HC Deb 16 December 1992 vol 216 cc421-3
7. Mr. Hood

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list all the organisations and individuals who lobbied him in support for a reorganisation of Scottish local government; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang

The responses to the Government's first consultation paper on the reform of local government, published last February, were made available for public inspection. The Government published a summary of responses to that paper in February of this year and this is available in the Library.

Mr. Hood

The Secretary of State knows that his proposals are anti-democratic and a further attack on local democracy in Scotland. If he denies that, will he assure the House and Scotland that, post reform, the number of councillors in district councils will not be cut? Will he further assure the House that the joint boards that he envisages in his consultation paper will be manned not by quango Tories appointed by himself, but only by elected councillors?

Mr. Lang

The proposals in the consultation paper are not undemocratic. The purpose of reform to a single-tier structure is to create stronger, more coherent local authorities. The other points raised by the hon. Gentleman will be considered in the consultation process. However, it is worth mentioning that his district council, Clydesdale, while expressing views on a number of other aspects, said: The council would offer no objections to a single tier system of local government.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

When my right hon. Friend eventually brings his proposals on the future of local government to the House, will he consider allowing the people of our four great Scottish cities directly to elect their Lords Provost and to end the practice of the ruling political group choosing the first citizen?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. It is one which can be considered in the consultation process, along with all the other suggestions that we shall no doubt be receiving.

Mr. Ingram

Is the Secretary of State aware that the people of the East Kilbride part of Busby have voted to stay with Labour-controlled East Kilbride rather than to transfer to Tory-controlled Eastwood? Why, then, has he overridden the views of the people? Is this a foretaste of what will come with local government reform, with the wishes of the people being ignored by the Government?

Mr. Lang

We have overruled no views. We have put out a consultation paper in which we have listed four illustrative options, but have made it clear that other options can be considered. We shall not approach the decisions that have to be made on a party political basis. I find it depressing that the hon. Gentleman can see the matter only as one of advantage or disadvantage to the Labour party.

Sir Anthony Durant

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the discussion that is taking place about Monklands is serious? He will be aware that I have taken an active interest in local government—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I have insisted that other hon. Members do not use a long preamble, but put questions directly. I must apply that rule to the hon. Gentleman.

Sir Anthony Durant

Will my right hon. Friend go ahead with the inquiry and not wait?

Mr. Lang

I am in a position to set up an inquiry only where I am satisfied that there has been a statutory breach of local government obligations, and I am not satisfied that that is the case with regard to Monklands district council.

Mr. McLeish

Is not the reform of local government simply a paving measure for the privatisation of Scotland's water and sewerage services? Will the Secretary of State explain why his Ministers squandered £50,000 worth of taxpayers' money in payments to Quayle Monro Ltd essentially to obtain private advice for the Conservative party? When will he publish the report from Quayle Monro? What does he have to hide?

Mr. Lang

The findings of the Quayle Monro report are reflected in the consultation paper on the future structure of the water and sewerage industries of Scotland, in which we have laid out a range of eight options and on which we welcome views. The hon. Gentleman spoke of costs. I was interested to see in The Scotsman yesterday that Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte has carried out a report on behalf of Lothian region that bears out the findings of the Touche Ross report that the reform of local government to a single-tier structure will result in substantial savings.

Mr. Gale

In the light of his earlier answers, does not my right hon. Friend find it surprising that he has not received representations from the Leader of the Opposition concerning the reorganisation of local government in his constituency of Monklands, East?

Mr. Lang

I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition, and all Labour Members of Parliament, will, in due course, address the issue of the reform of local government. I hope that their contributions to the future structure of local government in Scotland will be more constructive and forward looking than their contributions this afternoon.