HC Deb 07 July 1993 vol 228 cc314-6
2. Mr. McMaster

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of COSLA to discuss the provision of services in Scotland.

5. Mr. Norman Hogg

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of COSLA to discuss the provision of services in Scotland.

12. Mr. Dunnachie

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet COSLA to discuss the provision of local government services in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend the Minister for industry and local government and I will be meeting representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on Friday this week as part of the normal consultation on local government finance matters.

Mr. McMaster

May I jolt the Secretary of State's memory back to the time when he first mooted that stupid plan to reorganise local government in Scotland? Does he recall that the Opposition predicted then that he was not about to embark on a voyage of discovery, because he knew precisely where his journey would lead? If the stories in The Scotsman are right—I suspect that they are not far wrong—how does the Secretary of State justify treating the House and the people of Scotland with such arrogant contempt? Which Minister authorised the leak or, if it was not authorised, what action has the right hon. Gentleman taken to find the source? How can he deny that the purpose of the exercise is to save the last few Tory enclaves in Scotland? Does he seriously expect anyone to believe that the whole blatant, bogus, bankrupt exercise is anything other than a squalid and corrupt piece of gerrymandering by a squalid and corrupt Government?

Mr. Lang

I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that it is not normal practice to comment on allegedly leaked documents. The proposals for local government reform that we shall bring before the House shortly will be the outcome of a longer, more detailed and comprehensive consultation process than any previous Government initiative that I can remember. It is encouraging that, far from being unpopular, local government reform is rising consistently in the opinion polls.

Mr. Norman Hogg

If local government reform is rising in public opinion polls, the same is certainly not happening to the prestige of the Secretary of State for Scotland, which is hitting a new low. Surely the leaks in The Scotsman, which have not been denied by anyone in the Government, confirm that the Secretary of State has lost his hold on the Scottish Office administration, and that something really has to be done about it. It is not good enough to treat the representatives of Scottish local authorities with such contempt. They are elected in their own right, and speak for the people of Scotland in a way that the Secretary of State could not hope to achieve.

Mr. Lang

Setting aside the hon. Gentleman's last remark, which questions both the validity of election to this place and the importance of this Parliament for Scotland, as for the rest of the United Kingdom, allow me to emphasise that I have considerable respect for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which is why I, along with my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland responsible for local government, have regular meetings with its representatives.

Mr. Dunnachie

Will the Secretary of State explain his refusal to appoint a committee to investigate the local government changes in Scotland? Did he take the decision upon himself, or did he authorise Vance and Owen to come to Scotland and build safe Tory havens there?

Mr. Lang

If the hon. Gentleman contains his soul in patience he will shortly understand what we propose for Scotland.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Has my right hon. Friend received representations on local government reorganisation from all the parties, or is he still waiting for the Opposition's policies on that subject, as on so many others?

Mr. Lang

We have received a substantial number of representations on local government reform, from a broad range of sources. Some were positive and forward-looking, and we have taken those seriously into account. Others were less so, and they, of course, have been taken less seriously.

Mr. McAllion

When the Secretary of State meets representatives of COSLA, will he explain to them whether the Government intend to bring England and Wales into line with Scotland by making it illegal to disconnect domestic consumers from the water supply in England and Wales, or to bring Scotland into line with England and Wales by making it legal to disconnect domestic consumers in Scotland? If, as the right hon. Gentleman claims, this is a unitary Parliament ruling over a unitary British state, he cannot discriminate between citizens of that state on the basis of where they happen to live. What is the Government's intention?

Mr. Lang

Perhaps the reason why the hon. Gentleman is so careless about safeguarding the Union is that he does not realise that Union does not necessarily mean uniformity. One of the features of Scotland's position within the United Kingdom is our capacity to accommodate the diversity of Scottish interests and needs. I am not responsible for disconnections policy in England and Wales, and I would not presume to offer advice to my colleagues on the subject. With regard to Scotland, my answer remains what it has always been: I have no plans to make any changes there.

Mr. John Marshall

As a former Aberdeen city councillor, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make it clear to COSLA that many Conservative Members believe that the four Scottish cities should once again become all-purpose local authorities?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend makes a persuasive case, and, indeed, we are already committed to creating all-purpose local authorities, the details of which I look forward to announcing shortly.

Mr. Kirkwood

If the integrity of the current Borders region boundaries is breached by, for example, putting Berwickshire with East Lothian—causing local anger and outrage, especially in Berwickshire—will the Secretary of State give the House an idea of what level of public demonstration of discontent he is prepared to accept to make him change his cock-eyed proposals?

Mr. Lang

I hope that when our proposals are presented to the House and to the people of Scotland, they will be popular I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the report in today's newspapers about the forthcoming proposals of the independent and impartial Parliamentary Boundary Commission. That is a matter for it and not for me.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe

When the Secretary of State meets representatives of COSLA, especially those from Dumfries and Galloway, will he discuss possible improvements to the ferry facilities at Stranraer harbour?

Mr. Lang

I may not have the opportunity to place the question of harbour facilities at Stranraer on the agenda for the meeting on Friday, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, as both the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Member of Parliament for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale, I attach great importance to the improvement of facilities at the harbour in Stranraer.

Mr. McFall

One of the most important local authority functions is the police. COSLA and others have already expressed great concern about the wholesale changes to the police authorities and their boundaries that the Government propose. Will he acknowledge that the Sheehy proposals for performance-related pay could, in some instances, result in the police boosting their pay by arresting people for minor offences, which currently are dealt with by a sensible use of discretion? When he next meets representatives of COSLA, will he explain what practical steps the Government will take to ensure that such an unfortunate situation does not arise?

Mr. Lang

We shall have something to say about the future of police forces when we announce our proposals for the changes in local government. The Sheehy report is going out to consultation and the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity, along with everybody else, to submit his thoughts during that consultative process.