cleansing and refuse collection, which still has two years to run and was given to in-house contractors. While those discussions were taking place, the provost of Kyle and Carrick council had at least two--perhaps three-- secret meetings with a Spanish-based private company that wishes to take over that tender. That is what we shall face under the new privatised Tory councils.
I am pleased to say that, unlike the hon. Member for Ayr who speaks to the press before he speaks to the Commons, I have suggested that that matter will be raised.
Conservative Members may laugh at a document produced by their colleagues but my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is right to say that the council's actions are illegal. A £3 million contract with two years to run is being torn up and the zealots who now run the authority will bar their in-house team from bidding. To show that Tory contempt exists not only in the House, the provost at that meeting confirmed that he had had private discussions with Spanish contractors.
Why do not Government Front-Bench Members drag in that Tory convenor and tell him that the attempt to bypass compulsory competitive tendering is not on? The Secretary of State has not said anything. Once again, there are double standards--what is good enough for some authorities in respect of CCT is not good enough for the Tory's new flagship authority, the loony right Kyle and Carrick district authority.
We are worried that the reorganisation process will allow councils to be manipulated. If there is one area that sums up the predicament it is my region of Fife. The scenario is this : Scottish Office advisers or Ministers suggested that Stirling must be a single-tier authority because an ex-Westminster city councillor, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), was advising them. They then had to decide how to achieve that end.
Column 619First, they decided to chop up Central regional council. Fair enough, but if they did that they then had to decide what to do about Falkirk and Clackmannan. They decided to link them together, but some bright spark in the Scottish Office realised that there was a river between them and that they were not linked. Hey presto, a genius said that they would take Kincardine out of Fife and provide the necessary link. How on earth can that be described as a logical, sensible or sensitive way to reorganise anything? We shall certainly be discussing such issues in Committee.
I conclude by dealing with two issues which give us great cause for concern. The first is quangos. The Government may rubbish people's concern about government by quango. None of my colleagues wants placemen running the key services but, if it happens, the quality of life for people in Scotland will be diminished. Our preliminary analysis of the Bill suggests that more than 100 new bodies--statutory and non-statutory boards and quangos--will emerge, and the creation of three super-quangos is an insult built on an injury. To try to bring about privatisation in such a corrupt manner is bad enough but to suggest that it is taken out of local authority control and given to super-quangos is worse.
The Bill also deals with water, but the Scots do not accept the Government's proposal. They do not want a further acceleration of quango government, but they want a debate about services. I began my remarks by dealing with services, and I shall conclude on that point.
The Government are ignoring the pressing needs of child care, education, transport and social work. We need investment in those key areas. We are lagging behind Europe and other parts of the developed world because we are pursuing the wrong agenda. If the Secretary of State feels that he wants to do something constructive in his remaining few years in that post, he would be well advised to tackle the issue of services.
What annoys the Scots is not only everything that I have described but the way in which Ministers are undermining the collective ethos of Scottish local government. We believe in community and in individualism being developed, nurtured and promoted, and we believe in aspirations being realised through the idea of community and collective provision. The Government are trying to trample those ideas into the dust as they progress with their political agenda. We shall not rest after the Bill has been given a Second Reading. We shall ensure that the Government have a bruising battle in Committee and that they are exposed on every front. Our objective remains the derailing of the Bill. We shall have success as the Government move towards the next election but, if we do not, we shall have success when there is a Labour Government. Tonight we shall vote against this daft, dangerous and divisive Bill and ask the Government to scrap it now.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : When the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) opened for the Opposition he made a number of forecasts. Before the debate he made a forecast, which was carried in the Sunday Times on 12 December, in which he said :
"Labour is hoping to recruit right-wing Tories in an attempt to wreck the progress of the Scottish local government bill." The article continued by saying that they would be targeted, the offensive would be co-ordinated and there
Column 620would be discreet discussions. I have checked with my hon. Friend the Whip, who looks less than panic-stricken at the possible gain of right-wing Conservatives in the Labour Lobby tonight. The hon. Gentleman's forecast is about as accurate as many of his other forecasts about the effects of this admirable Bill.
The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) was in his usual ebullient form. He referred to Fife and local government costs and it is therefore worth reading the odd excerpt from Fife regional council's submission on the matter.
"We welcome the opportunity to put forward a positive and well argued case for the continuation of local government services based on a single Fife authority."
That is what the Government have also concluded in the Bill. The hon. Member for Fife, Central also talked about costs and said that he did not believe the Government's figures.
Mr. McLeish indicated assent.
Mr. Stewart : Because I can tell him what they are. The authority concludes--it has nothing to do with the Government as they are the authority's conclusions--that the savings over a 15-year period, discounted, would be no less than £42.4 million, and that is for only one proposal. I am happy to say that I see no reason to dissent broadly from the conclusions that Fife regional council reached on savings.
Mr. Stewart : I shall deal with the costs more generally later. I was referring to the hon. Member for Fife, Central and simply reminding him of the savings talked of by his Labour-held authority. Opposition Members seemed to be in great difficulty in deciding what their policy was. The hon. Member for Hamilton spent a considerable time talking about Westminster, which is not exactly affected by the Bill. He believes in a Scottish Assembly, where he would be the Secretary of State for Scotland, where he would have no responsibility for Scottish local government but would have a residual responsibility, as a member of the Cabinet, for local government in England. Perhaps he is just practising hopefully for that day when he earns £70,000 a year, or whatever Cabinet Ministers earn, for having no responsibilities in Scotland whatsoever. What is Labour party policy? I suggest that it appears to be this. For the sake of argument let us assume that Labour were in Government. First, there would be a constitutional Bill to set up a Scottish Parliament which would take two years. A local government commission would have to be set up and would produce its report after a certain period at work. The Scottish Assembly would then take some time
Column 621to look at the report's findings and draft legislation. That would be followed by a Bill, which would have to complete its passage, and the introduction of a new local government system.
I have worked out how long that would take, on the tightest reasonable time scale. It cannot be done before April 2004 because of the complexities involved in setting up a new Assembly--legislation, an independent commission and more legislation.
Mr. Stewart : If the hon. Gentleman is saying that it could be done faster, perhaps he could let me know. Labour party policy therefore means 10 years of uncertainty over the future of local government in Scotland.
Opposition Members have said that there is massive sustained opposition to those policies in Scotland. They have spoken about the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and its opposition. We were promised a mass lobby from COSLA on the date of the Second Reading. I have now discovered that COSLA sent a letter to all authorities saying that, unfortunately, it could not organise a mass lobby after all. That demonstrates a less than total commitment to sustained opposition to the Government's proposals.
Many hon. Members have referred to local government boundaries.
Dr. Godman : With regard to the proposals for Renfrewshire, why are the people of Inverclyde treated so differently from the people living in the proposed East Renfrewshire council area? What do the Government have against the idea of an Inverclyde council? Does it not make better sense to have three councils in Renfrewshire?
Mr. Stewart : I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because he implied, I think, in his comments that the representations that had been received from Inverclyde--I met an all-party delegation from the council, led by him--had not been considered. Let me make it clear, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have consistently said that detailed changes will be fully considered in the right and proper place--in Committee.
The boundary changes are crucial to hon. Members on both sidea of the House. Can the Minister confirm, first, that the Government are prepared to concede substantive changes on some of the boundary issues? Secondly, as I was trying to say to the Secretary of State earlier but did not get across properly, if individual Members table individual amendments applying to individual boundaries, that has a knock-on effect in other parts of the country. Therefore, if the Government wait until the whole of schedule 1 is debated to take it all away and think about it again before they bring back proposals for change, we need to know the ways in which the Government will deal with any substantive changes to the boundaries that they may have been prepared to concede in Committee.
Column 622today the outcome of the deliberations of the Standing Committee on the Bill. We will carefully consider substantive amendments that are put forward by the hon. Members who serve on the Committee. I cannot make a commitment, but it is worth recording that the proposals for the previous reorganisation of local government in Scotland were substantially changed as the Bill passed through its stages. We will therefore consider carefully the representations that are made by hon. Members.
Mr. Salmond : I stand corrected. The hon. Gentleman must consider that to be a reasonable period for forecasting in terms of the Bill. Can he therefore, for the House tonight, rule out any move towards water privatisation in that time scale to the year 2004?
Mr. Stewart : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it absolutely clear that the Government have no proposals for water privatisation in Scotland. He could not have been clearer. A number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have naturally raised a range of detailed points about the boundaries of individual authorities. My hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) and for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) did not appear to hold a unanimous view on one aspect that they raised. I have no doubt that such points will be fully discussed in Committee. I was grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) for recognising that, in relation to King's Park and Toryglen, the Government had responded to the representations made by him and by his hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton). The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) also referred to boundaries. He made the general point that it is impossible to have efficient small education authorities.
I can answer that point best by reading a quotation from the Committee debating the Local Government (Scotland) Bill in 1973 : "Let me tell the Government that local interest in education is understandably intense, probably more intense"
than in housing.
"the education service should, in our view, be responsive to this interest. If, in order to get this responsiveness it was necessary to move housing from region to district, it is worth while taking education out of the hands of a very large authority and giving it to a smaller authority."
I shall repeat the last phrase for the benefit of the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram)-- [Interruption.] I am grateful for hon. Members' appreciation. To repeat :
"it is worth while taking education out of the hands of a very large authority and giving it to a smaller authority."--[ Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 1 February 1973 ; c. 205.]
The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth referred to my view, which is identical to that, as twaddle, or some similar word. I suggest that he have a word with his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith). He expressed precisely those sentiments, which I have just quoted.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside referred to costs and to staffing. He said that, on the
Column 623previous occasion on which local government was reorganised, there was widespread concern about increased salaries for senior staff in local government. I tell him--this relates directly to costs--that we are determined to prevent excessive salary increases and golden handshakes. The Bill will enable the Secretary of State, if necessary, to appoint a body to examine excessive salary increases and to recommend reductions.
The Bill also contains powers designed to discourage people from accepting redundancy when they know that they will be re-employed by a new council. In those circumstances, the council in question could be obliged to repay the compensation to the Secretary of State. Those proposals will be widely welcomed as giving my right hon. Friend the power, if necessary, to ensure that some of the excessive increases that occurred on the previous occasion are not repeated.
On costs, my hon. Friends have rightly pointed to the many individual district councils that have identified substantial savings from their unitary status. Other estimates within the world of local authorities, including Strathclyde, do not reflect those figures. I point out to the Opposition that, according to the whole range of estimates given by Labour- held authorities, large and small, the authorities say that under a unitary system they could provide services cost-effectively.
That is true even of authorities as small as Clackmannan, which is Labour held. A delegation from that authority, led by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), came to see me. The delegates argued that Clackmannan could provide all services, including the specialist services, cost-effectively. How was that council able to do that, the hon. Member for Fife, Central may ask. How could such a small council conceive of being able to supply the specialist services? Its members told me, "Minister, we would be an enabling council. Minister, we have no hang-ups about getting specialist services from other councils. Minister, we have no hang-ups about getting specialist services from the private sector."
That was the view of the Labour-held Clackmannan district council. That suggests that the thinking of many councils in Scotland is miles ahead of the thinking on the Opposition Front Bench. Many Labour authorities in Scotland have recognised that local government increasingly has an enabling role and that they may not only supply services by their own hand but use other means of delivering services. As I have referred to the hon. Member for Fife, Central, I shall give way.
Mr. McLeish : On an important issue concerning Falkirk and Clackmannan, will the Minister tell the House whether Kincardine will be moved, even if people there wish to stay in Fife, to complete the utterly ridiculous gerrymandering of two parts of one, so-called unitary authority?
Mr. Stewart : I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to confirm that he supports Fife regional council's figures on the massive savings that will occur as a consequence of the implementation of the Government's proposals. I have no doubt that his detailed question will be raised during Committee, where it will be fully considered. Surely the hon. Gentleman did not expect me to say anything other than that.
Mr. Stewart : Yes, absolutely. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that industry does not set up in areas with small authorities? That is nonsense. The lead organisation for encouraging inward investment in Scotland is Locate in Scotland and it will work in partnership with local authorities, which will have continuing industrial powers, as they have at present.
Dr. Reid rose --
Mr. Stewart : I have only two minutes left and I must continue. My hon. Friends the Members for Kincardine and Deeside and for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) specifically mentioned community councils--an aspect of the Government's proposals which has not received widespread attention. I can confirm to my hon. Friends and to the House that community councils will have the right to be consulted on local planning issues on which we have indicated to the local authority that they wish to be consulted. They will also have the right to be consulted on the schemes which authorities draw up on
decentralisation services. We regard those schemes as extremely important. Part of making local government more local is unquestionably local community councils having a right and proper role. The Bill will confirm that firmly.
I should like to make one point absolutely clear to the hon. Members for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke)-- [Interruption.] --who asked about the--
Mr. Welsh : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. All night, the Government Benches have been empty because there has been hardly an English Member present. Now, they have all come in to vote the measure through against the wishes of the Scottish people and they are making so much noice that we cannot hear the end of the debate. Will you, Madam Speaker, ensure that those Conservative Members are quiet? They have not listened to the debate yet they are now going to vote for the measure against the wishes of the people.
Mr. Stewart : Hon. Members asked about representation on joint boards and the hon. Member for Midlothian asked about the police. All members of joint boards will be local authority representatives. No coherent policy has been proposed by the Opposition in this important debate. By contrast, the Government have proposed clear, coherent proposals to make local government simpler, more accountable and more cost-effective and to make local authorities local and give them real authority in Scotland. I commend the Bill to the House. Question put :--
The House divided : Ayes 318, Noes 277.
Division No. 68] [10 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Column 625Arbuthnot, James
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, David (Bour'mouth E)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)
Beresford, Sir Paul
Biffen, Rt Hon John
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Body, Sir Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Carlisle, John (Luton North)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Davis, David (Boothferry)
Deva, Nirj Joseph