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House of Commons

Wednesday 3 February 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


South Yorkshire Light Rail Transit Bill

[Lords] Considered ; to be read the Third time.

Oral Answers to Questions


Coal Industry

1. Mr. Eric Clarke : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the numbers employed in the coal industry in Scotland in (a) 1980, (b) 1990 and (c) currently.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : British Coal has informed my right hon. Friend that in March 1980 and March 1990, its own employees in Scotland numbered 22, 000 and 1,600 respectively. The current figure is 1,424. In addition, the opencast industry currently provides employment for more than 1, 500 people in Scotland.

Mr. Clarke : Has the Secretary of State met British Coal in Scotland to establish why it did not tender for the full amount of coal required by Scottish Power? He should bear in mind that Scotland has millions of tonnes of coal stocks. If he has not had such a meeting, will he say when he will have one--because it will have an effect on employment?

Mr. Stewart : I am, of course, aware of the correspondence that the hon. Gentleman has had with the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry and of the reply that came from British Coal on this matter. In that correspondence the hon. Gentleman expressed himself in his customary robust way.

These are matters for commercial agreement between British Coal and Scottish Power, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured by British Coal's success in selling not only 250,000 tonnes under the 1992 tender, to which he referred, but 440,000 tonnes under the negotiated contract ending 31 March 1993. Both those sales are over and above the existing five-year contract between British Coal and Scottish Power.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : While ever mindful of the contribution made by coal to fulfilling Scotland's energy requirements, does my hon. Friend agree that the levels of investment and numbers of jobs involved in the North sea

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oil and gas industries must be fully taken into consideration when assessing Scotland's future energy requirements?

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend, who is particularly knowledgeable about matters relating to the oil and gas industries, makes a valid point. Coal has an important role, especially in the export of electricity from Scotland, but my hon. Friend is also right to point to the key importance to the Scottish economy of the oil and gas-related industries, which currently employ--from memory--97,400 people, almost 70,000 of whom are onshore. These industries are, therefore, of crucial importance not only to Scotland's energy needs but to the general health of the Scottish economy.

Mr. Canavan : Does the Minister accept that part of the reason for the decline in mining jobs in Scotland is the Government's complete lack of an integrated energy policy? In support of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke), whose point I raised earlier with the President of the Board of Trade and to which I am still awaiting a satisfactory answer, may I ask the Minister to investigate the astonishing claim by the chief executive of Scottish Power to the effect that British Coal did not even bid for a contract to supply 800,000 tonnes of coal to Scottish power stations? Is it not about time that the Government exercised their responsibility to intervene to stop this nonsense and to save Scotland's mining industry?

Mr. Stewart : British Coal made a bid to supply 250,000 tonnes and in its letter to the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) it gave Scottish Power's explanation of the change in circumstances that led to increased orders under that tender. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that Scottish Power has said that 80 per cent. of its coal purchases in 1992-93 will be from Scottish sources.

Local Authority Finance

2. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to review the finances and value-for-money record of Scottish local authorities.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : The Commission for Local Authority Accounts in Scotland is statutorily responsible for ensuring financial propriety and that value for money is achieved in Scottish local government. I have at present no plans to review that position.

Mr. Shaw : Would my right hon. Friend consider it appropriate for the commission to investigate the allegations of corruption against Monklands district council? Those allegations relate to serious matters which include nepotism, the employment of perhaps 30 close relatives of councillors, religious discrimination, and political favouritism in the direct works operation and the housing departments. Does not he think that there is real concern about bias in expenditure between the constituencies of Monklands, West and Monklands, East? Is he aware that one councillor who endeavoured to expose all the wrongdoing in that council was wrongly accused of being involved in a criminal act but has now been exonerated and the allegations against him found to be totally false and fraudulent?

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Mr. Lang : I understand that the Comptroller of Audit is presently investigating to see whether there has been any improper use of public funds by Monklands district council. I am not aware of any evidence of any breach of any statutory obligation on the part of the council. Certainly the kind of charges to which my hon. Friend refers are serious. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said on Thursday :

"It is a time of growing disillusion and increasing cynicism which if it continues unchecked will eventually corrode public confidence in our whole political system."

The Labour party is right to set up its own in-depth inquiry, which I understand it has done, into the affairs of Monklands district council.


3. Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on proposals to assist the local authorities that lost money in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.

Mr. Stewart : I have nothing to add to the reply that I gave to a similar question on local authorities that lost money in BCCI from the hon. Gentleman on 18 November last.

Mr. Vaz : Will the Minister assure the House that if the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee report, which is to be published in a fortnight, recommends the payment of compensation to Scottish local authorities and the other victims of BCCI, he will accept the recommendation and the Government will pay the compensation? Does he accept that as long as there is money left in this bank liquidators will be at the door? Will he join me in condemning the huge fees--£700,000 a week-- currently being charged by Christopher Morris and Touche Ross to conduct the bank's liquidation? If that money had been given to the Scottish local authorities, every one of them would have been paid in full twice over. Will he draw that matter to the attention of the President of the Board of Trade?

Mr. Stewart : I am sure that, as always, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade will read the report of our proceedings very carefully tomorrow morning.

Let me emphasise again that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland granted Western Isles islands council consent to borrow £24 million, and granted Ross and Cromarty district council consent to borrow £1.8 million, to help the councils to cope with the losses to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Our response to any recommendations from the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee will be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but no doubt the Government will, as always, take any recommendations from that Committee as seriously as we take recommendations from any Select Committee.

Mr. Gallie : Does my hon. Friend agree that the drop in interest rates over the past year will be of considerable help to councils such as Western Isles? Does he agree that the interest rate reduction has injected many millions of pounds into the coffers of local authorities throughout

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Scotland? [Interruption.] Should not those authorities be able to use the money to improve services, and to reduce council tax demands?

Mr. Stewart : I entirely agree, and I am astonished that Opposition Members should jeer the good news for Scottish local authorities to which my hon. Friend refers. I should have expected them to welcome the news that authorities will now face lower interest rates. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced substantial reductions in interest rates. Our base rate is now the lowest in the European Community, and the lowest since 1977. There is no doubt that those reductions will be of immense benefit to public organisations that have borrowed, to the private sector and to the whole Scottish economy.

Mr. Macdonald : I thank the Minister for adopting my suggestion last year that an inquiry should be held into the islands special needs allowance and for his decision at Christmas to implement the inquiry's findings. His action will go a considerable way towards meeting the special needs of the islands following the BCCI affair. The economic situation in the islands, however, is still difficult. Will the Minister give equivalent financial support to the ferry service across the Sound of Harris proposed by the islands council? Such projects will include the islands' economy, and provide much-needed jobs immediately.

Mr. Stewart : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his recognition-- [Interruption.] I am thanking the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of what we have done in response to his representations on behalf of his constituents.

Madam Speaker : Order. I do not think that the Minister quite understood the reason for the interruption. A Back Bencher behind him was a reading a newspaper ; that is what hon. Members were complaining about--the reading of a newspaper in the Chamber.

Mr. Stewart : I am grateful to you, Madam Speaker. I cannot, of course, see what goes on behind my back. [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. We must make some progress.

Mr. Stewart : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald). I assure him that my right hon. and hon. Friends will consider his point about ferry services very seriously.

Mr. Charles Kennedy : I refer to the Minister's reply to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). If the Select Committee report mentions compensation, as we hope it will--Ross and Cromarty was one of the afffected councils--will the Minister take a slightly more enlightened view of the word "compensation" than the Treasury might and allow the local authorities involved longer to plan their borrowing and expenditure in order to offset the immediate impact of the losses incurred as a result of the BCCI affair ?

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman is asking a hypothetical question, although I am sure he will agree that I am one of the most enlightened of Ministers. Ross and Cromarty had £1.8 billion invested in BCCI, but it did not ask us for additional borrowing consent in that regard.

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Hazardous Materials (Emergencies)

4. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the ability of emergency services under his control to deal with any potential situation involving hazardous materials.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : The emergency services are not under my right hon. Friend's direct control. In the light of inspection visits to police forces and fire brigades, HM inspectors of constabulary and fire services consider that these services handle incidents involving hazardous materials efficiently and effectively.

Mr. McAvoy : Is the Minister aware of a recommendation made by the Select Committee on the Environment to ban the transport of radioactive material by air? Is he further aware that in the past 14 months, plutonium has been transported by air from Germany to Wick in containers that can withstand falls of only 27 ft? What action will the Minister and his right hon. Friend take to prevent such flights from passing over Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for alerting me to the problem. The Scottish Office has recently issued guidance on composite materials in burning aircraft. The issue was considered seriously at the time of Lockerbie because certain elements of the aircraft involved had radioactive particles. In co-operation with the Department of Transport, I should like to look into the point that the hon. Gentleman raises, and come back to him in due course.

Mr. Fabricant : Although I agree to some extent with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy), may I urge the Minister not to involve himself in anything that might prevent trade between Scotland and other parts of the European Community?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have some of the most advanced scientists in the world dealing with the reprocessing of nuclear waste and they are able to use their expertise to make certain that extremely dangerous materials are processed with the maximum safety. People not only in Scotland but elsewhere in the world should benefit from their expertise and we should keep that thought very much in mind.

Mr. Graham : Is the Minister aware of the deep concern felt by hon. Members who represent the Renfrewshire area over the emergency and ambulance services and how quickly they would be able to respond in the back shift to any serious accident? The people of Renfrewshire await an answer.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : It is for health boards to determine provision for any major emergency in their own area. They of course draw up contingency plans which are tested regularly and have been found to be highly effective. The hon. Gentleman asks how quickly ambulances could respond. I believe, very quickly indeed, although I shall mention the hon. Gentleman's interest to the Minister of State responsible for the health services in Scotland.

Mr. Allason : Is my hon. Friend aware that following the Braer disaster there was widespread concern, not only

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north of the border but all along the coastline of the United Kingdom, about the ability of the emergency services to respond to oil pollution? Will he reassure the House that there is no complacency among Ministers in dealing with oil disasters and that there are regular meetings between all the emergency departments and those responsible for dealing with oil pollution?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend's point is well taken. Exercises are, of course, held periodically, as should be the case. With regard to Shetland, the Department of Transport's marine pollution control unit, the Shetland islands council and the emergency services all have contingency plans ready, and they are to be strongly commended on activating them so promptly. However, there will, of course, be lessons to be learnt from the results of the inquiry and, in due course, I hope to go to Shetland to follow up these matters.

Mr. Wallace : I certainly endorse the commendation that the Minister has just given. Does he also agree that prevention is always better than cure? Therefore, it was a matter of considerable concern and dismay to read reports that, following the meeting last week of EC Environment and Transport Ministers attended by the Secretary of State, Britain has been described as one of the laggards in relation to taking action. When will the Government announce the interim measures promised by the Secretary of State for Transport in respect of marine surveillance pending the outcome of the Donaldson inquiry?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman's impression of the discussion was not the same as that of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. However, the hon. Gentleman is correct to say that prevention is very much better than cure. I will consider the hon. Gentleman's particular point about any interim arrangements that may be necessary.

Nicotine Patches

5. Mr. Wray : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland for what reasons nicotine patches are not prescribable in Scotland.

Mr. Stewart : The position on nicotine patches is the same throughout the United Kingdom. One type of patch is not available on prescription under the NHS on the advice of the advisory committee on borderline substances. The product is now available on private prescription or over the counter from registered pharmacists. The committee is liaising with the manufacturers of two similar products so that they can be considered as quickly as possible.

Mr. Wray : Is the Minister aware that in Scotland 34 per cent. of those aged 16 and over smoke, compared with 29 per cent. in England? Is he also aware that the death rate from lung cancer in Scotland is 28 per cent. higher for males and 36 per cent. higher for females than in England? That causes an horrendous cost in respect of hospitalisation and creates great strains on the health service budget.

I understand that the nicotine patches cost £186 for a course, or £15 a week. I read in the press last week--

Madam Speaker : Order. Will the hon. Gentleman ask his question?

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Mr. Wray : I was reading in the press last week that one can obtain those patches for £4 on a prescription south of the border, but they cost us plenty in Scotland.

Mr. Stewart : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has raised that point, because some of the press reports have been misleading. The position is exactly the same north and south of the border. Specific advice on the prescribing of nicotine patches has not been issued. The House will agree with the first point raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) and I am certainly aware of the figures. That is why the Government have a policy of reducing smoking in Scotland in accordance with quite specific targets--to reduce the number of smokers aged 12 to 24 by 30 per cent. and those aged between 25 and 65 by 20 per cent. by the year 2000.

Mrs. Fyfe : May I welcome the enforcement of the law announced this week against selling tobacco to anyone aged under 16 and the Minister of State's recognition that we need to reduce teenage smoking? Will the Minister therefore support the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) to control smoking in the workplace? Will he take the logical step and support our call for a ban on tobacco advertising? This week marks the 75th anniversary of women getting the vote. Clearly, we still have a long way to go. Women want sensible and effective legislation, not half measures. Will the Minister listen to women, or does he prefer to listen to the tobacco companies?

Mr. Stewart : I assure the hon. Lady that I very often listen to women. I am grateful for the hon. Lady's first point. In relation to the workplace, I had a very useful meeting with the chief medical officer and employers' organisations to encourage greater attention to health promotion with particular emphasis on reducing smoking in the workplace. The CMO has had similar discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

The hon. Lady will know that the Government have brought in at the United Kingdom level a new, tougher voluntary agreement with the industry on tobacco advertising. That agreement is now in force and it is the sensible way forward.

Lanarkshire Economy

6. Dr. Reid : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding the Lanarkshire economy ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang : The coming into operation two days ago of the Lanarkshire enterprise zone has been widely welcomed as the latest step in the Government's extensive programme of special help for Lanarkshire.

Dr. Reid : I do not need to remind the Secretary of State of the continuing need for investment in Lanarkshire. We welcome the additional resources that were made available to Motherwell district, in particular for 1992-93, but I remind the right hon. Gentleman that that was before the closure of Ravenscraig, and there is a continuing need, particularly for infrastructural projects, especially the M8 upgrading and the M74 link. May I commend to the right hon. Gentleman the five-year plan developed by Motherwell district council for economic and commercial development?

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I was at the Ravenscraig Burns supper on Friday night. The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that there were 500 people there, although Ravenscraig was closed, but less pleased to know that not one of them sent him their regards.

Mr. Lang : Perhaps when I answer the hon. Gentleman's question they will wish to do so belatedly. The Government's commitment to upgrading the infrastructure of Lanarkshire is very marked and is readily demonstrated not only by what we have already announced but by what we plan. I am glad to be able to tell the hon. Gentleman that the upgrading plans for the A8 between Baillieston and Newhouse are making good progress, we are increasing the roads budget for Strathclyde regional council, totalling £7.4 million over the next two years, and we have also designated the enterprise zone which, on nine sites covering 500 acres, will provide very welcome attractions for incoming industry to Lanarkshire.

Mr. Riddick : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision by Hoover to concentrate all its European production at Cambuslang will have a beneficial knock-on effect in the economy of Lanarkshire? Does that not wholly vindicate our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's decision to push for an opt-out of the job-destroying social chapter?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Clearly, President Delors was right when he said that Britain, by opting out of the social chapter, was creating a paradise in this country for inward investment. Not only have we won those 400 jobs for Hoover, but we have had the announcement today of Direct Line Insurance creating 200 new jobs in Glasgow and of Escom UK Ltd. creating 140 new jobs in Ayrshire--and, of course, we had the recent announcement of 700 jobs at the Army personnel centre in Glasgow. A lot of good things are happening for jobs in Scotland.

Dr. Bray : Is the Secretary of State aware that there is continuing confusion in Lanarkshire due to the lack of a strategy embracing the steel site, which is where the problem began and is the biggest area of derelict industrial land in Scotland? Mistakes are being made in planning and in capital programmes because there is no coherent development strategy. Will the Secretary of State make sure that the options are fully spelt out forthwith and taken into account by all the authorities concerned?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman is wrong to say that there is no coherent strategy. British Steel and Scottish Enterprise are working closely together on the problems of the steel site. It is not something on which there can be a quick fix ; it has to be done gradually over time and at considerable cost. That is one reason why the enterprise zone that we have designated does not include part of that site. The £50 million of anticipated public expenditure costs associated with that site over the next decade can be under way as quickly as possible, with the attraction of new industry into the area.

Mr. Tom Clarke : On the serious issues in Lanarkshire, does the Secretary of State accept that unemployment has increased by 25 per cent. in that county in the past three years? Nothing that the Government have done on derelict sites, the failure to resuscitate Gartcosh or even the

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proposals for rail privatisation will help those problems in the least. Given that when Ravenscraig closed, the Prime Minister said that he would not forget Lanarkshire, Lanarkshire still feels very much a forgotten county. What does the Secretary of State for Scotland intend to do about that?

Mr. Lang : If the hon. Gentleman does not know, he should get out and go around his constituency. He would see on the ground evidence of all the work that the Government are doing. Lanarkshire development agency's budget next year will approach £50 million. The Government have encouraged the development of the Mossend rail terminal, which is of great importance to the future of the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Although unemployment in Lanarkshire has risen by about 2,000 this year, the figure is still more than 15,000 lower than it was at the height of the previous recession in 1987.

Hill Livestock Compensatory Allowances

7. Mr. Davidson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many farmers eligible for the hill livestock compensatory allowances there are within each district authority in the Strathclyde region.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro) : My Department's records of hill livestock compensation allowance recipients are held by parishes and the former counties. The total for Strathclyde is 2,825 for the 1992 scheme.

Mr. Davidson : Is the Minister aware that I received a letter from the Secretary of State for Scotland referring to the hill sheep subsidy which tells me, and I quote--

Madam Speaker : Order. I have to give a little guidance to the hon. Gentleman. Quoting during Question Time is not allowed. It would be helpful if he could simply summarise.

Mr. Davidson : I received a letter from the Secretary of State saying that there should be rejoicing among the hill sheep farmers of my constituency. Can the Minister tell me how many hill sheep farmers he believes there are in Glasgow, Govan ? Can he tell me whether the letter was seen by the Secretary of State or whether a blank piece of paper a la Kynoch was signed by the Minister and submitted by a civil servant, perhaps by one of the guilty people in the dock across there ?

The hill sheep farmers of Govan are the only people in Scotland I am aware of who support water privatisation. Will the Minister confirm that ewe after ewe is searching the hills of Govan--indeed, ewes are searching the whole of Scotland--seeking the green shoots of recovery but they cannot find them anywhere ? Will the Minister confirm that sending that letter to me was an insult and that the section of the letter that tells me that larger numbers of people in Scotland on low incomes and no incomes have their incomes going down than have them going up is to be regretted, and will he consider resigning ?

Sir Hector Monro : What a pathetic choice of quote. If the hon. Gentleman cannot do better than that, it is a disgrace to his party. Surely he is glad to know the exact position of hill sheep farmers in Scotland. We all know

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that it is a difficult place to make substantial profits--and of course there are sheep in Govan : I have seen them on football pitches and rugby pitches.

Mr. Kynoch : On a more serious note which affects hill farmers in Scotland, will my hon. Friend say what he projects a net farm income in a less-favoured area hill farm with sheep and cattle will be in 1993-94 and how would that compare with the average net farm income in 1988-89 ? Does he not agree that from such a low level of income the small increase achieved through the HLCAs and sheep annual premium adjustments is only a beginning and a first move in the right direction, upwards ?

Sir Hector Monro : I am grateful for a sensible question from someone who knows something about hill farming. My hon. Friend realises that although we reduced the HLCA for sheep by £2.25, the sheep annual premium increased by £4.05, which represents a net change for the better of £1.80 and is certainly welcomed by hill sheep farmers in Scotland. I explained to the National Farmers Union last week that last year there was a 21 per cent. increase in income for less-favoured areas and 40 per cent. over the 1991 period. I am glad that the trend is in the right direction. I hope that with the substantial increase in the sheep annual premium this year, while maintaining the cattle amount of £63.30, incomes will continue to increase.

Mr. Foulkes : The Under-Secretary of State knows that there are a great many sheep farmers in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. He will recall that when David Purdie, the president of the National Farmers Union in Ayrshire, came along with all the hon. Members from Ayrshire to see him, he indicated that there would be no reduction in the hill livestock compensatory allowance. Will the Minister admit that he was overruled by the Minister of Agriculture and that this means that £20 million is coming out of the rural economy of Scotland, which will be devastating for all the rural areas? If he is to be told what to do by the Minister of Agriculture, is it not time the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland gave up and let someone else take over?

Sir Hector Monro : The hon. Gentleman is always very enthusiastic on behalf of his farmers. He will be glad to know that the sector that is doing best in farming at the present time is dairying. He knows that the figures that I have given relative to the increase in the overall position of the sheep annual premium and the HLCA are very favourable. An amount of £29.50 for each ewe on a hill farm is very significant indeed, and I welcome this trend. I accept that farming started from a relatively low base over the past few years, but things are improving and the hon. Gentleman should welcome that.

House Conditions Survey

8. Mr. Nigel Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to publish the results of his house conditions survey.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Scottish Homes, as the main contractor for the house conditions survey, hopes to complete the survey report before the summer recess. A final publication date has yet to be decided.

Mr. Griffiths : Does the Minister realise that the further delay in completing the report means an even greater and

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disgraceful delay in tackling the bad housing problems in Scotland? Has he read the Shelter report, "Broken Dreams", on health and housing in Scotland? Does he realise that 100,000 children in Scotland now live in damp houses, which is affecting their health? Will he announce an emergency programme to tackle the problem?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : In relation to the national house conditions survey, we are considering whether it would be helpful and feasible to release preliminary findings earlier, so that there will be no such delay as the hon. Gentleman suggests. With regard to condensation-- [Interruption.] I should say dampness ; I appreciate that there is a difference--councils should, as a matter of priority, tackle these matters within their mainstream allocations. I am glad that some 40 councils in Scotland have carried out local house condition surveys, which will enable them to target resources more effectively. Since 1979, some £10 billion has been allocated to public sector housing in Scotland.

Mr. Dicks : Does my hon. Friend agree that municipal housing in Scotland is absolutely deplorable and that the architects and local government of Scotland have a lot to answer for? I have made many trips to Scotland, which I love. Does he agree with me that he ought to get the message across to local government and architects that good design does not cost any more than bad?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend has a good point. Some 257,000 houses have been built in Scotland. Of these, a proportion has been built by the public sector. Taking into account housing associations, as well as local authorities, some 66,000 new houses have been built in that time. If local authorities wish to build new houses where there is a perceived need for them to do so, they can put that in their housing plans and go forward, if they treat that as a matter of priority. My hon. Friend's point is valid.

Water and Sewerage

9. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what consultations were conducted prior to the announcement that he was ring- fencing section 94 capital consents for water and sewerage ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang : The decision to vary the terms of the consent that I give for local authority water and sewerage capital programmes was taken to ensure that resources continue to be targeted in the most effective way in the run-up to local government reorganisation and restructuring of water and sewerage services. It is consistent with the existing separate accounting arrangements for those services.

Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Secretary of State accept that Borders regional council, using consent scheme finance, has been able to direct £1.5 million from water and sewerage to other budgets in a way that was in no way detrimental to the water and sewerage scheme? That was permissible under the original rules of the scheme. Bringing in ring fencing nine months into the financial year has left the council in a difficult position by making that transfer of £1.5 million of capital consent illegal under the new rules. That will require the money to be clawed back in the fiscal year 1993-94 in a way which will occasion cuts

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in capital consents of up to 19 per cent. in some of the budgets in the Borders. Will the Secretary of State look again at the summary introduction of those rules, find some way of easing the difficulties of Borders regional council, and try to make sure that it has some way of managing the problem occasioned by a summary change in the middle of the financial year?

Mr. Lang : Yes, I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman. We made it clear when we introduced the arrangements that we would deal sympathetically with any genuine difficulties, having in mind precisely the kind of situation that the hon. Gentleman has described. My officials have been in touch with officials in Borders regional council. They have provisionally agreed a method of operation in relation to the enhancement or abatement of underspend and overspend which will enable Borders regional council to continue its other programmes without being unnecessarily restricted as a result of this.

Mr. McAllion : The capital consents for water and sewerage in the current year amount to just over £221 million. Is the Secretary of State aware that if that level of spending were maintained for the next 10 years it would amount to less than half the sum that he himself has identified as necessary to meet European Community targets? Is it not, therefore, obvious that his mind is already made up to find the missing £2.5 billion by privatising Scottish water in one form or another? Will he therefore now give an unambiguous assurance that he will not seek to change the law of Scotland to allow disconnections of domestic consumers from the water and sewerage services? He should understand that if he does not give that commitment it will be he and not those who resist him who will be acting illegally in the eyes of the people of Scotland.

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that capital expenditure on water and sewerage in Scotland has doubled over the past four years. He mentioned a figure for the current year ; next year it will be £237 million, rising to £248 million a couple of years after. There is a continuing and developing need to increase capital spending on water and sewerage in Scotland to an estimated £5 billion in the next 10 to 15 years. Part of the consultation exercise that we have just concluded is to find the best way of raising those resources at minimum cost to the consumer.

Mr. Ian Bruce : My right hon. Friend must believe that it is intolerable that hon. Ladies and Gentlemen in all parts of the House are not getting water and sewerage matters sorted out because of problems of public sector financing. Is not the sensible idea to move quickly towards a privatised water industry so that the investment can be made in water and sewerage services, as is happening in England and Wales?

Mr. Lang : It is precisely to find the best way forward for water and sewerage in Scotland that I issued a consultation paper, and the consultation period has just ended. The purpose of the section 94 capital consent arrangements that we have announced is to ensure that capital continues to be expended on water and sewerage. There has been an average underspend of £3 million per year in the past few years, and it is plain that the heavy burden imposed by our

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