HC Deb 08 July 1993 vol 228 cc469-85 3.31 pm
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)

With permission—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Will right hon. and hon. Members take their seats? The Secretary of State is waiting to make a statement.

Mr. Lang

With permission, Madam Speaker, I will make a statement about local government in Scotland.

The Government's proposals for local government reorganisation in Scotland have been the subject of detailed consultation and discussion for the last two years. Throughout that time, support for the concept of single-tier local government has been strong and sustained. I have received a great deal of valuable comment from a wide range of individuals and organisations.

I am publishing today a White Paper which sets out our decisions on the new structure. I am also publishing a leaflet, which will be made widely available in Scotland, and summaries of the responses that I received to our second consultation paper on local government reform and our paper about the future of water and sewerage services. I have placed copies of those documents in the Vote Office, where they will be available in the usual way when I have completed this statement.

The Government have decided to establish a single-tier structure of local government throughout Scotland, comprising 28 authorities. The details of those authorities are set out in the White Paper. The new authorities will vary significantly in size and character, reflecting local wishes, circumstances and requirements.

We intend to re-establish the four Scottish cities as unitary councils and to create powerful new authorities on their outskirts to act as a counterbalance. In the more rural areas of Scotland, the new authorities will inevitably cover substantial areas, but areas for which our consultation has shown there is an established identity. The three islands authorities will remain unchanged.

The new authorities, whatever their size, will be encouraged and expected to pursue actively the adoption of schemes of decentralised management and administration to ensure that decisions are taken at the most local level practicable, enabling people to discuss problems with their council without having to make a long journey to its headquarters. I shall be asking authorities to prepare and publish comprehensive schemes of decentralisation.

The new authorities will all be responsible for providing the full range of local authority services, including education, housing and social work. The Government consider, however, that the reporter service for children's hearings would be more effectively provided as a national service, and I am proposing to establish a new body for that purpose. In addition, economies of scale available in the water and sewerage industry point to fewer, rather than more, bodies responsible for those services than we have at present. Further, customers should be able to benefit from the efficiencies and investment in the water and sewerage infrastructure which can be provided by the private sector.

The existing police forces and fire brigades will be retained. Some statutory co-operation will be required for their oversight and for the management of the Strathclyde passenger transport executive. In all other respects, it will be for individual authorities to make appropriate arrangements for the delivery of services in their areas. I shall expect to see a considerable development of the enabling role of authorities and a willingness to explore further the possibilities of co-operation with the private sector as they explore new ways of delivering services more efficiently. I shall be looking also for a greater willingness to share the expertise of specialist staff.

The changes I have announced will, of course, have implications for local government staff. I have already announced the Government's intention to establish a staff commission in Scotland to oversee the transfer process and to provide me with appropriate advice. Early retirement or redundancy compensation will be available in cases where particular staff are not required by the new authorities under the new structure and further decisions about those arrangements will be taken in due course.

I have, of course, made it clear that I expect the new structure to cost less than the present two-tier system. Savings of up to £65 million per annum can be expected from the new structure and those savings are likely to pay back the inevitable transitional costs within four or five years. The actual level of savings achieved by the new structure will ultimately depend upon the actions of the new authorities themselves.

The main objective of the reorganisation is not:, hòwever, to cut costs; it is to increase the effectiveness of local government in arranging the delivery of services and responding to local needs and concerns. I believe that the new structure will make local authorities more accountable and responsive to the people they serve and will help all authorities to achieve the standards already reached by the best. It will remove the confusion which undoubtedly exists over which council is responsible for which function, so that users know where to go when they are dissatisfied. It offers local government in Scotland the prospect of a bright, dynamic future. It will give a major boost to the implementation of the citizens charter in Scottish local government.

My intention is to introduce a Bill to implement those arrangements. Subject to the parliamentary consideration of the arrangements being completed, I hope that it will be possible for elections to the new authorities to take place in the spring of 1995, to give them until 1 April 1996 to establish themselves and to prepare for the assumption of responsibility from existing authorities on that date. Thereafter, election to the new councils will take place every three years.

The proposals I have announced today are of the utmost importance to everybody in Scotland. They reflect the strong and growing support for all-purpose councils in Scotland. They represent a tremendous opportunity to improve and strengthen our local government system and the delivey of local services and they are a great stride forward for local democracy in Scotland. I commend the White Paper to the House.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

We have listened to a statement from the Secretary of State and we are being asked to consider a White Paper for which there is no consensus in Scotland, no support and no demand, and which runs counter to the stories from the Treasury that it faces—because of its policies—a £50 billion deficit. Where will the right hon. Gentleman find the money for his absurd and unwanted proposals? Which services does the Scottish Office intend to cut?

On water privatisation, the people of Scotland are entitled to claim that at least this unlistening Government have, in some respects—but some only—heard their voice, but only because the Secretary of State has abandoned his ludicrous proposals for outright privatisation—[Interruption.] If that is not the case, and if the Scottish Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)—who appears to have undue weight in these matters—takes a contrary view, perhaps we will hear it before the end of our questions on the statement. The Government's ludicrous extremes over water have at least been restricted for the moment. Nevertheless, in the light of Government betrayals over so many Scottish issues—from Rosyth to Ravenscraig—we are entitled to ask specific questions on water, and we do.

Why has the Secretary of State taken water out of local authority control? How will board appointees keep charges down even when they must provide profits for private financiers? What guarantees can the Secretary of State give on the future ownership of water and on protecting Scottish consumers from the threat of water disconnections—a subject that the right hon. Gentleman seems reluctant to discuss?

Why does the Secretary of State disregard the overwhelming view of the people of Scotland when he says that he takes that as much into account in Eastwood as in Edinburgh? Eighty-nine per cent. of the people oppose water privatisation. Why does not the right hon. Gentleman end the argument by saying that the matter is finished and final?

The Secretary of State's somewhat thin statement is in contrast with a document of 30 pages that reeks of dogma, centralisation, and policies that the Scottish people utterly reject. That dogma involves education, social work and essential local services and does not disguise—and nor can members of the Government Front Bench—the hidden agenda of centralisation, commercialism and privatisation which flies in the face of the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland.

I ask the Secretary of State, who represents a minority party in Scotland, to justify his statement that there will be no joint boards, when he intends to have police and fire services in Strathclyde run by joint committees from 10 different councils. How can he justify the massive destruction of Scottish local government on the ground of the efficient provision of social services, and at the same time take upon himself the power to impose joint boards where he thinks fit? Where is democracy and accountability there? Who in Scotland made representations to the Secretary of State in response to his document, saying that is what they wanted?

How can the Secretary of State justify the centralising of reporting to children's hearing services in advance of producing comprehensive legislation later this year, as he promised earlier?

Of less importance to people's lives but more outrageous is the gerrymandering that the Secretary of State's proposals represent for Scotland's future. They are unashamedly and undisguised not proposals for local government reform, improving the quality of the delivery of service, cost efficiency or local democracy. No one in Scotland is fooled into thinking that. The proposals are about Tory revenge on the Scottish people and on Scottish local government, which the Government clearly utterly detest.

As the hon. Member for Eastwood has often said, Thatcherism still rules—and it is no more acceptable in Scotland today than it ever was. How can the right hon. Gentleman expect the House to take seriously the Eastwood solution to these important matters—the creation of safe havens for the beleaguered minority of Scottish Tories, which at present account for an absurd 16 per cent., seeking to impose dictatorial policies on us?

How can he expect anyone to take seriously his plans for Greater Eastwood, Greater Berwickshire and Greater Milngavie, and his plan to put Stirling district and Perth district on a par with Fife and with Highland region? How can we take seriously proposals for the reform of local government that ignore the thoughtful and constructive Wheatley commission, and the thoughtful and constructive debate that followed?

This is a disgrace to local government and to the way in which we deal with national government throughout the United Kingdom. This is a bankrupt policy from a bankrupt Government, unrepresentative and unworthy of the Scottish people. It will be as utterly rejected today as the Tories were in April last year.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) said that there was no consensus for the policy for the reform of local government. I suggest that he look at some of the submissions that we have received in response to the consultation process, which has gone on in great detail over the last two years. They have shown increasing support for single-tier local authorities.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the Treasury, as though seeking to imply that the exercise was Treasury-driven. I have come under no direct pressure from the Treasury in regard to my proposals. The Treasury, like other Government Departments, has taken an interest in the proposals and has expressed itself content with them. I am not surprised, because we are not talking about an additional cost of £600 million, as the hon. Gentleman claimed; there will be transitional costs which, on the greatest present estimates, will be less than a third of that. We are talking of savings of up to £65 million a year—over £1 million a week—as a result of the contraction of local government that we are comtemplating.

As to water, the kindest thing that can be said about the hon. Gentleman's remarks is that he must have written his response before he had even read last week's issue of The Scotsman, let alone heard my statement today. The hon. Gentleman has totally misjudged this campaign, and has attributed to the Government a policy that we have not adopted. Like the grand old Duke of York, he has led his men up the hill, and now he must turn round and lead them down again.

What we are proposing is a sensible way forward for water in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman asked why it was being taken out of local authority control. The answer is that 28 water authorities would be extremely inefficient, lead to wide variations in costs and impose extra burdens on consumers. What we are proposing with the three authorities, using the private sector for future capital investment, will lead to the efficient delivery of water and raise the necessary investment, without imposing an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer. It was the Leader of the Opposition who said that the question of ownership was irrelevant.

The hon. Gentleman said that I was reluctant to speak about disconnections. I draw his attention to what I said as recently as yesterday, which is that we have no plans for any change to the present arrangements.

The hon. Gentleman questioned the future of the reporter to children's services. We are anxious to deliver an efficient service without imposing excessive burdens on local authorities, many of whose departments in this regard would consist of only one or two individuals. That would not be a cost-effective way of delivering the services.

As to joint boards, I know that the hon. Gentleman is disappointed because, yet again, we have shot one of his foxes. We do not intend to increase the number of joint boards in Scotland; we see no need for more boards. We will continue to have joint boards for fire services, for police services, for the passenger transport executive and for the assessors. We are leaving the rest to local authorities to arrange what best suits their needs and the interests of their residents. The right way forward is to encourage responsible behaviour in local authorities.

As to the map, I encourage the hon. Gentleman to study our proposals more carefully before he rushes into a judgment. There will be no safe havens for bureaucracy, for duplication or for waste of taxpayers' resources.

The whole story of the hon. Gentleman's reaction to our important proposals for the reform of local government over recent months has been one of scaremongering. Last autumn, he claimed that we had a hidden agenda for a national police force, water privatisation, spending cuts, job losses, greater central control and a Treasury veto. On every one of those issues the hon. Gentleman is now seen to be wrong. What we are proposing is for the best future of local democracy in Scotland in the 21st century.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm welcome from my constituency and the constituencies surrounding mine for the abolition of Strathclyde regional council? My constituents have never identified with that council. I thank my right hon. Friend for listening to the responses, which have allowed the establishment of a Kyle and Carrick council. My constituents will identify with that council and will feel that they can influence the activities and accountability of the councillors elected to that body and exercise some control. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that, like me, he will welcome the re-emergence of many of the old county names in what we are now proposing for the future structure of local government. I agree with my hon. Friend, as, I am sure, does the Labour party, on the abolition of Strathclyde region. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the Leader of the Opposition, said: When we look at all the services provided by local government—both personal and protective—there can be no possible justification for the size of the Strathclyde region. It varies from being two and a half times to five times too big." —[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 25 January 1973; c. 207.] I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will welcome the replacement of Strathclyde region with no fewer than 10 independent local authorities.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

Well, well, was it all worth waiting for? After all the hype we have a document that has been lying on the press desk for the past week and is only now being presented to the House.

Is the Secretary of State aware that he has no right to introduce single-tier local authorities in Scotland without setting up a Scottish Parliament to look after the affairs that he now holds undemocratically in his hands? With hindsight, does he agree that this will be a costly exercise, that he has laid himself open to the charge of political manipulation and that he should have had an independent commission to investigate all the matters of local government reform?

I believe that the Secretary of State's announcement about water is just the beginning of the road to privatisation. Is he not aware that 94 per cent. of the submissions to his office were against his plans for water? How many letters and submissions does it require for him to listen to what the people of Scotland have said?

This is a complete mess. We have overlapping councils and parliamentary seats and overlapping local enterprise companies. We have mixed-up water and police authorities and there is no coherence or stability. I reject it, and I believe that the people of Scotland will reject it also.

Mr. Lang

I am surprised that the hon. Lady has made no mention of the future of Argyll and makes no attempt to reflect the interests of her constituents. Argyll district council expressed its keenness to have a single-tier structure and a willingness to take into Argyll pieces of neighbouring territory if that were thought appropriate.

The hon. Lady asked whether the statement was worth waiting for. My answer is an emphatic "Yes". I am certain that the people of Scotland will warmly welcome the implementation of these proposals and the improved delivery of services that they will bring.

The hon. Lady mentioned the setting up of a Scottish Parliament before local government can be reformed. The policies of the Labour party for setting up a separate Scottish Parliament would drain power from local government. I have it on the authority of Mrs. Jean McFadden, the leader of Glasgow district council, that There may well be a tendency for a Scottish Parliament to suck up power from below. That is the fact. These proposals will be welcomed in Argyll, as they will be welcomed elsewhere in Scotland.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. I shall try to call as many hon. Members as possible but I ask for the House's co-operation in the form of brisk questions and brisk answers to help me to do so.

Mr. George Kynoch (Kincardine and Deeside)

In welcoming the advent of the proposed single-tier local authorities and my right hon. Friend's sensible and realistic proposals for water services, may I ask whether he will fully consider any representations that he receives from constituencies such as mine about the effective local delivery of services in larger rural areas? During the Committee stage of the Bill, will he be willing to reconsider the splitting of the Mearns from the former local county of Kincardineshire?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's welcome for the underlying thrust of our proposals, which I am sure will be of great advantage to the north-east of Scotland and, indeed, to the rest of Scotland. As for the detailed proposals, such issues will come up for consideration as the Bill goes through the House and, in due course, once Parliament has decided on the map, the Local Government Boundary Commission will immediately go to work on them. There will be plenty of opportunity for my hon. Friend to advance any thoughts that he may have on the precise nature of the boundaries.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

Who does the Secretary of State think he is kidding? Does he not realise that the overwhelming majority of the people of Scotland will recognise this as a squalid job creation scheme for Tory councillors and quango members and that everyone responsible for it, including the Secretary of State, is corrupt and unfit to hold public office?

Mr. Lang

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will carefully examine the proposals for his part of Scotland and for the rest of Scotland. We are removing unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication, improving local accountability and creating greater accessibility and clarity in the delivery of local government services. If the hon. Gentleman does not share my objectives, he should be considering his own priorities.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I take points of order after statements. If the House were not so noisy, we could hear what hon. Members said. I think that there is some concern that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) used the word "corrupt". I did not hear it—[Interruption.] Order. If the House were quieter, we could all hear what was going on. I did not hear the hon. Gentleman. He may have used the word but if the House were quieter, I could hear. Unless the Speaker hears, there is nothing I can do about it, so I ask the House to remain quiet so that I and everyone else can hear what is going on.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson (Aberdeen, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his announcement will be met with a thunderous roar of approval by the people of the city of Aberdeen, who have long campaigned for an all-purpose city council, and that includes the ruling Labour group of the present city district council? Does my right hon. Friend agree that what he has announced is subsidiarity in action, giving local decision makers the right to make local decisions in local communities, which is far removed from what is on offer from the Opposition, who would take decision making away from local communities and transfer it to a central belt in Edinburgh?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure that the city of Aberdeen will be a strong and effective all-purpose authority. I also believe that the surrounding area of Aberdeenshire will provide an effective counterbalance and that there will soon be a vibrant and extremely efficient local government system in north-east Scotland.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his wish that the White Paper should be regarded as a sensible reform of local government would carry more credence but for his ill-conceived decision to have the whole process carried out by the Scottish Office, not by means of a proper inquiry? Does he accept that there will be considerable dissatisfaction in the Grampian area about the break-up of Grampian regional council, which I hope he will concede has done a great deal for fishing and the rural areas of north-east Scotland? Although there will certainly be great satisfaction at the restoration of a single-tier authority for the city of Aberdeen, what is the rationale for the new addition of Westhill, other than his determined gerrymandering to dilute Labour control of the city?

Mr. Lang

Yes, Grampian has been an efficient region, but we had to make decisions as we examined the map of Scotland. We were told at one stage that the whole excercise was a plan to abolish the regions of Scotland. It was no such thing—indeed, four of the regions will survive under our proposals, some in slightly reduced form. We have sought to find the most effective pattern and structure for each part of Scotland. We are not imposing a blueprint, but considering the circumstances of each area and finding the right solution. Although Grampian has been a successful and effective region, I believe that the new authorities that we shall set up in the north-east will be more effective. I should say that there was little support for the continuance of Grampian region.

Mr. Andrew, Welsh (Angus, East)

Does the Secretary of State understand that everyone can see that the document is a paving Bill for stealing Scotland's water through Tory quangos? This is the end of the road for the Westminster system, and the Secretary of State has no place left to hide. His gerrymandered map is an insult to democracy and an affront to Scotland. Every Scottish Member of Parliament worth his or her salt should oppose it. It is an insult, a betrayal of democracy and a betrayal of Scotland. It must be rejected.

Mr. Lang

May I say to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] By leaving the Chamber, the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have not only scored an own goal, but have left me with an open goal. He left because he was so deeply embarrassed about the fact that Angus district favoured a single-tier authority based on Angus, which is what we propose.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South)

Is my right hon. Friend surprised that those who were reluctant personally to pay for the cost of local government are so interested in the structure of local government?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is right. It is incumbent on all parties in the House to raise their horizons above party self-interest and to look to the future interests of Scottish local government.

Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead)

Does not the document represent a kind of "electoral cleansing" —a desperate effort by a discredited Government to sweep together as many Tory voters as can possibly be found to form a kind of East Renfrewstan, as we have in Eastwood? Would it not be better if the Government went the whole hog and allowed Tory voters to opt out of the local authority in whose area they live and to choose another more suited to their political tastes? Better still, why do they not rent an island somewher off the coast of Scotland —Rockall, for example, would be big enough—where all the remaining Scottish Conservatives could be collected, and could live in the wild blue yonder thereafter?

Is not the truth that a Government without popular support—they have less popular support now than the risible amount that they polled in April 1992—cannot possibly command the authority for proposals of such magnitude? Is not the only way forward a referendum for Scotland and a parliament in Scotland, so that the Scottish people can decide how and where they are governed?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. Fifteen months ago, he and his hon. Friends were talking about the Tory party being wiped out in Scotland. Now, simply because we are reforming local government, they seem to think that we are suddenly going to sweep the country. The Conservative party has always been a modest participant in local government in Scotland, and the suggestion that we could construct a scenario to benefit us at the expense of other parties is preposterous. I am surprised that the Labour party seems so uncertain of its prospects at the next local government elections under the new arrangements.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the fact that many of his colleagues in England will look enviously on the new streamlined structure of local government in Scotland, and that we hope to catch him up soon? If my right hon. Friend is thinking of renting islands, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) suggested, will he rent a Greek island and put the socialists—what is left of them —on it?

Mr. Lang

I shall leave my hon. Friend's latter suggestion hanging in the air, but I welcome his support for my proposals. I believe that they represent an effective, coherent and clear-cut solution which will meet Scotland's needs. I hope that England will be as successful in its activities as we shall be in ours.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Can the Secretary of State explain to the House the principles according to which he links Eastwood and Barrhead, which are five miles apart and have no direct bus link, instead of putting Eastwood where it ought to be, in the city of Glasgow, where its people work and where they use the leisure facilities and the halls? Under his proposals, the people of Eastwood will pay nothing towards those services. Is it not an act of political cowardice—giving in to his junior Minister and to those selfish, greedy electors he represents, who are not prepared to pay for the services they use?

Mr. Lang

I am glad that we have been able to revive the county of Renfrewshire, and that it is of a size that enables us to propose two authorties in that county, as we are doing in Ayrshire, Lanarkshire and other parts of Scotland. I believe that what we are proposing is the right way forward for those areas and for Scotland as a whole. Those matters will be fully debated as the Bill goes through Parliament.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that there was wide support for single-tier authorities, and that he has listened carefully to representations? Does not the success of Conservative Members of Parliament, in their representations on behalf of their constituents, show the difference between the right honourable whingers on the Opposition Benches and Conservative Members who put forward logical cases?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I can assure him that there was substantial support for single-tier authorities in our initial consultation process. That support has increased considerably and, in the most recent opinion poll, was shown to stand substantially higher than that for alternative solutions.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

The Secretary of State's undistinguished statement this afternoon says little or nothing about jobs and inward investment. It is not clear to me how local enterprise companies will sit with the new authorities. Will the right hon. Gentleman say something about that? Is it not the case, for example, that the new towns with development corporations will be covered by local enterprise companies? Where will Dunbartonshire enterprise boundaries end in the new structure as it affects the new town of Cumbernauld? Will the Minister say something generally about the new towns?

Mr. Lang

I am glad to do so, and the hon. Gentleman mentions a significant point. We shall consider the boundaries of local enterprise companies, health boards and other such organisations and, where appropriate, we shall propose the rationalisation of boundaries.

Under our proposals, there will be one new town—Cumbernauld—in north Lanarkshire, and one new town —East Kilbride—in south Lanarkshire. The new towns will benefit from the change because they will deal with one local authority instead of with two, and that will also improve inward investment relationships with local government.

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley)

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his carefully crafted proposals for local government in Scotland, but is he aware that some Conservative Members will be a little disappointed that the water industry is not to be speedily privatised? Can he confirm that the resources necessary for the much-needed investment in the water industry in Scotland will not come from the public sector pot—where obviously the priorities should be schools, hospitals, roads and so on—but rather from the private sector?

I hope that you have noticed, Madam Speaker, that I have followed the advice you gave me yesterday about the need for moderate language. I have not said a word about Monklands.

Mr. Lang

I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend. He will appreciate that the circumstances in Scotland are different from those in England, where water authorities had existed for some years. At present, water in Scotland is a local authority service. We are proposing the establishment of water authorities, but they will raise most of their resources for new capital investment from the private sector, which will reduce the demand for resources from other areas of Government expenditure.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The Secretary of State talked about reviving Scotland's counties. Does he accept that East Lothian can never be part of the Borders, let alone part of West Lothian, and that he has no right to split the historic county of East Lothian in two? What community of interest is there between Cockenzie and Coldstream, and what about the non-existent link between Prestonpans and Livingston, for goodness' sake? Is he aware that the geographical centre of his proposed Tory mini-Bantustan, composed of Berwickshire and the eastern part of East Lothian, is a place 1,000 ft up in the Lammermuirs called the Hungry Snout, which is quite a good description of the expensive, unworkable and squalid set-up that he is proposing?

Mr. Lang

For all I know, it forms part of the hon. Gentleman's estate. East Lothian is not part of the Borders under our proposals, any more than it has been historically. What we propose is broadly in line with what used to be a parliamentary constituency and—most interestingly—seems to conform to what the independent Boundary Commission now proposes for the future parliamentary constituency.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)

Does the Secretary of State recall that yesterday his ministerial colleague rebuked me for extravagant language and urged me to wait for the proposals? Now that I have seen them, I marvel at my moderation. They are the most corrupt proposals presented to the House by any Government during my time in this place.

As regards the Borders area, the Secretary of Stale will remember putting two options in his consultation document. What he now proposes is neither of those options. How does he justify that? What was the point of the consultation? As he has always told us that the Borders region is doubtfully viable, with a population of 100,000, why does he now propose to chop it up and take Berwickshire out to satisfy a few local government Tories?

Mr. Lang

We made it clear when we published the consultation paper that we were including four illustrative options and that we were not suggesting that the choice need be confined to them. We are talking not about a handbook for six-year-old schoolchildren, saying, 'Pick one of the four," but about illustrative options from which guidance could be given to people replying to the consultation exercise and making their suggestions.

The right hon. Gentleman used extreme language today. I note that he used similar language in his criticism of the Boundary Commission following its proposals for the area containing his constituency and that of his neighbour. I have to suspect the hon. Gentleman and his party of gerrymandering the future parliamentary boundaries in their area.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the people of Scotland on the magnificent fight that they have put up against his proposals for all-out water privatisation? Will he be assured that they will not be fooled by his proposals for privatisation by the back door?

Will the Secretary of State justify the fact that there is no commission to look at Scotland's local government boundaries, and explain to me how, in his reforming of Renfrewshire, he has come up with proposals for two councils, one of which consists of the only Tory constituency in Renfrewshire plus the only two Tory-held wards in Paisley and the other of which consists of four Labour-held constituencies, with populations of 88,000 and 265,000 respectively?

Will the right hon. Gentleman further confirm that in reality he put his proposals not to this House today, but to The Scotsman last week?

Mr. Lang

I can confirm to the hon. Lady that I did no such thing. I deplore the leaking of any Government document. As the hon. Lady knows, we never comment on allegedly leaked documents.

For water, what we propose is a Scottish solution suitable for Scottish circumstances. I believe that it will be effective in the delivery of water services in future.

The hon. Lady referred to Renfrewshire. I should have thought that she would welcome the restoration of Renfrewshire as an area of all-purpose authorities in its own right. I am glad, too, that we have been able to divide it into two authorities. They do not need to be numerically equal any more than they need to be geographically equal. What we need is a proper and sensible division between east and west Renfrewshire, and that will no doubt be debated further as the Bill proceeds through Parliament.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

Before the Secretary of State reminds me of the fact, may I make it clear that I have always advocated an all-purpose authority for the city of Dundee, but we do not want it under the present gerrymandered proposals.

Do you, Madam Speaker, feel as disturbed as I do at the fact that Ministers preface every statement that they make about Northern Ireland by making it clear that no change will take place without the consent of the majority in Northern Ireland, but that we get no such statements from the Secretary of State for Scotland? Is it not extremely relevant that, in the period leading up to 22 July, it is repeatedly being emphasised that change will not take place in Northern Ireland without the consent of the majority? Why does not the Secretary of State fight his and Scotland's corner in the Cabinet?

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming what the Government propose for Dundee. I suppose that he will be accusing me of gerrymandering next. As we have eight Conservative councillors out of 40 in the area that will form Dundee council, I hardly think that such a charge would be credible.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

It would be less than honest of me not to welcome one part of the White Paper—the recognition that Cambuslang and Rutherglen are separate communities in their own right. However—as the saying goes—let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friends and I will be defending the continued existence of Strathclyde regional council, which is one of the best councils in the history of local government in Scotland. If the process is not to be devalued and defiled as a gerrymandered issue, will the Secretary of State explain why no separate council has been recommended for Cambuslang and Rutherglen, which are in my constituency and have a similar population to Eastwood, Stirling and Berwickshire? What is the difference?

Mr. Lang

That area is traditionally part of Lanarkshire and it will go into south Lanarkshire. I am surprised to find the hon. Gentleman defending Strathclyde. I would be surprised if he found strong support for that among his constituents. I believe, as does the Leader of the Opposition, that Strathclyde is too large.

The 10 independent self-governing local authority areas that we propose will be widely welcomed throughout the Strathclyde area.

Mr. Michael J. Martin (Glasgow, Springburn)

I was brought up in Glasgow, and have lived in the north side of the city all my life. I am not all that familiar with the south side, but it has always been my understanding that King's Park and Toryglen were part of the city of Glasgow. Why has the Secretary of State sought to take those areas out of Glasgow when he claims that he is trying to make local government more accessible to the people?

I mean no disrespect to the people of Giffnock and Newton Mearns, but the vast majority of those who are lucky enough to be in a job work mainly in the Glasgow area—sometimes in businesses, sometimes in lawyers' firms—sometimes in the Strathclyde region. Why is the Secretary of State allowing Eastwood to become an authority? The only conclusion that I can reach is that his ear has been bent day after day by the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). If the Secretary of State accepts that all of us are equal, why does the Under-Secretary of State have more say than any other hon. Member?

Mr. Lang

As the hon. Gentleman can imagine, Toryglen is a place after my own heart. I understand that, historically, some 85 per cent. of Toryglen and King's Park have formed part of Lanarkshire. The hon. Gentleman suggests that we propose to make Eastwood an all-purpose authority on its own. That is not part of our proposals.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

Is the Secretary of State aware that the private sector is already describing his proposed water authorities as business units which will promote the franchising and market testing of Scotland's water by as early as 1995? Does he not yet understand that, having failed his own market test in Scotland at the last general election, he has no democratic authority whatever for any of the changes that he has announced this afternoon? Therefore, when he introduces the Bill, he can expect not just token opposition from us, but unrelenting hostility, resistance and obstruction to ensure that these measures never see the light of day in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for promising to take a close interest in these matters.

Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central)

Will not the reforms result in Scotland being run largely by quangos staffed by Tory party members and those prepared to pay into Tory party funds? Does the Secretary of State accept that, by attempting to gerrymander councils that the Tory party can control, he is corrupting the political system in Scotland in a way that would have done the former eastern European communist system proud?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong on both points. I feel certain that Edinburgh, which has been widely welcomed in the area as an all-purpose authority, will be extremely successful in advancing the interests of his constituents.

Mr. Adam Ingram (East Kilbride)

Scotland will see the statement for what it really is: a piece of political chicanery of the worst kind. As others have said, it is a form of political corruption.

Will the Secretary of State explain why it is right for Stirling, with a population of 81,000, and Eastwood, with a population of 88,000, to be given an authority in their own right while my area of East Kilbride, which has the same population and is economically stronger, is denied that right?

Mr. Lang

In drawing up the map we took account not just of individual areas but of their relationship to neighbouring areas and the way in which they fitted in to the overall map for Scotland. I believe that it is right that we should be willing to reflect the diversity and variety of the demography and geography of Scotland. We have sought to do that with the proposals. We have always made it clear that size, in geographical and population terms, would vary. I believe that that is generally widely welcomed.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the fact that, if he wishes to retain the links between communities, the severing of the links between Falkirk, Alloa and Stirling stands ill beside the retention of Fife region virtually in its entirety? Could that be because he is more concerned about the political fate of his ministeral colleague than he is about the good governance of the area? Will he also reflect upon the fact that, within Clackmannan district, there are Catholic children who go to school at St. Modan's high school in Stirling, and there is no provision in the White Paper for cross-boundary help for youngsters for whom there is no educational provision in the proposed areas?

Mr. Lang

It is always the case with boundaries between local government authorities that some services overlap and sensible relationships are quickly and easily arrived at. Clackmannan and Falkirk are compact and industrialised areas, widely different from Stirling, which is largely a rural area. Our proposal to revive much of the old Stirling county will be warmly welcomed there. I was most impressed by Stirling district council's submission to me.

Mr. Jimmy Wray (Glasgow, Provan)

Does the Secretary of State for Scotland think that the House believes that this document is about local government democracy? Is it not a cost-saving exercise? The Secretary of State for Scotland has gone on about the saving of £65 million, but he does not tell us who will pay the penalty. Thousands of employees, men and women, in Strathclyde and all over Scotland have dedicated their lives to local authorities. If the right hon. Gentleman was really serious as Secretary of State for Scotland, he would have set up a commission similar to that in 1975 when Wheatley considered management and corporate structures.

In going for option D on water privatisation, the Secretary of State is inviting the private sector to invest, but the people of Scotland do not want anything to do with the private sector, franchising or anything else. Nor do they want anything to do with this gerrymandering, this jumble sale of boundaries, which has nothing to do with democracy, and we shall oppose it. If anybody is to do anything about local government reorganisation, it should be a Scottish Parliament.

Madam Speaker

Order. This is question time. I did ask for brief questions.

Mr. Lang

I shall certainly answer the two new points that the hon. Gentleman raised. First, with regard to whether this is a cost-saving exercise, the hon. Gentleman should have a word with those on the Opposition Front Bench who for the past few months have been busy trying to persuade everyone that this exercise will cost a fortune. The fact is that it will save money. It will save up to £65 million per year—about £1 million a week. With regard to redundancies, there will be fewer employees in local government, because we are contemplating reducing the number of authorities from 65 to 28. That means less duplication and less bureaucracy. But we estimate that the number of employees will be reduced by less than 1 per cent.

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

The Secretary of State has now confirmed that when the Prime Minister said after the last general election that he would take stock, what he really meant was that he would take the mickey. That is what this gerrymandering statement means to us today. Yesterday, the Secretary of State asked me to contain my soul in patience until the statement was made about the number of councillors that he proposed in the new local authorities—

Madam Speaker

Order. I am trying to contain my patience, but I am now listening for a question rather than a statement. Will the hon. Gentleman come to a question, please?

Mr. Hood

Will the Secretary of State now tell us what he refused to tell me yesterday—the number of councillors that he proposes for the so-called new local authorities?

Mr. Lang

I envisage that, taking districts and regions as they are at present, the number of councillors will fall from over 1,600 to over 1,200.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Will the Secretary of State accept a warm welcome for the fact that water will remain in public ownership and that there will be no law of disconnection in Scotland? Does he accept that the people of Scotland, led by the Labour party and everyone else who is prepared to campaign in that direction, will keep it that way this side of a general election, and that the general election in Scotland will be fought largely on that issue and on the issue of returning water to public accountability?

Will the Secretary of State also consider that, when I say that the ludicrous proposal to call Ayrshire north Ayrshire when it stretches all the way down to Dumfries and Galloway is a falsehood, an absurdity and an offence to reason, I am joined not just by everyone in the Labour party, not just by everybody with any common sense in Ayrshire, but by the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the Tory party? Does he further accept that there will be an intensive cross-party campaign against the gerrymandering of Ayrshire?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman need not bother campaigning for the return of water to public accountability, because it will not have left it. On his point about the name of the Ayrshire authorities, the document makes it clear—I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman has not had the opportunity to read it—that the Government will welcome suggestions for any changes of name.

Mr. William McKelvey (Kilmarnock and Loudoun)

I have an inkling towards all-purpose authorities. An obvious all-purpose authority would have been Ayrshire, with Kilmarnock as its capital. I cannot see for the life of me—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ask a question."] I cannot understand why the Secretary of State saw fit to divide Ayrshire into north and south. Is that divide amendable, and if there is to be a separation, may we propose that Ayrshire should stand as a single, all-purpose, tiered authority? Will the Secretary of State assure us that he will give that consideration? I am sure that the majority of people in Ayrshire would wish to suggest that, if they have not already done so.

Mr. Lang

The combined population of what we propose to be north Ayrshire and south Ayrshire will be 376,000. We felt that that would be too large for a local authority covering that geographical area, and that it was possible to divide Ayrshire to create a more accountable local authority and to enable Kilmarnock, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, to become a central town in the Ayrshire local authority structure. I believe that that is right. In seeking to divide Ayrshire, we decided that one of the best boundaries was one that was established by Lord Wheatley and his commission.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Will the Secretary of State answer this question honestly—I know it will be a change: will he confirm that, during the consultation, the vast majority of people from Ayrshire wanted an all-Ayrshire authority, including Enterprise Ayrshire, the health board, the chamber of commerce and most of the MPs and councillors, and that the only people who wanted the Kyle and Carrick authority were the few discredited Tories there and the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie)? Will he therefore pay attention to the consultation? It is not a question of names or viability—Ayrshire is a viable authority. Will he accept the views of the people of Ayrshire and agree to an all-Ayrshire authority?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman was sufficiently honest to concede that there had been support in Ayrshire for Kyle and Carrick as a unitary authority. Kilmarnock and Loudoun also supported its proposed unitary status. What we propose strikes the right balance between local loyalties and the need for authorities to be large enough to ensure the efficient delivery of services.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Even the Secretary of State will agree that nobody in the House would accuse me of over-statement, but there is almost unanimous agreement that we have heard a pathetic response to the demands of the people of Scotland to have a say in their own affairs. The Secretary of State for Scotland has waved a paper, a document, to the House that represents appeasement of Scotland's interest which we find utterly repugnant.

For that reason, and in view of his weak and pathetic response, may I say, through you, Madam Speaker, and with great respect to you, that my hon. Friends will proceed to Downing street to ask for the resignation of this pathetic Secretary of State. He has yet again destroyed Scotland's interest. In the words of Leo Amery to Chamberlain's Government: You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing … In the name of God, go!"—Official Report, 7 May 1940; Vol. 360, c. 1150.]— [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I call the Secretary of State to reply.

Mr. Lang

I am not sure whether there is very much to reply to. There are certainly no Scottish Labour Members to whom to reply. They will be disappointed. I suppose that they will reach Downing street about 10 minutes from now, but they will find that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is not there. As most of the rest of the country knows, my right hon. Friend is still in Japan. I am sure that the messenger on the door will be happy to take a message.