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House of Commons

Wednesday 7 December 1994

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions



1. Mr. Vaz: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on when Scottish local authorities which lost money in the collapse of BCCI will receive compensation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart): The Scottish local authorities that lost money in BCCI arin no different a position from the other creditors of the bank. I accordingly have nothing to add to the statements made by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury on 27 October in response to a question from the hon. Gentleman about this matter.

Mr. Vaz: The Minister is aware that Scottish local authorities and other depositors in Scotland have been waiting since 5 July 1991 for compensation. As the Government are aware that a new compensation package has been agreed, will the Minister give an undertaking that he will write-- either himself or through the Foreign Secretary--to the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi asking for $1.8 billion to be transferred immediately, and that, once it is received, it should be transferred to those Scottish local authorities and others who have suffered enormous hardship because of this unfortunate incident?

Mr. Stewart: It is always a great pleasure to welcome an English Labour Back Bencher to Scottish questions.

Mr. Norman Hogg: My hon. Friend is a Front Bencher on the Back Benches.

Mr. Stewart: The House knows of the long-standing interest and involvement of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr.Vaz) in the matter. However, the payment of BCCI creditors, which it is public knowledge is reported to be 30 to 40 per cent. of their loss, is entirely a matter for the liquidators, the majority shareholders and the creditors.

Mr. John Marshall: Does my fellow St. Andrean agree that it would be quite wrong for taxpayers who lost money through BCCI to be asked to pay higher taxes to bail out short-sighted Scottish local authorities that had money on deposit with BCCI?

Mr. Stewart: There is no question of taxpayers bailing out the local authorities involved. My hon. Friend is correct. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State granted Western Isles islands council consent to borrow £24 million--the BCCI loss of £23 million plus anticipated interest of £1 million--and Ross and Cromarty district council consent to

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borrow £1.8 million to help it cope with its losses. My hon. Friend may be referring to allegations that the Scottish Office did a secret deal to compensate Western Isles islands council. I am happy to reassure the House that such allegations are complete nonsense.

Mr. McMaster: Does the Minister agree that BCCI is a financial success story compared with the record of the Secretary of State? First, the right hon. Gentleman gambles and loses £30 million on Health Care International, then he stands idly by watching the Scottish budget be slashed and axed and, finally, last night he led his own side into glorious defeat in the Lobby on VAT on fuel. Is it not time that he said sorry?

Mr. Stewart: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his ingenuity in raising those questions, but he is entirely wrong on HCI, as he well knows. My right hon. Friend's public expenditure statement is extremely fair for Scotland, in relation, for example, to local government expenditure. The hon. Gentleman, who is experienced in local government, will know that, on any measure, local government in Scotland receives far more help from the taxpayer of the United Kingdom than local government in England or Wales. Opposition Members should bear that fact in mind.

Violent Crime

2. Mr. Eric Clarke: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what new initiatives he has considered to curb the increase in crimes of violence involving firearms.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang): Very strict controls are already in place regarding the acquisition and possession of firearms, but provision to increase the maximum penalties for certain firearms offences is contained in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Those will be brought into force on a Great Britain basis early next year. With the assistance of the firearms consultative committee, the Government keep firearms control under continual review.

Mr. Clarke: I am disappointed by not only that answer but the answer in the letter that I received from Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the Minister in the other place. I asked for an amnesty because in Bonnyrigg, in my constituency, Mr. Dunn, an innocent bystander, was shot and killed during a bank robbery in which all three of the bank robbers had sidearms. The use of sidearms in such crimes is escalating throughout the United Kingdom, and I ask, first, for an amnesty and, secondly, that after that amnesty people in possession of illegal arms be severely dealt with, with further penalties for anyone who has criminal intent. The people of Bonnyrigg, Midlothian and the rest of Scotland are asking the Government for action.

Mr. Lang: I understand about the tragic case in Bonnyrigg in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, and I offer both him and those involved my sympathy. Nevertheless, we should keep such matters in perspective. The question of an amnesty is one for the police; it is essentially an operational matter. There was an amnesty in 1988, and I do not think that it would be a good idea to have them too often. However, I am sure that the police will always bear the possibility in mind. I deplore any such use of guns as much as the hon. Gentleman does, and I also deplore the alleged increase in use, but it is important to realise that statistics show that only two in 1,000 cases of

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all crimes and offences recorded in Scotland in recent years have involved the use of firearms. In many ways, using a number of Acts of Parliament, the Government have determinedly toughened sentences and other procedures in connection with firearms.

Mr. Bill Walker: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problem is not those who hold firearms properly, with licences, but those who hold firearms illegally and use them? So long as there is no deterrent such as capital punishment, it will be difficult to prevent such activity from growing, because of the international dimension.

Mr. Lang: We should certainly always continue to seek ways of reducing that serious threat. The maximum penalty for possession of a firearm with intent to commit an indictable offence or to resist arrest is life imprisonment. We have increased the sentences for the unlawful possession of a firearm, including a sawn-off shotgun, and the sentences for the possession of a prohibited firearm. In those and in every other way open to us we shall continue to fight the growth in the use of firearms. I acknowledge that it is a serious potential threat.

NHS Bed Provision

3. Mr. Canavan: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the provision of NHS beds for frail elderly people.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton): National health service provision for the frail elderly will vary from health board to health board, depending on the local assessment of need in each area. The aim always is to match local national health service and social work services to need.

Mr. Canavan: Will the Minister arrange to visit Lochgreen hospital, which is threatened with closure, and Bellsdyke hospital, where 155 beds for frail elderly people are similarly threatened, so that he can see for himself the high standard of patient care that is provided by the dedicated staff there? Will he intervene to stop the closures, especially in view of the increasing population of elderly people and the fact that the Government's so-called community care programme is so inadequate? If he does not, many frail elderly people will be deprived of the hospital beds that they require.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I shall certainly pass on to the Minister of State the hon. Gentleman's request for a visit. I have made inquiries about the two hospitals, and I understand that the board proposes to offer patients currently resident at Lochgreen hospital a choice in 1995. They will be able to transfer either to alternative NHS accommodation or to a suitable nursing home. The consultation will finish in January. We also look forward to seeing the board's strategy for mental health, which I understand will include proposals for Bellsdyke hospital involving the reprovision of care.

The board will go out to public consultation, and the strategy will require ministerial approval. I undertake that approval will be given only if Ministers are satisfied that the changes will lead to a higher standard of care for patients in

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more homely settings. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman wishes to ask specific relevant questions, the Minister of State will be prepared to see him.

Mr. Gallie: Is my hon. Friend aware of the proposal made by Ayrshire and Arran health board to close the accident and emergency unit at the new Ayr hospital? Given the considerable investment made by the national health service in that hospital, is my hon. Friend not glad to join me in commending the trust management, who will fight this move tooth and nail?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Trust status has brought many benefits to many hospitals. Closures of key services, such as those my hon. Friend mentioned, have to be put to the Minister for approval before they can be agreed. The matter will be looked at in great depth.

Mr. McAvoy: Does the Minister recall that a long-planned and long- awaited national health service hospital for the elderly in my constituency was cancelled? It was removed from the plan and care of the frail elderly was turned over to Takare, a private health firm. Bearing in mind the fact that the reason for that decision was an alleged lack of cash for Greater Glasgow health board to build the hospital and bearing in mind the public money that the Secretary of State for Scotland put into HCI, does the Minister agree that the decision to transfer care of the frail elderly to a private company in my constituency was a disgrace?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: There are two considerations. First, the decision to invest in HCI was an inward investment decision that had nothing to do with funds provided for the national health service. Secondly, Greater Glasgow health board and its partners are seeking to improve care and facilities for vulnerable elderly people and to provide better alternatives, not to withdraw care. It is very important that, before patients are discharged, the proper support arrangements are put correctly in place. Any breakdown in those arrangements is contrary to official policy and should be followed up speedily so that mistakes do not recur.

Mr. Kirkwood: Will the Minister acknowledge that there is a great deal of concern about the definition of treatment and the definition of care for the frail elderly? Is he aware of the difference between people who are able to get treatment within the national health service and those who are decanted out of NHS beds because they are deemed only to require care, and who are then assessed in the context of social work, which requires their means to be tested? What steps is the Minister taking to clarify the definition of the two classifications? What steps is he taking to advertise the fact that if people are decanted out of free NHS beds, they may have to pay, using their meagre resources, to get the treatment that they require in the community?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Before patients are discharged, the care agencies must have been involved in a full assessment of all the needs of the patients concerned in terms of health, social welfare and housing. It must be ensured that all necessary support facilities are in place. Social work authorities have discretionary charging powers for day and domiciliary care. The principle that individuals

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should not pay more than they can afford is applied to discretionary charges and charges for residential care. There is considerable discretion for local authorities.

Mr. Ian Bruce: What is the increase in national health service resources in Scotland? How much extra has gone into care in the community through local government, and how do the figures compare with those for the rest of the United Kingdom?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Resources have increased considerably, by about 53 per cent. The total for health boards in 1994-95 was £3, 234 million, which shows high spending. Spending per head on health is, of course, far higher north of the border than it is south of the border for a number of reasons. The health needs are more pressing in certain respects-- the incidence of heart disease, for example, is far higher. We can readily justify the higher figure.

Mr. George Robertson: Is the Minister aware that all over Scotland today, thousands of frail elderly people, in hospitals and out of them, will cheer the news that the second phase of the increase in VAT has now been scrapped because they were worried sick by the prospect? Is it not true that the Chancellor snubbed and ignored the views of the Secretary of State for Scotland and Scottish Office Ministers on this issue? Will the Minister take the opportunity to welcome the fact that Parliament did what Ministers could not? Does he agree that scrapping the second iniquitous increase in VAT on fuel is extremely good news for Scotland?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Votes in the House of Commons have to be respected and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the Chancellor will make a full statement tomorrow, but I can say that compensation for the first stage of VAT on fuel and power will most certainly remain. That includes 50p cash compensation, which was given in April, and the uprating due next April. I can also confirm that the extra funds for the home energy efficiency scheme will certainly not be scrapped.


4. Mr. Welsh: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what further measures he is taking to tackle the issue of homelessness in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Local housing authorities are well resourced to tackle homelessness. It is one of the four key priorities that we have set them for the use of their housing capital allocations, which total £552 million in the current year. In addition, the supplementary capital allocations, which I announced on 13 October, included £2.6 million for about 15 new homelessness projects.

Mr. Welsh: As more than a quarter of Scottish households are affected by dampness, condensation or mould and a record 43,000 households were registered as homeless last year, why are the Government cutting the housing finance budget by 20 per cent. in real terms over the next three years? The Conservative party says that it cares for the family. Is this not a betrayal of families in the most dire need?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: No, more than £2.8 billion will be made available for housing over the next three years--at least £900 million a year. Scottish Homes

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has a target to provide 2,500 housing units for the homeless in 1994-95 and some 8,000 new and improved houses, which will assist with the problem of dampness. The capital allocations of housing authorities total £552 million. Homelessness and dampness are two of the four key national priorities that local authorities are taking very seriously.

Mr. Galloway: Last Friday evening, with about 200 others, I slept outside on the ground in St. Aloysius college in my constituency to raise funds for the Simon Community to help the homeless in Glasgow. I have been ill ever since. Has the Minister any idea how long a night sleeping outside on the ground really is, how cold it is, how damp it is and how miserable it is? What message does he have, from the vastness of his many-roomed mansions, for the thousands of Scottish families who do not have a home this Christmas?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: It is top priority for all authorities in Scotland that nobody should be without a roof. Of course, there is a very great distinction between rooflessness and homelessness. The hon. Gentleman asked if I had slept out. I have done so with the Cameronians in the Army, and when it is pouring with rain it is a thoroughly disagreeable experience. Homeless persons officers--such as those at the Hamish Allen centre in the hon. Gentleman's district council--provide an extremely useful, valuable service in assisting applicants with problems in finding accommodation.

Mr. McAllion: Will the Scottish housing Minister explain why, when he faces a worsening housing crisis, with record levels of homelessness, he has remained silent and inactive while the Scottish housing budget has been slashed and plundered to pay for future tax cuts to save the Tories' electoral skins? Is he not ashamed that the most common sight on the streets of Scotland this Christmas will not be red-suited Santas, but young people, desperate, with no roof over their Heads, selling the Big Issue ? Does he not understand that a party that describes as fair a settlement that leaves tens of thousands of Scots homeless deserves to be rated a contemptible 12 per cent. in this morning's opinion poll in Scotland? The Conservative party is not fit to govern, and it is seen by Scots as not fit to govern.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Local authorities have strategic responsibility for dealing with homelessness. As well as their mainstream allocation, we have provided £29 million in special allocations for more than 200 special homelessness projects in Scotland, which have been of assistance. As for funding, I have mentioned that £2.8 billion will be available over the next three years. Of course, we expect local authorities to give top priority to dealing with that pressing issue in their plans and in their workings every day.

Highlands and Islands

5. Mr. Macdonald: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the economy of the highlands and islands.

Mr. Lang: Good progress is being made in promoting economic regeneration and diversification of industry throughout the highlands and islands. The area is well

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placed to take full advantage of the wider economic recovery that is now under way as a result of the Government's prudent economic policies.

Mr. Macdonald: Will the Secretary of State confirm that objective 1 status was conferred upon the highlands and islands because of the region's problems of persistent high unemployment, the sparsity of population, the remoteness of communities and poor communications? Does he agree that those factors should be the criteria by which objective 1 funding is allocated within the highlands and islands? Is he surprised to learn that the programme partnership is yet to devise a formula to ensure that that happens? Will he therefore urge the partnership to produce such a formula as early as possible to ensure that aid is effectively targeted?

Mr. Lang: I certainly hope that progression of the entitlement to objective 1 status is carried forward quickly. The highlands and islands obtained objective 1 status because, although the area did not meet all the criteria for objective 1 status as laid down, the Scottish Office persuaded the European Commission that the case deserved to be met under those criteria. As a result, £240 million will go to the highlands and islands over five years.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be as encouraged as I am by the fact that unemployment in the highlands and islands fell by between 5 and 6 per cent. last year and that it now stands at below the Scottish average, which, in turn, is below the United Kingdom average. That is a reflection of the strength of the regeneration of the economy of the highlands and islands, which was set in train by the Government.

Mrs. Ray Michie: I understand that the Northern Ireland Office is about to approve the spending of £5.2 million on the necessary infrastructure to establish a ferry link between Ballycastle in Northern Ireland and Campbeltown in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State urgently consider seeking Treasury and Highlands and Islands Enterprise approval for the necessary spending for the Campbeltown end, which, at £2.2 million, will cost much less? Crucial decisions must be made very soon. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that the link would give a tremendous boost to Kintyre, Argyll and Scotland.

Mr. Lang: I shall certainly look at any details that the hon. Lady cares to send me. I hope that she will be encouraged by the fact that, under the recent public expenditure announcement, the Government were able to find an extra £1.6 million to help the shipping and infrastructure of ferry services to the islands, the northern isles and the western isles. I hope, too, that she will welcome the announcement today that a new vehicle ferry service across the Sound of Harris has been approved and should go ahead for tenders to start construction next April.


6. Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to meet representatives of

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the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to discuss the current state of the Scottish economy; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Lang: I look forward to meeting members of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) before long, when I expect the current state of the Scottish economy to be among the topics of discussion.

Mr. Salmond: Was this morning's interest rate rise an act of petulance by a discredited Chancellor, or does the Secretary of State claim that it was justified by economic conditions? Is the Secretary of State seriously telling the House that the Scottish economy is overheating? If it is not, is it not intensely damaging to have two consecutive interest rate rises without reference to Scottish economic conditions? Does the right hon. Gentleman have any role in interest rate determination, or did the Chancellor pay as much attention to his views on interest rates as he did to his views on the second tranche of VAT on fuel?

Mr. Lang: My right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor, who is responsible for deciding upon the level of interest rates in consultation with the Governor of the Bank of England, has my full support on that policy, as he has my support for his Budget. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will reflect upon the success of the Scottish economy. For the first time since statistics have been kept, unemployment in Scotland is lower than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Scottish manufacturing output increased by 5 per cent. last year and is at an all- time high; exports increased by 19 per cent. last year and are at an all- time high; productivity increased by 5 per cent. last year and is at an all -time high; inward investment is at an all-time high and employment has increased in the last decade by about 150,000. The Scottish economy is in fundamentally better shape now than it has been in living memory. That is something that even the Scottish National party should welcome.

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is quite shameful for the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) to speak in the way that he does, given that the economy of Grampian--an area which we are both privileged to represent--is leading the Scottish economy, the Scottish economy is leading the United Kingdom economy and the UK economy is leading European economies? As Scots, we should be proud of that record. We should not create fabrications to talk down Scotland and her achievements.

Mr. Lang: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was delighted to hear the news from Amerada Hess today of an oil discovery named "Dauntless" in block 21.11, located 140 km east of Aberdeen.

Dr. Reid: In the months since the last Scottish Question Time, has the Secretary of State had time to reflect upon my accusation that in the awarding of the Samsung project to Britain he was outflanked, undermined and outwitted by his colleague the President of the Board of Trade? Will he accept and admit that up to £10 million of Government money was made available through English Partnerships from the Department of the Environment under a scheme presided over by Mr. Peter

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Walker, an ex-colleague of the President of the Board of Trade and present adviser on inward investment to the Board of Trade? How should we regard the Prime Minister's pledges that Lanarkshire will offset its disadvantages by special treatment when his colleague and possible leadership contender, the President of the Board of Trade, undermines those pledges with Government money in order to ensure that the biggest project to come to Britain in the last two decades did not go to Scotland but to the north of England?

Mr. Lang: Scotland's offer to the Samsung electronic group was every bit as good as the offer from the north of England. The regional selective assistance component was identical.

Whilst we cannot win every inward investment case that comes to the United Kingdom, the fact is that Scotland has won proportionately far more than its share. In the past five years we have won almost 350 different inward investment decisions, bringing in investment of between £2 billion and £3 billion and creating and safeguarding up to 47,000 jobs. That level of achievement reflects the confidence that the rest of the world has in the management of the United Kingdom's economy and Scotland's economy under a Conservative Government.

Mr. Wallace: Does the Secretary of State accept that increasing interest rates at this stage of economic recovery, when unemployment in Scotland is still more than 220,000, is a real indictment of past failures of Government policy--not least their failure to invest in skills and in education and capital investment? What effect will the latest interest rates increase have upon the Scottish economy in the next six to 12 months?

Mr. Lang: I believe that it will restore confidence which must have been shaken by the behaviour of the Opposition parties in the Division Lobby last night.

Unemployment in Scotland decreased by 18,000 last year and long-term unemployment fell by 9 per cent. My public expenditure statement made good provision, through the budgets of Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and in other ways, for continuing to build on our success in the training area. I believe that we have every reason to hope and expect that the Scottish economy will continue to outperform that of the United Kingdom.

Mr. McFall: Does the Secretary of State think that the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) will agree that gains from the national lottery pale into insignificance compared with the multi-million pound gains made by Mr. John Mather and his three Clydeport directors? At a time when the Scottish economy desperately needs a kickstart--not least for the benefit of the 220,000 unemployed--how can it be fair that that chief executive stands to gain more than £5 million from his £75,000 investment in a public trust company? In light of cases such as that, does the Secretary of State agree that when the Government talk about economic development in Scotland, the public perception is that they are more concerned with the prospects of a few privileged individuals rather than the nation as a whole?

Mr. Lang: The Government have been concerned in all their privatisation programmes to release the talent and quality of Scottish enterprise and of British enterprise,

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which has been constrained and suppressed by nationalised state ownership, introduced by the Labour party. Not a single utility or industry has not suffered drastically as a result of nationalisation. The electricity industry, the gas industry, the airlines industry and any of the other industries that have been privatised have been able to raise money in the markets, invest in modern plant and develop new prosperity and jobs.

Local Government Reform

7. Mr. David Shaw: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on local government reforms in Scotland.

Mr. Stewart: As the House knows, the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill received Royal Assent on 3 November. I am delighted that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has rescinded its previous policy of non-co-operation on the Bill. I look forward to all those involved working closely to deliver new councils which will provide stronger, more effective and more accountable local government.

Mr. Shaw: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Can he tell me whether many people in Scotland will be pleased by the proposed abolition of Monklands district council? Is he aware that in the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser recently it was stated that a letter had been sent by Councillor Brookes and other Labour councillors seeking to cover up and call a halt to my investigations into wrongdoing in Monklands district council? Is he aware that that letter was conveyed to the Privileges Committee of the House of Commons by two Members of Parliament with Monklands constituencies? Should not they be stopped from trying to cover up the wrongdoing on that council?

Mr. Stewart: I answer my hon. Friend's more general point by saying that in the course of receiving many representations from throughout Scotland about the reorganisation of local government, we were not exactly inundated with representations to the effect that Monklands district council should be one of the new unitary authorities. The single-tier system will enable a higher degree of accountability than the complexities of the two-tier system. That was acknowledged by the Wheatley Commission and, in principle, by all political parties.

I do not always read the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser because many newspapers attract my attention. As my hon. Friend knows, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) has for a long time been a close personal and political associate of Councillor Jim Brookes. That is public knowledge.

Mrs. Liddell: Does the Minister agree that, given the interest of his hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) in activities in my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), it is absolutely reprehensible that the hon. Member for Dover has failed to make available to Professor Robert Black, who is chairing the independent inquiry, the 20 pages of information that he claims to have about those activities?

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Does the Minister agree that the bluff of the hon. Gentleman has been comprehensively called? He should put up or shut up.

Mr. Stewart: I recall that during the Monklands, East by-election the hon. Lady did a massive U-turn and made public her own allegations about spending bias by Monklands district council. Perhaps she will put her evidence to Professor Black.

Mrs. Fyfe: Given that Government support to councils will be cut by £133 million in real terms next year, is there not a risk that there will be fewer, not more, nursery schools in Monklands and elsewhere in Scotland while such provision is still not a statutory duty? What happened to the Prime Minister's promise of more nursery schools and what reassurance can the Minister give to parents of children with special needs? Having disrupted local government, will he give us his word that, whoever suffers disruption in the months to come, it will not be children with special needs?

Mr. Stewart: As I said in answer to the hon. Lady's hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), the settlement is extremely fair for local government, which in Scotland spends far more per head of population than is spent in England or Wales, for reasons that I continue to find incomprehensible. Details of provision are a matter for each local authority. I hope and believe that the hon. Lady's fears will be unfounded and I repeat my pleasure that local authorities in Scotland have shown excellent common sense in co-operating with reorganisation, against the wishes of the Labour Front-Bench team.

Community Care

8. Ms Rachel Squire: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will outline his proposals for the development of community care over the next 12 months.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: Considerable progress has been made in establishing the framework for the successful development of community care policy. During the next 12 months implementation work will continue in order to secure the policy objectives set out in the White Paper, "Caring for People". In particular, community facilities will be developed for those leaving long-stay hospitals, support for carers will be encouraged and a flourishing mixed economy of care promoted.

Ms Squire: Does the Minister agree that, in the next 12 months, it is his intention to use local government reorganisation to break up existing community care arrangements and replace direct council services with contracting out and privatisation? Does he further agree that last night's Government defeat on value added tax on fuel was the best news for community care, because lower fuel costs will enable people to stay in their own homes and be cared for in the community?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I do not agree with the second point. Even after the first stage of VAT on fuel and power, gas and electricity prices are lower in real terms than they were two years ago and, as compensation will remain in place, people will already be better off. On community care, we want maximum continuity during the transition in local government arrangements and substantial resourcing has been made available. Resources

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available to housing authorities for community care will increase next year from £25 million to between £45 million and £50 million. Spending for Scottish Homes will rise from £78 million to £82.5 million in 1994-95 and for social care--providing for community care and other matters--it will increase from £345 million to £390 million. Total new resources for authorities will increase from £170 million to £241 million--a rise of 40 per cent.--so we take seriously the problems that could arise during transition by giving strong resourcing.

Dr. Godman: In relation to so-called community care, does the Minister agree that the care of elderly and frail people is too often left to unscrupulous owners of private residential and nursing homes? In a small handful of cases those owners double up as the residents' general practitioner. Will he give an assurance that that disgraceful doubling up of roles in relation to the care of elderly people will be halted as soon as possible, in the interests of those people?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: I shall look into the matter that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, but discretionary charging has been in place under successive Governments and that will continue. Obviously we must look into the matter with great care--sensitivity must be applied.

Dr. Spink: Is my hon. Friend satisfied that Scottish local authorities have been able to manage their budgets properly over the 12- month period?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, I believe that local authorities will manage their budgets properly. We have a strong incentive to make certain that that happens, and the arrangements will be properly monitored. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State will issue guidelines where necessary if there are any doubts as to the best recommended practices.

Mr. Michael J. Martin: On the question of proper care for the elderly, will the Minister ensure that more resources go to Alzheimers Scotland? The organisation does an excellent job in supporting those carers --many of whom are elderly themselves--who are looking after loved ones with a difficult illness, with the result that the carers sometimes get only three or four hours' sleep. The organisation should be given every assistance and support by the Government.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: There is, of course, a mental illness grant of £14 million which has been made available, and I will look into that particular point. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister is well aware of the organisation. In the brief period during which I was responsible for the community charge, I exempted those suffering from Alzheimer's disease from the charge, as did ministerial colleagues from south of the border.

Local Government Reform

9. Mr. Kynoch: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Scottish local authorities with regard to area structure plans in the light of local government reform.

Mr. Stewart: My right hon. Friend has received representations from three local authorities about structure plan areas. These representations have been taken into

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account in preparing a consultation paper, setting out our proposals for structure plan areas, which should be published within the next few days.

Mr. Kynoch: Is my hon. Friend aware of the planning chaos in my constituency which has been brought about by the failure of the Labour and subsequent Liberal-Scottish National party administrations of Grampian regional council to submit an area structure plan, thus blocking discussions on local district plans? Is he further aware that the consequent random planning applications from developers throughout the area are causing grave concern to my constituents? In light of the imminent advent of the single-tier authority, which is much welcomed in my area, will my hon. Friend reassure me that, before Grampian region's plan-- whenever it is submitted--is finally adopted, it will be submitted for local consultation?

Mr. Stewart: I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's concerns about Grampian's structure plan. As he rightly said, the situation has been chaotic, although I cannot comment on the merits of the proposed strategies. We are keen to see an up-to-date structure plan for Grampian region in place as soon as possible, and I believe that that is in everyone's interests. We are encouraging the region to bring forward its proposals without further delay. I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks regarding consultation on the Grampian structure plan--when it is submitted--before my right hon. Friend reaches his conclusions on the matter.

Mr. Darling: Following local government reorganisation, does the Minister propose to ensure that there is a co-ordinated local authority response to the Government's plans to build another road bridge across the Forth, with its motorway network to the west of Edinburgh and its highly damaging environmental impact on the city of Edinburgh? Does the fact that the head of the roads directorate at the Scottish Office has now left signify that, at long last, Ministers have woken up to the fact that they are being taken for a very expensive ride by their own civil servants?

Mr. Stewart: The hon. Gentleman's latter comment is beneath contempt. In relation to his general point, my right hon. Friend will be making a statement on the matter in due course.

Solvent Abuse

10. Mr. Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people in Scotland have died as a result of solvent abuse in each of the last five years for which figures are available.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: The General Register Office for Scotland recorded 12 deaths from solvent abuse in 1989, 10 in 1990, 19 in 1991, seven in 1992 and seven in 1993.

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