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North Sea Oil (Aberdeenshire)

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 22 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take steps to ensure that ratepayers in Aberdeenshire do not have to meet the extra finance that will be required to produce the necessary infrastructure for the new oil and oil-related industries moving into the area.

We have already done so, as is explained in paragraph 27 of the report—published on 20th January—on the Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1975.

I thank the Minister for that reply. When does he think the first payments for this purpose will be made? When they are made will he take into account the moneys already spent and being spent by this local authority for these purposes?

The payments will start in 1975–76 and will, like the rate support grant generally, be paid throughout the year. It is not possible to take account of expenditure before 1975–76, except to the extent that any continuing commitments taken on will affect expenditure in that year. A good deal of it is capital expenditure, with continuing revenue commitments which, from 1975–76 onwards, will come in for the help that will be given.

I agree that the Government have done something in this regard but does the Minister agree that a great deal more needs to be done? Will he represent to the Chancellor and others that if the Government have large sums of money for investment in connection with oil they would do better to address at least a large proportion of it to infrastructure rather than to the highly specialist oil business, and get their money from the oil business by taxation?

That is a rather different and wider point. The right hon. Gentleman knows that oil-related infrastructure developments already receive preference in Government allocation of public expenditure. The Question is directed to seeing that this additional expenditure does not impose undue burdens on the ratepayers. We have taken care of that.

The hon. Gentleman said on Monday, and repeated again today, that this expenditure related mainly to loan charging. Has he any idea of the total amount of capital expenditure which this rate support grant will generate in this area?

I cannot give precise totals until we see all the returns and analyse what is eligible for help. The sum of £2½ million is provided for in the order concerned. The level of grant on the expenditure which we consider eligible for this additional help will be a high percentage, as I hope will be clear when I am able to make a final announcement shortly.

I agree with the Minister and his right hon. Friend over their decision about oil-related developments in Argyll, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that I would welcome their assurance that equal attention will be paid to the question of infrastructure in Argyll as compared with the North-East of the country?

I can give that assurance. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are already in touch with the county council about the particular matters affecting his constituency. We are anxious to see that infrastructure developments go hand in hand with industrial developments in his and other areas.

Will the Minister say whether, under this measure, it will be possible to offset in whole or in part the cost of the desperately-needed lorry park for oil-related traffic in Aberdeen?

I am not sure whether the local authority concerned included that in its return. If it did, it will receive consideration. I cannot commit myself at the moment.