Lords amendments agreed to.
Mr. Robertson : Next time the Secretary of State meets the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, he will find him, like so many other people in Scotland, deeply concerned at the paralysis that has hit the Scottish Development Agency due to the cash crisis that it faces. Is he aware that many projects in my constituency and in many others are being hit by the funding crisis? Will he ensure that the agency immediately receives the funds it requires to retain its credibility among the Scottish people and to create the jobs that Scotland so deeply needs?
Mr. Rifkind : When I met the general secretary of the STUC a few days ago, he did not raise that subject, but emphasised that he thought that the Government's proposals for merging the SDA with the Training Agency were a splendid idea, and that he and his colleagues looked forward to welcoming those proposals in the coming weeks and months. The SDA receives healthy funding, provided by the Government, and as a consequence is involved in a number of major projects around Scotland.
Mr. Ian Bruce : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the TUC should be happy about jobs in Scotland? Will he confirm that Scotland's unemployment rate is lower than that of most of our European partners, including France, Belgium, Holland, Spain and Italy?
Mr. Rifkind : Yes, that is correct. Although unemployment in Scotland is still far higher than any of us would wish to see, it has fallen by more than 100,000 in the past two years. As my hon. Friend rightly says, it is lower than
Column 290the level to be found in at least five other countries in the European Community--France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Ireland.
Mr. Dewar : The Minister will have seen the reports showing that £400,000 of the £3.7 million of public money that was put into the Wang project in Stirling is to be repaid. It that true? Will he also comment on the stories that Intel, a Californian company, may be interested in the plant? Does he believe that there is a realistic prospect of finding a buyer to take over the plant as a going concern? Does he accept that there must have been something very wrong with his Department's monitoring system when Wang so signally failed to meet its targets at Stirling and he was left with only one week's notice of the decision to decamp?
Mr. Rifkind : On the final point, Wang received financial assistance from the Government under the same criteria as that provided by former Labour Governments. It was precisely because of the difficulties that that created in the past that the Government changed the criteria in 1984. As regards the hon. Gentleman's other points, Wang has indicated that some repayment to the Government might be appropriate. I share the hon. Gentleman's deep interest in finding an alternative user for the site, but I earnestly suggest that at this stage speculation about who that potential user might be is not in the interests of Stirling or of investment in the area.
3. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the funding of the Government's standard grade development programme, particularly in relation to technological studies, computing studies and office information studies.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : To date, more than £37 million has been spent or provided for specifically for standard grade. This includes more than £9 million within local authorities' capital allocations for the purchase of scientific and technological equipment.
Mr. Dunnachie : It is obvious that the Minister has not met senior education officials in Strathclyde, who have expressed to me their grave concern about the severe underfunding of these important subjects in education and have asked me to ask the Minister to think again and to put money into these subjects so as to allow the young people of Scotland to be trained so as to enable them to compete in the new industries that are supposed to be coming to Scotland. Those education officials tell me that if they do not get the money they will view the future of those subjects with grave concern.
Mr. Forsyth : I am surprised that the education authorities are making their representations through the hon. Gentleman. The Scottish Education Department has received no representations of the kind that he has described. The education authorities have had substantial provision. If the Educational Institute of Scotland is worried about standard grade, it should address its criticisms in the first instance to the education authorities, to which adequate provision has been made.
I should say in defence of the Educational Institute of Scotland that its executive took a different position from
Column 291that of its conference and opposed any boycott of standard grade. It is unfortunate that the annual general meeting took such a view, and I hope that the teachers who have implemented standard grade so successfully will continue to make a contribution.
Mr. Tom Clarke : Does the Minister accept that there is an important role in all this for the Scottish Council for Educational Technology? Will he therefore ensure that it is properly resourced, including proper funding for the Scottish central film library and the Scottish film archives, which have made a major contribution to technology in our time?
Mr. Forsyth : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government have been sensitive to the needs of the Scottish film industry. I recall the hon. Gentleman telling me privately how pleased he was at the Government's announcement following our review. I am sorry that he is not prepared to say publicly in the House what he was prepared to say privately-- [Interruption.]
Mr. Clarke : The Minister has clearly misunderstood the meetings which took place about the Scottish Film Council and has confused it with the Scottish central film library. I believe that that was a genuine misunderstanding and that he should withdraw what he said.
Mr. Harris : I welcome that answer, but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that an even higher percentage--85 per cent.--of pensioners stand to benefit from the introduction of the community charge? Do not those two sets of figures amount to further evidence of the inherent fairness of the community charge compared with the present rating system?
Mr. Rifkind : That is undoubtedly true. It is also particularly welcome because single pensioners and single parents can be found among those with the lowest incomes in our society. The fact that they overwhelmingly benefit as a result of the change in the system of local taxation is, as my hon. Friend says, another vindication of that change.
Mr. Douglas : Will the Minister have a care about his use of words? The question was about gaining. How can he suggest that single parents or anyone on a low income will gain from the imposition of the poll tax? Will he also consider the huge cost of the tax to Scotland? It costs £30 million to £40 million more than the rates. What a burden that is, and what an intrusion it is on people's civil liberties.
Mr. Rifkind : I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman with his oft-proclaimed interest in the well-being of the poorer sections of our community would be the first, if he wished to be seen as an objective commentator on these matters, to welcome the fact that 85 per cent. of single pensioners and 80 per cent. of single parents pay less now than they would be paying if domestic rates were still in force.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that single parents in Dundee are not getting the full benefit and advantage of the community charge because since 1983 Dundee district council has paid the salary of Mr. Jim White, a full-time official of NALGO, who brought about the strike and has caused terrible inconvenience to single parent? Is that not a further example of why the community charge is far higher than it should be, and a factor which may be prevalent throughout Scotland?
Mr. Rifkind : Undoubtedly, factors of the kind to which my hon. Friend refers have led to the consequences that he has described. I should have thought that anyone interested in the well-being of the community would wish to discourage any action by local authority officials or others which would have that effect. The vast majority of local authority officials are carrying out their responsibilities diligently and with due consideration for the important matters to which my hon. Friend has referred.
Mr. Maxton : Is not the only reason why single parents are marginally better off this year than they were last year the iniquitous 20 per cent. minimum payment that the Government imposed on those who are hardest up in our society? If the Secretary of State is so keen on statistics, why does he not tell us the percentage of people earning more than £25,000 per year who are considerably better off as a result of the poll tax?
Mr. Rifkind : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) for rebuking the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas) and confirming that single parents and single pensioners are better off. That is the most eloquent denunciation yet of the nonsense that we have heard from some Opposition Members.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : The development of Scottish Homes' rural strategwas one of the issues discussed formally when I met Sir James Mellon, chairman of Scottish Homes, on 23 June.
Mr. Wallace : When the Under-Secretary of State spoke in the Scottish Grand Committee last week about homelessness, one remedy that he did not describe was building more houses. Given that homelessness is as much a rural as an urban problem, and that the amount
Column 293allocated by Scottish Homes to housing associations in the north of Scotland will scarcely allow for any new projects to be brought on stream in the next year, what steps do the Government intend to take to give more support to housing associations so that they can fulfil the important task of building and providing housing?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I have good news for the hon. Member. Orkney housing association has been allocated £850,000 this year--the largest allocation since its formation. Moreover, programme expenditure for the north region is no less than £44 million for 1988-89. I fully expect the rural strategy now being worked out by Scottish Homes to be in place by May next year. That strategy will point the way to more houses being built in areas where they are most needed. We expect that in Scotland as a whole between 3,000 and 4,000 houses will be completed this year.
Sir Hector Monro : Does my hon. Friend agree that, in terms of rural and urban housing, the Loreburn housing association has carried out exceptionally good work in Dumfries and Galloway? Will he do everything possible to approve its exciting new scheme at Nithsdale mills, even it if means the demolition of a Victorian mill?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I can confirm that the performance of Loreburn housing association has been extremely impressive. Its application to pull down the building to which my hon. Friend refers is currently with Dumfries and Galloway regional council, which is the planning authority. The application will be considered this month. If it is approved, the decision will be notified to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State as the building is listed, but the matter will be processed as quickly as possible thereafter.
Mr. Rifkind : It is estimated that almost 99 per cent. of the adult population have been registered. It will be some while yet before reliable information on payment levels becomes available from local authorities. The current indications are that local authorities are satisfied with the progress so far made in collecting community charges.
Mr. Canavan : Is the Secretary of State seriously telling us that the staff of 10,000 at the Scottish office are insufficient to make a dozen telephone calls to the regional and islands councils to obtain the figures needed for a full and accurate reply to a parliamentary question? Or is there, perhaps, a political reason for his refusal to reveal the whole truth about the number of non-payers? Does he admit that if it became public knowledge that several hundred thousand people in Scotland were refusing to pay the poll tax, more and more people would join the non- payment campaign, which is the only realistic way to defeat the poll tax and stop it being foisted on the people of Scotland by a discredited Government?
Column 294officials of the level of collection in the region. The hon. Gentleman never likes to admit that he is pursuing a lost cause. His views on this have been repudiated by his own party--and, indeed, by the general public, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and a large number of other Scottish organisations--but he can continue to whistle in the dark.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Is it not disgraceful that the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) should support a campaign which argues that people should not pay their lawful dues to society when the legislation has been passed by a democratically elected House of Commons? What do Labour Members think would happen if Conservatives took the same attitude when a Labour Government were in power? Is it not also outrageous that well-heeled Opposition Members should refuse to pay their dues to the community whose services they receive?
Mr. Rifkind : It is very much up to local authorities to decide which procedure they should apply. As the House well knows, major reforms have been made to the warrant sales system, leading to the removal of all the features of that system that were causing concern to both sides of the House. Those who are owed the community charge and have not received it are clearly entitled to use such methods as they think appropriate under the law.
Mr. Ross : That reply beggars belief. The Minister must concede that there is hardly anyone on whom he can call for support. According to a recent Gallup poll, not even the Conservative party supports what he is doing to the National Health Service. Is it not about time that he withdrew this nonsensical review--at least in respect of Scotland--and got down to serious discussions with people in the Health Service about trying to create a better service rather than trying to fragment it?
Mr. Forsyth : I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. Even the British Medical Association supports our proposals for a medical audit, money following patients and resource management. As for the public and those who depend on the Health Service as a whole, there is widespread support for our measures to reduce waiting lists, to ensure that people are given appointments on which they can rely and that they see a consultant, to make it easier for patients to change doctors and to extend patient choice.
Column 295The opinion poll to which the hon. Gentleman referred represents a public view on the White Paper as presented by the BMA and the Government's opponents, which is a long way from any proposals that we have presented. If the hon. Gentleman has studied the poll and our proposals, he will know that the Government have no intention of privatising the National Health Service.
Mr. Andrew Welsh : Will the Minister acknowledge that there has been massive and united opposition to his proposals from general practitioners in my constituency, who are against the proposal to create a poorer and less effective National Health Service? When will he start to acknowledge that there is massive public disapproval of his plans, as well as professional disapproval? This is a democracy. When will the Minister stop dictating to the people and start to understand what they are saying and do something about it?
Mr. Forsyth : I suggest that the hon. Gentleman has a word with some of the GPs in Angus district. One GP who has come forward as a volunteer to run a pilot scheme-- [Interruption.] Opposition Members should not mock. The BMA itself suggested that pilot schemes would be a good idea. That GP, who came into my office to volunteer as a result of representations by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker), practises in Angus. He believes that his proposals will result in better services for the patients on his list, and we shall see if we are able to take them forward.
Mr. Frank Field : As health expenditure per person in Scotland is 25 per cent. higher than in England, can the Minister assure the House that, on average, Scottish citizens are 25 per cent. healthier than English citizens? If not, should he not spend his time making sure that his Department devises indices to answer that question rather than ramming through National Health Service reforms, since neither the Government nor anyone else can say whether they will improve or reduce health standards in Scotland, England or Wales?
Mr. Forsyth : I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. He is right to point out that health expenditure is 25 per cent. higher in Scotland than it is in England. He is also right to point out that health in Scotland is no better as a result. He should address his remarks to his own party, which seems to believe that the problems of the Health Service are entirely-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) is a member of a party which is arguing that the only problems with the Health Service are due to inadequate resources. Yet he has pointed out that although Scotland has been provided with substantial additional resources, health in Scotland is not proportionately better. It is for those reasons that we put forward our White Paper proposals. I welcome the hon. Gentleman as an ally in what we are trying to do in the National Health Service.
Mr. McKelvey : Notwithstanding the reply that the Secretary of State gave to question No. 1 and also to this question, did he have any discussions with the chief executive about the shortfall of funds? Is he aware that in my constituency of Kilmarnock, small Scottish business men with good businesses and good workers are losing out on projects that could have received a grant because spending is ahead of schedule, either as a result of sheer efficiency on our part or because the weather in Scotland is mild at the moment and building work is further ahead than usual? If the Secretary of State could give more money to the Scottish Development Agency now so that those projects could be kept within the plan, he would dispel the fears of those small business men who are losing out and also defeat the wisecrackers who are going about the streets of Kilmarnock suggesting that he has backed the Wang horse.
Mr. Rifkind : I am delighted by the hon. Gentleman's comments. Any suggestion that the SDA is underfunded does not match the facts when one considers what has happened. Total provision for the agency in 1989-90 is £160 million, compared with £147 million last year. The fact that support is being sought for even more projects suggests that economic activity in Scotland is healthy. I have no doubt that the SDA, which has £160 million available to it this year, will be able to respond positively to a very large proportion of company requests which justify support.
Mr. Buchanan-Smith : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, compared with the view of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. McKelvey), we in the north-east of Scotland appreciate the work of the Scottish Development Agency and the funding and support that it provides both for major projects, such as Aberdeen Beyond 2000, and for rural projects, such as those to be found in Braemar in my constituency? May I have his assurance that the SDA, contrary to the way in which it acted in the past, will continue to take an interest in activities in areas outside the central belt of Scotland, such as the north-east?
Mr. Rifkind : My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. We have emphasised to the Scottish Development Agency that its remit is for the whole of Scotland and that the north-east in particular is entitled to its fair share of any resources that are available. Some of the criticism that one used to hear a few years ago about the concentration of SDA activity in one particular part of Scotland is now heard much less often. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is able to confirm that the SDA is supporting projects in his area.
Mr. Malcolm Bruce : When the Secretary of State next meets the Scottish Development Agency, will he consider asking it to look into the structure of community businesses, which are developing well in Scotland but which need to be given a new legal status if they are to expand further? Will he also consider whether the SDA might have a role in providing venture capital for new businesses as there is still a gap in the market for venture capital, particularly for those who have ideas and energy but no collateral?
Mr. Rifkind : I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman said. I shall be happy to ensure that his ideas are discussed with the SDA, to find out whether there is a gap in its ability to meet that requirement and perhaps it will comment on the points raised by the hon. Gentleman.
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Will my right hon. and learned Friend take time today to congratulate the director of the national galleries on resuming and restoring the galleries for such a small sum? Will he remind the House-- [Interruption.]
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : Yes, Mr. Speaker. Will my right hon. and learned Friend remind the House that the Government have provided the funds to enable the work to be done through the SDA because of our economic policies. We have had a decade of regeneration in the arts in Scotland unrivalled by any previous Government.
Mr. Rifkind : I can certainly confirm to my hon. and learned Friend that the restoration and improvements to the national galleries have rightly received wide applause throughout Scotland. It was a remarkable achievement, whether or not the SDA was involved.
Dr. Godman : During his meeting with the chief executive of the SDA, did the Secretary of State establish the reasons for the decision to include three public houses and a betting shop within the boundaries of the Inverclyde enterprise zone? Is it not the case that the two local authorities will lose more than a bob or two over the next 10 years because of that gaff? Given the Secretary of State's ever-ready desire to berate Labour local authorities for their poor financial management, will he now give an assurance that the two councils concerned will not lose any money because of that gaff?
Mr. Rifkind : First, I understand that those particular sites were regarded as potential sites that could be used to attract new investment to Inverclyde. Secondly, it is highly unlikely that local authorities will lose out, because their revenue support grant takes into account their expected revenue. If that revenue goes down, there will be an enhancement of revenue support grant. Thirdly, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will join me in expressing delight at the decision of Crusader to move 300 jobs from Reigate in Surrey to Inverclyde because of the Government's decision to create an enterprise zone there.
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang) : Seasonally- adjusted unemployment in Scotland in June 1983 was 300,100, and the figure for May 1989 is 239,800. Unemployment in Scotland has now fallen for 25 months in succession, the longest and largest sustained fall on record.
Mr. Favell : Is it not clear that jobs are now returning to Scotland because the Government have failed to encourage the "the world owes us a free lunch" mentality encouraged by the Opposition, and have encouraged the
Column 298traditional Scottish virtues of hard work, industrial and commercial innovation and enterprise which have served Scotland, the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth and the world during previous periods of prosperity? Is it not good to know that the ancient virtues are the best way to serve Scotland?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The civilian work force in Scotland grew by 66,000 last year. Although I am glad that unemployment is falling in the north of England, in the past year seasonally adjusted unemployment in Scotland fell faster than in the south- east of England.
Mr. Watson : Notwithstanding the Minister's self-satisfied response, does he accept that youth unemployment in Scotland, and in the city of Glasgow in particular, is at a record level? Five of the six wards which I represent in Glasgow, Central have youth unemployment in excess of 28 per cent. One has a horrendous youth unemployment figure of 45 per cent. Will the Minister say what hope he can hold out to school leavers in Scotland?
Mr. Lang : I welcome the hon. Gentleman's opening contribution to the proceedings of the House. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing many more contributions from him. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the youth training scheme operates extremely effectively in Glasgow. Last year, 82 per cent. of those who completed a YTS course in Glasgow obtained some form of employment over the following three months. Unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has fallen by 2,140 since January 1987.
Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop : Has my hon. Friend taken the trouble to make clear to people in Scotland the extent to which grants from the United Kingdom Treasury are made available, for instance in the development of tourism in Scotland, where, with a similar rate of unemployment-- [Interruption.] May I wait until the interruptions have finished, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop : Has my hon. Friend made sure that people in Scotland realise the extent to which grants are available, for instance under the Development of Tourism Act 1969, in conditions of unemployment in Scotland, where they would not be available in the rest of the United Kingdom, including the south-west?
Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Regional assistance is applied evenhandedly across the United Kingdom. However, as a result of need in Scotland, 65 per cent. of our working population work in assisted areas, compared with 35 per cent. for the rest of the United Kingdom. Regional assistance has helped to regenerate the Scottish economy and create the new jobs to which I referred.
Mr. Kirkwood : Is the Minister aware that the border areas tourist authority which conducted a survey of 500 properties in the retail self- catering sector of tourism in the area, found that the owners of such properties are paying an additional £200 a year as a direct result of the standard community charge? Is it not slightly ludicrous that a unit containing 10 self-catering flats on one site is subject to the commercial rating system, whereas 10 separate units in different locations must pay 10 individual standard community charges? Will he consider changing the regulations so that all units are subject to commercial rates?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman should refer the increased costs faced by such organisations to regional and district councils in his area, because they have deliberately chosen to impose a standard charge as high as twice as much as is open to them. Had they imposed a multiplier of one instead of two, many of the problems faced by self-catering establishments would not have arisen.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Is the Minister aware that not only is the tourist industry being seriously affected by this aspect of the legislation but that it is also causing serious financial hardship to organisations that work for the disabled? Is he aware that the Association of Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, which was bequested two small properties, is paying standard community charge on them, thereby making it increasingly difficult for it to offer respite to the carers of disabled people?
Mr. Lang : Such a development would, indeed, be extremely regrettable. The standard community charge accounts for about 0.3 per cent. of total local authority revenue. The choice is open to them of imposing a multiplier of one instead of two, which would halve the burden faced by such organisations.
Mr. Buchanan-Smith : Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that this is a problem? The impact of the standard community charge on the provision of self-catering and other tourist accommodation cuts right across other Government schemes, such as farm diversification. Will he acknowledge that this problem requires a review, and will he undertake to instigate such a review?