The Vice-Chamberlain of the Household-- reported Her Majesty's Answer to the Address, as follows :
I have received with great satisfaction the loyal and dutiful expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament.
(No. 2) Bill--
Order for consideration read.
To be considered tomorrow.
1. Mr. Beith : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many meetings have been held by the group of officials from his Department, the Department of Transport and highway authorities to monitor improvements to the A1.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : The A1 steering group, which I have set up, had its first meeting on 21 June. A working group of officials has also been established and has met twice.
Mr. Beith : Will those groups be able to consider the terrible accidents that result from head-on collisions on the lethal single- carriageway sections of the A1 and will they consider the strategic importance of the Great North road to Scotland and northern England? Will the Minister keep an open mind to the evidence that they may provide of the need for a dual carriageway along the whole length of the A1?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I do not rule out the possibility of a dual carriageway in the long term, but, as traffic levels are only between 5,000 and 7,000 on the road between Dunbar and Newcastle, I cannot give an indication for the short term. That would mean diverting resources from more pressing road projects elsewhere in Scotland. We expect to proceed with positive action on accident remedial schemes and with five schemes for overtaking opportunities on the road between Dunbar and
Column 274Newcastle. In addition, we are spending about £50 million on a dual carriageway to Haddington and eventually to Dunbar.
Sir Hector Monro : Given the interest shown in my hon. Friend's document, "Roads South of Edinburgh", will he bear in mind the priorities mentioned by many people regarding the A7 between Hawick and Carlisle? What improvements may take place on that road in the near future?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I have had the experience of being driven by my hon. Friend at considerable speed on that road and I saw for myself its problems and the necessity for overtaking opportunities. We shall produce a publicity document stating exactly what improvements will be in the programme in the near future. We see that as an important project for roads south of Hawick and down to the borders.
Mr. Home Robertson : Does the Minister accept that having only one cross-border carriageway at Gretna is insufficient to carry the growing road traffic between Scotland and England? The Secretary of State for Transport has accepted the logic of a dual carriageway link with the A1 route. Will the Minister announce a date for the dualling of the dangerously congested stretch between Musselburgh and Dunbar?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : Work is being carried out urgently on the statutory procedures for the dual carriageway to Haddington. About five times as much traffic uses the A74 as the A1. As Edinburgh is west of Carlisle, we must be realistic about present traffic flows and apply our resources accordingly.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind) : Representation of Government Departments through the United Kingdom permanent representation--UKREP--is working very satisfactorily and we have no proposals for change.
Mr. Bruce : Is the Secretary of State aware that the Scottish Constitutional Convention's proposals take account of the rapid development taking place in the European Community? Is he aware that those proposals recognise that it is of paramount importance not only for Scotland to have its own Parliament but for the voice of Scotland to have a direct input into the bureaucracy of Brussels as well as through the Council of Ministers? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that Europe will develop through direct representation and that if Scotland does not have that access, it will lose out compared with, for example, the la"nder of Germany?
Mr. Rifkind : Scotland already has that representation. For example, only yesterday, the Scottish Fisheries Minister attended the Council of Ministers. Staff of the Scottish Office are seconded to the United Kingdom permanent representation in Brussels. There is every opportunity for Scotland's interests to be taken fully into account.
Mr. Allan Stewart : Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that Scotland has gained substantially from grants from European Community sources? Will he outline to the House how Scotland's benefits compare with those of other Community countries?
Mr. Rifkind : An interesting example is access to the regional fund. Through the work of the United Kingdom Government, Scotland has received six times more money than has Denmark, although Denmark has separate representation in the Community. That is an example of how the United Kingdom representation has worked extremely successfully in securing resources for Scotland.
Mr. Dewar : Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that, with the imminent demise of the Prime Minister, the time is ripe and the atmosphere is right to set up effective Scottish representation in Brussels? Does he recognise the success of the efforts of the German states, which are lobbying so powerfully for their interests by combining the strength of a major European power with the status of a devolved unit of government representing a distinctive indentity? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really saying that the German states have got it totally wrong and that we can afford to stay out of the business of getting our voice heard in that way in Brussels? Is he really ruling out the possibility of a direct Scottish mission or presence in Brussels?
Mr. Rifkind : Comparisons with the German La"nder are spurious and irrelevant. The La"nder have no representation in the federal German Government and therefore have no other opportunity of having their voices heard. Through the office of the Secretary of State, Scotland is directly involved in the United Kingdom representation in Brussels. If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of that, he clearly has not done his homework properly. No La"nder Minister can attend the Council of Ministers on behalf of the federal German Government, so that comparison is of little relevance to the hon. Gentleman's point.
3. Mr. Gregory : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the most recent figure for empty local authority housing for up to six months, 12 months, and over one year, respectively ; if he will list the local authorities concerned ; and if he will make a statement.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : On the basis of information returned to the Scottish Development Department, some 26,000 local authority houses are estimated to have been vacant at the end of March 1990. Information on the length of vacancies is not collected in the form requested, but a table giving details by authority of vacant houses available for reletting has been placed in the House Library.
Mr. Gregory : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving those figures. Is not it a scandal that there are so many empty houses in Scotland? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the worst examples are in Labour -controlled councils, which should put their houses in order and put the homeless first, rather than dogma?
Column 276remaining 60 per cent. could be brought back into use. In view of the homelessness problems and the particular problems of roofnessness, I particularly request local authorities that have this statutory responsibility to take great care to ensure that they have available sufficient emergency accommodation. We have taken the initiative of making sure that authorities will qualify for housing support grant if they have a deficit on their hostel provision.
Mr. McAllion : Is the Minister aware that many of those houses are riddled with rising and penetrating damp or severe condensation, that many more require urgent and costly repairs and that almost all have no form of central heating? As neither the Minister nor his hon. Friends would for a moment be prepared to subject their own families to such appalling conditions, they should either shut up with their loathsome hypocrisy or put up, by voting for the restoration of the housing support grant and thereby allowing councils to tackle those appalling housing conditions.
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : I might have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman were it not for the fact that the Labour Government had an infinitely worse record. In the five years of the last Labour Government there was a real terms reduction in capital spending of 36 per cent., whereas we have increased it in real terms by 7.4 per cent. and this year are spending £923 million on local authority, new town and Scottish Homes stock. That amounts to very considerable funding.
Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that the fact that Labour-controlled local authorities in Scotland cannot manage their housing stock is an argument for reducing local authority housing stock by means of the right to buy, rather than increasing it, as Opposition Members suggest?
Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : My hon. Friend is right. If local authorities have empty stock which, for one reason or another, they cannot fill, it should be brought back into use. If the local authorities cannot do that themselves, they should involve housing associations or developers. When that has been done, local people have usually gone back to live in the houses.
4. Mr. Watson : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what special financial provision he is prepared to make in order to avoid a repetition of the evacuation of homes and damage to property caused by the recent flooding of the River Cart in Glasgow.
The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Ian Lang) : Regional and islands councils have powers under the Flood Prevention (Scotland) Act 1961 to carry out works to protect against flooding. Grants are already available towards the eligible costs of approved flood prevention schemes.
Mr. Watson : That response displays a cynical disregard for my constituents in Langside and Battlefield, who last month once again suffered disruption from flooding. The Minister knows that Strathclyde regional council is being forced to cut £60 million from its budget over the next two years and that it cannot even meet its statutory
Column 277obligations, never mind perform discretionary activities such as flood prevention. Why will not the Minister agree to exceptional grant assistance being made available to deal with this urgent matter?
Mr. Lang : I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that White Cart water would certainly be carefully considered if Strathclyde included such a proposal in its plan. The hon. Gentleman gives a misleading picture of Strathclyde's resources. At the end of the present three-year period, the council's budget for water and sewerage will have risen to £71 million --58 per cent. higher than it was last year. It is up to the regional council to decide whether to give the scheme high priority.
Mr. Rifkind : I met the farmers' unions on 23 October to discuss the economic situation in the hills and uplands. We are considering the arrangements that will apply to next year's hill livestock compensatory allowance scheme and will announce details as soon as possible.
Mr. Buchanan-Smith : Will my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge that farmers in the hill and upland areas have suffered a particularly rough autumn, with a big fall in prices for store lambs and calves? Does he agree that that has serious implications not only for the livelihood of those who work in the area but for the viability of communities in such areas? Will he consider increasing the HLCAs to the maximum allowed, thereby compensating for the heavy losses incurred in this important sector of Scottish agriculture?
Mr. Rifkind : My right hon. Friend is certainly correct that, both this year and last, there have been significant falls in income, for the reasons to which he referred, although that follows two years during which there were considerable improvements. This is a difficult situation and that is why Agriculture Ministers are considering the whole question of the level of HLCAs.
Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Secretary of State accept that the latest estimates suggest that net farm income has dropped by 20 to 30 per cent. in the current financial year? That constitutes a crisis in the upland farming sector in Scotland. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman heed carefully the words of the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and use the HLCA payments, which he has it in his gift to increase by £20 for a hill cow and £4 for a hill ewe? That help is essential to keep farming communities in Scotland alive.
Mr. Rifkind : Farm incomes in the sector fluctuate significantly from year to year. In 1987-88 and 1988-89, they rose in real terms by 45 per cent. and 16 per cent. respectively. But I do not seek to conceal from the hon. Gentleman or the House the fact that, for the reasons that he suggested, this is a difficult year.
Mr. Macdonald : May I support the call by the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) to increase the allowances to the maximum? Does the Secretary of State accept that 25 per cent. of any increase would be funded by the EEC and only the remainder would have to be met by the United Kingdom Government? Such an increase is necessary to help sustain the morale of communities that are facing considerable hardship.
Mr. Rifkind : The hon. Gentleman is correct about the funding arrangements. I acknowledge that the health and viability of the hill farming sector are important not only to those who work in the sector but to the viability of the rural economy as a whole, especially in Scotland where more than 90 per cent. of land is in the less-favoured areas.
Sir Hector Monro : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, although it has been a particularly difficult autumn in the livestock sector, the maximum increase in the suckler cow subsidy was a substantial help, as was the advance payment of sheep premium? However, will my right hon. and learned Friend do everything possible to help hill farmers, bearing in mind, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) said, their importance to the rural community?
Mr. Rifkind : My hon. Friend is correct. More than £20 million has been made available to specialist beef producers under the suckler cow premium. The increase to which my hon. Friend referred was worth £1.6 million to farmers in Scotland, where over 90 per cent. of the suckler herd is located in less-favoured areas.
Mr. Trimble : The Minister may agree that devolution on a purely Scottish basis might be divisive within the kingdom. However, does he also accept that the existence of the convention shows that there is a wide desire for reform which is not confined solely to Scotland? Will he consider reforming the government of the regions on a United Kingdom basis as that would have the advantage of enabling the Government to apply within the United Kingdom the principle of subsidiarity to which they appeal in their relationship with Europe? It would allow an effective devolution of powers to local authorities and regions.
Mr. Lang : Surely it is a strength of our present constitutional arrangements that, with separate territorial departments, the Government can address the different problems of each part of the United Kingdom in different ways. It is not for me to comment on the position in Northern Ireland. However, in Scotland the interest in devolution is considerably exaggerated by those who
Column 279support it. During the general election the interest in devolution rose from 2 per cent. at the beginning of the campaign to 4 per cent. at the end.
Mr. Bill Walker : Does my hon. Friend agree that, as the convention has concluded its deliberations, we can now look at the details? As with all constitutional change, Parliament takes an interest when the details are known. Any proposals that cannot and will not go through this Parliament because they do not receive a majority in the House have no hope of being adopted. Any hon. Member who supports such proposals is either supporting fraud or is fraudulent.
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend puts the point extremely well. Unfortunately, the constitutional convention cannot be the source of detailed information, as it has ducked every serious question relating to devolution. It has not addressed the fact that Scotland would suffer considerably as a result of the creation of separate tax-raising powers. Its additional funding from the United Kingdom Parliament would be in considerable jeopardy.
Mr. Harry Ewing : Will the Minister tell me--I promise faithfully that I will not breathe a word of it to anyone else--whether, on this day of all days, he does not wish that he could get the same unity in the Tory party as we managed to get in the convention?
Mr. Lang : It is no sort of unity when every single question of any substance is ducked, ignored or swept under the carpet. The so-called constitutional convention is operating on a bogus prospectus and has totally failed to address the real issues.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett : Does my hon. Friend think that the people of Scotland would benefit from having the United Kingdom broken up and that their economy would benefit from it? Would they be better off with a United Kingdom Parliament? What would happen to the Labour party, whose Front Bench is stuffed with Scotsmen speaking on English matters?
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend makes an absolutely vital point. If one were to invite the opinion of business men in Scotland, the almost unanimous view would be that a Scottish assembly with tax-raising powers would be immensely damaging to Scotland economically.
Mr. Lang : My right hon. and learned Friend and I have received representations from a number of hon. Members, textile firms and organisations representing the textile and knitwear industry in Scotland.
Mr. Foulkes : I am grateful to the Minister. Is he aware that, our having lost 4,000 mining jobs, the textile, clothing and knitwear sector is now the main employer in my constituency? Will he therefore make representations to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ensure that the multi-fibre arrangement continues for at least 10 years and that the general agreement on tariffs and trade rules are strengthened? If that does not happen, imports from newly industrialised countries which are not poor
Column 280will devastate the industry and create unemployment in my constituency, which has the highest unemployment of any travel-to-work area in Great Britain, as the Minister of State should know only too well.
Mr. Lang : As the hon. Gentleman will know, the textiles negotiating group is in almost continuous session at present. It is hoped that the present round of GATT talks will end in Brussels in the first week of December. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the MFA imposes a costly barrier with significant costs, running into billions of pounds, for consumers in this country. That sort of distortion to trade is not in the best interests of any industry in the long run. It is important that the industry should become competitive and efficient, use the best technology and modern methods and improve quality and design, thus securing strong new markets.
Mr. Lambie : I am sure that the Minister is aware that I have sent petitions signed by the whole work force of major textile companies in my constituency--Strathclyde Knitwear and Queen of Scots Hosiery--appealing to me to try to get the Tory Government to maintain the multi-fibre arrangement. I am sure also that the Minister of State knows that I have received a very distressing letter from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry saying that on no account will the Government maintain the multi-fibre arrangement. Unless the Scottish Office and Scottish Ministers speak up for Scottish hosiery and knitwear workers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) said, we shall see the complete demise of the industry and greater unemployment in our area. If the Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland cannot get the Government to change their policy, should not they resign and stand up for Scotland?
Mr. Lang : Of course, it is important that in the new GATT arrangements provisions have to be strengthened to ensure that Scottish industry is protected from dumping and surging and that markets in developing countries are opened up to our producers. Scottish circumstances have been taken fully into account in pursuing the negotiations.
Mr. Dickens : How can we rely on the sincerity of the Opposition, with their tears for the textile industry, when they have cancelled an important debate this week on the textile industry in which I was hoping to speak? Indeed, many people intended to come to the House of Commons to lobby Members. The Opposition also cancelled a debate on the Scottish economy. When they are sincere, I shall believe them.
Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend makes a very persuasive point. What the industry should be doing--the best companies are doing it--is pursuing a positive approach to find new markets. I saw that when I met the Scottish Wool Publicity Council on my recent visit to Japan and when I met the National Wool Textile Export Corporation in Korea.
Column 281Mr. Rifkind : I have received various representations on aspects of Scottish agriculture. In particular, I met the president of the Scottish National Farmers Union on 23 October to discuss the circumstances of farmers in the hills and uplands in the light of the weakness in the livestock markets this autumn.
Mr. Wallace : The Secretary of State has heard concern about the hill farmers in earlier questions. Does he accept that those fears are compounded by the proposed cut in commodity support? Can he confirm that, despite the cut in production support, there remains a surplus of income which could be channelled to support other than for production? If that is so, what constructive proposals have the Government put forward to ensure that that money is channelled towards the family farms, particularly in the upland areas?
Mr. Rifkind : If, as I assume, the hon. Gentleman is referring to the 30 per cent. reduction in subsidies as part of the GATT negotiating process, he will be aware that part of the Council of Ministers announcement was that the total level of support to the less-favoured areas of the Community would not be reduced. As 90 per cent. of Scotland is in the less-favoured area category, that was an encouraging announcement. Precise details on how that might be achieved are being considered by the Commission and we expect proposals in the relatively near future.
Mr. Andrew Welsh : Does the Minister agree with the statement by the president of the NFU that Scottish agriculture faces its worst crisis since the 1930s and that he fears a spate of bankruptcies in the hill and upland sector? What input, direct or otherwise, did the Minister and his Department have in this week's GATT talks between Ray MacSharry and the American Agriculture Secretary? If there was none, will he tell us why?
Commissioner--in the circumstances, it would be rather odd if we were. The British Government are very much involved in the GATT negotiations and played a prominent part in the conclusions reached by the Council of Ministers a few weeks ago.
Mr. Wilson : Does the Secretary of State agree that, on top of all the other problems pressing in on agricultural and rural Scotland, none is more serious than the disproportionate impact of the poll tax? Does he accept that rural Scotland and urban Scotland are waiting to hear where he stands on that great issue? Is he to be a born-again Heseltini, demanding an instant review, or will he cling to the sinking ship and maintain the Thatcherite line that nothing is wrong? Will he tell rural and urban Scotland today where he stands on the poll tax?
Mr. Rifkind : If the hon. Gentleman was interested in the subject and concerned about the plight of those in the rural sector, particularly the farming community, and the impact of local government taxation, he should do what he can to change his party's policy to end the derating of agricultural land. He must know perfectly well that the introduction of a farmers tax by a Labour Government would devastate the rural economy. He might, therefore,
Column 282explain to the House why the Labour party is proposing, in Scotland alone, such a penal form of taxation directed against Scotland's farming community.
Mr. Bill Walker : While my right hon. and learned Friend is listening to the NFU's representations, will he bear in mind that the raspberry and soft fruit industry in the Tayside area is an essential part of the Tayside economy and that the dumping which has taken place over the years from eastern Europe, particularly of pulp, has had an impact? When the Council of Europe is looking into such matters will my right hon. and learned Friend remind it of the importance of raspberries to Tayside?
Mr. Rifkind : Yes, I am aware that that industry makes a significant and important contribution to the well-being of the rural areas of Tayside. It is important, particularly when access to EC markets from countries outside the Community is being considered, that the impact of any such proposals on those who depend on that product for their livelihood should be fully taken into account. My hon. Friend is correct to draw attention to that matter.
Mr. Taylor : As some 25 per cent. of the people of Scotland and Northern Ireland support political nationalism, and as a constitutional reform is topical subject in both territories, why do the Government discourage inter-party dialogue through the convention in Scotland while at the same time encouraging inter-party dialogue in Northern Ireland? Why do the Government, on the subject of constitutional reform, as on so many other subjects, have two different policies?
Mr. Lang : I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be one of the first to welcome the fact that the Government can make special provision for the needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland, just as I welcome the fact that the Government can make special provision for the needs and circumstances of Scotland. I must make it clear to him that the self-styled constitutional convention is not a body to which the Government give any credence or authority. It was set up by several interested individuals who believe that they can thereby advance a cause--a cause with which I do not have a great deal of sympathy.
Mr. Ernie Ross : The Minister might have had more impact in the House if he or any of his colleagues had attended even one meeting of the constitutional convention. They were invited to each and every one. The Minister must know that the convention reports on its deliberations next Friday. That will give him and his colleagues, in particular the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), a last opportunity to save face. Do they intend to attend to see
Column 283whether they support the views agreed on by the convention or do they propose any other alternative before next Friday?
Mr. Lang : It is almost impossible either to agree or disagree with the views expressed by a body which has failed to address any of the significant points of the debate on devolution. For example, does the convention believe that Scotland should continue to have a Secretary of State in the Cabinet? [ Hon. Members :-- "Yes."] Does it consider that the number of Members of Parliament should remain the same? [ Hon. Members :-- "Yes."] Does it believe that it is possible for Scotland to continue to enjoy additional funding from the United Kingdom while it has power to raise taxation at home? [ Hon. Members :-- "Yes."] How does the hon. Gentleman justify asking English Members of Parliament to vote for higher spending on specific areas in Scotland when taxation would be voted through a Scottish assembly to establish a different position?
Sir Russell Johnston : Does the Minister agree that it is a contradiction for the Government to claim to oppose centralisation in the European Community when they have been the most centralising Government in the United Kingdom since the war?
Mr. Allan Stewart : Does my hon. Friend agree that, while Opposition Members may believe that they could get away with a form of devolution for Scotland paid for by English and Welsh taxpayers, it would be simply intolerable? Does he agree that the only possible financial outcome of the convention's proposals would be a far higher level of taxation in Scotland than in England and Wales?
Mr. Lang : That is absolutely right and I am certain that once that fact is brought home to the people of Scotland they will change their view radically and withdraw any support that they might give to a separate Scottish assembly. Certainly, the business community is well aware of the considerable danger that a separate Scottish assembly would create in Scotland.
Mr. Douglas : Will the Minister reflect that what we really desire in Scotland is legislation based on the sovereignty of the Scottish people? Is he aware that if we had that, we would not have the poll tax, because it rests on the sovereignty of the British Parliament? Currently the British Parliament does not have a majority in favour of the poll tax. Therefore, the people of Scotland would be perfectly entitled, having expressed their views on the legislation in 1987, to stop paying the poll tax now.
Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman is living in cloud cuckoo land. The last time questions of devolution were put to the test in Scotland was in the referendum of 1978. It was clear that only about a third of the Scottish people supported devolution.
Mr. Worthington : One area in which we already have separate powers of legislation is education. Can the Minister clarify his legislative plans for student unions? Last Friday at 3.25 pm a statement was issued by the Minister of State which mentioned separate legislation on this for Scotland, but at 4.40 pm that was withdrawn and deemed not to exist. On Sunday, a handwritten statement
Mr. Worthington : It is to do with separate legislation for Scotland, which is what the question is about, Mr. Speaker. On Sunday a handwritten note came out omitting any reference to legislation or freedom of speech. What are the Minister's plans for legislation on student unions, and why was the initial statement withdrawn?