Home Page

Column 169

House of Commons

Wednesday 5 May 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Dunham Bridge (Amendment) Bill

Considered ; to be read the Third time.

Oral Answers to Questions


Carstairs-Edinburgh Rail Services

1. Mr. Hood : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received in favour of reinstating rail services from Carstairs to Edinburgh ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : My right hon. Friend has received a small numberof representations from local interested parties about rail services from Carstairs to Edinburgh. The detailed operation of the railways, including the precise level of services to be offered on individual lines, is, however, a matter for British Rail.

Mr. Hood : The Minister is aware that Carstairs rail junction used to be known as the gateway to Scotland. Is he further aware that since InterCity ceased to stop trains at Carstairs, my 50,000 Clydesdale constituents have been deprived of rail services to the capital city of Scotland? Will he reflect on what he has told the House and arrange a meeting--a meeting that I would want to attend--to encourage InterCity to reinstate rail services between Carstairs and Edinburgh? That would not only open up employment and cultural pursuits for my 50,000 constituents but open up the Clyde valley for tourism.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The detailed operation of the railways, including the precise level of services on individual lines is, at present, a matter for British Rail. British Rail is encouraged to tailor its service to meet the markets concerned. The Secretary of State for Transport, because of his overall responsibilities for railways, may, however, give British Rail such directions as he thinks fit, with regard to recommendations made by transport users' consultative committees. I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman's representations to him.

Mr. Hood : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Column 170

Scotland in the Union"

2. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he has taken to assess public opinion in Scotland on his White Paper, "Scotland in the Union--a Partnership for Good", Cm. 2225.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : The response to the White Paper "Scotland in the Union--a Partnership for Good" has been generally very favourable.

Mr. Canavan : If the Secretary of State is still afraid to take up my suggestion of a referendum along the lines set out in my Bill, will he take up an alternative suggestion to test the White Paper proposal for an enhanced role for the Scottish Grand Committee? Will the Government table a substantive motion for a full-day debate in Scotland in that Committee and give the Opposition parties the opportunity to table, debate and vote on amendments to it so that the Government can ascertain, and act upon, the majority view of the elected representatives of the people of Scotland, most of whom want a real Scottish parliament rather than the Mickey Mouse White Paper, which proposes no genuine transfer of voting power from this place?

Mr. Lang : A referendum was not part of the proposals that we included in the White Paper, and we do not contemplate proceeding in that direction ; nor was the suggestion that we should establish a separate Scottish parliament. Central to the White Paper was our commitment to maintaining the integrity of this Parliament of the United Kingdom. As to the views of other parties, I shall be consulting in due course and there will be opportunities, if any amendments to Standing Orders are required, for such matters to be debated.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : As the Government flounder for a new bank holiday, may I suggest that it should be on 1 May? That would give the Opposition the impression that it was union day, when it was actually the day on which the treaty of Union 1707 came into force and it is one of the most important circumstances in our history.

Mr. Lang : My hon. and learned Friend makes an interesting suggestion. It is worth noting that the May day holiday has existed in Scotland for more than 100 years. It existed long before the Labour party and it will probably long outlast the Labour party.

Mr. Salmond : Is not one of the key arguments in "Partnership for Good" for a new relationship within the United Kingdom, with Scotland's subordinate position being changed? Has the Secretary of State deployed that new relationship with the oil tax changes announced in the Budget? Did he know about them before they were announced? Does he now understand that they will cost thousands of jobs in Scotland? Has he done anything since the Budget to try to alter the changes--or has he just been, in Lord Boothby's term, the scullery maid of the Cabinet attempting to clear up the mess that his political betters have left behind?

Mr. Lang : Only an hon. Member with the inferiority complex of the hon. Gentleman would regard Scotland's role as in any way subordinate. Scotland is a full partner in the United Kingdom and our White Paper "Scotland in the Union--a Partnership for Good" reasserts that. Within this unitary Parliament and within this United

Column 171

Kingdom, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is responsible for taxation matters. I am sure that he will take careful note of the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Gallie : Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is no better commendation of the White Paper than the words of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) who, at a recent Scottish Grand Committee meeting, pleaded for the Minister responsible for health to be present? For the benefit of those on the Opposition Front Bench, will my right hon. Friend explain that the implementation of "Scotland in the Union" would permit that Minister to participate in future Scottish Grand Committees? Does he agree that all hon. Members should join the hon. Member for Maryhill in welcoming our right hon. and learned Friend from another place?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend has identified an important point in the White Paper. Its proposals include providing an opportunity for greater scrutiny of Scottish Office Ministers, including the opportunity to ask questions of Ministers from another place. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be interested in pursuing that opportunity.

Mr. Galloway : Is not it true that the White Paper "Scotland in the Union--a Partnership for Good" has been received in our country with all the joy that a paperback edition of "Satanic Verses" might have been received had it arrived in down-town Tehran? Is not it also true that the long labour to produce that White Paper has been followed by what looks to be an equally long period of "due course"--as the Secretary of State puts it--before the Government take stock of the Opposition's responses?

Frankly, is not it an excuse for the Government doing nothing--nothing at all--about the democratic deficit in our country? Why does not the right hon. Gentleman do the simple thing and allow the Scottish people to give their opinion in a democratic referendum that would be worthy of a Government?

Mr. Lang : Perhaps I do not get about as much as the hon. Gentleman, but I do not know what sells in down-town Tehran. However, I can tell him that the publication of the White Paper received an extremely favourable response throughout Scotland. I feel sure that when we bring more detailed proposals before the House, they will find favour with the Opposition.

Sir David Steel : As the proposals in the White Paper, however welcome, are really quite minor, why has it taken so long to implement them? When will we have that first opportunity, to which the right hon. Gentleman keeps referring, to question him in the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Lang : The implementation of a number of the proposals in the White Paper is already under way. I said at the time of publication that I envisaged that any amendments to the Standing Orders of the House would start in the next parliamentary Session. Between now and then, there will be an opportunity to consider what amendments might be necessary, what views people of other parties put forward, and how best to proceed.

Mr. McLeish : Is not it a disgrace that the Secretary of State should even hint at his concern for public opinion? Why is it that in Scotland, with so many people opposed

Column 172

to water privatisation, the right hon. Gentleman is willing to spend vast sums of taxpayers' money behind closed doors to further that issue?

Why is it that when public opinion in Scotland wants young people to be trained, the right hon. Gentleman reneges on his commitment to 7,500 potential YT trainees? This is not about a partnership for good, this is an organised hypocrisy--a conspiracy against the citizen. The Opposition believe that trust and faith in good government in Scotland will be restored only when we have a Parliament run by Labour at Westminster and a parliament in Edinburgh run by Scots for Scots.

Mr. Lang : Not only are the hon. Gentleman's figures on water and youth training places wrong, but he knows that they are wrong. He has had the facts pointed out to him and he knows how misleading he has been on those matters. However, the water case at any rate will be aired in future questions when the answer will be spelt out to him.

Water Privatisation

3. Mr. Wray : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many letters he has received about water privatisation in Scotland ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro) : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received 4,834 individual responses to the consultation on water and sewerage services, and 1,237 other letters about the future of the services since 17 November last year.

Mr. Wray : Does the Minister agree that chaos and misery have been created south of the border with 8,000 disconnections in 1989-90, 21, 000 in 1990-92 and another 8,000 in 1991-92 in the Thames water authority? Those are shocking figures. Seven water authorities have doubled their disconnections, while salaries for managers and directors have increased. Will the Government never learn that the people of Scotland do not want privatisation or franchising? They want to keep their water in public hands.

Sir Hector Monro : The hon. Gentleman, like so many of his hon. Friends, jumps to conclusions. We have put forward eight suggestions and we are quite prepared to consider other methods of sorting out water in Scotland after the unitary authorities have been introduced. At present, as the hon. Gentleman knows, there is no disconnection in Scotland. We shall have to wait and see what legislation is required. But, in the meantime, I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that local authorities in Scotland are finding plenty of ways of collecting water charges without the need for disconnection.

Mr. Bill Walker : Will my hon. Friend confirm that among the representations that he has received, there have been representations from me, which have clearly suggested that the Government of Scotland must address the fact that we no longer have a means of measuring our entitlement from the public purse, because there is no allocation to England and our share of zero is exactly that--zero? Consequently, we must examine ways in which private money can reach the Scottish water industry in order, first, to take it out of the public sector borrowing

Column 173

requirement and, secondly, so that we do not use money that would otherwise be spent on hospitals and other important matters in our constituencies.

Sir Hector Monro : Yes, my hon. Friend makes a number of important points and his representations on the consultation document are being carefully analysed. What he has said is correct. A great deal of money has to be spent in future and the ways and means of providing it is part of the reason that we are dealing with the responses to the consultation document.

Mr. Tom Clarke : As the Secretary of State is leaving the Under- Secretary of State to answer all the difficult questions, will the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) tell us why the cost of privatisation has gone up so rapidly since the £50,000 estimate was given to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) last year? Why, having spent £100,000 on consultants, are the Government planning to spend £400,000, and where is the money going? If the latest estimate of £2.5 billion to meet EC conditions is accepted by the Government, why do not they meet the local authorities, which are perfectly capable of responding to that figure? Above all, since my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray) asked the right hon. Gentleman to answer the question, will the Under-Secretary ask the Secretary of State to do what the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did, and drop the whole crazy idea of water privatisation?

Sir Hector Monro : I certainly have not forgotten the hon. Gentleman's involvement in the matter, because for some months I have had a postcard on my desk showing the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) in a rather droochit boat, trying to catch something better than a cold. His hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central has been misleading Scotland about the cost of water in the past 24 hours. His radio discussion this morning was disgraceful, as he said that water costs had been reduced to £2.5 billion and he is totally wrong. He misread his question, which dealt solely with the European Community directive, and my answer, and he forgot the £2.5 billion required for infrastructure in Scotland, so he was wrong in both cases and he shot himself badly in both feet. The money for Quayle Munro, including the intial tranche and going through the consultation responses, was budgeted for and the rest of the money is certainly there to pay the salaries of the civil servants who are dealing with water, whichever route we decide to take.


4. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on educational standards in Scotland.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Scottish education enjoys a high reputation, which is well deserved. The Government's programme of educational reform in Scotland will improve standards further, through changes in curriculum and assessment, teacher development and appraisal, the devolution of management to schools and more and better information to parents. All those initiatives are under way and yielding results.

Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that an important part of the improvements in education that the Government are determined to

Column 174

introduce is more involvement for parents in the choice of their children's schools, and that we are looking forward to the day when parents are as welcome in schools as they are in Jenners in Princes street, Edinburgh or in Marks and Spencer? Will he outline the ways in which his Department is going about giving parents greater opportunity to contribute and to choose their children's schools in Scotland, so that we can learn about it down here in the south?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I thank my hon. Friend and strongly agree. I do not believe that a little information is a dangerous thing-- parents need more glasnost, not less. We have consulted on better information for parents and have received about 300 responses. We are going to take action in that connection and, by early summer, we shall have drawn up a revised circular and regulations. The two sets of regulations will be put before Parliament and will come into effect early in August. Four of the relevant subjects that we intend to cover are pupil attendance and truancy rates ; school exam results ; school leaver destinations ; and school costs, so we are definitely taking action.

Mr. McFall : The hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) could learn more from her area. I have a letter in front of me from a demoralised head teacher in that area, who is complaining about the Government's interference, is weary of being blamed for everything, including the moral decline of society. He states unequivocally that the people responsible are those who have been in power for the past 14 years. Does not the Minister think that the hon. Lady could learn from Scottish education, not least over testing, where changes to the national curriculum in England and Wales followed a successful campaign by parents and teachers in Scotland? Does he agree that comprehensive education has resulted in increased standards and qualifications in Scotland and that such a system, which does not reject 80 per cent. of our young people at a tender age, is good for the aspirations and talents of young people and for Scottish society? Does not the hon. Lady have a lot to learn from Scottish society and education?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : All European educational systems have a certain amount to learn from each other. Testing in Scotland is designed to operate as part of our distinctive five to 14 development programme, but the principles underlying our policies are the same north and south of the border--to ensure that pupils are regularly tested against a national standard and at defined stages of the curriculum and that the results are reported to parents. Standards have risen and we have made a lot of effort, through assessment and achievement programmes, research, regular inspection and reports by inspectors--who do an extremely good job. We have information on the level of success of pupils in standard grade, higher and other awards. We have national testing, which will give the teacher a view of a pupil's progress compared with national standards-- [Hon. Members : -- "Rubbish!"]. It certainly is not rubbish and it is being delivered.

5. Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what were the figures for reported cases of truancy in Scottish secondary schools in (a) 1980, (b) 1985, (c) 1990 and (d) 1992 ; and if he will make a statement.

Column 175

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : No accurate truancy figures are available for those years, but we plan to lay before Parliament this summer regulations that will require education authorities to collect comprehensive information on attendance and truancy rates, and to include those figures in school handbooks.

Mr. Robertson : Is my hon. Friend aware that, in a recent speech made in my constituency, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that truancy and juvenile crime were inextricably linked? Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that he will examine more imaginative ways of combating truancy in schools, including raising the level of parental fines and introducing the suspension or reduction of family allowance payments to the parents of wilful and persistent truants?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I agree that truancy can not only blight education, but because the incidence of youth crime. The Education (Scotland) Act 1980 includes a provision for parents who are brought before a court in this connection--

Mrs Gorman rose --

Hon. Members : There goes a truant.

Madam Speaker : Order. I have a good sense of humour, but I think that we ought to proceed with Question Time.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The penalty for parents who allow their children to play truant regularly is substantial : a fine of up to £1,000, one month in prison or both. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), however, that I do not consider reducing family allowance payments made to the parents of persistent truants to be the best option at present. Many other measures can be taken, including involving parents at a very early stage ; I support that.

Mr. Watson : I am glad to see that a truant from Billericay has managed to return to the fold after a brief disappearance--[ Hon. Members-- : "She is missing again."] Ah, she is missing again. Will the Minister call for a report from the appropriate authorities, following yesterday's truancy from a Scottish airport by the international crook and contributor to Tory party funds, Asil Nadir? Will he tell us whether Mr. Nadir's passport was withdrawn--if not, why not?--and whether Group 4 Security was responsible for guarding the airport?

Madam Speaker : Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is on the wrong question. The question relates to truancy in Scotland, and I have just given permission for one hon. Member to leave. Let us move on.

Local Government Reform

6. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proportion of the £55,000 paid to Touche Ross for a report by Anna Capaldi on the financing of local government reform he has asked to be returned to the Scottish Office.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : My right hon. Friend has not asked for the return of any of the fee paid to Touche

Column 176

Ross for its report on the financing of local government reform ; nor does he intend to. The consultants delivered a helpful report on an acceptable time scale.

Mr. Dalyell : Ought the taxpayer to pay up in full for a report that is so flawed that Bruce Mackie, the Conservative leader of Tayside council, describes it as having been blown out of the water by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy?

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman has secured an Adjournment debate about the matter on Friday. [ Hon. Members :-- "Answer the question."] I am coming to the hon. Gentleman's question. In that debate, the issues that he has raised can be debated more fully

A wide variety of comments have been made about the Touche Ross report ; however, we consider its conclusions broadly acceptable, and believe that they provide a basis for the reorganisation of Scottish local government into a single-tier system.

Mr. Kynoch : When examining the figures in the Touche Ross report and considering local government reform in Scotland, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that it is not simply a question of the number of local authorities concerned? It is also a question of the way in which those authorities will conduct their business. Is it not important for us to have well-run authorities, delivering local services efficiently?

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. What will matter is exactly what local authorities do in practice under the new structure. My hon. Friend will also be interested to know that in his own region of the country, Aberdeen City district council, which is run by the Labour party, said of the Touche Ross report that

"Many of the cost assumptions which can be checked have been shown not to be unreasonable, while further sensitivity analysis has been carried out."

That gives the lie to some of the fantastic statements that have emanated from Opposition Members on the issue.

Mr. Tom Clarke : If statements are regarded as fantastic, why does the Minister not only publish the full report but all the papers and evidence so that it is available in the public domain and people can make up their own minds? Above all, instead of this flimsy response to local government problems and a reference to an Adjournment debate, important though that is but which few people will hear about, why can there not be a proper commission and a proper review of local government, such as that which is taking place in England?

Mr. Stewart : First, I am astonished by the hon. Gentleman's question. We have published the full Touche Ross report. I am sorry that he has not read it.

Mr. Tom Clarke : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker : Order. I cannot take points of order at this stage.

Mr. Clarke : The Minister has misunderstood the question.

Madam Speaker : Order. I am sure that the Minister has got the question.

Mr. Stewart : I must repeat that the Touche Ross report has been published in full. Some of the fantastic figures that the hon. Gentleman has put forward in the press

Column 177

about the costs of local government reorganisation are as realistic as the chances of democracy in the Monklands Labour party.

Mr. Wallace : I noticed that in answer to the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) the Minister damned the report with faint praise. He said that its conclusions were broadly acceptable, but he did not say that they were accurate. So that we have an informed debate, not one in which fantastic figures fly around, can the Minister tell us what the cost of savings will be for each of the four different structures that were announced in the Government's consultative document, on the basis of any revised figures that he has received from Touche Ross?

Mr. Stewart : We have not received any revised figures from Touche Ross. We made it absolutely clear in the consultation paper that we would look at the figures in the light of further evidence. That is to be found in paragraphs 5.14 and 5.15 of the consultation paper. Of course we are looking at the Touche Ross figures in the light of the variety of comments upon them, even though many of them have been mutually contradictory. When we publish the White Paper we shall publish the estimates of cost associated with the preferred structure.

Mr. John Marshall : Can my hon. Friend tell the House whether the Touche Ross report referred to the benefits of compulsory competitive tendering, which has enabled local authorities to give the same or a better service, at much less cost to the taxpayer? Did the Touche Ross report also refer to the cost of nepotism, as practised in Monklands?

Mr. Stewart : The Touche Ross report did not refer to the second matter raised by my hon. Friend, although it has been widely referred to in other ways. I agree with my hon. Friend about the immense benefits that local authorities can gain by pursuing compulsory competitive tendering. That is proved by the gains that many local authorities, even under the present structure, have achieved by pursuing compulsory competitive tendering in Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, it was extremely far-seeing of you to give us an Adjournment debate on Friday.

Secretary of State (Letters)

7. Mr. Graham : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many constituents of Renfrew, West and Inverclyde have written to him at the Scottish Office in the last eight months.

Mr. Lang : Correspondence with the Scottish Office is not normally categorised by constituency, except when received from Members of Parliament. I have received 19 letters from the hon. Gentleman in the past eight months.

Mr. Graham : I warn the Secretary of State that he will be receiving more letters from my constituents and from those of my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that more than 20,000 of our womenfolk and constituents are living in anguish and anger over the results--or, rather, the lack of results--of smear tests? Those women are calling on the Government to ensure

Column 178

that the inquiry involves no cover-up ; that there is no lack of funds available to ensure that the tests are carried out speedily ; and that this blunder will never ever be repeated in the health service. Will the Government ensure that there is no cover-up ; that the results are circulated quickly to ensure that our constituents can sleep in peace ; that the women affected are treated expeditiously, with no lack of funds to the national health service?

Mr. Lang : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that I-- in my statement to the House last Thursday--and my noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office have made clear the importance that we attach to the need to have this matter concluded as quickly and effectively as possible. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that nine other health boards, in collaboration with the Argyll and Clyde health board, are allowing their laboratory facilities to be used. A large batch of results should be sent out by the middle of May and most of the women involved will haimmediate response last Wednesday, questions have certainly arisen since. Why were any slides sent to a small private laboratory rather than to other NHS laboratories within Scotland, as was clearly the Minister's intention last Wednesday? How many slides were sent to that small private laboratory and why was there delay in taking up the Minister's own directive of last Wednesday that the matter should be dealt with within the health service?

Given the investigation of Inverclyde Royal hospital, questions arise about the entire screening programme for the whole of Scotland. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance this afternoon that he personally will see to it that confidence in the service is restored by ensuring that money is spent on any technology necessary to reduce the possibility of error to the minimum and by reviewing the fact that there was no legal requirement for laboratory staff to be trained in screening slides? As it was apparently possible for one laboratory to have no system for double checking, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that such a system is created throughout the health service and that women have an answer to their question--what is the point of preventive medicine if it does not prevent?

Mr. Lang : Some 2,000 slides have been processed and the results are now known. A further 1,000 slides from the original 2,000 that were sent to Mediscreen will be reported on by Friday. The remaining 16,000 slides are being sent to other NHS laboratories and, as I told the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham), we hope that a large batch of results will be announced by mid-May. Great care is being taken over this matter and all possible speed will be made in ensuring that accurate answers are released to the women involved.

Government of Scotland

8. Mr. John D. Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has for all-party talks on the future government and administration of Scotland.

Mr. Lang : I intend to invite representatives of Opposition parties in Scotland to meet me in due course to

Column 179

discuss the proposed changes in parliamentary procedure announced in the White Paper "Scotland in the Union : a Partnership for Good".

Mr. Taylor : As there is increasing concern about the lack of progress in resolving matters concerning the administration and government of Scotland, can the Secretary of State tell us even one reason why the Scottish Conservative party is opposed to round table talks with the other three main political parties in Scotland about Scotland's future?

Mr. Lang : The matter is being pursued not by the Scottish Conservative party but by Her Majesty's Government. We will pursue the matter in the way that I have described and will in due course lay before the House proposals on which I hope we shall have broad cross-party agreement.

Mr. Bill Walker : When my right hon. Friend meets the other parties from Scotland, will he bear in mind that the comments during the passage of the Maastricht legislation make it clear that if the treaty comes into force and we are bound by it, with subsidiarity and the creation of, for example, the Committee of the Regions, it will lead to structures under which the United Kingdom will be broken up and it will be a vehicle for separatists? Will he also bear that in mind when considering the changes affecting Scotland?

Mr. Lang : Although of close interest to him, the matters to which my hon. Friend has referred are not part of the subject matter of the White Paper. I hope that he will agree that the best way of maintaining the United Kingdom is to maintain a united Government and a united Conservative party.

Mr. McAllion : If the Secretary of State says no to all-party talks on the establishment of a Scottish parliament, if he continues to say no to 61 of Scotland's 72 elected representatives who are demanding a Scottish parliament, and if he also says no to a referendum on the establishment of a Scottish parliament, how will he assess public opinion in Scotland on that critical issue? Will he talk to the trees or just to the dense undergrowth that sits beside him and behind him on the Government Benches? They do not represent Scottish opinion which remains overwhelmingly in favour of a return to Scottish democracy by the establishment of a directly elected Scottish parliament sitting in Edinburgh and not down here in England.

Mr. Lang : I do not know why the hon. Gentleman should think that he represents Scottish opinion on the matter. He does not even represent his own party on it ; he represents the separatist wing of the Labour party. There are also in the Labour party devolutionists, federalists and, I am glad to say, a large number of unionists. The unity of the United Kingdom was the issue at the general election, and the verdict of the electorate was clear.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Since 82 per cent. of the Scots who live in Britain live in England, and since 90 per cent. of the Scots who live in the world do not live in Britain, is not all the nonsense about Scottish government irrelevant? If we are talking about Scottish assemblies, will my right hon. Friend remember that there used to be a kingdom of

Column 180

Fife, and may we be separated from the Scottish assembly? If I do not like that, may Fordell castle be separated from Fife?

Mr. Lang : As usual, my hon. and learned Friend has the capacity to ask the unanswerable. Let me assure him that the people of the United Kingdom and of Scotland gave their verdict at the general election last year. That was that they wanted to keep Britain united.

ScotRail (Strathclyde)

9. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Strathclyde regional council about the level of Government support for regional council financial aid to ScotRail services and maintenance programmes within Strathclyde region.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My right hon. Friend has received no representations about the level of Government support for regional council financial aid to ScotRail services and maintenance programmes within Strathclyde region.

Mr. McAvoy : Does the Minister accept that Government cuts in financial support have affected the relationship between Strathclyde regional council and ScotRail, resulting in pressure on ScotRail to cut costs by reducing safety standards through the installation of single-lead junctions, particularly at Newton, the location of a crash which was caused by a single-lead junction? Will the Minister give a commitment that Government finance will be forthcoming to implement the removal of all single-lead junctions, not only in Strathclyde but throughout Scotland?

Next Section

  Home Page