HC Deb 14 July 1965 vol 716 cc478-80
14. Mr. Rankin

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that the current proposals for Highland development will involve increased arterial drainage as a basic requirement for resettling people in the area; and what private contractors are available in the Highland area for this work as direct labour is being abandoned.

Mr. Ross

I do not know what proposals my hon. Friend has in mind, but in any case there are a number of contracting firms which undertake or could undertake arterial drainage work in the Highland area. If, in the event, it turned out that approved work could not be done for lack of contractors, I should be ready to consider making special arrangements.

Mr. Rankin

The important part of my Question refers to the fact that direct labour is being abandoned. Does my right hon. Friend recall that this provision was made in the Tory Land Drainage Act of 1958, which was condemned by the Opposition at that time by bell, book and candle and described as a mouse? I am certain that no one delivered more vigorous speeches against it than my right hon. Friend himself. Will he assure us that that provision is not to be put into effect and that our direct labour department will continue?

Mr. Ross

We are dealing here with a special department of which considerable use was made during the war and thereafter, but it was, in fact, a very small department, very little call has been made upon it, and it has really become quite uneconomic. But I give my hon. Friend the assurance that, where work requires to be done, which is the important matter, we are determined to ensure that there will be facilities available, either private or public, to enable the work to be done.

Mr. Edward M. Taylor

Does the Secretary of State agree that direct labour departments are usually very inefficient, and will he assure the House that in no circumstances will the Highland Development Board have a direct labour department of its own?

Mr. Ross

I could not agree with anything the hon. Gentleman has said on this question. Prejudice is a very poor guide in deciding on the desirability or otherwise of using direct labour departments in this field or in any other. This department was set up because we did not have private contractors. It worked well when there was work to be done. If, in the future, we do not find private contractors able to do the work which is required for the Highland Development Board, I hope that the Highland Development Board will have the power to ensure that it can do the work.