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9. Mr. Chisholm: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what percentage of Scottish Office expenditure was devoted to housing in (a) 1978-79 and (b) 1995-96. [780]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: The figures are 15.8 per cent. and 4.3 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Chisholm: Now that the Government have admitted that they were wrong about the government of Scotland, will they also admit that they have been wrong to cut housing expenditure year after year and to allow councils to spend less and less on house building and modernisation? Does the Minister realise that with existing resources, it will take 20 years for Edinburgh district council to complete its window replacement programme and that thousands of homes also require central heating and other improvements? Will he think of those in cold homes and those in no homes when he makes his housing decisions? Will he also lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer for an expansion of the home energy efficiency scheme in the Budget next week so that more job-creating insulation work can be carried out?

Mr. Robertson: The comparison that the hon. Gentleman asked for is as misleading as it is useless. Transfers of responsibility from other Whitehall Departments to the Scottish Office have significantly increased the overall size of the Scotland programme since 1978-79. As the hon. Gentleman should know, housing subsidies are now paid through the housing benefit system and 300,000 public sector houses have been sold. Both of those factors substantially affect the share of expenditure attributable to housing. The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to say anything ahead of next week's Budget.

Mr. Matthew Banks: Given the fact that public expenditure per head of population in Scotland is 14 per cent. higher than the United Kingdom average, can my hon. Friend reaffirm his commitment to the housing sector in Scotland? Does he agree that it is vital that we continue to encourage the private rented sector, in particular housing associations, to provide high-quality, affordable housing to those in greatest need?

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the level of investment in housing, despite the fact that, since 1978-79, as I said, 300,000 public sector houses have been sold. Despite that, the allocation per house issued to local authorities for 1995-96 was higher in real terms than the equivalent figure for 1978-79. That comparison would have been better than the one about which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) first asked.

Mr. Ingram: The Minister is aware of the problem affecting 264 of my constituents in East Kilbride with the identification of asbestos in houses built by the development corporation. What additional help will the

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Minister give to local authority or other housing agencies in East Kilbride to remove that major danger to the health of the community?

Mr. Robertson: I am disappointed and surprised at hon. Gentleman because he has pursued this with me, and I have offered to meet with him and a delegation. I believe that that is a better way to pursue the issue than shouting at each other across the Floor.

Mr. Welsh: Has the Minister had an opportunity to read the homeless persons charter for Scotland which outlines the desperate plight facing tens of thousands of homeless persons in our country? Applications from the homeless have risen by 175 per cent.--from 15,000 to 43,000--during the past 10 years. Why are the Government cutting the finance for housing provision in Scotland? When the need is great, the Government simply say no.

Mr. Robertson: Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the publication of the charter as an expression of homeless persons' views. We recognise the need to take account of the views of the users of the homelessness service, not just the providers. I have a copy of the charter and I will study carefully the recommendations that particularly refer to the Scottish Office.

The Union

10. Mr. Jacques Arnold: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give his current assessment of the state of the Union. [781]

Mr. Michael Forsyth: The Union guarantees prosperity and stability. A tax-raising Parliament threatens that stability and would penalise people for working in Scotland.

Mr. Arnold: English Members are proud to share the United Kingdom with Scotland. We have heard much today about the impact on Scottish business of a tartan tax. What would be the impact of an assembly with legislative powers, producing red tape and all kinds of controls? How would that assembly limit the ability of Scottish business to compete and to attract the investment that it has secured so well under the Government?

Mr. Forsyth: The impact would be devastating. The Opposition complained when the poll tax was introduced into Scotland one year ahead of England. They are proposing a tartan tax that would be paid in Scotland year after year, destroying jobs and opportunities. It is a wicked proposal that would damage Scotland's interests. The sooner the Opposition abandon it, the better.

The hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) goes round boasting that he would reduce the first band of tax to 10p in the pound. Are we to assume that in Scotland it would be 13p in the pound--or will the tartan tax be levied only on people on middle incomes while the poorest and the richest escape it? It is time that we heard from Opposition Members how it will work.

Mr. Norman Hogg: Does the Secretary of State accept that some--I believe many--Opposition Members work for the strengthening and maintenance of the Union? Does he also accept that one way of strengthening and maintaining the Union is to have regard to public opinion in Scotland and the wishes of the people? Is he aware that

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the wishes of the people of Scotland are that we should have a Parliament in Scotland, and that his proposals, which he will present on 30 November, for a tarted-up Scottish Grand Committee fall far short of what the people of Scotland require?

Mr. Forsyth: I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman. He is usually fair minded, and I should have expected him to have waited to read our proposals before judging them as inadequate. I happen to know that the hon. Gentleman is indeed a good Unionist, and he must find it very hard to go along with all that constitutional convention nonsense. He cannot even keep a straight face, Madam Speaker. In his heart of hearts, he knows that it will damage the Union.

If the hon. Gentleman is able to use his influence with the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen to persuade them to abandon those ridiculous proposals, there will be three cheers on the Conservative Benches and three cheers the length and breadth of Scotland when people discover what those proposals would really mean.

Mr. Bill Walker: Does my right hon. Friend believe that the Union would be strengthened and enhanced if all the key and important ministerial portfolios--including that of the Chief Whip--were in the hands of Scottish-based Members of Parliament? If a Parliament were proposed for Edinburgh, if a tartan tax existed and if the West Lothian question had not been tackled, does he believe that the Union would be enhanced or placed at great risk?

Mr. Forsyth: I believe that it would damage the Union, lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom and damage Scotland's ability to argue for a good deal at Westminster.

The office of Secretary of State for Scotland is a powerful one. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) aspires to hold it. I am sure that, if ever that day were to arrive, he would use the office to great effect. That powerful office would be lost if Opposition Members had their way. Opposition Members are sent to the House to represent the interests of their constituents. Were there a Scottish Parliament, they would have no involvement in the matters that are of most interest to their constituents at home in Scotland.

Sir David Steel: Why are Ministers so reluctant to make comparisons with other people's unions? Has the Secretary of State noticed that this weekend, Mr. Pujol and his party won their third successive election victory in Catalonia without talk of slippery slopes, flamenco taxes or separating Barcelona from Madrid? Will the Minister please explain why what is possible and welcome in Spain is impossible in the United Kingdom?

Mr. Forsyth: I am sure that, if the right hon. Gentleman had his way, we could replicate what they have done in Spain--increase youth unemployment to 25 per cent. While he is doing his tour of foreign examples, he might consider Canada, where the argument was that, by choosing devolution, they would prevent separatism. That has ended in division and disruption, with a marginal result, and the separatists continue to ask for more. The lesson of Canada is, "If you feed the crocodile, one day you get eaten."

Mr. George Robertson: Does the Secretary of State agree that when the Prime Minister, no less, said last week

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that he could understand very clearly why the Scots feel that Westminster is a long way off and that no one has any interest in them, and that that was very unattractive, that statement and that interview represented a major and significant U-turn on a 16-year-old policy by the Government of no change being required in the constitution, and was a humiliating admission of failure by the Government on those issues? Some 87 per cent. of Scots oppose the Government. What sort of special tartan Tory arrogance is it for them to say that the Scots will swallow the idea of some tinkering to the package of indifferent reforms? Does the Secretary of State realise that he and the Government are the biggest threat to the country's unity?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman should learn from his experience of the chambers of commerce survey that it is wise to wait and see what is said before rubbishing or welcoming it.

We stand on our record of giving Scotland more say over its affairs. We set up the Scottish Office and have progressively given it more and more administrative power. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, we are prepared to look at ways of improving the government of Scotland.

When we produce our proposals, the hon. Gentleman will doubtless say that they are inadequate, but they will have been thought through and they will work. We will not be in the position of the hon. Gentleman, who had to describe the West Lothian question as an anomaly, nor shall we be in the position of the Leader of the Opposition, who had to describe the funding of Scotland as an accountancy detail. It is the hon. Gentleman who puts party advantage before his patriotic duty to Scotland and the interests of his party before the Union. The Government will never do that.

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