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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.