HC Deb 22 December 1971 vol 828 cc1477-85
1. Dr. Dickson Mabon

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will make a further statement on the recent representations made to him by various local authorities, religious bodies and others on his proposals for the reform of local government in Scotland.

17. Sir Gilmour

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement on the Government's plans for the reorganisation of local government.

19. Mr. Adam Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further representations he has received regarding the division of Fife, arising from the reform of local government proposals for Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

33. Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether, in view of the representations made to him since the publication of the White Paper on the reform of local government in Scotland, he intends to modify the structural proposals made in the White Paper.

38. Sir F. Maclean

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has come to a conclusion on an alternative local government structure for the west of Scotland, following submissions by the county councils concerned and by the Convention of Royal Burghs; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Gordon Campbell)

Since the White Paper was published in February I have continued discussions with the local authority associations.

Two alternative structures for the proposed West Region have been put to me. It has also been represented, contrary to the Wheatley Royal Commission's recommendation, that Fife should form a separate region; and those concerned with the Western Isles—Lewis, Harris, the Uists and Barra—have asked for the same status as Orkney and Shetland. A number of proposals for additional districts have also been made.

After considering all these representations most carefully I have concluded that, looking to the future, we ought to adhere to the White Paper proposals for the West Region, and for Fife where we reached the same conclusions as the Wheatley Commission. As regards the Western Isles we have decided that they should have the same special status as Orkney and Shetland as a most-purpose authority.

We propose to maintain the present number of districts in the eight mainland regions but to make some boundary changes. I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT an indication of these changes, which include the transfer of Newport, Tayport and adjacent parishes from the Dundee district to North Fife, and also my conclusions on some other matters on which I have received representations.

A letter is being sent to the local authority associations today about these decisions, informing them of all the boundary changes, and I am making copies of it available in the Library.

Dr. Mabon

I think that we are all grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's statement but it does not completely cover the point made about the representations of various religious bodies, particularly the Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, in relation to education provision, and I should welcome a further statement on that.

The right hon. Gentleman may recall that he indicated to the Leader of the House during Business questions that he would be willing to accept, or perhaps be sympathetic to, the proposition that we should have a debate on this matter on the Floor of the House. I strongly urge the right hon. Gentleman to lend his weight to that request so that we may have the debate during the second week after we return from tile recess.

Mr. Campbell

On the first question, I replied in a Written Answer some days ago to the point about representation by religious denominations and made it clear that we do not intend to change the present principle. I think that that has been accepted by all those who have written in about it. It all started because this matter was raised at a meeting with my noble Friend and she invited the Churches to write in. But that has been settled, and I replied on that matter some time ago.

On the second point, I shall indeed keep in touch with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to see whether a debate can be arranged, but I can make no promise.

Sir J. Gilmour

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the Clan Campbell is held in some disregard in certain parts of Scotland and this will be felt keenly in the same way in Fife as a result of what he has said? Would my right hon. Friend now agree that the evidence that was given to the Wheatley Commission by the Scottish Office on the effects of cross-estuarial planning has been shown to be entirely wrong by facts that have been made known to him, and will he please acknowledge that?

Mr. Campbell

It was the Wheatley Royal Commission in 1969 which made the basic recommendation on the structure for the regions, which included the suggestion that Fife should be divided. A number of clans represented on that Wheatley Royal Commission would also be included with the Clan Campbell. It had a distinguished membership which included two present Members of this House.

As regards the estuaries, I do not consider that evidence has been put forward which would change the considerations which influenced the Wheatley Commission and the Government about the structure, in particular the two Firths, the Forth and the Tay, and the fact that the bridges crossing them bring both sides of the Firths together.

Mr. Hunter

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his statement will be a very serious disappointment to many people in Fife? Would he not agree that Fife is a natural geographical and manageable unit to be a region of local government? How many representations did he receive from organisations and individuals in the County of Fife? I and my colleagues in the rest of Fife have received thousands of postcards expressing people's dislike of being divided. Will not the right hon. Gentleman reconsider the position? Is he not aware that even Edinburgh City is not too happy about having Fife tacked on to it in the new local government region?

Mr. Campbell

I am to reply to another Question about the number of representations received. I agree that it is distasteful to divide an ancient kingdom, and that was the dilemma. The sentiment and traditional feelings of allegiance to Fife are very strong but, for the many reasons summarised in paragraph 750 of the Wheatley Report, one has to put those on one side and weigh against them the very important factors for the future. As regards the consultants' document, the main thing which it brought out was something I knew already—that Fife County Council is a very efficient unit of local government. But it would not continue under any reorganisation of local government.

Lieut.-Colonel Mitchell

By what date will it no longer be possible to effect changes or amendments to the boundaries?

Mr. Campbell

The proposals which were in the White Paper and have been the subject of consultation in the following months, and on which I have now made some further announcements, are of course the proposals on which the Bill is to be based. We shall introduce the Bill into Parliament, clearly not this Session but, we hope, soon afterwards. We would hope to get as much agreement as possible. I am glad to say that on the adjustment of boundaries a good deal of agreement has been reached locally.

Sir F. Maclean

Leaving aside Clan Campbell, does my right hon. Friend realise that his statement will give very little pleasure in the western region?

Mr. Campbell

I recognise, as does my hon. Friend, that the western region poses very difficult problems, but there has been general agreement by all those who have considered it that it should be as large as it is.

Mr. Millan


Mr. Campbell

The counties which put forward the alternative scheme which I have been considering with consultants put forward an idea of only four districts instead of the 13 which we were proposing, but they, too, accepted that this area as a whole should be a region. But the problem is how to arrange the administration within that region so that it can be most effective.

Mr. Ross

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he marred the possibility of change by statements which I thought ill-advised in the issue of his White Paper—that he would not accept any changes at that time? Since then, he has seen local authorities. It is only fair to those in the western region which he mentioned to say that they put forward a second alternative only because they felt that it would be unwise to go forward with the same thing. The districts which he put forward were very much different in powers from the existing districts.

When these proposals are embodied in a Bill, will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that until the Bill becomes law, in the run-up to it and in the discussions on it, he will still be prepared to be persuaded by representations and certainly by Members of Parliament in respect of changes? He will be aware that we have had no debate on his White Paper. We hope that we will be able to debate that White Paper and these changes, which we will have to see in detail, before too long. It is very unfair to Parliament and to people with some responsibility here that our advice has not even been sought at present.

Have any changes been made in the number of districts, for instance, in Ayrshire, where we think it is very unfair that there should be districts of 100,000 people while in the right hon. Gentle- man's own area there is a district of about 8,000 people?

Mr. Campbell

I shall deal with that last point straight away. Their functions are different. Where there are smaller districts, in the north and south of Scotland, those districts will have fewer functions.

Mr. Ross

indicated dissent.

Mr. Campbell

The right hon. Gentleman has not read the White Paper. They will not have planning functions.

As regards debate, the right hon. Gentleman himself is being less than fair. The Government proposed through the usual channels in the summer that there should be a debate in the Grand Committee on matter days on local government reorganisation and the White Paper. The Opposition naturally have a choice in these matters and they decided that they would prefer other subjects. That is why there has not been a debate up to now. It is unfair of the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that we have been behind in offering time for a debate on the White Paper of last February.

I tried to make it clear that the decisions as regards the White Paper were firm decisions of the Government but also that we were ready for full consultations, which have been taking place. I have had two full meetings with the local authority associations. The other Ministers in the Scottish Office have also had meetings. No one has complained that there has not been enough consultation, preparation to talk and preparedness to accept suggestions for alternatives.

But the local authority associations themselves made it clear to me at my last meeting with them on 19th November that they hoped that we would make our statement before the end of the year—as I have done, today—so that there should be certainty about the main structure, because until that is decided it is difficult to decide the consequential matters which should be decided before the Bill is introduced.

Mr. Brewis

Does my right hon. Friend's statement make any difference between the western region and the south-western region from what was proposed in the White Paper?

Mr. Campbell

Broadly, no. There are boundary adjustments which my hon. Friend will be able to see when he examines the documents in the Library concerning district boundaries, but broadly the boundary line between the two regions remains as proposed in the White Paper in February.

Mr. David Steel

Do not the right hon. Gentleman's proposals today constitute a second or supplementary White Paper? Would he be kind enough to place copies of these proposals in the Vote Office so that we can have them today before we go to our constituencies tomorrow?

Mr. Campbell

I assure the hon. Gentleman that they are complete, with explanations, in the documents in the Library. I made this arrangement specially so that hon. Members would be able to collect copies today as they leave the Chamber. The document in the Library contains details of all the changes I have announced today and the smaller ones which will be in the OFFICIAL REPORT tomorrow.

Mr. Gourlay

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that while a number of people in Fife may well be disappointed with his statement, a number of burghs in the county will be quite relieved at having escaped the burden of county council administration? Will he ensure that the social work services will be allocated to district authorities and that there is a more equitable representation on both district authorities and regional authorities throughout Scotland? I understand that the basis for calculating the representation on these authorities is very different between the central region and Fife.

Mr. Campbell

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there has been some difference of opinion within Fife about the future in that recently some boroughs where in favour of the proposals in the Wheatley White Paper. The social work services are intended to be with the regional councils, but the changes we made in the White Paper to the Wheatley recommendations have all been welcomed by a majority of people in Scotland. One of the changes we made was that the function of housing—a very important and large function covering many minor subjects—should be moved from the regional council to the district authorities.

Mr. Lawson

On a point of order. It is 20 minutes past eleven o'clock. Should not this matter have been taken after Questions?

Mr. Campbell

Further to that point of order. I have replied to five Questions together. Had I made a statement at 12 o'clock I would have been cutting, into the time for private Members' Adjournment debates. Scottish Oral Questions are surely the time for me to make a short statement and to reply to oral supplementaries. To suggest otherwise is to turn the procedure upside down.

Mr. Gourlay

On a point of order. The Minister failed to reply to the part of my question about representation.

Mr. Campbell

I will bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said about that.

Mr. Ross

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate the difficulty that the House is in about this matter. Will he immediately take up with the Leader of the House the necessity for having a debate on this subject in Government time? In view of his suggestion that it should have been debated before now, he will remember that we were awaiting the Government's White Paper on local government finance and he will be aware of the delay with the White Paper on housing.

Mr. Campbell

Yes, but it was only because the previous Government did not include the question of finance in the Wheatley Commission's remit and started to consider it only late in the day that it was not possible for a Green Paper to be available earlier. I have already given an assurance that I will take up with my right hon. Friend the question of an early debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I am afraid we must get on.

Following is the information:


I intend that the Bill on local government reform in Scotland should reflect the following conclusions.


The district authorities should be as listed in the White Paper, with the exception of the Lewis and Uist districts which will become part of the new Western Isles most-purpose authority.


(i) Powers of district authorities

The proposal that the district authorities in the Highland, Borders and South-West Regions should have the same powers as the districts in the other regions is not accepted.

(ii) Water, sewerage and river purification

I have decided that all regional authorities should have responsibility for water supply, with special arrangements for administration in certain areas. Sewerage and river purification will also be administered by the regional authorities. I have taken into account the Report of the Scottish Water Advisory Committee which will be published shortly.

(iii) Harbours

Existing local authority harbours to be transferred to the regional authorities to administer as part of their responsibility for transportation matters; harbours at present operating outside local government will remain independent.

(iv) Other functions

Other functional responsibilities should remain as set out in the White Paper.


I have decided to make about 20 boundary changes including those affecting Tain, part of the district council area of Lower Deeside, Newport-on-Tay and Tayport, Linlithgow, Newcastleton and Lochmaben, thus accepting about one-quarter of the suggestions which have been made to me. Some others, while having merit, could not be adopted because of the absence of suitable existing administrative boundaries: these will be remitted for early consideration by the proposed Boundary Commission.


Local communities will be given the opportunity to form community councils which will not, however, be a third tier of local government. They will not have specific statutory duties or statutory sources of finance. District authorities will be required to prepare schemes enabling community councils to be established in their areas.


A substantial measure of agreement has been reached with the local authority associations on many other matters which will require to be provided for in legislation. These include the appointment of a Staff Commission, joint consideration by existing authorities of transitional problems and machinery for dealing with the allocation of local authority property to the new authorities.

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