HC Deb 10 November 1976 vol 919 cc387-90
2. Mr. Buchanan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the latest position regarding the establishment of community councils in Scotland.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Frank McElhone)

Schemes for the establishment of community councils have been received from all 56 district and islands councils accompanied by a very large number of representations disagreeing with details of the proposals. All schemes and the relevant representations are being considered as quickly as possible. To date, nine have been approved and my right hon. Friend expects to deal with almost all of them before the end of the year.

Mr. Buchanan

I am gratified to hear that my hon. Friend seeks to secure completion before the end of the year. Is he aware that the involvement of grassroots interest in furtherance of the community spirit and in the campaign against many of the social evils that afflict our areas is dependent on setting up the community councils as quickly as possible? Will he see that he adheres to that timetable?

Mr. McElhone

I support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Buchanan). We are trying to meet the deadline before the end of the year, but there are certain difficulties. This exercise reflected a very genuine concern by Glasgow and other districts to consider the observations of local communities. That was certainly the spirit of Wheatley. All I can say to my hon. Friend is to assure him that I, with my noble Friend who has day-to-day responsibility for community councils, will be trying to ensure that as many as possible are dealt with through my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State before the end of the year.

Mr. MacCormick

Does not the Minister accept that the last Conservative Government went to a great deal of trouble to create a new tier in local government, and that we do not want community councils in Scotland until we have got rid of these ridiculous regional authorities? Is that not a more important priority?

Mr. McElhone

The hon. Gentleman's supplementary question has nothing to do with the original Question. He might wish not to support regional authorities in Scotland, but if that is so why did he and his party put up so many candidates for the regional authorities?

Mr. Carmichael

I appreciate the difficulties and the work involved in setting up community councils and in vetting the proposals for them. Therefore, will my hon. Friend consider urging the Secretary of State to devote more resources to this task? There is a great deal of local enthusiasm for community councils, and it would be unfortunate if it were dissipated by a delay in setting them up.

Mr. McElhone

I accept my hon. Friend's comments about the enthusiasm for local community councils. The views of the local authorities had to be in by 15th May this year. Glasgow sent in its views five days afterwards, and most of the other authorities sent them in at the last moment together with views and considerations from local communities. The result was a large number of submissions having to be dealt with in a very short time. The Scottish Office officials are working extremely hard to ensure that my right hon. Friend will have the opportunity of approving almost all of them before the end of the year.

Mr. Galbraith

Is it necessary to set up community councils all together? Could it not be done one at a time? What about the situation in Glasgow? Many of the questions today have come from Glasgow Members, who are naturally very concerned. Will the Minister give some indication when Glasgow may expect the community councils? Will he be more definite than "before the end of the year"?

Mr. McElhone

I can only repeat what I said earlier. There was a large number of representations, especially from Glasgow. The whole basis of Wheatley on this issue was to ensure that local communities' representations were considered, and not merely the views of local authorities. My right hon. Friend is keen to ensure that ordinary communities that are concerned about the spirit of family life and the development of the community in their areas receive a fair hearing. He decided to ensure that all representations were studied carefully in the interests of the communities. When that has been done, he will make his decision. My right hon. Friend is conscious of the need to get early decisions. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that almost all of them should have been carried through before the end of the year.

Mr. Lambie

Is my hon. Friend aware that the setting up of community councils will mean substantial increases in public expenditure for very little effort? Will he consider scrapping the whole idea of community councils and using the money that would have been involved in increased public expenditure for more necessary services?

Mr. McElhone

I am sorry to have to disagree with my hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in community affairs in his constituency. Despite his opposition and protest, I can assure the House that my hon. Friend sends me many letters on behalf of his constituents as he does to my ministerial colleagues in the Scottish Office. I must point out to my hon. Friend that by getting community spirit and community life going in Scotland, we hope to prevent expenditure on vandalism, for example, and on other aspects of community life that are disagreeable to most of us and that are occupying the minds of many people in the Government, especially my hon. Friend who deals with these matters at the Scottish Office.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the delay in approving the scheme has meant that in some areas the initial enthusiasm is fading away? To take up the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hill-head (Mr. Galbraith), may I ask whether the Glasgow scheme will be approved by the end of the year? What will be the cost of community councils to public funds in a full year?

Mr. McElhone

It is not for us to determine the actual cost. That is a matter that is left to the discretion of local authorities. The authorities made allowances for the cost in their rate support grant allocations from the Scottish Office. I understand that Glasgow is allocating about £300 per community council. That may be good for some of the smaller councils but it may be difficult for some of the larger ones, which will include many thousands of Glasgow constituents.

As regards enthusiasm and the time lag, I can only say that there were many representations. I can only repeat what I have said so often. We have only a few weeks to go, and we regard community councils as a most important factor in our communities.