HC Deb 17 May 1994 vol 243 cc741-80

'.—(1) As soon as practicable the Boundary Commission shall review such local government areas or parts thereof as the Secretary of State may direct, for the purpose of considering whether to make such proposals in relation to them as are authorised by section 13 of the 1973 Act, and what proposals, if any, to make; and the commission shall formulate any such proposals accordingly.

(2) The provisions of paragraph 2 of Schedule 5 to the 1973 Act shall apply to a review under subsection (1) above.'.—[Mr. McLeish.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. McLeish

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may discuss the following: New clause 3—Cost of re-organisation'.—(1) The Treasury shall undertake a review and publish a report on the costs likely to be incurred as a result of the provisions of this Act; and the report shall be laid before Parliament no later than 6th April 1995.'.

New clause 29—Review of cost of reorganization'(1) The Comptroller and Auditor General shall report annually to Parliament on the costs incurred by the Secretary of State, any Staff Commission, residuary bodies, and Property Commission established by this Act, and by local authorities as a result of the implementation of the provisions of this Act and associated costs, in respect of each of the Financial years ending on 31st March in each of 1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998. (2) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State and local authorities to provide the National Audit Office with all the information required to compile the reports referred to in subsection (1) above. (3) In this section, "local authority" includes all new authorities and joint boards, (including Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands and the Western Isles) and until 31st March 1996, all existing local authorities (including the islands councils), and joint committees and joint boards.'.

Amendment No. 25, in schedule 1, page 124, line 8, leave out 'Banff and Buchan District Council'.

Government amendments Nos. 287 and 288.

Amendment No. 26 in page 124, line 39, at end insert—

Banff and Buchan Banff and Buchan District Council.'.

Amendment No. 42 in page 124, leave out lines 40 to 44 and insert—

'Ayrshire Kilmarnock and Loudoun District Council;
Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council;
Cunninghame District Council;
Kyle and Carrick District Council.'.

Amendment No. 5, in page 124, line 45, after 'The', insert 'Scottish'.

Government amendments Nos. 289 and 290.

Amendment No. 28, in page 125, line 2, leave out 'East Dunbartonshire' and insert 'Lennox'.

Amendment No. 29, in page 125, leave out lines 3 to 8 and insert 'Cumbemauld and Kilsyth District Council and Strathkelvin District Council.'.

Government amendments Nos. 292, 291 and 293.

Amendment No. 169, in page 125, leave out line 25 and insert—

'North Highland Caithness, Sutherland, and Ross and Cromarty District Councils
South Highland Badenoch and Strathspey, Inverness, Lochaber, Nairn, and Skye and Lochalsh District Councils'.

Amendment No. 30, in page 125, line 27, leave out 'Cumbernauld and Kilsyth'.

Amendment No. 31, in page 125, leave out lines 29 to 31.

Government amendments Nos. 294 to 296.

Amendment No. 170, in page 125, line 46, leave out from 'Council' to end of line 39 on page 126 and insert—

'Renfrewshire Renfrew District Council.'.

Amendment No. 270, in page 125, line 46, leave out from 'Council' to end of line 37 on page 126.

Government amendment No. 297.

Amendment No. 271, in page 126, line 38, leave out '(except the areas included in East Renfrewshire)'.

Amendment No. 272, in clause 5, page 3, line 43, at end insert— '(7) For the purpose of the first ordinary election of councillors, referred to in sub-section (2) above, the electoral wards for each local government area shall comprise the electoral wards for existing district councils insofar as they fall entirely within a local government area established under section 1 of this Act, and provided that where the boundary between two local government areas divides an existing district council ward, the Local Government Boundary Commission for Scotland shall, within eight weeks of this Act coming into force, submit to the Secretary of State proposals for areas within such part district council wards to be added to contiguous district council wards within the new local government area. (8) Within twenty-one days of receiving proposals from the Local Government Boundary Commission of Scotland in accordance with subsection (7) above, the Secretary of State shall, by order, give effect to the proposals without modification. (9) An order made under subsection (8) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a Resolution of either House of Parliament.'.

Government amendments Nos. 280 to 285.

Mr. McLeish

I wish to speak to new clause 3 and amendment No. 42.

The debate is important because it covers not only local government boundaries but the important question of how they were determined and the costs of what the Opposition still regard as a half-baked proposal. There has been widespread concern in Scotland throughout the passage of the Bill; that concern has been apparent both during the Committee stage and right up to Report.

The key issue about which we are all concerned is how the Government arrived at some of the boundaries that we see not only in the Bill but in the amendments before us. The Bill has been framed with no consensus in Scotland among political parties, local government or the trade unions. There is no consensus for any form of change. There has been no in-depth independent review. The hallmark of the 73 proposals building on Wheatley was the desire not only to attain consensus but to have an independent commission assess the implications of change and report to the House where decisions were taken.

The boundaries in the Bill are not built on any notion of improved service delivery. It seems ludicrous that we are debating boundaries this evening when no consideration has been given to the link between boundaries and effective service delivery. I shall develop that theme later. Despite the Government's rantings, no regard has been given to historical communities, historical links or natural boundaries.

If the boundary changes are not linked to any of those issues, what we are faced with is simple gerrymandering. The Government do not like that word; they complained in another place about its use. There is no other word to sum up how the Opposition and the people of Scotland feel about a set of proposals that bear no relationship to their needs and aspirations, but much relationship to the needs and aspirations of the Conservative party.

After the trouncing that the Conservatives were given in the regional elections in Scotland, England and Wales, one might have thought that Ministers would be visited with some degree of humility. It is clear from the initial water debate that that has not happened. We wait with interest to see whether that will change in relation to this debate.

No one—even the Government—could argue that policies and boundaries that were built on gerrymandering could ever endure. I warn the Government that we will fight to ensure that the elections that the Government hope will take place next year will be derailed and delayed. The proposals before us, because of their instability, simply could not endure a change of Government? Why are the Government not saying, "Yes, we need to build consensus. Yes, we need an independent review." If they did that, it would save us having to move and debate the issues this evening.

Mr. Stewart

Which of the Government's proposals is the Labour party specifically against? Is the hon. Gentleman saying, for example, that the Labour party is specifically against moving Kincardine-on-Forth into Fife?

Mr. McLeish

The Minister is trying to challenge my humility. The suggestion was daft in the first place. I do not think that I should applaud in any way the Government coming to their senses in one minus way to deliver Kincardine back to its people. We are against the Bill root and branch. It will do nothing for Scottish local government. It will do everything for the Conservative party—

Mr. Stewart

Well, maybe.

Mr. McLeish

I will qualify that. I want to discuss that in a minute.

The Bill does not deserve to survive. The Secretary of State may smile. The Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) and his colleague the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord Douglas-Hamilton) may just carry on with note filling, but the point is that the Bill is thoroughly bad and obnoxious.

On gerrymandering, when the Bill was conceived, the hon. Members for Eastwood and for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and some of the other apparatchiks who work out of Conservative central office decided, "Let us build the reorganisation around those two seats. So what we had in the first instance was Stirling becoming a single tier. We need not go into it, but it is legendary"—

Mr. Graham


Mr. McLeish

My hon. Friend makes the point. That constituency seems to have been the marvellous focus for a Bill, which you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may not have read, but which, clearly, we have. It is great credit to the Minister that he has been able to wrap the whole of the Conservative machine in Scotland around his little finger to come up with such a daft, divisive and dangerous system. Perhaps he should be applauded for that, but he will get little applause from the Opposition.

Clearly, major issues are involved in the boundaries. I cannot miss the opportunity to say that, last Friday, when the Government tabled new amendments, they also conceived the smallest unitary council so far. We started with 28. Then, through the Government's inspiration—or, I should say, that of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) as he rampaged through Scottish councils looking for anyone for whom he could move an amendment—we ended up with 30. On Friday, the figure went up to 32.

I ask the Government to accept a challenge. Can a council covering 47,000 people constitute an all-singing, all-dancing, all-purpose authority? That is what we now have in Central region. I do not doubt for a moment the quality of either councillors or officials, but it is important for us to flag up one point. Fiction has been turned into sheer farce. We now know that Stirling was gerrymandered for political reasons—and we have also discovered that the Government are willing to go to any lengths to demean the processes of review and local government reorganisation. We have seen that with Clackmannan, a council covering 47,000 people.

7.30 pm

I am led to believe that Clackmannan has half the number of schools that my constituency contains. Now its water will be provided by three super-quangos, its police will be provided by one of the eight police authority boards and its fire services will be delivered by one of the eight fire authorities. Sadly, the Stirlings and Clackmannans of the world will be wholly dependent on larger authorities: they will be like colonies of Fife regional council, which will bestride it with its 350,000 people. Where on earth is Clackmannan to find its education and social services? That is not an abstract question. The Minister smiles, but he knows full well that, although the Government's plan may fulfil the politics of madness on the Conservative Benches, it does not fulfil the politics of reality for those poor people in small authorities. They will suffer greatly.

The Minister laughs ruefully, because that is not his agenda. His agenda does not concern the quality of services enjoyed by people in Central region, Lothian, Tayside and Grampian, whose councils will be dismembered. His interest is in what the Government call enabling councils, referring to the ability of any council—regardless of its size—to purchase services wherever it wishes. Health boards do it; health trusts will do it. It is called "purchaser provider". But it simply is not working, and if the Government approve the relevant amendments—the vote may take place tomorrow, because of the scheduling of business—certain people in certain communities all over Scotland will be condemned to much poorer services. We cannot accept that that could be a legitimate aspiration in any reorganisation, Conservative or otherwise. It seems to us that the Government have now come clean, and decided that they are willing to plumb any depths to provide local councils with few services to administer.

One of the key issues behind all the rantings of Ministers and all the gerrymandering has been cost. In new clause 3, we ask for a Treasury inquiry into Scottish Office-inspired madness—for that is all that it can be. I am delighted to see the Secretary of State sitting in on the debate; he was absent during the 170 hours that we spent in Committee, and we sincerely hope that he will wish to contribute to the debate on costs. Costs are crucial. Whether we believe the £720 million figure given by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities or the back-of-an-envelope job provided by the Scottish Office —which suggested savings of £60 million for 1995–96 —we cannot deny that there is a huge disparity in the estimates of the cost implications of the Bill.

That would be enough to persuade any sane Government to submit the matter to independent scrutiny.

We do not argue that the Treasury is independent; but we have a feeling that—when faced with a possible public sector borrowing requirement of £35 billion at the next election, a position in which front-line services are starved of resources and circumstances in which such innovations as "care in the community" have little funding to implement the proposals involved—the Treasury would be happy to investigate the kind of madness that we are seeing in the Scottish Office.

The crucial aspect of costs is the question of staff cuts, with which the question of savings is inextricably linked. It was in the House, at our last Scottish Question Time, that the Secretary of State let the cat out of the bag: for the first time, he talked about redundancies.

Mr. Lang


Mr. McLeish

The Secretary of State says, "Rubbish." I hope that the Minister who replies will explain away that first reference to redundancies. In the House and elsewhere, the Government have given the impression that these massive savings can be made by means of a painless cut in staff numbers—but the word "redundancy" implies something more sinister and significant. I hope that the Minister will begin to clarify its meaning.

Playing politics with 300,000 jobs in Scotland is not just a sinister process, however; it is even worse than that. The Government were unwilling to write into the Bill the arrangement introduced by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, which automatically transferred all dedicated committee staff to the new authorities. Why? And why did the Government then decide to turn their back on the European acquired rights directive and the transfer of undertakings legislation? Every conceivable legal opinion is telling the Government that of course all the staff will be transferred; whether it takes the courts to do that is immaterial.

The Government have sought to justify this half-baked reorganisation by reference to savings. That is why they did not include in the Bill provisions for those people to be transferred automatically and why they have turned their back on European legislation. Ultimately, however, there will be no savings, because there will be no staff sacrificed on the altar of this reorganisation. The Minister should tell us why the Government are able to ignore both precedent and Europe, and play politics with the future of 300,000 people.

It has already been suggested that 30,000 jobs could be lost—up to 10 per cent. of the current number of jobs in Scottish local authorities. Is the Minister willing to say from the Dispatch Box, "Yes, that is the case," or will he continue to play politics and talk about figures between 700 and 2,000? However we look at the figures, they simply do not add up: the Government are behaving in a sinister fashion, unwilling to own up to the truth about costs.

If we take the labour savings out of the equation, it will mean that the Government will save nothing at all. Unison, the public service union in Scotland, will take the matter to the European Commissioner and to every existing local authority: if they decide that there will be no scrapping of staff but an automatic transfer, the Government will have no savings with which to justify the reorganisation.

The Government amendments constitute a firm commitment to gerrymandering of a high order. They also constitute a commitment to massive savings, when none will be made. If we discount the gerrymandering and the bogus savings, what on earth are we left with? Why did we spend 170 hours in Committee, and why are we to spend two and a half days on the Floor of the House for Report and Third Reading, when the Government have now been fully exposed?

I believe that this is a real tragedy. We gave the Government a chance to rescue themselves in the last debate, and they failed; in our new clauses and amendments on boundaries, we ask them to see common sense. When will they wake up to the fact that there is no suspension of political reality in Scotland? That has not happened over the past 12 months, and it will not happen over the next 12 months. Scots simply do not want this reorganisation, and opinion polls show that two thirds of them do not support the single-tier concept.

What we need is an independent commission, and at least a Treasury first look at the costs involved. We want the people of Scotland to appreciate that what the Government are doing is not in their interests, but in the interests of the Conservative party. I hope that what I have said, and what my hon. Friends will say, will be taken on board.

It is a sad occasion when the Secretary of State and his junior Ministers totally ignore public opinion. There can be no greater and more sinister development in any democracy than when the gap between the Government and the governed grows so large with no prospect of being bridged; at that point, we move from an issue of reorganisation to a dangerous issue of democracy and politics.

Even if the Government do not give a damn about the services enjoyed by 5 million Scots, the effectiveness of the £7.5 billion spent every year on services or the Strathclyde water referendum, do they not have any pride in democracy? Hon. Members on both sides of the House are supposed to support that, but at times it seems that, while the Opposition support democracy, the Government only pay lip service to it. We have reached a dangerous situation in Scotland, and all because the Government will not listen. Tonight, they have an opportunity to listen and to respond. We hope that they do so.

Mr. Salmond

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that Channel 4 news has just released information that the Cabinet Committee will meet on Thursday to consider the selling off of 51 per cent. of the Royal Mail and 51 per cent. of Parcelforce. Have you received notification of a statement on that matter? Given that Scottish Office Ministers are present, and that they must surely have been consulted about such a proposal, perhaps one of them can make a statement at the Dispatch Box to confirm that Channel 4 report.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have received no notification of anything, other than the fact that the House is debating new clause 2.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) made an astonishing attack on Clackmannan and East Lothian district councils, which are the subject of Government amendments before the House. I expected the hon. Gentleman to speak to the Opposition new clauses but he chose not to do so.

For the record, new clause 2, to which the hon. Gentleman did not refer, is unnecessary because the legislative powers to which it refers already exist. The hon. Gentleman referred to costs. New clause 3, which he did not address at any length, suggests that the Treasury should make a fundamental review of the costs of reorganising local government in Scotland. That demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how central Government conduct their business. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, he and his colleagues displayed that misunderstanding in Committee, when they constantly suggested that the Scottish Office was putting forward figures without the Treasury's consent. That kind of scenario is completely inconceivable.

Mr. McLeish

Will the Minister confirm that he suggested to the Treasury that this muddled mess might cost £720 million? Did that happen?

Mr. Stewart

No. The Treasury has rather more sense than that. My right hon. and hon. Friends at the Treasury have more sense than to believe the figures presented by the hon. Member for Fife, Central. As he raised the point, I will refer to his own estimates of council tax rises in Fife, which he represents, following reorganisation. They suggest that band D council tax in Dunfermline would rise from £621 to £1,061, and in Kirkcaldy from £664 to £1,094.

Mr. McLeish

May we have the Minister's estimates?

Mr. Stewart

I am not giving the hon. Gentleman my own estimates; I am simply giving him the estimates of Labour-controlled Fife regional council.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

How many Conservatives are on that council?

Mr. Stewart

Not a lot. That is precisely my point. That council cannot reasonably be regarded as some kind of crypto-Conservative organisation, yet it estimates that a single-tier Fife authority would produce savings of £4.9 million per annum. That is the estimate of Labour-controlled Fife regional council.

7.45 pm
Mr. Foulkes

Does the Minister agree that all the arguments relating to Fife apply equally to Ayrshire?

Mr. Stewart

No, I do not agree—but I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I hope to be able to respond to his points later. I will have to take fully into account the points made by the hon. Members for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohue) in favour of the Government's present proposals for Ayrshire.

Mr. Connarty

Before we debate who prefers what in relation to democratic responses and public feeling about representation, perhaps we may focus on costs. Has the Secretary of State asked the Treasury to make a reasonable and rational assessment of the report on which he based his figures, compared with that produced for COSLA by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy? They seem to take different views and to give different estimates. In Committee, more credibility was attached to the CIPFA report. Has the Secretary of State asked for an independent assessment of costs? That aspect will affect every other decision on resources and services, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) said.

Mr. Stewart

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we in the Scottish Office are in constant and close touch with the Treasury.

Mr. Canavan

The Treasury tells him what to do.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Treasury tells me what to do, but Labour Members suggest that the Treasury ought to tell us what to do. That is the purpose of their new clause. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.

Mr. Canavan

We are calling for an independent element in assessing the costs.

Mr. Stewart

Labour's amendment suggests that the Treasury should have an estimate of the costs. I am saying that that happens in any event. It is inconceivable that any major Government measure is adopted without the Treasury's full involvement. That has been the case in relation to the Bill, as with every Government Bill that is put before the House.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central did not refer specifically to new clause 29, which would involve the National Audit Office in the auditing of local government reorganisation costs. I am sorry about that because I was going to say that the amendment's heart was in the right place but that it is unnecessary because the NAO has a relationship with central Government costs, not local government costs.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to respond specifically to points made by hon. Members representing highlands constituencies, because the highlands case was not, by agreement, debated in Committee.

It may help the House if I said something about costs and and about the Government amendments. My main point in answer to the hon. Member for Fife, Central is that the estimates to which he has referred to, and especially the COSLA estimates, assume, first, that more than 3,000 local government staff will be made redundant and paid extremely generous sums—my understanding is that the sum would be between £100,000 and £200,000 each—and, secondly, that they will all be replaced by new staff. I regard that as a ridiculous and unreasonable proposition and certainly the Government would not finance a scheme of that nature.

Moreover, estimates by individual local authorities of all political persuasions throughout Scotland consistently show savings as a result of the Government's proposals. The Scottish National party authority of Angus shows savings of £8.45 million over the status quo; the Borders shows savings of £22.4 million, for the unitary authorities in Tayside; Dundee shows savings. I have already referred to Fife and I know that the hon. Member for Fife, Central will have studied Fife regional council's estimates in great detail.

Mr. McLeish

indicated dissent.

Mr. Stewart

He is wrongly shaking his head.

Mr. McLeish

I do not like statistics.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman says that he does not like statistics. [Interruption.]

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Stewart

I shall give way when I have finished the point.

Fife is suggesting that the Government's proposals would result in savings, over 15 years, of some £68 million.

Mr. Dalyell

May I ensure that we have understood exactly what the Minister said? Do I misquote him in saying that, when he was talking about compensation to employees, he said that the Government would not finance figures of that nature? The figures are put at £100,000. There are many employees, who have to make decisions about their futures and their careers, and who would like to know exactly on what basis they are to be compensated. If the Government are saying that they are to compensate in a niggardly manner, that ought to be known.

Mr. Stewart

I accept that the hon. Gentleman has raised a legitimate point. What I regard as completely unreasonable is the proposition that local authorities—because. ultimately, it is their responsibility—would make people redundant at an enormous cost and then take people on to replace them, which is the essential assumption made in the COSLA figures. In the Bill, we are introducing powers to control such things.

Mr. Welsh

Why is no transitional figure given for property in Scotland when the figure has been calculated for England and for Wales? Will the Minister comment on COSLA's point about the staff turnover effect, following on from what he said? Does he dismiss that idea, and does he think that that would not have an effect on costs?

Mr. Stewart

Of course there must be staff turnover; nobody denies that. The hon. Gentleman asks about property. I hope that he will recognise that the decisions are for local authorities—and, as I understand it, his own SNP-controlled local authority has no particular difficulty over that matter.

Government amendments Nos. 287, 292, and 295—which relate to Dundee—reflect the undertaking that I made in Committee to look closely at the boundary of the city. They have the effect of including Invergowrie in Perthshire and Kinross. In response to the reasoned arguments advanced by the hon. Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and by the City of Dundee district council, we proposed to include in the city the Balgarthno area to the east, Birkhill cemetery, Clatto Moor and Baldovan Wood, and an area to the east of the Forfar road. The case put to us was that those areas were integral parts of the city's overall strategy for future development.

The only essential difference between the amendments and the case put to the Government by the hon. Members for Dundee, East and for Dundee, West was over Strathmartine. The community council there argued that the area is predominantly rural, and we have respected that view, which favours an Angus link.

Mr. Ernie Ross (Dundee, West)

I do not want to delay the House in any way, because I hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I do not think that the Minister is being at all honest with the House. When he answered my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East in Committee, he almost misled him by the way in which he said that he would introduce amendments to reflect what my hon. Friend said. As I shall show if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the amendments in no way meet the points put to the Minister by Dundee district council, my hon. Friend and myself. The Minister knows as well as I do that his father is still very disappointed about what he is doing here tonight.

Mr. Stewart

My father always expresses his views with great lucidity. May I say to the hon. Members for Dundee, East and Dundee, West that I do not accept that general criticism? I accept, of course, that the Government have not agreed to what was proposed by Dundee district council, but in essence we have agreed to all the proposals put forward by the district council except those in relation to Strathmartine, which the community council indicated it wanted to remain in a rural authority.

Mr. McAllion

The Minister knows very well that the Scottish Crop Research Institute at Milnefield is one of the areas which, as I clearly explained in Committee, has been excluded from Dundee—as has the Tay estuary nature reserve. A whole series of areas that were raised with the Minister in Committee have been kept out of Dundee, and very few concessions have been made to the case that I put on behalf of Dundee district council.

Mr. Stewart

I am not disputing the geographical facts with the hon. Gentleman; I am saying that I believe that, in the face of conflicting arguments, we have responded to the case put by the City of Dundee district council. We have not entirely accepted the case that has been advanced but we have conceded that the case—which I thought was the most important point—for Balgarthno and the industrial estate there was valid. It is clear from the amendments that the Government have listened.

There is a detailed amendment to the boundary in relation to Luss and there is a major change to the Government's proposals in relation to Central region. We decided that there should be three councils in Central region—Clackmannan, Falkirk and Stirling—based on the existing district council boundaries. That was an extremely difficult decision to make.

It was clear that the Government's original proposal to link Clackmannan, Falkirk and Kincardine was not generally acceptable. We therefore decided that Kincardine-on-Forth should go back into Fife. We then faced a choice between one council or three for Central region.

I emphasise that the fact that we decided in favour of three councils was not a criticism of Central regional council, which has many achievements to its credit. However, there is no doubt that the district councils—and Falkirk and Clackmannan in particular—put forward a very pragmatic case to the effect that they would be able to supply the necessary services to their people, if they were on their own, by co-operating with neighbouring councils and with the private and voluntary sectors.

8 pm

Mr. Connarty

The Minister must realise that I would express concern because the original amendment, which was tabled by my hon. Friends and me and which was debated and discussed at great length in Committee, proposed that Stirling and Clackmannan should be together; that was the recommendation of the Wheatley commission for the district authority without the education and social services functions allocated to it. That was the proposal put forward in Committee.

The Government must explain at greater length why they rejected the two-council solution. If it was not to be one council, I cannot understand why the Minister should diminish the size and resource base of local government in Stirling, of which I was previously the leader, and of Clackmannan, which I know very well, to the point where we think it will not be viable in the long term.

Mr. Stewart

I fully accept that there is a balanced argument here. However, the view expressed by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East is not the view that Clackmannan district council put to the Government. That council put forward the view that As a unitary authority the District Council would continue … maintaining a flexible and responsive approach to decision-making and internal management. It stated that the council has enthusiastically embraced the concept of enabling and working in partnership. It added that that has not been solely in response to the Government's view, but was more a result of an appreciation of the needs and aspirations of the area and its people and the need to reach pragmatic, practical solutions which involved working with other interested parties and service providers. That was the view of Clackmannan district council which, as the House is aware, is not run by the Conservative party. It is a Labour authority. It believed that it could deliver the necessary services as an enabling council.

Clackmannan district council concluded that it believed that it is uniquely placed to carry this structure of local government forward as a unitary authority and to build on it as a model of quality local government for the future. Those are not the words of the Scottish Office. They are the words of Clackmannan district council. I accept entirely the point made by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East that different arguments apply and that reasonable people can take a different view. The view that we eventually took was that the question about Central regional council turned on the Clackmannan case. We eventually agreed to accept the view put forward by Clackmannan district council.

Mr. George Robertson

Does the Minister agree that all that verbiage has nothing to do with the real point? The way in which Central region was divided up had everything to do with a vain attempt at keeping Stirling district as a future fiefdom for the Minister of State, Department of Employment, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). The logical way out of the conundrum in Stirling was to link Clackmannan and Stirling districts together into a functioning local authority. The fact that we now have three unitary authorities in the centre of Scotland has everything to do with an attempt at gerrymandering the map and nothing to do with real local government.

Mr. Stewart

I am very surprised that the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that Labour-led Clackmannan district council is somehow part of a plot involving Tory gerrymandering. I have read out the position of Clackmannan district council—the wee county. Its position is perfectly acceptable. Of course, we had to consider the decision very carefully—[Interruption.] Opposition Members laugh, but I am saying that, given a difficult choice, the Government eventually accepted the case of Labour-led Clackmannan district council.

I want now to consider the Government amendments in relation to the split between East Lothian and Midlothian. That again, was a matter of judgment as several considerations pointed in both directions. We received very strong representations from East Lothian which, again, is a Labour-led district council. It argued that it should be an independent council. If Opposition Members are saying that the Labour leaders of Eastwood—[HON. MEMBERS: "Eastwood?"]—of East Lothian; that was to make sure that Opposition Members are awake.

Mr. Home Robertson

I must point out to the Minister that there is a substantial distinction between Eastwood and East Lothian.

I am grateful for what the Minister is saying and, above all, I welcome the fact that the Government have accepted defeat for their original outrageous proposal which would have split the historic county of East Lothian between Livingston and the eastern borders. However, people in East Lothian very much value the quality services provided for them directly now, not only by East Lothian district council, but also by Lothian regional council. Will the Minister undertake to allow the new, comparatively small single-tier authority of East Lothian to budget to continue to directly deliver that full range of local services that the people value so highly at present?

Mr. Stewart

Yes, the hon. Gentleman and I have discussed these matters. Given the representations that we have received from East Lothian district council in response to the questions that I asked at the meeting that the hon. Gentleman and I attended, we are convinced that East Lothian can deliver the services of a unitary authority to its people effectively in terms of service quality and costs.

The final Government amendment in the group represents a change in Renfrewshire which will be of particular interest to the hon. Members for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) and for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams). The amendment moves the Ralston ward from East Renfrewshire authority to Renfrewshire. Both hon. Members will welcome that proposal.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

From the original proposals for Renfrewshire, all the areas except Barrhead, Neilston and Uplawmoor, have now been taken back into what was West Renfrewshire authority. That also means that the new East Renfrewshire authority; as proposed by the Minister, will comprise exactly his parliamentary constituency boundaries. He knows that boundary well. I raised the matter with him in Committee. On 28 April, I received a reply—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That is a very long intervention.

Mr. McMaster

It is short and relevant, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In a parliamentary answer on 28 April, the Minister said that the A727, which is a boundary listed in the Bill, is no longer a classified route, and when it was a classified route it ran from Clarkston to Cathcart.

Mr. Stewart

Those problems will be resolved as a result of the Government amendment. I hope that that will be warmly welcomed by the hon. Members for Paisley, North and for Paisley, South.

Mr. Graham


Mr. Stewart

I have responded to a number of points made by Labour Members. I know that a large number of hon. Members wish to contribute to the debate.

Mr. Dalyell

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Stewart

Not at the moment.

I shall sum up the Government's amendments by saying that all of them respond to genuine concerns that have been expressed on a non-party political basis. On that basis—

Mr. Graham

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I accept that we must sit here all night listening to the Minister. However, he has not mentioned the fact that a democratic referendum took place in his constituency—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. That has absolutely nothing to do with the Chair.

Sir David Steel (Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale)


Mr. Stewart

I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman.

Sir David Steel

The Secretary of State has not dealt with the other amendments on the list of selection, including my amendment No. 5. I am grateful to him for giving way because it saves me from trying to make a speech, which will particularly delight my hon. Friends.

May I further entice the Secretary of State to accept my simple amendment No. 5? As he will know, the co-ordinating committee which is preparing for the new authority of the borders believes that its title should be the Scottish Borders Council to bring it into line with Scottish Borders Enterprise and the Scottish Borders Tourist Board. I hope that he will agree.

Mr. Stewart

I am sorry, but I must disappoint the right hon. Gentleman. I do not agree with the amendment—first, because there may need to be a longer period of consultation; and, secondly, because the new council will be able to change its name to the one suggested by the right hon. Gentleman if it wishes to do so. On balance, that is a sensible way to proceed.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute briefly, given the number of hon. Members who wish to contribute to the debate. In particular, I shall address my remarks to amendment No. 169 which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who is beside me.

I underscore what the Minister said at the Dispatch Box. By prior agreement—I am grateful to all those who were involved in that agreement—we now have the first opportunity in the proceedings, given that there was no highland Member serving on the Committee, to discuss what is in many ways the most radical boundary proposal for local government across the whole of Scotland. Under the proposal, all the existing local government structure in the Highland region at present will be dismantled and replaced by a single council which will cover half the land mass of Scotland—it will be bigger than Wales and, indeed, almost as big as Belgium.

I know that both the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland have been good enough to meet delegations from both sides of the argument. My other hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) is also present and will be hoping to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as will my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland, given the debate that has taken place.

I make it clear from the outset—although the Minister and the Secretary of State are aware of this—that my hon. Friend and I speak from a north highland perspective, in particular Caithness and Sutherland and Ross and Cromarty, and we will be recommending a two-council option. My other hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber will wish to speak against that and in favour of what is presently proposed by the Scottish Office. In so doing, he will be representing the views of one of the districts in my constituency, Skye and Lochalsh, which shares the view put forward by the Government. That district does not share the view that I am putting forward this evening, although the other two districts in my constituency, Ross and Cromarty and that part of Inverness district which falls within my parliamentary seat, share that view, as do the Caithness and Sutherland district councils.

I am against the single Highland council that has been proposed, basically, for reasons of gut instinct. It is much too large and, accordingly, it will be much too remote. It as simple as that. It has been argued by some—indeed, some hon. Members in the Labour party have argued the point; the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has argued it elsewhere—that, in the highland context, the opposition to what the Government are proposing is not as it may have been in certain other areas, but it is a defence of the status quo.

I do not agree with that. I am in favour of single-tier local authorities. Like many others in the highlands, I viewed the introduction of the Bill as a great opportunity to bring local government closer to people and to simplify it. In my constituency experience, it is clear that people do not adequately distinguish, or understand sufficiently well the distinction, between the functions carried out by districts and the functions carried out by the existing Highland regional council. Therefore, I do not accept the status quo as a defence.

8.15 pm

In asking the Secretary of State to think again, I shall argue a few points. First, I refer to public opinion. As the Scottish Office knows, the Association of Highland Districts commissioned a public opinion poll which showed that no less than 83 per cent. of 1,000 respondents across the highlands were against the imposition of a single Highland council. In a parliamentary answer to me yesterday, the Secretary of State confirmed that almost exactly the same proportion—83 per cent.—of those who had written to the Scottish Office were against what was being proposed and were in favour of the two-council option. Indeed, with an entire year at its disposal, and with the backing of the Highland region, the Scottish Office has been unable to amass more than 51 respondents in favour of what is proposed.

Secondly, I refer to the cost. There will be savings, whatever happens. Under the proposal, we are talking about abolishing eight district councils and having only one local authority for the whole area, so there will be savings, whether there is one Highland council or two. The Association of Highland Districts estimates its savings to be some £2 million per annum.

Thirdly, as we heard in the earlier debate, the proposal is completely inconsistent with what the Scottish Office is bringing forward elsewhere in Scotland. How can we have one local authority with fewer than 50,000 people in one part of Scotland, yet another local authority with more than 200,000 people for the whole of the highlands? It does not make sense.

Fourthly, I refer to a strategic overview. We speak against the backdrop of the highlands having secured objective 1 funding. We are all pleased about that. That is an example of a single authority being able to provide a strategic overview and argue its case not only at the national level but at the European Union level, too. I must point out that the campaign for objective 1 status involved more than Highland regional council; it involved other local authorities both to the north, the west and the south. If there were two Highland councils, that degree of co-operation would be essential.

Officially, Highlands and Islands Enterprise has come out in favour of one local authority, but its constituent parts, the local enterprise companies—including Ross and Cromarty Enterprise in my constituency, which favours more than one local authority—are by no means unanimous.

Fifthly, I refer to the quality of democracy. If the proposal goes ahead, how will the authorities live up to the ideals and aspirations that the Secretary of State set out in the White Paper? There will be a massive democratic deficit. We will be getting rid of scores of local councillors in terms of the total number for the highlands. Even going to the top end of the scale in terms of the number of councillors that there might be, I cannot see how one authority can effectively deliver useful, worthwhile, and genuinely local democracy with a certain number of councillors when set against areas that would be the size of wards, as well as the range of functions that they would have to administer.

Finally, we tabled the amendment tonight almost in a probing sense to find out whether there had been any movement of minds in the Scottish Office, and also to find out whether the Government might yet be amenable to further consideration, with a view to further changes at a later stage in another place.

After the local elections, it was made clear that the Scottish Office was into listening and trying to work with the grain of public opinion. Here is a good issue where the Scottish Office can do just that. It is not even a party political issue in the highlands, as all parties have the divisions of opinion which are clear from my party's ranks tonight. I hope that the Secretary of State will think again and will indicate that when he winds up.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Clackmannan)

I shall speak to amendments Nos. 289 and 290, and I start by congratulating Clackmannan and Falkirk district councils on securing what they wanted for their respective areas.

Clackmannan waged a spirited, imaginative and energetic campaign which built on the high regard in which it is held by the community. Falkirk district, for its part, never swayed from its view that a unitary authority based in the main town in the district would serve the people better than a council administered from Stirling.

I suppose that the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) is satisfied with the outcome of his campaign since he has won an authority based on the boundaries of his own constituency, along with the villages of Cowie, Fallin and Plean from my constituency. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman's cup of ambrosia will be overflowing, and it may become a poisoned chalice. The recent local government results showed that Labour was a clear 13 points ahead of all Tories—both independent and official—compared with only 3.6 per cent. in 1990.

The amendments deal with four authorities which currently deliver services to my constituency. For the benefit of the House, I should explain that Clackmannan county constituency covers the whole of Clackmannan district, which has 12 wards in it, and which, in turn, has six Central region wards. On top of that, there are another four district wards—two in Stirling and two in Falkirk—which comprise in turn another two wards of Central region.

When the composition of the new unitary authorities was being considered, one can imagine my surprise when the proposals which appeared first in the White Paper and then in the Bill made such a dog's breakfast of the Central region area. Before the publication of the White Paper, I went to see the Secretary of State to express my concern at the proposed authority, which was rumoured, of Falkirk and Clackmannan districts.

Mr. Lang

indicated assent.

Mr. O'Neill

The Secretary of State nods his head. I pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that the two areas were not linked and that they were separated by the River Forth. He did not know at the time that Kincardine bridge, which is the nearest crossing of the Forth to the two areas, may be in Falkirk in the south, but it lands in Kincardine —hence the name, I suppose—in the north, in Fife.

I can only imagine that my brief geography lesson had a salutary effect on St. Andrew's house, since that part of Fife was then put into the new authority. While the Secretary of State had an excuse—after all, he was educated at an English public school—the Minister benefited from the excellent education service which was provided by the old Fife county and therefore had no excuse.

Only after the debacle of the Committee, where the Minister could not guarantee a majority for the defence of the clause, did the Government see reason and return Kincardine to Fife. That, of course, resulted in the collapse of the Falkirk and Clackmannan option.

I do not want to take up the time of the House with Falkirk, as my two colleagues who represent the bulk of that district may wish to do so. It would be churlish of Clackmannan to say that it was only the Government's desire to create a Stirling authority, or the wrongheadedness of their aim to lump it with Falkirk, which resulted in what we have at present. Although it has resulted in the creation of a unitary authority with a population of about 47,000, it must be said that, since 1980 —since when there has been overall Labour control—a series of outstanding councillors have worked with excellent chief executives to provide a local authority that has been imaginative and cost-effective in delivering services.

Every council house has both central heating and double glazing, and while Clackmannan may not be the only authority to offer a mortgage rescue scheme, it certainly is the smallest in Britain to do so.

We have heard about economies of scale. We have not heard about critical mass, but my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) could have applied it in his arguments against Clackmannan. We are told that somehow there is a size below which an authority cannot fall. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central is paying attention to this point because it is central to a reasonable assessment of the chances of the authority taking root and giving services.

Under virtually every criterion which one could choose to apply to the size of a service-delivering body, Clackmannan seems to be below it. As for its being a district authority and providing the range of services which districts are required to do, size has not been a disadvantage so far. Indeed, it has been able to secure leveraged financing arrangements for a number of projects which, through input from outside agencies in both the public and private sectors, have realised ambitious schemes.

I shall mention only one which is contained in the excellent publicity material that has been provided for the debate. An investment of £100,000 by Clackmannan district council in the Tillicoultry urban renewal project has attracted support from other agencies to the order of some £5 million.

The authority has become noted for its pragmatism and its willingness to work with the private and public sectors. There are those who say that such a small authority will not have the resources or expertise to operate a proper education service or to make adequate social work provision. I have to say that the jury is still out on those charges. The problems certainly would have been far greater had it not been for the excellent facilities and staff which it will inherit from Central region.

It seems that, in the restructuring, Central region will be swept aside. It, too, fought a hard and straight campaign to defend its record. Unfortunately, such was the Government's commitment to creating the Tory island in the central belt around Stirling that Central was sacrificed. But why did the Government think that they could carve up Central and preserve Fife?

The two authorities are roughly the same size and they are coterminous in a number of areas. I realise that the answer is not simple and certainly there are problems with which Central region has had to deal with over the years. For a start, the name is not particularly attractive and the officers and councillors of Central region, in adopting the heart of Scotland concept as a defence, gave an indication of that.

There were other problems. Certainly in my area there was a view that insufficient attention had been paid to road development in Clackmannan and that the administration was too remote. It must be said that the news about substantial road improvements, the opening of local offices and the attempts to create local advisory groups was welcome, but I suspect that it will, sadly, be too late to mend the damage that has been caused by bruising disagreements on planning matters.

In the early stages of its life, Central region had a decade of apparent inertia and indifference. As one who has represented a constituency within Central region for the past 15 years, I must say that, if we had had the purposeful dedication and fight that we have had in the past five years for resources and services by Central region in the preceding 10 years, we might have seen a different authority emerging from the review procedure.

I am happy, however, that last night the Labour group of Central region for the first time appointed two members from Clackmannan to be the leaders of the planning and economic development functions. I recognise that the region has attempted to bridge what has become a gap with some of the areas. That must be put on record as evidence of Central region's good intent and of the fact that it is a shame that the region will not feature in what goes ahead.

As the debates of previous months have shown and those during the Bill's remaining progress will show, the changes that we are discussing are, frankly, neither wanted nor needed. I am conscious that the people of Cowie and Fallin and Plean, for whom Tory politicians are as relevant as the dodo or the dinosaur, are in danger of being consigned to a right-wing-controlled Stirling district, if the Government's assumptions about the electoral outcome are correct.

8.30 pm

I am greatly worried about fragile communities, where one in three of the men is out of work, being sacrificed as some sort of adventure playground, which is what we would have in a Stirling unitary authority. The resolution of that problem is not to be found by splitting that part of Stirling off from Stirling. The resolution of a problem of that character would be the combination of Stirling and Clackmannan in one authority, where there could be a proper mixture of industry, commerce and the like.

Nothing said in Committee or this evening and nothing that is likely to be said in the days ahead will alleviate the fears and anxieties of my Catholic constituents in Clackmannan district, whose children will have to go to St. Modan's in Stirling—outwith the area where they can exercise any democratic control—to a school to which they will have to travel and for which the provision is unclear in a number of respects. I raised the matter on the day that the White Paper was published, but we have yet to receive the sort of assurances that will satisfy that community in my constituency.

While I congratulate my colleagues in Clackmannan on their achievements and wish them well, they will now have to prove the doomsters wrong. When Labour—in office —looks at local government, it will direct its attention to authorities like Clackmannan and Falkirk. If the administrative hurdles that lie in the way of change are overcome, the hardest thing about the changes might be that those small and potentially under-resourced authorities will have to make them work. If the Bill is enacted and they have to face that challenge, I can only wish them all the best. Their problems may well be greater, however, than any of us assume at present.

I would like to be proved wrong, but I fear that the Government's intentions in creating a Tory Stirling will force everything else into second place. That is why I can give only a mixed welcome to the success of my colleagues in Falkirk and Clackmannan in achieving what they wanted. I wish them well and will work with them to achieve the best, but on balance I am a little pessimistic.

Mr. Salmond

I support amendments Nos. 25 and 26, which I and my colleagues tabled, and I hope to be able to move them at the appropriate time.

The amendments concern the establishment of Banff and Buchan as a unitary authority within the new set-up, taking it out of the proposed Aberdeenshire option which is favoured by the Government. There are a number of arguments behind the amendments and I shall deal with them as quickly as possible.

First, public opinion is overwhelmingly on the side of the amendments. In a survey of 3,332 residents in Banff and Buchan, 93.6 per cent. were in favour of the Banff and Buchan option. The options presented were either Banff and Buchan or Aberdeenshire, as proposed by the Government. Among the remaining 6.4 per cent., there were more "don't knows" than people who supported the Aberdeenshire option.

In the regional elections, a week past Thursday, there was a further test of opinion on the options because, in the Cruden, Ugie and Boddam ward in my constituency, a sitting district councillor, who supports the Aberdeenshire option, ran against a sitting SNP regional councillor, who supports the Banff and Buchan option. I do not pretend that that was the only issue in the campaign, but it was none the less an interesting test of opinion. The sitting district councillor came bottom of the poll and was even beaten by the Conservative candidate, which was no mean achievement in my constituency.

On that test of opinion, there has been a resounding vote in favour of the Banff and Buchan option. The community councils in the constituency are in favour of that option; 17 out of 18 of the sitting district councillors and eight out of nine of the newly elected regional councillors are in favour, as is, of course, the Member of Parliament.

Therefore, as far as we can ascertain, public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of a unitary authority in Banff and Buchan. The Minister had the grace to acknowledge that fact in Committee. In his remarks on the amendments he made it clear that he did not dispute the fact that public opinion favoured the Banff and Buchan option. Two months ago, when a cross-party delegation from the Banff and Buchan campaign met the Minister, he acknowledged the public opinion argument, but wanted to see some detailed financial estimates. As he can confirm, he was presented with a detailed assessment within a week from Richard Blackburn, the chief executive of Banff and Buchan district council.

That assessment considered the capital and revenue implications of the Banff and Buchan option compared with the Government's Aberdeenshire proposal. It was no macro-aggregate garbage in, garbage out, model, where one plugs in certain numbers and, given the assumptions, gets certain numbers back out. It was a detailed estimate —a detailed look at the proposed committee structure, the cost of amalgamating computer systems and the travel costs of the various options. Each and every aspect of the finances of the two proposals was examined.

The Blackburn report concluded that there would be an immediate £5 million saving on capital costs with the Banff and Buchan option and a stream of revenue savings, equivalent to a £25 saving in the council tax in the district. Significantly for other hon. Members who might be interested, there would also be savings in the other two component authorities concerned—Kincardine and Deeside and Gordon. As far as I am aware, that was the only detailed financial assessment of the proposals. It was not a global overview, but a detailed blow-by-blow assessment of the proposals' implications and it is a very powerful document.

What is wrong with the Aberdeenshire authority proposal? It has attracted very little public support. In the original consultation document only five responses were in favour of that option, compared with 63 in favour of Banff and Buchan. The Aberdeenshire option therefore has little or no support. However, the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch) has given it support and caused great offence in my constituency, given that in the Standing Committee he was able to make a case—with cross-party support—on grounds of public opinion for the adjustment of boundaries that immediately concern his constituency.

There was some annoyance in my constituency about the fact that he professed in The Press and Journal today his opposition to Banff and Buchan as a unitary authority. If the Government maintain their position, which is totally against public opinion in my constituency, fingers will be pointed in the direction of the hon. Gentleman as someone who put a spoke in the wheel of a proposal that has overwhelming public support.

Aberdeenshire is a doughnut option—not because the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside supports it, but because, like a Polo mint, it will have a hole in the middle. The proposed authority will have no centre, because its natural centre is the city of Aberdeen.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) made an excellent point in Committee—to the irritation of some of his colleagues—when he demanded to know of the Minister where he thought the headquarters of the proposed Aberdeenshire authority would be. Any detailed assessment would prove that there are no suitable chambers or headquarters within the proposed Aberdeenshire area equipped to cope with an authority of 46 members, who on a reasonable estimate would require 6,300 sq m of accommodation at their headquarters.

Currently, in Aberdeenshire there are a number of headquarters and district councils. Viewmont in Stonehaven accommodates 12 members of Kincardine and Deeside district council. Gordon House in Inverurie copes with 16 members of Gordon district council. The biggest of the current headquarters is county hall in Banff in my constituency which, in the old Banffshire authority, coped with 30 members. But none of the current headquarters buildings could remotely cope with the sort of council that is being suggested in the Government's current proposals.

That means that the first act of the new Aberdeenshire authority, if it comes to fruition, will be a straight choice of either establishing its headquarters in the present regional headquarters of Woodhill house in Aberdeen, outside its own local authority area; or, alternatively, building a purpose-built, high-cost new local authority headquarters somewhere in the new Aberdeenshire. I cannot believe that anybody would seriously argue that the new authority will endear itself to the population either by headquartering outside its own area or by embarking on a high-cost building scheme. It is a nonsense proposal.

The authority area, as suggested by the Government, encompasses 630,000 hectares. It is only marginally smaller in size than Dumfries and Galloway and, under the current proposals, only Highland is bigger in size than these two. While Highland and Dumfries and Galloway are existing regional councils, the proposal would involve the creation of a new authority of that enormous size.

As I understand it, the argument in favour of Aberdeenshire put by the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside is for a strong buffer authority around the city of Aberdeen. Yet Aberdeenshire without Banff and Buchan would still have a population of 125,520—not just a substantial authority in terms of the Government map, but much bigger than the authorities around the city of Edinburgh, for example. That is bigger than West Lothian, Midlothian and East Lothian. Absolutely crucial to the calculation is the fact that both Gordon and Kincardine and Deeside have rapidly growing populations.

In the comprehensive submissions that have been put forward by the Banff and Buchan campaign committee, a number of examples have been given to demonstrate why Banff and Buchan—although it has some similarities—is quite different in complexion from the two authorities, Gordon and Kincardine and Deeside, with which it is proposed to lump it. One difference is obviously population change.

From 1981 to 2001, both Gordon and Kincardine and Deeside are projected to be rapidly growing population areas, with growth rates of 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. In contrast, Banff and Buchan has a relatively stable population, with a projected population growth of only 5 per cent.

Figures in the census for commuting demonstrate the difference between the authorities. In Banff and Buchan only 6 per cent. of the working population commute, presumably, to the city of Aberdeen. In Gordon and in Kincardine and Deeside, the percentages of commuters are 35 per cent. and 32 per cent. The Government are proposing to lump together two fast-growing commuting authorities with an authority which has a more stable, non-commuting population. The tensions implicit in that arrangement, with the natural demands for capital resources of the two authorities which have growing populations and will require increased capital costs, are evident for all to see.

I suspect that we could approach the local government map in terms of unitary authorities in two ways. According to the proposal that has been put forward, Banff and Buchan would be by no means the smallest unitary authority on the map—certainly not after the new changes have been made. In fact, it would be only the tenth smallest. It would be bigger than Orkney and Shetland, Western Isles, Stirling, Moray, East Renfrew, Clackmannan, East Lothian and Mid-Lothian.

I do not think that the Government can hold the argument that a population area with gross domestic product per capita of £10,000 which is very high in Scottish terms—and a substantial economically active a nd enterprising population is not capable of sustaining a unitary authority.

The choice in terms of unitary authorities seems clear. The Government could go for a strategic unit which would allow local authorities to have strategic planning roles. If it did that, the natural authority would not be Aberdeenshire; it would be the Grampian region. Alternatively, it could go with the argument which tries to meet community interests—a unitary authority that commands the loyalty and support of the people who live in that authority. If that is the path which the Minister wants to go down, there can be no gainsaying the fact that the appropriate unit in the north-east corner of Scotland is Banff and Buchan.

In its 20 years of existence as a district, Banff and Buchan has commanded an enormous degree of loyalty from its population—as has been demonstrated by the number of people who have rallied to the cause of seeing it survive as a unitary authority. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to give some indication that the Government will now pay some attention to the force of public opinion in my constituency.

8.45 pm
Mr. Ernie Ross

Earlier in the debate, in responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), the Minister referred to Dundee and to Government amendment No. 287. I wish to speak about that for a few minutes.

The Minister said that he had responded to the excellent case presented by the city of Dundee district council, with the support of all the political parties represented on that council—Conservative, Scottish National party and Labour. He also said that he was responding to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion), who made and expanded on several points in the Standing Committee. In column 215 of the Committee Hansard the Minister said: I expect to bring forward amendments that would reflect the case made by my hon. Member for Dundee, East. I was present at the Committee sitting, but I cannot remember any blinding flash of light striking my hon. Friend at that time, although I recall him saying that he was grateful to the Minister for what he had said. In column 216, my hon. Friend went on to say:

I recognise, however, that the Minister is being very positive and helpful towards the people of Dundee."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 10 February 1994; c. 215–16] If what is contained in the Government's amendments and what the Minister has said today are supposed to be helpful to Dundee, my hon. Friend will wish to intervene and perhaps to have a word with the Minister after the debate to clarify one or two things. The people of Dundee East Conservative Association, of which the Minister's father is a formidable member, will also want clarification. The Minister knows that his father does not agree with what is being said in the Chamber today, which will dramatically affect the possible success of a single-purpose authority in Dundee.

The Minister attempted to allay our fears by saying that he had responded to the majority of comments made by Dundee district council. He gave us the cemetery and Balgarthno, and we certainly welcome that; it is very necessary for industrial use.

Mr. McAllion

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Minister conceded on Birkhill cemetery only because nobody in that cemetery can vote for the Conservative party in elections?

Mr. Ross

I would not want to disagree with anything that my hon. Friend says. The people of Dundee are grateful that the Minister has given us Balgarthno. We require it if we are to continue the fine work being undertaken in Dundee to help to regenerate the area.

The Minister knows Dundee very well—as I have said, he has family connections there—and he knows that the people, we are seeking to attract are saying that, to attract industry, we need high-quality housing in the area. The weight of the argument put by local authorities, by all political parties, by my hon. Friend in Committee, and by both him and me when we came to see the Minister, is that we needed Belldovan and Balmuir so as to have high-quality housing which would add to the attractiveness of Dundee as a place where industry might locate.

We need Strathmartine hospital for the same reason, although whether it should be closed is another matter. When that hospital is closed and the building no longer serves the health board, there will be an existing service site which will be of extreme benefit to any local authority seeking to expand its housing. That is another reason why we argued for Strathmartine hospital.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East said in an intervention, it is essential that Mylnefield and the crop research institute based there should be retained within the Dundee boundary. The Minister knows of the excellent work being undertaken by Mylnefield and Dundee university, the one complementing the other. If that is outside the boundary, it will be more difficult for the two organisations to co-operate.

Equally, the Minister knows that much work has been carried out by Dundee district council on the Tay estuary nature reserve. He knows that a plan was put forward, in which Perth district did not wish to participate, and Dundee district council was prepared to continue with the nature reserve. We are close to designating that area a nature reserve, but it cannot be made a nature reserve if we know for a start that Longforgan is going to the new Perth area and that the reserve and the concept of the reserve and the estuary will not be supported by Perth district council.

The Minister is, in effect, killing the possibility of creating the Tay estuary nature reserve, and people who are interested in wildlife and the countryside will be very disappointed. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East says that the Minister is nodding as though he is agreeing. He has it in his power simply to push his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's case aside, since he is summing up, and to accept the proposals succinctly made and well argued by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East in Committee.

There are other reasons. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East made clear in Committee—I am sure that other hon. Members will refer to this today—a little event took place just over a week ago.

Mr. Foulkes

On 5 May.

Mr. Ross

On 5 May, as my hon. Friend reminds us. On that occasion there were some interesting results, because two of the local Conservative councillors made great play of supporting the Government's position during those elections. In the case of Longforgan and Sidlaw, former Councillor Angus Brown was the defender. He made it his job to go out and work to ensure that Longforgan and Sidlaw would be outside the new Dundee boundaries and he was rewarded by being sacked by the Scottish National party, which took that seat. It seems that the local population in Longforgan and Sidlaw rejected the Government's arguments as well. They did not want to be associated with what was intended to be a Conservative-controlled district in the future.

In Monifieth, a long-standing Conservative councillor, Mrs. Dorothy Portillo, made it clear before she stepped down that she did not agree that Monifieth should be taken out of Dundee. She was replaced by Councillor Donald McNaughton, who is currently a district councillor on Dundee district council. He was a candidate, but when he tried to become a regional councillor he had his head chopped off by the SNP. It does not seem to have done the Government any good. The gerrymandering has paid off. The Secretary of State has the opportunity now to rectify the nonsense that he has created and to correct the mistakes made by the draftsmen and draftswomen when they tried to ignore the case put forward by Dundee district council.

There is also the case of the vanishing petition. The Government listened in Committee and made great play of listening to local communities. In the local community of Longforgan, a concerned individual put a petition in the local grocer's shop and left it there so that the people who used that grocer's shop—almost to a person, they were people from the village—could sign to say if they agreed. The petition said: Save our village … Keep the village of Invergowrie within the same authority as Dundee. That petition was submitted to the Minister on 6 or 7 April this year, and it seems to have vanished. To this day, the person who sent it to the Minister is still awaiting an acknowledgement. We are not even sure whether the people had signed the petition and whether the Minister took it into account when he reached his conclusions.

Mr. Stewart

indicated assent.

Mr. Ross

The Minister nods. Did he reflect that when he spoke to the people whom he directed to draw the lines on the new map? Did he tell them about the petition from Longforgan?

Mr. Stewart

indicated assent.

Mr. Ross

Did he tell his hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) about the petition? Did he ask him to comment on it? Did he ask his hon. Friend to investigate whether the people of Invergowrie agreed with him and wished to go outwith Dundeed?

Mr. Stewart

indicated dissent.

Mr. Ross

The Minister shakes his head. He did not ask the hon. Member for Tayside, North. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed. He is not here at the moment and I apologise for mentioning him when he is not here, but I am sure that he would be disappointed to know that his constituents in Longforgan do not wish him to be their Member of Parliament if he happens to be selected in the future and the Bill is passed. They want to stay inside Dundee, as the people of Dundee wish to retain those aspects of the outlying areas that were submitted by Dundee district council.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East said in Committee, the gerrymandering will have to be corrected. When a Scottish Parliament comes into being, it will have to make it clear that the place for Monifieth and Longforgan is in a unitary authority within Dundee.

Mr. Foulkes

I should love to spend some time talking about the astonishing decision in relation to Clackmannan, which makes a mockery of the whole Bill and shows that there is no strategy behind the Government's proposals, but as time is limited I shall concentrate on amendment 42, which I hope the Minister will read. It is on page 1834 and, in addition to being signed by my hon. Friends the Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish), who are Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, it is signed by my hon. Friends the Members for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey)—and, of course, myself.

The amendment is in favour of an all-Ayrshire council. Ayrshire is a long-standing historical unit, very similar to Fife, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) knows only too well. The arguments in favour of an all-Ayrshire authority are identical to those in favour of a Fife authority. The Minister argued in favour of Fife in Committee.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and I went to meet the Minister with a non-party delegation from Ayrshire, members of the delegation asked the Minister, "What is the difference?" They wanted to know why the Government were putting forward a strategy for Fife which was different from that for Ayrshire. The Minister was unable to answer them. They could not detect any difference in the arguments for an all-Fife authority from those that they put forward for an all-Ayrshire authority. Nevertheless, the Government propose to split Ayrshire into three, which is artificial, more expensive, much more complicated and unwanted, and the authorities will not be able to organise strategic services.

It is artificial because Ayrshire is a traditional unit. Kyle and Carrick was carved out to try to satisfy the Conservatives in Kyle and Carrick. Given the results on 5 May, that will not be the case any more, but that was the original strategy. Cunninghame was then carved out to satisfy the councillors—just the councillors—there, leaving Kilmarnock and Loudoun to be thrown into an artificial union with Cumnock and Doon valley.

9 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and I are the best of friends—councillors in Kilmarnock and Loudoun and in Cumnock and Doon valley also get on well together—but no justification for the measure has been put forward, except that those areas were left over once Cunninghame, north Ayrshire, and Kyle and Carrick, south Ayrshire, were created. If an argument can be put forward for Clackmannan being a single-tier all-purpose authority, it could equally be put forward for Cumnock and Doon valley. If the Cumnock and Doon Valley authority had been selfish enough and concerned only about its own interests, it might have put that argument forward. All credit is due to Cumnock and Doon Valley for thinking beyond the interests of individual councillors to the best provision of services such as education, social services and roads.

The Government's proposal would also be more expensive. The document that the Minister received from the delegation that my hon. Friend and I took along showed that it would cost council tax payers £2 per week more. I hope that the Minister has read that document. He said that he would pass it on to the Secretary of State and consult him. Why should the people of Ayrshire pay £2 a week extra for a split that they do not want? That paper clearly showed that there is a disparity of office accommodation. The shortfall amounts to 180,000 sq ft because headquarters will have to be created for south Ayrshire, north Ayrshire and east Ayrshire and the offices are in entirely the wrong place.

The proposal is more complicated because we shall have not a single-tier authority but a multi-tier authority, probably with as many as five tiers—water and sewerage, fire and police, various joint boards and the councils. It will be much more complicated and much less efficient.

The proposal is also unwanted. Community council after community council in the area, from Prestwick to Mauchline and up to Kilmore, have said that they want an all-Ayrshire authority. Many of my hon. Friends will have received an excellent letter from our old friend Bob Beattie, for whom we have great respect, arguing that case. The Ayrshire chamber of commerce, and businessmen in the area, have also argued the case. Bishop Maurice Taylor of the Roman Catholic Church and all the representatives of the Church of Scotland have argued the case for an all-Ayrshire authority. So the three-way split is not wanted by the representatives of the people of Ayrshire.

On strategic services, the three authorities will be unable to run services such as roads, social services and education. The paper presented to the Minister shows that they would have difficulty even providing a new secondary school in terms of the new capital building programmes. Those small authorities will be hobbled and unable to provide the full facilities required, such as vital special services for the mentally and physically handicapped, through the capital building programmes.

After my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and I had taken a delegation to see the Minister, David Donaldson said that he had received a courteous hearing from the Minister, as indeed he had. I was about to say that he was non-political, and he is now, although he used to be a Tory candidate. Someone who was a Tory candidate in the 1950s is wise to be non-political now. He said that he hoped for a positive response on Report and added:

If the Government proceeds with its planned three way split it will mean the people of Ayrshire are unnecessarily disadvantaged, facing increased costs, reduced services or even both. The Minister gave the delegation a very courteous hearing and we are hopeful of a positive response at the Report Stage. I hope that the Government's answer will be to accept amendment No. 42 and the wishes of the people of Ayrshire for a continuation of Ayrshire and the services that it can provide. The arguments which are so powerful in relation to Fife are equally powerful in Ayrshire. I hope that the Minister will recognise that today.

Mr. Gallie

The hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) opened the debate by suggesting that there was no consensus for change in respect of single-tier local authorities. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) contradicted that view, and I believe that he was right. At the last general election, all hon. Members in the Chamber said in our manifestos that we aimed for single-tier authorities, and the Government are delivering.

I wish to speak mainly on amendment No. 42. I shall not repeat the words that I used in Committee on Thursday 10 February. What I said then stands now. I have heard nothing new from Opposition Members today that would change my view on the standing of Ayrshire. I urge Ministers to hold firm with the opinion of the Committee, which accepted without question the intention to create three authorities in Ayrshire. There is all-party support within Cunninghame council for a north Cunningham authority. In Kilmarnock and Loudoun there is majority support for it. In Kyle and Carrick there is majority support among the elected representatives. My hon. Friend the Minister cannot turn his back on those factors.

While I do not want to repeat my own words in Committee, I should like to quote those of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) who, acknowledging that he was acting as the ventriloquist for his hon. Friends the Members for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) and for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), said: There is widespread support in Cunninghame for the proposition that if reorganisation is to go ahead, it should be on the basis of three authorities". I agreed with the hon. Gentleman then, and I agree with him now. He went on: My hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North convened a public meeting in Largs last summer, immediately after publication of the White Paper. He set out his own approach —that if there is to be a single-tier local government structure, the most viable politically attainable option to go for is for Cunninghame."—[Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 10 February 1994; c. 263–64.] That is to say, north Ayrshire.

Mr. McKelvey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gallie

I am sorry, but I do not have time.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to stick with the principle of local accountability and local responsibility. The proposals for Ayrshire attain just that.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Amendments Nos. 30 and 31 are the only ones that relate to Lanarkshire. We in the county are used to thinking of it as a whole. This applies to travel to work, to education, to health provision, more recently to the Lanarkshire Development Agency, and to the immense task of replacing Ravenscraig and the steel industry, whose loss has left such a big hole not only in Motherwell but in the whole life of Lanarkshire.

Even with the present Motherwell district, we have to work with area housing offices to bring services near to the people. That would have been perfectly possible in a Lanarkshire solution for services that need to be close to the people. The county of Lanarkshire would have been a viable, defensible solution. Yes, it would have been a single-tier authority with an electorate larger than that of the city of Glasgow, and no doubt that would have frightened the Government to death. Instead, the Government's proposals have all the disadvantages of widely dispersed authorities in north and south Lanarkshire, and none of the coherence of areas corresponding to local communities.

North Lanarkshire has never been a regional or sub-regional entity in its own right for the delivery of any local government or national Government services. It is not a city; it is a loose amalgam of small and medium-sized communities. It has no centre and no north-south direct public communication links. It lacks any coherent social, community or journey-to-work links. The proposal totally disregards natural and man-made barriers in terms of transport and land form, which will not be removed or easily overcome by any local government reorganisation.

Faced with this, the Motherwell district council proposed three new local government areas in Lanarkshire, without the option of the whole and without the option of merely local communities. It proposed the adoption of the natural boundaries marked by the M8 and M74, dividing Lanarkshire into three radial zones whose communication links with Glasgow also offer the advantages of internal communications within each of the areas.

The district council did its best to secure the support of other districts—in particular, Clydesdale—which would have joined Motherwell in that pattern. I did my best to put the case to colleagues and to the Minister, and I think that the Minister tried, rather belatedly, to secure consensus, even among such people as pass as Tories in Lanarkshire, of whom there are not many. He failed, as, I am afraid, did the council and myself, to secure the necessary consensus to produce a logical solution for Lanarkshire.

The facts remain, however, and the ground will not go away. The proposed boundaries have no logic and I do not see them surviving any proposals that will emerge, either from the Government or from Labour's local government reform, which will be based on different principles.

The lesson for us in Motherwell is that we have to continue working constructively with our neighbouring communities, as we have done in the immense task of industrial redevelopment, and to build future proposals together with our neighbouring communities so that we can put forward agreed proposals which have mutual confidence and reflect a common strength of view to the mutual benefit of us all. I am sorry that the Government have not given us such a lead in their approach to this round of local government reform, which will in no way last.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber)

I shall always be grateful to the late Willie Ross for giving me the opportunity to serve on the Royal Commission for Local Government in Scotland, which sat between 1966 and 1969. It was from its recommendations that the regional structure, of which Highland is one, emerged.

The contrast between what Willie did and what the Government have done could not be more marked. Acting against a background of urgent pressure for reform—and there was urgent pressure at that time—he appointed an independent and politically balanced commission. From the House, apart from myself, a Liberal, there was the late Tom Fraser from the Labour party and the late Betty Harvie Anderson from the Conservatives, both of whom I came to regard with great respect and affection.

It was a consensual exercise, slow and careful, and John Wheatley was an immaculately fair chairman. I am very sad to see that work thrown away, for the motivation for change now is certainly party political. I am quite sure that, had the wayward ways of politics produced, in Strathclyde regional council, for example, a Conservative majority, we would not be debating legislation tonight; we would not be talking about change at all. Particularly in Ayrshire, Stirling and Renfrew, change, not reform, is the right word.

My experience on the royal commission leads me to oppose amendment No. 169 in the name of my hon. Friends the Members for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), with whom in most matters I am in happy equilibrium.

I am well aware of the enthusiasm for all-purpose authorities. The note of dissent signed by Betty and me on the royal commission's report would have achieved it on a regional basis. We opposed the two-tier structure, not simply because of the separation of housing and social work, to which the Seebohm committee was unanimously opposed, but also because we felt that the alternative was regions with the main functions and genuinely strong community councils based on the old burghs, with general competence powers. That would have worked well and would have allowed also for devolution within the regions, which Highland has already operated and looks to improve.

Before turning briefly and specifically to the amendment, I remind the House of the principles of local government on which we on Wheatley agreed, and give the House a one-sentence quotation from the report. They were power, effectiveness, local democracy and local involvement. What did we say about power?

What we have always had in view is a type of structure in which there could be a real shift of power from central to local government. Sadly, the opposite has taken place. In Highland, by maintaining one council, I feel we can at least retain some of it.

9.15 pm

For a long time I represented the largest constituency in the United Kingdom. It covers 4,900 square miles and is larger than Cyprus. I now represent the second largest constituency—the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye is, by a small margin, the largest constituency—and I am not impressed by arguments on size. Better travel links and technology have overcome the problems. I have no doubt that Highland is a coherent region with common feelings and culture and a need to work together.

It is worth stressing that the retention of Highland region results in minimal functional change. The only major transfer is housing, which I deplore, but it is in decline as a function. I do not agree that the quality of democratic control will be diminished. To the contrary,I consider that during the past two decades Highland region has demonstrated that it is a sensitive and efficient local authority.

On the views of the existing district councils, Lochaber, Badenoch and Strathspey, and Inverness in my constituency favour the two-council option of the amendment. Skye and Lochalsh, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, does not, as he said. By agreement with him, I speak for them, as I did in Parliament for nearly 20 years.

The chief executive of Skye and Lochalsh, David Noble, produced a paper setting out the unanimous views of his council that is admirably succinct but too long to allow me, in the tight time frame available, to read it all out. However, I shall read two paragraphs that encapsulate the argument for one council against two clearly and directly. Mr. Noble says: The administrative centres for the two Councils will almost certainly be sited within a few miles of each other, probably in Inverness and Dingwall. In practical terms, these centres will be no more local to peripheral areas that also applies to Caithness in the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland— than a single Council's administrative centre in Inverness. Two Councils will need joint working arrangements for a whole range of vital services. These include information technology, specialist education services, European issues (vital in consideration of the Objective 1 arguments) and refuse disposal. There will also be statutory joint committees for Police, Fire and Valuation. The single Council will give clearer accountability and more effective democratic control of these services. I agree with him. In the case of Nairn, after what I can only describe as some confusion—I am sure that the Minister will agree—it is clear that it wishes to be part of the Highland region and also supports a single Highland council.

As hon. Members will understand from my preliminary remarks, I am not happy about the Government's general approach to local government change. What they have done over the past decade has weakened local government hugely, and what they propose will weaken it further. However, in the case of the Highland region, they are right, and staying with one council for the highlands makes sense.

Mr. Lang

I am conscious that in intervening at this stage of the debate, I am doing so before the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who has been here throughout it, has had the chance to contribute. However, as time is moving on, I hope that he will understand that it is appropriate for me to respond to the points made so far. The highlands were not discussed in Committee and there was general agreement that it would be appropriate to discuss the issues involving the highlands on Report.

Before addressing the proposals specifically, I shall respond to the comments of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) about the Wheatley commission. I have great respect for what it did; had it not done the work that it did, it would have been impossible for us to contemplate embarking on the reform of local government without some sort of commission. It was the codification and work done by Wheatley that gave us the foundation on which we could build. The vast majority of boundaries are either regional or district boundaries as set out in Wheatley.

The hon. Gentleman will remember that the Wheatley commission's proposals were amended substantially and by the House from 48 to 65 in major ways that I could cover, but which have been covered in earlier discussions.

I deal now with the question of the highland region and amendment No. 169. I agree with the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy). It is a difficult issue; it is one of the most difficult issues of all the boundaries. In taking the view that I and the Government do, we have given close thought to the conflicting pressures of, on the one hand, local loyalties, the pressure to respond to local issues and keep local government as local as possible, and, on the other, the need for efficiency founded on a strong resource base.

As we have heard, there are genuinely conflicting views on what the new structure for the highlands should be. In response to our public consultation, support has divided between a single Highland authority and a number of smaller units based on a range of possibilities, such as districts, groups of districts or counties. Proposals have since emerged for a two-way split, advanced by the Association of Highland District Councils and reflected in the amendments before the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), the Under-Secretary of State, met the hon. Members for Caithness and Sunderland and for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, with representatives of the association, to hear at first hand the case for a two-way split. I have had separate meetings with the association and Highland regional council. I pay tribute to the positive and constructive way in which the case has been presented by both sides.

I acknowledge that the north-south split is a genuine compromise—proposed by the association—for those who have concerns over a single Highland authority proposal. I acknowledge also a number of letters in recent weeks in support of the two-way split from various businesses operating in the highlands area: community councils, individuals and so on. But that support—also indicated by a survey, to which the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber referred—must, of course, be balanced against the views of those in favour of a single Highland authority. Strong support for that option has come from the business community, the voluntary sector, community councils and individuals. Supporters of a Highland council include Highlands and Islands Enterprise; the highland branch of the CBI; the Highland health board; the Scottish Landowners Federation; and a number of community councils.

Skye and Lochalsh district council also favours the single Highland authority and has entered into preliminary discussions with the regional council on how service delivery and decision making can best be decentralised. The Government attach great importance to the issue of decentralisation in those large rural authorities. Moreover, Nairn district council has moved recently from its position of favouring a link with Moray to one of fully supporting a single Highland council.

Of course, there is no easy reconciliation of the conflicting arguments, and no solution will please everyone, but there is little doubt about the integrity of the highlands in terms of history, geography, culture and recreation. People identify strongly with the highlands. A survey commissioned by Ross and Cromarty district council revealed that 82 per cent. of respondents strongly identified with the highlands. Beneath the Highland level, I believe that the identity is at county rather than community level. In an area such as the highlands, whether there are one or two councils, the focus must be on effective decentralisation to ensure a genuinely local input to the service delivery and decision taking.

Much of the highlands—around 60 per cent.—is focused on Inverness and the Moray Firth area. The validity of drawing a line through that area, as proposed by the north-south split, and by amendment No. 169, must be questioned. Indeed, Skye and Lochalsh district council has pointed out that it does not fit readily into either north or south, and that there is no north highlands or south highlands identity. That view was reinforced by several responses to our consultation. It has also been pointed out that dividing the western highlands between two local authority areas could fragment efforts to develop important local policies relating to the Gaelic language, crofting, tourism and fishing.

Overall, I share the view of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber. I believe that there are compelling arguments in favour of the single authority, in terms of identity, service delivery, and economic planning and development. While it is not necessarily an overriding factor, there are also clear financial advantages. It is worth pointing out that some 85 per cent. of resources in terms of major local authority services are already delivered at regional level.

Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte touched on the question of cost, which was raised by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, and has, I understand, suggested that one council would cost £4.4 million less than the status quo, whereas two would cost £6.2 million more than the status quo.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

The Secretary of State, in answering the representations that have been made from those who favour two highlands councils, has made the perfectly fair point that it was a matter that could best be deliberated on in the forum of the House. Although we have heard two powerful speeches presenting each side of the argument, they have been brief, and many arguments have not been deployed by either of the protagonists.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that it would not be sensible to conclude the argument here tonight, and that it should be continued in the upper House? He could then listen to some of the arguments about the quality, as well as the quantity, of democracy—arguments such as that advanced by two former Conservative parliamentary candidates in my constituency, who point out that only a third of the seats in the region have been contested since the local government reorganisation. There is indeed a sense in which the north highlands are quite different from the more developed conurbations of Inverness and Fort William.

Mr. Lang

Given the hon. Gentleman's knowledge and experience of his constituency and the highlands in general, I accept that he deserves the recognition of such distinctions. I also accept his complete right to argue the case, and to continue to argue it beyond the completion of the Bill's stages in this House. The debates in another place are a matter for their lordships; if the hon. Gentleman seeks to interest them, they may well be interested in pursuing the issue further.

I think that I owe it to the House to give a firm steer in regard to the Government's view as a result of the extensive consultations that have taken place, and the careful consideration that we have given to all the points that have been made. As I said earlier, they were presented very well and comprehensively by both the Association of Highland District Councils and the region.

At the end of the day, it is the Government's considered view that the best way forward for the highlands area is to establish a single Highland authority, with effective decentralisation involving area committees. I think that that would combine the many benefits of one council, and reflect the local loyalties that shone through very clearly in response to the public consultation no less effectively than a two-way split. Against that background, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw amendment No. 169.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

I am aware of the time constraints, but I should not like the debate to pass without some reference to the record of Strathclyde regional council. It is a first-class council,, one of the best in the history of the country. Unfortunately, if the Bill goes through, Strathclyde will be fully appreciated only when it no longer exists and people no longer have access to the services that it provides.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) referred to the Wheatley commission. I am afraid that we in Cambuslang and Rutherglen do not have such fond memories of that commission: it took away our independence and made us part of Glasgow district council. The alliance has not been a happy one, and certainly does not reflect the wish of people in Cambuslang and Rutherglen to have their own community identity. It is not a question of any resentment of Glasgow people; we in Cambuslang and Rutherglen are used to a much smaller unit, and we simply feel that Glasgow is too big.

Community campaigns have been mentioned. I do not know why the Government do not take account of the 15,000–signature petition presented to Parliament by Cambuslang and Rutherglen, the aggregate attendance of more than 3,000 people at public meetings and the fact that 3,000 people have sent written communications to the Scottish Office. That local community campaign raised more than £3,000—money that was raised for the community and the aims that it supported.

The Government have laid themselves open to charges of gerrymandering by creating councils in different areas of the country with a smaller population than Cambuslang and Rutherglen. I am not necessarily opposed to that; there is a genuine difference between me and some of my hon. Friends in that regard. I believe that the case for or against smaller councils is still to be proved. I recognise that what is happening to Clackmannan is the wish of local people, and time alone will tell whether it can work.

I congratulate Clackmannan council on getting what it fought for—but it must be pointed out that larger populations, in Cambuslang and Rutherglen and elsewhere, have been denied the opportunity of a community focus by the Government's plans.

The proposal for Cambuslang and Rutherglen is the establishment of a South Lanarkshire authority. Although the Government may be able to say that the people in the area concerned voted for South Lanarkshire in Glasgow district council's referendum, it must be said that my colleagues in the district council badly mismanaged that referendum. They allowed the Government to say that my constituents favour South Lanarkshire. If Cambuslang and Rutherglen end up in South Lanarkshire council, the blame will fairly be laid at the door of Glasgow district council.

In common with some of my hon. Friends, I have not moved amendments because the consensus on the Opposition side of the House is that the Government are determined to have their way. I spoke at length with Ministers, to try to persuade them otherwise. In common with my hon. Friends, I am not into gesture politics and moving an empty amendment, when I know full well that the Government will not accept it. Many of my hon. Friends are in the same position.

I warn and advise the Government that the Cambuslang and Rutherglen cause and case has not ended yet and will be pursued in the other place. I am totally opposed to the Bill and shall vote against it—even if it includes a Cambuslang and Rutherglen council. The motivation behind it is the negation of local democracy and taking power away from local authorities. It is clearly anti-democratic.

If the Bill is passed, we shall delay it as long as possible, until we are nearer to a Labour Government. Even if it eventually ends up on the statute book, a Labour Government will destroy the legislation, make sure that it is not implemented and, through a Scottish Parliament, have a proper independent review of Scottish local government.

9.30 pm
Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

I shall speak to amendment No. 297, and I am delighted that Ralston, West Dykebar, Paisley, North and Paisley, South will return to Renfrew district. That is undoubtedly due to endless representations by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) on behalf of that area.

I was denied a place on the Standing Committee that considered the Bill, having to pull out to allow the Secretary of State to skulk away and leave the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) to present the Bill's gerrymandering proposals. There will be none more delighted than the people of Ralston, who voted overwhelmingly in a referendum against being included in Eastwood district council. I am sure that was in no small way due to the fact that Paisley grammar school refused to opt out of Strathclyde education authority, with 80 per cent. of parents voting to remain within it.

If I ever doubted that gerrymandering was going on, I have no doubt now. In returning Ralston and West Dykebar to Renfrew district, the hon. Member for Eastwood has left the Tory safe haven that is his parliamentary constituency a council area.

What of the people of Barrhead, who have no connection with an Eastwood council? Barrhead has been a borough for 100 years. Newton kirk, which has been part of the Paisley presbytery since the Reformation, will now be contained in a different local authority. Only 2 per cent. of the people living in Barrhead work in Eastwood.

Can the Minister give any historical, geographical or other reason—other than political gerrymandering—for taking Barrhead into Eastwood district council? There is none. Apart from anything else, how can the Minister justify the cost of taking Barrhead out of Renfrew district council, which will otherwise remain intact, and putting it into Eastwood? There is no logical, historic or geographical reason for that action.

I have no doubt that the result of the Ralston by-election persuaded the Minister to put that area back into Renfrew district. When the numbers were added up, he was not sure that bringing Ralston in would leave him with a safe enough Tory majority in the council—so Ralston went back to Renfrew district.

I plead with the Minister at this late stage to show some decency and put Barrhead back where it belongs in Renfrew district council.

Mr. Dalyell

Having heard the Minister give encouragement to Queensferry community council, may I ask what his attitude is to starred amendments Nos. 302 and 303 on the question of Queensferry coming out of Edinburgh and moving into West Lothian?

I have two questions on costs. The COSLA report identifies the fact that, due to the changes in the number of authorities carrying out the various functions, there will be significant variations in the numbers of employees with the individual skills and status required by the new authorities compared to the old authorities.

That inevitable mismatch will mean that large numbers of staff will qualify for redundancy or early retirement because they will not be able to find a suitable post in the new authorities. At the same time, a large number of new staff will require to be employed to fill the additional specialist posts, which will be created in other services such as education and social work. The key point is that those new staff will not be replacing the staff being made redundant, but will be filling new posts requiring different skills.

Does the Minister accept that that mis-match will occur, irrespective of the net change in total staff numbers that may eventually result from the reorganisation? If so, how has that factor been taken into account in the Government's estimate of transitional costs? May I add that some of us have doubts about whether the Minister was legally correct in his suggestions that an authority could pay compensation and reappoint people to similar or not very different posts? There is some doubt about the legal interpretation of the Minister's implications that somehow or another pots of gold were to go to certain employees, unless the Government acted otherwise. That is not legally possible as I understand it.

My second point is that there will also be a mis-match in the availability of property for the new authorities—a matter which was discussed at some length in Committee and to which the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) referred. In some of the new authority areas, there will be a surplus of property, but, in many instances, it will be virtually impossible to sell or lease it because of its location or character, while in other authorities, there will be a shortage of suitable property to accommodate all the staff required.

There will be an added problem with the need to adapt certain premises for specialised purposes such as information technology and communications systems. In Committee, we were never given any assurances about that matter, other than that the costs of the IT aspects would amount to £40 million or more. Those questions were never answered in Committee.

How have those factors been taken into account in the Government's estimate of transitional costs? Will the Minister undertake to ensure that the necessary capital consents will be made available for the new authorities as required to permit them to locate all staff in suitable accommodation in the areas of their authorities? I should like answers to those questions.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

I rise to support the amendments in respect of my constituency, in a last-ditch effort to retrieve the position in my area. I have never done this before, but I am speaking on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) who would have contributed to our proceedings, if only they had been better managed. That is not a criticism of the Opposition Whip, who has done a good job tonight, but I know that he has been bullied by the Front-Bench spokesmen.

It is quite the most ill-considered Bill of which I have had experience in the 15 years that I have served in the House. I cannot remember such a badly drafted piece of legislation. It has everything to do with trying to retrieve a situation for a political party which has all but vanished from the political scene in Scotland. This is now a Government without authority, but certainly a Government who govern in a wholly authoritarian way.

My constituency, which is to be the subject of this gerrymandering, was never part of Lanarkshire. It was always part of Dunbartonshire. Traditionally, the services came from Dunbartonshire; traditionally, there was a county council which provided the major services. They continued through Strathclyde regional council when it took over from the county council. Only the health service and social work are located in the Monklands district into which it is proposed that we be placed. Many patients are referred to Glasgow hospitals and not always to Monklands general hospital. Lanarkshire has never provided services for my constituency.

We do not even go shopping in north Lanarkshire. I am a director of a bus company which offers bus services throughout Lanarkshire. However, there are no bus communications with the area to which it is proposed that we should move. The Tories will be pleased to hear that the bus company is driven by market forces. However, there is no market for bus services in Airdrie. No service provision has been made, simply because there is no demand for it.

Cumbernauld is its own community, and it has developed in that direction. Kilsyth is its own community, but it is heavily dependent on the economic provision that Cumbernauld makes in the shape of jobs and services. The Government are proposing a totally artificial authority. My hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) pointed out all the problems associated with the creation of a North Lanarkshire authority. He was right to do that and I will not rehearse the arguments that he advanced.

There is no doubt that the correct authority for my area is East Dunbartonshire. It would more properly be termed Lennox. If the Government were doing the right thing by local government and determining the right structure of local government for the purpose of providing services, that is the authority that would be created, because it would return to a situation that developed over a very long period. That was the right structure for local government.

The Government are gerrymandering for a purpose that now escapes us. They cannot return councillors, no matter what the situation might be. It is clear that the Government cannot, and will not be able to, return Members of Parliament. As I said at the outset, the Government are an authoritarian Government who have lost authority in Scotland. They have no right to be doing what they are doing.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) ended up by saying that the charge against the Government that we were gerrymandering was wholly inaccurate. However, I may have misinterpreted him.

I thought that the arguments of the hon. Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams) were a little misplaced. She accused me of gerrymandering in the new East Renfrewshire authority. She argued that the Government should take the five wards of Barrhead and Nielston out of East Renfrewshire authority. Of those five wards, two are currently Conservative marginals and three are Labour. How they can involve a charge of gerrymandering beggars belief.

Mr. Graham

Why is the Minister such a big feartie that he does not want to talk about the referendum which was held in his own constituency and showed overwhelmingly that the people of Barrhead and Nielston want to stay in Renfrew district?

Mr. Stewart

I replied to that point in Committee. I find it astonishing that it is the Labour party's official position that the East Renfrewshire authority should be smaller than that proposed by the Government.

A number of serious points have been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House during these debates. The slightly barbed congratulations from the hon. Member for Paisley, North were reflected by the hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill).

9.45 pm

A number of hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), raised perhaps one of the key questions: why is there a difference between our conclusions with regard to Ayrshire and the Central region on the one hand and Fife on the other hand. The hon. Gentleman made a strong case for an Ayrshire authority, as he did in Committee.

I shall summarise the arguments by saying that with regard to Fife, there is a combination of the historic identity and an existing authority which clearly has support. There is no clear alternative to a single-tier Fife authority which commands general support. Of course, there are alternatives. That is perhaps the key difference between our treatment of Fife and our treatment of Central and Ayrshire. But, in saying that, I must emphasise—

Mr. McAllion


Mr. Stewart

I shall finish this point and then give way to the hon. Gentleman.

That is no criticism of Central region; nor is it a criticism of the case that has been put forward for a single-tier Ayrshire. That case has been put forward by perfectly reasonable people on a non-partisan basis. But on balance, we concluded—as my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) suggested—that there is substantial support for the three-authority option for Ayrshire.

Mr. McAllion

The Secretary of State said that there was popular support for the retention of Fife regional council as it exists. If he looks at the situation in Tayside, he will see that there is popular support for the retention of Tayside regional council as it exists. Four out of five voters who voted in the Tayside regional council elections voted for parties that are committed to retaining the regional councils as they exist.

Mr. Stewart

I am not saying that there is some sort of perfect answer to the questions. There is no perfect answer; there is the best possible answer. There is substantial support for the City of Dundee authority.

Mr. O'Neill

Can the Secretary of State tell us what rationale he applied to the problem with regard to the resource base? There is some anxiety that the Clackmannan authority will have a resource base that is too narrow. Can he make it clear why he thinks that the resource base will be broad enough to carry out the functions that a pragmatic authority—by his own definition —such as Clackmannan will be able to do?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman raises a fair point.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Give us an answer.

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman will get an answer. We had to consider that point carefully with regard to the alternative, essentially, of the single-tier Central council option. We were convinced by the case put by the Clackmannan district council and the discussions that we had about how it would run a single-tier authority. The district council emphasised—the hon. Member for Clackmannan will know the document perhaps better than I do—the enabling authority role which it defined as partnership with other authorities and the voluntary and private sectors. Eventually, we decided that that was a convincing case.

Mr. Foulkes

The Minister has been consistently courteous and kind in saying that the arguments put forward have been powerful. I must say, with due respect, that I do not find his arguments very powerful in relation to Central, Fife and Ayrshire. May I offer one alternative: that in Ayrshire and Central, there are two existing authorities—Kyle and Carrick and Stirling—which are Tory-controlled, and there are two Tory Members who have been leaning on him? In Fife, thank goodness, there are no Tory authorities; nor are there any Tory Members. The Minister has just merely satisfied the hon. Members for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and their acolytes in Stirling and in Kyle and Carrick.

Mr. Stewart

I do not accept that. Hon. Members from both sides of the House have been leaning on me in relation to local government boundaries, and quite right, too.

May I turn, however, to the case put forward by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)? As he knows, I met a delegation from Banff and Buchan and there is substantial local support for a Banff and Buchan council. I accept that the case that the hon. Member put forward is tenable, and it is perfectly possible and conceivable that Banff and Buchan could be a single-tier council.

However, we reached a balanced judgment to continue with the Aberdeenshire option, with a new authority which would be strong, effective and efficient, which would be able to deliver the full range of local authority services and which would not be overshadowed by its city neighbour. However, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan will no doubt wish to continue to pursue his case in another place.

While we have decided to go ahead with the Aberdeenshire option, I would not wish it to be perceived that the Banff and Buchan option was not fully and carefully considered by the Government.

Mr. Salmond

The Minister has set out his conclusions, but I will not be able to pursue the matter personally in another place unless something dramatic happens. [Laughter.] I think that I have burned my boats in that direction.

In Committee, the Minister was generous enough to recognise the force of the public opinion arguments in favour of Banff and Buchan. Will he acknowledge the strength of the financial case that was put to him after the meeting which he has described?

Mr. Stewart

A carefully considered financial case was put to the Government. However, on balance, we concluded that the case for a large Aberdeenshire authority, with a population of about 220,000—a strong, effective and efficient authority—was preferred as our option for the future.

I turn briefly to the speeches that have been made in relation to Lanarkshire by the hon. Members for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy). The last is a doughty campaigner for his area, while, as he said, he does not accept the basis of the reform proposals. Those hon. Members will know that other hon. Members from Lanarkshire constituencies have also been to see me, and they have suggested that there is considerable support for the south Lanarkshire option.

I accept that hon. Members have highlighted problems in relation to north Lanarkshire. With some reluctance, I must agree with the hon. Member for Motherwell, South that a consensus has simply not emerged on the alternative proposals for the area. We conclude, therefore, that it would be sensible for the proposals to continue as Government policy and we recommend them to the House.

Hon. Members generally criticised the Bill's effect on local democracy. I hope that the House will accept that in Committee and on Report the Government have been extremely flexible. Again and again, we have responded to all-party campaigns that have advocated change to the original boundaries. That has been right and proper. The boundaries proposed in the Bill have been improved substantially by consideration in this House and I commend them, but I must recommend that the House votes against new clauses 2 and 3.

Question put and negatived.

Forward to