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11. Mr. Dalyell: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he has taken following the meeting on 8 November in the Crown Office between the Lord Advocate, the Solicitor-General and the hon. Member for Linlithgow in respect of Her Majesty's Government's response to the offer of the Government of Libya to hold a trial of two Libyan nationals accused of responsibility of bombing Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie under a Scottish judge and Scottish rules of evidence. [782]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton When my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate recently met the hon. Member, he reminded him that the position of Her Majesty's Government is that the accused should be tried before the ordinary courts having jurisdiction. The demand that the accused should be made available for trial in Scotland or the United States has been endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. Libya has previously received detailed advances from us on the fair trial and treatment of the accused and has accepted that they will get a fair trial in Scotland. There is no reason why Libya cannot now make them available for trial in Scotland.

Mr. Dalyell: Can we be sure that certain Ministers want the truth about Lockerbie?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Yes.

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Kincardine Bridge and Bypass

12. Ms Rachel Squire: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the replacement of the Kincardine bridge and bypass. [783]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton We shall undertake public consultation in the early new year on the conclusions of the recently completed studies of the options at Kincardine. That will allow local interests to set out their views directly on the options and ensure that we can make the fastest possible progress on implementing necessary improvements.

Ms Squire: Is the Minister finally agreeing to listen to the people of Kincardine, whose health is being damaged by traffic, noise, congestion and pollution levels equivalent to those in Greater London? Does he agree that the Kincardine bridge must be replaced by the end of this decade and is the main alternative route across the Forth for east and central Scotland? Will he clarify the timetable for the bridge's replacement and the building of a bypass and confirm that Government money has been allocated for that work to begin in the near future?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton I can reassure the hon. Lady that we shall progress as fast as possible towards construction. Subject to statutory procedures and the necessary competitive processes, we should be in a position to start before the end of the century. Exhibitions are to be held in Kincardine and Alloa early in the new year. A number of routes will be shown, information will be displayed setting out their merits and the public will be invited to comment on the solutions--there will be a consultation process. After that, orders will be published. Issues such as environmental considerations have to be considered, as do those that concern local residents. We want to see progress as soon as possible.

Mr. Connarty: It is clear from the Minister's reply that, by 2000, the bridge will be in the constituency of Falkirk, East, as the boundary commission has decided that the area on the other side of the river will be in my constituency. From working with my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline, West (Ms Squire) and for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill), I know that we are trying to obtain the best solution for people on both sides of the river. Much of the traffic that crosses the bridge is generated from Grangemouth and we want the Government to come forward with the money soon. It is not good enough to say that action will be taken in 2000. As my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West said, people in Kincardine have suffered for 20 years.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton The Scottish Office will publish the statutory orders for its preferred scheme around the end of 1996. The precise date will depend on public responses to the exhibition, but we intend to make the fastest possible progress. The hon. Gentleman should not anticipate the results of future elections any more than the rest of us, but I note his interest in the matter.

Historic Buildings

13. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what measures he will take to ensure the structure and fabric of historic buildings in Scotland is properly preserved. [784]

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Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Owners of historic buildings are responsible for the maintenance of their own property. We provide advice, encouragement and financial support.

Mr. Prentice: That is simply not good enough. I do not think that the Minister has read the latest report of the Historic Buildings Council for Scotland, which says that shoddy, synthetic and often imported materials are being used to restore Scotland's built heritage. That is not good enough. Will the Minister take steps to reopen some of the traditional slate and stone quarries so that those materials can be used to restore Scotland's historic buildings? Scotland's heritage is being compromised by the Government's policies.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that Historic Scotland is building up the necessary expertise in Scotland. We must learn some ideas from overseas, but I assure him that we are concentrating on employing people in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman's old school, George Heriot's in Edinburgh, has benefited considerably from building repair grants totalling £185,000. If he wishes to assist his old school, he should remind his colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench that 244 of its pupils benefit from the assisted places scheme and would like to see it continue.

Mr. Jessel: As Scotland's heritage of historic buildings is world famous and a prime tourist attraction, will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming substantial new funds from the national lottery to protect Scotland's heritage? The lottery is a brilliant achievement of the Conservative Government.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton The lottery has achieved results out of all proportion to what was anticipated initially. We believe that it will be of enormous benefit not only to our built heritage, but to many charities and small organisations throughout Scotland.

Mr. Wilson: Will the Minister approach Historic Scotland about the regrettable absence of any physical memorial in Scotland to the poll tax, given that it was possibly one of the most costly exercises in Scotland since the Darien scheme? I suggest that a derelict public toilet in Stirling could be adapted for the purpose. Perhaps a plaque on the wall might refer to the fact that the last time that the local Member of Parliament engaged in a bit of phrase-making and dubbed a Labour proposal the "roof tax", the Tory party adopted the proposal within three months.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton I recall that the hon. Gentleman strongly opposed plans for a Scottish Assembly a few years ago. Rather than erect such a memorial, I think that our built heritage should receive greater priority.

Local Government

14. Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the efficiency and effectiveness of Scottish local authorities. [785]

Mr. Forsyth: There is considerable scope for improvement.

Mr. Shaw: My right hon. Friend may be aware that I have just returned from giving evidence this morning to the Monklands inquiry in Scotland. He may not be aware

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that, on departing the inquiry, the leader of the council made his usual threats, including threatening to visit me and my family. Does my right hon. Friend believe that such people should be in charge of councils in Scotland? Does he believe that the Labour party has a lot to answer for over the failings of local government in Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth: I am sure that my hon. Friend will understand why I am not in a position to comment on his remarks. In defence of the Labour party, I am sure that it is as anxious as the Conservative party to ensure the highest standards of conduct in local government. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) welcomed the recent establishment of the 211 inquiry in respect of the North Lanarkshire authority. I think that it is important to proceed on the basis that the House is determined to ensure the highest standards in local government and that we have the means to investigate any complaints swiftly and bring any shortcomings to book. I hope that all hon. Members will consider local government or any other matter of public life on that basis.

Mrs. Fyfe: As the Secretary of State chooses to dismiss with a wave of his hand all Scottish local government, will he join me in praising Glasgow district council's plans to eradicate dampness in 80,000 council houses? On his current plans for spending on Scottish housing, in what year does he expect to eradicate dampness in Scottish houses?

Mr. Forsyth: I am all in favour of councils tackling damp houses and providing key services. The hon. Lady makes a gesture indicating that they need more money. I suggest that she uses what influence she has with Glasgow district council and other Labour-controlled councils to get them to spend less on chiefs and more on indians and to spend less on expensive, highly paid officials and more on the people who do the work. If they did that, we might have more effective authorities. If she could even encourage the councils concerned to go for value for money and become enabling authorities, the people who depend on their services might get a better deal.

Mrs. Gorman: Can my right hon. Friend confirm that for every pound of tax collected in Scotland, the people who live there receive something like £2 in value? Does he agree that local government in Scotland, as well as historic houses and the building of new bridges, depends on the maintenance of the Union with the rest of the British Isles and that those strident Opposition Members who continually demand the separation of Scotland are likely to cause a great deal of loss to the people of Scotland on such projects?

Hon. Members: What about the Skye bridge?

Mr. Forsyth: I agree with my hon. Friend. The Skye bridge represents a considerable success for the Government. It was first promised in 1936, it was delivered by the Government and it will be toll free in 15 years unless the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has his way, in which case the tolls will last for longer because he is encouraging people not to pay them.

I wonder how many Opposition Members know that local government in Scotland receives 45 per cent. more per head in Government grant than local government in England. That is a huge additional means of support and they would put all that at risk with their proposals for a Scottish Parliament.

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Mr. Malcolm Bruce: Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that there is concern about the transition to unitary authorities in respect of how the equalisation will be carried through between high-spending and low-spending authorities? What steps will he take to ensure that there is not an unfair burden on rural authorities having to subsidise urban authorities? Will he step in and ensure that the transition is fair and just to all taxpayers in Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth: In the spirit of partnership and co-operation with local government that I have tried to encourage since I arrived at the Scottish Office, I am attracted by the proposals of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to allow for the changes to be phased in so that rural areas that will suffer and those authorities that stand to gain will have the opportunity to adjust. COSLA's proposals are quite sensible as the time period will be kept to an absolute minimum and benefit will accrue to authorities that will gain immediately. I am sure that everyone will recognise it as a sensible way forward.

Mr. McAllion: Does the Secretary of State accept that ill-tempered, ill-informed and inaccurate attacks on elected councils by the likes of the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) serve merely to weaken an already weak Government case in Scotland, particularly when in Scotland this morning the same hon. Gentleman admitted under oath that his allegations were based on circumstantial evidence and anonymous correspondence? Would it not be better for the likes of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who currently pays chief executives of NHS trusts such as Grampian Healthcare more than £100,000 a year, to stop attacking chief executive of local authorities in Scotland who manage bigger budgets and larger work forces but are paid considerably less? If the Secretary of State is serious about working together in a spirit of co-operation to improve local government in Scotland, let us have an end to such scurrilous and unfounded attacks on Scottish local democracy, return to co-operation with local government and have a completely different relationship between central and local government in future.

Mr. Forsyth: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not exercise the discretion that I indicated would be appropriate in respect of the present 211 inquiry. As to employing highly expensive people, the hon. Gentleman might like to look at the number of directors in Glasgow compared with the NHS trusts. I believe that he will find that he is on thin ice.

Mr. McAllion: I should like to know the number.

Mr. Forsyth: I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman setting out the facts and press-releasing them, and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.

If the hon. Gentleman is fair, he will acknowledge that some authorities are doing well and are responsible in terms of the number of people that they employ on high salaries. Other authorities seem to have lost their place. The hon. Gentleman, as a responsible person in the Labour party, should do what he can to ensure that the taxpayers' interests are protected. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman looks at what is happening and uses his influence to ensure that we get efficient local government.

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