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Column 565panic policy outcome of a chaotic response from the Secretary of State for Employment to training and enterprise councils in England and Wales.
Youth training is no better. The YT budget is being cut in this financial year by £164 million. The burden of expenditure is being passed to employers who have not been consulted about the fact that the £50 a week that trainees receive from the public purse is to be reduced to £33 by 1992-93. That will be a cut of one third of a billion pounds between 1990 and 1993. That will make the Government's plight even worse and that is why I believe that our concern for quality, which is at the centre of new clause 4, is crucial. I began by saying that the commercialisation of training programmes would have a devastating impact. I believe that the Government have got themselves into such a mess that it is our responsibility to expose the travesty of the current position, in which skill needs are so great and visible that they demand to be tackled.
I sincerely hope that the Minister of State will reconsider his position on quality. As my hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie stated clearly, confidence in the Government's ability to handle the skills crisis is draining away by the day. If the Government continue to heap chaos upon chaos, it will be the duty of a Labour Government, when we are elected, to clear up the mess, put skills training at the top of the political agenda and earmark a sufficient amount of investment which we can use in partnership with the private sector to tackle the needs of our young people, of adults and employer-based training where the greatest deficiency exists. I hope that my comments will be taken seriously and that we do not receive off-the-cuff complacent rhetoric which, when examined, does not stand up to scrutiny.
Mr. Watson : I also want to emphasise quality in training, because it is central to the provision of training. Recently, a number of horror stories have emerged and have been well publicised, of employment training schemes which have been abused and which, by definition, have been an abuse of public funds.
It is surprising that the Minister of State should come to the House with a proposal that training programmes will be kept "under continuous review" without specifying to our satisfaction just how that will be achieved. I cannot understand why the Minister of State should be unhappy with the proposal that an inspectorate should be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that there is high quality training in the Government's schemes.
On Second Reading, I referred to several cases of abuse of employment training schemes. The Minister told me then that, if there were cases of genuine abuse, the Government would do something about them once they had been investigated. I do not know whether the Minister of State can respond further to that when he replies, but I have heard nothing since Second Reading to the effect that the Government have responded to the cases which were raised in particular by the Glasgow Evening Times in a series of articles in October and November last year.
Those articles revealed abuses including the case of a number of people who were taken on ostensibly as landscape gardeners. However, they were given nothing to do other than to build a driveway at the home of the training manager. In another case drivers were trying to
Column 566get heavy goods vehicle licences to obtain work as lorry drivers or bus drivers. However, they simply had to ferry other ET workers back and forward every morning and evening and had nothing to do in between except twiddle their thumbs.
In another case, a young woman who wanted to learn secretarial skills to improve her chances of getting a job was given nothing but the most menial tasks. Perhaps most worrying of all, a number of completely unskilled people were taken on as security guards under an ET scheme. No doubt my colleagues from other parts of Scotland could give other examples of abuse. The underlying factor is that the policing of ET is far too lax. The emphasis is not on training. In too many cases, employers see ET as a lucrative business in which to be involved and they are not too concerned about training. The serious employers who are interested in providing training have shied away from Employment Training. Strathclyde university carried out a survey in November 1989 in which it contacted 106 companies in the private sector in Scotland. Those companies employed 80,000 people. Only 12 of them were participating in Employment Training. The other companies said that they did not consider Employment Training as meaningful training.
They also said that it was unlikely to produce the skills that they were looking for or that Employment Training did not meet their needs to the extent that they would rather involve themselves in other forms of training. That is an indictment of Employment Training which--I am prepared to give the Government the benefit of the doubt here--is intended genuinely to increase the chances of long-term unemployed and, increasingly, young people of gaining proper employment.
We must ensure that the training that is provided is of a high quality--or at least of a higher quality than has been offered hitherto. The Government's proposal to keep training schemes "under continuous review" will not achieve that end. A properly financed and resourced inspectorate with people who understand training and know what should be achieved from properly designed training programmes would be much more likely to act as a watchdog with teeth in that important area.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) has left the Chamber. [ Hon. Members :-- "We are not."] Well, my colleagues may not be sorry, but I am because he commented on the complaints procedure which will be open to Scots in terms of the training provided by Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the local enterprise companies that are set up through them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington) mentioned that there will be no recourse to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration for people in Scotland who wish to complain about the standard of training or
maladministration by local enterprise companies. I shall not rehearse my argument about the difference in the situation between Scotland and England, serious though it is.
However, the point that I would have made to the hon. Member for Tayside, North, had he been here, is that I am aware of the length of time in which it has been possible to raise such complaints through the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration in terms of Scottish training schemes. A letter from the parliamentary commissioner states there that there will be no "avenue of redress" for people in Scotland who are
Column 567"aggrieved at the way a local enterprise company has dealt with their affairs."
That is a serious matter. It is tied up with reviewing, monitoring and inspecting at close quarters the training that is available. I am similarly concerned about a further comment in the letter : "Scottish Office officials are considering the scope for an appropriate complaints mechanism for members of the public dissatisfied with the actions of local enterprise companies." We have heard nothing from the Minister of State about that, and I hope that he will take the opportunity to refer to it when he replies. Perhaps consideration is continuing, but it is important that people understand what system of redress is available, particularly because the Training Agency will continue to have responsibility for training schemes through TECs in England. Complaints raised through a training agency will be able to go to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and that is a much firmer fall-back for people in England and Wales than for people in Scotland. I look forward to receiving some assurance from the Minister on that point.
It is not a matter of trying to score political points over the Government. The training of young people and the long-term unemployed is much too important to become the victim of a political slanging match. I ask the Minister of State to accept that Opposition Members care deeply about training and think that it has an important role in trying to improve the employment prospects of many people who at the moment seem to have poor prospects, if any at all. If training is to fill the skills gap, it is vital that there is a proper watchdog with teeth and a proper back-up to make sure that quality exists. Without quality, no matter how many schemes there are, we will not improve the employment prospects for people in Scotland.
Mr. Lang : I hope that the debate has been useful. It is a pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) is not present to hear me thank him for a short and effective intervention based on his own substantial personal experience of these matters. I heard considerably more good sense from him than from other hon. Members.
The hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who unfortunately is not present either, made a thoughtful speech recognising the different complexions of training needs and skills in different parts of the country. I hope that he will reflect on what we are bringing forward through the local enterprise companies and through Scottish Enterprise to meet precisely those varieties of needs and skills. He talked about the compatibility of new clauses 11 and 4. Indeed, there is compatibility of policy intention : I hope that I made that clear at the outset. Our clause is more appropriate because it is worded in a more effective way. As I said earlier, the Opposition's new clause is defective in several respects. I emphasise to the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Mr. Worthington), who seemed to misunderstand the point of our new clause, that it expressly places a duty on Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to monitor the quality of training
Column 568provided by virtue of clause 2(3) (a) or (b) and it requires that the duty itself shall not be delegated. It cannot be delegated down to local enterprise companies.
The hon. Gentleman made several points, most of which we heard in Committee, but I cannot resist the temptation to reply to the last point that he made in Committee. He drew attention to a suggestion of mine when, as a Back Bencher in 1981, I called on the Scottish Development Agency to set up a training scheme in dry-stone dyking. He seemed to think that that was an absurd and preposterous notion. I refer the hon. Gentleman to page 38 of the last year's SDA report where he will find that, during the year, a scheme of local trainingships in dry-stone dyking was instituted. It may have taken some time for me to exert influence over the SDA, but in the end I succeeded. My constituency, and no doubt other parts of Scotland, will be better for it.
The hon. Gentleman launched into his characteristic attack on employment training. The scheme is very worthwhile. It is widely welcomed by the large number of people who are taking part in it. More than 26,000 people throughout Scotland are now in employment training. More than 18,000 people have started on training since the programme began. It is more effective than the community programme precisely because of the training component. Thirty-two per cent. of all employment training starters have been unemployed for more than two years. The figure is lower on the community programme.
Mr. Lang : The scheme is subject to increasing and more effective scrutiny. I shall refer to that point in more detail later. By comparison with the community programme that it replaces, it is engendering a greater skills component in the work force and delivering more effective results, for example for the long-term unemployed and people with long-term health problems or disabilities. Indeed, 33 per cent. of all entrants with training managers are women. That is an increase on the community programme. Also, 53 per cent. of leavers who complete training go into jobs or
self-employment, compared with 42 per cent. under the community programme. It is a more effective scheme, and we shall seek to make it better instead of castigating it.
Mr. McAllion : I draw the Minister of State's attention to an article in this week's edition of The Economist, which examines the Government's training proposals and deals with employment training and youth training schemes. It describes those schemes as "elementary low-level training for school drop-outs and for the long-term unemployed which are completely incapable of bridging the skills gap which faces Scotland and Britain."
How would the Minister of State reply to the authors of that article?
Mr. Lang : I shall read the article with great care. The scheme is aimed precisely at helping a particularly difficult to place and difficult to train section of the work force and is increasingly achieving results. A special national survey of trainees shows that between 75 and 80 per cent. either agreed or strongly agreed that employment training had increased their self-confidence and improved their chances of getting a job. Of course it will not deliver the best possible training to the highest possible level. There are
Column 569other ways in which that can be delivered. However, the scheme is meeting the needs of the client group to which it is directed. Instead of sniping at the scheme in a petty way, it would be more appropriate for Opposition Members to support it and to recognise the improvement that it offers for that group in society.
The whole point of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations' approach is that it was not recognised that employment training was about training for the unemployed, whereas the community programme was primarily a work experience programme. We are anxious to emphasise that training component. I urge those in the voluntary organisations to seek ways of introducing training elements into their activities and to make use of the facilities that the employment training programme can offer.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie raised again the old question of the relationship between the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for Employment. There is a national framework to ensure comparability of standards and equality of opportunity. The Government as whole will continue to develop and improve that framework, and the Secretary of State for Scotland will continue to contribute to that process.
Under the Scottish Enterprise proposals, the control of training in Scotland will rest with the Secretary of State for Scotland as from 1 April next year, and I will repeat the key points about that. Whereas the Training Agency has been responsible to the Secretary of State for Employment, Scottish Enterprise and for Highlands and Islands Enterprise will be responsible to the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Whereas the funding of training in Scotland has been the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Employment in consultation with my right hon. and learned Friend, the funding for Scottish Enterprise and for Highlands and Islands Enterprise will be provided by the Secretary of State for Scotland. He will duly consult the Secretary of State for Employment and, of course, the Treasury about the appropriate level of provision, to ensure broad consistency of approach throughout Britain.
Mr. McAllion : The Minister says that the funding for the new enterprise companies will come from the Scottish Office. The allegation is made in the article to which I referred in my previous intervention that 90 per cent. of the funding going into the new enterprise organisations will be money transferred directly from employment training and the youth training scheme, and will not provide the training bodies with the resources that they will need if they are to introduce high-level training to meet the economic needs of Scotland.
Mr. Lang : The figure that the hon. Gentleman gives is not correct ; it is a smaller proportion of the total, nearer 70 than 90 per cent. In any event, that is central Government funding. In addition, there is the opportunity to attract private sector funding to lever in more private sector commitment, and I shall give figures on that later.
Mr. Worthington : As the Minister is aware, these bodies are modelled on private companies in the United States. They have been transplanted here. The most successful of those private bodies in the United States--this is revealed
Column 570in the article in The Economist , to which reference has been made--have attracted 5 per cent. of their funds from private sources.
Mr. Lang : Opposition Members love to repeat the myth that what we are doing in this country derives from what is going on in the United States. I visited a number of training activities in New England when I was in the United States. I was interested in what they were doing, but it was clear that they did not begin to come near to living up to the comprehensive approach that we are taking to employment, economic development and training. The relationship is lodged in the minds and imaginations of Opposition Members.
On the question of the relationship between ourselves and the Department of Employment, the hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie said in Committee that it was important for us to have compatible training schemes throughout the United Kingdom, but that that did not mean having identical schemes. That is precisely what we are seeking to achieve.
The hon. Gentleman questioned the adequacy of monitoring. That is an important point, which goes to the heart of what we are doing in the new clause. Organisations providing training under YTS and employment training must achieve approved training organisation status. Contracts with organisations that fail to meet ATO standards will not be renewed. Seven criteria govern that status : identification training needs ; training designed and delivered to national standards ; effective quality management ; recruitment selection and competence of staff ; equal opportunities ; health, safety and suitability of premises and equipment ; and financial viability.
There are 115 Training Agency staff in Scotland involved in checking on the attainment of ATO status and monitoring the performance of the training provided. Frequent visits to training agents and training managers are undertaken on a sampling basis and detailed reports are produced for action by training providers. The Training Agency also carries out financial checks on all training providers and employs independent consultants to undertake a range of quality development tasks. In addition, six training standards inspectors are employed in Scotland to act independently of the Training Agency's line management to scrutinise the provision of training providers.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie asked how many ATOs there were in Scotland. The figure that I gave in answer to a written question some weeks ago was a total of 387 for the youth training scheme. For employment training, the arrangements are still being developed. The 226 training agents and managers are currently going through the approval process. The youth training figures are now somewhere nearer to 400 than the 387 that I mentioned.
Mr. Lang : That is correct, but far from that being a bull point for the Opposition, it reflects the thoroughness and care with which these matters are being developed. In due course, ATO status will be reached and it will be an achievement worth reaching.
Column 571The hon. Gentleman mentioned the recontracting arrangements that are now taking place. Revised employment training contracts are necessary to effect the new flexibilities for employment training that we have announced and which, although grudgingly, Opposition Members have welcomed. The recontracting process is being carried out as quickly as possible to introduce changes that will benefit both providers and trainees. For the vast majority of providers it will not be a difficult process, and it will be largely complete by the end of the month. Negotiations with any remaining providers can be extended to the end of May.
The simplification of the funding basis to a single unit price will mean less bureaucracy and more flexibility for providers. The need to remove underutilised capacity is in both the Government's and the providers' interest, and I believe that the measure is sensible. An important point on which Opposition Members should reflect when they say that it demonstrates that Scotland has somehow failed to develop a new departure from the rest of the United Kingdom is that the transfer of responsibility for training matters is not due to take place until 1 April 1991.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Watson) mentioned complaints about employment training schemes. As I have said before, the Government and the Training Agency are ready to investigate fully any such complaint. I encourage any hon. Member who receives or uncovers evidence of abuse to report anything suspicious to the Training Agency or to me. All the issues raised by the Glasgow Evening Times have been investigated, and I am satisfied that there has been no serious abuse of the employment training scheme. Some minor matters of concern were identified, and have now been rectified.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : The Minister has just issued a remarkable statement--that the serious allegations in the Glasgow Evening Times were not justified. I can hardly conceive that, if that is his conclusion and if the findings of the investigation were as he described, the Minister will not be asking the newspaper for a full apology and retraction, such was the seriousness of the allegations. The Minister cannot just brush them away by saying that they were not true ; either he must do something about them, or the public will conclude--as I do--that every word was true. It is a serious slander of the journalist concerned to say with a snap of the fingers that the allegations were not true.
Mr. Lang : Far from its being a snap of the fingers, I am telling the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) the outcome of a thorough and detailed investigation. If I were to ask for an apology and for a retraction every time the Glasgow Evening Times said something that I found unattractive, unacceptable or inaccurate, it would have to run a column that would be an even more regular feature than the hon. Gentleman's column in the Glasgow Herald.
Mr. Watson : I did not understand the Minister to say that the allegations were not true. He said that he had found no evidence of serious abuse ; that means that there was some abuse. To what extent are the training managers who were identified in the report as responsible still undertaking schemes with Government approval?
Mr. Lang : The status of the training managers is currently under consideration. However, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any specific information now, because anything that I say might be prejudicial to any subsequent appeal.
Bodies that operate in a predominately commercial manner are excluded from the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Both Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise will be providing many commercial services. Training and enterprise companies south of the border will not be within the jurisdiction of the PCA either, although the Training Agency will be.
The main check on the activities of a local enterprise company will be through its contract. Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise will monitor compliance with the contract, and performance against targets. In addition, local enterprise companies will be obliged by the terms of their contracts to operate a complaints procedure, under which an individual with a complaint can be assured that his case will be considered by the chief executive of the enterprise company, and if necessary by the chairman. The Government will also want to monitor such complaints.
The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie raised the recurring question of training flexibilities. He seemed to be asking for evidence that our flexibilities were any different from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. The answer is that we are setting up the procedure to introduce flexibility. That flexibility will evolve and develop as the local enterprise companies get under way and develop the training schemes to meet the needs of their areas.
Opposition Members continually returned to the question of cost. I would like to see employers spending more on training : I am sure that we all recognise that training is the key to economic development and success in the 1990s and beyond. That will be even more true as we begin to face additional competition within the single European market and as we face the demographic trends that will reduce the number of young people coming into the work force. Although the recent report "Training in Britain" identified the need for more money to be spent by employers on training, it also showed that a considerable amount of training is being undertaken by employers and that they are playing a leading role. In 1986-87, some £33 billion was spent in Great Britain on training, involving 500 million trainee days. Some £18 billion of that total expenditure was incurred by employers. Nevertheless, I should like the private sector to spend more money on training. However, it is a bit rich for the Opposition to blame the Government for reducing expenditure on training. We have substantially increased the training budget. It has fallen slightly this year, just as the Scottish Development Agency's budget--the other component of Scottish Enterprise's budget--has been substantially increased.
It would be irresponsible of the Government not to take account of changing circumstances. An important factor to take into account is the significant decline in the number of young people entering the labour market. Together with the considerable improvement in employment prospects for young people, that will inevitably result in a reduced demand for youth training.
Column 573There has also been a welcome reduction in the number of long-term unemployed. That is decreasing even faster than unemployment generally. Moreover, more young people are entering higher education. Against that background, it is entirely right to take that fact into account when preparing our budgets.
Mr. Worthington : If there were any logic in the training cuts because of a decline in unemployment or in the number of young people, what is the logic of reducing the amount of money that is spent per training place?
Mr. Lang : We have to ensure that resources are allocated in the most cost-effective way. It is highly desirable that training programmes should use taxpayers' money both economically and effectively.
Expenditure in 1988 on adult labour market training and special youth measures as a percentage of gross domestic product shows that the United Kingdom is spending more on training than West Germany, Japan and the United States. When I look at our 1988-89 budget of £2.764 billion for all training schemes and compare it with the last year of the Labour Government, who spent only £471 million on training--one sixth, in cash terms, or one third, in real terms, of what we are spending now--I see that we need no lessons from the Opposition on the commitment of resources to training.
More people are in employment in Scotland than there were when the Labour Government left office. Unemployment is falling sharply. During the last three years, it has gone down by 170,000. The quality of training is crucial. The clause seeks to enhance the quality of training, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
(1) Where it appears to Highlands and Islands Enterprise that land within its area of operation (as defined by section 19 of this Act) is being neglected, or not used, or used in a manner inimicable, in that opinion of the body, to the furtherance of the economic and social well-being and development of the Highlands and Islands, Highlands and Islands Enterprise shall have power, with regard to the said land, to direct the owner, or, as the case may be, occupier, as to its future use.
(2)(a) Directions, made under subsection (1) above, may follow proposals
(i) by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, or
(ii) made to the Highlands and Islands Enterprise by interested parties, including (without prejudice to this generality) local authority councils, branches of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland, the Scottish Crofters' Union, and residents of the area in question.
(b) Highlands and Islands Enterprise may accept, reject, or, in consultation with the proposers, amend proposals made under subparagraph (2)(a)(ii) above.
(3) In making directions under subsection (1) above, Highlands and Islands Enterprise shall have particular regard to
(a) the prospects of real gains in local incomes,
(b) increasing local employment opportunities,
(c) the general economic, social and cultural conditions of the area,
(d) the need to protect the environment and the natural beauty of the area, in accordance with section 4(4) of this Act.
Column 574(4)(a) Before making any directions under subsection (1) above, Highlands and Islands Enterprise shall state its reasons for those directions, setting out why it considers that, in the particular case, such directions would lead to changes in land use which would promote the development of the area, and
(b) shall make those reasons publicly available.'.-- [Mrs. Ray Michie.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean) : With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 5-- Misused Land -- Where it appears to Highlands and Islands Enterprise that land is misused, or used in a way which does not assist the economic and social development of its area and that action should be taken to bring the land (in this Act referred to as "misused land") into use, the body in question : (
(a) in accordance with arrangements approved by the Secretary of State, may request the owner of misused land to carry out on the land such works as appear to the body necessary to bring the land into use and may give such financial assistance to those works as the body deems expedient ; and
(b) if the request is not complied with, within a reasonable time, may acquire the misused land compulsorily.'.
Mrs. Michie : I welcome the opportunity to move new clause 1 on land use because there was little time to discuss the issue in Committee. The new clause is designed to strengthen the powers of Highlands and Islands Enterprise over land use. However, it is necessary to consider it in the context of the Minister's answers to my amendments on compulsory purchase and ownership of land in Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands. New clause 5 also refers to compulsory purchase.
The Minister painted a confusing picture. He said :
"The power, although rarely used, is necessary for the development function. The power of compulsory purchase is especially useful in dealing with land whose ownership is unknown or where the whereabouts of the owner are unknown."--[ Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 15 February 1990 ; c. 332.]
Yet I seem to recall that later in the debate the Minister sought to dub me a xenophobic socialist because I objected to the sale of Scottish land to the very people to whom he referred. At least I was able to establish without a shadow of doubt that the Minister and the Tory party do not really care if large parts of Scotland are sold off into the shadowy ownership of persons or companies registered in odd places around the world. The people of the highlands and islands were interested to hear his views. Even if he does not care, they care deeply about the land on which they live and what happens to it. The Minister came to my constituency and did me the courtesy of letting me know that he was coming. While he was there he attacked my views on the ownership of land, but he did me a service because he gave the issue considerable publicity and my constituents are now well aware of his views. Perhaps I may be able to stimulate the Minister's interest with the new clause, as he said in Committee that the use to which land was put was important.
Over the years, there has been a realisation that people's policies and endeavours in relation to areas of land can vary widely. What an owner may see as the right development for his or her own best interests may be
Column 575viewed as unacceptable by those concerned with the future and productivity of the land--in other words, local people. Too often, land is purchased as a speculative activity, pushing up the cost out of all proportion to the real value and so shutting out the less affluent people--mainly Scots--who want to live and work on it. Some estates are well run, but others are not. Some are changed for sporting or residential purposes, whereas others are just neglected, and land improvement or use becomes an unimportant aim. Inappropriate ownership can lead to the loss of rural jobs and thus to the loss of population and the running down of the area. I have seen an estate on which there was a tenant farmer, but where, when the tenant farmer ceased his tenancy, the farm was destocked and the shepherds and herdsmen had to leave. That meant that their families had to leave, so schools and local shops were closed. There was a serious knock-on effect.
The Minister said that the compulsory purchase powers in the Highlands and Islands Development Board Act 1965 were rarely used. He was right, but the real question is why. Over the years, the board has had a land use policy, but has never been able to implement it. No matter how conscious it has been of the misuse or underuse of land, it has been restricted by weak powers of compulsory purchase which were no better than those of a district council and were more suited to the aims of providing schools and roads than to providing a real economic injection and a complete overhaul of land use.
I am not convinced that the powers in the Bill are any better. I hope that the new clause will go a considerable way to rectify the problem. The new clause seeks to give Highlands and Islands Enterprise the power to direct the owner or occupier on the future use of the land to further the economic and social well-being of the highlands and islands. Proposals on land use could be brought forward not only by Highlands and Islands Enterprise, but by other interested and committed parties such as the Scottish Crofters Union, the National Farmers Union of Scotland and the residents of the area in question.
I recall that the Minister sought to ridicule my suggestion that, where appropriate, land could be handed over to crofters and young farmers for agriculture and rural development. At the time, I drew his attention to the fact that his noble Friend Lord Sanderson had agreed to look at the land owned by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland and at the possibility of transferring the Secretary of State's crofting estates into community trust ownership.
Mr. Lang : Before we lose sight of this point, does the hon. Lady accept that there is a difference between considering the possibility of transferring money owned by a Government Department to something such as a crofters' union and taking land from private ownership for distribution to individuals?
Returning to the point about compulsory purchase powers, I am seeking to point out that those powers were part of the Highlands and Islands Development Act, (Scotland) but could never be used. I will try to explain to the House later why it was thought necessary to use them.
Column 576Perhaps the Minister is now aware that the Secretary of State has produced a consultation document on this very subject. One of the most interesting parts of that document is where it poses the question whether the approach proposed by the Secretary of State should also be considered by other crofting landlords. I welcome the document, because it suggests that Lord Sanderson is addressing the issue, although his motives may not be entirely altruistic and may have more to do with administrative costs than with anything else. I am glad that the Scottish Crofters Union has employed consultants to advise it on the way in which it should consider the matter.
Mr. Wilson : To avoid having to go over the same ground again later, may I take it that both the hon. Lady and the Minister are aware of the meetings of crofters in the areas most immediately involved--in Skye and Raasay--at which there was distinct scepticism about that proposition? I hope that, in response to the hon. Lady, the Minister will give us the assurance that if the Secretary of State's tenants in those areas do not want to be transferred into another form of ownership, their views--like those of islanders in other places--will be paramount.