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Microwave Ovens

3.30 pm

Dr. David Clark (South Shields) (by private notice) : To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether he would make a statement on the list of models of microwave ovens which failed to reach the required safety standards in tests undertaken recently by his Department ; and what proposals he has to inform the 8 million owners of microwave ovens of the details.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer) : Last summer I was informed of the results of tests on five microwave ovens carried out by my Department. These indicated that some ovens, when operated in accordance with the manufacturers' instructions, did not always perform sufficiently consistently to kill the bacteria in the food. I therefore announced a larger test programme to cover all the most popular brands.

The day before yesterday I received the first facsimile copy of the report on the programme, which covered 102 ovens and 70 different models. Two thirds of these performed satisfactorily, but the remainder gave rise to a range of different concerns. I provided copies of the report to the microwave working party, which includes representatives of consumers and manufacturers, published it in the afternoon of the day I received it and placed, a copy in the Library of the House. At the same time, before there was any request from the Opposition or from any other quarter, I called in the manufacturers' representatives and insisted that they make available a list of the ovens tested, together with the advice and new instructions which would ensure that the ovens would perform properly.

I was pressed publicly to give a list of those ovens but I made it clear that such a list, without the detailed information and advice, would be of no use. I announced that the manufacturers would produce this information as rapidly as possible and, I hoped, before the weekend. The house will be pleased to know that the full list of every oven tested, together with these updated instructions is being published by the manufacturers this afternoon, that is, within two days of my receipt of the report.

Anyone who has a microwave oven will be able to check against the list and see what steps, if any, are needed to ensure that food is fully cooked. The manufacturers have also agreed to rush through updated instruction literature, where that is necessary, so that customers will be able to get the new instructions to keep with their machines.

The Association of Manufacturers of Domestic Electrical Appliances--AMDEA-- has further agreed that all its members will ensure that new microwave ovens will meet the higher standards which the tests that my Ministry carried out have shown to be necessary. I promised all that on Monday.

As Minister with responsibility for food, my first responsibility is the protection of the health of the public. That is why I insisted upon this research. That is why I wanted the earliest possible results and the earliest possible publication. Today the House will recognise that we have been able to get the earliest possible advice to the public. By seeking co- operation and not confrontation, this whole programme has been completed faster and the public have

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been more fully informed. As a result, the information that I promised on Monday, a promise that I repeated on Tuesday, has been delivered on Wednesday.

Dr. Clark : I am glad-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is a matter of great interest to our constituents.

Dr. Clark : Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I am glad that, at last, we have managed to drag the Minister to the Dispatch Box to make a statement-- [Interruption.] I remind Conservative Members that the Minister had refused to make a statement to the House. He has now given us the information we requested only as a result of my private notice question. I am pleased that the Minister has changed his mind since his broadcast this morning, when he gave a completely different answer. Why does he think it right that the manufacturers should publish the results of a Government study? Why do not the Government publish their own independent results? Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the simple reason for the delay in persuading manufacturers to make an announcement was his agreement with them that, to save the Government money, the manufacturers would provide the models on the understanding that no results would be published about any models that failed?

Will the Minister make it clear--and it is his job, not that of the manufacturers--which models are safe and operative because it is vital that the firms survive and that the jobs of those working in the industry are maintained? Is it not time that the Minister began to speak up for the consumer, and not the manufacturer?

Mr. Gummer : It is a little difficult to understand how I have changed my mind when all that I have done is what I announced on Monday I would do. I had the manufacturers in my office at exactly the moment that I published the report and at exactly the time that the working party meeting ended. It had been sitting from 10.15 am on the day that I received the report, and the manufacturers, together with representatives of the consumer, were present at that meeting. There is no question of any delay. Indeed, I congratulate my scientists on the speed with which they have moved. The report was published by the Government on Monday because it was a Government report. A statement on how the models should be used is being published by the manufacturers because it is their models that are involved and they are updating their information.

The hon. Gentleman's third question shows that he has come to understand that, by unnecessarily stirring up people's fears, jobs have again been endangered by the Labour party. It is precisely because I put the consumer first that the document has been published today. That is why I did not merely seek headlines, as the Opposition have done.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare) : Would my right hon. Friend care to say a word about the role of the Consumers Association in this matter? I have looked up some recent reports. Is it not extraordinary that the consumer magazine "Which?" has at no time mentioned minimum temperatures in relation to microwave ovens? From its statement yesterday, it might be thought that the association was more interested in promoting itself than in the interests of consumers.

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Mr. Gummer : I think that the my hon. Friend should be rather careful about mentioning the Consumers Association on this occasion. It turns out that the one oven that proved so unsatisfactory that it had to be withdrawn was one of the "best buys" recommended by the association after its tests. I note that the association said : "When you buy a microwave, choose one which comes out well in our tests for cooking and defrosting : we take evenness into account." I suspect that the association's concern in this instance has been motivated more by its history than by any desire to protect the consumer.

Mr. Alan W. Williams (Carmarthen) : I congratulate the Minister on his rapid climbdown. I heard him give a very different account on the one o'clock news yesterday ; as always, he instinctively took the manufacturers' view, taking consumers into consideration only under pressure from my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark).

What provision do the Government intend to make for the repair of defective microwave ovens? Two million are now known to be defective in households up and down the country, and one third of cook-chill foods are contaminated with listeria. Microwave ovens are now posing a danger in every one of those homes.

Mr. Gummer : I find it difficult to see how the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) can have forced me into doing something, given that I said what I was going to do before he had even heard about the problem. Let me tell the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) that, admirable though his hon. Friend is in many ways, he has not been at the forefront on this occasion.

As for the hon. Gentleman's second question, he plainly does not understand what has happened. The machines themselves are, in large measure, not defective at all ; the problem is simply that the instructions do not tell housewives or other consumers how to use them properly. The hon. Gentleman ought to remember that, rather than 2 million ovens being defective, a number of ovens require updated instructions, and those instructions are being given out today. The hon. Gentleman should thank my staff for the unparalleled speed with which they have moved.

Dame Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake) : As one who is not always a friend of the Minister of Agriculture, may I congratulate him on the speed with which he has worked? I hope that he will ignore the long-winded waffle that we have heard from Opposition Members. Can he recall a time when the Labour Government worked with such speed, or to such effect?

Mr. Gummer : I thank my hon. Friend. In such circumstances it is necessary to make a choice : do we wish to serve the consumer's needs or not? Serving the consumer's needs in this case meant obtaining the co- operation of all involved, and as a result not a single oven that was on the list is not now covered by up-to-date instructions. That was very speedy action. Any hon. Member who wants to look at that list need only visit the Library of the House, where I hope that it has been placed by now.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro) : Nevertheless, surely the Minister accepts that the public will find it extraordinary that his first reaction was to go to the manufacturers for

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his information rather than to the consumers. Why did he reveal yesterday, in a written answer, that no tests on cooking from raw are being conducted, although it is well known that that process involves many bacterium problems in microwave ovens? Is it not high time that we had a Ministry of Food that put people first, rather than the manufacturers and the industry?

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman must have thought of that question before he heard the statement. What he has said is nonsense ; it bears no relationship to the facts. The report that was made to me on Monday morning was given to representatives of consumers, manufacturers and scientists at a meeting beginning at 10.15 and it was published in the afternoon. Immediately we received the details I was able to announce that the manufacturers had published them. I do not understand how much faster the hon. Gentleman feels that we could have moved. If he dislikes manufacturers generally and hates their products, he had better tell the people of Cornwall.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his eminently sensible approach to this latest attempt to drum up a hysterical outburst against a perfectly safe piece of equipment. I have owned and used microwave ovens for at least 20 years on a daily basis. I can assure my right hon. Friend that most people use microwave ovens for defrosting or warming food and that they are well aware that they simply need to stir the food while it is being cooked to ensure that it is heated through evenly. There is a political dimension to this problem which my right hon. Friend has not mentioned. The Labour party has mounted an assault on the cook-chill industry for a long time and the London Food Commission has described cook-chill food as an assault on the food industry. By condemning the use of microwave ovens they are trying to discredit the cook-chill food industry.

Mr. Gummer : I thank my hon. Friend, with whom I do not always agree, for her kind support. It is a pity that the Opposition and others did not listen to what I said on Monday. If they had, they would not be surprised by what we have delivered on Wednesday.

Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : Will the Minister confirm that when he lost his temper on the "Today" programme this morning he had no intention whatsoever, as he repeatedly made clear, of publishing the list of defective microwave ovens but that a series of panic phone calls took place between his officials and representatives of the industry? May I, in a bipartisan spirit, ask him to join me in commending the person who made the break-through possible, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark)?

Mr. Gummer : The hon. Gentleman must look back to the statement that I made on Monday. I made it quite clear that a list, with instructions, would be published. The hon. Gentleman must tell the truth and not mislead the House. I repeated on Tuesday what I had said on Monday--that the list would be published--and I have repeated it again today. The Opposition thought that they were going to win a point today. They were rather disappointed when they found that they were entirely wrong.

Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South) : Will my right hon. Friend clarify whether we are discussing a food safety

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problem or a manufacturing problem? If we are discussing a manufacturing problem, of course it is correct to allow the manufacturers to publish the list of technical faults and what needs to be put right, but if we are discussing a food safety problem my right hon. Friend must understand that there will be some surprise that his Department is not taking the initiative by issuing a list of dangerous microwave ovens.

Mr. Gummer : My hon. Friend must see that there have been two publications. I published on Monday the report that had the results of all the tests that had been carried out. What is being published today by the manufacturers is the agreed changes in their recommendations for the operation of their machines--as my hon. Friend said, of the machines themselves. Those are their recommendations, based on our findings. The machines are, of course, those on which the manufacturers had carried out other tests. I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that I had the responsibility of announcing and publishing the report. I also had the responsibility on Monday of insisting that the manufacturers produced the list and gave the details of the changes with which we had agreed that the machines would be made perfectly safe in use.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is an extension of Question Time, and we must now move on.

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Public Expenditure (Scotland)

3.50 pm

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about public expenditure in Scotland.

Following the announcement of the Government's public expenditure plans by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 15 November, I have now completed detailed decisions on the allocation of resources to the expenditure programmes for which I am responsible in Scotland. The total resources that I am able to deploy next year amount to just over £9.5 billion. That is £525 million greater than the latest estimate of outturn in the current year. Plans for future years will take the total to just over £10 billion in 1991-92 and to almost £10.4 billion in 1992-93, the third year of the survey. In making my decisions on the resources to be allocated to individual programmes over the next three years I have, of course, had close regard to what are known as the "formula

consequentials"--that is, the amounts that reflect the increases in the relevant comparable programmes south of the border. However, my final decisions reflect very clearly the priorities that I and my colleagues attach to particular Scottish needs and the requirements of particular programmes. The overall effect of my decisions is summarised in a table which is available from the Vote Office and will appear in Hansard. However, I should single out a number of key priority areas.

We are all concerned to see a significant improvement in our drinking water and in the quality of our environment. To achieve that, the Government will provide substantial additional resources, over and above the operation of the normal formula arrangements, for increased capital expenditure on water and sewerage services. That will enable me to boost capital expenditure above this year's level by more than £100 million over three years. That will take our investment level to no less than £190 million in 1992-93, almost 50 per cent. above this year's level, and provide a programme of £500 million over three years. I am sure that that will be widely welcomed.

I have also substantially increased the transport programme, by nearly £30 million next year compared with this, and made further increases which will bring the programme to over £400 million in 1992-93. That will enable us to make a significant start on the new M74 and further improvements to the M8, to the A96 and to other important trunk and local authority roads.

In housing, the resources available to Scottish Homes will be some £36 million--11 per cent.--greater than for the current year. I have substantially increased the public sector contribution to the funding of the local authorities' capital programme. The provisional net capital allocations for council housing will increase in total by £25 million, or 15 per cent. That will allow authorities to maintain the capital programme of improvement and repair of their own stock at the level per house announced this time last year, notwithstanding a forecast reduction in the level of receipts from sales. If local authorities wish to finance higher programmes of maintenance or new construction, they can increase receipts by speeding up council house sales, as Scottish Homes and the new towns have already done so successfully.

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My decisions on housing also recognise the importance of the four partnership areas, Castlemilk, Wester Hailes, Whitfield and Ferguslie Park. I am including in the increases an extra £11 million for those areas, split almost equally between Scottish Homes and the local authorities' capital programmes. Those decisions on housing in Scotland clearly respond to the major priorities at the present time.

The priority that we attach to the partnerships in the peripheral estates and to similar deprived areas is underlined by the 50 per cent. increase in the urban programme in 1990-91, which will inject an additional £16 million of Government grant into projects improving the social infrastructure and employment opportunities in those areas.

The Government's strong commitment to education is underlined by my expenditure decisions. Spending on my education programme will rise by 12 per cent. next year to £439 million, and to £500 million in three years' time. Expenditure then will be more than 25 per cent. higher than it was this year. In recognition of the fact that more of our young people and mature students wish to enjoy the benefits of higher education, I am increasing support for students by £134 million over the next three years. This means that we shall be planning for an extra 6,000 students in Scotland next year, and 8,000 in 1991-92.

My spending decisions also reflect the Government's firm commitment to improving the quality of our environment and supporting the maintenance of our heritage. There will be an increase of 10 per cent. in funds for the Countryside Commission for Scotland next year and new provision of at least £3 million over the next three years for projects within the central Scotland woodlands initiative. There will be a 16 per cent. increase in historic buildings grants next year, an extra £2.5 million over three years for repairs to the Royal Scottish Academy building in Edinburgh, and a 25 per cent. increase in the National Library purchase grant to enable it to make heritage purchases and fill gaps in its collection.

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Finally, I would single out health for a particular mention. The health programme is, of course, the biggest single programme within my block and it accounts for almost one third of the total resources that I have at my disposal. Indeed, expenditure per head on health in Scotland is well over 20 per cent. above the comparable level in England. I continue to attach a very high priority to the Health Service. I have therefore allocated to it an additional £220 million over this year's expenditure, which is more than the formula consequentials from comparable expenditure in England. Overall, it takes spending on the health programme in Scotland to a figure in excess of £3 billion for the first time--almost three times the size of the programme that we inherited on taking office 10 years ago. By 1992-93, the total expenditure will be fully £500 million higher than in the current year.

In addition to these key decisions on programmes, I have, as already announced, set aside resources to enable a significant start to be made in bringing business rates in Scotland into line with those south of the border. Business ratepayers will be paying £80 million less next year than would otherwise be the case.

I have also already announced details of the provision I am making for the Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board. The gross expenditure of the Scottish Development Agency will reach a new record level of £180 million next year, while the Highlands and Islands Development Board will have an additional £9 million over the next three years, in recognition of the particular problems of Caithness. Both bodies have welcomed the generous provision being made.

The decisions that I am announcing today represent good news for Scotland. They will enable us to address the real priorities and needs of the Scottish people. I commend them to the House. Following is the table :

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Mr. Donald Dewar (Glasgow, Garscadden) : The Secretary of State has made his annual appearance as Santa Claus. He is not very convincing in the role. Certainly no self-respecting department store would employ him to dispense Christmas cheer, and I know of no grotto that would be prepared to house him.

On detailed examination the right hon. and learned Gentleman's message this year once again falls far short of the expectations of the advance publicity. Does he remember last year's confident talk of generosity, and has he seen table 1.12 in this year's Autumn Statement, which shows that general Government expenditure in Scotland is expected to fall by £100 million in real terms between 1988-89 and 1989-90? Does not the Chancellor's own testimony in this year's Autumn Statement make it clear that Opposition Members were right in the comparable argument last year?

Last year central Government support for local government expenditure was included in the individual programmes. This year it has been excluded from the tables and appears as a single unallocated block almost as an afterthought. As that total of about £4 billion in real terms will be at a standstill next year, if the figures had been allocated as they were in the past, they might well have depressed the individual spending increases that the Secretary of State is now parading. It gives some reality to the figures if we remember that central Government support for local government expenditure is expected to fall in real terms both in 1991 -92 and 1992-93. Will the Secretary of State confirm that if we take estimated outturn for 1989-90 against net planned provision in real terms for 1990-91, the increase is less than 1 per cent.? That is anything but generous and is a programme which in no sense measures up to Scotland's needs.

I am happy to welcome certain decisions on priorities such as the increased expenditure on water and sewerage services and the money allocated to the urban programme. However, there are sad omissions and, given the largely standstill budget in real terms, inevitably casualties. Expenditure on the Health Service is planned to increase, as I calculate it, in real terms by under 2.5 per cent., or less than 1 per cent. if we apply the more realistic National Health Service deflator. Will the Secretary of State accept that, having spent a morning earlier this week with some of my colleagues considering the problems of the Greater Glasgow health board, I can see no reason for taking satisfaction from the figures?

Is it not extraordinary that next year the net industry budget is cut in cash terms by £14 million and in real terms by £25 million, or 25 per cent.? Is that not an incomprehensible decision when the economic outlook is so difficult? Does the Secretary of State remember telling the House on 13 December last year that

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"Detailed provision for Scottish Enterprise will appear in my future public expenditure plans."--[ Official Report, 13 December 1988 ; Vol. 143, c. 770.]

He went on to talk of an increase in next year's provision for both net and gross expenditure in the industry programme. What has happened to the provision for Scottish Enterprise? How can the cuts over the next year or two give any grounds for confidence in the Secretary of State's ability to honour his recent hints on television that he would be able to persuade the Treasury to go beyond the imposition of a standstill budget on Scottish Enterprise? I want to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman specifically about the problem of homelessness. The Secretary of State for the Environment recently announced a special package of £250 million for local authorities and housing associations in areas of particular need south of the border. The figures released by Shelter and local government for Scotland are frightening.

Does the Secretary of State accept that homelessness is significantly worse in Scotland than it is in the rest of the United Kingdom? If that is so, why has there been no equivalent Scottish announcement? Will he accept that it is not good enough to argue that provision has been made within the overall figure, particularly when the net increase in his contribution to the housing budget from £621 million to £639 million next year is, in real terms, an increase of only 1 per cent.? That would be a cruel mockery when gross expenditure actually falls next year by £85 million, or by £126 million in real terms. Every Opposition Member will remember the callous slight to the homeless contained in the Government's original White Paper on housing. The absence of any specific finance to tackle the problem can only confirm the accusation of complacency and indifference.

The Secretary of State's announcement does not add up or measure up to the problems of Scotland. If, as some fear, recession bites, his announcement will be seen as a tragic lost opportunity.

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) referred to me as Santa Claus. I am always happy to play Santa Claus against his Scrooge. Yet again he seeks to dismiss a superb settlement as one which should be subject to criticism. He sounded today even less convincing than usual in his argument.

The Government have been so generous to Scottish local authorities that I have been required to divert money from other central Government programmes to sustain local government expenditure. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge and appreciate that fact. I welcome his support for the announcements on water and sewerage and on the urban programme. That will be widely welcomed.

The hon. Gentleman referred to problems that he has identified in the Greater Glasgow health board. He might

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like to emphasise the fact that the Greater Glasgow health board is, and will remain, probably the best funded health board anywhere in the United Kingdom. If it has problems, I have no doubt that, under its present management, it will seek to rectify them at the earliest opportunity. It is worth remembering that my announcements today represent an 8.2 per cent. increase in expenditure on the Health Service, compared with the outturn in the current year. In the case of family practitioner services, an increase of no less than 13 per cent. has been announced.

The hon. Gentleman bewailed the absence of any reference to Scottish Enterprise. It would have been rather astonishing if there had been a reference to it. The Bill is yet to be introduced into the House. Scottish Enterprise will not come into effect at the beginning of the public expenditure survey. Obviously the appropriate time to determine resources for Scottish Enterprise will be when Parliament approves its establishment. As the hon. Gentleman has indicated that, unlike the rest of Scotland, he is opposed to the creation of Scottish Enterprise, he is hardly the best person to bewail the alleged lack of resources for it.

We fully recognise the seriousness of homelessness. That is why I have provided for an increase of 11 per cent. to Scottish Homes--a substantial increase on top of the significant resources that were provided for its first year of operation. In addition to local authorities, there has been an increase in the Government's contribution--more than double the rate of inflation. I have told local authorities that, if they wish to increase their gross expenditure, they should realise that, in Scotland, they have the full benefit of receipts from council house sales. If they were to apply the same energy to assisting their tenants to acquire their homes as the new towns and Scottish Homes have done, it would be entirely to the benefit of their housing expenditure opportunities.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries) : I warmly welcome the huge expenditure in Scotland, including a far higher cost per head than is available to England. I welcome also the fact that there is to be a big increase in expenditure on roads, housing, health and education. Bearing in mind the vast increase in local authority expenditure, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the quality of life in Scotland should be far higher than ever before, and achieved without any increase in the community charge?

Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct. A large number of local authorities in Scotland will be able to contemplate reducing the community charge for next year, given the removal of their contribution to the safety net and the fact that the vast majority of local authorities will therefore receive an increase in revenue support grant. That will mean than any decision not to reduce community charge levels, particularly on the part of district councils, will be almost impossible to understand or justify.

Mr. Alexander Eadie (Midlothian) : The Secretary of State placed great emphasis on spending on education. May I take it that, as a consequence of his statement, he will look favourably at the proposals by the governors of Newbattle college, in Dalkeith, Midlothian?

Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman will recall that the problem relating to Newbattle college arose out of the unwillingness of local authorities and trade unions over

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the years to continue their contribution to the support of Newbattle, which left the Scottish Education Department as the only body providing any substantial support. Naturally, one will look with interest at any proposals coming from the college, but I cannot anticipate any change in the Government's position, because the reasons for that policy still appear to be substantiated by the present situation.

Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood) : I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his statement and on his rejection of the wilder assertions that were made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) in his annual appearance as the spectre at the feast. I welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend said about increased investment in water. He said that the increases were outside the block and that, in effect, Scotland has benefited enormously from privatisation receipts from England and Wales. I assume that my right hon. and learned Friend used some pretty good Unionist arguments for that, as it seems a considerable political achievement.

I should like also to ask my right hon. and learned Friend about transport. My understanding of his figures is that, in effect, expenditure on new motorway and road construction will have increased by 50 per cent. by 1992- 93.

Mr. Rifkind : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I do not think that I can claim that the resources allocated for water and sewerage arise out of privatisation receipts from the sale of the industry south of the border. Rather they reflect a willingness by my colleagues--and I am grateful to my right hon. Friends the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Chancellor of the Exchequer--to appreciate the need for a substantial increase in expenditure on this important area to improve the quality of our environment in Scotland. There are similar schemes elsewhere in the United Kingdom and I think that we all agree that this is a crucial priority.

Likewise with roads : we have identified an exciting roads programme, especially the upgrading of the M74, which has been widely welcomed.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : I welcome the announcement about increased expenditure on water and sewerage. However, will it be sufficient to help the rural areas in Scotland where most of the sewage is discharged straight into the sea as raw sewage and often returns straight on to the shore?

I am still concerned about what the Secretary of State said about homelessness in Scotland which remains unacceptably high, especially in Argyll and Bute, where it has risen by 55 per cent. in the past five years. I know that the council finds it difficult to cope with that.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman also referred to increasing support for students, which I find a bit false in view of the top-up loans that are supposed to be imposed on them. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about support and about trying to plan for an extra 6,000 students next year. What proportion of that 6,000 are likely to be Scottish students and which countries will the others come from?

I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would give some detail about the subsidy for Caledonian MacBrayne. Will it be increased or decreased? If it is to be decreased, I hope that the right hon. and learned Gentleman realises what he is doing, because he would be forcing CalMac to

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make more and more money from tourism, which would mean that in the end it will become a tourist service instead of remembering that its first priority is to serve the islanders.

Mr. Rifkind : I thank the hon. Lady for her warm welcome to my announcement on water and sewerage. We certainly hope that Argyll, as well as other parts of Scotland, will substantially benefit from it. On the question of homelessness, I am very conscious of the fact that the reduction in receipts from council house sales would, by itself, have led to significant problems for local authorities. Therefore, it is appropriate for both Government and local authorities to do what they can to respond to that problem. That is why in our Government contribution we have provided a substantial increase that is well over the rate of inflation to help local authorities. However, I hope that the local authorities will show more enthusiasm than they have up to now in assisting and encouraging their tenants to use the opportunities of the tenants' rights legislation, because that will also work to the benefit of their housing programmes.

With regard to what the hon. Lady said about students, it is obviously for the universities to determine admissions, but the point of the increased resources is to enable a higher proportion of people in Scotland to benefit from higher education. That figure has already reached 22 per cent., compared with the United Kingdom average of 15 per cent., and the figures announced today will allow for further improvements in that area.

We are not making any announcement today with regard to CalMac. The hon. Lady should recall that support for CalMac is based on the deficit subsidy approach, which means that we cover the difference between revenue and expenditure. We obviously take into account the pattern of use of the service and the need for a fair and reasonable tariff structure.

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : My right hon. and learned Friend's statement will be welcomed in Scotland, and especially his choice of priorities. However, that choice of priorities could well be affected by other factors. Is he aware that in Tayside, for example, the region's Labour administration has handled the education policy in such a way that it has not dealt with the problems in Dundee, where there is 40 per cent. over-capacity and consequently Alyth school in my constituency has been forced to consider the possibility of becoming self-governing?

Also, general practitioners in Scotland may find that they will not benefit from the additional funds because their representatives on the Scottish BMA are not prepared to have special discussions on the needs, aspirations and wishes of Scottish GPs because they do not want a separate deal.

Hon. Members : This is a speech.

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is not a debate but the time for questions. The hon. Member must ask a question.

Mr. Walker : I was following the example of earlier questioners. I was present throughout Question Time, but this is the first question that I have asked today.

Mr. Speaker : Unfortunately, that does not entitle the hon. Member to ask a series of questions.

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Mr. Walker : I am simply following an example. I trust that you, Mr. Speaker, will accept that I usually endeavour to follow your instructions to the letter.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that he does not always control where funds finally go and that the activities of others could impede his wishes?

Mr. Rifkind : That is indeed the case. We provide resources to several organisations, and ultimately it is their responsibility to decide how those resources are used.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West) : What adjustment will have to be made to Government expenditure plans if large numbers of people continue to refuse to pay the poll tax? Despite the Secretary of State's brave words to Edinburgh business people the other day, is it not a fact that bankers as well as local authorities are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the resultant chaos? That chaos is likely only to worsen until the Government come to their senses and replace that iniquitous tax with a fairer system of local government finance.

Mr. Rifkind : I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. I do not recall him complaining a year ago about administrative problems caused under the old rating system when Strathclyde regional council had to issue more than 78,000 summary warrants to owner-occupiers and private tenants who had not paid their rates on time, apart from what warrants were necessary for council tenants. The hon. Gentleman found it unnecessary to comment on those matters under the rating system. Similar attempts to delay paying the community charge should not surprise the House, even if it surprises him.

Sir Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross) : I thank my right hon. and learned Friend--perhaps I should declare an interest--for the enormous and welcome increase in historic building grant.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North) : The hon. and learned Gentleman will be able to buy a new suit.

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