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Scotland

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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Urban Development Corporations

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take powers to establish urban development corporations in areas of dereliction in major conurbations in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

The powers to establish urban development corporations contained in the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980 apply equally in Scotland.

The fact that one represents a constituency a few miles south does not mean that one has not had the opportunity—

—to appreciate the excellent work done in some of the Scottish urban areas, particularly in Glasgow—

Order. I hope that we shall be able to conduct this Question Time in good humour and in good order.

I have not started to ask my question. I said that the fact that one represented a constituency a few miles south did not mean that one could not appreciate the wonders of Scottish urban redevelopment. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important things in urban regeneration is to encourage vacant public land to be privatised and to get some of the dead land moving in private enterprise?

I was most interested in what my hon. Friend had to say, given his well-known expertise in this subject. I entirely agree with him. We believe that the private sector has a very important role to play in the initiatives that we are proposing in urban areas in Scotland.

Has the Minister considered the fact that Strathclyde regional council and Glasgow district council are doing their desperate best to help decaying urban areas such as my constituency? If the private sector is dying to invest in Maryhill, where is that money? Why do we not see some of it?

I hope that in due course, as we bring forward our proposals, the private sector will become increasingly interested in them. We certainly look forward to working with Strathclyde regional council and Glasgow district council in pursuing this worthwhile initiative.

Shop Premises (Amusements)

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will introduce legislation to regulate the growth of fruit machines, slot machines and video machines in shop premises and the number of amusement arcades in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland
(Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

Local authorities have power to control the number of fruit machines and slot machines in shops and the number of amusement arcades in their areas. Reports on these facilities, commissioned by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, are expected shortly. We will then consider whether the law requires to be amended.

I welcome part of the Ministers reply, but it does not go far enough. He greatly underestimates the problem and the strength of feeling in communities in which amusement arcades are located. Furthermore, it seems that every appeal to the Secretary of State by an applicant is upheld, despite local objections and opposition. Why will he not give local authorities every necessary power to control and monitor the situation and take the necessary action when and where it is needed?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I should mention that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary announced in May that he had set up a research project to examine the use that young people make of machines in amusement arcades. In addition, he asked the Gaming Board for Great Britain to prepare a report on amusement arcades and a further announcement can be expected when the work has been completed— it is hoped to be before Christmas. I would mention one brief point concerning children. The Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 gives local authorities wide discretion to attach conditions to licences, and there is no reason why they should not impose an age restriction.

Has all this emphasis on fruit and gaming machines anything to do with the so-called enterprise culture that that bumptious balloon in 11 Downing street is trying to foist on the people of Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman has raised a valid and serious point. It will be considered seriously, as he wishes.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is considerable anxiety about this issue, whether it relates to Glasgow, Shettleston or to the far west of the United Kingdom in my constituency of St. Ives? While I greatly welcome my hon. Friend's reference to the Home Secretary's comment, will he and all other Ministers take account of the widespread feeling on this issue?

Most certainly. One important point is that a fruit machine involves a game of chance, whereas a video games machine can involve a test of skill. Many matters require close examination, and that is being given.

Maternity Services (Grampian Region)

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the future of maternity services in the rural areas of Grampian region.

None recently.

May I assure the Minister that he will receive some representations in the near future? In the light of Grampian health board's proposals to close no fewer than six maternity units in the rural areas of Grampian, thus leaving no provision outside the city of Aberdeen and the town of Elgin, does the Minister accept that the position is unacceptable? These proposals have been out for consultation several times previously and public opinion has been clearly stated, but the health board is effectively ignoring it. Would it not be better if the Minister got on with the business of having elected health boards as a matter of urgency, rather than school boards which people do not want?

The health board has not even issued its consultative paper, so it is premature for the hon. Gentleman to say that people have not had a chance to make representations. There is no proposal for a closure at Elgin. The pressure on maternity facilities is at Aberdeen maternity hospital, where the board proposes to build a new 56-bed unit. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that, instead of pleading the case for facilities which have had occupancy rates of between 16 and 33 per cent.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that there is genuine anxiety on this issue, that we are dealing with people, not just numbers, and that those in rural areas deserve as much consideration as those in urban areas? Will he recognise that it is not just a question of the number of babies delivered in these areas, but of the useful post-natal and other gynaecological services required? If submissions are made to him, will he please think about the matter constructively, sensitively and sympathetically?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I assure him that the health board will consider all representations before any decisions are taken. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will consider carefully any submission that my right hon. Friend makes. It cannot make sense to maintain units that are so underutilised that the quality of health care for my right hon. Friend's constituents and others who are expecting babies in the Aberdeen areas is prejudiced.

As the maternity services in Grampian region and throughout Scotland depend largely on nurses, does the Minister think it fair that he will pay only £300 in poll tax from his £40,000 a year income, while nurses must pay £300 from their small salary?

I do not think that we can take any lectures from the hon. Gentleman or his party on nurses' pay. The Labour Government cut nurses' pay by 20 per cent. and this Government have increased it by 30 per cent. in real terms. We have also increased take-home pay by cutting taxes, which he and the Labour party have opposed at every opportunity.

Nuclear Waste

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what consultations he has had and proposes to have with Nirex regarding nuclear waste disposal.

I have met Nirex representatives from time to time to be briefed on their work. I have at present no plans for a further meeting.

Does the Secretary of State expect that if Nirex goes ahead with any preliminary investigations it will follow exactly the procedures adopted in England, without any short cuts? Will he ensure that the Scottish public will be informed if any on-site investigations take place? Does he accept that the Scottish public have an absolute right to be informed of any such activities?

Nirex's present investigations are concerned with determining what type of site is geologically suitable, whether underground, under the sea, or tunnelled out from the land. It will be a considerable time before it thinks in terms of any individual location in any part of the United Kingdom.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets and consults Nirex, will he draw its attention to the fact that there is great anxiety in parts of Scotland as a result of the mis-statements and misinformation that have come from the Scottish National party? I draw his attention to the fact that Schiehallion in my constituency was named as an area where nuclear waste would be dumped. There is no substance to the story, which came from the SNP.

My hon. Friend should take some comfort from the fact that no constituency in Scotland has not been told by the SNP that it has been chosen as the location for nuclear waste.

Will the Secretary of State advise the House in simple terms what steps he will take to stop Scotland becoming the nuclear dumping ground for the rest of the United Kingdom?

The hon. Gentleman should realise that all parts of the United Kingdom use nuclear power and are responsible for the production of nuclear waste. The location for the deposit of nuclear waste should be chosen on geological grounds that are consistent with the requirements of public safety.

Rail Services (Strathclyde)

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from Strathclyde regional council on the effect on Strathclyde's economy of the proposed reduction in rail services.

My right hon. and learned Friend has received no such representations.

Then it is just as well that I asked the question. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that there was a debate on the matter in the early hours of this morning as the snowflakes were falling outside. Has the Secretary of State received information from his surrogate, who was present to hear a debate opened admirably by my colleague, friend and ally — on this issue — the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro)? There is increasing anxiety and alarm about the proposed cuts on the Kilmarnock-Carlisle-Dumfries railway line and the effects that they will have on the social and economic life of the area. Scottish Members are increasingly worried that decisions on cuts in British Rail services in Scotland are being taken in London and are then foisted upon Scottish managers, although they are willing to accept the role of lackey.

The Government have agreed with British Rail performance objectives designed to achieve a significant increase in efficiency and requiring an overall improvement in services. It is for British Rail to determine how to achieve those objectives, but I understand that some extra InterCity services will be laid on.

We are all grateful to my hon. Friend for coming to the House early this morning and listening to the debate. Did he appreciate from the debate the strength of feeling in south-west Scotland about the economic problems that will result if the railway service is downgraded to the extent proposed by British Rail? Does he accept that the Government must bring home to British Rail the fact that their overall policy of bringing jobs to south-west Scotland will be adversely affected? He cannot leave it to British Rail to make such a decision.

I have met the manager of ScotRail and made it clear to him that many hon. Members believe that we need a high standard of service. I understand that British Rail will provide services connecting Dumfries with a sleeper service at Carlisle.

Does the Minister accept that his response is entirely inadequate? On Monday my hon. Friends and I met the Minister for Public Transport and put our case very strongly. In my constituency, which, with that of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang), has the highest unemployment in the country, a railway station has just been opened at Auchinleck. Now British Rail is cutting services from that station. Strathclyde region wants to reopen New Cumnock station, but there will be no services for it if British Rail continues in this way. Should not the Scottish Office take some action to force British Rail to reconsider the matter?

I should say that the introduction of sprinter trains to the line next year will improve services by offering more trains and shorter journey times. I stress to the hon. Gentleman that there are no current plans to stop running passenger services on the line.

Will the Under-Secretary examine carefully the rates of return and capital that InterCity especially is expected to produce in the Government's current programme? Will he undertake to reconsider the matter with Ministers at the Department of Transport? The east coast route is of special concern to me. Services will inevitably be prejudiced by the penal rates of return which British Rail and ScotRail are expected to achieve on their InterCity services.

I shall draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport to the matters mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my hon. Friend agree that a major influence on economic development in the Strathclyde region is the incompetent and high-cost policy of Strathclyde regional council, under which 25 per cent. of pupils leave school with no qualifications, and council house repairs are 35 per cent. more expensive than anywhere else?

We are in favour of both high standards of efficiency and high standards of service.

Rating Reform

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on consultations that have taken place between his Department and local authorities with regard to the appropriate training programme for canvassers engaged on the preparation of the register for the poll tax.

The training of canvassers is a matter for community charges registration officers.

Will the Minister accept that what we are embarking on in Scotland is the compilation of a national register, which will detail every individual from birth to death? In addition, will he give some information and guidance to local authorities about the dangers of disclosing information, obtained for poll tax purposes, for other purposes, put a prohibition or restrictions on those gathering that information, and introduce appropriate penalties for disclosure for purposes other than the community charge?

The hon. Gentleman is incorrect. We are not contemplating the compilation of a national register or one that would last from birth to death. The regulation on the registration process is out to consultation and local authorities have an opportunity to give us their views on that. We shall take full account of the consultation process before making the regulation.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, in these matters, helpful advice might come from apparently unlikely quarters? May I refer him to column 198 of Standing Committee A on the Local Government Bill, when the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, recommended that the administrative arrangements for the community charge in Scotland should be privatisecl? Will my hon. Friend therefore, at all times, pay appropriate attention to recommendations from Opposition Members?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting suggestion. It is important that the register be compiled as efficiently as possible.

Will the Minister explain why a leaflet and publicity campaign costing £130,000 and more has been launched in Scotland on the community charge, saying that people on and below the poverty line will pay 20 per cent., when in a written answer to me he revealed that in some parts of Scotland those on basic incomes will have to pay 41 per cent. of the community charge, including the community water charge?

The hon. Gentleman is giving a misleading picture. The leaflet was published as an information document. Its need is justified not least by the fact that so much misinformation is being put about by the Labour party.

Does the Minister agree that if the canvass for the register is to be done in sufficient time to allow the tax to be brought in on 1 April 1989, as is proposed, it must start on 1 April 1988, or soon thereafter? If that is so, how many regulations will have to be laid before the House for that process to start? How many canvassers will have to be advertised for and appointed, and what training will have to be carried out? Does the hon. Gentleman have any hope that the process of making regulations, and advertising for, appointing and training staff, can be completed by 1 April 1988?

We intend that the process should start on 1 April 1988. Three or four regulations will need to be tabled by that date, and we expect that that will happen. The other points raised by the hon. Gentleman are matters for the registration officer.

Nuclear Waste

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when officials of his Department will next meet Nirex to discuss plans for nuclear waste disposal in Scotland.

Scottish Office officials have no specific plans to meet Nirex, but they will attend the Nirex seminar for local authorities to be held in Edinburgh on 14 December.

Is the Under-Secretary aware, even if the Secretary of State is not, that the Nirex document "The Way Forward" makes it clear that Scotland is a No. 1 target for nuclear waste disposal? Furthermore, will the hon. Gentleman give us a guarantee that any such proposal for waste disposal will face the rigour of a full public inquiry, and that such an inquiry will not be limited in scope in the way that the Dounreay inquiry was rigged?

I certainly can give that assurance. A planning application will be required before any site investigations on land. Subsequent procedures have yet to be determined. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that if there were a proposal to build a repository in Scotland a public inquiry should be held. The purpose behind the document is to look at geologically suitable areas in Britain.

Does my hon. Friend recognise that many of us welcome the publication of that document and the opportunity that it gives for informed debate? Has he noticed that the Scottish National party shies away from any form of informed debate? Will he point out to the SNP that much of the low-level and medium-level waste comes from medical sources? Why does it not support the use of nuclear materials for those good purposes?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for setting the matter in perspective. We are concerned about the safe storage of intermediate and low-level nuclear waste. We believe that the Nirex document is a useful step forward in that process.

Does the Minister agree with the decision taken by Nirex in advance of the consultation process to opt for a single national disposal facility? Is it credible to have one such facility, given the present level of radioactive waste, and the future level because of the Government's commitment to a massively accelerated nuclear programme? Scottish Labour Members will not tolerate Scotland being used as a dumping ground for the nuclear waste of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

I should like to set the facts straight. Sellafield is to be investigated by British Nuclear Fuels plc as part of the Nirex programme. It has been made clear that no decision has been taken on sites for investigation other than Sellafield. That is the present position.

I echo the plea of the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) for informed public debate. Will the Minister instruct his officials, when they attend the 14 December seminar, to echo to Nirex the plea for informed debate? That would involve making maps available to hon. Members representing constituencies such as mine. We believe that drilling has taken place on the isles of Raasay and Rona. Like the Isle of Skye, neither island appears on the map of Britain that Nirex published in the report.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those of us who were in the House in the early hours of the morning and who listened to a debate on this subject, prompted by the Welsh nationalists, now realise the sheer hypocrisy of the nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland? Today the Scottish nationalists say that Scotland is the prime target for a nuclear dump, whereas last night the Welsh nationalists said that Anglesey was the prime target for a nuclear dump. We completely reject this scaremongering by the nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales.

I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. I am sure that there is potential opposition to any proposed investigation of a site. Nirex seeks public comment on its approach to site selection and will publish a report on comments received.

I wish to reinforce the plea for an assurance that there will be no question of slipping through vital decisions about sites without full consultation and discussion in the localities concerned. Does the Minister accept that there is a strong case against dumping intermediate waste in the way suggested in the Nirex report? Does he agree that the identification of possible sites can lead only to uncertainty and understandable fears? Is not a more sensible management strategy on-site storage in stable conditions, which can allow constant monitoring?

Our experts and international experts strongly believe that on safety grounds it is much wiser to store intermediate and low-level waste in this way. I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance about there being the fullest possible public information and consultation on this subject.

European Regional Development Fund

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total value of grants Scotland has received from the European regional development fund in each of the past three years.

Scotland has received grant commitment from the European regional development fund of £103 million in 1984, £69 million in 1985, and £84 million in 1986.

Does my hon. Friend think that those grants have been sufficiently well publicised? If not, what steps is he taking to ensure that their size, scale and nature are properly publicised in Scotland and that the benefits that accrue to Scotland are made known to the people?

As my hon. Friend will know, it is always difficult to obtain publicity for good news. However, his question enables me to publicise the fact that, among national programmes of Community interest, in 1985 Glasgow received £68 million, and we hope that this year West Lothian will be successful with a bid of £27 million. We are also hoping to succeed with a bid for Strathclyde, as an integrated operation, that will be worth £300 million over the next five years.

Is the Minister not well aware that areas of Scotland such as Galloway and the Borders do not qualify for assistance under the European regional development fund because they are not defined as assisted areas by the national Government? As the European Community is reconsidering the guidelines for that fund, with a view to opening it to rural development, irrespective of assisted area status, will the Minister assure us that the Scottish Office will support such a change?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the arrival of Spain and Portugal in the Community has made pressure on funds that much greater. Therefore, we cannot be sure that we will receive as large a proportion in future as we have in the past. However, the Scottish Office will do its best to ensure that Scottish interests are well advanced within the Community.

Is my hon. Friend aware that we welcome the tremendous help for the infrastructure of Scotland from that fund? Will he consider the issue of forest roads used in the extraction of timber, especially for those areas that do not have assisted area status? Will he discuss with other Departments and within the European Community the possibility of including that sort of development?

I shall certainly consider that point. As my hon. Friend knows, any regional authority that approaches the Government for capital allocation in that context can rely on having the matter sympathetically considered.

Is the Minister aware that during the last year for which figures are available, 1986, we had a net loss in the Common Market of £1·7 billion—the equivalent of about 20 days of the regional fund? Would it not be better if that £1 billion were spent on development in Britain, rather it being poured into the food mountains of Europe?

That is a perfectly worthwhile negotiating stance. However, it would be wrong to analyse each individual fund and try to ensure that this country made a profit from each and all of them. That is not what the Common Market is about.

Secondary School Pupils

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what estimates he has made of the number of pupils in secondary schools in Scotland for each of the next five years.

The estimated numbers in each of the years 1988 to 1992 are 328,000; 313,000; 306,000; 305,000; and 308,000 respectively.

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for giving those figures, which I am sure he agrees point to the need for rationalisation of secondary schools in Scotland. No one suggests that rationalisation is ever easy, but is he aware of the concern of a number of my constituents who exercised their right under the parents' charter to send their children to Paisley grammar school, which is now targeted for closure, apparently precisely because it is popular with parents?

Has my right hon. and learned Friend received a report from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary following his visit to that school? Does he agree that the wider implications of the threat to Paisley grammer school point to the need for opting out provisions to be included in the forthcoming Scottish Education Bill so that Scottish parents can have the same rights as English parents?

Given the high degree of overcapacity in schools in the Strathclyde region, we all understand that it is appropriate for Strathclyde regional council to reduce the number of schools commensurate with the total school population. We hope that in pursuing that policy it will take into account the views of the parents and the academic achievements of individual schools. I have no doubt that if it does apply such criteria there will be a powerful case for the continuation of Paisley grammer school, which clearly meets that criteria in an impressive fashion.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is the height of hypocrisy that, when he is pursuing policies that force cuts in education in Scotland, his henchman turns up here to ask a question under the pretence of fighting for the preservation of school places?

The hon. Gentleman should realise that the rationalisation of schools has little to do with the size of resources and everything to do with the size of pupil populations. In case he is not aware of the fact, Strathclyde regional council estimated that, out of a total capacity of 590,000 pupil places, over 200,000 places were surplus to requirements in 1985. That will be true, irrespective of the level of resources. It would be absurd to suggest that there is not a need in Strathclyde, as in other regions throughout Scotland, to reduce overcapacity. The point at issue is not the need to close some schools but, in making that choice, whether the schools with a proven academic record of great achievement should be put on such a list.

The Minister will know that parents in my constituency are going through a worrying period. Some have children at primary and secondary schools that could be under the axe. Does he not consider that if his colleague the Minister is to go on television and single out one school, he should be evenhanded and look at every school in Strathclyde? Paisley grammar school is important to some hon. Members and to the parents in the region, but other schools are just as important.

I have no doubt that all schools are important to the parents whose children attend them. That is why I have stated that I believe that the relevant criteria are parents' wishes and the proven achievements of the school in question. It seems sensible to take into account whether a particular school has a remarkable record of achievement with regard to the academic qualifications of those who attend it in determining whether it would be sensible to close such an establishment at such a time.

As the money that is spent on surplus places could be better spent on children in schools, will my right hon. and learned Friend say how much is presently being wasted on empty places?

I cannot give a precise figure, but it goes without saying that if only about two thirds of the accommodation presently available for schoolchildren in Strathclyde is utilised, enormous savings are clearly available to the regional council to be used on the education of children in a way that is more useful to them than the heating of half-empty buildings or the maintenance of unused buildings.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that he will prevail upon the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), to desist from meddling in matters that are not his direct responsibility? Does he agree that the Under-Secretary's visit to Our Lady and St. Francis' high school in Glasgow was mischievous and that his visit to Paisley grammar school was calculated to make life difficult for the education authority which is seeking to fulfil its statutory requirements? Such irresponsible actions serve only to use and abuse parents who are genuinely concerned for their children's future education.

My hon. Friend was perfectly entitled to respond to parents' invitations to visit the school and to see it for himself. Given that the Scottish Office provides the resources that are used, which cover a substantial proportion of the costs of maintaining such schools, it is absolutely appropriate that my hon. Friend should have visited them. I cannot help but notice the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment at the fact that the high quality of certain schools is brought to the forefront of public attention.

Order. I cannot take a point of order now. The hon. Lady may wish to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

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

Schools Management

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what extra resources will be made available for the implementation of the schools management proposals.

My right hon. and learned Friend takes account of changes in local authorities statutory responsibilities in determining the provision for local authority current expenditure each year. I do not expect, however, that these proposals will give rise to significant additional costs.

The Minister is bound to be aware that COSLA estimates that it will cost at least £15 million a year to set up and administer the school boards that are envisaged under his proposals. Does he not agree that that would be an enormous and wasteful drain on scarce resources that could better be used in classrooms rather than on financing his ideological white elephant?

I was interested to see the COSLA estimates, which started at £12 million and after a few days increased to £15 million. Those estimates were based upon an assumption that costs that will be incurred by local authorities in bringing new systems for financial control into effect will be part of this process. Even if we take the COSLA approach of "think of a number and double it", relative to the total education budget that is broadly equivalent to an extra two or at most three pupils at an average secondary school.

I have asked the Under-Secretary of State three questions on schools boards, none of which he has answered satisfactorily. In particular, he will never say how much support exists for the ceiling proposals. Will he admit to the House that he will not answer me because there is no support for the ceiling proposals whatsoever, and in view of that will he remove them from the legislation?

I say to the hon. Gentleman in the House that we have embarked upon the biggest consultation exercise ever undertaken by a Government Department. We have had a marvellous response, which we are now analysing. Most people have been sufficiently thoughtful in their response as to preclude us from being able to carry out the kind of crude for and against analysis for which the hon. Gentleman asks.

Order. I heard "deceit". I do not know who said it, but it is not a parliamentary word. Withdraw, please.

In view of your stricture, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw, but the information concerned—

Will my hon. Friend, when he is considering resources for school boards, bear in mind that some of us support the ceiling proposals, myself included? Will he also bear in mind that many of the comments made about parents being unsuitable and untrained to take part in school boards could just as easily be made about unsuitable or untrained councillors or Members of Parliament? That is the kind of nonsense that we have been getting from the Opposition Benches.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. I assure him that while there are differences of view about the extent to which the ceiling powers should be available to school boards, it is important to remember that the proposals in the consultation paper made it clear that school boards could get ceiling powers only if they are requested and are able to persuade the local authority to give the powers to them.

The hon. Gentleman says "No". There was provision for the Secretary of State to have a general power to raise from floor to ceiling, and we have made it clear throughout the consultations that we envisage using that in the circumstances where many schools had opted for ceilings.

Housing Associations (Rents)

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will estimate the increase in rents for housing association dwellings arising from immediate enactment of the proposals in the Scottish housing White Paper.

Our White Paper proposals would make tenancy arrangements more flexible for new lettings and enable housing associations to set appropriate levels of rent, depending on the funding arrangements agreed. Our proposals envisage that subsidy arrangements for new developments would be geared to rent levels which average working households in a particular area could pay.

That reply is at some distance from frankness. In my constituency the rents on a rehabilitated, typical 16-unit tenement, at the 30 per cent. housing action grant level, would go up by 225 per cent., and at the 70 per cent. housing action grant level would go up by over 100 per cent. Is the Minister aware that that is typical of the rent increase that will occur in the west of Scotland? Does the Minister agree with that statement?

No, Sir. What I would say is that there are some housing associations where private sector funding is, not likely; for example, certain kinds of housing for disabled associations and special interest groups. It is tremendously important that traditional clients should continue to be catered for. I envisage that 100 per cent. public funding could come from a combination of housing association grants and loans, but we envisage the private sector coming in in other circumstances.

What can my hon. Friend tell the House about the historic level of rents in Scotland, compared to that in England, bearing in mind that the average income in Scotland is now the second highest in the United Kingdom, second only to London?

Average rent levels in Scotland are lower than those in England; there is no question about that.

Since housing association rents are already 30 per cent. higher than council rents in Scotland, what possible justification can there be for a formula which is likely to double the rents of housing association tenants in Scotland? Since housing benefit will not protect all the tenants who are the hardest hit by the new mechanism, is it not yet another example of ministerial weasel words for such a mechanism to be described as affordable rents?

It most certainly is Government policy that rents should be affordable and within the reach of tenants. I reject the figures that the hon. Gentleman gave. I cannot speculate about the rent levels for individual lettings, but under the new arrangements rents will relate to the cost of providing and maintaining property, taking account of the assistance available. Housing associations will continue to meet the needs of their traditional clients.

Further Education (Funding)

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet representatives of regional authorities to discuss the funding of further education.

My right hon. and learned Friend meets representatives of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities regularly to discuss local authority expenditure. The most recent meeting was on 4 December, when the rate support grant settlement for 1988–89 was discussed.

Will the Minister advise the House whether he intends to meet representatives from Grampian regional council in view of the urgent need to assure that area of Scotland that there is a long-term future for the college of commerce, which was recently closed because of structural problems? Does he accept that the 8,000 students, most of whom are represented by hon. Members from the Grampian region, want to be assured that there is a long-term future for them? Will he advise us whether he is considering a special grant to ensure that the college of commerce is rebuilt speedily?

The question of the Aberdeen college of commerce is a matter for the Grampian region. Students are able to continue to attend their classes in different locations, and for those students who are taking advanced courses I have ensured that grants continue to be paid from the Scottish Education Department. It is for local authorities to determine their own priorities within the capital programme. [Interruption] If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, my right hon. and learned Friend will take account of the special problems that have occurred in the Grampian region when deciding upon allocations. It is not possible at this stage to anticipate them.

Unemployment And Health

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will commission a study on the effects of long-term unemployment on health in Scotland.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no plans to do so. To date, research has not identified any clear relationship between long-term unemployment and health.

I am amazed at the Minister's response, considering that a report published by the DHSS in 1981 on unemployment and families cited no fewer than 47 references which underline the relationship between longterm unemployment and poverty. Perhaps ex-Tory Members of Parliament in Scotland would be a suitable case study.

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not read the British Medical Journal. If he did, he would know that in January and April there were a couple of articles about the research commissioned by the Medical Research Council on that matter. None of that research provided evidence to support his theory. Experts agree that people can help themselves and their families to stay healthy by making simple changes to their life styles. [HON. MEMBERS: "Like getting a job."] A healthy life style does not depend on a high income. I am disappointed that Opposition Members seem to think that the matter of health in Scotland is so amusing.

Earnings

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent figures he has available for average weekly earnings in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

The average gross weekly earnings of full-time employees on adult rates in Scotland in April 1987 were estimated at £187·90. Only those in the south-east and the north-west of England had higher gross earnings.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that those highly satisfactory figures reflect the success of the Scottish economy in moving away from the excessive reliance on the declining industries of past years towards the industries and services of the future?

My hon. Friend is quite correct. It never ceases to amaze me how Opposition Members cannot decide whether to be upset or disbelieving when such information is provided for them.

Will the Secretary of State accept that the low wages that contribute to the average are reprehensible, whether they are paid in Ipswich or Inverness? Will he also accept that there is an individual Scottish life style—including the need to accept climatic conditions—which means that, for example, it costs 20 per cent. more to heat the average house in Glasgow than it does in Ipswich? When will the Secretary of State bat for Scotland?

Of course, with regard to low wages, everyone looks forward to the day when wages and salaries can continue to increase to improve the real standard of living of the population as a whole. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be the first to appreciate that it would be counter-productive to the interests of the unemployed to insist on wage levels that meant that they could not be employed in the first place.

State Security

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if the Lord Advocate will now authorise Strathclyde police and the procurator fiscal of Glasgow to return to BBC Scotland all tapes, recordings, documents and other material seized from BBC Scotland on Sunday 15 February in relation to the Zircon programme; and if he will make a statement.

No material relating to the programme concerning project Zircon was removed by Strathclyde police from the premises of BBC Scotland, Glasgow, on Sunday 15 February.

What, then, were the supposed reasonable grounds for suspicion that allowed the Special Branch to go into Queen Margaret drive and eject from their beds, at 3 am, senior executives of the BBC? What is the explanation for that now?

The hon. Gentleman must be quite clear that I have to answer on behalf of the Lord Advocate and ensure that the law is properly carried out, enforced and that the correct procedures are involved. I believe that the hon. Gentleman's question goes beyond my sphere of responsibility—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—and I believe that it goes to the root of intelligence matters that are the responsibility of others.

Mr. Brian Barr, the programme maker of distinction who made the Zircon programme, is one of my constituents. For nearly one year he has had a cloud of suspicion hanging over him that he might have been party to undermining the security of our country. He has been harassed by unwilling and embarrassed policemen acting on Government instructions. Legal edicts flew across the Atlantic to harass his colleague, Duncan Campbell, as far away as San Francisco—

The question is, will the Minister have the grace to apologise to Brian Barr, Duncan Campbell and their colleagues for the besmirching of their reputations that this investigation has caused? Now that the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] Now, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister—

Order. I am not answering this question. It is for the Front Bench to answer.

Will the Minister accept that we need a bit of glasnost in this country in relation to official secrecy and do something about that soon?

I should make it clear that on 27 November the Lord Advocate announced that, having considered a number of reports from the procurator fiscal in Glasgow, he had instructed —following consultation with the Attorney-General and having regard in particular to public interest— that no criminal proceedings would be instituted in Scotland—[Interruption]

I believe that that is the information that the hon. Gentleman asks me to confirm this afternoon. I do not consider that any action taken by the Law Officers or the police in this connection has had the effect suggested by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if security is compromised most people in this country would say that no one is above the law, not even the BBC?

It is obviously the duty of the Lord Advocate to see that the law is properly enforced as it now stands.

Have the Government learnt any lessons from this rather squalid episode? As the Minister either cannot or will not respond to the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), will he tell the House which Minister is responsible for this aspect of policy and who will answer the fair question put by my hon. Friend?

This matter has been fully debated and the Lord Advocate is satisfied that the proper procedure for obtaining the search warrant was followed, and that the involvement of the procurator fiscal and the sheriff was in accordance with the established law of Scotland.

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

Foreshore Pollution

17.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has received representations from Edinburgh district council about his policy towards controlling pollution of the foreshore; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. and learned Friend has received no such representations from the council.

Although I recognise that the capitalist system stinks, why does the pong linger along Granton foreshore, an area which the Minister knows well? Is it the fault of the Lothian chemical works, or does the responsibility lie elsewhere? I remind the Minister that it is a serious matter and not to be sniffed at. We want an answer quickly.

The prime responsibility lies with the Forth river purification board and the district council. The industrial pollution inspectorate is undertaking monitoring as part of its enforcement role. Measurements have been made around the Lothian chemical company and the results were satisfactory, but, obviously, a close watch is being kept on these matters.

Regional Aid

18.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on current regional aid to industry in Scotland.

The net provision for regional assistance by the Scottish Office in 1987–88 is £120 million.

A recent opinion poll in Scotland suggested that 70 per cent. of Scots do not believe that the Government care, especially about jobs in industry. Does the Minister acknowledge that there has been a dramatic cut in regional development grant over the last few years from a peak of £339 million in 1982–83? Is he also aware of the chronic problems facing some sectors of the Scottish economy and some areas because of the need to restructure their industrial base over the next two or three years? Will he take seriously the problems of industry in Scotland, have discussions with Lord Young of Graffham, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and come up with an effective regional policy that will start to reduce in number the 330,000 Scots who still languish on the dole queues eight years after the Government were elected?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the dramatic success of the Government's economic policy in reducing unemployment in Scotland by some 55,000 this year. So far as regional assistance is concerned, this party needs no lessons from the Labour party, which slashed the regional assistance budget for Scotland in one year by 46 per cent. when it abolished the regional employment premium.

Will the Minister confirm that it is part of regional policy to attract the head offices of major corporations to Scotland and to maintain in Scotland the head offices of major corporations that are already there? In view of the Government fiasco over Guinness and Distillers, may we have an assurance that the same thing will not happen over Britoil? Is he aware that just a year ago the chief executive of Britoil told Glasgow Members that the company would not welcome a takeover, that it wanted the protection of the so-called golden share for at least five years, and that it was committed to staying in Glasgow? If the BP takeover succeeds, all that will be prejudiced. May we have an assurance that the Government, who can stop this takeover, will stop it?

I was not aware that BP had made a takeover bid for Britoil. It is desirable for company headquarters to remain in Scotland. Sadly, the nationalisation of many fine old Scottish companies took the headquarters of those companies forth of Scotland to the south of England. However, we are now developing the enterprise culture, as a result of which the number of companies in Scotland is expanding rapidly, and those companies will have large headquarters in Scotland in the future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, despite the fact that the standards of living of the Scots are far higher than those of people living in the east midlands, taxpayers in the east midlands, including my constituents, have to pay a huge subsidy to the Scots in the form of regional aid, which is not available to my constituents? Is it not time that Opposition Members stopped whingeing and wrote letters of thanks to my constituents, who are subsidising them?

It is certainly the case that the share of regional assistance going to Scotland has risen from 21 per cent. in 1979 to 31 per cent. of the total, but that reflects the special Scottish circumstances that have made it necessary. We are concerned to achieve value for money for United Kingdom taxpayers—and there, I am sure, I am at one with my hon. Friend.

When will the Minister carry out an investigation into abuses of regional aid in view of the correspondence that I recently sent him on two firms in the Cunninghame district?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter that is being closely considered at the moment. I hope to be able to write to him about it shortly.

School Boards

19.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many officials in his Department are currently engaged in assessing the merits of the response to his consultative document on school boards; and if he will make a statement.

It is for Ministers to make judgments about the merits of the arguments put to them.

Once again the Under-Secretary of State avoids the question. Will he say what criteria he uses to assess these responses and when he is likely to tell us the result? Will he once again confirm that in the responses there is no support whatever for the ceiling proposals and that these will be left out of the later legislation?

I can do better than that. I can direct the hon. Gentleman and anyone else who is interested to the House of Commons Library or to St. Andrew's House, where I have arranged for copies of all the submissions, other than those marked "confidential", to be available. There is no secret, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will find, after he has spent some days examining these responses, how impossible it is for us to make the kind of crude analysis that he requests.