§ 3. Mr. Millan
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with Strathclyde regional council about the urban aid programme.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Ancram)
I met Strathclyde representatives last on this subject on 18 April 1986.
§ Mr. Millan
Will the Minister meet Strathclyde representatives again to discuss the very disturbing situation that has arisen? With regard to the suggestion in a recent Scottish Office report that there might be deliberate discrimination against urban aid projects from the west of Scotland, will he give an assurance that there is no such intention and that all projects, whether from the east or the west of Scotland, will be judged strictly on their merits? Will he also discuss the crisis arising from urban aid projects running out in the current year and the pernicious penalty system which means that Strathclyde now faces a burden of £13 million compared with £1½ million previously? Will he exclude the urban aid programme, at least, from the penalty system, as is the intention with teachers' pay?
§ Mr. Ancram
I have agreed to meet representatives of Strathclyde region in London on 2 December and I am sure that a number of the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman will come up again then. All projects put forward within the urban programme are considered strictly on their merits, within the limits set some 18 months ago after consultation with Strathclyde and Glasgow as to maximum planning figures for both those authorities. The right hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that in the past four years Strathclyde, taken as a whole with all its districts, has received about 80 per cent. of urban programme funding—both capital and current. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will welcome that. I am sure he will also welcome the fact that under this Government the amount of money being made available for the urban programme, both capital and current, is now double what it was in 1979.
248 On the question of penalties, the right hon. Gentleman knows that a disregard is, in fact, an increase in resources. All resources in that sector available for this year have already been allocated.
§ Mrs. McCurley
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is widespread discontent about the urban aid projects, many of which go straight into mainline finance when they finish, thus starving constituencies such as mine of vital resources?
§ Mr. Ancram
I accept the need to look carefully at projects funded through the urban programme. In the past two years we have attempted to tighten the criteria to ensure that only the best projects receive funding. The urban programme is based on a pump-priming principle and it is for the local authority to decide whether it wishes to take the projects on mainline.
§ Mr. James Hamilton
Will the Minister give us an assurance that the discussions that he intends to hold with Strathclyde regional council will be meaningful? He is, of course, aware that I wish two of the areas in my constituency to be mentioned—Harthill and Newmains, which are very deprived areas, with no social amenities whatsoever. Will he give those areas serious thought and consideration and ensure that, above all, the discussions are meaningful?
§ Mr. Ancram
The position in Strathclyde has not arisen out of the blue. Strathclyde knew that it was coming for at least the past two years. If it had wanted to take these programmes on mainline, it could have made spending provision to do so. After all, its estimate of the cost of the projects was £2.6 million. That must be set against a total guideline for this year of £1.2 billion for Strathclyde region.
§ Mr. Allan Stewart
Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley), does my hon. Friend recall the representations that I made to him on the need to consult hon. Members about potentially controversial urban programme projects in their constituencies? When he meets representatives of Strathclyde region, will he ask them how many of their projects employ Labour councillors, or is that practice limited to my constituency?
§ Mr. Ancram
I note what my hon. Friend has said. I am sure that Strathclyde region will also have noted it and will wish to comment when we meet. I am concerned to ensure that only the best and most viable and innovative projects are funded by central taxpayers' money in this way. That is how I am trying to operate the urban programme.
§ Mr. Maxton
First, I hope that the Minister will ignore the cheap remarks by the hon. Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mrs. McCurley) and by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) about urban aid projects. Is the Minister aware that many of the projects employ many people and that they help many more very poor people in the poorest parts of Strathclyde? Unless he is prepared to disregard for penalty purposes the funding of these projects by Strathclyde region, when Government funding ceases many of them will close. That would cause considerable social distress throughout Strathclyde.
§ Mr. Ancram
When the projects are first put forward and sponsored by the local authorities, they are fully aware of the need to decide whether to take them on mainline at 249 the end of the period when they are funded by the urban programme. Strathclyde knew for at least two years that the urban programme funding for those projects would end this year. It was perfectly capable of making provision for them within its spending guidelines.