HC Deb 20 November 1996 vol 285 cc974-5
10. Mr. Stephen

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what was total Government expenditure in Scotland as a percentage of the United Kingdom total in 1994–95; and what was Scotland's relative share. [3468]

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Scotland had 8.8 per cent. of the UK population and received 10.2 per cent. of funding in 1994–95.

Mr. Stephen

Do not those figures show that the people of Scotland are getting an extremely good deal from this Conservative Government? Is it not time that Scottish Opposition Members stopped their ritual moaning and groaning and acknowledged the enormous benefits that membership of the United Kingdom provides to their constituents?

Mr. Forsyth

The people of England are getting a very good deal from Scotland being part of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend is right to point out that there is a substantial financial benefit to Scotland from the present constitutional arrangements which, with that substantial funding, all the Opposition parties would put in jeopardy. Given the size of the additional funding that we enjoy, tampering with it would put at risk many vulnerable groups who depend on health care and local government and other services.

Mr. Foulkes

Is the Secretary of State aware that that budget includes £13 million of capital expenditure for the East Ayrshire hospital? Why has he not given that project the go-ahead? Why has he delayed it for two months so that a private finance initiative bid can be considered? Why has he continued to delay while that private finance initiative bid is allowed to be adjusted? Something fishy is going on—what is it?

Mr. Forsyth

What is going on is that we are trying to provide a hospital for the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I am sorry that he is so concerned that we are doing everything we can to bring in private finance so that more projects can go ahead in the health service in Scotland—on which we have a record of which we are proud.

Mr. Stewart

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of his biggest blocks of expenditure in Scotland is local authority expenditure? Why is local authority expenditure in Scotland so much greater than that in England or Wales?

Mr. Forsyth

Because we have so many more Labour councils and because of the waste and profligacy in local government that has to be seen to be believed. The additional grant is necessary because those Labour councils are so bad at collecting council tax. Uncollected council tax and community charge adds up to three quarters of a billion pounds—money that could be used for front-line services. It is money that Labour councils, in the main, have refused to collect.

Mr. Macdonald

Does the Secretary of State agree that Government expenditure in Scotland will inevitably have to increase if the salmon industry collapses, with the loss of thousands of jobs? Will he confirm that he favours a minimum import price, but that he has been overruled by the Treasury and the Chancellor, who prefer the purity of free market ideology to protecting Scotland's jobs?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman usually accuses me of being the supporter of free market ideology. [Interruption.] This is a serious issue. The farmed salmon industry is vital to Scotland. Many thousands of jobs depend on it.

The salmon price has fallen dramatically. One way to deal with the matter in the short term is to ask the Community to introduce a minimum import price. In the longer term, we need to tackle the root of the problem—Norwegian dumping into the market. The Commission is at present investigating those matters with a view to reporting in early spring.

I know the hon. Gentleman's anxieties about the matter. I am in discussion with my colleagues about it. I will continue that discussion in the hope of being as supportive as I can to the industry, which is vital to the highlands and to the hon. Gentleman's constituency in the islands.