Mr. Hunt : Yes--a voucher. School leavers will have the opportunity of receiving a credit which will then enable them to purchase further education or training from schools, colleges, employers and other providers. I hope that that has explained the situation to the hon. Gentleman. He will find that it is set out very clearly in the White Paper.
Column 207competitiveness of British industry in the past few years, especially since the days when we were derided as the sick man of Europe under the last Labour Government, has gone hand in hand with the improvement in industrial relations, which has given us the lowest level of strikes ever ? Will he especially confirm that the £31 million that will be spent on the modern apprenticeship scheme will go towards improving the rigour of the national vocational qualifications on which employers in this country depend ?
Mr. Hunt : Yes, I can confirm that the £31 million will go towards improving the quality of NVQs. I also confirm that my hon. Friend is right. We now have one of the lowest levels of strikes and industrial unrest anywhere in Europe. In 1992, the United Kingdom strike rate was lower than that in Germany, France or the United States. That is a record of which we have every right to be proud.
Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : Is the Secretary of State aware that only 30 per cent. of our 18-year-olds have qualifications equivalent to two A-levels, compared with 68 per cent. in France and more than 80 per cent. in Japan ? When the Conservatives have been in power for 15 years, why are we falling so far behind our international competitors ?
Mr. Hunt : The hon. Gentleman has made out an important case for performance tables and for the testing regime that we have introduced, as well as the core curriculum. If he looks at the foundation learning targets, he will realise that we have the type of targets that really will enable us to maintain our competitiveness in world terms. It is important that we meet those targets. The White Paper sets out the blueprint for achieving the targets that we have set ourselves.
Several hon. Members rose
Dr. Lynne Jones, supported by Mr. Richard Alexander and Mr. Alex Carlile, presented a Bill to restrict the power of magistrates' courts to impose imprisonment for default of the payment of fines : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 8 July, and to be printed. [Bill 120.]
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday there was a reference to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). You made your comments. Can I ask you whether the hon. Lady will give an explanation and an apology to the House about the original statement she made, that the amendments tabled were her own ? Obviously they were not. Will the hon. Lady come to the House and apologise ?
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
-- That the Farm and Conservation Grant (Variation) Scheme 1994 (S.I., 1994, No. 1302) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
-- That the draft Wills and Administration Proceedings (Northern Ireland) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
-- That the draft Litter (Northern Ireland) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]
Question agreed to.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to give television licence holders a reduction in their licence fee when it is recognised that the household is unable to enjoy good television reception. This is a modest, simple and fair Bill, although I had no idea when I tabled it that simply to do so would instil so much fear into the BBC that the whole organisation would go out on strike. I have decided that that is a matter of such importance to my constituents and to other constituents elsewhere in the country that I would brave the picket lines to come here and put my case to the House. I have a number of constituents whose television reception is always poor, yet, under the current rules, they have to pay the full licence fee. That is patently unfair.
Today, the BBC is filming one of my constituents, who can obtain only what the BBC accepts is a substandard picture, but when that film is shown on television, he will be one of the small group of people in this country who will not be able to watch it at all. He lives not in a wild, remote area, but in a village less than 20 miles from the centre of Manchester, with half the country's population within an hour or so's drive away. We know that, because most of them seem to come and spend every Sunday in my constituency. Therefore, we are not speaking simply about the wildest, remote parts of the country, although the problem is predominantly rural.
Television reception is also a problem in areas such as Kent. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) supports the Bill, because there are pockets in his constituency in which people cannot receive the BBC, but only Dutch television. Unfortunately, Dutch is not one of the languages that are taught in the schools of Dover. Those people can only hope, as we do, that Dutch television will show as many BBC repeats as the BBC shows here. Nevertheless, they still have to pay the full licence fee to the BBC.
In Scotland, some people cannot receive any British television services, and can receive only television services that are broadcast by satellite, either by BSkyB or other satellite television stations, watching only programmes that have not been made by the BBC, yet they also have to pay the full licence fee to the BBC, even though they do not enjoy any of the services it provides.
The irony is that many of the people who are affected by that problem live in regions that have been made famous by programmes such as "It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet", "Last of the Summer Wine" and "Peak Practice", yet they are the very people who are unable to watch their regions being represented on television.
I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage in his place, listening to the debate. He will be aware, from his interest in cricket, that Buxton in my constituency does not always enjoy good weather because Buxton is probably the only town in this country where a cricket match has been snowed off in June. However, it is not fair that so many of the rest of my constituents should have to see snow every time they want to watch a cricket, tennis, rugby or football match on their television sets. The Bill is not about whether programmes are worth watching, because some people would argue that they
Column 210should pay more if they are unable to watch "EastEnders" or "Casualty" or Ben Elton or party political broadcasts, or about what the BBC does with the money it receives. It is about the service that people receive. Under the principles of the citizens charter, people should not have to pay the full cost if they receive a substandard service.
The most peculiar aspect of the current law is that paying the licence fee does not entitle us to receive a television picture--it only obliges the BBC to transmit one. It is as though paying the council tax obliged the rubbish wagons to set off from the depot in the morning but not to collect any rubbish. It is like saying that by putting a stamp on the letter one can be certain that the letter will be taken out of the letter box, but one has no say about whether it will be put through someone else's letter box or dumped in the nearest hedgerow.
The licence fee simply relates to the ownership of equipment, which enables people to receive the signal, even if there is no signal that they can receive on that equipment. People feel understandably frustrated and annoyed about the current system, and there is wide agreement on both sides of the House that that is simply wrong. There is a further serious issue, relating to those people who are hard of hearing and who rely on the teletext service to give subtitles to programmes. Teletext is one of the first services to break up in areas of poor reception, which can deprive those people who are hard of hearing of any benefit from their televisions. Nevertheless, they have to pay the same licence fee as everyone else. I am grateful to the Deaf Broadcasting Council for the support that it is giving my Bill.
Some people say that it will be difficult to know which regions are affected, but that is not so. The BBC has already identified many of the areas with populations of more than 200 that have substandard reception. In the case of Millers Dale in my constituency, the BBC has told me that 160 people are affected, so they also have significant information already on areas of smaller population. The Department of National Heritage has published lists of affected communities in different parts of the country.
Other people will say that it is difficult to assess whether people's reception is good or bad. I accept that. The degree of reception will always be a subjective issue. However, the principle in the Bill is that it would apply to people who receive a consistently bad picture, so it does not refer to the household where reception is distorted by atmospheric conditions or by bad weather conditions.
It would relate to permanent geographical and geological features rather than vegetation or a building blocking the signal. It would not apply if one's neighbour had allowed his hedgerow to grow too high, blocking one's television picture. It would apply when signal strength was the root of the problem.
The BBC also says that it is hard to tell whether or not a picture is substandard. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) said on television this morning, it is like a camel : one cannot describe it, but one certainly recognises it when one sees it--or, in the case of a television picture, when one does not see it.
There should certainly be no concern about the amount of money involved, as the BBC estimates that 99.4 per cent. of the population receive a satisfactory picture. This year, the licence fee will raise £1.6 billion, so a full rebate for those unable to receive a good picture would cost under £10 million. If the rebate were set at half the licence fee, the
Column 211loss of revenue to the BBC would be just one day's income. No doubt all hon. Members could suggest good ways of making that up. In fact, we might be spared a programme like "El Dorado", as well as getting a better deal--a double benefit.
The principle would be that people should have taken the steps they could reasonably be expected to take to improve their picture--for example, the provision of a good-quality aerial or, if necessary, a booster. However, it does not seem right that they should be expected to spend more than £300 on a so-called self-help kit to get a proper picture.
The principle behind the Bill is based on the fact that there are people who, day in and day out, can get only substandard television reception. In many parts of the country, the BBC has already established where the people concerned live, and the corporation already has its own definition of what is and what is not satisfactory. In this age, it is simply not acceptable that people should have to pay for a service that they are not receiving. I fully recognise that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage is reviewing the whole future of the licence fee. However, that matter is not an issue under the Bill. It is bad enough to have to pay the BBC to be allowed to watch programmes broadcast by independent stations--like having to buy The Guardian in order to be able to read The Times --but it is not acceptable that people should have to pay the BBC even if they receive no satisfactory picture from anyone at all.
As I said at the outset, this is a simple Bill, with cross-party support. It would help a small number of people who, we all accept, get a raw deal at the moment. It is time to correct this anomaly. Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Charles Hendry, Mr. Sebastian Coe, Mr. Jonathan Evans, Mr. George Foulkes, Mr. Phil Gallie, Sir Russell Johnston, Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones, Mr. Calum Macdonald, Mr. David Shaw and Mr. John Sykes.
Mr. Charles Hendry accordingly presented a Bill to give television licence holders a reduction in their licence fee when it is recognised that the household is unable to enjoy good television reception : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 24 June, and to be printed. [Bill 121.]
Order for Third Reading read. -- [Queen's consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified] .
It is almost exactly three years since I stood at the Dispatch Box and announced the Government's intention to move towards a system of all- purpose local authorities in Scotland. In those three years, the discussion has been lively and the interest has been great. But after three consultation papers on local government and on water and sewerage, a White Paper, a Second Reading debate, almost 180 hours of debate in the Standing Committee and a two-day Report stage, we are now on the home straight of this particular marathon. This seems the right moment at which to express a word of thanks to all those--hon. Members, local authority councillors and staff, interested organisations, the general public and Scottish Office officials--who have contributed to the Bill. It is the better for their contributions.
I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) for so skilfully and patiently steering the Bill through its stages in the House, ably assisted by his fellow Parliamentary Under- Secretaries of State, my hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). This also seems an appropriate moment--dare I say it ?--to go back to basics : back to the basic principles underpinning the reform, because the arguments that led every political party in Scotland to propose single-tier local government for Scotland during the 1992 general election are as valid today as they were then and as valid as when Lord Wheatley's commission acknowledged them. The reform is about accountability and effectiveness in local government. The present two-tier structure lacks accountability in the most dramatic way. The "criss-crossing of responsibilities", which Lord Wheatley rightly identified as a fundamental problem in any multi-tier structure of local government, is an insurmountable barrier to real accountability.
Mr. Lang : I shall come to the water authorities later. Everyone, from the Labour party to polling organisations, has found that far too many Scots are unfamiliar with what tier of local government is responsible for what service. It is little wonder that people are confused. Currently both tiers of local government are involved in a huge range of functions-- conservation areas ; the countryside ; development control ; grants to voluntary bodies ; industrial and economic development ; leisure and recreation ; listed buildings and ancient monuments ; planning ; nature conservation ; tourism ; and urban development. In the circumstances, it is quite impossible to have a properly accountable system of local government.
Column 213And if councils are not properly accountable they lack authority and credibility. For too long, these problems have afflicted local government in Scotland.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Under the Bill's proposals, it will be possible in some areas to have a single-tier authority dealing with some functions, a joint board involving two authorities with other functions, and a joint board involving three authorities with yet others. That being so, does the right hon. Gentleman believe that members of the public will know where responsibility lies ? Will not there be even more confusion ?
Mr. Lang : It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman is not aware of the distinction between joint boards and elected councils. People will look to the single-tier, all-purpose elected council and its members for all local services. How these are delivered--whether through joint boards, through committees or by means of other shared or customer-client arrangements-- will be a matter for authorities to develop.
Under the new structure of all-purpose councils, local people will know exactly who is responsible for local services in a way that is impossible in a multi-tier structure. The absence of confusion over responsibility will put local people in a far better position to encourage councils to be responsive. It will clear the lines of accountability, and it will be a shot in the arm for local democracy in Scotland.
It will also yield for Scottish local government that other characteristic that has been denied it by the current two-tier structure--maximum effectiveness. Of course, the present regional and district councils do, by and large, discharge their functions competently, within the constraints of their structures. But they are hamstrung by being part of a two-tier system. The fact that the new councils will be responsible for all local services will ensure that those services are delivered more effectively. Bringing together, under one roof, services such as housing and social work or education and leisure and recreation will bring immense benefits to local service delivery. The positive benefits of greater co-operation between those responsible for securing services will be achieved, and the present friction between tiers of government, which is all too familiar, will disappear altogether.
If the new local authorities are more accountable and more effective than their predecessors, they will be more powerful. In any case, each new council will have more powers than either of its predecessors. As the sole elected council for its area, each will speak with undoubted authority for the communities that it represents. And because it will be able to co- ordinate local service delivery to an unprecedented degree each new council will have an enormous ability to act as a force for good in the area that it represents.
As a result of the Bill, these huge gains in local government are coming over the horizon for the people of Scotland. I am pleased that, thanks to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood and other hon. Members, as well as of local authorities and others, the boundaries of the new authorities should be so widely acceptable. From the start of this reform, we have made it clear that three
Column 214principles will apply to the determination of the boundaries of the new authorities. First, the new structure should not be based exclusively on either of the existing tiers of local government. Secondly, the new units need not be of uniform size but should reflect local circumstances. Thirdly, Parliament should have the final say over the boundaries of the new councils. That was the case under previous reforms, and is the case here. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under- Secretary has met more than two dozen delegations from different parts of the country, led by hon. Members, and I have also met hon. Members and others. In total, the House has spent more than 22 hours debating the boundaries of the new authorities. Boundaries are a serious matter, and we have taken them seriously. Significantly, despite their at times offensive rhetoric, the Opposition divided the Committee only three times on the subject of boundaries.
The result of the work that has been done over the past three years is a structure of 32 authorities. It may not be everyone's ideal structure, but it is a structure based on consent. Every one of the new authorities enjoys the support, either of existing local authorities directly affected or local Members of Parliament, or both.
With the exception of minor boundary variations enjoying local support, the boundaries of the new authorities are those that emerged following the previous reform of local government. The overall total of 32 authorities represents the midway point between the range of options canvassed in the Government's second consultation paper. The House has sought to make far fewer changes to the scheme proposed for the present reform than the dramatic changes that it wrought on the Wheatley proposals of 20 years ago.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : I want to nail one canard immediately. The Secretary of State said in an article in Scotland on Sunday a couple of weeks ago that the boundaries were based on consent. He is now trying to make out that the fact that there were only a minimum number of Divisions in Committee on boundaries showed that there was popular support for the proposals. We are opposed root and branch to the redrawing of the Scottish council map on a party political basis, which is what the Government have done. However, to take up the time of the House and the Committee with hours and hours of voting on that map would not be productive. The Bill and the boundaries will die. The issues, not simply the Government's gerrymandered lines, must be brought to the attention of the Scottish public.
Mr. Lang : We are seeing a change of policy from the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). He was happy to waste the time of the Committee by talking and voting on a range of other matters. The fact is that most Labour Members are content with the local boundaries for their areas-- [Interruption.] Yes they are--perhaps they have not been saying to the hon. Member for Hamilton what they have been saying to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and me. If the Labour party were as opposed to the proposals as it pretends to be, it would have divided the Committee. [Interruption.]
Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. There is now too much noise, to the point where I cannot hear what the Secretary of State is saying. Interventions are one thing, but repeated sedentary commentaries are another.
Mr. Lang : The structure that we have is sensible, balanced and durable. It is the right structure for Scottish local government for the 21st century. Of course, there are those who do not support the structure or have complaints about particular parts of it--that is inevitable in such a complex exercise. But I believe that now is the time to draw the line under the consideration of boundaries. The Government believe that the structure that we have now is the right one and are not contemplating further changes to it.
We also believe that the structure will yield continuing savings in the years ahead. We have made it clear throughout the reform that costs are only one part--admittedly an important part--of it. What matters most is obtaining the right structure of local government. It is therefore particularly pleasing that the reform will yield savings over the longer term. Of course, there will be transitional costs, but they will be a price worth paying for longer-term savings and a better, more durable structure of local government.
The structure that we have settled on will comprise 32 authorities, compared with our original proposals for 28. All four additional authorities are the result of proposals made by Opposition Members and accepted by the Government. That will, of course, have implications for the costs of reform and for the savings. We now estimate that the short-term costs will be up to £5 million less than was estimated on Report, at a ceiling of about £190 million, while the consequential long-term savings will also be a little lower, at up to £52 million a year. That is still a saving of £1 million a week, and the savings will continue in the long term.
It is on the subject of costs that the Opposition have got themselves into a terrible mess. In November, the Scottish Labour party published a briefing paper that stated that local government reorganisation would cost £200 million. Three weeks later, the hon. Member for Hamilton said that local government reform would cost at least £500 million. By March, the figure had risen to £720 million. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) said that his own Fife council tax payers would face huge increases in their bills to pay for local government reform. He said that a band D council tax would rise from £621 to £1,061 in Dunfermline and from £664 to £1,094 in Kircaldy--and all that despite the fact that Labour-controlled Fife region, where I understand the hon. Gentleman learned what he knows about such matters, has stated that a single-tier Fife authority will produce savings of almost £5 million per annum.
Mr. Dalyell : Will the Secretary of State make available to professionals such as David Chynoweth--not politicians, but the professionals who conducted the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities report--the background working and evidence on which his figures are based ? Will the Scottish Office workings be made available to COSLA ? Yes or no ?
Mr. Lang : Those figures have been considered extensively in Committee. The Touche Ross report has been published, discussed and revised in the light of input from COSLA and others. The combined estimates of all the local authorities--which have shown estimated savings for their own areas--added to the Touche Ross report and
Column 216the fact that we are halving the total number of authorities in Scotland, underline the probability that the figures are broadly accurate.
Up and down the country, local authorities have done detailed work on how a single-tier structure will produce savings. From Highland region to Cunninghame district and from Dundee city to the Borders, local authorities have established clearly that a single-tier structure will produce savings. Of course, the final figures will depend on decisions to be taken by the new councils. But what is clear today is that the Opposition have been flying blind on the issue and indulging in plain old-fashioned scaremongering.
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) : Does the Secretary of State accept that he is making a fool of himself in trying to say that the figures of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy will not be properly challenged by the Government ? The figures are being dismissed as though they have been done on the back of a cigarette packet. They have not been challenged by the Government, who have not refuted the figures in the Committee or in the House.
Mr. Lang : As I have said already, of course the CIPFA figures are taken into account. But the figures have been gone over in great detail. We have used outside professional consultants and published the figures. Local authorities have commissioned studies by consultants that sustain the general trend of the figures. The Opposition will not accept the figures simply because they do not suit their case.
A major part of the Bill involves the restructuring of water and sewerage services in Scotland. From the time of the first consultation paper in 1991, the Government have made no secret of the fact that they expected that the provision of water and sewerage services would best be handled by organisations separate from the new unitary authorities. The scare-a-day Labour party immediately claimed that we were hellbent on privatisation. We said that we were looking for a Scottish solution to a Scottish problem, and that we meant what we said. We considered a range of options, including privatisation, and rejected them. We settled finally on three new publicly owned water authorities. Water and sewerage services are being restructured within the public sector.
The new structure will produce two key benefits. It will make maximum use of existing resources through economies of scale and it will deliver the necessary new resources for investment on the best terms possible. The result will be lower prices for consumers of water and sewerage services than would be possible if the present structure were retained.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) : I want to explain to the Secretary of State why we doubt his commitment not to privatise. While the Secretary of State says that he is veering away from privatising water, the President of the Board of Trade apparently wants to privatise the Royal Mail. Does the Secretary of State believe that privatisation of the Royal Mail is any more popular than the attempt to steal Scotland's water ?
Column 217The new structure will also have within it a clear focus of accountability in the shape of the new customer councils. For the first time, consumers of water and sewerage services in Scotland will have a powerful watchdog working on their behalf, with the sole objective of ensuring that the new water and sewerage authorities are as consumer friendly as possible.
It has taken us three years to arrive at the new structure for water and sewerage services in Scotland. It will be several years before the new authorities are fully up and running. They are the Government's solution to the problem ; they are a long-term, durable solution and I hope that in future councillors will play their part in helping to secure the efficient delivery of water and sewerage services by serving on the new authorities and the watchdog consumer councils.
The Bill has posed all sorts of difficulties--for the Labour party, of course. After all, the Opposition were in the vanguard of the calls for local government reform in Scotland--not that the hon. Member for Hamilton was aware of that when he embarked on his misplaced campaign of opposition to the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman and my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State addressed the same annual conference of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities in March. My right hon. and learned Friend reminded the conference of the Labour party's commitment to single-tier local authorities ; and to a radical vision of local government in Scotland spelt out in its policy document on the subject. He reminded the conference of Labour's vision of "much additional service development in the future taking place through partnership or contractual arrangements with other agencies. Local authorities should be able to develop their enabling role," Labour claimed,
"frequently acting as the commissioning agency rather than the direct provider of services."
That and other commendable statements included in my right hon. and learned Friend's speech so confused the hon. Member for Hamilton that he set off on a desperate search to find the policy document in question, but his search was in vain.
In desperation, he wrote to the Minister of State four weeks after the original speech to ask for the precise source of the quotations that he had used. Happily, to enable the hon. Gentleman to obtain a copy of the document, my right hon. and learned Friend suggested that he write to Mr. Jack McConnell at the Scottish Labour party, Keir Hardie house, 1 Lynedococh place, Glasgow : telephone number 041 332 8946 ; fax 041 331 2566. In case he has not had the time to so, I have a copy here which I shall willingly lend to the hon. Gentleman after the debate.
Of course the hon. Member for Hamilton must be surprised that the Bill has got this far. After all, he took personal charge of the campaign to persuade Conservative Members to vote down the Government's proposals. It was a complete and total failure. If we are to believe the hon. Gentleman, the House's consideration of the Bill has been an uninterrupted succession of parliamentary triumphs for the Opposition. In the Municipal Journal of 29 April, he listed 13 concessions supposedly wrung from the Government by the Opposition--it might seem impressive, but on closer inspection the 13 so-called concessions are not what quite what they are said to be. Let me list some of them.
Column 218"denominational school catchment areas to be protected by the Secretary of State's veto"
-- they always were ; nothing has changed.
"Scottish police boards to be made up solely of local councillors"
-- they always were ; nothing has changed.
"names of present fire brigades to be retained"
-- that is a devastating one, but it involved no change to the Bill. Perhaps it explains the headline in The Herald of 1 November : "Labour to set fire burning under Tory MPs".
"Cash from property disposal to go to new councils and not to the Treasury"
-- it always did ; nothing has changed.
Concessions five and six :
"Water disconnection ban in Scotland to be specifically in statute for the first time"
"Water disconnections to be outlawed".
In other words, two of the so-called concessions claimed by the hon. Gentleman are one and the same and were simply a statement of unchanged Government policy. Nothing has changed.
As Marlowe might have put it :
"Is it not passing grave to be a King, And ride in triumph through Persepolis ? "
It has been quite an odyssey since that June day three years ago when we first published proposals for single-tier local government in Scotland. It was to be the reform that never was. First, it was to be the reform that was Treasury driven ; then it was the reform that the Treasury would veto. It was to be the reform that would be destroyed by rebel English MPs--the reform would be wrecked in Parliament. Here we are on Third reading, however, our plans firmly on time and on track. The reason why they are on track is that the arguments in favour of all-purpose authorities are compelling. The strength of the arguments was recognised by the Wheatley commission, by the Stodart committee and even by the Labour party.
The case for single-tier local government was made before the last restructuring and has continued to be made since. The case for single-tier councils has proved so persistent and persuasive throughout the past two decades that reform has been inevitable. If there was a strong case for all -purpose authorities before--when, as one commentator put it--the
"dominance of municipal provision was unquestioned",
there is an overwhelming case now that local government has changed.
Now the emphasis is on the strategic role of local authorities rather than on the role of providing services directly at their own hand. As the Labour party's own policy document urges and as the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) once put it,
"To achieve the best and not just the basic public services, we must modernise and transform our social and economic fabric by creating new partnerships between public and private sectors." This reform of local government is far reaching.