HC Deb 03 May 1972 vol 836 cc372-5
13. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to conclude his discussions with interested parties on the restructuring of local government boundaries, functions and financing.

21. Mr. Milian

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he is currently having with local authorities regarding the reform of local government.

49. Mr. William Hannan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the consideration he has given to representations he has received on his proposals on the reorganisation of local government.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

On 22nd December, 1971, in reply to Questions from several hon. Members, I announced my conclusions on the representations I had received relating to local government boundaries and functions and arising from the White Paper of February, 1971.

Consultations are continuing on the financial and electoral aspects of local government reform and on the names for the new authorities. I hope to conclude these discussions within the next few months.

Mr. Hamilton

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has received any evidence in the last few months which would make him or would seek to influence him to make any kind of major changes in the boundaries of areas, particularly in Fife? Does he not recognise that there was an adverse reaction to the Green Paper on local government finance? Can he say what alternative proposals he received on that matter from various organisations?

Mr. Campbell

On the first point, I left open for as long as possible for further consideration a number of questions which were controversial, including the future structure for Fife. But uncertainty had to be ended, and I said that I would take a decision and announce it before the end of last year. I made that announcement on 22nd December. So major changes in boundaries are not now expected, so far as the Government are concerned, though adjustments to boundaries will go on and eventually be taken over by the new Boundaries Commission. As regards the financial side, the previous Government excluded from the remit of the Wheatley Royal Commission any consideration of finance. Therefore, the study which it started was completed and a Green Paper was brought out, and that must be the basis of discussion from now on.

Mr. W. Baxter

Is the Secretary of State aware of the considerable discontent existing throughout Scotland with the proposed new scheme of local government reform? Is he further aware that it seems fantastic that Members of Parliament elected to give guidance on these matters have not had an opportunity to discuss this since the Tory Party came to power? When will he let the wheels of democracy run in a proper manner and give us an opportunity to debate this important subject?

Mr. Campbell

On the first point, this is a subject on which it is impossible to get agreement from everyone. There are three or four major points of controversy. [Interruption] I am coming to the second point. The first point that the hon. Gentleman put was as to whether I was aware of major dissatisfaction with the scheme. What I am saying is that one can never get complete agreement. I am aware of the three or four main points of controversy, and I left extra time for further consultation on them. As regards a debate in the House—the hon. Gentleman's second point—I am naturally keen to have a debate in the House but this subject is competing with many other demands for the Floor of the House. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. We offered time to the Opposition last summer in the Grand Committee, but the Opposition decided, on days on which they had the choice, upon other subjects.

Mr. Edward Taylor

Is my right hon. Friend yet in a position to say what will happen to the capital debts of existing authorities when they are brought into the new regions? This is obviously a matter of serious interest to Glasgow and other areas.

Mr. Campbell

The question of finance is the subject of a Green Paper which is still a matter for discussion, so this is one of the points on which in due course the Government will be making a statement.

Mr. Ross

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that there is some merit in discussing these things with Members of Parliament?

Mr. MacArthur

The right hon. Gentleman had the chance.

Mr. Ross

We now have almost a shelf-full of White Papers and Green Papers, not one of which has been discussed. The right hon. Gentleman said that he offered us time in the Grand Committee. What we are pressing for is time on the Floor of the House. Grand Committee time, as he knows, is limited. What we preferred to do on that occasion was to discuss the White Paper that had just ben produced regarding housing in relation to a future Bill.

Mr. Campbell

As I have said, I would be glad to have a debate on the Floor of the House if time could be found for it. I hope that time can be found. No doubt the remarks made by right hon. and hon. Members will be noted by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. There was, however, a debate in the Grand Committee after the Wheatley Report was published, so there has been one debate on the subject there, although not on the Floor of the House.