HC Deb 01 November 1994 vol 248 cc1416-21

Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 3, line 26, at end insert— ("Provided that no such other council may, without the consent of the Secretary of State, decide that their convener shall be known by the title of "Lord Provost".")

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Mr. Stewart.]

7.26 pm
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

You will have noticed, Madam Deputy Speaker, that in the amendment their Lordships provided that no council other those of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen may call its convener "lord provost", without the consent of the Secretary of State.

We certainly acknowledge the historic titles used in each of those important Scottish cities, but what sticks in the craw is the fact that, despite the Bill starting out with more than 150 provisions giving power to the Secretary of State, the Lords amendment would give him even more power to determine the affairs of local communities.

It is undisputed that the four cities that I mentioned have the traditional right of calling their senior civic person the lord provost—I am not sure whether there has ever been a lady provost. [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Yes, there has. [Interruption.] Apparently Glasgow and Edinburgh have been sufficiently enlightened to have had a lady provost. [Interruption.] There seems to be a debate on the subject. Whether there were a lord provost or a lady provost, that would not detract from the dignity of the office.

Some historical analysis is necessary. I believe that Perth has had a lord provost, who in the order of precedence in Scotland ranked after the lord provost of Edinburgh. Perth may no longer exist as a single unitary local authority, but Perth and Kinross may wish to revive that tradition. If that were to be the view of the citizens in the area of the new council, why should they not be allowed so to decide?

If the citizens decide that, but it is thought that they should not be able to make the change at their own will, it should not be a politician such as the Secretary of State for Scotland who determines whether they should be allowed to do so.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I am no expert on precedence, but I seem to remember that the lord provost ranked higher than the Secretary of State. Might that not be the reason why the Secretary of State is trying to limit the number of lord provosts in Scotland?

Mr. Wallace

I do not want to get into a debate when I am not entirely sure of the facts. I should have thought that, within his or her own domain, the lord provost ranked higher than the Secretary of State—and higher than most other people, too. The Secretary of State is perhaps worried that there could be more places in Scotland where he is not the highest-ranked person.

Mr. Phil Gallie (Ayr)

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the Secretary of State should not make the decision because it should not be made by a politician. Politi[...]ians emerge into such positions through the democratic process. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that the democratic process should not determine whether an area should have a lord provost?

Mr. Wallace

The democratic process that Liberal Democrats would like to see is one that involves people within local communities, not one that is handed up to someone who has the most doubtful democratic legitimacy within Scotland.

If it is not to be the Secretary of State, perhaps Her Majesty might be a better person to make the decision. I understand—the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) can tell me whether I am right—that Elgin laid claim to a lord provost because, on a royal visit some time during the 19th century, Queen Victoria referred to the first citizen of Elgin as lord provost. Since then, the people of Elgin have rightly thought that the title had been conferred upon them.

The Bill emasculates and virtually abolishes local government in Scotland. Many people will ask who is keeping alive the strong traditions of local government and local democracy in Scotland. The amendment shows what the rest of the Bill does. The only person who will have any real power is the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Does the hon. Gentleman recall that, a few hours ago in the House, the Prime Minister, no less, said that the difference between having a referendum in Northern Ireland and having one in either Wales or Scotland was that the latter had a well-established system of local democracy and local government"? That being so, why are the Government destroying it in this Bill?

Mr. Wallace

I understand that the Prime Minister said something similar to my local newspaper, the Press and Journal, last week, although that was a useless and inappropriate comparison in the first place.

Our local government is being emasculated. In many respects, this Lords amendment encapsulates the worst features of the Bill—the centralising, overweening power of the Secretary of State, who wants his claws on everything that would smack of local democracy—and because of that we shall divide the House.

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

I am a little taken aback that the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) wishes to divide the House on this topic.

As this is my first speech this evening, it is appropriate for me to congratulate the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) on his appointment to the Opposition Front Bench. I read in the newspapers that the Opposition Whips are appointing yuppies to their office; that term does not immediately come to mind in relation to the hon. Gentleman. [Laughter.] It is fair to say, however, that he is respected on both sides of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland made a somewhat unexpected assault on Lords amendment No. 1, which was debated at some length in the other place. Hon. Members who served on the Committee will recall the debate on a Government amendment on the use of "chairman" or "convenor" [Interruption.] I am sorry. That was on an Opposition amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), which the Government accepted. Hon. Members may recall that the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) said during that debate that the term "chair" was not so much feminism as "furniturism".

The debate in the House of Lords was conducted on a serious topic, and we considered the topic for a considerable time over the summer recess. I reject the argument of the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland that somehow the amendment is an attack on local government: it is not. We believe that the Bill should not provide a complete veto for councils that might wish to use the title of lord provost.

The amendment was tabled on an all-party basis, and it would be useful to the House if I spelt out in some detail precisely what it means. In effect, it places a requirement on any council—apart from the councils of the four cities to which the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland referred—to obtain the Secretary of State's consent before calling its convenor "lord provost".

On reflection, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland may think that that is a reasonable compromise. Concerns were expressed in another place, and it was argued that other places in Scotland—the hon. Gentleman rightly referred to Perth, which is a good example, and Paisley perhaps is another—might wish their first citizen to have the title of lord provost. It is clear, however, that it is unreasonable to expect that the title of lord provost should be held by communities at will throughout the whole of Scotland. [Interruption.] I do not believe that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, South (Mr. Donohoe), who apparently dissents from what I am saying, believes that every borough in Cunninghame, South should be entitled to have their first citizen made a lord provost. I do not think that that is a reasonable proposition. We propose a reasonable compromise.

Mr. Thomas McAvoy (Glasgow, Rutherglen)

Does the Minister recall that, in 1974, the so-called four cities expanded their areas and became district councils? If those areas are to retain the right to have a lord provost, surely it would be better to have a certain size requirement for councils to have a lord provost. If the four cities expand into areas that, more traditionally, are cities and a nearby council is a reasonable size, why should not the latter have the opportunity to call its convenor "lord provost"?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point. It is generally agreed that the four historic cities should be able to call their first citizen lord provost. He asks about outlying areas, and whether there should be a requirement for a population size of 100,000, 90,000 or whatever. I have no doubt that he had Rutherglen in mind when he made that point, but the point of Lords amendment No. 1 is that it would not rule that out. Under it, any request on behalf of a community to have its first citizen named lord provost would be considered by my right hon. Friend on its merits. That is a perfectly reasonable proposition; it is not a particularly partisan matter.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus, East)

Why should the Secretary of State have that power? He has gathered every other power to himself under the Bill. Why should he say that one city shall have a lord provost but another shall not? Again, the Government are taking power away from the people. Why in all logic, history or justice should the Secretary of State take to himself, and himself alone, the right to choose who should have a lord provost?

Mr. Stewart

I hope that the hon. Gentleman does not propose that every community in Scotland should have the right to have its first citizen entitled "lord provost". That does not make any sense and it would not be supported by the residents of the four cities that are already entitled to give that title to their first citizen.

The title of lord provost applies irrespective of sex. If a woman becomes lord provost, she will be so entitled. I hope that the House will accept that the amendment is a perfectly reasonable compromise. [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. There is too much chatter on the Benches.

Question put, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment:—

The House divided: Ayes 273, Noes 24.

Division No.319 [19.41 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Burt, Alistair
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Butler, Peter
Alexander, Richard Butterfill, John
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln)
Arbuthnot, James Carrington, Matthew
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Carttiss, Michael
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Cash, William
Ashby, David Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Atkins, Robert Chapman, Sydney
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Churchill, Mr
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North) Clappison, James
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Baldry, Tony Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Batiste, Spencer Coe, Sebastian
Bellingham, Henry Colvin, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Congdon, David
Bennett, Andrew F. Conway, Derek
Beresford, Sir Paul Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Body, Sir Richard Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Couchman, James
Booth, Hartley Cran, James
Boswell, Tim Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Bowden, Sir Andrew Davis, David (Boothferry)
Bowis, John Day, Stephen
Boyes, Roland Deva, Nirj Joseph
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Devlin, Tim
Brandreth, Gyles Dixon, Don
Brazier, Julian Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Bright, Sir Graham Dover, Den
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Duncan, Alan
Browning, Mrs. Angela Duncan-Smith, Iain
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Dunn, Bob
Budgen, Nicholas Durant, Sir Anthony
Burns, Simon Dykes, Hugh
Eggar, Tim Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Elletson, Harold Lidington, David
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Lightbown, David
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield) Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon) Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley) Lord, Michael
Evans, Roger (Monmouth) Luff, Peter
Evennett, David Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Faber, David MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Fabricant, Michael Mackay, Andrew
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Maclean, David
Forman, Nigel Madel, Sir David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Maitland, Lady Olga
Forth, Eric Malone, Gerald
Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley) Mans, Keith
Freeman, Rt Hon Roger Marland, Paul
French, Douglas Marlow, Tony
Fry, Sir Peter Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Gallie, Phil Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Gardiner, Sir George Mates, Michael
Garnier, Edward Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Gill, Christopher McLoughlin, Patrick
Gillan, Cheryl McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Merchant, Piers
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Mills, Iain
Gorst, Sir John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Grant, Sir A. (Combs SW) Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Moate, Sir Roger
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Monro, Sir Hector
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N) Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Grylls, Sir Michael Needham, Rt Hon Richard
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Nelson, Anthony
Hague, William Neubert, Sir Michael
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Hampson, Dr Keith Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hannam, Sir John Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hargreaves, Andrew Norris, Steve
Haselhurst, Alan Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Hawkins, Nick Oppenheim, Phillip
Hawksley, Warren Ottaway, Richard
Hayes, Jerry Patnick, Sir Irvine
Heald, Oliver Patten, Rt Hon John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hendry, Charles Pawsey, James
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hicks, Robert Pickles, Eric
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hill, James (Southampton Test) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham) Rathbone, Tim
Horam, John Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Richards, Rod
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Riddick, Graham
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Robathan, Andrew
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W) Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S))
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Hunter, Andrew Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jack, Michael Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Jenkin, Bernard Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr) Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Key, Robert Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Kirkhope, Timothy Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Knapman, Roger Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Sims, Roger
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Skeet, Sir Trevor
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Knox, Sir David Speed, Sir Keith
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Spencer, Sir Derek
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Spink, Dr Robert
Legg, Barry Spring, Richard
Leigh, Edward Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Steen, Anthony Viggers, Peter
Stephen, Michael Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Stern, Michael Walden, George
Stewart, Allan Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Streeter, Gary Waller, Gary
Sumberg, David Ward, John
Sweeney, Walter Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Sykes, John Waterson, Nigel
Tapsell, Sir Peter Watts, John
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Wells, Bowen
Taylor, John M. (Solihull) Whitney, Ray
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E) Whittingdale, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Widdecombe, Ann
Thomason, Roy Willetts, David
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N) Wilshire, David
Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V) Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Thurnham, Peter Wolfson, Mark
Townend, John (Bridlington) Wood, Timothy
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th) Yeo, Tim
Tracey, Richard Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Tredinnick, David
Trotter, Neville Tellers for the Ayes:
Twinn, Dr Ian Mr. Michael Bates and
Vaughan, Sir Gerard Dr. Liam Fox.
Alton, David Loyden, Eddie
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Lynne, Ms Liz
Barnes, Harry Maclennan, Robert
Beith, Rt Hon A. J. McAvoy, Thomas
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Rendel, David
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Salmond, Alex
Davidson, Ian Skinner, Dennis
Donohoe, Brian H. Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Foster, Don (Bath) Wallace, James
Harvey, Nick Welsh, Andrew
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Tellers for the Noes:
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Mrs. Ray Michie and
Kirkwood, Archy Mrs. Margaret Ewing.

Question accordingly agreed to.

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