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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 887: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1975

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Scotland

Glasgow

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to pay an official visit to Glasgow.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to pay an official visit to Glasgow.

I am frequently in Glasgow but have no immediate plans for an official visit.

That is most regrettable. Does not the Secretary of State recognise that he ought to pay a personal visit to Glasgow to see for himself the refuse which is lying about? Is he not aware that at this moment there are 50,000 tons of garbage lying about the place in Glasgow? What has he to say about the health hazard that that creates, and the possibility of rats, flies and other vermin? Does he not realise that the citizens of Glasgow are very worried about it all and are looking to him as the responsible Minister to do something about it?

I am not unaware of the situation in Glasgow. I have had informal contact on my visit to Glasgow with the people concerned, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has had close and continual contacts. I shall continue to have those contacts, and I urge the hon. Gentleman not to exaggerate and not to get into something of a hysteria about these things. It is a serious matter.

Representatives of the corporation met representatives of the strikers today and urged them to return to work. We ought all to echo the hope that they will. The men undertook to consider this at a meeting of the strike committee on Friday, with a view to consultation with their members over the weekend. Clearly, the situation is delicate, and I counsel hon. Members not to say anything which would make the reaching of such a settlement more difficult. The other matters which the hon. Gentleman raised are under consideration.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, in spite of the great inconvenience caused to the citizens of Glasgow, he is in constant contact with the health authorities and there is, in effect, no health hazard whatever at the moment? Will he agree also that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) might apply his not inconsiderable ability to other subjects by which he could help the people of Scotland better than he can help them on this?

I think that we must be careful here. No cause is helped by exaggeration or panic statements. The Greater Glasgow Health Board has confirmed that the strike has not yet had any effect on public health, but what we have to bear in mind is the effect of the cumulative backlog of work and the time that clearance will take. These are the matters concerning me at the moment, and for that reason my hon. Friend the Minister of State is to go to Glasgow tomorrow to make a further assessment of the position and to discuss it with the corporation.

Does not the Secretary of State realise that it is quite wrong for him to talk about exaggeration by my hon. Friend when he himself has not even been to see the situation? It there not a need to prepare contingency plans to have the rubbish cleared, and is it not an affront to the people of Glasgow and a gross dereliction of duty on his part and that of other Scottish Ministers that, when we have more Scottish Office Ministers than we have ever had in Scottish history, it takes three weeks of parliamentary campaigning to get one of his junior Ministers to go to Scotland tomorrow?

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the Question asked when I would make an official visit to Glasgow. I was in Glasgow last weekend, I saw the situation, and I talked to people.

The hon. Gentleman should realise that no one stays in that place all the time. I assure him that the position has been and is constantly under review.

Road Works

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to ensure that there is no delay in road works and other infrastructure requirements in areas of Scotland affected by oil-related development.

Priority is given to finance for oil-related road and other infrastructure schemes, and extra assistance has been provided for local authorities in areas affected.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that production targets for North Sea oil have already lagged behind? How much of this is due to lack of infrastructure in the oil-related areas? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that, because of the snail-like decision-making progress of his roads department, there are many important schemes, in my constituency in particular, which are being held up? What does he propose to do to speed them up?

If the hon. Gentleman will put down Questions about specific road schemes, I shall answer them. I do not accept his charges either about road schemes or generally. Under the Conservative Government there were considerable delays not only in road schemes but on the infrastructure generally. If the suggestion is that there were no delays, I remind hon. Members that the oil programme has certainly not been held up because of delays in the infrastructure under this Government.

Is the Minister aware that the Clyde Estuary is an important area for oil-related developments? Why is the Secretary of State still refusing to give the go-ahead for a motorway connection between Hunterston, one of these centres, and the M8 or the M74, in spite of repeated promises by himself and his Conservative predecessor? When will he do something?

I do not accept my hon. Friend's charges. Oil-related developments get priority. There are constraints on the road programme generally, as there are on all other programmes of public expenditure.

Since it is important to get on with this work during the coming summer, will the Minister say when the local authorities will be told finally what extra grants they will get, for instance, for schools, roads and housing?

I think that the schools figures are already out. There is absolutely no restraint on housing expenditure by local authorities, not only in oil-related areas but on any housing construction anywhere in Scotland.

Does the Minister accept that lack of housing is the greatest deterrent to improving the pace of the oil programme? Does he further accept that there is a very serious need to house properly the people already living in those areas, let alone the additional housing which will be required? Are the Government about to make a statement about additional resources or ideas they may have in mind to improve the supply of housing, particularly in the North-East?

There is no constraint on housing development other than the constraints which arise through the physical difficulties of finding the men and materials. There is no constraint on numbers or finance by the Scottish Office. The SSHA is deeply involved in these matters in many areas, including the hon. Member's constituency. It is there specifically in that case, however, to provide for incoming workers in accordance with the economic expansion programme. The provision of housing for the existing population is basically a local authority responsibility. We have had excellent co-operation from the local authorities and they are under no restraint from central Government.

If the Minister is so pleased with what his Government are doing to help in these oil-related areas, why has the school building programme been slashed? In the county of Kincardineshire it has been cut to 11,000 for the whole year.

The hon. Member should listen to the answer. There is no cut in the provision of roofs over heads. In the oil-related areas, particularly where there is an expansion of population, school provision is being made simultaneously and correspondingly.

Potatoes

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what has been the average price per ton for ware potatoes in Scottish markets for the 1974 crop; how this compares with the guaranteed prices; and if he is satisfied that Scottish potato growers are getting a fair return.

The average price received by Scottish growers from the beginning of the season until mid-February is estimated to be £24·40 per ton or £2·40 above the guaranteed price of £22 per ton determined by the previous administration. I am satisfied that this Government's determination of a guaranteed price for 1975 of £28 per ton should provide growers with the necessary confidence.

Is the Minister aware that recent estimates of the cost of loading dressed potatoes on to lorries in Scotland are between £29 and £30 a ton, and that the estimates for the crop which is to be planted this year are between £35 and £37 a ton? Both figures are well above this year's and next year's guarantee. Since imported potatoes are selling in my constituency at 10p a pound—which is £224 a ton—and housewives are paying that price, does he not agree that there is a good case for re-examining what the guaranteed price for potatoes should be after this year's crop has been planted and a proper cost of the assessment has been made.

That question raises a whole host of different matters. I am aware of the Potato Marketing Board's view of what the figures should be, but the normal pattern is for prices to be lower to our own producers and to rise from March onwards. We are satisfied that this guaranteed price should give confidence to the industry, because there is no evidence that things were difficult last year in spite of rising costs and the lower guaranteed price fixed by the previous administration.

Brussels

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to pay an official visit to Brussels.

Will the Secretary of State ensure that his Department gives adequate publicity to the tangible benefits for Scotland of EEC membership especially from such sources as the European Social Fund, the European Coal and Steel Community and, in the near future, the regional fund?

If I remember rightly, I answered a Question by the hon. Member on that subject in January.

Will my right hon. Friend try to arrange a visit to Brussels before the EEC referendum? If he manages to get there, will he take the opportunity of studying first-hand the undemocratic and over-centralised nature of the EEC? Will he try to see that this over-centralisation and lack of democracy does not become a characteristic of the EEC referendum? Does he realise that many of us in Scottish constituencies would like the result to be announced constituency by constituency, so that we may know whether or not our attempts to get out of the Market are being backed by our constituencies.

I gather that my hon. Friend will have no trouble in making up his mind how he will vote. In view of the requests for me to visit Glasgow, Moray and Nairn, Dumbarton, Fife, and other places, I do not see any possibility of an early visit to Brussels. I shall be able to make up my mind on the nature of that organisation, I think, without such a visit.

On the right hon. Gentleman's next visit to Brussels will he consider putting the EEC fisheries policy on his agenda? Will he bear in mind that inshore fishermen feel that their interests are not being looked after, and that they are demanding a 50-mile limit now?

I had expected to have to deal with that point on a later Question, in which the hon. Member invites me to visit her constituency. However, we are not unmindful of the points which have been put concerning fishery limits, and so forth. This matter concerns, first, not only the EEC but the Law of the Sea Conference. Certainly the EEC and its ideas on fishery limits represent a further complication, and we are watching the situation.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that every Minister who is renegotiating the terms of membership is being increasingly satisfied that he is getting the terms we want and which were included in our manifesto? Has my right hon. Friend contacted Scottish industry, which provides the vast proportion of jobs in Scotland? It will tell him, as it told me in Glenrothes in Fife that if we get out of the Market there will be a massive increase in unemployment.

I do not think there is any doubt that the answer we get depends on to whom we direct the question.

Is the Secretary of State planning to give Scotland a lead on the referendum?

I do not know what the hon. Member means by a lead. Is he asking whether I am going to express my own opinion? Once the renegotiations are completed and we come to the referendum I shall be as much entitled to my opinion as anyone else. How I express it is a matter for me.

When he goes to Brussels, if he ever does, will the Secre- tary of State notice that that over-centralised bureaucracy has fewer bureaucrats in the Commission for 250 million people's welfare than he has in the Scottish Office for 5 million people's welfare?

Eaglesham (Bypass)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to announce the commencement of work on the bypass of the village of Eaglesham.

Responsibility for initiating a scheme lies with Renfrew County Council, which has not put forward any proposals.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise the extent of the damage to structure and the environmental pollution which the people are enduring in this designated conservation area? Does he accept that until there is some co-operation with the Scottish Office about both the line of the road and the cost it is unlikely that the bypass can be brought forward, yet it seems to me and to all my constituents a matter of urgent priority?

The initiative lies with the county council, which has not put forward any proposal to us. It has introduced a certain number of interim measures, such as the 30 mph speed limit, school crossing patrols, and "no-waiting" restrictions. It has turned down a number of other proposals made by the residents.

Dairy Farming

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if the return for dairy farmers proposed in the statement of 17th February covers the rise in costs over the past 12 months.

Yes, Sir. This is a very substantial award. It consolidates and improves on the settlement last October and I believe it will allow the recent rise in confidence to be sustained.

Has the Minister noted the substantial drop in the number of dairy cows in the last return? In view of the probable shortage of milk for consumption and manufacture in the coming months, has he made an estimate of the increase during the summer? Will it also cover the allowances for additional costs?

I am not sure that I accept what the hon. Gentleman says. Production is up on last year. There is an allowance in the United Kingdom quota, as a whole, of 50 million additional gallons, and there is every sign of confidence in the industry. I cannot predict the yield from every cow, but the dairy industry is healthy, and I am sure that it will continue to be so.

If the Minister is so sure that confidence is returning to the dairy industry, can be say why dairy farmers are selling such large numbers of cows, and why there has been a downturn in the number of dairy heifers coming into the dairy herd in Scotland?

I can never understand why a lot of farmers do a whole lot of things. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is getting beef mixed up with milk. I repeat that the dairy industry as a whole is very healthy and that there is a great deal of confidence—more than there was a year ago.

If the industry is so healthy, why did 270 dairymen apply to come out of dairy and into beef in December?

That is a tribute to this Government. All the farmers are very shrewd at seeing where the best bargains are. What the hon. Gentleman is saying is that the beef sector is also a healthy part of agriculture.

Industrial Devolution

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now hold talks with the Scottish Confederation of British Industry, the Scottish Trades Union Council and the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to discuss industrial devolution.

I and my colleagues have discussed industrial and devolution matters with these bodies on a number of occasions since we came into office. We shall continue to do so as necessary.

The Government's decisions to transfer to the Secretary of State powers to ad- minister selective financial assistance to industry, and to set up a Scottish Development Agency, represents a substantial devolution of responsibility for industry to Scotland.

I hope that industry itself will follow this lead and make the maximum effort to develop management and production capacity north of the border.

I am grateful for that reply. But the document containing proposals for discussion on the Scottish Development Agency, which the right hon. Gentleman circulated, is completely silent on the question whether this important agency will be under the control of the Scottish Assembly.

I hope that the House will see the Bill to set up the agency before Easter, and that we shall have the agency in operation before the end of the year. As we do not have a Scottish Assembly, it obviously cannot be responsible to an Assembly. It will be responsible to the Secretary of State.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that if the Government wish to ascertain the views of industry on devolution or any other matter in the future they will consult both sides of industry? Does he realise that the pilgrimage of half the Government to Glasgow Airport via Prestwick Airport last weekend might not have been quite such a propaganda flop if they had had firm proposals to make, and if they had not decided not even to consider interviewing and meeting the Scottish CBI and the Chambers of Commerce as well as the STUC?

The hon. Gentleman is out of date. We have already seen the Scottish CBI and the Scottish Council on the document mentioned by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). We had meetings with the Scottish Council at a working dinner on, I think, Friday evening, when there was a good exchange on most of these matters, including the very point raised in the Question.

Without wishing to see the principle of national rates of pay weakened, or to see Scottish workers paid less than workers in any other part of Britain, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that there is a case for having the capacity to deal with some aspects of industrial relations within Scotland? Is he aware that the quality of our industrial relations problems urgently needs attention?

Is the Secretary of State aware that recent estimates put the number of people on short time in Scotland as high as 80,000? How much of this is due to the branch factory syndrome, from which Scotland has suffered for so long? Does he agree that it is a strong argument for an indigenous base of industry in Scotland?

I do not necessarily accept the hon. Lady's figures. If she wishes to ask a question of that kind, requiring a detailed answer, I shall be grateful if she will put down a Question.

While considering these matters, will my right hon. Friend keep in mind that there are two distinct approaches on industrial devolution, one concerning those matters which should be decentralised and devolved to Scotland and the other concerning those which can be solved only if we keep cross-border control? On behalf of 7,000 Chrysler workers, who expressed precisely that attitude in order to preserve their jobs—the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) said that he entirely agreed with what they said and with what I said—will my right hon. Friend keep in mind that we cannot bring industry and jobs to Scotland unless we have total cross-border control on those matters, affecting the macro-economy of Britain?

This is an important question for discussion and argument. When one starts on the basis of being concerned to maintain the economic integrity of the United Kingdom, one begins to draw lines in respect of what can be devolved and what cannot be. I look forward to these continuing arguments over the coming months.

Comprehensive Education (Coatbridge)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what applications he has in hand for the provision of accommodation for comprehensive education in Coatbridge; and if he will make a statement.

Lanarkshire Education Authority's school building proposals for the next two years included projects to provide accommodation at St. Ambrose, Columba and St. Patrick's Roman Catholic High Schools. The authority's proposals as a whole greatly exceeded in value the amount of school building my right hon. Friend was able to authorise for these years; and it will now be for it to decide, with the agreement of Strathclyde Regional Council, which projects to include in the programme for 1975–76.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Columba High School, which is dubbed one of Lanarkshire's slum schools, requires about £1½ million for the provision of roofs and to replace an annexe, and that Coatbridge High School and St. Patrick's High School require £1·3 million—all at 1974 prices? In other words, over £3 million is required, but the county council is satisfied that it will not be able to afford one penny for those improvements for the next two years. Will my right hon. Friend visit Lanarkshire and discuss this serious situation? Will he give us an assurance that resources will be made available to eliminate these slums from the town of Coatbridge?

My hon. Friend should be aware that Lanarkshire has been allocated £6,424,000 for 1975–76 for new starts. The priority given to school building is very much a matter for the local authorities to decide and to agree on amongst themselves. As regards visiting Lanarkshire, I understand that Lanarkshire is visiting me first to discuss this and other matters.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply I wish to give notice that I shall attempt to raise the matter on an early Adjournment debate.

Lanarkshire

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next proposes to pay an official visit to Lanarkshire.

Is the Secretary of State aware that that answer will not be regarded with much joy by the steelworkers in Lanarkshire? Before the right hon. Gentleman comes to Lanarkshire will he persuade his Cabinet colleagues to reconsider the decision not to set up a Scottish Steel Corporation? Will he establish such a corporation, so that the number of jobs available for steelworkers in Lanarkshire can be expanded? Further, in the context of the southern part of the county, will he persuade his Cabinet colleagues to reconsider the decision not to keep the fuel subsidy for tomato growing, so that the 2,000 people employed in that industry are not thrown on the same unemployment scrapheap as are thousands of steelworkers in the same county?

Steel and tomatoes together. May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman addresses his remarks on tomato growers to the appropriate Minister? He will then receive a clear answer.

Exactly. If the hon. Gentleman puts such a Question on the Order Paper it will be answered by the Scottish Office. I do not agree with the policies and plans that the hon. Gentleman's party has put forward for steel. I assure him that I had the opportunity, as did my hon. Friend the Minister of State, of a discussion with steelworkers from Lanarkshire. The hon. Gentleman will be disappointed to know that after the discussion someone actually moved a vote of thanks to the Scottish Office Ministers.

If the Secretary of State has not the guts to visit Glasgow in the present situation, will he go to Lanarkshire and explain to the people there how he sat in the Cabinet and weakly agreed to the largest cut in the Scottish educational building programme in Scotland's history, from £69 million last year to £39 million this year, which will greatly add to Lanarkshire's acute educational problem?

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the amount being spent in the form of capital expenditure this year in respect of Scottish education is greater than it was last year, and greater than it was the year before. When he talks about new starts, let him remember what his Government did. They postponed starts and pushed them forward a quarter, with the result that a quarter of last year's starts are going into the next year's starts. The hon. Gentleman has to put that into the balance as well. The hon. Gentleman can take no pride in what his Government did.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the cuts in the school building programme in Lanarkshire are considerably smaller than the cuts being made in most of the education authorities in Scotland? Is he aware that at the same time the actual expenditure per head, under the discretion of the local authority, is lower in Lanarkshire than in most education authority areas? Further, is my right hon. Friend aware that the steelworkers in Scotland were well satisfied with the hearing that they were given last week?

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Lanarkshire building company of William Louden and Sons Limited has gone into liquidation? It is clear that in the past three years it donated £60,000 to the Labour Party. Will the right hon. Gentleman indicate whether that company and perhaps some others might still be solvent if they had not given financial support to the Labour Party? Further, will the right hon. Gentleman state the extent to which Labour Party funds in Scotland are dependent upon donations from big business?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that his question was well worthy of himself. I should like to know exactly how much money was donated to the Tory Party by all the other firms that have gone bust as a result of the three-day working week, the hold-up of materials, and the escalation of prices that took place as a result of the confrontation last winter.

Post Office (Alterations In Addresses)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what consultations he has had with officials of the Post Office in Scotland with regard to suggested alterations in addresses.

Consultations about the use of the names of the new Scottish regions in postal addresses are still in progress.

Is the Minister aware that the Post Office believes that the onus is on the public to say why there should not be a change from counties to regions in their addresses? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that this measure, which the Post Office has already forced on areas in England, is unnecessary, unpopular and undemocratic?

I am afraid that the hon. and learned Gentleman is wrong. In fact, the Post Office is at this minute consulting the Post Office Users' Council for Scotland. Among other bodies it is also consulting the Scottish Council of the CBI, the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) and the new regional islands and district councils. It will consult anyone else, including even the hon. and learned Gentleman, if he cares to send the Post Office his views.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the intolerable suggestion that Argyll should be called West Strathclyde? Is he further aware that Argyll is the oldest area with a Gaelic name in Scotland? Will the Minister take a stronger line on this unparalleled attempt to rob us of our identity?

Strathclyde is also a very old name. No decisions on these matters have yet been reached. It is not strictly a matter for me, but I am happy to convey to the Post Office any representations that are made on these matters.

If the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacCormick) is so proud of his county, will my hon. Friend confirm that slogans in the county of Argyll saying "Go home you Sassenach, go home" are removed by the Scottish National Party?

As far as I know, it is not proposed by anyone that "Sassenach" should appear in any postal address.

Fishing Industry

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has had from the Scottish fishermen with regard to their financial problems.

The Scottish Trawlers' Federation and the Scottish inshore industry have pressed for aid to enable them to meet current operating difficulties. As the hon. Member will know, and be pleased about, we announced on 27th February our proposals to give the fishing industry assistance for a six-months' period. The order embodying these proposals will be laid before Parliament as soon as possible.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he accept that by the time we have the 200-miles limit which is proposed by the Law of the Sea Conference there will be no fish left to fish? Should there not be a 50-miles limit round Scotland before the 200-miles limit is introduced? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that such a limit is particularly necessary for the herring industry, which is in danger of being completely wiped out by foreign boats this summer?

I wish Opposition hon. Members would give us a wee bit of credit. The Question concerns the financial problems of the industry. We estimate that over £2 million will be coming to Scottish industry. Is the hon. Gentleman now indicating that the official policy of one of the Opposition parties is a 50-miles limit? I think that that would be disastrous. We shall do our best—[Interruption.] Unfortunately, herring have a habit of breeding outside even the 50-miles limit. The sooner some members of the Scottish National Party get to know something about herring, rather than just looking for votes, the better. I repeat that we are concerned about the future of the fishing industry as a whole, including the herring industry, and that it will be very much to the fore at the Law of the Sea Conference next month.

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that he may be chased by irate housewives in Provan because they are unable to get fish to eat with their chips? He should perhaps take this matter a little more seriously. All fishing interests welcome the Government's recognition of the problems of the fishing industry by the granting of financial assistance, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is strong feeling that the assistance is heavily biased towards the large deep-water boats, and that boats of 40 ft and under have been excluded from the scheme, although their costs have also risen substantially? Will the hon. Gentleman undertake to review the matter to see whether assistance can be given to the small man as well as to big companies?

The hon. Lady should not say "Hear, hear" before she has heard the reply. I look forward to the day when a member of the Scottish National Party will congratulate the Government on doing something worth while. Surely I do not need to spell it out. It is obvious that the operating assistance is geared to giving the greatest amount to those who have the heaviest costs. The bigger the boat, the more expensive it is to run. Therefore, there is a graded system which we think is fair to all. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there will continue to be fish for the housewives of Provan and every other constituency, provided that we get the 200-miles limit, because the key to the problem is the conservation of the supply of fish.

Does the Minister accept that the fishing industry is grateful for what was announced last Thursday. Does he also accept that severe problems remain? Is he aware that in Aberdeen the average price per hundredweight last month was down 18½ per cent. on last year? That is largely because of the distribution of foreign-caught frozen fish. What is needed is a temporary ban on the importation of fish from the non-EEC countries. Will the hon. Gentleman call an early meeting with the fishing industry to discuss its long-term stability?

That is a more constructive approach. We are aware of the difficulties which face the fishing industry because of the glut of fish in world markets. Scotland cannot be isolated from that, any more than any other country can be isolated from it. I am always willing to discuss constructive proposals from any section of the fishing industry.

Scottish Trades Union Congress (Meeting)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the meeting between members of the STUC and the Prime Minister and himself on 27th–28th February.

Both parties to the meeting agreed that it provided a most valuable opportunity for wide-ranging discussion of matters vital to the Scottish economy. In recognition of its success, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has proposed that the meeting should be repeated at annual intervals.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's reply, but is he aware that Lord Beswick appears to think that Hunterston is near the Arctic Circle? Following the talks, he stated that there was a shortage of houses and social amenities in the area. Did not my right hon. Friend inform the noble Lord that Hunterston was within nine miles of Irvine new town, which is building one of the most modern shopping centres in Western Europe and is committed to building houses for incoming steel workers? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Cunninghame District Council, which is the local authority in that area, is committed to building houses for incoming steel workers? Will my right hon. Friend remind Lord Beswick that there are only two niggers in the woodpile, of which he is one, because he has prevented the construction of a motorway to improve the road system around Hunterston. The other is his right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport, who has allowed British Railways to lift up tracks one after another in this important development area, so making impossible the provision of adequate railway services. Will my right hon. Friend do something? We are fed up with saying this.

My hon. Friend should be careful what he says. I attended the Press conference at which Lord Beswick spoke. My hon. Friend has attributed words to Lord Beswick that were never uttered.

They were uttered by a journalist from the South. I asked him whether he thought that Hunterston was in a remote Highland area and made the point that my hon. Friend has just made.

As unemployment must clearly have been on the agenda at this meeting, what indication did the Secretary of State give of when the unfortunate trend of unemployment in Scotland is likely to reverse and the figures to start coming down? As the visit was regarded by many people as a bit of a washout, what was its cost to the taxpayer?

I cannot answer the last part of the supplementary question without notice. If the hon. Gentleman had been at the meeting he would have heard that the discussion on employment was on a constructive basis and was concerned with what could be done. The STUC recognised that the rise in unemployment in recent months was not the Government's responsibility but resulted from past conditions and from the present world position. Understanding was expressed of the Government's policies. I hope that we shall be able to pass those policies through the House with the help of everyone concerned as quickly as possible, particularly the establishment of the Scottish Development Agency.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that what was discussed in Glasgow last weekend is of vital importance to all of us? We should all like to have taken part in the discussion. Will he arrange for the matter to be debated in the House? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he is not blinded by the promises from Hunterston and remember that retaining the finishing mills of DL and Clyde Alloy is of equal importance with looking after our steel making capacity?

I assure my hon. Friend that these matters were discussed and that everyone was aware of all the facets of the Hunterston development and the steel industry. I regret that my hon. Friend was not there, and I am sure he will be the first to appreciate that it was right for us to discuss these matters with the people who are responsible for industry and are familiar with the industrial situation. We also wish to see re-investment, real growth and modernisation in the Scottish economy.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the report in the Daily Record that the Scottish Assembly is intended to have some tax-raising power and control over trade and industry is correct?

The hon. Gentleman had better wait until we come to our final decision. What has been said and repeated is that the paper on devolution put forward by the STUC for discussion is one of the best we have seen, and certainly much better than the one put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

Geriatric Beds (Fife)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has for increasing the number of geriatric beds in the county of Fife; and if he will make a statement.

To meet the requirements of Fife for geriatric hospital beds, 268 additional beds will be required by 1981. Minor schemes under construction will provide 58 additional beds by next year. Major schemes which will provide the balance of 210 beds are at various stages of planning or design.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Fife Health Board, at the suggestion of the Department, has accepted a cut in the number of beds in phase 1 of the new hospital in Dunfermline district, which means that the number of geriatric beds will be reduced? I understand that my hon. Friend is to visit the Fife Health Board on 7th April. If that meeting takes place, will my hon. Friend discuss the subject of geriatric beds?

My hon. Friend has rather sprung on me his supplementary question about the district hospital. There is no question of the provision of additional geriatric beds being prevented. I am afraid that other commitments preclude my making the visit which I had previously arranged. When I do visit Fife or go to see the health board I have no doubt that the matters my hon. Friend has raised with me will be taken into consideration.

As the proposal to use the former maternity hospital at Newport-on-Tay for the provision of geriatric beds has been turned down on grounds of cost, will the hon. Gentleman consider the provision of extra geriatric beds in the St. Andrews area, in place of Newport-on-Tay?

Scottish Development Agency

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to finalise his consultations on the setting up of the Scottish Development Agency.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that the principle of the agency has been widely welcomed throughout Scotland? Will he give an assurance that there will be adequate finance for it from oil and other resources in Scotland and from the United Kingdom budget? Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the policy proposals which are likely to be enunciated by the development agency will be in no way in conflict with what happens within the EEC?

I do not think they will. The agency has not yet been established, and there is some way to go before we shall know the final results of the EEC renegotiations. On the financial matter, I can give the assurance that there will be adequate finance to do the important job we want the agency to do.

Will the hon. Gentleman answer the specific point made by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) who mentioned the question of oil? Is it the intention that any kind of assured share of oil revenue will be available to the agency? Will the Minister do a little speculation, which his right hon. Friend was reluctant to do, and say whether, when the Scottish Assembly is established, it is expected or hoped that the development agency will be responsible to it?

I have nothing to add to what my right hon. Friend said on the latter point. As for the financing of the agency, it has already been made clear that this is not to be done by a specific allocation of oil revenue.

Grant-Aided Schools

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding the freezing of grants to grant-aided schools.

Have these 50 or 60 letters made the right hon. Gentleman aware that this vicious freeze is hitting hardest those least able to bear it, namely, the children of less well-off parents? Why does the right hon. Gentleman obstinately refuse to give to Scottish pupils the protection which his right hon. Friend is giving to English pupils? Will he now either restore the grant to its 1973 level, in real terms, or introduce a fee remission scheme on the same lines as that operating in England?

The hon. Gentleman should appreciate that the position in England is entirely different from that in Scotland. There has never been a fee remission scheme in Scotland, for the simple reason that there was not the same obligation upon these schools to accept children from local authority nominations. The hon. Gentleman should remember that this has long been the policy of this party and this Government. We instituted the policy when we were last in Government. It should therefore come as no surprise to him. This is not the time—during a period of financial stringency when we have complaints about the amount of money being made available for local authority schools—to increase the grants to this type of school.

Will my right hon. Friend urge members of the Opposition to accept that it has always been one of the traditions of Scottish education that educational opportunity should be available to children irrespective of their parents' income and ability, or willingness to pay? Will he further tell the Opposition, especially the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat), that at a time when there is a shortage of funds for education which particularly affects children who can only be labelled as underprivileged, to try to fight for money for fee-paying schools is nothing short of irresponsible stupidity?

This is a principle which is completely outside the Scottish system of education.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the Government's policy on grant-aided schools is causing serious damage to local authority schools in Edinburgh and elsewhere? Is he aware of the statement of the Labour chairman of the Lothian Education Committee criticising the Government for their policy? In the interests of local authority and grant-aided schoolchildren will he consider giving help to the parents of those children presently at grant-aided schools?

The hon. Gentleman should be careful how he quotes people. I do not accept his general, sweeping statements. He should recognise that this policy has been in the forefront of our education policy for a long time. It should come as no surprise to him. The question how grant-aided schools will eventually be phased out will be a matter for consideration.

Will the Minister carefully review the position of the pupils who are now at school and whose parents, because of the freeze, cannot afford the new fees? Will he do something to help those pupils now?

I am prepared to look at anything, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. I am quite open to suggestions on this matter. It may be one of the things which we can look at when we examine the whole question of how and when to phase out.

Paraquat (Fatal Accident Inquiry)

40.

asked the Lord Advocate if he will make a statement about his reasons for ordering a fatal accident inquiry in the Kirkcudbright paraquat case.

In terms of Section 3 of the Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths Inquiry (Scotland) Act 1906 I may, in any case of sudden or suspicious death in Scotland, whenever it appears to me to be expedient in the public interest, direct that a public inquiry into such death and the circumstances thereof shall be held. In the case of the death of Ralph Harold Anders there was not evidence to warrant bringing criminal charges against anyone, but the death was suspicious as some of the evidence appeared to point away from accident or suicide. The death had attracted considerable public interest locally and there was much speculation and rumour. Moreover, solicitors acting for two brothers of the deceased specifically asked me to direct that an inquiry be held, as the brothers were concerned about how the deceased had met his death. In all these circumstances it seemed to me that the proper course was to direct that an inquiry be held under the 1906 Act.

Does the Lord Advocate appreciate that this and other cases have caused widespread public concern in Scotland over the fact that in a fatal accident inquiry a jury should be invited to return a verdict of homicide against a named person or persons? Is he aware that if that were done such a person would either have had a public verdict of homicide returned against him without trial or, if he were charged, before trial? Does the Lord Advocate appreciate that this is in keeping with the bad procedures of the law of England and contrary to the good procedures and practice of the law of Scotland?

The hon. and learned Gentleman has made a statement with which I do not agree, and I do not think that, on reflection, when he reads his supplementary question, he will agree with it himself. For reasons best known to himself the hon. and learned Gentleman does not follow the distinction drawn in the 1906 Act between fatal accident inquiries, on the one hand, where the emphasis is on accident, and sudden or suspicious death inquiries on the other hand. The Anders inquiry was a suspicious death public inquiry which Parliament specifically empowers the Lord Advocate to order. Where there is suspicion there is necessarily the possibility of subsequent criminal proceedings. The hon. and learned Gentleman would probably have been the first to complain had I not ordered such an inquiry into Mr. Anders' death.

With respect, may I ask whether that is the basis for the anxiety? Is not the basis for the anxiety the feeling among many of us that some of the evidence and statements made might have adversely prejudiced some people involved in the inquiry? Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at this again?

The fatal accident raises an important point, which I have to consider. I assure my hon. Friend that matters of that kind are in my mind and that when the notes of evidence have been received—they have not yet been received—I shall study them with great care, bearing in mind the points he has made.

Stirling

41.

asked the Lord Advocate what plans he has to make an official visit to Stirling.

I do not intend to make an official visit to Stirling in the near future.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of the growing concern over the delay and apparent indecision of the Procurator Fiscal in Stirling in dealing with the objections laid concerning the election expenses of the Scottish National Party? Will he see that appropriate action is taken to ensure that the Scottish public knows exactly from where the Scottish National Party gets its election funds, even if it turns out that some of its sources are ordinary working-class Scots laddies like my constituent, Sir Hugh Fraser?

I cannot associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friend. I wrote to him on Monday informing him that a report from the Procurator Fiscal in Stirling relating to the matter he has in mind had been received by me at the end of the previous week. I can tell him now that a complaint has been served on a common law charge and the case will be called in court on 10th March. Accordingly the matter is sub-judice.

Does the Lord Advocate agree that one way to resolve the problems of the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) would be for him to resign his seat and fight another election? I doubt whether he would be returned to this House if he did.

Fatal Accidents (Inquiry Procedure)

42.

asked the Lord Advocate if he is satisfied with the fatal accident inquiry procedure in Scotland.

the fatal accident inquiry procedure has been in operation for many years and is generally satisfactory. There is, however, room for improvement, and the question of amendment of the relevant legislation is under active consideration.

I am grateful for that reply. Will the Lord Advocate bear in mind that there is obviously widespread concern in the House and in Scotland about the number of fatal accident inquiries we have had in the past 12 months? Is there not a possibility that, through a change in policy, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is introducing the coroner's court system of England into Scottish law?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this is not the case and that there has been no change in policy in the Crown Office since I took the office of Lord Advocate a year ago.

Is the Lord Advocate considering, in his review, the question of legal aid for persons appearing before such a court?

This is a matter I have taken into consideration. I do not yet have anything to say on the subject.