HC Deb 17 March 1971 vol 813 cc1403-5
21. Mr. Oswald

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has had from local authorities in Scotland regarding the proposed local government boundary changes; and what discussions he intends to have with them.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

Last Friday I met the local authority associations and heard their views on the White Paper. Plans for further consultations on the matters still to be decided were discussed, and I assured them that no decisions on these matters would be taken before they had been given ample opportunity to express their views.

All local authorities in Scotland have been invited to submit before 30th April their views about the precise boundaries. Where necessary, I will arrange local discussions to give authorities an opportunity to develop these.

Mr. Oswald

Can the right hon. Gentleman give an indication of the number of local authorities that are fully in agreement with the existing plan, and how many are somewhat dubious about it?

Mr. Campbell

I cannot give precise figures, but I have noted the widespread general support which our proposals have attracted in Scotland.

Mr. Hugh D. Brown

Since there is widespread general support for the broad principles, as I think most hon. Members accept, why is the proposed legislation for the reform of local government a year behind the proposed English legislation?

Mr. Campbell

We are proposing to do more in our Bill when it comes, and we shall have the benefit of a longer time for consultation and settling some of the matters to be in the legislation.

Mr. Clark Hutchison

Will my right hon. Friend give a bit more time to the local authorities? Will he be prepared to receive representations from Members, because I am not quite satisfied about the Edinburgh plan?

Mr. Campbell

I am always ready, as I think hon. Members on both sides know, to receive visits from right hon. and hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies singly or in deputations. No one is more welcome than my hon. Friend. We had from the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) earlier in the Session a criticism that there had already been so much consultation with local authorities that we did not need a further round. But we have had very full consultations with the local authorities, and we had a very amiable and long meeting last Friday.

Mr. Buchan

The point is not whether there were amiable meetings and people were given an opportunity to express their views but whether the right hon. Gentleman will listen to their views. He has already said in his White Paper that it is not for discussion, that it is not for change. That kind of peremptory tough note is not very helpful. I wish the right hon. Gentleman would be tough where it matters, such as in the Cabinet, and less tough towards the local authorities in Scotland.

Mr. Campbell

I do not think the hon. Gentleman has read the White Paper very carefully. If he has, he has misunderstood it, and I am glad to take this opportunity of pointing out that we have made clear the main points we intend to put in the legislation. That enables consideration now to take place of the many related and consequential matters which must be settled, including the boundaries. After seven years, the time had come on some of these issues, the pros and cons of which had been considered over and over again, for assumptions to be made on basic matters in order to get on with the other discussions.

Mr. Ross

Since there was so much general agreement, surely it was quite wrong to throw it away by being so inflexible about the number of districts? It is rather foolish of the right hon. Gentleman to say "This is it and there will be no change" when he resurrects Nairn, a district of 6,000 people—God knows what its housing revenue will be—and at the same time says that in Ayrshire there shall be only two districts, one of which has a population of nearly 200,000. It does not make sense.

Mr. Campbell

I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman should have seen fit to cast aspersions on my constituency. This illustrates the flexibility we have indicated. In the north of Scotland, where Nairnshire is, and where the population is sparse, we have arranged a different kind of district with a smaller population than in the densely-populated areas.