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Mrs. Ewing: The right hon. Gentleman raises two points. First, society consists of individuals and the contribution that they make to it. Society has to take account of general perspectives and how we help all the people. Secondly, he wants to challenge the figures that his Government have produced. If he is really saying that Scotland is a poor nation, I wonder what he wants to do. Quite honestly, Scotland is not a poor nation. If it is, why do those sitting on the Treasury Bench want to hang on to it and not let us go? The money is to provide the kind of society that we want in Scotland.

Mr. Forsyth: On the specific point about the figure, I asked a simple question. Perhaps I put it in too complicated a manner. Will the hon. Lady confirm that, on the basis of her own party's figures, Scotland had a net contribution from England of £25 billion over the past four years--that there was a deficit of £25 billion? That is her party's figure; will she confirm it?

Mrs. Ewing: The right hon. Gentleman is talking about a United Kingdom deficit. The Government's statistics have shown that Scotland has been subsidising that UK deficit for a very substantial period of time. We want to change that and use the resources in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman is trying once again to reduce the debate to the bandying around of statistics. All the analysis that has been undertaken by economists in Scotland and by the Government has shown that Scotland is a net contributor to the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has a substantial deficit. If we could restore our assets to Scotland, we could achieve a great deal.

Underpinning all our actions are the philosophical arguments that I want to put to the House. I believe that it is important to have a philosophical debate about values and vision in the House of Commons before the election. We are all privileged and honoured to have been elected to serve in this place, but we need to see out of our own back windows into a world where fear, poverty and depression dominate the lives of citizens in our

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constituencies and countries, and indeed abroad. Today's headlines, to which the Secretary of State for Scotland was trying to draw attention, must not distract any of us from the vision and deeply held value that we are all Jock Tamson's bairns. Today's debate is about vision and values, and Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party are proud to lead it.

Any of us in the House who read the mail from our constituents and listen sincerely to what people say in our weekly surgeries or in formal or informal meetings with organisations in our constituencies know that real concern is centred on vision and values. Let us take education, for example. In a social democratic society, we have always believed in Scotland that education was a means by which people from a poor background could rise through the meritocracy and project themselves into a better life. That is what my parents wanted for my brother and me and what everybody's parents want for their children. Yet education is under severe threat in Scotland at the moment.

We are told that every home should be a castle, but 75,000 Scots were homeless last year and there were 50,000 homeless people in Wales. Those figures are horrific. Imagine not having the right to go home after a day's work, walk into a warm home and say, "This is mine, this is my security and this is where I feel good." The statistics are appalling.

Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North): I thank the hon. Lady for giving way on housing. I draw her attention to the amendment tabled to the Finance Bill which would reduce the level of VAT on energy-saving materials to 8 per cent. Does she agree that that would have a beneficial environmental effect, improve health and comfort and create jobs? Is she as disappointed as I am that, by all accounts, Labour Front Benchers will not support the amendment tomorrow night? Does she agree that that is significant? If the amendment is not supported, we will fail to make an important gain for the fuel poor, and to take the opportunity to inflict a defeat on the Government.

Mrs. Ewing: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that amendment. He may be interested to learn that when the Scottish Labour party held a conference this weekend in Inverness, it issued an executive statement stating:


It is strange that a measure that has been investigated by the all-party warm homes group, of which my hon. Friend is a member, and that would cost only £8 million, has been abandoned by the Labour party.

Sir Russell Johnston (Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber): I am not trying to argue with the hon. Lady, but she said that there were 75,000 homeless in Scotland. I thought that the Shelter figure for last year was 31,000. Whom does her figure cover?

Mrs. Ewing: I gave the most recent figures given to me by Shelter in Scotland. Substantial debates on housing were initiated by my party in the Scottish Grand Committee and in Adjournment debates in the House. It is always difficult to assess exact numbers, but we have

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pinpointed the extent of the problem that we face. Our councils are hard pressed for cash. The measures in the Budget will make it even more difficult for our councils to address the problems, both by new build and by renovating existing stock.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North): I am sympathetic to the hon. Lady's arguments, but I wonder why we should be less concerned about people in England who are homeless than about those in Scotland and Wales. A proportionate number of people are homeless in England, many of whom are Scottish or Welsh in origin. Does that upset the primary nationalist argument that England is somehow a land flowing with milk and honey at Scotland's expense?

Mrs. Ewing: That is a flippant remark. If the hon. Gentleman reads the motion carefully, he will discover that we are discussing public responsibility for social and economic justice. I am speaking specifically as a Scottish Member of Parliament about Scottish issues--and some of my colleagues will speak as Welsh Members on Welsh issues--but I am deeply concerned about the problems faced by everyone in the United Kingdom and, indeed, all those further afield in the international community. That is why we have put the subject of social and economic justice back on to the political agenda in the run-up to the general election.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) mentioned the issue of health and care for the elderly. We await with interest the White Paper to be published later this week, but I wonder why we have had to wait so long for such a document to be produced.

When I worked in the administration of training social workers in the west of Scotland--an area that included the whole of Strathclyde and Dumfries and Galloway--there was always deep concern about care for the elderly, which was then called "the sleeping giant". Why have we suddenly started to discuss this problem on the eve of an election? It is cheap electioneering, rather than a serious attempt to address a situation that should have been dealt with years ago. The facilities exist in this House to allow us to have a considered review of the difficulties that we now face.

Mr. Gallie: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Ewing: I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to intervene again, but I have promised that I would be brief. I have been generous in giving way to other hon. Members.

We must have principles in the run-up to the general election. The vast majority of people throughout the United Kingdom--irrespective of their country of origin or beliefs--dislike selfishness and greed. The motion aims to encourage a society where the contribution of the community is sought and valued, and where social injustice and inequity are eradicated. The constitutional change that we seek will benefit not only the nations of Scotland and Wales, but will act as a catalyst for a rethink and a rejection of vested interests, traditions and attitudes. We seek the removal of centralisation, and this has been one of the most centralising Parliaments in the EU--and, indeed, throughout western civilisation.

Eurosceptics talk about a democratic deficit between Europe and the United Kingdom, but they seem to be blindly ignorant and unaware of the democratic deficit

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between this place and the nations of Scotland and Wales, as well as the regions of England. We have to face up to new challenges, and we should not simply bandy around figures or cheap sound bites and slogans at the election. The new challenges involve the EU, and raise questions. Where does it go? Will it be confederal? Will it be federal? What decisions will be taken? How many countries will join us? The United Nations is as representative an organisation as we would want at a time when we face the crisis in Albania, and when we have yet to resolve the problems in Bosnia. There is a plethora of international organisations--both voluntary and statutory--in which we should be involved and in which we must take a more long-term view. We should represent citizens at home and abroad and we must say to them that we have visions and values.

I still believe that politics is an honest profession. I can only reiterate that in my 15 years as a Member of Parliament, I have gained a great deal of respect for those men and women who give so much to try to resolve people's problems. The SNP and Plaid Cymru are today challenging the failure of the two major parties and of this institution. The two main parties are political clones--although their Back Benchers are not--and are in a mood of retrenchment rather than reform. Nothing is likely to change after the election, whichever party is in government.

Politics is at a crossroads. The public are cynical, and I defy any hon. Member to say other than that. What are we to do? Do we keep on in the same direction, with the same political and social philosophies of the two main Unionist parties? On the other hand, should we tell the public that there is now an opportunity for a change of direction, as signposted in the motion that we have tabled today? We want social and economic justice to be at the heart of the coming election campaign, not just because it is what we believe in but because it is a cause dear to all the peoples of the United Kingdom.


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