Public Expenditure (Scotland)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:31 pm on 9th December 1987.

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Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 3:31 pm, 9th December 1987

I note that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's press department has been hard at work in anticipation of today's events. One result was an item in the latest issue of the Sunday Times, which talked of a significant boost to Scotland's share of Government spending and produced a most tempting list of goodies.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the final product that has been unveiled today does not live up to the advertisement, and that this kind of creative journalism does nothing for his credibility or for the standing of politics in Scotland?

The right hon. and learned Gentleman states that he intends to raise expenditure to £8,505 million. The House will be somewhat underwhelmed, as the Autumn Statement announced a figure of £8,510 million. The difference is no doubt accounted for by the fact that in the Autumn Statement we tend to even up the figures. The truth is that the figure is the same as was announced in the Autumn Statement. If we take that figure, allow for inflation and compare it with the expected outturn for 1987–88, one finds that there is a cut in real terms of between £80 million and £85 million, and not the increase that was so enthusiastically trailed by the Secretary of State.

It is a complicated set of figures, presented in a slightly different way this year. I should like to ask the Secretary of State about some of the specific totals. Is it not true that, on housing, taking the net figure for 1987–88 against the net provision for 1988–89 produces a cut in cash terms of £56 million and in real terms of £87 million? If we take the gross figure for 1987–88 and compare it with that for 1988–89, including the expected capital receipts from the sale of public sector housing, the cut still remains at £25 million in real terms. Is that not an abdication of responsibility, given the scale of the housing crisis in Scotland? The Secretary of State talks about the concentration of resources. Is that not a cruel euphemism for another significant cut in the already savaged housing budget?

Will the Secretary of State admit that, although he spent more than £300 million on industry last year, £206 million on regional aid, and just under £100 million on the Scottish Development Agency, he is planning to spend in net terms only £266 million next year and £260 million in the two years to follow? To put into perspective the rather extravagant claims that he has been making, is it not true that he spent in current terms just over £330 million as recently as 1985–86? Why does the Secretary of State boast so shamelessly of success in negotiating on Scotland's behalf in the Cabinet when he will spend less next year than he did in the current year? Will he give us a specific guarantee that Scotland will not be affected by any alterations in regional aid policy dreamed up by his noble Friend Lord Young?

I shall now deal with the health and social work budget. In net terms for 1987–88, the budget was £2,605 million. It is now rising in net terms for 1988–89 to £2,829 million. I concede that that is an increase in real terms of £107 million. Does the Secretary of State really think that that is adequate? Is there not an element of sleight of hand, as in the real terms increase of £107 million we have to accommodate the £130 million increase in cash terms in the health budget to which he referred and the 12 per cent. increase in the social work budget that he is also parading in his statement?

Whatever happens to the figures, does he not admit that they simply do not deal with the major problems facing the Health Service in Scotland and certainly will not face up to the problems referred to by the president of the Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh? Professor Michael Oliver said that Ministers "won't or can't hear" and that it will take a "few deaths, a few scandals" to move them. Will that view not be confirmed by today's announcement?

The figures seem to be totally inadequate and no amount of juggling with the totals can disguise the fact that this is a disappointing performance by the Secretary of State. I repeat that, if one takes the outturn figures given by the Government in the Autumn Statement for this year and the expected expenditure figures for the Scottish Office, the total budget for next year is cut in real terms by over £80 million and that cannot be good news by any standards.

The Secretary of State has made minor adjustments to individual spending totals within a budget that has declined overall in real terms. Much though he may try to make of it, I wish that he would pay more attention to the problems facing Scotland — the problems that will continue to trouble the people of Scotland—and less to the sort of political sleight of hand and packaging that has been a mark of the Secretary of State's performance in recent weeks.