Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): If the hon. Gentleman's research for his speech had gone slightly further than press reports, he would have realised that East Ayrshire council instigated an investigation into the financial management of the DLO in November. It is hardly surprising that a response to a request by Mr. Tierney in December was of little consequence.

Dr. Fox: The exact timing of an investigation is not the point. The point is the culture that exists within that council, which is obviously permeating all levels of management in the council and blurring the distinction between the duties of councillors and the duties of officials of the council.

Perhaps the best-publicised recent example has been that of Glasgow. Glasgow city council has for years been rocked by allegations of Labour councillors trading votes for trips and of bitter factionalism between the Labour power groups. The votes-for-trips allegations spurred the Labour party into action that was billed as

16 Jun 1998 : Column 198

one of the many attempts to clean up the city. Scottish newspapers were full of stories about sleazebusters coming in to clean it up and about hit squads but, of course, nothing ever seems to happen. Like many other investigations, this one showed that the Labour party's actions failed to live up to its rhetoric.

The Labour party in Scotland confidently predicted that the very public suspension of and disciplinary procedures begun against its councillors in Glasgow would be an example to elected representatives everywhere, but today disciplinary action remains completely stalled in legal uncertainty. However, those are by no means the only problems facing Labour in Glasgow.

In February 1998, it was revealed that David Moxham, a Glasgow city councillor, owed £3,748 in unpaid council tax dating back to 1993. Because of those arrears, he is legally barred from voting on any financial matter. The council and the Scottish Labour party have constantly argued about who is responsible for any disciplinary hearing. The Scotsman revealed on 25 November that another Glasgow Labour councillor and her husband who are at the centre of a political storm had moved into a £55,000 private home after leaving behind rent arrears of nearly £1,300 on a council flat, while raking in almost £40,000 of public money in the form of council allowances and urban aid-funded jobs. What is going on? Where is the discipline? Where is the clean-up that was promised time and again?

Furthermore, the stories of Glasgow's wasteful expenditure are legendary. In 1997, when Glasgow was cutting key public services, it managed to find the funds to send some councillors on the following foreign trips: Rostov-on-Don for the Rostov city days event; St. Petersburg for a symposium on cultural policy in Europe; Rome for an international rose exhibition; and Hong Kong for a meeting of the International Badminton Federation. I am sure that all those trips were welcome for those involved, but difficult for a party that was having to cut essential public services. The council also found£810,000 in the same year to run its fleet of 28 luxury cars. Something is rotten there and it is time that we got to the bottom of it.

Renfrewshire demonstrates par excellence why Labour cannot be trusted in local government in Scotland. As my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition pointed out at Prime Minister's Question Time recently, a senior police officer has said that if that council's chamber were a pub, it would have to be closed down for public order offences, so often have the police had to be called.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Will the hon. Gentleman go further and tell the truth? Every time that the police have been called, it has been to eject the Scottish National party members, who parade on the top of the tables, abuse council officials and disrupt proceedings until they are thrown out by the police. The problem is caused not by the Labour party, but by the SNP.

Dr. Fox: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for lobbing a grenade into the debate, which will no doubt go off later. It is a strange defence to say that there is a party that behaves even worse than Labour in local government. It is hardly a defence for Labour's conduct in that council.

The most serious issue in Renfrewshire is the Ferguslie Community Business security company, about which many questions remain unanswered. I hope that the

16 Jun 1998 : Column 199

Secretary of State will tell us some facts about it. The report in The Daily Telegraph of 16 August last year--which was not challenged--says that more than£320,000 is believed to have disappeared from two of the firms in the now defunct FCB, which, as most hon. Members know, was allegedly used to launder drug money. Some £321,500 was supposed to have been used to pay casual workers who apparently never existed, according to a leaked report by the FCB's liquidator, Colin Hastings. Are there ghost workers in Paisley, or is there something more sinister?

The FCB security company was set up in 1987 with almost £200,000 of public money from the Scottish Office, the former Strathclyde region and Renfrewshire district council. It is well known that local Labour activists were heavily involved in the company. We have never got to the bottom of what went wrong with the FCB. It is a serious matter that would not have been brought to public attention without the courageous stand taken by the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams), who is not in her place at the moment. We all applaud her courage.

Is it not slightly--no, perhaps I am being cynical and should not say it. Is it not surprising that on the day that the Government are dragged kicking and screaming to the House to give an account of their stewardship of Scottish local government, we finally hear the decision on the suspension of the hon. Member for Renfrew--the hon. Member for Greenock? Perhaps we shall be told the truth. The Labour party has taken 10 months, with two investigations carried out by two different teams, to come to today's stunning conclusion that there should be another Labour party inquiry.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) is often in his place in front of me and certainly has not been suspended for 10 months.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Dr. Fox: I am grateful for the opportunity to check the constituency of the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham).

When will we be told the truth about the issue?

Mr. Malcolm Savidge (Aberdeen, North): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Am I correct in believing that it is usual that if one hon. Member is going to attack another by name, they should inform him beforehand? Has the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) done so?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: It is normal in the House if one hon. Member is going to mention another hon. Member that he informs him beforehand.

Dr. Fox: I accept that I should have written to the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire. If he is ever available in the House to pick up his mail, I am sure that he will get that letter.

The debate is important, because local government will play a central role in the new constitutional relationship in Scotland. If Labour fails to take clear, decisive and public action, Scottish voters will assume that Labour in

16 Jun 1998 : Column 200

a Scottish Parliament will merely be an extension of Labour's rotten boroughs in local government in the west of Scotland. The Secretary of State must take all the necessary action, not just some of it. The Prime Minister must take responsibility for his party. Sadly, the Secretary of State responds too lamely and too late. The Labour party treats Scotland as its private fiefdom and the Prime Minister treats the Scottish Labour party with disdain, putting as much space as possible between him and it. We need no more words, no more promises and no more time wasting. Labour is the problem, so Labour cannot be the solution. Someone must clean up the act and Scotland will demand that that starts tonight.

7.35 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I must start by congratulating the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox)--I shall not say reluctantly, because that would be discourteous to him and to the House--not on his speech, but on his appointment to the Front Bench. We can all safely assume that he is the first representative of Woodspring to hold the position of Opposition chief spokesman on Scottish affairs. I am afraid that I am coming to the conclusion that the view from Woodspring is a little distorted. There may be a plea of mitigation, given the distance, but the situation is unfortunate.

The hon. Gentleman has obviously read a lot of newspapers. I am not complaining about that--Opposition spokesmen read newspapers. However, when making such serious charges, it is important that he should go beyond press cuttings. He referred to legendary stories. Some of the stories that he mentioned are legendary--they are not well founded in reality. I accept that the Opposition will make what political points they can, but, having read his charge sheet, I am disappointed at the lack of a single constructive suggestion. He did not discuss the future of local government or consider the realities of any of the problems. I regret that, because I would have been interested in something more than simple political knockabout.

I accept that serious issues have arisen recently. The debate should be taken seriously by all those participating and spectating. For good reasons, I cannot comment on the security company in Ferguslie Park. The hon. Gentleman must know that the issue has properly been in the hands of the police for some time for investigation. We do not know the outcome of the investigation, and it would be improper of me to speculate, but I assure him that the proper authorities will act if evidence of wrongdoing emerges from the inquiry.

What matters in local government is what works. I accept that there is clear evidence of some difficulties in local government in Scotland. Those difficulties must be addressed. The Government will not tolerate failure and inefficiency in local government, and will act swiftly--as we have done--to deal with such cases. There is a need for change in Scottish local government. I want to say something a little more constructive about that later. We have acted, and will act, on impropriety and the falling away of proper standards, as well as on the agenda for change.

16 Jun 1998 : Column 201

The only precise question that the hon. Gentleman asked was when I first knew about the difficulties in North Lanarkshire. It was on 27 May. If he follows the chronology carefully from there, he will see that we have acted with speed and decision. If there have been any longueurs, it is because of the strictures of statute.

We have proceeded under the provisions of the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 and the Local Government Act 1988. First we had to tell the East Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire councils that they had a specified period--in this case three weeks--in which to offer an explanation and give full information about their direct labour organisations. That was done. I assure the hon. Gentleman that, when we have that and the other information that we require, we shall take what we regard as suitable and--I hope--appropriate action.

Next Section

IndexHome Page