HC Deb 25 April 1991 vol 189 cc1290-2
Mr. Galbraith

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 45, line 12, leave out 'quarter' and insert 'third'.

Madam Deputy Speaker

It will be convenient for the House to discuss at the same time the following amendments: No 4, in page 45, line 17, leave out 'quarter' and insert 'third'.

No. 5, in page 45, line 22, leave out 'half' and insert `third'.

Mr. Galbraith

An aspect that has characterised the Bill has been the amount of cross-party agreement and support for the measure and many of its provisions, and our debates—barring the odd incident such as that which occurred a few moments ago—have been held in good spirit with consideration of each others position. But the provision dealing with the variation and composition of river purification boards is a piece of nasty political spite and represents manoeuvring and gerrymandering by the Government.

The Government intend to reduce the number of local authority representatives on the boards. We are dealing here not simply with an isolated incident but with a pattern that has developed while the Conservatives have been in power. They have gradually been removing the democratically elected representatives on boards, replacing them with their own sycophantic appointees and lackeys. That has been happening to health boards and many other institutions for which the Government have responsibility.

This nasty trend is being continued with river purification hoards. The Government have sought, through amendments introduced in Committee, to reduce to a minimum the number of local authority representatives. It has been a case of death by a thousand cuts. We fear that, in due course, the Government will introduce regulations to reduce their numbers still further, until such bodies are stuffed full of Government appointees. those bodies becoming nothing short of rest homes for failed Tory candidates and failed former MPs. Is it nothing more than once again a nasty piece of political spite to try to achieve by subterfuge and devious methods what they cannot do by democratic means?

9 pm

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

As the Opposition know, we consulted widely before making the provision. The vast majority of those consulted agreed with us and not with the Opposition on the matter. The change which we intend to make in the proportions of members of river purification boards is linked to our plan also to reduce the size of boards, while nevertheless enabling a wider range of interests to be appointed by the Secretary of State. Clearly, if we have smaller boards but need more places for Secretary of State appointments, we would have to reduce the number of other appointments made. That would mean reducing the numbers appointed by regional and district councils.

I emphasise that our proposals will still make certain that half of each board comprises local authority members. Their contribution is most certainly valued. The other half, although appointed by the Secretary of State, will represent not his interests but, as at present, those of the various groups to which they belong. Indeed, the views of industry, wildlife bodies, ecology interests, commercial fisheries, anglers and others should rightly be heard.

The plans do not add up to centralisation of control; far from it. What they mean is that the river purification boards will be seen to be independent, as they should be, of both central and local government.

I should also mention in relation to the boards that it is important not to erode their independence. Councils are not free to alter the amounts requisitioned by the river purification boards or to transfer those funds to other areas of local authority expenditure; nor are boards accountable to councils as such but ultimately to the Secretary of State. They set their own budgets and make their own decisions. They publish annual reports, and any member of the public is free to take up any matter with any board member directly.

The essence of the matter is that the change has been introduced because the vast majority of responses to consultation supported it.

Amendment negatived.

Amendments made: No. 19, in page 47, line 26, at end insert— `( ) a Natural Heritage Area designated under section 6 of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991;'.

No. 20, in page 47, line 47, at beginning insert— '(1) The Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 shall be amended as follows.'.

No. 21, in page 47, line 47, leave out `of the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984'.

No. 22, in page 47, line 51, at end insert— '(3) In section 98(1) (control of stray and other animals on roads) for the word "countryside" there shall be substituted the word "land".'.—[Lord James Douglas-Hamilton.]

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