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Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Local authorities are now fully engaged in implementing the competition provisions of the Local Government Act 1988. Detailed implementation regulations were made in August 1988 and the first round of contracts have to be let by 1 August 1989.
Mr. Jack : Does my hon. Friend agree that negative attitudes to the benefits of competitive tendering are still being displayed by Opposition Members? Does he agree that such an attitude denies the Scottish people local services at lower prices? Does my hon. Friend have any evidence that the benefits of such tendering have penetrated the closed minds of Opposition Members?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I believe that there has been a change of attitude, as evidenced by the remarks of the president of COSLA, reported in The Scotsman of 5 January, who suggested : "the best answer councils could give in response to that threat would be to win compulsory competitive tenders so that services would remain in-house."
The president is quoted as saying :
"If that happens it will inject fresh confidence and life into local authorities and simultaneously disarm our critics." I believe that more and more hon. Members are coming round to that view.
Mr. Michael J. Martin : I put it to the Minister that Strathclyde region has an excellent lighting department, but because he has forced competitive tenders-- [Interruption.] It is not funny. Because he forced the local authority to accept competitive tenders the night shift was taken off--in a week when a young girl in my constituency was raped and brutally beaten up. The lighting in the city of Glasgow can be out for as long as two days, particularly over a weekend. Does the Minister care more about competitive tenders than the safety of our women and children on the streets?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman must be quite clear that local authorities remain responsible for deciding the level of service they wish to deliver. It is for them to write into the tender specification the precise level of service that they wish to have implemented. The activities listed in the Act cost £300
Column 287million, so it is quite clear that the modest target of 10 per cent. savings would lead to savings of some £30 million a year which are well worth making.
Mr. Lang : I am glad to say that employment training is now progressing well. There is no shortage of employers willing to participate and the latest figures show that almost 16,000 people have entered the new programme.
Mr. Hind : No doubt my hon. Friend will have noted that since January 1987 unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 80,000. Does he agree that local authorities in Scotland and the Scottish TUC, in turning their backs on the unemployed and not participating in the employment training programme, are ensuring that many of them will not have the opportunity to fill the 20,000 vacancies that currently exist in Scotland?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The failure of the STUC and COSLA actively to support the employment training scheme has led to a widening of the differential in unemployment figures between Scotland and England. Although COSLA is modifying its attitude to some extent, if the STUC persists in its view it will become increasingly uninfluential and irrelevant to the economic scene in Scotland.
Dr. Godman : In regard to the fusion of employment training and enterprise creation under the umbrella of Scottish Enterprise, I remind the Minister of the dreadfully high unemployment figures in Greenock and Port Glasgow. The present situation at the Ferguson yard in Port Glasgow is causing very deep concern. Will he urge on his ministerial colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry the urgent necessity to welcome further offers for the acquisition of the yard? Does he agree that the offer from Ailsa Perth of Troon was pitifully inadequate and therefore was understandably rejected by the entire work force?
Mr. Lang : I am glad that unemployment is falling in Greenock and Port Glasgow and has done so in the past two years, as it has elsewhere in Scotland. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the figures remain far too high. The area has particular economic difficulties and that is why we are setting up an enterprise zone in that area. I believe that the fusion of the Training Agency with the activities of the Scottish Development Agency will lead to an improvement in the way in which we are able to respond to such matters. As to his reference to the bid for the Ferguson yard, while negotiations are taking place it would be inappropriate for me to comment on them.
Mr. McLeish : Is the Minister aware that out of a planned provision of 41,000 places in Scotland, his Government have managed to fill only 12,000 places? Does he regard the shortfall of 30,000 places as a success or, as we would describe it, as a classic failure? Will the Minister acknowledge that the responsibility lies fairly and squarely with the Government? Will he give the House an assurance that he will arrange an early meeting with the STUC, COSLA and the voluntary sector to put together a
Column 288package to help the 100,000 unemployed, instead of displaying complacency at the Dispatch Box on every occasion?
Mr. Lang : I had a meeting with the STUC general council only last Friday at which it did not seek to raise that matter. As for the hon. Gentleman's figures, there is high demand for places on the employment training scheme which has been doing well since it started. Like all new schemes, of course it will take time to get going, but almost 16,000 people have entered the new programme since its inception--that is not the figure that the hon. Gentleman gave the House. If the STUC would co-operate and support the scheme, which is of crucial importance in preparing people for the 20,000 job vacancies mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Hind) and for the fact that some 700,000 jobs turn over in the Scottish economy every year, the scheme would work much more successfully.
Mr. Neil Hamilton : Does my hon. Friend agree that the protestations of Opposition Members about unemployment ring rather hollow, considering that they will at no stage assist in valuable measures such as the employment training programme which are designed to put people back into work and to remove the unemployment problems about which those Members claim to be so concerned?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is very encouraging that unemployment has been falling steadily in Scotland over the past two years. That, of course, is a phenomenon with which no Labour Government have ever been familiar.
Mrs. Fyfe : That was a commendably brief answer. Will the Minister nevertheless explain to the women of Scotland why they will have to pay the same amount of poll tax as men when, on average, their earnings are only three quarters as much? How does the Minister justify the joint and several liability provision in the legislation, whereby if a marriage breaks up and the man leaves the home--as commonly happens--the poll tax officers will demand the unpaid poll tax from the woman, regardless of how low her income may be? How does he justify all the other injustices perpetrated on Scottish women by the poll tax?
Mr. Lang : The income of a man or woman becomes relevant in the context of an application for a rebate. The vast majority of specific groups such as single pensioners, most of whom are women, or single parent families, most of whom are led by women, will benefit from the community charge.
Joint and several liability provisions have been inserted to protect the woman in a marriage or other partnership who, in many cases has no income, and might otherwise be unable to pay the charge if her partner declined to do so.
Column 289the BBC's "Scottish Question Time"? What happens to a woman whose husband has been responsible for her poll tax, because she has no income, when he leaves her and cannot be found, and she is left with the legal responsibility of joint and several liability?
Mr. Lang : If, as is implied, the woman has no income she will be eligible for income support, and on income support she will be eligible for an 80 per cent. rebate. The level of income support has been raised to take account of the remaining 20 per cent.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Has my hon. Friend read the reported comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) about the community charge in the Communist paper the Morning Star on 17 September last year? She said that if voting did not get people what they wanted they must resist the Government by any means available to them. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is not a democratic way of opposing Government policy?
Mr. Ernie Ross : I am sure that the women of Scotland will take note of the acid comments of the Minister who is supposed to be responsible for the poll tax in Scotland and for ensuring fairness and justice. It might serve the Conservative party better if he tried to deal honestly with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe).
Women are generally exploited and less well off, and it does not help the Minister to be supported by comments such as those of his hon. Friend the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) on such a serious issue. Women are looking for a response from the Government, but all they are told is that they may not be responsible. What is the Minister doing to help women, who generally do not earn as much as men, to offset the damage inflicted on them by the poll tax?
Mr. Lang : As I have said, there is a rebate scheme from which more than 1 million people in Scotland should be eligible to benefit. That is about 30 per cent. of Scotland's adult population. I have cited specific groups in which women predominate and will benefit. In so far as women's interests are a specific feature of the impact of the community charge, we have tried to make provisions for them. For instance, there is provision for women's refuges, and women are entitled to register anonymously if they are in fear of physical violence.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Does my hon. Friend understand my confusion that women should suddenly be resurrected by the Socialist party as an identifiable group? I understood that, under all the legislation introduced by the Labour Government, we were supposed to regard each other as persons and that women were not identifiable as a group. As the Lord Provost of Glasgow is a woman, what on earth are we talking about?
Column 290Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, because of longevity, Alzheimer's disease is a particular hazard for women and that many Members have sad family and constituency experience of that disease? Does he recognise that those struggling to help people suffering from Alzheimer's disease will be appalled by the insensitivity of the Government's response? Does he also accept that we are genuinely astonished by the continued exclusion of those suffering from Alzheimer's disease and from other degenerative brain disorders and even more astonished that the ground given is that the disease fluctuates? Will he call for a report on that aspect of the matter and the medical situation from his new chief medical officer, Mr. Kenneth Calman, and publish that report so that the House can see the basis on which the Government have acted in a mean and mistaken way?
I readily acknowledge, as I did in my earlier answers, that the subject of degenerative diseases is a sensitive and difficult issue, but, on the best medical advice available to us, we decided that to seek to establish a specific exemption would create more anomalies than leaving the situation as it is, where, in the vast majority of cases, people will either be on rebate, and thus be eligible for a small proportion of the community charge, or in long-stay homes or hospitals.
Mr. Rifkind : There are a number of Government initiatives in place to encourage tree planting down the hill. Both the woodland grant scheme and the farm woodland scheme which we introduced last year have added incentives for planting carried out on arable and improved grassland. They also offer much higher grants for the planting of broadleaved species, which do well on lower ground of better quality.
Mr. Stern : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the schemes that have been introduced are necessary to maintain rural economies and communities, and would have been much more difficult to implement without the fiscal initiatives introduced in the last Budget?
Mr. Foulkes : The hill referred to is clearly in Cumnock and Doon Valley. The Secretary of State will recall the excellent visit that he paid to Cumnock and Doon Valley. I am sure that he is as sorry as I am to know that the employment situation in Cumnock and Doon Valley, in textile and other industries, has not improved since his visit. Will he consider carefully the representations that I have now made to him on behalf of Cumnock and Doon Valley district council and have an urgent follow-up meeting to consider carefully the
measures--including tree planting--that might improve the chronic unemployment situation which is causing great distress in Cumnock and Doon Valley?
Mr. Rifkind : With the best will in the world, I cannot claim to remember tree planting as one of the suggestions raised at the time, but I am happy to consider the hon. Gentleman's point and look carefully at any representations that might be made.
12. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what consideration he is giving to charges following the raid by special branch on Queen Margaret drive, Glasgow, in relation to the Zircon film.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Consideration of criminal charges was, of course, a matter for the Lord Advocate, not my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. As I informed the hon. Gentleman in the House on 9 December 1987, the then Lord Advocate announced on 27 November 1987 that no criminal proceedings would be instituted in Scotland.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The short answer is none. The Secretary of State became aware that there was likely to be a police operation at the BBC's premises when, quite coincidentally, he visited them with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) on the evening of Friday 30 January to participate in the recording of a BBC Scotland television programme. That was after the decision had been made and warrants issued by the sheriff court in Scotland. There are no grounds for the allegation that the Government were involved in that decision.
Mr. Galloway : BBC Scotland's headquarters are in my constituency. Brian Barr, who was witch-hunted as a result of that raid, is one of my most distinguished constituents. The incredible gymnastics of the Minister's answer, supplemented by a brief quickly whispered to him by the Secretary of State, do not disguise the simple question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). Did the Secretary of State for Scotland know on 30 January that there was to be a police raid on BBC Scotland? Yes or no? The truth please.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I made it quite clear that the decision was made when the warrant was submitted to the court. My right hon. and learned Friend was informally informed of the decision that evening by a police officer at the BBC Scotland premises. He was not consulted about the decision before it was made and was not in any way involved in it. The decision was the responsibility of the Law Officers and the procurator fiscal.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that there was nothing unusual about this incident? The police entered the premises to look for evidence, having obtained a warrant from a sheriff. That is not an unusual occurrence. The next question is whether the evidence found is sufficient to bring charges. That is how the police and courts normally operate.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The Lord Advocate was certain that the proper procedures for obtaining the search warrant were followed, and that the involvement of the procurator fiscal and the sheriff was in accordance with
Column 292the established law in Scotland. On 27 November the Lord Advocate announced that, having considered reports from the fiscal, having consulted the Attorney-General and having regard to the public interest, he had issued instructions not to institute criminal proceedings in respect of any disclosure.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : There is no need for me to apologise. The police were investigating a potentially serious criminal offence. The fact that, at the end of the day, no criminal proceedings were instituted, does not mean that the police action was wrong.
Mr. Rifkind : The Government decided to end the excessive grant entitlements of high-spending authorities. Rather than eliminate them immediately, they decided, as with many other reforms, to phase the changes, and that will be achieved over a three to five-year period. The arrangements for 1989-90 were arrived at having regard to the effect of these grant changes on community charge payers. Details of the calculations are explained in the report on the Revenue Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1988, copies of which have been placed in the Library.
Mr. Ingram : Does the Secretary of State accept that the arrangements have worked harshly against East Kilbride district council? They have taken it from the third-lowest rated council to the highest poll- taxed council in Scotland. Will the Secretary of State assure us that the revenue support grant settlement will be reviewed in the light of the outturn on poll tax yields, rate products and other relevant factors?
Mr. Rifkind : I shall consider all relevant factors. The hon. Gentleman is correct ; the district council did not benefit from the changes. However, East Kilbride taxpayers did. The combined effect on the regional and district councils has given East Kilbride taxpayers a net benefit of £6 per adult.
Mr. Doran : Apart from the efforts of the Secretary of State to reduce the income of local authorities, all Scottish hon. Members will be aware of the principled stand taken by Councillor Roy Munn of Grampian regional council to reduce the income of his own authority. What the House may be less aware of is that last year, in Grampian regional council there were 28 warrant sales, which were authorised by the finance convenor. Twenty-two of those were domestic warrant sales. We know that the finance convenor at that time was Roy Munn, the very same individual involved in the principled stand. Is such a principled stand by the Scottish National party one of which the Government approve?
Column 293learned Friend take into account that it is one of the benefits of the Union to Scotland? Is it for that reason that some Opposition parties are not joining the SNP and are walking out of the constitutional convention?
Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is right to point to the substantial level of support that Scottish community charge payers receive from revenue support grant. Wales has a higher level of revenue support grant and England has a lower level.
Mr. Steel : Each elected local authority in Scotland, of whatever political persuasion, considers that its expenditure needs are higher than the Secretary of State considers and, therefore, has produced a higher poll tax than he forecast. How long does the Secretary of State intend to maintain the fiction that they are all wrong and he is right?
Mr. Rifkind : I should be more inclined to accept what the right hon. Gentleman said if his own regional council in the Borders had not received a revenue support grant of 13.5 per cent. To use that as a basis for increasing expenditure in the way that it has done shows a strong commitment to high spending and, perhaps, insufficient consideration for the interests of community charge payers.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : My right hon. and learned Friend has decided to intensify the assessment of achievement programme to cover English, science and mathematics in a three-yearly cycle, instead of five-yearly as hitherto. An assessment of English will be undertaken this year. Regular reports are also received from Her Majesty's inspectors of schools.
Mr. Bruce : Does my hon. Friend agree that parents in Scotland are keen to see such assessment coming on to the scene? They are keen to see that their children are keeping up to the standards throughout the nation. Can my hon. Friend also tell us what discussions he has with colleagues such as our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science about feeding back the good experience in Scottish schools and transferring some of the excellence in Scottish primary schools to English and Welsh schools?
Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is right about the interest that parents have in the achievements of their children at school, and our proposals to introduce testing in English and mathematics in primary 4 and primary 7 will provide for that. The "Home from School" report provided clear evidence of parental interest in the matter. I shall quote one parent who put the matter succinctly, saying :
"It is all very well to say he is competing against himself. Great. But he is not competing against himself when it comes to getting a job and then he has got to wake up to the rude discovery that he is only pretty good in his own terms but not by anyone else's standards."
My hon. Friend is right. Parents want testing in schools so that they know how their children are getting on in those basic subjects.
Mr. Tom Clarke : Will the Minister accept that educational provision in primary schools in Scotland is considerably hampered by the incredible lack of provision hitherto for under-fives? We have some of the most disgraceful circumstances in the whole of Europe. When will the Minister do something about that?
Mr. Forsyth : The provision of education for under-fives is a matter for local authorities, and the hon. Gentleman's own party is in control of a number of those authorities, so it is in a position to do something about it. The results from the assessment of achievement programme in Scotland show clearly that there has been a decline in performance in mathematics and English over the past five years. When I read data that show that in primary 7, a total of 22 per cent. of children cannot divide 630 by 10, I am convinced that our proposals to bring testing into the curriculum and to introduce testing have the support of parents, if not of Opposition Members.
Mr. Kirkwood : Why has there been that delay? It is vital to the whole Borders region that the A1, A68 and A7 are improved and developed. Will the Minister assure us that the report will be published before the summer and that there is no suggestion that detrunking will play any part in action implemented by the Government?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Some delays ensued from technical difficulties, but the more important fact is the increasingly evident need for interchange between the M74 studies and the "Routes South of Edinburgh" study.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the report would be published. The document is technical and it is not usual to publish such documents, but we plan to publish a summary of the recommendations and then state what action we intend to take as a result. We shall do that as soon as possible. There was also the problem that the study area proved larger than the usual computer programme could handle, so that had to be rewritten to cope with the amount of data involved. I note also the hon. Gentleman's comment about detrunking, but at this stage I cannot give him the commitment that he seeks.
Mr. Strang : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the exchanges between my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and the Minister on question No. 2, you will have noted that the decision of yourself and your staff to allow the poll tax to be called the poll tax on the Order Paper, and not to give way to the Government in calling it the community charge, was completely vindicated. I hope that when the broadcasting organisations in Scotland report today--when representatives from all walks of life in Scotland present a petition with a third of a million signatures against the poll tax
Column 295--and say that the only concession that we achieved was for empty farm cottages, they will recognise that we are talking about a poll tax and not a community charge.
Mr. Bill Walker : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When a statutory body such as a local authority is established by the House by statute and operates under the statute for collecting local taxation, is the local authority allowed to call that local taxation by a term other than that which this House has passed?
Mr. Home Robertson : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As the Secretary of State for Scotland announced a major concession to farmers in empty farm cottages, have you had any indication from him that he intends to make any statement of any relief for the 11, 000 farm workers in tied cottages who will be worse hit than those farmers?
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