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Mr. Ernie Ross : Earlier in the debate, in responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), the Minister referred to Dundee and to Government amendment No. 287. I wish to speak about that for a few minutes.
The Minister said that he had responded to the excellent case presented by the city of Dundee district council, with the support of all the political parties represented on that council--Conservative, Scottish National party and Labour. He also said that he was responding to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), who made and expanded on several points in the Standing Committee. In column 215 of the Committee Hansard the Minister said :
"I expect to bring forward amendments that would reflect the case made by my hon. Member for Dundee, East."
I was present at the Committee sitting, but I cannot remember any blinding flash of light striking my hon. Friend at that time, although I recall him saying that he was grateful to the Minister for what he had said. In column 216, my hon. Friend went on to say : "I recognise, however, that the Minister is being very positive and helpful towards the people of Dundee."- -[ Official Report , First Scottish Standing Committee , 10 February 1994 ; c. 215-16] If what is contained in the Government's amendments and what the Minister has said today are supposed to be helpful to Dundee, my hon. Friend will wish to intervene and perhaps to have a word with the Minister after the debate to clarify one or two things. The people of Dundee East Conservative Association, of which the Minister's father is a formidable member, will also want clarification. The Minister knows that his father does not agree with what is being said in the Chamber today, which will dramatically affect the possible success of a single-purpose authority in Dundee.
The Minister attempted to allay our fears by saying that he had responded to the majority of comments made by Dundee district council. He gave us the cemetery and Balgarthno, and we certainly welcome that ; it is very necessary for industrial use.
Mr. Ross : I would not want to disagree with anything that my hon. Friend says. The people of Dundee are grateful that the Minister has given us Balgarthno. We require it if we are to continue the fine work being undertaken in Dundee to help to regenerate the area. The Minister knows Dundee very well--as I have said, he has family connections there--and he knows that the people, we are seeking to attract are saying that, to attract industry, we need high-quality housing in the area. The weight of the argument put by local authorities, by all political parties, by my hon. Friend in Committee, and by both him and me when we came to see the Minister, is that
Column 764we needed Belldovan and Balmuir so as to have high-quality housing which would add to the attractiveness of Dundee as a place where industry might locate.
We need Strathmartine hospital for the same reason, although whether it should be closed is another matter. When that hospital is closed and the building no longer serves the health board, there will be an existing service site which will be of extreme benefit to any local authority seeking to expand its housing. That is another reason why we argued for Strathmartine hospital.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East said in an intervention, it is essential that Mylnefield and the crop research institute based there should be retained within the Dundee boundary. The Minister knows of the excellent work being undertaken by Mylnefield and Dundee university, the one complementing the other. If that is outside the boundary, it will be more difficult for the two organisations to co-operate.
Equally, the Minister knows that much work has been carried out by Dundee district council on the Tay estuary nature reserve. He knows that a plan was put forward, in which Perth district did not wish to participate, and Dundee district council was prepared to continue with the nature reserve. We are close to designating that area a nature reserve, but it cannot be made a nature reserve if we know for a start that Longforgan is going to the new Perth area and that the reserve and the concept of the reserve and the estuary will not be supported by Perth district council.
The Minister is, in effect, killing the possibility of creating the Tay estuary nature reserve, and people who are interested in wildlife and the countryside will be very disappointed. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East says that the Minister is nodding as though he is agreeing. He has it in his power simply to push his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's case aside, since he is summing up, and to accept the proposals succinctly made and well argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East in Committee.
There are other reasons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East made clear in Committee--I am sure that other hon. Members will refer to this today--a little event took place just over a week ago.
Mr. Ross : On 5 May, as my hon. Friend reminds us. On that occasion there were some interesting results, because two of the local Conservative councillors made great play of supporting the Government's position during those elections. In the case of Longforgan and Sidlaw, former Councillor Angus Brown was the defender. He made it his job to go out and work to ensure that Longforgan and Sidlaw would be outside the new Dundee boundaries and he was rewarded by being sacked by the Scottish National party, which took that seat. It seems that the local population in Longforgan and Sidlaw rejected the Government's arguments as well. They did not want to be associated with what was intended to be a
Conservative-controlled district in the future.
In Monifieth, a long-standing Conservative councillor, Mrs. Dorothy Portillo, made it clear before she stepped down that she did not agree that Monifieth should be taken out of Dundee. She was replaced by Councillor Donald McNaughton, who is currently a district councillor on Dundee district council. He was a candidate, but when he tried to become a regional councillor he had his head
Column 765chopped off by the SNP. It does not seem to have done the Government any good. The gerrymandering has paid off. The Secretary of State has the opportunity now to rectify the nonsense that he has created and to correct the mistakes made by the draftsmen and draftswomen when they tried to ignore the case put forward by Dundee district council.
There is also the case of the vanishing petition. The Government listened in Committee and made great play of listening to local communities. In the local community of Longforgan, a concerned individual put a petition in the local grocer's shop and left it there so that the people who used that grocer's shop--almost to a person, they were people from the village--could sign to say if they agreed. The petition said :
"Save our village . . . Keep the village of Invergowrie within the same authority as Dundee."
That petition was submitted to the Minister on 6 or 7 April this year, and it seems to have vanished. To this day, the person who sent it to the Minister is still awaiting an acknowledgement. We are not even sure whether the people had signed the petition and whether the Minister took it into account when he reached his conclusions. Mr. Stewart indicated assent .
Mr. Stewart indicated assent .
Mr. Ross : Did he tell his hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) about the petition ? Did he ask him to comment on it ? Did he ask his hon. Friend to investigate whether the people of Invergowrie agreed with him and wished to go outwith Dundeed ? Mr. Stewart indicated dissent .
Mr. Ross : The Minister shakes his head. He did not ask the hon. Member for Tayside, North. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed. He is not here at the moment and I apologise for mentioning him when he is not here, but I am sure that he would be disappointed to know that his constituents in Longforgan do not wish him to be their Member of Parliament if he happens to be selected in the future and the Bill is passed. They want to stay inside Dundee, as the people of Dundee wish to retain those aspects of the outlying areas that were submitted by Dundee district council.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East said in Committee, the gerrymandering will have to be corrected. When a Scottish Parliament comes into being, it will have to make it clear that the place for Monifieth and Longforgan is in a unitary authority within Dundee.
Mr. Foulkes : I should love to spend some time talking about the astonishing decision in relation to Clackmannan, which makes a mockery of the whole Bill and shows that there is no strategy behind the Government's proposals, but as time is limited I shall concentrate on amendment 42, which I hope the Minister will read. It is on page 1834 and, in addition to being signed by my hon. Friends the Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), who are Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, it is signed by my hon. Friends the Members
Column 766for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey)--and, of course, myself.
The amendment is in favour of an all-Ayrshire council. Ayrshire is a long- standing historical unit, very similar to Fife, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) knows only too well. The arguments in favour of an all-Ayrshire authority are identical to those in favour of a Fife authority. The Minister argued in favour of Fife in Committee.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and I went to meet the Minister with a non-party delegation from Ayrshire, members of the delegation asked the Minister, "What is the difference ?" They wanted to know why the Government were putting forward a strategy for Fife which was different from that for Ayrshire. The Minister was unable to answer them. They could not detect any difference in the arguments for an all-Fife authority from those that they put forward for an all-Ayrshire authority. Nevertheless, the Government propose to split Ayrshire into three, which is artificial, more expensive, much more complicated and unwanted, and the authorities will not be able to organise strategic services. It is artificial because Ayrshire is a traditional unit. Kyle and Carrick was carved out to try to satisfy the Conservatives in Kyle and Carrick. Given the results on 5 May, that will not be the case any more, but that was the original strategy. Cunninghame was then carved out to satisfy the councillors--just the councillors--there, leaving Kilmarnock and Loudoun to be thrown into an artificial union with Cumnock and Doon valley.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and I are the best of friends--councillors in Kilmarnock and Loudoun and in Cumnock and Doon valley also get on well together--but no justification for the measure has been put forward, except that those areas were left over once Cunninghame, north Ayrshire, and Kyle and Carrick, south Ayrshire, were created. If an argument can be put forward for Clackmannan being a single-tier all-purpose authority, it could equally be put forward for Cumnock and Doon valley. If the Cumnock and Doon Valley authority had been selfish enough and concerned only about its own interests, it might have put that argument forward. All credit is due to Cumnock and Doon Valley for thinking beyond the interests of individual councillors to the best provision of services such as education, social services and roads.
The Government's proposal would also be more expensive. The document that the Minister received from the delegation that my hon. Friend and I took along showed that it would cost council tax payers £2 per week more. I hope that the Minister has read that document. He said that he would pass it on to the Secretary of State and consult him. Why should the people of Ayrshire pay £2 a week extra for a split that they do not want ? That paper clearly showed that there is a disparity of office accommodation. The shortfall amounts to 180,000 sq ft because headquarters will have to be created for south Ayrshire, north Ayrshire and east Ayrshire and the offices are in entirely the wrong place.
The proposal is more complicated because we shall have not a single-tier authority but a multi-tier authority,
Column 767probably with as many as five tiers--water and sewerage, fire and police, various joint boards and the councils. It will be much more complicated and much less efficient.
The proposal is also unwanted. Community council after community council in the area, from Prestwick to Mauchline and up to Kilmore, have said that they want an all-Ayrshire authority. Many of my hon. Friends will have received an excellent letter from our old friend Bob Beattie, for whom we have great respect, arguing that case. The Ayrshire chamber of commerce, and businessmen in the area, have also argued the case. Bishop Maurice Taylor of the Roman Catholic Church and all the representatives of the Church of Scotland have argued the case for an all-Ayrshire authority. So the three-way split is not wanted by the representatives of the people of Ayrshire.
On strategic services, the three authorities will be unable to run services such as roads, social services and education. The paper presented to the Minister shows that they would have difficulty even providing a new secondary school in terms of the new capital building programmes. Those small authorities will be hobbled and unable to provide the full facilities required, such as vital special services for the mentally and physically handicapped, through the capital building programmes.
After my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and I had taken a delegation to see the Minister, David Donaldson said that he had received a courteous hearing from the Minister, as indeed he had. I was about to say that he was non-political, and he is now, although he used to be a Tory candidate. Someone who was a Tory candidate in the 1950s is wise to be non- political now. He said that he hoped for a positive response on Report and added :
"If the Government proceeds with its planned three way split it will mean the people of Ayrshire are unnecessarily disadvantaged, facing increased costs, reduced services or even both.
The Minister gave the delegation a very courteous hearing and we are hopeful of a positive response at the Report Stage."
I hope that the Government's answer will be to accept amendment No. 42 and the wishes of the people of Ayrshire for a continuation of Ayrshire and the services that it can provide. The arguments which are so powerful in relation to Fife are equally powerful in Ayrshire. I hope that the Minister will recognise that today.
Mr. Gallie : The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) opened the debate by suggesting that there was no consensus for change in respect of single-tier local authorities. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) contradicted that view, and I believe that he was right. At the last general election, all hon. Members in the Chamber said in our manifestos that we aimed for single-tier authorities, and the Government are delivering.
I wish to speak mainly on amendment No. 42. I shall not repeat the words that I used in Committee on Thursday 10 February. What I said then stands now. I have heard nothing new from Opposition Members today that would change my view on the standing of Ayrshire. I urge Ministers to hold firm with the opinion of the Committee, which accepted without question the intention to create three authorities in Ayrshire. There is all-party support within Cunninghame council for a north Cunningham authority. In Kilmarnock and Loudoun there is majority support for it. In Kyle and Carrick there is majority support among the elected representatives. My hon. Friend the Minister cannot turn his back on those factors.
Column 768While I do not want to repeat my own words in Committee, I should like to quote those of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) who, acknowledging that he was acting as the ventriloquist for his hon. Friends the Members for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), said :
"There is widespread support in Cunninghame for the proposition that if reorganisation is to go ahead, it should be on the basis of three authorities".
I agreed with the hon. Gentleman then, and I agree with him now. He went on :
"My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North convened a public meeting in Largs last summer, immediately after publication of the White Paper. He set out his own approach--that if there is to be a single-tier local government structure, the most viable politically attainable option to go for is for Cunninghame."--[ Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee , 10 February 1994 ; c. 263-64.] That is to say, north Ayrshire.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to stick with the principle of local accountability and local responsibility. The proposals for Ayrshire attain just that.
Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South) : Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 are the only ones that relate to Lanarkshire. We in the county are used to thinking of it as a whole. This applies to travel to work, to education, to health provision, more recently to the Lanarkshire Development Agency, and to the immense task of replacing Ravenscraig and the steel industry, whose loss has left such a big hole not only in Motherwell but in the whole life of Lanarkshire.
Even with the present Motherwell district, we have to work with area housing offices to bring services near to the people. That would have been perfectly possible in a Lanarkshire solution for services that need to be close to the people. The county of Lanarkshire would have been a viable, defensible solution. Yes, it would have been a single-tier authority with an electorate larger than that of the city of Glasgow, and no doubt that would have frightened the Government to death. Instead, the Government's proposals have all the disadvantages of widely dispersed authorities in north and south Lanarkshire, and none of the coherence of areas corresponding to local communities. North Lanarkshire has never been a regional or sub-regional entity in its own right for the delivery of any local government or national Government services. It is not a city ; it is a loose amalgam of small and medium-sized communities. It has no centre and no north-south direct public communication links. It lacks any coherent social, community or journey-to-work links. The proposal totally disregards natural and man-made barriers in terms of transport and land form, which will not be removed or easily overcome by any local government reorganisation.
Faced with this, the Motherwell district council proposed three new local government areas in Lanarkshire, without the option of the whole and without the option of merely local communities. It proposed the adoption of the natural boundaries marked by the M8 and M74, dividing Lanarkshire into three radial zones whose communication links with Glasgow also offer the advantages of internal communications within each of the areas.
The district council did its best to secure the support of other districts- -in particular, Clydesdale--which would have joined Motherwell in that pattern. I did my best to put
Column 769the case to colleagues and to the Minister, and I think that the Minister tried, rather belatedly, to secure consensus, even among such people as pass as Tories in Lanarkshire, of whom there are not many. He failed, as, I am afraid, did the council and myself, to secure the necessary consensus to produce a logical solution for Lanarkshire.
The facts remain, however, and the ground will not go away. The proposed boundaries have no logic and I do not see them surviving any proposals that will emerge, either from the Government or from Labour's local government reform, which will be based on different principles.
The lesson for us in Motherwell is that we have to continue working constructively with our neighbouring communities, as we have done in the immense task of industrial redevelopment, and to build future proposals together with our neighbouring communities so that we can put forward agreed proposals which have mutual confidence and reflect a common strength of view to the mutual benefit of us all. I am sorry that the Government have not given us such a lead in their approach to this round of local government reform, which will in no way last.
Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber) : I shall always be grateful to the late Willie Ross for giving me the opportunity to serve on the Royal Commission for Local Government in Scotland, which sat between 1966 and 1969. It was from its recommendations that the regional structure, of which Highland is one, emerged.
The contrast between what Willie did and what the Government have done could not be more marked. Acting against a background of urgent pressure for reform--and there was urgent pressure at that time--he appointed an independent and politically balanced commission. From the House, apart from myself, a Liberal, there was the late Tom Fraser from the Labour party and the late Betty Harvie Anderson from the Conservatives, both of whom I came to regard with great respect and affection.
It was a consensual exercise, slow and careful, and John Wheatley was an immaculately fair chairman. I am very sad to see that work thrown away, for the motivation for change now is certainly party political. I am quite sure that, had the wayward ways of politics produced, in Strathclyde regional council, for example, a Conservative majority, we would not be debating legislation tonight ; we would not be talking about change at all. Particularly in Ayrshire, Stirling and Renfrew, change, not reform, is the right word. My experience on the royal commission leads me to oppose amendment No. 169 in the name of my hon. Friends the Members for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), with whom in most matters I am in happy equilibrium. I am well aware of the enthusiasm for all-purpose authorities. The note of dissent signed by Betty and me on the royal commission's report would have achieved it on a regional basis. We opposed the two-tier structure, not simply because of the separation of housing and social work, to which the Seebohm committee was unanimously opposed, but also because we felt that the alternative was regions with the main functions and genuinely strong community councils based on the old burghs, with general competence powers. That would have worked well and would have allowed also for devolution within the regions, which Highland has already operated and looks to improve.
Column 770Before turning briefly and specifically to the amendment, I remind the House of the principles of local government on which we on Wheatley agreed, and give the House a one-sentence quotation from the report. They were power, effectiveness, local democracy and local involvement. What did we say about power ?
"What we have always had in view is a type of structure in which there could be a real shift of power from central to local government."
Sadly, the opposite has taken place. In Highland, by maintaining one council, I feel we can at least retain some of it.
For a long time I represented the largest constituency in the United Kingdom. It covers 4,900 square miles and is larger than Cyprus. I now represent the second largest constituency--the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye is, by a small margin, the largest constituency--and I am not impressed by arguments on size. Better travel links and technology have overcome the problems. I have no doubt that Highland is a coherent region with common feelings and culture and a need to work together.
It is worth stressing that the retention of Highland region results in minimal functional change. The only major transfer is housing, which I deplore, but it is in decline as a function. I do not agree that the quality of democratic control will be diminished. To the contrary, I consider that during the past two decades Highland region has demonstrated that it is a sensitive and efficient local authority.
On the views of the existing district councils, Lochaber, Badenoch and Strathspey, and Inverness in my constituency favour the two-council option of the amendment. Skye and Lochalsh, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, does not, as he said. By agreement with him, I speak for them, as I did in Parliament for nearly 20 years.
The chief executive of Skye and Lochalsh, David Noble, produced a paper setting out the unanimous views of his council that is admirably succinct but too long to allow me, in the tight time frame available, to read it all out. However, I shall read two paragraphs that encapsulate the argument for one council against two clearly and directly. Mr. Noble says :
"The administrative centres for the two Councils will almost certainly be sited within a few miles of each other, probably in Inverness and Dingwall. In practical terms, these centres will be no more local to peripheral areas"--
that also applies to Caithness in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland
"than a single Council's administrative centre in Inverness. Two Councils will need joint working arrangements for a whole range of vital services. These include information technology, specialist education services, European issues (vital in consideration of the Objective 1 arguments) and refuse disposal. There will also be statutory joint committees for Police, Fire and Valuation. The single Council will give clearer accountability and more effective democratic control of these services."
I agree with him. In the case of Nairn, after what I can only describe as some confusion--I am sure that the Minister will agree--it is clear that it wishes to be part of the Highland region and also supports a single Highland council.
As hon. Members will understand from my preliminary remarks, I am not happy about the Government's general approach to local government change. What they have
Column 771done over the past decade has weakened local government hugely, and what they propose will weaken it further. However, in the case of the Highland region, they are right, and staying with one council for the highlands makes sense.
Mr. Lang : I am conscious that in intervening at this stage of the debate, I am doing so before the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who has been here throughout it, has had the chance to contribute. However, as time is moving on, I hope that he will understand that it is appropriate for me to respond to the points made so far. The highlands were not discussed in Committee and there was general agreement that it would be appropriate to discuss the issues involving the highlands on Report.
Before addressing the proposals specifically, I shall respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) about the Wheatley commission. I have great respect for what it did ; had it not done the work that it did, it would have been impossible for us to contemplate embarking on the reform of local government without some sort of commission. It was the codification and work done by Wheatley that gave us the foundation on which we could build. The vast majority of boundaries are either regional or district boundaries as set out in Wheatley.
The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Wheatley commission's proposals were amended substantially and by the House from 48 to 65 in major ways that I could cover, but which have been covered in earlier discussions.
I deal now with the question of the highland region and amendment No. 169. I agree with the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy). It is a difficult issue ; it is one of the most difficult issues of all the boundaries. In taking the view that I and the Government do, we have given close thought to the conflicting pressures of, on the one hand, local loyalties, the pressure to respond to local issues and keep local government as local as possible, and, on the other, the need for efficiency founded on a strong resource base.
As we have heard, there are genuinely conflicting views on what the new structure for the highlands should be. In response to our public consultation, support has divided between a single Highland authority and a number of smaller units based on a range of possibilities, such as districts, groups of districts or counties. Proposals have since emerged for a two-way split, advanced by the Association of Highland District Councils and reflected in the amendments before the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), the Under-Secretary of State, met the hon. Members for Caithness and Sunderland and for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, with representatives of the association, to hear at first hand the case for a two-way split. I have had separate meetings with the association and Highland regional council. I pay tribute to the positive and constructive way in which the case has been presented by both sides.
I acknowledge that the north-south split is a genuine compromise--proposed by the association--for those who have concerns over a single Highland authority proposal. I acknowledge also a number of letters in recent weeks in support of the two-way split from various businesses operating in the highlands area : community councils, individuals and so on. But that support--also indicated by
Column 772a survey, to which the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber referred--must, of course, be balanced against the views of those in favour of a single Highland authority. Strong support for that option has come from the business community, the voluntary sector, community councils and individuals. Supporters of a Highland council include Highlands and Islands Enterprise ; the highland branch of the CBI ; the Highland health board ; the Scottish Landowners Federation ; and a number of community councils. Skye and Lochalsh district council also favours the single Highland authority and has entered into preliminary discussions with the regional council on how service delivery and decision making can best be decentralised. The Government attach great importance to the issue of decentralisation in those large rural authorities. Moreover, Nairn district council has moved recently from its position of favouring a link with Moray to one of fully supporting a single Highland council.
Of course, there is no easy reconciliation of the conflicting arguments, and no solution will please everyone, but there is little doubt about the integrity of the highlands in terms of history, geography, culture and recreation. People identify strongly with the highlands. A survey commissioned by Ross and Cromarty district council revealed that 82 per cent. of respondents strongly identified with the highlands. Beneath the Highland level, I believe that the identity is at county rather than community level. In an area such as the highlands, whether there are one or two councils, the focus must be on effective decentralisation to ensure a genuinely local input to the service delivery and decision taking.
Much of the highlands--around 60 per cent.--is focused on Inverness and the Moray Firth area. The validity of drawing a line through that area, as proposed by the north-south split, and by amendment No. 169, must be questioned. Indeed, Skye and Lochalsh district council has pointed out that it does not fit readily into either north or south, and that there is no north highlands or south highlands identity. That view was reinforced by several responses to our consultation. It has also been pointed out that dividing the western highlands between two local authority areas could fragment efforts to develop important local policies relating to the Gaelic language, crofting, tourism and fishing.
Overall, I share the view of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber. I believe that there are compelling arguments in favour of the single authority, in terms of identity, service delivery, and economic planning and development. While it is not necessarily an overriding factor, there are also clear financial advantages. It is worth pointing out that some 85 per cent. of resources in terms of major local authority services are already delivered at regional level.
Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte touched on the question of cost, which was raised by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, and has, I understand, suggested that one council would cost £4.4 million less than the status quo, whereas two would cost £6.2 million more than the status quo.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : The Secretary of State, in answering the representations that have been made from those who favour two highlands councils, has made the perfectly fair point that it was a matter that could best be deliberated on in the forum of the
Column 773House. Although we have heard two powerful speeches presenting each side of the argument, they have been brief, and many arguments have not been deployed by either of the protagonists.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it would not be sensible to conclude the argument here tonight, and that it should be continued in the upper House ? He could then listen to some of the arguments about the quality, as well as the quantity, of democracy--arguments such as that advanced by two former Conservative parliamentary candidates in my constituency, who point out that only a third of the seats in the region have been contested since the local government reorganisation. There is indeed a sense in which the north highlands are quite different from the more developed conurbations of Inverness and Fort William.
Mr. Lang : Given the hon. Gentleman's knowledge and experience of his constituency and the highlands in general, I accept that he deserves the recognition of such distinctions. I also accept his complete right to argue the case, and to continue to argue it beyond the completion of the Bill's stages in this House. The debates in another place are a matter for their lordships ; if the hon. Gentleman seeks to interest them, they may well be interested in pursuing the issue further.
I think that I owe it to the House to give a firm steer in regard to the Government's view as a result of the extensive consultations that have taken place, and the careful consideration that we have given to all the points that have been made. As I said earlier, they were presented very well and comprehensively by both the Association of Highland District Councils and the region.
At the end of the day, it is the Government's considered view that the best way forward for the highlands area is to establish a single Highland authority, with effective decentralisation involving area committees. I think that that would combine the many benefits of one council, and reflect the local loyalties that shone through very clearly in response to the public consultation no less effectively than a two-way split. Against that background, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw amendment No. 169.
Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen) : I am aware of the time constraints, but I should not like the debate to pass without some reference to the record of Strathclyde regional council. It is a first- class council, one of the best in the history of the country. Unfortunately, if the Bill goes through, Strathclyde will be fully appreciated only when it no longer exists and people no longer have access to the services that it provides.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) referred to the Wheatley commission. I am afraid that we in Cambuslang and Rutherglen do not have such fond memories of that commission : it took away our independence and made us part of Glasgow district council. The alliance has not been a happy one, and certainly does not reflect the wish of people in Cambuslang and Rutherglen to have their own community identity. It is not a question of any resentment of Glasgow people ; we in Cambuslang and Rutherglen are used to a much smaller unit, and we simply feel that Glasgow is too big.
Community campaigns have been mentioned. I do not know why the Government do not take account of the 15,000-signature petition presented to Parliament by Cambuslang and Rutherglen, the aggregate attendance of
Column 774more than 3,000 people at public meetings and the fact that 3,000 people have sent written communications to the Scottish Office. That local community campaign raised more than £3,000 --money that was raised for the community and the aims that it supported.
The Government have laid themselves open to charges of gerrymandering by creating councils in different areas of the country with a smaller population than Cambuslang and Rutherglen. I am not necessarily opposed to that ; there is a genuine difference between me and some of my hon. Friends in that regard. I believe that the case for or against smaller councils is still to be proved. I recognise that what is happening to Clackmannan is the wish of local people, and time alone will tell whether it can work.
I congratulate Clackmannan council on getting what it fought for--but it must be pointed out that larger populations, in Cambuslang and Rutherglen and elsewhere, have been denied the opportunity of a community focus by the Government's plans.
The proposal for Cambuslang and Rutherglen is the establishment of a South Lanarkshire authority. Although the Government may be able to say that the people in the area concerned voted for South Lanarkshire in Glasgow district council's referendum, it must be said that my colleagues in the district council badly mismanaged that referendum. They allowed the Government to say that my constituents favour South Lanarkshire. If Cambuslang and Rutherglen end up in South Lanarkshire council, the blame will fairly be laid at the door of Glasgow district council.
In common with some of my hon. Friends, I have not moved amendments because the consensus on the Opposition side of the House is that the Government are determined to have their way. I spoke at length with Ministers, to try to persuade them otherwise. In common with my hon. Friends, I am not into gesture politics and moving an empty amendment, when I know full well that the Government will not accept it. Many of my hon. Friends are in the same position.
I warn and advise the Government that the Cambuslang and Rutherglen cause and case has not ended yet and will be pursued in the other place. I am totally opposed to the Bill and shall vote against it--even if it includes a Cambuslang and Rutherglen council. The motivation behind it is the negation of local democracy and taking power away from local authorities. It is clearly anti-democratic. If the Bill is passed, we shall delay it as long as possible, until we are nearer to a Labour Government. Even if it eventually ends up on the statute book, a Labour Government will destroy the legislation, make sure that it is not implemented and, through a Scottish Parliament, have a proper independent review of Scottish local government.