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Column 437to help him buy it back for £150,000 more than he sold it for. Is that a sign of the future for the Tory party and housing in Scotland?
Mr. Maxton : In view of the considerable alarm and disquiet that have been caused to SSHA tenants by recent bids made by various groups for large quantities of housing, will the Minister concede to the tenants' demand that there should be a three-year moratorium from 1 April on all such sales? Will he give an absolute guarantee that consultation means a ballot of tenants and that, even then, no tenants will be forced to leave Scottish Homes unless they wish to do so? Will he give SSHA tenants the real option of joining the local authority if they so wish?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question about a moratorium is no, as we believe that one would be damaging to tenants' interests as they would lose out on considering properly formulated proposals which are in the interests of tenants, consistent with proposals to improve choice and quality in tenanted housing. Tenants will be consulted as soon as possible.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether there will be a ballot. With ownership co- operatives there have, to the best of my knowledge, been no ballots, so there are certain forms of disposal where it is not necessarily ideal to have a ballot. At Castlemilk in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, I understand that there was a show of hands. There may well be a ballot, but that is a matter for Scottish Homes to work out. It must work out the details thoroughly. That is still some way ahead--and after 1 April.
8. Mr. Harris : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the volume of electricity likely to be sold by the Scottish electricity industry to England following privatisation.
18. Mr. Strang : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimates he has made of the amount of electricity which could be supplied to England from Scotland over the next 10 years ; and if he will make a statement.
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang) : The level of electricity exports from Scotland after privatisation will be a matter for commercial negotiation between the companies. Active consideration is being given to upgrading the capacity of the interconnector so that opportunities for trading can be maximised to the limits justified commercially and economically.
Mr. Harris : Does my hon. Friend agree that the proposals in the Electricity Bill, coupled with the moves to upgrade the interconnector between Scotland and England, offer exciting prospects for the generating industry in Scotland? Would he find it a refreshing change if the ragbag of an Opposition thought positively about the matter rather than negatively?
Column 438commercially oriented environment to be introduced in the electricity industry, and that is bound to have a downward effect on prices for the consumer.
Mr. Strang : Does the Minister of State accept that it is enormously important that Scotland sells electricity to England on a substantial scale in the coming years? Are the Government prepared to pay for the investment in the increased capacity of the interconnector? Above all, will he give an assurance that he and his right hon. and learned Friend will not stand idly by and allow the South of Scotland electricity board to write off hundresds of millions of pounds of investment and thousands of jobs in the Scottish deep mining industry?
Mr. Lang : The decision on whether to proceed with the upgrading of the interconnector is a matter for the commercial judgment of the companies involved. The industry has reached agreement in principle to increase the capacity of the interconnector to 1600 MW. The cost, which may be as high as £200 million, is a matter for negotiation.
Mr. Home Robertson : What prospects are there for the future of electricity generation at the highly efficient coal-burning power stations at Cockenzie and Longannet if the SSEB persists with its policy of burning loss-lead, imported coal rather than honouring its contract to burn Scottish coal at those power stations? Is it not absurd that two nationalised industries should be taking each other to court in a dispute about a perfectly clear contract that was intended to protect investment and employment not only in the power stations but in the pits? Will the sponsoring Minister for the SSEB--the Secretary of State for Scotland-- intervene now to stop the dispute to ensure that the contract is honoured and the jobs protected?
Mr. Lang : The upgrading of the interconnector will increase the possibility of coal-generated electricity being exported to England, but the competitiveness of coal is a matter for British Coal to negotiate with the SSEB.
Mr. Gregory : Does my hon. Friend agreed that the privatisation of Scottish electricity would bring a welcome move from Whitehall to Scotland and provide opportunities for employees, as well as members of the public, to share in the future of that great industry?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is right. The privatisation of the electricity industry in Scotland will create two substantial free-standing private enterprise companies and enhance the enterprise economy in Scotland.
Mr. Kennedy : Will the Minister give Scotland a guarantee that following privatisation, the ownership of the successor companies to the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board and the SSEB will remain in Scottish hands?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the industries are not in Scottish hands at the moment. However, privatisation will provide for an opportunity for consumers in Scotland and employees of the boards to buy shares in the electricity industries in Scotland. In addition, there is provision for a special share that will enable my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to control the shareholding of any one individual.
Mr. Lang : Our generous revenue support grant settlement for 1989-90 means that if authorities do not increase the volume of their spending, the average community charge should be £267. Indications so far from Strathclyde regional council confirm that our estimates are well-founded.
Mr. Douglas : Will the Minister reflect a little on an answer given by the Secretary of State earlier about the Union being an anomaly? Does he consider that the poll tax is an illustration of the Government making the Union an anomaly when it suits them, by imposing this unwanted and unwarranted tax on the people of Scotland first, and making Scotland a guinea pig for a method of taxation that nobody wants? Will he say clearly that a major anomaly in that tax is the treatment of the disabled? There will be rebates for the disabled, but a substantial burden will be placed on other sections of the population. What advice is he giving to local authorities that find people unable to pay after three instalments, after which the whole year, plus a surcharge, becomes payable? The Minister is the greatest anomaly.
Mr. Lang : The major anomaly that has hitherto existed in local government finance is that only 40 per cent. of the adult population in Scotland contribute to the local government financial burden. The justice that we are bringing to Scotland, a year ahead of England, is the removal of the unfair burden of domestic rates that falls so unevenly on such a small proportion of that adult population.
Sir Hector Monro : Does my hon. Friend agree that some regional authorities are pushing up the volume of expenditure far above the level of inflation so that, even allowing for the very high increased grant from the Government, they can push up the community charge? Before those authorities have the opportunity to set their community charges, will my hon. Friend remonstrate with them and persuade them to move in the world of good housekeeping rather than of increased expenditure?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that problem. Dumfries and Galloway regional council, in whose area both my hon. Friend and I have our constituencies, will have an increased revenue support grant for next year of 12.8 per cent., just about double the rate of inflation. There is every opportunity for that regional council, as for every other regional council in Scotland, to keep down spending and to keep the burden on the community charge payers within reasonable limits.
Mr. Steel : Does the Minister accept the figures produced by the Borders regional council that show that a poll tax as low as the £126 that the hon. Gentleman forecast would mean its budget having to be 8 per cent. below the level of assessed expenditure need, which is the measure that the Government themselves use? Will the hon. Gentleman explain why my constituents in Ettrick and Lauderdale have to pay £45 more and in Tweeddale £50 more to subsidise the safety net procedure for Strathclyde?
Mr. Lang : The revenue support grant for the Borders regional council is being increased by 13.5 per cent. next year. There is every opportunity for it to keep its spending and the burden on the community charge payers at a low level.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the safety net and I welcome his conversion to the policy of accountability in local authorities. That is why we are removing the safety net. If full safety nets had remained in place, his constituents in Berwickshire would have been £29 a head worse off.
Mr. Rifkind : The estimated value of planned inward investment to Scotland from April 1988 to date is £306.6 million with the prospect of the creation or safeguarding of 4,451 jobs. At present I have no plans to meet the ambassador of the United States of America for this purpose.
Mr. Thompson : Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that since 1981 inward investment in Scotland has created or safeguarded 50,000 jobs? Is not that a tribute to the skill and talent of the Scottish work force as well as a justification for the Government's policies?
Mr. Allan Stewart : Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that at a time of rising protectionism in the United States, it is the Government's policy to give unequivocal support to the success of responsible American investment in Scotland and the United Kingdom generally? Can he further confirm that we expect reciprocal treatment from the United States Congress?
Mr. Rifkind : That is a desirable objective. The United Kingdom has substantially benefited from being attractive to overseas investment, and Scotland has shown herself remarkably able to attract that investment.
Mr. Norman Hogg : Does the Secretary of State agree that the best record of achievement in inward investment to Scotland in the post-war period is that of the five Scottish new towns? Will he give an undertaking now to leave in place those mechanisms designed to achieve inward investment in the new towns, notwithstanding what else may happen as a consequence of the review of new towns' functions?
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman is right to pay tribute to the success of new towns in attracting inward investment. I agree also that, in considering the future of new towns and their possible winding up, we must explore ways of ensuring that they can continue to be attractive
Column 441locations for inward investment. The consultative document that we published recently invites contributions designed to achieve that effect.
Mr. Andy Stewart : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, apart from the qualities of the Scottish people, the reason for increased inward investment is that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom?
Mr. Rifkind : It is certainly an asset for Scotland that it has benefited from low taxation, improved industrial relations, and increased competitiveness, which are a direct result of the Government's policies.
Mr. Clarke : Is not it unacceptable that the Secretary of State, who might have been expected to answer my question, has not formally met the STUC for over 15 months, even though it was anxious to meet him to discuss NEL, Scott Lithgow, Bishopton and other matters? Is the attempt to marginalise active trade unionists in Scotland reflected in the White Paper proposals for local structures that will give far more weight to local employers than to local authorities and trade unionists, who are just as committed as anybody else to training and employment? Does the Minister accept that, since the election, the Secretary of State has not attempted to achieve consensus in Scotland and that the only voices to which he is prepared to listen are those of the discredited, minority far right in his own party?
Mr. Lang : Any request by the STUC for a meeting would always be carefully considered. In recent months, my right hon. and learned Friend has had several meetings with the general secretary of the STUC, and I shall meet representatives of the STUC on 27 January to discuss the economy.
It is our intention that there should be no automatic right of membership of Scottish Enterprise. We want to get the right people as individuals who can best help Scottish Enterprise achieve good results for Scotland.
Mr. Salmond : What procedures will be undertaken for the appointment of people to the new area enterprise boards. Has there been any correspondence, apart from the letter from Sir Hector Laing looking for recruits to such boards? What assurances can the Minister give that the proposal is about enterprise in Scotland, as opposed to the extension of Tory patronage throughout Scotland?
Mr. Lang : That is an offensive and irrelevant question. On the establishment of enterprise agencies, it is for local individuals and local organisations to put forward proposals to Scottish Enterprise to bid for the contract in their own areas. Proposals will be assessed on their merits. Contracts will be awarded accordingly and monitored by Scottish Enterprise.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that Scottish Enterprise recognises employers' key role in training the people whom they employ? It should acknowledge also the existence of the STUC, though the STUC has failed to come forward with positive and constructive proposals, and has been girning. One can only assume that it will not contribute in a positive way.
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is right. When the STUC comes forward with positive proposals they are always carefully considered, as was the general secretary's suggestion that my right hon. and learned Friend should set up a committee to consider the implications for Scotland of the single European market.
It is our intention that about two thirds of the membership of the board of Scottish Enterprise should be from the business and industrial community. Business men and industrialists are more likely to be the most effective at assessing the need for training in their areas and throughout Scotland.
Mr. Eadie : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some hon. Members are reaching the conclusion that the Secretary of State is reluctant to meet anybody to discuss enterprise and industry in Scotland? Is he aware also that, over three weeks ago, I wrote to the Secretary of State and listed my parliamentary colleagues who would attend a meeting to discuss the Scottish mining industry? Why does the Secretary of State show such discourtesy to his parliamentary colleagues and to the House?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman's question is wholly unwarranted. As I have already said, my right hon. and learned Friend would give consideration to any organisation asking for a meeting and so would I. I am meeting the STUC next month.
Mr. Dickens : I am trying. Control them. When my hon. Friend next meets the STUC will he be sure to remind it both of how well we are doing with inward investment in Scotland through various enterprise schemes and of the stupidity of the trade unions in Scotland which cost Dundee the Ford plant?
Mr. Lang : I shall certainly remind the STUC of those points if by then it has not already read my hon. Friend's comments. I shall also urge it to withdraw its opposition to the Government's implementation of employment training. The attitude of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the STUC in refusing to co-operate with that important training scheme has done considerable damage to the employment prospects of young unemployed Scots.
Column 443taken in Scotland in response to the Widdicombe committee's recommendations on local authorities' role in economic development. These representations will be considered carefully.
Mr. Bruce : Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that there is some concern about the role of the public sector and local authorities in the Government's proposals for Enterprise Scotland? Does he acknowledge that initiatives, such as the Grampian initiative and the economic development committee of Gordon district council and other councils, are a useful form of partnership which should be developed and encouraged? Can he give an assurance that when the proposals are introduced in detail they will ensure that we have a proper spirit of partnership between private and public agencies, with leadership from local authorities, and that he will ensure that Enterprise Scotland is not simply a gimmick which damages the promotion of enterprise in Scotland?
Mr. Rifkind : I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman. If he has read the White Paper he will have noted that it specifically refers to the fact that local authorities are employers and are perfectly free to come forward with others with proposals for the establishment of local agencies.
13. Mr. Ian Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the level of business awareness there is in Scotland of the opportunities presented by 1992 and the completion of the single market in Europe.
Mr. Rifkind : There is widespread awareness of the implications of the single market among the Scottish business community, but we propose to continue and intensify our efforts to ensure that businesses in Scotland are the best prepared in Europe.
Mr. Taylor : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Bearing in mind that over 50 per cent. of exports from Scotland go to the European Community, will he constantly remind Scottish firms that they are benefiting from the low-taxation, high-growth economy which is the result of the policies of this Conservative Government?
Mr. Rifkind : That is the case. I do not think that Scottish industry needs to be reminded of it, because spokesmen for Scottish industry have themselves made that point and welcomed the Government's economic strategy.
Mr. Worthington : Is the Secretary of State aware that there cannot be a single economic market until there is a uniform business rate for the whole of the United Kingdom and that the impact-- [Interruption.] This is absolutely true. Is it correct that there will not be a uniform business rate until after a second revaluation in 1995, and, therefore, not until about 1996-97?
Mr. Rifkind : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in managing to get away with asking a question about the uniform business rate on a question about the single European market. Unlike all previous Labour Governments who tolerated higher rates poundages in Scotland compared with other parts in the United Kingdom, this Government are the first to say that we intend to work towards a common rates poundage.
14. Mr. Hood : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met Mr. Donald Miller, chairman of South of Scotland Electricity Board ; and whether he discussed the future of the Scottish coal industry.
Mr. Lang : My right hon. and learned Friend last met the chairman of the South of Scotland electricity board on 4 July when, with the chairman of the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board, a range of issues was discussed. While coal was not the main subject of the discussions, we see no reason why a satisfactory outcome to the present negotiations between SSEB and British Coal cannot be achieved by the two parties concerned. This remains our view irrespective of the court action now being pursued by British Coal.
Mr. Hood : Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State for Scotland to consider intervening in the dispute between the SSEB and British Coal to try to prevent expensive legal action? Does he agree that political action is far better than legal action? Will he accept that it is his responsibility to consider the consequences of failure? The cost of failure to arrive at a settlement in the dispute between the SSEB and British Coal will be the elimination of the Scottish deep mining industry. Is that to be the Secretary of State's Christmas present to Scottish miners?
Mr. Lang : My right hon. and learned Friend and I are anxious to see a strong and viable Scottish coal industry. Matters of pricing and contract between the SSEB and British Coal are for commercial negotiation between the two parties. British Coal can have a successful future only if it remains competitive.
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