House Of Commons
Wednesday 13 May 1987
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
I have a short statement to make. The order of the House of 13 November last provided for a ballot to be held today for private Members' motions to be moved on 5 June. Clearly, in the changed circumstances there is no point in having a ballot for that day I have therefore given directions that it should not be held. I understand that this is acceptable to the House.
|Date when Closure claimed, and by whom||Question before House or Committee when claimed||Whether in House or Committee||Whether assent given to Motion or withheld by the Chair||Assent withheld because, in the opinion of the Chair, a decision would shortly be arrived at without that Motion||Result of Motion and, if a Division, Numbers for and against|
and (2) in the Standing Committees under the following heads:—
|Date when Closure claimed, and by whom||Question before Committee when claimed||Whether assent given to Motion or withheld by the Chair||Assent withheld because, in the opinion of the Chair, a decision would shortly be arrived at without that Motion||Result of Motion and, if a Division, Numbers for and against|
—[The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Of the number of Instruments considered in Session 1986–87 by the Joint Committee and the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments respectively pursuant to their orders of reference, showing in each case the numbers of Instruments subject to the different forms of parliamentary procedure and of those within the Committees' orders of reference for which no parliamentary procedure is prescribed by statute, and the numbers drawn to the special attention of the House or of both Houses distinguishing the ground in the Committees' orders of reference upon which such attention was invited; and the numbers of Instruments considered by a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c., and by the House respectively, in Session 1986–87, showing the number where the Question on the proceedings relating thereto was put forthwith under Standing Order No. 101(5). — [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Private Bills And Private Business
of the number of Private Bills, Hybrid Bills and Bills for confirming Provisional Orders introduced into this House, and brought from the House of Lords, and of Acts passed in Session 1986–87;
Of all Private Bills, Hybrid Bills and Bills for confirming Provisional Orders which in Session 1986–87 were reported on
City Of London (Various Powers) Bill
That in the case of the City of London (Various Powers) Bill, Standing Order 208 (Notice of consideration of Lords Amendments) be suspended and that the Lords Amendments be now considered.—[The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Lords amendments agreed to.
Closure Of Debate (Standing Order No 35)
respecting applications of Standing Order No. 35 (Closure of debate) during Session 1986–87, (1) in the House and in Committee of the whole House under the following heads:
by Committees on Opposed Bills or by Committees nominated wholly by the House or partly by the House and partly by the Committee of Selection, together with the names of the selected Members who served on each Committee; the first and also the last day of the sitting of each Committee; the number of days on which each Committee sat; the number of days on which each selected Member served; the number of days occupied by each Bill in Committee; the Bills of which the Preambles were reported to have been proved; the Bills of which the Preambles were reported to have been not proved; and in the case of Bills for confirming Provisional Orders, whether the Provisional Order ought or ought not to be confirmed;
Of all Private Bills and Bills for confirming Provisional Orders which in Session 1986–87 were referred by the Committee of Selection to the Committee on Unopposed Bills, together with the names of the Members who served on the Committee; the number of days on which the Committee sat; and the number of days on which each Member attended;
And of the number of Private Bills, Hybrid Bills and Bills for confirming Provisional Orders withdrawn or not proceeded with by the parties, those Bills being specified which were referred to Committees and dropped during the sittings of the Committee.— [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
of the number of Public Bills distinguishing Government from other Bills, introduced into this House, or brought from the House of Lords, during Session 1986–87, showing:
(1) the number which received the Royal Assent, and
(2) the number which did not receive the Royal Assent,
indicating those which were introduced into but not passed by this House, those passed by this House but not by the House of Lords, those passed by the House of Lords but not by this House, those passed by both Houses but Amendments not agreed to; and distinguishing the stages at which such Bills were dropped, postponed or rejected in either House of Parliament, or the stages which such Bills reached by the time of Dissolution. — [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
for Session 1986–87, of statistics relating to the membership, work costs and staff of Select Committees with so much of the same information as is relevant to the Chairmen's Panel and the Court of Referees. — [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Sittings Of The House
of the days on which the House sat in Session 1986–87, stating for each day the day of the month and day of the week, the hour of the meeting, and the hour of the adjournment; and the total number of hours occupied in the sittings of the House, and the average time; and showing the number of hours on which the House sat each day, and the number of hours after the time appointed for the interruption of business. — [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Special Procedure Orders
of the number of Special Procedure Orders presented in Session 1986–87; the number withdrawn; the number annulled; the number against which Petitions or copies of Petitions were deposited; the number of Petitions of General Objection and for Amendment respectively considered by the Chairmen; the number of such Petitions certified by the Chairmen as proper to be received, and the number certified by them as being Petitions of General Objection and for Amendment respectively; the number referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses; the number reported with Amendments by a Joint Committee, and the number in relation to which a Joint Committee reported that the Order be not approved and be amended respectively; and the number of Bills introduced for the confirmation of Special Procedure Orders;
Of Special Procedure Orders which, in Session 1986–87, were referred to a Joint Committee, together with the names of the Commons Members who served on each Committee; the number of days on which each Committee sat; and the number of days on which each such Member attended.— [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
for Session 1986–87, of (1) the total number and the names of all Members (including and distinguishing Chairmen) who have been appointed to serve on one or more of the Standing Committees showing, with regard to each of such Members, the number of sittings to which he was summoned and at which he was present; (2) the number of Bills, Estimates, Matters and other items referred to Standing Committees pursuant to Standing Order No. 101 (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c) or Standing Order No. 102 (Standing Committees on European Community Documents) considered by all and by each of the Standing Committees, the number of sittings of each Committee and the titles of all Bills, Estimates, Matters and other items as above considered by a Committee, distinguishing where a Bill was a Government Bill or was brought from the House of Lords, and showing in the case of each Bill, Estimate, Matter and other item, the particular Committee by which it was considered, the number of sittings at which it was considered and the number of Members present at each of those sittings. — [The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Oral Answers To Questions
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for Scotland for the last available date and in May 1979, compiled on a similar basis.
On a comparable basis, seasonally adjusted unemployment in Scotland was 150,400 in May 1979 and 344,600 in March 1987.
Is it not astonishing that the Secretary of State for Scotland can stand at that Dispatch Box without hanging his head in shame when announcing these horrendous figures? I suspect that he will not need a crystal ball to translate those figures into terms of human misery, despondency and despair that the Government have spread throughout Scotland. I say to him, on behalf of the unemployed of Scotland, that he has one opportunity for atonement, and that is to resign here and now.
Before I do, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman on his return to the House? We are all pleased to see him after his recent illness.I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's strength of feeling on this subject, but he should be aware of the substantial progress that the Scottish economy has been making, particularly over the last few months. I remind the House that the Scottish Business Survey, which was published by the Fraser of Allander Institute a few weeks ago, said:
"The short-term prospects for the Scottish economy have improved markedly during the opening months of 1987 with business optimism continuing to rise and the prospects of some growth in employment. Firms in all sectors expect both sales and new orders to grow over the next few months with manufacturing and construction being particularly buoyant."
Does my right hon. and learned Friend find it objectionable that the Opposition should speak in the way that they do, when their policies on nuclear power and weapons would, at a stroke, destroy scores of thousands of jobs in Scotland?
My hon. Friend is correct. The South of Scotland Electricity Board has estimated that electricity tariffs would have to increase by 20 to 30 per cent. as a consequence of the abandonment of nuclear power. Apart from anything else, that would have meant that the Finnish pulp mill, which is coming to Irvine, would not have contemplated a Scottish location, and many of the tens of thousands of jobs around Scotland—Caithness, in particular—would have been severely affected, if not entirely lost.
Is not the real indictment of the Secretary of State that after eight years he can rejoice in the unemployment figures that we have heard? He is so complacent about the situation that he relies solely on grasping the straws of short-term prospects. When will he do something about the Scottish economy, because under his care and that of his predecessor it has rotted away?
Far from being complacent, I am delighted that, over the past eight weeks, unemployment in Scotland has fallen by more than 16,000. I believe that the prospects for the Scottish economy are better than they have been for years. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the increased competitiveness of the Scottish economy, the increased productivity of those who work within that economy, and the far healthier state of the whole spectrum of Scottish business have enabled such improvements to take place.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall reading an article, in the Glasgow Herald in 1978, written by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) predicting that unemployment would be well over 3 million in the next five years and pointing out that that would be due to the large numbers of new young people coming on to the labour market? Surely the hon. Gentleman was right. Is it not wrong for the Opposition to indulge in such double-standard electioneering and to seek to repudiate the figures that members of the Opposition predicted when they were in government?
My hon. Friend is correct. The hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) made that prediction and emphasised that that increase would take place irrespective of which party was in government. However, thanks to improvements in productivity, competitiveness and the fall in inflation that has taken place since the Government came to power, not only is the standard of living of the Scottish people higher than ever before, but we have the prospect of a continuing fall in unemployment in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom.
Does the Secretary of State realise that unemployment in the Irvine travel-to-work area is now nearly 12,000, which is the equivalent of 25 per cent.? Is the Secretary of State aware that during the past six weeks I have twice raised the question of the threatened closure of McKinnon of Scotland knitwear factory in Irvine? The right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friends promised me their full support, but I have now been informed that the Industry Department in Scotland has withdrawn its offer of financial help to one prospective buyer of that factory. Why?
The hon. Gentleman has been misinformed. Discussions are continuing, and we have made it clear that the prospect of financial help for anyone interested in taking over that particular plant remains available for discussion. The Scottish Office has withdrawn no offers of help from anyone in connection with this particular plant. The hon. Gentleman, who represents Irvine, knows perfectly well that the prospects for Irvine took a tremendous turn for the better with the decision by the Finnish pulp mill to locate in Irvine. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the Labour party's policy on nuclear power would doom any prospect of that pulp mill coming to his constituency.
In view of the figures, is not this professional optimism from the Secretary of State beginning to sound a little like cant? Is it not shameful that, after eight years of Conservative success, of which we hear so much, there are 363,000 Scots drawing unemployment benefit? According to the Library statisticians and working on a comparable basis, that is about 130 per cent. more than the figure that the Prime Minister inherited in 1979. Does the Secretary of State accept that unemployment must be a key issue in the coming weeks? Whatever the hopes of Scottish Ministers, many people in Scotland cannot forget the scarring misery of the dole queues and, I am afraid, the contribution that has been made to that crisis by the Government's thrawn indifference to what is happening in our communities.
First, the hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that unemployment doubled under the previous Labour Government, and I do not recall his drawing comparable conclusions at that time. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman knows well that the competitiveness and productivity of Scottish industry have never been higher. Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Government have not only given substantial support to the Scottish Development Agency and Locate in Scotland, but have transformed those bodies into internationally recognised agencies, which are the best of their kind anywhere in Western Europe. In addition, the hon. Gentleman knows that the Labour party's proposals for an assembly with tax-raising powers have already been condemned by Scottish industry as likely to do enormous damage to industry and to the prospects for employment in Scotland.
Order. I remind the House that there are a number of questions on unemployment on the Order Paper. I ask for brief questions, which may lead to brief answers.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what follow-up discussions he has had with Guinness plc since the statement by the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) to the Scottish Grand Committee on 17 July 1986.
My right hon. and learned Friend has met representatives of Guinness on three occasions since 17 July 1986. I have also been involved in meetings with the company. These discussions, which are continuing, have ranged over a variety of matters related to Guinness's activities in Scotland.
Why did the Secretary of State for Scotland not answer the question? Is it because he realises that it was unfair of the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) to upstage the leader of the Liberal party last July during the Scottish Grand Committee debate on industry when he gave an assurance that the Secretary of State was on his charger as far as the Guinness company was concerned? We know that the Secretary of State is accident-prone in regard to horses. He falls off them. What more is the Secretary of State doing to get the company to locate in Scotland and bring the promised jobs?
We shall miss the hon. Gentleman's carefully modulated tones in the next Parliament. I wish him the best of luck in his future careerAs my answer demonstrated, my right hon. and learned Friend and I keep in close touch with Guinness. We are watching the continuing developments involving the increasing location of its activities in Scotland.
When my hon. Friend discusses matters with Guinness, will he discuss broken pledges and pledges that may not as yet have been fulfilled? Will he consider any pledge that was given to the leader of the Liberal party who robustly came out in defence of the Guinness attempted takeover of Bell's, Scotland's best performing whisky company at the time, on the basis that Bell's was in need of Guinness's assistance? We now see what that assistance has produced. We should like to know exactly what the promises were.
I am sure that the leader of the Liberal party can speak for himself, once he has cleared the matter with the leader of the Social Democratic party.My hon. Friend will be glad to know of Guinness's expanded activities in Perth. Britain's leading spirits organisation, covering the marketing and sales of all United Kingdom brands, will be located there and will create 50 new jobs.
Does my hon. Friend agree that Guinness is suffering from a marked shortage of genius and that it would not require much at all to fulfil the commitments that were made many times in Scotland last year to move its headquarters and jobs to Scotland? Will he tell the House what the members of the Guinness board are saying about those commitments?
I hope that the amount of genius on the Guinness board has increased now that the chairman and chief executive and also two leading non-executive directors are Scots. As my hon. Friend knows, the chairman's office is in Edinburgh. The chief executive of the group and the chief executive of the new united Distillers group also have offices in Edinburgh.
Will the Minister give us some assurance in relation not only to the headquarters of Bell's and other aspects of the Guinness subsidiary being located in Scotland, but the manufacturing base? Some of us have misgivings. We were given assurances by the previous management of Guinness—assurances that can bear no weight. Some hon. Members who have bottling plants in their constituencies are extremely worried about such assurances. What approaches have been made by his right hon. and learned Friend to ensure that not only the headquarters but the productive capacity and throughput of Bell's subsidiary are located in Scotland?
We are certainly in touch with Guinness on a continuing basis. The closure of bottling plants is regrettable, but some rationalisation of that kind was almost inevitable, regardless of ownership. All distilling, blending and bottling in the group is now centralised in Scotland.
Setting aside the whiff of City scandals, will the Minister explain to the House, as the Secretary of State has declined to do so, what happened to the pledges made on behalf of the Secretary of State on 17 July by the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary? What happened to the pledges about jobs? What happened to the firm, documentary commitments? What happened to the plan for location in Scotland? Above all, will the Minister tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the people of Scotland are now somewhat discouraged with his ill-founded optimism which has been shown most recently and notably in regard to Caterpillar?
I have already told the House of a number of developments to the advantage of Scotland in connection with Guinness. I can also point to the Glenochil yeast plant being retained in preference to the Bristol plant, thus saving 300 jobs; to the modernisation of the Johnny Walker bottling plant at Kilmarnock, where there are 800 jobs; and to the expansion of Gleneagles as an international leisure centre.
With regard to what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen) said about me, will my hon. Friend confirm that I was simply putting on record the position on 17 July in the interests of the people of Scotland and of all Scottish Members of Parliament? Does my hon. Friend agree that, irrespective of other matters, the whole of Scotland is full of admiration for the way in which Sir Norman Macfarlane has acted as chairman of Guinness?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I entirely agree with his latter remarks.
I called the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) because he was mentioned, so I shall call one more Opposition Member.
Because of the amalgamation with DCL, Guinness now owns almost the whole of the Port Dundas area in my constituency. The White Horse bottling plant has been lying empty for well over a year now, and steps should be taken by the Government to find out what will happen to that plant.
I dare say the hon. Gentleman will already have taken up that matter with the owners. I am sure that he shares my satisfaction at the continuing success of the whisky industry. Exports in the last year for which we have figures exceeded £1 billion in value.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding capital grants for village halls in the Stirling constituency; and if he is satisfied with the operation of the relevant scheme in the central region.
My hon. Friend has made representations on behalf of the communities involved in the grant scheme for village halls since Central regional council declined to support this programme. However, Stirling district council is prepared to sponsor projects, and I will be providing half the eligible costs to enable four to proceed.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is disgraceful that Central region should have sought to prevent halls in my constituency benefiting from grants from the Scottish Office to the extent of 50 per cent.? What is the position now in respect of the halls in Gartmore, Killin, Lochearnhead and Brig o'Turk?
I share my hon. Friend's concern that Central regional council did not agree to take part in what is considered in most parts of Scotland—including my own constituency—to be a worthwhile scheme. I can confirm that the four halls that he has mentioned will be going ahead, and that I shall be contributing £95,000 of central Government money to the project.
Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the people who run the village halls in Stirling, to which reference has been made, would be in a better position to organise their enterprises if the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations was given some support by his Department for getting a full-time officer, so that the schemes for co-ordinating SED and capital grants and other running costs could be made available publicly?
I would rather use the money to help the communities to build halls than create yet another centralised Scottish bureaucracy.
Is it not sheer humbug for a Tory Member of Parliament who has spent his undistinguished career here attacking all forms of public subsidies to seek to distort the record of Labour local authorities in relation to the provision of subsidies to village halls in his constituency? Is the Minister aware that no fewer than 40 village halls throughout rural Stirlingshire have had the benefit of assistance under this and other schemes, thanks to initiatives taken by Stirling district council — a Labour-controlled authority — under the excellent leadership of Councillor Michael Connarty?
I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) requires a lecture from the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who has his own distinguished line in hyprocrisy—[Interruption.]
Order. That is not a parliamentary phrase. Please withdraw it.
I quite happily withdraw the lane' word. The hon. Gentleman has a most distinguished line in his own unique blend of intellect which he brings to the House. Those of us who have to listen to him in agricultural debates, in which he is a noted expert. being a major landowner in Scotland, are well aware of his brilliance.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the total number of unemployed people in Scotland in (a) May 1979 and (b) May 1987 or the latest available date; and if he will make a statement.
There were 154,419 unemployed claimants in Scotland in May 1979 and 363,781 in March 1987. While unemployment still remains too high, it is encouraging to see the substantial reductions in the Scottish total in the last two months.
If the Minister has the chance of addressing the Prime Minister's Nuremburg-type rally at Perth this coming weekend, will he take off his Goebbels mask and tell the people of Scotland the whole truth which is that, according to the independent unemployment unit, the real total of unemployed people in Scotland is well over the 400,000 mark? There are over 400,000 reasons why the people of Scotland will reject the Tory party. The Tory party in Scotland will be reduced to a discredited rump at the forthcoming general election. Perhaps even the people of Galloway and Edinburgh, Pentlands and Argyie and Edinburgh, South will return Labour Members of Parliament instead of the Thatcherite lackeys who misrepresent them at present.
The hon. Member has a wonderful sense of humour. For the moment, I shall content myself by welcomimg the fact that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by about 1 per cent. over the last two months, and that about 77 per cent. of the members of his local job club go out of the job club into employment.
Is not the whole truth seen when one also looks at the figures of employment? Will my hon. Friend confirm that employment has been rising steadily in Scotland, together with manufacturing productivity, exports and industrial profitability?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In particular, self-employment has been rising sharply as people realise the attraction of setting up their own businesses in the improved economic climate that we have established in Scotland.
Does the Parliamentary Under-Secretary accept that many hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, and indeed many people throughout Scotland, will regard the figures that he has given as absolutely scandalous? Secondly, does he agree that he must look very much beyond even the figures that he has so starkly mentioned today? There are men over 40 who do not see any prospect of ever getting a job under this Administration, and many young people now in their early 20s have never had a decent job since they left school. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary and his colleagues, who are responsible for the administration of industry in Scotland, should think black burning shame of themselves that these young people should have no hope at all under this Government.
I can understand why the right hon. Gentleman, having had no familiarity in his party during its period in government with falling unemployment, may not recognise the good news that is now coming through in the Scottish economy. Unemployment is falling sharply among the long-term unemployed and among young unemployed. The economy is responding to the wide range of measures for training and increasing enterprise that we have generated in the last few years.
Will my hon. Friend tell the House the extent to which employment and self-employment have increased in Scotland since 1983?
Since 1983 self-employment has increased by 27 to 30 per cent. That is a very encouraging figure. In terms of employment generally, because of the expanded work force, undoubtedly there are many more people in employment than there have been for some considerable time.
Does the Minister acknowledge that since the Conservative Government came to power in 1979 Scotland has lost no fewer than 180,000 jobs in manufacturing industry and that nothing in the Government's policy is replacing those? Will he further acknowledge that, instead of selectively taking the last two months, the realistic trend of the last six months shows that the rate of decrease in unemployment in Scotland is such that it will take 160 years to get the unemployment level back to the level that the Tories inherited?
That is one of the most idiotic questions that I have heard in this Chamber for some considerable time. The hon. Gentleman takes no account whatever of the expansion of the service industry, and of banking and the financial sector, all of which generate good, effective and profitable jobs. A more significant point about manufacturing industry is that output is almost at the level that it was at when there were 190,000 more jobs in manufacturing. That improved productivity is the strongest safeguard for future growth and employment in Scotland.
Does the Minister agree that on no fewer than 19 occasions the Government have fiddled the figures, and that on each occasion that has, accidentally, Glory be, brought the figures down? Does the hon. Gentleman further agree with the Secretary of State for Employment, who said, "I lose no sleep over unemployment"? As Conservative Members are fond of quotations, does the Minister agree with the most recent quotation by the Secretary of State when he went to Renfrewshire, an area devastated by unemployment, where eight out of 10 young people in my constituency either have no job or are on short-term training, and said, "Every day is like Christmas."? If every day is like Christmas, when will the unemployed get some bloody presents from the Government?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong. There have been only six discernible changes—[Interruption.] —in the method of calculation of unemployment — [Interruption.] Two of the changes—the change to fortnightly registration and the inclusion of the severely disabled — have had the effect of increasing, not reducing, the unemployment count. If the hon. Gentleman wants to look for dramatic and substantial changes in the way in which the unemployment figures are calculated, he should look back at the previous Labour Administration, who removed adult students, which had an effect that could have been as high as 200,000 at some times in the year.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to alter his policy relating to the merger of primary schools so as to have at least three teachers.
My right hon. and learned Friend has no such policy. Decisions on those matters are essentially for local authorities.
Is the Minister aware that he will always be warmly welcomed in the Borders with his fishing rod in the increased leisure time that he will have from 12 June onwards, but that his last visit to my constituency has been widely misconstrued? The speech that he made at the opening of Newlands school, amalgamated with two schools two miles on either side of it, has been widely interpreted as meaning the first amalgamation of rural schools in scattered areas. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will make it clear that that was not his intention.
The right hon. Gentleman was present when I made my speech at that opening, and I think that he was as impressed as I was with the new school that was being built there. I would not embarrass him by asking him whether he was impressed by the speech, but I remind him of what I said in it. I said that there are some places, as in my constituency, where one-teacher schools are inevitable. That is our firm policy in the Scottish Office.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that in helping such schools it is of great assistance that the pupil-teacher ratios are better than they have ever been before? Will my hon. Friend further confirm that that also helps the unemployment problem because more young people are now leaving school with an educational qualification than ever happened under the Lib-Lab pact?
My hon. Friend is quite right. The pupil-teacher ratios in primary and secondary schools in Scotland are at the best level that they have ever been. Indeed, we are seeing an increasing number of youngsters leaving school with qualifications.
The Minister will understand that I did not have the advantage of listening to his speech, but I carefully read the press statement. In it, he makes it clear — presumably it is a highlight that he wished to emphasise by including it—that he thinks that schools with fewer than three teachers are educationally disadvantageous. There is a clear implication that he expects them to go whenever possible. I want to be clear that that is his position, particularly on 5 May the Secretary of State for Education and Science in England gave a writen answer in which he distanced himself deliberately from that position and made it clear that he thought that
should be taken into account. Can the Minister do something to put a warmer face on the nasty accountancy approach that he seems to have been taking to those matters until now?"geography; the distances to be travelled to alternative schools in the event of closure; and the age of the children making these journeys."—[Official Report, 5 May 1987; Vol. 115, c. 311.]
Perhaps it is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman was not present on that occasion to hear my speech and to see the school, but the position is as I stated to the leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel). Of course there are areas in which, inevitably, one-teacher schools will be the way in which local communities' educational needs have to be dealt with. It is clear that when there are any proposals for amalgamation from the regional councils, it is essential that the parents and other local interests are consulted and the decisions are taken along with the policy. For primary schools, where there is a distance of more than five miles between the closing and receiving schools, that case has to come to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and myself. We then look carefully into the situation, and that includes asking the local Member of Parliament for his comments.
As the Secretary of State for Education and Science has recommended a reprieve for all rural schools south of the border will the Minister issue a directive or recommendation to local authorities in Scotland to the effect that a similar position should obtain there?
It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman, who is the leader of the Scottish National party, does not realise that there is a difference between Scotland and England. The Department of Education and Science put out a circular and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has announced a change in that position. Our Department did not put out a circular. Our position is the one that I laid down clearly a few minutes ago, which is that it is up to the local authorities to look at the issue. In my view—I made this perfectly clear in my speech in the Borders — if local authorities are to change the school structure in the villages, they have to co-operate and take with them the parents in the villages.
Civil Nuclear Power
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will estimate the effect on electricity prices in Scotland of phasing out civil nuclear power.
The South of Scotland Electricity Board estimates that tariffs would have to rise by about 30 per cent. if civil nuclear power generation were to be phased out in Scotland.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Does he agree that if Labour and the alliance got their way and scrapped nuclear power the high energy using industries would leave Scotland altogether? In particular, will my right hon. and learned Friend reiterate that if Opposition policies to scrap nuclear power are implemented the British pulp mill at Irvine will never go into production?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Liberal assembly voted to abandon nuclear power, and the Labour party also carried such a resolution. No doubt because of the damage that would be done to the Scottish economy by the Labour party's policy, the Scottish TUC refused to support the Labour party on this issue. The TUC has emphasised that it believes that Torness should be commissioned and that Hunterston should continue to be available. It has emphasised its belief that nuclear power must play a crucial part in meeting Scotland's energy requirements. The Scottish TUC has clearly rejected the views of the Labour party in Scotland on such an important issue.
Does the proposal put forward by the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Planning—that people living close to nuclear power stations should receive financial compensation—have the right hon. and learned Gentleman's support?
The hon. Gentleman can be assured that any policy with regard to those near nuclear power stations that may be enunciated by the Government will apply throughout the United Kingdom.
If nuclear power were phased out in Scotland, what effect would it have on employment in the generating industry? What effect could it have on employment outside the generating industry because of increased costs?
The best estimate of those who would be directly involved is of some 10,000 jobs in Scotland associated with the nuclear industry. In recent weeks, we have had the decision on Sizewell by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, which has led, for example, to Weirs announcing 200 or 300 extra jobs, to Babcock confirming that it would now not need to announce additional redundancies and to other such improved opportunities. Clearly, phasing out would have a devastating effect in Caithness, where about 20 per cent. of all employment is associated with Dounreay, which might explain why one alliance Member is strongly in favour of nuclear power although his colleague the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is strongly against it.
Does the Secretary of State accept that it does not help the economics of the SSEB to have the huge capital investment of Inverkip power station lying unused? Is he aware that Strathclyde region has suggested to the SSEB that it carry out a study into the feasibility of converting Inverkip to coal burning? Will the Secretary of State and the Government give every encouragement, both moral and financial, to the SSEB to carry out this important and valuable proposal by Strathclyde regional council?
The specific use of Inverkip is clearly a matter for the SSEB to determine in the light of its overall requirements. I was encouraged by the fact that when the SSEB made its announcement about Inverkip it said that it believed that those who would otherwise be employed at Inverkip could be re-employed elsewhere within the SSEB's activities. The future use of Inverkip must be a matter for the SSEB to determine.
Further to what my right hon. and learned Friend has said about Sizewell, is he aware that the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) has made it clear that the alliance policy is against the Sizewell decision, despite the importance of the jobs for Renfrewshire and Glasgow, and that the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) — I make nothing of the point that he is not here today, as he has many duties, for example, at Oxford university — has not dissociated himself from that statement? Is not the right hon. Member for Hillhead a disgrace to Glasgow?
Not only the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Jenkins) but all alliance candidates in Renfrewshire and elsewhere in the west of Scotland must accept, as the Labour party must accept, that companies such as Weirs, Babcocks and many others which are heavily dependent upon such orders would suffer severe redundancies if the policies of those parties were implemented.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for Scotland and the Dundee travel-to-work area for the last available date; and what were the figures in May 1979, compiled on a similar basis.
There were 150,400 unemployed claimants in Scotland on a seasonally adjusted basis in May 1979 and 344,600 in March 1987. Unemployment data on a seasonally adjusted basis are not available for smaller areas.
How does the Minister feel about the fact that since the Government came to power unemployment in Dundee has doubled? How does he line that up with the recent decision of the Secretary of State to claw back £500,000 in rates from the Dundee district council? How many jobs will that cost the local community, particularly as the Secretary of State for Employment has withdrawn 450 community places? How many jobs will be lost in Tayside by his right hon. and learned Friend's decision to claw back £2·8 million from the Tayside region?
If the hon. Gentleman would care to reflect on the number of jobs that have been lost by the high rates in Dundee, he might be nearer to the mark. Dundee has featured considerably in the Government's plans to help people with training, employment and enterprise measures. Many schemes have been pioneered successfully in Dundee and it now has five job clubs. The Scottish Development Agency has launched a major initiative in the area and the area also has an enterprise zone. The consequence of that is a continuing and substantial increase in enterprise in the Dundee area.
Would the Under-Secretary of State care to reflect on the fact that in the past 12 months the number of people out of work in Clackmannan has dropped by six? What would he say to those who are employed by McKinnons, who had their hopes dashed by the parsimony of the Scottish Office in backing the bid that was put in for that group some weeks ago? How can he square his crowing about the fall in unemployment figures with the prospect of 150 jobs going down the river because of the failure to back a bid which may have guaranteed 1,000 jobs in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman can have absolutely no evidence for that claim, as my Department has been involved in making available assistance in the context of a takeover of that company. As to unemployment in Clackmannan, I have no doubt whatsoever that Clackmannan will share in the fall in unemployment, which is now so apparently widespread around Scotland.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the Dundee travel-to-work area millions of pounds of public funds have been spent and an enterprise zone has been created since 1979? Does this not show that throwing public money at problems does not necessarily produce jobs? Secondly, does he agree that jobs are created by those who work and create wealth and that the additional rates imposed by the Tayside regional council will make it extremely difficult for the Tayside health board to raise the extra funds and will cost many jobs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. During my last visit to Dundee I was most impressed by the way in which some of the old jute warehouses had been adapted to provide accommodation for new, small, start-up businesses. The businesses are creating many jobs and seem to have a high survival rate.
Should the mad caprice of the electoral system produce another Conservative Government, would the Minister be able to make any projection of a decrease in unemployment over the next two years, or is he just wandering around in a fog with no idea of where he is going?
On the contrary, we have a firm idea of where we are going. In the next Parliament we shall continue with the policies that are now yielding such great successes, as a result of which such independent organisations as the Fraser of Allander Institute and the CBI are now producing their most optimistic estimates of the economic situation for a long time.
National Farmers Union
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of the National Farmers Union of Scotland and what matters were discussed.
My right hon. and learned Friend and I attended the union's dinner on 12 March. I addressed the annual general meeting the following day and had a further detailed exchange with the leadership and members.
The Under-Secretary will recall that a delegation of myself and colleagues met him on 8 April and urged him, amongst other things, to support the increase in the suckler cow premium. I welcome the fact that yesterday the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in a written reply to me, confirmed that that will be done, in response to pressure and demand from the industry, and indeed, from myself and hon. Friends. Will the Minister now acknowledge that although that is helpful, it does not resolve the crisis in the beef industry, which is looking for a double figure devaluation of the green pound? Will he give an assurance that he is pressing for that?
I do not want to depress the hon. Gentleman's delusions of grandeur, but I remind him that it was the Government, with Agriculture Ministers at the December Council, who persuaded the Community to raise the ceiling on the suckler cow premium, which has allowed us to increase the amount to be paid this year from £24·74 to £33·40. That will mean that some £3¼ million more will go into the Scottish beef industry. The industry will welcome that and will thank the Government for their efforts in getting that.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that increase of no less than 35 per cent. in the suckler cow subsidy is good news, but does he also agree that the Government's retention of the sheepmeat and beef regimes, lowering interest rates and the keeping down of inflation is also welcome news for Scottish farmers, who have been going through a difficult period as a result of the weather and for other reasons?
Yes, my hon. Friend is quite right. One of the other important gains that we made at the December Council was to keep the beef variable premium scheme for the next two years instead of having to battle for it every year. My hon. Friend is also right about the need for a devaluation. We have made it clear that the 4 per cent. devaluation proposed by the European Commission is not enough. Our aim will be for a higher devaluation, certainly one higher than that for the French and Irish, who already have more MCAs than the United Kingdom.
Does the Minister accept that the Government's record in rural Scotland is downright shameful? In particular, does he remember the description of the Government's position by the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland as
Now that we have almost unprecedent depression and uncertainty in the farming industry, and growing chaos in the CAP, is the Minister aware that the industry will be far better off when it returns to the practical partnership on which it has always been able to rely under Labour Governments?"A botched-up, incoherent and chaotic set of policy decisions"?
I am always interested in the view of the landowner from Berwick on these matters. I should like to be a fly on the wall when he explains to farmers around Britain that the Labour party will rate agricultural land and considerably increase the cost to farmers. We have a good record on farming. Of course, there are difficult times with surplus production, but anybody who thinks that there is an easy solution to that lives in cloud-cuckoo-land, which is probably where the hon. Gentleman does live.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, above all, farmers seek confidence in their industry's future and reassurance about their prospects? Does he agree that he and his colleagues must be seen publicly to fight their corner on behalf of farming? Will he continue to give a commitment to fight vigorously to remove the distortion of the green pound and protect Scotland's vital livestock sector?
I am well aware of the position of the beef sector and its importance to Scottish agriculture. Indeed, when I visited my hon. Friend's constituency earlier in the year and met his farmers they left me in no doubt about the importance of those matters and I left them in no doubt about the Government's commitment to the farmers and the rural economy of Scotland. That is shown clearly by the announcement that we have just made about the suckler cow premium and the reiteration that I have just made of the view of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on our aims in the current negotiations over the green pound.
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will next meet the chairman of the British Steel Corporation to discuss the tube manufacturing side of the steel industry in Scotland.
There are no plans for any meeting in the immediate future, but as indicated on previous occasions my right hon. and learned Friend hopes to continue to meet the chairman of the British Steel Corporation on a regular basis.
When the hon. Gentleman next meets the chairman of the British Steel Corporation, will he remind him of the widely reported statement that a French company is trying to form a consortium with Clydesdale steelworks in my constituency and that, if the consortium is formed, 600 jobs will go from Clydesdale steelworks? Bearing in mind all the other redundancies that have taken place in Lanarkshire, does he not feel that it is incumbent on him to impress upon the chairman that it is vital that the consortium be made aware that the 600 jobs are saved?
I wish the hon. Gentleman a long and happy retirement when he leaves the House.The press reports to which the hon. Gentleman referred are speculation. The BSC will be vigorously seeking additional orders for the steel capacity in this country, both at home and abroad. Any proposal would have to come to the Government for approval, and no such proposal has been put to us.
Solicitor-General For Scotland
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what was the number of fatal accident inquiries concerning road deaths in the last year for which figures are available.
As far as can be ascertained, in 1986 there were 13 road traffic cases which resulted in fatal accident inquiries being instructed.
Is the Solicitor-General aware that many people are puzzled about the small number of fatal accident inquiries that there are in proportion to the number of fatal accidents? I understand that in 1986 there were 600 fatal accidents. Can he advise the House what criteria are used by his Department to initiate inquiries, because in many cases great stress is caused to individuals who suffer the loss of friends and relations because of a lack of knowledge as to exactly what happened?
If there are criminal proceedings following a fatal accident on the roads, in most circumstances it would be wholly inappropriate, either before or after such a trial, to hold a fatal accident inquiry. In some circumstances, under the Act there is a mandatory requirement that a fatal accident inquiry be held. A discretionary inquiry is held where it is considered expedient in the public interest on the ground that the death was sudden, suspicious or unexplained, or occurred in circumstances such as to give rise to serious public concern. It is under the last head, where a discretion is exercised, that such inquiries are held.
Royal High School, Edinburgh
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what is the number of people employed by the Crown Office at the old Royal High School building, Edinburgh.
The total number of persons employed in the Crown Office is 104.
Although I realise that the Solicitor-General may be busy in the next few weeks looking for another job for after the general election, may I ask him to try to find time to look for alternative premises for the more important people who are employed at the Crown Office headquarters? After the general election the building will be required for the Scottish Assembly, which the Labour Government will set up and which the majority of the people of Scotland want because they are absolutely fed up with being ruled by a quasi-colonial Tory junta which received no mandate from the people of Scotland in the last general election, and which will be kicked out by an even more resounding majority at the next general election.
The only chance there is of significant movement is that of the hon. Gentleman from his seat, as the Labour party Front Bench will have to move below the Gangway to find somewhere to sit after the general election. I have indicated on previous occasions that the Crown Office will look for alternative premises some time in the future. There is plenty of work for the Crown Office to do and it is a perfectly satisfactory use of the building for the time being.
Will my hon. and learned Friend take steps, anticipating the high probability of his being returned and occupying his present position after the general election, to look at the possibility of his staff being employed elsewhere so that the Royal High School building can be sold because a Scottish Assembly will have no part in the prosperous, competitive Scotland that the next Conservative Government will seek to achieve?
Yes. As I have already said, there is another appropriate location in Edinburgh for the Crown Office. It is extremely unlikely that the existing building will ever be put to the use of a Scottish Assembly. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) should appreciate that while his party was in government it spent its time arguing strenuously about a Scottish Assembly but did absolutely nothing to reform the law in Scotland. Since 1979 we have introduced about 23 reports from the Scottish Law Commission. We have done a great deal more than the Labour Government ever did, with all their talking.
asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he is now in a position to say when he expects to receive (a) an interim and (b) a full report from the procurator fiscal on the progress of police inquiries in relation to Project Zircon.
A number of reports have been received since 31 January.
Is it not 101 days since the special branch moved into Queen Margaret drive? Is it not 105 days since the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman prominently displayed information about the likelihood of a police raid? Is it not 106 days since the Secretary of State for Scotland was first told what was happening? Is it not 107 days since Chief Inspector Ray Dowd of New Scotland Yard contacted Alan Protheroe of the BBC? Why have distinguished policemen in Strathclyde and the Metropolitan police failed to come up with anything?
I know that the answer I have to give to the hon. Gentleman will not fit in with the bizarre preoccupations that he has over this matter and the gratutiously offensive things that he has said repeatedly and without any foundation or basis of fact about my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. I would have thought that the last honourable thing that the hon. Gentleman might do before the end of this Parliament is withdraw those remarks.
Does the Solicitor-General for Scotland accept that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as the Department responsible for Project Zircon, would be the aggrieved party in any action taken in relation to that project? I am sure that the Solicitor-General for Scotland is aware of Professor Bradley's view that the aggrieved party has a particular role to play in the case of any prosecution. Therefore, can the hon. and learned Gentleman say what contact has been made with Ministers or officials at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ascertain their views on the matter?
My interest and that of my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate is to ascertain, through the procurator fiscal, following an investigation, whether there have been any breaches of the Official Secrets Act or any other offences.
The Solicitor-General for Scotland is just stalling for time.
If the hon. Gentleman will give me a moment, I might be able to give his hon. Friend a reply.
Just be a Law Officer.
I know what Professor Bradley has said, and on previous occasions I have indicated that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and I disagree with what he said would be the appropriate steps to be taken with regard to contracting the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However, more recently, as I have said, we are awaiting further reports, although some have been received. In that context, there is no further contact with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the great difficulties in the Zircon project investigation was the fact that the BBC linked the various programmes in a way that made it impossible for the searches to be carried out without having to look for all the related aspects? That complicated the inquiry from the outset and it was necessary that the instructions given to the procurator fiscal made it clear that that complication existed.
When my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary addressed this matter in a debate some weeks ago he made it clear that the matter relating to the "Secret Society" programmes was so interwoven that that action had to be taken. As far as I am aware, the BBC has never publicly dissented from that.
Surely this is a most shocking situation. It is three months and more since the most devastating invasion that has ever occurred in Britain, in which the hon. and learned Gentleman's Office was closely involved. It had all the appearances of a conspiracy and charges have been made about the Secretary of State for Scotland. After three months, and on the eve of their own demise, the Government still cannot come forward with even an interim public statement. It is an absolute disgrace for the whole of Scotland.
I am not sure whether there was any question in the hon. Gentleman's comments. However, while the matter is being investigated, and while reports are being received, I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman, who proclaims himself to be a protector of the interests and rights of the individual, would expect such reports to be carefully considered by Crown counsel before any action was taken. To make a statement about this matter in the interim could, in certain circumstances—and I am not saying that such circumstances will occur—be highly prejudicial to anyone wanting the right to a fair trial.
The Solicitor-General may remember that when we last exchanged views on this matter at Question Time, he gave what I am sure was the inadvertent impression that all the material to allow the "Secret Society" series to be transmitted had been returned to the BBC. I understand that that is not true with regard to the Zircon programme. Will the Solicitor-General confirm that? Can he estimate when the material will be returned to the BBC, so that the BBC can proceed with showing that film?
Certainly, as I understand it, and I do not depart from this view, with regard to five of the six programmes, all the necessary material has been returned. There is what I believe is described as a principal transmission film of the Zircon affair programme which is still being held. Technicaly, I cannot say whether there is sufficient material in the hands of the BBC for that programme to be broadcast. However, I can confirm that the principal transmission film is still retained. In any event, I understood that it was the BBC's attitude that it would not broadcast that particular programme. I am not sure whether the hon. Member is aware of any change in the BBC's attitude.
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
The matter is [Interruption.]"the need for the Prime Minister to set up an inquiry into the role of the late Airey Neave, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in relation to attempts to destabilise the elected Government in the 1970s."
Order. Mr. Dalyell.
The matter is definite in that the authors of "The Pencourt File" which, as the Prime Minister rightly said, sparked off the 1977 inquiry into the security services, have been reported as having been interrogated by the right hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Sir P. Blaker) and the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), the late Airey Neave and the present Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. I refer to the article by Anthony Cheesewright which is in your possession, Mr. Speaker. That article is headed
The information has come to light since the Prime Minister turned down the call for an inquiry. I have to persuade you, Mr. Speaker, that the matter is important, because it raises the issue of obligations of hon. Members of this House in condoning trouble made for the elected Head of Government of this country by the security services.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Bad taste."] I hear it said that this is in bad taste. I will openly say that the late Airey Neave was a friend of mine—[Interruption.] It is important also because a beneficiary of so much of the late Airey Neave's activity is the present Prime Minister —[HON. MEMBERS: "Disgraceful."] It is unbecoming for such a beneficiary to turn down an inquiry demanded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Sir J. Callagham)."Tebbit's joy at Wilson's plight."
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
The matter is urgent because the then hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who seemed—and I put it politely—to acquiesce in the daily tricks of the 1970s, is now in charge of the Conservative party. In advance of the general election, could time be found for a statement as to whether the right hon. Member for Chingford is a reformed character in this matter? Has he changed his spots? A great deal has been written about this matter in the public prints. Before the House goes to the polls, we should have an answer one way or the other. There is a powerful lead letter in The Guardian today stating that there is an obligation of the kind for which I asked last Thursday for the clearance of the late Airey Neave. As the Leader of the House is present, there is an obligation for the clearance of the late Sir Maurice Oldfield.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration.I have listened with great attention to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter which he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Not at this moment. I have received four further applications for debates under Standing Order No. 20 on the proposed poll tax in England and Wales. I propose to call only one—that of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) which is in broad terms. According to "Erskine May", page 350,
I cannot therefore accept further applications on the subject of a poll tax in England and Wales, but I will hear the hon. Member for Blackburn."A further application on the same subject on the same day … will not normally be accepted by the Chair."
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely
The matter is obviously specific. The urgency is that the Government published a Green Paper, Cmnd. 9714, "Paying for Local Government", on 28 January 1986. They set a consultation period until 31 July 1986. The right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), then Secretary of State for the Environment, said in the House:"the proposals for the poll tax in England and Wales and its differential impact in different regions."
All local authority associations, including the Conservative-dominated Association of District Councils, have damned the proposals for a poll tax, and so have many others. Opposition to the poll tax in England and Wales is as widespread as it is in Scotland. Ministers, knowing this, have dodged and refused debates in the House, and any detail of the impact has had to be dragged from them. [Interruption.] The importance of this is clear. A poll tax is unheard of in the western world outside the United Kingdom. It is a medieval tax. It will hit all those on low incomes, including widows, pensioners, families with adult children and the single unemployed everywhere. It will hit inner London and widen the north-south divide. [Interruption]"The pace of further developments … will depend on the outcome of the consultation process."—[Official Report, 28 January 1986; Vol. 90, c. 798.]
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.
Order. The application is being made to me and I want to hear it.
A poll tax will aggravate inner-city problems. All 40 authorities which would bear the greatest burden of poll tax are to be found in inner London and in the metropolitan counties. The 20 authorities which would benefit most are in the south of England. I give just one example. The Secretary of State for the Environment said that under his proposals the same local tax bill would be paid for the same standard of service. Yet in Burnley, Pendle, Rossendale and Darwen and Hyndburn, the poll tax would be about £200 per head, twice the amount in Gillingham, Kent, where expenditure is only 33 per cent. higher.The proposals in the Green Paper were made to this Parliament. Ministers should have the guts to debate them in this Parliament.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent Consideration——
Throw him out.
Oh, yes— not you; only Labour.
The hon. Gentleman has caused me to lose my place—namely,
Again, I have listened with great care to what the hon. Member for Blackburn has said, but I regret that I do not consider that the matter which he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I therefore cannot submit his application to the House."the proposals for the poll tax in England and Wales and its differential impact in different regions."
Points Of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have we not now heard a complete abuse on two occasions of Standing Order No. 20? I submit that the last application was purely politics.The first application was a smear against a former Member of the House whose crest is over the entrance to this Chamber. Would it not be in the interests of the House if some procedure were devised under which applications under Standing Order No. 20 were submitted to you in advance so that you could sift out what was bogus and what was not, before, in my submission, the rules of the House are completely and utterly abused, as has happened on these two occasions?
The Standing Order No. 20 procedure is a prized time for Back Benchers and it must not be abused. However, those applications were submitted to me in advance and if they are in order I am bound to hear them.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. While fully accepting your ruling on the Standing Order No. 20 application by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), in view of the serious implications for many families in the inner cities of England and Wales, would it be possible for you to use your good offices to influence the Leader of the House to make a statement some time this week?
The Leader of the House will have heard that. It is not a matter for me.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As may well be known, on a number of occasions I have had reason to cross swords with the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) about points of order. However, I have never before heard him behave in such a disgraceful manner as he has done today. Would it not be proper, Mr. Speaker, for a reprimand to be given to him for behaving like a bounder and a cad?
The hon. Gentleman's application was in order and it is up to him how he puts it. I shall take Mr. Marlow.
On a brief point of order, Mr. Speaker, and a disturbing one. If there is to be a rat hunt in this House, I put it to you, Mr. Speaker, that vermin will not be found on this side of the Chamber.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would not raise this point of order except that we are at the stage of Dissolution and it is a matter of some importance to the House. As you will appreciate, tomorrow is the last Prime Minister's Question Time before the election. A week ago today, after the right hon. Lady's statement, I wrote to her on behalf of Opposition Members asking why, for four months, she told the House that no inquiry was necessary into the treason allegations when in fact an inquiry was taking place at the same time. As you know, Mr. Speaker, the Prime Minister is usually meticulous in replying promptly to correspondence. I have received an acknowledgement, but not a reply from the Prime Minister —[Interruption.]— in the intervening week. Is there any way, Mr. Speaker, in which you can help us to ensure that, before Question Time tomorrow, we have information from the Prime Minister to explain why, for four months, she told the House far less than the truth?
The right hon. Gentleman has not raised a matter of order, but it will doubtless have been heard by the Leader of the House and by other right hon. Members on the Government Front Bench.
On another point of order altogether, Sir.
A real point of order, unlike most that appear from the Benches opposite and these Benches sometimes. Could you explain to us, Sir: those of us who are eager to pay the normal courtesies to you — not eager to see you go, but eager to pay the normal courtesies in bidding you farewell and a very successful campaign for your return— when are we by this rearrangement of the old traditional procedures allowed to do so? Will it be late on Friday? Will it be early on Monday? Could the House and those hon. Members who are eager to pay their proper respects to you be allowed some sort of information as to when this is allowed to happen?
This matter was raised yesterday and I propose to make a statement about it tomorrow. I can tell the hon. Gentleman now that on Friday I propose to remain in the Chair after the proceedings are at an end to greet and say farewell to hon. Members who may wish to do so. Furthermore, hon. Members who are retiring from Parliament and may happen to be here on Monday will be welcome to come to my house between 12 noon and 1pm for a glass of sherry.
Those of us who will he returning to this place——
What about those with no chance?
Those of us who will be returning to this place who will, unfortunately, by other commitment be unable to bid you farewell on Friday, will we be welcome to your house, Sir, on Monday?
I shall have to see whether I can afford it.
Appellate Committee (Proceedings)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I rise to raise with you, Sir, a point of order of which I have given you notice. As a courtesy, I have also given notice to the Lord Chancellor and to the Clerk of the Parliaments since they clearly also have an interest in the matter.It is my submission that there is supposed to be published in the Official Reportof each House of Parliament, all proceedings in Parliament. Members of both Houses are entitled to draw from, respectively, the Vote Office of the House of Commons, and the Printed Paper Office of the House of Lords, the Official Reports of the proceedings in Parliament of the other House: which Official Reports are also available for sale to the public. The proceedings of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords are "Proceedings in Parliament": yet they are not available either to Members of the House of Commons, or to the public, as Official Reports. I would therefore be most grateful to you, as I expect many outside both Houses would also be, if you would be good enough to arrange for the proceedings of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords to be made available to Members of the House of Commons and, indeed, therefore to the public in the same manner as are also the Official Reports of all other proceedings in the other House of Parliament. I should like to add two points. Those proceedings are in no way analogous to private Bill proceedings. They are proceedings which define the public general law as passed by both Houses of Parliament. Secondly, Select Committees of this House as well as individual Members in debate may need to quote those proceedings, and it is both ludicrous and anomalous that they should have to rely on Times law reports, accurate or inaccurate as the case may be, of those crucial proceedings in Parliament, rather than on an Official Reportof them. I do not expect you, Mr. Speaker, to be able to rule on this today; but I would be most grateful if it were possible for you to do so tomorrow. I am most obliged to you for hearing me.
On the same matter?
Yes, Sir. Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) said that he would wait for a decision, not only as an act of courtesy, but as this is a delicate matter. One of the cases bears on my constituency and relates to the motor industry. If that information was available, it would not only help planning and financial investment, but would have a direct effect on jobs in my constituency. Therefore, I take this opportunity to support my hon. Friend on this important point of order.
I thank the hon. Member for Dudley, West (Dr. Blackburn) for what he has said and the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) for raising this important matter. I shall, indeed, look into it and do my best to make a statement to the House on this tomorrow.
I beg to move,
First, I should declare an interest as president of the Association of Scientific, Technological and Managerial Staffs. This will be the last ten-minute Bill that will be presented before the Dissolution of Parliament. Nevertheless, it is an important measure. My Bill would extend the role of the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1984. At the moment those regulations cover only 200 sites. Some 1,300 sites are not covered by those regulations, but they are covered by the Notification of Installations Handling Hazardous Substances Regulations 1982. The difference between those regulations is that the Notification of Installations Handling Hazardous Regulations are much weaker. For instance, they do not include controls on the handling of dangerous substances. There is no requirement on them to draw up, on site or off, emergency plans concerning the public. Indeed, there is no requirement for them to inform the public as to what steps they should take during an emergency. It is only recently that the operators were required to notify the Health and Safety Executive, but thanks to pressure from the trade unions and the environmental lobby, operators can no longer keep them secret; they must reveal them, Even so, the public are not made aware of them. If the regulations could be brought within the Control of Industrial Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1984, operators would be required to do the following. They would be required to produce on-site and off-site emergency plans, provide information to members of the public about what to do if an emergency occurs and convince the Health and Safety Executive that the plant they operate is being run safely. Those requirements are good so far as they go, but they could be better. It is certainly an improvement on the other requirements. The effect of the regulations applies only to the larger plants that are handling chemicals in very large quantities. The other quantities that are being handled by smaller plants are just as dangerous but at the moment they are escaping these regulations. For instance, incidents involving liquefied petroleum gas, which is better known as calor gas, or half a ton of chlorine may be just as dangerous as incidents where chemicals are being handled in far larger quantities in major plants. My Bill would include the other 1,200 sites that are handling these dangerous chemicals. The extension of the CIMAH regulations will have one further effect. It will reverse the Government's policy of reducing the numbers of Health and Safety inspectors. The Government have only just removed the ban on the recruitment of inspectors. That is disgraceful and callous, and shows an uncaring policy. Another difficulty with regard to the Health and Safety Inspectorate is that their remuneration is pitched far too low at the moment, so there is a difficulty in recruitment. I hope that the increase that the Institution of Professional Civil Servants has applied for will be received favourably because it will increase remuneration and make it easier to recruit inspectors. There is a need for them. They are interested not only in remuneration but in health and safety. Indeed, there is a great demand for that. Having fewer inspectors means that health and safety is going by the board. It is difficult to do a job and improve health and safety when at the same time we have a Government committed to deregulation and Victorian values. In his recent report, the chief safety inspector said:That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the application of industrial hazard regulations to include all sites containing potentially dangerous substances; and for connected purposes.
That is especially true of the chemical industry, for which the fatal and major accident rate has risen from 77·1 per 100,000 employees in 1981 to 104·3 per 100,000 employees in 1986. That represents an increase of 35 per cent. in the past five years. That means that human blood has been spilled on the floor of chemical plants and that is due to the cut in the number of health and safety inspectors that has occurred since the Government took office. Recently there have been three major accidents. The BP Grangemouth explosions caused the death of three people. Houses 20 miles away were shaken by the explosions and people telephoned the emergency services in the belief that an earthquake had taken place. There was a serious fire at the Coalite plant — a matter that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has frequently raised in the House. We discovered that, at that plant, dioxin was still stocked despite the fact that the company had said that it had got rid of it in 1968."There is a disquieting increase in industrial accidents".
I bow to my hon. Friend's superior knowledge.The plant had claimed that it had got rid of its stores of dioxin in 1978, but that was not so. There was also a major fire at ICI Billingham, which killed one person. If that is the state of affairs at major sites, one shudders to think what health and safety conditions are like at smaller sites; that is why I wish to bring those sites within the remit of my Bill. If my Bill is implemented it will lead to the recruitment of extra factory inspectors. It will also lead to greater safety and protection not only for the people working on the sites but for the public. I believe that, unless something is done and such measures are adopted, sooner or later we shall have a British Bhopal. I believe that the public have a right to know whether they are sitting on a time bomb. For that reason, I have introduced this Bill. I realise that, as it has been introduced so late, we shall not make much progress. However, with the general election on the way, I believe that the public have a right to know about such matters. Health and safety should be one of the major election issues. I hope that I shall obtain leave to bring in this Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Doug Hoyle, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Frank Cook, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. Chris Smith, Mr. Ian Mikardo, Dr. M. S. Miller, Mr. James Lamond, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mr. Stan Thorne, Mr. Stan Crowther and Mr. Richard Caborn.
Mr. Doug Hoyle accordingly presented a Bill to extend the application of industrial hazard regulations to include all sites containing potentially dangerous substances; and for connected purposes; And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday and to be printed. [Bill 161.]
Abolition Of Domestic Rates Etc (Scotland) Bill (Allocation Of Time)
I beg to move,
That the Order of the House [11th February] be supplemented as follows:
1. — (1) The proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments shall be completed at this day's sitting and, subject to the provisions of the Order [11th February], those proceedings shall, if not previously brought to a conclusion, be brought to a conclusion three hours after the commencement of the proceedings on the Motion for this Order.
(2)Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(3) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(4) If the proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration), a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on the Motion shall be added to the period at the end of which the proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion.
(5) If the House is adjourned, or the sitting is suspended, on this day before the expiry of the period at the end of which the proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion, no notice shall be required of a Motion made at the next sitting by a member of the Government for varying or supplementing the provisions of this Order.
2.—(1) For the purpose of bringing any proceedings to a conclusion in accordance with paragraph 1 above—
(2) Proceedings under sub-paragraph (1) above shall not be interrupted under any Standing Order relating to the sittings of the House.
Stages Subsequent To First Consideration Of Lords Amendments
3. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill shall be brought to a conclusion one hour after the commencement of the proceedings.
4. For the purpose of bringing those proceedings to a conclusion—
5. — (1) In this paragraph 'the proceedings' means proceedings on any further Message from the Lords on the Bill, on the appointment and quorum of a Committee to draw up Reasons and the Report of such a Committee.
(2) Mr. Speaker shall put forthwith the Question on any Motion made by a Minister of the Crown for the consideration forthwith of the Message or, as the case may be, for the appointment and quorum of the Committee.
(3) A Committee appointed to draw up Reasons shall report before the conclusion of the sitting at which they are appointed.
(4) Paragraph (1) of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business) shall apply to the proceedings.
(5) No dilatory Motion with respect to, or in the course of, the proceedings shall be made except by a member of the Government, and the Question on any such Motion shall be put forthwith.
(6) If the proceedings are interrupted by a Motion for the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 (Adjournment on specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration) a period equal to the duration of the proceedings on the Motion shall be added to the period at the end of which the proceedings are to be brought to a conclusion.
he motion provides for three hours of debate, which begins now. We must get through a large number of amendments, but the bulk of them are technical and drafting amendments. I believe that the period of three hours provides plenty of time for discussion of the issues of substance raised in the amendments. However, it would be unfortunate if we were to use up time discussing the allocation of time motion. I hope that the Opposition will agree that that is sensible.
As so often happens, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) is wrong. We intend to say a little about the timetable motion. I assure him that we wish to leave adequate time to raise or amendments and ensure that they are debated. I find the allocation unsatisfactory, for reasons to which I shall refer in a moment or two.I recognise the pressures on Governments and that Ministers like to get to their legislative programmes. I accept, too, that, on occasions, there are double standards in speeches made in debates of this kind. I do not deny that, probably in a month or two, we shall use timetable motions and defend the principle, but we must examine the merits of every case as a matter of perspective— as a matter of keeping a sense of proportion. The Government have the duty to think about what is right for the House and for the parliamentary process. They have got the balance wrong on this occasion, and I shall attempt briefly to persuade the House of that fact. The Under-Secretary of State briefly introduced his motion. It is a supplementary motion, tacked on as almost an afterthought to the main guillotine motion, which, of course, truncated the Committee proceedings. Normally the Leader of the House or the shadow Leader of the House would perform on such occasions, but this time we have had to be content with the Under-Secretary of State. I make no complaint about that, except to remark that he is rather more shameless in his approach to such matters than is the Leader of the House, who normally, probably because of long contact with the Prime Minister, has a certain self-deprecating style. He smuggles bad news and offensive material into debates in a way that is quite endearing. There is always an air of apology about such matters. He implies that he is only the messenger. The defence is always one of incrimination, that he is bringing the news from some other Minister. On this occasion, of course, the Under-Secretary of State is attempting to bungle through the remaining stages of a highly controversial measure in three hours, and three hours alone. This is not satisfactory, partly because of the enormously long consideration of the workability and practicability of the measure, both in the House and in another place. The amendments deal with issues of genuine concern. During the long Committee stage, despite some of the misplaced sarcasm in an earlier debate, Ministers were forced to give ground. We now have a series of specific but important issues dealing, for example, with the definition of mentally handicapped, and with students, in the context of exemption from poll tax. The amendments raise complicated arguments; for example, about the definition of severe impairment. Why are we talking about mentally handicapped people, but not about physically disabled people? A range of issues are raised in the amendments and in the variations to the Lords amendments that have been put down by my hon. Friends and myself. No one who has followed the debates, even in the most Cursory way, will fail to recognise that, in connection with the protection of the living standards of students, there are severe reservations about what the Government are proposing, even after the rather ill-defined and incomplete amendment. Such anxiety is not the preserve of the National Union of Students and individual constituents, but has been reflected by principals and vice-chancellors, who are genuinely concerned about the ability of universities to compete for students in the circumstances that the Government envisage.
Would my hon. Friend care to consider the significance of the fact that, on this major piece of legislation, which drastically changes the rating system into this new poll tax idea, it is a matter of such importance to the Government that they have managed to muster three Back Benchers and one PPS to discuss these issues, that my admirable young hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), out of his usual charitable inclinations, had to lend his backside to their Benches to make them look healthier; and, of course, that he was trying out a future position on those Benches in government?
My hon. Friend has made a fair mathematical point with characteristic subtlety. He is right. There is a proper degree of diffidence among some Conservative Members about appearing in such debates these days.The complicated matters to which I have referred and which we shall debate in a short compass have been swept up into a brief period of parliamentary time. The debate is taking place in injury time— the twilight days— with a Scottish Office team that is already living on borrowed time. The exceptions are not satisfactorily defined. We are still getting an enormous number of representations from people who have no political axe to grind but who are alarmed at what is happening. My first point is that the timetable motion does not give the House the opportunity it should have to consider, debate and reach a measured conclusion on such matters. One other factor of a more fundamental nature must be canvassed. We are looking, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds) said by way of an intervention, at a remarkable fiscal innovation. We are looking at an almost unprecedented poll tax, certainly in the sophisticated financial systems of Western Europe. It is a poll tax, and I use that term unashamedly. Presumably I shall no longer be criticised for doing so. It was given the Prime Minister's imprimatur only this week as the proper expression. I was delighted to hear the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs refer to the "poll tax" in the proceedings last night on the Diplomatic and Consular Premises Bill. It is a poll tax. The hon. Gentleman was quite right to use that term. It is an imposition of so much per head, straight across the board. It is a tax that is widely seen as regressive and impractical. It has little support across the range of Scottish public opinion. I recognise that the motive for introducing the poll tax—the volte face that we have seen since 1983 in Government thinking—is imagined electoral advantage. Conservative Members are wrong. It will be an unpopular imposition and will become much more unpopular over the next year or two, if it reaches the statute book and, even more relevantly, if it is ever implemented. I have made the point before that we know that an irreversible rise is built into the poll tax. With the treatment of commercial and industrial rates we shall narrow the tax base— the buoyancy factor — in a remarkable fashion. The poll tax will certainly escalate in a way that will greatly disappoint, and probably alarm, those who may calculate temporary personal advantage from it. I make those points because the depth of opposition to, and the concern about, the tax puts a large question mark over the propriety of forcing the measure through in this way. From a large amount of independent evidence, we know that there is concern about its impact. I saw a report — I am sure that the Minister is familiar with it— from Professor Hughes at the department of economics at Edinburgh university. He did a calculation based upon, I gather, an extensive and cheerful survey of a sample of Scottish households to try to take into account the impact of the social security changes that are so interlinked with the poll tax and rebate system, and the impact of the tax itself. His conclusion was that one needed a household income of well over £400 a week before one was likely to benefit from the changes. That underlines what I have said about its regressive nature. I have another report. Again, it is from an area of the country that has not traditionally been seen as in alliance with my party. I refer to the plea—that is the correct word — from the convenor of the Highland regional council, whose planning department, according to The Scotsman,has come to the conclusion that the effect of the tax in the Highlands will be
"staggeringly different from the Government's intentions set out in the Green Paper.
It is not just a plea from our heartland and support. We are articulating a view that is beginning to be painfully reflected in different parts of Scotland. I believe that the Government should even now think again. My plea is a simple one. I do not think it is right for Ministers to force the Bill through in this way and at this time. We all know that there is an election in only a few weeks' time. It would be best to suspend judgment on the matter now and leave it to the judgment of the electorate, to see what the people have to say about it. If the Bill is forced through with a last-gasp guillotine motion, we shall be lumbered with an unwanted and ill-advised tax that will be deeply resented. Politicians talk — I did so a moment ago myself— about propriety, but that is too nice a consideration. There are deeper and more basic considerations here. It is a matter of a feeling for Scotland and respect for Scottish opinion, and it would be wrong to bulldoze the legislation through in the dying days of this Parliament. To do that would be to show the kind of insensitivity that damages trust, not in the Chamber, but in the communities of Scotland. We unashamedly dislike the measure. It is wrong and we are implacably hostile to its implementation. We do not approve of the decision to force it through in this way. It is for those reasons and because we know that, on this and many other issues, we speak for such a wide coalition of Scottish opinion that I shall, in a while, invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide against the motion.According to the department, up to 91 per cent. of households in the more remote parts would be worse off and the local taxation burden on such communities would rise by more than 230 per cent."
I shall be brief, and I mean it—unlike the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar).I was surprised by the complaint made by the hon. Member for Garscadden, which was not about the shortage of time that is available' in this session of Parliament to discuss the legislation. It has spent many hours in Committee, in another place and in this Chamber. Presumably his objection is that, at this late stage in this Parliament, the House is making decisions on the final shape of the legislation. I do not understand that objection. What could be fairer and more democratic than that the Government should put specific proposals before the electorate in Scotland about the community charge and the abolition of domestic rates? The proposals are in no way uncertain or ambiguous: they are specific proposals, enabling the voters in Scotland to know precisely what the choice is between the present system of domestic rates and the community charge proposed in the legislation. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who is normally fair-minded about these matters, should completely ignore the fact that, as we go into the election, there will be no doubt in people's minds about what the Conservative party is proposing in terms of the community charge, or about what the Labour and other Opposition parties are proposing—they are all proposing the status quo.
I said that I would be brief, so I shall not give way.The other parties are all proposing that we should keep the present system of domestic rates; the effect of that, as it is in Edinburgh, will be to increase again by 30 per cent. the cost of rates to many people who cannot afford that amount of tax. The Government believe that the new system is a fairer way of raising local revenue. The Opposition believe that the present system is fairer. In the time-honoured phrase, we shall be going to the country now, and the thing to do is to trust the people.
I support the views expressed by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), who spoke of the coalition of interests in Scotland against the Government's proposals for reform of local taxation. I hope that, after the election, the hon. Gentleman will again talk of a coalition of Scottish interests, and will be prepared to participate in these discussions if the electorate decides that it is appropriate to have cross-party government.Speaking about the timetable motion, the Minister has made the quite astonishing suggestion that the matters to be considered this afternoon are purely technical. They are far from that. Some of the amendments passed in another place go to the very heart of the Government's Bill and of the principles that the Minister has earlier stated. They go against the concept of universality — that everyone in Scotland must pay, whatever his ability to pay, at least 20 per cent. of the new poll tax. I do not see how the Minister can set that aside as purely technical, and no doubt we shall be discussing that in more detail later. Since the Bill was considered in Committee and in another place, a number of further matters and representations have come to light which make it quite improper — I repeat the word used by the hon. Member for Garscadden—to proceed with the legislation in the face of the increasing evidence of the inequitable way in which the tax will operate, and the improper way in which it will bear heavily upon the majority of the Scottish people. The study to which the hon. Member for Garscadden referred, by Professor Gordon Hughes of the university of Edinburgh's department of economics, makes it clear that the main burden of the poll tax will fall on those with gross household incomes ranging from 70 per cent. to 150 per cent. of the average household income. In other words, the bulk of the Scottish people will be cowering under the blows inflicted by this insensitive and out-of-touch Government.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
This is an all-too-short debate, and the hon. Gentleman should take up any matters that may concern him with the responsible Minister.Professor Hughes stated, in conclusion:
Professor Hughes has raised issues that were raised in Standing Committee but were not authoritatively examined— certainly not by the Government. However, they were raised by Opposition Members of all parties. It has also been made clear—some of the Lords amendments touch on the point — that the above-average increase in local taxes due to the community charge, in households whose heads are aged between 45 and 59, confirms the belief of many of us that the poll tax will bear heavily upon broad sections of the community which the Government have tried to suggest they were seeking to protect. In households whose heads are aged between 45 and 59, families with children over the age of 18 who are still living at home will bear the burden of the tax change. These are authoritative objections and they go to the root of the proposals, which the Government have presented as an attempt to relieve the Scottish people of an unloved tax. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Sir A. Fletcher) wholly misrepresented the position when he suggested that other political parties in Scotland have not put forward alternatives. Not only has the Scottish National party put forward its proposals for a local income tax, but the two alliance parties have done so. Furthermore, in another place, the official Labour Opposition also supported proposals for the introduction of a local income tax. In a series of answers to parliamentary questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) on 8 April and, subsequently, from myself, the Minister demonstrated how right we have been to advocate local income tax. On the equalised figures that he has, most Scottish people living on the incomes that I have summarised, in the groups that are mentioned by Professor Hughes, will be substantially better off under the local income tax scheme. No doubt this measure will be a centrepiece of the Prime Minister's speech in Scotland later this week. It was brought forward in a hurry without adequate consultation and without consent. Its sole aim is to seek to save the Government from the embarrassment caused by the revaluation that they put in hand. The Scottish people regard this tax as anathema. That is one reason why the Conservative party in Scotland will go down to humiliating defeat on 11 June. The Minister who has been saddled with this measure may well prove to be its most spectacular victim. He has fought it through Parliament against the overwhelming opposition of all those hon. Members who represent the true interests of the Scottish people. The impropriety of seeking in a matter of a few hours to wipe out a form of taxation which, though inequitable and unloved, has lasted for 200 years, beggars constitutional precedent. The Minister has done nothing for his own reputation or for that of the Government in seeking to proceed in the manner that he has proceeded today. There are many significant and substantive amendments and they have to be considered in the all-too-short time available. Substantial debates cannot take place. The amendments touch upon the position of students and the definition of the registered disabled and mentally handicapped and cannot possibly receive proper consideration in such a short time. I predict that if this measure is placed on the statute book it will not last five years. It will be repealed and replaced by a tax that is in accordance with proper principles of local taxation, related to an ability to pay. That reform will be welcomed by the people of Scotland as a whole. Even though the Labour party has not been in the van, it will follow us in introducing an effective local income tax."It should be noted that, if the community charge is as expensive and difficult to collect as some fear, the average local tax burden of all groups will increase because of the high levels of the community charges required to replace domestic rates. The question of implementation must therefore he the main concern about the effect of this proposed reform".
I shall be brief, because many hon. Members want to take part in the debate. This measure is a kind of constitutional travesty. Never in the whole history of Parliament has a basic tax that is to be applied to the entire population of Scotland and in future to the population of England and Wales been treated with such contempt and brought in as a guillotined measure. It should be subject to measured debate rather than to the guillotine. It is a constitutional travesty to impose a guillotine of this magnitude in the very last syllable of recorded time in this most meretricious of all Parliaments and Governments. That is my first and most crucial point.Secondly, this measure not only deals with taxation which per se should put it beyond this kind of behaviour, even from this Government, but affects the well-being of the majority of the British people. The figures were not given of those who would benefit and those who would not. On the scale of comparative poverty and wealth, in every case those who are rich will benefit and those who are poor will suffer.
That is just rubbish. How can the hon. Government possibly argue that, when poor pensioners living in their family homes will find themselves considerably better off? How can the hon. Gentleman possibly argue that everyone who is poor will be worse off?
The hon. Gentleman should look at the position of poor pensioners in council houses and in some areas in his own constituency. I agree that in the case of four pensioners living together, one can make a comparison with less well-off households, but in 99 per cent. of cases the rich will benefit and the poor will suffer.If the hon. Gentleman wants a comparison he can look at the rateable value on the Prime Minister's house in Dulwich. This measure will in future apply to England and Wales. It is precisely because it will be extended that it has been brought in in this desperate way. All the evidence is that the same pattern will be applied in England and Wales and as a result, the Prime Minister will be given £140 a month. This measure will hit pensioners, council tenants and people on below-average wages, but less than about 15 per cent. of the top earners will lose. To benefit from this measure a person will need to earn about £558 a week. That is over £2,000 a month, well into £25,000 a year. The average family will lose. One thinks especially of comparatively poor families with children of 18, 19 or 20. They will lose. The additional rates on council houses in my constituency vary for a three-apartment house from £33 to £40 per month. For a four-apartment house the figure is £35 to £47 per month. The tenants of those houses, whatever their earning capacity, will be worse off to the tune of £20 a month for a couple and £40 to £60 a month if there is another earner. Compare that with the Prime Minister, who will benefit by £140 a month. Council house occupants in my constituency will face an extra bill of £20 to £60.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be basing his claims about gainers and losers on the present rating system. Can he tell the House whether he believes that the present rating system in Scotland is fair?
If the hon. Gentleman had given us enough time to discuss this measure, we could have looked at alternative methods. At the moment, we are dealing with a measure rushed through at the very last point of time in order to obscure, among other things, the real horrors that are being applied. This is not the only aspect. This is part of the open manifesto, but we must also consider the Government's hidden manifesto. The Government claim that they will move from direct taxation to indirect taxation, which means value added tax, and that will hit the poor. Direct taxation has been cut, but the average taxpayer is nearly £7 a week worse off as a result of the increase in indirect tax.The Government are trying to beat their hidden manifesto by running to the country and they do not have the courage to perpetuate their policies for another week. They are running to the country a year before their time in order to hustle through measures like this and avoid the measures that are clearly adumbrated in the hidden manifesto. The Tory Commissioner in Brussels, Lord Cockfield, who is an appointee of the Prime Minister, is proposing to extend value added tax to books. At one time the Conservative party might have resisted that. It is also proposed to extend it to other publications, to babies' and children's clothes and to fuel and food. That is the background to which this tax has been rushed through. I hope that the people of Scotland, who have been betrayed by the Government, will know about the results that we are seeing here and about the monstrosity that is being committed, and that they will reject the Conservatives at the polls in three weeks. This is a damnable and in many ways an unconstitutional measure and it will certainly hit the pockets of all the working people of Scotland.
I am astonished at the speech by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan). The hon. Gentleman never ceases to astonish me. He seemed to be arguing that pensioners who had saved a little money during the course of their lives and who are on low incomes should subsidise people in work who are earning good money. That is the substance of his argument. He seemed to be arguing in favour of retaining a rating system that he admits is unfair. I wonder why. The explanation is obvious. The hon. Gentleman likes the rating system because it allows his party to remain in local government and force pensioners and others with savings and low incomes to pay for the extravagance of hiscolleagues in power in local government. He knows that when the Bill is on the statute book the game will be up for the Labour Left in local government in Scotland because no longer will those people be able to ask the minority to pay for their extravagance and their policies. If, as the hon. Gentleman argues, the Bill is so unfair and so unpopular, why are he and the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) so anxious to prevent it from getting on the statute book? If it is so unpopular in Scotland and if it will do so much harm, they have the ideal opportunity in the forthcoming general election campaign to convince the people. The reality is that, even in these last desperate hours, they are struggling to prevent the Bill from being passed because they know that it will be popular, even with those who will have to pay a little more, because the people of Scotland recognise that the system proposed in the Bill may not be perfect, but it is very much better than the rating system that we have. The people of Scotland are not so venal as those in the Labour party and the alliance, who think that, just because some people will have to pay a bit more, that is a reason for not having the legislation. The hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland does not want the Bill to reach the statute book because he does not want the people of Scotland to have a clear choice. He has regaled the House with long speeches— half an hour on Second Reading and goodness knows how many hours during the 120 hours in Committee. He has failed, despite repeated challenges, to explain how his local income tax would work. He say: "We in the alliance have said that we are in favour of a local income tax," but he has not explained how that tax would not result in people in rural areas paying far more towards local government than they will under the community charge or at present under the rating system. He has failed to do so despite repeated challenges. He says that it is not his job to define how local income tax will work. He wishes to prevent the Bill from reaching the statute book so that there will not be a clear choice for the Scottish people. The clear choice is that if they return a Conservative Government, they will see the abolition of the rating system and a fairer system instead, whereas if the Conservative Government are not returned, we shall have fudge and mudge. However, the hon. Gentleman and his party will never form a Government and people will be left with the rating system ——
The people of Scotland, particularly those in the Highlands, know that although the rating system is bad, they will be substantially worse off under the Government's proposals. Dr. Arthur Midwinter has put to the Government the fact that seven out of 10 households in the Highlands region will pay substantially increased taxation as a result of the Government's proposals. That is a fact. On local income tax, the hon. Gentleman does not need a speech from me to draw attention to the facts, which demonstrate beyond peradventure that, under local income tax, the majority of Scottish people would be substantially better off than under the appallingly inequitable tax that the hon. Gentleman has been backing from the beginning.
The hon. Gentleman is like a cheap ticket tout. He sought to intervene when I criticised him for not spelling out how his local income tax policy would work, yet again he has failed to do so. Instead, he makes allegations about our policy and who would be disadvantaged by it. The hon. Gentleman fails to deal with the basic point, that, under his policy of a local income tax, people in the Highlands, with a narrow tax base, would pay far more than they will under the community charge or the present rating system.In his speech on local income tax, the hon. Gentleman made great play about the effect on people with average incomes, but he does not seem to have noticed the answer that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary gave, which shows that a local income tax would be a disaster for the people of Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to promote such a policy, that is his business, but he owes it to the people of Scotland to explain how it will work and how it will be to their advantage. The fact is that, for the vast majority of people in the Highlands who at present are suffering under the rating system, the community charge will be a welcome relief. It is true that those who are in work, who are able to pay and who have contributed nothing to local government in the past, will be required to do so, but the hon. Gentleman does not take into account the effect of the community charge on local government itself. He seems to imagine that the whole thing is static. The fact is that when the politicians in local government are subject to accountability, when they know that every decision that they make will have an effect on the pockets of the people who elect them, they will behave more responsibly. It is important that the Bill is passed, not only so that the people of Scotland have a clear choice, but so that local government is given a guiding light for the way forward. The way forward is to be responsible and accountable to the people. By all means let us make local government take decisions at local level; let us remove some of the controls on expenditure that have been imposed from the centre, as we do in the Bill; but let us recognise that it is only by bringing accountability to the system that we shall achieve that aim. The Bill has been discussed ad nauseam in the House. This view has come not just from Conservative Benches; significantly, every newspaper in Scotland has commented on the lamentable opposition from the Opposition parties. Every commentator, every group——
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why some of the points that we pushed so enthusiastically and unrewardingly in Committee now appear as Government amendments?
If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman does his colleague, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) a great disservice. My instant reaction is that, based on the latter's performance in Committee arid his muddled thinking— at one point he had to ask my hon. Friend the Minister what his own amendment meant — it is not surprising that he did not score many successes in Committee. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) finds that the arguments in the other place were aired more successfully, I should have thought that that was a criticism of his colleagues, not of my hon. Friend who is putting forward suggestions for change. Indeed, the fact that there are amendments before the House shows that my hon. Friend is being flexible in considering the matter.My criticism of the Opposition is that on Second Reading, in Committee and during the Bill's passage through the other place, they singularly failed to come up with an alternative to what we have on offer. They have nailed their colours to the rating system, which is unfair, because it penalises people who improve their properties, those who have saved and those who have a stake in their property. It rewards extravagant and unprincipled Left-wing local authorities, in which I understand the hon. Member for Garscadden has some interest. The people of Scotland are waiting for the Bill to become an Act. When it is, they will know that the hon. Member for Garscadden and his friends would repeal it if they won the election. I am sure that the people will give their verdict at the polls.
Unlike the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), I do not intend to speak for long. I remind him that one of the reasons why we shall vote against the motion is that it is unfair and unjust. It is the job of a parliamentary Opposition, with different constituencies, to oppose measures that we consider to be deeply damaging to our electorate.To some extent, I was surprised to listen to the claims made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Sir A. Fletcher), followed by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) and subsequently the hon. Member for Stirling. There were great calls to the Scottish people for the coming election. We know that the Bill would never have seen the light of day if the parliamentary majority in Scotland had control of legislation. It has been pushed through on the basis of English votes in the House of Commons because there is an overall United Kingdom majority for the Conservative party. It is illogical for the hon. Members for Edinburgh, Central, and for Stirling to say that it will be sufficient to put the matter to the test of the electorate. If the Conservatives won the election, but their numbers were decimated in Scotland, would the Government say that they would drop the legislation? Having put the matter to the Scottish people, would they say that the legislation had been rejected because there was not sufficient support at the polls? That puts to the test Conservative Members' assertions that they are putting something to the Scottish people. They are not. It is part of the programme for the British people, and if the Scottish people take a different view, they will have to like it or lump it. In this case, they will be lumping it. They will have to pay out a substantial sum in cash. The Government are to leave it to the electorate and the people, but to which electorate and people are they leaving it? I have no doubt that in the coming election the Scottish people will reject not only the Conservative party but the piece of legislation on which it has pinned its hopes. Is it not a mark of the Conservative party's desperation that, two years ago, it was looking around for something on which to get a grip? The Conservative party, to its eternal discredit, has produced a piece of legislation that will have a vicious impact on the people of Scotland. It will cause distress and hardship. The Government say that it is a choice between the rating system and the community charge, but I can envisage no benefit to the people at large from this new system. I accept the Government's arguments against the rating system, which has long outlived its usefulness and any fairness. The Scottish National party and the alliance parties have proposed a local income tax, which would be based on ability to pay. The acid test will be whether it is fair. Will people have to pay more even though they may not have the income to do so? The abolition of domestic rates—much though I welcome the abolition—is spoilt by the introduction of the poll tax. If this measure ever comes into effect, the Government will bitterly regret what they have done. The dislocation caused will far out-measure any of the temporary embarrassments felt by the Government during the rating revaluation about two years ago.
I am fascinated to learn that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) comes to the House to suggest that the business on which Scottish Members spend their time is not relevant to Scotland but is relevant to the whole of the United Kindom. We believe that our separate Scottish laws are important, so much so that we spend many hours on them in Committee — many more than the hon. Gentleman has ever done.Labour Members have a commendable record for the way in which they work on legislation that affects Scotland. We may not agree with what they do, but we will not criticise their work load. Sometimes they put their points badly and do not present them well, and sometimes they fluff them. That has been their record on the Bill—they have not won the arguments or presented them well — but one cannot argue with the fact that Labour Members attend the Committees and apply themselves. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has a commendable record in dealing with Scottish legislation. Some of us think that, like most lawyers, he goes on a bit, but no one ever suggests that he does not carry out his duties properly and effectively. The hon. Member for Dundee, East is criticising not only Conservatives, but the Labour party, suggesting that Labour Members should not apply themselves so diligently to Scottish business because he judges it to be United Kingdom business. This is a piece of Scottish legislation and it is right that it should have been dealt with as it has been. Much time was spent on Second Reading and in Committee considering it. The Opposition think that Conservative Members have suicidal tendencies, but that is not so. I invite Labour Members to tell me after the general election about their great pledge that they will win Tayside, North. That is called whistling in the dark anywhere else. The alliance candidate may have an argument with Labour Members, never mind me, on that.
I tend to agree with the hon. Gentleman— he may just retain his seat, in which case he looks like being the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland after the election.
That is just about the most awful piece of nonsense to which I have ever listened. I believe that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). He is probably one of the most able and clever Secretaries of State that we have ever had. There is no doubt that he will retain his seat comfortably. I believe that any honest individual in the House would accept the fact that my right hon. and learned Friend will lead for the Conservatives in Scotland on this matter. He will be leading out front, as he does so ably and well.
Unlike the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State can trust his No. 2 to handle the Bill effectively. Is my hon. Friend surprised that, during all the hours of consideration in Committee and on the Floor of the House, we still have not heard from the Scottish National party or from the other parts of the anti-Conservative alliance how their local income tax will work? Is it the kind of local income tax that will disadvantage the most deprived areas, or is it the kind of local income tax that will mean that people who live in areas of prudent local authorities will subsidise those who live in the areas of spendthrift local authorities?
Order. The motion before the House is long and wordy, but I cannot find any reference in it to income tax. I hope that hon. Members will stick to the motion.
I do not want to be caught out twice in two days, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Once is enough. May I say that I regret that your comments yesterday have not been printed in Hansard and I hope that the matter will be put right. If one looks carefully, one will see that there is an omission at the beginning of the relevant business yesterday. The statement that you made and which I did not hear is not reported. I do not argue, but it should be printed. I just wanted to let you know about that, Sir. I have no wish to fall foul of you on two consecutive days——
Order. I understand the point that the hon. Member is making. I have not studied Hansard, but I assure the hon. Member that I shall and, if there is any fault, I shall seek to have it corrected.
I have no doubt that you will do that, Sir. The object of drawing it to your attention was to see that the record was put right.I return to why there should be a guillotine and why the community charge will be of benefit to people in Scotland, especially in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Minister may be interested to know that the rate demands in Scotland went out within the past two weeks, certainly they did in Tayside. I have not heard a single unfavourable comment on the community tax, but I can certainly fill a barrel with the unfavourable comments that I have received on the rates increases that have just been inflicted on the citizens of Tayside by the Labour administration, assisted in that enterprise by the nationalists. The people of Tayside have no doubt who is attempting to protect their best interests. People in north Tayside believe that the hon. Member for Dundee, East, who cannot even attend the House when his Bill is debated, is not the type of individual who should comment ——
The hon. Gentleman was not here yesterday.
Hon. Members may find it amusing, but from time to time I have a slight hearing defect, which is the result of my activities while I was on service for His Majesty. That is a matter of record, and I am not ashamed of it, but it gives me problems from time to time. I was present at that time, so that is not the problem.It is unique for a party to go to a general election with legislation as interesting and, perhaps, as controversial as this, but it would be barmy even to think that any party would be so foolish as to do so if it did not genuinely believe that the new system was a substantial improvement on the existing system of local government taxation. Rates are unpopular with the public at large and people have condemned them, particularly the few who have to pay vast sums. The Labour party has used the rating system more effectively than has any other local government party because it recognises that it can buy votes by spending other people's money. I congratulate the Labour party on having done that so successfully. Labour party Members are troubled because, if the system is changed, they will have the same opportunity to buy votes as they have done in the past. Everyone over the age of 18 will be required to contribute, which can only mean that they will take an interest in how the money is spent. Even those who are given income assistance in the form of rebates will take an interest because of the fact that they have to make a contribution. The contribution is approximately the same as the cost of a television licence. There are figures on how many television licences exist among the lower paid, pensioners and those on supplementary benefit. I have no doubt that they will be capable also of paying the community charge, or at least the reduced rate that they will be required to pay. The people who will pay the full amount are those who can afford to pay. I have three adult daughters who enjoy the benefits of local authority services, and I think it is right that they should pay for them.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why it is right that someone on a low wage should pay exactly the same as someone who earns an enormous amount of money?
I can explain that easily. Much of local authority expenditure comes from central taxation. Those on high incomes—whatever "high" is; it is relative—pay more income tax and buy more expensive products which carry more value added tax. Therefore, they contribute handsomely to the coffers of central Government. As it is the central Government, on behalf of the taxpayer, who pick up the bulk of the cost of local government services, it can be said that those on higher incomes are already making their contribution through central taxation.The big problem with linking local authority expenditure to rates is that other local government expenditure affects central Government taxation. I mentioned earlier today that the Tayside region has put up its rates, which will put an unbearable additional burden on the Tayside health board. The board will have to find an additional £500,000, which means that £500,000 less will be spent on health services and facilities. The ratchet effect of this has meant that the Government have had to find a way to ensure that central Government expenditure is properly funded, as it is through taxation — that is, personal income tax, value added tax and corporation tax on profitable companies. Those taxes fund the central Government's contribution to local government expenditure, so taxpayers who pay higher rates of tax are able to say, with hand on heart, "I am paying for my proper share of services." Anyone who uses additional facilities, such as water, has to pay for the amount consumed, as determined by the water meter. Many provisions are available to cater for that, so it is right that those who can afford to pay should pay equally. In other words, those who use the same services should pay equally, and those who, for whatever reason, require income assistance — whether through supplementary benefit or in some other way—are catered for in the same way as students and others who have special requirements. My hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to be congratulated on the way in which he has dealt with those who have special needs. I congratulate the Government on the way in which they have dealt with these matters. I am delighted that the Bill will be on the statute book as an Act before we go to the country.
Will the hon. Member answer this question : if the Scottish people reject his Tory party at the next election and, by some mischance, the people of England return a Tory Government, will he demand that his Government withdraw this measure?
That is a nonsensical question, but I have no hesitation in answering it. I expect the Conservative party to do as well in Scotland as it did in 1983, if not better. I shall not make unrealistic claims——
Why not? You always do.
I shall not make unrealistic claims, and I shall not be tempted by the less than silent Deputy Chief Whip of the Labour party. I say to the hon. Gentleman that we expect to do well and to return as the Government. I expect to be sitting in my place as the hon. Member for Tayside, North and I look forward to looking into the eyes of those hon. Members who are fortunate enough to return to the Labour Benches and to see whether they enjoy again their term in opposition.
In the few moments left before the debate ends, I will respond to some of the points made during——
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any reason for calling the Minister at this stage? There is nothing in the rules to suggest that the rest of us should not be called.
I understand that the Standing Order requires this debate to be concluded one hour after its commencement, which will be at 4.58 pm.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is an extremely important and radical piece of legislation. A number of us are very eager to speak; not only Members for Scotland but Scottish Members who represent English constituencies, because the implications of the legislation will spread into England. It is quite improper if, to help the Government's funk in running to the country, parliamentary discussion is prevented and that this is pursued and allowed by the Chair. We must have an opportunity——
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not reflect on the Chair in that way. I am the prisoner of Standing Orders. I have to carry out the Standing Orders which have been agreed to by the House. The Standing Orders govern the timetable.
Further to that point of order, Sir. When will we have the opportunity to revive this debate, because it is an extremely important and very radical measure?
Order. The hon. Gentleman now is, I must say, abusing the time of the House. I told him quite clearly that I am bound by Standing Orders, as is every other hon. Member, including him.
During this debate we have heard nothing but black propaganda from the Opposition parties.
Could you quote the Standing Order on which you base your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that I would not refer to Standing Orders unless I had made sure that I was acting in accordance with them.
It being one hour after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to the Order. [11 February]
The House divided: Ayes 256, Noes 176.
Division No. 164]
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