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Forestry Policy

6. Sir Thomas Arnold: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about forestry policy. [10790]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: The main aims of our forestry policy are the sustainable management of our existing woods and forests and the steady expansion of tree cover to increase the many, diverse benefits that forests provide.

Sir Thomas Arnold: Has the framework document for the new forest enterprise agency been agreed, and is there a problem with defining the specific rate of return that the agency will be expected to achieve?

Mr. Robertson: The framework document is actively under consideration by Ministers at the moment, and my

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noble Friend the Minister with responsibility for agriculture, forestry and the environment, who is responsible for that matter, will bring forward a statement in the near future.

Mr. Foulkes: Is the Minister aware that vast areas of forest in my constituency in south Ayrshire would have to be destroyed if the electricity interconnector with Northern Ireland went ahead? In view of the alarm caused by the laying of the gas pipeline and the threat to the forest, as well as to the people on the south-west coast from the explosives in Beaufort's dyke, does he agree that there should be a third public inquiry into the undersea section of that interconnector before it is allowed to go ahead?

Mr. Robertson: I commend the hon. Gentleman for getting a question about Beaufort's dyke into a question about forestry. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton) was shaking his head in complete disbelief and I think that he summed up the feeling of the House.

Mr. William Ross: Leaving aside for a moment the fact that electricity lines need poles, can the Minister give the House any indication of what tonnages of softwood the Government would like to see produced in this country in 35 years hence, which is the length of time it takes a Sitka spruce tree to grow to available size? What quantities and tonnages of hardwoods will we need 100 years hence?

Mr. Robertson: Softwood is a particular concern of my noble Friend the Minister with responsibility for forestry, and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives a full reply from him as soon as possible.

Highlands and Islands

7. Mr. Macdonald: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the economic prospects for the highlands and islands in 1996-97. [10793]

Mr. Kynoch: They remain excellent.

Mr. Macdonald: Will the Minister confirm that funding for Highlands and Islands Enterprise will be cut by £3 million in the next financial year; that funding for the three main further education colleges will be cut by £500,00 next year; that funding on housing in the highlands will be slashed next year; and, of course, that funding for local authorities has also been reduced, by some £2 million in the case of the Western Isles? When the Minister comes to Inverness next Monday, will he take the opportunity to explain to the people of the highlands and islands that all those cuts into the economic muscle of the highlands are necessary to finance pre-election tax cuts?

Mr. Kynoch: The hon. Gentleman refers to Highlands and Islands Enterprise. That organisation has a budget for 1996-97 of some £75 million. In the round of public expenditure settlement that we have had, that is a very fair settlement. Clearly, Highlands and Islands Enterprise has the opportunity to lever in private sector funds from industry, which it now does. It is more than capable of maintaining levels of output and improving on them.

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The hon. Gentleman is perhaps unaware that we have increased funding to local government throughout Scotland by some 2.9 per cent. this year. With the reorganisation of local government, local authorities have a significant opportunity to deliver more cost-effective services. However, the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party seem intent on giving more money to local government. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) was on BBC Television's "Scottish Lobby" with me at the weekend and he said that, if the Labour party had been in office this year, it would have given an extra £200 million to local government in Scotland. Would he take that money from the health budget, the education budget or another budget?

Mr. Matthew Banks: Will my hon. Friend confirm that, in the current financial year, some 3,200 jobs will be created in the highlands and islands, very much along the lines of previous years? Is not it about time that we talked up the economic prospects of the highlands and islands rather than denigrated them as the Labour party does?

Mr. Kynoch: My hon. Friend is right. I know that he is a regular visitor to the highlands as a tourist. Tourism accounts for 20 per cent. of employment in the highlands and islands and is a significant contributor to the economy. I believe that there are remarkable success stories to tell in that area. For example, Selfcare in Inverness represents a major inward investment in the area and should be welcomed. We rarely hear good news from the Labour party.

Mrs. Ray Michie: The Minister will be aware that the economic prospects for Campbeltown and Kintyre in my constituency will be greatly enhanced once there is a ferry link between Campbeltown and Ballycastle. He will be aware that the Secretary of State has taken a particular interest in the matter. Is he able to give any indication about when a ferry operator will be chosen? I am sure that he agrees that it will be a marvellous thing for the entire area--Kintyre and Northern Ireland--and that it would be a nice thing to happen in the new peace climate.

Mr. Kynoch: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have great sympathy for the hon. Lady's case. My right hon. Friend must take proper advice before reaching a conclusion. At this stage, no proposals have been put to Ministers, but we will bear the hon. Lady's comments in mind when we consider them.

Campbell's Soups

8. Mr. Campbell-Savours: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received about the boycott of Campbell's tinned soups in Scotland. [10794]

Mr. Kynoch: None.

Mr. Campbell-Savours: The Minister will know that the campaign to boycott Campbell's soups and Fray Bentos products in Scotland has been extremely successful. He will also know of the appalling action taken by Campbell Soups to close down the extremely profitable Homepride factory in my constituency. Will he join me in asking those who are boycotting Campbell's soups in Scotland to buy Baxter's soups instead, which

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are made in the constituency of the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing)? Should not the slogan in Scotland be, "Boycott Campbell's and buy Baxter's"?

Mr. Kynoch: I know that the hon. Gentleman is waging a significant campaign on this issue and I read with great interest the remarks he made in the Adjournment debate on 6 November. I have a great deal of sympathy with much of what he said, but there is little that I can add to what my hon. Friend the then Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Evans), said at that time.

Mrs. Ewing: Madam Speaker, you will recognise the importance attached to all our fish and food processing organisations in the north-east of Scotland and their significance to the local economy. Given that, and the remarks made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), will the Minister explain what aspect of the Scottish Office budget will be allocated to promoting those high-quality goods, especially as they employ many people who give of their best to ensure high standards so that Scotland's name is recognised in the international community?

Mr. Kynoch: The hon. Lady is right about the importance of the food industry to Scotland. If she looks at what we are doing with Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Trade International, she will realise that significant efforts are put in to export assistance for the food industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched a cookery promotion at the boat show in London recently--I was not aware that he was an expert.

We take every opportunity to promote Scottish products. We also have Scotland The Brand and I know that companies in the hon. Lady's constituency--they have already been mentioned--have been involved. I believe that the local enterprise company in her constituency, Moray Badenoch and Strathspey Enterprise, is also involved. I participated in a promotion in Regent street just before Christmas. I believe that the Scottish Office is making every effort to ensure that the best of Scotland is promoted and exported in the interests of everyone.

Scottish Council (Development and Industry)

9. Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to meet representatives of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to discuss the trends in the Scottish economy; and if he will make a statement. [10795]

Mr. Michael Forsyth: I met representatives from the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) shortly after I was appointed and following my invitation to organisations throughout Scotland to meet me to discuss their concerns.

Mr. Salmond: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the 250 job losses at Buchan Meat in Turriff doubled local unemployment at a stroke? In a community the size of Turriff, it is the equivalent of thousands of job losses in an urban conurbation. Does he recognise that he should respond to that problem as a matter of national priority and not simply leave it to local agencies? Is he aware that

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the workers action committee in Buchan Meat is keen to advertise the fact that there are many excellent, expanding and profitable product lines in the factory, not least Boeuf D'Ecosse, a new packaged product that was to be trial launched on the French market in a £1 million venture this week? There are many products in that factory which would prove extremely attractive to alternative investment.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the message is that alternative investment in the people and products of the area will be warmly welcomed, but that those interested only in asset-stripping--removing machinery, products or jobs from the factory--will be as fiercely resisted in Turriff as they are in Workington?

Mr. Forsyth: I am sure that all hon. Members are well aware of the difficulties created in Turriff by the liquidation of Buchan Meat. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that Scottish Enterprise will be involved. Indeed, it and the local enterprise company tried to prevent the liquidation, albeit--unfortunately--unsuccessfully. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the impact the loss of jobs could have on Turriff and the surrounding areas--not least the farmers and others who are shareholders in the company.

I shall be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss what can be done. I shall ask Scottish Enterprise to pull out every stop--I know that it will--to try to ensure the continuation of local employment. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are great difficulties, but I am sure that, on this matter, we can be of one mind and share a single-minded determination to do what we can to prevent further job losses in his constituency.

Mr. Stewart: When my right hon. Friend next meets the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), will he ask it to carry out a full and objective economic analysis of the effect of a tartan tax on the Scottish economy? In particular, will he point out that the reason why Scottish Labour Members are so fanatical about a tartan tax is that they would not have to pay it? They would be at Westminster, on full pay, with nothing to do except speak on English matters--with no liability to pay the tartan tax.

Mr. Forsyth: I do not know whether this is correct, but I am told that even the people who work in Labour's research department in Scotland would not have to pay the tartan tax because they are paid from Walworth road. My hon. Friend has pointed out an anomaly--[Interruption.] I say to Labour Members who laugh and jeer about the tartan tax that it is not a joke. In the unlikely event of Labour ever getting into power to set up its tax-raising Scottish Parliament and introducing the tartan tax, the result would be £6 a week extra in tax for the average family. It would mean losing the family holiday and I do not think that most people in Scotland are prepared to give up their holidays to give politicians an opportunity to be put out to grass in Edinburgh.

Mr. Home Robertson: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that IBM is transferring the manufacture of its computer keyboards from LEMAC in Haddington to the far east, thereby destroying the jobs of 252 of my constituents? Why are the Government allowing that multinational giant to have free access to the European market without accepting responsibility for the low-paid

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employees of its contractors in Scotland? When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the council, will he discuss what the Government intend to do to create more jobs for my constituents in east Lothian?

Mr. Forsyth: The first thing that we are doing is resisting idiotic proposals such as a tartan tax, the social chapter or a minimum wage--all of which would add to employment costs. If the hon. Gentleman has begun to realise that jobs are mobile and that we must fight like tigers to get them, we may be making some progress with the unfortunate circumstances that exist in his constituency. When I met IBM recently to discuss inward investment, it became clear to me that we are in a fiercely competitive market and that we need a low tax, low regulation economy. The hon. Gentleman, with his support for a tax-raising Parliament, is the enemy of jobs in Scotland.

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