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Volume 86: debated on Wednesday 13 November 1985

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Farmers And Crofters (Assistance)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he has taken to assist farmers and crofters following the recent summer weather.

Financial help will be given to the hardest hit sectors of the industry. Details are being worked out and an announcement will be made as soon as possible.

Why are the Government being so slow? Does the Under-Secretary remember that his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said at his conference on 9 October that assistance would be forthcoming soon, and he mentioned Scotland in particular, before the winter, when cash problems would be extreme? Has the Under-Secretary been in Scotland recently? If he has, he will have noticed that it is snowing. When will the help come, because small tenant farmers and crofters in particular have been savagely hit?

I came down from Scotland only yesterday, so I am well aware of the weather there. We have had to make a careful assessment of the position and evaluate fully the various measures that are available to deal with the problem. This has necessarily taken time, but I assure the House that the matter has been given the highest priority.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the urgency of this issue and recall that I raised it with Ministers at the end of August? Will he also bear in mind that such aid will help not only the beef sector but the many dairy farmers who have been equally badly hit? Will my hon. Friend find some way to help them as well as those in the less-favoured areas?

I am aware of the particular problems of the dairy sector, but I think it is correct to say that the sector in most need is the livestock producers in those areas where fodder is in short supply. Buying it in will prove expensive.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the fodder producers and others producing non-subsidised crops are in the greatest need? Will he assure the House that not only will there be an announcement of what measures will be taken urgently, but that the Department will ensure that help goes to farmers in greatest need rather than to sectors in greatest need and that resources are not spread too far by giving money to those who do not need it?

My hon. Friend has highlighted one of the problems, which is that we must try to ensure that the money goes to those sectors of the industry that are in most need. However, it would be difficult to target in on individual farmers. We are aware of the problems, for example, in Stirling, in my hon. Friend's constituency. That sector is being considered along with others.

Is the Minister aware that already some loads of fodder have been imported from Canada? That shows the seriousness of the problem—it is not even possible to buy winter feed from the Scottish mainland. As the weather was apparent several months ago, and as Lord Gray saw the situation several weeks ago, is not this delay unacceptable?

I am aware that hay has been imported from Canada, and that highlights the problem. It is not just a matter of cost, but of the availability of hay. There is more to the harvest problem than hay—there is also a cereal problem, which has a knock-on effect to the feeding sector. We had to wait until we saw the whole picture, and we have to consider carefully how we should set about giving help so that it goes, in the most appropriate way, to the sectors most in need.

Does the Minister not appreciate that when his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) asks for public expenditure to be increased things must be in a bad way? It is not good enough for the Minister to tell the House that the matter is under consideration. Is he aware that the farmers in my constituency, who welcomed Lord Gray earlier this year, left him in no doubt of the gravity of the position and demanded quick action? The House, particularly Labour Members, knows that the farming community often cries wolf, but on this occasion the wolf is there and we have seen the devastation. Does the Minister accept that action must be taken quickly?

As I have said, financial help will be given to the hardest hit sectors of the industry. Considerable public money is already given to agriculture. This financial year, Scottish agriculture received about £157 million in various allowances and schemes, and that is part and parcel of the Government's aid to agriculture and of public spending. Nobody on this side of the House denies that that is an important part of the Government's role in the economy.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the worst hit area in the whole of Britain is that of our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Is he further aware that many farmers are selling their breeding stock to pay for the fodder that they must buy, and, therefore, are liable to lose the premium headage payments of their entire herd? Will he consider a derogation for this year because of that?

My hon. Friend is right to point out those particular difficulties, and we have them in mind. We have already secured and announced a small but useful extension of the closing date for applications for the Buckler cow subsidy from 30 September to 30 November this year.

We welcome the promise of emergency aid for agriculture, just as we would welcome aid for other hard-pressed industries in Scotland. However, I must press the Minister on the intolerable delay in implementing that promise. Is he aware that Lord Gray said on BBC radio on 3 October that the aid package would be finalised in weeks rather than months? Is he further aware that the weeks are turning into months, and that many livestock farmers are facing a critical position now? We have had the general promise. When will we get the hard cash?

I have made it clear that we hope to make an announcement fairly soon. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's personal interest in the matter. One of the factors that we had to take into account was the cereal harvest, and the amount of straw that would remain after it to help with feeding. I hope that there was not too much burning of straw where the hon. Gentleman farms. I should be interested to know whether he saw straw burning, and whether he and his neighbours took a responsible view on burning straw.

May we take it from this afternoon's exchanges that the Minister and his Department have been shaken out of their political complacency on this issue? As hon. Members on both sides have stressed, for between a month and six weeks the upland farmers, the hill sector of livestock farming, have had great problems buying winter feedstuffs. Is he aware that the Government have driven Scottish agriculture so deeply into indebtedness that many farmers are not financially capable of handling one bad harvest? Is that not a general indictment of the Government's policies in this area?

My right hon. and noble Friend Lord Gray, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have been well aware of the problem for some time. That is why I said that we were taking steps to work out a programme which would bring maximum help to those in greatest need. Some time ago I visited some farms in my constituency and attended markets to see what the price of livestock would be. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is talking rubbish when he suggests that only he is concerned.

Crosshouse Hospital And Prestwick Airport (Contingency Plans)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to pay an official visit to (a) Crosshouse hospital and (b) Prestwick airport to discuss Her Majesty's Government's contingency plans for their use in time of crisis or war; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans to visit Crosshouse hospital or Prestwick airport for this purpose, but any contingency plans involving the use of those facilities would be the subject of appropriate consultations with the authorities concerned.

Is the Secretary of State not ashamed that the people affected by the plans had to read about them in the Sunday Mail? Why have no consultations taken place between Ayrshire and Arran health board and the local authorities in the area? What contingency plans have been made for the patients in Crosshouse hospital who will be ejected from the wards when American troops take over?

I have no responsibility for what appears in the Sunday Mail or any other newspaper. As the hon. Gentleman will know, any plans of this sort are necessarily classified, and are never confirmed or denied, for obvious reasons. I assure him that in the event of any such contingency plans, the requirements of the home and resident population always take priority.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Prestwick is one of the few fog-free airports in the United Kingdom? Does he accept that it is essential that it is retained so that it can be used as an emergency airport in times of hostility?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I know the wide range of uses for which Prestwick is suitable. Fortunately, the Government, in their recent review, confirmed Prestwick airport's present role, and that is being developed.

Prison Overcrowding


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on overcrowding in Scottish prisons.

Substantial overcrowding in Scottish prisons is currently limited to four penal establishments—Barlinnie, Edinburgh and Inverness prisons, and Longriggend remand unit. The position will remain difficult until the refurbished Greenock prison and phase II of Shotts prison are ready for occupation in March 1986 and March 1987 respectively.

Does the Minister appreciate that overcrowding is causing great concern to Scottish prison officers, who are being asked to work in impossible conditions which apply beyond the establishments to which he referred—to Peterhead, for example? Was it not a disgrace that in the last financial year the capital budget for the prison service was underspent by the Scottish Office? Does that not illustrate the Minister's concern about this very serious problem?

We are concerned about the problem. The fact that the projects at Greenock and Shotts are coming on stream in the medium term shows that we are and have been concerned about the problem for some time.

I am sure that my hon. Friend will have listened with interest to the comment by the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) about Peterhead prison in my constituency. Peterhead is overcrowded. Serious problems occur because long-term prisoners need more accommodation. What is happening about the building of the new prison?

My hon. Friend should table a question on the subject raised in the latter part of his supplementary question. Peterhead is a problem because of the nature of the prisoners in that institution. We always want to ensure that the conditions there are such that the staff can cope with the most difficult prisoners that we have to hold in our penal institutions.

Does the Minister believe that the provision of additional places will completely remove the overcrowding? Is he not worried that the availability of additional spaces might simply lead to further and additional incarceration sentences?

I do not think that the judiciary considers whether the prison service has expanded before it decides on a medium-sized sentence or a long sentence. It is difficult to project into the future. My Department is considering ways of producing reliable projections to guide us in our plans.

In discussions will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the regrettable conditions in which prisoners on remand are kept?

That is one of the problems. One of the factors which has led to overcrowding is the increase in the length of time that remand prisoners are kept in custody awaiting trial. I am asking my Department to examine that problem.

If the Chancellor's statement yesterday means extra resources for the Scottish Office, will the Minister get his hands on some of them to establish more designated places?

As the hon. Gentleman knows from experience, such matters have to be discussed by Scottish Office Ministers. I shall be putting in a plug for designated places.

Scottish Tuc


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any immediate plans to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the state of the Scottish economy.

I met representatives of the STUC yesterday to discuss Ravenscraig and Gartcosh. I have no other immediate plans for a meeting to discuss the Scottish economy.

Between now and when the Secretary of State again meets the STUC, will he reflect on the unacceptably high level of unemployment in Scotland, and its effects and pressures on social services?

Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why he has decided not to establish an inspectorate of social services in Scotland, which would have protected the most disadvantaged in our society, such as the mentally handicapped, the elderly and the young offender?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern about a genuine problem. One of the happier features of the difficult times for public expenditure during the past few years has been the increase in provision for social work and social services, precisely because a larger number of people have been unemployed.

When my right hon. Friend meets the STUC, will he point out the benefits of a low inflation policy, which would result in increased jobs in Scotland? Indeed, does it not enable my right hon. Friend to provide more money for the assistance of essential services such as health, social work and education?

My hon. Friend is right. Were I to have such a meeting, I would certainly mention the points to which he referred. If the STUC requested a meeting about the current Scottish economy, I should draw to its attention the fact that all the trends—with the exception of the difficult question of unemployment—are extremely good. What is more, the number of people in employment in Scotland is rising.

Will the right hon. Gentleman allow the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to get away with his view that there is no connection between the future of Gartcosh and the future of Ravenscraig?

I am still evaluating the evidence that was presented to me by the shop stewards committee, which came to see me a few weeks ago. The matter is complex and involves digging deeply into the working methods of the industry. The current position is that the Government have secured the future of Ravenscraig; management has decided that Gartcosh must close.

When the Secretary of State next meets the STUC to discuss the economy, will he be in a position to say exactly when decisions will be made about the LEGUP scheme? In particular, will he be in a position to say when a decision is likely to be made about LEGUP assistance for the Landfall development in Dundee, on which construction, service and tourism jobs are heavily reliant?

I warmly welcome the hon. Gentleman, who I am very glad to see back in the House. The matter to which he refers is currently under consideration. It is an important proposal, and I assure him that we shall urge those concerned to reach a decision as quickly as possible.

In view of the Chancellor's very encouraging statement on the economy yesterday, will my right hon. Friend say how much more is being spent in real terms on health and roads in Scotland compared with the miserable amount spent by the Labour Government in 1979?

My hon. Friend is correct in his assumption. It seems almost impossible to get people to understand the plain fact that the real growth in spending on the Health Service is about 7 per cent., even at the most pessimistic forecast. It is high time that people gave more credit where credit is due.

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that he is almost wholly isolated on the issue of Gartcosh? Even within the Scottish Conservative party there is a great deal of growing discontent and doubt about the way that he has represented Scottish interests. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that his failure to intervene on Gartcosh is every day looking more and more like an abdication of responsibility? Will he guarantee that when he is evaluating the evidence he will do so with a genuinely open mind? If, as we believe, it is clear that there is a connection between Ravenscraig and Gartcosh, and that Ravenscraig will be lonely and exposed if Gartcosh is closed, will he at least join the remainder of Scotland and fight to save the plant?

The hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I have both made it clear that if it were established that the closure of Gartcosh would lead inevitably to the closure of Ravenscraig we would have to review the position, but that is not the case. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will recall that no Labour Government ever intervened in ordinary management decisions of the nationalised industries that they set up. It would be wrong to do so. Indeed, the type of evidence presented on the matter is an eloquent testimony to the wisdom of nationalised industries being run by those appointed to run them and not being managed in detail by the Government of the day.

Polkemmet Bing


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his action to help the National Coal Board to alleviate the emissions to the Whitburn/Blackburn/Bathgate area from the smoking Polkemmet bing.

The question of emissions from Polkemmet bing is a matter for the local authority to pursue with the National Coal Board.

Her Majesty's industrial pollution inspectorate has given advice previously about the problem and is available to do so again if it is asked.

Obviously there must be concern about any emission, but in this case it is the responsibility of the district council, under the Clean Air Act 1956 to decide whether action can be taken against the owners of the mine if they fail to take all practicable means to prevent combustion and to prevent or minimise the emission of smoke and fumes.

The emissions from the bing or tip, call it what we will, must be intolerable to local residents. Cannot the Government press the National Coal Board to remove the offensive heap? The local residents must be suffering greatly from the terrible smells.

I am sure that both the district council and the National Coal Board will note with interest my hon. Friend's question. The district council is obtaining advice on the health aspects from the community medical specialist employed by the local health board.

Teachers' Dispute


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on progress made in solving the Scottish teachers' dispute.

I refer the hon. Member to the statement I made in the House on 22 October.

Since the Government are embarking on a brainwashing national exercise to persuade us that we are on the brink of a marvellous, prosperous era, does the Secretary of State not think it appropriate to allow the teachers of Scotland a share of that prosperity by setting up an independent review board? With the impending Christmas season, would it not be a nice Christmas present for parents, teachers, children and Scottish education generally if he were to concede that request?

I am glad to welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the message that is being sent round from this side of the House. I have been trying hard to persuade the teachers to accept more money on any reasonable terms since December last. The tragedy is that a very large number of teachers have not yet appreciated how much the offer of extra money that I made them in August involves or could involve. I hope very much that they will pay more attention to that.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many teachers in my constituency would like a first phase interim pay settlement linked to negotiations on contracts of service?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that the teachers suggested when I met them in late September that that might be a way out of the dispute, but that is not a realistic proposal, amounting as it does to a request for a very large increase in pay now with nothing in return for the public. We have to remember that the public must expect to get decent value for the money that they spend on teachers.

Is the Secretary of State aware that at the all-party meeting held last week in the House of Commons during the teachers' lobby of Parliament, the spokespersons of all parties got a fair hearing, with the exception of the Tory party spokesperson, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Fletcher) who got such a belting from the teachers that I, as the neutral chairperson, had to come to his rescue to allow him to be heard? Is that not indicative of how much the Tory party is isolated and completely out of touch with the opinion of teachers, parents and the general public in Scotland? Will the Secretary of State now face up to his responsibilities and set up an independent pay review to bring about an end to the damaging dispute, which has been dragging on for well over a year?

If I were the hon. Gentleman and had been in the chair at the meeting, I would be ashamed to admit that everyone had a fair hearing except my hon. Friend. As chairman, the hon. Gentleman had an obligation to ensure that my hon. Friend had better treatment than that.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have told his former colleagues in teaching and his constituents who are in teaching to look very hard at the offer made to them. It was an offer, over a four-year period, of extra money from the Government amounting to 10 per cent. over and above the annual increases negotiated in the normal way. There are many workers in many other industries who would be very glad to receive such an offer.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituents are doubly hit by the EIS targeting of Lenzie and the primary school feeders of Kilsyth? Does he think that it is any accident that the bulk of the targeting action is directed against children who go to schools in the constituencies of Conservative Members of Parliament? Does he agree that it is as morally indefensible as the targeting of schools in his constituency and those of his ministerial colleagues? Will my right hon. Friend remind the EIS that, since the dispute must be solved by negotiation, the best thing it can do for Scottish education is to respond to his invitation to come back and talk?

My hon. Friend is correct. Whatever happens, the dispute is bound to end by negotiation. I do not think that anyone would disagree when I say that I have played my part in trying to get negotiations going between the parties as quickly as possible, and I again urge them to do so.

I express my deepest sympathy to my hon. Friend about the effect of targeting on schoolchildren in his constituency. Having suffered severely from targeting for most of last year, we have discovered in our area that it is extremely counter-productive, as all parents of almost all political persuasions think that it is a grossly unfair practice.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that there is real concern in Scotland among parents and teachers that he is no longer able to maintain an adequate education system? There is particular concern that he will not be able to ensure that there is proper provision for pupils not only to take examinations but to be fairly assessed and marked. Will he acknowledge that the statement he has just made and the one that he made last week at the Scottish Council are a misrepresentation of the Government's position, and that the offer he has mentioned would not even guarantee teachers a cost of living increase for the next four years?

If the hon. Gentleman, as a Member of Parliament with every access to information, thinks that that is a proper description of the offer, we are indeed in a bad position. One of the chief difficulties is that very few people seem to have bothered to find out what the offer amounts to. The hon. Gentleman's description of it is totally incorrect. The offer to the teachers was of extra Government money over four years amounting to 10 per cent. over and above the annual increases negotiated. That has no relation whatever to the description given by the hon. Gentleman.

The teachers are perfectly aware of the offer on the table, and they have determined repeatedly that they are not willing to accept it. When will the Government recognise the determination of the teachers in the campaign and come forward with a new initiative to settle the dispute?

I am looking all the time for any way forward in the dispute. Most of the teachers' representatives would agree that great efforts have been made by the Scottish Office and themselves to find a way forward. I am in no doubt whatever that teachers feel that they are under-remunerated, under-appreciated and badly treated. That is why I have been trying since December last year to find a way of paying them more money. It is time that the vast majority of teachers responded and came to discussions to make use of the offers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the teachers are in their present position because they were treated so badly under the Labour Government?

As I pointed out to the deputation last week, if the teachers are concerned about the erosion of their position since the Houghton awards, more than half of the erosion happened under the Labour Government.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the 10 per cent. to which he refers is 10 per cent. of the first year's salary, and not—this is the impression that he giving—10 per cent. of the third or fourth year's salary. It is very important that that should be made clear. The Secretary of State said at Gleneagles last week—and he has repeated it today—that he appreciates that the teachers are fed up and feel that their value to society is not being recognised. What will he do about that in practical terms? If he sits down and does nothing, as he has been doing over these past months, the promise and commitment that has has given on his own behalf and on behalf of the Scottish Examination Board, that the examinations next year will go ahead, will simply be incapable of fulfilment. The examinations will not go ahead unless he gets the dispute settled quickly.

No amount of fancy arithmetic alters the fact that the extra money offered from the Government is £125 million over and above the annual increases that will be negotiated year on year by the normal machinery. That is what has to be understood.

As regards the examinations, I go a long way with the hon. Gentleman in what he says. There is no doubt whatever that if the boycott by all the teachers of the examination process really does take place, while the Examination Board will do everything it can to run the examinations, such a boycott is bound to cause considerable damage to the examination system. That is an additional reason why all concerned ought to try their best to change their positions to resolve the dispute. I shall certainly do all I can to bring that about.

Rates Relief


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to announce the amount of rates relief available to domestic and commercial ratepayers in Scotland for the financial year 1986–87.

The level of domestic rate relief in 1986–87 is one of the elements of the rate support grant settlement that I plan to discuss with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 29 November. My right hon. Friend is still considering the future level of the revaluation rate rebates, which affect both domestic and commercial ratepayers.

Is the Minister now in a position to tell us what level of claims has been made in the current financial year of the £50 million earmarked? It would be an interesting figure. Could he give us an assurance that there is a commitment on the Government's part in principle to continue the scheme into next year? If that is the case, it would be necessary to give the important additional assurance that it would be financed by new money and not just by the aggregate Exchequer grant available for local authorities next year.

The hon. Member must be aware that both my right hon. Friend and I fully realise the problems facing ratepayers in Scotland, as shown in the action that we took this year in increasing domestic rate relief eightfold, from £14 million to £102 million. We also gave relief to the domestic and commercial ratepayers who had valuations over three times. That is an indication of our concern. We shall have to consider, in the light of all the circumstances arising out of the rate support grant settlement, the level of future help to be given in these areas.

Will my hon. Friend bear carefully in mind the substantial benefit that came to people through the revaluation rebate scheme, notwithstanding what may have been said by Opposition Members? Will he and his ministerial colleagues do all in their power to ensure that the scheme is retained until such time as we have rate reform in place?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because I have found that the scheme that we introduced was warmly welcomed by ratepayers across Scotland, hard hit by revaluation—more warmly welcomed than it was by hon. Members on the Opposition Benches, particularly those in the Liberal party and the SDP. At the same time, it is worth remembering that the best protection for ratepayers in Scotland lies in local authorities keeping expenditure down.

Is the Minister aware that there is already considerable anger among the ratepayers in Scotland that the full £50 million promised by the Secretary of State was not forthcoming, and that that anger will be as nothing compared to the anger among ratepayers when bills come through the postbox next year if no rate relief is given? If there is no new money forthcoming, how will he and his right hon. Friend explain this humiliating defeat in Cabinet to the Scottish conference and to the electors in next year's regional elections?

May I take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member on his first appearance at the Opposition Dispatch Box, and say that on the Government side, at least, we look forward with relish to his future contributions from that position.

I listened to what the hon. Member had to say and I hope that, as he is so concerned about the interests of ratepayers and the anger that they will undoubtedly show if rate bills go up next year, he will press those local authorities that are controlled by the Labour party to keep their expenditure down and to keep rates down accordingly.

Will my hon. Friend reconsider the rebates? A rebate that does not remove the difficulties of the domestic or commercial ratepayer having his principal bill of the year multiplied by a factor of 10 times inflation is not a service to the domestic or commercial ratepayer. Unless the factor is realistic, it will have no political or economic effect.

My hon. and learned Friend and I have discussed this matter previously. The decision to set the eligibility factor at a multiplying factor of three times was taken after very careful consideration of the proper measure of relief required to be given. I believe that my hon. and learned Friend's constituents have benefited from this. I am sure they will let him know whether they wish a scheme of this sort to continue.

Agricultural Capital Grant Schemes


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he intends to revise the Agriculture Capital Grant Schemes Regulations in the light of the damage to the industry occasioned by the poor summer conditions.

As I have already indicated, the Government are currently considering how we can best aid those farmers most seriously affected by the bad weather. A number of options are being explored, and it would not be appropriate for me to anticipate the outcome.

Is the Minister aware that due to the bad weather in the summer a number of drainage schemes undertaken under the former capital grants scheme might overrun the cut-off date of 31 December? Furthermore, a number of farmers will next year have to undertake reseeding as a result of the bad weather, even though they had not planned to do so, and that will limit their opportunities for future investment under the new capital grants schemes. In those circumstances, will the Minister accept that not to make any appropriate relaxation of the regulations to meet the problems would be unduly niggardly?

I accept that this year there may have been some grant-aided activities that have proved to be less than satisfactory or, indeed, a total loss. If a farmer decides that he wishes to start afresh next year, our Department will be prepared to look sympathetically at such a proposal within the context of the new grants schemes.

Although we thought that most of these farms had satisfactory drainage and liming and would not require major capital grants schemes, is my hon. Friend aware that that is no longer the case because of the severe climatic conditions in the summer? Will he therefore consider the inclusion of full money for liming and drainage grants in any future capital grants allocation?

The new capital grants schemes that came into operation on 1 October were devised following extensive consultation, and they are designed to reflect the priorities in European Community regulation 797/85. Notwithstanding that, I am satisfied that these grants constitute a worthwhile package of assistance.

Teachers' Dispute


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what response he has made to the suggestion from the organisation representing parents of children in targeted schools that an independent arbiter or conciliator be appointed to help settle the dispute in Scottish schools.

My right hon. Friend met representatives of the co-ordinating committee on 24 September. Since then he has, as he told the House on 22 October, been in direct contact with the teachers' side, and the discussions that ensued have produced useful clarification of their position. For the time being, therefore, there seems little further that could be contributed by an intermediary, but we shall continue to bear the possibility in mind.

I am more encouraged by that response than I expected to be. As on earlier questions my hon. Friends were strongly seeking a new initiative, why has not this very good initiative been taken up? I have spoken to the Minister about this on a number of occasions, and he will understand that a conciliator could act as a go-between, solve this damaging dispute and do so perhaps within one or two weeks. We are not talking about bringing in a wise man—an arbiter—to decide something that the Secretary of State is unable to implement, because the Secretary of State has ruled that out. We are talking about a conciliator. Why has that been turned down? As the Under-Secretary has indicated that this has not been ruled out for the time being, will he say when he might make a substantive decision about the suggestion?

Technical discussions, not negotiations, are continuing with the teachers' representatives. It is not, therefore, appropriate to introduce an intermediary, but we shall continue to bear that possibility in mind.

Does my hon. Friend agree that while conciliation may sound fine in principle, each initiative that has been taken by him and his right hon. Friend has been met by increased targeting by the teachers? Does not this show that, at least until now, the teachers have been more keen to exercise political muscle than to conciliate?

I agree with my hon. Friend that targeting is not only unjust, discriminatory and counterproductive, but that it will not lead to a resolution of the dispute. The dispute can be resolved only by reasoned negotiation.

The resolution of the dispute has been held up because of the Government's refusal to accept an independent pay review, presumably on the ground that it might lead to an increase in public expenditure. In view of the highly publicised declaration in the last few days of the Government's new-found love of high public expenditure, will they now give evidence of their belief in it by granting an independent pay review?

As the Government have made clear on numerous occasions, pay cannot be considered in isolation from the duties for which teachers are paid. That is the position, not only of the Government, but of the employers, the Labour-led management. The hon. Gentleman referred to public expenditure. As my right hon. Friend told the House earlier, he is prepared to permit an extra £125 million to be used over four years to finance the kind of pay and conditions package that has been suggested by the management.

Is it not the case that virtually everybody who is concerned about this disastrous dispute has put forward proposals for breaking the deadlock, except the EIS? Is my hon. Friend confident that if he accepted the proposal of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) it would be met with any greater response from the EIS than the hon. Gentleman's very sensible proposal in February of this year?

My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) will recognise that he obtained a more reasoned response to that suggestion from the Government than he obtained from the EIS.

Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State accept that during this period there has been a hardening of the teachers' attitude because they feel so disadvantaged? How long does he expect the dispute to continue, to the damage of the educational prospects of all schoolchildren in Scotland? When will he take resolute steps to halt the dispute and acknowledge that the teachers are disadvantaged? When will he take steps to obtain an independent view of that, even for himself?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has been listening to what my right hon. Friend and I have said. Of course this is a very damaging dispute. Some of the tactics used by the EIS are without precedent. The Government recognise the concerns of teachers. That is why they have consistently said that they would be prepared to make extra resources available to finance a sensible pay and conditions package.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the real problem is that the teachers' leaders do not have confidence in their own ability to reach a negotiated settlement on factors that suit them admirably? There is money on the table, and changes in conditions have been proposed that would enhance their pay in many areas. They are in a unique position. If they were in a position to exploit it, as would any sensible trade union leader, they would do so, instead of calling for this nonsense of an independent review of pay alone.

As my hon. Friend rightly points out, the kind of package that has been suggested would have great advantages for the teaching profession.

Rating Reform


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to announce the timetable for and scope of the reform of the Scottish rating system; and if he will make a statement.

We are looking carefully at the whole system of local government finance, including rating. A consultative document setting out the Government's proposals will be published at around the turn of the year.

Is the Minister aware that his answer does nothing to stop the further disenchantment with his party in Scotland, nor the feeling of betrayal at the absence of any mention of rating reform in the Queen's Speech? Will the hon. Gentleman come clean and tell us that he has absolutely no idea what to do about rating reform—this year, next year, sometime, never?

The hon. Gentleman should not be so hopeful. We realise that it is not in the interests of the Labour party that there should be reform of the rating system, which suits the overspending authorities controlled by Labour. Had there been an announcement about legislation on rating in the Queen's Speech before the production of the Green Paper, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have been the first to criticise us for doing so.