Public Responsibility For Social Justice

Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 10 March 1997.

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Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray 3:33, 10 March 1997

I beg to move, That this House calls for a concerted effort to eradicate poverty and create full employment; believes in a society free of social injustice and inequality where decent, democratic values ensure that priorities become the defeat of homelessness, the maintenance of free health care and the guarantee of dignity from cradle to grave for all citizens; pledges itself to working against the politics of selfishness and greed and to developing a society where the contribution of the whole community is sought and valued; and, for the above reasons, rejects the Government's proposed spending plans for 1997–98 and 1998–99. I welcome the opportunity to highlight social and economic justice and our public responsibility in this House for those issues. Central to the debate is the political will to effect change to the benefit of all our constituents, the communities that we represent and people outwith our country.

Politicians are not held in the highest regard at any level of political activity—community council, local council, Parliament or Europe. However, my experience during 15 years in the House is that the majority of Members of Parliament work very hard on behalf of individuals and hold dearly concepts of social and economic justice. We do not always achieve the results that we want, but there is a genuine consensus among politicians that we are here to represent people and we want to achieve the best for them.

It is tempting to concentrate on what the media tell us are the critical issues of the day, but we should step back from that from time to time and consider what we are doing as legislators, because that is fundamental to all of us. Everyone in the House—I am glad to see a substantial number of hon. Members present—should ask themselves why they signed up to represent their party and why they decided to become involved in politics, particularly when many people appear to regard politics as despicable.

I joined my party for a simple reason. People are always asked why "they" did not do something. That "they" was a grey, amorphous organisation. People should ask, "Why don't I become involved? Why don't I do something about what is happening in my community and my country?" As a young student at Glasgow university—that well-known breeding ground for politicians—I listened to our lecturers talking about history, culture and literature. I was struck by the words of John Donne, the metaphysical poet. Metaphysical poets are one of my great joys in life. I read them regularly. John Donne wrote: No man is an Island, entire of it self… And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee. Whatever our party or our constituency, we are all here to talk about the people for whom the bell tolls. Politics is about the involvement of people. It is about thought and analysis of the situation in which we find ourselves.

When this institution was founded, we did not have electronic media or journalists wanting a quick quote on every issue. In one respect, insularity and immediacy have perhaps undermined our political process. Those who fought for you and me, Madam Speaker, to have the right, as women, to be members of this House and to vote did so because they believed that society would be changed irrevocably through representation. Indeed, such campaigns have changed many aspects of society.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

The hon. Lady made some interesting observations about people saying not, "What can I do about it?", but, "What are they going to do about it?" I received 30 letters from children at a school in my constituency asking what I, the Government or somebody else could do. Only one out of 30 letters said, "What can I do?" It seems to me that the desire to fob off responsibility starts at far too early an age and I honestly do not know how to tackle that problem.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

The hon. Lady has raised a genuine point that I shall address later in my speech. We all, as individuals, have a responsibility to contribute to society and the values and visions that we hold dear.

I studied history at university and it is clear from our history books that many social reforms would not have occurred without representation. One such example is slavery. People were told that black people could not be freed from slavery as they would not cope with society. I pay tribute to those who argued against that in Parliament and, with great difficulty, achieved the abolition of slavery.

Representation helped to remove the horrendous attitudes that allowed small boys and girls to work as chimney sweeps and stopped them being sent up chimneys to clear out the soot. I do not believe that the welfare state would have been established without representation. Those fundamental issues should underpin every aspect of our work as Members of Parliament, councillors, Members of the European Parliament, members of community councils or any organisation that works for society.

One reason why the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) and I tabled today's motion is that there seems to be a lull in politics. We no longer talk about visions and values. Perhaps it is the immediacy of having microphones stuck under our noses and having to make comments to journalists.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

The hon. Lady will be aware that only this week my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Social Security announced far-reaching changes to the pensions system, looking well into the next century. Does that not suggest that we take a long-term view rather than relying on short-term soundbites as she suggests?

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

I shall return to pensions later in my speech. The problem has been with us for many years and it is sad that such a major issue now seems to be part of a general election campaign rather than being addressed seriously by the House of Commons through a series of meetings in relevant Committees and elsewhere.

As I was saying, there seems to be a lull in politics whereby we deal with immediate rather than long-term issues. Lloyd-George described himself in "Dod's" as a Welsh nationalist and a radical, but he dropped that description in 1922. I wonder why we have dispensed with the idea of being radical and examining long-term issues. Did it start in the 1960s with the "I'm all right, Jack" philosophy, or was it with the "Sermon on the Mound", as we refer to it in Scotland, when Baroness Thatcher said, "There is no such thing as society"?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

What my right hon. and noble Friend said was that there was no such thing as society; society consisted of individuals who have to make their contribution. I am sure that the hon. Lady would not want to misrepresent my right hon. and noble Friend. In the spirit in which her speech is intended—to have a serious debate and move away from soundbite politics—and given that her party is quoting that Scotland has had a surplus since 1978 of £26 billion, will she confirm that, on the basis of her own figures and her party's calculations, which are of course misconceived, Scotland in fact had a deficit of £25 billion over the past four years and therefore received a contribution from England?

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

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.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

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?

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

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 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.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis 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.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

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: Because of the pressing need to renovate Scotland's housing stock, we will make housing repairs—including energy efficiency measures—one of our key priorities for our environment task force". 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.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr 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?

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

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 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.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson 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?

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

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.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

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 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.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling 3:59, 10 March 1997

I congratulate the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) on securing a debate on this important topic. I am not sure which the Labour party in Scotland is more afraid of: the Scottish National party, or a debate on social and economic justice. I never thought to see such an appalling turn-out of Scottish Labour Members for a debate on these issues; we are reduced to one spin doctor posing as a Labour Back Bencher.

Public responsibility in the SNP sense means more state interference, in the form of public ownership, for instance. That used to be a widely shared view among Labour Members. Those of us who, not so many years ago, proclaimed that only the market could generate wealth were derided as outcasts—but where are the outcasts now? They appear to be on the Opposition Benches, doubtless bruised by their fraternal conference in Scotland last week.

The truth is that market forces reign unchallenged around the world. More and more people in more and more political parties understand the importance of the market as a means of creating the wealth to ensure prosperity and social and economic justice. Indeed, Scottish Labour Members seem to have bowed rather spectacularly to their masters in Islington; the party elections were the final pogrom against the old left. Today, socialism appears to be the creed that dare not speak its name. New Labour seems to have new priorities, forged in the harsh environment of the Islington cocktail party—more socialite than socialist.

The guttering flame of socialism, however, still burns bright in Scotland. The Scottish nationalists appear to be the last remaining socialist party in Britain: the most left-wing party in Europe. That is what makes a mockery of their prattle about social justice. Dispensing social justice means having the resources, and the SNP's programme is a blueprint for the impoverishment of Scotland—a one-way ticket to the third world.

SNP Members want to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom, where they apparently feel stifled among a population of 55 million, and into a federalist Europe of, eventually, 500 million. They have, of course, no guarantee of getting into Europe at all. They have no admission ticket; and the price of admission would be entry on the most integrationist of terms.

The SNP, like the Labour party, would sign up to the social chapter and the minimum wage, and in so doing would condemn hundreds of thousands of Scots to the dole queue. Unemployment in Germany in the past two months rose by 500,000; unemployment in France and Spain showed the same trend. That shows where these policies lead—not to social justice. They may lead to better conditions for those in work—conditions governed by legislation—but that comes at the expense of other people's jobs, and long-term job security.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

The right hon. Gentleman has referred to German unemployment. How does he think this country would have managed if it had had to absorb a country of 17 million people with a rotten economic system?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I shall treat that as the hon. Gentleman's argument against economic and monetary union.

The Scottish nationalists would enter their brave new world with a deficit of £8.2 billion. Even if they got all the oil and gas revenues, which they will not, that would shrink to a mere £6.4 billion.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) produced some fantasy figures, claiming that Scotland has a budget surplus of £400 million. He did it by applying 1994 Treasury figures to 1996, assuming that 90 per cent. of North sea oil revenues would accrue to Scotland, and rounding up Scottish income tax receipts to inflate them by a mere £60 million—15 per cent. of the alleged surplus.

There are 68 Scottish National party spending commitments, including extravagances such as the renationalisation of Railtrack which were not costed in its programme, which promises a 20 per cent. increase in public spending, with no increases in taxation.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

In a moment: I want to finish with the hon. Gentleman first.

The hon. Gentleman then got more ambitious, did a paste-up job of Treasury answers to disparate parliamentary questions, and magicked out of the air a Scottish cumulative surplus of £26.7 billion since 1978. That figure keeps appearing in letters in The Scotsman and elsewhere. I know that our policies in Scotland have been brilliantly successful, but the figures are a mirage. The calculations assume that Scotland's share of United Kingdom general Government borrowing requirement was constant at 17.9 per cent. throughout the period, but it was not: in 1991, it was 54 per cent.

As the hon. Member for Moray confirmed by her silence, and as the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan can confirm now, over the past four years—using the SNP's own assumptions, which are, of course, crackpot—Scotland had a cumulative deficit of £25 billion.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The Secretary of State is wrong about the figures in several ways. They come from an answer from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, not from the Scottish National party. Without any argument, the United Kingdom general Government deficit over the past five years is £176 billion, which has doubled the national debt. Does the Secretary of State therefore conclude that the UK is non-viable?

This debate is about public responsibility, and we read in the press over the weekend that the Scottish Office had a copy of the draft report on slaughterhouse hygiene that was not passed on to Professor Hugh Pennington. Does the Secretary of State think that his Department had a public responsibility to pass that vital information on to the professor whom he appointed to study the issue of E. coli?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The report has been passed on, as the hon. Gentleman knows.

It is significant that, for weeks on end, the hon. Gentleman has been going around saying that Scotland is subsidising England to the tune of more than £26 billion. I have now asked the hon. Gentleman, his party's leader, whether the SNP's bogus calculations show that England has been subsidising Scotland for the past four years to the tune of £25 billion. I do not accept his figures for a moment; they are his own figures, and he has refused to confirm the position.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Only if the hon. Gentleman deals with the specific point.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman clearly does not intend to deal with the specific point, so I will not give way to him.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman if he will show that he is prepared to deal with the specific point.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The Secretary of State should know that he cannot set conditions on giving way.

In the past five years, the United Kingdom had a general Government deficit of £176 billion, so it is hardly surprising that Scotland, as part of the United Kingdom, was in deficit over that period; it is perhaps more interesting that, if we apply the Secretary of State's and the Scottish Office's calculations for the next five years, the Scottish subsidy to London becomes £12.5 billion. Does he accept that calculation, based on the Treasury answer of 30 January?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

All I can say is that I am glad that I am not the hon. Gentleman's bank manager. He has been travelling the length and breadth of Scotland saying that England has been subsidised by Scotland, but he has made a clear admission this afternoon that, for the past four years, England has, on his calculations—which I do not accept for a moment—provided £25 billion for Scotland.

If the SNP were honest, and said, "Tighten your belts to the last notch and accept a massive slump in living standards, for that is the price of separatism," it would find few takers, but it would earn respect for its integrity, which it certainly does not deserve on its performance this afternoon.

Photo of Mr Rod Richards Mr Rod Richards , Clwyd North West

My right hon. Friend has struck at the very heart of the nationalists' argument. Is he aware that, in Wales in 1994–95, the last year for which figures are available, the fiscal deficit was £5.7 billion, and that the total tax take from all sources was £9.9 billion, which means that taxes right across the board in Wales would have to be raised by about 57 per cent. merely to maintain the current level of public services?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

My hon. Friend is right. What is offensive about nationalists in both Scotland and Wales is that they prate about social justice when their programme entails national bankruptcy. The SNP's only ideological allies in Europe are in the south of Albania. Further afield, there are the encouraging examples of socialist North Korea and Cuba. There can be no social justice without wealth creation

At its 1995 conference, the SNP voted to renationalise the public utilities. Is that still its policy? It is committed to renationalising Railtrack and similarly destroying Scotland's bus services. It would lose our seat at the top table everywhere: NATO, the G7, the UN Security Council. Our voice would be unheard in the councils of the world. How would that help the disadvantaged?

The SNP would abolish the assisted places scheme—a kick in the teeth to every lad and lass o'pairts in Scotland. [Interruption] The groans come from an Opposition who are led by a man who enjoyed a public school education, and who would kick the ladder away from families with incomes of less than £9,000 a year. That is new Labour: "Don't do as I do—just take the message."

Only one thing can strike down poverty and bring social justice to every Scot: the sound Conservative free enterprise policies of privatisation, deregulation and devolution of decision-making to families and individuals. Opposition Members did not want Scots to buy their council houses or even to decide what colour to paint their front doors or to make any other decision. Now that Labour in Scotland is being led by the nose and forced by its Islington ringmaster to go through the capitalist hoop, the last unreconstructed socialists in Scotland are the Scottish nationalists.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North

We can assume that the Secretary of State for Wales will pursue the same line of reasoning on Wales, with which I shall deal later. Does he think that the voice of Ireland, a country similar in size to Scotland and Wales, is unheard in the councils of the world? Would Scotland really suffer the deficiency that he described?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman should examine what is happening in Ireland. It has far higher unemployment, because it has embraced the social chapter. He may have read the recent article in the Financial Times about the Irish business community complaining about how they lose inward investment because of the burden of the social chapter. The difference between us and Ireland is that we are a net contributor to the Community; Ireland is dependent on subsidy from the Community. That is how successful the policies advocated by the nationalists have been in creating prosperity in Ireland.

If the hon. Member for Moray wanted a serious debate on what is being achieved in dealing with our social and economic problems, she should have examined what has been achieved in Scotland by the Government's policies. Some £7.7 billion of investment has been attracted to Scotland since 1981, with the expected creation or safeguarding of 130,000 jobs. That investment has come because we rejected the policies of Opposition Members, who have had to come round to supporting policies that they had vehemently opposed.

The percentage of households in owner-occupation has risen to almost 60 per cent., compared with 35 per cent. in 1979. That huge revolution in giving people a stake in the community is matched by the proposals of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security for a new deal for pensioners. Once again, the Opposition parties suck their teeth and oppose anything that transfers real power to individuals and real ownership to the people.

The proportion of school leavers with no Scottish certificate of education qualifications fell from 31 per cent. in 1980 to less than 8 per cent. in 1995. The proportion of pupils staying on for the fifth year at school has nearly doubled. The number of full-time students in higher education has risen by more than 90 per cent. since 1980. The crime clear-up rate has risen by one quarter from 30 per cent. in 1978 to 39 per cent. in 1995. Recorded crime has fallen by 15 per cent. since 1991. Average full-time earnings have increased by nearly one third in real terms since 1979.

Where has the hon. Member for Moray been? All that has been achieved in Scotland by a Conservative Government, who have pursued the right policies for Britain.

We have achieved those results because of our commitment to three principles. First, we are committed to economic and fiscal policies that create the environment for business to succeed—an environment of low inflation and low taxes. The United Kingdom is currently reaping the benefits of that policy stance as it approaches its sixth year of sustained growth. It is enjoying the strongest economic recovery of any major European country, yet all we hear from people who describe themselves as Scottish nationalists is prattle about Ireland. Why do they not start singing the praises of Scotland instead of running their country down?

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus East

My hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) asked for this to be a debate about the principles, vision and values that should be directing our society. Instead, all that the right hon. Gentleman has produced are selective statistics that are designed, first, to rubbish his opponents and, secondly, to put the best possible gloss on his own opinion. That is why people are turning off politics. If the Minister is so clever and is running Scotland so well, why has his party been totally rejected? The Conservatives have been wiped out from local councils and from Europe. They are now about to meet the wrath of the electorate.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have read the Opposition motion on the Order Paper. It refers not to principles but to poverty and the means of addressing it. As far as I am aware, that is precisely what my right hon. Friend is doing.

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

That is not a point of order; it is a matter of argument. Let us continue the argument.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

In fairness to the hon. Member for Moray, I think that the record will show that she said that parties must have principles in the run-up to a general election. That is the difference between us and the opposition parties: we have principles that we have applied and stuck to all the time that we have been in power.

Our second principle, which has been responsible for the transformation of our country, is that we have ensured that Scotland's distinctive priorities and needs are fully taken into account by the Government as a whole. The post of Secretary of State for Scotland would be lost as a result of the proposals for devolution from the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson).

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

What would happen if there was a Tory Government at Westminster and a Labour Administration in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh? Would the Labour leader come and sit in a Tory Cabinet? Of course not. He will be a message laddie, which is no doubt why the hon. Member for Hamilton is being groomed for that role. My voice in Cabinet ensures that the Scottish dimension is never overlooked in the policies of the United Kingdom Government, and that, wherever appropriate, a distinctively Scottish approach, which reflects Scottish circumstances, is taken.

The third principle to which we have been committed is to ensure that, wherever possible, we have moved government closer to the people. Our consistent approach has been to devolve power downwards from centralised bureaucracies to local consumers and the community. [Interruption]

I note that the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell), who has earned a reputation in Scotland as the voucher snatcher, is laughing. She cannot abide the idea of parents being able to choose the nursery education for their families. She cannot stand that. She would rather have a bureaucracy telling people who can and cannot have a place, and one which patronised people by telling them what it thinks is good for them. That is the difference between us.

Take, for example, the reforms that we have introduced into the health service to make it more effective. The clear distinction that we have made between the purchase of health services on behalf of the population in a given area and those organisations that provide those services has led to greater clarity about the respective roles and responsibilities. [Interruption] I note that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg) is trying to find out who is here from the Labour party to speak up for economic and social justice.

The benefits of our reforms, which apparently the Labour party now accepts, including the separation of the purchaser and provider roles—remember how the Opposition used to oppose that—are seen in the increased willingness of the national health service trusts to be innovative and to develop new ideas to provide a better service to patients. Those benefits are also reflected in the imaginative way in which the health boards are able to look more strategically at the health service that their population really needs.

A key feature of our reforms is the emphasis on the primary care sector, which is closest to patients on a day-to-day basis and which is obviously in the best position to identify worthwhile improvements that patients want. GP fundholders now cover half the population. They have benefited patients by bringing down waiting times for in-patient treatment and increasing the range of services available locally in GP premises.

Taken together, those key changes allow the NHS to focus ever more clearly on the needs of the individual citizens whom they are there to serve. In that way, we ensure that change is driven by what people need. Our recent White Paper on the Scottish health service, "Ready for the Future", signals our intention to build on achievements so far to make the Scottish health service even more responsive to patients' needs. A more detailed agenda for action in primary care will be issued later this week.

We shall continue to ensure that services are accessible, and provided as close as possible to patients' homes. We shall ensure that decisions about the pattern of services are taken by those with the greatest awareness of patients' needs.

That is underpinned by our unequivocal commitment that the health service will continue to be free at the point of delivery, funded largely by general taxation—and, of course, funded for every year of the next Parliament, so that there is a real increase year by year. How sad that the Labour party, which claims to have been involved at the start of the health service, now finds itself muddled and unable to give the same commitment to the health service.

Not only will the hon. Member for Hamilton not make that commitment, but the Labour party—in opposition, not in government—is writing to NHS trusts in Scotland, telling them to sack health service employees. The Leader of the Opposition told his party that it must not be complacent, that it must take nothing for granted, but the hon. Member for Hamilton wrote to chief executives of NHS trusts in Scotland: I am writing in advance of the General Election to intimate what the approach of an incoming Labour Government would be towards NHS Trusts, especially in relation to the number operating in Scotland. He goes on at length and then comes to the main point of his letter: I would therefore like you to start immediate consultations with other Trusts with the overall objective of reducing the total number of Trusts in Scotland from 45 to 25. The elimination through the common sense merger of 20 NHS Trusts will in time free substantial funds for patient care and the National Health Service will be the stronger for it.There is only a maximum of nine weeks to the General Election and it is the constitutional convention"— I think that that is meant to be a joke— that the government machine does prepare contingency plans for a change of government. This notification therefore is perfectly in order and I hope it is also helpful in allowing you to plan ahead for a government with very different priorities to the present one. The hon. Gentleman's priorities are to sack staff in the NHS, centralise services, and merge hospital services as part of a hatchet job on the NHS to provide money for his chums in local government. That is Labour's agenda.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

Our priority is patient care, not bureaucracy. By reducing the number of bureaucracies in Scotland, we can help the interests of patients.

I rose to the Dispatch Box to ask the Secretary of State a specific question: will he rule out any future privatisation in the health service along the lines that we saw in Stonehaven hospital? Will he rule out the possibility that a future Conservative Administration will include clinical services in bids, as they did at Stonehaven hospital?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has answered that question on a number of occasions.

The hon. Gentleman has not addressed the point that I put. He is writing to the chief executives of NHS trusts, telling them to sack staff in advance of Labour winning a general election. That is a piece of arrogance of enormous proportions, and we now know the hon. Gentleman's agenda for the health service. [Interruption] The hon. Gentleman says that it would save £30 million as a result of merging those NHS trusts. I have asked my officials to work out exactly how many people we would need to sack to save that sum—[Interruption]I am perfectly entitled to ask my officials to tell me how many people I would have to sack to save £30 million by merging NHS trusts.

The hon. Gentleman has made it his policy, so he can now give me the answer. Will he tell the House how many people, whom he dismisses as bureaucrats and administrators, would be sacked to achieve savings—on top of the savings that we are already making—of £30 million, net of redundancy costs? I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman either does not know, or will not say. I suspect that he will not say.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

A merger or amalgamation of national health service trusts in Scotland should be easily attainable. Some trusts are already talking about amalgamations, and the Secretary of State for Scotland goes on endlessly about local authorities stripping out levels of administration.

Why will the Secretary of State not answer the central question? The people of Scotland want to know before the general election whether his policy is to privatise clinical services. That was tried at Stonehaven, but no one has tried it in England yet. Will he rule out the privatisation of clinical services in the NHS?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman knows the answer, but I shall repeat it if he really wants to hear it again. We would not rule out any proposal from clinicians themselves.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

So clinical services could be privatised?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, if clinicians brought forward a proposal, we would consider it, and would not rule it out in principle. We think that the health service should be driven by the demands and needs of those who are involved in the provision of front-line services.

The hon. Gentleman held a press conference, and with a great flourish announced that he would save £30 million by merging NHS trusts. He said that that is where the money for patient care would be found. Our White Paper put £40 million extra into the NHS. The hon. Gentleman knows that savings have been achieved. He cannot tell us how many jobs would be lost in the NHS under his proposals, because he does not want to say. He knows that, in order to save £30 million, he will have to cut into clinical services.

The hon. Gentleman dismisses administrators, and talks about posh reception areas. People who work in the front room of the health service take the details of distressed patients who come into hospital. Are they not part of the NHS team? Are those administrators to be swept away? Does he denounce as unimportant the people who look after patients' records? Where will the money be saved? Let us have the figures.

If the hon. Gentleman cannot give them now, perhaps he will give them in his speech, after he has received the information from those in Islington who tell him what to say these days. [Interruption] The hon. Gentleman is now getting worried about the time. It is time he answered some of these questions. We want to know in which parts of the health service people's jobs are on the line, thanks to his commitment to that policy.

In education, as in the health service, the Government have ensured that decisions are increasingly devolved to the people in schools who know what is required.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

We have been talking about unemployment in the health service as a result of Labour's policies. Could my right hon. Friend extract from the Scottish National party a figure for the number of jobs that would be lost at the Royal Air Force bases at Leuchars, Kinloss and Lossiemouth, and among personnel in the Royal Navy, the Scottish regiments and the defence industry were we to have Scottish independence? I am sure that the figure would be substantial.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

My right hon. Friend is right. I am not sure what the hon. Member for Moray has to say on the subject, but I will happily give way to her if she wants to answer that question. She is also not prepared to say what the consequences of her policies would be, although she opened the debate by saying that we should have a proper discussion on these important issues.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I give way to the hon. Lady—it is like fishing.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

I will not take any lectures from Conservative Members, given that the Government have amalgamated and destroyed some of our proud regiments in Scotland. They have reduced by 31 per cent. the number of personnel employed in the RAF.

We have made it perfectly clear that no bases will be closed. Such arguments are propounded by a desperate party. It is moral blackmail. The Government try to destroy people's confidence in their own ability to participate in the international community in all aspects of our life, including defence. We have made it clear in our defence policy document, which we have put in the public domain, that an independent Scotland would have no implications for the key elements of our defence forces. That is against a background in which the defence forces themselves, and international defence communications, are changing.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I do not want to be distracted too much, but I suggest that, if the hon. Lady gives that answer again, she should begin it with "Once upon a time".

Let me make another point about the consequences for Scotland's economic prosperity. [Interruption] The Labour party used to be concerned about such issues. It used to be concerned about jobs. It is this Government who have delivered prosperity to Scotland and created new opportunities for employment, thanks in part to the efforts of the enterprise network and Scottish Enterprise, which we established. Now a Scottish parliament is being proposed, with tartan-tax-raising powers that would destroy jobs and prosperity, and damage people's savings and their income from dividends and other sources.

Not content with damaging the business climate in Scotland and allowing business rates to be sent sky high by the irresponsible councils that their party runs in Glasgow and elsewhere—the same people who would be in a Scottish parliament—Opposition Members who are committed to a Scottish parliament want to destroy Scottish Enterprise and the local enterprise companies. They want to destroy the engine—the job creation machine—in Scotland.

We have that on the authority of a Glasgow councillor, no less—Councillor Jean McFadden, who produced a report from the John Wheatley centre. We are told that, under a Scottish Parliament, the functions of the LECs would be transferred to local authorities, and that the structure of the national enterprise bodies, Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, would be reformed—in other words, crushed. As for the Scottish National party, we have confirmation from Mr. George Reid, who is described as the party's trade and industry spokesman, that the transfer of the LECs to local authorities would also be its policy.

Here we have a structure that has been successful in delivering jobs, but both those Opposition parties plan to wreck it in order to find the money to pay the £80 billion for their "pretendy parliament"—as I believe Billy Connolly called it— in Edinburgh.

That is in complete contrast to the Government. We will continue to support Scottish Enterprise and the local enterprise companies, because we support people who deliver. I am therefore pleased to announce further support for Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise in the current year. I shall be providing a further £5 million for Scottish Enterprise—

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

We shall find it by not spending it all. Local government under Labour control has something to learn from that.

Among other things, that support will allow Scottish Enterprise to meet existing and planned inward investment pressures created by the recent successes of Locate in Scotland in attracting overseas companies to Scotland, particularly in relation to the Hyundai project, and will ensure that the priority that the Government attach to supporting Scotland's indigenous companies is continued.

The recent successes of Locate in Scotland are a significant boost for the Scottish economy, with the Hyundai project alone expected to bring an additional 2,000 direct jobs to Scotland. The extra resources will allow Scottish Enterprise to consolidate and build on that success, while protecting the equally important support currently given to Scotland's indigenous companies.

As the hon. Member for Moray represents a constituency in the highlands, I could not allow this occasion to pass without announcing that Highlands and Islands Enterprise will receive £525,000 in extra support in the current financial year. Those extra resources will enable it to spend on a number of key projects, and will help to relieve funding pressures in the coming year.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Wait for the good news.

The projects to benefit reflect the wide range of programmes through which Highlands and Islands Enterprise pursues its role to promote the economic and social development of the highlands and islands. This is good news for the highlands and islands: it will allow Highlands and Islands Enterprise to continue to play a full part in the regeneration of the highlands and islands economy, and to build on the success of its achievements to date.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

We should obviously have more of these debates, so that the sweetie bag can be brought out even more often.

Once upon a time—last Thursday night—the Scottish Office was briefing against the Ministry of Agriculture, to the effect that the slaughterhouse report had not been received by Scottish Office civil servants. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that, as was reported in the newspapers at the weekend, the draft report was in the hands of the Scottish Office? Does he accept that he, as Secretary of State for Scotland, was responsible for the fact that the report was not passed on to Professor Hugh Pennington?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

If the hon. Gentleman reads his newspapers a bit better, he will be aware of the facts. The original report that referred to E. coli was never given to any meeting attended by a Scottish Office official.

I ask the hon. Member for Moray: is it not embarrassing to have the hon. Gentleman intervening in the debate? She started off by saying that she wanted it to be on a serious subject and to move away from soundbite politics, and here we have the hon. Gentleman, as normal, trivialising the debate. I think we must conclude that he fears that the hon. Lady's performance has not quite delivered what he had hoped for in terms of the coverage tomorrow.

It is probably time for me to draw this speech to a conclusion. I realise that it is proving an uncomfortable experience for Opposition Members, who used to say that they were in favour of jobs, prosperity and investment in the health service, but who are now beached like whales, unable to deliver and doomed.

Scotland is flourishing, and there is every reason to believe that it will continue to flourish as long as the Union is maintained. The truth is that the Union has secured for all of us, whether English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, a long history of freedom, prosperity and stability under the Crown.

It is our historic partnership of nations that has forged a role throughout the globe. It is together that we have influenced affairs on the world stage. That is why the maintenance of the Union is fundamental to the prosperity and well-being of the people of Scotland. We have identified and will continue to seek ways to help Government to listen to the people of Scotland and to respond to their concerns and priorities in a way that does not threaten the United Kingdom. That is the best way forward for Scotland, and for all the people of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North 4:36, 10 March 1997

It is a little unwise for the Secretary of State for Scotland to quote what Billy Connolly said about anything because, if he does that again, I might tell him what Billy Connolly says about him.

It was a bit tasteless for the Secretary of State to wax lyrical on the subject of national health service teams. Probably no hon. Member has done more personally to destroy the concept of teamwork in the NHS than the Secretary of State. Some of us are old enough to remember his private business life, much of which was devoted precisely to the business of breaking up teams in the NHS by denying the concept that all auxiliaries and non-medical staff in hospitals were part of a team, privatising, cutting their wages, and making their positions as insecure as possible—all for the private profit of Michael Forsyth Associates and its client companies. For the Secretary of State to arrive here a decade later and bleat about the role of teams in the NHS provokes the memories of what he built his dubious reputation on.

The Secretary of State referred to me as a spin doctor. That cannot possibly be true—I am more of a consultant, I think. However, if he wants to go down that road a little, I will give him a little lesson. This is from a spin consultant. If he wants to retain any credibility, he should not send out a special adviser one night to say that he is incandescent and to brief against another Minister and appear the next morning wide-eyed and innocent, claiming to have forgotten all about what was done in his name and at his instruction because, frankly, no one believes that sort of performance. He does not even have the virtue of subtlety to commend him. His performance last week did no good for Scotland and even less good for the office he holds. If he has anything to say against his colleague the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, he should have the guts to say it out loud and not leave the Prime Minister in the ridiculous position of saying the next morning that the stories were ridiculous and absurd and that he could not imagine where they had come from—when everyone in the House knew that the stories came from only one man: the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short speech. I do not currently make many speeches for a simple reason: I have the nominal title of shadow Minister for election planning. As is all too conspicuous, there is no Minister for election planning, which may account for the Tories' current difficulties.

I shall take the quite unusual course of picking up some of the points that have been made in the debate. I come from a good Scottish education system in which I was taught that that is what debate is about; not about set speeches but about dealing with issues that have been raised.

I support the distinguished hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston). The hon. Gentleman intervened on the Minister to ask about employment in Germany, and was given a typically trite response. The Secretary of State seems to think that a debating point is a substitute for an argument. The hon. Gentleman's intervention was important. I travelled in east Germany at the time of the first democratic elections in the whole of Germany and saw the incredible industrial museums that employed 10,000 to 12,000 people. The only possible course on health and safety grounds alone was to close them and start again.

Germany has done an incredible job for the whole of Europe by taking on that task. It has encountered difficulties, largely as a result, and that has given rise to schadenfreude among Conservative Europhobes who have temporarily suppressed their prejudices to toe, not very successfully, the Cabinet line. That is a sad reaction. As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber said, imagine what state this country would have been in even with North sea oil and the proceeds of privatisation if it had had to do that. We are in a bad enough economic mess. What would it have been like if we had inherited a country of 17 million people with the incredible economic problems that east Germany presented to west Germany on reunification?

On a more micro level of debate, I should like to refer to the assisted places scheme. I shall start by registering a complaint. How many families in my constituency benefit from that scheme—if benefit it is? I am by no means convinced that sending kids to the environment of a private school provides any lifetime benefit for them, but that is a wider issue. I have tabled questions asking to be told, by constituency, how many children are funded under the assisted places scheme. The Scottish Office has refused to give me that information under the facade of the usual evasion that the information could be collected only at disproportionate expense. Yet every family that benefits must have an address and there are not so many of them that they cannot be easily listed and divided among 72 constituencies. The reason for the Scottish Office's not giving that information has nothing to do with the expense of collecting it. It does not want to give the information because it would reveal how few children from a constituency such as mine are catered for by the scheme.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

That is another scurrilous allegation from a rather nasty Member, if I may say so. It is quite wrong to suggest that the information is not being provided by the Scottish Office because it would not be politically expedient to do so. The cost of collecting the information—perhaps this is the answer that the hon. Gentleman has been given—would be beyond the established guidelines. However, if the hon. Gentleman wants the information to be collected I have no objection to that being done. I imagine that it will reveal that the city in the United Kingdom with the greatest number of assisted places and the greatest dependency on the assisted places scheme is Edinburgh. I said in my speech that that city had provided the Leader of the Opposition with his ladder up. What is the hon. Gentleman's objection to children from families with incomes of less than £9,500, as half of them are, being able to get the same opportunities as the Leader of the Opposition? Why does it matter which parliamentary constituency they live in?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. The same rules apply to the Front Bench as to other hon. Members. That was a rather long intervention.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

I am delighted to be called nasty by the Minister. Given his political creed, I would be distinctly worried if he did not describe me as nasty—I am opposed to everything that he stands for, dogmatically and philosophically. Nothing could be as juvenile as judging anybody by the school to which his parents sent him. [Interruption] I do not know which is the organ grinder and which is the monkey, but I should be pleased to hear from either the Secretary of State or his parliamentary private secretary. Neither wants to respond.

No one is judged by the school to which his parents sent him. There is no envy involved because, by and large, I believe that sending kids to private schools is not good for them. Even if I thought differently I would recognise that, in any society, priorities must be set. An interesting parliamentary reply last week showed that even in Scotland, where there is a legal maximum of 33 children in a primary school class, 74,000 Scottish children are in primary classes of more than 30. That shows that the resources have much work to do. I want to know how many children in my constituency are in the assisted places scheme because I want to be able to tell my constituents that one, two or three children benefit under the scheme but that, by an alternative use of the resources, 500, 600 or 700 children could benefit. That is a reasonable point for any hon. Member to make.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

The last time the Minister tried to make four interventions in a speech by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition he made a complete fool of himself. I do not see why he should be anxious to do that again.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

I do not propose to take any more interventions.

The Minister said that we wanted to crush—I think that that was the word he used—Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Scottish Enterprise. Those two bodies would never have existed but for Labour Governments. The Highlands and Islands development board and the Scottish development agency were among the great creations of Labour Governments in the 1960s and 1970s.

I am reminded of the kind of stuff that the Minister comes out with. In his heyday in the 1980s he described the Women's Rural Institute as a Marxist front organisation. In the 1960s, when Willy Ross was setting up the HIDB, Michael Noble, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland at that time, described it as a Marxist conspiracy. There is a long tradition of that.

I assure the Secretary of State that, long after he has gone, the successors to the Highlands and Islands development board and Scottish Enterprise will be not only secure, but will once again be enhanced as agencies of economic and social change. The great feature of the HIDB was that, originally, it was not simply an economic organisation, but had a strong social remit which has been largely eroded by the Government's ideological changes.

The hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) moved the motion with dignity. Its spirit is absolutely right. It is entirely proper, in the run-up to a general election campaign, that the agenda of poverty and homelessness and the conditions that afflict a substantial proportion of our constituents should be given an airing, and not brushed aside in the general melée of agendas that are set either by the media or by politicians.

In the past couple of weeks, I have had a couple of all-party meetings in my constituency. They were organised by Church organisations which said that the issues that they want to put across form what might broadly be called the humane and social agenda. The issues include homelessness and poverty, not just in our country, but throughout the world. It is entirely right that, in the period before a general election, those subjects should receive an airing.

Sometimes, we are all too clever. If there is a problem of homelessness in any society, it is very likely that its very simple cause is that there are not enough houses. That is the case in this society. We have a Government who are driven by ideology—with the Secretary of State playing his full role—and have refused to allow local authorities to provide houses for rent. That has been the primary cause of homelessness, including hidden homelessness, in any community—and certainly in those that I represent.

I believe that a national minimum wage will be one of the major social innovations of the post-war years. It will be a landmark reform, which the Tories will despise and oppose because they cannot bear the idea of the introduction of a minimum standard of decency into any sphere of a society that they want to be driven by the market. However, once a national minimum wage is established as a concept, they will never dare overturn it. Until the day the national health service was created, the Tories bitterly opposed it, because they opposed the idea of people having access to the best medical care irrespective of their ability to pay for it. Once it was in place, they could chip away at its edges, erode it and remove bits of it, but they never dared to attack its core. A national minimum wage will be in that category of great social reforms.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

The hon. Gentleman's comments on a minimum wage may well be true. A minimum wage exists in other countries. In France, for example, it is set at the equivalent of about £2. Would he like to tell the House at what level he thinks a national minimum wage would be set on its introduction here?

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

No, I would not. The level at which a national minimum wage is set will be determined by a commission, which will consider the views of both employer and employee bodies. I understand why the hon. Gentleman takes a very short-term view of politics. I take a slightly longer-term view, however, and believe that it is far more important to establish the principle of a national minimum wage. That is what will be done in the next Parliament. Once the principle is established, it will never be abolished.

Part of the tragedy, and the indictment of the events of recent years, is that there is almost no level at which a national minimum wage could be set which would not benefit a substantial number of people. In this supposedly wealthy society and successful economy, hundreds of thousands of people are earning below £2 an hour, and millions of people are earning below £3 an hour. In his last days in the House, the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) would do well to support the concept of a national minimum wage.

The motion is ostensibly unexceptional, although I have not conducted a close textual analysis of it. It states that the House rejects the Government's proposed spending plans for the next two years. I did not hear the hon. Member for Moray say whether that means that she rejects the Government's global figures or only their detailed breakdown of them. I hope that she does not really believe that, after 18 years of Tory government, every penny—or even every billion pounds—of public expenditure has been so closely scrutinised and intelligently applied that there is not an awful lot of room to reapply priorities so that we can provide very different forms of public expenditure.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

What would the hon. Gentleman cut?

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

It would have been more helpful if the parties that tabled the motion had made some suggestions on that subject. It is extraordinary that, since the previous general election, expenditure on social security, for example, has increased annually by £15 billion. That is astonishing. It would also be astonishing if an incoming Government could not produce a great deal of intelligent thought on how that money could be better spent, to create a successful economy rather than subsidised failure. Expenditure on subsidising low pay—for which the taxpayer pays—instead of providing a national minimum wage is one very obvious example of that.

The thrust of the comments made by the hon. Member for Moray is right. I also do not think that anyone needs to go further in politics, when looking for a big idea, than the eradication of poverty. The real debate is about the means of attaining that goal, about the speed at which it is possible to move in achieving it and about the priority that it should receive. Despite all the brickbats that are tossed and all the attempts to sap the morale of those looking forward with hope and optimism to the advent of a Labour Government, I have not the slightest doubt that, in the future, as in the past, eradicating poverty will be the priority of a Labour Government.

Perhaps the hon. Member for Moray should remember that Labour Governments delivered all the desirable features in society—such as the education system, which provided opportunity to her and me; and the national health service, which entitled us both to high-quality health care, to which we insist our children should be entitled—and the broad range of social reforms that have made the United Kingdom a civilised place in which to live. I have never heard much credit given to those Governments by the Scottish National party, but that goal is our hope and our inspiration—in which the public are now sharing. They look forward to the return of a Labour Government, to address the issues raised in today's motion.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside 4:56, 10 March 1997

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) seems to have made a reputation in politics for attacking organisations and people who are involved with organisations that assist companies. It was therefore interesting to hear him praise the Highlands and Islands development board and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. He did so without declaring an interest: the fact that he and his company have been substantial beneficiaries of those organisations. It seems that he has one rule for others and another for himself. If he wants to speak in the House about standards and values, I suggest that he should first look in the mirror.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

The company with which I am very proud to be involved is probably the only one in the highlands and islands which, before grant and loan disclosure existed, made a specific request that every penny given to the company—it was not very much—should be made public. That is the openness that we have practised ourselves and have always expected from others. Having made that point, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will now tell us how much he has received from his time with Stagecoach.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Nothing—absolutely nothing. The hon. Gentleman has picked on the wrong target. He should do his homework more carefully. I say again that, if he wants to be critical of other hon. Members, he should first look in the mirror. Those who live in glass houses should not chuck bricks.

Like the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), hon. Members care about the society in which we live. I do not think that any individual or party can claim sole concern for people's well-being—the only difference is that some of us see different routes for arriving at similar answers. The issue is whether the route one travels will or will not produce the answer.

I should also tell the hon. Member for Moray that I have always respected people in Scotland who say that they want independence and who are prepared and willing to pay the costs, whatever they are, for it. There will be costs, because no one yet knows what the debate will entail. All we currently know is that separation, in whatever form, can be very expensive if it is achieved in acrimonious circumstances. Also, independence in Europe is simply a slogan. It is nonsense. Jim Fairley, a well-respected nationalist in Tayside, has written and spoken at great length about it, and much more effectively than I.

If the hon. Member for Moray seriously believes that the Royal Air Force bases in Scotland would remain unchanged, she is not living in the real world. She has only to consider the aircraft on those bases to realise that the Tornado, Jaguar and Nimrod are very expensive and require massive support from the many people who work on the bases, in or out of uniform. Their number would change substantially if the types of aircraft were changed. Anyone who has any experience of military matters will tell the hon. Lady that. I do not believe that the Royal Marine base at, for example, Condor in Arbroath would remain in its current form, because it is part of the Royal Marine Brigade, which requires certain things that would not exist if the base were operating alone.

The SNP's policies, especially those relating to social and economic matters, belong, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland clearly said, to the world of fairytales and make-believe. If Scotland and the UK are as bad as the hon. Lady claims, why are so many people from all over the world desperate to come and live here? If this is such an awful place, why do we face the ghastly problem of more people wanting to come here than we can possibly take? Of course, some people in the UK and Scotland have problems, but the vast majority have a quality of life of which our grandparents never dreamed. I have seen a dramatic change in my lifetime. I was one of six children living in a two-roomed house with my parents.

Of course there are problems—anyone who thinks that there are not does not hold surgeries—but it is interesting that a substantial number of the problems brought to Members' surgeries are really local authority matters, involving the failure of those authorities. Councillors are there to deal with them. The system that other hon. Members and I operate shows that, if one writes to the chief executive of a local authority, it is surprising how quickly one can unclog things that should have been unclogged without their having to be brought to the authority's notice.

I could use all my speech to comment on the SNP's military budget, which is a fairytale, but I shall deal with some matters that the SNP fails to address. How does it account for the fact that so much is missing from its budget? One of the problems with operating a budget, whether in government or in business, is that one has to state everything, or there will be a deficit at the end of the day.

The SNP wishes to remove standing charges for gas, electricity, telecommunications and other utilities and says that the cost will be met from the profits of the companies involved. The SNP has obviously never run a company if it thinks that such a change will not have an impact on profits. If we link this idea with Labour's utility tax, it is clear that profitable companies will quickly cease to be profitable. I recommend that the left-wing SNP recall the selective employment tax, which Labour introduced many years ago and which savaged employment levels and the profitability of businesses in the service sector.

The SNP wishes to abolish the assisted places scheme—so does Labour—but does not tell us how the youngsters currently in the scheme will be educated and how the cost of their education will be met. It wishes to abolish nursery vouchers—it will be a voucher snatcher—and transfer the provisions to local authorities. No mention is made of how the cost of changes to the administration will be met. The list is endless—I should like to ask questions about some 50 items in the SNP's budget, but I shall not.

This is an interesting debate, because it has given my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the opportunity to demolish the SNP's arguments. We can all wander around with our hearts on our sleeves—that is easy and costs nothing—but we have to consider how to implement policies and cost ideas.

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North mentioned the massive increase in the social security budget. Had the Government not looked after people who had been adversely affected by the recession, they would have been condemned—and rightly so. The Government, however, quite properly dealt with matters, as any Government would be required to do.

Funnily enough, that brings me to the point about Germany made by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave him a pointed response about the single currency. I have recently been talking to representatives of business and business organisations and talking at seminars, conventions and annual general meetings. I put to them a question that I now put to the House: if one is running a company that is the leader in its field—that accurately describes the UK's position relative to the rest of Europe in that UK plc is outperforming all the other countries—would the directors link that company to others that are not doing nearly so well, or doing very badly, and leave to them all their company's financial policies? The directors said that of course they would not and that it would be crazy to do so. I pointed out that that is exactly what some people are suggested UK plc should do, because that is what joining a single currency would mean. It would mean giving control to those who are not doing as well as we are and allowing them to make judgments on economic and fiscal policy affecting this country.

Whatever the merits—if there are any—of a single currency in theory, in practice if one is doing well, one does not allow the decision making to be taken over by those who are doing worse. That is basic to the running of any organisation.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

The hon. Gentleman is skirting around my point. I said that it was unfair of the Secretary of State for Scotland—it is not unusual for him to be unfair—to compare our employment position with that of Germany, given that Germany had just managed to absorb into its economy 17 million people who are economically backward. I said that we could not have done that, and that is perfectly true. By the way, on the question of a single currency, perhaps the hon. Gentleman should ask Toyota what it thinks and take notice of the fact that inward investment in France is higher than that in Britain.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

The hon. Gentleman should do his homework more carefully. Toyota has done a U-turn on the single currency; it now says the opposite of what it was saying and, given the UK's current performance, can see an advantage in its being outside the single currency. It is important to note that, during unification, the Germans miscalculated the basis on which the various currencies should be made one. They are now paying a terrible price and will continue to do so—chickens always come home to roost in relation to financial and fiscal policy.

As with a company's balance sheets, it may be possible to hide things for a year or even two but, over a period, the truth always emerges. The SNP wears its heart on its sleeve but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State showed using the SNP's own figures, its budget reveals a massive deficit. That does not mean that Scotland could not be an economic entity on its own, if it was able to get somebody else to pick up the tabs, as southern Ireland has. Our money—United Kingdom taxpayers' money—has made southern Ireland what it is.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Does my hon. Friend recall a meeting of the Scottish Grand Committee not long ago when the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) suggested that Scotland would have to subsidise the rest of Europe, unlike Ireland?

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

I do not believe any figures that come from the hon. Member for Moray or any other member of the Scottish National party. I would not want to be involved in any kind of merger on the figures that they produce, which do not stand up to close examination. Their figures are wishful thinking and fairytale economics.

One can address the problems of society only if one has a thriving economy in which employers can create jobs, producing goods and services for which the world will pay. Scotland and the United Kingdom have no option—we have to be a world trading nation. Just to stand still, we have to export more than one third of the goods and services that we produce. It is essential that we have an economic climate in which entrepreneurs—risk takers—can create jobs.

The problem for members of the left-wing Scottish National party is that they have not learnt the lesson of modern history, which is that their kind of socialism does not work. They cannot point to any country in which it brings home the goods. Despite our difficulties during the recession, the United Kingdom has come out of it better than anyone else and the world is looking to us.

I remind Opposition Members that the hours that we spent in Standing Committee changing trade union legislation helped to create today's enterprise economy. To throw all that away would be crazy, whether in an independent Scotland or in the United Kingdom. Jobs would vanish, as has happened in every other socialist country, and we would end up with money being printed and ever fewer people being employed.

The Scottish nationalists wear their hearts on their sleeves and tell people that they care, but they would not be able to sort out the problems because they would not have the necessary economic circumstances. After 18 years, the Conservative Government have produced a situation that we dreamed about in the post-war years. We have had growth for nearly six years and we have low inflation and low interest rates. We are the dynamo of Europe. We would be crazy to throw all that away with hearts-on-sleeves, fairytale, economic policies.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber 5:12, 10 March 1997

I welcome the way in which the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) introduced the debate. I shall try to follow the path that she set. Social justice and the problem of poverty are proper subjects for serious debate, focusing attention not only on specific policies, but, as she tried to do, on the principles and attitudes that animate the main political forces in Scotland and Wales, throughout the United Kingdom and across the European Union.

I have been in the House for 32 years. I came here in 1964—at a younger age than the number of years I have since spent here—motivated by idealism and hope. My deepest disappointment, 32 years on, is that so many of those ideals seem not to have been shared by others, although I continue to regard them as self-evidently right.

Long exposure to shock newspaper headlines rather anaesthetises one, but I remember the headline in The Independent on Sunday on 21 July last year. It said, "UK most unequal country in the West". The Secretary of State might well remember that, as might other Conservative Members. Let me quote a little from the article: Britain is now the most unequal country in the Western world, an authoritative new United Nations report reveals. The gap between rich and poor is as great as in Nigeria.Detailed statistics in the Human Development Report published last week also demonstrate that inequality has grown sharply during Conservative rule and that the poor in Britain now have to live on much the same incomes as their equivalents in Hungary and Korea. The article goes on: The report shows that the poorest 40 per cent. of Britons share a lower proportion of the national wealth—14.6 per cent.—than in any other Western country. This is only marginally better than in Russia, the only industrialised nation, east or west, to have a worse record. Later, the article says: The British poor are much better off in absolute terms than the poor in most Third World countries, but they are worse off than those in other Western nations. I draw this particularly to the attention of the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker), who has just sat down after vigorously blowing his trumpet. The article says: The poorest fifth of Britons have an average per capita income 32 per cent. lower than their equivalents in the US and 44 per cent. lower than in the Netherlands. The social protection offered in the Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany, France and other European countries—

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

One moment. I should like to finish this point, then I shall give way. The social protection that led those countries to devise the social chapter of the Maastricht treaty is openly rejected by Conservatives. The Secretary of State did so this afternoon. I find that the most bizarre political stance that I have ever witnessed from a party.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

I can see the hon. Gentleman. He does not need to flap his hands all the time. I shall give way to him in a minute.

It seems odd for a party that has had responsibility for government for 18 years to try to get votes by going around saying, "The great thing about us is that we are going to reduce social protection for you."

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Will the hon. Gentleman go back to his newspaper article and tell the House about different spending priorities and what money can buy? That is what is important, and I think that he will find that it is missing from the article.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman—with effort—I do not accept what he says. That factor has been taken into account.

I find it a matter for shame to be told that my country is the most unequal in the west. It should be a matter for shame for the Government that their 18 years of uninterrupted, unfettered power have produced such inequality.

One of the affirmations of the 1947 founding document of Liberal International refers to security from the hazards of sickness, unemployment, disability and old age. That is part of the reason why I am a Liberal. Further on, the document says: The welfare of the community must prevail and must be safeguarded from the abuse of power by sectional interests. I do not agree with the Secretary of State's attempt to excuse the comment of Lady Thatcher—then Mrs. Thatcher—that she did not believe in society. That meant that she did not believe in the community. Much damage has been done to the concept of public service in this country by her ideological commitment to the free market. It has also contributed to the increase in poverty, which we are now debating. She and her equally ideologically driven advisers, such as Sir Alan Walters and Lord McAlpine—where are they now, pray?—espoused the trickle-down theory, in which perhaps the Secretary of State still believes. She said—he cannot get out of this one—that It is our job to glory in inequality. She argued that scraps from the rich man's table would, in the end, be widely distributed. Presumably, the poor should be appropriately grateful. As we know, that did not happen and life at the bottom became worse. The deliberate promotion of inequality, far from encouraging growth, hinders it.

Last year, the chief economist of the World bank, Michael Bruno, said: Reducing inequality not only benefits the poor immediately but will benefit all through higher growth. The economic arguments are not the determinant of my opinion, which is based on concepts of fairness and generosity and the political imperative—certainly for a Liberal Democrat—to work towards a harmonious society, not only of opportunity but of kindness and concern, but it is significant to find the moral and economic arguments coinciding.

One of my mentors—I have a number—has been the great American liberal economist, John Kenneth Galbraith. Let me quote a portion of a speech he made to the Liberal International Congress in Ottawa in 1987, as it remains entirely relevant today. It is not very long, but it will certainly be good for the Secretary of State. As I am in the business of helping the underprivileged, including—

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend, whose sharp legal brain seizes the right words so solicitously.

Professor Galbraith said: There is a further matter on which liberals take an adverse view of current ideological fashion"— it is still current for the Secretary of StateAs always, we seek an economic world in which all can participate and from which all have a decent return. We want progress towards a greater equality of return; we see this as a broadly civilizing tendency in modern society. In support of this goal we stand firmly for the principle of effectively progressive taxation and for income and other welfare support to the disadvantaged and the poor.Here we encounter another ideological aberration of our time. That is not a personal remark about the Secretary of State, although it could be. Professor Galbraith continued: That is the effort to make increasing inequality socially respectable. It is not permissible in the modern democratic polity ever to legislate explicitly for the rich. Accordingly, there must be a cover story, however implausible; what is wanted cannot be admitted. We have had, in these last years, large reductions in the effective rates of income tax on the very rich. Professor Galbraith was referring to the United States, but his comments are relevant to Britain. He continued: And also a powerful crusade against the welfare services to the poor. The rich, it is held, need incentives to greater economic effort; the poor need release from the debilitating effect of welfare; they must, in the words of one exceptionally convenient contemporary philosopher, have 'the spur of their own poverty'. The rich have not been working because they have too little money; the poor have not been working because they have too much. That is the nonsense that has underlined the Government's economic approach over the years and has done so much damage.

The hon. Member for Moray was fair and generous in speaking of the commitment of the great majority of hon. Members to solving the problems of their constituents and the search for general betterment.

We argue a lot about ways and means and the effect of specific policies. We also argue about intention and motivation. It can be said absolutely fairly that, in 18 long years, the Government have not demonstrated any drive to reduce poverty or inequality.

The hon. Lady also spoke about the fear of poverty. According to Shelter, last year there were 31,000 homeless people on the streets of Scotland. We had a small exchange on the figure; the hon. Lady said that it was 75,000. I do not know which is correct, but it is still awful. The responsibility for that lies cross the Floor of the House.

I shall read one further quote from Galbraith. It is only short, but it is good stuff: There are some matters on which the market is in inescapable default. In no industrial country does it supply good housing to people of moderate income or below. Nor does it supply medical and health services and care to the least advantaged people. Or good mass transportation in the cities. Or needless to say, education of the required universality and quality. These things the market does not do. The hon. Member for Moray referred to education. The Liberal Democrats have said clearly that we would support an increase in taxation to improve educational provision. The public response has been positive; Labour's response has been silence. We are committed to arguing for the removal of nearly 500,000 of the lowest earners from income tax by increasing tax on earnings above £100,000 a year. That would be a practical contribution to the alleviation of poverty and a redistribution of wealth, as is our concept of low-income benefit.

The hon. Lady deserves our gratitude for raising an important set of issues in a very reasonable way. Sadly, the Secretary of State did not exactly follow her example. In his speech and his approach, the Secretary of State epitomises what is wrong with British politics. He is interested only in point scoring. He is very good at it, but it is a superficial, nihilistic exercise. Rational debate and calm reflection are concepts that are alien to him, as are consensus and co-operation. The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) has vanished, but he spoke about team work. Those qualities characterise so many successful countries in continental Europe, but they are ideas that the Secretary of State simply does not understand. He thinks that politics is about fighting. It should not be about fighting. I fear that his style will dominate the forthcoming general election. Let us hope that some will not follow him, but will try to maintain higher standards.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr 5:26, 10 March 1997

I understand that we could well have heard the valedictory speech of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston). It is a privilege to follow him, and I congratulate him on his 32 years in the House and the way in which he has conducted himself throughout. The humour in his speeches—certainly in those that I have heard in the past five years—is always welcome. I cannot hope to match his use of long words and the way in which he strings them together, and I shall not attempt to do so, but I certainly admire him. Having said that, I have to add, as he would expect me to do, that I seldom agree with the principles in his word: that is a difference between us.

The hon. Gentleman said that he was disappointed that, after 32 years in the House, he had not achieved all his aims. I am pleased about that, because I disagree with many of them. None the less, I congratulate him, and I feel sure that the House will be the poorer for his absence after the general election.

Photo of Mr Russell Johnston Mr Russell Johnston , Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber

The hon. Gentleman is being very kind, but he is speaking as if I was about to be borne out of here and buried.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I hope that will not be the case, and that the hon. Gentleman may return to another place, but that is beyond my knowledge and power. I am quite sure that all hon. Members join me in congratulating him on his 32 years in the House.

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman on several points. He referred to my right hon. Friend Baroness Thatcher. Countries throughout the world have taken her lead on privatisation. Her handling of the economy is now the model for other world economies. She deserves great credit for that. At the same time, she recognised that, unless a country has a successful economy, is able to earn and its privatised companies do well, the poor are the people who suffer, because there is no cash to go into the services that we would all like to supply. One difference between the hon. Gentleman and those on the Opposition Front Bench is that he has at least stuck to his principles over the years. It seems strange that, at this late stage, those in the Labour party have abandoned theirs.

The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber spoke of the great majority in the House who back the words of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). I suggest that, if there were any substance to that statement, the hon. Lady would win the vote, but I suspect that she will not. That point underlines the inaccuracies of the hon. Gentleman's words tonight.

I return to the point that the hon. Member for Moray made about pensions, on which I intervened. I should point out to her that Conservatives have been aiming for reform of pensions over many years. That is why this country has such a pool of private and works pensions backing up the current state pension. The Government have achieved that by taking a long-term view. It is right at this time to speak out about the longer term, well into the next century, and the fact that provisions will have been made, unlike in other countries such as Germany and France, which have buried their heads in the sand on the issue. The Government should take great credit for that.

One of the keys to the eradication of poverty has to be employment, aiming perhaps for full employment—although whether that is ever achievable is open to question. In this country, unlike every other country across Europe, jobs are being created and unemployment is falling.

Since I came into the House, unemployment in my constituency has fallen from 11.4 per cent. to 7.7 per cent. I welcome that. In that time, we have had great difficulties. Companies such as British Aerospace have had to change priorities; instead of the Jetstream programme being a big seller, it greatly cost that company. Jobs have been lost in such enterprises, but at the same time, they have been created around the periphery and in other areas, especially in small business. The Government should be given great credit for their efforts.

I turn to inward investment in Scotland—I make no apology for concentrating on Scotland. The United Kingdom takes 50 per cent. of the inward investment coming into Europe. Of that, 50 per cent. goes to Scotland. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Moray and her colleagues would be singing the praises of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, those who have operated Locate in Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, and everyone else who has been involved in those great successes.

In considering employment, we have to look at the threats to it and the risks that would arise from the social chapter—another major difference between Conservative and Opposition Members.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

I listened with considerable interest to the hon. Gentleman saying that half of all inward investment coming into the United Kingdom goes to Scotland. We are told in Wales that half of the inward investment goes to Wales. Does nothing at all go to England and Northern Ireland?

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I cannot speak for England and Northern Ireland, but I would certainly expect them to have got something. I am prepared to be corrected by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whose figures I never dispute, because I find accuracy behind them. I do not know the figures for Wales, but I do know what I understand to be the factual figures for Scotland.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The United Kingdom gets about 40 per cent. of the inward investment coming into the whole of Europe, and Scotland and Wales get considerably more than their proportion according to population, as one would expect.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I shall re-examine my figures. If the figures were not what I understood them to be, I would be quite happy to apologise to the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) in advance and thank him for correcting me on the issue.

The amount of defence spending in Scotland and in my constituency is a major factor. I know that the hon. Member for Moray takes great interest in the Nimrod programme. The fact is that that programme will sustain jobs in my constituency just as it does in hers. If we were to go the way of the hon. Lady and her colleagues, I suspect that that programme would have very little chance of retention in Scotland, given the importance of its strategic defence aspects.

The hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) mentioned the minimum wage, but did not specify the level. I concede that a minimum wage of £2, such as that in France, would not be a great danger to jobs. The hon. Gentleman's words were very guarded. He moved well away from any thought of a minimum wage of £4 or £4.30, as suggested by the trade unions. I suggest that my figure of £2 an hour is much nearer to the hearts and minds of those who lead the Labour party than to the hearts and minds of trade unionists who advocate adoption of such a policy.

We are told that one reason why the United Kingdom attracts so much inward investment is that we have low-wage policies. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, average wages in the United Kingdom have risen by 30 per cent. since 1979 under 18 years of Tory government. Where does that put the last Labour Government? That certainly paints them as a Government of low wages. Hopefully, the electorate will reflect on that in the coming election—not as an afterthought but as a consequence of ill-conceived and ill-judged decisions.

Tackling homelessness involves much more than simply building houses. We must look at the structure of society. We must consider the number of divorces. At one time, the chance of a marriage breaking up was well above 4:1, but it has since dropped to 3:1 and is on its way down towards a 2:1 chance. There lies one reason for homelessness rising. There have been changes in family life—youngsters leave home at an earlier age.

Irrespective of such matters, I understand that, over the past three years, 18,000 new homes have been built each year in Scotland. The housebuilding target for the next 10 years is 130,000 homes. On that basis, the Government are well ahead of the targets that have been determined. When we consider housing programmes, we cannot avoid the fact that, nowadays, almost 60 per cent. of people in Scotland own their own homes compared with 35 per cent. in 1979. That means that individuals are putting their own cash into housing, housing is being improved to meet the needs of individuals and rising housing standards are funded differently from in the past, when public housing was to largely under the control of local authorities.

Those were the days of slum housing and bad judgment on housing issues. The public sector building programmes of the 1950s have been followed by the demolition of many of the houses that were built then. The local authorities' plans were ill conceived. Thank God we have moved on and now allow people to make their own judgments, even if they are not home owners. People now have a say in the provision of their homes, through Scottish Homes, co-operatives, contracts with private companies and shared ownership schemes. Those approaches are the way forward, rather than the old ways of local authority domination and dictatorial behaviour.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the Budget will mean that local authorities' budgets for housing renewal and improvement will be cut by 35 per cent.? That is a severe cut. I have no objection in principle to the concept of home ownership—which is right—but the houses that are left in council hands need much renovation and improvement. The Conservatives' Budget will make it much more difficult for councils to solve that problem.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

I do not know what the local authorities in the hon. Lady's area are doing, but in my constituency in the past five or six years, we have been blessed by a Conservative majority on Kyle and Carrick district council. It has done more than any other local authority in Scotland to improve the standard of local authority housing. It achieved that partly with capital receipts and partly with the capital allocations made available to it by the Scottish Office. Our housing stock is now better than ever before.

It is true that some steps must be taken to reduce the debt burden on the reduced number of houses in local authority control. The clawback of 75 per cent. for next year will reduce capital expenditure by local authorities, but perhaps they should have reduced the debt burden earlier. If they had, we might not have needed to take the stringent steps now necessary.

The Labour party claims that the health service has problems with bureaucracy. It should remember the situation in 1979, when there were real cuts in the health service; when nurses were underpaid; when the number of nurses and doctors was cut; and when patients had to send their bed linen home with their families to be washed. New voters will not remember that time, but many others will. God forbid we ever go back to those days.

I have taken the trouble to find out how much administrative costs have changed in the North Ayrshire and Arran NHS trust's hospitals. Since the trust was established in 1993, the number of nurses has increased by some 5 per cent., the number of junior doctors and clinicians has increased by 22 per cent. and the number of administrators has fallen by 21 per cent. So much for the claims by Labour Members. I suggest that they do their homework on the subject.

It was interesting that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) had no answer to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's question about the savings that could be made by changes in trust structures. Those structures have worked well for people in my constituency.

The nationalists live in a dream world. They offer increases in every area of public expenditure, but they do not believe that any burden would be passed on to the taxpayer. However, I commend them for sticking to their socialist beliefs. Such socialist beliefs were responsible for the problems in eastern Europe that the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber mentioned, but the people paid the price for the socialist regimes and their mistaken policies.

The Labour party, on the other hand, is like St. Peter, because it now denies socialism at every opportunity. The poor would be threatened by Labour's plans for a Scottish Assembly, which would mean wasted resources. The only jobs that a Scottish Assembly created would be for politicians and bureaucrats. If the Labour party wants to tackle bureaucracy, I suggest that it abandons plans for an ill thought-out Scottish Assembly.

The windfall tax would not be a new tax. I would have expected the Labour party to abhor such a tax, because it will be a tax on fuel. As the regulator has pointed out time and again, the gas, electricity and telecommunications industries will be required to pass on the cost of the tax to the consumer.

The well-being of people in Scotland, and the rest of the United Kingdom, would be risked further if the Labour party sought to give back to local authorities the power to tax local businesses, industry and commerce. The establishment of the uniform business rate was a great achievement by the Government, and we jeopardise it at our peril. I wonder whether anyone on the Labour Front Bench is prepared to say now that the Labour party has no intention of making any changes to the uniform business rate.

Our debate today is about poverty. To combat poverty, we need a prosperous and thriving nation. Our industries must be competitive and able to trade with Europe and the world. Inflation has been under control for some years, and interest rates are balanced. Economic growth in the past five or six years has been higher than in virtually every other nation in Europe. We have much of which to be proud, and the re-election of a Conservative Government is the best hope for those who feel the pangs of poverty.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons) 5:48, 10 March 1997

May I first congratulate the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) on her opening speech, setting the scene for the debate? I also congratulate the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) on an excellent and thoughtful speech that I enjoyed immensely and from which I learnt a great deal.

I am pleased to be able to contribute to this important debate, and it is noteworthy that there are no Welsh Labour Members in the Chamber—[Interruption.]—apart from the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), who has come back into the Chamber. I am pleased to note that there is one Welsh Member in the Chamber.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

I meant Labour Members. I will come to the Minister in a minute. I would like to get on with my speech, as this is a serious subject. I must not fall into holes that I have dug for myself.

This important area of policy appears to have been overlooked by the Government and the Official Opposition. The reason is that neither the Conservative party nor the Labour party has any distinct policies that could in any way be described as recognising the core values that are so vital to millions throughout the United Kingdom.

I wish to confine my remarks to the effects of the last few years' financial settlements on local government. I well recall serving on the Standing Committee which scrutinised the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans)—among others—also served on that Committee.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

I beg the pardon of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West, who seeks further attention.

The Government's view was that change was vital because of perceived confusion among the public about the roles and functions of district and borough councils and county councils. So vital was it that the status quo was retained in large swathes of England a short time later. During the debates, there were fine words from the Government about the future role and aspirations of local government—"equipping local government for the 21st century" and so on. Fine words they were, but the reality was considerably different.

More than 110 measures have been passed by this House in the past 18 months which have curtailed or adversely affected local government's powers and responsibilities. It is therefore logical that the Government should starve local authorities of funding. After all, the local authorities will have to bear the brunt of complaints from constituents. The same smokescreen which appears between health trusts and the Government is now also appearing between constituents and the Government. Increasingly, people complain to local government when, frankly, the fault lies at the feet of the Government. If the Government do not give local government the resources, it cannot possibly to its job.

It is important that the public know and understand what is happening in local government. The dead hand of central Government is clearly upon it, and councils are expected to make substantial cuts year on year. This year is the sixth successive year of cuts, and one must ask where on earth those cuts are to be made.

On Friday evening, a headmaster of a small primary school came to my surgery and said that he was being asked to cut £10,000 from his budget for the coming year. Last year, he had to cut £4,000. The upshot is that there will be fewer members of staff teaching, and he—in addition to all his administrative tasks—will have to teach in the substantial special needs section of the school. He is desperately concerned and anxious about the future and about the quality of schooling that the school will provide. The school is Dolgarrog school, a few miles away from the school I attended at Llanrwst.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

The school will suffer a cut of £160,000 from its budget and, inevitably, this will mean the loss of between eight and 12 teaching jobs as the cuts cannot be made anywhere else. This will adversely affect those whom the system is designed to serve. Schools the length and breadth of Wales—and Scotland, I am sure—are faced with huge crises. The one area left to cut is teaching staff, but it is obvious that those cuts are at best counter-productive, and at worst downright damaging to children's education.

The Government today are all about cost, cost, cost. I fear that, during the past 18 years, a culture has emerged that is best summarised by saying that people know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. It is surely plain that no cuts should be entertained which affect the quality of education, but that is precisely what is happening—to everyone's dismay.

Plaid Cymru-controlled Gwynedd must make cuts, as will all other local authorities in Wales, and is facing huge cuts again this year. But it values the provision of good education and, consequently, is cutting less from its education budget than any unitary authority in Wales. That is the right approach, and a shining example of a council putting values first and costs second. I am not saying that everything will be rosy in Gwynedd—far from it. Like everywhere else in the British Isles, Gwynedd will face savage cuts in leisure, planning, highways and social services. But it has decided to cut only 3 per cent. from the schools budget, and that is a recognition that education is extremely important to us all. We must invest in the future.

The worst possible example of short-termism is effectively to cut society's investment in its greatest asset—young people and children—for the sake of limiting public expenditure so as to offer tax bribes to middle England in an attempt to secure the re-election, God forbid, of this ineffective and morally bankrupt Government.

We will also see cuts in policing budgets. The budget for North Wales police, for example, will not even meet the force's pension commitments. That police force is expected to continue to deliver an excellent service and to buy into the latest computer networks to gain easy access to criminal records. It simply cannot do that. At best, it will stand still, while at worst, there will be cuts. The force is severely undermanned at the moment, in any event.

However, I acknowledge that the Home Office recently agreed to forward extra moneys to help cover the crisis North Wales police is facing with regard to the north Wales abuse inquiry. For that, I am grateful.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

Although any additional resources for the police are to be welcomed, does my hon. Friend agree that local authorities' social services departments in north Wales need additional resources so that their budgets are not adversely affected to a greater extent next year?

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

That is the next worry, and local government seems to be going from one crisis to the next. It grieves me that we have ended up in this situation in important services that need to be planned well in advance.

The Conservative Government and the Labour party have fully signed up to the "lock 'em up" brigade. I served on the Committee discussing the Crime (Sentences) Bill, and I found it astonishing that it appeared to be a right-wing beauty contest between the two parties. There was no question of investigating why youngsters offended—it was simply a case of lock 'em up. That is the easy way out, as it takes no skill and no care, and it appears to be the only answer available to the larger parties.

I am intensely worried that the core services so valued by our constituents will be subject to cuts. Schools are in crisis, homes for the elderly are closing, and spending on social services will be cut. The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) fits in neatly there. Once again, the weak and defenceless in society will bear the brunt of the cuts. Those who benefit from special needs and the community care budget—including the elderly and the infirm—will bear the brunt of savage cuts.

We are taking a huge retrograde step, and attacking the very values that we hold dear. I find that deeply unacceptable. Do the Government or the Labour party have any values left? They seem content to cut income tax and preside over cuts in the services for the vulnerable. What kind of values are those?

As long as the bulk of local government finance comes from central Government, the former will for ever be at the mercy of the latter. I want greater local financial autonomy—probably in the form of a local income tax. Tension between local authorities and central Government will continue to increase; local authorities are daily criticised for having to cut services but they are not really responsible for the cuts they are forced to make.

Often before in the House I have referred to the common-sense idea that, if we want someone to act responsibly we must give him responsibility. That may be a truism, but it is a useful maxim. Local government should have far more direct responsibility and financial responsibility. Our system of paying for local government is antiquated, and needs a complete overhaul. The standard spending assessment approach is deficient in many ways. It is unfair to rural areas, because it does not sufficiently recognise the added cost of providing essential services for rural communities with sparse populations. Certainly, lip service is paid to those indices, but the system remains unfair, and it is not adequate to meet the needs of local government.

The nursery voucher scheme is another gimmick that owes more to politics than education. It will undermine and damage Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin, the Welsh language playgroup organisation, a much valued body, which has been built up on good values and a great deal of excellent voluntary work. I should hate to see that excellent provision damaged for no other reason than the exercise of Tory dogma and a vain attempt by the Tories to come up with a so-called big idea.

It would not be overstating the problem to say that local government is in crisis this year. The immediate future is extremely worrying, and there will be widespread distress and anxiety. What compounds this desperate situation is the fact that both the Conservatives and the Labour party believe firmly in a tax-cutting agenda. The shadow Chancellor has said that he will abide by the spending plans for the next two years—so no change there.

What on earth, therefore, is the point of voting for Labour? If people want to vote for a reactionary, regressive, ambitious party which has lost touch with the common people, they now have a choice between the Tories and the Blair Tories. Each party is as devoid of values as the other. Neither is listening; both are scrambling to be the most right wing when it comes to social and penal policy. In short, they are virtually indistinguishable.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) mentioned increased wages. It is, however, a great shame that the link between wages and pensions has not been retained. Had it been, pensioners would at a stroke have been far better off today—even on the evidence of the hon. Gentleman's speech.

I have been delighted to note the emphasis in this debate on the needs of the vulnerable, but no one speaks for the pensioners any more. They form a large section of society, who gave their all to secure our futures. We owe them a large debt, which we ought to set about paying honourably. They deserve better; Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party will ensure that this most important issue is given due political priority. I respectfully remind the House that it was the Conservatives who, by decoupling pensions from earnings, created this problem and made our senior citizens lag behind. Surely a society that espoused proper values would address that unfairness as a matter of urgency.

The Government are content to spend £940 million a year on part of the defence programme, but they deem improving the lot of tens of thousands of pensioners prohibitively expensive. That is plain immoral.

The Labour party, in its craving for power, has jettisoned all the values it once had. I sincerely hope that the people of Wales and Scotland will realise that they are mere pawns in a power game. The other evening I listened to the leader of Glasgow city council complaining bitterly that she was getting no change from her Labour colleagues in Parliament—the crisis facing Glasgow, she said, was falling on deaf ears. And that is happening even before the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) reaches No. 11.

I have always thought that the Opposition were meant to oppose, not to go along with everything regardless of its merit. The truth, however, is dawning on the electorate. The people of Wales and Scotland are beginning to realise that they are being sacrificed on the altar of Labour's search for power—which is the all-consuming passion surrounding Blair and the Labour party. But come the election, the people of Wales and Scotland, I believe, will say that Labour has taken them for granted once too often. They will, I hope, realise that all core values have been abandoned in the race for middle England and the affluent south-east.

What is more, as the dreadful local service cuts begin to bite throughout Wales and Scotland, the people of Wales and Scotland will realise that the Labour party has no core values any more, and no regard for the interests or well-being of ordinary folk. In Wales, only one party opposes these cuts; just as the SNP opposes them in Scotland. Labour will not intervene, for fear of not reaching those ministerial limousines.

Both Labour and the Tories agreed to cut income tax last year and this year. Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Liberal Democrats did not agree. At least we can stand on our record, and say that we were prepared to stand up for ordinary people. Tax cuts are fine, but tax cuts for the sake of cuts are immoral at a time when services are being cut and people are struggling to make ends meet.

If values are to be upheld, if the voices of ordinary men and women are to be heard. and if vital local services are to be protected, the choice for the people of Wales is clear. A vote for Plaid Cymru is a vote for the future of Wales—and not just for one part of it, but for the well-being of everyone in Wales.

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries 6:06, 10 March 1997

It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). All I can say to him is: best of luck at the national stadium on Saturday, when Wales play England. The rest of what he said, and of what the Scottish National party and Labour party spokesmen have said, was most disappointing. They always run the country down and never say a good word about the achievements of the past 18 years. I am quite sure that the Secretary of State for Wales will put the hon. Gentleman right about the tremendous economic achievements in Wales under a Conservative Government. I refer particularly to the remarkable amount of inward investment, of which we are all justly proud.

For some months now I have thought that each speech I made in this place would be my last, but more Scottish business seems to come up week by week. Like the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston), I arrived here in 1964 and made my maiden speech on Second Reading of the Finance Bill in November of that year—in front of a much more crowded and rumbustious House, during the white heat of the 100 days of socialism which ended in the raging disaster of the late 1960s.

Today represents a dreadful climbdown for the SNP. A fortnight ago there were headlines all over the Scottish press to the effect that the SNP would press for a vote of no confidence in the Government today. The Labour party, the Welsh and the Irishmen would support SNP Members in that endeavour, we read, and the Government would fall. In fact, hardly a socialist or Labour Member has been present for the debate—just two of them on the Front Bench and no Back Bencher, with the exception of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). So the whole idea of a vote of no confidence in the Government has failed. That just goes to show how the Labour party, the SNP and other parties in the House are at war with each other.

Perhaps Labour deserted this debate because of its significant fall in the polls last week; or perhaps it was to do with steamrollering democracy through the Labour party conference in Inverness at the weekend. Most disappointing of all is the fact that neither Labour, nor the Liberal Democrats, nor the SNP will clearly outline their policies even though we shall, in a week or two, be entering a general election period. The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) in particular refused absolutely to explain his party's policies for Scotland. He waved the question aside and said that the debate was over.

We shall enter the election period not knowing the Labour party's position on the West Lothian question, the tartan tax, pensions and how many Scottish Members of Parliament should be in Westminster; on local government expenditure in Scotland, all we know is that Labour is not prepared to give a penny more.

We are bemused by the fact that the Labour and Liberal parties have decided to have a referendum after a decision and legislation on proportional representation—our electoral system is an extremely important matter—yet the same Labour party is prepared to go ahead with a referendum on a Scottish Assembly before legislation is introduced, which is quite the wrong way round. The Opposition cannot have it one way for proportional representation and the other for the constitution.

Economic growth, success in controlling inflation and interest rates and the general expansion in industry with the consequent reduction in unemployment are all going well, as voters will know, yet the Opposition can do nothing but pour cold water on every aspect of Government activity over recent years.

The motion is full of fine phrases. We all want to eradicate poverty and create full employment", although it would be interesting to ask the Opposition what they mean by full, because all Governments have accepted that there is a limit beyond which one cannot go. Of course we want to create a society free of social injustice and to espouse "democratic values". Conservative Members have those values, but we sometimes wonder about the Labour party and the Scottish nationalists.

The Government have provided free health care… from cradle to grave with ever increasing significance and to an ever higher standard. We help elderly folk as much as we can, and further information will be forthcoming later this week on an important step forward in health care for the elderly. We all believe in the community values advocated in the motion.

The motion contains all those ideas, with which all hon. Members would agree, but ends without any indication of how they are to be paid for. The Opposition say that they do not accept the Red Book figures for this year and the next, which shows that they have no idea whatever how to pay for the additional facilities that they have called for in this debate.

The hon. Member for Hamilton, in particular, was rumbled, because he was nonplussed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's attack relative to the health service. The health service is doing exceptionally well in Scotland and quality is improving all the time. My local health board spent £121 million in 1994–95, increasing to £131 million this year. That is a huge increase in real terms in health service spending. The hon. Member for Hamilton is prepared to cut staff and reduce expenditure by £30 million, which we all find hard to understand, bearing in mind our definite decision to continue increasing health service expenditure in real terms, year in and year out.

I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about defence. The hon. Member for Moray dodged the issue. Nobody worked harder than many of us in the House of Commons to retain the Scottish regiments. We effectively lost two: the amalgamation of the Gordons and the Queen's Own Highlanders, and the second battalion of the Scots Guards.

As much as I disliked its happening, the total lost was only 1,000 men, while the Scottish National party's policy would affect many thousands of men currently serving at Lossiemouth, Kinloss and Leuchars and in the Royal Navy and the Scottish regiments. That would be a serious setback for Scotland in terms not only of employment but of the prestige of the services and our great love for our regimental and Royal Air Force service men.

The SNP also refused to accept the point about the inevitable loss of our voice in the world were we to go for independence. The United Kingdom as it is today has tremendous power throughout the world, but if we are cut down to a relatively small country, we shall lose the importance of our vote not only in Europe but further afield.

I find it hard to understand why, when the SNP continually complains, as does the Labour party, about quangos, it intends to set up a host of new ones, such as a Scottish land commission, a Scottish export unit, a Scottish forest enterprise board, a Scottish commission for racial equality—

Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfries

I am not accusing the hon. Gentleman: I am talking about the Scottish National party; he should listen occasionally. He is not always in trouble—only 99 per cent. of the time.

There are costs, costs, costs under Opposition parties' socialist proposals, but no indication of where the money is to come from: it will come inevitably from increased taxation. The shadow Chancellor said that there would be no increase in income tax, but that means only that tax will go bang, bang, bang on everything else. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) rightly said, the windfall tax, especially on electricity, will inevitably have more impact than value added tax on electricity had. It will have a dramatic impact on fuel and power, yet the Labour party is prepared to go ahead with it.

Between now and the general election, Labour has a great deal of explaining to do about how the country is to be taxed out of existence to fulfil the many promises that it has made, largely with the support of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats.

All in all, the debate has been a tremendous disappointment to the Scottish National party: it set out to have a great day and show what a great party it was, but it has ended up with no Labour Back Benchers whatever to support it, precious few from any other party, and one Liberal. The debate has been the biggest damp squib that I have attended in all my years in the House of Commons, and I hope that the nationalists feel thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton 6:17, 10 March 1997

First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) on securing the debate and on the way in which she expounded her views. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and the right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) on their distinguished service in the House. I do not want them to be spirited away and would like their wise counsels to be available to us in the next Parliament from outside the Chamber, so I shall not go on for as long as did the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie).

Is not it amazing that the Secretary of State knows which the next party of government will be, in that he spent almost 90 per cent. of his 32 minutes attacking Labour in the style of a true oppositionist? He mentioned the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) about the national health service trusts and job losses.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

What is the hon. Gentleman going to say about that?

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

The right hon. Gentleman asks what I am going to say, but with immaculate timing the Under—Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), when asked in a written question today by the hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Mr. Richards), if he will make a statement about the development of NHS Trusts in Wales", said: There are currently 30 NHS Trusts in Wales.My right hon. Friend and I have received a joint application from the Pembrokeshire and Derwen NHS Trusts to dissolve and create a new single trust from April 1997. Public consultation on this application ended on 17 February 1997.Taking full account of the many representations received, and of the individual merits of bringing the two trusts together, we have decided to approve the merger. All the huff and puff—

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

The Secretary of State had 32 minutes. He has said enough. If it is good enough for Wales, what is wrong with Scotland?

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

The Secretary of State cannot bully his way to the Dispatch Box. He was hyper in his 32 minutes. Let him sit down, take the tablets and listen to the debate. He has had his say.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Miss Janet Fookes Miss Janet Fookes , Plymouth Drake

Order. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman is not giving way. Perhaps he can further clarify that.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

It is not on for a member of the Cabinet to call hon. Members nasty and then expect to get his way thereafter. He must sit in his place because I have the Floor. The question is, if it is good enough for Wales, why not Scotland? Perhaps the Secretary of State for Wales will answer that question in his civilised way, unlike the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The message from the Secretary of State for Scotland was about privatisation of the health service in Scotland. He is on record as saying that if clinicians want it, privatisation of clinical services will take place. Despite the fact that the Secretary of State for Health has ruled it out, the Secretary of State for Scotland says that privatisation of clinical services is on the agenda for Scotland. The agenda for a fifth Tory term in Scotland is going to strike at the heart of the NHS. The message to the people of Scotland is that is the Secretary of State for Scotland will destroy the public element of the NHS, another example of his being at odds with his Cabinet colleagues. It is not enough that he is at odds with them on E. coli; he is now at odds with them on health service privatisation.

We have come to a pretty pass when we read in the weekend papers that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has instructed his officials to write to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robin Butler, about the Secretary of State for Scotland's off-the-record criticism of him last week during the row on the report on failing hygiene standards in abattoirs. The Secretary of State for Scotland ordered his staff on Thursday night to tell the press that he was "incandescent with rage" with another member of the Cabinet. Reporters to whom we have spoken gave us the names of the press representatives he sent out. One newspaper said: Said one seasoned Whitehall observer: 'It's every man for himself. And if that is the case, you can bet on Michael Forsyth being among the first on board.> There are serious questions on E. coli for the Secretary of State for Scotland. I listened carefully to his remarks. If the Scottish Office received the Swann document from the Minister of Agriculture, why did the Secretary of State not pass it on to Professor Pennington? He said in the Chamber that it was not received by a Scottish Office official but that it was received by the Scottish Office. When did the Scottish Office receive it? The Secretary of State, with a great wave and flourish, announced that he had persuaded the Prime Minister to establish a Cabinet sub-committee. By doing that, he took the issue to a national level. How many times did the sub-committee meet and what documents and papers did it request? Those questions are still pending. I hope that the Secretary of State will apologise to the people of Scotland for the inaction of his Department and his Government, and for the fact that 20 people died of E. coli in Scotland. An apology is required and so are answers on the E. coli document. The Secretary of State will not get away with it.

The debate is about public responsibility for social justice. The Government's record on social and economic injustice in Scotland is nothing short of disgraceful. Let us rehearse quickly the statistics of 18 years of Conservative Government in Scotland. One in five households of working age have no one in work. That is the direct result of Conservative policy. Since the Prime Minister took over, 1 million Scots have experienced unemployment. The number of people living on means-tested benefit has doubled since 1979. Some 85,000 Scots earn less than £2.50 an hour. That is why the Labour party argues the case for a minimum wage. There is, first, a moral case and, secondly, an economic case. I have never heard Opposition Members explain whether it is fair that a security guard earns £1 or £1.20 an hour or say what they will they do about it.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

I said "Opposition" because my mind is travelling ahead, as it should be. The Government have not answered the case morally or economically.

The Secretary of State goes on about the tartan tax, but the people of Scotland do not believe what he says. The real tartan tax is VAT on fuel. He and his colleagues voted, not once, but twice for that unfair tax: they voted to introduce it and then to double it. The Tories are the party of unfair tax. A fifth term of Tory Government in Scotland would see the reintroduction of VAT at 17.5 per cent., but they will not get in.

The Secretary of State and his colleagues have devalued Scottish democracy. Ten Scottish Conservative Members—and the five in St. Andrew's house—are responsible for the £6.9 billion that has been spent on quangos. There are now nearly four times as many quango members, personal appointees of the Secretary of State, as local councillors.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Where is the fifth man?

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

The Secretary of State asks about the fifth man; is there not a Minister in the House of Lords?

The Tory years have been an absolute disaster for Scotland. We agree with the Scottish National party about that, but we differ on what to do next. Scottish nationalists believe that destroying the Union and making wild and unrealistic spending pledges will solve Scotland's problems, but it will not. Scotland needs the realistic plans to combat social injustice and poverty which Labour will deliver, not the pie-in-the-sky promises of the separatists.

Let us consider some of the separatists' promises. They raise the issue of defence. Like the hon. Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker), I do not have the time to go into the matter in detail, but they estimate that the annual cost of a Scottish military would be £1.7 billion. However, evidence from similar sized countries such as Norway, suggests that the bill would be at least £800 million higher, at about £2.5 billion. Moreover, most comparable countries achieve that level of spending only by relying on less expensive troops through conscription. The only way in which the SNP's spending targets could be even nearly met is by the large-scale reintroduction of conscription in Scotland. The separatists are telling the young people of Scotland, "Two minutes spent voting for us and we will give you two years of military service." The SNP cannot run away from that.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

I will not give way because I have only a few minutes left. The Secretary of State made a few points on the SNP's wild financial promises. Its economics is fantasy politics.

Let us look at some of the SNP promises. It has said that it will restore benefits to 16 and 17 year-olds—that would cost £20 million a year. It has said it will abolish housing debt and build 15,000 new houses—that would cost £1.3 billion. It has said it will reduce whisky duties to 10 per cent.—that would cost £90 million a year. It has pledged a 15 per cent. increase in income tax allowances—that would cost £4 billion a year. It has also said that it will introduce a maximum charge of £45 a week for residential care—that would cost £45 million a year. It has also pledged a £5 increase in the single pension and a £8 increase for a couple's pension, which would cost £200 million a year. Those promises are equivalent to a total of £5.65 billion a year. Where would that money come from?

Perhaps the cartoon that appeared two weeks ago in The Herald got it better than any of us when it portrayed the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) outside a business park which carried the sign

  • "Scottish National Phantasia
  • Business Theme Park
  • Sponsored by the Brigadoon Self-belief Tartan Think Tank
  • No Rates No Taxes
  • No Bad News
  • Free Oil
  • Massive Bungs
  • 'Together we can blow it'.
  • Beware flying pigs."
That is the scale of the SNP's promises.

What about what the Tories have done to Scotland? The Secretary of State should go back to his constituents in Stirling and tell them that, since 1992, the Government have raised an extra £47 million from them. The Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), should tell his constituents that the Government have raised an extra £54 million from them. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) should tell his constituents that the Government have raised an extra £50 million from them. The right hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) should tell his constituents that the Government have raised £57 million from them, while the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) should tell his constituents that the Government have raised £59 million from them. Since 1992, the Government have raised a total of more than £500 million from those constituents. That is the real tartan tax and that is why the people of Scotland will not tolerate the Conservatives' future.

For my text at the end of my speech—

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

Indeed, it is an epistle. Let me read it out.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

This is the epistle. It states: When parents dare not let their children out to play; when senior citizens who have given a lifetime of service to the community are forced to spend their sunset years—which should be amongst the most rewarding in their lives—as prisoners in their own homes, then we have reached a point where action must be taken. My hon. Friends and I say "Hear, hear" to that. Who wrote that? Was it my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton? No. It was the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is a testimony to the 18 years of misrule by the Conservative Government in Scotland. The people of Scotland will appreciate those comments, and they will never again appoint a Secretary of State like him, or a Conservative Government. They will vote for the return of decency and fairness to Scotland and to Government.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis , Ceredigion and Pembroke North 6:32, 10 March 1997

I am glad to have a few minutes to draw together the strands of the debate. I do not want to spend too much time responding to the depressing line of reasoning pursued by the Secretary of State for Scotland, which, I dare say, the Secretary of State for Wales will repeat. They have tried to prove that Scotland and Wales are dependant nations and that they do not have the resources, wherewithal or ability to stand as nations in their own right among the other nations of the world. That story was peddled to every colony, internal or external, throughout the history of imperialism. It was usually peddled by the Governor General—there was no difference tonight.

Plaid Cymru will effectively challenge the figures that have already been bandied about by the Secretary of States for Wales, just as our colleagues in the Scottish National party will challenge those relating to Scotland.

This is an important time for the debate to take place because we are approaching an election. It is a time when profound misgivings have been expressed about the direction in which our society is moving. Just one manifestation of that concern was the conference held last week by the Forgotten 30 Per Cent. Group. That group, which consists of Church of England clergy, supported by Church Action on Poverty, expressed its profound concern about the exclusion of 30 per cent. of our people from society through poverty. That group called for the revitalisation of community and public resources and a "fundamental shift in values". Our debate is a response to that concern.

One aspect of that concern relates to inequality, deprivation and social breakdown; another is the trend towards serious short-termism, which has starved society of the resources that we need in public investment to guarantee future stability, sustainability and success. The current political concern stems from the fact that the two big political parties are vying with each other to prove that they are capable and willing to reduce public expenditure and cut taxes. That is the game that they are playing.

Getting public expenditure below 40 per cent. of gross domestic product has become an economic and political virility symbol for the two largest parties. According to that Tory-Labour consensus, public expenditure is seen as problematic and burdensome. The only measure of success is the level of private consumption. That was the clear message of the undertakings on taxation and public expenditure from the shadow Chancellor in January. He justified the refusal to raise the top rate of income tax by saying that it reflected Labour's acceptance of the need to reward work.

What about the importance of rewarding the work among the low paid and those who are insecurely employed in the public sector? What about rewarding those working in the health sector and in social services, who currently work well over the hours for which they are paid because they are unwilling to see the people they care for left without care? What about rewarding those people rather than just those who pay the top rate of income tax? How are we to address such inequality except by providing adequate public expenditure? It comes back to that.

One would not, of course, expect better of a Thatcherite Tory party than the pursuit of a line of reasoning dictated by the desire to cut public expenditure. The party is still Thatcherite although the lady of that name has departed from the scene. There is widespread dismay, however, at the fact that the Labour party seems to be accommodating Thatcherism. That dismay was well expressed in an editorial in The Guardian following the shadow Chancellor's statement on 20 January. It stated: It is a frightening admission that Labour may not put the moral and political case for redistribution except at the margins of social deprivation…Labour is relinquishing the chance to make the much-needed changes to the Britain it inherits. That is a pretty severe indictment.

What does that rightward shift portend for Wales? According to current targets, the Welsh Office budget for public expenditure for 1997–98 will be reduced in real terms by 0.9 per cent. In 1998–99, there will be a real terms reduction of 2.3 per cent. The going is already tough for service providers and service users, but it will be worse next year, and very much worse the year after. In other words, "They ain't seen nothing yet," unless a Labour Government are prepared to increase Welsh Office spending at the expense of other departmental budgets. It is just as possible, however, that that Government will reduce the Welsh Office and Scottish Office budgets according to other priorities in order to increase the budgets of other Departments. A recent article by the Labour leader on defence in The Daily Telegraph suggested that there was no likelihood that Labour would shift resources from the defence budget to the Welsh Office and towards other more progressive activities.

Where will the resources come from for the health service in Wales—for example, in Dyfed Powys, where trusts already face significant deficits at the end of the next financial year? Their staff are already under severe pressure, but the trusts will be forced to cut vital services unless extra resources are made available. There is no doubt about that. I should like to hear tonight that extra resources will be found.

What about the severe pressure facing colleges of further education in Wales, which will have reduced budgets next year? Higher education is a key area of the Welsh economy, as well as a public service, employs more than 14,000 people, and has teaching and research programmes that are vital for the future prosperity of Wales. Its staff, too, are under pressure. University staff salaries have fallen well behind those of other sectors of society as their work loads have increased. They have called for a pay review body to look at the salary issue; we strongly support that call. They have delivered efficiency gains of some 30 per cent. over the past decade, but what is to come next?

In the two years from 1996 to 1998, cumulative cuts will amount to 7 per cent., and over the next three years capital funding will be cut by 64 per cent. in the vain hope that the private finance initiative will pick up the tab. Such cuts in a key sector amount to short-termism of the worst kind. The Institute for Grassland and Environmental Research is in my constituency. It is not a Welsh Office responsibility. It should be, but in Wales scientific research does not come under the ambit of the Welsh Office. The institute has an outstanding record: it is world famous and successful, and it attracts commercial funding but, this year, funding cuts by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will lead to a reduction in IGER funding of some 10 per cent., seriously imperilling the coherence of the programme and the institute's ability to attract commercial funding because core funding makes it more, not less, possible to attract commercial funding.

My final example is housing. Next year, the Tai Cymru budget will be cut by £259 million—a 31 per cent. cut in one year—moving us even further away from a programme that will eliminate homelessness and raise the quality of the housing stock in Wales, which we should be putting together. Such a programme was identified in the well-researched document issued by the Welsh Federation of Housing Associations entitled "Target 2000", which called for a doubling of the housing budget. What we get, however, is a halving of the housing budget.

That is the inheritance left us by the Tories as they face oblivion. We all earnestly desire that oblivion as soon as possible, the Labour party is intent on maintaining that inheritance for two years, and probably more. There is a clear contrast between that perception of matters and the perception of the SNP and Plaid Cymru. The alternative approach can be seen, in terms of Plaid Cymru's policies, in the "100,000 Answers" programme for employment creation and for sustainable economic, social and environmental development. We are talking about a public investment programme, at a net annual cost of £400 million, funded from a progressive taxation system, which would reduce the burden on the low paid while requiring wealthier people—including me and many more like me—to pay more. That is a reasonable trade-off in terms of the benefit to be gained.

That is a programme for a self-governing Wales, but its principles are relevant to the rest of Britain. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the programme of the Real World coalition of more than 30 organisations, published just last year. That document, aptly named "The Politics of the Real World", calls for a major programme of public investment over 10 years to create work opportunities and meet social needs. It also emphasises the national status of Wales and Scotland and calls for powerful parliaments for both those countries.

The final chapter of the document talks of the dangers of the politics of self interest and the pursuit of what it calls "safety through insulation". It speaks about the dangers of the better off and about withdrawing… into the bunker of narrow self-interest: reducing taxes, cutting public services, ending overseas aid, restricting immigration, erecting security walls"— and so on. It continues: In the short term, this approach looks cheaper"— it does— it seems to offer a private way out, not dependent on the uncertain cooperation of others. But it is doomed to failure. It is important to emphasise that such an agenda is doomed to failure. Real World goes on to say: Most people in Britain, we believe, will regard this prospect —retreating into a security bunker, which already happens in significant parts of the United States where that kind of economic agenda has been pursued— as appalling, and will wish to avoid it. The alternative seems to us inescapable. Responsibility for the whole community—globally, and within the UK—must be accepted by all. The problems we face must be reduced by common action, not shut away. Though there will be financial costs, the return in terms of genuine security and the quality of community life will be far higher. This is in everyone's interest, even that of the reasonably affluent who will have to pay the larger share. The document concludes: If Real World's vision looks radical this is a measure of how feeble the idea of political purpose in Britain has now become. That is true of the debate that we have had over the past couple of years.

We are seeing the convergence of the two big parties on social and economic policy. It springs from Labour's wish to take votes and seats from Tories in England. That is misguided and the Labour leadership is going well beyond what is necessary to achieve it, given the current change in attitudes. In any case, there is a different consensus in Wales and Scotland; it is not a necessary exercise in our countries. What is happening shows how vital it is for the SNP and Plaid Cymru to take votes and seats from both Tories and Labour in Wales and Scotland on our kind of agenda—[Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but it is very likely to happen.

That is vital for Scotland and Wales, but it is also important for England because it is one of the few ways in which we can keep alight the torch of the values that we have tried to debate with some success, but not a great deal, tonight.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales 6:46, 10 March 1997

This has been an interesting and varied debate. It was opened by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), who began by saying how pleased she was that it was well attended. Unfortunately, she was greeted by a sea of green, particularly on the Benches of the official Opposition. They continue to be a sea of green. It was an early example of what characterised the hon. Lady's speech—an expression of wishful thinking in the absence of factual support. However, she is the mover of the motion and she deserves special attention, which I shall give her later.

First, I pay tribute to what were probably the valedictory speeches of the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro). Given that they have been Members of this House for almost as long as I have been alive, I must pay tribute to them with appropriate humility. The whole House will wish to pay tribute to their length of service and their consistency of view and, in the case of my right hon. Friend, to his contribution to the good government of the United Kingdom in general and of Scotland in particular.

Those of my hon. Friends who spoke in this wide-ranging debate drew attention to the huge economic progress being made in this United Kingdom, including Scotland and Wales, particularly in the creation of jobs. Opposition Members called for vision, but were unable able to provide any; they called for more spending, but did not describe where they would find the money; and they called for a re-ordering of priorities, but did not say what the priorities should be.

Only two members of the official Opposition spoke. The hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) referred to the merger of the Pembrokeshire and Derwen trusts, which the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), announced earlier today. I must stress that the merger came after proposals from the trusts themselves and after a long consultation period. That is different from issuing diktats, which is what the shadow Scottish Office team appears to be doing.

The real question about the health service, to which the motion refers, is that, given that the Government have guaranteed that in every year of the next Parliament we shall increase health spending over and above inflation, why do not the official Opposition give that guarantee? What are they trying to hide about their plans for the health service?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan), whom we welcome to the debate, and whose recent haircut we welcome even more, now wishes to intervene.

Photo of Mr Rhodri Morgan Mr Rhodri Morgan , Cardiff West

In spite of the Secretary of State's obvious jealousy at the proliferation of my hair, I put it to him that, far from being cast-iron, the guarantee about real terms increases in national health service expenditure in Wales has already been broken. The increase for next year is only 2.4 per cent. more than what is being spent this year, which is less than the Bank of England's projection for the rate of inflation.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman's hair style is the only thing about him of which I am jealous. I am not jealous of his arithmetic. Our plans for the coming year compared with those for the corresponding period last year provide for a like-for-like increase in spending on the national health service in Wales of £94 million. That increase is above the rate of inflation, and the hon. Gentleman does not promise to match it in the next Parliament.

The other speech by a member of the official Opposition was made by the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson). He said that a national minimum wage would be a landmark reform and would transform the situation of many people. His speech was all the more remarkable because he could not answer the most elementary questions about it, such as at what level it would be set. If we had been able to ask him, I have no doubt that he would not have been able to tell us how many jobs would be lost. He said that such issues would be considered by a commission. The deputy leader of the Labour party once said that a minimum wage would lead to a shake. Evidently not every fool knows that.

The hon. Gentleman said that, with such a huge amount of public expenditure, there was bound to be room for a re-ordering of priorities. He said that there must be scope to re-order priorities, given that the Government spend billions of pounds. Where is that argument when we discuss local government spending? How come Labour wants the Government to give more money because there is no scope whatever to re-order priorities in local government?

The hon. Gentleman called for a long-term view and left in a great hurry to get on with his role as shadow Minister for election planning.

Photo of Mr Brian Wilson Mr Brian Wilson , Cunninghame North

On another aspect of the property debate, will the Secretary of State tell us whether any Cabinet Minister is holding out the prospect of a doubling of the rate of VAT on fuel to 17.5 per cent.? Is he going against the views of the Government and of the Conservative party? Yes or no.

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

As far as I know, no Cabinet Ministers are making announcements about that matter.

We have achieved a revolution in the job prospects of the people of this country. That has gone widely unnoticed by Opposition Members during this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker) referred to the rise in living standards in recent years, and the performance of the United Kingdom economy in topping the league for inward investment. Do Opposition Members think that Hyundai would be coming to Scotland and LG to Wales if those companies thought that this country was the no hope wasteland that the Opposition often describe it as?

Photo of William Hague William Hague Secretary of State for Wales

I shall not give way any more: I am dealing with the points raised in the debate, as the Minister who winds up is meant to do.

We have the highest proportion of people in work of any major European economy. In Wales, we have more people in manufacturing employment than it was 10 years ago. Total employment is almost 100,000 higher than 10 years ago. None of those points was acknowledged by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). He spoke about the financial position of local authorities. Local government in Wales receives 88 per cent. of the money it needs from the Welsh Office. It gets a higher level of assistance than local government elsewhere in the United Kingdom. It has had an increase in line with inflation, which adds up to £64 million for the coming year. Local authorities should explain to their electors how they are spending the money.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy complained that the link between pensions and wages had been broken. If that link were to be restored, it would, at a stroke, cost the taxpayer more than £8 billion a year. How would Plaid Cymru finance that in an independent Wales? It is all very well to behave like a pressure group, writing cheques that it knows will never be cashed, but some of us have to deal with the practical realities of government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) referred to our success in attracting inward investment, and pointed out the dangers of the social chapter. Opposition Members have not grasped the fact that the Government are addressing those issues by extending opportunity for people. The new generation in Britain today has a greater opportunity to go on to higher and further education than any previous generation, and a wider choice of career than any comparable generation in Europe, because new jobs and investment are going to Britain. When young people start a career, they have the freedom to join or not to join a trade union, which was not previously possible. In the past few years, it has been easier and cheaper for them to buy a first home than at any time for 35 years. When they have their own children, they will be able to choose how they will be educated. Opposition Members do not believe in giving people that choice.

This is a curious motion to put before the House: some hon. Members have actually read it. It bears all the hallmarks of having been written by a committee. It mentions almost any subject that anyone could think of, and throws in a variety of terms that are not defined, and which were not defined in the debate. It ends up with a mixture of pious hopes and vague wishes, rather like a composite motion at a Labour party conference, which probably explains why most Labour Members have not been present.

The hon. Members who introduced the motion have not said where they would get the money from to meet their pious hopes. I said that I would comment on the opening speech of the hon. Member for Moray. The most memorable moment in her speech was the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman), who said that people have to take responsibility for themselves and their families, and that they want to do so. My hon. Friend said that individuals, as well as the Government, should ask what they can do about social justice.

The hon. Member for Moray said that people no longer talk about visions and values. Conservatives talk about visions, which is why we have launched a new vision of the pension system. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), who has just come into the Chamber, should welcome that. The Government have a vision of rising living standards and increased personal freedom. We value freedom of choice in education rather than the hypocrisy of denouncing choice and then exercising it oneself, as practised by some Opposition Members.

The hon. Lady said that we must have vision, and then gave a list of issues on which we must have vision. She asked, "Where does the European Union go?" Imagine John F. Kennedy standing up to announce his vision and saying, "Where do we go?" She said, "Is the United Nations as respected as it should be?" Imagine Martin Luther King saying, "This is my vision: is the United Nations as respected as it should be?" She said that we should be involved in a plethora of international organisations. She may not have noticed that we are involved in a plethora of international organisations. She said that we should reach out and show that the political body still has a vision. If the debate is anything to go by, the political bodies sitting on the Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Benches have no vision.

The hon. Lady complained that people were cynical about politicians. People become cynical about politicians when they raise expectations that cannot be fulfilled and present misleading information. What is the real vision of nationalist parties? Insular Governments in declining countries with bankrupt economies. That is what they offer to the people of this country. They have come to the House with unsubstantiated assertions, out-of-date statistics and futile wishful thinking. They have called for justice and equality without defining it, for spending without saying how they would finance it and for jobs while pursuing policies that would destroy them.

The Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru have reminded us that the distinction of being wrong about every major issue of the late 20th century does not belong to the Leader of the Opposition on his own. They share that distinction. Being wrong about every issue that they have raised in the debate, and, most important of all, being wrong about their wish to destroy the United Kingdom, means that their motion deserves to be emphatically rejected by the House.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—
The House divided: Ayes 26, Noes 281.

Division No. 90][6.59 pm
Alton, DavidJones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Ashdown, Rt Hon PaddyKennedy, Charles (Ross C&S)
Beith, Rt Hon A JLynne, Ms Liz
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Maddock, Mrs Diana
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James
Carlile, Alex (Montgomery)Salmond, Alex
Chidgey, David Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Cunningham, Ms RoseannaSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
(Perth Kinross)Taylor, Matthew(Truro)
Dafis, CynogTyler, Paul
Davies, Chris (Littleborough)Wallace, James
Ewing, Mrs MargaretWigley, Dafydd
Foster, Don (Bath)Tellers for the Ayes:
Harvey, NickMr. Andrew Welsh and Mr. Elfyn Llwyd.
Johnston, Sir Russell
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)Browning, Mrs Angela
Aitken, Rt Hon JonathanBruce, Ian (S Dorset)
Alexander, RichardBudgen, Nicholas
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)Burns, Simon
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)Burt, Alistair
Amess, DavidButler, Peter
Arbuthnot, JamesButterfill, John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Carlisle, John (Luton N)
Ashby, DavidCarlisle, Sir Kenneth (Linc'n)
Atkins, Rt Hon RobertCarrington, Matthew
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)Carttiss, Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)Cash, William
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V)Channon, Rt Hon Paul
Baldry, TonyChapman, Sir Sydney
Banks, Matthew (Southport)Churchill, Mr
Banks, Robert (Harrogate)Clappison, James
Bates, MichaelClark, Dr Michael (Rochf'd)
Batiste, SpencerClifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Bellingham, HenryCoe, Sebastian
Bendall, VivianCongdon, David
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnConway, Derek
Body, Sir RichardCoombs, Anthony (Wyre F)
Bonsor, Sir NicholasCoombs, Simon (Swindon)
Booth, HartleyCope, Rt Hon Sir John
Boswell, TimCormack, Sir Patrick
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)Couchman, James
Bowden, Sir AndrewCurrie, Mrs Edwina
Bowis, JohnCurry, Rt Hon David
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir RhodesDavies, Quentin (Stamf'd)
Brandreth, GylesDavis, Rt Hon David (Boothferry)
Brazier, JulianDay, Stephen
Bright, Sir GrahamDeva, Nirj Joseph
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterDevlin, Tim
Douglas-Hamilton, Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Lord JamesRt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Dover, DenJones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Duncan, AlanJones, Robert B (W Herts)
Duncan Smith, IainKellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dunn, BobKey, Robert
Dykes, HughKirkhope, Timothy
Elletson, HaroldKnapman, Roger
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'ld)Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Evans, Nigel (Ribble V)Knox, Sir David
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)Kynoch, George
Evennett, DavidLamont, Rt Hon Norman
Faber, DavidLang, Rt Hon Ian
Fabricant, MichaelLawrence, Sir Ivan
Fenner, Dame PeggyLegg, Barry
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)Leigh, Edward
Fishburn, DudleyLennox-Boyd, Sir Mark
Forman, NigelLidington, David
Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Forth, Rt Hon EricLloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir NormanLord, Michael
Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)Luff, Peter
Freeman, Rt Hon RogerLyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
French, DouglasMacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gale, RogerMacKay, Andrew
Gallie, PhilMaclean, Rt Hon David
Gardiner, Sir GeorgeMcLoughlin, Patrick
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon TristanMcNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Garnier, EdwardMaitland, Lady Olga
Gill, ChristopherMalone, Gerald
Gillan, Mrs CherylMans, Keith
Goodlad, Rt Hon AlastairMarland, Paul
Goodson-Wickes, Dr CharlesMarlow, Tony
Gorman, Mrs TeresaMarshall, John (Hendon S)
Gorst, Sir JohnMarshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)
Grant, Sir Anthony (SW Cambs)Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)Mates, Michael
Greenway, John (Ryedale)Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Mellor, Rt Hon David
Grylls, Sir MichaelMerchant, Piers
Gummer, Rt Hon JohnMitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hague, Rt Hon WilliamMitchell, Sir David (NW Hants)
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir ArchibaldMoate, Sir Roger
Hampson, Dr KeithMonro, Rt Hon Sir Hector
Hanley, Rt Hon JeremyMontgomery, Sir Fergus
Hannam, Sir JohnNeedham, Rt Hon Richard
Hargreaves, AndrewNelson, Anthony
Harris, DavidNeubert, Sir Michael
Haselhurst, Sir AlanNewton, Rt Hon Tony
Hawkins, NickNicholls, Patrick
Hawksley, WarrenNicholson, David (Taunton)
Hayes, JerryNorris, Steve
Heald, OliverOnslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Heath, Rt Hon Sir EdwardOppenheim, Phillip
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon DavidOttaway, Richard
Hendry, CharlesPage, Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelPaice, James
Hicks, Sir RobertPatnick, Sir Irvine
Higgins, Rt Hon Sir TerencePatten, Rt Hon John
Hill, Sir James (Southampton Test)Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (Grantham)Pawsey, James
Horam, JohnPeacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir PeterPickles, Eric
Howard, Rt Hon MichaelPorter, David
Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildf'd)Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)Powell, William (Corby)
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W)Rathbone, Tim
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)Redwood, Rt Hon John
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensb'ne)Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Hunter, AndrewRichards, Rod
Hurd, Rt Hon DouglasRiddick, Graham
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelRobathan, Andrew
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jenkin, Bernard (Colchester N)Robertson, Raymond S (Ab'd'n S)
Jessel, TobyRobinson, Mark (Somerton)
Roe, Mrs MarionThompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Rowe, AndrewTownsend, Sir Cyril (Bexl'yh'th)
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame AngelaTracey, Richard
Ryder, Rt Hon RichardTredinnick, David
Sackville, TomTrend, Michael
Shaw, David (Dover)Trotter, Neville
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs GillianTwinn, Dr Ian
Shersby, Sir MichaelVaughan, Sir Gerard
Skeet, Sir TrevorViggers, Peter
Smith, Tim (Beaconsf'ld)Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Soames, NicholasWalden, George
Speed, Sir KeithWalker, Bill (N Tayside)
Spencer, Sir DerekWaller, Gary
Spicer, Sir Jim (W Dorset)Ward, John
Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Spink, Dr RobertWaterson, Nigel
Spring, RichardWatts, John
Sproat, IainWells, Bowen
Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir JohnWhitney, Sir Raymond
Steen, AnthonyWhittingdale, John
Stephen, MichaelWiddecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Stem, MichaelWiggin, Sir Jerry
Stewart, AllanWilkinson, John
Streeter, GaryWilletts, David
Sweeney, WalterWilshire, David
Sykes, JohnWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Tapsell, Sir PeterWinterton, Nicholas (Macclesf'ld)
Taylor, Ian (Esher)Wolfson, Mark
Taylor, John M (Solihull)Yeo, Tim
Taylor, Sir TeddyYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Temple-Morris, PeterTellers for the Noes:
Thomason, RoyMr. Timothy Wood and Mrs. Jacqui Lait.
Thompson, Sir Donald(Calder V)

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given that Members from Northern Ireland voted for the motion that we have just debated, can you arrange to have the seating arrangements in the House reconfigured to allow new Labour to be positioned to the right of the Ulster Unionists?

Photo of Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse Mr Geoffrey Lofthouse , Pontefract and Castleford

That is a bogus point of order, as the hon. Gentleman knows.