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Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to be helpful, because I witnessed three, or possibly four, criminal offences. I witnessed the offences of assault, battery, conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace, and possibly the offence of unlawful assembly. It occurs to me that there are three ways of dealing with those matters
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) will leave the matter for me to deal with. An allegation has been made that an hon. Member engaged in disorderly conduct. No such incident has been reported to me. If it occurred, it should have been raised at the time. I cannot rule retrospectively.
Column 1046Transport (Scotland) Bill [Money]
Queen's recommendation having been signified --
Motion made, and Question proposed ,
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Transport (Scotland) Bill, it is expedient to authorise--
(a) the payment out of money provided by Parliament of-- (
(i) any expenditure of the Secretary of State in connection with the dissolution of the Scottish Transport Group ;
(ii) sums required for fulfilling any guarantee given by the Secretary of State in respect of sums borrowed by Caledonian MacBrayne Limited, David MacBrayne Limited and any subsidiary of theirs ;
(iii) any increase in payments out of money so provided arising from any increase in administrative expenses of the Secretary of State attributable to the provisions of the Act ; and
(iv) any increase attributable to the Act in payments out of money so provided under any other enactment ;
(b) any payment into the Consolidated Fund under the Act.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : We are not minded to wave this money resolution through and to make available on the nod the money that is required to put into effect legislation that my right hon. and hon. Friends have argued against for the past five and a half hours. It would be inconsistent if we were now to say that the Government are welcome to the money needed to implement legislation of which we strenuously disapprove.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman deploy that argument. Can he give any indication as to why he and his right hon. and hon. Friends did not vote against the Electricity Bill money resolution last night?
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker) : Order. I hope that the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) will not explain what did not happen last evening, but will restrict himself to tonight's business.
The reasons for the money resolution are spelt out in the sub-paragraphs. Sub-paragraph (i) refers to
"any expenditure of the Secretary of State in connection with the dissolution of the Scottish Transport Group."
That begs the question why the Scottish Transport Group is being dissolved and why money is required for that purpose. The reason why it is being dissolved is that the Scottish Bus Group, which is the major element in the Scottish Transport Group, is being privatised. So all that is left is the rump of the Scottish Transport Group, which is Caledonian MacBrayne-- notwithstanding the threat that part of it, too, will be privatised. The notion of using public funds to break up the Scottish Transport Group, which has served the people of Scotland well and continues doing so, is unacceptable.
What will the expenditure be? What administrative tasks are involved? What will be the cost of those administrative tasks in the dissolution of the Scottish Transport Group, for the purpose of privatising the Scottish Bus Group?
Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan) : One of the factors to be considered in that process, which my hon. Friend describes in a restrained and careful way--characteristically so, as another of my hon. Friends remarks--is that certain administrative tasks will involve the provision of funds for redundancy payments to large numbers of clerical and administrative staff. At present, they are located in Scotland's central belt, in respect of the CalMac operation. The management side, as represented by the Government, must tell the House--
Mr. O'Neill : I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I know that I interrupted my hon. Friend's speech at an early stage, but I felt I should make the point about the Minister's administrative responsibility for the redundancy payments to the people employed by CalMac. I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having done so in a way that was a wee bit overblown.
How much do the Government think will have to be paid to the people working in the central belt of Scotland for the transfer of CalMac's administrative functions to other parts of Scotland? Is not that important?
Mr. Wilson : My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point, for which I am grateful. This legislation will inevitably mean redundancies in Scottish Bus Group and CalMac. As my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) so ably pointed out earlier, CalMac's particular problem is its ill-thought-out removal from Gourock to Oban. As a native of Argyll, I have nothing against Oban--many developments are appropriate for it but uprooting people and telling them that, on pain of losing their jobs, they will have to move from Gourock to the very different environment of Oban is unacceptable. Redundancy payments will be involved, and we want to know what they will amount to.
Sub-paragraph (ii) of the resolution mentions
"sums required for fulfilling any guarantee given by the Secretary of State in respect of sums borrowed by Caledonian MacBrayne Limited, David MacBrayne Limited and any subsidiary of theirs".
On a nostalgic note, I was surprised to learn that the firm of David MacBrayne still exists. My impression was that it had been subsumed into CalMac. At one time there were three or four companies, but I do not want to go into the history of that now--[ Hon. Members : -- "Why not?"] I must not stray. First, there was the Caledonian Steam Packet Company. Those who are familiar with Clyde waters well remember it. Then there was David MacBrayne Limited, which operated the island ferry routes. Those of us with an interest in these matters remember that MacBrayne vessels always had red funnels, whereas Caledonian Steam Packet vessels had yellow ones.
Then, in the late 1960s, these two companies were brought together in public ownership as Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd. That, however, left two elements outside the operation. There were some smaller vessels : I can think of the Loch Arkaig which continued to ply to some of the small islands. These were purely passenger vessels. Then there were the cargo vessels. I remember in recent years the last of those vessels to operate were the Loch Carron and the Loch Dunvegan, carrying freight from the Clyde around the Hebridean islands. Before that, they were used
Column 1048to serve the distillery trade on the island of Islay and to carry heavy cargo to the islands. The point is that those vessels remained in the David MacBrayne company.
The fourth element was MacBrayne Haulage, which had also been part of David MacBrayne Ltd. When the main part went into the newly formed Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd, MacBrayne Haulage had to go somewhere else. It was formed as a separate company, still within the state sector and the Scottish Transport Group. So post-nationalisation there were three companies : Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd, David MacBrayne Ltd and MacBrayne Haulage.
The sad thing is that paragraph (a)(ii) of the money resolution contains no reference to MacBrayne Haulage. Hon. Members who were here earlier will be aware of the worrying story that has led to its no longer being mentioned in the resolution. In the most shameful and suspicious circumstances, MacBrayne Haulage was flogged off in a previous privatisation effort, and is now being sold on at a massive profit--as we said at the time would happen.
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) : Is my hon. Friend aware that MacBrayne Haulage had debts at the time of its sale? Does anything in the money resolution allow the public purse to recoup the amount that might have been written off, or reduced, when MacBrayne Haulage was sold to Kildonan? It seems only right that if Billy Walker, or whatever his name is, has made a packet by flogging off public assets we ought to get the money back. It would be outrageous for the public purse to be stripped of so much--and I dare say that the same argument would apply to any debts to be written off relating to any MacBrayne vessels. There is substantial debt, not to mention the money that comes from the EEC.
Mr. Wilson : My hon. Friend strikes the nail on the head. When MacBrayne Haulage was sold off, of course there was debt attaching to it. But the entire circumstances surrounding the sale are, I believe, an embryonic public scandal. As I said earlier, I have asked for those circumstances to be referred to the Public Accounts Committee, and I hope that if any of its members are here they will take note of that and accede to any request that they investigate the matter. That, then, is why MacBrayne Haulage is not in the picture. But, for the reasons mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), I am concerned about this phrase in paragraph (a)(ii) :
"sums required for fulfilling any guarantee given by the Secretary of State in respect of sums borrowed by Caledonian Mac Brayne Limited, David MacBrayne Limited and any subsidiary of theirs".
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : My hon. Friend is developing his point extremely well, but could he give the House some information that so far has not been given? Could he tell us precisely what the MacBrayne debts might be?
As we are addressing ourselves specifically to the money resolution, may I ask my hon. Friend to consider paragraph (a)(iii), which refers to :
"any increase in payments out of money so provided arising from any increase in administrative expenses of the Secretary of State attributable to the provisions of the Act"?
Would that not be almost like a blank cheque, and is it not in stark contrast to the niggardly approach of the Scottish
Column 1049Office to local government? The Scottish Office certainly would not provide such a blank cheque for anticipated administrative costs.
Let me make it clear that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) suggested, I shall be pleased to give way to the Minister at any point if he feels inclined to put figures on the vague concepts that we have before us. What sort of sums borrowed by Caledonian Macbrayne Ltd., David MacBrayne Ltd. and their subsidiaries are we talking about? We know that Ministers still hope that in the future they will be able to sell Caledonian MacBrayne to the private sector. As MacBrayne Haulage had the benefit of a favourable financial deal, will the people who eventually buy any part of Caledonian MacBrayne--if they ever materialise--have a similar financial deal?
I shall now deal with sub-paragraph (ii).
Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian) : Does my hon. Friend recall that the Minister inadvertently enclosed with a parliamentary reply that he sent to me some time ago information relating to the fact that P and O European Ferries was interested in taking over the entire CalMac ferries operation? Is my hon. Friend concerned that, since the Secretary of State is taking CalMac into his hands to sell off under whatever deal he may regard as suitable, he might give his friend Sir Jeffrey Sterling and the other fly-by-nights who operate P and O European Ferries an extremely attractive deal at the expense of the public purse?
Sub-paragraph (1) provides expenditure for the dissolution of the Scottish Transport Group. The Government will then transfer the ownership of Caledonian MacBrayne to the Secretary of State and appoint a board. Nobody here knows who will be on the board, but we could dip into a hat and have a good guess.
Whatever other service was performed tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), he told me something that I did not know and which I find extraordinary. He told me about the appointment of my predecessor to the post of chairman of the Scottish Transport Users Consultative Committee. That is fantastic. I could have understood the Government putting him in charge of belted Galloway bulls, but I was interested to find out that he will be in charge of the consultative system in Scotland. I shall be pursuing that further. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) suggests, that is the sort of precedent with which we are dealing.
It is not just the Secretary of State who will be running the new company. I would perhaps have had a little more confidence if the Under-Secretary of State was to have his hand on the tiller. However, it will be the Secretary of State and the board he will appoint. I could take hon. Members on a Cook's tour of the Highlands and Islands and point out the public bodies where every post has been given to
Column 1050tame Tory nominees. I could point out health boards in places where there is no Tory support but where they have used their local stooges to fill the posts.
I have lived in the Highlands and Islands for most of my life and I remember when the political map of the Highlands and Islands was painted blue. One can look at the area covered by the Highlands and Islands Development Board. In my relatively short political memory, Moray, Nairn, Ross, Cromarty, Argyll, Banff, Inverness, Caithness and Sutherland have been held by Tory Members of Parliament at some time. At present there is not one Government representative in the vast land mass of the Highlands and Islands.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I share the hon. Gentleman's concern. I was beginning to wonder quite what the relationship was. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) ought to explain it, or turn to another matter.
Mr. Wilson : Apart from its having something to do with the money resolution, for these Tory appointees in the Highlands and Islands it has something to do with the jackpot. We wonder who the board appointees will be. The new board members of Caledonian MacBrayne will decide what is to be done in the future, particularly about the absurd proposition to sell off the Dunoon to Gourock and the Wemyss bay to Rothesay routes. In that context it is necessary to spell out some of the financial consequences of selling off these routes. One does not have to be a mathematician or an arithmetician to understand that there is a global subsidy for Caledonian MacBrayne and that the most financially viable routes include the Clyde coast routes. That is why P and O is interested. However, P and O is not interested in boats that sail to Barra at 6 o'clock on a cold December morning. It is interested only in the short crossings on the Clyde. What will Caledonian MacBrayne be left with if the more profitable or the less loss-making routes are taken away from it? It will be left with those that sustain the higher losses.
The logic of that is inescapable. If any of the Caledonian MacBrayne routes on the Clyde is privatised, either there will be a diminution of service, if the subsidy remains the same, or the subsidy will have to be increased to maintain the remaining services.
Mr. Darling : My hon. Friend has referred to the Clyde crossings. The money resolution does not include the loan debt for the three vessels that currently serve the Clyde crossing--the Saturn, the Jupiter and the Juno. All those vessels were built in the 1970s. They were quite expensive because of their revolutionary design. Does my hon. Friend know how large that loan debt is? Even more important, does he know, if these vessels are to be replaced, as Caledonian MacBrayne is considering, what the loan debt will be if the ships are transferred to a shark who wants to operate the service for his own private gain?
Mr. Wilson : My hon. Friend has again made an extremely good point. These assets have been built up over many years with public money. New ferries are sailing on many of the routes. In many cases, European regional development fund money has been put into them. Are
Column 1051these vessels to be handed over to the private sector and the sums borrowed by Caledonian MacBrayne to be written off--as paragraph (a)(ii) of the money resolution suggests? Will they be given as a free gift to those who acquire the vessels? We are talking about millions of pounds. If that ever happened--we intend to ensure that it never does--it would result in a further pillaging of the public purse.
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles) : On the financing of the new ferries, did not the Government come up against this problem when they tried to work out a scheme for privatising Caledonian MacBrayne? Most of the money that was provided for the construction of the new ferries and for other infrastructure work came from the EEC. If Caledonian MacBrayne had been privatised, as the Government at one stage obviously intended and wanted to achieve, that money would have been lost. It would have been impossible for that money to be made available by the EEC and then go into the pockets of a private operator.
Is it not true that, when that point was raised in the House, the Government did not know that that would be the case and that the Opposition had to tell them about it? After months had been spent on trying to work out a solution to the problem and after spending enormous sums of money on an expert report to solve it, the Government have still not found a solution. That is why Caledonian MacBrayne is still in public hands.
Mr. Wilson : My hon. Friend is right again. People served by CalMac are indebted to him for mentioning European regional development fund money and asking what the EEC would make of the disposal of assets, that have been built up by grants made on grounds of peripherality and social circumstances, to the first chancer who wields a bit of influence with this shower in the Government. I do not think that the EEC would think much of that. It would not be a good precedent. That is one of the reasons why the CalMac privatisation has been abandoned, at least for the time being.
Mr. Macdonald : Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the outstanding projects is the supply of a new vessel for the Stornoway- Ullapool route? It will require a great deal of EEC assistance. It would be a disgrace if the money were provided and the vesssel ended up in private hands. Can my hon. Friend ascertain whether the Government have contributed their share? Perhaps tonight is a good opportunity for them to tell us about the vessel for that route.
Mr. Wilson rose --
Mr. Wilson : I am sure that if the Minister wanted, as an act of unrehearsed largesse, to promise a new Vote for a vessel for the Stornoway- Ullapool route, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be tolerant of that initiative.
A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting in Oban at which opposition to this privatisation nonsense was rallied. I heard a representative of CalMac say that there were no plans to replace the Suilven, which plies the Stornoway- Ullapool route, until 1995. That was probably
Column 1052disappointing news for people who use the service. I must say that, out of route loyalty, I always use the ferry Hebridean Isles.
Mr. Dick Douglas (Dunfermline, West) : Will my hon. Friend apply his mind to the important issue of the disposal of public money and the relationship between what will be left of the Scottish Transport Group, Caledonian MacBrayne and Western Ferries? It is proposed that they should coalesce. We have considered what will happen to the Gourock-Dunoon ferry service. A board is to be appointed by the Secretary of State. We do not know what its composition will be. A private company already exists. The Secretary of State's instructions to coalesce to determine what will happen to this vital route
Mr. Douglas : My hon. Friend is taking on board my point about the interrelation between the two companies and the fact that we have not considered the important aspect of safety. I am an old-fashioned Clyde builder, and am in no doubt that safety considerations have to be borne in mind.
Mr. Wilson : My hon. Friend makes a number of important points which flow directly from my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald). I am informed that the Suilven is not to be replaced until 1995. Would it ever be replaced if the company were in private hands by then? From where will the money come for the replacement of the fleet?
The point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) is relevant because, on the Clyde coast and the Western Isles routes, we have only one precedent of a private operator of ferry services. Western Ferries operates the Gourock to Hunter's Quay route. Anyone who knows anything about that knows that Western Ferries has been plying on that route for 20 years with small, second-hand ferries which many people will not use because they much prefer the larger Caledonian MacBrayne ferries and because they are in no way comparable with the ferries that the public sector company has provided.
If for 20 years Western Ferries has been unable to replace a single, small vehicular ferry in the private sector, what possible prospect is there in 1995 of a privatised Caledonian MacBrayne, stripped of EEC aid because of the irresponsible conduct of Ministers in selling it off in the first place, providing a new ferry of that size and capacity?
Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Conservative Members have been listening with rapt attention and following with considerable interest the many compelling points that he has made in his usual lucid and eloquent way, but he must be aware that he has been speaking for about two thirds of the allotted time for the money resolution. We are concerned only that those of us who have open minds and want to hear the variety of views available from Opposition Members will be denied that opportunity. Will he tell us why he is filibustering to prevent --
Mr. Wilson : The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton) is a fairly dismissable figure, and his interest in the matter is demonstrated by the fact that his first appearance in the debate was very recent. However, there will be many debates when the hon. Gentleman can depart early from his favourite bierkeller and participate in debates on Scottish matters. We shall welcome the hon. Gentleman. I am reminded of the joke that we can see a lump on the hon. Gentleman's sleeve where the armband used to be.
Mr. Darling : Sub-paragraph (ii) says that guarantees can be given by the Secretary of State. Does that not mean that it lies with the Secretary of State to guarantee sums to replace the boat operating on the Stornoway to Ullapool route, perhaps with a vessel similar in design to the Hebridean Isles, on which we met one summer morning two years ago? We commented on how uncharacteristic of Caledonian MacBrayne vessels it was-- it was comfortable and pleasant. If the Government wanted, they could provide the guarantees necessary to replace that boat. The Scottish Transport Group promised me that it would be replaced in 1992, not 1995.
I have been trying for some time to move on from sub--paragraph (ii) and the specific shipping aspects of the money resolution. It was gross impertinence for the hon. Member for Tatton to suggest that there has been procrastination. There is much in the measure about which to talk and we intend to use every minute of our time to do so, without his unwanted interventions.
Mr. Macdonald : My hon. Friend is being hasty in trying to move from sub-paragraph (ii). He mentioned cross-subsidisation, the loss of routes threatened by privatisation and the effect on other Caledonian MacBrayne routes that remain in public hands. My hon. Friend said that there would be one of two effects--diminution of service or fare increases. He is wrong. There will be both effects. Does my hon. Friend agree that there will also be a third effect--the severe impact on the economy of the outer islands? That economy depends on the price of goods and quality of services provided from the mainland by Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. The islands suffer already from having to import all their goods and export all their products via the ferries. Any increase in fares and diminution in services must severely affect the economy of the Western Isles.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. This has been a wide debate, but it cannot go as wide as a discussion on the economy of the Western Isles. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) will address himself to the money resolution.
Mr. Wilson : I am tempted. A case can be made for saying that there is an impact, because nothing leaves or enters the Western Isles except by Caledonian MacBrayne ferry. Anything that the Government do to undermine that company is a threat to the economy of the Western Isles. There would not be much weaving, crofting, fishing or fish farming, an industry in which a large amount of public money has been invested--
"sums required for fulfilling any guarantee given by the Secretary of State in respect of sums borrowed by Caledonian MacBrayne Limited, David MacBrayne Limited and any subsidiary of theirs"
being written off by the Secretary of State at some future time. There are so many issues on which I have not yet commented that I must move on to sub -paragraph (iii). It is the catch-all, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West said a long time ago. It states :
"any increase in payments out of money so provided arising from any increase in administrative expenses of the Secretary of State attributable to the provisions of the Act".
As one of my hon. Friends said, that is the original blank cheque. There is power to pay for anything that arises from the legislation. I return indignantly to the intervention by the hon. Member for Tatton. It was offensive and unacceptable to complain about reasoned and rational discussion of the measure taking place over a modest 45-minute period, given the powers involved in it.
This takes us back to the issue of bus privatisation. In the short term at least, that is undoubtedly where most of the expenses will arise. I hope that we shall hear from the Minister on this matter before the end of the debate. I recognise his suitability to deal with the legislation because he did once travel on a bus. That reminds me of a story about the Minister. When he got on the bus, the conductor said to him, "Where do you want to go?" and he said, "132, Belgravia". He was accustomed to taking taxis.
The breaking up of the Scottish Bus Group into 11 constituent companies, the marketing of those companies, the bureaucracy and the merging in some cases of the existing administration of bus companies had been mentioned before the daft notion was raised of moving the offices of Caledonian MacBrayne from Gourock to Oban. All of that is expensive.
Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : I am sure that my hon. Friend is as puzzled about this as I am. The Government point to the expense of public bodies and say that they should save money by passing it over to the private sector. Why does sub-paragraph (iii) state: "any increase in payments out of money so provided arising from any increase in administrative expenses of the Secretary of State attributable to the provisions of the Act",
when the purpose of the Act is to make public bodies less expensive, as they are supposed to be uneconomic and inefficient, and, above all, to save money?