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Public Responsibility For Social Justice

Part of Orders of the Day — Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 5:26 pm on 10th March 1997.

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

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.