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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 98: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1986

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Economic Trends


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will next meet the general secretary and general council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss economic trends in Scotland.

I am to meet a delegation from the General Council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 20 June 1986.

When the Secretary of State meets the general council, will he concede that, from the evidence of the local election results and the results of the System 3 opinion poll that have been made available to us today, the people of Scotland want no part of this Government's policies? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman align himself with members of the Cabinet and some of the senior Conservative Back Benchers who are asking for a change in policy? Is he aware that in Motherwell there is 22 per cent. unemployment? Will he show some compassion for the unemployed in Scotland, and in Motherwell in particular?

I doubt whether the STUC will wish to discuss local elections or the System 3 opinion polls. As to unemployment, since the Conservative Government came into office the regional seletive assistance provided by the Government has helped to create 2,977 new jobs in Motherwell, and the Motherwell project, to which the Government-funded Scottish Development Agency contributes, has helped to create a further 2,000 new jobs. The hon. Gentleman will be fair enough to acknowledge that the Government, both directly and indirectly, have made an important contribution towards job creation in his constituency.

In his discussions with the STUC, will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the problems facing the oil rig construction yards in Scotland? In particular, will he do what he can to ensure an even and fair distribution of work among the yards in Scotland at this anxious time?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the concern that we feel about the possible implications for oil rig construction of the oil companies' plans. I use every opportunity to press on them the fact that any investment made now will be for a return over the next 10 to 15 years, and so they should base their plans on what is likely to happen to oil prices over that time and not indulge in a panic reaction to current short-term fluctuations in the price of oil.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Moray (Mr. Pollock), when the Secretary of State meets the STUC, will he, thinking of my constituency interest and that of the hon. Member's, pay attention to the responsible and constructive efforts that the STUC has been making? Will he ensure that whichever yard, be it Ardersier of Nigg, wins the. Shell Eider contract, the Government will do everything humanly possible to ensure that as much as possible of the subcontracted work associated with the contract goes to the unsuccessful yard? Is he aware that the social impact for the yard that loses will be devastating, given the levels of unemployment in our respective constituencies?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern to ensure the maximum work for both yards, and the whole House would wish to see that. There are major constraints on any Government in terms of directing individual items of work to a particular yard, but one hopes that the end result will involve a suitable work load for both yards.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the most significant economic trends is that Scotland has moved from being one of the lowest paid to one of the wealthiest areas in the United Kingdom, during which period the United Kingdom has enjoyed five years of continuous economic growth?

My hon. Friend is correct. Outside the south-east of England and East Anglia, Scotland has a higher income and gross domestic product per capita than almost any other part of the United Kingdom, and that is not a claim that could have been made in 1979.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the STUC, the general council will be able to tell him that coal production at some Scottish pits will cease. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us when his Department authorised the South of Scotland Electricity Board to place the Scottish mining industry in this peril?

At no time. The South of Scotland Electricity Board acts under statutory powers and determines what is appropriate in the interests of the consumers whom it is designed to serve. At no time does it either seek or require authorisation from the Scottish Office for any such decisions.

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the STUC, will he draw to its attention the fact that inflation is now at its lowest level for many decades and that with inflation standing at 3 per cent. wage increases and demands in excess of that are likely to put more jobs at risk and in peril if we are to remain competitive? Will my right hon. and learned Friend also draw its attention to how popular he personally is north Tayside and to the fact that we are looking forward to his visit on 21 June and that his popularity was probably reflected in the good results that we had in the regional elections?

I am certainly looking forward to my visit to my hon. Friend's constituency on 21 June. I can think of no better way of spending my birthday than in my hon. Friend's constituency. With regard to my forthcoming meeting with the STUC, one of the points that I shall certainly be mentioning to them, in addition to the comments made by my hon. Friend, is that over 50,000 more people are in employment in Scotland today than there were in 1983 at the time of the last general election.

If the Minister is so confident about employment, what does he intend to do about Springburn? The railway works have suffered a terrible blow during the last week. To add insult to injury, there is an apprentice training school on those premises which has machinery and equipment to cater for 110 apprentices. Not one apprentice has been trained there during the past 18 months. The padlock has been put on the door. That is a ridiculous situation in the engineering capital of Scotland. The west of Scotland should be training young engineers if the economy is to take a turn for the better.

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the implications for the Springburn employees. He will be aware that that arises out of decisions that affected a number of similar establishments in various parts of the United Kingdom. With regard to his particular question about the training of the young, he will be aware of the enormous resources that the Government are pouring into youth training. Over £1 billion is being spent on youth training. This is helping to provide very appropriate training, which is enabling more than 60 per cent. of the youngsters who get this training to go immediately into full-time employment at the end of their training period. That is something which no previous Government have done.

Will the Secretary of State say what prospects for long-term economic advance can be expected in Scotland when Scottish universities are faced with closure and redundancies? What action does he intend to take with his right hon. Friend and the English controlled University Grants Commission——

Order. Does this question relate to the general council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress?

It relates to the economic aspects and to the need for improved technology. Will the Minister answer that question?

On the wider economic aspects, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of any university facing closure. My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Education and Science made it clear that the Government were prepared to consider further resources for the university sector. That is a matter that the universities will wish to take into account.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the STUC, will he take the opportunity to ask it to condemn the unilateral action taken by the new Socialist administration on the Lothian regional council in reducing dramatically expenditure on Scottish infrastructure by cancelling the Lothian relief road and thus destroying jobs in Scotland?

It is certainly of interest that the first significant decision of the new controlling group on the Lothian regional council was to announce a major cut in public expenditure, which therefore removed the prospect of many jobs being created.

If the Secretary of State is so concerned about levels of public spending, is he in a position to give the STUC a guarantee that the Scottish Office budget will not be affected by the rather primitive and much advertised approach to housing finance of the new Secretary of State for the Environment? Will he also recognise that, despite the somewhat comic opera loyalty of those on the Benches behind him, there is a growing fear in Scotland about the level of unemployment and that the Scottish economy has reached a point of no return? Will he recall that he has had an approach from the Strathclyde regional council, and I think also from the STUC, which supports the initiative, arguing the case for an economic summit where all parts of Scottish life—academic, industrial, and, no doubt, political—can discuss the need for a change of direction to recover the situation? May we have a positive response to that appeal and, if so, when will it come?

I frankly doubt whether proposals for a summit are likely to prove a sensible way forward, but I am always interested to hear any constructive suggestions either from the regional council or the STUC, which will be coming to see me on 20 June, or any other bodies. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the allocation of resources to the Scottish Office stems directly from a formula system. Indeed, if I recall correctly, that formula system was introduced under the previous Labour Government.

New Town Development Corporations


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the chairmen of the new town development corporations; and what subject he hopes to discuss.

My right hon. and learned Friend plans to meet the chairmen on 14 July this year, when he would hope to discuss a range of matters of interest or concern to the new towns.

Does the Minister agree that the most important thing that the Secretary of State could discuss with the chairmen of the new towns is employment, particularly the protection of employment, and job creation in new towns? Does he also agree that the urgency for that is underlined by recent events in my constituency where the largest departmental store, Woolco, is now to close with a loss of 181 jobs? What new initiatives will the Secretary of State announce to the chairmen of the new towns to create jobs in future?

Obviously the provision of jobs is an important matter, and my right hon. and learned Friend will be discussing that issue. However, the hon. Gentleman is less than fair in suggesting that the new towns have done badly. Between May 1979 and April 1986, £110 million has been invested in the new towns, leading to 23,747 new jobs. In Cumbernauld in the hon. Gentleman's constituency over the past year 43 new companies have come about, 19 local firms have expanded and there are 800 new jobs there, with a promise of 800 more to come. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Is my hon. Friend prepared to follow the excellent example given in England, where there has been a process of winding up the development corporations and returning towns to democratic control? Is he prepared to take that bold step in order to ensure that towns will develop in their own natural way rather than being force fed with public money?

I understand what my hon. Friend says. The present policy envisages new towns in Scotland being wound up when their populations reach a certain figure, but no corporation will begin to wind up before 1 April, 1990 and the position will be reviewed in 1989. Our current policy is that the new towns' remaining housing stock should on wind up be transferred to district councils, but if the new towns come forward with proposals for disposing of that in other ways, we would give those consideration.

When the Secretary of State meets the chairmen of the corporations, will he consider including on the agenda the disastrous results of housing policies which mean that many of my poor constituents' elderly relatives are unable to join their families?

I am not sure to what precise policies the hon. Gentleman is referring, but if he will write to me on that issue I shall reply.

Chapelcross Power Station


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has in relation to the design of Chapelcross power station as it relates to the potential danger from earth tremors; what representations he has received on this matter; and if he will make a statement.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the replies given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy, the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad), to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) on 18 March 1986, which dealt with this issue in detail. My right hon. and learned Friend has had no representations about this matter.

Is the Under-Secretary aware that in 1983 a report from structural engineers to British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. said that Chapelcross, one of the oldest power stations in the United Kingdom, was vulnerable to relatively minor earth tremors and should be closed down? Will he confirm that the reason why nothing was done about that was that Chapelcross produces tritium for British, and, perhaps, American warheads and bombs? If the hon. Gentleman believes what his colleagues say, that Britain is far more open and honest on this issue than the Soviet Union, will he agree to publish all the documents relating to safety at Chapelcross?

Once again the hon. Gentleman is trying to create scares with no foundation. I remind him of what my hon. Friend said in the answer to which I referred. He explained that he was

"advised by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate that the seismic structural assessments carried out by the BNFL for the Calder Hall and Chapelcross reactor demonstrate that the reactor could be safely shut down and maintained in a safe condition following an earthquake with a peak field horizontal acceleration of 0·11g although some damage to non-essential service buildings would occur".—[Official Report, 18 March 1986; Vol. 94, c. 124.]
The NII has required the operators of Magnox stations to carry out a long-term safety review at about 20 years' operating life to confirm that they are safe for continued operation, to identify any factors which may limit the safe operation of the plant and to assess safety standards to determine whether any improvements are appropriate. The conclusion of these reviews will in future be published.

Irvine New Town


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make an official visit to Irvine new town.

That answer will be a disappointment to my constituents, who had hoped that the Secretary of State would visit Irvine to look into the affairs of Co-Star Ltd., a computer company which has three directors, one Scot and two Americans, one of whom, according to a Sunday newspaper, is on the run from the FBI in the United States.

Is the Minister aware that Co-Star Ltd. disappeared after receiving a financial package to set up in Irvine, and that two of the directors formed a new company called Muir-Anderson Associates Ltd., which received help from a local enterprise trust, Asset, to set up another company in Stevenson? Is the Minister further aware that these two directors have now formed a new company which has moved to Cumnock, where they are receiving a further financial package prepared by the local enterprise trust, Cadet, NCB (Enterprises) Ltd. and the Scottish Development Agency under the new name of Comerbeams? When will the Minister——

When will the Minister investigate the affairs of this company and ensure that the grants are withdrawn and that those responsible are prosecuted?

I appreciate that the people of Irvine will be disappointed that my right hon. and learned Friend is not to visit them, as are communites in other parts of Scotland which my right hon. and learned Friend has not yet been able to visit. As for the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I can say that grant was paid and that first steps have already been taken towards recovering the full amount of grant from Co-Star. In view of what has happened, the new company will be subject to particularly careful scrutiny.

Electricity Generation


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total capacity of the generation stations of the two Scottish electricity boards; and what is the maximum recorded demand for electricity in Scotland.

I am advised by the Scottish electricity boards that, excluding oil-fired capacity held in reserve, the maximum available sent-out capacity of the Scottish generation system is 8,839 MW. The maximum simultaneous demand ever recorded was 6,341 MW during the severe winter of 1981–82.

As we now have such massive excess generating capacity in Scotland, and as serious concern is being expressed about the Chernobyl disaster, why are the Government in such haste to commission a further 1,400 MW of nuclear generating capacity at Torness ahead of schedule? Will the Secretary of State halt the fuelling of the reactors at Torness, at least until such time as the environmental, safety and economic consequences of the commissioning of that power station can be considered properly?

The Government are in no haste to do anything — [Interruption.] A well-known phrase or saying is "act in haste and repent at leisure", which I am happy to confirm. The hon. Gentleman should realise that the British nuclear industry has a superb safety record. He should appreciate that in the past 30 years there has not been one significant incident anywhere in the United Kingdom involving danger to the health or life of the public. If I remember correctly, the hon. Gentleman advocated the construction of the Torness nuclear power station when he first sought to represent his constituency in this place. It is somewhat odd that he is now trying to pretend that he has different views.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Scotland has a great deal of knowledge and practical experience of nuclear energy — indeed, as much as anyone—and that it has been put to very good use by the South of Scotland Electricity Board in the construction of the station at Torness, not least with regard to public safety? However, will my right hon. and learned Friend take steps to counter the current unease about nuclear power, following the disaster in Russia, by tapping that knowledge and experience in Scotland, not just in the SSEB, but among industrialists and academics, so that they may better inform the public and put aside some of the fears that people feel at this time?

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Understandable concern has arisen out of the Chernobyl incident. I believe that the correct policy to pursue, which the Scottish Office and the Government as a whole pursue, is the maximum disclosure of all information and the maximum utilisation of any new information that is available, which will enhance even further the extremely high safety standards that we already have. That is an ongoing process. It is right and proper that everything possible should be done to ensure that the public are aware that the maximum safety standards are available, and that all information which is relevant is always disclosed, so that the public can come to a considered judgment on those matters.

Does the Secretary of State accept that Chernobyl has changed matters and that there is an overwhelming view in Scotland that we should reduce our dependence on civil nuclear power? If the Government are not prepared to do that, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that the Government will not prevent the next Government from doing so, by closing down coal production capacity? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no reduction in coal production in Scotland over the next few years?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the level of coal production will depend on several factors, including demand. The SSEB may have a requirement for increased coal consumption over the years to come, irrespective of what happens to the existing nuclear power stations. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues often press upon the Government the need to help industry. He must be aware that if we ceased to use civil nuclear power in Scotland, the electricity tariffs for industry in Scotland, as well as for consumers, would go up dramatically. It has been suggested that increases of between 25 and 30 per cent. in the electricity tariffs would be required if we ceased to use all civil nuclear power in Scotland.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that that gross overcapacity of electricity in Scotland, arising partly from nuclear power, might cause further embarrassment shortly if the French dump cheap electricity in England, which would do away with 1,000 MW currently being exported from Scotland to England? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept the consequences for Scottish mining, where demand has been cut almost to one quarter in recent years? Does he further accept the view of most people in Scotland that there is not the slightest rational ground for going ahead with Torness?

If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about the capacity of the French to export their electicity on a competitive basis, he might like to reflect that France has a higher level of civil nuclear power than almost any other European country. That emphasises the point that I made earlier, that if we are interested in cheap power for the benefit of the public as a whole and of industry, it is essential to use those resources when they are available.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make every effort to make it clear to the people of Scotland that the Opposition's policies on nuclear power would result in higher electricity bills for consumers, making it more difficult for pensioners to heat their homes? Are there not double standards, through the Opposition exaggerating the dangers of nuclear power and imposing higher costs on the elderly to suit their own political ideology?

Not only are there double standards, but there appears to be a deep gulf between the representations that have been made today and the reported comments of the leader of the Labour party, who indicated an assumption that Torness would go ahead, and that it would be unwise or unreasonable to assume anything to the contrary. I suggest that Opposition Members and their Leader ought to get their act together.

Like the Minister, I accept that the first and overriding priority in this matter must be public safety. Does the Secretary of State recognise that there are fears about the implications of the expansion of nuclear power in Scotland? That point has been made by a number of his own Back Benchers during Question Time. Will he consider making available a document setting out the Government's best estimate of the impact on other forms of energy and on the industries that produce them, especially the impact on coal and the SSEB coal burn? Will he also consider whether he should at rather more length deploy the arguments which support the figure of an increase of 25 or 30 per cent. in electricity costs if we were to reduce our dependency on nuclear power, which some of us think is a surprisingly high figure? In such a paper, will he deal with the arguments that many people will take from the figures that he gave at the beginning of this exchange about capacity, the peak of demand last winter and the apparent sufficiency of the present levels of nuclear generating capacity in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that responsibility for energy policy rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. The Government are willing that all the relevant information should be available to the general public so that people can come to their own considered judgment about a sensible policy to pursue. I note that the hon. Gentleman has not associated himself with the views of some of his more enthusiastic colleagues who are calling either for Torness not to be commissioned or for civil nuclear power not to be utilised. We wait with interest to hear the hon. Gentleman's views on these matters. So far he has been silent about them.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House something about the figures for the comparative prices of generating electricity by nuclear and by coal-fired methods and the amount of pollution that each method produces? Does he agree that there has been no significant change about whether or not Torness should have been built since the time when the Labour Government were in office and authorised it, except that the Government have changed and some Opposition Members are being opportunistic?

I think that there is a degree of opportunism here. However, I accept that, inevitably, many members of the public who do not choose to have access to scientific information may be uncertain as to whether there is some association between the events at Chernobyl and their relevance for the United Kingdom. I hope that hon. Members who take an interest in these matters will be objective rather than scare-mongering in their public comments and accept that the factors which led to the disaster in Chernobyl are not relevant to any nuclear power station in the United Kingdom.

School Buildings


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what study he is making of the essential maintenance needs of school buildings in Scotland.

There are two studies under way at present: a national accommodation survey by my Department in conjunction with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and a research commission which will sample the maintenance characteristics of schools in one education authority area.

What is the time scale for these studies? Has the old adage that a stitch in time saves nine ever been more applicable than to the crumbling state of many of our schools?

The results of the surveys will be made known as soon as they are available. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that one of the difficulties especially relevant in the Lothian region about the maintenance of certain buildings is that the local authorities have insisted on retaining far more surplus school capacity than is justified by the number of pupils. If local authorities insist on maintaining half empty school buildings, not only does that mean that resources have to be diverted to the heating and maintenance of these half empty buildings, but it denies proper educational opportunities to pupils in some of these schools. Such opportunities cannot be made available in a school that is only half full. Local authorities throughout Scotland have to bear in mind that resources are much better utilised on school books and on facilities of that kind than on the maintenance of more buildings than they need.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the major problems is that in recent times authorities have not conducted policies that work for the benefit of the children by maintaining buildings in a fit state in which the children can be properly and adequately educated, but have been more inclined towards politically oriented activities for the sake of publicity? We require a fundamental review—part of which my right hon. and learned Friend will agree is under way at the moment regarding teachers' pay and conditions—of how we practise education in all its different ways in Scotland in order to get rid of the genuine anxiety that is felt by many people. In areas like mine, where schools are being closed——

Schools are being closed in my area, but my constituents accept this because it is sensible for the better utilisation of resources.

It is certainly correct to approach the various issues that are relevant to education in that way. The inquiry which the Government have announced will have wide terms of reference and will enable us to approach the matter in that way.

In view of the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), perhaps he would care to list the schools that he would like Lothian region to close. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constituents would like to know the answer to that question. Does he accept that the real cause of the decline in the fabric of school buildings is the massive cuts that the Government have imposed on local government? Does he further accept that in the recent elections the people of Scotland clearly stated what they think about the Government's education policies?

That was a rather predictable question. The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the figures produced by Strathclyde regional council, which estimated in the early 1980s that by 1991 a fall in school rolls would result in a surplus of no fewer than 230,000 school places. The hon. Gentleman is intelligent enough to be aware that if there is a surplus of 230,000 places—[Interruption.] This is arithmetic, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. If there is a surplus of 230,000 places and the number of school buildings is not reduced by a proportionate amount, a lot of resources will be wasted when they could be better used to provide good education for children. That is the lesson of the day that the hon. Gentleman might like to try to absorb.

Knockinlaw Project


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he plans to visit Kilmarnock to review the Knockinlaw project.

My right hon. and learned Friend cannot fit in a visit at present, but he will bear the invitation in mind for the future.

I am sure that the Secretary of State would not expect me to say that he is much loved in the district of Kilmarnock, but he is respected as an intelligent and sincere man. [Interruption.] I am not responsible for the thoughts of my constituents on these matters. Could he make it a matter of urgency to come to Kilmarnock to see the Knockinlaw project? We are grateful for the money that the Scottish Office has provided, but we could do with more, especially to refurbish the shop frontage, which covers three commercial enterprises and two which belong to the district council. It seems that no grants are available. Will he consider whether grants can be made available so that we can brighten up the shop fronts and enhance the area so that the quality of life of shopkeepers and customers may be improved?

My right hon. and learned Friend visited the Knockinlaw project in 1981 and I visited it in October 1983. We were both impressed by the successful way in which it had marshalled a wide variety of resources. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that we have given considerable resources to Kilmarnock and Loudon during the past two years. Its housing revenue account has increased by 53 per cent.—and that is no mean figure. I appreciate that there can be difficulties because of varied ownership, but the commercial shopowners might consider a joint approach to the Scottish Development Agency to explore the possibility of assistance towards the cost of improving the general appearance of their premises.

Hospital Facilities (West Fife)


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future development of hospital facilities in west Fife.

I have asked the health board to give further thought to its proposals for the provision of acute services in the whole of its area, including west Fife. I shall give careful consideration to the board's revised proposals when they are submitted.

That is an interesting reply. What does the Minister have in mind by asking the Fife health board to give the matter further consideration? Does he share the board's anxiety that this further review might incur a delay in phase two of the Dumfermline and West Fife general hospital, which would not be in the interests of the overall development of hospital services in west Fife? When does he expect to make a decision on this further review?

I appreciate the anxiety on this matter. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are different points of view in Fife about the board's future building programme. The original appraisal of the options open to it was based on the assumption that scope for development of the Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy was limited. The most recent professional building advice states that further development may be possible. On that basis, I have asked the board to explore that possibility.

Is the Minister not ashamed of the latest figures for Fife, which show that more than 5,000 people are on the waiting list, 2,000 of whom have been waiting for more than one year and more than 1,000 of whom have been waiting for more than two years? Is he aware of the advice of the chief medical officer, that the waiting list will not fall substantially until the second phase of the Dunfermline and West Fife hospital is built? Will he therefore give urgent attention to the approval of the hospital scheme?

Of course I shall give urgent attention to its approval, but it is important that we get the plan right, because it will have to serve the area for some time to come. In the past seven years, three major projects have come on stream in the Fife health board area. In addition to the major projects, Fife health board, as a beneficiary of SHARE, is employing more medical and nursing staff and is attending to considerably more patients than when the Government took office.

Does my hon. Friend accept that although it is important to get this matter right, it is unfortunate that his Department has come along comparatively late in the day inviting further consideration of the position in Kirkcaldy? Is he aware that the people of Fife are grateful for the amount of new building that has been provided under this Government, one measure of which is that the rates bill for the new build since 1979 amounts to £500,000 a year?

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. He rightly stresses the expense to the health boards, not only in Fife but elsewhere in Scotland, of local authority rates. That is not helped by the higher rating of new premises that have come on stream since 1979. I am aware of the need to make a decision, but I am equally aware of the need to make the correct decision and to consider the position in Kirkcaldy before making a final decision.

Forestry Commission


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received concerning the consultation paper, "The Composition and Procedures of the Forestry Commission's Regional Advisory Committees".

Will the Minister confirm that representations should have been received by last Friday if individuals or organisations wished to make representations to him? As he has received no representations, will he now consider opening regional advisory committee meetings to the press and public? The Government have committed themselves to freedom of information. They have supported legislation requiring local authorities to open their proceedings to the press and public. In view of the increasing sensitivity of the public to the operations of the Forestry Commission, does he accept that if the press and public were guaranteed access to the meetings and deliberations of the RACs that would provide greater safeguards for the public interest?

Comments were asked for by the Forestry Commission, and the deadline was the end of May. I understand that the commission has received written comments from 28 organisations, and they are being analysed. The commission has decided to extend the period to allow for further written comments. There is no deadline, but the commission and the Government wish the comments to arrive as quickly as possible. The commission would be willing to meet any reasonable requests for meetings to discuss openness.

Does my hon. Friend accept that a most effective way of ensuring the future operation of the regional advisory committees would be for the Government to make clear their continuing commitment to the Forestry Commission as a whole, remembering that it commands wide public respect and support throughout Scotland?

I have drawn the attention of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mr. Pollock), to the statement made by the former Secretary of State for Scotland—my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger)—on the Forestry Commission. That remains Government policy.

Electricity Generation


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what he estimates the excess electricity generating capacity will be over peak demand in Scotland, after the commissioning of the nuclear power station at Torness.

The preparation of demand forecasts is a matter for the Scottish electricity boards. They estimate that in 1989–90, by which time the Torness nuclear station will be fully operational, the plant capacity additional to that required solely to meet the maximum demand with planned security is likely to be 27 per cent. This excludes oil-fired capacity placed in reserve and does not allow for any exports in the course of trading with England and Wales.

As the Secretary of State said earlier that the Government were in no case to do anything, presumably in the context of the nuclear industry, will he confirm, or deny, that the South of Scotland Electricity Board has been withdrawing staff from other plants to put them into Torness to hasten commissioning of the reactor? In view of the Chernobyl incident and the fact that, once commissioned, the plant will at some stage have to be decommissioned, with all that that entails in relation to the production of nuclear waste, and in view of current oil prices, would it not be better to bring Inverkip out of mothballs and keep Torness in mothballs?

I have no information on the first point. On the more general proposition, the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that it is in the interests of Scotland to have the maximum of cheap electricity for industry and for the consumer. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not only my view but that of his Social Democratic colleagues in the alliance, and it is a view widely held in many parts of Scotland, except in some of the circles in which the hon. Gentleman mixes.

Assuming that Torness is to be commissioned before the next election, what plans are being prepared for the evacuation of people living near the plant in the event of a Chernobyl-type disaster? If such plans do not exist, will the Secretary of State ensure that plans are prepared and that they are published?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Government have given particular importance to issues such as civil defence and how to deal with any emergencies that may take place. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have utterly opposed any attempt to encourage local authorities and others to participate in normal sensible preparation for any problems that might arise involving power stations or any part of the local community. Notwithstanding that, the South of Scotland Electricity Board and all responsible public authorities take into account the need for proper provision for any incident that might take place. The hon. Gentleman should also be aware that the record of the nuclear industry in Scotland and in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years has no equal anywhere in the world.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the purpose of Torness is to provide cheap electricity for those for whom the Opposition consistently bay in favour of a cheaper way of life and that there is no risk of a Chernobyl-type disaster at Torness because of our safety standards? Will he further confirm that a British Conservative Government, unlike the Socialist Government in Russia, would not cynically keep secret such an accident regardless of the consequences?

No doubt consideration of the kind to which my hon. and learned Friend referred in the first part of his question led to the Labour Government ordering Torness, the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) supporting its construction and the present leader of the Labour party declining to enforce its decommissioning.

Local Government Finance


asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next proposes to meet the officers of Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss the matter of local government finance.

My right hon. and learned Friend next plans to discuss local government finance matters with the convention on 18 July.

Will the Minister bear in mind that as a result of the recent elections officers of the convention have a massive mandate to tell the Secretary of State that they do not approve of his massive interference in the management of local government finance and that there is massive opposition to rate reform as envisaged by the Secretary of State? Will he take those two points on board and really listen to what the officers have to say?

We shall obviously listen to what representatives of the convention have to say when the meeting takes place. The idea of the Government being able to take an overview of local authority spending did not come about under the present Government. Indeed, it was one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in government who told local authorities in 1976 that the party was over because they were overspending. There are still local authorities in Scotland which intend to spend more in real terms than they were spending in 1979. The Government have an interest in ensuring that that expenditure is properly restrained.

It is interesting to note that those who oppose rate reform have no thought-out alternative to put in its place.

Only the Government have been prepared to grasp the nettle to get rid of the present totally discredited rating system.

When my hon. Friend meets representative of COSLA, will he take the opportunity to discuss with them the question of increasing employment through the Prime Minister's decision to clear the streets of litter? When he discusses that question, will he actively promote further jobs in urban areas in order to ensure that the streets of Scotland are kept clean?

Obviously we shall want to examine closely the proposals that are being made for the clearing of litter south of the border to see how they can be used in Scotland. The collection and disposal of rubbish and litter are, in my view, not necessarily best done by local authorities. Indeed, we have encouraged local authorities over a long period to put out to tender those services to see whether they can be more efficiently and better done.

Will the Minister recognise, whether COSLA makes the point to him or not, that there is real concern that the introduction of a poll tax will unfairly affect residents in rural areas? Will he take that concern on board and recognise that rural authorities will need more resources to maintain services, given that the Government refuse to set up a rural development fund?

If the hon. Gentleman were to consider the indicative figures that we put out at the time of the publication of the Green Paper as to the likely levels of community charge, he would find that it is precisely in rural areas that those charges are likely to be lowest.

Solicitor-General For Scotland

Assembly Building


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what area of the Scottish Assembly building in Edinburgh is currently used by him, by the Lord Advocate and by their staff.

As I have indicated previously to the hon. Gentleman, Crown Office buildings are fully occupied as office accommodation with the exception of the debating chamber, a lobby and a press room.

Is it not an absolute national scandal that the debating chamber of the Scottish Assembly building is lying empty and unused for most of the time because this Tory Government are refusing to respond to the legitimate demands of the majority of the people of Scotland, who want a democratically elected Scottish Assembly instead of being ruled by an undemocratic Tory junta which has received no mandate from the people of Scotland?

The chamber would have been much better used if a number of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues had attended the last time the Scottish Grand Committee held its meeting there. As part of a Government who have done more than any of their predecessors to reform the private law of Scotland since 1979, in my view we are much better to concentrate our efforts on that than to waste months of parliamentary time putting together another unworkable scheme.

Does my hon and learned Friend agree that the lack of interest shown by the Scottish people in the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee that have taken place in Edinburgh, and the lack of attendance of Labour Members, which was referred to by my hon. and learned Friend, and of other Opposition Members shows clearly that the debating chamber is best left empty for most of the time?

Certainly, there has not been much of a turn-out recently either of hon. Members or of the public, although in the past we have taken the oportunity of using the Scottish Grand Committee meetings in Edinburgh to put forward the legislation and the reform of which I have already made mention.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that if the Royal High school building was used for a Scottish Assembly it might generate more interest among his colleagues than is witnessed today by the lack of interest in this place, where not one Scottish Conservative Member has a question on the Order Paper?

Attendance at meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh has been thin, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed if he has been there. If he wants to encourage greater use of the building, I am sure he knows how to set about it.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, rather than go through the farce of wasting vast sums of public money on running the Scottish Grand Committee meetings in that building, it would be better to sell it and use the resources on the Health Service or on something useful in Scotland, given that his Department survived without it in the past, and as the people of Scotland certainly do not want a Scottish Assembly?

Much as I appreciate the architecture of the Royal High school building in Edinburgh, as Solicitor-General I believe that the sooner we can move out of it and return to a proper Crown Office, the better.

Will the Solicitor-General expand on that last remark? He appeared to support the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and his scheme. Is that the Solicitor-General's personal view? Will he note that the Opposition are strongly in favour of continuing the present practice of meeting in Edinburgh as a prelude to the day when we have a Scottish Assembly properly established there?

I thought that I said clearly that at present the Crown Office occupies the greater part of the building. As a lawyer, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Crown Office activities are to some extent separated not only from the Court of Session and the High Court, but from the sheriff court in Edinburgh. It would be much more appropriate for my Department to be closer to those courts. There are a number of possibilities for the future use of the building, but I certainly would not suggest that it would be right to use it for a Scottish Assembly.

Criminal Justice Act 1980


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when he intends to meet procurators fiscal in Scotland to discuss the use of evidence in courts obtained under part I of the Criminal Justice Act 1980.

I meet procurators fiscal from time to time to discuss various matters, including the 1980 Act, but no particular meeting is planned to discuss evidence under part I.

Does the Solicitor-General remember, when he was a mere Back Bencher serving on the Committee on that Bill, that his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, then a junior Minister, promised that there would be research into the working of detention powers? Is it correct that that research was carried out and that a report was produced in March 1985, which went to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland), which demanded that it be repressed and that no further research be carried out? Will he now ensure that that report is published?

That is a searching and compelling question, but it is inappropriately addressed to me. It is for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

Police (Complaints)


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many complaints against the police in Scotland have been referred from procurators fiscal to the Lord Advocate for advice or decision.

To date this year, 142 cases of complaints against the police have been reported by regional procurators fiscal to the Crown Office for consideration by Crown counsel. In 1985, 493 cases were reported. Such cases are seen by me and occasionally by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

I am most grateful to the Solicitor-General for that reply. Will he give serious consideration to an examination by his Department into whether the police are referring to the procurators fiscal complaints which have nothing to do with the alleged offences? When the procurators fiscal say that they will take no action, it gives some spurious exoneration to the person under complaint. If that examination shows that that is the case, will the Solicitor-General give further consideration to the possibility of an independent complaints procedure for complaints against the police, in which the Scottish public would have much greater confidence?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious and difficult matter. There are occasions when the police cannot immediately identify a complaint and when it would be inappropriate for them to reach a conclusion on whether it is purely a disciplinary matter or one which contains an allegation of criminal conduct by the police. Clearly, in those circumstances they tend to veer on the side of caution. They certainly put some cases which do not have a criminal content to procurators fiscal and the Crown Office. I am not sure that that causes the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I am prepared to look into the matter.

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that all complaints against the police are reported to a Law Officer and are scrutinised by him, or his noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, so that the highest consideration is given to any complaint of alleged abuse by the police?

Yes, I can confirm that matters have not changed and that the policy has not been altered since my hon. and learned Friend had these responsibilities. Not everyone is involved if it is only a matter of a possible breach of disciplinary code within the police. Furthermore, if it is a complaint which clearly has no substance, it is not reported to Crown counsel or to one of the Law Officers. Otherwise, as I said, a considerable number of complaints are personally examined by me or by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

Of the 400 or so complaints, how many originated in Greenock and Port Glasgow, and of those how many led to disciplinary or criminal proceedings, being taken?

The hon. Gentleman has me at a loss. I am not able to tell hum immediately what the Greenock and Port Glasgow figures are, and I cannot tell him how many of them resulted in disciplinary proceedings, because the pursuit of disciplinary proceedings would be a matter for the assistant chief constable and the chief constable rather than my self. Those instructions would come from me only if there was a decision to proceed with criminal proceedings against a police officer.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that while one wants to see complaints made against the police properly and fully investigated, it is equally important, when frivolous or malicious complaints are made, that the full rigour of the law is taken against people who distract the police and other officers of justice from their proper duties?

Yes, indeed. The policy is clear. If at some stage it is identified that the complaint is in any way malicious or is a wilful effort to waste the time of the police, often to secure a balance, proceedings are taken against those who make the malicious complaints.

Procurator Fiscal (Kilmarnock)


asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he plans to meet procurators fiscal in Kilmarnock to discuss matters of accommodation.

I have no immediate plans to discuss matters of accommodation with the procurator fiscal at Kilmarnock. His accommodation problems are well understood. The planned solution is to relocate his office in the old Kilmarnock sheriff court house once that building has been vacated.

Can the Solicitor-General for Scotland tell me whether the Crown Office has, therefore, approved the sketch plans for the refurbishment and redevelopment of the old Kilmarnock sheriff court? If it has done so, would he perhaps discuss with his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the possibilities of Government funding to give that project the go-ahead?

As I said in my original answer, it is certainly the intention to relocate. That is a policy which my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and I warmly support. A considerable amount of work has already been done on that, but, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates, funds have not yet been committed to it. However, we certainly want to see the project go ahead.