HC Deb 18 January 1984 vol 52 cc302-4
4. Mr. Home Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, pursuant to his answer of 2 November, Official Report, c. 861–62, what estimate he has made of the additional costs that would fall on the people of Scotland if the Scottish Office were to be put under the control of an elected Scottish Assembly.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)

The 1978 scheme of devolution was estimated to cost £13 million. Any new scheme would clearly cost considerably more than that. If the Assembly adopted expensive additional policies, the cost to Scottish taxpayers would be greater still.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is it not humbug for the Secretary of State to suggest that an extra tier of Government would cost more money when that extra tier of Government already exists, warts and all, in the form of his own Department? Will he admit that last night's events show that the House is not up to the job of scrutinising Scottish affairs properly, because many Tory Members voted against repressive legislation for England, and the same Tory Members are apparently so ignorant of what is going on that on 5 December they voted for virtually identical legislation for Scotland?

Mr. Younger

I do not recall Opposition Members objecting when, if one likes to put it that way, Labour votes in England forced through nationalisation measures. On the question of extra expenditure, if the hon. Gentleman seriously thinks that a Scottish Assembly would not cost the Scottish taxpayer more, I am not sure why his party is apparently proposing extra tax-raising powers on the Scots to pay for it.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the majority of Scots want less money spent on government, not more, and that the last elections in north Tayside showed that there was no demand whatever for a Scottish Assembly?

Mr. Younger

I am certain that Scots particularly would like the Government to use the money that they take from people as wisely as possible, and I agree with my hon. Friend that there is little sign of any interest in a Scottish Assembly.

Mr. Wilson

As the right hon. Gentleman is absolutely impotent in the Cabinet when it comes to saving Scottish industries, does he agree that the price of not having a Scottish Parliament is the closure of the smelter at Invergordon and the attempt to close the shipyard of Scott Lithgow? Does he not think that Scotland needs a Parliament to defend its basic industries?

Mr. Younger

If there had been a Scottish Assembly when those things happened, it would not have made the slightest difference to any of them. If the hon. Gentleman had had his way and there had been an entirely separate Scotland, all those businesses would have been closed down long ago.

Mr. Maxton

As 99.5 per cent. of the civil servants employed by the Scottish Office work in Edinburgh, does it not make nonsense of the Secretary of State's argument that there would be an increase in bureaucracy if we had a Scottish Assembly and that extra costs would be involved in creating an elected Assembly? Does he object to spending money on democracy?

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman's first figures are wholly inaccurate and quite wrong, and the rest of his question therefore falls. As for the rest of his supplementary question and the matter of paying for a Scottish Assembly, if the Labour party thought that it would cost nothing, it would not be proposing extra tax-raising powers on the Scots to pay for it.

Mrs. McCurley

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fact that the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly has run out of money shows that market forces are at work?

Mr. Younger

I dare say that that is right, and there is no doubt that the presence of a Scottish Assembly—this view is held widely on both sides of the House—would not provide a solution to many of the problems with which we must deal.

Mr. Dewar

Whatever costs the Secretary of State invents for a Scottish Assembly in order to blacken the concept, will he accept that it is nothing like the cost that Scotland has had to pay in the last four or five years for the damaging and divisive legislation which his Administration have put on the statue book?

Mr. Younger

I do not agree, and the hon. Gentleman should know from the history of the last four or five years that large sums of United Kingdom money have been spent to improve the situation in Scotland during a particularly difficult recession. As for devolution generally, I rest on the wise words of the present Leader of the Opposition, who quoted Bevin as saying: If you open that Pandora's box, you will find it full of Trojan horses", and added: That conveys my feelings on Devolution precisely." — [Official Report, 15 November 1977; Vol. 939, c. 468.]

Mr. Hirst

Is my right hon. Friend aware that one: of the principal reasons why many Scots are against a Scottish Assembly is precisely because Labour Members would give it tax-raising powers—or teeth, as they call them—and does he agree that that form of levy on Scottish business would destroy rather than create jobs?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is right, and we have seen enough examples in recent years of the way in which irresponsible people in Scotland can put levies on business, which destroys jobs. The principal disadvantage that I see in the whole debate is that it is well known that the Labour party is so hopelessly divided on the issue that it has no prospect of introducing such a thing anyway.

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