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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 175: debated on Wednesday 4 July 1990

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British Steel


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to meet the chairman of British Steel to discuss the future of the Scottish steel industry; and if he will make a statement.

I would expect to meet the chairman of British Steel whenever appropriate. I have asked the Scottish Development Agency to carry out an analysis of the prospects for the steel industry in Scotland.

If the Secretary of State does not think that this is an appropriate time, he never will. When he meets the chairman of British Steel, will he inform him that the letter that he sent to the right hon. and learned Gentleman is not only an insult, but the biggest cover-up since Watergate? Did the right hon. learned Gentleman notice that it contained not only no guarantee for Ravenscraig beyond 1994, but no guarantee for the Clydesdale and Imperial works beyond the end of this week?

Will the Secretary of State give an undertaking that Scottish Office resources and the resources of the Department of Trade and Industry will be fully at the disposal of the SDA, and that its study will cover all three plants and be based not only on present market demand, but on the potential market demand for Scottish steel plant if the necessary investment that should have been made was made now?

The correspondence that I have had with Sir Robert Scholey was about Ravenscraig, so it is not surprising that there was no reference to Clydesdale or to other plants. I can confirm that the study that I have asked the SDA to carry out is not limited to any one company or plant; it is on the future prospects for the steel industry in Scotland as a whole.

May I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his staunch efforts on behalf of British Steel? Does he accept that the letter from the chairman of British Steel is quite unacceptable and that we expect much better from the chairman and directors of British Steel in terms of looking after Scotland, the community and the work force? I hope that he will pursue the chairman for as long as necessary to obtain satisfactory answers.

I note my hon. Friend's remarks. We have told Sir Robert Scholey that we hope that he will reconsider his unwillingness to date to meet the representatives of the work force at Ravenscraig. It appears that it would be of mutual benefit not only for them to hear his point of view, but for Sir Robert to hear what they have to say about the plant in which they work.

Does the Secretary of State accept Sir Gordon Borrie's comment that he had hoped that the exchanges between the Government and the chairman of British Steel would have yielded information on whether a reference of that decision to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission was justified? As Sir Robert Scholey, not surprisingly, has not given that information, will the Secretary of State make it clear to British Steel that if it is not prepared to operate the plant in Scotland, the Government will invoke the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's powers to ensure that genuine competition operates, that Britain's trade interests are brought into effect and that, if necessary, the assets of British Steel in Scotland will be offered to somebody who is prepared to invest in the monopoly?

I am not certain that the hon. Gentleman has thought out the implications of what he said. Taken literally, it would imply that the Liberal Democrat party wishes to denationlise the assets of British Steel. The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that, as the Government do not own those assets—it is not Labour party policy to reacquire them—short of reacquisition there is no way in which a company can be obliged to dispose of its facilities.

On competition law, the hon. Gentleman must accept that it is for the Director General of Fair Trading to make a recommendation to Monopolies and Mergers Commission. That is the correct procedure of which, I think, the hon. Gentleman is well aware.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his powerful fight for Scottish steel. Has he clarified whether, in the event of the Ravenscraig closure, British Steel would automatically offer the plant for sale at a negotiated price, or whether the chairman of British Steel would reserve the right not to sell the plant if he considered that a sale would be contrary to the commercial interests of British Steel?

The position of British Steel is as described in its prospectus, in which British Steel said that, in the event of there being no future requirements for its steel-making assets in Scotland, it would be prepared to make them available to an alternative private sector purchaser. Sir Robert said in his letter to me that British Steel intends to continue to honour that commitment.

Does the Secretary of State agree that British Steel's assumptions of the likely market demand for steel are far too pessimistic, given the expected increased demand in Europe and the need to roll back the formidable import penetration in our domestic market? There is great confusion about exactly what the Secretary of State is doing to test the assumptions and the rather doubtful theories that are included in Sir Robert Scholey's letters. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us specifically what steps he is taking? Does he remember that one of the things that might have been thought simple and that he urged on Sir Robert Scholey—the need for Sir Robert to meet the work force and explain the situation—is specifically repudiated in a letter on the basis that it undermines local management? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman prepared to take such a brush-off?

I have already made it clear to Sir Robert that I feel that it is unfortunate that he is not prepared to meet his work force, and I have urged him to reconsider. In considering the prospects for the steel industry in Scotland, the SDA will wish to take account of any information on likely market trends that is available to it. We would expect that information to be taken into account when the SDA's analysis is prepared and presented.



To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list the hospitals currently under consideration for closure by Scottish health boards.

There are no closure submissions before Ministers at the moment, but I am aware that several boards are proposing rationalisation of their services.

Does not that answer show how out of touch the Secretary of State is with Scottish health boards? He does not know that several hospitals are earmarked for panic closure in the Lothian region, part of which he represents. The health board has earmarked for closure Longmore hospital in my constituency. Will he ensure that the board gives him sufficient evidence—which I understand is not available—to show that the breast cancer unit and geriatric facilities can be transferred to another unit, thereby preserving the quality of service? The experts tell me, as they told the Minister of State when he visited the hospital, that that is impossible.

If the hon. Gentleman had done the House the courtesy of listening to my reply, he would have heard me say that there are no closure submissions before Ministers at the moment. I am as aware as the hon. Gentleman of the proposals before Lothian health board. It will be for the health board, once it has considered the responses to its proposals, to decide whether to make closure recommendations to the Scottish Office.

I am well aware of the extremely valuable work of the breast cancer unit at Longmore hospital. Much of the discussion is about whether that valuable work could continue if the breast cancer unit transferred to an alternative location. Obviously, we would expect the health board to consider that issue carefully before making any recommendations.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say anything about Mearnskirk hospital in my constituency where Greater Glasgow health board is proposing, perfectly sensibly, the withdrawal of acute beds? My right hon. and learned Friend will soon receive a submission from Eastwood district council. Will he assure us that it will be fully considered, along with the other proposals being made by Greater Glasgow health board, to ensure that this important site is retained, at least in part, within the health service and is developed in accordance with the wishes and needs of the people of Eastwood?

I am aware of such proposals. I am happy to give my hon. Friend the assurance that they will be carefully considered to ascertain whether the objectives of my hon. Friend and Eastwood district council can be accommodated by the health service.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the size of Clydesdale constituency—almost 800 sq m with a population of 100,000. I wrote to him last week informing him of Lanarkshire health board's decision to build a new hospital at Wishaw and to upgrade its hospital at Hairmyres. It is threatening to remove acute medical services in the Clydesdale constituency. Will the Secretary of State assure the House and my constituents that he will not agree to a diminution in acute medical provision in Clydesdale?

I note carefully what the hon. Gentleman said. The health board has not put any proposals to the Scottish Home and Health Department, but, if and when any recommendations are put, I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall take into account his points and those made by others who have commented on the proposals.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the reason for many of the proposed closures is the chronic underfunding of the health service in Scotland? In the past six years, has not the Scottish Office underfunded pay awards to the health boards, excluding Glasgow, by £150 million? In Lothian alone, underfunding of pay awards amounts to £20 million—almost the exact amount that Lothian will have to make in cuts. Does not that show that Lothian's problems are due not to mismanagement but to underfunding and that, therefore, the Secretary of State will be responsible for any cuts or closures in Lothian.

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. In the current year, the Government have made available an extra £158 million, or 8.3 per cent., over the previous provision to meet priorities, including out-of-line pay and price increases. The allowances made for pay have been exactly the same for Lothian as for other health boards in Scotland. The fact that Lothian is facing a cash crisis does not arise from provision for pay, which is equal for all health boards in Scotland.

Hospice, Linlithgow


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has received in relation to the future of elderly and day-care patients at the 800-year-old hospice at Linlithgow.

No proposals have been received concerning St. Michael's hospital, Linlithgow.

In view of the dismay of the 13,500 people who signed the petition, would not it be wise at least for the Scottish Office to discover the legal and historic advice about church land being disposed of when it was given, in this case in 1138, for the maintenance of the ministry, the fabric of the church and the care of the poor? In order to avoid a cause celebre in the Court of Session, should not Scottish Office lawyers consult scholars on the legal position before the idea of disposal proceeds further? Should not the idea be nipped in the bud?

I understand that Lothian health board's examination of the matter is at an early stage, but I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that his points will be drawn to the attention of the board. I shall ask it carefully to examine the legal position on the feu disposition in respect of that hospital. I am grateful to him for drawing it to our attention.

Health Service, Tayside


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to visit Tayside to discuss the health service.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no plans to do so at the present time.

If the Minister decides to visit Tayside, instead of using his ministerial car will he perhaps get on his mountain bike, with which he featured in the newspapers on Sunday? While he is taking his time over the Ochil hills to Tayside, will he consider the £1.8 million underfunding of pay awards in Tayside which blows the myth that privatisation will be good for the health service? Have not any savings from privatisation been more than offset by the underfunding of pay awards?

It is a fact that what the hon. Gentleman calls privatisation—which is competitive tendering—has made £80 million available for patient care in the health service. It is also a fact that the Labour party has committed itself to abolishing competitive tendering, in the unlikely event of its taking office. We have had no explanation of where the extra £80 million would come from. The health service has never been better funded. Funding has increased by more than one third in real terms, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the service development that has taken place in Tayside.

When my hon. Friend meets Tayside health board will he draw its attention to the fact that it is probably the finest health board offering the best value services anywhere in the country? Nevertheless, there are causes for concern. For instance, Stracathro hospital is under threat. Moreover, it is to be hoped that the self-governing hospital proposals in Forfar which are very welcome will now be seen to be producing results.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the exciting proposals for self-governing status which have come from the doctors in Forfar, and to what has been achieved in Tayside. In common with other health boards, those in Scotland are now treating far more patients and making significant inroads into reducing waiting lists and waiting times.

Does the Minister understand the widespread anger about, and opposition to, Tayside health board's rundown, closure and withdrawal of hospital services throughout Angus? How can the Minister justify the closure of specialist services at Arbroath infirmary, and the possible closure or rundown of maternity services in Arbroath, Brechin, Forfar and Montrose and of orthopaedic, general and emergency services at Stracathro, as well as the closure of perfectly viable laundry services at Sunnyside hospital? Is that what the Tories mean when they say that the NHS is safe in their hands?

If the hon. Gentleman arranges to come and see me to discuss these matters—which he has not done—I shall explain the background to them. The hon. Gentleman asked me to justify the changes. The reason is perfectly simple: the medical advice that we are receiving in respect of maternity services suggests that they should be provided where the full range of services provided by a district general hospital are available. A balance has to be struck between meeting the needs of rural areas and meeting the requirements of patient safety. The hon. Gentleman will have to take a more sophisticated approach to these matters if he wishes to continue to represent the interests of his constituents.

Will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the future of Stracathro hospital, which serves part of my constituency and where many of my constituents are members of staff? Will he acknowledge that many of us would find it intolerable if the services of that hospital were so whittled away that there was no general hospital between Aberdeen and Dundee?

The reforms that we propose for the health service will mean that hospitals will be able to attract funds according to the patients whom they treat and the services that they provide. To hospitals such as Stracathro—which I know well because it is in the area where I was brought up—the White Paper proposals and particularly the option of self-governing status offer new opportunities.



To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what has been the level of central Government grants in support of housing expenditure in Ross and Cromarty district in the last three years for which figures are available.

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

In the three years to 31 March 1990, Ross and Cromarty district council received housing support grant in excess of £11.2 million, and croft housing grants of more than £294,000 were approved.

Is the Minister aware that last year the district council carried out a major housing survey of its needs and projected expenditure and that it is estimated that a rolling programme of £60 million will be needed next year for new build, to improve council stock and to bring private sector housing up from below tolerable standard to reasonable standard? Given the number of representations that both the district council and I are receiving from many communities in Ross and Cromarty—and from many housing schemes in individual communities—will not the Minister have to look again at his spending allocations for the district authority? There is no way that it will meet over the next five years the obvious needs that have been identified by the council.

I welcomed the opportunity to meet the hon. Gentleman's district council last summer and I am aware of the problems that he mentioned. The amount of housing below tolerable standard has been reduced by more than half over the past 10 years, but I am aware of the extent of such housing in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. A rural housing study is being carried out in depth, almost from Muckle Flugga to Mull of Kintyre, and we hope to come forward with a concerted strategy in Scotland by September.

Part of the answer may lie in the extent to which the private sector will come in to support local authorities and Scottish Homes in partnership projects.

Inverclyde Enterprise Zone


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the operation of the Inverclyde enterprise zone.

The Inverclyde enterprise zone was established in 1989 and has a 10-year life span. It is, therefore, much too soon to assess its impact on the local economy.

However, in addition to the 870 jobs already created or planned, I am pleased to be able to inform the House that the American electronics company Sorensen Ltd. yesterday announced the takeover and expansion of Domain Power Ltd. which is expected to create a further 400 new jobs in Inverclyde.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I think that I was expressing hope when I referred to question 14.

The enterprise zone suffers from large areas of dereliction. Where those areas surround listed buildings, there is a major problem of persuading investors to come into the zone. I refer to the engine works in Arthur street in Greenock and the Gourock ropeworks in Port Glasgow. I wish that the Minister would show a smidgen of the concern about and commitment to the community that were shown by his grandfather, who built the engine works in Arthur street. With regard to the Gourock ropeworks, is the Minister aware that the people of Port Glasgow deserve a quick solution to the problems of dereliction surrounding that fine listed building? Let us have some action on that building and the area of dereliction surrounding it.

It is more likely to have been my great-grandfather. The buildings to which the hon. Gentleman referred are being given close attention, but it is primarily a matter for their owners. The Inverclyde enterprise zone has some geographical difficulties in that it is split among 11 sites covering 274 acres. However, the SDA has already spent or committed £14.3 million towards clearance of dereliction and factory construction. That is a reflection of the way in which it is approaching the matter. The hon. Gentleman might like to know that unemployment in his constituency has fallen by more than in any other constituency in Scotland, bar one, over the past three years. That is a reflection of the success of the Government's policies in the Inverclyde area.

Does my hon. Friend accept that no other enterprise zone has greater prospects, contains finer buildings or a finer work force, is on the Clyde or has such magnificent prospects? My hon. Friend should encourage Scottish Enterprise to promote that enterprise zone with vigour because no place could be more vigorously successful than that part of Scotland.

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right. The enterprise zones in different parts of Scotland are one aspect of the Government's policies to promote the development of enterprise and the regeneration of the economy. The overall success of those policies is revealed by the fact that the fall in unemployment over the past three years has been the biggest single fall for the past 40 years. The dramatic improvement in employment is a reflection of the success of our policies.

Is the Minister aware that the recent decision to allow the Braehead development, which is a monstrous plan, to go ahead will do irreparable damage to the Inverclyde enterprise zone and to nearly every industrial development in Renfrewshire? Will the Minister make a statement about that? I have never seen such a stupid planning decision, particularly when we consider that Inverclyde district council, Renfrew district council and Strathclyde council are totally opposed to the abominable Braehead plan.

The hon. Gentleman will know that that decision was given the closest and most careful consideration. However, there are a number of encouraging initiatives in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, including those at Ferguslie park and Renfrew and the developments at Linwood. Unemployment has fallen in the hon. Gentleman's constituency by more than 2,200 in the past three and a half years.

Order. Mention has been made of question No. 14, which leads me to the conclusion that hon. Members would like to get on to that question. There is interest also in question No. 11, so we should now move on rather more rapidly.

Floods, Tay Valley


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many applications he has received for grants following the floods in the Tay valley; and how many have been for funds to restore the environmental damage caused by the floods.

Thirty-two applications have been received from farmers in Tayside for the repair of elevated floodbanks at the enhanced rates of grant announced on 28 February 1990. A further five applications have been received for arterial drainage and ditching operations at ordinary rates.

With regard to environmental damage, three farmers within the Breadalbane environmentally sensitive area have notified damage to grant-aided trees and fences.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that the worst break in the Tay was at Braecock farm and that a temporary repair was carried out there? Downstream, farmers and the village of Capath will be at risk unless the colossal damage that was done at Braecock is properly, fully and adequately repaired. What proposals does my hon. Friend have and what hope can he give people downstream of Braecock that the work will be carried out properly?

I am glad to reassure my hon. Friend that the three downstream owners who are to carry out repairs to flood banks will also qualify for enhanced grants. The Scottish Office is ready to pay 60 per cent. of grant, and approval of the repair proposals will be given immediately when the owners are ready to accept the contractor's tender.

Is the Minister aware that Labour-controlled Tayside regional council convened a meeting last month with representatives of local authorities and farming, environmental and other bodies? That meeting called on the Scottish Office to pay £25,000 for a feasibility study to solve the flood damage problem. Will the Minister take this opportunity to say that he will respond positively to that call and pay the £25,000?

The hon. Gentleman is correct that a meeting took place on 21 June. A steering group was formed to appoint an independent consultant and oversee the hydrology study. We have offered to fund it up to a quarter, to a maximum of £10,000, which we consider generous, taking all the circumstances into account.

Local Government Finance


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the implications of the Government's review of the poll tax for local authorities in Scotland.

When the Secretary of State meets local authorities in Edinburgh on Friday, will he inform them at least that there will be no capping of local authorities in Scotland? How will he react to their fears, published in the press today, that the poll tax is likely to increase by 25 per cent. in Scotland in the oncoming year? [Interruption.] If Conservative Members wish to intervene, I am happy for them to do so. How will the Secretary of State react to the farcical protests by the hon. and learned Member for Perth and Kinross (Sir N. Fairbairn) and the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), who say that they want to use the Act of Union, which the Government have abrogated by imposing unfair taxes on Scotland?

I have already said that in the current financial year it is not necessary to take selective action. Indeed, evidence suggests that Scottish local authorities have had lower levels of expenditure than local authorities south of the border, no doubt because accountability is beginning to apply.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question and the various predictions by local authorities about possible levels of community charge next year, I have noted that one of the points that they have raised is that a number of people are seeking to evade their legal responsibilities and refusing to pay their taxes. The hon. Gentleman might help his constituents by paying his lawful taxes so that law-abiding members of the public do not suffer.

My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the generosity of support for Scottish local authorities by taxpayers thoughout the United Kingdom. What steps is he taking to ensure that the revenue support grant that those authorities receive is spent as efficiently as possible?

My hon. Friend is corrrect that it is in the public interest to ensure that local authorities are properly accountable to their electorates for the way in which they use available resources. One of the great advantages of the community charge as compared with the old rating system is that it ensures far greater accountability, because all adults who benefit from local services now contribute towards their cost.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the only sensible outcome, which is desired by the vast majority of Scottish people, is the total abolition of the poll tax? As he may find that slightly difficult, will he in the meanwhile demand from the review committee the abolition of the 20 per cent. minimum payment rule, backdated to 1 April 1989, an improvement in the rebate system, again backdated to 1 April 1989, and a vast improvement in revenue support grant next year to ensure that the odious burden of warrant sales is not imposed on thousands of our fellow Scots and that Scottish local authorities will not be forced to increase the poll tax by a massive amount and to cut services and jobs next year?

I note what the hon. Gentleman says. The House and the public will be even more interested to know whether the Labour party is continuing to insist on imposing a roof tax in Scotland, which has been rejected not only by the Leader of the Opposition for England and Wales, but by the vast majority of people in Scotland. We understand the Labour party's embarrassement and sensitivity on that issue, but Opposition Members must realise that it will not go away.

Scottish Assembly


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received about the setting up of an assembly in Edinburgh with legislative powers.

In the past six months, five letters in support of an assembly have been received.

If my noble Friend believes, as I do, that an assembly in Edinburgh would weaken and injure the Union, why are Government supporting an assembly in Belfast?

There is no contradiction in the Government's approach. It reflects the different circumstances in Scotland and in Northern Ireland. A Scottish assembly would be a taxation nightmare in Scotland and as the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) has estimated, it will lead to an extra 25 p in the pound income tax for the Scots.

Does the Minister accept that if we had an Administration subject to democratic accountability in Scotland, matters such as the threatened closure of 640 hospital beds in Lothian region would receive at least as much attention as the solicitors' monopoly is currently receiving? Does he further accept that such exposure to democratic accountability would be an invigorating experience, not just for Ministers, but for Scottish Office civil servants?

I think that the hon. Gentleman can represent his constituents perfectly well in the House of Commons—[HON. MEMBERS: "And you."] Indeed, I am one of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. The hon. Gentleman can represent his constituents in the House on health matters.

On the hon. Gentleman's point about devolution, I believe that
"We will get guaranteed disharmony, disunity, conflict and competition throughout the whole of Britain. The dominant issue of politics in Britain will be the jealousies of region against region, nation against nation, argument against argument. That will be very bad news for Britain".
Those are not my words—they are the words of the Leader of the Opposition a few years ago, and they are as valid today as they were when he uttered them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that all Scottish taxpayers should be made aware that a Labour-inspired Scottish assembly would increase taxation beyond belief, as was confirmed by the Leader of the Opposition who said that only one in 15 taxpayers would face an increase—that is, the Scots?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. If Scotland were funded at the average United Kingdom per capita level, Scotland would have been £2.7 billion worse off in 1989–90. To fund the balance in Scotland and to maintain expenditure in Scotland at its current level would require an additional 25p in the pound.

Does the Minister agree that it would be helpful to have a bit less heat and a bit more light? Does he further agree that the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill is an excellent example of the need for a Scottish Assembly because treatment of it has been superficial and inadequate? When the Scottish Constitutional Convention concludes, will the Minister undertake to meet it to try to work out a reasonable and sensible answer to all this?

The answer is no. The Scottish Constitutional Convention is unrepresentative of Scotland—[Interruption.] The Scottish National party is not taking part. The hon. Gentleman must await my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State's statement on the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

Scottish Office Expenditure


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received recently about Scottish Office expenditure.

I receive regular representations on all aspects of Scottish Office business, including expenditure.

What representations has my right hon. and learned Friend received from the Opposition about their plans to spend up to £50 billion extra across the United Kingdom, to have a Scottish assembly with tax-raising powers, which would cost Scottish taxpayers something like 25p in the pound, and a roof tax? Has he received any explanation from the Labour party in Scotland about how it proposes to pay for that?

One of the most worrying aspects of the Opposition's proposals is that not only do they propose substantial increases—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is about the Minister's answer—

One of the most worrying aspects about any proposals for new taxation is that they would impose an even greater burden of taxation on Scotland than on the rest of the United Kingdom. That would clearly be the consequence of the Labour party's proposals.

Will the Secretary of State consider adding one new item of Scottish Office expenditure in the light of yesterday's announcement by the Department of Transport of a motorway link up the A1 as far as Newcastle? Does he recognise that the press statement saying that it would help Scotland added insult to injury? Nothing is more damaging to Scotland than creating the same impression on the east coast of England as exists on the west coast—that the motorway network stops at the border. Will the Secretary of State urgently review his road programme?

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that not only are we proposing significant improvements to the A1 in Scotland, but we are making more dramatic and radical progress in transforming the A74 into a motorway on the west coast of Scotland than any previous Government ever contemplated. We have begun construction work on the total reconstruction of the A74 to full motorway status, making quicker progress than has ever been known in the roads programme of any Transport Department in the United Kingdom.

In spite of that answer, does the Minister accept that the absence of Scottish Office expenditure and of any visible strategy on fast, modern communications between Scotland and the south has become a major liability for the Scottish economy? In addition to the lack of decision on the A1, how on earth can he defend the total absence of a Scottish Office strategy in the past three years to ensure fast, direct links between Scotland and the channel tunnel? Will not that be seen with hindsight as one of the great omissions by the Scottish Office in the past three years, with tremendous long-term implications for the Scottish economy?

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman knows what he is talking about. For the first time, we have plans to link the motorway network of central Scotland with the motorway network in the south. In addition, we have the electrification of the east coast railway line between central Scotland and London. We have also had a more remarkable improvement in civil aviation between central Scotland and London. We have also had a more remarkable improvement in civil aviation between central Scotland and south than at any time in our history.

British Steel


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to assess the arguments advanced by British Steel for the closure of the Ravenscraig strip mill, as outlined in the recent letter to him from the chairman of British Steel.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply given a few moments ago by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid).

Does the Minister agree that it is immoral for a man who has just received a 79 per cent. pay rise to show such a lack of concern at the social impact of his decisions? Sir Robert Scholey has made it clear that to protect his private monopoly, British Steel will not sell the strip mill to a competitor. Will the Minister urge his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to insist that that statement be referred to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and use the threat of resignation to make sure that that happens?

Sir Robert Scholey has a responsibility to his company and to the steel industry, not only in Scotland. In regard to the other points in the hon. Gentleman's question, Sir Robert pointed out in his letter to my right hon. and learned Friend that there are no fewer than 15 major competitors to British Steel within Europe alone. Competition is a matter for the Director General of Fair Trading.

May I refer the Minister to what the Secretary of State said about the analysis that he has instructed the Scottish Development Agency to carry out? Is he aware that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave the impression that clear and precise directions were given to the Scottish Development Agency? But I have a letter from Mr. Scott, the chief executive, who says that

"the precise terms of reference of the remit for the study have yet to be settled."
Exactly what will the Scottish Office involvement be in setting the final terms of reference? Will the Minister give an assurance that the terms of reference will include the feasibility of an independent Scottish steel industry and that the preparation of a business plan to attract investment for that objective will not be ruled out?

The terms of reference for the SDA were deliberately made extremely broad. They included the analysis of prospects for the steel industry, the identification of opportunities for it and the ability to assist the Government in the discharge of our responsibilities in relation to any possible contraction of the sector. The kind of detail to which the hon. Gentleman refers is a matter for the SDA to resolve when it decides how to embark on its study.

Has the Secretary of State made a study of the impact on the local economy if Ravenscraig were to close, and if not, why not?

The hon. Lady will know that there are a number of initiatives in the Lanarkshire area, and have been for a number of years—in particular, the Monklands initiative, which is a major initiative. In addition, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State invited consideration of the possible impact of the hot strip mill closure on the area. Any other initiative that may be necessary will arise as a result of the SDA report or other developments, and will be reacted to at the appropriate time.

May I put it to my hon. Friend arid to his right hon. and learned Friend that they are giving their English colleagues a great deal of concern? We can understand the interest in what happens in Scotland, but we are talking about part of the British steel industry. My hon. Friends are concerned with Scotland, but, as British Ministers in a British Government, will they take account not only of Scottish interests—which, from an English point of view, they seem to be fighting for far too strongly—but of British interests as well?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I, and our other colleagues, are Ministers in a territorial Department. It would be surprising if we did not direct our attention primarily to the interests of that territory.

Cervical Cancer


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the latest figures for cervical cancer (a) patients and (b) deaths in Scotland.

The latest figures show 443 patients suffering from cervical cancer and, regrettably, 191 deaths.

Does the Minister agree that that, and the Government's lack of interest, is appalling? Recently, the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) made an appeal regarding the 2,000 needless cervical cancer deaths nationally. The Government have been repeatedly asked by family practitioner committees and cytologists to spend an extra £20 million. Had they done so, we might have saved the 2,000 people who have died from this invasive carcinoma. Why do the Government have such a shocking and appalling record, and when will they spend the £20 million that we need to achieve 90 per cent. protection?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the figures for loss of life through cervical cancer are disturbing. I also agree that many of these deaths are preventable. In 90 per cent. of the cases where cervical cancer has been diagnosed, there has been no screening. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would recognise that the Government have put in place a call and recall system for cervical screening, the aim of which is to ensure that all women between the ages of 20 and 60 are screened before 1993, on the basis of regular screening at least once every five years. In some health boards, screening will take place every three years. A screening programme is in hand and it is extremely important that women in Scotland respond to invitations to take part. In addition, the new GP contract gives incentives to doctors to provide screening services for all their patients. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that.

Higher Education


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about trends in the numbers in higher education since 1979.

I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the number of full-time students attending higher education in Scotland rose by almost 25 per cent. between 1979 and 1989, to nearly 85,000. 1 hope that this excellent trend will continue.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those statistics underline the Government's commitment to the future of higher education in Scotland, and does he join me in welcoming the decision by Stirling university to double its intake in the near future?

My hon. Friend is an authority on Scottish universities, having attended St. Andrews and graduated there, and having been a lecturer at Aberdeen and Glasgow universities. I am delighted to be able to reassure him that the Government are committed to continuing further expansion, even above the dramatic levels of improvement that we have achieved in the past few years.

Despite the Minister's statement, fewer than 10 per cent. of working-class youngsters get to university in Scotland, while failures from the English public school system receive first preference at certain universities, especially Edinburgh. What does the Minister intend to do about that?

Access to university must depend on academic qualifications. I am delighted to say that more than one in five school leavers in Scotland now enter higher education, which is much higher than the United Kingdom average. The Government are committed to increasing the population in higher education, and hope that it will be as high as 30 per cent. of the relevant population in six years' time.

Did my hon. Friend notice the recent remarks of Lord Chilver, the chairman of the Universities Funding Council, commending the broadly based Scottish education system? Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that that system, based on a four-year honours course, puts additional financial burdens not only on the universities but on the students? Will he ensure that resources are made available in both sectors, to maintain our excellent record in terms of the additional number of students that we have gained in the Scottish universities?

Lord Chilver certainly had some kind and complimentary things to say about the quality of Scottish higher education. The fact that in Scotland a substantially higher proportion of the relevant population enters higher education shows that the four-year degree course is no disincentive. Overall expenditure this year is up by 11 per cent. on last year. That is the highest-ever level of student awards, and reflects the Government's commitment.

When it is cheaper to produce a graduate in this country than in almost any other western European country, the United States or Japan, why are the Government intent on cost cutting and standard cutting? Why is the Minister satisfied with one in five of our youngsters' receiving higher education, when in Japan, Sweden, America, Canada, France and Denmark the proportion is already one in two?

The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the fact that we have the most generous support for students in the western world. Eighty per cent. of full-time students receive support in this country, compared with 12 per cent. in Japan. The expansion that we are achieving was not achieved by the Labour party. I am delighted that we are moving down this road, and I am sure that the Scottish economy will benefit from it.

Law Reform


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the proposed changes set out in part II of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill; and if he will make a statement.

I have received a number of representations. I am pleased to be able to report to the House that, as a result of informal discussions with the Law Society of Scotland in the past few weeks we have today reached agreement with regard to the proposals in part II of the Bill.

The Law Society of Scotland has informed us that it is able to accept that the solicitors' monopoly with regard to conveyancing should cease. The Government for their part accept that the provisions in the Bill allowing persons other than solicitors to provide conveyancing services should be limited to independent qualified conveyancers. The provisions will not apply to the financial institutions.

The Government and the Law Society of Scotland have also agreed that the provisions in the Bill with regard to multi-disciplinary practices should be made the same for solicitors as for advocates. There are also some detailed points in part II which I have recently discussed with the Law Society of Scotland and am considering.

On that basis, the Law Society of Scotland has informed us that it is able to welcome part II of the Bill and is anxious to see it appear on the statute book. I am also able to inform the House that the Scottish Consumer Council has indicated that it, too, welcomes the agreement that has been reached.

I would like to thank the Law Society of Scotland for the constructive and helpful discussions that we have had, which have enabled us to reach this amicable agreement.

That is clearly a major statement—and a major retreat—by the Secretary of State. I am sure that he made it freely, and without any undue pressure. Substantial concessions have been made, however, and it is important to add that that is a tribute to the pressure applied by the Labour Members on the Committee. There are two outstanding questions that the Secretary of State has not addressed. Clearly, there is major concern about the other important measures in the Bill being rushed through in Committee, and about there being insufficient time to deal with them. Perhaps the Secretary of State can advise the House what proposals he has for the other parts of the Bill.

Finally, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that the agreement that he has announced today is accepted by all his own Back Benchers, as we have had the privilege of watching Tory Members and Ministers fighting like ferrets in a sack about the proposals?

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first question, I can say without fear of contradiction that the views of Opposition Members on the Committee considering the Bill have been of less significance than usual in terms of the development of policy. As for the attitude of my hon. Friends, they must speak for themselves, as they often do, and I have no doubt that they will continue to do so. As for the other parts of the Bill, I am sure that the House as a whole hopes that there will be an opportunity to consider properly in due course the licensing and other provisions that hon. Members believe are important.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend most warmly for his announcement and for the agreement that he has reached with the Law Society of Scotland. I thank him also for listening to his own Back Benchers' representations that in future rural solicitors should be able to compete fairly and play their full part in the community.

I thank my hon. Friend. From my point of view, one of the most important questions that we addressed was the need to end the solicitors' monopoly over conveyancing. I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for agreeing to that proposition.

In preparing for the humiliating climbdown that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has just announced, did he have time to reflect on what he said in 1976—that a separate Scottish legal system needed a separate Scottish Parliament? Have not the tawdry and undignified scenes in the Corridor outside the Committee Room demonstrated the Government's inadequacy and inability to get their business through the House?

I can understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman, who is a distinguished lawyer, is disappointed about the Government's ability to reach agreement with the Law Society of Scotland on matters of this kind. I appreciate that he may have other interests in that respect. However, we have demonstrated that with good will it is possible to reach agreement. That is something which I am delighted to report to the House.

I warmly and wholeheartedly congratulate my right hon. and learned Gentleman on his achievement. He has done a great service to the people of Scotland, the institutions of Scotland and the integrity of the House. Does he agree with me that, given good will and some reasonable compromises on the later parts of the Bill, there is every reason to believe that the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill can be enacted in this Session of Parliament, having been considered at reasonable hours?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It will assist the Committee to know that with regard to that part of the Bill which has given rise to the greatest public interest both the Law Society of Scotland and the Scottish Consumer Council, which have occasionally adopted different views on certain matters, have enthusiastically endorsed the proposals?

The Bill began its life in the other House in February 1990. It has taken the Secretary of State from February to the beginning of July to discuss and enter into an agreement with the Law Society on part II. How on earth does he expect the Committee to discuss, in the three weeks that remain before the recess, something on which it has taken him six months to reach agreement with the Law Society of Scotland? Does the Secretary of State also accept that although he has been a member of the Committee since it began its work, the words that he has expressed at the Dispatch Box are the first words that he has uttered on the Bill as he left everything to his junior colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)? Does he appreciate that there is simply not enough time to get the Bill through its Committee stage?

I am happy to pay a fulsome tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), who has done a superb job in Committee. It is only in the recent past that the Law Society of Scotland has felt able to state its willingness to agree to the proposals that have been put before the House today. I pay tribute to the Law Society for its constructive contribution.

Although I recognise that the Secretary of State and his colleagues must feel very humiliated by this eleventh-hour decision, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House what discussions he has had with the Department of Trade and Industry about competition policy, given that that is included in the Bill? The problems did not become apparent in February, but when the Green Paper was published last year clear antagonism was expressed. Why has it taken so long to recognise that the Bill is totally unrepresentative of the wishes of the legal profession, particularly in Scotland?

The hon. Lady must appreciate that it is not just the interests of any one profession that the Government must take into account. We discussed competition policy with the relevant Departments arid I am delighted that the opportunities for greater choice are preserved on the basis of what I reported to the House today.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for the agreement that he has reached with the Law Society of Scotland. I remind him of Churchill's words

"In War, resolution; in defeat"—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman should ask a question, and please not give us reminiscences.

I will take the point of order, but it may affect the time available to the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman.

Does this matter appertain to order during questions? If so, please make the point of order brief.

I wish to raise a point of order which is germane to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill.

If it requires my immediate attention, I will take the point of order now, but we are in the middle of Question Time and I want to call the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman.

It is important that you take my point of order now, Mr. Speaker. You have observed what happened in the course of Question Time. A specific question was used by the Secretary of State to make what was, in essence, a statement and not an answer to the question. The whole issue is certainly important and germane to Scotland. You know what happened yesterday in the House, when there was an endeavour by the Government and by Ministers to abuse the procedures of the House and to abuse Parliament. I ask you to do your duty Mr. Speaker, as it is your responsibility to protect Back Benchers—

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman please now sit down? I trust that I speak for the whole House when I say that I hope that there will not be a repetition of the disgraceful scenes that we had yesterday—[Interruption.] I am protecting Back Benchers.

The question was on the Order Paper and the Minister has a right to give his answer to that question. I wish to call Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, and then the Oppositon Front-Bench spokesman, to conclude the discussion on the question. I will not hear the hon. Gentleman any more.

No. On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name him."] It is—

I should be very reluctant to take severe action in the case of such a senior Member. I order the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat.

In that case, under the powers granted me, I reluctantly say that if the hon. Gentleman does not obey the Chair, I must ask him to leave the Chamber. I am reluctant to do so.

I will leave the Chamber, but something will have to be done about the chairmanship of the House.

I hope that we shall not have a repetition of the scenes that we had yesterday. I receive a great deal of post and representations from members of the general public. The reputation of the House is in the hands of its Members. It is up to us inside this Chamber to set a good example to those outside.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I will continue the question that I was asking. It was in response to a question from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) who asked whether the Secretary of State would make a statement. Given good will and consideration of the requirements of the people of Scotland and its legal services, will my right hon. and learned Friend accept my congratulations on what he has done today and remember the words, "so far, so good"?

This is not a precedent because we are now past the end of Question Time, but, in view of the point of order, which should not have been raised then, I call the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman.

My criticism of the fact that there is no statement is directed at the Secretary of State for Scotland. I entirely understand that you. Mr. Speaker, had to call question No. 14. It is unfortunate that an important announcement has been compressed into this unsatisfactory parliamentary space. However, I welcome what the Secretary of State has said as far as it goes. It is a remarkable retreat, although I fear that it is not a matter of intellectual conversion but has been forced on the Secretary of State by his total isolation and the evident lack of confidence in his competence among Conservative Back Benchers.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the effect of what he has said is that the banks, building societies and larger institutions will not now take on conveyancing work? Will he note our strong view that, however valuable the lobbying of the Law Society of Scotland may have been, the matter should not be decided by a deal on that basis but is an issue for the Standing Committee and, ultimately, the House? I did not like the way in which the Secretary of State suggested that the matter was settled. Is he not, in effect, accepting the amendments to part II of the Bill which have been standing in my name and those of my hon. Friends for some time?

Finally, I have an important question. Do I understand from what the Secretary of State has said that he does not intend to proceed to a guillotine and expects to avoid that? That must imply that large sections of parts III and IV of the Bill will have to be dropped if progress is to be made.

I am certainly prepared, as my hon. Friends will be, to be constructive, but we must make it clear from the beginning that the only way to save the Bill from the chaos created by the Secretary of State's mismanagement is to enter into talks and to drop the parts that are not agreed in the rest of the measure.

The hon. Gentleman, in questioning my right to make the remarks that I did today, should reflect that the question of his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) was to ask me to make a statement. The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to complain that that is exactly what I have done. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is quite correct that the Standing Committee and, ultimately, the House will determine whether the proposals in the Bill are acceptable, but they will wish to take into account the views of outside organisations which have taken an interest in the issue. The hon. Gentleman is also correct in saying that a number of the amendments that he has put down relate to matters to which I referred earlier. That will be relevant at a later stage. Of course I understand the hon. Gentleman's interest in discussing these matters with other members of the Committee. The use of the guillotine is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House. However, in the light of progress and of the agreements to which I referred earlier, I think that the matter has been overtaken by events.

These matters should be dealt with through the usual channels and not decided by the Law Society of Scotland.

Order. I will take points of order later, in their usual place. I call Mr. Secretary Clarke.