§ 2.59 p.m.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (LORD POLWARTH)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. From time to time it becomes desirable to have a completely new look at some major part of the institutions governing our day-to-day lives and activities. In the interests of smooth working and certainty the intervals between such reviews should be comparatively long. The resulting legislation is among the most important of all the many kinds that your Lordships are asked to consider. The Bill before us to-day, so far as Scotland is concerned, is of the highest importance, affecting as it does the lives of every one of our people for many years to come. The administration of services for the benefit of people in their local communities has evolved over the years in the light of changing needs and circumstances and could first be said to have been rationalised in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1929. In the 43 years since then there have been significant changes in the structure of local government in Scotland and one need only reflect how the pace and shape of life in general have changed during that time to begin to understand why in so 156 many quarters it has been accepted that the local government system needs to be brought up to date.
Local government in Scotland has been under review since 1963. It was the appointment of a Royal Commission in 1966 under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, that marked the first important point on the road on which we are now set. Tribute has already been paid in your Lordships' House, during the debate which we had in March 1971, to the comprehensive and enlightened Report which the Wheatley Commission produced in 1969. It has served as a most valuable basis for the consultations and discussions carried out by the Government, now culminating in this Bill which is before us to-day.
The need for reform has been widely accepted. At present we in Scotland have no less than 430 local authority areas, displaying no rational pattern: the responsibilities carried out by individual authorities do not necessarily relate to their resources, and the geographical areas of authorities in many cases do not reflect the social and economic realities of modern life. We must not of course underrate the achievements of the present local authorities in Scotland, and of the members and officials who serve so loyally and efficiently; in general they have done and are doing a stalwart job. At the same time we must look to the future, and it is clear to the Government and to those directly concerned in local government that changes are needed if local government is to continue to work effectively over the years ahead in the light of changed methods of communication, the development of communities, and the larger scale on which services to the public must be organised.
This Government, on assuming office in 1970, considered all the comments received on the recommendations of the Wheatley Report and carried out their own consultations with the local authority associations. Our proposals were then published in February 1971 in the White Paper, Reform of Local Government in Scotland: we accepted the basic approach recommended by the Wheatley Commission; namely, to establish a two-level structure of regions and districts with a clear cut division of functions. The basic objectives were, on the one hand, 157 to give the new local authorities the power and resources to carry out their responsibilities effectively, and on the other hand to enable and encourage local people to play their full part in the operation of a new system of government. We departed from the Wheatley proposals in a number of ways: by creating, in the light of representations made to us, some additional authorities (a Borders region, and 14 additional districts, particularly in the outlying regions so as to offset the difficulties of remoteness) by giving Orkney and Shetland separate status as most-purpose authorities, and by some adjustments in the allocation of functions. For instance, because of the importance of housing as a local service and the local interest it arouses we decided to make this a district responsibility. In view of the character of the outlying regions and districts and the need to provide adequate resources there, we decided that local planning, building control and libraries in these areas were to be regional functions. After further consultations my right honourable friend announced in December 1971 that the Western Isles were to be given most-purpose status like that accorded to Orkney and Shetland, and that a number of boundary adjustments were to be made.
It might help if at this stage I outlined the general philosophy which underlies the Bill. In defining the new areas we have adopted the approach recommended by the Wheatley Commission to reflect the community of interest which can be identified between centres of population and the areas which surround them. This community of interest can be clearly seen at various levels and can be established by examining a wide range of evidence about, for example, the use of services and facilities, patterns of communication and travel to work. By building up a composite picture about the way in which people lead their lives we can identify local government units which have a natural coherence and we believe that this is the soundest basis on which local government services can be provided in the best interests of people.
We agree that a two-level structure of regions and districts on the lines proposed by the Wheatley Commission best meets varying needs and conditions throughout Scotland. The regions are to 158 have responsibility broadly for the strategic services—those concerned with the economic infrastructure, such as roads and transportation, water and sewage, strategic planning and industrial development, and those making heavy demands on human and financial resources, such as education, social work, police and fire. The job of the districts will be more local, but no less important, for they will be concerned essentially with the quality of local life in administering their responsibilities for local planning and development control, housing, environmental and amenity services, and regulative and licensing functions. In the islands areas, the Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles authorities will be responsible for all local government functions except police and fire which, for operational and technical reasons, will be administered jointly with the Highland region.
In proposing these two main types of authority, we believe that we are not only creating a framework for the effective management of local services but also that we are securing for local government a standing more independent of central government than has been possible till now, because of the wide discrepancies in the sizes and capabilities of the present authorities. We propose also to enable community councils to be set up, not as local authorities, but as bodies outside the structure of local government free from the restrictions of statutory powers and duties. Their functions will be to express the views of people locally and to take whatever action is necessary in the interests of local communities: community councils will be established only where there is a local demand for them, but already our proposals have been well received and much local interest has been aroused in the possibilities that this opens up.
Your Lordships will be glad to hear that I have no intention of explaining the Bill clause by clause: if I did we should be here all night. But I think that I should draw attention to some of the significant aspects. The Bill has already undergone a number of changes during its passage through another place since its introduction there last November. Whether it reaches us a better Bill than it started out is a question on which each of your Lordships will have his own view. It has been subjected 159 to the full democratic process with singularly little decision on Party lines, and that is something to be thankful for, even if the price of democracy may, in the opinion of some, involve some loss of perfection. I do not myself believe there can ever be perfection in this field. After a long debate Fife was made a region in its own right. The Government have made it clear that while they consider this solution inferior to the original proposal in the Bill, which reflected regional community of interest more effectively, they accept that Fife has the resources to be a viable regional authority and that the change has broad support from honourable Members in another place, most of the local authorities concerned_ and from a large section of public opinion in Fife. They have stated therefore that they would take no action to restore the structure originally proposed for East Central Scotland unless there were a significant shift of opinion in support of such a change. Two additional districts were created in Ayrshire, bringing the total of authorities to 61. River purification will be carried out not by regional councils as originally proposed, but by independent boards appointed on a basis similar to the present one. During proceedings in another place we have ourselves brought in provisions relaxing central government control over the day-to-day work of local authorities, thus recognising that new authorities will be bodies of considerable standing, capable of taking their own decisions in relation to their responsibilities.
The major point of discussion of course remains the Strathclyde region, and it might be helpful to your Lordships if I were to outline the Government's thinking on this. In this I am reassured by the support of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who indicated in the debate on March 23, 1971, that, because of the extensive influence of Glasgow throughout the West of Scotland and of the nature of the strategic problems in that area, which can only be dealt with on a regional basis, the previous Government were thinking along similar lines. He referred also to the need for decentralised administration of educational and social work in the Strathclyde region, and provision has been made for this 160 by amendment to the Bill in another place. We are well aware that there is opposition to our proposals for the Strathclyde region, not only because of the problems which it is considered will face the regional authority in carrying out its responsibilities over such a wide area and for such a large population, but also because of the size of the region in relation to the other regions in Scotland.
We have spent a substantial amount of time considering possible alternative structures for the West of Scotland: but we come back every time to the fact I have already mentioned, that it is a natural region, centred on the City of Glasgow, and that the strategic local government services must be provided over the region as a whole. The structure of district authorities within the Strathclyde region, particularly after the creation of additional authorities in Ayrshire, is broadly acceptable. It is the sheer size of the region which has led many people to advocate an intermediate tier of government, but our view, which my right honourable friend explained at length in another place, is that such a structure bristles with practical difficulties, would leave the electorate in great confusion about which authority was responsible for what, and cannot produce a satisfactory allocation of functions among the three types of authorities in view of the links and relationships that exist between the different functions.
There has, of course, also been much discussions about the area of the proposed Glasgow district authority, and in particular whether some of the peripheral burghs such as Bearsden, Milngavie, Bishopbriggs, Clydebank and Rutherglen should be included. I have already explained the principle of community of interest which has governed the determination of the areas of the new authorities. There is no doubt, in the light of the evidence available, that these burghs are a natural part of the city community socially, physically and economically. Perhaps we shall have an opportunity of discussing this in more detail at a later stage, but the Government at present see no reason to depart from their present view. Glasgow is certainly a very large district in terms of population—but not of area—and the Government are not as pessimistic as some of 161 the people in these peripheral burghs appear to be about the capacity of the new district authority to manage its services to the satisfaction of all its inhabitants.
My Lords, I will now turn to the structure of the Bill. Part I defines the new areas and provides for the constitution and election of the new regional, islands and district councils. A map showing the boundaries of the new areas for the whole of Scotland has been deposited on a table in the Royal Gallery, and before we reach Committee stage we hope to have available there also more detailed maps of each region separately, and they will also be available by that time to Members of your Lordships' House through the Printed Paper Office. The provisions for electoral procedure follow those in operation at present; the only important innovation is a term of office of four years for all councillors, with the exception of the first two terms of office of district councillors which will each be of three years to bring the system into phase. District elections will be held halfway through the regional term.
Part II of the Bill provides for the establishment of a Local Government Boundary Commission. Its duty in the first place will be to review outstanding boundary anomalies (which exist because of the need to rely initially on existing administrative areas) and to consider the electoral schemes adopted for the first elections. Thereafter it will keep the boundaries of local government and electoral areas under continuous review by carrying out comprehensive reviews at 10 to 15 year intervals and reviews of specific areas on its own initiative or on the direction of the Secretary of State or request of a local authority in the intervening period.
The provisions in Parts III, V and VI of the Bill establish the framework of machinery for the operation of local government. They follow very largely the corresponding provisions of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947 in relation to membership, proceedings, internal organisation and general powers of local authorities. There are, however, some significant differences. Clause 44 provides for the admission of public and Press to meetings of committees of new councils as well as to the council meetings themselves. Clause 45 requires the 162 new authorities to pay a taxable allowance (within a maximum rate prescribed by the Secretary of State) for attendance on approved duty; this will help to ensure that no one is precluded from standing for election by financial reasons. Clause 56 opens up a wide range of possibilities for local authorities to arrange for their responsibility to be carried out, for instance by delegation to committees, officers or other authorities. It has the effect of abolishing the statutory requirement to set up committees in relation to particular functions, except in the case of education and social work to which special considerations apply. Similarly, Clause 64 provides for the appointment of only a limited number of statutory officers for particular specialised functions. Apart from these a local authority will be free to appoint whatever officers it pleases in the light of its particular responsibilities and circumstances.
Part IV of the Bill, relating to the establishment of community councils, we regard as particularly important for the reasons I have already outlined, and also because this creates a new opportunity for local people to take an active part in the life of their community at a time when there is clearly much demand for this.
Part VII of the Bill makes the basic financial arrangements. The present system of requisitioning will not be carried into the new structure: both regional and district authorities will determine their own individual rates; for convenience the regional authorities, as the major spenders, will act as the collectors of the rates. A Commission for Local Authority Accounts is to be created to secure a rationalised system of audit. There will be an extended scheme of rate rebate supported by 90 per cent. Exchequer grant, enabling rebates to be obtained by much larger numbers of people than at present.
Parts VIII, IX and X of the Bill, together with the associated Schedules allot the statutory responsibility for local government services to the appropriate level on the basis I have already described. Part XI deals with a number of general matters, for instance in relation to legal proceedings, documents and bylaws, following the existing provisions of the 1947 Act. It also makes provision for the system of lords lieutenants in the 163 light of the disappearance of the present county structure, and for the admission of honorary freeman by the new district councils.
Part XII contains some miscellaneous general provisions; for instance, it continues the present local inquiry procedure, but also lays the foundation for the transition from the present structure to the new one. A Property Commission is to be set up to provide advice on the transfer of property; provision is made for the application and adaptation of existing local Acts; but most important of all, a number of provisions relate to the transfer of officers, which the Government recognise as an extremely important facet of this whole exercise. A Staff Commission is to be set up to provide advice on new appointments and to safeguard the interests of local government staff during the changeover, and provision is made for early retirement and for compensation for loss of office where this is inevitable. Although these transitional provisions come at the end of the Bill, they are by no means the least important. The Government are well aware of the upheaval entailed in introducing the new structure. The year of transition will be a difficult one for all concerned; there will be much work to do and a considerable strain will be placed particularly on those in important positions. It is important, therefore, that no local government officer should feel undue uncertainty about his future or about the protection of his interests, and the Staff Commission is already functioning in shadow form as the Local Government Staff Advisory Committee to make the necessary preparations.
Under the proposals in the Bill the new authorities will be in full control of local services two years from now. Much remains to be done, of course, and cannot be done until the new authorities are elected, but a great deal is being done already. Much work is going on in the new areas through joint advisory committees with the aim of easing the changeover. The local authority associations have also set up a working group and a central advisory unit for management structures, whose report, expected this autumn, will help discussion about the form of internal organisation which the new authorities should adopt when they are elected next May.
164 The Government are encouraged by the wide acceptance of their proposals and by the spirit of co-operation which is being shown by all concerned. The local government structure is essential to the fabric of Scottish life. The proposals in this Bill do not sweep away all that exists at present; they build on the best of what we have. We have endeavoured to delineate new areas of government so as best to reflect the community of interest of their inhabitants. We have sought to allot functions between regions and districts so that each can best play their part. The new system fails heir to a wealth of experience and enthusiasm on the part of members and officials who have served in the past, and many of whom we hope will continue to do so in the future. I am confident that this Bill creates the opportunity for local government to meet the challenges of the future and serve the people of Scotland and their needs over the years ahead. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2*ª.—(Lord Polwarth.)
§ LORD WIGG
My Lords, before my noble friend speaks I wish to make a comment on a point of order. We have previously been told by the noble Lord the Leader of the House that rules of order apply to all noble Lords equally. In the speech just concluded every single word has been read. It says in the Companion:The reading of speeches is alien to the custom of the House and is an obstacle to good debate.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, I was made aware by my noble friend Lord Wigg that he wished to intervene very briefly. If the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has erred in a way in which Ministers have frequently done in the past, I can give him a tip which will put him strictly in order. If he just occasionally interpolates a remark which is not written on the sheet, this turns his well-typed brief into a series of notes. I must confess that I find it easier to speak from notes than to read somebody else's speech.
May I start off my thanking the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, for the way in which he managed to give a fairly comprehensive description of this long Bill in 165 a commendably brief speech of 22 minutes? It was surprising how much he managed to compress into that time. I do not intend to go over all the points that he has raised, because I am certain that during the course of the debate almost everything he has mentioned, and a number of things that he did not mention, will be covered by succeeding speakers. The noble Lord referred to what I had said in the debate on the Wheatley Report, and I would confirm that there is remarkably little difference between what would have been the approach of the previous Government and the approach of the present Government.
I committed myself to a wholehearted acceptance of the principles of Wheatley and, having regard to the fact that in another place in Committee they discussed this Bill from January 23 to May 15, in 42 Sittings, which they managed to extend to 2,386 columns of Hansard, I do not regard it as part of my task to try to undo anything which was done there, even though I disagree with it. I do not agree with everything they did in another place, and I doubt whether there is anybody else in your Lordships' House who would find himself in complete agreement. However, it was a most careful consideration of this Bill and, as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, said, remarkably free from discussion on Party lines. It had an added advantage which will not be available to us in this House, in that the Committee stage was confined entirely to Scots. I hope, therefore, that in so far as it is within our power we shall at least follow the example of the other place and in any discussions we may have at the next stage try to look at this subject on non-Party lines. If we do so, then if we make any changes to the Bill I think we can be satisfied that we, at least believe them to be improvements of general interest rather than from one particular Party point of view.
I indicated the extent to which I had agreed with Wheatley when I spoke nearly two years ago. I should be less than honest if I did not confess that, as the months and years have gone by, I have seen more and more in Wheatley that I do not like. I accept all the principles of what has been done in another place because, having looked at this subject 166 from 1963 to 1973, I consider there is no guarantee that if we started afresh and spent another 10 years looking at it we should produce an alternative set of proposals which could command any wider acceptance than the present ones. This is a field where unanimity is impossible. What I like is that in the consideration of this Bill—and I cannot believe that the Government listen to me (I do not think they have ever done so before, and it would be a pity if they broke their record by doing it now)—it emerges that certain things which I suggested as amendments to the Bill, particularly in regard to Strathclyde, have been carried out in another place. The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, has referred to the Amendments made in requiring a scheme for the administration of education and social work in the Strathclyde region. That is undoubtedly an improvement.
There obviously was a great deal of scope for argument about functions and boundaries, both of the regions and of the districts, and this occupied a large part of the time that the other place spent in considering the Bill in Committee. As I have said, for the most part I will accept what was done there as being final so far as I am concerned. A great deal of the discussion on boundaries was concentrated, as the Minister has said, on Strathclyde and Fife, as regions, or potential regions, and on the City of Glasgow.
May I first of all refer to Strathclyde? I think that most people accept that for certain strategic functions the area within Strathclyde is a single unit. On the other hand, I think it is equally true to say that most people were unhappy about a single education and social work unit; and the Government have made provision for remedying that. Notwithstanding that, there is still a great deal of unease about this large region. After all, practically half the population of Scotland will live within the Strathclyde region. I am a little unhappy that the principal justification for Strathclyde remains the need for dealing with the strategic functions at one level. I am not convinced that this will be so in practice. For instance, I cannot see this Secretary of State, or a future Secretary of State, accepting that what the Strathclyde region said on something of the order of Hunterston would be left for final decision by the Strathclyde authority.
167 There will be many matters which may perhaps be of great importance from a regional point of view, which will have an impact and an importance even outside that large area and which are certain to be called in by the Secretary of State for his own final decision. Similarly, on roads and transportation, while the Bill calls for the closest co-operation on transportation between local authorities and public transport, including rail, it is only consultation. There is no guarantee, for instance, that British Rail are necessarily going to provide a more satisfactory service because the Glasgow Region authority would like them to do it. It may, and I hope that it will, work that way.
When we recently had an opportunity of a private meeting with a Minister in another place I put a question on roads asking whether it meant that the regions were going to have functions in relation to roads which the local authorities have at the present time. I asked, as an example, would it make it easier for us to have a dual carriageway running up the East coast of Scotland instead of this ridiculous single road? I cannot say that I got an answer which persuaded me that the Secretary of State was abandoning his functions in relation to what used to be called trunk roads and that these were to go to the region. I therefore have not given up hope of trying to find a better solution to the Strathclyde one than that in the Bill at the present time. Having said that, I must immediately add that it is very much easier to want a better answer than to find one.
On Glasgow there are great misgivings, as the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, said, on the part of the small communities on the outskirts of Glasgow about being taken into the Greater Glasgow district. I can understand these misgivings, and to a large extent I share them. The Minister said (I cannot be certain of quoting his words exactly, but I think I am giving the correct sense) that there could be no doubt about the capacity of the new district structure in Glasgow to manage the functions to the satisfaction of its inhabitants. With that I agree entirely. There could be no possible doubt about their capacity to do it. The doubts do not arise from that; the doubts arise from the extent to which the people in these other areas will have an opportunity, 168 through the representations, of influencing this in any way.
I must admit to being very much impressed by a document which many of us have had from the Milngavie group of local authorities in which they point out that if they were to become members of any district council other than Glasgow, they would have three or four times as many representatives to put their case as they would have on the Glasgow District Council. For example, one of the small authorities which, if it were in the East of Scotland, or even in the central area, might expect to have three representatives on the district council, is, I think, entitled to two-thirds of a representative on Glasgow District Council. If it were to get the three, then the Glasgow District Council would need to have about 200 members—an obviously impossible situation. I think we have to consider tempering the ability of an authority to do a job effectively with the desire of the local people to feel that they do count, and that what has been an independent burgh for many years does not become a ward, or part of a ward, on the outskirts of Glasgow. It is difficult to get out of order in your Lordships' House, so I do not suppose that I am in what I am saying now. The Milngavie group are travelling down to London to-night and hope to meet a number of your Lordships to-morrow to state their case, and if there is anybody who is willing to meet them and would like to get in touch with me at the end of the debate, we can try to arrange a place where, by coincidence, we can all be together at the same time.
My Lords, the Minister referred to Fife. I have no doubt at all that the decision made in another place on Fife is the right one, and I am glad that the Government accepted it. When I made my first speech on this I was well aware of the feelings in Fife, and I ventured the opinion—and on this I have not changed at all—that in this matter of local government the important thing is not always to implement what looks like the perfect solution from a theoretical point of view; it is to get the best possible solution, a workable solution that commands the greatest measure of support from those who are to be governed. If there was one thing which was quite clearly demonstrated, and 169 I think confirmed, in the last election held in Fife it was that those who spoke for a united Fife undoubtedly represented the views of the great majority of the people there; and I believe that it would be a disaster if any attempt were made in this House to reverse that decision, although I accept right away that what Wheatley said was the most logical way of doing it. But logic is not necessarily a good answer if people feel they are getting a rotten deal as the result of logic. Who is more logical than Mr. Powell?
These are all the general remarks that I want to make, but I should like to refer briefly to a number of points throughout the Bill and to ask some questions which the Minister may or may not be able to answer at the end of the debate. If he cannot, I hope that he will write to me as speedily as possible so that I may find out whether it is necessary to put down Amendments. I do not want to put down any unnecessary Amendments. First of all, in Clause 3 there is the question of the chairmen of regional and district councils. The chairmen of the regional councils are to be called conveners. That I think is a good decision, based on the pattern of the county councils. It is an accepted and honoured title which should be continued. The Government, however, have in my view made a big error in leaving, except in the four cities, the question of what title is to be carried by the chairmen of the district councils to the decision of each of these councils. The variety may be enormous.
We could have the situation in which quite a number of small councils might decide that their chairman shall be a Lord Provost. We might even get an Englishman occuping the position and persuading his colleagues to call him the Lord Mayor. Just imagine the Lord Mayor of Nairn for example! We have, for the first time in our history, a Communist provost in Scotland. Just imagine his being able to persuade his colleagues that the title to be conferred in that district was the commissar! There must obviously be some choice available, but it ought to be a limited one, and I propose to table two Amendments: one, to give to the districts the right to choose for their chairman the title of "provost" or "chairman". I think that is a wide 170 enough choice. Probably in county areas they will prefer to go for "chairman", but where the area is predominantly burghal they may well decide to stick to the old title of "provost". I propose also to test your Lordships with another Amendment on the same lines by making an exception to that rule in the case of Perth and Kinross, and I shall put down an Amendment that that council should be given the choice between "Lord Provost" and "chairman".
In the matter of the Lord Provosts, I think we also need an Amendment because the Bill lays down that the title of "Lord Provost" shall attach to the chairmen of district councils—and the Government are very wise in the way they have listed them in strictly alphabetical order: Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow. The first business of the new council will be the election of the chairman. My Lords, we must state a time when the chairman of the shadow body is to assume the title of Lord Provost, because if he is elected at the first meeting in May next year and is immediately called Lord Provost, we are going to be in the ridiculous position of having two Lord Provosts in each of the four cities. So I think the proper Amendment is to say that the title of Lord Provost shall attach to the chairmen of these councils, and similarly the title of "provost" or "Lord Provost" elsewhere shall attach to the chairmen of other district councils from the first Tuesday in May, 1975, when the present holders of these titles will have disappeared from the scene.
There are one or two clauses where the orders that are made are subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. There is one case, and possibly two, where I think we should look at the possibility of the Affirmative Resolution procedure being adopted although I recognise that it is becoming more and more common to rely on the Negative Resolution procedure, particularly where speed is desirable. Under Clause 10(2), the Secretary of State envisages the possibility of a local authority not functioning for some reason or another and he takes power to authorise…any person to act in place of a local authority pending the election of members…".This is a major step, and I do not think it is sufficient for this to be done merely 171 by a direction of the Secretary of State. So I propose to put down an Amendment that it should be done by Statutory Instrument, although I accept that the Negative Resolution procedure would be acceptable. There are references in Clauses 19 and 21 to local inquiries, and I should like to ask whether the same type of local inquiries are referred to in each case. There seems to be a certain amount of possible conflict about the procedure, and I should like the Minister to look at that point.
Clause 23(4) states:The name of a region, island area or district shall not be changed under this section before 16th May 1980 unless the change is made with the consent of the Secretary of State.One of the points which was made in another place was that it might become quite clear much earlier than 1980 that a change of name was desired. I cannot see the need for inserting any date here at all, and I would wish to clarify the position in the other way. For instance, I should not like to see a situation arising every four years where, if the council changed its political complexion, it wanted to change its name. I therefore propose that we should take out these words "before 16th May 1980", so that no change could be made in the name of the council without the consent of the Secretary of State. I know that that consent would not lightly be withheld, but obviously the Secretary of State would then be in a position to stop the changing of the name every four years or so. Incidentally, I do not think that this is a possibility which will arise all over the place, but it might arise here and there.
Clause 31 deals with disqualifications for councillors, and in paragraph (c) of subsection (1) there is a disqualification if the person concerned…has had passed on him a sentence of imprisonment…for a period of not less than three months without the option of a fine".I am not commenting at this stage on whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. I am asking whether that is the law at the present time, or whether something new is here being introduced. Never having been given three months without the option of a fine, or with the option of a fine, for that matter, I have 172 no personal knowledge of this circumstance.
Clause 37 deals with casual vacancies, and lays down the procedure if vacancies occur more than six months before the next election. But it makes no provision at all for a vacancy being filled in the last six months, unless one-third of the council have disappeared at that time. Why is there no provision, as there is in existing legislation, for co-opting to the council during the last months of its existence? It is quite obvious that these council elections will be fought on political lines. Some of the councils, at least, will be very finely balanced, and it would be quite wrong if, during the last six months of its existence, the council spent its time, because of a temporary change in the situation, trying to undo as much as possible of what had happened in the previous three-and-a-half years as a prelude to an election. On co-option, the principle has been very simple and it has worked admirably throughout. The general pattern has been that the Party which held the seat which had become vacant has been allowed to co-opt another person to take up the place for the last few months, and I do not see any reason why there should not be a provision of this kind in the Bill.
The Minister touched on the question of allowances to councillors. This is a matter of division, although not on Party lines, because Members on all sides in the other place saw advantages and disadvantages in paying salaries. Before we come to the Committee stage, it is essential that we should at least have some idea of the range of allowances which the Government have in mind, so that we can compare the advantages of an allowance with those of a salary. Whatever is given must be sufficient, as the Minister has said, to enable people to do a proper job of work, and no one who would make a good regional or district councillor should be debarred from that position because he cannot afford the time at an inadequate rate of pay or with an inadequate allowance.
Clause 56 deals with the arrangements for the discharge of functions by local authorities. I should like to ask whether this provision, which will enable a local authority to arrange for the discharge of its functions by a committee or, subsequently, by a sub-committee, will permit 173 the very effective system in local government at the present time of delegation with powers to take a decision. Does the phrase "discharge of functions" include delegation with powers? If it does not, I shall want to make provision for that to be done. For instance, it is very necessary that an education authority delegates a very large part of its functions to its education committee. The rubric to Clause 69 is, "Subsidiary powers of local authorities", and subsection (1) seems to give a general power to local authorities to do almost anything. Is it, in fact, a general power, notwithstanding the title, "Subsidiary powers"? If it is not, can the Minister give an example of the sort of subsidiary powers which might be exercised by virtue of this clause?
Under Clause 94, which is in the financial section, the Secretary of State is keeping a very tight control over the expenditure of local authorities for capital purposes. The extent to which there is a relaxation of restrictions on local authorities has been pointed out on his behalf. I should have thought it would now be possible to enable local authorities to proceed with certain minor matters of a capital nature, without reference to the Secretary of State. It would involve a limit on individual items up to, say, X thousand pounds, and perhaps on top of that a limit on the aggregation which they could do, to stop a local authority which wanted to do something costing £100,000 —which they would not be allowed to do by the Secretary of State—from proceeding to do 20 little schemes of £5,000 each, which would be exempt. I should like that point to be looked at. I am surprised that subsection (2) of that clause states that:In this section 'capital expenses' means any expenses which are to be charged to a capital or borrowing account, or are to be met from a reserve fund".I am surprised at that prohibition on using reserve funds for what could not be anything other than minor capital purposes. This comes to exactly the same thing as coming out of revenue because, almost without exception, reserve funds have been built up out of revenue.
Finally, Clause 108 states the items for which a local authority may levy a rate. These are to cover expenses previously incurred, to meet contingencies and to meet any expenses which may fall 174 to be met before the money is received, et cetera. There does not seem to be any power in these provisions to set up a reserve fund. Obviously, if the Government take powers to prevent a local authority from using a reserve fund for capital purposes they are envisaging reserve funds being in existence. I should not wish to venture even a new penny on a bet that in all these clauses and all these Schedules there is included a power to have a reserve fund.
It is obviously desirable that local authorities should have a reserve fund. If I understand the Edinburgh position aright, over many years they built up a very useful reserve fund because—I think this is how it was done, but as I come from another city I venture to say this with some trepidation—every time the accounts finished with a surplus it automatically actually went to reserve. They will not now be allowed to do this because it is now proposed that if there is a surplus on the previous year's working it has to be taken into account in fixing the rate for the next year. If that is the case, if there is not going to be a discretion to do that sort of thing, it is important, so that at least minor differences can be ironed out, or so that there should be monies available for emergencies which would not count as contingencies, that there should be reserve funds. So perhaps the Minister would do one of two things: either let me know in due course where in the Bill the authority for a reserve fund is or, if it is not in the Bill, suggest as an alternative where would be a place for a suitable Amendment.
§ LORD RITCHIE-CALDER
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, may I ask him a question? Would he accommodate the term "convener" as well as "chairman" and "Lord Provost"? I have always found that an extremely convenient word.
§ LORD HUGHES
As the chairman of a district council? No, I do not think so, for the simple reason that, in the chairmanship, "convener" has been something which has been confined to the counties. Admittedly we had it in the burghs, because the chairman of a committee in the burghs was described as "convener"; but I hope that this will in fact disappear, because in the counties 175 they did not describe the chairmen of their committees as conveners of committees. They called them chairmen there. I should not rule it out, but I think it would be a pity if, for instance, the chairman of the region and the chairman of one of its minor districts were present on the same occasion, and somebody said, "We will now call on the convener to reply", and the district chairman got up.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ LORD TANLAW
My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in his remarks to the Minister about his opening speech in this debate. I think it covered the ground in a most general fashion, and it also covered, I was glad to hear, the spirit or the thinking that went into the preparation of this Bill. I should also like to make an apology to the Minister at this stage, that I may have to be absent for part of the debate because of an engagement in another part of the House at 4.30 o'clock.
My Lords, it is virtually impossible to make a full Second Reading speech on a Bill of this kind, which embodies the whole essence of government in Britain to-day. I intend, therefore, only to question some of the bases on which the Bill is founded and to welcome the slight emphasis in certain sections of it that could lead to more exciting things and further Bills on the structure and interpretation of local government in Scotland. My main criticism of the Bill as it stands is that, as I see it, the structure of local government in Scotland has been foreshortened at both ends. By this I mean the logic of the system that has created the fabric of government outlined in this Bill has not been extended wide enough at the top end of the Bill, nor has it been extended low enough at the bottom. I mean by this (and for the want of a better word I am afraid I have had to invent one) the macro-demos of a semiautonomous regional government is not satisfied by this Bill; and, at the other end of the scale, what I should like to call the micro-demos of the community is also not given a proper status under this Bill.
To put it another way (which I am sure your Lordships would much prefer) the problem of local government to-day, as is heard almost daily by any of us in 176 any form of public life, is the feeling of remoteness that the ordinary citizen has from the administration of government, be it in the national Government or be it in local government. I tried to read this Bill on the basis of seeing what it actually did to reduce this feeling of remoteness and almost of helplessness at times when it is necessary to get some form of redress or to get some form of advice in local government affairs. I feel that this Bill, however well constructed it is, does not do much to improve the situation as it stands to-day. The Minister said in his opening remarks that this was a new look towards local government. I suppose it is, but I feel that in that new look I should have liked to see something which made a genuine attempt to overcome the problem I have just mentioned.
My Lords, under this Bill Scotland has been carved up geographically into ten new regions with their relevant substructures, but unless these ten regional councils can meet collectively to discuss and decide upon 'the development and administration of Scotland as a whole, the real powers that govern Scotland will still remain firmly with the Whitehall Departments, where they are to-day. There is no mention of a move or an extension of this Bill towards a legislative assembly on, say, Stormont lines; and apparently there is no provision for it, But unless these ten regional councils can get together collectively at least once a year to decide upon the whole future of Scotland, they can see the development of Scotland only in terms of their own regions. I feel that this Bill is an opportunity. This Bill is a platform, if you like, which I should like to see, and I think a number of my noble friends want to see, as a base for a legislative assembly for the Scottish people. I think it is a great disappointment, and perhaps the Minister in his winding up will have some remarks to make on this aspect. He might also have some remarks to make on the fact that what I call the spirit of macro-demos was not for the architects of this Bill, who appear to have concentrated much more, almost solely, on the fabric of government and not on the Scottish people, whom presumably it was intended to benefit.
At the other end of the scale, my Lords, there is more hope in that the 177 local community is given some recognition under Part IV of the Bill. I hope my noble friend will elaborate more on this subject, but I should like to ask the noble Minister this question. Can he say if, for instance, under the new arrangements, any person has to travel further than his nearest district local council to obtain authoritative help, advice or indeed redress on the interpretation and implementation of this Bill? Because I am not too clear, having read the Bill, how far one has to go to talk to somebody to help one with the problems which may occur under this Bill. I wonder also if the Minister is in a position to advise if a community council has the authority to provide local facilities for, say, adult education, social work or youth work without reference to the Department of Social Security or the Ministry of Education. For instance, how much autonomy is given to community councils to interpret general Government policies in terms of their own locality? I mean, could the Minister say whether a community council would be able to provide free school milk if they wished to do so? If they have not the powers to do this, I should like to feel that they should be given them.
Before I come to the more detailed side of the Bill, there is one other more general point. The differentiation between the planning and the administration of this Bill is not entirely clear to me. I know (and we heard at the Scottish Peers' meeting) how much emphasis had been given in the preparation of this Bill to strategic planning. The only question I should like to ask the Minister is this. How much will the local community or individual citizens be involved? To what extent will they be allowed to participate in that planning at local, district and regional level? It is when a plan has been passed and buildings go up that the outcry begins; mainly because the people in the locality which has been affected by the implementation of the plan had no knowledge of what was going to happen and have no apparent power to alter or reconstruct the plan to suit their desires. There is this mystique about planning—it is all done by a handful of people. When planning permission has been granted, there should be an opportunity for ordinary people to be able to see a model of the proposed 178 structure, be it a sewage works or some large building, that will affect the environment in which they live and become a permanent fixture in their daily lives. Too often criticism comes too late for anything to be done.
At another meeting we heard the arguments for and against salaries or expenses for councillors. I feel that in many ways it would be much simpler if councillors had salaries, if only for the reason that often people give up their time, in a public-spirited manner which is highly creditable, in order to perform duties as burgh or district councillors. Our whole system of local government depends on the contributions of such unselfish people. There are also many people who stand as local government councillors for reasons of status. We might get a different type of candidate who could spend more time on local government work if he received a straightforward salary instead of having his expenses reimbursed. The receipt of a salary demands of any man more time commitment. It is necessary that more time he given to local government affairs as they become more complex. That is why, generally speaking, I would favour the payment of salaries.
I should like from these Benches to welcome the idea of the register of interests of burgh councillors. I believe that to be far more important than a register of the interests of Members of Parliament or Members of your Lordships' House. It is more relevant that such information should appear at local and burgh council level and I was pleased to see that provision contained in the Bill.
I should like briefly to mention two matters in respect of which Amendments may be put from these Benches. The first relates to Schedule 1 which names the regions. This may appear almost a niggling point, but I am concerned that the names given to these new regions may not have been thought about as much as they should have been. I speak specifically about the region called "Borders". The people who live there consider that the region in which they live is the Border region. It is referred to in all public documents as such, and that is also the colloquial description. To me the word "Borders" conjures up a picture of something from the Chelsea flower show rather than the Border 179 between Scotland and England. If the region is called "Borders" surely there should be an apostrophe "s" after it. I consider that would he much more in keeping with the names of the other regions. The Lothian region appears in the singular, yet there are three Lothians. The Highland region is in the singular, but is usually known as the Highlands and Islands. There must be some consistency and I should like to move an Amendment to drop the final "s" from the word "Borders".
My other point has been raised already by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who referred to the mammoth size of the Strathclyde region. It does not really differentiate much between the urban and the country districts. More specifically, it is not necessary for this region to include the Burgh of Girvan which is connected more with agriculture and fisheries and more orientated to the South-West region than to Glasgow. I think that it is possible to differentiate between what is basically an urban situation, with an urban type of government, and the autonomy of simple country towns such as Girvan; and between the predominantly agricultural problems and the urban problems which will occur in that district. I hope to put my name to an Amendment designed to try to get back to what Wheatley recommended, that Girvan should remain outside Strathclyde.
I detected in the opening remarks of the Minister a feeling that this Bill could be the be-all and end-all of local government in Scotland. I should like to think that there is some flexibility of thinking along non-Party lines in an effort to make the Bill work and to introduce new factors. The need for flexibility and the revision of the boundaries must be considered. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, that it would be possible to spend another three years working on the provisions of this Bill, and still the measure would not be perfect. But I would ask that though it may not be perfect the Bill be given a flexibility; and that, because some people may have been wrong, we shall, without any recrimination, be able to alter the Bill to make local government work for the people in Scotland.
§ 4.18 p.m.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, one thing that I think Governments of both Parties may claim is that they have taken an immense amount of trouble to find out the best way in which local government may be reorganised. Ministers have mentioned 12 years of discussion and a Royal Commission. I have no doubt there have been endless discussions in the Department, probably running into four figures. There were 42 days of the Committee stage in another place, with 1,000 Amendments, and a great deal of the discussion was of a completely non-Party nature. This afternoon, hardly a word was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, with which I could not substantially agree. In particular, I agree with him that this may represent the nearest measure of acceptance that we are likely to get. That does not mean, of course, that the Bill is perfect, or that there are not other things that we could do.
I am not satisfied that Scotland is very enthusiastic about the Bill. What may happen in that part of the world is regarded with a sort of resigned indifference. I think that is a pity. Certainly in England I find that most people to whom I have spoken are slightly averse to the Local Government Act which was passed: some, indeed, are quite strongly averse to it. The only people who are pleased are those who are wholly unaffected by its provisions. I suspect that the Government will not wish to change a great deal of the Scottish Bill, and I can sympathise with them. We are working under a difficulty because we have not yet seen the report of the Third Reading debate in another place. I think that is a great pity. There was a very full Committee stage, and we should have liked to see how this was summed up by the Government. In that respect we are seriously handicapped.
I welcome many of the things that have come in now since the Wheatley Report: the Orkneys, Shetlands, the Western Isles, the Borders—I thought "Borders" was a noun and, in the "Border" region, an adjective; but I may be wrong. I agree that it would have been a great mistake to have broken up Fife and I agree with both points made by the last two speakers. Too much emphasis has been 181 put on strategic planning as a basis for the organisation of almost ail the other fabric of government. I do not know how it is going to work. You have nearly a three-tier system in planning; partly district, partly region, partly Secretary of State. This will need a lot of working out. I am not saying that clever men will not work it out but in principle it does not look to me to be an awfully tidy arrangement. I should have preferred more emphasis on what I think is the central point that Lord Wheatley sought to make. I am sorry he is not here. That was the question: Is local government worth while? He gave an opinion that it had lost its credibility and status. To restore those is the essence of what we should seek to do in this Bill. He sought to make workable units, effective government not wholly dependent on central Government and local government that should appear significant, responsible and attractive. These, in my view, are more important elements than, in itself, strategy planning. The noble Lord says that central Government have relaxed their control. I hope so. We will see. It means that local authorities must have their own money and be left free to make their own mistakes—which they will from time to time.
When it comes to workable units, I have not a great deal of criticism to make; but I think that one cannot pass Strathclyde without some comment. Sometimes it is said that if you look more at Strathclyde, you come to like it better. I cannot say that that has been my experience. The more I look at it, the more impossible it is to believe that Girvan and Oban have any community of interest whatever. It is difficult to believe that there is any sense of community existing there. On the district side of Glasgow, I cannot understand the philosophy which increases the size of this vast urban area and reduces its powers. I find it difficult to believe that this immense area of Glasgow will be easy to run except by an all-purpose authority. The internal problems of Glasgow are very great. They have an immensely elaborate system of social services of one kind or another. If these all pass into the regional authority, it seems to me that they must either concentrate on Glasgow and become a new Glasgow corporation (with Oban and Girvan ignored) or the 182 thoughts of the council will concentrate on the outer ring from Biggar to Kintyre, in which case Glasgow will suffer. I shall certainly support any Amendment to reduce the size of the Glasgow district. The Minister talked about some community of interest. In the case of Milngavie and Rutherglen it is difficult to say that they have any community of interest. Take Bishopbriggs and Govan. Where is there a community of interest? Maybe they go shopping in Argyle Street. It is a very slender and tender association. I am not impressed with the Government argument about travelling to work or shopping centres. At the present time I shop in one place, I get my water from another and my dustbins are cleared by a third authority. It works very well. There is no necessity for all organisations to be under one council.
May I put forward one or two more detailed points? Clause 44 deals with the admission of the Press. I must confess I could not understand that. I read to the best of my ability the Act of 1960 which refers to a wide range of other authorities. We are here dealing only with local authorities and they should know how they stand. I believe that this clause could be simplified, although I am not yet sure that I know what it means. I do not attach a great deal of importance to the admission of the Press. I know that it is desirable; but in certain cases members speak more frankly if the Press are not present. So far as the procedure of the councils is concerned, that should be written by the Councils themselves. I would suggest—I should like to see it in the Bill—that if any member wishes to ask a question, he is entitled to an answer on any subject for which a local authority is responsible or on which they spend money. Within my experience, one authority left that to the discretion of the chairman. I believe that to be wholly wrong; it should be incorporated in the Statute. This is more important, in itself, than allowing the Press to come in.
We deal a lot with people who are interested in contracts; but by far the most important thing in local government is planning permission. Many people want to know what happens in the matter of planning permission. They are not necessarily interested in contracts 183 as such but in the thoughts of the planning committee. I think it highly improper that any developer should ever sit on a planning committee. It is not a matter which we should let slip past just like that. A developer who sits on a planning committee gains a great deal of information of great value and that situation may not be in the public interest.
My Lords, I return to the third point: that local government should be significant, responsible and attractive. The main thing is to get the quality of men to come on to these very important regional councils. To my mind there ought to be a substantial allowance paid to all councillors on regional councils. To give a specific reason why I do not like daily allowances, I quote an example from a country many thousands of miles from here whose Parliament I visited. They were paid on a daily basis, so they found it desirable to meet seven days a week and twelve months in the year, and so far as I know they have never stopped meeting. It is not only right, but it is more dignified that people should get a salary for their work and of course a subsistence allowance, a travelling allowance and so on. I should like to see this in the Bill rather than an allowance as such.
The other thing to attract people is the time of the meetings. We cannot do much about that. We should remember that we are abolishing a large number of very honourable titles. There are many fewer provosts than hitherto and there are no baillies. "Baillie" is an honourable and historic title. We must try to attract people of ability to come into local government; if we do not do that, this whole organisation may fall to the ground. If we get the right people they will make it work and the organisation matters very little.
A point about staff. The noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, made a remark in paragraph 891 to the effect that the staff should not be afraid of helping in the formation of policy; that they should exercise initiative and imagination. I think that this is right. This is what we expect of high-grade people who are doing the job. But how to get them? I have one suggestion I should like to make. We are forming in the Bill a staff commission on a temporary basis. Can we not make 184 that a permanent basis?—with the object of maintaining standards in the secretariat of local government, with the object of helping in recruiting and helping in transfers from one post to another (for example, a senior officer may be competent in one job but not in another) and in protecting them, seeing that they get fair treatment from all local authorities. I do not mean exactly the Civil Service, although I should like to move some way in that direction, but something between what the Army calls a Military Secretary and an employment bureau. This might have a material effect on assuring that high standards are maintained in local authorities. The regional authorities should have a senior official at least as competent as a Permanent Secretary in London. I should like to think that that is the sort of object at which we shall aim, and we shall do that only by consciously working towards it.
My Lords, I will not add any more, except this. We are doing a very important act for Scotland, and we must see that both the significance and the standing of local government are raised. That will be done mainly by the people we attract to take part in it.
§ 4.20 p.m.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, this Bill is indeed a formidable document, covering some 305 pages. I do not suppose that any legislative measure of this size and complexity can be easily digested, and although much of it comes from existing Acts I have found its contents somewhat difficult to assimilate, and then only to a modest extent after I had read its principal provisions many times over. But, that notwithstanding, I wish to congratulate those responsible for producing this Bill. They have built it up almost like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle with great skill. The regions are the large pieces in that puzzle, and I find little to criticise in the areas which they individually cover, with the exception of Strathclyde, or in the functions which have been allotted to them.
I should now like to deal with matters which have already been spoken to forcefully and with great wisdom by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. As with Strathclyde among the regions, Glasgow is the cause of disagreement in the districts: in each case Glasgow is too large to be a comfortable bedfellow for the smaller units 185 of region and district. In that connection, it seems probable that Glasgow's views and interests will dominate the Strathclyde region, while the County of the City of Glasgow will dominate the other components of the City of Glasgow district, including those portions in the Counties of Dunbarton, Lanark and Renfrew. But whether Glasgow will in fact dominate the Strathclyde Region and the City of Glasgow district will not be known until we know the number of members of those regional and district councils allocated to Glasgow as compared to those allocated to other parts of the Strathclyde region and Glasgow district. In that connection, if my memory is correct, in the Government's White Paper Girvan was not in Strathclyde. The noble Lord who spoke from the Liberal Benches said it was Wheatley who suggested this; and perhaps he is right—I do not know. There must surely have been some very good reason for that. Why not put it back into Dumfries and Galloway, where it then was? That is what the people of Girvan want. Why deny it to them? It is also what the people of Dumfries and Galloway want, and that is a region which could well do with reinforcement.
Much the same situation arises in the City of Glasgow district, where Bearsden, Clydebank and Milngavie do not wish to be included and to be dominated by Glasgow. As a district apart from Glasgow, with the district of Old Kilpatrick added, they claim that they are able to provide all the services which the Bill proposes should be provided by a district. As burghs they are accustomed to governing themselves. The people want them to form a district apart—and that in spite of any community of interest referred to by my noble friend on the Front Bench. I should like to know why it is necessary for them to be incorporated with Glasgow. Then there is Bishopbriggs. The people of that burgh wish to be included in the Strathkelvin district. Why not? Why must this burgh also be incorporated with the Glasgow district against the wishes of the people? The City of Glasgow district will not suffer if these four burghs are allowed to go as they wish, and I cannot see that there is any fundamental principle at stake.
My Lords, I must admit that I am not completely enamoured with this Bill, particularly in one respect. I acknowledge 186 of course that efficiency should never be neglected, and I presume that the real purpose of the Bill is to provide local government services more efficiently. Other things being equal, that is admirable. But let us recognise that there is a price to be paid. Does not the Bill go so far, I wonder, as to risk killing off local loyalties and sentiments? One cannot have the same intimate, almost family, feelings for a region stretching from the very Northern parts of Argyll to the Southern extremity of Ayrshire as one has for one's own county. Nor can one have for a district the same feelings as one has for a small burgh—a burgh in whose affairs it is possible to take a real and intimate interest. This Bill is also going to deny to many people —how many, I do not know—the opportunity of giving service to their own community.
There is one other matter to which I should like to refer. It concerns Clauses 96 to 106, under the heading "Accounts and Audit". Clause 97 establishes a Commission for Local Authority Accounts, the members of which will be appointed by the Secretary of State. The Commission then appoint a Controller of Audit, and also appoint other officers and agents; and we are told later on that "auditor" includes the Controller of Audit and any other person appointed by the Commission for the purpose of conducting audits. Hitherto, the Secretary of State has appointed professional accountants to audit local authority accounts, and this without the help of a Commission. Is it really necessary to set up such a body to see to the auditing of local authority accounts?
And why should the Bill be so coy about the qualifications of persons who will be considered suitable to serve on this Commission, after consultation with associations of local authorities and such other organisations of persons as the Secretary of State may think appropriate? It will be noted that no hint is given as to the qualifications of any other persons appointed by the Commission for the purpose of conducting audits. That seems to me to be delightfully vague. In consequence of this vagueness, there is a suspicion in some quarters that this exercise is for the purpose of introducing district audit into Scotland. I hope my noble friend will be able to deny this, 187 for, as he well knows, there is an abundance of professional accountants in Scotland fully qualified to undertake local authority audits, and there is no need to set up another Department and bring in more civil servants to do this work which has always been admirably done by professional accountants.
§ 4.28 p.m.
THE EARL OF BALFOUR
My Lords. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Polwarth for his presentation of this very complicated Bill: I think he did it extremely well. I should also like to record my thanks, with those of my noble friend Lord Strathclyde, to the Parliamentary draftsmen for the way in which this Bill has been set out. It is complicated, but on the whole they have used good English and done a very good job.
Everyone in Scotland who has at any time taken an interest in local government will agree that some reform was much needed and long overdue. Burghs of less than 10,000 population could not afford to have the full-time officials they needed to function properly, and there was far too much isolation, particularly over matters such as housing, between the burghs and the counties. It is unfortunate that the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government in Scotland, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, was greeted by most people, and particularly by both councillors and officials of local authorities, as far too drastic a change. It gave them such a shock that when asked about the proposals they usually replied, "No comment".
Perhaps one of the main reasons is that the Royal Commission, interpreting their terms of reference, decided not to question the administration or legislative devolution from the National Government. This problem has already been brought to your Lordships' attention by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. The present Conservative Government have passed some of the finest legislation of this century: for example, subsidising people, instead of houses, under the Housing Finance Act 1972; and seeing that a man could not be unfairly discriminated against by either his union Or his employer, under the Industrial Relations Act 1971.
188 In this Local Government (Scotland) Bill there are excellent provisions providing far greater freedom and power to local authorities and granting far better rate rebates and Government assistance under Clauses 112 to 114, than has ever existed before. Unfortunately, the general public remain unaware of all this, due to the poor public relations of the Conservative Government; and their attitude seems to be that whenever a subject hits the headlines in the Press, they go out of their way to ignore it—as in the case of environmental health which is the subject I have chosen to speak on to-day.
Under present legislation, a medical officer, sanitary inspector, director of education, and so on, must possess satisfactory qualifications and can neither be appointed nor dismissed by a local authority without the approval of the Secretary of State. In Clause 64 your Lordships will see a short list of the only officials a local authority must appoint. and it is important to note that there will no longer he a medical officer attached to the new authorities, as he is being transferred to the new Health Boards under the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1972. A sanitary inspector will not be protected by legislation in the future and the term "sanitary inspector" has been written out of all legislation by the provisions of this Bill, in spite of the fact that under the provisions of this Bill, in spite of the fact that under the National Health Act I have just mentioned, the sanitary inspector takes over certain duties of the medical officer. By the way, all the other officers mentioned in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1947. the Building (Scotland) 1959 and the Burgh Police Acts, disappear and are replaced by an expression I dislike—"a proper officer". The jurisdiction and functions of the buildings authority (or what has been, in a burgh, the Dean of Guild Court) and the official known as the "master of works" are to become part of the new authorities with no separate distinction in Clause 133 and Schedule 15.
I was very glad to read in the Standing Committee proceedings of another place that an expertly-drafted Amendment has preserved river purification boards in Scotland, and in this case the Government have finally been persuaded to 189 accept the recommendations of the Third Report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution under Sir Eric Ashby as he was then, now, I believe, a Member of your Lordships' House. Local authorities are among some of the worst offenders when it comes to river pollution and it was only through the efforts of river purification boards and many other individuals that this Opposition Amendment was accepted.
At the present moment when a complaint is received about an article of foal; it is not known, until the sample has been examined and sometimes analysed, whether action is to be taken under Sections 1, 2, 6, or 8 of the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act 1956. Yet your Lordships will note that in Clause 157 of the Bill we are discussing the functions of that Act are being evenly divided between the region and the district which can only create duplication, complication and frustration to the general public. The distance that might have to be travelled to get an answer has already been drawn to your Lordships' attention by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw.
The Burgh Police Acts of 1892 to 1911 —which, by the way, have almost nothing to do with police but are really environmental health Acts—are considered so unimportant that they are to be totally repealed in 1979 (see Clause 226); but what is worse is that Section 100 (penalty for wilfully breaking lamps) or Section 223 (throwing rubbish into streams), to mention but two examples in Schedule 27, are to be repealed immediately. As a final example I should like to mention just two sections of one Act that is being repealed by Schedule 28 of this Bill—that is, Section 28 of the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1897, Chapter 38 (foul ditches et cetera may be replaced by sewers). This section was extended by the Sewerage (Scotland) Act 1968 which, much to my surprise, only came fully into effect in April this year—a very long delay. In the Committee stage of another place an Amendment was adopted to repeal Section 118 of the 1897 Act (placing carcases in running water etc.). That section is quite short and reads:It shall not be lawful for any person to throw or suffer to be thrown into any running water, spring, well, lake, pool, reservoir, drain or ditch the carcase of any animal or part thereof, and any person offending against this 190 section shall be liable to a penalty not exceeding £10.Much to my surprise, my right honourable friend, George Younger, in another place said he regarded this as completely out of date. Nothing in this Bill replaces it, I can assure your Lordships.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, would the noble Earl allow me to interrupt him for just a moment? He has listed the achievements of this Government, but does he not think that the answer to this point is that, having regard to the price of meat nowadays, nobody is likely to throw away a carcase of any sort?
THE EARL OF BALFOUR
My Lords, I should be sorry if a rotten carcase were allowed to be thrown into a stream or any diseased animal were to be thrown into a reservoir. It is not good meat—that would not be thrown away. If the creases and bumps can be ironed out by suitable Amendments, I hope that this Bill will finally be of great benefit to Scotland and remain unamended as long as its two main predecessors, the 1939 and 1947 Acts.
§ 4.39 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, upon his opening speech, and not least upon the speed with which he managed to cover the whole ground in only 20 minutes—this might be regarded almost as an example to other Front Bench speakers. I should also like to congratulate the noble Earl who has just spoken. I admire his skill and experience in local government, and particularly in the mechanics of it. I am afraid that although I have served on local government I have no intention of following him so meticulously.
I want to speak first about education. I welcome Clause 124, which enables only half the members of the education committee to be members of the regional council. That leaves, if they wish it, the other half to be nominated members from the outside. This is going to be absolutely fundamental if progress is to be made in education, and we need to make progress in education in Scotland. It is laid down that these outside members of the committee shall include three persons interested in the promotion of religious education; namely, one from 191 the Church of Scotland, appointed by the General Assembly; one a Roman Catholic nominated by the Scottish Hierarchy; and one from other Churches as the regional council may think fit. This Amendment was made in the Committee stage and I am sure it has been widely welcomed throughout the Churches and church life in Scotland.
I also welcome the fact that at least two teachers employed by the authority may be elected. The school and college councils will bring the administration of the schools right down to the popular level and should make a good liaison with the parents. Parents and the churches will be represented on these councils. I have only one point to make here: I hope there will be many of these councils and that any single council will not be given too many schools or colleges to look after, otherwise they will lose the contact which is fundamental. I also welcome the removal of disqualification of membership by reason of being a teacher. There are dangers of course in the teachers becoming members of the authority, but I would rather risk those dangers than forgo the advantages of having teachers on the education committee.
I should now like to talk on the question of the disclosure of interests. I think I am correct in saying that Clauses 39 to 41 are an extension to the present arrangements regarding disclosure of interests and consequent non-participation in debate and prohibition to vote. In particular Clause 40, which requires that a member must disclose to the authority the interests of the member and of his spouse and that these interests be recorded in a book available for inspection by the public. I do not regard this as an intrusion into private affairs. As I see it, it is only right that anyone who stands for election must agree to disclose this information. Indeed, it is in the member's own interest that this should be done. We all know what gossip and innuendo can do—and perhaps more in Scotland than in any other part of the world. Unfortunately, there have been in Scottish local government incidents where an individual has gained personal pecuniary benefit from being a member. This is a matter on which we cannot be too careful. We have in the past been far too lax. 192 I should like any local government ombudsman who is appointed in the future to have included in his powers the right to investigate suspicions reported to him by senior local government officials. This cancer in certain existing local authorities in Scotland must not get reincarnation in our brave new world.
My next point is on the name, "Central Region". What an appalling name! Central station; Central hotel; Central region! Surely it is our duty to save the "locals" from themselves. I wonder whether the local authorities have been consulted since the Forth region was altered to become the Lothians region. This makes the name Forth available for the name for that region. If not, what about "Teith", which is virtually a continuation of the river Forth. It is nice to think that you are putting "teeth" into the Bill, too. If not that, what about "Montieth", which is the only lake in Scotland and, if I remember correctly from what I was taught at school, is geographically the centre of Scotland. But of course education now is not what it was. In Scotland we have the Duke of Gordon, the Marquess of Aberdeen, the Duke of Fife, the Marquess of Lothian, the Earl of Dundee, the Earl of Cromartie and the most prestigious of them all, the Lord Strathclyde. Can your Lordships contemplate with equanimity the arrival in your Lordships' House of even the Life Baron Central?
I appreciate that a tremendous amount of hard work and careful thought has gone into the boundaries of the regions and districts. But despite amendments which have already been made, there are still some matters outstanding where I question whether the present proposals are really what the local people want. One of these is the case mentioned by my noble friend Lord Strathclyde concerning the Kilpatricks district which consists of Bearsden, Milngavie, Clydebank and Old Kilpatrick, with possibly Drumchapel. Undoubtedly the majority of the natives there wish that it should be separated from Glasgow and it was agreed by the Scottish Standing Committee. But the Government put forward unexpectedly and belatedly an Amendment at the Report stage. There is no justification for Glasgow to enlarge its boundaries. Were the district of the City of Glasgow 193 the planning authority, there would be justification for the proposals in the Bill. But it is not. Hence the smaller units with the advantage of closer contact of the elector with local government becomes the paramount consideration. If the districts become too large they are bound to lose touch with the ordinary elector. In this matter I entirely support the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. If you are having this enormous thing in Glasgow dominating Strathclyde you are going to have two Popes in Scotland: the Secretary of State and the Lord Provost of Glasgow.
So far as I can make out, the same holds good in regard to Renfrew. I understand that my noble friend Lord Dundee proposes to move an Amendment on this point, and I would feel inclined to support him. But to me the Amendment which commands my greatest sympathy is that dealing with the problem in Ayrshire of Girvan and district. I used to know these parts very well and will certainly support my noble friend Lord Ailsa whose privilege it is to move the necessary Amendment to restore the position as originally planned at the desire of the people who live in the district, which has been reversed by the people who live in the rest of Ayrshire. My Lords, this Bill is a very necessary Bill. Even my dislike of the monster region of Strathclyde will not make me oppose it. But it can be made a better Bill, and I trust that from your Lordships' House it will emerge well polished up, giving more respect to the individual citizen in his relations with his local authority.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I am sorry to see that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, is not in the Chamber, because I am sure we should all have been very interested to hear him speak. Since in Scotland to-day he is an influential person who has many important jobs, we should have liked to know his views. However, he is not here and therefore I shall take this opportunity to speak. I would congratulate my noble friend Lord Polwarth both on the way he has presented the Bill and on the Bill itself. I have had a little to do with the Bill, as I suppose have many of your Lordships who are on local 194 authorities, since a good long time ago I gave evidence from the Borders to the Wheatley Commission. At that time the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden, was Chairman of our County Council and deeply involved in the preparation of the regional plan long before it came into the public eye. So the Borders have had quite a big share in giving evidence and in being consulted over the Bill. For that we are grateful; and we are grateful, too, because the region that we hoped would be the Borders region has been accepted and we are now highly satisfied that the four counties as they were, now four districts, will form the Borders area.
I remember the passage of the Bill in 1928–29. It was perhaps the first big revolution in local government. My husband, Walter Elliot, as Under-Secretary of State in another place, was responsible for putting that highly revolutionary Bill (as it was then considered) through Parliament. Just to show how difficult it is to obtain agreement in local government on boundaries, I would say that so unpopular was that Act, which is the basis of all local government to-day and which many people believe to be almost the Ark of the Covenant, that it had to be imposed. If one remembers that, and thinks how successful it has been, with certain alterations over the years, one appreciates that it is going to be very difficult indeed for any Government to get all the regions and districts of Scotland to agree on a new scheme. So we must make up our minds that we are not going to please everybody, and we have therefore to try to do what we believe to be for the best. On the whole, I believe that the scheme put forward as a result of the Wheatley Commission and now embodied in this Bill is the best one the Government could have found.
All the same, I share the anxiety that noble Lords have shown for the size of the Strathclyde region. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, said, it must mean putting half the population of Scotland in one area, and that is going to be very difficult to manage. Some of the suggestions that have been put forward, more particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord Balerno, might well be suggestions to which the Government should pay close attention. The trouble about Glasgow—and I know it exceedingly well, since I spent some thirty 195 to forty years of my life electioneering there—is that it is a very powerful and enormous city. I quite see that one of the ways in which one might reduce some of its very powerful influence is by adding a number of areas to it so that it is not the kingpin of everything. But it is going to be difficult to do. I should be sympathetic towards any suggestions which might come from our discussions by which we might be able to reduce the size of the area.
I am glad that education, social work and planning and related services are all to be at the regional level. But I hope that, although at regional level there will be on the staff of those very important departments a considerable number of highly skilled and trained people, there will nevertheless be close liaison between the districts and the regions in these important subjects. Social work, which is the one I know best because I am the chairman of our social work committee, needs to be an exceedingly personal and intimate service closely in touch with everyone in the area. That cannot be done on a regional level, and I hope we shall be insistent that we should have decentralisation down to the community in such matters as social work and education.
On the other side, with housing now a district responsibility, it is exceedingly important that there should be close liaison between the district councils planning housing and the overall regional planning which will undoubtedly affect the development of housing in a region. Although housing is at the district level, probably quite correctly so, it is most important that the overall planning of the regions should be closely in touch with the housing in the districts. In our area it will not be so difficult because we have a very small population, and planning and housing go closely together. But in a big region I can imagine that the housing authority may well provide jobs, and the planning authority will wonder how on earth to plan a huge area like the West of Scotland—Hunterston has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. There may well not be close enough liaison between the two, and that will be very unfortunate.
There are one or two points that I would raise with the Government, not 196 in a critical manner but in a questioning spirit. I do not know why, for instance, in the Borders region we should not be able to have our police service as in other regions. The police in other regions are organised on the regional basis. In the Borders we are told that our police service is to be linked with the Lothians. I think that is a mistake. I do not know why exception should be taken to the arrangements which already work satisfactorily in the Borders area. One noble Lord referred to river purification. In the Borders, the Tweed River Purification Board has done an excellent job. The Tweed is a river almost entirely in the Borders area, and it is rather a mistake (although possibly this does not suit other areas) that the Tweed River Purification Board should not remain as it is, governed by the county council in that area.
I am very glad that, under Clause 91, grants will be available for social, cultural and recreational activities. This is a growing interest in a great many parts of Scotland, thanks to Government help through the Scottish Arts Council and thanks to the educational authorities' developing all kinds of outdoor educational centres and activities; and thanks also to the great increase in swimming baths which are being built in connection with so many of the large schools and larger towns. All these activities are a great help, and I am glad that by Clause 91 of this Bill we shall be able to encourage them still further with grants. Those grants apparently will also be available for community halls and for other local activities which are exceedingly expensive.
Reference has been made during this debate to the question of whether or not councillors should be paid on an attendance allowance or on a salary basis. I favour the attendance allowance rather than the salary, but I should like that allowance to be of a generous character and on a scale that will make it possible for anyone who wants to be involved in local government to do so. I hope that they will have all their expenses paid, as well as an allowance for attending meetings. As we know, in your Lordships' House this is a system which works rather well and I do not see why it should not work just as well in local government. I should favour 197 that in preference to salaries. I know that not everybody agrees with me but that is my view.
I have one other criticism to make. In my opinion, the number of people to be elected to the regions and the districts is too small. In the Borders, where we have four counties joining together, the total number of people to be elected to the regional council for four counties is only 23. At present, Roxburgh County Council has 51 members. Berwickshire, Selkirkshire and Peebles have a proportionate number—not quite so many, but a considerable number. Under the new scheme, Roxburgh will have only eight; Selkirk—now to be called Ettrick Forest—will have only eight; Berwickshire, now to be called Merse, will have only four and Tweeddale will have only three. The total will be 23. The area covered by mileage alone will be enormous, and it will he difficult for so few members to get to all the necessary meetings—and there are a great many meetings, as we all know. I can visualise some committees that will have perhaps only two or three elected members and a mass of officials. Therefore we are in danger of creating a situation in which the officials, rather than the elected members will be the people who will really govern the county. I should like to see a much larger number of people elected to regional councils. That would also solve some of the problems of the large areas, since they would have more elected members. I think that would be a valuable point.
The district councils are much better off in their elected members. In our area the same counties have the following numbers: Roxburgh 16, Ettrick 16, Merse (that is Berwickshire) 12 and Tweeddale 10. That is considerably more than are elected to the regions. I welcome that, because it means that people will be more in touch with their own constituencies and also that, should anybody be ill, or unable to get to a meeting, there will be more people to go in his or her place.
Not much has been said to-day about community councils. I am hoping that the community councils will play an important part in keeping the regional and district councillors informed as to local needs and in taking the initiative in many ways; but I should like the Minister to 198 say a little more about the finances of the community council. At present, a district council (which is very much the same as the community council will be) is financed from a rate. This system works exceedingly well, and in my opinion the district councils do a valuable job in the areas in which they work. I imagine that in a sense the community councils will take their place because they will be on that rather limited scale; but there is no mention of how they are to get their finances.
If a community council is to have any value it must have a paid secretary, or a part-time secretary for whom some remuneration is available. I think it would be difficult to raise money locally. I know that one is always raising money for charitable purposes, but I think it would be difficult to raise money to pay the secretary of a community council, and I hope there may be some method whereby a district or a region will be empowered to give grants to the community councils in order that they shall have an efficient service consisting, probably, of part-time secretarial help.
My Lords, I believe that this Bill has great possibilities. It will attract worthwhile people to stand for the region and the district, because the power and the importance of these larger areas is very great indeed. The Bill has my wholehearted support. I am not myself going to continue as a county councillor, simply because I have been one long enough. I have been on the county council since 1946, and I think it is now somebody else's turn. But I support the Bill most sincerely, and I will do all I can to help in the area in which I live and work to make the reorganisation a success.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, the first time we discussed this subject on the Report of the Wheatley Commission was on a Motion introduced in December, 1969, by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. Since then we have often debated the general principles concerning the changes in local government which are contained in this Bill, and we are all grateful, both to my noble friend Lord Polwarth and to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for bringing it up to date. All I want to do now is to distinguish very briefly indeed between those parts of the 199 Bill which, in the view of some of us, may fall short of perfection but which it is now too late for your Lordships to do anything about, and those other parts of the Bill which we may still be able to improve in its later stages. We cannot expect to get universal and unanimous agreement about very much in a measure of this kind.
Your Lordships may be aware that I have always regretted the decision to give the function of housing to the district authorities and not to the regional authorities, as the Wheatley Report recommended. I know that this decision would have been taken by the late Labour Government of which the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, was a Member. It was then adopted by the present Government when they came into office; it has been accepted by another place and it would be a waste of time to question it now. But there is a partial remedy, which is that a much greater use should be made in future than has been made in the past of the Scottish Special Housing Association, and I think the Government's assurances on this have been fairly satisfactory.
Two or three of your Lordships have mentioned Fife; and perhaps I ought to say, speaking only for myself, that I regret that owing to the Government defeat in Committee in another place, in which the number of Members voting does not appear to have been very large, the boundaries of the East region have been changed so as to create a completely new region of Fife. I think this step may be regretted, not so much by ourselves as by our children, for it seems likely that it may slow up economic and social progress in both regions in the years to come. But since the Government has plainly accepted their defeat in another place, obviously no useful purpose would be served by seeking to reopen the question in your Lordships' House. I would, however, suggest—and this is the only other thing I want to say—that your Lordships should give careful and sympathetic attention to the views of those who are asking not for any new region to be created, but only that some modifications should be made in the composition of some of the district boundaries. I agree very much with everything that has been said on this subject by my noble friends Lord Selkirk 200 and Lord Balerno, and by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes.
The Wheatley Commission recommended a total of 37 districts on what they described as the "shire" level; that is, about equal to an average county. The note of dissent at the end of the Report by the only two Members of Parliament who served on the Royal Commission recommended a larger number of smaller district authorities based on what the Commission called the "locality" level, which was estimated to mean 101 district authorities. For the reasons which your Lordships will find in this note of dissent, I myself prefer the locality level recommended by the two Members of another place to the shire level authorities recommended by the majority of the Wheatley Commission.
My Lords, in this Bill the number of district authorities is much nearer to the shire level than to the locality level. I think there are 49 districts defined in Schedule 1 to this Bill, and although there can be no question at all now of substituting smaller and more numerous secondary authorities all over Scotland, there are some communities which some of your Lordships have mentioned by name, especially in the Strathclyde region, which have a strong sense of their identity and which do not believe there will be any advantage to the efficiency of local government if they are absorbed into the huge, unwieldy bulk of the City of Glasgow, which is itself a district with a greater population than any other region.
My Lords, I gratefully accept the invitation given in the course of his speech by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, to come to his private meeting at the end of this debate.
§ LORD HUGHES
If I may intervene, the meeting is not at the end of this debate; it is tomorrow at 4 o'clock in Committee Room No. 4 upstairs.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his correction and will make a note of the time and place. I shall look forward to listening to him. I think the noble Lord put the case for localities like Milngavie and Bearsden very succinctly and forcefully, and I hope he will agree that the same arguments also apply to the district of Eastwood, a flourishing community with a strong sense of its identity, 201 whose Parliamentary representative is unable to state their case because of the office of Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means which she holds in another place.
My Lords, when we come to consider the case of these communities in Committee, I am sure that both the Government and your Lordships will listen with fairness and sympathy to the arguments which they put forward in favour of keeping their independence.
§ 5.17 p.m.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend and neighbour, Lord Polwarth, upon the way he introduced this Bill. I also congratulate Her Majesty's Government on the general content of the Bill which is going to produce a satisfactory answer to the reform of local government in Scotland. This is the third time this subject has been before your Lordships' House. Twice before I have addressed your Lordships, and each time there have been enough changes in what was proposed to make it possible for me to say something different; also each time some points that I have put forward before have been adopted, thereby making it possible for me on each subsequent occasion to be a little shorter in my speech.
There have been several important alterations to the regional boundaries. From the very beginning in 1963 we were doubtful as to whether the Islands could really work as outlying districts of the Highlands region. They have now been made separate entities and this, I think, is right. In spite of the fact that I do not live in Fife, although I originate from there, I think it is a good thing that the area has been changed. It is a viable entity and does make sense. It may be planning heresy—it probably is—but I have never been able to understand why a wide area of water is not, as it always has been, a barrier. It is a geographical natural fact that separates two areas from each other and I always feel the theory that it has become a link is rather a planning theory.
The Borders, I still continue to think, are too small. This is a very close-knit, homogeneous area and I have no doubt that it will make a go of things in spite of its small size. It is also a pity that because of its size, as my noble friend 202 Lady Elliot mentioned, it has to have a joint police board and fire service, both of which one hoped would be avoided by this new organisation. The Strathclyde region is far too large, but one cannot get away from the fact that the population is there. I think that probably the districts can be altered a little to give them a better relationship with each other.
I have from the earliest days stressed the need for community councils and I am delighted that they have been made mandatory. They will, I am sure, make a valuable contribution, but I agree with my noble friend Lady Elliot that something should be done about their finance. In my opinion it is an excellent thing that requisitioning has been stopped. When I was chairman of the county council finance committee, and later convenor of the county, there was always friction and ill-feeling from the burghs over the requisitions which had to be imposed on them. It is far more satisfactory that every district should be self-financing.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, mentioned the idea of some areas having a reserve fund. I always had a reserve fund; and extremely useful it was. With regard to the remuneration of members, I have never felt very strongly on this matter, but I have always thought that, on the whole, an attendance allowance was better than a salary. But the whole thing must be kept as simple as it can be, and in Clause 45(1), (2) and (3) that is done. At one time I was not happy about subsection (4), but that refers, as I understand it, to people who are not councillors but members of other bodies who have to be remunerated for work taken on on behalf of the council.
Finally, on the subject of education, I am absolutely with the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I have talked to my noble friend about Clause 124, subsections (1) and (2). Whatever may be said in Schedule 10 and in Clause 56, those two subsections of Clause 124 are absolutely clear that no delegation is possible. I well remember that when I was chairman of our education committee a large number of minor matters were delegated to the committee. We had a special form of words in presenting the education minutes to the county council: "that we beg to report on matters delegated and to move the 203 adoption of the matters referred". If everything has to go to the regional council, the mind boggles at the detail which will have to go there—even changing the route of the school bus. I think that is quite impossible, and I will either put my name to Lord Hughes's Amendment or put one down myself. I intended to do so. Apart from that, I welcome the Bill. I think it will make a real chance in the efficiency of local government, and I support it.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
My Lords, at this stage in a debate of this length it is exceedingly difficult for any speaker to say anything which has not already been touched upon by other people in the debate and perhaps on many occasions said better by many of them. Perhaps I may, rather than trying to pick on some new subject or new facet of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill, turn my emphasis towards the Bill as a whole, and in the words perhaps of a Prelate rather than a Peer, take as my text something which I found when I was regaling myself with Summer Punch on the way down here—I mean the magazine, not the drink. I found this gem of North country English political good sense enshrined on the pages of Summer Punch:He thought the country could introduce our democratic ways to the Common Market, but, he warned, there is a chance that democracy could take over the function of elected representatives.That, of course, would be a very great danger, and in this Bill that danger has quite clearly been avoided by removing democracy from it altogether—at least not quite altogether, because a little democracy has been left in as an optional extra. I am referring to those important but optional parts of this Bill, the community councils. We had a plea for these by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, and with her I most heartily concur. I should like to remind the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, that he himself said that these community councils were particularly important. If they are so important, why does one make them optional? If they are so important, why does one not give them premises? Why does one not give them a basic sum of money to allow them to operate?
The fault with this Bill, it seems to me, is the way in which the whole thing was 204 conceived from the start. What was done was that the cake was cut into various sorts of slices which were handed around, and not that a house was built out of bricks and building blocks to form an edifice that can be used. Throughout the speeches which we have had in your Lordships' House to-day we have seen an undercurrent of discontent, an undercurrent of dislike of many of the things contained in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, himself admitted that we cannot reach perfection, and admitted that the Bill itself was an upheaval.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I think what I said was not that the Bill was an upheaval but that the process of bringing it into effect would involve upheaval for officials.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
My Lords, in the interests of brevity I over-shortened the phrase the noble Lord used. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in an excellent speech making many of the points which I should like to back up, said that there was more and more Wheatley which he did not like, but that he accepted it because he could see no alternative. Again I am shortening and paraphrasing it.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, if I may again interrupt the noble Viscount, I think that in shortening it he has completely altered it. I did not say that I could not see any alternative, but that I did not see any alternative likely to get any more acceptance than the present one.
§ VISCOUNT THURSO
Fine! The noble Lord. Lord Tanlaw—and here I am quite sure I am all right—referred to the feeling of remoteness and helplessness which the ordinary local authority elector feels towards his local government. The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, suggested that local government had lost its credibility; and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, admitted that there was a price to be paid. All of this, I feel, indicates that there is indeed an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with this Bill. Again, noble Lords will fault me if I make it too short, but that undercurrent of dislike relates to the removal of the contact between the elected representative and the people whom he represents, the day-to-day, pulse-feeling contact.
205 When in 1949 I was elected to represent the village of Halkirk on the County Council of Caithness, I found that within the village I was expected to represent the views of that village on my own. In order to establish my own contact, even in such a tiny place, where I lived and worked and where I had many personal contacts, I found it advisable to form a village council. I got together the local people. We had a public meeting. We got street representatives, and we got the village council formed in the village of Halkirk. That village council exists to this day, and no councillor of those who have succeeded me since I resigned from that seat in the 1960s has ever regretted that this village council was formed. Indeed, I am certain that my successors have all felt the advantage of it.
I urge your Lordships, in your consideration of this Bill—and particularly the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, and Her Majesty's Government—to look very carefully at the Part relating to community councils. This is a vitally important Part of the Bill, which should be made much more binding and much more effective. This would go a long way towards restoring the contact of the people with their elected representatives and the confidence of the people in the local government organisation which this Bill will give to them. I feel that if this were done it would help in the other area where I feel there is an element for criticism, and this is in Part II, "Changes in Local Government Areas", and the proposals for the Boundary Commission and all that follows thereafter—in other words, the means by which the local government structure of Scotland is to be kept under constant review.
Clause 14(3) says:If the Boundary Commission receive a request from a local authority or from any person that they should conduct a review…the Commission shall consider the request.I feel that here it would be useful to bring in the community councils again, because I do not feel that many single individuals are likely to want to go to the Boundary Commission and say, "We think that such-and-such an area is being hard done by", whereas very possibly a community council might be able to do that in respect of the community which it represents. I feel it right that that 206 point should be mentioned at this stage, and I put it forward to be considered by the noble Lord and Her Majesty's Government as we go through the discussion of this Bill.
I am sure that this Bill is not an end; it is only a beginning. I feel that the weakness in the beginning is the fact that it has not arisen from the bottom, but has been imposed from the top. Allowing that this weakness is recognised, then there is much we can do for it as we debate the Bill in its passage through your Lordships' House. I feel that we should exert our efforts to restore to local government in Scotland any elements of democracy which this Bill, as presently drafted, may be tending to remove.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF CROMARTIE
My Lords, I should like to start by thanking my noble friend Lord Polwarth for the way he presented this Bill. That does not necessarily mean that I agree with every paragraph. It was very well presented, and we were given a very good chance to think about it. I have been thinking about this for many years now. For a great many years I have been a member of a Highland county council, and for a considerable number have been a convenor of one; so in a way this Bill is "up my street", although that does not mean that I understand all of it.
I shall not speak at any length but there are a few points which need to be emphasised and where a change in the Bill is desirable so far as the Highland region is concerned; though I speak primarily for what will be the new district of Ross and Cromarty, the same is relevant to other Highland districts. Perhaps the most ridiculous decision in this Bill refers to the building authority. The position at the moment is that the master of works under the building regulations for the landward area is the sanitary inspector, and the master of works in the burghs are the burgh surveyors. I think that this is generally the situation throughout Scotland. Under the remaining proposals in the Bill, the allocation of functions ensures that the sanitary inspector and the burgh surveyors will be officials of the district authority. It is therefore quite ludicrous to allocate building regulations as a function of the Highland regional authority because there 207 will be no officials in the regional authority who will be expert in this type of work.
The existing masters of works have built up invaluable experience over the years dealing with the regulations, which are extremely complex, and to have this whole situation thrown into the melting pot for no good reason is quite unacceptable. The regional authority will have more than enough to contend with without training staff in the complexities of the building regulations. So far as the Highland region is concerned, I may well pursue that at the Committee stage of the Bill.
We now come to the regional representation of vast areas and, it is admitted, smallish populations; and here it seems reasonable to point out to our administrators, who to a great extent live in towns, the fact that in a city large populations are concentrated in a very few square miles does not apply in the Highland region, where people have an equal right to proper representation. I will quote one example. Within what is at present the County of Ross and Cromarty, and will be the district, is an area which will cover some 800 square miles. There is only one regional representative and, while agreeing that the population to be represented amounts only to 2,391, yet as I have mentioned before they are equally worthy of representation. This is an area nearly the size of the County of Angus, and not far away is yet another area considerably larger than what will be the region of Fife. The communications in this area, though improving, are by no means comparable with further South, and there are other districts within the Highland region where this applies equally, and I think that this matter should be reviewed.
The next point which I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention is the very difficult proposition as to whether it is right to pay regional councillors or give them an attendance allowance. For a long time I was not in favour of paying councillors, partly perhaps because for many years I have been a councillor myself but in circumstances which are going to be radically changed. After much thought and discussion, I feel now that the payment of regional councillors should be considered. It is pos- 208 sible that poorer members of the community could be placed at a disadvantage if they had to depend on the allowance system and, in addition to this, it is equally possible that there might be some temptation to encourage unnecessary meetings.
I would refer now to Clause 123(3). It is the view of many within the Highland area that the Church representatives for the Highland region should be elected in the same way as the Island authority; namely, that the three persons to be elected on to the education committee should be nominated by a meeting of representatives of the Churches and denominational bodies, including the Roman Catholic Church, all having duly constituted charges or regularly appointed places of worship within the area.
Finally, may I say that I am in complete disagreement with the suggestion—and, as I understand the Bill, it is still a suggestion—that elections for both regional and district members should be on the same day. There should be a reasonable gap between these elections. If this is not done, candidates who stand for both authorities, if they win a regional post, may well wish to resign as candidates for the district authority, which means a by-election, an expensive procedure as we all know, and quite unnecessary. There will be many other differences of opinion regarding the other regions and districts of our country, especially the great Strathclyde region which cannot be allowed to exist as laid down in the Bill. But one hopes that with good will, common sense, and a truly democratic decision, as shown by those who ensured that the Kingdom of Fife will not be divided, the problems will be solved for the good of all the people of Scotland.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, may I start off with a small complaint—or perhaps it is not so small—about the short time that we have been given to consider this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Selkirk said, we have scarcely yet had an opportunity of seeing what took place on Third Reading in the Commons. I feel that this is a Bill which really should have started in this House and not in another place. It seems to be largely non-political. It would seem an ideal Bill to start here. This perhaps would 209 have saved a great many problems regarding Hansard in another place, and may have helped to get the legislation through. I do not know when your Lordships received your copies of the Bill; mine arrived only on Thursday. This gives very little time to consider such a complex Bill as this is. I am certain that no local authority has yet had an opportunity to consider what has come out of another place. I only hope that we shall not rush the Committee stage unduly, and that we will have at least a fortnight before the Committee stage is commenced.
I have a note down about the regional and district council elections being held on the same day. My noble friend Lord Cromartie has just mentioned this factor. This only happens in 1974. It is suggested then that the district council elections should be two years after those for the regional council. However the argument still applies to 1974, and I hope that the Government will take note of what my noble friend has said.
It is also a great pity that regional councils are no longer able to sit with their district councillors at the district council meeting. This procedure I think formulated good relations between the two councils and it meant that the district council was a most useful consultative body. I am afraid that now it may well not be; and if indeed we introduce politics into local government there could be considerable wrangles between the district council and the regional council if they are each of a different political faith. I think it would be a great pity if this should take place.
One other small point concerns the chairman and the convenors holding office for four years. I would suggest a slight amendment, that they should hold office until a successor has been appointed. As chairman of the roads committee I have had difficulty at this election because there were several decisions which could have been approved by the chairman, and technically there was not one in office. I had to take the bull by the horns and hope that I was duly appointed, otherwise there would have been a hold-up on a number of contracts. It would be useful if the chairman and the convenors could remain in office until successors have been appointed. There is only a matter of a short overlap, perhaps of a fortnight or three weeks.
210 Several speakers mentioned the question of allowances and salaries. I am afraid I disagree with those who advocate salaries as opposed to allowances. Those of us who have served in local government will know that certain people do a great deal more work than others. Some merely attend a few meetings, but chairmen of committees, for instance, take a great deal of work upon their shoulders. Therefore it would seem to be unreasonable that all should get the same amount of payment. I think it would be much better that there should be an attendance allowance. There is also the question of the chairmen's expenses. The chairmen of both the regional and the district councils apparently are to be paid, but it seems to me that, certainly in the Highlands and Borders areas, the district chairmen will have considerably less to do than the chairman of, say, the environment committee or the education and social work committee, both of whom will have considerable expenses. I know that as chairman of the roads committee I incurred quite a lot of out of pocket expenses which are not recoverable, or which one would not think of trying to recover. There are quite a number of small items which accrue throughout the year and I would have thought it reasonable that local authorities should have the option—and the Bill only says "may"—of giving small allowances to the chairmen of certain of their committees. I hope that this suggestion may be considered. Certainly I feel that chairmen of committees should be allowed to recoup their telephone, or some of their telephone, expenses. I think most chairmen find that they need to spend quite a considerable amount on telephoning.
I need not say much more, I think, about the West region. We all know that many of the areas around the West region have tried to opt out of it. You have all no doubt been lobbied by many of these places. I am told that a helicopter is arriving to-morrow. I am not quite sure who is paying for this campaign, but the fact is that here there is obviously dissatisfaction. I believe that had there been any form of agreement between these various bodies—the different boroughs and local authorities concerned—the Secretary of State would have been only too delighted to snatch at some alteration of the present position. I would hope that 211 in view of the fact that he is setting up a Boundary Commission that the Commission should deal with Strathclyde or the West region as a matter of urgency, and that this is one of the first things they should look at to see whether they cannot find a proper solution. We have heard about Girvan and umpteen other places, but what about the Islands away in the North? Mull and the Argyllshire Islands are being looked after by Glasgow, which seems to me not the right thing to do, and I would hope that the Boundary Commission might sort this problem out in their early days.
There is a problem in the Islands in that the Secretary of State apparently has the right to say that the assessor should be for the Highlands region as well as for the Islands. I know that there is considerable nervousness in the Islands that this should be the case. I am not sure that they are right, but I feel that the uncertainty should be resolved as soon as possible and that the Secretary of State should tell us whether the assessor is to be an appointment for the Islands or whether it is to be one for the Highlands region. In 1978–79 the new valuation is due and there is a great deal of work to be put in by the assessors before then.
There is another point in regard to the Bill which may constitute a difficulty. If, say, the Islands region—I do not know whether there are any others—were to advocate that their council meetings should be conducted in Gaelic, could this be carried by a simple majority, perhaps making it possible for one or two members not to understand what is going on? I think that this problem should be looked at. Possibly somewhere it should be stated that business should be conducted in English, although of course that may be a controversial suggestion.
The noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, has mentioned building authorities as having a district function, I think this applies only to the Highlands and the Borders, and not to all authorities as the noble Earl, I thought, said, although perhaps I misunderstood him. During the passage of the Bill through another place I think it was felt that the building authority and the planning authority should be one and the same. This is not necessary. We have constant difficulties at the 212 moment when people who have put in a planning application think that they have also put in a building authority application. There is absolutely no reason why the two should not belong to different authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, suggested limited borrowing authority. I should like very strongly to support him on this matter, provided it is limited. Frequently a small matter has to go back to St. Andrew's House. I am sorry to say that it may sometimes sit for many weeks there, and by the time it comes back the contractors refuse to accept it because the price has gone up. Where only a small amount of money is involved it should be reasonable to give borrowing consent to the local authority.
In Clause 68 there is a suggestion that for bribery the fine should be only £200. I think this figure wants looking at and that we certainly ought to step it up. Finally, I should like to ask, who are to be the managers of these regional authorities? In another place there was a good deal of discussion over the qualications of an assessor, but these managers are going to be very important people. Are they going to be lawyers, like our present county clerks? Are they going to be planners, who rather hope, I think, that they will step into the lawyers' shoes? Are they to be accountants, or who are they to be? They are to be very important people, and I feel that their appointment needs to be looked at very carefully.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ LORD BALLANTRAE
My Lords, most of the speeches that we have heard this afternoon have been on a broad front, statesmanlike and in general terms. The few remarks that I want to make will be on one purely parochial point, about the future of Ayrshire under this Bill. I feel that I am qualified to speak for Ayrshire because I am three-quarters Ayrshire and one-quarter Angus by breeding. What kind of beast that makes me I leave to your Lordships' imagination. Three suggestions have been put forward for Ayrshire. The first in the original draft of the Bill was that Ayrshire as a whole should go into Strathclyde, except for the Girvan area which should go into the South-West region of Galloway and Dumfries, which I am 213 horrified that the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, has advocated so strongly and in favour of which there has been a great deal of lobbying. The second suggestion was for Ayrshire, with or without South Carrick, to go into Strathclyde. The third suggestion was for Ayrshire to declare U.D.I. and remain independent.
The first solution, for South Carrick to go into the South-West region, is deplorable and unworkable, despite the articulate lobby which has been supporting it. I have been to some trouble to establish that the lobby, so articulate and able and skilful and full of nice people, is not representative of what is thought in South Carrick. My brother's own property, for example, would be cut in two, and three of his farms would also be cut in two. That may just be unfortunate for my brother, but the solution is also not popular locally. A small proportion of the burgh of Girvan, including the provost, one district councillor and a few other people are in favour of this suggestion, but, by and large, the feeling is that we should stick with the rest of Ayrshire. South Carrick became part of Ayrshire 700 years ago and has looked Northward ever since. In fact, in the 16th century a man from South Carrick, called James Mossman, was hanged in Galloway for the simple reason that he came from Ayrshire. We all look North—except, possibly, Glen App which looks to Wigtownshire—for our marketing, for our shopping, for selling our beasts and for travelling. So the solution of putting us into the South-West region—congenial and lovable though that region and its people are—is to me unacceptable.
§ LORD TANLAW
My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for interrupting him? How many beasts from Ayrshire, are sold in the area of Strathclyde? Where are the cattle markets? Will the noble Lord elucidate?
§ LORD BALLANTRAE
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, will have patience I will deal with Strathclyde in a moment. But the people do not go to Stranraer mart or to Newton Stewart mart; they go to Craig's in Ayr. The second solution is for South Carrick to follow Ayrshire wherever it may go, whether into Strathclyde or to be inde- 214 pendent. I shall try to make the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, blush. Having seen the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, as the Lord Provost of Dundee, I would say that there is no man who knows more about local government, or who has contributed more to it in the last thirty years than Lord Hughes, and your Lordships have heard him suggest that Strathclyde will take half the population of Scotland.
I should like to see Ayrshire following the example of Fife and striking a blow for independence. As the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, asked: what has Girvan in common with Oban? This is far too vast a region which, despite all the safeguards, is bound to be dominated by Glasgow. I have just confirmed in Whitaker's Almanack that our population is 360,000. We are made up of a good admixture of rural, industrial and maritime people. If ever there was an entity it is Ayrshire, and I hope that there may be second thoughts about this matter. I know of the thinking behind putting Ayrshire into Strathclyde, and that it is said that there must be one planning authority for the whole estuarial area. I can see the force of that argument, but I still hope that means may be found of allowing Ayrshire to continue in its own sweet way as hitherto. Even if Beith and Dalry and some of the places in the North may look more to Glasgow than to Ayr, I cannot see why Ayrshire, like Fife, should not be allowed to "gang our ain gait", and I hope that some second thoughts may be given to this possibility.
§ 5.55 p.m.
My Lords, shall I start in the conventional way, by saying that we have had a very interesting debate? I am bound to confess that until the last speech I did not think there had been anything said this afternoon which sounded new, and I give your Lordships a solemn assurance that I shall not break that record. In fact, I was a little disturbed when the noble Viscount Lord Thurso, began by saying that he was in a little difficulty because everything he wanted to say had already been said, which rather prevented him from speaking. If that were to be the rule in either this House or the other place, the proceedings would be very short indeed. But what we are all agreed upon, from whatever point of view we look at the subject, 215 is that local government was calling out for reform.
The case for reforming local government was absolutely unassailable, because we could not go on with little local authorities dotted about all over Scotland, some of them having a rateable value that would not have paid for a lamppost in the village street. That stage has long gone and the Government of the day—whichever Government it was—had to set about examining the problems and finding the answers to them, so far as that was humanly possible, so that they could establish local government on a two-tier level, or, as was suggested, on a three-tier level; but at least on a level at which it could afford not only to legislate but to organise, to plan and to pay for.
That was the project and it was as a result of the feelings and the debates over many years, that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, and his Commission were appointed. Late in the day though it may be, it might not be a bad thing for your Lordships once more to record to a noble and learned Lord, who is one of our colleagues, our thanks for the very painstaking work which he and his Commission did. Indeed, is it not odd to think that if we had not had a Wheatley Commission we should have had nothing to criticise to-night? We should all have been speechless. So we are grateful to them for putting these proposals before us.
It seemed to me that the suggestion of regional, district and islands authorities just about filled the Bill. It is when we come to re-divide the country inside these authorities—to make a distribution—that the trouble arises. But it is obvious that it is within these provisions that we shall find the answer. If there is one subject which is sure to crop up in a debate of this kind, it is the position of Strathclyde. It is so big and so overpowering that one can quite easily make a case against Strathclyde, and all it seems to stand for at the moment. But, having said that, I must go on to ask: what will be the consequences if Strathclyde is broken up? It is very simple just to look at it and say, "I don't like this bit being in it" (I am not referring to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae), or, "This part does not quite seem to fit in with it, and it ought to 216 come out". What we have to think about are the consequences of the changes that are proposed. I am prepared to go with Strathclyde as it is until someone can show me something better than the Strathclyde which is now before us. I am not in the least adamant about it, but so far I have not heard an alternative suggestion which in any way betters the proposals contained in the Wheatley Report.
In the planning of these services—and this is what we are planning for: the services which have to be organised on a regional basis—unless the regions are big enough to undertake their tasks then we shall not achieve what Wheatley set out to do. I want to put on record my personal feelings and to say that I should have preferred to see the recommendations of Wheatley, as they affected the Borders and Fife, retained. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Dundee: I think that the Wheatley proposal for the division of Fife would have been better. I know that there are problems, including emotional problems. Indeed, one has only to think of Fife in the football sense to appreciate the emotional problems. I know that this is so; but frequently we are compelled to do things which offend people. Heaven knows!, I wish that in all the six years I was a Minister I had been able to say, "Yes" to everything that everybody wanted. Life would have been so simple! But occasionally one had to say "No"; in fact, more frequently than one wished. But if you knew, or were convinced, that this was the right thing to do, then it would have been very foolish to take a step simply because it was a popular one. So I say once more than I should have liked to see things left as they are.
It may be that, in the outturn of the account, not only Fife but the Borders will be able to plan all their services, including their education services. With all due respect to the noble Baroness, I do not think that the Borders area is going to be able to do all that. Of course it will also have to finance these services. Everybody is talking to-day about being independent—and I shall come back to that later—but you cannot claim that you want all this tremendous independence, provided that the Government pay for it. You cannot buy it in that way. I am only 217 hoping that it will be proved that they are able not only to do the planning in these areas but to care for them as well.
As I am on this aspect of the matter, I should like a little clearer answer from the Government about the community councils. Everybody has stressed the importance of community councils. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, spoke about starting one up at Halkirk, and the Minister of State spoke about their importance. But reading from the records, and even from the Bill itself, I am not certain whether it is as crystal clear as the noble Lord, Lord Stratheden and Campbell, said it was, because on a previous occasion he raised the question and he used the phrase, "And now they are in—mandatory". But are they mandatory? There seems to me to be grave doubt about this, and I have read through the Bill on one or two occasions in connection with this point. Indeed, looking back again, as a result of that reading, to the Commons Hansard of December 4, 1972, I see that the Secretary of State had a fair bit to say about community councils. He said this, at column 919:Part IV of the Bill sets out the framework for the establishment of community councils, which are to be set up wherever there is a local demand.I do not think that that sounds as if they are to be mandatory.
LORD STRATHEDEN AND CAMPBELL
My Lords, the noble Lord must surely stick to the Bill, which says:Every local authority shall…That is mandatory.
§ LORD HOY
No, my Lords. If the noble Lord looks a little further on in the clause, he will see that if they are not going to do it they must tell the Secretary of State the reasons why not. The noble Lord can take my word for it, that that is absolutely correct. In Part IV, Clause 52(2) says that the local authority shall prepare a scheme containing:(b) where a local authority consider that a community council is unnecessary for any area, a statement of their reasons for arriving at this conclusion…So there it is set out quite clearly—at least it is as clear as I can make it out to be. So I think it might be better for all of us, in view of these contradictions, if we had a statement from the Front Bench opposite before we finish tonight.
218 I will tell your Lordships why I do not think the Secretary of State put all that confidence in community councils. He describes them—and let me quote his own words—in this way:We see this as a new concept for giving local communities an effective corporate voice. We are not proposing to give community councils specific statutory functions to perform, or statutory sources of finance, because we do not want to create another tier of local government.Not being creatures of statute, community councils will be all the more free to express local views and to take actions on behalf of local communities, which is their general purpose".I should be grateful if the Minister could explain to me, and I am certain your Lordships would be, how one creates community councils which are to have no status, no standing, no accommodation and no finance, yet which are supposed to speak for the people of the community. The idea is good in itself, but I do not think there is very much use passing legislation which makes it very nearly impossible for the suggested councils to come into existence. I would resist having a third tier authority—I make that quite clear—but I think that if you want somebody to make a contribution then obviously you must make provision for it; and I think the Secretary of State had better say a little more about it before we finally part with this Bill.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Does he really see a great deal of difference in the situation of the existing district councils? Admittedly they have a small levy, but they are to a large extent used as consultative bodies by the county councils, and I should have thought that in this capacity the community councils could be useful.
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, I hope the argument I have been making is that I think they will be useful. The noble Lord says there is a certain levy to keep the district council going, but I think he will admit that there is a minimum of cash. Under this Bill there is to be nothing for a community council. That is the distinction I am making, but I am not criticising it. I think it will play a part.
During the whole of this debate I have noticed three words which have been in continuous use: flexibility, power—the 219 devolution of power and the decentralisation of power—and finance. I say that the last of these, my brethren, is the most important—finance. It is no use people saying that you can have this devolution of power, or the dissolving of power from the centre, without finance; and it does not matter what greater power you have. There is not a Highland authority, or any other authority, for that matter, who will be less dependent on finance from central Government when this Bill is passed than it is to-day—and everybody agrees. So what is the use of pretending that simply to pass this Bill will in fact give authorities greater power? Every local authority will still he just as dependent on central Government for its cash, and the central Government is not going to give all that cash without saying what is to be done with it. So do not let us pretend that we are creating some great power-giving institution when we pass this Bill.
My Lords, may I hurriedly raise two other points? I want to say one or two words about the payment of councillors. This is obviously a very difficult question, but at the moment, if I had to vote now, I think I would come down in favour of the payment of councillors. I do not think you handle the situation well by paying out a kind of daily allowance, because—do not let us pretend otherwise—everyone is human; and if I could get, say, £12 a day (which would be half as much again as your Lordships are paid) for attending a council meeting five days a week, then there would be five meetings. That is one assurance that I could give right away. I do not think that we should allow this matter to go on in this slipshod way. If a councillor is doing his job he ought to be remunerated adequately for the job he is doing. So far as I am concerned, this is tempered by the fact that the amount paid does not affect the principle of the argument; it is the principle that is the important thing. It behoves the Government to let us know what they intend paying. That is not asking too much. We are not entitled to make decisions without knowing the facts about both sides. I would ask the Government, before we get through the Committee stage, to let us know.
220 My Lords, my last point is this. Little has been said about the subject of social work, but it has been mentioned throughout the debate. This is very important inside the working of a local organisation; and the nearer it can be kept to the councillor the better. I would ask the Minister to look at the part that district councillors could play in this respect, because it is there, I think, that contacts will be made. I am not going to argue that councillors are getting too far distant. I was amazed this afternoon to hear two or three speakers refer to the close, compact community and the lines between the councillor and his constituents. Your Lordships know that it is not very true in many parts. You need look only at the municipal election returns to prove how few people will take the trouble even to record their vote. If we could link this service to make greater contact between the citizen and the councillor it might be worth looking into.
In conclusion, I think the Wheatley Commission did a very good job. The Secretary of State has produced a Bill which, with some little amendment, would not have differed very much from what my honourable and right honourable friends would have placed before this House if they had been in Government. In these circumstances it behoves us, with our reservations and foibles about it, to do what we can to make it successful when the Bill becomes an Act of Parliament.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I think I should start my summing up of this wide-ranging and extremely interesting debate by saying that we have had a remarkable degree of acceptance of the principle of the Bill—which I think is highly encouraging. I should like to start by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, that we should record once more our appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Wheatley, his colleagues, the officials and all the others who have put in so much work to bring us to the point at which we find ourselves to-day. I must make my apologies to your Lordships if I was in breach of a Standing Order as was suggested by the only English Member of this House to contribute, however briefly, to our debate. I may say that I doubt that he was entirely in accordance with 221 another of our Standing Orders regarding remaining to hear the rest of the debate. We have had the benefit here of an extraordinary amount of experience in the field of local government and central Government and it has been remarkably well spread geographically. We have had speakers in the debate from all of the proposed new regions with the exception of two. I am sorry that there was no representative of Grampian nor any candidate for the title of "Lord Central". That is something to which I shall come later.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
My Lords, as a dweller in Grampian, I may say that we are in almost entire agreement with the provisions of the Bill. The noble Lord should be grateful for that.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, my noble kinsman has now remedied at least one of the two omissions. It has always been one of my own regrets that circumstances prevented my taking part in local government. Perhaps, with the new structure coming along, it is not too late. I am happy about that, because there has been a tradition of this service in my family—both my father and my mother served on the same county council as my noble friends, Lord Stratheden and Lady Elliot. And if there was one thing which caused us all regret in the course of the debate, it was her statement that she will not be a candidate in the elections for the new authority.
Inevitably a great deal of detail has been gone into in the course of the debate and I ask your Lordships forgiveness if I do not attempt to deal with all the points raised. I will do my best to do so in correspondence. Many of those points, I hope and expect, will be the subject of Amendments in Committee stage. I am convinced that we have the experience and the right to endeavour to improve the Bill still further while it is going through this House. I am sorry if one noble Lord—the noble Lord. Lord Burton—felt that we have had too short a time to consider the Bill. Admittedly, it was available in print in its present form only last week, but in general it has been available since its publication in another place last November. We have been able to follow its passage through that place even 222 though there was a little trouble, for reasons outside our control, with the Record of what took place in the final stages. We have endeavoured to make available to noble Lords a summary of the main Amendments made there at that stage. I do not think that we can be criticised on that score.
While we have had a general welcome for the Bill from most sides, I thought that possibly the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, was a little ungracious in his reception of it. He talked about there being very little democracy about it and about having it all imposed on us from above. I think that this is the opposite way round. There has been on the part of the Government an enormous amount of consultation, spread over several years, with the local authority associations and others. We have endeavoured to get opinion from the grass roots; it has not been imposed from above.
I turn now to the different subjects, the main subjects, covered by speakers. First and foremost came the whole question of boundaries, names and the extent of regions and districts. I may not take them in a very logical order (for which I beg your Lordships' forgiveness) but I start with Fife. I think that it was generally accepted that Fife should remain as was decided in another place; even though I know of the long-held and sincerely held views of my noble friend Lord Dundee, a resident of that kingdom. Strathclyde, together with the Glasgow district, was probably the greatest cause of anxiety among your Lordships, as with me. Almost every speaker sought a better solution for this vast region comprising half the population of Scotland, and with its peculiar problems.
I am glad to note that the noble Lord, Lord Hoy, in a thoughtful winding-up speech, felt that Strathclyde was a necessity in its present form. It is extremely difficult to find any alternative solution to this proposal that makes sense. The noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, spoke as a resident in that corner. I am bound to say I wondered, when he spoke about Angus, whether he was going to transfer his parish to the new Tay-side region, but I realise that that was not the intention. He felt that Ayrshire should remain on its own. This has been fully discussed in another place and I think that at the end of the day the general opinion 223 was that while Ayrshire might have the resources to run itself on sheer size, its community of interest with the rest of Strathclyde region and links with Glasgow were such that it should be part of that region. We recognised its importance by the creation within it of two additional districts which I hope will help.
As to Girvan, here again we saw the problem because we had the two views expressed; one that it should remain in Ayrshire as the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, pleaded so warmly, and the other that it naturally belonged to the South-West. Here again, one sees the difficulty of reaching the right answer. But that decision was reached in another place and it remains the view of the Government that it should stay with the Strathclyde region. I did not entirely agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, about creating urban and rural type districts. In this Bill we have been trying to create districts and equally, on the regional scale, areas which are not hounded by burgh boundaries but bring in the rural area, and combine town and country in one area to get away from so much of the rivalry which existed in the past in local authority circles between town and county.
I admit that the Glasgow district is extraordinarily difficult. Views have been expressed mainly on the side that these peripheral areas, Milngavie and so on, do not have a community of interest with Glasgow. I thought that the most valid argument was advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes; that their proportionate representation, as it were, within the Glasgow district would be much weaker than if they were outside. I think that is the strongest argument in favour of their detachment. On the other hand, the City of Glasgow will not do in its present form. It is an anachronism. It is over-flowing its existing city boundaries which have remained unaltered for a considerable time. One must think whether these communities round the outside have links with the district into which it has been suggested that they might be transferred, and it is a very difficult question. As your Lordships know, at one stage in another place they were removed by the Committee from the Glasgow district. But unfortunately there appeared to be no real 224 agreement as to what area they should be attached. Nothing was put forward and so the Government decided to put them back with the Glasgow district. I hasten to say, my Lords, that if any ideal or better solutions are put forward for the Strathclyde area, or the Glasgow district, we shall be most ready to hear them at the next stage to see whether we can improve the Bill in that direction.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it was because the Committee made rather a botch of this by taking Milngavie and company out of Glasgow and not putting them anywhere else that on Report stage the Government thought that the easiest course would he to return to the original proposal?
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I am not clear about the exact motives in this matter, or precisely what took place in another place; but we are entitled to look at it further in your Lordships' House. I am sorry to disagree once more with a noble Lord from the Liberal Benches but, with respect, the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, lives not in the Borders region, as I understand it, but in Dumfries and Galloway. Speaking as a Borderer—and I am sure I am supported by other residents of that region—I would say that "Borders" is a well-known name. We always use it and I would fight strongly—and not only Ministerially—for the retention of a name which has the broad agreement of virtually all the authorities in the region.
On the question of names, my Lords, we consulted thoroughly with local authorities about their views. They have had every opportunity to get together on this matter. I agree that "Central" is not an attractive name. I believe that after the name "Lothian" was given to what was previously the Forth district, following the removal of Fife, we hinted to Central region that they might like to reconsider and have a name with "Forth" in it, which would seem very suitable. The reaction we got was that they preferred "Central". But it is open to your Lordships to pursue the matter further at the next stage in the progress of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, said that we had not gone far enough up and down the scale of local government. He asked about 225 regional devolution. As we have made clear, we consider this a quite separate exercise, and the question will be looked at in the light of the Kilbranden Report which we look forward to receiving before too long. I cannot say exactly when the Report will be received.
The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, raised a question of designation and the use of the title, "Provost". This again is a difficult matter on which there have been widely differing views. I think I am right in saying that the Convention of Royal Burghs felt that the name "Provost" should go with the demise of the burghs and not be perpetuated in a different entity. We felt that it was right to leave the designation completely open as regards districts. I doubt very much that districts would indulge in such extravagant nomenclature as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, suggested that they might, but again this is a matter which is before your Lordships' House.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord again, I would say that there speaks a man who has never been in local government—nothing is impossible!
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I would certainly defer to the noble Lord's views on that subject. I pay tribute to his particular experience in that field and also in respect of the New Towns. Yesterday I spent visiting the New Town of Glenrothes, of which he was such a distinguished head for a long time, and I acknowledge the part he played in making the town what it has become to-day. On the question of assumption of title and the possibility of overlap, of having two Lord Provosts of the same place, I understand that there is a provision in the Bill to make it possible to avoid that; but perhaps we can deal with that matter in detail at another stage.
There is then the question of holding elections on the same day for regions and for districts. This point was raised by the noble Earl, Lord Cromartie, and by the noble Lord, Lord Burton. Again, differing views were expressed, but by and large we came to the opinion that it was desirable to have them both on the same day. With the reduced total number of councillors under the new system I should have thought that there would be a plethora of candidates to fill the vacancies 226 on both types of body and that we should adhere to this arrangement.
§ LORD BURTON
My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, explain why it is intended to hold the elections on the same day on the first occasion, but not on subsequent occasions?
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, on subsequent occasions the situation does not arise regarding the day on which the election is held because the two are staggered so as to avoid having a confusion caused by two different kinds of elections coinciding. I think that would be confusing to the electorate. At the first stage it is necessary in order to get the system going and in phase.
My Lords, the other subject which attracted an enormous amount of interest was the question of salaries and allowances. Here again we saw that there were differing views about which is the best system. I do not want to elaborate the arguments on both sides because they tend almost to cancel themselves out. Our intention is not that there should be a stingy rate of allowance and in contrast a large salary. The probable level of these allowances was refered to by the noble Lords, Lord Hughes and Lord Hoy.
We are in some difficulty here. I am as anxious as any noble Lord to see some indication on this as soon as may be. There are, I think, two points on this. One is that it would be only right that this should be the subject of full consultation with the present local authority associations. The other point is that it is right that this should wait until the principle has been established in the Bill that it is going to be allowances and not salaries. I must remind your Lordships, too, that we are engaged in the counter inflationary policy, and in raising this we are raising the question of a form of remuneration, even though it does not come into effect until some time in the future.
The present is a crucial time, and it is, I think, only right that indications of this should await consultations with the local authorities. But until we approach Phase 3 of this policy and can look at it more coolly and rationally, I would suggest that in the case of Scotland we still have some time. I think it would be wrong to fix it now so far ahead. The elections are not due to take place until next May, and people will not 227 take office until the May following. I can assure your Lordships that I am anxious to see this as soon as may be, and while I cannot give an undertaking that we can give an indication by the Committee stage, your Lordships will realise that there will be further stages of the Bill after the Summer Recess, and I will bear this very much in mind.
§ LORD HOY
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. It is true that the elections in Scotland have not taken place, but the elections in England and Wales have taken place. It is obvious, therefore, that the system must be decided upon very rapidly in so far as it affects these local authorities. This simply cannot be deferred. Is the noble Lord trying to convince us that the difference between England and Wales and Scotland will be so great that we shall be unable to reach a conclusion with regard to allowances paid in Scotland?
§ LORD POLWARTH
No, my Lords, I am not. But I think the noble Lord has produced a very good pressure point by the fact of the even greater urgency for a decision in relation to England and Wales. I am certainly not suggesting that there will be substantial differences of that kind.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, on this point, are we to understand that the English councillors are such a trusting bunch that they have now been there for some weeks and have not a clue what they are going to be paid? Do they collect retrospectively for attendances they have put in?
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I am not briefed on the details of the English Local Government Act, but I understand that the present allowances under the old system have been augmented and are available to the members of the new authorities performing those duties. That is my understanding, but, as I say, I am not fully briefed in regard to the English Act.
§ LORD HUGHES
My Lords, would the noble Lord then brief himself on that point, and perhaps drop a note to those of us who have asked about it, as to what is happening in England, and on the particular point of how much 228 they have been augmented, and where it takes them to?
§ LORD POLWARTH
I will happily do that, my Lords. We then came to the question of the delegation of powers, and this arose particularly with regard to education and social work. As I understand it, the phrase,an authority may arrange for the discharge of its powers by committeeseffectively gives powers to those committees. Again, if there are matters of detail, perhaps we could have Amendments to bring out specific points, because it is a complicated subject.
On the question of borrowing powers, I understand it will be possible, and it is possible at present, for arrangements to be made to cover minor borrowing without having to go for specific authority on every occasion. As to reserve funds, I have confirmed that there is power under this Bill for authorities to create reserve funds.
A number of noble Lords showed great interest in education and social work. My noble friend Lord Balerno welcomed the provisions concerning school and college councils. He also welcomed the provisions about Church representation, even though my noble friend Lord Cromartie was not fully in agreement with this. But if he wishes to deal with this by Amendment, we shall be glad to receive it. I think the point about closeness to the community in these fields, which is so important, should be able to be dealt with by the powers of decentralisation which are given in the Bill to have local offices to keep closely in touch. I think this is better than having a plethora of centres of administration, because these services require specialised staff, with opportunities for promotion, cost of training and all the rest. I think this is the right way to set about it in the field of education and social work, especially where we have in the Strathclyde region a special requirement for a scheme to be prepared and submitted to the Secretary of State.
My noble friend Lord Balfour, with his knowledge of Government law and affairs, raised a number of points which I hope he will forgive me if I leave to he dealt with at the next stage of the Bill. We of course welcome his knowledge, which is of great value to us.
229 The question of the police service in the Borders was raised by my noble friends Lady Elliot and Lord Stratheden. I know that it has exercised a number of people in the Borders that we are taking the view that the population is not sufficient to sustain a full-scale police force on their own. I think this is a matter of opinion. The committee which reported on the police some time ago made it clear that they felt that a population of this size, and a force of the resulting size, was definitely too small to sustain the various specialist services nowadays and also to offer the prospects of promotion within it. I know from soundings taken from the Chief Constable in the Borders that the police themselves are in favour of the arrangement which we propose; namely, the linking of this force with Edinburgh. I do not think this will result in a lack of close contact with the community, or indeed, in an insufficient knowledge of local conditions.
My Lords, community councils are of course a considerable cause of concern to all of your Lordships. I was glad to have the support of a number of noble Lords in the view that they should not constitute a third tier of local government. In that context, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, that we should not want them to have the sort of powers—he talked about school milk and so on—which would be in competition, as it were, with local government bodies at either tier. The main concern expressed on these was whether they would be effective, both because it was not obligatory to create them and because there was no compulsory source of finance for them. What we want here is not to create these councils in a strait-jacket, in a uniform pattern, and impose this pattern on the community as a whole. We want them to be a democratic manifestation and to represent local conditions in the appropriate way. I am quite sure that the local community, through their representatives, will make clear to their district councils if they want community councils. The district councils are obliged to put in a scheme to the Secretary of State, or to produce reasons why not. I suspect that if district councils put in reasons why not, there will be a considerable outcry if there is a substantial body of opinion within the area that wants them. I think we should rely on the expression of demo- 230 cratic opinion for their creation. I think, equally, that that being so, districts will be prepared to provide finance. But we shall watch this, and if there are further suggestions we shall be glad to receive them. We think they are a worthwhile development, and that putting them outside the statutory local government field will give them considerable value.
My noble friend Lord Strathclyde particularly mentioned the Commission which will deal with, among other things, matters of audit. I assure my noble friend that this is not a subtle plot—and I speak as a member of his own profession—to oust professional accountants from the carrying out of these audits. We feel that there is scope here for obtaining uniformity. To begin with, a large number of local authority audits will of course disappear in the reorganisation. They will be far fewer. It is an opportunity to bring outside skills into management and other fields and to use them to bring about reasonably uniform standards of auditing in these new larger local authority bodies. The chartered accountants' profession will have a full opportunity to play its part in this—and let us say that as a branch of accounting it is not everybody's cup of tea. It is very specialised, and therefore I think there is an advantage in having this Accounts Commission.
§ LORD STRATHCLYDE
My Lords, I should just like to ask my noble friend if he would say whether this exercise is really for the purpose of introducing to some extent the district auditing system which exists in England and Wales?
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that that is not the intention at all. However, if the noble Lord would care to pursue this point at a later stage, perhaps by putting down an Amendment, I will try to explain the matter further, or deal with it by correspondence. As regards the Boundary Commission, which is also to be set up, the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, asked whether the community councils could make representations. I am assured that certainly the interpretation of "person" would include the community councils. Indeed, they are obliged to be consulted by the Boundary Commission when one of the regular reviews, as opposed to the interim reviews, is carried out.
231 I think I have covered most, if not all, of the points that have been raised, and I will do my best to deal with further points when they arise. I am bound to say that while I wholeheartedly commend this Bill to your Lordships I inevitably share some of the regrets that have been expressed by several of your Lordships, and notably by the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, about the disappearance from a place in local government of institutions with a long and honoured tradition in our national history and heritage—burghs dating back in some cases to the 12th and 13th centuries, with their Charters, their provosts and bailies—even though the bailies will always be enshrined in the works of Sir Walter Scott.
Of course we regret this. But Scotland's greatness has stemmed from her readiness to innovate, to explore and, when necessary, to accept change. And if ever there was a time for change and modernisation of our system of local government it must be now, when we stand on the threshold of exciting new developments which can bring us the prosperity we have so long sought. I do not fear for our traditions and ceremonial: as only one example, I have seen enough of the spirit in our Border burghs in my part of the world in recent months and have talked to those involved to be sure that their Common Ridings and festivals will continue, whatever the legal background and status against which they take place. Long may they remind us of what as a nation we did in the past, and inspire us with faith in our ability to create a future worthy of our people. This Bill brings us a powerful weapon to help turn that aspiration into a reality. Therefore I commend it to your Lordships.
THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him one question? If we sought to restrict the boundaries of the district, could the Department help with things like population and actual geographical definitions? Some of them are not very easy.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I can assure your Lordships that we shall be very glad to provide any factual information that we can, if it is asked for.
THE EARL OF BALFOUR
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend one question? Would he let us know at the earliest opportunity the order in which he would like to proceed, talking in terms of Schedules and progressing through the Bill? This would assist us in the drafting of Amendments that we might wish to put down.
§ LORD POLWARTH
My Lords, I will indeed do so. The question of my noble friend enables me to add something that I had forgotten: namely, that it is our intention that the Committee stage of this Bill should start in your Lordships' House on Tuesday, July 17—that is, two weeks from to-day.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.