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Strathclyde council held back the report from the electorate. Opposition Members shout about open government, but, when it comes to doing something practical about it when they are in government and have an opportunity to do so, they hide their findings because they do not suit their purpose.
Strathclyde council distorted the facts. It maintained the belief that water would be privatised, and got the result it wanted in the referendum.
Mr. George Robertson : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Gentleman to make assertions to the House that an elected local authority hid from its public the conclusions of a report, whereas that local authority had a press conference on that report ? Is not the hon. Gentleman in danger of getting precious close to misleading the House ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Hon. Members are entirely responsible for what they say in the Chamber. It has nothing to do with the Chair, so long as their remarks do not impugn other hon. Members.
Column 243everything they read in the newspapers, I may have been marginally gullible-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Hamilton is right. At the weekend, I checked how many of the people who responded to the referendum had heard about the Halcrow report, and not one knew what I was talking about. The news of the report came as a complete surprise. Why did not Strathclyde council issue the information with the referendum ? Why did it not give the facts ? Opposition Members know the answer as well as I do--it was because it did not suit its purpose.
Mr. George Robertson : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for finally giving way. Will he tell the House that the Halcrow report said that the water industry was suffering from under-investment but that that was directly caused because capital consents to do so had not been given by central Government ? If, as I have said, the Halcrow report was released and there was a press conference, what does it have to say about the assertions that the hon. Gentleman has just made ?
Mr. Gallie : I recognise full well that central Government makes a lot of demands upon the national borrowing requirement. This country is already deep in debt. Public sector borrowing is excessive at the present time. It is better that cash is found from other sources. That is the intention of the Bill as far as water is concerned. I approve of that.
Drawing to a close-- [Hon. Members :-- "Hear, hear."] Perhaps I will continue for a wee while longer. I refer to the words of the hon. Member for Hamilton a few minutes ago. He suggested that the Government were vandalising local government and tearing apart structures which had served Scotland well for 20 years. That is open to question. In my view, Strathclyde regional council never gelled or registered with a large part of the constituency.
If the hon. Member's view is to stand, I wonder how he will reflect upon this fact. As I understand it, Opposition Members opposed tooth and nail the setting up of the structures of which he now supposedly regrets the demise. I suggest to hon. Members that, in 50 years' time, people will look back and feel happy about their accountable and responsible local government units. They will be grateful to the Conservative party for insisting upon the reforms that it introduced in 1994.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : Obviously the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) had a preview of the speech by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie). When he referred to humbug, he was obviously referring to the speech to come rather than those which had been made previously.
I heard a comment about the abuse of language. We have heard abuse of language by Government Members tonight when they have talked about democracy and accountability. The Bill will leave Scotland with 1,200 elected councillors and 5,000 people on quangos--and they talk about democracy and accountability! That is certainly an abuse of language.
The hon. Member for Ayr briefly mentioned the boundary question. I think it is a bit of a nonsense, and that is where the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) did
Column 244himself and the country a great disservice. Quite frankly, the Bill cannot be taken seriously by anyone who knows anything about local government. It is all about politics and gerrymandering. From day one it was about politics and gerrymandering, as it has been throughout all its stages. When it finally becomes an Act, it will be the most political, gerrymandered Act ever to go through this place. That is a fact.
I know that we are pressed for time in the debate and I have one or two other comments to make, but I have to mention the hon. Gentleman's comments about seat belts in school buses. I did not intervene in the speech of the hon. Member for Ayr because I thought that he was taking too much time and I did not want to give him another opportunity to speak more humbug about the problem. The hon. Gentleman obviously does not understand the problem. I listened to the Minister's intervention as well and, if that was the sum total of his assumptions about the problem, he does not have a clue. I was not of that view until I heard the interventions in the speech of the hon. Member for Angus, East (Mr. Welsh).
The hon. Member for Ayr referred to allowing local authorities to spend money and agree to it in a contract. But the issue is about protecting every child in Scotland when he or she is travelling to and from school. It is not about leaving it to discretion. That is the argument.
I deliberately tabled an amendment to an education clause in the Bill because it is not a transport question which is separate from the real problem. I wanted to address the problem of getting our children to and from school safely. To do that, one has to accept that it is a problem for education.
When I moved my amendment I said that, as we make it a legal obligation under education law for parents to send their children to school, why can we not protect those children in transporting them to and from school ? When it comes to a question of safety and making seat belts compulsory, the Government run behind the Commission and say that they cannot do anything because of European Community law. When I moved my amendment, I quoted the Commissioner who said that, as a member state of the European Union, we have powers within our own sovereignty--we have heard quite a lot about that--to protect our children with seat belts in school buses. That is why I moved the amendment.
It is no good Conservative Members, who trooped through the lobbies last week to vote down the amendment, looking for excuses. It was a disgrace. It was an opportunity for us to take a lead in this area. I cannot accept what the Minister said from the Dispatch Box last week about it being a United Kingdom problem. It was not a UK problem when Scotland got the poll tax a year before England and Wales. It was not a UK problem when the Government, thankfully, conceded and made it illegal to cut off water supplies. That was different from what happened in England as well.
We had an opportunity--and the Minister knows it--to pass an amendment to the Bill which would have made it compulsory to protect children while they were travelling to and from school. Tragically, the Minister ran away from it. When the Department of Transport releases its report, we will see that it is full of excuses to do nothing. That is all we will hear. The Minister can intervene if I have said anything that he wants to correct, but I am sure that he does not want to do so.
Column 245On the question of tourism, the Government have taken a nonsensical decision to amalgamate the Clyde Valley tourist board with the City of Glasgow. How can the Government say seriously that it is in the best interests of tourism to amalgamate a city culture with a rural culture and try to address the problems of both ? They are different cultures with their own interests to serve. Amalgamating the two will create great problems.
Government Members have done their party no favours, but I am not here to advise them about how to represent their party better. The hon. Member for Ayr said that the Conservatives in Scotland have listened to the people. What about the 86 per cent. who voted against the privatisation of water ? That is why we put down our amendments : to stop privatisation. We are the listening party. If the Government can be admired for anything--I cannot think of anything off the top of my head to admire them for--it is for their gall. If that is not gall, I do not know what is.
If this is a new listening party, it should accept that more than 80 per cent. of people are against the privatisation of water--and I suggest that the figure is higher than that. I also remind it that more than 90 per cent. of the people want a Scottish Parliament. It has not listened to that for the past eight or nine years. These questions must be addressed.
The hon. Gentleman should not try to kid us by saying that the Government are listening. They are not listening. They are not considering in any way the true interests of the Scottish people, and they will have to account for it at the ballot box.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Govan) : I note with some regret that the hon. Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson), for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and for Hexham (Mr. Atkinson) have not deigned to grace us with their presence during the debate. They formed the Government's majority in Committee. Without them, the Government would not have put through the vast majority of the motions that they carried in Committee. Their interest in Scottish local government is so considerable that they have not bothered to turn up for the debate today. That illustrates the way in which the Government have proceeded on the Bill. They have not bothered to listen to the views of the Scottish people or of the majority of their elected representatives. They have been prepared ruthlessly to use a majority to ram through policies that were ill considered, badly thought out and designed simply to promote partisan advantage.
I wish to mention one aspect of local government that was inadequately touched on earlier.
Mr. Salmond rose
At present, local authority councillors are overworked and grossly underpaid for the valuable work that they undertake on behalf of the community. The position will worsen as a result of the changes that the Government are introducing, because they intend to reduce the total number of councillors in Scotland.
It is not enough to say that everyone who does the job of a councillor is a volunteer. Those men and women take on an important social role on behalf of their communities.
Column 246They suffer mightily as a result, in financial and in family terms, and they are inadequately resourced for it. I believe that the Government should take the opportunity to announce that they intend adequately to resource the payment to elected councillors as part of the introduction of any new local government system.
The burden that councillors will have to bear in the new authorities will be greater because, not only will they have to make policy decisions as they did in the past, but they will be in the front line when they are confronted by the public to explain why services are being reduced at a time of increased need and decreased provision. They will have to carry the burden of the decisions which we make here, and which, from the Scottish side, the vast majority are forced to make against their will.
The present local government finance system results in councillors who are unemployed being virtually unemployable, those who are in employment losing the opportunities for promotion and those who are in work losing money as a result of broken time payments and losing pension payments for the future. None of that is adequately taken into account. The Government should make adequate recompense to councillors. No one becomes a local councillor for the money, but that is no reason why councillors should be penalised financially in the way that they are.
I enjoyed the Secretary of State's well-presented, witty speech. It was the House of Commons as vaudeville--as theatre. However, we should not allow the style of the Secretary of State's delivery to mask the content. The content was every bit as ruthless as that of any speech from the Government throughout the discussion of Scottish local government. It is a clear attempt to gerrymander the local government map. It is a corrupt and dishonest set of proposals, deliberately designed for partisan advantage.
My colleagues and I have a responsibility to the Scottish public to continue to repeat that not only were the measures drawn up in a fundamentally flawed way, but their motivation is alien to the public spirit that has operated throughout Scotland for many years. Although we have had disagreements in the past, I do not believe that such a nakedly corrupt set of measures has ever issued from a Government. The measures are motivated by malice against local government by the Government, deliberately designed to destroy what they have found it impossible to control. As they cannot win elections, they have decided that they want to emasculate local government. They want to give the powers and responsibilities to their appointees--their chums, their golf partners, their acquaintances, their relations--in a way that the vast majority of the Scottish public reject.
We on the Opposition Benches are united in opposition. Although there are nuances of difference between the Liberals, the nationalists and Labour Members, we have been united on the major issues. It is important to recognise that, with Scottish public opinion behind us, we stopped the privatisation of water and ensured that the Government introduced a measure to stop water
disconnections. Nevertheless, I believe, and the majority of Scottish people believe, that, given a chance, the Government will privatise water at the earliest opportunity. It will be the responsibility of elected representatives in the House and in Scotland to ensure that the pressure is kept on the Government ; to ensure that they are not allowed to go down the franchising route, which is a step on the road to privatisation. The Scottish people do not believe the
Column 247Government when they say that they have no intention now to privatise. They think that, given half a chance, the Government would do it in a flash.
I regret that we did not stop more of the Government's proposals. The costs of reorganisation will come out of services. That will result in worse provision for the people in need of those services. It will result in job losses. I do not simply mourn those job losses because of the disruption to the people involved ; I regret them because they will result in dereliction of the duty of local government to provide first-class services. We are having dislocation and disruption which is unwanted and entirely unnecessary. The Government will pay a price for their naked exercise of power--as they have paid a price for it--in the ballot box.
The Secretary of State's speech was not an effort to persuade ; it was simply a reiteration of Government policy, delivered tongue in cheek on many occasions with a wee joke and a smile, as if to say that he knew that he would win the vote at the end of the day and did not need to bother taking seriously anything that was said by anyone else.
The dive in the Conservatives' share of the vote in the regional elections to less than 14 per cent. causes us to worry for the future of democracy in Scotland. I was on Strathclyde regional council for several years. I notice, with some regret, that the Conservatives are now down to three out of 103 elected representatives on that council. When I joined, the Conservatives had about two dozen. In such circumstances, a real political debate is possible. I recognise that the Conservatives represent a political current in Scotland and that their views need to be adequately discussed and expressed. However, the viciousness and the extremities of dogma that they are pursuing have driven the Conservatives' vote down.
We ought to consider what has happened in previous Euro-elections, as similar elections are about to take place. In 1979, the Conservatives won five of the eight seats in Scotland. In 1984, they went down to two. In 1989, they went down to none at all and now no one seriously believes that the Conservatives have any prospect of winning a seat in Scotland at the coming elections. I do not believe that, if the Tories thought that they had any prospect of winning Euro-seats in Scotland, they would have proceeded with the local government reorganisation. They have given up, and the way in which they are prepared ruthlessly to use an English majority to ride roughshod over the views of the people of Scotland bodes ill for Scottish democracy.
I hope that the Bill continues to be fought in Scotland. I hope that it is fought in the Lords, even though I want that place to be abolished. The Government should suffer for what they are doing to Scotland tonight.
First, on a relatively minor matter, what will be said in the Lords as to whether South Queensferry is to be in West Lothian or in Edinburgh ? Will there be a Government amendment ?
Secondly, will the Government place in the Library of the House of Lords their view on the background to the figures with which they challenged the Convention of
Column 248Scottish Local Authorities ? They owe it to COSLA, to David Chynoweth, to Albert Tait and to many other people who are non-political but extremely professionally capable, to show where, according to the Government, they have gone wrong in the COSLA calculations. That information ought to be put into the Lords Library ; it is the honourable thing to do.
Thirdly, will the Government place in the Library of the House of Lords a statement of their thinking on the very real problem of strategic planning ? This matter is central to areas such as West Lothian, where there is overlapping development. Surely some thought has gone into that.
Fourthly, the Government owe it to us to deposit in the Library of the House of Lords a statement of their thinking on the future of specialist services, especially in relation to social work. For example, as we learned time and again in Committee, many services for the vulnerable can be provided only on a very large scale. If the Bill reaches the statute book, people will very soon be asking where Lothian and Strathclyde are. Much of the help provided by specialist authorities has been taken for granted.
It is the poll tax all over again. We shall see what happens next year, when, I understand from the Government Chief Whip, there will be endless orders--orders on Norfolk, on Somerset, and so on. We shall have all the problems of the English local authorities. It seems to me that once again we in Scotland are the guinea pigs. I think of the memorable words of Enoch Powell : this arrangement has the smell of death about it.
Although I do not want to repeat a point that was made by the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), I must say to the Secretary of State that I do not believe that it was his intention, by dismantling the structures in Strathclyde and Lothian in particular, to produce solutions very different from those that he might favour for the future of Scotland. But when that happens, let it be on his own head.
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde) : As many other hon. Members want to take part in the debate, I do not intend to take up much time. I want to concentrate on a number of issues that the Bill does not address at all.
What is to happen to consumer and trading standards in Strathclyde ? We have one of the best consumer groups in the country. Strathclyde's consumer and trading standards department is one of the country's largest and most effective. Last year alone, it dealt with more than 250,000 inquiries. How will the new authorities maintain this capability ? The size of the Strathclyde region provides economies of scale that give the consumer and trading standards department unparalleled clout as a consumer watchdog. Without the benefits of size and the corresponding strategic role, it is unlikely that the department's success will be maintained by 12 smaller authorities. Last year, the department helped consumers to recover almost £2 million from unscrupulous traders.
There are 15 money advice centres throughout the region. These provide advice and support for people struggling with debt. The department deals with £1 million of consumer debt each year. Its specialist car fraud unit is unique. That unit is currently investigating 1,300 cases involving alleged car clockers, thereby ensuring value for car buyers, as well as protection for legitimate second-hand
Column 249car dealers. It is estimated that such fraud costs Strathclyde consumers more than £10 million a year. What is to happen in that area ?
Blindcraft--the largest sheltered workshop in Europe--employs 134 blind and disabled people, as well as 87 support staff, and has an annual turnover approaching £4 million. Let us bear in mind what was done to the disabled last week. Once again, that lot opposite will bin them right on to the dole. Strathclyde region gives Blindcraft a subsidy of £1.8 million a year, without which the factory could not survive. In addition, the region is the biggest purchaser of Blindcraft merchandise, buying £2.6 million-worth--more than 50 per cent. of the factory's products-- every year. How will Blindcraft survive if Strathclyde goes ?
Another vital area that the Bill ignores--one about which I am concerned-- is the work of the regional chemist, who is responsible for analysing food, water, consumer products, sewage and industrial waste and for examining other environmental situations. It would be very difficult to split the regional chemist's functions into 12 parts. The specialist equipment and experience could not be supported by smaller authorities. Strathclyde's laboratory--purpose-built recently at a cost of £4 million--is one of only four such laboratories in Scotland, and it is twice as large as all the others combined. On average, the department tests 75,000 samples a year. Apart from the analytical work, a team of trained scientists is on standby to deal with chemical and related emergency incidents. It is estimated that it would cost the 12 smaller authorities an extra £8 million to maintain the current level of service.
Like almost all other Opposition Members, I believe that the Government have got it wrong. What is being done is vindictive. It is disgraceful to dismantle a system that has been working. I am convinced that the smaller authorities will not be able to deliver services of the excellence that has been known in Scotland. It is a disgrace that one of the most successful authorities ever seen in Britain--the one in Strathclyde--is being dismantled. Other hon. Members will be able to speak with authority about the areas that they represent. The one about which I am most concerned is Strathclyde, on whose authority I served with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson). There, I was aware of the provision of excellent services and of the commitment not just of councillors but of officers.
What the Government are doing will be of no help to the elderly, the unemployed, the disabled or industrial concerns. How do they think it will help the people of Scotland ? Why do they think we need it ? I do not know, and I do not believe that the Government have the answer. Perhaps the number of Tory supporters in work will be increased. Quangos will be stuffed with Tory failed business men making a few bucks at the expense of the many people thrown on to the dole. It is quite clear that, as a result of this measure, many local authority workers will lose their jobs, even though the services that they have been providing will continue to be needed.
We have heard a great deal about water. In this respect, the people of Scotland overwhelmingly reject what the Government are doing. There is no question about that. The Strathclyde referendum should have been a warning to the Government to stop, listen to the people, think and review. They have not done that. They are still blundering along the road. They are still talking about quangos and about appointing placemen to try to run the water
Column 250authorities. Scotland needs investment in sewerage and in water supplies. The cash should come from central Government. This is what we pay taxes for. People expect to be able to drink clear, fresh water, and they expect sewage to be treated. They do not expect rubbish to be dumped along the road, as is happening in Britain at present.
I want to make a lighthearted but none the less sincere comment. The Secretary of State and his cohorts are the Jack and Jill of Scottish politics, especially when it comes to water :
"Jack and Jill went up the hill To fetch a pail of water ; Jack fell down and broke his crown, And Jill came tumbling after." Ministers should consider what they are giving to the people of Scotland--a crass and empty bucket. They are not providing anything to improve the quality of life or of water in Scotland. They are doing nothing to secure the delivery of services to the elderly and others badly in need or to youngsters at school. Tonight, we should be debating improvements for the people of Scotland, rather than something that will damage them.
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) : When my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Davidson) mentioned English Members we were joined by a few. I thought that they were taking an interest in local government, but it is obvious from their chatter that the Tea Room is full and that they cannot find anywhere else to carry on their conversations. If the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) were to listen, he might find out something about the idiocy that the Government are trying to perpetrate in Scotland and might bring it to the attention of people in the Lancashire constituency that he currently represents.
I should like to make one positive comment before dealing with the substance of the Bill. It is gratifying that the Secretary of State amended schedule 13 to include the provisions of section 71 of the Race Relations Act 1976 to cover the quangos and other bodies that are being set up. It seems that people of all races in Scotland are to be equally abused by the Bill, without discrimination. I do not mind ideology. But I have heard some distasteful Tory speeches tonight based on distortion. Those distortions will not sit well with the people of Scotland, who know that they are distortions. The Bill's main problem is that it is like an idiot's plan for local government. If one gave a child with no learning ability a set of building blocks on local government and asked him to put it together he might come up with something similar to what the Government have come up with. The Bill is a dislocated series of errors based on prejudices and boundary readjustments to suit the Tory party. It is a dog's breakfast--to use a good Scots phrase--but no dog would swallow it and nor will the people of Scotland.
We were told by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) that political advisers were involved in putting the Bill together. The Government should check whether those advisers were on their side, because the Bill is one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation for the Conservative party. The regional elections were only the beginning of the demise of the Tory party based on that piece of Government stupidity.
Column 251The Bill is like a jigsaw puzzle that someone buys at a car boot sale, only to find, on opening the box, that half the pieces are missing. We do not know what is to happen to special education or the concessionary fares system. We do not know where the water boards will get their money. We have heard hints that the £3 billion allocated over 15 years from the public sector borrowing requirement may be withdrawn. That should worry people as they do not know how much in water and sewerage charges will have to be paid by the consumer for capital works. We do not know how the joint boards and the loyalties of those who sit on them will work out. We do not know whether people will receive fair allocations across all parts of the joint board areas. Half the pieces of the jigsaw are missing, just as half the Ministers' logic was missing during every debate of our 179 hours of Committee.
Perhaps we should be thankful. In my first speech on the Bill, I said to the Government that if I wanted to be partisan I would encourage them to go ahead with the proposals, which would be disastrous for them. If the Government do not think that the regional council elections showed that I and other hon. Members who said similar things were correct, they must be living in a different political world from mine. Perhaps we should thank the Government for sacrificing their majority on the altar of their ideology. If the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) were a symbol of what the Government meant, he would symbolise a Spartan end, with Conservative Members standing until they were slaughtered one by one. We know that the Secretary of State will not be a Spartan ; he will sneak off down south to join his friends in the Conservative party in England whom he is currently serving. I remember the glory days when he said what he would do for the revival of the Conservative party in Scotland. All I say to him is, "Keep it up Ian, keep it up." The problem is that the people of Scotland will suffer because of the Government's ideology. They will suffer because the weak will not be cared for as local authorities care for them at present. The authorities will have to try to make up the resources as they will have lost between £365 million and £720 million because of this stupid exercise. The Secretary of State, Ministers and advisers were unable to answer the accusation of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy about the cost of this stupid Bill. The most needy people--those in community care who are already suffering--will be cast out of national health service hospitals into private hospitals and nursing homes. Only the local authorities will stand between them and dire poverty. They will suffer, as will those young people who had a quality future ahead of them, which had been worked for by the regional authorities. They will find themselves in small authorities without resources. The quality of the future of those young people will be much reduced.
The people of Scotland will make the Conservative party pay dearly for the proposals--not the Conservative party in England. I do not mind the fact that the hon. Members for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson) and for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) are not present now, as they were in Committee. It was not the Conservatives from England who kept the Government's majority. As the majority of the Committee was reduced to one, it would have taken only one hon. Member--the hon. Member for Tayside,
Column 252North (Mr. Walker)--to be honest with his conscience and stand with the people of Scotland instead of the Government. It would have taken the hon. Members for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), for Aberdeen, South or for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch)--just one of those Conservative Scottish Members--to cross the Floor. I do not believe the blandishments of the Scottish National party that it was the English who kept the majority
If just one of the Conservative Scottish Members had crossed the Floor, it would have given the people of Scotland the chance to break this poisoned chalice. Instead, those hon. Members forced the people of Scotland to drink from it. As a result, those hon. Members will lose their seats.
Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East) : I shall be brief--I have to be as there are just five minutes remaining before the Front-Bench spokesmen start their speeches. In the short time available, I want to congratulate the Secretary of State for Scotland, not on anything that he has said today or done in relation to the Bill but on the fact that last Saturday he had the rare privilege of presenting the Scottish cup to Dundee United when the club won it for the first time in its history, in a magnificent victory over Glasgow Rangers.When the official party was presented to the teams before the kick-off, the Secretary of State had the rare distinction of being booed more loudly by the crowd than Mr. Jim Farry of the Scottish Football Association. Anyone who is booed by a Hampden crown more loudly than Jim Farry is in serious trouble. Hampden had not seen anything like it since Baroness Thatcher came to present the cup at the height of the poll tax fiasco.
The Government should take on board the fact that the argument does not just take place inside the Chamber : it rages back in Scotland. The arrogance that they have shown to the Scottish people time and again results in booing and in the sort of treatment that they receive every time they show their face north of the border. The message for the Conservative Members is that Scotland does not want them--people in Scotland have had enough of them over the past 15 to 16 years. Everyone in Scotland looks forward to the day when we can have a Tory-free Scotland, with a Scottish Parliament and self-determination for our own country.
The Secretary of State's speech was amusing in those parts where he did not intend it to be. One of his funniest lines was when he said that the Bill had caused many problems--of course, it has. First, it caused the collapse of Tory support in the opinion polls in Scotland once Scottish people realised what the Bill was about. The Strathclyde water referendum created problems for the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who found that 90 per cent. of their own constituents were opposed to what the Tory party was proposing in the Bill.
In the local government elections on 5 May, the Tories were pushed not into fourth place in Scottish politics but into fifth place--behind the independents mentioned by the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch). They were beaten by the Communists in Fife. Communist
Column 253candidates have a better chance of being elected in Scotland than Tory candidates. I have been a great supporter of the tradition in Fife of electing Communist councillors as I think that they have done a marvellous job on Fife regional council.
The Secretary of State said that he had started out three years ago on a quest to achieve what he called all-purpose local authorities. Who on earth can believe the nonsense that what are being created north of the border are all-purpose authorities ? Water and sewerage--one of the main services for which local government is responsible--is being taken away from local authorities in Scotland. No single-tier authority anywhere in Scotland will control the police and fire services--the joint boards will do that. Dundee will not be able to determine the level of policing in Dundee because it will be determined by the majority in Perth, Kinross and Angus, who will decide where the resources are to go within the joint board in Tayside. The same is true for all the social and education services, which will have to be provided by joint committees. The Bill is not creating all-purpose local authorities ; the purpose of the Bill is to strip local authorities of their current powers. Everyone in Scotland understands that only too well.
The Minister said that a number of principles underlined the national boundary decisions and the shape of the new single-tier councils in Scotland. The principle that underlined the new boundaries was gerrymandering, which we have seen in other parts of the United Kingdom. In Westminster council--in this very district--the Tory council drove out council tenants and the homeless in order to make way for the well-heeled and better-off Tory voters to take over their accommodation in Westminster. The strategy was targeted at the marginal areas to ensure that the Tories hung on to power in Westminster--the same is happening in Scotland.
I joined Tayside regional council in 1984 when it was the jewel in the Tory crown in Scotland, and 28 of the 46 seats were safely in Tory hands. It was unthinkable that Tayside region should ever drop out of control of the Tory party. I spoke only two weeks ago to John Riddle-Webster, an ex-councillor from Tayside, who first stood for election in 1986. He said that the Tories in Tayside were discussing the forthcoming local election and it never entered their heads that they could possibly lose control of Tayside. He said that they were deciding who would deal with what convenorship once the election was safely out of the way. A Labour administration was elected to Tayside regional council in 1986 and again in 1990. More recently, it elected an SNP administration. The Tories have been reduced to just four seats on what was once the best Tory council in Scotland. Will the Conservative party realise for once that what the Opposition say about the iniquities in the Bill is not just rhetoric. Nobody in Scotland wants the Bill--not even the Tory party in Scotland ; the Westminster party does not represent its friends north of the border. The real Tories in Scotland do not want this nonsense ; nobody in Scotland wants it and that is why everyone in the House should vote against it.
Mr. Henry McLeish (Fife, Central) : Some interesting parallels can be drawn from the debate. On the Government Benches we see a party heading for defeat, oblivion and opposition. My colleagues are quite buoyed
Column 254by the experiences of Committee, Report and Third Reading. The Bill simply will not survive in any particular form in the months and years that lie ahead. We look forward with enthusiasm when we come into Government to dealing with the residual effects of this particularly nasty measure.
It is important to nail some of the smears and distortions thrown around tonight about Strathclyde by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie). It is unforgivable that when the Prime Minister, in that half-baked speech at conference described Strathclyde as a monstrosity, he gave a lead to all Conservatives, whether in the House or in Scotland, to decry that public authority on every occasion.
Mention has been made of the Halcrow report on Strathclyde water. The report was favourable to Strathclyde and stated that Strathclyde could stand examination with any water authority in England or Wales and, more to the point, supply water at half the cost.
Let us also nail another smear tonight--that Strathclyde tried to suppress the report. It was quite disgraceful that on the radio this morning the Under-Secretary should make the same smear. It is simply not true that Strathclyde suppressed the report. There was a press conference and it was available to all concerned. We should have some humility from the hon. Member for Ayr, who made that bitter and ill-informed remark.
Mr. McLeish : No. The hon. Gentleman had enough time to smear Strathclyde and does not deserve the opportunity to speak again. It is also interesting that the Secretary of State for Scotland has now divorced himself completely from the reality of Scottish politics. We can debate whether that is because he is preparing to move to a more lucrative position in the Tory party down south, but it is clear that the Secretary of State distanced himself from the Committee and then wanted very little to do with the Bill when it was being debated in Scotland. It is quite clear to us all that the Secretary of State has run out of enthusiasm for this particularly pernicious piece of legislation.
It is also important to say that the Secretary of State has tried to pretend to the Scottish people that the Bill is all about all-purpose authorities. When we heard that Clackmannan district council, with 47,000 people, is to become one of the new unitary authorities it became clear that the Bill had moved from all-purpose to no-purpose authorities. It is simply disgraceful to ask a council with so few people to do so much on behalf of the electors it wishes to serve. That underlines the fact that the Opposition have always been right to say that the Bill is about gerrymandering and boundaries with no regard whatsoever to the services that are being provided.
There are also some other considerations worth repeating as the Bill ends its Third Reading. There remains no consensus for the measure. The Government may argue that there is, but in Scotland there is not. There has been no commission. The Government have been unwilling to appoint one because they lack the guts to test their crazy policies against any objective criteria. We have had no constitutional change. We shall deliver a Scottish Parliament. That will be the context within which we shall seriously examine services in Scotland and the people who deliver them.