Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Dalyell : Will the Secretary of State give way ?

Mr. Lang : No. I have given way twice to the hon. Gentleman. The reform is designed to make sure that our councils reflect the 21st century and not the 1960s. It is based on the simple but compelling premise that one local authority in

Column 219

each area should be responsible for all local services. It is designed to restore diversity to the structure of local government and to restore vibrancy to our local councils.

Under this reform, each local community in Scotland will be represented by a single strong council. Councils will be in harmony with their communities, not out of tune. There will be city councils for our cities and rural councils for rural areas--a new, stronger local democracy. That is what the people of Scotland want and in just 677 days from now, that is what they will have.

5.36 pm

Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : I shall first refer to the regrettable and perfectly understandable absence of Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), whose wife died this weekend. On behalf of all my colleagues, I express the deepest sympathy for the hon. Gentleman in his bereavement.

Let me make one first and obvious comment as we start the Third Reading debate. The Bill is not a reform. On the contrary, it represents a partisan dismembering of Scottish local government structures which have lasted, endured and served Scotland well for the past 20 years. It is not a rationalisation of the two tiers of local government for more efficient, effective local councils. Instead, it is a brutally cynical exercise, creating small, unviable councils leading, as night follows day, to the bulk of the decisions being taken by anonymous joint boards dominated by the fiat of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The Bill is not a means of saving public money by eliminating one level of local government. Instead, it is a messy, ill-thought-out, divisive and politically corrupt exercise which will be enormously expensive and which will deliver no savings to the taxpayer. It is not a reorganisation of Scotland's local democratic structures, which, if it had taken place in the right circumstances, might have enhanced the delivery of services and revitalised decision-making at a local level. Instead, it is a weaselly redrawing of the map of Scottish local government to the perceived advantage of the Tory party in future local and parliamentary elections.

It is not a measure based on any independent study or on principles of what is good for Scotland. It is not based on consensus or review or genuine consultation. Instead, and sadly for Scotland, as for democracy itself and for the vitality and effectiveness of local government, it is rooted in chicanery built on malice, long-term Tory electoral failure in Scotland and constructed on a bed of obsessive centralisation. For all those reasons, it is doomed and it deserves to be doomed.

Yesterday, in a bizarre theatrical event held at the Scottish exhibition centre in Glasgow, the Secretary of State launched the Tory Euro-campaign, complete with an audience that applauded the Secretary of State's every word. The Secretary of State implies that people just turned up--they just happened to the passing the SEC on a sunny Monday morning at 9.30, wandered in to hear an amazingly revitalising discussion and applauded every word from the Secretary of State for Scotland. That was quite an achievement, given the number of supporters that the Secretary of State still has in Scotland.

Column 220

I was interested in one of the things that the Secretary of State said, which undoubtedly got applause from the hand- picked audience :

"There has been a clear indication that the people of Scotland, like the people of the rest of Britain, are too worried about the centralisation process of Europe, about Europe playing too dominant a part in our lives."

It would appear that the Secretary of State for Scotland, that born-again Euro-sceptic, is too worried about the centralisation process in Europe. The Bill centralises, in his own hands and those of the faceless joint boards and quangos, practically every service that is delivered by local government : education, social work, transport, police, fire, trading standards, regional chemists, regional analysts--even children's hearings reporters--and, most importantly, in three super-quangos directly responsible to him, Scotland's water. What worries and concerns the people of Scotland is not the ghouls and ghosties that the Secretary of State dreams about in Brussels, and which he proclaims in the empty halls of the Scottish exhibition centre in Glasgow, but his Edinburgh centralisation.

Consideration of the Bill in the House of Commons is coming to an end, but it still has quite a long way to go before the Secretary of State's new model of emasculated, gerrymandered local government is in place in Scotland. The Government have lost the argument at every single stage. There is no more convincing, unavoidable evidence of that than the miserable 13.7 per cent. of the Scottish vote that the Conservative party got in the regional elections only three weeks ago. Who would have thought, a generation ago, when the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party had a majority of the Scottish electorate, that the Conservative party could sink so low as to come barely above the election campaign record of Screaming Lord Sutch ? Fewer than 14 Scottish people in every 100 now support the party that pretends to have the power and control over Scotland today. The Government still have the trappings of power in Scotland--the cars, civil servants, glossy pamphlets, big launches and big offices and buildings--but with 86.3 per cent. of the people of Scotland against them, Ministers are left with all the vain credibility of the old eastern European apparatchiks. That is what they are. They are in office, but they have no authority. They strut around the stage of Scottish politics, but the emperor has no clothes. They still have the power, and they draw more and more of it to the centre and into their own hands as they chip away at local democracy, but, without public consent and support, they are corrupting that power, and the wise and intelligent people of Scotland will never forgive them for that.

Of course, the Bill has not escaped undamaged. The Government were forced to abandon their clear, undoubted intention immediately and fully to privatise water in Scotland on the English model. The Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) indicated dissent .

Mr. Robertson : There is no doubt that that was the Government's intention, and some hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who, with theatrical affectation, shook his head at that point, wanted that. They are ideologically committed to it, but they were forced by the pressure of public opinion to back away from that.

Mr. Stewart : Prove it.

Column 221

Mr. Robertson : The hon. Member for Eastwood, heckling from a sedentary position, says, "Prove it." Last week, I pointed to the fact that a mere handful of lines are used in the Government's consultative document to describe the option that they eventually chose, but 250 lines are devoted to describing the privatisation option and its attraction. That, combined with what they did in England and Wales, and what the Prime Minister blew the gaff on at the Dispatch Box, is as good a proof as the people of Scotland need. If the hon. Gentleman wants to question that, I refer him to the statistic that should haunt him and every other Conservative Member--13.7 per cent. of the people of Scotland support them and 86 per cent. are against them.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : The hon. Gentleman was in Committee and will be aware of my views on privatisation. I am bitterly disappointed, because I happen to believe my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench when they tell me that they are not going to privatise. I personally want privatisation.

Mr. Robertson : At least the hon. Gentleman is honest in declaring his objective. Would that other people had the same honesty in declaring their private ambitions before the force of public opinion in Scotland turned them away from what we know was their intention.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : Surely this is old hat. Surely we have heard it all before in Committee. Is it not the case that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State went out to consultation, the people of Scotland came back and suggested that they did not want privatisation, and to his credit my right hon. Friend listened and acted ?

Mr. Robertson : If the Government were capable of listening to the people in the way in which the hon. Gentleman would have us believe, they would listen to the people of Scotland who say that they do not want the Bill and would take it away and rethink it, or better still abandon it completely.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South) : The hon. Gentleman has counted the lines in the consultation document on water and drawn a conclusion. In the Labour party manifesto of 1992, there were 15 lines on law and order. Am I therefore entitled to draw the same conclusion about the Labour party's commitment to law and order ?

Mr. Robertson : The hon. Gentleman is vice-chairman of the Conservative and Unionist party in Scotland--a position that he has held for precisely the period that it has taken the support for the Conservative party to go down from 30 per cent. to 13 per cent. Having burnt his fingers in that spectacular way, he might at least have thought up some better lines than that. The comparison is between the 15 and the 200-odd lines, but the evidence is not in what I say. It is not based on what the hon. Gentleman would have us believe. It is in the figure of 86 per cent. of the Scottish people who voted against the Conservatives three weeks ago in the regional elections. That is the proof. They simply do not believe the Conservative party, and they have every right not to.

In Committee, the Government were obliged--originally, they did not want to, and said that they did not have to and that it was superfluous--to put the illegality of water disconnections in Scotland on the face of the Bill. When that matter was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for

Column 222

Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), the hon. Member for Dumfries said that it was absolutely unnecessary and that there was no need to put it in the Bill, because it was in the Water (Scotland) Act 1980. The reality is that the Government came back and put it in, because they needed to, in one further vain attempt to persuade the people of Scotland that their ambition, which they still harbour, was not to be realised immediately. They were forced to endure the record-breaking Committee, from which the Secretary of State for Scotland had scuttled away at the beginning, right up to the humiliation of the regional elections. That is one of the things that I said on Second Reading. The regional elections would provide a forum, a referendum, on the Government's proposals. If the Government are interested in the views of the Scottish people, let them learn the lesson of the elections. In Committee, they had to abandon the wildest gerrymandering proposals in the Bill--the amputation of Berwickshire from the Borders and the ludicrous Balerno corridor that they proposed between the Lothians--and, of course, their timetable for the unwanted reorganisation is now a complete shambles.

The Bill simply cannot receive its Royal Assent until October or November of this year, which will leave only six months until the proposed shadow elections in April of next year. Of course, Ministers can ignore wholesale public hostility to the Bill and reorganisation. They can--they are daft enough, suicidal enough and idiotic enough--simply fly in the face of the electoral humiliation that they have just experienced and press on regardless.

The Government can, if they want, use the draconian power conferred on the Secretary of State in schedule 2--one of the many draconian powers contained in the Bill--to draw in secret, on the back of some used Tory party leaflets, the new ward boundaries on which the elections are likely to be fought. They can bring those proposals to the House of Commons for a one-and-a-half hour debate, although I promise that they will be given a rough ride if they try such tactics. They can do all that because they have the technical powers, even if they do not have the consent of the people of Scotland. If the Government are unwise and suicidal enough to do those things, however, they will deliver this reorganisation only at the expense of devastation of vital services for the most vulnerable people, and at huge cost in the disruption and uncertainty caused to business and commerce across Scotland.

Yesterday, at a press conference, I sat beside the chairman of Glasgow chamber of commerce. In measured tones, he told the assembled press, "Glasgow chamber of commerce is still not persuaded that this reorganisation is necessary." Ministers should take careful note of that declaration : it was made in public by someone who is intimately connected with business in the west of Scotland and who represents the largest group of business people in that area.

There will be disruption to special needs education, community care, transport and strategic planning. All that disruption is predictable : people with no political partisan interest have drawn it to the attention of the House. The timetable for the reorganisation is in ruins, not because of a lack of co-operation on the part of Scottish councils but as a result of the incompetence, slipperiness and arrogance of Scottish Office Ministers.

Column 223

In The Guardian on 7 May, Mr. Martin Kettle- -a distinguished journalist and an outsider viewing the Bill perhaps for the first time--had this to say :

"the carving up of Scotland's local councils in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill is one of the most disgraceful pieces of one-party political arrogance in modern times."

He was spot on. We have spread the same message throughout Scotland, and the pitiful 13.7 per cent. of votes obtained by the party of government shows that we have succeeded in getting it through to the people.

The Bill, like the reorganisation that it promises--indeed, threatens--is flawed at its very heart. The atomisation of Scotland's local government set-up into a patchwork of some large, very many tiny, all-purpose and in many instances unviable councils will be an extremely expensive, hugely unpopular and unsuccessful folly. If they notice it at all, the history books will call it Lang's folly. Perhaps it will be the Secretary of State's farewell shot as he takes off to lead the English Conservative party, as he is widely tipped to do. If he can do for it what he has done to the Tory party in Scotland, he will do a great service to the British people. Three hundred thousand employees of Scotland's councils are about to be thrown into an unemployment limbo, with only European law--the acquired rights directive--to help them. As that European legislation helps them, it will also make a mockery of the Government's figure for savings, which seems to derive entirely from the idea of sacking people from their jobs in local government. Today, the House has yet again been faced with brand-new figures--brand-new revisions of the previous totals, which we were told represented the actual savings and costs of local government. We are never given the background information and calculations and the Secretary of State repeatedly refuses to give detailed answers to the detailed points in letters sent to him.

The services expertly delivered by people in local government will be thrown into the turmoil of a transition so ill-thought-out and lacking in popular support that every facet of Scottish life will be affected and damaged. It will be remembered that it was this Conservative Government who, in Scotland, invented and pursued the poll tax. Sensible people thought that the Government might have learnt from that profligate fiasco, but, as the Bill shows, they seem to learn very little from such expensive disasters.

The Bill deserves only one fate : to be abandoned now. Privately--secretly- -Ministers and Back Benchers would love to do that. It has no future ; it will be swept away with the Labour victory that the local election results show to be inevitable now. If it is remembered at all, it will be remembered for one thing only--as one more spectacular stupidity that contributed to the demise of the Scottish Conservative party. In that one respect, it will have made its contribution to the good of Scotland. I urge my colleagues to vote against it.

Mr. Dalyell On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have given you and the Clerk notice of this point.

I hope that I do not have a vindictive record in the House, but I feel that a matter of principle is involved in deciding whether those who are not fully fledged civil

Column 224

servants--however considerable and malign their influence on the Bill may be--should sit in the Box. Will you raise with Madam Speaker the question of those who are not fully fledged civil servants in the Scottish Office sitting in the Box ?

Madam Deputy Speaker : I am not aware that the occupant of the Chair has ever recognised the existence of those who occupy what is usually called the Officials' Box. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me warning of his point of order ; I shall certainly ensure that the matter is taken up with Madam Speaker, but I know from what he has said that he does not expect me to take it further at this stage.

5.57 pm

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South) : I shall be brief, as I know that many hon. Members wish to speak.

The day after the publication of the White Paper that started this whole process, The Press and Journal carried the banner headline "Aberdeen achieves goal". Following the conclusion of the Bill's Commons stages tonight, that goal will take an important step nearer to reality.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State observed, as the Bill nears the end of its stages it is appropriate for us to look back. I think we can safely say that we have enjoyed--if that is the right word--an Opposition Supply day, a Grand Committee debate in Edinburgh, a debate on the Gracious Speech, a Second Reading debate and marathon Committee and Report stages before arriving at Third Reading. During all those hours of debate, Conservative Members have become used to hearing Opposition Members quote the words of various councillors and officials in an attempt to gain votes against my right hon. Friend's proposals from different parts of Scotland. In Committee--thanks to the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)--we all became experts on what virtually all his constituents were thinking, and got to know them all virtually by name. We became very used to hearing from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about the various letters and phone calls that he had received from all over Scotland. Throughout his tour of the disgruntled of Scotland, however, we never arrived at Aberdeen. That town was never prayed in aid by Opposition Members as they searched for one-liners to quote, looked for scare stories to run and predicted doom, gloom, rebellion and chaos. It must irk the hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) that their colleagues in Aberdeen never once gave them a sound bite during all those hours of debate.

Why is that ? Could it possibly be because every political group in Aberdeen district council, on the day of the White Paper's publication, fell over itself to support a single-tier Aberdeen ? Could it possibly be because the Labour group, responding to the White Paper last year, said :

"In short, local government in Aberdeen could be improved by re- establishing the City as a unitary authority. The Council argues that this would promote a more efficient, acountable, economical and responsive local administration and service delivery" ?

Before Opposition Members shout "All under a Scottish Assembly", I shall tell them that, in the council's entire response, the words "Scottish Assembly" do not appear at all.

Column 225

Or could it possibly be that the Labour party in Aberdeen took to heart an editorial in The Press and Journal on 19 August last year ? It said :

"The clearest signal to the electorate today that Aberdeen Labour councillors have at least some regard for the welfare of their city would be a vote backing single-tierdom that they have sought for so long.

Or would that require backbone, commonsense and independence of spirit that seem in desperately short supply in Labour

local-government cliques ?"

Mr. Wallace : I seem to recall that, on Second Reading, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) was very much against the inclusion of Westhill in Aberdeenshire as opposed to Aberdeen. Is he now satisfied with the Aberdeen single-tier authority as presently constituted ?

Mr. Robertson : I am absolutely in favour of it : I voted for it in Committee. Or could it possibly be that everyone who cares about local democracy in Aberdeen all agreed with Labour's councillor, Jean McFadden, when she identified that the real threat to local government in Scotland would come in the form of a Scottish Assembly ? Writing in the Glasgow Herald , she said :

"I think we have to be very much on our guard here. There may well be a tendency for the Scottish parliament to suck up power from below."

From whatever angle it is approached, the message from Aberdeen is clear. The people of Aberdeen, the politicians in Aberdeen and the business community in Aberdeen all want the Bill.

It is an appropriate time to say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to other of my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench that the challenge for us on this side of the House over the summer, into the autumn and on to the shadow authority elections is to ensure that, elsewhere in Scotland, the reforms and the plans are as clearly understood by the people of Scotland as they are in the granite city, because the message from Aberdeen-- [Interruption.] The message from Aberdeen is that, when the proposals are understood, when the scares give way to facts, the people respond and they are enthusiastic.

Mr. Connarty : Moving on from the boundaries, will the hon. Gentleman cite one example of a councillor in the city of Aberdeen, Labour or otherwise, who supports the proposals for water, for the police or for any of the other services ?

Mr. Robertson : In supporting the concept and supporting the plans that my right hon. Friend is clearly setting out, of course they support the plans in their entirety. They have not selected one aspect of the plan- -as the hon. Gentleman has implied--and said that they support one thing but not anything else. They accept a single-tier Aberdeen as the best way to provide services for the people of Aberdeen and all that that entails.

The hon. Member for Hamilton has made much of the local election results on 5 May. Indeed, many Opposition Members have done that. Again, interestingly, they have not mentioned the results in Aberdeen. Perhaps that is because in my constituency all Conservative regional councillors in the city--John Porter, Jack Dempsey, Joy Gordon and Tom Mason--campaigned hard for a single-tier local authority. They all put that at the centre of their appeal,and all won. Their election address made that very clear. They were all handsomely returned and, indeed, in one of the divisions in which the hon. Member for

Column 226

Hamilton came to Aberdeen on a bank holiday and campaigned hard, we increased our vote and our majority. So I say to my hon. Friends, "Come the general election, invite the hon. Gentleman along : he will do wonders for your vote."

I am not for a moment belittling or criticising the many fine Conservative councillors who lost on 5 May, or the many outstanding candidates who never made it. However, I am told constantly by Opposition Members to listen to the people and to learn a lesson from 5 May. The lesson that I take from my constituency is one from which my party and the whole of Scotland can learn : from now to the shadow authority elections in April, we must challenge head-on every scare, every misrepresentation, every half-truth and every untruth. In doing so, we shall have nothing to fear.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : The hon. Gentleman will find it difficult to challenge them because he spends all his time making them up himself.

Mr. Robertson : One of Scotland's national newspapers said today that the debate marked the end. How wrong it is. The debate marks only the beginning of the end of round one. In round two, the debate will move away from this place, as we on this side take to the Scottish people my right hon. Friend's vision for local government in Scotland. It is a new era in the affairs of local government--strong, accountable, powerful unitary authorities--yet, at the same time, councils, by their very nature, will be sensitive to local needs and responsive to local requirements.

In the run-up to April, we shall take every opportunity to remind our fellow Scots that that is in stark contrast to what is on offer from each of the Opposition parties. They offer an assembly in Edinburgh which would plunder the powers of local councils and take them to Edinburgh, thus denuding councils and town halls up and down Scotland of their rights and responsibilities and centralising them on Calton Hill. They offer to take decision-making away from the people rather than empowering the people through one councillor and one council.

That is the choice facing the Scottish people in April. For us, the shadow authority elections start the day after the European campaign ends. We shall campaign hard for the measures in the Bill, for the councils that it will create and for the new partnership in local government that will result. I have no doubt that, when we do that and take our message to the Scottish people, they, in turn, will respond.

6.6 pm

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) : Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) will forgive me if I do not follow what he said about Aberdeen. I can only say as an Aberdonian that it is certainly not my conclusion that the people of Aberdeen are flocking in great numbers to support the Conservative party. If they are doing that, as recently as three weeks ago there was precious little evidence of it. There is precious little evidence, too, that there is any support for the Bill in Scotland. It has been universally condemned. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which the Secretary of State did not seem to like recognising, was opposed to the Bill. Individual local authorities were

Column 227

opposed to it. Individual councillors, irrespective of their party, were opposed to it. But, most important, the people of Scotland were opposed to it.

The Secretary of State said that he was going "back to basics" and he said that there were three basic principles on which the reform--he calls it reform--or the reorganisation was founded. He went on to tell us what those three principles were and it seemed that they were mechanisms only, designed to be convenient for the Conservative party and not for any other purpose. I shall give him three principles on which any reform ought to have been founded : first, to provide the best arrangements for representing the people and the communities, which they, not the Government, recognise ; secondly, to provide the best arrangements for democratic control over the local bureaucracy ; and, thirdly, to provide the best arrangements for cost-effective and efficient delivery of services.

None of those principles is contained in the Bill, which, in fact, is a most unprincipled measure, reflecting an unprincipled Government who have devised and drafted it. What principle drove the Government to drafting the Bill ? There is no principle at all. It was designed to facilitate a Conservative party that has all but passed out of Scottish political and public life.

Of course, as they see it, there is a need for success, somewhere, anywhere, by creating unrepresentative councils out of places which often have nothing in common. All hon. Members would be able to tell the House of some eccentricity or madness in their area that has been dreamt up by the demented hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). It is his fault that we have such a situation on our hands. It is his fault that it is happening. He is kowtowing to the chairman of the Conservative party in Scotland, Michael Hirst. [ Hon. Members-- : "Sir Michael Hirst".] Yes, Sir Michael Hirst. In fact, I am quite sure that it would be a good idea if the council at East Dunbartonshire was renamed Hirst. That would be an appropriate name. Sir Michael, unelectable and unelected, has determined what should happen in the reorganisation. Some of us find such an apparatchik an unacceptable influence, but altogether consistent with what is going on nowadays in the Conservative party in Scotland.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : The last time the extraordinary exercise of local government reorganisation was undertaken, Fife regional council did not add one hen or chicken to its population or alter its responsibilities in any way. It nevertheless increased the membership of its police from 16,000 to 18,000 and that of all other services by three. A socialist organisation did that : will it do the same this time ?

Mr. Hogg : I agree that Fife regional council, like most in Scotland, is a socialist council.

There is further evidence of gerrymandering in my area. There is no consent for the measure among the political parties--including the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Tory party and even Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Scottish National party --in so far as it has a view on anything--and certainly no consent among the ordinary people who have petitioned the Government, written letters, signed postcards of protest and voted against Tory candidates in local elections. However, it all adds up to nothing because this authoritarian Government are determined to push through

Column 228

this measure. We have arrived at a new slogan for the Tory party. Nowadays, it is "Whitehall, not town hall", which is the very opposite of what Tories said once upon a time.

Cumbernauld and Kilsyth has historical and administrative links with East Dunbartonshire with which it should be linked. However, that did not serve the ends of Sir Michael Hirst or those of the Tory party which is trying to create particular conditions for Bearsden and Strathkelvin. It is a serious charge

Mr. Gallie : I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. In view of his comments, and given his support for the notion of single tier authorities included in Labour's manifesto at the previous election, and given what I understand to be his "anti-feelings" for a Scottish Assembly, would he have been happy with the changes had he got his way over the boundaries that he wants for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth ? If so, it is a pity that such an argument was not advanced in Committee.

Mr. Hogg : The answer is that I hope that I can always see the bigger picture. I hope that I come to the House with a view on Scottish local government as a whole and am not driven by parochial considerations of the type that apparently motivate the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie). Even if the Minister agreed with what I wanted in respect of Cumbernauld and Kilsyth, I would still be immensely unhappy with the Bill and would vote against it for the reasons already set out by my party's Front-Bench spokesmen on Second Reading, in Committee and again today. I hope that that clarifies the position for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : The hon. Gentleman has made some pretty strong accusations about how the boundaries were created. Unless I missed something in Committee, I did not hear the Labour party offer any proposals on boundaries, with the exception, I think, of Ayrshire.

Mr. Hogg : In fact, the Opposition tabled amendments affecting Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and East Dunbartonshire and they were consistent with the view that I am advancing now. The hon. Gentleman is therefore wrong.

It has become clear that the Government have tried to arrange things in my area in the hope that another part of Scotland will ultimately return a Conservative Member of Parliament and a Conservative-controlled local authority. There is no prospect of either likelihood being realised.

If there were a case for local government reform, the Bill has certainly not met it. A body such as a royal commission should have been charged with reviewing existing arrangements ; there should have been full public consultation ; the Government should have sought a consensus on any proposals for change ; and, above all, any proposals should have had the confidence of the Scottish people. The Bill fulfils none of those criteria.

To use an old phrase, this is a wicked Tory Government. They are far removed from the principles on which the Tory party once thrived. This is not a matter of conviction politics ; it is a product not of conviction politics but of expediency. There is no concept of one nation, just autocratic diktat. There is no belief in the people or the judgment of the people. The Government simply believe that they know what is best for us, that they are our betters, and that they can tell us how to behave and think.

Column 229

The Scottish Office has no respect for the people or great institutions of local government in Scotland. The people have sensed that the Government have no respect for them, which is why the people have no respect for the Government and why 13.7 per cent. Tory support in recent elections stands as a condemnation of the Secretary of State and his Front-Bench team who have so clearly failed to take account of the view of the Scottish people.

This is a squalid Bill. It is the most squalid measure that I have encountered in my 15 years in the House. I am ashamed that it will be passed. The fact that it has been brought before us does not increase the respect in which Parliament is held. The people of Scotland will have none of it and they will have nothing to do with the Conservative Government. The Conservatives will be swept away in whatever elections they put up candidates.

6.16 pm

Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : I listened to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State with great interest and watched the reaction of the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). When my right hon. Friend referred to the confusion between the tiers of local government --confusion that I have encountered in my constituency--the hon. Member for Fife, Central shook his head and did not appear to accept that such confusion existed. I can only quote from a document published in February 1990 which stated :

"The continuing widespread confusion about what tier carries out what functions undermines accountability."

That document, entitled "The Future of Local Government in Scotland", was the Labour party's pre-election policy document. It has been universally accepted that there is confusion between the two existing tiers and, as was mentioned on Second Reading, all the Opposition parties have at some stage advocated single-tier unitary authorities.

I also listened with interest to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), but I heard nothing new. Since I have been a Member of Parliament, and since the consultation documents were published, the hon. Gentleman has done nothing but scaremonger. He has spread scare stories about the setting up of a most cost-effective and efficient tier of local government, and about water and sewerage.

As the hon. Member for Hamilton repeated something that he said on Report, I shall repeat something that I said. I heard him say on the BBC "Scottish Lobby" programme that the issue of water privatisation was a dead duck and that the Government had made it virtually impossible for Scottish water to be privatised because of the insertion of clause 79, which enforces current legislation preventing water supplies from being disconnected.

The hon. Member for Hamilton clearly said that ; I have it on videotape, and if he cares to ask to see it I shall be more than happy to arrange for it to be played back to him again and again. He does the people of Scotland a grave disservice by continuing to peddle such scaremongering to people who are less able than he to argue the point, and who have been told clearly many times by the Secretary of State and his Ministers that Scottish Water will not be privatised. However, we need to do something about it ; we need to make it a better organisation, and to take it forward in order to find the £5 billion in capital expenditure that will be needed over the next 10 to 15 years, and to cope with the new structure of local government.

Column 230

I talked about confusion. One of the main areas of confusion

Mr. Salmond : The hon. Gentleman will have heard his colleague from the north-east, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), express satisfaction with the Conservative party's results in the local elections. I found that confusing, so I checked in the edition of The Herald dated Saturday 7 May, which gives the local results by parliamentary constituency. It turns out that the Tory party is 8 per cent. behind in Aberdeen, South, 30 per cent. behind in Aberdeen, North, 26 per cent. behind in Aberdeen, Central, 47 per cent. behind in Banff and Buchan, 17 per cent. behind in Gordon, 30 per cent. behind in Moray and 16 per cent. behind in what would be the constituency of the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch)--Deeside and Howes. Is the hon. Gentleman as satisfied as his hon. Friend is with those results ?

Mr. Kynoch : I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about the local election results, but what he does not take into account is the role of independents--[ Laughter .] In my constituency the issues were significantly clouded-- [Interruption.] However, I shall not embark on that argument, because I know that the hon. Gentleman is engaged in a battle with his Opposition colleagues in the Labour party over what the result of the Euro-election in the north-east of Scotland will be. However, I can tell him that his figures are totally wrong ; if he considers the general election results he will realise that the Conservatives will win with a majority of 20,000.

Before I am ordered to do so, I shall now return to the Bill. I was talking about confusion between the two tiers of local government, especially on planning. In my constituency, the picture for long-term and strategic planning is at present one of great confusion. There is talk in Grampian of a proposed new settlement. Kincardine and Deeside had already thrown out the idea at district level, but Grampian region initially decided to approve a new settlement in my constituency. Confusion existed while the proposal ping-ponged backwards and forwards between the region and the district. Finally, it was thrown out by the previous administration in the region, much to the annoyance of the Labour convenor.

The issue will not go away. While we have a district council and a regional council that can take totally opposing views there will be total confusion, and that does not serve the best interests of the local community, nor the future of the area.

As the Secretary of State said, we have had a long period of debate on the local government reform. I had forgotten that it was as many as three years ago that my right hon. Friend introduced his first consultation document. I remember that in the run-up to the general election a major part of my campaign was the fact that we regarded the reform as a key piece of legislation for the future, so that we could get rid of the two tiers and consolidate them into one, so that local government would be better and more effective.

Throughout the consultation period, my right hon. Friend has listened effectively. I especially commend him and his Ministers for the amount of listening that they did in Committee. My right hon. Friend knows that some of us were concerned about various issues, whether those were minor details concerning boundaries or the need to look

Next Section

  Home Page