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7. Mr. Steen: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many pages of legislation have been passed in each of the last three years; and how many pages have been repealed in the same period. [12887]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson): There have been six pieces of Government primary Scottish legislation and 977 instruments passed in the past three years; no central record of the number of repeals is held.

Mr. Steen: Although the Government's deregulation initiative is going very well, is my hon. Friend aware that, since 1970, 220,000 pages of additional law have been added to the statute book? As a Scottish Minister, will he take the lead and, in addition to the qualitative test of debating measures on the Floor of the House, introduce a quantitative test whereby, when any new Scottish law is introduced, the identical amount of legislation is repealed, so that a balance is achieved and no additional laws are added to the statute book without the repeal of others at the same time?

Mr. Robertson: It is right that my hon. Friend maintains pressure on all Departments, including the Scottish Office. As we have heard, he has great style. However, as he is aware, the Government have passed 44 deregulation orders resulting in savings of more than £100 million per annum. Last year alone, 228 statutory instruments were passed; 105 produced savings for business by repealing some 500 existing regulations.

Mr. McAllion: Does the Minister recall that there was no greater supporter of the legislation to impose the poll tax on Scotland and the rest of Britain than the current

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Secretary of State for Scotland? That legislation was repealed within five years and cost the taxpayer £14 billion. Does the Minister also recall that the Secretary of State for Scotland wasted months of legislative time in Scottish Standing Committees forcing through measures in respect of opted-out schools in Scotland--legislation that has been ignored? Does he recall that the Government imposed local government reorganisation on Scotland, creating the crisis in Scottish councils today? The measures were unwanted, expensive, unnecessary and wasteful. If I had a pound for every wasteful piece of legislation passed through the House, I would not have to buy a ticket for the national lottery tonight.

Mr. Robertson: I hope that the hon. Gentleman takes the same venom and passion to Scottish local authorities and encourages them, in the same way he has berated me, to collect the outstanding £750 million in uncollected poll tax and council tax.

Mr. Cash: Does my hon. Friend accept that many of the increasing number of pages and volumes of legislation being generated throughout the United Kingdom and particularly in Scotland come from the European Commission and the European Union and, furthermore, that the policies pursued by the Scottish nationalists and the Scottish Labour party giving in to federalism in Europe will increase that volume of legislation and place a terrible burden on the Scottish people?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Opposition parties seek, each in its own way, to sell Scotland short and to sell Scotland out to the bureaucrats in Brussels. My hon. Friend will be pleased that we have succeeded in getting the Commission to look at ways of cutting the burdens placed on business by the single market legislation.

Mr. Watson: Are not the past 18 years important--not the past three years of legislation--during which the Government have attacked the unemployed, the homeless, local authorities and trade unions in Scotland? Is it not a matter of having a general election within weeks rather than months, so that a Labour Government can begin to repeal some of that legislation and introduce a Scotland Bill so that, for the first time in hundreds of years, the people of Scotland can have a say in their destiny? Finally, is it not the case that the one thing that the Government have passed, on which everyone will agree, is their sell-by date?

Mr. Robertson: The Scotland that the hon. Gentleman describes would not be recognised by anyone who lives or works in Scotland. In reality, Scotland is prospering and booming, and the quality of life there is second to none. It is not worth a Scotland Bill from the Labour party.

Mr. George Robertson: I hope that the Minister will accept that there is one piece of legislation that both sides of the House want to get through Parliament before the general election--the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, which will tighten up the law on handguns. Will he join me in condemning the action of unelected hereditary peers who seek to dilute, weaken and sabotage the Bill, which has

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the backing of the overwhelming majority of hon. Members? As the Opposition will offer the Government our full support in their confrontation with the upper House, can the Minister reassure us that this valuable and valued measure will be on the statute book before the general election and that the 200,000 handguns in Britain will be taken out of circulation?

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: As the hon. Gentleman will know, Labour peers voted both for and against in the Divisions. He should therefore watch before he casts accusations across the Dispatch Box. He knows that we have presented a Bill in both Houses of Parliament. We have pledged to deliver on that Bill, and we shall do so.

Local Government Finance

8. Mr. Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss local government finance. [12888]

Mr. Michael Forsyth: I met COSLA on 17 January and I am looking forward to meeting it again on 4 July.

Mr. Welsh: If only that could also be independence day for Scotland.

As local authorities face their greatest ever financial crisis, the Government claim that Scotland receives a per head of population subsidy for local services. Has the Secretary of State read the COSLA report that demolishes that Tory subsidy myth? Will he take the opportunity to refute line by line the COSLA report or cease the Tory anti-Scottish propaganda that he is pumping out?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman is confused. The Pieda report to which he refers is about jobs. He ought to know that we have commissioned an independent study by Coopers and Lybrand and Pieda which will set out where the extra money is going in local government. I think that he will be surprised when he sees the result.

Mr. Maxton: Is the Secretary of State aware that we are told not only by elected councillors in Glasgow but by every official from the chief executive to the director of finance, right down across the whole board of the council's chief officials, that Glasgow is facing the greatest crisis in its existence? Why does he keep pretending that there is no crisis? Is he accusing them of telling lies? Whom should the people of Scotland and Glasgow believe--him or the officials?

Mr. Forsyth: If the hon. Gentleman does not believe me, he should believe the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), who I believe is the shadow Chancellor. He made it absolutely clear that a Labour Government would not give a cent more to the public expenditure plans that we have provided. If the hon. Gentleman feels that Glasgow is not getting its share of the pot, he should have a word with the Labour chairman of COSLA and leader of Edinburgh council, Mr. Keith Geddes, who has indicated that the distribution formula is fair and correct. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should have a word with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who appeared to say along

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with the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) that he thought that the formula for Glasgow was wrong, but is now saying that it is not.

Mr. George Robertson indicated dissent.

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman appeared to be saying that from a sedentary position. The Labour party should get its act together; then it might be in a position to give a coherent view on what it would like to happen.

The Government have set forward their proposals. We have been fair by Glasgow, including last year, when I gave it an extra £15 million to find time to make the necessary adjustments--time which has been squandered by the Labour administration.

Mrs. Ray Michie: The Secretary of State will be aware of the £8.5 million cuts which are facing Argyll and Bute council, because I wrote to him to ask him for a meeting on the matter, which he unfortunately declined. Is it not unrealistic to expect COSLA and the distribution committee to agree to take money from other councils so that Argyll and Bute can qualify for the special islands needs allowance? Does not the ultimate responsibility for funding and helping Argyll and Bute lie with him? We really must stop going around and around in circles and buck passing. Will the Secretary of State take that on board today?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Lady is normally very courteous. She has written asking for a meeting and my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Local Government has agreed to see her next Wednesday. She really does have to tell the whole story and not half the story. It is certainly true that Argyll and Bute would like to increase its expenditure substantially, although it has had extra cash. As she knows, I have some sympathy with her about the special islands needs allowance settlement. The position of COSLA is that Argyll is not justified in having it. Given the number of islands in Argyll, I agree with her that, on the face of it, that seems rather extraordinary. I am very happy for that to be considered in the distribution committee and agreed by COSLA.

We simply cannot have COSLA, which is dominated by the Labour party, saying that it speaks for the whole of local government and agreeing an arrangement with the Government, followed by the various constituent parts of local government coming along--[Interruption.]--and saying that they have not been treated properly and do not agree it. Then people such as the hon. Gentlemen speaking from a sedentary position blame the Government, who are genuinely trying to get a good deal for local government--a deal on which the shadow Chancellor has made it clear he could not improve.

Mr. Chisholm: Why do the Government not tell the truth about local government, instead of giving us fiction and fiddles about grant levels and spending limits, and scaremongering rubbish about Labour's plans for the business rate? Why, for example, do they, unlike anybody who has studied the subject, keep pretending that £60 million will be saved next year, compared with this year, through local government reorganisation, and then keep adding that imaginary money to grant levels to come up with an imaginary increase for next year? Does the Secretary of State not understand that this is the worst

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local government settlement for more than 20 years--the final monument to 18 years of Tory economic failure? Does he not realise that nobody trusts or believes him, and that it is time for him to go?

Mr. Forsyth: If this year's settlement is the worst in years--which it certainly is not--why can the hon. Gentleman not pledge an extra cent on top of it? If it is so bad, what has happened to the Labour party? What exactly would a Labour Government be for? If the hon. Gentleman says that ours is a poor settlement for Labour councils, why can he not add a single penny? The truth is that his masters in Islington know that it is a good deal for local government in Scotland.

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