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Mr. Lang : My right hon. and learned Friend is in frequent touch with the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland on matters affecting the Scottish economy and industry. He looks forward to a continuing exchange of views.
Mr. Favell : With Scottish employment up, Scottish manufacturing output up and Scottish exports up, is it not clear to the Scottish CBI that free enterprise suits Scotland very well, just as it suits the rest of the United Kingdom very well? Is it not a fact that the Socialists on the Opposition Benches have been prophesying imminent disaster for Scotland for years, yet the opposite is the case? Would not the biggest disaster for Scotland be a Socialist assembly in Scotland?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right and has made the point extremely well. He was correct to put his finger on the point that a Socialist Government would be the most damaging thing from which the Scottish economy could suffer, bringing, as it would inevitably, high taxation.
Mr. Ernie Ross : What discussions has the Minister had with representatives of the Scottish CBI about the formation of enterprise companies to ensure that local authority representation is included in any companies that are established? Will he assure the House that representatives from district and regional local authorities will be included in the enterprise companies?
Mr. Lang : Many member of the CBI are taking a very active part in the formation of local enterprise companies. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that he seeks about the representation of local authorities on local enterprise company boards because individuals will be appointed on their merits. However, the opportunity exists for local authorities to become closely involved--as many wish--with local enterprise companies through membership of the companies.
Column 137can be met? What can the Minister say to one of my constituents who faces hard times because of the crisis in the fishing industry? The Government have not addressed that problem. My constituent is running a small business which is being hammered by a high interest rate policy designed to suit not Scotland, but the narrow selfish interests of the south-east of England. Is that not yet another example of a Scottish Minister who can do nothing being overruled by a British Minister who will do nothing for Scotland?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman seems to be remarkably unaware of the present circumstances of the economy in Scotland. Of course, there are issues of great concern to the fishing industry, which has experienced several very good years. My noble Friend the Minister responsible for fishing matters at the Scottish Office is giving those issues his very close and urgent attention.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that business decisions- -as the CBI is well aware--are made on the basis of confidence in the future and that the flawed and probably fraudulent proposals for various forms of devolution, and the separatism on order from the nationalists, remind us of what happened in Quebec when capital flowed from that area at an alarming rate? We do not want that to happen in Scotland.
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Confidence is critical to the success of an economy. The business community's confidence in this Conservative Government is reflected in the strong investment enjoyed by the Scottish economy in recent years.
Mr. Wallace : Has the Minister of State discussed with the Scottish CBI recently the proposals for electricity privatisation and in particular the implications for Scotland of announcements made by the Secretary of State for Energy during the recess which would appear to limit the scope of the Scottish boards to export surplus capacity to England? Will the additional costs arising as a result of that be borne by Scottish consumers, including industrial consumers, or by potential shareholders?
Mr. Lang : I am glad that the hon. Gentleman recognises the potential advantage to the privatised industry of increased competition through the sale of electricity down the interconnector to the markets in England. That matter is being examined closely by interested parties north and south of the border, and it would provide a considerable advantage to the Scottish consumer as well as to the electricity companies.
Mr. Harris : Will my hon. Friend confirm that employment in Scotland is at its highest level since 1980? Has my hon. Friend discussed with the CBI the possible effects of a tax-raising assembly on the Scottish economy and the employment prospects for Scotland? Mr. Lang I am happy to confirm that the civilian work force in employment in Scotland is at its highest level since 1980 and that, in recent months, almost all the indicators in the Scottish economy have been very encouraging. One thing that would certainly destroy confidence and, therefore, the success of the economy would be the increased tax burden that would flow from a Labour Government with all their high-spending policies and constitutional paraphernalia.
Mr. McLeish : Will the Minister explain to the chairman of the CBI in the next few weeks the thinking behind the recent very public attack on the integrity and competence of the chief executive of the Scottish Development Agency, Mr. Ian Robertson, in a Scottish newspaper? Does the Minister accept that such an assault will further damage the credibility of the SDA, which is already shaken by Government policy, and in which there is a real morale crisis because of the present membership of the Government Front Bench? More importantly, will the Minister tell the House that Mr. Ian Robertson's job is secure and that the Government have every confidence in his ability to carry out the future work of the SDA? Can we expect the exchange of correspondence between Sir David Nickson and the Minister to be made public at an early date so that we may see what is happening in what is fast becoming a very shabby affair in Scotland?
Mr. Lang : As the hon. Gentleman's question is founded on a myth, it hardly calls for an answer. The Scottish Development Agency is enthusiastically embracing the Government's plans for the development of Scottish Enterprise. It is the most exciting initiative to have been brought into the Scottish economic scene in many a year, and it will build on the success that we have already achieved in Scotland.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : It is for a district or islands council to decide in the first instance whether to declare a smoke control area. That step is most unlikely for the many parts of Scotland which are sparsely populated.
Mr. Riddick : I welcome that reply because it will ensure that the inhabitants of the Western Isles and other parts of Scotland will be allowed to continue to burn peat as they have been doing for many years. Is my hon. Friend aware that my local council, Kirklees, intends to extend smokeless zones to cover rural areas in my constituency? That would stop the hearth-holders of the graveship of Holme burning peat as they have done for many centuries. Does my hon. Friend agree that that extension is a major intrusion into the lives of ordinary country folk?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am interested in what my hon. Friend says about West Yorkshire, but all areas in Britain must comply with the terms of the EC directive. In Scotland, apart from two districts in west central Scotland--Glasgow and Strathkelvin--the country meets the standards laid down by the EC directive on pollution by sulphur dioxide and suspended particulates. I stress that those two districts have received derogation until 1 April 1993 and that Scotland has made significant advances in that connection.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Although hon. Members welcome the sudden interest of the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) in the welfare of people in rural communities in Scotland, does the Minister agree that the burning environmental issue in sparsely populated areas is Nirex's proposal to use Scotland for the disposal of nuclear waste? Is he aware that his counterpart in the Department of the Environment has not yet been advised
Column 139by Nirex of the 12 additional sites in Scotland that are likely to be considered? Will the Scottish Office stand idly by and let Nirex use our country to dispose of its nuclear waste?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : No. Nirex is seeking to investigate the suitability of the geology at Sellafield and Dounreay. No decision can be taken until that has been done. Of course it is possible that neither site will prove suitable and that Nirex will require to reconsider site reselection, but I assure the hon. Lady that the facts in this issue will continually be made public.
16. Mr. Buchanan-Smith : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will remove from local authorities the discretion to vary the multiples for the setting of the standard community charge ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Buchanan-Smith : Is my right hon. and learned Friend really confident? I do not share his confidence. Is he aware that some holiday home owners in my constituency do not have inside sanitation, electricity or water but have seen their rates increase from about £10 to more than £400? Local authorities have discretion to apply the standard charge at a lower level, but they are not doing so. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take more direct steps to ensure that the properties that I have described do not suffer from such treatment by local authorities?
Mr. Rifkind : Until the announcement in July, a local authority which wished to apply a single multiple would have had to do so in respect of all standard homes in its area. We have been informed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that if local authorities had the discretion which, indeed, they will now have, to apply a single multiple to certain categories of second homes for the standard charge they would be inclined to use it. The convention has also given us an assurance that it intends strongly to recommend to local authorities that they use the discretion that has now been made available to them.
Mr. Douglas : Will the Secretary of State concede that in terms of the poll tax we are moving towards chaos in Scotland, not because of statements that he has made but because of statements that he has not made on matters such as Alzheimer's disease? A concession for those with Alzheimer's disease has now been made, although at the Dispatch Box the Secretary of State repeatedly refused to make concessions. On 26 July the Secretary of State made some statements about local authorities submitting bills for small sums to people who were dead and he seemed to suggest that those could be waived by local authorities. Would he care to clarify that because it needs urgent consideration in the whole of Scotland?
Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend the Minister of State made it clear before the House rose for the summer recess that we had every intention of helping those who have Alzheimer's disease. I am delighted that we have been able
Column 140to announce the way in which that will be done. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have welcomed that rather than carp about it.
In reply to the other half of his question, my observation was that I believed it to be inconceivable that COSLA would seek to take action against a local authority that did not pursue a small sum due in respect of someone who had died. I hope that the position is now suitably clarified.
Mrs. Fyfe : How is it that the poll tax legislation, which went through the House of Commons first for Scotland and subsequently for England and Wales, was thought to be perfect beyond the bounds of any possible criticism, yet now hon. Members are beginning to discover some defects in it? Can it possibly be that Tory Members fear losing their seats at the next general election?
misapprehension. The legislation approved by the House, both for Scotland and England, will be implemented. The changes announced recently were purely transitional arrangements-- [Interruption.] Indeed, at the end of what will be a short transition the original proposals will come into effect in exactly the way that Parliament approved.
Mr. Jack : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Opposition's disinformation campaign on the community charge in Scotland has been unsuccessful? Can he confirm that already 83 per cent. of people are paying the community charge in Scotland?
Mr. Rifkind : Not only can I confirm that, but I can inform the House that the figure is as high as 95 per cent. in some parts of Scotland. Labour local authorities have themselves said that the level of payment to date is broadly comparable with that under the old rating system at this time of year.
Mr. Kirkwood : Is it not entirely disingenuous of the Secretary of State to blame local authorities for the financial adverse effects suffered as a result of these poll tax anomalies when local authorities have suffered substantial cuts in grants and would be penalised in some cases if they made available additional expenditure to cover such anomalies? When can we cross-examine the Secretary of State on the Floor of the House on the detail of his statement of 26 July? Has he had a chance to look at the new anomaly created by dragging the bed-and-breakfast operations into the rating system as a result of the standard community charge provisions?
Mr. Rifkind : The legislative requirements that flow from the recent announcement will be laid before the House at the earliest opportunity. It is extraordinary that, as a Member of Parliament from the borders area, the hon. Gentleman should not mention that under the new financing arrangements for local authorities, the local authorities in his part of Scotland will receive substantially greater grants than in the past and will do so under a system where grant penalties have been withdrawn. If the hon. Genteleman cannot express any welcome for that, it shows that he is a most ungrateful character.
Mr. Maxton : Although we welcome the long-delayed concession in the poll tax in relation to Alzheimer's disease, for which Opposition Members have fought long and hard, is it not shameful that in Scotland that concession will not be backdated to 1 April this year and
Column 141that the concession will be given to all Alzheimer's disease sufferers from the next financial year only? Is it not obvious from the concessions made at the Tory party conference in Blackpool last week that, as a result of the messages coming from Scotland about the gross unfairness of this tax and the bureaucratic mess surrounding it, the Tories in England are running scared about the effect that it will have on them at the next general election?
Mr. Rifkind : The chairman of the Alzheimers Disease Society warmly welcomed the Government's announcement when he met the Minister concerned. The main political change in Scotland since the introduction of the community charge has been that the Scottish Nationalists have fallen back to third place, which is where they belong.
17. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has for increasing the level of funding to local authorities to met the European Economic Community requirements in relation to drinking water.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Resources have been increased already. The 1989-90 capital allocation for water and sewerage services is £126 million, a 14 per cent. increase over the previous year's planned provision. Regional and islands authorities have been asked to provide details of costed action programmes to achieve full compliance with the EC drinking water directive. These will be taken into account when setting next year's allocations.
Mr. Dunnachie : In view of the promises made to the English water authorities that the standards of water in England will be raised to a standard acceptable to the EEC and that that will be funded by the Government, will the Minister give the same guarantees to Scotland, and if not, why not?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Yes, indeed. Capital restructuring in England is necessary before privatisation. As the hon. Gentleman knows, arrangements in Scotland are different. The implications for Scottish consumers of the debt write-off and the cash injection for the new companies in England and Wales are now being considered.
Mr. Foulkes : Is the Minister aware that Mr. Greir, the director of sewerage for Strathclyde, has said that he is prepared to do everything necessary to clean up the Ayrshire beaches if the Government, and the Minister in particular, come up with the money? Will the Minister give an assurance that more money will be available? Incidentally, can he tell us how he and his colleagues have managed to get through the whole of this Question Time without the advice of their special adviser on Scotland, the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor)?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor), with whom I share a secretary, for his constant advice. The hon. Gentleman's point will be seriously considered when the public expenditure survey is looked at this autumn.
20. Mr. Nigel Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what additional resources he is making available to health boards to ensure that the needs of handicapped people are provided for in the community.
Mr. Michael Forsyth : The bulk of services for handicapped people in the community is provided by local authorities. Between 1979 and 1989 provision in rate support grant for expenditure by social work departments was increased by 65 per cent. in real terms enabling authorities to make substantial increases in the level of those services.
Mr. Griffiths : Why have the Government done so little to consult those people involved in caring for people in the community? Why is the Government's response to the Griffiths report in Scotland already at the printers?
Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman is either misled or is misinforming the House. The Government have consulted carefully on Griffiths and allowed a substantial period for consultation before publishing the White Paper proposals, which we shall do shortly.
22. Mr. McFall : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met interested bodies such as the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Confederation of British Industry to discuss industrial and regional policy.
Mr. McFall : When the Minister last met those bodies, did he discuss the scurrilous remarks of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) about the Intel Corporation, which he said was chased away from Scotland by the prospect of high taxes from a Scottish assembly, a statement which was categorically rejected by the company, which said that the issue was never raised once? In any future meetings with those bodies, will the hon. Gentleman ensure the absence of the hon. Member for Stirling and make sure that he does what he has been good at : being the Paul Daniels of Scottish politics, making the Tory party, as well as the person of the Secretary of State for Scotland, disappear "Just like that", as the Prime Minister would say?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman has obviously spent most of the recess rehearsing that question. Sadly, it lacked accuracy as well as spontaneity. In my meetings and those of my right hon. and learned Friend with the CBI, one point that has been made abundantly clear is that it favours a low taxation economy. This Government have reduced corporation tax from 52p in the pound to 35p in the pound. Perhaps the Labour party will come clean one day and tell us how much corporation tax will rise under a future Labour Government.
Mr. Strang : To return to what the Secretary of State said about Ferranti, does the Minister recognise that it is not sufficient for the Government just to point to the statement from the Secretary of State for Defence--welcome though that was? We want an undertaking that
Column 143the Government will intervene, if necessary, to ensure that the financial solution found for Ferranti will provide for major increased investment in Scotland and will enable the company to go forward and win the contract for the European fighter aircraft.
Mr. Lang : We certainly recognise the great importance of Ferranti, as a major employer, to the Scottish economy. These are difficult and commercially sensitive matters. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Government are keeping in close touch with progress.
Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I ask for your advice on the increasing habit of questions being tabled and hon. Members not being here to ask them? The Minister of State said a few minutes ago that one of my hon. Friends had been rehearsing hard all recess. The new Patronage Secretary's representative on the Scottish team, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), has been earning his corn. There are no fewer than nine questions down--seven from hon. Members south of the border--all in identical terms, showing a most unlikely interest in the views of the Scottish CBI. That may be fair game, but five of the questions from hon. Members south of the border
Column 144appeared in the first dozen or so called today. Only one of those hon. Members--the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett)--withdrew his question. There were four questions running from such unlikely places as Cannock and Burntwood, Amber Valley, Stockton, South and Beverley, for which the hon. Member concerned was not present. Does that not amount to an abuse and should not some guidance be given?
Mr. Speaker : Order. I sometimes hear complaints from the hon. Gentleman about the number of hon. Members representing English constituencies who put down questions. I do not quite get the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument this afternoon. These questions were put down before the recess. The hon. Members concerned notified my office and that is why their names were not called out.
Mr. Allen presented a Bill to abolish the present composition of the House of Lords and to provide for a new membership based solely on an equal directly elected representation : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 204.]
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