Previous Section Home Page

Scottish Firms (Contracts)

8. Mr. Ron Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many Scottish firms have gained contracts from (a) the Channel tunnel project and (b) recent Scottish public works contracts ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang : Twenty Scottish companies have so far been successful in gaining contracts worth about £65 million from Translink, the contracting consortium for the Channel tunnel. Information is not held centrally on Scottish public sector contracts.

Mr. Brown : I understand from members of the Neath and Edinburgh chambers of commerce--august members of the capitalist system--that, in the main, Scottish contractors have been ignored for both the main and the smaller contracts. Is that not a disgrace? I say that not because I am anti -English but because clearly Scottish jobs are involved. If the tunnel is to mean anything, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the contracts should have been made available to Scottish contractors on a competitive basis? There has been discrimination in this matter and the Scots people have a right to be annoyed. Once the tunnel is completed it will have a hoover effect on enterprise, business and companies. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that not only Scottish companies but companies in the north of England will suffer?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman must have framed his supplementary question before he heard my answer, in which I told him that 20 Scottish companies have so far been succesful and secured contracts to the value of £65 million. That is a higher proportion of companies than from any other part of the United Kingdom. Howdens, for example, gained the contract for the four boring machines and, as a result of that, has gained another contract for

Column 269

tunnelling machines in Denmark. As for the hon. Gentleman's comments on the capitalist private sector, I must point out that the Channel tunnel is being built and funded by the private sector.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith : Is it not to the credit of Scottish enterprise that so many contracts have been gained-- [Interruption.] Is it not to the credit of Scottish enterprise that it has won these contracts, which will be of enormous benefit to the Scottish economy in the short-term? Will the Minister also consider the longer-term benefits? Does he agree that it is essential that we have the best possible transport links, in particular rail links, between Scotland and the Channel tunnel? Will he put pressure on British Rail to continue the electrification of the east coast line beyond Edinburgh to Dundee and Aberdeen?

Mr. Lang : My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole of Scotland benefits from the contracts. The north of Scotland benefits in the form of Brown and Roots Survey and R. B. Farquhar Ltd., PSS Ltd., Racal Survey UK Ltd., and others. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to emphasise the importance of rail transport. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and I had a meeting with the chairman of British Rail and I have also had meetings with the general manager of ScotRail to underline that important point.

Civil Service (Dispersal)

10. Mr. Ingram : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will state the progress made since 1979 in transferring Civil Service posts from London and the south-east to Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind : Since 1979, 1,930 Civil Service jobs have been relocated from the south-east to Scotland, which represents 35 per cent. of the jobs moved. Six weeks ago my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security announced that a further 430 jobs would be relocated to Glasgow.

Mr. Ingram : At least the Secretary of State appears to support the idea of moving Civil Service jobs to Scotland, unlike the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) who said that London can keep its civil servants. Is the Secretary of State aware that, in the past 10 years, less than 6 per cent. of jobs above executive officer level have been located outwith London? Does he agree that one way to redress the imbalance between the south-east and Scotland would be to move 600 policy posts out of the 700 posts in the Overseas Development Administration in London to the administration offices in East Kilbride?

Mr. Rifkind : Specific proposals are obviously a matter for the individual Departments concerned. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that more than 34,000 posts in various Government Departments are being reviewed for location or relocation away from the south-east. Clearly, Scotland, as well as other parts of the United Kingdom, hopes to obtain a proportion of those posts. I believe strongly that jobs that do not need to be in the centre of London should be moved outside it. Scotland, particularly East Kilbride, is an attractive and suitable place in which to establish a new post.

Sir Russell Johnston : The Secretary of State for Scotland gives us the impression that he favours a regional

Column 270

policy. Does he agree with the recent speech at Chatham house by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that there was no place for regional policy, either in the European Community or domestically?

Mr. Rifkind : I am not aware of the Chancellor having made such a remark. The Government have a regional policy and intend to continue having one.

Child Care

11. Mrs. Fyfe : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what discussions he has had with outside bodies and their representatives since June 1987 on child care provision in the public and private sectors.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : Scottish Office officials have undertaken extensive consultations with external interests on a wide range of issues relating to the provision of services for children, including child care law and measures to protect children from abuse.

Mrs. Fyfe : Has the Minister any plans to ask the Scottish Office to pay an agency to conduct a telephone survey of Scots women in their homes to ask them whether they have ever had any experience of child care provision in the public sector, or is he frightened of the answer that those women might give him?

Mr. Forsyth : No, we have no such plans. The provision of services for children under five is a matter for local authorities. If the hon. Lady is criticising the conduct of Labour-controlled local authorities in Scotland, I suggest that she takes that up with them.

Mr. Ernie Ross : Did the Minister take the opportunity while visiting Hungary to study its child care provision? Did he note that Hungrary provides significant child care services for children aged up to three, that it allows mothers to stay at home with substantial child care allowances and that it provides five months' maternity leave for women who want to return to work? Does he know that 78 per cent. of three to five- year-old children in that country attend kindergarten and that 80 per cent. of the creches are state-run? What does he intend to do to help the women of Scotland to be provided with that sort of service?

Mr. Forsyth : I took the opportunity while I was in Hungary to discuss developments in education there. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Hungarians expressed considerable admiration for the emphasis that we place on increasing competition in our education system, and that their plans include greater emphasis on provision by the private sector and on competition. The hon. Gentleman may know the Hungarian statistics, but he does not seem to be aware of those in Scotland, where 80 per cent. of children under five are given some sort of pre-school provision.

South of Scotland Electricity Board

12. Mr. Strang : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of the South of Scotland electricity board ; and what subjects were discussed.

Column 271

Mr. Lang : My right hon. and learned Friend last met the chairman of the South of Scotland electricity board on 6 February and discussed progress on the Electricity Bill and other matters relevant to the Scottish electricity industry.

Mr. Strang : Does the Minister acknowledge that the remarkable expansion of profitable opencast mining in Scotland in recent years has been facilitated not only by the Government but by the Labour party, whose councillors--often in the face of strong local opposition--have facilitated planning permissions on the basis that opencast mining will help to sustain the deep-mining industry? Does he recognise that the optimism on this subject that Ministers--and the Secretary of State only this morning--have encouraged will be justified only if the coal-burn contract provides for the continuation of the Bilston/Monktonhall complex and the Longannet complex? That must surely be the irreducible minimum requirement for deep- mine coal in Scotland.

Mr. Lang : If Labour councillors are responsible for the growth of opencast mining in Scotland I am glad that they recognise the valuable contribution that it can make. If coal is to have a substantial future in Scotland it must be competitive, and opencast mining helps towards that end.

I too want deep mines to have a long and secure future. But that depends on improving their output and productivity and achieving a competitiveness that enables coal to be marketed successfully.

Mr. Home Robertson : Would the Government have allowed the SSEB to put thousands of jobs at power stations and pits in Scotland at risk and to threaten the future of a vital sector of the Scottish economy if a directly elected Scottish Parliament with the authority to speak for the people of Scotland had existed?

Mr. Lang : What worries me is that such a Parliament might have taken up the suggestion of the Scottish Nationalist party, which was that Torness, one of the most important generating stations in Scotland, should be sold to an English company, with the result that Scottish industry might have had to buy back from England electricity generated in Scotland.

Mr. Jack : Does my hon. Friend agree that the privatisation of electricity gives the Scottish electricity industry a real commercial opportunity to export power to England and Wales? Does he further agree that it gives Scottish industry more control over its own affairs, instead of control being exercised from London?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It reverses the decentralisation which nationalisation always creates. In the 1940s, when Scottish electricity enterprises were nationalised, a whole raft of decision-making was removed from Scotland to the south. We are reversing that process to help regenerate enterprise in Scotland.


13. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will seek further medical advice on the nature and course of dementia, particularly in relation to Alzheimer's disease.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : No, but my right hon. and learned Friend keeps in touch with a wide range of medical

Column 272

opinion. We give financial assistance to Alzheimer's Scotland and Scottish Action on Dementia, which provide help and support for people with dementia. We are also supporting the establishment of the dementia studies development centre at Stirling university and are funding research into care in the community of the elderly with dementia.

Mr. McAvoy : Does the hon. Gentleman share the view expressed in, or feel any sense of shame at, the statement made by the Minister of State that Alzheimer's disease is of a fluctuating nature? What consideration has the Minister given to the view of Dr. Robert Hill, consultant neurologist at Edinburgh western general hospital, that Alzheimer's disease is progressive and that remission does not occur? In view of the fluctuating nature of medical opinion on this matter, the whole issue should be re- examined. It is a shame and a disgrace that the Government are forcing the tragic people who suffer from these conditions to pay the poll tax.

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman will see, if he looks at what my hon. Friend said, that his account is wrong. The hon. Gentleman talks about shame and the need for sympathy for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. I suggest that he contacts his friends in the Labour party in councils such as Stirling who are refusing, out of spite and to make a political point, to provide a collection service for the community charge. If Labour Members are concerned to provide help for the handicapped and others in meeting their obligations to pay the community charge, they should show that concern by arranging for collections, as they have done in the past in respect of rates.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths : I deplore the cheap political points that the Under-Secretary made. Is he aware that for thousands of people who discover that their spouse, husband or wife, is suffering from Alzheimer's disease or senile dementia, that is a terrible discovery and that they have to live with it? The Government should not inflict the full force of the poll tax-- of £200, £300 or more--on these disabled people. The Government should, even at this eleventh hour, recant and ensure that they do not have to pay the poll tax.

Mr. Forsyth : As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, people on low incomes will benefit from rebates. We are indeed showing concern for people suffering from Alzheimer's and other disabling conditions. We are increasing the benefits payable to the disabled by no less than 90 per cent. or £7.3 billion. That is in stark contrast to what Labour Members did when they were in Government.

Mr. Galbraith : The Government's behaviour in this matter is disgraceful and callous. We are talking about a very disadvantaged group of the population. The Government continue to hide behind medical advice. I put it to them that their medical advice in this matter is wrong and should be reconsidered-- [Interruption.] I have had some experience of this. The Minister of State talked about Alzheimer's disease being a disease of gradual onset and progressive decline. Patients suffering from this condition are no different from others suffering from dementia. The advice that the Government have on this is wrong and should be reconsidered. In other words, the Government should get a second opinion.

Column 273

Mr. Forsyth : In all of that the hon. Gentleman did not ask me a question-- [Interruption.] The Government's advice has come from the Chief Medical Officer and others and it has been carefully considered. I note that the hon. Gentleman did not offer to ask Labour-controlled councils to help the disabled with a house-to-house collection in respect of the community charge. I also note that when his party was in power it had no proposals to exempt from the payment of rates people suffering from Alzheimer's and other disabling conditions. I also note that as part of their policy review, Opposition Members plan to force people who suffer from Alzheimer's and other conditions to pay towards local government by assessing the capital value of their houses.

Mr. Holt : My hon. Friend will know that I first raised the subject of Alzheimer's disease on an Adjournment debate five years ago. Since then there has been greater public awareness of the disease, and that is manifestly clear from my hon. Friend's reply outlining the research that is taking place. Nonetheless, does my hon. Friend concede that those who are responsible for caring for those with that debilitating disease do not receive sufficient consideration? Will he at least give thought to the idea that the Government should give more consideration to the carers, who are bound in honour and love to people with whom they have lived for many years, and who suffer from Alzheimer's disease?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is asking me to stray outside my sphere of responsibility. However, I am very much aware of his concern for people suffering from Alzheimer's disease. If he heard my answer to the original question, he will be aware of the considerable support that we have given to organisations such as Scottish Action on Dementia and Alzheimer's Scotland which are providing help and support to the families who have to cope with that difficult and debilitating disease.


14. Mr. Salmond : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last made a speech outlining the Government's position on the constitutional status of Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind : I last commented on constitutional matters in a speech to Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale Conservative Association on Friday 10 February.

Mr. Salmond : Will the Secretary of State elaborate on his speech at Melrose and explain why he argued that whereas independence was a matter for the Scottish people to decide, devolution was a matter for the United Kingdom and for Parliament? What is his reaction to the point made by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) in last month's Radical Scotland that

"To all intents and purposes, Scotland is an occupied country in which the ruling power depends for its support on a power base which is outside the country."

Mr. Rifkind : If the hon. Gentleman's Budget proposals, which we were told about last Friday, are anything to go by, that seems to be the view of the SNP. When we heard about the hon. Gentleman's Budget proposals, my officials contacted the headquarters of the SNP, but were told that nothing was known about them. When we examined the details, we discovered that according to the hon. Gentleman, the defence expenditure of an independent

Column 274

Scotland would represent about 5 per cent. of current United Kingdom expenditure to defend some 35 per cent. of the land mass of the United Kingdom. Therefore, it seems that the Scottish Nationalist party either would want to leave an independent Scotland defenceless, or would wish to depend upon the English Government to defend Scotland after independence. What price independence then?

Mr. Galloway : Is it not a breathtaking effrontery for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) to ask the Government such a question when the SNP is conspiring with the Government to paralyse any possibility of constitutional progress in Scotland? Is it not the case that the Government and the Scottish Nationalist party are two sides of the same coin and that Scottish constitutional progress is caught between the hammer of Thatcher unionism and the anvil of SNP sectarianism?

Mr. Rifkind : Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first invite to join the SNP.

Working for Patients"

15. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received in response to the National Health Service White Paper "Working for Patients".

Mr. Forsyth : My right hon. and learned Friend has received a number of positive responses to the White Paper "Working for Patients". We will shortly be publishing six working papers setting out in detail how the White Paper proposals are to be implemented in Scotland.

Mr. Bennett : Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that a White Paper which will give patients more choice and a faster service should be opposed by Opposition Members? Does he agree that their only vision for the future of the Health Service is a Health Service run by COHSE and NUPE for the benefit of COHSE and NUPE?

Mr. Forsyth : I agree with my hon. Friend, but he is not being entirely fair to Opposition Members. I note that the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) has offered to abandon his political convictions and to favour the idea of the Falkirk district infirmary becoming a self- governing hospital if proposals for its closure were ever implemented. As neither the health board nor the Government have any such proposals, it is an interesting response to our White Paper.

Mr. Harry Ewing : Does the Minister appreciate that at the time when I considered the proposals from the consultants I was unaware of another option--closure, as the Minister himself says, over his dead body? If that option is still available, we will take it.

Mr. Forsyth : Even if the hon. Gentleman is not prepared to defend the interests of his local hospital in Falkirk, we certainly are, which is why we have invested so heavily in it with new maternity and geriatric facilities. I am not sure that my dead body in exchange for the hospital would be a good deal for his constituents.

Dr. Godman : Is it not the case that many general practitioners are deeply concerned about the inadequacies of the White Paper? Is it not the case that many general practitioners fear a diminution in the quality of the

Column 275

treatment given to patients if these proposals are implemented? Does the Minister agree that, where Scotland is concerned, the authors of the White Paper know little or nothing about medical practice in general and nothing at all about general practice in particular?

Mr. Forsyth : I think I can follow that question.

The only general practitioners who will be concerned will be those who listen to the misrepresentation coming from the Opposition Benches. There is no question of patient care being anything other than enhanced as a result of these proposals ; and it is particularly perverse to argue that giving general practitioners more responsibility and an opportunity to control their own affairs as practising family doctors will be to the disbenefit of patients. It is true that particular aspects of the delivery of primary health care services in Scotland need to be considered, and we are currently discussing with doctors' representatives how we can implement our proposals in Scotland in the most satisfactory way. I am delighted to say that we are having a very responsible and positive response from the medical profession.

Constitutional Convention

16. Mr. McKelvey : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he intends to accept the invitation to attend the Scottish constitutional convention.

Mr. Rifkind : No, Sir.

Mr. McKelvey : Does the Secretary of State not realise that he is doing a grave disservice to the ordinary people of Scotland? Is he aware that they are crying out for democracy and that the only relief that they can get from the social injustice thrust upon them by Thatcherism is by some kind of directly elected assembly, even if it has only limited powers? Does he not recognise that the poor and the elderly who suffer from social injustices need a voice at the convention to argue for such a directly elected assembly?

Mr. Rifkind : The individual citizen in Scotland has exactly the same democratic rights as individuals elsewhere in the United Kingdom. All live in a democratic society.

Dr. Reid : Can the Secretary of State tell us any other issue on which in the past 10 years he has done such a complete and utter U-turn as on the question of the Scottish assembly? Is it not the simple and sad fact that he has abandoned his principles for his promotion prospects? Does the Secretary of State really believe that the people of Scotland have so readily abandoned their principles, or been bought and sold for Treasury gold? If he does, why does he not put their principles to the test by having a referendum on devolution as soon as possible?

Mr. Rifkind : My views remain exactly as I have explained. Any system of devolution for one part of the United Kingdom that does not apply elsewhere is likely to weaken rather than strengthen the union in which the Labour party also believes.

Column 276

Mr. Harris : Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that some of us on the Government Benches think that perhaps he ought to go to such a conference, if only to remind the Labour party of the total opposition of its leader to the whole concept of devolution when it was last on the agenda, and also to stress that if, by chance, a devolved assembly were set up, many of us on the Government Benches would want to see drastic changes in the composition of the House so as to reduce the current gross over-representation on a numerical basis of Scotland at Westminster?

Mr. Rifkind : It is certainly the case that the leader of the Conservative party pays more attention to the subject of devolution when she is in Scotland than does the leader of the Opposition when he is there.

Mr. Wallace : The Secretary of State has said yet again that he thinks that devolution in any one part of the United Kingdom without devolution all round would weaken our unity. Is that a definitive statement of policy on behalf of the Government with particular reference to the future government of Northern Ireland?

Mr. Rifkind : In terms of Scotland, England and Wales, Scotland continues to benefit from the existing structure of government. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Northern Ireland example is sui generis and that it would be unwise for anyone on either side of the argument to draw conclusions from that. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that during the period of the Stormont Government there was a substantial reduction in the number of Irish Members in the House of Commons and that the United Kingdom Cabinet did not contain a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. McAllion : I would not go so far as to say that the Secretary of State for Scotland will be sorely missed when the convention first meets at the end of the month. If he did turn up at least he could explain to the convention why he has introduced the poll tax in Scotland to make local councillors more accountable to Scottish voters while he plans to do nothing whatever to make Scottish Ministers in any way accountable to Scottish voters.

Mr. Rifkind : If I turned up at the proposed convention I would have no difficulty about finding a seat because it appears that very few people will be there. This is a spurious attempt to try to generate interest in a subject when such interest has not otherwise been forthcoming. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that the constitutional convention was invented by an organisation that produced a document with a blatantly nationalist tone. If he and his hon. Friends are as unionist as they claim to be they should have nothing to do with it.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Speaker : Order. I shall take points of order after the statement.

Next Section (Debates)

  Home Page