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Column 231after the interests of the rural communities with regard to water services. On all those issues my right hon. Friend has listened and has moved. He commended his ministerial team ; may I add to that my commendation of the long-suffering Whip, the Lords Commissioner to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Kirkhope).
Having sat through 177 hours of debate in Committee, listening to debates such as the one about the word "reasonably", which lasted three hours, at one time I questioned whether the Opposition were opposing or simply trying to obstruct. However, I know that they were in order because the Chairman kept them in order. I take my hat off to, and commend, both the management and the chairmanship of the Committee. Because the Committee stage was allowed to run for its full 177 hours, the Opposition were left with no excuse for saying that their concerns and worries had not been fully aired. Yet the Opposition continue to peddle their lies about water-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] They continue to peddle their distortions about water. They are still arguing that the Government are intent on doing something that the Government do not intend to do. Typical of their behaviour throughout has been the fact that they cannot oppose in a constructive manner. I have not heard them make constructive proposals on any issue.
Throughout our proceedings, the Opposition seemed intent on arguing the case for looking after local government employees' jobs. I commend them for that, because in any reorganisation, whether in business or in local government, one must ensure that the transition from one structure to another is made in an orderly fashion so as to safeguard the rights and the best interests of employees. Unfortunately, change is sometimes necessary. To obstruct on the sole basis that jobs will be lost is totally unconstructive in terms of looking after the interests of the people whom we are here to represent--the people of Scotland, the ratepayers and the taxpayers of Scotland.
Mr. Connarty : Is the hon. Gentleman really trying to sell to this House a package saying that all the people who wrote in and whom the Opposition represented--all the lobbying organisations such as Enable and Relate, and all the people who wrote in about special education, about the destruction of children's panels, and about many other issues--were trying to be obstructive ? Will he not give credit where credit is due ? A case was put for many people in Scotland who do not want the Bill, yet the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends ignored them.
Mr. Kynoch : I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, and I recognise that the Opposition put forward cases on behalf of organisations such as Enable, on behalf of children, on behalf of children's panels, and so on. However, the Opposition have not accepted that within the Bill as drafted my right hon. Friend and his Ministers have allowed the flexibility for the new councils to provide the services in the best possible way for their constituents.
The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) does not accept that what may be a good structure in the central belt is not necessarily the best structure in the north-east of Scotland. I commend my right hon. Friend's proposal for the north-east, which is now clear in the Bill. The Bill will
Column 232give us a single-tier authority big enough to provide the services in the area, and big enough to command the highly qualified staff that will be required to deliver those services, but one which will, at the same time, be able to decentralise to provide local services.
Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan) : Will the hon. Gentleman retract his statement that the Opposition lied ? We have made it clear that where water is concerned there are no ifs, no buts and no whats. We do not want privatisation ; we do not want franchising ; we do not want quangos.
Mr. Kynoch : What I said about the Opposition's attitude to water relates clearly to the fact that the Secretary of State has said many times --as have the Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State for Scotland, my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) in Committee--that water privatisation is not on the agenda. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood said that Scottish Water would not be privatised by the front door, by the back door or by any other door. That fact has been stated on innumerable occasions, yet the Opposition still distort it, and the people of Scotland do not know what to believe.
I argued strongly--and the hon. Member for Hamilton has accepted the argument--that the provisions in clause 79 concerning disconnections have made it virtually impossible to privatise Scottish Water. The prospect is not on.
Mr. George Robertson : I did not say that it was virtually impossible to privatise water simply because the Government had included a provision with regard to disconnections ; I said that it would make privatisation much more difficult. But the Government have never been prevented by such difficulties in the past and they will not be prevented in the future either. During the election campaign, the Government promised that they would not extend the scope of value added tax, but they have now extended it to domestic fuel. Why should we believe their promises about water, any more than their promises about VAT ?
I shall draw my remarks to a close by saying that the Bill is nearing its completion in this House and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) said, going on to another phase in another place. It is important that we encourage local authorities which thus far have not co -operated with the Government during the passage of the Bill to co-operate now in the interests of the people of Scotland.
In Grampian and the north-east of Scotland, the Association of District Councils in Grampian, under the current chairmanship of Councillor Doreen Ewing, convenor of Kincardine and Deeside district council, has already started talking in outline about the way forward under single-tier authorities, but it has been thwarted in taking the matter much further by the non-co-operation of Grampian regional council. I implore my right hon. Friend to do whatever he can to encourage the new administration in Grampian region to co-operate with his Department by providing the necessary information to enable it, in turn, to give the financial information back to the existing
Column 233councillors in the area, thus enabling them to plan the way forward. It is in the best interests of the people of Scotland that the Bill should go forward as smoothly and as quickly as possible. 6.31 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : First, I associate myself with the comments of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) in extending sympathy to the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), the Under-Secretary of State, on his recent sad bereavement and I am sure that I speak on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends in doing so.
It seemed that the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) was unable to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Hamilton that the Government completely deceived the electorate about their intentions on value added tax and extending the VAT base. The hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside cannot now understand why the people of Scotland have difficulty believing what the Secretary of State said on water privatisation. The credibility of Tory Members and Ministers in Scotland is so low that if a Scottish Tory said that snow was white, most Scots would want to suspend judgment until next winter so as to check for themselves. That is the sort of loss of credibility that Tory Members have suffered, and they cannot complain if the people will not believe at first hand what they say. The Bill is a thoroughly bad Bill. It is unwanted, it is ill thought out and it is anti-democratic. It is true that during its passage in Committee and on Report a number of boundary changes were made which my hon. Friends and I wished to see. We wished to see the restoration of Westhill to Aberdeenshire--we welcome the conversion of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) to that move--the restoration of Berwickshire to its proper place in the Borders, the establishment of a separate council for Inverclyde, and the restoration of Ralston to Renfrewshire. Those changes are eloquent testimony to the power of Liberal Democrat success at the ballot box.
On this Bench, however, the test never was and never would be the niceties of boundary lines. Placing Westhill in Aberdeen city or in Aberdeenshire matters little if neither authority has power to deal effectively with local issues affecting the area. The real test is whether the Bill will strengthen and improve the quality of local democracy and by that test it fails miserably.
The Bill is unwanted because there is no real democratic mandate for it. On occasions when Tory Members have quoted--as they have done today--from the manifestos of the Scottish Opposition parties citing support for single- tier local government throughout Scotland, they have conveniently ignored the context of a home rule Parliament in which those commitments were made. Indeed, the exclusively Scottish issue of Scottish local government should be determined in a Scottish Parliament.
Nor can the results of the local elections on 5 May be taken as an endorsement of the provisions of the Bill. Even in Aberdeen, the Tory party came in fourth place with only 16.4 per cent. of the vote. If that is the kind of result that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South regards as a ringing endorsement of the Government's proposals, I hope that it will be repeated at the next general election.
Mr. Wallace : I am happy to take the opportunity to say that the Liberal Democrats did well in Aberdeen city. Among the issues on which our campaign was based were the Government's proposals for local government and for the future of water and sewerage services, so the Conservative failure at the ballot box shows what the people really think of the proposals.
In Grampian region, the number of Tory councillors is now down to single figures in a region which their party controlled for eight years, and there is not one Tory councillor left in Fife, where the Tory party is even in a worse position than the Communist party even though it got 10 per cent. of the vote. Perhaps if Tory Members want to join us in campaigning for proportional representation--that is not a feature of the Bill, which shows once again that the Bill is undemocratic--we would certainly welcome their conversion. The water and sewerage provisions in the Bill are unwanted. People know that the issue is about quangos. Certainly, my experience during the local elections in different parts of Scotland showed that the people clearly understood what the issue was about--it was about taking responsibility out of the hands of elected councillors and putting it into the hands of placemen and placewomen. A vital service which has been in municipal hands for many years is disappearing out of the hands of those with elected responsibility. Having travelled throughout Scotland, I cannot claim to have been deafened by any clamour to pass the Bill today.
The Bill is also ill thought out. My hon. Friend the Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) served diligently on the Committee on behalf of my party's interests. On many occasions, I found him in his office suffering from frustration and disbelief at how ill equipped Ministers had been to respond to detailed probing on various aspects of the Bill, not only in response to partisan points that were being made, but on matters of substance relating to the delivery of important services. I recall one evening going to watch the proceedings of the Committee from the public benches and seeing the Under-Secretary of State stand up and, in response to a question or an intervention from the hon. Member for Hamilton, contradict a Government amendment that he had just moved. I accept that one can make mistakes late at night, but the thing that really worried me was that the Under-Secretary of State did not realise that there was a contradiction, which shows how little understanding Ministers have of what they are trying to do in the Bill.
Today, we heard the Secretary of State say that joint boards would not confuse the electorate--we would all know that it was a responsibility of the councils. It is not so many years ago--it must be a number of years because the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) was the Member for Edinburgh, South and a Scottish Office Minister at the time--that I went to see the hon. Gentleman about a joint board for the police in the northern constabulary where, clearly, most of the members who came from Highland region were trying to make decisions which would adversely affect the Islands interests and
Column 235where the locally elected councillors for the Islands had only limited powers. Joint boards will cause confusion-- that has been underestimated by the Secretary of State.
Hon. Members who were in the House last Tuesday will recall the hon. Members for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asking about the consequences of water no longer being pumped from disused mines. Not only did the Secretary of State seem to have difficulty answering the question ; he appeared unaware that it was even a problem. There are a number of such issues on which I am sure that there will be problems when the Bill is enacted. In the same debate, the Secretary of State was asked why there were only three authorities instead of four or five. We are still waiting for an answer. All that we get is a bold assertion that that is what it says in the Minister's brief. Unlike previous restructuring, this reform or restructuring of local government has not been preceded by an independent commission or detailed analysis ; nor does it proceed on a generally consensual basis. That does not bode well for the Bill's implementation, because even with good will it is likely to drive down morale, especially among staff whose future employment and conditions are still in doubt.
Perhaps most important, the Bill is anti-democratic. The transfer of water and sewerage services from elected to non-elected hands is, beyond doubt, an undemocratic reform. To pile more than 180 measures on top of the 160 measures that have already been introduced by the Government to transfer power and responsibility from local to central Government is in itself fundamentally anti-democratic.
Conservative Members ought to be aware that the powers given to the Secretary of State by order could be used by a Secretary of State from another party. If an incoming Secretary of State for Scotland chose to use them to clear the placemen and placewomen out of the water authorities and replace them with elected councillors, he or she would have my full support.
Above all else, the Government have abused the language by saying that the Bill will be a shot in the arm for local democracy. It is an abuse of the English language because they are doing one thing and claiming that it is the opposite. Most important, they have not listened, learnt or changed, especially in the light of the Strathclyde referendum.
In a letter to the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 22 December, the Prime Minister said of the measure, with particular reference to water :
"The Bill will shortly begin its parliamentary scrutiny. That will provide the opportunity for both principle and detail to be publicly debated and at the end of the day Parliament will decide what is to become law. That is the right approach and one which allows Scottish opinion to be given expression through Members of Parliament." It is evident that Scottish opinion has not been given such expression.
The most significant contribution to our discussions last week came from the hon. Member for Linlithgow, who said during our debate on water :
Column 236"The issue will become the attitude of people in Scotland towards the Union. Because of political history I, of all people, am empowered to tell him"
the Secretary of State
"that if he goes ahead he must not start lamenting when the Union turns sour."--[ Official Report , 17 May 1994 ; Vol.243, c. 725.] Neither I nor my party want Scotland to go down a costly road to independence, but we should reflect on the fact that the threat to the Union in this century did not come from the parties of home rule but from intransigent Unionists- -and that is still the case today. When the then Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, moved the Government of Ireland Bill in 1912, he said :
"We are content to delegate local matters to the different constituent units. However well we may transact . . . our common and Imperial affairs, we must perpetually bungle and mismanage the affairs of each unit. That, Sir, is what Home Rule, as we understand it, and federation as we are going to pursue it, means for the people of this country."--[ Official Report , 9 May 1912 ; Vol.38, c. 700.] This Bill is today's monument to Westminster's continuing bungled and mismanaged government of Scotland.
First, we should recognise that much consultation has taken place. In Committee, many hours were spent reviewing the Bill and considering its detail, so no one can say that the House did not give it adequate consideration.
I am concerned because the Bill is important and has massive constitutional implications. The attitude that the Labour party demonstrated throughout the Committee stage can only be described as humbug. Labour Members want to establish a Scottish Parliament, or whatever it is to be called ; I should have thought that they would agree that the measures contained in the Bill would make it easier for an incoming Government to do just that. That is certainly true of all the powers given to non-elected bodies, which could easily be transferred to an incoming Scottish Parliament.
I was concerned from the outset, but not because I am opposed to the principle, as I support single-tier unitary authorities. I know that in Tayside, Perth and Kinross, Angus and also Dundee people are happy to have such authorities. I shall not speak for other areas, but I can speak about those with some authority. We were also satisfied that the arguments on boundaries were listened to and acted upon. There is therefore no doubt that anyone who is genuinely interested in the well-being or future good government of Scotland would recognise that the principle of single-tier unitary authorities was accepted by all. One runs into problems over matters that have to be dealt with outside the smaller, new unitary authorities. They quite properly caused considerable debate. There is no doubt that some of the debate was motivated by concern about job preservation, but much was motivated by concern about the provision of services and the Committee had to deal with that.
Because of the circumstances in which the Bill came about and the pledges given before the general election, I believed that the Government would produce a Bill which--one hopes--will become an Act and establish unitary authorities. The Government will have delivered their pledge.
Column 237I hope that when we reach saner times we shall reconsider how we deliver services and make the people delivering them accountable. If we do not do so, we shall provide the very set-up that an incoming Labour Administration would welcome, if Labour ever get elected --I am not one of those who think that the next general election is lost
The recent election results were serious and ought not to be ignored. Anyone who thinks that they can take a flippant view of the results is not being realistic. I remind Opposition Members, however, that I have listened for many years to them telling me that an incoming Labour Government would do such and such, but such a Government never came to pass. I have also listened to the views of separatists, but their predictions have not come to pass either. One thing that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and I probably agree on is that the structures created by the Bill have constitutional implications. My party should consider that and deal with those implications before it is too late.
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East) : The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) seemed to believe that the Bill, if it is enacted, would make it easier to create a Scottish Parliament. Whether that is true or not, it is no excuse for dismantling Scottish local government services and every system in such a desultory and unsatisfactory way.
It is inevitable that, after all the talk today, the Government will produce their majority and the Bill will be hammered through, as it was hammered through in Committee with 102 defeats for Scotland. It will pass into law against the wishes of the Scottish people. There is no wish for this change in Scotland. There is a wish for a consensus view and a well- thought-out change in local government that will last well into the 21st century and not merely 20 years, as the last change has done. The Government have not produced such a change, and we are witnessing a wasted opportunity.
The Bill has no consensus, except perhaps against it--it is not even perhaps ; it has a consensus against it. Because of that and its relationship with the Tory party it will not last.
Mr. Welsh : Had there been proper consultation, or consultation similar to that undertaken by Wheatley--or an ounce of the thought that he and his commission put into the matter--we would have had a chance of a proper local government system that would be agreed. The Minister mentioned Angus district council. The district is a good size and will make an excellent council. One hopes that it will continue to be controlled by the Scottish National party and to be one of the best run in the country. That is no excuse, however, for destroying the system in the way that the Government have done, without
Column 238consulting the people. It is certainly no excuse for stealing Scotland's water assets, which is totally against the wishes of the people in the way that they have done.
After all the talk in Committee and on Report, the Bill is basically unchanged, apart from some boundary changes. It is as the Government always wanted it to be, but as the Scottish people did not. Concessions such as retaining the title of firemaster are no consolation for the loss of services and the attack on Scottish local government contained in this atrocious and unacceptable Bill. These are Tory changes which are inextricably linked with the Conservative party. They have been made by and for the political convenience of the Conservative party. It is a Tory measure from start to finish, and it will be seen as such. It simply will not stand the test of the future.
There is no popular support for moving from a service-providing local government system to that of mere enabling authorities. The opposite is true. The Scottish people have already shown that they wish water services to remain as a service provision by local authorities. There has been no real consultation, and it is ludicrous for the Secretary of State to pretend that there has. There has not, and the whole of Scotland knows it.
There has been no commission in Scotland to take a proper look at the situation. All we have had is the imposition of the Government's own views. Certainly there has been no consensus, except in creating outright opposition both at local elections and general elections against the Government and the proposals. The Bill is basically an ill-thought-out botch-up. The boundaries it proposes defy analysis. They are not based on Wheatley's city regions, and they are not based on the old counties.
Can the Minister explain how it happened ? We certainly did not hear any rational analysis from the Secretary of State of the basis on which the Government approached the boundary changes. They vary in size from the Highlands--geographically the same size as Wales--to tiny Clackmannan. There is apparently no rhyme or reason to the decisions.
The Government are simply tacking and changing for short-term gain without any overall principle apart from their own party political self-interest. The end product has been not a simplified unitary system at all, but a more complex multi-tiered, various-sized, central-Government-dominated set-up. The Government cannot hide from their responsibility for creating this mess of a Bill.
The rushed timetable was self-inflicted ; the Government chose to rush the measure through--nobody else. The motivation of the Treasury rules was also self-inflicted, as was the massive fiscal deficit which overshadows everything else, and the previous lack of investment in water and sewerage services. On all counts, Scottish local government is being made to pay for the Government's past policy mistakes.
The Government--and no one else--are to blame for the failure to provide statutory directors of education and social work committees.
Mr. Gallie : The hon. Gentleman has just blamed the Government for the failure to maintain and provide reasonable water and sewerage systems in Scotland. Have not water and sewerage been under the control of local authorities since the turn of the century ? Surely theirs is the failure, and the Government are trying to address that.
Mr. Welsh : The hon. Member clearly does not know anything about capital consents. Local government has a superb record of supplying quality services at low cost to the Scottish people. They understand that, and have asked the local authorities to continue. The hon. Gentleman is throwing democracy to one side and denying the 1.2 million people in Strathclyde who have said no to the changes which his Government are forcing, through thanks to the nature of this Parliament and the Union. We will see that tonight when the votes are counted.
The refusal to have statutory directors of education and social work, statutory social work committees and directors of social work is simply a continued attack on the poor and vulnerable in Scotland, and that should not be happening.
I must say also that the people who brought us the poll tax and who are taking water services out of Scotland have rejected seat belts in school buses. I have never heard before of somebody writing a third suicide note, but the Government have just done so.
The Bill would allow the barbarity of warrant sales to be inflicted for water debts, and advocates three-year, short-term electoral cycles.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : Any council in Scotland can impose within its contracts with school buses conditions and stipulations which make it absolutely clear that seat belts can be made mandatory. The hon. Gentleman is totally misleading the House on that point.
Mr. Welsh : I do not think I am. Any council can do that, and Tayside has just done it under the Scottish National party. The point is that the Government could have made sure that every council had those powers, by putting the matter on the face of the Bill. The Minister has abdicated his responsibility. He could have put the matter on the face of the Bill.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : A council does have powers to put that in its contracts and, if it wishes, it is strongly encouraged to do so. We acknowledge that there has been public pressure for councils to do just that.
Mr. Welsh : When the Government want to make sure of something, they put powers into the Bill, and this Bill is full of Secretary of State's powers. Why did not the Government make sure in this case ? They would have had popular support, and support from both sides of the House. When the Government want to abdicate their
responsibilities, they run the other way. There can be no excuses. The Government turned down an amendment that would have made sure that seat belts were installed in school buses. The Government made a mistake in not doing so.
The Bill reduces Scotland's elected representatives to the lowest proportion per head in the whole of western Europe, and replaces them with more placemen and women, hand-picked by the Tories in quangos such as the three giant water boards. So much for decentralisation. The Government create three unelected and unaccountable giant quangos and destroy elected, democratic and accountable local authorities. The Bill multiplies centralised power and, while the Government talk about subsidiarity at a European level, they centralise power from local government in Scotland. The water services proposals are plainly wrong, unfair and undemocratic. There has been no attempt whatsoever to
Column 240tackle the problems involved. Debt interest payments will continue to cost more each year than water service provision.
There is no green dowry in sight, so what was good enough for England will not be good enough for Scotland. Scottish taxpayers who have found that their money has been used to sweeten privatisation in England will not find a similar deal in Scotland from the Government.
Mr. Welsh : I know that hon. Members want to speak, so I shall be as fast as I can. The hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) and his Front-Bench Members have repeated promises tonight. I remind him that, in 1984, Neil Macfarlane, then Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, said :
"We have absolutely no intention of privatising the water industry. The Government have no plans to urge that upon the water authorities. There has been some press speculation about it in the past, but there is no intention to do so."--[ Official Report , 19 December 1984 ; Vol. 70, c. 457.]
Two years later, another Minister--the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker) the then Secretary of State for the Environment, said :
"In the last six years we have made the water authorities fit and ready to join the private sector . . .
Privatisation is the next logical step."--[ Official Report , 5 February 1986 ; Vol. 91, c. 288.]
We have heard all those promises before, and they were broken. Why should we trust the Government any more now than when they made the promises in the past ?
The only rational conclusion must be that any future investments in water services will be paid for by vastly higher water charges imposed by the three unelected, unaccountable quangos, which will meet in private.
The Bill is a charter for the Government to steal Scotland's massive water resources prior to privatisation. The Secretary of State for Scotland is our very own Ceaucescu. When 97 per cent. of voters do not want the changes, he just ignores them. No doubt he would equally ignore them if 100 per cent. of Scots were opposed to the plans.
The right hon. Gentleman takes a sort of President Marcos approach to democracy--consult, then ignore. His own party has twigged what is going on. If the Secretary of State does not have the Scottish people on his side, at least he has England and the Union. We will find that out tonight when English Members who have not been present turn out and vote the measure through, against the clear wishes of the Scottish people.
The Tories cannot hide for ever,and they will eventually have to face the electorate again. This has been a shameful process in which an unwanted, unnecessary and ill-thought-out affront to Scotland is being forced upon our people. An opportunity to provide real democratic local government--the services which the Scottish people really want--has been thrown to one side by this dogmatic Government. They have a great deal to answer for, and answer they will. 6.59 pm
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : It is a great pleasure to speak at the final stage of the Bill, before it goes to another place. I look forward to discussing it again once it returns, and hope that it will be a fairly swift return.
Column 241Having listened carefully to the words of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I think that it is a great pity that he could not find a place on the Committee. It was dastardly of Opposition Members, recognising the requirement of the Secretary of State to represent Scotland's views at Cabinet level, deliberately to keep my right hon. Friend off the Committee. However, having seen how my right hon. Friend destroyed the arguments of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) before he rose to speak, I well understand why the Labour party did not want my right hon. Friend on the Committee. We had many long and full debates in Committee. What emerged was that the Government had no intention of gerrymandering boundaries. It was up to individual Members to represent local views. Sadly, Opposition Members hung back on that and did not fight their corner, with the exception of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who fought the battle for the Borders and won. He presented his arguments well, and persuaded the Minister to listen to sound and sustained argument. It is just a shame that Labour Members did not follow suit.
I have two reservations about the present boundaries. The first is in the Fife area. The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) used the word "crazy" in virtually every contribution he made. He defended the requirement for Fife to have a single-tier authority based on the region. I wonder at the wisdom of the Government in accepting that option. I hope that we do not live to regret making that decision.
The second issue on which I have slight regrets is the sound arguments by Clydesdale district for a single-tier authority based in that area. I am saddened that the hon. Member for Clydesdale (Mr. Hood), perhaps bludgeoned into submission by Opposition Front-Bench Members, did not defend the right of those in Clydesdale to achieve a single-tier local authority that would have been larger than the Clackmannan authority that has since been established.
There has been wide debate on a number of issues, including school transport. We heard about the concerns of parents throughout Scotland, and of the Catholic Church. Measures were taken to recognise the problems that would arise. The hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh) suggested that the Government should have legislated to make local authorities fit seat belts in school buses. That is centralisation. Throughout the Bill's Committee stage, Opposition Members argued against centralisation. Are they now saying that, if the Government do not legislate, local authorities will not achieve ? Surely the Government are right to give local authorities the responsibilities and powers, and let them get on with the job.
Mr. Welsh : Hon. Members on both sides of the House want seat belts fitted on minibuses. The Government defeated an amendment that would have ensured that seat belts were fitted on school buses. When the Government want something, they are quick to use that power, but they have not been willing to do so in this case. Individual local authorities have that power, and the SNP-controlled authority in Tayside has introduced seat belts. As in ordinary automobiles, one way to ensure that seat belts are fitted is to pass such an amendment.
Column 242school buses only in Scotland, whereas we should look at the position UK and Europewide. That is currently happening and, before long, legislation will probably be introduced to meet that requirement.
We heard many stories about children's panels, but little about the downside. I have attended the hearings of children's panels in my area and am acquainted with some of their requirements and problems. Much of the resentment arose from the fact that too great a clamp was put on them by social work directors.
Mr. Gallie : It is certainly not rubbish in Ayrshire ; it is up to the hon. Gentleman to say whether it is rubbish in Fife. But that viewpoint came across to me when I attended the panels' area council in my constituency.
Water has been key area of controversy throughout our debates. I know that my hon. Friends were aware of Strathclyde's referendum, but were they aware of a report on water commissioned by Strathclyde regional council ?
Sir William Halcrow was asked to examine the management of water structures and provision within Strathclyde. What have we heard about that ? What were the findings ? The report found that, if water was to remain in the public sector, it needed to mimic the commercial organisation of other management structures. For that matter, it needed to mimic the management structures of working arrangements set up in the privatised industries in England and Wales.
The electorate of Strathclyde heard not a dicky bird about that. The council went ahead with the referendum