§ 5.9 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Government proposals for the reform of local government in Scotland (Cmnd. 4583). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this White Paper was published on February 16 and, as your Lordships know, there is widespread agreement that the time has now come to reform local government. It is not surprising that a structure which was made over forty years ago has become in some respects inadequate. In many cases it has only been the devotion of councillors and officials that has masked the defects of the present structure. Since the last reform in 1929, movements of population and changing social habits have made many local boundaries artificial and new demands now call for authorities with larger resources and for more sensible arrangements for dividing functions.
§ Local government reform has been under public discussion for over seven years. Your Lordships will recall that it started in 1963 when the previous Conservative Government published a White Paper on the subject. This was followed by two Working Parties. Then the Labour Government decided that the matter should be examined by the Royal Commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley—and, if I may, I should like to pay tribute to the clarity and the professional character of this very detailed study, which lasted from 1966 to 1969. I am sure I speak for all your Lordships when I say how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech of the chairman of this Commission, the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, and we can all feel that he certainly knows his subject backwards.
§ The Royal Commission reported with a majority conclusion, one Note of Dissent and three Notes of Reservations. Thereafter, there were debates in both Houses of Parliament, and discussions between the Government and local authority associations. I should like to acknowledge that when we took office we were given access to the representa- 808 tions—about 400—which were made to the previous Government, and to the notes of the meetings which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, had as Minister of State with the four local authority associations. We did not of course have any access to the internal discussions of the previous Government following these meetings.
§ I have had the pleasure of meeting the four local authority associations again, and having valuable discussions with them. It is clear from these consultations, as it was from those conducted previously, that there is no consensus of opinion in Scotland about all the Royal Commission's recommendations, except on four very important matters. First, most people felt that there should be more regions; second, most peoule felt that there should be more districts; third, most people felt that more functions should go to the districts—particularly the housing function—and, fourth, everyone seemed to want an end to uncertainty. It was therefore clearly the duty of the Government, lacking this consensus, to reach conclusions on the main outline of reform, on boundaries and the chief functions. These form part of the White Paper before us now but, as will be seen, there is much yet to discuss and to decide, and to fill in the outline of administrative change. Noble Lords will particularly note those subjects which are yet to be discussed with local authorities and others, in Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8.
§ My Lords, I noticed in the Order Paper this morning that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, has tabled an Amendment—which of course is not before us now and we do not know whether or not he will move it. However, I think it is in order for me to discuss the spirit of the Amendment. It suggests that the associations of local authorities should not be denied the opportunity of suggesting Amendments. The local authority associations have made great numbers of representations, as I have already said; they are still making them, and I am sure that they will make them in the future. So far as the spirit of this Amendment goes, I shall be very glad indeed to accept it, if it is moved, although I was surprised to see it upon the Order Paper only this morning when this debate has been notified for about 809 two weeks. But, of course, it may be that the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, will think particularly about the main boundaries and the main functions.
§ As I have described to the House, there was no consensus of opinion, and since the publication of the Wheatley Report this has been discussed for about two years, and local government reform for about seven years. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said, however, to all the local authority associations whom we met the other day, and in answer to a Parliamentary Question in another place, that he would of course listen to any representations and consider possible changes if there were significant new factors.
§ As your Lordships will be aware, most of our conclusions are based on the recommendations of the Wheatley Commission, although we dared to differ on a number of important points, bearing in mind the opinions to which I have already referred, and the Minority Reports. The Commission recommended a two-tier system, and we entirely agree. They suggested that the 430 authorities of the present day should be replaced by one tier of 7 regional councils and another tier of 37 districts. We have always felt, and so have nearly all those who have made representations, including the Association of County Councils and the Convention of Royal Burghs, that there should be more than seven regions. We created a special Border Region, from the Wheatley South-East Region. This area has become accustomed for a long time to working together, and it looks as much South and East as to Edinburgh. Many felt, as we did, that the size of the Wheatley Highland Region was too large, and that the case for independent arrangements for Orkney and Shetland was perhaps stronger than the Commission thought. The Highland Region has therefore been reduced in size and made more compact by giving Orkney and Shetland separate status, and by transferring a large part of Argyll to the West Region, which appears to have greater affinities in the West than in the North. This, then, totals eight regions, and two with separate status.
§ We also felt that the district authorities should be increased from the 37 recommended by the Commission. This is in order to ensure that although local government is strengthened it can still 810 keep the personal touch. Therefore we propose 49 districts, an increase of 14. We could, of course, have proposed more districts, as some would have liked, but the number of districts is of course influenced by their functions. Although we felt that the number ought to be increased if at all possible, we could not make the districts too small if they were to undertake such a function, for example, as housing, but we did agree that it was most important to ensure that really important work was available for district councillors to undertake.
§ Your Lordships will no doubt wish me to comment on the great variations in the eight regions. The size of the West Region seemed to us at the start, I must confess, far too large, and we studied thoroughly several alternative structures, including those suggested during our consultations. We tried the straight division of the West into three or four regions, but the Wheatley idea of strategic planning over the whole region seemed to be the most realistic because, even if it is bold, the problems of Glasgow, the Clyde and the West seem to need a large area in which they can be tackled. We then tried a region of the West, which was served by indirectly elected councils, between the region and the districts. But again we felt that the Wheatley system of two directly elected tiers of local government, responsible to their electorates for clearly defined functions, was the more practical. We tried various other combinations, but in the end we returned to the Wheatley proposal for the West which is the solution in the White Paper.
My Lords, fundamental to the proposals on the West, and indeed for all the regions, is that the cities should be recognised as the centre of the regions they influence. This was one of the main recommendations of the Commission, that economic land use and population problems should be considered as a whole. This is not on the whole the view of the cities, although they differ, but as one distinguished convenor in the North-East put it:
The North-East without Aberdeen would be like a body without a head.
It seems that the interdependence of town and country is as essential to the cities as to the smaller urban areas. Within their existing boundaries the
cities would be unable to solve many of their problems, which are in fact regional by nature, and by the same token it seems unreal to confine the cities within district boundaries set at the present city limits. In many cases all that separates them from the surrounding built-up areas is a suburban street, and there is little doubt that the inhabitants of the suburban areas just outside the city limits draw upon the city resources for many of their needs. This point was very carefully discussed by the Wheatley Commission. They tried to take in only those parts of the hinterland which would be better served and more effectively administered from the city than from the centre of any other district authority. That is the reasoning behind this White Paper; that is why we accepted the recommendation that places like Bearsden, Clydebank, Bishopriggs and Rutherglen should join the city to form the Glasgow district.
§ We gave very careful study to Fife, as did the Royal Commission, because we were well aware of the strength of opinion which is held by the County Council that Fife should remain inviolate; but there are, of course, other opinions, even in Fife. No one in this Government underrates historical tradition, and Fife may well have the resources, population and administrative experience to form a region of its own. It would, of course, politically have been far easier to let it he, but we have to try to look ahead and foresee as best we can the likely development over about forty years, which is about the same period as since the last major reform of local government. I think, or hope, one can foresee that there are bound to be better communciations. Already the Forth and Tay road bridges have made a difference; and with the substantial industrial expansion in South Fife the links between South Fife and Edinburgh and the Lothians are already strong. Those between North Fife and the rest of Tayside, one would have thought, are likely to strengthen steadily. Therefore, having considered all the advantages and disadvantages we reached the same conclusion in the end as the Wheatley Commission.
§ Although we created Orkney and Shetland as special authorities responsible for most functions, we did so because of their separate identity and problems, and we 812 felt that the Western Isles are different not only in geography but in tradition. They form a chain of islands with more than one link to the mainland. We also felt—and this is very important—that they could command larger resources by developing this long association. The proposed division of the major functions between the two tiers is set out in the White Paper at Appendix B. The regional authority will be responsible for the major planning and related services, through which they can influence the economic and physical work of the region, and for services such as education, social work, police and fire, which have to be organised on a large scale with sufficient resources. The district authorities will be responsible for the local environment and local services. My Lords, the main difference from the Commission's recommendations on functions is that we agree with many of the comments made during our discussions, that the principal housing function should become the responsibility of the district authorities.
§ We have adopted the principle of splitting the planning function, as recommended by the Royal Commission, and we proposed that, subject to the regions' structure plans, the districts should be responsible for local plans, with their own staff. It seems to us that in Scottish conditions this is important, so as to enable each level of authority to concentrate on its own different problems.
§ My Lords, the numbers of professionals in the planning field at present employed in Scotland will in any case have to be increased to meet the requirement of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1969, and I am glad to say that the numbers coming from the planning schools have increased considerably and are now running at the level of about 100 a year. In any case, these proposals involve reducing the number of planning authorities from 58 to 41, and of housing authorities from 234 to 51.
§ The Wheatley Commission put housing, both building and management, at the regional level. But housing is a service which has been and still can be carried out by the authority nearer to the electorate. This was certainly the opinion of practically all those whom we consulted. The Commission, of course, suggested that house improvement alone 813 should be a district responsibility. Yet it has also to cope with comprehensive improvement of bad areas by a mixture of slum clearance, new housing and improvement of out-of-date stock. That was why our conclusion was that the whole house building management and improvement functions should go to the districts, subject only—and this is important—to a reserve power to enable the regional authorities to ensure that houses required to carry out regional strategies will be built where and when they are needed for this purpose. The present New Towns, of course, have their own development corporations and will continue as at present. The future responsibility for New Towns is one of those subjects for discussion with all those concerned.
§ We felt that in the smaller regions of the Borders, the South-West and the Highlands, their sparsity makes necessary some adjustment of the distribution of functions. For instance, we thought it would be wiser to reserve all the planning functions to the regional authority. We also realise that the Borders and South-West Regions may find it necessary to call on their neighbours for help in providing the full range of some of the facilities—for example, in police, fire, social work, and perhaps even further education.
§ Education and social work together are of course two functions of the greatest importance, and we agreed with the Commission's recommendations that they should be discharged by the regional authority. Both these services need a large scale to command the resources and to support the full range of services that are required. In both cases the Commission thought that the size of the authorities should range between 200,000 and 1,000,000. With some reservations about the Borders and the South-West, this level fits all the regions except the West. This will be much larger than the 1,000,000 level suggested by the Commission, and it is true that we do not have experience of such a large education or social work authority in Scotland, although it has been done elsewhere. But we felt sure that the region would be able to devise modern methods of administration and operational devolution.
§ My Lords, there are some who felt that social work should be set at the district 814 level, because many of these problems are of a personal nature. In fact, I shared this view at the start. But it is also true that a high degree of training is needed by those who have, for example, to help the elderly or the handicapped. Moreover, the resources needed for social work will become increasingly demanding. It does seem, however, that, whether responsibility lies with the regional or the district authority, both will offer really interesting work to those who wish to serve local government. The regional councillor will have very wide responsibilities to provide much of the physical framework of life in his area. He will also decide education and social work policies, which will involve taking decisions on many major projects. The district councillor will plan, and to a large extent provide, the local environment because of his councillor's responsibilities for local planning, housing, building control, libraries, community centres, to give just a few examples.
§ I hope that I have made clear some of the reasoning behind these proposals for the framework of local government reform upon which future legislation can be based. While there is widespread approval for the general framework, there are four or five difficult decisions which have to be taken. The arguments for and against alternative solutions of these issues have been considered many times. After all the consultations, three years' work by the Royal Commission, and the previous work that had been done, the time had arrived for the Government to try to take the mean decision and make up their minds on these main issues. Until these are decided, progress cannot be made on the many other related matters.
§ There must now be discussions with representatives of the present authorities about such matters as the new electoral arrangements, some functions where allocation has still to be decided, the review body which the Commission suggested should be created to keep the arrangements for local government under review, and the question of community councils. There are many other important matters to consider together, such as the improvement of allowances for councillors, whether there should be salaries, the future of local dignitaries, the names of the authorities and vital administrative 815 questions which fall within the ambit of the staff and property commissions to which the report referred; also—and this is important—how we can limit the number of matters on which local administrators must refer to the Secretary of State for decision.
§ I did not mention finance, and do so now only briefly, because we propose to publish later in the year a Green Paper on this subject on which we shall have separate discussions. The process of consultation on this White Paper before your Lordships has already begun. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State met the four local authority associations on March 12. I myself saw the Association of County Councils last Friday, and I will be meeting the Convention of Royal Burghs on April 6. In the meantime, our officials and theirs are starting to go ahead with the detailed consultations agreed at the meeting on March 12. We hope to submit the detail of all proposals to your Lordships in the form of a Bill, which we hope to introduce in the 1972–73 Session with the intention of holding the first elections in 1974, and to securing the final changeover to the new system in 1975.
§ My Lords, we all know that the reform of local government is necessary. We believe this White Paper achieves the right balance between many differing views which have been expressed. We believe that where it differs from the Wheatley Commission's proposals it does improve upon them. I therefore commend our proposals on local government reform to your Lordships to-day.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Government proposals for the reform of local government in Scotland (Cmnd. 4583).—(Baroness Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie).
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES rose to move, as an Amendment to the Motion, at the end to insert: "but does not consider that the associations of local authorities should be denied the opportunity of suggesting amendments.". The noble Lord said: My Lords, may I start off by expressing thanks to the noble Baroness for the way in which she has spoken to the White Paper, and to say, quite frankly, that if a certain event had not taken place last year I doubt very much whether the con- 816 tent of the statement which I should have made on the White Paper produced by another Government would have differed a very great deal from that which the noble Baroness has just made. I certainly would not have wished to differ on the first point which she made, in expressing pleasure at the presence here this afternoon of the Chairman of the Royal Commission, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley. In so many aspects the people of Scotland have been in his debt, and I think it will be shown in due course that not least of these has been the devoted work which he and his colleagues put into preparing this Report, from which the Government have not departed—as we would not have departed—except in detail.
§ There has not been a departure from the major structure proposed by the Wheatley Commission—at least, so it seems to me. My one regret in speaking at this point is that it denies me the opportunity of saying to the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, how much I have enjoyed his speech. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to say that at the very end of the debate, perhaps some four or five hours from now. But I can say—and I say it with complete confidence—that, like everyone else, I am looking forward to hearing his maiden speech. Certainly the House will seldom have had the opportunity of listening to a maiden speech by a practised orator on a subject on which he is so completely a master.
§ My next task is to say that the White Paper, in much of its detail, differs little from that which would have been in the White Paper prepared by the previous Government. I was, however, rather glad to see that, where there were differences, they were generally that our White Paper would have been a little more in accord with the representations of the local authorities than the present White Paper is. For example, the proposed division of functions between the regions and districts is not identical but is very similar to our own. And may I say at this point that for ease and simplicity when I say "our" or "we" I mean the previous Government.
§ We had come to the decision that the Commission's proposals for district powers would be improved if they included one major function for the district 817 authority, provided it could be given to districts of suitable size. We concluded that this major function should be housing, so I am very glad that the Government are of the same mind. The exclusion of certain other functions from the powers of districts in the outlying regions seems to me to be a sensible way of enabling a few more district authorities to be created in these outlying regions.
§ I should like next to look at the number of regions. The previous Government also thought it right not to lump the Borders in with the South-East Region, although we had in mind what we thought was a more viable region of 125,000 people, which would have included a considerable part of East Lothian which, to my mind, has more in common with the Border counties than it has with Edinburgh and the industrial Lothians. Not the whole of East Lothian, because the Western part of it looks naturally to Edinburgh, but I think about three-quarters of it probably have a greater affinity with the Border counties, and it had the added advantage that it brought the population up to something nearer what Wheatley called for.
§ The reduction in the size of the Highland Region by excluding from it most of Argyll and giving virtually all-purpose status to the Orkneys and Shetlands is identical with the previous Government's intentions. We believed that this could not be done without considerable disadvantages to these islands, but we were satisfied that they would prefer to have it that way. We had no indication that the Western Isles would want similar status, but we had intended to say that if it became clear in the discussions following publication of our White Paper that the Western Isles also wanted it, we would have given them the same status as the Orkneys and Shetlands. I know that meetings have been taking place, but even now I should think it is too early to say that there is that degree of unanimity in the Western Isles. But if it does emerge—perhaps if it surprisingly emerges—then this is one case where it would be wrong for the Government not to take account of what emerges after the publication of the White Paper.
§ The enlargement of the South-West Region by the inclusion of the Girvan district, and the inclusion of the whole of Kincardineshire in the North-East, would 818 also have been in our White Paper. The presence of the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, enables me to call in aid here some evidence which shows that I am not just saying afterwards what we would have done, because the noble Viscount will be able to confirm that when his county council were proposing to embark on considerable expenditure on a survey of their electors to find out what they wanted, I tried to save his ratepayers money by telling him not to push at an open door, and that he should wait. By that time, however, the noble Viscount was able to tell me that things had gone too far. In any event, he did not think it would do any harm to emphasise the point.
My Lords, I am a firm believer in paying an insurance policy. Do not forget that there was also always the possibility of having to contend with a Conservative Government. Not only that, but the cost did not fall on the ratepayers: half of it was borne by the public good fund and therefore did not fall on the ratepayers, and the other half was paid for by the noble Lord's then Department, which was a very clever feat by our county clerk, of which I think the noble Lord was unaware.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, the noble Viscount will recollect that I told him I did the best I could to stop this, but found that I had no powers to stop money being spent, because I knew—and he eventually knew—that it was indeed a complete waste of time and they were all going to go into the North-East Region, anyway. However, I am glad to know that he regarded the possibility of a Conservative Government as something to be feared rather than welcomed. But in this case, even there, the fears were unjustified because the decision is the same.
The great degree of similarity in these proposals, to which I have called attention, amply justifies the decision of my right honourable friend, the then Secretary of State, that the minutes of my meetings with the local authority associations should be made available to the new Government. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for the way in which she has acknowledged the saving which this accomplished. It certainly fits in with our national characteristics, that we ought not to waste public money by having 819 another set of Ministers doing the same job all over again.
May I now turn to the West Region? At first glance nobody could be happy about a region which contained half the population of Scotland. Given, however, the need for co-ordinated planning in the region, it proved impossible to break it up in any satisfactory way. I am quite certain, as the noble Baroness has indicated, that this aspect of the reform took up as much of the present Government's time as it did of their predecessors' time. We looked, and I am sure that this Government have looked, at every possible way of improving on this, but we always came back to the fact that, from the strategic planning point of view, the West Region could not be divided. This need for unified Clyde planning by one authority is so clear that it is understandable that the Commission translated it into an estuarial principle, to apply also to the Forth and Tay estuaries. The Government have accepted that reasoning. I must confess that I was not completely persuaded that this was necessary. Problems which had seemed intractable without a single authority on the Clyde had never seemed to approach that stage on the Forth and the Tay.
It is the acceptance of the estuarial argument—the argument that the whole of an estuary should be within one regional authority for planning purposes—which calls for the division of Fife, for it would certainly otherwise function as a region. I think the noble Baroness has made this quite clear. If one disregards that argument, Fife has everything that is necessary to form a satisfactory region, but it is bounded by the estuary of the Tay. I think, therefore, that the Government would be wrong to exclude consideration of Fife as a ninth region. It may prove at the end of the day that this is not desirable, but such a decision will be acceptable only if the proof emerges openly and as a result of the fullest possible consultation with all interested parties; and that position has not yet been reached.
Whatever is the result at regional level, it is palpable nonsense (and in this I am disagreeing not only with the Government, but also with Wheatley) to include 820 in the Dundee district a strip on the South side of the Tay. This should be a part of the North Fife district. Even in the case of the Clyde it has not been suggested that districts should straddle the river; nor is this the case with the Forth. I do not stress this point now, because I think this is the sort of case for which the Government have made provision when they say that there can be minor adjustments of boundary. Putting this little bit of Fife—Tayport, Newport and so on—into the North Fife district, instead of into the Dundee district, could not be regarded as other than a minor change of boundary, so I say no more about that.
Accepting the need for one West Region, of the great population size that it has, as a strategic unit did not blind us—and I note from what the noble Baroness said that it did not blind the Government—to the difficulties of having it as a single education authority or social welfare authority. One shudders at the problems that face this authority in finding officials of the calibre necessary to undertake this task; and, even if they do get the right sort of people, I shudder at the prospects that face the Scottish Education Department, faced with virtually another Scottish Education Department, sometimes, perhaps, in complete opposition to the official one.
We welcomed the Commission's recommendation that regional authorities should provide for decentralisation and introduce arrangements involving local committees in the administration of certain services. We thought that this would be particularly valuable in the education and social welfare spheres. We agreed that the introduction of these committees and administrative arrangements should be a matter for the discretion of regional authorities, except in the West. There, because of the very large population, the opinion of the previous Administration was that the regional authority should be required to prepare an administrative scheme which should be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. We would not do that in other regions, because we believe that if they are left to their own devices there will be a variety of types of administration coming forward, and this will be valuable. This is a field in which some experiment will probably be very useful 821 indeed, and one region may hit on a more useful way of doing a job than another—and one which the others will in due course be prepared to copy. But with these 2,500,000 people coming under one education authority, under one social welfare authority, we consider that there is merit in ensuring that there is a scheme of decentralisation, and the Secretary of State should be directly involved in its approval, though not in its working.
I now refer to the number of district authorities. In total, we would have had very little more than the Government have proposed, but their spread throughout the regions would have been quite a hit different. If the Western Isles had remained in the Highlands Region, we should have had six authorities with populations ranging from 15,000 to 64,000, instead of the Government's ten. Given that the districts are to have housing powers in every case, it does not seem to me that it can be in any way regarded as sensible to make Uist, for example, with a population of 6,000 and a rateable value of £50,000, a housing authority. You have only to think of them employing one official for housing purposes, and they have 5p on the rates right away. I do not think they would thank you for that. Perhaps the answer is that nobody intends to build any houses in Uist, and that the Government therefore think they are not going to have a housing authority there.
Nairn, with a population of 8,000—from a population point of view the smallest district authority on the whole mainland of Scotland—is just about as big a nonsense as Uist, with 6,000; and the position is aggravated when we see that the adjoining district of Moray, and the next one, Banff-Buchan, have populations of 79,000 and 68,000 respectively. Given the nature of the area, I am quite certain that Nairn is unreasonably small and that the other two are needlessly large. I would have made the latter two into four districts. I believe that there is advantage, also, in making Angus into two districts, and making Perth and Kinross into two districts; and that, in fact, is the division that would have been made in the alternative White Paper.
In the West, it is a big disappointment to see that Glasgow is to be as big as 1,107,000. I can see no need for including Bearsden, Bishopriggs, Clydebank, 822 Milngavie and Rutherglen in greater Glasgow—and because of the difficulty of walking on eggs I have put those places in alphabetical order. If those were excluded, Glasgow would still be over the million mark. The noble Baroness must be well aware that a great deal of the objection felt by people outside Glasgow at the size of the West Region is not that it has 2,500,000 people, but that a million of them are in Glasgow, and the rest of them, to some degree or another, fear domination by Glasgow.
In the result, the other White Paper would have had 16 or 17 districts in the West, as against the Government's 13. Your Lordships will see from what I have said, therefore, that the differences between the two White Papers (if I may so put it) is a matter of detail rather than of principle, and it is because the differences are of detail that I am not terribly worried about what is in the White Paper so far as these details are concerned. My disagreement with the White Paper is a disagreement with the philosophy of it. The Government are entitled to say that, the fundamental decisions on the type of structure and functions having been taken, these should not be subject to further discussion or negotiation. But they have gone much further than this, and I think they have gone much further than reasonable people would consider necessary.
Like the noble Baroness, I had a series of meetings with the local authority associations at which reasonable progress was made. At these meetings, I was authorised by my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State to tell the associations that he did not propose that his White Paper would be a statement of things which would be unchangeable. He in fact specifically required me to say that he wanted to get back to the conception that a White Paper was a statement in the structure of which the Government had made up their mind but on the details of which they were prepared to have further discussions. When I read the White Paper and reached paragraph 20, with its emphasis on the need for flexibility, I thought that even on this matter the two Governments were operating on the same sort of wavelength. However, when I got to paragraph 60 I changed my mind, because paragraph 60, with its reference to the 823 number of regions and districts not being open to adjustment, was not the sort of statement I thought should be in a White Paper. Then, when I got to paragraph 89, with the statement to which so much exception has been taken in so many parts of Scotland—that this White Paper isa prescription for action and not a basis for negotiation"—I was not surprised that certain newspapers in Scotland normally more sympathetic to a Conservative Government described this as being arrogant.
This is not what a White Paper is meant to be. A White Paper is not a new process in legislation preceding the First Reading of a Bill. It is a statement of principles from which the Government have the right to say, "We will not depart", and I do not think anyone has the right to expect the Government to go back to square one. But, for instance, taking the sort of things of which I have spoken, there is the possibility that the people of the Western Isles might surprisingly, at this late stage in the day, come to the conclusion that they would rather join together in having the kind of structure they have in the Orkneys and Shetlands, in which case it should be possible for the Government to say, "Well, we will do that". It is not a difference in the kind of conditions under which they live which led the Government not to do it at this stage: it is the fact that whereas in the past there has been a remarkable degree of unanimity of opinion in the Orkneys about what they wanted and a unanimity of opinion in the Shetlands about what they wanted, in the Western Isles, in fact, as soon as one island said a particular thing another island knew quite definitely that that was what it did not want.
If that continues to be the sort of way they look at things, then obviously they will not want an all-purpose authority; but it may well be that this is the opportunity for bringing that unsatisfactory state of affairs in the Western Isles to an end. We do not want to have a permanent situation in which, when one determines "Yes", that automatically determines that the other will say "No"; and if they desire to come together in a single all-purpose authority to bring an 824 end to this situation that would be something which would be worth while in itself. If we hold to the Government's White Paper as it is stated, that possibility is ruled out no matter how much the Western Isles may say that this is what they want. If it was felt reasonable that Moray should have two districts instead of one, or that it would be reasonable that Angus should have a district based on Montrose and Arbroath and another one based on Forfar and Brechin, and that this would make a much more workable arrangement, why should not the Government accept it? Because obviously that is not interfering with the structure; it is not changing the functions. It is an alteration of the way in which it is going to be done, but it cannot be described as a minor change of boundary. It comes under the category which is hit at by paragraph 60: it is changing the number of districts.
I was asked to quantify what I would regard as a reasonable change. The Government have 49 districts; we would have had 50. If as a result of discussion it turned out there could be an even greater measure of agreement with the local authority associations on 52 or 53 authorities, I should think that that would be eminently reasonable. But if as a result of the discussions the Government found that what the local authority associations were holding out for was 60 or more, then that would in fact create a difference of structure, and if I then had to come down on one side or the other, I would come down in favour of the Government's 49 rather than an unworkable 60. My Lords, I had intended to look up what I said in your Lordships' House when we discussed the Royal Commission's Report, but it seemed to me that what I said then was that the object of the Government's activities in due course should be not to attempt to lay down what they regarded as a perfect structure for local government but that we should be content with something which was less than perfect if, for that, we could get a greater measure of agreement. I think we can get more agreement than there is at the present time.
My Lords, when I gave the local authority associations the assurance to which I have referred I meant it, and I can say as definitely that my right honourable friend meant it when he authorised me to 825 make that statement. The local authorities would be entitled to think that I had abandoned that pledge if I did not make an effort in your Lordships' House to get the Government to return to some degree of flexibility, and it is for that reason that I put down my Amendment. I must apologise to the noble Baroness for this Amendment having gone down so very late. I appreciate that this causes difficulties, but I should like her to accept my assurance that I did not intend to create any difficulties. As she knows, the original Motion on this subject was in my name. The noble Baroness made no attempt to disguise the fact that my placing of the Motion on the Order Paper had precipitated pressure from her: she had already asked for Government time to discuss this White Paper.
At the time when my Motion went down, there had been no decision as to whether and when this would be discussed. The tabling of my Motion proved to be helpful to the noble Baroness because she got time; but when she told me that it was to be on the 23rd March I told her then that it made great difficulty for me because I had an appointment in Scotland from which I would obviously have to withdraw. I could not in all conscience put down an Amendment on the Order Paper until I was in fact certain that I would be here to move it, and I did not know absolutely for certain until last Thursday that that was the position. I may have been misinformed, but I understood that if I had tabled my Amendment then, it could not be here before Friday, and people would not in fact have known it any earlier than in fact they did. My Lords, on Monday my plane was late in getting down. I think that within 15 minutes of my getting into the House I handed over my Amendment. May I say a little about it? This is not a censorious (if that is the right word) Amendment. It is not an Amendment of censure on the Government; it is merely an attempt to carry out the undertaking I gave when I was Minister of State that when the White Paper came out there would be yet a further authority for a discussion of some of the details. The White Paper seems to exclude that.
The noble Baroness seemed to indicate that she was disposed to accept my Amendment. I do not know whether that meant accepting the Amendment as 826 it stood, or whether it meant giving an undertaking that the sort of thing of which I have spoken (notwithstanding paragraphs 60 and 89) would be open for further discussion with the local authorities' association. I want to make it clear that I am not anxious for a Division on this matter. This is much too important a matter for Scotland to become the subject of Party wrangles between the Government and the Opposition. What is important is that we should go out of our way to make certain that no one at the end of the day can say that we did not have the proper opportunity of putting our points of view once we saw what were the Government's final ideas.
It may be wrong to talk about the Government's final ideas and then have something else discussed which could change them; but at the time of producing the White Paper these were the Government's final ideas. There is nothing wrong in that. What is wrong is when the Government say that this is not a matter for negotiation. It is for that reason that, if necessary, I would divide the House on this Amendment, even at the end of this debate. But I hope that what the noble Baroness has to say when she comes to reply will make it possible for me to avoid any such Division; because a Division is the last thing that I want. At this stage I formally move my Amendment.
§ Amendment moved—
§ At the end of the Motion, to insert ("but does not consider that the associations of local authorities should be denied the opportunity of suggesting amendments.").—(Lord Hughes.)
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
My Lords, may I first add to what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, how much I, too, am looking forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley. Lord Wheatley will go down in history as a man who has altered the face of Scotland; but I am confident in saying that he will be remembered with gratitude. If what I now go on to say may sound somewhat critical of certain parts of what he has suggested or what the Government are suggesting in their White Paper, let me assure him and your Lordships that it is mainly intended to be critical of the White Paper itself and 827 of its tone, in a similar way to that in which Lord Hughes has criticised it.
I respect men and women of principle and I applaud a firm defence by them of the principles which they uphold. Equally, I detest the mere insistence on dogma which cannot stand the test of the touchstone of principle. I am therefore filled with a certain amount of suspicion at the arbitrary, indeed sometimes arrogant tone of the White Paper on the Reform of Local Government in Scotland. I suspect that its dogmatic insistence on being a prescription for action veils many concessions by principle to pragmatism. It is therefore in the light of Her Majesty's Government's own principles that I propose to examine this White Paper.
The objective, we are told, which the Government had before them was to endow the new local authorities with power, effectiveness, local democracy and local involvement. To achieve this, they have gone for a two-tier basic structure, not only in Scotland but also in their proposals for England and Wales. It seems clear that a two-tier structure for local government must be the first of their principles. But is it? In the consultative document on Welsh local government reform, we find that a third tier, community councils, are to have powers; they are to have executive functions substantially the same as existing parish councils have at the present moment executive functions. The English White Paper states that the establishment of two operational forms of local authorities does not remove the need for authorities at the parish level. So England is to have parishes with powers.
In Scotland, however, these principles do not seem to apply. Or is it that in Scotland we are just being handed a lump of dogma? In Scotland, all that we are to get is optional community councils which will have no statutory functions, which will be outside the local government system, and furthermore it is suggested that these community councils would not need to be fully democratic. Yet many of them will contain within their boundaries the bleeding corpses of ancient historical burghs with royal charters and traditional ceremonials and a long proud history of democratic service to local government which will just have been beheaded on the block of 828 progress. The whole section on community councils is written in a patronising tone but, thank goodness! it is at least slightly less arbitrary than the rest of the Command Paper. As part of a prescription for action it is astonishingly undecided. I therefore urge Her Majesty's Government when they come to make up their minds what to do about this tier of local government in Scotland to remember their own principles: make these councils fully democratic; give us no less in Scotland than you give to the people in England and Wales; safeguard our ancient historical heritage and preserve the burghs whose charters and local government history go back far beyond the Act of Union by making them the lively nuclei of community councils embracing their hinterland. Give them powers of executive function, and in this way you will still be following your own avowed principle of local democracy and local involvement. If you do not give the communities powers and functions not only will you be killing off ancient institutions, but you will be murdering local democracy and local involvement over wide areas of Scotland.
My Lords, I speak advisedly and with some knowledge of this subject. I have been a county councillor for Caithness since 1949 and I am currently a baillie of the Thurso Town Council as well as a Caithness county councillor. I have seen and taken part in lively contests; I have seen the electorate turn out on polling day in percentages which would have done credit to a General Election. I can tell your Lordships, therefore, from my own certain knowledge, that there are deep misgivings for the future of local democracy and local involvement as the result of some of the provisions of the White Paper. There are deep misgivings in the minds of thinking people in the remoter areas.
If the Government will not give us the real community councils which might make use of some of our ancient institutions, something must be done, as I shall say later, to strengthen the role of the districts in the new set-up. Especially is this true in the Highland area. In my view, the Highlands Region is still too big for it to be possible for many of the people at present usefully involved in local government to be able to contemplate taking any further part. I know many 829 councillors whose departure will be a distinct loss to the area, but who will find it quite impossible to work in an area as big as this. By Her Majesty's Government's own standards the proposed region is too big. This is shown in the White Paper. To the Borders they have given regional status, a wise move which I applaud; and the reason they have given it is that further development which the area so urgently needs will best be achieved by a Borders regional authority.
We are here told that population levels are only a rough guide, so what about development in the Highlands? Is there not in this vast area almost half of the total area of Scotland? Is it not nearly one and a half times the size of the Principality of Wales? Truly, there is a crying need for development. Yet the proposals which we are now discussing may well sound the death knell of the Highlands and Islands Development Board. Reading between the lines, one can see how, in the future, the case will be made out for doing away with the Highlands Board which covers merely a regional area. That is a question which is very much unanswered in the minds of many people. The need for development, especially if we were in the future to lose the Highlands Board, could best be met by giving this area two centres of growth instead of one, two nuclei from which growth energy could be generated.
In my view, the Highlands Region ought to be divided into a North Highlands Region and a West Highlands Region, along the lines of the present Ross and Cromarty-Inverness-shire county march. To do so would create two regions, one North and one South of that boundary line; each larger in population than the Borders Region; each equal in rateable value to the Borders Region. Each would have its growth point; the West Highlands Region would have growth points at Inverness, Aviemore and Fort William, and the North Highlands Region at Invergordon, Wick and Thurso and Stornoway. By the Government's own test of power effectiveness, the creation of these two regions would put sufficient power in the right places to be effective.
It is not really true to say that the whole of the Highlands area think as one. We have already heard that not even the whole of the Western Islands 830 think as one. Certainly we feel some community of interest as, to a large extent, we share the same kind of problems. But we just as well feel a community of interest with the Borders. The real community of interest lies in much shorter radii. Can you imagine, my Lords, living in London and having your centre of regional government in Nottingham? That is what it will be like for many of us if this whole area is left as a single region. Can you imagine how difficult it will be to feel any sense of local involvement? Can you imagine how difficult it will be to make the arrangement effective? The devolution problems alone will defeat the original purpose. By the time you have re-established the necessary sub-centres of administration you will have created an even more unwieldy and ineffective administration than exists at present. In areas as vast as this it will not be possible to obtain economies of scale. The newly created North of Scotland Water Board is a case in point. Immediately following its creation it obeyed Parkinson's Law by doubling its staff and its establishment of vehicles; and the consequence was obvious in the speed at which the water rate went up.
I do not know why it should be assumed at St. Andrew's House that in the Highlands, or indeed in the Borders, or the South-West, we are incapable of managing our affairs at district level. Take planning, for example. Ever since the 1947 Planning Act two small burghs, Thurso and St. Andrew's, have opted to retain, and have exercised, their own planning powers. They have used them powerfully, effectively and economically, with full local involvement. In that time Thurso has doubled its population, and it has three times won a Civic Trust award. It has probably the only C.D.A.—at the moment in full swing redeveloping the shopping centre of the town—which has gone through anywhere without a costly public inquiry.
Over the whole period it has been doing all these things Thurso has still kept its planning costs to the lowest level in Scotland. In Thurso, planning costs 10p per head. In St. Andrew's, the university town with, consequently, more complex planning problems, it still costs only 20p per head. In Edinburgh it costs 30p per head. In Scotland as a 831 whole it costs 67p per head. In Glasgow it costs 90p, or nine times Thurso's costs, to carry out the planning function. Certainly it is clear to me that no advantage is to be reaped by denying the districts in the Highlands the functions which are thought right for districts elsewhere to exercise. Devolution problems will nullify the economies of centralisation, and centralisation would remove the immense source of strength to be got from local involvement.
My Lords, in spite of all I have just said, I hope it will not be thought that I am trying to condemn the White Paper out of hand; not at all. I agree with its principles. I agree with the two-tier system, provided either that community councils are created with real functions to carry out, or that a sort of second-class district council is not created in certain parts of Scotland. If you believe in the two-tier system, have the courage of your convictions and have a full two-tier system everyhere. I feel that the White Paper has departed from its own principles by making the Highlands Region too big, and I think that this is tacitly admitted in the White Paper. Yet in spite of agreeing with the White Paper as a framework, I recognise that it is absolutely and utterly worthless without the reorganisation of local government finance. The creation of the new framework will mean nothing until we really know where the money is coming from, and whether in fact the power will be devolved along with the money.
I support the devolution of power to the regions, but unless there are new sources of money for the regions this devolution will be illusory. I hope we may take it that the Government intend to give the new regions and districts the sources of finance to carry out their functions without being tied to the apron strings of St. Andrew's House. If this is not done, all that the reorganisation of local government in Scotland will achieve is to ensure that the government of the people by bureaucracy shall not perish from the earth.
I therefore hope that when she comes to reply the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, will not merely, with all her usual charm and grace, stick to the arbitrary and inflexible terms of the White Paper, I hope that she will tell us that Her Majesty's Government 832 have enough confidence in their own principles to re-examine some at least of the detailed proposals in the light of these principles. I hope that she will not tell us that Her Majesty's Government intend to bully public opinion in Scotland into submission, because that will not only be unfair, it will also be most shortsighted. I hope it will be possible for the Government to say, if there is a genuine desire for some of their proposals to be altered in detail, that they will listen, because if they do, they will be harnessing the goodwill of local opinion to the task of helping to make these new proposals work. And it is the goodwill, the co-operation and the local involvement of the people which is the very stuff and substance of local government.
§ 6.22 p.m.
My Lords, having lived intimately with the subject of the reform of local government in Scotland for nigh on five years, I feel almost wedded to it, even if only by the old Scots custom of habit and repute. I thought that I might spare myself the ordeal of making a maiden speech, and your Lordships the ordeal of listening to one, simply by referring to the 278 pages of the Report and saying that they contain my considered opinion on the subject. Alternatively, I felt that I might make a passing reference to the White Paper and then adopt the classical and much-used form of judicial judgment by saying, "My Lords, I concur and have nothing to add". While I do concur, I do not concur in omnibus; and I do have something to add.
One of the most pleasant things I have to add is to render my acknowledgment of the kind things which have been said about the Commission and their Report. I do so not only personally but also on behalf of my colleagues, because I cannot stress too firmly the fact that this was a co-operative effort by all the members of the Commission, who worked very hard and with great industry for over three years. Each and every one had an equal part to play, had an equal share of responsibility, and accordingly is entitled to an equal share of the praise that has been bestowed. I should like to add to that the members of the Commission's staff, who worked with so much industry and with so much understanding of the requirements, and 833 played such a significant part in our endeavours. In particular, I should like to mention our Secretary, Mr. Donald Mackay, whose deep understanding of the subject perhaps transcended that of all the Commissioners and whose facile pen can best be seen perhaps in the writing of the Report itself.
My Lords, it must be a source of great satisfaction to all the Commissioners that the basis of the proposals in the White Paper are to be found in the Commission's Report. It is very gratifying to us to find that the philosophy, the principles and the objectives have been embraced and accepted by Her Majesty's Government, and, I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, had been accepted by the previous Government. And, of course, it is a matter of great pleasure to us that so many of our recommendations have found implementation in the Government's proposals, and would equally have done so in the proposals of the previous Government. Therefore I do not propose to get involved in arguments of detail as to where certain lines should run. What I think is of the utmost importance is that there should be an acceptance of the philosophy, of the objectives and of the principles; and if they be accepted, then certain consequences must follow.
Anyone who wishes to examine and pass judgment on the proposals in the White Paper ought to do so on the basis of these accepted principles. If, on the other hand, counter-proposals are going to be offered, then, if the philosophy is accepted, the counter-proposals must measure up to the philosophy and not run counter to it. By the same token, if people do not accept the philosophy expounded in the Report and adopted in the White Paper, then, before they come with counter-proposals, they have a duly, I think, to explain on what basis and on what philosophy these counter-proposals proceed. Because, my Lords, what we are looking for is a system of local government in Scotland, not a series of individual units for different parts of Scotland. Therefore, at the risk of wearying your Lordships, may I just remind the House, in telegraphic form, of the principles and the objectives which go to make up the philosophy. Power, effectiveness, local democracy and local involvement—these have to be looked at in 834 the creating of a system that is stretching into the 21st century and not against a background of a system that goes back to 1889.
I do not want to go into the details of these factors, but may I say that quite obviously the purpose, if there be any purpose in this, is to create a revival of local government in Scotland. Let us not burke the issue. Local government was losing credibility in Scotland, and the principal reason for that was that it was not seen to have the power that a self-respecting body ought to have. Too many decisions were being made for it elsewhere. And if it was to regain that credibility, it must be given the power and the responsibility to make many more decisions for itself and to be able to carry out the functions which were committed to it for their discharge. There we have the power and efficiency, and into that, whatever system may be required to achieve that, we have to inter-weave, in the modern idiom, the principles of local democracy and local involvement.
All I should like to say in that respect is that many emotive phrases have been used in order to criticise the larger nature of the units which are proposed. The phrase "grass roots" has been very much over-employed. Let me remind the House that when we talk about local democracy, we are talking not only about "local" but also about "democracy", and there is no real democracy where there is no real power. 'Therefore if we want to get real democracy we must try to build up a system containing units with real power. What the consumer of service would want, may I say in parenthesis, is not necessarily to have the council round the corner: what he is looking for is that an official of the local authority supplying the service should be readily available round the corner.
When we come to the principles (and we must have regard to the principles when we consider not only the proposals but also any counter-proposals), they are fairly easy to enumerate: direct elections, with the corollary that there should be direct answerability and responsibility to the electorate; direct responsibility for finance raising. While there must always be in this partnership with the central Government a certain degree of subvention from central Government funds, they must be brought into a more realistic relationship—and may I say that 835 this probably touches on a point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso? If there is this overweighted contribution by central Government towards local government finance, you cannot expect anything else than an oversight by central Government as to how that money is being spent.
Therefore those who want to see local government having more power vis-à-vis central Government, more responsibility to make its own decisions, and less oversight and less direction from central Government have to face up to the consequences: and these consequences will be found both in finance and in structure. If you are not prepared to face up to the consequences on finance and structure, then you have no right to seek the counterpart. So you have responsibility for finance raising being direct, and not having recourse to requisitioning, which can lead to so much discontent. Each level of local government should have a self-contained code of powers and duties, and should not be dependent upon delegation for any of the functions that it is called upon to discharge.
There is a recognition in the White Paper of something upon which we laid great store in the Report, and that is that groups of functions which naturally should go together and be within the umbrella of one administration must be grouped at the same level. Manifestly, the optimum size for any one individual function will differ considerably from the optimum size of another. But since you cannot have a separate authority for each function, once you settle the format of your structure and decide upon two tiers—as the bulk of the evidence suggested we should, and as the Government have accepted—then you have to try to get that size of authority at the particular level which can best embrace the functions that you are trying to give to that level of local government without doing any material damage to any individual function. It is against that kind of background that I think the proposals of the White Paper must be examined and that any criticisms of the White Paper, or any alternative proposals, ought to be scrutinised.
Once you are settled on this two-tier structure you have to divide it into its 836 levels and then make an allocation of the functions. That means that you have to look at Scotland as a whole, in the first instance, and then look at the different parts of Scotland. But what you do not do, in my opinion—and this was the opinion of my colleagues—is to say: "We are looking at Glasgow; we are looking at Galashiels; we are looking at Edinburgh; we are looking at Elgin; we are looking at Dundee; and we are looking at Dumfries. What would be the best system for each of these individually?" You have to look at the part of Scotland in which Glasgow and Galashiels are situated and find out what is the best answer for that part of Scotland.
It is in that situation—and here I come, I hope very strongly, to the support of the White Paper proposals and to counter some of the criticisms—that the suggestion that the four cities should remain all-purpose authorities will just not bear examination. The cities will be the core and the focal point of the new Region in which they are situated, and to extract the core would make a non-sense of the whole concept. Contrary to the simile of the man from Aberdeen referred to by the noble Baroness, it is not really the head that would be lost, but the heart.
So, when I come to look at the proposals (though I have reservations) I think that they are broadly right. I will not delay your Lordships with any minute criticisms of proposals which I think are perhaps marginal and where arguments can be levelled one way or the other. I am not going to argue, for instance, about the eighth region which has been added. That always was marginal. We felt that it did not have the population to justify it at this stage. We felt that at this stage it was lacking a focal point; but we recognised that in due course the numbers would increase and a focal point might emerge. Therefore, if I disagree, it is merely on the ground that possibly the decision is premature rather than wrong.
So far as the West Region is concerned, may I say that we shared all the difficulties and apprehensions of Her Majesty's Government, and their predecessors, about the size of this region. I do not want to repeat the considerations which have been urged already from both 837 sides of the House as to the inevitable justification for this type and size of region. I would remind your Lordships, however, that over twenty years ago the Clyde Valley Planning Committee reported that regional government was required for this part of Scotland in order to solve the economic problems of the West of Scotland. The considerations which were applicable then are even more applicable now, and while the present recommendations, like ours, extend the boundaries further than those recommended by that Committee, I think the developments which have flowed since fully justify the extended boundaries.
Like Her Majesty's Government and their predecessors, we tried drawing smaller circles to see whether we could get the logical point; and there was no logical point beyond somewhere in the area where it has now been dropped. I may have reservations about the inclusion of Argyll: again it is debatable, and I do not want to occupy your Lordships' time with it. Geographically it makes more sense, but I think it would probably find its more natural home in the Highlands Region. I adopt, and hold as repeated, as we say elsewhere, brevitatis causa, what was said about Fife and will not enter into that controversy. So far as the Highlands area itself is concerned, may I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that we tried dividing it both longitudinally and laterally (I am sure that the Government and their predecessors did the same thing), and we could not get the right answer. So perhaps the noble Viscount might look at this again.
I leave it at that, and turn to consider where I feel that the proposals are wrong. Here I find myself in opposition to all the speakers who have preceded me, and one wonders how right one can be when one finds oneself in opposition to the Conservative Party, the Labour Party and the Liberal Party—with a sneaking feeling that one might be right all the time. But that is in relation to giving all-purpose powers to Orkney and Shetland. Let me make one thing quite clear from the start: that I am not anti-Orkney and Shetland. There is a feeling that if you deny them what they want, you are anti. My Lords, I am not anti.
838 My reason for criticising this proposal is not that it runs contrary to what the majority of the Commission recommended. I say this with all deference, because three of my colleagues thought that this was the right answer, and the Government are entitled to pray that in aid. My reason for objecting to it is simply that the decision offends against all the principles of the White Paper. It offends against, and makes nonsense of, the criteria for the major services—the criteria laid down by the Government's own Departments. That is point No. 1. But I am sure that other areas, if there be further negotiations, may find it difficult to understand why they cannot get higher status, when they have a much larger population to justify the carrying of that higher status, although it can be given to Orkney and Shetland, each with roughly 17,000 population.
The decision also perpetuates a feature which both the Report and the White Paper criticised; that is, the expedient resorted to in the present system of joint committees and joint boards. Yet it is suggested that this criticised procedure should be carried forward into the new procedure. It has already been stated openly in the White Paper that the joint committees for police and fire already in existence will have to be carried forward into the Islands. The White Paper is significantly silent on the question of water, but there may be reasons for that.
Then the specialised services in education and social work have to be received from adjoining authorities. This is equally envisaged, both in the South-West and in the South-East. But how is it going to be achieved? Is it going to be through joint committees, or purely on a customer basis? I think we are entitled to know what is involved in this proposal. If they are getting it on a customer basis they are getting it not as a matter of right but as a matter of grace. Where will they stand in the order of priorities so far as the servicing authorities are concerned? In isolation, the Islands of Orkney and Shetland may become, of necessity, more dependent on finance from central Government, with all that that involves. What, in effect, is being done is the creation of a second-class form of citizenship within this structure. I think any new structure marching forward into 839 the 21st century which starts off by creating different grades of citizenship within the various levels, proceeds on the wrong basis.
That is carried on into the district councils. Again I find a certain amount of surprise that there is complete affinity between the two Front Benches that different levels of functions should be granted to the central district authorities compared to those granted to the district authorities in the three perimeter regions—the Highlands, the South-West and the South-East—because the district authorities in these three areas have not received local planning, building control and libraries. I should have thought that the argument which apparently persuaded Her Majesty's Government, and their predecessors, that housing should go to the district level in order to give those authorities a worthwhile job to do was even more forcible in relation to local planning, because in local planning there is greater opportunity to play a much more important part and to have a much more important say, not only in the creation but in the preservation of the environment. To deny the whole series of district authorities in these three regions that right is something that I find difficult to understand.
I think the granting of housing powers is inadequate compensation for that. To grant housing powers without granting local planning at the same time may not only create complications; it may very well give rise to feuds. That also is something which ought to be looked at by Her Majesty's Government. You may find districts like Dumfries, with a 58,000 population, and Inverness with a population of 47,000, saying, "Why is it that we cannot get local planning, building control and libraries, but Orkney, with a population of 17,000, can be an all-purpose authority?" It does not seem to make sense. With respect, the noble Baroness and her colleagues may be building up a certain amount of trouble for themselves when these issues come to be argued, as I hope they will be.
This is the direct result of trying to increase the number of district authorities. You may create any number you like of district authorities, but that number must be correlated to the functions which you intend to give to them. That 840 was recognised by my dissenting colleagues in the Royal Commission, who recommended 101 district authorities. They recognised the logic of the situation and suggested that those authorities should have very limited powers, more limited than the Government propose to give district authorities to-day. Those of us who recommend 37 did so on the basis that that would enable district authorities to have greater powers. It seems to me, with respect, that this exercise has been carried out to get more authorities without due regard to the consequences. The creation of a number of authorities with 6,000, 8,000 or 9,000 population, with the truncated powers which have been given to them, does not seem to make sense. I hope I do not appear unduly critical when I say that special pleading seems to have overcome philosophy.
May I remind your Lordships of this point? It has some reference to the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, with regard to community councils and the powers he thought they should have. Like Her Majesty's Government, we thought they should not have any statutory powers—this applies also to other compromises that may be sought, or may have already been made. May I remind your Lordships of what happened in 1929, when the present structure of local government was being formed? It was at the Report stage in another place that it was first suggested that district councils, such as we have at the present time, should be formed, because it was thought desirable to have a unit of local government nearer the grass roots. So in order to placate that pressure, the Government of the day introduced district councils, but gave them minimal, and almost derisory, powers. They had the right to get some delegated powers from county councils, but that delegation was seldom operated, and often when operated was soon withdrawn. The biggest critics of that system before our Royal Commission were the district councils themselves. It just shows the danger and the fallacy of yielding to sympathetic pressure at a given time when you cannot match the answer with the requirements.
I should like to say a word—if I am not detaining your Lordships too long—on the question of functions. I intend to deal basically with the decision to send 841 housing to the district authorities. I realise that there is a strong argument in favour of this, and I should be the last person to deny that, but we must look at the situation to see not what is going to face the district councillors that are to be but what is the best solution in order to overcome this terrible problem of housing that we have in Scotland, and what the right agency is through which this ought to be done. I do not know what representations were made to Her Majesty's Government, or to their predecessors, but when it came to housing basically the argument was that housing will give the district councillors something worth while to do. With due respect, I do not think that that is the proper criterion. The proper criterion is the best medium or agency through which this great problem, which was recently highlighted in the Cullingworth Report, will be solved in Scotland.
What are the arguments against it? The noble Baroness said that nearly all the representations that she had were in favour of giving housing to the district authorities. I was rather afraid that she must have overlooked the representations from the Scottish Development Department, because they recommended that it should go to the regional authority. Perhaps that may have escaped the notice of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, too—
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I am well aware that it is quite wrong to interrupt a maiden speaker, but the simple answer is that the Development Department changed their minds after they gave their evidence.
My Lords, there may have been reasons for that. It was on such evidence that we reached our decision. And may I remind your Lordships what the evidence was, so that you may make up your own minds whether their first impression was the right one, or whether the subsequent decision was right? I recognise that there are arguments on both sides. The first argument was that there should be one authority charged with the responsibility of assessing the needs for housing in any one regional area. The needs for economic development housing and for social housing were equally paramount, and the distinction between the one and the other was fast becoming blurred. That 842 is why one authority was required to look at the whole economic development as well as the social development of the area, in order to determine the needs and assess the priorities.
Then what happens? Realising that the regional authority must also have housing powers, the expedient is adopted of giving housing powers to the region but to be exercised through agencies, the agencies being first of all the Scottish Special Housing Association, which has a limited capacity for building houses—a capacity which they informed us they could not exceed beyond a certain limit, and yet they had to be at the beck and and call of all the regional authorities in Scotland—or the district authorities who are the housing authorities themselves. Here we are going to have the breeding ground of trouble once again, because if the regional authority are planning the economic development of the area they I have also to be dependent on the provision of houses. We have seen this controversy almost stopping industry from coming to Scotland before now, where one interest lay with one authority and the other interest lay with another. It does not necessarily follow that the housing required for economic development will be supplied by the district authority whose assessment of priorities may be different from that of the regional authority. This is something which ought to be faced up to. There is the problem of the competition for land. Who will have the requisitioning powers? Will they both have the requisitioning powers for requisitioning the same piece of land?
What is perhaps the most difficult issue of all is this. As a result of this decision there has been a separation of housing from social work and education. We regarded that as being of paramount importance. The Seebohm Committee in England which sat dealing with the question of the personal services came to exactly the same conclusion. Her Majesty's Government in the White Paper have accepted the principle that the groups of services that should go together should be within the one administration. We all know in social work to-day that in most cases the problem is not the problem of the individual; it is the problem of the family, because the family's problem is usually manifested through 843 the individual. And the solution may very well be a family solution. In many cases the solution to the social problem of the family may be in the granting of a new house. That may be at the very centre of the solution to the problem. Yet under this arrangement that will not be available to the social work authority.
I am afraid that I have been occupying too much of your Lordships' time, and I shall say only a passing word about refuse disposal, which does not seem to matter very much. There is an obvious argument, which seems a logical one, for having refuse disposal in the same authority as refuse collection. But may I remind Her Majesty's Government that there is a growing dearth of land for tips, and therefore a growing need for plant for crushing and incineration and this is very expensive plant. It is capital expenditure of a kind which the regional authority could much more easily bear than the district authority.
My final point concerns the apparent delay in the implementation of the proposals. I have listened with care to the various statements made to justify the reason why apparently we in Scotland will be one year later in bringing into operation the new system of local government than will be the case in England. Frankly, I find it difficult to follow the reasons for this, because we in Scotland have as much of the blueprint ready as England has. But what is of the utmost importance is that we are perpetuating the period of uncertainty. This will affect local councils during the transition period. But, more importantly to my mind, it is going to affect psychologically the officials in local government and increase their period of uncertainty in not knowing what the future holds in store for them. We said clearly in our Report that we recognise that a fair amount of time will be required, not only for the parent Bill to go through Parliament but for much other amending legislation; committees will have to meet and other arrangements will have to be made with regard to staff, buildings and the like. All these things will be time-consuming, but that apart, and that being taken into account, the shorter the period of uncertainty, the better it will be for the morale of those who are waiting to see what the future has in store for them.
844 My Lords, as I said in relation to the Report which was issued, if we can within the framework of the proposals find something better then we ought to be prepared to accept it. I have made some criticisms, but may I reaffirm that I subscribe very strongly to the broad proposals within the White Paper. I am sure that we shall hear from the noble Baroness that the Government will not be as inflexible as the wording of the White Paper might suggest. But I can see her point that we do not want to start from square one again and have people putting up all the old arguments that have been regurgitated. In that event, one of two things always happens: either you have the same argument put up as was previously proposed and turned down, or people turn a somersault hoping to land on their feet on this occasion. But if we can get something new and appealing, and if the Government can be persuaded that there are good reasons why there should be an alteration (and I should like to think they might find some from the speech I have just delivered), I am sure they will be quite prepared to open their minds to that. Any criticism should not be by way of a justification of our own judgment, but an endeavour to find a better system of local government for Scotland—and by that I mean for the people of Scotland. I am sure that that is the wish and object of all your Lordships.
§ 6.57 p.m.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
My Lords, it is a privilege and indeed an honour to speak directly after the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, and to be in the position of congratulating him on his maiden speech, which I do most heartily. I am quite certain your Lordships will all agree that he has spoken on a subject of which he is a master and to which he has given no less than three years of a very full life. But, apart from his knowledge of the subject, the way he addressed your Lordships and framed his remarks will make us all hope that he will speak to us in your Lordships' House as often as his full life allows.
My Lords, when we debated this subject fifteen months ago I am ashamed to have spoken for much too long. During that debate I, among others, made various 845 suggestions with respect as to ways in which the Report of the Royal Commission might be improved. It so happens that a number of those suggestions have been included in the White Paper. I take no credit whatever for that, but it will shorten the remarks I have to make this evening. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, I also start my remarks on Chapter 5 of the White Paper headed "Community Councils". I do not agree with him that they ought to have powers; I do not see how they can. But they are extremely important and it would be a good plan for them to be properly appointed; not for it to be left to the whim of the local community whether they are brought into being or not. If that is done I think they will just come and go. As a complaint arises they will be active and then they will just die away.
Another point which the noble Viscount mentioned and which was raised in the previous debate 15 months ago by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, concerns the position of the small burghs, these very ancient foundations with a long and very proud history. I cannot think why their councils should not be used as a basis for the community councils of particular burghs and the surrounding area. They could be enlarged in the same way as the cities which are including the hinterland in their area. Why should not a small burgh include its little hinterland in its community council?
I should like now to mention the new Borders Region, consisting of the four counties with a population of 94,000, which is of course well below the accepted range of viability. But the wish, most strongly expressed, is that they should have their own region, and the Government are in effect telling them to implement this wish. The Border counties, especially the burghs, have recently been most successful in bringing new industries into the area—this despite the fact that the large Tweedbank scheme has so far failed to get off the ground. It has none the less been a very active spur in encouraging the burghs to go out and get this new business. They are showing such promise that one can really hope that the scheme will be a success. It is most important that it is; if it is not, they will inevitably slip back into 846 entire dependence on Government finance and will be even more closely supervised and run by St. Andrew's House than was the county council.
My Lords, that brings me on to the question of finance. As I said in the last debate—indeed, as was said to both the previous Administrations which were dealing with this subject—without finance there is no possible real solution to the reform of local government. How this is to be done is extremely difficult, because obviously one does not want just to raise extra money through the local authorities without some recompense to them, or the population getting some recompense by a reduction in taxation. As one knows very well, this is much more easily said than done. It should be possible for the rating system to be enlarged, not complicated but changed, so as to do more than simply lay on an annual valuation, but to go further and obtain something in the nature of a sales tax.
I do not know if it is competent in your Lordships' House to talk about raising taxes, but if local taxes are raised there must be a recompense to the payers of this extra imposition by reduction of national taxation. That just must be done. I hope that, when the Green Paper mentioned in paragraph 68 of this White Paper comes out, it will contain some radical and constructive suggestions so that the regions and districts can really be independent of local government and that there will not be excessive central control but that it will ensure that these authorities are partners in and not dependants of local government.
My Lords, I said that I was going to be brief. All I have to say finally is that I agree with the boundaries that have been set out in the White Paper. Subject to what I have said. I agree with what is contained in the White Paper and I think it provides a sound framework on which to reform local government for Scotland.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I have listened with enormous interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, and I should like to congratulate him on the lucid and brilliant way in which he spoke of the great Report. I am also glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that on this 847 matter the difference between his Government and the present Government is more a matter of detail rather than of principle. I should like to pick out one or two points which the noble Lord made, because he gave the impression to me—I do not know whether to others—that the opportunity for discussing the Wheatley Report or rather the reforms as suggested in the Wheatley Report, had been rather truncated. I do not agree with him at all.
I have been a member of a local authority for a great many years, and I do not think that on any subject we have ever discussed have we taken more time. We have given evidence to the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, and his Commission when they were taking evidence. We discussed it in the county council over and over again, and only last week we had another discussion when we accepted with great enthusiasm the proposals in the White Paper. I do not think the Government have been dogmatic; I do not think they have been lacking in consultation. That is really not true. I think they have given all of us in local government many opportunities to discuss the proposal and to put forward our views. Whether or not they necessarily accept them is another matter, but they have given us the opportunity to state our views and we have taken it, certainly in the Border area.
I also think that it is vital to take a decision. The noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, has emphasised that. He thinks that the Government are moving too slowly. As I understand Lord Hughes, he thinks they are going too fast. I think it is vital to take a decision. Some people in your Lordships' House remember very well indeed the 1929 local government reform. Forty-two years ago my husband was Under-Secretary of State in the Scottish Office, and I can remember that local government reform was so unpopular in various parts of Scotland that he and others were burnt in effigies proposing that there should be no reform at all. To-day, people who are in any way opposed to the Wheatley Report point to the Local Government Act 1929 as being the Ark of the Covenant that should never be changed.
In these things you cannot please everybody. What is perfect local government? If we knew that we should be angels and 848 everybody would be madly voting for us every time there was an election. There is no such thing as perfection. All we can do, as Lord Wheatley said, is to make the best form of local government we can for Scotland. Many people have been trying to make the local government pattern applicable in all the areas, but, my Lords, I would say that there is no country in the world that I can think of that has greater variety in its make-up than Scotland. We have huge areas very sparsely populated, and relatively small areas enormously over-populated, and therefore you cannot make a pattern to suit exactly every place in the same way. I am sure that would not go down at all well in Scotland. That is why I am very glad indeed that the Government have agreed to the extra regions, the Border Regions, and I do not share the dismay of Lord Wheatley about Orkney and Shetland because it is so absolutely different from any other part of Scotland. Although their population may be tiny, their problems are in many ways different from those of any other area and it is therefore a good idea for them to be allowed to have their own region. I agree that it does not make sense in the way of arguing town for town, or person for person, or job for job, or whatever it may be; but the people there are quite different from any other part of Scotland, and I do not see why they should not be treated differently.
With regard to the area which I represent as a county councillor, which is the Borders (and your Lordships have had to hear two Borderers speaking one after the other on this subject), I would say to the noble Baroness that we are delighted to have a Borders Region. I know it has been thought that this will not be financially entirely viable, but the very fact that we are now able to have this region of four counties all with the same kind of community and of interests—and also with industrial development, as the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, has mentioned—in different parts of the Borders makes us into an area which I hope will have great pride in being a Border area and in consequence will provide good local government and also good district government.
I am particularly interested in social work and education, and the allocation of social work and education to the regions is in my view an exceedingly wise step. 849 On the development of social work in Scotland, I strongly support the new organisation set up by the last Government. It is working well, certainly in the area in which I know it. And I am quite sure that with a wider region in which we can plan, for instance, for the welfare of old people, so that we do not all need to have old people's homes, or all to have Shelter housing; if we can plan on the basis that the homes in one area can be used in another area—something that previously was impossible, because of the county boundaries and the raising of rates, and so on—it will now be much simpler and much easier.
It will also be economic, because we shall not all need to provide the whole range of services for, say, old people or mentally handicapped children, or any other of the specialised services which we want to provide for our varied population. Therefore I consider that this will be a tremendous asset, and I am delighted that the social work organisation is to be on a regional basis. I believe that it can be closely linked—as indeed all social work that is any good is closely linked—with the districts, with towns, with villages and with the community in which they are working but the overall pattern should of course be on a regional basis.
The question of education is also most important. There are certain types of schools that can well be shared in a region, such as schools for mentally handicapped children and for different types of children, where a region can utilise the services covering the whole region, rather than have each county trying to do a little bit of one thing by itself. All this will be most valuable, and I am glad that education and social work will be carried on together in close co-operation.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, raised a question on the subject of housing. I do not feel quite as he does about this subject. It is possible to have a close liaison with a housing authority in a district and the social work can be run on a regional basis. I anticipate very close liaison indeed, and certainly in the rural areas I see no reason why housing should not be the responsibility of the district councils. I know the wider problems of a city like Glasgow, where the problem is almost insoluble. For some forty years or more of my life I have been associated in one way or 850 another with Glasgow, and although they build a great deal, the housing problem never gets any better. The housing lists are still very long. But, on the whole, I would say that it is quite possible to have the district councils dealing with housing and working closely with the education and the social service regional authorities.
I am glad that in paragraph 33 reference is made to the need to look to the developments sponsored by the Scottish Special Housing Association. This is a valuable matter and one which can be operated at the same time as the building of housing by local authorities. I do not see why these should not work together. It is true that there may be difficulties, but I think they can be ironed out.
I only have one criticism to offer to the noble Baroness and I do it with some diffidence, but I offer it because it is the unanimous wish of the Roxburgh County Council, which I represent. I may say that the county council thoroughly approve of the Borders Region and of the local government organisation. I refer to the taking away of the Castleton district and Newcastleton, which has been part of Roxburgh for all time and which is part of the Liddisdale area, a most historic part of Scotland. This is to be taken away and given to Dumfries. I suppose it has been done because it is supposed to be nearer from Newcastleton to Dumfries than it is from Newcastleton to Hawick, but in fact it is 21 miles in each case—it is equidistant. The children from Newcastleton have always gone to Hawick, where there is a first-class high school. They have travelled there for generations, and they are anxious not to sever their connection with Roxburgh-shire.
Equally, if I may just mention shopping, the people shop either in Hawick or in Carlisle but they never go to Dumfries. I hope very much the noble Baroness will look into this question. It is only a small matter, but it is one which might well be looked into. The Liddisdale Valley, curiously enough, holds a community that is closely linked by hill farming and forestry. They have been a community for a very long time and they have a communal life. One of their most formidable community activities for some 300 years was fighting the English! They do 851 not at any point wish their status as members of the Borders Region to be changed.
On the miscellaneous points which arise in Chapter 7 I have no very strong views. The payment of councillors may be necessary, but I should prefer the system which we have in your Lordships' House of paying people for their attendance and expenses. It may be necessary to pay salaries, but I hope this matter will be carefully examined before a final decision is reached.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, that the question of the small burghs—and indeed the large burghs, too—with their historical traditions and practices, such as in the Border area of Common Ridings and so on, can well be carried on under the present regional arrangements. I had not thought about it before, but the noble Lord may be right in saying that some of these well-known historical centres could form a nucleus of the community organisation that is envisaged. In any case, I see no reason why they should not be allowed to have their activities and their historical customs, such as the Common Ridings, on the Borders; why they should not wear their robes on ceremonial occasions and why they should not remain an important and integral historical part of any given region.
In this miscellaneous paragraph there is a reference to nomenclature and what counties and regions are to call themselves. I can see that that may lead to some trouble. We are lucky, because we do now call ourselves "the Borders". That is a region recognised by everyone; therefore, we are not in such a difficult position. There may be some difficulty in the Central Region and in the South-East Region, but as soon as these matters are cleared up and people start working together, I think they will become a homogenous community which will work very successfully.
The Government have done well in putting out these suggestions. I do not think that they are dictatorial, or are intended to be dictatorial. I know that on many occasions opportunities have been given to us, to the county councils, to express our views, either individually or in community, and I therefore think that the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord 852 Hughes, that we are being put upon, as it were, is not really true. I hope very much—although I shall wait to see what happens—that he will not press his Amendment. I think we are in a position where we can discuss and put forward suggestions, and so far as my experience goes (it covers quite a long time) these suggestions have been received in a very friendly manner. I wish the Government every success; I hope that the proposals will be given a fair chance, and when it comes to drafting the Bill, I shall do all I can to support them in the work they are doing.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, before the noble Baroness resumes her seat, may I ask her whether she would have made exactly the same contented speech if the eighth region had been Fife and the Borders had remained part of the South-East?
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, the fact is that it was not so. We made representations; we asked that we should be the Borders Region, and this will show the noble Lord that the Government are very receptive to suggestions. We asked the Government to consider the Borders as a new region and they said "Yes". With regard to the hypothetical suggestion that we should have been linked to the South of Fife or even closer to the city of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, I prefer to leave that unanswered.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, after that pleasant little exchange I would like to say that I think this White Paper is commendably short; and it is none the worse for being rather imprecise in certain of its proposals, because this may allow more scope for reconsideration by the Government. As the hour is getting so late, I shall try to cut down what I was going to say about those parts of the Report which I think are good, but I must say a word about them, because I think they are rather more important than the parts which are not so good. And I shall then hope to conclude with another short word about the defects which I see in this White Paper and which I hope may be improved.
853 At the beginning of the last Session of the late Parliament I put down on the Order Paper a Motion about the Wheatley Report, which had just been published, and I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for substituting a Government Motion in the same terms so that we might have an early discussion about it, which we did on December 9, 1969. I think that on the main feature of the Report, which is the creation of these large new local government regions, the Government have done most of what most of your Lordships in that debate asked them to do. We were nearly all agreed, I think, that the Highlands Region was too big and that the County of Argyll ought to be separated from it, and I am glad that the Government have done this.
We were, I think, unanimous that Orkney and Shetland should be separate, small, all-purpose authorities; and I am particularly grateful to the Government for agreeing to this, because about three years ago your Lordships carried, against the late Government, an Amendment to the Scottish Water Bill which I had moved seeking to preserve the independence of Orkney and Shetland in dealing with their water. I felt so strongly about this that when the other place disagreed with our Amendment I had wanted to ask your Lordships to insist upon it, within the limits of the Constitution. But many of my friends at that time thought that the propects of all-Party agreement about reform of your Lordships' House were much better than they afterwards proved to be, and I was persuaded not to spoil the chance of agreement by fighting a losing battle for the independence of Orkney and Shetland.
The Wheatley Report very strongly recommended that water boards should form part of the functions of the regional authorities, but, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, said, this White Paper preserves what seems to me a stony and perhaps rather sinister silence on the subject of water. I should therefore like to ask the Government whether, if the proposals of this White Paper are implemented, the islanders will or will not be given back the management of their own water.
To the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley—to whose maiden speech we have listened with such great pleasure, and whom we 854 hope to hear often again—may I say that he need not worry in the least about finding himself in opposition to every single political Party? There is nothing at all to worry about in that. But perhaps he might console himself with the reflection that in this matter, although all political Parties are against him, I think he will have the support of every single bureaucrat in the country, because they are all in favour of these large water areas, irrespective of the wishes of the people who live there.
But if the noble Lord's remarks should be given much publicity, I think I would advise him not to go to Orkney or Shetland for some lime to come, because after the Water Bill went through this House the Secretary of State at that time, when he went to Orkney, was received with certain marks almost of unfriendliness—including, I think, a gift of over-mature eggs. I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, will find himself much more unanimously opposed by the population of Orkney and Shetland than by anybody in any political Party here.
My Lords, is the noble Earl suggesting that it would be better if the Orcadians and Shetlanders came and appeared before me?
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I think that would be even more inconvenient for them than the journeys to which they would be subjected if they had to go to regional meetings in Inverness by rather circuitous air journeys.
My noble friends, Lady Elliot of Harwood and Lord Stratheden and Campbell, asked for a Borders Region, and that has been done. My noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie very kindly sent me a message a few days ago asking me to say something about Fife in this debate. As both she and the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, have indicated, many people in Fife., including some of my own greatest friends (because I happen to live there), want Fife to be a single undivided regional authority; and I have the warmest sympathy for the feelings of local patriotism which have prompted this demand. But since my noble friend has asked me to state my own views, I think I ought to reply, speaking of course entirely for myself, that I think the future improvement of local government in Scotland, which is the object of all of 855 us, will be better served by the proposal of the Wheatley Report, which has been accepted in the White Paper.
That proposal, of course, is that the southern part of Fife, laying to the South of the Cleish and Lomond Hills and towards the Forth Bridge, should form part of the South-East Region, while the remainder of Fife, the northern part, should be joined with Kinross, Angus, and most of Perthshire to form the Central Region. As my own mind happens to be a strongly traditionalist one, perhaps I may be allowed to add that I have ascertained from the Lord Advocate's Office that the Sheriffdom of Fife, which really is an ancient entity, will not be affected in any way by any of these proposed changes in local authority boundaries.
The administrative functions of the county councils in Scotland are not of very great antiquity, and boundaries have often been changed in the past. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, and others have said, some of the most ancient local authorities in Europe are the Royal Burghs of Scotland. Some of them go back as far as the beginning of the 12th century, or even further. It is the smaller Royal Burghs that are most in danger, on account of these projected reforms, of losing their status, and perhaps some of their usefulness. I very much hope that the Government will see that the smaller Royal Burghs are given some significant status in the local authority tiers of any new regional structure which is erected. In fact, I think the Government have already mentioned this point sympathetically in paragraph 84 of the White Paper.
Of course, the real justification for having this new local authority structure is that it is intended to bring about a marriage between town and country. I think that the proposals in the White Paper, so far as the regional boundaries of the proposed new areas are concerned, will do this successfully—a little more successfully, indeed, than the original proposals in the Wheatley Report; and I think that will be a great gain. I should like to add (although this is a point on which I may be, and very likely am, completely wrong) that I think it is possible that the local government of these new large regional areas may perhaps be 856 rather less dominated than some of them now are by Party political strife, which in my view has always been the curse of local government.
My Lords, I am afraid that I must conclude with a word of criticism about the White Paper. I deeply regret that the. Government have not seen their way to accept what I regard as much the most valuable part of the Wheatley Report; and that is the Note of Dissent on page 281 by Miss Betty Harvie Anderson, who is Member for East Renfrew in another place, and Mr. Russell Johnston, who is Member for Inverness. The other place is exceedingly lucky, I think, to have such an admirable Deputy Chairman of Committees as the Member for East Renfrew, and the only pity is that her tenure of that high office will effectually prevent her, during the lifetime of this Parliament, from talking about Scottish local government, on which she is an exceptionally knowledgeable authority. As for Mr. Russell Johnston, I am afraid that in these days it often happens that when two or three are gathered together in the name of the Liberal Party, you may sometimes have as many as four or five different opinions. But I hope that if Mr. Johnston chooses to speak his mind on this matter, he will get some support both from his own Party and from other Parties, too.
My own reasons for thinking that the Wheatley Report made a double error in recommending that planning should be split, and in proposing the larger size of district authorities called the "shire" level, rather than the smaller type called the "locality" level were given to your Lordships when I stated them all in our debate in December over a year ago. I should be quite happy to repeat them to your Lordships now, if they were not expressed far better than I could express them in the Note of Dissent on pages 281 to 286 of the Wheatley Report which your Lordships can read at any time.
These two Members of Parliament are the only two Members of Parliament who were members of the Royal Commission. Both have very great experience of local and national government, and they warn us in this Note about the danger of dividing planning functions between two different types of local authority, each with an appeal to the Secretary of State. They quote the evidence of the Scottish Town 857 Planning Institute, set before the Commission, which states that there are not enough qualified planners in Scotland, and that there will never be enough qualified planners in Scotland to man more than one branch of local government.
On the other hand, I cannot help feeling that the main Report seems rather to rate the interest of the planners higher than the interests of the people for whom they are planning. In the Report itself, in paragraph 714, the Wheatley Commission say:It is important that the second-tier of local government should have worthwhile functions.I caught an echo of this in what the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, said this afternoon. The Commission continue:We do not consider that the environmental, amenity and other miscellaneous functions that could be assigned to the 'locality' scale of authorities would by themselves form a sufficient range of functions.Then:The picture changes completely when the second-tier authority's range of responsibilities is extended to include such functions as local planning. …Finally the Commission say:Those who wish second-tier authorities to be a credible part of local government must face up to the issue and make them bigger.This is exactly the argument of the old farmer who used to ride about in a very large and slow dog-cart pulled by an aged and ponderous horse. When his friend said to him that it would be much more efficient and much less expensive to have a small motor car, he replied, "But if I get rid of my dog-cart I shall have nothing worth while for my horse to do". When they asked him, "But do you really need to keep this very large animal?" he replied, "Yes of course I do. If I got rid of the horse, then I should have nothing to pull the dog-cart." With great respect to the noble and learned Lord, I think his Report is really arguing in a circle here.
But I do not want to quarrel with him, because it seems to me that the arguments which he used about housing are exactly the same as the arguments which I ant now using about planning—even down to the evidence. He said that the Development Department gave evidence in favour of regional control of housing. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, interrupted 858 and said that they changed it. I never heard of their changing it; at any rate, they did not go and publicly recant to the Wheatley Commission. In exactly the same way, about a year after the Scottish Town Planning Institute had given their evidence to say that there were not enough planners to man more than one branch of local government, I heard the former Minister of State in another place, Dr. Dickson Mabon, saying that the Scottish Town Planning Institute had turned round and changed their evidence. He did not say how, when or where, but they certainly did not go and change it to Lord Wheatley's Commission and that is really what Lord Wheatley is entitled to consider.
In deciding to make housing a district function the Government are in a much weaker position, because on planning they at least have the majority of the Wheatley Commission on their side; there are only the two Members of Parliament who dissent. But when they put housing under the control of the district authorities, they are rejecting the unanimous advice of everybody on the Wheatley Commission; and on this point I am on the side of Wheatley and against the White Paper.
I think I know the reason why both the late Government—according to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes—and the present Government have decided to reject the advice of the Wheatley Commission on this point. I think that when they had their discussions and meetings with representatives of local authorities and other representatives of opinion in Scotland, they encountered the massive inertia of conservative sentiment, the disinclination for change, the hostility to reform which we find in all human beings, even in the trade unions, and I think they felt that this inertia was a little too formidable for them to overcome.
I know that there are many Scottish local authorities who have done well, or at least better than some others, in their building programmes; but, in general, the inescapable truth that fair rents are better than no homes has, in my view, never really been acted on at all in Scotland. Local authorities have neglected to charge fair rents because they are afraid that if they do all their tenants who are also their constituents will vote against them in the local elections. That is the chief reason why in the last sixty 859 years Scottish housing progress has lagged so far behind our needs that we can still sometimes be told that in certain parts of Scotland housing conditions are worse than anywhere else in Europe.
When Walter Elliot, the late husband of my noble friend behind me who has just spoken, started the Scottish Special Housing Association in 1937, he did not intend it to be merely a useful minor auxiliary as it is now; he intended it to be a major agent in rehousing the Scottish people. Of course it was crippled a year or two after it was born by the outbreak of war, but, even so, since the war it has done very well when it has been invited to act or when it has been allowed to act, and it is not afraid to charge reasonable rents because its existence does not depend on the votes of its own constituents.
The only reference in this White Paper to the Scottish Special Housing Association is in paragraph 33, which states that although regional housing authorities are not themselves going to be responsible for housing, and although they will not do direct building, they will be given power to ensure that housing for industrial development and for redeployment of population—which I hope may include slum clearance—is provided where and when it is required. Paragraph 33 also states that that can be done on the instructions of the regional authority, either by the Scottish Special Housing Association or by other agencies which will be responsible for the construction and management of those houses. I hope that that may turn out to mean that the regional authorities will have power to build, either through the Scottish Special Housing Association or through private agencies, houses for letting or for sale, without having to get any sort of planning permission from district authorities. I also hope that the regional authorities will do this on a very large scale, because if they do not we may still have as many slums at the beginning of the 21st century as we have now.
I do not want my noble friend to give me an answer to this question now, because I want the Government to have every opportunity of thinking again, and thinking hard, before they commit themselves to their final proposals which will no doubt include the very difficult question 860 of what powers on local taxation shall be given to regional authorities and to district authorities respectively. All I want to do now is to suggest very earnestly to the Government that if we are going to set up district authorities which are able to act as rivals to the regional authorities or to pursue any policy which conflicts with the policy of the regional authorities, then we shall lose the fruits of those reforms which are so long overdue in the local government of Scotland.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, I, too, should like to join in congratulations to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, on his maiden speech. I must confess that this is the second time that I have heard the noble and learned Lord expound the Report that bears his name. The last time was in a more academic atmosphere and at somewhat greater length. What has struck me in both cases about his speeches is that he, at any rate, leaves one in no doubt about where he stands. This is a great advantage both to the hearers and to those who have to act on his Report.
However, I would take issue with the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, about whether the White Paper is in any way inflexible. We have to get a move on, and we are getting a move on. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie on pushing ahead. We are ahead of England in this matter. We must accept certain things, and we are accepting the fundamental philosophy that went into the Wheatley Report. I think we should stop girning at that part and get on with filling out the details which have to be completed. After all, the first White Paper came out in 1963, and it looks as though it will be twelve years before action can properly be taken and the new local government system set in motion.
I should like to support what has been said about Orkney and Shetland, even though it means a disagreement with the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley. I have lived there for a year, and I realise that those two archipelagos are fundamentally different from the other parts of Scotland. Not only are they surrounded by water, but their communications are very difficult: they are laborious and costly, and 861 produce problems which are quite different from those in other parts of Scotland. I support my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood on how this Report must be adjusted to the variety of circumstances to be found in Scotland.
My Lords, the Royal Commission recommend that the regional and district elections should be staggered, with all the district elections taking place one year and then, two years later, all the regional elections taking place. With a four-year term this would mean a disharmony of two years between the regions and the districts, and success in certain matters, including house-building, parks and recreation, could be put in jeopardy by such an arrangement. I hope that The Government will consider biennial elections, when half the members of both regional and district councils will be elected. This will give a measure of continuity, as well as allowing for a quicker adjustment to the will of the electorate and for changes in the composition of the electorate.
I welcome the fact that the Government have an open mind on the payment of councillors. The decision on this aspect will, I think, have far-reaching effects on the working out of the whole of local government. If the Government accept the recommendation of the Royal Commission that as much responsibility as possible should be delegated to officials, while councillors decide policy, then I submit that the substantial salary recommended by the Royal Commission would stultify this. To make councillors virtually full-time means that they would find work for themselves. This can only result in interference with the officials in matters of pure administration or detail. As my noble friend Lady Elliot has already said, councillors should be given liberal expenses, including a tax-free element for the loss of earnings. I would not object to salaries for the convenor of regions or for chairmen of the committees.
My Lords, the White Paper rightly states that local government in Scotland has a rich heritage and history, and I would support the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, in considering the burghs and their historic significance. My noble friend Lord Dundee has so clearly 862 pointed this out. I think that, if they so wish, all existing cities and burghs should continue to have their distinct entities. They could exist in lieu of the community council. They should retain their common good, which might be funded, and should be furnished with a fixed sum from the rates—for instance, a quarter of a new penny in the pound. This sum would be determined for them by the Government.
I would support the proposal made by my noble friend Lord Stratheden and Campbell, that we should avoid further elections; that the composition of the burgh council might be by some form of nomination, but including the appropriate regional and district councillors: and that these would elect their own Lord Provost or Provost. My Lords, I would again congratulate the Government on the White Paper and on getting a move on. I would also again congratulate the noble and learned Lord on his maiden speech, and say that I look forward to hearing him again quite soon.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT YOUNGER OF LECKIE
My Lords, at this stage of the debate there is not very much left to say on the major issues, but I should like to begin by congratulating my noble and learned friend Lord Wheatley on his maiden speech. Local government is by no means the only subject on which he is an expert; and I hope that we shall hear him frequently again.
There is only one point of the major issues to which I should like to refer, and that is the vexed question of the size of the West Region and Glasgow's position in it. On that, I was extremely glad to hear the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, regarding the administrative action to be taken to ease the obvious difficulties caused by the size of the region and the size of the Glasgow City District. I think this is particularly acute in the case of the social work department, and it does not take very much imagination to think what sort of an agenda is going to come up to the social work committee of the region when it is coping with business from no fewer than 13 districts, of which one is Glasgow City Council. Now we may regret that there was not some better way of doing this but, admitting that administrative decentralisation is in fact the only possibility open to us, I 863 think it is going to have to be a good deal more imaginative and more unorthodox than is frequently customary in these administrative decentralisation plans. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that Her Majesty's Government should, if possible, retain responsibility for ensuring that this starts oil on a reasonable basis. It is not only that there will be an excessive overload of work on the elected members of the social work committee, for instance; it will fall also on the officials. There is the possibility, too, that a further somewhat embarrassing situation may arise. I think it is an arguable point that the social work director for the Glasgow District will have a more exacting job and will be worth a bigger salary than the regional social work director. That is another reason why I think some very imaginative administrative planning should be done.
In addition to that, my Lords, I want only to refer briefly to what is virtually virgin soil at this stage, I think, and that is Chapter 5, "Community Councils." It was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, but I must say that I thought he was "offside", so to speak, because he was really talking of a third tier. If we are not to have a third tier, we must do some serious thinking as to whether or not these community councils are possible. There is very little information in the White Paper or in the Wheatley Report to go on. The White Paper in paragraph 62 says wryly that existing local authorities have not been enthusiastic. And no wonder!—because as depicted these community councils really look very little more than an elaborate complaints organisation. And what organisation is going to encourage that?
It is not very difficult to think of ways in which these councils could be elected and organised, but it is difficult to think what they are to do. The only suggestion so far is that they would be a source of information coming up from the so-called grass roots to the district level; and they would also have an amenity interest in their own areas. But, surely, the vital points, if they work at all, have to be three: there must be information collected from the grass roots; there must be a proper channel of communication for carrying that on 864 further up; and there must be somebody at the district council to receive it and do something about it.
In addition to those functions, the traffic should be two-way. It is not merely that you want information coming up from the electorate to the district council, but that there is a great need—which will be greater with the bigger councils—for the councils to be able to disseminate, to send down, information; even to ask for information and opinion on specific subjects and, very likely, to arrange for meetings to be held at the lower level to explain the district council's policies. So I think that it must be a two-way traffic. But, frankly, I cannot see that even that is going to provide a worth while job which will attract good people to do it. I have no really brilliant suggestions as to what these councils can do; but I think that unless we can make some suggestions this idea may prove to be a non-starter.
Supposing you have a system of community councils, at locality level probably, the councils being composed of representatives elected on a parish basis, with a channel of communication up to the district, there are a large number of organisations, largely the voluntary organisations, who are co-operating or functioning in those areas and many of them are working extremely closely with local Government officials and authorities. Is that not one field in which these community councils might do a useful job—if only in co-ordinating and encouraging the work of the numerous voluntary organisations and oiling the wheels of co-operation between the voluntary and the official sides? I feel that that is worth considering; but that something more constructive than that would be highly desirable if it could be thought of.
I feel that if you set up an organisation outside the local government field proper, it should not be grant-aided; although it would be open to the district to make grants for specific purposes. I would think that the only expenses for the council that would be involved would be secretarial expenses, in whatever form they might be—perhaps somebody from the district or a part-time secretarial worker—and, of course, there would have to be provision for the recovery of the 865 usual outlays of travel, postage and telephone where these are incurred. I do not know whether on that basis the work would be sufficient to attract really good confine their inquiries to local government start to go into this more closely, as I understand they will, I would make one suggestion; that is, that they should not confine their inquiries to local Government circles. I have already given one reason why local government officials and members might not altogether welcome this system, and no doubt there may be others; but there are a great many organisations which work with local authorities and which might give useful advice as to what purpose such community councils could serve. I am afraid that any results we may get from this are likely to be patchy; but, on the other hand, if there are areas where these councils could do a useful job they are well worth considering on the one condition that they must have something useful to do.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I should like to join my voice with those other voices which have given wholehearted support to the appearance of this White Paper. I would also express strong agreement with my noble friend Lord Balerno not only in welcoming the speed with which my noble friend Lady Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie has acted in getting this matter going, but also in what he said about the need for carrying on with that pressure and speed and for removing the uncertainties which the present situation brings about in the minds of local authorities and especially of the officials. These uncertainties should be cleared up as early as possible.
My noble friend Lord Balerno saved me the trouble of saying much of what I was going to say about the question of the remuneration, or otherwise, of councillors. I agree that the matter should be dealt with by the payment of expenses, and I agree with the word he used: that they should be "liberal". I say this because I have often felt—and this certainly applies in the county in which I have lived for many years—that very great sacrifices were made, particularly by professional men, in serving local authorities. These sacrifices in serving were often very much greater, in terms of their own pockets, than those made by other 866 thoroughly worthy and heavily burdened members of the local authorities. For that reason I should like to repeat my agreement with what my noble friend said about the remuneration of councillors.
I am not quite sure whether we are talking about the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, or the Motion of the noble Baroness, because I heard her say that she was accepting the idea behind the noble Lord's Amendment. Now, my noble friend Lord Dundee referred to paragraph 84. I feel that it is quite clear from the White Paper that there is no question of its being arrogant, or overriding the necessity for further thorough consideration. The last words of paragraph 84 are:But the Government will study this question closely in consultation with the local authority associations.That shows clearly that the Government are not intending to finish the whole matter with this White Paper.
My Lords, I propose to strike two notes quite different from those struck by other noble Lords. I intend to refer only to paragraphs 25 and 26 in Chapter 3 of the White Paper. These paragraphs deal with road authorities and the police and fire services. I beg of Government to ensure that part-time fire services are retained in country areas. It is my experience that one of the most onerous and serious duties imposed on fire brigades is work at road accidents, and it would be a mistake to rely on units which have to come from substantial distances when, in sparsely populated areas, part-time firemen might have a shorter distance to travel to attend a fire or an accident.
The proposals regarding roads, contained in paragraph 25, are wise. The larger regions to be covered by the proposed road authorities will, I am sure, lead to better planning. In respect of the South-East Region there will at least be a single authority to address itself to the road system in and around Edinburgh. That I should take as a typical example of the advantages set out in the White Paper with regard to road authorities. One of the great obstacles to the creation of the Edinburgh orbital highway has been the multiplicity of authorities which are at present concerned with it. That major obstacle will be swept away. I am confident that one of the first 867 undertakings of the new authority will be the completion of the connection between the A.1 and the Forth Road Bridge; the by-pass road was planned years ago.
In the light of what is set out in the White Paper, it is fair to ask Government to impress upon existing authorities the need to stay their hands in respect of developments which may eventually be overridden when the provisions in the White Paper are put into effect in the shape of the wider planning that will then be possible. The Question initiated earlier to-day by my noble friend Lord Albemarle, relating to traffic conditions in East Anglia, emboldens me to suggest that it might be worth considering that a caveat be entered warning road authorities to think twice before developing major road projects and to wait until such time as the centres of population which the proposed roads are intended to link have been by-passed by orbital highways, or at least the designs and plans have been prepared for their completion to coincide with the completion of the main inter-city links.
As the number of road vehicles increases it will be only by reducing traffic in and through city centres that the civic amenities and the very fabric of our cities and towns may be preserved. I am tempted to turn to the maiden speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, who emphasised that the important thing is to retain the civic sense, the entity, of the local community. This point was well brought out also by my noble friend Lord Balerno. I believe that we are on the threshold of very serious trouble over the destruction of the physical fabric of these units, of which our beloved and beautiful towns are the very heart and soul. They are in danger of being irredeemably destroyed by traffic.
§ 8.15 p.m.
My Lords, I want, first, to join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, on his maiden speech. I heard the gist of it many months ago in the Mackie Academy. He has improved it, and I look forward to hearing him again. My Lords, when considering the failures of local government and the apathy dis- 868 played at election times, I think that one should remember that, just as good news is not news at all, a contented electorate does not bother to elect anyone else. Mercifully, we in Kincardineshire are free from Party politics in local government and we should strive to retain that freedom, because Party politics and local government do not go together. People are not really so apathetic or dissatisfied as they may appear, and if one puts up a "black" they jolly soon tell you about it.
I am glad that under the present restrictive methods of working—I do not know what are the problems—the reign of St. Andrew's House looks as if it is nearing its end. The effectiveness of local government is frustrated time and again by St. Andrew's House, possibly for very good reasons, and probably for reasons which cannot be helped. Nevertheless, if we are to have a new "go" at local government, this is something which should be swept out in the course of the general reorganisation. At the same time we might remove the difficulties which I am sure exist at St. Andrew's House. There is only one way to achieve local democracy and local involvement: you must have a sufficient number of local representatives elected by local people. If this means having big councils, it cannot be helped. If you do not elect these people and give them a job to do, and if you have the numbers proposed in Lord Wheatley's Report, the result will be totally inadequate and local government will be killed. I think it essential to have proper local representation.
When one considers what services people require, one realises that if people think they are getting services free, there is nothing for which they will not ask. But it is quite a different kettle of fish when people discover that the amorphous "they" happens to be themselves, and that if they want services they will have to pay for them. Then finance comes much to the fore. As things are at present, "economy" is a dirty word in local government circles. I would particularly underline the last words of paragraph 11:… there must be concern lest local government becomes remote from the individual.I entirely agree that the best solution is probably the two-tier solution. Therefore 869 I do not criticise that at all; but I should like to stress the absolute necessity of extreme flexibility in outlook and the delegation of higher authority to lower tiers. I think that that is essential.
I am a member of two regional boards, one in one part of Scotland and one in another. Because I happened to complain bitterly about the iniquities of the East of Scotland Water Board, I was promptly stuck on it. May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who I think was complaining of the southern shore of the Tay being taken into the Dundee area, that I believe the reason for it is that there happens to be a water pipe going over a bridge there, thus putting it into the Water Board's area. St. Andrew's House invented a wonderful political catcall, "From source to tap in one district". That went right against sound technical advice. Nevertheless, the political catcall won. That is past history. It is not going to be easy to put it right. I think I may be the only noble Lord who has read Appendix B, which places water supply among the operations of the regional authority. I feel sure, from the experience we have had, that from the regional point of view the responsibility for water should stop at the bulk supply to burghs and big users. The detailed work should be carried out by the local administration. It becomes so unwieldy and almost impossible to produce the service on a regional level but it can be done on the local level. This is something which should be looked at very carefully. I may point out that the efforts of the water boards are really hamstrung by interest charges. Of the total cost of supplying water, more than 50 per cent. is made up of loan charges. The economies of scale have actually resulted in a steady increase in water rates.
I am in a little doubt about the standing of the four cities. Paragraph 17 says:the four cities should cease to be all-purpose authorities and should become the centres of the wider areas they already influence.I am not quite sure what that means, whether the districts into which the cities have been put are the areas or the regions. I know that the parishes of Banchory-Devenick and Nigg are furious about coming under the jurisdiction (as they see it) of Aberdeen City. I do not know whether or not they will have any chance of a hearing, but they are very unpleased with this idea. I do not see that it will 870 make much difference one way or the other to the general working of the scheme whether they are in Aberdeen city district or not.
Whether we get a successful democratic local administration under the system depends on the districts, and the districts must have adequate local representation. I think it is wrong to abolish provosts, baillies and burghs. The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, produced what I thought was an excellent idea. Nevertheless, I am still going to produce another one of my own. I suggest that the district representatives elected by the burghs could form the provost and baillies of that town and could operate as a committee of the district council, of which they would be full members, roughly in the way they are accustomed to doing now. However we do it, the important thing is that we must keep these dignitaries—and not just as a fancy dress parade. They must still be able to carry out their old functions, however it is done. I think that is essential.
I think that the community councils, in the form in which they are proposed, are non-starters. Unless people are going to have responsibilities in worthwhile jobs they will just be perambulating complaint boxes. I do not think that that would be any good at all. With the general functions allocated I find myself in pretty good agreement, but I should like an assurance that delegation will be universal and rapid. A point that comes to my mind is that if we have regional responsibility for roads, who puts on the salt or clears the snow? If you have to ring up some office 50 miles away and the lines are down, what happens? These are the sort of details that can only be looked after with a very flexible outlook.
I want to say a word about housing. At the moment from first to last the cost to a local authority of building a five-roomed house is £24,000. Yet the Government grant to anybody who builds his own house is £300. It seems absurd to keep the grant at that figure, and I suggest that it would be good business to produce a grant of something in the order of £2,000 for someone willing to build his own house, which he can do for about £6,000, and to pay for it on the nail, because the local authorities then get the full rates and they would not have so much debt hanging round 871 their necks. From the point of view of finance, housing haunts the local authority. If the regional authorities can direct districts to build a large number of houses, it seems to me that they could place the district authorities in financial difficulties. I hope that this is not so, but it is not made clear in the White Paper.
On the question of payment of councillors, I am personally absolutely against this. We must remember that by changing the system of local government we shall not suddenly get a new race of supermen. We shall have exactly the same chaps on the councils who are doing the work now. And if we start paying, we could attract the wrong type of individual, which I think would be highly undesirable.
The suggestion of complaints machinery is very good. Another thing that should come under regional authority is the controlling of scrap yards. They are the most unsightly things. There are far too many of them, and at the moment they can virtually be placed anywhere. Scrap is mobile, whether on its own wheels or whether taken on the back of a lorry. These hideous dumps of car bodies, with all the worthwhile scrap removed, are eyesores that should be tolerated no longer. I think that they should be looked after on a regional basis.
I hope that the district provision of crematoria, museums and art galleries does not mean that every district will be called upon to produce these, because that would be a waste. We have a very good crematorium in Aberdeen, a good art gallery, and also a museum. I do not think we want any more.
In general, with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, I think that the White Paper is an improvement on the original Report, provided that it is carried out sensibly and with extreme flexibility, and—perhaps a new idea in politics—that decisions may be reversed when they are found to be wrong.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LAUDERDALE
My Lords, I must first apologise for having missed the noble Baroness's opening speech and the opening speech from the Opposition Benches by the noble Lord, 872 Lord Hughes. I was able to write to the noble Baroness in advance, but I was unable to warn the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. My absence was due to a personal event which I could not foresee, let alone divert. But I was, happily, here in time to hear the maiden speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, and I too, much instructed thereby and held riveted throughout it, would like to join my modest plaudits to those that have gone before.
I should like to continue by echoing Lord Balerno's plea: let's stop girning. The old Scots proverb has it:Biting and scratching is Scots folks' wooing".Or, to put it in modern parlance, they want you to win and lose at the same time. But "quarrelling dogs come halting home", and in these "do or die" days for Scotland the issue is not a mean one.
By far the most important issue for Scotland in this context of local government reform is not whether we have five or eight regions (I think we could do without the Central one, at any rate); still less whether the boundaries are to be thus or thus; nor again what is to become of this or that county convenor and his whole apparatus of county clerks and the rest, overgrown as they are; nor, least of all, whether we have contrived the right complaints mechanism. In the context of local government reform in this day and age, what matters supremely is whether we have a set-up that can face the cardinal economic questions for the industrial heart of Scotland, which mightily affect the wellbeing of the whole from Shetland to Gatehouse of Fleet.
So I wish to concentrate briefly on the one aspect of the critical strategic functions reserved for the regional units which are listed in paragraph 28. These embrace both land use planning, in the accepted sense, and the formulation of an economic strategy: and I say this particularly in the light of the critical problems now before the West Region. For it is these functions which are the turnkey to revenue-producing rateable value, and hence having citizens and ratepayers to govern at all. Again as an old proverb has it:Samson was a strong man, but he couldn't pay money before he had it.873 I am bound to introduce a slightly discordant note. I have found, in a certain sense, that this debate has been rich in its irrelevancies. For it is taking place against the background that there are to-day more than 120,000 workless people in Scotland—a higher figure than for many years; and the emigration rate, though it has been slowed latterly, has been higher in the last decade than we have remembered it for a long time. These things are due partly, of course, to the state of the economy in general; partly, of late, to the special disaster of Rolls-Royce; but they are due also to a deep technological and economic crisis in the industry which lies at the heart of our shipbuilding and engineering, and hence at the heart of the entire Scottish economy: I refer to steel.
I ask your Lordships' indulgence for one moment, because you would hardly expect the leading article of this month's Journal of the Institute of Directors to have much of a bearing on the White Paper. But bear with me, if your Lordships will, for a moment if I quote. First of all, Japan alone now makes more than three times as much steel as the United Kingdom. Then I quote from the Journal of the Institute of Directors.The standard steel-making unit reckoned as suitable for competition in world markets from now on is the 10 million tons a year plant sited on deep water and able to draw the best international supplies of coal and ore … German sources have informally proposed building in Britain a private enterprise 10 million tons works. The Germans do not have any hope of developing a big works inland in the future. They are looking to Britain as an offshore island base where they can find maritime facilities that such a works would need.The questions for the West of Scotland, in the context in which we must look at this local government reform proposal, are these. How are we to match the blandishments of Tees-side and Deeside? We need to match them and either win the British Steel Corporation or—if Mr. John Davies, driving his "lame ducks" before him, drives us, too—seek a European entrepreneur to seize the geographical opportunity of the Lower Clyde and develop such an integrated 10 to 15 million tons a year plant on a greenfield site, using 1,000 men (not 4,000, as now) for every million tons of steel, enabling Scotland to beat Europe and America and to match Japan in the 874 export of cheap hot metal. This is the opportunity knocking at our gate, and this is the problem that our regional strategic economic plan in the West of Scotland must be of a calibre to match up to.
When county convenors, deluded with sterile phantasies, protest at being amalgamated, may I put the question in another way? What more effective organ than this proposed West Region would the county convenor protesters of West Scotland propose, seeing that they have already put their names to the Clyde Valley Planning Advisory Committee and its West Central Scotland Steering Committee? The big local government job in the West of Scotland is to get the ore terminal now. It is to plan now for Lanarkshire when Motherwell's steel is no more. It is to pattern now the lure of secondary and tertiary industries—not just any industry that we can get, as I was told by our Lord Provost the other day—in order to adhere to the primary industries of to-morrow: the new deep-water steelmasters and oil refineries, with all the varied users from plastics to jewellery and cutlery.
The task of the West of Scotland local government, now and in the next five years, is to understand why data links are needed, and to be able to clamour for them intelligently. It is to plan the advance industrial sites to be ready to receive these necessary incomers, and not expose them to the humiliation and obstruction they have had in the last three years. It is to determine where housing will be needed, and to have some realistic population policy. It is to identify the communications needs: to ensure, for example, the motorway spur from the North Ayrshire plain to the M.74, along the A.71 valley route; or, to take another example, to make sure that there are proper rail links with the Greenock container terminal; that the railway trains stop at Prestwick Airport, and that there is a rail spur to Abbotsinch. This is the kind of problem we have to face.
The present machinery of the Clyde Valley Planning Committee and its Inner Steering Group, on which, as I take it, the convenors of the West now pin their hopes (the latter body, the Inner Steering Group, I may say, having no fewer than 875 48 voting members), is far too cumbersome. I heard the other day one of Scotland's leading industrialists leaving a meeting of this large body and saying, "What an almighty waste of time!" In terms of facing up to this sort of problem, which is the heart of our life and future in Scotland; in terms of facing up to redeveloping Scotland's industrial and economic base, I believe that the new set-up proposed is a vast improvement. In place of the total fragmentation of weakness in local government hitherto we may now look to some real diffusion of power, ever mindful that—… the greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.I am glad that the White Paper promises a programme of action, and that in broad outline, subject of course to discussion, this scheme will be pushed ahead.But good works without deeds are rushes and reeds".I have, therefore, a few questions for the noble Baroness when she replies, of which I have given her notice, although I shall well understand if, in view of the shortness of the notice that I was able to give, she prefers to write to me about them.
First of all, on the combination of land use and physical planning, on the one hand, with strategic economic planning, on the other, is the Scottish Office also to resolve its own dichotomy in this regard as between the Scottish Development Department, which engages in physical planning, and its Regional Development Department, which is concerned with economic planning? For it is this dichotomy that has plagued us hitherto. It is the amalgamation of the two which is a happy sign in the White Paper, but we should like to say, gently but audibly, to the Scottish Office:Physician, heal thyself".Despite the good words in paragraphs 10 and 60 about power for local authorities, and partnership with the central Government, does the Secretary of State intend to retain his power to call in planning applications and thus reserve his veto power?
Then a point about housing—and we are told about the regional authorities having power to ensure that housing is available for major redeployment of 876 population, or to support a substantial industrial development. Does that mean that regional authorities will have, or will be capable of having devolved to them, the powers of a New Town development corporation, if need be? My fourth question reflects a strange omission. We have this apparatus of power diffused, but the veto is still at the centre and, inevitably, the Secretary of State is the arbiter between East and West. What we are at last concerned with is some means of controlling Scottish government itself. Is it not time we heard a little more of the kind of Convention that is in view to be an effective watchdog over St. Andrew's House, wielding genuine power to direct and lead the Scottish economy?
My last question concerns paragraph 84, the burghs, especially the small burghs. I have loyalty to several, but to none greater than perhaps to one of the smallest of them all, the Burgh of Lauder. I plead with the Government to think, and think hard; I plead with the Government to hear the eloquent appeals of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, my noble friends Lord Dundee, Lord Balerno, Lord Stonehaven, Lady Elliot; and to those names I add my own. I plead with the Government to think, and to think hard, whether some suitable basis cannot be found to maintain the ancient dignities of the provost's office and, if you will, of his court.
My noble friend Lord Balerno spoke of funding their Common Good. In Lauder we have the special burgess system for burgh lands. Surely these priceless traditions can, with a little ingenuity, be put to a useful communal use in this day and age. When we think of community councils may I tell your Lordships this: although we have fewer than 600 folk in the Burgh of Lauder on no more than 100 acres, we have such a keen community sense there that we raise £500 a year by our own efforts for the Common Riding, and the parish raises £1,000 a year by its own efforts for outside charities, and another £1,700 for the Kirk. Only recently a farmworker up at Channel Kirk was in distress when his house was badly burnt, and he received within a matter of weeks a gift of several hundred pounds from the people of the burgh. This is typical of a genuine community, and therefore I anticipate that there will be a community council emerging very 877 quickly at Lauder. But I beg the Government to think most seriously, indulgently, affectionately and most respectfully about the future of the burghs, even though some are very small.
My Lords, do not let us quarrel about boundaries—We can live without our friendsBut not without our neighbours.What I say to the Government is:True wisdom knows it must compriseSome nonsense as a compromise—Lest fools should fail to find it wise.I bid the Government good fortune and bid them—Set a stout heart to a stey brae.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I wish to start by associating myself with the tributes already paid to the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, and the very great work he has done, which we all appreciate, even though we do not necessarily agree with every jot and tittle of his Report. I shall be as brief as I possibly can, which in my case your Lordships need have few alarms about because I am always brief. But there are one or two questions I should like to ask, and one or two suggestions that I should like to make, partly because I and my noble kinsman opposite, Lord Thurso, are the only two real representatives of the Highland area.
We have already debated Wheatley at some length in your Lordships' House, and some of us at local government level as well. I myself and, I think, most people in the Highlands, consider this White Paper to be an improvement on the original Report, and I wish to put before Her Majesty's Government some points which I consider to be worthy of consideration. As on the previous debate, we are at a considerable disadvantage as none of us has any idea how all these changes are to be financed; and, as the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, has so graphically illustrated, unless there is a radical change in financing the poorer areas, in particular the Highland Region, the last state may well be worse than the first, with less rather than more local participation, an increase in the number of officials, and more rather than less dominance by Edinburgh and Whitehall.
878 My Lords, my first plea refers to nomenclature. Let us scrap the term "region" and call the first-tier a "province", historically a far more apt name for the larger Scottish Divisions. Then again why, "district" for the second-tier when, with few exceptions, the boundaries of the so-called "districts" conform very closely to the old county boundaries, especially in the Highland area? We then come to the community councils which, in spite of what my noble friend who has just spoken had to say, in the opinion of most people who know anything of local government in the rural areas of which I have knowledge, can only be stillborn, unless they have autonomous powers and finance. The consideration in Chapter 5 of the White Paper shows an ambivalence which destroys the policy decision of Chapter 2, paragraph 13. Why not retain the "district" councils who have the necessary powers and finance already and have operated in the past very efficiently? In short, the district council would replace the nebulous community council, though there is no reason why they should cover exactly the same area as they do now: they could be based where convenient on the burghs and fewer district councils could serve a rather wider area.
As we are speaking about a geographical division, may I make a plea here that the Royal Burgh of Tain remain with the County of Ross and Cromarty and not be transferred to Sutherland. The future of this burgh and district lies with the Cromarty Firth Complex rather than with the Dornoch Firth. The boundary should therefore follow the watershed between the Carron and Oykell Rivers. Perhaps it is unworthy, but one has the suspicion that some planner has wanted to square off his paper plans without knowing anything of the social situation, or indeed the position of the Tain on the map, in relation to these two counties. I see some danger so far as the Highlands' second tiers are concerned by the removal of the day-to-day planning and control of building. These should be returned to the second tier, which I want to call "county", who have dealt with these matters in the past very successfully. So far as day-to-day planning by the second tier is concerned, staff for this could be seconded by the top tier as we are told that there is a shortage of suitable 879 planners in Scotland. Unless these duties are returned, there will be neither good quality officials nor members to serve on the second tier as they will have far too few powers and duties; and the object of the exercise, I would remind your Lordships, is more, not less, local government and more participation.
I would interpolate here that care must be taken that the duties of the Highlands and Islands Development Board do not overlap with local government authorities. This is not good economics, and economy is one of the objects of these reforms. It is suggested that social work and health are to be in the same category as education and should be exercised in the same area. There are, however, some personal services which are very local in nature with particular reference to the administration of residential establishments and homes provided under social work functions. Therefore, it is considered that the administration of such establishments should be delegated by the second tier (county) to a third tier "district" council which, as I have already stated, should replace the community council. Though there may be good reason to modify the structure of local government as it affects burghs, it should be remembered that their history is a very long one and that they fulfil a very important function in the life of the people of Scotland, and it is therefore important that they do not lose their identity.
Just a word on the difficult question of payment for councillors. Personally, I am utterly opposed to this suggestion for a variety of reasons. The door will be open to the professional councillor; the failed Member of Parliament who, not having "made" the other place, will be encouraged to try local government. This itself leads to another objection, as once this is accepted we in the Highlands will lose what we greatly value: the non-Party political council which allows able people of all Parties or no Party to give their services to local government. It is admitted that there are cases of financial hardship, but in my opinion this should be met by a more realistic code of expenses, as has been suggested by my noble friend elsewhere.
Finally, there is the question of the Outer Isles. For personal reasons, I should mourn the loss of any local gov- 880 ernment connection with the Island of Lewis, but it is hard to see, if we accept the solution for Orkney and Shetland which we in the Far North all applaud, why the Outer Isles should not be an "all purpose authority", also, of course in the sincere hope that the men of Lewis will talk politely to and about the people of Harris, Uist, Benbecula and Bara.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, I hope to be very brief indeed. I will not waste much time by telling your Lordships about the excellent debate we have had to-day, which has been very exciting. I know you will understand my reason. But obviously I should like to convey my warmest congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, on what must have been in many ways a unique maiden speech. For one to have presided over a Royal Commission, and then to come into your Lordships' House to deliver a maiden speech on the Report of the Commission over which one has oneself presided, must be almost unique. Having known his Lordship for many years, I certainly know what a tremendous personal satisfaction he will have had in delivering his speech to the House this afternoon.
I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, that when a debate reaches this stage—we started this discussion five hours ago—and the debate has been going on for about five years, there is little new to be said. But the noble Viscount underestimated his own capacity, because at least he produced one suggestion that would cost nothing. If there are any suggestions of that kind which can be operated in Scotland, I can tell your Lordships that they will be very welcome. May I turn to the last speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie. He and I get on together very well indeed, but I did not like the way in which he described Members of Parliament, having failed in another place, going to look for a bit of payment with a local authority.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I was not implying any strictures on Members of Parliament who, through the great value of their work in another place, joined us. I was referring to those people who were not successful in getting there in the first place.
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, that is exactly what I thought the noble Earl said. All I was about to reply was that when your Lordships decided to accept payment for attending here, you did not think you were being bought over. I think we might show a little gratitude to another place, who have made it possible for some of us to attend your Lordships' House. Let us not underestimate it. So, while I should not like to say what those of us on this side of the House feel with regard to payments, at least let us for the moment consider them. In fact, we cannot make a decision until it is decided what these local authorities are going to do, how much time is going to be entailed and how much work must be done.
I liked the opening speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. He gave us a hit of the Highlands, and in this respect I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie: there was a real bit of Highland flavour in it. He used some very nice words indeed about the decapitating of old burghs; bleeding corpses were lying about the streets in the Highlands. That was good stuff indeed, and I enjoyed it immensely. Let me bring in one little consolation. For a quarter of a century I represented a constituency which was an old burgh in its own right and was amalgamated in the city of Edinburgh, but I can assure your Lordships that even to-day the people of Leith still talk about "going up to the city of Edinburgh"; they really have no connection with it. No matter how changes may be made, no matter how big amalgamations may become, people with local connections will always maintain those connections; and there is sufficient character in the Scottish people so that, no matter what the changes are, that character will not go. If we start off remembering that, then we shall not get into very much trouble.
I would say one word to an old friend of mine, the noble Lord, Lord Balerno. I think he made up his mind a little too quickly about the payment of members in local authorities. It is a very old argument that once you start doing that, members of local authorities will find jobs to do and, as a consequence, will upset the officials. With all due respect, I do not mind officials being upset. There is a considerable section of the community who think that local authority 882 officials are not upset enough but in fact they, and not the elected representatives, dominate the city. So I am all in favour of members having a little time to do this, if it is going to be of benefit to the local residents.
What I can never understand is this: that while noble Lords are voicing that argument, nearly every other noble Lord is saying the nastiest things possible about St. Andrew's House. Indeed, Lord Stonehaven said that if we have one stumbling block in Scotland it is St. Andrew's House. If we can find a little time to disturb them, paid or unpaid, the noble Viscount will not be upset about it. That is the kind of point we have to look at.
I make only one other point before I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who said that in local authority work the great contribution and the great sacrifice was made by professional people. I would not deny for a moment that professional people have made a contribution, but their sacrifice is in no way greater than that of many members of the working class, because it is only in very recent times that payments in compensation have been made to people who devoted their services to local authority work, and it was a much greater sacrifice for a working man to give up a day's wages so that he could render service to the community than it was for a businessman, a professional man or even a land owner to serve without payment. So I say, let us all, on an occasion like this, express our gratitude to all of them for what they have done.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I think that when the noble Lord sees the record to-morrow he will see that I paid due tribute to the people—I did not use the word working-class—in the low income groups who contribute to local authority work. I simply made the point that where you have professional people with large incomes, it follows that if they give so many hours at so much an hour it amounts to more than in the case of somebody who is not similarly remunerated. One of the difficulties is the disappearance of the small, self-employed shopkeeper and the like, and the conversion of the self-employed community into people with salaries—
§ LORD HOY
I do not want to take the matter too far, but I simply do not accept the noble Lord's argument. Indeed, if I may put it another way, many people go to kirk and put in two shillings a week out of a very small income, while many wealthy people may put in £1, but there is no comparison between the latter and the two shillings of the poorer member of the congregation. May I leave it at that?
After thanking the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, for all his services, may I now take the opportunity—this may be one of the last of the few opportunities—to thank everyone who has given service to local authorities? Many have made great sacrifices, and if we are going to change the whole format of local government in Scotland then let us remember on this occasion the tremendous services that have been rendered to Scotland's local authorities throughout the length and breadth of our land by voluntary work from every section of the community. If we are going to make changes from smaller into bigger areas, it is not because we are critical of the people who have been doing the work; it is simply because we are facing up to the reality of recent developments, and over a period of time it has become more and more apparent that if local authorities throughout the whole of Britain are going to operate successfully they have to be bigger units of local government.
When we make this change we are conscious of two things: not only of the size of the area but of the numbers of people involved. Indeed, I would say to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and to the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, that in this outlook we never forget the Highlands. I shall come back to the point raised about finance. We all have an interest in the Highland and Island areas. I think it is true to say that somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent. of the total expenditure at the present time is met by central Government. So our interest is important to the people in those areas because without this contribution they simply could not live. I use this point as an argument because I was going on to say this: that it does not matter what areas you have or what areas you join together, if they are both uneconomic 884 they will remain uneconomic after you have joined them together.
It may be that in the amalgamation they will have an opportunity of working out certain schemes and plans which will lessen their expenditure and I hope that that would be the consequence of that action. If we agree that that is what we are setting out to do, then of course we have to see that certain other things follow, and we are all just a little too glib in talking about creating viable units in this respect. Sometimes it is very difficult to explain what we mean by a viable unit. I think we have behind our minds the sort of unit that not only would be able to be managed economically, wisely and efficiently but would pay its own way. We should regard this as being viable. Immediately that unit becomes dependent on other contributions, viability may have gone; and not only viability but its independence.
So, while we can do this, we have to try to create units which are not too big; and I agree with the noble Viscount that we remove from these units the sense of local approach to any business they have to attend to. If we seek to divorce the people from the unit in which they are going to live, we shall have them living in a vacuum. They have to feel that they are a part of this government. If in fact this is what we are attempting to do, one of the questions we have to face up to is the question of finance. It is not much use all of us discussing how it is going to be done, and how it is going to work, unless we know how it is going to be paid for. This is very important.
Perhaps this debate to-day has come a little too soon—not that it is too soon to discuss the White Paper, or the Report of the Wheatley Commission, but I think we are discussing it somewhat in a vacuum because we do not know at the end of the day how it is going to be paid for. So we shall look forward to the publication of the Green Paper on Finance, and when the noble Baroness replies to the debate she may perhaps be able to tell us when we can expect it. We look forward to it because then we shall be able to make a better assessment of how we are to tackle these problems.
885 I think I can fairly safely sum up on behalf of all your Lordships by saying that two or three questions have stood out in the course of this debate. Certainly the last one is terribly important, and while I would not expect the noble Baroness to be able to tell us how this scheme is to be paid for, at least we should like a hint as to when we may expect this Green Paper so that we may look forward to its coming; then we can make up our minds how all this is going to be paid for.
The second matter which has given considerable concern to all your Lordships, from the speech by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, right down to the last one by the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, has been the question of the community councils. There has not been a single noble Lord this afternoon who has not said something about these community councils and the part that they will play. Indeed, we have even had a suggestion by the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, that they may be got rid of altogether and that the old district councils may take their place. I was a little surprised to hear the noble Earl say that the district council had money; in all the time that I was associated with Government I was assured by the district councils that the one thing they did not have was cash.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, may I remind the noble Lord that they can of course raise a penny rate, which is not very much. Possibly we run our county council very well; and we look after our district councils as well as we can.
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, knowing the Highlands, I am certain that the noble Earl does. I do not think I am overestimating, but he will correct me if I am wrong: I think that something like 80 per cent. of the expenditure of his own county council is borne by Central Government. So he can afford to be a wee bit careless with the cash! All I would say to him is this, that whether there be a district council or the new suggested council, what we should really be interested to hear from the noble Baroness tonight is what the Government have thought about the functions which these councils will undertake. It would be even 886 more interesting if she would tell us how they are to be paid for.
I finish on another note, the question of housing. The problem of housing has been raised on a number of occasions and there seems to be some difficulty (I am not being critical; I am in some difficulty myself) about what the Government really mean, as to whether the top authority or the second authority will be dealing with housing. Paragraph 33 of the White Paper says:Housing also has wider implications, as a component of the regional strategy, particularly in relation to overspill and industrial development.It then goes on to say:The regional authority must be able to take the initiative in arranging for the building by the district authorities or other agencies (for example the Scottish Special Housing Association) of houses for these purposes. It is not necessary that regional authorities should themselves build houses, but they will be given the power to ensure that housing for major redeployment of population, or to support substantial industrial development, is provided where and when it is required.I am certain all your Lordships would like to know how these housing responsibilities are to be divided. Are these regional councils not only going to have the power to direct the lesser authorities, but equally have the power to build themselves, or is the regional authority merely going to direct and employ people to do the housing job for them? Is this what is intended? I know we should all be grateful if the noble Baroness could make this clear.
Finally, I share the fear expressed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, that if finance legislation is going to be put off, or not introduced until the Session 1972–73, we are going to have a very long period indeed of indecision. How can we expect all the local authorities in Scotland to go on for the next three or four years, not knowing what the future is going to be?
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
My Lords, surely when the noble Lord's Party were in office we were given exactly the same date?
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, with this Government that did things at a stroke I thought we might look for something better, and I am a little surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, should make that remark. I 887 thought the purpose of this debate was for us all to express our opinions, wherever we sit, and I should have thought that as the noble Lord and his friends were always assuring us that we were always too late in doing things, they would want to improve on our record.
I am saying to the noble Baroness quite seriously that the longer the delay in making decisions the more indecisive everyone becomes as a result. I should like to think that perhaps we might speed up this date. I should also like to have the assurance suggested by my noble friend Lord Hughes when he opened this debate. The addendum, if I may regard it as such, that we suggest to the Motion, ensures that before the Government finally made up their mind they at least give an opportunity to every local authority to make its opinion known to the Government.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE
My Lords, I think we can all agree that this has been a very fascinating and, to me certainly, very constructive debate. I should like first to join with all those noble Lords who have congratulated the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, on a most brilliant maiden speech. I heard him speak not very long ago at a public dinner. It was a rather different type of speech, a very amusing speech, on that occasion. But I felt to-day that his speech was delivered with such tremendous conviction that it could not be anything but impressive, and I am sure it has helped all of us to clarify our minds on this very large and difficult question.
Both the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley and the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, asked why it is that we are not to have legislation until the 1972–73 Session, and would it not be very much better (both of them used these words) to end the uncertainty and get on with it. We wish to put everything possible into the reorganisation Bill. It is proposed at the moment, I understand, to bring the English legislation before the House in the 1971–72 Session. But that legislation will not define the equivalent of their districts; all this will be done by Order afterwards.
Quite apart from the legislation itself, we shall, of course, as I am sure noble 888 Lords have recognised, need to examine a very large number of statutes, some of great complexity. We feel that to get the Bill into the proper form for study by Parliament we need the necessary time. We also need the necessary time for consultation. In a way, this demand for speed and an end to uncertainty seem to contradict what was said earlier, at the opening of the debate, by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. He seemed to comment that in some ways we had been almost too quick, that we had come to some conclusions on the main outline of local government reform and that perhaps we should still leave these major questions open for further decision.
I think the best way in which I can convey to your Lordships what is in our mind is to quote a reply which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State gave to a Question in another place on March 19. He said:The White Paper on the Reform of Local Government in Scotland sets out the basic structure which we intend to provide for in our Bill. It also outlines the several subjects still to be considered in consultation with local authorities and others. The White Paper is the outcome of thorough consideration of all the information which has been collected, together with the views which have been expressed during the past seven and a half years. If, however, there are any entirely new factors to be taken into account, I am certainly prepared to examine constructive proposals based upon them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 19/3/71, col. 424.]It is for this reason that I have said that I shall be very glad to accept the noble Lord's Amendment, which simply asks that the associations of local authorities should not be denied the opportunity of suggesting amendments. I can assure the House that the associations not only have suggested all sorts of representations, but are doing so now; and they certainly will continue to do so in the future.
May I go back a moment to the debate which your Lordships had on December 9, 1969, on the Wheatley proposals, and quote the noble Lord, Lord Hughes? He said:We hope to announce decisions on the main proposals concerning structure and division of functions in a White Paper to be issued in the spring of next year."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9/12/69, col. 442.]Therefore, I feel that he and I have really come to the same conclusion, if I may say so, and I was delighted that in a general way he did indeed welcome the main 889 decisions which have been taken on the general question—for instance, decisions on the size of the regions and on the districts—although he said that there might be two or three more. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, as one would expect, spoke in a very reasonable way, taking as an example two or three extra regions.
§ BARONESS TWEEDSMUIR OF BELHELVIE
My Lords, I meant, of course, districts. I apologise for the error. Of course we may get proposals that have already been considered; and not all, I suggest, will be quite so sensible as all those suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. A good many are likely, as indeed they have done in the past, to strike at the principles of the White Paper—something against which the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, warned us. If I may say so, I felt that one of the most fascinating parts of his speech was that part in which he talked about the whole philosophy which lay behind the Wheatley Commission. He was perfectly right when he said that in all we try to do we must keep in mind what is the whole basis of this new system of local government.
On the other hand, I must admit that we have been illogical in one respect. I refer to the point which he raised, that we have given independent status to Orkney and Shetland with responsibilities for most of the functions. He put to me a particular question—he asked how Orkney and Shetland will be able to take advantage of, for instance, the common services for which they may have to call upon the mainland? Will they do it on a customer service, I think was the way he put it. I would say that it is perfectly true that there will have to be joint arrangements for the police or fire services for instance, and these services will be provided as a right (I think this is very important) and not, as he suggested—I think I quote correctly—as a matter of grace or favour. But the details of such arrangements are among the many questions which still have to be settled in the present consultations together with all those other questions to which I referred and which are roughly dealt with in Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8.
890 The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, gave us, if I may say so, a fascinating Highland speech. He was naturally concerned at the fact that perhaps the planning powers of Thurso together with St. Andrews, which have had planning powers for a considerable time, should not be given up under these new proposals. I agree with him that the record of this small burgh is a very good one indeed. We have said that we wish to be as flexible as we can in the distribution of functions, and I suggest that the proposals for the planning functions rather show this. On the other hand, flexibility can be taken too far, and we feel that it would go too far if we were to introduce different planning arrangements within a single region. We suggest that that would cause more conflict. Of course the reason why we suggested that in the Highlands, the South-West and the Borders the planning functions should go to the regions, and not to the districts, was entirely because of the question of size. I think that this question was also referred to by my noble friend Lord Cromartie.
The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, my noble friends Lord Stratheden and Campbell, Lord Dundee, Lord Stonehaven, Lord Lauderdale and the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, all referred to the question of community councils. I should like to take what they said in the context of what we can do to conserve the experience of the burghs. We feel as strongly as every noble Lord who has spoken that so far as possible we must try to keep this experience, this knowledge, for the new system of local government, although obviously there will not be enough places for everyone to play exactly the same part as he has played in the past.
It is perfectly true that this local government reform will mean a great upheaval, and to some extent will cause considerable disruption. We are very concerned to find out how we can preserve a measure of continuity and take advantage of the experience of those who have served within a locality. We had thought that possibly in the discussions which we are going to have on this question of local dignitaries and community councils some place might be found in, say, the community councils. But it is true that the cities and the large burghs are likely 891 to form the undisputed centres, or what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, called the core or the heart of the districts within which they lie.
This is useful, because, as was brought out in a study done for the Wheatley Commission by Mr. Page, of Strathclyde University, the burghs, and even the large burghs, tend to have spare administrative capacity at the present time. Therefore they could be expanded considerably in size without strain on their ability to discharge what Mr. Page called a second-tier range of functions, and at the same time effect a worthwhile saving in expenditure. But what we can look forward to in these cases is a district authority which is not a town council under another name, but something which has a recognisable town council organisation and experience to build upon. There are the same advantages in a number of the larger small burghs and, in a different way, in some of the counties which will remain in recognisable form as districts in the new structure. In all these districts, whether burgh-based or county-based, there will be continued opportunities for many of the present councillors to make their contribution as elected members of the new district authorities.
Nevertheless, we have to face the fact that there will be a disappearance of about 170 small burghs and nearly 200 district councils, which is a real loss. Therefore we have to consider what those who have served in either the burghs or the districts could do. However when we consider the handicaps under which, because of its small size, the town council has operated in providing services and in meeting its administrative expenses, to which Mr. Page referred, the fact remains that we want to try to keep as much as possible of the experience which the small burghs and the district councillors have been able to apply to our local government traditions.
The Royal Commission saw no reason why an area might not choose to retain a council for ceremonial purposes, and I must say that in my own part of the world, in Aberdeenshire, Inch has still retained a provost and a council over these long years. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, that areas will always 892 keep their local affiliations. The noble Lord referred to Leith, but in my own part of the country Mar and Buchan are still names which conjure up a great local loyalty. Therefore we thought, as an idea to put forward, that the community councils might combine the burgh dignitaries with the function of providing a voice in the really local areas. They would also consider in what way they might perhaps get some responsibility for some expenditure, which would give them a worthwhile function to undertake.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Stratheden and Campbell welcomed the Borders as one region—and I am very glad that he did—as did also my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood. I am glad to say that the Association of County Councils have by a majority supported the White Paper. My noble friend Lady Elliot spoke of all the controversies which surrounded the 1929 Local Government Act, and indeed how her late husband, Walter Elliot, was burnt in effigy all over Scotland. I hope that the same will not happen to us, but I suspect that it may because, my Lords, the other day I noticed that in my own part of the world the Provost of Huntly delivered himself of the comment that he felt that the Wheatley Commission Report, the White Paper and all those connected with it should be put into one pile and burnt up together.
My noble friend Lady Elliot asked me particularly about Newcastleton. I am well aware that many of the children go to school at Hawick; and it is not placed at the moment in the Borders Region because of the great affinities we felt that the Newcastleton area had with Carlisle. On the other hand, this is exactly the kind of example of a variation in boundary which I think really should be considered. I should not like to commit myself on the various points which have been made, but this is the kind of example where we have said that the local feeling will be considered in the adjustment of local boundaries.
I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Dundee spoke about Fife, because his was the first representation which I received on local government when I came to the Scottish Office; and what interested me was that, though he came from North Fife, he was quite prepared 893 to see the division of this great county as proposed by the Wheatley Commission. He asked me particularly about the Water Boards. He will see from the White Paper that we have placed water as a regional function; but, on the other hand, we have asked the Scottish Water Advisory Committee to advise us on the future of the Water Boards because we think this is just the kind of subject which needs further consultation, particularly, of course, as the water must be drawn from natural areas. My noble friend also asked about the planning function and about the Scottish Town and Country Planning Institute. It is perfectly true that they originally suggested that we would not have enough planners in Scotland to undertake the split planning function which was recommended by the Wheatley Commission, but which the Minority Report, to which he referred, felt would be unwise. I am glad to say that the Scottish Town and Country Planning Institute in fact changed their mind; and, as I said earlier on, we are now having about one hundred coming from the schools every term, and I think that this should be sufficient.
My noble friend Lord Balerno used a good Scots word when he said that he hoped we would all stop "girning" and that we would all get on with the job. For myself, I felt to-day, if I may say so, that this was not a girning debate: it was rather a constructive debate, and I believe it will be a very great help not only to us at the Scottish Office but to all of those who are going to take part in the consultations in the future. I was very glad that the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, spoke to us about the community councils in the way he did, and I hope he will feel that what I have said about them may perhaps be useful as a basis for further consultation.
My noble friend Lord Ferrier spoke about the payment of expenses to councillors, as indeed did my noble friend Lord Balerno, and I noticed that he thought they ought to have liberal expenses. This is the kind of thing that we feel we ought to consider in detail with the local authority associations, because I think it is generally agreed that the expenses ought to be increased; but it is not generally agreed whether councillors should be paid. Some think that the regional councillors or those who are 894 convenors or chairmen of committees should be paid, but there is by no means any agreed consideration on this. That is why I feel that we must go into it in a good deal more detail.
My noble friend Lord Balerno also mentioned that he thought the regional and district elections should not alternate but should take place simultaneously with one half of the councillors of the regions and district councils coming up for election every two years. It is just these questions, difficult electoral matters, upon which we are also going to have further consultation. We shall shortly issue a Paper which will be a basis for comment and further study, but I will certainly take note of what my noble friend said in his preferences.
My noble friend Lord Stonehaven said that he thought St. Andrew's House frustrated everyone. I rather got the impression that he would like to remove us all. I hope that it was not quite as bad as that. We feel very seriously that we have to consider how we can, in fact, remove some of the many powers of references back to the Secretary of State which exist in so much legislation. By doing that we shall be able to achieve the powers of delegation for which he particularly asked.
My noble friend Lord Lauderdale as usual managed to introduce a completely different debate from the subject which is before the House. If I may say so, I much admire his capacity for being able to do that. We had a most interesting discussion on the steel industry and on maritime facilities, which my noble friend managed to tie up to the fact that the large West Region had a very big job to do and that was why he supported the size of this area. He asked some particular questions; he asked about the power of the Secretary of State to call in all planning applications. That is the kind of thing we shall have to consider and to which I have already referred; He asked about the New Town corporations but he mentioned that he was not here when I opened the debate and when I said that the present New Town corporation would continue and that the question of new towns would have to be discussed with the local authority associations. Of course, he gave a plea for his own small burgh of Lauder which I thoroughly applaud.
895 My noble friend Lord Cromartie asked about the various different names. I note that he would like to call the regions "provinces" and the districts "counties". These are the matters that we will try to collect voices on as we go along. He said that he thought we should have district councils instead of community councils. But we have adopted the principle of the Wheatley Report that there should be a two-tier system of local government with clear and separate functions statutorily defined. Therefore, the community councils would be more suitable for trying to undertake some of the residual powers and privileges of the burghs, as I have already mentioned.
I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, in thanking all who have so far served in local government. If I may say so, I am glad that he took this opportunity to do so. We have had a great deal of fine voluntary service in local government at all levels throughout Scotland, as I think I said in my opening remarks, and if it had not been for the devotion and hard work of councillors throughout Scotland, over the last few years in particular, which masked the defects of the present system, we should never have got as much done as we have already. The noble Lord asked about the powers of the regions in relation to housing. We feel that the proposed regional authorities should have the power to ensure that housing required for reasons of regional strategy—in other words, overspill, to give one example, or for support of industrial development—is built when and where it is required. That kind of housing could be provided, constructed and managed by district authorities at times, in places, in numbers and on terms agreed between them and the regional authorities. But a reserve force is needed in case agreement cannot be reached, and it is the nature of this power—which we feel is important—that we have to try to work out in further discussions with the local authority associations.
My Lords, I hope that I have not spoken too long, but I wanted to refer to all those noble Lords who have waited so long and taken so much trouble to join in what I think has been a fascinating and useful debate. In conclusion, I would just say that we must remember that 896 local government will affect us all, and change of such a nature as this can never be easy. I hope that we shall now try very hard not to dwell only on the difficulties but to think also of what we can do together to provide these enormous opportunities for local government throughout Scotland. I hope that we can make a system which will be a magnet for the talented and give to Scotland a system of internal government that will serve her with energy and imagination for many years to come.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I have very little further to say. If the noble Baroness reads my opening remarks in Hansard to-morrow she will appreciate that she is misunderstanding me when she says that I think the Government are moving too fast. I do not, and I disagree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, in the suggestion that legislation is perhaps taking a little too long. I also should have liked to see it a year earlier, but I came reluctantly to the conclusion that it is better to take the time to do the job well and to have everything in the Bill—just as the Government have done. But it was because of the knowledge that the legislation was suggested, not for the next Session but the Session after that, that I felt the Government were not too soon in presenting their White Paper, but too soon in determining that this was finality on certain items. There is time to look at some of these other items also.
Therefore, my Lords, I am grateful that the noble Baroness has said that she can accept the Amendment that I have proposed. Obviously, it is for the Government, in working out all these consultations, to decide what they can accept and what they cannot accept. It will be for the local authority associations to make the best use of this opportunity which they now know is available to them, but I certainly would not give any encouragement to any of the associations, or to any individual authorities, to try to tear up the structure which is accepted by all of us; and it is not an encouragement to them to attempt to go back to square one. If they use the opportunity afforded to them, they must use it wisely. If they use it wisely, and if the Government act wisely on that use, we shall find ourselves, at the end of the day, very 897 much in agreement. If either of them acts unwisely, the local authorities or the Government, we shall have the opportunity to come back at a later stage to comment on it.
§ Motion, as amended, agreed to.