HL Deb 14 July 1994 vol 556 cc1994-2026

5.6 p.m.

House again in Committee.

[Amendment No. 93A not moved.]

Clause 40[Establishment etc. of Strathclyde Passenger Transport Authority]:

[Amendment No. 93B not moved.]

Clause 40 agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clause 41 agreed to.

Clause 42 [Power to secure management of traffic control system]:

[Amendment No. 94 not moved.]

Clause 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Guidance as to exercise of traffic powers]:

[Amendment No. 95 not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clause 44 agreed to.

Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment 95A:

After Clause 44, insert the following new clause:

Rights of individuals

("Draft strategy for rights and obligations

.—(1) Every Council shall have a duty to prepare a draft strategy for their area regarding the provision of advice and information concerning an individual's rights and obligations.

(2) A draft strategy shall contain a council's proposals for the administration of the provision of advice and information concerning an individual's rights and obligations within the whole area of the council and shall specify the date or dates by which such a draft strategy shall be implemented.

(3) Every Council shall before 1st April 1997 give public notice of the fact that they have prepared such a draft strategy and of the places within their area where copies of the draft strategy may be inspected, and any such notice shall invite the public, within a period of not less than eight weeks from the date of the notice, to make to the council representations as regards the draft strategy.

(4) Every Council shall, during the period mentioned in subsection (3) above, consult the community councils within their area, and the providers of advice and information services both locally within their area and nationally and such providers shall include national and local voluntary organisations and statutory bodies.

(5) After considering any representations made under subsection (3) or (4) above, the council may amend the draft strategy (whether to take account of those representations or otherwise) and shall adopt the strategy.

(6) After the strategy has been adopted, the council shall give public notice of such strategy and inform the consultees under subsection (4) above.

(7) Where a strategy has been adopted, it shall be the duty of the council concerned to implement the scheme by the date or dates specified in the strategy.

(8) The council concerned shall have a duty to review the strategy within two years of the date of implementation to ensure that the existing strategy makes adequate provision of information and advice concerning an individual's rights and obligations.

(9) Following such a review, a council may amend a strategy adopted under this section or revoke and replace such a strategy but the amended strategy or, as the case may be, new strategy will be subject to the consultative process specified in subsection (3) and (4), and shall then be adopted in accordance with the provisions of this section, subject to such modifications as are necessary.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment is an attempt to improve the service of the citizens advice bureaux. It is backed by a number of bodies, including the Tenants Information Service, Enable, the Federation of Independent Advice Centres, the Scottish Council for Single Parents, SCVO, Scottish Women's Aid, TPAS, the Scottish Anti Poverty Network, the Scottish Asian Action Committee and the Scottish Council for Single Homeless. As the Committee will know, all those bodies act throughout Scotland through a variety of voluntary centres and citizens' advice bureaux. As in all such matters, they encounter great difficulties in getting to the right people for the information that they seek. The well-known skiver, about whom people are so fond of talking, knows everything and he or she can find out the information required, but a great many people throughout Scotland do not know what help they can get or what advice is available.

Therefore, the amendment is an attempt to improve the availability of advice of various sorts throughout the country. It encourages local councils, wherever they may be, to consider the giving out of information and advice and, with the co-operation of voluntary bodies and by consultation, trying to plan ahead for that. The amendment endeavours to improve the location of citizens advice bureaux, co-operation between the various financial voluntary bodies and the advice that is available.

The amendment may not be perfect and it is somewhat elaborate, but the idea behind it is good. I hope that the Government will appreciate it. I beg to move.

Lord Kirkhill

I rise to give general support to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. I, too, am unable to judge whether the new clause in every aspect of its drafting will achieve the aim which he seeks and which those who support it seek. However, my comments are based, as it were, on 20 years hard labour in local government and I can say that, in the main, citizens advice bureaux tend to be located in side streets, behind principal buildings and are difficult to locate. The reasons are the usual commercial reasons; usually these bodies cannot afford rent in a principal street where people can find them readily. If a draft strategy were to be published and implemented it would be of considerable assistance to the citizens advice bureaux if only for that reason. We might then see them located in principal areas where the populace who need to use them might easily be able to do so.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My noble friend Lord Carmichael and I lend our support to the new clause, which was so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. AH Members of the Committee, whether or not they have been Members of another place, will during their political life and public representation have had experience of dealing in particular with the citizens advice bureaux. As was said by my noble friend Lord Kirkhill, the CABs need easy accessibility. One of their features is the way in which they are located in back streets. My experience during the past 25 to 30 years has been that the local authority has acquired a property to demolish at some future date and in order to keep that property tenanted between the time of acquisition and demolition the tenants happen to become a branch of the citizens advice bureaux. That is not a satisfactory approach to this very valuable service.

Their value has not been-and I am sure that they would not claim to be-that they are the people who solve the problems. But, my goodness, theirs is certainly the organisation which points people in the right direction towards others who can solve their problems. There are many people in this country who, when faced with a problem that they see as insurmountable, first approach the citizens advice bureaux and other voluntary organisations. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, my noble friend Lord Kirkhill and I have encouraged the Minister to respond positively to this helpful and valuable new clause.

5.15 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)

The intentions which lie behind the proposed clause are very commendable. However, the Committee may be interested to know that in the wake of the White Paper on open government, a working group has been set up to review the Local Government (Access to Information) Act 1985.

The working group comprises officials from the Scottish Office Environment Department, DoE, local authority associations in England and Wales and CoSLA. Alongside this, I understand that CoSLA proposes to draw up a voluntary code of practice on making information available to the general public. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, will approve of that.

I believe that this working group is ideally placed to take this initiative forward and to ensure that anything proposed does not cut across existing statutes since rights of access to information are enshrined in many separate pieces of legislation. Perhaps I may point Members of the Committee to Clause 139. An amendment was proposed on much the same topic by much the same bodies as those to which the noble Lord referred. That clause enables local authorities to assist voluntary organisations to provide information and advice relating to individuals' rights and obligations. It was added to the Bill during its passage through another place.

If the noble Lord looks to the language of Clause 139 and of the clause that he proposes, he will see that the objectives are much the same. However, the proposal in his clause that councils should have a "duty" to prepare a strategy is firmer than what is provided for in Clause 139. Nevertheless, I consider Clause 139 to be a useful addition in this field.

I have no problem with the motivation behind the new clause and I am not surprised that it is supported by the Opposition Front Bench and the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill. However, I suggest that a joint local and central government working group is the best means of furthering this matter. In view of this important and ongoing work, all of which is part of the Citizen's Charter activity, I hope that the noble Lord will consider that he can withdraw his proposed new clause.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

I thank the Minister for that helpful reply and for drawing my attention to Clause 139, which of course I had read. The main purpose of the amendment was not that the authorities should assist—we know that they want to do so—but that they should plan ahead in order to obtain the most efficient structure. However, in the light of the Minister's helpful reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford moved Amendment No. 95B:

After Clause 44, insert the following new clause:

("Management of Regional Park or Country Park

.Where more than one local authority is responsible for the management of a Regional Park or Country Park previously managed by a regional council, the Secretary of State may by order establish a joint board for the purpose of discharging that function.").

The noble Lord said: This new clause deals with the management, funding and development of country parks throughout Scotland. In moving it, perhaps I might leave with the Minister the suggestion that a joint board should be established. I know that it is strange for someone such as me, who has been so critical of the number of quangos created as a result of this legislation, to suggest that yet one more should be established in order to run the country parks. In this case, the joint board would be made up of representatives from local authorities in the area.

There are numerous examples throughout Scotland, but in order to be brief I shall not go into them. A joint board will be necessary where a country park falls into different authority areas. Those different authorities may well have different priorities as regards the development, funding and management of these country parks. As a result of the development and availability of leisure facilities throughout Scotland, not least the country parks—and I pay tribute to all concerned—it is essential not only that we should retain them but that they should be developed and properly funded. For that reason, I have pleasure in moving the new clause.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I do not know whether the noble Lord recollects—I certainly do—that in 1981 I took through a Private Member's Bill entitled the Countryside (Scotland) Bill which established in Scotland not just the country parks to which he referred but also the larger regional parks. I am pleased to say that there are now four well-established and very successful regional parks in Scotland. The noble Lord is probably familiar with the one in Fife—the Lomond Hills.

Lord Kirkhill

Will the Minister tell the Committee to which of those parks he refers? He said that there are four of them and I should be interested to know to which four he is referring.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

At present, there are four regional parks in Scotland: one at Loch Lomond; one at Clydemuirshiel which is up behind Greenock; the Pentland Hills; and finally the one which encompasses the Lomond Hills and the water, the name of which I forget.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

Lochore Meadows.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Lochore Meadows. I am obliged to the noble Lord for the benefit of his local knowledge. Those parks are all extremely successful and it may be that more parks will be established in Scotland. For that reason, I understand the noble Lord's anxiety that where the management of such parks would require joint co-operation on the part of a number of local authorities, there is a danger that that co-operation may not be forthcoming.

As the noble Lord anticipated, I warm to his support for joint boards because I reflect upon the harsh words that he had to say about the proposals to allow such joint boards to be established in Clause 20.

I have no objection to such regional or country parks having joint boards. However, if local authorities wish to have such an arrangement, the power is in place for them to ask the Secretary of State for it.

The parks are a success story in Scotland. Local authorities have a wide range of options open to them to ensure that that success continues. If it is considered that a joint board is the best way forward, this Bill allows for that.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

In view of what the Minister said, I shall certainly withdraw the amendment. However, I do so with the reservation that in the event that local authorities do not ask the Secretary of State to establish joint boards, he should use the powers that he is taking in the Bill to establish them. I merely leave that matter for the consideration of the Minister.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Ezra moved Amendment No. 95C:

After Clause 44, insert the following new clause:

("Trading Standards functions

.—(1) It shall be the duty of the new authorities to draw up proposals to ensure that the duties, functions or powers of a local weights and measures authority under the Weights and Measures Act 1985 or under any other related legislative provision ("the Trading Standards functions") in Scotland are from 1st April 1996, carried out by not more than 12 bodies, being local authorities or Joint Committees of local authorities, and, in any case where a proposal involves the creation of a Joint Committee of local authorities, such related functions as the Authorities forming the Joint Committees may agree.

(2) The membership of any Joint Committee established under subsection (1) shall be composed of at least one member for each of the authorities belonging to it.

(3) The Secretary of State shall before 1 February 1996 consider whether the proposals drawn up under subsection (1) are satisfactory, having regard in particular to the desirability of ensuring as far as practicable that the Trading Standards functions will be discharged in Scotland in the most effective manner which, in particular—

  1. (a) ensures economy and efficiency in its use of resources;
  2. (b) promotes consistency and uniformity in the application of the Trading Standards functions;
  3. (c) achieves an operational scale to ensure the availability of specialist skills; and
  4. (d) protects the health, safety and economic interests of consumers of goods and services.

(4) Where it appears to the Secretary of State that any proposals which have been drawn up under subsection (1) are not satisfactory, or will not be or are unlikely to be in force by 1 April 1996, he shall, before that date, by order establish not more than 12 bodies to discharge the Trading Standards functions in such areas as may be specified").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the new clause is to ensure that following the restructuring of local authorities in Scotland, the essential elements to deliver an effective trading standards service which meets local needs of consumers and the strategic concerns of trade and industry are retained.

The trading standards function is currently based on nine regional councils and three island councils. The proposal for the creation of a new structure of 32 unitary authorities will not provide a satisfactory basis for the future delivery of an effective and efficient service.

The suggestion that adequate service provision can be achieved through voluntary arrangements has proved not to be a viable alternative. In England, following the abolition of the metropolitan councils, they have, with only one fragile exception been disbanded. I have been involved in the trading standards scene for many years as past president of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration. I can confirm that the role of trading standards is becoming increasingly complex. It is heavily influenced not only by large amounts of legislation emanating from this Parliament but also from Brussels. That has required the development of increasingly expert staff and the establishment of specialist premises fitted out with expensive, sophis-ticated equipment in order that the service can remain effective and keep up with the increasing flow of detailed legislation. The creation of almost three times the number of separate departments in Scotland would inevitably lead either to expensive duplication or a reduction in the level of service.

I remind the Committee that great importance is attached by businesses to consistency and uniformity with regard to trading standards. I quote from a letter which the Director General of the CBI wrote to the president of the Board of Trade on 25th January on this subject. He said:

There is growing concern amongst CBI members about the fragmentation of regulatory services which may follow local government reorganisation.

Our members do not have much confidence in the effectiveness of joint boards constituted voluntarily by local authorities. There is a risk that the participating authorities will take a purely local view and that the necessary co-ordination will not in practice be seen".

Almost without exception, that view is represented by all the leading trading organisations.

I should point out also that in our main competitor countries in western Europe, trading standards are co-ordinated on a smaller-number basis. For example, in Germany, the trading standards organisation is based on the 12 lander. In France, there is a 32-region structure for the whole country. Britain will stand out as a country which had a concentrated trading standards function which will be divided if the proposals go ahead.

There is no doubt that trading standards is a strategic service. That is why the amendment proposes that the new unitary authorities should be obliged to ensure that trading standards remain based on 12 units in Scotland. If that does not work, then the Secretary of State should review the situation. I beg to move.

The Earl of Balfour

I sympathise greatly with the idea behind the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. I am quite certain that he is correct to say that voluntary arrangements will not work.

However, the decision to bring local government back to a single tier may cut out some of the present duplication between the regions and districts. Consumer protection and trading standards are at present regional functions; but markets, food hygiene, standards and labelling are district functions. Therefore, under the new proposed single structure of local government, the whole operation can be managed by the environmental health department.

I find it interesting that although environmental health departments have among their staff some of the most dedicated and highly qualified personnel, I have not received a letter from them saying, "Please preserve the director", because they never had one.

I should also like to refer to Amendment No. 157A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. It refers to a scientific services agency. Perhaps I may express an opinion. We have had public analysts on the staff of local government. Of all the officials we have, I believe that the term "public analyst" is very misleading. I wish that those concerned had chosen the term "professional analyst". That is what they are; indeed, they are very highly qualified people.

I may be out of turn in speaking to another amendment—although, I hope not—but I believe that many Members of the Committee have the matter very much in mind. I shall be most interested to know what the Government propose to do in respect of this general subject. I should also like to know how the smaller authorities will be able to get the technical services they need without necessarily employing their own and, equally, whether there will be cross-border support from some of the bigger authorities.

5.30 p.m.

The Earl of Halsbury

Perhaps I may intervene to assist the Committee on the matter of public analysts. The first qualification is a first-class honours degree in chemistry. They must then qualify in a master's degree from the Royal Society of Chemistry—as a Master of Chemical Analysis. The combination is about seven years, together with a period of training in the office of another public analyst. They are highly skilled people; indeed, they are the cream of the cream of applied chemistry.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

I am content to leave the question of public analysts until we come to that debate. I shall concentrate my remarks on the proposed new clause of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. As we proceed through the Bill, there is a danger that if someone does not rise from the Opposition Front Bench to express support for a new clause, especially one as important as that now before the Committee, it will be thought that we do not support it. Therefore, I suppose, we are damned if we do and damned if we do not.

We are discussing a most important issue. If any local government service is consumer orientated, it is certainly the trading standards department. As I understand the proposed new clause, so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, its aim is to concentrate trading standards operations on 12 authorities rather than each of the unitary authorities having its own trading standards officer.

We keep returning to Central Region, and I am pleased to see the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, is with us today. However, it provides a very good example of the kind of chaos that could prevail if, say, Stirling had its own trading standards officer; if Clackmannan had its own trading standards officer; and if Falkirk, likewise, had its own trading standards officer. The truth of the matter in Central Region is that people in Clackmannan shop in Stirling, people from Stirling shop in Alloa and people in Falkirk shop in both Stirling and Alloa. If we had different trading standards approaches in those three small areas, that would obviously not be to the benefit of consumers.

My experience over the years has been that trading standards officers have certainly raised the awareness of those selling goods about the need to ensure that the standards set in legislation are met. We can all give examples from our case files of how consumers have been deceived by those selling goods. A new development that is taking up a great deal of the time of trading standards officers is the fictitious labelling of goods. We all know what goes on as regards perfume, aftershave lotions and garments such as polo-neck sweaters. The Open Golf Championship is taking place at Turnberry. I am absolutely certain that some fictitious goods will be on sale there during the next fortnight. Trading standards are absolutely essential. It is a very good new clause, and I am pleased to support it.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

I must apologise for not having heard the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, speak to the amendment. Therefore, I speak in ignorance, although I have had a discussion in the Border Region recently with those who operate in this area and also in environmental health. All I would say to my noble and learned friend is that those in my part of the world are concerned that the matter should be dealt with by 12 areas in Scotland. They feel quite comfortable about arrangements for the future in dealing with 100,000 souls in the area and see no reason why the Government's view, as portrayed after consultation, should not be upheld in the Bill.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

I support the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Ezra. In the days when I was chairman of the Advertising Standards Authority, I had a good deal to do with trading standards officers who were then at an early stage of their development. However, I formed a very good impression of their professional standards and of their general integrity and usefulness. It is one more case of the kind of service that is put seriously at risk through being dealt with by a large number of small authorities. The noble Earl, Lord Balfour, pointed correctly to some of the complications in such matters; for example, the way in which various environmental health matters are dealt with at district council level. The noble Earl raised the question as to how the new smaller unitary authorities will be able to provide themselves with the necessary technical expertise to perform the trading standards function. That is essentially the point my noble friend Lord Ezra made.

There is a certain critical mass that is required in terms of the organisation here as regards the level of expertise. If trading standards are to operate properly, highly specialised people are required as well as some very expensive and highly specialised equipment for use in certain areas. Therefore, there is no alternative in the new structure of local government that the Government propose to trying to make joint arrangements of some kind. The essential issue is whether those arrangements are to be piecemeal and voluntary or whether they are to have some systematic and coherent framework. That is what my noble friend Lord Ezra proposes.

It is not only the interests of the consumer that are at stake; it is also the interests of commerce, business and industry. In the modern world where such matters are of great significance, it is most important to have some kind of consistency, uniformity and coherence. Indeed, it is most important in terms of our relations with the European Union and the directives that flow out of Brussels.

My noble friend Lord Ezra quoted from the CBI. In conclusion, perhaps I may quote from the CBI in Scotland. The confederation says that it, believes that Trading Standard:; organisations benefit from the economies of scale for the purpose of specialist equipment and the employment of suitably trained staff. We therefore consider that introducing smaller units than those currently in operation may lead to fragmentation and inefficiency (resulting in increased business costs) of the services available to business and should wherever possible be avoided". I hope that the Government will give a positive and sympathetic response to the points made by my noble friend.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, for having made it clear that, despite the wording of the proposed new clause which refers to a, Joint Committee of local authorities", what he has in mind is not a set of voluntary bodies coming together, which could be dismantled at any time, but rather statutory joint arrangements. However, in the context of the Bill, the latter would, I think, be best described as a joint board rather than as a committee which conveys, certainly in this context, the idea that it is a voluntary arrangement which could indeed be broken up at any time.

I wish to say immediately that I am well aware of the concerns of different trading standards professionals over the effect this reorganisation may have on their service. I should also say that my ministerial colleague at the Scottish Office, the Minister for Industry and Local Government, Mr. Allan Stewart, has met, and is indeed due to meet again, Sir Gordon Borrie and representatives from the Institute of Trading Standards Administration to discuss further these very matters. I am not entirely sure when that meeting is to be held but I understand that it will be held shortly.

As a number of those who have contributed to this debate have made clear, I am also aware that it is not only the trading standards professionals who have expressed anxiety about this matter. The anxiety that was revealed in the comments of the CBI in Scotland that were mentioned today is also shared by a number of companies and consumer organisations in Scotland. I am not surprised at that because this is an important service. The skills required are probably becoming ever greater and a number of the problems that have to be resolved require an ever greater expertise. However, as my noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden made clear, there is no unanimity as regards the way this matter might be resolved. If the Border Region with its population believes that the areas we are discussing are of a sufficient size to provide the necessary expertise, we consider that that is essentially a matter for that region.

In contrast to the proposal that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, made that there should be 12 such bodies in Scotland, there have been those who have lobbied with equal vigour that Scotland is of such a size that there should be only one body for the whole country. Against that background of a wide range of conflicting advice we have come to the conclusion, which is part of a theme throughout this part of the Bill, that local authorities should retain the right to decide how they will deliver their own trading standards services. Expertise can and is already being shared by councils who can and do buy in specialist advice as and when necessary. There is no reason why similar arrangements should not continue to apply. Alternatively, councils in this field might wish to share staff.

The Bill contains a number of provisions—we have discussed them on a number of occasions in the past few days —aimed at offering local authorities as much flexibility as possible. For example, Clause 57—which we shall discuss later—makes it clear that councils are entitled to buy in services from one another. Clause 20 allows councils to ask the Secretary of State to set up joint boards in their area.

Given the range of advice that we have received and the lobbying as to the appropriate number required in this case, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that I would be reluctant to determine now that 12 was necessarily the right figure. It would seem to me that the preferred course would be to allow the local authorities, as they are established, to determine what arrangements they think are most appropriate. If they were to choose to establish joint boards, and if the total number came to 10, 12 or thereabouts, that would clearly cause the Secretary of State no difficulties at all. However, at this time we certainly wish to maintain a flexible approach to accommodate the range of views we have heard from those in the Borders through to those people who want a single arrangement for all of Scotland.

I do not underestimate the importance of this matter. We are discussing an important area of services delivered by local government, but I hope that after this useful debate the noble Lord will feel that he can withdraw his amendment.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Ezra

I thank the Minister for his thoughtful response and for the views expressed by other Members of the Committee. The issue is really quite an important one. There is a re-organisation of local government into smaller units but there are certain functions of local government which many feel need to continue to be provided on a larger regional basis. Trading standards, by general accord, are one of those services. I very much fear that the Government's approach, as explained to us, will introduce a good deal of uncertainty into the situation. At the moment the trading standards organisation in Scotland is working very effectively. It has the equipment and it has the personnel to do the job for which it was set up. This is all going to be put at risk while the larger number of unitary authorities make up their minds as to whether they want to do the whole job themselves, to buy in services or to join with others. I can see a period of major disturbance of this important service arising from that, as each of the 32 new authorities make up their minds as to what they want to do.

The Government should reflect seriously on this problem. There may well be strong arguments in favour of this larger number of unitary bodies but there are equally strong arguments for maintaining well-established regional services which are of the sophistication and the skill required in the case of trading standards. I would not like at this stage to press the amendment to a vote but I believe that this is a matter we shall come back to at a later stage. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 45 agreed to.

Clause 46 [Proceedings in district courts: transitional provisions]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 95D:

Page 44, line 15, after ("shall") insert ("no later than 31st March 1996").

The noble Lord said: I beg to move Amendment No. 95D. This amendment is important from the Scottish point of view. I am not sure that I can speak for the rest of the United Kingdom but I believe that Scotland has always been fairly far advanced in its provision of social work, originally through the churches and the parishes. Then we had the Poor Law. It was in many areas an enlightened Poor Law, although not in every area-

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

I hope I may correct my noble friend Lord Carmichael. He is so enthusiastic to meet the Government's wishes to make progress with this Bill that he has jumped one group of amendments ahead. He is to be highly commended for that. As he is being so co-operative, I hope he will receive a co-operative reply from the Minister when he replies to the debate. I shall now speak to Amendment No. 95D which deals not with social work, which we shall come to shortly, but with another aspect of social life in Scotland; namely, the district courts. Amendment No. 95D seeks to ensure that the records of the district courts are handed over to the new authorities no later than 31st March 1996. The choice of date is obvious because the new authorities come into being on 1st April 1996.

This could lead to some confusion if, for example, an accused person appeared in a district court and the case was not finalised before the new authority and the new district court took over. There could be some confusion in that case. I believe this amendment would impose a discipline on the district courts to ensure that their records are handed over timeously. Amendments Nos. 96, 96A and 97, in this grouping, are basically probing amendments. The purpose of the amendments is to establish the destination of fines levied in district courts.

Earlier today when we debated traffic matters I asked the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate who would retain fines for certain traffic offences such as parking fines and so on. He kindly indicated that the local authorities would retain those fines. The amendments are tabled as probing amendments and to encourage the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate to ensure that fines levied in district courts go to the local authorities.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

The purpose of Amendment No. 95D has been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Ewing. Nonetheless, the Government cannot accept the amendment. I should point out to the noble Lord that the provision in the legislation reflects the equivalent provision made at the time of the last reorganisation. We are not aware of any difficulty which occurred on that occasion.

The date with which we are concerned, 1st April 1996, will be a Monday. The courts will sit until the previous Friday. It will therefore be necessary for a large number of case papers to be retained in the courts until Friday, 29th March. As the noble Lord will appreciate, unless the case will be continued on the Monday there is no need to impose upon the people concerned with the administration of the district courts the necessity to come in over that weekend in order to transfer papers. Of course the papers must be transferred in time for the next relevant stage of the case. However, we are satisfied that those who are involved with the district courts—who have to deal with a great many papers— will see the need for all case papers to be transferred in time for the next relevant sitting of the court. That was how the matter worked out last time, and we are confident that it will be the case again.

For that reason we do not believe that the specific deadline which the noble Lord proposes in the amendment is necessary. It would impose an unnecessary rigidity. We are confident that those involved, who are very conscious of deadlines, will make the necessary arrangements.

On the matter of fines perhaps I may repeat what I said when the matter arose earlier—when I did not expect it to arise. The position is that in England and Wales magistrates' courts do not retain any fines. They all go to the Exchequer. In Scotland fines are retained. However, that is subject to an exception in certain cases, in particular in connection with road traffic offences. In that instance the fines are remitted to the exchequer, after deduction of a percentage which allows for recovery costs.

As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, over the years there have been discussions about this matter. At this stage we have no intention of reviewing the overall district court system. We are satisfied that it is working well. There has been remarkable growth in the responsibility of the courts over the years since the system was introduced in 1975. We do not propose an overall review of the system. In the absence of such a review it does not seem appropriate to single out this one aspect.

In the light of that explanation I hope that the nobles Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I was fascinated by the noble and learned Lord's explanation of the difference between the Scottish and English legal systems. He said that in Scotland fines for road traffic offences, with some exceptions, were put back into the local court system. I was not aware of that. Can he say whether that is a clawback or something extra? I can hardly believe that the Treasury would let us get away with that.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I always feel that local government finance is one of those mysteries which one enters at one's peril. My overall impression is that in England and Wales the fines are not retained in order to pay for maintenance because support is provided from central government for the magistrates' courts system. At the end of the day the system works in a different way.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

Can the noble and learned Lord tell me where the parking fines go, and whether parking attendants work on a quota basis?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

I am sure that they do not work on a quota system. I am not sure whether the fines are retained locally. I should not like to get that wrong so I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

Far be it from me to enter an opinion when the noble and learned Lord is not quite sure of the matter. However, my understanding of the situation in relation to parking fines is that the local authority retains them. If someone wants to appeal against a parking ticket it is not the chief constable to whom that person should write but the chief executive of the local authority. I have always been told that that is how they are able to buy the traffic wardens' uniforms and that is why most of them are so well dressed these days.

I am reasonably satisfied with the noble and learned Lord's explanation in response to the amendment. However, it is important to note that when the 1973 local government Act went through Parliament the courts were not reformed. They were reformed as a result of Scottish civic government legislation in 1975. In those days some local authorities did not even have borough police courts. The stipendiary magistrates prevailed in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. The situation is different now.

Having said that, I am satisfied with the noble and learned Lord's reply. In begging leave to withdraw the amendment I do not want to stand in the way of the determination of my noble friend Lord Carmichael to move on to the next set of amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

Before the amendment is withdrawn, I should like to apologise to the noble Lord. When I referred to reorganisation I was thinking of the reorganisation of the district courts.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 46 agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 95E:

After Clause 46, insert the following new clause:

("Social Work

. In section 161(1) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, for the words "a regional or islands council" substitute "as section 2 of the Local Government etc (Scotland) Act 1994").

The noble Lord said: I am grateful to my noble friend. I was so eager earlier because the noble Lord the Deputy Chairman tried to coax me to rise. We know each other well. He is too big for me; he can get away with anything.

Amendment No. 95E relates to a matter which has caused a great deal of worry in Scotland. Rightly or wrongly, Scotland believes that it has always had a fairly forward-looking attitude to social needs and the Poor Law generally. That started with the church parish system, which developed into a semi-professional system. That continued when the Poor Law itself was introduced. There were problems, but for its time it was a fairly enlightened Poor Law system.

Subsequently there were public assistance Acts. There were directors of public assistance, and they were followed by directors of welfare when local authorities took over more of the work. The directors of public assistance or of welfare were always people who could be held responsible for the general working of the officers, male and female, in their departments. The big breakthrough came following the Kilbrandon Report prior to 1967,I think, when the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 came into force. It is a long time ago now. It is incredible to think that it is more than 20 years ago.

That was a quite seminal Act for its period—a far-reaching and thorough piece of work. The buck stopped with the social work director. He or she was the final arbiter in the training of social workers, and in the organisation of social work generally. He or she was answerable to the community at the end of the day for anything that went wrong.

There is a certain worry that after all this time the director of social services and the social work committee, as we know them, will be dispensed with and replaced with a system which has much less chance of critical, impartial examination. The idea seems to fit well with having small local authorities. If local authorities are small, it makes it difficult to think in terms of a social work director.

The Minister will be aware that in the Local Government (Wales) Bill an effort was made to repeal the statutory provision for directors of social services and committees by an amendment which was rejected. There is now the assurance that in Wales there will be a continued provision of directors of social services and social work committees. I may be wrong; I may be chauvinistic. But why should Scotland—I believe that over a long period it has set a high standard in the responsibility and professionalism of its social work —lose the director of social services and the social work committees which have been such a help in so many ways?

I am not sure of the situation as regards Wales, but in England probation officers are in a different category from social workers; whereas in Scotland the director of social services is also the person responsible for the probation service. As a result, partly, of the Kilbrandon Report, we have a reasonably well integrated social work service. I hope that the Minister will give the amendment serious consideration and will accept it. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

Noble Lords may wonder why I, who live in England, should speak with passion and feeling for the social work service and directors of social services in Scotland. I presume to do so, because first, I am half Scottish, secondly, I spend my holidays in Scotland, and, thirdly, I have been a director of social services.

I have two questions for the noble and learned Lord. What is wrong with the present system? Why is it being changed? Do we change a system for change's sake or to improve it? What is wrong with the present arrangement of having a director of social services and social work committees? Secondly, if the Minister is able to prove that that system is wrong and poor work is being done, how will the proposed system be better? How will it improve the service?

As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, the provision regarding Wales was passed in this House, but the position has been reversed. I understand that there is now provision in the Local Government (Wales) Bill for social work committees and directors of social services. Why has the position been changed regarding Wales but not Scotland?

The duties of a social services department, and therefore of the director of social services, are wide ranging. They involve family care, adoption, mental health, the disabled, the elderly and the vulnerable—and community care is slowly but surely being introduced. That being the case, who will administer the social services? Where will the social services be placed in the local authority with such wide ranging services? What is the purpose of the move? What is the purpose of the alteration?

I submit that social services committees throughout Wales, Scotland and England have had a sense of great responsibility. Local people have always known the members of the social services committees, and to whom they could apply. My experience is that members of the social services committee were really committed to helping the vulnerable in the area in which they lived.

From the point of view of a director of social services, I have to say that with wide ranging duties one needs a qualified and trained leader of the work to whom the community and the committee know that they can turn. If we do not have social work committees or directors of social services, I suggest that the service will deteriorate. There will be vague accountability. Who will ensure that standards are maintained? Will there not be fragmentation of the services? Will there not be a lack of direction?

I have visited Scotland on many occasions. I have attended many of the panels in Scotland. I have visited colleagues in local authority social services. Furthermore, I am closely connected in Scotland with Barnardo's and the mediation services. It may be presumptuous of me to tell Members of the Committee from Scotland, but I understand from the voluntary organisations that those bodies give a very good service. Those organisations are worried. To whom will they go? With whom will they co-operate? Who will be responsible for co-operating with the health authorities, the hospitals, education and other services? Unless there is a structure, we shall have great difficulties. I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord and beg the Committee to give a second thought to this provision.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, said. In order to carry through the continued development of the services required in the social work area, it is absolutely vital that there is leadership and political commitment at local levels. The statutory requirement for a social work committee and a director of social services has ensured that those services have had a clear focus for many years. It would be a great pity if we were to throw that focus away.

The Earl of Minto

During the first day of the Committee stage and throughout most of today so far, I have found myself welcoming the support of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. I have also been pleased to support him. However, on this issue I am afraid that we differ.

I believe that I can safely say that no one within local authorities has a greater respect for the directors of social work than I do, and I have tried to find a purpose to the Bill. I think that it is important for us to remember that we in local government have complained for many years about interference by central government in our internal affairs. The Government's proposals, which were initially contained in their consultation paper on the internal management of local authorities in Scotland, sought to give greater freedom to local authorities as regards managing their affairs. In my view, there is no reason why local authorities should be required by statute to have social work committees, any more than any other committees normally found in a local authority. I believe that we must have that flexibility.

Similarly, there is no reason why, in my view, local authorities should be required by statute to have a director of social work any more than other directorial posts normally found in a council's management structure or directorial posts which will be found in the structures of the future.

I bow to the great integrity of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, in all the comments that she made. It has been suggested that if the statutory requirements are lifted, then local authorities will act irresponsibly in the management of the services at both member and officer level. I do not believe that that is true, nor that there is evidence for it. Given the Government's intention to free up the internal management of local authorities, I believe that it would be extraordinary for local authorities to contend for or support this issue.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I wish to speak against Amendment No. 144. It will not surprise the noble Lords, Lord Ewing and Lord Carmichael, that I am reluctant to see future councils tied to such a detailed job description for the director of social work. In particular, I am unhappy about subsection (4) which aims strictly to limit the director's work. It is the plan in Clackmannan to administer social work and housing within a personal services department. As a social worker, I have spent most of my time on the telephone with housing departments as well as social security departments. It is an essential part of the reorganisation process that each new council makes its own unique decisions about how it will organise itself and deliver its services.

The Earl of Perth

From listening to the debate, it is all-important that the social services, in particular for handicapped children, should continue to work as well as they do at present. I well understand the anxiety that that causes in the sense of keeping exactly the same form of structure as we have today. I think it would be a mistake to insist on social directors as such, but it is vital to ensure that the various local authorities either get together or do a proper job on the two issues. I am particularly anxious about that because of the short timetable. There is a short time in which to get all the provisions functioning. I am fearful that in the hiatus between what exists and what is to come in the future there will be serious difficulty in relation to some of the work.

Thus in one way or another I very much hope that the hiatus —if I may put it that way—can be avoided and the work of the social services, particularly for children, will go on. Whether that requires officials, as under the drafting of Amendment No. 144, I am not so clear.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

Perhaps I may breach precedent by making a contribution before the Minister replies. I have been worried about the contributions of the noble Earls, Lord Minto and Lord Mar and Kellie, both made from different standpoints. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, spoke from the point of view of a small local authority which will simply not be able—if I may say so with respect—to provide its own social work services. It will have to buy them in. Therefore, there will be no need to have a director of social work in Clackmannan—the authority will have to buy in its services. It is as simple as that.

I suspect that the objection of the noble Earl, Lord Minto, is to the statutory nature of the appointment and the conflict that that causes between the chief officers and the directors of social work. It is something of which I am conscious and my experience, not of local government but of discussing such matters and examining the problems with which we are faced, is that there has been conflict with the statutory nature of the responsibilities of the directors of social work. They are able to say to the elected representatives on the one hand and the chief officers on the other: "These powers are laid down in legislation for us to discharge and there is nothing that you can do about that". I am not sure that that is the framework that we should follow in future.

However, I am absolutely certain that we need a professionally qualified person to head social work departments. Whatever designation that person has, we need a professionally qualified person. My mind is open as to whether he is called the director of social work or the chief social work officer or whether some other bright term can be thought up to designate such people. My mind is open on that, but it is closed on the whole question of the need for professional expertise in administering the discharge of social work services.

We know, and the Minister knows, that the sheriff principals and the sheriffs in Scotland have expressed anxiety about the possibility of there being no designated social work officer. I should have thought that that kind of concern should weigh heavily with the Minister. I hope that, if we cannot resolve the matter today, when we come back to the issue at Report stage the Minister will indicate in his response that he will return with a proposal which will reach a compromise. At the end of the day I suspect that that is what we shall do. I hope that we shall reach a compromise which is acceptable to all sides in this important debate.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

We have already had a number of important debates during the Committee stage this afternoon and doubtless we will have further important ones this evening. However, I hope that it will not be taken amiss if I say that I regard this debate this afternoon with particular concern and anxiety. I am not the Minister for local government in Scotland, but within my portfolio is the responsibility for social work in Scotland. I hope that it will be appreciated that I am as keen as anyone to ensure that the high quality in the discharge of social work services in Scotland is maintained. I would not wish to be party to any change which brought about a diminution.

I am, of course, familiar with all the directors of social work in Scotland. Like the noble Earl, Lord Minto, I have the highest regard for their professional ability and commitment to their responsibilities. Perhaps I might be allowed to say—some Members of the Committee will have heard me say this already, but perhaps those who have contributed to our debates in Committee for the first time will bear with me—that the thrust of our policy in this Bill has been to give local authorities as much freedom and flexibility as possible in determining the structure and management of their affairs. The removal of the statutory requirements in question should not in any sense be seen as an implied criticism of social work committees in the past or of past or present directors of social work in Scotland.

I was interested to hear the historical analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, of how we arrived at the position of creating directors of social work. The noble Lord is absolutely right. In 1968 there was very good reason for making statutory provision because social work was still a new and developing service. It is now very well established among the range of services for which local authorities are responsible and, again, I recognise the contribution that social work committees have made. They have been central to the introduction of the major initiatives we have launched in the areas of Care in the Community, child care and criminal justice. Directors of social work have provided very sound professional oversight and should take credit for some very innovative thinking in the way, particularly in the last year, Care in the Community has developed. I compliment them for that activity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, asked if we are making change simply for change's sake? I answer her question immediately. No, we certainly are not. It is because we want to give the new authorities greater flexibility that we have proposed the changes. We were not alone in considering that to be immediately desirable. The majority of responses to our consultation paper were in favour of removing the statutory requirements. For that reason our proposals reflect that view. I have no doubt that many, if not all, of the new proposed authorities will wish to establish a so-called social work committee and also appoint a director of social work along the lines of what is the present statutory requirement. That is one way of delivering the requisite services. As I indicated, in the past they have been well delivered following that model. But, as the noble Earl, Lord Minto, indicated, why should it be that central government should force authorities in law to follow that particular route?

The point was raised that for Wales a change had been made as that Bill completed its passage through the other place so as to bring back in, or retain, social work committees. But my understanding—and I approach this matter cautiously, not being intimately acquainted with the detail —is that the key difference in Wales is that the director of social services is not required to be professionally qualified and can take on other responsibilities.

It has to be appreciated that if the statutory requirements with regard to a social work committee and a director of social work are to be removed, that does not in any sense remove from local authorities the statutory duties imposed upon them in respect of the wide range of important services they provide. One looks across the fields of criminal justice, care in the community and, some might think most importantly of all, in relation to children. None of the statutory duties presently imposed is affected by the changes. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that there are within the Bill important provisions requiring existing authorities to co-operate with shadow authorities to provide information to them to ensure the smooth transition in relation to handicapped children and others to which he rightly draws our attention.

I have met with the directors of social work and discussed this matter. I am very much aware of the wide range of views expressed on the subject in the correspondence received, I believe, by all of us in some volume. I am also aware that, as this very interesting and useful debate has revealed, there are sharply conflicting views at the moment as to what is the best way forward. I listened with particular care to what the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, said and the suggestion he made that there might be some path we could follow that lies between continuing with the status quo in all its detail and the removal of these provisions in their entirety, as is presently proposed. I should like to take the opportunity of the time that we shall have before we return to the Report stage of the Bill to reflect not only on what the noble Lord said, but on what other noble Lords said. It would seem to me appropriate that the noble Lord should withdraw the amendment at this stage because I wish to reflect carefully on what he and others said.

Baroness Seear

Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, can I ask him a question? I hesitate very much as a mere Sassenach to enter the debate on this Scottish matter, but I well recall that after the reorganisation of the social services in England a number of people who were most emphatically not qualified social workers were put in charge of departments running social work, with pretty disastrous results. Can he assure us that the people in charge will be qualified social workers? Otherwise, I warn him: he will rue the day.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

As the Bill stands, the requirement to have a director of social work with qualifications would be removed from the existing arrangement. I am aware of a number of the instances to which the noble Baroness refers. I emphasise again that the statutory duties with regard to the various client groups that are imposed upon local authorities in Scotland are in no sense altered by the proposals we make. However, I accept that there is a very real concern, when considering some of the existing duties of directors of social work in Scotland, that there should be some statutory officer who is directly answerable for particular duties (let us say, in relation to the court) and that a particular individual should be identifiable. As I said, I listened very carefully to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, and I understand those concerns. For that reason I shall be grateful if the amendments can be withdrawn to allow some further time for reflection.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

The Minister has certainly taken much care over his answer, and it would be surly of us if we did not respond. When he spoke about the Welsh situation he had at his side his noble and learned friend who put the Welsh Bill through. He could probably have found out from him what was the difference between the situation in Wales and that in Scotland, and why there was a difference. I do not think that he quite cleared up the matter.

There is another point of difference. The noble and learned Lord talked about consultation. I do not doubt that there was consultation and that results showed that people were quite happy about not having a social work director. But one of the problems with the Bill is that there has been very little public awareness of consultation with local authorities about its contents. One noble Lord said that he wondered for a long time what was the purpose of the Bill. There could have been better consultation. I believe that we could have been better informed.

The Minister mentioned the volume of correspondence and mail that he had received. I have never known a Bill on which I have had so much correspondence as this one. It has been quite unbelievable. The volume of correspondence generated has been well above normal.

The Minister has been very helpful. He tried fully to explain why he came to this complicated decision and the purpose of it. The promise that he will look at it again before we come to Report stage gives me hope. Therefore, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 47 [Amendment of District Courts (Scotland) Act 1975]:

[Amendments Nos. 96 to 97 not moved.]

Clause 47 agreed to.

Clauses 48 to 51 agreed to.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 52 [Records held by local authorities]:

Lord Ewing of Kirkford moved Amendment No. 97A:

Page 46, line 2, after ("the") insert ("professional custody,").

The noble Lord said: In this group, Amendments Nos. 97A and 97B have been tabled in my name and the names of my noble friends as well as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom. Amendment No. 98 stands in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Balfour and again the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom. All the amendments deal with archives and the Keeper of the Records. They are designed to ensure, if it is at all possible, that archives built up in Scotland since the reorganisation of local government in 1973 survive the reorganisation.

There has been a tremendous increase in the availability of information through the archives which have been built up. It will be a sad day if, because of the reorganisation and the emphasis that the new local authorities have to place on other aspects of policy, we were to lose the resources that have been built up over the years.

The amendments also give the Keeper of the Records a bigger say about the way in which the records are kept, access to the records and the professional advice that would be made available. In that respect the amendments are quite important.

I shall leave the Committee with just one anecdote about the archives and the archivist in the Royal Borough of Stirling at the time when I represented Stirling. The local paper asked me to write an obituary for a very dear friend—whom the noble Earl, Lord Minto, may well know, and I can name him because, sadly, he is no longer with us. I refer to Councillor Michael Kelly, who was one of only three members of Scottish local authorities to serve for 50 consecutive years. I asked if he was dying and was told that he was. I went to the archives and took out all the relevant material and typed up the obituary. However, before I handed in the copy to the local editor, I thought that I would go to see Michael on his deathbed. When I went to see him he was out feeding his pigs. Nevertheless, I kept the material.

The point I make is that the material was valuable. Happily, Michael lived for another 10 years after that time. But it would be a shame to lose all that material. The purpose of the amendments is to preserve it. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

The Earl of Balfour

I should like to add a few words on these amendments because my name is connected with one of them. At present Clause 52(2) reads: A local authority may dispose of any records which they do not consider to be worthy of preservation". In that respect I should like to give the Committee one example of the value of such records. It happened when the reorganisation of local government was taking place under the 1973 Act. That Act did away with the keeping of fiars prices. Some counties kept those records and some did not. However, they were kept by the sheriff's office and they were a record of the average agricultural crops for each year. My own county, East Lothian, had a compilation of such records which went back well over 300 years. They would have been of no interest to the sheriff's office. They had nothing to do with local authority functions. I was glad to learn about the fiars prices and on one occasion I had to use them for agricultural purposes. I followed the 1973 Bill during its passage through this Chamber.

I am glad to say that the records are now in the Scottish Record Office. I have the highest admiration for the Scottish Record Office. It does an absolutely superb job. I tabled the amendment purely to give the Scottish Record Office an opportunity to say what it would like to keep and what it would not like to keep. The present subsection does not cover that point.

The Earl of Minto

I wish to support these amendments. Nothing is more important than the preservation of archives. One is apt to find that those who do not know about the matter can make mistakes and it is of great importance that one should have expert opinion, particularly before any question of disposal arises.

I can think of many cases in which people have said, "We will tear these records up. They are taking up space. Let us get rid of them" and it has been a tragedy for the local authorities. They may well think that those records are not of importance but in fact they may well be of great importance. The need to consult with experts —that is to say, the Keeper of the Records—is essential.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

This is not a debate on whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. However, it might be as well to begin the debate on the amendments by reminding the Committee that Clause 52 requires exactly what my noble friend would like to see done; namely, that a local authority shall make proper arrangements, not just for the preservation but also —as an amendment was introduced during the passage of the Bill—for the management of any records. The clause then goes on to describe that and states that the local authority shall: before putting any such arrangements into effect, or making any material change to such arrangements, consult the Keeper of the Records of Scotland, and have regard to any comments which he may make on the proposed arrangements or changes". There is little doubt about the desirability of local authorities keeping their records in a proper state—not only preserving them but also managing them. But our concern is that it should not be for local authorities to consult the keeper on each occasion on which they wish to dispose of a record. As drafted, the amendment would apply not simply to historical archives but to every piece of official paper produced by the new authorities. In our view it is administratively unworkable. It would also be at odds with the general policy that local authorities should be allowed to operate autonomously within an agreed framework such as that established by Clause 52.

I say to those Members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate that I am sure that the keeper has been fully involved in the preparation of the clause and that he supports its provisions. Indeed, he is already in contact with local authorities with regard to Clauses 52 and 53. There will be further contact between the keeper, my officials and local authorities to ensure that transitional arrangements go smoothly and that the records provisions are properly observed by the new authorities.

The clause as drafted ensures that the general principles to which each local authority will work in disposing of records will be discussed with the keeper. There is no need for a discussion on the disposal of each individual document thereafter and the keeper does not have the resources to enable him to consider each and every item of which a local authority wishes to dispose.

The proposed Amendment No. 97A would impose a duty on local authorities to use the services of professional archivists for their records management. As I explained, under Clause 52(1) local authorities are obliged to make proper arrangements for the preservation and management of their records and must consult the Keeper of the Records of Scotland before putting any such arrangements into effect. The keeper will be seeking to encourage the best possible professional standards and practice. That will clearly include encouraging the use of professional archivists wherever possible whenever the keeper considers it necessary to enable the authority to fulfil its statutory duty. However, we do not wish to impose a duty on local authorities to do so but rather leave it for them to decide how best to make proper arrangements once they have consulted with the keeper and had regard to his comments.

Turning to Amendment No. 97B, the duty set out in the clauses is for local authorities to consult the Keeper of the Records about arrangements for the preservation and management of their records and to have regard to his comments. However, we do not consider that local authorities should be obliged to obtain the keeper's formal approval before putting their arrangements into effect. I should like to point out that working relations between local authority archive staff and the Scottish Record Office are good and the latter are very much aware of the practical and financial constraints under which authorities operate. Allowing local authorities to decide for themselves is the most effective and generally acceptable means of encouraging enhanced archive provision without requiring local authorities to go further than their resources allow.

In providing advice to local authorities, the keeper will stress not only the professional benefits of a properly managed archive for purposes which the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, and others may find valuable, but also the benefits in terms of an increase in administrative efficiency which a proper records management system can provide. In addition, storage costs can be reduced by the selection for destruction of records not worthy of preservation. In recent times local authorities which introduced such a system more than covered their costs by the savings made. Accordingly, with that explanation, I should be grateful if the noble Lord will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

One piece of documentation that I can think of for selection for destruction is this Bill. But with that comment and with the comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, ringing in my ears, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 97B and 98 not moved.]

Clause 52 agreed to.

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clause 54 [Restriction on disposal of assets and entering into contracts by existing authorities]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 99:

Page 48, line 6, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 99 seeks clarification. Subsection (4) (a) defines the "relevant successor authority" as being, the new local authority within whose area the land will be situated".

The new authority within whose area the land or property is situated may not always be the appropriate authority to consult prior to disposal. Perhaps the Minister can deal with that point. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Clause 54 as drafted requires that existing councils must have the consent of the appropriate successor council before they can dispose of land for more than £250,000. Under the provision, land also includes buildings while the successor council is defined as the one within whose area the land or buildings are situated.

I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is a satisfactory definition of "successor authority" in the vast majority of cases. I acknowledge that there may be a few instances where the definition of successor authority is inappropriate, but I wonder whether that will prove to be a problem in practice. More to the point, I wonder whether it is a real enough problem to merit imposing the additional constraints on councils which a change to the drafting would involve.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

Perhaps the Minister can clear up one point—it may be that I am not very good at reading Bills. Is the interim period the difficult period? Is it the case that the old authority may start disposing of land or property before the new authority takes over and therefore the successor authority must have some interim powers?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

It is for the interim period. As I say, there is a definition included within the section which settles when it is that one has to go to a single successor council to ensure that there is agreement or approval of what it is proposed to dispose of.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I thank the Minister for that explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clause 55 agreed to.

6.45 p.m.

Clause 56 [Power and duty of existing local authorities to assist new authorities]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 100:

Page 50, line 23, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Lord said: This amendment again seeks clarification. It removes the Secretary of State's power to regulate the exercise by local authorities of the power to contract with other authorities. I want to avoid any possibility that the Secretary of State will be leaning over the shoulder of the local authority all the time in order to control those with whom it makes contracts. That part of the Bill may be a little obscure to the layman. I beg to move.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My name also is attached to the amendment. One of the things about which we require an explanation is that the language, which is beautifully direct, states that, The Secretary of State may direct an existing local authority to do anything which in his opinion is appropriate for the purpose of putting a new authority in a position to carry out their functions". It seems a little tough to me.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. It appears to be a widely drawn provision. However, perhaps I can emphasise and repeat what my honourable friend the Minister for Local Government said in another place. This is a reserve power which, provided councils co-operate sensibly with each other, will not be used. It will be used only if new or existing authorities require assistance which could reasonably be expected to be provided by another existing council but which is not forthcoming.

In order to underline the assurance given by my ministerial colleague, I should like to make it clear that the power will certainly be used with care, if at all. It will certainly not be used by the Secretary of State to block, for example, service developments by an existing council simply because they are at odds with what may be the political philosophy of the Government. I take the noble Lord's point, but I hope the explanation and assurance that the power will only be used in rare circumstances, if at all, will enable him to feel that he can withdraw the amendment.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

I thank the Minister for that explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 56. agreed to.

Clause 57 [Further provision as to discharge of Junctions by authorities]:

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 101:

Page 51, line 5, at end insert: ("(3A) The Secretary of State may direct that local authorities enter into agreements under this section in relation to social work services where such agreements appear to him to be necessary to protect the interests of users of out of area services. (3B) In the event that a direction under subsection (3A) is made, and it appears to any authority affected thereby that an agreement will not be entered into within a reasonable period, that authority may refer the matter to the Secretary of State. (3C) If a referral is made under subsection (3B) above, the Secretary of State may, after consultation with the respective local authorities, specify terms to be included in the agreement and direct that it be proceeded with, and the prospective parties to the proposed agreement shall comply with any such directions. (3D) In this section—

  1. (a) "social work services" mean services which a local authority are under a duty or have a power to provide, or to secure the provision of under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, or any of the enactments mentioned in section 5(1B) of the said Act;
  2. (b) "out of area service" mean a social work service which is transferred by the operation of this Act to a local authority outwith the local authority area to which the user of the service belongs.").

The noble Lady said: Amendments Nos. 101 and 103 have been grouped together but they are not about the same matter. Therefore, with the leave of the Committee, I should very much like to speak to them separately.

Amendment No. 101 is directed at the needs of some of the most vulnerable groups in society such as children with special needs, disabled adults and elderly people who rely on the services of social work departments. Many of these people will find that the service they use will not be run by the council covering their area. Sometimes this will be because of the way the boundaries are drawn—for example, people with learning difficulties in Helensburgh normally attend adult training centres in Dumbarton—and sometimes it will be because the resource is a specialised one which can be afforded only if it is used for people throughout the region with a particular disability, such as children who are both deaf and blind.

Clause 57 of the Bill partially covers it because it allows councils to buy such services from each other. The problem is that there is no guarantee that they will do so. Councils may be under different political control from others and so may not co-operate very effectively. The uncertainty about whether places will be taken up by other councils may make it too risky to continue investing in an expensive and specialised resource such as a day centre for people with multiple disabilities. Sadly, the political will may not be there to continue a service in such an uncertain climate, particularly with the less popular client groups. One example of a service at risk—the Blindcraft factory in Glasgow—was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, at Second Reading.

The Government appear to believe that this can safely be left to the new councils to sort out. At Report stage in the Commons Lord James Douglas-Hamilton said: There are various means whereby the needs of those currently receiving out-of-area services can be assessed fully and properly".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/5/94; col. 871.]

It would be helpful if the Government could state what those means are and how, without this amendment, they will ensure that needs are not only assessed but actually met.

This amendment would mean that the Secretary of State could step in as a last resort where services of strategic importance were at risk. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I am happy to have these two amendments discussed separately since they raise important issues. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, expressed during an earlier debate her concerns about the implications of reorganisation for certain important aspects of community care. I am glad to have this opportunity to clarify the Government's position on these matters.

This amendment seeks to protect the position of users of so-called out-of-area social work services; that is, services which typically, because of their highly specialised nature, are not provided in every local authority but are purchased, and are already purchased, by one authority from a neighbour or a supplier authority further afield. The amendment seeks to ensure that after reorganisation authorities continue to make sensible contracting arrangements for the purchase and supply of a minority of specialist services and it envisages that the Secretary of State would intervene directly in this process by issuing directions about the exercise by authorities of their contracting powers by dealing with cases where agreements have not been entered into by himself specifying the content of such agreements and by insisting that the local authorities concerned uphold and implement such agreements as he may specify.

While I should like to make it clear that I have no difficulty with the prime intention behind the amendment—to ensure that the users of specialist services are not disadvantaged in any way by reorganisation—I only differ from the noble Lady in a view of what is the most appropriate means towards that very desirable end. For many years now social work authorities have co-operated with one another over the purchase and supply of these specialist services. Section 86 of the 1968 Act enables an authority providing a service to a person outwith its area to recover the cost of that provision from the authority in whose area the person lives. The proposed amendment suggests a certain lack of confidence in the good sense and judgment of the new authorities. This lack of confidence is reflected in the proposed role for the Secretary of State. While I understand the noble Lady's concern we do not believe that the degree of compulsion implied is either necessary or desirable. It is not necessary because it will clearly be in the financial interests of authorities which inherit or develop specialist facilities to keep them fully utilised. They will have a positive incentive to cultivate contracts with purchasers and authorities which have clients requiring specialist services and which are unable to provide those at their own hand and will have an equally pressing interest in purchasing these services rather than attempting to create their own. As I said in a previous debate, this will probably be in discharge of a statutory duty incumbent on them.

The Government wish to see local authorities develop their role as enablers contracting not just with each other but with a wide range of service providers in both the voluntary and private sectors. We would be reluctant to contemplate arrangements which fixed the focus of contracting on inter-authority trading.

I trust I have gone some way to reassuring the noble Lady that we share her concern and wish to ensure that reorganisation does not bring about any diminution in these specialist services. I hope that she will be reassured that, following on reorganisation, we are confident that this high quality standard of service can be maintained.

The Earl of Perth

I have listened to the reply and I think the noble and learned Lord goes a long way towards meeting our concerns. The Minister said that there is probably a statutory duty. Does that mean that the Scottish Office will keep an eye on what is happening; and that if it is not going right, it will intervene? That is what this is all about—the worry as to whether in fact these defenceless children can be safely left to the local authority. I am sure that in broad principle it will happen but it is important to know what will happen if it goes awry. Will the Scottish Office keep an eye on the performance of the various new authorities?

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

Where a statutory duty is imposed on a local authority and it fails to discharge it the noble Earl will be reassured to know that it will not be for the Scottish Office to keep an eye on the local authority; that matter might well be brought before the courts. Any failure on the council's part to provide services in discharge of a statutory duty would be enforced by the courts in Scotland. Certainly, as part of the central government responsibility through the Scottish Office to ensure that this wide range of specialist services is properly maintained and delivered throughout Scotland, I can give an assurance that we shall keep a very close eye on that.

The Earl of Mar and Kellie

I support Amendment No. 101. Social work services in Scotland cover a very broad range of activities designed to meet the needs of a very disparate group of generally unfortunate people. It is sometimes a feature of their situation that they do not want to seek help in their own area but prefer to do so in a neighbouring area, usually for fear of being recognised.

I offer two examples. First, while helping to set up an alcohol counselling service in Strathspey. I found that potential users of the service would have preferred to come to Inverness for the sake of anonymity. Secondly, while working on an intensive probation project in Falkirk the fear was sometimes expressed during interview by future participants that they might be jumped by the Casuals—their rival gang—while on their way to the project. There is a need for considerable flexibility in the provision of social work to meet individual needs.

7 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I have listened carefully to the noble and learned Lord. I still have a little niggle of worry that there could be a situation where the providing authority suddenly decided that it needed all its facilities for its own children and therefore the smaller enabling authority would be in great difficulties.

As regards the amendment, the noble and learned Lord has guaranteed that children with special needs who attend a particular school before reorganisation will have a right to continue doing so. It is sad that a similar guarantee could not be given to those who rely on the social services. Will the noble and learned Lord think about that? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 102:

Page 51, line 6, leave out subsection (4).

The noble Lord said: I have read Clause 57(4) with great care and have tried to apply what I care to call my legal mind. I find that it is one of the great exercises in administrative gobbledegook. I cannot understand what subsection (4) is meant to achieve. I have read it from beginning to end and backwards and it does not make any sense.

The amendment is tabled to enable the Government to explain what precisely the powers of the Secretary of State under subsection (4) mean. He appears to have ample powers without the convoluted subsection (4). I shall not go into the minutiae of the matter; I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

The proposal to remove the Secretary of State's regulation-making powers under subsection (4) would change the nature of the provision. As it stands, the clause is in line with the commitment given in the White Paper that authorities would be provided with a flexible legal framework to enable them to choose from a wide range of providers including, in most instances, other local authorities.

The Government do not, however, consider that work subject to compulsory competitive tendering should fall within the powers granted to local authorities under the new provision, given that there is a clear private sector market for such work. As such, therefore, the Secretary of State would intend to make regulations excluding CCT contracts from the new arrangements, but the amendment would remove the Secretary of State's power to make such regulations.

The clause provides a flexible framework for local authorities and ensures that the new powers will be used sensibly. The noble Lord will be interested to know that the Government intend to consult on regulations made under this power and would obviously consider carefully representations made about their scope.

On the proposal to allow authorities to set up a service delivery agency, the Government recognise that many authorities will wish to consider a wider range of service delivery options than has been the case in the past. However, there is already a wide range of options available to authorities. In addition to Clause 57 they can arrange for the provision of services through a joint committee, by a lead authority, by an in-house team or by purchase of services from the private or voluntary sectors. As such, the Government do not consider that this amendment would provide authorities with any additional powers. I hope that the noble Lord finds that explanation satisfactory and that he welcomes our intention to consult on regulations.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. I am always pleased to hear that the Secretary of State will behave sensibly. We shall await the outcome of this matter. As regards Clause 57(2) (b), will the Secretary of State have power to regulate the payment between joint authorities and joint agreements? What happens if the authorities fall out as regards the question of payment? Subsection (2) (b) states: An agreement under this section may include such terms as to payment as the authorities concerned consider appropriate". What happens if the authorities fall out? Is the Secretary of State then entitled under subsection (4) to impose himself on the authorities? I merely ask because a great many people are concerned about this matter. Before I formally withdraw the amendment, I wish to know what the Minister has to say.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I do not believe that there will be any involvement of the Secretary of State here. If the authorities cannot come to an agreement, then presumably they would not agree to discharge the services jointly. Alternatively, if they have an agreement and they fall out about it afterwards, the noble Lord may find himself employed in the Court of Session.

Lord Macaulay of Bragar

That is always a daunting prospect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 57 agreed to.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 102A:

After Clause 57, insert the following new clause:

("Service agencies

.—(1) Where two or more local authorities consider it appropriate, they may set up a body or bodies to be known as a service agency, or service agencies, for the purpose of providing to the local authorities such services as they may require.

(2) A service agency may provide such services and carry out such tasks for the local authorities as the agency and the local authorities may agree and in such terms and conditions as they may agree.

(3) A service agency may do anything a local authority may do in terms of the Local Authority (Goods and Services) Act 1970.

(4) A service agency shall be a body corporate with a common seal.").

The noble Lord said: I believe that this amendment was taken with Amendment No. 102. I listened to the Minister's explanation. I was satisfied as far as one can be that we are not going to get any further on the matter.

[Amendment No. 102A not moved.]

[Amendment No. 102B not moved.]

Clause 58 [Local Acts and instruments]:

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 103:

Page 52, line 14, at end insert: ("(4A) The Secretary of State shall be regulation make such provision as he thinks fit regarding the exercise by local authorities of the power conferred by this section in relation to the inspection by a local authority of services provided or arranged under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 or the registration of establishments under section 61 of the said Act").

The noble Lady said: This amendment concerns the inspection of residential care. Currently, local authorities have a duty to register private and charitable residential care homes in their area and to inspect both their own homes and those run independently. This is a vital protection for the residents of care homes, many of whom are extremely vulnerable due to age or disability.

The amendment is intended to highlight concerns about how this function will operate in future, particularly given the possibility that such responsibilities will be contracted out to other authorities. First, the Secretary of State should confirm whether Clause 57 means that one council could actually take over the job of registering homes in the area of another council. So far as inspection is concerned, there are a number of potential problems if the job is to be carried out by the new smaller councils. Not all homes are the same, and the smaller authorities may not have the range of specialist staff to properly inspect the homes for people with complex or unusual needs.

There is also a fear that in smaller councils it will be more difficult for the inspection unit to be truly independent. This applies particularly when they are inspecting the councils' own homes. But even homes in the private sector will normally be operating under a contract with the council. The council may be reluctant to endorse any criticism which might lead to charges going up.

With more councils, there is also a danger that standards will fall if homes move to the areas with the least rigorous inspection. In some areas, joint inspection teams set up under the clause may be a partial solution, but this raises the problem of accountability. Will the Government monitor the quality of inspection by the new councils? Is a move away from inspection by local authorities to a more independent arrangement under consideration? Most importantly, will the Government undertake to ensure that the social work inspectorate publishes authoritative guidance on standards of inspection?

Some years ago there was great public concern about what were called "granny farms". That was at the time when the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, spoke from the Dispatch Box. I remember having some discussion and correspondence with him, particularly about the desirability of independent inspection and inspection without notice. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

The concern of the noble Lady that some of the new local authorities may not be large enough to sustain a credible and robust inspection unit with the necessary degree of independence from the social work department is one that has been expressed by others in Scotland. However, I would not wish to make too much of that, particularly the size factor.

Some of the current inspection units are quite small. A number serve populations considerably smaller than those of some of the proposed authorities yet they function perfectly well. It is a matter of the calibre of the staff and of their management rather than of the size of the authority itself.

Following reorganisation we will encourage new authorities to make good use of the expertise which the current inspection units have built up since their inception in 1991. We would be glad to see joint arrangements for inspection emerge as a result. There is already a precedent for contracting between authorities for the inspection of services.

I can assure the noble Lady that the advice and guidance already given by the social work services group will continue. We are confident that the new authorities will be able to make the necessary arrangements for inspection and registration without the need to give the Secretary of State power to make the regulations. With that reassurance, I hope that the noble Lady will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

The Earl of Balfour

I rise only to point out to those of your Lordships who are interested in the Bill that there are three references in Clause 58 to Section 176 when it should be Section 179.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I am grateful to the noble Earl for that observation.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

I shall read and consider carefully what the noble and learned Lord said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 104:

Page 52, line 47, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Lord said: This is a small amendment on which I hope that the Minister will be able to comment. I refer particularly to lines 47 to 51 on page 52 of the Bill. The purpose of tabling the amendment is to delete subsection (6) altogether or, at the very least, to obtain an undertaking from the Minister that local provision will be continued indefinitely. I hope that the Minister can help. I beg to move.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

I hope that I can deal with the amendment briefly. The move to single-tier authorities necessitates the review of local legislation promoted by existing authorities to ensure that such legislation operates satisfactorily under the new system. The new councils must consider whether the existing legislation is appropriate, given changes to the boundaries and the new regime which will exist. The subsection which it is sought to remove ensures that this is done but within a realistic timescale.

Rightly, the new councils will have various options available to them; namely, to promote new legislation, to seek postponement of existing legislation if this cannot be achieved by 31st December 1999, or to apply to the Secretary of State for exemption from repeal. All such requests will be considered sympathetically.

If the amendment were accepted, there would be no requirement on the new councils to review their legislation and this would result in it being incompatible with the new regime. I am sure that the noble Lord appreciates that that would be unsatisfactory. It is desirable to set a timescale within which proper consideration of the legislation is undertaken and a change made.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

But there is no time restriction placed on the Secretary of State.

Lord Fraser of Carmyllie

This is a matter for consideration by the local authorities. The role of the Secretary of State is to allow for an extension if the local authorities find that they cannot complete their review of the matter within the appropriate timescale. As I said, the Secretary of State may allow an extension and will, consider any request sympathetically.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

That is an interesting answer. Given all the thousands of possible disputes that could arise, I wonder whether there is not some catch-all clause somewhere to give the Secretary of State retrospective powers. I am surprised that there is not, but perhaps the legal brains at St. Andrew's House are so well organised that no loopholes are possible. I thank the Minister for his explanation and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 58 agreed to.

Clauses 59 to 61 agreed to.

Viscount Goschen

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Committee stage of the Bill be resumed not before 8.15 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

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