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House of Commons

Wednesday 31 March 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Midland Metro Bill


Considered ; to be read the Third time.

Oral Answers to Questions


Council Tax and Rents

1. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the average (a) council tax levels and (b) rent levels in (i) Scotland and (ii) Strathclyde region.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : The average council tax for a band D property is £559 forScotland as a whole and £562 for Strathclyde. These figures are both exclusive of council water charges and before discounts. The average weekly local authority rent level for 1992-93 is £24.75 for Scotland and £25.21 for district councils within Strathclyde region.

Mr. Shaw : Is my hon. Friend aware that council tax and council rent levels have had to be fixed higher in Monklands district council than they need to be because the council has one of the highest employment levels in the United Kingdom? Is he further aware that a Scottish National party councillor has alleged that 40 close relatives of Labour councillors are employed by the council? Does he consider that the revelation by a Labour regional councillor, John Murphy, that all the allegations about nepotism and corrupt employment pratices on the council are true is significant and that the council should be brought to account?

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is right to point to the relationship between the employment policies pursued by a council and rent and council tax levels. But I have no wish to make any party political points on the matter. Nor is there any need to do so because Labour regional councillor, John Murphy, the Labour member for Coatbridge, North and Glenboig, has said that the council was riddled with cases of nepotism and patronage. We do not need to hear from Tories about the Scottish National party. We only need to hear from someone who has worked for Monklands district council for 17 years and has been suspended--I understand because of the remarks that he made. The only surprise is that the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) have maintained complete silence on the issue. But I can see that

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the hon. Member for Monklands, West is itching to leap to his feet to give us his views on the suspension of Councillor Murphy.

Mr. Norman Hogg : Is the Minister aware that many people in Scotland, but more in Dover, will be interested to know why the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is so interested in Scottish affairs, especially when unemployment in Dover has increased by 137 per cent. since 1990? Is it not about time that the hon. Member for Dover stopped neglecting his constituents and instead concerned himself with unemployment in Dover and how unemployed people will pay the council tax in that local authority?

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) is a meticulous and extremely hard-working constituency Member. I must remind the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) that this is a United Kingdom Parliament. I understood from the press that the hon. Gentleman was one of the Opposition Members who believe in that proposition. His question showed the continuing embarrassment of the Labour party in Scotland about Monklandsgate.

Mr. Gallie : Is my hon. Friend aware of the policy that has been adopted in Strathclyde, under which privately owned houses that were previously council owned have been rated for council tax one band higher than they would have been rated were they still in local authority ownership? Does my hon. Friend agree that every owner of such a house should appeal?

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend has raised a point which has already received considerable publicity. It is a matter for the assessor, of course, but my hon. Friend is right to point to the availability of the appeal mechanism. He may be reassured by the fact that no less a luminary of the Scottish left than the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton)-- [Hon. Members :-- "Left?"] Yes, from my perspective. In a statutory instrument Committee yesterday, the hon. Gentleman raised the very point made by my hon. Friend. It was reassuring to discover that Labour Members now have some sympathy for council tenants who have rightly taken advantage of the Government's policy to give them the right to buy.

Mr. Canavan : As the advent of the council tax tomorrow means that today is the last official day of the poll tax, will the Minister now admit that the poll tax was one of the most expensive blunders in the history of any Government? Has not the total cost for administration and collection of the poll tax throughout the United Kingdom now reached the staggering amount of £14 billion?

If local councillors were found guilty of that sort of misspending, they would be surcharged and banned from office for many years. Why not surcharge and ban the Minister and all the other Tory Ministers who collectively were responsible for introducing the poll tax?

Mr. Stewart : As I understand the import of the hon. Gentleman's question, he welcomes the introduction of the council tax and the fact that it will have lower administration and collection costs than the community charge. I reassure him that there will be no amnesty for

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non-payers of the community charge. We welcome the hon. Gentleman's apparent underlining of the probable success of the council tax.

Legal Aid

2. Mr. Watson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received about the proposals for legal aid reform.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : We have received a number of representations about the Government's proposed changes to the eligibility criteria for legal aid in Scotland, from the Law Society of Scotland, consumer interests, solicitors' firms, Members of Parliament and members of the public.

Mr. Watson : It would be interesting to know how many of those representations were in favour of the proposals. Why is it that under the proposals, someone in Scotland earning £62 a week who applied for legal aid today would have to pay nothing, but if he applied tomorrow he would have to pay £252 out of his £62 a week? If he were unable to afford that, he would have to abandon his claim. He would not have access to the legal system. What is that, if it is not a denial of basic justice? Will the right hon. Gentleman, even at this 11th hour, recognise that thousands--perhaps hundreds of thousands--of Scots will be denied access to legal aid and the legal system? Will he now withdraw those ill- advised proposals?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman substantially exaggerates the position. Only about 2 to 3 per cent. of those qualifying for legal aid this year will be affected by the proposals. When I point out that expenditure is doubling over a six-year period--it has risen from £49 million in 1988 to £100 million this year, with further substantial increases in the pipeline--the hon. Gentleman will realise that any Government have a responsibility to protect the taxpayers' interest and to ensure that the matter is kept under reasonable control.

Mr. McFall : On the Government's own figures, 100,000 people will be taken out of the eligibility category. Among these will be many thousands of women who are locked into violent relationships because they have no access to courts. Such women, with no legal recourse and living in intolerable conditions, could take the law into their own hands. Ironically, some could conceivably end up being granted criminal legal aid to defend themselves against a charge of murder. Does the Secretary of State agree that for the 22,000 women who contacted Women's Aid in Scotland last year, any cuts in legal aid availability will represent a terrible threat to their safety and that of their children?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman has got his figures completely wrong. We will have an opportunity to debate this later on, but the figure is not 100,000 but some 7,500--less than one tenth of the figure the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Moreover, we expect civil legal aid to continue to increase by up to 40 per cent. by 1995-96. Criminal legal aid is not affected by these changes.

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Rail Services (Rural Areas)

3. Mrs. Ray Michie : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met ScotRail to discuss the future of rail services in rural Scotland.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : My right hon. Friend and I meet senior managemenof British Rail from time to time. Such contacts cover a wide range of topics relating to rail services in Scotland.

Mrs. Michie : Is the Minister aware of the widespread belief in Scotland that the privatisation of British Rail will mean the end of many rural lines? The Secretary of State for Transport has given no guarantee for the future of these services, which will spell disaster for many areas, particularly north of Glasgow and Edinburgh. What did the Minister or his right hon. Friend do to try and prevent Railfreight from hiking up its costs to the oil companies on the West Highland line, forcing them to travel on the roads to Oban, Mallaig and Fort William? What has happened to the Government's commitment to the environment? They are just making the roads more congested and creating more pollution. What happened to their promise to put more freight on to the railways?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The Government have repeatedly given a commitment to provide subsidy and to support services in rural areas which, although loss making, provide invaluable social services. Our franchising proposals are based on a desire to bring the benefits of private sector provision to all passenger services and to make them more responsive. We see the railways being used to a greater extent in future. As to the traffic on the West Highland line, unfortunately it is heavily loss making, failing to make any contribution to the infrastructure and not covering the operational costs. Customers have been unable to agree to British Rail's remedial action, which would have returned the service to viability. We are encouraging more freight to use rail by widening the criteria for section 8 grants, by the proposed new grant scheme for the payment of track charges and by the publication of a consultation paper on lorry weight initiatives.

Mr. Graham : Will the Minister assure the people of Inverclyde that privatisation will not threaten the work of repairing the Newton Street tunnel and Wemyss bay? We are already seeing a deterioration in our services as the railways fatten up for privatisation. Will the Minister assure the people of Inverclyde that they will continue to receive a good service, not one which is run down?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : It is very important that the hon. Gentleman's constituents continue to receive that service. We recognise the importance of ensuring the necessary investment through Railtrack, which will be responsible for investment in the track and for looking after bridges throughout Scotland. We will support investment in the railways where the schemes do not gain an adequate rate of return but provide a statisfactory cost-benefit return and benefits to the communities concerned.

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Scottish Government

5. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many responses he has so far received to his White Paper, "Scotland in the Union--a Partnership for Good".

Mr. Lang : The response to the publication of the White Paper, "Scotland in the Union--A Partnership for Good", has been generally very favourable.

Mr. McAllion : The White Paper offers only procedural tinkering with the Standing Orders of the Westminster Parliament while continuing to lock Scottish business into a voting procedure dominated by Tory votes from the south. Why cannot the Secretary of State see that that is completely unacceptable to the vast majority of the Scottish people, who are demanding their own national Parliament under their own democratic control? If he does not accept what I am saying, why does not he let the Scottish people speak for themselves in a multi-option referendum? If he is not prepared to trust the Scottish people with such a referendum, why on earth should they be prepared to trust him with anything?

Mr. Lang : Once again, the hon. Gentleman, because he is not in a position to exercise power in this place through the will of the electorate, seeks to change the rules or move the goalposts. The fact is that the vast majority of the people of Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, want to maintain the Union and have one United Kingdom Parliament. The Courier and Advertiser, the hon. Gentleman's local newspaper, said :

"Scots MPs have the opportunity to become less confrontational. This would be good for Scotland, maybe even for Parliament."

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the best possible news for those of us who seek to preserve and, indeed, to strengthen the Union were the howls of outrage from Opposition Members, who seek to undermine the Union? That is eloquent testimony that my right hon. Friend has it absolutely right. Will he give a commitment that, in its new role, the Scottish Grand Committee will come to Aberdeen to debate matters of great importance to that city and the north-east of Scotland?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion and I will certainly give it consideration. The Scottish Grand Committee is one Committee which is advanced by the proposals in the White Paper, but the Committee of the Regions is also mentioned. The White Paper says that

"the Government will ensure that Scotland has substantial representation on it."

In that context, I am indebted to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) for drawing my attention to the SNP's campaign handbook, which described the Committee of the Regions as a "toothless regional Committee which would lock Scotland out of decision-making in the European Community."

Sir David Steel : The one item of interest in an otherwise colourless White Paper was the proposal to hold Question Time in the Scottish Grand Committee. The Secretary of State has been very coy about how often he expects that to happen. Will he tell us now?

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Mr. Lang : I believe that these matters should be discussed through the usual channels and that we should move forward by general agreement across the Floor of the House. I look forward to those discussions in the weeks ahead.

Mr. Bill Walker : My right hon. Friend will be aware that many people in Scotland feel that strengthening this Parliament and its operations is the best way to reinforce the Union and to secure its future. The White Paper proposes additional meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee and increased opportunities to ask questions, which can only be positive and good. Will he bear it in mind--I hope that the House will do so, too--that it is important that amendments to legislation directly affecting Scotland are fully and properly debated?

Mr. Lang : I will certainly reflect carefully on what my hon. Friend suggests, but I am grateful for his support for the White Paper, which is clearly designed to strengthen the interests of Scotland within the United Kingdom Parliament.

Mrs. Ewing : Is not the Secretary of State very precious about his own position, which is why he sets his face against the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland? He uses his powers as a colonial governor to impose alien policies on the people of Scotland. Is not the real challenge to all Opposition Members of the House to stop sitting on Green Benches and to stand up for Scotland, to support the recall of a Scottish Parliament and to oppose water privatisation? Will they stand in their places for a Scottish Parliament?

Mr. Lang : I am not an appointed governor-general, but, like the hon. Lady, an elected Member of Parliament. As to the rest of her question, perhaps I should offer to write to her.

Mr. Tom Clarke : When the Secretary of State writes to the hon. Lady, will he publish that letter and the rest of the correspondence? When he considers representations on these constitutional matters, will he consider the paper that was presented this morning by the Scottish Foundation for Economic Research at the new Glasgow Caledonian university? It studied achievements in Germany, especially in the socialist region of Nord Rhein-Westphalia, and found that, because of the devolution of power, unemployment is half that in Scotland and growth is 20 per cent. more. If subsidiarity works in Germany and in Europe, why is not it good for Scotland, especially when that is what the Scots want?

Mr. Lang : I am not sure what these facile comparisons between the constitution of the United Kingdom and that of Germany have to do with the question before us, but, if the hon. Gentleman wants comparisons, he can consider the fact that inflation and interest rates have fallen sharply in this country and that we have a competitive exchange rate and are moving out of recession while Germany is still facing considerable problems. The hon. Gentleman may not be so keen on making comparisons in a few months' time.

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Victoria Infirmary and Rutherglen Maternity Hospital

6. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has had about the future of Victoria infirmary and Rutherglen maternity hospital ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Stewart : Since the Greater Glasgow health board released details of its review of acute and maternity services in November last year, my right hon. Friend has received eight representations, including this question, on the future of the hospitals. I look forward to receiving the health board's recommendations in due course.

Mr. McAvoy : Will the Minister join me in expressing appreciation to all the staff at both hospitals for the service that they give to Glasgow, East Kilbride and my constituency? Will the Minister accept that the uncertainty and insecurity being caused by the review is doing great damage to the morale of all the staff, patients and potential patients attending the hospitals? Will he put an end to that uncertainty by instructing the health board that there is no need to close any hospital in Glasgow?

Mr. Stewart : I can of course agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point and pay tribute to the staff of the hospitals for their valuable contribution. The Victoria unit handles some 31,000 in-patient and some 400,000 out-patient treatments a year, but it is right to have a review of acute and maternity services. That review is aimed at improving services for the people of Glasgow and beyond and would involve substantial sums of extra public expenditure.

Mrs. Fyfe : The Opposition have their vision of the kind of maternity services in particular which should be made available not only to Glasgow but to Scotland as a whole. Will the Minister kindly describe his vision of the maternity services that he wants to see in the coming century?

Mr. Stewart : I wish, as I am sure the hon. Lady does, to see continuing improvements in maternity services. As the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) said, proposals have been convassed for the transfer to the Royal of maternity services currently provided in Rutherglen. One must put the long-term interests of patients first. We are talking about proposals which might involve substantial extra sums of investment--not cuts--to improve health care in the Greater Glasgow area.

Roads (Fife)

7. Mr. Menzies Campbell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the future road programme in Fife.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The new east Fife regional road is proving a great success, and our future plans for Fife will bring further benefits. We announced in February major proposals for the firth of Forth including a second Forth road bridge. We are currently studying a west Fife regional road as part of our longer-term network.

Mr. Campbell : The Minister will know that the A91 trunk road for which his Department has responsibility runs through my constituency and in particular through the town of Cupar. Will he tell my constituents why he is

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delaying the authorisation of the Bonargate relief road and the Cupar bypass, both of which are necessary not only for safety and convenience but for the protection of the environment?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Traffic management schemes are currently being proposed for Cupar. There are proposals for a bypass not only in Cupar but in Auchtermuchty. The criteria for bypasses include traffic flow and composition, safety considerations, environmental factors, feasibility and the relationship to local and national developments. One of the features of the trunk road network review which we carried out last year was the recommendation that we should concentrate on the strategic routes in the first instance. A number of bypasses cannot therefore go ahead as quickly as some of us would wish.

Mr. Home Robertson : As there is already a dual carriageway across the firth of Forth, does the Minister accept that there should be no need for a second Forth road bridge if the Government would only co-operate with local authorities and ScotRail to provide better commuter services for the communities on both sides of the firth of Forth? Does he accept the case for a passenger transport executive to serve not only the people of Fife but the people of Lothian region in my constituency ?

Lord James Douglas Hamilton : We are putting forward a package of proposals for both Fife and the Lothian region. We believe that a second road crossing of the Forth is necessary because the number and length of major delays will escalate year after year out of all proportion to what is considered reasonable or satisfactory.

Mr. Home Robertson : What about a proper train service?

Lord James Douglas Hamilton : I agree with the hon. Gentleman that one of the key elements for a package is to provide more rail stops not only in Fife--

Mr. Home Robertson : And trains.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I agree. That is one of the key factors that we shall consider. We are awaiting representations and a feasibility study from the regions concerned, and a package of measures from Lothian region which we shall consider sympathetically as part of the whole. It is not only the A1 which is important for Scotland, but all the infrastructure prospects for the east of Scotland.

Steel Workers (Retraining)

8. Dr. Bray : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what percentage of steel workers made redundant at Ravenscraig and now retraining under official schemes administered by the Lanarkshire Development Agency are retraining for skills in manufacturing.

Mr. Stewart : About 1,000 steel workers made redundant at Ravenscraig are retraining under official schemes administered by the Lanarkshire development ar j 2-9gency. Many are training for a wide variety of skills and qualifications on about 120 courses, including several that could be applied in various contexts, including manufacturing. About 12 per cent. are retraining for skills specific to manufacturing.

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Dr. Bray : Is the Minister not worried that the proportion of experienced and skilled production workers training for manufacturing in the industrial heartland of Scotland is so appallingly low? Is he not aware that the same mistrust of the prospects for employment is shared by young people in Lanarkshire schools, who see no prospects for manufacturing under the Government? Do the Government intend to do nothing about that?

Mr. Stewart : As I have said, many of the steel workers have chosen courses in management, quality assurance, and so on, which are clearly related to manufacturing although not specific to it. Manufacturing output in Scotland has risen in the past five years and, according to all the surveys, the prospects for exports, output and orders are highly positive. Ultimately, it is for individual former steel workers to choose the courses that they perceive to be in their best individual long-term interests.

Dr. Reid : Is the Minister not worried that only 12 per cent. of people being trained in the industrial heartland of Scotland are being trained for manufacturing industry? Does he not recognise that part of the problem in Lanarkshire, and especially in Motherwell, was that we are entirely dependent on one or two industries, while recovery, not only in Lanarkshire but in Scotland as a whole, depends on training people for a range of manufacturing skills? Is the Minister not disappointed that 88 per cent. of the people being retrained in Scotland's industrial heartland are not being trained for industry or manufacturing?

Mr. Stewart : As I explained to the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), that figure is not correct. Many of the skills for which people are training could be used in manufacturing as well as in other sectors of the economy. However, I entirely agree with the more general point made by the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) that in Lanarkshire, as elsewhere in Scotland, it is essential to have a more diversified economic structure for the future. That, indeed, is the essence of the strategy being pursued by the Lanarkshire development agency with, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the full co-operation of the local authorities and the private sector.

Mr. Tom Clarke : Does the Minister accept that the problems in Lanarkshire must be seen against the backdrop of a quarter of a million fewer jobs in manufacturing industry than the Government inherited and a quarter of a million Scots languishing on the dole? Does he agree that it is disgraceful that 10,000 young Scots under the age of 18, many of them in Lanarkshire, simply cannot find training places? What, precisely, are the Government prepared to do about the spectre of unemployment and lack of training which is so repugnant to the people of Lanarkshire?

Mr. Stewart : Expenditure on training and related programmes under this Government is two and a half times-- [Interruption.] The Opposition do not want to hear the figures. It is two and a half times what it was in real terms during the last year of the Labour Government. It is now £2.8 billion-- [Interruption.] The Opposition do not like to hear the figures, so I will just give them another one. The most recent CBI industrial trends survey for manufacturing firms in Scotland shows that firms themselves intend to increase expenditure on training and

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retraining in Scotland and in manufacturing industry. I should have thought that even Labour Members would welcome that.

Mr. Oppenheim : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not just jobs in manufacturing but manufacturing output which matters? Will he confirm that manufacturing output in Scotland fell under Labour whereas it has risen dramatically under this Government? In the days of Labour's industrial strategy, was not British Steel one of the world's largest loss makers, whereas now it is one of the most successful steel companies in the world? Labour Members opposed the closure of Ravenscraig and they could have gone into the last election committed to keeping it open, but they did not even have the guts to do that.

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is absolutely right on all the points that he has made. He is right, for example, about the increase in manufacturing in Scotland. There is a question from my hon. Friend on that specific subject later on the Order Paper. He is also right to point to the fact that manufacturing productivity in Scotland in the 1980s has increased by 5.2 per cent. per annum on average. That contrasts with 2 per cent. during the 1970s and 4.1 per cent. during the 1960s. The figure isXZ Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman asked a question. He ought to be allowed to listen to the answer. I should like to make a little more progress. Has the Minister completed his answer?

Mr. Stewart : Yes, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : I am most obliged.

University Funding

9. Dr. Godman : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what are his plans for assuming responsibility for funding the eight Scottish universities formerly funded by the Universities Funding Council.

Mr. Lang : I have established the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council which assumes responsibility on 1 April for payment of grants for teaching and research in Scottish higher education institutions.

Dr. Godman : Although I do not expect the Secretary of State to agree with me, may I nevertheless point out to him that the study of Scottish history and of the Scottish trade union movement is as important academically as those applied subjects that much more readily earn revenue in industry and elsewhere? Where funding is concerned, may I ask him for an assurance that scholars and departments specialising in Scottish history and Scottish labour history will not be discriminated against compared with other departments and faculties, particulary those that are seen as revenue earners?

Mr. Lang : As one who read history at university, I of course support the funding of history. The important thing is that one learns the lessons of history. I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, while funding decisions of the kind that he describes are for the funding council

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and not for me, the council has decided to increase the grant allocation for teaching and research to his own former university of Heriot Watt by 9.6 per cent.

Local Government Reform

10. Mr. Bill Walker : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the timing of his proposals for local government reform ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang : The Government have received a number of representations about the timing of our proposals for local government reform, offering a range of views.

Mr. Walker : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the earliest possible date for the introduction of the popular single-tier authorities, which will be nearer to the people and better understood by the people and will get rid of the present confusion with the dual-purpose or two-tier authorities, can only be an advantage to, and will be welcomed by, the majority of people in Scotland?

Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend I am sure that he is absolutely right. It is clear that our decision to go in favour of single- tier, all-purpose authorities is widely welcomed around Scotland.

Mr. Wray : Does the Secretary of State intend to set up a commission? During the previous period of local government reform, we had the Wheatley commission, and we had Bains Maude and Patterson Luke looking at management structure. Does the Secretary of State intend to follow a similar course, or will there be a ham and eggs solution for local government reform?

Mr. Lang : No. The Wheatley commission had the task of reducing 426 local authorities of widely disparate and different types to a more rational organisation of 65 authorities. Our task is, therefore, much easier. For that reason, we see no need for a commission in Scotland, just as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales saw no need for a commission in Wales.

Mr. Kynoch : Is my right hon. Friend aware of my visit yesterday to the Under-Secretary of State, our hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), in the company of two representatives of Kincardine and Deeside district council, to present responses from 6,600 homes in Kincardine and Deeside, all of which support single-tier authorities and all of which support a single-tier authority based on the area of Kincardine and Deeside? Does my right hon. Friend agree that in rural areas it is more important to consider geographical area than population when considering the best and most cost-effective way to provide local services?

Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I was aware of his visit and I congratulate him on the assiduous way in which he advances the interests of his constituents. I will take into account all the submissions that have come from that part of the country. My hon. Friend will also be aware that my hon. Friends and I have to take account of a broad range of issues that are applicable across the whole of Scotland in reaching our final decisions. We hope to do that towards the end of the summer. We shall then publish our results.

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Mr. Welsh : Will the Secretary of State announce his plans to privatise Scottish water before or after he announces his plans to change Scottish local government? Does he concede that he will privatise against the overwhelming wishes of the Scottish people--including the business community, which wishes water services to remain as a local authority service? Does it not worry the right hon. Gentleman that the only person whom he has persuaded, albeit briefly, to accept the franchising of Scottish water is the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have reached no view on the future of water and sewerage services. We have published a consultation paper, to which there have been many responses, and we are now analysing those responses carefully. The process is bound to take some time. We will bring forward our proposals in the summer and the House will then have an opportunity to consider them.

Mr. Ian Bruce : I know that my right hon. Friend listens carefully to the views of Opposition Members. Has he had a full submission from the Labour party and from other Opposition parties about how they wish local government to be set up? How many Opposition Members have written to my right hon. Friend asking for a particular form of local government in their area?

Mr. Lang : That is a very shrewd question. We have heard a great deal about what Labour Members are against, but there has been a severe lack of positive and constructive suggestions from them--[ Hon. Members :-- "No."]--until it comes to their own areas, and self-interest then comes running through strong and fast.

Mr. Hood : May I mention a little bit of self-interest? Are not the Government overcutting to fund the new local government reform? Some £14 million of road borrowing consent was cut in Strathclyde regional council, which means that the Stonehouse bypass will be cancelled once again and the Ayr road, which affects the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), is also cancelled. That is what the Government are doing, and they should stop trying to kid us that they are not.

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the question of self-interest. I know that he and the Clydesdale district have advanced a strong case for single-tier status for their area. On the question of cuts, the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. Funding for local government this year has been running at a level substantially higher than the current rate of inflation. The Ayr road will feature in the roads programme which is to be published very shortly.

Mr. McLeish : Is the Secretary of State now willing to apologise to the House and to the Scottish people for the publication of the discredited and disgraceful document on cost prepared by Touche Ross? More important, is he willing to publish details of the letter from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury asking him to cut £700 million from his budget over the next two to three years? Will he concede that proceeding with local government reform at this time would be an act of monumental stupidity as we face a financial crisis created by that lot on the Government Benches?

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