Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Sackville: I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's point later.

We believe that the standards have served us well, but that is not to say that we regard them as entirely unchangeable. The Audit Commission's report recommended that there should be another fundamental review of the levels of fire cover, but recognised that no fundamental change could be considered without the most careful research. A review of fire cover standards is being taken forward by the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, but these issues are complex and much work will be required. In the meantime, any section 19 application will be judged according to existing standards.

Many people are concerned about the level of resources available for the fire service. We still expect the fire service to make efficiency savings, as in every other

5 Feb 1997 : Column 988

public service: it is vital that the taxpayer receives best value for money. However, the Government have shown their commitment to the fire service by confirming that we shall increase the fire service element of the standard spending assessment in England for the coming financial year by £50 million, which is more than 4 per cent. I believe that that is a satisfactory settlement. I also point out that Essex will receive an uplift of 4.7 per cent. in its SSA.

I appreciate that Essex spends over the SSA, which is its right. In case anyone is under any illusions, I point out that the cost of the fire service in Essex represents about 4 per cent. of its total base budget. The fire budget in the current year is £39.35 million, against an overall budget of £976.7 million. It is within the county council's gift to review its priorities and to make further funds available if it has doubts about whether the fire cover is being maintained.

I assure the House that everything that has been said today about the particular problems of Essex--whether they relate to Canvey Island, the extent of river industrial frontage, the number of A roads or cover for an airport with international flights--will be heard by the county council, the chief fire officer and the inspectorate. I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman's comments will be taken fully into account in any future decisions.

It being two minutes to Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.

5 Feb 1997 : Column 987

5 Feb 1997 : Column 989

Oral Answers to Questions


Glasgow (Funding)

1. Mr. Davidson: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to meet Glasgow city council to discuss the allocation of public funds to the city. [12880]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Kynoch): I have offered to meet a delegation of hon. Members from Glasgow and representatives of the council next week.

Mr. Davidson: Are the Minister and his colleagues aware of the widespread view in Glasgow that the Government are deliberately discriminating against the city, not only in terms of the money given to local authorities but in terms of money for the health board, the development agency, Scottish Homes and other organisations? Will he agree next week to give Glasgow the resources that it needs?

Mr. Kynoch: The hon. Gentleman is very brave to come here and talk about Glasgow at all, in the light of the article in today's Glasgow Evening Times about the civil war that seems to be going on in the Labour party there.

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, central Government funds are distributed according to a formula drawn up by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Office and the distribution committee. I understand that COSLA is perfectly satisfied with the distribution procedure--although I gather that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has proposed an independent review of it. Given that COSLA is largely the Labour party, is this yet another split in the Labour party in Scotland?

Mr. Bill Walker: Does my hon. Friend agree that, since 1979, per capita spending by all Government agencies and Departments in Glasgow has far exceeded the amount spent in North Tayside? When we hear complaints from those in Glasgow--especially after the rows and ructions that have been going on there, and the spending of money on limousines rather than vehicles intended to transport people--we ask whether it is not time that we told them to shut up.

Mr. Kynoch: I understand what my hon. Friend is saying. He is referring to a report in yesterday's Evening Times, which mentioned the £810,000 that had been spent on some 28 limousines, one of which was a Rolls-Royce for the Lord Provost of Glasgow. The people of Glasgow have a perfect right to question the priorities given to expenditure in their city--which, as my hon. Friend pointed out, is significantly greater than expenditure in many other parts of Scotland, and very much greater than expenditure per head south of the border.

Mrs. Fyfe: Will the Minister not admit that the Government's record on spending public money is a disgrace? No council in Britain comes anywhere near it.

5 Feb 1997 : Column 990

How does the Minister explain the apportionment of Glasgow's share of urban programme funding, which is grossly unfair to those in the city?

Mr. Kynoch: Yet again, we have heard a reference to distribution. I have already covered the distribution of local government funds; as for urban funding, perhaps the hon. Lady should visit some other parts of Scotland, where people think the exact opposite--that Glasgow has received more than its fair share over the years.

Mr. Stewart: Has my hon. Friend read the whole of today's Evening Times article? In particular, has he seen the headline "Give us a trip and we'll vote for you", which refers to Labour councillors in Glasgow? Given that appalling state of affairs--given that Glasgow receives 80 per cent. more Government grant per capita than the English average, and the administration is descending into chaos--is there not a case for suspending that administration and putting in commissioners?

Mr. Kynoch: I shall not comment on allegations that are reported in the Glasgow Evening Times. Like my hon. Friend, I read that article, and I suggest that, if there are such allegations, they could be referred to Lord Nolan, who I am sure would be particularly interested. Local elected representatives have a responsibility to their electorate, and the people of Glasgow should expect no less of their councillors than anyone else.

Mr. George Robertson: Could we hear a little less humbug from Ministers, the arch-priests of waste who lost £1 billion of taxpayers' money on the poll tax? Less preaching would be much appreciated in Scotland.

When the Minister meets Glasgow city council next week, why does not he tell it that he will abandon this wasteful nursery voucher scheme and give it and other local authorities the money that is being spent on the scheme? He should also cancel the incredible advertising campaign, which is pure party propaganda and is grossly improper before a general election. It is funding the Tory party's campaign on vouchers. He should use that money for the provision of proper nursery education, which the people of Scotland want and the children of Scotland need.

Mr. Kynoch: I noticed that the Opposition Chief Whip had his eyes closed during that contribution. I am not surprised, because the hon. Gentleman has a bit of a cheek. Unfortunately, he believes in removing choice from the people of Scotland. If he talked to people in one of the pilot areas, such as Eastwood, which is close to Glasgow--the city that we are discussing--he would discover what a successful scheme it has been and that it has had a high take-up. It is right and proper that people in the rest of Scotland should be able to enjoy such a scheme so that they can give their four-year-old children nursery education.

Of course, the hon. Gentleman is in a remarkable fix because he is tied by the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and is clearly not able to offer an alternative. Nursery vouchers are good for Scotland, and that has been proved already.

5 Feb 1997 : Column 991

Health Spending

2. Mr. Congdon: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what assessment he has made of the level of health spending per head in Scotland relative to that elsewhere in the United Kingdom. [12881]

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton): Next year, we are planning to spend £883 per head in Scotland--£153 more than in England.

Mr. Congdon: If there were a Scottish Parliament, how could I justify the significant extra amount that is spent on health in Scotland to my constituents in Croydon when I would have no vote on Scottish health matters or funding?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: First, higher spending on health is justified at present because, for a variety of reasons, health spending need is greater. People who live in Scotland have a higher incidence of heart disease and cancer, and there is a greater need for dental treatment. However, my hon. Friend makes a valid point. Members of Parliament are traditionally reluctant to vote funds if they have no say over how they should be spent. A further tax-raising parliament would inevitably raise questions about the size of the Scottish block and, frankly, it is a gamble that we Conservatives are not prepared to take.

Mr. Donohoe: Is it possible that the additional expenditure on health in Scotland is to line the pockets of the private sector? In my constituency, most geriatric beds are being transferred to the private sector, where excess profits are being made. Is that not another example to show that the national health service is not safe in Tory hands?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: No. Whether a person remains in hospital is a matter for clinical decision, and that is where it should remain. It is not a matter for political decision. The recent Tayside inspector's report made it absolutely clear that for comparable care there could have been huge savings--well in excess of £2 million or £3 million--if the private sector had been used more.

Sir Hector Monro: Will my right hon. and learned Friend give some idea of capital expenditure on the health service in Scotland during the past five years? Will he reaffirm our commitment to spend more on the health service year on year? Does he not find it astounding that the Labour party cannot give the same assurance?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have given a commitment to increase spending for the health service year on year in real terms--a commitment that the Labour party has failed to match. In Scotland, net expenditure in 1997-98 is planned to be £4.375 billion, an increase of £148 million--or 3.5 per cent.--over the 1996-97 expected outturn. If we had adopted the Opposition's line on local government finance, less would have gone to the NHS.

5 Feb 1997 : Column 992

Next Section

IndexHome Page