§ 3.38 p.m.
§ Report received.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford moved Amendment No. 1:
Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause:
§ ("Functions of Assembly for Scotland as a local government area
§ —(1) There shall be established on 1st April 1996 an elected council for Scotland to be known as the Scottish Assembly ("The Assembly").
§ (2) The Assembly shall perform such strategic functions, both financial and otherwise, as are relevant to the promotion and development of the local government of Scotland.
§ (3) The Assembly may do anything it considers necessary to—
- (a) facilitate the co-ordination of administration of local government in Scotland, and
- (b) promote greater co-operation between the councils for each local government area in Scotland and public agencies and voluntary organisations in Scotland.
§ (4) The Assembly shall represent the interests and views of the councils for each local government area in Scotland collectively in the relevant institutions of the European Union.
§ (5) The Secretary of State shall consult the Assembly on all matters affecting local government and local and regional interests in Scotland.
§ (6) The Assembly shall have power to appoint such officers as it thinks necessary for the proper discharge of its functions, on such reasonable terms and conditions, including terms as to remuneration, as it thinks fit.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I move Amendment No. 1 which stands in my name and that of the noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove. The Minister may say that we have rehearsed these arguments before. This new clause seeks to establish what we describe as a Scottish assembly. Again, I make it clear that the only reason we did not use the word "parliament" was that we were advised that using that word would be outside the terms and the 902 Long Title of the Bill. Therefore, while we use the word "assembly" it should be clearly understood that what we mean is the establishment of a Scottish parliament.
§ When we last moved this proposed new clause, immediately prior to the Monklands East by-election, I was told by the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin—who will no doubt join us soon—that I should be wary of helping the Scottish National Party in that by-election and in its determination to divide and split up the United Kingdom. I was also told by the Minister that there was a danger that the establishment of a Scottish parliament would be the first step on the road to dividing the United Kingdom and bringing about the end of the United Kingdom as we know it.
§ I rehearse those comments because; I note with interest that no less a person than the Prime Minister himself repeated both comments in an address to Conservative Party election agents as recently as Monday evening of this week.
§ I said earlier that events had moved on. In the comments that I shall make to your Lordships in support of the new clause I shall seek to show that, far from a Scottish parliament bringing about the break-up of the United Kingdom, in my view—together with an assembly in Wales and the devolution of government to the regions in England —it is the way to ensure the continuing unity of the United Kingdom. It will not only ensure the continuation of that unity but in the process will strengthen that unity.
§ When the Prime Minister says that the establishment of a Scottish parliament would destroy the United Kingdom, he—deliberately, in my view—fails to take account of the Government's own actions, which are more divisive than anything that I say could possibly be. Perhaps I may give two examples at this stage.
§ The first is the introduction of the poll tax. It was introduced first in Scotland. It was imposed on an unwilling population by an unwanted Government. As soon as the poll tax hit England's green and pleasant land, a measure which was desirable—and which Mr. Michael Heseltine could not get through the Government Lobby quickly enough to support—it suddenly became unacceptable. Indeed, the same Mr. Michael Heseltine who was falling over himself to support the Government's decision to impose the poll tax on the people of Scotland abstained on the Second Reading of the poll tax Bill when the poll tax was being applied to England.
§ The rest is history. The poll tax was withdrawn. I remember hearing Mr. Michael Portillo say at one of the Conservative Party conferences that the poll tax would be abolished over his dead body. In my view that was a very attractive offer. Once it was applied to England the poll tax was suddenly discovered to be unworkable and was withdrawn. History is being repeated with this legislation which your Lordships are considering on Report today.
§ During the course of the consideration of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill it has been stated repeatedly that the Bill is being introduced following minimal discussion and consultation. Where consultation has taken place the views that have been expressed have very often been ignored. There is little 903 or no support for the legislation which your Lordships' House is considering today. There is no support whatever in Scotland for this legislation. There was no commission of inquiry in Scotland similar to that which has been established to consider the re-organisation of local government in England, merely a Bill imposed upon the unwilling people of Scotland by an unpopular Government.
§ What do we hear now? As soon as the prospect of local government reform touches those green and pleasant lands of England, there are leaks from the Department of the Environment that the proposal to re-organise local government in England is to be abandoned. In replying to the debate the Minister will have an opportunity on behalf of Her Majesty's Government to advise your Lordships whether that is the Government's position. The Minister will no doubt say that we are within a few weeks of the Queen's Speech and that we shall have to wait to see what legislation is included in the gracious Speech. I believe that the decision has already been made and that there will be no re-organisation of local government in England.
§ I ask the Minister and your Lordships, what do the people of Scotland think? First the poll tax was imposed on them and then withdrawn because when it was imposed on the people of England it was discovered to be unpopular and unworkable. Do the people of Scotland say, "Isn't it great that we were used as experimental guinea pigs?" They do not say that at all. Is it not the case that to treat one part of the United Kingdom in that cavalier fashion is one way to break up the United Kingdom?
§ What do your Lordships think will happen when the provisions of this Bill are imposed on the people of Scotland and then we are told—as we shall be told within the next few weeks —that in the only area of the country where there has been any meaningful consultation through the commission on local government it has been decided not to go ahead? Do your Lordships believe for a moment that the people of Scotland will say, "Isn't it great? They have used us again as an experimental base in which to try out these experiments and have discovered that it doesn't work here in Scotland so they will not impose it on the rest of the United Kingdom"? —although I think that it may go ahead in Wales. Is that designed to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom?
§ I believe that your Lordships will agree with me that there is no action which is better designed to bring about the break-up of the United Kingdom than giving one part of the Kingdom—in this case Scotland—the clear impression that it is a base for experiments and if the experiments do not work in Scotland the measures will not be applied in England. The people of Scotland are already expressing those views. Indeed there is a letter among the letters to the editor in today's Daily Record which expresses exactly that view. The Minister will have to take that on board.
§ If there is a danger—and I believe that there is a danger —to the unity of the United Kingdom, it does not come from these Benches. Nor does it come from 904 the Labour Parry's proposal to establish in the first year of the next Labour Government a parliament in Scotland and an assembly in Wales and then move on to the devolution of power to the English regions. The danger does not stem from that proposal. That proposal will strengthen the unity of the United Kingdom in a way that will bring it a stability which is lacking. In fairness to the Liberal Democrats, nor is that danger coining from their proposals for a federal system of government throughout the United Kingdom. Indeed, there is a case to argue for a federal system. It is not one with which I agree, but I would be prepared to join in that debate. The danger to the unity of the United Kingdom, the possibility that the kingdom will break up, comes from the intransigence of this present Government and the cavalier manner in which they treat the people of Scotland. That cannot go on; and it ought not to be allowed to proceed.
§ Noble Lords are entitled to ask me: what benefit will derive from the creation of a Scottish Parliament? First, there would be an administrative tier related to the Scottish Office for which the Scottish Office would have to answer with regard to policies which were implemented or proposed and which affect the people of Scotland. The arguments are well known; I do not need to rehearse them. We have our own education and legal systems. We have our own, and different, health service approach. All those policy matters in Scotland are dealt with differently. But there is no democratic control of that. The creation of a Scottish Parliament would first introduce democratic control of the Scottish Office.
§ One or two events would not have occurred if there were a Scottish Parliament at present. First and foremost, we would not have this Bill. The Labour Party's manifesto at the last general election was in favour of single-tier local government in conjunction with—Ministers always conveniently leave this out— the establishment of a Scottish Parliament. Therefore we would not have had this Bill. The poll tax would not have arisen.
§ Ministers chide me about inward investment. Let me say that Health Care International would not have occurred either. For any government to throw £40 million of public money at such a proposition was obviously impractical. The idea that somehow or other 20,000 people throughout the world are queuing up to come to Clydebank to have their gall-bladders removed is bizarre beyond belief. HCI is in a very serious position. It is such inward investment which damages prospects. The Government's own action damages prospects for inward investment. I am always happy when I see meaningful inward investment coining to Scotland. I have said before that I would love to contest the next election on the basis that unemployment was at the lowest possible level, and that we can then deal with the real meaningful social issues and quality of life.
§ The Government cannot produce a single shred of evidence to indicate that companies from abroad which have invested in Scotland would not have come had there been a Scottish Parliament. Indeed, the reverse is the truth. In one recent case at East Kilbride—in the presence of no less a person than Mr. Allan Stewart—the managing 905 director of the company announcing inward investment made it absolutely clear, when asked a question by the media, that if there were a Scottish Parliament he would still have invested, without hesitation.
§ There is no evidence either that where there are devolved systems of government throughout Europe and the remainder of the world it is an impediment to the attraction of inward investment. Arguments are put forward that such systems of government would affect inward investment, and that Scotland would be the highest taxed nation in Europe. That is not constructive politics. It is the politics of fear: that there is no argument against the Scottish Parliament so we shall try to frighten the life out of Scottish people.
§ I have to tell the Minister that over the past 15 years the Scottish people, having been treated in the way in which they have been treated by this Government, have gained tremendous courage. It is for that reason and with that courage that the Scottish people wish to move forward to the establishment of their own parliament.
§ I finish on a general note. I forecast now that not only in the next 15 to 20 years will we see a parliament in Scotland and an assembly in Wales, we shall also see in this country regional assemblies with government devolved to the regions of England. We shall see a written constitution because that is the way in which the European situation is developing. The need for constitutional change in this country is becoming more and more apparent as each day progresses. I know that the Minister at one time was a very strong advocate of the policy that I argue from this Dispatch Box. I am sure that he will be welcome aboard a train moving towards Scottish Parliament. I doubt whether he will accept the argument today—perhaps I have to do a wee bit more work on him—but I shall continue to argue the case. It is on that basis that I commend the new clause.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, there is one important matter in his speech that needs clarification. At the beginning of the debate he spoke about a "parliament" and said that he would have used that word if it had been in order. He went on to speak about a possible Scottish parliament. But everything in the new clause limits the functions of the assembly to subjects with which local government councils deal in Scotland. The provision is entirely limited to those subjects. The noble Lord referred to health. Health is not dealt with by local councils. I refer also to agriculture and fisheries. There is a huge range of subjects.
If the provision were to remain in the Bill, is this the parliament which the Labour Government would have in mind should they come into office? Alternatively, is the proposed assembly as indicated in the new clause to deal with subjects with which local councils deal? If a Labour Government came into office, would it simply build on the provision and give the assembly a great deal more to do?
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, the noble Lord is an experienced parliamentarian. He knows that we have to work within the limits of the Long Title of the Bill and the restrictions which are laid down in it. It is a local government Bill. But there are aspects of the Bill 906 which apply outside local government. The quangos that are being set up to run the water and sewerage industry in Scotland will be taken out of the hands of local government. The joint boards required to administer services are innumerable. Once the Bill is on the statute book and implemented 10,000 people will be appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland to his own quangos. There will be only 1,000 elected councillors. The honest and open answer is yes. This provision is the beginning because we can only begin within the terms of the Bill. I beg to move.
The Deputy Speaker
My Lords, I shall not give way. The amendment proposed is to insert a new clause, the words as printed on the Marshalled List.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, I should like some guidance on procedure in the House. We are at the Report stage. Before we continue with the amendment, the way we have dealt with it is that we had an intervention from the noble Lord on the opposite side; we then had a reply from a noble Lord on this side of the House. Do I understand that at Report stage a speaker intervenes once and only once?
§ 4 p.m.
§ The Earl of Arran
My Lords, I believe it would be appropriate at this Report stage for the Government to intervene. As yet, the proposal has not been put to your Lordships' House.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, with great approval, apart from the fact that he took all the points that I wanted to use. I support the new clause. It is not, of course, what we want, but it is necessary to stay within the Long Title of the Bill. We feel that the new clause would improve the Bill and give some semblance of democratic control.
The Liberals and Liberal Democrats have a long history of putting forward sensible proposals for devolution. Had they been followed 100 years ago in the case of Ireland, they would have saved a great deal of bloodshed and done a great deal of good. We have consistently said that the way to keep the United Kingdom together and to benefit Scotland is for the Scottish people to vote in a parliament to handle their own affairs within the framework of the United Kingdom.
There is no question but that it would do the Conservatives a great deal of good if they followed the trend which the noble Earl, Lord Home, started many years ago and with which many Conservatives agreed. Had they done so, they might have been in a far better position today.
My noble neighbour Lord Lyell said to me outside, "What is the point of a parliament? Everything is being done already. What would it do?" I said, "Well, it would 907 do it better". That is the whole point. Every Scottish Minister —I include the noble Lord, Lord Campbell— puts forward the proposal that the great thing is that if we have a Scottish Secretary of State he fights for Scotland. He has to. I am glad that we have the Scottish Ministers we have today. In my view, they are the acceptable face of Conservatism. They are the kind of Conservatives I can put up with. There are many I find disagreeable, but our Ministers do great work. They fight for Scotland; they fight against silly proposals like the privatisation of the Forestry Commission. I congratulate them on the work they do. But they do not have any backing. They have no base. They are under the control of the party as a whole. Of course, that is all wrong. They do not have a mandate in Scotland. They have only about the same number of MPs as we Liberal Democrats have. Most of ours are better; nevertheless the numbers are about the same.
Seriously, it is absolutely vital, with conditions in Scotland today, that we have a parliament for Scottish affairs. There is the rise of the Scottish National Party which has some nice, able people, but it also has some nasty people with a horrible chip on their shoulders about the English. I do not. I find most of the English amiable, nice people; it is not their fault they are English. That is acceptable.
However, the growth of the irrational attitude of the Scottish National Party is due entirely to the neglect of a democratic base in Scotland for Scottish affairs. That is true. We like the Ministers we have, but they do not have backing and this new clause would improve the Bill for which the Government have no mandate. We would much rather the Bill were abolished altogether, but at least the new clause might make it tolerable for the people of Scotland.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, this Government have always proclaimed that they are a government of honesty. May I ask for a straight answer from the Minister when replying to the questions posed by my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford? What is the position about the commission relating to England? Has there been an interim report as to whether or not local government will be reformed in England? The one thing that we in Scotland do not wish to see is this ridiculous Bill going through and then the commission reporting on England to say that one should not do the same there.
I want an honest answer because it will be noted by the people of Scotland. I am not saying that the Minister is dishonest in any way but we do not want a dishonest or fanciful political answer. I wish to know in this debate in your Lordships' House what the position is at this moment in relation to the commission. Tell us now what the position is so that the whole country of Scotland can realise what is happening in England.
As my noble friend said, we were the guinea pigs for the poll tax. Are we to be the guinea pigs for local government? I know that the Welsh Bill has gone through but that is another matter. We stand here for the people of Scotland, asking what is happening to our country.
908 Perhaps I may pose another question. It is my experience, going around and knowing people in Scotland—if I may use the phrase from the old Western films—that the natives are getting restless. They will not put up with any more nonsense from the Government in having such matters imposed upon them. The pressure will come for a review of the Act of Union of 1707. No one had a vote then. No doubt some noble Lords' ancestors had a vote at that time, one vote, and that was theirs. There was no democracy at that time. It may well be that unless the Government see sense and the force of my noble friend's argument, we shall be looking into the face of the disintegration of the United Kingdom. Even if the Bill goes through in its present form the people of Scotland will not lie down. They will rise. We hope that a reflection of that will be shown whenever the election comes.
We like to think that we live in a democracy. What is this democracy that foisted the 1707 Act of Union upon us and how can we unravel it? The only way that we can work together is if we each have a sense of fairness. The Government must exercise a sense of fairness towards the people of Scotland, take note of the voice of the people of Scotland and stop being so dogmatic about this ridiculous Bill. They should listen to what the people of Scotland say. I support what my noble friend said.
The Earl of Balfour
My Lords, I am worried about the wording of the proposed new clause. I get the distinct impression that if it were accepted we in Scotland would have to pay more out of the rates and council tax to finance the new body. I believe that one of the effects of the new clause would be considerably to weaken that excellent organisation, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, COSLA. It would also be detrimental to the provisions in Clause 23. An assembly dealing purely with local government matters, as the new clause is worded, is totally unnecessary.
The possibility is raised of Scotland again having its own parliament, as we did between 1603 and 1707. In my opinion that was a disaster. I must remind noble Lords that we have a vote in the European Parliament. We have an election for the Parliament at Westminster, regional council elections, district council elections, community council elections. For God's sake, let us not have yet another body.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, I shall be brief. The House has already spent half an hour on an amendment which hardly seems to be a suitable subject for Report stage. It is one thing to get on with the various changes that are put down in amendments proper, but this amendment is purely—what shall I say? —a political attempt. I do not believe that this is the right stage to try to introduce an amendment like this by the back-door. It is far too important. If there is to be a Scottish Assembly, I for one would welcome it in a certain form, as I always have done. But let us thrash the issue out on its own merit and not try to slip it through by the 909 back-door. In other words, let us wait. Let us get on with the business of Report stage and not spend time on this amendment.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he suggest to the House what is the appropriate forum to discuss this matter?
§ The Earl of Perth
Certainly, my Lords. The right time to discuss the issue is when we are in the preliminaries to a general election and we know the position of the parties in relation to it.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)
My Lords, I am bound to say immediately that I share the sentiments expressed by the noble Earl that we have a lot to do at this Report stage. There are some very important amendments to consider. I hope accordingly that it will be acceptable if I respond briefly.
Back in 1978 there was the Scotland Act. It extended to some 87 sections and 17 schedules. The whole issue was then reconsidered by the Scottish Convention, of which the noble Lord was a distinguished member. He wrote a lengthy document on the matter. Both of those are now considered to be somewhat defective. I understand that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. George Robertson, has been sent away so that he may come back with a set of proposals that will be without the flaws that were hitherto to be found. I have to say to the noble Lord that if by 12th October this is as far as he has arrived in his consideration of how a Scottish assembly might be established, he has a lot of work to do in the next two and a half months.
What was most interesting about the debate that we have already had on this amendment at Committee stage was the openness and honesty of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, who admitted that back in 1978 the proposals put forward by the then Labour Government were defective. There was a question that was summarised with reference to Mr. Tam Dalyell as "the West Lothian question". He honestly admitted in his speech last time round that there was no answer to that question then, but he believed there was an answer now; and that that answer was provided by the fact that there were to be regional assemblies all over England. If there is indeed such an answer, it would depend on there being a symmetry in the constitutional change so that every regional assembly in England had every set of powers— exactly the same set of powers as were to be given to the Scottish parliament or assembly. I find that a very interesting revelation from the Opposition Front Bench. I am sure that it will be extremely valuable to those of us who want to engage in this debate over the coming months. However, like the noble Earl, I question whether this is an appropriate time to take the matter forward. We certainly do not believe that what is contained in this proposal would do anything for the good government of Scotland; and it would do nothing to improve local government and administration.
As the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, said, it is not clear how such a proposal would be funded. There is a lovely streak of arrogance within the amendment: that those who were on such an assembly would simply arrive at 910 one of the institutions for the European Union and announce that they were to respond for the people of Scotland. I enjoyed that. But the amendment is defective. It would not take forward the more serious consideration of constitutional change. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. As I stand here, I am congratulating myself because on 12th October I have begun to make the Minister think. The last time he replied to this debate he did not even begin to think. And here he is now—though I have to say that he is very badly briefed—taking on some of the arguments; his mind is beginning to be applied to some of the questions that we shall have to debate and discuss in the next few years in relation to the document that was written by the Scottish Constitutional Convention, of which I am still joint chairman with Sir David Steel. The convention established a Scottish Commission. As joint chairman, I invite the Minister to attend the meeting that will take place on 2nd December in the Royal High School in Edinburgh, when the commission will present its detailed proposals, which go hand in glove with the proposals that were contained in the document Towards Scotland's Parliament. So far from nothing happening or moving on, a great deal has happened. A great deal has moved on—including the fact that the Minister has begun to think, That must be one of the greatest bonuses that we have had during this debate.
However, we are discussing here a principle. That principle is that Scotland should have its own parliament. I am prepared to divide the House on that principle.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 77; Not-Contents, 140.912
|Airedale, L.||Gladwyn, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Barnett, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Gregson, L.|
|Bottomley, L.||Grey, E.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Hamwee, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Haskel, L.|
|Carter, L.||Hilton of Eggardon, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Holme of Cheltenham, L.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Hooson, L.|
|David, B.||Hughes, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Irvine of Lairg, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Kagan, L.|
|Desai, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L. [Teller.]|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Mason of Bamsley, L.|
|Fitt, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Foot, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Mulley, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Murray of Epping Forest, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Peston, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Prys-Davies, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Redesdale, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L|
|Richard, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Robson of Kiddington, B.||Tope, L.|
|Rochester, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Russell, E.||Varley, L.|
|Sainsbury, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Seear, B.||White, B.|
|Sefton of Garston, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Shepherd, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Gridley, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.|
|Addison, V.||Harding of Petherton, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Harvington, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Hemphill, L.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Hives, L.|
|Argyll, D.||HolmPatrick, L.|
|Arran, E [Teller.]||Howe, E.|
|Ashbourne, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Johnston of Rockport, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Kimball, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Lane, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Leigh, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Long, V.|
|Boardman, L.||Lonsdale, E.|
|Borthwick, L.||Lucas, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Chancellor.]|
|Bruntisfield, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Burnham, L.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.|
|Burton, L.||Manchester, D.|
|Caldecote, V.||Marsh, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Merrivale, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Mersey, V.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Milverton, L.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L.||Minto, E.|
|Clark of Kempston, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Cornwallis, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Courtown, E.||Morris, L.|
|Cox, B.||Mottistone, L.|
|Cranbome, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Cranworth, L.||Munster, E.|
|Crathome, L.||Nelson of Stafford, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Nelson, E.|
|Davidson, V.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Oppenheim-Bames, B.|
|Denham, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Demon of Wakefield, B.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Downshire, M.||Pender, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Perth, E.|
|Eden of Winton, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Elles, B.||Polwarth, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Elphinstone, L.||Renton, L.|
|Elton, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Faithfull, B.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Romney, E.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Gainford, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Savile, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Selborne, E.|
|Gisborough, L.||Shannon, E.|
|Goold, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Goschen, V.||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Grantchester, L.||Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Stodart of Leaston, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Strafford, E.||Tugendhat, L.|
|Strathcarron, L.||Vaux of Harrowden, L|
|Strathclyde, L [Teller.]||Vivian, L.|
|Swinfen, L.||Wakeham, L.|
|Swinfen, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Swinton, E.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Tenby, V.||Wigram, L.|
|Teviot, L.||Wise, L.|
|Thomas of Gwydir, L.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Clause 1 [Local government areas in Scotland]:
Lord Mackie of Benshie moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 10, leave out ("1996") and insert ("1997").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an amendment occasioned by the tremendous concern shown by a great number of people about the timing of vesting day. I was talking to a Scottish provost and two councillors who said to me that they were absolutely horrified at the thought of having elections in April next year. That is a concern of a very large number of bodies.
§ I have with me a list of the very important organisations who are against it—when I say "against it" I mean that they are very worried about the timing. They believe that it cannot be done properly in the time. Those bodies include: the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives; the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy; the Society of Directors of Personnel Services; and the Society of Directors of Administration in Scotland. Obviously, those bodies cover the field. They are extremely worried and feel that this cannot be done.
§ I have been given a whole list of items, which I shall not read out—the Minister has obviously read it—but there was one which I thought was particularly worrying; namely, the question of information technology, which I understand means computers. I do not pretend to understand them but I have no doubt that noble Lords on the Front Bench understand everything about computers. I know that they are extremely useful pieces of equipment, but are also extremely tricky. They need an immense amount of servicing in all sorts of ways. The programme is extremely important. When a programme is moved it involves a tremendous amount of work and in fact a complete rejigging of the whole thing. That of itself in this age of technology could be a tremendous snag if we are to try to accomplish everything in 17 months.
§ It appears to me that the Government have bitten off far more than they can chew. They are rushing through this legislation. They have no mandate for it and will make a mess of it unless they put it off for a year. I beg to move.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, for putting his name to this amendment, together with myself and other noble friends on this side of the House. If this Bill were to go through there would be a major administrative problem. There are a number 913 of difficult matters, some of which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. There are major policy developments, such as the extension of compulsory tendering, and the continual implementation of matters such as the development of care in the community. There is no indication of how that will be done.
Perhaps the Minister would look also at the answer given by the shadow staff commissioner, Mr. Robert Peggie, who stressed his belief that the timescale for reorganisation was unrealistic. It was not a matter of whether the reorganisation was a good or bad idea. Some of the large council departments, such as Strathclyde's direct labour organisation and the information technology department, have to be geared up before April 1996, which is less than two years from now.
At earlier consideration of this Bill, in Committee, representation was made by a large number of professional associations. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, mentioned some of them. It would be very wrong of the Minister to treat those organisations as irresponsible. They are all very much involved in Scottish local government. They will do the job if they are given it, but they say that it will not be so good a job if it is carried out as quickly as the Government's timetable suggests.
At this point I should like to go back to the previous amendment and ask the Minister if he will now answer the question put by my noble friends Lord Ewing of Kirkford and Lord Macaulay of Bragar in relation to the English commission. The Government realised that any timetable for implementing English local government reforms had to be much longer and given a great deal more thought than originally anticipated. Have no lessons been learnt from that in regard to the Scottish Bill? The Minister must realise that gathering together local authorities, as happened in the last reorganisation, is much easier than splitting up big local authorities and establishing small authorities throughout the country with single tiers and all the problems that arise in terms of care in the community, roads, transport and PTAs.
We beg the Minister to give us some hope that the timetable will be reconsidered. I should still like to press him strongly as to the lessons learnt from the fact that the English commission decided the changeover could not take place in anything like the timetable originally anticipated. I certainly support my noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie in this matter.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I was not able to take part in the Committee stage, unfortunately. However, I read the report with care and I know that this amendment is identical to one discussed in Committee. At that time an important point was made in favour of getting on with implementing the Bill in terms of the anxiety caused to members of staff of local authorities throughout Scotland not knowing where they stood. Later we shall come to an amendment regarding the transferring of staff and the salaries and working conditions which will prevail for them. However, they 914 will not know until the Bill is under way what jobs are available and so forth. It would therefore be wrong to postpone its implementation.
Having said that, I accept what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, regarding the anxiety that exists in relation to the speed with which computer systems can be made compatible and so forth. That is not entirely the fault of the Bill, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree. Councils simply have not been co-operating with one another or with the Government in pushing the plans forward. In the case of computer compatibility, earlier consultation would have helped a great deal. The blame for that therefore lies very much with CoSLA. I agree that there is a problem but I believe that the authorities can catch up. I certainly do not think that we should postpone the Bill. I hope that the date will stand.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, how can local councils get on with the matter until the Bill is passed and they know what is happening?
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, was making a case in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend. Wherever the responsibilities lie for the delays taking place, we are left with an extremely short time to implement all the administrative changes required for such radical reforms.
I echo what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. It would help the House greatly to be given answers in regard to the relationship between Conservative policy for local government reform in Scotland and what is apparently developing as Conservative policy for local government reform in England. I know that in Kent—a county which, unlike Scotland, is almost totally represented by Conservative Members of Parliament—the Local Government Commission for England was painstaking in seeking the opinions of the people regarding the changes. Overwhelmingly the view expressed was against them. The rumours are that there is to be a significant change of government policy in relation to local government reform in England.
In the meantime the Government simply drive on in Scotland down their dogmatic road. If the Government are determined to pursue their dogmas in the face of the opinion of many Scottish people and evidence from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, then they should consider the merits of the amendment as at least mitigating some of the damage that will be caused by precipitating change and administrative chaos. If the Government had a spark of "smeddum"—to use an old Scottish word—they would welcome the amendment. It would allow the changes that they are determined to drive through on the basis that the Minister in St. Andrew's House knows best to be carried through in a more acceptable way.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, from what we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, with the best will in the world it will be difficult to achieve what is necessary in the way of changes by April Foal's Day of next year. Will the Minister consider postponing the matter until, say, the following October? There is not 915 much difference timewise but it would give everybody an opportunity to adapt. I hope that the Minister will take that as a constructive suggestion and give it some consideration.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, as I understand the position in Scotland, staff interests—a matter raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy,— are not being best served by rushed legislation. Indeed, both the staff organisations and management and personnel organisations have expressed the view that time must be taken to sort the matter out. At an early stage in the debates on the Bill I made clear that I know people working in local authorities who are trying to work out what their golden handshakes are going to be. Of course, the commission is sitting on that.
The noble Baroness talked about "getting on with it." How can one co-operate with something that does not exist? It is a simple question demanding a simple answer. Perhaps the Minister can help.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, the Government fully recognise that the timetable set for the reform of local government in Scotland is tight and challenging. For reasons to which I shall return we consider it to be desirable that it should be tight and challenging. The timetable is close to that which was followed at the time of the last reorganisation in 1975. In spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, says, at that time a more dramatic change had to be achieved with a fragmented structure of 430 authorities being amalgamated into 65 regional, district and islands councils. On this occasion the change is much less radical with 32 new single tier authorities, many of which comprise existing or combinations of existing local government units. It is a compliment to the councils in Scotland that they are in a much better state of organisation than were their predecessors in 1975.
I do not believe that there is any evidence to show that the timetable suggested cannot be achieved. The real key to it is early planning. Whatever the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, says, some authorities in Scotland at the moment are undertaking excellent planning, skilfully done. For example, in the Borders Region working committees are making sure, on the basis that the Bill will be implemented, that they are ready to go ahead. I warmly applaud that.
Once the Bill receives Royal Assent existing authorities will have further powers under what is at present Clause 56 to establish joint planning committees to prepare the ground for new authorities. In many respects what may be the key is getting Royal Assent. I can give this undertaking to the noble Lord: he will not find the Government standing in the way of securing an early date for Royal Assent for this Bill.
One of the matters which has caused some difficulty, to which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, alluded, is that we are anticipating in terms of the Bill that there should be elections to the shadow council next April. There has been an independent report from Strathclyde University which indicates that notwithstanding the possibility of non-co-operation continuing until Royal Assent, 916there will nevertheless be no difficulty in organising elections in April 1995".Talking to electoral registration officers around Scotland, I understand that that is a view which they also share.
There are two anxieties about having an extended timetable. First, if there were to be a further year's delay there may be quite a damaging effect in Scotland in having an extended transitional period in terms which may be described as "planning blight". Some services might suffer if existing local authorities stop planning for the future. Therefore, it is desired to keep the period short.
Secondly, as I believe has already been mentioned, any reorganisation is inevitably a difficult time for staff. I believe that all professional advice points to the importance of minimising that disruption. It is for that reason we have proposed the date of 1st April 1996. The suggestion has been made that if the matter was not put off for a whole year we might do so for six months. I do not believe that it is a compromise which can be achieved. To have the financial year and the local government year, having a clear year for the shadow councils to be in position, working up to the next year's start, is the best way forward. As I say, if one pulls out the one element of elections in the preparation there does not appear to be any substantial difficulty.
It is regrettable that in some parts there has been a degree of non-co-operation, but I hope that that attitude is now over. I am aware of some excellent work which has been done by individual councils and officials. They may not care particularly for what has been proposed, but I pay them a compliment for the efforts which they have undertaken to do what they can to ensure that there should be a smooth transition. I urge those who have not yet engaged in co-operation and discussion with other existing councils which may be affected to do that as soon as possible.
A great deal of work has already been done. I have visited a number of councils and I have been impressed by what they have done. I believe that we have a realistic timetable and there is a positive reason for wanting to keep it short. One does not want a planning blight or unnecessary disruption for those who work in local government.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, the Minister has been asked the same question three times now; namely, why more attention was not paid to the result of the English commission and why Scotland is not going to have wider consideration. There was no meaningful consultation in Scotland at all.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I am bound to say that, following a debate on devolution in Scotland, I find it rather bizarre that we focus on English local government. A very different approach has been followed through in England. There is a rolling programme of change. The final order regarding the first area involving the Isle of Wight has already gone through Parliament. There are other recommendations from the Local Government Commission in the pipeline and they are continuing to come forward. In a number of cases that commission is recommending a single tier 917 structure. It seems to be suggested that matters have been brought to a stop, but that is not the case. Already one order has gone through your Lordships' House.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, can we get this matter absolutely clear? Is the Minister saying that there is going to be legislation for a major reconstruction and re-organisation of local government in England, as there is in Scotland at the present time, or is there not? Will there be a hotchpotch of minor adjustments achieved through parliamentary orders? Is there going to ,be a major piece of legislation, as we have been told all along, which is to follow the Scottish re-organisation?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, with the greatest respect to the noble Lord, that has never been said. I said that there has been a proposal which has already begun to be put into effect in England; namely, that there should be a rolling programme of change. In respect of one area that change has already been made. We could take up a great deal of time on this issue, but I would rather not do so. It has never been the suggestion that there should be a local government Bill of the kind which we have for Scotland, but that matters should follow through in a very different form with a number of orders. I am telling the noble Lord that that process is still under way.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, the local authorities have had this matter pushed on them so the Minister cannot complain about them not co-operating. They keep hoping that something will happen, such as a change of government, which will stop this bad Bill going through. They are entitled to behave as they have. Until the law is established they are entitled to hope. If there is no co-operation the Government have themselves to blame. It is not the same for the professional bodies who normally do not have a political axe to grind. Without any doubt they are of the opinion that matters are far too rushed and that there is going to be a mess. From the evidence I have seen they do not accept the Minister's definition of the provisions being simpler than they were for the last re-organisation, which was rushed through in just a little more time than the present legislation. They do not accept that the provisions are simpler.
However, the Minister is determined to rush towards the cliff—I am not comparing him to swine or anything like that, but the allusion can be taken to mean what it may. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule I [New local government areas]:
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 3 to 12:
§ Page 127, line 44, leave out ("and").
§ Page 127, line 45, leave out ("to the unnamed road") and insert ("and No 31 Church Road to the southern edge of Church Road where it runs").
§ Page 127, line 47, after ("along") insert ("the continuation of).
§ Page 128, line 11, leave out ("thirdly") and insert ("fourthly").
§ Page 128, line 20, leave out ("fourthly") and insert ("fifthly").
§ Page 128, line 24, leave out ("A929T") and insert ("A90").918
§ Page 128, leave out lines 27 to 34 and insert ("A90 road to its intersection with Emmock Road at grid reference NO 4180 3508 then running southeastwards along the said Emmock Road to its junction with the unnamed road leading to South Powrie and Barns of Wedderburn then eastwards along the said unnamed road as far as the northwestern curtilage of Barns of Wedderburn at grid").
§ Page 128, line 43, leave out ("the southern boundary of polling district ADF at").
§ Page 128, line 45, leave out ("4352 3466") and insert ("4345 3452").
§ Page 128, line 45, leave out ("fifthly") and insert ("sixthly").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this group of technical amendments is to clarify the proposed boundary between Angus and the City of Dundee. No change of substance is proposed.
§ In determining the boundary in this area we have sought to strike the best balance between those rural communities which had formed part of the City of Dundee only since 1975 and those wishing to return to their former county roots. To achieve this balance it was necessary to rely on very detailed descriptions based on maps. By their nature maps can, of course, very quickly become out of date and this has proved to be the case here.
§ In the light of local feedback, we have taken the opportunity to update and clarify the boundary. This will be of particular benefit to the Ordnance Survey which is required, in terms of Part II of Schedule 1 to the Bill, to plot the new boundaries. I commend these technical amendments to the House. I beg to move.
§ Lord Thomson of Monifieth
My Lords, I have listened with fascination to the brief and perhaps rather bland description given by the Minister as regards these amendments. They are of course fine-tuning by the Government of what is one of the more blatant pieces of political gerrymandering in this Bill. The proposal is a very simple one. It is to take away from Labour-dominated Dundee certain areas so that they can become part of Conservative dominated Perth and Angus. From a position of sublime detachment on these Liberal Democrat Benches, perhaps I may say more seriously to the Minister that these issues of local government change should be decided on the basis of what is the best kind of local government for an area in terms of serving the needs of its citizens, irrespective of party political advantage.
I have no doubt that the Minister will tell me that people in Invergowrie, where I have a family foothold, and in Monifieth, for which he was once a distinguished representative in the other place and where I grew up, are happy with his proposals. That may well be so, but for the most part they all work within the city of Dundee. They certainly all go into Dundee to shop and to use the library services, the swimming pools and all the other local authority services. Therefore, the provisions seem wrong. Since I did not have the opportunity to make such points at an earlier stage, I could not allow this opportunity to pass without putting my feelings on the record.
In practice, some unfortunate administrative problems will result which will affect ordinary people. 1 have already had correspondence with the Minister about the educational problems in Invergowrie. I am grateful for 919 the detailed replies that I have been given and I do not wish to pursue the detail of the matter now. However, there will be a great deal of educational disruption in both Invergowrie and Monifieth as a result of this boundary change which is motivated by party politics.
The change is unnecessary if one looks at it from the point of view of the interests of the people of the area, and particularly of its children. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, knows Monifieth high school well because she was chairman of the education committee on the occasion that I opened the school. It is an excellent school, but it will face considerable problems as a result of the disruption that will be caused by the boundary change. The same disruption will apply equally on the west side of Dundee. I have no doubt that the administrative problems can be patched up and that agreements can be made. However, we must remember that this administrative disruption is totally unnecessary. It is politically motivated and I am glad to blow off a little steam about it.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, perhaps I may raise a couple of points with the Minister. First, I do not think that I have ever considered a Bill about which we have received as much paper as this. I am sure that most Scottish Members of your Lordships' House will agree with me on that. However, to use the Minister's word, I have not received a single piece of "feedback" from this area, so I should like to know from which group his feedback came. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, was right when he said that it is politically motivated feedback. One wonders what will happen in the next survey in, say, the south side of Glasgow, in Eastwood, if it is discovered that things are not going as well as the Government had thought. One wonders whether there will be a sudden boundary change in that area also.
We firmly believe—a large number of people in Scotland firmly believe—that one of the major purposes of the Bill is to do as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, suggested and to save a few enclaves for the Conservative Party. As I have said, I should like to know where the local feedback came from because, even with all the papers that we have received, we know nothing about it.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, before the Minister replies, I should point out that I do not think that all of the matters raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, relate to the details of this amendment although I may be wrong. On the question of Monifieth, I do not think that the provisions can be said to be politically motivated, as he seemed to be implying. As the noble Lord well knows, there has been strong pressure over the years from the people of Monifieth to return from Dundee back to Angus. That is now happening and the people there are absolutely delighted.
I agree with the noble Lord's points about the problems faced by the school—they have been presented—but the Bill allows for them. I went into that in some detail earlier. Therefore, I do not think that the noble Lord should quote the example of the 920 distinguished town of which he bears the name as not wanting what is happening or as an example of the Government doing something other than what people wish.
§ Lord Hughes
My Lords, the greater part of my life has been spent in Dundee, but I must admit that when I first looked at the amendments they conveyed absolutely nothing to me. Therefore, I must accept the Minister's assurance that they are purely technical. I notice that Amendments Nos. 8 and 9 deal with changes in road numbering in that part of Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is correct that the amendments are politically motivated to a certain extent, particularly in relation to Angus. I hope that the Government's great endeavours in this direction will achieve what I believe is their objective, which is to stop Angus being run by the SNP.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I should like to make just one point about the transfer of Monifieth and Invergowrie, which are suburbs of Dundee that are populated by people who in the main are not sympathetic to the Labour council. This is an extraordinary move. As Dundee has grown, it has subsumed those two places. The land around them should be part of Dundee for planning purposes. Dundee is an industrial city and given that it depends on industry, factories and building and that all of its spare land is in those areas, it seems extraordinary suddenly to split that growing city.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I am glad that, as always, there is consistency from the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats in Monifieth warmly welcome the changes in that part of Scotland. However, perhaps I should point out that the amendments have nothing to do with the bigger issues of putting Invergowrie into Perthshire or Monifieth into Angus. As the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, identified in the example that he gave, these are technical amendments dealing with highly technical changes. Anyone who has travelled from Dundee to Forfar recently will be aware of the changes to the roads there. These technical amendments have been tabled as a result of comments that have been made by local authorities in both Angus and Dundee and by a number of members of the public who identified the fact that our description was not a very good one given the changes that have been made to local roads and roundabouts. Therefore, I can assure the House that these are technical amendments which would meet with approval if the changes were implemented.
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ Lord Hughes moved Amendment No. 13:
§ Page 129, leave out line 19 and insert:
|("Central||Clackmannan, Falkirk and Stirling District Councils.").|
§ 5 p.m.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should point out that if this amendment is carried, two consequential 921 amendments will be needed. In the interests of economy, I did not table them now because that can be done on Third Reading.
§ The amendment seeks to create a new council in April 1996 based on the local government area which is currently known as Central Region and which was previously known as the two areas of Stirlingshire County and Clackmannan County. The background to the case for having a single unitary authority in the area that is currently known as Central Region has already been made in this House by both myself and a number of my colleagues. It is not my intention to repeat all the powerful arguments that were made in Committee. It is my intention, however, to return to some of the most important issues of the case. As I said in Committee, I had hoped that the Government would accept the suggestion that was made by my noble friend Lord Ewing and take the matter back for further consideration. However, no government amendment has been tabled at this stage so we must await the Minister's reply to the amendment.
A strong case is still being made for the Government to rethink the current proposals and to put forward something that will fulfil their own aims for reorganisation. In Committee the Minister stated:
The evidence that we have received points firmly towards the district based structure that is currently set out in the Bill".— [Official Report, 28/6/94; col. 722.]
I am sure that others will be interested to know the range of evidence to which the Minister was referring and the range of indicators used.
§ Let us take the Government's own criteria set out in their publication Shaping the New Councils; namely, costs, accountability, community identity and the capacity to act. Let us test the issues against the Government's criteria. First, the issue of costs and value for money which the Government have stated are a key factor of this reorganisation: the figures produced by PIEDA, respected independent planning and economic consultants, remain unchallenged by the Government and, indeed, by the district councils in Central Region.
§ Those figures point to a single council based on Central as the only option which will make any saving—estimated at £6.6 million a year. The proposal for three councils will cost £5.2 million each year more than the present two-tier system. Substantial transitional costs will have to be met, and for this area those are estimated at about £25 million. That includes £12 million to build new council headquarters in Falkirk. Between 700 and 900 employees will transfer from the Stirling headquarters of the regional council.
§ A new building in Falkirk will be necessary because the 80,000 square feet required to accommodate those employees cannot be provided in any other sensible or coherent way. Accommodation to rent is just not available. There are only six sites available with spaces of over 3,000 square feet, with other vacant accommodation being spread over 40 buildings. Where is the advantage to the public in employees being spread all over the place? That £25 million includes also costs of about £4 million for the splitting up of computer systems.922
§ On accountability, the Government's second main criterion for the creation of new councils is lack of accountability. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, stated that the new councils of Stirling and Clackmannan will have the ability to provide services other than through direct service provision. That means that the Government accept that joint and contract arrangements with other providers will be the order of the day for those councils. Indeed, PIEDA estimates that the majority of local government services will have to be provided through some form of joint arrangements. I emphasise that it says that a majority of the services will have to be so provided. I remind the noble and learned Lord of a statement made by his colleague Allan Stewart in July 1993, who said that the Government believed that in some cases single tier authorities based on existing districts would be too small to deliver the full range of services without recourse to a proliferation of joint arrangements, and that in turn would only serve to blur accountability, which is one of the principal underlying reasons for reform in the first place.
§ There is the further danger that councils such as Stirling and Clackmannan would just not continue to provide some of the specialised services because the client base was too small to justify them. That raises enormous implications for some of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Indeed, Clackmannan district's vision of local government does not envisage the new council employing a wide range of specialist staff. It said that a permanent establishment of staff, such as educational psychologists or specialist social work staff, was a waste of resources. The simple fact is that the public's need for many of those services provided by those specialist staff does not just come and go. The needs of many of the individuals who receive those services are continuing and that means permanent staff are needed to provide them.
§ The third indicator is that of community identity. In that regard I was interested in comments which were made about the other areas, most notably Highland Region. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, stated that there was no natural boundary between Inverness and Ross and Cromarty, where supporters of two councils for the Highlands had proposed that the dividing line be drawn.
§ Similarly, I fail to see where a natural boundary can be drawn in Central Region. Historically there has been a long association among all parts of the region. The two main towns of Stirling and Falkirk complement each other and have been administered at the same county level since 1667. So it has continued through a variety of reorganisations.
§ Again, with reference to Highland Region, the Minister pointed out that there is only 12 miles between Inverness and Dingwall and that having councils with headquarters in each of those towns would not serve to alleviate the remoteness from Inverness that some residents in the more remote areas might feel. That is the same distance as in Central Region.
§ Lastly, I am surprised that the noble and learned Lord made no mention of the System 3 Scotland survey commissioned by Central Region council, despite the importance placed on a similar survey carried out by the 923 same company in Fife. The survey in Central Region had a larger sample than most government polls. It asked the public a variety of questions and offered them a range of possible solutions. The results, even before costs of the new councils were presented, showed that the majority favoured a single council for the area: 43 per cent. favoured that. Once costs were known the figure jumped to 67 per cent. In Clackmannan itself almost 60 per cent. favoured a single council option and only 8 per cent. favoured three councils for the area.
§ The capacity to act is the last of the considerations. The Government had looked at a number of considerations, including the viability of councils. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, told us that they intended to provide a formula which would allow for equalisation in the distribution of central government grant which he suggested would in large measure eliminate a number of the difficulties which both my noble friend Lord Ewing and I highlighted in Committee. It is only fair to remind the House that that is what the Minister said. I assume that he was referring to grant-aided expenditure and that a number of indicators will ensure that revenue budgets of the new council will reflect needs within the area. So far so good.
§ However that does not remove the problems smaller councils will face on the capital side. Small councils will have small capital budgets. They will have real problems in targeting resources to areas of need, in planning major projects and in attracting inward investment. It is estimated that Clackmannan council will have only about £2.7 million available for new capital projects and Stirling council £4 million. That compares with an estimated capital allocation for one council of £15 million. Because of that Stirling and Clackmannan will be able to deliver large capital projects only at the expense of other priorities. For example, Central Region council's refurbishment of Alva Academy in Clackmannan cost £3 million over three years. One year's expenditure was £1.6 million. That represents more than half of the consent Clackmannan council would have not just for its education service but for all its services.
§ I am sorry to be inflicting so many figures on your Lordships, but it is necessary that you should know the extent to which the proposed set-up would cost more and provide poorer services in the process. I beg to move.
§ Lord Stodart of Leaston
My Lords, because this bit of reorganisation sticks out like a sore thumb in the Bill as a whole, it is right and proper that we should have a second bite at it. However, there seems to be little purpose in repeating what was said in Committee when we had an extremely interesting discussion. I do not believe that any new factors have arisen in the interim.
On that occasion the achievements of the Central Region were deployed with extreme efficiency by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes. I was glad that they confirmed what the Stodart Committee had predicted the Central Region would achieve, even though that prediction was made some years ago. However, in 924 Committee the views of total experience in the existing system of local government in Scotland came from the noble Earl, Lord Minto. The noble Earl is not only a councillor but a convener of a region in the Borders whose level of council tax is the envy of all who live in the neighbouring areas. I must declare an interest. One looks only two miles away and finds a level of council tax which is an indication of the region's efficiency. The level is substantially—and that is an understatement— lower than that which I have to pay.
The most modest of the noble Earl's strictures in Committee was:this is not a reasonable division of a regional council in Scotland. It is not in the interests of the Scottish people".—[Official Report, 28/6/94; col. 718.]The main gist of my noble and learned friend's reply was to agree with the criticism. He stated:The Central Region had not only been a good authority but had conducted itself efficiently".—[Official Report, 28/6/94; col. 725.]However, he went on to say that there have been very sharp divisions of opinion.
If one has an efficient region which has a good authority one wonders why it should be changed, in particular when a basic feature of the change is the creation of a unitary authority in Clackmannan which cannot conceivably carry out the majority, if any, of the responsibilities put upon it. My noble and learned friend referred to Clackmannan but I considered that his advocacy of Clackmannan was somewhat weak. He referred to the "wee county" and his desire for it to develop. I can well remember, as will many of my colleagues who were once in another place, that some 30 years ago there was considerable agitation about the county of Rutland. Questions were asked of the Prime Minister at Question time. Rutland was being amalgamated with Leicester. It managed perfectly well to maintain its identity and I and many others signed various Motions that it should. As one travelled up the A.1, one saw road signs stating "You are now entering the county of Rutland, England's smallest county". I certainly advocate that Clackmannan should preserve its identity in that way. It is not required to become a unitary authority in order to develop.
Many of my colleagues will remember a colleague in another place, Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison. I always regarded him as the permanent holder of the Ark of Conservatism. His motto was, "If a thing is working well, leave it alone". It fascinates me that here we have on the Opposition Benches two prominent Labour Party Lords who have embraced the doctrine of conservatism and are keen to hold on to the Central Region as it now is; and on my own Benches we have a-Minister whose radicalism is determined to take hold of him.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Palmer
My Lords, I, too, support this amendment and would like to concentrate my few remarks on the partnerships which have grown up within the region in recent years. The Central Regional Council currently shares a boundary with the Forth Valley Health Board and Forth Valley Enterprise. This means that the following services are all provided within the same boundary: education, social work, police, fire, 925 economic development and, of course, health. There will be major difficulties in joint planning and provision of joint projects if some of these services are subdivided into smaller councils.
There is a strong partnership already between social work, the health board and Central Scotland police. They have co-operated closely in relation to HIV Aids, drug abuse, other addictions and the joint loan equipment service. Police and social work run several projects, such as the child protection unit based in Bannockburn police station. This provides joint training and investigation throughout the region, involving social workers and police officers. The whole development of community care policies and structures within Central has been assisted and promoted by the partnership between social work and the health board on a regional level. This has resulted in the adoption of one coherent integrated community care plan for the region, which, I believe, in itself is a significant achievement and one which will benefit all those affected by community care policies.
Because they operate within the same geographical area, the Regional Council and Forth Valley Enterprise have been able to develop complimentary economic development strategies. Joint discussion and joint planning on a regional basis are vital to let this happen. The record of achievement in the economic development field through the economic forum speaks for itself. Since only 1989 over 600 firms have been helped by employment grants and business development schemes, creating or safeguarding 1,800 jobs. Inward investment has been generated, creating more than 1,500 jobs. A trade development centre has been established, business parks have been built and innovation partnership has been created, with Forth Valley Enterprise and the university drawing in European grants.
What will happen to these partnerships if the area is split into three councils? Any joint project will become bureaucratic. The Government are on record as saying that they wish this country to become less bureaucratic. Indeed, this is one of the main aims of this dreaded Bill. If the health board or police wish to develop a joint project, then each of the participating councils will need to send representatives. What of the problems that could affect, for example, the discharge of long-stay patients from trust hospitals in the region? Hospitals will be discharging their patients into three different local authorities which may well have three different political priorities, three different sets of purchasing arrangements and different levels of resources to support those patients. Social work support for these patients will need to come from three different councils. Surely, this would be crazy.
Agencies with common boundaries work closely together and thus bring advantages for their customers. Joint planning and development will become more bureaucratic, more cumbersome and in the long run more expensive with three councils. If these valuable partnerships which have been developed are to survive 926 there needs to be a single council within the area. I beg the Government to accept this worthwhile and above all sensible amendment.
§ The Earl of Mar and Kellie
My Lords, I must oppose the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, because it fails to meet the aspirations and plans of the people of Clackmannan, of whom I am one. It also makes assumptions that do not hold up when examined. My belief is that the preparations being made now for a Clackmannan council are the best arrangements for local government in that distinct area—the "wee county". It was suggested in Committee that I believe in fairy tales. I may do on occasion, but this is not one of them.
The case for a Clackmannan council starts with popular enthusiasm in Clackmannan, as in Stirling and Falkirk for their own separate councils. The Clackmannan council will organise itself on unique lines to deliver services using the widest possible range of methods. Gone will be the traditional bureaucratic staffing hierarchy of local government and the time-consuming committees with staff employed to service the committees alone. Already in Clackmannan district we are accustomed to a streamlined council decision-making structure that is probably unique in Scotland. It is a culture of delegation and individual responsibility, with the council making decisions about plans the officers have prepared for them. So we start with an organisation that can administer a small area— 65,000 acres and 48,000 residents—in an efficient way.
The Clackmannan council would be financed by central government grant, by the uniform business rate and by a 15 per cent. contribution from council tax payers. Our tax base in Clackmannan is expanding as more houses are built. The tax base will, after all, be the same as now, the money being collected and divided between Central Region council and Clackmannan district council. The one important proviso is this. There will be no doubt about all the council tax from Clackmannan being spent in Clackmannan. That has been a real concern during the past 18 years. Let me illustrate the matter.
Clackmannan has 18 per cent. of Central Region's population. Central Region has spent only 3.4 per cent. of its economic development budget in Clackmannan over the past 18 years when, in Clackmannan, we have a regrettable 16 per cent. unemployment rate—twice that of Stirling and 50 per cent. more than Falkirk. Similarly the transport authority has spent only 3.5 per cent. in Clackmannan and has failed to back proposals for the Alloa-Stirling rail link, which is being promoted by Clackmannan district council. Considering that we have 18 per cent. of the population, these figures are extremely poor. I acknowledge, however, that Central Region has invested satisfactorily in educational provision. I must also say that those who are promoting the Falkirk council have similar misgivings about Central Region's investment practice. Meanwhile Clackmannan district council has been able to arrange spectacular leverages with regard to external investment—up to 1:13 in the Alloa tower project and 1:12 in the £5 million urban renewal project in Tillicoultry.
927 It has been a concern as to how the Clackmannan council will deliver its services in a cost-effective way. First let me say that the traditional expectation that all services will be delivered directly by council staff is only part of the plan. Every avenue of service delivery has been explored. These include direct purchase from voluntary and private organisations, internal trading with other local authorities and purchasing as part of a consortium of local authorities. All these forms of service provision are already being practised in Scotland. The Clackmannan council will place a high specification for service delivery and then monitor and improve the service as required. Where there are joint boards and local arrangements, Clackmannan council will control that part of the service delivered in Clackmannan. Joint boards will be restricted to police, fire, valuation and possibly the children's reporter service. Arrangements will be made for structure planning and for Roman Catholic education. There is no doubt that Clackmannan council will be the first and last call for any complaints. Accountability will be firmly in the hands of the Clackmannan council.
Finally, I can only reiterate that while Central Region has failed to win the hearts and minds of its residents the plans for Clackmannan council have fired the imagination, hopes and confidence of the people of Clackmannan who would give the Clackmannan council their trust, loyalty and commitment.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene on this amendment, supporting as I do the single Highland council, given the fragile peripheral area that it covers and the very low tax base there. But I do not think the arguments go all in one direction. I am very interested, as no doubt are other noble Lords, in the amount of paper that has landed on our desks concerning this area. I am impressed by the fact that all the districts, right across the political spectrum, are unanimously in support of a change from the current situation and want three unitary authorities.
I was particularly interested in the views of those who live in Falkirk. No doubt the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, will have heard some of them as well. I should like to quote from a letter from one of the councillors in Falkirk. It states:The headquarters of the central regional council at Stirling may be only some 12 miles distant from Falkirk but in terms of identity, linkage, community feeling and influence over local delivery of services, that distance could be multiplied by 10 to reflect the genuinely felt negative reaction to the questions of local democratic accountability and accessibility in so far as they relate to the regional council".I am not saying that that councillor's view is necessarily universal but my conclusion is that the arguments are not all in favour of retaining the Central Regional Council as a unitary authority. Far from it. As the Falkirk Herald said last week:The Government may have got it right"—I think it said "for once"—for Falkirk folk".
§ The Earl of Minto
My Lords, I take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, for his 928 very kind remarks with regard to the Borders Regional Council, of which I have the privilege to be convenor. I shall see that the noble Lord's comments are reported back to the council and to the officials, who will be very grateful. They need every form of encouragement at the present moment. Your Lordships will understand that the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, will be much appreciated.
I have no hesitation at all in returning to the question of Central Region. I spoke my mind on the subject in Committee. I do not believe that anything has happened between the Committee stage and today to make me wish to change my mind. I ask myself: why does one destroy something which is good? If the evidence is there to show that something is good—and it is—why destroy it? I appreciate the great strength with which the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, put forward his arguments. I am sure that he intends that all shall be well in Clackmannan. Indeed, that would also be my hope, but in a different guise.
I know that the noble Earl has worked in a local authority but not in the same capacity as myself. With the greatest respect to him, I thought that there were certain weaknesses in his definition of the purposes and methods of joint boards. I am a little suspicious about all moneys that one collects in a local authority inevitably being spent within its own marches and not necessarily spent elsewhere. Without going into the matter in any great detail, I believe that there were weaknesses and I shall read Hansard tomorrow with interest to see where they lie in particular.
I do not believe that any apology should be made when following the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for quoting some figures. If one is going to destroy something, it is essential for one to realise what one will lose. For example, one must be sure to a certain extent of what will be put in its place. To my mind, the Government seem to be running totally contrary to their own advice in shaping the new councils; namely, that one of the main criteria for a new council should be that it has the capacity to act in the best interests of the whole community that it serves. To my way of thinking, that quite clearly means that councils should be able to carry out a wide range of tasks. For example, they should be able to attract and compete for new investment. That is vitally important to every authority in Scotland. They should also be able to deliver major capital projects such as schools and roads, and should be in a position to offer the full range of services.
A major anxiety of those of us who have an interest in the future of local government services in Scotland and who work within local government is whether all 32 of the proposed councils will be able to carry out those tasks in a way which will continue to benefit the communities which in some parts of Scotland have had the benefits of living within areas where councils have been of sufficient size to make a real difference to the way that they live and work.
If, as the noble and learned Lord told us on 28th June, viability is one of the main factors in the whole reorganisation, we need to look at whether the new councils will be viable. I should have thought that there was no better example to look at than Central Region, 929 for the proposal is so obviously lacking in terms of viability and strategic capacity and it is hard to see how such a proposal was ever put into the legislation. The proposal will mean that the area will have two small councils. I know that figures have been bandied about, but they are important; namely, 81,000 people in Stirling and 47,000 people in Clackmannan.
During the course of the progress of the Bill, many noble Lords mentioned the size of councils and how they would go about providing for communities in their own areas of interest in Scotland in the future. It is accepted in many quarters that councils need to be. of a size which will have a large enough resource base to carry out major projects of long term benefit and, at the same time, offer incentives to outside investors and potential employers to come to an area. They have to be drawn in.
Joint arrangements are one thing and might offer some solutions. But the Government can also talk of equalising the distribution of central government grant. The noble and learned Lord offered such assurances in Committee in June. However, that will not tackle how small counties such as Stirling and Clackmannan will find the capital necessary to prepare a balanced and flexible capital programme which can respond to the needs of their communities.
There will undoubtedly be an inability on the part of small councils to act in important spheres. They will have small capital budgets. In the case of the new Stirling and Clackmannan councils, figures from from the Scottish Office show that the amounts of money available to spend for all services within the capital field are likely to be around £4 million in the case of Stirling and £2.7 million for Clackmannan. Such small capital programmes will make it very difficult for those councils to commit themselves to refurbishing and replacing schools, undertaking road projects and investing in infrastructure for property developments. I dread to think of the problems that they will face.
Some projects will result in a council's annual capital consent being used in one of the years for the needs of just one service. For example, of the £2.7 million capital consent available to Clackmannan which I mentioned, it is estimated that only £1.8 million will be available for new projects. That is a sign of great stagnation when one looks at what has been done there in the past. The council will have to set aside the remainder for essential maintenance work and other unavoidable expenditure.
It is inevitable that projects will be phased, costing more as a result—and those of us who work within local government know the dangers involved—or, perhaps, worse: it will be too daunting for a small authority actually to look at and decide to tackle at all.
At the present time, the capacity of a council like Central is not restricted to the use of Section 94 consents. It is sufficiently strong, viable, large and sufficiently secure in its base to use innovative methods and has in fact generated £47 million of capital receipts to supplement its capital programme since 1975. It has been able to undertake enormously ambitious projects. Major town-centre rejuvenation projects have taken place in Falkirk, Stirling and Alloa through the council's own investment and by levering money from the private 930 sector. Over the past four years alone, the council has managed to attract almost £90 million of private sector investment.
That would be absolutely out of the question as far as the smaller councils were concerned. All of this could now be put at risk by the councils being divided. Central, because of its resource base and its ability to employ specialist staff—which apparently do not matter very much to the smaller authorities, so we have been led to believe—has used a number of methods to see these projects completed, all of which require this particular form of base, such as convenant schemes which can be a total saviour to an authority in times of real need, joint ventures of which we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, and the encouragement of private sector developments, one of which has cost £20 million. Where would a smaller authority find that type of money? There is also the matter of the underwriting of substantial risks with guarantees.
If this amendment falls and if the Government persist with the indefensible, I would ask the following question. I fear that the Stirling and Clackmannan councils will struggle to compete. Is it fair that we should set them off on that road? The area has one of the highest unemployment levels in Scotland and with Fife sitting next-door to Clackmannan, I would ask your Lordships how such small councils will compete in the future. This kind of investment is vital for the economy of local communities, and without the muscle of a large population base the small councils will lose out on this kind of growth.
Major projects will still be needed and they will not go away just because councils are smaller. The reality is that they will have to be spread over longer timescales with increased costs and these smaller councils will have to make more efforts to persuade the Scottish Office that they require increased spending consents for their spending requirements. We all know how difficult that is. It is against that background that I support the measure of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, and I wish the future of Central Region well.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, and the noble Earl, Lord Minto, should in themselves be sufficient to convince your Lordships that the Government have this aspect of the Bill, among many others —I know that we are not dealing with many others; we are dealing with this question of Central Region and the three district councils which make up the local authority there— absolutely wrong. There is a feeling that, somehow or other, Clackmannan was created because it would be a good administrative unit. That was not the original proposal in the original Bill; it came rather late to the Bill. I would say to those who are realistic in politics that Clackmannan was created in order to justify Stirling and for no other reason. We hear figures, such as that given by the noble Earl, Lord Minto, of some £2.1 million as regards the capital base of councils such as Clackmannan. We may think it humourous but it is a staggering thought that Glasgow Rangers paid more 931 than that to Marseilles for Basle Boli. Here we are setting a local authority off on a road that is strewn with difficulties. That is true also of Stirling district council.
I was interested to hear from the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. I noticed he did not give us the expenditure figures in relation to school buildings and modernisation; he gave only the expenditure figures that best fitted his argument. However, I do not blame him for that as sometimes in my weaker moments, but only in my weaker moments, I do that myself. He did not give the figures for education. I am interested in this whole debate and I have followed it closely since the day it began. Falkirk district says that Central Region has spent a minority of its expenditure in Falkirk district. Stirling district says that Central Region has spent a minority of its expenditure in Stirling district. Clackmannan district says that Central Region has spent a minority of its expenditure in Clackmannan district. They cannot all be right. Central Region can only spend its money in Central Region. They simply cannot all be right. I have always admired the way that politicians— again I have done it myself—face both ways. The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, prefixed his remarks by saying he would support the retention of Highland Region as a single authority but he argues for the abolition of Central Region and the retention of the three district councils that make up Central Region.
We are long past the stage of arguing about good and bad authorities. The truth of the matter is that all four authorities, Central Region, Falkirk district, Clackmannan and Stirling, are all good authorities. However, we have to choose. The Government have put us in the position of having to choose, not among those four authorities but among the options that have been placed in this Bill by the Government. We have to choose what in our view is the best method of administering local government in Central Region in the years ahead. There can be no question whatsoever that the best method of administering local government in Central Region is the retention of Central Region. That is not a criticism of Falkirk district or Clackmannan, or, it chokes me to say it, of Stirling, because if ever I have seen a shambles of an authority it is Stirling.
But we are past the stage also of arguing about gerrymandering, because if anything has changed—I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, said that nothing had changed since Committee stage—it is that the Conservative Party stood at 16 per cent. in the opinion polls during the Committee stage but at Report stage of this Bill the figure has gone down to 11 per cent. and is heading down into single figures. I do not think, even in the case of Monifieth or Angus, that we are arguing about Tory enclaves. I do not believe that there will be a Conservative-controlled council in any of these new authorities that are being set up after the elections next year. That is my view and it is a firmly held view. I do not believe there will be a single council controlled by the Conservative Party. Therefore that is not part of my argument. My argument is based entirely on the need for the best system of local government in an area that I know well. I represented Stirling for 13 years—it was part of my constituency—and Falkirk, 932 Grangemouth and Bo'ness (all these villages, as we say, up the Braes). I represented those places for the last part of my parliamentary career.
What I find strange is the argument on behalf of the Falkirk and Clackmannan and Stirling district councils that they should be retained, because in my view that is an argument for saying that Grangemouth should have its own council, as it did before the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Cray, and the noble Lord, Lord Younger of Prestwick—I take this opportunity to remind them both of this—created Central Region. I hope they will not bury it today after having created it. I hope they have come here to keep it alive and well. But that is an argument on the part of these district councils for going back to Grangemouth and Denny and Bo'ness and Bridge of Allan and Menstrie and Alva and all these local authorities that had their own council. That is the logic of that argument, but no one is going to argue for that.
The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, cannot say—he can say it but it is not credible to say it—that the district councils in Central Region were in favour of a change. They were in favour of change only because they had to choose from the options which were placed before them by the Government. However, the truth of the matter is that they are not in favour of change. Neither is Central Region, nor is Strathclyde Region or Lothian Region; nor are the people of Scotland. They are not in favour of change. They have had to choose between the options that have been placed in the Bill by the Government.
It is natural for the councils to say that they want to be retained. I cannot think of any turkey that would vote for Christmas. It is natural for the councils to say that they should be retained.
The noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, then went on to say that there are district councils in the Highland Region which think that they should be retained, but he will ignore their views. However, he does not ignore the wishes of district councils in Central Region.
I do not like to see the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, standing side by side on their heads. It is not a pretty sight. The Minister had better take on board that one cannot argue for the retention of Highland Region as a single authority and the abolition of Central Region. The two do not go together.
If there is inequality in the way in which areas of Scotland are treated in the Bill it is in terms of the representation that will result. I give an example which is relevant to another debate which will take place later, but it is interesting and worth noting at this stage. If the three authorities in Central Region remain as proposed in the Bill, Central Region will have approximately 70 councillors representing 250,000 people (but those are not 250,000 electors). Fife, which has more than 300,000 people, will have 46 councillors. Those inconsistencies are thrown up by the proposals which the Minister seeks to defend.
I saw passengers on the 10.40 British Midland train this morning whom I have not seen on that train for a very long time. Therefore I know that noble Lords have visited us today with the intention of making sure that 933 the new Government Chief Whip does not start his career with a humiliating defeat. This would not be a humiliating defeat. It would be the introduction of common sense. In all seriousness I urge noble Lords opposite to save their Government from themselves, much more importantly, to save local government in Central Region, and to vote for the amendment when we divide the House.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I have listened to the last two speeches with growing despair. The noble Earl, Lord Minto, with all his experience, quoted figure after figure relating to capital expenditure and the great good which had been done by the large region. Then the former representative of the area, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, spoke with eloquence on the excellence of Central Region. I said to myself, "Ah me, poor little Clackmannan!" It appears that people who think that they can run their area and want to do so are all wrong.
Then I remembered that the large Central Region authority controlled the area and was able to undertake capital projects, employ people and bring in industry, yet in Clackmannan unemployment is 18 per cent. Therefore, the authority cannot have been all that hot.
The argument has been put forward that bigger is best. The one thing that makes me think that I may be wrong is that I am agreeing with the Government. Nevertheless, I believe that to try a genuine experiment in democracy might do a great deal of good. I have seen large authorities undertake large capital expenditure projects. Much of it was a waste of money. There is a monument to the region in Dundee, and I shall be interested to see what happens to it when the region is disbanded.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. A noble Lord from Kirriemuir, of all places, is talking about Central Region. The problem of unemployment in Clackmannan is linked directly to the petrochemical industry in Grangemouth. Clackmannan has always been a dormitory area for industry in the Falkirk and Grangemouth area. The decline in employment has very little to do with employment in Clackmannan but everything to do with the decline in employment in Grangemouth.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, that does not obviate the argument that Central Region was able to do little about it.
I am suspicious of the professional arguments in favour of size. I hope that the Minister will justify his courageous experiment and that the people of Clackmannan may show the way forward for genuine small-scale, local democracy.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I have listened with great interest to the debate on Central Region at this Report stage, following the useful and full debate we had on the subject in Committee. I am grateful, as I am sure the House is, to the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, for setting out so fully the case in favour of the single Central Region. Other contributions have highlighted what are seen as the possible advantages.
934 We propose that there should be three separate authorities within the present Central Region area. I do not feel that it weakens my argument in any way to say that I have recently had cause to visit Central Region in connection with a crime initiative which the authority has undertaken and I readily acknowledge that in such matters it has done extremely well. In relation to other policies such as care in the community the authority has proved to be one of the most effective and innovative councils in the administration of that policy in Scotland. That is a compliment I am glad to pay to the authority.
However, there is another side to the equation. It seems to me to be one which shows that Central Region is rather different from the Highlands. In every part of the three areas into which we suggest it is appropriate Central Region should be divided there is support for the proposal across party political lines.
I also had occasion recently to visit Clackmannan. I cannot say that the Conservative Party is in a particularly strong position there. I am glad to say that the party's sole representative is in favour of a Clackmannan district council. The efficient, hardworking and serious-minded Labour administration of Clackmannan is not entering into this blindly, believing that it is merely a small matter of local loyalties and hostility to a greater whole. The authority believes, after careful analysis with its officials, that it can take the proposal forward.
As my noble friend Lord Sanderson pointed out, if one were to go to Falkirk—again, I regret to say, not an area where the Conservative Party is prominent at present—one would find across political boundaries a strong view that Falkirk should be a separate authority.
I remind noble Lords that when we originally proposed a division in Central Region it was proposed that Clackmannan should be amalgamated with Falkirk. It emerged clearly in debate in another place and in public reaction elsewhere that both Falkirk and Clackmannan disliked that proposal intensely. The noble Earl took to a canoe to paddle across the Firth of Forth to demonstrate his hostility to the proposal. It is on the basis of that view that is to be found across political boundaries in all three areas that we propose should have separate authorities that we have come to the conclusion that it is right that we should keep the three councils. Within each of the areas there is a strong sense of community identity.
If there is a criticism—it is an anxiety upon which the noble Earl, Lord Minto, focused—it is that some small councils might not be able to deliver a full range of services. It is interesting that if one considers the report prepared by PIEDA which was commissioned by Central Regional Council, it indicated that of the 19 major services provided by local government only some four would not be provided directly, one of which would be the police. One would expect that service to be put forward with the joint police authority. Undoubtedly there is the opportunity for all those three authorities in the current Central Region to deliver the services.
However, there is a shift and change in emphasis in local government moving away from direct provision and increasingly towards an enabling role in the delivery of services to local communities. Both Stirling District 935 Council and Clackmannan District Council have enthusiastically embraced the opportunities offered by the enabling concept, and I believe have begun to demonstrate that it should be successfully carried over and further integrated into a new structure.
Some emphasis has been made of the capital provision for smaller authorities. Without bandying around yet further sets of figures, it is worth recording that Clackmannan District Council—it is at present a small district council—operating in conjunction with Alloa Clackmannan Enterprise has spent over £4 million in creating new premises for businesses. That has provided over 300 jobs. Therefore with respect to the noble Earl, Lord Minto, despite the fact that the district councils might be much smaller if they were part of a region, they have achieved one of the objectives which he considered desirable but believed could be achieved only by a larger authority. Such district councils are to be applauded for that work.
I do not accept that there will have to be a plethora of joint boards or joint committees. I have indicated that the region's own document suggests that most of the major services can properly be provided directly if so wished. However, as enabling authorities, the opportunities will exist. I have no doubt that there will be a considerable degree of useful co-operation between the authorities in or about the Central Region. Perhaps Clackmannan council, sensibly enough, might wish to combine or secure services from an adjoining authority such as Fife. If it wishes to do so and finds that there is better provision, that is entirely a matter for it.
I believe that there is a clear distinction between the ways in which we approach Central Region and the Highlands. Three districts are proposed because of the distinctness of identity, and the clear appreciation across political parties, not least by the Labour Party and all three existing districts, that that should be the basis for the new arrangements in Scotland.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may intervene. I apologise to your Lordships for so doing. The Minister has referred three or four times to agreement across political parties. There was wide agreement across political parties in Central Region, including Conservatives who stood as Independents at the regional elections because they were furious at their own Government for abolishing Central Region. Therefore that is not a valid point. There was political agreement across the parties in Central Region, too.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, what I have said is the fact. I do not wish to repeat myself. I recently visited Clackmannan. It was clear to me that strong cross-party support could be secured for that proposal. It is on the basis, and in the confidence, as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, put it, that two authorities in Scotland have shown themselves to be most enthusiastic 936 about taking up an enabling role, that I invite the House to hold with the three-council approach for Central Region which presently appears in the Bill.
§ Lord Hughes
My Lords, I cannot say that I am surprised at the response of the Minister, although I am disappointed. The Minister has had little support during the debate. Such support as he received was rather mixed. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, had two reasons for supporting the Government. First, he complained about the amount of paper which has descended on us from Central Region. Is it surprising that Central Region had so strong a view of the desirability of continuing that it put forward its views extensively?
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, the noble Lord has understood me incorrectly. I referred to the amount of literature from the Central Region. That is not just from the Central Regional Council but all councils.
§ Lord Hughes
My Lords, the noble Lord indicated that he will support the Government on a single region in the Highland. He has not complained about the mass of paper which has come from both sides in the Highland Region on this matter. I suggest that if the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, had been truly enthusiastic about Central Region, he could have found better reasons for his support.
I must admire the parochial patriotism of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie. He made it clear that, come what may, he wants the current Clackmannan council to continue. Perhaps if he succeeds the canoe will be the best available means of transport to Clackmannan. He referred to how well the Central Region had done with regard to education, but put no figure on it. He spoke about the percentage that it had received in economic aid. I cannot believe that the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, believes that Clackmannan is subsidising the remainder of the region.
I do not wish to make a long reply. The longer I speak the greater is the waste of your Lordships' time. I shall be brief. The Minister stated that the first proposal was to join Falkirk and Clackmannan. The Minister's memory has let him down. The first proposal was to join Stirling and Clackmannan. That appears in both documents produced long before we started discussion of the Bill. Falkirk and Clackmannan was a totally unworkable proposal and the Government abandoned it.
In giving support to Clackmannan, he stated that it had spent £4 million. Over what period did it spend £4 million? Surely he does not suggest that it spent £4 million in one year.
I now refer to the noble Lord whom I regard as my noble friend Lord Mackie of I refer to his surprise that he is supporting the wee county. It is not a surprise. I know why he is doing so. He is looking across the water. He wishes to support the Liberal 937 council in East Fife. I am quite certain that he believes that if he did not support Clackmannan he could not support East Fife.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, the processes that the noble Lord has outlined are far too logical for my brain.
§ Lord Hughes
My Lords, I should have known better. It is a waste of time to argue with George. He always knows that he is right. I hope that the House will support the amendment. For that reason I wish to divide the House.
§ 6.07 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 51; Not-Contents, 134.938
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Longford, E.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Buchan, E.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Carter, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|David, B.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Minto, E.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Mishcon, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L||Nicol, B.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Palmer, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Perth, E.|
|[Teller.]||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Haskel, L. [Teller.]||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Richard, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Kagan, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||White, B.|
|Kintore, E.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Addington, L.||Campbell of Croy, L.|
|Addison, V.||Carnegy of Lour, B.|
|Ailsa, M.||Cavendish of Furness, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Chalker of Wallasey, B.|
|Alexander of Weedon, L.||Clark of Kempston, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Courtown, E.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Cox, B.|
|Argyll, D.||Craigavon, V.|
|Arran, E [Teller.]||Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Cross, V.|
|Balfour, E.||Cumberlege, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Davidson, V.|
|Blatch, B.||Dean of Harptree, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Denton of Wakefield, B.|
|Boardman, L.||Dixon-Smith, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Downshire, M.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Eden of Winton, L.|
|Brookes, L.||Elles, B.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Bruntisfield, L.||Elton, L.|
|Bumham, L.||Faithfull, B.|
|Cadman, L.||Ferrers, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Flather, B.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Gisborough, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Pender, L.|
|Goold, L.||Peyton of Yeovil, L.|
|Goschen, V.||Pike, B.|
|Gray of Contin, L||Polwarth, L.|
|Greenway, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Reay, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Renton, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Hemphill, L||Russell, E.|
|Hives, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Shannon, E.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Sharpies, B.|
|Howe E||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Inchyra, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Inglewood, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Jeffreys, L.||Stewartby, L.|
|Kimball, L||Strange, B.|
|Kitchener, E||Strathcarron, L.|
|Lane of Horsell, L.||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Long, V.||Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.|
|Lonsdale, E||Swansea L.|
|Lucas of Chiworth, L||Swinton, E|
|Lucas, L.||Tebbit, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Teynham, L|
|Mackay of Clashfem, L. [Lord||Thomas of Gwydir, L|
|Chancellor.]||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Macteod of Borve, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Trefgame, L|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|McNair, L.||Tugendhat, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Mersey, V.||Vinson, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Wakeham, L.|
|Munster, E||Waterford, M.|
|Nickson, L.||Whitelaw, V.|
|Norrie, L.||Wigram, L.|
|Northesk, E.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.|
|O'Cathain, B.||Young, B.|
|Orkney, E.||Younger of Prestwick, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden moved Amendment No. 14:
Page 129, line 19, at end insert:
("Clydesdale Clydesdale District Council").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I wish to move Amendment No. 14 standing in my name and speak also to Amendments Nos. 16, 53 and 54. This is essentially a debate on the advisability or otherwise of taking Clydesdale district out of the proposed South Lanarkshire council. I say at the outset that I wish to hear what my noble and learned friend has to say on the issue.
§ I believe that the area of South Lanarkshire, which incorporates the county town of Lanark and extends from Carluke roughly to Biggar and beyond, is an integral area in its own right. The Government's proposal is for a much larger authority, the South Lanarkshire council, stretching from Rutherglen through Hamilton and East Kilbride. I recall the guidance of the Secretary of State for Scotland that local authorities need not be uniform, but should reflect local 939 circumstances. I think that he is right in that respect. That is perhaps why, looking at the satisfactory outcome in the Borders region, I wish to raise the issue here. I realise that wherever lines are drawn there will be contention. I also realise that with the disappearance of the Strathclyde region we are not talking of an area from Campbeltown to Biggar and that Hamilton and Lanark are a short distance apart.
§ However, anyone looking at the area will see at once the tremendous imbalance in the urban and rural populations, with all the obvious differences to which that gives rise. The debate in the other place did not convince me that serious consideration had been given to the matter. That is why I wish to raise it here. I was interested, again, in the cross-party views from that part of the world that the matter should be looked at again by the Government.
§ I recognise that a council representing 58,000 people is relatively small. We have heard quite a lot today about small councils and how those who are involved in local government are in most cases against that idea. But I am also aware that the Government have looked again at East Lothian and have decided that each should be a unitary authority, although somewhat bigger than Clydesdale district, if it were a unitary authority, would be. It could be an interesting council, and I am very interested that all political parties and councillors in that district are singing from the same hymn sheet. There is, I believe, a real fear in their minds that the weighting of the council representatives will naturally come from East Kilbride and Hamilton, Rutherglen and Cambuslang. Incidentally, I am very glad that the Government have put that part of what used to be Glasgow into this particular council. So with 73 councillors, I believe, in total, the numbers from the rural hinterland will be very small, and the fear is that there will be a submerging of the rural voice. The evidence of the community councils and representatives of all parties in the area shows that they are beginning to consider that that is not something they wish to see. Their views should not be ignored. I beg to move.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I listened carefully to what my noble friend said in support of a separate Clydesdale authority based on what is the existing district boundary. My difficulty in accepting the case for a unitary Clydesdale authority arises from the fact that there is a good alternative proposed in the Bill, namely South Lanarkshire. Prior to his contribution, I was aware that some concern had been expressed about rural Clydesdale joining with parts of urban Lanarkshire, but such a contrast occurs in a number of existing authorities as well as in some of the other new councils being proposed.
I suggest to the House that it is neither practical nor realistic to think in terms of authorities being either entirely rural or urban in character. In combination the two can complement each other and work very successfully if the will and also the appropriate administrative structures are in place. It seems to me that those who live in Clydesdale have an enormous amount to contribute to the new South Lanarkshire authority. Any reservation that they may have about 940 being linked with urban Lanarkshire would seem to be met by the policy contained in this Bill of encouraging decentralisation to ensure, in the case of Clydesdale, that local decisions solely affecting Clydesdale might be taken in Clydesdale.
The new authority we propose in the Bill, namely that of South Lanarkshire, has been the subject of extensive scrutiny in another place, and it would appear that it enjoys widespread support The local Members of Parliament, for example, recognise that it represents the best way forward for an area comprising a healthy mix of rural and urban areas, industry and agriculture, and new towns and old villages and towns. I pay tribute to the efforts and achievements of Clydesdale district council since 1975. But we believe that the area's best interests will be met, not by a unitary Clydesdale authority but rather by a South Lanarkshire one. The area's identity is firmly rooted in Lanarkshire, and that is reflected in the authorities we have proposed.
It is always difficult to reach a decision between two or more good but competing cases. This one is no exception. However, we believe that South Lanarkshire, as it is described in the Bill, wins the day. With that explanation of the Government's position I hope that my noble friend may feel that he can withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, I listened carefully to what my noble and learned friend said. I realise the extent of the arguments in his favour. But I also realise the extent of the arguments coming from those who live in the Clydesdale district.
The key to the reply that my noble and learned friend gave is that decentralisation in the South Lanarkshire council should be implemented. I hope that the Secretary of State's guidelines on decentralisation will be taken into account by those who form the new South Lanarkshire council. Given the explanation of my noble and learned friend, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 15:
§ Page 129, leave out line 46 and insert:
|("North Highland||Caithness, Sutherland, and Ross and Cromarty District Councils.|
|South Highland||Badenoch and Strathspey, Inverness, Lochaber, Nairn and Skye and Lochalsh District Councils.").|
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I rise to move the amendment which I put before your Lordships in Committee to divide the proposed new Highland local authority area into two areas, North Highland and South Highland. We had a long and searching debate in Committee. But, alas, when we neared the end of the debate it was almost midnight. Many noble Lords had had to go home and there was a grave danger that, had I and my supporters divided the House, we might have succeeded only in counting it out. So, with your 941 Lordships' leave, I withdrew the amendment but promised, as I now do, to put it before the House on Report.
§ I was challenged in Committee by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, to posit a solution showing exactly how North and South Highland could be made to work and where their headquarters could be located so as to take full advantage of the division of the Highland Region area into two.
§ Most of the arguments for creating the two Highland authorities which I and my supporters—and indeed 86 per cent. of the voters of Highland Region propose— were well rehearsed and debated in Committee. I do not propose to go over them all again in detail. But there are two aspects which I should like particularly to explain to the House today.
§ First, I shall try to demonstrate how the two-Highland council solution safeguards the democratic control and accountability of local government more surely than a pan-Highland solution. Secondly, I should like to give the Minister an answer to his challenge by positing a solution, particularly with regard to North Highland, which seems to be the area that worried him most, showing how the area might be administered.
§ The real benefit to be derived from a structure involving two councils rather than one lies not merely in the reduction in the overall size of the authority— although that is important—but rather in the smaller ward sizes that would result. The fact that each of the proposed two authorities would have 50 to 60 members would produce a dramatic reduction in the size of their wards, make councillors more accessible and enable them to do a better job.
§ Decentralisation within the two proposed Highland local authorities would be easier and more meaningful than trying to achieve decentralisation within a pan-Highland authority. Thus a two-Highland council solution would better reflect the diverse and distinctive needs of different parts of the Highlands with improved representation of rural areas. It could also show substantial cost savings over the existing structure, with transitional costs lower than those for change to a pan-Highland council and costs which could be recouped well within the nationally accepted timescale.
§ Since reorganisation was last discussed in Parliament, the Government have begun consultations on the number of electoral wards to be devised for each of the new councils. The 66 undefined wards proposed for a single Highland council represent a reduction of 64 per cent. in the number of councillors presently available to the public in the region. The scale of the loss of democratically elected representatives is almost twice that of the 34 per cent. reduction that applies to Scotland as a whole. That can hardly be regarded as an appropriate recognition of the sparsity of population and the scale of the area. The proposal confirms the worst fears of the many who argued that a single council structure was bound to reduce rather than enhance local democratic accountability.
§ A related cause for long-term concern is the extent to which power will be concentrated in the hands of a very small number of members in some parts of the single 942 Highland area. It should be recognised also that the reduction from nine to one in the number of councils serving the area will result in its representation in national organisations, such as the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, being reduced, with a corresponding—and possibly unforeseen—increase in the influence of other areas and of the central belt authorities in particular.
§ The massive reduction in the number of elected representatives in the Highlands will give rise to enormous practical problems in the development of decentralisation arrangements at member level. The electoral arrangements proposed will result in there being as few as six members representing some present district council areas but answerable for the whole range of council services. Councillors will not possibly be able to claim to be accessible to their electorate in such circumstances. Meetings, ward surgeries and normal councillor-constituent contacts will involve journeys over distances which would be regarded as totally unacceptable elsewhere in Scotland and which will involve considerable time and expense; and even danger in extreme weather conditions.
§ It is difficult to detect in a pan-Highland solution any recognition of the distinctive circumstances and needs of the Highlands. I remain of the view that the reduction proposed in the number of councillors and the corresponding increase in the whole range of demands on their time will result in a shrinking; number of potential candidates feeling inclined to offer themselves for public service. Already, it is often difficult to attract people to stand for election, and particularly to find people of the highest calibre, training and experience, willing to devote the time and effort now demanded of a Highland regional councillor. If a single tier local authority is set up to cover the whole Highland area, it will be even more difficult if not impossible.
§ Those who do stand are likely to be drawn increasingly from the ranks of the retired, the unemployed or those of private means. Those who are elected will soon discover that despite their good intentions much of what a single Highland council does, wherever it does it, will be regarded elsewhere in its area as the wrong thing in the wrong place. It is predictable that elected members will become increasingly disillusioned by such a view of their best endeavours and that to an increasing extent they will require officials to take decisions and attempt to explain them to an antagonistic public. It is likely that in this way the authority will become increasingly bureaucratic in nature. The result will be the almost total frustration of the Government's stated intentions.
§ I feel that I should now take up the gauntlet of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, and posit a solution to the management of the two councils which are proposed by this amendment. My solution is general in respect of both suggested councils but rather more particular in relation to North Highland because that is an area with which I am more familiar. After all, the final decision has to remain for the two Highland councils to take once they have been elected.943
§ In considering possible internal management structures at member and officer levels, one should look to streamlining senior management structures and reducing the total number of service departments while decentralising the management of service delivery arrangements and ensuring the maximum devolution of decision making.
§ Those objectives can be achieved by organising the internal management of each council on the basis of a corporate core (more familiar to many as headquarters) and a number of area teams. We have assumed four such teams in each authority but it may be possible to reduce that figure, which would have the effect of reducing the costs calculated previously. The corporate core would comprise a small unit dealing with general management, corporate and strategic planning, public relations and support for the community, and strategic and central services. Such a structure would help to eliminate the artificial demarcations which exist between various services at present. I maintain that such an approach is totally in line with the Government's stated intentions.
§ Opponents of the two-council structure have concentrated on the possible location of the two corporate cores rather than on their role, composition and function. In particular, they have assumed—as the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, did recently when he spoke— that the North Highland's centre would be located in Dingwall, although the proposals which have been put forward give no basis for such an assumption. Having advanced the suggestion, however, those critics have then attacked it and attempted to discredit it on the basis that that centre is only 15 miles from Inverness and not significantly closer to many in the north than a centre in Inverness would be.
§ We—I and my supporters in this amendment—have not proposed any town as the possible location for the centre of either authority; but we are conscious of the need to retain the presence of personnel in as many as possible of the locations presently in use. In this way least damage will be caused to the economic, social and cultural life of these communities. Such an objective will be met through the use of an area team structure.
§ As I have already indicated, the actual location of the corporate cores of the two Highland councils will be a matter to be determined by their members following their election in 1995. Nevertheless, what is proposed would not require the construction or acquisition of new accommodation. The underlying intention is to direct resources and as great a degree of control as possible to the area member and officer structure. This approach, combined with a reduction in headquarters senior management and specialist staff and full and innovative use of the advanced systems of communication and information technology available in that area, should allow the new authorities a number of options for consideration.
§ I accept, however, that it is probable that the southern authority would locate its corporate core in Inverness, with area teams possibly in Portree, Fort William, Kingussie, Nairn and Inverness. The area teams in the northern council may be located in Wick, Golspie and Dingwall. I understand that in discussion between 944 representatives of the three district councils involved Dornoch has been identified as a possible location for the northern corporate core. That would produce a very balanced set-up, taking into consideration the main population centres in North Highland. There is a population of 32,005 grouped in the major towns and villages to the south of Dornoch while a population of 27,745 resides to the north from Golspie through to Wick and Thurso.
§ An essential element of these management proposals is that the corporate management of each council would be achieved by a management team comprising the chief executive or general manager, the executive directors of the core functions and the area chief executives or managers of the area teams. In this way the core and area teams will operate in an integrated manner, with the senior management in area being assured of equal status with the senior management of the centre.
§ The adoption of highly decentralised arrangements at officer level for the management and delivery of services would be mirrored by devolved decision-making arrangements for local members. I envisage the establishment of all-purpose area committees exercising democratic control over the whole range of local services. If such an arrangement is to be meaningful, the area committees will require extensive delegated powers relating to the authorisation of expenditure within the system of devolved budgetary control and the planning and control of service delivery arrangements. The committees will also monitor the development of effective working partnerships between area teams and the corporate core.
§ Such devolved and decentralised arrangements will improve and increase the accountability and responsiveness of the two councils to their communities. This objective cannot be achieved, however, if the number of councillors is reduced significantly through the creation of a single pan-Highland council. The key to meaningful devolvement and delegation is the election of an adequate number of members. The single council proposal would result in an area committee in some parts having as few as five members. That would be unrealistic in practice. The result would be concentration of power and decision-making in the hands of very few and an increase in the possibility of abuse and conflict.
§ I have no doubt in my mind that North Highland and South Highland, as local government entities, would each be properly viable. At over l¼ million hectares each, they would each be about the same size as Strathclyde. To double their area and thereby make them almost twice the size of Strathclyde would seem to be foolish. Yet although the two areas will be large they will still have an adequate population on which sensibly to base a local government structure. North Highland at 88,570 of population will be bigger than the sum of the three island councils of Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles put together and twice the size of Clackmannan. South Highland at 115,570 will be bigger than the Borders, Dumbarton and Clydebank or the new proposed Council of Moray.945
§ I therefore challenge the Government to explain exactly why it seems so desirable to them to create a local council twice the size of Strathclyde and with a population bigger than the City of Dundee or than any other proposed new council other than the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen or the new council areas proposed for Aberdeenshire, Fife or North and South Lanarkshire and then force it upon an unwilling local electorate. What do they expect to get in return except hard feelings?
§ On the other hand, if they would prove themselves for once to be a listening government I can assure them that they would earn themselves gratitude and praise and would have the satisfaction of seeing, in years to come, a total Highland area beginning to thrive and grow as only a well administered area can. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. Having entirely supported the Government on their views of devolving local government as in Clackmannan, Falkirk and Stirling, I hope that they will also embrace the natural, sensible and logical continuance of that argument in supporting our amendment.
I was extremely impressed by the arguments of my noble friend Lord Sanderson of Bowden regarding the devolution of Clydesdale and I hope that we may be able to persuade him also to sing from our hymn sheet. I wish to emphasise four points and shall do so as concisely and briefly as possible so as not to take up too much of your Lordships' time.
The first—I mentioned this in Committee but must bring it up again—relates to the question of size. The area concerned is simply huge. It is nearly as big as Belgium and bigger than the principality of Wales. To attempt to run an area of that size as one authority cannot make any kind of sense. Not only are the distances vast but in many cases the roads are narrow, sometimes with passing places only. It is not only motorway.
The proposals for one unit argue that to have one council at Inverness would be little different to having one at Inverness and one at Dingwall—only 12 minutes driving distance apart for my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin. In fact the Association of Highland District Councils would prefer to use Dornoch, with possibly some devolved facilities at Thurso, Golspie, Wick or Lairg. It has been said that the building of the two bridges has now linked the areas on either side so that they can function together as an economic unit. I do not think I have heard that argument put forward for the estuarine shores of the Tay, although there is a perfectly good bridge between Dundee and Newport and Tayport. Nor, despite the splendid Forth Bridge, do Edinburgh and Inverkeithing and Rosyth feel so connected.
When anyone has mentioned size of the area before in comparison with Wales, the difference in population was emphasised. In the principality of Wales there are 2.4 million people whereas there are only around 200,000 in the Highland area. However, as regards access to one's local councillor, area must be taken into consideration.
946 My second point concerns democracy. Various polls were carried out throughout the area. However unreliable many people believe polls to be, they showed 86 per cent. in favour of two councils over the whole area—rather more than the 60 per cent. for Clackmannan. Out of eight district councils, all with elected representatives of the people—Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness, Lochaber, Badenoch and Strathspay, Nairn and Skye and Lochalsh—only the last two are in favour of a single authority. If we as a nation organised democracy on that ratio, the country would be governed by the party of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso; 75 per cent. is surely a respectable majority.
As my noble and learned friend the Minister said earlier, it is important for us to look at Skye and Lochalsh. While we may no longer be speeding in our bonny boat over the seas, but instead observing the speed limit of our wheels as we drive over the new bridge to enjoy looking at this beautiful island, we must not forget also to look at Caithness, Sutherland, Ross and Cromarty, Inverness, Lochaber and Badenoch and Strathspey.
My third point concerns European funding and economic development, and that a single authority should be thought necessary to continue the Objective One status. In fact Objective One status has been largely achieved by Highlands and Islands Enterprise for an area including Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and Argyll and the Isles as well as the North and South Highland areas. Surely there is to be no attempt to lump all those areas together for a local government unit in order to retain Objective One status. Highlands and Islands Enterprise is a vastly successful government agency which already exists to co-ordinate action on economic development and European matters. It acts for all the Highland and Island areas and would act as well, if not better, for two Highland councils as for one.
Finally, the whole ethos of the Bill and of government thinking over local government: has been to devolve and to decentralise; to get democracy back to local accountability. The amendment does exactly that. When my noble friends and I met my noble and learned friend the Minister earlier this month at St. Andrew's House I found a Bible in the waiting room. Opening it at random I put my finger on a verse from Isaiah:For as the earth bringeth forth the bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to come forth, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations".That encouraged me so much that I read it to my noble and learned friend hoping that, together with our arguments, it might encourage him also to "cause righteousness and praise" by taking on board the amendment.
§ Lord Hughes
My Lords, before the noble Baroness resumes her seat, perhaps I can point out that she said,more than the 60 per cent. for Clackmannan".The 60 per cent. at Clackmannan was against Clackmannan and not for it.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I cannot add anything to the arguments that have been put forward. But I can say that it appears to be entirely logical and 947 proper to have two authorities in the Highlands. As some may know, for a short time I was MP for Caithness and Sutherland. Even there we had a dichotomy between the counties. But they worked together when they had to.
There was a feeling that Inverness attracted everything away. There was a fellow feeling with Ross and Cromarty, and the proposal would work. It is not a question of distance or where the capital is situated. It is a question of a body which would have cohesion; there would be no democratic deficit, to use that phrase again; it could work together.
A single authority would be administratively easy to run and would no doubt be cheaper. But it would not be as good and it would not achieve the essential goal of giving a feeling of cohesion and genuine support for the authority. It is wholly in line with the thinking of the Government on Clackmannan—I keep quoting Clackmannan—and they should accept the amendment. The feeling is extremely strong that the removal of democracy from the Highlands is what would result if we had just one enormous single authority. I beg the Government to think again and accept the two authority proposal.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I trust that my noble friend on the Front Bench will not be persuaded by this amendment. When we discussed it during the Committee stage of the Bill we heard in some detail from the sponsors about their objections to the single authority which has been proposed by the Government for the Scottish Highlands, but we heard of very few positive advantages of splitting the area into two. Certainly we did not hear any arguments which could stand up to close examination in support of that proposal.
Today has more or less been a repetition of the negative nature of the case although the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, did produce some interesting suggestions about how the new authority might work. Indeed, his ideas would lead to an almost complete revolution in local government. I do not believe that they are appropriate. I do not believe that two authorities would in any way be an advantage in the Highlands.
That approach is hardly surprising since those who purport to support the amendment at local level are far from united within their own ranks. Since we last discussed the Bill there has been a withering of enthusiasm even among those who were reasonably keen at one stage. Indeed, four of the existing councils which would fall within a southern Highland council in this amendment oppose such a division. Increasingly, members of the remaining councils in both the south and north Highlands are seeking, in the best interests of their own areas and of their staff and voluntary organisations, to address the benefits and opportunities offered by a single Highland council.
Lochaber district council has distanced itself from the two-authority concept. Sutherland councillors have already met with their regional colleagues to respond collectively to the consultation paper on the new electoral wards and indeed are anxious to pursue an 948 even wider agenda in the best interests of Sutherland. Nairn district council has made good progress in discussions about suitable arrangements for operating a single authority while Skye and Lochalsh continues to establish a format which will ensure full participation for both its elected members and its electors. The opening of its one-stop shop in Kyle of Lochalsh illustrates the technological sophistication available today in the Highlands of Scotland and enables constituents in that part of south west Ross to have direct contact with regional headquarters in Inverness for instant information on nearly all council matters.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he not quoting all the councils in the southern region which have the advantage of direct communication with Inverness and in fact putting the case for those who would be in favour rather than those in the north?
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, because he has played right into my hands. I shall answer his question in a couple of minutes. Skye and Lochalsh has also installed a video link with Inverness which enables councillors and officials virtually to conduct conferences and so save valuable time and money in travelling. Pilot schemes are being introduced in Easter Ross at Balintore and in Sutherland at Lochinver. I have no doubt that this will become commonplace in the Highlands before long.
Such innovations, along with the ease of transport today in the Highlands, do much to counter the arguments of distance and are even used as examples of modernisation to attract new businesses and development. The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, mentioned the Highlands and Islands Enterprise. I commend and applaud its activities. I would point out that it favours one authority and not two.
By any yardstick the Highlands has a very small resource base. Taking the area as a whole, £1 in council tax raises £72,400. That is a small sum when one considers the services which have to be provided. Coopers & Lybrand estimates that a potential saving of £4.4 million per annum could be saved by having one Highland council whereas the cost of splitting the Highlands into two would be £6.2 million per annum additional to the cost of one council. The cost of the two-council option is well in excess of current expenditure and can therefore never produce savings.
Many points have already been covered but one on which I must comment arose in the debate on Central Region. Several speakers pointed out the great limitations which are imposed on small authorities as far as expenditure is concerned. The amendment would dilute disastrously the resource base of the region. By accepting it the Government would create a situation of local conflict and bickering.
The time has arrived for talking at local level by the regional councils and all the district councils. They should get round the table and evolve the most acceptable way forward for a new all-purpose Highland authority. A good deal of work has already been done, but time is short and many details have still to be agreed. I believe that with goodwill on all parts that can be 949 achieved. For those reasons and for many others which I shall not go into tonight because we are fighting against the clock, I commend one authority for the Highlands. I suggest that my noble friend should reject the proposed amendment.
§ Lord Kirkhill
My Lords, I sought to attract the noble Lord's attention a moment ago. I assure him that I thought his speech quite logical. I am sure that it is my increasing decrepitude which puts me in the position of failing to understand one key point which I am sure that he made with perfect clarity. Perhaps he can help me. Am I right in assuming that there are four councils in the southern region which now say that they no longer support a single authority? Is that part of the noble Lord's proposition? If so, will he confirm it or explain that I have misunderstood him.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I said that there were four existing councils which would be within the area of the proposed southern Highland region which do not accept that division.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, I do not support this amendment for all the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Gray of Contin, has given and also because I believe that there is far stronger support for a single Highland authority than the movers of this amendment believe exists. Having said that, I know that some of the councillors in the area who would, I believe, be expecting to stand for a new council, are very concerned about the increase which they anticipate in their workload if a single Highland authority comes into being.
I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord and the Government will give some consideration to increasing the number of councillors in order to reduce that workload, otherwise I think that the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is right and it may be difficult to get suitable people to stand for election.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Sanderson of Bowden
My Lords, I think that it is important that I should intervene in this particular debate both because I took part in Committee and in order to answer the questions of the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, about my attitude to various areas of Scotland. As far as I can see, although I very much believe that "small is beautiful", the whole problem with the Highlands is that I do not believe that "small and fragile is beautiful". I am referring to the tax base on which local government in the Highlands has to operate. It is a very low tax base. Valuations in the area are very low and, as my noble friend Lord Gray of Contin said, the total amount taken in council tax in the whole of the Highlands area is remarkably small. I believe that the West Highlands is an area of great fragility, and I do not think that the division that is proposed in the amendment would necessarily improve the situation.
However, I do go along with what has been said about the number of councillors. I hope that my noble and learned friend will look closely at the huge area of the Highlands and realise that the Secretary of State's proposal for 66 councillors for the area should be 950 reconsidered, because the number is too small. The Government should reconsider whether that is the correct number for such a sizeable area.
I believe that the present Highland Regional Council has accepted the concept of decentralisation. However, I hope that the guidelines set down by the Secretary of State will be rigidly adhered to; otherwise the problems of the Highlands will go on and on. I have a great deal of sympathy with what has been said about the area of the Highlands. The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, said that there were strong feelings there on the subject. Having been a Minister responsible for the area, I know that there are strong feelings there on every subject. Those strong feelings are essentially that "Inverness rules OK". Whatever the result of this amendment and whatever scheme is introduced— whether there is one council or two—I hope that it will be seen that a decentralised Highlands is essential. For the reason of fragility which I have cited, I am concerned about what the low tax base would mean if there were to be two councils rather than one.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, when I was in the north in September I took the opportunity of talking again to individuals on both sides of the argument and of visiting the Highlands Region because I had not previously had the opportunity of doing so. I am glad that I did because I found that the thinking among those most concerned had moved on a great deal since the meetings that we had in this House during the summer. I have remained open-minded until now about whether one council or two would have the best chance of providing the most user-friendly and effective local government for the people of the Highlands. As the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said, that must be the issue before us.
My experience of local government has brought me to the conclusion that, given the unique problems and potentialities, the geography and the feelings of people in the Highlands and the dichotomy that there is between the thinking in places like Caithness and Sutherland—I know less about that than other noble Lords who have spoken—the answer is to have a single council but with a very special and carefully thought out decentralised way of working; a way very different from and more extensive than the way in which the Highlands Region operates at the moment. I believe that that is the right way forward.
From my briefing on the thinking that is now developing among councillors who are discussing this matter in the Highlands—it does not yet involve all the existing councils very much although it does involve some of them—I believe that Highland Regional Council will come up with a decentralisation scheme which will very likely be an example to other councils in Scotland and that it will be what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, referred to in another context as a "courageous experiment". My understanding is that it is envisaging not just local committees of local councilors (as was anticipated by the noble Viscount in his opening remarks), and not just local offices, but a very wide range of functions being devolved to local committees of councillors.
951 Very importantly—nobody has mentioned this proposal—the council is envisaging using school boards as a means of devolving decision-making on matters of education and community education. It is thinking about that. I believe that those are very exciting possibilities. There are school boards in all secondary schools and in 75 per cent. of primary schools at the moment. As yet, devolved school management is in its infancy there, as elsewhere in Scotland, but the idea is that it is not only school matters that should be devolved to those bodies, but as many related matters as possible. That would be an excellent, very local way of decision-making, and that could be done in addition to and alongside what councillors are doing. As I understand it, local councillors would not be placed over the school boards but would work directly with the central council.
It seems to me that that approach could be a very popular and successful way forward, but at the same time it is important that the decentralisation scheme (proposed in Clause 23) should include not only very clear arrangements about what functions are delegated outwards and to whom, but also about which locally made decisions could stand without being overthrown by the central council and which would have to come back to the council for approval. That is important. There would also need to be limits placed on decisions made at local level by councillors which might not be very democratic. That fear about how localised decision-making could develop was expressed to me by a number of existing local councillors. The noble Viscount will be interested to know that some came from Tain.
I suggest to my noble and learned friend the Minister that when we come to discuss the decentralisation scheme amendment we should look carefully at whether there are requirements to make sure that such localised decisions are democratic. It was suggested to me that individuals might be allocated housing by a single councillor without any recourse to appeal. I do not think that that would do. It would be quite wrong. Devolution of power can be carried too far.
I think that the Bill as it stands is the best way forward, provided we have a really sound and proper decentralisation scheme. We need more than words; it must be a proper scheme. I have now had a very full briefing on the current thinking and there is every sign now that this could be very exciting. A lot of us will watch what happens with great interest. Therefore, I hope that the amendment will not succeed.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, being a Sinclair born and bred six miles from the most northerly point of the mainland of Scotland I know the area that this amendment covers. It is vast, as was well explained by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange. Given that there are so many problems relating to the community services it is very important that people have access to their councillors, that they know who they are and that the councillors know the people they represent.
There seems to be a north-south divide over this amendment in your Lordships' House. I expect that the same debate would go on in a unitary council. Perhaps 952 I may ask the Minister how many councillors it is proposed there should be for this large area. I support this amendment.
§ The Earl of Minto
My Lords, I said in Committee that I supported the proposed Highland council on the basis of experience within another of Scotland's rural councils. I remain of that opinion. It is important that Scotland's rural councils have the strongest form of local government. That can be achieved in the Highlands. Much of what I would have said has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. The future lies in deep decentralisation. I believe that is possible and is already being tackled, as the noble Baroness learnt on her visit to the Highlands. I know from my position as a convener of a local authority that that is true.
From the pure point of service delivery, which I believe to be important, I support a single Highland authority, but I have one reservation. I have listened, and I know that it is true that concerns have been expressed about the number of councillors proposed for the Highlands. I well understand how that concern originates. Under the Government's proposals for councillor numbers, the Highlands has a significantly higher level of representation than is proposed for many other parts of Scotland. That is probably appropriate given the large area that some councillors will have to represent. I understand that the regional councils and district councils in the highlands hold the common view that it would be appropriate to have more councillors than the Government propose. I hope that the Minister will listen to the united local opinion on that matter.
§ Lord Ewing of Kirkford
My Lords, I wonder whether I could intervene briefly from these Benches. I am convinced that the retention of a single Highland council would be in the best interests of the administration of local government in that area. Like all other noble Lords and noble Baronesses who have spoken, at the meetings I have attended I have listened with great interest to the representations that have been made by Highland Region and the Association of District Councils. I thought that sometimes both parties went way over the top when presenting their claim to remain either as a single unit or to split the Highlands into two, but once I had discarded the over-the-top stuff and studied carefully the presentation from both organisations I came firmly to the conclusion that it was in the best interests of the Highland Region that one council should prevail.
I just enter this comment: I have not been convinced by some of the supporters of the argument in favour of retaining Highland Region during today's proceedings. I regard it as totally inconsistent for the noble Lords, Lord Sanderson of Bowden and Lord Gray of Contin, and other noble Lords to vote as they did on the Central Region amendment and then to expect the House to be persuaded by their arguments as to the Highland Region.
There have been consistencies. The noble Baronesses, Lady Strange and Lady Masham, and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, were consistent, but I must make it clear to those who represent the Highland Region that we on this side of the House have made up 953 our own minds, and today of all days we have not been convinced by the arguments put forward by the Highland Region's supporters. That is because of what happened on a previous amendment. If the House is divided, I advise any of my noble friends who intend to vote on this to support the retention of the single authority for the Highland Region.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, in his excellent speech today the noble Viscount, and my noble friend Lady Strange, were not merely interesting; they produced many statistics proving the point which we have been trying to make since the Bill was published. They have however stolen my thunder, which may be a relief to your Lordships. Clearly a great deal more thought has been put into what they said than has in any way been produced by those who support one council only.
I should perhaps declare an interest in that, if we are left with one council, as is currently proposed by the Government, then the already substantial amount which I am compelled to contribute annually to the council will rocket further still. I have gone back over the past five years only, but since 1990–91 the total net expenditure of the Highland Region has increased by over 20 per cent. In those five years it has increased by nearly £42 million per annum. The talk of £6 million by my noble friend Lord Gray was inaccurate and at any rate is chicken feed compared to what actually happened.
I know also that for a number of years before that the rate of increase was substantial. To give many of the councillors additional powers to deal with all that the district councils currently handle will result, I fear, in our council tax and rates killing off many firms in the north.
The regional council employs 11,000 personnel at the moment. That figure will of course increase enormously with the addition of the district councils' work. The total workforce of the new proposed Highland council is just over 99,000 people, so when the district councils' work is taken on, between 15 per cent. and 20 per cent. of the Highlands total workforce will be employed by the new council. That is not right. Who will pay for it? Who will produce the income if that percentage of people is employed by the local authority?
Noble Lords will appreciate what a heavy burden that would place on all our businesses, but more especially on the rural areas, with their forestry and agriculture, which have little capacity to regulate their income to meet those increased costs. What is perhaps even more worrying is that a large centralised council in Inverness will deprive many of the scattered district council staff of their jobs unless they are prepared to leave their homes and move to within range of Inverness. With so many employees of the Highland Region living in his constituency, it is scarcely surprising that Sir Russell Johnston broke ranks with his fellow Liberals and supported the case for one council only.
The trend of the current Highland Region has been to place larger and larger centralised contracts. It is therefore surprising that it is now talking about devolution. I can give a typical recent example of a painting job in Sutherland which was given to an 954 Inverness firm. It was not a large contract. Surely there must have been many small firms between Inverness and Sutherland, or even in Sutherland itself, which could have carried out that contract for far less if they did not have such a huge mileage to travel all the way from Inverness every day.
Those small local businesses used to obtain much of their work from the district councils. The loss of those councils, and the centralisation in Inverness, will almost inevitably put a number of those firms out of business. The loss of such employment in the Highlands, where jobs are not easy to come by, would be a considerable disaster.
How can anyone living in Caithness, let alone in Sutherland, accept a council chairmanship of a council based in Inverness? Such a person would spend more time on the road than on council business. The old Inverness County Council, which covered the biggest inland area in Britain at the time, would have been a reasonable size if parts of the Western Isles had not had to be administered from there. That made the area awkward. The land area covered by such a council would have been much the same size as that which will be covered if we just have two councils for the whole of the Highlands. Each of the councils will be about the same size as the old Inverness.
The reduction in the number of local councillors from 180 to 66 for the whole of the Highlands area will make the burden on those councillors excessive, I am pleased to hear that even some supporters of the single council have now realised that. We have been trying to press that point for a very long time. It would remove from the electorate reasonable representation, and only those prepared to be professional councillors could possibly give their time to travel all that distance. Would it not be a great deal easier and better for everyone to have two councils, each of 40 or 50 councillors? If the 66 is increased to any reasonable extent to give representation I certainly would not like to chair a meeting. I believe that it would be bedlam.
A further point is that a great deal of business coming before the council would be of little interest to many of the councillors. They would become bored dealing with issues that do not really concern them. Therefore, it would be better to have two smaller councils of 40 or 50 members who would have an interest.
The number of councillors in Scotland as a whole will be reduced by 34 per cent. but the reduction in the Highlands would be nearly twice that of Scotland. In such a wide and scattered area that would obviously be unacceptable. I am sure that my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench will take that on board and reconsider the figure of 66.
Decentralisation is no answer. With 66 councillors, the area committees would not be big enough with the number of councillors available. Co-option of non-elected members to these area committees would be undemocratic. The current regional council—and there are likely to be many of the existing regional councillors on a pan-Highland council—had no commitment to decentralise, but rather the reverse. The police were all centralised in Inverness, as recently was much of the 955 finance. Over the years the central planners have consistently overruled the findings of the local planning committees.
Incidentally, in formulating proposed costings for one pan-Highland council, Highland Region appears to have put little or nothing into its calculations for the cost of decentralised functions. The need to decentralise is in the Bill but it is not enforceable unless Amendment No. 23 is agreed to. Yet, in showing the costs of a unitary authority compared with two, no amount appears to have been included for what would be substantial costs in decentralising. The region produced totally inaccurate costings; it largely doubled the cost of a pan-Highland council compared with two councils. It made little or no allowance for decentralisation and took no account of the vast saving in travelling expenses with two authorities.
We have tonight discussed the timetable and how tight it is. I fully agree with what has been said. However, Highland Regional Council is refusing to hold discussions with a number of district councils. Unless they agree to one council only it is not prepared to talk to them. That shows not only a bullying attitude but, with the existing timetable, it is wrong that there should be a further delay.
Your Lordships will have heard that System 3 findings on the poll showed that more than 80 per cent. of the population wanted two councils or more. In fact, that poll was taken twice; the results of the first poll were almost incredible. Furthermore, the Highland Regional Council took a poll. Why has it not published the results of that poll? The reason is that it knows that it would be totally unfavourable to its case.
The question has been raised as to why the district councils were so slow in getting together to formulate a case for two councils. That was because the White Paper was so awkward to follow and indecisive that many of them opted for smaller councils. They wanted their own district as a council and therefore there was a case for diversity.
Now a case for two councils has been brought forward and has secured widespread support. All the questions posed in opposition have been answered. However, when we ask for reasons why a single council is thought to be better we cannot get any valid reasons. I have heard nothing tonight which speaks in favour of one council more than two. We were told that it would be better for the well-being of the Highlands but what reasons have been given to support that? There are no reasons. There has been talk about Euro-funding. One or two councils will make no difference to the amount of Euro-funding available to the Highlands. Strategic infrastructure and economic development was also put forward. Indeed, a letter that I received from the Minister's office—to be fair to him, I do not believe that he saw it—gave the Kessock Bridge as an example of infrastructure development. That was planned when my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy was in the Scottish Office. I was then chairman of the roads committee and for the Minister's official to have given the credit to Highland Region is unbelievable! However, that is the kind of thing that we have had to put up with.
956 Surely strategic planning is for the Highlands and Islands Enterprise and not for the Highland Region. What happens if those two bodies do not agree with each other in their planning? Twenty years ago, when I was chairman of the roads committee, we realised the vital necessity for the infrastructure of having a by-pass around Inverness, but Highland Region has consistently failed to press for that. It does not appear to have an interest in the infrastructure.
I am sorry, I am speaking for too long. It saddens me to see the Government committing political suicide in the North. However, it will be interesting to see whether the Opposition comes out in favour of the amendment. I am afraid that we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, that probably it will not. If the one-council proposal goes forward there will be chaos in local government in the Highlands. If the Opposition does not support the amendment it cannot criticise the Government. Members of another place can scarcely complain if we return this matter to them because during the Bill's passage through the Commons this important part of the country—one-third of the whole of Scotland—was discussed for only seven minutes, including interruptions. It was not properly discussed in the other place. I ask your Lordships to consider the matter most carefully and to support two Highland councils.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, if the debate has revealed anything it is confirmation of what emerged from our original consultation throughout Scotland; that is, that opinions within the Highlands are obviously divided. They range for support for a single Highland council to a structure of no fewer than eight for the whole of the Highlands. When we started there was little support for a two-council option. That may have been because people hoped to secure a small local council but it emerged late in the day. As my noble friend Lord Gray correctly pointed out, if one looks to the proposed southern council one discovers that of the six local authorities in that area only two will support such a proposal. It is not a matter that has in any sense divided along party political lines. Reference has been made to the Member of Parliament for Inverness, Sir Russell Johnston, who has made it clear that his view is that a single authority would be appropriate.
The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, indicated that in contributing to the debate and possibly in briefing and lobbying for the debate, some people have gone over the top. I part company with him on that. I have been in the Highlands, too, and I am clear that there are sharply conflicting views about the issue. It is just as well to recognise that. People have been putting forward their cases with as much passion and conviction as did the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and the noble Lord, Lord Burton, when they came to see me last week. Therefore, we should recognise the strength of feeling about the matter.
It is my view, and it remains the view of the Government, that it would be best for the Highlands to stay as a single authority. We do not believe that the economic prospects of the Highlands of Scotland will be improved by splitting that main economic engine of the area—that is to say, the inner Moray Firth—into two 957 authorities. While of course there is the prospect that there could be harmonious co-operation between two councils, we think it would be better to stick to one.
In Committee the noble Earl, Lord Minto, identified what he saw as a common heritage and identity in the Highlands and said that one did not come across highlanders who described themselves as north highlanders or south highlanders. That would certainly square with my experience. They may feel a connection with and a loyalty towards Caithness or Sutherland but one does not experience the division of identity between north and south as is now being proposed. I appreciate that those who support the two council solution have now. appeared to move away from the idea that the headquarters of the northern council should be at Dingwall, which might seem at first blush to be the most obvious place to put it given what is there already. However, Dingwall and Inverness are only some 12 or 15 miles apart. Someone coming to Dingwall from Sutherland might find that he was staying in Inverness overnight or coming by that route. Now I understand that the proposal is instead, although it clearly cannot be a definite one, that the headquarters might be at Dornoch or Golspie. The golfers among the Highland councillors might think that an excellent idea. But if one comes from Ullapool, going to Dornoch instead of going to Inverness would be to drive 81 miles instead of 60. I am not saying that is an overwhelming argument but I emphasise that, whatever position one takes up at any point in the Highlands, apparent inconsistencies emerge. Those who live on the Black Isle just overlooking the capital of the Highlands at Inverness would frankly be rather startled to discover that it was proposed that the headquarters of their council should be up the coast in Dornoch rather than just across the Kessock bridge.
What seems to be at the centre of this discussion about the Highlands turns on two points with which I can deal shortly. Yes, indeed, when we first contemplated within the Bill that there ought to be a requirement on councils to establish a scheme of decentralisation we had the highlands very clearly in mind. I would very much want to see decentralisation and proposals for it going forward as quickly as possible. As my noble friends Lord Gray and Lady Carnegy have pointed out, it is to their credit that the existing regional council and some of the district councils already have a number of arrangements in place which would provide a very satisfactory base for decentralisation. Mention has already been made of such things as video links between Portree and Inverness. The Highlands may be quite a long way from here but they have a perfectly good telephone system and very good roads in many parts. Those modern techniques can well be deployed. There is no reason why there should not be a very well established and well developed decentralisation system. I can give this assurance. Any such proposal for decentralisation coming forward from the single authority in the Highlands would be closely scrutinised by the Secretary of State, as he would be bound to do, and I believe that that is already appreciated by those who promote the one council solution.
958 The other anxiety is that there might be too few councillors, given the large area that they have to cover. I want to stress that the two matters are not necessarily interlinked. We have gone out to consultation—that consultation period has not yet ended so I cannot offer any final view on it—on council numbers in the Highlands as elsewhere and I want to stress to those including my noble friend Lord Sanderson, the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that our proposals in that consultation paper are not set in concrete. We shall want to look very carefully at those matters for just the very reasons that have been advanced before your Lordships today.
While I did not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, that those who had contributed to the debate, here and outside it, had gone over the top, I would have to acknowledge that a degree of bitterness has built up in the Highlands, which is to be regretted. I hope that we can reach a conclusion tonight that there should be a single council and that once that decision has been taken those who wish to see the Highlands develop and prosper will get together and do all that they can to improve and set up decentralisation schemes which could make it a most attractive part of local government in Scotland.
§ Viscount Thurso
My Lords, I am exceedingly disappointed that even the noble and learned Lord the Minister should have chosen to go back to putting words into our mouths which we did not utter tonight. We did not say anything about making the headquarters at Dingwall or that from a whole lot of different choices we had chosen two councils. We came to him solely with the proposition I have described to the House this evening. That we have been consistent with and I think it is unfair to say that we have been inconsistent in our approach. I can assure the House that the backing for that approach does not follow party lines. It goes across all parties. The noble and learned Lord will know that, as I know because I was rung up by a person who was present at the meeting—the noble and learned Lord will know who it was. He had a meeting of his own supporters in Wick only a few days ago telling him what a Moses he was making of this. The Minister would not apparently even listen to him
I have to ask your Lordships to help us because the Minister is obviously not so inclined. I beg of you to give us the structures we want and then you will see us in north Highland and south Highland striving as a contented electorate to make these structures work, and, if I may borrow the motto of the Royal Burgh of Wick, "wark weel". I commend the amendment to the House.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 15) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 30; Not-Contents, 88.959
|Airedale, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Argyll, D.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||McNair, L.|
|Buchan, E||Monkswell, L|
|Burton, L.||Orkney, E|
|Elphinstone, L.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Russell, E|
|Hamwee, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Strange, B. [Teller.]|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Lauderdale, E||Thurso, V. [Teller.]|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Macpherson of Drumochter, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham, E|
|Abinger, L.||Henley, L.|
|Addison, V.||HolmPatrick, L|
|Ailsa, M.||Hooper, B.|
|Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L.||Howe, E|
|Arran, E [Teller.]||Inchyra, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Inglewood, L.|
|Balfour, E||Kimball, L|
|Belstead, L.||Kitchener, E|
|Blatch, B.||Long, V.|
|Boardman, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Boyd-Carpenter, L.||Lucas, L,|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Bruntisfield, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Mersey, V.|
|Chalker of Wallasey, B.||Minto, E.|
|Clark of Kempston, L.||Mottistone, L.|
|Courtown, R.||Nickson, L.|
|Craigavon, V||Norrie, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||Northesk, E.|
|Cranbome, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]||Perth, E.|
|Crickhowell, L||Prior, L.|
|Cross, V.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Cumberlege, B.||Reay, L.|
|Darcy (de Knayth), B.||Renton, L|
|Demon of Wakefield, B.||Rodger of Earlsferry, L.|
|Dilhorne, V.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Sanderson of Bowden, L.|
|Downshire, M.||Selborne, E|
|Dunrossil, V.||Sharples, B.|
|Elles- B.||Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Elton, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Ewing of Kirkford, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Ferrers, E.||Stewartby, L.|
|Flather, B.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Fraser of Carmyllie, L.||Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]|
|Gisborough, L.||Swinton, E.|
|Goschen, V.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned until 8.45 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.