HC Deb 11 February 1981 vol 998 cc849-50
7. Mr. Lambie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, following the publication of the Stodart report, if he is now prepared to look again at local government reorganisation with a view to introducing a one-tier system.

Mr. Rifkind

My right hon. Friend and I believe that the further unheaval, countervailing disadvantages, and the uncertain costs of further radical reorganisation would not be justified by any possible benefits.

Mr. Lambie

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his reply will be received with disappointment by the ratepayers of Ayrshire, including the Secretary of State's own supporters in Ayr and Prestwick, who remember his many pledges and promises before and during the last election to the effect that the Tories, if elected, would reorganise local government and break up such gigantic regions as Strathclyde? When will the right hon. Gentleman carry out his election promises and bring local democracy back into local government?

Mr. Rifkind

If the hon. Gentleman will do himself a favour by consulting our election manifesto, he will see that there was no commitment to a further reorganisation of local government. There was a commitment to improve the existing system of local government, and we are at the moment considering the very constructive proposals of the Stodart committee, which are designed to suggest various ways in which the existing system could be significantly improved.

Mr. Pollock

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Stodart committee accepted the contention that Moray district could go it alone on the basis of most-purpose status? Will the Minister therefore undertake to have a fresh look at that proposal?

Mr. Rifkind

I assure my hon. Friend that we shall look with interest at all the reccomendations made by the Stodart committee. No decisions have yet been reached, but as soon as they are my right hon. Friend will announce them to the House.

Mr. Gourlay

Is the Minister aware of the unsatisfactory road conditions and the frustration caused through the operation of the social work services in Scotland due to the wrong division of functions between the districts and the regional authorities? Will he agree that the minuscule report of the Stodart committee will in no way alter the position? Will he therefore consider the appointment of a further Royal Commission to examine in depth the need for the reorganisation of local government in Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

The Stodart committee was able to look into the question whether a transfer of certain responsibilities from region to district or vice versa would be appropriate. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, its main recommendations dealt with those functions for which there was a joint responsibility upon district and region. These are areas which the Stodart committee has recommended could be most sensibly rationalised.

Mr. David Steel

Is it not surprising that the Undersecretary should slam the door so firmly in the face of any discussion of a one-tier system in Scotland? As he talked about countervailing disadvantages, would he care to set out a financial discussion paper showing what the supposed advantages would be?

Mr. Rifkind

It goes without saying that if, after such a short period since the regional and district councils have been established, there were to be a further reorganisation, that would inevitably involve very substantial cost and effort for what would be, at best, hypothetical advantages. I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman would disagree with that assessment. My right hon. Friend has asked for comments on the Stodart committee's findings by the end of March, and would be very happy to look at any specific arguments or recommendations that the right hon. Gentleman might like to put.

Mr. Lang

Will my hon. Friend give particular attention to the recommendations of the Stodart committee affecting tourism? Does he agree that any move to encourage tourists away from the South-East of England and up to Scotland is to be encouraged? May we look forward to Government encouragement to this important industry in Scotland?

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with my hon. Friend's observation that anything that can be done further to attract tourism to Scotland is highly desirable. We shall give the particular matter that was referred to in the report of the Stodart committee the same consideration as is given to the other matters, and we shall let the House know our views in due course.

Mr. Dewar

Will the Minister accept that one oral question is hardly an adequate opportunity to discuss these complicated issues? Will he guarantee that there will be a debate, or will he at least use his influence to ensure that there will be a debate upon the future structure of local government and on the Stodart committee recommendations in the very near future? Is he aware that the manifest discomfort with which his initial answer was received on the Conservative Back Benches illustrates the need for such discussion?

Mr. Rifkind

I am certain that at some time it will be appropriate to have a discussion and a debate on these matters. Whether it should be done before or after my right hon. Friend has indicated the Government's response is a matter that can be considered. I am sure that the usual steps can be taken by the Opposition if they wish to ventilate the suggestion concerning a debate.

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