§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The present structure of local government in Scotland—
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
On a point of order. It is customary to be able to get from the Vote Office all the information in relation to the subject of a debate in the House. I found today that there are certainly copies of the Bill there but no copies of the White Paper or the map in connection with this Bill. It would be helpful if hon. Members could get this information from the Vote Office. It was published some considerable time ago, but we cannot go up and down to Scotland like pack mules always carrying all these papers with us. I suggest, Mr. Speaker, that it would be helpful if we could have this necessary information, which would make the debate more meaningful, made available between now and the time the right hon. Gentleman finishes his speech. I apologise to him for interrupting him.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. James Prior)
I have noted what the hon. Member said, and I apologise to him if he has not found the papers available. My right hon. Friend tells me that he gave orders that the papers should be available, and I am now having the matter checked. I hope that by the time my right hon. Friend has concluded his speech any omission will have been put right.
§ Mr. Campbell
I can tell the hon. Member that I looked into this matter and made arrangements for the papers to be available. I am sorry if they were not immediately available where he looked for them.
As I was saying, the present structure of local government in Scotland has existed, with minor modifications, since it was established in 1929, but many 910 other things have changed since then and the patterns of modern life are very different from those which existed over 40 years ago, with all the social and economic developments and technological innovations which have taken place. We now have the task of bringing the system of local government up to date to enable it to cope with the demands expected in the years ahead.
For almost 10 years now reform of local government has been under investigation in Scotland, and since this Government took office we have been engaged in extensive consultations. The Report of the Wheatley Commission was itself the product of a thorough scrutiny of the whole field of local government over three years. Since June, 1970, we have carried out consultations, first on the report itself, leading to the publication of the White Paper on "Reform of Local Government in Scotland" in February, 1971; then another period of consultations followed, on a very wide range of issues, and this was brought to a conclusion by my announcement on 22nd December, 1971, to a number of modifications to the proposals outlined in the White Paper. Since then there have been yet further discussions on innumerable subsidiary matters and points of detail which are now dealt with in the Bill.
There is very widespread agreement in Scotland about the need for local government reform and about the objectives which we should aim to accomplish. The concept of a two-tier structure of regions and districts, as recommended by the Wheatley Royal Commission and widely canvassed before that, has been generally accepted in local government circles. The Bill presents a new structure with eight regions, three islands areas and 47 districts, each with a well-defined job to do. The greater freedom which local authorities will have to exercise powers, together with the increased flexibility of organisation which they will enjoy, will give them more power, responsibility and standing in relation both to central Government and to the local electorate.
The Wheatley Royal Commission, which spent three years carrying out its task, published a report nine months before the change of Government took 911 place. Four months before the change of Government there was a two-day debate in the Grand Committee, in February, 1970. I was then able to give the general comments of my side in the Committee—then in Opposition—four months before we came into office.
Points I then put forward were that the Highland region should not be so large geographically and that Orkney and Shetland, and perhaps the Western Isles, should be separate islands authorities. I also suggested that the Borders might be a separate region. This had been something which the Wheatley Commission had pointed out was a practicable alternative. I also expressed our view that there ought to be second-tier authorities, namely district councils, and that they should have the function of housing, which the Wheatley Commission had proposed for the regional councils. Those were general points, and they have all found places in our subsequent proposals as a Government.
During the nine months between the publication of the Wheatley Report and the change of Government, the Labour Government gave no indication of their views. However, in a debate in the House of Lords on 23rd March last year Lord Hughes said thatthe White Paper, in much of its detail, differs little from that which would have been in the White Paper prepared by the previous Government."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, House of Lords, 23rd March, 1971; Vol. 316, c. 816.]He then went on to consider the three or four difficult issues which are still before us and indicated that the Labour Government would have put forward proposals on the same lines as our own. I shall come to two of these issues in a minute.
We all know that there are at least two important matters of structure on which it is not easy to find solutions which are universally acceptable. I refer to West Central Scotland and to East Central Scotland. It is easy to criticise any solutions put up in these two cases and to knock them down.
I should now like to outline the points of major significance in the Bill. Part I makes basic provision for establishing and electing the new regional, islands and district authorities. I am naturally going 912 to comment on the main issues which remain controversial, but before doing so I should point out that the large majority of these proposals for new councils and their functions have been generally accepted as the appropriate pattern over most of Scotland for the two-tier system.
We cannot in Scotland attain an even pattern because of the great contrasts in the density of population and because of the geographical barriers and long distances involved in the remoter parts, The aim of all concerned has been to achieve a flexible system adaptable to widely differing conditions.
I now turn to the problems of finding the best structure for the future in West Central Scotland and in East Central Scotland.
For West Central Scotland the Wheatley Commission recommended that the whole area should comprise one region despite the size of population involved. Although we have made some changes in the boundaries of the region we have reached the same general conclusion. In order to deal with the strategic needs and services of West Central Scotland a regional authority is needed covering an area such as the Strathclyde region. Most of those who have been putting forward alternatives accept this and the consequent size of the region. If it is to plan effectively such an authority must have executive powers, and, therefore, it must be, we believe, directly elected and accountable.
There have been suggestions that there should be not just one level of districts such as we propose beneath the top-tier authority but an additional intermediate tier. The possibility of a three-tier solution of this kind has been put forward, together with two other mutually conflicting sets of proposals, respectively sponsored by the Convention of Royal Burghs and the conveners of the present counties. All three of these, together with other possibilities, we have studied most carefully. The three-tier proposition was put, in particular, by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) during the debate in the Grand Committee last July, and we have since closely examined it again. He and others are naturally concerned particularly about the education and social work services.
913 Briefly, our findings are that a three-tier structure would create more problems than it would solve. Even with the two-tier structure proposed, some people consider that the second tier will not have enough power or functions to make the councillor's job worth while. If the functions are divided between three tiers, that problem is increased. There would also be confusion as to which authority and which elected representative was responsible for what. The hon. Member for Craigton recognised that it would be desirable to avoid an additional set of elections for an additional third tier. He was, therefore, prepared to consider that the top tier should be indirectly elected from the second tier. The Government's view, however, is that it would be unsatisfactory for those exercising overall powers over the whole region not to be directly elected or directly responsible to the electorate.
Let us see what the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, had to say about this in the debate in March last year. As reported in column 820, he accepted the need for one region, noting the difficulties of the size of population and of having a single education authority and social welfare authority. The Labour Government were, apparently, then contemplating a Strathclyde region but requiring that an administrative scheme should be put for approval to the Secretary of State. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) has since then also spoken of this.
I have considered this possibility, but it is inconsistent with our general policy, which I think is shared by the Opposition, of giving more discretion to the new local authorities to manage their own affairs within the law. The problem of finding the best solution for the Strathclyde region has exercised many minds. I do not believe that a perfect solution exists. What we are striving for is the best structure that is likely to prove workable. The flexibility provided in the Bill will enable the regional council to arrange its own system of delegation and management to deal particularly with the subjects of education and social work.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
We were hoping that on this vital point the right hon. Gentleman might announce, even though not within the Bill, the acceptance of a possible model. We have been told by the Convention of Royal 914 Burghs that it has produced and submitted to the Government a scheme which, although consistent with the Bill, nevertheless meets the point of criticism of Lord Hughes. Is the Secretary of State willing to comment on that?
§ Mr. Campbell
We have had various proposals from the Convention of Royal Burghs within its own main scheme, cannot pursue this now, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that we have looked at just about every combination one can think of and everything that has been put to us. We have been in constant touch with the Convention as well as with the conveners of the counties, who have put forward a conflicting scheme, as the hon. Gentleman knows.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
My right hon. Friend speaks about flexibility within the Bill. Has he in this regard considered the representation made, among others, by the Education Institute for Scotland which would provide for a certain degree of delegation of education control without involving the three-tier system which both he and I oppose?
§ Mr. Campbell
Yes, indeed. I know that my hon. Friend is particularly interested in the education and social work services. The management and delegation matters to which I have referred are subjects which now need study, but we want to give the top-tier authority the flexibility to reach its own conclusions on how this can best be applied in the Strathclyde region.
I now move eastwards to consider another situation which has engaged the most careful thought of those concerned for the past three years. That is the question, what is the best structure of local government for the future for the area encompassing Edinburgh, Fife and Dundee?
Although the evidence submitted to the Wheatley Commission shows that it was at first generally assumed that the new regions would be based on Edinburgh and Dundee, thereby placing part of Fife in each, I was not surprised when there 915 later emerged a plea to make Fife a separate region. Feelings of allegiance and tradition are strong, and I respect them. This is another situation, like the west, where there are differing views, for there are also strongly held views in Fife in favour of the division of Fife between two regions. For example, the town councils of Dunfermline, Inverkeithing and Cowdenbeath have formally supported the Government's proposals.
The Government have made an important change from the Wheatley proposals in transferring—
§ Mr. Campbell
Some authorities have not expressed an opinion at all. Others, particularly Fife County Council, have expressed opinions clearly in favour of keeping Fife as one entity.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
Will my right hon. Friend please not avoid the question? He knows perfectly well that the large majority hold that view. For him just to mention three authorities and then to say that he does not know of any other opinions is untrue.
§ Mr. Campbell
What I said was that, for example, the town councils of Dunfermline, Inverkeithing and Cowdenbeath have expressed the contrary opinion, and I did so because some people have felt that no contrary opinion was being expressed within Fife. I just wanted to make clear that these three authorities have formally expressed their opinion in favour of the Wheatley Commission's proposals. I can supply my hon. Friend with a list of all the views we have received, but I expect he probably has that already.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West) rose—
§ Mr. Campbell
I have just given way. Perhaps I had better say more about this question and give way later, so that the hon. Gentleman will hear all I have to say about the Dundee area before he puts his point.
The Government have made an important change from the Wheatley proposals in transferring the Newport-Tayport area from the Dundee district the North-East 916 Fife district. That, incidentally, was advocated by Lord Hughes in the other place.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) has strongly represented to me at various times the views of many of his constituents against dividing Fife in the future system of local government. Of course, Fife will continue to be a kingdom and there will always be Fifers. Changes in local government, fortunately, will never alter that. I have carefully and sympathetically considered all these views. I would have wished that what the Wheatley Commission unanimously recommended and the Government also conclude to be the best structure coincided with the retention of Fife as a complete entity, but we believe that the Government's proposals provide the best structure for the future, and that is why we are putting them forward.
I am personally probably in a better position than anyone in the House to sympathise with my hon. Friend and those who share his views because my own county and constituency are also to be split between two regional councils under our proposals. There was a similar reaction some time ago in Moray and Nairn against splitting the county into two, and there were also people who were in favour of that proposal.
Doubt has been cast during the past year by some people about how the Wheatley Commission reached its unanimous recommendations on the regions in East Central Scotland. We are helped in examining this because the Royal Commission published the written evidence submitted to it, which included a number of memoranda in which responsible bodies and individuals gave their views on the pattern of authorities required to meet future needs.
A common factor in them all was identification of the need for large regions. The possible number of regions varied, but none of the memoranda contemplated an independent Fife. These were the published views of responsible bodies and people, including the Scottish TUC, the National and Local Government Officers' Association, the Scottish Liberal Party, the District Councils Association, and two hon. Members opposite, together with a number of professional people and bodies concerned with planning. Some of them 917 provided maps showing how Fife should be divided. This was a common assumption by those giving evidence.
Much of this evidence was published in time for persons holding contrary views to make their own submissions. The evidence to the Wheatley Commission by Fife County Council in favour of a single-tier structure, perhaps with some added areas, was published in time for no fewer than seven town councils and St. Andrews district to make contrary submissions to the Wheatley Commission in which, to use their own words, they… dissented in the strongest possible terms from the evidence of Fife County Council.It has also been suggested that the Wheatley Commission made up its mind without seeking local views. This is not correct. The Commission held informal meetings with Fife County Council, Kirkcaldy Town Council, Glenrothes, and Fife and Kinross Small Burghs Association, which took place during three days in April, 1967. At these meetings, I have no doubt that the question of dividing Fife was discussed.
It has also been suggested that the Wheatley Commission did not go out of its way to seek evidence from particular bodies in Fife. What it did was to issue an invitation for the submission of evidence, and the amount of evidence that it received showed that this was effective.
We accept the view put forward by the Wheatley Commission that, while there are important centres in Fife itself, particularly Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline and Cupar, none has the same significance or influence as the cities of Dundee and Edinburgh, and none acts as a focus for Fife as a whole. Neither the Wheatley Commission nor the Government reached these conclusions merely on superficial impressions. The Wheatley Commission accumulated for all Scotland, and detailed in the appendix to the report, a large amount of information about how people actually live their lives. It was on this that it based its recommendations for the new local government areas. Only the sort of solution now proposed will meet the strategic needs of East Central Scotland, and this Fife County Council has in a way acknowledged in its recent proposals.
The sentiments which have been expressed of allegiance to Fife as an ancient 918 kingdom are understandable and were to be expected but for the purposes of local government, and for making provision for the needs of the area over the years ahead, a new approach is necessary. It is not a question of saving or abolishing Fife. Fife County Council, along with the other 32 local authorities in Fife, will go out of existence, whatever changes we make, but Fife will continue, I am glad to say, to exist, of course, as a kingdom and an area, whatever solution is adopted. Our solution will enable East Central Scotland, including Fife, to develop its future potential to the full, and we know that there is a substantial body of opinion in Fife which agrees with this.
The electoral arrangements follow the present pattern, but one important innovation is the introduction of a four-year term of office for all authorities. This will allow time for policies to be developed and implemented. There are initial transitional arrangements to bring the timing of elections into phase, and afterwards district elections will take place midway through the regional councils' term of office. Each electoral area will be represented by a single councillor, and the precise number of councillors and electoral areas for each authority will be determined by order after the Bill becomes law.
Part II of the Bill recognises the need for local government and electoral areas to be kept under permanent review by making provision for a local government boundary commission, with the duty of making regular comprehensive reports at ten to 15 year intervals. One of the shortcomings of the present local government system is the lack of such machinery to prevent boundaries becoming out of date as developments take place.
Part III of the Bill re-enacts the existing code in relation to members and proceedings of local authorities but it makes two significant changes. First, under Clause 44, members of the public and the Press are henceforth to have access as of right to meetings of local authority committees, as well as to meetings of the full authorities as at present, unless the particular business under consideration makes this inappropriate. This is an important step in relation to the standing of local government and it increases the opportunity for local people to interest themselves in their council's affairs.
919 Secondly, a new system of allowances is introduced whereby members will be recompensed as of right for attendance on official duty. The allowance, which will be determined by each authority within a limit prescribed by the Secretary of State, replaces the present "loss of earnings" allowance and opens up the possibility of council membership to a wider section of the population by reducing the financial disincentive.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Has the right hon. Gentleman ruled out the possibility of paying councillors?
§ Mr. Campbell
I know that different views exist whether this type of allowance or a salary should be paid. I have not completely closed my mind and I am prepared to discuss the matter. But, having considered the situation and taken views expressed into account, we believe that what we are proposing is likely to prove the best solution in the circumstances.
Part IV of the Bill sets out the framework for the establishment of community councils, which are to be set up wherever there is a local demand. We see this as a new concept for giving local communities an effective corporate voice. We are not proposing to give community councils specific statutory functions to perform, or statutory sources of finance, because we do not want to create another tier of local government.
Not being creatures of statute, community councils will be all the more free to express local views and to take action on behalf of local communities, which is their general purpose. I was encouraged by the support which hon. Members showed in the debate in the Scottish Grand Committee in July for community councils, and there are many indications of much interest in the possibilities among communities throughout Scotland.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has been very generous about giving way. Apart from many other questions about community councils, has he given thought to the situation in the islands? For instance, in communities such as Orkney and Shet- 920 land we are to have one all-purpose authority, which we welcome. But many of the islands are remote from Lerwick and Kirkwall. In the circumstances, should not the community councils of such islands have their own funds and specific powers?
§ Mr. Campbell
I believe that the community councils may play an even more significant part in the islands than perhaps on the mainland. It was the wish of the islanders generally to have one all-purpose authority and not to have two tiers, and I think that the community councils in the islands would still be better without statutory powers. But, for the reason given by the right hon. Gentleman, they will probably have a more significant rôle to play in the islands than on the mainland.
Part V of the Bill is significant for the future methods of work of local government. In dealing with internal organisation and the appointment of staff, it lays down minimum requirements but, by reducing obligations to appoint committees and officials, it opens the way to new flexible arrangements devised to suit the particular needs and circumstances of each area. It sweeps aside most of the rigid committee system and the need for formal delegation. It is relevant in this context to refer to the work being carried out at present by the Central Advisory Unit on Management Structures set up by the local authority associations which are at present carrying out consultations and crystallising the best of management thinking so as to produce guidance which will be of assistance to the new authorities in deciding what form of internal organisation is appropriate to their particular requirements.
Part VI of the Bill re-enacts existing provisions in relation to miscellaneous local government powers, with some important additions which greatly strengthen local authorities' potential in exercising their functions. In this way authorities are empowered to do anything which facilitates the discharge of any of their functions; they are to enjoy greater freedom to spend money on general purposes; and they are given power to take action over emergencies or disasters in their area, to carry out research and collect information relevant to their area, and to provide facilities for visitors and encourage tourism.
921 Part VII of the Bill relates to finance, and to a large extent entails the reenactment of the basic financial machinery which operates at present. I am carrying out further consultations on local government finance with a view to introducing legislation in due course making certain further changes. The House will see that we are now proposing a new system, involving a commission for local authority accounts, to secure more effective audit, by placing on local government itself a greater amount of responsibility for keeping its financial house in order.
§ Mr. Eadie
I think that on reflection the right hon. Gentleman may consider that the way that he has framed his remarks about auditing is to some extent insulting to the present local authority structure and to local authority administration. I hope that he will reconsider his comments, which I am sure will be interpreted as being insulting by many local authorities.
§ Mr. Campbell
The hon. Gentleman has himself misinterpreted the Bill and what I have been saying. Our object is to enable local authorities to take greater responsibility for keeping their financial houses in order, as I said.
I was about to come on to rating—
§ Mr. Campbell
No. I must get on. I have given way many times already, and I know that many right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak.
§ Mr. Campbell
The new provisions on rating are an improvement on those in operation at present, in that each authority is to determine its own rate, so that local ratepayers will be able to see—for the first time, as far as the greater part of the country is concerned—what each particular authority is demanding from them in terms of rate poundage; for administrative convenience the regional authorities are to collect rates since the major burden of local expenditure will fall on them. We are also providing for an improved and extended system of rate rebates which will apply to a much wider 922 section of the population who need help with paying their rates, and local authorities will receive a grant from the Exchequer at the rate of 90 per cent. for this as compared with 75 per cent. at present for a less generous scheme.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
Before my right hon. Friend leaves these rating matters, can he shed any light on the Government's forward thinking about the desirable proportion of total local authority spending as between that provided through the rates and that provided through the central system of taxation? Is the proportion provided by central taxation likely to go on increasing over the years?
§ Mr. Campbell
I cannot give any forecast about that today. The new rate support grant for the coming two years will be brought before the House in the near future. There will be opportunities then to discuss this matter. However my hon. Friend has raised an important point which the Wheatley Commission pointed out, although it was not given a remit to go into financial matters, which is that if central Government supply a larger proportion of the finance there is less control amongst local councillors of their affairs. On the other hand, there is always pressure from both sides of the House when the rate support grant and similar grants come up for even greater percentages from the Government because of the help needed for ratepayers. This is a dilemma which the Wheatley Commission posed and which we shall deal with when we come to consider the rate support grant in some weeks' time.
Parts VIII, IX and X allocate the whole range of local government functions and follow the proposals outlined in the White Paper of February last year. Both regional authorities, with the responsibility for the strategic, protective and personal services, and district authorities, dealing with the important local and environmental functions, will have a worthwhile job to do and will have considerable scope for exercising their initiative for the benefit of their areas. By comparison with the present system of local government, there are four changes of significance. They are, first, the allocation of responsibility for water and river purification, at present administered by ad hoc boards, to regional authorities as 923 a natural part of their responsibility for the strategic and infrastructure services; secondly, the adaptation of existing law on particular functions to suit the new system, involving, for instance, the establishment of education management boards at local level; thirdly, the introduction of flexible arrangements for regional reports on planning, to match the greater size and scope of the planning process which reorganisation on a regional scale demands; and, fourthly, the exercise of responsibility for public transport, co-ordinated with other traffic, roads and transport functions, at regional level, along with the power to provide assistance to public transport operators in the private sector.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say what discussions he or the Scottish Office has had with Sir Eric Ashby and other members of the Royal Commission on the Environment concerning river purification boards?
§ Mr. Campbell
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have had two conflicting recommendations from Royal Commissions. The recent Royal Commission which reported only a few weeks ago made a recommendation completely in conflict with that received from the Wheatley Commission. We had already decided to adopt the recommendation of the Wheatley Commission. Naturally we are considering the more recent recommendation. But my own view is that what we are proposing in the Bill is likely to be the best for Scotland.
§ Mr. Dalyell
My question concerned whether discussions were going on with the Royal Commission on the Environment.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Miss Harvie Anderson)
Order. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State had given way. There appear to be many right hon. and hon. Members who know a great deal about this subject. Most of them hope to speak. I hope that interruptions will not be too frequent.
§ Mr. Campbell
I was saying to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) that we were considering carefully the proposals which had been made 924 and that we should be in touch with the Commission. I cannot say off the cuff whether my officials have been in touch with the Commission since its report was published. But if we need any explanation or clarification there will be no difficulty about getting in touch with those concerned.
Parts XI and XII of the Bill make a number of standard miscellaneous and general provisions. They also set up complete machinery for handling the change-over from the old system to the new, by providing for the establishment of a staff commission to advise on the transfer of staff and to safeguard their interests, by making the necessary compensation provisions, and by setting up a property commission to supervise the transfer and disposal of local authority property. The transition will be a complex operation and will make very heavy demands on all concerned. But with adequate safeguarding provision, local government staff will be able to apply themselves, without undue concern for their personal future, to the many tasks that have to be done in transferring from the old authorities to the new ones.
I should like to say a few words about the Staff Commission which is provided for in Clause 214 of the Bill. The Wheatley Commission and everyone consulted since agrees that there must be a Local Government Staff Commission for Scotland. Its job is twofold—to ensure that the new authorities have the necessary staff when they start to exercise their duties; and, just as important, to safeguard the personal interests of local government officers. The imminence of reorganisation is bound to cause some uncertainty and apprehension among members of local government staff about their future; and a most important duty rests on everyone concerned to allay these fears and to deal with their substance. The Staff Commission has accordingly a wide and responsible remit, and I shall be looking to it for advice on all staffing problems.
The need for that advice is beginning to arise now, and I propose to set up the commission in shadow form, as a non-statutory advisory committee, so that it can get down next Spring to examining the problems and consulting the staff organisations without delay. I am very 925 pleased to be able to tell the House that a distinguished former Member, Mr. Tom Fraser, has accepted my invitation to be chairman of this body. With his wide experience of public affairs, including membership of the Wheatley Royal Commission, he is particularly well equipped for the appointment. I am certain he will enjoy the confidence of local government employees in Scotland. Mr. Fraser has agreed to continue as Chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board until the end of March, when he will become Chairman first of the Advisory Staff Committee and later, when the Bill is passed, of the Staff Commission.
I think that it is accepted by the large majority of those interested that reform of local government in Scotland is urgently needed. Much of the Bill deals with machinery and re-enacts provisions, some of them with only small differences for the existing legislation.
§ Mr. Edward Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
There appears to be no mention of capital debt in Part XII. Has any decision been taken as to what will happen to the capital debt of existing authorities? Will it be taken over by the regions or has no decision been made yet?
§ Mr. Campbell
This has still to be worked out.
As a result of many consultations carried out by the previous Government, as well as by this one, a great deal has already been worked out and agreed by all concerned with local government reform. Nonetheless, there remain a few issues on which opinions differ. While I hope that the amount of disagreement will eventually be reduced to a minimum, I think we all recognise that difficulty in finding universally agreed answers to two or three issues should not delay reform or deprive Scotland of a basic structure most suitable for the rest of this century. I am sure that our successors will bless us if we bequeath a system which means that it will be a very long time before local government in Scotland has to be reorganised again.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I hope that the Secretary of State will appreciate the jocularity with which his last remark was received. No one underestimates the value of good local gov- 926 ernment to the people for whose benefit local councils have striven and striven well since 1929 when the last major reformation took place. It is as well to appreciate the value of the public service that has been given by those who during that period have operated these services. Not always did they have a popular task and always it was unpaid.
There is a difference in the change which will be made now from that which was made in 1929. In 1929 a system was being developed from one which had grown up over the centuries. Those changes, with the wiping out of parish councils and with powers being given to county councils and the large burghs, were a logical progression from a system which was already familiar. Any change means disturbance and disturbance leads to certain regrets about the past. We must be careful not to replace knowledge that leads to reform with passion for innovation.
The Bill will make a complete change from the past. It does not build on the past and we shall have to take into account that the town councils, the burghs that have been in existence and have had functions that have grown up since the beginning of the 12th century, now go out. We shall be wiping out centuries of history. The county councils which have existed since the latter part of the 19th century also go out and a completely new situation comes in.
Everyone would agree that reform is necessary. That need started more than 10 years. I have here a book written by a very distinguished county council clerk in 1942 urging reform, and I am sure that Lord Kilbrandon would be very annoyed if I did not draw attention to the fact that his father was preoccupied with the subject at that time. We are hoping that the changes will give us stronger and more viable local authorities which are more readily able to bear the burdens of the increasing tasks that Governments have placed upon local authorities for generations. We hope that we shall also get a certain measure of decentralisation with the Government forgoing certain of their powers. I notice that the Secretary of State did not refer to the extent to which holders of his office would be able to forgo certain of their powers. When he mentioned rating he forgot to explain that the new 927 rate rebates scheme will be based on a standard scheme drawn up by the Secretary of State. The only discretion that the local authorities will have will be for the 10 per cent. with which we are familiar in another scheme under other legislation.
There appears to be no time to consider the structure proposed and this was one of the points contained in the Secretary of State's White Paper in February, 1971. On page 25 it said:The structural proposals which it contains are intended as a prescription for action and not a basis for negotiation.In other words, the thinking had stopped. As a result of the debate in which my noble Friend Lord Hughes spoke, certain changes were made and the matter was reconsidered and the views of the local authorities were listened to again. But many of those local authorities do not feel that the expensive consultative work that was put into the proposals received all the attention that it deserved. They felt that the Government had made up their mind about what was to be put into the Bill and that everything would be a pure formality thereafter. That may well sound unfair, but by putting that kind of comment into the White Paper people are put off.
Where does Parliament come into all this? If in February, 1971, the Government had put forward certain proposals and said that they were not the basis for negotiation, parliamentary proceedings would have become a farce. I have always considered a White Paper to be a Government's indication of reasonably firm proposals about which the Government are still prepared to listen and change their mind. An example is the White Paper on social work which was produced when I was the Secretary of State. We said in that White Paper that social work would be the responsibility of the county authorities, but after representations were made we changed our mind and the Bill provided that social work would come under the large burghs and the county authorities.
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell
There has been a misunderstanding about these words. It has been proved since then that the White Paper is exactly what the right hon. Gentleman suggests it should be—reasonably firm proposals put forward by 928 the Government. However, we had to make the position clear. The right hon. Gentleman says that the subject had been discussed since 1942. Our White Paper was a prescription for action—not one that could not be changed—because we could not go on for another 10 or 20 years just debating the subject.
§ Mr. Ross
It is not a question of debating the subject. The right hon. Gentleman should read what was said in another place originally by his noble Friend who was at that time Minister of State. There is no doubt about the Government's ideas; they were firm and there were to be no changes. [Interruption.] There was a predictable and forecast change in relation to the Western Isles—that has been the only change—which have been taken out and made into an all-purpose authority.
Surely the Secretary of State wants these changes to be made with the minimum of disturbance, with the greatest amount of good will and with the maximum of agreement possible. It is wrong for anybody to think that the main aims which were looked for will be realised by what we have. Let us consider the actual spread of authorities, or even what the Wheatley Commission discussed as the desirable number of population covered by any authority. We have the Highlands with a population of 137,000. The Border region has a population of 96,000. Dumfries and Galloway have 156,000. There are other districts, which are not only in the west, which have greater populations.
There are 11 districts which have populations of over 100,000 and four with over 200,000. There is Renfrew with 201,000, North Ayr with 197,000, South Ayr with 150,000, Motherwell with 160,000, Kirkcaldy with 138,000, Falkirk with 145,000, Dunfermline with 125,000, Perth and Kinross with 115,000 and Monklands with 107,000, Cadzow with 103,000 and Inverclyde with 135,000. That is apart from the cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow which have populations respectively of 206,000, 203,000, 489,000 and 1,170,000.
Thus we have districts all relegated to the same position but with a population of 1,170,000 at one end and at the other of 8,000. There are seven districts with 929 populations of fewer than 20,000. There is Nairn, one of the Secretary of State's districts, with 8,000. Skye has a population of 9,000. There is Badenoch and Strathspey with 9,000. Tweeddale has 13,000, Merse 16,000 and Sutherland 15,000. Lochaber has 19,000.
I hope that we have not come to the end of the financing of local authorities, But the extent to which we may be able to give new powers to the self-financing of local authorities is determined by their strength. The same kind of provision cannot be made for a district authority when district authorities vary in size between 8,000 and 1,170,000.
We must also face the fact that the Government, and I think rightly, have made special provision for certain areas. In the Government's White Paper the touchstone wasrequiring substantial population to support acceptable standards of service.But the Government have not hesitated to depart from that for reasons of geography and historic unity. For instance, in the Borders and Highland regions, and the island areas, they have granted regional status where population cannot support acceptable standards of service—for example, further education. It is already admitted by the Government that in some areas they will need to rely on outside help for further education. The same thing is true in respect of other smaller regions for some of their services.
There is a corollary to this. If one is prepared to do that in respect of certain regions, one cannot turn the Nelson eye to the one glaring anomaly of the whole scheme, that there is a region covering half the population of Scotland. As I have said, there are districts which have greater populations than the regions which we already agree are limping regions, because they cannot be so self-supporting. Yet these districts have been massed together. In addition, there have been added to them more remote areas. The connection of those areas with the centre may be fairly tenuous, but their connection with each other is non-existent—for example, Tobermory and Troon, Mull and Maybole, Bute and Biggar. They are all in the same region but their problems and traditions are very different.
930 The Secretary of State should have used the time from when he took office until not just the publication of the White Paper but the production of the Bill in trying to prove to the country and the House that it is feasible for a region like Strab to have services as personal as education and social work dealt with on this scale. This is the problem. This is why I did not agree to the West Region—
§ Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith (Glasgow, Hillhead) rose—
§ Mr. Ross
May I finish my sentence. The Secretary of State had something to say about what Lord Hughes had said. As I was Secretary of State at the time, I think it worth recounting what I thought about it. I could agree to it only if I could see a feasible scheme of administration into which could be woven all the various strands of democratic participation and supervision. That was not forthcoming then and it is not forthcoming now. It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to say that it would be inconsistent with our ideas of autonomy for the regions if they were left to produce their own scheme.
We are making a change that will affect half the population of Scotland in respect of education. These are not strategic services. They are the sort of services which were supposed to be delineated for the regions. Education and social work are personal services. It is not good enough to make this change and for the Secretary of State to say that it is a matter for the new regional councils. It may be that overall planning, which was the touchstone in respect of the large regions and the estuarial concept of planning could have been achieved without the destruction of efficient local administration in these very personal services, but if we do not watch where we are going we shall get a blueprint for bureaucracy and local frustration. That is one of the greatest dangers.
§ Mr. Galbraith
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about the inconsistencies in the Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman has been Secretary of State for Scotland, it would be better for him, as well as being analytical, to tell the House how he feels that the problem should be solved. He may be going to do that, but I did not feel 931 that I should wait until the end of his speech before asking him.
§ Mr. Ross
That is one of the dangers. We have four or five Bills in one. I hope that the House will bear with me.
We are to getadministrative decentralisation which the regional authority can best arrangebut this will be useless unless, at these new administrative points, there is democratic control. The Secretary of State is doubtful whether the regional councillor is to be paid and not merely given an allowance. The regional councillor is an amateur and, with the best will in the world, will not be able to provide that supervision and contact with the administration of his constituents that is desirable.
Nor is it right for the Secretary of State to lean heavily on the community councils. The idea of these councils has been grasped by everybody, because they are essential. Without them there can be no local democracy, but we have not heard very much from the right hon. Gentleman about their workings. They are to have power to influence, to discuss and to act, but in what, in what direction, and how effectively if they have no statutory power? That is a dilemma which the right hon. Gentleman must face.
Overall planning power could have been retained, together with strategic road powers and the police and fire services—though there are questions even about them—without the need to depart from the two-tier structure. As changes are being made in the powers of the island areas the Government should have recognised the difficulty presented by this unique feature of the western region and made changes there, too. They could have limited the powers in respect of the top structure and virtually adopted super districts for the rest of the region. That would more nearly satisfy the need for local democracy. That is one solution.
Another possibility is the non-elected third tier for planning, an idea suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan). I do not see why, simply because it is a third tier, we should have turned our minds from it, because we have to face the fact that the difficulty is there with Glasgow with its 932 1 million and more, plus Lanarkshire, Ayrshire, Dunbartonshire and Bute, and then, to make things even more difficult, we take in a bit of Ayrshire and lop off Girvan. The right hon. Gentleman ought to think about this again because, if the Government accept the idea of big regions to deal with education and social work, they have a responsibility to say how these services will be administered efficiently, consistent with local democracy.
There have been plenty of steering committees, both anonymous and selected by the Government, but I am receiving complaints from town clerks, people interested in education, headmasters, teachers and social workers that they know nothing about what is to happen, and that they have not even been consulted. That was the point made recently by the EIS, and the Secretary of State should appreciate the importance of this. We are dealing with something of which we are reasonably proud in Scotland, namely, the progress of education, and we cannot leave it to chance that somehow or other something beneficial will result.
Some regions will be fairly manageable, but it is time people knew what is likely to happen in the larger regions. I warn the right hon. Gentleman that the administrative changes are revolutionary. They represent such a complete departure from the practice in the past that unless the Government are careful we could finish up with an unholy mess, not just in the west, but in other areas, too, and the right hon. Gentleman did nothing this afternoon to set our minds at rest.
Local authorities vary to such an extent in size that it is not easy to justify granting them all similar powers. The Government have been flexible in this respect, but there is one thing about which I am concerned. The sizes and financial strengths are so varied that they may frustrate the achievement of autonomy.
The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) asked about the financial position. On reading the Green Paper one gets the impression that there will not be very much change in the financial position with regard to Orkney and Shetland and the Highland region. It seems that they will continue 933 to be as dependent as they are now on the central authority, and to that extent the achievement of autonomy and freedom from intervention will not be attained. There are to be fewer authorities for the Secretary of State to interfere with, and to that extent there will be less intervention, but there will be just as much intervention as there is now with the power of these authorities. The system will militate against new ways of self-financing by local authorities and granting similar powers to local authorities bearing in mind that Glasgow will have a population of more than 1 million, while Nairn will have only 8,000.
§ Mr. Bruce-Gardyne
The right hon. Gentleman is complaining about the lack of provision for additional financial resources, or the possibility of them. What does he recommend?
§ Mr. Ross
I have never concealed my view that if the central authority wants uniformity in the provision of education it should support remoter authorities to a greater extent than it does now. If the hon. Gentleman had been in the House for a longer time, he would have heard it suggested that certain aspects of education—for example, teachers' salaries—should be taken away from local authorities. We are deceiving ourselves if we think that by doing that local authorities become more autonomous. This is where we have to be careful, and not set the thing at too high a level.
There is no doubt that the pattern of travel and attitudes in Fife have changed with the building of two bridges. I am not prepared now to enter into an argument about whether Fife should be divided but, as the Secretary of State was anxious to quote Lord Hughes, let me tell him that Lord Hughes is beginning to change his mind about this kind of thing.
If the Secretary of State is not prepared to look at regions, he surely must be prepared to look at the number of districts. There are only three districts in Fife, one in Tayside and two in Forth. In Ayrshire there are only two districts—North and South. I do not think that that is adequate to meet local needs. If one goes back far enough, one finds that Ayrshire was divided into three areas with good names which seems to have escaped 934 the notice of those who have been given the job of renaming areas. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) would not know; he is a newcomer. Cunningham, Carrick and Kyle have been there for a long time. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) lives in Kyle Stewart. We want sub-divisions, but they are all there, without this proposal for a North and a South Ayrshire. The same is true of Fife and elsewhere.
Districts are to be given the responsibility of caring for and improving the local environment. The Government see housing as a district service, but why does the Secretary of State push responsibility for the roads and the maintenance of highways on to the regions? I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has thought about this, but he should have another look at Schedule 21.
Usually, at this stage in my speech, I say how many mistakes I have spotted in the Bill. I will not give a figure today, because we only received this 277-page Bill last Monday afternoon and I have not had time to go through it in detail.
§ Mr. Ross
No. I have not. But I am sure that the hon. Member will himself have spotted that it is difficult to know what to make of Clause 174(4). This says:Consent under subsection (4) above shall be deemed to have been given unless that consent has been refused within three months of the application for consent.But this is subsection (4), so there is no such subsection above it.
Clause 159(3), on page 92 of the hymn sheet, says:For the purposes of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, the local authority shall be a regional or islands council.In the application of various provisions, there are five sub-paragraphs, and then subsection (3) contains only the words:The said Act of 1968.I defy anyone on the Government Front Bench to make any sense of that. It took me a quarter of an hour of my valuable time.
One starts from the assumption that the Scottish Office knows what it is doing—
§ Mr. Ross
It is not a paraphrase, nor is it ancient or modern; it is just nonsense.
I could go on. I can at least congratulate the draftsmen on taking refuge in the old Anglo-Saxon word "mere". But the verb is transitive, and they have used it in an intransitive sense. It occurs at the bottom of page 148, in the following passage:Any such boundary defined on the map annexed to any order under Part VI of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 by reference to proposed works shall, until such works are carried out, be mered as if the boundary has not been so defined.That is a very good Anglo-Saxon word and means "to limit" or "to bound". It is not properly used here, but we should at least congratulate the Scottish Office on its ingenuity and innovation in refurbishing a word which has not been used for centuries.
I will not deal with any more of these mistakes. Apart from the mechanics of the transition and the changes which were necessary—
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
I think that we are all feeling a little like Excalibur suspended above the mere. Where does this word "mered" appear?
§ Mr. Ross
I gave the wrong page number. My hon. Friend will find it in fact in Part IV, paragraph (2) of Schedule 1, on page 146. We will certainly return to that in Committee.
Apart from the mechanical changes and the rest, there is a good deal in the Bill so far as I can see on a first reading, that is completely new. New powers are provided for instance in relation to the transfer of PTAs to the regional councils. Since there is only one PTA in Scotland the regional council concerned will be the Strathclyde Regional Council. Does it mean changes in relation to the powers in the original statute? Also, does it mean a complete change in the PTA areas, as hitherto understood, and will it cover the new Western Council?
There are other new powers in relation to ferries and the support of ferries by the new local authorities. Could the Minister tell us what is new in the Bill apart from the changes which are essen- 936 tial because of the transition? Was it necessary to include in this Bill, for instance, the whole question of water boards?
It would have been wise to create enabling powers in respect of this and to have left the question of water boards and their areas for a future occasion. This change has been fairly recently made and it is working well, and it would have been better to assimilate those changes before making any new ones.
We welcome what the Secretary of State said about the Boundary Commission becoming virtually a standing body. But it is to report every 10 to 15 years. I hope that the Secretary of State will have taken powers before then to ask the Commission to make special reviews, because it may be desirable to make considerable changes—at least, so I judge on a first hurried reading of the Bill—in respect even of the boundaries of local authorities.
We are concerned about this as MPs. Too often, the boundaries in our constituencies follow changes in these boundaries, and we do not want this to hang fire for 10 or 15 years.
The Staff Commission is to be a purely temporary commission, which will work in an advisory capacity before the Bill becomes law and then will be a statutory commission for a fixed period. No period is fixed in the Bill. How long does the Secretary of State expect its work to last? We are certainly very pleased that someone of Tom Fraser's quality will be its chairman.
I wish that the right hon. Gentleman had given us the names of the chairmen for the other commissions, such as the Boundary Commission and—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend must not put his name forward right away—at least not before I have a chance to make my own suggestions.
The Government will appreciate that although we shall probably agree to the Second Reading because we want change and the general principles are right, there is a good deal of scope in the detail for considerable controversy on the Scottish Committee. We are sorry that that Committee will be so small, particularly from our own point of view—[HON. MEMBERS: "Who says?"] In my discussions with 937 the Government I have not been able to persuade them greatly to increase the size of the Committee. This means that every Government Member will be on it whether he wants to be or not. All the Conservative interests will be fully represented. Unless we get the Government to change their minds I doubt whether the Liberals will be represented at all, despite the valuable services of the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) on the Royal Commission. On the Opposition side of the House we have the major political party in Scotland. If the Committee is of 30 members, we shall have only 14 representatives upon it. We all want to be there because we are all concerned. This means that the scattered population of Scotland will be very well represented on the Committee, but the thickly populated parts, the industrial areas, will not be so well represented.
§ Mr. Galbraith
The right hon. Gentleman suggests that it is a question of party-political division, but surely what counts in a Bill such as this is geographical representation. It has nothing to do with party politics.
§ Mr. Ross
That is true. However, if the hon. Gentleman looks into it, I am sure that he will find that certain areas will be very well represented indeed but others will have virtually no representation. What geographical representation will there be for the Border regions, or the islands or the Highlands?
§ Mr. Ross
My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) is likely to be the only representative from such areas. The Under-Secretary should be concerned about this question of fairness. Every constituency is vitally interested in this matter. I am glad that the Under-Secretary will be serving on the Committee, because he has to defend the Bill on this matter.
Where larger local authorities deal with education, more and more people will be disqualified from standing as candidates for election to those authorities. It used to be possible for a teacher to work in Lanarkshire and to become the Lord Provost of Glasgow. But that teacher would be disqualified where the education authority covers a very much wider area 938 than it did when dealing with his particular area. Such a teacher could still be a district councillor, I admit, but not a regional councillor. To that extent, more and more people will be disqualified. I wonder whether the Secretary of State appreciates that.
I hate to mention it, but we shall have some heated arguments about those who can stand for election to local authorities. Every member of Glasgow Corporation's transport system is automatically disqualified from standing for either district or regional councils. I do not know whether the Government paid any attention to the number of people who are disqualified at present. It is a matter of concern, especially when we are concerned about not always being able to get candidates to come forward in the numbers or quality we should like. This is an important matter. Equally important is that we go into the question of payments again.
On the whole, the Bill will take the Scottish Grand Committee the greater part of this Session if we give it the kind of attention that it merits. Let us not underestimate the Bill's importance from the point of view of the future of local government in Scotland. "Local government" is probably a misnomer. It is really local administration, because the powers will still remain, despite all these changes, with the Secretary of State. He was wise not to mention freedom for local authorities, after the kind of record he has in respect of interfering with local authorities over the past years. Although tonight we shall not vote against Second Reading, the Secretary of State can look forward to interesting, heated controversy in Committee.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Noble (Argyll)
I appreciate what the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) says about the duration of the Committee if he is as verbose in the Committee as he was this afternoon.
I intervene briefly in the debate because I was, perhaps, the parent of the White Paper in 1963 which kicked this particular football into the middle of the field. That was some nine years ago. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock kicked it into touch, where it 939 has stayed for a very long time; otherwise, we should have led England instead of following her in this regard.
I gave evidence to the Wheatley Commission and answered 60 or 70 questions, so most of my views on this subject are on record. Therefore, I can spare hon. Members a long dissertation upon them.
As I advocated it from the beginning, I am particularly glad that we shall have separate authorities for the northern isles. I thought that right. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State so often during his speech mentioned the word "flexibility". I agree with the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock that a certain amount of flexibility will be the key to getting the Bill through Parliament, if not before Easter at least before Whitsun.
§ Mr. Noble
This year. I am always an optimist.
I do not agree with the argument of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock about the tremendous loss of democracy he sees in the Bill's provisions. It is true that we have fundamentally changed our concept of local government. But every Member of Parliament who has had experience of this subject over the last 10 or 20 years will realise that our constituents have changed dramatically, too. In the old days we got, perhaps, a very large number of letters. Very often now, however, one receives complaints by telephone. In a constituency the size of mine, I am glad to say that a large number of my constituents get into cars and come to see me to discuss points that matter. So the narrow democratic principle on which local government was so often based has widened very considerably. In a great many areas of Scotland, if an hon. Member went around a constituency and asked constituents whether they knew the name of their local authority member, he would find that their member's name would not be known, whereas a much higher percentage—though by no means everyone—would know who was their Member of Parliament. These things have changed fundamentally, too, and it is right to recognise it in the sort of changes that we are making.
940 I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having produced this rather large baby, even if it has taken a long time. I give him my best wishes, in the hope that he will be able to bring it up over the next few months to be the sort of baby we all want, difficult though that task might be.
§ Mr. Noble
I shall come to the christening if hon. Members of the Opposition will provide the refreshments.
There is a considerable number of detailed points about which I have some strong personal feelings. The particular treatment of Cowal in the district is not one that appeals to me or to almost any of my constituents in that area. However, I shall not make my case at this stage.
Regarding the problem of payments and allowances, when giving evidence to the Wheatley Commission, I was asked once or twice what I felt should be the right approach if the concept of a two-tier authority were to come about. I feel fairly strongly that there is a good case for the payment to a certain number of people in local authority administration, that is, the elected members.
If our new scheme is to work, it will inevitably entail a great deal of detailed work, perhaps not throughout the year but for certain periods fairly consistently. If we are not prepared to pay for the services that people give, we shall inevitably debar a large number of potentially useful people from serving the community in this way.
I should like my right hon. Friend and hon. Members on both sides to think carefully about the matter in committee, because there are problems, particularly perhaps in the more outlying districts, where it is exceedingly difficult for young married women, who can often give a great deal of good service, to do local government work without being away for at least 24 hours, and very often 36. In those circumstances, it is essential to be able to pay for someone to look after the children while the woman is away, and I hope that "flexibility" is a word that can be applied not only by the Scottish Office in the first instance but 941 also by the local authorities in their judgment later. We do not want to disbar people from serving simply because it is impossible for them to fit in a reasonable amount of service to the community and make ends meet at home.
Lastly, I want to say how delighted I am that in future the public will be admitted to local authorities' committee meetings. I hope that my right hon. Friend's proviso will be carefully drawn, because one of the reasons why local authority has from time to time failed its constituent members it that too much has been done behind closed doors, and not enough people have known about many planning decisions as they were going through. The result has been a great deal of frustration, a feeling that things were happening that people had no way of knowing about, things that affected their lives.
It is the serious hope of us all that when the Bill has been suitably amended in Committee and comes before us for the last time we shall have achieved something that makes people feel that they are part of local government, and that we shall not have tried to divide off government as though it were a separate and distant function which has nothing to do with Mrs. McGregor in her croft or Mrs. MacLoughlin in her street in Glasgow.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will have a great deal of patience with us, but that his patience will not be over-stretched.
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston (Inverness)
Serving on the Royal Commission on Local Government and watching progress from June, 1966, through the three years for which we sat—and I should like to say how grateful I was to the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) for that opportunity—right up through the White Paper to the Bill, has been an exciting political experience.
Of course, many matters in the Bill will be criticised in Committee, but the most remarkable thing I have noticed is the degree of acceptance of change, which has accelerated throughout that period. When we went out to the local authorities at the beginning and talked to them, which the commission did a great deal, their general line was, "There 942 is a great need for reform of local government in Scotland, but our authority does not require any change, except perhaps the taking in of the area round about for its better administration." But that attitude has undoubtedly changed.
First, there is general acceptance of the concept of a regional structure. There are questions of real concern. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock rightly, although inevitably without positively suggesting an alternative, dwelt on the problem of the great area of Strathclyde. We spent longer on that than on anything else in the commission, and rightly so, because we could not think of any other solution. There are those who understandably baulk and rear away from the idea of this huge, half-Scotland area. But none of us could see a viable alternative consistent with the general principles that we sought to follow.
I think that there is also agreement that the structure should be two-tier, although again there is inevitably quite a variety of disagreement about the extent of the powers to be possessed by the second tier, the district, and the number of districts that there should be. That is inevitably an area of disagreement, but it is not an area of absolute principle.
I agreed very much with the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) about the need for flexibility. In a situation in which there are so many balances of advantage and disadvantage, there is a danger that the Government will say, "This is what we shall do, come hell or high water, and we shall not have it mucked up." That is very understandable, but it is not a course that the Government should follow.
I still support the view that the hon. Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson) and I set out in our note of dissent, favouring the concept of large regional authorities for greater efficiency, recognising the changes in population, the greater mobility that has occurred since the last reform of local government, but complemented by a great number of smaller authorities that would genuinely represent the vox populi local feeling on local questions. I still feel that that would have been better than having something in between, in which again and again people have been driven to say, "We must give this local authority, this district 943 authority, more work to do, because otherwise it will not be so satisfactory a local authority". That is not a good reason for giving a local authority a function. It is a bad principle, and therefore I adhere to the view that our concept would have been a better solution.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that perhaps a mistake was made in taking from the regional authority the function or duty of house-building?
§ Mr. Johnston
I note the hon. Gentleman's point, and I am about to come to it.
I am still concerned about the possible clashes on planning between the regional authority and the district authority. I was interested that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock said something to the effect that if the Scottish Office produces something we naturally tend to assume that it has been produced by fairly get-up-and-go chaps.
§ Mr. Johnston
I think there is general agreement that we have good civil servants in St. Andrew's House, but it was they in the Scottish Development Department who said that the minimum size of authority for planning was one with a population between 150,000 and 200,000, yet now in the Bill the planning function is given to a number of authorities of district level considerably smaller than that.
Likewise on housing, to which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. William Hannan) referred, I do not think I can do better than again draw attention to paragraph 459 in the Wheatley Report about the division of housing and the various ways in which it can be done. I do not think the Government, in agreeing that housing should do down, have done this on the basis of improving the operational function of housing but in order to give another function to the districts—simply that and nothing else. Paragraph 464 of the report states:A third possibility would be to give full housing powers to two separate levels of authorities, but to distinguish between the levels as regards the broad purpose for which the powers were given. One level of authorities might be charged with the duty of providing support for broad strategic objectives … 944 The other level of authorities would be responsible for dealing with purely local housing needs.We concluded that this would result inevitably in friction andThe central Government would almost inevitably have to come in to try to straighten out the situation.I still feel that this is so.
However, lacking this kind of structure I would register a little concern about the double standard on which the Government have eventually come down. I am referring to the idea of having different powers for district authorities in the Highlands, Borders and South-West from those in Central Scotland. I accept what the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock said about the vast discrepancies in population and, therefore, resources which these authorities have. Nevertheless, there still remain problems. Inverness is a notable problem, and I am sure the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who has temporarily left us, would agree that Dumfries is the other one. Inverness represents 25 per cent. of the whole Highland region which, on the criteria that the Government have established—rather than the criteria that I argued—could well have operated the powers which it is now going to be denied.
Of the two basic final points which I am going to make, the first is finance. I go along very much with the points which have been raised by the hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) when he intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock. I think that rates are a regressive form of taxation, and I continue to refuse to believe that it is not possible to devise a fairer and less regressive system, even if one were simply to go ahead with a local income tax. I would prefer that to the rating system. It would be fairer for everyone. Also it would be easier to allow the shift in the balance as between central and local government fund raising which is essential if there is going to be any change in the powers of the local authorities.
Here I refer to the Treasury's evidence to the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland. The Treasury is not renowned for being willing to give up any powers. Yet the Treasury, in its evidence—and here I draw attention to paragraphs 1032 and 1033—expressed considerable disquiet to us about the high 945 level of grant and the fact that this left little incentive to economy and efficiency. That is a very important point. We went on to say that we agreed with the Treasury and with many other witnesses thatit is absolutely fundamental that local authorities should be enabled to raise a much higher proportion of the money they spend. The question should be tackled not from the angle: Can some means be found? but rather: What means can be found? As one financial expert has put it 'Where there is a political will, there is a financial way'.That is very basic if we are going to get any change.
All of us on the Royal Commission believed that what we were trying to do and the changes we were trying to introduce would encourage the existence of local government as opposed to central Government—in this case Scottish government from St. Andrew's House. Without this change we shall not get the strengthening of powers that we want or be able to attract the people of calibre into local government that we wish and to which the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock referred.
My next point relates to that, and that is the question of finance for the individual councillor. I am glad that the Secretary of State, when I intervened, said that he had not closed his mind to this. I hope it is really in the mind of the Government. The attitude of Conservative back benchers is very important, and it will continue to be very important in the Committee. If I remember rightly, at the last Grand Committee meeting the hon. Members for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) and for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Wolrige-Gordon) said that they believed that it was vitally important that councillors should be paid. We have just heard a speech from the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), in which lie said the same thing. It is important that in the Committee stage those hon. Members who say these things should stick to their guns. If they do we may get this change.
May I quote from paragraph 924 of the Wheatley Commission Report:We see no virtue in making elected membership painful and sacrificial, or in arguing that the service given ought to be its own reward.946 We concluded in paragraph 930:We believe that to pay a salary is the simplest, least invidious and generally most satisfactory way of dealing with a real problem.There is no doubt that it is a tremendous problem to try to blend efficiency with real local democracy, but this Bill does the best job, broadly speaking, that can be done. It sticks remarkably closely to the original Royal Commission Report and, provided certain things are looked at and changed—the question of finance is basic—it should result in a form and structure of local government which will last us for the next half century.
I was very disturbed when I heard the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock talk about the size of the Committee. I hope that what he said is not really true. It is not that I think that my presence on the Committee will make any difference, although, having sat three years on the Royal Commission, I do say that it inevitably gives one a certain amount of knowledge. But there is also the question of the islanders. There may well be no Member on the Committee representing the island groups. My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) is a Liberal and the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) is a Scottish Nationalist. The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock said that the Borders would possibly be unrepresented. Does that mean that the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) will not be on the Committee? If so, it will be a great pity, because initially he did a great deal of groundwork.
I would regard it as being unfair and unreasonable if certain areas and party viewpoints were not represented. If the Minister is not able to give an assurance that such a situation will not occur, we shall seek to move from the Liberal Bench that the Bill be consigned to the Scottish Grand Committee as being the fairest way of dealing with it.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. K. Baker (Banff)
I do not suppose that there is an hon. Member who would accept the Bill as drafted without some reservation. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is a fair-minded man, I think that he will accept that it can do with a certain 947 amount of improvement. Therefore, I give the Bill a qualified welcome.
In my view, the whole of Scotland will judge the Bill and what we are trying to do by it on three criteria. First, will the proposed form or structure of the new local government be too remote from the people which the authority is trying to serve? That point has been stressed to me in talking to constituents. Secondly, will the regional and district councils be more effective and more efficient than the councils which they replace? Thirdly, will the new set-up be economic, and will the local electorate be given value for money?
With the Bill and the subsequent organisation, the Government and, indeed, the House have a golden opportunity of setting the scene and the pace for as long as 40 years. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that he thought that the new form of organisation would last to the end of the century. It may well last even longer than that. Therefore, when the Bill obtains the Royal Assent, it must be seen to be an effective measure because it will affect for a considerable time the lives of all those who live in Scotland.
I should like to pay tribute to the 11 local authorities in my constituency which will be replaced when the Bill becomes an Act. The county of Banff has been fortunate in being extremely well served by its officials at all levels. I have always received the maximum co-operation, assistance and advice, and I am very grateful to all the councillors and staffs for what they have done to assist me in my job.
The three points which I wish to make are to be found in Clauses 1, 3 and 161. I do not have to tell my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Development that Clause 1 and Schedule 1 are the worse for what is to happen under the Bill to the parish of Kirkmichael. It is proposed to take it out of the north-east region and to put it into the Highland region. If that were to happen, it would be in the face of opposition from the local people and local opinion and therefore it would be a negation of democracy.
The County Council Reorganisation Sub-Committee has made its views abundantly clear to me and it has backed them 948 up by public meetings, notably a meeting about 18 months ago which 84 members of the electorate from all corners of the parish attended. I have made my views and those of the people concerned known to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and to the Government, and, after a protracted correspondence and interviews with the Minister, I can only say that he must expect an amendment to be tabled in Committee which I very much hope he will accept. The penultimate act was a canvass of the whole parish which showed that 84 per cent. of the electors were in favour of staying in the north-east, or Grampian, region.
I received a letter today from the Clerk to the Moray District Consultative Committee which I should like to quote:As you are no doubt aware, the Moray District Consultative Committee is representative of the County and Burghal authorities to be included within the Moray District on the reform of local government".The clerk goes on to describe a meeting and then says:In the discussion which followed, it appeared that a substantial number of the members were in sympathy with the views of the people of Tomintoul—for "Tomintoul read "Kirkmichael"—and, accordingly, I have been instructed to inform you that the meeting support the Tomintoul Businessmen's Association as regards the petition they have submitted. In adopting this view, the meeting agreed with the reasons adduced in the petition".Secondly, I turn to the question of Clause 3. The word "chairman" is used in it. Historically, the word "convenor" has been used in Scotland. Why do the Government believe this change to be necessary? Possibly more important is the fact that there is no provision for a vice-chairman of the authority. The Local Government Act, 1947, made specific provision in Section 14(5) for chairmen and vice-chairmen. Traditionally the vice-chairman, or vice-chairwoman, is a man, or woman, under instruction. He or she acts as a safeguard for all sorts of things and can act as a long-stop. For instance, if the convenor, or chairman, is away ill, an urgent decision made by an official can, if necessary, be backed up by the vice-convenor, or vice-chairman. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will have another look at this provision.
949 Thirdly, it has been strongly represented to me that libraries should be a function of the higher or regional authority and, according to a submission to which I shall refer later, placed under the general umbrella of education—that is, of the regional education authority. I understand that that will be the case in the Border region. Why not in other regions? The schools library service will of necessity come under the regional education authority. It will thus be divorced, as it is now, from the county library service.
I commend to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary the excellent pamphlet dealing with library services in the proposed north-east region, a copy of which I have with me. I will gladly send my hon. Friend a copy if he has not already had one. It refers to its main submission that libraries in toto should be a regional function—that is, public libraries and school libraries. Its main reason is that there should be a proper career structure for librarians, and another main reason is that the financing of libraries would be very much better carried out if libraries were under one authority. These findings are endorsed in a report of the Joint Sub-Committee on Education comprising all the directors of education in the North-East of Scotland. I would close by quoting briefly from page 4 of its document under the heading "Staffing":If the service is to develop fully it must enjoy the services of an adequate number of qualified librarians and be able to offer an acceptable promotion and career structure. This is especially important today as the range of subject demand is so great that it is essential to adopt a much wider policy of appointing librarians with the training and skills which enable them to specialise in particular subjects.No doubt the points which I have made will be raised again in Committee—at least I hope they will. I very much hope that this Bill will be an even better Bill when it emerges from Committee than it is today.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) on raising those three points particularly when he is obviously recovering from what I hope is a transient physical disability. I can tell him as a recompense that his chances 950 of getting on to the Committee are 100 per cent. If what we hear is true almost all of the 18 available Conservative Members will be chosen, while of the 44 Labour Members willing to serve only 14 will be permitted to. That emphasises the fact that we who speak in this debate today ought to be brief, and those of us who may not be on the Committee ought to be demanding—and ought in that to be supported by all other Scottish Members—a very extensive Report stage, of three or four days. That will obviously not be till the summer, particularly if we are to debate as we rightly should Clause 1 and Schedule 1—and what should be done by Kirkmichael and other parishes.
I have no doubt that there will be many other arguments in Committee, dealing with such groupings, which are of considerable importance, at least locally. I would tell the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) that I have had representations, too, about Inverclyde from different parties, certainly one of my own local parties, and one of the arguments is that a district should not straddle a firth. There are legitimate arguments, even in urban areas, on these boundary changes and we shall want to look at Schedule 1 and Clause 1 very closely in Committee. I suppose that we shall be taking them together.
I, too, welcome the appointment of Tom Fraser to the chairmanship of the staff commission—one of the important bodies even in its shadow existence, which will reassure those who will be leaving local government that there will be some kind of compensation, particularly for those getting on in years but who are not yet near to retirement.
The commission also has to look at other essential matters. Members of the trade unions within local government are all keen that this staff commission and all the other bodies set up to safeguard staff interests should look after the proper translation of the Bill into practice, so that it works well, and they will join with us here I am sure in congratulating the Government on choosing Tom Fraser as the commission's chairman.
I come to some other good points in the speech by the Secretary of State. One was—and I hope I got it right—his telling us that there is now to be 90 per cent. of Government help towards 951 rates rebates. I have always taken the view that it is fair that it should not be 100 per cent. because there is a remaining element of discretion by the local authority, and I accept that. I do welcome the fact that it is now to be 90 per cent.—
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
My hon. Friend may not have read sufficiently the text of the Bill, because the 90 per cent. obtains for only a few years. After three years it reverts to 75 per cent. If I am wrong, perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will correct me.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
I have no doubt that what my hon. Friend says is true, because he is very careful about these matters. We shall have to debate this in Committee, but that was not the impression which the Secretary of State gave us this afternoon.
Whether for a short or long spell at 90 per cent. it is very difficult for the Government to maintain the argument that rent rebates should be paid only as to 75 per cent. by the State. There always was a case for having less than 100 per cent. for rate rebates. There never was a case for rent rebates nationally prescribed by the State, where the Government escaped with a share of only three-quarters. The Secretary of State may have done aright in regard to relief of rate rebate but he has weakened his own position, and I hope that he will tell us that by amending legislation rent rebates will be paid entirely by the State and not with one-quarter paid by the community concerned.
On the question of councillors, I need not add much to what has been said already by right hon. and hon. Members. I am strongly of the view that regional councillors should be paid. Of course there may be one or two regional councillors who may not actually need to be paid because their work will not be onerous—for example, in the Borders—and there may not be a case for paying them a full-time salary, as there would be a case for paying it to councillors in Strathclyde, but since it is difficult to exclude individual councillors by statute, and also so as to avoid any arguments as between individual cases, I would say that as a general rule regional councillors should be paid.
952 In another good part of his speech the Secretary of State made us hopeful because he said he would think about this. I hope that the terms of the Financial Resolution, if we pass it, are wide enough to allow amendments to be moved to pay regional councillors. But that is not enough. What about the payment of district councillors? Certainly, those on the 20 larger authorities mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), and in particular the chairmen of committees of those authorities, ought at least to be considered for salary rather than for allowances.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
The hon. Gentleman has referred to the Borders. I wonder whether he would take into account the time-consuming nature of the job of a regional councillor, who may have to go 80 or more miles to attend a council meeting. Ought he not, therefore, to be considered for an extra allowance?
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
I accept that. I was trying to avoid arguments about individuals—some going long and others going short distances; I wanted to avoid the ad hominem argument being used against me. That is why I tried to seal that argument up. However, I have, as it were, nailed my colours on this to the mast, and I say that regional councillors should be paid, and I hope that in Committee I will get support for that even from hon. Members on the Government side, as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) said he expected that one might.
I welcome the decision about the admission of the Press to meetings. This is in line with what the English did in their legislation.
I am certainly very pleased about Part V, and all the work done by the central advisory unit on management schemes. We in Scotland have certainly contributed our part in evolving a United Kingdom pattern in this matter.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here at the moment because I wished to refer him to speeches of his in Committee on the Transport Bill in 1968—of glorious memory. He has undergone an immense conversion. I am very glad that his reference to PTAs includes one for the Greater Glasgow area. Way 953 back in 1968 in Committee I mentioned this and he was most unenthusiastic; indeed, at times he was downright hostile. I notice that discussions are going on for a PTA in the Edinburgh and Lothians area. I had not expected that this would come about as quickly as it has but I welcome this also.
The question asked by my right hon. Friend for Kilmarnock is therefore very apposite. Within the legislation of the Transport Act 1968 how are public transport authorities to operate? Will they cover the entire local government region? If not, how is the financial burden of the PTA to be carried by a section of that region without causing confusion in the finances within the region?
I have dealt with some of the good bits in the Bill and I now come on to the bad bits. The central bad bit is Part VII. It simply re-enacts all the financial provisions on which we have legislated for the last 25 years—certainly in detail for the last five years. I am distressed that the Government are not thinking more widely about this. The financial complement of the English Local Government Act is to be brought to Parliament now. We do not have to look at the crystal ball; we simply have to read the English Bill to see what kind of financial changes will be added to this Scottish Bill. The Secretary of State promised this afternoon that the Scottish financial legislation on local government will follow. Let us not deceive ourselves. It will not be different from the English Bill which the House will be discussing this Session. That is sad.
The Labour Government could not see in the near future the successful computerisation of income tax which would enable a system of local income tax to be introduced. There were and still are innumerable difficulties. Departmental committees have examined this subject many times. Let me make a suggestion. While leaving industrial and commercial rating alone, would it not be possible for the Select Committee on tax-credit set up by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to examine this and see how to adapt a local income tax from the new simplified and modernised personal tax structure?
There is no urgency about the introducing a money Bill, in the sense that Part 954 VII re-enacts the present position. The rate support grant order to come carries us forward to 1974–75, and we shall probably get another one after that, because the new system from next year's Bill will not be operative. I see no reason why the Government cannot look again at the possibility of a local income tax, not allowing themselves to be confused by the argument about shareholders and commercial premises but accepting that for them rating will have to stay, at least for the moment. That is one constructive opportunity that the Government have missed, at least, so far.
When the Government were in opposition they criticised us by saying that the Wheatley Commission was excluded from discussing finance; we were told that it was our fault, and if a Conservative Government had set up the Wheatley Commission that would not have been so. In opposition the Government said that local government would never be reformed unless the financial arrangements were changed and more responsibility was given locally. That is not reflected in the Bill. Much as I welcome the Bill, that is its big defect.
Let us look at some matters which are perhaps less bad. We have scored a victory with the community councils. For a long time the Government were not sure whether they should have anything to do with community councils. I agree that they should not be third tier authorities and that they should be opted in rather than a blanket pattern for the whole nation. But what is to happen about financing them? We need more clarification on that.
What will happen to the common good funds, commonly good for only that area? Should they not be attached to the community councils? If the Government gave an assurance that the funds would be handed to the localities we should not, perhaps, see the profligacy that is occurring, alas, in certain places today. Where a community council does not have a common good fund, is there not an argument for the Government to give sustenance direct to the community council without going through the district council or regional council? Community councils will play an important part in areas of the country where people inevitably feel remote from the local council.
955 The three regional councillors who will serve the Greenock part of Inverclyde will represent one third of a parliamentary constituency. The local councillors have a hard enough job now; how will they be able to serve as large an area as that and keep the local touch? There is a need for the Government to think again about community councils.
The Government are worried—rightly so, as we are—that no one has so far come up with an acceptable answer to the problem of the structure of the administration of education and social work in the Strathclyde region. Naturally I am disappointed that today the Government themselves have not come forward with any proposal. Had we been in office, it is the least we would have done. We should have insisted on presenting Parliament with an acceptable administrative devolutionary scheme involving education and social work. The two subjects might have been treated differently, but we should not have come to Parliament with a Bill like this without presenting proposals on administration at least for discussion. I ask the Government, even at this late stage, to come forward with something that will make the acceptability of the West region a reality rather than something which is resentfully accepted by people who are unsure of what will evolve.
I link that with a final suggestion. The Bill refers to a Local Government Boundary Commission. Quite right, I am not objecting to that. But is it not strange that the Bill should contain no reference to a body which will review functions? If the purpose of the commission is to make sure that boundaries do not remain static but move with the flow of population, so that people do not remain unrepresented, why is there not a similar body to deal with the functions of local government? That could be done by the same body, but there is an argument for it being a separate commission which could examine not only the exercise of functions under the Bill but also functions in relation to different areas. For example, it could say to Highland district councils, "At the moment, under the Act, you are not getting full powers, but later we might recommend to Parliament an amending Act so that you are promoted 956 into the first-class district league from the second-class district league."
The argument about libraries and museums, and their librarians and curators, could be dealt with by a commission which could review the exercise of functions and decide whether or not there should be a change as between one area and another or, indeed, nationally. We may not be able to get the functions right all at once; that may have to be done as a continuing job. I put this idea to the Government as a constructive addition to the part of the Bill which deals with functions.
§ Mr. Russell Johnston
What the hon. Gentleman is saying appears in Chapter 37 of the Royal Commission's report, which recommends a review body with powers of recommendation on functions.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
I may get into trouble with some of my hon. Frends for saying this, but I deplored the hole-and-corner way in which the Conservative Government handled the problem of reforming local government in 1963. The Royal Commssion we appointed was an open-hearted, open-minded body, which took evidence even from the right hon. Member for Argyll when he was in opposition, which is more than he would have allowed of us when he was in power.
The commission took all the evidence and thought about the matter carefully. We are immensely grateful to all who served on the commission. It did a first-class job. The present Scottish Ministers must take credit for not doing to Wheatley what their compeers did to the Redcliffe-Maud Report. They have stood by the Wheatley Report as it was produced. It was a good report, and this Bill, not fully to the letter, but in principle, deserves to be supported.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Sir John Gilmour (Fife, East)
Because I disagree with some aspects of the Bill, I would not like it to be thought that I disagree with the reform of local government. I was reminded by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) in the Scottish Grand Committee last Session of a speech I had made in Galloway, in which I said that I did not like to see units of local government which were too large. I adhere to that view.
957 This was one of the aspects which caused most of the discussion in the Scottish Grand Committee on that occasion. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State spoke then about his own speech on Conservative attitudes towards local government reform after the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission in February, 1970. Most of his speech on that occasion was devoted—I will not call them peripheral areas in any sense of denigration—to the sort of areas where it was fairly easy to see that we should make some alteration or amendment. My right hon. Friend did not address himself to the difficult situation we are faced with in the large, densely populated areas of central Scotland.
The payment of councillors has been referred to. One who has served in local government, as I did before coming here, and did so on a voluntary basis, tends to say, "I did it voluntarily, so why cannot these others?" But I agree with the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) that if we set up an entirely new conception of local government it is high time to look at the method of financing the local authorities and at whether the councillors should be remunerated. The arguments are more likely to come down in favour of paying them than they are the other way round.
The same applies to what the hon. Gentleman was saying about trying to find a change in the rating system. Unless we make sonic changes, it seems that we shall again get into very real difficulty in property rating entailing people living in identically rated properties but with different means. We should take the opportunity to tackle that matter in the Bill.
Where I am in disagreement with my right hon. Friend is in how my own county of Fife is being dealt with. It is being divided. The whole concept of what sort of regions we are to have should be looked at more in the light of the sort of services we are going to provide for the consumers, who are the ratepayers.
Back in 1963, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) published his White Paper, and when evidence was given to the Wheatley Commission, one of the preoccupations of people in local government was shown to be that, because we had so much 958 fragmented authority between burghs and counties, through boundary interchanges and so on, it was difficult to plan for expansion of industry—a situation demonstrated in the moves to bring the motor industry to Scotland. Once we have accepted, as the majority of people have, that there are to be major changes and large regional authorities, the overall thought, which came largely from Scottish Office officials because of the difficulties they had faced in the planning of industrial expansion, does not stand up to the criterion of the sort of thing we are going to need over the next 15 or 20 years.
If we have these very large regions for education and social work we shall find it extremely difficult to set up the sort of organisation necessary. Social work is a new department and education a very old one. Both need to be closely linked together.
Part VIII of the Bill leads to discussing whether it is right that we should continue to keep the fire service and the police among the services controlled by local government. I have often felt that if we were to arrive at a situation in which we tried to give local authorities more autonomy in disposing the percentage of money they were responsible for raising and financing, there would be an argument for saying that the fire and police services should be almost entirely paid for by the national Exchequer.
Another matter, mentioned by the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), is the question of teachers' salaries. A review published recently by an agency of the central Government forecast that the expenditure on education at the end of this century would be five times what it is at present. Education is the largest spending department in local authorities, and if this great increase is to take place we need to consider whether we could get a fairer distribution of the responsibilities of the authorities if the element of the teachers' salaries were paid 100 per cent. by the Government so that they paid a bigger share of the expenditure on education.
Page 3 of the explanatory memorandum says:Provision is made that all local authorities are to have a general fund. … A stipulation that capital expenses are not to be incurred 959 without the Secretary of State's consent replaces the present requirement to obtain borrowing consent.I find this difficult to understand exactly. It is one of the aspects on the financial side on which it would be helpful to have an explanation.
I do not want to devote a lot of time to the case of my own county and its division. It can be dealt with much more adequately in Committee. But there has been in the past the concept that planning authorities must have a wide scale. I feel that we have got over so many of these difficulties that there is real point in my county considering itself as being the right size to be a regional authority and that it has clearly defined boundaries. It is, for instance, from the boundary of East Perthshire to Fife Ness some 37 miles along the north shore of the Tay estuary with one crossing. If one goes along the other side of Fife Ness, it is more than 40 miles from Fife Ness to the Forth crossing at the Forth Bridge.
The people in the area live in an entity which they know and understand. The commission recommends that the boundary should run between the agricultural north-east and the rest of the county. But in the north-east of Fife the greater part of the population live and work in towns. This is one of the things that the county is going to be influenced by more than almost than anywhere else.
There are 14 burghs in my constituency, most of them royal burghs with very long history. Most of the people who live in them have had as their town councillors people they know on the spot. All this is to be taken away. If we accept that change there must be, then there is a genuine argument for saying that at least we should keep this whole county, which the people know and live with, as a region and divided into whatever districts are necessary. There will be a greater upheaval in local government in my area because of the number of burghs than in almost any other part of Scotland. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will consider this argument seriously. As he knows from the postcards, letters and other communications that I have sent him and his predecessors, this is not just a matter which has been whipped up by a campaign. It is the genuine feeling of my constituents that 960 they are facing great change. They feel that they have the criteria to be a regional authority and that they should stick to it.
There is another matter about which I am in some difficulty. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has written to me setting out the criteria which are considered necessary for a region to have before it can be accepted as a region. My hon. Friend says:Among the criteria are networks for wholesale distribution …I do not see what that has to do with the way in which we organise local government. He goes on to talk about… patterns of shopping for 'consumer durables' …If it is said, for example, that we must look to Dundee and Edinburgh, I say without offence to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) that Edinburgh has the worst organised traffic system in the whole country and that it is further behind in any idea of a network of road improvement than almost any other city. Edinburgh has its difficulties, and we all understand them. But can it be argued that people will be enticed to travel from Fife to Edinburgh for their shopping durables? The journey will take two hours there and two hours back and it will be very much more expensive because Edinburgh's shops are more expensive than Fife shops.
My hon. Friend goes on to say that the circulation of daily and evening newspapers has to be taken into account. What has that to do with local government? In fact, the Dundee Courier circulates in Fife more widely than any other newspaper. On the basis of that argument Fife ought to go in with Dundee. This sort of thinking is quite incomprehensible. What has it to do with education and social work and with having a proper system where councillors are in touch with their constituents?
My hon. Friend also refers to the pattern of tourism. May I remind him that the Tayside Study talked about the East Neuk o' Fife being an area for the people of Dundee. My hon. Friend used to dig for worms on the beach at Elie when his home was in Stirling. The people digging with him did not come from Dundee. They came from Stirling and Glasgow.
961 In the same way, when one travels home at the weekend and comes off the night train at Edinburgh to catch the train back to Kirkcaldy or Coupar, one finds that more people are travelling from Edinburgh to Fife than from Fife into Edinburgh. My hon. Friend says that one cannot possibly get on in Fife without going to Edinburgh. I am at a loss to understand these criteria.
My hon. Friend goes on to talk about architects and lawyers. But there is only one requirement for which people go to Edinburgh, and that is a divorce. But that applies to everyone else in Scotland. I can see no reason for it at all.
What annoys my constituents is that they have never had a proper answer when they have asked why it is proposed to divide up the county of Fife. It has never been said that it is essential in the interests of the people of Fife since it will give them better and more efficient local government. If my hon. Friend can say that, the expenses will come down, and that everyone will be happier, I am sure that most people will accept the proposal. But that is the last thing that my hon. Friend says. All that we get from him is that people must see an architect in Edinburgh or in Dundee.
Any proposal must be based on efficiency and nothing else. All my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench are trying to keep down costs—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] That is what they want to do. Apparently the criterion for this change is to be that one should break up an organisation which can be adapted to a regional structure, with part put into one region and part into another, and to create an artificial dividing line which is crossed daily by people. We must remember that if people living in the Kirkcaldy or Glenrothes area want recreation and places in which to live, they are bound to go in the other direction and therefore all the plans will be made for the wrong regional authority.
If the division is to be made at all, the present proposal makes it in the wrong place. However, I am certain that the division should not be made. While I am happy to support the Bill on Second Reading, I shall not support it on Third Reading unless Fife is given regional status.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
I shall not take up the dissertation of the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) about the Under-Secretary digging for worms. However, later in my speech I shall take up the hon. Gentleman's point about social work being a regional function, because I shall strongly protest against such an allocation to the region. When the hon. Gentleman suggests that were Fife to be a region it would be a good area for social work, again I would disagree. In the past, county councils have not been the best types of authorities in administering social work departments.
I wish to welcome what is the first major reform of local government since 1929. In the 43 years since then considerable changes have taken place in local government in Scotland. Nevertheless the time has come for more far-reaching changes than any so far effected in that period. Local government has become very much more sophisticated. It is now big business involving millions of pounds annually. While the Bill proposes bigger authorities, one does not necessarily accept that larger authorities automatically will mean more efficient ones. Nevertheless, the time has come to eliminate the proliferation of small and often inefficient local units.
While I welcome the attempt in the Bill to reform local government, there are parts of it of which I am highly critical, though they are not necessarily the same parts as the hon. Member for Fife, East criticised. I have in mind especially the allocation of functions between regional councils and district councils, and I propose to deal with those aspects later in my remarks.
I wish to refer first to Clause 3, which the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. W. H. K. Baker) discussed. I shall not deal with vice-chairmen or vice-convenors but rather with subsection (5) which says:On a casual vacancy occurring in the office of chairman an election to fill the vacancy shall be held as soon as practicable by the council at a meeting of the council notice of which specifies the filling of the vacancy as an item of business …".Those words appear to be very clear to the average individual, and the same words are contained in the 1947 Act 963 However, a small burgh named Kinghorn in my constituency apparently cannot interpret those words simply, with the result that it has been without a provost for five or six weeks. It has been decided to fill the vacancy on the council by an election before going on to consider the filling of the vacancy for a provost. In my opinion, that is not the strict interpretation of the words in the clause and in the 1947 Act. Therefore I appeal to the Secretary of State to look again at the clause to see whether it cannot be more specific than the rather loosely worded form that it takes at the moment.
Clause 31 deals with the disqualification of members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) dealt with it at some length. In my opinion the clause is far too sweeping, especially since there are now larger authorities throughout the whole of Scotland than there were hitherto. With the introduction of passenger transport authorities, there will be a larger number of people in Scotland disfranchised than ever before. It ought to be possible to legislate for a more selective form of disqualification. I do not see any reason why a dustman, a gardener of an authority or a typist in the council office should be disqualified from being members of that authority. I suggest that the disqualification could be reduced in such a way that it excluded only chief officers and such other officials of the authority as are concerned with advising the authority on matters of policy.
In Clause 45, we come to attendance allowances. I am pleased to note that so far practically every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate, including the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble), has indicated support for the payment of councillors. The Secretary of State gave an indication that there was a certain element of doubt in his mind. I hope that in Committee something more direct and positive will be put to the Secretary of State which he will accept. While the attendance allowance may be a slight improvement over the financial loss allowance, I think that the Secretary of State should grasp the nettle and introduce salaries for councillors. The number of councillors will be considerably reduced in Scotland and they will be doing much more work over extended 964 areas. The attendance allowance, like the financial loss allowance, will continue to restrict the availability of good candidates.
The new structure of local government envisaged in the Bill will require men and women of considerable ability, and many of these people are already in posts of responsibility. They are often the type who find it difficult to be released from employment because they are key personnel in the firms in which they are employed, and this makes it difficult for them to secure leave of absence. Although many good employers have set an example in the past by releasing these people for such duties, there are other employers—local authorities among them—who have been restrictive in giving leave of absence for public duties. Therefore, if adequate remuneration were given to members of the new local authorities they could serve the community independent of the whims of their employers, but sufficient financial safeguard would have to be given to members who failed to secure re-election, just as Members of Parliament are safeguarded in a similar situation.
Clause 57 extends the practice of co-option. Hitherto education and library committees were practically the only committees where co-option could take place. I regard the extension of the principle of co-option as a retrograde step. There has been co-option of aldermen in England for many years, and it was eventually eliminated in the English Local Government Act. Everyone who is concerned with policy making in the administration of local government must be responsible to the electorate and must, therefore, be elected. That is the only way in which democracy can be served effectively.
Clause 112 which deals with rate rebates appears to be innocuous at first reading. My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) seems to have taken that point of view, and the Secretary of State made a magnanimous statement when he said that rate rebates would be subject to a 90 per cent. grant to local authorities. But I believe that this clause is a subtle and sinister attempt by the Government to transfer the burden from the taxpayer to the ratepayer, with all the inequalities 965 which that transfer involves. Many ratepayers who are now receiving rebates will find themselves worse off.
Substitution of the present rate rebate scheme by the rent rebate scheme in the Housing Scotland Act, 1972, means the substitution of a reasonably generous and simple scheme for a mean and complicated one. The old scheme is explained in a leaflet in a very simple, efficient and effective way. But for it will be substituted a seven-page booklet which explains how the complicated scheme works. In addition, for the first time a means or needs test is introduced. Does the Secretary of State deny that after two years the level of grant will fall back to 75 per cent.?
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. George Younger)
The hon. Member is mistaken, as he will see from the Bill. The level of grant will be 90 per cent. from 1974 onwards for the rate rebate scheme.
§ Mr. Gourlay
I had thought that the same conditions would apply to this scheme as applied to the rent rebate scheme under the Housing Act, but I am glad to hear that that is not so. I hope that once the new rate rebate scheme is introduced those people on social security and who are at present receiving an allowance from social security and who are at present receiving an allowance from social security sources for rates will not be transferred to the responsibility of the local authority under the new rate rebate scheme.
§ Mr. John Robertson (Paisley)
Surely the point is that we are all suspicious of some future Government legislation which will probably reduce the rate support grant and substitute a rate rebate grant.
§ Mr. Gourlay
My hon. Friend is going further than I wish to go. I am trying to be specific about the Bill. I accept the assurance about the 90 per cent, grant, but am I correct in saying that those who receive an allowance from social security for rates will be transferred to the local authority's responsibility? If they are, the local authority will not be much better off with the new grant.
§ Mr. Gourlay
My hon. Friend is adding to the confusion at this stage. I am assured that only 75 per cent. grant is paid at the moment. The clause is simply an extension of the means test system which is so abhorrent to many people. If the rate rebate scheme which is to be introduced is similar to the rent scheme, widows who have a son living with them will be very much worse off under the new system. Therefore, I trust that my hon. Friends who will lead on the Committee will see fit to put down an appropriate amendment to see that such a thing does not happen.
Clause 159 which gives social work to the regional councils is one of the greatest mistakes in the Bill. It may sound all very well in theory to tie up social work and education, but in practice social work is more concerned with housing and unemployment than with education. I had 15 years' experience of local government and I took a special interest in the work of the children's committee. I found that even county council areas were too large to enable elected representatives to take the necessary interest in the children who are committed to their care. While we have been blessed in the past, and no doubt will be in the future, with good and efficient social work officials, it is much better if in this highly personalised service the local authority members are much more closely associated with the service than would ever be possible under the regional system. The Government must, therefore, think again about the allocation of social work and give it to the district councils.
Schedule 1 deals with constituency boundaries. When the constituency boundaries were recently changed by the Boundary Commission, the parish of Auchtertool was added to the Kirkcaldy constituency. But the Government are taking the Auchtertool parish out and putting it into the Dunfermline district. That seems a nonsense, because Auchtertool parish is much nearer to the town of Kirkcaldy, which is the natural centre for the people who wish to go shopping or go to the local authority offices. There is a public transport service direct from Auchtertool to Kirkcaldy, but there is no direct service to Inverkeithing, which 967 would be the appropriate ward in the Dunfermline district.
I support the hon. Member for Fife, East. Take Largo from Kirkcaldy district and give us Auchtertool, which will be better and more sensible, in more ways than one. Therefore, I hope that common sense will prevail and that this necessary boundary alteration will be made.
With reference to Fife, which was dealt with at great length by the hon. Member for Fife, East, I have received representations in support of the proposals in the Bill. As a result of the campaign for Fife, I received some postcards and a few letters representing less than 1 per cent, of the electorate supporting Fife's claim for regional status. Opposition to the proposal that Fife be put into the Tay-side and Forth regions emanates largely from the landward area of the county and the small burghs of East Fife which do not wish to be associated with Dundee, possibly for political as well as geographical reasons.
Provided that the Government see reason and allocate to the district authorities the responsibility of social work, in addition to the present proposals in the Bill, I believe that the electors in the new Kirkcaldy district will be well served under the new scheme of local government administration.
There are many other points that I should wish to raise, but time does not permit me to do so. Suffice it to say that reorganisation of this magnitude is bound to engender opposition. However, we must deal with the problem not just for 10 years but, possibly, for more than 40 or 50 years ahead. What now appears a tremendous upheaval will be considered a minor change in the years to come.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
There are a number of matters in the Bill which I view with considerable distaste. I have no doubt that there will be many points raised in Committee, and judging from the size of the Bill, I wonder whether we shall ever complete the Committee stage. But that is another matter. Today I want to raise only four short points, three in connection with the regions and one in connection with Clause 123.
968 In my view, the Strathclyde Region is ludicrous. It contains half the population of Scotland. Its characteristics vary in the extreme. It stretches for hundreds of square miles. If it ever comes into being it will be neither government nor local. We need another two regions in that area, and Glasgow should be an all-purpose authority.
I strongly support my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) in this battle to retain the ancient kingdom. As far as I know, Fife is efficiently administered. It has adequate funds and, above all, its people wish to retain it as a unit. I have not had one letter or request that Fife should be split, but I have had many going the other way, most of them well reasoned and asking for my support to keep the ancient kingdom.
§ Mr. William Hannan
How many representations has the hon. Member received supporting his contention about the West Region?
§ Mr. Clark Hutchison
I have not added them up—but quite a few.
I thought that the present Government were elected on a policy of, among other things, acting in accordance with the wishes and needs of the people, and not to override or ignore them. As Conservatives, we should have regard to tradition and stability. I believe that Edinburgh should remain an all-purpose authority. It should not be down-graded. It has adequate resources in size, population and money to be a region on its own. As the nation's capital, with its long traditions and world fame, it deserves special attention. Other capitals usually look after their own affairs. Canberra, Ottawa, Washington and London do; why cannot Edinburgh? Again, I have not had one request for Edinburgh to be grouped with Fife, West Lothian or any other region. My constituency is solid in wishing Edinburgh to remain as it is, and I believe that to be the position in the constituencies of my hon. Friends who represent other Edinburgh seats.
Why do not the Government listen? In the representations and discussions leading up to the Bill, I have found the Scottish officials and Ministers more obstinate than I have known them on any other subject in the 15 years I have 969 been in the House. Why? What is behind it all? What does the Scottish Office thinks it will gain? What is the Scottish Office about?
Finally, I draw attention to Clause 123, which deals with education committees. I note with great satisfaction that the committees will contain at least two people who are interested in the promotion of religious instruction. One will be nominated by the Roman Catholic Church and the other as a result of a meeting of all the other Churches. That is wrong. One representative should be a member of the Church of Scotland, which is the national church, attended by the Queen and recognised in the Constitution. This representative should be appointed in each region by the General Assembly, acting through its own education committee.
There should also be a representative from the Roman Catholic Church. There should be a third representative for the other churches operating in the area. This proposal has the full backing of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church. I ask that that amendment be made. The present proposal is an insult to the national church and, unless adjustment is made, we can expect some sectarian strife.
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
I do not object to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Clark Hutchison) making observations about the West Region, but I have no wish to follow that line by intervening in Edinburgh affairs. At least, I imagine that his speech will not do him any harm in his constituency, and I presume that he needs a bit of help there.
§ Mr. Brown
All right. I was just commenting that, while critical of the Government, the hon. Member's speech was controversial in one or two respects only as regards the area which, as far as I can see, is causing us all a lot of trouble, namely, the West Region.
In my view, we must constantly ask ourselves whether reform is needed. I have always had in mind—the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) touched on this—that when 970 the Wheatley Commission was taking evidence the general attitude of most local authority people was, "There is nothing wrong with our authority. We are efficient. We are competent. If only we could get more money from somewhere"—usually, they meant from the central Government—"there is nothing we could not do". In other words, they were very satisfied with their performance.
§ Mr. Brown
That is what I was saying, though I did not put it very well. We agree that it was true of most local authorities. They thought that they were thoroughly competent in the duties which they carried out, and that there was no need for reform. If there was need for it anywhere, it was always in some other local authority.
There has now been a slight change of opinion, because almost everybody who makes representations on the subject starts by saying, "We know that there is a need for reform in local government", the only difference being that they go on to say, "provided that you accept what we propose—not the Wheatley scheme, or the scheme which the Government are proposing". Therefore, as I say, we should constantly ask ourselves whether reform is needed and whether a good case has been made out for some of the basic thinking which Wheatley put forward.
I take, first, the inescapable need to bring the burghs and counties together. I think that I can speak here with some objectivity, coming from Glasgow. In the context of Glasgow and the West Region, the argument usually comes down to whether there is force in the basic Wheatley idea of bringing town and country together. Of course there is. Apart from the urban problems of a major city such as Glasgow, no one looking at the West Central area can deny that, for a variety of reasons, it is impossible to look at this area without taking a fairly broad view. For instance, how can we consider the economic and social consequences of Hunterston—or no Hunterston—without looking at the matter in a regional context? I am not 971 talking here about the problem of steel; I am talking about the infrastructure, and all the things which go with any major industrial change in Scotland.
I shall not here go into the arguments for or against Hunterston. All I am saying is that with the big movements of population and the need to provide housing and leisure facilities, strategic or economic planning of this kind must inescapably be done on the scale—or something like the scale—suggested by Wheatley.
I make no comment now on the Prime Minister's petulant attitude when he got caught in a traffic snarl-up in London, but one of the good outcomes of that incident was that the Tokyo conference was reported at all. It was interesting to note that Mayor John Lindsay of New York spoke of the cities of America having been left to pick up the bill for urban renewal, all the major social problems being encountered in the heavily populated areas. I shall not go into what they are. Everyone knows of the traffic difficulties, the social problems, the need to find leisure facilities for people in congested areas, and so on. All these problems are impossible of solution if we continue to think within the terms of the present narrow local government structure.
For example, what about leisure facilities and the use of the countryside? Does anyone think that the people of Glasgow will find greater recreational facilities, such as golf courses, within the present city boundary? Of course not. One must have in mind the areas round about, even the coastal areas—I think of Saltcoats, and why not?—
§ Mr. Brown
I am always willing to give Saltcoats a free plug. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not the only place."] Exactly. In considering leisure facilities, why should we not look over a bigger area? Plenty of Glasgow money is taken to areas outside. Let us all get together and look at these things in the best interest of all the people living in such an area, without being so parochial as we have, perhaps, been in the past.
972 There is recognition now of the need for change. Hon. Members do not always remember that a fair amount of research was done by the intelligence units used by Wheatley, and one of the striking facts to come out was that in 1967, the last year when elections had taken place which could be taken into account, 63 per cent. of the seats were uncontested. How can it be said that the creation of bigger authorities will destroy local democracy? It is a myth. It is just not true. Who can argue that the present set-up is democratic in face of figures like that? I see that the right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) nods in agreement. [Interruption.] It is only retired colonels and, perhaps, retired Members of Parliament who can find the time—[Interruption.] In the main, that is still true in most of the counties, which is where the uncontested seats are largely to be found.
A further fact to be borne in mind is that, where seats were contested, only 47 per cent. of the electorate voted. I know that the cities have not got a good record in this respect.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
Has my hon. Friend classified how many of the uncontested seats were uncontested because they were regarded as safe seats by one party or another?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I know of at least 14 hon. Members who wish to catch my eye, so the fewer the interruptions the better.
§ Mr. Brown
I am sorry if I have provoked any, Mr. Speaker. I shall give way no more. Whatever the reasons for seats being uncontested, no one can argue that the system is necessarily democratic when that number is uncontested.
I accept that there is a need for change. On the question of the challenge of size, as I call it, I shall quote from what was said by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) in 1970. It is an honourable 973 occupation to quote the speeches of others, and, as the hon. Gentleman is now in the Government, I am sure that he will wish to reread his words with interest before the Committee stage. I warn him that I shall refer to them once or twice. This is what the hon. Gentleman said:My fear is that having half Scotland in one region and the rest in all the other regions will produce an unbalanced result which will not be good for the Government of Scotland as a whole.I imagine that the hon. Gentleman will wish to retract that now, after a period of reflection, since he has responsibility in the Government and is no longer making opposition speeches. But he will be stuck with it.
I accept the challenge of size, and I believe that it can be met in two ways. The first is the adoption or improvement of up-to-date management techniques and structures. That might create more efficiency, but it must be matched by democratic control over the sort of body for which we are now seeking.
At the moment—and I make that qualification because Glasgow Corporation may have changed its attitude, although I do not believe so—Glasgow broadly supports the Wheatley proposals. Although it has so far not given any indication of being likely to change its view, it has not made its voice heard. It appreciates that the opposition to the proposal to establish a West Region has come largely from the surrounding counties and, very fairly, Glasgow has not wished to be seen to be in the forefront of defending the Wheatley proposals, which would be regarded by some opponents as justifying their view that Glasgow wishes to dominate the whole area.
In terms of sheer size and population, however, that is another inescapable fact. It dominates the whole area in some respects, just as Edinburgh dominates the other side of Scotland. But Glasgow has played its part in a low key because of the political difficulties about the West Region, if and when it is established.
I quote what the Under-Secretary said about community councils:Last, the question of community councils. Try as I will, I cannot find a good word to say on the proposal for community councils… 974 But the concept of setting up a statutory body, without powers and without real functions, as a local sounding board or talking shop, is most undesirable…it will attract only people whose frustrations in other fields leave them either unable to be elected for the larger authorities or unwilling to do so …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Grand Committee, 12th February, 1970; c. 92–3.]If ever there were a warning to an up-and-corning Minister, that is it. It may be that the more extreme and irresponsible the speeches one makes in opposition the greater one's chances of becoming a Minister.
But this is a respect in which there is a possibility of injecting some kind of democratic content. I refer not just to powers. I do not think that these councils need statutory duties and statutory functions. Unlike the hon. Member for Ayr, I think that we shall get people to serve on these councils, provided that they are not subject to too many rules and regulations and restrictions and requirements. It is not an imaginative approach to say that the approval of the Secretary of State is required to any change. However, that is a matter to discuss in Committee.
I commend the approach of the Edinburgh Forum of Community Workers, which has just produced a record of some of the representations already made to the Scottish Office. It outlines some imaginative suggestions for part of the work of the councils. I have some ideas of my own.
One democratic injection must be made. The payment of councillors has been mentioned. In addition the local authorities must be encouraged to provide facilities for councillors at regional and district level. There must be none of this petty stuff of wondering whether a councillor really stayed at a first-class hotel for a night.
If Scottish authorities are able to spend £300 million or £400 million a year, why cannot we grow up and trust councillors with some responsibility, instead of criticising so-called indiscretions? If councillors are to be given such great responsibility, let us treat them responsibly and provide them with the necessary facilities.
An increase in election facilities is certainly needed. Why should there not be poll cards and postal votes for local 975 elections, for instance? We need the greatest possible help to produce the greatest possible public interest in local elections.
The eligibility of candidates should be widened. To the best of my knowledge, there is not one civil servant on any big authority in Scotland. That is disgraceful. There is nothing wrong with civil servants taking part in local government. Such work would make them better civil servants—we can discuss the levels at which they should participate.
Here is a possible source of recruitment. The public authorities have a good record in this respect, although private industry is not noted for its generosity in allowing time off, not even for people at executive or management level. But many employees would be the better for having served a four-year spell on one of the new authorities, and I hope that the Government will use any influence that they have in that direction.
Nor are we concerned only with the duties laid down in the Bill. I assume that the other calls on local authorities will remain. For example, the official diary lists 82 outside bodies on which Glasgow councillors serve without payment. Many such functions do not qualify as duties, but they include being a member of the board of the Scottish National Orchestra and being a member of the visiting committee to Barlinnie Prison. Not only local council duties are delegated to local authorities. Outside bodies often want some kind of representation, some kind of democratically elected representation.
With so many duties on councillors, I support the idea—I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) would claim it to be original—of some kind of advisory commission to consider the duties and responsibilities of councils and what changes might have to take place once the Bill's proposals have been effected. There is something to be said for fundamental changes in local government if those changes are made with vision and imagination.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
If I may say so, I think that every right hon. and hon. Gentleman 976 would want to pay a respectful tribute to Mr. Deputy Speaker, the hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson), for the role that she played on the Wheatley Commission. I think that all of us would also want to congratulate the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) on his work on that body. It was a great benefit to all of us to hear his contribution today.
I think that all of us, of every party, would want to welcome the great contribution by my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) to the whole process of local government reform that he initiated by his White Paper way back in 1963. As he said quietly and modestly in his speech today, some delay followed thereafter. When the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was Secretary of State, nothing much happened beyond the establishment of the Royal Commission. The reason was that the right hon. Gentleman and his fellow Ministers were too busy giving urgent consideration to the Hunter Report—[Laughter.] I am glad that my hon. Friends take the point. That penny took a long time to drop.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown), in his agreeable speech, reminded us that when the proposed reforms were being spoken about originally many people asked whether reform was needed at all. I think it is true to say, as my right hon. Friend said in his interjection, that many councillors thought that there was nothing wrong with them, and indeed there probably was not. What is wrong is the structure in which they have had to work for the last 43 years. As the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock said, what is needed is complete change, and I think that that is right because local government today is very different from the local government of 40 or more years ago. It is now one of the biggest buying and management bodies in the whole of Britain and we cannot expect it to confront the enormous responsibility of local government in the same shape and form as 40 years ago.
I think there is general acceptance of the need to reform the structure of local government, although there will be no total agreement about the precise way in which that reform should go through. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the 977 Secretary of State on recognising that there cannot be total agreement about these things, on producing a Bill which at least tries to make sense of all the proposals that have been considered, and on producing a pattern of reform which will be generally acceptable. I think that there will be broad agreement with his proposals.
I was particularly glad that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) pointed out the significance of the reform, and I wish that rather more of that tone had run through the debate this afternoon. This is an exciting Bill. It represents a large step forward for Scotland, involving the whole process of planning and providing new attractions for industrial development and new formulae in local management.
It would be wrong to suggest that this is a dreary, administrative Bill that we have to plough through in the Scottish Standing Committee. It is much more than that. It is the most important legislation that we have had for Scotland for many years. It will influence the whole shape and future of Scotland for many decades, and we have to get that home. It is not a dreary Bill but an exciting measure and one that will rightly command a great deal of attention in the House. I am glad to see this as yet another star in the firmament of Conservative reform. Here we are, after 2½ years in Government, with the most concentrated period of dramatic reform that there has been in the whole of this century, and the Bill is not the least star in that galaxy.
Having told my right hon. Friend that there will be broad agreement with these general proposals, I must tell him that there will be a number of questions about the detailed proposals. Many of these should be held back for the Committee stage, but perhaps I may raise just one or two matters which if they can be answered satisfactorily and flexibly tonight will avoid a certain amount of debate later on.
First, I should like to raise two questions at the regional level. There has been a great deal of talk this afternoon about the size of the West Region, Strathclyde. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) said that one criterion of judgment in the reform is what sort of service the newly 978 structured local government will be able to provide for consumers, the ratepayers. I confess that when I look at the size of the West Region and realise that it contains half the children of school age in Scotland, I wonder how on earth one local education authority can begin to cope with the problems of the multilevel education of these children. What sort of service can that single local body provide? I know that there is provision in the Bill for some degree of delegation. My right hon. Friend was good enough to answer my intervention on this point, but I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to the debate he will be able to tell us a little more about this.
I accept completely that one of the great problems about reshaping the West Region is that there is no obvious pattern, there is no single view about how the enormous density of population in the region can be coped with in the new structure, but the germ of an idea for education has been put forward by the Educational Institute of Scotland. In brief, and I hope my brevity does not divert the proposal, this is that there should be a system of board managements—seven of them—which would act as the delegated bodies to control education on a day-to-day basis throughout the region. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to say whether that will come within the provisions of the Bill—whether it will be possible to have some form of delegation within individual regions.
It is essential that children in the West Region, where so many children have suffered some educational deprivation, should have a first-rate system of education management, and I do not see how that will be possible under the Bill as it stands unless there is some degree of delegation such as that which has been proposed.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Education, Scottish Office (Mr. Hector Monro)
I hope that my hon. Friend will study Clause 124 which sets out the idea of management boards at local level.
§ Mr. MacArthur
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I have seen the clause, but I am not clear whether the proposals put forward by the Educational Institute of Scotland will fall within its terms. If they do, I hope that my hon. Friend will 979 say so when he replies to the debate. I do not think that the intervention can be brushed aside. The education of half the children of Scotland is a matter that concerns me deeply, as I am sure it does all right hon. and hon. Members, and we need a clear answer. If the form of delegation comes within the clause, I shall welcome it. All I am asking for, very courteously, is an assurance about that.
It is impertinent to stray into a region which is not my own, but it is a neighbour of mine. I am referring to the Kingdom of Fife, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East will forgive me if I make a couple of points about it.
I do not know whether Fife will be better managed as a single authority, or as a divided authority, but I am still waiting—and I say this with respect to my right hon. Friend—to hear any good reason why Fife should be divided in this way. My right hon. Friend said today—and it was very reassuring—that whatever happens Fife will continue as a kingdom and as an area, but I cannot see what sort of kingdom it will be if it is split in two. It is not much of a king who can proclaim, "I am monarch of only half of what I survey". I do not see how an area can survive as a single administrative area if it is split in two.
Some time ago there was a suggestion that part of the reason for this change was evidenced before the Wheatley Commission. It was said that the building of the bridge across the Tay would change the whole manner of life of the people in the northern part of Fife, and perhaps in the central part, too. But such evidence as there is to the contrary. It shows that no such change has taken place in the life of the people. What was assumed to be so in good faith has not turned out to be so in fact. If that is so, perhaps that aspect of the proposal should be looked at again.
It has been said that from a planning point of view this division is necessary because if Fife stays as it is there will be no major conurbation at the centre as a planning headquarters, as a planning centre. But we are, surely, legislating for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ahead, and who can say now that within that scale of time Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes will not 980 continue to grow as they have been doing and become a conurbation in their own right? If a conurbation is essential to a region, where is the conurbation in the Borders?
I must leave areas which are not my own and move on to one or two local points. What is to be the future of local harbours in the newly structured system? I have in mind, obviously, the harbour in Perth. Will that remain under the control of the local government inheritors of Perth, the Perth district, or will it become a regional responsibility? I hope that the management of harbours will remain a local responsibility, because they are local harbours, serving a local need and they need to be locally managed, and not managed from a regional headquarters which may be many miles away.
Further, will my right hon. Friend yet again turn to a problem which I have raised with him and his colleagues many times—the future of the style of Lord Provost and Provost? Clause 3(6) says:The title of 'Lord Provost' shall attach to the chairman of the district councils of the cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.It is good to know that that special provision is made for these ancient offices, but why is Perth not in that subsection? Perth too has a Lord Provost, the only other one in Scotland—
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell
I am afraid that my hon. Friend has stumbled into the mistake of overlooking the city of Elgin, which also has a Lord Provost.
§ Mr. MacArthur
Then let us have Elgin too. Why are Perth and Elgin excluded? Certainly, the Lord Provost of Perth, the head of this ancient capital of Scotland, should retain his dignity in the new district authority, as will the Lords Provost of the other four great cities of Scotland.
Similarly, what is to happen to the old style of Provost? I realise that perhaps there is no need to write this into the Bill, although I do not see why it should not be there. Will it be possible in the new structure for the convener of a local district to become the natural inheritor of the most ancient provostship in that district?
§ Mr. MacArthur
Indeed, and all the chains of office. The right hon. Gentleman may laugh about them, but I believe, as I am sure he does, that there is reason to be proud of certain dignities and customs of office in Scotland and it is right that they should be continued wherever possible, so long as they do not get in the way of modernity and progress. If they do not, let us preserve them and provide some continuity between the old system and the new.
I was trying yesterday, without success, to trace the comment—it might have been made by my right hon. Friend or it might have been in the White Paper—which I applauded at the time, that the proposals in this Bill must have regard for the views of those living in the areas affected. This is a very proper approach, which was borne out during the considertion of the English Bill earlier this year. At least one amendment from another place was accepted here because, although it changed the Government's original proposals, it reflected the view of 90 per cent. of the inhabitants of that area.
I hope that, in his flexible approach, my right hon. Friend will adopt this same flexibility with regard to the Scottish Bill. I do not want to stray into Committee points, but I am surprised and disappointed that, despite all my representations to my right hon. Friend and to the noble Lady who was Minister of State some time ago, the parish of Longforgan is still to be part of the Dundee district.
If my right hon. Friend does not recall my making any representations about this, may I now give him some news? It is that a poll of every individual in Longforgan has revealed that well over 90 per cent of the electors wish to remain in the Perth district, which is their natural home and that, in the other part of the parish, Invergowrie, over half the electors wish to remain in the Perth district.
I know that my right hon. Friend, who has always shown a most careful concern for local opinion—rightly so—will, in the light of this information, want to move an amendment to transfer Longforgan into the Perth district, where it naturally belongs, not only because it makes sense but because it is the overwhelming will of the people, as clearly expressed in the Longforgan end of the parish. I realise 982 as many of us do, that my right hon. Friend will have many amendments to propose in Committee, and I want to help him by saying that if he has not time for this one, I certainly have.
I mention this not just because of the local Longforgan question but because there are many other local matters which will be raised in our debate. For instance, my right hon. Friend the Member for Argyll mentioned Cowal in Argyll, which is where it rightly belongs. There must be many other strong local arguments which my right hon. Friend's flexibility will want to accept.
Earlier today, the hon. Member for Inverness pulled my leg and those of several other hon. Members on this side, because we had raised the question of allowances or payment to councillors during an earlier debate on the White Paper. I certainly raised the matter. I am flexible too, but only where there is good reason. I still await the good reason, which there must be, for not paying regional councillors at least, but I have not heard the argument yet.
Regional councillors in particular, in many parts of Scotland, will have very long distances to travel, often with an overnight stop, to attend meetings. Although this may be catered for by allowances, is that adequate recompense in the 1970s for the time and effort required to fulfil a public duty of this kind?
A system of allowances may have two consequences. First, it may keep out some people because they cannot afford it—often the very people we need in local government today. Second, the payment of allowances might encourage a proliferation of committees and sub-committees. I do not want to cause any offence by saying this, but it is a consideration which my right lion. Friend should bear in mind.
Soon, this Bill will start its Committee stage, and I look forward to that. My right hon. Friend will then have the opportunity to demonstrate his flexibility of approach, as I know he is anxious to do. This Bill is not controversial in the party sense. I hope that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock will accept that; if he does, it will spare him and us much trouble.
I welcome the Bill and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his splendid 983 speech at the beginning of this debate. In particular, I welcome, as we shall have cause to do over the coming weeks, the flexible flexibility with which he introduced the Bill and with which, I know, he will approach the amendments which will be tabled from both sides.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)
Although this is the first time I have spoken in the House on the subject of local government reform, I shall be brief, because many of my hon. Friends wish to speak.
Basically, I support the Wheatley approach in terms of creating regions. From my experience of planning in Edinburgh, it seems only common sense that we should have a top tier which enables proper strategic planning to take place on the basis of travel-to-work areas and on the basis of the large number of people who make use of the facilities in our major centres, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow.
I thought at the time that the Wheatley proposals, in terms of the number of districts, were too low, and I welcome the fact that the Government have increased the number of districts; although I should like to have seen the Government go further. That may seem paradoxical, but I think that the districts should have obtained more functions. I welcome the fact that to some extent the Government have done this, certainly as regards housing, although there may have been a case for going further.
I want to make two basic points of criticism. The first is that, as I understood it, the basic case for reforming local government was in order that we should give our local councils more effective powers, that we would be able to have less control from central Government or the Scottish Office. It seems that at the same time as they are reforming the structure of local government, the Government are moving in the other direction in terms of giving powers to local authorities. We have had a housing Act which substantially reduces the powers and discretions of local authorities. Indeed, it is quite outrageous that central Government should seek to lay down the most minute detail of a rent rebate scheme.
984 The Government have been afforded an opportunity to provide a new local authority health structure, to give elected councillors more control over our health service, but they chose to go in the opposite direction. That was a mistaken approach, in my view.
I understand that the Scottish Office has no plans to rationalise higher education, in the sense that central institutions and teacher-training colleges will become the responsibility of the regional authority. There is an absolutely overwhelming case for taking this opportunity to give the new regional education authority comprehensive control over higher education, with the exception of the universities. I hope that the Government will look very closely at this matter. When these large regional authorities are running higher education, it will not make sense to continue the fragmentation which exists in higher education at present.
It seems a great mistake that in regard to education and, apparently, to local government finance, the new local authorities will not obtain more powers and will not be less dependent on central Government.
My second point of criticism—and this is the one concession, the one change, which I hope the Government will certainly make—is that, as I understood it, one of the arguments for the reform of local government was that by giving a better structure and more finance to councils, we could encourage more able people to come into local government work. I was never sure whether that was one of the most important reasons for reform, but we should all be agreed that every effort should be made to encourage and enable as many people as possible to stand for election for the district and regional authorities.
The worst aspect of the Bill is that it does precisely the opposite. I have never been able to understand why teachers and others were unable to stand for election to councils. I accept that in the past it was possible for a teacher in Edinburgh to stand for election in Midlothian, and so on. But now that we shall have the large regions it will be outrageous if all these employees—teachers, bus drivers and a host of other able people—who could make a great contribution to a regional authority, are 985 denied that opportunity. It is unacceptable that so many will be denied this chance.
Most of the Government's supporters on these councils will come from the business world and in a sense it is the Labour Party which suffers most under this regulation. However, I hope that this will not become a party point and that the Government will accept the need that as many people as possible should be able to stand for election to the regional councils. It is no use saying that they can stand for the district authority. The major health, education and transport decisions, and so on, will be taken at regional level. These people should be allowed to stand for election and become regional councillors.
I hope that the Government will reconsider the decision not to provide a salary for regional councillors. One way out of the difficulty would be to provide an option, that is, if a regional councillor were prepared to work full-time he would have a salary, but if he were not prepared to work full-time he would have an attendance allowance. If the Government do not want that sort of optional system, they must go over to a salary.
I have spoken already to many people who have been very active in local government but who will be unable to continue in the work, particularly at regional level, without more than the allowances. They will be unable to continue in their present employment and do this job as well. They will not survive on attendance allowances alone. I hope that the Government will think again and enable a proportion of councillors, if not all of them, to have a salary.
§ 7.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (Aberdeenshire, East)
I shall follow closely the remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang). I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will answer the hon. Member's point about the inability or threatened inability of so many people to be able to play a part in the regional councils. As we consider this legislation we should remember that, apart from the potentially large number of people we want to attract into local government, there will be many who will leave it as a result of the Bill. Certainly I, along with the hon. Member for 986 Edinburgh, East, cannot understand why teachers, for example, cannot play a full part in their local authority. It is perfectly open to anyone who is directly affected in any decisions of local or national government to declare an interest, when such a step is necessary, and I fail to see why there should be a different rule in this category.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his ability to approach the consummation of this particularly difficult and politically unrewarding exercise with so few issues outstanding as a focus for dissent. That is no mean achievement. I hope that the further stages of the Bill will assist him to pursue this admirable objective even further.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will forgive me for turning away from all of the things in the Bill which I accept and for tackling the point which I do not find so easy to accept. It has been raised often in the debate. It relates to Clauses 45 to 48, dealing with payments of allowances to councillors. We are in danger of making a mistake here. If this reform of local government is simply a matter of re-drawing the administrative jigsaw in such extremely large pieces that the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) can describe it as revolutionary, I still do not think that the Bill, and the 10-year prelude, has been worth it. If, however, it is designed to bring something wholly new into local government, a new professionalism, drive and sense of urgency and push, I am interested, and I believe that many people in Scotland who are not passionately interested in local government at present will now be interested, too.
We are told that part of the point of this legislation is to make the regions more independent of the centre. Surely, however, the ABC of an independent region are independent councils. Footling about with attendance allowances and other allowances is hardly the way to do it unless these allowances are very generous.
Councillors, like Ministers and Members of Parliament, have to deal with strongly entrenched, dedicated and intelligent bureaucracy. In some cases they will be dealing with men and women far better paid than themselves, and there is therefore a psychological element. In my 987 experience councillors are too prone to yield to the official, even in cases of individual injustice, and the official is paid much more than the councillor to do the job. I fear that the effect of this reorganisation, with its large cut in the number of councillors, will strengthen the power of the officials to an inordinate degree. I have nothing against officials, but power must lie with the elected representatives because it is they who have to answer for it if that power is abused.
Shall we get a more professional approach? In the old days people used to say that British was best and most of the British believed it. Now they tend to say that British is worst, and most of the British believe that, too. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere between the two. But certainly since the "British is worst" feeling became apparent, this country has made great efforts to improve its approach to training of all kinds and to professionalism generally. Politics, including local politics, is about the only area in which the old concept of the amateur remains untouched. It is about the only profession with no retiring age and the only profession for which no qualifications are expected.
Now we have a chance of making a fresh start in local government. Are these new councillors, who are to undertake formidable responsibilities for their fellow citizens, to be trained in any way? After we have set up the commission to decide what their functions will be, will anyone tell the councillors of their functions? Are they to be paid adequately or is what we are discussing today simply a means of streamlining the present set-up so that it can be run more effectively from St. Andrews House? Personally, I hope not.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)
I shall seek to keep my remarks as brief as possible because a number of other hon. Members wish to speak. I wish to focus on a continuing point of dissent—the size of the West Region, which concerns many people in my constituency.
When the Wheatley Commission Report was published more than three years ago it triggered off a fierce debate in local government circles. At first I thought that the reactions were somewhat 988 hysterical and not worthy of the people who made them. That phase quickly passed and in the last three years most of the debate has been useful and worthwhile. After a short while and within a year of the Wheatley proposals being published, I found a number of ordinary individuals starting to talk sensibly about the proposals and about the counter proposals that they had, and I have found the last three years extremely helpful in assisting me to make up my mind on the Bill which has finally emerged after the Royal Commission Report and the White Paper.
Since Wheatley we have retreated somewhat from some of the concepts enunciated in the report. I always regarded it as a charter for regional and for local government, especially if account were taken of the views of the minority report. But now we have to discuss the Bill purely in the context of the Government's declaration that they will reform local government and simply substitute a new form of local government for the one we have now.
My postbag has been filled with more mail from the Girvan area in the last month about the local government reform than I have ever known on any subject including the Common Market. The issue is the allocation of the Girvan part of my constituency to Dumfries and Galloway. Paragraph 55 of the White Paper refers to theGirvan district council area of Ayrshire…which appears to have closer links with the South-West region than with the West.I have yet to hear from any Government spokesman a statement which gives sound reasons for that allegation. If I am lucky enough to serve on the Committee I shall produce some learned evidence for the Under-Secretary from the Third Statistical Account of Ayrshire produced by Dr. Strawhorn which proved conclusively that that part of Ayrshire always has been part of Ayrshire and has had very little association with Galloway whatsoever.
Three years have not been wasted in local government but I suspect that they have been wasted in St. Andrew's House. There seems to be there a remarkably obstinate attitude to altering the proposals for the west. Unless all the authorities can unanimously agree to an alternative 989 the Government will not look at the suggestion. The Government should understand the impossibility of getting a unanimous agreement on an alternative to the proposals contained in the White Paper and the Bill. We have one city authority, 12 large boroughs, 37 small boroughs, six county councils, and umpteen district council authorities in the west. In such circumstances it is impossible to get unanimity for one single issue of local government reform. I consider that the Government have failed in their responsibility to answer an argument which is widely accepted, irrespective of the differing views about an alternative. There is wide acceptance in the west that the West Region is far too large to discharge some of the personalised functions such as social work and education which are allocated to it.
I cannot understand the Government's attitude because they have not shown complete adherence to the Wheatley principles in the White Paper and the Bill. There are important departures elsewhere. In the Highlands and Islands, in the Borders and South-West Region, the Government are prepared to accept joint boards with other authorities, although the cardinal principle in the Wheatley Report was that there should be direct electoral responsibility for the discharge of any function. I do not necessarily disagree with the Government's shift on this matter. If they and the people in the south-west and the Borders and in the Highlands and Islands find it necessary to depart from the Wheatley principle, they should do so. But I cannot understand why there was flexibility for some areas and complete inflexibility in the west which, with due respect to the Highlands, the south-west and the Borders, has problems of a magnitude far outweighing theirs, especially in the discharge of education and social work.
But before dealing with my concern about the size of the region and the discharge of certain functions I should like to say a word about the meaning of the term local democracy. The Wheatley Report said on page 48, paragraph 151:Local democracy does not consist merely in local administration of functions. Nor does it mean simply having a local councillor, or even a local council, just round the corner. The essential point is that there should be an elected local council genuinely in charge of 990 the local situation, and answerable for its handling of it.Many people doubt whether the latter part of the paragraph is met by the Government's proposals. But I wish to concentrate on the first part of that quotation. My experience tells me that it is wrong. I differ from what is said in paragraph 151 and I have some experience of local government.
I have found that a very important factor leading to the success of local government is that it is built upon the quality of its councillors. It is the degree of day-to-day contact between the councillor and the people whom he represents which helps to produce policies adequate to their needs. The important point is that a councillor is within easy reach of the people whom he represents in any given area. The day-to-day contact provides the councillor with the authentic views of the people. The ability to stop one's councillor on the street, to tap him on the shoulder and have a word about the swimming pool, the community centre, the play park or housing is advantageous to the councillor and to the general body of citizens. It also allows the people to assess the character of the councillor if they have day-to-day contact with him.
My experience of local government and its committee work—because it is committee work on which it is founded—is that the character of the councillor is the most important point of all. The question of the man's integrity, determination, sincerity and ability to relate to other councillors is what makes a good committee man in local government. Those qualities can only be assessed by the citizens properly when they have intimate contact with their councillors from day to day.
I return to the main problem, which is the size of the West Region. I think it is true to say that the west has been created principally for a planning purpose. Wheatly almost made it larger. It even considered at one time having a Western Region composed of Dumfries and Galloway, Strathclyde and the Central Region, and examined the region from that point of view. It did so mainly for planning reasons. It seems a pity that because of a planning reason we should try to squeeze every other function into the remit of this gigantic authority, 991 although no reasonable arguments have been produced for showing that positive advantages would accrue to education and social work as a result of so doing.
It is indisputable that if one takes away the planning aspect in a strategic sense every other function would be better discharged by smaller areas, regional and district authorities in the west. This is especially so in social work and education where remoteness produces a disruptive attitude on the part of everyone. At least, that is my experience.
The functions would be better discharged by smaller regions, and this is definitely true in relation to the police and fire services. We should never approach a position where we have an almost national police force in operation. There are sound democratic arguments against our going to that extreme. A region and a police force encompassing half the population of Scotland should be opposed. As for the fire service, there are very good arguments for much smaller authorities than we would ever get in the West Region as visualised. The essence of fire fighting is that there are internal communications between the fire master and the lowest fireman manning the fire appliance. We get a much more efficient fire service in smaller units than is proposed for the West Region. However, that is a point which can be discussed in Committee or on Report.
As for social work, the administrative difficulty of making it work will put greater emphasis on the bureacracy than it will on the social worker who goes out into the field. To make it work we need more clerks than we have social workers on the ground. That goes without saying if one looks at the scale of administrative difficulty involved in a region of this size. Before we reach the Committee stage, which I hope will not be until after the New Year, I hope the Government will consider responding to the appeal, which I understand was made by the County Convenor of Ayrshire when he wrote to the Secretary of State on 29th November, that some alternative proposals might be forthcoming from the West. I ask the Government to reconsider their attitude on this matter, especially in relation to the point made earlier by the Secretary of State that he must reject any scheme which involves 992 at the strategic planning level a joint planning board drawn from constituent authorities in the West because that would negative the principle of direct elected representation in areas of decision making.
The choice before the Government lies between two non-ideals. These are either the acceptance of the present suggestions within the Bill or the creation of a number of smaller regional authorities which would nominate members to a joint planning board. As to the first, the Bill has a number of faults, of which we are all aware. The second has the defect that it is a non-directly elected body which would make crucial strategic planning decisions which would be worthless unless they were binding on other regional authorities. I would never agree to a joint planning board being established which had mandatory powers, which was not somehow or other directly responsible to the people in the region through which it discharged its functions.
I believe we can reach a compromise on the matter. If the Government agreed to the creation of smaller regions, then districts operating at a much more local level, and a joint planning board at a strategic planning level, that board could produce a plan and it would then be up to the regions and district authorities to make representations to the Government, and the Secretary of State acting in the national and regional interest could make that plan mandatory upon the lower regional authorities and the district authorities if necessary.
If we examine that proposal in the light of some of the provisions in the Bill we find that there is not a great deal of difference between them. The Bill gives the Secretary of State in planning function matters a great deal of reserve power over planning. So far as the Strathclyde Region is concerned, he would take an attitude to planning pretty much the same as he had to take in the Hunterston area. In Strathclyde and Hunterston, one is dealing not with a regional issue but with something which has national importance and national implications. Before local government is reformed there will be a strategic plan for the Clyde Valley planning area proposed by a local government organisation sitting at the present time. The new regional authority is unlikely to oppose that plan. 993 So we shall already have a basic plan agreed among the authorities, which can be subject to monitoring and changing by the joint planning board, which, for mandatory purposes, could be operated by the Secretary of State fitting it into his own conception of what a national plan in Scotland would be. I hope the Government will consider that point of view from myself and, if it finally emerges, from the local government authorities in Scotland.
I have one last important point to make. To some extent this debate has one defect in so far as we are arguing with a large gap in our knowledge of what the Government's final pattern of government for Scotland is to be. We are arguing about the future governmental pattern of Scotland without knowing where the Government's Scottish Assembly fits into this whole scheme. It is important that we find this out before the Committee stage. Local government must relate somehow or other to central government. We have been told that there will be devolution of central government powers to an Assembly in Edinburgh. Where do the present proposals fit in, in relation to that proposed Assembly?
Before the Government can expect hon. Members seriously to consider all the points which will flow from this Bill, they must give us some tentative outline of the Scottish Assembly which they have discussed, some idea of how wide or narrow its powers are going to be, and where the new local government fits into what will be a three-tier authority—Parliament here in Westminster, an Assembly in Edinburgh and regional government based on the regional principle of Wheatley. We are entitled to a Green Paper before we discuss this Bill in Committee.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. John Brewis (Galloway)
I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) whose speech was, for him, relatively uncontroversial. I shall probably echo a number of the points which he made, such as his point on strategic planning.
I should like to compliment the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretaries of State on the work which they have done 994 in the last 2½ years in seeking to get the framework of local government right. They have not hesitated to change some of the recommendations in the Wheatley Report, but it is only right to say that that report was a most valuable document and that, in retrospect, the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was perfectly right to set up the Royal Commission. We shall be reading the report many years hence.
I, too, wish to start with a constituency point. If reorganisation of local government must take place—and many people in my constituency would not accept that it was necessary—the Government have probably got the South-West Region, Dumfries and Galloway, about right. Dumfries is the county town for most of the area, but Stranraer is about 80 miles away and Girvan is even further away. There is intense local pride in the area, and I agree with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire that we should, wherever possible, maintain local involvement in the administration.
I am, therefore, in complete disagreement with the Government's decision to remove local planning powers from the districts. It may be all right for a small district like Nairn to be planned from nearby Inverness, but it will cause friction if a comparatively remote area like the new Merrick district must depend for all its local decisions on planners in Dumfries. Planning decisions have always been quite satisfactorily carried out by the county council in Stranraer. Now the district of which it will be the kernel will be 50 per cent. more populous.
A number of districts in Scotland have smaller populations but have still kept their local planning powers—for example, Argyll, and Kincardine and Deeside. There are many districts in England and Wales with much smaller populations but which have planning powers. If the Secretary of State has been pragmatic about his decision concerning administration in the islands, for example, he should be prepared to be pragmatic about the question of planning powers. There will be friction and trouble if planning decisions are settled 80 miles away in Dumfries.
The Select Committee on Scottish Affairs received a good deal of evidence 995 about the defects in strategic planning but not so much evidence on the local planning and building control regulations. The Wheatley Report was based largely on the needs of the planners, which are very important, but I wish to deal with a more general point, namely, the organisation of education in Scotland.
The EIS, with which, as most hon. Members know, I am associated, has been very concerned about how education will be organised under the new regional government. This was one of the subjects which its parliamentary deputation spoke to us about last March. The ideal education set-up is a population of between 250,000 and 500,000 people. Mr. Hugh Fairlie, the Director of Education for Renfrewshire, recently said that 17 educational areas were needed in Scotland, and I do not think that many people would disagree with him. With a region of fewer than 250,000 people, it will be difficult to deal with the question of the provision of further education and the education of handicapped pupils. On the other hand, if it is a bigger region, like the Strathclyde region, there will be considerable difficulties about local control.
It seems to me that the West Region educationally is far too big. It has concentrated in it counties like Lanarkshire and Ayrshire where the teaching shortage has been most acute. In a region as big as the West Region one must delegate some responsibility to depute directors of education and a sub-regional organisation. There seems to have been very little consultation on this point between the Scottish Education Department and the teachers' organisations.
As I read the Bill, there is no provision for elected sub-regional education committees. The management boards mentioned in Clause 124 are no doubt an excellent idea for individual colleges or for a comprehensive school with its catchment area of primary schools feeding the school. But I do not see how an ad hoc management board can take on all the responsibilities at present discharged by an organisation like the Ayrshire education committee.
Why has the requirement in the 1947 Act gone, namely, that education authori- 996 ties are required to delegate all their education functions to an education committee? Clause 123 uses the word "referred". I wonder whether there is any significance in the provision to refer matters rather than to delegate responsibility to education committees.
I think that there is dissatisfaction among the teachers about the participation offered to them as professionals in the running of education. It became possible to co-opt teachers to education committees some years ago. Most authorities which did so found that they were most useful, but some of the larger authorities did not make this trial. I have no objection to two representatives from the churches being co-opted mandatorily to education committees. It is a pity that the chance has not been taken in the Bill to make the co-option of teachers mandatory as well.
I wonder whether we should consider again the rule that employees of a regional authority, such as teachers, should not be allowed to stand for election to that authority. I know that there are difficulties, but education is in many respects a national service rather than a local service. Therefore, teachers may be in a slightly different position. In many areas the pool of people with the necessary intellect, knowledge and time to give to regional affairs may be uncomfortably small. Perhaps we should reconsider the position of teachers in connection with the elections to regional authorities.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Doig (Dundee, West)
The Secretary of State claimed that there was widespread agreement for the Wheatley Report. Many other speakers have repeated this. I would like to know where this widespread agreement is. I have not had a single communication from any one of my constituents about the Wheatley Report. That fact is unprecedented, particularly in connection with a revolutionary change of this kind in the legislalation of our country. There is certainly not agreement by the people of Scotland, and certainty not by the local authority associations, because almost every one is against it. Nor is agreement to be found among individual local authorities. The Secretary of State was able to quote three in Fife which wanted this change. There are 33 local authorities in Fife, and 28 997 have already confirmed emphatically that they want Fife to remain as a region. am surprised that the Secretary of State could give the score of three in favour without mentioning that there were 28 against.
The Secretary of State, when asked a question about it, would not say whether the regions would take over the present local authorities' capital debt. If those local authorities are to be abolished and the regions do not take over the capital debt, who will take it over and be responsible for it? I would like to know just who is going to pay when there are no longer the local authorities which incurred it. Some one has to take it over. Will the Government take it over? Certainly the Government have no intention of taking it over. The Secretary of State might as well have given us a straight answer and told us that it would be taken over by the new local authorities.
This is a revolutionary change in local government—and revolutionary changes always create more problems than they solve. That will be the case again.
Take Fife. The county headquarters at the moment are in a small place called Cupar, with a population of about 6,000. It has no industry, so it depends on the administrative jobs which go with its being the county capital. If we take away the county capital, as we obviously shall if we take away the county council, Cupar will become one of the biggest problem areas in the country. I have no doubt that there are many other places which, like Cupar, will be similarly affected by these revolutionary changes.
There is an imbalance in population both in the regions and in the districts. The local authorities have been conned by the Government because of the statement that the Government made to them and subsequently repeated in the White Paper, which, on page 5, says:There will be further consultations on the detailed aspects of reform, but on the fundamental questions—the basic structure and the allocation of the principal functions—the Government's decisions are firm.The Government conned the local authorities into believing that they could not discuss the principle of the matter at all, that that was accepted fact, and that they could discuss details only. If it had not been for the local authorities believing this, these proposals would not have gone 998 so far as they have, because local authorities are utterly opposed to this change.
The Bill is largely based on what is called the estuarial principle. This may be all very well for places like London and Glasgow, where there is free access across the river, but in Dundee or Edinburgh there is no free flow of traffic across the river.
Fife is to be split up, although it has been a very efficient local authority for goodness knows how many years. The county is to be split in half—half across the Forth, where a toll of 3s. is charged every time one goes over, and half across the Tay, where there is a toll of half-a-crown every time one goes over. Of course, one can walk over the Tay if one has enough energy, but I imagine people will not want to do that on a wet and windy winter's day such as this. Yet Fife is to be split between those two areas—one across the Forth and one across the Tay.
Fife is now performing all the functions of a region, and has the population and rateable value of a region. In population it would rank fifth in the regions in Scotland, and yet it is considered not big enough to be a region, although other regions below Fife in terms of population and rateable value are considered big enough. It is performing all the functions of a region now. Others of the regions are not, and cannot do so. Yet Fife is denied the right to be a region.
The excuse we had today was that there is not a large enough centre of population. That is utter rubbish. In the Borders the largest urban focal point for population has 14,000 people. In Fife we have two towns—Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline—both with a population of 50,000, and around one of them there is further population which brings the total population up to 100,000. To say there is not a focal point is sheer rubbish. They have some of the finest shopping centres anywhere in Scotland. They have all the facilities; they even have car parking facilities on a scale that one cannot find anywhere else in Scotland. I have found more opportunities for parking fairly close to the shopping centre in Kirkcaldy than I have ever found in Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, or anywhere else in Scotland—[HON. MEMBERS: "Or in London."]—or in London.
999 Orkney, with a population of 17,000, Shetland, with 17,000, and the Borders, with 96,000, can be regions. Some of the regions have rateable values of only £150,000. Fife has a population of 325,000 and a rateable value of £8½ million. Surely it is utter rubbish to say that Fife cannot be a region in its own right.
It is not a question of Fife's efficiency. The Secretary of State himself, as recently as the end of last year, said that Fife was one of the very efficient local authorities. He praised it for its efficiency. It is sheer rubbish to say that Fife could not become a region on its own.
What was wrong with local government? The one thing—and almost without exception all local authorities would agree about it—was finance. That was what was wrong with local government, and that is one of the big problems in local government.
We are still working on an antiquated system of assessments and assessors and valuation of property, and fixed gross annual values, in such a way that if one improves one's house one's gross annual value goes up so that one pays more in rates. In other words, one is penalised for improving one's property. One can leave one's car across the street, perhaps causing an obstruction, perhaps an accident, and it costs one nothing to keep it there. Build a garage at one's house, and its gross annual value increases; one is penalised for removing an obstruction from the road or for improving one's house. It is an antiquated system.
It is worse than that; some property can be exempt, or its rates reduced—agricultural buildings, for example. Industrial premises pay 50 per cent, of the rates. I do not know why we have all this complicated valuation in the first place when afterwards we make these exceptions. After going through all this complicated procedure for fixing gross annual values—a procedure that is totally unfair in its application—we make exceptions to it.
We should have abolished this rating system altogether. People ask what is the alternative, and talk about local income tax. If the Government consider that it is unfair to raise all the revenue by income tax, why should it be any 1000 fairer to raise it locally? Surely it is sensible to raise money by various methods for local services, just as for national services?
Young people, who often earn high wages make use of the facilities provided by local authorities but pay nothing towards the rates. If the money were raised nationally they would have to pay. It would save money and be much fairer if the Government, instead of paying anything from 50 per cent, to 90 per cent. of the costs of local authorities, paid 100 per cent. The only thing said against that principle is that the local authorities would lose their freedom. What freedom? What can a local authority do now that it would be unable to do then? If a local authority wants to erect a building it requires sanction. Not only do local authorities need consent to borrow money for capital expenditure; even if they are willing to provide the money out of their own funds they must obtain permission from the Government. There is no freedom now.
If a local authority has a transport service, it is surely not suggested that the Government would not provide money to pay the drivers and conductors, and to buy diesel oil to keep the buses running? Surely it is not suggested that the Government would not give a local authority money to provide books for the library? Where a local authority already provides a service it is unrealistic to imagine that any Government would refuse to provide the means to run it. Such a system would be cheaper, fairer and more efficient. That is the part of local government that needs to be reformed; that is the part on which the Government should concentrate rather than on the complicated arrangements that are in front of us now.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Taylor (Glasgow, Cathcart)
The hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) knows that, by and large, I agree with his views on local government finance. There is only one problem that I see in the alternative that he has put forward. If there were a 100 per cent. block grant, what does one do with an authority which after nine months of the financial year says that it has spent all the money and there is nothing left? That is a practical problem which could be solved, because it arises with hospital 1001 boards, and it would have to be overcome if the hon. Gentleman's ideas were to be implemented.
In general, I am happy with the Bill. The proposed authorities are viable and sensible, and I have only three small questions that I wish to ask my right hon. Friend.
The first question relates to the capital debt of the existing authorities—a point that has been raised by two previous speakers. It is fair to ask the Government not to commit themselves to transferring the capital debt of the existing authority to the larger region which will take its place. I ask for an assurance that the new authorities will all start on a fair and equal basis. If the capital debts of the county councils and the city are to be transferred to the new West Region it will start with an enormous capital debt.
My second question arises on the viability of the authorities which have been proposed. The hon. Member for Dundee, West spoke of industrial derating. In considering whether the new regions are viable we look immediately at the potential rate poundage that they can raise. Whether industrial derating is continued or discontinued is an important matter in considering whether the regions are viable. Whether or not we continue industrial derating is a matter for the Government, but I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether the continuance of industrial derating is consistent with the obligations we are taking on in joining the Common Market, or whether in the view of the Common Market Commission it would be a concealed subsidy to industry. It is not adequate to have an assurance from the Government that they see no reason why this is inconsistent with the Treaty of Rome or with the obligations that we are taking on. Have the Government asked the Common Market Commission whether industrial derating is consistent with the EEC regional development policy, and has the Commission given approval for the continuation of industrial derating if we wish it?
My third point relates to Clause 146(6), which deals with the powers of the weights and measures inspectorate or the trading standards organisations in local authorities. The subsection, which empowers the weights and measures inspec- 1002 torate to provide assistance where required to consumers in the locality, appears to be a step forward. Some local authorities provide consumer advice centres or give financial assistance to them, but is it the Government's intention that in the new local government setup there shall be a considerable extention of these powers?
I should like to see in every centre of population a consumer advice centre to which people could look for advice on the various organisations with which they have dealings. Because of the concentration of decision-making, people who have problems with the gas board, the electricity board, the local housing department or the Inland Revenue are finding it more difficult to get through to the appropriate person to deal with their inquiries. Does subsection (6) allow the new local authorities to spend money on advice centres, and do the Government believe that that would be a step forward?
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)
The right hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Noble) said that many people know nothing of their local councillor and may know more of their Member of Parliament. That reminds me of the gentleman who came to see me in my surgery and said, "My, you are bearing your years well, Hector". He was referring to my distinguished octogenarian predecessor of the same surname, who, unhappily, is not with us to appreciate the joke and the flattery. It suggests that the people in Aberdeen know their local councillor better than they know their Member of Parliament.
At the time when the Wheatley Commission Report was published I was a member of the Aberdeen Town Council, which I served for nine years. It is right that we should pay tribute to the local councillors and county councillors throughout the length and breadth of Scotland for the unstinting service they have given. Many have gone without promotion, many have damaged their superannuation prospects, and many have driven themselves to an early grave by the hours they have worked.
When I said that the Wheatley Report fundamentally approached the reform of local government in the wrong way, many people said that I was far too near the problem, and that if I were 1003 further removed from it I might take a different view. Now that I am further removed from the problem, all I can say is that absence makes the heart grow fonder, for I still have a great deal of regard for local authorities and the work they do.
The theme which has run throughout the debate, rightly, is that what is wrong with local government is the lack of finance and the way in which the money is spent. Many hon. Members have spoken about the method of raising finance; perhaps a more important question is: how is the finance expended? Unfortunately, we have not the time to go into great detail, but we find that apart from wages and salaries the biggest and most important item in local authority expenditure—which will be of even greater importance as time goes on—is interest on loans. The method by which local authorities have to raise their finance—that is to say, by borrowing and paying back over 60 years—means that a great deal of money has to be raised from the rates and the Exchequer and paid to people who contribute nothing, apart from the dubious privilege of lending money to local authorities. If we had tackled the problem of finance first we would have done much to improve local government.
This is not to say that the Wheatley proposals and the Bill are without merit. There always was a case for strategic planning, but to base the whole idea on strategic planning, the estuarial concept, and the rest, and forget the work done in the localities, is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Over the past 10 years, in terms of the reform of the National Health Service and local government we have seen a move towards bigger and bigger units. People in authority who are interested in and have discussed the problem, and have had to draft legislation, have been conscious of the remoteness of local government. I believe that the Wheatley Commission was wrong in saying that local government was remote from the community, but its answer is to make it more remote. That is not the true answer, because there has been a growing tendency to take people away not from the parish pump but from what the grass roots of politics and government are about.
1004 People have looked at methods of trying to preserve community of interest. Community councils are being brought in at the bottom to do unspecified functions. In the reform of the National Health Service, where there is a one-tier system, we now see local health councils. There is an interesting distinction between the approach to local health councils and county councils. In the White Paper on the reform of the National Health Service, specific areas of duty were laid on the local health council. The first was its right to be consulted about changes in the service. It also had a right of access to the hospitals and to information. The legislation did not spell out exactly what was to happen, but I hope that when the regulations come along these points will be spelt out.
The governing authorities also have definite responsibilities and obligations towards local health councils. It is disappointing that the White Paper on the reform of local government is vague as to exactly what community councils will do. No statutory duties or rights to information will be vested in them, and there will be no obligations by the higher authority towards them. There is nothing about the way in which these bodies will be serviced. I hope that this aspect will be considered, because they are the basis of real democracy.
It is disappointing that we are taking away the ordinary rights of people to vote. We are replacing them by ad hoc bodies, which can provide a useful service and may in some ways lead to more community involvement, but I still think that the method is the wrong way round. If we give people greater authority and financial responsibility they are likely to respond to the kind of treatment that they are given.
In some sense, although we are not dealing in absolute principle with the division of responsibility we are discussing the way in which responsibilities are devolved. The Government are giving a sop to district authorities in telling them that they will have housing responsibility where they previously did not. Yet the greatest power which they had—control of rents—has been taken away from them. So has the power of rebates. There is no point in giving people responsibility for 1005 housing if, at the same time, one does not trust them to charge rents for the properties.
Social work is being left with the regional authority. There has been talk about the relationship between social work and education, but there is an even closer link between social work and housing, and if the major housing responsibility is dealt with at district level and the major social work is administered through the regions, one has to rely on some kind of consultation. But rather than consultation one should really have some kind of direct policy-making.
I ask the Government once more whether they will not allow social work to be devolved down to the districts. Although I welcome in some respects the fact that town and county will come closer together, I think that the policy for social work in a large urban district is not necessarily the same policy that will work in a county area. If a regional authority which, despite all that has been said, is going to be short of finance, has to determine priorities, it is a brave man who will say which is correct—money spent in urban areas or money spent in rural areas. But if we could get it down to the lower tiers, we should perhaps get round that problem.
On the education aspect, I have no objection whatever to the fact that the churches are again to be represented on education committees. I have had deputations from churches in my constituency, including the Roman Catholic Church, which is very concerned that it might lose its responsibility. I would not want to take away from the churches any responsibilities or rights they have to be co-opted on to education committees, but in this modem age why leave out the secular societies? More and more we live in a society where religion plays no part in many people's lives. As one who is not religious, I believe that I have as much right to have my views as a member of a corporate secular body to be represented in educational matters as the churches have. If outside bodies are to be represented, we should not simply have only the traditional ones.
There is a small but important point which is not in the Bill. What is to happen to the fisheries boards? Water 1006 and transport and many other things are going to the regions. In Aberdeen and the surrounding districts, we have the Don Salmon Fisheries Board. This is a curious body which represents riparian interests—people who own the waters. It has dealt with the method of salmon fishing and with questions of what salmon will be allowed up and the rest. Some of the angling associations feel that they should be represented on the board. They have been told that representatives can be elected, but they are unable to find out when the annual meeting takes place. It is not advertised. They have great difficulty in finding when it is to take place. Although this board has some authority delegated to it by the Secretary of State, he is not answerable in the House for its goings-on. Perhaps it can be incorporated into the regional authority, because fishing is a great tourist asset, and if tourism is to be encouraged by the local authorities it should be included in their responsibilities.
A very great opportunity has been lost in representation. I was lucky in my employment in being given time off for my local authority work—mostly unstintingly, although with the usual barbed comments about my hobby being my work and my real work being done in the town council. One learns to grow a thick skin. But many people do not get the opportunity to serve on local authorities because their employers are difficult. Indeed, it is not only employers in the ordinary sense who can be difficult. I say this with trepidation, although I do not think that there are many members of the Transport and General Workers Union present, but that union does not allow any of its officials to serve on local authorities. I am not therefore making a partisan point but a real point about local democracy. I hope that something can be included in the Bill guaranteeing that no one can disallow an interested person from serving on a local government body.
It is a great pity that in this new reform many people who at present, theoretically at least, if not in practice, work for certain organisations within local authorities, can become local authority representatives only in areas where they do not work. Teachers have been mentioned. If they work in one area they can represent another. This 1007 may no longer be possible in the reorganisation.
Although I have been very unhappy about the whole concept of this reform, I have to accept that reform is going to come. I would not go far as Confucius, who is alleged to have said that if rape is inevitable one should relax and enjoy it. Many people feel that they have no alternative but to become reconciled to the reform and to make it work, but they do so reluctantly.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John Smith (Lanarkshire, North)
I wish to echo some of the points which were made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) about the problems of the West Region.
Before tackling some of the problems in the way of reform of local government as it is proposed in the Bill, I might say that every right hon. and hon. Member who has taken any time to study the Wheatley Report must concede that it was a masterly piece of work in pinning down the problems facing local government in the future. We owe a great debt to the work done by the commission in highlighting the problems, even if we do not all agree with its conclusions.
The problem with the West Region is its size. This has been referred to already by a number of hon. Members. Undoubtedly, as the Wheatley Commission found and as the Government's White Paper recognised, there is an excellent case for treating the Strathclyde Region, as it is to be called, as one unit for the purposes of strategic and economic planning. However, that was the only ground on which the Wheatley Commission found that there was any cohesiveness for the region. It was almost an obsession of both the Government and the commission with the need to have some unit for strategic and economic planning which meant that this was decided on as the size of the West Region. The commission itself at one stage thought of an even bigger West Region than that which emerged eventually.
As one who represents a constituency which will be included in the Strathclyde Region, I am concerned with two aspects of its work. These are educa- 1008 tion and social work. Before going into the detail of both education and social work, it is interesting to read in the commission's report that it emphatically rejected the idea that education and social work should be national services. If half Scotland is to be in the Strathclyde Region, for the people there they axe almost the equivalent of national services. They would feel that they might as well have national services as services encompassing half Scotland.
The difficulty about the region is that on social work and education not only does it encompass half the population; it encompasses almost all the educational and social work problems of the whole of Scotland. If there were a way in which an area with few social problems could be allied with one which had a great many, there would be some sense in spreading the load. But in the western area there are too many social and educational problems. That is where the shortage of staff is. It is where the problems of the urban environment are. It is where the difficulty of modern living and the stresses and strains are found at their most acute.
The social work difficulties are compounded by the fact that housing is no longer a regional function but is made a district function. Everyone talks of education and social work running in harness. My own experience is that the social work department in Lanarkshire deals most often with housing problems and with the difficulties of those who have to pay the bills of the South of Scotland Electricity Board. In my view there is much to be said for reconsidering how social work is to be organised. It is important for the director to be in face-to-face contact with the county factor or housing manager. There must be an interlinking of the social work committee in a local authority with the housing committee in that authority, and everyone with experience of social work as it has developed so far must be conscious of these two important aspects. My fear is that there will be a huge social work department in the Strathclyde Region with fragmented housing authorities beneath it and that the social work department will not make sufficient contact with housing policies at district level.
1009 In terms of education, the Government attempted to suggest a solution to the problem of the administration of an area with a population of 2½ million. They have suggested an amorphous scheme of educational boards of management. They seem to be harking back to the school boards which once existed in Scotland. I am sure that there are many differences between the two. But it is my impression that we are going back to the individual management of individual schools. I do not think that that will be a sufficient antidote. Parents are very interested in education. Anyone meeting the public, especially at elections, is impressed by the questions that they ask about educational facilities for their children.
I am pleased to note in my own constituency that every time an education problem affects a school there tend to be letters to and pressure on the Member of Parliament and the councillors. People are becoming more interested in their children's education. They look at areas in terms of educational opportunity as well as the many other factors which make them decide where to live. People are interested more than in just the management of the individual school. They are interested in the education policy followed by the education authority. I do not think that getting parents involved in boards of management with the teachers of individual establishments will give them much say in the formation of the policies that education authorities are to carry out. There will be great difficulties for the man who is to be the director or rather Strathclyde Region in keeping some grip director-general of education for the on the education policy followed throughout the region.
What would be a solution to this problem, given that there is a need for some strategic and economic planning cohesion for the region? I was attracted by the proposal made to the Secretary of State by the six counties which envisaged, instead of a Strathclyde Region, four sub-regions comprising first the city of Glasgow, second the county of Lanarkshire, third Dumbarton and Renfrewshire, and fourth Ayrshire, most of Argyll and Bute. That proposal has the merit of cutting down the number of authorities in the Strathclyde Region, 1010 which are far too many in number at the moment. It also comes with the agreement and at the request of most of the local authorities. One could have some sort of provincial tier to which the sub-regions surrendered part of their power for the purpose of strategic and economic planning, and this could be devised, given the will.
If the Government set their face against this and their proposal is not amended in Committee, I hope that they will show flexibility in dealing with the administrative problems of the West Region and be willing to write into the Bill some amendments which will allow smaller units in the West Region for the consideration of education and social work policies. Although it is late in the day, I understand that there are still meetings going on between the principal local authorities in the region which are hoping to get a compromise formula which may give them a little more say directly at local level in the decisions which are to be taken.
I pass from that to the size of the Glasgow district. One of the complications of having such a huge area as that proposed for the Strathclyde Region is that the districts are very large as well. I can see some sense in having a large region if it is counter-balanced by small district authorities. There is then a balance between the authority with the resources and other authorities which pick up the grass-roots feeling. That balance does not exist within the Strathclyde Region.
It is curious that the region is the only one whose districts were not much amended when the Government issued their White Paper. It was the North that received consideration. There is one district not too far away from the Secretary of State's constituency with a population of only 8,000 people, while in the west of Scotland there are many districts of well over 100,000 people. As both districts perform the same functions, by and large, it is a remarkable size discrepancy.
The other difficulty about the districts in the West region is that the proposed Glasgow district is far too big. Instead of the existing city of Glasgow, it is proposed to include all the peripheral burghs and parts of the counties surrounding, including the burghs of Bears-den, Clydebank, Milngavie, Rutherglen 1011 and Bishopbriggs, parts of Lanarkshire and parts of Renfrewshire, and part of Dunbartonshire. The population of this greater Glasgow district will be almost 1,200,000 people, about six times as large as that of any other district in the Strathclyde region. The next largest is Paisley district, with 200,000 electors.
It does not seem to me very sensible, when there is already a large unit as comprised in the present city of Glasgow, to add so many more units to make it bigger and more dominant over all the other districts, which are understandably fearful that the Glasgow district will be too big and overwhelming. I have nothing against the city of Glasgow, but when we are trying to keep districts to a reasonable size I do not see any need to add other bits to it.
The Government's argument is that communities like Bishopbriggs and Milngavie are in a sense part of Glasgow. I agree that in many senses they are, and that if Glasgow were to remain an all-purpose authority they would have to be brought into it. But it has not been made an all-purpose authority. It is to be only a district authority, carrying out the limited functions that a district is allowed to carry out. The major functions of planning, regional development and transport are all done by the region. There is a case for the region being large enough to deal with them, but in view of the limited powers of the district—apart from housing, it does not have much to do, under the proposals before us—there is no sense in making huge districts which make it even more difficult for people to be represented.
Some burghs will be wiped out and represented instead by one councillor or half a councillor. That is bound to cause dismay to people who have been participating in democratic elections in their communities for some time.
The proposals to reform local government are worthwhile in many ways. But there is a tendency for the Government to bulldoze them through, to say, "The local authorities must have their heads knocked together, because we cannot get any sense out of them. We shall push the Bill through, using our parliamentary majority, and they can like it or lump 1012 it." That is not a desirable approach to a delicate problem like the reform of local government. I hope that in Committee the Government will be prepared to be flexible in their response to the representations made and the amendments proposed, and that at the end of the day we shall achieve a better system of local government. The principle of region and district is sound, but if we can make a number of amendments it can be made much better.
§ 8.33 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
First, I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on bringing this legislation before the House. We have been debating the reform of local government for a very long time. We can argue and discuss for long enough. The time has undoubtedly come for action.
The Bill deserves a general, overall welcome. I believe that the Wheatley Commission basically did a much better job than did Redcliffe-Maud in England and Wales. What emerged from the commission were on the whole very sound proposals, and I congratulate the Government on the extent to which they have adhered to them. Indeed, the only points on which I might be inclined to take issue slightly with the Government is where they have deviated from Wheatley. The commission produced an excellent report on which to base our work, a far better report than those South of the Border had produced. It is only right that we should pay tribute to those of our colleagues who were so heavily and effectively involved in the work of the commission. I hope that I do not embarrass you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by saying that, because it is sincerely meant.
I do not want to delay the House for more than a few minutes and, therefore, I will concentrate on two or three brief points. But in parenthesis I must say that inevitably, like other hon. Members, I shall have points of great local importance to raise in Committee. I am not happy about the proposed size and scope of the Dundee district, and the proposal that Monifieth Burgh and Monifieth district should be incorporated in the Dundee district. They want to remain in Angus. When we reach the Committee stage I shall be moving amendments, which I hope will receive a favourable reception from the Government, along 1013 these lines. However, these are not matters on which we should concentrate too much tonight as they are essentially of Committee concern.
I have three points which I wish to raise in ascending order of importance. First, community councils. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State confirmed again this afternoon that the Government do not believe that the community councils should have a specific statutory status and, above all, access to specific statutory boundaries. My right hon. Friend advanced the serious point which I fully take, that there are strong arguments against a three-tier system of local government, and that if we give any statutory authority or funds to the community councils, that is what we shall be creating.
We need to look at the matter carefully. It seems that there may well be a reasonable case for at least endowing the community councils with access to the common good funds as if right where these arise. There is a real danger, which the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) mentioned, that these bodies, where they are set up, will feel that they lack purpose and authority. We must look in Committee at the scope of the community councils.
My second point is about the Government's decision to move overall responsibility for house building and housing policy from the upper tier, as recommended by Wheatley, to the lower tier. I have always felt the arguments for that were not very well enunciated by the Government in their White Paper. I have not been convinced by their case. I suspect that there may be something in the proposition advanced by some hon. Members opposite. But basically it is a question of finding work for the lower tier to do, and I do not feel that that in itself is a sufficient argument. This is a matter which we must examine a good deal more closely in Committee. The Government will have to make a better case than they have done so far for making the break with what Wheatley recommends.
By far and away the most important anxiety which I have about the Bill is that of finance. I do not think that sufficient thought has been given to the allocation of financial responsibility be- 1014 tween central and local government under the new local government proposals. Whilst we all recognise that the time is overdue for a thorough-going modernisation of local government, the essential purpose must be to provide units of local government which will have the resources of their own raising under their own control and which will enjoy a far greater measure of autonomy than the local authorities have under the present structure. I do not believe that we have yet achieved that.
I have a good deal of sympathy with the views expressed by the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston). Unless we can find means of giving great financial autonomy to the new authorities, particularly to the new regional authorities, we shall find it difficult to recruit people of the calibre we need to serve on them.
I have some sympathy with the argument advanced, for example, by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) on the question of taking out of local authority finance such items as teachers' salaries, which are now essentially centrally controlled. I agree with the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that a change of that kind does not of itself change the nature of financial responsibility, and it does not deal with the underlying problem which, I think, is well set out in paragraph 40 of the Green Paper on local government finance:The Government wish to give greater freedom to local authorities, but they cannot evade their own responsibility for management of the national economy, nor can they evade their duty to ensure minimum standards for essential services throughout the country. The problem for central government is how to resolve this dilemma within these constraints ".I do not think that my right hon. Friends have resolved that dilemma, and I am not even certain that they have properly tackled it.
In my view, we should look seriously at possible new sources of local authority finance. There are grave defects in the present rating system. Perhaps we should consider what scope there is for local income tax. The only proviso I should make there is that I should be most dubious about any scheme which attached it to PAYE or the like.
1015 The rating system has one advantage and one only, that people know very well when the rate bills come in, and this is a far more effective system for restraining the propensity of public servants and those who control them to indulge in unnecessary expense than the PAYE system by which people find that the resources are deducted from their earnings before they ever receive them. Subject to that proviso, however, I suggest that we look carefully at new forms of finance.
In Committee, we must try to ensure that we give greater reality than we have given so far to the principle of devolution of real responsibility and authority to the new institutions of local government which we are to set up. With those provisos, I welcome the Bill, and I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on tackling what was bound to be a thorny and uncomfortable problem. We have an opportunity here to achieve a good reform of local government, and I hope that we shall seize it.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
I am grateful for the opportunity even at this late hour to express some of the views of people in the one region which has not so far been represented in the debate, namely, the very important Central Region of Scotland. My constituency, which lies in that region, is reasonably happy with the proposals now before us, but I think that there is a moral here, which brings me back to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Mr. John Smith).
The Central Region is a manageable region. It is of a size which can be easily managed. My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North made a good point when he said that the West Region was far too big, and emphasised that the proposals put forward by the six counties when they sent representatives here to put their case to hon. Members on both sides raised valid points worthy of consideration.
I have always argued that there is an optimum size of authority for good local government. In my view, the Central Region is of that optimum size, which means, in effect, that the West Region 1016 if far too big, and the proposals of the six counties should be given serious thought.
I hope that the Government will not on this Bill adopt the attitude which they have taken on so many Bills in the 15 months since I have had the honour and privilege to be a Member and say that the Bill is unamendable. It should be borne in mind that we are deciding the shape and form of local government for probably the next half century, and we ought to get it right. The mere fact that the Government have announced—in advance of the publication of the Bill—the date of the first elections for the new regional and district councils should not be used as an excuse for refusing to accept amendments.
In 1958, when owner-occupier rates were introduced in Scotland, there was a specific promise that industrial derating would be ended. So far, that promise has not been implemented. I mention that because I hope that industrial derating will be continued, for I know from experience that it is a decided advantage in attracting industry to a country that has long suffered the effects of high unemployment.
The Secretary of State mentioned rating. One reservation flows from the Central Region and its financial experts—the burgh chamberlains and others who have to deal with finance. The regional authorities are to be the rating authorities while the district authorities are to be the housing authorities, so that the regional authorities will collect rates and the district authorities will collect rents.
In Scotland there is a traditional connection between rates and rents. The burgh chamberlains who have expressed apprehension have been justified in saying that serious misunderstandings are possible—and I believe them to be very possible—if this proposal is put into effect. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to reassure us about this arrangement.
The hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour) mentioned the division of Fife. As hon. Members know, I do not represent a Fife constituency, but my home is there. The hon. Gentleman has been consistent since the publication of the Wheatley proposals and he and I agree that Fife should not be divided. My stance 1017 will be to support the hon. Gentleman's attempt to retain Fife as an all-purpose unit.
He and I have not been assisted in our objective by those now leading the campaign in Fife. According to my recollection, seven or eight years ago one of the prominent leaders of that campaign himself published a plan to divide Fife because the predominantly Tory-controlled eastern section was dominated by the Labour-controlled western section. Now one cannot see into or out of this individual's car because of the "Save Fife" posters. Nevertheless, he published a plan in the local newspaper proposing that Fife should be divided.
I turn to the subject of community councils. I direct the Under-Secretary's attention to an interesting experiment in the Falkirk-Grangemouth area. There have been set up what are called action neighbourhood groups. These groups are co-ordinated with the social work department, and the Chairman of the Falkirk Action Neighbourhood Group is, by that fact, a member of the social work committee. The social work department is working closely with these action neighbourhood groups in a way that could be a model for community councils.
The Secretary of State ought to be more forthcoming about the payment of councillors. There is no provision in England and Wales for the payment of councillors, and the Secretary of State is building up false hopes if he tells the House, and through it the people of Scotland, that there is a prospect of councillors in Scotland being paid. Neither this Government nor any other would provide for the payment of councillors in one part of the United Kingdom and not in another. All that we can do is to draw a parallel with what is happening in England and Wales. I repeat that the English Bill contains no provision for the payment of councillors, and I therefore believe that the Secretary of State has done the House a disservice by building up false hopes on this question of payment for councillors.
The disqualifications surrounding public service employees are minimal by comparison with the disqualifications that are not written into the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Robert Hughes) referred to those 1018 who cannot get away from their work to perform public service duties because their employers will not allow them time off. If we are seeking to build good regional and district authorities we can do so only by employing the best people, and they should be made available. The Government ought, therefore, to write into the Bill an obligation on employers to allow their employees off work if they are elected to a regional or district authority.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)
I underline and re-state the case advanced by Wheatley for these proposals, though I do not, of course, suggest that we should accept them hook, line and sinker in every detail. It seems to be forgotten that in its proposals for the West Region Wheatley made it clear that it was considering a tract more than twice the size of any of the regions that it had hitherto considered and went on to say:One solution we rule out right from the start. However overwhelming its concentration of population may be, we are convinced that the Clyde Valley should not be divided into two or more regions.The commission went on to argue what we have known for years, ever since the Clyde Valley Regional Planning Advisory Council was set up, that the whole area ought to be planned at a high level for economic, strategic and planning reasons. That having been accepted, I find it difficult to understand why, at this late stage, even some of my hon. Friends are looking in a rather kindly way upon proposals which would have the effect of retaining the circumstances which the Wheatley Commission was appointed to consider and recommend changes.
If there is to be another region in Lanarkshire, what is different from the present position? If Glasgow is to become unitary, what becomes of the difficulties that have hitherto arisen when Glasgow has looked for some help in her housing problem or when the city has entered into negotiations with contiguous areas and local authorities for land for houses or roads? Therefore, Glasgow, with no land for houses, has been forced to build up. We thought that this was a strong case in the suggestions to the Wheatley Commission, but the commission went even further, 1019 saying that the weight of evidence supported this conclusion and that it also adopted it wholeheartedly. The evidence to the commission was for one area. There were then three parts to the area and the Government made it smaller. They cut off the south-west and gave effect to the proposal mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ewing).
If this is to be the function of the regional area, the criticism—I have offered some myself—is in respect of education and social work. On page 95 of the report, having given close logical arguments to the evidence supplied to it, the commission concluded, in respect of education:But we have found no convincing evidence of disadvantages that could not be overcome by a suitable form of organisation, if such were thought correct for other reasons.Thus, the Government are at fault themselves in that they have not provided the evidence for the schemes of devolution, whether by administration or in other ways, to support those of us who in principle want to aid the proposals in the Bill. Even in Committee, I hope that my hon. Friends will pursue this.
I hope that I have as keen an interest in education and social work as any hon. Member, but unlike some of my hon. Friends I hope that, if Clause 174 is to be their form of devolution, they will spell it out more clearly. At the moment, it appears to be only an education board for each school. If it is meant to be an area, let them say so. Let us have more information about this.
Similarly with social work. I do not accept the talk about grass roots contact with the population, which seems to mean that everyone wants a local councillor around the corner. I do not accept the view that a local councillor has to be a glorified welfare officer—although circumstances force Members of Parliament to take on this rôle.
In the new set-up, given political power and the responsibility for finance in the future of local authorities, councillors should take responsibility for political decisions and then get out of the hair of those who have to do the work. They should not go on every deputation to decide whether blue or white paint should be used on a school lavatory. They 1020 should take the decisions. I believe that people want a branch office of the social works or education department around the corner with which they can make contact rather than a local councillor. Having made their approach to the office, if they are looked at askance by a local officer, then they should go to the local representative or councillor to make representations.
I am grateful for this opportunity to correct some misunderstandings. Despite what my hon. Friend said about the peripheral areas of Glasgow, whatever happens, areas to which original Glasgow citizens have gone—whether Bishopbriggs, Milngavie or, like myself, Bearsden—should take their responsibility in paying for the services that an industrial area requires, irrespective of whether Glasgow is a unitary authority or part of a larger authority, the Strathclyde region.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. David Lambie (Central Ayrshire)
I am very grateful to the hon. Members on both Front Benches who are to wind up the debate for giving me the opportunity to make one or two points.
During my short period as a Member of the House one of my greatest pleasures has been to see the end of consensus politics, in relation to the Common Market, the Industrial Relations Act, housing and rents. But I am sorry that we are not following that path tonight. We are seeing a continuation of consensus politics, with one Front Bench congratulating the other on murdering local government in Scotland.
I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) made a better case for the Bill than did the Secretary of State. My hon. Friend has been doing that too often recently. He was wrong on such occasions; he is wrong again tonight.
It is strange that during the whole of the debate we have heard quotations from the older of Members of the House from past speeches from the Front Benches. We have heard statements made by the present Under-Secretary of State for Development, the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger), about the need for an investigation into local government finance before the Labour Government could investigate the reform of local government structure. If I had the time, I 1021 could quote Tom Fraser, who was the main spokesman for the Labour Party in Scotland, stating clearly in 1963 that we could have no reorganisation of local government structure before we had a reorganisation of local government finance.
Perhaps I have not been a Member of the House long enough and perhaps the same thing will happen to me at some future date. It seems strange that hon. Members can come here year after year and change their speeches, depending on which Front Bench they sit. I am a little more honest than that. I believe that one should say what one believes, from whatever bench one is sitting on.
There must be some reason why my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) was forced to change Labour policy between 1963 and 1964. There must be some reason why the Secretary of State and the Undersecretary have been forced to change their policy. The reason is that one can get permission from the Cabinet to discuss the reorganisation of local government structure but one will never get permission from the Cabinet, especially from the Treasury, to discuss transferring an area of taxation from national Government to local government. The Treasury will never give permission for a hand-over to the local authorities of taxes it has been collecting for generations. That is why my right hon. Friend failed, and that is why the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary are failing today. They have been forced by the Treasury—not because they want it—to murder local authorities in Scotland and to murder the local government traditions in Scotland because they have not the courage or strength to extract from the Treasury permission to look at finance.
At present we are building up bigger and bigger local government units in Scotland but we are not giving them the power or the finance to carry out the services that bigger local authorities should provide. In the West Region we are building up a dinosaur which will become just as extinct as the other members of that species.
We must examine the matter again. I am very disappointed that the Opposition are not contesting the Second Reading, because we should stick to our policy and 1022 state that under no circumstances shall we reorganise the structure of local government without looking at its finance. John Wheatley set about his remit from the wrong premise. I say that with all due respect to the two hon. Members who served on the Wheatley Commission. The first two lines of the report state clearly that there is something seriously wrong with local government in Scotland. But there is nothing seriously wrong with it that money will not solve. I say that with all due respect, too, to former councillors on both sides of the House. The national Government keep drawing more and more taxation towards London and give less and less to the regions.
If we are to reorganise local government on the basis of the Bill, putting more than half the population of Scotland into one area, we must ask the logical question: why do we not just put the whole of Scotland within one local government area? If we are to have power, we need money, so the next logical step is to say that if we cannot get people from Scotland to exert influence on the English Treasury we must move the Scottish part of the Treasury back to Edinburgh, that that is where we shall have the regional authority, with the Scottish Treasury. The next logical step is self-government for Scotland. We do not want to see all the traditions of local government in Scotland murdered to satisfy the whims of one or two financial experts down in London, when we can save the whole of Scotland's economy and her traditions by saying, "Bring the money and the power back up to Edinburgh." Let us reorganise not only local government but national government, and give back power not only to the local authorities but to the people of Scotland.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Lambie) did not mean to imply that there were no party divisions over local government. It is obvious that there will be many points of controversy, and we can look forward to some rumbustious debate in Committee.
But it is important to note that the true parentage of the legislation is the Wheatley Commission, which was in no sense a partisan body. Indeed, if we had to 1023 choose subjects on which it was appropriate to have a degree of consensus across the party barriers local government would surely be one, if not the prime one. If we could not achieve a working agreement on the way in which local government should be reformed without taking up rigid party stances, there would not be much prospect of an enduring reform. In that spirit, I should like to associate the Opposition with the tributes paid to the work of the Wheatley Commission, and to yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston), who were both members of that august body.
We have had a very useful canvass of views in the debate. I want to take up one or two themes which appear to me to be important—topics that we should pick out as the kind around which controvery is likely to revolve. Many were discussed very well in the debate. It is invidious to leave out any, but I first pick on the problem of payment of councillors. That is a very important issue. The Bill is silent about it. It does not propose, at the moment, that councillors should be paid. I should have thought that the case for paying regional councillors was rather powerful.
I share the view expressed by one hon. Member opposite who said that the case against this suggestion had not been stated. We should like to hear the case against it because, on the face of it, the arguments for paying regional councillors are very powerful. I go even further than my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) who proposed that payment should be limited to the chairmen or the higher office bearers. I think all regional councillors should in principle be paid unless strong reason can be shown to the contrary. The burden of proof ought to be put that way because a convincing case can be made in terms of the responsibility, the requirement to travel, and so forth.
We can get dedication without payment, but a combination of dedication and ability is difficult to ensure over a long period without payment of councillors. I do not necessarily reject the argument that district councillors should be paid as well, but the case for paying them is not so powerful as the case for paying regional councillors.
1024 The second topic on which I wish to lay stress and on which there ought to be controversy is the question of disqualification of employees from membership of councils. It would be useful if the House were to look at Clause 31, which is the basic provision disqualifying employees, and compare that with Clauses 38 and 68 which deal respectively with the declaration of pecuniary interests of councillors on the one hand and officials on the other. In parenthesis, might I point out that the penalties in the Bill for failure to declare an interest seem to me to be quite derisory. The contrast which one has to make is the contrast between the total exclusion of employees from membership of councils on the one hand, and the requirement—basically a moral requirement—to declare an interest, with legal penalties for failure to do so, which is attached to the other sorts of disqualification which presumably are intended to be based upon the same principle.
Presumably the principle of disqualifying employees is the same one as requiring a councillor to declare his interest. Presumably one wants the councillor to make a decision on his own judgment and responsibility, and not, as it were, to obey his master's voice—some outside influence or his employer. If this is the basis—and it has never been suggested that there is any other basis—it seems to me that the disparity of treatment is quite scandalous. A teacher employed by an education authority, who is very unlikely to echo his master's voice in the sense of doing exactly what the education committee says, is not likely to be thurled to the view which robs him of responsibility.
I would think that the same argument applies just as strongly to what one might describe as the more industrial elements of local authority employment. With the existence of trade unions today it is unlikely that employees of a local authority, whose normal industrial loyalty will be to a trade union in the matter with which they are concerned—conditions of employment and the rest—are going to be automata, following their master's voice. The ground for disqualification in the case of employees seems to me to be one which does not stand up to examination in modern conditions.
§ Mr. Galbraith
Would the hon. and learned Gentleman be satisfied to have a civil servant in this House?
§ Mr. Murray
I do not think I can stray that far from the rules of order, but I would certainly want to consider that very carefully. On the face of it, there is an argument to be stated.
What we seek to do is to open the door to allow certain people to be members of local authorities. I wish to pursue the argument a stage further. With people who must declare a pecuniary interest, the difficulty is that we do not know until they make a declaration what the interest is. If they fail to make a declaration and are not found out, their true allegiance, which may have influenced their judgment, is not disclosed. With local authority employees, their employer is known. There is no ulterior control. The matter is open from the start.
I should like to draw attention to another unsatisfactory feature which the Government will perhaps consider amending in Committee. The Bill, I think correctly, proposes to open the proceedings of local authority committees to public scrutiny. The public will be able to attend such committees as of right, which I welcome. However, the public are not to have the right to examine the register of declared interests of councillors. Only other members of the local authority will be permitted to do that. The time has come for ordinary members of the public to have access to the written declaration of councillors interests, which is kept in a register by the local authority. I hope that the Government will keep an open mind on that type of amendment.
Reverting to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), I do not wish to pursue the argument to the point at which I would be forced to say that all members of local authorities who are employees must be entitled to serve on a local authority. I should like the blanket disqualification to be removed, but perhaps certain qualifications or conditions should be imposed. I hope that the Government will consider this matter in Committee.
The third important topic is the question of local authorities' accumulated debts. We are entitled to an answer to- 1026 night in general terms on this matter. Perhaps the Government have not completely made up their mind, but we are entitled to know before we give the Bill a Second Reading what they have in mind for the accumulated debts of local authorities. They represent a very substantial burden for many, if not all, local authorities. I am not sure that any local authority is free from debts. They are very substantial for some local authorities.
A problem which is financially closely linked with the question of the accumulated debts of local authorities is the subject of tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges.
§ Mr. Murray
There is a slight distinction in the three cases, but I take all of them together. It does not make a great deal of sense to set up large new regional authorities with new and exciting powers and divide them by a tax barrier at a toll bridge. There are many reasons why tolls on these three bridges are unsatisfactory, but since the Bill creates a new local authority which is meant to be a planning and economic entity it is disappointing that it does not at the same time take the obvious logical step of abolishing this gratuitous type of taxation which may well have the effect of inhibiting development at the natural termini of the bridges. The Erskine Bridge is in a somewhat different position from the Forth and Tay bridges, in that it does not have the special feature of having a possible growth point at each end.
§ Sir J. Gilmour
In the interests of the development of cities, would the hon. and learned Gentleman not consider it odd that when we have all the difficulty of controlling traffic in cities we should free the motor traffic coming into the cities across the bridges, whereas people who come by railway into the cities pay large sums for their journeys? Kirkcaldy is only 12 miles from Edinburgh, and 50 minutes in the train—and it is a very expensive journey.
§ Mr. Murray
The hon. Gentleman certainly has a point, and it seems to me the sort of point which can be properly taken into account only by having an adequate system of regional 1027 transportation, which is something for which the Bill provides.
§ Mr. Ian Campbell (Dunbartonshire, West)
Surely the Erskine bridge is tied into my hon. and learned Friend's argument, in so far as the bridge links two parts of one region and can contribute to developing industries on both sides of the Clyde?
§ Mr. Murray
I accept that. I did not mean to disparage the Erskine bridge. It is really a matter of degree, but the substantive quality of the argument is the same. It is simply a question of degree, which is more obvious in the case of the Firth and the Tay.
I do not think I need deal with any other aspect of debts though many interesting points were touched on in connection with them, and my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Doig) was one who raised them.
I would point out that the Bill provides the mechanism for changing the names of the various local authorities. Incidentally, I should be interested to know by what alchemy one region, alone of them all—Dumfries and Galloway—retains the name of a town in it, while the other regions have names suitably objective and detached from local titles. A name is of little importance, but I wonder why the Government did not choose to call that region Galloway or Solway, or by a title which did not require those names—and three words—when they have called other regions the Highland or the Forth or the Tayside, and so on. I wonder whether it is appropriate to give a perpetual distinction like that to Dumfries—
§ Mr. Gordon Campbell
Perhaps I should make it clear that these names were chosen in consultation with the areas concerned, and that in almost all the cases these were names which they put forward.
§ Mr. Murray
I am aware of that, but I still think that it does not necessarily follow that names which are agreeable to the largest number of people in 1028 a region are necessarily the most appropriate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I realise that that is a dangerous statement to make, but I think that hon. Members will see that I put it very carefully in the negative—that it does not necessarily follow. All I wanted to say was that changes of name are provided for, and changes of area, because there is a commission to deal with local boundary areas.
That is, no doubt, the high water mark of the flexibility which the right hon. Gentleman spoke about, but I hope that this flexibility may be extended in principle a little further because many hon. Members have spoken about the need for some detailed schemes of administration in regard particularly to functions such as education and social work, and I do not think it is really very satisfactory to have the Second Reading of a Bill which deals with these very important factors without the House being given some detailed schemes for delegation of functions as under Clause 124, so that we may see what will be done under the Bill.
I have mentioned education and social work. Perhaps education is the more obvious instance, because social work is still an expanding field, in which there is not as yet very much beyond experimental knowledge, while in education there is wide experience and much detailed knowledge and structure. It seems to me that it is just not good enough to say that there will be delegation of functions, and to point to Clause 124, which, presumably, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. William Hannan) suggested, is the basis for any delegation. That will not do unless at some stage before the Bill is passed we can be given more detail so that we can see what will happen. It would be unsatisfactory for the Bill to be enacted with the House still in ignorance of the detail of how these administrative schemes are to be operated. There is already a degree of delegation in education, and we want to know to what extent, if at all, it is proposed to elaborate or to extend that.
Although I imagine legislation would be needed to make substantial changes in the local authority areas proposed in the Bill, I hope that the Government will be flexible in the sense of having an open mind during the first decade or so of experience under the Bill to considering 1029 amalgamation between regions if a region which has been in operation for some time does not appear to be viable. For example, substantial changes might be necessary to meet criticism from both sides of the House of the top-heaviness of Strathclyde and the problems of Glasgow. One solution might be to counter-balance this large region with another large region in the east and to combine the Forth, Tay and Central regions. Experience might show that to be a better way of balancing local government control than to go on stubbornly on the basis of what is proposed in the Bill. It is only from experience that one might find that an apparently viable region is not viable. I hope that we shall not be stuck with the regions to the extent that in five or 10 years' time we shall be told that this is the local government reform for 50 years. I hope there will be flexibility.
Housing is an important illustration of the difficulties that the Bill presents. There is a sense in which housing appears to be given to the district council to give it something to do. That is perhaps an unfair criticism, but there is some substance in it. At the same time, it is clear from the Housing (Financial Provisions) Scotland Act and from the thinking that gave rise to it that housing will be a diminishing function for the local authority. That is the Government's theology. Therefore, it is unsatisfactory that the Government, in appearing to give housing to the district council, should be giving it a wasting asset. The realities are different. I think that the Government will be unsuccessful in pursuing that thinking very far. They will have a problem in trying to reconcile their objectives on housing with giving the district council a substantial function to perform.
Many hon. Members have referred to the revolution involved in the Bill. Any revolution, if it is to be successfully carried out, involves problems of transition. By solving the problems of transition one produces an effective revolution as distinct from an ineffective one. No doubt in that light we should look sympathetically at Clause 2(6) which continues the title of Lord Provost, at least in the four counties of cities.
§ Mr. Murray
I am open-minded on their claims. The wording of Clause 2(6) is unsatisfactory at first sight. I hope that what is intended is that the title of Lord Provost of Aberdeen will continue, but Clause 2(6) appears to say that the title will be Lord Provost of the District Council of Aberdeen. That would mean that the Lord Provost of Glasgow could no longer say, "Glasgow belongs to me". He would have to say "The District Council of Glasgow belongs to me", which would rather spoil the song.
§ Mr. MacArthur
It might not make sense as a song, but it is a much better property. Surely the hon. and learned Gentleman agrees that we want to preserve these ancient offices wherever we can so long as they do not get in the way of reform and modernity?
§ Mr. Murray
Perhaps I should not have given way to the hon. Gentleman. He reminds me of one difficulty. Clause 2(6) deals with the title of Lord Provost but not with any of his functions. One of those functions is that of Lord Lieutenant of the county and the city, which is a fairly important function, and one which has to be considered in terms of transition. I use that as an illustration of problems which will arise in many other spheres.
The Bill is singularly silent on the problems of transition. For instance, there is the illustration of the royal burghs. Most of the well-known cities and towns of Scotland became royal burghs by Charter. The Bill does not say that those Charters are removed or are of no legal effect, but Schedule 24 repeals the legislation upon which they appear to stand. I hope that the Government do not intend to abolish entirely the ancient rights of royal burghs, at least to be royal burghs. That would be unfortunate in terms not only of transition but of tourism. If by a side-wind the Bill were to remove from the entrances of some of our nicer seaside resorts the sign "royal burgh", that would be unfortunate and unnecessary.
In that same category one has to put the kingdom of Fife. Although the Secretary of State strove gallantly to maintain that the kingdom of Fife still 1031 exists, that goes flat in the teeth of Clause 1(5), which says:On 16th May 1975, all … counties … shall cease to exist, and the council of every such area shall also cease to exist.The kingdom of Fife may always be a kingdom but it will be a kingdom with no crown and no jurisdiction. The death warrant is clearly there in Clause 1(5).
These units—and the county of Fife may be one such from this point of view, even if the kingdom has no legal entity—have real community existence. The same is true of the royal burghs. They represent abiding communities which have survived under adverse conditions for many years. Communities like this represent abiding interests and abiding realities, geographical, environmental and human. They are continuing communities which are likely to continue in future. They will still be there. They are obviously prime candidates for the status of areas qualifying for community councils. But is that enough? I hope that it will be at least enough. I hope that these areas will qualify to have community councils and that at least they can be given that degree of reality.
If the Bill is enacted in 1973 it will be exactly 140 years since democracy was brought into local government in Scotland. Up to 1833, local authorities in Scotland were self-perpetuating bodies. There was no element of democracy. We have had 139 years of democracy to the present time and I sincerely hope that in the form that this Bill seeks to re-establish local government it will provide democracy and participation in the future government of Scotland.
§ 9.34 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. George Younger)
In this debate we have belied the reputation which we sometimes enjoy. If my calculations are right, I am the tweny-fifth person to speak in it, and I think it would be wrong to let this final speech pass without saying that both the quality of the contributions and their brevity have led us to have an extremely useful debate which has been most interesting for all of us. For once in a while, let us give ourselves a pat on the back for having done a good job.
I have another pleasant duty—one which I do not suppose will ever come 1032 to me again and which I have prayed for for a long time. I have the chance of putting the headmaster—the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross)—right on a point of grammar. It seldom comes to a humble member of the lower fourth to do that. I have pleasure in raising my eyebrows at the fact that the right hon. Gentleman should have been so ignorant of the word, very commonly used—"mered"—which he will remember meansdefined by use or existing landmarkand is habitually used by the Ordnance Survey in the course of its duties.
The general consideration of the debate is one which we have all been working up to for a long time, and my main task is to try and keep as general a view as I can on the Bill as a whole. Although I must cover the main points of controversy in order to get answers to as many people as possible I will touch only fairly lightly tonight on them, but, of course, we must go into these very carefully in Committee.
The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) referred to the size of the Standing Committee. That, of course, is not a matter for me to decide, but as the hon. Gentleman probably knows discussions are still going on through the usual channels on the matter, and I hope that the result will be satisfactory to all concerned.
The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock made a few general comments, to which I should like briefly to reply. I assure him that we intend to enter the Committee stage in a spirit of give and take, as he asked us to do. We recognise—my right hon. Friend has always felt this—that this is a matter on which there are strongly-held convictions on both sides, and we expect and hope—I think that we shall be proved right—that the Committee stage will give ample opportunity for conflicting views to be expressed and that the Committee will feel free to make as good a job as it can of improving the Bill in the ways it wishes to do. We shall enter the Committee stage in that spirit.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what new provisions were in the Bill. It is difficult to list them all, because the new structure we have laid out means a considerable number of functional statutes being altered. In rewriting them we have 1033 had to rationalise, which has involved introducing a larger or smaller amount of new material in various parts of the Bill. I cannot mention all the changes, but I will give some examples. Clause 124 introduces education management boards; Clause 171 introduces regional planning reports; assistance to public transport operators is in Clause 148; the duty to provide adequate library services is in Clause 161—and I emphasise the word "duty"; the right of public access to committees is in Clause 44; and the power to undertake research and collect information is in Clause 87. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, many new matters are written into the Bill.
§ Mr. Younger
They are in a new form in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman spent some time on a question on which I did not agree with him. He made great play of inequalities of size between various districts. I do not agree that that in itself is undesirable. We have always felt that this would be necessary. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the obverse of his argument shows how necessary it is. If we had tried—and we would have been wrong to try—to make the size of all districts as similar as we could, there would have been a dreadful situation in remotely populated Highland regions where, to get districts of comparable size to those of the central belt, we would have landed ourselves with huge areas which could not have been called communities. It is open to argument that some are too large or too small, but it is not a fair criticism to say that in general we have failed to equalise the size of the districts, because I do not think that it would have been a desirable thing to do, even if we had wanted to.
I must briefly comment upon two main areas of controversy which we shall go into in much greater detail in Committee. The first is the proposal in the Bill and in the Wheatley Report for the division of Fife into two areas. I well understand the feelings of those people in Fife who do not agree, and I understand the feelings of my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Gilmour), who has eloquently fought the case for so many months. I can say only that this is and must be a matter of opinion. I do not 1034 believe that there is any way of proving that he is right or that we are right. I respect his opinion and I am sure that he respects ours, although he disagrees with it. The object of the lay-out proposed in the Bill and suggested in the Wheatley Commission Report was, as elsewhere, to try to get the new districts and regions to correspond to natural communities, wherever possible. We have argued about what are natural communities, and it is difficult to find conclusive proof either way.
My hon. Friend mentioned some of the considerations which I said were taken into account. It is, of course, much better to list all the considerations, because in a matter of judgment it is not possible to give a considered view of the whole concept on the basis of only two or three considerations. The object of the exercise was to try to take all the pieces of evidence that could be collected and bring them together to form a single picture. It is legitimate in that case to take such things as the areas in which local newspapers circulate, because they try to circulate in the areas that mean something to the people who live there.
There is also the consideration of commercial traffic. Operators try to arrange their affairs in a way which corresponds to communities, but that is only one of many pieces of evidence with which a picture must be built up. That is what Wheatley did, and we cannot say that it is right, any more than anyone can say that it is wrong. On reflection, having considered all the views of all these bodies, it is reasonable to put forward the proposition that with the development of new communication links and the changes that occur in the population and the habits of life generally in these areas, this division makes sense in terms of the lives people lead there, and will increasingly lead in the future.
But, of course, it is a matter of opinion; it is not possible for me to prove that I am right, or for my hon. Friend to prove that he is right—although he may hold strong views.
§ Mr. Younger
What my right hon. Friend was saying earlier was not that there was any majority opinion for his view, against those who do not wish to 1035 see Fife split; he was saying that there is an element of opinion that is in agreement with what is in the Bill. I do not believe that the hon. Member would disagree with that. A number of local authorities agree with it, but I am not saying that they are a majority—merely that they amount to a significant body of opinion.
There is, then, the issue of the West Region and Strathclyde, which is rightly a matter of great controversy. When looked at in comparison with the other regions it is large in terms of its population, but as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) so rightly said, this is something that is dictated for us not on a piece of paper or by a piece of evidence but by the natural forces working in the whole of the West Region. In the course of my life I have had to split up Scotland six times for the purposes of my commercial activities. Each time I have finished with a different result, and I have been struck with the great difficulty of splitting it up, because it is so unbalanced in terms of population.
I wish to deal very briefly with some examples of why the alternative Strathclyde solutions that have been put forward, or some of them, must be thought through a lot more carefully than hitherto. Let us assume that we were to have three tiers instead of two. I accept for this purpose the various variations of three tiers which have been discussed. Let us assume that, whether there was delegation to the top from the middle or a delegated tier from the top to the middle, which I think both mean the same, there would be three tiers instead of two. We would then have three authorities which would split the decision-making on any major matter of policy. We would therefore have that much more opportunity for friction and difficulty between the resposibilities of those authorities.
May I take an example to try to highlight the matter? Let us suppose that there was a proposal to build a new school somewhere in the Strathclyde area. Let us suppose that the top tier had the planning and strategic function, the middle tier had the educational function and the district or third tier had the 1036 district function as we expect to see it in the Bill. In the decision-making the middle tier would have to accept the implication of the top tier's strategy for redistribution of population necessitating the new schools in the first place. The difference is that it would then be accepting the view of a different authority, whereas under the proposals in the Bill it would be the same authority that would be making the decision as to the strategic laying-out of the population and the educational facilities involved. [Interruption.] I am trying to spell this out in the way in which I have been asked.
Secondly, there may well be—[Interruption.] If hon. Members do not like to listen, I hope that they will not complain later and say that they have not been told. I am prepared to desist from doing this altogether. However, hon. Members have been pressing me to do this all day and I am doing my best.
Secondly, there could well be a difference of opinion over timing. The education authority, the middle tier, might not have the resources ready when required or it might have its own views about education priorities which might be different from those of the upper tier which made the original strategic decision. There might be no place in the local plan or the structure plan for the new school, and there might be an amendment needed to the plan and a public inquiry for that.
Lastly, the district authority might have difficulty in adjusting the local plan to find a satisfactory site for the new school. [Interruption.] Hon. Members who feel impatient might address themselves to what would happen if there were three different authorities trying to make these decisions, and compare that situation with what would happen if there were only two different authorities, each with its own special sphere of responsibility. With respect to hon. Members who think otherwise, I believe that that two authorities would make for a much better and smoother administration and a more easily understood splitting of responsibilities if we had the two tiers as planned.
§ Dr. Dickson Mabon
I agree with the Under-Secretary about the question of two and three tiers. I am sorry that it has taken so long to deal with the example. The question which we put to him is as 1037 follows: given the Bill as it stands, what will he do about the administration of education and social work in the Strathclyde region? Will it be administratively decentralised? If so, please may we know how, and in particular, what about education management committees?
§ Mr. Younger
I shall never get on to discussing that if we have interruptions all the time. I will do my best to explain very quickly as there are many questions which I have to answer. There is a legitimate difference of opinion between the two sides, and I am being continually asked to spell out what the organisation will be of the new authority. Perhaps hon. Members can understand that, speaking for the Government, I am naturally reluctant to spell out the form of organisation which the new authorities will take for education or anything else. The reason that I am reluctant to do so is that the last thing acceptable to the new authorities would be to feel that they were having a particular form of organisation thrust upon them by central Government. One of our main objects is to give more responsibility to the new local authorities, and let them make their own forms of organisation and draw up their own schemes.
§ Mr. Rossrose—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)
Order. The right hon. Gentleman knows the rule as well as I do.
§ Mr. Younger
I am very sorry, but I must press on, otherwise I shall not answer all manner of questions, and one is usually extremely unpopular if that happens.
The right hon. Gentleman asked what would be the likely life of the staff commission. I expect it to carry on its work till the second half of 1975 or so, but there is no reason why it should not carry on longer if it needs to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to suggest—I may have misunderstood him here, and, if so, I apologise—that there should be divided responsibility for roads. I do not agree about that. It would be duplicating the technical facilities re- 1038 quired for dealing with roads. Moreover, I could not see any logic, as a motorist or traveller, in suddenly discovering arbitrary divisions of responsibility for various roads. It will be much better to have it under one authority, with one staff, to make a good job of all roads in an area.
Next, the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) asked whether the Boundary Commission would be able to consider changes within the 10 to 15-year periods. Under Clause 14(2), the Boundary Commission may look at any or all areas at any time, and under Clause 15 the Secretary of State may direct it to conduct a review within the normal interval, that is to say, short of the 10 to 15-year periods. I think that the hon. Member for Greenock was concerned to have that latter point clarified.
The hon. Member for Greenock asked also about the area of the Passenger Transport Authority and how it would be affected in the Strathclyde area. The area of the PTA will remain as it is at present designated. The PTE, the Passenger Transport Executive, will remain, also. But the PTA will be replaced by the Strathclyde Regional Council, and any deficit financing to which it might succeed would be paid for by all the Strathclyde ratepayers.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman says that that is monstrous, but the principle is no different from that which applies to all rural bus services under the Transport Act. All such services, both now and in the future, may be supported by the local authority, and in that case, too, they will be supported by city ratepayers who may not be using them.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about ferries. Clause 150 replaces a variety of powers dealing with ferries by an up-to-date code under which regional and Highland councils may operate ferries and make arrangements with other persons to do so.
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) asked several questions about rate rebates. I think that I can give him a brief answer. First, I confirm that the rate rebate subsidy is 1039 designated in the Bill at 90 per cent. and it will continue at 90 per cent. after 1974. The hon. Gentleman said there were several ways in which, in his view, the new rate rebate scheme would be worse than the present. There is no need for his fears on that score. The new scheme will be much more sensitive to individual needs than the present one is. It will cover a wider range of incomes, and, unlike the present system, it will have no fixed minimum rate payment. I confirm, also, that there is no intention to transfer supplementary benefit recipients on to the local authority rebates. That is what is meant by Clause 113 (1).
§ Mr. Gourlay
I am obliged for the latter answer, but I cannot accept as correct that the rebate scheme now proposed will not make people worse off. Under the present system, a single person has a rebate with an income of £12 a week, whereas under the new scheme the level is about £10.50.
§ Mr. Younger
The hon. Gentleman is making a mistake in assuming that the details of the rate rebate scheme will be the same as those for the rent rebate schemes. The details of the rate rebate scheme have yet to be spelled out in orders to be put before the House later.
I was asked by the hon. Gentleman about his own constituency interest in Auchtertool. His views on this subject are well understood and thoroughly appreciated. There is no existing boundary which could have been used, although that is something that the Boundary Commission can consider.
Many hon. Members mentioned payment for councillors, and I was asked by the hon. Member for Greenock whether that would entail an alteration to the Money Resolution. It would not involve any change to the Money Resolution, because the expenditure would be incurred by the councils and not directly by Parliament, and it would therefore be covered by item (b) of the Money Resolution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East asked what would be the difference between controlled capital expenditure and the controlling of borrowing power. Control is still control, but we propose control of a less burdensome kind. At 1040 present, consent has to be obtained every time a borrowing power is used for more than £2,000, but under the Bill it will be given for programmes of capital spending as a service on a yearly basis and only exceptionally for single projects. Hon. Members I am sure will agree that that will give local authorities wider scope for using their discretion.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan asked about improved facilities at local elections and especially about poll cards and postal facilities. Provision for poll cards at local elections could be made in the local election rules to be made by my right hon. Friend under Clause 7. There may be difficulties about introducing poll cards throughout the country at the first elections in 1974. It is a little more difficult to say whether there is a general demand for the expansion of postal voting to local elections, but their provision would add considerably to the administrative cost of local elections.
The right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and several others mentioned disqualification. This must be the last matter that I can cover. I apologise to those hon. Members whose questions I have not answered, but I will write to them.
§ Mr. Younger
I ask those who press for a relaxation of the rules of disqualification applying to those employed by local authorities to think their argument through more carefully. Do we want any employee of a council to be able to become a councillor? Would it be right for the secretary of a town clerk to become a councillor? Would that add to efficiency?
The examples that the right hon. Gentleman gave were not very good. The Lord Provost of Glasgow would still be able to be a regional councillor, because he would be the head of a district and not of a region. Transport Grades now employed by Glasgow Corporation would be able to be members of the Glasgow District Council, because the Strathclyde Regional Council would be the responsible authority.
The House has considered the Second Reading of the Bill and I hope that in Committee hon. Members will be able to make useful contributions to improving 1041 the Bill. Let us not forget that this is the end of 10 years of consideration and discussion during which every conceivable effort has been made by three successive Governments to consult as many organs of opinion as possible. We cannot please everyone in making a major change of this sort, but the time has come for the Government to make their views known to Parliament and for Parliament to pronounce its judgment on those views.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).
That notwithstanding anything in paragraph (2) of Standing Order No. 60 (Constitution of Standing Committees) and Standing Order No. 69 (Scottish Standing Committees) the Bill be considered by a Scottish Standing Committee.—[Mr. Gordon Campbell.]