Orders read for consideration of Lords amendments.
To be considered on Thursday 11 January 1990.
Considered ; to be read the Third time.
Orders read for consideration.
To be considered on Thursday 11 January 1990.
That Standing Order 205 (Notice of Third reading) be suspended and that the Bill be now read the Third time.-- [The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Bill read the Third time and passed, with amendments.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recentlyannounced the Government's intention to set up a United Kingdom centre for the prediction of climatic change.
Mr. Maclennan : The north of Scotland has outstanding centres of scientific excellence. Do Scottish Ministers back the proposal that the EC Environmental Protection Agency should be located there or do they back the Prime Minister's proposal that the centre for the prediction of climatic change should be located there? Both would be welcome.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman raises two separate issues. It is likely that the centre for climatic study will have close links with the Meteorological Office near Bracknell. That is still to be confirmed. We are spending £1 million on environmental studies. With regard to a centre for environmental studies in Scotland, we
Column 340always support locating the headquarters in Scotland. The attractions of Aberdeen and Edinburgh were carefully considered, but eventually the choice fell on Cambridge, for the simple reason that several factors were of influence, including the fact that the world conservation monitoring centre is located there.
Mr. Robert Hughes : Does the Minister recollect that I wrote to him to advise him of Grampian's bid for a European environmental agency to be sited in Aberdeen? He replied that it was too early to have a meeting on the bid, because the matter was still under discussion. A couple of days later, we discovered that it was proposed to site the centre in Cambridge. Has not the Minister fallen down badly on the job? Should he not have allowed us to push the case? Why did he abandon his responsibility in such a cavalier manner?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Ten per cent. of the British population live in Scotland. We compete with the rest of the British population for European institutions. All the factors are weighed on their merit collectively by the Government.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that while the location of any centre to examine climatic change is important, it is more important that changing climatic conditions in Scotland are carefully noted? In particular, such matters as the short days in the winter months and changes in lighting-up time--and, indeed, the time when anything else happens--are important. We do not want dayrise to occur at 10.30 am, as the proposals put forward by the European Commission envisage.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : We particularly note my hon. Friend's point on lighting-up time and changes to summer time. With regard to cold weather payments, we have a common test throughout Britain, which starts at 0 deg C. People living in areas where cold weather is more prevalent stand to benefit most.
responsibilities? Will he make a start today, first by joining me in congratulating the workers of Clydesdale on their productivity efforts and, secondly, by making it plain to British Steel management that a failure to reward that effort with the necessary investment will be a gross betrayal of the workers and of the promises the management made to them? Thirdly, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give a public pledge to the people of Scotland that, if any one of the three Lanarkshire steel plants goes, he will do the honourable thing and go at the same time?
Column 341chairman of British Steel on 26 October. As he well knows, since then, I have been in correspondence with the chairman following the productive meeting that I had with the Ravenscraig shop stewards. I share the hon. Gentleman's view about the importance of the British Steel works in Scotland. I have communicated my view and that of Her Majesty's Government that we expect British Steel to honour its commitment that it expects to continue steelmaking in Scotland at least until the 1990s. I am happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the excellent work done by the steel workers in his constituency and elsewhere in the steel industry.
Sir Hector Monro : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the substantial investment in Ravenscraig has been fully justified by the results--all credit to the work force? Will he impress upon British Steel that it would be inconceivable that it should start to run down the industry in Scotland after 1994, and that, were it to do so, there would be universal opposition to that decision?
Mr. Rifkind : I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is significant that, in the two years since the privatisation of the steel industry, British Steel's operations in Scotland have never been so fully worked, and the work force at Ravenscraig and elsewhere have been fully occupied. I share my hon. Friend's view that we want that to continue for many years to come.
Dr. Bray : Does the Secretary of State agree that the formal commitment to continue steelmaking until 1994 means very little if the investment is not undertaken to maintain the steelworks in a fully operational condition, complete with the cold strip mill at Ravenscraig?
Mr. Rifkind : Of course we welcome any investment that British Steel may think appropriate in the steel industry in Scotland. In the past, Ravenscraig has received substantial steel investment, and it is important that that should continue.
Mrs. Ray Michie : Does not the Secretary of State agree that British Steel's commitment to Scotland is not good and that we cannot have any confidence in its commitment to the future of the Scottish steel industry? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman therefore say today that he will use his influence and authority to establish an independent Scottish steel industry with secure investment and a long-term future, which would not be subjected to the constant threats of closure?
Mr. Rifkind : At the time of the privatisation of the steel industry, British Steel said that, in the event of not wishing to continue its steel operations in Scotland, it would be open to making the steelworks available to any other interested purchaser. At the present time, British Steel says that it has every intention of continuing its steel operations in Scotland. If that ever ceased to be the case, the alternative option would have to be seriously considered.
Mr. Oppenheim : Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that everyone accepts the importance of a steel industry? My right hon. and learned Friend's commitment to that steel industry is well known on the Conservative Benches. Does he also agree, however, that Opposition Members are practising a gross deception on the Scottish people if they suggest to them that any industry can have the guarantee of remaining in operation
Column 342for ever, regardless of commercial conditions, especially bearing in mind the fact that the vast majority of the steel produced in Scotland is not used in Scotland?
Mr. Rifkind : It is certainly the case that the future of any industry depends upon the demand for its product. It is also true that, when the previous Labour Government were in office, employment in the steel industry in Scotland fell by some 5,000 and a number of Scottish steel plants were closed. That shows that, at the end of the day, it is economic considerations that are important. I believe that Scotland deserves to have a steel industry for a good number of years to come, and I believe that the work force at Ravenscraig have shown that they can be competitive with steel workers elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Dewar : While the pledge about steelmaking to the end of 1994 is important, does the Secretary of State agree that the key to the long-term future of Ravenscraig and the industry is investment? Will he join me in publicly pressing British Steel to implement the realistic £10 million investment package for the strip mill at Ravenscraig, which will improve our competitiveness and do wonders for morale in the plant? Does he accept the urgent need, and importance to the Scottish economy, of modernising the mill at Clydesdale so that Scotland can continue to supply the North sea tubes industry? If he does, what specific steps is he taking to fight for that investment and ensure that, when considering where to place any plate mill built by British Steel, full weight is given to the claims of Dalziel? Will he assure us that, now that the industry has been sold off, it will not be a case of Scottish Ministers simply shutting their eyes, crossing their toes and hoping for the best?
Mr. Rifkind : I can give the hon. Member a complete assurance on the last part of his question ; our activities over the past couple of months are clear evidence of that. We have already made it clear to Sir Robert Scholey and British Steel that the Scottish Office would welcome further investment by British Steel in the Scottish steel industry. We would also expect it to consider the claims of Dalziel in relation to the future of any new plate mill in Scotland.
Mrs. Fyfe : I am grateful for that answer, but I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would give a statement about the amounts today. Is he aware that my constituent, Caroline Munro, a profoundly deaf young lady, has been funded until this Christmas by the charity of an Edinburgh business man who read of her plight in The Mail on Sunday? What advice can the Minister give Caroline Munro? Should she look for more charity or do a lower-level course which the Strathclyde region can fund if his Department will not?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Lady might like to know that the level has risen from £180 in the last year of the Labour Government to £765 now-- a substantial increase. The constituency case to which the hon. Lady referred involves a student who is profoundly deaf and needs special help. The young lady might like to apply to Strathclyde regional council's social work dept, which is able to help people with deafness problems.
Mr. Ernie Ross : The Minister must know that we are talking about a small group of students at universities and further education colleges in Scotland. Given the size of that group, can the Minister give a guarantee that, when students are unable to obtain outside support, he will ensure that they have the necessary support to continue their courses?
Mr. Lang : I can give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that we shall review the levels, which will be increased in line with available resources and the needs of the students involved. We have already made a substantial increase from £180, during the last year of the Labour Government, to £765 now.
Mr. McKelvey : I am sure that the House will be horrified by those figures, which are probably an underestimate. Will the Minister give serious consideration, perhaps over Christmas when he spends time with his young family, to those young homeless who are out on the streets with nowhere to go? This growing army of modern Oliver Twists have a nomadic life and no respite from their troubles. Will he try to match the money that has been given to England and Wales, so that the authorities can start to lay the foundations to provide somewhere for these young people to live?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The answer is yes. We have ensured that Scottish local authorities have an increase in net capital funding allocations of £64 million, which we have announced. We shall announce the individual allocations to local authorities this week. In those we shall have taken into account the incidence of homelessness. We are revising the code of guidance on homelessness, as it urgently needs updating. I debated this in the early hours of this morning with the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall).
Sir Nicholas Fairbairn : I wonder whether the Minister watched a programme on television which showed a typical example of a homeless person who came from Aberdeen to London? He made only £50 a day in the tube stations and preferred, despite the advice of his mother, to remain in London making it, paying no tax and living in a cardboard box, rather than return to Aberdeen where he could have got a proper job.
Column 344the night looking into these matters last week. It is significant that his advice was that young people should not come to London unless they have accommodation or are going to a certain job. Often that has not happened in the past.
Mr. McAllion : Can the Minister explain why, during the progress of the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988, he refused to give any responsibility for homelessness to Scottish Homes and insisted instead that responsibility should go to local authorities? Why, in the time since then, has he increased Government support in real terms for Scottish Homes, while cutting it in real terms for local authorities? Is that not evidence of the Government's betrayal of tens of thousands of homeless people in Scotland?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I specifically told Scottish Homes board members, whom I saw recently, that they should give priority to homelessness projects in co-operation with local authorities ; but we have given substantial funding to local authorities by increasing their net capital allocations by £64 million. Scottish Homes will be coming forward with a cash incentive scheme to enable residents in its housing to move out into home ownership, so as to enable homeless families to move in.
Mr. Ian Bruce : How many council houses in Scotland are lying empty, and how long does it take to refill a council house when a tenant moves? Can my hon. Friend give some estimate of the number of homes that are vacant in the private sector because people do not believe that the housing legislation allows them both to let their houses and to get them back when they need them?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I most certainly can. There are about 25,000 empty council houses. Many of them are needed for decanting, but at least 4,000 of them have been vacant for more than three months, and I urge local authorities whenever possible to bring them back into use.
Of the approximately 128,000 empty houses in Scotland, most are in the private rented sector ; by means of improvement grants and in every other possible way, we strongly encourage the private rented sector to bring these houses back into use.
Mr. Maxton : When will the Minister stop being so cruelly complacent about homelessness in Scotland, and recognise that the true figure of 30,000 homeless people there represents a major crisis for him, for Scotland and for all whom he represents? Why does he--unlike his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment--not realise that there is such a crisis and allocate as much money to Scottish homelessness as his right hon. Friend has given to England and Wales? Will he announce today that he is giving £30 million to deal with the problem of homelessness in Scotland?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : First, it is up to local authorities, when spending the extra £64 million net capital allocations, to decide on their most pressing needs. I invite the hon. Gentleman to consider the fact that the problems of London are not exactly reproduced in Scotland ; most of the £250 million funding goes to London and the province of the south-east. I believe that
Column 345local authorities should have the discretion to choose their priorities ; projects against dampness and provision for the disabled might be given higher priority in certain areas.
Sir Hector Monro : I welcome the increase in suckler cow subsidy, but is my hon. Friend aware that the true hill farm depends on the amount of hill livestock compensatory allowances? Will he do everything possible to ensure that payments in 1990 and 1991 will be every bit as high as in 1989, in order to help that particular sector of the rural economy?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I recognise the importance of the hill farming sector in Scotland. Hill livestock compensatory allowances totalling almost £45 million have been paid annually. We shall make a statement concerning 1990 shortly. As to 1992, we voted against the proposals made in Brussels, and eventually had them moderated--but they were eventually adopted by a qualified majority. We shall bear in mind the points that my hon. Friend made, as we are aware of the importance of the allowance to conservation, the environment, jobs and the sturdy way of life in which hill farmers are involved.
Mr. Hood : There are many hill farmers in my constituency, which has a large farming community. Is the Minister aware of the great alarm felt among the farming community at the lack of availability of anthrax vaccine? Many farmers who are crying out for vaccine for their herds are discovering that it cannot be obtained. Will the Minister say what advice I can give the farmer who visited me recently, Mr. William King of Hawksland farm in Lesmahagow, who lost a herd in the 1970s through anthrax and who is now concerned that, because of the lack of the vaccine, he may lose more of his stock?
Mr. Wallace : If there is to be a headage limit on HLCA payments, that will represent a limit on the European Community contribution, as I am sure the Minister will agree. As HLCAs were devised by the United Kingdom Government and are widely recognised as a most useful form of support for the hill farming industry, will the Government undertake to meet any shortfall from the European Community?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : That proposal will come into operation in 1991, and it would be premature to make a statement about rates now. We secured agreement to have the headage limits reduction set at £2.5 million instead of 4.8 million ecu. As I mentioned earlier, we voted against the Agriculture Council as we thought that the
Column 346headage limit proposals discriminated against hill farmers such as those to be found in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. We made a firm stand.
Mr. Rifkind : The system of warrant sales was reformed by the Debtors (Scotland) Act 1987. Those reforms removed the most resented and harsh aspects of the procedure. Those reforms were welcomed by the Opposition.
Mr. Marshall : The Secretary of State's answer is pathetic and disgraceful, and he should be thoroughly ashamed of it. Despite the change made in 1987, warrant sales are degrading and humiliating. The practice belongs to the middle ages, not the 1990s. Does the Secretary of State not appreciate the urgency of the situation, when the Government's iniquitous poll tax is forcing thousands of poor people into utter destitution? Will he not reconsider even at this stage? Is it not legalised theft to allow sheriffs' officers to value goods worth many hundreds of pounds at a mere pittance? There are other methods of dealing with the matter. Why will not the Secretary of State use them and abolish warrant sales once and for all?
Mr. Rifkind : I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Scottish Law Commission examined the matter, and as an independent advisory body pointed out that the system enforced in Scotland is similar to that permitted in virtually every other country of whose practices it was aware. The hon. Gentleman referred to non-payment of community charge. One year ago, when the question in Scotland was of non-payment of domestic rates, Strathclyde region issued summary warrants against more than 77,000 people--but at the end of the day, there were only two warrant sales. It is very much open to the hon. Gentleman's own Labour-controlled regional council whether or not it wishes to adopt warrant sales.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Does the Secretary of State accept that Opposition Members believe that such an outmoded form of debt collection should be abolished? They will be introducing a Bill to that effect later today. Is the Secretary of State aware that the Scottish National party finance convenor for Grampian regional council preferred to lose his post rather than condone the continuation of the warrant sales system?-- [Interruption.]
Does not the Secretary of State think it a disgrace that Labour councillors --so-called Socialists--are threatening thousands of people with warrant sales and are happy to serve as Thatcher's poll tax collectors?
Mr. Rifkind : While the hon. Lady is criticising the Labour party, which I have no doubt that she is entitled to do, she might also inquire into the practices of the only local authority controlled by the Scottish National party--Angus district council--which I understand is properly carrying out its legal obligation to implement the community charge. I congratulate the authority and
Column 347commend it for taking what is clearly a more responsible attitude to its legal obligations than the hon. Lady seems to wish.
Mr. John Marshall : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that four SNP councillors in Midlothian who had promised not to pay the community charge are now paying it? Does he share my hope that the habit is contagious and that Labour Members of Parliament who have refused to pay the charge will soon do so, because by not doing so they are restricting the extent of local authority service and hurting those in greatest need?
Mr. Rifkind : I am happy to say that the vast majority of members of the public are paying the community charge--up to 98 per cent. in the Borders and more than 90 per cent. in Fife. As for those who say that they will not pay, it will soon be brought home to them that if they succeeded in their objective they would simply impose an increased penalty on the other 90 per cent. of the population, for which they would not be thanked. As I have said, the vast majority are carrying out their legal obligations, as Parliament would expect them to do.
Mr. Wilson : Does the Secretary of State agree that the great majority of Scottish local authorities, especially Labour authorities, have an excellent record in not pursuing warrant, sales? Does he accept that the new pressures on local authorities derive entirely from the imposition of the poll tax, to which virtually all Scottish local authorities of all political persuasions were opposed? Will he guarantee that the Scottish Office will take no punitive action against councils which, on grounds of human decency, do not use the abhorrent weapon of warrant sales?
Mr. Rifkind : It is for the Commission for Local Authority Accounts, not the Scottish Office, to examine any allegations made about individual local authorities. The level of payment of the community charge is broadly comparable with domestic rate payment levels at this time a year ago, when local authorities were issuing tens of thousands of summary warrants against domestic ratepayers. More than 77,000 were issued in Strathclyde region. There has been no change in the procedure, or in the legal rights of local authorities, and I am glad to see that the hon. Gentleman agrees with me about that.
Mr. Lang : I recently met a deputation of local councillors and trade union representatives led by my hon. Friend when we discussed the economic situation in general in Renfrew district, and in particular the possibilities for protecting jobs at Armitage Shanks in Barrhead.
Mr. Stewart : I thank my hon. Friend, and congratulate him on his immediate acceptance of the proposals put to him at that meeting by Renfrew district council, the trade unions and the shop stewards. Does he agree, however, that there are a number of disturbing features in what has
Column 348happened--for example, the attempt by senior management just after the announcement to provoke industrial action by locking out of the factory honest, decent people who simply wanted to go to work as usual? Will he emphasise to the holding company, Blue Circle Industries plc that a positive response to constructive proposals would be in the interests not only of the work force and the community, but of the shareholders of this large, profitable and well-known company?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend's concern about, and involvement in, the company's problems are well known and I pay tribute to them. The decision must be a commercial one for the management of Armitage Shanks, but I am very pleased that the Scottish Development Agency is to participate in a feasibility study of employment opportunities in the area. Which I consider to be a constructive move. I have written to the chairman of Blue Circle Industries plc the parent company, urging him to defer the redundancies until the study can take place.
Mr. Allen Adams : I thank the Minister for his prompt action. Does he not agree however, that the parent holding company, Blue Circle Industries plc, is indulging in downright grammatical inexactitudes in trying to allege that the decline in industry in Barrhead is due to the fall in the lira, which it claims has led to the dumping of sanitary ware in Scotland and in Britain as a whole? Does the Minister agree that the real reason for the decline is undiluted greed on the part of a company which made £231 million last year?
Mr. Lang : I cannot agree with the argument to which the hon. Gentleman refers. He mentioned the Italian lira and imports of products from abroad. In fact, the movement of the lira in the past 12 months has helped domestic production and reduced the threat of imports.
8. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Wildlife Link about his proposals for the future of the scientific capability of the Nature Conservancy Council.
Mr. Rifkind : The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Wildlife Link both stressed the need for cohesive scientific advice on an all-Britain basis. I am happy to confirm that the proposed reforms will ensure that this is achieved.
Mr. Dalyell : Why has the Secretary of State refused the eminently sensible request of his Cabinet colleague, the Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten), for an independent chairman of the science co-ordinating committee?
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman must not jump to conclusions with regard to that proposal. The proposals on nature conservancy have been warmly welcomed in Scotland, as the hon. Gentleman knows, by the Scottish council of the Nature Conservancy Council, the Countryside Commission, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Scottish Green party and more than 90 other organisations and individuals. We broadly welcome
Column 349the proposals from the Nature Conservancy Council United Kingdom headquarters for a joint committee. I believe that the proposals were constructive and helpful.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : Following the success of our waiting list initiatives, I will make £7 million available next year to make further progress in reducing waiting lists.
Mr. Davis : I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent reply, and for what it augurs for the people of Scotland. Does he agree that while the decreases in waiting lists have been primarily associated with Government initiatives, the increases have been critically associated with trade union strike action? Does he agree that the best thing that the National Union of Public Employees and the Confederation of Health Service Employees could do to improve the Health Service is not to posture on television, but to earn the sobriquet of the caring profession by encouraging their members to stay at work?
Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is right to point to the effects of industrial action on waiting lists. In-patient waiting lists in Scotland currently stand at rather more than 60,000. The industrial action in 1982 added about 20,000 people to the waiting list and industrial action in 1978 did the same. It is important for everyone who supports strikes in the National Health Service to realise that it is the patients who are the victims.
Mr. Summerson : The figures that my hon. Friend has given to the House will be welcomed by everyone. Will my hon. Friend compare and contrast the excellent record of the Conservative Government in Scotland with the truly lamentable record of the last Labour Government?
Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to the record of the last Labour Government. I am sure that they did not mean to do badly with the Health Service. They cut the Health Service because they failed to manage the economy. Because of the economic success that we have enjoyed, we have been able to invest in the Health Service and bring waiting times down.
Mr. Eadie : Is the hon. Gentleman aware that my colleagues and I recently met the Lothian health board, who informed us that it had to make cuts of £6 million this year and that one method was not to reappoint staff? If one does not reappoint medical staff, how does the hon. Gentleman believe that one can deal with the patient waiting list?