Scottish council plans 'corrupt': Tories accused of gerrymandering as Opposition MPs walk out in protest

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THE Government was accused of 'political corruption' by Scottish Labour MPs last night after announcing that nine Labour-dominated regional councils and 53 district councils are to be abolished.

Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, faced angry protests from opposition MPs when he announced that the 62 councils were being replaced by 25 new single-tier authorities.

Labour MPs accused Mr Lang of gerrymandering the reforms, pointing to Eastwood, in the constituency of Allan Stewart, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Scotland, which is to be administered by its own authority instead of being merged with a new Labour-dominated city council for Glasgow.

Sir David Steel, the former Liberal leader, accused Mr Lang of 'the most corrupt proposals presented by any government in my time in the house'.

Alistair Darling, the Labour MP for Edinburgh Central, one of many front-bench Labour MPs with a Scottish seat, said: 'This reform will result in Scotland being run by quangos run by Tories.' He accused Mr Lang of 'corrupting the local government system' with changes which would have made east European dictatorships proud.

The Labour MPs, led by Tom Clarke, the Scottish spokesman, underlined their anger by walking out of the Commons chamber after half an hour of questions and announced they were marching to Downing Street to demand Mr Lang's resignation.

The Secretary of State laughed off the mass demonstration. 'They will find the Prime Minister is not there. As most of the rest of the country knows, he is still in Japan (attending the G7 summit) but the messenger on the door will be happy to take a message,' Mr Lang said.

Although the parliamentary row ended in farce, Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat MPs were deadly serious in warning that the public in Scotland would reject the plans. In one concession to Scottish public opinion, Mr Lang confirmed that he is abandoning the privatisation of the water industry in Scotland.

Instead, unlike England and Wales, it will be administered by three new public water authorities, separate from local government, which previously ran the services.

He said that the new authorities would be able to attract private sector capital to help fund large-scale investment projects, but one right-wing Tory MP, Graham Riddick (Colne Valley), expressed his disappointment.

The main proposals in the Government's White Paper to be followed later by legislation are: Creation of a single-tier structure of 28 councils.

The three island councils for Orkney, Shetland and Western Isles to remain.

Water to be administered by three public water authorities.

Strathclyde Regional Council to be split into 10 councils.

The four Scottish cities, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee and Aberdeen, to become single-tier councils.

The return of historic county names such as Perthshire and Kinross, Aberdeenshire, and east and west Renfrewshire.

Elections to the new councils will be held for the whole council every three years. Police and fire services and the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive will be run under statutory joint arrangements.

The transitional costs over 15 years are expected to reach pounds 200m, but the Government estimates the savings could amount to pounds 66m a year. The 'vast majority' of staff will be transferred on existing pay and conditions, but ministers said some redundancies would be needed.

The new councils will be set up from April 1996, but Mr Lang said the Government had decided not to proceed with radical options, raised in a consultation document, for directly elected provosts, council managers and cabinet systems.