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Public Responsibility For Social Justice

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:56 pm on 10th March 1997.

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

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.