HC Deb 19 November 1969 vol 791 cc1285-8
5. Mr. Gordon Campbell

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to have completed consultations with local authorities in. Scotland on the Report of the Wheatley Commission.

17. Mr. Monro

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his estimate of the earliest date upon which he expects to introduce legislation to implement local government reorganisation in Scotland.

Mr. Ross

The Government are carrying out consultations on the Wheatley Report in two stages. First, I have asked for comments by the end of January on the Royal Commission's proposals for the broad structure of local government and the division of functions: and I expect I shall wish to discuss these issues with the Scottish local authority associations.

Second, after we have announced next spring our decisions on the basic framework, there will be further consultations on the commission's other recommendations. Legislation will follow as soon as possible after these further consultations have been completed.

Mr. Campbell

Is it possible for the local authorities to be able to give their considered views, particularly by January, if no proposals for finance exist? When will the local authorities be fully, informed on this aspect?

Mr. Ross

I have already answered Questions about that and I may be answering further Questions today. Comments are required at this stage only on the broad structure and the division of functions. I think that, four months to make up their minds about it is quite adequate. If we took the hon. Member's advice on these things, we would never get local government in Scotland reorganised.

Mr. Morro

Does "as soon as possible" mean this Session? Second, can the Secretary of State make a further statement on what he said on 14th October—that we would have a debate on this matter in the Grand Committee?

Mr. Ross

Debates in. the Grand Committee are a matter no: for me but for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and for both sides of the House. I would welcome a debate and the opportunity to hear what hon. Members have to say on the subject. "As soon as possible" means what it says—as soon

as possible striking a balance between the urgency of the matter of implementing the report in some form or another and having full discussions.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Is the Secretary of State aware that his assertion that four months is adequate is not a universally held view? Can he say specifically whether any local authorities have said to him that the time is too short?

Mr. Ross

One or two authorities have said that it is too short, but they are not necessarily in the majority. There are, of course, a variety of views about this, but the hon. Member should know, as a member of the commission, that this is not something which has suddenly come about. Most of the people concerned have already given evidence to the commission on the subject; so they have had plenty of time to consider it.

23. Mr. Dewar

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will ask for an interim report on Scottish matters from the Constitutional Commission before the proposed publication of plans for the structure of local government in Scotland.

Mr. Ross

No, Sir, but it is open to the commission to submit an interim report on any aspect of its work if it sees fit.

Mr. Dewar

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that there is no danger of options which might be open to the Constitutional Commission being once and for all pre-empted by earlier decisions on the Wheatley structure? Is he prepared to say that there will be no question of ruling out of those decisions the possibility of a Scottish tier of Government if at any time this was thought appropriate as the result of the Constitutional Commission's findings?

Mr. Ross

I do not think that the fears expressed by my hon. Friend are justified. On the other hand, it would be wrong for the Government to ask the Constitutional Commission to determine its work in a particular way and, by implication, to put a time limit on its report.

30. Mr. Russell Johnston

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he proposes to set up a committee or commission to examine local government finance in relation to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland.

Mr. Ross

No, Sir.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Could the Secretary of State say why he has rejected the recommendation in paragraph 1038 of the report that there should be an inquiry into finance following the publication of the report? How does he intend to work out the financial results of local government reform?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is reading too narrowly the Commission's finding. It suggested a special inquiry. That does not necessarily mean a new commission or an outside body. I have already said that the Government are examining this matter on a broad field.

Mr. Manuel

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that ultimately he would be wise to do as the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Russell Johnston) is asking? We cannot apply any proposals of the Wheatley Commission until the House decides on the matter and until we know the financial structure under which the new system would operate.

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend would be the first to appreciate that the financial structure must be related to the viability of the new areas. We are at present examining the alternative ways of raising money and supplying the finance required consistent with what may well be the viable structures on which we will eventually decide, although the answer will come later. We are right to have a broad inquiry on the present basis.