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Scotland

Volume 980: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1980

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Fishing Industry

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are his proposals to help the fishing industry.

The Government are fully aware of the industry's current difficulties and are urgently considering the requests that have been made for financial help. We hope to make an announcement shortly.

Will the Secretary of State be a little more explicit? The industry is becoming progressively more discouraged, more disappointed and more uncertain of its future. The crisis has now been going on for months. It is not only a matter of financial help for the industry. The market for fish has been totally disrupted and the conservation measures are not taking effect. Can the Secretary of State give a definite date on which the fishing industry will know its fate?

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says, and I agree that there is great difficulty and uncertainly in the industry. As he will know, the ultimate fate, as he puts it, depends upon a satisfactory common fisheries policy being negotiated. That is the principal part of our policy. As I have already said, we shall make an announcement as soon as possible about whether anything can be done in the meantime.

In view of the meeting of all branches of the fishing industry in Aberdeen on 15 March, will my right hon Friend give some indication before that date whether something will be done in terms of providing temporary aid for the industry? Otherwise, there is real danger that the frustrations and anxieties in the fishing industry will boil over at that public meeting.

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says, and I hope that it will be possible to say something useful about that before the meeting.

The Secretary of State was apprised by the industry almost three months ago of the predicament caused by the imports of fish that have disrupted the markets. How can he say this afternoon that the Government are considering the position urgently? Clearly the Government have been lax and slow in coming to the necessary decision not only to restore stability but to provide financial aid to the industry in its hour of need.

As I think the hon. Gentleman will know, it is only just over a fortnight since we received the plans which the industry suggested we should consider. To have considered those plans in this time scale would be pretty quick work.

Will my hon. Friend accept that with the removal of distant waters, restrictions on catches, the continuing uncertainty about the CFP, and cheap subsidised imports, the economics of the fishing industry have gone totally crazy? Does he accept that, unless he gives financial help to the fishing industry now, there will soon not be a fishing industry to help?

I agree with my hon. Friend that he fishing industry is going through an extremely difficult time. I assure him that the factors that he has mentioned are very much those that we are taking into account in our considerations.

In view of the urgency and concern, will the Secretary of State give a pledge that he will announce positive aid for the industry soon and not wait until the conclusion of negotiations on the CFP, which may never happen? Can aid be given quickly?

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says. I am not thinking of postponing any announcement until after negotiations on the CFP have taken place. I hope to make a substantial announcement before that time.

Small Businesses

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when next he will meet representatives of small businesses.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are including in our future programmes further meetings with individual small business men and further visits to small companies. My hon. Friends at the Department of Industry keep us informed of their regular meetings with small business organisations.

When they meet small business men, will my right hon. and hon. Friends pay particular attention to the employment potential in small businesses and do everything possible to eliminate the disincentives to employment in that sector, especially in rural areas, considering that the fishing industry is a small business?

I assure my hon. Friend that the Government have already taken a number of steps to make life more attractive for small businesses and to encourage more people to go into small businesses. We are fully aware of their employment potential.

Surely the Minister is aware that everything that the Conservative Party said before the election about what it would do for small businesses has been more than negatived by the fact that they have to borrow at the rate of 20 per cent. upwards. Will he and his colleagues at the Departments of Trade and Industry therefore take steps to make cheaper loan facilities available to small businesses?

It is as much in the interests of small businesses as of anyone else that the rate of inflation should be reduced. We are aware of the difficulties that interest rates are causing, but we are sure that the banks will consider helping their small business customers in these circumstances.

Since small firms, particularly in Scotland, in both the manufacturing and the service sectors, have been very hard hit, as the right hon. Gentleman has just said, by interest charges and by VAT increases in the last Budget, is the hon. Gentleman yet in a position to make an announcement about what he proposes to do now that he has decided not to renew the small firms employment subsidy?

Secondly, will the Under-Secretary take an early opportunity to talk to the CBI's small firms section and suggest that the biggest help that the major companies in this country could give to small firms would be to pay their bills rather more quickly than they do at present?

The small firms employment subsidy was the least cost-effective of the special measures, and the resources released by eliminating that subsidy are being put to better use elsewhere. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the larger companies. We are actively encouraging them to respond as much as they can to assist new businesses, and small businesses in particular.

Will my hon. Friend point out to small businesses that the high interest rates that they face are a direct result of the profligate expansion of the money supply and the public sector borrowing requirement pursued by the previous Government in their last two years in office? Will he reassure them of the present Government's commitment to bringing these matters under control, so as to create a climate in which small businesses can prosper?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the Government's first priority is to reduce the rate of inflation. I say to Opposition Members that in just 10 months we have done much more for small businesses—such as easing employment legislation, reducing the number of forms to be filled in, and creating tax incentives—than the Labour Party did in five years, remembering the increased national insurance contributions and the abolition without warning of the regional employment premium.

In the search for employment through small businesses, has the hon. Gentleman seen the emigration figures? We are exporting people, rather than technology, when one considers the skills available. Is the Minister aware that we are exporting mining engineers? Does not he think that this is a scandal, bearing in mind the reserves of coal in this country, which are unparalleled in the world?

Unfortunately, the coal mining industry is not a small business. Therefore, I think that the point raised by the hon. Gentleman should be raised with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy.

Unemployed Young Persons

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many young people are currently unemployed in Scotland; which percentage of young people this represents; and what actions he intends to take to remedy this situation.

22,400 young people under 18, representing 12.2 per cent. of the age group, were registered as unemployed in Scotland on 10 January. The Government's first priorities are to reduce the level of inflation and establish a sound and prosperous economy in which industry can expand, creating more jobs for young people and adults alike. In the meantime, we are expanding the youth opportunities programme to provide substantially more places for unemployed young people in 1980–81.

In many areas, particularly those designated as being in greatest need, youth unemployment is reaching frightening proportions. What specific alternatives to emigration, to joining the Armed Forces for the wrong reasons, or even turning to crime, is the Minister prepared to offer by positive discrimination in setting up programmes to create employment for these young people?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will at least to some extent be glad to know that there is no substantial difference between last year's numbers compared with the numbers that I have just given to the House. We shall not be satisfied until the number of young people unemployed has been considerably reduced. However, I have already told the hon. Gentleman that there will be provision for additional places in the youth opportunities programme—an additional 6,500 places this year compared with the number of places in the previous year.

Is the Minister aware that his claim of additional provision is nonsensical in my constituency, with the abolition of the employment transfer scheme? Will he at least see that something is done by allowing some flexibility in the 12-month unemployment rule and the STEP?

The right hon. Gentleman has, I think, made representations in individual cases. I assure him that individual cases will continue to be looked at with sympathy by my Department.

Does my hon. Friend realise that many young people would be better qualified in the labour market if their technical and business studies skills had been developed at school? Will he urge officials in the Scottish Education Department to urge schools to concentrate on those subjects and not on subjects which have little or no value in the labour market?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the greatest disappointments that faces young people today is to leave school and find that they are not properly equipped for work. I shall certainly bear in mind the points that my hon. Friend has raised.

Is the Minister aware that more young people will become unemployed if the BBC goes ahead with its disgraceful proposal to scrap the BBC symphony orchestra and virtually to decimate the educational programmes on BBC Scotland? Will the Minister ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to intervene personally with the BBC governors tomorrow to stop this proposal and say to BBC Scotland "Think again"?

—but my right hon. Friend and I are fully aware of the difficulties being experienced over these matters and we shall keep them under review.

Is the Minister aware that the greatest disappointment facing young people today is that they leave school fully equipped to take up employment, but because of the Minister's employment policies cannot get a job? How does the Minister justify the contention that the training opportunities programme is being expanded, bearing in mind that after Question Time today the House will debate the statement by his right hon. Friend that the programme is being contracted? Is the Minister one of the "wets", or one of the "dries"? It is about time that he made up his mind.

The youth opportunities programme is being expanded. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to know that, despite the difficult economic situation, school leavers are being absorbed into employment or training at about the normal rate.

Scottish Cbi And Scottish Tuc

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he plans next to meet the representatives of the Scottish Confederation of British Industry and the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

I have met representatives of both bodies several times since taking office and have made it clear that I am prepared to meet both bodies at any time they wish.

Will my right hon. Friend point out to both sides of Scottish industry the need for a proper public appreciation of the role of multinationals in Scotland? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] In particular, will he emphasise that, taken as a whole, multinationals have an excellent record in maintaining and expanding employment in Scotland, despite some of the totally unfounded allegations that were made during the recent debate on the Scottish economy by some of the particularly ignorant hard-line Left-wingers on the Opposition Back Benches?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of multinational companies to the Scottish economy. They provide about 100,000 jobs in Scotland and account for about 16 per cent. of our manufacturing output. I should have thought that that was evidence enough of how important they are.

When the right hon. Gentleman meets the CBI and the STUC, will he tell them the number of jobs that will come from America following the visit of his hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for industry? Will he also tell them the situation concerning the Scottish Development Agency, bearing in mind the disgruntlement that prevails in the SDA as a result of the present circumstances? Will he then tell them also that there will be a decided increase in unemployment before the year ends?

I am not sure of the point that the hon. Gentleman was making about the SDA, but I am grateful for his support for my hon. Friend's excellent efforts when he went to America to interest firms in coming to Scotland.

I am rather surprised at the hon. Gentleman's raising now the matter of the unemployment position. He will recall that during the first three years in office of his Government unemployment rose by immense numbers every year, and from 146,000 in February 1976 to 196,000 two years later. I should have thought that a period of silence from the Labour Party would be appropriate.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the STUC, will he raise with it the latest directive from the Transport and General Workers Union, which forbids members of that union in haulage firms to cross any picket line even though the haulage companies are not carrying steel or steel products? Is he aware that there have been lay-offs in Scotland over the past few days as a result of that appalling directive? When unemployment in Scotland is so high, is it not especially bad, that further jobs should be put at risk by such union action?

I agree with my hon. Friend that any actions that reduce employment in Scotland should be resisted. I have heard that the alleged instruction on picketing has been sent out. I am glad to tell the House that, thanks to the excellent efforts of the police, everyone who has wished to cross a picket line has been able to do so. The police have done a marvellous job in keeping order in difficult situations.

When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the two bodies, will he place on the agenda for discussion the implications of the Finniston report on engineering in so far as it concerns Scotland? In addition, will he place on the agenda the future of Scotland's shipbuilding industry, which is in a parlous state? Will he make clear to them the Government's specific views on the scrapand-build policy?

We are already having discussions with all interested parties on the Finniston report. It is a most important report, which should be studied carefully. The shipbuilding industry is having a difficult time, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that it is coping extremely well with an extremely difficult situation. That reflects great credit on all who work in the industry.

Convention Of Scottish Local Authorities

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

30.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when next he plans to meet the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

My right hon. Friend is looking forward to addressing the annual conference of the convention at Dumfries on 28 March.

As even the political friends of the Conservative Party in local councils in Scotland are finding it difficult to cut services, increase charges and at the same time hold down rates to an acceptable level, will the Secretary of State take the opportunity at the convention conference to confess that it is impossible for local authorities to make savings without large rate increases and that the huge rate increases that will be experienced throughout Scotland are a direct result of Tory policy?

What is significant about the rate increases announced so far is that, on average, those in Conservative authorities are far less than those in Labour-controlled ones. For example, only today the Conservative-controlled Dundee district council announced a reduced rate of 2p in the pound for next year.

My hon. Friend said that most of the unacceptably high rate increases had come from Labour councils. When he meets COSLA, will he take the opportunity to discuss with it ways of placing a ceiling on future rate rises?

My right hon. Friend has indicated that he will discuss with the convention whether any new powers are appropriate for the control of expenditure. Lothian regional council has been the one authority to plan for growth. My right hon. Friend has withdrawn his general permission. In future it will be required to submit to the Secretary of State any specific proposal, which will be rigorously examined before consent is considered.

Will the Secretary of State discuss with the convention a reallocation of the rate support grant formula so that local authorities, such as those on the Borders, do not find themselves having to cut into the muscle of local government services while other authorities are able to cut into some fat?

We are having a continuing discussion with the convention on the distribution of the rate support grant formula. Wherever possible we like to meet the views of the convention if it can reach agreement on the proper criteria.

Is it not shameful to have to confess that some of the Government's friends in local authorities are keeping back rate increases? Does not that merely represent the fact that there are A-level economists in the Cabinet and O-level economists in Tory local authorities? Are they not merely aiding and abetting the Government to smash the social welfare of the Scottish people?

The inherent profligacy of the Labour Party was well represented in that question. The hon. Gentleman should recollect that the former Labour leader of the Lothian regional council resigned because he believed that cuts of up to 15 per cent. could be made in its expenditure without affecting existing vital services.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that for authorities which have been spendthrift in the past it is relatively easy to make significant expenditure cuts, and that for authorities that have been careful with ratepayers' money it is especially difficult to make cuts, although they try hard? Will he ensure that more help is given to careful authorities in future rate support grant settlements?

My hon. Friend is correct. He highlights a real problem. For the very reason to which he has drawn attention, about £100 million was switched from the resources element to the needs element in the distribution formula that was applied this year, so that profligate authorities should not benefit from their profligacy.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During Question Time, when we only reached question 13, the Under-Secretary of State linked question 5 with question 30, which happened to have been tabled by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram). I am sure that we all sympathise with Scottish Office Ministers in their lonely vigil, but would you like to express a view on the Minister's ploy to accommodate a tame Tory Back Bencher?

I should not like to express a personal opinion, but, with regard to the number of questions asked, if hon. Members will look at Hansard tomorrow and see the length of the supplementary questions, they will understand why we could not reach many more questions.

Education (Assisted Places Scheme)

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has yet reached any conclusions since the publication of the discussion document on assisted places at fee-paying schools.

I shall not be in a position to reach conclusions or to make a statement until I have considered the response to the consultative paper, which I expect to receive up to 31 March.

What possible justification is there for cutting public expenditure on local authority schools, which cater for more than 95 per cent. of the children of Scotland, while proposing to put £5 million per year of public money into the pockets of a minority of parents who want to buy extra privilege, real or imaginary, by sending their children to private fee-paying selected schools? Would it not be better to spend £5 million of public money to employ an extra 1,000 teachers to improve the education opportunities of children in local authority schools?

There is every justification for extending choice in both the State and private sectors of education, especially when the Government scheme will give a choice to lower income families.

The Minister talks of extending choice. How does he square that expression with the warning given by the Rector of the Grove Academy, Dundee that certain third-year pupils may not be allowed to take the subjects of their choice if staffing cuts go ahead as planned this year?

I am most surprised by that remark. Local authorities in Tayside and elsewhere are capable of ensuring that the requirements of school children in Scotland will be adequately met. Incidentally, the funds made available by my right hon. Friend will allow an increase in expenditure per pupil in the coming year.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the assisted places scheme, plus the consultative document on parental choice issued this week, represent a considerable advance in giving parents some control over the school their children attend? When he comes to write the legislation, will he ensure that authorities cannot get round parental wish by dropping the nominal rolls of schools below their realistic level?

I take my hon. Friend's point. The silence of the Labour Party reflects its complacency about Scotland's education system and its refusal to make any advance in Scottish education over the previous five years.

May I make it clear to the Minister once again that when the Labour Party returns to power it will end the assisted places scheme? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the money for the assisted places scheme is being taken from the normal education budget? How can he justify that action when he is slaughtering education provision throughout every education authority in Scotland?

I repeat what I said earlier. We are increasing expenditure per pupil in the public school sector during the coming year. That proves our contention that resources for the assisted places scheme are being provided quite separately.

Thermal Insulation Grants

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future of thermal insulation grants for local authority houses in Scotland.

The capital expenditure consents for 1980–81 included in full the sums requested by local authorities for their insulation programmes, and the loan charges on these will rank for housing support grant.

Individual tenants remain eligible for grant under the Homes Insulation Scheme 1978 if they wish to carry out the work themselves.

Is the Minister aware that 50 per cent. of council houses have not yet been insulated? Does he agree that that is urgent work if we are to observe the energy conservation programme? If the work is not done, the Government's energy conservation programme will be damaged.

The hon. Gentleman appears not to have listened to what I said. I said that local authorities requests have been met in full within the programme. Over 100,000 houses have been dealt with since the scheme began. Nothing that the Government are doing will prevent local authorities from continuing with the scheme at the level that they have requested.

Will the Minister resist any attempt to reduce the amount of money that might be available for domestic insulation, as it is an essential part of energy policy in Scotland that we improve our energy usage rather than fabricate massive and unnecessary power stations, such as that at Torness? Will the hon. Gentleman, in collaboration with the Department of Energy, take steps to expand existing schemes, rather than contract them as the Department of the Environment seems intent upon doing?

I can speak only for the Scottish Office. The emphasis that we place on these issues is reflected in the reply that I gave to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg).

Will the Minister confirm, in clear, unequivocal terms, that the apparent attempt by the Department of the Environment to make cuts in this vital area will be resisted by the Minister and by his colleagues at the Scottish Office? Does he agree that such action would have severe consequences for the thermal insulation industry and for those families on low incomes who stand to benefit the most from insulation? We deserve a clear statement from the Minister that he will not follow the disastrous path which the Department of the Environment appears to be taking.

I can speak only for the Scottish Office. Requests from local authorities for thermal insulation assistance have been met in full for 1980–81.

Rate Support Grant

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Lothian regional council about the effect of the rate support grant settlement on the level of rates.

I have received no written representation from the council, but members of the council whom I met recently expressed opinions on the subject.

Why does not the Secretary of State come clean? Why does he not admit that those members have expressed the opinion that over half of the rate increase in Lothian results from his cash limits? Those cash limits pretend that the rate of inflation is 13 per cent. Another one-third of that rate increase results from his cut in the rate support grant. Does he not agree that less than 10 per cent. relates to new growth? Is it not therefore sheer brass neck on the part of the Secretary of State to threaten to withhold capital borrowing consent from the Lothian region for a rate increase which is almost entirely the result of his own policies?

Those figures do not bear any relation to the facts. I have not yet received official figures from the council, but according to press reports it intends to spend no less than £34 million more than the guidelines suggest. Almost every other authority in Scotland has carefully adhered to those guidelines. If we are discussing opinions, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have taken careful note—as the rest of us have—of the strongly expressed opinions of ratepayers in Lothian. They will be placed in extremely difficult circumstances as a result of that authority's profligacy.

In answering the local authorities which have made representations about the large increase in rates in Scotland, has the Secretary of State suggested any alteration to the grants system? It does nothing to reward local authorities which have been economical. Does not the Secretary of State agree that it encourages authorities to spend large amounts of money on capital developments of doubtful utility, because the Government pay for most of them?

I agree that there is a problem. We have altered the ratio of the resources to the needs element in the rate support grant this year in order to meet at least part of that problem. That is one of the subjects that I am discussing with COSLA to see whether any improvements can be agreed.

Will my right hon. Friend invite the Lothian regional council to take a crash course in budgeting from the Grampian regional council? Does my right hon. Friend realise that that council has managed not only to achieve significant cuts in public expenditure but to increase the provision of social services in that area?

I appreciate the remarks of my hon. Friend. However, we might extend his suggestion a little wider. Perhaps Lothian regional council should attend a course run by all the Conservative-controlled authorities in Scotland. It is clear that, on average, those authorities are much better at keeping rates down than are Labour-controlled authorities.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the punitive action that he has taken against Lothian regional council will make no difference to the level of rates during the coming year? Will he admit that if he stops any capital project in the forthcoming year, the immediate effect will be to harm the local construction industry and add to the large numbers of people who are already unemployed in that industry in the Lothian region?

If I take no action a large number of ratepayers in Edinburgh will have no redress against crippling rate increases. Although I do not have power to alter rate levels that are set by profligate authorities, the action that I propose to take may reduce some of those authorities' expenditure in future years, as a result of limits on their capital expenditure budgets.

During his inquiries, has my right hon. Friend found evidence of any genuine attempt by the Lothian regional council to make economies or cuts in its staff and administration, or in last year's excessive spending and duplication?

Despite diligent searches I have found no evidence other than the courageous stand made by the former Labour leader of Lothian regional council, Mr. Peter Wilson.

When will the Secretary of State stop dodging his responsibilities? When will he admit that the major reason for these massive and unprecedented rate increases is the Government's rate support grant settlement? The increases apply equally to Tory and Labour-controlled authorities. They affect the Lothian region as well as the Strathclyde and Border regions, where an increase of nearly 40 per cent. has occurred. An increase of 27 per cent. was announced today for the Tayside region. Does the Secretary of State accept that he is directly responsible for those massive increases? When will he admit that?

I was given to understand that the right hon. Gentleman had had problems because the Lothian region failed to reduce its expenditure. I am sure that he will tell me if I am wrong. He cannot get away from the fact that many local authorities—most of them Conservative-controlled—manage to keep their expenditure down, as requested by the Government. Those same authorities were more helpful to the right hon. Gentleman than Labour-controlled authorities were when he was trying to keep expenditure down. I should have thought that he would recognise that.

I had no trouble with the Lothian region. However, even if we leave the Lothian region out of account, the average rate increase in Scotland next year will be more than 30 per cent. That is the right hon. Gentleman's responsibility.

The responsibility for excessive expenditure by local authorities falls clearly upon Labour-controlled authorities. From the right hon. Gentleman's experience he should know that the Lothian region consistently exceeded the guidelines set by the previous Labour Administration. I understood from the Lothian regional council that it had had difficulties with the right hon. Gentleman on this issue.

Human Tissue Transplants

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will introduce legislation in Scotland to allow hospital authorities to take the kidneys of anyone where clinical death has been established by two doctors, other than those who during their lifetime have contracted out by registering with a central computer that they do not wish their organs taken from their body in the event of their death.

I am not persuaded that there is sufficient public support for "opting out" arrangements to justify the very large expenditure that would be needed to set up a computerised register of the wishes of individuals concerning the removal of their organs after death.

Given the fact that the hon. Gentleman's ministerial colleagues at the Elephant and Castle have cold feet as a result of a rather doubtful Marplan survey, should not the Scottish Office be bold and provide experimental legislation? Is it not true that as a kidney machine costs £5,000, and as running costs total £14,000, many treatable cases will not receive any help?

The hon. Gentleman must know that legislation relating to transplants has been on a United Kingdom basis. We do not consider that there is any need for separate legislation in Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services dug out some figures about 15 months ago on the cost. The capital cost for a computer to retain the necessary information would be £2 million. Setting up a register would cost £3 million, and there would be running costs of £1,500,000.

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a practical difficulty in that very interesting suggestion? As a result of a recent court decision, the admissibility of evidence stemming from a computer has been very much restricted. Is not that a reason for encouraging a debate on those issues?

Fishing Industry

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects 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 meeting of Council of Fisheries Ministers.

Does the right hon. Gentleman maintain, as he indicated earlier, that under EEC regulations it is impossible to give financial aid to the fishing industry until a common fisheries agreement has been reached? Does he believe that the fishing industry in Scotland was helped in any way by the fact that 13 Conservative Members representing Scottish constituencies went into the Lobby last Wednesday to support the levying of a further £1,500,000 on Scottish fishermen. That occurred only a week after financial aid had been demanded.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that I have not made any statement or decision to the effect that it is impossible to help the fishing industry until the common fisheries policy has been decided. I have been saying that that is the most important thing for the fishing industry. We are giving urgent consideration to the suggestions made by the fishing industry. An announcement will be made shortly.

Does my right hon. Friend realise that the fishing industry needs not only urgent assistance now but control for the future so that our fishermen can fish in free and equal competition with others who fish in the North Sea and the waters around Britain? Will he accept that it is a competitive industry?

I appreciate what my hon. Friend says. Such considerations will be uppermost in our minds when we negotiate a common fisheries policy.

Although the Secretary of State shows no practical sympathy for the fishing industry, will he show sympathy for his own Back Benchers? Does he recall that five weeks ago they were given four weeks in which to produce an answer that would help the fishing industry? Will he accept that they gave their pledge to do so? When will the right hon. Gentleman take action?

I know that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the fishing industry, and I share his concern. However, we have so far taken just over a fortnight to consider carefully the proposals from the fishing industry, which is not unreasonable. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the proposals are being considered very sympathetically indeed.

As the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has established that other Common Market Governments massively subsidise their fishing industries, which results in our markets being flooded with cheap subsidised fish, what action does my right hon. Friend propose to stop that unfair trading by our EEC partners, which is contrary to EEC regulations?

I agree that the level of imports is causing great concern to the industry. As my hon. Friend knows, the industry has made proposals to us, and we are considering them urgently.

Is the Secretary of State able to tell us any more about the method adopted by the French to give a fuel subsidy to their fishermen?

Not at present, but I understand that in recent days the Germans have considered a similar scheme and are trying to implement it. We are lookirg into that as well.

I know that the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) wanted to ask a question about fishing, but he had better ask it about improvement grants.

Improvement Grants

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has of the recent take-up of improvement grants in Scotland.

In 1978 some £7·7 million was paid in grants covering about 6,800 dwellings. For the first half of 1979, the provisional figures are approximately £4·5 million and 3,500 dwellings respectively.

Does the Minister accept that since council house building in Scotland is virtually coming to a halt it is vital that by means of grants the Government continue to encourage people to improve their homes? Why have a number of local authorities, including those in my constituency, run out of money to pay home improvement grants in the current year? Will he guarantee that that will not happen again?

—he will find that for next year East Lothian is to have £500,000, compared with £380,000 last year, and Berwickshire is to have an allocation of £20,000 more than it asked for.

Will the Minister consider removing some of the restrictions on the operation of improvement grants pertaining to the size of the house? Will he accept that young couples are unable to receive improvement grants because their house is not small enough, yet they need another apartment?

There are general criteria that are applied to applications for improvement grants. If the hon. Gentleman has a specific example, I shall be happy to consider it to see whether the discretion and criteria should be changed.

Nurses

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he will take steps to eradicate the shortage of nursing staff in the Argyll and Clyde health board area.

The recruitment of nursing staff in each area is a matter for the health board. Nationally the number of nurses and the number of those entering training for nursing has been increasing steadily over the past two years.

Is the Minister aware that in the Argyll and Clyde health board area the number of nursing staff in post during the past financial year was 25 per cent. below the Scottish average? It is a matter of life and death. What steps does the Minister intend to take tomorrow morning at 9 o'clock to rectify the problem? Does he accept that the answer that I received from the board that the shortfall in the past financial year was due to a postal strike in Ireland is ludicrously pathetic?

I repeat—and this also affects the Argyll and Clyde board area—that the recruitment of nurses has been increasing. There is a shortfall of about 61 nurses in that board's area. The hon. Gentleman will know that the board has difficulty in recruiting for its nursing establishment because of competition from the Glasgow area.

Does my hon. Friend realise that my constituents are concerned that savings will have to be made in health facilities in Argyll to make up for the massive deficit at Inverclyde Royal infirmary?

I accept what my hon. Friend says. However, even with the withdrawal of beds from Inverclyde, it is now on the Scottish average of 2·5 beds per thousand.

Does the Minister accept that the increasing shortage of nurses—not merely in that area—is almost entirely due to the total inadequacy of nursing salaries? Will he undertake that that matter will be looked at again, despite the Clegg report, which is a disappointment to nurses? In the light of raging inflation, does the hon. Gentleman accept that nurses' salaries should be looked at continuously?

Of course I shall consider the matter continuously. However, I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that his question is based on a mistaken impression. Recruitment of nurses has been increasing over the past five years, and particularly during the past two. It has not been decreasing.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the scarcity of nurses reflects greatly on the deplorable way in which the Labour Government dealt with them?

I accept the second part of my hon. Friend's question, but I repeat that the recruitment of nurses is quite healthy.

Despite representations to increase the funds of the Argyll and Clyde health board to allow it to open up the 72 beds that have not been opened up so far—and I appreciate what the Secretary of State has done—if that is not successful, what are the plans for staff redundancies in the area, including nursing staff?

There is no question of redundancy among nursing staff. Although the Argyll and Clyde board is having difficulty with an overspend of about £0·9 million this year, that is only 1·7 per cent. of the total budget. We have every hope that it will be under control next year.

Skilled Tradesmen (Vacancies)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many vacancies exist for skilled tradesmen in Scotland.

Vacancies in the craft and similar occupations group notified to employment offices and job-centres in Scotland and remaining unfilled on 30 November 1979 totalled 4,800. That figure does not necessarily include all skilled occupations.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that those figures demonstrate the dilemma of employment in Scotland? Will he accept that although unemployment is rising there is, nevertheless, a shortage in the skilled sector? In his responsibility for industry and education, will my hon. Friend concentrate on training opportunities for skills and not indulge in make-work schemes as the previous Administration did?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct in saying that we must try to make training schemes much more relevant to the vacancies that exist. The Manpower Services Commission has indicated that unreported vacancies in Scotland may double the number of vacancies reported.

Is the Minister aware that, because of the cuts in the Manpower Services Commission budget, measures to expand, explore and develop the labour market for skilled men in the engineering industry have been turned down in Lanarkshire? Will the hon. Gentleman accept that at a time when there is such a shortage of skilled engineering staff in the expanding electrical, electronic and engineering industries in Scotland, it is deplorable that the activities of the MSC are being cut?

I know that there are vacancies because a sufficient number of people are not taking up places in skill-centres and other establishments. I am not aware that people who wish to take up places are being turned away. I should be interested to hear from the hon. Gentleman of any examples of people being turned away from skillcentres.

Does the Minister agree that one of the causes of skill shortages is geographical immobility? Does he agree also that that problem will be substantially helped by the measures in the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Bill?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Scotland has suffered for many years from immobility of its labour force. The Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Bill will go a long way towards helping to resolve that problem.

Surely the figures given by the Minister about the shortage of skilled manpower in Scotland make nonsense of the Government's decision to close two skillcentres in Scotland and to stop the go-ahead given to the development of a new skillcentre at Irvine.

The figures that I gave related to job vacancies. No decision has been made to close any skillcentres in Scotland.

Order. I propose to call one more hon. Member from either side and to allow an extra minute at the end of Question Time.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there might be many more opportunities for skilled tradesmen if small businesses are allowed to expand? Is he aware also that many of those businesses are worried that they may not be allowed to complete their expansion before the removal of assisted area status, owing to the prolongation of the steel strike? In that case, will he give an undertaking to look sympathetically at any such problems?

Is the Minister aware that Scotland suffers not from the immobility of the labour force but from the inability of Scottish Office Ministers? Is the Minister saying that he proposes to close down skillcentres because there are not sufficient applications to take up the places in them? Would it not be much more progressive to advertise more extensively that these places are available and to encourage the 200 unemployed people whom he causes each day to become unemployed to take up these places?

It is anticipated that when the Manpower Services Commission has completed its rationalisation of skillcentres in Scotland more places will be made available, not fewer.

Criminal Trials (Delays)

41.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many cases on indictment have taken more than 12 months to come to trial in the last two years.

As at 22 October 1979 there were 15 cases on indictment which had taken more than 12 months to come to trial. However, I am having our records checked and once up-to-date information is available I shall write to my hon. Friend.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that these statistics are a disgrace to the legal system in Scotland and an unfair imposition on accused persons? Is it not the case that there is provision, in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, to prevent this from happening, and is he not surprised that, apparently, the Labour Party in Scotland is opposing this legislation?

I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that what he describes as a disgrace has been greatly improved since we came to office in May. My noble and learned Friend and I have done all that we can to overcome the backlog of cases which has been greatly reduced. Clause 14(1) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill will make a statutory bar to prosecution of persons after 12 months from the date on which they first appear on petition. That is a great and equitable advance, in parallel with the 110-day rule, which is an immemorial feature of our law.

Since indictments are dependent on arrests being carried out, and in view of the number of outstanding murder inquiries into the deaths of young women, will the Solicitor-General tell us whether he has considered inviting the Scottish crime squad to co-operate with local police forces in the three regions which are currently conducting investigations into these cases?

We are greatly concerned about the number of recent homicides in Scotland. It is for the Secretary of State, and for the chief constables to deploy their forces as they feel necessary, but I am certain that the police in Scotland will do everything that they can to investigate and clear up these awful crimes.

In view of the injustice that can occur to people under indictments because of this kind of delay, would it not be more intelligent to use the available money to improve the procedures and organisation of the courts, instead of spending it on expensive fees for advocates, Lord or otherwise?

As I understand it, those are not alternatives. Scotland can stand-up to any country in the world for the speed with which it brings to trial those whom it acc uses.

Court Visits

42.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many court visits he has made since he took office.

Since taking up office as Solicitor-General for Scotland I have made eight official visits to procurators fiscal offices and sheriffs at sheriff courts.

During his tour of the courts, has the Solicitor-General noticed the public outrage about some lawyers' extortionate fees, especially after the recent Dundee sheriff court decision that the hon. and learned Member for Kinross and West Perthshire (Mr. Fairbairn) had been guilty of overcharging by £1,300? In view of this bad example set by someone who is now responsible for prosecuting criminals, will the Solicitor-General at least follow Jim's example by publicly admitting that he has been very, very naughty and tell Maggie that he is very sorry?

I think that that question demonstrates, if demonstration is needed, that as a lawyer my tongue is but silver, whereas as a politician the hon. Gentleman's silence is golden.

In the light of the press reports today about the forthcoming marriage of Mr. Ginger Forbes, the next time my hon. and learned Friend visits the courts and has discussions with court officials, will he discuss the change of the penal system into a marriage bureau establishment?

I regret that I have no responsibility for either the celibacy or the marriage of Mr. Forbes.

Human Tissue Act 1961

43.

asked the Solicitor General for Scotland how many prosecutions have been brought in Scotland under the Human Tissue Act 1961.

The Human Tissue Act 1961 contains no criminal provisions. It is therefore not possible for there to be any prosecutions under the Act.

As deterioration of the kidneys sets in after 30 minutes, and since doctors by definition, must act in tense circumstances, are they not inhibited by the grey areas of the law? Is not there a case for looking at the whole code of the transplant law? If the Government are worried about public opinion, will they look at next weekend's Sunday Mail, where the public opinion survey will be very different from that of Marplan?

There are no grey areas in the law. The removal of organs without permission under the Human Tissue Act, or against the wishes of relatives of the deceased, would, of course, be theft. Since the procurators fiscal are responsible for carrying out investigations into sudden or suspicious deaths, in cases where there was any criminal suspicion they could not permit the removal of organs. But in cases such as road accidents, in which they also have a responsibility, as the medical authorities frequently advise them in advance of the possibility, procurators fiscal can ensure in advance that such organs can be released if they may save human lives and if permission is granted.

Bail Etc (Scotland) Act

44.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland whether he will hold discussions with sheriffs in Scotland on the implementation of the Bail Etc. (Scotland) Act.

Although my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and I have periodic discussions with sheriffs principal and sheriffs in Scotland on subjects of common interest, we have no plans at present to hold discussions with them on the im- Plementation of the Bail Etc.(Scotland) Act 1980.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there have been certain pronouncements by the shrieval bench in Glasgow that, whatever may be Parliament's intention, money bail has in effect been retained by the Act and will continue to be enforced? In view of that, will the Solicitor-General for Scotland reconsider his plans and talk to the sheriffs to make sure that that is not continued as an everyday occurrence in Scottish courts?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, it would be constitutionally improper for me to influence the courts in their application of a statute passed by this House. The remedy is simple if any judge at any level misinterprets any Act—appeal to the High Court.

Nevertheless, will my hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity to make it clear that under the Act money bail is to be imposed only in exceptional circumstances?

Can the Solicitor-General for Scotland define the exceptional circumstances?

Lord Justice General

45.

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

I have no immediate plans to meet this, Lord Justice General, but my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has meetings with him from time to time.

When my hon. and learned Friend next meets the Lord Justice General, will he take the opportunity to discuss a recent television debate on the provisions of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill before an apparently implacably hostile audience? Does he agree that that was a gross abuse of the BBC's impartiality under its charter?

I think that it is fortunate for justice that the i3BC does not select juries, because I should have thought that it would have to be an extremely packed jury which, on the case presented, could find twice in an hour in favour of someone such as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar).

Does the Solicitor-General for Scotland accept that the jury referred to was made up of 15 final-year law students from Glasgow university, who were picked at random—at random from among those in that year—and that many of them were members of the Conservative club at the university?

The House will be extremely grateful that lawyers practise the law and that the people decide whether they have made their point.