The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton): My right hon. Friend will consider carefully theresponses to our current consultation exercise before deciding whether any change in A9 policy is desirable.
Mr. Walker: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will realise that the A9 north of Perth is not a dual carriageway, although it should be. The plain truth is that the local communities--the bypass communities-- wish to maintain the situation whereby they provide the services and facilities, because that means jobs. Lay-bys with toilet facilities and picnic facilities are required on the A9; that would adequately meet the demand both from the tourist trade and from other motorists.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: My hon. Friend makes a powerful and persuasive case, and we shall consider it sympathetically in the consultation exercise. The business interests of the bypass communities are extremely important, and our aim is to enhance the welfare of all the communities concerned. Tayside regional council's preferred location for a large roadside service area would be on the northern outskirts of Perth, and we shall keep my hon. Friend's thoughts on the subject very much in mind.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang): I announced the details of the first order under the Scottish renewables obligation on 20 December 1994. That obliges the two public electricity supply companies in Scotland, Scottish Power and Scottish Hydro-Electric, to obtain 76 MW of new capacity from renewable sources.
Mr. Gallie: Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the expanded use of renewable energy sources adds a cost burden for Scottish electricity consumers? Will he point out to Opposition Members that if they wish to pursue high energy cost options, they should do so at a reasonable level? I congratulate my right hon. Friend on getting the levels right.
Mr. Lang: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for saying that. He makes a reasonable point, but I am sure that he will welcome the fact that renewable energy sources are being developed in that way. The additional costs, spread over three or four years, will amount to less than 0.5 per cent., which is an acceptable increase against a background of electricity prices that have fallen substantially in real terms since privatisation.
Column 342can say that about renewable energy when he has turned down a pioneering proposal for the Dalmacoulter landfill site, in my constituency. The proposal--to burn off methane gas to generate electricity--would provide enough fuel to heat 1,000 homes for 20 years, and fits in with the Government's new much-vaunted private sector initiative. What is more, it would require an investment of only £100,000--less than half the salary of the chief executive of Scottish Power.
Mr. Lang: I have to point out to the hon. Lady that the bid was not successful because it was so expensive. The Dalmacoulter landfill site bid failed to obtain a contract because it was the most expensive of all the eight landfill gas projects bidding for a contract, and was priced considerably in excess of the director general's recommended ceiling price. It was for that reason, and no other, that it was unsuccessful.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart): My right hon. Friend and I are fully aware of the positioat Gartcosh but we have no plans at present to meet Dunbartonshire Enterprise to discuss that.
Mr. Clarke: Does the Minister recall that that site has lain empty since 1986? Will he tell us how much has been paid, or will be paid, to Dunbartonshire Enterprise by North British Newsprint? Will he tell us whether the Government will give positive support to that project? If it does not succeed--and we need to know very soon--will the Government use their influence, including their influence with Locate in Scotland, to ensure that jobs, investment and training are made available to a job- starved community?
Mr. Stewart: The hon. Gentleman has a long-standing and respected interest in that site. I share his regret that North British Newsprint has yet to find a partner to invest in newsprint production facilities. We are still hopeful that that can be achieved in the near future.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the present position cannot be permitted to continue indefinitely. Scottish Enterprise will soon need to consider the future of the whole site. Discussions are taking place with potential inward investors who have expressed an interest in parts of the Gartcosh site. If the hon. Gentleman wants a meeting to discuss the present position in more detail, I would be happy to agree to that.
Mr. Worthington: When the Minister meets Dunbartonshire Enterprise, will he discuss its future shape and size? Will he please reject the opinion of those who propose that Clydebank and Milngavie be put in with Glasgow or, even more absurdly, that Dunbartonshire be linked with Renfrew? Will he reject such absurd proposals and retain the current boundaries?
Mr. Stewart: The hon. Gentleman and a number of his colleagues met me this week to express their very clear views on those matters. We are formally in a consultation period; Scottish Enterprise is consulting on those matters.
Column 343However, perhaps I may reassure the House by saying that I take very seriously the well-considered views that were expressed to me by hon. Members.
Mr. Thurnham: For the benefit of Mr. Max Davidson and others, can my hon. Friend confirm that the law in Scotland is different from the law in England, in that Scotland does not have the iniquitous privity of contract that we suffer here? Will he remind his colleagues in the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Department of the Environment how much better Scottish law is?
My hon. Friend rightly pointed out to the House that privity of contract does not apply in Scotland. In Scots law, when a lease is assigned to a new tenant, the previous tenant is released from liability unless the parties specifically contract otherwise, in contrast to the position in England. I know that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor intends to introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity, and I hope that my hon. Friend's long campaign on that issue, which I think commands support on both sides of the House, will therefore shortly reach a successful conclusion.
Mr. Home Robertson: Will the Minister institute a review of the effects of recent legislation on commercial railway property in Scotland? What is the sense of legislation that will lead to the closure of lines, a loss of key services such as sleepers and the criminal neglect of public assets such as the Forth railway bridge?
Mr. Menzies Campbell: While the Minister rightly extols the virtues of Scottish law, will he reflect on the fact that the Scottish legal system is the only domestic system of law in western Europe without its own Parliament? Do not the merits of the Scottish legal system now justify a Parliament in Edinburgh?
Mr. Stewart: There is, of course, an arguable case for independence, although I do not agree with it. There is not an arguable case for the proposition being put forward by the Labour party, which does not seek to answer any of the serious questions. When challenged on serious issues such as the West Lothian question and others, the only answer given by the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is to say that they are all red herrings--what a way to conduct a serious policy.
5. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people are estimated to be currently employed in local government in Scotland; in how many local authorities they are operating and at what overall cost per head of the population of Scotland; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Lang: As at September 1994, 304,532 people were employed throughout the 65 local authorities in Scotland. Staff costs per head of the Scottish population in 1993-94 were £898, compared with only £668 per head in England.
Mr. Greenway: What does it have to do with me? The English are paying for it--partly, anyway. That is a fact. My constituents are partly paying for it. Why does local government in Scotland cost so much, when, presumably, wage costs there are a little lower than they might be in London, where I have my constituency? Why does it involve so many people at such a high cost? Why do we have senseless demands for a Parliament for Scotland, which would impose even more government--another layer at even greater costs--on Scotland?
Mr. Lang: My hon. Friend makes some sound points. One must ask why, when there are constraints on public expenditure and local authorities should be considering the burden that they impose on council tax payers, staff numbers have been increased by 2,500--about 1 per cent.--in the past year, when in England, local government staff numbers have been reduced by 2 per cent.
Mr. Michael J. Martin: The Minister will know that, because of all the redundancies in the traditional engineering works in and around Glasgow, local authorities have become an important source of employment. I hope that he will not use the new reorganisation of local government to sack local authority workers.
Mr. Lang: Decisions about the employment levels of local authority staff are a matter for local authorities. While I anticipate that there will be some saving from the 300,000 and more people employed in local authorities, it would be a relatively small saving. The hon. Gentleman makes a fundamental mistake in pretending that employment in a local authority offers the same productive contribution to the wealth of a nation and the output of its economy as employment in private industry--there is a world of difference. The taxes generated by the profits of the private sector sustain the bureaucracies in the public sector.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real threat to local government services and jobs in Scotland comes not from our plans for reorganisation, but from plans for a tax-raising Scottish Assembly? If it is to have a meaningful role in the life of the nation, the Assembly will take powers from the House and plunder town halls and council chambers throughout Scotland, taking away their powers to centralise them in Edinburgh. Does my right hon. Friend
Column 345agree that anyone who believes in strong, responsive, sensitive and genuinely local democracy should join us in opposing Labour's plans?
Mr. Lang: My hon. Friend is right. At a time when the Government have been seeking to reduce bureaucracy and simplify local government by introducing a single-tier structure, the Labour party is bent on creating another centralising Parliament in Edinburgh that will increase bureaucracy and the burden of administration and centralise power from local government to Edinburgh.
Mr. Wallace: Given that the Secretary of State used the increase in local government employment as one reason for imposing an unjustified and unacceptable squeeze on local authority funding in the forthcoming year and given that he seems to be well armed with figures, will he answer the following question? How much of the increase that he mentioned will be accounted for, first, by the number of people employed in full and part- time work to clear up the mess of the poll tax and implement the council tax and secondly, by the increase in the number of staff employed in social work departments to implement the Government's community care policy?
Mr. Lang: There is no reason why the number of staff employed in local government should be increased to clear up the backlog of uncollected poll tax. That should have been cleared up substantially in previous years.
Central services alone increased by almost 5 per cent. last year in Scotland. In the constituency of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), there has been a 9 per cent. increase in the number of full- time staff. Such increases bear no relation to the needs of the local electorate and they take no account of the burden that they impose on council tax payers.
Lady Olga Maitland: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the increase in the number of jobs in local government is nothing more than jobs for the boys and another example of loony government spending?
Mr. Lang: If the House will not accept my hon. Friend's word, perhaps it will accept the word of Mr. Leo McKinstry, a former Labour councillor in Islington, who last week wrote in The Spectator : "The electors can be warned now of things to come under Labour. They need look no further than the present record of Labour in local government".
Mr. Graham: Will not the Secretary of State do the right thing and congratulate the local authority workers who responded to the flooding in Scotland? If they had not been there, our folk would have suffered a tragedy because of the inaction of the Scottish Office.
Mr. Lang: That is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. I congratulate all those who took part in the emergency services operation following the flooding in Scotland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in congratulating them and also those in local and central Government who have done so much to ease the problems arising from that emergency.
Mr. McAllion: Will the Secretary of State try to understand that the higher levels of spending and employment in Scottish local government reflect the higher levels of social deprivation and illness in our country; they reflect the outstanding success of local
Column 346authority schools in Scotland; and, above all, they reflect the increasing burdens that the Secretary of State has placed on Scottish councils, with 65 per cent. of the 2,500 staff to whom he referred employed in the areas of social work and policing?
If the right hon. Gentleman is genuinely concerned about the comparisons between Scotland and England, will he explain why, for the past two and a half years, he has refused to take up the offer by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to commission jointly an independent study into those comparisons? Is he afraid of the truth and the light that the study may shed on the prejudiced hysteria that passes for Government policy in this area? It is time to put up or shut up. Will the Minister accept COSLA's offer and put an end to the political poison levelled against Scottish local government?
Mr. Lang: I am trying to save the hon. Gentleman from himself, because he is totally misinformed. I invited the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to undertake that study two or three years ago. It said that it would undertake the study, but it did not do so.
6. Mr. Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to outline the Government's proposals on homelessness following the responses to the consultation paper "Tackling Homelessness"; and when he intends to resume the planned consultation exercise on amending the 1991 code for guidance.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: We are still considering the 160 responses received to the consultation paper, "Tackling Homelessness", and we shall announce our decisions in due course. A revised draft code of guidance on homelessness, taking account of those decisions, will be issued for comment later this year.
Mr. Welsh: Does the Minister accept that homelessness is an acute and growing problem in Scotland? He issued a consultative document entitled "Tackling Homelessness", but he has done absolutely nothing about it and his reply today is a disgrace. Will he acknowledge publicly that 97 per cent. of responses want local authorities to retain a duty to house homeless persons in priority need? In England there was action within four months, but six months have passed and the Scottish Office has done nothing. That is quite unacceptable.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The hon. Gentleman is completely incorrect: the Scottish Office has done a substantial amount in that area. I recently attended the opening of a homelessness advisory centre in Dundee, not far from the hon. Gentleman's constituency, which was funded to the tune of £80,000 by Scottish Homes. Earlier this year, an advisory service run by Shelter was established in Edinburgh with funding of £94,000. We have given £29 million in capital allocations for homelessness.
The hon. Gentleman's constituency received a supplementary payment of £290,000--which it asked for--in February 1992. Since then, his district council has not asked for any further supplementary allocations in that area, so he is incorrect on the first point. With regard to
Column 347the hon. Gentleman's second point, we shall give the matter the most thorough and complete consideration and we shall announce our decision.
Mr. McMaster: Will the Minister confirm that many hundreds of families in Strathclyde are still homeless following the floods in December? Is he aware that those families do not wish to return to their homes until they know that there are adequate flood prevention measures to ensure that such floods will never happen again? Instead of passing the buck to cash-starved local authorities, will the Minister admit today that, under section 155 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, he has the powers to introduce flood prevention schemes? If he does not, will he support my private Member's Bill on 10 February, which will give him those powers?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: We shall need to study the fine print of the hon. Gentleman's Bill. With regard to his question about section 155, that is why we have Bellwin. As I promised the hon. Gentleman when I visited his constituency and saw the houses in Ferguslie park, we shall be looking fully at the entire housing budget before we make final decisions on housing. We shall have the issue of flooding particularly in mind and the interests of his own district council and other interested district councils, including Strathkelvin and elsewhere.
Mr. Charles Kennedy: Is the Minister aware of the growing concern in Inverness specifically and the Highlands generally about the homelessness problem there? On Monday this week Albyn Housing, a local housing association, briefed my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and myself on the problem and told us of the alarming rise in the number of homeless people sleeping rough in the streets. It was highly critical of the Scottish Office in particular, for the continuing squeeze and cuts in real terms on the housing budgets for both Scottish Homes and the relevant local authorities. Will he look again at Inverness and the Highlands with urgency? It is now a matter of considerable public concern.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The hon. Gentleman's housing association is impressive and has done an extremely good job in Inverness. About £900 million will be spent on capital investment in housing this coming year. That is a very substantial sum. We expect the work of housing associations, such as the one that he mentioned, to be on-going, and we shall give them the necessary support.
Mrs. Fyfe: The Minister mentioned Shelter. Has he had any discussions with Shelter and other organisations about the scandal of homelessness among young people who have been in local authority care and who end up on the streets? Does he know that children coming out of care are 70 times more likely to become homeless than their contemporaries? Does he agree that, if local authorities should have powers to advise and assist care leavers up to the age of 21, they should have the resources to do so?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Homelessness is one of the top strategic priorities for all local authorities. We are giving hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of grants to voluntary bodies such as the Scottish Council for Single Homeless, Borderline and other bodies and
Column 348initiatives. In the Bridges project, one initiative in Edinburgh, we are ensuring that all the voluntary and statutory agencies work together. We expect local authorities to give the subject top priority.
Mr. Bill Walker: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Scottish Homes rural initiative in my constituency, whereby empty properties have been brought back into use at low cost, goes some way towards dealing with some of the homelessness? In addition, is he aware that the help given to Perth and Kinross district council after the flooding was very well received?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Scottish Homes has an impressive record. It will provide 2,500 units for homeless people this year, and the rural empty homes initiative developed in Tayside in conjunction with the Scottish Landowners Federation has been evaluated as a success. There have been other initiatives such as the lead tenancies initiatives, under which housing associations are enabled to lease empty properties and sublet them to the homeless. There is also an important initiative in many towns in Scotland, to identify empty properties in upper floors in town centres and bring them back into use. Grants for rent and ownership are also a help in that respect.
Mr. Lang: Although there are no plans to propose that Burns day be made a national holiday, I do not think that we need such an event to remember our greatest poet. We have continued to celebrate his works since his death almost 200 years ago, and I am sure that we shall do so for many years to come.
Mr. Canavan: Does that negative, disappointing reply have anything to do with the fact that Burns was an ardent supporter of a Scottish Parliament and a fierce critic of the Unionists, who used treachery, bribery and skulduggery to destroy Scotland's last Parliament? Why are the Tories' prospects dim?
Could it be the reputation
Of Ian, Allan, Hector and Jim--
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation?
I will say to the hon. Gentleman:
"Hale be your heart, hale be your fiddle,
Lang may your elbuck jink an' diddle."
As to Burns being a supporter of a Scottish Parliament, I remind the hon. Gentleman of his words in "The Dumfries Volunteer": "Be Britain still to Britain true
Amang oursels united
For never but by British hands
Maun British wrangs be righted."
Column 349holiday? I wonder why Scottish Office Ministers lack a sense of adventure, which would allow them to dare to make a change, go out on their own and do something about a national holiday for Scotland. Never mind the Prime Minister and his dark words of danger and more danger.
Mr. Lang: I take the opportunity to welcome the decision by the Royal Mail to publish a set of stamps to commemorate the bicentenary of Burns's death. As to another public holiday, I do not think that it would be an appropriate step to take at this time. As the poet said:
"I am the keeper of the law
In some sma' points, altho' not a'".
Mr. Donohoe: As the only Ayrshireman in the House, I believe that the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) should be considered much more seriously than the Secretary of State suggested. I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a bizarre decision in Irvine to shift the Burns monument from the moor to the middle of a busy roundabout. If anybody is killed, will the Secretary of State take responsibility for that crazy decision, which was taken partly by Ayrshire Enterprise? Instead of such officials' salaries being increased, perhaps they should be docked.
Mr. Lang: I was not aware of the case that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but if he will send me details, I shall have the matter investigated and--to the extent that the matter may be the responsibility of the Scottish Office, although I suspect that it lies primarily with the planning authority--I shall see whether there is anything appropriate for me to do.
Mr. Gallie: Given that Robert Burns was born in Alloway in my constituency, will my right hon. Friend congratulate Ayrshire Enterprise and all those who are supporting the Burns bicentenary next year on ensuring that the works and words of that poet are broadcast loud and clear world wide?
Mr. Lang: My hon. Friend makes an important point. There will be major opportunities for not only his constituents but Scotland as a whole to celebrate that important occasion, which will be internationally recognised. I am sure that the poet would approve of the actions of those who, as he put it,
"doucely manage our affairs in Parliament".
Mr. Salmond: Before the Secretary of State determines whether to make Burns night a national holiday, will he tell the House whether he has seen the cartoon in The Scotsman today, which depicts the Prime Minister as a giant puddin' over the caption:
"Great Chieftain o' the Puddin' Race"?
Is the Secretary of State in any way offended that he was not depicted as a wee puddin' in the same cartoon?
Mr. Hogg: Is the Minister aware that in 1992, and immediately prior to the general election, the then Scottish Office Minister with responsibility for health, the right hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), had a positive approach to the building of a new hospital in Cumbernauld, and announced that it would be built?
Is the Minister further aware that the Minister who now has responsibility for health appears not to have done anything about the hospital? He appears to be bewildered by the breadth of support for it and fumbles with health matters to the extent that we do not know what is happening with regard to the hospital. Lanarkshire health board does not even do me the courtesy of replying to the letters that I write on the subject. Will the Minister intervene personally to ensure that the hospital is built, and built soon?