HC Deb 15 March 1972 vol 833 cc507-10
3. Mr. Lambie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will be able to provide Members of Parliament with information about the electoral boundaries within the future West Regional Council and North Ayrshire District Council, respectively; and if he will make a statement.

48. Mr. Adam Hunter

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will publish in the Official Report the up-to-date revised proposals in respect of the number of elected representatives on the proposed new South-East Regional Council and the Dunfermline District Council, respectively.

The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

Copies of the documents which were recently issued have been placed in the Library. In relation to electoral boundaries I must emphasise that these provide simply a starting point for local consultations prior to the preparation of substantive proposals: they are not the considered views of my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Lambie

Was it just a coincidence that the information was supplied to the Library after the Questions were submitted? Is it not about time that we in Parliament, who will take the final decision on the reform of local government in Scotland, had a say in the proposal put forward in the White Paper on that reform?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

There is no question of coincidence. The preparations have been going on for a long time, as have consultations with the local authorities involved. With the deepest respect to the hon. Gentleman, while of course Parliament has the right to consider these matters, many local people are involved.

Mr. Hunter

Does the Minister agree that there is some confusion, even among councillors, about draft proposals of this kind and that councillors as well as Members of Parliament should be completely informed about any draft proposals coming forward?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

These are not draft proposals in the technical sense but are purely a starting point for discussion. Copies of them and a very full covering letter have gone to the clerks of every city, county and district council in Scotland. If there is any doubt, I suggest that councillors who may be confused get in touch with their clerk and they will obtain more details.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposals for Glasgow in particular contain wide variations in the average numbers in the various wards? Will he give an assurance that he will be open to representations from the local authorities and others on the proposals?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

What has been produced at this stage is simply a starting point for discussions. We now hope to enter into consultations with the local authorities, and others may make their representations. The matter will then go to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who will be advised by an independent advisory committee, to be set up shortly, before the stage is reached when draft proposals are published. After they are published it will be possible for formal representations to be made in the normal way. We are now at the very earliest stage on local government electoral boundaries.

Mr. David Steel

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the document in the Library is headed "Draft proposals"? Is it not a gross discourtesy to hon. Members that we have individually to obtain photo-copies of proposals affecting our constituents when they should have been sent to us as a matter of courtesy at the same time as they were sent to local authorities?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

A very large number of different areas are involved—1,550—and in many cases the new local boundaries do not necessarily coincide with parliamentary constituencies. No discourtesy is intended to any hon. Member. If there is a better way in which the matter can be dealt with, I am prepared to consider it.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Does the Minister realise that this is a matter of very great importance to every hon. Member, including himself, and that hon. Members as much as anyone else must be allowed to see the proposals at this early stage? I hope there is no disagreement about that. Therefore, will the hon. Gentleman seek to improve the means whereby the papers are made available to hon. Members? My second point is directed more to the Secretary of State. We have had two major statements and numerous alterations as a result of prior discussions. Unlike our English colleagues, who had two days' debate on the Floor of the House before the English Bill was introduced, we have had no debate. May we have an assurance that we shall have at least one day's debate on the Floor of the House, if not two days, to discuss the proposals before we have legislation next year?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I as much as any one else want to ensure that what is available is readily available also to hon. Members. That is why we made these proposals available in the Library. I may say that in the week since they were made available only one hon. Member has been in touch with me regarding a a certain difficulty. I hope that in his case I was able to deal with it. The hon. Gentleman asked about a debate. He must remember that the Opposition were offered a debate in the Scottish Grand Committee last year and that—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot have a debate at Question time.

Dr. Mabon

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.