Previous Section Home Page

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North) : I shall speak to amendment No. 297, and I am delighted that Ralston, West Dykebar, Paisley, North and Paisley, South will return to Renfrew district. That is undoubtedly due to endless representations by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) on behalf of that area. I was denied a place on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill, having to pull out to allow the Secretary of State to skulk away and leave the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) to present the Bill's

Column 775

gerrymandering proposals. There will be none more delighted than the people of Ralston, who voted overwhelmingly in a referendum against being included in Eastwood district council. I am sure that was in no small way due to the fact that Paisley grammar school refused to opt out of Strathclyde education authority, with 80 per cent. of parents voting to remain within it.

If I ever doubted that gerrymandering was going on, I have no doubt now. In returning Ralston and West Dykebar to Renfrew district, the hon. Member for Eastwood has left the Tory safe haven that is his parliamentary constituency a council area.

What of the people of Barrhead, who have no connection with an Eastwood council ? Barrhead has been a borough for 100 years. Newton kirk, which has been part of the Paisley presbytery since the Reformation, will now be contained in a different local authority. Only 2 per cent. of the people living in Barrhead work in Eastwood. Can the Minister give any historical, geographical or other reason--other than political gerrymandering--for taking Barrhead into Eastwood district council ? There is none. Apart from anything else, how can the Minister justify the cost of taking Barrhead out of Renfrew district council, which will otherwise remain intact, and putting it into Eastwood ? There is no logical, historic or geographical reason for that action.

I have no doubt that the result of the Ralston by-election persuaded the Minister to put that area back into Renfrew district. When the numbers were added up, he was not sure that bringing Ralston in would leave him with a safe enough Tory majority in the council--so Ralston went back to Renfrew district.

I plead with the Minister at this late stage to show some decency and put Barrhead back where it belongs in Renfrew district council.

Mr. Dalyell : Having heard the Minister give encouragement to Queensferry community council, may I ask what his attitude is to starred amendments Nos. 302 and 303 on the question of Queensferry coming out of Edinburgh and moving into West Lothian ?

I have two questions on costs. The COSLA report identifies the fact that, due to the changes in the number of authorities carrying out the various functions, there will be significant variations in the numbers of employees with the individual skills and status required by the new authorities compared to the old authorities.

That inevitable mismatch will mean that large numbers of staff will qualify for redundancy or early retirement because they will not be able to find a suitable post in the new authorities. At the same time, a large number of new staff will require to be employed to fill the additional specialist posts, which will be created in other services such as education and social work. The key point is that those new staff will not be replacing the staff being made redundant, but will be filling new posts requiring different skills.

Does the Minister accept that that mis-match will occur, irrespective of the net change in total staff numbers that may eventually result from the reorganisation ? If so, how has that factor been taken into account in the Government's estimate of transitional costs ? May I add that some of us have doubts about whether the Minister was legally correct in his suggestions that an authority could pay

Column 776

compensation and reappoint people to similar or not very different posts ? There is some doubt about the legal interpretation of the Minister's implications that somehow or another pots of gold were to go to certain employees, unless the Government acted otherwise. That is not legally possible as I understand it.

My second point is that there will also be a mis-match in the availability of property for the new authorities--a matter which was discussed at some length in Committee and to which the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) referred. In some of the new authority areas, there will be a surplus of property, but, in many instances, it will be virtually impossible to sell or lease it because of its location or character, while in other authorities, there will be a shortage of suitable property to accommodate all the staff required.

There will be an added problem with the need to adapt certain premises for specialised purposes such as information technology and communications systems. In Committee, we were never given any assurances about that matter, other than that the costs of the IT aspects would amount to £40 million or more. Those questions were never answered in Committee.

How have those factors been taken into account in the Government's estimate of transitional costs ? Will the Minister undertake to ensure that the necessary capital consents will be made available for the new authorities as required to permit them to locate all staff in suitable accommodation in the areas of their authorities ? I should like answers to those questions.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) : I rise to support the amendments in respect of my constituency, in a last-ditch effort to retrieve the position in my area. I have never done this before, but I am speaking on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) who would have contributed to our proceedings, if only they had been better managed. That is not a criticism of the Opposition Whip, who has done a good job tonight, but I know that he has been bullied by the Front-Bench spokesmen. It is quite the most ill- considered Bill of which I have had experience in the 15 years that I have served in the House. I cannot remember such a badly drafted piece of legislation. It has everything to do with trying to retrieve a situation for a political party which has all but vanished from the political scene in Scotland. This is now a Government without authority, but certainly a Government who govern in a wholly authoritarian way.

My constituency, which is to be the subject of this gerrymandering, was never part of Lanarkshire. It was always part of Dunbartonshire. Traditionally, the services came from Dunbartonshire ; traditionally, there was a county council which provided the major services. They continued through Strathclyde regional council when it took over from the county council. Only the health service and social work are located in the Monklands district into which it is proposed that we be placed. Many patients are referred to Glasgow hospitals and not always to Monklands general hospital. Lanarkshire has never provided services for my constituency.

We do not even go shopping in north Lanarkshire. I am a director of a bus company which offers bus services throughout Lanarkshire. However, there are no bus communications with the area to which it is proposed that we should move. The Tories will be pleased to hear that the

Column 777

bus company is driven by market forces. However, there is no market for bus services in Airdrie. No service provision has been made, simply because there is no demand for it.

Cumbernauld is its own community, and it has developed in that direction. Kilsyth is its own community, but it is heavily dependent on the economic provision that Cumbernauld makes in the shape of jobs and services. The Government are proposing a totally artificial authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) pointed out all the problems associated with the creation of a North Lanarkshire authority. He was right to do that and I will not rehearse the arguments that he advanced.

There is no doubt that the correct authority for my area is East Dunbartonshire. It would more properly be termed Lennox. If the Government were doing the right thing by local government and determining the right structure of local government for the purpose of providing services, that is the authority that would be created, because it would return to a situation that developed over a very long period. That was the right structure for local government. The Government are gerrymandering for a purpose that now escapes us. They cannot return councillors, no matter what the situation might be. It is clear that the Government cannot, and will not be able to, return Members of Parliament. As I said at the outset, the Government are an authoritarian Government who have lost authority in Scotland. They have no right to be doing what they are doing.

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) ended up by saying that the charge against the Government that we were gerrymandering was wholly inaccurate. However, I may have misinterpreted him.

I thought that the arguments of the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) were a little misplaced. She accused me of gerrymandering in the new East Renfrewshire authority. She argued that the Government should take the five wards of Barrhead and Nielston out of East Renfrewshire authority. Of those five wards, two are currently Conservative marginals and three are Labour. How they can involve a charge of gerrymandering beggars belief.

Mr. Graham : Why is the Minister such a big feartie that he does not want to talk about the referendum which was held in his own constituency and showed overwhelmingly that the people of Barrhead and Nielston want to stay in Renfrew district ?

Mr. Stewart : I replied to that point in Committee. I find it astonishing that it is the Labour party's official position that the East Renfrewshire authority should be smaller than that proposed by the Government.

A number of serious points have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House during these debates. The slightly barbed congratulations from the hon. Member for Paisley, North were reflected by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill). 9.45 pm

A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), raised perhaps one of the key questions : why is there a difference between our conclusions with regard to Ayrshire

Column 778

and the Central region on the one hand and Fife on the other hand. The hon. Gentleman made a strong case for an Ayrshire authority, as he did in Committee.

I shall summarise the arguments by saying that with regard to Fife, there is a combination of the historic identity and an existing authority which clearly has support. There is no clear alternative to a single-tier Fife authority which commands general support. Of course, there are alternatives. That is perhaps the key difference between our treatment of Fife and our treatment of Central and Ayrshire. But, in saying that, I must emphasise

Mr. McAllion rose

Mr. Stewart : I shall finish this point and then give way to the hon. Gentleman.

That is no criticism of Central region ; nor is it a criticism of the case that has been put forward for a single-tier Ayrshire. That case has been put forward by perfectly reasonable people on a non-partisan basis. But on balance, we concluded--as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) suggested--that there is substantial support for the three-authority option for Ayrshire.

Mr. McAllion : The Secretary of State said that there was popular support for the retention of Fife regional council as it exists. If he looks at the situation in Tayside, he will see that there is popular support for the retention of Tayside regional council as it exists. Four out of five voters who voted in the Tayside regional council elections voted for parties that are committed to retaining the regional councils as they exist.

Mr. Stewart : I am not saying that there is some sort of perfect answer to the questions. There is no perfect answer ; there is the best possible answer. There is substantial support for the City of Dundee authority.

Mr. O'Neill : Can the Secretary of State tell us what rationale he applied to the problem with regard to the resource base ? There is some anxiety that the Clackmannan authority will have a resource base that is too narrow. Can he make it clear why he thinks that the resource base will be broad enough to carry out the functions that a pragmatic authority--by his own definition--such as Clackmannan will be able to do ?

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point.

Mr. Ernie Ross : Give us an answer.

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman will get an answer. We had to consider that point carefully with regard to the alternative, essentially, of the single-tier Central council option. We were convinced by the case put by the Clackmannan district council and the discussions that we had about how it would run a single-tier authority. The district council emphasised--the hon. Member for Clackmannan will know the document perhaps better than I do--the enabling authority role which it defined as partnership with other authorities and the voluntary and private sectors. Eventually, we decided that that was a convincing case.

Mr. Foulkes : The Minister has been consistently courteous and kind in saying that the arguments put forward have been powerful. I must say, with due respect, that I do not find his arguments very powerful in relation to Central, Fife and Ayrshire. May I offer one alternative : that in Ayrshire and Central, there are two existing

Column 779

authorities--Kyle and Carrick and Stirling-- which are Tory-controlled, and there are two Tory Members who have been leaning on him ? In Fife, thank goodness, there are no Tory authorities ; nor are there any Tory Members. The Minister has just merely satisfied the hon. Members for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and their acolytes in Stirling and in Kyle and Carrick.

Mr. Stewart : I do not accept that. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have been leaning on me in relation to local government boundaries, and quite right, too.

May I turn, however, to the case put forward by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) ? As he knows, I met a delegation from Banff and Buchan and there is substantial local support for a Banff and Buchan council. I accept that the case that the hon. Member put forward is tenable, and it is perfectly possible and conceivable that Banff and Buchan could be a single-tier council.

However, we reached a balanced judgment to continue with the Aberdeenshire option, with a new authority which would be strong, effective and efficient, which would be able to deliver the full range of local authority services and which would not be overshadowed by its city neighbour. However, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan will no doubt wish to continue to pursue his case in another place. While we have decided to go ahead with the Aberdeenshire option, I would not wish it to be perceived that the Banff and Buchan option was not fully and carefully considered by the Government.

Mr. Salmond : The Minister has set out his conclusions, but I will not be able to pursue the matter personally in another place unless something dramatic happens. [ Laughter. ] I think that I have burned my boats in that direction.

In Committee, the Minister was generous enough to recognise the force of the public opinion arguments in favour of Banff and Buchan. Will he acknowledge the strength of the financial case that was put to him after the meeting which he has described ?

Mr. Stewart : A carefully considered financial case was put to the Government. However, on balance, we concluded that the case for a large Aberdeenshire authority, with a population of about 220,000--a strong, effective and efficient authority--was preferred as our option for the future.

I turn briefly to the speeches that have been made in relation to Lanarkshire by the hon. Members for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy). The last is a doughty campaigner for his area, while, as he said, he does not accept the basis of the reform proposals. Those hon. Members will know that other hon. Members from Lanarkshire constituencies have also been to see me, and they have suggested that there is considerable support for the south Lanarkshire option.

I accept that hon. Members have highlighted problems in relation to north Lanarkshire. With some reluctance, I must agree with the hon. Member for Motherwell, South that a consensus has simply not emerged on the alternative proposals for the area. We conclude, therefore, that it would be sensible for the proposals to continue as Government policy and we recommend them to the House.

Column 780

Hon. Members generally criticised the Bill's effect on local democracy. I hope that the House will accept that in Committee and on Report the Government have been extremely flexible. Again and again, we have responded to all-party campaigns that have advocated change to the original boundaries. That has been right and proper. The boundaries proposed in the Bill have been improved substantially by consideration in this House and I commend them, but I must recommend that the House votes against new clauses 2 and 3.

Question put and negatived .

New clause 3 --

Cost of re-organisation

.--(1) The Treasury shall undertake a review and publish a report on the costs likely to be incurred as a result of the provisions of this Act ; and the report shall be laid before Parliament no later than 6th April 1995.'.- - [Mr. McLeish.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made, and Question put , That the clause be read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 243, Noes 282.

Division No. 241] [9.55 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Allen, Graham

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Austin-Walker, John

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Beith, Rt Hon A. J.

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Bennett, Andrew F.

Benton, Joe

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Roger

Blair, Tony

Blunkett, David

Boateng, Paul

Boyes, Roland

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E)

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Callaghan, Jim

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Cann, Jamie

Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)

Chisholm, Malcolm

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cohen, Harry

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cox, Tom

Cummings, John

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Dalyell, Tam

Darling, Alistair

Davidson, Ian

Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)

Dixon, Don

Dobson, Frank

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eastham, Ken

Etherington, Bill

Evans, John (St Helens N)

Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Fatchett, Derek

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Fisher, Mark

Flynn, Paul

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Foulkes, George

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galbraith, Sam

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

Garrett, John

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Godsiff, Roger

Golding, Mrs Llin

Graham, Thomas

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hain, Peter

Hall, Mike

Hanson, David

Harman, Ms Harriet

Harvey, Nick

Next Section

  Home Page