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Volume 168: debated on Wednesday 28 February 1990

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Lothian Health Board


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of the Lothian health board; and what was discussed.

I have not had an official meeting with the chairman of Lothian health board recently, but my Department has been in regular contact with the chairman of the board in recent weeks.

When will the Secretary of State come clean about the crisis in the Health Service in Lothian? What cuts in the service will have to be made if it is to balance its books by the end of the year? Why has not the Secretary of State published Mr. Cruickshank's report, and when will he admit that the present crisis is a consequence of the Government's failure, year in, year out, to provide money for the additional number of old people and for advances in medical technology?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, Lothian is one of the better-funded health boards in the United Kingdom. If other boards throughout Scotland and south of the border are able to contain their expenditure within their budget, it is obviously reasonable to expect Lothian to do the same.

I should be unhappy about publishing the recent report into Lothian's finances without the agreement of the board itself. At present, we are working on the main priority—trying to find a way of ensuring that the board contains its expenditure within the resources provided for it and without unacceptable consequences for patients, whom the hon. Gentleman and I both want to be protected.

The Secretary of State must know that it has already been established that the health board has been underfunded for many years. Why does he criticise the present board, all of whose members are his nominees? Can he reply specifically to the charge that the extent of the deficit means that there is now a crisis in the Health Service in Midlothian, which will result in hospital closures and cuts in medical staff numbers?

I have already said that I see no good ground for crisis closures. We all want a proper study to be made of the circumstances that have led to the overspending. We are announcing today a significant increase in the board's cash limit for the current year, to enable it to make any payments that fall due in that year. We now await the board's proposals—arrived at in consultation with the chief executive of the NHS in Scotland—for dealing with the longer-term problems.

Fishing Industry


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on the current situation in the Scottish fishing industry.

My right hon. and learned Friend discussed the industry's: problems recently with the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. The Government will be monitoring the situation closely and will, as always, keep in regular contact with the industry.

When will the Government act to prevent an increase in fishing activity off the west coast of Scotland as a direct result of limits imposed on east-coast fishing? Does the Minister agree that such an increase is harmful to conservation and to the fragile communities that live on the west coast, and will he undertake to act immediately to stop such encroachments?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, but, as he will appreciate, there are certain historic rights of access on the west coast. He will know that we have already taken action: for example, we have proposed that fishermen should radio in when they cross the 4 degree line—a suggestion which came from the fishing industry. We are waiting for a report from our scientists on the position relating to nephrops. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep the matter under close review, and give consideration to whatever action is necessary.

Why are the Government so opposed to the introduction of a decommissiong scheme? Would not that be the best safeguard for the future of the industry, and the contribution that it makes to our economy and to the future of the many fishing communities around our coast?

I welcome my right hon. Friend back to Scottish questions. He will know that we have considered the matter carefully and that the last time such a scheme was tried, it was not successful. It would be a very costly exercise; it would probably take out the least efficient fishermen and would not be the best way to resolve the problem. However, we are aware of the difficulties and are continuing to keep in close touch with the European Commission on these matters and on how to reduce overfishing.

Does the Minister recognise that the Scottish fishing industry has been severely hit, not simply because the weather is worse than usual, but because of the new regulations for unemployment benefit? Many of those employed in the Scottish fishing industry do not earn an income as they are not working, and do not get benefit. Under the new circumstances, will the Minister give further consideration to aiding the Scottish fishing industry?

I shall certainly consider what the right hon. Gentleman said. He will be aware that last year the total income of the Scottish industry was only 3 per cent. lower in cash terms than the previous record year, and in previous years the income of the industry rose substantially.

With reference to the thoughtful question put by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), why do not the Government show the same sympathy to fishermen as they express when farmers are in trouble? When will the Government introduce a maritime counterpart to the set-aside scheme? Is it not the case that vis-a-vis the multiannual guidance programme obligations, some 200 to 300 fishing vessels will have to be stripped from the Scottish fishing fleet within the next two years? When will the Government play the game by introducing a fair and reasonable decommissioning scheme for the industry?

I have already answered the question about a decommissioning scheme. The Government's concern for the fishing industry has become apparent from the close and detailed attention that it has received from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in recent months. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the success of my right hon. and learned Friend and my right hon. Friend at the Council meeting last December in securing a good deal for this country.

Lothian Health Board


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he proposes to take following the investigation of the finances of Lothian health board by Mr. Don Cruickshank.

Discussions are continuing with Lothian health board.

Is not it intolerable that the future of the National Health Service in Lothian should be decided by Mr. Cruickshank and by Peat, Marwick, McLintock behind closed doors? Will the Minister confirm that the value in real terms of the increased allocation for Lothian health board next year is just £8 million, which will be completely swallowed up and wiped out by the repayment of the loan to deal with the present crisis in Lothian health board? Meanwhile we still have a staffing freeze, closures of theatre units and beds and rock bottom morale in the Health Service in Lothian region. Can we have a proper review of the needs of the Health Service in Lothian and will the Minister ensure that the service is funded in accordance with those needs?

The hon. Gentleman seems to be labouring under a misapprehension. I cannot confirm his figure for the resources for Lothian because it is not correct. The hon. Gentleman talked about the resources available to Lothian health board and took no account of the 1 per cent. that will be available from efficiency savings, to which I know Opposition Members are opposed. As for the Peat, Marwick, McLintock report, the hon.Gentleman should know that decisions about priorities in Lothian health board will be determined by the health board, not by the chief executive, not by the consultants. The chief executive and the consultants are endeavouring to be helpful because the board has spent more than the resources allocated to it, which was discovered at a very late stage in the financial year.

Does not the Minister realise that the Secretary of State has appointed a man to preside over the Health Service in Scotland who, when chairman of Wandsworth health authority, presided over the loss of more than 100 beds and a hospital, and ward closures?

Those cuts led to no savings, but caused much harm to patient services. Even with the loss of Bruntsfield hospital and Elsie Inglis hospital, the current round of funding leaves Lothian health board with fewer resources than it needs. Its resources do not match medical inflation, and that will result in further ward and hospital closures.

It is true that the chief executive of the Health Service in Scotland was chairman of Wandsworth health authority. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to acknowledge that the resources available to the Health Service in Scotland are about 25 per cent. higher per head than south of the border. Lothian is the second best funded health board in Scotland. It has benefited from the considerable expansion of services, including phase I of St. John's hospital in the constituency of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), which is the biggest single investment project in the Health Service in Scotland. I should have thought that, from time to time, Opposition Members would recognise the strength of the Health Service and help to raise morale instead of constantly pointing to the difficulties that the chief executive and others in the management of the Health Service are attempting to cope with.

Storm Damage


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assistance has been offered to the Highland region following the recent storms and floods.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
(Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

On 8 February, my right hon. and learned Friend confirmed that the provisions of the Bellwin scheme would be available to all authorities. We now await reports from them of expenditure that they think likely to qualify for special financial assistance. I can also announce that the Government are satisfied that additional assistance is justified for the repair of elevated flood banks. The rates of grant available under the farm and conservation grant scheme (national), which are normally 50 per cent. for the less-favoured areas and 40 per cent. elsewhere, are being increased to 75 per cent. and 60 per cent. respectively. Those rates will be available for six months from 1 March.

Is the Minister aware of Highland region's dissatisfaction and concern about the operation of the Bellwin formula, following its experience last year? In particular, will he reconsider the Scottish Office's refusal to offer grant for work on the river bed of the River Ness that is essential for the preservation of Waterloo bridge? Does he agree that the time limit that he mentioned is unreasonable because it is an arbitrary cut-off point for grant, when essential work may take longer?

I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's point. In relation to the River Ness, under the Bellwin scheme we allowed as eligible expenditure all the emergency costs of road and transport services up to 31 March 1989, amounting to over £300,000. The Bellwin scheme meets the cost of immediate works, but longer-term repairs should be built into local authorities' budgets. We have provided an additional allocation for water and sewerage of almost £500 million over the next three years.

May I underscore the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) that, based on last year's experience, the Bellwin formula does not take adequate account of the distinctive geographical problems that Highland region is facing? The Minister spoke of enhanced grants for flood banks, which were also announced last year, but will that cover the major expenditure that will be necessary in Fort Augustus, not only to shore up existing flood banks but to instal a completely new flood bank and other flood prevention measures which are now essential following evacuations there for the past two years running?

I shall give a specific reply to the details of the hon. Gentleman's last question, but he was incorrect in the premise on which he based his first question. Aid is given above a threshold which, broadly speaking, is lower, the smaller the population. The amount of financial support also reflects the scale of the immediate emergency work necessary to safeguard life and property, and that may also be lower in heavily populated areas. I agree that updating of the threshold is required, and we hope to make a statement on that to local authorities shortly.

Community Charge


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many poll tax payers in Scotland will qualify for transitional relief; and what is the estimated average relief per qualifier for 1990–91.

I expect that about half a million people will be eligible for transitional relief in Scotland. Estimates of average relief for 1990–91 have not been made.

Is not the chaotic nature of the poll tax summed up by the fact that this relief was introduced half way into year one of the poll tax in Scotland and the fact that, despite all the right hon. and learned Gentleman's claims for it, only 10 per cent. of poll tax payers will benefit from the relief, at an average rate of 50p a week?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened to my answer. I said that it is estimated that half a million people are likely to be entitled to benefit. That is 10 per cent. of the population of Scotland but, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, all those under 18 are not liable for the community charge. A bit of elementary arithmetic would have enabled the hon. Gentleman to work that out for himself.

Has the Secretary of State taken the time to read the speculative article in The Economist last week, which suggested that the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the Prime Minister will shortly hold a press conference to announce that the poll tax cannot be satisfactorily amended and must be withdrawn and that they apologise to the people for inflicting it on them? Does not a combination of political resistance in Scotland and political panic south of the border mean that the poll tax is now on the rocks?

The Economist is better at analysing the past than predicting the future. Implementation of the community charge in Scotland is being greatly assisted by the valuable co-operation of Scottish National party-controlled Angus district council. As it is the only nationalist-controlled local authority in Scotland, I know that the hon. Gentleman will warmly welcome the fact that it is co-operating in the implementation of the community charge.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend been able to glean from the Opposition whether transitional relief will form a part of their cracked scheme for a roof tax? Has he had any representations from the seven members of the Labour party, at least, who are refusing to pay the community charge? Are they equally against the roof tax, as are many Labour party members in Scotland?

There is clearly an important distinction between the proposals. Under the Government's proposals, relief is paid to those who are currently paying the charge. I understand that, under the Labour party's roof tax proposals, relief would come to elderly pensioners in respect of their estate only when they died. That is a rather grotesque alternative proposal, which is rightly rejected throughout the Scottish community.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the difficulty of operating the transitional relief underlines the administrative nightmare that now surrounds the poll tax? Does he recall that the administrative costs for 1988–89 are estimated by his Department at above £31 million and that local authorities have already had to find £10 million to organise the rebate system? Does not the ever-deepening chaos, combined with the essential injustice of the poll tax, press the case for speedy abolition? If the Secretary of State is so concerned about a roof tax and the interests of the home owner, should not he turn his mind to the most damaging roof tax of all—ever-escalating mortgage costs, for which he is responsible?

The administrative costs of the transitional scheme are being reimbursed to local authorities, as the hon. Gentleman knows. As for his remark about the roof tax, if he does not accept criticisms from Conservative Members or from the rest of Scotland, he might at least listen to the Labour party in Paisley—[Laughter.] I am interested in the Opposition's reaction. We have been told that Labour's controversial roof tax plans have been blasted by the Paisley Labour party and that it has told the hon. Gentleman to think again. If the hon. Gentleman will not listen to the rest of Scotland, he might at least listen to those protests from his party, including the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who has given him advice on the matter.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It might be advisable if I were called because those remarks were not——

Order. The mere fact that the hon. Gentleman's constituency has been referred to does not mean that he is automatically called.

Trunk Roads


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to make a statement on the Government's conclusions following the consultation on primary trunk routes south of Edinburgh.

I hope that the Scottish Office will make a statement soon.

Is the Minister aware that substantial concern has been expressed in the consultations on the review of primary routes south of Edinburgh, about the inadequate provision for additional dualling on the Al? In my constituency fears have been expressed about the lack of improvements or proposals to increase provision for the A7 south of Hawick. Given the importance of those matters, not only to my constituency and the Borders, but nationally, will the Minister undertake to meet the appropriate hon. Members who are interested in them before he comes to a final conclusion on the review?

Yes. I give an undertaking to the hon. Gentleman that I shall be only to glad to meet him on that subject. We are anxious to reach the most appropriate decision in due course. I understood that he made that request with regard to the A7. I am aware of the joint technical report on the A1, by Northumberland county council, with Lothian and Borders regional councils. We have studied the report and shall certainly take it into account. I am aware of the initiative and interest of the relevant Members of Parliament. We shall take their views fully into account.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind my representations to him about the importance of the A7 from Edinburgh through Hawick to Carlisle? Is he aware of the value of that road to the Borders textiles industry and to tourism? Will he do all that he can to improve that road, particularly south of Hawick, including remedying bad corners and building new bridges?

The matter is under immediate consideration. We have consulted fully on it and we hope to make a statement, as I said earlier.

In view of the conclusion of the report by the university of Louvain that poor infrastructure will be responsible for Scotland and, in particular, Strathclyde regional council, coming bottom of the league—along with the Basque country and south Yorkshire—of economic development after 1992, what does the Minister intend to do to remedy that disgraceful position?

In Scotland, for roads, £ more per head is spent on each person than in England and Wales. A substantial number of improvements in the infrastructure are planned. We have proposals for motorways throughout Scotland, many of them in the west central belt, to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Those proposals will cost £50 million and will go forward.

Transatlantic Flights


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what consideration he has given to the effects on tourism of permitting transatlantic flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow airports; and if he will make a statement.

Many of the responses to the Government's consultation paper on Scottish lowland airports policy addressed the possible effects on tourism of an open skies policy. All the points made have been assessed and are being taken fully into account in the review now being concluded.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the capital city of Scotland should have international gateway status and that Glasgow, as European City of Culture, should also enjoy such status provided that international standards can be met? That does not mean that I have anything against Prestwick. What I resent is Prestwick's monopoly. That is a view shared by the Scottish tourist board.

I hear my hon. Friend's views. He will know that over 1,100 submissions on the matter have been made to the Government. They have all been carefully assessed and the Government hope to publish their findings soon.

Will the Minister come clean and tell the House what was the recommendation of the Secretary of State for Scotland to the Secretary of State for Transport on the review of the Scottish lowland airports policy? Will he be even more honest and tell the House whether the opposition of the Secretary of State for Transport in Cabinet to gateway status for Glasgow and Edinburgh airports is delaying the decision that should have been made months ago and is acting against the best interests of Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman will have to contain his impatience for a little longer. He may rest assured that when the announcement is made, it will have the unanimous and wholehearted support of the Government.

Has my hon. Friend read the submissions from the Scottish tourist board and the Highlands and Islands Development Board on the benefits to Scottish tourism of an open skies policy? Does he agree with them or not? Has he read the submissions from the Scottish Development Agency and the Scottish Consumer Council? Those organisations have no parochial axe to grind on the economic benefits of giving gateway status to Glasgow. Does he or does he not agree with those submissions?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to identify that important industry, the future of which can affect the future of the Scottish economy. It is estimated that the value of tourism to Scotland was about £420 million last year. Any improvement to that figure as a result of an open skies policy is something of which we would wish to take careful account.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The three hon. Members who were called on the last question were all from one side of the argument. No one—

Order. I ask the House to bear in mind the fact that I am constantly being urged to speed up Question Time. If I called every hon. Member who had an interest in every question, we should, I judge, get down only to question No. 3. I call Mr. Robert Hughes.

Warrant Sales


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will extend the criteria for not pursuing warrant sales for poll tax defaulters to that which applied to rates defaulters before the poll tax came into force.

The collection of the community charge, including any use of poinding or warrant sales, is a matter for local authorities.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the paraphernalia and mechanisms of warrant sales should be used as the ultimate and last resort as a method of debt collection and not as the first resort, as seems to be the case with the many authorities applying for sheriff warrants even where there is genuine confusion, genuine error and genuine hardship on the part of people who are late in their poll tax payments? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman ensure that there really is absolute discretion for local authorities to deal with each case on its merits so as to avoid the cares, the danger and the hardship facing so many people in Scotland?

Yes, I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. There is no doubt—I do not think that there is any controversy—that if warrant sales are to be used, they should he used only as the very last resort. Opposition Members should not confuse the issuing of summary warrants with the holding of warrant sales. Many tens of thousands of summary warrants are issued, but in the past that practice has led to only a few warrant sales being necessary. This is a matter for individual local authorities, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman—I am sure that the local authorities also agree—that warrant sales should be used only if all other methods of seeking payment of a legitimate debt have failed to produce results.

May I declare an interest, Mr. Speaker, as I am wearing a free pair of trousers in the comrie and strathearn tartan—[Interruption.]

This is intended to boost the tourist industry in Scotland. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if the roof tax were introduced, the number of warrant sales under the community charge or the previous rating system would multiply by thousands and ruin the tourist industry in Scotland?

There is certainly no doubt that the Labour party's roof tax proposals would hurt pensioners and others on low incomes as they would be expected to pay the same tax as people in comparable properties next door whose incomes might be much higher.

If the Government refuse to grant time for the Bill to abolish warrant sales introduced by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), will the Secretary of State consider tabling an appropriate amendment during the passage of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill which is currently before Parliament? If the Secretary of State is so smart and insolent as to try to ridicule those people who have not paid the poll tax and who are refusing to do so, will he declare his own interest here and now by telling us exactly how many thousands of pounds he will gain annually as a result of the change from rates to poll tax?

I am not gaining thousands of pounds. The whole premise of the hon. Gentleman's question is false—[HON. MEMBERS: "How much?"] I and the vast majority of people in Scotland are paying our legal taxes. The hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan ) is refusing to pay his lawful taxes and, as a result, is adding to the burden on his constituents, who will be obliged to pay the sums that the hon. Gentleman is refusing to pay. If the hon. Gentleman is a man of integrity, he should not expect his constituents to pay his taxes on his behalf—[Interruption.]

Order. I ask hon. Members not to barrack in that way from a sedentary position. It does not do our reputation any good.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in the case of all taxes of whatever kind which are required to be paid by the individual on demand there is an element that is difficult to collect? That was certainly true of the rates. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree also that the Scottish National Party provost of Perth and Kinross and the Scottish National Party administration of Angus district recognise this and that that is why they are using whatever measures are available to them under the law to collect this tax?

Yes, indeed. Many members of the Scottish National Party are honest, law-abiding citizens. It is unfortunate that their parliamentary representatives in the SNP cannot aspire to such a reputation. Clearly, those representatives do not have the integrity of the many members of their party who are, indeed, obeying the law of the land.

Is it not feeble of the Secretary of State that, when attacking our roof tax proposals, he manages to find just one branch of one Labour constituency in the whole of Scotland to call in aid, whereas, in respect of the poll tax he refuses to listen to the people of Scotland, to his ex-fellow Cabinet Ministers and to fellow tory MPs, who would like to see the tax withdrawn as soon as possible? Why does he not stop the cruel farce of the poinding of goods in Scotland, or at least make some effort to alleviate it by withdrawing now the 20 per cent. minimum payment of the poll tax? Why does he not at the same time make a promise that anybody entitled to a rebate who has not claimed it may do so now and have it backdated to 1 April 1989?

With regard to the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's question, he should be aware that the Paisley Central branch of the Labour party has attacked his party's roof tax proposals. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) was forced to call on the Financial Times as the only organ of popular opinion which had so far supported the roof tax. When the Labour party has to call upon the Financial Times as its main supporter we know that it is on the run.

Maternity Unit, Elgin


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many representations he has now received supporting the development of a greenfield site for a specialist maternity unit in Elgin; and if he will make a statement on projected time scales for the announcement of his decision.

In addition to representations from the hon. Lady and from the chairman——

Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to be patient. [Interruption.] Why does not the hon. Gentleman sit down and try again on question No. 10?

In addition to the representations that I have had from the hon. Lady, I have had representations from the chairman of the local health council, Mrs. Roma Hossack, as well as four letters from other organisations and individuals.

Does the Minister agree that he has received also 2,000 letters as part of a campaign organised by the Maternity Unit for Moray campaign? An additional 1,000 letters will be sent to him from my office shortly. Does he agree that this indicates the very strong feeling in the constituency that a greenfield site should be developed? Does he recall that, in discussions in Elgin in September 1988, he made it clear that this would be a matter not of debate about finance but of the delivery of good health care in my area? Does he agree that his right hon. and learned Friend said in June 1989 that money would be found? Can he now tell us that money will be found for this development, and may we be told the time scale involved?

I do not know whether it will come as a shock to the hon. Lady when I tell her that if she examines those letters carefully she will find that they are addressed to her and not to me. I hope that she will reply to each of them individually. Although the letters were not addressed to me, I fully acknowledge the extent of the support that exists for the provision of proper maternity and other services in Moray. The hon. Lady will know that we have received the option appraisal from Grampian health board. I have not yet had an opportunity to study it, but it is being looked at by officials. A hospital on a greenfield site in Elgin would cost around £25 million. It is therefore a major investment proposal. I shall certainly see that it is looked at as speedily as possible. The hon. Lady will appreciate, however, that in view of the scale of the proposal it requires detailed and careful consideration.

Is the Minister aware that, as well as the letters that he has received, I have also expressed my support for the proposals for the maternity unit at Moray? I know the area well] as I was educated there and I am pleased to support the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), because she has supported me in the campaign for Prestwick. She is aware that security, safety and environmental considerations are also important. Will the junior Minister ensure that his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State takes account of that in the lowland airports review?

If the hon. Lady is as ingenious as the hon. Gentleman in putting her message across, it will no doubt be received with some force.

The question relates to the Moray maternity unit, on which views are held on both sides of the House. The proposal certainly enjoys considerable support in Moray. I was left in no doubt about that when I attended a public meeting with demonstrators outside who said, "Thanks for coming, Mike"—the first time I have ever encountered a demonstration welcoming me to a public meeting in another hon. Member's constituency.

Question No. 11—Sir David Steel—[Interruption.] I was thrown by that piece of ingenuity. We now come to question No. 10.

Community Charge


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the operation of the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987 in relation of the recovery of poll tax arrears.

I am satisfied that the powers available to levying authorities in Scotland to collect arrears of community charge are adequate and appropriate for this purpose, as they were for the collection of arrears of domestic rates.

Having regard to the Minister's legal background, does he acknowledge that anyone surveying the poll tax legislation without realising that he would have to resort to the rigours of poinding and warrant sales is too negligent to hold office and that anyone who did know must have little social conscience? Does he accept that the poll tax legislation is designed to intimidate, embarrass and humiliate the poorer sections of our community? There will be a massive demonstration in Glasgow on 31 March. The people of Scotland are surely entitled to use people power to show their repugnance for the legislation and in the regional elections in May to eliminate the Tories and their supporters from every office in the land.

First, more than 1 million people in Scotland at present receive rebates. That is extremely important and it is especially designed to help those who are not well off. I should point out to the hon. Gentleman who feels so strongly about this matter—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) should refrain from shouting.

Evidently the hon. Gentleman does not want to hear the reply.

The most resented aspects of warrant sales were removed by the 1987 Act—anonymity has been brought in, certain exemptions have been made to the range of goods affected, and redemption has also been introduced—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is shouting from a sedentary position, but under the community charge virtually everyone makes a contribution to local authority services. It was an absurd system to assume a link between services used and the size of a person's property—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman should not address me as though I am James "Buster" Douglas when I am merely the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West trying to answer his question.

The individual in a large house pays the community charge required of him by way of a contribution to local authority services, but he also pays through national taxation. I pay my taxes, but the hon. Gentleman is refusing to do so and is urging his constituents to defy the law. The hon. Gentleman is himself paid by the taxpayer, so that is grossly irresponsible.

Order. Interjections from a sedentary position lead the Minister to reply to questions which he was not asked when the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) was on his feet.

The Government's regulations force local authorities to recover poll tax arrears from single people claiming income support who have an income of less than £35 per week. Those claimants are the only group of debtors in Scotland not covered by the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987. Is the Minister proud that the Government have singled out the poorest in society for the most severe poll tax treatment? Does he not understand that although he can make the poor pay the price of the poll tax now, the voters will make him pay the price of the poll tax when he next faces them?

It is for local authorities to decide what method of collection to use. In many cases it will be arrestment of earnings or of bank accounts. It could be by deduction from income support. It need not necessarily be through poinding, warrant sales or summary warrants.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) would have done better to declare an interest in the question as he is not paying his community charge? Does my hon. Friend also agree that it ill behoves any hon. Member, who has been elected to pass laws, to advocate the breaking of laws which he does not want? It makes a mockery of the whole purpose of democracy.

I agree with my hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) is rendering a disservice to his constituents, who may end up having to pay extra on their community charge if privileged people such as Members of Parliament who are paid by the taxpayer refuse to pay their own community charge.

Commercial Rating


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from those who offer a bed and breakfast service about the effects of the commercial rating of bed and breakfast premises.

I have had numerous representations mainly from those who run small bed and breakfast establishments in rural areas. As announced yesterday, I intend to bring forward regulations to ensure that small bed and breakfast establishments with six places or fewer, or open for fewer than 100 days per year, should be treated as domestic property and thus not liable for non-domestic rates. I am consulting interested parties on details of the scheme.

That answer surely illustrates that nothing concentrates the mind of Ministers more than a question on the Order Paper. I have been in correspondence with the right hon. and learned Gentleman about this since last August, with precious little result, pointing out yet another flaw in the poll tax legislation. It would be churlish of me not to welcome what the Secretary of State has suggested. Releasing from commercial rating bed and breakfast establishments with six beds or fewer will help tourism in rural areas, but will he reconsider the 100-day limit as it makes no sense in areas which provide a modest service all the year round?

I am grateful for the welcome that the right hon. Gentleman has given to what I announced. He has made representations on the matter, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and other hon. Gentlemen on both sides.

Yes, hon. Members on both sides of the. House—hon. Gentlemen and Ladies. The limit of 100 days is intended to distinguish between bed and breakfast establishments that are run essentially as commercial businesses, where non-domestic rates should apply, and bed and breakfast activity that is marginal to the main purpose of the accommodation.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend. accept that in Pitlochry, and around the highlands of Perthshire and Angus, his decision on establishments with six beds will be welcome? He knows that there has been great concern because of the impact that the legislation could have had. It would have meant the withdrawal of a facility which is essential to the tourist industry in those areas.

I was very conscious of the problems for the tourist industry in rural areas. That is why we thought it appropriate to make the changes that I have announced. They will be welcomed by the tourist industry and by many tens of thousands of people of modest means who get some additional income through bed and breakfast establishments of the kind indicated.

I am tempted to wonder whether the Secretary of State is serious. How many bed and breakfast establishments does he know of in tourist areas in Scotland which operate for fewer than 100 nights per year? Will he be suggesting to them which nine months of the year they should close? Will he police them with inspectors? Will another aspect of the poll tax be to have inspectors going round to check that bed and breakfast businesses are open for fewer than 100 nights a year? The idea is ridiculous.

Does the Minister accept that the property tax on bed-and-breakfast establishments is another Tory roof tax, as is the standard community charge on second homes? Is not the vast increase in mortgage rates the most crippling roof tax of all? Is not it Scotland's singular misfortune under his rule to have a Tory poll tax and several Tory roof taxes?

The hon. Gentleman has not done his homework on the first part of his question, or he would know that a very large number of bed-and-breakfast establishments will be exempt from non-domestic rates within the 100-day cut-off period. On the latter part of his remarks, I can only suggest that if he is interested in the welfare of his constituents he should accept that under the Labour party's roof tax proposals not only owner-occupiers, but all council tenants will pay the roof tax. I note that the hon. Gentleman nods. He will appreciate that the council tenants who suffer most will be those living in property recently renovated by local authorities so that the market value of the properties has doubled overnight.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is nervous about the unanimously hostile reaction that the Labour party has received to its roof tax proposals. That is no doubt why it has decided to put off any comparable announcement south of the border. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is considering using Scotland as a guinea pig for the roof tax.

The provision of bed and breakfast in tourist areas is extremely important as it provides quality accommodation at reasonable prices, as is true in my constituency of Sherwood where millions of people come to visit our famous forest. Does my right hon. Friend agree that Labour plans to end derating will bring immediate hardship to those providing bed-and-breakfast accommodation in agricultural areas?

It is a feature of the Labour party's rural policy that, when it published its Scottish rural policy document last week, it did not highlight the fact that it wishes to end the derating of agricultural land. As my hon. Friend rightly said, that would devastate not only the farming communities but those who depend on the agriculture industry for the well-being of Scotland's rural areas.

British Steel


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of British Steel; what issues were discussed; and when he next expects to meet him.

I last met the chairman of British Steel on 26 October 1989 when we discussed matters relevant to the steel industry in Scotland.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman actually telling us that despite the crisis that has hit confidence among steelworkers in Lanarkshire, he has made no attempt to hold a meeting with the chairman of British Steel? That is a disgrace. Will he seek an urgent meeting with the chairman and ask why, with a current capital investment programme of £397 million, not a brown penny has been directed to Lanarkshire? Will he also ask how it can be that over the next four years, with 46 rigs to be built for the North sea requiring a new steel demand of 740,000 tonnes, British Steel can continue to place a question mark over the steelworkers in Lanarkshire?

We have had continuing contact with British Steel since last October. The hon. Gentleman's question related to an actual meeting and I gave him the correct answer. On the more substantial part of his remarks, we all share his hope that British Steel will produce new investment for steel plants in Scotland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will work closely with those at Ravenscraig rather than distancing themselves from the general view in Scotland that through co-operative efforts the best prospects can be achieved for the future well-being of the steel industry in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman knows that his party is out of kilter with Scottish opinion and that its short-sighted approach has found no favour with the work force at Ravenscraig.

Is the Secretary of State aware that an immediate decision is pending from British Steel on its plate strategy and especially on the future of the Dalziel plate mill? Is he further aware that the modernisation of that mill is the only fully viable route by which not only the future of platemaking can be pursued economically, but a long-term future secured for other developments at Ravenscraig?

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman's obvious interest in this matter. I agree that the decision in favour of a new plate mill at Dalziel would be of great benefit to the long-term interests of the steel industry in Scotland. We welcome the report produced by Glasgow university last week, which put forward a commercial and not an emotional argument on why there was a good case for that investment in Scotland. We hope that British Steel will scrutinise that report and reach a judgment based on the commercial criteria which can properly be applied to such issues.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), who believes in independence in Europe, that there is a European prohibition on state aid for primary steel making? Will he further confirm that British Steel has made it absolutely clear that in the event of its no longer wishing to operate Ravenscraig it will offer the plant for sale to another buyer?

It is certainly true that the European Community forbids any member Government or member state to give taxpayers' support to new investment in primary steel producing. My hon. Friend is also correct that when the industry was privatised British Steel made it clear that if at any time it had no further interest in its assets, particularly at Ravenscraig in Scotland, it would consider an alternative offer for the acquisition of those assets.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that he had a good deal of sympathy with the arguments in Glasgow university's report, which was prepared for the Strathclyde regional council, about the possibility of developing the plate mill at Dalziel. Will he say a little more about how he intends to progress that matter? The Minister of State was reported in the Scottish press on Tuesday as saying that

"he expected to be in contact with BS executives 'in due course'."
Does that mean that Ministers will be personally involved in those meetings? At what level of British Steel does he expect the meetings to take place? Can he also say something about the time scale because there is a worry that "in due course" may suggest an over-leisurely approach when in fact decisions by British Steel may be imminent. That is a matter of great urgency. I hope that the Secretary of State will be specific about what he intends to do.

I understand the force of the hon. Gentleman's question. We believe that it is important that British Steel should be aware of the Scottish Office view on these important matters. British Steel's future plate mill strategy is of importance to the Government. I certainly wish to ensure that, well before any decision is reached by British Steel, it has the views not only of the Glasgow university report but of everyone, including the Scottish Office, about the merits of the various options under consideration.

Drug Education


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on drug education in schools.

Programmes of drug education are undertaken by all education authorities in Scotland. The Scottish Education Department has collaborated in the production of curricular material for schools, and makes a specific grant available for the in-service training of teachers in health education, including education about drugs.

That is welcome news, but can my hon. Friend reassure the House that particular help will be given to those schools in areas where drug misuse is greatest—for example in the Edinburgh, Leith constituency? Has he been in touch with the organisation called Life Education Centres which does a marvellous job in parts of England but which, to the best of my knowledge, has not yet done anything in Scotland?

I know of my hon. Friend's interest in these matters. Indeed, he is chairman of the all-party drug misuse group. I am aware of the good work done by the organisation to which he referred. There are several organisations in Scotland that take a close interest in these matters, and in the Scottish Office there is the Scottish health education group. We ensure that a number of initiatives are targeted at particular age groups, and packages of materials are made available to all secondary schools in Scotland.

Does the Minister accept that drug abuse and addiction are connected with high unemployment? If we look at any place in Scotland and Britain we find that that is the case. Will the Minister come with me to my constituency and visit the group that he mentioned?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's conclusion, relating drug abuse to high unemployment, is right. It is important, however, that we target our campaigns as effectively as possible. As part of that, we are developing teacher in-service training, on which we have spent about £600,000 over the past four years.

Is my hon. Friend aware of my correspondence with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with responsibility for health about the concern of the drugs advisory committee on Grampian health board that the area has not been selected as a priority area for new drug prevention schemes? Although fortunately the area does not face so immediate or great a problem as some other centres of population, does my hon. Friend agree that money spent on prevention before the problem manifests itself is much better than money spent afterwards on treatment?

I certainly agree with my right hon. Friend. All education authorities in Scotland have nominated a senior official to co-ordinate these matters. I hope that that is happening effectively in Grampian, as elsewhere. I shall look into the matter.

Community Charge


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many extra staff have been employed by regional and island councils in Scotland to deal with the administration and collection of the poll tax.

No information is held centrally on the number of extra staff employed by local authorities on community charge work.

After the Government's hypocritical and, indeed, near-hysterical response to Labour's alternative, will the Minister accept that the collection of the poll tax in Scotland has involved a scandalous misuse of scarce public resources? Will he concede that Labour's alternative will be simpler, fairer and much cheaper to collect?

The extra cost, as compared with the collection of rates, is £14·5 million, but we consider that justified in terms of greater fairness and accountability. With the roof tax there would be an army of valuers, assessors, monitors and statisticians. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), who said in The Scotsman that the

"Labour party policy document on the roof tax must rank high in bidding for the top prize for confusion and obscurantism".