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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 6 February 1980

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I do not want to sound too optimistic, but I appeal for brief supplementary questions.


Health Education Unit


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he proposes to make any changes in the activities of the Scottish health education unit.

It has been decided that the functions of the Scottish council for health education and the Scottish health education unit should be combined in one new organisation within the common services agency. The detailed implications of this change are being discussed with interested bodies.

:I thank my hon. Friend for that most helpful reply. Is he not aware that there is considerable public concern about the way in which this unit has subjected the Scottish people to an endless barrage of propaganda on all sorts of weird and wonderful subjects? As the most likely result of this tedious do-goodery will be that enraged taxpayers will get apoplexy, will the Minister assure the House that in future this unit's activities will be subjected to both common sense and cost efficiency?

I am aware of the worries that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I am, therefore, looking carefully at a new management structure for the combined body and methods of monitoring its future activities.

Has the Minister said that he has decided to merge the units? If so, why is he only now discussing the detailed implications? Why not have the discussions before deciding what to do?

I have already had discussions about the merging of these two units, which is agreed on both sides.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the film "Are We Being Conned?" leaves much to be desired? It is very misleading and very biased in parts and should not have been presented as it has been.

I took the trouble to see the film my hon. Friend mentioned. All views on films of an educational nature are subjective. However, I agree that in certain respects this film may have cast aspersions on the advertising profession. But my hon. Friend's points have been noted and will be considered carefully in the future.

Will the Minister ignore the nit-picking from the Government Benches and recognise that the Scottish people expect the Scottish health education unit to continue and increase the advertising against the dangers of alcohol and smoking to compete with some of the heavy advertising we get from both those industries encouraging their use?

I accept the ideas behind the hon. Gentleman's question—but I should mention that Scotland, which has the worst health record of any country in Western Europe, at present spends 0· per cent. of its total health expenditure on health education.

Trades Union Congress


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends next to meet with the general council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

My right hon. Friend and I have met representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress several times since taking office and have made it clear that we are prepared to meet them at any time they wish.

In view of the recent statement by the general secretary of the STUC that he believes that his telephone has been tapped, will the Minister, when he next meets the STUC, give that body an assurance that not only has the telephone of the general secretary not been tapped but that the telephones of other members of the STUC have not been tapped illegally by security services personnel or anyone else? If the Minister cannot give the STUC that assurance, will he inform the House this afternoon what possible reasons there can be for tapping the telephones of hard-working, honest people who do their best for this country? Will he also state—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] Will he also—[Interruption.]

Order. I do not want to tap the line of the hon. Gentleman, but his supplementary question was a bit long.

I have to inform the hon. Gentleman that that is a matter for my right hon. Friends and not for me.

In the light of the steel strike, what discussions has my hon. Friend had with the STUC about secondary and flying pickets against premises of companies engaged in the oil business? Is he aware that threats to these premises by secondary picketing now threaten very grave delays to important oil contracts? What estimate has he made of the latest situation?

My right hon. Friend and I have not discussed this particular matter with the STUC, but we have noted the points that my hon. Friend has made and, of course, we are monitoring in Scotland the full effects of the steel strike and, clearly, the damaging consequences that it is having for employment prospects in Scotland.

When he next meets the general secretary of the STUC, will the hon. Gentleman forget about secondary picketing and deal with a matter which has caused a great deal of concern in Scotland—the unemployment situation? Will he himself, as the so-called Minister responsible for industry, tell us what he intends to do, bearing in mind all his utterances when he was in opposition?

My right hon. Friend and I are doing a very great deal to try to alleviate Scotland's unemployment problems. I am sure, Mr. Speaker, that you would not like me to take up the time of the House now by listing the measures we are taking. We are fully aware of the very serious problem that we inherited from the Labour Government, and we are doing everything possible to try to make things easier for those who, unfortunately, find themselves unemployed at present.

When meeting the STUC next, will the Minister take on board the pressing comments made by the CBI in Scotland about the state of the economy? After the meeting with the STUC, will he go back to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and tell him plainly that he is engaged on a disastrous course which will increase unemployment in Scotland to well above the 200,000 mark which we have now reached?

I can only repudiate the hon. Gentleman's very tortuous question and the points that he tries to make.

When my hon. Friend meets the STUC, will he draw to its attention the decision in the High Court yesterday that the political levy may now be paid to the Conservative Party as well as to the Labour Party, thus enabling those many thousands of trade unionists who voted Conservative now to contribute?

Like my hon. Friend, I shall be delighted if those trade unionists who vote Conservative in very great numbers, and in increasing numbers, now find that they are able to contribute to the Conservative Party's finances.

If the Minister is so concerned about what he describes as the damaging effects that the steel strike is having in Scotland, why does he think that the Secretary of State for Industry and the Prime Minister deliberately provoked the strike?

That is an extremely childish comment, coming from a member of the previous Government, who managed to double unemployment in Scotland during their term.

Skillcentre (Inverclyde)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will pay a visit shortly to the skillcentre in Inverclyde.

The right hon. Gentleman did have some plans to do so. Is the Minister aware that the suggestion that this skillcentre should close is one of the silliest and meanest of all the silly and mean decisions made by the present Government? Is he not aware of the high unemployment figure there? The whole community recognises the importance of a retraining programme. Closure would mean about 1,400 young people in the area remaining without jobs and without proper training. Will the Minister reconsider the whole nonsense of the Government's attitude towards skillcentres in Scotland and in Britain?

The future of the Port Glasgow centre is under consideration by the Manpower Services Commission. The intention is not to reduce the number of training places in the area but to ensure that the location of each centre corresponds to the demand for training places. The hon. Gentleman should know that only one-third of the places at Port Glasgow are filled by people who reside in the Inverclyde area. He should also know that the MSC is not planning to reduce the number of places overall in the area but to try to make the locations of the training centres more suitable for the demand that is there.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Does he agree that it would make a lot more sense to concentrate scarce resources at the excellent centre at Hillington and possibly provide subsidiary facilities at Barrhead?

Certainly the MSC is looking at the whole Glasgow area. I cannot say anything about Barrhead in particular, but I can say that the BSC is planning to build a new centre in Rutherglen.

Is the Minister aware that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) and myself visited the skillcentre at Irvine on Monday, and, although it is not on the list of skillcentres to be closed, we were told that the proposed new building had been delayed? Will the hon Gentleman give a guarantee that he will ensure that the MSC gives the go-ahead to the new building at Irvine, in view of the fact that it will help not only the Members of Parliament for Kilmarnock, South Ayrshire and Central Ayrshire but also the Secretary of State for Scotland?

:Since training and retraining are, however, recognised to be at the heart of the unemployment problem in Scotland, and as unemployment is now over 200,000, and rising rapidly, how can it possibly make sense to close, for example, the skillcentre at Port Glasgow, which is in an area with a long and very serious unemployment problem? Surely this kind of nonsense ought to be reconsidered and these decisions ought to be rescinded?

The right hon Gentleman knows all about high unemployment figures. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] However, concerning the skillcentre at Port Glasgow, I assure him that the number of places available in the Glasgow area generally is not being decreased, but the MSC feels that it could make a better disposition of the resources available to it. That must be in the interests of people seeking training places in the area.

:On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of the answer that I have received, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity of raising the matter on the Adjournment.

Police Interviews (Tape Recording)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the progress of the trial use of tape recorders in police stations in Scotland.

The experiment has begun. Police officers are being trained on the equipment provided. Necessary building alterations to police stations have almost been completed, and guidelines have been drawn up for the conduct and monitoring of the experiment. The recording of actual interrogations of suspects will commence shortly.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. However, in view of the importance that the Thompson committee gave to the linking of proposed police powers of detention with the tape-recording of any proceedings within police stations, before this House considers the criminal justice Bill will some sort of report be laid before Parliament so that hon. Members can assess how important it is to have these matters tape-recorded?

We shall certainly try to give such information as it becomes available on the success of the experiment. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the implementation of tape-recording, if the experiment proves successful, will not require legislation. Therefore, it is not absolutely essential that it be included in the Bill.

Will the Minister give an undertaking that he will not implement the increased police powers of detention, and the interrogation that would follow from them, until tape-recording in police stations is available? Will he recall that in connection with that, the present Solicitor-General for Scotland, then acting on the Opposition Front Bench on the previous Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, gave some favourable notice to the suggestion that that part of the new Bill, if and when it becomes law, should not be implemented until tape-recording is available?

We are also anxious to see whether these tape-recording experiments will work, but I cannot give that particular assurance to the hon. Gentleman. The question of detention and the question of tape-recording are two separate issues. We shall consider each on its own merits. We hope that both will be implemented if the experiment proves to be a success.

Fish Processing Factories (Aberdeenshire)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he proposes to visit the fish processing factories in East Aberdeenshire.

My noble Friend the Minister of State has visited factories in the area in recent months and I intend to do so myself during my forthcoming visit to the North-East.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Will he endeavour to visit the area within the next month, bearing in mind the fact that at Peterhead last Saturday over 600 people connected with the fishing industry attended a crisis meeting because their livelihoods were at stake? It is absolutely essential that my right hon. Friend should see the situation at the very earliest possible moment.

I thank my hon. Friend for what he has said and for the account that he gave me of that important meeting. I shall, of course, try to visit these places as quickly as I can, and I shall keep in touch with my hon. Friend about possible dates.

Fishing Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects next to meet representatives of the fishing industry.

I meet representatives of the industry frequently and will continue to do so, as the need arises. I certainly expect to meet them before the next Council of Fisheries Ministers.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that the fishing industry is going through the worst crisis that anyone engaged in the industry can remember? Does he further accept that one major factor in the crisis is that, while the British fleet is cripplingly restricted in the fish it can catch and where it can catch them, foreign fish are flooding the country both on the quayside and in the inland markets? What consideration is he giving to the bringing in of import controls on subsidised foreign fish?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is grave concern throughout the industry. I have promised the industry that I will do all I can to find out if there is any evidence of foreign supplies being dumped in our markets. I have the support of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade in that matter. I assure my hon. Friend that we are keeping the matter under close watch and we shall do what we can to help the industry.

Let me give the Secretary of State some evidence. Does he know that 180 boxes of prime white fish were unsold at Lerwick yesterday? It is suggested that that was due to imports and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will look into that matter.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that information, and I shall certainly follow it up.

Does not the Secretary of State recognise that the time for looking for evidence and information has long since passed? If the Government do not take urgent action, the inshore industry will be decimated in much the same way as much of the distant fleet has been in recent years. Will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that there will, before the end of the month, be a statement on Government action?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows from his experience that the collection of information is essential if we are to take action against foreign subsidies or dumping. He will also know that the most important thing for the fishing industry is to have a common fisheries policy which is acceptable to the industry. We are putting all possible skill and energy into providing that as soon as possible. In the meantime, I have promised the industry that I will look at all the suggestions that it has made. I make that promise to the hon. Gentleman as well.

In view of the general crisis facing the Scottish industry and, in particular, the problems of the shellfish sector, will my right hon. Friend tell the House whether he has given any consideration to the possibility of imposing a quota on scampi fishing?

One difficult matter, as my hon. Friend knows well, is that as fishing opportunities become fewer the existing fleet crowds into the restricted space and it becomes more difficult for all species of fishing. We will have that aspect uppermost in our minds in negotiating a common fisheries policy agreement.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us when consultations will begin with the fishing industry and all the interests in it on the new body which is to supersede the White Fish Authority and the Herring Industries Board? Although it has been announced that there is to be a merger of the two bodies, the fishermen allege that no consultations have taken place with them, either on the role of the new agency, its membership or how it should be funded.

The fishermen can be assured that no decisions will be taken on the matter until consultations have taken place with them. I hope to get those consultations under way within the next month or two.

Unemployment (Berwickshire And East Lothian)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures for Berwickshire and East Lothian.

On 10 January, 905 people were registered as unemployed in East Lothian and 211 in Berwickshire—excluding the Gordon district for which separate figures are not available. Those figures are a welcome decrease over the level in January 1979, when the figures were 941 and 277 respectively.

In view of the fact that all parts of my constituency still have unemployment rates that are significantly higher than the United Kingdom average—particularly in view of the fact that the Tranent area has an unemployment rate in excess of 20 per cent.—will the Minister tell us how bad matters have to be before he will reconsider the decision to scrap our development area status? Will the Minister take urgent steps to ensure that Fleets industrial site will be developed without unnecessary delay?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that, although the unemployment figures are higher than we should have liked, they range between 5 per cent. and 6·8 per cent. in the areas to which I have referred, compared with the Scottish rate of 8·9 per cent. That is the sort of evidence that decides whether or not an area should receive development area status.

Forth Road Bridge (Toll Charges)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if, in view of the deteriorating unemployment situation in Scotland generally, he will now remove toll charges from the Forth Road bridge.

I have no evidence that tolls on the Forth Road bridge have a detrimental effect on employment either in Fife or in Scotland generally. The cost of abolishing the tolls and writing off the debts would have to be borne by reductions in the road building programme elsewhere and I do not propose to introduce legislation to do that.

If that is not the cause of the terrible unemployment, there must be other causes. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that I, at least, have been consistent on the matter, no matter on which side of the House I have sat? Does he think that it is an absurd anomaly that one can drive from Brighton right up to Dundee and the only bit of road for which one has to pay is the bit across the Firth of Forth—[Interruption.] I refer only to the problem of Fife. Dundee Members should deal with their own problems. Does not the hon. Gentleman believe that it is time that the absurdity was ended, even if the effects of the charges are minimal as regards unemployment in Fife?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that major estuarial crossings throughout the United Fingdom have tolls. Indeed, the local authorities agreed on that basis when the bridges were first built. I have asked the Forth joint board what effect on transport would be produced by the abolition of tolls. It suggested that there would be an increase of about 1 per cent. only in traffic. That suggests that the effect is minimal, as I have indicated.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is also consistency on this side of the House? Conservative Members have long believed that the tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges should be abolished. Does he hold out any hope of the possibility that that will yet be considered at a later stage when there has not been a doubling of the national debt immediately beforehand?

The tolls were first introduced on the basis that there was a statutory obligation on the joint boards to pay for the total cost of the bridges. If that can be completed within the statutory period, the matter might be reconsidered at that stage. Until the outstand-debt has been paid off—in the case of the Forth bridge, that should be 1994—it is unlikely that any action will be taken.

Does the Minister accept that his party when in Opposition gave an undertaking to abolish the toll, which was welcomed by the present Secretary of State for Scotland? Does he also concede that the total charges on the user have increased enormously? That is the salient point. The Exchequer has no need for revenue from these tolls which are, in effect, extremely costly to take up and detrimental to industrial expansion in my constituency.

The hon. Gentleman is correct that in 1974 at the general election we said that we would abolish the tolls. He will recall that we lost that general election. The hon. Gentleman will also recollect that in 1979 we made no such pledge and we won that election. He can draw whatever conclusions he wishes from that statement.

Housing (Waiting Lists And Transfer Requests)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make investigations to find out for each housing authority in Scotland the number of people on the housing waiting list and the number of transfer requests.

No, Sir. Waiting lists can never be a satisfactory method of estimating housing need. The practice of local authorities in preparing and revising their lists varies widely, and I do not feel that an investigation would be of significant value.

Is the Minister aware that the district councils covering parts of my constituency have over 3,000 on their waiting lists and at least as many again on the transfer lists? Will the Minister at least do his homework and find out the facts instead of forcing local authorities to sell off houses with legislation that is based not on fact but on irresponsible doctrinaire blind prejudice?

If the hon. Gentleman did his homework he would be aware that Stirling district council, which is within his own constituency, is voluntarily selling council houses. Clearly, it has not come to the same conclusion as the hon. Gentleman.

Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether the present system of housing allocation and transfer has helped or hindered the mobility of labour that we need so badly if we are to revive the Scottish economy? Will he also confirm that the proposed legislation before the House will not help that?

I agree with my hon. Friend that certain aspects of the present rules have inhibited mobility. The Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Bill therefore proposes to abolish the residential qualification. That has been widely welcomed by all those concerned with furthering employment and mobility in Scotland.

As the Minister does not propose to find out how many people are waiting on transfer lists, how can he presume to order local authorities to sell off every house that a tenant applies to buy? Does not that illustrate once again the unanswerable case for giving local authorities discretion over the number and type of houses that they put on the market?

As the hon. Gentleman is a former chairman of a housing committee, he should be the first to be aware that a housing waiting list is not necessarily an indication of housing need. Many people who are on the waiting list are simply seeking a transfer to accommodation in an area that they prefer, or to a house more suitable for their requirements. To suggest that all those on a waiting list are homeless, or in urgent need of re-housing is, as I am sure that hon. Members will agree, a totally false assertion.

Will my hon. Friend spare no effort to get it into the heads of the Opposition that the present Housing Bill will not affect waiting lists? The houses to be sold are already, by definition, occupied by council tenants. Will he make it clear to the Opposition that the Bill will free local authorities to concentrate their energies and resources upon those with the greatest housing need?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I can give explanations to the Opposition, but I cannot give them comprehension.

Is it not amazing that, at a time when we are embarking upon a radical alteration to housing policies in Scotland, the Minister has told us that in key areas it is not worth the time of his Department to find out important statistics? Will he tell his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) that the statistics that the Minister gave me this week show that there is no argument to suggest that private home ownership increases mobility in council house or private house tenure?

If the hon Gentleman is interested in all-Scottish figures, he should know that there are more houses than households seeking accommodation in Scotland. The problems involve particular areas. The hon. Gentleman must know that the waiting lists provided by local authorities are subject to totally different criteria in different areas. Therefore, any national figures are of limited value.

Curriculum (Consultative Committee)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when last he met the Consultative Committee on the Curriculum.

My right hon. Friend has not yet met the committee, but I hope to do so in the near future.

Does the Minister agree that in 1975 we still had part-time education in the West of Scotland, and that by 1979 the Government had inherited the best pupil-teacher ratio ever known? Is he further aware that the main reason for an increase in teachers at a time of a falling birth rate is to help less able pupils in deprived areas, and to give help to youngsters going into industry? Is it not highly irresponsible that the Minister has called for a cutback of over 2,000 teachers in Scotland before consulting his own advisory body?

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the Government's intentions. He has referred to the excess over agreed standards, including flexibility factors, of teachers in Scotland. That excess particularly affects primary school teachers. The hon. Gentleman, the former Minister responsible for education in Scotland, will be pleased to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have planned an even better pupil-teacher ratio in Scotland next year. As the hon. Gentleman might have wished to say, we are carrying on the good work in pupil-teacher ratios that he was so proud of.

When my hon. Friend meets the consultative committee, will he discuss the problems of distortion in core curricula of secondary schools, which is caused by the shortage of mathematics and science teachers? Is it not time that local authorities considered making extra payments to teachers of those subjects?

I agree that this is a very serious problem in Scotland. We could relieve that problem if we paid specialist teachers, such as those for maths and physics, more. However, it is unlikely that the teachers' associations in Scotland, among others, would agree to distinguish between shortage subjects and other subjects.

As regards the curricula relating to third and fourth years of secondary schools, can the Minister tell us what has happened to the Munn and Dunning reports? Will he also tell us the results of subsequent experiments? How will local authorities be able to implement any improvements in the curricula for third and fourth years if the number of teachers is substantially reduced as a result of the Government's restraint on public expenditure?

My right hon. Friend made it clear in his first speech to the House as Secretary of State that we would actively follow up the Munn and Dunning pilot studies with a view to introducing a core syllabus at foundation level. Over 60 schools are involved in the experiment. We consider the experiment to be critical for Scottish education and we shall continue to pursue it.

Is my hon. Friend not concerned that the shortage of teachers in key subjects, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) referred, is further evidence that the educational system is antipathetic to preparing people to work in practical jobs and careers after leaving school?

Young people often leave school unsure of the value of their experience. I therefore accept my hon. Friend's point. It is important for the syllabus to include recognition of life in industry and commerce generally. It should prepare young people for working life.

As regards the number of teachers employed in Scottish schools, does the Minister accept that there is provision in the rate support grant, negotiated this year, to reduce the number of teachers in Scottish schools by 2,600? Will he answer either "Yes" or "No" to that question? Teachers, parents and pupils are concerned about the damage that he is doing to education in Scotland.

Obviously, one can budget for fewer teachers when the school population is declining. That is what we did in the rate support grant. However, the pupil-teacher ratio will improve in the coming year as a direct result of the rate support grant settlement.

Education (Tayside)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the provision of education in Tayside.

Educational provision in Tayside compares satisfactorily with provision in the rest of Scotland.

Does the Minister realise that that answer confirms that his standards for education are, perhaps, just as low as his standards as regards the provision of jobs in Scotland? Does he remember the Adjournment debate last week and his failure to answer my question about the intention of Tayside regional council to phase out 30 posts, supported under Circular 991? Those teaching posts are in areas of deprivation. Does the Minister approve of Tayside regional council's action? If not, what proposals will he make to ensure that the funding of those teachers continues?

The staff complement of schools essentially concerns the regional authority. The most recent pupil-teacher ratios in Tayside compare very favourably with other areas of Scotland. That is our main guide for the provision of education in Scotland.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that the pilot scheme for schools in Tayside, promoted with the co-operation of teachers, further education lecturers and industry and which will lead to a mathematics course for those considering craft apprenticeships, is of considerable value, given the present skill bottleneck? Will he urge other education authorities to adopt a similar scheme?

Yes. This is an important scheme. I understand that about 16 schools are involved in Tayside. The regional authority has shown great initiative. I hope that other authorities will take advantage of the experience in Tayside and that they will follow this good example.

When the Minister visits Tayside on Friday, will he discuss with the Tayside regional authority its intentions as regards provisions for primary schools in the West End of Dundee? Will he indicate to the Tayside regional authority the outright opposition of all school councils and parents concerned, to its intentions?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that reorganisation in school provision requires the approval of my right hon. Friend. Until such a scheme is submitted to us, it is not wise for us to comment.

Glue Sniffing


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland, in view of the recent large increase in the numbers of young people known to practise glue sniffing in the east end of Glasgow, if he will take steps designed to solve the problem.

The number of known new cases in that area of Glasgow fluctuates from month to month, but overall the number reported for the first time has declined in the past year. I remain of the view that the problem can be dealt with only by a comprehensive and continuing programme of community health education. In that regard, my Department has issued advice to directors of social work, directors of education, chief administrative medical officers and chief constables.

Will the Minister accept that his answer is unbelievably complacent in view of recent events, which in some cases have involved serious damage to property and even loss of life? Will he assure us that, in spite of public expenditure cuts, more resources will be made available to help combat this serious and growing problem?

In no way are the Government complacent over the problem. Had that been so, we should not have taken the trouble to get in touch with the bodies that I mentioned. Our firm view is that legislation will be counter-productive.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the problem extends far beyond the East End of Glasgow? In spite of his previous answer, is my hon. Friend prepared to undertake to the House that the Government will at least consider legislative measures in the new Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill?

There are other areas in Scotland besides Glasgow where the habit prevails, but it is more prevalent in Glasgow. Legislation has been considered, but all opinion is that it would be counter-productive.

Is the Minister aware of reports that the number attending clinics in the East End of Glasgow has risen from 600 to 900, which is a 50 per cent. increase? That is indicative of the seriousness of the problem. Is he further aware that in the other four areas no figures are kept? Will he consider a much more comprehensive plan of action, in addition to merely providing health education?

I can only repeat that we have been in touch with a number of bodies and individuals and that we are taking the problem seriously. There are 225 new cases in Glasgow out of a total of 46,000 schoolchildren. The Government give high priority to combating the habit. We shall do everything in our power to overcome the evil, but all the advice that we receive is that legislation would be counter-productive.

Lothian Regional Council


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he plans next to meet the convener of the Lothian regional council.

I met the convener of Lothian regional council and three of his colleagues on 4 February, when I urged them to reduce spending and avoid excessive rate increases in 1980–81, in line with the Government's wider economic and fiscal policies. I have no present plans for a further meeting.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the contemptuous reactions of Labour councillors following that meeting? Does he accept that that rogue elephant of a council will not desist from its legitimised robbery of the ratepayers of Edinburgh in the proposed massive and unjustified rate increases? As a matter of urgency, will he seek new powers to stop that, if necessary by suspending the council?

I sympathise with my hon. Friend and his constituents in view of reports that indicate extremely severe rate increases for the Lothian region. I explained to the councillors why they should act like all other local authorities in Scotland and do their best to contain expenditure. I hope that the council will listen to what I have said.

Is it not time that the Secretary of State ended that political charade and admitted that, of the highest rate increase so far suggested in the Lothian region of 25p, 20p is a direct consequence of the Government's inflationary policies? Furthermore, will he make it clear that he informed the Lothian regional council that the only action he could take against it is to cut Government support, which will result in further rate increases?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the discussions were about saving expenditure. When his right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) was Secretary of State he also tried to impress on Lothian regional council the need to keep down expenditure, but met with no success. I tried to point out to the council that other local authorities in Scotland, whatever their political views, are doing their best to reduce expenditure, but it appears from reports that Lothian region has no such intention. I drew that fact, and the likely severe effects on ratepayers if it did not keep down expenditure, to the council's attention.

Will my right hon. Friend take note that Moray district council has announced that it will increase rates by only 1p in the £?

I can only congratulate my hon. Friend on what appears to be the good housekeeping of his district council. I believe that, on average, electors in Scotland will find that, if they live in the area of a Conservative-controlled authority, they will have much lower rate increases than in a Labour-controlled area.

When the Secretary of State for Scotland next meets the convener of Lothian region, will he explain to him why the Government have decided to export unemployment particularly to the Lothians? His hon. Friend quoted that policy to me as a consideration in deciding to close the Scottish plant breeding station in my constituency.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern, but the decision was taken for entirely management reasons, in view of the operations involved. I have explained that carefully to hon. Members.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Lothian regional council and other councils should first seek to save expenditure in their staffing levels? Will he accept that they would do well to follow the fine example set by Dumfries and Galloway regional council.

I am sure that Lothian regional council will be grateful for my hon. Friend's advice. I hope that it will heed that advice as well as my own.

Will the Secretary of State accept that the convener of Lothian region is not a rogue elephant but has long and distinguished service in local government, and feels an understandable sense of outrage about the effect of this Government's policies on the services that he has built up? Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that that sense of outrage will be widely felt in local government if he uses his powers over capital allocations in an arbitrary fashion to punish Lothian region because he does not like its politics?

On 4 February I made it clear to Lothian region that the last thing I wish to do is take action against any local authority. I promised COSLA that I should take no action without first consulting that body. I very much hope not to have to take action. However, we have to bear in mind the terrible effect of very large rate increases on ratepayers. Councils have a responsibility to think of that, as well as of services.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that, apart from Lothian, all local authorities in Scotland are making every effort to contain expenditure increases? If so, how does he explain that there will still be massive rate increases in those areas next year? Does he accept that the increases are an inevitable result of Government policies, particularly over the rate support grant?

This is not the case. We have no information that there will be massive rate increases in all areas. Some areas, particularly those with Conservative-controlled authorities, do not expect there to be large increases. The right hon. Gentleman and I know better than most hon. Members that the key is to save money on services. Most authorities in Scotland accept that it is possible to do that. We are merely asking Lothian to do the same as other authorities, which is not unreasonable.

Robroyston Hospital, Glasgow


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will make a statement on the sale of land by his Department at Robroyston hospital in Glasgow.

Robroyston hospital and the land surrounding it was sold in1977, with entry in May 1978, after extensive advertisement. The price was £410,000, and the only offer was received from the purchaser. An internal inquiry has not disclosed any irregularity in the procedures followed by my Department. I propose, however, to arrange for the Department's actions in this case to be the subject of an independent review, which will also examine whether and how the Departmental procedures might be improved. I will inform the House about the arrangements for this review as soon as possible.

Will the Secretary of State accept that that independent review is most welcome? However, is it possible to extend the review's powers to examine local authorities that are involved? Is the Secretary of State aware that there is a great deal of disquiet throughout Scotland over the land deal?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his welcome of the inquiry, which will do best to start with the procedures of the Department. If it throws up any other information no doubt that could be investigated appropriately. If the local authorities require any investigations, it is for them to decide.

Order. I propose to allow one minute extra, and I shall add it on at 3.30 pm, in order to call one more hon. Member from either side on this question.

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that there was something grossly negligent about the way the Scottish Office handled the matter under the previous Labour Administration? Is it not almost incredible that the Scottish Office sold this land at a cheap rate without having consulted the regional council and without, apparently, consulting the Scottish Development Department about the likely prospect of re-zoning, which would, and did, massively increase the value of the land? Was not that a serious piece of maladministration by the Scottish Office?

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern about the matter. I am bound to say that the inquiries that I have made so far do not indicate that there was anything amiss in the Departments' procedures. The inquiry that I have now suggested will surely make it clear whether there was anything amiss.

May I say to the Secretary of State, as I was the Minister responsible at the time, that I note that his internal inquiry has not brought out any irregularity? May I say also that I very much welcome the independent review?

Scottish Law Commission


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when he expects next to meet the Scottish Law Commission.

Neither I nor my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Advocate at present has any plans to meet the Scottish Law Commission, but meetings are held when and as necessary.

Will the Solicitor-General remind the Law Commission that we have been waiting for almost 10 years for a report of its inquiry into the conduct of warrant sales under the law of diligence?

Will the Government therefore support my Bill to ban warrant sales at least until such time as the Law Commission produces a Bill with acceptable alternative proposals?

No, Sir. In 1977, for example, out of 91,666 debt decrees granted, only 285—under 0·3 per cent.—resulted in warrant sales.

Will my hon. and learned Friend ask the Law Commission to consider the anomaly that local authorities can impound property belonging to other individuals on sites such as caravan sites, when rates have not been paid?

I shall certainly consider the matter. If the hon. Gentleman cares to write to me on the subject, I shall consider it in greater detail.

Is the Solicitor-General aware that those of us who, unlike himself, are not familiar with the law, feel that the present system of warrant sales mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling-shire (Mr. Canavan) is fair to neither debtor nor creditor? We cannot understand why it is that the Law Commission is taking such a long time—even allowing for the fact that it is a complex matter—to bring about a satisfactory system for debtors and creditors.

I understand the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty. The law of diligence is much wider than warrant sales in themselves, and we cannot deal with them separately. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks that he can, in 10 years, revise the whole of the law of diligence better than the Law Commission and the working parties whose members give their diligent application without any cost to public funds, I do not believe that he will be successful.

Will the Solicitor-General consult the Law Commission about legislation on solvent abuse? Despite what was said in an earlier reply, will the Solicitor-General remember that he and two of his colleagues sitting on the Front Bench now voted for an amendment to make the supply of solvents to minors a criminal offence in the last Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, and carried the support of the entire Tory side of the Committee? Why was it such a good idea then, and why is it such a bad idea now?

I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman will remember that I was convinced by the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), and voted for it, whereas the hon. Gentleman voted against it, as did other Opposition Members. It hardly lies in their mouths to seek to teach us.

Let me say this, which is important. Solvent abuse is an increasing danger, not only for minors. It is a matter that causes a great deal of criminal activity among minors and others, and is a great danger to the public. We must treat it as a matter of enormous urgency and consider what can be done to prevent it.

Sheriffs Principal


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he has any plans to meet the sheriffs principal.

I have informal meetings with the sheriffs principal from time to time. I am meeting Sheriff Principal Charles Johnston at Airdrie on 18 February.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply. Will he, when he next meets the Sheriff Principal, consider with him the number of cases that have appeared before sheriffs in which jurors and witnesses have been called and then the accused has pleaded guilty?

This is a really difficult problem. I understand that in Edinburgh almost 80 per cent. of accused persons plead at the second diet when represented by solicitors or counsel. In Aberdeen the figure is about 50 per cent.

It is a monstrous imposition on witnesses on jurors. I hope that the legal profession will find a solution and will not abandon its duty in this matter.

Will the Solicitor-General say what proportion of the 80 per cent. and 50 per cent. that he has mentioned are legally aided? Does the Solicitor-General accept that one of the major causes of concern is the number of clients pleading guilty at the second diet, especially in legally aided cases?

That is my concern. A large amount of legal aid and public funds is spent because witnesses and jurors are called and the client then pleads guilty at the last moment. I consider that that is a grave abuse. It is something that I wish to prevent. However, we must all remember that it is difficult to persuade a man to be executed before the day of judgment.

Lord Justice General


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when he intends next to meet the Lord Justice General.

I shall be meeting the Lord Justice General on Tuesday 12 February. He will be in London for his introduction into the House of Lords on the following day, which I am sure everybody will welcome.

When my hon. and learned Friend meets the Lord Justice General in London, will he raise with him the problem of the cost of waiting days in the High Court in Scotland, which is a considerable burden to the legal aid fund?

Will he consider the introduction in the High Court of Scotland of fixed diets so that public funds on this important matter are largely saved?

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the amount of public funds disbursed on waiting days. I understand that counsel receive two-thirds of a day's fee for waiting days. At present, in the High Court when cases are set down there is always a reserve case. It is believed that that saves more money than it costs. I wish to see a great reduction in the expenditure on waiting days.

When the Solicitor-General meets the Lord Justice General, on what clearly will be a very merry occasion, will he explore with him the situation which will arise in Scotland when we have the combination of the powers of detention under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill and the new measures on picketing under the United Kingdom Employment Bill? Does he realise that the detention of witnesses under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill will bring grave repercussions on an entire picket line? Will he look at this question seriously?

First, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman listened. The Lord Justice General is being introduced on 13 February, so 12 February will be a sober day. The 13February will be a merry day. I do not know what his propositions are on 14 February.

As regards picket lines and the detention of witnesses, if the hon. Gentleman reads what was said by my noble and learned Friend in the House of Lords on what the hon. Gentleman calls the detention of witnesses, I think that his conscience, which I know is always heavy, will be relieved.

When my hon. and learned Friend next meets the Lord Justice General, will he take the opportunity of discussing with him the wisdom of extending the oath of faithful administration to those engaged in the administration of justice in Scotland who at present are under no obligation to take it?

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for raising that matter. We should understand that all of us owe an oath of fidelity to carry out our service to the community. I think that it would be a very good thing if clerks of courts and others took the same oath as those who serve justice.

Does the Solicitor-General honestly believe that the mere taking of an oath makes an administrator a better administrator?

No. But some of us actually keep our word under oath.