Why is the Secretary of State defying economics and democracy by paying £40,000 a year to water board chairmen for a two-day week, when the services are being run by unpaid, democratically elected local authority conveners who offer a high-quality, low-cost service, which is what people want? How can the right hon. Gentleman justify his extravagance upon those part-time water rustlers when the Government are offering a few pennies more to qualified nurses for a full week's work?
I have no doubt that the skills and business experience gained from their involvement in other public bodies which the new chairmen will bring to their posts will stand in good stead the services which are delivered to people in their respective areas.
As to the economics of the matter, the combined salaries of the present directors of water and sewerage add up to £770,000. The combined salaries of the new chief executives and chairmen add up to only £344,000. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman needs a lesson in economics.
When the Secretary of State meets the chairmen, will he discuss with them why questions addressed by hon. Members to the right hon. Gentleman have been dealt with by those quango chairmen? When one writes to the quango chairmen, one discovers that they do not reply for months. Will the right hon. Gentleman do something about that intolerable situation?
It is entirely standard for questions of fact, administration and procedure to be dealt with by the chairmen and chief executives of non-departmental public bodies, and for their answers to be deposited in the Library. As far as policy matters are concerned, those are for Ministers to deal with. I am not aware of any delay of the kind referred to by the hon. Gentleman, but if he would like to draw to my attention to such a delay I shall follow it up.
In view of the relatively insignificant cost of salaries in the overall budgets of the water authorities, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what representations he has made to the European Commission, bearing in mind that most of the additional costs imposed on water companies come from the European drinking water and clean bathing water directives?
These are indeed directives that impose substantial burdens on water and sewerage services in Scotland, as they do elsewhere. It is, however, the Government's desire to ensure that water and sewerage standards in this country are of the very highest; and it will be the purpose of the new public authorities to achieve that.
With bungs on transfer deals dominating the headlines this morning, will the right hon. Gentleman try to justify the £100,000 bung that he is paying as part of the transfer of water and sewerage services away from elected local councils? How does he justify paying £40,000 a year to unelected part-time placemen, when those whom they will supplant, the elected conveners of water services committees, currently get £900 a year in councillors' allowances? What is the public interest argument that justifies ditching the people's choice to run water and sewerage while the right hon. Gentleman lines the pockets of the people he chooses?
Is it not true that only paid hirelings will do the dirty work that the Minister wants them to do: putting up prices and paving the way for water privatisation? The right hon. Gentleman should remember that there are some things that money cannot buy—among them, the votes of the Scottish people who, at the next election, will sweep him, his water quangos and his chairmen into the dustbin of history where they all belong.
The payment levels offered to these chairmen are entirely comparable with those of other public sector body chairmen. The appointment of these chairmen is entirely compatible with the procedures adopted by the last Labour Government.
As for the benefits to the public: the benefits come from the most cost-effective and efficient delivery of water and sewerage services in Scotland. I am sure that that will result.