Home Page

Column 469

Local Government (Scotland)

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : With permission -- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. Will right hon. and hon. Members take their seats? The Secretary of State is waiting to make a statement.

Mr. Lang : With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement about local government in Scotland.

The Government's proposals for local government reorganisation in Scotland have been the subject of detailed consultation and discussion for the last two years. Throughout that time, support for the concept of single-tier local government has been strong and sustained. I have received a great deal of valuable comment from a wide range of individuals and organisations.

I am publishing today a White Paper which sets out our decisions on the new structure. I am also publishing a leaflet, which will be made widely available in Scotland, and summaries of the responses that I received to our second consultation paper on local government reform and our paper about the future of water and sewerage services. I have placed copies of those documents in the Vote Office, where they will be available in the usual way when I have completed this statement. The Government have decided to establish a single-tier structure of local government throughout Scotland, comprising 28 authorities. The details of those authorities are set out in the White Paper. The new authorities will vary significantly in size and character, reflecting local wishes, circumstances and requirements.

We intend to re-establish the four Scottish cities as unitary councils and to create powerful new authorities on their outskirts to act as a counterbalance. In the more rural areas of Scotland, the new authorities will inevitably cover substantial areas, but areas for which our consultation has shown there is an established identity. The three islands authorities will remain unchanged.

The new authorities, whatever their size, will be encouraged and expected to pursue actively the adoption of schemes of decentralised management and administration to ensure that decisions are taken at the most local level practicable, enabling people to discuss problems with their council without having to make a long journey to its headquarters. I shall be asking authorities to prepare and publish comprehensive schemes of decentralisation.

The new authorities will all be responsible for providing the full range of local authority services, including education, housing and social work. The Government consider, however, that the reporter service for children's hearings would be more effectively provided as a national service, and I am proposing to establish a new body for that purpose. In addition, economies of scale available in the water and sewerage industry point to fewer, rather than more, bodies responsible for those services than we have at present. Further, customers should be able to benefit from the efficiencies and investment in the water and sewerage infrastructure which can be provided by the private sector.

The existing police forces and fire brigades will be retained. Some statutory co-operation will be required for their oversight and for the management of the Strathclyde


Column 470

passenger transport executive. In all other respects, it will be for individual authorities to make appropriate arrangements for the delivery of services in their areas. I shall expect to see a considerable development of the enabling role of authorities and a willingness to explore further the possibilities of co-operation with the private sector as they explore new ways of delivering services more efficiently. I shall be looking also for a greater willingness to share the expertise of specialist staff.

The changes I have announced will, of course, have implications for local government staff. I have already announced the Government's intention to establish a staff commission in Scotland to oversee the transfer process and to provide me with appropriate advice. Early retirement or redundancy compensation will be available in cases where particular staff are not required by the new authorities under the new structure and further decisions about those arrangements will be taken in due course.

I have, of course, made it clear that I expect the new structure to cost less than the present two-tier system. Savings of up to £65 million per annum can be expected from the new structure and those savings are likely to pay back the inevitable transitional costs within four or five years. The actual level of savings achieved by the new structure will ultimately depend upon the actions of the new authorities themselves.

The main objective of the reorganisation is not, however, to cut costs ; it is to increase the effectiveness of local government in arranging the delivery of services and responding to local needs and concerns. I believe that the new structure will make local authorities more accountable and responsive to the people they serve and will help all authorities to achieve the standards already reached by the best. It will remove the confusion which undoubtedly exists over which council is responsible for which function, so that users know where to go when they are dissatisfied. It offers local government in Scotland the prospect of a bright, dynamic future. It will give a major boost to the implementation of the citizens charter in Scottish local government.

My intention is to introduce a Bill to implement those arrangements. Subject to the parliamentary consideration of the arrangements being completed, I hope that it will be possible for elections to the new authorities to take place in the spring of 1995, to give them until 1 April 1996 to establish themselves and to prepare for the assumption of responsibility from existing authorities on that date. Thereafter, election to the new councils will take place every three years.

The proposals I have announced today are of the utmost importance to everybody in Scotland. They reflect the strong and growing support for all- purpose councils in Scotland. They represent a tremendous opportunity to improve and strengthen our local government system and the delivey of local services and they are a great stride forward for local democracy in Scotland. I commend the White Paper to the House.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : We have listened to a statement from the Secretary of State and we are being asked to consider a White Paper for which there is no consensus in Scotland, no support and no demand, and which runs counter to the stories from the Treasury that it faces--because of its policies--a £50 billion deficit. Where


Column 471

will the right hon. Gentleman find the money for his absurd and unwanted proposals? Which services does the Scottish Office intend to cut?

On water privatisation, the people of Scotland are entitled to claim that at least this unlistening Government have, in some respects--but some only- -heard their voice, but only because the Secretary of State has abandoned his ludicrous proposals for outright privatisation-- [Interruption.] If that is not the case, and if the Scottish Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)--who appears to have undue weight in these matters--takes a contrary view, perhaps we will hear it before the end of our questions on the statement. The Government's ludicrous extremes over water have at least been restricted for the moment. Nevertheless, in the light of Government betrayals over so many Scottish issues from Rosyth to Ravenscraig--we are entitled to ask specific questions on water, and we do.

Why has the Secretary of State taken water out of local authority control? How will board appointees keep charges down even when they must provide profits for private financiers? What guarantees can the Secretary of State give on the future ownership of water and on protecting Scottish consumers from the threat of water

disconnections--a subject that the right hon. Gentleman seems reluctant to discuss?

Why does the Secretary of State disregard the overwhelming view of the people of Scotland when he says that he takes that as much into account in Eastwood as in Edinburgh? Eighty-nine per cent. of the people oppose water privatisation. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman end the argument by saying that the matter is finished and final?

The Secretary of State's somewhat thin statement is in contrast with a document of 30 pages that reeks of dogma, centralisation, and policies that the Scottish people utterly reject. That dogma involves education, social work and essential local services and does not disguise--and nor can members of the Government Front Bench--the hidden agenda of centralisation, commercialism and privatisation which flies in the face of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland.

I ask the Secretary of State, who represents a minority party in Scotland, to justify his statement that there will be no joint boards, when he intends to have police and fire services in Strathclyde run by joint committees from 10 different councils. How can he justify the massive destruction of Scottish local government on the ground of the efficient provision of social services, and at the same time take upon himself the power to impose joint boards where he thinks fit? Where is democracy and accountability there? Who in Scotland made representations to the Secretary of State in response to his document, saying that is what they wanted?

How can the Secretary of State justify the centralising of reporting to children's hearing services in advance of producing comprehensive legislation later this year, as he promised earlier? Of less importance to people's lives but more outrageous is the gerrymandering that the Secretary of State's proposals represent for Scotland's future. They are unashamedly and undisguised not proposals for local government reform, improving the quality of the delivery of service, cost efficiency or local democracy. No one in Scotland is fooled into thinking that. The proposals are


Column 472

about Tory revenge on the Scottish people and on Scottish local government, which the Government clearly utterly detest.

As the hon. Member for Eastwood has often said, Thatcherism still rules-- and it is no more acceptable in Scotland today than it ever was. How can the right hon. Gentleman expect the House to take seriously the Eastwood solution to these important matters--the creation of safe havens for the beleaguered minority of Scottish Tories, which at present account for an absurd 16 per cent., seeking to impose dictatorial policies on us?

How can he expect anyone to take seriously his plans for Greater Eastwood, Greater Berwickshire and Greater Milngavie, and his plan to put Stirling district and Perth district on a par with Fife and with Highland region? How can we take seriously proposals for the reform of local government that ignore the thoughtful and constructive Wheatley commission, and the thoughtful and constructive debate that followed?

This is a disgrace to local government and to the way in which we deal with national government throughout the United Kingdom. This is a bankrupt policy from a bankrupt Government, unrepresentative and unworthy of the Scottish people. It will be as utterly rejected today as the Tories were in April last year.

Mr. Lang : The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) said that there was no consensus for the policy for the reform of local government. I suggest that he look at some of the submissions that we have received in response to the consultation process, which has gone on in great detail over the last two years. They have shown increasing support for single-tier local authorities.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Treasury, as though seeking to imply that the exercise was Treasury-driven. I have come under no direct pressure from the Treasury in regard to my proposals. The Treasury, like other Government Departments, has taken an interest in the proposals and has expressed itself content with them. I am not surprised, because we are not talking about an additional cost of £600 million, as the hon. Gentleman claimed ; there will be transitional costs which, on the greatest present estimates, will be less than a third of that. We are talking of savings of up to £65 million a year--over £1 million a week--as a result of the contraction of local government that we are comtemplating.

As to water, the kindest thing that can be said about the hon. Gentleman's remarks is that he must have written his response before he had even read last week's issue of The Scotsman, let alone heard my statement today. The hon. Gentleman has totally misjudged this campaign, and has attributed to the Government a policy that we have not adopted. Like the grand old Duke of York, he has led his men up the hill, and now he must turn round and lead them down again. What we are proposing is a sensible way forward for water in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman asked why it was being taken out of local authority control. The answer is that 28 water authorities would be extremely inefficient, lead to wide variations in costs and impose extra burdens on consumers. What we are proposing with the three authorities, using the private sector for future capital investment, will lead to the efficient delivery of water and raise the necessary investment, without imposing an


Column 473

unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. It was the Leader of the Opposition who said that the question of ownership was irrelevant. The hon. Gentleman said that I was reluctant to speak about disconnections. I draw his attention to what I said as recently as yesterday, which is that we have no plans for any change to the present arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman questioned the future of the reporter to children's services. We are anxious to deliver an efficient service without imposing excessive burdens on local authorities, many of whose departments in this regard would consist of only one or two individuals. That would not be a cost-effective way of delivering the services.

As to joint boards, I know that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed because, yet again, we have shot one of his foxes. We do not intend to increase the number of joint boards in Scotland ; we see no need for more boards. We will continue to have joint boards for fire services, for police services, for the passenger transport executive and for the assessors. We are leaving the rest to local authorities to arrange what best suits their needs and the interests of their residents. The right way forward is to encourage responsible behaviour in local authorities.

As to the map, I encourage the hon. Gentleman to study our proposals more carefully before he rushes into a judgment. There will be no safe havens for bureaucracy, for duplication or for waste of taxpayers' resources.

The whole story of the hon. Gentleman's reaction to our important proposals for the reform of local government over recent months has been one of scaremongering. Last autumn, he claimed that we had a hidden agenda for a national police force, water privatisation, spending cuts, job losses, greater central control and a Treasury veto. On every one of those issues the hon. Gentleman is now seen to be wrong. What we are proposing is for the best future of local democracy in Scotland in the 21st century.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr) : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm welcome from my constituency and the constituencies surrounding mine for the abolition of Strathclyde regional council? My constituents have never identified with that council. I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to the responses, which have allowed the establishment of a Kyle and Carrick council. My constituents will identify with that council and will feel that they can influence the activities and accountability of the councillors elected to that body and exercise some control. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that?

Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that, like me, he will welcome the re-emergence of many of the old county names in what we are now proposing for the future structure of local government. I agree with my hon. Friend, as, I am sure, does the Labour party, on the abolition of Strathclyde region. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the Leader of the Opposition, said :

"When we look at all the services provided by local government--both personal and protective--there can be no possible justification for the size of the Strathclyde region. It varies from being two and a half times to five times too big."--[ Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 25 January 1973 ; c. 207.]


Column 474

I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will welcome the replacement of Strathclyde region with no fewer than 10 independent local authorities.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : Well, well, was it all worth waiting for? After all the hype we have a document that has been lying on the press desk for the past week and is only now being presented to the House.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has no right to introduce single- tier local authorities in Scotland without setting up a Scottish Parliament to look after the affairs that he now holds undemocratically in his hands? With hindsight, does he agree that this will be a costly exercise, that he has laid himself open to the charge of political manipulation and that he should have had an independent commission to investigate all the matters of local government reform?

I believe that the Secretary of State's announcement about water is just the beginning of the road to privatisation. Is he not aware that 94 per cent. of the submissions to his office were against his plans for water? How many letters and submissions does it require for him to listen to what the people of Scotland have said?

This is a complete mess. We have overlapping councils and parliamentary seats and overlapping local enterprise companies. We have mixed-up water and police authorities and there is no coherence or stability. I reject it, and I believe that the people of Scotland will reject it also.

Mr. Lang : I am surprised that the hon. Lady has made no mention of the future of Argyll and makes no attempt to reflect the interests of her constituents. Argyll district council expressed its keenness to have a single-tier structure and a willingness to take into Argyll pieces of neighbouring territory if that were thought appropriate. The hon. Lady asked whether the statement was worth waiting for. My answer is an emphatic "Yes". I am certain that the people of Scotland will warmly welcome the implementation of these proposals and the improved delivery of services that they will bring.

The hon. Lady mentioned the setting up of a Scottish Parliament before local government can be reformed. The policies of the Labour party for setting up a separate Scottish Parliament would drain power from local government. I have it on the authority of Mrs. Jean McFadden, the leader of Glasgow district council, that

"There may well be a tendency for a Scottish Parliament to suck up power from below."

That is the fact. These proposals will be welcomed in Argyll, as they will be welcomed elsewhere in Scotland.

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. I shall try to call as many hon. Members as possible but I ask for the House's co-operation in the form of brisk questions and brisk answers to help me to do so.

Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside) : In welcoming the advent of the proposed single-tier local authorities and my right hon. Friend's sensible and realistic proposals for water services, may I ask whether he will fully consider any representations that he receives from constituencies such as mine about the effective local delivery of services in larger rural areas ? During the Committee stage of the Bill, will he be willing to reconsider the splitting of the Mearns from the former local county of Kincardineshire ?


Column 475

Mr. Lang : I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for the underlying thrust of our proposals, which I am sure will be of great advantage to the north-east of Scotland and, indeed, to the rest of Scotland. As for the detailed proposals, such issues will come up for consideration as the Bill goes through the House and, in due course, once Parliament has decided on the map, the Local Government Boundary Commission will immediately go to work on them. There will be plenty of opportunity for my hon. Friend to advance any thoughts that he may have on the precise nature of the boundaries.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : Who does the Secretary of State think he is kidding? Does he not realise that the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland will recognise this as a squalid job creation scheme for Tory councillors and quango members and that everyone responsible for it, including the Secretary of State, is corrupt and unfit to hold public office?

Mr. Lang : I hope that the hon. Gentleman will carefully examine the proposals for his part of Scotland and for the rest of Scotland. We are removing unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication, improving local accountability and creating greater accessibility and clarity in the delivery of local government services. If the hon. Gentleman does not share my objectives, he should be considering his own priorities.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : I take points of order after statements. If the House were not so noisy, we could hear what hon. Members said. I think that there is some concern that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) used the word "corrupt". I did not hear it-- [Interruption.] Order. If the House were quieter, we could all hear what was going on. I did not hear the hon. Gentleman. He may have used the word but if the House were quieter, I could hear. Unless the Speaker hears, there is nothing I can do about it, so I ask the House to remain quiet so that I and everyone else can hear what is going on.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be met with a thunderous roar of approval by the people of the city of Aberdeen, who have long campaigned for an all- purpose city council, and that includes the ruling Labour group of the present city district council? Does my right hon. Friend agree that what he has announced is subsidiarity in action, giving local decision makers the right to make local decisions in local communities, which is far removed from what is on offer from the Opposition, who would take decision making away from local communities and transfer it to a central belt in Edinburgh?

Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that the city of Aberdeen will be a strong and effective all-purpose authority. I also believe that the surrounding area of Aberdeenshire will provide an effective counterbalance and that there will soon be a vibrant and extremely efficient local government system in north-east Scotland.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : Is the Secretary of State aware that his wish that the White Paper should be regarded as a sensible reform of local government would carry more credence but for his ill- conceived


Column 476

decision to have the whole process carried out by the Scottish Office, not by means of a proper inquiry? Does he accept that there will be considerable dissatisfaction in the Grampian area about the break-up of Grampian regional council, which I hope he will concede has done a great deal for fishing and the rural areas of north-east Scotland? Although there will certainly be great satisfaction at the restoration of a single-tier authority for the city of Aberdeen, what is the rationale for the new addition of Westhill, other than his determined gerrymandering to dilute Labour control of the city?

Mr. Lang : Yes, Grampian has been an efficient region, but we had to make decisions as we examined the map of Scotland. We were told at one stage that the whole excercise was a plan to abolish the regions of Scotland. It was no such thing--indeed, four of the regions will survive under our proposals, some in slightly reduced form. We have sought to find the most effective pattern and structure for each part of Scotland. We are not imposing a blueprint, but considering the circumstances of each area and finding the right solution. Although Grampian has been a successful and effective region, I believe that the new authorities that we shall set up in the north-east will be more effective. I should say that there was little support for the continuance of Grampian region.

Mr. Andrew, Welsh (Angus, East) : Does the Secretary of State understand that everyone can see that the document is a paving Bill for stealing Scotland's water through Tory quangos? This is the end of the road for the Westminster system, and the Secretary of State has no place left to hide. His gerrymandered map is an insult to democracy and an affront to Scotland. Every Scottish Member of Parliament worth his or her salt should oppose it. It is an insult, a betrayal of democracy and a betrayal of Scotland. It must be rejected.

Mr. Lang : May I say to the hon. Gentleman-- [Interruption.] By leaving the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have not only scored an own goal, but have left me with an open goal. He left because he was so deeply embarrassed about the fact that Angus district favoured a single-tier authority based on Angus, which is what we propose.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : Is my right hon. Friend surprised that those who were reluctant personally to pay for the cost of local government are so interested in the structure of local government?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is right. It is incumbent on all parties in the House to raise their horizons above party self-interest and to look to the future interests of Scottish local government.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : Does not the document represent a kind of "electoral cleansing"--a desperate effort by a discredited Government to sweep together as many Tory voters as can possibly be found to form a kind of East Renfrewstan, as we have in Eastwood? Would it not be better if the Government went the whole hog and allowed Tory voters to opt out of the local authority in whose area they live and to choose another more suited to their political tastes? Better still, why do they not rent an island somewher off the coast of Scotland


Column 477

--Rockall, for example, would be big enough- -where all the remaining Scottish Conservatives could be collected, and could live in the wild blue yonder thereafter?

Is not the truth that a Government without popular support--they have less popular support now than the risible amount that they polled in April 1992- -cannot possibly command the authority for proposals of such magnitude? Is not the only way forward a referendum for Scotland and a parliament in Scotland, so that the Scottish people can decide how and where they are governed?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Fifteen months ago, he and his hon. Friends were talking about the Tory party being wiped out in Scotland. Now, simply because we are reforming local government, they seem to think that we are suddenly going to sweep the country. The Conservative party has always been a modest participant in local government in Scotland, and the suggestion that we could construct a scenario to benefit us at the expense of other parties is preposterous. I am surprised that the Labour party seems so uncertain of its prospects at the next local government elections under the new arrangements.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that many of his colleagues in England will look enviously on the new streamlined structure of local government in Scotland, and that we hope to catch him up soon? If my right hon. Friend is thinking of renting islands, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) suggested, will he rent a Greek island and put the socialists-- what is left of them--on it?

Mr. Lang : I shall leave my hon. Friend's latter suggestion hanging in the air, but I welcome his support for my proposals. I believe that they represent an effective, coherent and clear-cut solution which will meet Scotland's needs. I hope that England will be as successful in its activities as we shall be in ours.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart) : Can the Secretary of State explain to the House the principles according to which he links Eastwood and Barrhead, which are five miles apart and have no direct bus link, instead of putting Eastwood where it ought to be, in the city of Glasgow, where its people work and where they use the leisure facilities and the halls? Under his proposals, the people of Eastwood will pay nothing towards those services. Is it not an act of political cowardice--giving in to his junior Minister and to those selfish, greedy electors he represents, who are not prepared to pay for the services they use?

Mr. Lang : I am glad that we have been able to revive the county of Renfrewshire, and that it is of a size that enables us to propose two authorties in that county, as we are doing in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and other parts of Scotland. I believe that what we are proposing is the right way forward for those areas and for Scotland as a whole. Those matters will be fully debated as the Bill goes through Parliament.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset) : Can my right hon. Friend confirm that there was wide support for single-tier authorities, and that he has listened carefully to [etween the right honourable whingers on the Opposition Benches and Conservative Members who put forward logical cases?

Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I can assure him that there was substantial support for single-tier authorities in our initial consultation process. That support has increased considerably and, in the most recent opinion poll, was shown to stand substantially higher than that for alternative solutions.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) : The Secretary of State's undistinguished statement this afternoon says little or nothing about jobs and inward investment. It is not clear to me how local enterprise companies will sit with the new authorities. Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about that? Is it not the case, for example, that the new towns with development corporations will be covered by local enterprise companies? Where will Dunbartonshire enterprise boundaries end in the new structure as it affects the new town of Cumbernauld? Will the Minister say something generally about the new towns?

Mr. Lang : I am glad to do so, and the hon. Gentleman mentions a significant point. We shall consider the boundaries of local enterprise companies, health boards and other such organisations and, where appropriate, we shall propose the rationalisation of boundaries.

Under our proposals, there will be one new town--Cumbernauld--in north Lanarkshire, and one new town--East Kilbride--in south Lanarkshire. The new towns will benefit from the change because they will deal with one local authority instead of with two, and that will also improve inward investment relationships with local government.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his carefully crafted proposals for local government in Scotland, but is he aware that some Conservative Members will be a little disappointed that the water industry is not to be speedily privatised? Can he confirm that the resources necessary for the much-needed investment in the water industry in Scotland will not come from the public sector pot-- where obviously the priorities should be schools, hospitals, roads and so on--but rather from the private sector?

I hope that you have noticed, Madam Speaker, that I have followed the advice you gave me yesterday about the need for moderate language. I have not said a word about Monklands.

Mr. Lang : I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that the circumstances in Scotland are different from those in England, where water authorities had existed for some years. At present, water in Scotland is a local authority service. We are proposing the establishment of water authorities, but they will raise most of their resources for new capital investment from the private sector, which will reduce the demand for resources from other areas of Government expenditure.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : The Secretary of State talked about reviving Scotland's counties. Does he accept that East Lothian can never be part of the Borders, let alone part of West Lothian, and


Column 479

that he has no right to split the historic county of East Lothian in two? What community of interest is there between Cockenzie and Coldstream, and what about the non-existent link between Prestonpans and Livingston, for goodness' sake? Is he aware that the geographical centre of his proposed Tory mini-Bantustan, composed of Berwickshire and the eastern part of East Lothian, is a place 1,000 ft up in the Lammermuirs called the Hungry Snout, which is quite a good description of the expensive, unworkable and squalid set-up that he is proposing?

Mr. Lang : For all I know, it forms part of the hon. Gentleman's estate. East Lothian is not part of the Borders under our proposals, any more than it has been historically. What we propose is broadly in line with what used to be a parliamentary constituency and--most interestingly--seems to conform to what the independent Boundary Commission now proposes for the future parliamentary constituency.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale) : Does the Secretary of State recall that yesterday his ministerial colleague rebuked me for extravagant language and urged me to wait for the proposals? Now that I have seen them, I marvel at my moderation. They are the most corrupt proposals presented to the House by any Government during my time in this place.

As regards the Borders area, the Secretary of State will remember putting two options in his consultation document. What he now proposes is neither of those options. How does he justify that? What was the point of the consultation? As he has always told us that the Borders region is doubtfully viable, with a population of 100,000, why does he now propose to chop it up and take Berwickshire out to satisfy a few local government Tories?

Mr. Lang : We made it clear when we published the consultation paper that we were including four illustrative options and that we were not suggesting that the choice need be confined to them. We are talking not about a handbook for six-year-old schoolchildren, saying, "Pick one of the four," but about illustrative options from which guidance could be given to people replying to the consultation exercise and making their suggestions.

The right hon. Gentleman used extreme language today. I note that he used similar language in his criticism of the Boundary Commission following its proposals for the area containing his constituency and that of his neighbour. I have to suspect the hon. Gentleman and his party of gerrymandering the future parliamentary boundaries in their area.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North) : Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the people of Scotland on the magnificent fight that they have put up against his proposals for all-out water privatisation? Will he be assured that they will not be fooled by his proposals for privatisation by the back door?

Will the Secretary of State justify the fact that there is no commission to look at Scotland's local government boundaries, and explain to me how, in his reforming of Renfrewshire, he has come up with proposals for two councils, one of which consists of the only Tory constituency in Renfrewshire plus the only two Tory-held wards in Paisley and the other of which consists of four Labour-held constituencies, with populations of 88,000 and 265,000 respectively?


Column 480

Will the right hon. Gentleman further confirm that in reality he put his proposals not to this House today, but to The Scotsman last week?

Mr. Lang : I can confirm to the hon. Lady that I did no such thing. I deplore the leaking of any Government document. As the hon. Lady knows, we never comment on allegedly leaked documents.

For water, what we propose is a Scottish solution suitable for Scottish circumstances. I believe that it will be effective in the delivery of water services in future.

The hon. Lady referred to Renfrewshire. I should have thought that she would welcome the restoration of Renfrewshire as an area of all-purpose authorities in its own right. I am glad, too, that we have been able to divide it into two authorities. They do not need to be numerically equal any more than they need to be geographically equal. What we need is a proper and sensible division between east and west Renfrewshire, and that will no doubt be debated further as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West) : Before the Secretary of State reminds me of the fact, may I make it clear that I have always advocated an all-purpose authority for the city of Dundee, but we do not want it under the present gerrymandered proposals.

Do you, Madam Speaker, feel as disturbed as I do at the fact that Ministers preface every statement that they make about Northern Ireland by making it clear that no change will take place without the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland, but that we get no such statements from the Secretary of State for Scotland? Is it not extremely relevant that, in the period leading up to 22 July, it is repeatedly being emphasised that change will not take place in Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority? Why does not the Secretary of State fight his and Scotland's corner in the Cabinet?

Mr. Lang : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming what the Government propose for Dundee. I suppose that he will be accusing me of gerrymandering next. As we have eight Conservative councillors out of 40 in the area that will form Dundee council, I hardly think that such a charge would be credible.


Next Section

  Home Page