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Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Under our proposals for local government reform, the Strathclyde passenger transport executive will be funded by grants made by the Strathclyde passenger transport authority.
Mr. Wilson : Does the Minister understand--I doubt it--that the Strathclyde passenger transport executive, which is a highly successful operation, is now threatened by the twin nonsenses of rail privatisation and local government reorganisation ? Does he realise that these destabilise investment and threaten vastly increased fares ? Does he recognise that a leasing deal for rolling stock ordered by Strathclyde PTE has been thrown into limbo by the fact that nobody who will be involved in financing the deal knows where, in a few years'time, Strathclyde PTE
Column 271will get the money to pay for the rolling stock ? Does he recognise also that the access charges announced last week by Railtrack have been passed on, in huge measure, to Strathclyde PTE ? Ministers have guaranteed that Strathclyde PTE's additional charges will be covered for one year. Can the Minister confirm that the guarantee is for one year only ? What will happen after that ? If the money to meet these charges does not come from the Government, will it come from the local government taxpayer or from the passenger ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I assure the hon. Gentleman that the costs concerned will be taken fully into account. I also confirm that, together with Councillor Malcolm Waugh and the Minister for Public Transport, I shall have a meeting on Monday with Lombard, to which the hon. Member has referred. Leasing and funding are matters for Strathclyde regional council, but I make it clear that the Scottish Office strongly supports Strathclyde's efforts to conclude a rolling stock leasing deal. Obviously I shall take a very close interest in all aspects of the negotiations. Indeed, I have already attended one meeting with the Minister. I shall let the hon. Gentleman know the outcome.
Mr. Michael J. Martin : I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Cunningham, North (Mr. Wilson). The Strathclyde passenger transport executive--in particular, Councillor Malcolm Waugh--has done an excellent job building up both rail and road transportation for the public, especially those who cannot afford cars. I should like to put on the record the fact that Strathclyde PTE opened two small railway stations in my constituency--at Cowlairs and High Possil Park--and that it would be a great shame if either of those was endangered as a result of our losing out on the passenger transport service.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I confirm that the local government reform proposals should present no impediment whatever to the satisfactory conclusion of these matters. I shall look in particular into the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. With regard to boundaries, the remit and responsibilities of Strathclyde PTE will not change as a result of local government restructuring. The new Strathclyde PTA will, of course, replace Strathclyde regional council as the passenger transport authority.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I confirm that there is no reason why local government reorganisation should adversely affect the availability of travel concessions. The hon. Gentleman's theme is incorrect.
Mr. Lang : Subject to the House approving the Local Government Finance (Scotland) Order 1994, Highland regional council will receive aggregate external finance totalling just under £212 million next year.
Sir Russell Johnston : The Secretary of State will have heard his colleague--the grey-haired and worried Minister beside him--refer to the fact that there will be a great increase in the volume of road traffic. What, then, is the logic of cutting by £5.7 million Highland's grant aid for road maintenance ? At a time when the Highland region has been defined by the European Community as a deprived area worthy of regional structural funds, what is the sense in cutting grants generally ?
The allocation of resources for roads is, of course, a matter for the regional council. The capping principles that I have enunciated for next year will enable it, like most other regional councils, to increase spending by up to 1.75 per cent. The hon. Gentleman should not forget the substantial resources amounting to £240 million over a period of time which will be available to the highlands and islands under objective 1. Some of that could be used for roads.
Mr. Macdonald : Does the Secretary of State accept that the structural and economic disadvantages of the west highlands and the outer islands are among the most deep-seated and intractable in the whole United Kingdom and that that played a large part in the award of objective 1 funding for the highlands and islands ? Does he agree that that is a powerful argument for siting the committee to administer the funds in the west highlands rather than the east highlands, because that is where the problems are greatest ? Will he make a decision soon about the location of that committee ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The Scottish tourist board has submitted a recommendation on a new area tourist board structure to my right hon. Friend. This is being considered carefully and an announcement will be made in due course.
Mr. Kirkwood : Will the Minister confirm that the seven or eight- board structure that has officially been recommended by the Scottish tourist board to the Minister represents fewer than half the number of area boards recommended in the Scottish tourist board's detailed staff consultation with the industry ? Does he agree that it is necessary for boards such as the borders and the islands tourist boards to retain a geographical distinctiveness so that they can market tourism effectively ? What assurances can he give the House that that local identity will not be sacrificed in the review and amalgamation of tourist boards that he is currently considering ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am currently considering the representations of the hon. Gentleman, who came to see me with a deputation on the subject. I can tell him that one of the clearest messages that emerged from the tourism review was that there should be a more
Column 273co-ordinated framework of area tourist boards for the whole of Scotland and that, at 31, there were far too many. Although the Scottish tourist board has encouraged voluntary amalgamations, that approach simply has not worked. We shall consider the hon. Gentleman's point with the utmost care before conclusions are reached, undoubtedly within a few weeks.
Mr. Maxton : Is the Minister aware of the important part that the Greater Glasgow tourist board has played in the past few years in selling events such as the garden festival, Glasgow City of Culture and the international jazz festival ? Is he aware that if the proposals of the Scottish tourist board were put into force, the expertise in selling local amenities, attractions and services, which is an essential part of the area tourist board, would be lost ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said. We regard the review as a matter of supreme importance because tourism is now the largest employer in Scotland. It is not the largest employer south of the border, but it is in Scotland. We are absolutely determined to get the review right. We are considering the matter deliberately thoroughly, but it will take a little time to come to informed decisions.
Mr. Bill Walker : While my hon. Friend is considering this difficult and complex matter, will he bear it in mind that Perthshire tourist board-- which, by any standards, is one of the more successful, if not the most successful, board in Scotland--is deeply worried that it could be merged with areas that have not been so successful and would be much more difficult to market ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am aware of my hon. Friend's interest and of the points that have been made in his constituency, but I repeat to the House that the pressure for change has come from the tourism industry itself through its responses to the tourism review, and it is the tourist trade and the area tourist boards which have said that there are at present far too many area tourist boards. That is why some action must be taken.
Mr. Lang : Responsibility for the delivery of training in Scotland is a matter for Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise and their networks of local enterprise companies. The negotiation and agreement of funding paid to training companies is a contractual matter between the local enterprise companies and the training provider.
Mr. Worthington : Is not it shocking that we cannot know the price that is paid for the training of our young people and of the unemployed ? Has the Secretary of State seen the evidence being given by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs in which it contrasts the fact that local authorities are told to do everything in public with the fact that local enterprise companies are told to everything in private ? Is not it disgraceful that we should be unable to
Column 274protect our young people by having information about what is paid to private companies to train them or to exploit them ?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the resources going into training are substantially greater than under the last Labour Government. As regards the publication of the specific details paid under contracts to individual training providers, that is a matter for the local enterprise company. They are not prevented from publishing the details, but it is a commercial matter. Local enterprise companies are private sector companies and each is accountable to Scottish Enterprise for the fulfilment of its obligations and delivery of training. So there is proper accountability and efficient, commercial use of resources.
Mr. Stewart : The proposals contained in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill to establish a single-tier structure of local authorities will significantly strengthen the accountability of local government in Scotland.
Mr. Kynoch : My hon. Friend will already have heard this afternoon of the deep unrest in the north-east over the so-called early retirement of the chief executive of Aberdeen city council. May I add the deep concern of my constituents about the situation ? In the light of that, and of the allegations about Monklands district council and other Labour-controlled councils, will my hon. Friend give some reassurance to my constituents that, in the transfer to unitary authorities, staffing matters will be dealt with in a proper and professional manner ?
Mr. Stewart : Yes. My hon. Friend raises an important point in relation to council tax payers, the public interest and the interests of employees themselves. The transitional arrangements for staff have been discussed. We are setting up a staff advisory committee and, when the Bill receives Royal Assent, a staff commission. I am glad to have the agreement of a number of Opposition Members that my right hon. Friend's announcement of the chairman of that commission, Mr. Robert Peggie, is widely and warmly welcomed.
Mr. McAllion : I can follow how the quangos created by local government reform will be accountable to the Secretary of State for Scotland. What I cannot understand is how the Secretary of State for Scotland is accountable to the Scottish people, particularly since three out of four of them at the last election voted to remove him from the office that he now holds. Does the Minister agree that, as long as the Secretary of State for Scotland holds his high office in defiance of the democratically expressed wishes of the Scottish people, no aspect of government in Scotland
Column 275is truly accountable, there is no Scottish democracy and, in every sense of the word, Scottish people are already living in an unelected state ?
Mr. Stewart : That probably confirms that it is only a matter of time before the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) joins the Scottish National party, where I am sure he will be warmly welcomed. Ours is a United Kingdom Parliament and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is fully accountable to the House, as is every other Minister in the United Kingdom Parliament.
Column 276raise issues similar to those addressed in the consultation paper for England which was distributed on 20 January. The consultation in Scotland will also take account of the findings of recent research into the 1991 code of guidance on homelessness.
Sir David Steel : The consultation paper issued by the Department in England proposes to repeal a section of the law that places on local authorities a duty to provide permanent homes for homeless people. May we have an assurance that no such proposal will appear in the Scottish consultation paper ?
Lord Douglas-Hamilton : What I can tell the right hon. Gentleman is that the contents of the consultation paper have not yet been finalised ; they will take into account the results of the research. We expect the paper to ask questions about all the main issues of the current homelessness legislation--I refer to questions, not proposals, as it will be a genuine consultation exercise. The present duty applies only to those who are unintentionally homeless and in priority need.
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