HC Deb 26 July 1960 vol 627 cc1489-510

1.13 a.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

I wish to raise two points which affect my constituency. The first comes within the province of the Board of Trade, and I am glad to see the Parliamentary Secretary in his place. I make no apology for raising once more the question of the great need for industry in my constituency, particularly in that part of it which is covered by the Seventh District Council. I have already shown to the Parliamentary Secretary and other Ministers that in a little over ten years over 3,000 jobs have been lost in that area.

When we saw what would happen as a result of the closing of pits a number of years ago, Lanarkshire County Council sent a deputation to meet Ministers of the Board of Trade, the Scottish Office and the Ministry of Labour. In June, 1959, a demonstration from the area went to Edinburgh and a deputation was received by the Secretary of State for Scotland. In January this year a conference was held in the Seventh District Council area which was attended by representatives of the three Ministries concerned. It was decided to send a deputation to London. We were assured that the Secretary of State, the President of the Board of Lade and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour would be there to meet it, but very late in the day we were told that the President of the Board of Trade was not available for that meeting. The Parliamentary Secretary was there, and I am certain that he gave all the help that he could, but hon. Members can imagine that my constituents, travelling all that way having been promised that the President would be there, were very disappointed indeed to find that he was not.

On 24th March last year, a deputation came from the Lanarkshire County Council in connection with Lanarkshire's very great need for employment. Those deputations do not come on joyrides to London. They come because they are responsible people seriously perturbed about the lack of opportunity for employment in almost the whole of Lanarkshire.

Time and time again when I have raised this matter in the House I have been told 'by the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government cannot direct industry. I accept that. I have never asked them to direct industry into any part of my constituency. But when they have told me that they cannot direct industry they have always told me that they would do everything possible to help any industrialist interested in setting up industry in my constituency.

I asked the Secretary of State a Question on 8th December, 1959—whether he had any statement to make about the considerations which he had given to the points made by the deputation to St. Andrew's House. This is the Secretary of State's reply: I assure the hon. Lady that I recognise the gravity of the position at Shotts and am continuing to give it special consideration, in consultation with my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Labour."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 8th December, 1959; Vol. 615, c. 20.] So the Secretary of State himself used the word "gravity". He realises—but other Ministers do not—how grave indeed is the position in the area, not only at Shotts but in all the villages round about it.

I shall show tonight why I have completely lost faith in the protestations of the Secretary of State, the President of the Board of Trade or any of the other Ministers. During the General Election and during the passage of the Local Employment Bill we were promised very great movements of industry into those areas where there was serious unemployment. I remember it particularly during the election.

I will deal with the fate of two firms which made application—first, they went to D.A.T.A.C., and they were later passed on to B.O.T.A.C. for financial provision, later under the Local Employment Act. The first of the firms would have brought much-needed employment for women in my constituency—a constituency, like most mining constituencies, with little employment for women.

The firm was told finally when the application got through the very narrow pipeline that it could have a loan but no grant. This new firm has shown great initiative and great courage and has had some success. There is no doubt that, given the chance, it would become a most viable concern. The Board of Trade must have accepted that when it was willing to give the firm a loan. But the firm was denied a grant. The firm is unable, because it is such a young, new firm, to move into my area without a grant to tide it over the first year for the training of completely "green" labour.

The Parliamentary Secretary told me in a letter that for part of the time the loan would be without interest. But I am informed—the firm has kept very closely in touch with me—that the interest would amount to only a very few hundreds of pounds. It would be of little help in the training of this labour.

The second firm, on the advice of those who come to inquire into a D.A.T.A.C. loan, established itself at the other end of my constituency, near Glasgow. It applied for a loan, not for a grant, and was refused it. This firm will continue in my constituency, but it will take it very much longer to build up the full complement of labour which could have been built up very quickly if it had been given the loan for which it asked—a loan which it would have paid back.

On the second occasion, I asked for an interview with the President of the Board of Trade and was willing to meet him at any time from early Monday morning until Thursday at midnight, or even on Friday morning. He could not find even a few minutes. How I wish many of my constituents were so busy that they could not find a few minutes to deal with these matters, but they have 24 hours every day when all they can do is twiddle their thumbs because they can find no work at all.

I have always found the Parliamentary Secretary most courteous in these matters, and on the first occasion, when I took up the question of the firm refused the grant, I saw him without any difficulty. We discussed the matter but he told me that, according to the Local Employment Act, B.O.T.A.C. makes the decisions. I thought that I might be able to impress upon his right hon. Friend that that is not the case.

According to the Parliamentary Secretary, the President of the Board of Trade had abrogated all his power in these matters to this advisory committee, as had all of us as Members of Parliament. That is not the case. Section 4 of the Local Employment Act says: Where, in accordance with recommendations of the advisory committee… Note the word "recommendations". The Section goes on to state the things that the minister can do. One of them is that he can give a loan or grant provided that he is assured that the concern will be viable. I stressed the word "recommendations". It is not a decision of this Committee that is entailed. The Committee makes a recommendation to the President. It is quite wrong for any Minister at the Board of Trade to say that there is nothing he can do if B.O.T.A.C. makes a decision against an application.

I hope the House will realise that I have lost faith in these protestations after what has happened time and time again when an industrialist has shown interest in an area where, the Secretary of State says, the position is one of gravity and everything will be done to help it. The firm which sought the loan will now take longer to build up its complement of workers. The other firm, which would have brought much needed work to the women and girls in my constituency cannot come because it cannot have the grant for which it asked.

I want the Parliamentary Secretary to examine Section 4 of the Act and see whether he puts the same interpretation on it that I and many people do. If he comes to the conclusion that his right hon. Friend can alter a recommendation that is made by B.O.T.A.C., then there is a clear duty on his right hon. Friend to give help to these firms that have applied to bring work to my constituency.

The only other point I want to make is that we in this area, which has been so badly hit, have one industry in place of the three thousand jobs we lost, and we got that because a factory was lying vacant at the time an American firm was looking for work.

I asked a question today of the President of the Board of Trade. In answer to a supplementary question I was told a decision would soon be made. Will that decision be made before we rise for the Summer Recess? Will we know what the decision is? If the decision is to build more advance factories—and I hope it is not only one for Scotland—will we be told before we rise where thy are to go? It seems of the greatest importance, particularly when one sees the figures that have been given for unemployment in Scotland only last week, where the drop was much less in Scotland than in any other single area in Britain. We are down by a little more than two hundred, but unemployment among our youth has gone up to over five thousand. The decision ought to be made very quickly indeed.

I have a few words to say on a different subject. I presented a Petition today about a by-pass road to Harthill. This Glasgow-Edinburgh road was completed, I understand, in 1936. It was built to take up unemployment at that time. I think that about 1938 it was proposed that a by-pass should be made around this village. We are now in 1960, and the Secretary of State can give no indication when this village is going to be by-passed.

I know that a great many accidents to pedestrians, some fatal, have taken place, particularly to children. When I try to make out a case I hope to give as many facts to back it up as I can. I asked my agent to get all the statistics he could from the two police authorities concerned. One little stretch is in West Lothian. He got without difficulty the number of accidents since 1956 for that little stretch, but from Lanarkshire he could not get the figures at all. He was told that we would get them from St. Andrew's House. I got in touch with St. Andrew's House and was informed that it would take six weeks to get the figures from 1945 to 1960. I think that is disgraceful. I was told that the Home Office did not think it worth while to ask Lanarkshire police to look out these figures. It was known that the death rate was high, and surely that was enough.

My point is that the Secretary of State has decided to make a double carriageway from Baillieston to Newhouse. The Joint Under-Secretary has told me there are more accidents on this road, and I accept that. I accept that many of the accidents are caused by cars running into each other as they come out of the side roads, but the people who are driving those cars are adult and have to accept responsibility for driving with greater care. I am concerned about the children.

The traffic flow on the road is 7,000 vehicles a day and the chief of police of the area has said that on the occasion of a sporting or other event in Glasgow or Edinburgh, the road is like a race track, pedestrians having a thin time.

The Secretary of State should announce as quickly as possible that, as Minister of Transport for Scotland, he intends to build a by-pass to divert this traffic. The committee interested in this matter represents all the responsible people in the village. They feel, and they have expressed their feeling to me, that the right hon. Gentleman's decision to make a dual carriageway has been taken so that he will be able to show the people of Scotland that some work is being done on some roads, but he is choosing the cheapest part of the road on which to do it.

The lives of children and old people are of the greatest importance and I have been asked to express as forcefully as possible the hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will be able to tell us that the right hon. Gentleman intends to do something about this by-pass.

1.32 a.m.

Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)

My point is addressed directly to the Board of Trade and I am grateful that the Parliamentary Secretary is here at this very late hour. As there are still other hon. Members who wish to speak, I will be as brief as possible.

The subject with which I am concerned relates to a group of industrial buildings about which the Parliamentary Secretary has already heard. The buildings belong to the Admiralty and not to the Board of Trade, but in effect the Admiralty has passed responsibility for them to the Board of Trade in the hope that the Board of Trade will be able to do something about them, either selling them or having them taken over by Scottish Industrial Estates to be run as an industrial estate. Although this is Admiralty property, the problem is very much a Board of Trade problem.

The group of buildings about which I am concerned is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Timmons) and are at Carfin in North Lanarkshire, part of the area about which my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) spoke so ably. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell is not here, else he would have been putting the case which I am now making.

The buildings were erected by the Admiralty initially for storage purposes and are very extensive. They cover more than 400,000 square feet of floor space and there are 14 bays, each of some 30,000 square feet, in the main buildings. Having visited the buildings with my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell last week, I can say that they are substantial and in excellent condition. The walls are substantial and are probably 18-inch walls. There is corrugated asbestos roofing and there are high doors. The light does not come from the roof but from double windows along both long walls. It is not as bright perhaps as some of the more modern factories, but there is considerable natural light. In addition, there are facilities for providing artificial light.

This group of buildings stands in a considerable area of ground which could be utilised for further development. In addition to the bays which I have described, there is a block of offices. There is also a transformer system, so there is an abundance of electric power. There is a building which was formerly used for canteen purposes, a building which was formerly used for surgery purposes, and some of the buildings are equipped with overhead cranes. In three of the higher bays—bays with a roof clearance of more than 20 ft.—there are overhead cranes. There are five of these 6-ton overhead electrically-driven cranes, and I am told that they can move the whole length of the bays in which they are situated.

All these buildings are linked with a rail system which leads directly on to the main railway line which runs directly North and South. In addition, there are on the premises two pugs, a steam pug and a diesel pug, so there are ample facilities and equipment.

The buildings are excellently sited from an industrial point of view. They are almost within a stone's throw of the great stripmill about which we have heard so much. Actually, it can be seen across the way, and the railway line leading from those industrial buildings leads directly on to the railway line that will go directly into the Colville stripmill.

These buildings are centrally sited. They are within a few miles of Glasgow and the Clyde, and within a few miles of Edinburgh, Grangemouth, Leith and the Forth leading out to the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. They are situated on the railway line leading South for the purposes of rail transport, and they are situated on the road leading South for the purposes of road transport. In fact, it would be difficult to think of a more central site.

The buildings are within a few miles of Bathgate where the British Motor Corporation is to erect its tractor factory, and on the other side it is within a few miles of Renfrew and Paisley where we hope the Rootes people will erect their motorcar factory. It is a central site and for the life of me I cannot see why vie facilities there cannot be utilised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell and I have been to see the President of the Board of Trade. We have been to see the Admiralty. We have raised the matter by letter. We have raised it in the House. We are told that the Admiralty cannot sell the property, and that the Board of Trade cannot dispose of it.

The Board of Trade told us that it had had about 20 inquiries about this site. It has shown about 20 firms over the site, or mentioned it to 20 firms. I have looked at the very few names we have been given of firms which have inquiried about this property. I think it can fairly be said that, with one exception, none of those firms have come to Scotland. It therefore seems that they were not very keen in the first place. The one exception is a firm which has gone to another part of Scotland, and my information is that this firm was already tied up with another part of Scotland before it was told about this group of buildings.

We understand that there is a likelihood of these buildings being sold to a whisky firm for the purpose of storing whisky. I have nothing against the whisky trade. I appreciate, as do my hon. Friends, the importance of whisky to this country and to Scotland. We appreciate some of the difficulties which have confronted whisky firms, notably the fires in Glasgow. I say to the Parliamentary Secretary with all the emphasis that I can command that if those premises are passed over to a whisky firm, sterilised from an employment point of view, it will cause very serious feeling in this part of Lanarkshire, and, indeed, in industrial Scotland.

I cannot accept—I say this quite frankly to the hon. Gentleman, and I have said it to the President of the Board of Trade and to the representatives of the Admiralty—that the buildings are fit for no other purpose than storage. They are excellent buildings. I know that there is a little difficulty in that the buildings are steam heated from a central boiler house, but there is ample electric power and they could be very easily and quite cheaply space heated by that power which is readily available.

There are two things I want to say to the Parliamentary Secretary. The first is do not sell those buildings for whisky storage purposes, and at least hold up the matter for six months. Secondly, give the buildings a chance. Send someone to see them who is not prejudiced against them and who has no bias against them. Let my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell and me accompany that person. Let it be pointed out to us what the deficiencies are. I am pleading that the buildings should be properly inspected from the standpoint of their suitability for industrial purposes. I repeat, do not sell the buildings now and let them be properly inspected.

If we are convinced that the deficiencies are such that the buildings cannot be utilised for industrial purposes except at very considerable expense we will accept the position gracefully, but we are very far from satisfied that that is the case now. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that he will do what I have asked. This is an industrial area and much benefit might accrue to it if the buildings are properly utilised.

1.43 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. John Rodgers)

I am sure that no one on either side of the House is unaware of the gravity—and I use the word advisedly—of the unemployment situation in Scotland. We have debated it often and it comes up regularly at Question Time. We are all aware that Scotland as a whole, with its 69,000 unemployed representing 3.2 per cent., is an area where we need to stimulate activity, both within Scotland and by helping to steer firms from England into Scotland, and, indeed, attract investment from abroad—from America, Canada and other places.

We are doing our best, and I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) was a little less than fair about the matter. The indications are that the powers under the new Bill are beginning to work. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade recently gave the figures of employment that is likely to accrue for over 30,000 people. That prospect is growing all the time and there are other projects coming along.

Although the present position is not good enough—and it is no use pretending that it is—things are happening and good news will be coming along from time to time which, we hope, will help to allay the apprehension in the minds of many hon. Members, particularly of hon. Members opposite.

We accept, obviously, that the present employment situation in Shotts is not at all good. The average level of unemployment for the last twelve months has been 5.3 per cent., which is worse than the Scottish average of 3.2 per cent. But it is only—I used the word "only" in no critical sense—392 people. I would point out that the B.M.C. project at Bathgate is only ten miles away. They will have to recruit at least 5,000 people for that factory, and they will have to bring in labour from outside the Bathgate area and the Shotts area is an obvious source of supply.

In addition, I can make one announcement which should please the hon. Lady. It is that Dunlops have recently been granted an I.D.C. at Whitburn, which is between Bathgate and Shotts, and should employ about 200 men, and that will help to alleviate the position. Other firms associated with B.M.C. are expected to follow, but I am not in a position to announce details because they are not yet final. So the picture is a little more rosy than the hon. Lady painted it.

Miss Herbison

I already knew about Dunlops, it was announced in the local Press at the week end. The hon. Member has referred to all the jobs, but it is not just a question of the unemployed in my area. There is also Coatbridge and Airdrie and all the villages round which are within a short distance of Bathgate and where there are high figures of unemployment. All these people cannot possibly hope to get work at Bathgate. It seems to me that much more work for the whole area is necessary.

Mr. Rodgers

I do not think there is any dispute between the hon. Lady and myself about that. We shall do our best to continue to pursue our policy of getting firms established in Scotland.

I wish to take up a point made by the hon. Lady about our powers under the Local Employment Act. She suggested that the Board of Trade should take power to override the recommendations of the B.O.T.A.C. Committee, or the old D.A.T.A.C. Committee as it was called when it came under the Treasury. I wish to point out that in the 1945 Distribution of Industry Act, passed by the Caretaker Government, it was laid down that, The Treasury may, in accordance with recommendations of an advisory committee appointed by them agree… Those are the exact words used in the 1945 Act. This limitation was accepted by the subsequent Labour Government and they made no attempt to alter it in 1950. The repetition of this provision in Section 4 of the Local Employment Act to which the hon. Lady drew my attention was not challenged by the Opposition when the Measure was going through the House. I am sure most hon. Members would agree on reflection that it is highly desirable that when the expenditure of substantial sums of public money is involved we should be able to place reliance on the advice of highly experienced people in these matters. When we lend tens of thousands of pounds and in some cases millions we want the best advice from business people about whether the undertaking is likely to be a success and viable once Government aid has been exhausted. This important Committee acts as a buffer between the Board of Trade and the company making the submission and we are right therefore to abide by its decisions, in fact we are bound to abide by them—

Miss Herbison


Mr. Rodgers

With respect, we have to abide by the recommendations of this Committee. I ought to point out that the Chairman is a Scotsman and two others of the five members are Scots. Therefore, if there is any bias it should be in favour of Scotland.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

Only three?

Mr. Rodgers

Only three. I admit that the other two are Sassenachs, but I think that three out of five is a large percentage. It would be wrong to bring political pressure to overrule a committee of experts whose job is to judge an application on its merits and recommend whether a grant or loan should be made. It has to advise us whether it thinks by its business judgment an undertaking is one to which we should grant public money.

Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)

The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the President of the Board of Trade under the Act cannot directly override a recommendation of the Committee, but he can ask the Committee to think again about any recommendation about a particular firm.

Mr. Rodgers

There have been several occasions on which the Committee has had second thoughts and has revised its original offer. During the motor car negotiations this has been a continuing process, not just one application, and we exercise our power in that way. We do not attempt to override the Committee at all, but the Committee is always willing to look at any case a second time, particularly if fresh facts are available or a man wants to alter his application.

Miss Herbison

I am sorry: but I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) nor with the Minister. I should like the Minister to say where in Section 4 there is a single word, or group of words, which makes it mandatory on the President of the Board of Trade willy-nilly to accept whatever decision is given.

The hon. Gentleman said these are businessmen, and he tried to soften that by saying that three out of the five are Scots. I do not care who they are so long as this may lead to work coming to my constituency. He said they have to consider this because public money is being spent. We on this side of the House are as careful about spending of public money as are hon. Members opposite. The hon. Gentleman said that these businessmen had to decide whether a venture would be viable and able to stand on its own. In the first case I gave they had decided that it would be viable and able to stand on its own. The only thing which prevented that factory coming to my constituency was this matter of a fairly small grant. If the Minister can ask the Committee to look again at an application, why, after all the protestations about the gravity of the situation and the desire for work there, could he not exercise this little right he says he has and ask that the project should be looked at again?

Mr. Rodgers

I am sorry that the hon. Lady anticipated me, because I was about to refer with these individual cases to which she referred. I think it would be quite improper for us to discuss individual cases, although I am always willing to discuss them in private with her, and have done so. I have all the details of the particular cases she mentioned. It is for the Committee to say whether an applicant is putting in enough of his money commensurate with what he expects the Government to put in and so on. It would be quite improper for me to go into the three particular cases she mentioned. I am willing to go into them with her in private, but it would be wrong to give reasons in public why an application was turned down, or even to the person concerned. There are very good reasons for that, which I have explained to the hon. Lady. On these three cases I must be excused for not attempting to say why grants or loans were not granted in the way to which the hon. Lady referred.

Miss Herbison

I am sorry to intervene again, but the hon. Gentleman has referred to three cases. I take it that the third case, about which I have not put in information, has also been turned down?

Mr. Rodgers

No. The third case is still under consideration. One of the other two cases was rejected and in the other a recommendation was made for a loan, plus another amount if the firm purchased a certain factory. There was a waiving of interest. I cannot go into more detail or say why it was felt that a larger grant should not be given. That is all I can say about these individual cases, although I am always happy to discuss them privately with the hon. Lady, if she wishes. I am convinced that the Committee looks at these cases very sympathetically. It is well qualified to do this work, and the evidence is quite good.

Taking Scotland as a whole, the Committee has recommended assistance in 68 cases, 55 under D.A.T.A.C. and 13 under B.O.T.A.C., which has been going for only four months. A total of 100 cases have been rejected and 50 are still under consideration.

We are not satisfied with the position and we think that it should be improved. That is why my right hon. Friend said at Question Time today that the question of advance factories was actively under consideration. We think that up to a point the experiment has succeeded. I announced in the House 18 months ago that it would be undertaken as an experiment, and we have been very pleased with the results of the experiment. I hope that we shall have some good news to give, although I am not in a position to give it tonight. Nor can I say whether we shall announce it before the House rises. Even if we do, we shall not be in a position before the House rises to say where the factories would be; there would need to be consultation about that with the Secretary of State for Scotland and others concerned.

Mr. Jay

Are all the advance factories now let which it was decided a year ago to provide?

Mr. Rodgers

No, but the prospects of a firm let in each case are quite good. One is awaiting a B.O.T.A.C. decision. We are confident that they will be let, but I cannot say at the moment that all three have been "buttoned up" and contracts signed.

The hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) raised the question of Carfin, which he rightly said is not a Board of Trade responsibility but is an Admiralty storage depôt or factory. We are merely doing our best at the Board of Trade to help to dispose of the property. It remains Admiralty property and it is the responsibility of the Admiralty to dispose of it as the hon. Member must have heard when he attended with a deputation to the Admiralty.

It was originally built as a naval depôt for storage purposes, and our information—this is expert information, not simply that of civil servants—is that it is not considered suitable for industrial purposes without very substantial modifications. That is not just our view or the view of the experts but also the view of the 20 or so industrialists to whom we have shown this storage depôt. Not one has been interested in taking it. We have tried actively to interest people in it and have taken them to see it; 20 firms have seen it but not one has been interested in it for production purposes. We have been able to interest them in it for the purpose for which it was originally built—namely, storage. The Admiralty is in the 'process of considering making the whole store available to a whisky firm for the storage of whisky.

I point out to the hon. Member with great sincerity that as a whisky store the depôt will employ about 100 people, which is about the same number as were employed there when it was used by the Admiralty. If we hold up this decision in another attempt to find a manufacturing concern interested in it for production purposes, as the hon. Member suggested, there might be some danger of losing even the 100 jobs which are likely to be created by using the depôt for the storage of whisky. Therefore, I cannot accept the hon. Member's suggestion that we should bring pressure to bear upon the Admiralty not to sell the establishment and that we should go into the whole question of whether it can be used as a manufacturing unit. Our advice is that it definitely cannot be used for that purpose. It was built as storage and, therefore, we consider that the Admiralty is right in trying to sell it.

Mr. Lawson

We are quite prepared to risk losing the 100 jobs. As we see it, there are no such 100 jobs. If the buildings are so unsuitable, why not satisfy us by arranging, for example, for my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. Timmons), myself and some of the local people to go over the buildings and be shown why they are unsuitable for industrial purposes? Why not hold up the sale, arrange a visit and point out the difficulties to us? We would be happy to have that done.

Mr. Rodgers

Much as I should like to satisfy the hon. Member, I cannot bring pressure upon the Admiralty to hold up the sale when the process has gone a long way—

Mr. Lawson

This definitely suggests to my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell and me that the buildings are not being given a square deal and that there has been prejudice from the start. Someone has visited the buildings and produced a biased report against them and there has been no proper inspection. If this is not true, why not have the proper inspection now?

Mr. Rodgers

I cannot accept the hon. Member's allegation. The store was built as a store. It was never built as a factory or a manufacturing unit. Therefore, the conclusion, I think, is that it is best used as a store. Our advice, I repeat, is that it cannot be used as a manufacturing unit without extensive modification, which would be uneconomic. This is the view not only of our experts, but of the 20 firms whose representatives have been taken to see this storage and who have all refused to be interested in it as a manufacturing unit but some of whom have expressed interest in it as storage, for which purpose it was built.

I do not quarrel with the hon. Member's description of the overhead cranes, heating, lighting, office accommodation and the like. What he said is true.

Mr. Lawson

How many of the 20 firms were interested in Scotland and have shown this by coming to Scotland?

Mr. Rodgers

Without notice, I could not say how many of the 20 firms are in Scot land now or were in Scotland at the time of their visit, but I shall be happy to try to find out if the hon. Member would like me to do so.

The place was built that way and the 100 jobs are important. This is more an Admiralty than a Board of Trade mater. We have used our offices and tried to sell the unit but have failed. Therefore, we must allow the Admiralty now to go ahead with its attempts to let this Carfin depôt for the purpose for which it was originally built, namely, storage, even of whisky.

2.3 a.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

I listened to the Petition presented this afternoon by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), and I listened to her speech tonight. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I recognise that the section of A.8 that runs through Harthill is not as safe as any of us would like, particularly for pedestrians. We have great sympathy with those who have suffered bereavement or injury on it. We also agree with the hon. Lady that a by-pass should be built. Tonight, the hon. Lady asked when it would be built. I am afraid that I cannot tell her that tonight, and I shall say why.

This is not just a matter of money. There are a number of steps that have to be taken which must inevitably take time before a scheme for building a by-pass can be started. Let me give them to her quite briefly.

As I think she knows, the existing Order was made in 1955. Apart from the fact that our standards of construction have gone up since then the big complication lies, as I think she is aware, in the improvements which are to be made to the road as a result of the development of the B.M.C. factory. In consequence we need to have the line of the road examined again, and, as my right hon. Friend told the hon. Lady on 16th June, we have arranged for consulting engineers to investigate the line of A.8 from Bathgate Junction to Hamlin. We expect to receive their report end recommendations fairly soon. Thereafter it looks as if a new trunk road order will have to be made, in which case the statutory procedure for making one will have to be gone through.

When my right hon. Friend has obtained power to carry out the scheme, the next thing will be the preparation of the detailed tender plans and specifications and the making of other consequential orders authorising improvements to side roads which, of course-as the House knows, takes a considerable time. That obviously cannot be done at once. So it is quite clear that there can be no question—this is the point the hon. Lady put—of substituting the Harthill by-pass for the scheme to improve the same road from Baillieston cross roads to Newhouse which is already in an advanced stage of preparation.

Turning for a moment to what the hon. Lady had to say about the difficulty of obtaining accident statstiics, especially those going back over a long period, for a particular section of road, perhaps I could just explain what the position is. The position is this, that with the help of the police the Scottish Home Department compiles statistics from returns which are sent to it by the police in a standard form. Those statistics are designed to produce general information about accidents rather than to provide complete information about accidents at specific points in the highway system. The way it works is this.

Each accident involving personal injury has the classification and number of the road recorded against it, and by using the code numbers for police divisions and the local authority, burgh and district, areas, it is possible to get information about limited sections of a road lying within the particular division or local authority area. What the Department cannot do is to isolate a particular stretch within the area such as Harthill, as the local authority district and the police division in which the village is situated cover much wider areas of the county. It is for those divisions and areas that the returns are made. So that the only way of getting information about specific lengths of roads is to ask the police to go through their records and extract it. That is bound to take time, of course, and the further back the hon. Lady wants the statistics for, the longer the time which will be required.

The hon. Lady asked for statistics originally—I may be wrong about this, but this is the impression I was given—back to the time the A8 was opened to traffic in Harthill, which was in 1931. I am told that allowing for the incidence of leave and other staffing difficulties the search would take several weeks and would mean interfering with other police duties, but even so, complete information further back than 1954 is not available. I hope the hon. Lady will accept that to get the information she wants even to 1954 would require a very considerable amount of work for the police.

Miss Herbison

I was informed those statistics were kept up to 1945. I accepted that. Then I was informed that to get them from 1945 to 1960 would take six weeks. I should like to know who calculated the six weeks, for the Under-Secretary must surely realise that figures ought to be available about a road which, I understand, is the worst, considering the length of it, for the deaths of pedestrians anywhere in Scotland.

Mr. Macpherson

I am trying to explain to the hon. Lady how these statistics are compiled. They are compiled by relation to particular local authority areas and police divisions. If a road cut across these divisions or came within them, the statistics would come from different divisions and different areas and it would be very difficult to compile those statistics. If at any time it was decided that it would be a good thing to have them for a particular area, then no doubt from that time on one could prepare them. But one cannot simply look up statistics for this unlimited stretch of road and say, "Here are the statistics." The only way one can do it is to refer the matter back to the various authorities concerned, but they do not have them and they would have to go back over their records in order to extract them.

Miss Herbison

Six weeks? I do not accept it.

Mr. Macpherson

Even taking the matter back to 1954, which is the year back to which they have complete statistics, would take a considerable time. It is difficult to see the point of putting the police to such trouble when we have up-to-date information over a number of years. I sent that information to the hon. Lady on 20th July. I can give her some more, some of which came to hand just after my letter was sent.

As I told the hon. Lady, during the period between 1st January, 1957, and 31st May, 1960, three adult pedestrians were killed in road accidents between Saltburgh and Harthill. In addition, one child was fatally injured and altogether there were 38 accidents in which 58 persons sustained injury. During the same period there were 25 accidents in Harthill itself, as a result of which 28 persons were injured, one fatally.

I went on to give accident particulars about the Baillieston to Newhouse stretch but for a slightly different period, I can now give these particulars for the same period. The figures are 86 accidents reported in which 141 persons sustained injury, 10 of which were fatal. The hon. Lady said that on the Baillieston—Newhouse stretch the accidents involved adults, whereas in Harthill they largely involved children.

Miss Herbison

The case that I was making was that in Harthill they are pedestrians who are knocked down and killed by cars, while in the Baillieston—Newhouse stretch it was a case of cars coming out far too speedily on to the main road and I said that it was time that motorists realised the danger. My constituents are mainly old people and children who cannot take care of themselves—pedestrians who are knocked down.

Mr. Macpherson

Perhaps I can develop this point, which is important. We agree that both the Baillieston-Newhouse scheme and the Harthill scheme are important. Even if it were thought that the Harthill scheme was more important, the ordinary priority could not be changed now. We hope that the Baillieston section will be ready to go to tender next year. For the reasons which I have already mentioned, it is not possible to reach the same stage on the Harthill bypass probably for at least two years. It would therefore be pointless to defer the Baillieston section to make way for the Harthill section, even if we could agree that the latter really should come first.

What were the considerations that were before us when we decided in 1957 that the Baillieston section should come first? We studied what would have to be done along the whole length of A.8 and examined the accident position over the previous three years. During this period on the 6½ miles of A.8 from Baillieston to Newhouse there were 184 accidents, of which 10 were fatal, and there were 134, of which 3 were fatal, on the 3 miles of A.8 which would be bypassed by Harthill.

The accident rate, of course, is not the sole decisive factor in determining priorities. In comparing the two lengths of road, other considerations obviously have to be taken into account, such as the risk of more serious accidents due to the fact that the Baillieston—Newhouse stretch is unrestricted by a speed limit whereas through Harthill itself there is a speed limit. There is the question of whether there are pedestrian footpaths, railings and so forth, the minor roads that are coining into the area, the usage of the road, the amount of local traffic as compared with medium and long distance traffic, and the amount of heavy traffic turning into the road. All this had to be taken into consideration. The hon. Lady mentioned the number of junctions. The difficulty there is that they are junctions of minor roads coming into a major road which is derestricted. All this had to be taken into account.

A decision between two alternatives of this kind can never be very clear-cut, but on the whole the facts in 1957 when the decision was made seem to me to justify the priority given to the Baillieston section.

There is, of course, also the question of cost, which the hon. Lady mentioned. I think she said that this was done because it was cheaper. It is true that it was a little cheaper—about one-tenth cheaper—but the costs have changed so much—there are also the additional costs concerned with the minor roads which come into the main road—that it may well be that the costs of the two roads, which have gone up very considerably since they were calculated, will turn out to be much the same.

But it was not primarily on the basis of costs that it was done. It was certainly partly on the cost incidence to accident rate ratio that the decision was taken, and for the other reasons that I have mentioned.

I would just say in conclusion that, while we gave preference in time to the Baillieston—Newhouse section, we agree with the hon. Lady that the Harthill bypass should be authorised as soon as possible, and I can give her the assurance that it is our intention to press on with the preliminary stages as quickly as possible.