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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 12: debated on Wednesday 11 November 1981

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Oral Answers To Questions

I remind the House that brief supplementary questions will enable me to call more questions on the Order Paper.

Scotland

Gourock-Dunoon (Ferry)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about his negotiations with Caledonian MacBrayne on the operation of a passenger-only ferry between Gourock and Dunoon; and if he will estimate the annual cost to the public purse of this scheme.

Discussions with the Scottish Transport Group are continuing. My right hon. Friend's object is to secure a substantial saving on the level of subsidy now being paid to Caledonian MacBrayne for its service on this route.

Does the Minister accept that this whole business is a disgraceful example of political prejudice? Is it not wrong to create a monopoly for one operator whose facilities are essentially unsuitable for non-vehicular traffic? Will not the sum total of the Minister's efforts be redundancies, a capital loss for Caledonian MacBrayne, and a second-class service heavily supported by the taxpayer? Is it not time to abandon the whole woeful exercise, which is merely an attempt to fix the market at the expense of the travelling public?

The hon. Gentleman has an extraordinary concept of a monopoly if he suggests that it is creating a monopoly to remove a subsidy from one of the competitors which, even with the subsidy, has been constantly losing traffic to the unsubsidised competitor. Seventy per cent. of the car traffic is voluntarily choosing to use the unsubsidised service, and no responsible Government could properly ignore that.

As the whole issue was thrashed out at a hearing before the Scottish Transport Users Consultative Committee, which found in favour of the existing arrangement, why does the Minister not accept its findings, each side having had plenty of opportunity to present its case?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is no comparison between the service being offered by Caledonian MacBrayne and the inferior vessels being run by Western Ferries?

If the right hon. Gentleman believes that conclusion, it is of some interest to note that he voted for the undertaking when the matter was before the House. I remind him that the substance of the STUCC's inquiry and report was to point to the inadequacy of the "Highland Seabird" option which had been proposed at that time. In the light of that report, my right hon. Friend indicated that that option would not be pursued. He further indicated that there was no question but that a full and, if necessary, subsidised service to ensure a proper service for foot passengers would be provided for this route.

Did my hon. Friend discuss with Caledonian MacBrayne the option put to him by the members of the Cowal users committee when he met them last week in Dunoon—namely, that the subsidy should continue to be given to the passenger portion of the "Juno" run by Caledonian MacBrayne, and that it should then compete for the vehicle traffic on equal terms with Western Ferries after that?

When I met the local community in Dunoon and the local councillors, what was impressive and interesting, as my hon. Friend indicates, was that each group emphasised that it could see no justification for a subsidy for any car service provided by Caledonian MacBrayne given that Western Ferries, without a subsidy, was able to attract so much of the traffic. They put forward the proposals to which my hon. Friend referred. We are, of course, prepared to look at any proposals that are consistent with the objective of ensuring a proper service to the community and the removal of unfair competition.

The hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) is yet another sinner who has come to repent at Question Time. Does the Minister still not grasp the fact that the damage that will be done to Dunoon, even by this half-cocked compromise that is now being put forward, will be such that local opinion will still be mobilised against everything that he says? Will he even now reconsider his decision, given the consequences that it will have for the people of Dunoon?

The outcome of my meeting with the local community was that they, unlike the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends, certainly did not argue that the status quo—involving a massive subsidy on the one route in Scotland that should never have had a subsidy—was acceptable. Labour Members should come to terms with the fact that it is a poor use of a large sum of money to provide a subsidy to a car service when, without any subsidy, the alternative company is meeting the needs of 70 per cent. of the car users on that particular route.

Order. I was intending to move on at this stage, but it has been indicated to me that this question relates to the constituency of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). To preserve the balance, I call the hon. Member for Bute and North Ayrshire (Mr. Corrie).

Can my hon. Friend assure me that any subsidies that are saved on this run will be used in the west of Scotland on expensive routes such as the Ardrossan-Brodick run in my constituency?

I can give that assurance. The whole objective that the Government are seeking is not simply a reduction in public expenditure in the area concerned. We are seeking to ensure that the subsidies, which have been doubled in real terms to the Scottish ferry services over the last few years, are provided where they are required. We are not prepared to give a subsidy where it is clearly unnecessary, and where, indeed, local users of the route have opted for the unsubsidised company.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware not only of the anger but of the total astonishment with which this ludicrous decision was received on the lower reaches of the Clyde? Is not the truth of the matter that he is replacing a semi-public monopoly with a private monopoly which has no social obligation whatsoever? Will he now tell us that, if he is going ahead with this ludicrous scheme, he will not be asking local authorities to fund the money for the two quite useless terminal points and claim that that is public saving?

Even if he wished to do so, my right hon. Friend has no power to create a monopoly either for that route or for any other. There is nothing to stop any provider of a ferry service from setting up and carrying it out on an unsubsidised basis. My right hon. Friend has indicated that he is not prepared to give a massive subsidy of £500,000 to a company which, even with that subsidy, has, over the last five years, lost more and more car traffic to the other, unsubsidised, operator. If a solution that recognises the absurdity of the present position can be found, we shall be prepared to consider it. What we are not prepared to do, and what the local community did not ask us to do, is to continue the status with a subsidy of that kind.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the Minister's reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Lothian Regional Council (Expenditure)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied that the expenditure of Lothian regional council is now not excessive and unreasonable.

No, Sir. The council is due to submit a report to me in January on progress towards planned reductions in its expenditure.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the logic of the penalty that he has imposed on the Lothian region is that if Lothian region succeeds in bringing its expenditure down to the base line that he has established during the course of negotiations it will be impossible for him to invoke the 1981 Act against that same base line in the forthcoming financial year? In view of the inability of the Lothian region to open an old folks' home in the constituency of his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) or to provide the transport for a club for the physically handicapped in my constituency, would he care to endorse his hon. Friend's statement that no vital services will be affected by the cut that he has imposed on the council?

On the first point, the penalty imposed on Lothian region referred to the year in question. It does not foreclose any options for other years.

Secondly, on the type of economies made, two points are worth making. First, if the council had even begun to make such economies at the beginning of the time for which I asked it to do so—about one and a half years ago—it would not have made any cuts of the sort that it has had to make at the end of the day.

Secondly, the precise choice of ways of making the economies is no business of mine, but the council's choice is rather strange.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the people of Lothian region are now having to pay for the crass political obduracy of the Lothian Labour group?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I could hardly believe my eyes when I read that Lothian region had chosen to give £30 million back to the Treasury rather than to its ratepayers. But there it is. We have to live with people who have strange priorities.

Is the Secretary of State aware that all shades of political opinion in the Lothian region are united in thinking that the most excessive thing that has happened in Lothian this year has been the spiriting away of £30 million from the region to the Treasury by the Secretary of State for Scotland? What has happened to that money? Is it not sheer humbug for the Secretary of State, who has spent so much time saying that he is protecting the ratepayers' interests, to hand over their money to the Treasury?

I find myself in total agreement with the hon. Gentleman. All shades of political opinion in the Lothian region are quite mystified by the extraordinary decision of the Lothian regional council to give the money to the Treasury rather than to its ratepayers.

Will my right hon. Friend take our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to one side and explain to him that it is possible to control high spending local authorities without resort to referendums?

I have many responsibilities, but one of them is not to take my right hon. Friend to one side.

The right hon. Gentleman is, after all, a member of the Cabinet. Will he explain why a referendum is all right in England but not in Scotland?

It is not my responsibility to discuss local government affairs in England. All that I can say—I think that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me—is that the methods of supporting local government in Scotland and in England and Wales are completely different in all sorts of ways.

Small Businesses (Assistance)

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied that the assistance provided by his Department to small businesses in Scotland has proved adequate.

Yes, Sir. Financial assistance is provided for viable investments in firms large and small. In addition, we have considerably extended the range of incentives available to small businesses and we have launched the business opportunities programme specifically to draw attention to these measures.

Will the Under-Secretary of State look at the uptake of the loan guarantee scheme in Scotland? Will he confess that the 3 per cent. premium charged on this scheme is in no way justified by any consideration of default in terms of the warrant? Additionally, will he note that the best bank to approach for a loan is the Co-operative Bank? Will he welcome the expansion of these activities in Edinburgh?

On the last point, I agree. The Co-operative Bank is included in the scheme for small businesses. I am pleased with the progress so far of the loan guarantee scheme. In the past few months 104 guarantees, to the value of £3 million, were issued in Scotland. That is very satisfactory beginning.

In view of the great importance of stimulating small businesses to reduce unemployment, does my hon. Friend think that the incentives are sufficient? What has been the general take-up since my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced new incentives in the summer?

My hon. Friend will know that, since the Government took office, 72 specific measures have been introduced to help small businesses throughout the country. The take-up is encouraging. The response to the business opportunities seminars that my right hon. Friend and I are holding throughout the country is most encouraging.

If the Government are to hive off certain bits and pieces of the nationalised industries, will they bear in mind that Scotland has an interest in this matter—for instance, in the oil of the BNOC? Will he ensure that workers and managers in Scotland are given an opportunity, where suitable, to set up their own small businesses in the pieces of the nationalised industries that are to be hived off?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He will know that British Aerospace workers in Scotland have recently had an opportunity to take a share in that company's future.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that all the assistance that is being offered to businesses is made simple and effective? One of the problems related to this matter is the difficulty that is sometimes encountered in obtaining assistance. Will he link that to the fact that United Biscuits, BAT and other large companies are offering assistance to small businesses setting up by providing accommodation, premises and advice? Will he ensure that that aspect is fully exploited?

Yes, Sir. I agree that the assistance available should be expressed as simply as possible. I also agree that the assistance and encouragement provided by large companies and by some of the nationalised industries, such as the BSC, is extremely helpful to the small business sector.

Cowal Ferry

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has received representations from the Cowal Ferry Services Retention Committee; what reply he has made; and if he will make a statement.

I met representatives of the Cowal Ferry Services Retention Committee and other local interests in Dunoon on 5 November. They appeared to accept the need to reduce subsidy on this service. They represented against the provision of a passenger-only service between Gourock and Dunoon piers, and they asked that Caledonian MacBrayne be allowed to continue on the present basis, but with subsidy restricted to the losses incurred in carrying foot passengers.

I notice that the Minister said that they "appeared" to agree with him. I use this service regularly. Will the Minister take it from me that I have still to find any sizeable number of people who are in agreement with the total programme, not merely the pure ferry service, but the effect that the removal of the vehicle ferry will have on the town of Dunoon? Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider the whole matter, in terms not just of the subsidy, but of the total effect on the Cowal peninsula?

I accept that there is considerable concern in Dunoon and the Cowal peninsula about the overall proposals. I was emphasising, as it was emphasised to me, that local opinion had accepted, or appeared to accept—I do not want to put words into people's mouths—in an unqualified way that any eventual solution to the problem should not involve the continuation of a subsidy for the car service provided by Caledonian MacBrayne and that there was no basis for Caledonian MacBrayne having such a subsidy when Western Ferries, without a subsidy, was able to attract the overwhelming proportion of the car traffic.

One of the points of concern is that the tourist traffic tends to use the existing Caledonian MacBrayne service, while many of the local community. according to what they told me, prefer to use the Western Ferries service. It is significant that local users tend to prefer Western Ferries, but clearly we have to take into account the overall tourist implications.

If Caledonian MacBrayne withdraws its car ferry service from the route, what guarantee can the Minister give that the roll-on/roll-off service at Gourock will be maintained as a storm weather port for boats from other parts of the Clyde Estuary, in particular Arran and Rothesay?

We are having discussions with Caledonian MacBrayne and also, for its own interests, with Strathclyde regional council. All the relevant implications of any decision by Caledonian MacBrayne will be taken into account.

What will be the cost of a standby vessel, such as that described by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton)——

He is still my friend. I shall even embrace the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) if I am obliged to do so, but not with that beard. What will be the on-cost of a standby vessel, such as one of the two at present on the Gourock-Dunoon run? Further, what will be the cost of purchasing this passenger-only vessel for Cal-Mac to replace the other vessel?

Caledonian MacBrayne and the Scottish Transport Group are looking into both matters. They will be bringing to us their conclusions when final details have been worked out. One of the objectives of this exercise—I stress only one—is to reduce an unnecessary subsidy. Any final decision will depend on the financial implications of the proposals put forward.

Talbot Uk Ltd (Linwood Factory Sale)

5.

asked the Secretary of State if he will take steps to ensure that any moneys gained by the proposed sale of plant and machinery by Talbot in its factory at Linwood will be returned to the Exchequer.

The assets involved are in the ownership of Talbot UK Ltd. and their disposal is primarily a matter for the company. Regional development grants made to Talbot UK Ltd, formerly Chrysler, are the subject of a set of conditions that are binding on a company for a period of four years from the relevant date of provision of the asset in question. Matters in connection with the recovery of grants made in respect of any asset still the subject of conditions are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry.

Despite his smooth technical answer, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the outrage with which it will be received in the west of Scotland. Is he aware that this is a factory to which the whole community has contributed vast sums—certainly over £100 million of public money has gone into the factory and infrastructure—and that none, according to the Minister, is to come back? Will he therefore take the obvious course and stop the sale and use the plant and machinery to get the 1,000 men in the village of Linwood who are unemployed back to work in the factory?

It is not correct to say that none of the money will come back. If any of the assets involved are within the four-year period, repayment will have to be made to the Department of Industry. In regard to the hon. Gentleman's protestations about the factory and his request to stop the sale, I understand his depth of feeling, which is shared by every hon. Member. He must, however, realise that the Linwood car factory is dead. There is no prospect of another car factory at Linwood. My right hon. Friend and I are doing everything possible to bring new industries and jobs to the area. That is what the hon. Gentleman's constituents must demand above all else.

Does the Minister realise that the outrage in the area is compounded by the advertisement that appeared in many Scottish newspapers in September headed by Peugeot "Not every car firm can bring you good news" with, at the bottom, the words "Scotland on the move"? Does the Minister also realise that it is time that this kind of asset stripping was stopped because, together with the BNOC removal planned by the Government, there will soon be nothing left for Scotland?

There is no BNOC removal. The advertisement is not a matter for me or for my right hon. Friend.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Talbot's experience shows that customers create jobs? Where products cannot be sold, there is no future. Will he assure the House that the Government will not make public funds available where commercial prospects are dim, bleak, or even worse, as they were with Talbot?

To put matters positively, the Scottish Office and the Department of Industry are ready to give financial assistance to any viable investment that will provide new jobs in any part of Scotland.

Does the Minister realise that it is extremely offensive to the people of the area that, following the devastation caused by the company and by the Government to Linwood, the factory and its equipment are being sold off as the industrial sale of the century? In view of the special effort that the Government were making to bring alternative jobs to Linwood, will the Minister tell us how many jobs have actually been brought there and how many are in prospect?

The right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) knows better than most Opposition Members that the first thing that must be done to bring more jobs to Linwood is to dismantle the relic that is the Linwood car plant and provide modern facilities for modern jobs.

The hon. Gentleman has dodged the question. Not a single new job has been brought to Linwood or is in prospect, despite all the grand talk about special efforts.

At a recent meeting my right hon. Friend listed many items and outlined the steps that the Government and the Scottish Development Agency are taking to provide the facilities for new jobs to come to Linwood.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Clydebank Enterprise Zone

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about progress in the Clydebank enterprise zone, including the number of firms that have established or announced a decision to establish in the zone and the jobs created and in prospect.

Already, over 70 companies with a potential for 860 new jobs have either moved into the zone or have expanded their operations there. This is a most encouraging start, and I am confident that the Government's enterprise zone policy will make a substantial contribution to the regeneration of the area's economy.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging answer. Can he give any further information about the number of inquiries by companies that may come to the enterprise zone?

The zone has created considerable interest. In August, when the announcement of the zone was put into operation, we had no fewer than 200 inquiries. More than 1,000 companies have now made inquiries about establishment in the zone.

Will any of these new companies or new jobs have transferred from other areas in Scotland? If so, from which areas will they have transferred? Will the Secretary of State tell us whether we shall see enterprising new policies to get back to work the 350,000 Scots whom he has deliberately made redundant?

I recognise that there are fears that some of the firms may come into the zone from other parts of Scotland. A significant number of the firms that have set up at Clydebank are new companies. Firms have relocated from other parts of Strathclyde because their existing premises were no longer suitable. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would say that the Government had produced a very good idea and that he wished it success.

Local Authority Housing (Dampness)

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he has any plans to allocate additional resources to district authorities in Scotland to alleviate the problem of dampness in local authority housing.

I am glad to say that the success of the Government's policy on the sale of council houses has enabled us to allocate a further £22 million to district and islands councils for capital expenditure on housing in the current year. The Government indicated that they would be willing to consider proposals for alleviating dampness, and 14 councils have said that this is how they plan to use some of the additional resources allocated to them.

Does the Minister accept that Glasgow is unlikely to receive any of this money, although it is in Glasgow where the major dampness problem exists? Dampness causes immense human suffering and the local authority has to divert expenditure from other areas to cope with it. Does the Minister agree that it is time that he gave extra money for this specific purpose?

That is what we are doing. Glasgow could have allocated to it a further £4 million. I understand that a considerable part is intended for use on dampness eradication schemes. All that we need to receive from Glasgow is an assurance that the revenue to pay for the schemes, from the sale of council houses, will be that previously estimated. I am confident that Glasgow will be able to give such an assurance.

Have any authorities earmarked some of this capital for expenditure on dampness eradication schemes? Has my hon. Friend's Department carried out an evaluation of dehumidifiers, which may be one solution to the problem? Those devices could be bought by local authorities if they sold their council houses, as is demanded by their tenants.

We are prepared to look at all proposals for dealing with excessive wetness, some of which are likely to be more successful than others. I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that Argyll and Bute intends to use part of its resources to solve the problems of dampness and condensation.

What criteria does the Minister apply in spending the extra £22 million which he says is available? Is one of those criteria the climatic conditions in certain parts of the north of Scotland where there is a greater need than in other areas to tackle the problem of dampness?

We told local authorities that we were prepared to consider any projects that they wished to carry out during this financial year. If the number of projects submitted were to exceed the resources that are available, we should give priority to those concerned with dampness and condensation.

Leaving aside the touching appeal of the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) for special equipment for Conservative Members' desk rooms, I suggest that it is confounded cheek to say that money is being given to local authorities to deal with this problem, when they are receiving only a small percentage of the money that was deducted from capital allowances because, in the opinion of the Minister, rents had not been raised to a high enough level. Does the Minister accept that dampness makes life intolerable for many tenants, that the present capital allocations are not enough and that the Government must make a special effort to help heavy urban areas where the problem is pressing?

If local authorities prefer a low rent policy, when a reasonable rent policy could lead to greater allocations for them to deal with their housing problems, they must accept at least part of the responsibility for what flows from such a policy. We have told local authorities that, in assessing their housing plans and needs, we shall give considerably greater attention than did the Labour Government to the problems of condensation and dampness.

National Mobility Scheme

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take steps to make the national mobility scheme applicable in Scotland, as in England.

This scheme, which is meant to assist incomers applying for council houses, is a voluntary arrangement, and it is for Scottish local authorities to decide for themselves whether they wish to participate in it. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has so far declined to do so because Scottish authorities are already subject to statutory obligations in respect of residential qualifications, which do not bind local authorities in England and Wales.

I have in my constituency, as my hon. Friend knows, an excellent and expanding high technology firm which is in a position to recruit the skilled workers—in this case, skilled turners—for whom, unfortunately, work is not available in Scotland. The problem is the transfer of those good people, who have found work but not houses. Will the Minister ask Scottish local authorities to get together with English local authorities to organise this transfer?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Under the Tenants' Rights, Etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 Scottish local authorities afford to people coming for work from other parts of the United Kingdom the same advantages as my hon. Friend seeks for those going to his constituency. I understand that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities is likely to seek to persuade the convention to change its attitude. In my view it would be in the interests of all concerned if that were to happen, but I emphasise that it is for the convention to decide whether to make such a change.

Will the Minister give serious consideration to another aspect of the problem—not the question of the unemployed cycling from Glasgow to North Devon, but the distress and difficulties caused when families who live in council houses cannot move near to an elderly relative, or vice versa? Will he consider taking action through either legislation or discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities?

If the hon. Gentleman had read the Tenants' Rights Etc. (Scotland) Act before he voted against it, he would have seen that one of its provisions was to require local authorities to pay attention to just those considerations.

Farming (Profitability)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his current assessment of the profitability of Scottish farming.

The annual review is just beginning, so it is too early to give a firm assessment of the situation in the light of this year's results. There are, however, encouraging signs. Returns, particularly in the livestock sector, have improved and the rate of increase in input costs has declined. Taken together with the increased support that we have provided, these should bring about a reversal of the downward trend in farming net income which we inherited.

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that nothing is done to destroy, by any erosion in the hill livestock compensatory allowances for the coming year, the small degree of confidence that has begun to reappear in the Scottish hill livestock sector?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I am sure that he will not expect me to anticipate our autumn review of the hill livestock compensatory amounts. I agree that some return in confidence is much to be welcomed and that we do not wish to do anything to discourage it.

Will the Secretary of State take into account the heavy liabilities of Scottish farmers to banks and the heavy interest charges from which the farmers suffer, those charges being the most serious handicaps facing them at present?

I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman. It is one of the most worrying features of agriculture at the moment. That is another reason why it is important to seek to lower interest rates. During the past year the overall interest rate burden for the year will probably have been less than it was for the previous year. That may be a small help, but I should like to see more help than that.

I accept that my right hon. Friend cannot anticipate the outcome of the review, but will he accept that many of his hon. Friends will be drawing to his attention the serious debts of many farming enterprises? Will he bear in mind that, although this year has been better than last year, last year was positively disastrous for many farmers and that some time will be needed for them to recover from it?

I agree that farmers' incomes have seriously deteriorated over recent years, and we shall recognise that fact in our review.

Will the Secretary of State say what steps he intends to take, in the light of the report last week, which showed that one-third of Scottish dairy farmers are now operating at a loss, to encourage local authorities to increase the take-up of EEC milk subsidies?

I, too, am concerned about the returns to dairy farmers. I hope that the new arrangements that are being made for milk prices and so on will be of some help to them eventually. We shall look into the question of encouraging the consumption of milk and do what we can to help.

Youth Opportunities Scheme

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what percentage of young people in Scotland found employment after participating in a youth opportunities programme scheme at the most recent available date.

The most recent survey of young people who had taken part in the youth opportunities programme, carried out by the Manpower Services Commission, indicated that 42 per cent. of respondents in Scotland were in employment or further education or on another scheme 23 weeks after leaving the programme.

Is the Minister aware that the youth opportunities programme cannot cope with the disastrous fact that over half of Scotland's young people now cannot find real jobs? Will he accept that very real concern exists about the operation of the YOP work experience programme on private employers' premises, because some companies are using the work experience participants as free labour while paying off full-time workers, and that now fewer than one-third of these young people are being offered jobs at the end of the scheme?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Government have introduced new plans and new programmes to improve the youth opportunities programme and to introduce a new training initiative, which is badly needed, apart from the fact that unemployment among young people is now extremely high.

I know that there are criticisms of employers under the scheme, but those criticisms are greatly exaggerated where they relate to substitution. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the schemes have been approved by the relevant trade unions, and that in itself is a safeguard against abuse.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, unlike a few years ago, the percentage of youth employment in Scotland, particularly in my area of Grampian, is better than in the North-West and North-East of England, the English Midlands and Wales?

My hon. Friend is correct. In the midst of the worst world recession for 50 years, there is no doubt that the situation in Scotland, serious though it is, is very much better than that in most parts of the United Kingdom, including those parts which previously had an economic advantage over Scotland.

Does the Minister appreciate that, whereas until recently about 50 per cent. of young people leaving the YOP schemes were able to obtain employment, as a result of the mess that he and his right hon. Friend have made of the Scottish economy that proportion is now 29 per cent.? Does he further accept that children who are now leaving school in Scotland face the bleak prospect of possibly never being able to obtain a full-time job throughout their working lives?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's last, gloomy prediction. I can only say that it is a great pity that when he and his friends were in Government they did nothing to improve the Scottish economy.

Robb Caledon Shipyard, Dundee

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the outcome of the discussions in which his Department has been involved as to the future development of the site of the Robb Caledon shipyard, Dundee.

My Department is not a party to the negotiations about the future of the Robb Caledon site. But I understand that the Dundee port authority has responded to Kestrel Marine's bid to take over the yard with proposals designed to meet Kestrel's demand for additional space while preserving the potential for future ports development and that negotiations are continuing.

I have made it clear that my Department will be prepared to consider the provision of financial support for any viable proposition that might emerge involving investment by Kestrel Marine. The Scottish Development Agency stands ready to assist also.

I appreciate that the negotiations between Kestrel and the Dundee port authority are in progress today. I hope that a reasonable solution will be reached. Is the Minister prepared to advise his nominees on the Dundee port authority that if the negotiations fail the authority should give suitable recognition to the industrial needs of the city of Dundee in its aim of enhancing the port and the shipping industry?

I have no reason to suspect that the authority is not giving suitable priority to the industrial problems of Dundee. It is doing everything in its power to reach with Kestrel an agreement that will benefit the city generally and provide a solution to the present questions and negotiations.

Does the Minister accept that if the responsible attitude initially adopted by the port authority becomes irresponsible—as it is daily becoming—in terms of an argument over a piece of land, when 140 jobs at Robb Caledon are threatened, he has power to instruct his nominees on the authority to advise it to make the land available?

As the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) said, negotiations are taking place today. I understand that fresh proposals have been made and are being considered by the parties responsible. I do not believe that any statement in the House would be helpful at this stage.

I do not wish in any way to make the current negotiations difficult——

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Dundee port authority has a wider responsibility than just the Robb Caledon project, and that, while supporting the efforts of Robb Caledon to find new job opportunities for its employees, it is important for it constantly to bear in mind its wider responsibilities?

Cardiosurgical Facilities, Edinburgh

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress has been made by his Department on the provision of adequate cardiosurgical facilities in Edinburgh; and if he will make a statement.

My Department has recently approved a proposal by Lothian health board, which is in accord with the recommendations of the Kay report on cardiac surgery, to build a second cardiac surgery theatre at Edinburgh Royal infirmary. Consultations are well advanced regarding the temporary transfer, for the interim period, of part of the cardiac surgery work load from Edinburgh to Glasgow.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his first appearance at the Dispatch Box. Is he aware that there is concern in the Lothian region that the health board's proposals will not be adequate to provide for the 800 operations per year that it believes will be necessary? Is he aware that, on the Kay criteria, the number of operations likely to be performed is nearer 600? What does he intend to do about the shortfall?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks.

The figure of 800 does not appear in the Kay report. We must therefore consider the national picture. The report recommended, and the Government are implementing, a system of three centralised cardiac surgery units in Scotland, each able to carry out at least 600 major heart operations. That meets the estimated needs of the Scottish adult population within the range of 1,600 to 2,000 operations per annum.

I entirely accept my hon. Friend's concern about the difficulties in obtaining information about waiting lists in this respect, a matter on which he has been in correspondence with me. I therefore propose to establish a national cardiac surgery register in consultation with the health board and the clinicians concerned.

Is the Minister aware of the great controversy before he took office about continued centralisation in Glasgow and Edinburgh? If the facilities in Edinburgh have now been outstripped, rather than expanding the facilities there, would it not make more sense to use at least some of the money to expand the services already available in Aberdeen, which everyone believes could be acceptable and would be of great benefit to the population not only of Aberdeen but of the whole of the North and North-East of Scotland?

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concern in this matter and have read the Adjournment debate that he initiated in February 1980. The facilities in Edinburgh have not been outstripped. The number of patients in the Grampian area would not justify a unit with a capacity of 600 operations per annum. The Grampian health board acknowledges that it receives a satisfactory service under the present arrangements, but intends to review the matter next spring.

Is the Minister aware that Dundee falls within the Edinburgh area for heart operations, and that, because of the difficulties experienced by the Lothian health board, there is a knock-on problem for Dundee and for Tayside as a whole? Will he consider using the accommodation currently available in the modern hospital at Ninewells in Dundee for cardiac operations to deal with the backlog and to ensure that a decent service is available to seriously sick people in that area?

I entirely accept the hon. Gentleman's point that there is concern about the current delays in the Tayside area because the Edinburgh programme has not yet gone ahead. I must stress, however, that patients who require to be treated urgently are operated on at once. The temporary transfer of some of the work load from Edinburgh to Glasgow, to which I have referred, should help to reduce the waiting times for patients in Tayside.

I welcome my hon. Friend's introduction of a national register for these operations. Will he consider the possibility of establishing a similar register for a small number of other very expensive, high-technology operations, such as hip joint surgery?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that suggestion. I shall certainly look into it.

Considering the choice that might have been made, may I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment?

Oil-Related Jobs

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is his estimate of the total number of oil-related jobs in Scotland.

It is estimated that in June 1981 total oil-related employment in Scotland was in the range 80,000 to 95,000. Of this, the Manpower Services Commission's six-monthly survey of oil-related companies has found that 50,000 jobs were in firms which are wholly oil-related. The remainder are to by found in firms which are partly oil-related, either as direct or as indirect suppliers to the industry.

Will the Minister give an assurance that when the Government force through their plans to privatise the BNOC no individual or company will acquire a majority of the shares, thus endangering the planned office block in the centre of Glasgow, for which 2,500 jobs are zoned, and which has already been considered by Glasgow district council's planning committee?

There is no reason for the hon. Gentleman to be concerned about job losses in Glasgow as a result of the Government's privatisation plans. Indeed, all the signs are that the number of oil-related jobs in Scotland will continue to expand. Conservative Members believe in public ownership in the full sense of the term, but the difficulty with the Labour Party is that it believes in State control. That does nothing for the quality of service to customers or for the country's prosperity.

What estimate has the Under-Secretary of State made of the number of jobs lost to Scotland through the failure to go ahead with the gas-gathering pipeline and the failure to connect our pipelines to those on the Continent, thus deriving revenue through the passage of Norwegian oil and gas to the Continent? How many jobs have been lost directly through the Government's policies?

The right hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the oil companies are currently considering how they can take up proposals to bring the gas ashore. It is not expected that any jobs will be lost as a result. There are companies which, in the near future, will have an improved incentive to bring the gas ashore.

Solicitor-General For Scotland

Warrant Sales

39.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland whether he will arrange to meet the Scottish Law Commission to discuss the abolition of warrant sales.

Bearing in mind that it is about 10 years since the Law Commission started looking into that matter and over a year since it published its findings, will the Government consider introducing a Bill this Session to abolish warrant sales or, failing that, give support to a Private Member's Bill similar to the one that I tried to introduce last Session? That Bill was supported not only by Labour Members but by Conservatives who want an end to that inhuman practice which causes untold misery to many low income people and their families.

It would be difficult for the Government to support the hon. Gentleman's Private Member's Bill that he introduced in June, because he never published it, so we do not know what it contained.

Order. Out of the kindness of my heart, I shall call the hon. Gentleman for a second supplementary question, so I hope that the House will now subside.

Published or not, it would not be possible to give support to such a Bill. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Law Commission published proposals that are the subject of comments and criticisms that are still coming in. Warrant sales are part of the law of diligence and cannot be separated from it. Whatever reforms are made, warrant sales will continue to be part of the characteristics of Scots laws as of all other laws.

Will the Solicitor-General for Scotland now consider withdrawing his untruthful reply to me earlier? The Bill was published and the names of some of his hon. Friends appeared in support of it. In view of the support not just from Labour Party Members but from even the Scottish Tory Reform Group, will the Solicitor-General consider introducing legislation to ban that practice? Otherwise, he and he alone will be out of step even with members of his party in Scotland.

On Armistice Day I would want to apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I said anything inaccurate. If he published his Bill. I am sure that it has been extremely useful to all hon. Members. My information is that he did not publish it, but it will never see the light of day in any event.

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that I was not a signatory to that Bill? Will he further accept that, none the less, a great number of my hon. Friends are concerned about the law of diligence and warrant sales and are looking for reforms in that direction?

Yes, Sir. I know that people are concerned about that law. I also hope that they are informed about it. The recent survey of Defenders in Debt Actions in Scotland is one that I hope that those who propose changes in the law will have read before they do so.

Some of us are informed about this matter and are fed up with the continued delay. It has gone on for years. There is no reason why there should not be an immediate and radical reform of the whole business.

I take it that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about that enormously long period when he was Secretary of State for Scotland and did nothing about it himself.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory reply given by the Solicitor-General for Scotland, I give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Firearms Offences

40.

asked the Solicitor General for Scotland how many prosecutions for offences involving firearms have been initiated since January 1981.

As many of the offences in which firearms are used are charged under the common law headings of assault and robbery, murder, attempted murder and so on, it would not be possible to obtain the information requested except at disproportionate cost. What can be said, however, is that in relation to serious offences involving the use of firearms, 29 cases which involved their use have been dealt with in the High Court so far this year.

Will my hon. and learned Friend accept that, for the High Court, those are disturbingly high figures? Will he take this opportunity to confirm that the Government will do all in their power to assist the police and the courts in bringing such offenders to justice?

Yes, Sir. Both sides of the House and many people outside regard the use of firearms in the pursuit of crime as particularly obnoxious. We should be thankful that our legislation has controlled it so far as it has. It is disturbing that a number of organisations claiming to have political or terrorist interests have resorted to the use of firearms in the pursuit of their abominable aims.

Does the Solicitor-General accept that the figures that he has given would be worse if they included offences involving air weapons? Will he take steps to include those weapons in the firearms laws, particularly with regard to licensing?

That is an important matter. However, the figures include air weapons. The total figures include the theft of air weapons, their use and so on. If a person is a victim—a bank employee or whatever—he does not decide whether an air weapon, a rifle or a revolver is being used. It is the use of weapons that is particularly obnoxious, and we want to do everything to control it.

Vandalism

41.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many prosecutions the Crown Office has initiated on charges of vandalism.

The precise number of cases where proceedings have been instituted by procurators fiscal under section 78 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 are not recorded separately and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. But I am able to say that during the period from the beginning of April to the end of September this year over 400 cases of vandalism were subject to compensation orders in which the compensation ranged from £5 to £400, and that the total amount of those orders exceeded £25,000.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that full answer, but will he examine the present campaign of civil disobedience being conducted by the Scottish National Party? Does he agree that it resembles less the conduct of Mahatma Gandhi than the behaviour of teenage hooligans chucking bricks at greenhouses only to defy authority?

I deplore the concept of civil disobedience, whoever uses it. I am glad to say that those who attempted to get into what is about to be my office were arrested.

Does the Solicitor-General for Scotland recall that an undertaking was given in Committee on the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act that the statistics for those new offences would be monitored? Therefore, is it not shameful that he now says that no statistics are being kept? Does he know of any offence prosecuted under vandalism that would not have been prosecuted under the old categories of breach of the peace or malicious mischief? Does he agree that this is all cosmetic window dressing with no real meaning?

I am confused by the references to window dressing, window breaking, and cosmetics. However, it has concentrated the minds of the public and the judiciary and has been a useful reform. The naming of crimes is important. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall take steps to see that during the monitoring process we collect figures that will be helpful to him.

In view of the widespread concern about the extent of vandalism in Scotland, it is surprising that the hon. and learned Gentleman has not adhered to his promise about statistics. Is he aware that he will have the support of the whole House in ensuring that from now on such statistics are kept and made available?

The Act has been in force for only a short time. The annual statistics that are collected and published are not yet available, but I will ensure that these trends are contained in the figures and that the House has full information about the great benefit of the introduction of this offence.