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Mr. Lang : The old Royal high school was vacated by the Crown Office on 31 January and was then offered for sale to its former owners, Edinburgh district council, by its present owners, Property Holdings, that part of the Department of the Environment responsible for Government buildings. I understand that the council has decided to buy the building.
Mr. Canavan : Will the Secretary of State congratulate Edinburgh district council on having the foresight to buy back the building as a future home for the Scottish Parliament ? In view of recent suggestions that, in the meantime, the building might be used as a courthouse for the trials of certain categories of international criminals, would not it be appropriate to place in the dock the Secretary of State and his henchmen on the Government Front Bench who are betraying the people of Scotland by conspiring to steal their water and refusing them a Scottish Parliament, which is their democratic right ?
Mr. Lang : I hope that Edinburgh district council will have more foresight about the future use of the building than the hon. Gentleman. As far as I am concerned, the Government are answerable to the High Court of Parliament.
Mr. Fabricant : Does my right hon. Friend concede that Edinburgh is rapidly going down the same road as London, with hotel rooms costing a fortune ? Does he think that, just as we did away with the last bastion of socialism--the GLC opposite--which is now being made into a hotel, which will help to lower the prices of hotel rooms-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Galloway : Given the almost unbelievably contemptuous--even by the Secretary of State's standards--way in which an exercise where 1.25 million Scots put pen to paper, paper to envelope, envelope to pillar box and pillar box to the Strathclyde region to demonstrate their views on the privatisation of Scottish water
Mr. Galloway : Why cannot we have, not a so-called referendum, but a Government-organised referendum on the future of the Scottish Parliament building, the future of Scottish government and national self-determination for the Scottish people ? Will the Government ever listen to Scottish voices ?
Mr. Lang : Yet again, the hon. Gentleman comes along with another multi-option referendum in mind. The fact is that we have well-established democratic procedures which have been tried and tested over the years and are impervious to the kind of mob rule that the hon. Gentleman favours so much--and it is noticeable that the mechanisms of mob rule are the ones that he favours.
11. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the effect of the provisions of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill on the standards of public life in Scotland.
Mr. Stewart : The introduction of single-tier councils will mean that local authorities in Scotland and those who serve on them are more accountable, more accessible and more responsive to their electorates.
Mr. Shaw : Is my hon. Friend aware that four companies controlled by Monklands district councillors have made losses of about £6 million over three years, resulting in Monklands council having one of the highest council taxes in Scotland ? Is not he concerned that local government legislation does not allow for those council companies' accounts to be investigated properly ? Will the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill be amended to ensure that such accounts are investigated properly ? Will he consider the fact that Airdrie has had enough of Coatbridge and might want to go its separate way after local government reorganisation in Scotland ?
Mr. Stewart : On my hon. Friend's last point, I have agreed to meet a number of Opposition Members who represent constituencies in Lanarkshire to hear their views on council boundaries under the new system. As for his first point, as I understand the figures, he is correct to say that the Monklands-owned companies have lost about £6 million. That is a cause of general concern, which has been raised with us as a matter of principle, and we are considering the possibility of amending the Bill to change the monitoring of companies owned by councils.
Mr. McLeish : Would not the standards of public life in Scotland be greatly enhanced if the Government stopped treating the electors of Scotland with such arrogance and contempt ? Is the Minister now willing to listen to the 1.2 million people in Strathclyde who said no to Tory proposals to butcher our water and sewerage industries and, of course, in the process inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Government ? Or is the Minister willing simply to accept that the price of the Government's stupidity, authoritarianism and sheer bloody-mindedness will be the continuing destruction of public confidence in the democratic process, the continuing erosion of standards of public life and, more important for that lot across the Chamber on the Government Benches, the virtual annihilation of the Tories at the next regional and European elections ?
Mr. Stewart : I hardly think that that question is worth an answer. It is an absolute disgrace that members of Labour's Front Bench should dress up like childish rabble. As I said to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), I have consistently stated that the so-called referendum was not legitimate. However, as the hon. Member also knows, we have amended the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill in Standing Committee in response to reasoned debate.
Mr. Riddick : Will the local government reforms put an end to the shocking behaviour of Labour-controlled Monklands council, which has issued special green job application forms to friends and relatives of Labour councillors and pink application forms to everyone else ? Does my hon. Friend agree that the yellow card should be
Column 276shown to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), who has had nothing to say about the matter, but that the red card should be shown to the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), the Leader of the Opposition, who has refused to condemn the scandalous behaviour of providing jobs for Labour boys ?
Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is right to refer to the fact that many people are extremely puzzled by the Leader of the Opposition's continuing silence on those matters. On my hon. Friend's specific point about the different colour forms, my information is that, following considerable public criticism, that practice has now been abandoned by the council.
Madam Speaker : Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I cautioned the House twice last week about the fact that we do not discuss what is taking place in Standing Committee. That is for the Committee itself until it reports to the House.
Mr. Hood : Will the Government go back on the nonsensical decision that they have taken to amalgamate Clyde Valley tourist board with Glasgow tourist board ? Is the Minister aware that that will destroy jobs and tourism in the Clyde valley ? It is nonsense and the Government should withdraw from it.
Mr. Stewart : I do not agree with what the hon. Gentleman said. Obviously, the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) had to take a wide range of factors into account, and has done so. I understand that my hon. Friend has had a meeting with the hon. Gentleman, but I am sorry to say that there seems to be a continuing disagreement with his views. I do not believe for a moment that the new structure will have the adverse effect that the hon. Gentleman believes that it will.
12. Mr. Graham : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what special measures he plans to monitor the effects of VAT on fuel on the elderly and the low-paid in a colder climate than the British average ; and if he will make a statement.
The Common Services Agency of the Scottish health service already gathers statistics on hospital admissions, including those relating to hypothermia and other ailments that may be linked to winter conditions.
Mr. Graham : The Minister knows well that in Scotland we need 40 per cent. more energy to heat houses than do people in the south. We have 2 million elderly and disabled people who are relying on being able to heat their homes, yet the Government create a loophole whereby the rich get warmer and the poor get colder. When will this mean-minded, cold-hearted, loopy-loo Government do
Column 277something to fight for the elderly and the disabled, to allow them to heat their homes so that they can live in comfort and not in cold, damp, wet houses ?
Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman is talking even more rubbish than he usually does. The measures announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security will ensure that the introduction of VAT does not put the cost of fuel beyond the poorest in our society. The package that has been announced is worth about £2.5 billion over three years. It covers direct help from the DSS, cold weather payments and increased resources for the home energy efficiency scheme. Those are the facts.
Mr. Kynoch : My hon. Friend will be aware that the 50p and 70p package which has been announced is sufficient to pay a fuel bill of £325 or £455 respectively. Is he aware that figures that I have received from Scottish Hydro Electric plc show that the average electricity bill for a typical two-apartment home in the north of Scotland is about £300 per annum, which means that the package is sufficient to compensate ? Should not the Opposition, instead of scaremongering, go out with the facts and try to reassure elderly people who are less fortunate than themselves ?
Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is right. He refers to electricity prices, which have fallen. [Interruption.] Hon. Members should listen to this. Electricity prices have decreased by about 8 per cent. in real terms since 1986. Tariffs in Scotland are among the lowest in the United Kingdom. That is partly a result of the success of the Government's privatisation policy.
13. Mr. Davidson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the amount of capital spending that would be required to cure public housing in Glasgow and Scotland of dampness and water and wind ingress.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The 1991 Scottish house condition survey showed the extent to which local authority and new town dwellings were affected by dampness. No information is available as regards wind ingress. Obviously, the degree of severity will vary and it is for individual landlords to estimate the cost of works involved in tackling dampness in their stock.
Mr. Davidson : Does the Minister agree that the action that is being taken by the Government to cure dampness is insufficient ? Does he also agree that at least 97 per cent. of Scots believe that the Government are not doing enough in that regard ? Is not it absurd that the Government are not prepared to help Scots to get rid of water that they do not want, but are insisting on getting rid of the water that they want, through their councils, to keep ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : In Glasgow's case, the resources to be spent on public sector housing in the coming year amount to £95.85 million. In addition, there is an allocation of more than £25 million for improvement grants and repair grants. Thus, the total is £121 million. I accept that not everything can be done overnight. However, that matter should be dealt with as a top priority,
Column 278especially where there is severe dampness and condensation. I have no doubt that Glasgow district council has the resources and the ability to take this policy forward effectively.
Sir David Steel : Will the Minister try to speed up a reply to me on the question of communal blocks of housing in my constituency that suffer from water penetration ? The fact that some of those have been sold to private individuals and that others are in the hands of local authorities has resulted in a legislative nightmare. The hon. Gentleman should be more expeditious in his offers of help.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I will look into the right hon. Gentleman's particular point concerning communal blocks in his constituency. The non-housing revenue account and the improvement and repair grants can also be of assistance in the case of privately owned housing, and that factor needs also to be borne in mind.
14. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the powers currently available to the Forestry Commission to ensure woodland sold by it retains public access rights ; and what plans he has to extend public access rights to such land.
Sir Hector Monro : Before offering a woodland for sale, the Forestry Commission notifies the relevant local authority and offers to enter into an access agreement with it to provide for continued public access after sale. Public rights of way are not, of course, affected by changes of ownership.
Mr. Bruce : I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. He will know that the Forestry Commission has been effective in providing more and greater access to forests, particularly those in my constituency of South Dorset. Most of my constituents are very keen that, following the Government's current review of forestry, they should continue to have access. When does my hon. Friend expect to be able to come forward with the Government's plans to get over some of the problems arising from the denial of access when the Forestry Commission sells land ?
Sir Hector Monro : I note what my hon. Friend says. I am glad that he has had such a satisfactory relationship with the commission in Dorset. As he knows, we received the forestry review group's report at the end of last month. That is important and we must go through it in great detail with all the Ministers involved. We hope to come to conclusions fairly soon. I assure my hon. Friend that access is a high priority, especially given that a sub-committee, having looked into the question, was not too impressed with what had been happening.
Mr. Galbraith : Is the Minister aware that in Scotland there is widespread concern about access to the countryside and to the mountains, not just because of the privatisation of forests but because of clauses 52 and 53 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill ? Will the hon. Gentleman try to ensure that those two clauses, which deal with aggravated trespass, do not apply to Scotland ?
Column 279access to forests. The House will have noted his remarks, but I think that he is misinformed as to the likely results of the two clauses to which he has referred.
Mr. Stewart : Export values for the United Kingdom for scarves and other accessories of any knitted or crocheted material were £53.5 million in 1990, £53.4 million in 1991 and £65.2 million in 1992. Figures for the whole of 1993 are not yet available. I hope that this wraps up the information requested by my hon. Friend.
Mr. Evans : Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Scottish textile industry on its huge success over many years, against fierce competition ? Is my hon. Friend aware that, since that lot opposite embraced the American-Anglo friendship, exports to America have increased ? In view of that, will he give a particular hon. Member not the Grand Order of the Thistle but the "grand order of the muffler" ?
Mr. Stewart : I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that the industry in Scotland is alert to all opportunities in the marketplace, both nationally and internationally. Indeed, there may well be an increased market among Labour Members who may wish to wear woolly scarves and hats made in Scotland when they visit their friends in Belgravia and elsewhere.
Mr. Norman Hogg : Is the Minister aware that, notwithstanding the figures for exports of mufflers and scarves, no mufflers and scarves in the colours of Clyde football club are available in Cumbernauld new town, where the club recently took up occupation of its new stadium ? Is he aware that the new stadium is a great success, that it is part of a new complex for business in Scotland and that the people are enthusiastic about that, just as they are enthusiastic about bringing jobs to Cumbernauld ?
Mr. Stewart : I am glad to reassure the hon. Gentleman that I entirely agree with him. Although I was not able to attend the opening of the new stadium, as he was, it is an excellent asset and advertisement for Cumbernauld new town.
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