§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
I beg to move Amendment No. 42, in page 53, line 12, at end insert'and for the purposes of the valuation roll for the year 1975–76 or any subsequent years, the definition of "lands and heritages" in the said section shall not include appliances for space heating, double glazing and wall and ceiling insulation which are situated or fitted in a building other than one occupied for any trade, business or manufacturing process'.The amendment deals with the definition of lands and heritages, that being the basic definition contained in the Valuation Acts. Despite the fact that it arises at a fairly late stage in dealing with this legislation, this is a matter of particular importance. When the Secretary of State for Energy made his statement on energy conservation on 9th December 1974 a question was raised about the disincentives which might be found in valuation for rating. If a person improves his house that can give rise to an increased valuation. That is the whole basis on which the valuation of domestic premises proceeds. Valuation is based upon a notional rent. Therefore, if a person adds a new bathroom, WC or garage, or installs central heating to improve his house, the assessor can increase the valuation. The matters that I have mentioned all give rise to an increased valuation.
If central heating is installed there will be a 10 per cent. increase in valuation. If partial central heating is installed the increase could be 7½ per cent. or 5 per cent. In one local authority valuation area that principle also applies to double glazing. This has caused a considerable amount of concern to many people and it should be a matter of concern for the Government.
There is a new policy—indeed, it is a sensible one—that energy should be con- 1492 served. That means that if a person sets out to have better standards of insulation—for example, double glazing or central heating which, despite many theories to the contrary, I am told is a much better and more efficient use of energy than many other forms of heating—he can face the absurd situation of an increased valuation. This will act as a disincentive to improvement leading to a reduced consumption of energy. In a sense an important part of the Government's policy on energy conservation hangs on this amendment.
If we take the viewpoint that there is a need for an improvement in housing standards and a need to improve insulation—that is the background set by the document which has been issued by the Department of the Environment entitled "Warmth Kept In Keeps Heating Costs Down"—the Government must make some form of adjustment to valuation and rating law.
It is proposed that there should be a doubling of insulation standards. By proving that there has been an improvement in a house leading to the saving of energy, and thus fuel costs, an assessor could, bring before a valuation appeal committee the argument that the improvement could bring in an increase in rent and, therefore, give rise to an increased valuation. To my knowledge no assessor has attempted to take that course, but that approach is built into the whole system of valuation.
Houses are valued according to size, the amenities which might be in them, the environment and, to some extent, upon the design and the quality of construction. A post-war house, be it local authority or private, can be classed in a lower level of valuation merely because it was built to a more utilitarian standard and with poorer materials in the post-war years. It is possible to argue that insulation or improvements in housing could lead to increases in valuation. That runs counter to the Government's energy conservation policy.
Another point that aggravates some people in Scotland is that, because of the system of yearly changes, such improvements as are carried out to houses, almost immediately—within a year—are added to the gross annual value, that is the 1493 rateable value, whereas in England, because of a system of Treasury valuers who are overworked and carry out valuations less frequently, five or six years or more may elapse before an improvement finds it way into the valuation of a house.
The amendment would restrict this provision to domestic properties. With industrial premises, Government consideration should be given to the different types of space heating, so I have left it to them in time to work out their own proposals. When it comes to energy conservation, with district heating, because of the system of pipes, insulation, ducting and fixed apertures and cabling, there is a strong argument for any assessor to say the system should be considered rateable. This might also be at odds with Government policy.
Although I would not be inclined to press this matter to a Division because it is a new idea which the Government might wish to consider, I hope that they will bear it in mind, because their whole energy conservation policy might be helped by their acceptance of this new principle. It would be undesirable, in a Bill of this sort, which is not attempting to do that, to make that kind of change.
§ Mr. Millan
I understand why the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has put down the amendment. The Government are interested in energy conservation and are trying to encourage people to have regard to it in all they do, including what they do with their houses. The trouble is, as he said, that any improvement is liable, under the normal valuation procedure, to lead to increased valuations. Therefore, there seems to be an inconsistency between different arms of Government policy.
However, that apparent inconsistency applies in other circumstances too. It is, for example, a general part of Government housing policy, as it was with the previous Government, to encourage improvements in houses generally. There are special provisions in legislation for Government and local authority assistance to produce that desirable result. Yet, at the end of the day, in that case also, rateable values can be and often are increased. In that kind of situation, one has to accept that the general encourage- 1494 ment of a particular desirable piece of public policy may have for the occupiers of the houses concerned some disabilities as well as advantages.
I say that not to devalue the particular importance of energy conservation but to make the general point that if we accepted the amendment or something similar we should be acting against a basic principle of valuation law.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
I should like to bring to the Minister's attention the fact that a substantial change of valuation law is proposed in the Schedule, insofar as it refers to electric motors and the change made in valuation law some years ago, to take out electric storage heaters which had previously been considered to be rateable, so the valuation law was then breached in favour of that form of heating.
§ Mr. Millan
Different considerations are involved on electric motors. That came from the recommendations of the McNairn Committee. We mentioned this briefly during the Committee stage. It does not raise the wider questions which this amendment would raise.
In the matter of electric storage heaters one was dealing with the rather anomalous position that something which was, from the point of view of the householder analogous to an ordinary heating appliance, was being treated as a fixture. That was giving rise to anomalies, but here we are not dealing with anomalies but with breaching the principles where matters of public money should be the overriding factor. This is much more important.
I cannot accept the amendment nor can I give hope that an amendment in similar terms would be acceptable in this Bill, but this sort of thing is relevant to the Layfield Committee.
It is not sufficiently appreciated, outside at least, that although the Layfield Committee will be looking at alternative sources of local authority finance and the rest of the wide issues, it will be concerned very much with valuation and other matters inside the rating system, so it may have something to say to the Government and all of us on these matters.
1495 It would be a pity to accept this amendment or a modification which would have similar consequences. It may be that following Layfield, we shall want to make a number of different changes in the context of local authority finance structure in a wider sense.
I cannot accept this, although I do not devalue the point made, but one would breach a principle here which has wide ranging consequences. The time is not appropriate to do it. We should have to do it in a much wider context.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
I beg to move Amendment No. 43, in page 55, line 30, at end insert:'20. The rules applicable to ascertainment and proof of value of lands and heritages in appeals taken in revaluation years shall be extended to appeals taken in non-revaluation years on the ground of a material change of circumstances affecting value, and sections 9(7) and 10 shall be construed accordingly'.This amendment arises out of experience I had as secretary to a valuation appeal committee during a period of revaluation, contrasted almost immediately after by service in a non-revaluation year when it was apparent to me and to a number of appellants that the rules had changed and rather sadly, against appellants who wished to bring appeals.
The normal rule for revaluation years is that one start afresh on an appropriate basis on the condition of the premises at the time of revaluation, and therefore there is little to weigh between the evidence produced on each side by the assessor and the appellant. When matters are completely even, there is a slight onus in favour of the assessor. But the rule has many limitations, because in revaluation years it is not always easy for appellants to produce evidence which can satisfy not only the commonsense approach of the tribunal but the directives of the Lands Valuation Appeal Court. Often the committee is well aware that both sides are using it as an instrument for appeal to the higher court.
There are certain opportunities for a committee during revaluation to take decisions on environmental matters which 1496 can result in reductions, albeit small at times, for the benefit of appellants. There are limits, and if a committee oversteps them it can find its decision recalled by the superior court.
But in a non-revaluation year there are new criteria. The first, which is not unreasonable, is that there should be a material change of circumstances. If a valuation has been settled the previous year, it is necessary for there to have been a change giving grounds for an appeal. Assessors use that provision to bring altered subjects on to the roll. Appellants can also appeal. For example, if a sewage works opens immediately opposite someone's house he may be able to tell the appeal committee that the situation has changed entirely since he appeared the previous year. Many people appear from year to year.
But there is an inhibiting factor, with which the amendment tries to deal. It is not merely a material change of circumstances that can allow a committee to upset the previous valuation. There must be a material change of circumstances which has an effect on value. In a sense this goes to the bedrock of the valuation system. If it has no effect on value, the material change, whether good or ill, can lead to no change in the valuation of the subject under review.
There is an interpretation by the courts of this time-honoured phrase which has made it almost impossible for the small appellant to approach the appeal committee with any hope of success. The following quotation from page 16 of the fourth edition of Armour on Valuation for Rating may make the matter relatively clear:The onus is on the party claiming that a material change of circumstances has occurred and this must be discharged by proper evidence. An ex parte statement and the knowledge of some members of the Committee is not sufficient"—that is true in a revaluation year as well—nor may the Committee rely on their own local knowledge alone".That also applies in a revalution year.The Committee are not entitled to decide whether or not there is a material change of circumstances on argument without hearing evidence.Here we come to the rub:The evidence required in most cases will include evidence of the effect on value given by someone qualified to express a view on 1497 the matter. Without skilled assistance a justifiable appeal may well fail.There are one or two ways in which appellants can skip round that, by relying on the practice of an assessor which may have changed since the last valuation, or on another case which has been decided and has altered the circumstances. Nevertheless, in connection with a house, where what is at stake is perhaps a £5 or £10 a year reduction in gross annual value, and a smaller figure when it comes to ascertainment of rateable value, one must employ a skilled valuer to give an opinion on value.
That is the difference between a revaluation and a non-revaluation year. Although there are restrictions upon an appellant in the presentation and acceptance of evidence in a revaluation year, he need not produce the skilled valuer who can produce evidence of a reduction in value following a material change.
The amendment seeks to apply to the situation the same rules on evidence as apply in a revalution year. Hon. Members may think that this is a small matter. However, an appellant who makes an appeal because of something that affects his amenity or the rental value of his house and therefore its valuation and comes within what has been described in Armour on Valuation for Rating as perhaps a justifiable case, may find that because of the technical rules he is unable to succeed before the committee which in turn has to look over its shoulder at the Lands Valuation Appeal Court.
I suggest that the rules contain a sufficient weight in favour of the assessor through the rule involving proof of material change of circumstances along with the other inhibitions on the committee's ability to take discretionary decisions to allow acceptance of the amendment. I think that it gives greater flexibility in dealing with appeals against domestic valuations. I strongly urge the House to accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Millan
The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) has explained the amendment clearly and expertly. I do not disagree with his description of the present system. I accept what he is attempting to do in the amendment and have considerable sympathy with its 1498 object, but in a non-revaluation year the burden of proof on the appellant is extremely high. In fact, unless he is able to demonstrate through rental evidence that there has been a material change of circumstances affecting the value of his house, he is unlikely to succeed. Indeed, in many circumstances it is very difficult for an appellant to produce the necessary information.
I agree that many worthy cases fail because the system does not allow a burden of proof which appellants are reasonably able to discharge. The situation has been criticised by the Scottish Valuation Advisory Committee which takes the view that in many circumstances it is unreasonable to expect an appellant to discharge the burden of proof that is placed upon him.
I accept that we ought to do something, but it is not a matter which is easily drafted. The amendment, apart from technical difficulties, would go too far. It would mean that, even if the matter concerned were comparatively trivial, the whole question of the valuation could be considered de novo, which might be a burdensome procedure.
I accept that we ought to make an appeal in a non-revaluation year easier. I do not mean that we want to produce an unfair result, but that, where there is a material change of circumstances, the burden of proof relating to value should somehow or other be lessened compared with what it is now. We are considering this matter, but it presents considerable drafting difficulties. We have a formula in mind but I do not wish to describe it to the House in case it proves ultimately to be defective. If it is acceptable we would hope to move the appropriate amendment in another place. If the hon. Member will therefore withdraw the amendment I promise him that I shall do everything possible to get the basic substance of his amendment into the Bill. If I find that that is not possible I will write to him and let him know. If it is possible I shall write to him when we have tabled the amendment to tell him we have done so.
I cannot give the hon. Member a guarantee on a matter of this complexity. However if I can meet the basic point behind his amendment I shall do everything possible to do so in another place.
§ 11.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Gordon Wilson
I am grateful to the Minister of State for his acceptance of the spirit of the amendment. I hope that something will appear in the other place which will give a fairer deal to the appellant in this circumstance of a non revaluation year. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Millan
I beg to move Amendment No. 44, in page 56, line 2, at end insert:'22A. In section 7(4) (apportionment), for the words "the fifteenth day of March" there shall be substituted the words "the date prescribed by order under section 13 of the Act of 1956.'.It relates to the fixing of a date for assessors to furnish estimates of rateable values for a revaluation year. Because of the change in the date of the financial year we need to change the date which at present stands at 15th March. Instead of putting in a new date it seems better to provide that the date should be prescribed by order. That is what the amendment does.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendments made: No. 45 in page 56, line 39, after 'it)', insert '(a)'.
No. 46, in page 56, line 43, at end insert:
'(b) in subsection (3), for the words "Part XII of the said Act of 1947" there shall be substituted the words "Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1975";
(c) in subsection (5), for the words "section 261 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947" there shall be substituted the words "paragraph 11 of Schedule 3 to the said Act of 1975".'.—[Mr. Millan.]
§ Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
I beg to move Amendment No. 47, in page 59, line 37, at end insert:'45A. In section 146 (police), in subsection (7), in the Table in the new subsection 21A(2) inserted in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, the words "South Eastern … Borders and Lothian" shall be omitted'.I spoke on this matter on Second Reading and we debated it again in Committee. The only reason I am raising the matter again is that for technical reasons I was unable to test the feeling of the Committee in a Division. I hope that the Government may have given the matter further thought. The amendment seeks to 1500 change the wording of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and to provide for the Lothians Region and the Borders Region each to have its own police force instead of the proposal by the Government to have a joint police board. It is significant that the amendment has multi-party support.
Apart from the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) whose constituency is also affected, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve) lives, and has served on local authorities, in my constituency. He is, therefore, familiar with the issues at stake. I took down the words of the Minister when he was replying to an earlier amendment because I thought that they were important. He referred to the Tory Government's Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act and described this as an attempt to dictate to local authorities in a way which they found totally unacceptable.
The Minister criticised the Amendment on that basis and I trust that he will stick to that principle in considering this amendment and accept, whatever else may be said in defence of the proposal, that this is a case of St. Andrew's House over-ruling the wishes of the elected regional councils.
Parliament could not have known at the time when this matter was peremptorily examined during the passage of the 1973 Act what was in the mind of the regional councils because they had not then come into existence. There is an obligation on this House to take note of what the local authorities, now they are in existence, think on this subject.
I will not go back over the whole argument. I will merely quote two parts of the submission of the Borders Regional Council when it pointed out that:the draft scheme, which was sent to the Councils on 3rd June 1974, makes provision for the appointment by each of the authorities of an unspecified number of members who would form a Joint Committee with executive powers to administer the combined police force.The council says that if this joint committee were constituted the members would have complete power of decision in implementing the police function. The scheme provides that the joint committee would requisition both constituent authorities for an annual sum to meet the cost 1501 of the combined police force. Neither council, therefore, would have any opportunity to vary the requisition or would have any control over the allocation of resources to the joint committee.
That is a reason why the House should always hesitate in the creation of joint boards. The cost in this case is quite considerable. Since the Committee stage I have had representations from the South of Scotland Chamber of Commerce querying the cost of this proposal. The submission from the Borders Regional Council points out that it has been estimated that the annual revenue expenditure of such a joint committee would be of the order of £10 million. It says that this represents a fairly substantial proportion of the total estimated revenue expenditure of both councils and that if the proposals in the Act of 1973 were implemented in accordance with the scheme drafted by the Scottish Home and Health Department the effect would be that a substantial proportion of the members of the councils who did not happen to be members of the joint committee would have no opportunity of exercising any control over the allocation of resources to the joint committee. Moreover, it is the assessment of the Borders Regional Council that the effect of the Government's proposed joint committee would be to cost the regions about £100,000 more than would be the cost of having separate police forces.
If it is wondered why it is that a centralised force should be more expensive I am bound to say that since the Committee stage I have received the first evidence of exactly the sort of thing to which I think people in the Border area will rightly object. I understand from one of the social work departments that under the proposed reorganisation complaints against persons under the age of 16, which at present go straight from the local police force to the local children's reporter, would in future go through the central machine in Edinburgh and then back down to the Border authority.
It is this sort of nonsense against which we ought to guard. I have re-read what the Minister said in Committee when he argued in favour of the joint committee. I see that he laid some stress on the specialised facilities that would be avail- 1502 able to a joint police force. I have looked at the specialist services required by the present Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk Constabulary. The existing force is smaller than would be the enlarged force under the Borders Region. I could go through each facility. Let me take one or two examples. Dog handlers are not available to the present police force. During the past five years the services of a dog handler have been required on an average of only two occasions a year and on only one occasion in that time did the presence of the handler play a significant part in the police search.
I could mention fingerprinting, investigation of serious crime, underwater search teams. The services of Glasgow City Police underwater search team were recently obtained for a search of the River Teviot. Such a team is not available in Edinburgh City Police or the Lothians and Peebles Constabulary. It is unjustified for the Government to base their case for a joint police board on the very few and rare occasions when specialist services are required.
The conclusion of the memorandum I have received from the police is that the experience indicates that there is no reason why the Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk Constabulary could not continue to operate as a separate entity, assuming responsibility for the Peebles area from 15th May. Then the point is made that it has been the practice to extend facilities without reservation to neighbouring forces and there is no doubt that such an arrangement would continue in future. I hope that tonight we shall not have the argument about the specialist services that we had in Committee.
This comes down to the basic question whether the Government will be obstinate and stick by the view that St. Andrew's House knows best. It is an attitude which they should rid themselves of. I believe that, if they maintain their attitude, they will succeed only in getting the reorganisation of local government in those areas off to a poor start. One of the reasons for going through the trauma of reorganisation of local government was, wherever possible, to establish a meaningful democratic content of local government and to abolish joint boards of this kind.
§ Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)
I support the amendment which stands in my name and that of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). I support it on the same grounds as those already expressed but with a slightly different emphasis.
I, who represent the area, was never happy about the idea that there should be a separate Borders Region. Because it was such a small region, it seemed to me that it would have great difficulty in maintaining certain services on its own. I was pleased that the Wheatley Commission did not recommend a separate region. I thought that it would have to borrow or cannibalise on services from the south-eastern or Lothians Region. Such a proceeding is always very unsatisfactory.
Then the Conservative Government that followed inserted a Borders Region, which was an oddity, because its population was lower and its resources were lower than those of the average district in Scotland. The inevitable result of this was that the region was combined with the Lothians Region for police, for fire, for child health, and for certain aspects of further education.
I regard all joint boards as fundamentally unsatisfactory, for all the reasons that my hon. Friend the Minister of State and others have advanced on so many occasions. In this case, as we set up a Borders Region, we should do everything possible to give it the services for the Region under its own control. However, it transpires that the nearby large region—the Edinburgh Lothians Region—does not want the Borders police force to join it in a joint association. The Borders region does not want to share a police force. The two police forces themselves do not wish to be jointed.
I therefore echo what the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles said. It makes a very curious case for the Government, who have accepted the general principle, and who accepted it in opposition, of a separate Borders Region, now to say that they know better than both regions and better than both police forces what is in their interests.
If the spirit of the Local Government Bill had any meaning, it was that when local authorities, without any resistance 1504 or objection from anybody, ask for certain things to be done, if possible this should be acceded to. Here we have both regions, both police forces and public opinion in both areas behind it. So, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles said, there has to be an overpowering reason for insisting on maintaining something against all this.
The only reason I have been able to think of is that of special equipment, which I do not think helps in this situation, for the reasons adduced by the hon. Gentleman. A much deeper reason, though it is not an argument on the merits, is that there is a reluctance to reopen anything which was settled in the 1973 Act in case wider issues such as the size of the Strathclyde Region and all the rest have to arise at the same time.
I know that this is a small point, but as it is so generally desired I hope that the Government will consider it. I cannot see any other meaning to local autonomy than the acceptance of such a case. There is also a very deep political point locally. If the Borders, being a small region, is represented on the joint committee in proportion to its population it will have only one or two members. On the other hand, if it is given a proportionately larger representation so that it has meaningful control, it means that its members will upset the political balance on the committee.
The situation is acceptable neither to the Borders Region, which would not have adequate control of its police force in any sense, nor to the Lothians Region, which would find the party political balance on the joint board different from that in its region. This causes political, financial and administrative problems, and it is contrary to the desires of the people in the area. It is the sort of thing on which the Minister might give way, and I hope that he will do so tonight.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Robin F. Cook (Edinburgh, Central)
I wish to take up a few moments of the time of the House to support what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) and the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). I do not propose to query the 1505 wisdom of the decision taken by the previous Conservative administration, but I find it a little bizarre that my Front Bench feels obliged to defend the wisdom of that decision.
We have adequate new matter to justify looking at the decision again, in that we have the opinion of two regional councils which have been elected since that decision was taken. Both of them have come to the clear opinion that they do not wish the police forces to be amalgamated. Moreover, the decisions were taken without any significant dissentions in either of those regional councils.
There was a debate a fortnight ago on devolution, when the House had the opportunity to hear some wonderful speeches on the powers that we might devolve, whether we give away powers of control over industry, trade and employment, whether we give away the right to raise taxation, and whether we give away the right over control of oil extraction rates. It seems to me to be silly that we debate giving away all these powers but when it comes to a decision about the amalgamation of the police forces of the Lothians Region and the Borders Region we say that that must remain firmly with Parliament, and not only that, but we shall ignore the wishes of the two local councils affected.
I am not convinced by the argument that the Borders Region is not viable in terms of its police force. If we look at the South-West Region which has been formed, we see that it will have its own police force even though it has only a marginally greater population, a marginally greater police force and a marginally greater land mass. It is difficult to say that the difference is such that the Borders Region is not viable for a police force, and the South-West Region is.
I assure the Minister that the Lothians Regional Council is willing to make available the specialist services which the Borders Region may need from time to time, and if it is the case that it requires two dog handlers twice a year, we call make these available at a cost of less than £100,000 per annum.
The real point which concerns the regional council in the area which I represent is the problem of the joint committee, which was touched on by my hon. 1506 Friend. The Borders Region has less than one-tenth of the population in the affected area. It would be intolerable if it had less than one-tenth of the members on the joint committee. We accept that, and the Lothians Regional Council accepts it, but it has the unfortunate effect that if it is represented as is proposed by four out of 18 seats on the joint committee it will upset the political balance.
That leaves the Lothians Regional Council with two alternatives. Either the ruling group on the council forgoes its majority on the joint committee and becomes a minority group—and the ruling group has put considerable weight and time into developing a cohesive and coherent corporate strategy in its approach to the administration and financing of the region and will be unable to take into account as part of the corporate strategy the sizeable budget of £10 million which is likely to be spent every year by the joint committee—or, alternatively, it takes itself a quite disproportionate share of the 14 seats which the council has on the joint committee. The latter is precisely what it is proposing to do, but this will leave an inequitably small amount of seats for the minority group on the Lothians Regional Council.
I am not particularly concerned about taking sides as to which of the alternatives the council should have chosen. I am concerned with the fact that it is the creation of the joint committee which forces the ruling group on the Lothians Regional Council to take that invidious decision and make that invidious choice.
Moreover, the point that worries the council, and what concerns me, is that the criticisms of scale that are made about the Borders Region police force can extend to many of its other functions. My hon. Friend said that when this was first discussed many hon. Members in this House, people outside, the local authority and myself were critical about whether the Borders Region could maintain a number of other functions which it is proposed to have.
One might think of further education. Will it be so long before people start to say that the Borders Region is too small to maintain a viable further education scheme, or ask whether we should not amalgamate with the Lothians Region and have a joint committee? One can 1507 see the problem of the spawning of joint committees beginning to appear all over the range of functions between the two regional councils. That was precisely the problem we hoped to get away from by local government reform and which the Lothians Regional Council is worried about, because if this precedent is created the ruling group of that council might be faced on other occasions with further joint committees being created and losing its majority position in sectors much more politically sensitive than this one.
I therefore urge my hon. Friend the Minister to treat this matter with even more sympathy than he was able to muster in Committee and not necessarily be inhibited by the actions of the previous Government.
§ Lord James Douglas-Hamilton
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) and the Minister of State saw representatives from the Lothians Regional Council and the Borders Regional Council on 14th November, when they made representations against the amalgamation of these police forces. The Minister made it clear that the amalgamation was going ahead, and in a letter dated 27th November the Chairman of the Lothians Regional Council wrote that no further action would be taken by his council for the provision of separate forces. His council was still convinced, however, that it would have been better to have separate forces.
However, the matter does not rest there. On 25th February it was announced at the Lothians Regional Council meeting that the Labour Party would take 10 of the 14 seats from the Lothians Regional Council on the new joint police committee. This in no way reflects the composition of the Lothians Regional Council and it is clearly an abuse of majority powers.
As the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Cook) says, there may be reasons for this. None the less it is still an abuse of majority power, which would not be permitted in the House of Commons, where Standing Committees always rightly reflect the balance of the parties. Strong views have been expressed on the subject, and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say about it.
§ Mr. Millan
This matter was debated in Committee. I make no complaint, of course, that it is being raised again tonight. There is, however, a history to it, and I think I am entitled to say that there is this history and that in my view we are now far too far along the road, quite apart from any other consideration, for any change to be made at this time.
On the merits of the amalgamation, however, the matter of the size of police forces goes as far back as the Royal Commission in the 1960s, and it goes back in more recent years to our debates on the Local Government (Scotland) Bill of 1973.
My hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) makes the fair point that if one has a Borders Region which in terms of population, resources and the rest is much smaller than was considered by the Wheatley Commission to be a viable region in the context of local government reform in Scotland generally, inevitably a certain number of compromises are involved with regard to particular services. That is certainly true concerning the police.
Indeed, the provision applying amalgamation in the case of Lothians and the Borders which appears in the 1973 Act was specifically included therein to make it explicit that the powers of amalgamation would be applied in this case. It was, therefore, not a general power of amalgamation that was being provided for but an amalgamation to meet particular circumstances such as those obtaining in the Lothians and Borders area taking account of the size of the regions and of the prospective police forces and the rest.
I make the point that these were deliberate decisions taken in the 1973 Act. This is not something which happened by inadvertence. It was deliberately done.
§ Mr. David Steel
The Minister will, of course, accept the point made by myself and others that those decisions were taken before we had the benefit of the views of either regional council.
§ Mr. Millan
I was just coming to that. My next sentence was that the fact that the decisions had been taken in 1973 does not mean that one should stick rigidly 1509 to them if new circumstances and considerations have arisen since then.
My hon. Friends and the hon. Gentleman would have been entitled to be critical of the present Government if they had simply accepted the previous Government's decision, and the decision of the House, in 1973 and had not reconsidered the matter. But that is not the position, because my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who at that time was dealing with police matters, reconsidered this matter, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and the meeting of November 1974 took place. A decision was taken by my right hon. Friend that the amalgamation should go ahead and the arrangements should be made accordingly.
The decision was taken for reasons which have been well explained and I need not go over them, particularly as there will be an opportunity soon to deal with the matter again because the draft scheme is before the House and can be debated.
§ Mr. David Steel
Surely the hon. Gentleman will accept that it is reasonable that we should discuss this matter now rather than have yet another debate on a Prayer. May I say as one who has tabled a Prayer that if we have a reasonable debate now there will be no need for a second one.
§ Mr. Millan
It depends how the hon. Gentleman defines "a reasonable debate". Since I do not intend to recommend acceptance of the amendment, I have little doubt that the hon. Gentleman will wish to return to the matter on a Prayer. Then some of these matters will be dealt with in considerably greater detail than is appropriate now.
The matter was reconsidered by the Government and they took the decision which was conveyed to the authorities concerned in November. My information is that since then the authorities have accepted—I do not pretend that they are happy with the decision—that the amalgamation should go ahead, and they are making arrangements accordingly.
There are practical considerations, including uncertainty and the morale of the police forces concerned. The point was made that the police in the areas concerned were still against the amalga- 1510 mation. That is not my information. In Committee I made the point that the Scottish Police Federation had expressed considerable disquiet at the idea that the amalgamation should not go ahead because of the uncertainty it was causing and the effect on police morale in the respective areas.
In Committee the hon. Gentleman slightly discounted what I said about the federation as not representing the committed police opinion. I have it in writing from the federation in a paper which it put to the Police Advisory Board for Scotland in November after the decision had been confirmed. It says that any move to stop the amalgamationwould, in our opinion, have disastrous effects on our members, especially at this late stage.It is now three months later, and I have no information to suggest other than that the federation would be extremely upset and worried if the amalgamation should not go ahead.
§ Mr. Mackintosh
It is all very well for my hon. Friend to quote the federation, but we represent constituencies and we see our chief constables and talk to the police forces. It is not fair to hold on and wait and then say that it would cause uncertainty if the Government went back on a silly decision. The way to end the uncertainty is to accept the amendment.
§ 11.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Millan
I do not accept that at all. The fact is that it was the hon Gentlemen supporting the amendment, including specifically my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh), who made the specific point that the police were against the amalgamation. I am simply saying that this is not the view of the Scottish Police Federation, which in this matter is representing the views of its branches in Edinburgh, The Lothians and Peebles, and the Berwick, Roxburgh and Selkirk constabularies. This is in writing in front of me at present. This is a question whether it is the factual situation. I am not pretending that I have the more intimate contact with the local areas that those hon. Members who have spoken tonight and who represent them undoubtedly have. I am not casting doubt on that. But as the view of the police has been brought in, that is not 1511 my own information. What is more, I have the information confirmed in writing specifically by the Scottish Police Federation on the basis of the views referred to it by the local constabularies.
This matter has been considered on numerous occasions. At this late stage I do not see that there is any case for changing the decision that has been made. The order is now laid before Parliament in draft and, as I said earlier, it is open to debate in the House. So far as hon. Members wish to continue the debate, they will be able to do so on the order. But I see no reason to make any change in the Bill now. Therefore, I recommend that the House does not accept the amendment.
§ Mr. David Steel
I think that I can say on behalf of all those who have spoken tonight that the Minister's reply was extremely disappointing. He is right that the local authorities have accepted the decision—in the sense that they are not prepared to defy the law. If they see Parliament and the Government determined to force them into amalgamation,
§ they have no alternative but to accept it. But it is only in that technical sense that they have accepted the decision.
§ The Minister quoted from a letter from the Scottish Police Federation. I can refer to a letter dated 13th November which gives actual figures from a referendum carried out—I thought that the Government were rather in favour of referenda—among the members of The Border Police Force. Admittedly, there was no clear, decisive, overwhelming majority, but by a majority of 92 to 76 the police force voted in November—never mind the Scottish Police Federation; this was the view of the police on the ground—to retain separate identities.
§ The Minister talks about ending uncertainty but in the next breath invites us to pray against the order and have a further debate. This is continuing to add uncertainty. I am sorry that the Government are remaining obstinate. I think that the House ought to divide in support of the amendment.
§ Question put, That the amendment be made:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 12, Noes 96.1513
|Division No. 100.]||AYES||[11.47 p.m.|
|Beith, A. J.||Steel, David (Roxburgh)||Welsh, Andrew|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Mackintosh, John P.||Thompson, George||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Molyneaux, James||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)||Mr. Clement Freud and|
|Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)||Watt, Hamish||Mr. Geraint Howells.|
|Allaun, Frank||Flannery, Martin||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Ashton, Joe||Ford, Ben||Meacher, Michael|
|Atkinson, Norman||Forrester, John||Mendelson, John|
|Bates, Alf||Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Millan, Bruce|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Golding, John||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)|
|Boardman, H.||Gould, Bryan||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Booth, Albert||Gourlay, Harry||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Grocott, Bruce||Noble, Mike|
|Buchanan, Richard||Hamilton, James (Bothwell)||Parry, Robert|
|Canavan, Dennis||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cartwright, John||Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Radice, Giles|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Hunter, Adam||Roderick, Caerwyn|
|Coleman, Donald||Kerr, Russell||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Corbett, Robin||Kinnock, Neil||Rooker, J. W.|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Lambie, David||Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilm'nock)|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Lamond, James||Selby, Harry|
|Cryer, Bob||Leadbitter, Ted||Sillars, James|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dalyell, Tam||Loyden, Eddie||Small, William|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Snape, Peter|
|Dempsey, James||McCartney, Hugh||Spearing, Nigel|
|Doig, Peter||McElhone, Frank||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dormand, J. D.||McGuire, Michael (Ince)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stoddart, David|
|Dunn, James A.||Maclennan, Robert||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||McNamara, Kevin||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Madden, Max||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.||Magee, Bryan||Wellbeloved, James|
|White, Frank R. (Bury)||Wise, Mrs Audrey||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|White, James (Pollok)||Woof, Robert||Miss Margaret Jackson and|
|Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)||Young, David (Bolton E)||Mr. Laurie Pavitt.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
§ Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.