HC Deb 30 April 1986 vol 96 cc931-2
35. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland in what sectors he has instituted prosecutions against local authorities in relation to failure to achieve a statutory defined level or standard of service or provision.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. Peter Fraser)

I do not entirely understand what the hon. Gentleman means by "sectors" in this context, but so far as I am aware no such prosecutions have been instructed recently.

Mr. Foulkes

I am surprised that there are no prosecutions, in view of the cuts that are taking place. The regional councils in a number of areas are failing to carry out their statutory duties for children, the disabled, the elderly and young offenders under the social work and education legislation. Will the Solicitor-General and his colleague, the Lord Advocate, have another look at this and decide whether some prosecutions could be instituted? Instead of instituting prosecutions against local authorities, should they not be instituted against the real villain, the man behind it all, the Secretary of State for Scotland?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

In common with the rest of the House, I enjoyed the hon. Gentleman's question. However, if there is a sector where he believes that prosecutions should be taken against local authorities, which was the basis of his original question, I hope that he will tell me where he believes abuses are taking place.

Mr. Henderson

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that it would assist decisions about prosecutions if local authorities were required to keep separately their expenditure on statutory duties as opposed to their expenditure on other matters? For example, Fife regional council has spent more per head on education than any other education authority in Scotland and it claims that it is short of money for desirable projects within its statutory responsibilities, yet it has spent a lot of money on other things, such as giving holiday meals to striking miners' families.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I understand my hon. Friend's point. However, all that I am asked to do is to look at those circumstances where prosecutions might be moved against local authorities. It might be that in certain circumstances authorities are in breach of the duties imposed on them by the House of Commons, but there is a clear distinction between that and having the opportunity to mount a prosecution. However, if there are specific areas where that is necessary, I hope that they will be brought to my attention.

Mr. Ewing

In order to get some balance into the question and answer, instead of considering the possibility of prosecuting some local authorities, will the Solicitor-General consider an alternative form of treatment by holding up as an example of a good council the Angus district council, which is SNP-controlled, and puts the rents up and cuts public spending when it is told to do so by the Secretary of State? Indeed, it does everything that it is told to do by the Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland and has never been in any danger of falling foul of the law in order to defend its ratepayers.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

With an eye to next Thursday, the hon. Gentleman has made his point well.

Mr. Bruce

Would Grampian regional council be open to prosecution, given that within Aberdeen 45 per cent. of eligible children can go to nursery school, whereas within Gordon district fewer than 5 per cent. can go to nursery school? Should not such a wide variation within the same local authority area lead to a prosecution for under-provision in part of the area for which the authority is responsible?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

If the hon. Gentleman feels that there is some failing there, that is a matter for local control and discretion. Again, I think that that is what the hon. Gentleman has his eye to rather than any particular prosecution which he seriously thinks I might mount.

Mr. Bill Walker

Are local authorities ever at risk from prosecution as a result of strikes by their employees?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

So far as I am aware, no.