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Column 1415Loyden, Eddie
Marek, Dr John
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Column 1415Reid, Dr John
Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wright, Dr Tony
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Archy Kirkwood and Mr. Don Foster.
Column 1415Question accordingly agreed to.
Madam Deputy Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House commends the Government's commitment to the efficient use of energy and congratulates the Government on the action taken to encourage energy efficiency; welcomes the work being undertaken by the Department of the Environment and in particular the imaginative way in which it uses available resources in close partnership with local authorities, businesses and other organisations and individuals; deplores the proposals in the Energy Conservation Bill which would impose unnecessary burdens on public expenditure as well as on central and local government; and further considers these proposals typical of the muddled thinking of the Liberal Democrats, who supported VAT on fuel in 1990, but then changed their minds as soon as the Government introduced it.
Lords amendments considered.
Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 3, line 26, at end insert-- ("Provided that no such other council may, without the consent of the Secretary of State, decide that their convener shall be known by the title of "Lord Provost".")
Motion made, and Question proposed , That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.--[ Mr. Stewart. ]
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): You will have noticed, Madam Deputy Speaker, that in the amendment their Lordships provided that no council other those of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen may call its convener "lord provost", without the consent of the Secretary of State.
We certainly acknowledge the historic titles used in each of those important Scottish cities, but what sticks in the craw is the fact that, despite the Bill starting out with more than 150 provisions giving power to the Secretary of State, the Lords amendment would give him even more power to determine the affairs of local communities.
It is undisputed that the four cities that I mentioned have the traditional right of calling their senior civic person the lord provost--I am not sure whether there has ever been a lady provost. [Hon. Members:-- "Yes."] Yes, there has. [Interruption.] Apparently Glasgow and Edinburgh have been sufficiently enlightened to have had a lady provost. [Interruption.] There seems to be a debate on the subject. Whether there were a lord provost or a lady provost, that would not detract from the dignity of the office.
Some historical analysis is necessary. I believe that Perth has had a lord provost, who in the order of precedence in Scotland ranked after the lord provost of Edinburgh. Perth may no longer exist as a single unitary local authority, but Perth and Kinross may wish to revive that tradition. If that were to be the view of the citizens in the area of the new council, why should they not be allowed so to decide?
If the citizens decide that, but it is thought that they should not be able to make the change at their own will, it should not be a politician such as the Secretary of State for Scotland who determines whether they should be allowed to do so.
Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I am no expert on precedence, but I seem to remember that the lord provost ranked higher than the Secretary of State. Might that not be the reason why the Secretary of State is trying to limit the number of lord provosts in Scotland?
Column 1417ranked higher than the Secretary of State-- and higher than most other people, too. The Secretary of State is perhaps worried that there could be more places in Scotland where he is not the highest-ranked person.
Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr): The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Secretary of State should not make the decision because it should not be made by a politician. Politicians emerge into such positions through the democratic process. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the democratic process should not determine whether an area should have a lord provost?
Mr. Wallace: The democratic process that Liberal Democrats would like to see is one that involves people within local communities, not one that is handed up to someone who has the most doubtful democratic legitimacy within Scotland.
If it is not to be the Secretary of State, perhaps Her Majesty might be a better person to make the decision. I understand--the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) can tell me whether I am right--that Elgin laid claim to a lord provost because, on a royal visit some time during the 19th century, Queen Victoria referred to the first citizen of Elgin as lord provost. Since then, the people of Elgin have rightly thought that the title had been conferred upon them. The Bill emasculates and virtually abolishes local government in Scotland. Many people will ask who is keeping alive the strong traditions of local government and local democracy in Scotland. The amendment shows what the rest of the Bill does. The only person who will have any real power is the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North): Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, a few hours ago in the House, the Prime Minister, no less, said that the difference between having a referendum in Northern Ireland and having one in either Wales or Scotland was that the latter had a
"well-established system of local democracy and local government"?
That being so, why are the Government destroying it in this Bill?
Mr. Wallace: I understand that the Prime Minister said something similar to my local newspaper, the Press and Journal , last week, although that was a useless and inappropriate comparison in the first place.
Our local government is being emasculated. In many respects, this Lords amendment encapsulates the worst features of the Bill--the centralising, overweening power of the Secretary of State, who wants his claws on everything that would smack of local democracy--and because of that we shall divide the House.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart): I am a little taken aback that the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) wishes to divide the House on this topic. As this is my first speech this evening, it is appropriate for me to congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) on his appointment to the Opposition Front Bench. I read in the newspapers that the Opposition Whips are appointing yuppies to their office; that term does not immediately come to mind in relation to the hon.
Column 1418Gentleman. [Laughter.] It is fair to say, however, that he is respected on both sides of the House. [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."]
The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made a somewhat unexpected assault on Lords amendment No. 1, which was debated at some length in the other place. Hon. Members who served on the Committee will recall the debate on a Government amendment on the use of "chairman" or "convenor" [Interruption.] I am sorry. That was on an Opposition amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), which the Government accepted. Hon. Members may recall that the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) said during that debate that the term "chair" was not so much feminism as "furniturism".
The debate in the House of Lords was conducted on a serious topic, and we considered the topic for a considerable time over the summer recess. I reject the argument of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that somehow the amendment is an attack on local government: it is not. We believe that the Bill should not provide a complete veto for councils that might wish to use the title of lord provost. The amendment was tabled on an all-party basis, and it would be useful to the House if I spelt out in some detail precisely what it means. In effect, it places a requirement on any council- -apart from the councils of the four cities to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred--to obtain the Secretary of State's consent before calling its convenor "lord provost".
On reflection, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland may think that that is a reasonable compromise. Concerns were expressed in another place, and it was argued that other places in Scotland--the hon. Gentleman rightly referred to Perth, which is a good example, and Paisley perhaps is another- -might wish their first citizen to have the title of lord provost. It is clear, however, that it is unreasonable to expect that the title of lord provost should be held by communities at will throughout the whole of Scotland. [Interruption.] I do not believe that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), who apparently dissents from what I am saying, believes that every borough in Cunninghame, South should be entitled to have their first citizen made a lord provost. I do not think that that is a reasonable proposition. We propose a reasonable compromise.