HC Deb 07 December 1994 vol 251 cc302-3
7. Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on local government reforms in Scotland.

Mr. Stewart

As the House knows, the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill received Royal Assent on 3 November. I am delighted that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has rescinded its previous policy of non-co-operation on the Bill. I look forward to all those involved working closely to deliver new councils which will provide stronger, more effective and more accountable local government.

Mr. Shaw

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Can he tell me whether many people in Scotland will be pleased by the proposed abolition of Monklands district council? Is he aware that in the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser recently it was stated that a letter had been sent by Councillor Brookes and other Labour councillors seeking to cover up and call a halt to my investigations into wrongdoing in Monklands district council? Is he aware that that letter was conveyed to the Privileges Committee of the House of Commons by two Members of Parliament with Monklands constituencies? Should not they be stopped from trying to cover up the wrongdoing on that council?

Mr. Stewart

I answer my hon. Friend's more general point by saying that in the course of receiving many representations from throughout Scotland about the reorganisation of local government, we were not exactly inundated with representations to the effect that Monklands district council should be one of the new unitary authorities. The single-tier system will enable a higher degree of accountability than the complexities of the two-tier system. That was acknowledged by the Wheatley Commission and, in principle, by all political parties.

I do not always read the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser because many newspapers attract my attention. As my hon. Friend knows, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) has for a long time been a close personal and political associate of Councillor Jim Brookes. That is public knowledge.

Mrs. Liddell

Does the Minister agree that, given the interest of his hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) in activities in my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), it is absolutely reprehensible that the hon. Member for Dover has failed to make available to Professor Robert Black, who is chairing the independent inquiry, the 20 pages of information that he claims to have about those activities? Does the Minister agree that the bluff of the hon. Gentleman has been comprehensively called? He should put up or shut up.

Mr. Stewart

I recall that during the Monklands, East by-election the hon. Lady did a massive U-turn and made public her own allegations about spending bias by Monklands district council. Perhaps she will put her evidence to Professor Black.

Mrs. Fyfe

Given that Government support to councils will be cut by £133 million in real terms next year, is there not a risk that there will be fewer, not more, nursery schools in Monklands and elsewhere in Scotland while such provision is still not a statutory duty? What happened to the Prime Minister's promise of more nursery schools and what reassurance can the Minister give to parents of children with special needs? Having disrupted local government, will he give us his word that, whoever suffers disruption in the months to come, it will not be children with special needs?

Mr. Stewart

As I said in answer to the hon. Lady's hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), the settlement is extremely fair for local government, which in Scotland spends far more per head of population than is spent in England or Wales, for reasons that I continue to find incomprehensible. Details of provision are a matter for each local authority. I hope and believe that the hon. Lady's fears will be unfounded and I repeat my pleasure that local authorities in Scotland have shown excellent common sense in co-operating with reorganisation, against the wishes of the Labour Front-Bench team.

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