HC Deb 17 June 1997 vol 296 cc101-2
4. Mrs. Ann Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on per capita government spending in Scotland. [2332]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Donald Dewar)

Identifiable general government expenditure per head in Scotland was £4,614 in 1995–96, the last year for which complete figures are available.

Mrs. Winterton

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that per capita expenditure in Scotland is 24.6 per cent. higher than in England? Bearing that in mind, why should the United Kingdom Parliament continue to vote extra funding for Scotland if Scotland has its own tax-raising powers? Will not the Assembly cost Scotland's people dear?

Mr. Dewar

No, I do not agree with the hon. Lady. If she is concerned about the way in which we organise our expenditure allocation in the United Kingdom, she will recognise that the system has been well established for many years under the previous Government, whom I think she supported. If she wants to get into an argument, no doubt she will wish to look at the health statistics, the population sparsity statistics and the economic deprivation statistics and recognise that the United Kingdom is a partnership in which we pool our resources and allocate them on an agreed basis.

Mr. Doran

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the serious problems affecting in particular the north-east of Scotland, due to drug abuse, which may merit much higher expenditure in Scotland? He may have seen press reports of the death of four people in Aberdeen in the past few days due to drug misuse and overdoses. When he considers public expenditure in Scotland, will he give a commitment that the fight against drugs will remain a high priority in the Government's programme?

Mr. Dewar

I share my hon. Friend's concerns, as I think will the whole House. That is the reason why we have given particular prominence to drug-related measures in the Scottish Office block, and why I and, to be fair, the leaders of other parties in the House support Scotland Against Drugs and give it our energetic and active help.

Mr. Wallace

Does the Secretary of State agree that the kind of question asked by the hon. Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), and the thinking behind it, are among the reasons why there are no Scottish Conservative Members present today? Indeed, Opposition Front Benchers have such a tenuous hold that they have had to put in Prayers cards to keep their seats. Any party that truly believes in the United Kingdom would recognise that the principle of equalisation underpins the Union. Following last week's uncertainty about the future of the Barnett-Goschen formula, will the Secretary of State confirm that, as the partners of the Scottish Constitutional Convention agreed, the current formula for the calculation of government expenditure in Scotland will continue to be used as the basis for the allocation of Scotland's fair share of UK resources"?

Mr. Dewar

I say in passing to my hon. Friend—

Mr. Burns

Hon. Friend?

Mr. Dewar

There you are. All I was going to say was that the power of prayer is something that the main Opposition party will have to rely on very often in the months ahead. I suspect that a few Opposition Members are on their knees even at this moment.

On the points made by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace), I should emphasise the well-established nature of the present arrangements—the block and formula system. The White Paper on devolution will set out the position very clearly, as my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury made clear on 11 June, when he emphasised that the Government believe that the formula plays a very important part in the allocation of public expenditure.

Dr. Godman

Although these are early days—my right hon. Friend has been in office only six weeks—what progress has he made in targeting funding towards the national health service in Scotland and our education system? Those matters are of considerable importance to many of my constituents, particularly in the light of the long waiting lists at the local hospital that were the fault of what is now a largely rural English party.

Mr. Dewar

We are trying, where we can, to reorder priorities in a way of which I think my hon. Friend would approve. A number of early measures were taken within this year's budget that resulted in £13 million going to the education budget, particularly for literacy and other such problems, and £10 million being found to transfer to the health service budget, with a particular target of reducing specified areas of waiting lists in the NHS.