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House of Commons

Wednesday 6 July 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]


Croydon Tramlink Bill [

Lords ]

Considered ; to be read the Third time .

London Local Authorities Bill [

Lords ]

Considered ; amendments agreed to.

To be read the Third time.

Oral Answers to Questions


Water --

1. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what percentage of the new water authority board members will be councillors.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro) : There will be a significant number of elected councillors among the membership of the new water and sewerage

authorities.Further decisions on appointments have not yet been taken.

Mr. Dunnachie : I thank the Minister for his reply. The Under- Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), wrote the Minister a letter some time ago expressing the anxieties of Eastwood district council about the lack of elected membership on the governing bodies of the water boards. The Minister's reply was terse, to say the least. He told the Under-Secretary of State that it would be wrong to put elected members in a position of power on the water boards in case they went against Government policy, inasmuch as the Minister thought that elected members were not the representatives of the people and that local people should be represented on the boards by those with money, companies and so forth--not ordinary elected members, but lackeys whom the Minister would pick

Madam Speaker : Order. I hope that a question will come my way soon, instead of a statement. Perhaps the Minister can attempt an answer.

Sir Hector Monro : I think that the hon. Gentleman was paraphrasing a rather good letter. I can assure the House, as I have done before, both in the Chamber and in Committee, that there will be a significant number of local elected councillors on the water authorities. They will be there for their blend of skills and experience and perhaps because of their previous work with water authorities and local

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authorities. After we have consulted and the Bill has been enacted, I think that Opposition Members will be very pleased with the results.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : For the benefit of Opposition Members, will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to say clearly and slowly, if possible in words of one syllable, that under his plans water will not be privatised but will remain in public hands, that that is enshrined in law, that there can be no disconnections, and that local elected councillors will be on the boards ? Will he also confirm that, regardless of what system is in place, water bills in Scotland will have to rise, due to the investment required?

Sir Hector Monro : Yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. I thank my hon. Friend very much for putting his question so concisely.

Madam Speaker : A splendid response.

Mrs. Ray Michie : What guarantee can the Minister give that the large rural areas of Scotland will be represented on the water quangos ? For example, will Orkney and Shetland have any representation in the Northern water area, will Argyll and Bute have any in the Western area, and will Dumfries and Galloway have any in the Eastern area ? There is a real anxiety that some of the smaller unitary authorities could end up with no representation at all.

Sir Hector Monro : There is always anxiety in any world where change is envisaged. I assure the hon. Lady that this change will be very much for the better. All areas will have reasonable representation, not only on the water authorities, but on the councils that we are appointing.

Mr. Salmond : Has the Minister had time to look at the Which ? report on English private water companies, which states that while costs and profits of water companies south of the border have increased by 70 per cent. water costs to consumers have doubled ? Indeed, it says that the only things rising faster than the exorbitant cost of water south of the border are the extravagant salaries of the chief executives of water companies. Given the disaster that is unfolding south of the border, is that not an argument for keeping Scottish water under local democratic control ?

Sir Hector Monro : The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is no. On the second part, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well, having read the Committee's deliberations, that the authorities that we have set up are public authorities, the members of which are appointed by the Secretary of State and are democratically responsible to him. I think that all will be well and that we shall get on with doing what is required--improving the water and sewerage services in Scotland as soon as possible.

Mr. George Robertson : The Minister will recall that in March this year, 97 per cent. of the people of Strathclyde region rejected the Government's proposals for putting water into the hands of quangos. Last Thursday, more than 97 per cent. of the people of Monklands, East rejected the Government and their policies as well, giving the Government their worst election result in any parliamentary by-election or election since 1918 when the universal franchise came in. Does the Minister realise that one of the factors contributing to that is the Government's Marie

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Antoinette approach to Scottish water ? The people of Scotland are clearly saying to the Government that they want water in the hands of local elected people and that unless the Government do that they will continue to be humiliated and punished by the people whom they deny.

Sir Hector Monro : Even by the hon. Gentleman's own standards, that is about as far away from the question on the Order Paper as he could possibly get. After all that has happened in the past three weeks, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman should have raised the subject of Monklands at all. I should have thought that he would go into purdah and shut up for the next couple of years, and see just how much work his party has to do to bring democratic government back into local government in Scotland.

Outdoor Education Centres --

2. Mr. Jamieson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding safety at outdoor education centres.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : My right hon. Friend has received no recent representations on safety at outdoor education centres. He is, however, fully aware of the action that has followed the canoeing tragedy in Lyme Bay, Dorset. In particular, the Government's response to that incident-- including new guidance on safety at outdoor activity centres--extends to Scotland.

Mr. Jamieson : Is the Minister aware that every year thousands of children in Scotland attend outdoor education centres and undertake potentially hazardous activities ? What guidelines have been given to schools in Scotland and what measures have been taken to accredit and inspect the centres to ensure that children's lives are not put at risk ?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concerns. I can confirm that guidance is likely to be published in the late summer and is intended to supplement the existing guidance, "Safety in Outdoor Education," which was published in 1989. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that there are reports this morning that Grampian regional council has issued its own guidance to keep it up to date. I am very pleased that it has done that, and I am sure that it will be of value to schools in the region. I hope that other local authorities will do that as well. We do not want an excess of guidance, but we will ensure that the best possible guidance is put in place. The Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), is pursuing a campaign of safety in relation to mountaineering and hill and mountain safety.

Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill --

3. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his latest estimate of the extra cost to be incurred by Government sources as a result of alterations in the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill between the Bill as presented at First Reading and its current state.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : The Government hav

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incurred no significant costs as a result of alterations made to the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill since its introduction.

Mr. Dalyell : In the light of the Rowntree study, which showed that the economies of scale in education would be disaggregated, are the Government quite certain that there will be no increase in service delivery costs ?

Mr. Stewart : I have made the figures absolutely clear, and the changes that the Government have made since the introduction have been widely welcomed. I quote the views of West Lothian district council in the hon. Gentleman's constituency :

"The new structure of local government must combine democracy and efficiency. A new West Lothian Council would strike exactly the right balance. It would also lend itself to a quick and economical transition, thus maintaining the continuity of service which is vital to both citizens, business and partner organisations."

It was to those representations that the Government rightly listened.

Mr. Bates : What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the additional savings that will result from the Bill's provision for the abolition of Monklands district council ? In particular, has he received any representations from the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Wray), who stated in The Herald on 30 June that he had seen figures which proved the existence of corruption ? Does my hon. Friend agree that if those figures were made available to him we could arrange an inquiry into the matter of corruption, which seems to be gaining all-party recognition ?

Mr. Stewart : If anyone has evidence that Monklands district council --or any other local authority in Scotland--is in breach of its statutory responsibilities, of course the Government will look into it. I have received no representations from Opposition Members seeking a meeting, but if the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) or the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) wishes to seek a joint meeting with me, I have no doubt that such a meeting would be an entertaining and interesting occasion.

Mr. Canavan : Will the Government now do the decent thing and abandon their expensive and unwanted carve-up of Scottish local government ? Would it not show absolute contempt for the wishes of the people of Scotland if a Tory Government proceeded with such gerrymandering plans, especially after the Tories were so resoundingly defeated in the recent regional elections and were virtually annihilated in the Monklands by- election ?

Mr. Stewart : I suggest that the hon. Gentleman consult his own district council, Falkirk, which I understand is very content with the Government's proposals.

Mr. Riddick : Does my hon. Friend agree that any extra costs resulting from the Bill and associated with the abolition of Monklands district council will be money well spent ? Do not the revelations of corruption, nepotism and dubious job practices in Monklands during the recent by-election vindicate Conservative Members who have pointed to the corruption in that council ? How many other Labour councils in Scotland are getting up to similar shenanigans ?

Mr. Stewart : The short answer is that I do not know. The Scottish Office cannot take action simply because a

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local authority may indulge in practices that others would criticise ; we can act only if a council is in breach of its statutory responsibilities.

Sir David Steel : To return to the main question, can the Minister tell us whether he included in his calculation of the cost of the local government changes the cost of providing in every centre of population the all-purpose offices that will be necessary in areas such as the Borders if local government is to continue to have any meaning at all ?

Mr. Stewart : I certainly hope that there will not be huge all- purpose offices in the centres of all the new local authorities--for the very good reason that at the centre of our local government proposals is an emphasis on decentralisation of facilities rather than centralisation. Of course some costs may be incurred, but there will also be savings. The figures published by the Government take no account, for instance, of receipts from property sales.

Mr. Foulkes : Will the Minister confirm that he has received a deputation and a request from members and employees of Kyle and Carrick district council ? This is the real scandal in Scottish local government. The authority is now re-tendering a contract for cleansing and refuse collection which still had three weeks to run, and it has been discovered that the provost of Kyle and Carrick had five secret meetings with a Spanish contracting company before making the decision. That is the kind of corruption that is taking place in Tory-controlled Kyle and Carrick. The Minister has received a request for an inquiry : when will he conduct one ?

Mr. Stewart : I must say that that remark was pretty racist from a party that is supposed to be "communautaire". Did not the favourite for the leadership of the Opposition recently say that it was communautaire ? [Hon. Members :-- "Answer the question."] I shall answer the question as soon as hon. Members give me an opportunity to do so.

I met the delegation led by the hon. Gentleman, and I listened courteously and carefully to the points that were made. I told the hon. Gentleman that, prior to that meeting, we had had no evidence whatever of wrongdoing by Kyle and Carrick district council, but that I would examine the evidence which the hon. Gentleman put to me and write to him. That remains the position.

Mr. McLeish : While the Minister sits back and enjoys his hypocrisy and complacency

Madam Speaker : Order. There is no hypocrisy in this House. Will the hon. Gentleman rephrase what he has just said ?

Mr. McLeish : While the Minister sits back and enjoys his complacency over allegations of corruption, does he accept that the time scale for the implementation of reorganisation proposals is simply a shambles ? Does he accept that if he proceeds with the timetable services will be destroyed, jobs will be lost and local government will lose a great deal that it has built up over the past 30 years ? In view of the result in Monklands last week, is there not some political merit for the Tories in abandoning the elections next year and returning to the real problems facing local government ? Why does the Minister not

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announce today that there will be a year's delay ? Better still, why does he not scrap such crazy, ill-conceived proposals ?

Mr. Stewart : The timetable is almost the same as for the last reorganisation of local government in Scotland, when some difficulties arose during that period--notably a coal strike and a general election, neither of which we envisage happening between now and the elections for the shadow authorities next year. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should consult Fife regional council--his own Labour-controlled council--which estimates that the Government's proposals will save £68 million over 15 years. Moreover, it has made no representations to the Government suggesting that it is anything other than happy with the proposals.

Mr. Dalyell : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In view of the evasive nature of the Minister's answers, I hope to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Scottish Nuclear --

4. Mr. Eric Clarke : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with Scottish Nuclear on its expansion proposals for nuclear electricity generating capacity.

Mr. Stewart : As Scottish Nuclear has no plans to expand its nuclear generating capacity, my right hon. Friend has naturally not discussed the subject with it.

Mr. Clarke : Will the Minister take it from me that moves are afoot to expand the nuclear industry ? I am surprised at the answer that I have just received. Does he recognise that more than 50 per cent. of the electricity industry's generating capacity in Scotland is through nuclear power, which is extremely inefficient as it costs Scottish people more than alternative forms of energy ? When he meets Scottish Nuclear about its expansion, will he recognise the fact that a question mark hangs over environmental arguments and the decommissioning of Hunterston A before he grants permission for any type of expansion ? A moratorium would be better. I hope that the Minister will join me in ensuring that the people of Scotland are not penalised further because of the folly of nuclear power in their area.

Mr. Stewart : A large number of people, not just on this side of the House, would disagree with the hon. Gentleman's views. There are no plans for an expansion of nuclear-generated capacity. There is interest in replacement of Hunterston B, but that is a different matter. I should make it clear that the Government are committed to the nuclear option, provided that it can prove economic. One of Scotland's great benefits is the variety of sources of supply to its electricity generation industry.

Mr. Gallie : Does my hon. Friend agree that Scottish Nuclear is built on success in electricity generation ? Does he also agree that, given the restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions, an adequate and cost- effective supply of energy resources in Scotland will depend largely on the nuclear resource if Scotland's economic future is to be secure ?

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the importance of nuclear energy for Scottish industry and Scottish consumers. Scottish Nuclear Ltd. plans to increase its output by 18 per cent. by 1998 and to

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control costs--wholly consistently with safety, of course. The contribution that SNL has made to electricity generation is one of which all Scotland should be proud.

Mr. Hood : The Minister will know that thousands of Scottish children travel from school to visit nuclear power station exhibition centres, and they do so in minibuses and coaches. When do the Government intend to bring forward legislation to make seat belts compulsory to protect our children

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is on totally the wrong question. In that case, we shall now move on.

Unemployment --

5. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the change in the numbers unemployed in Scotland since December 1992.

Mr. Stewart : Since December 1992, the number of seasonally adjusted unemployed in Scotland has fallen by 17,100.

Mr. Marshall : As unemployment throughout the European Community has increased by 1.5 million during that time, will my hon. Friend consider holding a seminar at one of Scotland's ancient universities--preferably the university of St. Andrews--at which he could point out that deregulation and modern labour relations create jobs while a minimum wage and the social chapter destroy jobs ?

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that the United Kingdom is clearly coming out of the recession ahead of most of the rest of the European Community. As regards seminars, I recently addressed a seminar in Glasgow on the European Community's White Paper, where I made precisely some of the valid points that my hon. Friend has mentioned about Britain's economic success.

Mr. Wray : Does the Minister agree with me that, like the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), he is misleading the Scottish people and misleading the House by giving those figures ? Does he also agree that the 249,000 figure of December 1992 is the peak figure, although it is 17,100 lower ? Why did he not take the August 1990 figure of 197,000, which is the lowest figure ? Does he agree that the figure is 34,700 higher than that ?

Hon. Members : Now answer that.

Mr. Stewart : The short answer is that the question was : "what is the change in the numbers unemployed in Scotland since December 1992",

and I gave the figure in answer to that question. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, and all hon. Members, will recognise that unemployment in Scotland is falling, and will continue to fall. [Interruption.] Opposition Members obviously do not like the fact that unemployment is falling. I am disappointed that they take such a completely negative attitude to the evidence of Scotland's economic success.

Mr. Ian Bruce : Will my hon. Friend reflect on the fact that we still have very low strike rates in the United Kingdom ? Does he believe that Scottish unemployment is decreasing because the Scottish work force in the main refused to strike ? Will he, therefore, make it clear to hon.

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Members in all parts of the House that the condoning of strike action, from wherever it comes, should be condemned from all parts of the House ?

Mr. Stewart : I agree with my hon. Friend. All the evidence from inward investment work clearly shows the importance that firms from north America and the far east attach to Scotland's excellent industrial relations. We have a superb and skilled work force in Scotland, as our inward investment record demonstrates.

Mr. Donohoe : How many changes have there been to the calculations on unemployment figures since the Government came to power in 1979 ? If the Minister was able to calculate the figures on the basis that he is suggesting from 1992, could he confirm that the total would be about double that which he suggests ?

Mr. Stewart : What I do know is that all the Labour Governments in history have ended up with unemployment higher at the end of their period in office than at the beginning. The hon. Gentleman clearly will not face up to the fact that unemployment in Scotland, which of course is high, is below that of the United Kingdom average for the first time since the 1920s. Unemployment there is falling at a time when it is not falling in the rest of the European Community.

Mr. Welsh : Does the Minister agree that adult training is crucial to overcoming unemployment ? Why are no adult training places available in Angus and Dundee ? Why are existing places under threat ? Why is adult training not a priority for the Government ?

Mr. Stewart : Of course, places are available. There is a further education college in Dundee. Adult training is a priority of the Government, which is why we are giving £200 million to the Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise network to provide the resources for adult training in Scotland.

Pollution, Clyde Estuary --

6. Mr. Graham : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has to arrange for the clearing up of pollution on the foreshores of the Clyde estuary.

Sir Hector Monro : Responsibility for cleaning beaches lies with district or islands councils.

Mr. Graham : Will the Minister borrow a small canoe and paddle up the River Clyde to see the pollution in the water and the dereliction ? He will come to the Erskine bridge. A recent paper stated that the bridge is crumbling and my constituents are worried that it may not be safe. Will the Minister give the House and my constituents an assurance that the bridge will be made safe ? Will he make a public announcement on the present state of the bridge ?

Sir Hector Monro : I would rather paddle down the river than up it. The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point, but it is far removed from my sphere of responsibility. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who is responsible for the bridge and for roads in Scotland, will have heard the exchange, and I am sure that if action needs to be taken, he will take it.

Mr. McAvoy : The Minister is aware that chromium waste dumping sites in Cambuslang, Rutherglen and Toryglen pollute water courses that flow into the River

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Clyde, and that contamination ends up in the Clyde estuary. The Secretary of State has said that no resources will be made available to clear up those contaminated waste sites in my constituency. Bearing in mind the fact that the public health board has said that the situation is potentially risky and the fact that the Secretary of State has refused to help because he is looking for evidence, will the Minister tell me what evidence will satisfy the Secretary of State ? Is he waiting for someone to die ?

Sir Hector Monro : The hon. Gentleman must not put it like that. He has had meetings with the Secretary of State and me, and he knows that discussions have taken place and are taking place on how to deal with that serious issue. There is no doubt that action will have to be taken, whether through the enterprise company, the region or the district--the problem must be resolved. I assure him that the Scottish Office will play a full part in trying to find the right solution.

Community Care --

7. Mr. Robert Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to conduct a review of community care in Scotland.

Mr. Stewart : We continually monitor and review the progress of the operation of community care in Scotland. A major evaluation and research project is being undertaken at Stirling university.

Mr. Hughes : Is the Minister aware of the great anguish and anxiety caused when trusts publish business plans stating how many people are to be discharged into the community and which hostels are to be closed, but make no mention of how the care is to be provided ? Would not it be more sensible to publish a patient plan in conjunction with the authorities that will provide patient care and, in tandem, produce a business plan showing how the costs of the whole package will be met ? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that until that is done and until there is a sensible way of planning and operating community care, there should be no hospital closures in Scotland ?

Mr. Stewart : I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concern about these matters, which he raised in the Scottish Grand Committee yesterday. First, a business plan is an essential starting point. Secondly, like the hon. Gentleman, I believe that close co-operation with local authorities is very important, and we have a working party studying that. Thirdly, no hospital can be closed until after a period of public consultation and after a submission to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Mr. Bill Walker : When my hon. Friend and his colleagues are consulting, will they consider Meigle cottage hospital and the proposal to turn it into a day-care centre ? If, on examining that proposal, it is found that its capital and revenue costs, especially transporting people long distances to the hospital, are the same as, or greater than, the cost of maintaining the hospital as it is, will my hon. Friend review the decision to close it ?

Mr. Stewart : It is no great surprise to hear my hon. Friend raise the issue of Meigle cottage hospital. I reassure him that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, my

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right hon. and noble Friend the Minister of State and I will keep the position at Meigle under the closest review and scrutiny.

Mrs. Fyfe : Does the Minister realise that his avowed concern for these matters is somewhat less than convincing because earlier this year he admitted that he did not know the number of people paying the full cost of accommodation in residential care and nursing homes, or how many people had sold their homes to meet the charges for their residential care ? Is the hon. Gentleman any better informed now ? Will the Minister, before it is too late, consider the impact of the break-up of the social work departments on this and other aspects of community care ? It is a consequence of his tearing apart of Scottish local authorities to meet the Government's narrow political ends.

Mr. Stewart : We regularly collect and publish a whole range of statistics on community care as part of the monitoring process. Inspections are carried out by the social work services inspectorate and the reviews by the NHS management executive.

I do not for a moment accept the hon. Lady's views on the consequences of local government reform. A single-tier system will be a great deal more sensible. There are enormous advantages in, for example, having social work and housing services in the same authority.

Mr. Kynoch : Does my hon. Friend agree that the principle of care in the community is commendable ? Does he further agree that to keep the elderly and mentally sick in normal conditions in the community for as long as possible is better than institutionalising them and putting them in hospital ? Will my hon. Friend join me in commending Grampian health care trust on its business plan, although it is only an outline plan ? It not only includes, sadly, proposals to close some hospitals, but--this is something that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) did not mention--plans for significant capital expenditure on new hospital provision for those who have to remain in hospital, so that they can have even better care.

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is right. The trust's plan includes considerable capital expenditure. The objective is not simply to maintain, but to improve the standards of patient care.

Housing --

8. Mr. McKelvey : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will meet the chairman of Scottish Homes to discuss disposal of housing stock.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has already issued guidance to Scottish Homes on the procedure for the disposal of housing stock. He has no plans to meet the chairman of Scottish Homes to discuss that further.

Mr. McKelvey : You will be as appalled as I am by that answer, Madam Speaker, when you hear that Scottish Homes held a meeting last week and invited only selected tenants to discuss the disposal of the property. Democratically elected members of tenants associations, residents associations and district councils, and even the

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local Member of Parliament, were debarred from that meeting, presumably because Scottish Homes thought that they might impose some evil influence on its decision. The Minister will be surprised to hear that those selected tenants unanimously rejected the association that Scottish Homes hoped they would adopt and said that they wanted unfettered

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is now making a statement, which is quite unfair. There are many questions on the Order Paper and unless questions and answers are brisk, many Scottish Members will be disappointed. I am asking for a direct question and a brisk answer.

Mr. McKelvey : I take the point, Madam Speaker, but I am seriously concerned about this business. Will the Minister, therefore, direct Scottish Homes to give all Scottish tenants a free and unfettered choice in their future landlords ?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : At the end of the day, if a majority of tenants wish to remain in the public sector, they will have the opportunity to do so through the ballot paper and by voting to remain with Scottish Homes. As for the meeting that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, I understand that owner-occupiers were not dealt with in exactly the same way as tenants. Owner-occupiers have an interest in the proposed new landlords and they are entitled to attend public meetings. Representatives of a residents association, representing tenants and owner-occupiers, would have access to the tenants' independent adviser. Unlike tenants, an owner- occupier will not be entitled to vote in the ballot as a tenant because a home owner's landlord is himself or herself.

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