HC Deb 12 May 1998 vol 312 cc172-86

  1. '.—(1) The Parliament shall make provision for the investigation of relevant complaints made to its members in respect of instances of corruption or maladministration in a Scottish Unitary or Island Authority.
  2. (2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a complaint is a relevant complaint if it is a complaint which, if it were made of a local authority in England or Wales, could be investigated by the Audit Commission.
  3. (3) "Scottish Unitary Authority" and "Scottish Island Authority" mean local authorities established under the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Act 1994.'.—[Dr. Fox.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

4.34 pm
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring)

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

New clause 2 would provide scrutiny and accountability in the Scottish Parliament. The debate that we have had in the past hour shows why proper scrutiny and accountability are required. The new clause relates to corruption and maladministration in local government, which should concern all those involved in local government in Scotland. There has been a litany of accusations of maladministration in parts of local government in Scotland, and we have tabled the new clause because of the failure of internal scrutiny.

It is not long since the Secretary of State and his colleagues arrived in Paisley to deal with allegations of scandal and corruption and the other problems afflicting the local Labour party. The headlines in the compliant Scottish press at the time referred to them as sleaze busters. We were told that they were going to sort the problems out once and for all, and that no stone would be left unturned. Now—a considerable time later—one inquiry has been completed and then ditched, and a separate inquiry is having to be held for which the House will have no locus, because it has not been set up by us although the matter is of great concern to us.

The failure of internal regulation in Paisley is a good example of why the Scottish Parliament should have some powers over local government in Scotland. The relationship between local government in Scotland and the Scottish Parliament will be extremely important.

Inquiries have been held into local government maladministration. The Labour party attempted such an inquiry in Glasgow. It was something of a kangaroo court and the charges were never made public. It ultimately collapsed because Millbank could not understand Scottish law, or at least that was the excuse. It was a complete farce and did party politics no good. If we want politics to be held in high regard, we must ensure that everything is above board. After the low turnout at the local government elections in England last week, all the political parties were talking about the need to explain the importance of local government and to foster a spirit of civic responsibility. Any inquiry into the behaviour of those who take part in local government should be fair and public. Those are important aspects of natural justice.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

I am puzzled. The hon. Gentleman asserts—it is only an assertion—that the Scottish Parliament should have some powers over local government. What powers? In particular, what powers does he think Holyrood should have that Westminster at present does not have?

Dr. Fox

The new clause refers to complaints that, if they occurred in England, would be investigated by the Audit Commission. That is what the clause seeks to introduce for Scotland. There have been a number of scandals and allegations involving local government in Scotland that have given rise to great public disquiet. The Labour Opposition of the time told us that the Monklands problem was an isolated example. Glasgow was another isolated example, as were Govan and Paisley. When we join up the dots it becomes a large isolated example, because it involves the whole of the west of Scotland. We should be concerned about that.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

The hon. Gentleman did not mention Tory-controlled Westminster council. Is he proposing that the Scottish Parliament should have investigatory powers similar to those in England and Wales that exposed the disgusting scandal of Tory-controlled Westminster council?

Dr. Fox

The new clause would give powers to the equivalent of the Audit Commission, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will support it. He will, of course, be aware that the remit of the Bill does not extend to Westminster council, so I shall ignore his remarks.

What occurred in Paisley shows best of all why these powers are needed. The Government may find it inconvenient that I bring up this party political subject, but questions remain unanswered. Such events have a negative impact on places such as Paisley. It is wrong for Paisley to get a bad name because of the Labour party's failure to deal with allegations. The people of Paisley dislike the way in which the town has become synonymous with problems in the conduct of local government. That is unfair, and there should be a clear mechanism of scrutiny. We still do not know what is going on in Paisley. The Government have not come up with a clear method of dealing with the allegations about the way that local government in Paisley was conducted. An hon. Member who was respected and liked in all parts of the House committed suicide and another hon. Member has been under suspension by his party for some time and is not representing his constituents in the House. There is no reassurance for the general public, and we need a mechanism that will reassure them. Matters must be above board so that those in local government know that they will be dealt with fairly. There must be proper public scrutiny.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

I should perhaps declare an interest. My wife is a councillor in the west of Scotland and she is a remarkably honourable woman. I have to say that because she is bigger than me.

The new clause is disgraceful. It plainly shows that Scotland is slipping away from the grasp of the Conservative party, what I call the English rural party. The United Kingdom as a unitary state is slipping away from it, and the new clause is an absurd attempt to bring some order to what should be done in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) asked about Westminster council and the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said that that had nothing to do with Scotland. He was right in the context of the Bill, but we must not forget the face of corruption.

I suppose that at a moment like this I should murmur de mortuis nil nisi bonum in respect of the late Reginald Maudling, Mr. Poulson and Mr. Pottinger. I am tempted to repeat that for the benefit of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who is not a Latin scholar. Those three gentlemen and, I seem to recall, a Labour Member and Labour representatives from the north-east of England were involved in scandalous affairs. Corruption was a feature of much of Conservative public life.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that, as local government is a devolved matter under the Bill, there is nothing in it to preclude a Scottish Parliament from investigating local authorities that are suspected of corruption? Irrespective of which party forms the Administration, I am sure that the new Parliament will be quick to do that.

Dr. Godman

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair intervention. Of course his party will not command a majority in the new Parliament. It will be up to Members of the Scottish Parliament to engage in negotiations with representatives of local authorities to develop some kind of system to tackle corruption in councils. That applies to all parties, although Scottish councils are not led by Conservatives and perhaps never will be unless there is some system of proportional representation for local government. Even then Conservative control is unlikely. It is right to seek to drive corruption, cronyism and nepotism from our councils. That applies to Conservative councils here in the deep south, where the Westminster scandal is still fresh in our minds, as much as it applies to the occasional Labour councillor who goes adrift.

The hon. Member for Woodspring spoke about Paisley, but I could not figure out what he was talking about. He referred to the late Gordon McMaster, who was an hon. Member and a good friend of mine. He was utterly innocent of any charge, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would concede. He also referred to a neighbouring constituency but he made little reference to the council whose headquarters are in Paisley and whose meetings were recently described rather graphically by a senior police officer as somewhat lively—livelier than some Paisley pubs on a Saturday night. I place the blame for that unbecoming conduct fairly and squarely on the Scottish National party. It has nothing to do with Labour, with Councillor Hugh Henry and the fine people who sit behind him, but the independents and some of the SNP councillors leave a little to be desired.

Dr. Fox

The belief that everybody but members of the Labour party is responsible for the problems in local government in Paisley leaves a credibility gap. The hon. Gentleman described the new clause as deplorable. It seeks only to give to Scotland the same power of scrutiny as is held by the Audit Commission in England. Why should the people of Scotland have less power than people in England to scrutinise local government?

4.45 pm
Dr. Godman

I agree with the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan). If there are to be regulations about the authority of our Edinburgh Parliament to scrutinise and perhaps discipline errant councillors, it must be based on genuine consultation in Scotland, not consultation in this place. It must take account of consultations not just with local authorities but with community councils. They were not mentioned by the hon. Member for Woodspring. How many community councils are there in Paisley or in Inverclyde and elsewhere? Consultations should involve representatives of the Edinburgh Parliament and civic society. What about business and trade union interests and those of voluntary organisations which have to work closely with local authorities? They should all be engaged in negotiations about the formulation of such powers.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)

I did not want to interrupt the hon. Gentleman's flow a few moments ago when he suggested that the problems in Renfrew council related to conduct at council meetings. In fairness, the hon. Gentleman might recall FCB Securities and the allegations about the activities of council-originated companies that were made by a Labour Member. Does the hon. Gentleman concede that there is a great deal more to Renfrew politics than the conduct at a few council meetings?

Dr. Godman

I readily concede that point, which the hon. Gentleman makes in a fair-minded way. In formulating policies to help needy communities, Strathclyde regional council in some cases gave too much unfettered authority to groups that had been set up throughout the region, and problems were created. That council did a fair job of looking after people in need, especially in my constituency and in Glasgow and Paisley. However, mistakes were made, and I am perfectly happy to accept the suggestion by the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale that a Scottish Parliament, after genuine consultation with civic society, could come up with a system to regulate the conduct of councillors. The overwhelming majority of such representatives have integrity. They play a fair game and are dead straight and honourable, and they should not have the new clause imposed upon them. Such measures must come from Edinburgh.

Change is needed in our local authorities. I advocate proportional representation, and I have long argued for it. There is to be electoral reform for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland assembly—if we get the result that we all hope for in about 10 days. Local government should be based on proportional representation. This may not make me very popular with a certain councillor whom I meet occasionally, but in Glasgow we have a massive number of Labour councillors and a very small opposition. That is not right. The same holds for south of the border. The Conservative party used to have massive majorities down here in the deep south and that is wrong. Speaking as a democratic socialist, I believe that that is wrong. We need electoral reform.

I prefer the additional member system. That is the fairest system of proportional representation, but we should not have councils where those in power occupy 70 seats and those in opposition occupy fewer than a dozen seats. That is not right. It will not happen in our Parliament. We will even have—we may have—four or five Conservative representatives in that Parliament, if they are lucky.

Subsection (1) of the new clause states: The Parliament shall make provision". I might have been a little happier with it if it had said "may make provision". That has to be done by the people of Scotland and their representatives. The hon. Member for Woodspring equates this with the Audit Commission, not with Parliament. Again, that is unacceptable.

If we are going to talk about elected representatives determining these things north of the border, should we not talk about elected representatives south of the border having the same power? Again, why Scotland? Why not Northern Ireland? Why not Wales? The hon. Member for Woodspring is going to say, "Of course, we are debating the Scotland Bill," but he does not make even a passing reference to the scandals that overtook Westminster and indeed other Conservative oligarchies down here. That is why I am so opposed to the new clause.

By all means, let us have change in local government. Let us demand the highest standards of conduct from our representatives at all levels, including at the level of this multinational state Parliament, but let us not focus just on local authority representatives, with them not having any say in the sort of system that is developed.

Mr. Salmond

As usual, that was for the most part a fair-minded speech from the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman). I follow that by making a few points briefly.

I am suspicious of clauses, arguments or indeed recent proposals from the Secretary of State for Scotland saying that the solution to manifest problems in local government is to impose structures from above. I am not against having a sleaze buster or some form of administration, overseeing authority or commission—most people are not against that—but that is not the way in which we should be examining these particular problems. We should be examining democratic structures in councils, so that those are healthy and enable a vibrant democratic exchange to take place in councils where it does not take place at present.

As some hon. Members will know, I come from West Lothian. I am a Lithgae lad. I am a black bitch, which confirms the thoughts of a few Labour Members and what they think about me. Among other things, West Lothian council—I see the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in his place—has benefited from the substantial number of changes in administration that it has had over the past 20 years or so. I believe—and I am trying to be fair-minded about this, although I am not saying that I would not prefer the Scottish National party to be in administration all the time—that both Labour and the SNP have keen kept on their toes in that council because they have had a substantial opposition force, which was ready and able to take over at the next election if the electorate so decided.

We should consider that structure and that model in examining councils throughout Scotland. That is why the reference by the hon. Member for Greenock and Inverclyde to proportional representation is more important than this new clause, the Government's sleaze buster or any other factor. We should provide methods of ensuring a vibrant democratic opposition and a balance of forces within councils, so that some of the malpractice that we have undoubtedly seen in certain Scottish Labour councils does not become the norm rather than the exception.

It would be useful if we also examined this matter in terms of moving to full-time councillors. The Conservative party often argues that there is a risk in Scotland of people becoming overgoverned. I was looking at some figures recently. Scotland has fewer elected representatives per head of population, even allowing for the 129 who are going into the new Parliament, than any other country in western Europe. Incidentally, we have substantially fewer than England because of the new single-tier structure in Scottish local authorities. It is not a case of cutting the number of councillors in Scotland. There is a substantial case for having decent remuneration for the councillors we do have in a simple form, relying on a salary as opposed to augmented expenses.

That would be fairer and more democratic. It would allow a wider pool of people to move into Scottish local authorities and, again, would be a generic way in which to tackle these problems, instead of assuming that the solution is to prescribe and to impose from above.

I was interested to read in The Herald last week that the Labour party was appointing a sleaze finder to scrutinise—I see the Minister of State laughing—the work of the SNP throughout Scotland, so that Labour could fling some mud at the SNP, instead of all the mud being thrown at the Labour party. The SNP is by no means perfect—I would never make that claim—and no party is, but it would take a fair amount of brass neck for anyone in the Labour party hierarchy to believe that that might be a fruitful area of exchange in the run-up to the Scottish parliamentary elections. It might find that more ammunition was coming in its direction than in that of the SNP.

The serious point that I want to make is this. I hope that the debate that we conduct over the next year looks at democratic structures, instead of negative allegations between political parties. We would do the Scottish Parliament and Scottish local government a substantial service if the argument about cleaning up Scottish local government in certain councils—not the majority; corruption is not the norm—concentrated far more on how to achieve vibrant, democratic structures. As we are introducing a vibrant, democratic structure for the nation, we should be thinking of introducing the same thing in local authorities throughout Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell

I agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) that it should be local government that sorts itself out and that it should not be sorted out from any Parliament, either Holyrood or Westminster, but I am astonished at some of the other things that have been said. I do not make a party point here. Incidentally, I leap to the defence of the late Reginald Maudling. There were two sides to that story and I recall only that, for Scotland, he was one of the most helpful Chancellors of the Exchequer whom I ever went to.

As a doctor, let alone a politician, the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) should be extremely careful in his references to the late Gordon McMaster and suicide notes because the truth is that, as he will know—I will put it this way—Gordon McMaster, who was a friend of mine, as he was of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman), said that he had been a fool when he was a lecturer in gardening at Langside college not to go along with the strict regulations on the handling of pesticides. As we know, pesticides are organophosphates and, as research is proving, organophosphates and organophosphate poisoning can do very odd things to the human mind, so we should be extremely careful about using that example.

Dr. Fox

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that that, with all due respect, is not the issue here. The issue is the failure of internal regulation within the Labour party in Scotland to come to conclusions as to what happened and the wider issues relating to Paisley.

Mr. Dalyell

It was the hon. Gentleman who raised the subject and, frankly, I thought that to make that or any other point was uncalled for. Anyhow, what are we doing spending time on this when we should be discussing new clause 4, which deals with expenditure on reserved matters? If there is not time to deal with new clause 4, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would it be out of order for me at least to ask the Minister to give a Government explanation of the answer to—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. Yes, it would be out of order for the hon. Gentleman to try to do that.

Mr. Dalyell

For Parliament to spend this time talking about corruption rather than the vital issues in new clause 4 is an absolute disgrace.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Before I call the next speaker, I should like to make the point to the House that all of today's debate is programmed and carefully timed. It is up to hon. Members on both sides of the House to decide how they spend that time.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)

I support the hon. Members for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in their enthusiastic comments on proportional representation, which I think would make a very considerable contribution in sorting out corruption and misbehaviour in councils. I also agree with the intervention by the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan), who pointed out that the Scottish Parliament will have complete control over local government. New clause 2 is therefore unnecessary, as the Scottish Parliament will be able to do what it wishes in regulating local government without it.

5 pm

I should like to make only one point to the Minister: the approach taken in new clause 2—which is undoubtedly well intentioned—is wrong in suggesting that the Scottish Parliament should have to establish its own inquiry into complaints made to it. I realise—from a small involvement, at second hand, in recent events in my own area—that a council may, as a council, establish an inquiry, which will be conducted by an official. Subsequently, the party involved in the inquiry may feel that it also must have an inquiry. The police may then feel that they, too, must conduct an inquiry. Ultimately, all the inquiries may become snarled up with one another. Therefore, if the Scottish Parliament is required to conduct yet another inquiry, the situation may become even worse.

I think that, in collaboration with local government and police, the Scottish Parliament will have to establish a sensible method of investigating allegations of corruption, so that we do not have one inquiry after another. Unfortunately, so far, such a series of inquiries has led to nothing being done about the allegations that have been made in Scotland.

I therefore plead that the Scottish Parliament does not replicate what others are doing, but co-operates with others to ensure that one thorough inquiry is conducted. After such an inquiry, action should be taken—rather than no action, as currently happens.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

Although my speech will be very brief, I feel that I must very briefly mention the fact that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) delivered his entire speech and seemed not to be aware of the Government's proposals on local government corruption and maladministration. I realise that the issue is difficult for Conservative Members, as they have no hon. Members representing constituencies in Scotland.

In April, the Government issued a consultation paper entitled "A New Ethical Framework for Local Government in Scotland", which deals with precisely the type of matters with which we are all concerned. In the paper, the Government have gone further than the Nolan committee's recommendations, to make it absolutely clear that we are determined to take a very tough line on any maladministration or corruption in local government.

In case Opposition Front Benchers are unaware of it, the Government are proposing that serious allegations of misconduct should be considered by a new national standards commission for Scotland, led by a Scottish standards commissioner. In his reply, the hon. Member for Woodspring should at least tell the House the Opposition's thoughts on that proposal, which seems to be the correct way of proceeding on a very important matter.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

I should like to remind the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Chisholm) that we are debating the Scotland Bill, and that—although it is all very well for the Government to have proposals and to be considering them—we are considering mechanisms that may be included in the Bill. Therefore—in the absence in the Bill of the Government's proposals, which the hon. Gentleman described—it is perfectly proper for hon. Members to attempt to include such necessary provisions in the Bill.

I differ from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) in his analysis of this debate, as I believe that the matters with which we have been dealing are particularly important.

My analysis differs very significantly from those of the hon. Members for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), for Greenock and Inverclyde (Dr. Godman) and for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), all of whom seemed to take the position that we should not find remedies to problems which clearly must be dealt with—Conservative Members have tabled new clause 2 to do so—but tackle what they regard as the fundamental institutional problem giving rise to the phenomenon of corruption that we have identified. The hon. Gentlemen think that if we work on the democratic and institutional structures, the problems will go away. As a solution, they have offered us a form of proportional representation, several forms of which they have discussed.

Proportional representation would make the problem worse. It is highly likely that proportional representation will lead to semi-permanent coalitions that will entrench administrations—just as administrations have become entrenched in certain parts of the central belt.

Mr. Dalyell

I had better speak on this for myself and not for my colleagues. If people are going to level charges of corruption at other men and women, the place to do it is a court of law. It is either put up—in a court of law—or shut up.

Mr. Swayne

I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. The fact is that the perception among newspapers and the public has been of a number of cases of what, in the previous Parliament, Labour Members themselves characterised as "sleaze". It is entirely proper for hon. Members—when considering a Bill that will hand to the Scottish Parliament responsibility for local government—to consider procedures to deal with that phenomenon. Such consideration prejudges nothing about cases that have been mentioned, and I have made absolutely no accusations about any specific council. However, it is entirely proper that the public mind should be put at rest by passing a provision, such as new clause 2, to deal with the matter.

Mr. Salmond

What was the public perception of this place in the previous Parliament?

Mr. Swayne

My suspicion—which was confirmed by my own knocking on doors—is that the public's perception of the reputation of this place remains considerably higher than their perception of the reputation of individual hon. Members. Many hon. Members would therefore do well to improve our conduct, so that we live up to the standard of the institution in which we take part.

It is entirely proper for us to consider new clause 2, which is designed to include in the Bill a mechanism to investigate the allegations that have been drawn to our attention. The new clause would provide the Scottish Parliament with a powerful investigatory mechanism.

Mr. Alasdair Morgan

I feel as though I have to express my own thoughts—also, I suspect, the thoughts of many other hon. Members—in having to deal with a succession of totally specious and spurious amendments and new clauses, which have been tabled only to give the official Opposition an opportunity to score some political points. The amendments and new clauses—especially new clause 2—will add nothing to the Parliament's powers, but will merely give it yet another instruction, which is so patronising. Although we want to give a Parliament to the Scottish people, we seem to feel that we have to tell them what they must do with that Parliament. We are saying, "Using these powers, you will do such-and-such; using those powers, you will do something else." The Conservative party is very fond of criticising the Government for running a nanny state and for constantly telling the public what to do. However, Conservative Members want the Westminster Parliament to be a nanny Parliament, always telling the Scottish Parliament what to do. The Scottish people will not stand for it.

The Minister for Home Affairs and Devolution, Scottish Office (Mr. Henry McLeish)

I agree with almost every hon. Member speaking in this debate on one point: we should take the issue seriously. I hope that there is no serious dispute between hon. Members, first, about the need for the highest standards of conduct at any level of government; secondly, on the matter of effective and efficient scrutiny; and, thirdly—I agree with the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond)—that we want open and transparent structures in both the Parliament and local government. The culture will have to change, and such structures will be the best way of ensuring that it does.

I hope that hon. Members agree also that, in any forum, the best method of discipline is self-discipline. Those who participate in democratic life should always be aware of circumstances and of their obligations, not only to one another, but to the communities that they represent.

The new clause adds nothing to the quality of what the Parliament will be able to do. It is narrow and unnecessary. The Bill places a duty on the Parliament to make provision for the investigation of relevant complaints of maladministration made to its Members. It does not place a duty on the Parliament to investigate complaints about maladministration or corruption in local government—but that does not preclude the Parliament from making provision about such matters.

It is important to stress that we have in Scotland the Accounts Commission, which will investigate complaints of financial impropriety, and the Commissioner for Local Administration in Scotland, who will investigate complaints of maladministration. Criminal corruption will continue to be a matter for the police. The powers and duties of the Secretary of State in relation to the commissioner and the Accounts Commission will transfer to the Scottish Executive.

By tabling new clause 2, the Conservatives are trying to impose a duty on the Scottish Parliament to make provision for the investigation of complaints of corruption or maladministration in a Scottish local authority. The Government do not think that that is necessary. Provision is already made for the investigation of complaints by the Accounts Commission or the local government ombudsman, depending on the nature of the complaint. In addition, the Government have just published proposals to strengthen further the ethical framework for local government, which has been alluded to in the debate.

The new clause would have the perverse effect of requiring investigation only of the very limited subset of complaints about financial impropriety, which, in England and Wales, falls within the remit of the Audit Commission. I hope that it comes as no surprise to Opposition Front Benchers that the Audit Commission does not operate in Scotland.

Dr. Fox

indicated assent.

Mr. McLeish

The hon. Gentleman has confirmed that the Opposition know that. It is therefore interesting that their new clause makes no reference to the Accounts Commission and refers only to the Audit Commission, which is germane only to England and Wales.

Dr. Fox

Obviously, the Minister did not either listen to my remarks or read the new clause, which states that a complaint is relevant if it is a complaint which, if it were made of a local authority in England or Wales, could be investigated by the Audit Commission. It clearly draws a distinction between England and Wales and Scotland.

Mr. McLeish

I rest my case. It is obvious that a new clause or an amendment to the Government of Wales Bill may have to be changed for the Scotland Bill. I think that hon. Members will agree that the issue of local government conduct stretches more widely than the narrow remit of the Audit Commission.

Mr. Salmond

I think that I heard the Minister make a very serious allegation. Is he saying that the Conservative party is so short of people and researchers that it is economising by tabling the same amendment to different Bills? That surely cannot be so.

Mr. McLeish

I will not entertain the hon. Gentleman on this issue any further. I shall just leave a little thought in hon. Members' minds.

The Government are very serious about ensuring that there is a robust ethical framework for local government conduct. Following the Nolan committee's report on local government conduct in July 1997, we have been giving a great deal of thought to how to secure the highest standards of conduct in local government. We have published proposals that go much further even than Lord Nolan's committee recommended in ensuring swift and authoritative independent investigation of allegations of misconduct against councillors.

We believe that a stronger ethical framework for local government is needed if the instances where local government conduct appears to fall short are not to undermine people's confidence in local democracy. Once we have consulted on our proposals, we intend to look for an opportunity to legislate to bring into effect a new ethical framework.

In the meantime, we do not see a need for the specific measure proposed by Conservative Front Benchers. Nor do we believe that we should legislate piecemeal for the creation of a new ethical framework for local government. We think that the Bill gives the Parliament the desired flexibility to make arrangements for the investigation of complaints against other bodies. In view of that, I urge the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) to withdraw the motion.

Dr. Fox

The entire point of considering the Bill is to delineate the responsibilities that the Scottish Parliament should and should not have. It is therefore quite legitimate for us to circumscribe its investigative powers in any one area. I therefore disagree with the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Morgan).

I am not entirely clear about the Government's objection to the new clause. The Minister began by saying that many of the powers of investigation into local government maladministration are sufficient, but then said that the Government had to introduce a new ethical code and new powers. I cannot see why, if the Government plan to go much further, they will not accept the new clause.

The perception among voters in Scotland will be that the matter concerns the development of a cosy relationship and a lack of scrutiny. Those who read the Scottish press and follow local government events in Scotland will know that there is a great deal of disquiet among the public. Although some of it may not be correct, it deserves to be taken seriously—I agree with the Minister on that.

I must disagree with the Minister that the provision is unnecessary and that it is not legitimate for the House to try to impose a responsibility on the Scottish Parliament to take the issue seriously at the soonest point. We should remember that the Secretary of State has told us that the Parliament should be up and running six months sooner than we expected—long before the Government's White Paper proposals are enshrined in legislation, even if they can cram them into their legislative programme at the earliest opportunity, which is likely to be three years down the road.

For that reason, I have no intention of withdrawing the motion. We shall press it to a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 132, Noes 323.

Division No. 270] [5.14 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Curry, Rt Hon David
Amess, David Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Arbuthnot, James Day, Stephen
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Baldry, Tony Duncan, Alan
Bercow, John Duncan Smith, Iain
Beresford, Sir Paul Faber, David
Blunt, Crispin Fallon, Michael
Body, Sir Richard Flight, Howard
Boswell, Tim Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Fox, Dr Liam
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Fraser, Christopher
Brady, Graham Gale, Roger
Brazier, Julian Garnier, Edward
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gibb, Nick
Browning, Mrs Angela Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Goodlad, Rt Hon Sir Alastair
Burns, Simon Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Butterfill, John Green, Damian
Cash, William Greenway, John
Chope, Christopher Grieve, Dominic
Clappison, James Gummer, Rt Hon John
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington) Hague, Rt Hon William
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hammond, Philip
Hawkins, Nick
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hayes, John
Collins, Tim Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Cormack, Sir Patrick Horam, John
Cran, James Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Hunter, Andrew Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Ruffley, David
Jenkin, Bernard St Aubyn, Nick
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Sayeed, Jonathan
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Soames, Nicholas
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Spicer, Sir Michael
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Spring, Richard
Leigh, Edward Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Letwin, Oliver Steen, Anthony
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Streeter, Gary.
Lidington, David Swayne, Desmond
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Syms, Robert
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Loughton, Tim Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Luff, Peter Taylor, John M (Solihull)
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Taylor, Sir Teddy
Maclean, Rt Hon David Tredinnick, David
McLoughlin, Patrick Trend, Michael
Malins, Humfrey Tyrie, Andrew
Maples, John Viggers, Peter
Mates, Michael Waterson, Nigel
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Wells, Bowen
May, Mrs Theresa Whitney, Sir Raymond
Moss, Malcolm Whittingdale, John
Nicholls, Patrick Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Norman, Archie Wilkinson, John
Ottaway, Richard Willetts, David
Page, Richard Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Paice, James Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Paterson, Owen Woodward, Shaun
Pickles, Eric Yeo, Tim
Prior, David Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Randall, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Redwood, Rt Hon John Mr. Oliver Heald and
Robathan. Andrew Sir David Madel.
Ainger, Nick Burgon, Colin
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Burstow, Paul
Allan, Richard Butler, Mrs Christine
Allen, Graham Byers, Stephen
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cable, Dr Vincent
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ashton, Joe Campbell-Savours, Dale
Atherton, Ms Candy Canavan, Dennis
Atkins, Charlotte Caplin, Ivor
Baker, Norman Casale, Roger
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Cawsey, Ian
Barnes, Harry Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Barron, Kevin Chaytor, David
Bayley, Hugh Chisholm, Malcolm
Beard, Nigel Clapham, Michael
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Begg, Miss Anne Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Bennett, Andrew F Clelland, David
Benton, Joe Clwyd, Ann
Best, Harold Coffey, Ms Ann
Betts, Clive Cohen, Harry
Blears, Ms Hazel Coleman, Iain
Blizzard, Bob Connarty, Michael
Borrow, David Corbett, Robin
Bradshaw, Ben Corbyn, Jeremy
Brake, Tom Corston, Ms Jean
Brinton, Mrs Helen Cotter, Brian
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Crausby, David
Browne, Desmond Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)
Buck, Ms Karen Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Burden, Richard Cummings, John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Humble, Mrs Joan
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hurst, Alan
Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth) Hutton, John
Iddon, Dr Brian
Dafis, Cynog Jenkins, Brian
Dalyell, Tam Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Darvill, Keith Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jones, Ms Jenny (Wolverh'ton SW)
Davidson, Ian
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Dismore, Andrew Keeble, Ms Sally
Dobbin, Jim Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Doran, Frank Keetch, Paul
Dowd, Jim Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Drew, David Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Khabra, Piara S
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kidney, David
Efford, Clive Kilfoyle, Peter
Ellman, Mrs Louise King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Ennis, Jeff King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Etherington, Bill Kingham, Ms Tess
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Kirkwood, Archy
Fearn, Ronnie Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Field, Rt Hon Frank Laxton, Bob
Fitzpatrick, Jim Leslie, Christopher
Fitzsimons, Loma Levitt, Tom
Flint, Caroline Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Flynn, Paul Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Follett, Barbara Linton, Martin
Foster, Don (Bath) Livingstone, Ken
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Livsey, Richard
Galbraith, Sam Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Galloway, George Lock, David
Gapes, Mike Love, Andrew
Gardiner, Barry McAvoy, Thomas
George, Andrew (St Ives) McCabe, Steve
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gerrard, Neil McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Gibson, Dr Ian McDonagh, Siobhain
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McDonnell, John
Godman, Dr Norman A McFall,John
Godsiff, Roger McGuire, Mrs Anne
Goggins, Paul McIsaac, Shona
Golding, Mrs Llin Mackinlay, Andrew
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McLeish, Henry
Gorrie, Donald Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McNamara, Kevin
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Mactaggart, Fiona
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) McWalter, Tony
Grocott, Bruce McWilliam, John
Grogan, John Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hain, Peter Mallaber, Judy
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hancock, Mike Martlew, Eric
Hanson, David Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Meale, Alan
Harvey, Nick Michael, Alun
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Michie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Healey, John Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Milburn, Alan
Heppell, John Moffatt, Laura
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hill, Keith Moran, Ms Margaret
Hodge, Ms Margaret Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Hoey, Kate Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hood, Jimmy Mudie, George
Hoon, Geoffrey Mullin, Chris
Hope, Phil Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hopkins, Kelvin Norris, Dan
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Oaten, Mark
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Organ, Mrs Diana Stinchcombe, Paul
Palmer, Dr Nick Stott, Roger
Pearson, Ian Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Pendry, Tom Stringer, Graham
Perham, Ms Linda Stuart, Ms Gisela
Pickthall, Colin Stunell, Andrew
Pike, Peter L Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pollard, Kerry Swinney, John
Pope, Greg Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Pound, Stephen
Powell, Sir Raymond Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Primarolo, Dawn Temple-Morris, Peter
Prosser, Gwyn Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Purchase, Ken Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Quin, Ms Joyce Timms, Stephen
Quinn, Lawrie Tipping, Paddy
Radice, Giles Todd, Mark
Rammell, Bill Tonge, Dr Jenny
Rapson, Syd Touhig, Don
Raynsford, Nick Truswell, Paul
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Rendel, David Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Rooker, Jeff Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Rooney, Terry Tyler, Paul
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Vaz, Keith
Rowlands, Ted Wallace, James
Ruane, Chris Walley, Ms Joan
Ruddock, Ms Joan Ward, Ms Claire
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Wareing, Robert N
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester) Watts, David
Ryan, Ms Joan Welsh, Andrew
Salmond, Alex White, Brian
Salter, Martin Whitehead, Dr Alan
Sanders, Adrian Wicks, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil Wigley, Rt Hon Dafydd
Sedgemore, Brian Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Willis, Phil
Singh, Marsha Winnick, David
Skinner, Dennis Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Wood, Mike
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Woolas, Phil
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Wray, James
Smith, Sir Robert (W' Ab'd'ns) Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Snape, Peter Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Soley, Clive Wyatt, Derek
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Tellers for the Noes:
Stevenson, George Mr. Kevin Hughes and
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Ms Bridget Prentice.

Question accordingly negatived.

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