HC Deb 08 July 1970 vol 803 cc664-5
36. Dr. Dickson Mabon

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what timetable of consultations, working out proposals, and laying legislation before Parliament for local government reform in Scotland he proposes to follow; and if he will make a statement.

53. Mr. Gray

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he is proposing to take on the Report of the Wheatley Commission on local government in Scotland.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

We are considering the Commission's recommendations and will be holding discussions with the local authority associations in the coming weeks. I hope it will be possible to produce a White Paper before the end of the year, but I cannot yet say when legislation will be introduced.

Dr. Mabon

But did not the right hon. Gentleman, when he was in Opposition, complain that to wait till 1973 was a serious setback and that legislation should be through in time for reform of local government by 1973?

Mr. Campbell

I think that when I was asked a question about this before, I was unable to give an exact timetable. This was largely because, although the Wheatley Commission's Report was published last September, the last Government had not expressed any views upon it and the White Paper which we were promised did not appear before the election and so the views of the Government of that time were never known. I expressed our general attitude in the Scottish Grand Committee as far back as last February. We must now, as a new Government, have a further round of consultations with the local authority associations, and to those consultations I attach the greatest importance.

Mr. Gray

Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the whole financial structure of local government will be carefully examined before any changes are proposed?

Mr. Campbell

This is a matter which, as my hon. Friend will know, I have been much concerned about, because there is a gap where financial matters are concerned. The previous Secretary of State indicated that a study within Government Departments had been started. I shall have to await the result of that, and I hope it will be soon.

Mr. Ross

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, unlike the case in England, there has been fairly general acceptance on both sides of the House of the main principles of the Wheatley Report. Can he give us the assurance that we shall not have to wait till after the reconsideration of the Maud proposals in England is completed before we get the White Paper and legislation—in other words, that we shall, if possible, be able to go before England rather than trail after?

Mr. Campbell

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the proposals regarding Scotland will be strictly Scottish and will not await consideration south of the Border. His Government took from September to June without producing a White Paper at all. I have this afternoon indicated that we shall be producing a White Paper before the end of the year.