That the Committee on the Crossrail Bill have leave to visit and inspect the site of the proposed works and areas affected by the proposed works, provided that no evidence shall be taken in the course of such visit and that any party who has made an appearance before the Committee be permitted to attend by his Counsel, Agent or other representative.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
1. Dr. Godman : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received concerning the extradition of those persons alleged to have committed the murders of the passengers and crew of Pan Am flight 103 and residents of Lockerbie in December 1988 ; and if he will make a statement.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : I have received no recent representations concerning the extradition of the two accused, who are Libyan nationals ; neither has my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. It is now well over two years since warrants were issued for the arrest of the two accused. We have given comprehensive assurances about the fairness of a trial in Scotland and the pre-trial conditions for the accused. The Libyan Government should comply with the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions and hand the two accused over for trial without further delay.
Dr. Godman : Many people believe that the men who committed those murders over and in Lockerbie will never be brought to trial anywhere. Is it true that the Lord Advocate and the Government now have evidence concerning Syrian and Iranian involvement in this terrible affair ? If so, surely sanctions against Libya have reached the end of the road. Why is the Lord Advocate so hostile to the concept of the creation of an ad hoc international tribunal presided over by a senior Scots judge, to judge the persons accused of this terrible crime ?
Mr. Lang : The accused can be assured of an absolutely fair trial in Scotland. There is no indication that any alternative arrangement would be any more acceptable to the Libyan Government than what is currently proposed. As for evidence involving other countries or other accused,
Column 226I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has not seen any evidence that would cause him not to proceed with the criminal charges that have already been brought.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : I visit Glasgow and the west central belt regularly on housing matters. Glasgow district council has received a total gross housing capital allocation of over £121 million in 1994-95. That is a significant increase on last year, and will enable it to continue to tackle homelessness as a priority issue, as I have requested.
Mr. Watson : Apart from the last phrase, the Minister's answer made no mention of homelessness. That is part of the problem. Last year, 15,000 people presented themselves to Glasgow city council's housing department as homeless ; more than 2,000 of them were 16 to 17-year-olds, who do not even have the right to claim any benefits. Glasgow city council has made it clear in a number of submissions to the Minister that it believes it needs much more in terms of borrowing facilities to enable it to deal with the problem properly. Given that a number of those homeless people have such status largely as a result of the Government's policies--directly or indirectly--when will the Minister face up to his responsibilities on behalf of the homeless not only of Glasgow but of Scotland as a whole ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : All local authorities, including Glasgow, have been asked to give very high priority to dealing with homelessness. That is one of the strategic issues with which it is asked to deal, along with stock that is below the tolerable standard, dampness and care in the community.
This year, Glasgow's resources will total more than £120 million in both housing revenue and non-housing revenue accounts. Scottish Homes is also being asked to give top priority to homelessness, and will be active throughout the housing associations in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Top priority must continue to be given to this pressing subject.
Mr. Gallie : My hon. Friend referred to the importance of the housing associations in the battle against homelessness. Will he confirm that some £1 billion has been spent through the housing associations recently, creating some 50,000 units through building and renovation ? Will he also confirm that the greatest proportion has indeed been spent in Glasgow ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend has made a good point. About £500,000 has been spent on housing associations in Glasgow-- which, at one stage, was nearly half the total expenditure on housing associations. They are now relevant to Scotland as a whole, and we are tackling deprivation everywhere. I believe that the washing involved helped to make Glasgow a great deal
Column 227cleaner, and many more units were provided for homeless people. The Hamish Allan centre is also performing an invaluable role in Glasgow.
Mrs. Fyfe : Does the Minister realise that the Scottish Homes target of 2,500 homes directly and indirectly provided for Scotland as a whole still leaves tens of thousands of families without a home to call their own ? Does he realise that, 13 years ago, district councils built 7,000 houses in one year but that in 1992 they were so strapped for cash thanks to the Government that they could only build 1,650 ? When will the Minister tackle his responsibilities instead of toying with them ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The strategic responsibility will remain that of local authorities, and rightly so. Since 1979, more than 257,000 houses have been built in Scotland. Scottish Homes is right to provide units for the homeless and it is of course concentrating on furnished accommodation, which will be of considerable assistance. I believe that Glasgow is taking its statutory responsibilities seriously and is giving considerable assistance to those who need it.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn rose
My hon. Friend the Minister will remember that, during the last Scottish Question Time, I asked how many houses owned by local authorities were not occupied. Does not the number of unoccupied houses far exceed the number of people who want to be housed ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I cannot give my hon. and learned Friend the exact figure, but I understand that in the region of 26, 000 to 28,000 local authority houses are vacant. Some authorities have a higher percentage of vacant houses than others and we are strongly urging them to bring those properties back into use. My hon. and learned Friend makes an extremely relevant point. We also have a determined drive to bring back into use empty houses in the private sector and, through Scottish Homes, we are providing funding for that purpose. Scottish Homes has lead tenancy arrangements to enable housing associations to let property to homeless families, and empty private property is being used for that purpose.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro) : My right hon. Friend and I have received many representations from Scottish salmon farmers about the market and have had a number of constructive meetings with industry representatives to discuss it.
Column 228obdurately opposed to producer-funded producer organisations, which most people in the industry believe are the only sensible way to keep a reasonable balance between supply and demand ?
Sir Hector Monro : I believe that the subject of the hon. Gentleman's first point is a matter for the European Commission. We have encouraged the industry to present the evidence to the Commission, which is considering whether to examine it formally. We are in close touch with the industry. I went to Norway to meet the Norwegian Fisheries Minister and, since then, we have managed to effect a meeting between representatives of the Scottish and Norwegian industries to discuss the major problem of oversupply and the fact that far too many smelts are going into the sea.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no specific locus in the employment practices of local authorities. It is therefore not appropriate for him to issue guidelines on the subject.
Mr. Oppenheim : We may have to be indulgent when it comes to some of the quainter customs of Scottish Labour politics, but is not one of the quirkier practices that of issuing pink application forms to general applicants for jobs on Monklands district council but green application forms to friends and close relatives of its councillors ? Does that novel application of the share and share alike principle explain why so many close friends and relatives of Monklands Labour councillors have jobs on the council ? Now that at least some councillors have been honourable enough to stand up against the practice, should not we expect Monklands Members of Parliament to show the same concern about the socialist can of worms on their own doorstep ?
Mr. Stewart : As my hon. Friend knows, there has been a continuing silence from Opposition Members on the effect on their constituents of those and similar practices. I understand, however, that the practice that my hon. Friend rightly describes as novel has been abandoned, or at least suspended.
Mr. Ernie Ross : If the Minister is so concerned about the alleged employment practices of local authorities in Scotland, why did he make such a ridiculous statement at the recent conference of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy ? He knows that, because of his proposals for the reorganisation of Scottish councils, more than 100,000 local government employees in Scotland are extremely concerned about their employment. Would not it help if he made a statement today saying that those people will be covered by the European Union acquired rights directive, thereby giving peace of mind to employees who do a worthwhile job for all of us in Scotland ?
Mr. Stewart : I have paid tribute again and again to the work of Scottish local government employees. I am not sure which of the statements that I made at the conference the hon. Gentleman meant, but I announced there a number
Column 229of additional members of the committee that will advise the Secretary of State on matters relating to the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, and I believe that the nominations were widely accepted as objective.
Mr. Bill Walker : Is my hon. Friend aware of the great concern in Scotland about the revelations that constantly appear in the Scottish press about the employment practices at Monklands ? Too many people are now employed by local government to perform specific narrow duties ; they are really doing jobs that have been created for friends. Is not it time that my hon. Friend and the Secretary of State took powers to deal with those problems ?
Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend makes the interesting suggestion that the Secretary of State should take additional powers in such matters. Perhaps some of the Opposition Members who have been pressing on the subject will give their full support to any endeavour to take such powers. The Secretary of State's present powers are limited, however. No doubt Opposition Members who regard Monklands district council as a model of perfection and a model of how Scottish Labour authorities should work, will have been confirmed in their belief in the excellence of that council by the recent "Newsnight" coverage. Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Does the Minister accept that there is continuing concern in the city of Aberdeen about the unsatisfactory nature of the recent termination of the chief executive's contract of employment, at a cost of nearly £300,000 to the local community ? Does he accept that it is not satisfactory that such a matter should be left entirely to a local council which many people feel has failed to discharge its duties, and that there is no means of securing an independent inquiry ? Does not he believe that the rules should be changed to allow for that ?
Mr. Stewart : As I said when the hon. Gentleman raised that matter before, I accept his concern about Aberdeen--a concern which has also been expressed across the party political divide. My right hon. Friend and I have examined the Scottish Office's powers in the matter, and my right hon. Friend simply has no locus at present. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to suggest specific legislative changes, we will of course consider them.
Mr. Clarke : A few months ago, I asked the same question of the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). My constituents and employees at the world-renowned Bush estates research
Column 230establishment in Midlothian are wondering what the future holds. Many people in rural areas depend on the Forestry Commission. We are being drip-fed by the press on supposed future changes in non-privatisation policies affecting the commission. The Government have had long enough to consider the matter, and the public are entitled to know what are the Government's policies on a matter that is is of major importance in Scotland.
Mr. Lang : I am not responsible for speculation in the columns of the press, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that among the many considerations that must be taken into account in deciding the way forward for the commission are the circumstances of the many dedicated staff who work for it throughout Scotland. I am keen to remove as soon as possible any uncertainty that exists. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that it is important not just to make decisions soon but to get them right.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : Does my right hon. Friend agree that virtually every industry that we privatised in the 1980s and 1990s has been successful ? The reason is that those privatisations brought about a change in management culture. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the important point in respect of the Forestry Commission is not who owns the land but whether public rights of access are maintained and the forests are managed in an environmentally friendly manner ?
Mr. Lang : I agree with my hon. Friend that what matters most for the forestry industry's future is that decisions affecting it are taken in the context of the industry's interests. That includes not only the commercial development and growth of our forests but environmental and recreational considerations, including access, and the need to encourage more planting. We are taking all those issues and others carefully into account in working towards a solution.
Mr. McFall : It is clear that the Government took no account of public opinion from the outset. It took a campaign before the Government surrendered in the face of public opinion. More than 300, 000 acres in Scotland have been sold since 1981.
Mr. McFall : Given that the forestry review group's report has been with the Secretary of State for more than two months, will he address the concerns felt in Scotland, so that the public may be reassured that the Government will not achieve by the back door that which the public manifestly do not want them to achieve by the front door ?
Mr. Lang : We are keen to take on board all the representations that we have received and continue to receive. We have received 3,600 representations from individuals, and 600 organisations have made their views plain to us. All are being carefully considered. When we bring forward our proposals in due course, members of the public and others will have an opportunity to react to them.
Mr. Kynoch : When my right hon. Friend considers the review group's report, will he bear in mind the singular importance of so-called community woodlands--those at the edge of villages and towns, such as Pannanich woodlands at Ballater in my constituency ? Access for the
Column 231general public, residents and tourists is extremely important for recreational and leisure activities. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that my constituents enjoy future security of access ?
Mr. Maclennan : Does the Secretary of State accept the view of the timber industry that the overwhelming requirement at this time is for more trees to be planted--not to have land sold off, which would divert resources from what is properly required ?
Mr. Lang : I agree that the interests of the timber industry are important in our consideration of the issues. The importance of encouraging more planting is central to the way forward. The review group's terms of reference specifically included the need to consider the operation of incentives.
Mr. Lang : No, we do not propose to publish the report, because the internal review group comprised officials who advise Ministers. However, we shall publish our proposals and there will be plenty of opportunity for all aspects to be fully considered in due course.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am confident that the economic regeneration and diversification currently evident throughout the highlands and islands will continue to flourish as the wider economic recovery being assisted by this Government's policies gathers momentum.
Mr. Macdonald : In the light of the massive defence cuts that are being reported in the newspapers this week, when is there likely to be an announcement on the Royal Artillery range at Benbecula ? Does the Minister agree that the range provides excellent and unique facilities for the armed forces, with the full support of the local community ? Does he recognise that there is a strong case for its consolidation and expansion, with the use of more contracting out, rather than any talk of cuts or closure ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The matter is still being carefully considered. I understand that a decision is expected in about July. I was present when the hon. Gentleman took a delegation from the Western Isles to see my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement at the Ministry of Defence. I think that it would be fair to say that the delegation stressed, as did the hon. Gentleman, the importance of employment as well as the excellent arrangements that currently exist. No argument was missed. Indeed, mention was even made of the fact that the presence of the artillery range afforded protection for rare bird species, including waders, in the area. I do not think that any arguments were missed.
Mr. Fabricant : Is my hon. Friend aware that representatives of the Scottish tourist board, which is funded by the Scottish Office, recently came to the House to address members of the Conservative Back-Bench tourism committee ? Will he applaud the efforts of the board to promote the highlands and islands in the United States of America and in Canada, which will in turn promote the economic interests of the area ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Yes, indeed. The Western Isles will have a growing tourist industry, which is extremely important to them. Tourism is the largest employer in Scotland, and that employment is growing. It is not the largest employer elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Developments such as the tourist centre at the Callanish stones--the Scottish version of Stonehenge--will attract up to 50,000 visitors to the Western Isles every year. The opening of the Skye bridge will greatly benefit the Western Isles through enormously increased tourism.
Mr. Charles Kennedy : On the question of the Skye bridge, does the Minister accept that the benefit to the Western Isles, to Skye or to the highlands and islands generally will not be helped by the sky-high tolls that the Scottish Office will foist on local people ? What will he do to remove that burden and to ensure that objective 1 funding for roads and infrastructure generally is genuine additional funding ? We have already seen cuts in the roads budgets for the Highland region since the arrival of objective 1 funding.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : As the hon. Gentleman knows, objective 1 funding will be additional. The bridge tolls will not be higher than the present ferry fares, so nobody will lose. If passenger traffic increases, as we anticipate, there may be scope for adjusting the tolls accordingly. We shall know more about that once the bridge is open. When the tolls have paid off the costs, it will be a free bridge. That is the quickest way the islanders of Skye will ever get a free bridge.
Mr. Trimble : Does the Minister agree that the prospects for the highlands and islands could be improved if the European Community's interregional programme on maritime borders were amended to include maritime regions ? Will he join us in trying to persuade the Department of Trade and Industry, which is supposed to represent the entire United Kingdom on this issue, to persuade the Community to amend the Interreg programme to include maritime regions ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that interesting representation, which I will be sure to discuss with my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. He will appreciate that I do not have lead responsibility. One of a Minister's first rules is that he should not exceed his responsibilities. I shall, however, follow up the hon. Gentleman's point.
Mr. John Marshall : Is my hon. Friend aware that this afternoon we have heard of something more remarkable than the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus ? Does he appreciate that the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) is now opposed to defence cuts and in favour of contracting out ? How much further will the Labour party go ?
Column 233Thatcher came to power. The goalposts have moved significantly. That will be of great significance to our country in future.
8. Mr. Davidson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to meet representatives of community councils and tenants' associations to discuss the problems of damp housing in Glasgow, with particular reference to the Govan constituency.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My right hon. Friend has no plans to meet community councils and tenants' associations to discuss damp housing in Glasgow. In the first instance, it is for the City of Glasgow district council to assess the housing needs of its area and to set out its plans for tackling damp housing in the housing plan and capital programme, which it submits to the the Scottish Office. The council's gross capital allocations for investment in public and private housing total £121.25 million in the current year.
Mr. Davidson : Does the Minister accept that there is a problem of dampness in Glasgow and in my constituency ? Does he accept that the money that the Government are allowing the council to spend is inadequate ? Does he agree that he should be prepared to meet delegations of those who live in damp housing so that they can explain to him the effect that it has on their lives, the lives of their families and the educational opportunities of their youngsters ? Will he not walk by on the other side ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I have been acutely aware of the problem since serving on a Select Committee that considered dampness in council houses in Scotland. Since that time, substantial progress has been made. Damp housing is the biggest issue facing housing authorities. They are right to target their efforts to where the problem is most severe. Through the urban regeneration initiatives in Ferguslie Park and Castlemilk, we have proved that that can be done successfully. Housing authorities have to phase and prioritise the work, which will be successfully completed but cannot all be done overnight.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Have not the Government invested a large amount of money in housing improvements in Scotland ? Having spent £2.2 billion on housing improvements over the years, would not it be more sensible to ensure that authorities keep their rents at a sensible level so that they can invest in improving the declining number of houses that they still own, while people who have bought their houses make their own improvements at no cost to the public purse ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend makes a valid point. In past years, rents have been so low that less has been spent on management and maintenance. If more had been spent on it, there would be less dampness in houses. I confirm that about £900 million is being spent on capital investment in housing. That includes the work of Scottish Homes, the new towns and the local authorities. A lot can be done with £900 million in a year. The work must be prioritised and the most severe problems tackled effectively.
Mr. Wray : Why have the Government been encouraging local authorities in Scotland to implement Rachmanism by allowing them to collect rents for houses that are below tolerable standards ? Why do they encourage local authorities not to tell people of their rights under the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1897 ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Local authorities have been told that houses that are below tolerable standards must be one of their top four priorities. The hon. Member uses the word "Rachmanism" in relation to public sector authorities. That used to be a slur on the private sector, but I accept that housing that is below tolerable standards must be rooted out wherever it arises.
Mr. Stewart : As I informed the House on 23 March, my right hon. Friend and I are next scheduled to meet representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 17 June as part of the normal consultation on local government finance matters.
Mr. Dunnachie : I wish to ask the Minister the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), but to which he received no reply. When the reorganisation in local authorities takes place, will the Minister guarantee that the employees of local authorities will be covered by the European Union acquired rights directive, which will protect their wages, service and conditions, and pensions in the event that they are transferred to another employer ?
Mr. Stewart : As I said in the Standing Committee, to which I know I am not allowed to refer, and as I have said on many occasions, the overwhelming number of local authority employees will be transferred to the new authorities.
Of course, in the case of the acquired rights directive, certain cases may have to be decided by the courts. I have, however, made absolutely clear the position in respect of the overwhelming number of local authority employees. We have also set up a staff advisory committee and commission which will examine these and related problems.
Mr. McMaster : As you know, Madam Speaker, I am not one to curry favour, but may I preface my question by wishing you many happy returns on this, the second anniversary of your speakership ? Does the Minister accept that more and more people throughout Scotland do not trust the Tories on taxes, on local government or on their plans for water ? Does he realise that people throughout Scotland--no matter what he may claim--believe that these super-quangos will be the building blocks for privatisation ? Why does no one believe him ?
Column 235I must make it absolutely clear that the Government have no plans to privatise water and sewerage services in Scotland, through the front door, the back door or any other door.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : Does my hon. Friend agree that a move to all-purpose, single-tier local authorities will result in more accountable, more local, more responsive, more sensitive and more cost-effective service delivery in the towns and cities of Scotland ?
Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is right. All political parties in Scotland at one time or another have supported the principle of single-tier authorities, because of all the advantages to which my hon. Friend has alluded. It is significant that in his area, the city of Aberdeen, the proposals for a unitary city authority have, as I understand it, been supported by every political party.
Mr. McAllion : When the Minister meets COSLA will he tell it why, after 15 years of Conservative Government, there are still tens of thousands of homeless Scots, hundreds of thousands of Scottish homes riddled with damp and condensation and acute shortages of decent, affordable houses for rent ? Is it because the Government's housing policies are succeeding or because they are failing ? The people have a right to know.
Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for housing has already dealt with that subject, but we shall certainly point out to COSLA that aggregate external finance--Government assistance to Scottish local authorities--per head of population is 46 per cent. higher in Scotland than in England and 24 per cent. higher in Scotland than in Wales. These are the real figures ; they demonstrate beyond peradventure the Government's commitment to local authority services in Scotland.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Will my hon. Friend remind the Opposition that those houses were all built by local authorities under socialist control and were probably designed by socialist planners--and that if there is any complaint about them it should be directed to those who got it so wrong ?
Mr. Stewart : My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The problems to which Opposition Members have referred are overwhelmingly to be found in socialist-built estates, put up after the last war--that is, within the last generation. The Labour councils that built them entertained misconceived ideas about the sort of living conditions and quality of life that people in Scotland increasingly want. People want a variety of tenure types and it is our policy to provide such a variety.
Mr. Wallace : The Minister said again that the Government do not propose to privatise Scotland's water. In response to the Strathclyde referendum the hon. Gentleman said that the Scottish people either did not understand or did not believe that. Why do the Government have such a crisis of credibility in Scotland ?
Mr. Stewart : I do not believe that the Government in any way have a crisis of credibility in Scotland. The principle of single-tier authorities is widely popular. The hon. Gentleman's own experience as the Member of Parliament for a constituency including two island
Column 236authorities should suggest to him that the excellent experience there could be effectively translated to mainland Scotland.
quasi-democratic Government anywhere that has ever reacted with such arrogance and contempt to an expression of popular will as has marked the Government's response to the million-plus Scots who voted in the water ballot ? Does he have no sense of shame at the fact that when we should all be celebrating the rebirth of democracy in South Africa we are witnessing the death of local democracy in Scotland ?