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Volume 81: debated on Wednesday 19 June 1985

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Paediatric Beds


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the number of paediatric beds per thousand of client population which his Department uses as a yardstick in determining the adequacy of health provision.

There is no officially accepted target level of provision of designated paediatric beds, but I am satisfied that there is adequate provision of paediatric beds in Scotland as a whole. It is primarily for health boards to determine the pattern of provision in their own areas.

Is the Minister aware that, due to pressure on its forward budget, Lothian health board has now dropped the provision for a paediatric ward in the new hospital being built at Livingston? Is he further aware that one fifth of the population of Livingston are under the age of 10? Whatever the general standards employed, does the hon. Gentleman, as Minister responsible for the Health Service in Scotland, regard it as satisfactory to provide a new hospital which will not cater for such a large chunk of the local population? If not, will he give my constitutents an assurance that the new hospital will cater for their children?

Phase 1 of the West Lothian district general hospital will provide about 400 beds, including a paediatric department of 26 beds. That project is now under construction and, as I understand it, there is no intention of altering the plans for phase 1.

I accept that this is a health board responsibility, but is my hon. Friend aware that in Aberdeen there is a surplus of paediatric beds but a need for neonatal care? Does he agree that it would he possible to reallocate resources in such a way as to meet that need?

My hon. Friend is quite right. Health boards have to ensure that the facilities provided accord with current population and demand. The decrease in the child population means that there is undoubtedly an oversupply of paediatric beds in Scotland as a whole, but more beds are needed in certain sections.

Are the running costs available for the paediatric unit under construction in Livingston?

I am about to do so. The problem of the running costs of the West Lothian district general hospital is more attendant on phase 2. As I have explained, phase 1 contains the paediatric unit and I understand that the running costs are available.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the provisions made in Tayside, and particularly in Blairgowrie, where the cottage hospital has now become a community hospital, have achieved a sufficiency of paediatric beds and an increase in the number of geriatric beds?

My hon. Friend is quite right. In relation to all kinds of hospitals, health boards must consider the total needs of patients in the area. One of the principal needs to which I draw the attention of health boards is the need to provide more geriatric beds.

How can the Minister claim that there is an oversupply of beds in hospitals in Scotland when waiting lists and waiting time for admission are beginning to increase again? With regard to the paediatric department of the West Lothian district general hospital, if my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is correct, as I suspect he is, and the project has been dropped, although the Minister seems to think that it is going ahead, will the Minister instruct the health board to ensure that the paediatric unit is included?

I have explained that phase 1 is already under construction and a paediatric unit of 26 beds is included in it. I also explained to the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that phase 1 can be run without phase 2 being on stream.

Housing Benefit


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to give local authorities increased powers to deal with abuses of the housing benefit system.

The Government accept the housing benefit review team's recommendation that powers to prevent abuse of the housing benefit scheme should be strengthened. Our Green Paper proposes in particular that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services should have a reserve power to limit the level of rent eligible for housing benefit.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there are slum landlords in Glasgow and elsewhere who are letting out appalling properties at scandalously high rents to those on supplementary benefit? These rents are paid by district councils as agents for the Department of Health and Social Security. As the Government have abandoned their proposals to abolish the Rents Acts — their abolition would make the abuses even greater—what justification can there be for denying Scottish local authorities a power which is available to English local authorities to initiate the fair rent procedure? The implementation of that procedure in Scotland would allow authorities to get at bad landlords and would save money for the public purse. Why cannot that action be taken?

I appreciate the problem that the right hon. Gentleman has raised. He will know that local authorities are already empowered under the housing benefit regulations to reduce benefits where they judge accommodation to be unnecessarily large or the rent to be unreasonably high when compared with other accommodation that is available in the area. I am advised that the powers that are available to English local authorities are comparatively rarely used. We are keeping the matter under close review and if it is necessary to take action we shall have to consult COSLA before embarking on the introduction of legislation.

I find the Secretary of State's reply entirely unsatisfactory. When the Government are planning to cut housing benefit for the needy, how can the right hon. Gentleman permit the greedy to be able to abuse the present housing benefit system? The Opposition would assist in the passage of minor amending legislation to ensure that tenants are protected and that landlords are not allowed to abuse the system. Surely the right hon. Gentleman agrees that it is essential for local authorities in Scotland to have the right which English local authorities already have to apply for the rent officer to register a rent.

I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman did not hear my reply to the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan). There are two ways in which this wrong can be put right. First, a local authority can use its existing powers, as I have described, to limit the amount of benefit that is given where it considers that that is necessary. Secondly, tenants and their advisers have plenty of powers to demand the registration of a rent. They can demand the presence of the rent officer at any time that they wish to do so. They should be encouraged to use that right whenever they wish.

Rural Aid Fund


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what consideration he is giving to the proposal submitted to him for a rural aid fund.

My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibilities for industry and education is to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss a proposal submitted by Strathclyde regional council for the creation of a rural aid fund for Scotland.

May one hope that if such a meeting takes place the prospects are somewhat hopeful? Is the Secretary of State fully aware—I know that the district council within his constituency is one of the authorities which have supported the proposal—of the importance of such a fund, given that so many rural areas have suffered considerable deprivations over the past 10 or 20 years and will suffer further deprivation under the Transport Bill when it is enacted? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate how valuable even a modest rural aid fund would be to restore and maintain many rural communities?

I appreciate the right hon. Lady's views on this issue. I can assure her that the consultation that we shall be having with Strathclyde regional council will be genuine. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the details of the ideas put forward by the council. I appreciate that there is much concern about how we can help rural areas,. There is a vast array of powers available for helping rural areas, and large sums are directed specially to rural areas in many different ways. We must consider whether a rural aid fund would add significantly to the present powers. If so, would it be worth while to introduce such a fund?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the greatest need in a rural area is good transportation? In that context, the assistance that is to be made available as a result of the Transport Bill to encourage new developments in rural areas is much to be welcomed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be helpful also to arrange for some focus on the passing of knowledge between those who carry out experiments in rural areas about new forms of transport which it may be possible to introduce following the Bill's enactment?

Yes. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend that the special arrangements that are being written into the provisions for transport in rural areas reflect clearly the high priority that the Government give to ensuring that rural areas are properly looked after. There has been a vast increase in the subsidies to the Highlands and Islands ferry service. That is only one example of many of the special aids that are given to rural areas.

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that one of the most damaging actions to rural areas is the slashing of agricultural advisory services by 41 per cent.? If the English Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food does that, does the Secretary of State for Scotland have to pursue the same line like a puppy dog?

We are still consulting all interests concerned as to how best to change those services. However, I never expected the right hon. Gentleman to complain. The integrated development programme, which is more than half funded by the Government, is pouring vast sums into his area in every way. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would express some thanks for that.

Is my right hon. Friend not concerned that, following demands for urban and rural aid, the next demand will be for suburban aid? Is he not worried that, although many people now demand aid, the money has long since run out and we shall not be able to find any more resources with which to meet their demands?

My hon. Friend is perfectly correct, in that as long as funds are limited we must ensure that they are targeted towards the most important areas. This Government have added to the aid for urban areas, and that aid is used extensively. We have new schemes for the rural areas, including the programme for regional industrial development and the development of rural area workshops scheme, both of which have recently been introduced to give extra help to rural areas.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the people of Scotland would broadly welcome his launching the rural aid fund by handing back the £15 million that he has just taken out of the Estimates to cover the rise in rates relief, from 3p to 8p, which he engineered in order to call off the hounds who were chasing him?

I am not sure how the hon. Gentleman would like the money to be spent other than on helping the ratepayers. I should have thought that he would be pleased if the money helped ratepayers in Kilmarnock and Loudoun, as well as everywhere else.

As many successful rural schools are under threat because of the Government's education cuts, will the Secretary of State make a statement on the future of funding for rural, community-based primary schools?

Alas, the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question shows that he is, as usual, completely ill-informed. The amount of money allowed for education in Scotland is at its highest level per head ever. Indeed, the Government have raised it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the closure of schools is a matter for the regional council in the light of its priorities. The hon. Gentleman asked indirectly about assistance for rural areas, but his area gets as much help as any.



asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his most up-to-date assessment of the numbers of (a) domestic and (b) commercial ratepayers in Scotland who will benefit from the terms of the Rating (Revaluation Rebates) (Scotland) Bill; and what is his latest estimate of the total cost, taking reductions on appeal into account.

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has now obtained returns from all the Scottish rating authorities which show that some 133,000 domestic and 62,000 non-domestic, including commercial, ratepayers will qualify for revaluation rate rebates at a total cost in 1985 of around £30 million. These figures are a reasonable measure of the likely demand for rebate.

Will not the final figure be known only when all the appeals have been resolved? Is it not true that all those most substantially affected, whose rateable value has risen more than three times, will be assisted by the Bill, and that the commitment is open-ended?

My hon. Friend is quite correct. The final figure will not be known until the last eligible ratepayer has been paid. [Interruption.] I agree that the scheme is most generous. I am surprised that Opposition Members should laugh at the provision of £30 million when many of them were asking for much less only four weeks ago. I find it hard to understand why they do not appreciate the scheme as much as Scottish ratepayers do.

The hon. Gentleman has just revealed what he was unable to reveal two weeks ago. Should he not now recognise that the cut-off point has been set too high and that many small businesses which still face extinction should have the benefit of a greater reduction than he has allowed for? Does the hon. Gentleman not realise that there is still very considerable discontent among small businesses in Scotland? If he thinks that the rates issue is dead in Scotland, he should bear in mind that it is not as dead as his party will be at the next election.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has been converted from the view—expressed only eight weeks ago in the House—that this is a warped priority, but I fear that, like all converts, his zeal has taken him further than his common sense might do. If he studies the scheme, he will discover that we set the level of a three times multiplier because we appreciated that we could not undo revaluation altogether and, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) said, we had to set it at a level that would help those who were hardest hit. That is what has been achieved by the scheme, and it is much appreciated in Scotland.

The Bill is still going through Parliament and is now before the House of Lords. As about £20 million might be available for distribution, will the Minister consider amending the legislation so that all the funds that the Secretary of State has won from the Treasury can be used?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was here when we debated the issue the other night, but I made it clear that the scheme was demand-led. I explained that the three times multiplier gave adequate protection without undoing the revaluation. We are distorting revaluation, but we are not claiming that those who have gained should give anything back. According to the latest figures available, that demand-led scheme will cost about £30 million.

Does my hon. Friend agree that even after the three times multiplier has been used there will be an increase of over 50 per cent. in the cash to be paid for rates in the Angus district, and only a little less in Perth and Kinross? Does my hon. Friend agree also that we must apply pressure to get rid of this iniquitous system, which has produced such a massive increase in rates in that part of the country?

I appreciate that under this scheme, even with the help provided by domestic relief, some ratepayers in Scotland are faced with high rate increases. The Government are studying the whole system of local government finance. We hope to be able to make proposals towards the turn of the year.

I welcome the Under-Secretary's admission that he knew, but would not admit in Committee, that there would be a substantial shortfall—probably of about £20 million — on the £50 million package about which the Secretary of State boasted at Perth. Can the hon. Gentleman confirm press reports that of the sum that would be available for the small business man and other non-domestic ratepayers, about £3 million is likely to go to the owners of poster sites in Scotland and not to small businesses?

Does the Minister accept that an element of flexibility must be built into the legislation and that if that £20 million is not paid out as advertised it will be seen by many who face rate increases of 50 or 60 per cent., with not a penny of aid, as the political equivalent of a serious breach of the Trade Descriptions Act?

I do not like to accuse the hon. Gentleman of deliberate political cynicism, but as £30 million has been made available by the Government to help those who are hardest hit—the phrase that he used in the House when he said that he would co-operate with the legislation—I find the last part of his question hard to understand.

The figures have become increasingly robust as the analysis of the revaluation has continued. The figures that I have given today were made available by COSLA on 12 June and were confirmed to an extent by the Minister of State in the debate in the House of Lords on Monday.

We have no central information about the poster sites. I understand that in the one area that has been considered in respect of poster and advertising sites they represent a small proportion in terms of numbers, qualifiers and cost.

Did the Secretary of State not claim that he had negotiated with the Treasury an extra £50 million to spend on domestic and non-domestic ratepayers? Does the Minister agree that if he does not change the multiplier he will gratuitously hand back to the Treasury £20 million which otherwise would be available to those badly affected by rate changes in Scotland? Does he agree that to fail to claim the money for Scotland would be iniquitous?

The hon. Gentleman is on record as saying that revaluation is good and I am sure that he will not withdraw that opinion. The agreement with the Treasury was that it would provide new money to underwrite the scheme, which is demand-led. At the time that the announcement was made in May, the best estimate of the cost of the scheme was £50 million.

Sporting Events (Safety)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is satisfied with standards of safety and crowd control at Scottish sporting events; and if he will make a statement.

No one can ever be wholly satisfied about matters of safety and crowd control, and I have therefore arranged that the inquiry under Mr. Justice Popplewell should include Scottish sports grounds. My officials have asked Scottish fire brigades to visit sports grounds in their areas to advise managements on any necessary safety measures. With the co-operation of the police, a programme of such inspections is currently being undertaken. The governing bodies of sport have been asked to make constituent clubs aware of the free advice available, as the clubs have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the public.

Instead of imposing crippling rate burdens on Scottish football clubs in comparison with English football clubs, will the hon. Gentleman consider introducing a system of financial assistance for ground improvements? Will he support the representations that I have made to the Belgian Government to follow the example of FIFA and UEFA and draw a distinction between Scottish and English football, rather than impose a ban on Scottish as well as English football clubs? In effect, this ban is punishing Scottish clubs and their supporters for the gross and deplorable behaviour of some English fans during the Brussels tragedy a few weeks ago.

One of the results of the revaluation is that the rating burden on many Scottish football grounds has declined. I have every sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point about European matches. I think the House will agree, however, that the Belgian Government's announcement in those tragic circumstances was understandable. We have passed on to the Foreign Office the representations that we have received.

In recent years, Scottish football club supporters have had an excellent record in away matches. I am sure the House agrees that, in the present circumstances, it was sensible for the five clubs involved in European competition to announce that they would do everything possible to dissuade their supporters from travelling to away matches next season, except in the case of cup finals on neutral ground.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the Government have had a significant influence by the banning of alcohol at football matches, ultimately every sporting club must bear a greater responsibility for the safety and care of those attending sporting events at their premises?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. She is absolutely right to point to the responsibility of clubs. There is no room for complacency about the control of hooliganism in Scotland. That is why I have arranged to meet the Scottish Football Association, the Scottish Football League, the chief constables and the British Transport Police on 1 July to review existing arrangements and to consider whether, in the interest of the huge majority of fans, further action should be taken to improve behaviour at football matches next season.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is not enough simply to suggest that free advice will be available? If safety at football grounds in Scotland is to be improved, money must be forthcoming. The parlous state of the finances of most of the small Scottish clubs makes it difficult for them to find the necessary funding on their own. The Government must give greater support to help small clubs to make their grounds safe.

Substantial sums of money go into football, including £7 million a year to the Football Trust. Last year, the Football Grounds Improvement Trust distributed £3·3 million retrospectively. I am a member of the working group on financing improvements at football grounds, which is under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane). The FGIT surveyors' report will include surveys of all non-designated grounds in the Scottish first and second divisions.

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important contributions to crowd control is an all-seated stadium? Does he agree that Aberdeen has been able to show an example of crowd control not only in Aberdeen but when Aberdeen clubs have travelled abroad? Aberdeen's supporters are ambassadors for the game, rather than the reverse.

Yes, Sir. I had the pleasure of attending Pittodrie at the beginning of the season to present the championship flag to Aberdeen. There is no doubt that it has an excellent stadium. The McElhone report emphasised the importance of seating.

When the Minister refers to £7 million going to the Football Grounds Improvement Trust, does he appreciate that that money comes from the pools companies for the use of the fixtures list? In terms of their take from betting, the Government take far more from football pools than the football clubs have returned to them for ground improvements. Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that a ground at which we have trouble—not in terms of controlling crowds, but in relation to crowds entering and leaving—is Hampden Park, because the design of the reconstructed stadium had to be changed as a result of the Government cancelling the £5 million grant that was to have been made available? Will the Minister, as a contribution to solving the problem in Scotland, restore that grant and give the money to the Scottish Football Association at Queen's Park so that the reconstruction of Hampden Park can be completed?

The reconstruction of Hampden is going ahead, and I visit Hampden regularly. There are sources of Government assistance which are potentially available, for example, the leg-up and the urban programmes. The hon. Gentleman should accept that the tax on betting to which he refers is a tax on gambling, not a tax on football, and that is an important distinction.

Peripheral Housing Estates


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he is considering in response to the report on peripheral housing estates by CES Ltd., "Framework for Action," a copy of which is being sent to him; and if he will make a statement.

The study was commissioned by four local authorities, including Glasgow district council, and it is for them to consider in the first instance how best to respond. I shall, nevertheless, study with interest the proposals of relevance for central Government. I welcome in particular the emphasis in the report on the need and scope for joint ventures between the public and private sectors to tackle the problems of peripheral estates.

In the light of that reply, will the Minister indicate, even informally, to Glasgow and Strathclyde that he would be willing to meet them to discuss in what way a new structure might be evolved — be it a town development or urban development corporation—to fit the needs of Easterhouse?

The hon. Gentleman will accept that I must, first, look at this quite complex document and evaluate it, and obviously I cannot make a commitment as to timing. I believe that the emphasis must be on co-ordinated action, which recognises the priority needs of Easterhouse within existing programmed expenditure. As he will be aware, the SDA is already involved in the new greater Easterhouse partnership and the new joint initiative for Easterhouse. The agency will, within the terms of its remit, continue to respond positively to the problems of such areas.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown) has drawn attention to a constructive proposal for dealing with one of the many problems that arise from past mistakes by local authorities, often egged on by Governments of the day, in housing policy? While recognising that much has to be done to rectify these errors, does my hon. Friend accept that that should not be done at the expense of the housing needs of those local authorities which have pursued wiser policies?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point, and I am sure he realises that it is the Government's concern to promote and encourage private sector involvement in public sector estates, both to diversify tenure and to enhance the amenity. I hope that authorities will not stand in the way of these types of development for political ideological reasons.

Iron And Steel Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet the Scottish representatives of the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to discuss the current state of the iron and steel industry in Scotland and the economic implications thereof for Scotland.

A member of the Iron and Steel Trades Council was one of the STUC representatives whom I met on 7 June. Also, the ISTC was represented on the works committee at Ravenscraig, which my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for industry and education in Scotland met when he visited the works on 3 June.

What is the Secretary of State's response to this morning's press speculation, and reported remarks of Sir Robert Haslam, on the future of Ravenscraig? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the closure of Ravenscraig and, consequently, Gartcosh, would be a devastating blow to the Scottish economy? Is he prepared to give a lead to the Scottish ministerial team by saying that he is prepared to resign on this issue because he is not prepared to see Scotland becoming an industrial desert?

I appreciate the concern that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I, too, have seen the speculation in newspapers this morning. It is just that: it is speculation. The remarks made yesterday before the Select Committee were in that vein as well. The position, as I confirm again, is that there is no sign yet of the corporate plan being presented to the Government. When it is presented to the Government it will have to be carefully considered by Ministers before any decisions can be agreed to or otherwise. That is the position and, as I think the chairman confirmed in his evidence yesterday, that is likely to remain the position for some considerable time yet.

May I reassure my right hon. Friend that he will have the undivided support of Conservatives in any efforts that he makes to persuade the British Steel Corporation and his ministerial colleagues that Ravenscraig should not only continue but should enjoy new investment in coke ovens? May I further urge, if the newspaper reports are correct, that he and his ministerial colleagues plan and mount the type of skilful and successful campaign that they mounted in 1982, to ensure that Scotland retains its steel-making capacity?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the first part of his remarks. As to the second part, all of us have to wait to see what is in the corporate plan, and then we will have to formulate our responses very quickly.

The Secretary of State is very conscious of the fact that I am one of the hon. Members in whose constituencies Ravenscraig lies. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, there is a conference at the civic centre in Motherwell on Friday at which there will be representations from the STUC, all the councils, all the Churches, the ISTC and all the other trades unions. Depending upon the decision, which I am sure will be a unanimous one to fight for Ravenscraig, will the right hon. Gentleman give us a categorical assurance that at Cabinet level he will lead the fight for the retention of Ravenscraig?

I well appreciate the importance of the meeting, and I am glad that the hon. Gentleman will be present. I am anxiously awaiting news of what will be in the corporate plan when it comes. I can give the assurance that, when it does, I shall be heavily involved in dealing with responses to it.

As the current uncertainty seems to stem largely from the advice of the European Commission that Britain should further reduce its steel-making capacity, can my right hon. Friend give us a clear assurance that the Government will not contemplate further reductions until the other member states of the Common Market have carried out their agreed obligations to reduce steel-making capacity? Is he aware that Members of Parliament who represent English constituencies are fully conscious of the superb battle that he has put up so far for Scotland's steel industry?

With regard to the European scene, as my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and his colleague have, on a number of occasions in Brussels, forcefully made the very points that my hon. Friend has just made. That is a matter on which the Government have taken a very strong stand.

Many hon. Members are concerned about the adjective "anxious" which the Secretary of State used to describe his views on the forthcoming plan. Only one question remains: will he put the future of Ravenscraig before his own job?

I think that my views on this subject have been widely known for long enough. I have given the assurance—and nobody with any sense could expect me to go further at this time—that I am waiting to see what the corporate plan says. Thereafter we shall all have to work out our responses to it.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the future of Ravenscraig is crucial to the future of Scottish industry, that the suggestion that it should be closed is something that should be considered as totally unacceptable within Scotland and that he should say so unequivocally? It is not just a matter of Ravenscraig and the jobs there, but of all the jobs dependent on it in British Rail, in the support industries and so forth. Will he acknowledge that without the steelworks Scotland cannot have a credible industrial base, and that he should say so and fight every inch of the way to ensure that the steelworks remains?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's continuing concern about the matter, but I suggest to him and to others that they should be careful not to close Ravenscraig before anyone has even proposed it.

When will the Government make the announcement about the new investment at Hunterston? Will it be made tomorrow before the meeting on Friday referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Mr. Hamilton)?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government have been saying to the workers and management in all industries that we have to increase productivity if we are to maintain our markets? Is it not true that, by that standard alone, Ravenscraig has excelled and we should not let anyone outside Scotland be misled by the fact that the European Community has certain levels of production which it says must be maintained throughout Europe? Is my right hon. Friend aware that we in Scotland and Britain have made our contributions, and that Ravenscraig has shown that it is the plant of tomorrow and not of yesterday?

I agree with my hon. Friend. My right hon. Friends and I have made it clear on numerous occasions that we consider that when capacity in Europe is being discussed it must be clearly understood that it is not expected that this country should do all the reducing of capacity, but that there should be an agreed system between the European countries.

In view of the recent damaging reports, and of early reports emanating from the BSC, why can we not have from the Secretary of State a straightforward and unequivocal commitment that Ravenscraig will not be closed?

The right hon. Gentleman has been in the higher reaches of Government and he will know that in nationalised industries the principle that is rightly followed is that the industry runs its own concerns and refers to the Government for the major decisions. It would be wrong, in whichever direction the proposal goes, to preempt the decision on any part of the plan before one sees the plan as a whole. Everybody concerned must wait for BSC to produce its corporate plan, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there will then be a clear reaction.

As it is no secret that BSC is deeply hostile to keeping Ravenscraig open, will the Secretary of State not delay too much his attack on this matter, because if he holds back decisions could be taken on the corporate plan by other Ministers? It is urgently necessary that he puts his full weight behind Ravenscraig, and I assure him that he will have every support from my party on this matter.

I am grateful for that support from the hon. Gentleman. The views of all of us in Scotland on this matter are well known, but it is prudent to wait to see a target before one starts firing at it.

Is the Secretary of State not being a little disingenuous in suggesting that this is all speculation? It is known that options were presented to the Government in the middle of last year, and that those options included the closure of a major steel plant. Is it not a fact that Sir Robert Haslam said to the Select Committee yesterday that discussions were under way on those options? In those circumstances, if the right hon. Gentleman has not seen those options, it must be because the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has not shown them to him. Is it not essential that the Secretary of State for Scotland gets his oar in now and makes it clear that the future of Ravenscraig is non-negotiable and that it must continue to play a central role in the Scottish economy? Does the Secretary of State recall that the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, said on 3 June after visiting Ravenscraig that he did not think there was any uncertainty about the future of the plant? Is not the only way that the Secretary of State can end the uncertainty started by yesterday's events is to make it clear that there will not be a closure of one of BSC's three major strip mills under this or any other Government?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's first point, but he must appreciate that what was said yesterday, which was not surprising, was that there were a number of different options, which were all being considered. That is as it should be. The hon. Gentleman will also know, as was made clear yesterday, that discussions are always going on between the sponsoring Department and the nationalised industry. Preparations for a corporate plan form part of a process that does not stop. However, it is essential that the industry should first make its proposals about what it thinks is the best plan for the industry's future. It is then for the Government to consider whether they are prepared to approve or reject the proposals. That is the Government's role.

British Leyland (Bathgate)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if will make a statement on his most recent discussions with British Leyland about the future of the Bathgate commercial vehicles plant.

British Leyland tells me that discussions are continuing to try to find a purchaser for the engine plant, although some earlier interest has receded. I understand that approaches have been made to British Leyland about developing the site for alternative use. The company has made it clear that if there is a purchaser for the engine plant, any alternative use for the site must ensure the continuation of the engine manufacturing facility.

May I ask the Minister a question, of which notice has been given to his office for a considered reply? Will the Scottish Office help West Lothian district council, Lothian regional council and Bathgate area support enterprises to obtain co-operation from Leyland for the conversion of the Bathgate premises to accommodate incoming manufacturing industry?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of the question. First, I emphasise that Locate in Scotland has carried out the most comprehensive promotion ever undertaken for a single site, in addition to the Government's general role in improving the climate for industry in the area following the working party's report. The initiative for specific uses of the premises must lie with those who have proposals to put to Leyland. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that my office stands ready to be involved in any discussions on such specific proposals.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the new range of commercial vehicles made by Leyland Vehicles has been amazingly successful, and that that is evidence of the great changes in productivity and efficiency of management and, above all, in the work force, and of the Government's commitment to British Leyland in the interests of the British public as a whole?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that British Leyland has made substantial strides. The problem regarding Bathgate is that British Leyland has more than enough capacity at its Leyland plant to accommodate even a substantially increased demand for trucks.

Improvement Grants


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to make a statement on improvement grants for private housing in Scotland.

A comprehensive review of private sector house improvement policy in Scotland is virtually complete, and I hope to publish proposals for consultation fairly soon.

Is the Minister aware that there are 1,000 closes, that is 6,000 to 8,000 houses in Glasgow, which are subject to a section 24 order, which require immediate and urgent repairs to be carried out? Is he further aware that Glasgow district council will require £25 million extra on its budget to ensure that those improvements are carried out? Despite the fact that he is carrying out a review, will he ensure that Glasgow district council is given the money to provide more jobs in the building industry and to give people a decent home to live in?

I have heard what the hon. Gentleman has to say, and I have heard those facts quoted before. I do not believe that that should have been the case, and I shall explain why. The capital allocation on the private sector non-HRA last year in Glasgow was £86·6 million, which was 50 per cent. of the Scottish total, or 11 per cent. of the Scottish total of private housing. Of those resources, £2 million was unspent, and the council chose to transfer that to its HRA block allocation rather than to augment this year's non-HRA allocation. This year the council has had about £8·5 million more than its forward commitment Indeed, the amount that has been made available to it is considerably more than its own estimate of expenditure on grants related to section 24 repairs and notices.

How does the Scottish Office justify a lower rate of housing improvement grant in Scotland than in England and Wales when more houses require improvement in Scotland and when we have a higher rate of unemployment among construction workers?

I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman's question. The eligible houses in Scotland are on a much broader base than those in England. In England the eligible date is pre-1919, whereas in Scotland it is pre-1964. Obviously, considerably more houses are involved in Scotland. To suggest, as I infer from the right hon. Gentleman's question, that the Government's record on private housing is not good, is to fly in the face of the facts. During the past five years we have had 171,000 grant applications approved, compared with 41,500 approved in the previous five years under the Labour Government.

Can my hon. Friend give some indication of the scale of housing improvement grant support that the Government have provided in money terms during the past five years, and how that compares with the previous five years? Does he agree that at this stage we should be getting a better consensus between the Government and local authorities about the criteria that should be applied to improvement grant applications?

My hon. Friend asks for the figure for the past five years compared with earlier years. In cash terms, during the five years of the Labour Government £51 million was spent in this area, compared with £311 million under this Government. In real terms the Labour Government effectively spent £123 million compared with £329 million spent by this Government. Perhaps more indicative than that, is the fact that in each of the last two years this Government spent more in real terms than the Labour Government spent during their whole term of office.

On the subject of improvement grants to the private sector, will the Minister reconsider his policy for those who have had the cavity wall foam insulation process carried out in timber-framed houses, in that he will not at present allow them specific grants for it to be removed unless that process is part of a general improvement and repair process that qualifies for grant? Many of the houses in the Highlands where such work has been carried out are comparatively new, and therefore do not require other improvements. Will the Minister put pressure on the building societies, in the light of the Building Research Establishment report, not to take such a severe line on mortgages on the subsequent resale of property as a result of the process? Will the Minister reconsider his policy?

I shall obviously take account of what the hon. Gentleman said in the second part of his question. He and I have corresponded on the first part, and I have made clear to him the criteria for grants. When we publish our consultation paper, I think he will find that we are looking at the whole area of improvement grants on a much broader basis.