HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc1051-2
12. Mr. Maclennan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will introduce further measures to increase employment in the Highlands and Islands.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

The Government attach high priority to encouraging employment opportunities in the Highlands and Islands and will continue to support the efforts of the Highlands and Islands Development Board as the principal development agency in the area. In addition, the whole Highlands and Islands area benefits, as an assisted area, from a wide range of aid from the Government and the European Community.

Mr. Maclennan

In view of the collapse of the pulp mill at Invergordon, the non-progress on the gas-gathering pipeline, the failure of the aluminium smelter at Invergordon and the Government's refusal to implement the National Farmers Union's recommendations on an agriculture development programme for the Highlands, why should the House and the people of Scotland have any confidence that the future of the major employer left in the Highlands at Dounreay is in good hands?

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that successive Governments have made great efforts to attract investment to the Highlands, and much public financial support has been given to such projects. Projects have failed simply because, over a number of years, they have not been viable, despite the large amounts of public funds that have been made available. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Dounreay firm has a full work programme in support of the United Kingdom fast reactor project. It is, of course, premature to consider the future of any commercial fast reactor. However, Dounreay has a well-established site and a supportive community, and those are two important factors for the Government in deciding about the future.

Mr. Bill Walker

My hon. Friend will be aware that a large part of the highlands of Perthshire is not covered by the Highlands and Islands Development Board or by the Highlands region. In considering proposals to help the Highlands, will he bear in mind the highlands of Perthshire?

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, Sir; and we frequently do so, thanks to the urging of my hon. Friend.

Mr. Grimond

The Minister is not viewed in my constituency with the total disfavour with which he is viewed in the South—perhaps because he has given us assisted area status. Has he considered creating free ports or free enterprise zones in the Highlands?

Mr. Fletcher

We are now in a position to consider that matter, as we have two additional enterprise zones. In due course my right hon. Friend will make a statement about them.