HC Deb 13 December 1978 vol 960 cc646-9
11. Mr. Galbraith

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the latest estimate of the total annual cost of running an Assembly to cover the upkeep of the building, the salaries and pensions of extra civil servants and other staff required, and of the Assemblymen, together with any allowances proposed to be paid and the cost of the Executive.

Mr. Harry Ewing

In the explanatory and financial memorandum to the Scotland Bill £13 million was the estimate of total extra annual costs in Scotland consequent on devolution. That figure remains correct to within 1 per cent. or 2 per cent.

Mr. Galbraith

Is not £13 million a substantial sum of money? Does the Minister realise that if it costs £13 million to set up the Assembly there will be £13 million a year less for other services, such as education, health or home helps for the needy? Will he, on behalf of the Government, make clear in the referendum campaign that a "Yes" vote will mean more cash for the bureaucracy and less for the needs of the people?

Mr. Ewing

It is, indeed, a substantial amount of money, but it is only one-half of 1 per cent. of the total of all public expenditure that will be spent by the Assembly.

Mr. Galbraith

It is a lot of money.

Mr. Ewing

It is important for the House to understand that we discussed this matter earlier and that the £13 million was approved. I promise to make many things clear during the referendum campaign. Perhaps I can do a deal with the hon. Gentleman. If he can get his colleagues to make some of their policies clear, that will help the debate.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Minister aware that the House of Commons depends greatly on its Clerks and the staff of the Library and that if anything were to happen to them the House would soon grind to a halt? What steps are being taken to ensure that staff of equivalent calibre are being trained, seconded or recruited for work at the Scottish Assembly?

Mr. Ewing

We have two Deputy Principal Clerks from the House of Commons on secondment to the Scottish Office to consider the very point made by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Dewar

Does my hon. Friend accept that many people in Scotland would see the expense to which reference has been made as a small item in the total balance sheet, and that if the Assembly were to provide a more responsive and flexible Government structure in Scotland than the United Kingdom has done it would be money well spent? Is he not a little depressed that when there are so many major constitutional arguments in the balance the Opposition should continually go in for these miserable penny-pinching arguments and scares about expenditure rather than deal with real issues?

Mr. Ewing

I never get depressed by the Opposition. I allow them to wallow in their own depression.

The expenditure, as I said, is only one-half of 1 per cent. of the total expenditure for which the Assembly will be responsible. If we get only that one-half of 1 per cent. better return on capital the Assembly will pay for itself and no cost will be involved.

Mr. Reid

Will not the cost of the Assembly be about the price of a box of matches, or 5p a week to each individual in Scotland? Is not that a miniscule sum compared with the enormous expenditure on the regions? Is it not clear that, once the Assembly is set up, there will have to be a reorganisation of local government, and that if the regions go, that will be a significant saving?

Mr. Ewing

I am not sure about the reorganisation of local government, because that is not my responsibility. If reorganisation of local government were to take place, I seriously doubt whether it would be based on evidence given by the Scottish National Party, which has suggested that all townships in Scotland should be based on motorways. Therefore, instead of having the Falkirk district council, we would have the M9 district council. That would not be acceptable.

Mr. Sproat

How much money has been spent so far on adapting the building for a Scottish Assembly and all related matters? What contingency plans do the Government have, when the people of Scotland vote "No" in the referendum, to salvage some value to the taxpayer out of this costly white elephant?

Mr. Ewing

We have spent approximately £2.2 million. The contingency will not arise, because I understand that the new tune that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) is playing on his chanter is that thę Tories in Scotland are in favour of devolution. I assume that even their plans would require a building.

Mr. Buchan

Does my hon. Friend find it astonishing that the Scottish National Party, which has such a hatred of local government and local democracy, wishes to unscramble the regions and districts?

Secondly, will he please go very carefully on the question of seconding Clerks from the House of Commons to the Assembly? If it is to have any merit, with the British democratic structure as a lesson, it will have to be managed in a more open and democratic way than we have developed over the years here.

Mr. Ewing

I do not think that there would be any votes for any political party which suggested that the people of Scotland should go in for another massive reorganisation of local government.

Regarding the secondment of Clerks, we have two expert people and we are glad of the assistance that they are giving us.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

I should like to make it clear that we shall be campaigning for a "No" vote. Is the Minister aware that if there were a free vote we and the majority of hon. Members in the House could think of many more useful ways of spending £13 million a year in Scotland than on this costly bureaucratic nonsense?

Mr. Ewing

The House will be delighted to learn that the Tories in Scotland are now against devolution. Last week they were in favour of it. This week they have changed their tune and are now against it. As the referendum campaign goes on, no doubt their attitude will change almost from day to day. I think that most people who follow the hon. Member for Cathcart do so not out of loyalty, but out of curiosity.