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Scotland

Volume 173: debated on Wednesday 6 June 1990

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Health Boards

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what are his criteria for appointments to health boards in Scotland.

Individuals are appointed on the basis of the contribution that they can make to the duties and responsibilities of the health boards.

Does not the Secretary of State realise that the cuts and panic closures affecting hospitals in Lothian region made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman's Tory-appointed health board are an indictment of his system of appointment? Will he come with me to Longmore hospital in Edinburgh, where an excellent breast screening clinic and facilities for geriatric patients are threatened by a panic closure in eight weeks rather than in eight years? Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that Lothian health board will receive proper funding—or will he go?

I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to ensure that the health board's recommendations are considered on the basis of their implications for health care in the region. The hon. Gentleman should not suggest that the problem has been caused by underfunding. As he knows perfectly well, all Scottish health boards are funded in exactly the same way. The fact that Lothian finds itself to be seriously overspending is clearly a result of its own internal financial management—as the report now published by Peat, Marwick Mitchell clearly demonstrates.

Will the Secretary of State guarantee that if health board appointments become more business oriented, as is presaged in the White Paper, he will pay particular attention to the successor bodies to the health councils, to ensure that they are properly funded and properly accountable, so that effective patient and consumer consultation boards can be established within the Health Service?

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. We shall certainly want to ensure that the boards offer the widest breadth of experience, consistent only with the important criterion of avoiding any conflict of interest between those who serve on health boards and those who have financial associations with the provision of health care.

If Scottish health boards were to be financed and paid for by a Scottish Parliament or Assembly that raised taxes in Scotland, as opposed to being funded by the general Exchequer, what would be the increase in the taxes due from Scottish people?

If there were to be a Scottish Assembly and it had to fund Scottish health provision entirely from Scottish resources, there is no doubt that that would lead to a substantial increase in the amount of income tax paid by people in Scotland. Health expenditure in Scotland is about 25 per cent. higher per capita than that south of the border.

Surely ultimate responsibility for the current shambles in Lothian health board rests directly with the Secretary of State for Scotland. Is not the crisis due to the sheer and utter incompetence of the board members—all of whom were directly appointed by the Secretary of State, and half of whom have either direct or indirect connections with the Conservative party? Is not it the case that unless increased funding is made available to Lothian health board, the crisis will be resolved only by the Secretary of State reneging on his promises, closing hospitals and introducing measures that will directly affect patient care?

The Government have already been helpful with regard to the problems of Lothian health board by saying that it will not be required to pay for last year's overspend in the current year, but it is crucial that the health board, like all other health boards in Scotland, should gain control over its expenditure and resources. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that if he were speaking from this Dispatch Box, he would be the first to insist that all health boards in Scotland commit themselves to no more expenditure than the resources provided to them. If Lothian is the only health board in Scotland to have found itself in this difficulty, clearly that is a result of financial mismanagement within the health board.

Scottish Homes

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of Scottish Homes; and if he discussed the current levels of capital spending on housing by the agency in Scotland.

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

My right hon. and learned Friend and I regularly meet Sir James Mellon, chairman of Scottish Homes. Our discussions cover all aspects of Scottish Homes' functions and responsibilities.

The Minister promised the tenants of Scottish Homes that there would be no element of compulsion in moving them into other types of tenure. Does he now accept that the latest investment priorities declared by Scottish Homes, stating that it is its intention to invest in every other type of tenure before investing in its own stock and tenants, are tantamount to blackmail—trying to force them into other types of tenure? Does not that mean that effectively the Minister has reneged on his promise to tenants of Scottish Homes; is not he ashamed of himself; and should not he reverse those investment priorities or tender his own resignation?

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect on that subject. Funding for Scottish Homes' budget this year is some £356·5 million. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is primarily concerned with the project in, Fintry, which was delayed because of apprehensions expressed by some of his constituents. I believe that the estate-based strategy is being worked out and is likely to go ahead. Specific projects have begun or will begin shortly and other projects are under consideration as part of the continuing process of developing plans for the area. I shall draw the point that the hon. Gentleman has made to the attention of the chairman of Scottish Homes, but I stress to him that our commitment to upgrading Scottish Homes' stock remains as strong as ever.

When my hon. Friend next meets the chairman of Scottish Homes, will he discuss with him the importance of its work in the regeneration of Barrhead in my constituency? Is he aware that following the welcome announcement on industrial improvement areas by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Renfrew district council, in co-operation with other public sector agencies and the private sector, is preparing imaginative but realistic plans for the future of Barrhead? In encouraging Scottish Homes to clear the path and to implement plans, will my hon. Friend also take the opportunity to point out to Opposition Members that the greatest threat to the improvement of the quality of housing in Scotland would be a roof tax?

I agree with what my hon. Friend says about a roof tax, because it would swallow up a large part of the income of people who have bought their council house. Scottish Homes is now studying a consultancy report that considers the future of Barrhead. Housing is one aspect of the regeneration proposals. Scottish Homes will need to judge how best its involvement in this important project can complement other economic objectives of the Scottish Development Agency, the region and the district.

Is not it a disgrace that the Government have conned people into buying so-called homes when the Minister and Scottish Homes know that in my area those properties were largely slums? A court case is being heard at the moment, and probably the Minister will argue that he cannot comment on that. Nevertheless, we still have tenants who want repairs to their homes, which they are not getting because Scottish Homes is hiding behind the law, the capitalist system and this Government. What has the Minister got to say to people in Leith who deserve support, repairs and justice? Will he give them that, because they need it?

The hon. Gentleman has raised that matter with me before, on behalf of his constituents. Tenants have applied for improvement grants to the district council, but they are some way down the queue of priorities. The pre-1984 backlog of improvement grants is being worked off quickly. The matter is a responsibility of the district council, but it does not have sufficient priority at present.

What is the Minister doing about the plight of tenants, as well as people who foolishly bought their slum houses?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to tenants of Scottish Homes, I shall of course draw the matter to the attention of the chairman. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman made it perfectly clear which streets he is talking about.

Order. Brief questions lead to briefer answers and more hon. Members are then called.

Higher Education

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on measures to protect freedom of speech in institutions of Scottish higher education.

Following our earlier undertaking to consider the position in Scotland, we have decided to consult interested parties on arrangements for safeguarding freedom of speech in universities and colleges in Scotland, in the light of which we shall consider whether any action is necessary.

Does my hon. Friend recall the promise that was made on 20 June 1989 at column 268 in answer to a debate that I initiated on freedom of speech in Scottish universities and polytechnics—that the review would take place in six to nine months? As a year has now gone by, when can we expect the results of that review?

I recall the debate and the undertaking that was given, which was to consider the position in Scotland in the light of the review of the legislation, in particular section 43 of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 as it affects England and Wales. That review is still under way. We shall obviously wish to take account of the outcome of that review when considering the position in Scotland. However, I hope that my hon. Friend welcomes the commitment that I have just given.

What advice does the Minister expect to give to regional councils that have been led to understand, although they have not yet been informed, that the technical and vocational education initiative is to be slashed by 50 per cent. in the coming year? What involvement did the Scottish Office have in the discussions and what advice does the Minister of State intend to give to regional councils whose preparations are well advanced for the training of young people in the coming academic year?

Some rephasing of the forward extension of TVEI is taking place. I welcome the £1·8 million that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has announced for the extension of TVEI. However, that has nothing whatever to do with freedom of speech, which is the subject of this question. I wish that the Opposition would spend more time on upholding freedom of speech rather than abusing it.

Does the Minister accept that this is a serious matter and that I regret the fact that there appears to have been a shift in the Government's position? He will remember that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), made it clear on 7 June 1989 that

"there was little evidence in Scotland of the problems that prompted the legislation south of the border."—[Official Report, 7 June 1989; Vol. 154, c. 210.]
and led to the imposition of section 43 in England. I recognise that recently there was one deplorable incident at Glasgow university, but that was very much a case of rent-a-crowd. Does the Minister accept that if the law were to be changed on the basis of such a demonstration, it would delight those who are responsible for trouble, but it would be a sad day indeed for university freedoms in Scotland?

It is because the situation in Scotland was different that we did not follow our English colleagues down the road of section 43. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish us to fulfil our commitment to reconsider the matter and therefore to hold consultations. I hope that he will also support Conservative Members when we say that freedom of speech is vital. If, as Disraeli said, a university should be a place of light, liberty and learning, it can be none of those things unless freedom of speech is upheld.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those who seek to silence those with whom they disagree demonstrate their own unsuitability for higher education? Does he further agree that university authorities ought to adopt a more robust attitude toward those who behave in such a disruptive way?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I am glad that a number of universities are looking at their codes of practice and their codes of discipline to ensure that freedom of speech is upheld in our universities.

Local Government Finance

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received seeking changes in the poll tax legislation; and if he will make a statement.

I regularly receive representations about different aspects of the community charge.

Is not the Secretary of State ashamed of the fact that he offered the people of Scotland as poll tax guinea pigs, that there was not a whimper of protest from Tory Members of Parliament during the first year of the Scottish poll tax, but that when the poll tax hit England and Wales it met with a storm of protest and the Prime Minister was forced to think again? If the Secretary of State is to avoid the accusation of being a silent stooge in the Cabinet, will he speak up and tell the Prime Minister that a few pussy-footed amendments will not satisfy the people of Scotland who are demanding the abolition of this evil tax?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the poll tax applies throughout the United Kingdom——

The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to correct me with regard to Northern Ireland. The poll tax applies throughout Great Britain, unlike Labour's roof tax. We have yet to see whether the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), who feels so strongly about these matters, wishes to impose on Scotland alone a roof tax, which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (M r. Galloway) has attacked and which has been attacked by the Scottish Labour party. The Leader of the Opposition has said that he certainly would not wish to impose it south of the border. The Labour party needs to address itself to that.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that it is better to address particular anomalies that emerge in relation to the tax rather than necessarily the tax itself? Does he recognise that there are several anomalies affecting merchant seamen, those who spend a considerable part of the year overseas and some holiday homes, and that individual community charge payers have had to take matters to the courts for a decision? That course of action is not open to every individual. Will my right hon. and learned Friend therefore make sure that the legislation is amended appropriately to deal with those specific anomalies?

We shall naturally look sympathetically at any constructive suggestions. There have already been important changes to the standard charge, which meet some of the points raised by my right hon. Friend'. However, most of the examples to which he referred involve classification, when the community charge registration officer in one part of the country may have acted in a different way from the community charge registration officer in another area. In precisely those circumstances an appeal to the courts is a way of ensuring uniformity and fairness of treatment throughout the country.

Jobs, Glasgow

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what special measures he intends taking to create jobs in the east end of Glasgow.

Jobs are created by market forces, not by Governments. However, the Government continue to support a number of initiatives in the east end of Glasgow, including the provision of business advice and training, with the aim of stimulating and protecting employment in the area.

Is the Minister totally ignorant—[HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."]—of the fact that four of the seven constituencies with the highest unemployment in Scotland cover the east end of Glasgow? Does not he realise that the problem cannot be solved without special Government assistance? Just when will he do something about it? His reply is disgracefully inadequate. We are sick and tired of promises, press releases and cosmetic exercises. Just when will the Minister and his colleagues in Government realise that the people of Scotland and of Glasgow want the same job opportunities as people in London and the south of England? Can he tell the House when that day will come?

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman, if not ignorant, is at least blind to the success of Government policies in Glasgow as elsewhere. In the past three years unemployment in Glasgow has fallen by no less than 29,000. In the hon. Gentleman's own constituency, unemployment stood at 7,000 in January 1987, but is now down to 4,500. He also should know that the Government are giving considerable support through the SDA to the East End Executive and that through the SDA there have been a number of projects to the value of £6 million in Shettleston. In those and other ways the Government are helping to assist the development of enterprise and employment in the east end of Glasgow.

Will my hon. Friend give a warm welcome to the statement made by the chief Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), when he said on Radio 4 on 28 May that Scotland does very well out of central Government funding and remains substantially funded from England? While it may be a little premature for the hon. Member for Garscadden to start talking as if he were a Minister, is not his change of heart very welcome?

My hon. Friend is probably right. It is true that certain parts of Scotland get special help from the Government, as do certain parts of England, including the north-east and the north-west. That help is given because it is needed to generate employment and enterprise in areas of severe dereliction and difficulty. It is evidence of the success of Government policies in Glasgow that unemployment there has fallen by 29,000 over the past three years.

The Minister will know that in my constituency, in the Dennistoun area of the east end of Glasgow, more than 550 jobs in the tobacco industry have to go. Does he agree that it is a sad day when any industry that has increased its productivity and has good industrial relations and whose workers have worked there for generations finds that when Lord Hanson takes over a company, he strips the assets and closes factories? Surely the Minister and his colleagues in the Department of Trade and industry should do something about those asset-stripping companies.

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman on the loss of some 530 jobs in his constituency because of the closure. However, that loss will take place over the next two years and Hanson has given undertakings on assistance with counselling, job searches and training activities. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman agrees that those decisions must be taken on commercial grounds and that industry must remain competitive, or more jobs will be lost. I am sure that he will welcome the fact that, by taking a commercial and competitive approach to the economy, the Government's efforts have resulted in a fall in unemployment in his constituency of about 3,000 over the past three years.

Helicopter Ambulance Service

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland on what criteria the decision was taken that a helicopter ambulance service is to be fully funded by the National Health Service in Scotland.

A commercially sponsored trial in the highlands shows that a helicopter ambulance service represented value for money and improved the service greatly. The service is continuing on the basis that it will not add to the costs to the National Health Service overall.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, although the decision to fund the helicopter service in Scotland in full from Government sources is not begrudged in Cornwall, it caused dismay, consternation and puzzlement? The NHS has refused to make any contribution to the first helicopter ambulance service, which was provided in Cornwall. Did any special circumstances apply to the decision to fund in full the operating costs of the service in Scotland? Does my hon. Friend accept that the experience in Cornwall with that first helicopter ambulance service shows that the service is viable and valuable? Should not the same criteria therefore apply?

The helicopter ambulance service in Cornwall does a splendid job and has been commercially sponsored and supported by the community. Following the pilot scheme in Scotland, which was commercially sponsored, it became clear that the service represented value for money and that it would improve the quality of patient care. For those reasons, and within the existing resources available to the ambulance service, it was decided to take on the helicopter ambulance service for the highlands. The decision was based on the interests of patient care. Any expansion of that service may well involve sponsorship as it applied in Cornwall, but because that is not my responsibility, I cannot give my hon. Friend any detail on aspects relating to the project in Cornwall.

Is the Minister aware that the proposal to cut hospital services in East Lothian by a crippling 22 per cent., including the closure of the casualty unit at Roodlands hospital in Haddington——

My question will be about that. That proposal will give rise to serious difficulties in transporting about 600 casualty patients a month from East Lothian to the accident emergency unit at Edinburgh royal infirmary. Does the Minister believe that the existing ambulance service can cope with that, or is he thinking of helicopters?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that at Scottish Question Time he has cheered when the Government's policy on competitive tendering has been attacked. He will be aware also that the revenues that have been saved in the Scottish ambulance service as a result of the pilot scheme on competitive tendering in my constituency are almost sufficient, over the three-year period, to meet the costs of the helicopter ambulance service.

The hon. Gentleman will know that Lothian health board's proposals, which involve hospitals in his constituency, are out at consultation at present, and they will come to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for consideration in due course.

Roads

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many bypasses in Scotland are currently under construction; and how many further ones are planned.

The Scottish Development Department has nine trunk road bypasses currently under construction, with a further 23 currently programmed. Bypasses on non-trunk roads in Scotland are of course a matter for the regional councils as roads authorities.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the £1·6 billion of potential and actual spending on Scottish roads and bypasses has benefited the motoring public and has cut my regular journey to Aberdeen by about an hour and a half as a result of the improvements to the A94? Does he also agree that that spending has improved the competitiveness of Scottish companies and, if that is not enough, has contributed towards the attraction of £2·6 billion of inward investment into Scotland since 1981?

Spending on roads is 15 per cent. in Scotland higher than in England, where there has also been a substantial increase in resources. This year we are spending £205 million of capital and current expenditure which we believe is extremely important for jobs. My hon. Friend referred to Aberdeen; the upgrading of the road between Inverness and Aberdeen is the joint priority in Scotland along with the M74. We published recently a progress report about the bypasses that we hope will be brought to fruition before long in many parts of Scotland which will be important for jobs and will benefit the environment.

Although the Minister may give us a roll-call of expenditure on bypasses, does he recall that in my constituency there is a serious problem in Dalkeith with the A68? Will the Minister consider that problem? Traffic in Dalkeith is a disgrace, and we badly need the A68 bypass.

The Dalkeith bypass will go ahead as quickly as possible and we hope that it will greatly benefit the hon. Gentleman's constituents. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the A7 will be upgraded to dual carriageway status later in the 1990s and we hope that that will also be of substantial benefit. If the hon. Gentleman is aware of particular problems on the A68 with accident blackspots, I should be grateful if he would let me know so that we can set in hand accident remedial schemes straight away.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the expenditure on the A75 between Gretna and Stranraer, including the bypasses at Annan, Castle Douglas, Gatehouse and Glenluce? There are many more to come including one for Dumfries. Is not that exceptionally wise expenditure which will benefit industry, agriculture and tourism and is not it something that the Government should continue with all possible haste?

I assure my hon. Friend that the progress on the M74 is such that it may be the fastest motorway to be built in Britain to date. We certainly intend to go ahead as quickly as possible.

The Minister will already know of the concern in my constituency about the delays to the Ardrossan-Saltcoats-Stevenston bypass and perhaps he can say something about its prospects. Does he agree that there is a danger of defeating the purpose of bypasses if they act as magnets for developments round them, particularly in green belts?

On a subject that is closely related, does the Minister agree that the fate of football clubs should not be decided by property developers behind closed doors without regard to the interests and wishes of the people who support those clubs and attach a great deal of importance to them?

The hon. Gentleman was bypassing the question. However, he made a serious point about the Ardrossan-Saltcoats bypass. About 23 bypasses are planned to start in Scotland and we will take the hon. Gentleman's point into account. Nine bypasses are under construction now and considerably more are likely to go ahead by 1991, including one at Bennane Hill on the A77. I must leave the Hearts bypass to my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport to answer another day.

Does the Minister recognise that the people of Northern Ireland, living just 20 miles or so from the coast of Scotland, regard the bypasses and roads in the west of Scotland as their lifeline into the rest of the United Kingdom and to Europe? In future, will he take that into account, consult the Northern Ireland Office and seek its support and co-operation for the improvement of the road system in any applications made to Brussels for European Economic Community support?

I shall certainly contact my colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office to make them aware of the right hon. Gentleman's point. The commitment to upgrade the A75, which is a Eurolink with Northern Ireland, is moving steadily forwards fulfilment.

In contradiction to the Opposition, will my hon. Friend the Minister tell the House how grateful Perth is for its southern bypass so that St. Johnstone football club can have the most modern football ground in Scotland with the best facilities in a greenpeace site—[interruption.]—where people can enjoy the football?

We believe that all road projects should be environmentally friendly, and we shall do everything within our power to ensure that that happens.

Steel Industry

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he intends to meet trade union representatives from the Scottish steel industry to discuss investment in the Scottish steel industry.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I met representatives of the steel trade unions in Scotland recently.

I am glad that the Secretary of State met representatives of the work force at Dalzell and Ravenscraig because their jobs are on the line and they know better than any hon. Member the problems of the steel industry. Is the Secretary of State aware of growing suspicion among workers' representatives and others that the closure of the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig is a result of the manipulation of the monopoly position of British Steel? What will he do to investigate that? I am aware that he welcomed the study of the market by Motherwell district council, but that will not be sufficient. What independent investigation has the Scottish Office initiated, or does it intend to initiate, into the competitive—or otherwise—practices of British Steel now and in the future?

We have said that the first priority is to try to obtain greater information—indeed, some information—from British Steel on the reasoning and thinking behind its announcement. I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the attitude of the work force. When I wrote to Sir Robert Scholey last week seeking further information of the kind that I have indicated, I also suggested to him that he might find it helpful to meet representatives of the work force at Ravenscraig not only to explain to them the thinking behind his proposals but to hear their constructive suggestions on how they can continue to make a viable contribution to the well-being of British Steel as a whole through the Ravenscraig works.

Is the Secretary of State aware that one of the most important meetings this year on investment in the future of the Scottish steel industry will be the annual general meeting of British Steel in July? Will he confirm that one of the privileges of the golden share held by the Government is that a Crown Minister has the right to attend and address the shareholders' meeting? Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity in July to exercise that right and address the board and the shareholders on the unfairness of the investment by British Steel since 1983 and try to elicit from the meeting the information that has so far been denied to us?

However sincere the hon. Gentleman's intention might be in making that proposition, it is a rather foolish suggestion. He knows as well as I do that the golden share is relevant only to any proposal by an outside interest to acquire more than 15 per cent. in the shareholding of British Steel. That is made quite clear by the prospectus, and the hon. Gentleman knows it as well as I do.

May I remind my right hon. and learned Friend that we are talking about the British steel industry and that there will be considerable resentment among my constituents and others on Teesside if he seeks in any way unduly to influence British Steel in making its commercial decisions simply because of the volume of voices from the parliamentary Labour party?

Although I understand my hon. Friend's views, I remind him that the Government amendment, which the House approved, called upon British Steel to explain and defend its decision with regard to its proposals for the hot strip mill, and that is exactly what we intend to do.

Does the Secretary of State accept that it is not encouraging to hear a Minister of the Crown say that he is hoping to get some information from British Steel? Is the Secretary of State receiving information from the company about the arguments, the facts and the figures? Has Sir Robert Scholey stated that he will discuss his case openly and frankly with the work force and with the Government? What steps does the Secretary of State propose to take if that co-operation is not forthcoming? If the information does come forward, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look seriously at the need to challenge and test the assumptions behind that disastrous decision, perhaps with the help of independent advice?

Naturally, I understand the hon. Gentleman's need to make those remarks. However, I remind him that the Labour party's policy on this matter is, in practically all respects, exactly the same as the Government's. The Labour party has clearly ruled out the renationalisation of British Steel. It therefore follows that Labour is saying exactly the same as everyone else—that this is ultimately a decision for British Steel. If my assumption about Labour's policy towards the renationalisation of the steel industry is incorrect, I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will wish to make that clear.

Water Charges

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has on the percentage increases in Scotland on the community water charge between 1989–90 and 1990–91.

The average personal community water charge has risen by less than 9 per cent.

The Minister must know that as the community water charge is not rebatable, the figure that he has announced amounts to quite an additional burden, especially on people with low incomes. As it is estimated that £1·25 billion will be required to improve water quality to meet the regulations, the community water charge looks set to become a crippling burden on families unless the Government do more to help local authorities. What proposals do the Government have to match the capital debt write-off for and the dowry given to the water companies in England and Wales before privatisation? Will the Government give the same help to Scottish local authorities? If they do not, Scottish families, businesses and communities look set to be crippled by high water charges throughout the 1990s.

The cash injections into eight of the 10 water authorities in England and Wales were part of the capital restructuring before privatisation which the hon. Gentleman knows is not happening in Scotland. The Scottish Office is considering the implications for Scotland. However, I stress that water charges are very much lower in Scotland than they are south of the border. The average household in Scotland pays just over £41 per year for water, whereas in England the figure is £64. Similarly, much more is paid per head south of the border for sewerage than is paid in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are special circumstances in Shetland because of the negotiations over the Sullom Voe terminal, but, as Shetland has the lowest community charge in Scotland and Orkney the second lowest, the whole picture must be taken into account.

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind not only the domestic water charge payer, but the business water charge payer in areas such as Grampian, which last year had a dramatic increase in its water charges? When we see debts being written off for the English water boards, there is obviously anxiety among high water users, such as the food-processing and paper-making industries, that they cannot compete on level terms with similar industries south of the border because of the water charges that they must pay.

There is a general desire for harmonisation. However, I stress that the non-domestic water rate for premises that are not connected to a metered water supply is levied in Scotland according to a proportion of the net annual value. That proportion is determined by the water authority and ranges from 100 per cent. to 12·5 per cent., depending on the type of premises. In general, we are seeking harmonisation.

Does the Minister accept that there is a feeling that the charges have been held low in anticipation of the regional elections? Does he further accept that one of the anomalies of this matter, as with the poll tax, is that the charges are not income related? If the Secretary of State is looking to remove anomalies, what proposals is he putting before the Cabinet to make the poll tax and the water charge tax income related?

I must stress to the hon. Gentleman again that water charges in Scotland are much lower than those south of the border. I consider that that is a satisfactory position. There are many more difficulties with business rate payers who have to pay more in Scotland. We are trying to harmonise as quickly as practicable.

Income is taken into account in the rebate system, and a considerable number of people are exempt from water charges. Full-time students are entitled to an 80 per cent. rebate. People are exempt from personal community water charges if their premises do not receive a public water supply. Any person listed in the schedule to the Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc. (Scotland) Act 1987 who is exempt from the personal community charge is also exempt from the community water charge. That includes the severely mentally impaired and long-term and residential care home patients.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the water charge is use related and that if we could relate any form of local authority expenditure to use, we would not need a standard licence fee for the use of local authority services, which is the equity that the community charge represents?

I thank that I can explain to my hon. and learned Friend that water charges depend on a variety of factors such as the cost of treating and supplying the water, the amount of pumping facilities, the level of capital debt and the method of apportionment between classes of consumer. All those matters can vary among local authorities in Scotland and in fact do.

Glasgow-East Kilbride Railway

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has received the submission from the East Kilbride development corporation and ScotRail to build a new railway station in East Kilbride and to extend the Glasgow-East Kilbride railway; and if he will make a statement.

The submission from East Kilbride development corporation and ScotRail on the building of a new railway station in East Kilbride has been received and is being considered. I expect to announce a decision soon.

Is the Minister aware that the long delay in reaching a decision on this matter is causing serious anxiety and uncertainty to householders who will lose their homes if the development goes ahead? Will he explain why it has taken so long to reach a decision on what is, after all, a relatively straightforward matter of extending a railway line a few hundred yards and building a modern up-to-date railway station to service the needs of commuters to and from East Kilbride? Will he give me an assurance that the answer that he has just given means that we shall receive a decision from the Minister in a matter of weeks, not of long, weary months?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that "soon" means soon. It is important that such decisions are carefully considered in the normal way. That includes an economic appraisal. That matter is in hand and I hope to set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest in early course.

Will my hon. Friend confirm the importance of the Glasgow-East Kilbride line to the people of Eastwood? Will he congratulate Strathclyde region on putting new rolling stock on the Glasgow-East Kilbride line and the Glasgow-Barrhead line? On the point about reopening stations raised by the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram), is not it encouraging that several new railway stations are being opened in the Greater Glasgow area—one example being Dumbreck, which is only five minutes from where I live?

I agree with my hon. Friend. As a result of a grant from my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State of about £30 million two years ago, there has been a substantial expansion and improvement in the rolling stock in Strathclyde. Last year about five stations were opened or reopened. This year 10 stations are scheduled to be reopened in the Strathclyde area, including Dumbreck, to which my hon. Friend referred.

Housing

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what initiatives he intends to take with respect to solving Scotland's housing problem.

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what initiatives he intends to take with respect to solving Scotland's housing problem.

My right hon. and learned Friend and I are developing a rural housing strategy for Scotland through Scottish Homes and we have asked Scottish Homes to give priority to the problem of homelessness.

As 100,000 Scots are now on council house waiting lists and homelessness is even higher in Scotland than it is in England and Wales, when will an emergency programme for Scottish housing be set up to match the necessary programme for homelessness in London and the south-east of England? The south of England has 30 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom and obtains 50 per cent. of mortgage tax relief —an additional subsidy to the subsidy junkies of the south-east of £1,000 million. When will that spending be matched by investment in public sector housing in Scotland and elsewhere?

We have increased the net capital allocations at the final stage by about £40 million above the previous year. A huge number of houses—more than 205,000—has been built in the past 10 years. The public sector built almost 60,000. We believe that the housing associations have an important role in catering for people with special needs and that the district councils are taking their statutory responsibilities seriously. Although each year there may be 25,000 or more applications from homeless people, the district councils are finding them places to stay.

The district councils are operating extremely effectively. We believe that Scottish Homes should give priority to assisting them in that purpose.

How can the Minister reconcile his answers at parliamentary questions in October last year, when he made it clear that the Scottish Development Department did not keep estimates of homelessness or overcrowding in Scotland, with a letter circulated in May this year to all Scottish Members in which he attacked Shelter, an organisation which does an effective job combating homelessness, for keeping such records? Will he stop talking about net capital allocations and instead talk about gross capital allocations? Last year the budget in Scotland was slashed by £51 million and in areas such as Moray that meant a reduction of 15 per cent. When will he take action to reduce and eradicate this social injustice?

As for gross capital allocations, if district councils, especially in cities, processed right-to-buy applications more speedily, there would be millions of pounds extra to spend on Government housing this year. A few days ago I visited the hon. Lady's district council and saw the housing there. It is making good progress with the projects before it. The rural housing strategy, on which we hope to reach a decision on the way forward certainly by the autumn, will be of considerable assistance in helping to bring back into use many of the 130,000 empty houses in Scotland. I hope that that will have relevance in many rural areas, including that of the hon. Lady.

How many council houses in Scotland are unfit to live in because of dampness and other problems? When does the Minister expect every family in Scotland to have a house fit to live in at the current rate of financial contributions from the Government?

We think that it is a serious problem that about 48,000 houses have rising damp and condensation, but it is for the district councils concerned, which know their stock best, to choose the priorities for dealing with these matters. Many are completing local house condition surveys, which we welcome.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem in Scotland is that too much housing is in the public sector? Is he aware that Scotland has a lower percentage of owner-occupation than Czechoslovakia? What are the Government doing to speed the privatisation of the housing stock in Scotland?

Approaching 200,000 public sector tenants have purchased their homes in Scotland and we have a rents-to-mortgages trial scheme. As the Prime Minister said, if that scheme proves itself, it will be extended.

If the Minister genuinely believes that local authorities are dealing with the problem of the 28,000 homeless people in Scotland, what is his answer to the leaders of the housing committees of Scotland's four largest housing authorities who yesterday claimed that there was a major housing crisis because the Government had cut £51 million in real terms of capital allocations? When will he recognise the housing crisis, shed his prejudices against council housing and give local authorities the money that they need to stop thousands of our fellow Scots suffering from poor housing conditions?

Cities such as Edinburgh and Dundee, and to a lesser extent Glasgow, are taking almost a year to process council house sales. If that period is reduced to seven and a half months, extra money will be available to those cities to spend on their public sector stock. It is necessary to bring back into use as many as possible of the 128,000 to 130,000 vacant houses in Scotland.

Industrial Development

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of the Scottish Development Agency to discuss industrial development in Scotland.

I last met the chairman of the Scottish Development Agency on 24 March at a dinner for UK-Japan 2000, and my hon. Friend the Minister of State met him on 4 June.

Has the Secretary of State examined the distribution throughout Scotland of inward investment projects during the past five years, and has he reached the same conclusion as have the people and council of Cumnock and Doon Valley—that Locate in Scotland seems entirely unaware of the substantial advantages for inward investment of locating in a district that has higher unemployment, as the Secretary of State knows well, than in any travel-to-work area in mainland Britain? Will he ensure that Locate in Scotland is aware of the advantages of locating inward investment in Cumnock and Doon Valley? Will he encourage Locate in Scotland to try to make companies from the overheated south-east of England that want to find alternative locations aware of the quality of life that they will find in Cumnock and Doon Valley?

Naturally we are anxious that, wherever possible, inward investment should go to the areas with the most unemployment, but at the end of the day it is for the companies to decide their locations. If the Government were to seek to direct them, they would not come to Scotland in the first place. Ayrshire has been relatively fortunate for example, with the Caledonian paper factory which, although located in Irvine, produces jobs throughout Ayrshire. I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Scottish Development Agency, the regional economic development committee and the enterprise trusts have had substantial success in the past few years in bringing industry to Scotland? Will he say by how much unemployment has fallen in Scotland in each of the past three years?

My hon. Friend is correct. Unemployment in Scotland has fallen in the past three years at a higher rate than at any other time in recorded history. It is interesting that Scottish unemployment is now below the level of that of many European Community countries.

May I tell the Secretary of State about the real problem facing areas such as Cumnock and Clydesdale? The town of Larkhall in my constituency is next to the A74. It contains massive industrial sites, but has not been properly served by Locate in Scotland because it seems not to know of it, and it does not let anyone concerned with inward investment know about the area. We expect Locate in Scotland to address the problem, and to represent all communities instead of all parts of Scotland.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that Locate in Scotland has no bias in favour of or against any area. As for the area about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned, the improvement of the A74 to motorway status will make the area even more attractive to investment than it has been in the past.

Employment Training

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the estimated total number of employment training entrants in 1990–91.

Resources available for employment training in Scotland in 1990–91 have been based on an estimate of an average of 28,500 people in training at any one time. Over 55,000 entered employment training in 1989–90.

Why is Scotland suffering such savage cuts in its training budget? Will the Minister confirm that £30 million has been cut from the youth training budget for the next two years? Has he had time to assess the impact of yesterday's announcement of 400 redundancies by Astra Training Services Ltd? That will impact on Scottish skill centres.

We do not need lectures from the Labour party on cutting training programmes. We are spending about six times as much in cash terms on training as did the Labour Government in their last year. We spend a higher proportion of our gross domestic product on training than do the United States, Germany or Japan. In the past four years, expenditure on training has risen by 60 per cent. at a time when unemployment has fallen by 50 per cent. Of course, it makes sense to adjust our training programmes and budgets to take account of falling unemployment and a reduced client group for those programmes. That is the right way to manage the programmes.

During the past few months, the Minister has been in the unfortunate position of having to announce cuts imposed by the Department of Employment on employment training, the technical and vocational education initiative, youth training and the European social fund. The Minister has claimed that next year the Scottish Office will be in control of training. Is that true? Next year, will we be able to control those factors from within Scotland, or will we continue to have Department of Employment cock-ups?

Last year, the average number of people in employment training schemes was 26,000. For 1990–91 we are budgeting for an estimated 28,500, which is an increase in employment training. The training schemes are increasingly successful, to the embarrassment and discomfort of the Labour party, which has tried to undermine and oppose them.

As to the control of training policies, the hon. Gentleman knows that by merging the Training Agency with the SDA to create Scottish Enterprise and devolving control of the policies in detail to the local enterprise companies, we shall achieve the kind of flexibility and diversity within the overall training programme on a United Kingdom basis that will lead to better training and better job opportunities throughout Scotland.

National Health Service

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met representatives of the British Medical Association to discuss the current circumstances of the National Health Service in Scotland.

Does the Minister recall that members of the BMA along with all the people of Cambuslang and Rutherglen rejected the plan by Greater Glasgow health board to scrap a new hospital and to turn over care of the elderly to Takare, a private company? Despite boasts that this was a good financial deal for the public, the health board is refusing to reveal details of the weekly costs of the beds that will be paid to Takare. Will the Minister instruct the health board to reveal the true cost to the public of privatising care of the elderly?

The hon. Gentleman has the distinction of being one of the few Members of Parliament to come here to complain that a new facility for the elderly will be built in his constituency, faster than would otherwise have been the case, which will provide 180 beds at a lower cost to the Health Service. I hope that every one of his constituents is aware of his position because he is putting his own political dogma before the interests of patient care.