HL Deb 27 January 1988 vol 492 cc632-65

2.57 p.m

The Earl of Perth rose to call attention to land use and sea use in and around Scotland; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in 1992—only four years away—Scotland's market with no trade barriers will be 350 million people. We, with Portugal and Greece, will be on the extremities of this vast market and perhaps the least well-off of all the nations. In degree this is cause and effect. How are we to overcome the handicap of distance?

Above all, our communication system, whether by land, sea or air—I think that the technical name is our infrastructure—must be absolutely first-class. And what do we find today? I ask your Lordships to take our North-South lines of communication and, first, our road links with England. The English M-roads stop at Newcastle and Carlisle. After that, all we find are the A-roads; the notorious A-road going up to Glasgow with only the last few miles converted to M-road, and the A1 and several smaller A-roads going up to Edinburgh. Is it right that the M-roads should stop before the borders with Scotland? Are the English still afraid of raids from Scotland? I wonder! I shall not go into further detail about the roads except to observe that almost all the roads in Scotland are A roads. It is true that we have a small M system from Edinburgh to Perth—very welcome it is too—and from Glasgow to Stirling. I also recognise that the Government have been trying hard in some respects to improve the road system further north. But I sense that there is no urgency in this endeavour; that one does the ordinary repairs and every so often a little bit more.

It is fair to say that our road system in Scotland is lamentable compared to that in England. We have only 7.4 per cent. of the M roads in the whole of Great Britain. It could be argued that our traffic flow does not warrant more. That comment, if I may say so, is a chicken and egg answer. Scotland is handicapped by great distances and must. I repeat must, have a superlative road system to compensate for that disability.

What about the railways? Here matters are even worse. British Rail, in order to save £500,000, is brutally cutting the west coast route—the London-Midland-Scottish—the pride of Scotland in the old days. Soon passengers, whether they be from Stranraer or from Dumfries, will have to stop at Carlisle and change trains. I know that British Rail must to some degree be commercial, but with Scotland that should not be the only criterion. Otherwise I can see that by the year 2000 there will be no west coast railway route. Therefore I ask the Government to look into this matter and to use their influence on British Rail, as they have, for example, on private interests in relation to the Channel Tunnel.

We in Scotland are nearly 500 miles away from the Channel Tunnel. It will not be of much value to us. We must rely on other means of transport, especially the sea. There are great deep harbour ports on the west coast and there are those on the east coast such as Aberdeen, Dundee, Leith or Grangemouth.

Some of your Lordships will recall that in 1970 there appeared a report by Sir James Lithgow and others which was commissioned by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, a body that has done so well for us over many years. The report bore the title Oceanspan and it is something which should be reread. Its theme was that our deep sea anchorages on the west coast—Hunterston, Greenock and other Clyde ports—should be the reception area for raw materials brought by big ships from all over the world. Their conversion should take place in central Scotland and the resultant goods should be shipped from the eastern ports, as I have said—Leith, Grangemouth, Dundee and so forth. Your Lordships may remember that this idea was floated before we became members of the European Common Market, which is shortly to be without harriers. The Conservative Government said: We accept in principle the main idea behind Oceanspan.

But, sadly, little has happened since then. It is true that we have one or two good M roads in the centre of Scotland, but otherwise I think that Oceanspan has been pigeon-holed.

Let me illustrate what I have in mind. For example, let us take Hunterston and Ravenscraig. The future of Ravenscraig is assured for, say, five years. But what happens after that? Now is the time to look ahead at Hunterston and its deep-sea advantages; its ability to use cheap oil and coal from all over the world and to start great development works so that it can be pre-eminent in Europe for the conversion of metals under modern technology.

Even now it is almost too late to start this study. The area we are talking about is most beautiful. The planning and the amenities need to be carefully taken care of. We already have skilled labour nearby, but I ask that this matter should be looked at again, and looked at now.

I turn now to the eastern ports as opposed to those of the west. Peterhead, Montrose and even Perth are flourishing and are ready to serve incoming ships at all times of the night and day, all day Sundays, weekdays and holidays. That is why they have done so well. I should like to give some detail of what has been happening in Perth. The port is run by three and a half people: the harbour master, his deputy, a boy and a half-time secretary. However, I shall not go into that subject except to say that there the traffic has quintupled over the past 10 years. It is now over 250,000 tonnes and its markets are what you might expect—in the Low Countries, the Baltic countries, Finland, Poland and so forth. There is an example of enterprise. The support of the Tayside region has been valuable and more will be forthcoming.

But what of the other big eastern ports—the Dock "scheme ports" such as Aberdeen, Dundee and Leith? I sense that things are not going so well there, and yet they will have a great opportunity in the coming years. I hope that the Scottish Ports Authority and the Government will try to stir matters up.

I have one last point to make on Oceanspan. There is a concept which I think is mentioned on page 24. It says that a central Scotland ship canal might be looked at, especially with barges in mind. I ask the Government to re-examine that project. It may be expensive but with modern technology it should not he beyond the bounds of our abilities. When all our revenues—and I stress "our", Scottish revenues—from North Sea oil are drying up, it would perhaps provide a most valuable way to create other industry and generally to improve the country's well being. I could say that it would be Scotland's answer to the Channel Tunnel.

The noble Lord, Lord Young, recently announced that his department was the Department of Enterprise. that is splendid. But, even better, it has been announced that the Scottish Development Agency and the Highlands and Islands Development Board will be the main instruments for channelling funds into the various enterprises. I would make a plea that yet a third body be added, namely, the Scottish Tourist Board.

We in Scotland have certain great advantages: our scenery and our sporting facilities. I shall not go into them; we all know them, whether it is grouse, sailing or golf. Very often there are not adequate facilities for the visitor. What is needed is small local hotels, or not even hotels but boarding houses. I hope that that would also be open to support from the enterprise development board. I think one should remember that "many a mickle makes a muckle", although I am not very clear what a "muckle" is.

I shall leave forestry to others, recalling only that once all of Scotland was covered with trees. Then there is fishing, be it for salmon or trout, wild or farmed. That also will be covered by others. I welcome the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, is to speak and I should like to say, "Well done, all those who have done so much for the quick development of salmon farming in Scotland so that it is now a very important industry."

I think that there is a revival of sea fishing, but I am puzzled that when you go to a place like Ullapool you find dozens of foreign factory ships waiting for the catch. I do not know whether there are any Scottish factory ships. Why not? Agriculture I shall leave to others; perhaps it could be the subject of another day's debate.

That brings me to my last point. In the old days we used to have regular debates on Scottish affairs in the House. Today I am only speaking thanks to my fellow Cross-Benchers giving me the time. In future I think that the Opposition and the Government should try and ensure that we have one or two debates a year on Scotland.

In the devolution debate the noble Lord, Lord Home, suggested a Scottish grand committee sitting in Edinburgh. I think that that would be splendid. I go further and suggest that others might participate: representatives of the various bodies in Scotland who would be in a position to make their views known and ensure that Scottish feelings would be known not only to the Secretary of State for Scotland but also to those in Whitehall. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.10 p.m.

Lord Stodart of Leaston

My Lords, I must first thank the noble Earl for giving us the opportunity of ranging over a very wide canvas. Perhaps it is not irrelevant for me to remark on the subject of the use of land and sea that one might sympathise with my noble friend. I see he is £1,400 out of pocket today as a result of a bull trying to use one of the islands for natural purposes but being drowned on the way across. Perhaps that is a rather cruel example of the use of land and sea.

The noble Earl opened his remarks in a rather condemnatory fashion on the subject of roads. I do not think I can agree that they are deplorable, I feel they are very good considering the density of traffic involved. They are excellent right up to the furthest corner of the Highlands. This does not mean that there is no room for improvement. I am quite certain that the A.74 is probably overloaded. However, I would not go along with the noble Earl in a blanket condemnation of the road system.

As regards rail, it is worth noting the enormous success of the extremely expensive luxury trips on the equivalent of what one might describe as the Orient Express. I understand that the train—going round Scotland—is fully booked. On the other hand, many of the ordinary services, carrying people from Edinburgh to London and back again, slip up occasionally and need a bit of sprucing up.

Although the debate is about land and sea, it may not be irrelevant to mention air. Direct flights into Scotland are improving in number. However, there is a need for more. The tourist industry in Scotland would gain considerably if people did not have to undertake what I regard as a perfectly horrifying exercise: flying into Heathrow and then from Heathrow up to Scotland.

The tourist industry seems really to have taken off. There are many superb examples of what small hotels should be. A large number of those in the Highlands—and this also applies to restaurants are as good as any in Europe. A tremendous amount of credit is due to the Scottish Tourist Board whose advertising this year in particular has been tremendously eye-catching. Perhaps noble Lords will understand why I say this; it may be that the success story of the tourist board has something to do with the modelling of its set-up on the Highlands and Islands Development Board's area tourist system under the responsibility of districts.

The noble Earl, Lord Perth, touched on fish farming. This is one of the great success stories, having started only about 25 years ago. Salmon has been the most notable success, and I would have thought there was now an enormous future for mussels and even for the farming of lobsters.

One cannot talk about land use in Scotland without mentioning farming and forestry because they are the basic industries. We are facing considerable changes. The last thing I propose to do today is to enter into the politics of farming. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, is going to speak. I would merely say that the Crown estates have done a splendid job in Glenlivet—the best example in the country, I have always thought, of the integration of farming with forestry. I can remember in 1965 when I accompanied Mr. Edward Heath on a tour of Scotland. I told him that in the speech he was going to make he ought to pay a compliment to Glenlivet. He said, "Oh, but I really mustn't discriminate between one malt whisky and another." I said that it was nothing to do with malt whisky. It was the great farming-forestry integration. I see that the Crown estates are now going to try to encourage people into diversification in that area. I wish them great good fortune.

I believe that the diversification with which we are faced will be limited in scope. There will always be entrepreneurs in farming. I do not think there will be all that many of them and, if I were to give advice as to what farmers in Scotland ought to do, I should advise them not to indulge in sunflowers or evening primrose but to continue producing what we know we can produce really well; that is, quality beef and malting barley while keeping an eye on the market. Provided that too many people do not go in for growing oats which is my favourite and most profitable crop, I advise farmers to grow that crop too. I would simply add in conclusion that in order to do this, we beg that we should have fair competition. I shall not mention the green pound.

3.21 p.m.

Lord Hughes

My Lords, when the noble Earl, Lord Perth, indicated his intention to put forward a Motion on Scottish matters he indicated that, as it was coming from the Scottish Peers' Association—an all-party organisation—he thought it would be proper that they should endeavour to find something which would not be party political.

When I saw the terms of the Motion which he put forward I must admit that I was completely in the dark because it seemed at one time either to be exceedingly narrow or to be so wide as to make it difficult to keep political matters out of it.

In the noble Earl's opening remarks it seemed to me that he had opted for the latter. He has certainly made it possible for a very wide-ranging debate to take place. I shall not follow the noble Earl on the subject of roads and I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, on the subject of air. The noble Lord widened the debate still further. He took it away from both the land and the sea and into the air but I think that he did so properly. However, the one thing which he did not do in relation to air was perhaps mention the complaint which I think almost all of us who use the Scottish air services have. Our complaint is that the fare is far too high. A fare of £144 return between Edinburgh or Glasgow and London is very much more than any equivalent fare in other parts of the world. The only benefit that I can receive is through having become a regular user of the British Midlands service. I pay the same fare but I receive a meal instead of the cup of tea and shortbread biscuit that I received from British Airways.

I wish to concentrate on two subjects which have been only lightly touched on, as I am quite certain that other noble Lords will want to go in other directions. I want to talk about forestry and fish farming. I have two reasons for doing so and the first one is historical. When I first landed at the Scottish Office in 1970, having spent all my life in towns, my colleagues decided that the most appropriate thing for me to handle was agriculture and fisheries. I was not terribly enthusiastic about that but I lived to he pleased about it because, in the two years when those matters were my responsibility, I learnt an awful lot about things that I should not otherwise have known. During that time I was very much involved both in the promotion of forestry and in attempting to encourage the promotion of fish farming.

On both those matters I obtained the backing of my noble friend who, immediately on coming into office, recognised that there were opportunities for further employment in parts of Scotland where, to put it mildly, the opportunities were not as good as they might be. His biggest contribution of course was the one which has already been referred to: the creation of the Highlands and Islands Development Board.

I remember that in the beginning the then Conservative Leader in Scotland, the late Michael Noble, characterised the Highlands and Islands Development Board as a Marxist imposition on Scotland. Everyone has since realised that it was a very good development. But forestry and fishing were outwith the fields in which the Highlands and Islands Development Board operated and where it has operated so successfully.

Forestry has done very well in Scotland in the intervening years, despite the obstacles put in its way by the Treasury. I say that with some respect as a former Lord Chancellor is sitting in the Chamber today. However, I remember that there was a debate on forestry in your Lordships' House which was initiated by the father of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. He of course was a noted practitioner of forestry himself. The spokesman for the Government, of which the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, was a supporter, shot him down on the basis that we could get all the timber we wanted very much cheaper from the northern hemisphere than by growing it ourselves and that all past experience showed that prices would not increase by more than 2 or 3 per cent. a year. A month after the debate the Russians increased the price of timber by 95 per cent. So much for timber and forestry.

Fish farming was almost unheard of in 1970 because the obstacles were so great. I am very glad to see from a document from the National Farmers' Union of Scotland the extent to which fish farming has grown. I venture to suggest that there is still a long way to go. The union points out that: Since 1970 … over 370 new businesses have been established. Around 1,700 new jobs have been created directly in the industry. The Highlands and Islands Development Board believes that in the spin-off from that fish farming another 1,200 jobs in processing and other areas have already been generated. I hope that much more can be done in that direction.

I find myself in the invidious position of having to agree with the Secretary of State for Scotland, the right honourable Malcolm Rifkind, who a fortnight ago gave the go-ahead for 5,000 acres of forestry to be planted in what is called the Flow country. Perhaps a noble Lord who speaks later could tell me what that is. The Secretary of State for Scotland this week gave the go-ahead for fish farming in Loch Ness although some people think that that may frighten Nessie.

3.28 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for having introduced this debate. He will forgive me if I do not share his lack of enthusiasm for the Channel Tunnel. The debate gives me the opportunity to talk on my favourite subject which is forestry in Scotland.

I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, in praising the endeavours of the Forestry Commission. I should like to draw the attention of the House to the changed pattern of forestry in Scotland. In 1980 24,000 acres were planted in Scotland. Of that the commission planted 15.8 acres and the private sector 8.6 acres. In 1987 the figure was 5,000 acres for the Forestry Commission and 19,000 acres for the private sector.

I am not against private investment in forestry and I hope that it will be encouraged, but it does represent a considerable diminution of the place and status of the Forestry Commission in the development of this important industry. I should like some assurance from the Minister that that trend will not continue and the role of the commission will not be reduced. It is a good neighbour in the countryside. It does research for the forestry industry and makes that available to the private sector. It administers grants to the private sector. It has opened up the country—that is important to the tourist industry—with facilities for recreation. Last year, 25 million day visitors visisted the estates of the Forestry Commission. That in itself would justify continued support for the commission.

Turning to forestry in general, it is not well recognised that it is now responsible for employing 11,200 people in Scotland. That is a not inconsiderable number in a small country. I refer to the commission, the private sector and also to the wood processing industry, which has been built on the basis of early planting. I am sure that the Minister will be encouraged to observe that as a result of the much-criticised early planting of the Forestry Commission and the private sector, a Finnish company decided last year to build a new plant in Irvine, an area of high unemployment. That company plans to invest £100 million in downstream activity. The Dalcross plant in Inverness is another example of downstream activity, which is only possible because of the present harvesting from early planting. Therefore, forestry can, and I hope will continue to, make a substantial contribution to the employment situation.

Perhaps I may say a word about forestry's public relations. Forestry is currently getting a bad name from two sources. First there are the environmentalists, most of them based in the South-East of England, who read the glossy Sunday magazines with their pretty pictures. (There are not many copies of the Sunday Times and the Telegraph sold in Loch Aber.) People in the South of England have apparently a great feeling for the wilderness areas of Scotland and very little feeling for the people who work there. I have always thought that the saddest sight in those areas is the closed-down school and the deserted croft. Forestry makes a contribution to a living countryside.

The critics of forestry are not confined to people living in the South-East. I noticed recently that a Conservative MP said that he did not want his constituency planted up with a series of lavatory brushes. Anyone who walks through the woods, as I do regularly, and witnesses the Sitka spruce in wintertime will realise that it is a special feature of the winter scene. I hope that we can free forestry from those ignorant prejudices and give it its proper place in the Scottish economy.

The management of the Forestry Commission is broken up into conservancies. They are called conservancies because the people who work there are concerned about conservation. That is why they work in the countryside. They are not manufacturing a dull product. Talk to people who work in the countryside. They love the countryside and they are not in the business of desecrating it.

I should like to pay a tribute to the Secretary of State for Scotland for his wise and balanced decision in connection with planting in the Flow country. The Flow country is not the best place to plant trees. The much criticised investment companies in that area may find great difficulty in attracting the Terry Wogans and the Steve Davises to planting on a 1 per cent. return when farmland is likely to become available shortly which is better land for planting and which may yield 5 per cent. Therefore, I am not sure that the opening of that area will necessarily mean substantially more planting.

Criticism of the Forestry Commission comes not only from environmentalists but also from those who criticise the tax advantages which are given to rich people for planting trees. Who else is going to plant on a 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. return? Perhaps such critics would prefer that Terry Wogan took his money and bought US government bonds or villas in Spain. The mere fact that there are tax advantaages makes it possible to attract capital to an industry which would not otherwise attract it. One gets a higher and safer return by buying government stock than from investing in forestry. We should be careful not to bow to the prejudiced view that by giving tax incentives we are making a gesture for social justice, when in fact it restricts the development of a useful industry in Scotland.

Finally, I noticed recently that CoSLA advocated planning for forestry. CoSLA has enough on its plate in carrying out its obligations, which are substantially in urban areas. To introduce planning controls into forestry would mean substantial delays. There is perfectly good protection in the consultative committees that exist on a regional basis. We should not necessarily impose further planning strictures. I commend to the House further support for that useful and important industry.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Goold

My Lords, I also welcome this wide-ranging debate which has been introduced by the noble Earl. I should like to concentrate on the use of surface land, which is clearly no longer needed to the same extent as in the past to grow food. On such land there is a need for diversification. Like the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, I am a supporter of forestry. It is an increasingly important industry. With a predicted shortage of timber world-wide by the end of this century, it is an industry which needs to be expanded. The Government recently announced incentives to encourage farm forestry. That has been well received by the National Farmers' Union in Scotland. In addition to the smaller woodland areas, there is a great need for more large-scale forestry. The perceived need in the United Kingdom is for 30,000 hectares a year of forestry planting.

It is imperative to safeguard the environment and the important tourist industry in some places by preventing planting and in others, where possible, by mixed planting of conifers and deciduous trees. However, in areas which are not of such high scenic and tourist importance, we must not let environmental demands outweigh commercial ones. Some people are opposed to conifers. But the fact is that those are the trees which are in commercial demand. For example, in Scotland Caledonian Paper is at present constructing a new plant at Irvine employing 450 people, with a further 500 employed in related forestry and haulage. That factory needs Sitka spruce; no other will do. Similarly, Highland Forest Products in Inverness makes an alternative to plywood. It employs around 100 people. That factory requires pine; no other will do.

As I have said, we must safeguard the environment but we must guard against too many unnecessary safeguards, which would destroy the economic viability of commercial enterprises and destroy much needed jobs in Scotland. In that matter I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.

So far as surplus agricultural land is concerned, we should also consider the possibility of improving the quality of our new housing by making more land available. In that connection I declare an interest as a director of a Scottish housebuilding company. Because of the shortage and consequent high cost of development land, plots on which houses are built are getting smaller and smaller.

I believe that there are areas where surplus agricultural land could be used for pleasant housing developments without in any way destroying the beauty of the countryside. Similarly, if a person wants to build a house in the country, with five or 10 acres as a paddock, would this really destroy the ambience of the countryside? I suggest not and I believe that, had our present planning restrictions existed a century and more ago, many of the most beautiful castles and manor houses in Scotland would not have been built. I hope that a more enlightened look will be taken at planning applications in future. While green belt is of course important, it need not be maintained everywhere with quite the same vigour and intensity as in the past.

A paper produced recently by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries states that approximately 20 per cent. of land in Scotland is surplus to agricultural requirements. If that land is not to revert to marsh, heather and bracken, it has to be used sensibly and planning authorities have to be less negative than many are at present. With a shortage of forestry products and housing, good sense would seem to indicate that one surplus should help to satisfy another shortage.

Fish farming has been mentioned by other noble Lords. This is a very important new industry in Scotland, over 1,000 people being employed directly on cage sites, many in remote and very vulnerable communities which have little other employment. It is estimated that up to 3,000 people in the Highlands and islands are directly and indirectly employed in fish farming and that is an ever-increasing figure.

However, there is a need also to recognise other interests—for example, yachting, tourism, fishing, and environmental interests. I believe that with proper guidance all of them can live together without conflict. Certainly aquaculture is very important and must be encouraged. The Crown Estate Commissioners must act as sensible landlords, as I know they will under the chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. I welcome their recent document laying down some guidelines for siting fish farms in the sea.

I mentioned the need to recognise the interests of yachtsmen and tourists. In Scotland, where some of the finest sailing exists, this is particularly important. It is essential to preserve safe passage to anchorages, particularly at night. I know that the Royal Yachting Association of Scotland is consulted by the Crown Estate Commissioners in connection with the granting of leases for fish farms in coastal waters, but safe passage is a major problem. In 1977, 27 applications for leases were referred to the association; in 1987 there were 253 referrals. These are nearly always for sheltered waters which were previously a haven for sailors.

The economy of the islands of Scotland is also of great importance. I am delighted that this Government's agricultural development programme for the islands will give a much needed boost to the whole economy.

The Scottish islands off the west coast, with their unrivalled scenery, are an area of great potential for tourist development, but one of the difficulties is the cost of sea transport for goods, cars and people. Perhaps I should again declare an interest as a frequent user of the ferry between the mainland and the island of Arran. The ferry services are almost exclusively in the hands of the nationalised monopoly carrier, Caledonian MacBrayne, who receive a substantial subsidy from public funds for their operations.

The Government have recently provided the means to purchase several new vessels and provide harbour facilities for roll-on/roll-off operation. Because of all that modernisation there is a need to ensure that maximum use is made of the facilities by an efficient, business-like operation. I suggest that the time might now be appropriate to consider some cooperation with the private sector on these routes, either by licence or by other method of tender. I believe that this would lead to lower costs, which would help to encourage more tourists to explore this remote part of the British Isles; it would benefit small industry on the islands; and there would be a resultant increase in employment. I hope that it will be considered by the Government.

A lot is happening in the land and sea areas of Scotland. There is a lot of exciting potential which is being encouraged by the actions of this Government. Much more can still be achieved.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, it is always a great advantage when speaking in Parliament to be able to follow up the remarks of the previous speaker. That I shall do on the subject of fish farming. However, before doing so I should like to echo the cry of anguish from the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, about the cost of flying to the north of Scotland. I hope very much that the further amalgamation of the airlines will not lead to even greater increases in fares.

I should like to talk about fish farming and in particular the position of the Crown Commissioners. I am in a very happy position to do that because the chairman of the Crown Commissioners, the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, is here with us and the proposer of this excellent Motion, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, was a commissioner, although I do not think that he is any longer. There may be other commissioners present.

In case there is anyone present who is so ignorant as not to know what the Crown Commissioners are or what they do, I shall explain very briefly—subject to correction by the noble Earl. They have inherited the management of Crown lands and they hand over the profits—the consolidated fund. Apart from the salaries that they receive—which may be large; I do not know—they are not in any way engaged in private profit. Under their statutes the Crown Commissioners are under an obligation to maximise profits on behalf of the Crown. They own a considerable amount of property—houses in London and land in Wales and in Scotland. In particular they own the bed of the sea. In Orkney and Shetland this is from the low tide mark, and in the rest of the country, except I believe for the Duchy of Cornwall, they own it from high tide mark out to the national limit.

I am bound to say that the Crown Commissioners are a rather tough lot. In Shetland and Orkney they have been known to arouse some opposition. I had a long and fairly amicable negotiation with my friend Sir Malcolm Trustram Eve before he would forgo a claim to high tide mark in Orkney and Shetland. Of course it is well known to everybody that under udal law the land down to low tide mark belongs to the proprietors in Orkney and Shetland.

I should like to make one general point about the commissioners. I understand that under their statute they are bound to make the most profit that they can, not on behalf of themselves but on behalf of the Treasury ultimately. There is a question as to what principles they apply. I am informed—and again I may be corrected—that as far as concerns fish farming they will probably impose a rent or levy of some 1.25 per cent. on turnover, If that is so it is a fairly large amount, bearing in mind that fish farmers cannot use much of the bed of the sea. I should like to know whether that is the rate being applied to the Channel Tunnel, because if it is the proceeds will be very large. I understand that they have made an arrangement with the Government over the Channel Tunnel. Ultimately it is in the public interest to know what the Channel Tunnel is being charged and I do not think that it is a matter which can be hidden under plea of a commercial negotiation. Some of the activities of the Crown Commissioners are a matter of general public concern.

As I said, the Crown Commissioners charge a rate or levy on the use of the sea-bed and other facilities by fish farmers. As I understand it, in the case of the mainland of Scotland there is no planning authority which can with legal sanction deal with the problem of the control of fish farms. Negotiations take place but I believe that there is no legal sanction for any body to be in charge of planning. The Crown Commissioners have stepped in and have tried to reconcile the various interests. They hear representations and no doubt they do a very good job. However, as I say, they probably do so without any statutory authority in the last resort, and I understand that it takes a very considerable time.

Around Orkney and Shetland the matter is dealt with under the Orkney and Shetland Acts. It seems to me that there the matter is handled much more satisfactorily. For instance, in Sheltand, the Shetland Island Council—I think under Sections 11 and 13 of the Shetland County Council Act 1974—exercises control. I understand that it gets on rather well with the Crown Commissioners and there is no great problem at the moment. However, inherent in the position of the Crown Commissioners is a conflict of interest. They are, so to speak, the landlords of the seabed. No one would dream of placing the whole planning procedure of housing or land in the hands of the owners. However well intentioned they may be, there is an inevitable danger and likelihood of a conflict of interests. Furthermore, apart from the very important present industry, about which noble Lords have previously spoken, experiments in fish farming and other forms of fishing are taking place. Here, too, it is not apparent to me that it is desirable that the owners of the seabed shall be in a position to control the planning.

I need not mention again what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Goold, about moorings and passage at sea. Lately near my home at Orkney there was a conflict between a man who wished to raise the jetty or breakwater which joins the island up to the mainland and a local oyster farm. There is a difficulty there. I hope that the Government will give some thought to it and will give statutory powers to somebody to adjudicate between the various claimants to the seabed.

There has been very considerable anxiety, in particular in Norway, about the dumping of atomic waste at sea. I do not quite know whether the Crown Commissioners are involved in that but presumably they own the Stormy Bank—one of the places mentioned—and therefore would come into the situation. I should be grateful if the Government will tell us who is the ultimate authority for deciding where on the seabed atomic waste may be buried.

There are many interesting subjects that could be gone into in this debate. That is the one to which I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships.

3.52 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Earl for inaugurating this debate today. I agree with him that from time to time it would be an excellent idea if we could have debates on the development of Scotland, not so much because it is Scotland alone, but because Scotland plays a very important part in the United Kingdom and in the European world. I think it is most important that we should be able to discuss a variety of matters because we still have a tremendous influence outside the bounds of our own country. That is still of very great importance.

Scottish people have always been interested in European and foreign affairs, and I believe that we should continue to be so. We have made many contributions to the government of the United Kingdom by very distinguished Scots people. I hope that it will continue as it has in the past. I have not disagreed with any of the remarks made by noble Lords. That shows that we have a general feeling in Scotland that we wish to do the best we can for everybody in the country.

Noble Lords will know that my main interests are in the hill country and wildlife country, in what in the agricultural world are technically called the less favoured areas. I have always believed them to be the most favoured areas because I like them best, but that is the technical term. In some of those areas we are developing agriculture. Some of the produce is not over supplied. That is a very rare thing to say of many agricultural areas today when everyone is suffering from overproduction. However, in the less favoured areas, whether in the Borders the Highlands, or the West Country, sheep are not overproduced. It is an agricultural fact that I hope will continue. There seems to be no reason why it should be cut down in any way.

I was very glad when the Government, in discussions over the CAP in the EC, stood firm against the idea of cutting down on the support for the sheep industry today. I also agree that there is no reason why a certain amount of land should not go over to trees. Living as I do in the middle of the biggest forest area, it is a little difficult to talk about more trees, but, if one takes a general view, trees and grazing land can be combined. On the whole I think the Government are right to encourage it.

Then there is the question of diversification. This can be very varied. In suitable areas it means different uses not only of land but also of buildings, and it means encouraging tourism and handicrafts. I should like to mention one village in my area called Newcastleton, where a new industry of making rugs on a small scale has been started by enterprising people. This enterprise has meant that many people in the village are learning to make hook rugs and are selling them all over the United Kingdom. It is only a small matter but it shows that there are people ready to start new industries of different kinds. Diversification must still maintain agriculture as the central role in the rural areas. To allow agriculture to become redundant would be a disaster. That is most important.

The National Union of Farmers in Scotland has made this point to me. If diversification includes restoring or changing use of farm buildings—which is something that happens—those farm buildings should remain at the same rateable value. It would be of very little use to the farmer trying to vary his production if he found himself faced with enormous rate increases when he was trying to diversify and use the buildings for something else. Otherwise they might simply go to rack and ruin.

In this debate we have talked about the sea and sea fishing, which is at the moment fairly prosperous, and the new industry of fish farming, which has been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Hughes and Lord Goold. That industry is very important indeed because it is growing all the time. Someone has already mentioned that there are 370 new fish farm businesses that have started up and are bringing in 1,700 new jobs. The Highlands and Islands Development Board has encouraged this very successfully. This industry finds employment all the year round and in particular for young people. As the fish farming develops and increases more transport and other services are required for that industry. I believe that there are now at least 25 plants throughout Scotland that pack and process the produce of fish farming. The Highlands and Islands Development Board estimates that there are 1,200 jobs in that section in addition to those which are related directly to the production.

I believe that, with the encouragement that the Government give to Scottish industry and with encouragement to try to introduce new schemes, we can play an important part in the development of the United Kingdom both here in this country and abroad. I commend this debate and encourage the Government to do everything they can to increase the enterprise and the production going on in Scotland today.

3.59 p.m.

Lord Ferrier

My Lords, it is clear that the wide-ranging nature of the Motion by the noble Earl is well worth considering. When I heard him speak I was reminded of a Hindu lawyer who once said to me, "If you want to be vague, be very vague". Indeed it enables the span of considerations to be so wide that it is difficult to decide what to say when, like myself, people are interested in many aspects of Scotland's anxieties.

I believe I am right in saying that fish farming really started when this House persuaded the Government to adopt a proper rating system. The rates were so high that they could not be compared with rates for ordinary farmers. We asked why so much had to be charged for fish farming, but this was 25 or so years ago.

So many subjects have been touched upon that it is difficult to decide what to say. Forestry was referred to both by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. I am guided in my comments by the memory of a kinsman of mine who was concerned about the cost of roads in Argyll. The place is now closed off, but he told me that he had calculated that the cost of maintaining and reconstructing the road between Argyll forest and the factory would be more than the value of all the timber. Let us remember that.

My mind goes straight from that to the Irvine proposal, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe. It is very important, but, goodness me, the timber for it has to come a long distance. We must remember that the cost of the roads, their maintenance and reconstruction is a charge on the people rather than on the factories. That is a fact which we must remember clearly.

While talking of Irvine—I live near Ayr—I am reminded about transport. British Rail is awfully proud of its performance in Scotland. I cannot understand why, because it is rotten. How is it that one cannot catch a through train from Ayr to Edinburgh? You have to change. You may have to change trains or change platforms; sometimes, you have to change stations. The rails are there but the will is not. My view is that it is not the fault of the railway board in Scotland, but the fault overall of British Rail who is so fussed about its blooming tunnel that it is spending thousands of pounds on this harebrained scheme. The money would he far better spent on the nitty gritty of transport in Scotland.

Why does the train from Stranraer to Euston not stop at Prestwick? Can you believe it? We are told that British Rail is to build a Prestwick airport station, but when? The line has been electrified to Glasgow, but British Rail has not improved the service on the railway which is so important to Scotland. There are miles of potential developments. I am thinking particularly of the Waverley line. That should never have been closed. It was parsimony that did it. But who is to pay for the transport of all the timber from the forests? Will it travel by road? If so, the cost of replacing the road is about the same as the value of the timber. Why cannot the railway be reconstructed? Why cannot a more modern approach be made to the problem?

The railway system needs thorough overhaul. The design of vehicles needs revision. The sleepers are insanitary because they are not properly constructed. For example, there are only two lavatories in a coach containing 30 bunks. They are both at one end of the corridor. How the devil does one travel from A to B down a rocking corridor at 90 miles an hour in the middle of the night? No wonder everybody says "To hell with it. I'll fly". Some serious thinking ought to be given to transport in Scotland.

I am picking and choosing out of my notes subjects which mean a lot to me. As I said, fish farming was given a boost by this House. We have heard much about forestry and we should work on that and develop it; but I believe there must be a transport supremo who will judge what the right system of transport is for carrying the timber.

I believe it is necessary to redevelop the railway system. I hope that can be done. That is my chief contribution to the position as I see it in the light of the debate. There is much more. The noble Earl mentioned that sea transport might easily be developed, if one was not worrying about the tunnel, to Leith, Copenhagen, Hull, Zeebrugge and so on. I believe serious attention should be given to the problem in the light of what the noble Earl has tried to persuade us. We must take an overall view of what Scotland needs and carry it out.

4.7 p.m.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has spoken about the infrastructure, the necessity for better roads and improvements to harbours, all of which I heartily endorse. I should like to follow him a little further down that path and speak about roads. It was good news to hear that the notoriously dangerous A.74 is to be upgraded to a motorway in the near future, and not before time. But that is not nearly enough.

The A.9 from Inverness to Perth should at the very least be a dual carriageway all the way and preferably a motorway, as should the Aberdeen to Perth road and the A.1 from Edinburgh to Newcastle. The A.9 from Wick to Inverness, the roads from Inverness to Aberdeen, from Fort William to Glasgow and the A.68 from Edinburgh to Newcastle should at least be dual carriageway all the way. The A.93 from Perth to Braemar and Aberdeen is not even a trunk road, at least I do not think it is. From Aberdeen to the Cairnwell, where the ski centre is, it is a good road thanks to Grampian Regional Council. But as soon as one goes over the top into Tayside it becomes one of the worst roads in Scotland. Every time I drive over it, it is worse than I remember and I cannot believe it. Yet it is the only road from the south to the ski centre, and is very busy too in the tourist season, carrying huge buses to and from Royal Deeside, which is one of Scotland's biggest tourist attractions. What happens when two of those buses meet I know not. I only hope that I am not there. Soon there will be a very nasty accident. I do not know whether it should be redesignated a trunk road or whether Tayside Regional Council might be given some special grant to improve it, but something needs to be done.

Apart from anything else, the Channel Tunnel, which the noble Lord. Lord Ferrier, so deplored, will not do Scotland much good unless she has better roads over which to get her goods to it or to the railheads, now so few and far between, which lead to it.

The noble Lords, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, Lord Hughes and Lord Goold have put very strongly the case for forestry and its expansion in Scotland. I am most grateful to them because that has saved me a lot of time. The Forestry Commission's functions as forestry authority are central to the private sector. I hope that if the Government are still toying with any idea of privatising the commission, which I believe they once were, they will abandon it forthwith.

I join with other noble Lords in applauding the decision of the Secretary of State announced on Monday to authorise the planting of some 2,300 hectares of trees in the flow country in Caithness. It is a very welcome decision. I hope that it will be the forerunner of more courageous decisions in the face of those who would like the flow country to remain a dreary, unproductive bog. Plenty of it always will remain so, for there are conditions under which no tree will grow.

I have one or two small suggestions to make regarding areas where I think there is a ready market for products which could be grown in Scotland. One is cashmere. I understand that there is a world shortage of cashmere. Kashmir goats can be bred and reared successfully in Scotland. There could be a real opportunity there. Although they are not the very best milking goats, the production of goats' milk cheeses could be a profitable sideline.

There is, I understand, a world shortage of honey. I know that Scotland cannot rely on having enough sunshine every year to make honey production reliable as a sole source of income; yet I know of a man who started about 10 years ago with a few hives and who now owns a large and thriving business. He produces mustard, marmalade and chutneys as well. Any honey producer would be wise to have a second string to his bow.

Finally, I wonder whether rather more of Scotland's vegetable requirements could not he home-grown. The demand for fresh vegetables and unusual vegetables has increased quite dramatically in recent years. And that demand is being met very largely by imports. Only last week I found salsify in my local supermarket; I had never dreamed that I would ever find it there. It had come from Belgium. I used to grow it perfectly easily in the garden. That is just one example. I think it might be possible to grow quite a variety of vegetables, fruit and herbs, which are at present imported or just not available.

My message is: come into the kitchen, farmer, find out what the cook wants and see if it is possible for you to grow it.

4.14 p.m.

The Earl of Selkirk

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Perth, was absolutely right in putting primary emphasis on transport. Access has been the problem of Scotland from the very earliest times. Some noble Lords may have heard of General Wade who is said to have made the first road in the Highlands. I do not know whether it was a cause or not, but certainly a transformation of the economy followed the making of that road, for good or bad reasons.

One must not underestimate the tremendous transformation that has taken place in Scotland since the days when we had what were called the heavy industries. Scottish coal was being sent by ships all over the world and half the ships in the world were made on the Clyde. They used to say of Coatbridge that it was the vulcan of Great Britain. It must have been very unpleasant; I believe the sun was invisible at all times of the year. That is how industry was in the early days.

It came to an end after the First World War. Since then we have been trying to develop light industry. The basis on which that industry developed was trading estates. I ask the noble Lord—I do not suppose he will answer—how many trading estates there are in Scotland today. They can be immensely important. I believe that in the next 20 years we are going to find a lot of people trying to get away from the overcrowding in London which is becoming intolerable. Trading estates, with proper areas for parking cars and other facilities, will attract people.

I had the honour before the war of taking the chairman of Rolls-Royce around Scotland where he was planning some development. I did my best to sell Coatbridge, Airdrie, Motherwell and Hamilton. But he came straight back to Hillingdon estate just south of Glasgow. I do not blame him; it was probably the right place. These industries are of tremendous importance for the future.

I find myself tremendously opposed to what the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, said about the roads. If one thinks about it for a moment, we have had motorways for just on 30 years. You can go to Exeter, Bristol, Cardiff, Liverpool, Leeds and York on motorways. But can you go to Edinburgh? Can you go to Glasgow? The noble Lady said that the A.741 is a dangerous road. I suppose it is. I would say that the road to Edinburgh is a good country road with a few cows and one thing and another. It is quite a pleasant road to travel along. However, it is totally out of touch with the modern motor car. It is time something was done.

Three important developments have taken place since the war. I will not talk about oil, except to say that the industry has had the decency to pipe supplies. That has been done extremely well. The standard of amenities with which the oil piping has been carried out has been of a very high order as far as I can see.

The second development is tourism. There of course is the whole question of transport and access. I am going to say this quite bluntly. We have been let down by British Airways. I think British Airways has done much less than its share in making it clear that Scotland is available, particularly from North America. We have no British Airways aeroplanes flying from Scotland to the American continent. That is absurd. It is true that there is an American company coming in at the present time, but British Airways has not done its share.

Indeed, I think that British Airways has been unduly influenced by the travel agencies in London. I know more than one person who has been told that the only way to get from Scotland to North America is through London. That is untrue, but if it were true it would be quite wrong. Many people in Scotland are in close contact with all parts of that continent, and with Canada particularly. Almost half the population of Scotland have letters from time to time from Canada and are very anxious to go there. One never knows how to bring pressure on airways but I hope that some pressure can be brought to bear.

I was going to say something about fish farming but I do not think that I will. The noble Earl has been telling us all about it. We have had a number of figures, some of which I disagree with.

I have a very interesting paper here from the Crown estate. There are questions some of which were asked by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, about what exactly is happening. Here the Crown estate has made a tremendous development, on which I offer it warmest congratulations; but is it really the right body to do this? Do we have a sufficiently broad outlook on this?

There is the question of disease. There are various places such as Aberdeen, Stirling and so on where this subject is dealt with. There is the story that some of the rainbow trout were brought in from Denmark with a disease and nobody seems to care about it. These are important factors.

It is an interesting proposition to make money out of the bottom of the sea. I do not know anybody who has done it before. It is quite an achievement and I think everyone wants to support such efforts. What do you do about it? Will there be a licence on tonnage? Should it be registered in the Register of Seisins? Is it indefinite? Is it transferable, or is it purely personal? These are factors which should be brought out quite clearly. This is a new and tremendous development.

I shall stop now because I should like to give the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, as much time as possible. But I am sure that nothing is more important than improving access for Scotland.

4.20 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, I share the gratitude of other speakers in the debate for the fact that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has opened the debate so wide: to almost anything which occurs in the sea, under the sea, on the sea, on the land, in the land or under the land. I do not propose to follow him everywhere; I propose to confine myself to the area of Scotland north of the Highlands line. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and I are probably the only two noble Lords who live there. I should like to point out to the House how fragile is the economy in that area.

I submit to your Lordships that the primary purpose of land use is for the communities which live on that land. The primary purpose should not be to supply a month's holiday to people in the far corners of the land; it should be to keep the communities alive in the areas where they have existed. That purpose is difficult to achieve. I should like to share with noble Lords some statistics about the district of Caithness. As a result of the census taken the year before I was born, in 1921, there were returned 940 fishermen; 310 coopers; 447 fish curers; 255 water transport workers; 781 associated trades such as ropemakers, netmakers, sailmakers, boilermakers, shipwrights, basketmakers, and so on. For the fishing industry therefore there was a total of 2,733 fully employed persons. That leaves out of account the girls who came in to cure the herring, and the people who came in during the height of the herring season and boosted the population of Wick from a figure of approximately 7,000 to over 10,000. At the same time there were employed in agriculture 4,271 farm workers and 212 people in associated trades such as seedsmen, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and so on. There were therefore 4,483 people employed in agriculture and the combined total was 7,216.

The 1981 census showed that the combined number of people employed in fishing and agriculture had dropped to 1,040. That is the kind of decline that these areas have faced in their basic industries. Were it not for the fact that we have in our midst the Dounreay atomic research establishment, we should literally be a desert. If it were to be decided not to follow the road of atomic energy as a source of electricity, and that were to be removed, we should be decimated. It would be like an implosion or a supernova. We should shrink into a black hole and the population would fly outwards like a lot of neutrinos.

We face this very real threat the whole time. I beg your Lordships, particularly those on the Government Benches, to remember the fragile economy of the Highlands. It is not a simple success story; it is a constant struggle to find new industries to replace old. In that context we look, for instance, at forestry. The best that can be said for forestry in our part of the world is that by coming into the area it has provided jobs to replace those that have disappeared over the past few years. However, it has not created an enormous surge of employment in what is known as the flow country. For the sake of the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, I should like to say that the flow country is an emotive term that has been invented by journalists over the past three or four years. A "flow" is a certain kind of bog with dubh lochs in it. The flow country refers to the whole area, whether or not it contains flows, in which flows are to be found. Therefore, in the so-called flow country—so-called by journalists—one will find flows but also areas which do not have flows. One will find areas that are agricultural and others that are suitable for forestry, and so forth.

While sharing with my noble friend Lord Taylor of Gryfe the pleasure that at least some sense has been brought into the forestry argument, I should like to endorse his remarks about the importance of the Forestry Commission. The Forestry Commission has carried out some of the best and most sensitive forestry developments in the whole area. It now has approximately 5,000 hectares of land which it bought and paid for but which it is not being allowed to develop. It is a piece of land about which I know a great deal. It is approximately 500 hectares in extent which the commission bought from me and my sons and which it has fenced, roaded and all but developed to the point of ploughing and planting. That has been held up for no particularly good reason. Are we seriously to force the commission to demolish and to reinstate £50,000 worth of infrastructure on that land? I suggest not—it would be crazy. When the land was taken over and development began the site was not of special scientific interest. Therefore I cannot see why the Forestry Commission is being treated worse than private forestry. I plead with the Government to look at that matter.

Finally, I should like to comment on the iniquitous effect of the high cost of petrol on the whole Highlands area. It has a harmful effect on every industry: on the tourist industry, agriculture and even on the cost of goods to the housewife. It is a sick joke that the most expensive petrol one can buy is to he found just outside the boundary fence around the Sullom Voe oil terminal. Apart from being harmful to the area, it is unfair that an area which produces and handles so much oil should be forced to buy the final product at an extraordinarily inflated price. It is about time that there was a national price for petrol so that everyone, wherever he may be, pays the same price. If that were done it would have little effect on the oil companies but an enormous effect on tourism, forestry, agriculture, fishing and on the people living in the Highlands of Scotland.

4.28 p.m.

Viscount Massereene and Ferrard

My Lords, I owe the noble Earl, Lord Perth, profuse apologies because I arrived just after he sat down. That was not completely my fault; I am pro-British Rail but I was let down on this occasion. I apologise to the noble Earl. As I deserve a penalty for not hearing his opening speech, I shall be brief.

The fashion this afternoon appears to be fish farms. For about 12 years I have had a salmon fish hatchery on my estate in the west of Scotland on Mull. The attraction of fish hatcheries is that one cannot have them everywhere. One can have fish farms anywhere in the sea provided that the wave height is not above approximately two and a half to three feet. We supply the smelts to fish farms when they are about 20 months old and about 10 inches.

A fish farm has started on Mull hut I cannot have any cages in my own sea loch because of the wave height; I am on the west coast. I have had correspondence with my noble friend Lord Mansfield and I have spoken with him, about fish farming. When fish farming first became popular the Crown Commissioners, with great respect. appeared to go a hit mad. They presumably took a map of the Western Highlands and appeared to grant fish farm licences to anyone all over the sea lochs without first ascertaining whether the lochs were suitable, who owned the foreshore, and so on.

If you have a fish hatchery what you are terrified of in particular is disease. You must have exactly the right water at the right temperature. It is convenient to have it near the sea because, as your Lordships know, when the smelts go to sea in their wild state they hang about in the estuaries so that they become acclimatised to the salt water. Of course, if you threw them straight into the sea cages the shock would be too great. Therefore, a fish hatchery should be fairly near the sea.

The other matter is acidity. There is more acidity now and it has to be watched extremely carefully. I do not want to cross swords with the foresters—I have been planting trees all my life and am pro-trees—but if one has a lot of sitka spruce on the river then there is increased acidity. That is a question of fact. I have seen it proved.Therefore. it is understandable why one has to be very careful if one has a fish hatchery.

The other matter which has rather surprised and horrified me is that I read in The Times or the Telegraph about three or four days ago that some very eminent scientists believe that there is a danger in the future of people catching the flu virus through over fish farming. I do not think we need worry about that for quite a few years but it is rather a horrifying thought. Apparently it is due to the food that the salmon in the cages are fed on. However, it is a very technical subject and I am not a biologist so I will leave it alone.

However, apart from that, if there are a great number of fish cages in the sea, eventually there is bound to be pollution and if there is pollution there will he disease. I am sure that the Crown Commissioners fully realsise that and I understand that they have cut down on the granting of licences for sea cages.

Before I end I should just like to say a few words about forestry. I have nothing against sitka spruce provided they are planted in the right places and regard is given to the flow country in Caithness; I have been to Caithness and I have seen it. Some of it can of course be planted with sitka spruce but it will grow very slowly as the soil is extremely poor. You can also plant lodgepole pine, pines contorta. However, on the question of employment—and of course I am all for employment—if you are going to destroy a really important area of the environment I do not believe that employment should interfere with that too much. Planting trees involves fencing and planting, which of course creates employment, but once the trees are growing it does not create a great deal of employment.

I should just like to say to my noble friend Lord Goold that I do not know whether he knows the West Highlands but he can rest assured that certainly in Mull there are hundreds and thousands of tourists and the whole island is flooded with them for six months of the year. I do not think the island can take any more. I agree with what he said about MacBrayne's. It has always had a monoply and it is time that that was intruded on.

4.37 p.m.

The Earl of Mansfield

My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Perth, on giving us the opportunity of discussing a number of matters both of fascination and import. If I have a criticism of this Motion it is that it is so widely aimed that it could have encompassed a number of interesting and important Scottish matters. I should love to have worn my Scottish hat and talked about a transport policy for Scotland; I should love to have talked about an integrated land-use policy, which does not exist and never has existed in Scotland, and I should love to have talked about the regeneration of industry with the right amount of encouragement, but I shall not.

I declare my interest as the First Crown Estate Commissioner, while acknowledging my distinguished predecessor, the noble Earl. A considerable amount of ignorance exists as to the Crown estates; what they consist of, how they are managed and who does the management. To some extent that has been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond.

In 1760 George III found himself strapped for cash and he came to an arrangement with the House of Commons by which he was relieved of his duties to pay for the Navy. The trusteeship, for want of a better word, of the Crown lands was vested in the House of Commons and he was given pocket money in the shape of the Civil List, which Her Majesty the Queen still enjoys today. That was not a bad bargain for the taxpayer because we paid over a bottom line profit to the consolidated fund last year of £30 million and the Queen received £5½ million for herself. However, that is by the way.

After many vicissitudes over the centuries, the modern statute which deals with the composition, duties and powers of the Crown Estate Commissioners is in the Crown Estate Act 1961. I quote from Clause 1(3), which states: It shall he the general duty of the Commissioners, while maintaining the Crown Estate as an estate in land … to maintain and enhance its value and the return obtained from it, but with due regard to the requirements of good management". I say that particularly for the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and others in the islands. He said that we were regarded as a tough lot.

I was previously in a ministerial career dealing with Highlanders and crofters from Barra to the north of the Shetlands, and anybody who has done that will know that one cannot do it with kid gloves and at the same time have any form of success in whatever one is trying to achieve. Nevertheless, I maintain that our tenants, in areas from Taunton to Wick on the mainland, with large chunks of London in between, recognise the fairness with which they are dealt. While they appreciate that we are not a charity, as indeed we are not, they recognise that they are treated fairly and with much consideration for their position and not least their difficulties. That is certainly applied in the case of fish farming.

As I have said, the vast bulk of the Crown estate is in land, mostly tenanted agricultural land consisting of many hundreds of thousands of acres, and also large portions of London including such places as Regent Street, St. James's and other areas. But an altogether different part of the estate lies round the shores of the United Kingdom; it lies in the sea-bed within the territorial waters, which your Lordships will know were recently extended from three to 12 miles. It is the ownership of such waters which gives the Crown estate rights over every marine-based fish farm and the duty in effect of regulating the development of the industry.

I shall resist the temptation to discuss matters of udal law with the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. He slipped it in quite quickly, but there is a legal dispute as between the Shetlanders and the Crown Estate Commissioners, and I say nothing about this slightly tricky subject.

As many noble Lords have said, the fish farm industry scarcely existed 15 or 20 years ago. Ten years ago the industry was just starting but production really became measurable in 1980 when it was 1,000 tonnes. By 1986 it had risen to 10,000 tonnes. Last year, in 1987, there were 16,000 tonnes, and it is likely to be 25,000 tonnes this year. The figures are likely to rise to over 50,000 tonnes by the early 1990s. So your Lordships can appreciate the tremendous rise in production which there has been over this period. There has also been a rise in the production of shellfish and there are expanding markets for mussels, scallops and oysters. One noble Lord tempted us by talking about lobster farming, but I regret to say that scientifically at the moment it seems impossible to raise the brute from being very small to table-size.

Salmon farming alone is approaching an annual production value of £100 million and it employs directly somewhere in the region of 1,500 people. When one considers that this activity occurs mainly in remote coastal areas, the beneficial economic effect on otherwise fragile landward areas can be estimated. Then there are the spin-off or the downstream activities such as fish processing and marketing, which employ several thousand people as well. So this activity, which has arisen only in the last 10 years, has provided great opportunities for employment in Scotland and, much more importantly, great opportunities for young people to find gainful employment to enable them to marry, settle down and raise their families in those parts from which they themselves hail. I think that that is as important as it could be.

This economic explosion has come about as a result of a very large investment in money terms on the part of some large companies. It is right to say that the state has played its part. The Highlands and Islands Development Board has poured over £20 million into the industry, and the Scottish Development Agency has also played its part, particularly over fish processing. The Government have also had a role through the activities of the Department of Agriculture, the marine laboratory and various other government agencies.

Where then have we got to? For the first seven years the Crown Estate Commissioners, who are the landlords, took the view that the industry should assert itself and see whether it was profitable, and the commissioners took no rent other than a peppercorn rent. That seven years came to an end at the end of the year before last. There is now a graduated scale of rents which in effect amounts to a turnover imposition of about 1.25 per cent. There are various reliefs for new entrants to the profession, for fish farmers in the isles and for fish farmers who produce less than 75 tonnes a year. Above all, that price is pegged to the Billingsgate price of fish. I should like any other farmer or landlord to consider whether they know of any other instance where tenants' rents are pegged to the price of the product which they produce. So I would suggest to your Lordships that that is a reasonably fair way of doing it.

There is the other side of the coin, and several noble Lords have touched on it. You cannot have these fish farms without having the cages which upset people. Some of them believe, rightly or wrongly, genuinely or not, that they interfere with the scenic beauty of the loch in which they are placed. You cannot have a fish farm without there being a risk of pollution and disease; and you cannot have a fish farm without considerable activity, as these cages are serviced.

Considerable thought has to be given as to where they should be sited and in what quantity. The noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, said he thought that the commissioners had been rather generous with the granting of licences in the early days. Perhaps they were. So little was known about the industry scientifically that it was perhaps a question then of accepting the people who came along and giving them a lease.

That has now all changed. There is a great deal of scientific work going on at various government establishments and also at the University of Stirling. The Crown Estate Commissioners, who are now obtaining a rent from their farms, are contributing to this research to the tune of £100,000 a year, and last year we introduced a consultation procedure which means that any body or any organisation that wishes to institute a fish farm has to consult no fewer than 30 organisations and individuals from local landowners to the local authority. That is then considered by the commissioners before they will give a licence.

I should like to have debated the legalities of this with my noble friend Lord Selkirk but I fear that time has run out. I can continue by correspondence if he would like, but I assure him that in all we are doing we are within the law and we have the best advice.

I should like to have talked about the estate of Glenlivet, to which my noble friend Lord Stodart referred, where we are making an exciting series of innovations which I hope will provide alternative sources of income for very hard-pressed farmers, but again time does not permit. What I would say is that the Crown Estate Commissioners are very mindful of their responsibilities, and I hope that your Lordships will see that, particularly in relation to fish farming, the industry, which is now a big one, is looked after carefully and with every regard for the public good.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, if the Crown Estate Commissioners do as well out of rents as they do out of the time allotted, they will make a good profit. I do not think they would be doing quite as well if they still had to pay for the Navy, so perhaps they have not done as well as they think. But I must say that they appear to be playing the traditional role of the landlord, if I may say so to the noble Earl, letting something ripen off before you proceed to tar it. One-and-a-quarter per cent. on 50,000 tonnes of fish would appear to me to be a reasonable rent to get, and I hope and trust that they will use it to encourage the industry through the stiff times which are bound to come with the expansion of production.

I should like first of all, as everyone else has done, and rightly so, to congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Perth, on allowing us all to talk about exactly what we wished, which is very good for the width of debate. In Scotland we have more land. sea and air per person than anywhere else in the United Kingdom and we have to make the most of it. As has been said by my noble friend and others, people are the most important thing in our countryside, particularly in the Highlands. Without the people it does not matter how attractive the scenery looks. The Highlands are also for the immense numbers in urban communities.

Tourism is one of the main planks in the development of our land. The old plea must be made to the Minister—for whom I have high regard, if flattery will get me anywhere—to release the Scottish Tourist Board, in common with the Highlands Board, to advertise on its own. Specialised advertising to come to Scotland is important. It has been wrong to keep it for years in the hands of the British Tourist Board, good enough job though it does. I would plead with him to use his common sense—of which he has an abundant quantity—to reverse this rather ridiculous scene that we have been putting up with for a long time.

Tourism is one of the biggest sources of money and income, seasonal though it may be, that we can hope for in Scotland, and we should direct more attention to Europe. We are enormously popular with a lot of people in Germany and in other countries, but particularly in Germany. More of our attention should be devoted to Europe, at least as much as we devote to North America, where they are no longer as rich as we used to think they were. That is one aspect of our land, sea and air that we can still develop a great deal further.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, said agriculture must remain one of the main planks of the economy of Scotland, and it has to be integrated with forestry. The Government and the Minister might turn their attention to stopping this extraordinary obsession with privatisation. It appears to me like the story of the recruit who was being advised by an old sweat when he joined the Army: if something moves, salute it; if something is still, whitewash it. It appears to be the motto of this Government to privatise anything and then sell it, and it really does not apply.

We have the case of the private forestry companies. There is nothing wrong with Terry Wogan, who seems to be quoted the whole time, investing his money in forestry. It may be a good thing. But it is totally remote. It is done by another company in order to make money for it. The motivation is not to grow trees for profit. People are perfectly prepared in many cases to accept the 1 per cent. for the tax advantages, inheritance taxes and other advantages that they get. That is not a good motivation for forestry. It is not a good motivation for integration.

The Government of course are losing money because of it. They are not receiving the taxes which they might well spend on restoring the Forestry Commission to its position of being the main planter. Its directions as to planning and to the mixing of pine with larch, and the way it has done it recently, have been excellent, and it should be released from the restrictions under which it is at present because of the policy of the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Goold, made a good point when he said that a lot more people could live in the country and contribute to it if we would give more planning permissions. I do not think that we should relax any of the planning restrictions. In other words, people should certainly not be allowed to despoil the countryside, but good buildings and good houses could be built in the Highlands and in other parts of the countryside to the great enjoyment of the people and to the benefit of the countryside itself. The Government have made certain motions in this direction, and they should make a great deal more. That in itself would help our country.

When we come to agriculture again the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, said a true thing, and that is that we should develop what is good in our present product. Certainly we can grow good malting barley, but we can also grow excellent sheep. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, if I may say so, has mentioned the subject before (and quite rightly too) but we should market lamb far better. The Danes changed the breakfast habits of this country in past years, and we could sell a lot of good lamb into Germany if we set about marketing it there.

The people who eat the most lamb are the French at the present time, but there are immensely prosperous areas where we could persuade them to buy more sheep and better sheep. They could be better marketed, and we could avoid the undoubted overproduction that we may well run into. I shall not take up any more time. It is an enormous subject. I trust that the Government will look at it with great good sense—which I would find unusual, but I live in hope.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I think we all give due thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for raising this subject. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, has just said, it gave us the opportunity to speak as we wished. Listening to the debate it was interesting how it came down to one or two subjects. Perhaps I should confess that I was not sure what the noble Earl would like me to discuss when I read the Order Paper, and I had a word with him. I knew that he was concerned about certain things, but I felt that the debate may have gone rather wider.

I looked up one or two facts about Scotland. It is not a line I am going to take now other than to introduce it briefly in the hope that at some time we can have a debate on the fundamental point of Scottish land ownership. When one looks at the statistics carefully you find that Scotland has the most concentrated pattern of private ownership in Europe. Seventy-five per cent. of all privately-owned land in Scotland is held in estates of 1,000 acres or more, and something like one-third of the land in Scotland is held in estates of 20,000 acres or more. In many ways that is the kind of debate I thought we would be having today. However, there is something about this place that makes it rather more difficult to get involved in these problems.

I reflected on the fact that of all those who have spoken only the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and my noble friend Lord Hughes are not fairly substantial landowners. I am certainly Scottish enough. In the 25 years that I have been coming up and down to London I have spent only half a dozen weekends here and three of them were when Scotland was playing England at Wembley. We won two of those games. I go back to Scotland every weekend.

Virtually every noble Lord mentioned the question of transport. The noble Earl, Lord Perth, who opened the debate, made a number of points. Compared with many of my colleagues, I have always had a peculiar attitude to transport in Scotland, perhaps because I was a junior transport Minister and had an interest in the subject. I went into it fairly fully. It was self-defence in a way against my colleagues from Scotland because I was in a United Kingdom ministry. If in Scotland we had adopted the criteria used in England for deciding whether a road should be a dual carriageway, a three-lane road or a motorway, there would have been only one fairly short stretch of three-lane carriageway in Scotland; and that, if I remember correctly, was the road from Glasgow to the airport at Abbotsinch. As nearly all of us are Scots we should combine together and get rid of some of our problems.

I have no doubt that many of our roads need to be improved, but by and large they are uncongested, as English people tell me when they come up to Scotland. The traffic is not nearly so dense. That does not mean that we should not be looking at the A.74–M.74 with a view to upgrading it. However, when a road is upgraded to motorway standard another road must be provided for those people who cannot use the motorway—the cyclists, local people on short journeys and so on. It is an expensive business.

I think a great deal could be done with the M.74 by having junctions and flyovers instead of the crossroads we have at the moment. I agree with those noble Lords who spoke about the Stranraer road. That needs to be upgraded particularly because of the heavy traffic that uses the land route to the ferry to Ireland. However, if I were in charge of the Scottish budget I do not think that I would spend a great deal more on roads. There are other ways that I would spend the money.

Several noble Lords referred to the air fare to London. British Airways has now been privatised and with competition the fares should come crashing down. That is the theory at least. We all look forward to that day. On the question of direct links to Scotland, I want direct links as well but we have to make up our minds. We have to decide between Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I remember as a very young boy—and I have been trying to discover whether I was dreaming—the suggestion in the 1930s that a new airport should be built in Shotts. It was going to be flooded because no one thought that an aeroplane could travel across the sea. There were going to be sea planes. That opportunity has gone. We have to accept that we must decide between Prestwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh. Prestwick now has more than 4 million passengers a year and so we must think seriously about extending the Glasgow runway.

There has been a great deal of discussion about the Scottish economy and especially the economy north of the central belt. We all empathise with the problems of the area. There was slight confusion between the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, who thought that we were overdoing the emphasis on tourism—and I sympathise with his view that we sometimes think it will solve all the problems—and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who thought that we should encourage it even more. There probably is a line down the middle.

This confusion illustrated the fact that we had an idea and then for a period the whole salvation of Scotland was thought to lie with tourism. Today the idea is fish farming. I would not decry it, and I know the importance of it, but are we not putting too much emphasis on the idea? Many noble Lords have pointed to the importance of fish farming. I had a great deal of sympathy with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, who apologetically—I do not know why—raised a number of small points. She referred to cashmere, growing her own vegetables, honey and so on. It was slightly refreshing to hear her when the other matters being discussed were fish farming and so on.

It has been an interesting debate, which should be read with some care. I have one minor suggestion which I ask the Minister to take back to his friends in government and in particular the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We could create a certain amount of social mobility in Scotland by getting rid of the tolls on the bridges. That is a small point in a debate of this kind. Perhaps I should say that I believed originally that tolls on bridges were necessary. If the Scottish roads programme was distorted at one point it was because a great deal of money was spent on building bridges, some of which are now socially highly desirable but would not have been high on the list of priorities.

The total indebtedness of the Erskine bridge, which I use frequently, is about £80 million. The total income from the bridge is £1.4 million. The charges are growing every year. Such a move would be of great advantage because 4.6 million people crossed the bridge in 1986–87. I never saw them doing it and most people I know see very few people on the Erskine bridge. It is a small point but it would be of great help psychologically if we could get rid of the tolls. I should like to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate and in particular the noble Earl for initiating it.

5.8 p.m.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)

My Lords, I should like first of all to join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Earl, Lord Perth, for initiating a wideranging and constructive debate. I am perhaps the only person who cannot choose what I am going to speak about. I have to try to pick up the points that have been made during this valuable debate. I would say to my noble friend Lady Elliot and to the noble Earl, Lord Perth, that a Scottish debate is a good thing to have in this House and that from the wideranging subject matter we on the Government Front Bench have learnt a great deal about what concerns noble Lords.

Perhaps I may begin by referring to Oceanspan, which was mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Perth. I read the speech he made in this House on 16th July 1970 and was most interested that he should return to the subject today. Incidentally, I noted that he praised the work of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry in attracting industry to come to Scotland and called it "bringing back the haggis". I think that it is an appropriate phrase to be used this week in this debate.

The Oceanspan concept was, of course, prompted in the early 1970s by the Scottish Council advocating the development of major port facilities on the Clyde, using the deep water at Hunterston. I fear that it never caught on with shipping lines, port authorities or other developers, nor did a similar idea floated in 1986 to exploit the opportunities presented by the Channel Tunnel, called Euro Westport. That was a similar development using the Clyde for trans-shipment to and from Continental destinations.

A feasibility study by the Clyde Port Authority was assisted by the Government last year, and the main conclusions were that the reductions in steaming time would not be enough to reduce the number of ships required by the major shipping lines to serve the Atlantic groups, based on the typical weekly service now operated. But even if a vessel could be saved, increased land transport costs would still far outweigh the savings resulting from the saving on vessels—about £6 million savings against £140 million additional costs. And there would be no significant savings in total transit times, and therefore no speedier delivery compared with other European "hub" ports.

It was a very thorough study and I should like to assure the noble Earl that this was gone into very carefully last year, hut. in the face of such evidence, the Government could not support, much less undertake, what seemed to be a development for which there would in the present circumstances be little or no demand.

A lot of the discussion this afternoon has turned on the question of transport, and I am not greatly surprised. However, I am a little surprised at what might be considered to be the less than fair comments of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, and my noble friend Lord Selkirk about what this Government have done in regard to roads. Since May 1979, the Government have spent almost £690 million in new construction and improvement of motorways and trunk roads in Scotland; 3,130 kilometres of trunk road, including motorways, have been built in Scotland in that period.

Trunk roads are the strategic national through-routes. The need for them is determined by a number of factors, including the requirements of national planning and industry. Here I come to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael. With his experience in another place of this matter, I am very grateful for what he said. The considerations in deciding on these roads are common to both England and Scotland. There is no difference in the criteria used in Scotland and England to determine the standard of trunk road required; that is, single or dual carriageway, or motorway, and also quality of the road surface.

Moreover, it may interest the noble Earl to know that for every thousand of the population, Scotland has almost three times the length of trunk roads as England. Of course roads and distances are extremely important for Scotland and expenditure on trunk roads in Scotland is substantial. That is borne out by the large number of by-passes and improvements completed in the last eight years.

During the period, 88 major schemes, each costing over £1 million, have been opened to traffic. At present over 100 major schemes are in various stages of contruction or planning, costing a total of over £700 million. This includes the uprating of the A.74 route to motorway standard, which represents 60 miles at a cost which is estimated to be well over £200 million. Obviously, I will relay the message of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, about tolls to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Of course, matters of that sort are very much in his domain and not in mine, but I take note of what the noble Lord said. I believe that, from the figures which I have given, it is clear that the Government treat the improvement of road communication within Scotland extremely seriously and will continue to encourage such improvements and carry them through.

I should like to speak about one other matter in regard to roads. The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, mentioned the A.73 Perth to Glenshee road and, with my responsibilities for tourism—

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy

The A.93.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am so sorry. I know the problems of that road and she put her finger on the problem of the Tayside region in that connection.

I should now like to refer to rail travel in Scotland. I know that many of your Lordships have varying views on the advisability of constructing a Channel tunnel. The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, has made that very clear to me but I have to say that I disagree with him. Also, my noble friend Lord Stodart mentioned rail travel. I have to say that Scotrail has embarked on an investment programme for Sprinters, a major part of which was announced last weeek, costing £17 million. I hope that by general pressure from members of the public we are going to achieve a much more efficient rail service in Scotland. I feel that the remarks of many of your Lordships were very apposite.

The noble Earl mentioned ports, and there is no question that the Government have any plan to change the operation of the National Dock Labour Scheme. But I have to say to noble Lords that the increase in business in the ports of Scotland as a proportion of the British traffic in ports has gone from 10 per cent. in 1965 to 28 per cent. in 1986. The ports operate in competition with each other with the minimum of government regulation. Any spare capacity is mainly the result of market forces, together with the effect of changes in ship design, ship technology and patterns of trade.

I will give your Lordships some figures. There has been new investment in the port of Aberdeen of £8 million, in Ayr of £2 million, in Dundee of £3 million and in the Forth ports of £9 million. All these are scheme ports. Investment has also taken place, and is taking place, in non-scheme ports such as Peterhead and in the Cromarty Firth area. There have been other developments quite apart from the extremely valuable business attributed to the fishing industry. Mention was made of the fishing industry—not the fish farming industry—and I have to assure noble Lords that the sea fishing industry is in good heart.

To ensure that the ports will continue to prosper, the Government have taken various initiatives such as the reform of the administration of marine pilotage so that ports will assume control. They have also invited the industry, without any commitment on future legislation, to consider what advantages there might be in the introduction of equity capital to those ports which are not already owned by companies. They are pressing through the European Commission for greater transparency in the accounts of the European ports, in order that the extent of state and municipal subsidy can be revealed.

Many noble Lords mentioned the tourist industry, and I was very pleased that that happened. I was particularly gratified by the remarks of my noble friend Lord Stodart of Leaston, who considered that the tourist industry in Scotland, particularly the Scottish Tourist Board, was doing a good job. Your Lordships will like to know that a committee has been set up under my chairmanship to co-ordinate all the groups involved in tourism in Scotland—the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Scottish Development Agency, the Scottish Tourist Board and the British Tourist Authority. The point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, about selling Scotland, particularly abroad. I take that very much to heart. I hope that, with the investment of over £20 million of taxpayers' money in tourism in Scotland in the coming year, we shall be able to ensure not only that last year's excellent figures are maintained, but that they will be increased.

Remarks were made on the subject of air fares from London to Edinburgh and Glasgow. I cannot comment very much on that at the moment, although I also feel that £144, as it now is—and about to go up, I believe—is a very steep fare to pay.

In connection with tourism, we are looking at the on-costs that have to be paid by visitors from foreign countries in taking them from London to Edinburgh or Glasgow. This is going ahead at the moment and we will make representations to the air companies.

I should not like to enter into any discussion on the Prestwick issue with the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, at this stage. He knows, as I do, that in 1989 there will be a review, but what he said is very much noted. So far as direct flights into Scotland are concerned, Wardair and Air Canada from Canada, and North-West Orient from the United States, are very good carriers and I am sure that British Airways takes note of their competition.

I shall now talk about forestry. I was gratified by the remarks of noble Lords and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, about what the Government have done about forestry and conservation problems in Caithness and Sutherland. I hesitate to use the words "Flow Country", but I am assured by the Highland Regional Council Working Group that it will define what the words "Flow Country" mean when its report comes out. I am looking forward to reading it.

A parliamentary Answer which was given last Monday, 25th January, in another place provided the framework within which the Government believe an appropriate balance between the needs of conservation and other land uses, especially forestry in Caithness and Sutherland, can be achieved. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso about the fragile economy in Caithness and Sutherland and in other areas in the Highlands and Islands. The Government recognise that much of Caithness and Sutherland is of national and international importance for conservation. The appropriate areas will need to be safeguarded, including the most important bog systems and bird habitats, and expecially what has come to be known as the real "flows".

Having been in Inverness on Monday, I am gratified to know that there is now a consensus among the Highland Regional Council, the Highlands and Islands Development Board, the Crofters Commission and the chairman of the Nature Conservancy Council that the way the Government have acted in relation to the balance between forestry and conservation in the area will prove to be correct. But of course we await the final report from the Highland Regional Council Working Group. I should like to thank it publicly for the work that it has done. Not many words are said in praise of local government. The Government are truly grateful for the work that the working group has done.

As to whether it is viable to plant trees in Caithness and Sutherland, I am sure the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is better qualified than I on the subject. However, from what I hear, I am sure that the charge that forestry is unviable in Caithness and Sutherland per se is not valid. The productivity of forest crops in the area compares favourably with most other upland sites in Britain. Many sites in the area are capable of producing a real rate of return on investment close to the Forestry Commission's target of 3 per cent. Forestry makes a considerable contribution to the local economy, and that is why the results of the Government's deliberations, published on Monday, came out as they did.

I should also like to say to the noble Viscount that the Forestry Commission has received applications, which I know will be coming forward to Ministers. But, as your Lordships know, the Nature Conservancy Council would not discuss the various applications at RACs until government policy as to what was to happen in the area was announced. There has been a hold-up, but I hope that we shall soon be receiving applications from the Forestry Commission, as well as from private forestry through the Forestry Commission. I hope noble Lords understand what I mean. We shall move forward with the applications as they come in. Does that answer the noble Viscount's question?

Viscount Thurso

My Lords, I think that the Minister has mixed me up with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, on the question of viability. I did not touch upon that point.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I believe that the noble Viscount mentioned Forestry Commission applications in his area. I think that those applications will be coming forward soon.

As regards the general point on forestry and the Government's attitude to it, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, that forestry is a major industry in Scotland, where the bulk of new planting takes place. The Government are conscious of their target of 33,000 hectares a year. I understand the views expressed by some noble Lords about taxation, but that is a matter which can be considered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I hope that the farm woodlands scheme will prove attractive to farmers in certain parts of the country. I anticipate that more planting than hitherto will take place on land of better quality. However, new planting will also continue to take place in the upland areas.

I move on now to agriculture. I shall again mention what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, said about the fragile nature of some parts of the country. I draw your Lordships' attention to the plan of the Highlands and Islands Development Board for the North-West Sutherland area, where in an ADP-type operation it will spend £100,000 on a development programme for that area to start on the 1st June this year. That proves to your Lordships that the Government take seriously the fragile areas. We shall include in that programme help for fish farming, fish processing and tourism, as well as the agriculture of the area. The Government are trying very hard to identify the fragile areas, and of course the islands have been covered by the ADP scheme.

My noble friend Lady Elliot asked about the rating position with regard to farm buildings. I have to say that if a change is made to a rateable use, rates would become payable. That is not unfair, since it would be unreasonable if, simply because an enterprise was located on a farm, it was exempt from rates whereas a comparable enterprise which was not on a farm and with which it might be in competition had to pay rates. In so far as they remain, rates are rightly related to use rather than to location.

My noble friend Lord Goold mentioned the matter of surplus agricultural land. I have to say to him that it is a complex subject and I should like to write to him about it.

I move quickly to the subject offish farming, which has been admirably covered by many noble Lords, especially my noble friend Lord Mansfield. The Government recognise the value offish farming. The figures which have been given by my noble friend Lord Mansfield tie in with what the Government believe to be the case.

As regards the immediate future, the signs are that the industry will have the capacity further to increase production. I wish the industry well. With my responsibility for fisheries I understand the problems that exist with disease and so forth. However, it is an industry which can do much for the fragile areas. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that I think it is the answer to many problems, especially in regard to the Islands of Shetland. The record of the Shetland islanders and the small businessmen who started fish farming from nothing in 1983 and who are expected to finish with a turnover of £12 million this year, is a remarkable achievement. They ought to be congratulated.

The Earl of Perth

My Lords, I should like to thank all those who took part in this splendid debate. I beg to move that the papers go back to wherever may be appropriate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Back to