Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Welsh: The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) will not be there.

Mr. Brady: I did not mean to suggest that particular individuals in the Chamber may be participants in such exchanges in the Scottish Parliament.

Mr. Salmond: Apparently the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty) will not be going to the Scottish Parliament because he did not wear a tie for his interview in the Labour party and was turned down.

Mr. Brady rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) pleaded with others to keep within the terms of the motion but he is now outwith its terms.

16 Jun 1998 : Column 225

Mr. Brady: It is welcome and important that the Labour party is at least prepared to set some standards in some things, if not in local government. I may actually welcome that, although I am sure it is a great loss to the local Scottish Parliament that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East will not be represented there.

The hon. Gentleman defended the payment to a lollipop man of £17,000 a year. I would not wish to comment on that. I notice that he did not bother to defend the record of a plumber earning £54,000 a year. Perhaps he thought that there was nothing exceptional in that and that it was a typical income for someone in that profession. That may be true.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Ms Osborne) referred properly to the many very good councillors. A number of hon. Members have referred to the many people who have given sterling service--no pun intended, and no credit intended to the Stirling local authority--to local authorities and to the people in Scotland, as in the rest of the country, over a number of years. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that.

It is unfortunate that, whenever parties, hon. Members or people outside the House draw attention to the bad behaviour of a few people in public life, the reputations of others are tarnished, but that does not detract from the fact that it is essential to apply proper scrutiny to what is happening in local government in Scotland. It would be wrong to avoid debating subjects because they might detract from the good work that people do.

The Secretary of State made a gracious speech, and fully and frankly admitted that something must be done about the state of local government in Scotland. He is absolutely right, but he did not go nearly far enough in his analysis of the problem or in examining ways in which it should be addressed. Uncomfortable as it may be, Labour Members must accept that their party, not the structures of local government or the systems with which they may want to tinker, is, in many ways, at the root of the problem.

The new charge that the Secretary of State levelled at Scottish local authorities was most interesting. He suggested that they had systematically flouted the law on compulsory competitive tendering over a number of years--something that many of us had suspected at many junctures. It was interesting that he emphasised that, and appeared to admit and accept it.

The debate brought from my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) an appalling litany of incompetence and corruption on the part of many local authorities in Scotland and many councillors. We have heard about the situation in North Lanarkshire at length, and I shall not dwell on the more ludicrous examples of conduct there. It was not brought out, however, that council employees owe more than £1 million in council tax. The appalling incompetence of a council that allows its employees to be in such a position beggars belief.

We have heard that two Labour councillors in East Ayrshire threatened a council officer with the sack if he did not use his allowance or expenses to buy them drinks. The hon. Member for Ayr, rather disingenuously, suggested that that is comparable to hon. Members occasionally accepting free drinks or meals from outside bodies. I should imagine that all of us present in the Chamber have declined superficially attractive engagements involving free drinks or a meal, and had a

16 Jun 1998 : Column 226

much more enjoyable and fulfilling time than we would have done had we succumbed to those temptations. What has happened has nothing in common with someone from outside the House offering hospitality to a Member of Parliament or to a councillor. The onus would be on such an hon. Member or councillor not to be influenced in any way by hospitality, but accepting such hospitality is simply not comparable to the rather disgraceful allegations that have been laid against those councillors. They abused their position in the most appalling way and, what is more, placed council officers--their employees--in a terrible position.

We all know of the votes for trips allegations in Glasgow. I understand that not a council employee but a councillor owes £3,748 in council tax arrears. That is another disgraceful disregard for office. Another Glasgow councillor, who is, I understand, in receipt of £40,000 a year of taxpayers' money through various allowances and urban development work, has bought a new house, but has not repaid £1,300 of rent arrears on a council house.

Mr. Dalyell: Will the hon. Gentleman name the councillor to whom he is referring?

Mr. Brady: I am relying on press reports. I cannot name the councillor.

Mr. Dalyell: It is all very well to rely on press reports, but I know to whom the hon. Gentleman is referring. It is a poor press report that does not give the full story, if the right person has been identified. Members of the House of Commons should not make unspecified allegations about individuals of whom they know nothing.

Mr. Brady: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. If the press reports are inaccurate, I apologise unreservedly to the individual concerned.

Mr. Hayes: Before my hon. Friend continues his combination of a sermon and a travelogue, will he consider this point? The litany of misdeeds that he describes is part of a local government culture that is peculiar to parts of Scotland. It will damage the good name of local government in Scotland and, as a consequence, people will become disillusioned with the democratic process. The serious issue is not the individual cases, but the effect that they have on Scottish Labour local government culture.

Mr. Brady: I thank my hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. That is the point. If the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) knows that press reports have been misleading, he is right to correct any false impression. That does not alter the fact that the sheer volume and weight of the allegations in all parts of the Scotland that have appeared in the press for some time and that are frequently subject to investigation show a picture of incompetence and corruption. Given the large number of allegations, it would be reprehensible of us not to draw attention to them.

In East Dunbartonshire, even Unison has attacked councillors as fat cats and suggested that they pay themselves too much money. The picture is one of arrogance and disdain in far too many parts of Scotland.

16 Jun 1998 : Column 227

There is disdain for the public and for democracy. The Secretary of State was right to refer to a culture of complacency. It would be wrong to contemplate further relaxation of the ban on political office for senior employees, as the hon. Member for Falkirk, East suggested. One of the causes of this difficulty is the blurring of the distinction between councillors and officers: between public office and the services that councils control. The background to compulsory competitive tendering and the fact that some services did not go out of council control was unfortunate: it might have lessened the problem if they had.

What has happened in Scotland is unfortunately reminiscent of what happened in other parts of the country over many years. I shall not dwell on the loony left in London, because you would rightly call me to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an old Labour story of municipal sleaze. It occurs in many places. I am sympathetic to the many Labour Members who are properly ashamed of the bad conduct of members of their party.

When one party is in control of a local authority, often with insufficient opposition from other parties--in effect, a one-party state--it can lead to abuse. We have seen that happen in many of the great cities of the north. Labour control of Liverpool has recently ended. Sadly, the electors in Liverpool moved only to the first stage: it is now under Liberal Democrat control, and it will not return to its former greatness until it is once again under Conservative control.

In my city of Manchester, we are wary of what has happened in Scotland. Manchester city council wants to expand its boundaries to include parts of my constituency. My constituents tremble with fear at the prospect of being subsumed by the kind of one-party state that we see in local government in Scotland.

Labour has had too much power for too long in too many town halls in Scotland. The only hope for democracy lies with the Scottish people. They can reduce the dominance of Labour in Scottish local government. That will happen over time. The only thing that concerns me greatly is that they may turn to the Scottish National party to remove Labour from office, as it seems they intend to do for the Scottish Parliament. That will give the impression that they want full independence for Scotland, and I hope and believe that that is a false impression. The only answer is for them to turn to other parties in Scotland that do believe in the Union. I firmly hope and believe that they will begin to return to the Conservative cause, which will start to redress some of the difficulties and imbalances that we have debated this evening.

Next Section

IndexHome Page