HC Deb 18 December 1996 vol 287 cc929-31
2. Mr. Jacques Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the difference between total Government expenditure in Scotland and tax revenues raised in Scotland, expressed as a proportion of Scottish gross domestic product; and if he will make a statement. [8132]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

Fourteen per cent.

Mr. Arnold

Does not that rather generous figure emphasise the good sense of our United Kingdom Government, and would not that generosity be put in danger by Labour's devolution plans? Hypothetically, if those devolution plans were put into effect, how would I as an English Member explain to my constituents why, despite that money going to Scotland, Scottish hon. Members could take decisions on issues in my constituency such as health, education and hospitals, although I would not have a similar say over the spending of United Kingdom resources in Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth

My hon. Friend will forgive me for not agreeing with his use of the word "generous". As I have just completed public expenditure negotiations with the Treasury, my use of that word might be somewhat wrong. On the overall position, my hon. Friend is right to point out what a good deal Scotland gets from the Union and how our public services and our standard of living would be threatened and destroyed by the policies of the opposition parties either to establish a tax-raising Parliament or to obtain independence—and, of course, the latter would follow from the former.

Mr. Maxton

On Monday, what amount of tax revenue was used to pay for the cost of an RAF aeroplane to fly the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland from Inverness to London? Is the Secretary of State prepared to tell the House exactly how much such journeys cost the Scottish Office?

Mr. Forsyth

The cost of the smallest RAF aeroplane, which is what we used, so we could not accommodate the hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends on board—although I would have been happy to strap the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) to the aircraft's wing after his behaviour at the Highlands and Islands Convention—is about £700 per flying hour.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the high revenue level indicates the Scottish economy's success? Is not that confirmed by today's announcement of a dramatic drop in unemployment in Scotland, which shows how well the Scottish economy is going under the Government?

Mr. Forsyth

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Scotland's economy is booming. We have record inward investment. Today, we again have excellent unemployment figures. It is a picture of an economy that has been transformed as a result of the Government's policies, which have been opposed by Opposition Members. All of it would be put at risk by a tartan-tax-raising Scottish Parliament.

Mr. George Robertson

Will the Secretary of State confirm his already public statement that the Scottish Office budget will be reduced by £880 million in real terms in the next three years? What will that mean for public health in Scotland and our ability to control crises such as E. coli bacteria and the spread of salmonella in Scotland? What if Professor Pennington's expert group suggests, as it should, that there should be an independent food standards agency? Will that be vetoed, like his last research project, on the ground that there is not enough money for it? When will the Government stop covering up their conduct in the E. coli crisis by blaming everyone but Ministers of the Crown? Will the Secretary of State now belatedly tell the House and the country what the role of Ministers was at the beginning of the E. coli crisis in Lanarkshire?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman is pathetic. We have had two statements to the House on that matter. I wish that he would stop attacking the conduct of North Lanarkshire council, a Labour authority, which, as he well knows, has been and is responsible, under the Food Safety Act 1990, which had all-party support in the House, for environmental health services.

When we win the election, Scotland's health service will benefit from our pledge to increase spending year on year in real terms throughout the whole of the next Parliament, a promise that the hon. Gentleman is not allowed to make and cannot make because he has already made promises in secret to his friends in local government.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, relative to the Scottish budget and expenditure, if we were ever to have a Parliament in Edinburgh that decided on matters such as health, Scottish Members could not raise those issues, as the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has just done, because they would be part-time and unable to ask questions about Scottish matters—and should be paid part-time wages?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) hopes to have many Labour Members coming down from Scotland, whose job would be not to represent Scotland's interests, but to impose socialism on England. That unstable position would wreck his party's proposals, as it has wrecked every previous home rule proposal, but my hon. Friend makes the important point that Scotland's budget would still be determined here at Westminster, where Scotland's voice would be diminished, as hon. Members on the Liberal Benches acknowledge, through the loss of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland in Cabinet. With a tax-raising Parliament in Edinburgh, it is difficult to see how our present advantageous position would be maintained. The hon. Member for Hamilton and his colleagues are putting their socialist interests ahead of the interests of people who depend on education, health, social work and all our other caring services in Scotland. We will expose that in the forthcoming election campaign.