§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, for the convenience of the House, before we resume the debate of the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, I can inform the House that this debate should now end at six minutes past six.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard for initiating this debate this afternoon. I should also like to congratulate him on his interesting and well-informed speech.
May I also take a few moments of your Lordships' time to congratulate—along with other noble Lords—the particularly interesting and excellent maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Dundee. Those of us who were privileged to know, and be very fond of, his late father will welcome him as a very worthy son.
I should like to congratulate also the Highlands and Islands Development Board, for had we not had this debate today some of us might not have had the privilege of reading the report. The report was full of interest; it was instructive; it was, in my view, very encouraging and it gave vent to many imaginative schemes.
Since the age of 16, when I used to go shooting with my father, I have realised the beauty of Scotland, such as I have not found in any other part of the world. I saw that beauty in sunshine, rain or snow; in any temperature, I think as a country it is unsurpassed. The people from the part of Scotland with which the Highlands and Islands Board (which I shall now call HIDB) concerns itself need nurturing. Life can be very tough in some parts of Scotland.
1248 In the few minutes I have available to me I want to talk about three matters. First, I shall refer to tourism. Surely without tourism in this lovely country there can be no possible expansion. I was very pleased to read that in 1982 the tourist season had been better than that in 1981. While accommodation of all kinds and at all levels can be obtained at reasonable prices to encourage the tourists, the main method of transport is by road. I was very unhappy to read that the cost of petrol, for instance, is 15 per cent. more in Lochinvar than it is in Glasgow. That surely must be wrong. A lot of expansion has to take place with a view to encouraging tourists. For instance, there are proposals for three new marinas; there are proposals for three new yacht harbours; and there are proposals for 14 new yacht stations. There are increasing numbers of people, as I found out, from the southernmost parts of these islands who take to the sea in boats. Surely they should be encouraged to take their yachts and boats to Scotland and enjoy the fantastically idyllic panoramic views from sea to shore.
As a very ordinary Sassenach—who has only a quarter Scottish blood, but who was married to a Scot—I should like to say that I think visitors do not need very up-to-date methods of spending their days. I think they need the simple things of life. I think they go to Scotland to get away from the cities and for the walking, the loch fishing—if it is not too expensive—the sea fishing, and the ceilidhs at night, with the bagpipes and the dancing. These are surely enough to encourage all people to go not only from far afield but from England to Scotland. But transport is vital; not only for industry, not only for the tourist trade, but also to keep the population of the Highlands and Islands in their homes.
In some areas if you are elderly and cannot drive a car you are completely cut off in all seasons of the year. The HIDB continues to press for the early implementation of a system of ferry charges based upon the Road Equivalent Tariff, and a full implementation of the RET fares within a limited period because some ferries are not viable and have been discontinued. For instance, the Ardnamurchan to Tobermoray ferry has been discontinued, which means that the fishermen from Ardnamurchan or Tobermoray now have to take their fish for sale from Kilchoan—a round trip of 120 miles. I doubt very much if those who shut that particular ferry took that into account. The islands depend on ferry services, and I for one hope the HIDB will be successful in pressurising the Government for more financial aid for these ferries.
One method of getting to Scotland—which I do not happen to use, but which I should like to ask the Minister about—is the Stornoway airport, which was going to be enlarged only about a couple of years ago. Can the Minister possibly tell us whether this is still going to be so?
We must not forget that the most important resources in the Highlands and Islands are the people themselves. The HIDB can only do so much on its own. The Highlanders and the Islanders themselves need to take full advantage of all the help the board provides. The board has in the past—and I am sure will in the future—encourage to the best of its ability 1249 the small businesses on which the local population thrive.
A criticism which is, unfortunately, often levelled at the board is that it is too keen to offer financial assistance to incomers—that is, to people with no Highland connections or with only tenuous links with the area—but that it has been reluctant to assist those who have spent all their lives living and working locally. From what I can understand, this criticism is misconceived. The board does, of course assist non-Highland companies to develop in its area, and many good and secure jobs have been encouraged by its doing so; but the vast majority of the board assistance goes to local inhabitants. I understand, for example, that between 1971 and 1980, 80 per cent. by value of all board assistance went to people or businesses with addresses in the Highlands and Islands at the time of the applications.
I love this part of the world. I am looking forward to August when, as my late mother-in-law used to say, DV—which means God willing—I shall be visiting Inverness, Ullapool, Stornoway, Tarbert Uig, Mallaig, Ardnamurchan and Oban. I am hoping during that "wee tour" to see something of the work of the HIDB. I commend the board's report. I hope that the future is good for it.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, on his maiden speech. I feel particularly delighted because his father was Under-Secretary of State in the Scottish Office when my husband was Secretary of State in 1936 and 1937, and I knew him very well. I am sure that he would have been enormously proud of the speech that his son has delivered with such enthusiasm and such care. I hope that we shall hear the noble Earl often and that he will play an active part in your Lordships' House.
I should also like to thank my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard for initiating this debate. It is a long time since we have had a debate of this kind. When there are so many noble Lords who are such experts on Highland affairs, it is enormously interesting to hear what they have to say. I do not farm in the Highlands, but I spent a great deal of my childhood there. I used to go often with my parents on holidays in the Highlands. I remember it as one of the places that I loved best and enjoyed most on holiday.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Macleod that the report of the Highlands and Islands Development Board makes very good reading. It covers a vast area with a very sparse population. According to the report, there are 23 people per square mile in the Highlands and Islands compared with an average of 600 for Great Britain as a whole. Many communities live in remote areas. Transport is vital and also extremely expensive. In the language of the EC, these are less favoured areas. They should be treated as generously as other less favoured areas in Europe.
The variety of activity in the Highlands is enormous. I read with great interest of the crofting and fishing that are the oldest industries and also about tourism which has already been mentioned. All these activities are of vital importance and very popular. 1250 This admirable report, with its excellent illustrations, deals clearly with all of them. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, had to say about ski-ing. I have only a vague knowledge of what takes place at Aviemore because I am much too old to ski now. It is, however, interesting that ski-ing has developed on such a big scale. What the report says about fish farming is also excellent reading. There has been an increase in salmon farming from 1,133 tonnes in 1981 to 2,152 tonnes in 1982. It is good to read that there are hopes for continuing progress. There is also reference to the shellfish industry. There has been a great spread in the distribution of shellfish throughout Europe. To know that much of this development has taken place in the Highlands and Islands is extremely interesting.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Macleod about the importance of the small industries. The board distributes to people starting small industries what are really quite small sums of money compared to what is given in other parts of the world. The sum is up to, but no more than, £10,000. Someone able to start a new industry on so small a sum is certainly making a great contribution. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, who must know, I suppose, more about this area than almost anyone, having been for so long the Member in another place for Orkney and Shetland, has testified to the importance of what is happening in the Highlands and Islands and how important it is for the work to be supported.
The Highlander has a character of his own. He is a great individualist; he will not be pushed around by anyone. On the other hand, with help to which he is able to respond, it means that help is being given to some of the most interesting characters in the United Kingdom. As the report states, the Highlander is being encouraged in every way possible. The job creation experience of the board is extremely good. The cost is much less than the many millions spent on job creation in other parts of the country. One development that I should like to see results from the closure of the pulp mill at Fort William. There is a tremendous forestry industry in the Highlands. Almost everywhere today, and certainly in the Borders where I have some forestry interest, and where the Government also have an enormous forestry interest, trees have to be sent to Norway or Sweden to be pulped for paper, after which the pulp is re-imported. If we had a really first-class pulp mill in Fort William or somewhere else in the Highlands, although I imagine Fort William would be a good place, this would be a great asset to the forestry industry. I resent having to re-import pulp from Noway or Sweden when it should be handled in this country. I hope that the board will take up this development. It would be a great advantage now that the amount of forestry in this country is much greater. Once it matures, there will be need for far more manufacturing equipment than we have ever had before.
I should like to think that this area could be treated by the EC in the same way as other less favoured areas of Europe. I was a member of a small delegation to the less favoured areas of Europe last year. We visited the Mezzogiorno and other parts of Italy, and also Bavaria, and Provence in France. I saw there that great help was being given, particularly to the tourist trade 1251 in Bavaria, and also concerning the growing of olives and grapes in the Mezzogiorno. That was a great help to an area where the population would otherwise have gone elsewhere to try and find work.
I should like to see the Highlands and Islands of Scotland given the same treatment. It is vital that people should stay in this lovely area. It is one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. I hope that we can get for it as much help from the European Community as is given to other parts of Europe. I strongly commend the report. I hope that the Government will back its findings and give as much help as possible to one of the most beautiful areas in the United Kingdom.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord Stodart of Leaston
My Lords, I, too, must express my thanks to my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard for enabling us to discuss this subject. I should also like to say that we have heard an astoundingly good maiden speech—I should have thought it astounding, however long he had been a Member of this House—from the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. I envy profoundly his ability to speak apparently entirely without notes. I saw that he had notes, but I never saw him glance at them. As the years go by, I find that I have increasingly to consult my notes.
Although I live far from the Highlands, as do several of those taking part in the debate, this does not inhibit me from taking a very keen interest in that area, I daresay largely for the reasons so eloquently expressed by my noble friend Lady Macleod. None of us has the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, but when I was at the Scottish Office in the years before the board was set up, I then had certain responsibilities within that area which perhaps fired my interest to an even greater extent than previously. In those days—and the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, will remember this—the area was known as the "crofting counties". It was regarded by the Government as a totally unique area. If my memory is correct, I believe that I persuaded the Government at that time to do something which was not allowed in any other part of the country; namely, to pay the overnight expenses in Inverness of people who had to visit patients in hospital. I can remember in the discussions that took place it being said, "We will have to settle for this because it is the crofting counties". But I can also remember that, despite much pressure, not even the Isles of Scilly were able to get that benefit.
I now turn to the cost of the Highlands and Islands Development Board "to the national economy"—and those words are included in my noble friend's Motion. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that one has to think deeply about the benefits. In terms of quite merciless monetarism, I suppose that the HIDB must have many critics, yet I cannot believe that anyone would seriously suggest that the Highlands area should not receive special treatment.
The area has three basic industries. One is tourism, which is a success story. Nearly 20 years on the Scottish Tourist Board has recently adopted the pattern of the Highlands board, though—if I may say so somewhat meaningfully to my noble friend on the 1252 Government Front Bench—without all the powers of the Highlands and Islands Development Board.
Its second industry is the fishing industry. I am of the strong opinion that many of the small harbours in the far north and west would be in the same tragic condition as is the great port of Hull today had it not been for the activities of the board. Is this a reflection on the Scottish Office? I do not think it is. However, the Highlands board has the power to act more quickly and this has engendered a great deal of confidence.
Fish farming has been mentioned, and salmon farming in particular. I do not believe that any salmon farming is carried on outside the area of the Highlands board, chiefly because no other area in Britain has sufficient purity of water to allow the successful farming of salmon. I suppose that its contribution to jobs has been numerically small, but nearly 20 years ago from the village of Lochailort, where salmon fishing first started, nine people were employed in salmon farming. I do not know what the figures are today, but that was a very high percentage of the population, and it mattered a great deal.
The third industry is farming. Here I think that the success has been less spectacular. It is not an easy area for integration of forestry and farming. As my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard remarked, trees grow very well at the bottom of the hill, but they sterilise the soil at the top and, therefore, to integrate forestry and farming in the Highlands is very difficult. However, the people who have really borne the torch in showing how to make grass grow on the hills are the Cadzow Brothers, and they have done so not only on the island of Luing, which grows grass beautifully, anyway, but on the hills of Argyll, where they have shown how to make grass grow and how to carry more stock by putting on lime, by reseeding, and by refencing. I am sorry that the board has not taken their technique on board to a greater extent. I think that it could have done; and I should have liked to have seen the board latch onto this.
The board enables farmers in the area to borrow money from the bank at lower rates of interest than they can obtain outside, which is a useful benefit. I have found no specific reference to this in the report. I believe that my noble friend Lord Massereene said that perhaps one criticism could be made of the board; namely, that it has a finger in every pie, and, therefore, the question arises whether there is not some overlapping. One of the great strengths of the board has been its flexibility. Section 7 of the 1965 Act allows it to give advice. Section 8 allows it to give grants and loans, and it has a very free hand.
I can recall that 10 years ago when I was a Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture I said how I wished that south of the Border there was an organisation such as the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I shall tell your Lordships why I said that. The drive to export food from this country was just being talked about, and there was a great show in Paris. The Ministry of Agriculture has no statutory powers to give funds from its Vote money for promoting food outside this country. The Board of Trade was not interested in exporting food; it was much more concerned about industrial exports. Therefore, as a result, practically nothing went to the Paris show from English farmers, 1253 or English processors, as they were called in those days. But when I paid an official visit I found a stand manned by the Highlands and Islands Development Board, stuffed with crabs and cheeses from the Orkneys and shellfish from here and there, with the kinsman of the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, beaming over the counter and doing a great deal of sales promotion. That is an example of the flexibility that has made this board a very great success.
I come now to transport, which is a matter not so much for the board, but for the Government, and which has been mentioned as a matter of supreme importance in this area. I can recall going to talk to Mr. Maudling when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer and asking him whether it really was impossible that the duty on petrol might be lower north of a certain line than it was south of it. I recall that motoring north in those days one always filled up in Blair Atholl because once one got to the pumps five miles on the petrol was something like three old pence dearer. I remember having quite a long discussion, and I said, "If it is possible for the distributors to charge more, why is it not possible for the Exchequer to charge less?" I think that the answer was that it could be done, but that it really would be an awful nuisance. I remember quite distinctly another objection, which was that a great lot of traffic would move from the dear side to the cheap side in order to get their business fill-ups, and so on. Personally, I do not think that that is an obstacle which should get in the way.
Enormous advantages would accrue if petrol could be a few pence less in terms of the excise duty, because of course when petrol goes up not only does the excise duty run up, but so does VAT, and cumulatively it is a heavy burden. That would enable my noble friend Lady Macleod to do the tour more cheaply. I would just say to her that, in my humble submission, she should not have used the term, "DV"; she should have used the good Scottishism, "If I am spared", which I am quite sure she will be. Finally, let me put on sackcloth and ashes and say that one of the votes that I have long most regretted is the one that I cast against the establishment of the Highlands and Islands Development Board.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, in view of the shortage of time I hope that your Lordships will take as read the preliminary remarks of thanks and congratulations—very sincere congratulations—which I should have wished to make. First, I should like to draw attention to a small administrative problem. The board's written report is for the calendar year, whereas the accounts are for the year to 31st March. As these are published together there must inevitably be a considerable delay before the public can see what the board has been doing. Perhaps my noble friend could look at this. However, as we are working on the 1982 report the board chairman, Mr. Cowan, with his usual efficiency, has provided some of us with a brief updating for 1983. Obviously he cannot give his report.
I should like to congratulate Mr. Cowan for the grasp he has secured in a comparatively short time of the difficult problems confronting Highland development. I should also like to express relief at 1254 having a businessman at the helm rather than a planner or an academic. In the North one gets a feeling of far greater efficiency in the hoard. As an example of this economy, he has not come here today—he is busy working away for the Highlands—but he has sent his wife, and I know she is listening attentively to what we are saying.
I believe, and always have believed, that transport is the key to Highland development. My noble friend Lady Macleod touched on this. Those of us who live in the North owe a great debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for having set in train the improvement of the A.9 and the Kessock Bridge. Everyone now commends these developments as of great benefit, even if there are still design errors on the A.9 which casue serious snow problems.
Since reorganisation of local government we have had few other major road works in the Highlands, and even the Beauty Bridge promised to the old county council has now been deleted by the Scottish Office from the list of projects. Schemes upon which we were working when I was chairman of the Inverness County Roads Committee are scarcely mentioned now. I well remember some of our shopping list: the Skye Bridge, vital for the short and therefore cheaper route to the Western Isles; the Dornoch Bridge, which would bring Caithness and Sutherland so much closer to the centre of things; the Mallaig Road, which must be far and away the worst trunk road in Britain; and the short crossing from North Uist to Harris to connect the Uists with their centre of administration in Lewis—even if this is fraught with problems because of tides and shoals between the two islands. Yes, these are expensive projects, but they are once and for all, and they would stop enormous running expenditure annually in the Highlands. And when compared with an annual budget of over £30 million for the HIDB and £¾ million for running the Crofters Commission, should we not take a close look at our priorities?
Now, my Lords, the other transport expense of course is fuel. My noble friend Lord Stodart really put this over better than I can possibly do, but I should like to make one or two further points on it. One of the penalties under which the Highlands suffer is being a small rural voice in an urban country. I am sure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does not appreciate that every time he puts up the fuel tax he hammers another nail into the coffin of the Highlands.
May I quote a small extract from the board's report:Some of the problems faced by the Highlands and Islands are created by the action of Government and other bodies who adopt policies which though sensible for most of the country can be counter-productive in peripheral areas.This fuel tax is certainly one of these.
My secretary at home was, like so many of us, delighted with most of the Budget. She said, "I will have £100 off my tax", but then, rather ruefully, "But the Chancellor will take it all back off me in fuel tax." She comes from Wolverhampton, and she said that had she been living there she would be £100 better off from having her tax reduced and she would have public transport, and therefore not have to pay it all back to the Chancellor in petrol tax. That is only one small example.
For and area which depends mainly on forestry and agriculture, the costs of fuel are vital. A differential 1255 fuel tax for the Highlands would be a lifesaving transfusion. I am sorry that I cannot see my noble friend's face on the Front Bench at this suggestion, but I suspect that he does not like it. Successive Governments have set their faces against it. But I have yet to find anyone in the Highlands who does not think that this suggestion is a simple, efficient and fair way of putting lifeblood into what is known as a "fragile" area. I am sure that my noble friend must have sympathy with this even if he does not agree with it, but I can appreciate how he is probably in a minority in the Government on these matters. However, I hope that he will do his utmost to fight for some similar project.
Further on transport, it must be noted from the board's report that they were able to show British Airways that one of the reasons for the loss on the Inverness-Heathrow route was because of totally unsuitable timings. Now that route has been privatised, the fares are reduced, the timing is convenient, and the planes are largely full. Again on transport, it must be noted how the HIDB was able to show British Rail that most of the Highland railways were paying their way unlike what the railway had previously told us.
As your Lordships will know a new "wafer board" wood mill is under way near Inverness, if I may say ably abetted and helped by the board. The promoter was very anxious to use rail transport to take his product south, but I heard this week that British Rail have lost the contract. It would seem that this was an ideal thing to have put on rail. It really seems that something ought to be done about it. It just shows how we in the North suffer.
Surely it is unsatisfactory that the Highlands need to have a board of their own to tell the nationalised industries where they are at fault. As my noble friend Lord Massereene said, there is overlapping. Unfortunately, in this sort of example it is necessary to have overlapping. They have to tell the Scottish Office where they are at fault, but, unfortunately, I do not think that they listen to the Highlands and Islands Development Board or the Government. This is a problem with which we are faced, and I feel it would be preferential for public expenditure to go directly to development.
I should have liked to mention forestry and agriculture which are, of course, vital to the Highlands, but time has run out, so all I can do is ask the Minister to consider very carefully the 17th report of the board on these subjects. Certainly, my Lords, I am sure that my noble friend will agree with me that the more one studies Highland problems the more one realises that government from Edinburgh would be disastrous.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him: did he really mean to condemn the contribution of what he called "academics" and "planners"? Is he aware, for example, of the contribution that such as Stirling University is able to make in the development of remote sensing? If he looks at the House of Lords Select Committee report he will see that it is of profound importance to the Highlands, as has already 1256 been shown by the Grampian Regional Council in a different area.
§ Lord Burton
My Lords, one should consider, for example, the aluminium smelter at Invergordon; the objectors told us what would happen. They knew that the cost of fuel would be far too expensive. But this was one of the projects which at that time the board was putting forward. In the Jack Holmes report, which was commissioned by the board in its earlier days, you would find innumerable mistakes which the board would not look at now.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I have two apologies to make; the first is for putting my name down late for this debate and the second is that, unfortunately, I have a meeting at half past five and my time was put out by the Statement taking so long.
I bow to no one in my admiration for the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. The way he put it across was an example to us all. I hope it will be a long, long time before, like the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston and myself, he has to look at his notes. We look forward to him regaling us further with the type of speech he gave us today. I shall have something to say in a moment about what he said. In the meantime, I congratulate him.
I was tempted to my feet by three remarks made by the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, about forestry. If I heard him correctly, he said that the commission—he is not too easy to follow sometimes in his speeches—had not taken up its quota. The commission does not have a quota. It has a descending acreage which I do not think one could call a quota. The Government have asked it to reduce its acreage down to 5,000 hectares. There is no question of it not completing a quota.
The noble Viscount also mentioned the isolation of the tops of the hills, as did the noble Lord, Lord Stodart. I do not know what private forestry has done, but when any forestry project is brought forward, the Forestry Commission consults the Department of Agriculture. As we know, there are many hills in Scotland with no grazing on them; they are of no use for grazing and they are used for planting on the lower ground. But if there is grazing to be had on the tops of the hills, wide rides are left as part of the plan for allowing the sheep and cattle to pass freely.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, thank you. The point is that the Forestry Commission has learnt that now, but when it first started it planted huge plantations on the lower ground and, near the sea, right down to the sea. That made the higher ground quite useless. The FC would plant the first 300 or 400 feet—I am talking of near the sea now—and wildlife and sheep want to get down to eat the seaweed, as the deer, particularly the stags, do. They are prevented from doing so. Accordingly, the high ground is made of little value for stocks wild or domestic.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I take the noble Viscount's point that mistakes were made in the early days of the Forestry Commission, but these were put 1257 right a long time ago. That is not something that can be put against it now.
The other point that the noble Viscount made was that Sitka spruce created acidity in the lakes and rivers. When rain falls on conifers they do not produce acidity unless the rain is acid rain from elsewhere. To blame Sitka spruce, or any other conifer, for producing acidity is the wrong way to do it. The trees may be holding the acid rain, which drips down into the rivers. That may be right, but the noble Viscount gave me the impression that he was blaming Sitka spruce for producing acidity. That is not the case. It is the acid rain from our factories elsewhere that creates this problem.
§ Lord Burton
I am sorry, my Lords, but where there are large plantings of Sitka spruce and where there are signs of acidity, I think one will find that it is nearly always very much worse where the Sitka spruce is planted.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, that may be, but the point is that it is not the spruce that creates the acid. The acid comes from acid rain from factories elsewhere. The noble Lord is simply blaming Sitka spruce, I have it from the Forestry Commission that any conifer has the same attraction and does the same thing.
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord. The latest EEC report suggests that scientific investigation shows that nobody knows the answer to what is causing this trouble. It is probably ozone.
§ Lord John-Mackie
My Lords, I hope the two noble Lords are taking in that stricture from my noble friend—that is, that none of us knows about acid rain.
I now consider forestry as a whole. The noble Earl, Lord Dundee, pointed out that forestry was the one thing that the Highlands could produce and produce well and that we should continue the forestry policy there. This is correct, but one can see what the Government have done. They are reducing the commission's quota, target or whatever one calls it and hoping that private forestry will make up between 30,000 and 40,000 hectares a year. I do not follow this argument because before private forestry and commission forestry were running fairly equal, with commission forestry a little ahead of private forestry. From the inception of the Forestry Commission it has done a good job, and I think that the Government are making a grave mistake in cutting down the commission's work. It has the expertise and the land, though it is a pity that it is having to sell some of the land.
The other thing that is important—this is where the Highlands and Islands Development Board comes in—is the processing of the trees produced in the forests in the Highlands. It is ridiculous to move that production to Sweden and elsewhere and to bring it back as pulp. As the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, said, it is a pity that the Fort William pulp mill had to close. I should like to think that the Highlands and Islands Development Board will see that production in one place in particular, the development of the forest north 1258 of Inverness, should be processed locally by saw-milling, pulp-making or what have you and should not be moved for processing away from Scotland, because that would give much work to the Highlands. As the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, and other noble Lords have said, farming and forestry are the two main activities of the Highlands. Many ancillary and other industries as well should be encouraged to go to the Highlands, but these two will forever be the main activities.
This issue of overlapping was touched on by one or two noble Lords. It is a difficult problem. Integrated development schemes were brought in a few years ago. I will not say they upset the Highlands and Islands Development Board, but there was much overlapping and the Department of Agriculture and the North of Scotland College had much to do with that. I had hoped that there would be better co-operation between the bodies than there was at that time.
From what I have seen of the work of the HIDB, although mistakes have been made, that is no real criticism and we all wish it well in the future with its new chairman.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Ross of Marnock
My Lords, this debate has been worthwhile and for that we have to express our thanks to the noble Viscount who started it: worthwhile if only for one of the finest maiden speeches I have heard, either in this House or the other place. I mean that sincerely. We all thought very highly of the noble Earl's father. He was a friend of mine and I can remember, sometimes with amusement—because he perhaps follows his father in oratory but not in stature—when he was the hereditary standard bearer for Scotland and he assisted me when I was on my way to Holyrood, that in trying to get into a car his legs got entangled with that flag, I remember his good humour then and his advice at all times. He was a good Scot. I consider, judging by the speech that he has delivered today, that the noble Earl is a considerable acquisition of strength to the Scots in your Lordships' House—and, may I say, we sorely need it! There have been a lot of sinners come to repentance today. The noble Viscount said that eventually he changed his mind. I never heard a more placatory speech by the noble Lord, Lord Burton, today on the Highlands and Islands Board, than on anything that any Labour Government had done in the Highlands. Nobody actually said that it was a Labour Government that did it.
The noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, went overboard. He regretted his vote against the setting up of the board. May I remind him that he never voted against it. There was no vote on Second Reading against it and there was no vote on Third Reading. There was criticism. I was interested when he mentioned the fact that part of the success of the Highlands and Islands Development Board was because of the powers that it had, powers that no other development area has in the whole country. It was a noble friend of his who later became Secretary of State—and I am sorry he is not here today; but he would not mind, he would smile at it—who said that the powers that we had included in the 1965 Act were straight from Karl Marx. I suggested that his criticism came from another Marx, one of the Marx brothers.
1259 I was interested, too, in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. He must join a long queue of people who thought of this before anybody else did so. May I say that I have a leaflet promulgating the suggestion that was published by the Scottish Trades Union Congress in the 1920s; so that he is not alone in claiming some cedit for the Highlands and Islands Board. All that I can say is that in 1964, when I tried to pursuade the Cabinet that we would get a Bill of this kind through the House of Commons, a Bill containing these powers that were criticised at that time, there was nobody else there. There were no Liberals there, no Scot Nats, only myself; and we had a majority of only six. But we persevered and there was no opposition to it eventually. There was criticism but no opposition. The reason for that was that it was so absolutely necessary, that it was almost the last chance for the Highlands.
Population statistics were quoted as to how much higher the population was in 1921. Between 1851 and 1961 the Highlands lost a quarter of their population. I am glad to say that the touching year, whether it was coincidental or not, was 1966. There was certainly a feeling of confidence created in the Highlands by the Highlands and Islands Board. I strongly resent the kind of criticism that is made of planners. I think that the first chairman of the board, Sir Robert Grieve, had a very difficult task, because people were very cynical about the Government promising action in the Highlands, but he was able to prove that this board was different. He went around. The result was that, by the time he had finished, people had accepted the board. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Burton, never accepted the board. He has never accepted anything that came from a Labour Government. If the noble Lord is about to intervene, I am sorry but we have limited time and, with his interventions, he has had a fair share.
The fact is that it has become virtually part of the glorious scenery of the Highlands. People now take it for granted. It was evident in the speeches. But it does not take its own work for granted. It still has a terrific challenge. When you appreciate the nature of the area, nearly half the land area of Scotland, one-sixth of the whole of Britain—but the density: 24 people to the square mile There are great wilderness areas where you can go all day and you will never see a human face. You may see more red deer than you see Highlanders.
When I became Secretary of State and looked into the Highlands problem, what did I find as the Acts of Parliament that related to the Highlands?—the Congested Districts Act, for example. And why were the districts congested? The trouble with the Highlands was that it was drive and drift. The Highlanders were driven out of their own glens; they were driven to the seashores; and on these seashores they were told to fish for a living, to scratch for a living. These were the congested districts. From there, the drift started.
My Lords, what matters to the Highlands matters to the Highlander, who has a greater attachment to his countryside and his own areas than probably any of those who live in urban areas. It is something to be proud of. There was something I said at that time on the Second Reading of the Bill: that the Highlander 1260 was the man in Scotland's conscience. Well, I think we are doing something about it now, and we have to be grateful to all the staff and to all the chairmen of the Highlands and Islands Board since 1965, for what they have done. But let us remember the task.
Somebody said they have a finger in every pie. There is practically no place with more than 40,000 of population. Of course, there is Inverness and then you get Stornoway and Fort William. But you get great pockets of little villages where people want to stay, where everything there matters to them. So when you say that they have a finger in every pie, there are so many things related to the problem of improving the social and economic environment of the people of the Highlands and to encouraging them to do something for themselves. One thinks of the things that matter, for example, transport. I was very glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, said about that. Also, the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, who made a wonderful speech. She will be getting a job with the Tourist Board of Scotland in respect of what she has said about the Highlands in that speech.
But the Government have already turned down Road Equivalent Tariff. It was about a fortnight ago, I think, when we had a Statement from the noble Lord, Lord Gray. They turned it down. Mind you. I should not say that! It was in the Tory manifesto in Scotland that they were going to do it. They turned it down. Rightly or wrongly, they have got to appreciate that in turning that down they have not solved any problem; because the problem of the ferries and of distance in relation to the remoter islands is still there. The Government have got to do something about it.
A suggestion was made by one noble Lord that we should do something about getting finance for Scotland in respect of oil. I am perfectly sure that the Government, if they apply themselves to the task, could take the money. They would be able to do that. It is not just petrol that is dearer there than anywhere else. Every necessity of life that is taken by the ferries and taken by road is dearer. The only thing that you can get on the Western Isles that will cost the same as in London is a Postage stamp. Everything else has been dearer since we departed from (what was it called?) resale price maintenance. Once that went, then the people who suffered were the people in the peripheral areas. So I am very glad that there has been this expression of feeling in the House today, that the Government still have to do something in respect of that.
On tourism, I think that about 30 per cent. of the money spent by the board is on tourism—not just on hotels, on beds and breakfasts; but on raising the level of accommodation, which people demand nowadays, and also in relation to the actual facilities. I am impressed by the work that is going on. Aviemore has been mentioned, and of course it is getting older. A lot more now needs to be done in renewing Aviemore. I am glad of the work that has been done by Aviemore people, the local authorities, and the Highlands and Islands Board. I think it was again the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, who said that we have copied the successful way in which they have laid down a structure in respect of tourism with the local areas and a general council, as I think they must. We are now 1261 applying that to Scotland, and it shows how successful they have been.
Apart from the big tourist area of Edinburgh and also the area around Glasgow, the Highlands is the third most popular area in the whole of Scotland; and of course many of those who go to Glasgow and Edinburgh eventually go to the Highlands as well. The area has unparalleled scenery. I was impressed by what the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, said about the simple things. Yes, the simple things, too. But we must—and I think the board are looking into this—make provision for something to obviate weather spoiling a holiday. Some things have been done in Oban, and other things have been done elsewhere, so that people can still enjoy themselves even though a drop of rain falls now and then on the Highlands. The board are doing something about it.
When I consider that the board have to cover such a very wide area, I am amazed that they do so with such little expenditure and so few staff. I know the board have been cramped for staff and for money, during this last year particularly. This is a part of Scotland where we should not cut down on available cash, because so much depends upon it. One of the reasons why the board were set up in the first place was that it was so difficult to get things done. There was the problem of getting money at all, and getting support from banks. Also, the addition that can be given in respect of the relief of interest by the board has been a tremendous help. The fact that at that time they created 22,000 jobs—I think this was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Dundee—is itself an indication.
Of course, things go wrong—and, by the way, the noble Lord, Lord Burton, mentioned the closing down of the smelter, but that had nothing to do with the Highlands and Islands Development Board. It was the national Government who created that and they were prepared to welcome it there: of course they were. They were glad of it. If the noble Lord wants to get on to anybody about that—and I should be prepared to get on to people about letting it go rather than starting it up—he might be on to something. But when that smelter went and the pulp mill went, losing 2,000 jobs between them, to whom did the Government turn? They turned to the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I think they offered them about £10 million to be spent over so many years in respect of surveying the impact and of seeing what could be done. In Invergordon we now have an enterprise zone, the agent for which is probably the Highlands board. They are working, too, with the Scottish Development Agency in Fort William.
We should consider what has been done in respect of agriculture for the crofters. There has been the business of interesting them in the improvement of their stock and in the co-operative ideas which have earned the praise of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. This is a bold, new venture, and it is still an experiment. The board suggested, "Let us not he too optimistic about it", but some very worthwhile things have been done in improving the stock and in improving marketing as well as buying and everything else. Good things have been done in fish farming. I do not think many people in the United Kingdom realise that there are now about 1,000 people employed in fish farming, where there are small pockets of people 1262 who want to stay there. There are now eight salmon farms, I think, in Scotland; and I am glad that a tribute has been paid to them. Not too much has been said about what has been done about shellfish; but with difficult coasts and in small areas it has been possible to put some new life into the possibilities of development and of continued living in those areas. On crafts, the board have just developed the whole idea of getting together all the crafts in relation to techniques, marketing and so on. I think it is at Beauly Craftpoint.
A number of ventures have been started by the board. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton,—and I am grateful to him—spoke about people going there to find out what was being done. The noble Lord, Lord Gray, I am sure, will be able to confirm that people come from all over the world to look at similar kinds of problems which have been dealt with by the Highland and Islands Development Board. They come to see how we have dealt with them in Scotland.
The challenge is still there. It is one which continues as economic conditions change; but at least in that part of the country we have something which is prepared to meet the challenge. I pay my tribute to the staff—to Mr. Cowens and his present staff, as I did to Ken Alexander and his staff, to Sir Andrew Gilchrist, to Bob Grieve and the others. I think they are doing a first-class job. Of course they have made mistakes—my goodness! who among us sitting here has not made mistakes? But they have had to try; they are still trying; and—thank heavens!—they are succeeding.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Gray of Contin)
My Lords, may I first thank my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard on three counts: first, on his success in the ballot today; secondly, on his patience—because I understand he tabled this Motion some time ago and has had to wait for this success. Thirdly, may I congratulate him on his choice of subject today in order to allow us to talk about the Highlands of Scotland and about the Highlands and Islands Development Board in particular. What I have heard today makes me feel very proud indeed, because I am a Highlander myself. My family has lived and worked in the Highlands for six generations, and I have always felt about the Highlands the way that people have expressed themselves today. It is nice to have one's thoughts confirmed so vigorously.
May I also join with other noble Lords, and particularly with the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, in offering my warmest congratulations to my noble friend Lord Dundee. Like the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, I thoroughly enjoyed his maiden speech. It was certainly one of the best that I have heard, either in your Lordships' House or in another place. I look forward very much indeed to hearing his contribution to future debates in your Lordships' House.
I regard myself as fortunate in having ministerial responsibility for the Highlands and Islands Development Board and I am grateful for the opportunity which the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene, has given us this afternoon. The board was set up following the passing of the Highlands and 1263 Islands Development (Scotland) Act 1965; and the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was of course Secretary of State for Scotland at that time. I am pleased to acknowledge his part in the board's establishment. He did a very good turn to the Highlands when he got this particular measure through the Cabinet at that time.
The principal objectives of the board, as set out in the Act, are to assist the people of the Highlands and Islands to improve their economic and social conditions, and to enable the Highlands and Islands to play a more effective part in the economy and social development of the nation as a whole. In recognition of the particular difficulties of the area, the board is empowered to act across the whole spectrum of the Highland economy, covering agriculture, fisheries, forestry, transport, industrial development and tourism. Although the board's primary purpose must be to assist economic development, its social role is enshrined in the statute, and the board is required to keep under review matters relating to the social well-being of its area. It is also required by statute to have regard to the desirability of preserving the beauty and the scenery, of the Highlands and Islands. The board's functions and responsibilities are therefore wider than any other statutory agency in the field of economic policy, and the board's powers are correspondingly diverse.
The Highlands of course have never been without their problems; and of recent years those problems have been large and serious. My noble friend Lord Massereene referred to the closure of the pulp mill and of the smelter, as did my noble friend Lady Elliot; and, of course, these were severe blows at that time. Good, then, that we have the Highlands and Islands Development Board in position to tackle the problems which were created by those closures. But we have had great successes in the Highlands, too. My noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve mentioned tourism and, of course, that has been a major success. The year 1982 was a very good one indeed; 1983 was even better, and we have every confidence that 1984 will also be very successful. We have had successes in industry and we have had successes in wood processing. Indeed, at the present moment the board is concerned with a major project which is to take place at the Dalcross industrial estate near Inverness. This will be a major step forward and should go a long way towards providing employment in the area.
The board is empowered to undertake, promote or aid developments in any sector of the Highlands economy. It may give financial assistance by way of grant, loan and equity subscription towards the capital cost of new or developing enterprises. It can undertake research and promotion, provide advisory and management services, acquire land, erect factories and provide equipment and services.
It has been suggested that the board has made mistakes; that it has had failures. I defend the board absolutely on this issue. I suggest that there are not many merchant banks in the City of London which would readily acknowledge that they, too, have had their failures. But because the board is spending public money, and because it respects confidentiality in its commercial transactions, it is only its failures which 1264 are seized upon as they become public knowledge and the press, quite naturally and quite rightly, illustrate the risks which it has to take. But, of course, if the board did not take risks it would not be doing its job properly. When you are investing money in an area such as the Highlands of Scotland, of course there are risks to be taken. But the board has learned from its mistakes, its record is good and, for all the few failures which it has had, it has had many successes.
My noble friend Lord Dundee referred to the geographical area and the enormity of it, which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. It is interesting to note that the board's area of operations covers virtually all of the north-west of Scotland. It includes the former crofting counties of Argyll, Inverness and Ross and Cromarty, including the Western Isles, Sutherland, Caithness, Orkney and Shetland; and now, also Nairn and Bute. This is a vast area. From the Mull of Kintyre in the south to Muckle Flugga in the north of Shetland, the distance is about 420 miles.
My noble friend Lord Dundee also mentioned the Highland forests project, to which I referred a few moments ago. I believe that this project demonstrates the confidence which the private sector has in the future of forestry in the Highlands. It is a very good project, because the Forestry Commission is guaranteeing the supply of a considerable amount of timber and, with the private capital which is combining with the board's capital, this project is one of the finest in that area.
Since its inception, the board has been faced not only with the problems of the Highland and Islands economy, but also with the changing pattern of the British economy as a whole and, indeed, with changes in society. As a result, the board has had to have a clear view of its objectives, but at the same time it has had to be flexible enough to take account of these changes. This has not been easy and the board has had its occasional failures. There have been very many more successes, as I said, and the commitment of successive board chairmen and members of the board, as well as the loyalty and enthusiasm of its staff, have been the major factors in the board's success. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, in paying tribute to the staff. I can tell him that the total numbers employed by the board at the present moment, about which he asked me, are 260. But this figure includes the local officers, and the board is now represented on the ground at 10 different locations within its area, rather than being centralised in Inverness, as it had been until about two years ago.
I was most interested in the contribution which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, made to our deliberations, and we welcome him to debates on Scottish affairs and Highland affairs, in particular, and I was very glad about the kind words which he said about the board. I hope that the information which he was able to receive from the experts who work there will be of help to him—
§ Lord Shackleton
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, we did, in fact, model the Falkland Islands Development Agency on the Highlands and Islands Development Board. I just hope that it works as well.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
My Lords, I am very glad, and very proud indeed, to think that our achievements in the Highlands are being recognised in such a tangible way. The confidence which the Government place in the board has been recognised in the level of funding that we have made available to it. I really cannot let the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, get away with his suggestion that we certainly should not be cutting back on what we are giving the board, and that that must be a priority. Of course it is a priority; and let me tell him how much we realise it is a priority. At the time when the party of which he is a loyal member left office in 1978–79, the grant in aid to the board was £12.7 million. I am glad to be able to tell the noble Lord that it is now £29.8 million in 1983–84 and will be £34.2 million in 1984–85. When income from loans repaid is added, the board's expenditure in 1984–85 is likely to exceed £40 million. In addition to direct funding of the board, the Government of course channel very substantial additional sums into the board's area through rate support grant to local authorities, through specific assistance to road, transport and ferry operators and to agriculture, fisheries and other bodies. All this reflects our continuing awareness of the problems facing the Highlands and Islands and the importance of improving conditions there.
The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, also suggested the setting up of a bank for further investment in the Highlands. It is an interesting suggestion and one which will no doubt be borne in mind. However, I would sound a slight warning note. Local banks in Scotland have traditionally tried to spread their risks by amalgamation, and there are now only three major clearing banks in Scotland, whereas some 10 to 15 years ago there were, perhaps, more than double that number. The important point is the attitude which the banks take to development and investment in the area. The increasing proportion of private finance, which the board's assistance attracts, is an encouraging sign that banks are more willing to lend to development projects in the Highlands and Islands than they were once upon a time. Indeed, it is also refreshing to know the ratio at the present moment. In other words, every £1 which the board is spending on investment in the Highlands is being matched by approximately £3 from the banks and the private sector.
If I may return to the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, he made reference to ski-ing. I am grateful to him for his remarks about ski-ing and for the encouragement which he gave. The board is also giving very considerable encouragement to ski-ing. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is quite interested in this sport. I commend to him the skis which are manufactured locally in Aviemore. When he next visits the area I hope that the noble Lord might be tempted, if he has not already been tempted, to make a purchase and thus encourage some of the investment which is going into the Highlands.
It is undoubtedly true that, by building up its contacts in and knowledge of the Highlands and Islands the board is reaching parts of its area, in both the geographical and economic sense, which other agencies did not or could not reach in the past. Over the last decade the board has provided assistance to businesses in its area totalling £159 million at 1982 1266 prices. I must emphasise that this assistance is discretionary, not automatic. The fact that the board now processes over 1,500 applications for such assistance annually—which is double the number five years ago—is testimony to its improved efficiency. The board seeks to maximise the impact of its assistance by attracting a very high proportion of private sector finance.
The assistance amounting to £159 million which I have mentioned has created, according to the board's estimates, 16,000 new jobs. This figure was given by my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard in his opening speech and I can confirm that he was absolutely correct. Nearly 6,000 other jobs which were at risk in this period have been retained. Bearing in mind the difficulties of terrain, remoteness and climate, this is a very significant achievement and one of which the board may justifiably be proud. It has created good relations with the Scottish Development Agency, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, the Scottish Tourist Board and the British Tourist Authority. It has been suggested this afternoon that there is a certain amount of overlapping. I do not believe that there is overlapping. The board has gone out of its way to try to ensure that this does not happen. My noble friend Lord Dundee suggested that the cost per job in the board's area was £4,200. I agree with him entirely that this is very good value indeed. I agree also with those who suggested that the powers of the board should be retained in their present form.
It was my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve who suggested that there has been criticism that sometimes the board is more anxious to help incomers than those who are resident in the area. I was glad that she defended the board. I can confirm that the board is well aware of the problem, that those who live in the area are given every encouragement to apply to the board for help for their businesses and that the board is also very interested in small businesses. The increase in the number of applications which have been processed highlights the fact that many more small businesses and small concerns are applying to the board for help. The board has provided some 290 factory units from Arran to Shetland, with the firms occupying those factories giving employment to some 1,700 people.
In seeking to follow a broadly based sectoral strategy the board correctly emphasises the need to give priority to businesses and projects which build upon the natural resources of the region. It is the board's aim to increase the value added to these resources within the Highlands and Islands. Examples are mineral exploitation, processing of offshore oil and gas, increasing the expenditure of each tourist to the area, support for the crafts industry, processing the output of agriculture and fishing and the development of suitable sites for fish farming. The most obvious examples of this strategy in action are the board's involvement in the new orientated structure board plant being built near Inverness and the new fishmeal factory about to be started at Ardveenish in Barra. However, I would not want your Lordships to be misled into thinking that the board is concerned only with the large, prestige projects. The bulk of the board's work has been, and will continue to be, with 1267 the small businessman on whose success depends the success of the area as a whole.
A number of specific points have been raised in the debate, and during the few minutes which remain I should like to try to answer some of them. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, said that there is an awkward difference between the calendar year for the report and the financial year for the accounts. The 1965 Act requires the calendar year report. However, we are aware of the problem and will consider a change when a suitable legislative opportunity presents itself. The noble Lord, Lord Burton, also asked me about transport. The board has been a major source of expertise on transport matters. As the noble Lord, Lord Burton, said, it has achieved greatly improved transport links within its area. For example, the various transport operators have been encouraged to reconsider their policies. Many of them have done so.
Reference was made to RET. The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was perfectly correct when he said that this was contained in the Conservative Party's manifesto at the last general election. However, as I explained when I made a statement on the subject, the fact of the matter is that when we looked at the different islands which are involved we found that certain islands would be considerably worse off if we followed the RET route. It was for that reason, and in view of the fact that we were making a major investment not only in the ferries but in harbours and piers, that we decided to retain the selective method of offering assistance rather than to switch to RET.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, thought that the board was confined to an investment of £10,000. This is not correct. The percentage of grant and loan assistance which was approved in 1983, for example, meant that cases up to £5,000 accounted for 53 per cent. of the grants and loans awarded, that cases up to £10,000 accounted for 75 per cent. of the grants and loans awarded and that cases up to £25,000 accounted for 89 per cent. This confirms the noble Baroness's view that the majority of cases involve sums less than £10,000. However, the limit is £250,000 and the board can, with the approval of the Secretary of State, make an award of up to £400,000.
In his 1980 report on local government my noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston recommended that the area tourist organisation system in the Highlands and Islands should be extended elsewhere. The Government were pleased to accept that recommendation. The HIDB is leading the way and has led the way for the rest of Scotland. It is also leading the way in the new computer booking of holiday accommodation. This is a wonderful computer which has been established in Dingwall. I visited it a few weeks ago. We are almost sure that other parts of the United Kingdom will follow. Therefore the HIDB is once again in the lead.
The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, referred to the regional policy review and its effect on the HIDB area. I cannot predict what the outcome of the review will be, but the Government will take into account the special needs of the Highlands and Islands area.
Perhaps I may return to the comment of my noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston about the duty on 1268 petrol and the differential. I note my noble friend's point, which he will appreciate is not new to me, and no doubt it will be taken note of by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will say, however, that there has been a substantial improvement. I bought petrol in Inverness last Saturday at only 2p per gallon dearer for four-star than is the price in London. That is a great improvement and one which we hope will be maintained. It is inevitable that when one travels in some of the more remote parts of the Highlands, the price will be greater. There are a number of reasons—not least because the outlet is unable to take a really large tanker-load and therefore there will be an excess charged on the load. But even that excess should not create a difference as large as there has been in some areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, commented, in connection with tourism, that the HIDB spends money on hotels, facilities and standards. I agree that this is so. In the standard of hotels in the Highlands, there is probably no more emphatic evidence of the success of the board. I can remember only too well, as I am sure the noble Lord can, that only a matter of 20 years ago there were many good hotels in the Highlands but there were also many which left a great deal to be desired. Moving around the area today, one is immediately impressed by the high standard of accommodation available and the considerable choice that is offered—even in some of the remote areas. This is very encouraging.
My noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston referred also to help for Cadzo Brothers. I have to tell him that the board has in fact provided financial assistance for the brothers' enterprise—especially for the development of the special breed of cattle they are dealing with there. So the board has been involved.
§ Lord Stodart of Leaston
My Lords, if my noble friend will allow me, I did not mean to imply that the Cadzo brothers needed financial help from the board. I merely wished to say that the board had latched on to some of the ideas which the Cadzo brothers were propounding.
§ Lord Gray of Contin
In either event, my Lords, the board is interested. It has been asked for advice and whether in fact it has been asked for financial assistance I do not know—and my noble friend would appreciate that I would not say if I did know.
My noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve reinforced the forceful point made about tourism by the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock. I will say to her that I am sure the Scottish Tourist Board will certainly note her remarks and be appreciative of them, even if they do not necessarily offer her an immediate seat on the board, as the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, was suggesting.
In conclusion, I should like to confirm that the board is determined to make the best use of the indigenous resources of its area by adding value in the Highlands. The board has a very clear commitment to small businesses. It is primarily upon the small businessman that the economic success of the board's area must depend, and that will be its prime objective.
I should again like to thank my noble friend Lord Massereene and Ferrard for introducing this subject 1269 this afternoon, to acknowledge the very deep interest he has in the Highlands, and to thank him for giving us all the opportunity to comment on this, the most wonderful part of the United Kingdom.
§ Viscount Massereene and Ferrard
My Lords, it only remains for me to thank all your Lordships for your contributions, and to thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply. I must especially thank my noble friend Lord Dundee, whose father I knew well—but he has already received so many accolades that he does not really need mine, but I certainly give him one as a bonus.
I am feeling rather sorry that, for the first time in my life, I obeyed the Chief Whip and spoke for only 14 minutes, because I got through only about one-quarter of what I wanted to say. I will not say it all now, but I am rather sorry that we did not have time to debate conservation of the Highlands. Although I am all for having hundreds and thousands of tourists to the islands—and they come over to Mull in their tens of thousands—I believe there should be some plan to stop them from spoiling what they come to see. I have made paths but they do not stay on them—and if that goes on, we shall lose our rare birds; our peregrines, our eagles, and the sea eagles which we now have.
Conservation has worked when I have dealt with geologists. Apparently, my estate is one of the most interesting geological parts of the world. The geology students used to clamber all over the place, but I have now come to an agreement with the universities and the polytechnics, to which they adhere very strictly. They now only come at certain times of the year, when they cannot disturb the wildlife and do further damage.
I would like to have a go at the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, because I rather thought that he accused the landowners for the deer which he said had driven the people off the land. In fact, it was the sheep which drove the people off the land. I will not say any more. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.