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Scotland

Volume 649: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1961

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Fish Exports (Aberdeen)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to extend the export of Aberdeen-caught fish to Czechoslovakia and other European land-locked 5/9/2007countries; and how successful they have been.

Both the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industry Board are prepared to help merchants to develop an export trade in fish to foreign countries. I am informed, however, that at the present time Aberdeen merchants are experiencing difficulty in obtaining suitable supplies to meet their existing export contracts.

Does the Minister realise that during the last nine months alone Czechoslovakia has imported 900 tons of fish valued at £77,000, besides importing fish from Iceland and Norway, and that the potentialities for Aberdeen and Scotland in general are very great? As negotiations are at present going on between Her Majesty's Board of Trade and Czechoslovakia with a view to enlarging that trade, will he take steps to see that Aberdeen gets a fair share?

I am aware of what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said, and, of course, we want to encourage the export of fish, but with the best will in the world, unless we can meet our existing contracts, it is very difficult to expand it.

Valuation Appeal Committees

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take power to direct valuation appeal committees, sitting in Scottish island areas, to make special arrangements to ensure that people are not forced to abandon appeals by reason of travel and lodging expenses and other factors of difficulty in those areas.

No, Sir. My right hon. Friend regrets that he would not feel justified in asking Parliament to give him power to direct valuation appeal committees on any aspect of their work.

In view of the fact that 90 per cent, of the appeals in the Western Isles had to be abandoned because of exactly these factors which I have mentioned and that that would not have happened had there been decentralisation of the committees, what steps does the Minister propose to take to ensure, first, that the committees work, and, secondly, that justice is done to the people?

As I said in my Answer, my right hon. Friend does not feel that he would be justified in asking Parliament to give him powers to direct valuation appeal committees; because, from the local knowledge that they have, they would presumably choose a place which is most suited—as, indeed, they are required to do in the original Valuation Act.

Has the Minister no proposals at all to make sure that appeals are in fact heard? When 90 per cent, of the appeals have had to be abandoned, surely some alternative procedure has to be devised of one kind or another in the interests of the working of the Act. In view of the fact that there is a Bill coming before the Scottish Committee in which he can make this provision, why does not he put that into the Bill now?

Fishery Protection (Minch)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has yet sent a reply to Ross and Cromarty County Council about proposals it made last May for fishery protection in the Minch.

Yes, Sir. The county council were informed in August that the question was still under consideration and a letter was sent on 30th October reporting the outcome.

Would the Minister do us the courtesy of telling us what the outcome was?

Will the Minister really press for this reply to be given more precisely to the county council? This is a very serious matter indeed. It affects the small fishermen and crofter fishermen who have virtually no protection in some of their waters.

In short, the answer amounted to an explanation that, in view of the need for economy in Government expenditure, it was not possible at this time to give additional protection.

Pit Closures

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland to what extent he proposes to assist local authorities in mining areas to plan schemes of work to absorb men who may be unemployed as a result of pit closures.

My right hon. Friend has no specific proposals on the lines which the hon. Member has in mind. The National Coal Board has advised my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power that alternative work will be available within daily travelling distance of their homes for the great majority of the men affected by the colliery closures which have been announced. For dealing with local employment, the Government will continue to operate the Local Employment Act vigorously.

I did not expect the hon. Gentleman to have any specific proposals, and I should have been surprised if he had, but is he aware that in Ayrshire there may be an unemployment problem in spite of the fact that some men may be absorbed in the new pits? If the Ayrshire County Council or any other local authority puts up useful schemes of work which would benefit the community and give employment, may we be assured that they will have his support?

As I said in my Reply, the Coal Board believes that the great majority of men will have work in nearby collieries. A further factor is that the list of areas in which the provisions of the Local Employment Act can be operated is under regular review.

The hon. Gentleman has missed the point of the question. Even though existing miners may be employed, does he not understand that the closure of the mines will close the opportunity for employment of a large number of youngsters and people coming along? This in itself will create a problem. Will the Government as a whole take that into account and see that something is done about it?

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Fife County Council concerning the future economic prospects of the county, consequent on decisions recently taken by the National Coal Board to close collieries; and what reply he has sent.

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Fife County Council regarding proposed pit closures in Fife; and what reply he has sent.

My right hon. Friend has received a copy of a resolution approved by Fife County Council, expressing alarm at what is described as

"the inference and suggestions of the Minister of Power concerning the Annual Report of the National Coal Board particularly regarding the Scottish Division".
He has brought it to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power.

Why is not the hon. Gentleman more specific about what the Scottish Office intends to do in these circumstances? Is he aware that two of the major collieries concerned, Rothes Colliery and Bowhill Colliery, are in the West Fife constituency, that more than £12 million has been invested in these pits, and that their closure is imminent? In the circumstances, does he deny the validity of the anxieties of Fife County Council, which itself has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on social investment for these mines? Has he no more specific proposals to advance than are already formulated in the Government's policy?

The question of Rothes Colliery is a matter for the Coal Board, as the hon. Gentleman knows. In regard to the concern about Rothes, it might be useful to re-emphasise the point made by the Prime Minister yesterday, that it was noted some time ago that miners in the numbers originally expected were not moving into the area and, accordingly, the development of the new town at Glenrothes was re-orientated in 1959 to general industrial development linked with overspill from Glasgow. We trust very much that this will assist in the difficulty.

Does not the Minister think that, although his English colleagues have turned down the demand for an inquiry, there is a case for an inquiry by the Scottish Office into the social and economic effects of the closures on local employment and on the finances of local authorities, in view of the fact that what we are witnessing now is the slow annihilation of the coal industry in Scotland?

We are all aware of the circumstances already and an inquiry would not reveal any new facts.

Whereas it might be the responsibility of the Minister of Power in the ultimate to decide whether a colliery shall close or not, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the social and economic consequences of the closures in the various areas of Scotland are the responsibility of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State? Will he undertake to consult his right hon. Friend about the desirability of an inquiry being made into the social and economic effect of the closures on considerable parts of Scotland?

The first point is that the Coal Board is confident that the great majority of men can be re-absorbed. The second point, in regard to any ancillary difficulties, is that we very much hope that it will be possible to meet these under the existing powers.

The Minister's last answer is wholly unsatisfactory. Does not he realise that his statement that miners can be absorbed in other pits is quite wrong, because what happens is that pits which are being operated economically at present become uneconomic as a result of the great influx of men from the closed collieries? Is he aware that a great deal of alarm and despondency have been created among the mining fraternity of Fife, in particular, because of the implications of his right hon. Friend's statement in the House a few weeks ago, that collieries at present working to full capacity are threatened by that statement, and concern is being felt not only by the newest recruits but by the men at the top of the industry? Will he press his right hon. Friend to secure a debate in the House and come clean on this matter?

It is because we are well aware of the anxieties that I have been trying to re-emphasise in my replies that the Coal Board is confident that the very great majority of the men can be reabsorbed into other pits.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the terms of the letter he received from the Presbytery of Ayr on the proposed closure of collieries in Scotland; and what was the nature of his reply.

The letter which my right hon. Friend received at the end of last week from the Presbytery of Ayr enclosed a copy of a resolution which in effect supported the Scottish miners in their call for a public inquiry into the working of the coal industry in Scotland. My right hon. Friend will refer the Presbytery to the reply given by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) on 13th November.

Can the Minister give a definite assurance to the ministers of the presbytery that there will be no unemployment as a result of these pit closures?

I do not think that I can add to the answers which I gave to previous supplementary questions on this same point.

Orange Juice

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will state the amount of welfare orange juice issued in Scotland in June and July, 1960, and in the corresponding months of 1961, indicating the percentage reduction in each case.

The estimated numbers of bottles of welfare orange juice issued in June and July, 1960, were 200,000 and 175,000 and in June and July, 1961, 40,000 and 45,000. The reductions between the corresponding months are 80 per cent, and 75 per cent.

Is not this one of the strongest possible condemnations of the harsh attack which the Government have made on the welfare of Scottish children? Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider this disincentive to the use of welfare foods by reducing the price of them to the former figure and thereby help to maintain and sustain the welfare of Scottish children?

The important thing is not the amount of these welfare foods being consumed but whether or not the health of children and expectant and nursing mothers is suffering. We have no evidence that that in fact is so.

Then why do we have a welfare foods scheme at all? Are not the Government virtually abolishing the scheme, and would it not have been at least honest for them to have done it outright instead of doing it in this underhand way?

Roads (Farming Areas)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many miles of unclassified and unadopted roads in upland farming areas will be eligible for grant assistance under the Agriculture (Improvement of Roads) Act, 1955, in the present financial year; what mile age will be improved next year; and what sum of money will be made available.

In 1961–62, my right hon. Friend expects to authorise schemes covering about 50 miles of road thereby virtually completing the distribution of the £1 million allocated to Scotland under the Act. The total mileage will be about 370; of this 104 miles have been completed and it is expected that about half the rest will be completed by the end of 1962. My right hon. Friend's proposals for expenditure in 1962–63 will be declared when the Scottish roads Estimate is published next year.

Are not these figures of mileages and sums expended very small compared with the need? Does my hon. Friend agree that, if we want to keep people living in these upland areas, we must be prepared to spend on the small hill roads as well as the trunk roads? Can he say what progress has been made in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, and when he expects to authorise any further schemes?

I know that the county council has one or two schemes in mind which it would still like to do, but I think that the stewartry has had 16 schemes approved, which is a substantial proportion of its requirements.

Will my hon. Friend make sure that there are no financial cuts in this very important expenditure?

Storm And Flood Damage, Galloway

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he is aware of the widespread damage and loss caused throughout Galloway by the storm and floods of 22nd October; and whether he will make a suitable contribution to local funds organised to relieve distress.

My right hon. Friend is aware that some damage and loss did occur in the area, which has since been visited by his engineers. Various forms of remedial works may qualify for Government grant under the appropriate Acts, but, on present information, he does not consider that Government assistance to local relief funds would be justified.

If this storm had struck in Essex or the south of England, would it not have been a major disaster? Is my hon. Friend aware that local funds raised amount to only about one-seventh of the damage suffered by householders in the area, and will he say what assistance is to be given to the county councils to help in repairing roads, piers, breakwaters, bridges and the like?

There has been considerable damage to roads, and a joint inspection has been carried out by the county engineer and an engineer from the Department. The county council has already been informed that the bulk of remedial work will qualify for grants under the Coast Protection Act at the rate of 75 per cent, and the remainder at 50 per cent. of the cost of the work.

Does not the recurrence of these floods in this area show how inadequate are the two miserable flood prevention Acts which the hon. Gentleman supported and would not strengthen at our request?

A8 (Glasgow-Greenock Section)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to authorise the reconstruction of the Glasgow-Greenock section of the A.8 trunk road to provide for a dual carriageway system to meet present and future traffic requirements.

My right hon. Friend has no plans yet for starting any major reconstruction work on this road since others must take priority at present. He has, however, appointed consultants to investigate the practicability of a bypass of Renfrew serving Abbotsinch airfield.

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that there is already considerable congestion on this road and that it is estimated that it is carrying double the traffic for which it was intended? Could the hon. Gentleman arrange for an early check to be made on these figures and make a statement as soon as possible about trying to include this road in the next estimates?

The traffic census of last August showed that there was an overload on this road, but it is building up at considerably below the general average rate. We are fairly confident that by the time the dual carriageway is built, or prior to that, there will not be a serious problem.

New Hospital, Greenock

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to build a new general hospital to serve the needs of the people of Greenock and district in view of the pre sent inadequate facilities and shortage of beds.

The Western Regional Hospital Board is at present working out the precise general hospital needs of the Greenock area. This is the first stage in the planning of the new hospital, and it is too early to say when building will start.

That is a very disappointing reply. Would the Under-Secretary of State care to visit the eye infirmary and the X-ray department in Greenock to see the inadequate and primitive conditions which doctors and patients are obliged to endure? Would the hon. Gentleman ensure that this hospital is included in the ten-year programme about which the Government have made great announcements and which was the excuse for the Health Service cuts this year?

I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman's invitation, which I shall certainly consider.

Poor-Roll Solicitors

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware of the decision of poor-roll solicitors in Glasgow and Dunbartonshire to work to rule from 31st December, 1961; and what action he proposes to take to implement the recommendation of the Guthrie Report, published in May, 1960, that legal aid should be extended to cover criminal proceedings.

I understand that in Glasgow and Dunbartonshire applicants for the benefit of the poor's roll are now required to produce affidavits setting forth their circumstances. As regards the second part of the Question, my right hon. Friend is considering the Report of the Guthrie Committee, but he is not yet ready to make a statement about the Committee's recommendations.

Has not the Minister any sense of urgency about this matter? Is he not aware that the whole scheme is likely to break down in Glasgow and Dunbartonshire? Why do we have to get into a state of crisis before the Secretary of State ever does anything? Why cannot he do something in this matter now? He has had the Guthrie Report for about 18 months.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Guthrie Report made it clear that the trouble in Scotland could not be dealt with simply by bringing into force the provisions of the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act, 1949. The changes which the Committee recommended will need legislation, and that is still under consideration.

Housing

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimate he has made of the number of local authority houses likely to be built in 1961–62 and 1962–63, respectively.

Present estimates assume the completion of 18,000 houses by Scottish local authorities in 1961–62 and 16,500 in 1962–63.

In view of the housing problem in Scotland, is not the Undersecretary of State ashamed to make such an announcement and to declare that next year he will reduce the expenditure by £1 million? In view of the condition of Scotland's housing problem, is not this scandalous?

The Hon. Gentleman asked a Question which enabled him to get an Answer which enabled him to ask his supplementary question in the way that he did. The figures, of course, which have not been included are those for building by the Scottish Special Housing Association, the development corporations and private builders.

But surely the hon. Gentleman appreciates that the Government's own White Paper includes these organisations in this reduction of £1 million. They are all to be reduced next year.

Would the hon. Gentleman tell us what the figures are for the bodies to which he has just referred? When he has added those figures to the 18,000 which he has mentioned, does the estimate come within even an appreciable extent of Scotland's housing need?

The figures for completions for the last two years and the two succeeding years are 21,600, 21,500, 21,300 and 21,000 to the nearest hundred.

Do not these figures imply that young married couples will still have to wait five years in rooms with their in-laws before they get the chance of a house?

My hon. Friend will have to wait that time before he gets an answer to his question.

In view of the unsatisfactory reply which I did not receive, I give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Secondary School Courses, Lanarkshire

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what proportion of schoolchildren in Lanarkshire allocated to a three years' secondary course has subsequently been re-allocated to a four or five years' course.

In session 1959–60, the latest for which figures are available, 81 pupils, or about 0·5 per cent. of the total number taking three year secondary courses, were transferred to senior secondary courses.

Does not this show how exceedingly difficult it is to get out of this classification once it has been made? Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the three-year courses in this part of Scotland do not synchronise with the four-year and five-year courses and that if a youngster wishes to continue at school beyond the age of 15 years there is practically nothing that he or she can do but repeat the third-year curriculum of the third-year course? Is not this a very bad situation?

I think that the whole of this matter will come up for further consideration when the report of the Advisory Council on Promotion Procedures is published, and I hope that that will be very shortly.

New Technical School, Motherwell

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the date upon which it is proposed to commence building the new technical school at Motherwell.

No date can be given at present. Accommodation proposals were submitted by the education authority in July and have been discussed with representatives of the authority. As a result of these discussions, the authority is now formulating revised proposals which we are awaiting.

Does the Under-Secretary of State recall that it is more than five years since this decision was taken? In view of the admitted urgency and agreement on both sides of the House about the importance of technical education, does not the hon. Gentleman think that it is very unfortunate, to say the least, that we are still as far back now as we were five years ago?

I hope that we can make progress in this matter, but it is primarily one for the education authority. I believe that, owing to the provision of these facilities at the other four existing colleges in Lanarkshire, the authority did not regard this question as one of high priority.

Minor Offences (Trial)

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to ensure that due expedition is shown in hearing the cases of persons charged with minor offences in Scotland.

This is a matter that my right hon. Friend keeps under review in consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and, as the hon. Member knows, the number of sheriffs-substitute and the staffing arrangements for the courts are adjusted from time to time. In addition, courts where business is heavy are given temporary assistance.

The Secretary of State has been keeping this matter so long under review that he seems to have forgotten about it altogether. Does the Under-Secretary of State realise that the Lord Justice Clerk, Lord Thomson, recently protested against these unfair delays to the persons charged—they run to about four months—and that the Sheriff of Ayr and Bute recently said that this was a scandalous situation? Could not the hon. Gentleman encourage his right hon Friend to be a little more active and indicate now any steps that could be taken to reduce these delays?

My right hon. Friend certainly has not forgotten about this matter. With regard to Glasgow's difficulties, which have become greater, I think that the recent appointment of an additional sheriff-substitute and provision of new court room facilities should speed things up.

Does the Minister not realise that the right to a speedy trial involves an honoured principle of British law which still applies in Scotland? Will he take a lesson from what is being done in England by the speedy appointment of more judges and ensure that accused persons are not kept confined longer than is necessary and are brought to a speedy trial?

The hon. and learned Member will appreciate that in fixing dates for trials priority is invariably given to those cases in which the accused is in custody because he has been refused bail.

Hospital Services, West Fife

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from general practitioners in West Fife on the future of hospital services in the area; and what reply he has sent.

These representations dealt with several aspects of the planning of the hospital services in the area, which my right hon. Friend has invited the practitioners to pursue with the regional hospital board as the responsible authority.

Is the Minister aware that his reply is most insulting, that medical practitioners only write to a Minister of the Crown when they are seriously concerned, that as a professional body they are not given to exaggeration, that they asked for his intervention because they are desperately concerned about the state of hospital services in West Fife and that they cannot afford to wait 20 years as planned for the new general hospital? Will the hon. Gentleman look into the matter and do something?

My reply certainly was not meant to be insulting, and I apologise if the hon. Member took it that way. The regional hospital board has agreed to meet the board of management to discuss the matter, and at this juncture it would be better to leave it at that.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that nobody in Fife is satisfied with his passing of the buck continually to the regional hospital board, and that it is the view of the general practitioners and the general body of the public in West Fife that it is the function of the Secretary of State to exert pressure on the Government to get more money to give to the regional hospital boards? What is the hon. Gentleman doing in that regard? Furthermore, can he tell me when I will get an answer to the invitation which I issued to him at least two months ago to come with me to Fife to see the deplorable conditions in the Northern Hospital in Dunfermline?

I will certainly consider the hon. Member's invitation again. I must admit that I had forgotten it. It is the second invitation I have had today, so I shall pay more attention to it.