Previous Section Home Page

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The study by consultants "Routes South of Edinburgh" is in its final stages. When it has been completed and fully considered, which I expect will be in the summer, I intend to make a statement both about the report's conclusions and about our proposed way ahead.

Mr. Home Robertson : I thought that the Minister was going to say that it would be published in a special edition of The Observer. In view of the fact that Ministers feel so strongly about the unity of the United Kingdom, I shall draw the Minister's attention to the missing link on the main A1 road which is supposed to link Edinburgh-- [Interruption.] - -The hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is not there either. In view of the increasing congestion on the dangerously inadequate single carriage way between Musselburgh and the English border, and onwards to Morpeth, in particular, as there were 283 injuries and 25 deaths over three years on the Scottish section of the A1, will the Minister undertake to begin the task of completing the A1 dual carriageway, both to save lives and to improve communications in Scotland and internationally?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The casualty rates over the past three years which the hon. Gentleman mentioned have not been unduly high in comparison with those in other district council areas, although they are certainly a subject of grave concern. Dualling is one of the issues addressed by the "Routes South of Edinburgh" study, and accident rates on the present A1 will be fully taken into account. More immediately, a major junction improvement on the A1 at Haddington is planned as well as provision for crawler lanes on the A1 at Pencraig Hill, which will go ahead as soon as the statutory procedures have been completed and the finance is available.

Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Minister accept the crucial importance of the "Routes South of Edinburgh" review to the border region? When the study is published, will he undertake to meet representatives from the local authorities and Members of the House from East Lothian, the Borders and north Northumberland to consider the detail of that report? Can he cast any light on a report in the Newcastle Journal this Monday that a feasibility study by the Department of Transport was under way into a motorway link between Newcastle and Edinburgh?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I made inquiries this morning and understand that the Lothian and Borders regional councils may already be involved in discussions with a group from seven English counties which are investigating the feasibility of a scheme incorporating private finance. The Scottish Office looks forward to being kept in touch with any findings that emerge. With regard

Column 187

to the area of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), a £7.5 million A1 Tower to Dunglass diversion is planned. A bypass of Langholm on the A70 is under investigation, as well as the realignment of the carriageway from Ancrum House to Harrietfield on the A68. Therefore, a considerable amount of work is taking place.

Mr. Beggs : Can the Minister inform us whether his Department, during the review of trunk roads in the south of Scotland, has taken account of the importance to Northern Ireland hauliers of a good road service south from Cairnryan and Stranraer? Will he also bear in mind that although there are those who wish Northern Ireland to be linked with the Channel tunnel through Dublin, Dun Laoghaire and Holyhead, we in Northern Ireland wish to maintain our close Scottish links and have a proper through route through Stranraer and Cairnryan?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am certain that many hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Minister of State, share the hon. Gentleman's concern. We see the M74 as the major roads priority of the 1990s, but after its upgrading the Euroroute to Stranraer and the A96 upgrading will be seen as equal next priorities.

Confederation of British Industry

11. Mr. Oppenheim : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the Confederation of British Industry, Scotland ; and what matters were discussed.

Mr. Rifkind : I am in frequent touch with the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland on a range of matters affecting the Scottish economy. I look forward to a continuing exchange of views.

Mr. Oppenheim : Next time my right hon. and learned Friend meets the members of the CBI, will he discuss with them the excellent news of Rolls- Royce's recent substantial orders for aero engines to be put into Boeing and Airbus airlines? Is he aware that much of the work will be placed in Scottish factories? Does that not typify the increasingly bright outlook for the Scottish economy, which includes increased manufacturing output, manufacturing productivity and manufacturing employment but which seems to make Opposition Members extremely glum?

Mr. Rifkind : It is indeed extremely encouraging that Scottish industry is continuing to be so bullish in its order books, its exports and its expectations for further growth and employment. It is particularly welcome that the level of interest rates appears to be having even less effect in retarding the Scottish economy than in retarding the economy elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Worthington : This morning the Secretary of State met leaders of the television industry in Scotland. Will he take serious account of their fears about the future of programme making within Scotland, in view of the Government's White Paper on broadcasting? Will he get together with the CBI and the Scottish Development Agency to ensure that the great opportunity for an expansion of this valuable industry of the future is taken, rather than allowing the centralisation--which seems likely--of programme making within the south-east of England or Los Angeles?

Column 188

Mr. Rifkind : I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of the industry in Scotland. It is particularly encouraging that at present Scotland contains a larger proportion of independent programme producers than any other part of the United Kingdom outside London. We want broadcasting to enable future further expansion of local programme production, and we also attach importance to the cultural diversity in Scotland which is reflected in the structure of broadcasting as well as in other forms of the media.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that the advent of the single market in 1992 makes improving the infrastructure for Scottish com-panies crucial? When he meets members of the CBI, will he ask whether they support the campaign to ensure that the electrification of the east coast line continues to Aberdeen, and that the Aberdeen-Inverness route--the A96, the most dangerous road in Scotland--is given the upgrading that is long overdue? Only in that way will visitors to the north of Scotland be able to take full advantage of the single market.

Mr. Rifkind : We all appreciate that. It was for precisely that reason that the present Government provided a dual carriageway from Perth to Aberdeen--and, indeed, the Inverurie bypass, on the very road to which the hon. Gentleman refers, is beginning construction at this moment. We attach considerable importance to the improvement of communications. The north-east, and Aberdeen in particular, is entitled to share the economic opportunities offered by 1992 with the rest of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Favell : How do the Scottish CBI and others interested in free enterprise in Scotland view the threat to the Union posed by the Labour party and other Opposition Members who are toying with the Scottish convention? With Socialism out of fashion in Moscow, Kiev and Leningrad, how do they view the possibility of Scotland becoming the last bastion of Socialism in Europe as the Opposition realises that they have no earthly chance in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend can take comfort from the fact that there has never been a majority in Scotland prepared to vote for Socialism. That, I think, is a point on which all parties in the House need to reflect. So far as the views of the CBI are concerned, I noticed that, only yesterday, Mr. Alistair Mair, the deputy chairman of the CBI in Scotland, indicated his belief that any break-up of the United Kingdom, or any major constitutional change, would impose new economic burdens on Scotland, which would deter investment and be contrary to our economic interests.


12. Mrs. Fyfe : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make more funds available to the Scottish Vocational Education Council for the Training of Childminders.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : I have no plans to do so. The Government, through the rate support grant, have provided substantial resources, which have allowed local authorities to increase expenditure on services for the

Column 189

under-fives from £19.5 million, in 1979 -80, to £46.9 million, in 1987-88--an increase, in real terms, of 37 per cent.

Mrs. Fyfe : We all know that this Minister does not give the under- fives any priority, and, in view of what he is doing to the over-fives, that may be just as well. While we are waiting for progress on the training of childminders in sufficient quantities for people's needs, would the Minister advise working women to get together and arrange for one of them to look after the children while the rest go to work? I think that I had better warn the Minister that, in the advice that the Prime Minister gave a few months ago, she was inciting women to break the law.

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Lady does the Government a great disservice. She should be aware that since 1979 the numbers of children attending nursery schools and classes has increased by 23 per cent. The numbers in various forms of day care have increased substantially, and almost 80 per cent. of three and four-year-olds are now the subject of pre-school provision. I had a letter the other day complaining about the two-year backlog in the registration of childminders by Strathclyde regional council, owing, I understand, to some industrial dispute. If the hon. Lady is particularly concerned about childminders, she might use her good offices with the Labour party to sort out that particular problem before coming to central Government.

Community Charge

14. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his latest estimate of the number of people in Scotland who will not pay the poll tax.

Mr. Lang : We have made no estimate.

Mr. Canavan : I did not hear the Minister's reply, but what reply did the Secretary of State give to the Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers, which has complained to him about being forced to arrest the bank accounts of customers who have refused to pay fines levied for their failure to register to pay the poll tax? Is it not clear from this, and from last Saturday's massive anti-poll tax demonstration involving about 30,000 people, that the opposition to the poll tax embraces not only the political majority in Scotland but many people from many different walks of life--people from sport, from the arts, community leaders, civic leaders, Church leaders, trade union leaders, and now, apparently, even the bankers? Is everyone out of step except our "Malcy"?

Mr. Lang : My answer to the hon. Gentleman's original question was that we had made no such estimate. So far as the other points that he raises are concerned, he chooses to forget how unpopular and how unfair domestic rates were. What we have introduced is a broader-based and fairer system of contributing to local government. If the hon. Gentleman decides to make a martyr of himself by not paying his community charge, he will be confronting not only the rule of law but the leader of his own party.

Dame Peggy Fenner : Will my hon. Friend, in order to give enormous cheer to the English local authorities, which will be embarking in the near future upon a register of people subject to the community charge, assure me that all those who marched in Scotland were part of a very small

Column 190

proportion of people who did not register? Can he quote the figure that I heard him mention on the radio concerning the number of people who have registered for the community charge?

Mr. Lang : I am happy to assure my hon. Friend that about 99 per cent. of the adult population in Scotland have registered. She may also like to know that most local authorities in Scotland have assumed that at least 95 per cent. of the adult population will pay the community charge.

Mr. Douglas : Will the Minister take time to reflect on the Chancellor of the Exchequer's view that tax remission for the elderly in terms of medical aid should not be means or needs-tested? Will he compare and contrast that with the severe disclosure on which people who are mentally impaired will have to embark in order to avoid payment of the poll tax?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman draws attention to the elderly. He may like to know that we estimate that about half the pensioner population in Scotland will be eligible for rebates of one form or another and that about 90 per cent. of the single pensioner population in Scotland will benefit as a result of the change from domestic rates to the community charge.

Mr. Harris : Is my hon. Friend able to give the House any information about how many right hon. and hon. Members who sit on the Opposition Benches have made public declarations about their intention to flout the law-- [Interruption.] --in some cases against the specific advice of the leaders of their parties? Surely every hon. Member has a right to that information.

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend will be aware that public declaration and private practice are often very different. However, I shall look with interest to see what action the Leader of the Opposition takes against any Opposition Front Bench Member who does not pay the community charge.

Mr. Dewar : Is the Minister not genuinely concerned about the confusion and chaos that surrounds the rebate system and about the fact that countless thousands of people have not yet lodged applications? Will he guarantee that, if necessary, the system will be altered to ensure that everyone who is genuinely entitled to a rebate will have it backdated to 1 April?

Mr. Lang : We are certainly concerned that anyone who is eligible for a rebate should get one. We calculate that about 30 per cent. of the adult population will be eligible for a rebate. Applications have been received from about two thirds of the likely number and they are being processed very quickly. I hope that the short-term problems that are being experienced by some local authorities will be resolved fairly quickly. However, the Department of Social Security has, exceptionally, granted a concession whereby, for up to 56 days from the due date, it will be possible to obtain a rebate.

Labour Statistics

15. Mr. Harry Ewing : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the level of unemployment in Scotland in April 1979 using the same method of calculating the figures as presently used.

Column 191

Mr. Lang : In April 1979, seasonally adjusted unemployment in Scotland, on a basis consistent with the current coverage of the count, was 141,000. Since January 1987 seasonally adjusted unemployment in Scotland has fallen by over 87,000.

Mr. Ewing : Is it not true that in April 1979, using exactly the same method of calculation that the Government are using now, unemployment in Scotland was about 90,000? When does the Minister expect this deplorable Government to bring unemployment down to that kind of level?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman plainly did not listen to my answer. I gave him the figure of 141,000. I understand his anxiety that the unemployment figures when his Government left office should be reduced, because he will recall that the last Labour Government presided over a doubling of unemployment during their five years in office. This Government are now more accustomed to falling unemployment.


16. Mr. McAllion : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to meet representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ; and what matters will be discussed.

Mr. Rifkind : I have arranged to meet representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on Friday 28 April to begin consultations on the revenue support grant settlement for 1990-91.

Mr. McAllion : Will the Secretary of State take that opportunity to discuss with COSLA the current round of competitive tendering and the fact that multinational companies such as Sitaclean and United Kingdom Waste have been showing an interest in picking up local authority contracts in Scotland? Will he explain to COSLA and to the rest of us how the awarding of contracts to multinational companies, whose headquarters are respectively in Paris and London, is an example of the Government devolving real power and control to the Scottish people?

Mr. Rifkind : Irrespective of whether a local authority or a company carries out the services, I presume that they will employ local people. Therefore the implications for

Column 192

employment are the same, irrespective of where the employer is based. The objective of competitive tendering is to ensure a good quality of service for the local community in order that the resources available can be used to the maximum benefit of the community.

Newbattle Abbey College

17. Mr. Eadie : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list the individuals and organisations he consulted before making the decision to withdraw funding from Newbattle abbey college, Dalkeith, Midlothian.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : My right hon. and learned Friend consulted the governors and the trustees before his announcement on 9 March.

Mr. Eadie : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his answer is not strictly correct? In the meeting with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) the Secretary of State confessed to us that the reason that he took the decision was because he was asked by the Scottish Education Department to take the decision ; he never consulted anybody. Is it not deplorable that the Secretary of State is not prepared to come to the Despatch Box and defend his own decision? Will the hon. Gentleman convey to his right hon. and learned Friend that, if the argument is about finance, more time should be allowed to the college so that it can change from the present structure of financing to another?

Mr. Forsyth : My right hon. and learned Friend gave the governors of Newbattle 18 months' notice of his intention to withdraw grant. Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches were among those who argued that the local authorities and the trade unions would wish to support the college. In the event, the college governors found that they were able to get commitments of only some £30,000 from the local authorities and from trade union sources. This seems to endorse my right hon. and learned Friend's judgment that the type of education on offer at Newbattle is an anachronism and that the emphasis which we have placed on adult education, which has resulted in more than 6, 000 people benefiting from adult education on a full-time basis in Scotland, is the correct way forward, compared with the 40 places on offer at Newbattle. I regret to say, therefore, that the governors looked for support and found that it was not forthcoming.

Next Section (Debates)

  Home Page