I wish to ask the Minister the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), but to which he received no reply. When the reorganisation in local authorities takes place, will the Minister guarantee that the employees of local authorities will be covered by the European Union acquired rights directive, which will protect their wages, service and conditions, and pensions in the event that they are transferred to another employer?
As I said in the Standing Committee, to which I know I am not allowed to refer, and as I have said on many occasions, the overwhelming number of local authority employees will be transferred to the new authorities.
Of course, in the case of the acquired rights directive, certain cases may have to be decided by the courts. I have, however, made absolutely clear the position in respect of the overwhelming number of local authority employees. We have also set up a staff advisory committee and commission which will examine these and related problems.
As you know, Madam Speaker, I am not one to curry favour, but may I preface my question by wishing you many happy returns on this, the second anniversary of your speakership?
Does the Minister accept that more and more people throughout Scotland do not trust the Tories on taxes, on local government or on their plans for water? Does he realise that people throughout Scotland—no matter what he may claim—believe that these super-quangos will be the building blocks for privatisation? Why does no one believe him?
May we entirely associate ourselves, Madam Speaker, with the hon. Gentleman's first remarks?
I must make it absolutely clear that the Government have no plans to privatise water and sewerage services in Scotland, through the front door, the back door or any other door.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a move to all-purpose, single-tier local authorities will result in more accountable, more local, more responsive, more sensitive and more cost-effective service delivery in the towns and cities of Scotland?
My hon. Friend is right. All political parties in Scotland at one time or another have supported the principle of single-tier authorities, because of all the advantages to which my hon. Friend has alluded. It is significant that in his area, the city of Aberdeen, the proposals for a unitary city authority have, as I understand it, been supported by every political party.
When the Minister meets COSLA will he tell it why, after 15 years of Conservative Government, there are still tens of thousands of homeless Scots, hundreds of thousands of Scottish homes riddled with damp and condensation and acute shortages of decent, affordable houses for rent? Is it because the Government's housing policies are succeeding or because they are failing? The people have a right to know.
My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for housing has already dealt with that subject, but we shall certainly point out to COSLA that aggregate external finance—Government assistance to Scottish local authorities—per head of population is 46 per cent. higher in Scotland than in England and 24 per cent. higher in Scotland than in Wales. These are the real figures; they demonstrate beyond peradventure the Government's commitment to local authority services in Scotland.
Will my hon. Friend remind the Opposition that those houses were all built by local authorities under socialist control and were probably designed by socialist planners—and that if there is any complaint about them it should be directed to those who got it so wrong?
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The problems to which Opposition Members have referred are overwhelmingly to be found in socialist-built estates, put up after the last war—that is, within the last generation. The Labour councils that built them entertained misconceived ideas about the sort of living conditions and quality of life that people in Scotland increasingly want. People want a variety of tenure types and it is our policy to provide such a variety.
The Minister said again that the Government do not propose to privatise Scotland's water. In response to the Strathclyde referendum the hon. Gentleman said that the Scottish people either did not understand or did not believe that. Why do the Government have such a crisis of credibility in Scotland?
I do not believe that the Government in any way have a crisis of credibility in Scotland. The principle of single-tier authorities is widely popular. The hon. Gentleman's own experience as the Member of Parliament for a constituency including two island authorities should suggest to him that the excellent experience there could be effectively translated to mainland Scotland.
Can the Minister give an example of a quasi-democratic Government anywhere that has ever reacted with such arrogance and contempt to an expression of popular will as has marked the Government's response to the million-plus Scots who voted in the water ballot? Does he have no sense of shame at the fact that when we should all be celebrating the rebirth of democracy in South Africa we are witnessing the death of local democracy in Scotland?
I think that I agree with the sedentary intervention.
Of course every hon. Member welcomes the rebirth of democracy in South Africa and wishes that country well. The hon. Gentleman's comparison is absolutely absurd and will not be generally accepted by supporters of the mainstream political parties in Scotland.
Is not it revealing that yet again, for the third month running, the Secretary of State for Scotland has chosen to pass the buck for answering questions on local government—the very centrepiece of the legislative programme that is before him? When the Minister meets COSLA, will he be ready for the anger and disgust that that body will show at what the Government propose to do to Scotland's water? Does he not yet appreciate that all the promises about privatisation that are being made by a Government tainted by their deceit on taxation can never convince the Scottish people that water will not eventually end up in the hands of people who will seek to make profits from it? The people of Scotland want their precious, unique and plentiful supplies of water to be in the hands of locally elected, locally accountable representatives, not in the dubious care of the hand-picked cronies of the Conservative party, and they will express that view next Thursday in the regional elections.
There is a question specifically about water further down on the Order Paper. However, I put it to the hon. Gentleman that the deceit on this issue is the continuing deceit of Opposition Members, who try to pretend to people in Scotland that the Government's proposals are quite different from what they very clearly are.