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Scotland

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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Leith Hospital

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent representations he has received about the future of Leith hospital; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Speaker, may I first explain to the House the absence of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland? He has a possible fracture to his left ankle and has been advised to move around as little as possible this week.

My right hon. and learned Friend has received 24 letters, mainly from members of the public, since the announcement last September that all but out-patient services would be withdrawn from Leith hospital.

As the National Health Service is supposed to be safe in the Government's hands, surely it is reasonable to expect a replacement hospital to be built before the present one is demolished. Will the Minister meet members of the local community, myself and other interested hon. Members to discuss this matter, bearing in mind that much fresh information has come to hand in recent weeks? Will he do that, or are we to be snubbed yet again by Lord Glenarthur — a situation that has been developing since the Minister with responsibility for health in Scotland took over?

I understand that the board plans to build a new hospital for the elderly in Leith. However, I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that there are new and expanding facilities all over Edinburgh, including, for example, the new development of 144 beds and supporting services at the Western general hospital in Edinburgh, which will be opened later this year for the benefit of all patients in Edinburgh, including those in Leith.

The Leith hospital should come under the ambit of the Lothian health board, but how can we have any confidence in that health board when we know, from recent appointments made to the health board by the Secretary of State, that people on that board with Labour sympathies were dismissed? Is the Minister aware that what happened in Midlothian is a perfect disgrace, because two members with Labour sympathies were dismissed and replaced by one Tory placeman?

There is always a change of members of health boards. Some members serve a term, two terms, or sometimes more, and they are replaced by other members. We look, not to political affiliation, but to achieving a balanced representation on the health board that will run efficient health services. I would have thought that the Labour party would be interested in that aspect, and not in trying to make political points about appointments.

Cunninghame

2. Mr. Lambie asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to pay an official visit to Cunninghame district.

My right hon and learned Friend had planned to visit Irvine earlier this week but was unable to do so. He has no other plans to pay an official visit to the area in the near future.

I should like to send my best wishes to the Secretary of State and hope that he will be back and fighting fit once again.

The Secretary of State was due to plant a tree in my constituency on Monday. When I heard that he would not be available to do that, I took my own spade, but unfortunately I was not asked to do it, and the Minister with responsibility for health was brought in to do it instead.

Is the Minister aware that, in spite of the announcement by Caledonian Paper to come to Irvine and an article this week in the Daily Telegraphthat Irvine new town is now a prosperous place, there is still a hard core of 12,000 unemployed people in the Cunninghame area? Is he further aware that there is not only that hard core, but that one man in every three is unemployed? Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State to accept the invitation of the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Corrie) and me to come to Irvine and meet the economic committee of Cunninghame district council to discuss the Cunninghame unemployment initiative which is aimed at reducing unemployment and helping everyone in the area?

I shall certainly pass on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State the hon. Gentleman's good wishes, for which he will be grateful.

Although I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman must be feeling twitchy after this morning's opinion poll in the Glasgow Herald and may feel that it is time to start electioneering, it is surprising that he should raise this particular topic in the week when Caledonian Paper has begun to move towards setting up a paper mill in the new town of Irvine, which will create jobs for 1,000 workers during the two years of construction and 480 permanent jobs once the plant becomes fully operational in 1991.I hope that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will welcome that and see it as a sign of the improving economic position in Scotland.

The Labour candidate for Cunninghame, South has less reason to be twitchy because of the opinion poll than has the Tory candidate for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram). May I ask that Tory candidate if he will guarantee——

Order. My knowledge of Scotland is not all that great, but I hope that this will be about Cunninghame district.

Will the Minister guarantee that if the Secretary of State pays an official visit to Cunninghame district it will be more successful than his recent visit to Cumnock and Doon Valley district, which neighbours Cunninghame, where unemployment is now the highest not only in Scotland but in the whole country? Will the Government at last recognise that the main centres of unemployment are not only the inner cities, and that the worst centre is the rural area of Cumnock and Doon Valley? Is he aware that the present proposals of the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), who is now whispering in his ear, to help unemployment in Cumnock and Doon Valley are insufficient and that we need a major initiative to tackle the problem?

I shall answer rather briefly that fairly lengthy question. My right hon. and learned Friend's visits are always successful. It is not for me to comment on the success of local Members of Parliament.

Yts

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland which organisations in Dundee have been given approved training organisation status for the new two-year YTS.

At 27 March 1987 six organisations in Dundee had been given approved training organisation status for YTS: full status went to Dundee college of technology, Tayside Road Transport Group Training Association and Dundee football club; and provisional status to Dundee and Tayside chamber of commerce, Henry Boot Ltd. and Tayside regional council.

Has the Minister had a chance to study in more detail our correspondence over one particular organisation? Can he give me an assurance that we shall have a decision shortly that that organisation will not be given approved training organisation status for the new two-year YTS in Dundee?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to LINK, his complaints have been investigated and, to the extent that they were justified, have been remedied to the satisfaction of the MSC. Naturally, that organisation will continue to monitor progress.

Will my hon. Friend congratulate Dundee and Tayside chamber of commerce on the important role that it has played in youth training, not least in the commercial sector and, indeed, in north-east Fife, where it has been able to show that 100 per cent. of young people who finish a youth training scheme with it end up with a permanent job? Will he also carry the congratulations of the House to the Manpower Services Commission for the effective way in which it has ensured that no person under 18 years of age need lack a job?

That is a remarkable achievement, and I should like to take this opportunity to offer it my congratulations. The MSC is becoming increasingly proficient in an increasingly effective and useful scheme which offers great promise for young people of a better chance of a job afterwards.

Is the Minister aware that young people between the ages of 18 and 25 who are on the job training scheme are effectively being disbarred from entry into community projects? Does he intend to do anything about that?

It would be rather difficult for them to be on the community programme and JTS. Dundee has done very well out of the MSC schemes. Not only has JTS been pioneered there, but job club and restart have been pioneered there, as have a number of other useful schemes that are of great value to the city.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that under the new two-year YTS scheme Dundee United football club is not one of the approved bodies, but that it is probably the best trained and most efficient of all the football clubs in the United Kingdom and we should congratulate it on its appearance this evening in the semifinal of the UEFA cup?

Nfu Scotland

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland; and what subjects were discussed.

My right hon. and learned Friend and I attended the union's annual dinner on 12 March, when a wide range of agricultural topics were discussed. I addressed the annual general meeting the following day.

I thank the Minister for meeting a delegation of my hon. Friends and myself this morning to discuss the beef crisis in Scotland. Will he assure us again that he appreciates the seriousness of the crisis in the beef industry? We are looking for an early announcement of any increase that he could make in headage payments and of a devaluation of the green pound. I appreciate that these important matters will be discussed at the Council of Ministers' meeting at the end of the month, but, given the importance of this to the Scottish agriculture industry, will he confirm that either he or his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will attend that meeting?

At the moment there are no plans for my right hon. and learned Friend or me to attend the meeting at the end of the month, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman, as I did this morning, that the Government are well aware of the strong feelings in the industry on beef in particular. I am well aware of the importance of beef to the Scottish farming industry. The CAP price fixing negotiations and proposals to reform the agri-monetary system are a major element of the Commission's proposals, and we shall try to ensure that an even-handed balance is achieved between our producers and producers in other member states.

As a matter of Government policy, will my hon. Friend seek the fulfilment of the reasonable, restrained and sensible suggestions that the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, Ian Grant, made in his annual speech? His suggestions were reasoned and sensible. Will the Government give them their blessing?

I am happy to echo my hon. and learned Friend's tribute to Ian Grant, the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland. We have had many discussions, and I am well aware of the view of the industry as seen from NFU headquarters and by farmers. The current Commission package is a tough one. We must take some difficult decisions against a background of soaring surpluses in many of the major commodities. I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that I and my colleagues from other agricultural departments will be ensuring at the Council of Ministers' meeting and other meetings in Brussels that we safeguard the position of agriculture in this country.

When the Minister next meets the president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, will he ask him, if he did not ask him last time, what his views are on the proposals of the British Commissioner, Lord Cockfield — aided and buttressed by that deplorable organisation, the EEC—on the introduction of VAT on food and what the position of the Scottish farmers will be in relation to that? Will the Minister assure us that his Department and the Scottish Office in general will resist such a deplorable tax on food costs, which would be the most monstrous thing to happen to food prices since the corn laws?

I understand the hon. Gentleman's close appreciation and the way in which he follows the doings of the EC, and possibly also of the European Assembly, but Ian Grant has not discussed those matters with me and I do not believe that they are serious propositions.

I am sure that the House and Scottish farmers in general will view with concern the fact that neither my hon. Friend nor my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State is geared to go to the discussions in Brussels. I sincerely hope that, in view of the crisis in relation to beef, cereals and the devaluation of the green pound, my hon. Friend or my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will take immediate steps to ensure that they go to Brussels to fight their corner for the Scottish farmers.

My hon. Friend puts a great temptation before me to spend many days and nights in Brussels, as I have done on Fisheries Council matters. I have had no indications from the NFU of Scotland or the industry in general that they wish the negotiations in Brussels to be conducted other than on behalf of the United Kingdom by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

If the hon. Gentleman meets the president of the NFU of Scotland, will he take his opinion on the Minister's rather surprising policy declaration the other day, to the effect that any rural school with fewer than three teachers was educationally damaging and should perhaps be phased out?

The hon. Gentleman clearly does not represent a rural constituency and does not understand what farming is about. Next time I meet Ian Grant I might be tempted to ask him what damaging impact the Labour party's proposals to rate agricultural land would have on agriculture.

Did my hon. Friend discuss with the president of the NFU the serious impact on the beef market of the imports of Irish beef? Why does Irish beef continue to enjoy the benefit of our variable beef premium scheme as well as the advantages that accrue to Irish farmers at home?

I understand and sympathise with the feelings of many Scottish beef farmers about the Irish situation, but that is a long-standing arrangement that was negotiated at the time of our entry, along with the Irish Republic, to the EC, which made it clear that the farmers in the Republic would have access to our markets and to the variable beef premium scheme. That is why it has come about.

Caterpillar Tractors Ltd

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further meetings he has had with representatives of Caterpillar about the future of its Glasgow plant; and if he will make a statement.

Our main objective is urgently to explore possibilities for retaining manufacturing operations and employment at Tannochside. In this connection officials of the Industry Department for Scotland are in regular contact with Caterpillar management.

Will the Minister now accept that the people of Scotland want action, not just words, from the Government to secure an industrial future for the Caterpillar work force? Will the Government now take the plant and equipment into public ownership, either directly by nationalisation or through the Scottish Development Agency? Having done that, will the hon. Gentleman accept that he may well be in a position to negotiate constructively with Caterpillar about a future for that plant, perhaps supplying spare parts to the Caterpillar operation? If that fails, at least the equipment will be there to be used by other industrialists for the benefit of the Scottish people. It would be outrageous if that equipment, much of which has been substantially paid for by the taxpayer, were allowed to be moved out of the country.

I share the hon. Gentleman's anxiety to secure a future for the plant, but nationalisation has never solved any industrial problem in the past and I cannot see it as being appropriate in this situation either. However, I should like us to be able to gain access to the plant in order to help complete the profile that the Scottish Office is compiling through the SDA and Industry Department so that we can try to market the facility on a worldwide basis.

When my hon. Friend or his officials next meet the management of Caterpillar, will he tell it that Scotland expects it to co-operate in any way possible in order to find a way to maintain. manufacturing operations and employment at Uddingston? Will he tell the management firmly that it is simply not acceptable that it should try to cast the plant, its work force and the community aside like a soiled rag?

I share my hon Friend's views about the way in which the Caterpillar management has handled the matter from the outset. However, I am also anxious to secure the future of the suppliers, and I am glad to know that the management is keen to help maintain the suppliers' relationship with Caterpillar in supplying Caterpillar factories elsewhere.

The Minister is aware that Caterpillar is in my constituency and that some of my parliamentary colleagues and I have met him on several occasions concerning this closure. Will the Minister now take on board the suggestion that he should attempt some initiative to try to get the management, preferably at American level, to meet the shop stewards at the factory — despite the fact that they are sitting in — to try to resolve this pernicious problem? I am sure the Minister is aware that if he does not do that, unemployment—now 20·5 per cent. in the Motherwell district — will be tremendously increased. On that basis, the closure of the factory will be a tragedy for the area.

I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's close interests over a long period of time in the Caterpillar plant in his constituency. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that ACAS has approached the unions on this matter and they have agreed to attend a meeting. Caterpillar management has also been approached and it is considering the matter.

I know the Minister recognises—it has been illustrated in today's exchanges—that there is a sense of anger and outrage at the way in which the Caterpillar company has treated the work force at Tannochside. That work force has served the company loyally for many years. I believe that the House will be extremely pleased to hear that there is a possibility of mediation through ACAS. Will the Minister join me in urging the management to follow the example of the unions, to agree to that meeting, and to get talks started now? Such talks might remove some of the immediate difficulties about the position at the plant.

The hon. Gentleman is aware that my right hon. and learned Friend and I share his feeling of outrage at the way in which the whole business of the closure of the Caterpillar plant has been handled. I am anxious to see mediation succeed and I hope that the initiative now in train will achieve that end.

Rates

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about regional council rates increases in 1987–88; and if he will make a statement.

I have received numerous representations about the large rates increases made by many Scottish authorities. These increases are particularly disappointing since the rate support grant settlement for 1987–88 is a generous one.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, as he has said, in the year in which the most generous rate support grant settlement for years has been given, it is nothing short of scandalous that Strathclyde regional council should be passing on a 19 per cent. rate increase to ratepayers? Does my hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues have any plans to protect Scottish ratepayers from rate increases many times the rate of inflation?

Obviously we will wish to consider the budgets of all authorities to see whether action is required. It is disappointing to have a rate increase of 18·5 per cent. in Strathclyde, especially as that authority, if it had spent at guideline for the year just ended and budgeted within the guideline for this year, could have achieved a 5 per cent. decrease in its rates. It only goes to show, as we have always said, that voting Labour means higher taxes, whether local or national.

Is it not already clear from an earlier answer that the Minister's statistics are suspect, as he appears to believe that 42 per cent. recorded for the Labour party in an opinion poll is far worse that the 18 per cent. recorded for the Tory party? That is a remarkable fact. Certain Conservative Members are not twitching about the general election, because they are already politically dead.

Every regional council has increased its rates, with the exception of Grampian, by more than 10 per cent. That includes Highland, Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, which are not Labour-controlled. Strathclyde region had a 2 per cent. increase in its rate support grant—not a generous one, but well below the rate of inflation —while Lothian region had a nil increase in its rate support grant — again, not a generous one. The Minister's argument about a generous rate support grant is a load of nonsense.

If the hon. Gentleman is satisfied with one sixth of the Labour party's support disappearing within a month, that is a matter for him.

The hon. Gentleman has argued constantly that if the proportion of rate support grant is held we can expect to see low rate increases. The proportion of rate support grant was held in Scotland this year and the average of rate increases is 15·1 per cent. If that does nothing else, it gives the lie to the argument that has been put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

Scotch Whisky Association

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association; what subjects were discussed and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. and learned Friend met the association's public affairs committee last November. Among the issues discussed were taxation policy as it relates to spirits and the problems encountered in exporting whisky to Japan.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is still considerable concern within the association on this vexed question of the tax and duty treatment of Scotch whisky imports by Japan? Will he undertake to keep a close interest on behalf of the Scottish Office in the progress of the GATT case against Japan? If no satisfactory progress is forthcoming in the foreseeable future, will he consider it for possible inclusion on the agenda of the Heads of Government summit later this year?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion, which I am sure will certainly be considered. I pay tribute to his close interest in this matter, which is so important in his constituency. I also congratulate him on his recent initiative with the Japanese ambassador. As he knows, the Government and the European Commission are taking action under article 23 of the GATT to seek the rapid removal of discriminatory barriers. We hope that this will be successful in the case of Japan.

When the Minister next meets the Scottish Whisky Association, will he remember that the DCL-Guinness organisation is the largest single member of it? Therefore, will he ensure that stability in that firm is sustained and that it will not be at the expense of the possibility of introducing bulk export of malt whisky, which would endanger the long-term future of whisky, the bottle-making industry and the packaging industry, with which the whisky industry is so closely aligned?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government are restrained on these matters anyway by the GATT and by European Community commitments. We certainly maintain contact with Guinness.

Has the Scotch Whisky Association made any representations to my hon. Friend about the severe disadvantages suffered by the industry due to the fact that it is now controlled from London by an Irish brewery conglomerate whose only genius was to acquire these brands by deception?

Despite the problems to which my hon. Friend refers, total exports have now exceeded £1 billion. I hope that my hon. Friend is pleased at the transfer of Distillers home trade operations to Perth from the south of England.

Industrial Construction And Production

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the index of industrial production and construction in Scotland in the fourth quarter of 1986.

Estimates for the fourth quarter of 1986 are not yet available. In the third quarter the index of industrial production and construction, excluding oil and gas, rose by 2·4 per cent. in Scotland, compared with a 1 per cent. rise in the United Kingdom overall.

Is it not the case that the figures for the whole of the past seven years show that the level of output in Scotland is running below that which the Government inherited from the last Labour Government? Is it not further the case that the Government are cutting by £100 million the Scottish Office budget? How can that assist in increasing output in Scotland?

I am not sure to which part of the Scottish Office budget the hon. Gentleman refers. Certainly it is the case that output in the last few years has been below the level of 1979. However, it is now very close to that and is being achieved with substantially fewer workers.

It is an achievement in increasing productivity, which is the most secure guarantee of future employment.

Has my hon. Friend noticed how the Opposition used to talk about the non-oil economy and are now less inclined to do so? Will my hon. Friend confirm that the improvements in productivity and efficiency in the non-oil sector of Scottish industry have resulted in substantial increases in employment?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Manufacturing productivity in Scotland generally has been increasing by about 6 per cent. over the years 1979 to 1985. Over the same time productivity in England was increasing by only about 4 per cent.

Did the Minister see the report in The Independent this week, which showed that out of all the constituencies in Britain the Ross, Cromarty and Skye constituency had the highest percentage increase in long-term unemployment — over 64 per cent? In terms of industrial production and construction—[Interruption.] I am sorry that Labour Members do not seem to be interested in unemployment in the Highlands of Scotland. Will the Minister look again at the regional aid map? If he does that he will see that the Government reduced substantially the incentives and the assisted area status that had been available to parts of my constituency to attract industry and create jobs.

The significance of the percentage increase to which the hon. Gentleman refers is dependent on the base from which it started. On regional aid, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, about 65 per cent. of the working population in Scotland are now in assisted areas, compared with only 35 per cent. in the United Kingdom. That represents about £62 per head, compared with £19 in the United Kingdom. The substantial increase in the coverage of regional aid as a proportion of the total since 1979 is from about 21 to 30 per cent., which reflects the importance that is attached to that matter in Scotland.

Will my hon. Friend use his influence to ensure—as Scotch whisky is one of the most successful— industries in Scotland—that the Japanese——

It does indeed. Will he ensure that our nips are available to their Nips at the same price as their nips are available to their Nips?

My hon. and learned Friend puts his question in his own inimitable way. He might have asked me about the electronics industry. A recent survey showed that, because of that important industry, about 3,700 American jobs are coming to Scotland — unless a Labour Government are returned.

I thought that that was a splendid example of the Minister's logical thought processes. Why does he maintain the charade of a successful index of industrial productivity when between the third quarter of 1979 and the third quarter of 1986 it has dropped by 5·8 per cent.? Why does he not address himself to the fair point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg)? Does the Minister not accept that, taking this year against next year, there is a cut in the industry and economy budget of the Scottish Office from £344 million to £257 million? Does he defend that cut, and does it give him satisfaction?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the RDG1 scheme is about to end. Secondly, regional development grant is demand-led and cannot therefore be specifically cash-tagged in the way that he has suggested. Our budget has had to be increased by 26 per cent. from what we had anticipated a year ago, because of increased activity.

Aberdeen University

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will have discussions with the University Grants Committee regarding the financial situation and the future of Aberdeen university; and if he will make a statement.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern, but the allocation of grants to individual universities is a matter for the University Grants Committee.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend does not remember what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said last week about a new committee to run the universities. Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a grave crisis in Aberdeen university due to underfunding by the UGC? This is leading to the loss of viability of a considerable number of specialised research units in the Grampian region. Will my hon. Friend take steps to do something about the funding of Aberdeen university, so that it does not have to close down before its 500th birthday?

The principle of the funding of individual institutions is a matter for the UGC, and the UFC after it, and that is not in doubt. We have recently endorsed it in our White Paper.

In the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of United Kingdom universities in September last year, he gave an assurance that the Government would not consider any proposals for the closure of a university.

Does the Minister accept that there are two problems that affect Scottish universities in general, and Aberdeen in particular? The first is that the University Grants Committee has had its funding effectively cut—particularly in view of the settlement for university teachers. Secondly, for the second time in only five years, Aberdeen university has been singled out for a depth of cut that makes it virtually impossible for the university to maintain a breadth of departments and future viability. Will the Minister intercede to ensure that the university is not victimised yet again?

The decisions of the University Grants Committee are made on the basis of issues such as peer group review and an examination of the merits and strengths of each university. The recurrent grant is distributed at different rates to different universities. On the hon. Gentleman's point about the total amount of money for universities, of course the Government have attempted to control and constrain public expenditure. This has played the important role in the fact that productivity is up, inflation is down and tax rates are being reduced. Now, unemployment rates are falling, too. The universities have to play their part in restraining that public expenditure.

Would it not be more helpful to the University of Aberdeen, in assisting it to become more viable, if Ministers and academics were to support the principal in his efforts to reorganise the university and make it more suitable for the training and education of graduates, who would then have a ready place on the market? Should not that training be done more efficiently and within a shorter time?

It is important that Aberdeen university should plan properly for its future. The proposals that my hon. Friend mentioned must be considered by the university, and by the UGC if the university puts them forward. That would not be a matter for Ministers. I should have thought that all sorts of proposals, radical and otherwise, are meat and drink to universities.

I congratulate the Minister on the fact that he is answering this question and has not transferred it to the Department of Education and Science. All Labour Members appreciate this opportunity to discuss the problems of the University of Aberdeen. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is odd that he is answering this question when, only last week, the Government rejected the STEAC recommendations and refused to accept that the Scottish Office should have a say in the funding of Scottish universities?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State announced that he would play a part with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science in giving guidance to the UFC on universities in Scotland and on institutions in the non-university sector. Before the Opposition, as usual, attempt to portray some part of Scotland as totally negative, I remind them that in the higher education sector—it is the same in all sectors—there are 10,000 more students in place than there were under the last Labour Government.

Emigration

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will outline those Government economic policies which are designed to stem the loss of population in Scotland through external migration.

The Government have in place a wide range of economic policies designed to reduce inflation and maintain a vigorous, enterprising economy — [Interruption.]—which offers the best hope of reducing migration from Scotland.

I had some difficulty in hearing that answer, but I suspect that it was not worth very much.

Does the Minister accept the predictions of the Registrar General for Scotland that over the next 50 years the Scottish population will decrease by about half a million, or 10 per cent., because of adverse economic trends? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is the disastrous result of English government over the years and that Scotland desperately needs new economic policies and a new Government of her own to secure a future for our people?

I would hesitate to lend support to a prediction that goes over the next 50 years. I suspect that over the past year migration has probably been related more to the decline in the oil industry. I hope that the irony of that fact is not lost on the hon. Gentleman or his party.

The communities of Greenock and Port Glasgow are suffering from this external migration. Will the Scottish Office now advise the SDA to increase the funding and staffing of the Inverclyde initiative to stem that migration?

I am keen to see the Inverclyde initiative proceed. I am glad that it has managed to secure some land in that area. Since 1979 overseas migration has been lower than under the previous Government and, over the past three years, considerably lower.

How do the figures for external migration compare with those in the Republic of Ireland, which follows a different set of economic policies? Does my hon. Friend agree that the right kind of policy is to build on the success of the Highlands and Islands Development Board, which, for the first time in more than a century, has secured a stemming of the tide of emigration from at least that part of Scotland?

My hon. Friend is right. The Highlands and rural areas generally are doing well in terms of population trends. To some extent this is a result of the activities of the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the SDA, whose role and budget we have expanded. As for migration within the United Kingdom, I suppose that there might be a possibility of Scots leaving Scotland in the face of Labour's tax-raising assembly, but then they would be driven out of the United Kingdom by the Labour party's United Kingdom tax policies.

Unemployment

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he proposes to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss unemployment in Scotland.

My right hon. and learned Friend met representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 30 January to discuss a wide range of economic issues, including unemployment. I hope to meet representatives of the STUC tomorrow to discuss Caterpillar.

While I welcome the Minister's answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that unemployment is one of the major issues affecting Scotland? In my own constituency of Midlothian unemployment has increased relentlessly since the Government came to office. Does the Minister agree with the statement by the Pope this week that unemployment is evidence of moral disorder?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the rise in unemployment. However, I hope that he, like me, draws comfort from the fact that unemployment fell by about 8,000 in Scotland last month. That is the largest monthly fall for nine years, and if we persist in our economic policies we can look forward to continued falls in the future.

When my hon. Friend meets the Scottish Trades Union Congress, will he discuss with its members the real danger of unemployment among the beef stockmen in the specialist beef sector? Unless action is taken as a matter of urgency to give a fair opportunity to the beef producers of Scotland, we shall see substantial unemployment and a repetition of the Highland clearances.

My hon. Friend who is responsible for those matters will have heard what my hon. Friend said. Certainly we are very keen to see employment maintained in rural areas.

When the Minister meets the STUC about Caterpillar, will he have some specific proposals to put before it? Unless the Minister gives some evidence that the Government are prepared to act directly to save 2 per cent. of Scotland's manufacturing capacity, all the talk about wishing unemployment to drop will be seen as simply pious nonsense.

The meeting is at the request of the STUC. However, I shall take the opportunity to point out that as soon as the sit-in ends and we are able to gain access to the plant, with the Caterpillar management, and complete the profile, we shall be in a better position to try to market the facility around the world and thus to secure employment at the plant.

Will the Minister confirm that one of the ways in which the Government are trying to reduce unemployment is by encouraging health boards to use YTS youths in the hospitals and paying them £27·50 a week, instead of employing further, although cheap, nursing labour? Is he aware that five health boards in Scotland already employ 300 of those youngsters at pittance wages? This is no excuse for treating nurses as scandalously as the present Government are doing.

I have no responsibility for health matters. However, the hon. Gentleman will know as well as I do of the substantial expansion in the nursing population in Scotland. I hope that he, like me, welcomes the opportunity that young people are given by YTS to secure training and work experience and obtain a vocational qualification, and thus a better chance of finding a job after the training is completed.

When my hon. Friend next meets the STUC, will he ask why it supports the introduction of a minimum wage, the abolition of the civil nuclear power programme, the cancellation of Trident and the rating of agricultural land and buildings in line with the Labour party, when that policy will result in 100,000 jobs being lost in Scotland?

My hon. Friend has hit four nails very firmly on the head. He is absolutely right. Almost every one of the Opposition's policies, when carefully analysed, would lead us to a drop rather than an increase in unemployment.

Renfrew District Council

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to meet representatives of Renfrew district council to discuss its recent economic initiative.

I met representatives of Renfrew district council on 23 January to discuss proposals for a local economic initiative, and wrote to the council on 10 March with my conclusions. I have received an encouraging response and hope that an agreement can be reached on the present proposals as soon as practicable.

Will the Minister accept that, rather than an encouraging response in words, we should like some cash to fulfil the pledge that the Government gave at the time of the closure of the Linwood factory? Does he realise that the cost in public expenditure of the unemployment in Renfrew district is well over £100 million, and that that will apply to the projects under the economic initiative scheme? Putting that into public investment could wipe out entirely the unemployment facing my constituency of Paisley, South.

The SDA has agreed to meet half the initiative's operating costs and to second staff to it. It has also committed itself to £4 million of environmental improvements. In addition, Renfrew council's current expenditure guideline this year is 7·7 per cent. above assessed need, and 4·2 per cent. above last year in terms of the inflationary increase. In addition, the SDA's LEGUP scheme has approved projects in Renfrew worth £270,000. So a substantial amount of cash is available from a number of different sources.

Will my hon. Friend explain to Renfrew district council that any sound, concrete proposal that it puts forward for economic regeneration in Renfrewshire will be greeted favourably by the Government and that the finances will be looked into? Until it comes up with the goods, we in this place cannot come up with the goods. Will he confirm that the phoney unemployment statistics that it tries to foist upon us are completely unacceptable and are no substitute for good ideas for the area?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The most successful outcome of the initiative can be achieved by the co-operation of the district council and the Scottish Development Agency. I earnestly hope that that is now being achieved. I hope also that the arrival of Compaq in the district will enhance the employment prospects and the fact that the Sizewell order is going ahead will be of advantage to Babcock.