The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to meet Greater Glasgow health board to discuss industrial relations between the board and health service employees.
Mr. McAvoy : Will the Minister join me in condemning the way in which the board treated its employees at Glasgow royal infirmary--the porters and cleaners--by handing them over to the NHS trust at the royal infirmary, which then proceeded to cut the wages and conditions of the ancillary workers there ? Does he accept that the way in which the trust behaved compounded the board's treatment of those ancillary workers ? Where are we going with those trusts in Scotland ?
Mr. Stewart : The dispute to which the hon. Gentleman refers was, of course, one involving a private firm, and the wages and conditions of service between the employer and the employee. That is a matter for the employer and employee, although, naturally, I am gratified that the hon. Gentleman has such confidence in Scottish Office Ministers that he would like us to be directly and personally involved in such matters. In answer to his specific question, the Glasgow royal infirmary university trust decided to re-tender the contract to which he refers.
Mr. George Robertson : Are we not fast reaching a crisis over those NHS thrusts, and to whom precisely they are responsible ? The events at Glasgow royal infirmary were bad enough and sordid enough, but we have also seen recent serious problems of buck passing at Raigmore hospital, Inverness, and Aberdeen children's hospital as well. Does the Minister not agree that, if those market-driven, wage-cutting, secrecy-obsessed trusts are not to shut off the NHS from the public that it is supposed to serve, the sooner they are back in the full health service structure the better that it will be for patients and public alike ?
Column 318Scotland are producing evidence of new initiatives that benefit patients : new services, more consultants, better facilities--all allowing trusts to treat more patients and provide health care that is better suited to patient needs. I could go on, but I will not do so. Why does not the hon. Gentleman get up to date with the realities ?
Mr. Connarty : I wonder whether, when the Minister meets the Greater Glasgow health board, he will ensure that the same terrible practice does not happen in the Greater Glasgow area that happened in Forth Valley, where one of my constituents--a geriatric patient--found that there were no emergency bell cords to call for help when she fell, since they had all been removed from the ward ? Will he ensure that that does not happen in Greater Glasgow health board, and ensure that he sacks Mrs. Isbister, chair of the Forth Valley health board, for allowing that to happen ?
Mr. Stewart : I do not know the details of the case to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but if he writes to me, of course I will look into the matter. The general point that I am making is that if one looks at the record of health trusts in Scotland, it is a record of more patients than expected being treated, waiting list times coming down and new services being offered. That is the reality.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : I have regular meetings with the board of Scottish Homes, and last met the board on 11 March. I approved Scottish Homes' development programme for the current year on 28 February.
Mr. Martin : One of my constituents, Mrs. Howie of Dennistoun, had the good fortune to be told by a rent officer that her rent would not be raised above £115. The Milnbank housing association took the matter to court, and a sheriff found in favour of the rent officer and Mrs. Howie. I have been informed that the housing association is now asking Scottish Homes to pay 100 per cent. of the legal fees and the cost of any subsequent appeals, that it is trying to take the case to the Court of Session, and that other housing associations have had a whip round to raise money to fight Mrs. Howie. Why should a tenant have to fight against such terrible odds ? Will the Minister call on Scottish Homes not to finance the project, given that the sheriff found in Mrs. Howie's favour ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The intention of the original legislation was to preserve the rights of secure association tenants : that was absolutely clear when the Bill that became the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988 was going through Parliament. I am therefore surprised and disappointed that the housing association has seen fit to appeal against the sheriff's judgment, which confirms the position. I should certainly be unhappy if further public funds were spent on the case, and I hope that it will be resolved quickly. I have followed up the matter that the hon. Gentleman raised at our last Scottish Question Time. Progress is being
Column 319made on the various developments that he mentioned in Royston road, Dennistoun and Blackhall : the matter is in hand.
Mr. Home Robertson : Does the Minister acknowledge that he is responsible for levels of homelessness, overcrowding and bad housing that can only be described as a full-blown housing crisis ? Will he further acknowledge that the only way in which to address the problem is to make more houses available to let at fair rents and with secure leases ? Will he now instruct Scottish Homes to help Scottish local authorities to get on with that job ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The hon. Gentleman is incorrect : statutory responsibility for homelessness resides, quite properly, with local authorities. Scottish Homes is giving priority to dealing with homelessness, and local authorities have nomination rights with housing associations. As I have said, the intention of the legislation was to preserve the rights of secure tenants under the law. That has been made absolutely clear.
3. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, pursuant to his oral answer to the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) of 27 April, Official Report , columns 227-28, that he has not seen any evidence that would cause him not to proceed with the criminal charges that have already been brought in respect of the Lockerbie bombing, what account the Lord Advocate has taken of the statements by Edwin Bollier and Ulrich Lumpart concerning crucial timing devices and the Stasi known to 10 Downing street and the Foreign Office.
Mr. Dalyell : In that case the Lord Advocate cannot have taken account of all the evidence. Why does he not ask for Lumpart and Bollier to be interviewed by either the Crown Office or the police ? Is the Crown Office not being a bit lazy ?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman persists in setting himself up as some kind of amateur sleuth in this matter. The fact is that my noble and learned Friend has taken full account of all the evidence open to him, and nothing in the evidence that he has received has prompted him to consider any change in the charges that he wishes to make. I think that the hon. Gentleman should support him and the Government in seeking to enable the trial to take place.
Sir Teddy Taylor : Leading and respected Scottish advocates and lawyers have stated clearly and publicly that a fair trial before a Scottish jury is simply not possible because of recent press coverage. The Libyan Government have said that they would willingly send the two accused to any other country in the world. In view of those facts, does the Secretary of State agree that--in fairness to the relatives of the victims of this appalling disaster--it would be better for the Government to consider legislation for a trial in, for instance, The Hague, so that the truth of this
Column 320dreadful issue could at least emerge ? That would be better than the present circumstances, in which nothing happens for years.
Mr. Lang : The investigation took place under Scots law, and the charges are being brought on that basis. There is no evidence to support the contention that the Libyan Government would be any more amenable to holding a trial in any other country, even if that were possible--and it would be extremely difficult in the circumstances.
Dr. Godman : Is not the truth that the case is unlikely to come to court ? Without the evidence provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), the issue would slip away from public attention. What is wrong with holding an ad hoc international tribunal, chaired by a Scots judge, in The Hague or some other mutually acceptable capital ? Surely that is the way in which to enable the case to be prosecuted.
Mr. Lang : A Scottish court cannot sit abroad.Before it could do so, complex legislation would be required, no doubt in both countries. There is no evidence that the Libyans would be any more amenable to that course. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Crown Office does not intend to let the matter slip away, as he put it.
Mr. Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that discussions within Tayside health board on Meigle cottage hospital have been preliminary and informal ? A transfer of that hospital's day care facilities, bearing in mind that it was given under special covenant and the special circumstances surrounding the endowment, would require a massive transfer of funds from the health board to Tayside region before any thought could be given to turning it into what it is alleged the discussions were supposed to have been about.
Mr. Stewart : From my hon. Friend's previous questions and his Adjournment debate on this matter, the House will know of his concern, as the constituency Member involved. It would be the board's intention to seek to recommemorate the Meigle site if and when it transfers to new community care use. I understand that he is correct to say that the discussions so far have been informal and preliminary.
Mr. McAllion : Why did the Minister, only this year, give Tayside regional council lead responsibility for care in the community, when he planned all along to abolish it in less than two years, thereby guaranteeing that the carefully devised Tayside-wide care in the community plan would have to be ripped up, and that the three single-tier councils would have to start all over again ? Is it not true that the
Column 321needs of the most vulnerable people in Tayside are playing second fiddle to the gerrymandering requirements of carving out a few Tory seats in Angus and in Perth and Kinross ?
Mr. Stewart : The hon. Gentleman revisits debates that occupied the Committee that considered the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill and the House for some considerable time. There is widespread popular support for single-tier unitary authorities in the city of Dundee, in Angus, represented by the Scottish National party, and in Perth. Tayside's grant- aided expenditure allocation for community care in 1994-95 is £14.2 million higher than in 1990-91. That is proof of the Government's commitment to improved community care on Tayside.
Mrs. Fyfe : Does the Minister accept that the compulsory competitive tendering that he loves so much means that successful tenders for day care and other personal services will come from firms that pay the lowest wages and have the fewest employees ? Has he not learnt anything from recent events at Glasgow royal infirmary trust, where porters and cleaners, backed to the hilt by the Glasgow public, defeated the plan to cut their wages when the top brass awarded themselves fancy salaries ? Does he think that the people of Tayside will tolerate what the Glasgow public did not ?
Mr. Stewart : In relation to the hon. Lady's health service question, market testing has saved some £94 million pounds, which has all gone into patient care. I thought that Opposition Members were supposed to be concerned about patient care and its improvement, but it seems that that is not so.
In relation to her specific point about Tayside, we have received complaints from Tayside about inadequate consultation with the private and voluntary sectors on community care. I propose to issue a direction on purchasing, which I hope will ensure adequate consultation and the full involvement of public, private and voluntary sectors. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Gentleman does not want that kind of partnership, but I believe that it is a sensible way forward for the future.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : We welcome the Select Committee's report, which brings a further valuable perspective to the problem of drug misuse in Scotland. Our response to the report will be published as soon as our careful consideration of its recommendations is complete.
Mr. Watson : The Minister will know that the Select Committee's report confirms the view already widely held in social work departments, drug projects and agencies, as well as by the parents of those who have died, that current reporting procedures seriously underestimate the number of drug-related deaths, not least in Glasgow, where fatal overdoses by drug injecters are now the largest single cause of death among young adults ?
What assurances can the Minister give that, when he responds to the report, he will ensure that the Scottish Office improves the reporting procedures, especially those
Column 322governing the amount of information given on death certificates, so that accurate figures will be available on which to base future action ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Obviously, that is one of the matters that we are considering in great detail, and a full response will be forthcoming when we give our response to the Select Committee report. Our own task force is studying all such matters in great depth and will report in the summer, having taken fully into account all the Select Committee's recommendations. Correct reporting is extremely important.
Mr. Gallie : In assessing the Select Committee's report, will my hon. Friend take account of the recommendation for harsher treatment of drug peddlers, especially bearing in mind the outrage caused in my constituency and adjacent constituencies by the derisory sentence--simply community service--received by a youth convicted of selling drugs to 13 and 14-year-olds ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Obviously, we shall have to keep penalties carefully under review. Those who peddle drugs are in a much more serious position than those who are addicts, and the courts should treat them with according severity. We shall bear my hon. Friend's point in mind.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : It is absolutely clear that we are totally against the decriminalisation of cannabis--[ Laughter. ] The material that the hon. Gentleman mentioned sounds to me as though it would come into an even worse category.
Mrs. Ray Michie : The Minister's answer to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) lacked a sense of urgency. Will he pay special attention to the Scottish Affairs Committee's recommendation that the Scottish Office establish a permanent national committee to lead and co -ordinate the many agencies now in place ? Unless we get a grip on the problem, more and more of our youngsters will be caught up in drug abuse and drug-related crime.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : That is one of the issues that the task force is currently considering. It is considering such issues as a matter of urgency, and it will report in the summer. We are spending about £40 million a year--on health education, social work and various forms of treatment, for example, as well as on policing. So considerable public funds are already allocated to that important problem. However, we shall bear in mind the point that the hon. Lady raised.
Mr. Raymond S. Robertson : When my right hon. and hon. Friends respond to the Select Committee's report, will they pay particular attention to the section on education ? Does my hon. Friend agree that education on drug abuse must start in the primary schools, because leaving it to secondary schools is leaving it too late ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Yes, I entirely agree. What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. We have introduced the Drugwise 2 package for schools, which has been successful, and not so long ago we held a conference advising schoolchildren of the dangers of taking drugs. That, too, was successful.
6. Mrs. Ewing : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what resources he has allocated to community care for the current financial year ; and if he will make a statement on the Government's policy for developing this programme.
Mr. Stewart : In the current year, about £170 million has been made available to Scottish local authorities for the implementation of the community care policy--an increase of £88 million over the previous year.
Mrs. Ewing : Despite that figure, will the Minister explain why he believes that a community care policy is being evolved, when our elderly, our disadvantaged and our disabled are to be subjected to the added burden of VAT on domestic fuel ? When we consider that against the background of the Government's failure to recognise the need for a carer's premium and their failure to recognise all aspects of care in the community, how can he say that there is a community care policy in place ? Many people, especially those who are disadvantaged, do not believe that that is so. Exactly what does the Minister have in mind ?
Mr. Stewart : I congratulate the hon. Lady on her ingenuity. However, she has failed to recognise the package of measures that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced to assist the elderly and those on low incomes with VAT on fuel. On her more general point, the Government's objectives for care in the community are very clear and, indeed, in principle, they have very wide acceptance.
Mr. Robert Hughes : Is not the Minister aware of the very great concern--indeed, resentment--in and around Aberdeen over the proposal by Grampian health care trust to close a number of hospitals on the ground that it is necessary under community care, when the trust itself concedes that there are no places in the community available ? How on earth can that be justified, and why does not the Minister have a policy that insists that, before there is any mention of hospital closures, there are suitable places up and running and available in the community to take people who are discharged ?
Mr. Stewart : Of course, there have to be available places in the community. No one can be discharged until there is a community care individual assessment by the key agencies on housing and on social and community needs. May I also point out to the hon. Gentleman the bridging finance that is available to assist that process, which totalled £60 million between 1991-92 and 1995-96 ? That is in addition to the figures to which I have already referred and in addition to the extra resources that Scottish Homes, for example, is using to play its part in the effective implementation of care in the community.
Mrs. Gorman : I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Will he confirm that, for every pound of taxation collected in Scotland, the Scottish people receive £1.40 back ? Does he agree that the Opposition are being less than honest with the people in Scotland in pretending that a devolved parliament would mean that they would not have to pay more taxes, because, indeed, they would ? Does my right hon. Friend have any idea of the cost of a devolved parliament, or of the even wilder scheme, which I believe that the Liberal Democrats are proposing, to reintroduce the groat ?
Mr. Lang : I cannot confirm the exact accuracy of my hon. Friend's figure, but the point that she makes about a separate Scottish parliament is absolutely right. Indeed, it is significant that, while we on this side of the House are reforming local government to introduce one tier, to diminish bureaucracy, to reduce duplication and to decentralise and strengthen local government, the Labour party is bent on creating another layer of bureaucracy through a Scottish parliament, which would centralise powers from local government in Scotland and massively add to the burden on the Scottish people.
Mr. Wray : Does the Secretary of State agree that Scotland is well paid for ? At the 1993 Budget, the assessment of revenues from Scotland was £77 billion from gas and oil ? If one uses the gross domestic product deflator on prices, that would be equivalent to £128 billion in 1994.
Does the Secretary of State also agree that there are about 2,100 million tonnes of oil in reserve which could last for another 21 years ?
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman is obviously an expert on the deflator ; the Scottish National party would be proud of him. Revenue raised in Scotland is substantially less than public expenditure in Scotland. A separate Scotland would have a substantial public sector deficit. Scotland does well out of the existing arrangements and is increasingly prospering as a result.
Mr. Biffen : Is my right hon. Friend aware that whatever the sums paid by the English to the Scots, they must be put in the context of the long-standing and intimate historical association between the two peoples ? That factor does not arise in respect of what the English or the British have to pay to the Greeks, the Portuguese or the Spaniards in the context of the European Union.
Mr. Lang : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his strong support of the Union, to which all Conservative Members subscribe. I am also grateful to him for his robust approach to the future of the United Kingdom in the European Union, to which most of us subscribe as well.
Mr. McLeish : I, too, am grateful for Conservative Members' support of Scots in the House. After yesterday's pathetic Government statements on competitiveness and employment, will the right hon. Gentleman acknowledge
Column 325that there is great benefit to be gained from public investment in skills training, which will improve our competitiveness ? Why, then, on the Government's own figures, do only 30 per cent. of the Scottish work force receive any form of job-related training ? Is that not a scandal in the latter part of the 20th century ? Does the Secretary of State want us to fall further behind in Britain in terms of job-related training ? Is he content to see us as the poor man of Europe in terms of skills and the future of the economy ? We have had enough of his complacency and I sincerely hope that he will now get to grips with the real problems facing the Scottish economy.
Mr. Lang : That is one of the most brazen questions that I have heard for a long time. The Government are spending substantially more than the Labour Government ever spent on training. As a result, the success level for qualifications in Scotland is substantially higher than it has ever been before and higher than it is south of the border. Scotland has enjoyed productivity gains of more than 5 per cent. per annum for most of the past decade. That is a higher rate of improved competitiveness than in any of the other the G7 countries and a measure of our commitment to training, improved efficiency and competitiveness in Scotland.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : The Government's forestry policy objectives are set out in the policy statement, "Forestry Policy for Great Britain", which we published in September 1991. "Sustainable Forestry : The UK Programme", published in January this year, provides a comprehensive account of the action that we are taking to achieve those objectives.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I can confirm to my hon. Friend that a wide range of options have been looked at, of which privatisation was merely one. Ministers are currently developing their preferred options in the context of the forestry review group's advice. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make an announcement in due course. There will, of course, be consultation on the options preferred by Ministers before matters are taken forward. The form and timing of that will depend on the conclusions that Ministers reach.
Mr. Eric Clarke : I congratulate the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Sir T. Arnold) on raising this question. I have raised very similar questions on three occasions and we have had the same kind of evasive answer from all three Ministers. We read in the press that the Government intend to scrap the privatisation proposals ; yet Ministers say that they are looking at them. Many people in many parts of Scotland, especially in my constituency, are worried about their jobs. The Forestry Commission and forestry generally are important to the economy of Scotland ; I emphasise that point. When will the Minister make a decision ?
Column 326consideration will be given to all the issues. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct--forestry is extremely important. The Forestry Commission's headquarters are in my constituency and I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the commission is far and away the biggest landowner in Britain, with more than 1 million hectares in its ownership. The matter will receive full consideration,and a statement will be made in due course.
Mr. Kynoch : My hon. Friend will be aware of the importance of forestry in my constituency of Kincardine and Deeside. Is he aware of the importance to my constituents of access to the forests for recreational purposes such as orienteering, hill walking and rambling ? Can he give comfort to my constituents that in his review he will be not only looking at the good management of the forests but ensuring that there is continued good access for members of the public ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Access and environmental matters are two of the most important considerations being borne in mind by the review group. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks, especially in view of the importance of access not only for residents but for tourists.
Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Minister accept that the undue delay in the Government's making up their mind is having a damaging effect both on staff morale and on the timber-using industry ? When is "shortly" or "in due course" ? Can the Minister say whether it will be days or weeks ? It certainly should not be any longer than that. Can he also give an undertaking that he will publish the report of the forestry review group in full so that we can see all the options made available to the Government by the review team and not just those selected for consultation by the Government ?
Mr. McFall : Why will the Minister not be open with the House and tell us that the decision to establish a "next steps" agency for the Forestry Commission has already been taken ? Can he confirm that Government -commissioned research has shown that the emphasis by such bodies on greater commercial freedom and less accountability will mean that areas such as Pannanich wood in Ballater, Deeside, and Kilpatrick hills and Loch Lomondside will be disposed of more quickly, resulting in less or no access to our hills and glens for hundreds of thousands of ramblers and hill walkers ?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : There are no plans to abandon or postpone the disposals programme. With regard to the agency option, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am unable to confirm or deny any such speculation. He will have to wait until my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State makes his full announcement.
Mr. McKelvey : If--God help us--the planned reorganisation of local government goes ahead will the Secretary of State make a commitment now that local government employees who have to transfer to a new authority or new employer will be guaranteed their conditions of pay, their pensions and their full rights under the European Union's acquired rights directive ?
Mr. Lang : It is too soon to be specific about the detailed decisions that will be taken ; they will be considered carefully and taken nearer the time. Nor is it possible to generalise about the effect of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 or the acquired rights directive. Individual circumstances will vary.
Mr. George Robertson : Will the Secretary of State confirm that the main savings that he was projecting for this gerrymandered reorganisation were to come from the sacking of staff currently employed by local councils ? Will he now confirm what everyone else in the country knows is a fact-- that European law, both the acquired rights directive and the TUPE regulations, will mean that he simply will not be able to sack staff across Scotland on a wholesale basis ? Does that not mean that the Government's promises on the costs and savings from local government reorganisation are as bogus as their promises on value added tax at the last election, and that the taxpayers of Scotland will have to pick up the £700 million price tag for a reorganisation that is both unnecessary and completely unwanted ?
Mr. Lang : It is the hon. Gentleman's question that is bogus. What he still refuses to acknowledge, although even he must understand it, is that costs and savings are directly related. Just as costs derive from substantial redundancy payments, savings result from reduced staff numbers. The hon. Gentleman cannot therefore say that there will be no savings but that there will be substantial costs, because the figures are directly related. I envisage most local authority staff transferring by one means or another to the new councils, irrespective of TUPE, but it is impossible to generalise on the application of TUPE because individual circumstances will vary.
10. Dr. Bray : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what provisions he has made in Government expenditure plans for the redevelopment of the Ravenscraig site in excess of those costs that will fall to British Steel and the European Union.
Mr. Stewart : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made very substantial resources available to Scottish Enterprise for economic and environmental development and has taken the needs of Lanarkshire and, in particular, the redevelopment of the Ravenscraig site, into account in so doing.
Dr. Bray : Is the Minister aware that there is a gap between the reclamation of the Ravenscraig site, which British Steel will carry out, and a site with infrastructure on to which developers can move and that that gap must be
Column 328filled by European Union and United Kingdom Government funding ? Unfortunately, European funds cannot be committed until the site is in public ownership and British Steel cannot sell until the deal is completed. Will the Secretary of State write such into his plans provision for public expenditure in 1995-96 specifically to trigger the physical work on the redevelopment of the Ravenscraig site ?
Mr. Stewart : The House will appreciate the hon. Gentleman's knowledge and expertise on this matter. British Steel will of course meet its obligations, especially those relating to surface contamination. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a consultancy study will be completed in the near future and will go to the Lanarkshire development agency, British Steel and the local authorities. I accept that there may then need to be a sensible additional use of public resources and I shall be happy at an appropriate time to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the details.
Dr. Reid : With respect, I think that the Minister has missed the point--that there will be a period when bridging finance will be necessary to trigger the redevelopment of the Ravenscraig site and that that money cannot come from the European Union because the site will not at that stage be in public ownership as it will not be sold by its private owners until the development has started. The vicious circle can be broken only if the Government are prepared to provide finance as a mechanism to trigger the development. Will the Minister consider that point and raise it with his colleagues with a view to writing it into the 1994-95 economic plans ?
Mr. Stewart : I cannot at this stage give specific commitments in relation to future public expenditure, but the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have fully supported the Lanarkshire development strategy. I believe that the strategy will provide options over a fairly long time scale. The hon. Gentleman will also know that substantial resources have been made available to Lanarkshire through Scottish Enterprise. I believe that those resources are paying off in terms of regeneration and I assure the hon. Gentleman, as I assured the hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray), that I shall keep closely in touch on the detailed matters that he has raised.