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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 32: debated on Wednesday 17 November 1982

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Before we begin questions, I remind the House that if hon. Members ask more than one supplementary question when they are called they will take up someone else's time.


Voluntary And Community Organisations


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied that voluntary and community organisations in Scotland receive sufficient funding from the Government's urban programme.

This year voluntary sector projects will account for a substantial proportion of the urban programme. Substantial sums are involved—£2 million capital and £3 million current—but I should be happy to see the voluntary sector benefit still further from the programme.

As the voluntary programme in England receives three times as much in percentage terms of the funds as Scotland, what action does the Minister propose to take to persuade recalcitrant local authorities in Scotland, such as Tayside regional council, to take up the 75 per cent. grants that are available for such purposes?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman says about Tayside. I hope he will accept that voluntary sector projects have been taking an increasing proportion of the total. The figures that I have given compare with the provision of £1 million in 1980–81. I recognise the need for greater publicity, and officials of the urban renewal unit are working with the Scottish Community Education Council to produce an explanatory pack for voluntary and community groups. I am sure that that will be helpful.

Is my hon. Friend aware that Levenmouth council of social services has greatly benefited from the substantial contribution under the voluntary initiative scheme? The money has been used in the current year and has made a substantial improvement to the voluntary initiative.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for identifying that project. I stress that man



asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he proposes to take to reduce the levels of unemployment in Scotland.

Our economic strategy, which is having considerable success in reducing inflation and interest rates, offers the best hope for creating viable new jobs in productive enterprises, and we have recently announced further measures to assist industry. For those unable to get jobs, we are expanding substantially the programme of special employment and training measures.

Is it the intention of the Secretary of State, in dealing with employment at Ravenscraig, to follow the line that he has taken on Linwood, Fort William and Invergordon and agonise on the sidelines until there is a closure or a massive loss of employment in a strategic Scottish industry and then simply discount it and say that it is due to market forces, over which he has no control?

The hon. Gentleman's account of my activities bears no relation to the facts. He will know that I made it clear in my evidence to the Select Committee last week that a proposal to close Ravenscraig would be a serious matter.

We recognise that the right hon. Gentleman and his party are reputed to be fighting to save Ravenscraig, but does he realise that there has been a decimation of the steel industry in Lanarkshire? Does he also recognise that one part of the steel industry in my constituency is working two on and one off, that a caterpillar tractor factory is laying off 1,200 workers and that a Honeywell factory is on short-time working? What does the right hon. Gentleman propose to do about that?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety over all those matters, but he must realise that in every one of those cases the trouble is that the customers wanting the products made by those factories have gone elsewhere for them. The Government are trying to make Scottish industry competitive once more in order to win back those markets and get back the jobs.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that jobs will be created only if industry works from a stable economic base, and that the lowering of interest rates and the inflation rate are far more likely to achieve that than any of the "live now, pay later" policies of the Opposition?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Everyone in industry has said for a long time that the reduction in interest rates and inflation are by far the most important factors for industry. The CBI made it clear at its conference recently that the last thing that industry wants is yet further borrowing that will take many years to repay and create inflation for industry.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, crucial to reducing unemployment in Scotland, is the preservation of every job in the Scottish steel industry, at Ravenscraig and elsewhere? Is he further aware that my right hon. Friends and myself in the Labour Party in Scotland will fight to preserve every job in the steel industry and will not accept from him any shoddy compromise that brings about further job loss in any part of that industry?

There is no industry in any country that can expect to save every job on every occassion in every plant. The hon. Gentleman makes himself sound incredible when he makes such silly statements.

Manufacturing Output


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the level of output of manufacturing industry in Scotland.

The latest available index of industrial production for Scotland relates to the first quarter of 1982. In that period manufacturing output in Scotland was 0·6 per cent. higher than in the preceding quarter and was at its highest level since the third quarter of 1980.

Will the Secretary of State try to help Scotland during discussions in the Cabinet? Is it true that he is peculiar in taking some responsibility for the levels of unemployment and employment in manufacturing industry in Scotland, whereas the Government take credit for controlling the rate of inflation, but take a "hands off' attitude towards the levels of employment and unemployment?

I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman means. I have always made it clear that I regard myself as having an overriding responsibility for the Scottish economy. Perhaps hon. Members on both sides of the House will accept that I have done my best to fulfil that responsibility.

The reduction in inflation and in interest rates is critical to the survival of every business in Scotland. I fight in the Cabinet to encourage my colleagues to continue on their present course.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that output can continue only if factories are actually working? Are not unnecessary strikes, coupled with irresponsible wage demands, accounting for more lack of production and of competitive performance by Scottish manufacturing industry than any other factor since the war?

My hon. Friend is right. It is sad that it has taken so long for some employees in factories in Scotland to appreciate that if they strike today they may lose their jobs tomorrow.

Has the Secretary of State seen the recent announcement from Babcock Power Ltd. of 480 redundancies? Is that not a terrible omen for the future level of manufacturing industry, as that company is one of the main energy providers in Britain? Will the right hon. Gentleman bring forward the orders for new power stations and the refurbishing of existing power stations? Otherwise, that industry will not exist when a Labour Government return and have to pick up the remains of manufacturing industry.

I share the hon. Gentleman's worry about the situation at Babcock's. As he knows, I have had discussions with representatives from that company. I respectfully disagree with his remedy. The salvation for Babcock's depends upon obtaining orders from overseas. We are doing everything possible to help the company to win such orders. However, Britain has a surplus of capacity at power stations, so it is hardly likely that the company will gain much business there.

Unemployment Statistics


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people are registered as unemployed in Scotland at the latest convenient date whose last recorded job was in the construction industry.

On 13 May 1982, the last date on which an industrial analysis of the unemployment register was undertaken, 46,521 people who had last worked in the construction industry were registered as unemployed in Scotland.

Does the Minister accept that it is crazy to have a policy that combines unacceptably high unemployment in the construction industry with a miserably inadequate building programme? Does he further accept that it is not good enough for him to suggest in a rather frantic and cosmetic manner that there should be an increase in expenditure, at the fag end of the year, under the house improvement programme? That is no substitute unless he is prepared to do something about the revenue implications of an increased capital spending programme.

Did the Minister hear the Tory leader of the Lothian regional council make that point forcefully on Scottish television and say that he had two brand new old people's homes in Lothian into which he could not put a single person because he could not make the necessary provision from his revenue budget? Will the Minister do something about that?

The construction industry will benefit substantially from the recent success of the Government's counter-inflation policy in reducing interest rates and the national insurance surcharge. We are defending the capital programme. If the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is worried, he should take up with his friends in local Labour authorities the fact that the Scottish construction industry has been deprived of more than £50 million of capital spending because of their rate fund contribution policy.

Would it be a sensible, if modest, contribution to the problems of the construction industry, as well as making good conservation sense, for the Government to increase the grant for house insulation for old-age pensioners from 90 to 100 per cent.?

There are arguments against 100 per cent. grants, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. I emphasise what the Government have done about improvement grants. We have lifted the spending limits on improvement grants for the remainder of the financial year. The hon. Member for Garscadden described that as cosmetic, but those who benefit will not see it in the same light.

Will my hon. Friend have a word with our right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and urge him to make all employment tax deductible, so that workers who were formerly employed in the construction industry might obtain a job in personal employment?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is more than capable of making his own representations to the Chancellor.

Is it not outrageous that the Prime Minister should have given the impression last week that local authorities in Scotland have not chosen to use all of their capital allowance, and that the Minister should seek to add to that confusion today? Will the Minister use his influence to obtain a reasonable capital allowance for local authorities, coupled with the necessary revenue approval, so that jobs can be made available?

The hon. Member has not followed the Scottish announcements. We have made it clear that the serious underspending problem in England is not paralleled north of the border. We have also brought forward a series of measures on general capital allocation and on non-housing revenue account to assist local authorities to meet the resources made available to them.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the construction industry is always the first to feel the recession and the first to get out of it? Does he accept that the recent announcement by the oil companies at Sullom Voe and St. Fergus, headed by Total Oil, will involve the engagement of 3,000 construction workers during the next year, which will be an added advantage for the construction industry in Scotland?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the importance of oil industry developments for the construction industry in Scotland. I am sure that the Scottish construction industry is well able to meet these challenges.

Factory Closures And Company Liquidations


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many factory closures and company liquidations there have been in Scotland in each of the past three years.

Comprehensive statistics of factory closures are not available.

Instances of redundancy notified to the MSC involving 10 or more workers and arising in the context of closures for 1979, 1980 and 1981 are 86, 258 and 283 firms respectively. The number of instances up to the end of July 1982 is 207.

The total number of compulsory and creditors' voluntary liquidations—the two types which involve insolvency—recorded in Scotland in 1979, 1980 and 1981 were 238, 379 and 438 respectively. The figure for 1982 up to the end of September is 373.

Do not the figures, especially for the current year, give the lie to Ministers' repeated proclamations about the end of the recession? Will the right hon. Gentleman take note of the fact that in my constituency alone in the past fortnight there have been three substantial lay-offs and one complete factory closure? Is he aware that what really irritates my constituents, as I suspect it does others, is the gap between Ministers' speeches and the actual wreckage of the economy?

That occurs only if those listening to the speeches do not examine the facts for themselves. The right hon. Gentleman may know that 7,000 firms in Scotland went out of business last year. As 8.000 new businesses were created, that does not seem to be a bad balance.

I should like a clear statement from the Secretary of State. Is he still contending, against the background of the past 10 or 15 minutes, that his economic policies are working in Scotland? Does he believe that they are working? My hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) instanced the loss of 450 jobs in Renfrew last week. We lost 50 jobs in Paisley yesterday. Will the Secretary of State comment on the fact that this morning Chivas Brothers in Paisley announced the loss of another 400 jobs, which means that the Renfrewshire area has lost 1,000 jobs in a week—

I shall not attempt to answer all those questions, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are many distressing instances of firms laying people off and having difficulties. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that that is common throughout the Western world. The reason for almost every closure and difficulty is that potential customers have decided to buy their goods elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends should give some thought to that.

Is my right hon. Friend able to calculate which of these closures and liquidations were due to strikes which stopped production? Does he agree that the Government's economic policies will not bring recovery unless the manufacturers are allowed to get on with the job of producing goods?

I agree with my hon. Friend that in many instances a long strike record has led to loss of jobs and the ultimate closure of a factory. I am glad to say, however, that in recent years there has been a great improvement and that the vast majority of workers in Scotland now appreciate that their first priority is to ensure that their company satisfies its customers and that if it does their jobs will be much more secure.

Why does the Secretary of State continue to mislead the House? Will he admit that among the 7,000 closures since he became Secretary of State there are the Linwood car plant, with the loss of 3,500 jobs, the Invergordon plant, with the loss of 1,000 jobs, and the Fort William paper mill, with the loss of 1,500 jobs? We are still battling to save Ravenscraig. Will the right hon. Gentleman admit that the 8,000 new companies to which he referred, taken together, do not make up for even the smallest job loss in the factories that I have mentioned?

The hon. Gentleman has inadvertently made my point for me. The best example of all is the Linwood car plant. People all over Scotland have been buying cars regularly over the past few years, but the fact that they chose not to buy cars made at Linwood meant that the factory closed. The hon. Gentleman has to face the fact that throughout Western Europe there are difficulties for industrial enterprises. None of the cases that he quoted resulted from the lack of Government help. The Government did everything that they could to help in every one of those cases.

From where does Babcock and Wilcox buy its steel—from Ravenscraig, or from somewhere else?

I asked that question when I met representatives of that company. They told me that they buy steel from Scottish steelworks and would regard it as serious if they could no longer do so. That is worth noting.

Council For Tertiary Education


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to meet the Council for Tertiary Education in Scotland to discuss his response to its report on the structure of tertiary education.

My right hon. Friend has no plans at present to meet the council. The views received from the large number of bodies which have been consulted on the report are at present being considered.

Will the Minister concede that any further delay in meeting the council will prevent it convening at all, because it is the expressed opinion of its chairman that nothing further should be done by the council until a response is made? Given the problems that face tertiary education in Scotland, is it not a disgrace that this issue has been allowed to linger on in the way that it has over the past few months?

Many of the questions involving tertiary education are being dealt with by the Scottish Office and by the local authorities in Scotland. Many steps have been taken during the past three and a half years on the specific points of the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. More than 80 organisations have been consulted and their replies are now being considered. My right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement early next year.

As the present structure is a dog's breakfast which is causing much confusion among prospective applicants, when exactly does the Secretary of State propose to make the statement, because there is a degree of urgency about the matter?

We have recently received the final documents giving the views of the various organisations concerned. My right hon. Friend hopes to make a statement early next year.

With regard to tertiary education, does my hon. Friend agree that we have to acknowledge that we are living in a rapidly changing world, which includes the introduction of the new vocational training scheme? Does he agree that all these matters must be integrated to meet the requirements of the youngsters? That is our main interest.

My hon. Friend is correct. A great deal of thought has gone into these matters. Considerable improvements have been made in adapting our education system in Scotland to meet the demands of our young people and the market generally. That is what we are doing.

Does the Minister remember that the Council for Tertiary Education was established to advise a Scottish Assembly? Would it not be better if it were fulfilling the role for which it was established?

Indigenous Industries (Recovery)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has to assist the indigenous industries in Scotland affected by the present recession.

In addition to our major contribution towards the marked reduction in the level of inflation, which helps all sectors, there is an extensive range of incentives available for industrial development covering investment, innovation and export. We have mounted an industrial development drive to make these incentives known throughout Scotland. The Scottish Development Agency also provides support to small firms with a range of financial, technical and marketing services.

I accept what my hon. Friend has stated in his reply, but is this not unsatisfactory for those areas that have lost their development area status, particularly the Grampian region and my constituency of Aberdeenshire, East, where there is intolerably high unemployment? Will my hon. Friend undertake extensive research into the situation at Fraserburgh and Peterhead with a view to reducing the unemployment that has been created in that area?

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend's feelings in these matters. The Scottish Development Agency is examining the particular problems of Fraserburgh. A wide range of grants and assistance are available to parts of Scotland that are not assisted areas. These include tax incentives, schemes to back innovation and export, and all the programmes that are available for small businesses and small business start-ups. Despite my hon. Friend's disappointment that his area has lost assisted area status, I am sure that he will help us to ensure that every company in his part of the world is fully aware of the assistance that is available.

In view of the difficulties experienced by indigenous industries, the Government's claim that one of their priorities is to deal with unemployment—which is belied by legislation on privatisation and union-bashing—and the reduction in the Treasury contribution to the Scottish Office, what is the Secretary of State doing to educate the Prime Minister about what is happening in Scotland?

I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman means, because there has been no reduction in the Treasury's contribution to the Scottish Office. A great deal is being done by the Government and the European Community to assist the area which the right hon. Gentleman represents.

Will the Minister concede that the closure of the Falmers factory and the redundancies at the Bata factory are due to imports of cheap footwear and clothes from Taiwan, Korea and Hong Kong? Will the Scottish Office support the initiative by the Department of Trade to set up a body to try to limit such imports? Does the Minister agree that that is the best way to help Scotland's industry?

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman supports the Secretary of State for Trade's initiatives.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I prefer the word "encouragement" to "assistance", and that I have a fellow feeling with my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie)? When will my hon. Friend the Minister encourage indigenous industries, especially small companies in the non-assisted and Tory-supporting areas in Scotland?

The support available to the small business sector in Scotland is at its highest level ever. Great efforts are being made to ensure that all business men, particularly those involved in small businesses, are aware of the fiscal support and advice available from Government Departments and the Scottish Development Agency.

What is the Scottish Office response to the Arthur D. Little and Scottish Office review of forest products?

The report is encouraging. We are involved in discussions with interested parties who may wish to take advantage of the report's recommendations and invest further in Scotland.

New Town Development Corporation


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what progress has been made in improving communications between new town development corporations in Scotland and local residents.

As a result of the measures taken at my request to improve the presentation of their activities to the public, better communications have been established between the development corporations and local residents.

I recognise that some progress has been made towards making the new town development corporations more accountable, but does the Minister agree that it is appropriate for the Secretary of State now to advise the corporations to open their doors to the press and the public, as proposed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities?

The development corporations are, largely, commercial organisations. It has been proved beyond doubt by both Labour and Conservative Governments that their development work is of great benefit. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that no Government should take any steps to diminish industrial development, which is successfully carried out by the corporations.

If the Minister is not prepared to take the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Hogg) and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to instruct the new town development corporations to open their meetings to the public, will he, in the interim, instruct them to make the minutes of board meetings available to the press and the public so that the people in the new towns know why decisions are taken?

Matters which are not commercially confidential are revealed to the press by the chairmen of the corporations at the specific request of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the best news that he could give the House would be that the new town development corporations are to be wound up and their activities handed over to the people who represent the residents?

No, Sir. There is a programme for the eventual winding up of the new town development corporations. The hon. Gentlemen's remarks surprise me, because he represents a new town which has been tremendously successful in attracting industry and jobs to Scotland.

Her Majesty's Stationery Office (Edinburgh Press)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what proportion of the total printwork of his Department is placed with the Edinburgh press of Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

In 1981–82 the Scottish Office ordered about £900,000 of work, including binding and systems stationery, from HMSO print procurement division. I understand that the division placed about £85.000 of this—about 9½ percent.—with its own press in Edinburgh.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in this instance there is no strike record, that wages have fallen compared with other parts of the printing industry and that the work force has co-operated in productivity agreements? Is he aware that, in spite of that, the workers have been rewarded with less than 10 per cent. of Scottish Office print work? Is it not a clear case of an industrial closure which the Secretary of State and HMSO could avert by ensuring that a reasonable proportion of work from the Scottish Office goes to the Government's one printing press in Scotland?

Printing for the Scottish Office is divided between that which is done within the Scottish Office—an activity which was transferred from HMSO to the Scottish Office recently—and that which is done by HMSO. It up to HMSO, for which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury is responsible, to allocate work between its factory and elsewhere.

In 1981–82 about £1½ million was spent on Scottish Office printing. About 40 per cent. of that was reprographic work divided between departmental resources in the Scottish Office and HMSO's reprographic unit in Edinburgh. It is up to HMSO whether it puts the work out to private contractors or does the work itself.

Will my right hon. Friend do his best to influence HMSO to ensure that a generous proportion of the 40 per cent. of Scottish Office reprographic printing goes to HMSO printing works in Edinburgh?

All that can be done by our own printing resources is done. Almost all Scottish Office printing not done by our own resources is carried out at printing works in Scotland.

The DHSS has said that it is likely to print a series of leaflets for ethnic minority groups. Therefore, will the Secretary of State ensure that the work is done by Edinburgh printers?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. I shall draw it to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury, who is responsible for that aspect.

Is it true that the printing of Scottish Office statistics, done in the past by HMSO, now has to be done within the Scottish Office? lf so, is that not disgraceful?

I should have thought that it was rather good. Some HMSO work was transferred to the Scottish Office in Edinburgh, and I think that the Scottish Office welcomed that transfer.

Hamilton College Of Education


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the disposal of the former Hamilton college of education buildings.

As announced on 10 November, agreement has been reached on the sale of the halls of residence complex for £410,000 to Millers Homes (Northern) Ltd., and on the sale of the teaching block and playing fields for £270,000 to Christian Schools (North West) Ltd. Two other offers for the premises were received. These were considered to be unacceptable because of the conditions attached to the offers.

What conceivable justification can there be for the Government's almost gifting to the private education sector and a property developer 52 acres of land and buildings, constructed 16 years ago for £2 million and now worth over £12 million, for a trivial £680,000, especially since it is clear that the Minister accepted the lowest, not the best, offer? Is that not political incompetence compounded by malice?

We accepted the best offer—the one with no strings attached. The strings attached to the other offers were unacceptable. The hon. Gentleman should try to prove that the halls are worth £12 million. I offer him a bargain. I shall sell him the halls for a quarter of that price if he cares to make an offer.

Does my hon. Friend agree that property is worth only as much as someone will pay for it? A large building in Scotland, whether it is an educational establishment or a commercial building, will attract only the market value, which is what people are prepared to pay.

My hon. Friend is correct. The market value was well tested by the amount of advertising of the property.

Bearing in mind the Prime Minister's strictures at the Guildhall recently about the desirability of following the policies of sound domestic financial management, does the Minister agree that if he were to sell his own house on that basis, his wife would be upset to see the property sold at a knock-down price in a depressed market?

We accepted the best unconditional offer that was made to us. In answer to what the hon. Gentleman said about financial prudence, now that the property has been sold, the saving in the current year will be more than £500,000, and in future years more than £1 million will be saved as a result.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply and of the grotesque offer that the Minister has made to me, I give notice that I shall seek leave to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Housing Waiting Lists


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the present total figures for those on housing waiting lists in the district and island authorities of Scotland.


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people are on housing waiting lists.

The information available to me about numbers on local authority waiting lists is neither complete nor prepared on a uniform basis. I must therefore refer the hon. Gentleman directly to the local authorities in which they are interested. They will no doubt bear in mind that applicants, including existing tenants, can put their names down with more than one authority.

Is the Minister aware that thousands of young, old and handicapped people who are seeking local authority houses in Scotland will find that answer complacent in the extreme? Is he further aware that local authorities need money from the Government to start building houses again?

There are now about 29,000 vacant houses in the public sector in Scotland. Glasgow forfeited £17 million of its capital allocation this year because of its rate fund contribution decision. That money could have been spent on improving houses in Glasgow.

It will not have gone unnoticed that the Minister refused even to attempt to answer the question: how many homeless people are awaiting council houses in Scotland? Is he aware that there are a number in his constituency? Is he further aware that there are at least 50,000 jobless construction workers in Scotland? As he will not tell us about his failure to have a proper housing policy, will he at least say how he explains to his constituents his abject failure to provide for the housing and job needs of Scottish construction workers?

As far as I know, my constituents are reasonably satisfied with their Member of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman is confused. He equates need with waiting lists. Assessing need is a professional calculation, on which detailed guidance was given by the Labour Government. That was recently emphasised by SDD memorandum 27/1982. I shall be happy to send the hon. Gentleman a copy for his perusal and edification.

My hon. Friend mentioned the number of empty houses in Scotland. Does he agree that the quickest, simplest and most effective way to reduce waiting lists is to encourage the rehabilitation and reuse of those houses?

My hon. Friend is right. Many local authorities are using receipts from the sale of council houses, which have been higher than forecast because of the success of the Government's policy, to improve their housing stock.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many of the 25,000 houses that are available for letting are inadequate and inferior and need to be considerably renovated? Is not the absence of national statistics about housing shortages and needs a crying scandal and something that the Government should improve?

The assessment of housing needs is conducted on a professional basis. If the right hon. Gentleman wants any information about his own local authority, I shall be happy to provide it. Local housing authorities in Scotland can use their receipts from sales and their net allocations to improve their housing stocks, and they are doing so. If they are more successful in selling council houses, they will have more money available to improve the existing housing stock.

Does the Minister recall that in answering my earlier question today he urged Labour local authorities not to underspend, saying that that would help the Scottish construction industry? Within minutes, when replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Clarke), he said that his Department had never suggested that there was a serious underspend in Scotland. What is the true position? How does he explain that remarkable agility?

I can explain it easily. In answer to the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Clarke), I was referring to the general capital allocation and the non-HRA allocation, under which repair and improvement grants come. The RFC contribution relates to the general housing account.

Confederation Of British Industry


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends next to meet the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland to discuss industrial regeneration.

I frequently meet the chairman of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland both formally and informally to discuss industrial issues.

When my right hon. Friend next meets the chairman, will he discuss with him the operation of Locate in Scotland, particularly its recent success in bringing Wang to Stirling, and inward investment that it could achieve in future? Will he also discuss with the chairman the need to instil into Scottish industry the confidence that is reflected in the forward surge of support for the Conservative Party in Scotland recorded in the opinion poll in the Glasgow Herald this morning?

I noted that with interest in today's paper. I agree with my hon. Friend about the attitude of the CBI to Locate in Scotland. The CBI made it clear at its recent conference that it broadly supports the Government's strategy and considers that the proposed strategy of the official Opposition would be disastrous for industry and jobs.

In an earlier answer to me this afternoon, the Secretary of State referred to 7,000 businesses in Scotland that had closed and to 8,000 new businesses that had started up. Will he give us the comparative figures for employment in the 8,000 businesses that have opened as against the 7,000 that have closed?

That is an interesting idea, although I think that it would be difficult to find the precise figures. Nevertheless, the position is clear. There is a net balance in favour of more businesses opening than closing, which surely must be welcomed even by the right hon. Gentleman.

Is the Secretary of State aware that it is not surprising that the chairman of the CBI in Scotland supports the Government? After all, he is the treasurer of the Tory Party in Scotland. He is also the chairman of the constituency party of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, East (Mr. Stewart), and he is reasonably satisfied with his Member of Parliament.

Does the right hon. Gentleman still stand by the statement that he made in the United States on 25 September, that the conditions that he had created in Scotland for inward investment would make profits quickly, keep those profits out of the hands of the tax man, and enable them to be exported at will? Is that the attraction for inward investment?

The hon. Gentleman has written that himself. That was not what I said. I said—it was true, and it is still true—that we are able to tell companies overseas which are thinking of setting up in Scotland that if they come to Scotland they will be able to make good profits and keep those profits. That, in my opinion, is a good thing for them to want to do, and I hope that I can encourage as many of them as possible to do so.

May I have an assurance from the Secretary of State that if I send him his own press release he will publicly apologise for denying what he said in the United States?

If I can get a copy of my own press release, I shall read it again with great interest. The fact remains that Scotland is a good place to which overseas industries should come, and, if they come, they will make good profits, which they can keep. That is good news.

Cottage Hospitals


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to change the role of cottage hospitals; and if he will make a statement.

I have no plans to change the role of cottage hospitals. It is for health boards, taking account of the needs of the service, to consider the functions of all their hospitals, including cottage hospitals.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that cottage hospitals have an important role in local communities, especially in the Highlands, in providing employment as well as medical care? Does he accept that that should be considered in any changes that are contemplated? Cottage hospitals are like the churches and schools; without them the Highlands would become depopulated.

I appreciate the strong feelings of the local communities that are threatened with the loss of a facility such as a cottage hospital. These strong feelings have been made clear to me by my hon. Friend and by others of my right hon. and hon. Friends who represent constituencies in the Tayside area. However, health boards have a duty to manage the resources available to them and to provide the best levels of treatment and care for the population within their areas.

Solicitor-General For Scotland

Departmental Staffing Levels


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he has made any estimate of the impact on staffing levels in his Department if the procurator fiscal service becomes responsible for a public defender system in Scotland.

If the hon. and learned Gentleman is thinking of introducing such a far-reaching change in legal representation in the courts, will he consider issuing a draft document for consideration by the professions before embarking on any experimental scheme?

Any proposal to introduce a public defender system in Scotland will be the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Royal Commission on legal services in Scotland recommended that there should be an experimental approach. I understand that that is being considered in negotiations with the Law Society.

I want adequate consultation not only with the Law Society but with the House, including hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that important issues, such as confidentiality and duty to a client, will arise if fiscals take over the representation of defence interests in criminal courts? Therefore, is it not essential that a consultative document should be issued and full consultation should take place before any such experiment is introduced?

I must emphasise that there is no proposal that fiscals should be involved in a public defender system in Scotland. No decision in principle has been taken. Discussions are taking place with the Law Society. Any further decision will be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, doubtless in consultation with hon. Members.

Who is to do the precognition on behalf of the clients whom the public defender defends? Will the police have to precognosce witnesses to defeat the purpose of their colleagues in prosecuting?

I repeat, my right hon. Friend's officials are entering into discussions with the Law Society of Scotland. All that is taking place at present is an examination of the proposal of the Royal Commission that there should be an experimental public defender system in Scotland.

Salmon Poaching


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland whether his office has issued any instructions to procurators fiscal regarding prosecution for salmon poaching.

My noble sand learned Friend the Lord Advocate and his predecessors in office have had instructions issued to procurators fiscal from time to time regarding salmon fisheries legislation. In addition, procurators fiscal have been notified of opinions of the High Court of Justiciary issued in cases involving salmon poaching.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the disturbing aspects of poaching in recent times has been not the local poachers but the villains—the hardened criminals? That, coupled with the netting of salmon on the coast and in river mouths, is causing great problems in Scottish rivers. Does he accept that something must be done?

Yes. I think that the somewhat old-fashioned and romantic idea that a little poaching does no one any harm must now be ignored. Poaching has become a commercial business. We know from the number of recent convictions that many of those who are involved in poaching are also involved in serious crime. The sentences recently imposed by the Scottish courts shows that they, too, take the matter seriously.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman repudiate the attempt by Scottish landlords to make salmon poaching one of the most serious crimes in the calendar? Will he ensure that fishery protection vessels, which should be watching the fleets of foreign vessels cleaning up our fisheries, are not used, as they appear to be at times, for picking up an odd salmon net here and there?

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who has a constituency interest in tourism apart from anything else, seems to think that we should not regard seriously the damage that is done to existing salmon stocks when an extensive amount of poison is placed in our rivers. Such damage means that the tourist potential of his constituency and other parts of Scotland will suffer seriously.

Does the hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that although prosecutions for fish poaching are important, it is more important that prosecutions should be instituted for river pollution? In my constituency the rivers Girvan, Doon and Lugar are being seriously polluted. Will he consult the purification board and the regional council about the need to take action on this serious menace?

I shall be glad at any time to take up with the hon. Gentleman the matter of prosecutions for river pollution.

Prosecutions On Indictment


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland whether, in view of the final disposal of the Glasgow rape case, he will now make a statement about the organisation of the Crown Office and the procedures in his Department for dealing with prosecutions on indictment.

There have been two recent changes to existing procedures. First, in all cases where murder or rape was the original charge on petition and where it is later thought that a lesser charge or no charge might be appropriate, there must be a reference to my noble and learned Friend, who takes the final decision, as the House has already been advised. Secondly, procurators fiscal have been instructed that they should, in general, inform persons who have alleged that they have been the victims of crimes and who have been precognosced if it is eventually decided not to proceed with the charge.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there is widespread concern about the way in which his Department has been operating? This is based not only on the failure to prosecute in the Glasgow rape case but on many recent instances when multiple prosecutions for murder have been mounted when there has not appeared to be any reasonable prospect of even going to the jury with a murder charge? This is bad for the administration of justice and grossly unfair to the accused. Will he institute a detailed and careful consideration of the procedures within his Department and thereafter make a statement to the House?

The case to which the hon. Gentleman has carefully referred is still under appeal. Therefore, I shall make no specific reference to it. I understand that the criticism of the Crown Office in recent months has been that the discretion not to prosecute has been used too widely. The hon. Gentleman now seems to be suggesting that we are not exercising that discretion sufficiently. Clearly a balance must be established. If he wishes to talk to me about a particular case at an appropriate stage, I shall be happy to make myself available.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman now tell us whether the resignation forced upon his predecessor over the Glasgow rape case was a recognition of his failure to handle the matter properly, or was he made the scapegoat for the mistakes of others?

I think that I am the least appropriate person to answer that question.

My hon. and learned Friend has reaffirmed that the right to prosecute or not to prosecute will be ensured by exercising the safeguard of referring such matters to his noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. Does he agree that if someone is charged with murder or rape and the advocate depute who is prosecuting is unable to take a decision whether to accept a plea there is a vast injustice to those involved in the case and an enormous waste of public funds as a result?

As my hon. and learned Friend has said, there is a discretion to be exercised. The advocate depute who is conducting the trial often has to take difficult decisions during the course of the trial. My noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate has already advised the House that in serious cases involving murder or rape, decisions to drop or reduce the charges must be referred to him.

Life Imprisonment (Release On Licence)


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many prosecutions have been commenced by the Crown Office in each of the past 10 years against persons who had previously been sentenced to life imprisonment and who were released on licence.

No figures are available for the number of prosecutions of persons released on licence having been sentenced to life imprisonment. All convictions of such persons are, however, automatically reported to the parole board to consider whether such persons should be recalled to prison. In the past 10 years, 20 licensees who have been convicted for offences committed while on licence have been recalled to prison.

I am grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Does he accept that many of those who are released on licence, after having been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder, commit a second such crime and are further sentenced to life imprisonment? As the House, in its wisdom or otherwise, has decided against capital punishment for murder, will my hon. and learned Friend bring in legislation which imposes life imprisonment for life when a murder is committed?

I appreciate that the extent of a life sentence is a matter that causes a great deal of feeling. However, I remind my hon. Friend that during the passage of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act that matter—and the Emslie report—was considered. During the past 12 years in Scotland only one person, having been convicted of murder and released on licence, has committed murder again.