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House of Commons

Wednesday 26 February 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Folkestone Harbour Bill


Read a Second time, and committed.

Aberdeen Harbour Order Confirmation Bill

(By Order) Considered ; to be read the Third time tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions


Mr. Speaker : Before we start Scottish questions, I remind Members from Scottish constituencies that, as is my practice, I shall seek to call those who were not called last time and give them some preference.

Home Rule

1. Mrs. Irene Adams : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will meet representatives of the Scottish Constitutional Convention to discuss home rule for Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : I have no plans to meet representatives of the convention. I have already initiated public and parliamentary debate of its proposals which were discussed in considerable detail in the Scottish Grand Committee on 24 February.

Mrs. Adams : As this is likely to be the last Scottish Question Time before the general election, will the Secretary of State indulge in a deathbed conversion and recognise the frustrations and hopes of the Scottish people about the present constitutional set-up? Will he discontinue his pre-election pact with the Scottish National party in its all-or-nothing bid? Does he agree that a meeting with the convention may not be enough to save his seat but may just save his face?

Mr. Lang : I look forward to answering Scottish questions from this Dispatch Box at the first Scottish Question Time after the general election. Then, as now, I shall do my best to ensure the protection of Scotland's best interests by maintaining its place as a full, equal partner in this United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. Marlow : As a unionist with very good reason for having the warmest of feelings towards Scotland, may I ask my right hon. Friend to make it absolutely clear to anyone who wishes to establish an institution in Scotland with legislative powers over certain areas of policy that,

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regrettably, it would be totally unacceptable for any Scottish Member of the House to have any say, vote or control over areas of policy in the rest of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Lang : I entirely understand my hon. Friend's anxiety on that point. It is an anxiety shared by several Labour Members, most notably the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and, more recently, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook). My hon. Friend puts his finger on one of the central dilemmas faced by those who would advocate setting up a separate Parliament with separate powers entrenched in Edinburgh in rivalry to the Westminster Parliament. That is incompatible with the integrity of the United Kingdom Parliament. It would not be sustainable or stable in the long term.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce : Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that, given that after five years his Government have completely failed to establish a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, he has no credibility in the constitutional debate in Scotland because he has no proposals to make? Is not that aggravated by the fact that the Prime Minister does not know what he believes about the future of Scotland? The consequence is that the only way to secure reform is to secure the defeat of every Conservative candidate in Scotland at the general election.

Mr. Lang : We know what the leader of the Liberal Democrats thinks. He thinks that a proportional representation voting system is more important than the constitutional future of Scotland. When asked whether he would support a constitutional change in Scotland if he did not have proportional representation, he said no ; so he makes it clear that he gives higher priority to the self-interest of the Liberal Democrats and a voting system that would help them than to the issue of principle on Scotland's constitutional future.

Mr. Molyneaux : In the light of the Prime Minister's speech last Saturday, will the Secretary of State consider extending the consultations to which he referred to include the leaders of all parties in the House in order to find out what common ground there might be on the possibility of decentralisation of powers common to the four component parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Lang : The central message delivered by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Glasgow last Saturday was the importance of maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom. I am sure that that is a sentiment with which the right hon. Gentleman would warmly agree. Within the integrity of the United Kingdom, the different component parts have different interests and those are already well represented and will continue to be so within the constitutional arrangements based here at Westminster.

Sir John Stokes : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, had I not been an Englishman I would have been happy to be a Scotsman and that had I been alive in the Fifteen or the Forty-five, I would have been in the field for the Stuarts? But surely the time has come to give up those illusions and to do what is best for all of us, the best for Scotland and for the United Kingdom.

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend epitomises what is best in this place in that he is able to represent the interests of England and of the United Kingdom in the same way that

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my right hon. and hon. Friends representing Scottish constituencies are able to advance the best interests of Scotland and of the United Kingdom. We have far more to gain from helping each other and sharing representation in this United Kingdom Parliament than we have from breaking it up, as the Labour party's proposals would do.

Mr. Dewar : The Secretary of State constantly talks of the defence of the Union. Given the confusion that has arisen as a result of the Prime Minister's remarks after his speech on Saturday, does such a defence rule out now and in future for the right hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party the setting up of any form of directly elected body covering all Scotland and drawing power from Westminster?

Mr. Lang : The muddle and confusion exist only in the mind of the hon. Gentleman. The position of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Government and this party is absolutely clear. We are determined to maintain Scotland's full place as an equal partner in the United Kingdom and to create no bodies which would fragment or undermine that position. We believe that Scotland has benefited enormously from her membership of the United Kingdom and we do not wish to jeopardise her place in it.


2. Mr. Andrew Welsh : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet representatives of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to discuss the effects of the recession in Scotland ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang : I have frequent contacts with the Scottish Council and look forward to a continuing exchange of views. I am sure that the council will have noted the consensus view of economic commentators that Scotland has been less affected by the world recession than any other part of Great Britain and that Scottish economic growth this year is likely to match or exceed that of the United Kingdom as a whole.

Mr. Welsh : Having invited debate on self-government and having not received the answers for which he hoped, why is the Minister not listening to leaders of Scottish commerce and industry who say that we have nothing to fear and a great deal to gain from independence? As the United Kingdom's high interest rates and other policies are creating record bankruptcies and rising unemployment and making Scottish industry and commerce less competitive in European and world markets, how can he justify the continuation of those inappropriate Government policies in Scotland?

Mr. Lang : There is absolutely no doubt that the almost unanimous view of business men in Scotland is that the one thing that would undermine Scotland's economic future would be for Scotland to be cut off from the rest of the United Kingdom and reduced to a small home market of about 5 million people, driving away inward investment with higher tax rates and with a volatile currency dependent on the fluctuations of oil, with future uncertainty as to Scotland's continuing membership of the European Community. The recipe of the hon. Gentleman and his party for Scotland's future is a recipe for decline and impoverishment.

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Mr. McAvoy : The Secretary of State will be aware that the co- operation of the work force at Hoover Cambuslang has been a major factor in ensuring the long-term viability of that factory. Bearing in mind the financial support that the Government have made available to Hoover plc for the factory at Cambuslang, will the Secretary of State join me in supporting the work force who are looking for assurances from Hoover plc that there will be no transfer of work from Cambuslang to any other location?

Mr. Lang : That is essentially a matter for the management and not for me. Certainly, it would be wrong for the Government to intervene in important management decisions. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for paying tribute to the fact that the Government's regional assistance policies are helping Hoover, as they have helped so many other companies in Scotland, and for the implicit acknowledgement that industrial relations have so improved under the Government that the negotiations to which he referred can take place. What a contrast with the last period of Labour Government.

Mr. Bill Walker : When my right hon. Friend meets the Scottish Council, will he draw its attention to the fact that under the SNP's proposals Scotland would lose up to about 30,000 defence-related jobs? Will he tell the council that Lossiemouth, Kinloss and Leuchars, the RAF main bases, would all close, that the Royal Marine base at Cawdor would close and that Rolls-Royce, Ferranti, GEC and others would lose their orders and Yarrows would get no orders for frigates? Consequently, Scotland would lose 30,000 jobs. What for? For separatist, socialist, nationalism.

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right and puts the point extremely well. In addition to what will happen to all those defence- related jobs, it is certain that the large flow of inward investment and the jobs created from that will cease. The most recent announcement of such investment--that Matsushita will create a factory in East Kilbride with £8 million investment--follows my visit to the company in Japan last autumn. That and other inward investment will dry up.

Mr. Wilson : The Secretary of State referred to the last Labour Government. I assure him that we are extremely pleased to make comparisons with that Government in terms of unemployment statistics and the support given to Scottish industry. Will he confirm that in 1976-77 some £680 million, in current terms, was paid to Scottish industry in regional assistance? Will he also confirm that last year the equivalent figure, in current terms, was less than £160 million? What immense improvement in the Scottish economy and in unemployment justifies a 75 per cent. reduction in assistance to Scottish industry when in my constituency, for instance, the official figures show that one person in seven is out of work and the unofficial figures, based on the old count, show that almost one person in five is out of work?

Mr. Lang : I will give the hon. Gentleman the comparisons. For every four companies in existence when the last Labour Government left office there are now seven. When they left office, the rate of inflation had doubled and had averaged 15 per cent. for the previous five years ; the present rate is well below 5 per cent. When the last Labour Government left office, unemployment had doubled ; within the past three years, employment has risen

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by 150,000. Within the lifetime of this Parliament, unemployment has fallen by 100,000 and productivity has risen by more than 5 per cent. a year. Within the past three or four years, investment has reached the highest levels ever, and in four of the past five years we have achieved record output. In the past year or two, we have achieved record exports. Those are some comparisons between this Government and the last Labour Government.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. So that I am able to call more Members, may we have briefer questions? Long questions lead to long answers.

Constitutional Reform

3. Mrs. Fyfe : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has had concerning the constitutional future of Scotland.

Mr. Lang : In the past six months, representations received about constitutional issues have comprised 141 letters or postcards, of which 55 were in favour of devolution, 39 were in favour of independence and 47 were opposed to either.

Mrs. Fyfe : In the past four days since the Prime Minister made his extraordinary remark about taking stock after the general election, has the Secretary of State for Scotland got around to clarifying what was meant by that?

Mr. Lang : The Prime Minister, like the leaders of all political parties and like all candidates in the election, will be taking stock the day afterwards. My right hon. Friend will be taking stock of the increased number of Members representing the Conservative party. A more appropriate phrase for the Opposition would be "licking wounds".

Mr. Harry Ewing : When the Secretary of State considers constitutional change, will he disregard the position of the SNP? Having listened on Monday for a fairly long time to the SNP pleading to leave the Union, I noticed that the leader of the parliamentary group, the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), could not get down to Westminster quick enough to sit beside the heir to the throne at a dinner. If that is not near the the United Kingdom establishment, I do not know what is.

Mr. Lang : Far be it from me to intervene in family squabbles between two members of two socialist parties. I content myself with standing firm on the only piece of strong ground in the constitutional argument, which represents those who believe in the maintenance of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom. That is the position to which we are committed.

The Speaker : I call Mrs. Margaret Ewing-- [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Lady was mentioned.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Leaving aside the rather sour comments of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing), may I ask the Secretary of State whether he believes in the Meccano engineering ideas propounded as a way to resolve the constitutional issue in Scotland--such as the Scottish Grand Committee meeting more often in Scotland, or even the Cabinet meeting in Scotland? Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that that would be viewed by the Scots as tinkering with an unacceptable

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solution? Will he deal with the fundamental issue that the Scottish people have placed firmly on his doorstep, which is the need for a facility to establish the right of the Scots to self- determination?

Mr. Lang : I do not believe in tinkering with the constitution and that is where I part company with all the parties on the Opposition Benches. Whether they would deliberately break Scotland free from the remainder of the United Kingdom, which is the policy of the hon. Lady's party, or do that by degrees and in disguise, which is the policy of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party, the end product would be the same. The only protection of Scotland's place within the United Kingdom is the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament.

Mr. Adley : Although I recognise that the West Lothian question remains to be answered, some of those who have listened to the arguments for more than 20 years still find the arguments of our right hon. Friend Lord Home rather more seductive than the argument of our right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). Is not it a cause of some concern that ever since 1975 support for our party in Scotland has been declining? Has not our party always been in favour of decentralisation? When my right hon. Friend returns to office, as he will in the next Government, will he initiate some discussions that will enable us to arrive at a solution to the problem that satisfies all parties?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is right to identify the principle of devolution as important to our party. That is why we devolved power from the Government to the people ; that is why we devolved power from the centre to the outlying parts. However, my hon. Friend's memory of history is a little shaky. If he reflects, he may recall that after the last occasion on which the constitutional question was directly addressed in a referendum in 1979, the strength of the Scottish Conservative party rose considerably in the subsequent Parliament. In that referendum campaign, support for a devolved assembly fell from 70 per cent. at the beginning to just above 30 per cent. at the end.

Hospital Building

4. Mr. Ron Brown : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairman of Lothian health board to discuss the hospital building programme.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : I meet health board chairmen on a regular basis and from time to time we discuss the hospital building programme, which is the biggest in the history of the national health service in Scotland.

Mr. Brown : I am grateful to the Minister for that statement. He is aware that the Scots want self-determination and their own Parliament--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The question is about Lothian health board.

Mr. Brown : I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

The Scots, especially Leithers, want democratic control of the health service. Last year, they were promised a new hospital for Leith. No brick has been laid, and I understand that the Minister has done nothing about that. If he is anxious about the Scottish dimension, will he advise the bureaucrats on the health board and in his

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Department about what the people want? They certainly want a decent health service and we desperately need a hospital in Leith. Will the Minister ensure that a clinic is established to look after HIV patients? It is no use suggesting, as I understand has been suggested, that sufferers of that disease should be shunted up a side street in my constituency. This is an emotive issue. I say to the Minister

Mr. Speaker : Order. It is not fair for the hon. Member to take so long.

Mr. Brown : It is not fair on the people in my constituency--

Mr. Speaker : Order. That is enough, please.

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman does a disservice to the health service in Lothian, which has excellent facilities for HIV patients, and a specialist unit in Edinburgh was provided by the Government during the term of this Parliament. As to new hospitals, I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman is unaware that Lothian health board proposes to develop Leith hospital and to provide geriatric and psychogeriatric beds. Its proposals will come before Ministers shortly, although the board will have to consult on them. Does the hon. Gentleman also not know that Lothian health board plans to spend £200 million on a new teaching hospital for Edinburgh and new acute facilities? That is more than the last Labour Government spent on new building in the whole of Scotland in every year of office. The hon. Gentleman has a real nerve coming to the House to complain about Lothian health board's record, which is second to none.

Mr. Galbraith : Is not the Minister aware that the new Edinburgh teaching hospital was planned under the last Labour Government, and that it has taken 12 years for the Conservative Government to reach any decision? Is not the Minister further aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling) and I have been informed that an announcement about that new hospital is being delayed until the general election campaign? Will the Minister confirm that it is part of the Government's cynicism and continuing propaganda to sit on that announcement until the election campaign begins?

Mr. Forsyth : I have no idea when the general election will be, but if the hon. Gentleman thinks that it will be held in the immediate future, Lothian health board will certainly not be in a position to present its acute strategy. I have no doubt that a Labour Government planned all sorts of things, but they were the only Government in the history of the health service to cut the health building programme. That is Labour's record. This Government have presided over the biggest health building programme in the history of the NHS. Good intentions do not treat the sick, but this Government have treated the sick.

Local Government Finance

5. Mr. Dunnachie : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has any plans to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss financial problems of local authorities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : As part of the norma

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consultation on local government finance matters, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I plan to meet the convention on 3 April.

Mr. Dunnachie : Surely all right hon. and hon. Members agree that the poll tax is the most obnoxious ever devised by man. Does not the Minister agree that the poorest and neediest--old-aged pensioners, and the unemployed--should have received a 100 per cent. guaranteed rebate since the tax started, and that those who have been forced to pay 20 per cent. of their poll tax should receive refunds?

Mr. Stewart : There is a problem of non-collection in Strathclyde, but the average 20 per cent. increase in non-collection for Scottish local authorities as a whole is mainly due to Strathclyde's 35 per cent. increase. If the hon. Gentleman wants to identify the real problem, he ought to attack the real villain, Tommy Sheridan of the Anti-Poll Tax Federation, who I believe is to stand against the hon. Gentleman. Does not the hon. Gentleman have the guts to do so?

Mr. Speaker : Mr. Lambie :

Mr. Lambie : Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me in what will be my last Scottish Question Time after nearly 22 years' service in the House. I take this opportunity, Mr. Speaker, to wish you well on your retirement to another place.

Is the Minister aware that one of the unemployment and social black spots of Cunninghame is the three-towns area of Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston? As a result of prompting by the Stevenston branch of the Labour party, a three-towns initiative has been launched, involving the two Members of Parliament representing Cunninghame constituencies, Strathclyde and Cunninghame local authorities and the two relevant Members of the European Parliament? Will the Minister meet a deputation to discuss what financial help the Government can give to ensure the success of that initiative?

Mr. Stewart : If this is the hon. Gentleman's last Scottish question time, that will be a matter of regret throughout the House. The hon. Gentleman has represented his constituents with a great deal of vim, vigour and dedication ; on behalf of those constituents, he has been a thorn in the flesh of successive Governments--especially Labour Governments.

The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is this : I understand what he has said and if he wishes to meet me to discuss that particular constituency matter, I shall of course agree.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem of local government finance in Scotland has been aggravated by those who refuse to pay the community charge? Is it not a scandal when Members of Parliament, such as the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Mr. Douglas), belong to the "can pay but won't pay" brigade? Law-makers should never become law-breakers.

Mr. Stewart : My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that potential law-makers cannot and should not be law-breakers. The settlement announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scottish local authorities in the coming year is extremely generous. The original aggregate external finance settlement of 6.1 per cent. has now been

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increased by an extra £6.7 million to 6.3 per cent. That figure is well ahead of the rate of inflation, and it is a more than reasonable settlement.

Mr. Maxton : When will the Minister stop hiding behind the "can't pay, won't pay" brigade, and admit that the whole chaos of the poll tax was caused by him and his supporters who instituted the tax? Does he not recognise that the poll tax will come back to haunt the Conservatives during the election campaign as next year's poll tax bills flood through the post boxes? Will he now accept that the one step that he can take to ensure an easier collection of the poll tax during its last year is to abolish the 20 per cent. minimum payment on 1 April this year, rather than waiting until next year?

Mr. Stewart : There is another hon. Member who does not attack Tommy Sheridan.

The Government's position is absolutely clear. Let me point out that the personal community charge for Lothian is to be increased by only 2.6 per cent. May I also remind the hon. Gentleman that, as far as I understand it, his policy is to bring back the rates in Scotland?

Mr. Maxton indicated assent--

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman nods. Good--keep nodding. He will bring back the rates in Scotland, at the levels that will operate after a Scottish revaluation. He could not do that in England. If he thinks that that will help the cause of the United Kingdom, he is making a grave error.

Labour Statistics

6. Mr. Robert Hughes : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his estimate of the number of people in Scotland who are economically active, unemployed and not receiving unemployment benefit.

Mr. Allan Stewart : Based on the labour force survey results from 1987 to 1990 an estimated annual average of 90,000 people in Scotland fell within the International Labour Organisation definition of unemployed, but were not included in the monthly claimant count statistics. This compares with 80,000 people in the claimant count who did not fall within the ILO definition of unemployed.

Mr. Hughes : Do not the figures show the damaging effects of the Government's policy on unemployment in Scotland? Does the Minister accept that, after we have discounted the 23 fiddles on the figures that he has carried out, the true figure for unemployment in Scotland is over 350,000-- 110,000 more than the figure to which he officially admits? When will the Minister throw off his damaging complacency and act to remove this black spot from the Scottish economy?

Mr. Stewart : The House will recognise why the hon. Gentleman has made those somewhat uncharacteristic partisan comments. No doubt he is worried about his marginal seat. Since January 1987, unemployment in Grampian has fallen by about 13,350. It is undoubtedly the case that his area of the country has been doing extremely well economically under this Government. That cannot be denied. That is why the Conservatives will do particularly well in the north-east of Scotland in the forthcoming election.

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Mr. Tom Clarke : Does the Minister accept that the figures will not be helped if the speculation about the Gartcosh recycling paper project, which appeared in this morning's press, has any accuracy at all? Would it not be a disaster if Germany succeeded where we failed? Does he also accept that unless he gives full encouragement to Dumbarton Enterprise and the Lanarkshire development agency, this project will not succeed and that Gartcosh will therefore become, for the second time, the location for a Tory industrial disaster?

Mr. Stewart : It certainly would not be helped by the prospect of a Scottish assembly. That is for certain. May I point out to the hon. Gentleman, however, because I recognise that he is representing the concerns of his constituents, that I do not comment on speculative reports. May I also underline the massive support that the Government are giving to Lanarkshire. A question appears later on the Order Paper about that. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to see me personally about that project, I shall be happy to meet him.

Mr. Oppenheim : Does my hon. Friend accept that to many people south of the border the Scots have the reputation of being hardy, robust, tough, thrifty if somewhat dour people, as borne out by the fact that there are more people in work in Scotland now than there were in 1979, that Scottish exports are far higher now than they were in 1979 and that Scottish manufacturing exports are far higher now than they were in 1979? Is it not a shame that that positive image is so often threatened by the whingeing, whining, craven attitude of so many of the Members of Parliament whom the Scots choose to send to Westminster?

Mr. Stewart : I feel that I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. I have never before been described as somewhat dour, but my hon. Friend's basic case is absolutely right. There is no doubt at all, as every commentator has confirmed, that during the present world recession the Scottish economy has been doing extremely well. We are coming through the problems extremely well in order to face the challenges of the future. That is a tribute to a very large number of people in industry, in management and in the trade union movement. My hon. Friend is right to point out that we in Scotland should be proud of our achievements.

Borders Economy

7. Mr. Kirkwood : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what proposals he has to assist the prospects of the local economy in the Borders region ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Allan Stewart : Borders region benefits, along with the rest of Scotland, from the Government's firm economic policies which are aimed at further reducing inflation and reducing cost and other burdens on industry. In addition, since April of last year, Scottish Borders Enterprise has been able to bring to bear substantial public resources through integrated training, economic development and environmental activity.

Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Minister agree that the recent disturbingly high increase in the percentage rates of unemployment in the region underscore the urgent need for Government action now? Does he also agree that

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because the Borders region is denied access to development assistance of any kind, either from the Treasury or from the European Community, the prospects for the local economy are damaged? Can he give an undertaking now to review urgently in the next Parliament the whole question of the criteria for eligibility for development aid status and in particular to reconsider urgently the region's claim, so that it can deal with some of its economic problems?

Mr. Stewart : It is the Government's intention to review the assisted area map in the next Parliament. I think that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that there are substantial arguments in favour of a period of stability for the boundaries of a particular assisted area. I do not underestimate the problems to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, but may I emphasise that Scottish Borders Enterprise has been doing a great deal with the support of hon. Members and others to assist the economy of the borders. For example, Scottish Borders Enterprise has provided £1 million to support the borders textiles initiative. The hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) have asked for a meeting with me to discuss the matters. I understand from my office that the date of that meeting has been agreed.

Mr. Home Robertson : Can the Minister confirm that one of the biggest handicaps for the economy of the borders and adjacent regions is the intolerably dangerous and congested A1 road? Now that the Government have figures which confirm that the A1 in my constituency is carrying as much traffic as the A74 and 35,000 people have signed a petition calling for dualling of the A1, will he confirm reports that the Government are about to concede the case for dualling? If so, will he accept that that death-bed conversion of the Government will be most welcome?

Mr. Stewart : I do not read of any commitment by the Labour party to increase expenditure on Scottish roads. Has the hon. Gentleman checked that with his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith)? There is no such commitment. The A1 steering group, which was set up by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), comprises officials of all the relevant authorities and is monitoring traffic and accidents on the A1 so that priority can be given to accident remedial action. A route action plan in respect of the A1 between Edinburgh and Newcastle is being developed. The Government's position on improvements to the A1 is clear, but there is still no commitment from the Labour party. Sir David Steel rose --

Mr. Speaker : Mr. McMaster.

Mr. McMaster : No. 8, Sir.

Sir David Steel : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The right hon. Gentleman must take his chance on these matters. I have already called one hon. Member from his party. With the best will in the world, I cannot call every hon. Member who has a constituency interest in every question.

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Sir David Steel : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker : I shall not take the point of order in the middle of Question Time. The right hon. Gentleman can raise it afterwards.

Sir David Steel : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

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