Inside Parliament: Minister besieged in Scottish enclave: Scots at odds over East Renfrewshire - MPs debate council reform in Scotland - 'Governor general' Redwood under attack - Drink-drive figures up

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Indy Politics
Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, replaced Dame Shirley Porter in the parliamentary dock yesterday as opposition parties fulminated against a Bill to change the map of local government north of the border.

'What Mr Lang is planning for Scotland is even worse than Lady Porter's alleged activities in Westminster,' Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalists, told the House. 'All Lady Porter (former leader of the Tory authority) is accused of doing is gerrymandering a single council. Mr Lang is attempting to gerrymander an entire country.'

George Robertson, Labour's Scottish affairs, spokesman, echoed the words of the district auditor, John Magill, in the Westminster case, describing the purpose of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill as 'the cynical promotion of electoral advantage'. Here was everything Lady Porter did and more enshrined in legislation, he said. The Bill, given a Second Reading by 318 votes to 277, replaces 53 district and nine regional councils on the mainland with less than half that number of unitary authorities.

Though Labour campaigned for single-tier councils - with a Scottish parliament - at the last election, Mr Robertson said that under the Government's plan the boundaries had been 'shamefully gerrymandered'. In one case, East Renfrewshire had been created by adding 'Tory houses and middle-class enclaves' to tiny Eastwood - seat of Allan Stewart, Under- Secretary for Scotland.

While the areas of most new authorities are described in two or three lines in the Bill, East Renfrewshire takes up 49 lines. Farms, burns and individual houses are listed. Mr Robertson wondered if the residents of 39-41 Ben More Drive, Paisley, would be asked which way they intended to vote and amendments to the boundary follow.

Mr Lang told MPs that changes to the map could be considered during the Bill's later stages, but he vehemently rejected the charge of gerrymandering. Drawing a gale of laughter from opposition parties, he told the House: 'We want to get back to basics in local government.' With two councils for each area of Scotland, there was a weak democratic link between councils and their communities.

'One of the malign effects of the two-tier structure has been to blur the identity of individual authorities in the eyes of the public. It has made councils less accountable and voters more apathetic.'

The attack by the Scottish majority on the man they refer to as the 'governor general' was preceded by an attempt by Welsh MPs to point up differences between John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, and the Prime Minister.

Ron Davies, Labour's Welsh affairs spokesman, said if Mr Redwood wanted to get back to basics he should start doing the job he was paid to do and argue for policies that got Wales back to work.

'Doesn't Mr Redwood realise that his petty squabbles with the Prime Minister about personal morality are bringing him into contempt and ridicule and it's the people of Wales who are increasingly paying the price?'

The right-wing Mr Redwood, who opened the controversy over single mothers, was assumed to be one of the Cabinet ministers Mr Major last year branded 'bastards', if not one of those he might now want to crucify.

Rhodri Morgan, another shadow minister, said that with part-time service jobs replacing full-time manufacturing jobs, Mr Redwood was 'doing to the Welsh economy what the Prime Minister is supposed to want to do to him'.

Mr Redwood said the MP was 'as wrong in his quote from the Prime Minister as he is in his general remarks about the Welsh economy. He cheapens himself by his remarks rather than making a good debating point.' The Secretary of State reeled off a string of new job opportunities and promised to do anything in his power to carry on the recovery in Wales.

Nearly 5,500 motorists failed a breath test during the Christmas and New Year period and among the worst offenders were the middle-aged, Earl Ferrers, Minister of State at the Home Office, told peers.

There were 5,487 positive tests during the fortnight - a rise of 170 on the same period a year ago, he said.

Asked by Baroness Gardner of Parkes, a Conservative, how other countries managed to enforce a total ban, Earl Ferrers replied: 'Perhaps other countries don't eat pork pies. All sorts of things happen in other countries that don't happen here.'

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