HC Deb 26 April 1995 vol 258 cc836-8
2. Mr. Canavan

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the future of local government as a result of the local government elections on 6 April. [19570]

Mr. Lang

The structure of local government put in place under the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994 provides a framework within which services can be better tailored to local needs and more effectively delivered. I look to the new authorities to make the most of the opportunities afforded by the new structure.

Mr. Canavan

Now that the Tories have suffered a complete wipe-out in the Scottish local elections, does the Secretary of State agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) that the Scottish Tories face the prospect of yet another wipe-out in the next general election in Scotland, and deservedly so? Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government's policies have been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Scotland and that any sell-out of Scottish Nuclear may turn out to be the last straw?

Mr. Lang

The hon. Gentleman considerably oversimplifies my hon. Friend's remarks and therefore draws entirely wrong conclusions from them. As for the prospects of the Conservative party in the next general election, I refer the hon. Gentleman to similar remarks that he made shortly before the last general election.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real danger facing local government in Scotland comes from plans to create a directly elected Scottish Assembly which, in order to play a worthwhile role in the life of Scotland, would certainly take power from this House and would also take powers and responsibilities from every one of the new unitary local authorities throughout Scotland, thereby denying local communities the right to become involved in local decision making? Does my right hon. Friend agree that everyone who believes in strong, accountable, genuinely local government should join us in opposing the Labour party's plans?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Our plan for the single-tier structure now being brought into being is to create a strong, robust system of local democracy, with single-tier, all-purpose authorities throughout the country and having power decentralised in that way. I believe that that is very much to the good of local government. The Labour party's plans to create a Scottish Parliament would clearly draw powers from the outlying parts of Scotland to that Parliament—a centralising process which would be intensely damaging to local government.

Mr. Welsh

Given the complete rejection of the Conservative party and its policies by the Scottish people, does the Minister consider that he had a mandate for appointing the chief executives and chairmen of the unwanted and unnecessary water quangos?

Mr. Lang

It is not a matter of a mandate; it is a matter of parliamentary authority and requirement so to do.

On the results of the local elections, I cannot think that the hon. Gentleman's party has anything to crow about. We are all starting to wonder what happened to the great Scottish National party breakthrough.

Mr. McLoughlin

When the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill was passing through the House, my right hon. Friend was accused of gerrymandering the boundaries. Is he aware that many of us in England are envious of his bold decision to create unitary status local authorities and that we would very much like to have seen them repeated in England? Does that not show that there was no gerrymandering? My right hon. Friend acted in the way he thought best for local government in Scotland.

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in his conclusion, and I am grateful to him. Nevertheless, I would not urge my English colleagues to emulate Scotland in every respect.

Mr. Watson

The Secretary of State will be aware that one of the responsibilities of local government in Scotland is that of running the district court system. In 1994, 7,000 cases referred by the procurator fiscal's office to the Glasgow district court had to be discontinued as a result of lack of court space and court time. Will the Secretary of State comment on what must be the ultimate miscarriage of justice—when there is no justice because there is no hearing whatsoever? Will he comment on the resources available to Glasgow district court? Will he also liaise with his colleague, the Lord Advocate, to whom I have written about that matter, to ensure that there are adequate resources so that all cases passed by the procurator fiscal's office come to Glasgow district court?

Madam Speaker

I think that the hon. Gentleman must be rather frustrated. His supplementary really relates to the first question. He has rather taken advantage of another question, on local government. If the Secretary of State is willing to answer, of course, then he may do so.

Mr. Lang

I am happy to answer, although I think—indeed, I am sure—that you are right, as always, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman must be looking for favours from me.

Mr. Lang

Bread upon the waters, Madam Speaker.

There is, of course, a measure of protection in relation to the bringing of cases to court in Scotland under Scots law. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to write to me with full details of his specific worries, I will pursue the matter further.

Sir David Steel

As Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale is now a Tory-free zone, does the Secretary of State accept that the Prime Minister is quite wrong in ascribing the defeat on 6 April to divisions in the Conservative party, and that the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) was right—and he should know—when he talked about the disastrous Government policies in Scotland? Will the Secretary of State therefore change the Government's policies in Scotland, stop resisting home rule, stop rail privatisation and stop de-trunking roads?

Mr. Lang

In terms of control of local authorities, Scotland is also a Liberal-free zone. The Liberals received the lowest proportion of the vote of all parties participating in the local elections, so I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman has a great deal to crow about. I am confident that the Government are pursuing the right policies. They are delivering excellent results in all the main theatres of Government activity, and that will prove increasingly to be the case.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, while the local election results were not good for our party, we have been down that road before and come back? The Conservative party is the oldest party in the United Kingdom, and one of the reasons why we are the oldest surviving functioning party in government at a national level is that we take note of experiences which are not pleasant and act upon them.

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have no doubt that we shall act upon the results of the local elections on 6 April and our consideration of them. I am equally confident that at the next general election the Conservative party will be seen to advance further from the position to which it advanced at the last election.

Mr. George Robertson

May I ask the Secretary of State whether, in all modesty, he still believes that the humiliation that he and his party suffered at the hands of the electorate on 6 April had absolutely nothing to do with policy? Does he really believe that the drubbing that the Government received in the elections—which, after all, were created and carved out in the interests of the Scottish Conservative party—had anything to do with what Sir Michael Hirst described as "ingratitude" on the part of the Scottish people?

Will the Secretary of State and his party recognise that the Conservative party received a miserable 11 per cent. of the vote in ballot boxes all over Scotland as a serious punishment for the policies that the Government have been practising? Will he bear in mind the comments of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), who shared the Treasury Bench with him just a few months ago? The hon. Gentleman said:

The Government cannot afford to take measures that don't reflect public support. Will the Secretary of State abandon once and for all the Government's hostility to creating a Scottish Parliament? The Scottish people have spoken: surely the Government must now listen.

Mr. Lang

I would not disguise for one moment the fact that the results were extremely disappointing for my party in Scotland. We have already made that clear. We are considering the implications of the results. As I have said, we shall learn from them, recover and advance.

I assure the hon. Gentleman and the House that the creation of a Scottish Parliament is not the cure for Scotland's ills. The creation of a Scottish Parliament, with tax-raising powers and the ability to draw power from local government all over Scotland, would be extremely damaging to Scotland's future within the United Kingdom as well as being economically, socially and constitutionally damaging. We shall resist any such moves.

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