The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Kynoch): Cumbernauld development corporation's report for the year ended 31 March 1995, which is available in the Library of the House, contains details of the good progress made.
Mr. Hogg: The Minister will be aware of the considerable achievements in the Scottish new towns with regard to inward investment to Scotland. What mechanisms will he put in place to maintain the momentum of that inward investment after the new towns are wound up? Will he give an assurance that he will not simply rely on the magical or mythical equalities of market forces?
Mr. Kynoch: As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I have spent some time over recent months going around visiting the new town development corporations and have discussed the future of inward investment into each of them. I was relieved when I visited Cumbernauld development corporation and met the board on 24 April to hear the report from the chairman. He said that he was optimistic about the prospects of continued success in attracting inward investment, particularly with the partnership through Dumbarton Locations.
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear what I can now say. I have an announcement that runs on from the significant inward investment successes that were announced during the summer recess, and which are expected to create more than 2,600 new jobs in Scotland. I am pleased to be able to tell the House and the hon. Gentleman that Bi-link, a Chicago-based metal stamper and product assembler, has this afternoon announced that it is setting up a European manufacturing plant in Cumbernauld--a project that is expected to bring a further 100 new jobs to Cumbernauld and to Scotland.
Mr. Donohoe: As the Minister has travelled to all the new towns during the recess, he may have been given information about the transfer of housing stock in East Kilbride, where more than 97 per cent. of the tenants voted for transfer to the local authority. The overwhelming majority of the population in Cumbernauld did the same, as did the population in Glenrothes. Why, then, does he allow the development corporations' super- quango, the housing association in Irvine, to continue to spend money when it is quite clear that the people in Irvine development corporation houses want to transfer over to the district council? Why does he continue to allow public money to be squandered in the way that it is? Why does he not just lift the telephone and tell the corporation to transfer the housing over to the district council now?
Column 334will he be against? We believe in giving people choice and in trying to ensure that they get the best possible opportunities for housing in their area.
Mrs. Michie: When the Secretary of State announced the voucher system, which, incidentally, he did in a press statement and not on the Floor of the House--I hope that that sort of thing will stop once we get a Scottish Parliament--he said that it would meet the distinctive needs and circumstances of the Scottish educational system. Can he explain how it will be distinctive and how it will avoid following slavishly what is being introduced south of the border?
Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Lady may not have yet had an opportunity to read the submission from her own local authority of Argyll, which has offered to help the Scottish Office with piloting this facility and which has made a number of constructive suggestions on how we can take it forward in a Scottish context. One of the representations that Argyll made was that we should not start the scheme in Scotland until August and I am happy to confirm to the House that I am prepared to take up that suggestion.
Mr. Stewart: My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Labour-led East Renfrewshire shadow authority-- [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear."] --has wisely applied for the pilot scheme for vouchers for nursery education. Does he agree that East Renfrewshire is particularly apt for inclusion in the pilot scheme because of the existing combination of public sector provision, private sector provision and voluntary provision within the boundaries of the local authority?
Mr. Forsyth: The House will have noted that Opposition Members cheered at the name "East Renfrewshire", but refused to cheer at the authority's wish to allow parents in East Renfrewshire the opportunity to get vouchers to the value of £1,100 to buy nursery education for their children. I am sure that the whole House has noticed that Opposition Members look pretty glum. They, of course, cannot stand the idea of parents having choice in the matter. I note that my hon. Friend would like East Renfrewshire to be one of the authorities that pilot the scheme and I am sure that his constituents would welcome that. Unfortunately, my constituents in Stirling have to cope with a Labour authority that takes a dogmatic view and would deny parents that choice in nursery education as a result of its opposition. I will certainly consider my hon. Friend's
representations carefully before deciding which authorities should pilot the scheme as, of course, we have more councils in Scotland wishing to pilot this innovative idea than we have numbers of pilots to run.
Column 335average level of nursery schools, for three- year-olds and for four-year-olds, will not suffer as a result of the introduction of any voucher scheme?
Mr. Forsyth: I know that the hon. Gentleman has a great deal of influence in Fife. Anything that he can do to get the local authority to take a positive view of the scheme will, of course, be helpful in ensuring that his constituents get the best possible service. I very much welcome the positive view that Fife has taken on another matter--its involvement in Rosyth 2000, which is so important for employment in Scotland.
Mr. Bill Walker: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is humbug for people to go round Scotland saying that more money should be spent in education and then to take the first opportunity they can, as with this scheme where more public money is being used, to try either to boycott it or to encourage others to do so? It is especially noticeable that Scottish nationalists do that.
Mr. Forsyth: I entirely agree. Every one of the Opposition parties would much rather have local authorities deciding for parents what nursery education is made available. Only this party believes that parents should choose. Such is the Opposition's dogma and opposition to the scheme that they are actually prepared to turn away additional resources of £30 million and more simply to ensure that the local authorities tell the people what to do instead of allowing the people to choose.
Mr. Welsh: Surely nursery places should be a natural part of Scotland's national unified school system, serving 99 per cent. of Scotland's children. Why is the Secretary of State proposing changes that will fragment the unified system and divert funding from it in the long run? He proposes opted-out schools and opting-out vouchers when the only opt-out that the Scottish people want is from his socially divisive schemes.
Mr. Forsyth: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman realises how ridiculous he looks making the case for a self-governing Scotland, but being against self-governing schools. The hon. Gentleman should realise that power to the people means giving people choice and not making them fit into systems in the way in which he suggests.
Mrs. Fyfe: I begin by welcoming the Secretary of State to his new job, especially as he has been promising to listen. In that case, has he listened to the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, which found that 88 per cent. of parents surveyed said that their first preference was a local authority nursery school place, because of the high quality guaranteed in local authority provision? If he is listening to those parents, why does he not hand over the £30 million to local authorities to give people what they want? Why does he not listen to what they say that they want?
Mr. Forsyth: Because the difference between the hon. Lady and me is that I think that parents should be able to decide. She thinks that groups such as the Scottish Parent Teacher Council should decide. Even if it is right, I shall give parents choice and they will be able to choose to spend their vouchers in local authority provision, or in voluntary or private sector provision. The difference between the hon. Lady and me is that she wants to tell parents what to do and I wish to give them the choice.
I have been listening to the hon. Lady, and she takes a different line from that of her leader and from what I heard said at the Labour party conference. There, we
Column 336heard that Labour was in favour of testing and of modifying grant-maintained schools, but the hon. Lady says something different north of the border; she says that Labour policies are still to be developed. The truth is that she stands for old Labour--real Labour.
Mr. Clarke: May I ask the Secretary of State about the long-term unemployed, whose numbers seem to be increasing in Scotland, mainly among young people? How can the Government justify a 15 per cent. decrease in the training budget of Scottish Enterprise?
Mr. Forsyth: I am not aware of any 15 per cent. decrease in the training budget of Scottish Enterprise, but I am aware of a 15 per cent. decrease in unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I should have thought that he would welcome that. I am sure that he will be aware of the importance that we attach to training, and to the fact that most training is of course undertaken by the private sector. We want to encourage Investors in People and partnership with the STUC. Although it appears that Mr. Campbell Christie has come in for some flak from Opposition Members, I pay tribute to the role that he plays in trying to ensure that we have proper standards for training and education, and to the positive way in which he has sought to involve the trade union movement, in partnership with the Scottish Office, in ensuring more training in Scotland, which is so vital for competitiveness.
Sir Hector Monro: Is my right hon. Friend aware that, in recent years, Opposition Treasury spokesmen have cried doom and gloom about unemployment in Fife? Can he tell us how many jobs are now in the pipeline, and what other successes the Scottish Office and Locate in Scotland have achieved?
Mr. Forsyth: The performance in Fife in terms of attracting new jobs and investment is outstanding. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence announced yesterday that Rosyth would be sold to the preferred tenderer, Rosyth 2000--an example of partnership between the private sector and a local authority that offers the potential for 3,000 to 5,000 jobs. Of course, Opposition Members are all committed to policies that threaten such jobs--the minimum wage and the social chapter, which would both destroy jobs--and to the special deal for Scotland, the tartan tax, which would mean a jobs holocaust.
Mr. Wallace: I congratulate the Secretary of State on his first appearance in that capacity at Scottish Question Time and I look forward to some lively exchanges. In view of his regular meetings with the STUC, and given the high regard that he has expressed for Mr. Campbell Christie, will he also acknowledge that Campbell Christie yesterday enthusiastically presented to the Scottish people the blueprint for a Scottish Parliament produced by the Scottish Constitutional Convention? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that that offers considerable scope for improving employment prospects in Scotland? Before he
Column 337proceeds to criticise it, as will inevitably be his pavlovian response, will he do the people of Scotland the courtesy of visiting places such as Catalonia and Bavaria and see how a considerable amount of devolved government has succeeded in promoting industry and employment?
Mr. Forsyth: Campbell Christie is not right about everything, and I fear that, on this occasion, his enthusiasm for the introduction of a socialist-dominated body has overtaken his judgment. The proposals which were published yesterday by the constitutional convention are for a Parliament, nearly half of whose members would be placemen and women nominated by the patronage of the leaders of the political parties. The proposals for the Parliament feature a patronising gender programme which will offend women up and down the country. Most damaging of all, the proposed Parliament will tax people in Scotland simply because they work in Scotland, and will impose a tartan tax which will destroy our living standards and our jobs and will chase away the inward investment on which our prosperity has been built.
Mr. McFall: When the Secretary of State meets the STUC, will he keep in mind the shabby record of his predecessors? When we compare figures from April 1979 with those of June 1995, we find that there are 23,000 more claimants out of work for a year or more now than there were in 1979. The civilian work force has fallen by 44,000 since 1979, and one in five of all claimants aged under 25 are long-term unemployed. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the only option which will reverse those 16 years of neglect and the accompanying exacerbation of social divisions is a Labour Government and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament so that the needs of Scotland are put first and foremost?
Mr. Forsyth: Is it not extraordinary, Madam Speaker, that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman on this subject cannot bring himself to welcome a further fall in unemployment in Scotland today? We heard about the hon. Gentleman's vision for Scotland, which appears to be entirely divorced from reality. The truth is that unemployment in Scotland has fallen steadily and has fallen today. The Opposition Treasury spokesman told us some years ago that unemployment would continue rising, and thereupon it started to fall and it has fallen ever since. Unemployment in Scotland is now below that of England for the first time since the 1920s. We have seen Scotland grow in prosperity, and inward investment brought a further 5,000 jobs in the first six months of this year alone. Why does the hon. Gentleman keep running Scotland down? Why will he not join those of us who wish to see Scotland succeed and welcome its success?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson): Since 1979-80, the number of full-time entrants to higher education has more than doubled. Our expenditure plans for 1995-96 assume some 44,500 entrants to full-time higher
Column 338education. As my hon. Friend will understand, the actual intakes for the 1995-96 academic session are not yet known.
Mr. Marshall: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and I congratulate him on his promotion, which is particularly appropriate given that he represents an ancient city, Aberdeen, with an ancient university. Does my hon. Friend remember the forecasts by the professional pessimists that the introduction of student loans would lead to a reduction in the number of students attending university? Do not those prove that the Opposition's policies and forecasts are wrong and that they cannot be trusted?
Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his kind words. In 1993-94--the last year for which figures are available--132,509 students were in full-time higher education courses in Scotland, compared with only 68,322 in 1978-1979. That is a testament both to this Government's commitment to higher education in Scotland and to the increasing confidence which Scots and others of all ages and backgrounds have in pursuing all of the opportunities available in higher education in Scotland.
Mr. Chisholm: Did the Minister see the survey during the summer which highlighted the fact that there has been a 30 per cent. increase in the number of students leaving university for non-academic reasons? Is it not shameful that a rising number of young people are being forced to abandon their studies because of poverty? Is that not damaging for the country as a whole at a time when there is a skills barrier preventing further economic growth?
Mr. Robertson: I am a newcomer to the Dispatch Box, so you will correct me if I am wrong, Madam Speaker, but is it possible to repeat my previous answer, as the hon. Gentleman was obviously not listening? There are greater numbers of young people and others in higher education than ever before. We are spending record amounts of money on student support-- £386 million last year alone. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that that is not enough? If it is not, will he write and tell me how much is?
Sir David Steel: Can the Secretary of State confirm that there appears to be a substantial difference between the notional budgets of the new councils drawn up by the Scottish Office and their forecasts of likely expenditure? If that is so, will he undertake to the House that those things will be assessed region by region, otherwise councils such as the Scottish Borders council could end up being starved of funds because of high-spending councils elsewhere?
Mr. Forsyth: I think that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the mismatch that could arise from the new boundaries. That is a particular problem. In part, it can reflect the priorities that previous councils set- -sometimes wanting to spend more money in Dundee or Glasgow, for example, than in the outward areas, for
Column 339reasons on which I can only speculate. It means, however, that there is a problem and it is one that we want to discuss with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and one that I mean to address. Of course, we would not underwrite some of the high spending that we have already seen in the unitary authorities. The jobs for the boys culture and the decisions taken on members' allowances and salaries for staff by some councils are difficult to justify, so we shall be keeping a close eye on the matter. The right hon. Gentleman makes a serious point and it is one with which we mean to deal. It is not easy to resolve within existing resources, but we mean to tackle it.
Mr. Gallie: Does my right hon. Friend share my concern at the recruitment policies of some of the new local authorities--perhaps at the number of high-earning officials who have been appointed in North Lanarkshire and Angus? Would he also say whether he shares my concern at the appointment to the North Lanarkshire authority, in a very senior position, of an elderly gentleman who is about to retire? Is there anything that my right hon. Friend can do about that?
Mr. Forsyth: It is extremely important that officials appointed to local government are seen to be appointed on merit and fairly. On the point about North Lanarkshire, I have had representations from the staff commission on that matter and it has said that it is unable to give the local authority a clean bill of health. It is a matter for the staff commission alone to decide whether appointments should be re-run. Let me make it absolutely clear to the House, however, that if the commission wants appointments to be re-run, it will have my full and absolute backing. Where there are examples of concern about appointments procedures, I expect local authorities to take those concerns into account and to do everything they can to reassure the public. I am sure that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) would agree with that.
Mr. Maxton: Is the Secretary of State aware that there is growing concern among arts organisations, particularly those in Glasgow, such as the Citizens' theatre, that the ending of Strathclyde region on 1 April next year will mean the end of generous grants from that region, which will not be replaced by grants from the new, small, tinpot authorities that he has created? Will he therefore ensure that the Arts Council is given extra money to make up any imbalance that is left as a result of the ending of Strathclyde region?
Mr. Forsyth: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has so little faith in Labour councils and in the likelihood of their supporting the arts. When he returns to his constituency at the weekend, having described Glasgow council as tinpot may get him into some difficulty.
Mr. Jenkin: Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us elsewhere in the United Kingdom regard jealously the emergence of unitary authorities in Scotland? Would not the worst result of all be the imposition of a whole new layer of bureaucracy in the form of a Scottish Assembly? Does he care to compare youth unemployment in Catalonia, where they have an extra assembly, with youth unemployment in Scotland?
Column 340unitary authorities are something in which Scotland can take pride. They are a new start for local government and I hope that advantage will be taken of that new start. As he says, the English have much to be jealous about as regards what we have north of the border. A Scottish Parliament would put all that at risk, not least the generous funding that we enjoy, which the Scottish Constitutional Convention tells us will now be decided by a block grant to a Scottish Parliament--a block grant determined here in Westminster, where the number of Members of Parliament would have to be reduced, as the Liberals admit, at least privately, if not inside the convention. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) acknowledges that we would have fewer Scottish Members of Parliament here. I may be the last Scottish Secretary with the power to argue for Scotland's interests inside the Cabinet where the key decisions are taken. The Opposition put all that at risk. That is grossly irresponsible and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it.
Mr. George Robertson: I add my welcome to the new Secretary of State at his first Scottish Question Time and congratulate him in particular on moving from his last job as Minister with responsibility for prisons, or should I say responsibility for prison escapes, to the high office that he now holds.
On the subject of the new councils, does the Secretary of State agree that if we had had a Scottish Parliament we would never have had the wretched, gerrymandered, unnecessary, reorganisation of Scottish local government in the first place? Will he accept that giving a few powers back to local councils in Scotland and beefing up a few old quangos will be seen not as devolution but as a con trick? Given the systematic stripping of power at local level in Scotland over the past 16 years, the Secretary of State looks like the burglar who strips a house and expects to be thanked for giving back the candlesticks. When is he going to grasp the fact that the people of Scotland want a devolved Scottish Parliament and will not settle for anything less than that?
Mr. Forsyth: When is the hon. Gentleman going to grasp the fact that the people of Scotland do not want to pay higher income tax than the rest of the United Kingdom and that inward investment into Scotland would be damaged if companies could go to Wales, the north of England or elsewhere and have their workers paying lower rates of income tax? The hon. Gentleman is being grossly irresponsible. As for the reference to prisons, I do not know whether the shadow Cabinet elections and alterations of responsibilities will touch the hon. Gentleman. It may well be that, after his performance over the summer, he is moved to some other position. Through the summer, we have put serious questions to him about the funding of the Scottish Parliament and the nature of the West Lothian question. All we get is abuse and no answers; we want answers. The people of Scotland are entitled to answers and to more than deals coming from smoke-filled rooms and threats to vital services in Scotland as a consequence of policies to which the hon. Gentleman has put his name.
tax on Sco
Has the Minister had the opportunity to read the Fraser of Allender report, commissioned by Allied Distillers, and the Adam Smith Institute report, "Too Much to Swallow", which clearly show that the Scotch whisky industry has been proved to be the biggest job provider among the manufacturing industries in Scotland. They also say that the obscene tax that is being paid on bottles of whisky has already cost us jobs and is likely to cost us more. Why then does not the Minister, along with his boss, have the courage to take Scotland's case to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and tell him that, on the law of diminishing returns, it would be lunacy not to reduce the cost of a bottle of whisky, in the first instance by at least 50p?
Mr. Kynoch: It is good to see the hon. Gentleman in such good spirits this afternoon. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that, as a Back Bencher, I joined him and other colleagues in making representations to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on behalf of the Scotch whisky industry. I am well aware of both reports that he has talked about and I have spoken to the Adam Smith Institute about its report in some depth. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the views of both reports are well known to my right hon. and learned Friend and the last time that I saw the Scottish whisky industry, it was happy with the support that the Scottish Office was giving.
Mr. Bill Walker: I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful reply to the Opposition Front Bench. I have no doubt whatever that he and his colleagues on the Government Front Bench understand the critical importance of the scotch whisky industry to the wellbeing of the export trade and jobs in Scotland. The point that we are trying to make today is that, when he and his colleagues make their representations, they have the full support of every Scottish Member of Parliament.
Mr. Kynoch: I thank my hon. Friend for what he said. I am pleased to have been on two recent export missions--one to Taiwan and one to north America--both of which included representations from the whisky industry, which have been remarkably successful for exports for Scotland and for whisky.
Mr. Salmond: Should not the Minister responsible for industry be careful about how he handles that question, as I saw the last Secretary of State for Scotland nodding during the question by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey)? The Minister has a reputation as a serial tax raiser, having voted for 20 Tory tartan tax rises in the course of this Parliament alone. Is there any hope of rehabilitation for the whisky industry? As whisky is overtaxed relative to other products, is it not costing employment and even Exchequer revenue? Does the Minister therefore regret voting for the latest tax rise of 26p on 23 January this year? Will he reverse his position and bring the total number of tax rises that he supports down to 19?
Column 342hon. Gentleman would do better to explain to the Scottish people and the scotch whisky industry the taxation implications of a separate Scotland. We have already seen figures of the deficit between funding and expenditure in Scotland of some £8 billion, excluding North sea oil revenue. I wonder how the hon. Gentleman plans to fund that. I suspect that the whisky industry would be sitting very worried if we went independent.
Mrs. Liddell: I do not wish to add to the peregrinations of Scottish Office Ministers around Europe but may I suggest that, given his concerns for the scotch whisky industry, the Minister might turn his attention to Geneva where, in a short time, discussions will begin again about the equalisation of tariffs for scotch whisky compared with local spirits within Japan? Will he undertake to brief Britain's negotiators on the arguments that they should use in relation to the Scottish economy? Will he share with the House the arguments that he will suggest that they use to explain why the British Chancellor of the Exchequer discriminates against scotch whisky?
Mr. Kynoch: The hon. Lady is absolutely right to refer to the unacceptable taxation of scotch whisky in Japan, where the local brew, shochu, is taxed at one sixth of the rate of scotch whisky. She can rest assured that every time not only a Scottish Office Minister but any Government Minister is in contact with Japan, either by visiting Japan--my right hon. Friend is due to visit Japan in the not too distant future--he or she will make representations on behalf of the scotch whisky industry among many other industries in Scotland and the United Kingdom.
7. Dr. Godman: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the sums of money paid to inward investors in (a) Strathclyde and (b) Scotland as a whole by way of (i) regional selective assistance grant, (ii) regional enterprise grants and (iii) grants from Scottish Enterprise in the past three years. 
Mr. Kynoch: In the three years to March 1995, payments of regional selective assistance to overseas-owned companies in Scotland totalled £112.5 million, of which £57.5 million related to projects in Strathclyde. Figures for other grants are not available.
Dr. Godman: That is a tidy sum. With the honourable exception of a tiny handful of recipient companies, such as IBM and National Semiconductor, few of those companies set up research and development facilities. Why does the Scottish Office allow them to avoid such a responsibility? Should it not be a condition of such grants that those incoming companies must create research and development facilities?
Mr. Kynoch: The hon. Gentleman is right. We want to encourage research and development facilities to come to Scotland. On my two most recent trips abroad to promote inward investment as well as exports, we have specifically tried to encourage research and development to come to Scotland. Several organisations may be considering Scotland in the future and we shall continue with our efforts. If we can get research and development, a lot follows on thereafter.
Column 343interventionist course when it comes to encouraging inward investment--presumably that is part of the package of the new user-friendly Scottish Secretary of State. Nevertheless, does he recall that we have unfortunately lost one or two rather large projects in the past? Can he give us an assurance that lessons have been learnt from that and that whenever there is a possibility of attracting substantial inward investment that involves regional selective assistance it is monitored closely?
Mr. Kynoch: The hon. Gentleman is aware that Locate in Scotland as well as the partnerships that exist throughout Scotland between it and local enterprise companies and local authorities demonstrate that attempts to bring inward investment to Scotland are second to none. We work extremely hard to try to succeed in every case, but we are up against increasing competition and sadly one cannot win them all. With particular reference to the hon. Gentleman's area he will be aware that we have been involved in several significant potential inward investment projects, some of which I hope will come to fruition in the not too distant future.
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord JamesDouglas-Hamilton): I am delighted to say that the Skye bridge was opened by my right hon. Friend two days ago and is a great success. The hon. Gentleman chose not to attend the opening so he will be unaware of the many positive representations made by his constituents to my right hon. Friend. Those included representations from the convener of Highland regional council for improvements of the Kyle Prospect in the area of the former ferry marshalling area. I am delighted to announce that we shall make £250,000 available to Highland council to allow it to take forward that highly desirable local scheme at the earliest opportunity.
Mr. Kennedy: May I point out to the Minister that the convener of Highland region was the only significant elected representative that he met at the bridge because the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) was not there and nor were any of the Skye and Lochalsh district councillors in their official capacity. The only elected member present was the only person in governance in that part of the country who does not have his electoral base in either Skye or Lochalsh. That speaks for itself.
As for the extra money, would the Minister confirm that it was promised as part of the original package when Highland regional council voted for the bridge? It has taken all these years for it to come forward. As for the funding of the bridge, does the Minister agree that the completion is marked by the fact that the remedial work had begun before the official opening took place? Given that extra money is being expended on repairing the cracks to the bridge and to the infrastructure, will he give us an assurance that that extra expenditure will not be levied on the toll payers for years hence? They will have to pay enough as it is for the unjust imposition of a monopoly upon them.
Column 344cosmetic. Attention has been paid to them. [ Laughter. ] The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) may laugh, but if he had dealt with construction he would know that when concrete is poured cracks develop frequently and have to be filled in. That is an absolutely straightforward job and the cracks pose no structural risk whatever.
My right hon. Friend made an award available for investing in people when he visited the bridge two days ago. The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that his constituents will benefit enormously from the bridge, which will greatly increase tourism. What is more, those who pay tolls will pay less than they paid for the ferry, so they will benefit. Before long that bridge will be a free one when the costs have been paid off.
Mr. Wilson: Does the Minister agree that the high-toll bridge project is tawdry, aesthetically unattractive, profoundly undemocratic and in every way unacceptable at the price that must be paid for it? In all those circumstances it was entirely appropriate that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should have opened it. Will the Minister try to tell us in one sentence why the people who live in those communities should have inflicted upon them the highest tolls in Europe? Can he also tell us why Ministers who were babbling earlier today about choice have denied the people in those communities the choice of using a ferry rather than a monopoly bridge in order to line the pockets of the funders of the Tory party?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: This was a partnership project. The Scottish Office provided about £8 million for the approach roads, which is a very significant figure. The tolls should pay off the costs in about 14 years. We envisage that the economy of the Western Isles and Skye will enormously benefit from a great increase in tourism. Average journey times will be at least 15 minutes less. In the summer peak times, it may save travellers up to an hour. That will make a considerable difference. There will be the economies of scale.
I remind the hon. Gentleman of the great benefits that will accrue to the islands as a result of that decision, which we believe will stand the whole of the north-west of Scotland in very good stead.
Mr. Maclennan: Does the Minister accept that if there is to be an effective decentralisation, in the highlands region especially, bearing in mind its enormous size, there needs to be some budgetary decentralisation to districts as well as administrative management? Does he recognise the immediate need to tackle the problem of consolidation of premises, which is costly if there is to be area management?
Column 345aware of the difficulties and the importance of decentralisation proposals. The council has a year to come up with those, but I know that the new Highland council is keen to have those in place by April 1996 rather than 1997. To that end, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that this afternoon I have approved a bid from the new Highland council of £275,000 of capital resources for its accommodation needs so that it can provide one stop shop public access information facilities in small towns and villages in Badenoch and Strathspey, Caithness, Inverness, Lochaber, Skye and Lochalsh and Sutherland. By that means, the council should be better placed to have those decentralisation proposals off the ground for April 1996.
Ms Roseanna Cunningham: While the Minister is considering accountability of local authorities, will he consider the accountability of central Government in the decision that may yet be made in America to send nuclear fuel elements through Scotland at anything up to--
Madam Speaker: Order. I am very tolerant to new Members who have not been here a long time, but this question refers specifically to local government in the highlands of Scotland. If the hon. Lady can relate a question directly to that, of course I will listen to it.
Ms Cunningham: Perhaps I can rephrase my question. If local authority accountability is to be considered seriously by the Government, would the Minister please advise Highland council and other planning authorities in Scotland, how they can in any way be accountable to their populations for the planning implications of the consistent transport of nuclear fuel elements through Scotland without advance warning to the emergency planning officers? That problem will become even more acute if the American Government take the decision that they might, which will result in one of those shipments per week coming through Scotland for the next 10 years.
Mr. Kynoch: The hon. Lady of course is keeping up the honourable tradition--or dishonourable tradition--of her colleagues in trying to scaremonger and trying to deprive people in the highlands of jobs in connection with that product.
Planning matters are a matter for local district councils and they will be for the new unitary authorities. Indeed the whole planning process is under review at present, and I hear the arguments that the hon. Lady has made.