Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. No hon. Member should be associated with any type of sleaze. I hope that the hon. Lady was not making any particular comment about the hon. Member for West Renfrewshire (Mr. Graham). Whether or not the hon. Gentleman is absent, the hon. Lady should not make such a comment.

Mrs. Laing: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for clarifying what I was saying. I make absolutely no allegation against any particular hon. Member. I am talking about the culture of the Labour party in the west of Scotland, not about any particular person.

The Secretary of State was very swift this evening to blame the newspapers for spreading stories, but I did not have to read the newspapers--I heard directly how often the police have been called to meetings of Renfrewshire district council. Everyone in the area knows it. The Secretary of State knows that many of the reports in the newspapers are factually absolutely correct.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Laing: I beg the hon. Lady's pardon, but I cannot give way because of the lack of time.

Mrs. Adams rose--

Mrs. Laing: Oh, very well. I give way briefly to the hon. Lady as she represents Paisley, North.

Mrs. Adams: The hon. Lady will be aware that when the police have been called, it has been by the Labour party with the support of the Conservatives on Renfrewshire council on account of the conduct of the Scottish National party in particular and of some independent members.

Mrs. Laing: I thank the hon. Lady, but I am aware that Conservative councillors on Renfrewshire district council have been instrumental in calling the police time and again.

The Secretary of State this evening simply swept aside many of the press reports. I shall not deal with them in detail because of the lack of time, but every hon. Member knows of the allegations concerning council officials, councillors and the people who are running the Labour party in the west of Scotland.

16 Jun 1998 : Column 232

The Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Welsh) were swift to defend direct labour organisations. I attack DLOs without reservation. They were even worse before the Conservative Government introduced compulsory competitive tendering. The reason why I condemn DLOs out of hand is that they unfairly undercut small local businesses. The Secretary of State defends the public sector. The Labour party pretends to be the party of business, but it is not. It is interested only in the public sector, certainly not in small businesses in the west of Scotland.

Examination of local government in Scotland provides a tragic vision of what might happen in the future. It does not augur well for the new Scottish Parliament. I wonder whether Labour Members are aware that American companies planning to invest in Scotland are now taking out political risk insurance--that is how much confidence the Labour party inspires in the very people it wants to attract to improve the Scottish economy.

The point of the debate is what we have learnt not about individuals but about the Labour party itself, and not only in Scotland. Its leadership, the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have been careful to distance themselves from their party's activists. They are so concerned with their image that they want to cast aside the facts. What we have learnt tonight is not about old Labour or new Labour, but about real Labour. The people of Scotland should beware of real Labour.

9.34 pm

Mr. Desmond Browne (Kilmarnock and Loudoun): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for giving up the opportunity to speak, to allow me a few minutes. I have a particular interest in the debate, because my constituency is wholly within the borders of East Ayrshire council. I share the concerns of all hon. Members about the serious deficit that my council has had to report in the accounts of the direct labour organisation. The figures reveal unacceptable management failure and inefficiency. That view is shared by the leader of the council and all its elected members, including the administration and the opposition.

To prevent the House from relying on recycled press releases, misquoted and sometimes partially quoted by the hon. Members for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), I had intended to go into the history of the deficits at some length and explain the actions of the council and the councillors. I do not have time to do so, but I am sure that the House will accept that I have investigated the issues as far as I can, subject to the Accounts Commission's investigation, and am satisfied that we are not dealing with a story of sleaze, corruption or the abuse of a one-party state. It is a story of elected members who do a difficult job. In November last year, they realised for the first time that there were problems, and have organised and instructed proper investigations, which have revealed the deficits.

The council leadership and chief executive have explained their decisions fully to the opposition Scottish National party councillors and have taken them with them. At no stage during the investigation has any opposition member on the council been kept in the dark about what was going on. Importantly, no opposition member has expressed any view contrary to the decisions of the administration.

16 Jun 1998 : Column 233

The council prides itself on openness and accountability. To my understanding, it was the only council in Scotland to take its budgets out to public consultation in public meetings. I see some of my hon. Friends shaking their heads, so it may not be the only council, but it was certainly one of the first to do so. As soon as the extent of the problems came to light, the leader of the council issued a press release. I shall quote from it to show the responsibility that the council has taken for the issue. He said:

The leader of the council has since said publicly that if he is criticised, he will consider his position and act accordingly. He is a man of integrity. Finding themselves in a difficult position, East Ayrshire councillors have taken steps from day one to clear up the mess, inefficiency and mismanagement. They will accept the political responsibility required of their office. I commend their integrity to all hon. Members.

Mr. Dalyell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Could it be put on the record that several hon. Members would have wished to speak, so that anyone reading the debate will not draw the conclusion that there was a lack of interest? In no way do I criticise the choice of speakers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair. Those who were not called will be remembered on a future occasion.

9.39 pm

Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I share the misery of many colleagues on both sides of the House at the fact that the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) was unable to speak in the debate. He always has an interesting contribution to make.

Given what might be the somewhat sore and battered nerves of Labour Members, I shall begin by warming the cockles of their hearts. There is a very beautiful kind of old rose which grows in many parts of the kingdom and goes by the name of New Dawn. At the election, many millions of our fellow countrymen thought, rightly or wrongly, that they would see a new dawn from the Labour rose. They were told by no less a figure than the Prime Minister in various utterances, and in the manifesto, that the Labour Government would be committed to open government, cleaning up politics and improving local government. Those claims were repeated and repeated. If those claims were real, they should clearly apply in every part of the kingdom--in Scotland and in Scottish local government. [Hon. Members: "And in Westminster."] Indeed, in Westminster as well.

In this debate, various very serious allegations have been raised about the conduct of local government in Scotland from every point of view. They have been raised from the point of view of financial mismanagement--admitted in great part by the Secretary of State--of

16 Jun 1998 : Column 234

corruption, of cronyism and favouritism, and of the way in which the culture of local government, particularly Labour local government in Scotland, works. The accusations may be true or false; they may be partly true or partly false.

Labour Members spent time explaining that the allegations were very restricted. They tried to minimise the scope of the allegations, saying that only one or two councils are affected. I have no doubt that some were telling the absolute truth when they explained that there are many excellent councillors--Labour councillors and others--in Scottish local government who are doing good work, and that many councils are doing good work. Labour Members did not answer the allegations point by point; they merely sought to minimise them.

The Secretary of State took a different tack. He made a most interesting and, as always, a very eloquent speech. He posed as the magisterial figure, who has nothing to do with the mere squabbles of party politics. In all his awesome grandeur, he is to descend on the councils as an independent arbiter. He is to set matters right by putting in some accountants, and then by changing--or, at any rate, considering changing--structures.

The accusations that have been raised by my hon. Friends and members of other parties are not trivial. They are serious accusations, which, if they were true, nobody could claim would not warrant serious investigation and remedying. In fact, I think that the Secretary of State admits as much.

If this is the Government who are committed to open government, cleaning up politics and improving local government, is it so very much to ask them to conduct a full and open independent public inquiry into the allegations to discover how far the multitude of press reports is true, partly true or false? How can a party that proclaimed to the British public that it sought openness, purity and reform of local government not commission such an inquiry in the face of such a welter of accusations?

Next Section

IndexHome Page