House Of Commons
Wednesday 27 January 1988
The House met at half past Two o'clock
[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill Lords
Order for Third Reading read.
Amendments agreed to.
Read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.
Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) (No 2) Bill Lords
Read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.
Oral Answers To Questions
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will next be meeting the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss regional aid.
I have not received any request from the Scottish Trades Union Congress for a meeting to discuss regional assistance.
When the Secretary of State next meets the STUC to discuss regional aid, what assurances will he be able to give, as it is likely that the amount of aid for 1986, £240 million, will have fallen by about a third by the end of the decade? How many of the 3,000 applicants who last year were successful in securing regional aid will be able to obtain it under the new regime that he outlined last week?
It should be fairly easy to reassure the STUC. The switch from automatic to selective assistance is in line with the recommendation of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry). In formulating its views on these matters the council consulted all its members, including its trade union members.
When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the STUC, will he point out that for regions, such as Grampian, there will be less advantage in these changes?
My hon. Friend is correct. We are considering not only the selective forms of assistance, as described in the regional selective assistance proposals, but the new business advisory and consultancy services. They will have an enormous impact on the growth of small businesses in Scotland. I am sure that all hon. Members will support that objective.
When the Secretary of State meets the STUC to discuss regional aid, will he consider the important question of the impact of EEC aid? He will know that the EEC attaches great importance to complementing the national regional strategies that are being employed by the Government. However, is he aware that it does not recognise that we have a proper rural regional development strategy? Will he pay attention to that important missing element in the regional aid package?
It is not missing. The Government consider the development of rural areas of major importance. The Scottish Development Agency estimates that 25 per cent. of its expenditure goes to rural areas to develop the economic infrastructure and to help businesses in those areas. Increasingly, that is being recognised.
As the latest report of the Manpower Services Commission shows that the Scottish economy is doing worse than the economy of the rest of the United Kingdom, will the Secretary of State admit that there is a need for a massive increase in regional aid, rather than a cut, which is what he is proposing over the next few years? How can selective assistance possibly replace mandatory regional development grants? If he can, will he give a guarantee that all the money available for selective assistance will be used in Scotland for investment in Scottish industry?
The hon. Gentleman might like to read more carefully the survey of the Fraser of Allander Institute, published last week, which reported great optimism for the future of the economy. The Scottish CBI survey, which was published yesterday, showed that, for the first time for some considerable period, the prospects for businesses in Scotland are more attractive and beneficial to the prospects of employment and growth than elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take as much pleasure from that as I do.
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the controller of BBC Scotland; and what matters were discussed.
My right hon. and learned Friend last met the controller on 4 December, along with other senior Scottish television and radio executives, for a discussion on a broad range of Scottish affairs of interest to them.
Did they discuss the episode "Cabinet" of the series "Secret Society"? I understand from my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths), who has seen this programme, that it is a damning indictment of the Cabinet and Press Secretary Ingham. Is not the Minister, having failed to censor the Scottish media by using the courts, now resorting to his other method —intimidation?
I can answer the hon. Gentleman's question in relation to this film by saying that I understand that, after consulting the Government, the BBC decided last year not to show the film; but the BBC is aware that the Government deplore the dissemination of security information of this nature.
Will my hon. Friend impress upon the controller the importance of improving both long-wave and VHF reception in Scotland? Secondly, will he take up the issue in south-west Scotland of the occasions when the BBC splits programmes and south-west Scotland receives programmes from the north of England, which often means missing good Scottish international football?
I will draw to the attention of the controller my hon. Friend's comments. The proposals for the creation of new commercial stations will increase the competition faced by the BBC, and it will have to ensure that the quality of its material is sufficient to retain its business. I am sure that it will welcome that challenge.
Further to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), I have seen the programme "Cabinet", which is part of the "Secret Society" series. Can the Minister assure us that he will place no impediment in the way of the BBC transmitting the film, which was cleared by the former director general, and has been cleared legally, and which raises no questions of national security?
I understand what the hon. Gentleman is asking for, but I can only repeat what I have already said. The Government would deplore the dissemination of classified information of this nature. I do not wish to depart from that.
Does the Minister, with hindsight, regret the rather high-handed way in which the warrant against the BBC was executed by the police, and does he not have doubts about the endless paperchase through the courts as the Government attempt to stop free discussion in the press about matters that are already in the public domain and which can be discussed in almost every other country?
I shall answer the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question first. In relation to the distinction between an injunction and an interdict, I would say this. The Lord Advocate has not suggested — [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) has asked about the courts, so I am entitled to give him a full reply. I will come back to the first part of his question as well.The Lord Advocate has not suggested that an injunction granted by the High Court in England would apply in Scotland. Nor does the statement, as reported by The Scotsman, imply that to be the case. The Scottish legal system is distinct and separate from systems applying elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The Government consider that a responsible media will ordinarily take account of decisions of a court in one jurisdiction of the United Kingdom which may have an effect on the conduct of the press in that jurisdiction, and that a responsible media will deduce that, in the absence of special circumstances, a similar restriction might reasonably be expected to apply in other jurisdictions. The Government take the view that the media should not be subject to restrictions in Scotland to which they would not be subject in England, and vice versa. Therefore, the Lord Advocate took the view that if the injunction granted by the High Court was in terms less restrictive than the terms of an interim interdict, it was appropriate to indicate that he would not seek to enforce the interdict. In one sense—[Interruption.] I will answer the hon. Gentleman's first question later. The Lord Advocate is satisfied that the proper—[Interruption.]
Order. The Under-Secretary must be given a chance to answer. Or has he answered?
The Lord Advocate is satisfied that the proper procedures had been followed in obtaining the search warrant.
Scottish Film Council
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future of the Scottish Film Council, and the proposal to amalgamate that body with the Scottish Arts Council.
I shall make an announcement shortly on the Government's response to the report of a policy review of the Scottish Film Council which was carried out last year.
Will the Minister provide the Library with a copy of the review? Does he accept than no one who knows anything about film in Scotland — from film makers to consumers, to educationists and to those involved in film archives — supports the proposal for amalgamation? Does he further accept that although the proposals may be convenient to bureaucrats at St. Andrew's House, and even at the Treasury, it offers no help whatever to an organisation that has done much to promote film in Scotland and beyond since 1934?
The proposal for a merger of the Scottish Film Council with the Scottish Arts Council is only one of a number of options put forward. The hon. Gentleman does the review an injustice by concentrating on that alone, as the review has been warmly welcomed by the council.
The report is not in the Library. No one has read it.
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to answer the question, I shall try to answer the points that he has put.The review has been warmly welcomed by the council, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the arguments that he has advanced and the various options are under consideration at the moment, and we expect to make an announcement shortly.
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has as to how much is spent on industrial support per capita in Scotland compared with England.
In 1986–87, identifiable public expenditure on the industry, energy, trade and employment programme in Scotland was £178·2 per head compared with £81·4 per head in England.The difference partly reflects the fact that the share of the Scottish population in assisted areas is more than twice that in England.
Does not the fact that Scottish business now needs twice as much help as English business illustrate the dangers of overdependency of the "suppie" culture on the English taxpayer? Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that we are getting better value for money for this industrial support?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress the importance of value for money. Value for money is an important criterion in judging the value of regional assistance. My hon. Friend might like to know that in 1986–87 regional assistance in Scotland was £40 per head, whereas in the north of England it was £39 per head. In addition, Manpower Services Commission schemes provided £179 per head in the north compared with £143 in Scotland.
Is the Minister aware that under the current reorganisation of the Department of Trade and Industry — "DTI — the department for Enterprise" — the management of the consulting and advisory services for the engineering industry is being transferred from the National Enginering Laboratory in East Kilbride to the Production Engineering Research Association in Melton Mowbray? Is the Minister aware that that is part of the continuing pattern of draining industrial resources and activities from Scotland to the south?
The hon. Gentleman is wrong in his general conclusion. The whole purpose of regional assistance is to enable the delivery mechanism to be located in Scotland. The Scottish Development Agency will be providing a major part of that delivery mechanism.
Is my hon. Friend aware that many people in this country think that, overall, policies of industrial support have destroyed rather than saved jobs? At the risk of being accused of being gratuitiously offensive by The Scotsman, as I was, will my hon. Friend comment on the Labour party's proposals for regional aid? Those proposals would translate the regional aid budget from my hon. Friend's Department into the Department responsible for the arts, because all that the Labour party seeks to do is to convert Scotland into a museum of industrial archaelogy.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. In the context of regional selective assistance, the House might like to know that a recent document produced by the TUC said that to make regional and local planning bodies effective the amount of selective assistance would be progressively increased until all assistance became selective.
When will the Minister educate his English Back-Bench colleagues in the realities of public finance in the United Kingdom? For example, will he tell them that industrial support through the medium of defence procurement, which is concentrated in certain areas of the country, results in a £2,500 million subsidy to the English economy–10 times the entire regional aid budget for Scotland?
I am happy to welcome that part of the defence budget that goes to Scotland. More particularly, I am glad to welcome the fact that Scotland shares in the general defence of the United Kingdom.
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will publish the number of persons in employment and the number unemployed in Scotland in the years 1983 to the present.
I have put the figures in the Library. The provisional estimate of the civilian labour force in June 1987 is marginally higher than in the four previous years, and seasonally adjusted unemployment is now at its lowest level since June 1983.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the figures show that the Scots are slowly coming to grips with the structural weaknesses in their economy? Does he also agree that the figures confirm the Scots' reputation as a doughty, dour, hardy, independent-minded people, and that, unfortunately, that fine reputation is too often endangered by the constant whingeing by Opposition Members for more subsidies from the south?
My hon. Friend is certainly correct. Opposition Members appear to think that the only solution to any economic or industrial problem is the expenditure of resources. The transformation that is taking place in the Scottish economy has more to do with the spirit of enterprise in Scotland than with the level of available public funds. Indeed, Opposition Members are gradually coming to the same conclusion.
Is the Secretary of State aware that in October 1987, 19·6 per cent. of the economically active population of Glasgow were unemployed and that in April 1984 the figure was 20·9 per cent.? Is that what he calls the transformation of the Glasgow economy? Is he aware that of that percentage of unemployed people more than half are long-term unemployed? Is that what he calls a triumph for Tory economic policies? Is he further aware that for every job vacancy outwith the community programme in Glasgow, there are 22 applicants, compared with 10 in Great Britain?
The hon. Lady, as a Glasgow Member, appears to be the only person in Glasgow who is unaware that, during this Government's term of office, Glasgow has been transformed into one of the most impressive examples of urban regeneration. In every forum except this one the hon. Lady constantly pronounces to the general public how impressive Glasgow is now compared with what it was like in 1979.
Is the Secretary of State aware that in Clydebank and Milngavie in September 1979 there were 3,500 unemployed people, and in September 1987 there were 7,500? The figures do not take into account the 590 people in community programme places or the 19 separate downward adjustments of the unemployment figures. Is that the transformation of which the Secretary of State is boasting?
The transformation of which I am boasting includes projects such as that of Health Care International, which, without any support from him, may bring 4,000 to 5,000 jobs to the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
I join my right hon. and learned Friend in emphasising the magnificent transformation of Glasgow, which is entirely due to the Government's policies in the past few years. Now that we have abandoned the blanket concept of regional grants, will he consider the regeneration of other towns, villages and cities in Scotland, so that we can attract industry instead of switching it from one place to another?
My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that the Government's priority for the future is to concentrate on many peripheral housing estates in Scotland in which there are substantial social, unemployment, economic and housing problems. It is by a major infusion of private sector investment, with public support, that we shall see the transformation of such areas into places of which we can all be proud.
Newbattle Abbey College
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the proposed closure of Newbattle Abbey college.
Circumstances have changed in the last 50 years. The college prepares only about 40 students each year for entry to higher education, at a total annual cost of more than £500,000. But every year about 6,000 mature students go into higher education in Scotland who have made no use of the college. It is difficult in those circumstances to maintain that it is meeting a significant national need and I have decided to withdraw grant with effect from the end of the next academic year. In my view, the grant paid to Newbattle can be more effectively spent in other ways to promote increased access to higher education.
Does the Secretary of State accept that Newbattle Abbey college is a national institution, which is greatly valued throughout the country because it provides a form of access to higher education, especially for late entrants and those who have already missed out in developing their education in earlier years, and that no comparable facility is available anywhere else in higher education or through the Open University? Does he also accept that there has been criticism of his Department for the total lack of consultation when taking that decision?
On the right hon. Gentleman's latter point, the withdrawal of grant will take place in 18 months' time. Therefore, there is plenty of opportunity to hear any representations that people may wish to make.On the right hon. Gentleman's earlier question, he must take into account the fact that of the 98 students at the college in 1986–87, 42 were from Edinburgh and Lothian and were unlikely to require residential accommodation; 29 came from England and Wales; none came from the north of Scotland; and very few from other parts of Scotland. In those circumstances, it is difficult to put forward a credible argument that there is any significant need for residential accommodation of the kind that Newbattle provides.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman not understand that the measure of consultation has been strange? My understanding is that there was no consultation prior to his decision to withdraw funding. Is it a case of shooting from the hip and asking questions afterwards? What a strange concept of consultation. Does he not realise that there is great resentment because the equivalent in Scotland of Ruskin college, Oxford, is to be withdrawn? Is that not a shoddy way to deal with education, and do we not now seem to have a bunch of philistines in new St. Andrew's House dealing with education?
I appreciate the fact that the trade unions have identified themselves with the campaign to save Newbattle Abbey college. However, that might be more impressive if the trade unions in question had used Newbattle Abbey college themselves, or if they had made any significant contribution to its work. Only one trade union in Scotland has made any donation to college funds during 1986–87, and not one trade union made use of it during that year to provide short residential courses for its members.
First, will my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that there was no consultation before the decision was taken? Secondly, will he tell the House what circumstances have changed since the HMI report of 1984, which recommended the continuation of the college?
I must advise my right hon. Friend that with 6,000 entrants over the age of 21 going on to higher and further education in Scotland, I do not believe that he can put forward any credible argument that it is justified to use £500,000 of public funds for the admission of 40 students to that college, the vast majority of whom did not require residential accommodation, given their place of residence.I emphasise to my right hon. Friend that the resources saved from the withdrawal of support — whether the college will close is a matter for the governors—will be used for higher and further education in Scotland, which will assist the higher and further education requirements of far more students than currently seem interested in using the facilities at Newbattle Abbey college.
Does the Secretary of State not feel some sense of shame that, through his penny-pinching attitude, he is destroying what was bequeathed to the nation of Scotland and provided an additional asset to our education system? Surely the whole point of having a facility such as Newbattle Abbey college is to enable people to re-enter education for a variety of reasons at a later stage but not within the formal system? Therefore, does he not agree that, in the concept of life-long education, we should maintain that facility?
Of course that is a desirable objective, but I advise the hon. Lady that there has been precious little interest in using that facility. No one from the hon. Lady's constituency or from a line drawn north of Fort William to Aberdeen has even entered the college during the past year. If we are considering the need for a residential college, we must have the gravest doubts whether there is any need for expenditure of that kind when the trade unions have made little use of the facility and, bar one union, have made no contribution to its running costs and, indeed, when most of the students come from the Edinburgh and Lothian area or from England and Wales. The hon. Lady should bear that in mind.
Circumstances have certainly changed in recent years. I understand that the right hon. and learned Gentleman used to be listed as a friend of Newbattle college. Is he aware that we deplore the fact that the Government are discarding this unique college? Can he tell us why Scotland should be the only nation in Britain without a specialist college to give adults a second chance of gaining the benefits of further education?
The hon. Gentleman might bear in mind the remarks of some of his Labour colleagues. For example, during the discussion of these matters with Strathclyde regional council yesterday a Labour councillor, Councillor Gilmore, warned his colleagues against indulging in media protests and went on to say that, in his view, the Government had a case for the better use of a £500,000 grant from the SED.
Cervical Smear Tests
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the results of the recent campaign to encourage women in Scotland to have a cervical smear test.
There has been no recent national publicity campaign in Scotland on cervical cancer screening. I announced on 10 December 1987 that a comprehensive cervical cancer screening service is to be made available to all women in Scotland aged between 20 and 60 years of age.
In view of the increasing number of women taking advantage of screening facilities, what steps has the Minister taken to ensure that back-up facilities for treatment are readily available to prevent women from having to wait inordinate lengths of time?
The Government are providing about £6 million to ensure that the software and computer facilities are in place by the end of the year, so that women come in on a call and recall basis. The computer call and recall service will ensure that they are brought in. I am not aware of any problems with any health boards connected with the carrying out of screening.
The Minister will be aware that Tayside has a vey good recall system for cervical cancer. When will he be able to say where the unit for mammography will be established in Scotland?
We recently announced that we expected to establish 10 units throughout Scotland, and we expect all of them to be in place by 1991.
We are now trying to increase the number of such tests. Is the Minister aware of the corollary —that more tests will mean a much heavier workload on MLSOs and associated technical staff in hospitals? Is he also aware of the anger felt by MLSOs and other staff about the failure to recognise their proper status or salary levels, and will he give his backing to help them to carry out their important work?
The precise pattern of workloads and the way in which tests and screenings are carried out are matters for health boards. I am sure that they will take into account all the options open to them.
Health Service Expenditure
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the expenditure per head in real terms on health services in Scotland in 1979 and 1987; and if he will make a statement.
Gross expenditure on the National Health Service in Scotland in 1979–80, at 1987–88 prices, was £354 per head of population. The corresponding figure for 1987–88 is expected to be £454.These figures for Scotland are some 25 per cent. higher than the equivalent figures for England, and Scotland has 39 per cent. more health staff and 59 per cent. more hospital beds than England on a population basis.
I thank my right hon. Friend for those impressive but not surprising figures. Can he tell the House whether he believes that there has been a commensurate dramatic increase in the quality of patient care, particularly in the light of the article on the front page of today's Glasgow Herald? Can he explain that?
I share my hon. Friend's concern about that article, and I have had inquiries made. The injuries suffered by the reporter concerned can be treated by a padded crepe support bandage or short plaster. [HON. MEMBERS: "Dr. Forsyth?"] May I ask hon. Members to listen? Contrary to what is printed in the Herald the reporter expressed a wish not to have a plaster, so that he could drive to Stirling. I am reliably informed that this was recorded and witnessed.Had a plaster been essential, the medical staff in the accident and emergency unit could have applied one. This is a scurrilous and inaccurate piece of reporting, and I deplore such an unwarraned attack on the excellent facilities and staff at the Western infirmary in Glasgow.
I believe that we should get back to the main question. I want the Minister to deal with the relevant aspects of expenditure, that is the proportion of GDP spent on health care in England and Wales and in Scotland. Is it not a fact that for the United Kingdom as a whole expenditure on health care is good value for money, and that attempts to undermine that by stupid proposals such as contracting out are to be deplored by hon. Members on both sides of the House?
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking about GDP. He will know that health expenditure in England as a proportion of GDP is 6·2 per cent. In Scotland it is 8·2 per cent. That means that we have significantly more resources. The point of competitive tendering is to ensure that we make the maximum possible provision for patient care.
These interesting figures provided by my hon. Friend show clearly that the Government are concerned with health care and that health care really matters. Will he confirm that the Government will look very carefully at these matters to ensure that we receive value for money throughout the Health Service in Scotland, and in particular will he consider the great value for money provided by community hospitals?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Government are determined to ensure value for money in the Health Service and at the same time to provide additional resources. Next year's additional allocation of expenditure for the Health Service in Scotland, at some £120 million, will be the biggest ever in cash terms in the history of the Health Service in Scotland. I wish that Opposition Members would acknowledge that.
In view of the Minister's very recent, very personal and very profitable connections with the private health sector, is it not time that he was seen to get his sticky fingers off the Scottish Health Service? Will he accept that it is doubly offensive to loyal servants and low-paid workers in the National Health Service to see someone trying to do them out of their jobs when they know that that individual has such strong, personal, vested interests in the destruction of public sector employment and its replacement with cheapskate contract labour?
I have no vested interest. I deplore the hon. Gentleman's offensive attack on those workers because, by implication, he is arguing that competitive tendering will put them out of work. That means that he thinks they are providing inefficient services. They have nothing to fear from competitive tendering if their services are providing value for money. Any savings that are achieved will result in improved patient care for the hon. Gentleman's constituents, whom he should seek to represent.
Does my hon. Friend agree that since 1979 the Government have provided 5,770 new beds and that in the 34 new projects under construction there will be another 4,484? Is that not a splendid achievement, which shows that the Government have every intention of maintaining a close interest in the Health Service?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He has drawn attention to the biggest capital investment programme in the history of the Health Service in Scotland undertaken by this Government because of the success of our economic policies and the priority that we have placed on the Health Service. When Opposition Members formed the previous Labour Government they presided over the biggest ever cut in the capital programme in the Health Service in Scotland.
Does the Minister not share my sharp concern about the crisis in the Health Service and the frustration that is growing daily among those committed to the delivery of a comprehensive and adequate service to those in need? Will he accept that if we are to avoid industrial action—which no hon. Member wants to see —it is important that he makes his contribution to that process? Will he look again at the circular on privatisation, because it is resented by the boards, which, in many cases, are seeing their professional judgment on how they manage their areas being overturned? It is also resented by the staff whose jobs are at risk and by the public who know that contracting out is depressingly irrelevant to the real problems facing the Health Service.
I noted that the hon. Gentleman has aligned himself with those calling for industrial action in the Health Service, and his photograph appeared in the Glasgow Herald. It is in the interests of the Health Service to maximise the resources available for patient care. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he does not align himself with those calling for industrial action in the Health Service, I welcome that.Since 1983 the boards have been asked to carry out competitive tendering in Scotland. They have not done so. Health authorities in England have, and as a result the Health Service in England has had £100 million a year extra to spend on patient care. Is the hon. Gentleman really arguing that patients in Scotland should be denied those extra resources simply to keep his friends in the trade unions happy?
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from COSLA proposing salaries for councillors; and if he will make a statement.
My right hon. and learned Friend has received no representations from the convention regarding salaries for councillors. The convention has, however, indicated that it is in favour of the Widdicombe committee's recommendation that councillors should be paid a flat-rate allowance.
Is it not the case that the people who represent local government in Scotland, the councillors, deserve a proper rate for the job, a salary, particularly when they have to defend basic services and fight against the poll tax? We in the Labour movement expect them to organise a movement which will, if need be, break the law to challenge the Government, who are imposing a regime that is totally unacceptable to Scottish people.
I am aware of the contributions made by councillors. The hon. Gentleman and I were councillors in Edinburgh together. I should mention that proposals for a further increase will be considered in the near future, and the results will be announced in the spring. The maximum daily rate of attendance allowance is now 17·;55. That may be seen as inadequate by those who insist on regarding it as a daily rate of pay, but it was never intended to be that.
Was there not something impertinent and improper about Ministers attacking Scottish councillors for coming to the capital city of the United Kingdom last week to tell the House—which is, after all, considering poll tax legislation in England and Wales — about universal Scottish feeling about that unfair, inefficient and deeply unpopular imposition on the people of Scotland?
It is a perfectly legitimate comment if councillors are travelling at the ratepayers' expense. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is referring to assertions arising out of that.
As a former Aberdeen town councillor, may I suggest that service in local government should appeal to people's sense of service rather than to their sense of greed?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. A sense of public service is extremely important, and I have no doubt that many people enter local government as a vocation and not for any other reason.
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the latest estimate of the number of jobs created by regional development grants in Scotland since 1984.
Revised regional development grant has been associated with the creation of over 25,000 jobs in Scotland since 1984. The old regional development grant scheme was not linked directly to job creation.
While the Government's proposed changes will be welcome in areas such as mine, where we do not have access to regional development grant, will the Minister nevertheless acknowledge that the lack of automatic availability of grant could be at considerable cost to Scotland in terms of investment in the coming year? If there is to be a programme of selective assistance, will he ensure that the criteria are fully understood and appreciated so that investment is not driven away because people have to wait too long before they know whether they will get assistance?
I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman welcomes some of the provisions in the recent enterprise initative. He will have noted that Aberdeen is one of the areas where a higher rate of consultancy assistance grant will be payable. The take-up of applications available under the selective assistance scheme will depend entirely on the number of applications forthcoming. We intend to publicise the scheme widely to ensure that the funds available are taken up.
Will the Minister reflect on the fact that he has reduced expenditure on regional development grant from £170 million in 1986–87 to £66 million in the current year? That is against a background of three points: first, manufacturing employment in Scotland has fallen below 400,000 for the first time this century; secondly, the figures in the MSC "Labour Market Quarterly" report of November 1987[Interruption.]
Order. Do not read them, please.
The figures show that in terms of the 10 economic units in the United Kingdom, Scotland has had the smallest increase in the number of employees between June 1986 and 1987, and the biggest reduction in manufacturing jobs in any economic region in the United Kingdom. Can the Minister take pride in such a background when cutting regional development grants?
I do not recognise the background that the hon. Gentleman describes. In the first place, the proportion of regional aid coming to Scotland has risen from 20 per cent. in 1979 to over 30 per cent. now, and, in the second place, the background is one of falling unemployment and rising investment, manufacturing output and manufacturing productivity.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if regional aid as practised by successive Governments since 1945 had been successful, as is claimed by the Opposition Benches, the areas of high relative unemployment would not be the same today as they were immediately after the war? The sad fact is that the areas of high relative unemployment are much the same, so the system obviously does not work. Therefore, the new system that is being introduced must at least be an improvement on what has gone on in the past.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not without significance that the Labour Government cut the industrial programme in the Scottish block allocation by 13 per cent. during their last three years.
Does the Minister realise that the automatic availability of regional development grant played an important part in Ford's decision to locate its latest plant in Dundee, thereby bringing 400 desperately needed jobs to an area of high unemployment? Does he share the people of Scotland's view that, in the fiercely competitive business of attracting major inward investment projects into areas of high unemployment in Scotland, it is essential to get the total package of incentives right, so that we can out-compete areas such as Spain? How are we to do that if that total package is gravely weakened by the removal of automatic regional development grant from development areas such as Dundee?
The successful attraction of Ford to Dundee had nothing to do with the availability of automatic regional development grant. The company would have been equally entitled to regional selective assistance and the package available to it could have been exactly the same. The fact is that inward investment, which is such an important and successsful part of our economic industrial policy in Scotland, will not be jeopardised by the changes that we are making.
Will my hon. Friend, as a Minister in the United Kingdom Government, give some thought to how many jobs have been created by regional aid and how many jobs have been switched from various parts of the United Kingdom? Is he aware that there is deep resentment in Belper, in my constituency, where jobs were lost when English Sewing, part of the Tootal group, was switched to Scotland? Jobs are important in every part of the United Kingdom, not just in Scotland.
My hon. Friend is right to point to one of the disadvantages of regional assistance, when it simply moves jobs around the country. A recent study, which has been published, shows that about 600,000 jobs have been created, but 150,000 of them have subsequently been lost. That is a strong argument against automaticity and in favour of a more selective approach.
Health Service Expenditure
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will meet representatives of Grampian health board to discuss national strategies for health expenditure.
I hold regular meetings with the chairmen of all Scottish health boards, at which strategic issues are discussed.
At the Minister's next meeting with the representatives of Grampian health board on strategic issues, will he consider with them the issues surrounding the future of maternity services in Grampian region? Is he aware that the professional advice offered to Grampian health board showed that the SHARPEN recommendations of nil growth in maternity facilities would be unacceptable in that area because staffing complements and bed levels are already well below the national level? Against that background, will he ensure that he reads every response to proposals to close the peripheral units in my constituency, and those of other hon. Members, where there are sound medical, economic and social reasons for their retention?
As the hon. Lady knows, Grampian health board recently conducted a review of maternity beds in the area which revealed particular pressures on facilities at the Aberdeen maternity hospital and widespread under-use of facilities elsewhere. I cart assure the hon. Lady that the board is currently consulting. Any decision that might involve any closures would require the consent of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and we shall obviously consider carefully the representations that we have received from her and from her constituents before any conclusions are reached.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures that he gave in reply to an earlier question, showing the enormous disparity in money and in the proportion of the GNP being spent in Scotland, and in Grampian as part of it, merely demonstrates the fallacy of the argument that the Opposition are trying to foist upon the public, and that throwing more money at a place is not the answer to improving medical services?
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, who makes a very important point with regard to Grampian, because not only has Grampian a share of the additional resources available for health care in Scotland, but its share of the Scottish SHARE has been increasing. Its share of available resources has gone up from 8·5 to 9·2 per cent., and the board is approximately £10 million better off today than it would have been if our SHARE formula had not existed.
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what evidence he has of the level of demand for a devolved Scottish Parliament.
I have considerable evidence of the Opposition's interest in a Scottish Parliament, but little evidence of the electorate's interest.
When will the Secretary of State stop simply parroting his mistress's voice, repeating her absurd claims that there is little, if any, demand for devolution in Scotland? If he refuses to acknowledge that 76 per cent. of the Scottish voters voted at the last general election for parties with a commitment to set up some form of Scottish Assembly or Scottish Parliament, will he at least have the courage to put his view to the test by the people of Scotland, by having another referendum, so that they can decide, instead of being dictated to by this autocratic Government?
I note that the hon. Gentleman has been virtually disowned by his parliamentary colleagues for his general approach to these matters. He really must take account of the fact that the referendum that took place resulted in less than one third of the people of Scotland voting for the proposals with which he is associated. There is no reason to believe that the results of another referendum would be any different.
Are not the Scots already complaining about the level of community charge to be levied in Scotland? What would be the annual cost of the Assembly charge levied on every Scot to finance this pipe dream?
My hon. Friend is correct to say that it is extraordinary that the Labour party should be committed to imposing on Scotland a tax which at no time is to be imposed on any other part of the United Kingdom.
I rise to change the tempo of Question Time, to acknowledge that the greatest service the Prime Minister has done for Scotland so far is in appointing Sir Ian MacGregor to the new Tory party think-tank in Scotland—[HON. MEMBERS: "What has this to do with the question?"]—
Order. The subject is the Scottish Parliament.
May I say — [HON. MEMBERS: "Ask a question."]—that it will do the greatest service to the Scottish people's argument for devolution, because if Sir Ian MacGregor does as much for the Tory party as he did—
Order. I think that this matter would be better raised in the debate.
I can only say to the hon. Gentleman that I think that it is thanks to the work Sir Ian MacGregor did for the steel industry that Ravenscraig can look forward to the next seven years.
Court Actions (Costs)
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the costs to the Government of the recent court actions raised in Scotland against The Scotsman and Glasgow Herald newspapers and Scottish Television.
The expenses of the court actions and liability for their payment will be known only once the actions are concluded.
From my knowledge of legal expenses, I think we can assume that those expenses will be considerable. The Minister has already criticised certain councillors of all parties who travelled to London last week to give a very useful presentation on the poll tax. Does the Minister not consider that the expenses that will be incurred in these fruitless actions, which are simply intended to prevent any part of the media from criticising or embarrassing the Government, constitute a useless and outrageous waste of public funds?
No, Sir. I believe that the Government were absolutely entitled to uphold the confidentiality owed to the Crown by present and former members of the security and intelligence services. The Government consider that the action they took was entirely necessary in the circumstances.
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives from COSLA to discuss matters related to housing.
No date has yet been fixed, but my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary responsible for home affairs and the environment, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), holds regular meetings with the convention.
Am I correct in thinking, then, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware of the views of Scotland on the housing crisis in Scotland today? Nearly 1,250,000 people, including families, are living in overcrowded conditions. About 200,000 people are on the waiting lists. Some 31,000 are regarded as homeless. In Kilmarnock alone there are 2,000 on the single homeless list, with 600 of them now being regarded as deserving top priority. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider COSLA's view that the Housing (Scotland) Bill now going through Committee does nothing to alleviate the problems of all those very unhappy people?
Given the hon. Gentleman's interest in the housing problems of Kilmarnock, I would have thought that he would welcome the fact that the Government's housing allocation on the housing revenue account block to Kilmarnock and Loudoun district council for the current year represents no less than 97 per cent. of what the council felt it needed.
In the context of the housing matters referred to, can my right hon. and learned Friend comment on rent levels in Scotland? Does he believe that these are appropriate to modern and future conditions, and how do they compare with those south of the border?
It is the case that rent levels in Scotland remain significantly below rent levels elsewhere in the United Kingdom, although average earnings are comparable.
Is it not significant that the Secretary of State is answering his hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) in such a friendly way? Is it not a fact that the hon. Member has probably had more influence over housing decisions in Scotland than all the homeless, the overcrowded and the people living in sub-standard conditions in Scotland? Why is the Minister bringing forward legislation which will be of substantial benefit to private landlords, but which will do nothing to meet the housing needs of the people of Scotland?
If the hon. Gentleman believes that the housing legislation before the House will not help the housing requirements of the people of Scotland and that they will not be interested in its provisions, he and his colleagues might like to reflect on the fact that in the last week 1,000 tenants in Castlemilk have voted to have their houses transferred to the forthcoming Scottish homes organisation, in the knowledge that that might involve higher rents, but that it would also involve the refurbishment and improvement of the houses they live in.
Local Government (Tayside)
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will call for a report from the chief constable of Tayside police on the progress of inquiries into allegations of misconduct in local government.
There are no current inquiries by Tayside police specifically into allegations of misconduct in local government.
My hon. Friend will have seen the reports in the Scottish media which link the problems of local government in Dundee with activities in the Labour party. Can my hon. Friend tell the House when these matters will be dealt with, so that the suffering of those affected by the allegations can be brought to an end?
In answering on behalf of the Lord Advocate, I understand that inquiries concern the alleged misappropriation of funds. I am advised that the police will report to the procurator fiscal as soon as their inquiries are completed.
Will the Minister confirm that it was at the request of officials of Dundee Labour party that the police were called in in the first instance and that they are as anxious as anyone to have the matter cleared up as quickly as possible?
Yes, Sir. I am advised that most of the allegations were first intimated to the procurator fiscal by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran).
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to encourage joint funding of day centres for elderly people in Scotland.
The provision of services for groups such as the elderly is a matter for individual health boards and local authorities in the light of local needs and circumstances.My right hon. and learned Friend has encouraged health boards and local authorities to make full use of joint funding. Places for the elderly in day centres provided by local authorities and voluntary bodies had increased since 1979 by 61 per cent. to a total of 5,690 at March 1986.
I thank the Minister for his answer. I hope he accepts that in Scotland, and in my constituency in particular, there is a high proportion of elderly within the community. In Strathclyde region, where there is a first-class, prudent authority, as instanced by the recommendation to increase its rate for the next financial year by only one pence, will the Minister consider seriously injecting further finance into the health board so that it may co-operate with the local authority in providing more of these much-needed centres?
The increased finance that has been provided to the health boards since 1,979 amounts to some 26 per cent. in real terms. The increased finance made available to the local authorities for this purpose as part of their social work services has increased in real terms since 1979 by some 36 per cent. That is a record to be proud of, and the hon. Gentleman must acknowledge that considerable progress has been made.
Is the Minister aware of the concern in Ayrshire about the proliferation in the number of old people's homes and nursing homes, causing consequent strain on the Health Service and social work services? Has he seen the proposals put forward by Age Concern Scotland about the registration of private nursing homes and old people's homes because of the concern over the exploitation of old people to provide profit for the owners of some of these homes? Will he consider legislation along the lines proposed by Age Concern Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman does the private sector, which provides excellent care for many people in Scotland, and proportionately more in England, a great disservice by implying that, because these homes are private, there is any question of lower standards. As he will know, the Government intend to make regulations to ensure that the highest standards continue to be maintained.
Scottish Bus Group
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the future of the Scottish Bus Group.The Scottish Bus Group is a nationalised industry, providing bus services in Scotland. It has a total staff of about 10,000. In its latest annual report, covering 1986, it showed a turnover of £160 million. The Scottish Bus Group has over 3,000 buses and in terms of vehicle miles is responsible for over half of stage carriage services in Scotland. Through its 12 subsidiaries, it is Scotland's largest provider of bus services. I have decided that I should now seek powers at an early opportunity to privatise the Scottish Bus Group. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."' All nationalised industries which have been privatised have benefited from taking control of their own affairs. I am sure that the Scottish Bus Group will be no exception. Privatisation will allow investment decisions to be made in Scotland, free of the Government's constraints on nationalised industry financing. Management will be free to manage, the travelling public will benefit from the greater sensitivity to the market which a private sector company necessarily has. Deregulation has already achieved much in that field, with increased competition and innovation. I am presently considering whether the Scottish Bus Group should be privatised as a single company or as several regional companies. Whichever method of privatisation is chosen, there will be benefits to the Scottish economy. It will be strengthened by the addition of one or more new private sector firms providing substantial employment and free to take full advantage of market opportunities. The privatisation of the bus group will complement the major stimulus to be given to the Scottish economy by the privatisation of the electricity industry. Privatisation should also provide opportunities for the work force, at all levels, to take a stake in the business for which they work. This increased sense of involvement should also lead to improved performance. The work force as a whole should benefit from being part of an organisation which has been set free to operate in a fully commercial way. This decision will have implications for Caledonian MacBrayne which, together with the Scottish Bus Group, makes up the Scottish Transport Group. Caledonian MacBrayne is responsible for providing ferry services on the west coast of Scotland. I shall be considering the best future arrangements for Caledonian MacBrayne, consistent with our commitment to the provision of shipping services to the islands.
The announcement that we have just heard will please no one but the placemen and the zealots. I thought that the source of the cheering behind the Secretary of State was highly significant and rather depressing. This measure may earn him some brownie points with the Prime Minister, but it will do very little for public transport in Scotland. It is a remarkable turnabout which has been largely unexplained.The privatisation of the Scottish Bus Group was specifically rejected in the White Paper of August 1984, yet suddenly the group is now to be sold off in very difficult trading conditions. Does the Minister accept that these are difficult and unsettled times and that many bus companies, particularly in central Scotland, are trading at a loss? Is he not aware of this from the fact that, in the calendar year 1986, the profit of the Scottish Transport Group, at £10·7 million, was over £6 million down on the previous year? That was specifically ascribed by the chairman, in his report, to the difficulties which attended deregulation. Why, then, the further difficulty of sale now to an unknown buyer on speculative terms? Can the Minister says what impact he thinks that this will have on jobs? That is a highly relevant question, because we all know that there have been difficulties in the Scottish Bus Group. Kelvin Scottish, in particular, has been the subject of reports and of suggestions of a loss of about £3 million. One important depot, Milngavie, has already been closed. With 10,000 employees, is it not important that we know a little more about that side of what the Government propose? I recognise that we cannot know today whether it is to be one company or 11 or 12 companies. There is a lamentable lack of specificity. May we be assured that the Minister will return to the House at an early date, as soon as decisions have been taken, with information? Will he confirm that primary legislation is needed? I presume that that is the implication of the phrase that he will "now seek powers", but I should like that matter cleared up. Will this be a sale by share tender, or will the Minister be looking for some existing company, possibly in the industry, to buy the Scottish Bus Group? What price does he expect? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman note that what happens to Caledonian MacBrayne is a matter of deep concern to the Opposition because it is an essential lifeline to island communities? Does he accept that we have little confidence in his touch in these matters? We, like many people who depend on Caledonian MacBrayne, will remember the fiasco of the Gourock-to-Dunoon run and Western Ferries' pre-emptive raid, with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assistance. We remember also the sale of MacBrayne Haulage to Kildonan Transport, if I remember rightly at a knockdown price of £450,000. We hope that, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman insists on going ahead mistakenly with this exercise of selling assets, it will be carried out with greater respect for those who depend on the services, and for the public purse. There is a great deal of talk of stimulus, of the freedom of management to manage, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement is the worse sort of padding—specious propaganda bordering on claptrap. No case has been made out for this U-turn. Stripped of the advertising copy, it is nothing more than a bald, unsatisfactory, unacceptable statement of intent, and we will oppose it when it comes to the House in legislative form.
I bow to the hon. Gentleman's experience of specious claptrap and will respond to the points he raised. I share his view that the ferry services are a lifeline to the islands. That will be a fundamental consideration when determining future arrangements. I point out that Caledonian MacBrayne and the ferry services to the islands have improved enormously beyond all recognition over the past 10 years. If the hon. Gentleman will not accept my word on that, he should speak to those on the islands, who will be happy to confirm it.As to the reasons for and the background to my announcement involving the Scottish Bus Group, the board of the Scottish Transport Group fully supports privatisation and believes that it will be in the interest of bus services in Scotland, and that this is the right way forward. Our experience since deregulation came into effect has shown that the Opposition's alarms and fears were competely unjustified and that deregulation has been to the benefit of bus services in Scotland. More bus services are available and competition has been to the benefit of those involved. I confirm that these proposals will require primary legislation. As to the form of flotation, we shall of course seek advice from financial advisers but, in the light of experience elsewhere in the United Kingdom, it is likely that there will be interest among the management and employees as well as others, depending upon the type of structure which is eventually determined. Given that, over the past 30 years, there has been a decline in bus services throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland, the increased competition which this decision will ensure will be of great benefit to those who use bus services and therefore very much in the interests of those who work for the Scottish Bus Group. They can only benefit from being part of a successful private sector industry, and that will be the effect of these proposals.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this is the moment for the bus industry to show initiative and enterprise and to go ahead and develop its services, especially on the major trunk routes? Would the Minister also keep in mind during his consultation the issue that has already been raised about employment, and particularly the development of rural services?
Yes, I very much confirm what my hon. Friend has said. It is factors such as these that we will take into account when determining the precise structure under which privatisation will take place.
May I bring the Secretary of State back to his rightful acknowledgement of the fundamental concern about the ferry services, not least for the employees but also for the communities and the many others dependent upon them? Referring earlier to the Scottish Transport Group, the Minister said that it had not been decided whether to have one monopolistic concern or to break it up regionally. What is the implication of that thinking for the ferry services? Does the Minister propose to privatise ferry services as one group, or is he looking at individual routes which may be sold off to individual companies which may bid for them?Would the Minister address himself to the very simple fact that, taking my own constituency, the ferry services to the Isle of Skye and the feeling that, even with a level, of public subsidy, the fares are extremely high, when it comes to considering the replacement of ferry vehicles, it is very difficult to see how something that is economically viable can at the same time serve the public interest?
My statement today was solely concerned with the Scottish Bus Group. Nothing in it involves any decision having been taken with regard to the future of Caledonian MacBrayne, with the exception that the privatisation of the bus group will mean the end of the Scottish Transport Group as such, because Caledonian MacBrayne would be the only remaining element in it. We have yet to come to a view as to the future organisation of Caledonian MacBrayne and the extent to which either privatisation or some other arrangement would be appropriate for that organisation.What I have said is that our prime consideration is to ensure that this vital lifeline for the islands, which we have built up over the past ten years, is maintained insofar as it is the necessary transport facility of those who depend on it.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that all experience of privatisation so far suggests that the removal of Government interference in management is to the ultimate benefit of both management and the users, the customers, of the services in question?At the same time, following on what my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) said, will rural services be taken into account in my right hon. and learned Friend's consideration? The need for them does not change, whether the service is nationalised or privatised. They are an important social service and for many are the only link with centres of population for shopping and so forth. That is a major consideration.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct in the priority that he identifies. I will simply add that up to now the investment decisions involving the Scottish Bus Group have had to be made by Government in the context of their overall public sector borrowing requirement. That is true of all nationalised industries. In future, these decisions will be taken in Scotland by the management of the new company or companies, and will be taken on the basis of the perceived needs of the Scottish Bus Group.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a great deal of concern that control of the Scottish Transport Group or the Scottish Bus Group, when it is sold off, will pass out of Scotland, perhaps to London or even abroad, and that a new owner living in London or the Gulf will care little about when the last bus runs and how much it costs? Is he also aware of the concern that Caledonian MacBrayne has received large sums of public money to modernise its fleet which, by the 1990s, will be very new and that it would be quite wrong for someone to snap up a bargain, into which public money has been poured, at a knockdown price, as has happened elsewhere?
In answer to the first part of the question, I do not remember the hon. Gentleman complaining when the Perth-based Stagecoach bus company successfully acquired one of the English bus companies after the privatisation of the National Bus Company. I have every faith in the Scottish bus companies being able to make a major contribution to the improved well-being of the Scottish economy. As regards Caledonian MacBrayne, any future decision, if it did involve some form of privatisation, would obviously be subject to the same principles with regard to public assets as has been the case with other nationalised industries.
May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on freeing from bureaucracy and Treasury control a service of the greatest importance to people in Scotland, to be run, I hope, by several competing companies—that would be my preference—for the benefit of those concerned? As regards bus provision in the countryside, at the moment only private companies provide the sort of facility that shoppers want, taking them to the places where they can shop at the time they want to do so or, like Stagecoach, giving them the service that they really require. My right hon. and learned Friend is greatly to be congratulated.
I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend. I agree that these proposals represent an exciting opportunity for the bus industry and for those who work in it.
On what basis does the Secretary of State make his confident claim that privatisation will automatically lead to an improvement in services? Has any research been undertaken? Have there been any preliminary soundings among people who might be interested in taking over bus services? I reiterate the point that has been made by other hon. Members —rural communities are dependent on bus services as lifelines. Any company interested in services in rural areas, such as my constituency, should be asked to take full cognisance of the need to offer an efficient and effective service.
Those who run the Scottish Bus Group believe that these proposals will be in the interests of the bus services that it provides. I would be somewhat puzzled if the hon. Lady and her colleagues were opposed to the transfer of ownership of the Scottish bus industry to Scotland from London, where it presently operates.
My right hon. and learned Friend should be congratulated on the measures that he is proposing to introduce. Will he confirm that, contained in these measures, whatever they are, there will be a requirement that employees will be given an opportunity to purchase shares in the new company or companies, whatever form they take? Employee shareholdings are an essential part of changing attitudes, which will be required if we are to improve services.With regard to rural services in my constituency, there is no question but that one of the advantages of deregulation has been competition. It has brought about circumstances that I have never known before. Bus companies have been prepared to divert and re-route their buses for the benefit of people living in small communities. That would never have been achieved before deregulation.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's experience of the benefits of deregulation. I agree with his objective of encouraging share ownership. I have no doubt that the people of Scotland and the employees of the Scottish Bus Group will be especially interested in the opportunities that this will present for the greater involvement of the public, including employees, in the ownership of an important industry in Scotland.
Has the Minister considered what the feelings of many Scottish people will be when they hear this news and realise that bus companies will chase profits by concentrating on the most profitable routes and times? Those people will be condemned to stand for long periods in the wind and rain waiting for a bus to arrive.I notice that the Under-Secretary is smiling. He obviously thinks that it is funny to stand under a draughty bus shelter with small children in the cold. He has probably never had to do so. It is very easy for people such as him who ride around in ministerial cars. This is a piece of vicious class legislation. It will affect those who rely on buses, such as women with young children and elderly people going to the shops or to their doctor. Those people are forced to rely on public transport, and what you are doing—
I beg your pardon, Mr. Speaker. It is clear that we can expect no benefit to services from this measure. Have the Government investigated the needs of the people that I have mentioned?
As the hon. Lady has been one of the foremost critics of the Scottish Bus Group, which is a nationalised industry, and its attempts to introduce competition in Glasgow, I am rather puzzled by her anxious desire to defend the status quo.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that it is only under this Government that the bus industry has been rescued from terminal decline? Will he accept from us that what he has announced is welcome news? It is typical of the whingeing Opposition parties that all they want to do is stick their collective snouts into the public trough.
For the past 30 years, the use of buses throughout the United Kingdom has declined. The combination of deregulation and privatisation of these bus companies will offer the first serious opportunity for many a long year to reverse that decline in the use of buses, in the interests of the general public.
The statement that the Secretary of State has made is so vague as to be almost meaningless, and it makes it very difficult for people who are trying to make an objective — not an ideological—judgment about whether this measure is to be supported or not. We are prepared to look at the proposal for the buses, but if the Secretary of State is thinking of privatising the ferries, he will run into stout opposition from Members on these Benches and from Members in other parts of the House.As to the date, the Secretary of State said that he would take an early opportunity to take powers. What does an "early opportunity" mean? There is worry that the phasing out of public sector subsidies, which are due to end in 1991, will be conterminous with the introduction of the powers that he may wish to take. That will mean that there will be no central Government subsidy, which will leave local authorities to carry the can. That would be unacceptable in rural areas. I welcome the statement that the Secretary of State has made about the opportunities for management and, we hope, staff buy-outs. Last, but most important, we would favour these proposals only if they are carried out on a regional basis, because otherwise it is impossible to protect individual companies from predatory depredations of companies from out of the Firth of Scotland.
So far as I could tell, I think that the hon. Gentleman was saying was that he gives a cautious and qualified welcome to the proposed privatisation of the Scottish Bus Group. Unless I am mistaken, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that. As far as Caledonian MacBrayne and ferries are concerned, I have said that we have not yet come to any conclusion about the future organisation or structure of the ferries, including whether and to what extent privatisation would be appropriate. The supreme consideration will be to ensure the maintenance of healthy ferry services to the island communities. There are other ways in which, in theory, it might be possible to do this.For example, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) will be aware of that support for those islands communities is organised in a different way. The islanders are provided with services mainly by P and O and other smaller companies. There are other options. Therefore, it is important not to come to a speedy conclusion on these matters, but instead to examine all the possibilities that might be available.
Is this not clear evidence that, at long last, after eight and a half years, the fog of political cross-subsidy and bureaucratic Socialism is finally lifting in Scotland? That will be warmly welcomed by bus passengers throughout Scotland. Will my right hon. and learned Friend turn his attention to other parts of the British Scotland Corporation that might benefit from similar freedom of management to run good Scottish businesses without further political interference?
I am sure that the levels of political support in both Scotland and the north of England are matters that equally attract the attention and interests of my hon. Friend. I am sure that we shall be able to apply similar principles in both parts of the United Kingdom.
The Secretary of State and the Government have sold the family silver, no doubt at a knockdown price, to his friends in the business community. Is it not true that, increasingly, within this country and within the Labour party, there will be demands for renationalisation of those public assets without any compensation and under workers' controls? Is that not real democracy, and will that not come in time?
I can appreciate the hon. Gentleman's aspirations in this matter, but he will expect me to conclude that he is hardly likely to persuade the Government until he has persuaded his hon. Friends.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) in welcoming this further stage in the journeying of the Scottish Office towards Conservatism. Has my right hon. and learned Friend yet had time to read the proceedings on the Transport Act 1985? During the Committee proceedings on that Act, those of us who have the privilege to be members had to listen to Labour Members telling us of the doom and gloom that would come from the successive privatisations and deregulations of the buses, all of which have been proved wrong. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take heart from this fact and, when he has any moments of doubt, re-read the proceedings on the Act and gain a new confidence?
I say in the kindest possible manner to my hon. Friend that if he had ended up representing a Scottish rather than an English constituency, the Scottish Office might have approached the Conservative ideal for which both he and I stand that much earlier.
What is to happen to the rumoured £25 million-worth of reserves of the Scottish Transport Group? How are they to be distributed? Since a consequence of deregulation of buses in the Kelvin Scottish area has been the acquisition of a clapped-out bus fleet, the loss of one garage and £3 million of losses, who will buy that without the consequence being a massive loss in the number of journeys available to constituents in that area?
On the financial arrangements. I shall shortly be appointing financial advisers to make recommendations to me on these matters. We shall then be in a position to ensure that the best possible method is used.On the other matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred, he will appreciate that whether the Scottish Bus Group is a public or private sector company, it would do devastating damage to its long-term future if it did not make whatever economic decisions were necessary on the use of its assets and other such matters.
Does not my right hon. and learned Friend consider it paradoxical that Opposition Members, who are presumably keen to get the best value for money when their own money is involved, have no interest whatever in the principle when they think that we are spending someone else's money'? Is not their concern for jobs bogus? Instead, they seem to be concerned with preserving non-jobs. If jobs are providing services that people want to buy in the market place, they will be as safe after privatisation and competition as before.
I do not think that Opposition Members' concern for jobs is bogus; it is simply confused.
As the Minister knows, Kelvin Scottish is an important company in my constituency. It is one of the largest employers and in large parts of my constituency it provides the only form of transport. I have to deal with the problems, as do some Conservative Members, confronting rural areas. In that context, and further to the question asked by my lion. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) does the Minister intend to take any steps to ensure that the control of any new companies is retained in Scotland, or will it be possible for that control to move elsewhere?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, there is no legislative provision—under this Government or any previous Government—dealing with the control of a particular company in any one part of the United Kingdom. That is the legal position, and it has not arisen since 1979. It has flowed from the policy of all Governments—Labour as well as Conservative—as we live in a single United Kingdom economy.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that special concessions are given to employees of the group when the industry is denationalised, so that the workers can have a special stake in the future success of the company under private control?
I assure my hon. Friend that we shall be giving close and sympathetic consideration to that kind of approach.
Will the Minister agree that his complete failure to reassure the people of Scotland about the future of services —particularly rural routes and other unprofitable routes—under the arrangements will be noted with apprehension? Will he further agree that his failure to give firm commitments on the future of Caledonian MacBrayne as an integrated unit serving the Scottish islands will be greeted with similar apprehension, not least by the excellent people who maintain the services in conditions that most of us would baulk at working in?Will the Secretary of State recall the last Scottish Office transport privatisation? It sold off £1·5 million-worth of assets of MacBrayne Haulage to Mr. Billy Walker for £450,000. At that time, Mr. Walker was asked whether he thought that he had received a bargain. He replied:
Will the Secretary of State consider that Mr. Billy Walker, who was handed this valuable public asset on a plate, is about to sell MacBrayne Haulage —Kildonan MacBrayne, as it now is — to a firm in Yorkshire without a whit of social guarantee for those who rely on the services? Is that the policy that the right hon. and learned Gentleman intends to pursue? If so, can he not easily understand why his party is a discredited rump in rural, as well as urban, Scotland?"It would be a stupid man who didn't think that. An asset-stripper taking over this firm would have made a fair profit for the money. We have no intention of doing that."
I am not quite clear from the hon. Gentleman's splendid but somewhat empty rhetoric what his conclusions are. If a Scottish company had purchased an English company, would he have condemned that in similar terms, and if not, why not?
What about the knockdown price?
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, although we are glad for Scotland, the new wind of free enterprise that is blowing through Scotland is regarded with some apprehension elsewhere in the United Kingdom? It will undoubtedly attract back to the country those entrepreneurs who were so famous in Scotland. Our gain will be your loss.
It is certainly the case that Scotland's major contribution to the industrial growth of the United Kingdom was based not on Government funds but on the ingenuity of the enterprise and initiative of the Scots themselves.
On a point of order arising out of questions, Mr. Speaker.
Order. It does not have to arise out of questions.
I advise you and the House, Mr. Speaker, that the Billy Walker who was referred to in the question that was asked by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) is not me, nor is he a relative of mine.
Telephone Talkabout (Abolition)
I beg to move,
I make no apology for returning to the subject so soon after having raised the matter in December by the same means. The objective of the Talkabout service is to join up to 10 people at random–10 young people, usually—in casual telephone conversation. When so joined, they engage in what is mainly idle chatter, and which mostly, to say the least, is banal. That sounds fine and harmless, but there are five main complaints to which I draw the attention of the House. They are the obscene conversation that takes place; racist comments, which are usual; the costs; the addiction that young people suffer; and the exchange of phone numbers to make dates with perfect strangers—"imperfect strangers" is probably a more apt description. One need say little about obscene conversations and racist remarks. To start with, they are contrary to the telecommunications legislation. There are procedures by which they could effectively be dealt with outside British Telecom. That has not happened. If anybody argues that racist comments and obscene conversations do not take place, the evidence of my own ears argues the contrary. The cost of the service to the consumer is tremendous. The problem is that British Telecom gears its advertising to young people, who, mainly, are not subscribers to the telephone service. That is a bad business ethic. It is immoral for a huge corporation such as British Telecom to advertise in that way. It is tantamount to encouraging young people to steal. I show the House a Talkabout bill. This bill was sent to me by a constituent of an hon. Friend in the north-east. He received a bill of £351 and complained to British Telecom. He was told that it was a bona fide bill and that he had to pay it. He subsequently paid British Telecom for a computer printout of his bill. I show the House the computer printout, nine tenths of which comprises calls made by his 15-year-old son to the Talkabout service. That consumer is still strenuously arguing with British Telecom that he should not have to pay the bill. The service is driving people into debt. People innocently think that their telephones are being reasonably used by their families, but, usually, a youngster in a family is not using it reasonably. I draw another problem to the attention of Conservative Members in particular. Small business men are in the same boat as parents. Small business men who employ young people may find that their telephone bills have escalated. I suggest that they quickly get on to British Telecom and get a printout. They will find that their profits are rapidly going down the drain. I sincerely hope that that matter interests Conservative Members. One of the worst examples of despair that has come to my attention through another hon. Friend concerns a young lady in Scotland —a 15-year-old girl. When her mother received a bill for £397, she attempted to commit suicide. That young lady spent a long time seriously ill in hospital. Thankfully, she is now on the mend. From conversations that I have had, I do not believe that British Telecom is working hard to help that family's problem. Young people have written to me stating that they are addicted to the Talkabout system. They are addicted in the same way in which people are addicted to one-armed bandits and fruit machines. Of course, it leads to escalating bills and the matrimonial and family problems to which I have referred. Another problem is potentially more serious. It is the exchanging of telephone numbers. One example occurred not far from the House. After an exchange of telephone numbers, three young girls were abducted, not to put too fine a point on it, by an ill-disposed man. For the best part of two years, British Telecom has claimed that it is capable of monitoring the problem. That is not so. It cannot effectively monitor and control callers, mainly because there are up to 10 people on a line. Some monitors look after more than one line, and many more than one line in some areas. Control, perforce, is reactive. British Telecom can react only after an obscene comment is made, after a rascist comment is made, and only after telephone numbers are exchanged. In addition, the young people who know that this campaign is running and that the House is examining the service, have invented their own ways of circumventing British Telecom's weak control. They have a code by which they swap telephone numbers. They have all sorts of ingenious ideas for getting into the service when the service has been stopped. I shall give the House an example. It is part of the addiction. I have evidence that some parents have taken their home telephone instruments to work to stop young people using the system. Young people then go to the cheapest shop around the corner and buy £5 made-in-Hong Kong telephones, and plug them in to run up their parents' bills. Even more ingenious young people take the tops off telephones. They know which part of the system to tap to get into the service. It cannot be locked up. Young people cannot be stopped by taking telephone instruments away. Before anybody tells me that parental control and responsibility are involved, many hon. Members who are parents who know how difficult it sometimes is to keep an eye on one's offspring. I do not mean that in a malevolent fashion, but I hope that it strikes home to those hon. Members who might not respond positively to the matter. I am convinced that British Telecom, whether well motivated or not, cannot police the system, from which it is making an inordinate profit. I cannot accept that monitoring is effective. I cannot believe for two minutes that any senior manager, from the director down, would wish such an obscene, addictive and costly service to go to the people of this country. If British Telecom cannot act, the House should.That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prevent the use of the national telephone system for the purpose of joining together several telephone users at a time for casual conversation.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Terry Lewis. Mr. Ken Eastham, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Tony Blair, Mr. Robert Litherland, Miss Marjorie Mowlam, Mr. Peter L. Pike, Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe, Mr. George Howarth. Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. Bruce Grocott and Mr. David Young.
Telephone Talk About (Abolition)
Mr. Terry Lewis accordingly presented a Bill to prevent the use of the national telephone system for the purpose of joining together several telephone users at a time for casual conversation And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 12 February and to be printed. [Bill 91.]
Ordered, That Mr. William O'Brien be discharged from the Committee of Public Accounts and Mr. Graham Allen be added.— [Mr. Foster.]
8Th Allotted Day
Government Of Scotland
I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.
I beg to move,
I begin by giving an assurance to the Secretary of State for Scotland that I do not regard this as a debate about why he did not mean what he said in 1976. I imagine that he will be grateful for that, because the alibi that he has so carefully constructed over recent months is pretty thin. He is a man with previous convictions in the eyes of the Government. In Scotland he has an honourable history, which, sadly, is now being rewritten. It is very much a scissors and snopake job but the record is there for all to see. The explanation that he has offered, if never less than agile, is nowhere near convincing. I am not interested in the Secretary of State's old speeches, but I am interested in one or two of the things that he said in the debate before Christmas, on 23 November 1987. He argued then, in a remarkably blatant way, that his allegiance in the early days to devolution was based on the electoral arithmetic of the day and that it was not a matter of principle but of expediency. He put that argument forcefully during the debate, when he said:That this House welcomes and endorses the proposed reform of the structure of government in Scotland contained in the Scotland Bill presented in the House on 12th November 1987; and, believing that it both reflects the strongly expressed wishes of the people of Scotland and would strengthen the United Kingdom, calls for the setting up of a directly elected Assembly in Scotland with fiscal powers and legislative responsibility for Scotland's domestic affairs.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman went on to say:"The argument then was that such was the demand from the people of Scotland—and indeed of Wales— for some constitutional change, however illogical, and however much it failed to answer the fundamental point … we must make that change because the break-up of the Union was the … alternative."
That was a quite remarkable gloss on the speeches that the right hon. Gentleman had made. It was especially odd because, at column 42 of the same debate, he stated that in his view the arrival of Scottish devolution would not necessarily lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. That drove a substantial coach and horses through the argument that he had deployed. As I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he was then showing a voluntary abdication of judgment and going for a cop-out of the most blatant and dishonourable sort. It was a case of, "public opinion rules, OK." I advise the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if that was his position then, and presumably it is still his position today because it merely justifies his bombast on devolution by saying that the people of Scotland do not really want it, what price the poll tax, or what justification for the privatisation of the Health Service? We might as well wipe the slate of the Scottish Office totally clean if we are to substitute public popularity for principle, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman asks us to do. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not be taken seriously. I do him the credit of believing that back in the late 1970s he said what he thought was right at the time. He has either changed his mind or silenced his conscience for other reasons — I do not know which — but he is certainly not doing any service to himself if he holds the idea that he did not believe what he was saying, and that in some way his resignation from the Opposition Front Bench over devolution was a personal act of idiosyncratic flagellation. If that is to be believed, it is, indeed, a Pyrrhic victory for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. The Secretary of State is now trying to pretend that there is the silence of the grave in the Conservative party. We know that that is not true, because there are already rustlings in the undergrowth. There are probably some Conservative Members who have some sympathy —indeed, some have consistently shown sympathy — for devolution. Councillor Stevenson and Councillor Brian Meek and others are putting forward a case. I remember that in a splendid article, to which I have referred before, Councillor Brian Meek noted that the characteristic of Conservative Members of Parliament for Scotland was that they would jump into the sea if asked to do so by the Prime Minister, without stopping to take off their trousers. Little changes, even after the general election. However, at least that good councillor is proving that some Tories are not prepared to jump to each and every command. For Labour Members, devolution is an argument based on the condition of Scotland and on the Scottish psychology. It is a debate about our place in the United Kingdom and our ability to contribute to a common cause. We believe that that is a strong and sound case that has been well made out. It is an argument about democratic control, about the control of almost 7,000 civil servants already in post, and about the sprawling mass of the Scottish Office administration. At the moment, one Minister covers, for example, a Health Service that is in crisis, and an education system that has recently been in turmoil and may well be so again if certain plans are pursued. The other day I read a famous passage about the Minister's predecessor at the Scottish Office. He was described as a Pharos of Scotland:"It if became clear that certain constitutional changes were required to ensure the future of the Union, whatever doubts many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and I might have, we are so attached to the Union of the United Kingdom that we would reluctantly be prepared to see those constitutional changes made."—[Official Report, 23 November 1987; Vol. 123, c. 37–39.]
Every appointment and every detail of the administration, and the placing of every policeman, was"who steered upon him was safe, who disregarded his light was wrecked".
That predecessor of the Secretary of State was a giant and was apparently omnicompetent and dominating, but when we looked to see who now sits in his place,.we see the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). There must be a better way of running our affairs. This country is gripped by a metropolitan obsession. Power is being focused more and more in Whitehall and in the Scottish Office. Initiative is choked, and discretion is now a luxury that is enjoyed in few elected council chambers. Experience proves, and has proved, over the past few years that the man from the Scottish Office does not necessarily know best. The argument is about democratic control and how we exercise that control over the administrative devolution that is already in place. It is also an argument about legislative competence. It is bizarre—some people would use the word grotesque — that, for example, housing, education and health are in alien hands in the Scottish Office, and that the Scottish Office itself is being run as a sort of branch office of the Adam Smith Institute. It is not pleasant to watch the death of a liberal reputation and to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman claiming common heritage and common cause with the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), as he did only a few moments ago. That is not an encouraging phenomenon. I want to make it clear that we are not arguing that the Government of the day do not have a right to govern. However, a Government with any wisdom, common sense or sensitivity would exercise their power differently and would think in terms of devolution of power. Not to do so is to fly in the face of so much evidence of public concern. The case for administrative efficiency is simply offensive."the breath of his nostril".
So that we can be clear, on the subject of democracy and the Government's right to govern, does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Government have a mandate to govern Scotland, and is he arguing that the Labour party has a mandate to bring forward a devolution Bill?
I cannot understand the hon. Gentleman's objection to us bringing forward a devolution Bill. I absolutely hate to think of the plaintive gnashing of teeth, the rending of clothing and the false hypocrisy that would have emerged if we had not done so. We are pleased and proud to stand by a good blueprint that was well worked out and well argued, and which is represented by that Bill.I know that the Secretary of State will argue that in a unitary state one must accept the majority vote. That is the position that he puts forward. However, he must accept that Scotland is not just another administrative area within the United Kingdom. It is an entity—distinct, sometimes idiosyncratic, but always different. The Scottish Office exists. There is a legal system in place — a corpus of separate legislation — and it is justified by our own particular Scottish approach to education and to local government, by our social priorities, and in half a hundred other ways. Apart from the self-appointed rabble of Scotophobes who now appear once a month for Scottish questions, who would want to abandon that tradition? Indeed, Tory Members and Ministers boast about their contributions to putting administrative devolution in place. If that is a cause for congratulations, what is so dangerous, revolutionary or wrong about parallel political developments? The Bill that we have laid before the House, and to which we refer in the motion, is a substantial measure and puts forward a well-argued case. It is a realistic look into the future of Scotland. I accept that it is there to be shot at, but we are glad to take the flak: the case will stand it. Of all those who have talked about devolution or Scottish solutions, it is perhaps significant that the Labour party has done the work, put its detailed thoughts up front and shown the people of Scotland what we propose and want.
Granted that the devolutionary arrangements that the hon. Gentleman presents to the House have been well argued and well worked out, will he explain what the cost will be once those arrangements are in place? What will be the assembly charge on each Scot, on top of the community charge?
I shall come to the financial arrangements for the assembly in a moment. Although the hon. Gentleman may imagine that this is some enormous new charge on the people of Scotland, the Scottish Office and all its works are in place. The hon. Gentleman may find that regrettable. He may have become the enemy of everything Scottish now that he has fled to find his fortune south of the border, but for those of us who have a commitment to Scotland, and remain there, that Scottish tradition is important and ought to be fostered. The marginal — and I mean marginal — costs of the administration of the assembly are a small factor to weigh in the balance against the advantages, if it is accepted that they are advantages, of a better system of government.
I thought for a moment that the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon) was going to rise in support of the Bill launched this afternoon by the northern group of Members of Parliament. However, he seems to have exported himself north of the border and deserted the people of Darlington.May I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) about his views on, and, I hope, support for, the Bill launched today by the northern group, which itself launches a northern regional assembly and northern development agency?
I strongly welcome that initiative. —[Interruption.] We are attacked because it is said that there is no sympathy, no parallel movement, in other parts of the country; then we are attacked again when it becomes evident that there is. That, no doubt, would win cheap debating applause in certain artificial settings, but it has little to do with furthering proper debate on the government of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Miss Mowlam) is right. One of the difficulties of the Scottish experience and the Scottish devolution argument 10 years ago was that it was unique. It was, in a sense, constitutionally lonely, and that set up some stresses and strains that were used effectively in the argument. I welcome the fact that the point that I made about the centralisation of power — the need for influence and decision-making in parts of the United Kingdom outwith the London area—has led my friends from the north to come forward with imaginative and innovative proposals for a northern assembly and a northern development agency. If we achieve that kind of movement throughout the United Kingdom—for it is relevant not only to the north but to Wales and other parts of the nation—the case for Scottish devolution will be infinitely strengthened. My hon. Friend will find a warm welcome and strong support for the discussions that her group is launching in the north of England with a view to finalising and sophisticating an important initiative. No one is trying to dictate what is the right solution for every part of the United Kingdom. We are merely noting that we are wrestling with common problems and moving in the same direction. Our particular solution is a directly elected assembly, with legislative powers, and a greater say for Scots within the framework of the United Kingdom. I recognise, of course, that there are arguments on the other side. No argument is so complete that it cannot be challenged. Some people will say that it is all an additional tier of government, an unnecessary bureaucracy, but, as I have tried to point out, the civil servants are already in place and Westminster, by passing power and authority to Scotland by agreement, will be doing a job for the United Kingdom. There may well be further changes. For example, I believe that there is a case for a move towards a one-tier, all-purpose local authority below an assembly, in terms purely of appropriateness of scale, but that is for the future. The important thing is to achieve that passing of power from the centre to the areas where it will have its impact. There are, of course, arguments for and against what is a grand design, an important constitutional change. What I find unpleasant is the parish-pump politics approach that so often lies behind the opposition to devolution. Neville Chamberlain was said to look at the world through the wrong end of a municipal drainpipe, and I sometimes think that Conservative Members have the same noble sweep of vision when it comes to the devolution argument. The other point of contention—and I accept that it is contentious—is what we have built into the Bill: a right to vary the level of public expenditure and revenue that is raised in Scotland. I consider that imaginative. I think it right that we should be able to vary the rates without affecting the yield taken by the United Kingdom Treasury, which is the effect of the scheme that we have devised. However, the Secretary of State is entitled to argue, as he did in the House on 23 November, that this is
I find that rather odd. The people who are saying that now are exactly the same people who, in 1978, were saying that an assembly without revenue-raising powers was constitutionally irresponsible. I suppose that we have become rather used to that kind of flexibility in recent years.
"the single most damaging element of the proposals". —[Official Report, 23 November 1987; Vol. 123, c. 44.]
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why he has not taken his argument to its logical conclusion? If an assembly is to have tax-raising powers, why should it not be responsible for raising all the money that it wishes to spend, rather than only a tiny fraction of it?
I suppose that that is the new policy for local government announced by the Secretary of State. I suppose that he is going to apply a new principle. [Interruption.] It is a matter of balance. It is right that there should be a Scottish budget that is evolved in negotiation between, now, the Scottish Office — but, ultimately, the Scottish assembly—and the Treasury. We are arguing that there should be a right to vary that on the margin, which seems to me an unexceptionable and sensible democratic procedure.I am astonished that the Secretary of State is so gloomy in his assumptions about the future of his party in Scotland. When he says that it inevitably means Administrations with high public expenditure, he clearly assumes that the Scottish people will forever bar the door to any influence of power to his party if they are given the chance. That is a remarkable assumption for any politician to make. There is also the insulting presumption that, while Westminster can be trusted in its stewardship of Scotland, any politician who is directly elected in Scotland cannot be so trusted: that he will have absolutely no interest in the future of Scotland's industrial base or commercial life and will cheerfully choke it with the crippling burden of taxation. Of course the powers will have to be used responsibly, but I trust Scots to use them responsibly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman does not, and that is the basis of his argument. We want a comprehensive Health Service that is freely available. If that is under threat, if we are threatened with a two-tier service by Conservative policies, with those who can afford it baling out to the commercial medical sector, is it not right for Scotland to have an option to go another way? Is it not right for Scotland to have the financial machinery to tackle the problem, given that we already have separate legislation and a separate financial framework within the government of the United Kingdom? I believe that the case is strong. I accept that it will give us difficulty, because there will be scaremongering on the other side, but if we stick to it, and argue for it with care and responsibility, I believe that we will win on that, as we will on the worth of the general scheme.
On my hon. Friend's point about scaremongering, will he clarify the exact powers in the Bill that will vary the rate of tax on individuals, but not on commerce and industry, in view of the misleading and frankly dishonest propaganda that we have heard about that in Scotland from Conservative Members?
I do not know whether it was dishonest, but it was certainly misleading. I agree with my right hon. Friend that there is no power in the Bill to allow the Scottish assembly to vary commercial or corporate taxation. We are trying to strengthen the government of the United Kingdom. We will remain within the United Kingdom, and we will create a system for Scotland that will allow us to contribute more effectively to the common cause. Obviously, that reflects a balance that must be struck. The right balance has been tested in argument, and we will stand by it.
I want to finish this important point.We have built into the scheme a process whereby if there is a need to raise revenue — and of course the Scottish assembly must answer to the ballot box for its actions—it can vary the rates and the extra money will be available for the assembly to use. If it wants to cut taxation, that may be done. However, the United Kingdom yield must be maintained by an adjustment in the block grant, which will be negotiated each year. That is simple. No doubt the technique and mechanics may be complicated, but the principle is clear and it will receive a response from the people of Scotland.
I am rather puzzled by the hon. Gentleman's response to the point raised by the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Millan). If local authorities can increase their marginal revenue by levying taxes on individuals, businesses and companies, why should the Scottish assembly, a much grander and more important body representing the will of the Scottish people — in the hon. Gentleman's view — not have a similar right which local authorities take for granted?
Because we are devolving power to an assembly. We are giving it powers. We want to give it the powers relevant to its duties within the United Kingdom framework. The Secretary of State is being obtuse, although he is obviously enjoying himself. He is complaining bitterly that the scheme does not go far enough. If that is his complaint, let him bring forward amendments to our Bill; let him allow the Bill to be debated. If his real objection is that we are being too cautious in our approach I am surprised, but I am prepared to be tutored on that point.We are producing a solution to a problem. The assembly will not be a talking shop. It will have substantial legislative powers, which will be increased and tidied up, with the inclusion of the universities and the legal framework within which the police operate. The assembly will have a budget in current terms of about £8 billion. It will have economic clout using section 7 of the Industry Act 1980, with control of the Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board. We are not claiming for it powers that it will not possess. We believe that it will be able to put Scotland's case effectively. It will he a competing centre of power and an advantage in an unbalanced land. Politics is about influence and pressure, as well as about legislation. I believe that the assembly will operate in both those senses. We hear a blatant appeal to political fears from the Secretary of State and his colleagues. They argue that we are on a slippery slope to something very different. I note that the Secretary of State rather retreated from that during the debate in November, as I said earlier. However, on one point the Labour party takes a different stand from that adopted by the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond), who represents the Scottish National party. We see devolution as a means of strengthening the United Kingdom, establishing that it can respond to Scotland's needs. In a sense, I invite the House to know the scheme by its enemies. Although I believe that Scottish National Members will vote for us tonight for tactical reasons, ultimately the SNP will see devolution as essentially negative because it represents reform and not the break-up of Britain. Devolution and separatism are ultimately incompatible.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the other national party within our group. Does he realise that within our group of national party Members we regard the transfer of power from London as progressive wherever it happens, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) argued? I am concerned to note the absence of colleagues from Wales on the Labour Benches today to speak up for Wales and give Wales the same high level of support as hon. Members from the north of England are demanding. I congratulate the north of England on its initiative.
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is congratulating the Labour Benches. I shall have to be satisfied with that rather grudging congratulation. However, I suspect that in time we may well be able to convince the hon. Gentleman that he should be more generous. I certainly hope so.I have not been greatly impressed by the SNP's recent campaigning on this issue. The campaigning has been rather long on advice and short on action, if I may say that to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan. Our late colleague Mr. Gordon Wilson called for a boycott of Parliament on two occasions, but he did that in vain, because his colleagues remained rooted to their seats. My hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) is now held up as a shining example of what others should do, but there is no sign of SNP Members following their own advice. I genuinely tell SNP Members that I would have been more impressed if one SNP hon. Member had been present in the House to vote against the Second Reading of the Regional Development Grants (Termination) Bill, which killed regional development grants on Monday. The Scottish National party is hard at work portraying tonight's vote on this motion—while the big batallions will trudge through the Lobby and give the Government their majority—as a decisive setback. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan told The Scotsman that the devolution option would no longer be on the table. I believe that that was said in an extremely hopeful fashion. It was wishful thinking.
The hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to hear me elaborate my thoughts on this matter later in the debate. What will the Labour party's strategy be once the motion is defeated tonight—as we know that it will be—for implementing its policy on which it fought and won the general election in Scotland?
I shall not ask the hon. Gentleman what his strategy is, because I do not have sufficient interest to listen to his reply.Our job is to campaign for what Scotland demonstrably wants, no more and no less than that. Nothing less than that will do. It would be a very poor politician who, if he lost a vote in the House, failed to move the Government miles in terms of their prejudice over a short period of time, packed, struck tent, went home and refused to carry on the struggle. That is not the way of the Labour party on this issue. We openly admit that we have a long way to go, because we are realists. We are in the realistic business of communicating what will happen and what our objectives are for the people of Scotland. No doubt we will have to track back many a dreich and weary mile in the argument. No doubt there will be many echoes of the past. Doubtless the West Lothian question will reappear, probably during the course of the next half hour or so. No doubt the charge will be made that Scotland's influence at Westminster will be undermined. I accept that there are always reasons for buttressing doubt if the doubt exists and if people want to find those reasons. However, we should have a debate that does not involve myths or scare stories.
Referring to the matter of doubt, may I, as a Scottish episcopalian Jacobite bathed in scepticism, ask the hon. Gentleman whether, if the Labour party had been in power over the past nine years and had had a majority of the Scottish seats in Scotland, he would be seeking devolution?
I imagine that the episcopalian Jacobite party in Scotland is probably just as strong as the Scottish Conservative party. However, in reply to the hon. and learned Gentleman, we have stuck with the devolution argument through good days and bad, through thick and thin. No one can say that we will not deliver or that we do not believe that devolution is right on its merits. It may well be that there is an argument about whether we should have it, but everyone knows on which side of the argument the Labour party stands. Everyone knows that there will be action when we next have a Labour Government.Returning to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar, I do not believe that we will lose our role and influence at Westminster. Our role may change. Scottish Members may not have to be jacks-of-all-trades, trying to cover the whole range of Scottish Office activities, but there will be more specialisation; for example, in foreign affairs, defence, economic and fiscal matters. It will be an important role. I certainly do not consider that we are trading power in Edinburgh for impotence at Westminster. There is a different climate now, and there is a different thinking about regional government in other parts of the country. The northern Bill underlines that point. We are no longer isolated. We are part of a wider movement, with the strength that that gives. The argument about devolution is a matter of conviction and gut root feeling about what Scotland wants. I believe that it has support. Even the new, reformed, sanitised Secretary of State has to concede that point. He dressed it up. He told The Independent that devolution was a preference in Scotland, not a priority. That is a nice distinction, but it will not stand him in good stead in the months ahead. I believe that the preference is a strong one. It has been repeatedly illustrated and will grow because of the Government's insensitive policies. Its roots go deep. In the 19th century, Scotland was something of a fading memory. People were building British hotels and hiring elocution teachers to get rid of the last traces of a Scottish accent. However, the tide turned, as can be seen in many ways. The Scottish Office was set up in 1885, and since then we have built and improved, and we have tried to establish a structure in Scotland to serve Scottish needs. We wish to complete that structure by putting a parallel political and democratic roof on it. There has been a growth of confidence in Scottish literature. Even in my day, Scottish literature was limited to "L'Allegro", "I1 Penseroso", "The Deserted Village" and one Shakespeare play. People are now becoming aware of Scottish literature. The feel for history in Scotland has grown beyond Scott's "Tales of a Grandfather." There is a sense of purpose. The legal system, the Church, educational and cultural traditions have survived and flourished, and we must build on them and harness them in the nation's interest. I remember the impressive arguments of John McIntosh about dual nationality. All Scottish Opposition Members would agree that we are citizens of Scotland and of the United Kingdom. Devolution strongly reflects that feeling. It is an important and pressing matter. The present situation is flawed and the danger is that flaws lead to fractures. There is sometimes an air of beleaguered desperation about the Scottish Office. In a recent newspaper article the Secretary of State was driven to Hilaire Belloc, who said:
That was an arresting and clever point, and shows that he has a good memory. It was also flippant, and says something about what is wrong in Scottish society and Scottish political life. The Bill is designed to meet a challenge. If Scotland ends up with an assembly, it will have the Maxim gun, but that will be Scotland's choice. The Opposition face that challenge, but are the Government prepared to face it, or will it be the status quo again, at whatever cost? We have stayed with our argument. The Labour party has fought for devolution for decades, and we have won many victories, but we will achieve the ultimate victory only by convincing and probably by capturing government. We have made a pact with Scottish public opinion and we intend to carry it out. The motion underlines our commitment and determination to win through. I commend it to the House and hope that we will have solid support in the Lobby tonight."Whatever happens, we have got the Maxim Gun, and they have not."
I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:
I have listened with particular interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar). There is a distinct change in the tone of this speech. Unlike previous occasions, today we were not told about the "irresistible demand" for devolution from the people of Scotland. That irresistible demand changed to a "strong preference". If the hon. Gentleman now wishes to maintain that there is an irresistible demand, we are entitled to ask for evidence of that demand. The evidence of a demand is normally considered on the basis of representations being made to the Government. I have made inquiries about recent representations made to the Government by those who have strong views on policy. The Labour party in Scotland is committed to and calls for devolution. However, the Government have received only 64 representations since the general election. On the other hand, the Labour-controlled Strathclyde regional council has committed itself to a certain education policy. The Scottish Office has received 2,555 representations on that issue. That is a helpful indication of relative priorities. We were told by the hon. Gentleman that there is a major new move towards devolution.`rejects the arguments for constitutional change that would be disruptive, unworkable, costly to implement and destabilising in their effect; and in particular rejects the added tax burden that would fall on the people of Scotland from a Scottish Assembly with tax-raising powers.'
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I shall give way in a moment.We are told that there is a major new movement in the Labour party, seeking devolution not only for Scotland but for the north of England, and no doubt for other parts of the United Kingdom. The motion on the Order Paper is in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, who is committed to the policy put forward by the hon. Member for Garscadden.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I shall give way in a moment.On a previous occasion in the House, the Leader of the Opposition, speaking on devolution, referred to
The Leader of the Opposition now supports an assembly for Scotland, and perhaps one in the north of England. Why does the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), representing Plaid Cymru, appear not to believe in one for Wales? If the fact that there are only 10 Conservative Members in Scotland somehow makes devolution essential, why does the fact that there are only eight Conservative Members in Wales not lead to a similar conclusion?"the central misrepresentation of the whole devolution case—the idea that more houses can be built, more jobs found, more happiness manufactured … if only we have an Assembly."—[Official Report, 18 January 1977, Vol. 924, c. 153.]
As the right hon.and learned Gentleman is interested in evidence of the demand for devolution in Scotland, I draw his attention to a recent poll, undertaken for Scottish Television in November 1987, which said:
When 77 per cent. of people are not satisfied with the present system and want at least some form of devolution, is that to be defined as demand or a strong preference?"Question 7: Do you think that the Government cares about Scotland? 20·1 per cent. answered yes: 79·9 per cent. answered no. Question 8: Which system is best for governing Scotland? 23·1 per cent. said the existing system: 52·2 per cent said a Scottish Assembly: 24·7 per cent. said independence".
We should attach the same value to the results of that opinion poll as we did to the results of the opinion poll during the general election campaign, which showed that 97 per cent. of Scots did not think that devolution was a major issue for the general election. The hon. Gentleman should bear that in mind.The hon. Member for Garscadden, in presenting the Scotland Bill, hardly referred to it. Normally, when one presents a Bill, one devotes a substantial part of one's speech to its content. However, apart from a few cursory references to it in the hon. Gentleman's speech, it might never have existed. I have looked at the Bill. It is an interesting and revealing document. In the history of the United Kingdom, there have been campaigns for greater power from certain areas and the language is significant. There have been calls for home rule, demands for Parliaments and requests for a Prime Minister of the territories concerned. Perhaps we have given insufficient consideration during the past 10 years to why the Labour party has steered clear of such terminology. There have been no references to home rule, only adherence to a much more clinical and sterile term—devolution — which is hardly likely to set alight any great passion or interest in such a mundane approach to the problems of government. There have been no calls for a Scottish Parliament, merely for an assembly, which, by definition, has reduced relevance and significance. Most important, the executive head of the assembly to which the Labour party refers, is to be called not a Prime Minister, Premier or Chief Minister, but First Secretary — a magnificent title, normally more relevant to a senior official in a trade union or a senior official in the central committee of the Soviet Communist party.
That is exactly the terminology in the Scotland Act 1978, for which the right hon. and learned Gentleman voted.
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken, and I shall explain why. I did not vote for the Scotland Bill on Third Reading.The Labour party's reluctance to use the terminology that one usually associates with a genuine campaign for home rule is of great significance. The reason is quite simple. Opposition Members know perfectly well that the terminology which refers to home rule, to Parliaments and to Prime Ministers is the language of nationalism. They are conscious of the fact that they are opening a Pandora's box which they believe, by their addiction to a sterile indifferent terminology, they will somehow be able to conceal. There is a basic and fundamental inconsistency between the Labour party's claim to speak for the Scottish people, and claiming that they deserve a legislature of their own, and its refusal to use the terms usually associated with such a political philosophy.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman still hold to his view, expressed in Scottish Field in March 1986, that the powers of the Secretary of State for Scotland are not unlike those of a colonial governor?