|Previous Section||Home Page|
Of course every hon. Member welcomes the rebirth of democracy in South Africa and wishes that country well. The hon. Gentleman's comparison is absolutely absurd and will not be generally accepted by supporters of the mainstream political parties in Scotland.
Mr. George Robertson : Is not it revealing that yet again, for the third month running, the Secretary of State for Scotland has chosen to pass the buck for answering questions on local government--the very centrepiece of the legislative programme that is before him ? When the Minister meets COSLA, will he be ready for the anger and disgust that that body will show at what the Government propose to do to Scotland's water ? Does he not yet appreciate that all the promises about privatisation that are being made by a Government tainted by their deceit on taxation can never convince the Scottish people that water will not eventually end up in the hands of people who will seek to make profits from it ? The people of Scotland want their precious, unique and plentiful supplies of water to be in the hands of locally elected, locally accountable representatives, not in the dubious care of the hand-picked cronies of the Conservative party, and they will express that view next Thursday in the regional elections.
Mr. Stewart : There is a question specifically about water further down on the Order Paper. However, I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the deceit on this issue is the continuing deceit of Opposition Members, who try to pretend to people in Scotland that the Government's proposals are quite different from what they very clearly are.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : In 1993-94, Scottish Homes invested £3.5 million in sheltered housing projects for the elderly in Glasgow. In the current year, this provision is expected to increase to £4.5 million. Over the two-year period, this represents the provision of 146 additional units.
Mr. Martin : May I draw the attention of the Under-Secretary of State to the Royston road district in my constituency, where there are several housing estates--the Charles street flats, Blochairn and, further up the road, Germiston ? Many of the residents have lived there all their
Column 237lives--some of the housing is pre-war--and now require sheltered accommodation. I urge the Minister to ask Scottish Homes to put some of the £4 million into an area that badly needs sheltered housing. In fact, there is not a single sheltered housing project there.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I will make inquiries on the hon. Gentleman's behalf to see whether this can be done or could be fitted into a future programme as soon as practicable and will let him know how I get on. This year, the provision for special needs projects in Glasgow is expected to be about £12 million overall.
Mr. Dalyell : I return to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Dunnachie). What categories of individuals affected by the acquired rights directive do the Government have in mind when they say that they have to go to court ?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman should look at the reply already given by my hon. Friend the Minister. The hon. Gentleman's question is about the estimated transitional costs of local government reform. I have already said that they will be far outweighed by savings. For example, Angus anticipates savings of £8.5 million over 15 years, while the Borders region expects £22 million over the same period.
Mr. Norman Hogg : In reply to an earlier question from my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), the Under-Secretary of State said that he could not recall the detail of his speech to the CIPFA conference. Indeed, it was an unmemorable speech. However, the hon. Gentleman said that in the reorganisation of local government, local authority staff should--I think this was the phrase--go for management buy- outs if their jobs were under threat. What sort of advice is that for local government officials who have served local government well ? In addition, would not that add to the costs of the reorganisation, which in any event are likely to get out of hand ?
On the hon. Gentleman's question about the future of local authority staff, my hon. Friend made it quite clear that the vast majority will transfer to new local authorities. The Opposition's estimates of the costs of local government reform are specifically and largely related to implied redundancies, which are likely to be relatively limited. However, to the extent that they do lead to additional costs, those will be more than outweighed--and in the longer term substantially outweighed--by subsequent savings.
Column 238every one of the 300,000 local government work force was transferred, along with TUPE and the acquired rights directives, there would be no financial savings from the reorganisation. Would not that further wreck the Government's crumbling credibility on this disastrous, divisive and highly dangerous piece of legislation ? Or is it just another piece of irresponsible behaviour by the Government, who are willing to put the workers, their families and their livelihoods into the political arena ? How can the Secretary of State genuinely want to save 30,000 jobs if he is putting them on the scrapheap of Scotland, where there are already 230,000 people looking for work ?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman is clearly confused and muddled about the whole exercise. Redundancies probably will result from local government reform. Indeed, I think it desirable that local authorities should be run more efficiently. We should halve the number of local authorities. To the extent that there are redundancies, those will lead to more substantial savings. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways.
Sir David Knox : Does not that show the European Community's commitment, through the structural funds, to Scotland's needs ? Can my hon. Friend tell us how different parts of Scotland will benefit over the next few years ?
Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is right to point to the figures, which underline the European Community's commitment to Scotland through those funds. He asked about the benefits over the next few years. The highlands and islands will receive £240 million over six years, under objective 1 status. The west and east of Scotland will receive £330 million between them over the next three years, under objective 2 status. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry announced earlier this week, £108 million will be available to Dumfries and Galloway, Borders, north and west Grampian and rural Stirling and uplands Tayside over the next six years, under objective 5b status. That shows that there will be significant benefits throughout Scotland.
Ms Rachel Squire : Does the Minister agree that no amount of European regional funding can compensate the Scottish economy, and particularly the Fife economy, for the Government's anti-Rosyth bias and for the broken promises and policies which have led to mass unemployment ? Does he further agree that no amount of European regional funds can compensate for the loss of 6,712 jobs which are related to Rosyth naval base ? Will he commit himself to ensuring that the Prime Minister keeps the clear and categorical commitment that he made in 1991 that Rosyth naval base would stay operational ?
Mr. Stewart : I wholly reject the hon. Lady's allegation that the Government are in some way anti-Rosyth. The case for the dockyard and the base has been put forward with great vigour by my right hon. and hon. Friends.
In relation to the specific question of the future of the naval base, the hon. Lady will know from the statement of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence that the Ministry is examining all aspects of defence support activity, of which naval infrastructure is just one area. It is regrettable that there has been a great deal of what I fear may be damaging speculation.
Mr. Bill Walker : Is my hon. Friend aware that, while I welcome the money from the European Union that will come to uplands Tayside, I do not forget that every pound which comes from the European Union costs the taxpayers in the United Kingdom in excess of £1.60 to get it back ? Is not it important to recognise that we are getting our own money back, albeit considerably reduced in value ?
Mr. Stewart : I do not want to get involved in an extended answer to my hon. Friend's arithmetic. His views on the matter are always put with great vigour and robustness, but I am glad that he welcomes the assistance to north Tayside and his constituency.
Mr. Kirkwood : While I welcome the capital allocation from Europe that the Minister has just announced in terms of objective 5b for the Borders, may I ask the Minister to accept that the cuts in capital consents for the Borders region for next year make it
impossible--nearly--for the council to take any advantage of those funds because, of course, European funds must be matched from national resources ?
Mr. Stewart : European structural funding for the Borders, as elsewhere, is fully additional to the bodies which receive it, and for local authorities that means additional section 94 consent. Matching funding, to which the hon. Gentleman is referring, must come from each organisation's existing capital expenditure plans. I believe that that acts to encourage value for money from European-funded projects.
Mr. George Robertson : May I return to the statement by the Minister on the damaging speculation about Rosyth, especially in relation to potential claims against the European regional fund ? I agree with the Minister that the speculation about Rosyth is extremely damaging, and no more damaging than to the thousands of human beings in that part of the world whose jobs depend on it. I remind the Minister of the words of the Secretary of State for Scotland in 1991 :
"I am glad that the Prime Minister has recognised the strength of the arguments for Rosyth and the case I advanced in support". Will the pledges about Rosyth be repeated here today ? Will the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister tell the House that they stand by the commitments to Rosyth, or will this go down as yet another broken promise in the encyclopaedia of deception of which the Government are guilty ?
Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman is being pretty ingenious--but, of course, in order--in asking that question in relation to European regional development funds. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence have made the position absolutely clear.
Mr. Lang : Many local authorities responded during the Government's extensive public consultation last year. It is regrettable that they have been prevented from having constructive discussion with the Scottish Office by the Convention of Scottish Local
Authorities'campaign of non-co-operation.
Mr. McKelvey : Nevertheless, does not the Secretary of State begin to get more than an inkling that the people of Scotland simply do not trust the Government on their future plans for water ? They're no' daft. They have observed what happened in England. The water boards that were set up were replaced by quangos and the water was then flogged off. The results were higher prices and thousands of people deprived of a water supply. We will not tolerate that in Scotland. If the Secretary of State wishes to allay the fears of people in Scotland, why does not he scrap the present plans for water or, if we must have boards, let them have a majority of elected councillors or other elected representatives.
Mr. Lang : The reform of the water and sewerage industry in Scotland is driven by the fact that, with the disappearance of many regional authorities, it is necessary to find new arrangements to ensure that water and sewerage are delivered as efficiently and cheaply as possible. That is the motive behind the establishment of three publicly owned water authorities. Privatisation is not part of that plan and does not enter into our considerations.
Mr. Gallie : Will my right hon. Friend accept my welcome for the three publicly owned water and sewerage authorities in Scotland ? Does he anticipate, as I do, a better service for my constituents as a consequence, particularly when one thinks of the sewerage provisions ? Beaches in my constituency have been branded among the dirtiest in Europe. Strathclyde plans to build, rather belatedly, a sewage plant up against new housing, behind a beach and beneath Greenan castle. Surely things can only get better.
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is right. It is precisely to take account of the need for new investment such as that identified by my hon. Friend that we propose the development of the three new publicly owned water authorities.
Mr. Foulkes : The Secretary of State has again ruled out the privatisation of water. Will he confirm that the new quangos would have power to franchise out all or some of their services to private companies ? Will he rule that out as well ?
Mr. Lang : I certainly will not rule out the attraction of private sector finance into the industry. That is one of the reasons why we went for the system that we did. To enable the public water authorities to raise money in the private sector for new capital investment while they continue to control and own the assets of the industry is precisely the way to relieve the pressure on the Scottish Office block and
Column 241prevent the need to take money away from housing, roads, health, education and all the other matters that the hon. Gentleman and his party regard as so important.
Mr. Galbraith : Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that the members of the new water and sewerage boards will all be elected ? What does the Secretary of State have against democracy ? Is it just that every time he tries it, he loses ?
Mr. Lang : I am a strong supporter of democracy, as my record bears testimony to and as the local government results on 5 May will demonstrate. Membership of the water authorities and other matters are still to be decided, but there will certainly be local authority representation on them, alongside the necessary skills that we shall need from the business community to ensure the efficient operation of those authorities for the benefit of consumers.
Column 242Why has that increase taken place and what steps will he take to ensure that the amount of woodland continues to grow ? Does he agree that woodland is a valuable wildlife habitat ?
responsibilities of the review group has been to advise on incentives to increase planting by giving that careful consideration and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will report to the House in due course. We need to increase planting, especially of conifers, to ensure a healthy timber industry in the future.
Mr. Worthington : Is not it true that most of the forests that were sold off did not have access agreements, so people have been denied access to the countryside ? Will the Minister undertake that, whatever is proposed for the control of forests, freedom to roam and access are not merely one of the considerations, but the top consideration ?
Sir Hector Monro : I accept the hon. Gentleman's point. Only one access agreement has been reached with a local authority because local authorities have been slow to discuss the matter with us and to come to management agreements. That will be an important part of my right hon. Friend's consideration of the review group's advice. Access has a very high priority.
|Next Section (Debates)