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Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, as local government is a devolved matter under the Bill, there is nothing in it to preclude a Scottish Parliament from investigating local authorities that are suspected of corruption? Irrespective of which party forms the Administration, I am sure that the new Parliament will be quick to do that.

Dr. Godman: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair intervention. Of course his party will not command a majority in the new Parliament. It will be up to Members of the Scottish Parliament to engage in negotiations with representatives of local authorities to develop some kind of system to tackle corruption in councils. That applies to all parties, although Scottish councils are not led by Conservatives and perhaps never will be unless there is some system of proportional representation for local government. Even then Conservative control is unlikely. It is right to seek to drive corruption, cronyism and nepotism from our councils. That applies to Conservative councils here in the deep south, where the Westminster scandal is still fresh in our minds, as much as it applies to the occasional Labour councillor who goes adrift.

The hon. Member for Woodspring spoke about Paisley, but I could not figure out what he was talking about. He referred to the late Gordon McMaster, who was an hon. Member and a good friend of mine. He was utterly innocent of any charge, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would concede. He also referred to a neighbouring constituency but he made little reference to the council whose headquarters are in Paisley and whose meetings were recently described rather graphically by a senior police officer as somewhat lively--livelier than some Paisley pubs on a Saturday night. I place the blame for that unbecoming conduct fairly and squarely on the Scottish National party. It has nothing to do with Labour, with Councillor Hugh Henry and the fine people who sit behind him, but the independents and some of the SNP councillors leave a little to be desired.

Dr. Fox: The belief that everybody but members of the Labour party is responsible for the problems in local government in Paisley leaves a credibility gap. The hon.

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Gentleman described the new clause as deplorable. It seeks only to give to Scotland the same power of scrutiny as is held by the Audit Commission in England. Why should the people of Scotland have less power than people in England to scrutinise local government?

4.45 pm

Dr. Godman: I agree with the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan). If there are to be regulations about the authority of our Edinburgh Parliament to scrutinise and perhaps discipline errant councillors, it must be based on genuine consultation in Scotland, not consultation in this place. It must take account of consultations not just with local authorities but with community councils. They were not mentioned by the hon. Member for Woodspring. How many community councils are there in Paisley or in Inverclyde and elsewhere? Consultations should involve representatives of the Edinburgh Parliament and civic society. What about business and trade union interests and those of voluntary organisations which have to work closely with local authorities? They should all be engaged in negotiations about the formulation of such powers.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow a few moments ago when he suggested that the problems in Renfrew council related to conduct at council meetings. In fairness, the hon. Gentleman might recall FCB Securities and the allegations about the activities of council-originated companies that were made by a Labour Member. Does the hon. Gentleman concede that there is a great deal more to Renfrew politics than the conduct at a few council meetings?

Dr. Godman: I readily concede that point, which the hon. Gentleman makes in a fair-minded way. In formulating policies to help needy communities, Strathclyde regional council in some cases gave too much unfettered authority to groups that had been set up throughout the region, and problems were created. That council did a fair job of looking after people in need, especially in my constituency and in Glasgow and Paisley. However, mistakes were made, and I am perfectly happy to accept the suggestion by the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale that a Scottish Parliament, after genuine consultation with civic society, could come up with a system to regulate the conduct of councillors. The overwhelming majority of such representatives have integrity. They play a fair game and are dead straight and honourable, and they should not have the new clause imposed upon them. Such measures must come from Edinburgh.

Change is needed in our local authorities. I advocate proportional representation, and I have long argued for it. There is to be electoral reform for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland assembly--if we get the result that we all hope for in about 10 days. Local government should be based on proportional representation. This may not make me very popular with a certain councillor whom I meet occasionally, but in Glasgow we have a massive number of Labour councillors and a very small opposition. That is not right. The same holds for south of the border. The Conservative party used to have massive majorities down

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here in the deep south and that is wrong. Speaking as a democratic socialist, I believe that that is wrong. We need electoral reform.

I prefer the additional member system. That is the fairest system of proportional representation, but we should not have councils where those in power occupy 70 seats and those in opposition occupy fewer than a dozen seats. That is not right. It will not happen in our Parliament. We will even have--we may have--four or five Conservative representatives in that Parliament, if they are lucky.

Subsection (1) of the new clause states:


I might have been a little happier with it if it had said "may make provision". That has to be done by the people of Scotland and their representatives. The hon. Member for Woodspring equates this with the Audit Commission, not with Parliament. Again, that is unacceptable.

If we are going to talk about elected representatives determining these things north of the border, should we not talk about elected representatives south of the border having the same power? Again, why Scotland? Why not Northern Ireland? Why not Wales? The hon. Member for Woodspring is going to say, "Of course, we are debating the Scotland Bill," but he does not make even a passing reference to the scandals that overtook Westminster and indeed other Conservative oligarchies down here. That is why I am so opposed to the new clause.

By all means, let us have change in local government. Let us demand the highest standards of conduct from our representatives at all levels, including at the level of this multinational state Parliament, but let us not focus just on local authority representatives, with them not having any say in the sort of system that is developed.

Mr. Salmond: As usual, that was for the most part a fair-minded speech from the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman). I follow that by making a few points briefly.

I am suspicious of clauses, arguments or indeed recent proposals from the Secretary of State for Scotland saying that the solution to manifest problems in local government is to impose structures from above. I am not against having a sleaze buster or some form of administration, overseeing authority or commission--most people are not against that--but that is not the way in which we should be examining these particular problems. We should be examining democratic structures in councils, so that those are healthy and enable a vibrant democratic exchange to take place in councils where it does not take place at present.

As some hon. Members will know, I come from West Lothian. I am a Lithgae lad. I am a black bitch, which confirms the thoughts of a few Labour Members and what they think about me. Among other things, West Lothian council--I see the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in his place--has benefited from the substantial number of changes in administration that it has had over the past 20 years or so. I believe--and I am trying to be fair-minded about this, although I am not saying that I would not prefer the Scottish National party to be in administration all the time--that both Labour and the SNP have keen kept on their toes in that council because they have had a substantial opposition force, which was ready and able to take over at the next election if the electorate so decided.

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We should consider that structure and that model in examining councils throughout Scotland. That is why the reference by the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde to proportional representation is more important than this new clause, the Government's sleaze buster or any other factor. We should provide methods of ensuring a vibrant democratic opposition and a balance of forces within councils, so that some of the malpractice that we have undoubtedly seen in certain Scottish Labour councils does not become the norm rather than the exception.

It would be useful if we also examined this matterin terms of moving to full-time councillors. The Conservative party often argues that there is a risk in Scotland of people becoming overgoverned. I was looking at some figures recently. Scotland has fewer elected representatives per head of population, even allowing for the 129 who are going into the new Parliament, than any other country in western Europe. Incidentally, we have substantially fewer than England because of the new single-tier structure in Scottish local authorities. It is not a case of cutting the number of councillors in Scotland. There is a substantial case for having decent remuneration for the councillors we do have in a simple form, relying on a salary as opposed to augmented expenses.

That would be fairer and more democratic. It would allow a wider pool of people to move into Scottish local authorities and, again, would be a generic way in which to tackle these problems, instead of assuming that the solution is to prescribe and to impose from above.

I was interested to read in The Herald last week that the Labour party was appointing a sleaze finder to scrutinise--I see the Minister of State laughing--the work of the SNP throughout Scotland, so that Labour could fling some mud at the SNP, instead of all the mud being thrown at the Labour party. The SNP is by no means perfect--I would never make that claim--and no party is, but it would take a fair amount of brass neck for anyone in the Labour party hierarchy to believe that that might be a fruitful area of exchange in the run-up to the Scottish parliamentary elections. It might find that more ammunition was coming in its direction than in that of the SNP.

The serious point that I want to make is this. I hope that the debate that we conduct over the next year looks at democratic structures, instead of negative allegations between political parties. We would do the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government a substantial service if the argument about cleaning up Scottish local government in certain councils--not the majority; corruption is not the norm--concentrated far more on how to achieve vibrant, democratic structures. As we are introducing a vibrant, democratic structure for the nation, we should be thinking of introducing the same thing in local authorities throughout Scotland.


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