HC Deb 27 April 1994 vol 242 cc228-9
4. Mr. Oppenheim

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will issue guidelines on the employment practices of Scottish councils.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no specific locus in the employment practices of local authorities. It is therefore not appropriate for him to issue guidelines on the subject.

Mr. Oppenheim

We may have to be indulgent when it comes to some of the quainter customs of Scottish Labour politics, but is not one of the quirkier practices that of issuing pink application forms to general applicants for jobs on Monklands district council but green application forms to friends and close relatives of its councillors? Does that novel application of the share and share alike principle explain why so many close friends and relatives of Monklands Labour councillors have jobs on the council? Now that at least some councillors have been honourable enough to stand up against the practice, should not we expect Monklands Members of Parliament to show the same concern about the socialist can of worms on their own doorstep?

Mr. Stewart

As my hon. Friend knows, there has been a continuing silence from Opposition Members on the effect on their constituents of those and similar practices. I understand, however, that the practice that my hon. Friend rightly describes as novel has been abandoned, or at least suspended.

Mr. Ernie Ross

If the Minister is so concerned about the alleged employment practices of local authorities in Scotland, why did he make such a ridiculous statement at the recent conference of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy? He knows that, because of his proposals for the reorganisation of Scottish councils, more than 100,000 local government employees in Scotland are extremely concerned about their employment. Would not it help if he made a statement today saying that those people will be covered by the European Union acquired rights directive, thereby giving peace of mind to employees who do a worthwhile job for all of us in Scotland?

Mr. Stewart

I have paid tribute again and again to the work of Scottish local government employees. I am not sure which of the statements that I made at the conference the hon. Gentleman meant, but I announced there a number of additional members of the committee that will advise the Secretary of State on matters relating to the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, and I believe that the nominations were widely accepted as objective.

Mr. Bill Walker

Is my hon. Friend aware of the great concern in Scotland about the revelations that constantly appear in the Scottish press about the employment practices at Monklands? Too many people are now employed by local government to perform specific narrow duties; they are really doing jobs that have been created for friends. Is not it time that my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State took powers to deal with those problems?

Mr. Stewart

My hon. Friend makes the interesting suggestion that the Secretary of State should take additional powers in such matters. Perhaps some of the Opposition Members who have been pressing on the subject will give their full support to any endeavour to take such powers. The Secretary of State's present powers are limited, however. No doubt Opposition Members who regard Monklands district council as a model of perfection and a model of how Scottish Labour authorities should work, will have been confirmed in their belief in the excellence of that council by the recent "Newsnight" coverage.

Several hon. Members


Madam Speaker

Order. Let us move things on more rapidly.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

Does the Minister accept that there is continuing concern in the city of Aberdeen about the unsatisfactory nature of the recent termination of the chief executive's contract of employment, at a cost of nearly £300,000 to the local community? Does he accept that it is not satisfactory that such a matter should be left entirely to a local council which many people feel has failed to discharge its duties, and that there is no means of securing an independent inquiry? Does not he believe that the rules should be changed to allow for that?

Mr. Stewart

As I said when the hon. Gentleman raised that matter before, I accept his concern about Aberdeen —a concern which has also been expressed across the party political divide. My right hon. Friend and I have examined the Scottish Office's powers in the matter, and my right hon. Friend simply has no locus at present. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to suggest specific legislative changes, we will of course consider them.