Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 8:08 pm on 10th March 1992.

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Photo of Dr Norman Godman Dr Norman Godman , Greenock and Port Glasgow 8:08 pm, 10th March 1992

I am grateful to the Minister for responding in such a way. Yes, I will state the ways in which the Budget will help; but, in overall terms, it does nothing for the people of Scotland—at a time when the Minister's party is in a minority there, and faces elimination in terms of representation in the House. I believe that the Secretary of State will go at the general election, and that the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth)—the Minister of State. Scottish Office—may go as well. That may cause all kinds of problems for the governance of Scotland, but the Budget has been introduced at what is already a time of considerable political turbulence there.

I welcome the assistance that is to be given to small firms, especially in regard to the disgraceful companies that take their time in paying bills to smaller companies. If the proposed sanctions sorted out those miscreants, I should be delighted. On a number of occasions, representatives of small businesses have come to my surgeries to complain about the slowness of large companies in paying their bills. That has created all sorts of cash-flow problems.

I have always recognised and acknowledged the importance of small businesses, particularly in my constituency. I am a cinema buff: I was brought up on American-type films, with Doris Day singing "Blue Moon" and what have you. Given that background, I welcome the financial assistance that is to be given—belatedly—to the film industry. I refer to paragraph 4.15 of the Budget report, on page 46.

The United Kingdom film industry includes in its ranks some very fine, talented writers, producers, directors and actors, and we in Scotland have more than our fair share of talented film makers. As a cinema buff, I welcome the support that is to be given to the industry, although it has come so late in the day.

There are no car factories within hundreds of miles of my constituency; nevertheless, I welcome the measures in paragraph 4.19. None of my constituents now work in the car industry: Chrysler disappeared from Renfrew a long time ago. All the same, I am sure that this is an important measure for the United Kingdom's economy.

In one respect, however, my view differs sharply from that of the Government—and, perhaps, even from that of some of my hon. Friends. I refer to the increase in alcohol duties. According to paragraph 4.21, that increase is about 4·5 per cent. and I think that it should be much higher.

We talk about drug addiction in the United Kingdom. I can tell the House that one of the major forms of drug addiction in my part of Scotland is alcohol addiction. I hope that I do not sound too much like a whinger, but I feel that alcohol is much too cheap, and I think that the duty on it should have been increased by a much larger amount. Alcohol-related crime is on the increase in Strathclyde—and elsewhere in the United Kingdom; there is nothing special about Strathclyde in that regard. Many violent crimes are alcohol-related, especially those committed at weekends and involving the use of knives and other weapons. I do not think that enough is being done to deal with that form of addiction, and I think that the prices of drink should be much higher.

I also think that the increase in duty on cigarettes is not enough, at 10 per cent. Cigarettes should be more expensive, given the problems that affect those who are addicted to them. We need only visit hospitals to see those problems: emphysema, lung cancer and other smoking-related illnesses. A savage increase in duty may not be the whole answer, but a dramatic increase in the price of both alcohol and cigarettes would help.

I said that the Budget has been introduced largely as a way of saving the Government's neck, but it will certainly not be saved in Scotland. There, the Conservative party is a declining minority party—it is now the third party in Scotland, coming after the Liberal Democrats. This is indeed a politically turbulent moment in Scotland, and despite some of the kind things that I have said about it and despite the intervention by the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), the Budget will not help the Conservative party in Scotland. I shall spell out the reasons in a moment.

One element of the turbulence in Scotland is that the power of this place is suffering a continuing diminution vis-a-vis the extraordinarily powerful central institutions of the European Community, the Council of Ministers and the Commission. Its power has also been diminished by the over-powerful Executive, but let us bring the debate back to Scotland.

As a Member of Parliament for Scotland, I know that we are experiencing growing disenchantment with the Government and the Westminster Parliament. It is fair to say that the Scottish Tory party has lost the place. The Budget will strengthen the growing alienation from what is known as the London Government.

Yesterday I discussed the Budget—among other things —with youngsters at a school in Gourock just over the border from my constituency. The school is in fact in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West and Inverclyde (Mr. Graham) but most of its pupils are constituents of mine. My wife and I spent a couple of hours at the school and discussed the Budget with youngsters who asked me what would be done for the unemployed people in my constituency and for those living in appalling housing conditions. The answer is nothing. There is nothing in the Budget for the thousands of my constituents caught up in those terrible circumstances.

What is to happen to the unemployed in my constituency where the unemployment rate is now just under 13 per cent.? What comfort can they take from the Budget? I have to say, very little. People in my constituency are implementing the traditional Scottish solution to unemployment which is migration. Some highly skilled constituents are now working on sites in Spain, in shipyards in Holland and even further afield. They have been driven away from their homes, and there is nothing in the Budget to bring them back.

What about people living in appalling housing conditions? What do they gain from the Budget? Why have not the Government given any help to the construction industry by encouraging district councils in Scotland and local councils south of the border to build the houses that are desperately needed not only by the many thousands of homeless people in Scotland but by the scores of thousands living in disgraceful conditions? There is nothing in the Budget for those thousands of people, and they will wreak their revenge on the Government on 9 April if that is to be the date of the general election. They will ensure that the growing campaign to drive out the Tories from Scotland—largely inspired by the campaign for a Scottish assembly—reaches fruition on 9 April.

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Scotland published a document in which he claimed that there were many financial benefits accruing to Scotland from the Union. There are few in the Budget. The Secretary of State chose to ignore the fact that Scotland's gross domestic product has now fallen to 93·2 per cent. of the United Kingdom average, having risen to 97·4 per cent. in 1984. This morning's edition of The Herald—it is no longer called The Glasgow Herald—stated: Mr. Lang cannot have it both ways. Are we doing as well as he likes to tell us? Or are we a poor country which would be much poorer without English bounty? Scotland's GDP is slipping behind. There is a great deal of poverty in Scotland and the Government, who are known increasingly as the English or the London Government—