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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 25 May 1977

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Oral Answers To Questions

Before we begin, I should like, with every respect, to ask for the mercy of brief questions and answers.

Scotland

Glasgow East End Project

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is yet in a position to make a progress report on the Glasgow East End Project.

The organisational planning has been completed and the participating authorities—that is, the regional and district councils, the Scottish Development Agency and the Scottish Special Housing Association-have agreed the priorities for early action. The first work on site, involving new house building and tenement rehabilitation, will start in June and other early projects will follow quickly.

Can the Minister assure the House that the new administration in Glasgow will not fold up that project? Does he recall that many thousands of people went without good houses because a previous administration changed, and is he aware that that danger still exists.

I cannot give my hon. Friend that categorical assurance but, as far as I know, the new administration has made no declaration or attempt to change the policy on East End. I should certainly regret it if that happened. The new administration has given no indication that it will do other than support the constructive attempts of the previous administration in relation to East End.

Is my hon. Friend aware—in spite of the answer he has just given—of the experience in 1968–70, when there was a similar council, that is, a Conservative one supported by the Scottish National Party, and when the number of houses built in Glasgow dropped to zero? Does he realise that it has taken us many years to recover from that situation?

I am aware of the disastrous housing policies of the Tories when they were in power in Glasgow before, but it is only fair to point out that the housing problems in Glasgow have changed. There have been enormous improvements during the last 10 years, and we can only wait and see what the new administration will attempt to do.

Does the Minister agree that his hon. Friends have been talking rubbish, and will he indicate the total number of housing completions in Glasgow last year when there was a Labour council and a Labour Government?

The hon. Gentleman is an expert on rubbish. I must add, in the light of what I have just said, that nobody on the Government Benches is playing the numbers game. The quality and availability of the right houses in the right place are more important factors in framing a housing policy.

Unemployed Persons

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further plans he has for reducing unemployment in Scotland.

I believe the economic policies that we are pursuing offer the best prospects of reducing unemployment. At the same time, we have recently announced the allocation of substantial additional resources to our programme of special employment and training measures designed to limit the impact of unemployment in the coming months. Such measures have already helped more than 54,000 people in Scotland.

Does the Minister realise that whatever measures the Government take they are pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom? Has he any comment to make on the position of Beattie's biscuit factory in Glasgow, which is a subsidiary of Rank Hovis McDougall, because that factory is closing with a loss of 250 jobs? Why did the Government refuse to give temporary employment subsidy to keep that company going?

On the first part of that question, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be as encouraged as I have been by the fact that unemployment fell by 6,000 during the past month. One does not want to jump over the moon about such figures, but a cautious optimism is worth while.

As for Beattie's, that factory has sustained a substantial loss for many years. I have seen the management there and the people concerned, but no application was made to the Scottish Office for temporary employment subsidy. Such an application would have been made to the Department of Employment. We were ready to give any assistance required, but any decision taken must be one of purely commercial judgment for the company itself.

Are the Government yet in a position to give an assessment of Strathclyde Regional Council's prediction that the West of Scotland will lose 70,000 jobs in manufacturing industry between 1976 and 1983?

We have already indicated our response to Strathclyde Regional Council. That is a rather pessimistic outlook, allowing for the fact that we have been doing rather better in the manufacturing sectors and exports. I hope that that will continue.

We appreciate the extension of special development area status to Arbroath, but does not the Minister consider that it should be extended to Brechin, which, as the Minister knows and has fairly acknowledged, will face difficult employment prospects in the months ahead?

I appreciate the hon. Member's concern about Brechin. He and others have spoken to me about it. But no doubt he will also appreciate that with our limited resources we cannot make every area in the country a development area or a special development area. That would negate the fundamental aim of the regional policy and the initiatives that come from it. I hope that the visit that I have promised to Brechin and the work that has already been done will go some way to ameliorate the difficult conditions in that area.

What assessment has the Scottish Office made of the effect on unemployment of the withdrawal of the regional employment premium?

It has been explained to the right hon. Gentleman on numerous occasions that one of the reasons why we decided to withdraw the premium was so that we could spend the resources thereby released on other things, such as increasing the money available to the Scottish Development Agency and the work creation programme.

Will there be a Government statement soon on the proposals now before the Scottish Development Department for a foundry in Central Scotland to serve not only the motor industry but other industries as well?

Any application for a foundry would come to the Scottish Office. My hon. Friend knows that foundry developments have taken place in two major plants in the past year. Any further announcement will be made in the normal way.

Is it not deeply disappointing that after three years of Socialist administration we have the highest ever level of unemployment and no improvement in the seasonal figure for the latest month? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that it is the view of almost all commentators that this situation is due to the Government's policy of knocking the stuffing out of British industry and preventing it from providing more jobs in Scotland? Will he pay some attention to this point?

The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that most commentators on both sides of industry agree that we are in the midst of an international recession and that conditions in the United Kingdom are little different from those in other parts of the world. The measures that we have put forward recently to improve employment prospects in Scotland, including our proposals for British Leyland, Chrysler and the Scottish Development Agency, have not been supported by the Opposition. Indeed, there has been total opposition from the Conservatives to the initiatives that the Government have taken.

A29, A929/A94 (Detrunking)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will announce his decision on the proposals to detrunk route A92 from Dundee to Stonehaven and to trunk routes A929/A94 from Dundee to Forfar and Stonehaven; and if he will make a statement.

The City of Dundee District Council has objected to the order and consequently a public local inquiry is being arranged in accordance with the statutory requirements. Unless the objection is withdrawn, my right hon. Friend cannot reach a decision until he has considered the report of the inquiry.

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that there are still a number of improvements to carry out on the A92, the current trunk road, including the provision of the Montrose relief road? Can he give an assurance that if the detrunking scheme goes ahead—and the Tayside Regional Council has given its approval—the proposal will be supported and helped as soon as possible?

It will be for the Tayside Regional Council to maintain the road in a suitable condition if it is detrunked. I have no plans for major improvements of this road in the short term.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his plans will put extra pressure on the already inadequate Dundee-Arbroath road, especially at the village of Muirdrum, which is an accident black spot where three children under the age of 10 have been knocked down in the past three years? May I convey to him the anger felt by the villagers that no improvements are planned and that the bypass, which has been promised since the last war, is still no nearer?

This may be a matter for the local public inquiry if the Dundee District Council does not withdraw its objection. My noble Friend who looks after day-to-day matters concerning roads will be discussing this problem with the district council.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Fines

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total amount of fines imposed in Scottish courts which has been written off as irrecoverable debts since the introduction of payments of fines by instalments; and if he will make a statement.

Since 1971, when the Scottish Courts Administration was set up, the total amount of fines which has been written off in the sheriff courts as irrecoverable three years after their imposition is £88,424. The total amount of fines imposed during that period was nearly £11½million. The amount written off, therefore, represents less than 1 per cent. of this figure. Corresponding information about burgh and justice of the peace courts, and the district courts that replaced them on 16th May 1975, is not available.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that if figures from other courts were available and were added to the figures that he has quoted, they would produce a substantial sum of money? Does this not indicate that hooligans, ruffians, thugs and other undesirables are getting off scot-free after committing offences against society and decent people? Is it not about time that we examined alternative means of making guilty persons pay?

No one claims a monopoly of concern for law enforcement. We are all deeply concerned about it, and that includes concern about fines enforcement. My hon. Friend should bear in mind that the courts, to which no information is available, have only a limited ability to apply fines, so even if the information were available it would not produce the result that my hon. Friend forecasts.

The subject of fines enforcement was considered by the Scottish Council on Crime and the Thompson Committee. We are looking at it in our consideration of possible legislative measures on criminal procedure.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the largest irrecoverable debt that he owes in Scotland is to the police force, which brings the criminals to justice? Is he not greatly concerned about reports of very low morale and the number of resignations from the police force in Scotland?

I can claim with some justification and pride that no junior Minister has given more time and attention to the needs and requests of the police in Scotland than I. I have worked hard over the past three years to establish the good relationship that the Government have with the Scottish Police Federation. I see no evidence of low morale. Too many people are trying to talk down the police force. The police do not enjoy that, and all the evidence is that the morale of the police in Scotland is high.

Kessock Bridge

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotand what is the latest estimate of the time scale in the construction of the Kessock Bridge; and if he will make his promised statement.

I have nothing to add to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to the hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston) on 28th April.

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that it is about time that he had something to add? Will he confirm or deny that the tenders that have been received for the Kessock Bridge two years after they were originally asked for appear to be £10 million lower than the original offers? Does this not indicate a gross lack of management by his Department of the criteria on which it asked for offers originally?

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is a lot of nonsense. He said at a previous Question Time that this matter was decided in 1971 and he knows which party was in power then. In the three years between 1971 and 1974 the Government of the day did nothing. We have gone as far as getting tenders, and we expect to choose a contractor once we have considered the tenders in great detail, possibly in about two months' time.

Will my hon. Friend try to ensure that the design of the bridge is more aesthetically pleasing than was the bridge built at Ballachulish?

It is recognised that previous tenders and designs were unacceptable. We now have positive tenders and they are being examined as quickly as possible. I cannot comment on the aesthetic quality of designs. I think that the desire of the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) and many others in the area is to get the bridge started as quickly as possible.

In view of the totally inadequate reply, I beg leave to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

South Angus

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to South Angus.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the gallant fight by local parents who wish to retain the Panbride Primary School as the rural primary school? Is he aware that the school is being closed because of the meanness of the pathetic Tory-controlled regional council in what is purely an accountancy exercise? When does the hon. Gentleman expect to make an announcement about the school?

I can agree with one comment—Tory authorities are mean. The problem raised by the hon. Member is one that must be dealt with initially by the regional authorities. If the hon. Member asks a specific Question about that, I shall be happy to deal with it.

If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State ever proposes to pay a visit to Angus, will he give a solemn undertaking that there will be no command broadcast on Scottish television to celebrate his action?

As I have said, my right hon. Friend has at present no plans to visit South Angus. If he had, I doubt whether he would be put on a Royal Command show. I understand that the Scottish National Party is holding its conference this weekend. I am sure that if my hon. Friend watches that he will find it highly entertaining.

Glasgow, Springburn

8. Mr.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to visit the Glasgow, Springburn, constituency.

I hope that my hon. Friend appreciates that that reply will be regarded as disappointing in my constituency. Is he aware that if he, or any of his colleagues, visited Springburn he would find some of the best industrial and housing sites in the West of Scotland? In view of the limits imposed on public expenditure, will my hon. Friend use his good offices to encourage investment from other sources to allow redevelopment of Springburn to proceed as planned?

I visit Springburn every weekend. My mother-in-law lives there and I visit her regularly. I am conscious of the problems of the Spring-burn area—not in connection with my mother-in-law, but the industrial difficulties that my hon. Friend has mentioned. The Scottish Development Agency has made substantial progress at Cowlairs, for example. We shall be happy to do all we can to encourage further industrial development.

Notwithstanding his mother-in-law's blandishments, will my hon. Friend accept that his recent visit to Hugh Smith (Glasgow) Ltd. was welcome? Can he give an assurance that he will have early discussions with the Scottish Development Agency about the growing demand for small factories of between 2,000 and 5,000 sq. ft.?

I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said about my recent visit to his constituency. We are in constant discussion with the Scottish Development Agency about a variety of factors. The provision of small manufacturing and service units, for which there is a demand, is being borne in mind by the Agency.

Football Match (Chile)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many protests from organisations he has received in a recent period concerning the forthcoming football match in Chile, in which a representative Scottish team may participate at Santiago Stadium.

Since December 1976, when the Scottish Football Association announced the details of the South American tour, my right hon. Friend has received representations from 29 organisations expressing concern about the proposed match in the Santiago Stadium.

May I assure my hon. Friend that my English and non-English constituents, of whom there are many, have nothing but the most warm-hearted appreciation of the historic record of the Scottish people in their dedication to the principles of democracy, human freedom and liberty? Is my hon. Friend aware that there is much dismay that the Scottish Football Association has not announced that it is to call off plans to stage a football match in this blood soaked Santiago Stadium? Will my hon. Friend press the Football Association to call off the match? Is he aware that some trade unionists, including many in the trade union that I represent, are planning to do their level best to ensure that the match does not take place and that the football team does not travel?

I am grateful for those kind comments about the Scottish people by my English colleague. But I must tell him that the Government cannot interfere in sporting affairs. I have expressed my deep concern to the SFA about the proposed match. I hope that even at this eleventh hour it will reconsider its proposal to play at the stadium.

Is the Minister aware that there is considerable support in Scotland for the SFA from people who do not necessarily support the Government of Chile but who are sickened by the hypocrisy of the Labour Party and Left-wing Members who never seem to complain when Scottish teams and others play Communist dictatorships, such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia, which in some cases are soaked in blood? Will the Minister dissociate himself from that hypocritical attitude which adopts double standards?

Not for the first time, the hon. Member talks about hypocrisy and double standards. But he knows that from time to time I have called him the ace of double standards. My constituency is next to his. When one hears him speaking of the Pakistani population in Glasgow and one knows his attitude towards race, Rhodesia and other questions, one can understand what hypocrisy means.

I have made my answer clear. I sit on a working party with the SFA. I have made it known, although I have deep respect for the officials of the SFA, that I deeply regret their misjudgment in deciding to accept an invitation to play in this stadium, where there have been some terrible incidents. I hope that there will be a change of attitude and that the match will not go ahead.

I appreciate that my hon. Friend cannot tell the Scottish Football Association what it must do. However, could he ask the association at least to take into account the feelings of the Scottish footballers? Does he agree that if they were given the facts, they might have some say in what is to happen about the proposed tour?

I must be frank and honest with my hon. Friend. I have to tell him that a poll organised by the Scottish Professional Footballers' Association resulted in 70 per cent. of the membership saying "Yes" to the game in Chile. I must be fair and honest about that. However, I agree with my hon. Friend that perhaps the players did not get all the facts of the situation. I am still hoping—and I repeat this—that the SFA will reconsider the decision to play in the Santiago Stadium.

Would it not be better if politicians stuck to politics and allowed sportsmen to get on with the game?

Sometimes when I see the hon. Member's antics I do not know whether he is a sportsman or a politician. I do not intend to change my attitude. I do not wish to repeat what I have said.

I thank my hon. Friend for the strong statement of disapproval that he has made today and previously. I also thank the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Is it not the case that the SFA asked for a judgment from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before going ahead and that that judgment was given against the match? Is it not shameful that the SFA should ignore the wishes of the Government and the people?

May I remind the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that when so-called Left-wingers protest against oppression, bloodshed and tryanny they do so irrespective of the régime concerned and whether it is in the East or the West? There is blood on the ground of the stadium upon which the hon. Member is asking our young Scottish football players to perform.

My hon. Friend has played a notable part in the campaign. He is correct about the Foreign Office and its advice. I can only repeat that I hope that the SFA will still change its mind, even at this eleventh hour.

Does the Minister ever express disapproval of Scottish football teams playing behind the Iron Curtain, where there is a universal denial of human rights?

I think that the hon. Member does not follow football as much as some of us do. He may well remember the courageous stand by the Glasgow Celtic Football Club, a stand which most of us on the Government side of the House supported. I say for the benefit of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) that I have taken a stand against Russia concerning the Jews and I have expressed my disapproval in writing and in speeches. It is not a one-sided stand as far as I am concerned.

Council House Sales

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many applications he has had from housing authorities to sell council houses since October 1974; how many of these applications have been granted; and what was the average time taken by his Department to give substantive replies to these applications.

Since July 1974, when general consent was withdrawn, until 30th April 1977, 565 applications were received and 330 granted. Elapsed time between proposals and replies varied between two and 10 weeks, according to the form of the proposals and the complexities which they raised.

Is the Minister aware that in the recent district elections Scotland showed perfectly clearly that it felt that people ought to have a right to buy the home in which they live? Will he assure the House that it will be no part of the present Government's policy to frustrate the legitimate aims of properly elected councils in this matter?

I think that it is stretching it a bit to suggest that that was the only issue, or, indeed, the main issue, that inflenced people's voting patterns in the recent district elections. We shall be looking at this topic in the context of any possible changes that might follow the review of housing policy that will be dealt with in our Green Paper. There will be adequate time to discuss future housing plans, but I can give an assurance now that there will be no blanket approval for the indiscriminate wholesale selling of council houses.

Does my hon. Friend know of any man who has honey on his hands and does not want to lick it off at the earliest possible moment? My response to the style of the Question is that I anticipate a wholesale selling of houses in Drumchapel, Castlemilk and Easter house.

If I understand my hon. Friend's question, I think that what he was asking was whether there is any evidence, in the three largest housing schemes in Scotland, of a widespread demand to buy houses. The answer is a definite "No".

We have all heard of inflation, but does the hon. Gentleman regard it as reasonable that the price of a local authority house that was offered for sale at £5,800 in 1974 should have risen now to £10,000?

I think that the hon. Gentleman is wasting Question Time. [Interruption.] We are now dealing with Question No. 10. The hon. Gentleman is wasting Question Time when he asks me a hypothetical question about a house about which I have no knowledge.

Common Agricultural Policy

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimates of the fall in production in agriculture have been made owing to the CAP prices recently announced.

The decisions on farm support prices and related arrangements assure our farmers of a fair return for their labours and should encourage them to produce more food at prices the consumer can afford.

Is the Minister aware that that is not my experience from talking to at least my local farmers? They are now much concerned about the future, because costs in farming are rapidly overhauling whatever increase there is in prices. There is grave concern about the future, which will undoubtedly end in a fall in production. Will the Minister continue the efforts in Brussels to get some amendments to the CAP, so that these factors are taken into account?

I do not think that the future of agriculture depends entirely on what happens in Brussels, although obviously that plays a large part in influencing the future of the industry. I have confidence in the industry. It is too important an industry for any Government to disregard its contribution. However, what I have noticed is that sometimes farmers tell one things that are slightly different from the accounts that they show at the end of the year.

Given the state of consumers and given the state of farmers—and they are both in a bad state—is it not the situation that neither can afford a continuation of the CAP?

The farmers are not in a bad state. By exaggeration the hon. Gentleman does no credit to the genuine problems that face farmers. It is equally untrue to suggest that the rise in prices over the past six months has been entirely due to the CAP. In fact, the products covered by the CAP represent a very small proportion of the retail price index for food.

If the Minister is so happy with Scottish agriculture at present, will he say which sectors of Scottish agriculture are up to the target set in the White Paper "Food from Our Own Resources" and which are not? Is he aware of the growing financial discrepancy between returns for crops and returns for livestock? Is he satisfied with these trends?

No. I am certainly concerned about the fall in production. Given reasonable circumstances this year, I think that we should see improvements. Obviously, when there is a fall in production we must make every effort in the sectors where that is evident—though it is not as significant or as widespread in all sections of the industry. However, certainly I am disappointed. I hope that we shall get back on target this year and in succeeding years.

Is my hon. Friend aware that among farmers in the Kilmarnock area there is much more concern about the savage increases in rents by the local landowner, Kilmarnock Estates, owned by Lord Howard de Walden, than there is about the CAP prices? There is a limit to what we can do about the CAP, but surely we can do something about these rent increases at home.

I quite agree. My right hon. Friend highlights one of the indicators that suggest that there is still a large degree of confidence in agriculture, such as the applications for capital grants for replacement stock, and there is no shortage of applicants when any farm becomes vacant.

Did the hon. Gentleman say that he thought that prices reflected a fair return to producers? If so, will he enlarge upon that statement and relate that to the prices being paid to pig producers?

I do not remember what I said about that. I do not think that what I said was said in the way in which the hon. Gentleman put it.

I recognise, frankly, that pig production is the one section of the industry that is going through an extremely difficult situation at present. As the hon. Gentleman knows—because he was present here yesterday—a statement will be made this week, or the House will be informed by my right hon. Friend, of what action is being taken through the efforts of my right hon. Friend and Commissioner Gundelach.

Bridge Of Earn

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to Bridge of Earn.

Is the rundown of the Bridge of Earn Hospital symptomatic of the general Scottish Office thinking that small hospitals serving local communities should be closed? If that is so, does the Minister agree that to phase out small hospitals serving local communities is a scandalous and retrograde step?

Certainly it is not the policy of the Scottish Office to phase out small hospitals just because they happen to be small hospitals. As I understand it, an overall plan for health services in the Tayside area has envisaged the eventual replacement of the Bridge of Earn Hospital by a new district general hospital at Perth, which we think will serve a wider area.

Is the Minister aware that there is a serious worry in Tayside, not only in Bridge of Earn but in Brechin, about Stracathro Hospital in particular, that the building and development of Nine Wells Hospital, in Dundee, is causing excessive centralisation and leading to lengthening waiting lists for patients in a large district, and is causing people to think that the hospital board and the Government are more concerned with statistics and less concerned with individuals, as patients, who have to be treated as human beings?

It is the policy that all patients should certainly be treated as human beings and, indeed, cared for appropriately. In regard to the whole question of centralisation and the hospital at Dundee, if my memory serves me rightly, that was not one of the initiatives taken by the present Government, or by an Administration of this colour of days past. However, the hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood my reply to the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) a few moments ago, when I said that plans are now afoot for a hospital at Perth, which indicate that not all the hospital facilities are to be centred in the Dundee area.

One must consider, of course, that it is very important that patients should be looked upon and treated as human beings, but it is also very important that patients should have the best treatment that is available. That treatment, with the highest scientific and technological advance, can be provided only in a place that has a large catchment area, otherwise the skills are not available. Nice as cottage hospitals may be from the romantic point of view, and though they have a part to play, they cannot take the place of hospitals to which the skills are drawn if the area is a large catchment area.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. It is right that there is a place for small hospitals, but I think that we all understand that a concentration of skills is extremely valuable for those who have serious illnesses.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that it was while the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) was at the Scottish Office that Nine Wells was started upon—

and the first tenders were taken in? Does my hon. Friend agree that all the facts about centralisation were known when the Tory Government started on the project?

My right hon. Friend backs up what I said earlier. What my right hon. Friend has just said is my recollection of what happened some years ago.

Geriatric Patients

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his policy towards the continued use of older non-purpose built buildings as old folk's homes and geriatric hospitals.

Each case must be considered on its merits, taking account of the condition and location of the building, the availability of finance for new buildings, and other priorities. These are matters for the local authority or health board and where my right hon. Friend's approval is necessary in respect of the proposed closure of a hospital in an old building he would take the same factors into account. Generally, however, a purpose-designed home or geriatric hospital can provide better and safer conditions for both patients and staff.

Does the Minister agree that there might be some case for establishing some guidelines? It seems that the better facilities and greater safety produced by closing an older building and spending a lot of money on a new building result in a margin of difference not all that great. Sometimes that margin does not justify the expenditure of limited resources that can be used in other and more productive ways.

One of the difficulties is that when an old building has to be brought up to standard to meet fire safety regulations and all the other relevant standards the cost involved is quite substantial. The cost for one hospital that I have in mind would be between £160,000 and £170,000. We have to measure whether it is worth spending that sort of money when for about £350,000 we can get a purpose-built unit with 30 beds, which would obviously last a great deal longer. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman says. His comments will be given consideration in any decision that we have to make.

Economic Situation

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the economic prospects in Scotland.

As in the United Kingdom as a whole, economic growth in Scotland is expected to be concentrated in manufacturing industry with exports and investment providing the main impetus. It is therefore encouraging to note that the April CBI survey for Scotland showed a sharp improvement in investment intentions from January, and also a buoyant export prospect.

When does the Minister expect seasonally adjusted unemployment to improve? Will he take into account some of the island areas, where the economies are being severely eroded by recent increases in freight costs? On a more topical note, it is likely that power supplies in Scotland for industry and domestic users will be disrupted because of the present strikes.

The economies of the Islands were considered by the House not so many weeks ago when we discussed the charges of the Scottish Transport Group. In discussing these charges it is important to bear in mind the contribution that the Government have made and the consideration that the Scottish Transport Group gave to the carrying of freight to the Islands. It is also important to remember the substantial contribution that the Highlands and Islands Development Board is making in the Highlands and Islands and the number of important initiatives that it has announced over the past few years.

It would be wrong for me to make any public comment about the dispute now taking place. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will accept from me that the Government are conscious of the problem, as are the agencies involved in bringing the dispute to a successful conclusion.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the economy in Aberdeen is buoyant because of oil-related industry, but that there is a structural decline in non-oil-related industry in Aberdeen and the surrounding areas? Is my hon. Friend aware that he will come under increasing pressure to change his mind and to keep Aberdeen a development area? In the meantime, will he give an assurance that any application for assistance that comes forward will be acted upon speedily and that there will be no delay?

I know how disappointed my hon. Friend was about our decision. However, I hope that he will appreciate that if we were to make every area within the country a development area, or a special development area, such status would be of no value. We decided to downgrade Aberdeen in the hope that by so doing we should be able to upgrade, for example, Dundee, Cumnock, Arbroath and Kilbirnie. Aberdeen still enjoys the considerable benefits that flow from intermediate status. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that any application that comes to me for selective financial assistance will be considered quickly and favourably.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that a strong currency is to be preferred to a weak currency in terms of economic growth? Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that the economic growth of Scotland would be better promoted by a strong Scots pound and a self-governing Scotland than by being tied to the weak United Kingdom pound?

I have heard this notion floated by the hon. Gentleman on previous occasions and I have heard it quoted by a number of his hon. Friends. With great respect, I have never thought of the hon. Gentleman as an expert on banking matters. I have listened with considerable care to the attitude of the Scottish banks. To put not too fine a point on it, they regard the hon. Gentleman's essays into this area as a load of rubbish.

Has my hon. Friend noticed that, far from the hon. Gentleman being regarded as a financial expert, the banks and every other financial institution regard the hon. Gentleman's views with contempt? They hailed as proof of their case the most recent publication entitled "Scotland 1980", which, they claim, has blown a complete hole in the SNP's case.

To revert to more serious matters, is my hon. Friend aware that there is still great anxiety in my area about the future of Drax B? Now that the promise has been given by the Prime Minister that the order for the Drax B power station will take place, will my hon. Friend stress to my right hon. Friend that it is speed that is now required if we are to avoid any lay-offs?

I know of my hon. Friend's concern about Drax B. He has come with other to see me about it on a number of occasions during the past few months. I can assure him that the Government are giving it the speediest consideration. I think that my hon. Friend knows that there are difficulties. However, we still hope to make an announcement as quickly as possible.

When will the Government take a lesson from Norway and insist that a decent percentage of oil-related jobs and orders come to Scottish manufacturers?

There are already between 55,000 and 65,000 people employed in Scotland, either directly or indirectly, in the exploration and exploitation of the oil in the North Sea. In Glasgow, which, for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, is in Scotland, we have the Offshore Supplies Office, which indicates to all concerned the advantages of using Scottish firms wherever possible.

Are we to understand from the answer to Question No. 2 that the proposals and discussions on the foundry in Central Scotland have not reached Ministers' desks and have not been discussed by Ministers?

If the hon. Gentleman has a particular point in mind, I shall be happy to consider it if he writes to me or tables a Question.

Royal Hospital For Sick Children

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is now in a position to publish the results of his inquiries into the construction deficiencies at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children; and if he will ensure full public disclosure of these deficiencies.

Substantial progress has been made in establishing the causes of the various building defects which have come to light at this hospital. These investigations, which are being carried out by the Greater Glasgow Health Board with the help of independent consultants, will continue concurrently with the extensive remedial works which have still to be undertaken and for which the relevant tender documents are now being instructed or are in course of preparation.

Since it is certain that the defects will be the subject of arbitration or litigation, it would be inappropriate to publish at this juncture the results of the board's investigations to date.

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is now over seven months since he gave me almost the same reply? The building work at this hospital is an absolute disgrace and brings no credit to the building industry, from the youngest apprentice to the most senior architect and engineer. How long does the sub judice rule keep facts such as these from the public, who are entitled to know?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the time that has been taken to resolve this matter. In the past week I have given the issue the closest possible consideration. In view of the possibility of the matter going to litigation, it is essential that the Greater Glasgow Health Board establishes the facts to the best of its ability to strengthen its case when the time comes.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Scottish Law Commission

33.

asked the Lord Advocate when he proposes to meet the Chairman of the Scottish Law Commission.

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. and learned Friend met the Chairman of the Scottish Law Commission on 28th April of this year. I understand that he expects to meet the chairman and the other members of the Commission early in July.

I am grateful to the Minister for answering this Question. The Lord Advocate did me the courtesy of advising me that he had to be in Edinburgh today, and I accept the situation. When the next meeting takes place, will the Lord Advocate ask the chairman whether he is satisfied with the way in which the law is at present operating regarding the information that has to be disclosed by companies that are registered outwith the United Kingdom when they take an active part in land transactions within the United Kingdom? Is he aware of the considerable concern in my constituency, where a sandbank off Easter Ross has appreciated in value by no less than 1,200 per cent. in 14 months—the value rising from £50,000 to £600,000—at a time when it seems almost impossible to detemine who controls the companies in question?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern but I do not think that this is a matter to be discussed by my right hon. and learned Friend when he meets the Chairman of the Law Commission. It falls within the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman cares to pursue the matter with me, I shall be happy to answer the question.

Will the Minister ask the Lord Advocate, when he next meets the Chairman of the Law Commission, to discuss the effects of the law of libel as it impinges on distributors of magazines? Although certain safeguards have been introduced into the law, it still seems that distributors may be liable for libels that they could not detect. Will he look into that matter again?

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a little surprising that the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray) should express concern about what is a perfectly legitimate and integral part of capitalist land speculation? Since the Minister has said that the matter is really one for the Secretary of State rather than the Lord Advocate, will he take the obvious remedy and nationalise the land, thus putting an end to this kind of speculation?

Will the Minister ask the Lord Advocate to put on the agenda of the Law Commission the newly-developing question of the jurisdiction of Scots law on North Sea oil development contracts, bearing in mind that it appears that some companies—even those controlled by the Government, or at least with a Government interest—are opting out of Scots law jurisdiction? Could not that be a matter that the Lord Advocate would wish the Law Commission to look at?

Without prior notice of that question it is very difficult for me to give a direct reply. However, I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. and learned Friend.

Will the Minister reconsider his reply to our hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) about the public ownership of land? Would that not be the most effective way of dealing with the problem of Lord Howard de Walden, who was mentioned by our right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and whose favourite slogan at the last election was "It's Scotland's soil"? Is that not precisely the problem—that it is not Scotland's soil?

I do not think that I can change the answer that I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes).

Scotland

Roads

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has had from private owners of housing property urging him to advise regional councils' highway authorities to bring some of the older roads in such housing areas into the programme of roads and have them added to the regional list of highways.

None. My right hon. Friend is not aware that this is a problem causing general concern.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in some of the streets or roads that I have in mind, not one of the original owners is in possession? Is he also aware that the regional road authorities expect the present owners to bring their roads up to regulation standards? This cannot be done unless they get on to the list of highways. Since that would also mean great cost—sometimes tens of thousands of pounds—for groups of owners, such people cannot bear the burden. Will he bring in some form of road improvement scheme?

I have a certain sympathy with my hon. Friend's views, but only the regional council can assess the situation properly. It would be wrong for the Secretary of State to intervene in such local matters.

Lossiemouth

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will pay an official visit to Lossiemouth.

Is that not a pity, considering that Lossiemouth was the home of a famous Labour Prime Minister, whose daughter, who votes for the Labour Party, still lives there? Is the Minister aware that Lossiemouth fishermen were part of the contingent that visited Brussels, dedicated to the principle that without a 50-mile exclusive limit Lossiemouth would become a ghost town? [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is not rubbish. Although the right to veto on the EEC fishing policy was given away by the Conservative Party and not renegotiated by his own party, does the Minister not consider that the time has come to threaten a right of veto on some other matter if we do not get a 50-mile limit for our fishemen?

If my right hon. Friend visited all the places that he is asked to visit these days, he would never be able to come to the House at all. [Interruption.] I know that some Opposition Members would like that. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of Stale who deals with fishing matters is here and will have noted what the hon. Lady has said. The Government's position on this question has been stated clearly on numerous occasions both by the Secretary of State for Scotland and by the Minister of Agriculture. I have heard about the demonstration last week and the impact made by some of the Scottish representatives.

Will the Minister encourage his right hon. Friend to spend some of the Whitsun Recess visiting Lossiemouth and other centres of the fishing industry? Is he aware that every party in the House supports the stand that the Government are taking over the common fisheries policy? Would it not therefore be valuable if the Secretary of State went around the fishing communities so as to ensure that every possible argument is presented at the next meeting, and so that our friends in Europe will come to see the exclusive control of our own 50-mile limits as an essential national interest?

The hon. Gentleman will recall that the Minister of Agriculture told the House last week that he would again be meeting Fisheries Ministers on 27th June. During the recess my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be visiting a number of fishing areas and having discussions with these people. Those views will be expressed at the meeting to which I referred.

School Leavers

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the prospects of employment for school leavers in the summer.

Long-term prospects will depend largely upon the successful development of the Government's economic policies, which must in turn be related to world economic conditions. In the shorter term we have introduced a wide programme of measures designed to lessen the impact of unemployment on particularly hard-hit groups, such as the young, and we are urgently considering the proposals for additional assistance on an even more far-reaching scale which are contained in the recently published report of the Manpower Services Commission on Young People and Work.

In view of the dire prospects facing school leavers this summer, will not the Minister accept the view of the House that the empty statement that he has just made is devoid of policy content? As a representative of the interim Government of Scotland, can he not come up with some specific policies to deal with the real human problems that will face those who are about to leave school in the industrial areas of Scotland?

My statement was not an empty statement, nor did it imply any complacency on my part. I can speak for all my hon. Friends when I say that we are genuinely and sincerely concerned about prospects for young people who will be leaving school in June. However, we have already taken a number of measures, such as job creation programmes, youth employment subsidies and job release schemes, which make and have made a substantial contribution to providing employment for young people.

Secondly, much work has been done and will continue to be done in providing training for young people. As I said, we hope to respond quickly to the report prepared for our guidance by the Manpower Services Commission. I should add that the Manpower Services Commission's functions in Scotland will be transferred to the Secretary of State for Scotland on 1st July, and we shall have our own response to make in that regard.

Why does the Minister constantly import international dimensions into the arguments about employment? The construction industry is not affected by international consequences of the IMF. Why do the Government not give a massive boost to the construction industry and employ a very large number of young people in the productive side of this industry and, at the same time, increase the number of apprentices and journeymen that we shall require in the next five or six years?

Before people decide to build factories they have to have something to produce in them. This is where the international scene is involved. Recently the Chancellor made a number of announcements relating to assistance for the construction industry. We hope that these will make a valuable contribution to employment in this area.

When does the Minister expect to have the seasonally adjusted unemployment figures for Scotland? Is he not ashamed that after three years of Labour Government we have such an appallingly high rate of unemployment?

I, and everyone else on the Government side of the House, regard the present unemployment figures as totally unsatisfactory. The Government have pursued a number of initiatives and we trust that these will reduce the unacceptable level in the future. I shall not make any guesses; I shall leave that to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor). That is a problem for him, not for me.