Mr. Home Robertson : I see that a certain loyal junior Minister has been trying to use the constitutional debate as an alibi for the latest of the Government's economic failures in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State accept that the Scottish constitutional convention is expressing the positive aspirations of the people of Scotland in a way in which this minority Administration never can and never will? Can we have a bit less of the Secretary of State's ministerial whingeing and will he face up to the clear demand from the people of Scotland for home rule within the United Kingdom?
Mr. Rifkind : The so-called constitutional convention is not having quite the major impact on Scottish opinion that the hon. Gentleman would like to believe. I understand that during the recent Scottish quiz "Super Scot", when the contestants were asked who were the two leaders of the convention, one participant responded that they were my hon. Friends the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) and for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). That suggests that the impact is not of the order that the hon. Gentleman would like.
Mr. Bill Walker : Is not the structure of the Scottish constitutional convention such that there is no way in which it can arrive at anything other than the answers that were required by those setting it up? In other words, it was never an attempt to have open discussion on the future of government in Scotland, but was for one, narrow, particular and nationalist issue only.
Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct. It is now evident that the so-called convention is not making an impact on Scottish opinion, and that is not surprising because it is essentially an organisation entirely dominated by the Labour party, with different hats--those of the parliamentary Labour party, the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities or
Column 126a number of other individuals whose Labour sympathies are well known. Therefore, it is not surprising that they should reach a measure of agreement.
Mrs. Ray Michie : We should pursue this point. Is it not the case that the Secretary of State and now the deputy Prime Minister both believe that the Tory party and the Government should listen to what people are saying? Will the Secretary of State now listen to what the majority of the Scottish people say about their wish to look after their own affairs--a fundamental right which should not be denied to the Scottish nation by any so-called democratic Government?
Mr. Rifkind : I am surprised that the hon. Lady wishes to give the impression that she is a great enthusiast for the convention, because her party has made it clear that it will have no truck with the convention unless it agrees to proportional representation for a future Scottish assembly. The deputy leader of the Labour party described proportional representation, on only 5 October this year, as being a reduction, not an extension, of democracy. He said that proportional representation would provide unrepresentative, small centre parties with disproportionate power, which would give them the opportunity to play cuckoos in the nest of the Labour Government. I know that the hon. Lady might wish to present herself as a flowering contribution to parliamentary debate, but there is little prospect of the convention meeting her party's fundamental requirement in respect of this matter.
Mr. Andy Stewart : Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on the suggestions made by Jim Ross, the secretary of the campaign for a Scottish assembly on the fact that it would levy all the taxes set by Westminster and pass the remainder over? What effect would this have on public expenditure in Scotland?
Mr. Rifkind : That was an extraordinary proposal because it implied that the assembly, despite all the protestations to the contrary, would have no tax-raising power of its own but would depend entirely on the block grant system. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar), the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, will be well aware, even if some of his hon. Friends are not, that one could not fund the sort of expenditure that he and his hon. Friends have advocated as necessary in Scotland through such a system. Only by additional tax-raising powers could the assembly fund such expenditure. Therefore, these proposals would be crucially debilitating to Scottish health, education and housing and to the whole Scottish programme.
Mr. Dewar : Is there not a strong case for the sort of reform that the convention is considering? The hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), an Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, has attempted to suggest that the Intel Corporation's decision to go to Ireland was based on the fear of constitutional change in Scotland. Did the Secretary of State hear the interview on Radio Scotland in which the chairman of the Russell Corporation, an American company which is coming to Scotland--which we welcome--dismissed that outlandish theory?
Is there not a case for constitutional change? Was it not indefensible for the Under-Secretary of State to take such a line and, in effect, to impugn Scotland's attractions as a home for inward investment, even when the Intel Corporation specifically repudiated what he had said? Will
Column 127the Secretary of State ensure that in future his colleague does not again put his partisan responsibilities as chairman of the Scottish Conservative party above his ministerial duty? Better still, will he remove him from one of his posts, given his apparent inability to distinguish between his two roles?
Mr. Rifkind : Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I have taken the trouble to read what my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) said about the matter. The hon. Gentleman, uncharacteristically, has shown extraordinary negligence in making such public allegations. My hon. Friend did not say that Intel would not come to Scotland for the reason that the hon. Gentleman suggested. He said :
"Southern Ireland, with its low rate of corporation tax does offer an attractive long term, low-tax investment environment. After a decade of Conservative tax cutting budgets, we can match that attraction. In Scotland, however, we suffer the ever present threat of the creation of a high spending and high taxing Scottish Assembly."
That is not only my hon. Friend's view and it is not only my view. It is the view of many within the Scottish business community. The hon. Gentleman should recall the conclusion of the report in the Scottish Business Insider, which was that Opposition parties have to convince indigenous companies of their financial reasoning and find an effective method of conveying the same message to potential inward investors. So far-- [Interruption.]
2. Mr. McAvoy : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will instruct Greater Glasgow health board to proceed with the original proposal to build a geriatric hospital in Rutherglen, owned, staffed and managed within the National Health Service.
The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : No. The Greater Glasgow health board's plans to work in partnership with the private sector could result in a brand new geriatric hospital for Rutherglen in only 18 months and at no capital cost to the board. I regret that the hon. Gentleman does not feel able to support the speedy provision of modern facilities for the elderly in his constituency.
Mr. McAvoy : I thank the Minister for his answer. I know that he gave it with all the authority of a man who knows that he is the real boss in the Scottish Office. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we in Cambuslang and Rutherglen hold him personally responsible for blocking the plans for a National Health Service geriatric hospital in Rutherglen and replacing them with facilities provided by Takare plc? The health board says that it does not have the capital to build an NHS hospital but it says that if Takare goes bust it will find the capital to buy the facility from it. Will the Minister explain why the board has the capital to pay Takare but is unable to build an NHS hospital?
Mr. Forsyth : It is not true that the Greater Glasgow health board does not have sufficient capital. Its capital allocation this year is--I speak from memory--about £28 million. The board wishes to ensure that its resources go as far as possible to provide the greatest possible standard of
Column 128care. If it is possible to get a hospital built in the hon. Gentleman's constituency more quickly at no capital cost, that capital will be available for facilities elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman is putting his dogma before the interests of patients.
Mr. Foulkes : Is the Minister aware of the surprise and dismay throughout Scotland at his unprecedented attack on the staff of the Scottish Development Agency? Is he further aware, as I am from my discussions with the chairman of the SDA, that the agency faces two real problems--first, the feeling of total uncertainty because of the Government's uncertainty about Scottish Enterprise, and secondly, the lack of funds to meet the commitments, need and demand throughout the country as identified by the officers of the agency? Both those problems lie at the door of the Secretary of State and the Government, and not with the staff or the SDA board.
Mr. Lang : I am surprised and dismayed that the hon. Gentleman should think that I had launched an attack on the chairman or the management of the SDA. I have done no such thing. The SDA's recommendations about Scottish Enterprise were largely in tune with the proposals that the Government have since brought forward. I would have thought that today, of all days, the hon. Gentleman might have found it in his heart to stand up and welcome the SDA's decision, announced only yesterday, to launch the Cumnock and Doon Valley initiative in his constituency, to which the agency is committing £9 million over the next five years. It is a useful economic regeneration and environmental measure that would be of great value to the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
Sir Hector Monro : Does my hon. Friend agree that the residents of Cumnock and Doon Valley are extremely fortunate in what the SDA has done? However, does he accept that there is some disquiet in Scotland about some financial arrangements between the SDA, local authorities and private industry which now seem to be in doubt? Can he assure me that those arrangements will be fulfilled in the current financial year?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right to suggest that there has been some concern about the funding of certain commitments by the agency. Indeed, I expressed that concern to senior agency personnel earlier this year. I am confident that, in the light of the decisions and steps that the agency has since taken, it has the matter under control. By proper prioritisation of the apportionment of funds, it should be able to meet its commitments.
Dr. Godman : At the meeting was there any discussion about the Inverclyde initiative? Is there not a great deal of concern that the Scottish Office intends to extinguish the initiative in March next year? Will the Minister assure me that the Inverclyde initiative will continue under the
Column 129umbrella of Scottish Enterprise? Does he not agree that it is an important local initiative which should continue beyond March 1990?
Mr. Lang : I am not aware of any proposal by the agency to discontinue the Inverclyde initiative. Inverclyde is certainly an area in need of specific help, which is why the agency launched the Inverclyde initiative. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have also created the Inverclyde enterprise zone, which has a 10-year life span. The measures that we are taking are beginning to generate results, which is encouraging for the people of Inverclyde.
Mr. John Marshall : When my hon. Friend met the chairman of the SDA, did he discuss the fear of the Confederation of British Industry that devolution would lead to less investment in Scotland and therefore fewer jobs?
Mr. Lang : No, Sir, that was not an issue discussed at that meeting. However, we did discuss a number of issues, on which total agreement was reached about the beneficial effects of the Government's various economic policies on the Scottish economy.
Mr. Dewar : Is the Minister aware that the Opposition are astonished to hear him say that he has not criticised the top management of the SDA? Did he see the report in The Scotsman on 11 October, which quoted him as being
"seriously concerned for some time about the way the SDA had been handling its budgets."
Did he see the further report that the SDA chairman, Sir David Nickson
"protested bitterly to Ian Lang, the Scottish industry minister, about his public attack on the agency's chief executive." Will that do anything for morale in the agency? Why did the Minister decide to air his views in such a public way rather than take his concerns to the agency on a private basis in the hope that something could be done if the criticisms were justified?
The Scotsman report specifically states that the Minister, in arguing for enterprise companies, did so in terms that implied that the case for them was his critical view of the SDA's financial performance and the need to remove most of the agency's projects and place them under the tighter financial control that should come with enterprise companies. Is that an accurate reflection of the Government's position?
Mr. Lang : I did not attack the SDA's chief executive, nor did its chairman protest bitterly to me. I expressed concern to the agency earlier this summer about the possible overcommitment of agency funds, and the hon. Gentleman would have been the first to criticise me if I had not done so. As a result of steps that the agency has taken, I have every confidence in its capacity to put its house in order and to administer its funds properly.
The agency and the Government are of one mind on the suitability of local enterprise companies within the Scottish enterprise proposals. The reference in the quotation from which the hon. Gentleman drew was to the fact that each local enterprise company will have its own budget within its own enterprise company area, which will lead to tighter control on a regional and local basis than has been exercised in the past under the overall umbrella of the agency's budget.
Mr. Rifkind : I meet representatives of the trade union movement from time to time on a range of issues. I am meeting the general council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 10 November to discuss matters affecting the Scottish economy.
Mr. Brown : Since some 8,000 or more jobs in Scotland are on the line simply because Ferranti is at risk from a takeover bid, is it not vital that the Secretary of State has a special meeting with the union leaders representing that company's workers? Will the Government act as guarantor for the company's independence and see off the predators? That is what the people of Scotland and my constituents in particular want.
Mr. Rifkind : I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his reselection, which has given great pleasure to all Conservative Members. I am conscious of the problems facing Ferranti, which is an exceptionally important company for Scotland and for Edinburgh in particular. The company has not asked the Government to act as a guarantor, nor would that be appropriate, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows. The Ministry of Defence put out a helpful statement showing the importance that it continues to attach to Ferranti and to its relationships with Ferranti and we look forward to the internal problems that that company has faced being resolved in the near future.
Mr. Kennedy : Has the Secretary of State had any communication with the management of Aberdeen Journals Ltd. on its dispute with members of the National Union of Journalists? Does he have any comment to pass on what appear to be the reasonable grounds that those NUJ members, both dismissed and still working, have for alleging apparent victimisation in the course of the dispute? Would not management be well advised to adopt a less intransigent attitude in the dispute and to agree to round table talks under the auspices of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, or some other suitable third party, to resolve this most unfortunate industrial dispute?
Mr. Rifkind : Naturally, we all regret industrial disputes, but it is not appropriate to expect Ministers to express any view on what is essentially a matter for management and unions to resolve. We hope that they will succeed in doing so, but no comment in this Chamber would be likely to help.
Mr. Canavan : Is the Secretary of State aware that some of Scotland's trade union leaders were in Falkirk yesterday for the counting of the votes of the Royal Scottish National hospital work force ballot on the hospital's management's proposals for the hospital to opt out of existing arrangements within the NHS? Since 95 per cent. of the work force gave a resounding vote of no confidence in the hospital management's proposals, will the Secretary of State instruct the Forth Valley health board and the hospital management to abandon the disastrous proposals which are an attack on the rights of the 800 mentally handicapped patients at the hospital?
Mr. Rifkind : I appreciate that the Labour party has been disappointed by the growing interest in various parts of Scotland in the opportunities for greater autonomy for hospitals and group practices. We are at an early stage in such matters, but the views of all concerned in the proposals will be of interest. At this stage we look forward to hearing from the various parts of Scotland interested in developing opportunities for greater autonomy for hospitals and group practices and the other opportunities outlined in our NHS proposals.
representations from time to time on a range of matters relating to electricity prices applying to industrial and domestic consumers in Scotland. The setting of electricity prices for all categories of consumers is, of course, the responsibility of the electricity boards.
Mr. Darling : Is the Minister aware that on top of the inevitable price rises that will follow the sell-off of the electricity industry, pensioners in particular are being hit by the very high level of standing charges imposed on electricity users? Will he join in the campaign to have those standing charges abolished by the private companies, and will he remind those speculators who clamour for an early sell-off of the industry that they will be seeking to profit from the financial misery suffered by old people who live in a country that has 50 per cent. over-capacity in electricity yet cannot afford to heat their homes in many instances?
Mr. Lang : As under the last Labour Government, standing charges are a matter for the electricity boards and not for the Government. I do not think that the Conservative party needs any lessons from the Opposition on prices, given that while electricity prices have fallen in real terms over the past seven years, under the last Labour Government they increased by 170 per cent. in cash terms and by 20 per cent. in real terms.
Mr. Buchanan-Smith : Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the new arrangements for the industry offer a real opportunity for greater efficiency? Is he aware that those working in the industry want to get ahead with the new arrangements? When will the industry be floated?
Mr. Lang : I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend about the desirability of floating the industry and putting it into private hands. The timing is still to be decided, but the decision will be taken in the best interests of the industry, and it remains our firm intention to achieve privatisation within the lifetime of this Parliament.
Mr. Wilson : Does the Minister accept that the House was seriously misled by Ministers about the likely decommissioning costs of Magnox stations, including those of the one in my constituency, which are to be borne by the taxpayer in order to gild the unwanted privatisation lily? In the light of the leaked information that Magnox decommissioning is likely to cost £6.6 billion of taxpayers'
Column 132money, can he throw fresh light on the likely decommissioning costs at Hunterston A and under whose auspices they will be incurred? Given the privatisation shambles, when will the Scottish boards be hawked in the market-place? Best of all, can the Minister assure us that that will not be done this side of a general election?
6. Mr. Sillars : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and individual local authorities about the case for increasing investment in public sector housing.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : At a meeting with me on 22 September, the convention expressed concern about a possible shortfall in receipts from council house sales in some authorities in the current year. I have also received representations from a number of local authorities concerning the detail of their ongoing programmes, but they mostly appreciate that consideration of future investment programmes can best take place in the context of their housing plans and capital programmes which they are due to submit next month.
Mr. Sillars : Does the Minister acknowledge that whatever he may be doing this year, the past 10 years have been years of disinvestment in public sector housing in Scotland, and that a reasonable measure of the success or otherwise of that policy is whether it puts decent roofs over families? Does he agree that after 10 years of that policy, 29,000 families are homeless, an increase of 77 per cent. in the past five years ; that 192,000 people are on the waiting lists ; that we have had a loss of stock of 130,000 homes in the public sector ; and that some of our best councils are being turned into slum landlords because of a lack of investment in the public sector? How does he justify the bitter fruit of that policy?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Total gross public investment in Scottish housing has increased in real terms by 2 per cent. a year over the past 10 years. The hon. Gentleman supported the last Labour Government in office and during those five years there was a decrease of 8 per cent. a year in real terms, for which he bore part of the responsibility.
Total gross capital spending in public sector housing in Scotland this year is £968.4 million, as allocated in March. I strongly recommend the hon. Gentleman to make representations about circumstances that affect his constituents to his district council, so that they can go into the housing plan on 3 November and be properly considered. This year, £94.2 million was allocated for investment in council houses in Glasgow, with a further £140 million in covenant schemes. No less than £466 million has been spent on Glasgow through housing associations, of course funded by the Government.
Mr. Nigel Griffiths : Will the Minister explain why he has not given local authorities separate and specific moneys to spend on dampness, when hundreds of thousands of Scots are living in homes riddled with damp?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Certainly. Special allocations in recent years undoubtedly helped to focus local authority attention on the need to tackle such problems urgently, but this year those allocations were subsumed into general allocations, along with an extra £29 million, to make it easier for local authorities to tackle problems in the way that they considered most appropriate, and to leave the discretion to the local authorities to concentrate on their most pressing priorities.
Mr. Baldry : Is it not a constitutional convention in Scotland, as elsewhere in the country, that people should abide by the law passed by Parliament? How can those words possibly lie in the mouth of a representative of a party that has been exhorting people to break the law and not pay the community charge, thus denying local authorities much- needed funds to discharge their housing responsibilities?
Mr. Galbraith : Does the Minister agree that so far the Government's response on dampness in housing has been totally ineffective? The Minister will by now have had the opportunity to read the report in the British Medical Journal of June this year which established in Scotland the relationship between damp housing and ill health. What is the Government's response to that report? When will the Government put in enough money to prevent damp housing and thus improve the health of the Scottish nation?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that it is for local authorities to choose their top priorities. If dampness rather than homelessness or any other problem is the most pressing priority in his constituency, he should make absolutely certain that that is taken up by the local authority. Of course, I have read the report, which we discussed in the Scottish Grand Committee in the summer.
7. Sir Hector Monro : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last discussed with farming interests the sheep and beef sectors, with special reference to the hills and uplands ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Rifkind : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I met the president, council members and senior office bearers of the Scottish National Farmers Union on 7 September. We discussed a wide range of issues of current concern including the state of livestock farming in the hills and uplands.
Sir Hector Monro : Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there is grave concern within the National Farmers Union and farming circles that there might be a reduction in EEC funding of the hill livestock compensatory allowance? Does he further agree that in the
Column 134hills there really is no alternative to sheep and cattle production and that if the grant is reduced it will have serious repercussions on the rural economy?
Mr. Rifkind : I very much agree with my hon. Friend that the current proposal from the European Commission discriminates blatantly against the structure of hill farming in the United Kingdom, and we shall continue to oppose it in the negotiations in Brussels.
Mr. Maclennan : Does the Secretary of State recognise that measures to deal with budgetary problems in the CAP and structural surpluses are quite inappropriate if they remove from those in the hills and uplands their basic economy? Will he examine the possibility of strengthening measures for the regional development of those sparsely populated areas using agricultural techniques?
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman will be the first to admit that structural surpluses are not healthy and need to be dealt with. I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman says about ensuring a system of support which recognises the particular nature of the agricultural economy in rural areas of Scotland. He will be aware that we have been successful in ensuring, through the Community, development programmes for the north of Scotland which have been widely welcomed and which are responsible for very important infrastructure improvements.
Mr. McAllion : Has the Secretary of State had discussions concerning another native species which is in great danger in Scotland? I refer, of course, to tigers, and in particular to the Tayside Tigers ice hockey team, so unjustifiably excluded from the premier league. Will the Minister join me in deploring that outrageous decision by the British Ice Hockey Association? Will he undertake to consult his colleagues about bringing pressure to bear on the association to reverse that decision?
Mr. Rifkind : This is not a matter which the Scottish National Farmers Union has yet thought appropriate to raise with me, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that my hon. Friend the relevant Minister will be looking into it.
Mr. Lang : My right hon. and learned Friend recognises the importance of Pittenweem harbour for the local community. He has made a financial contribution towards an initial engineering survey, on the basis of which proposals have been drawn up for the harbour's development.
Mr. Campbell : When can we expect an unqualified endorsement by the Government of the proposals for Pittenweem? Is it a failure by the Government to understand the importance of the proposals for the fishing industry in north-east Fife, or perhaps is the truth that the Government are indifferent to the future of Pittenweem and the fishing industry? Is that why the Secretary of State declined to meet representatives of the fishing industry who wished to press the case for those developments?
Mr. Lang : My right hon. and learned Friend has made a financial contribution of £50,000 towards the initial engineering survey. Subject to the satisfactory completion of statutory procedures, he will be prepared to support the project in principle if benefits and a sound rate of return on the investment are likely to accrue. No decision can be announced until Fife regional council reconsiders the proposed development and submits a revised appraisal. The findings of the Parliamentary Commissioners will have to be taken into account, and their decision is expected towards the end of the year.
Mr. Buchanan-Smith : I acknowledge the importance of Pittenweem to the fishing industry in Fife, but will my hon. Friend say when the Secretary of State will make a statement on what he is doing about the parlous and critical state of the fishing industry in Scotland in relation to decommissioning, a reformed licensing system and plans for a much better and longer-lasting structure for the industry?
Mr. Lang : My noble Friend the Minister of State, Scottish Office is well seized of the urgency and importance of all the issues to which my right hon. Friend refers and will give them his close attention.
13. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the implications for his general policy on initiating litigation of the cost of legal action relating to the book "Inside Intelligence".
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The costs payable by the Government in respect of the legal action relating to the book "Inside Intelligence" have not yet been finally determined. Cost is only one factor to be taken into account in deciding whether to initiate litigation.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The total amount to be paid will be ascertained only when accounts have been lodged and taxed by the relevant authorities. So far, the total sums paid by the Government amount to £64,871.
Mr. McKelvey : If the Minister is saying that cost is only one aspect of deciding whether a case should proceed, there must be some further examination of what the total cost will be. There must at least be a guesstimate of what the total cost will be.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I have told the hon. Gentleman that the total sums paid so far amount to £64,871, but I stress that the issue in this case is whether a person who has undertaken not to write about his work with the intelligence services should be allowed to break that undertaking. It was, and remains, the Government's view that it is important to raise any court action necessary to prevent such undertakings from being broken.
Mr. Buchan : Does the Minister agree that this is the second time that the Government have made complete fools of themselves in the eyes of the world over such cases? Following Peter Wright, we now have the Cavendish case in Scotland. Is not the serious consequence of this that the Government can initiate such action, which
Column 136costs newspapers much money? For low-level circulation newspapers it is a form of concealed censorship, which should be deplored and withdrawn.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is the Government's duty to enforce the duty of confidentiality owed by members or former members of the security and intelligence services. The articles in The Scotsman that prompted the action were based on a book written by such a person. The issue is whether a newspaper that had obtained that book was entitled to publish it. I stress that I cannot believe that the House would wish to abolish the duty of confidentiality owed by members of the security and intelligence services.