§ 3.9 p.m.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee. —(Lord Fraser of Carmyllie.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford moved Amendment No. 1:
§ Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Functions of Assembly for Scotland as a local government area.
§ .—(1) There shall be established on 1st April 1996 an elected council for Scotland to be known as the Scottish Assembly ('The Assembly").
§ (2) The Assembly shall perform such strategic functions, both financial and otherwise, as are relevant to the promotion and development of the local government of Scotland.
§ (3) The Assembly may do anything it considers necessary to—
- (a) facilitate the co-ordination of administration of local government in Scotland, and
- (b) promote greater co-operation between the councils for each local government area in Scotland and public agencies and voluntary organisations in Scotland.
§ (4) The Assembly shall represent the interests and views of the councils for each local government area in Scotland collectively in the relevant institutions of the European Union.
§ (5) The Secretary of State shall consult the Assembly on all matters affecting local government and local and regional interests in Scotland.
§ (6) The Assembly shall have power to appoint such officers as it thinks necessary for the proper discharge of its functions, on such reasonable terms and conditions, including terms as to remuneration, as it thinks fit.").
§ The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, tabled in the names of my noble friend Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and myself, I begin by using the Minister's own words which he uttered a few moments ago; namely, that the Government recognise that Scotland is a different administrative area than is the rest of the 658 United Kingdom. The new clause is designed precisely to enshrine in legislation the recognition that Scotland is indeed different from the rest of the United Kingdom.
§ I want to make clear that the new clause, with its proposal to establish an elected Scottish Assembly, should not be seen as a substitute for the Scottish Parliament which not only the Labour Party but a number of other political parties in Scotland have demanded for some considerable time.
§ We were inspired to table the new clause primarily because of the way in which the Bill was drafted, first presented to another place and subsequently brought to this place. The clause, which seeks to establish an elected Scottish Assembly, is designed to ensure that never again are we faced with reorganisation of local government in Scotland handled in such a manner. I say to the Minister as gently as I possibly can that the Government have treated local government in Scotland almost as if it were in the ownership of the Conservative Party rather than the people of Scotland.
§ The well-publicised involvement of the Secretary of State's political adviser in drafting the Bill cannot be allowed to go unnoticed. The new clause seeks the establishment of an elected Scottish Assembly with powers to oversee the work of Scottish local government and to represent Scottish interests in the European Union. At this point I add that it is perfectly possible to take the Committee of the Regions into the Scottish Assembly that we propose. But first and foremost we are anxious to ensure that never again do we have the kind of reorganisation of local government in Scotland with which we are now faced.
§ The Minister knows in his heart of hearts that the Bill simply is not wanted by the people of Scotland. I said at Second Reading that it is unwanted legislation, imposed on an unwilling population by an unpopular government. That is not the best basis for the reform of local government in Scotland. The new clause proposes that the Scottish Assembly should be elected in April next year. As I said, it will oversee the work of local government and represent the interests of Scotland in the European Union, taking into account the work of the Committee of the Regions.
§ The Minister knows that for some considerable time there has been a demand from the people of Scotland for more say in their own affairs—I put it no higher than that. Just in case the Minister is tempted to say in reply that the Bill gives back local government to the people, let me advise him that he should not tread such a dangerous path. The people to whom the Secretary of State intends to give local government in Scotland are his appointees and not at all the elected representatives of the people.
§ Many of the functions in this local government Bill will be administered by quangos established and appointed by the Secretary of State. They will not be administered by elected representatives. So the inspiration for the new clause is born out of the damage done by the Bill, on the one hand to local government, which is important, and on the other hand—in my view, even more important—to democracy itself. The establishment of a Scottish Assembly for the purposes defined in the clause would go a long way to ensuring 659 that local government in Scotland (its shape and form) is given much more serious consideration—non-partisan consideration—than is evident in the preparation and presentation of the Bill.
§ It is not necessary to detain the Committee any longer. I have outlined the reasoning behind the new clause. I formally move that the new clause be adopted. I beg to move.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
We on these Benches are wholly in favour of putting the new clause to the Committee. Long before the noble Lord's party —bless it!—ever thought of a Scottish Parliament, the Liberal Party and now the Liberal Democrats were advocating it and putting forward good reasons for it. We were backed at various times by respectable Conservatives; there are some. At one time Sir Alec Douglas-Home investigated the issue and suggested a form of Scottish Parliament or Scottish Assembly.
The new clause does not give us what we want for Scotland. We have said, very simply, for many years that we want a Scottish Parliament for Scottish affairs within the United Kingdom. The new clause does not give us that. However, we cannot see—I agree wholly with the noble Lord, Lord Ewing —that the reorganisation, although we have always felt that it would be necessary at some time to get unitary authorities, should depend, as proposed in the Bill, on reference after reference to the Secretary of State.
If there are to be unitary authorities, and a large number of them, in Scotland, they need some guidance in national affairs. We have suggested, as a halfway house, an elected assembly to oversee Scottish local government. That would be extremely useful. But it is not what we want at the end of the day.
The Government must feel a little guilty about the extent of the powers of the Secretary of State and the number of quangos they are appointing. We should like them to explain what they have against an elected assembly, which appears to us to be a necessary part of the reorganisation. The Government will no doubt produce the old argument that it will cost money. It may well cost money. However, the value of something does not reside in how much it costs but in what one gets for it. What one would get from a Scottish Assembly is a justification for unitary local government. We believe that to be important. Certainly, we should like to hear the Government justify themselves. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
I support the amendment. I have never been wildly enthusiastic about the idea of a Scottish Parliament. Sometimes its claims may be overstated and people's expectations may be disappoint-ed if it does not deliver everything that it promised. But I make this forecast seriously; that 90 per cent. of the voters in the Monklands by-election on Thursday will be supporting parties demanding and requiring a Scottish Parliament. It is extremely unwise of any government to ignore that overwhelming voice of the people of Scotland for their own Parliament; in fact, it is reckless. The Government will be endangering the 660 Union because more and more people will become disenchanted with Westminster government, and if 90 per cent. of the people are voting for Scottish self-government it is unwise for this Parliament to decide that they should not have it. The tensions will be great and increasing and the Government should take note of that.
The amendment is not in favour of a Scottish Parliament, as my noble friend Lord Ewing said. But it is a gesture towards giving people greater power in overseeing the local government administration within their own country. The debate on the Bill must seem to be fairly irrelevant to many English colleagues on all sides of the Chamber. I believe that it should be held in Scotland, within a Scottish Assembly. We should be discussing the shape of local government within our country in Scotland. It is that gesture that is demanded by the amendment before us. I hope that the Government will recognise the pressures and seek to protect the Union, as all of us on this side of the Chamber wish, by making some provision for bringing government closer to the people of Scotland, as is the intention of the amendment.
§ Baroness Seear
Will the noble Lord accept that some of us who are merely English would greatly welcome the saving of time that would come if Scots took their Scottish affairs across the Border and kept them there?
The Earl of Balfour
I firmly believe in the single-tier authority proposed in the Bill. What concerns me above anything else about Amendment No. 1 is that in the Union of the Parliaments of 1707 it was agreed that the taxes of both countries should be the same. Nothing in the amendment indicates to me how the Assembly should be financed. I have a feeling that it will be financed out of local council taxes, which would not be helpful to Scotland.
I have always felt that having a Scottish Secretary of State —a Cabinet Minister—gives Scotland the best representation it can have in Westminster. To do anything else would not be helpful. A Scottish Assembly could have the effect of creating two tiers in Scotland—perhaps a weakened position for the Secretary of State and a second body which would be too integrated in Scotland without looking to the best interests of the United Kingdom, which would not be of benefit to the country.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I must apologise for not speaking in the Second Reading debate on this particularly important Bill, having been out of the country at the time. However, I feel bound to express my views on Amendment No. 1.
The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, said that it must be irrelevant to English colleagues in the Chamber to listen to a debate on this issue. Frankly, that is contrary to the truth. All who live south of the Border should take great note of what is happening north of the Border because, indeed, we are a United Kingdom. However, I agree with the noble Lord when he says that 661 perhaps a directly elected legislative Scottish Assembly would produce greater expectations than would be the result.
I come back to the fundamental reason why the Government produced the plan for reorganisation of local government in Scotland prior to the last election; that is, that many people—not only councillors, but also ordinary folk throughout Scotland—were fed up with two tiers of local government. One only needs to visit Ayrshire or Argyll (as many of us do) and hear what they say about Strathclyde Regional Council and its organisation to realise that.
I have nothing against the powers and the way the councillors and executives of Strathclyde manage their affairs. But those people felt that they were far too distant from their seat of government. If that is the case, the amendment, for all its good intentions by those who believe firmly—and I respect their views—in moving down this road, will produce two-tier local government all over again. I do not believe that that is what the Bill sets out to do. I believe very firmly that many people in Scotland want to know that their one elected councillor for the area deals with everything to do with local government and its affairs and that the buck will stop with that one elected councillor.
Finally, if Amendment No. 1 is carried, it will be a short jump to a tax-raising legislative Scottish Assembly, which I know noble Lords opposite have wanted for a long time. However, it is a Killiecrankie leap that must be jumped and I for one am not prepared to jump it.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I wish to speak briefly on this matter, partly to remind the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, that home rule for Scotland was part of the Labour Party programme from around 1905 onwards while the Liberals were greatly concerned with the Irish question. The noble Lord appears to want to correct me.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
The Labour Party inherited the programme in 1905. As soon as it got near to power it dropped it.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I was about to say something not dissimilar. I was about to say that it slipped out of the bank of policies a little later on, perhaps due to unseemly English pressure.
I dissent a little from my noble friend Lord Taylor. I am less attached to the Union than he is and I would not be too abashed if we set up in the United Kingdom some system not unlike that which exists in Germany where local parliaments have real and proper powers. If that meant that the Union was, perhaps not dissolved but slackened off a bit, I would not worry too much. A great many people in Scotland and Scots people elsewhere agree with me in that respect.
The problem with the Bill and why I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Ewing is that the Bill is similar to other aspects of government policy which we can see in the deregulation Bill discussed in the Chamber yesterday and to be discussed again in a few days' time; that is, a tendency to 662 concentrate powers, which may have been parliamen-tary powers, in the hands of Ministers. In the deregulation Bill it is expressed in the form of secondary legislation replacing primary legislation; here the problem is not quite that but a problem of concentrating powers in the Secretary of State for Scotland.
That is a constitutional matter which can be argued on constitutional lines. But it is particularly inappro-priate in the present Scottish scene where the Secretary of State represents only a minority of the voting population and political parties. Sometimes that happens even in the United Kingdom but seldom is the minority so small. As the noble Lord opposite said, having a Secretary of State for Scotland is of some value to us. We are at least better off than the Welsh because seldom is the Secretary of State for Wales a Welshman. He is often an Englishman. But it is not right that powers should be taken away from an assembly of some kind and put into the hands of the Secretary of State. To counterbalance that, what is required is an assembly of the kind described briefly but accurately by my noble friend Lord Ewing, whom I strongly support.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, has devoted a great deal of his time to the creation of a situation in which a Scottish parliament may be assembled. I respect his sincerity and admire his eloquence, but I am afraid that I cannot go along any of that route with him. I fear that the proposal is merely a step towards a Scottish parliament.
I take up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who I believe shares my reservations about a Scottish parliament. He said that 90 per cent. of those who vote in the Monklands by-election would be voting for parties whose manifestos support a Scottish parliament. Of course that is correct. However, it does not mean that the 10 per cent. who vote for parties without that support in their manifestos are wrong. I am a unionist, and I believe in what we do here. I believe that at the end of the day we get very good results. I also believe that Scotland does extremely well out of the Union. I shudder to think what it might be like if we found ourselves in an independent Scotland.
Without being too political, perhaps I may suggest that in Scotland, where in recent years my party has not done particularly well, there are a number of reasons why people have not supported the Conservatives, but right at the bottom of the list will be the creation of a Scottish parliament. The people who vote in the 90 per cent. group do not vote for those parties—with the exception of the Scottish National Party—because they promote a Scottish parliament; they vote for them because they are attracted by their policies. As a Conservative, I have to admit that my party has not managed to attract the Scottish public to its way of thinking in sufficient numbers to give it more seats. We must work and work until we overcome that hurdle. In the Monksland by-election the test will be whether those who vote for a party that wants a Scottish Assembly will outnumber those who vote for a party that wants total independence and separation.
663 As far as the Conservatives are concerned, it is bad enough to lose a 16,000 majority in a by-election when in government, but, my goodness, it will be a frightful comedown if the Labour Party loses it in Opposition. I hope it does not. Much as I disagree with the policies of the Labour Party, I would rather see a Labour Member returned than a Scottish Nationalist. Ultimately, we can get rid of a Labour Government but an independent Scotland will be for keeps. Scotland cannot come running to the United Kingdom at the end of the day to ask to be taken back.
Therefore, while I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, seeks to do by this amendment, I am afraid that I cannot give it my support and I hope that the Minister will reject it.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
I hope that I misheard the noble Baroness who spoke from the Liberal Benches. As I heard her via the inadequate sound system in the Chamber I thought she suggested that we Scots should pack up our tents and take our legislative assembly north of the Border and give the English peace. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate are both nodding. Is everyone on the other side of the Chamber in agreement with that? I merely ask the question for information.
§ Baroness Seear
I said that we should be given time, not peace. As the debate goes on I am more and more convinced of it.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
I understood that the noble Baroness was treating Scots as some kind of summer irritant as reflected in the amendment that is presently before the Committee.
A very serious matter arises out of this alleged reform of local government; that is, the cost that it has brought to local authorities to date. On the basis of what I regard as reliable information I understand that at least one authority has expended about £750,000 in publicity against this legislation. As my noble friend Lord Ewing said at the outset of this debate, that is not wanted north of the Border, particularly if it is replicated throughout the country. In Fife there are boundary objections and throughout the Highlands there is an argument for a single tier or pan-Highland system, whatever that means. In fact I have never met any pan-Highlanders but I understand that they do exist. All of these problems are being debated throughout Scotland. I can assure the Committee that in dealing with this Bill my noble friends on the Front Bench and myself have been inundated with material from all well-meaning local authorities in Scotland who are trying to cope with this legislation.
I hope that the Minister is well aware of the rumblings within his own party that this is a piece of unnecessary legislation. Has not the time come for the people of Scotland, represented by the Government, the Front Benches on this side of the Chamber, and indeed throughout Parliament, to get round the table to ask where is the common ground on the need for change in local government in Scotland? We may not need this Scottish Assembly if we just act sensibly and stop 664 making political points. The noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, was almost crying in asking why the Conservatives do not get seats in Scotland. The answer is simple. Nobody likes them. I do not refer to the noble Lord personally because he and I have known each other for a long time; but nobody wants the Conservatives any more because they do not represent a political party that can take Scotland into the next century in a meaningful way. I say to the Government that we will not pack up our tents and we will not go from either your Lordships' House or any other House. We will fight for the independence of Scotland in the sense that we want time to legislate for our own affairs. I ask the Minister the question that I have raised before in your Lordships' House: how many reports of the Law Commission of Scotland lie on the shelves awaiting legislation ?
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
On the basis of proportionality, I take the point of the noble and learned Lord. We cannot legislate for Scotland here. The amendment proposed is a minute one. Let us give Scotland the freedom to legislate for itself on matters that do not affect the United Kingdom. What are the Government afraid of? The stronger we make the units of the United Kingdom, the stronger the United Kingdom becomes. The more people believe in the unity of the United Kingdom, the stronger it becomes. But if the Government continue to do what they are doing and alienate Scotland, and perhaps to some extent Northern Ireland, the weaker the United Kingdom will become. I speak for myself as a Back Bencher, not from the Front Bench, when I say that we are a unionist party. We believe in the United Kingdom, but we believe in the strength of the units within the United Kingdom to make it worth belonging to. Members of the Committee can quote me on that if they like. We are a unionist party and I am not ashamed of it.
With those observations, I ask the Government to please sit back and consider what they are doing with this legislation. We have four or five days of Committee time here and the Bill has to go back to another place. Goodness only knows how much public money—it is not the money of the authors of the document—will be spent on this exercise before it is finished one way or another, perhaps in October, November or December of this year. I ask the Government at least to consider dropping the Bill and starting again.
§ Lord Palmer
Surely, if the noble Lord, Lord Gray, is concerned about the number of seats that his party has in Scotland the best way of increasing the number of seats would be to abandon this Bill altogether.
§ Lord Fraser of CarmyHie
I begin by complimenting the noble Lord on his ingenuity in managing to secure the acceptance of this new clause for the Committee stage. He has skilfully woven together, and to some extent obscured, a number of different objectives. On one level it might be thought, as my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin said, that the noble Lord, with a long commitment to the establishment of a 665 Scottish Assembly with extensive powers, might be intending in, as it were, embryo to provide for the establishment of such an assembly.
He will recall, probably too vividly, the many long hours that he spent in another place in 1978 debating the devolution Bill. I am sure he will appreciate that it would be wholly inappropriate to attempt to establish a fully-fledged Scottish Assembly, albeit in embryo, in this Bill. There was the famously unresolved West Lothian question, and others, which would not be sensible to try to address in this Bill. I am bound to observe, given the noble Lord's involvement in the convention in Scotland, that it must be a disappointment to those who are keen to see the establishment of an assembly in Scotland that those very real issues which were raised on the Government's Back Benches during the passage of the Bill have moved no closer to resolution with the passage of 15 years than was the case when the Bill received Royal Assent.
The second theme that seemed to come through the noble Lord's proposing of the new clause was that in some way it might be a useful device—in a sense a temporary commission—which might establish for Scotland a better model for local government than is provided for in the Bill. That is an argument but it is not what the clause establishes. It would establish permanently an assembly that was to,perform such strategic functions, both financial and otherwise, as are relevant to the promotion and development of the local government of Scotland".Whatever may be the views on the reform of local government in Scotland it is abundantly clear that no one—but no one —wishes to establish yet a further tier in local government. This assembly would not address matters of wider national policy. It would allow for an assembly that dealt only with matters of local government. With all respect to the noble Lord, there is little support—indeed, probably none at all—for that.
The most important issue to address properly within the context of the Bill, which is about local government, is that while we are seeking the establishment of single tier local government we should ensure that local government gets ever closer to the people. If such an assembly were to be established in Edinburgh there would inevitably be a centralising force at work. Far from simply overseeing local government in Scotland it would provide that decisions had to be taken at a national level. That is not just a scare which I have dreamt up. In another place the Member of Parliament for East Lothian, John Home Robertson, and others, were clearly of the view that it was not desirable and that such an assembly should not shrink from the prospect of taking away from local government some of its present powers and having them administered at the centre. I really do not believe that there is any desire to see that brought about in Scotland any more than would be the case here in England.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, does not find our affairs in Scotland too tedious. As other noble Lords have said, we are proud to be part of a unionist Parliament and will continue to share that pride whether 666 it is in this House or in another place. Of course, from time to time the affairs of England are not always bright and stimulating.
The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, said that with the establishment of such an assembly there might be an opportunity for those who were members of it to participate in some of the European Councils which take place now on a regular basis. He will appreciate that the Council of Ministers is composed of Ministers from national governments. It is the case that there are sometimes representatives from regional governments but where that occurs they do not speak simply on behalf of their own region—or Land in the case of Germany—but on the part of the whole of that nation state. Thus, if there were to be a Scottish Minister attending an education council, he or she would be speaking on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom, not simply on behalf of Scotland.
This has been a brief but interesting debate. We have a good many detailed amendments to consider beyond it with regard to boundaries. I hope that, having expressed his views very clearly and in his customary lucid fashion, the noble Lord will feel that his debate has been worth while and that he can now withdraw his new clause.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, will he deal with the point which I and other noble Lords raised? One of the reasons for the tabling of the new clause was that, with the greatly increased powers of the Secretary of State, he is becoming another tier. Will the noble and learned Lord refute that?
§ Lord Renton
Before my noble and learned friend replies, would he care to compare what is written in subsection (2) of the new clause with the responsibility of the Secretary of State in subsection (5)? Would there not be a real danger of a conflict of responsibility between the suggested assembly and the Secretary of State?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I have not gone through the clause in any great detail but it appears to me that it contains a number of defects, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, will appreciate. The conflict to which my noble friend Lord Renton has pointed would indeed be inevitable were the clause to be implemented.
We addressed the position of the Secretary of State generally at Second Reading and I shall return to it now. There is a significant part of the Bill which would change the arrangements whereby water and sewerage services were delivered in Scotland. That would indeed be performed under the aegis of boards and not under the various councils as is the case at present. But, apart from that, there is no significant extension of the powers of the Secretary of State for Scotland in the Bill. The only other area where it might be claimed that there is such an extension, although I think it is an illusory one, is in relation to reporters to the children's panel. If the noble Lord is not already aware he will be shortly that an overwhelming majority of those who work in the 667 reporters' system have welcomed the opportunity to carry out their work under an independent national reporter.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I do not wish to delay my noble friend's reply but I wish to comment on the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. He said that there might possibly be from time to time a conflict of view between the assembly and the Secretary of State. He must be well aware that this assembly in which we are all seated has very frequently differed from Secretaries of State, Ministers and governments without being in any way alarmed at that. There are means whereby that conflict is resolved. A similar conflict in the proposed assembly would be resolved as well without the dread consequences which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, seems to envisage.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
I do not know whether the Minister wants to reply to my noble friend. If he does, I am sure that he will respond to my noble friend's most recent intervention. I am grateful for the constructive nature of the debate which has taken place, with the exception of the contribution of the noble Baroness Lady Seear. Perhaps I may gently remind her that not only is she out of line with Labour Party policy, but, probably of more importance to her, she is badly out of line with Liberal Democrat Party policy as well. That may not concern the noble Baroness. I think, however, that I should plant that thought in her head before she staggers into more serious trouble. When Paddy Ashdown reads the Official Report tomorrow, I have a feeling—
§ Baroness Seear
The noble Lord has completely misunderstood. What I said was entirely in support of a Scottish Assembly, which has been our policy for far longer than it has been Labour Party policy.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My persuasive powers have drawn the noble Baroness further along the road so that we end up with a constructive contribution.
I say to the Minister that the weakest ground in his constructive answer concerns centralisation. If ever a Bill creates centralisation, it is the one before us. Not once but on 97 occasions in the Bill there is reference to the power of the Secretary of State to give directions. There can be nothing more centralising than to give him the very extensive powers which this Bill proposes.
I say as an aside to the Minister that I find it strange that on the first day of the Committee stage there is not a single government amendment to the Bill. I do not know what the Government's intentions are for the later stages As I said, if ever I have seen a centralising measure it is this one. So the Minister's centralisation argument is not valid.
The noble Lord referred to the unresolved question of West Lothian. As the noble Lord said, I lived with it night and day with Tarn Dalyell peering over my shoulder and saying that there was no answer to it. Why should I be able to vote for education in Blackburn, West Lothian, but not in Blackburn, Lancashire? For those Members who have forgotten, that was the West Lothian question. Perhaps I may share briefly a story with the Committee. On the day when the daughter of 668 the then Prime Minister of Malta demonstrated in the public gallery and threw horse manure over the gallery which landed in Tarn Dalyell's lap, quick as a flash John Smith said, "That is the answer to the West Lothian question." I believe that in some ways that is so.
The situation now is different. A Labour government intend to establish regional assemblies as well as a Scottish Parliament and a Parliament for Wales. So the West Lothian question will not arise. There is now an answer to the question which I freely admit did not exist in 1978. I wish that it had existed, but it did not.
I would like to have the ear of the noble Lord, Lord Gray. On behalf of all the people in Fife I congratulate him on his birthday today. If someone asks whether I have always grovelled, the answer is yes, but only on behalf of the people of Fife. It is nice to see the noble Lord celebrating his birthday in such a vigorous fashion. He really has to face up to—as I thought he was trying to do —the position of the Conservative Party in Scotland. That applies also to the "Second Reading speech" of the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson. It was kind of him to keep it for the beginning of the Committee stage. As I recollect, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, was appointed chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland to arrest the decline which had started under Michael Forsyth. We now have Sir Michael Hirst following the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson. But the decline goes on.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I am sure that even in the noble Lord's wildest dreams he did not believe that the results of the last election in Scotland would be as good as they were for the Conservative Party.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
It shows the depth to which the Conservative Party has sunk in popularity terms in Scotland that 11 seats are now counted to be a success. That is 11 seats out of 72. I can remember the time when the Conservative Party in Scotland had more than 50 per cent. of the popular vote. It will be lucky to get 5 per cent. on Thursday.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I had not wanted to intervene twice. It happens to be the only part of the country which wrested one particular seat from the Labour Party. That is not a bad record.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
"Arrest" is probably the correct word. However, we shall leave that matter where it is. I shall now deal briefly with the question of cost. The noble Lord, Lord Gray, the noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, raised it in particular. I have always answered the question of cost in this way: democracy is more expensive than dictatorship. Anyone who wants democracy has always to be prepared to pay for it. I have never shifted from that approach. When one looks at countries where a dictatorship is the order of the day rather than democracy, Members of the Committee can take it from me that the price is well worth paying for democracy.
We have had a good and constructive debate. I hope that I can return to the matter in the autumn when we deal with the Report stage and Third Reading. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.669
§ 4 p.m.
§ Clause 1 [Local government areas in Scotland]:
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 13, at end insert:
("( ) The Treasury will undertake a review and publish a report on the likely costs involved in the reorganisation of local government, which shall be laid before each House of Parliament no later than 6th April 1995.").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to ask the Treasury to undertake and publish a review of the likely cost of the reorganisation of local government. The Committee will be aware that the transitional and ongoing estimate of the cost provided by the Government has been questioned. Severe doubts have been expressed in several quarters as to its validity. The amendment proposes a total review to be undertaken by the Treasury of the likely cost of reorganisation with the result published by April 1995 before the elections take place for the new body.
§ In October 1992 the Secretary of State produced a consultation paper entitled The Structure of Local Government in Scotland: Shaping the New Councils. The paper contained four options for a unitary authority structure, consisting of 15, 24, 35 or 51 authorities. At the same time the Scottish Office published a report by the management consultants, Touche Ross, who had been commissioned to examine the likely cost implications of moving to the four structures identified in the consultation paper.
§ The Touche Ross report was severely criticised by many individual local authorities, by CoSLA, by professional bodies and by academics specialising in local government finance. That criticism has never been refuted by the Scottish Office; at least it has done nothing tangible which we can trace that systematically questions the complaints.
§ The Government published in 1993 their White Paper Shaping the Future: The New Councils which proposed a 28 unitary authority structure. It was estimated that this would produce ongoing annual savings of between £22 million and £66 million and would incur transitional costs of between £120 million and £196 million.
§ The White Paper assumed that there would be a reduction of between 700 and 2,200 staff compared to the current two-tier system. However, even as yet no published details have been provided to justify that assumption or any of the other assumptions on which the total estimates have been based. This may be an opportunity for the Minister to enlighten the Committee and the country, and Scotland in particular.
§ The Bill as originally presented to Parliament in December 1993 proposed the same 28 unitary authority structure as outlined in the White Paper. Since then the number has increased to 32, and the Government have estimated that the maximum ongoing annual savings have been reduced by £14 million to £52 milion with a marginal reduction in their maximum transitional costs to £190 million.
§ I turn now to CoSLA's estimates. The Committee should remember that it is the central body for all Scottish local authorities. In January 1994 it published 670 a critical evaluation of the reorganisational costs involved. The report examined the costings produced by Touche Ross and those in the July White Paper, having regard to the work previously done by Touche Ross on the proposals for Wales and that done on behalf of the Local Government Commission in England, as well as the experience of other reorganisations involving the abolition of the Greater London Council, the metropolitan counties and the Inner London Education Authority. So it is not as though there are no precedents for examination.
§ Based on the critiques already produced of the Touche Ross figures, there is no justification for predicting savings in ongoing costs by the creation of 28 councils; the most optimistic assumption is that costs will be at least as great as under the present system. This finding contradicts the Government's claim that there will be ongoing savings which will offset transitional costs. The increased number of councils to 32 further reduces the likely ongoing savings assumed as achievable by the Government.
§ While accepting that it is impossible to estimate transitional costs with any precision, CoSLA's report suggests a range of possibilities from £375 million to £720 million. However, if the draft English and Welsh redundancy regulations that were recently issued for consultation were to be adopted in Scotland, CoSLA believes that its estimate of total transitional costs would fall within the range of £325 million to £620 million. That is slightly less. The Government's estimates of property costs and the cost of the preparation for the changeover and the winding-up are just as realistic. The bulk of the transitional costs will have to be be met in the years 1995-96 and 1996-97. That can be done only by an increase in public expenditure or, as seems likely, at the expense of the existing limited provisions for local government.
§ I do not want to go into too much detail. We have a lot of material to cover in relation to the Bill and there is certainly a lot relating to the cost. Academics who are involved in local government and those on the financial side of local government do not believe that the Government have arrived at a figure by any genuine calculations that they can interpret and have privately audited.
§ If the Minister can give us a serious answer now to the strong doubts that have been raised in so many quarters, so much the better. If not, perhaps he can table some amendments for Report stage. I should like to emphasise what my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford said about government amendments to Bills such as this. This is a very important—and very long —Bill. I am sure that those who have a particular interest in legislation will have great difficulty in trying to think of any Bill of this nature which has come from the other place but which has not been subject to any amendment by the Government. The feeling in most places and certainly in Scotland—is that the Government are rushing through this legislation without proper consultation and without really listening to what was said in another place. We can only hope that the Government will start now by at least admitting that 671 their figures on the cost are doubtful and unlikely to stand scrutiny once the Bill is enacted—if it is ever passed. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, has given a very full picture of what is going on and what may go on. I have received similar figures in briefs. Although I do not want to repeat them, the figure that shook me was Touche Ross's estimate, which varied between a saving of £192 million per year and an added cost of £58 million per year. To say the least, that seems a little tricky and it is not something on which to make estimates. The Government appear to have settled on a figure of about £190 million. Even that appears an enormous sum of money to be spending on a measure for which the Government have no mandate in Scotland at a time when we need money for many other things.
The best thing for the Minister to do—it would be easy for him to give us this information in his reply —would be to tell us how much above estimate the 1973 reorganisation cost. That should be illuminating. All my experience was that the variation in figures and the extra costs were enormous.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
In responding to the amendment which requests that,'The Treasury will undertake a review and publish a report on the likely costs",perhaps I may advise the Committee categorically that the Treasury is completely aware of the calculations underlying the Scottish Office's cost analysis. Anyone who has had any significant experience of government will know that it would be impossible to take forward a proposal of this nature without first gaining full Treasury clearance. Much as we might wish it from time to time, it is impossible to take forward such a change without having the Treasury crawl all over it. The Treasury clearly understands and is well aware of the financial implications. There is therefore no question of the Treasury being dissatisfied with the work carried out by the Scottish Office.
A number of criticisms have been made of the Government's analysis, but I suggest that in reality they do not hold up. There can be no suggestion that the Government have avoided discussing their costings and have ignored the advice of the professionals in the field. As far back as spring 1992, the Scottish Office invited the respected and independent consultant firm Touche Ross to produce a report advising on the best means of evaluating the financial implications of moving to single-tier councils. The existence of the study and the remit given to the consultants were both made public and Touche Ross was encouraged to speak to such bodies as CoSLA and CIPFA.
This exercise was, as the Committee will no doubt appreciate, a very difficult one. There was little, if any, previous experience of evaluating a project of this nature and considerable scope for debate and disagreement.
The Government recognised this and so took the unusual step of inviting comments on the consultant's advice. We received a wide range of comments. Scottish Office officials also met with and discussed the report in 672 detail with CoSLA officials and local authority directors; of finance. In addition, a number of councils commissioned their own reports which were then submitted to the Scottish Office.
The department subsequently used all of this information to produce its own cost estimates, which were published in the White Paper issued in July 1993. That document also contained an annex which explained the thinking behind the Government's figures and, where necessary, explained why they rejected some of the claims put forward by certain commentators.
There was therefore never any question of the Government hiding their own thinking. Even at the time of publishing the White Paper the Government indicated a willingness to discuss the matter with CoSLA. The fact is, of course, that regrettably CoSLA refused the invitation and only when it was too late—when the Bill was already part way through its parliamentary passage and the financial memorandum had been completed— did CoSLA seek to re-open the debate.
Neither was there any question of the Government ignoring the advice of local authorities and bodies such as CIPFA. On the contrary, the White Paper acknowledges many of the views expressed by these organisations.
Members of the Committee will be aware that, as the Bill completed its passage through another place, several changes were made to the number of local authorities which are proposed to be established in Scotland. To some extent, that brought about a change in the figures. It may be helpful if I indicate that transitional costs are estimated to have reduced slightly to between £120 million and £191 million. Savings have similarly fallen but potentially remain as high as £53 million per annum. Thus under this revised structure savings over a 15-year period could amount to as much as £800 million.
I referred to the fact that a number of councils have taken their own analysis and have submitted their cost estimates to us. It is significant to note that those councils, far from indicating that there would be significant costs, indicated that they envisage cost-effective single-tier councils in their own areas.
Perhaps I may give the Committee a few individual examples rather than looking at the matter nationally, and look at the proposed new councils—the people who know what is happening in their own areas, what services are presently delivered and how they will be delivered. Angus, which is under Scottish Nationalist administration, has calculated that there will be a saving of £18.5 million. The Borders council has put forward a potential saving, taking into account the proposed changes, of some £22 million. Dundee, which is solidly Labour controlled, has put forward a saving of some £21 million. Highland council has suggested a saving of some £58 million, and that excellent council, Fife, just the other side of the Tay from Dundee, has put forward a saving of £68 million. The old borough of Falkirk, which is in the centre of Scotland, suggests a saving of some £16.5 million.
Those figures have not been plucked from the air. I understand that the councils went to the IPF, which is the commercial arm of CIPFA, to ask it to make the 673 calculations. If the Committee's mental arithmetic is up to what I have indicated it will be apparent that just those few councils will bring about a saving in excess of £200 million. Unless the calculations of all those authorities are wildly out, and if the figures show a net cost at the end of the day, some parts of Scotland are about to experience massive additional costs. I am unaware of any single area of Scotland which is putting forward such a suggestion.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
Is the Minister talking about a six-year period in which the savings will be made? Do the calculations take into account the transitional savings?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
If the noble Lord wishes, I shall be happy to take up a lot of time explaining exactly the savings that they have indicated. The figures that I gave in relation to Dundee, for example, would be savings over 15 years. I also have figures for annual savings. Fife has given some detailed figures and I am sure that it will be more than pleased to let the noble Lord see them, as no doubt will Highland, Borders and many other councils. I was attempting to ensure that we were comparing like with like.
A very different picture emerges from the broad picture that has been suggested. The previous Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland suggested that the additional cost would be something like £700 million. If those authorities all point to prospective savings of the order of magnitude to which I have referred, it seems to me that the figures that are calculated on a national basis will not stand up.
I have acknowledged that a wide range of opinions might be offered, and estimates can never be absolutely accurate. There are decisions to be taken by local councils which potentially will affect the amount of savings that might be secured. I hope that Members of the Committee will accept that our estimates represent a reasonable guide to the costs and savings which might be expected to arise from the move to single-tier councils in Scotland. The proposal that the Treasury should undertake the inquiry, in particular against the background of the assessments of those individual councils, is unnecessary. I therefore invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Hughes
The Minister gave interesting figures relating to costs. It is obvious that part of the Government's thinking is that, if a change from one system of local government to another produces large savings of money, that in itself is a justification for going ahead. I shall Return to some of the figures to which the Minister referred when I move my amendment relating to Central Region. I shall be interested to hear his comments on what I have to say.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
The Minister's answer was interesting. I understood that one set of savings figures was over six years and that the savings for Dundee were over 15 years. The matter is not clear to me, but I shall read what was said and return to it at a 674 later stage. The Minister did not endeavour to reply to my question about the previous reorganisation, which was only 20 years ago. Surely he must have consulted on that and have the figures.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I apologise to the noble Lord for failing to answer his question. I asked the same question and was told that there was no set of figures that would be usefully comparable. I agree that it would have been helpful had such figures been available. I am not conscious of using a six-year figure. I shall check what I said and correct it if necessary, but I intended to show the savings over a 15-year period.
§ Lord Monkswell
The Minister has not explained the basis on which the figures have been derived. The district authorities, which are the lower-tier authorities, have come up with figures which give costings, as they determine them, for functions which are currently provided by the regional or higher-tier authorities. However, that is not necessarily the best way of arriving at a set of reasonable figures because two factors cannot be taken into account at local level. The first is the detail of the way in which the services are provided and administered. Those lower-tier authorities are not undertaking those jobs. The second factor, which cannot be known because of the political circumstances, are the requirements of the electorate at different levels and the provision of different levels of service.
In a situation where there are a number of different authorities at different levels producing cost estimates of areas of activity of which they cannot, almost by definition, be intimately aware, the value of the Treasury undertaking a review of those figures comes into its own. The Treasury is in a position to take an overview of the situation at local level. Perhaps the Minister will comment on those remarks.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
With respect to the noble Lord, he has not followed or understood what I said. I tried to set out as fully as possible the very elaborate exercise that was undertaken with the assistance of independent consultants. The results of that independent work have been open to comment. Indeed, there have been comments, and a number of proposals have been put forward which indicate that the savings which we concluded would be achieved would not be achieved.
It is interesting that, as far as I am aware, all the proposed new councils, without exception, conclude that if they are given single-tier status, over a 15-year period they can achieve substantial savings. Given the political complexion of many of those councils, which are not always or immediately on the Government's side, it seems to me that it would be appropriate to have some regard to those calculations.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
I wonder why we were not given on Second Reading the figures provided to us by the Minister today. There are many variations even among the different consultants. The figures that I have been given show that savings in the Borders will be £1.7 million; in Central there will be an increase of £5.2 million; and Lothian and Strathclyde will have increases of £24.5 million and £37 million respectively.
675 We are all concerned about the costs, but people trying to make sense of the costs are worried that we do not know the assumptions on which, for example, the Touche Ross surveys are based. Perhaps the Minister will publish those assumptions before Report stage in the autumn.
In the meantime, I do not believe that we shall make much progress by throwing figures backwards and forwards. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 14, leave out ("1st April 1996") and insert ("such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.").
§ The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to give the Government time to develop their work on the Bill.
§ The Bill is unlikely to receive Royal Assent until late October or early November of this year. Local authorities will be faced with a number of practical difficulties when trying to ensure that the proposed new local government structure is established and working effectively by 1st April 1996. Therefore, the new system must be set up in 17 months. At the same time, those officers charged with ensuring that the system is established must tackle also the implementation of other major policy developments such as the extension of compulsory competitive tendering to corporate and professional services, the development of care in the community and the introduction of devolved school management schemes to Scotland's schools. Given those and other tasks facing local authorities, I hope that the Committee will support the amendment, which suggests a delay in the commencement date of the new unitary authorities to allow sufficient time for the necessary preparations to take place.
§ Also, rather than imposing a set date for the commencement of the new authorities, my amendment seeks to allow the Secretary of State to make an order, approved by Parliament, setting the councils' vesting day. That will allow discussions to take place as to what is the most appropriate date. We are not trying to take away power from the Secretary of State. We are saying that he is the only one who can make a decision with regard to the actual date.
§ Your Lordships may be aware that a large number of the local authority professional associations have expressed concerns regarding the burdens being placed on elected members and officials in establishing the new councils, and several have made representations detailing their views. In particular, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), the Chartered Institute of Professional and Financial Accountants, the Society of Directors of Personnel Services and the Society of Directors of Administration in Scotland have expressed their anxieties from the point of view of their own professional expertise. Those are all professional bodies which have an extremely high standing and integrity. I believe this is significant as these four bodies collectively provide an overview of the management, 676 legal, financial and personnel issues that will have to be addressed by those chief officials responsible for the corporate affairs of local government in Scotland.
§ Although I accept that the period from the likely date of the Bill receiving Royal Assent to vesting day of the new councils is only slightly shorter than the previous reorganisation of local government, I believe that qualitatively it is much easier to bring together organisations than it is to split them up and form totally new groups. Also, there is no doubt that during the 1974–75 reorganisation a consensus existed that some sort of reorganisation was desirable which would be of benefit to Scottish local government. Also, that reorganisation was carried out after a thorough, almost classic, review of local government by the late Lord Wheatley.
§ In addition, a more complex task faces local authority officials in 1994 than in 1974 in the areas where major services will have to be disaggregated into smaller units, such as in Central, Grampian, Tayside, Lothian and particularly Strathclyde. Joint arrangements may need to be established and will certainly have to be considered for strategic services to ensure their effective continuation.
§ Finally, I would remind the Committee that local authorities today are heavily dependent on information technology to carry out their functions; that was not the case in the early 1970s and the problems associated with disentangling current IT systems and establishing new compatible and working systems should not be underestimated. Quite apart from the other problems which arose in relation to the poll tax legislation, one major difficulty was that insufficient time was given for the introduction of new technology to cope with it. Of course, the poll tax was an appalling idea, but it did not work because insufficient attention was paid to the necessary software and hardware.
§ Following representations to myself from local government professional associations I would like to highlight a number of key areas which I believe amply indicate the problems which local authorities face. Elections to the new authorities must be held on 6th April 1995. The electoral registers on which the elections will be fought will not come into force until 16th February 1996, and will be published in draft form only on 28th November 1994. However, the new electoral wards cannot be confirmed until the Bill receives Royal Assent in the autumn. Although we are sure that the Secretary of State has ways of perhaps hastening matters,—and, indeed, he has indicated his intention to use existing district ward boundaries as a basis for the new electoral ward—those boundaries are currently under review by the Local Government Boundary Commission. I believe that the prospect of completing the existing boundary review and providing the new electoral wards of the new councils after undertaking all the necessary consultation to enable the Secretary of State to make the relevant direction immediately after Royal Assent is really a little tight and perhaps rather ambitious.
§ I turn now to the internal and external structures. On their election on 6th April 1995, the new councils will immediately be faced with a number of decisions to be 677 taken in relation to their political and departmental structures. Given the time-scale involved in taking such decisions, they are unlikely to be in a position to consider policy matters in any great detail until late in 1995. Moreover, such decisions will be further complicated by the uncertainty caused by the consideration of the necessity, desirability and practicability of establishing a number of joint arrangements with other authorities in the provision of services such as strategic planning, transportation, trading standards, education and social work.
§ Then there are the orders, directions, guidance and regulations to consider, the power for which has been taken by the Secretary of State from local authorities. Members of the Committee will be aware that during the period from Royal Assent to 1st April 1996, the Secretary of State will need to issue numerous orders, directions or guidance on a whole range of matters. No doubt the Minister has a list of the latter, details of which I am sure he will be only too willing to give to the Committee.
§ There is also the difficult business of staff provision and what redundancies there are to be. That is one of the ways in which the Government must be hoping to reduce costs. However, there will be serious staffing difficulties; indeed, it is not an easy job to carry out, especially when there are service specialists in every local authority who will be essential to the new local authority. Decisions will have to be made as to which members of staff will go and which are to be retained. Moreover, the type of compensation the leavers receive will have to be considered.
§ I believe that the budgetary concerns have been dealt with quite fully. However, it has been stressed to me that local authority directors of finance are concerned that the mechanism to be employed by the Scottish Office to derive the grant and expenditure targets for each of the new authorities will produce very doubtful, if not actually flawed, results. It is felt that there will of necessity be extensive work in aggregating and disaggregating existing targets for local authorities and in establishing effective statistical data relevant to the new authorities. Inevitably such tasks will be rushed through and perhaps not as well completed as would otherwise have been the case. The whole local government sector will have many extra tasks placed upon it.
§ Finally, I should like to stress to the Committee that local authorities do not face the task of implementing reorganisation in isolation from other policy initiatives in which they must become involved. In addition, local authorities are implementing the Government's community care initiatives, devolved school management schemes and the extension of compulsory competitive tendering for legal services, finance, personnel, information technology and other corporate services.
§ I suggest to the Committee that the reorganisation has been pushed through at a rate which leaves little time to ensure that the services provided by local government will be protected and the present level of services maintained. While I continue to oppose the 678 reorganisation, if it is to go ahead realistically I should like to ensure that it does so smoothly. That is what my amendment seeks to achieve.
§ It remains to be seen whether the Government can make the proposed reorganisation happen. It is still hanging in the balance. However, it is certain that within the time-scale envisaged, the Government cannot make such a reorganisation work in any way smoothly. Moreover, to compare it with the way that the Wheatley proposals were carried out is quite irrelevant; indeed, it is quite wrong to compare the type of changes which will happen under the Bill to those which took place under Wheatley. I beg to move.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I am very happy to support the amendment, even though it gives further powers to the Secretary of State. However, in this case I believe that that is sensible. I shall not repeat the admirable review put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, but what has been extraordinary about the Bill now before the Committee is the amount of briefing that we have received; the number of telephone calls that we have received; and, indeed, the number of people who have come to see us, often at their own expense, in order to put forward their points of view. Such is the interest in the matter that it seems to me that the present timetable will be subject to confusion and will almost certainly cause upset over the specified period.
The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, cited the notorious poll tax Bill. However, I believe that there was a much more serious piece of legislation in that respect. I refer to the community care Bill, which caused great distress to many mentally handicapped people who were released into the care of the community, while such communities were totally unprepared to deal with them.
The Bill now before us refers to many services, and I do not suggest that the results will be anything like as bad as those following the community care Bill. But my observations should persuade the Government to pause for thought. That is all that the amendment proposes. After all, even if the Secretary of State thought that things were ready, it could still be put through on the suggested date. It seems to me that the Government might well accept the amendment.
The Earl of Balfour
Although I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment, I fear that it would have exactly the opposite effect to that which the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, intended. I feel certain that it would create a most unfortunate uncertainty with the very loyal and often dedicated people in local government if they did not know when the date for implementation was to be fixed. I very much hope that the amendment will not be pressed; I do not believe it would have the desired effect. As it is, it is rather a tragedy that some of the best local authority officials that we have are taking early retirement.
§ The Earl of Minto
The remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, at the conclusion of his speech was most important. It is essential in local government in Scotland that we should be given the opportunity to put the Bill into operation should it become enacted. I 679 do not wish to press the question of a date. However, if the date is to be left as it is at present, I feel that it is essential that adequate time is given for us to fulfil our task in local government.
In my Second Reading speech I made mention of CCT. I should like to refer to it again in purely practical terms for the benefit of the noble and learned Lord. There is no questioning the fact that CCT is the greatest single distraction to the reorganisation process. It is especially so within the central services. Whether we like it or not, staff at the centre will be required as of this moment to deal with CCT preparation and implementa-tion at the same time as being heavily involved in implementing the proposed reorganisation. Moreover, in some cases those concerned will, quite frankly, be worried about their own job retention.
The current proposal is that CCT for central and construction-related services will take place between October 1997 and April 1998. The tendering process would therefore have to begin at the latest in about October 1996. The work of drawing up the specification and the contract documentation would have to start much earlier. As a result, the information on which the financial level and specification will be based will, at the moment, be inadequate. Since the new authorities will have been operating only for six months the information will, in practice, be based on that of the old authorities. That has to be unsatisfactory.
Added complications arise from the implementation of decentralisation schemes and the applicability of TUPE to the acquired rights directive. The provision of professional services could be affected by the new authorities' approach to decentralisation. We have no idea what the new authorities' approach to decentralisation will be in individual cases. It is unlikely that the decentralisation schemes will be completed with the specifications and services subjected to CCT.
Ideally, the decentralisation issue should be dealt with first and should influence the provision of professional services, not vice versa, although I accept that a balance would have to be struck with the requirements of the forthcoming CCT legislation.
If there are reductions in staff numbers as a result of reorganisation—and I expect that there will be—they are most likely to arise in the services subjected to the next round of CCT. Arising from the continuing debate on the applicability of TUPE and its other components to reorganisation there is a possibility of a large number of industrial tribunal cases challenging redundancies. The outcome of those cases would have implications for the CCT process. It must therefore surely be unwise to proceed until those matters have been resolved.
The success of reorganisation will, as I said at Second Reading, depend on staff at all levels. A majority of staff will see CCT as a far greater threat to their future than reorganisation. As a consequence, they may wish to concentrate their efforts on preparing for CCT to the detriment of preparation for the reorganisation process.
It is generally accepted that an absolute minimum period of two years is required in the run-up to a CCT contract, provided resources can be concentrated on the process. While a postponement of a year until October 1998 would improve the situation it would still be far 680 from ideal. A delay of two years to October 1999 would ensure that the new authorities had been operating for a reasonable time and that the CCT process was dealt with against the background of meaningful information and a sensible preparatory period. The postponement of CCT would have a significant beneficial effect on the practical side of preparation for reorganisation and on staff morale, and would be a huge step towards ensuring the successful introduction of the new authorities in April 1996.
It is against that practical background that I commend to the noble and learned Lord the comments that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, associated with my comments on CCT. I ask the Minster to accept that we are requesting that those who serve with us on local authorities should be given the opportunity to implement the Bill when it becomes enacted in a way which is beneficial rather than the way in which it appears to be proceeding at present.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Hughes
I have no difficulty in agreeing with everything that my noble friend Lord Carmichael said. Like him, I have been inundated with documents from professional advisers to local authorities. Without exception they say either that it will be impossible to do what is asked by the date provided or, if they do not go to the lengths of saying that it would be impossible, that it is most unlikely that it can be accomplished. It is not a question of one Member on this side of the Chamber agreeing with another. Both of us—together with many others—have been influenced by what has been said by professional advisers to local authorities. It is not councillors who will have to put the scheme into operation, it is the officials who are paid to do the job. If all of those officials are doubtful about their ability to do that, that should lead the Government to have some worries.
It was suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, that if the amendment were accepted it would create uncertainty and make matters more difficult. If the amendment were accepted the Secretary of State would not be prevented from adhering to the date in the Bill if he is persuaded—not now, but perhaps in February— that matters have progressed to such an extent that he can go ahead with that date. If he is not satisfied early in the year that it is safe to go ahead he would be a foolish Secretary of State if he did not take advantage of what is set out in the amendment.
I am reinforced in that opinion by what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Minto. He spoke from an unusually wide knowledge of the operation of his council. He has been a convenor of the council. It is obvious that he has involved himself in the minutiae of these matters to an extent that few of us could have claimed to have done when we were involved in local government. I think that I have said enough to indicate my views.
Turning to another matter, I question why on earth the date of April has been chosen for the first election when Clause 6 refers to the first Thursday in May. Is there some magic about 1st April and 6th April 1995 which escapes my comprehension? If one opts for April 681 one makes matters more difficult than if the first election were held in May. What is the reasoning behind that single departure from the first Thursday in May?
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
I make a very brief intervention on this matter. I am impressed by what the noble Earl, Lord Minto, said about the whole question of CCT possibly complicating the very difficult task of changing the system of local government in Scotland. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister will take away the matter and reconsider it to see whether the whole question of CCT could be reviewed in the light of what the noble Earl said.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
I wish to intervene briefly on this issue and on the adjustment of the timing of the reorganisation of local government. I am heartened by what the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, said about one particular issue. I return to the issue to beg the Government to take time over what is happening in local government in Scotland.
There seems no logical reason for a fixed date of 1st April 1996. When the Minister replies, perhaps he will tell the Committee on what basis—whether it be factual, actuarial or whatever—that date was fixed. Alternatively, did someone simply pluck it out of the air and say, "The date of 1st April 1996 sounds a reasonable time. Therefore we shall go ahead"? I speak from a position of ignorance, but I suspect that the Bill is being activated by accountants. Once accountants become involved, they do not recognise the realities of life and human experience. For example, in the Highlands the question of rurality has arisen. That is a strange but accurate word. The accountants have said, "We do not accept the theory of rurality". That is all very well if one is considering a set of papers. But if one lives in a rural area, rurality means a way of life.
When we refer to transition in local government, it is transition from the present arrangements. For example, as regards handicapped children with special needs at school, will the curtain come down on 1st April 1996? Will authorities such as Strathclyde be told, "You can no longer provide a service to the rural area within Strathclyde because it is no longer within the boundaries"? What will happen to children who require those special needs services daily? What will happen to the social services within the areas when the curtain comes down?
The Government must inject an element of humanity into the Bill. They must stop dealing with the issue as though it were a mathematical exercise. Perhaps I may refer to fares. In the Lothian region—the noble Earl, Lord Minto, may be able to confirm this—one can travel from the centre of Edinburgh to Dunbar for a special fare of 20p. However, once the new boundaries come into effect, that will stop. Who will sort out that matter by 1st April 1996? If it is not sorted out, what will be the position? Will the Lothian region withdraw the special fares?
The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, spoke of the people of the landward areas (if I may so call them) who do not wish to be governed by Strathclyde. If the noble Lord considers the matter, he will 682 understand that people outwith the new proposed area of Strathclyde will lose services which have been provided through economy of scale within large regions. No matter how politically unacceptable those authorities may be to the Government, they are providing services to distant areas relating to nursery education and roads which will be withdrawn on 1st April, 1996.
I wish to know this from the Government: if a town outwith the major area has a subsidy for nursery education withdrawn, who will subsidise nursery education? Will the new local authority have to raise the money? And if so, how?
We have so many questions we could detain the Committee for a long time. But eventually a new Secretary of State will say, "You people have not managed to agree about the services you are providing, therefore I will tell you what you are going to do". He then becomes the master of the administration. But who will be the paymaster? Who will pay for the services which the Secretary of State imposes on the new local authorities? Who will raise the finance?
I do not apologise to the Committee for making a persistent plea. I make it now and I shall do so again. Why do we not take this issue away and seek to gain a Scottish consensus? That would enable us to look like sensible people instead appearing to be a population of the landward areas—one-fifth of 5 million people—who cannot agree among ourselves on the best basis for local government which will give the people the best possible services. Surely we can sit down together and talk about the matter. It has been said that the railway strike cannot be settled. That is because people are at a distance from each other. We are prepared to talk to the Government. I cannot speak for the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, or anyone else on the Liberal Democrat Benches. I am sure, however, that one could have a delegation from this side of the Committee to meet with the Government and Members of another place to consider the debates and to say, "It is nonsense to bring the curtain down on that specific date. Let us see what we can achieve. Give us six months to talk about it". If we do not achieve consensus, we are back at the starting point. But at least give us the opportunity to get together and talk.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I am happy to respond to the debate for two reasons. First, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, made some play on the issue at Second Reading. I sought to give him an answer then. However, given the circumscribed conditions of a winding up speech on Second Reading, it was possibly not as full as it might have been. I should like to take the opportunity now. Secondly, I hope that we might consider the timetable for the change in local government in Scotland in a less overtly party political way than has been the case in Scotland or indeed in another place.
However, perhaps I may begin by stating briefly the responsibilities which local government presently faces. There are indeed onerous duties imposed upon local authorities in taking forward the most important new responsibility of care in the community. I take the opportunity again to compliment those responsible for the quite significant advances they have made in the first 683 year of the implementation of that policy. I have no doubt that in the current year even further progress is being made. I see no reason why that should not continue to prove to be a successful policy followed both by central and local government in Scotland.
I am also much aware of the theme developed by the noble Earl, Lord Minto, with regard to the CCT timetable. As he indicated, we have already announced an exemption from CCT for authorities from April 1995 until after reorganisation. We accept that a balance needs to be struck between allowing people to enjoy the benefits of that policy, as we see it, and the practicalities of implementing reform which the noble Earl outlined. We consider that our proposals achieve the right balance. I listened carefully to what the noble Earl said. Both I and my colleagues in the Scottish Office will read carefully what he said about that aspect of the reform. We have not closed our minds to the matter. If we are presented with detailed arguments, we shall certainly consider them.
We are aware of the view that decentralisation is too important to be delayed until 1997. It is an important point which the Government considered carefully. We have decided that it would be better to take the time indicated.
What seems to cause difficulty is this. Until now in Scotland—I do not say this in an aggressive way but with regret—it has been the policy of CoSLA to continue a campaign of non-co-operation. The effect of that non-co-operation has been to reduce the timetable available to local government to prepare for reform. It is possibly not surprising that the permanent officers should now express some anxiety that they do not have enough time to prepare all that needs to be done. But I am bound to observe that a solution—it may not be a complete solution —would be for that campaign to be brought to an end. That is not to crow over a victory over the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities or anything like that. It would make life simpler and more complete for the people whom we all seek to serve if we sought to change that attitude and to commence constructive dialogue to decide how the changes might be implemented on the timescale that we have envisaged.
Notwithstanding that campaign of non-cooperation, I am not convinced that the timetable for reform which envisages shadow elections on 6th April 1995, with the new authorities assuming full control from the existing ones on 1st April 1996, will somehow founder. As an aside, I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, why we chose the April date for the first election. That date was chosen following pressure from local government that shadow authorities should be given as much time as possible to prepare for reforms. So there is nothing sinister in the matter, it is responding to what was requested of us.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Hughes
I never thought for one moment that there was anything sinister about it. I just thought that possibly it was foolish.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
If it is foolish, it is an act of foolishness which the local authorities first suggested.
As I said at Second Reading and repeat now, the timetable which we have put forward reflects closely the one that was followed at the time of the last reorganisation. It is worth noting that at that time the structure was undergoing a much more substantial overhaul with a change from some 430 authorities in Scotland to 65. That is in sharp contrast to the proposed change to 32 single-tier authorities.
I acknowledge that the timetable is tight, but that is deliberately so. We took the view from the outset that it was in the best interests both of those who use local authority services and of staff alike to minimise any period of uncertainty or disruption. As my noble friend Lord Balfour suggested, the Government have already received some representations from bodies concerned with what has been termed "planning blight". In particular, there is concern that local authorities will stop planning for the future and that services will therefore suffer. While I hope that most councils would take steps to avoid the problem, it is clearly one that must be taken into account when we are setting the timescale for reorganisation.
In addition, it is important to remember the position of local authority staff in all this. It would be very unfair to them if local authority employees were left in a state of uncertainty for any longer than is necessary. Staff organisations have already expressed concern at the low morale and stress that can be caused by prolonged periods of uncertainty. Again, there is a balance to be struck and I hope that I have explained the position on it.
Moving to a different point contained in the amendment, perhaps I may reassure Members of the Committee that the elections to the new councils will go ahead, as envisaged, on 6th April 1996. Before then, it will be necessary to define the new electoral wards by direction of the Secretary of State.
We have already signalled our intention to use, so far as possible, the new district wards to emerge from the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland's statutory review. This has the advantage of using boundaries which have recently been determined according to existing procedures and also, of course, it simplifies the procedures. It makes good sense to make maximum use of these up-to-date building blocks.
We will be consulting very soon with the existing councils over the electoral areas for each of the new councils. Again, this reflects the procedures followed prior to the 1975 reorganisation. Schedule 2 makes specific provision for that consultation to take place either before or after the passing of the Act. That will enable new directions to be prepared and ready for making immediately after Royal Assent. The draft electoral register, due to be published on 28th November, will reflect these new electoral areas. There is, therefore, no problem with the timetable for shadow elections.
We believe that the timetable proposed reflects a sensible balance. It is, however—and I stress this again —incumbent upon existing local authorities to make 685 good use of the time available to them. The move to new councils will take place on schedule and the Government believe that this will give councils adequate time to make plans. If authorities consider they have difficulties with the timetable, I urge them to begin work now rather than holding to a negative and ultimately damaging line of non-cooperation. Local authority customers and their employees can only gain from councils accepting that this reorganisation will take place and beginning to discuss with their neighbours the best way of bringing it about.
I make no apology for that rather extended explanation, but it is an important point and I hope that, with it, the noble Lord will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.
§ The Earl of Minto
Before replying, will the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, allow me to ask the noble and learned Lord one question? I wish to make it clear to the Committee that my local authority has never been a party to not speaking to the Government. It is an independent council which has adopted that attitude from the word go, as have other councils in Scotland. However, sadly, some of the principal ones have not.
That said, I was not quite certain whether the noble and learned Lord was asking me for further information before he was prepared to give some form of assurance that he would come back at another time. That was my understanding of the gist of what the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, said. I feel that I have provided all the information and I should like to be given an assurance that the CCT matter will be responded to favourably in some measure. I genuinely believe that an authority which is doing its best will not be able to meet the target unless given some help by the Government.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My apologies to the noble Lord if he felt that I did not respond to what he said. I certainly intended to indicate to him that I would consider carefully with my colleagues in the Scottish Office what he said about the difficulties. I accept that he spelt them out fully and lucidly. I intended to convey a broader invitation that if there were others who felt the same as the noble Earl, that there are points to be made about the CCT matter, it would be helpful if they could put to us the detailed arguments in much the same way as the noble Earl did.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
The Committee will be pleased with the amount of time that the Minister has spent on the matter. However, he must be aware that the amendment has obviously caught a strand of thinking in this Committee. The whole question of the rush was partly the reason for the staff being uncertain and insecure and therefore their attitude to the Bill and helping the Government with reforms was not as enthusiastic as perhaps the Minister would have liked.
The important point is that we know that staff in local authorities are a bit of a joke with their sheer devotion to duty and their meticulous understanding of the rules that govern us in local affairs. Once legislation is passed, they are not the kind of people to hold things up. However, I feel that because of the unease in the 686 Committee we should give some indication to the country of just how seriously we feel about the matter and that we believe the Government are intransigent in not taking what we consider is a fairly simple amendment which is intended to be helpful. I therefore wish to test the feeling of the Committee on the amendment.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 68; Not- Contents, 145.687
|Addington, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Bancroft, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Kintore, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Longford, E.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller.]||Mackie of Benshie, L. [Teller.]|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||McGregor of Durris, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Minto, E.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Nathan, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Peston, L.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Richard, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Geraint, L.||Seear, B.|
|Glenamara, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Grey, E.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Haskel, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Healey, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Warnock, B.|
|Hughes, L.||White, B.|
|Jay, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Carnock, L.|
|Addison, V.||Chalker of Wallasey, B.|
|Aldington, L.||Chelmsford, V.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Chesham, L.|
|Alexander of Weedon, L.||Clark of Kempston, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Cochrane of Cults, L.|
|Alport, L.||Courtown, E.|
|Annaly, L.||Cox, B.|
|Arran, E.||Craigmyle, L.|
|Astor, V.||Cranborne, V.|
|Balfour, E.||Crawford and Balcarres, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Cumberlege, B.|
|Birdwood, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Blatch, B.||Dean of Harptree, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Dixon-Smith, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Downshire, M.|
|Borthwick, L.||Dundee, E.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Ellenborough, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Elles, B.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Elliott of Morpeth, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Caldecote, V.||Elton, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Erroll, E.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Ferrers, E.|
|Flather, B.||Mountevans, L.|
|Foley, L.||Mountgarret, V.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Gainsborough, E.||Murton of Lindisfame, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Nelson of Stafford, L.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Nelson, E.|
|Gisborough, L.||Norrie, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Pearson of Rannoch, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Pender, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Gray, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Polwarth, L.|
|Grimston of Westbury, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Reay, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Rees, L.|
|Harmsworth, L.||Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Renton, L.|
|Harvington, L.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Hayhoe, L.||Romney, E.|
|Henley, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Holdemess, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Howe, E.||Selborne, E.|
|Ingrow, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Jellicoe, E.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Kenyon, L.||Slim, V.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||St.Davids, V.|
|Layton, L.||St.John of Fawsley, L.|
|Leigh, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Lindsay, E.||Stockton, E.|
|Long, V.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Strange, B.|
|Lyell, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Manlon, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Marlesford, L.||Tugendhat, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L||Ullswater, V. [Teller.]|
|Merrivale, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Middleton, L.||Wakeham, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Milverton, L.||Wise, L.|
|Montgomery of Alamein, V.||Wynford, L.|
|Morris, L.||Young, B.|
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford moved Amendment No. 4:
After Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Initial review of local government areas
§ The noble Lord said: I beg to move this amendment standing on the Marshalled List in the names of my noble friends Lord Carmichael and Lord Macaulay. The proposed new clause is in a sense important because it gives an opportunity to the Government to explain why an undertaking given by the Minister in another place, Allan Stewart, has not yet been honoured.
§ Sections 13 and 20, and Schedule 5, of the 1973 Local Government Act contain provisions that the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland shall 688 carry out a review of local government boundaries directed by the Secretary of State as soon as practicable after the new authorities have come into being. There is no such provision in this Bill.
§ It should be borne in mind that when the 1973 Local Government (Scotland) Act was passed the boundaries were by and large agreed. Even before the legislation was drafted there was a wide-ranging debate in Scotland against the background of the Wheatley Commission proposals. I have to hand it to the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Younger of Prestwick, who listened intently to what was being said during that debate; as a result of that listening process, boundaries were by and large agreed before the legislation came before another place.
§ That is not the case in the present Bill. Indeed, there has been great disagreement. That is why today the Marshalled List is littered—to put it no higher—with amendments dealing with boundaries. That was not the case in the 1973 Act. As I said, by and large, the boundaries were agreed before the Bill went to another place. There is great and widespread disagreement about the boundaries proposed in the present Bill. It seems to us to be sensible to incorporate in this piece of legislation the provision that was included in the 1973 Act. In the Standing Committee dealing with this Bill in another place, George Robertson raised the issue with the Minister, Mr. Allan Stewart. The Minister is on record as saying that he accepted the point being made and although the provision would still be in being—the provision for the Boundary Commission to carry out the reviews—that provision would still prevail. It was not proposed to include it in this legislation. Nevertheless, Allan Stewart is on record as saying that the Government would consider the whole matter and come forward with their proposals. It is now 28th June and we still have not heard the Government's proposals.
§ The purpose of the new clause is, first, to ensure that there is a local government Boundary Commission review as soon as practicable after the local authorities have come into being; and, secondly, to extract from the noble Lord the Minister, so far as possible, the Government's proposals as promised by the Minister in another place.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling the amendment and allowing for a further airing of views on this topic. As he indicated, Part II of the 1973 Act provides a permanent machinery for the review both of local government areas and of electoral arrangements.
While the commission is responsible for carrying out regular periodic reviews of areas, boundaries and electoral arrangements, provision is made in the Act for them to consider requests from a local authority or any person for a review of any area to which the local authority or person has an interest. In addition, the Secretary of State has powers to direct that a review be carried out of any local government area or all the areas together. Section 20 and Schedule 5 to the 1973 Act deal with the initial reviews of electoral arrangements and 689 with the possibility of reviewing local government areas, in the context that in 1975 the commission was being established for the first time.
The purpose of the provisions was to recognise that the removal of anomalies caused by the use of present boundaries to define the new electoral areas would be an important first task for the commission. What needs to be clearly understood on this occasion, however, is that the reference to existing boundaries is more up to date, since the last statutory review of administrative areas was completed in 1992 and the electoral arrangements will be finalised in the summer of this year.
The substitution of a new Schedule 5 to the 1973 Act by paragraph 95 of Schedule 13 to the Bill takes account of that and recognises and reflects the important linkage between the commission's review of electoral areas and the periodic general review of parliamentary constituen-cies by the parliamentary Boundary Commission for Scotland. There is a need to synchronise these and ensure that the review of local authority electoral arrangements is complete ahead of the next review of parliamentary constituencies.
As the Committee will be well aware, the current review of parliamentary constituencies is due to end on 31st December this year and, in accordance with the Boundary Commissions Act 1992, the next review of parliamentary constituencies will be held between December 2002 and December 2006. Accordingly, given that the local authority electoral wards are used as the building blocks by the parliamentary Boundary Commission for Scotland, it is extremely important that the first review of local authority electoral arrangements is completed by the end of the year 2000. Ideally, however, that task would be completed prior to the 1999 local authority elections.
To summarise the complex inter-relationship of commissions and responsibilities of the commission we consider it desirable to amend Schedule 5 to the 1973 Act so as to reflect the importance of the linkage between the future reviews of parliamentary constituen-cies and to enable the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland to focus on local authority electoral matters immediately in the aftermath of reform. In saying that, it does not mean that the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland cannot review any administrative boundaries after 1st April 1996. Nor does the Bill affect in any way the Secretary of State's powers to direct that commission to undertake ad hoc reviews in terms of the 1973 Act as necessary.
In terms of the amendments made by the Bill, the timescale between reviews has been reduced from 12 to 15 years to 8 to 12 years, significantly reducing the timescale within which the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland undertakes the review of administrative and electoral areas.
For those reasons, particularly the complicated inter-relationship and synchronisation of the review activities of the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland and the parliamentary Boundary Commission for Scotland, I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Ewingof Kirkford
I am rather surprised with the reply. I had hoped that the Minister would indicate the present position in relation to the commitment that was given in another place. Responding to the debate in the other place, Mr. Allan Stewart said that the local government Boundary Commission for Scotland had a power and a duty under the 1973 Act to review boundaries, and he assured the committee that those powers would continue to exist. I have already accepted that. Mr. Stewart went on to say that he took the point about a possible initial review. He said that he would consider that point and present the Government's proposals later.
What is at issue here between the noble and learned Lord and myself is that there is no indication of the presentation of the Government's proposals much later —as is now the case. In kindness, I must say to the Minister that we are entitled to an explanation of where we are in relation to the commitment and the understanding given by the Minister in another place.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I should like the noble Lord to consider what I said in my opening remarks on this amendment. I accept that the matter is complicated. I am also prepared to acknowledge, as did Mr. Allan Stewart at the Committee stage in another place, that an initial review of all the new administrative areas after 1st April 1996 might indeed be desirable. If I understood the noble Lord correctly, he is concerned that that ought to be the first priority taken on by the Boundary Commission. I hoped that I had explained to him that from a practical point of view the approach that I outlined was more desirable because the anomalies ought to be tidied up before we got to the review that the parliamentary Boundary Commission may make.
I do not believe that there is anything extremely complicated here. In short, the first task of the Local Government Boundary Commission is to establish the building blocks that make up the parliamentary constituencies, as the noble Lord will recall from his own involvement in such matters. It is that which we consider to be the first task to be undertaken, not the broader review of the administrative areas. I hope I have explained that clearly, and I acknowledge, as did the Minister in another place, that we see the greater priority as clearing up the interrelationship between the two commissions.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkwood
I take it that, despite what the Minister said in another place, there are no proposals for carrying this matter forward. We will not get any further on that today. It is a complicated issue of whether we should put in place the building blocks of local government boundaries first in order that the Parliamentary Boundary Commission can go on to redraw the parliamentary boundaries. I sometimes feel that it is time the Parliamentary Boundary Commission left the parliamentary boundaries alone for a while. In my 21 years in another place my parliamentary constituency boundaries were redrawn three or four times. It is not good for an electorate and certainly not for a parliamentary representative to have a continual 691 redrawing of parliamentary boundaries. The Government should leave them alone for a considerable time.
All that being said, I shall withdraw the proposal on the basis that I give notice that we shall want to return to it at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 1 [New local government areas]:
§ Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 127, line 8, leave out ("Banff and Buchan District Council").
§ The noble Lord said: It is a particular pleasure for me to begin this group of amendments which refer to specific areas of Scottish local government. In doing that I am following a tradition established by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, who ably introduced the Welsh local government Bill in this House. No doubt we shall be returning to him doing that on Thursday.
§ In a sense I am also representing my colleague in another place, the SNP leader Mr. Alex Salmond, who cohabited happily in a joint parliamentary group for many years. I am also glad to represent the interests of Scotland as well as the interests of Wales and any other interests in this House. But in particular I am speaking on an all-party basis on behalf of the people of Banff and Buchan and especially on behalf of those represen-tatives of the existing local authority district who have approached me on the issue. I know that a number of other Members of your Lordships' Chamber have been approached similarly by that local authority and others.
§ In effect, the amendments allow the Government to consider once again the whole question of whether Banff and Buchan should be a unitary authority; whether it should be a local government area in its own right. It is worth reflecting briefly on the principles set out by the Government which applied to the Scottish local government Bill when it was first introduced. Some of the arguments we shall be using this afternoon are not dissimilar to the arguments put forward during the various stages of the Welsh local government Bill both here and in another place.
§ The intention of the Government was to introduce a pattern of local government which would be more comprehensible to the electorate; a system which would reflect local loyalties and—that important term— communities of interest; and also a system that would be less remote from the electorate and would eliminate duplication. Most of us who were concerned about the structure of local government in medium to small-sized countries like Scotland and Wales would be in agreement with those objectives. However, in relation to the new authority of Aberdeenshire, as set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill, I doubt that those objectives are being met.
§ The schedule sets out to create three districts—Banff and Buchan, Gordon, and Kincardine and Deeside—to produce a large and diverse local authority which has almost the same land area as another part of Scotland which I know quite well, Dumfries and Galloway. It would create an authority which would have no natural 692 centre of administration. It was referred to in another place both as the "polo mint" and the "doughnut" authority. We can choose our metaphors, but the point remains that when the new council is established it will not have a central administrative home. It will have to adopt what in the Welsh context would be known as the "mid-Glamorgan solution", whereby the authority has. no home within its own area, and that is to be regretted. It is appropriate that an authority for the area of Banff and Buchan should not be located within the city of Aberdeen but within its own authority where it is part of its natural community and creates direct employment.
§ On the second test that I set out on the principles put forward by the Government—that of commanding local loyalty—that can hardly be the case. Again I can refer to the debates we had about Mid Wales in the context of our earlier debates in this Chamber on local government. In the case of the Aberdeenshire option, only five expressions of support were suggested out of a total of 249 and those, as I am sure the Minister will confirm when he responds, are Scottish Office figures. There was a recent detailed survey of the population of Banff and Buchan showing 3 per cent. support. That was based on a survey of over 3,000 people. It is obviously much more than the regular opinion poll sample. On that basis the proposed authority hardly commands popular support.
§ It is not difficult to see why, because if Aberdeenshire is created it will be a geographically vast and diverse authority. Banff and Buchan in the north is a stable, traditional rural area with a strong economic base and primary industries which I have been able to visit over the years—fishing, farming and food processing. The Gordon authority and Kincardine and Deeside are of course partly commuter authorities more closely aligned to the city of Aberdeen than to the area of Banff and Buchan. Within that area 90 per cent. of the adults within Banff and Buchan live and work in the district. That is not the case for the other authorities.
§ We therefore have two different types of authority in that the population of Gordon and Kincardine and Deeside are close neighbours to the City of Aberdeen, which is the oil capital of northern Europe; Banff and Buchan is a different kind of community. On those arguments one can also say that it is not a happy linkage. The proposed Aberdeenshire authority neither reflects the needs of the people of Banff and Buchan nor their economic concerns.
§ Finally, does a large Aberdeenshire justify its place by being a cost-effective unitary authority? I studied carefully what was produced by Richard Blackburn, the very able chief executive of Banff and Buchan, and I know the Scottish Office Minister in another place studied it in detail. The study prepared by Mr. Blackburn showed clearly that the Aberdeenshire option, if it operated a decentralised authority as proposed in Clause 23 of the Bill, would have an additional running cost that would equate to £21 per annum on the council tax bill of every household in Banff and Buchan. That is because one would be creating a large authority; a unit without a natural centre. In effect it would be a two-tier system within the unitary structure and in that sense the Government's test 693 would be more expensive than the simple logical exercise of establishing a unitary authority for Banff and Buchan according to the wishes of the local people— wishes that reflect the geography, demography and economy of the area.
§ On that basis I want to propose the dividing of the Aberdeenshire proposal in the schedule into two natural communities, with Banff and Buchan to the north and Gordon and Kincardine to the south. There could then be established a system of local government which would be comprehensible to the local people; it would reflect the natural community interests and be a sensible unitary structure, bringing together district and regional functions.
§ It seems to me that in the debates in another place which I studied before standing up to speak this evening, there was a recognition on the part of the Minister that Banff and Buchan had put forward a strong case. Indeed, I suggest that what the Minister, Mr. Allan Stewart, said in another place appeared to be extremely sympathetic to the case. I hope that even at this late stage the Government in this House will be able to reconsider. If a unitary authority such as Moray is being established—an authority to the west of Banff and Buchan and its neighbour—which is a similar authority with similar rural area, with its own history and character, and with similar kinds of population (though it could be argued that Banff and Buchan has a higher GDP for the authority), what is the basis for establishing that independent Moray and not establishing an autonomous Banff or Buchan?
§ For all those reasons, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name so that we can have a more coherent map of local authorities in Scotland and enable the people of Banff and Buchan to establish local democracy on the basis of a unitary authority.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
Your Lordships may well think it a little strange that this amendment is moved not by one of the 113 active Members of the Scottish Peers Association but by a Welshman and Welsh Nationalist resident in Wales who, to the best of my knowledge—if I am wrong I hope that the noble Lord will correct me—has never lived in Banff and Buchan, Aberdeenshire or even in Scotland.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
If the noble Baroness will permit me, I lived very happily in St. Andrews for 10 weeks.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
I am delighted to hear it. I have lived near Fraserburgh in Banff and Buchan on and off (but more on than off) for 60 years, and continuously for the past 28 years, as my forebears have done before me. In addition, my family has property, and my husband a house, in Kincardine and Deeside District. This amendment would not give the Government time to think but would create another authority, Banff and Buchan, separate from Aberdeenshire. I am convinced that the Save the Banff and Buchan campaign and this amendment are party political and Scottish Nationalist-led.
694 Last December I received a letter from the Save Banff and Buchan Action Committee which asked me to speak for it when the Bill came before the House. The writer did not say that it was not connected with or writing on behalf of the local authority, but I was told that by him, or one of his colleagues, later in a telephone conversation. I said that I was not enthusiastic about retaining Banff and Buchan as a unitary authority, preferring that it should be part of the reconstituted Aberdeenshire as proposed in the Bill. However, I said that I would listen to the arguments before making a final decision.
In February I was asked by Mr. Alex Salmond, Scottish Nationalist Member for Banff and Buchan, to receive a deputation from the district council who were coming here to put their case to the Minister, Mr. Allan Stewart. The deputation consisted of the convenor, the chief executive, the Scottish National Party group leader and a member of the Save the Banff and Buchan Committee, escorted by Mr. Salmond. They outlined their case to me and later sent me further briefing. I understand that Mr. Stewart listened very carefully to what they had to say and asked for further information on certain points. Your Lordships may rest assured that I considered the case carefully before refusing to move the amendment which Mr. Salmond has persuaded the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, to take on. It is an attractive case that they have made extremely well but I believe that it is flawed.
I deal now with the main points. They say that the vast majority of the inhabitants of the district support it. A survey was conducted in which 3,332 people were asked whether they would prefer a single-tier council consisting of Banff and Buchan only or a greater Aberdeenshire consisting of Banff and Buchan, Gordon and part of Kincardine and Deeside. Of course, most people plumped for the little local devil that they knew rather than the larger devil that they did not, for a very large number of them were no doubt too young to remember the old days of Aberdeenshire County Council and how well it worked.
I am afraid that I have very little faith in these surveys as a gauge of public opinion. You can get any answer you want depending on how you phrase the question. Incidentally, no one I know was questioned, and I wonder in what areas the survey was conducted. Curiously, I do not know anyone who wants to keep Banff and Buchan as a single-tier authority, and no one to whom I have spoken knows anyone who wants that, apart from, let us face it, those whose jobs are at stake, the Scottish National Party and the local press, who are vociferous on the subject.
Banff and Buchan's request to me to move this amendment and my opposition to it received front page coverage in the local press. If there had been the widespread support for the proposal that it said there was, I should have thought that I would have received a number of letters or telephone calls from local people urging me to think again and to save them from the big bad Aberdeenshire wolf. I never had one. When I shopped in Fraserburgh and passed the time of day with people I met, at no time was I stopped and asked to 695 reconsider. I do not believe that the majority of local people support it. I think that the majority are indifferent.
The campaign literature describes Banff and Buchan as a natural geographic area akin to Moray and Fife, both ancient earldoms. It is true that the ancient earldom of Buchan was, before 1975, a district of Aberdeenshire with a very distinct identity, but joined with part of Banffshire and with a slice off it on the south side, it is as amorphous in its small way as its proponents say that the new Aberdeenshire will be. I well remember 18 years ago the disgust with which its inhabitants viewed the new boundaries and how artificial we all thought them to be.
They now say that:'The new Aberdeenshire, which must not be confused with Aberdeen County, from which it differs markedly, has no natural community of interest to hold it together. It is a vast area which stretches from the mountains and glens of the Cairngorms to the fishing communities of Buchan and of Coyd".It does not differ markedly from the old Aberdeen county except that it has a piece of old Banffshire tacked on at one corner and Kincardineshire tacked on at the diagonally opposite corner. It has all the same community of interests to hold it together as the old Aberdeenshire, because the interests of that little piece of Banffshire and Kincardineshire, basically farming, are the same. The old Aberdeenshire stretched from the mountains and glens of the Cairngorms to the fishing communities of Buchan. The boundaries are exactly the same.
Another argument put forward by Banff and Buchan District Council, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is that the proposed Aberdeenshire will be what they call a "doughnut" authority with no centre, because the council offices will be at Woodhill House in Aberdeen in the neighbouring Aberdeen City authority. I cast my mind back to the days of Aberdeenshire County Council. Then the county council offices were in Aberdeen, which had its own city council. Will the situation be so different, and is it really something of earth shaking importance?
If one is to attend council meetings it is usually best to do so in the local big centre where it is possible to combine council business with other business, or even occasionally with pleasure. Roads to Aberdeen from all parts of the county are kept open, where humanly possible, however bad the weather in winter. Aberdeen is Aberdeenshire's natural capital and always has been.
I do not accept that Aberdeen, which is 42 miles from Fraserburgh, is remote from the majority of people in Banff and Buchan, as has been suggested. There will still be local offices in the towns in the district where people may go to find things out or to complain, and every ward will still have its own councillor to whom residents may take their problems. That can only be better, as there will be only one councillor for all purposes instead of two and no one knowing to whom to go for what.
The majority of households now have telephones, which was not the case 20 years ago. They are only a telephone call away from the council offices, wherever they may be. Banff, where the main district offices are and where the council offices will be if Banff and 696 Buchan become a single-tier authority, is 26 miles from Fraserburgh and often seems just as remote as Aberdeen, particularly as far as the planning committee is concerned. This is an area where local input is most important, but the answer must lie in local sub-committees.
There are fears that financially the outlying areas of Aberdeenshire will lose out, particularly as regards housing, roads and infrastructure, to the demands of the commuter belt within a radius of some 20 miles of Aberdeen. Whatever the size of a local authority, there is always the danger of the hinterland losing out to the urban and suburban areas. But I hope that the Government will keep this problem in mind when determining the amount of central government financial support and the number and distribution of councillors and make sure that the outlying districts can hold their own.
I shall not bore your Lordships with financial arguments because I think that they are rather speculative and that figures, like the results of surveys, can be very misleading. I shall only say that the council tax in Gordon and Kincardine and Deeside is lower than that in Banff and Buchan, and I think that there must be some very good management in those districts, from which we might benefit. At the end of the day, what we all want is the best possible services for the lowest possible council tax.
Whatever they say to the contrary, I believe that the larger authority will have advantages as regards economy of scale and avoiding duplication, of which, believe you me, there is plenty at the moment. I believe it will be far more satisfactory as far as social services and education are concerned. And most important of all, where joint committees with Aberdeen city are concerned, Aberdeenshire will be more than able to hold its own. In arguments with central government, they will have far more clout, though I do not know whether that argument will appeal to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie. And the same applies in any dealings with the European Union.
I believe that the campaign to keep Banff and Buchan is Scottish Nationalist led and that, with the present make-up of Banff and Buchan district council being 10 independent, seven nationalist and one Liberal Democrat, the nationalists are hoping that if they can retain Banff and Buchan as an authority, they will gain control of it at the next election. I am a convinced unionist and in any case I do not believe in party politics in local government. The make-up of Aberdeenshire is likely to be mainly independent, and I think that that is as it should be and is most likely to produce good government. I urge your Lordships to reject the amendment.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I gather that the noble Lady who has just spoken is not much in favour of Banff and Buchan on purely non-political grounds—speaking as a unionist, she said. I do not know. I am not much in favour of the Scottish Nationalists. I disagree with much of what they say. However, I thought that the noble Lord from Wales did a good job. The name "Banff and Buchan" rings bells in my mind. My forebears came out 697 of there and many relations are still there. They tilled the soil and drank the whisky with great satisfaction for many hundreds of years.
Banff and Buchan is a good entity because there is all that high ground running up through Banffshire and the plain of Buchan is hardy country. Dr. Johnson, travelling through it, said that it was the most appalling wilderness he had ever seen. My forebears and many others took it in out of the heath and made it a fertile plain. They are very hardy people. Nearly 60 years ago I remember taking my brother-in-law with me up to see the shepherd who had a flock of sheep eating turnips in a district known as New Pitsligo. I had to collect the shepherd from his digs. It was snowing and a small boy from a nearby house fell in the snow and was covered in snow. His mother came out, picked him up, and to take the snow off she beat him against the door. People who are as tough as that have a certain cohesion. It is true that Banff and Buchan is an entity, or can be an entity, in itself.
However, I am afraid that I am rather on the fence because I also know the rather more fertile part of Formartine. They are much the same. The only difference is that Kincardine is even better land if you go down into the Mearns. If you go up to Deeside you find a lot of commuters who work in Aberdeen. The commuters have spread even into Buchan and they commute to Aberdeen. I think that probably the balance is in favour of the bigger authority with the clout, although I would dearly like to see Banff and Buchan under Liberal Democrat control.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
The only matter on which I sharply part company with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, is the suggestion that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, should not contribute to the debate and to the Bill. He is welcome and I certainly could not offer up any argument when I contemplate that it was my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate from Scotland who piloted through the House the local government Bill for Wales. The only greater authority he might have had for doing that is that he believes that Scotland and Wales should indeed remain part of our union rather than be separated from it.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
The last thing I wanted to do was to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, should not speak on the Bill. But I simply had to point out that the reason he was doing it was that no Scottish Peer was prepared to do it.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
The noble Lady made that point well and I have no doubt that it has been taken on board.
I am aware of the local support for a Banff and Buchan council to which the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred and I also accept that with a population of around 85,000 the area has a potential to operate effectively as a single tier authority. I would also not in any sense try to talk down its achievements as an existing district council since its inception in 1975. The problem is, as I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate, that while clearly we would have wished to 698 take into account as far as possible local wishes, it was necessary to have regard to a range of other factors and considerations. We have been obliged to adopt a wider perspective and our aim has been to devise a structure which would best suit the needs of Scotland as a whole as well as the areas within it.
In proposing the new Aberdeenshire council we have recreated, as the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, indicated, much of Aberdeenshire. With a population of around 220,000, I am confident that the new authority will be strong, effective and efficient. It will be well able to deliver the full range of local authority services and in that part of Scotland it will provide an effective counter-balance to its city neighbour.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, referred to the rather unfair slur that it would be the "doughnut" authority with no centre. I am aware of that criticism but it seems to me to be unfair. Related to it is the point that it would not have a natural centre. I do not know whether Members of the Committee have received a copy of the letter dated 11th February from the chief executive of Gordon District Council to Mr. Tarn Dalyell. If they do not have that piece of paper, it is the only piece of paper relating to local government reform in Scotland that has not been circulated. In the letter the chief executive makes the very good point that Gordon House in Inverurie is a combined building for both the existing region and the Gordon district. While it is for the new authority to determine where its centre is, it would be wrong to advance the case for a Banff and Buchan authority, or a division of it, or to launch an attack on the proposed Aberdeenshire authority on the basis that the only possible solution for it in terms of headquarters is to locate those headquarters in Aberdeen. There are other opportunities which the authority might wish to explore.
This matter has been briefly debated. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, knows Aberdeenshire quite as well as he knows Angus. I noted in particular his observation that, while there may be a distinctive character to those who come from Banff and Buchan, when one looks to a community of interest it is not difficult to see that community of interest stretching down from Banff and Buchan to what is the existing border boundary with Angus. On that basis, while I am appreciative of the contribution of the noble Lord from Wales to this debate, it would seem correct to advise the Committee that we should remain with the Aberdeenshire proposal.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Hughes
Can the noble and learned Lord explain exactly the reasoning underlying some of the comments which he made? When he was describing Aberdeenshire he said that it had a population of a little over 200,000 and that at that rate it was able to carry out the full range of activities which could fall to a local authority. By that, did he imply that Banff and Buchan, with a population of approximately 80,000, was not in a position to carry out all of those functions?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
No. Perhaps the noble Lord will cast his mind back to what I said in opening. 699 I said to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that I accepted that, with a population of around 85,000, it had the potential to operate effectively as a single-tier authority. However, as I indicated, and as other Members of the Committee who have contributed to this brief debate said, there appears to be both a common identity and a community of interest which would make the re-establishment of what was Aberdeenshire the best solution for this part of Scotland.
§ Lord Hughes
To say that an authority is able to operate effectively as a single-tier authority is not the same as saying that it can carry out the whole range of activities. It is envisaged throughout this Bill that many of the authorities which are being set up as single-tier authorities will not be able to carry out all these functions and will have to make arrangements jointly with other authorities.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
That is certainly the case. To advance the argument that Aberdeenshire with its population is likely to be in a position to deliver the full range of local authority services, was not to depart from a broader proposition which I made at Second Reading that in a number of respects and areas we would envisage that the local authority, instead of carrying on the existing pattern and traditions of Scotland in seeking to deliver all services at its own hand, should appreciate the advantages of being an enabling authority and in certain circumstances procure delivery of the services either from adjoining authorities or from the voluntary or private sector.
§ Lord Hughes
Would I be correct in saying that, when the Government decided on Aberdeenshire, they preferred an authority which could carry out the whole range of activities rather than have two or more authorities which would have to work with others?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
No. I indicated that there were a number of factors to be taken into account. I thought it only fair to add them in. My own personal opinion is that if there is a stronger argument it is the common identity and community of interest which exists throughout Aberdeenshire.
§ Lord Elis-Thomas
I am happy and glad that I moved these particular amendments because it has given us the opportunity to go to the heart of the matter as regards the reorganisation, whether in Scotland or Wales, and also to have drawn the comments from the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and from the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, in particular with that wonderful story. We are dealing with a sense of community and the balance between efficiency of delivery of service and community identity. It is a matter of scale, size of the service and local association.
I deny that this campaign or my intervention is party politically motivated. I do not need to deny that because we have already heard suggestions that Banff and Buchan might be controlled by the SNP, independents and the Liberal Democrats. So I am quite happy that, with proportional representation, Banff and Buchan could be an authority entirely representative of the whole of Scotland.
700 The final point I wish to make is this: it is a matter of regret that, when decisions are taken by centrail government, whether by the Scottish Office or the Welsh Office, full account is not taken of the feelings of the local population when it comes to local government reorganisation. My strongly held view is that both for Scotland and Wales there will have to be further reorganisation. It will happen sooner rather than later through a Welsh assembly and a Scottish parliament. Until that time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 128, line 51, after ("Helensburgh,") insert ("except that part of the said electoral division 7 included in Dumbarton and Clydebank").
§ The noble Lord said: We now come to some of the nitty gritty amendments about which I know a little more than I do about the Banffshire area. This amendment seeks to put back into the Dumbarton area the area of Luss and Loudoun. That is one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. When the Bill was first published it was considered that Luss and Loudoun would be part of the Dumbarton area, which it has been for several hundred years now.
§ Because of an amendment brought forward at the Committee stage, in another place, these two areas have been included in Argyll. I do not know the logic of that. I know the area reasonably well. In fact, last week I made a point of driving there to have a look at it once more. When one lives in the part of Glasgow that I live in, one takes one's visitors for a spin or a drink somewhere in that area to see Loch Lomond-side and particularly the lovely village of Luss, which, of course, is the setting for "Take the High Road". It has done very well out of that.
§ The idea of putting these two areas into Argyll strikes me and everyone I have spoken to as being quite horrendous. The town which Luss is most associated with now is Dumbarton and it always will be. Whatever one calls the area it will always be the county town for Luss. It is 16 miles from Luss. There is a reasonable bus service on what is now a very good road going down to Dumbarton. However, if there is a move into Argyll the county town will be Lochgilphead, which is 52 miles away. I am very certain that there will not be many people in Luss who will go over to Lochgilphead very often. It is over Rest and Be Thankful, right round and past the end of the Dunoon road. It is a long journey and the road is nothing like the road from Dumbarton to Luss.
§ There was no indication in the original White Paper that this area was to be transferred. Mr. Phil Gallie, the Ayr MP, who has very little local knowledge of the area, moved an amendment without informing or consulting the local people, including the MP for Dumbarton. The Government accepted it. The proposal will sever the links with Dumbarton, which go back a very long way.
§ There is another point about this amendment which is important. I believe that Loch Lomond belongs to all of us. It may be put into an area which has really no connection with Loch Lomond except that it is another beautiful area but in a different way. You go along Loch 701 Lomond to get to Argyll and that is about the only connection which people will have with Loch Lomond. As the Minister will know, a great many people going to Argyll sail there. So the involvement of another local authority in the management of Loch Lomond would seriously fragment planning responsibilities for Loch Lomond at a time when a comprehensive and committed approach is crucial.
§ I would like to make a plea to the Minister now that we should as a nation be doing something about Loch Lomond, maybe as a national park. I do not know enough about the responsibilities and powers of a national park. But we should certainly be doing something there. The biggest town in the area is Dumbarton, with Clydebank near at hand. If the two areas of Clydebank and Dumbarton were linked, as they were historically, with the south end of Loch Lomond, I think that that is a point on which we could begin to move.
§ My real plea to the Minister is that it makes no basic sense to put Luss and the other parts of the lochside into Argyll. I hope that the Minister will look at this carefully and let us know whether the original provisions can be reinserted into the Bill as it stood before going into Committee. I beg to move.
I was surprised a little earlier this afternoon to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, congratulate me on my birthday. In fact, it is not until next Sunday. However, I then discovered that he was not referring to that momentous event, but to the birthday of my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin. I shall not surprise the noble Lord or his noble friend Lord Carmichael by supporting them in this amendment.
At Second Reading I welcomed the Government's proposals in general and in particular those for Argyll where I have my home and livelihood. Argyll and Bute District Council has long held the unanimous view that its area would be best served by a unitary authority. It is the view that I held when I opposed Argyll's inclusion in Strathclyde and which experience has convinced me was a correct one. Argyll and Bute District Council's advocacy of a unitary authority included no territorial ambitions whatsoever. In fact, it maintained, and still maintains, that its existing boundaries enclosed an area which could support a viable unitary authority.
Nevertheless, the district council was pleased and welcomed the addition of the adjoining communities which this Bill will bring within the new authority's boundaries. The communities in question are friends and neighbours of Argyll and Bute communities and have voted in referenda in favour of inclusion in the proposed Argyll and Bute council area. Surely the cardinal point is that democratic choice in response to the question, "Are you in favour of the transfer of your community to the new Argyll and Bute council?", has clearly endorsed the expansion of the existing district council's area to that set out in the Bill.
The communities to be transferred should surely be allowed to judge for themselves how best their interests can be served in the future. They are not taking a great leap into the unknown. Surely they can compare the 702 track records of Dumbarton District Council and Argyll and Bute District Council, which is an established authority well suited to resuming the unitary responsibilities that it formerly held.
Links between the affected communities and their neighbours in Argyll and Bute are long established and close. They are geographical, cultural and environmen-tal. For the most part, those communities have more in common with Argyll and Bute than Dumbarton and any noble Lord travelling along the West Highland line or visiting the area would recognise the similarities between the communities such as Rhu, Helensburgh and Kilkcreggan and those of the Cowal peninsula, Bute, Dunoon or Rothesay.
The case has been well made. The communities have endorsed it. The Committee should support them and Her Majesty's Government and not accept any amendment to what is in the Bill.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
It may surprise the Committee to know that I have spent much of my life between Loch Lomond and the Clyde. I was at school at Helensburgh for two years from August 1914 onwards, and I visited my father's eldest sister there many times between the wars. As far as Luss is concerned, I have been there about 30 times since the Second World War, staying with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. I have had some of the happiest times of my life in that area of Scotland—and I am opposed to the amendment. I should add that I also know the Vale of Leven and Dumbarton and have even visited the town of Renton —with great interest and curiosity.
My noble friend Lord Gray has enabled me to shorten my speech a good deal, so I need not detain the Committee for too long. However, I shall try to answer one or two of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. He rightly said that Luss and Helensburgh have been part of Dumfries-shire—
§ Lord Renton
Yes, Dunbartonshire, for several hundred years. That is true, but since the Industrial Revolution the industrial development of much of Dunbartonshire has rather driven them apart. We have to face that. The noble Lord spoke about distances along roads, but that is not the only factor which should enable us to reach a decision on this matter. I agree that the distances are considerable between various parts of Argyll and not so great within Dumfries-shire—
§ Lord Renton
I am sorry, within Dunbartonshire. I have got Dumfries-shire in my mind because I have spent so much of my time there in recent years. I have a property in the next county.
As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, rightly pointed out, the point is that road communications have improved enormously in recent years. Luss and Helensburgh have benefited, as he said, but that is not the only factor.
The main point is that made by my noble friend Lord Gray. There has been a referendum which shows that the 703 people of that part of Scotland want to be in Argyll and do not wish to remain in Dunbartonshire. I understand that there have been various consultations confirming the result of that referendum. The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said that Loch Lomond belongs to all of us —and so it does. But there are now several local authorities—and there will be a number of local authorities—which enjoy the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. It is not a question of one local authority or of deciding this matter in the light of which authority shall have most of the banks of Loch Lomond. With respect, that is quite irrelevant.
I think that the test of the matter is this. My noble friend Lord Stodart held his inquiry some years ago now, but what he said then is absolutely true. He recorded that in its evidence the district council of Argyll at the time put this before his inquiry:'There is no doubt that the regional council's"—that is, the Strathclyde regional council—and we have to consider this—prime consideration and major financial resources must be concentrated on the central conurbation and the steps to be taken by them to deal with the urban deprivation existing there".Fair enough, but the evidence continues:Little emphasis however has been put at regional level on the problem of rural deprivation which can and does exist in certain parts of the remote areas of Scotland".I am not saying that in the Helensburgh and Luss areas there is much rural deprivation—they are mainly fanning, residential and, to some extent, tourist-dominated—but the point is that they are different from the rest of Dunbartonshire. They want to go into Argyll and I do not think that we should stand in the way of their doing so.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
Like the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, I spent a lot of time last week at the Highland Show. I was approached by a gentleman who I thought was going to talk to me about how cattle and sheep were doing. Not a bit of it. He said, "You're going to London next week. I'm an Elder of the Kirk in Luss and I am a tenant farmer in the area. I hope you are going to ensure that we go with Argyll". That was good enough for me because I always listen to what farmers say. I try to do what they would like me to do and, if there is a Division, I shall vote for Luss to go with Argyll.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
Perhaps before the noble Lord sits down he will tell the Committee the farmer's logic in wanting to move to Argyll. If he cannot do so, perhaps I may advise him that if farmers move from Dunbartonshire to Argyllshire they will attract larger grants from the common agricultural fund. Fanners' interests are always money-based.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
The noble Lord may be right: farmers always look for the best advantage. The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay of Bragar, appeared to suggest that with the abolition of Strathclyde, services will be reduced in Argyll and in other parts of that great area. He did not say much about the Western Isles Islands Council, the way in which those who have been in government have supported it and the way in which services are delivered there, which is very good indeed. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, I believe that 704 there is a commonality of interest between Luss and the county of Argyll, whatever he may believe to the contrary.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
One learns something new every day in your Lordships' House. I had not realised that both the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I went to school in Helensburgh. Although the years may have separated us, I was forced there by the activities of a gentleman known as Adolf Hitler, who decided to bomb us out of Quarrybank. For the greater part of my secondary education I lived in Helensburgh. Perhaps the noble Lord and I can have a discussion about it one day.
While living in Helensburgh I did not feel any affinity with Argyllshire. We always looked on the Dunbartonshire area as being part of the Helensburgh area. Argyll seemed a distant place where the nobility lived—no doubt, the Duke of Argyll and others. It seemed remote. Helensburgh seemed an integral part of Dunbartonshire.
I speak from the Back Benches. I have no authority from the Front Bench. I believe that Helensburgh is an integral part of Dunbartonshire and should remain so.
§ Lord Burton
I support what was said by my noble friends Lord Gray, Lord Renton and Lord Sanderson. I recently received a document from Dumbarton District Council, which I found most convincing. I made some inquiries and discovered that the position was not what the district council had asked for. It was entirely in accord with what was outlined by my noble friends. The wishes of the people in that area are clear. I am delighted to hear that the Government are looking to the wishes of the people in one part of the country. I hope that they will do so later as regards those in other parts.
§ Lord Milverton
I support the proposal that Luss goes to Argyll rather than staying with Dunbartonshire. The Committee may wonder what knowledge I have of the area. I have a Scottish-Irish son-in-law in Helensburgh and I have come to know a little of how the politics work and of the feelings of the people. I too have received material proposing that Luss should not stay in Dunbartonshire but should go to Argyll and Bute. I have also read material which puts the other point of view.
As a result of what I have read and information I have received from my son-in-law and from other people who know the facts, I believe that the majority of people wish Luss to go to Argyll and Bute. There appears to have been some odd hocus-pocus in persuading certain people another way.
I hope that the people can have their wishes and that the noble Lord's amendment will not be agreed. I hope that the people's wishes, which are strong, are adhered to. As regards social services, education, medical services and so forth, the people are not inclined to Dunbartonshire. After primary school, the children go to Helensburgh. The clear wish of the majority of the people is to go to Argyll and Bute, and I hope that that is adhered to.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I am pleased to hear that so many Members opposite have become converted to the 705 notion of the referendum. I believe in referenda; I have mentioned them in other contexts many times. I am delighted that those Members have joined me.
However, it is within my recollection, and it will be within that of other Members of the Committee, that only a few weeks ago we were discussing the reorganisation of the water industry in Scotland. A referendum was held by Strathclyde Regional Council. No less than 94 per cent. of those who voted—it was a large turn-out for a referendum—voted against the Government's proposals. At that time Members opposite told us how futile the referendum was and how difficult it was to pose the right question. They said that even if the question were right it would be misunderstood by the electorate.
Suddenly, after only a few weeks, all of that has changed. It means that the result of the referendum on the water industry did not suit the Government but the result of this referendum happens to suit perhaps not the Government but their supporters, and therefore they like it. That is not the way to handle referenda. One must believe in them continuously or not at all; not only when the answer happens to suit one.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I agree entirely that that is not the way to handle referenda. The difficulty about this referendum is that among the extensive briefing material that Members of the Committee received from every corner of Scotland was a 21-page briefing note from Dumbarton District Council. That document made no mention of the fact that the council had organised a referendum on the issue; indeed, if you like, they suppressed the information. I am not particularly keen on referenda but I draw some significance from the fact that Dumbarton District Council, having instructed it, decided that the matter should be kept from the Committee, having pulled out a result that it did not care for.
Indeed, it was only when councillors in Argyll discovered the case that it came to the Committee's attention. Most notably, it has come to the Committee's attention because George Macmillan, who has the great distinction of being the only Labour councillor on Argyll District Council, brought it to the attention of a number of Members. He stated:I would ask you, for the reasons I will outline, to support the boundaries as proposed in the Bill, and to disregard the submissions by Dumbarton District Council as they are ill-advised, misleading and inaccurate. It is also disappointing to see one local authority making a case by ill-founded criticism of another. That fact alone demonstrates how weak their submission is".The amendment would have the effect of including Cardross, Luss and Arden in Dumbarton and Clydebank. I should make it clear that the amendment does not propose that Helensburgh should be returned to Dumbarton.
A number of contributions made to the debate are based on public views as to the desirability of the change. Indeed, the referendum, which had an extraordinarily high participation rate of some 68 per cent.,and 83 per cent. in some cases, found that in Cardross and Luss, the majority wished to become part of Argyll. It has been clearly spelt out why that is 706 desirable. The distance and communication links between Cardross and Lochgilphead are not as great as they once were in time terms. But once again I make the point that has been made previously. As we see it, it will be imperative for the local authority to establish a decentralisation management scheme in that large rural area. If that is put in place, there is no reason why those who live in those parts of the new Argyll should not be served fully in all respects in the same way that those who live in Oban or Campbelltown would expect to be served.
Given the views that have been expressed, I hope that the noble Lord will not press the amendment.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
This has been an extremely interesting debate. I wonder why the Government did not think of all those wonderful arguments before the first edition of the Bill was printed. I agree that I have received a great deal of material from Dumbarton. I travel regularly in that area and logic suggests to me that Helensburgh should be part of Dumbarton.
The Minister said that my case was based on ill-founded criticism. However, I would say that the whole Bill is based on ill-founded criticism of local authorities. Surprisingly, one or two of the noble and learned Lord's friends, although they would never say it publicly, now believe that Strathclyde is not such a bad local authority and that it has done a lot of very good work.
The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, spoke of a tenant farmer whom he had met. I, too, heard something about that tenant farmer. I think his name is Russell. I am not quite sure. That is a story which goes on and on.
The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, was right to say that referenda are apparently acceptable only when they go the way that the Government want them to go. I do not believe that the Minister received the same papers that I received with regard to the hullaballoo about the community council meeting in Luss and the way in which it was held. There was a great deal of annoyance there. I must make a point of visiting Luss and knocking on doors there before we reach Report stage of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Burton, said that he had made extensive inquiries and was persuaded to change his mind. I should like to know from whom he made those inquiries. I received an extremely impressive letter from the factor of the noble Duke, the Duke of Argyll. It is extremely odd to find the noble Duke, the Duke of Argyll, and the Member for Ayr, Mr. Gallie, on the same side.
Matters as they stand are silly and illogical. One has only to look at the map to see that. I know that the roads are better now. The road from Luss to Dumbarton is extremely good; it is motorway standard. But the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will be aware that some roads in the other direction are not good and there can be some bad sections on the roads there.
I believe that we should return to this matter on Report. I shall try to find out more about it. I may even reply to the noble Duke, the Duke of Argyll.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 7 not moved.]
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 8:
§ Page 129, leave out lines 13 to 17 and insert:
|("Ayrshire||Kilmarnock and Loudoun District Council; Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council; Cunninghame District Council; Kyle and Carrick District Council.")|
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment has also received a great deal of public support. I hope the Minister will accept the fact that Ayrshire is very much an entity. Members of the Committee have been talking about their connections with different parts of Scotland. Glasgow and Ayrshire are extremely close-knit. I believe that that goes back to the days of enclosures and the repeal of the Corn Laws. Two of my grandparents were real Ayrshire people. The idea that Ayrshire should be split as proposed by the Government has caused a great deal of annoyance in the area.
§ I come back to the question of referenda. When are they honest? When are surveys honest? Local authorities represent the people and they are absolutely convinced that Ayrshire is one entity and it should remain undivided.
§ Ayrshire local authority measures up to the Government's own principles for the new structure. Perhaps I may highlight those criteria where a single unit for Ayrshire would score heavily compared with any division of the country. We should look at some of the facts.
§ Ayrshire would reflect local loyalties and allegiances. If there is one large, well-populated and well-developed part of Scotland which is an entity, despite its rural nature, I believe that it is Ayrshire. It is strong, effectively resourced and is capable of discharging all local authority statutory functions and other duties effectively, efficiently and economically. Before reorganisation in 1975, the former Ayrshire authority was at the forefront of Scotland and the United Kingdom in the provision of services such as education, the youth service, community development, police, social services, roads, water and public health. It was a viable authority. I hope that the folk of Ayrshire will be given an opportunity to show their unity and continue the excellent work that has been done, although for a period they have been part—and an enthusiastic part —of the greater Strathclyde region. I beg to move.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
Following the intervention of the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who was worried about people's credentials for speaking in the debate, I should like to say that I was born and brought up in Ayrshire, as were both my parents, my grandparents and, as far as I know, the rest of them. My wife was not as lucky. Her family were all Ayrshire people but she was born in Glasgow. She came back to Ayrshire very very quickly. My four children were born in north west London which they regard as an outpost of Ayrshire. Therefore, my credentials are clear.
708 I base my argument on the comment made in an earlier debate by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie. He spoke of Aberdeenshire and Buchan and Banffshire. He said how good it was to re-establish the old county of Aberdeenshire. He is looking at me rather quizzically, but I believe that that is what he said. I am merely asking that the Minister does exactly the same with Ayrshire; namely, that he reconstitutes the old historical county of Ayrshire which goes back into history. I do not want to labour the point, but it was in Turnberry, Ayrshire, that Robert the Bruce landed at the beginning of his successful campaign to oust certain intruders.
As Members of the Committee will recall, Ayrshire was an ancient county divided into three parts— Cunninghame, Kyle and Carrick. Funnily enough, the proposals now before the Committee do not. follow that division; indeed, there are four proposals, based, I imagine, on providing something to the towns of Ayr, Kilmarnock, Cumnock and perhaps Irvine to give them a kind of local, rural hinterland round the boroughs they would run.
All that is unnecessary. It has a kind of historical quaintness about it. When Ayrshire was—as, indeed, it was for many years—a county with a county council, it was not a unitary authority because there were small and other boroughs which had their own very valuable contributions to make. However, in parenthesis, and outside the sphere of the debate, I must say that I quite like the old idea of the small borough such as Troon which ran its own affairs. However, that is not what we are discussing today. We are discussing a unitary authority.
Ayrshire ran its education business and did so very well; indeed, it produced people like me. However, there are other Ayrshire men in the Chamber who were equally well educated. Ayrshire also ran its road system. All that made a great deal of sense. My noble friend Lord Carmichael drew attention to the fact that Ayrshire is quite near Glasgow. So it is. It is also strongly influenced by Glasgow. However, in temperament, it feels rather far away. We do not feel like Glasgow people in any way. In fact, we call them Glasgow "tea-leaves" and, when we say that, we mean to be friendly.
Ayrshire is different. It has its own aspect, its own character, its own history and its own literature which is most powerful. Perhaps I may put forward a rather banal example. The road network in Ayrshire is ran by Strathclyde Regional Council as part of its general, overall planning provision. When the situation is changed, it would make a great deal of sense for the road network in Ayrshire to be run by Ayrshire and not by ad hoc committees made up of various authorities within the county.
There is no way in which the four parts of Ayrshire will run their road systems—or, indeed, any other systems—separately. They do not wish to do so, and they will not do it. They will make the functions work by a variety of ad hoc committees. That means that they will not be unitary authorities; they will be unitary 709 authorities with a level of ad hoc committees carrying out the functions which should be undertaken on a county basis.
I do not believe that I need say more except to remind the Minister that what he thinks is good enough for Aberdeenshire must certainly, in any kind of logic, or even common sense, be good enough for Ayrshire. The latter is a county comparable in worth and merit to Aberdeen in every way.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
It may be worth reminding Members of the Committee that when the Bill was introduced in another place, the proposal was that Ayrshire should be divided into two parts. I acknowledge immediately that there are genuinely conflicting views in Ayrshire as to what the new structure should be. Our two-way split, as we first introduced it, did not generally find favour. However, alternatives were mooted and one eventually emerged in another place, introduced by Mr. Phil Gallie— on that occasion, without the support of the noble Duke, the Duke of Argyll, but supported by two Labour MPs from Ayrshire, Mr. Donohoe and Mr. Brian Wilson. The latter were keenly in favour of the proposal, as we now have it, that there should be a three-way split. It is to be observed and fairly stated that Mr. George Foulkes, another Member of Parliament in Ayrshire, was vehemently opposed to the proposal and argued forcefully the case put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Howie of Troon; namely, that we should retain Ayrshire as a single authority.
However, apart from those Members of Parliament to whom I referred, three of the local authorities were similarly keen that the three-way split should be established. In addition to both the local government support and that from Members of Parliament, there has also been considerable support from businesses, community councils and individuals in Ayrshire. I see that the noble Lord wishes to intervene. I give way.
§ Lord Howie of Troon
I am much obliged. The Minister referred to a three-way split. However, is it not a four-way split?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
No. There are four existing district councils within Ayrshire at present. I am indicating that the proposal that there should be three is supported by three of those authorities. When the matter was discussed in Committee in another place, I understand that it was supported by Mr. Tam Dalyell. Indeed, he was deemed to be a brave man to have entered into the Ayrshire controversy. Nevertheless, the amendment was carried.
I do not in any sense seek to retreat from an understanding that there are divisions of view on the matter. However, the balance of opinion seems to favour what we have indicated. The three councils would have, as we see it, something of a dual benefit in regaining the Ayrshire identity in terms of their council names which were lost when the present structure was introduced. Moreover, without imposition or any particular complication, we believe that it will be possible to 710 ensure that the three councils deliver services—or make arrangements to do so —of a more than adequate character for those they seek to serve.
There is certainly no evidence to suggest that, with the division into three, there would be any need for an excessive degree of joint working. I compliment the noble Lords, Lord Howie of Troon and Lord Carmichael, for entering into the Ayrshire spat. However, given the degree of differences in Ayrshire, I suggest to Members of the Committee that we would do just as well to leave the proposal as it left the Committee stage in another place.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My noble friend Lord Howie of Troon has a closer relationship with Ayrshire than I have. However, on one side of my family I have a connection in that respect. When I went for lunch on a Sunday with old family friends who were getting on in years, it always amused me to note that I could hardly understand them because they spoke almost solid Burns. It was, indeed, most interesting.
I was interested to note that while the Minister could not quite manage to get the support of the noble Duke, the Duke of Argyll, he managed to get Tam Dalyell and Mr. Phil Gallie on his side. Therefore, we now find ourselves in a rarified atmosphere. However, it is always difficult when one has one's own party to consider. In fact, it reaches the point on occasion when it is almost impertinent to tell people how they should do things. But, of course, that is one of the jobs that we are here to do. In the meantime, I thank the Minister for the detail of his reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 9 not moved.]
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 129, line 17, at end insert:
|("Bearsden and Milngavie||—Bearsden and Milngavie District Council.")|
§ The noble Lord said: I believe that the Minister will have heard a great deal from the other place about the amendment. It relates to the question of the Government's proposal to split Strathkelvin district between the two new authorities. The majority of Strathkelvin will join with Bearsden and Milngavie to form an East Dunbartonshire authority with a population of around 105,000. Three of Strathkelvin's southern wards will join with Motherwell, Monklands and Cumbemauld and Kilsyth to form a North Lanarkshire Authority with a population of around 334,000.
§ Many feel that the East Dunbartonshire option is too small effectively to provide the full range of council services and that the resulting plethora of joint arrangements will reduce democratic accountability. At the other extreme, a large North Lanarkshire authority will have to spread its resources over a large population and a wide geographical area characterised by the decline of primary and secondary industry.
§ A solution has been proposed to me by people in Strathkelvin which is generally termed the "Lennox" option. That option is outlined in the 35-unit structure 711 within the Secretary of State's own consultation document. That would result in the amalgamation of Strathkelvin in its entirety, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Council and Bearsden and Milngavie District Council. That option is favoured by Strathkelvin District Council, Cumbernauld and Kilsyth District Council, local MPs and local regional councillors. It has also received the support of the majority of the community councils.
§ This is an area which is almost on my doorstep. My sister and brother-in-law live in Milngavie, so I am familiar with the area. I also have a fair knowledge of Cumbernauld. New towns have a real struggle to achieve recognition. Probably more than other new towns, Cumbernauld, because it is not close to a large conurbation, has been one of the most successful in Britain, although East Kilbride, because of its size and attitude, has also been successful. I know rather less of Glenrothes. That area was devastated by the loss of the mining industry. I believe that new towns should be given every opportunity to become the focus for the area.
§ This is one amendment which appears to have the support of almost everyone in the area. I wonder why the Minister does not believe that the support is at least as good as in the referendums held in other parts of Scotland. I have great pleasure in moving the amendment. It is one about which I have no qualms at all. It is the right amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
I should like to support the amendment. I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.
It is a fact that Cumbernauld and the new towns have an entity and ethos of their own. To throw them in together with Airdrie and Motherwell, which are very much of the older tradition of industrial Scotland, would be difficult. On the other hand, the other area might achieve a much better focus. I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
Again, I am not surprised that an amendment should have been tabled to deal with the North and East of Glasgow as we look at the local government map. Those areas have proved to be particularly difficult in terms of the new structure. A number of different proposals and alternative structures, often conflicting, have been advanced. The only discernible common theme appears to be a desire to avoid being associated with the existing Monklands District Council.
It has been particularly important, therefore, to take cognisance of all the different scenarios and their implications for neighbouring areas. The proposal now advanced by the noble Lord is in favour of a combined Strathkelvin and Cumbernauld and Kilsyth authority, with Bearsden and Milngavie going it alone. That has the knock-on effect of leaving only Motherwell with Monklands.
As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, there is also a strongly held view that Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and the "southern corridor" of Strathkelvin should be included with Bearsden and Milngavie, and the remainder of Strathkelvin should be included within an 712 enlarged East Dunbartonshire. A further proposal has favoured a unitary Cumbernauld and Kilsyth authority based on the existing district, and possibly some of the neighbouring areas.
Looking to the south, Motherwell District Council has argued that it should combine with Clydesdale to give effect to a three-way split in Lanarkshire. Clydesdale's preference is for a stand-alone authority. I indicate, if Members of the Committee have not been inundated with representations, that many of those options have been supported by substantial petitions, postcards and letters.
I have taken the Committee through the various proposals in some detail because it seems to me to serve to illustrate the difficult decisions that have to be reached. Clearly, it is not possible to meet everyone's aspirations in this part of Scotland. Therefore, our objective has been to strike the best possible balance between the many competing views.
Our decision to establish a North Lanarkshire authority, as proposed in the Bill, was also influenced by a number of other factors. We were, for example, keen not to create very small authorities in the shadows of populous cities. A unitary Bearsden and Milngavie authority would clearly have fallen into that category.
We were also influenced by the fact that Cumbernauld and Kilsyth already fall within the Lanarkshire Health Board area. In addition, the inclusion of Cumbernauld in North Lanarkshire also has the effect of adding a new dimension to the area's economic base and creating a good industrial mix.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, made a fair point in saying that there might be some desirability from the point of view of Cumbernauld in being a stand-alone new town. But I would argue; in contradiction that there is also a clear desirability in drawing together a new town and, as the noble Lord pointed out, older industrial parts of Lanarkshire to achieve, as best one can, a good mix.
Those parts of Strathkelvin included in North Lanarkshire follow closely the county boundary, although we have taken the opportunity of including all of Lenzie within the one authority.
I am confident that the new authority will have the potential to become an important centre and will be in a position to deliver effectively and efficiently the full range of services. I have no doubt that the new authority will also develop a series of area offices and one-stop shops to overcome any of the difficulties that might exist in terms of travel from one part of the new authority's area to another.
I do not suggest that this is the single clear answer for North Lanarkshire, but I ask the Committee to accept that the structure we have proposed is a genuine compromise and, given all the competing and conflicting claims, is the best that might be achieved.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
Obviously I am rather disappointed. I had hoped for more from the Minister. Again there is the contradiction that the Minister prays in aid the fact that some of the health 713 board areas will be used as a definition, yet he appeared to reject that for Ayrshire. He told us that that was not what he wanted.
I had a fair amount of material on the Clydesdale argument. The area is totally different. It is struggling to recover from industrial dereliction. We can only hope that it succeeds. In my view the new town, Kilsyth and the surrounding area could be linked in what has been described as the "Lennox" solution. I believe that we missed a great opportunity with regard to Bearsden and Milngavie. I do not refer to a Labour Government or a Conservative Government. We have to grasp the nettle at some point: areas such as Glasgow and Edinburgh will need to include their hinterland; otherwise we shall reach the stage of some American cities. When we get back into power—I do not commit my party; at this stage it is my own, perhaps cranky, notion—we shall require large metropolitan areas in order to provide the services that people want. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Hughes moved Amendment No. 11:
Page 129, leave out line 19 and insert:
|("Central||Clackmannan, Falkirk and Stirling District Councils.")|
§ The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, perhaps I may say that Amendments Nos. 15 and 25 are consequential upon it.
§ I have been given such a wealth of material in support of the continuation of Central Region as a unitary authority, that to avoid speaking at inordinate length I must make selections from that material. I hope that I do not find that items which I have omitted were some of the best which should have been cited.
§ Central Region was created in 1975 from the former Stirlingshire and Clackmannanshire County Councils and 13 large and small boroughs. It also contains parts of the former Perthshire and West Lothian counties.
The Wheatley Commission described the region as,
compact… it is in itself an area of potential growth of population and economic development".
§ Most settlements are clustered in the south east of the region and 90 per cent. of its population is within 12 miles of Stirling.
§ With a population of 270,000, Central Region is not a large council but it is a manageable size. However, it is large enough to make a difference to the communities it serves. Its population and resource base have enabled it to support major capital projects, attract inward investment and spread the cost of providing all local government services, including highly specialised services.
§ Central Regional Council has a growing reputation for innovation and change in the way it runs itself and provides services. In terms of its administration, since May 1990 the council has reduced its committee structure from over 40 committees and subcommittees to eight major committees.714
§ In its submission to the Government's White Paper, the council was the only council to call for the statutory obligation to be placed on councils to produce a scheme of decentralisation. The council has translated that commitment into action through its own proposals to establish a network of area committees. Those area committees will actively involve local communities, with the council developing three key themes. On accountability, local managers and councillors will answer to the community for the services provided in the area. With regard to local decision making, in time a range of decisions on matters affecting the area will be delegated. Civic pride will act as a focus for local identity in the way that many former boroughs reflected the identity of their area. I live in the small town of Crieff, and the older inhabitants think of themselves still as members of the borough of Crieff and regret the loss of the borough council.
§ I cite examples of what can be done by a council which is carrying out all its responsibilities. The council currently provides 3,068 nursery places. It is committed to increasing that number so that all pre-school children will have a nursery place by the end of the century. It is interesting to compare that with the position before local government reorganisation. Clackmannanshire council could not afford to make any provision for nursery places. Now throughout Clackmannan district there are 760 places provided by the regional council.
§ In 1994–95 over £1 million will be spent on support for local companies. Those companies are helped through the use of training and wage grants, direct investment into companies, and assistance in develop-ing new products and increasing their export trade. The council has played a leading role in adding to the region's economic base by attracting major new companies such as the USA-based Exabyte, Tandem, Microbiological Associates and Scotia Pharmaceuticals, as well as Asda, into the area.
§ Nearly £3 million is spent each year to subsidise bus services that would otherwise not be run by bus companies, and on concessionary fares which relieve the burden of travel expense for the elderly and disabled.
§ At £47 per household per annum, the cost of water provision —I shall return to the subject at a much later stage of the Bill—in Central Region is the lowest in Scotland and lower than that in most of Europe.
§ Clackmannan has particularly benefited from capital spending in education to balance the lack of investment prior to 1975. As a result, the area has seen the following major school refurbishments and replacements which were unable to take place when Clackmannanshire ran its own education services. I refer to a major extension at Alloa Academy; a major extension at Alva Academy, new primary schools in Menstrie, Tullibody, Sauchie and Alloa; and refurbishment at Fishcross and Tillicoultry primary schools. It must be obvious that a small authority could never have attempted anything like those.
§ The Government have maintained in their White Paper, and during the progress of the Bill in another place, that the new councils must be able to act on behalf of their communities as well as run services effectively. However, neither a Stirling Council nor a Clackmannan 715 Council will have the population base to support the specialist services which the region now provides or the resources to invest significant sums of money into services.
§ I hope that I do not interfere with the Minister's conversations. I see that I do not. Perhaps he will just carry on.
§ Those specialist regional facilities have no long-term future under the control of smaller authorities. It will also be much more difficult for the smaller councils to develop innovative services which meet the specific needs of local communities. They will not have the specialist resources that the regional council is able to call on to develop services or the population base to justify them.
§ In a major earlier debate, the Minister laid stress—I believe properly—on the fact that the cost of running local government services was a major factor which must be taken into consideration. I agree with that entirely. Therefore, if value for money is an argument, the. case for Central Region can be made without difficulty. A single council covering the boundaries of Central Region is the cheapest option.
§ The figures are derived from an independent, and unchallenged, analysis by the planning and economic consultants, PIEDA. The analysis indicates that the Government's proposals are not only the most expensive option but will cost over £5 million per annum more than the present system of local government. A single council will have ongoing annual savings of £6.6 million. The figures compare the current situation with the proposed three-council structure. One council, as against three councils, will save £6.6 million a year. Three councils will cost £5.2 million more than the current situation. With one council the annual average council tax equivalent will cost £73 less, and with three councils £62 more. Transitional costs for one council will be £8.6 million; for three councils they will be £7.4 million. It is only with regard to that one factor that the balance is against the regional council. The number of employees changes and I do not put this comment forward with great pleasure. One council will employ 258 fewer employees, whereas—and I do not think that this will give the Government much pleasure —three councils will employ 210 more people.
§ In July 1993, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Allan Stewart, said that the Government believed that in some cases single tier authorities based on existing districts would be too small to deliver the full range of services without recourse to a proliferation of joint arrangements and that, in turn, would only serve to blur accountability, which is one of the reasons for reform in the first place. Yet under the Government's proposals for those three councils, 11 out of 19 services would require joint or contract arrangements, including key services such as social work and education. A council based on the existing boundaries of Central Region will be able to deliver all accountable services without any proliferation of those arrangements. I beg to move.
The Earl of Balfour
Before the noble Lord sits down, I should like to ask one question. I am trying to 716 take my mind back to before 1973. For most of Clackmannan's functions it was linked with another county, but I cannot remember which. Can the noble Lord remember? Clackmannan was not on its own in the days before 1973.
§ Lord Hughes
According to what I said, it would have been the Clackmannan and Stirlingshire councils.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Stodart of Leaston
After that remarkably well researched piece of advocacy, I shall be extremely brief. I am bound to say that I find this piece of reorganisation the most interesting of all and I might even go so far as to use the word "intriguing".
Recently I was looking through the minutes of various meetings of the committee with which several! people helped me about 10 years ago. In those minutes I noted that we made the observation that the Central Region, as established by Lord Wheatley, was the almost perfect example of a single tier authority outside the cities—compact and well populated. The noble Lord made those points.
The Central Region is based in Stirling. I looked at the map and overall it is about 60 miles long by about 20 or 25 miles wide. It has a population of 270,000 and is unquestionably viable. It can provide all the services. Within it is the district of Falkirk, with a population of 143,000, and only 10 miles from Stirling. I believe that I am right in saying that it is also viable with that size of population. It went on record to my committee as saying that a single tier set up would be much more effective than a twin tier.
Of course, Falkirk would get that if the Central Region were left on its own, but, although Falkirk did not say so to us, it now wants to be a single tier on its own. I found the observation which the council made in a letter to me ironic, to say the least. The letter states that if Central Region were to exist on its own such a council would be too remote from Falkirk—10 miles away. I can well imagine the hollow laughs coming from some of the areas about which we shall hear before long. Too remote at 10 miles!
Falkirk backs the establishment of three single tier councils within a radius of 15 or 20 miles of one another: itself; Stirling, with a population of 80,000; and Clackmannan, with a population of 48,000 and unquestionably not viable. There is no shadow of a doubt about that. The solution there will be a plethora of joint boards. No one in the local government world with whom I have discussed matters during the past three or four weeks has any enthusiasm for joint boards.
I believe that joint boards are inevitable for the police and fire services. The noble Earl, Lord Minto, will correct me if I am wrong, but even with those services there has been a certain amount of acrimony between the Lothians and the Borders on the subject of the police force and a joint board. The Borders thought that they were not getting their fair share of services and there was a considerable rumpus in the national newspapers. So I merely say to my noble friend on the Front Bench: "Put not your faith in joint boards".
§ The Earl of Minto
Perhaps I ought to respond instantly to the noble Lord's remark on joint boards for the fire and police services and the relationship between the Borders and the Lothian regions. It is true that in the past we had friction on police boards, but I am delighted to say that we were able to put that right three-and-a-half years ago. However, it is absolutely true that previously there was friction and we were grateful to the Secretary of State for his assistance on the matter.
There are times when rising to speak of being very conscious that one is the only elected regional councillor in your Lordships' House and also the only convenor. However, at the same time there are occasions when it is worth while because it makes one both proud, on the one hand, and perhaps sad, on the other. That is no harm to anyone. One is proud because of the record mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, when moving the amendment—a record of which any council or local authority in the United Kingdom would be justifiably proud. In Scotland, Central Region is seen as an excellent provider of services at the right price and of a quality which is as good as any.
The sadness arises because the region is in danger of being destroyed. When I look back to 1974 and the promises that we had reason to believe would be kept, I think of the 52 local authorities responsible for social services being reduced to nine in Scotland, and what that meant in the provision of social services throughout Scotland. In my own region, the Borders, as counties the four districts would have had no chance whatever of providing the type of services the region was able to provide and has been able to provide over the past 18 years. That was because of the correct population and financial base upon which to build the service provision. There it is. It is a question of pride on the one hand and sadness on the other. But is it necessary?
As has been said, this really is the worst of all the suggestions that lie within this Bill at Schedule 1. I honestly cannot understand it. I remember when I first looked at the Bill and saw this provision. It was so obvious that certain local authorities were, in the terms of the consultation paper, absolutely clearly within the parameters that the Secretary of State gave as guidelines; and Central was one of them. Highland is another; Dumfries and Galloway is another; Borders is another; and Fife is another. Yet we are to have all the arguments that were put forward by the Secretary of State for the provision of excellent services totally destroyed in one fell swoop. It honestly makes me very, very distressed indeed. The proposal is quite unreasonable.
As a convenor I have a responsibility on behalf of my council to ensure that the provision of services is of a high order and that they are at the right cost. I have to assure those whom I have the privilege to represent that I am, and the council that I convene is, not wasting its money. I am very pleased to be able to say that my council, since 1975 and the executive authority falling its way, has never once transgressed a guideline from the Scottish Office. We look for excellence. When we see it being destroyed it is very upsetting indeed.
718 When the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was talking about what Central Region has done, in his briefing paper he did not refer to those things that would not be able to be done at any great length. I do not intend to delay the Committee longer than is necessary, but it is important that one should understand what will not be done.
A Clackmannan council will not be able to fund the rail service. The regional council's share of that is £2 million. A Clackmannan council will not be in a position to guarantee the provision. Will a Clackmannan or a Stirling council be able to maintain specialist service to the same extent as the regional councils provide at the moment and as was outlined to us by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes? The answer is no. The question then is: who will? Will some of the professional specialisms in special education and psychological services simply have to go because those councils will not have a large enough population base to provide them? The answer is, probably. Joint boards will not be in a position to provide that type of service at that type of level. I can say that from experience.
All regional council functions will need to be run by some form or other of joint board. Eleven of the principal ones will have to be run entirely by joint boards. I am sorry if I sound destructive. I am sorry to a certain extent if I even sound slightly angry. But this is not a reasonable division of a regional council in Scotland. It is not in the interests of the Scottish people, whom I have the privilege to represent. I hope that a second thought will be given to the matter.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
The Committee will no doubt be aware that my home is in Clackmannan. First, I must correct the impression that was given to the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, that Clackmannan was merged with any other body. From 1822, Clackmannan stood on its own until the 1975 reorganisation.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
Before the noble Earl proceeds, the position before 1973 was that Stirling and Clackmannan were joined for purposes of police and fire services. The old Stirling and Clackmannan joint boards dealt with police and fire. That was the position prior to 1973.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
I thank the noble Lord for that help. As I said, Clackmannanshire, founded in 1822, is a highly compact 55,000 acres with the Ochils to the north and the River Forth to the south. As has been said before, the population is 48,000. It is well known as the "we-est coonty wi' the langest name"— with apologies of course to the former county of Kircudbright. The proposal in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, is that the distinct communities of Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannan should be merged into one unitary authority to form a central authority—or, as I have heard it said, a "Heart of Scotland" council. There is a perceptual problem here. The existing Central Region has failed to win the hearts and minds of its residents.
In the first instance, the Government's proposal for the three authorities of Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannan certainly has fired the imagination of the 719 people of those three communities. In Clackmannan, there has been unleashed a torrent of enthusiasm for unitary status. Those councils will be very high on community identity. Secondly, those councils will be very tangible and very local authorities.
Thirdly, on the subject of viability, in Clackmannan there is an increasing tax base due to a substantial programme of house building. Clackmannan District Council has managed to achieve very high leverage ratios for funding—typically 8:1 and sometimes up to 20:1. The Clackmannan council would organise itself along non-bureaucratic lines with streamlined council decision-making. Recent changes in Clackmannan District Council have shown that the cost of running a committee meeting has gone down from £900 to £150. There will be a staffing structure with the minimum of tiering, and a culture of achievement and identifiable responsibility, as currently practised by Clackmannan District Council.
Fourthly, there is the question of joint board activities. Here difficulties may arise. I acknowledge that. It depends on whether you have an optimistic or pessimistic outlook. Undoubtedly, smaller authorities are likely to co-operate with others for the provision of specialist services. Those joint board partners will be other local authorities, private and voluntary sector activists and tailor-made companies. All will call for consensus policies. There will be little room for extremist plans. The onus will be on every smaller authority to keep itself within the boundaries of co-operation. The risks of joint board activity are acknowledged. The reward of successful joint board activity is worth striving for. Clackmannan survived historically by successful co-operation. I see no reason why that co-operation should not continue. Clackmannan District Council sees that in any unitary authority there would be six joint boards. Those would be for strategic planning; rating and valuation; the children's panel and reporter; police; fire; and emergency planning.
In conclusion, logic dictates that all councils should be of uniform size and population and should operate in identical style. The reality is that Scotland was not laid out in that way. Geography and social development have conspired against the systematic solution. Each future unitary authority will have unique properties. Every one will be the exception that proves the rule.
I urge the Committee to support separate authorities for Stirling, Falkirk and Clackmannan in the interests of popular and local self-determination.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
The good news is that Ireland is through to the next round of the World Cup. The bad news is that these proposals are contained in this Bill. I admire the noble Earl's confidence in the functioning of such a small and unviable authority. This is the first opportunity that I have had to place on record my views about the proposal in relation to Central Region. Let me say at once that for 21 years, as a Member of another place, I represented all the major towns in Central Region at one time or another. From 720 1971 until 1983 Stirling was part of my constituency; so was Falkirk and so was Grangemouth. From 1983 onwards Stirling was taken out and Bo'ness was added.
I mentioned the town of Bo'ness, and it is worth reminding the Committee that Central Region was not made up of two counties: Clackmannan and Stirling. Added to Stirling and Clackmannan was a fairly sizeable part of Perthshire out to Callander and indeed out to the Trossachs and part of West Lothian in the shape of the town of Bo'ness.
So I had extensive experience of local government in that area before Central Region was created and after it. Let me leave with the Committee some of the difficulties that prevailed in the old Stirling and Clackmannan authorities. I appreciate that the employment situation has changed and that more people are chasing fewer jobs. But because the career structure in the education service was so short, it was difficult, if not impossible, to attract honours graduates to teach in either Clackmannan schools or the Stirling county schools. The Committee will understand that that was because there were insufficient promoted posts to attract people who are entitled to a career.
One of the reactions to the Bill which I find strange is the way in which the teaching profession has sat on its hands and hardly expressed a view—apart from the Director of Education—about the damage that it will do to career structures among the profession. If ever I have seen an area—here I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Minto—where local government will be damaged beyond repair, it is Central Region. There are to be joint boards. Let me say to the noble Earl that I can give him an absolute guarantee that not one of the headquarters of the six joint boards will be in Clackmannan. I give him an absolute guarantee now that not one of the: headquarters will be in Clackmannan. It is too small to have any influence. So not one of the headquarters of the six joint boards will be in Clackmannan.
What we are faced with is a large unitary authority in the shape of Falkirk and two very small unitary authorities in the shape of Stirling and Clackmannan. The original proposal contained in the Bill was to create an even larger unitary authority in the shape of Falkirk and Clackmannan and to leave Stirling on its own. If ever I saw an outrageous proposal, it was that one. There Stirling was to be a unitary authority with a very narrow tax-raising base, possibly turning out to be the poorest authority in Scotland, side by side with the wealthiest authority in Scotland in the shape of Falkirk, attracting all the revenue from the petrochemical industry.
During my early days in another place, when Grangemouth was a borough on its own, it enjoyed so much revenue from the petrochemical companies that it built artificial ski slopes. Imagine building an artificial ski slope in Grangemouth! In the last year of that authority's existence no one paid any rates. Everybody received a cheque for £60. That is an example of a wealthy authority side by side with a poor authority, because Clackmannan still depended heavily for employment purposes on the industries of Grangemouth. That will not change. It will continue So Clackmannan and the residents of Clackmannan live, by and large, on the backs of the industry in Grangemouth.
721 The reason Clackmannan was created has nothing to do with the romantic notions of the noble Earl. Clackmannan was only created in order to justify Stirling. The Government were having the most serious difficulties in justifying the creation of Stirling as an all-purpose unitary authority. As such, as the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, said, it cannot survive. It is not viable. Nor is Clackmannan viable.
That brings me to Falkirk. I have listened with some dismay to the public debate that has gone on in Central Region and the way in which insults have been exchanged—I shall not enter into name-calling—as if the function and purpose of local government were not more important than that. There is a feeling—I have gained a feeling from the local press and in particular the Stirling Observer and the Falkirk Herald, which I still read and receive weekly—that things will be all right so long as Falkirk is all right as an authority and that it will not matter much whether Clackmannan or Stirling survive. That is the attitude in one part of Central Region.
I do not need to tell the Minister what happened to the Conservative Party in Stirling at the recent regional council elections. There is the feeling, rightly or wrongly, that Stirling was created in order to give the Conservative Party at least the chance of winning one authority in Scotland. If that is the purpose, it will not work, based on the regional council election results. There were two Conservative councillors. One, Colonel Frank Saunders, who had given outstanding service to his electorate and the council of Central Region was deselected because he expressed the view that Central Region ought to be retained. In my view quite rightly he stood as an Independent and the Labour Party won the seat. Another Conservative councillor of not such long standing also decided that she too was in favour of the retention of Central Region. She too stood as an Independent, and the Labour Party won that seat as well. So there is no electoral evidence to support the Government's position on Central Region.
This is not a trivial issue. It is a very serious issue indeed. It is not about councillors either. Lest any Members of the Committee have the impression that somehow or other this debate is about councillors, I must tell them that it is not. It is about people and the services that those people receive. Local government in central Scotland and Central Region will be damaged beyond repair if these proposals remain in the Bill. I have been long enough in politics to know that I shall not be the most popular person in certain areas in Central Region for expressing these views. But my late father used to say to me, "It is much better to represent your honest views than to look for popularity". We are dealing here with the certain reality that local government and the people of Central Region will suffer badly because of the proposals contained in the Bill.
I do not know what the intention is of my noble friend Lord Hughes in relation to his amendment, but I hope that the Minister will say—in fact I plead with him to do so and am not ashamed to say it—that he will take the amendment away and enter into further discussion with all four local authorities (the three existing district 722 councils and Central Regional Council) in order to return with a proposal at Report stage in the autumn. In my view, if we are to have single tier authorities the only operable proposal is one to retain Central Region. I hope that the Minister will come back in the autumn with a much more sensible approach to the future of Central Region.
I leave the Minister with this final thought in relation to the question of joint boards. When the new sheriff court in Falkirk was built at Camelon I forecast that it would only be a matter of time before the police argued that they needed a new police station near the sheriff court because it was dangerous to transfer custody prisoners from a police station which is some distance away from the sheriff court. That is exactly what happened. The police force want a new police station and D Division headquarters will be relocated from its central Falkirk location out to Camelon, nearer the sheriff court.
The joint board will now say to Clackmannan, "You will need to help pay for this new police headquarters in Falkirk"; and it will say to Stirling, "You will need to help pay for the new police station in Falkirk". Clackmannan will say to Falkirk, "What benefit are we getting from a new police headquarters in Falkirk?" and Stirling will say the same. The whole thing is absolutely mad and whenever possible we should avoid like the plague the whole question of joint boards.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
; I am just about to conclude but if it is absolutely essential I will give way.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
It is only a small point. But if Clackmannan is part of a unitary authority as one of the three, it will still have to pay for a new police headquarters.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
The problem with that kind of intervention is that we are talking about the Government. That is what the Government are going to do; they are going to equalise the resources between one unitary authority and another. Central Region has been doing that very effectively since 1974. The burden that is placed on Clackmannan for a new police headquarters in Falkirk will be much less, in my view, with Central Region being a unitary authority than it would otherwise be if Clackmannan, Stirling and Falkirk were three separate authorities. In any case, they will have different priorities so it is not a valid argument.
I therefore conclude my plea to the Minister by asking him to take the matter away and return in the autumn with a much more workable and sensible proposition.
§ 7.45 p.m.
LordFraser of Carmyllie
I listened carefully to the arguments advanced principally for a unitary central authority. Although the argument was vigorously advanced there should be no doubt that within the existing Central Region opinion is sharply divided over 723 what the new structure should be. The evidence that we have received points firmly towards the district based structure that is currently set out in the Bill.
Support for a unitary Clackmannan authority was overwhelming. We received some 12,000 representa-tions in favour of the "wee county" being responsible for ensuring the delivering of local government services. That was the situation which obtained prior to 1975.
A great deal has been made of the necessity, as it was described, for joint boards. Clearly there will be a necessity for joint boards not only in this part but in other parts of Scotland. But I hope that we shall engage in constructive discussion, possibly at a later stage in the Bill, and appreciate that in terms of delivering services to local communities it is not always necessary to do so simply on the basis of delivering it oneself or through the formality of a joint board. There is a wide range of developing options, as I indicated in my Second Reading speech.
That is one of the reasons we felt it appropriate to address the matter of local government reform in Scotland. One of the reasons, when there was strong support: for a unitary Clackmannan authority, we were prepared to give it serious consideration is that that authority, small as it is in Scotland, appears to have grasped at least as well as, and probably very much better than, many others just how it will be possible, and it ought to be possible in the future, to deliver a wide range of services without necessarily relying on what in the past have been established bureaucratic structures in local government. Those structures may work very satisfactorily where one has a large authority, but it does not follow that services cannot be delivered without that structure and it certainly does not follow that it is always necessary to establish joint boards, as was suggested.
It is not necessary for me to heed the warning given to me by my noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston. I fully understand his concern that the whole of local government should not be entangled in a lattice of joint boards. But I hope he will appreciate that there are changes under way and there is no reason why a number of those services should not be delivered in a different fashion.
The district council in Stirling similarly presented a strong and convincing case based on the idea that it, too, should be an enabling authority. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, was honest about, but disparaging of, the campaign being mounted in Falkirk. He is entitled to his view.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
I was not disparaging of the campaign mounted in Falkirk. I was expressing my sadness about the way in which the whole campaign had been conducted throughout Central Region. I did not single out Falkirk.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that clear to me. However, I am conscious—I am sure he will confirm this—that whatever his view may be, and courageous as he may be to maintain his favour for a Central Region, there is strong local support for an authority based in Falkirk 724 and it will be an authority which is bigger in population terms than the Borders. With a population of 140,000 it will be well able to provide a full range of services
We envisage that each of the new authorities will, fully explore all of the service delivery options including buying in of services from other bodies or councils and the sharing of expertise with neighbours. I do not see any reason why, for example, Clackmannan should be thole to the previous relationship it had exclusively with Central Region. As the noble Lord appreciates, it borders with Fife and I can imagine mat there may be circumstances where useful and constructive relationships may be followed through in that regard.
At one point the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, seemed to indicate that because of the differences in the resource base of the local authorities, Clackmannan and Stirling would do rather badly out of it. But as he subsequently indicated, we intend to provide a formula that will allow for equalisation in the distribution of central government grant which would, in large measure, eliminate the difficulties he suggested.
I was invited to take the matter away and reconsider it at a later stage. Of course, it is always open for arguments to be advanced in a different or extended form at a later stage. But this matter was very fully discussed in another place. As was revealed to the Committee, the original proposal was that Falkirk and Clackmannan should be together. That proposal did not meet with approval. It was in response to a local campaign that a change was made. The proposal made for the three authorities within the existing Central Region is one that meets local demand and responds to the strong representations made to us. In the rather unique case of Clackmannan, it allows an opportunity for development of a proper enabling role. They have the self-confidence to do it. They are not daft and have a clear understanding of what is to be undertaken. I believe that they should be given the opportunity to take it forward.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
The Minister continually misrepresents me. I did not say that Clackmannan was daft but that the Minister's proposals were daft, and 1 stick to that.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I was not making a reference to the noble Lord. All I said was that those who lived in Clackmannan and supported it in such large measure—the councillors who supported it almost unanimously and the officials who operated in Clackmannan—had indicated that they believed that they could take this forward successfully. It is my view that none of those people is daft. I believe that they are serious-minded people who would not have sought to put forward this proposal if they believed it was not sustainable. Given that degree of local support and the way it has proved impossible to achieve unanimity of view as to how the division should be made in Central Region, if the noble Lord's proposal is that Central Region should be reconstituted, I can assure your Lordships that you would be inundated with a vast volume of representation objecting most vigorously to that.
725 The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, may wish to return to the matter at another stage, but it seems to us that the proposal we have made is a worthwhile one for consideration. On that basis, I invite him to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Hughes
I thought that I had been unnecessarily rude to the noble and learned Lord when I suggested that I was perhaps interfering with his conversation. But I have come to the conclusion that I was not unnecessarily rude. He could not have been listening to what I said, because he did not make a single reference to anything that I said in moving the amendment.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
I thought I had made the position abundantly clear to the noble Lord. If the noble Lord had had the courtesy to read what I said at Second Reading in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, he would have appreciated that I said that Central Region had not only been a good authority but had conducted itself efficiently. I have no doubt about that. That has never been the case that has been advanced. It did not seem to be necessary to take up the points when I had previously acknowledged that there was force in them.
§ Lord Hughes
I have never heard it advanced at Committee stage that the Minister's answer to what is raised should be referred back to what he said at Second Reading. I believe that to be a very poor defence. But I do not want to antagonise him any more than I apparently have done.
I had hoped that what the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, had said would be accepted and that the Minister would be prepared to take the matter back for consideration. He has not done so. I shall withdraw the amendment and come back to it at a later stage in the hope that when the Minister's friends in another place read what has been said by all parts of this House about Central Region he will be given the authority to come back with something different. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne
I beg to move that the House be now resumed. In moving this Motion, perhaps I may suggest that the Committee stage begin again at five to nine.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to. House resumed.