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Volume 181: debated on Wednesday 21 November 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many meetings have been held by the group of officials from his Department, the Department of Transport and highway authorities to monitor improvements to the A1.

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

The Al steering group, which I have set up, had its first meeting on 21 June. A working group of officials has also been established and has met twice.

Will those groups be able to consider the terrible accidents that result from head-on collisions on the lethal single-carriageway sections of the Al and will they consider the strategic importance of the Great North road to Scotland and northern England? Will the Minister keep an open mind to the evidence that they may provide of the need for a dual carriageway along the whole length of the Al?

I do not rule out the possibility of a dual carriageway in the long term, but, as traffic levels are only between 5,000 and 7,000 on the road between Dunbar and Newcastle, I cannot give an indication for the short term. That would mean diverting resources from more pressing road projects elsewhere in Scotland. We expect to proceed with positive action on accident remedial schemes and with five schemes for overtaking opportunities on the road between Dunbar and Newcastle. In addition, we are spending about £50 million on a dual carriageway to Haddington and eventually to Dunbar.

Given the interest shown in my hon. Friend's document, "Roads South of Edinburgh", will he bear in mind the priorities mentioned by many people regarding the A7 between Hawick and Carlisle? What improvements may take place on that road in the near future?

I have had the experience of being driven by my hon. Friend at considerable speed on that road and I saw for myself its problems and the necessity for overtaking opportunities. We shall produce a publicity document stating exactly what improvements will be in the programme in the near future. We see that as an important project for roads south of Hawick and down to the borders.

Does the Minister accept that having only one cross-border carriageway at Gretna is insufficient to carry the growing road traffic between Scotland and England? The Secretary of State for Transport has accepted the logic of a dual carriageway link with the AI route. Will the Minister announce a date for the dualling of the dangerously congested stretch between Musselburgh and Dunbar?

Work is being carried out urgently on the statutory procedures for the dual carriageway to Haddington. About five times as much traffic uses the A74 as the Al. As Edinburgh is west of Carlisle, we must be realistic about present traffic flows and apply our resources accordingly.

Brussels Office


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans for establishing an office of his Department in Brussels.

Representation of Government Departments through the United Kingdom permanent representation—UKREP—is working very satisfactorily and we have no proposals for change.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Scottish Constitutional Convention's proposals take account of the rapid development taking place in the European Community? Is he aware that those proposals recognise that it is of paramount importance not only for Scotland to have its own Parliament but for the voice of Scotland to have a direct input into the bureaucracy of Brussels as well as through the Council of Ministers? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that Europe will develop through direct representation and that if Scotland does not have that access, it will lose out compared with, for example, the länder of Germany?

Scotland already has that representation. For example, only yesterday, the Scottish Fisheries Minister attended the Council of Ministers. Staff of the Scottish Office are seconded to the United Kingdom permanent representation in Brussels. There is every opportunity for Scotland's interests to be taken fully into account.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that Scotland has gained substantially from grants from European Community sources? Will he outline to the House how Scotland's benefits compare with those of other Community countries?

An interesting example is access to the regional fund. Through the work of the United Kingdom Government, Scotland has received six times more money than has Denmark, although Denmark has separate representation in the Community. That is an example of how the United Kingdom representation has worked extremely successfully in securing resources for Scotland.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that, with the imminent demise of the Prime Minister, the time is ripe and the atmosphere is right to set up effective Scottish representation in Brussels? Does he recognise the success of the efforts of the German states, which are lobbying so powerfully for their interests by combining the strength of a major European power with the status of a devolved unit of government representing a distinctive indentity? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really saying that the German states have got it totally wrong and that we can afford to stay out of the business of getting our voice heard in that way in Brussels? Is he really ruling out the possibility of a direct Scottish mission or presence in Brussels?

Comparisons with the German Lander are spurious and irrelevant. The Lander have no representation in the federal German Government and therefore have no other opportunity of having their voices heard. Through the office of the Secretary of State, Scotland is directly involved in the United Kingdom representation in Brussels. If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of that, he clearly has not done his homework properly. No Lander Minister can attend the Council of Ministers on behalf of the federal German Government, so that comparison is of little relevance to the hon. Gentleman's point.

Empty Council Housing


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the most recent figure for empty local authority housing for up to six months, 12 months, and over one year, respectively; if he will list the local authorities concerned; and if he will make a statement.

On the basis of information returned to the Scottish Development Department, some 26,000 local authority houses are estimated to have been vacant at the end of March 1990.

Information on the length of vacancies is not collected in the form requested, but a table giving details by authority of vacant houses available for reletting has been placed in the House Library.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving those figures. Is not it a scandal that there are so many empty houses in Scotland? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the worst examples are in Labour-controlled councils, which should put their houses in order and put the homeless first, rather than dogma?

My hon. Friend has a point. About 40 per cent. of the empty houses in Scotland are used for decanting, but a large proportion of the remaining 60 per cent. could be brought back into use. In view of the homelessness problems and the particular problems of roofnessness, I particularly request local authorities that have this statutory responsibility to take great care to ensure that they have available sufficient emergency accommodation. We have taken the initiative of making sure that authorities will qualify for housing support grant if they have a deficit on their hostel provision.

Is the Minister aware that many of those houses are riddled with rising and penetrating damp or severe condensation, that many more require urgent and costly repairs and that almost all have no form of central heating? As neither the Minister nor his hon. Friends would for a moment be prepared to subject their own families to such appalling conditions, they should either shut up with their loathsome hypocrisy or put up, by voting for the restoration of the housing support grant and thereby allowing councils to tackle those appalling housing conditions.

I might have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman were it not for the fact that the Labour Government had an infinitely worse record. In the five years of the last Labour Government there was a real terms reduction in capital spending of 36 per cent., whereas we have increased it in real terms by 7·4 per cent. and this year are spending £923 million on local authority, new town and Scottish Homes stock. That amounts to very considerable funding.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that Labour-controlled local authorities in Scotland cannot manage their housing stock is an argument for reducing local authority housing stock by means of the right to buy, rather than increasing it, as Opposition Members suggest?

My hon. Friend is right. If local authorities have empty stock which, for one reason or another, they cannot fill, it should be brought back into use. If the local authorities cannot do that themselves, they should involve housing associations or developers. When that has been done, local people have usually gone back to live in the houses.

River Cart (Flooding)


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what special financial provision he is prepared to make in order to avoid a repetition of the evacuation of homes and damage to property caused by the recent flooding of the River Cart in Glasgow.

Regional and islands councils have powers under the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961 to carry out works to protect against flooding. Grants are already available towards the eligible costs of approved flood prevention schemes.

That response displays a cynical disregard for my constituents in Langside and Battlefield, who last month once again suffered disruption from flooding. The Minister knows that Strathclyde regional council is being forced to cut £60 million from its budget over the next two years and that it cannot even meet its statutory obligations, never mind perform discretionary activities such as flood prevention. Why will not the Minister agree to exceptional grant assistance being made available to deal with this urgent matter?

I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that White Cart water would certainly be carefully considered if Strathclyde included such a proposal in its plan. The hon. Gentleman gives a misleading picture of Strathclyde's resources. At the end of the present three-year period, the council's budget for water and sewerage will have risen to £71 million—58 per cent. higher than it was last year. It is up to the regional council to decide whether to give the scheme high priority.

Hill Farming


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to complete the autumn review of hill farming; and if he will make a statement.


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet the Scottish National Farmers Union to discuss the future of hill farming in Scotland.

I met the farmers' unions on 23 October to discuss the economic situation in the hills and uplands. We are considering the arrangements that will apply to next year's hill livestock compensatory allowance scheme and will announce details as soon as possible.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that farmers in the hill and upland areas have suffered a particularly rough autumn, with a big fall in prices for store lambs and calves? Does he agree that that has serious implications not only for the livelihood of those who work in the area but for the viability of communities in such areas? Will he consider increasing the HLCAs to the maximum allowed, thereby compensating for the heavy losses incurred in this important sector of Scottish agriculture?

My right hon. Friend is certainly correct that, both this year and last, there have been significant falls in income, for the reasons to which he referred, although that follows two years during which there were considerable improvements. This is a difficult situation and that is why Agriculture Ministers are considering the whole question of the level of HLCAs.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the latest estimates suggest that net farm income has dropped by 20 to 30 per cent. in the current financial year? That constitutes a crisis in the upland farming sector in Scotland. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman heed carefully the words of the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and use the HLCA payments, which he has it in his gift to increase by £20 for a hill cow and £4 for a hill ewe? That help is essential to keep farming communities in Scotland alive.

Farm incomes in the sector fluctuate significantly from year to year. In 1987–88 and 1988–89, they rose in real terms by 45 per cent. and 16 per cent. respectively. But I do not seek to conceal from the hon. Gentleman or the House the fact that, for the reasons that he suggested, this is a difficult year.

May I support the call by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) to increase the allowances to the maximum? Does the Secretary of State accept that 25 per cent. of any increase would be funded by the EEC and only the remainder would have to be met by the United Kingdom Government? Such an increase is necessary to help sustain the morale of communities that are facing considerable hardship.

The hon. Gentleman is correct about the funding arrangements. I acknowledge that the health and viability of the hill farming sector are important not only to those who work in the sector but to the viability of the rural economy as a whole, especially in Scotland where more than 90 per cent. of land is in the less-favoured areas.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, although it has been a particularly difficult autumn in the livestock sector, the maximum increase in the suckler cow subsidy was a substantial help, as was the advance payment of sheep premium? However, will my right hon. and learned Friend do everything possible to help hill farmers, bearing in mind, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said, their importance to the rural community?

My hon. Friend is correct. More than £20 million has been made available to specialist beef producers under the suckler cow premium. The increase to which my hon. Friend referred was worth £1·6 million to farmers in Scotland, where over 90 per cent. of the suckler herd is located in less-favoured areas.

Scottish Constitutional Convention


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has received any representations concerning the Scottish Constitutional Convention; and if he will make a statement.

In the past six months one letter about the Scottish Constitutional Convention has been received. It was from the National Union of Mineworkers.

The Minister may agree that devolution on a purely Scottish basis might be divisive within the kingdom. However, does he also accept that the existence of the convention shows that there is a wide desire for reform which is not confined solely to Scotland? Will he consider reforming the government of the regions on a United Kingdom basis as that would have the advantage of enabling the Government to apply within the United Kingdom the principle of subsidiarity to which they appeal in their relationship with Europe? It would allow an effective devolution of powers to local authorities and regions.

Surely it is a strength of our present constitutional arrangements that, with separate territorial departments, the Government can address the different problems of each part of the United Kingdom in different ways. It is not for me to comment on the position in Northern Ireland. However, in Scotland the interest in devolution is considerably exaggerated by those who support it. During the general election the interest in devolution rose from 2 per cent. at the beginning of the campaign to 4 per cent. at the end.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the convention has concluded its deliberations, we can now look at the details? As with all constitutional change, Parliament takes an interest when the details are known. Any proposals that cannot and will not go through this Parliament because they do not receive a majority in the House have no hope of being adopted. Any hon. Member who supports such proposals is either supporting fraud or is fraudulent.

My hon. Friend puts the point extremely well. Unfortunately, the constitutional convention cannot be the source of detailed information, as it has ducked every serious question relating to devolution. It has not addressed the fact that Scotland would suffer considerably as a result of the creation of separate tax-raising powers. Its additional funding from the United Kingdom Parliament would be in considerable jeopardy.

Will the Minister tell me—I promise faithfully that I will not breathe a word of it to anyone else—whether, on this day of all days, he does not wish that he could get the same unity in the Tory party as we managed to get in the convention?

It is no sort of unity when every single question of any substance is ducked, ignored or swept under the carpet. The so-called constitutional convention is operating on a bogus prospectus and has totally failed to address the real issues.

Does my hon. Friend think that the people of Scotland would benefit from having the United Kingdom broken up and that their economy would benefit from it? Would they be better off with a United Kingdom Parliament? What would happen to the Labour party, whose Front Bench is stuffed with Scotsmen speaking on English matters?

My hon. Friend makes an absolutely vital point. If one were to invite the opinion of business men in Scotland, the almost unanimous view would be that a Scottish assembly with tax-raising powers would be immensely damaging to Scotland economically.

Textiles And Knitwear


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received concerning the future of the textile and knitwear industry in Scotland.

My right hon. and learned Friend and I have received representations from a number of hon. Members, textile firms and organisations representing the textile and knitwear industry in Scotland.

I am grateful to the Minister. Is he aware that, our having lost 4,000 mining jobs, the textile, clothing and knitwear sector is now the main employer in my constituency? Will he therefore make representations to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ensure that the multi-fibre arrangement continues for at least 10 years and that the general agreement on tariffs and trade rules are strengthened? If that does not happen, imports from newly industrialised countries which are not poor will devastate the industry and create unemployment in my constituency, which has the highest unemployment of any travel-to-work area in Great Britain, as the Minister of State should know only too well.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the textiles negotiating group is in almost continuous session at present. It is hoped that the present round of GATT talks will end in Brussels in the first week of December. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the MFA imposes a costly barrier with significant costs, running into billions of pounds, for consumers in this country. That sort of distortion to trade is not in the best interests of any industry in the long run. It is important that the industry should become competitive and efficient, use the best technology and modern methods and improve quality and design, thus securing strong new markets.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that I have sent petitions signed by the whole work force of major textile companies in my constituency—Strathclyde Knitwear and Queen of Scots Hosiery—appealing to me to try to get the Tory Government to maintain the multi-fibre arrangement. I am sure also that the Minister of State knows that I have received a very distressing letter from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry saying that on no account will the Government maintain the multi-fibre arrangement. Unless the Scottish Office and Scottish Ministers speak up for Scottish hosiery and knitwear workers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said, we shall see the complete demise of the industry and greater unemployment in our area. If the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot get the Government to change their policy, should not they resign and stand up for Scotland?

Of course, it is important that in the new GATT arrangements provisions have to be strengthened to ensure that Scottish industry is protected from dumping and surging and that markets in developing countries are opened up to our producers. Scottish circumstances have been taken fully into account in pursuing the negotiations.

How can we rely on the sincerity of the Opposition, with their tears for the textile industry, when they have cancelled an important debate this week on the textile industry in which I was hoping to speak? Indeed, many people intended to come to the House of Commons to lobby Members. The Opposition also cancelled a debate on the Scottish economy. When they are sincere, I shall believe them.

My hon. Friend makes a very persuasive point. What the industry should be doing—the best companies are doing it—is pursuing a positive approach to find new markets. I saw that when I met the Scottish Wool Publicity Council on my recent visit to Japan and when I met the National Wool Textile Export Corporation in Korea.



To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding the current state of agriculture in Scotland.

I have received various representations on aspects of Scottish agriculture. In particular, I met the president of the Scottish National Farmers Union on 23 October to discuss the circumstances of farmers in the hills and uplands in the light of the weakness in the livestock markets this autumn.

The Secretary of State has heard concern about the hill farmers in earlier questions. Does he accept that those fears are compounded by the proposed cut in commodity support? Can he confirm that, despite the cut in production support, there remains a surplus of income which could he channelled to support other than for production? If that is so, what constructive proposals have the Government put forward to ensure that that money is channelled towards the family farms, particularly in the upland areas?

If, as I assume, the hon. Gentleman is referring to the 30 per cent. reduction in subsidies as part of the GATT negotiating process, he will be aware that part of the Council of Ministers announcement was that the total level of support to the less-favoured areas of the Community would not be reduced. As 90 per cent. of Scotland is in the less-favoured area category, that was an encouraging announcement. Precise details on how that might be achieved are being considered by the Commission and we expect proposals in the relatively near future.

Does the Minister agree with the statement by the president of the NFU that Scottish agriculture faces its worst crisis since the 1930s and that he fears a spate of bankruptcies in the hill and upland sector? What input, direct or otherwise, did the Minister and his Department have in this week's GATT talks between Ray MacSharry and the American Agriculture Secretary? If there was none, will he tell us why?

Obviously, we would not be directly involved in talks between the American Secretary of State and a European Commissioner—in the circumstances, it would be rather odd if we were. The British Government are very much involved in the GATT negotiations and played a prominent part in the conclusions reached by the Council of Ministers a few weeks ago.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, on top of all the other problems pressing in on agricultural and rural Scotland, none is more serious than the disproportionate impact of the poll tax? Does he accept that rural Scotland and urban Scotland are waiting to hear where he stands on that great issue? Is he to be a born-again Heseltini, demanding an instant review, or will he cling to the sinking ship and maintain the Thatcherite line that nothing is wrong? Will he tell rural and urban Scotland today where he stands on the poll tax?

If the hon. Gentleman was interested in the subject and concerned about the plight of those in the rural sector, particularly the farming community, and the impact of local government taxation, he should do what he can to change his party's policy to end the derating of agricultural land. He must know perfectly well that the introduction of a farmers tax by a Labour Government would devastate the rural economy. He might, therefore, explain to the House why the Labour party is proposing, in Scotland alone, such a penal form of taxation directed against Scotland's farming community.

While my right hon. and learned Friend is listening to the NFU's representations, will he bear in mind that the raspberry and soft fruit industry in the Tayside area is an essential part of the Tayside economy and that the dumping which has taken place over the years from eastern Europe, particularly of pulp, has had an impact? When the Council of Europe is looking into such matters will my right hon. and learned Friend remind it of the importance of raspberries to Tayside?

Yes, I am aware that that industry makes a significant and important contribution to the well-being of the rural areas of Tayside. It is important, particularly when access to EC markets from countries outside the Community is being considered, that the impact of any such proposals on those who depend on that product for their livelihood should be fully taken into account. My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to that matter.



To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on Government policy on the devolution of powers of legislation to Scotland.

The Government believe that the present constitutional arrangements affecting powers of legislation meet Scotland's needs.

As some 25 per cent. of the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland support political nationalism, and as a constitutional reform is topical subject in both territories, why do the Government discourage inter-party dialogue through the convention in Scotland while at the same time encouraging inter-party dialogue in Northern Ireland? Why do the Government, on the subject of constitutional reform, as on so many other subjects, have two different policies?

I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be one of the first to welcome the fact that the Government can make special provision for the needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland, just as I welcome the fact that the Government can make special provision for the needs and circumstances of Scotland. I must make it clear to him that the self-styled constitutional convention is not a body to which the Government give any credence or authority. It was set up by several interested individuals who believe that they can thereby advance a cause—a cause with which I do not have a great deal of sympathy.

The Minister might have had more impact in the House if he or any of his colleagues had attended even one meeting of the constitutional convention. They were invited to each and every one. The Minister must know that the convention reports on its deliberations next Friday. That will give him and his colleagues, in particular the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), a last opportunity to save face. Do they intend to attend to see whether they support the views agreed on by the convention or do they propose any other alternative before next Friday?

It is almost impossible either to agree or disagree with the views expressed by a body which has failed to address any of the significant points of the debate on devolution. For example, does the convention believe that Scotland should continue to have a Secretary of State in the Cabinet? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Does it consider that the number of Members of Parliament should remain the same? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] Does it believe that it is possible for Scotland to continue to enjoy additional funding from the United Kingdom while it has power to raise taxation at home? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes."] How does the hon. Gentleman justify asking English Members of Parliament to vote for higher spending on specific areas in Scotland when taxation would be voted through a Scottish assembly to establish a different position?

Does my hon. Friend agree that the type of home rule suggested by the convention is home rule paid for by English and Welsh taxpayers?

In so far as the views of the convention are comprehensible, that is certainly one interpretation.

Does the Minister agree that it is a contradiction for the Government to claim to oppose centralisation in the European Community when they have been the most centralising Government in the United Kingdom since the war?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman at all. The Government believe in decentralisation, but we decentralise in reality rather than through posturing legislative proposals.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, while Opposition Members may believe that they could get away with a form of devolution for Scotland paid for by English and Welsh taxpayers, it would be simply intolerable? Does he agree that the only possible financial outcome of the convention's proposals would be a far higher level of taxation in Scotland than in England and Wales?

That is absolutely right and I am certain that once that fact is brought home to the people of Scotland they will change their view radically and withdraw any support that they might give to a separate Scottish assembly. Certainly, the business community is well aware of the considerable danger that a separate Scottish assembly would create in Scotland.

Will the Minister reflect that what we really desire in Scotland is legislation based on the sovereignty of the Scottish people? Is he aware that if we had that, we would not have the poll tax, because it rests on the sovereignty of the British Parliament? Currently the British Parliament does not have a majority in favour of the poll tax. Therefore, the people of Scotland would be perfectly entitled, having expressed their views on the legislation in 1987, to stop paying the poll tax now.

The hon. Gentleman is living in cloud cuckoo land. The last time questions of devolution were put to the test in Scotland was in the referendum of 1978. It was clear that only about a third of the Scottish people supported devolution.

One area in which we already have separate powers of legislation is education. Can the Minister clarify his legislative plans for student unions? Last Friday at 3.25 pm a statement was issued by the Minister of State which mentioned separate legislation on this for Scotland, but at 4.40 pm that was withdrawn and deemed not to exist. On Sunday, a handwritten statement——

It is to do with separate legislation for Scotland, which is what the question is about, Mr. Speaker.

On Sunday a handwritten note came out omitting any reference to legislation or freedom of speech. What are the Minister's plans for legislation on student unions, and why was the initial statement withdrawn?

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman tables a question to that effect it will be answered at the appropriate time. As he is aware, the present question is not about students or the issue that he raises. As the hon. Gentleman raised the matter of education, however, he may like to know that education is one of many areas in which we in Scotland enjoy substantially higher central Government expenditure than is made south of the border—a situation which would not continue in the event of a tax-raising Scottish assembly being created.

Lothian Health Board


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will estimate the net projected savings of Lothian health board in the current financial year.

Action taken by the board should bring monthly income and expenditure into balance by the end of the year.

Does the Minister of State not realise that he and his vile policies have brought Lothian health board to the brink of bankruptcy and that this year it faces cuts of £12 million on top of ward and hospital closures? Why is it that, during all the years of stewardship by the Secretary of State, during which he has appointed Tory party hacks to preside over Lothian health board, there has been a financial crisis every year? When will the Minister of State encourage his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to sack Lothian health board and resign?

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should seek to attack the record of Lothian health board in that way. As he knows, there is a new hospital—St. John's—in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). There has been a series of new developments in Lothian and the board has rationalised services. During the period to which the hon. Gentleman refers, more patients than ever before have been treated and the board has employed more staff who have seen their salaries go up by more in real terms. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman seeks to decry the record of the board and to demoralise the staff and those who are doing so well in Lothian as a result of the board's work.

The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with the statistics that he trots out. He must be very well aware that, virtually without exception, the medical profession in Edinburgh has said that if Lothian health board persists with its cuts—not savings—it will harm hospital care in the Lothian region. The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that.

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the proposals by Lothian health board for rationalisation of services and bringing expenditure into line with income had the support of the area medical committee and the medical profession. That is because people recognise that the proposed closures are part of proposals to bring modern facilities and modern hospitals into being. That must be right if the board is to be able to meet the demands of the next century and beyond.

Does the Minister agree that part of the reason for Lothian being in trouble is that it had to spend a large amount of money on the bureaucracy to set up the internal market? By April 1991, it will have wasted £50 million on bureaucracy to set up a market which is unworkable, extremely expensive and intensely bureaucratic. Would not it be better to spend that £50 million on patient care rather than on employing more bureaucrats to push more paper around?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to local management. He is arguing that decisions should be taken at local level, that patients should be allowed to go where they can best obtain treatment and that resources should follow them. That is an internal market. The independent consultants' report showed clearly that Lothian health board's problems had arisen from financial mismanagement. If anything, that vindicates our determination to ensure proper accountability of funds in the health service.

Family Housing


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what additional resources he estimates are required by district councils to meet the needs of families who are overcrowded, living in damp houses or are homeless.

If authorities consider that additional resources are required they should include their expenditure proposals in the housing capital programmes which are due to be submitted to the Scottish Office this month.

Is the Minister aware that that is a totally unsatisfactory answer? Anyone who read the special article in The Scotsman on Saturday—I take it that the Minister did—about homelessness and various other problems could not conceivably accept that answer as a suitable reply to a crisis that especially faces our young people. Does he recall from that article that homelessness among the 16 and 17-year-old group has increased 85 per cent. in the city of Edinburgh and 95 per cent. in the city of Glasgow? It is now estimated that 10,000 young people are sleeping rough on the streets of Scotland in places known as cardboard cities. Will the Minister take emergency action this side of Christmas to bring those people into shelter?

Obviously I agree that it is unacceptable for a single person to be without a roof, That is why I strongly recommend local authorities to state whether they have emergency accommodation available. The Hamish Allan centre in Glasgow, part of which the hon. Gentleman represents, does that job extremely well. Local authorities, together with housing associations, should negotiate nomination rights. I know that Scottish Homes is now actively encouraging housing associations to provide short-term, furnished bedsit accommodation. Local authorities should look at all the possibilities as well as bringing back into use the many vacant houses in their possession.

On homelessness costs, we have come forward with an initiative to make certain that, in future, local authority costs will be borne by the taxpayers at large—the community charge payers—so that they no longer fall on rent payers alone.

Is not it a disgrace that on the streets of the capital of Scotland people are sleeping rough every night of the year? Will the Minister heed the fact that only a quarter of Edinburgh's total housing stock is in the public sector? Unless we expand the total amount of cheap, low-cost housing, the plight of the homeless is likely to get worse. We should pay attention to that problem throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

A considerable proportion of Edinburgh's public housing stock is empty—more than 7 per cent., which is much higher than that of other Scottish cities. I strongly urge Edinburgh to do everything in its power to bring more of that stock into operation. Nobody should be without a roof and I believe that Edinburgh will take its statutory responsibilities seriously. If it needs more hostels, it should make that absolutely clear in the housing plan that it submits and which we shall consider urgently and sympathetically as soon as we receive it.

Is not there something sickening about a Minister who ensures that his own family are properly housed but shows such callous disregard for the misery caused by homelessness and by dampness and overcrowding in housing? Those problems are a direct result of the cuts that the Government have imposed on housing in the past 10 years.

Is not it true that total expenditure by central Government for local government housing has been cut by more than 50 per cent? Is not it also true that the Minister voted for his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)? If so, does he agree with his right hon. Friend that a much more interventionist policy should be pursued in terms of housing?

I voted for the Prime Minister— [Interruption.] Like Monty, she is a victory-winning general.

Since 1979 we have increased resources by 7 per cent., whereas the Labour party reduced resources by no less than 36 per cent. I do not believe that it is necessarily appropriate to take responsibilities away from local authorities. Given that they take those responsibilities seriously, we shall respond quickly and effectively to their requests in relation to housing.

Natural Heritage Agency


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what resources will be allocated to the planned natural heritage agency; and if he will list its responsibilities.

Scottish Natural Heritage is expected to come into being only in 1992 and therefore decisions on resources for it will be taken in next year's public expenditure survey.

Does the Minister accept that hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about certain species of Scottish wildlife? Would he care to tell the House whether he thinks that 1992 might be too late to take care of members of one particular species in Scotland, who have been observed pecking each other to death and only last night tearing their hair out? I refer, of course, to Scottish Conservative Members.

More seriously, may I ask whether the Minister will ensure that, when Scottish Natural Heritage is formed, it will be composed of people who genuinely care for the countryside and are genuinely representative and not merely of yet more Tory placemen?

The hon. Lady has made a serious point. I accept that the people concerned must be experts in their field, and that they must form a representative cross-section. I have no doubt that, led by Magnus Magnusson—who is exceptional and outstanding in this regard—a much stronger environmental body will prove to be wholly in Scotland's interests.

As my hon. Friend must be aware, there is a series of proposals, including his own, concerning the future status of an important natural environment area—the Cairngorm mountains. As there is certainly no unanimity on the question of the structure that should evolve for it, would not it be better to leave decisions about the matter until Scottish Natural Heritage is established as the best body to assess and conclude what the status of that important part of Scotland should be?

I have considerable sympathy with what my right hon. Friend has said. World heritage listing is a great honour for an area, but it creates strong expectations that management will be in harmony with the status of the area, which is one of the most beautiful in Europe.

Steel Industry


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the Government's strategy for the steel industry in Scotland.

The Scottish Development Agency has, at my request, commissioned consultants to look at the prospects for the steel industry in Scotland. British Steel has undertaken to consider carefully any commercial opportunities which may be identified by the study.

I am tempted to ask the Secretary of State, "Is that it?" That does not seem much of a strategy to the thousands of workers and families who will be affected by the closures at Clydesdale and Ravenscraig and who will see it as a complete sell-out of Scotland's interests.

Has the Secretary of State seen the investment proposals put forward by the Clydesdale work force? If so, what does he propose to do about them? Is he prepared to argue the case with the board of British Steel? And if British Steel is not prepared to adopt the proposals, what action will he take to find an alternative buyer for the plant?

I am aware of the investment proposals presented by the trade unions concerned and I understand that they are with British Steel, which will no doubt consider them. As for the question of an alternative purchaser, British Steel has said that it might, in certain circumstances, be prepared to consider an alternative purchaser for the Clydesdale works. Obviously, we shall all be anxious to know whether a purchaser comes forward who is prepared to consider such an option.

Will the Secretary of State publicly welcome the decision by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry to investigate the circumstances surrounding the proposed closure of the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig and the Clydesdale works? Will he regard that Committee not as a rival, but as a partner in all our efforts to have the decisions reversed? Will he provide the Committee with any information—however preliminary—that the Scottish Development Agency study has already produced? Will he impress on its members the need to call Sir Robert Scholey as a witness to answer the questions that he has so far refused to answer? Will he ensure that the eight or nine questions that the Ravenscraig shop stewards have already put to the Secretary of State are given to the Select Committee, which can then use its powers to ensure that Scholey answers the questions that so far he has been avoiding?

I am happy that the Select Committee wishes to consider the matter. My Department and I will give our full co-operation to the Committee in response to any requests that it may make.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government report arguing the case for Dalzell as a site for the British Steel plate mill development has been passed to the consultants, Arthur D. Little? On 17 October, I asked the Minister whether he was still trying to persuade British Steel to reconsider its closure plans at Ravenscraig and Clydesdale, and he replied, "Yes, I certainly am". Can he say what steps he is taking in that enterprise and whether he intends to meet Sir Robert Scholey in the immediate future?

The consultants have access to any information that they require and any future meetings with the chairman of British Steel will depend on whether I think such a meeting likely to be fruitful.

Council House Sales


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many council houses have been sold to sitting tenants in Scotland since May 1979.

Since April 1979, well over 200,000 public sector houses in Scotland have been sold to sitting tenants, including 148,000 by local authorities to sitting tenants.

What percentage of the council house stock in Scotland has been sold to sitting tenants? If the figure is still significantly lower than the figure in England., what steps is the Minister taking to increase sales in Scotland?

The figure is 20·4 per cent. and the gap between Scotland and England is narrowing—it was 4 per cent. earlier this year and has dropped to 3·2 per cent. We are ensuring through publicity that people in Scotland are well aware of the opportunities before them and of the trial rents-to-mortgages scheme which will be extended to a total of 370,000 tenants. We are taking steps as quickly as possible.

How many houses have been repossessed because the sitting tenants could no longer afford the mortgage repayments because of the Government's policies?

In Britain, the figure is less than 0·1 per cent. and in Scotland it is believed to be considerably lower because, on average, market values are considerably lower in Scotland than south of the border. It is not a great problem and building societies are taking every possible step to meet the legitimate wishes of those in trouble.

Health Boards And Councils


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what criteria he intends using to appoint people to the new health boards and local health councils when these are set up.

Criteria for appointments to the new health boards are included in the consultation letter issued to nominating bodies. Members of local health councils are not appointed by my right hon. and learned Friend.

Is not the Minister ashamed of his present policy of almost always appointing Tory party lackeys to health boards, all of whom should be removed by the incoming Labour Government? How does he justify the fact that the eastern half of Glasgow, where there is a population of several hundred thousand, does not have even one local person to represent it on the Greater Glasgow health board? When will he end that disgraceful situation?

If the Member of Parliament for the relevant district were to nominate someone, which he has not done, we could give consideration to the matter.

I know that next Monday the Minister will be busy running round getting votes for his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but will he make himself available at St. Andrew's house in Edinburgh at 12 noon on Monday to receive a petition from the Clydesdale constituents opposing the elimination of acute medical services in the Clydesdale region by the closure of Law hospital in Stonehouse?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the approval and principal proposal has yet to come to Ministers. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall take account of the representations that he and others have made about the outcome that they would like to see.

Heart Surgery


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many patients in Scotland have suffered from heart attacks while they were on national health service waiting lists for heart surgery during the last 12 months.

The Minister must know that many medical people in Glasgow and Scotland are extremely worried because angiogram examination waiting lists are so long and some patients have died from heart attacks before receiving examination. Surely it is sad if people die because waiting lists are too long.

The Government have considerably expanded the number of cardiac operations carried out in Scotland, in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen where cardiac surgery is provided. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have also set targets to reduce the number of premature deaths due to heart attacks by more than 1,000 per annum by the end of the century. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern and shall certainly give urgent consideration to the waiting list problem.

National Health Service


To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will take action to improve the national health service in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Yes. Since 1979 an extra 723,000 patients are being treated every year, an extra 8,849 nurses have been employed at salaries which have risen by more than 40 per cent. in real terms and 68 major new hospital projects have been completed. That is a record to be proud of.

Most of the members of the Forth Valley health board are the Minister's constituents and were appointed by him. Is he aware of the public concern about the increasingly secretive and autocratic way in which the board is behaving, especially since he appointed his Tory friend Mrs. Isbister to chair the health board? Is not it high time that she and her Tory henchmen were sacked from the health board as they are undermining the national health service and threatening standards of patient care?

I think that it is high time the hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the real achievements of the Forth Valley health board, including the splendid new £18 million extension to Stirling royal infirmary, and to its splendid efforts to cut waiting lists and extend patient care. The hon. Gentleman should also pay tribute to the transformation that has been brought about in the Royal Scottish National hospital at Larbert in his constituency, at which mentally handicapped patients have benefited from greatly improved standards.