HC Deb 21 July 1998 vol 316 cc904-5
9. Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale)

What plans he has for further local government reform in Scotland. [49922]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Calum Macdonald)

The Government have a far-reaching agenda for reform and modernisation in local government, including the policy of best value to deliver better council services, the new ethical framework to regulate standards, and the independent commission under Neil MacIntosh, which is undertaking a fundamental review of the management and structure of local government.

Mr. Hood

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his many innovative ideas for local government reform in Scotland, and suggest another: as a way of improving the democratic process in local government, will he consider setting up select committees of back-bench councillors to scrutinise the work of local government and to make it more transparent and more accountable, both in the political process and in the administrative role of local government?

Mr. Macdonald

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his thoughtful and positive suggestion, which is squarely within the remit of the MacIntosh commission. One idea at which the commission is looking is whether Scottish local government should move to a more formal, Cabinet-style system rather than the committee system that is prevalent now. That would require a division between councillors' executive and representative functions along the lines that my hon. Friend suggests. I shall draw the commission's attention to this exchange and to his suggestion.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

As he seeks to reform local government, will the Minister also put in place proper measures to resolve something that has happened in my constituency? Last weekend, there was a massive landslide, which has closed the road from Kintyre, meaning that business and tourism cannot survive and people cannot get through. I hope that local government, in conjunction with the Scottish Office, can realign that road away from the rock-fall area.

Mr. Macdonald

That is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, but I appreciate the concern that the hon. Lady voices. My right hon. Friend has asked for a report on that incident and will look at it closely.

Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

I know that my hon. Friend is carrying out some excellent work on the future reform of Scottish local government, but I should like to ask two specific questions. First, in that process of change, what consultation is taking place with local citizens? Secondly, in any future consideration about a new form of local government elections, will he undertake to ensure that a link is maintained between constituent and elected member within the local authority boundary?

Mr. Macdonald

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the electoral system. That is one of the matters that will be borne in mind by those who reflect on that.

The independent commission carried out a full consultation during which it visited every local authority area. It not only talked to councillors and officials, but undertook public meetings at each visit, to which citizens could come along and make suggestions about the reform of local government.