HC Deb 23 February 1994 vol 238 cc266-9
6. Mr. Chisholm

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what criteria he employed in determining the size of the proposed new local authorities.

Mr. Stewart

The Government took into account a wide range of factors in determining the boundaries for the new councils. Those were set out in detail in the consultation paper "Shaping the New Councils".

Mr. Chisholm

Does the Minister realise that no one in Scotland wants local government reorganisation—apart from some Tories in the gerrymandered areas—and that it will become even more unpopular once people realise the costs and the effect on services? Will he now confirm that as the proposed number of new authorities increases, the already substantial costs will also increase? How can the several small authorities that he has proposed possibly deliver the range of services that is necessary? Is not it true that he does not care, so long as he can create a few flagship Tory authorities to spearhead his real agenda, which is the handing over of service delivery to private contractors?

Mr. Stewart

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that every political party in Scotland at one time or another has been committed to a unitary system of local government, for good and understandable reasons. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to congratulate the Government on the changes that we announced in relation to Lothian, after listening to all-party public opinion. I have received congratulatory letters from West Lothian and from Midlothian, areas near the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

As for the size of authorities, if it is the hon. Gentleman's view that small authorities cannot deliver services, it is astonishing that two out of only three votes on detailed boundaries that the Opposition forced in Committee were to make fairly small authorities smaller.

Mr. Canavan

Will the Minister give us a categorical assurance that, in places where the proposed new local government boundaries cut across school catchment areas, parents and local education authorities will not have to bear the burden of extra transport or any other costs if parents choose to send their children to schools on the other side of a boundary? If the Minister cannot give us such an assurance, will he do the decent thing and withdraw the Bill, which is one of the most blatant pieces of political gerrymandering in the history of Scottish local government?

Mr. Stewart

I have offered to meet the hon. Member and his parliamentary colleagues in Central region to consider the options that would best serve the interests of his constituents, but obviously he does not want to take up that offer on behalf of his constituents.

As for the school question, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for education and housing has given assurances to the Committee and will table an amendment on those matters.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Front-Bench Members divided the Standing Committee only three times when we were discussing boundaries in Scotland and that once we got down to the detailed scrutiny of the boundaries they could not sustain or justify the gerrymandering charge that they have unfairly bandied about during the past six months? Much of what the hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) say on television bears little resemblance to reality.

Mr. Stewart

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Opposition Front-Bench Members endeavoured to stifle debate on boundaries. The number of recommendations that were made by Labour-led district councils in Scotland was extremely interesting—

Madam Speaker

Order. It was remiss of me not to stop the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson). We have procedures here whereby we do not refer to what is taking place in Committee. That Committee work stands on its own until it is reported to the House. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman who is now at the Dispatch Box can compose a proper answer without referring to the Committee.

Mr. Stewart

The Government's developing policy will continue to reflect the need for a sensible unitary system of local government in Scotland and we shall continue to take into account the sensible proposals that we are receiving from many local authorities in Scotland.

Mr. George Robertson

The House will understand why the Minister with responsibility for local government was put up to answer local government questions rather than the Secretary of State, who wants to stay well away from this gerrymandering subject. However, this is the Minister who has started to admit that the creation of the new additional authorities will increase costs and eliminate any savings from this unwanted, unnecessary and completely gerrymandering council carve-up. Will he now tell the whole truth about what it will cost the people of Scotland? This ideological fiasco, whose credibility is declining with every day that it is discussed, will mean yet another financial imposition on Scottish household bills. On top of the £10 a week that the people of Scotland will have to pay for economic incompetence and broken promises on taxation, they will have to pay a heavy gerrymandering surtax for the butchery of local government for which they never asked and which they certainly do not want.

Mr. Stewart

That is either the 25th or the 26th time that I have heard the hon. Gentleman pronounce such nonsense. The costs and savings have been clearly identified. If he does not believe me, I urge him to read the submissions of Labour-led councils up and down the land about the savings and efficiencies that they believe a unitary structure of local government in Scotland will deliver to their voters. Members of Labour's Front Bench are simply not representing Labour district councils in Scotland in these matters.

8. Mrs. Adams

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many additional quangos and joint boards will be created as a result of the proposed reforms of Scottish local government.

Mr. Stewart

The Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill proposes the creation of a maximum of seven new non-departmental public bodies, including a staff commission for the transitional period. We expect to establish four new joint boards for police and fire services.

Mrs. Adams

Should not the Minister be hanging his head in shame? Is not it an admission that the Government do not believe in democracy in Scotland that they have to go for appointed boards? Will he at least tell us what the criteria for the appointments will be? Will he agree to set up a register listing all members of quangos, their interests and political affiliations so that the people of Scotland might at least know who these unelected people are who are increasingly running their lives?

Mr. Stewart

The lists of people who are members of non-departmental public bodies are well known, as they are all published. We appreciate the hon. Lady's disappointment at not being selected at the last minute for the Committee considering the Bill, due to the traditional sexism of the Labour Whips Office. I assure her that under this Government the number of non-departmental public bodies in Scotland has not increased but has fallen from 240 to 160.

Mr. Dalyell

If, as the Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), costs have been carefully identified—I use his own words—he will be able to tell us, will he not, to the nearest £10 million, what is the latest cost estimate from the Scottish Office on local government reform?

Mr. Stewart

Certainly. The hon. Gentleman has tabled a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asking precisely that and it will be answered today.

Mr. McFall

Will the Minister ensure that any future quangos will not follow the lead of Dumbartonshire Enterprise, which, I have just discovered, has given a grant of £60,000 to the Helensburgh-based Royal Northern yacht club to stone clean its premises? He will know that it is the headquarters of the exclusive Mudhook yacht club, whose 40 rich and famous members include royalty and even Cabinet Ministers. Is he aware that, in an area of high unemployment, not one job was created as a result of the grant? Does he agree that this or any future quango should not provide substantial grants to organisations to finance projects that offer no economic benefits and which could easily and properly be funded by members of that exclusive rich man's club?

Mr. Stewart

I believe that Dumbartonshire Enterprise spends taxpayers' money cost-effectively. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman wants to talk to someone with great experience of quangos, there is the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who was a member of the Police Advisory Board, of the board of the Scottish Development Agency and of the Scottish tourist board, at a time when his only obvious qualification for those important positions was his membership of the executive of the Scottish Labour party.

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