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House of Commons

Wednesday 6 February 1991

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


British Railways

(No. 3) Bill-- [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time tomorrow.

Oral Answers to Questions


Gulf War Casualties

1. Mr. Harry Ewing : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the availability of national health service hospitals in Scotland to be used for the treatment of casualty victims of the Gulf war.

5. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what extra funds have been made available to health authorities in Scotland in respect of casualties arising from the Gulf war.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang) : Hospital beds in Scotland will be made available for the treatment of casualties from the Gulf. The number of casualties and their particular treatment needs will determine which hospitals become involved. It is, however, expected that the first hospitals in Scotland to be asked to receive casualties would be those in the Glasgow and Edinburgh areas. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State announced on 16 January, health boards will be reimbursed the full costs of treating any Gulf casualties.

Mr. Ewing : May I, in advance, pay my personal tribute to the doctors, nurses and all the other support and ancillary staff for the undoubted dedication that they will show the victims of this wholly unnecessary war? Will the Secretary of State give us his commitment and an absolute guarantee that the additional resources made available will not be clawed back and that the beds that will be made available will not be closed down after the emergency is over, in appreciation of the fact that there will be a continuing civilian emergency as a result of the operations and treatments that will have been delayed?

Mr. Lang : I am sure that the whole House will agree with the hon. Gentleman's tribute to the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff who may be involved in treating casualties from the Gulf, especially those in the medical and nursing professions who have gone to the Gulf to be available there. I am equally sure that most of the House would not agree with his reference to the conflict in the Gulf being unnecessary. I have made it clear that health

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boards will be reimbursed for the costs incurred. Clearly, the minimum disruption will be caused to waiting lists and other health board interests.

Mr. Dalyell : Are the maimed, the shockingly injured and the appallingly burnt, many of whom will suffer from long-term psychiatric damage, likely to be better treated than heroes of previous wars? Will the Secretary of State use his position in the British Cabinet to do everything possible to prevent a land war, to stop the inhuman bombing of Iraq and to accept with enthusiasm the tentative proposals put forward by the Iranians who will have to be locked into any stable settlement?

Mr. Lang : As the hon. Gentleman knows, the British Government are fully committed to assisting in the implementation of the United Nations resolutions. That is why our armed forces are in the Gulf. He may be assured that casualties will be given the best possible care and that the first priority will be to meet the needs of each individual casualty.

Mr. Bill Walker : Does my right hon. Friend agree that with so many Scots serving in the Gulf on behalf of the United Nations we should assure them that if any of them are injured and return to Scottish hospitals, they will be treated properly and effectively, as only Scots can look after their own? More importantly, will we remind them that, although for years Opposition Members have called on this House and others to support the United Nations, when the chips are down they have been found wanting?

Mr. Lang : I agree with my hon. Friend. Our first priority must be to ensure that all casualties from the Gulf receive the best possible care. An operations group in the Scottish Home and Health Department will oversee the arrangements.

Mr. John Marshall : Does my right hon. Friend agree that all the evidence since 2 August is that Saddam Hussein is an evil psychopath and that to give in to his blackmail would be wrong? Does he further agree that the number of casualties would be greater if we waited until Saddam Hussein had a nuclear deterrent, rather than dealt with him now? This unnecessary war has been brought about because Saddam Hussein felt it necessary to attack Kuwait.

Mr. Lang : I agree with my hon. Friend's every word. It is very much to the credit of the allied operation that every attempt has been made to minimise casualties to our own side and to minimise casualties to Iraq's civilian population.

Mr. Galbraith : May I return to the issue at stake--the question of casualties? Will the Secretary of State agree to make available the necessary moneys for the prompt treatment of all those patients whose operations will be delayed as a result of casualties from the war? Will the right hon. Gentleman also agree that many of the Gulf casualties will be disabled and will require long-term care and rehabilitation? Facilities for such care in Scotland are at best inadequate and, at worse, non-existent. Will the Secretary of State ask the health boards to identify the numbers requiring such care and the additional services required? Will he then provide the necessary finance to the health boards and the social workers to ensure the long-term care and rehabilitation not only of our service men, but of all other national health service patients?

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Mr. Lang : I have already made it clear that the health boards will be reimbursed the full cost of treating any Gulf casualties and, therefore, none of the funds allocated to those boards for their normal activities will be in any way displaced or jeopardised. As to the long-term treatment and rehabilitation needs of Gulf casualties, clearly every effort will be made to give the best possible attention to the needs of each individual casualty.

Farm Incomes

2. Mr. Andrew Welsh : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what are his latest estimates of farm incomes in Scotland ; and what financial steps he is taking to ensure the future viability of the agricultural industry.

Mr. Lang : Latest estimates of farm incomes in Scotland were published by my Department on 21 January and details were placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

I keep the financial health of the Scottish agricultural industry under regular review and will take what measures are necessary to ensure that the industry is able to compete effectively and to maintain its vital contribution to our rural areas.

Mr. Welsh : Is the Minister truly aware of the extent of the crisis currently facing the Scottish agricultural industry, with farm incomes at their lowest levels in real terms since the second world war, high interest rates, rising costs and a record number of farmers leaving the industry? Given that whatever threatens agriculture also threatens every rural community in Scotland, why has there been no main payment of the hill livestock compensatory amount--HLCA--to the much troubled livestock industry? Why is there no emergency package to prevent the modern-day clearances of the hills and upland areas of Scotland? When will the Government act for agriculture?

Mr. Lang : I certainly acknowledge that some sectors of the agricultural industry are going through a period of considerable financial difficulty. The Government are keen to respond to that--our record is one of good response. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the HLCA and, in 1990, £48 million was paid to 18,000 Scottish producers. We are keen to deal with HLCA as soon as we can and I hope that the form will be going out within the next few days.

Sir Hector Monro : May I thank my right hon. Friend for the help that he has given to farmers through the large increase in the suckler cow subsidy and through the advance payment of the sheep annual premium? Does he appreciate, however, that the cash flow of many farmers in the hills in particular depends upon the payment of the HLCA? I hope that he will be able to announce the figures soon and that that payment will be made as soon as possible.

Mr. Lang : I understand and share my hon. Friend's concern on this matter. He rightly drew attention to the sheep annual premium scheme--we were able to accelerate payments of that premium this year--and to the suckler cow premium scheme where we raised the level to the highest rate permitted in the less-favoured areas. I also acknowledge the need to get the funds out to the farmers as quickly as we can.

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Rural Economy, Fife

4. Mr. Menzies Campbell : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any proposals to sustain the rural economy in north-east Fife ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Allan Stewart) : On the most recent available figures, between 1984 and 1987 total employment in the north-east Fife travel-to-work area increased by 2.2 per cent.; since 1987 unemployment has been declining sharply in north- east Fife ; between 1981 and 1989 the population has grown by some 4.1 per cent.

The Government aim to build on those highly encouraging indicators of economic progress. Fife Enterprise, the local enterprise company for the Fife region, will be able to deliver the Government's economic development, training and environmental improvement programmes in a way which is best suited to the particular needs of the area.

Mr. Campbell : Does the Minister understand the contribution that the fishing industry makes to constituencies such as mine? Does he appreciate the resentment felt there and throughout fishing communities in Scotland at the folly of the eight-day tie-up rule? Was not that rule imposed on Scottish fishermen, at least in part, because of the culpable failure of the Government to produce an effective decommissioning scheme?

Mr. Stewart : I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that in negotiations the Government reduced the period from 10 to eight days. I must also point out the key need to conserve stocks in the North sea. I can reassure him on the general implications for the area. The business plan of Fife Enterprise emphasises the changing place of agriculture and fishing in the rural economy and gives a priority to the development of tourism and leisure. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be reassured about the strength of the economy of north-east Fife by the figures that I gave him in my answer.

Mr. Andy Stewart : Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's policy of providing a strong and diverse base for the Scottish economy helps all regions?

Mr. Allan Stewart : My hon. Friend is, of course, absolutely right. It is significant that Scotland is the only part of Britain where unemployment is lower than a year ago and that most commentators suggest that Scotland will have had one of the highest, if not the highest, rate of growth in 1990. NatWest has forecast that Scotland will have continuing growth in 1991.

Mr. McLeish : Is the Minister aware of the importance of Rosyth naval base to the whole of Fife, including north-east Fife? Is he also aware that the Prime Minister has said that he wants to examine closely the implications of closure of that base on Fife's economy? Will he give an assurance this afternoon that the Scottish Office will be fully involved in any such discussions and that the Secretary of State and all his ministerial team will take cognisance of what is happening? Will the Minister come back later and give an assessment of the implications for the Fife economy and the Scottish economy because there will be a dire effect on the local area as well as north-east Fife?

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Mr. Stewart : I appreciate the importance of the hon. Gentleman's point for the whole of Fife. I can confirm that no decision has been made to close Rosyth or, for that matter, any other naval base. The Government fully recognise the implications that any such closure would have for the economy. Those implications would be fully considered and examined by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, along with colleagues before any such decision was taken-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Dewar : I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me. My interest in the rural economy of north-east Fife is well known. To follow up the important point that the Minister made, he will be aware that there are strong signs that a Ministry of Defence working party has been established, apparently with the specific remit of closing the Rosyth naval base within the shortest possible time scale. Does that exist and is that its remit? What is the Scottish Office doing to ensure that any review of naval bases examines every option on its merits and does not prejudge the issue by putting Rosyth on a hit list of one?

Mr. Stewart : I share the hon. Gentleman's obvious regret that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Brown) has arrived just after his question was reached. May I assure the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) that, while I clearly cannot comment on alleged leaked documents, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be fully involved in any such discussions about Rosyth.

NHS Hospitals

6. Mr. Knox : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many (a) in-patients and (b) out-patients were treated in national health service hospitals in Scotland in the most recent year for which figures are available ; and what the figures were in 1979.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth) : The number of out-patient attendances and in-patients treated has increased by a staggering 900,000 a year compared with 1979.

Mr. Knox : Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures above all others show the improvement in the national health service in Scotland since 1979, because they concern patients--human beings who have been treated?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only are we treating almost a million more patients but we have increased the number of doctors by about 9 per cent. and the number of nurses by 14 per cent. ; and expenditure has risen from £1 billion to more than £3 billion, which represents an increase of a third, over and above prices. That is the extent of the Government's commitment to the national health service.

Mr. Wray : As 40 per cent. of Scottish troops are in the front line and as it is estimated that we shall need 7,500 beds for them, and as thousands of people have given blood since that announcement, how does the Minister differentiate between blood for the Gulf troops and blood to be sold to the private sector?

Mr. Forsyth : As one who has given blood as part of the appeal by the blood transfusion service-- [Interruption.]

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Mr. Speaker : Order.

Mr. Forsyth : I do not think that this should be a matter of controversy between us. I urge others to register as donors, if they have not already done so as part of the blood transfusion service appeal. The majority of blood donors will take the same view as I do--that blood is freely given to save lives wherever those lives are being saved.

Mr. Riddick : I start by congratulating my hon. Friend-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is Question Time.

Mr. Riddick : May I congratulate my hon. Friend and all his colleagues on the excellent opinion poll in yesterday's newspapers which showed that the Conservative party-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. This is Scottish Question Time.

Mr. Riddick : May I suggest to my hon. Friend that one of the reasons for the excellent showing in the opinion polls in Scotland is the Government's increasing investment in the national health service there? Does he agree that the surest way of ensuring greater patient care and more investment in Scottish hospitals is the re-election of a Conservative Government at the next general election?

Mr. Forsyth : Surprising as it might seem, my hon. Friend was referring to an opinion poll in Scotland. It is certainly good news. I have no doubt that there are various reasons for it, but the sort of behaviour that we are witnessing today among Opposition Members, who are trying to frustrate our telling the good news about the health service, is doubtless a contributory factor.

Orkney and Shetland Ferries

7. Mr. Wallace : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received regarding the Government subvention on the ferry services to Orkney and Shetland in 1991-92.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton) : I discussed the issue of the subvention to ferryservices with representatives of Orkney and Shetland islands councils on 25 January and my right hon. Friend and I continue to receive written representations from organisations and individuals.

Mr. Wallace : The Minister will know that he and the Secretary of State have acknowledged that freight charge increases of more than 20 per cent. are bound to have a damaging impact on the local economy and that there may well be a need in the longer term to review the operation of the current subvention. Will he accept that we have an immediate problem and that P and O has not come up with anything in response to requests to review its projections for the year? If the economies of the islands are not to be damaged in coming months, help is needed, and that help can come only from the department. What is the Minister prepared to do about that?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : We have increased the subsidy by 17.5 per cent. and we have offered to review the situation in the summer to make certain that if P and O's estimates are wrong--we believe that they may well be

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--we can make some form of arrangement to ensure that the full subsidy is paid--in line with the hon. Gentleman's request. As for a different type of subsidy, I made it clear to the islands council representatives that if they want to put forward proposals we shall examine them carefully. This system has served the islands well in the past.

Primary Schools (National Tests)

8. Mr. Malcolm Bruce : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the introduction of national tests in primary schools.

Mr. Lang : More than 100 representations about the introduction of national tests in primary schools have been received in the last three months.

Mr. Bruce : Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that, having been given the chance to choose, parents are overwhelmingly saying that they do not want his national test and that he should now scrap it in favour of co-operation with parents and teachers to meet the genuine demand for diagnostic testing which everybody wants and which can be integral to the five-to-14 programme? Does he agree that that would be a constructive way forward which showed that he believes in parental choice, even when parents do not choose what he offers?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman was not listening clearly to my answer. The figure that I gave of 100 representations should be compared with the 430,000 children in primary schools. It is clear that the test process is part of the general improvement in the handling of the curriculum and assessment for primary school children. It is very much to their advantage and it benefits children, schools, teachers, parents and Scottish education.

Mr. Ingram : Has the Secretary of State studied the detailed survey that has been carried out in my constituency and organised by St. Leonard's PTA? That survey clearly shows that the overwhelming majority of parents are opposed to this scheme. Will he take account of that view and either guarantee here and now that parents will have the right, if they choose, to opt out of the testing or, more importantly, will he scrap the scheme altogether?

Mr. Lang : I find the hon. Gentleman's assessment of parental views incredible. These tests are for the benefit of children and Scottish education. They are a small part of an overall and continuing process of assessment and will lead to an improvement in the standards of education in Scottish primary schools.

Mr. Worthington : Does the Secretary of State accept the legal opinion of what a regional council should do about informing parents about the test? Is it in accordance with section 28 of the 1980 Act about children being educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents? There should be a tear-off slip on the form to allow parents to decide whether their children should be tested. The parents should be given a choice, and the school and the Secretary of State should abide by the decision of the parents.

Mr. Lang : It is reassuring to note that the Opposition are suddenly so concerned about parents' rights in

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education, having tried so hard for so long to deny them. It is relevant to remind the House that the Opposition did not oppose the regulations about national tests in primary schools, and did not oppose the provision in the Self-Governing Schools Etc. (Scotland) Act 1989 which brought them into being. I think that the Opposition believe, certainly English Opposition Members believe, that testing is a necessary part of education. Teaching without testing is like cooking without tasting or writing without reading. We cannot have one without the other.


10. Mr. Canavan : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what Scottish Office initiatives are planned to mark 1991 as the Year of Sport.

Mr. Michael Forsyth : I have found an extra £1.5 million to launch a pound-for-pound funding scheme for local sport club facilities, to help regenerate participation in school-age team sport and to provide for the redevelopment of the Glenmore Lodge training centre.

Mr. Canavan : When will the Minister make an announcement about the £320 million required to provide the new sports facilities that are recommended in the Scottish Sports Council's excellent document "Sports 2000"? Will the Minister respond to the report about school-age team sport, especially in view of his comments that competitive standards in team sports are a national disgrace? Will he do something about that other national disgrace, Hampden Park, by ensuring that adequate Government funding is provided either to improve Hampden Park or to replace it so that Scotland has a national stadium of which the Scots can be proud?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman should be aware that I made an announcement about those matters over the weekend in a speech which, I regret to say, was not reported, no doubt because it contained more good news. The "Sports 2000" document is addressed to government and local authorities. Local authorities have to respond to it and they would be in a better position to do that if people such as the hon. Gentleman paid their community charge.

The hon. Gentleman asks about team sport. If he had listened to my answer, he would have heard me say that I made £400,000 available for co- ordinators to be put in place to try to get team sport back and functioning. He also asked about Hampden Park. We have made it quite clear to the football authorities that we should like to see a new national stadium. They have still to decide the best way forward for that and the Government have said that they are prepared to help.

Mr. McAllion : Does the Minister remember that the Government once offered to contribute £8 million towards the cost of a new national stadium, although that offer was subsequently withdrawn? Index linked and allowing for inflation, that offer would be worth £20 million. Would not it be a valuable and worthwhile way to mark the year of sport to make that offer again? Will the Minister have discussions with the Scottish Football Authority about the best way to make an offer of £20 million towards the recreation of a new Hampden Park?

Mr. Forsyth : I have been having discussion with the SFA formally and informally on this matter for some time. At the splendid international at Murrayfield, I took the

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opportunity to have further discussions with the football authorities about this, and they are deciding the best way forward. It would be foolish to come to any conclusions about the Government's contribution in advance of any scheme being endorsed by the football authorities. The hon. Gentleman will, I think, find that a number of his hon. Friends share that view.

Mr. John D. Taylor : How much of the additional money that the Minister has announced will be made available to improve the standard of rugby in Scotland, in view of the probable defeat of Scotland by Ireland?

Mr. Forsyth : I had no idea that the right hon. Gentleman was such an optimist. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to what the rugby authorities have done to encourage youngsters to become involved in team sports, which has played no small part in achieving the splendid quality of rugby football that we have seen in recent years in Scotland.

Sir Hector Monro : I thank my hon. Friend for his pound-for-pound scheme, which will be valuable for sports facilities. When will he introduce regulations to give a fair deal to football clubs on valuation rating? Is he aware that of the two recent new grounds, Scunthorpe in England pays £12,000 and St. Johnstone in Perth pays £90,000? That cannot be fair? Will my hon. Friend take action?

Mr. Forsyth : My hon. Friend is on to something which has also been raised with me by the all-party sports group. At that time, I gave a clear commitment that we would take action. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), the Minister with responsibility for local government, is aware of this and we plan to meet the SFA to discuss how we can bring the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr. Wilson : Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that he is Minister with responsibility for the national health service in Scotland and for sport in Scotland on the ground that he cares as much about the one as about the other?

Will the hon. Gentleman stop avoiding responsibility for "Sports 2000" and tell us why the Scottish Sports Council, two and a half years after presenting its major strategy document to him, has not yet had the courtesy of a response from the Scottish Office? Will he stop passing the buck by saying--to pre-empt his answer--that the "Sports 2000" campaign is aimed at local authorities when in fact it is aimed at the Government and Government Departments? Given the Minister's dual role, will he acknowledge that the main thrust of that document was the establishment of the important link between sports participation, investment in sports facilities and public health in Scotland?

Mr. Forsyth : The hon. Gentleman arrived late to the meeting of the Scottish Association of Local Sports Councils on Saturday, which is no doubt why he missed my great unpublicised speech making it clear that we were committed to "Sports 2000" as an important working document setting out the future, addressed both to local government and to central Government. If the hon. Gentleman is not aware of it, I will repeat it once again. When the document was published, I met the chairman of the Sports Council, gave him our support and said that we saw this as a useful means for long-term planning. Our

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commitment to sports in Scotland is indeed as great as our commitment to the health service. That is why we increased funding for sports in Scotland by no less than 28 per cent. this year, just as we have increased funding to the health service by one third in real terms. Under the Labour Government, funding for both was cut.

Law Centres

11. Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he has any plans to create more law centres in Scotland.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : There are no plans at present to create more law centres in Scotland.

Mr. Vaz : Will the Minister join me in commending the work of the Castlemilk law centre in Scotland for its excellent work on behalf of the people of Scotland? Does he accept that the work load of the two law centres has increased dramatically over the past two years as a direct result of the Government's policies, especially in areas such as debt, housing and social security? Will the Minister undertake to come to the House with proposals to increase the number of law centres in Scotland, at the very least to the same number that currently exist per capita in England?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton : There are four law centres in Scotland. In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) in Committee in the summer, we changed the law to ensure that there was no statutory barrier to solicitors working in them and receiving a fee. That has all gone through. There is the Castlemilk law centre, to which the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) paid tribute, the Scottish child law centre, the Scottish legal services agency and the ethnic legal services project. If a local authority feels that there is a need for such a centre, it should submit an application for urban aid and we shall look upon it sympathetically because the law centres have an important role to play. The ethnic legal services project is funded through the urban programme. As I have already mentioned, we have changed the law to ensure that there is no statutory bar to further expansion.

Steel Plants

12. Mrs. Fyfe : To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has given to the Office of Fair Trading concerning expressions of interest from potential buyers of Scottish steel plants from British Steel.

Mr. Lang : I have given no information on potential buyers of Scottish steel plants to the Office of Fair Trading. The expressions of interest received by the Scottish Office were made in the strictest confidence and it would not be appropriate to release the details to third parties.

Mrs. Fyfe : Will the Minister explain further why he gives such an enormous advantage to British Steel? Does he think that the people of Scotland will ever forget that he preferred to put steel workers on the dole than to upset the board of British Steel?

Mr. Lang : British Steel's decision to close the hot strip mill at Ravenscraig and the Clydesdale tube works was taken by its board on commercial grounds. It is not a matter for the Government, who have no direct

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responsibility. My concern is to ensure that the economy of Lanarkshire and the rest of Scotland is in as healthy a state as can be achieved, and it is to that that I am bending my efforts.

Dr. Bray : Is the Minister aware that casual inquiries in the United States and Tokyo by Locate in Scotland or itinerant Ministers is not a serious sales effort and will he ensure that a proper sales prospectus is prepared for British Steel assets in Scotland?

Mr. Lang : The hon. Gentleman knows better than most that those assets are not mine to sell and I am not responsible for selling them. Nor is British Steel in such a dominant position as Opposition Members imply, when only some 17 per cent. of the capacity available to British Steel users is in the hands of British Steel.

Mr. Holt : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one thing that would help the Scottish steel industry in selling off its assets would be a clear, unequivocal undertaking from the Labour party that it would never seek to impose ministerial interference and renationalisation of that great industry?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend makes his point clearly and I fully understand his close interest in the steel industry.

Mr. Dewar : The exchanges that we have just heard suggest that the Secretary of State has given up the fight entirely. Is it still his position that the Government are challenging and attempting to reverse the decision to close the strip mill at Ravenscraig? Is he really prepared to tolerate a situation in which British Steel, in its prejudice, is blocking all expressions of interest in the purchase of the strip mill? Is not that a negation of competition policy? Knowing of such interest--it was the Secretary of State who revealed it--is he not prepared to do anything to test the market? Does he intend to allow British Steel to stifle competition in a way that cannot be in the public interest?

Mr. Lang : I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that the European Commission's competition directorate has given its provisional view that under the treaty of Paris the actions of British Steel are not anti- competitive. I think that he is also aware that the Director General of Fair Trading has concluded that on the basis of the evidence available to him at present, he has no reason to exercise his competition powers. Anyone wishing to bid for any of the assets of British Steel is free to approach British Steel and welcome to do so.

I have not given up--if there is any possibility of saving any steel jobs in Scotland, I am willing to help towards that end. The trade unions have decided to accept negotiations, and the Arthur D. Little report has said that the overall climate for steel investment in Scotland is not attractive and that Scotland is not well placed to compete. I think that most people in Scotland are realistic about the situation. I certainly regard my primary responsibility as being to help regenerate the economy of Lanarkshire.

Mr. Oppenheim : Did not the type of meddling now being advocated by Opposition Members for the steel industry result in a disastrously inefficient industry in the 1970s, and has not British Steel actually flourished since the politicians relinquished their grip? How can we take seriously professions of concern from Opposition

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Members when we remember that it was their union chums who led to the Ford plant going to Spain rather than to Dundee?

Mr. Lang : My hon. Friend is absolutely right and makes the point extremely well. Between 1975 and 1985, at today's prices, the taxpayer had to contribute no less than £14 billion--the equivalent of £25 million per week--to the steel industry. That did not improve competition, output, productivity or efficiency--all that it did was to prop up uncompetitive jobs at extreme cost to the taxpayer and considerable damage to other jobs in the economy.

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