§ 3. Mr. Norman Hogg
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the officials of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss local government reorganisation; and if he will make a statement.
§ 9. Mr. Chisholm
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet COSLA to discuss the provision of local authority services.
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Local Government and I are due to meet representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on Friday, as part of the normal consultation on local government finance matters. I hope that their policy of non-co-operation will not prevent them from turning up.
§ Mr. Hogg
Does the Secretary of State recognise the serious situation that those who live in new towns face —the double jeopardy of local government reorganisation and the winding up of the new towns agency? Will he make a particular point of discussing those matters with councillors Gray and McKenna?
§ Mr. Lang
If the councillors or the convention in general wish to raise those matters at our meeting this week, I shall be happy to discuss them. The meeting will be concerned primarily with the substantial sum of money that the taxpayer, through the Scottish Office, gives to local government—approaching £6 billion. Those are the matters with which we shall be primarily concerned at our meeting.
§ Mr. Chisholm
Why does the Secretary of State propose to waste large sums of taxpayers' money at a time when Scottish local authorities are facing the biggest cuts in Government grant since the Conservatives came to power in 1979? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the real-terms cut in Government grant to Lothian region will be 4 per cent. once the transferred community care money is stripped out, and that is bound to mean service cuts and big council tax increases? Will the right hon. Gentleman also tell us why Edinburgh district council is not getting one penny in housing support grant, with the result that that council faces the terrible choice of slashing repairs or raising rents beyond the rate of inflation?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to debate the housing support grant when the order is brought before the House in due course. The hon. Gentleman talks about waste. I assume that he is associating that with the proposals to reform local government. That will not lead to waste; it will lead to substantial savings. As for expenditure on local government, the Government-supported expenditure will rise by more than 3.5 per cent. next year and per capita in Scotland under this heading is substantially higher—at 34 per cent. more per head of the population—in Scotland than it is in England.
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman seems to misunderstand our proposal. We do not propose to replace regional councillors with quangos; we propose to reform the two-tier structure, in some cases around existing regions and in some cases around existing districts, and to achieve a single-tier, all-purpose local authority structure which will apply throughout Scotland and which will create more efficient and stronger local democracy.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn
Will my right hon. Friend remind Opposition Members that the majority of local authorities are Labour controlled and that the waste of money is the result of them spending pensioners' and taxpayers' money unnecessarily, and often on themselves?
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. and learned Friend is right in that there has undoubtedly been some waste in local government over the years. When I contemplate the planned expenditure by Strathclyde regional council of no less than £500,000 on propaganda linked to its own survival, I think that the money could be better spent by providing better services to their local residents.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Does the Secretary of State agree that it is in the best interests of COSLA, as it is in the best interests of the House, that the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill should be considered by a Committee that best reflects the balance of the parties in the House? Speaking as a member of the Committee of Selection and as someone who is keen for the standing Committee to start its deliberations as early as possible so that important issues such as Berwickshire can be discussed, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Committee can start next Tuesday as long as he rises to the Dispatch Box now and says that he is prepared to accept a Committee comprised of 25 members.
§ Mr. Lang
As a member of the Committee of Selection, the hon. Gentleman should know that those are matters for the Committee of Selection, not for me. I am keen for the Committee to start its consideration as quickly as possible and I am keen to have a substantial Committee so that the Bill may be fully and extensively debated. I look forward to making progress in Committee. I shall approach the Committee stage in a positive frame of mind as seeking to improve the Bill in the time-honoured way and to achieve at the end of the day a reform of local government around which all parties can rally.
§ Mr. Maxton
As the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson) seems determined to continue the smear campaign against Monklands district council and my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition, will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to tell the House that the Government auditors who carried out the Monklands district council audit this year have, as reported in the Glasgow Herald this morning, given the council a clean bill of health? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore instruct his hon. Friends to stop this campaign which is designed purely to try to discredit my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the Opposition and has nothing to do with Monklands district council?
§ Mr. Lang
One of the qualities of this place is that it allows free speech to all hon. Members. If hon. Members choose to show their disquiet about aspects of how Monklands district council or any other district council is 276 run, that is their privilege. What is perhaps surprising is that the hon. Gentleman finds it necessary to draw attention to the auditors' clean bill of health.
§ Mr. McLeish
I am talking about a real scandal. Will the Secretary of State answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes)? When will he intervene to tackle the right-wing excesses of Tory-controlled Kyle and Carrick district council? Will he confirm that the lunatic council has agreed to build houses and desecrate land at Burns cottage in Alloway, one of the most important heritage sites in Scotland? Is it a matter of building homes for votes? Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the council has torn up a contract for cleansing which has two years to run, is barring the in-house tender and that Provost McDonald has admitted that he has had discussions with Spanish contractors?
Will the right hon. Gentleman condemn such actions, or are they merely a forerunner of what we can expect under the gerrymandered local government reorganisation—Tory flagships such as Wandsworth and Westminster? In Scotland we simply do not want them. Why does not the Secretary of State abandon local government reorganisation?
§ Mr. Lang
It is notable that Labour Members complain about what they regard as offensive criticism of one local council, but immediately indulge in it themselves in respect of another. There are suitable safeguards on behaviour for all local councils. There is also a commission on local authority accounts and the parliamentary commissioner, and local authorities themselves have substantial statutory responsibilities. I am confident that the appropriate processes will be applied as necessary in Kyle and Carrick, as in the case of any other council.