Home Page

Column 259

House of Commons

Wednesday 23 February 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

PRAYERS

[ Madam Speaker-- -- in the Chair ]

PRIVATE BUSINESS --

British Railways (No. 4) Bill

Considered ; to be read the Third Time.

Oral Answers to Questions

SCOTLAND --

Scottish Economy --

1. Mr. Salmond : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise to discuss developments in the Scottish economy

7. Ms Rachel Squire : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the Scottish economy.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : I have frequent contacts with Scottish Enterprise and representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on matters concerning the Scottish economy. I last met the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise last Friday.

Mr. Salmond : Does the Secretary of State accept that the removal of headquarters and decision making is deeply damaging to Scottish economic interests ? What representations has he personally made to British Gas about the location of its new headquarters divisions ? Is he now prepared to condemn its decision to locate all five south of the border and seek to reverse it or will he follow the lead of his Prime Minister, wash his hands of the situation and do absolutely nothing while another Scottish work force is taken to the cleaners by another British company ?

Mr. Lang : While it is always desirable to have company decision making in Scotland--and I am glad to see that 25,000 more companies have been created in Scotland since the Government came to power--it is inevitable that, from time to time, companies, for their own commercial reasons, will rearrange their decision-making plans. I have written to the chairman of British Gas about his recent announcement. I particularly seek clarification of his proposals to devolve operational activities. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry is shortly to meet British Gas and I understand that the chairman has invited all Scottish Members to meet him this afternoon.

Ms Squire : Does the Secretary of State recognise the vital importance of defence-related jobs to Scotland's


Column 260

economy and especially to that of Fife ? If so, will he declare his support for the campaign to keep open Rosyth naval base and protect the 5,000 jobs associated with it because employment is threatened in a region which already has the highest overall unemployment rate in Scotland ? Will the Secretary of State publicly declare his support for that campaign ?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Lady will know my past record of support for the naval base and also the naval dockyard at Rosyth. I cannot help noticing that Labour is always calling for cuts in defence spending and is always at the forefront of calls for the abandonment of the nuclear deterrent, but complains when the consequences of defence cuts flow through. The important thing is to maintain economic employment levels in Fife and to generate new economic activity to sustain increased prosperity.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : Who does my right hon. Friend think best speaks for Scotland--my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who in Glasgow on Friday was proud to speak about a diverse and dynamic Scottish economy which in many respects is a world beater, or the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) who glories in knocking Scottish achievements and revels in taking every opportunity in the House and elsewhere to talk Scotland down ?

Mr. Lang : I suspect that my hon. Friend shares my view that the better spokesman for Scotland in that respect is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I wish that Labour would not seek to talk Scotland down because that damages Scotland's economic prospects. Why do the Opposition not recognise that Scotland's share of UK manufactured exports is now at an all-time high and 24 per cent. per head higher than in the rest of the United Kingdom, and that Scottish exports are growing in all sectors of the economy ? There is a great deal of good news in Scotland and it would help Scottish interests if Opposition Members would draw attention to it from time to time.

Mr. Eric Clarke : Did the Secretary of State write to or advise the Prime Minister on the statistics contained in the Prime Minister's speech, as the picture that he painted was not one of the Scotland that I know ?

Mr. Lang : I am not accountable for the hon. Gentleman's ignorance. I draw his attention to the fact that unemployment in Scotland, although still too high, is now lower than unemployment in England, Wales or Northern Ireland--for the first time in more than 70 years. Unemployment has fallen in five of the past six months and is 11,500 lower than it was a decade ago. In the last decade, 162,000 new jobs have been created in Scotland.

Mr. Wallace : Does the Secretary of State accept that he has nothing to boast about when he says that unemployment in Scotland is lower, as it is still approaching 250,000 and only marginally less bad ? As for young people out of work and those out of work for six months or more, will the Secretary of State comment on the reports from the unemployment unit showing the poor performance of people in statutory training schemes in Scottish local enterprise company areas ? When he talks to the chairman of Scottish Enterprise, will he suggest that


Column 261

one of the criteria for training performance might be the ability to place people in jobs after training rather than simply obtaining paper qualifications ?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman talks about those who have been unemployed for six months or more. He will know that two thirds of those who lose their jobs are back in employment after six months and off the unemployment register. In regard to the relative performance of enterprise companies, the hon. Gentleman will know better than most that there are bound to be differences in costs and results, depending on geography, demography, the nature of training courses and the level of qualifications being sought. Scotland has a good record on many of those aspects.

Dr. Reid : Does the Secretary of State recall how he and his colleagues cheered when it was announced that the Germans had taken over the Rover group ? Did they cheer last night when it was announced that French firm Valourec had taken over the last remaining steel plant in my constituency ? Does he not feel some slight shame that in the 14 years during which he and his Government have presided over the Scottish economy the once thriving and vast steel industry has been reduced to absolutely zero in Motherwell, North ? There is no British-owned steel industry in my constituency. Does he feel no shame ? Could he at least give the work force some guarantee that their employment will be secure and that the North sea will continue to be provided with steel tubes made in Britain by a British firm, or will he cop out on that as well ?

Mr. Lang : If there is a case for shame, it is among the Opposition. The steel industry has suffered in recent years because it was starved of new investment when it was nationalised, when the commanding heights of the Scottish economy were taken over and control moved south to London. The lack of investment in nationalised steel companies led to their uncompetitiveness and demise. If the takeover by a French company leads to new investment, that is more likely than nationalisation would ever have been to secure jobs for the future.

Mr. George Robertson : Will the Secretary of State admit that the 250,000 unemployed Scots, who were joined last Thursday by another 14,000, must have been absolutely gobsmacked if they were listening to the Prime Minister's speech on Friday when he said :

"Employment prospects are vastly better than they were 15 years ago" ?

Being intelligent people, would they not find the Prime Minister's use of figures both self-serving and slippery when he claimed there were 160,000 more jobs in Scotland than there were 10 years ago ? They will be wise enough to realise that the Government came to power 15 years ago, not 10 years ago, and that far from creating 160,000 jobs in those 15 years, the Government have destroyed 12,000 jobs all over Scotland. How can Ministers have the cheek to add statistical fraud to the human and economic misery that they have caused in Scotland ?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman may not like the statistics, but they happen to be correct. The civilian work force in Scotland has increased over the past 10 years by 162,000--that is more than 16,000 jobs a year on average, 1,300 a month or almost 350 a week. Let me cite some locations where new jobs have been created as a result of announcements in the past four months. They include


Column 262

Cumbernauld, Glasgow, Coatbridge, Bathgate, Livingston, Glenrothes, East Kilbride, Larkhall, Dundee, Aberdeen, Dunfermline, Edinburgh, Hamilton, Cumnock, Port Glasgow, Kinross, Irvine, Elgin and Bothwell. There are lots of jobs being created in Scotland. It is a pity that the Labour party will not acknowledge that.

Forestry Commission Land --

2. Mrs. Ewing : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many access agreements have been reached with private purchasers of Forestry Commission land in each of the past five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Sir Hector Monro) : Access agreements are not made between the Forestry Commission and private purchasers.

Mrs. Ewing : Why not ?

Sir Hector Monro : They could not be guaranteed in perpetuity.

Mr. Kynoch : Under the current local government structure, regions are obliged to draw up indicative forestry strategies. Will that be a requirement of the new unitary authorities ? If so, will there be co- operation and co-ordination between them ?

Sir Hector Monro : Yes. I expect close co-operation between the new unitary authorities and the forest authorities and Forest Enterprise--or whatever is in place when the new councils come into being in 1996. Co- operation will be the watchword--particularly in terms of access, which is most important.

Rail and Car Transport --

3. Mr. Darling : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the likely growth in rail and private car transport in the south-east of Scotland over the next 20 years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : My right hon. Friend and I have regard to a widerange of information when forming transport policy for Scotland. That includes national forecasts for rail and road use produced by British Rail and the Department of Transport. The Scottish Office conducts more detailed studies in connection with individual transport projects.

Mr. Darling : How can the Government justify a second road bridge at Queensferry, which will pour hundreds of thousands of unnecessary cars and lorries into Edinburgh city centre and cause environmental damage, when that will result in tolls increasing to between £3 and £6 per crossing, which is the experience with other private sector controlled bridges ? Will the Government agree to a wide-ranging public inquiry so that alternative modes of transport, such as the underused Forth rail bridge, can be examined, or has the Minister been captured by the road builders in the Scottish Office and by construction companies, some of which have made generous donations to the Conservative party ?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman is assuming that a decision has been made, but it has not. Traffic levels are steadily increasing. The national road


Column 263

traffic forecast shows that over the next 20 years traffic levels will rise 40 to 60 per cent. If we did nothing, we would rightly be blamed. Were the project to proceed, the toll would depend on the outcome of any future competition to design, build, finance and operate any new bridge and roads. It would be subject to close scrutiny, and a maximum level would be set by the Government. Suggestions of a toll of up to £5 are wholly unrealistic and bear no relation to reality.

The hon. Gentleman wrote to me about a planning inquiry, and I am replying today. The normal statutory procedures require rigorous assessment of development proposals and provide for a local public inquiry if necessary. The kind of inquiry for which the hon. Gentleman asks has never been held in Scotland. We believe that the normal statutory processes should proceed.

Mr. Hood : There is great concern in Scotland about coach transport, especially at this time. Today, the funeral of Francis Scorgie took place in the village of Carnwath in my constituency. His family and the whole constituency is mourning the death of that 15-year-old boy, who left his home last Thursday to travel with 34 other school friends on the school bus to Biggar high school. Within minutes, tragically, he received fatal injuries when the bus collided head-on with an articulated lorry. My constituents, the family of that young boy and the people of Scotland are calling for Government action. It is known beyond reasonable doubt that a seat belt would have saved the life of Francis Scorgie and avoided serious injury to the other children. When will the Government act ?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I associate myself with the hon. Gentleman's comments in sending deepest sympathy to the family concerned. I agree that the safety of pupils must be a matter of top priority. Their safety is the statutory responsibility of the education authorities concerned. The Department of Transport is undertaking a review of the fitting of seat belts in all buses and coaches, and will report in due course. The Scottish Office is contributing all the evidence that it has from Scotland. We are looking at that matter actively just now, in co- operation with our colleagues at the Department of Transport, which has lead responsibility.

Training --

4. Mr. Ernie Ross : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met Scottish Enterprise to discuss training.

Mr. Lang : I last discussed training with the chairman and chief executive of Scottish Enterprise on 2 November last year.

Mr. Ross : When will we hear from the Secretary of State the distinctive Scottish circumstances that suggest to him that he should opt out of the proposed national development plan launched by the Secretary of State for Employment for 150,000 apprenticeships ? Does the Secretary of State think that Scotland is so different that our young people do not deserve apprenticeships, or that our manufacturing base is so strong that we do not need young people in apprentice training--just in case the economy ever picks up ?

Mr. Lang : Labour Members are usually busy telling me how different Scotland is and how important it is that


Column 264

it should have its own arrangements. I am keeping closely in touch with the development of the apprenticeship scheme at the Department of Employment for use south of the border. One of the reasons why we are not automatically and immediately linking ourselves with it is that we are already achieving 30 per cent. Scottish vocational qualification level 3, which is the target that has been set for the apprenticeship scheme. We are already ahead of what they are aiming at south of the border in that regard. Nevertheless, we will learn from the scheme as it is developed in the south. If it has application in Scotland, I am sure that it will be applied there.

Mr. Gallie : Does my right hon. Friend agree that, given the comments that he has made on the gaining of qualification under the training schemes, the new skill seekers scheme that is on offer presents a great opportunity for Scottish youth and allows youths to choose the training of their need with the employer of their choice ? That will benefit them greatly in future years.

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will welcome the fact that youth training credits should be applicable throughout Scotland by 1996.

Mr. Beggs : When the Secretary of State last met Scottish Enterprise, did he discuss its successful initiative into Vietnam, which identified a number of viable hydro-electric projects which would have provided training and employment in Scotland and in my constituency ? Will he discuss with the Overseas Development Administration and his colleague in that Department why there has been no response and why there is ongoing delay, and when the funding will be provided to make those projects become viable ?

Mr. Lang : That was not on the agenda for our discussion when we met in November. My right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Overseas Development will in due course hear the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Mr. Galloway : Will the Secretary of State ask the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, Mr. Crawford Beveridge, what he was doing last weekend at a Conservative party fund-raising dinner at an hotel in my constituency--the Focus on Scotland dinner which Sir Michael Hirst, the chairman of the Conservative party, tells Malcolm Rifkind is immensely important and raises around 30 per cent. of its income ? Why were a whole host of heads and high officials of Government quangos there, including a reported sighting of Mr. Lawrence Peterken, the expensively transferred health official about whom the House has heard much in recent months ? Is it healthy for individuals who owe their livelihoods to Government patronage to be seated around tables raising funds at an immensely important Conservative party fund-raising dinner ?

Mr. Lang : There were almost 900 guests at that dinner. A further 200 would have liked to come but were unable to get seats. That is a reflection of the strength of support for the Government among the business community in Scotland. If Mr. Crawford Beveridge was brought as a guest of one of those business men, that is entirely a matter for him. So far as I am concerned, he and any other guests brought to that dinner were equally welcome. I only wish


Column 265

that some Opposition Members had been invited by businesses in their community. They might have learnt quite a lot.

Mr. McLeish : Will the Secretary of State tell the House when he expects to meet Professor Donald Mackay to discuss the skills crisis in Scotland, because, despite the ludicrous answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross), 83 per cent. of trainees on employment training in Scotland leave without a qualification and 76 per cent. of young Scots after being on youth training leave without a qualification ? Surely the Secretary of State will not continue to be complacent about the future of so many young Scots. Scottish Enterprise is letting him down. He is involved in a widespread sell-out of the Scottish unemployed. It is a national scandal and he should make a statement about it today.

Mr. Lang : Again, the Opposition are trying to talk Scotland down by presenting selective statistics and facts. The hon. Gentleman might have chosen to draw attention to the success of adult training--a scheme that is no more expensive in Scotland than in England and has produced a higher success rate in Scotland. He might also have pointed out that 30 per cent. achieve Scottish vocational qualification level 3 and above--much higher levels than are achieved in England--and that 80 per cent. aim for level 2. He might have mentioned that more youth and adult trainees than ever before are gaining recognised qualifications and that a larger proportion of adult trainees go into jobs, further education or further training. The fact is that the quality of training in Scotland is improving considerably.

Local Government Finance --

5. Mr. Malcolm Bruce : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to visit the north-east of Scotland to discuss local government spending.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : My right hon. Friend plans to visit the north-east of Scotland again before long. Local government spending will probably be among the matters discussed.

Mr. Bruce : Does the Minister recognise that when his right hon. Friend visits Aberdeen he will meet citizens who are full of anger, outrage and downright disgust at the £287,000 early retirement package given to the disgraced chief executive who, although guilty of dishonesty and deception, faced no disciplinary proceedings from the council ? What can be done to ensure that the affair is investigated fully and independently, and that those citizens secure the result that they want--no more wasting of public money by councillors who have failed in their public duty ?

Mr. Stewart : A reading of the press will probably lead to the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman's remarks reflect widespread public opinion. I must tell him, however, that the district council is an independent corporate body. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Scottish Office have no powers to intervene in such decisions. The council must, of course, be accountable to taxpayers, official bodies and the law.


Column 266

Mr. John Marshall : As a former member of Aberdeen town council, may I support the plea of the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) against Aberdeen district council's complete misuse of public funds ? I am sure that it would not have happened when I was a member of the council, or when the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) was a member.

Mr. Stewart : The consensus seems to be that Aberdeen's affairs were in better hands when my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) were on the council.

I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House have reflected the widespread public anger that is felt, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can act only within statutes passed by the House. The council is an independent statutory body.

Mr. Robert Hughes : Does the Minister agree that we should send our good wishes to Tom Paine, the leader of the council--who had a stroke two days ago--and wish him a speedy return to full health ? Does the Minister also agree that hindsight is a marvellous aid to decision making--the only trouble being that it is not available when it is needed ? Will he at least make one point clear--which I wish to do, although I personally do not agree with the final decision ? Will he make it clear that that decision was made in good faith, not because of any lack of accountability or responsibility, and that public funds were not misused in the way that both the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) and the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) have disgracefully sought to imply ?

Mr. Stewart : I think that the whole House will want to send best wishes to Councillor Paine for a speedy recovery.

The decision was, of course, made by the council. I merely expressed agreement with hon. Members' view that widespread public concern has been felt.

Local Government Reorganisation --

6. Mr. Chisholm : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what criteria he employed in determining the size of the proposed new local authorities.

Mr. Stewart : The Government took into account a wide range of factors in determining the boundaries for the new councils. Those were set out in detail in the consultation paper "Shaping the New Councils".

Mr. Chisholm : Does the Minister realise that no one in Scotland wants local government reorganisation--apart from some Tories in the gerrymandered areas--and that it will become even more unpopular once people realise the costs and the effect on services ? Will he now confirm that as the proposed number of new authorities increases, the already substantial costs will also increase ? How can the several small authorities that he has proposed possibly deliver the range of services that is necessary ? Is not it true that he does not care, so long as he can create a few flagship Tory authorities to spearhead his real agenda, which is the handing over of service delivery to private contractors ?

Mr. Stewart : I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that every political party in Scotland at one time or another has been committed to a unitary system of local


Column 267

government, for good and understandable reasons. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to congratulate the Government on the changes that we announced in relation to Lothian, after listening to all-party public opinion. I have received congratulatory letters from West Lothian and from Midlothian, areas near the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

As for the size of authorities, if it is the hon. Gentleman's view that small authorities cannot deliver services, it is astonishing that two out of only three votes on detailed boundaries that the Opposition forced in Committee were to make fairly small authorities smaller.

Mr. Canavan : Will the Minister give us a categorical assurance that, in places where the proposed new local government boundaries cut across school catchment areas, parents and local education authorities will not have to bear the burden of extra transport or any other costs if parents choose to send their children to schools on the other side of a boundary ? If the Minister cannot give us such an assurance, will he do the decent thing and withdraw the Bill, which is one of the most blatant pieces of political gerrymandering in the history of Scottish local government ?

Mr. Stewart : I have offered to meet the hon. Member and his parliamentary colleagues in Central region to consider the options that would best serve the interests of his constituents, but obviously he does not want to take up that offer on behalf of his constituents.

As for the school question, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State with responsibility for education and housing has given assurances to the Committee and will table an amendment on those matters.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : Does my hon. Friend agree that Opposition Front-Bench Members divided the Standing Committee only three times when we were discussing boundaries in Scotland and that once we got down to the detailed scrutiny of the boundaries they could not sustain or justify the gerrymandering charge that they have unfairly bandied about during the past six months ? Much of what the hon. Members for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish) say on television bears little resemblance to reality.

Mr. Stewart : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Opposition Front -Bench Members endeavoured to stifle debate on boundaries. The number of recommendations that were made by Labour-led district councils in Scotland was extremely interesting

Madam Speaker : Order. It was remiss of me not to stop the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson). We have procedures here whereby we do not refer to what is taking place in Committee. That Committee work stands on its own until it is reported to the House. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman who is now at the Dispatch Box can compose a proper answer without referring to the Committee.

Mr. Stewart : The Government's developing policy will continue to reflect the need for a sensible unitary system of local government in Scotland and we shall continue to take into account the sensible proposals that we are receiving from many local authorities in Scotland.

Mr. George Robertson : The House will understand why the Minister with responsibility for local government


Column 268

was put up to answer local government questions rather than the Secretary of State, who wants to stay well away from this gerrymandering subject. However, this is the Minister who has started to admit that the creation of the new additional authorities will increase costs and eliminate any savings from this unwanted, unnecessary and completely gerrymandering council carve-up. Will he now tell the whole truth about what it will cost the people of Scotland ? This ideological fiasco, whose credibility is declining with every day that it is discussed, will mean yet another financial imposition on Scottish household bills. On top of the £10 a week that the people of Scotland will have to pay for economic incompetence and broken promises on taxation, they will have to pay a heavy gerrymandering surtax for the butchery of local government for which they never asked and which they certainly do not want.

Mr. Stewart : That is either the 25th or the 26th time that I have heard the hon. Gentleman pronounce such nonsense. The costs and savings have been clearly identified. If he does not believe me, I urge him to read the submissions of Labour-led councils up and down the land about the savings and efficiencies that they believe a unitary structure of local government in Scotland will deliver to their voters. Members of Labour's Front Bench are simply not representing Labour district councils in Scotland in these matters.

8. Mrs. Adams : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many additional quangos and joint boards will be created as a result of the proposed reforms of Scottish local government.

Mr. Stewart : The Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill proposes the creation of a maximum of seven new non-departmental public bodies, including a staff commission for the transitional period. We expect to establish four new joint boards for police and fire services.

Mrs. Adams : Should not the Minister be hanging his head in shame ? Is not it an admission that the Government do not believe in democracy in Scotland that they have to go for appointed boards ? Will he at least tell us what the criteria for the appointments will be ? Will he agree to set up a register listing all members of quangos, their interests and political affiliations so that the people of Scotland might at least know who these unelected people are who are increasingly running their lives ?

Mr. Stewart : The lists of people who are members of

non-departmental public bodies are well known, as they are all published. We appreciate the hon. Lady's disappointment at not being selected at the last minute for the Committee considering the Bill, due to the traditional sexism of the Labour Whips Office. I assure her that under this Government the number of non-departmental public bodies in Scotland has not increased but has fallen from 240 to 160.

Mr. Dalyell : If, as the Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), costs have been carefully identified--I use his own words--he will be able to tell us, will he not, to the nearest £10 million, what is the latest cost estimate from the Scottish Office on local government reform ?


Column 269

Mr. Stewart : Certainly. The hon. Gentleman has tabled a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State asking precisely that and it will be answered today.

Mr. McFall : Will the Minister ensure that any future quangos will not follow the lead of Dumbartonshire Enterprise, which, I have just discovered, has given a grant of £60,000 to the Helensburgh-based Royal Northern yacht club to stone clean its premises ? He will know that it is the headquarters of the exclusive Mudhook yacht club, whose 40 rich and famous members include royalty and even Cabinet Ministers. Is he aware that, in an area of high unemployment, not one job was created as a result of the grant ? Does he agree that this or any future quango should not provide substantial grants to organisations to finance projects that offer no economic benefits and which could easily and properly be funded by members of that exclusive rich man's club ?

Mr. Stewart : I believe that Dumbartonshire Enterprise spends taxpayers' money cost-effectively. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman wants to talk to someone with great experience of quangos, there is the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who was a member of the Police Advisory Board, of the board of the Scottish Development Agency and of the Scottish tourist board, at a time when his only obvious qualification for those important positions was his membership of the executive of the Scottish Labour party.

Homelessness --

9. Mr. Watson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what resources he will make available to ensure that homeless people in Scotland are able to receive the full range of health care available under the NHS.

Mr. Stewart : Health boards are resourced to purchase health care services for their resident population including those who are homeless.

Mr. Watson : Despite that response, the Minister must be aware that homeless people in Scotland, as in other parts of Britain, face major and often insurmountable obstacles in getting access to the national health service, largely because of the unwillingness of general practitioners, who are the main source of referral for most NHS services, to accept them on to their registers. Does he accept the view of Dr. Harry Burns, the director of public health in Glasgow, who said that providing better health care for homeless people must be a priority for 1994 ? Statistics for London show that tuberculosis is already beginning to raise its ugly head again among homeless people, including those in hostels. Will he tell us, and homeless people in Scotland, clearly what he is prepared to do to ensure that homeless does not continue to mean healthless?

Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman makes a serious point. I know Dr. Harry Burns and have the highest regard for him. In May 1992, the Chief Medical Officer asked health boards to carry out a health care needs assessment of their homeless and residential population. Last October, the CMO asked health boards to develop their services for the homeless and boards have already been instructed to undertake a whole range of specific actions to help in that area.


Column 270

Mr. Bill Walker : While my hon. Friend and his colleagues are discussing resources and health care facilities, do they bear carefully in mind the necessity, when a cottage hospital such as Meigle has been resourced from its birth with an adequate endowment that would keep it going for ever, of taking that fact carefully into account when considering the information presented before such a hospital is closed ?

Mr. Stewart : The whole House will know of my hon. Friend's campaign on Meigle hospital. As always, he has been a most meticulous and determined constituency Member of Parliament. As the House also knows, the Secretary of State himself replied to the Adjournment debate that my hon. Friend initiated on Meigle hospital and I know that my right hon. Friend, as he said at the time, listened most carefully to what my hon. Friend said.

Mrs. Fyfe : First, may I put on record the Labour party's continuing support for cottage hospitals ?

On the original question, the Minister must know that bad housing creates bad health and the health of those who do not even have a roof over their heads is even more at risk. Does he agree that it is a scandal that in 1992 -93 more than 45,000 households--almost 1,000 every week--applied to local authorities as homeless and that many of the people concerned will not be registered with a doctor ? Will the Minister therefore reject for Scotland the proposal from the Department of the Environment to tell local authorities that they need not house those in the greatest need--the people who are literally on the streets--but may provide short-term accommodation only ? Will he promise today that the impact on the health of the homeless will lead him and the health and housing Ministers in the Scottish Office to reject out of hand any proposals to weaken homelessness legislation ?

Mr. Stewart : As the hon. Lady will know, my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for housing has allocated an extra £27 million for programmes specifically designed to deal with the problem of homelessness. With regard to the hon. Lady's general point about legislation, I can say that we envisage a consultation paper on possible reforms of homelessness provision, including legislation. That paper will be issued in the spring.

Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive --

10. Mr. Wilson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future funding of Strathclyde passenger transport executive, in the context of Scottish local government reorganisation.


Next Section

  Home Page