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House of Commons

Wednesday 3 March 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


Alliance & Leicester (Girobank) Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions


Primary School Buildings

2. Mr. Kynoch : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the capital spend on primary school building works in Scotland in 1992 ; and what was the figure in 1979, adjusted to 1992 prices.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : Information on capital expenditure on primary schools is not available separately.

Mr. Kynoch : I welcome the recent additional funding given to Grampian regional council, which has enabled it to prevent the closure of-- and to rebuild--a rural primary school at Logie Coldstone in my constituency. The doubling of many primary school rolls in my constituency in recent years has placed a significant strain on buildings, which require rebuild and extension. Does my hon. Friend recognise the importance of primary schools, particularly to rural communities, in which they play a key part? Does he further recognise that Grampian regional council has paid insufficient attention to the growing population of Kincardine and Deeside? Will he urge it to put that matter right at the earliest opportunity?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend raises an important point. Rising pupil numbers is an issue which should be properly taken into account by the regional council as it comes under the council's jurisdiction. I am glad that progress has been made at Logie Coldstone primary school. My hon. Friend's constituency is suffering from the benefits associated with success, which brings in its wake problems which should be borne in mind by the regional council.

Mr. Foulkes : Is the Minister aware of the vigorous campaign in Ayr to keep Castlehill primary school open? The campaign has the support of the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) and me, so it must be right. If the campaign is successful, the temporary buildings will be inadequate. Will the Minister therefore given an assurance that

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Strathclyde regional council will be allowed capital building consent to ensure that a new purpose-built school is provided for the pupils of Castlehill?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : In distributing allocations to the regions, account is taken, as far as possible, of the needs throughout Scotland. Councils can supplement their education building programme by the use of capital receipts from the disposal of assets, by the use of revenue expenditure on capital works and by transferring resources from other capital programmes. The issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, which also apply to many other parts of Scotland, will be borne in mind.

Rural Housing

3. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to meet the chairman of Scottish Homes to discuss rural housing.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My right hon. Friend and I met the chairman of Scottish Homes in January to discuss a number of issues, including rural housing.

Mr. Wallace : It is now two and a half years since, with a great fanfare, Scottish Homes launched its rural housing strategy. Does the Minister regard the more than 7,000 homelessness applications in rural and remote areas of Scotland in the past complete year as a sign of a strategy that is working? While Scottish Homes may have made a laudable effort to concentrate on 10 demonstration projects, they will not be of much use unless the lessons learnt can be applied to other rural regions of Scotland. When will Scottish Homes do that, and will the Government provide it with the resources to do so?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I am glad to report that Scottish Homes' programme for rural areas of Scotland will include more than £55 million--an increase of almost 22 per cent. over the planned expenditure for last year. That represents about one fifth of the total development programme. Scottish Homes is giving priority to the issue of homelessness in a number of ways. It has said that 7,000 units will be made available for waiting-list applicants and the statutorily homeless, and is developing a series of initiatives which I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome, including one for £2 million to be made available for three years for furniture grants to housing associations.

Mr. John Marshall : Will my hon. Friend confirm that Scottish Homes is a major beneficiary of the autumn statement? Will he also confirm that a local authority should sell as many council houses as possible because it can reinvest all the proceeds during the current financial year?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I can confirm that Scottish Homes benefited considerably from the autumn statement when a £250 million debt was written off. Processing council house sales can be a substantial advantage and Scottish Homes does that to the benefit of its programmes.

Mrs. Fyfe : When, on 17 February, the Minister cut next year's housing support grants to three quarters of the current year's, was he aware of the shocking findings of the Scottish Homes survey into the condition of Scottish housing which was posted to Members of Parliament on 22 February? Was he aware on 17 February that some

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94,000 dwellings failed to meet the tolerable standard, 32,000 of them in rural areas and 62,000 in urban areas? Did he also know that one fifth of Scotland's housing stock has damp, condensation or mould? Whether or not he knew then, he knows now. What does he intend to do about it?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Scottish Homes is facilitating repairs or replacements of 1,000 below tolerable standard houses per year through the housing associations and other suppliers in Scotland. Since 1979, more than £1 billion has been spent on improvement grants and local authorities can target their resources on below tolerable standard housing. The house condition survey made it clear that 2 per cent. of Scotland's houses are suffering from severe damp and condensation and we shall give top priority to eradicating that as soon as possible.

Constitutional Change

4. Mr. Salmond : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what speeches he has made in his ministerial capacity in 1993 on the subject of constitutional change in Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : None.

Mr. Salmond : It sounds as though the Secretary of State has been in constitutional purdah. Is there anything in the "taking stock" proposals which has not already been leaked to the press? If not, they seem to be mainly about increasing the Secretary of State's job description. Does the right hon. Gentleman not understand that there is a world of difference between increasing the democratic power of the Scottish nation and increasing the Secretary of State for Scotland's personal power of patronage? Will he undertake to put his proposals against independence in Europe and against devolution to the Scottish people in a constitutional referendum? If not, why not?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman will need to contain his impatience for a little longer ; he will then discover precisely what our proposals include. But let me reassure him nothing in our proposals will do anything to undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom or Scotland's place in it.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the arrogance of the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) in this matter defies belief? Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that at every general election without exception the Scottish Conservative party has returned more Members of Parliament to the House than has the Scottish National party, and that with our history, our record of commitment and our geographic spread of representation it is the Conservative party which is Scotland's national party?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Scottish National party talks readily about democracy, but I invite it to accept the verdict of the electorate who at the general election reduced its parliamentary representation by 40 per cent.

Mr. McAllion : Does the Secretary of State begin to comprehend that constitutional change is not an end in

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itself but a means to an end? Does he not understand that 75 per cent. of Scottish voters want their own Parliament not for its own sake but because it frees them to make their own decisions about the future of Scottish water, Scottish local government and Scotland's railway system? Will he at least try to understand that whatever he announces next week about the stock-taking process, unless it frees Scottish democracy from the chains of the Westminster Parliament it will be decisively and deservedly rejected by the mass of the Scottish people?

Mr. Lang : I know that the hon. Gentleman is a member of that small band, Scotland United, and a great evangeliser for his cause. I am indebted to The Scotsman, which points out :

"Scotland United has a new friend in the redoubtable form of none other than Fidel Castro, the president of Cuba."

On their return from a visit to Cuba, the doughty trio concluded : "We had two hours with him and he was really interested in what Scotland United was about."

They added :

"Which is more than we've had from John Smith."

Mr. Dickens : Can my right hon. Friend explain the Scottish National party's continual obsession with breaking up the United Kingdom? Is it not a fact that a united Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland comprises one of the most influential and powerful nations in the world? Would not a fragmented Scotland become like a big county council? That is not what Scotland or Great Britain wants--we want the Union.

Mr. Lang : I absolutely endorse every word said by my hon. Friend. We on this side of the House are proud not only of what Scotland has derived from the Union but of the benefits that Scotland has brought to the Union.

Sir David Steel : Is the Secretary of State aware that any company which took as long to stock take as he has done would be in compulsory liquidation by now? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the extent of his tinkering with our business arrangements over the next week or two will be no substitute for allowing the people of Scotland to determine their constitutional future?

Mr. Lang : The right hon. Gentleman talks about the time that we have taken. We have been thorough and careful in our deliberations. I note that Labour has not even begun to take stock.

Mr. Tom Clarke : Does the Secretary of State recall that of the 72 Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies, three support independence, 11 support the Conservative party, and 49--a very clear majority--represent the Labour party and support a Parliament within the United Kingdom? Does the Secretary of State intend to consult the people of Scotland? If not, will he accept the Bill that we shall present in the coming weeks and submit these matters to a referendum so that the people of Scotland can decide their future?

Mr. Lang : No, we will not. I know that the hon. Gentleman is trying hard to cobble together some kind of unity among his divided Back Benchers, but to suggest that the secretary-general of the Scottish Trades Union Congress can somehow act as an honest broker over the future of the Scottish Constitutional Convention is to clutch at straws. I know that the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) supports that approach,

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but the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) described it as a non-starter and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) described it as a red herring. I do not have much hope for the prospects of unity in those discussions.

Local Government

5. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his timetable and what are the proposals he expects to implement in connection with legislation concerning local government in Scotland.

Mr. Lang : My Department is currently analysing the responses to our consultation paper on local government reform, and the Government will take account of those responses when we make our decision on the new structure of unitary authorities in Scotland. We intend to publish a White Paper this summer setting out our proposals.

Mr. Shaw : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the strange and undemocratic practices of Monklands district council under Labour. Can he give an assurance that the legislative changes that he proposes will deal with them? In view of the Labour party's own admission that those practices are wrong, can my right hon. Friend further assure me that the £75 million of taxpayers' money spent annually by Monklands district council is properly spent? What does he think of the letter written to me the Under- Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), about the £200,000 of Monklands and taxpayers' money that has gone astray in the last few years?

Mr. Lang : I will want to consider the points that my hon. Friend put to me. Certainly the Labour party is in my hon. Friend's debt, because it was as a result of his interest in the matter that Labour established its own inquiry--the future of which we look forward to learning tomorrow. I hope that at that stage Members of Parliament who represent Monklands constituencies will finally take a close interest in the matter. After all, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said in a recent speech on standards in government :

"Having the same party in power for fourteen years, and the abuses of that power which we now witness, have served to expose serious systemic weaknesses."


6. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairs of the local enterprise companies in Scotland to discuss unemployment in their areas.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : My right hon. Friend and I frequently meet chairmen of local enterprise companies to discuss a range of economic development and training issues.

Mr. Ross : How can LEC chairmen make plans for training, or deal with unemployment, when companies behave like Timex in Dundee, which sacked all its workers in the middle of a dispute? What have the Minister and the Secretary of State been able to do about the abuse of employment legislation that that company has visited on 343 workers since I raised the matter last Thursday?

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Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman has indeed raised the matter with my right hon. Friend and me. As I believe, he knows, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service stands ready to assist if both parties to the dispute agree. That has not happened so far, but I know that the local enterprise company in his area is widely supported by the private sector and by local authorities.

Mr. Gallie : Will my hon. Friend accept the thanks of all Ayrshire Members for the tremendous achievement of Scottish Enterprise in retaining Digital in the constituency of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), which is adjacent to mine, thus saving some 1,000 jobs? Scottish Enterprise deserves our compliments.

Mr. Stewart : I find myself in an unusual position : not only do I agree with my hon. Friend, which is fairly usual, but I endorse the public tribute paid by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) to Locate in Scotland, which worked extremely hard to ensure the continuation of that highly successful operation in Ayrshire. I am sure that it will go from success to success.

Ms. Rachel Squire : Is the Minister aware that Fife Enterprise is struggling to deal with the second highest unemployment rate in Scotland? In south and east Rosyth, for instance, it has already reached 12.1 and 12.5 per cent. respectively, and unless the submarine refitting order is awarded to Rosyth dockyard it will soon be 30 per cent. or even higher. When does the Minister intend to meet representatives of Fife Enterprise-- and, indeed, Fife regional council--to discuss the creation of jobs for the Fife area? When does he feel confident that he will be able to celebrate the award of the refitting order to Rosyth, thus saving 18,000 jobs related directly and indirectly to the dockyard and ensuring that they have a future in the Fife area?

Mr. Stewart : The whole House will understand the hon. Lady's concern about what is an important matter for her constituency. As she knows, I am a Fifer myself. She will also know that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is carefully considering the position of the dockyards. I assure her that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are in constant touch with Fife Enterprise, and we have every confidence in that body. It is widely supported, by the private sector, the regional council and the district councils.

Mr. Fabricant : Is my hon. Friend aware that Opposition Members, as well as myself, attended a meeting of Nomura International, the well-known Japanese merchant bank? Is he aware that Nomura identified the social chapter as the single factor which would increase unemployment throughout the United Kingdom? Does my hon. Friend not find it amazing that Labour supports the social chapter?

Mr. Stewart : I note from the cheers of Labour Members how strongly they agree with the sensible point made by my hon. Friend. Having been in Japan for a time last September--

Mr. Eric Clarke : Not in Scotland?

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Mr. Stewart : Let me tell the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) that Japanese companies in Lothian provide an enormous number of jobs and are constantly expanding and investing. I hoped that Opposition Members would join me in welcoming that.

Mrs. Ray Michie : Has the Minister had an opportunity to meet the chairman of Argyll and the Islands local enterprise company to discuss the effect on unemployment in Argyll and Bute of the announcement that it was to be excluded from objective 1 status?

Mrs. Ewing : And Moray.

Mrs. Michie : And the effect on Moray, Arran and various other places. What has happened? Why has there been such confusion? Whose fault was it? Can the Minister assure us that Argyll and Bute will be included in objective 1 status when the matter goes before the Council of Ministers?

Mr. Stewart : I appreciate the hon. Lady's point. As I think she will know, the territorial definitions are made by the European Commission itself. She will also know that the Government have consistently made the case for the whole highlands and islands enterprise area.

Mr. Harris : Reverting to the question asked by the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms. Squire), does my hon. Friend accept that those of us who have the honour and privilege to represent the south-west of England look at the question of the dockyards from a very different point of view and that we maintain firmly that, on any objective assessment, the submarine refitting order should go to Devonport?

Mr. Stewart : I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will read my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Connarty : Returning to the question of the enterprise boards in Scotland, has the Minister had an opportunity to discuss with Forth Valley Enterprise and other enterprise schemes around Grangemouth port the deep concern that they feel about the dirty tricks which appear to have been played against the Forth ports, including Grangemouth, by Scottish Enterprise? Is he aware that the report compiled by PEIDA did not include a substantial number of facilities at the ports? It would appear that Locate in Scotland and Scottish Enterprise are attempting to sell the idea of a port at Rosyth, which might be welcome, by doing down and hiding from people facilities at the port of Grangemouth and elsewhere which have already received substantial investment. I have written to the Secretary of State for Scotland about this. Has the issue been raised with him by the enterprise board chairman?

Mr. Stewart : I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's letter to my right hon. Friend. Scottish Enterprise has been involved in a study of a possible port development at Rosyth ; I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is apparently opposed to Scottish Enterprise considering developments which might involve net additional jobs for Scotland.

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Local Services

7. Mr. McMaster : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of COSLA to discuss the provision of local services.

Mr. Stewart : My right hon. Friend met the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on 18 January. Further meetings, as part of the normal consultation on local government finance matters, will be held later this year.

Mr. McMaster : Is the Minister aware that while he spends his time trying to save Tory Eastwood district council from the effects of his own reforms, the people of Scotland spend their time worrying about the bread and butter issues that they face daily, such as damp, decaying housing, the upsurge in violent crime, the lack of proper community policing, the threat of water privatisation and the Government's failure to prepare properly for the community care of our elderly and disabled people? As they are all vital local services which are in the hands of local government, why does the Minister waste so much time trying to dismantle and destroy local government instead of strengthening and supporting it?

Mr. Stewart : Aggregate external finance for local government in Scotland for the forthcoming year is £1,013 per head, compared with £690 per head in England and £812 per head in Wales. That is not destruction ; that is a massive investment by the British taxpayer in local authority expenditure in Scotland, which is far higher than anywhere else in the country.

The hon. Gentleman asked some specific questions. He will know that Scottish Homes is taking action in Foxbar. With regard to his concern about the policing of his constituency, why does not he take up with Labour Strathclyde regional council the fact that consistently, over a long period, it has been the only police authority in Scotland to keep its police manpower below the Scottish Office authorised level?

Mr. Bill Walker : When my hon. Friend meets representatives of COSLA will he draw attention to the article in the Glasgow Herald which said that the Monklands mafia were to be taken to an industrial tribunal by those great friends of the Conservative party, the Transport and General Workers Union? Is not it about time that something was done about what is going on in that district council?

Mr. Stewart : I know my hon. Friend's concern about those matters. His concern is shared by the Labour party--with the notable exception of the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) and the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). We all hope that the inquiry will come to sensible conclusions. We have received many letters of complaint about what is going on in Monklands. I hope for the support of Opposition Members in wishing the Transport and General Workers Union well in its complaint to the industrial tribunal.

Mr. Wray : I notice that the Minister carefully did not refer to water privatisation when he answered the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster). The Scottish Minister with responsibility for agriculture and environment was more forthcoming when he replied to a letter from my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). He suggested that the Government intend there to be meter options in April

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1993, but the Minister has not mentioned that. May I give him a message from the people of Scotland? We do not want meters ; we do not want water privatisation. If the Government franchise or privatise water the 49 Scottish Members of Parliament intend to take it back into public ownership.

Mr. Stewart : I always listen to what the hon. Gentleman says, because he lives in a part of my constituency in which I cannot afford to live. I assure him that I completely support what my hon. Friend said in his letter. My hon. Friend will be answering a question on the subject shortly.

Mr. Tom Clarke : Does the Minister recall that he failed to answer the serious question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South about community care? Does he agree that the concerns are widely shared throughout Scotland--concerns about elderly people and the care gap in residential and nursing homes, concerns about people leaving long-stay psychiatric hospitals and going into the community, and concerns about the multiply handicapped? Local authorities must address those issues, because of the changes that will happen on 1 April. In view of the absence of proper funding, how do the Government intend to deal with those matters--or do they intend to leave elderly, disabled and handicapped people and their carers with the impression that the Government simply have no strategy whatever and have even ignored the report from Sir Roy Griffiths, who warned them that if they did not act, chaos would prevail in community care?

Mr. Stewart : The House expected the hon. Gentleman to defend Monklands district council and its employment policies and religious discrimination. Does the hon. Gentleman not defend every action of Monklands district council? I see that he sits silent and I am not surprised. In answer to his specific question, the Government have increased the resources for community care by more than the Department of Social Security would have spent in Scotland. The commitment to community care is absolutely clear and has been backed by massive extra resources.

Legal Aid

8. Mr. Ingram : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people received legal aid in each of the last five years.

Mr. Lang : In 1987-88, there were 305,148 grants of legal aid and advice and assistance. This rose to 366,580 in 1991-92--an increase of just over 20 per cent. in five years. I will, with permission, Madam Speaker, arrange for the detailed numbers for the last five years to be printed in the Official Report and sent to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ingram : I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that information. Can he say why the Government, having gone some of the way towards reinstating the eligibility criteria for legal advice and assistance, are not prepared to go the whole way and raise the £44 threshold for eligibility for free civil legal aid? Why are the Government determined to deny easy access to justice for people on low incomes such as the disabled, pensioners and others with low basic incomes? Do not they care about justice in Scotland?

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Mr. Lang : Indeed we do, and those on income support levels will continue to receive free civil legal aid and advice and assistance. As the hon. Gentleman acknowledges, in the light of consultation, the Government have decided to retain the contributory band in the case of advice and assistance. However, the hon. Gentleman should not seek to imply--I do not think that he meant to do so--that we are somehow cutting legal aid in Scotland. Expenditure on legal aid has doubled in the past six years and we are budgeting for a 40 per cent. increase between now and 1995-96.

Mrs. Ewing : Does not the right hon. Gentleman realise that statistics provided by his own Government actually deny the figures that he has just given and that there has been very little increase in gross civil legal aid payments? The major jump has been in administrative costs. Is not the reality that changes in civil legal aid in Scotland are being tacked on to the changes in the English legal system, where there have been substantial increases? When shall we see the regulations which he is prepared to debate?

Mr. Lang : The answer to the hon. Lady's last question is shortly. In regard to comparisons with England, we would expect such issues to proceed broadly in line, taking account of the different circumstances north and south of the border. Let me assure the hon. Lady that, over the next two years, we expect that more people than ever before will receive legal aid and advice and assistance.

Mr. Menzies Campbell : Does the Secretary of State accept that it is a mark of a civilised society that all persons, irrespective of means, may have access to the legal system? It is perfectly clear from the proposals that he is about to bring forward that a substantial group of people who previously had access to the system through legal aid are to be denied that. Why is the Scottish Office following like a lapdog the experience in England? If the right hon. Gentleman were as independent as he claims to be, he would tell the Lord Advocate that we do not need to do in Scotland what the Lord Chancellor feels compelled to do in England and Wales.

Mr. Lang : As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, we have responsibilities north of the border, just as my right hon. and hon. Friends do south of the border, for ensuring that public resources are sensibly spent with proper care and attention to the interests of the taxpayers. However, as I have said already, we expect that more than ever before, not fewer, will be able to receive legal aid and advice and assistance over the next couple of years--something like half the households in the country.

Following is the information :



1987-88 |304,148        

1988-89 |288,904        

1989-90 |298,824        

1990-91 |328,688        

1991-92 |366,580        

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Access to Justice

9. Mr. Worthington : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on equality of access to justice.

Mr. Lang : The Government are fully committed to ensuring that all citizens have, so far as possible, ready access to a high standard of justice.

Mr. Worthington : Why have not the Government published the figures on which their claims for an increase in civil legal aid are based? The figures for 1987-1992 show that there is a tiny increase and the claim for changes in the regulations is based on the figures for this year. Will the right hon. Gentleman publish those figures when he releases them to my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Mr. Ingram)? Why are we having a cut when the citizens advice bureaux report that in significant areas of Scotland there is no civil legal aid because lawyers cannot afford to do it?

Mr. Lang : If the hon. Gentleman cares to table some specific questions, I will ensure that they are answered, giving such figures as are available. As I have said, expenditure on legal aid has doubled in the past six years from £49 million in 1987-88 to an estimated £100 million in the current year. That is a substantial increase and we are budgeting for a 40 per cent. increase by 1995-96.

Mr. Chisholm : Is the Minister aware that, over the past 20 years, many thousands of women have used legal aid to raise actions aimed at protecting themselves and their children from violence? Will the Government therefore support the campaign against domestic violence launched by Edinburgh district council's women's committee and the Edinburgh Evening News by ensuring that the cruel legal aid proposals are scrapped and by giving a more generous donation to Scottish Women's Aid? Its grant is not keeping up with its funding requirements and is falling behind all the time as a proportion of its total expenditure.

Mr. Lang : Our proposals will have no effect on the eligibility of that category.


10. Sir Russell Johnston : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what measures he is taking to alleviate homelessness in Scotland.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Local authorities have the statutory responsibility for dealing with homelessness. Their capital allocations this year total over £456 million and the Government have consistently emphasised the need to give due priority to homelessness. We have backed this up with extra capital allocations of over £22 million earmarked for homelessness projects over the period 1991 to 1993.

Sir Russell Johnston : These are empty words when one considers the fact that there were 7,000 applications last year in rural Scotland under the homelessness legislation. Over the past eight years, the total figure has increased by 180 per cent., which is a shame on the Government. Do not the Government recognise that the simple way in which to deal with the problem is not to talk about more hostels and more bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but

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to give the local authorities money to build houses for reasonable rent? There is no other way in which to deal with the problem effectively.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I can tell the hon. Gentleman that this afternoon we are making a £2.5 million supplementary allocation. Inverness district council will benefit by £100,000 owing to a shortfall of receipts. The hon. Gentleman must bear in mind the fact that over the past 10 years £10 million has been allocated through urban aid for homelessness projects. More than 1,200 housing association units have been grant aided over the past three years and some 450 homeless persons and families were provided with permanent accommodation by housing associations in 1991-92. Local authorities are expected to give priority to homelessness within their mainstream allocation.

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