asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the estimated date on which the aluminium smelter is expected to be in full operation; whether he is satisfied that sufficient skilled labour will be available to man the project; and if he will make a statement.
Will my hon. Friend say what precisely the delays are now and how soon they will be resolved. One recognises the difficulties, but however difficult it may be, it is time we had a decision one way or the other. Will he say how many jobs would be involved in the event of a smelter being sited in Scotland and how the number would compare with the number of jobs created by Rio Tinto and the others?
I agree that these matters are quite complex. The discussions have been going on in strict confidence, and it would not be possible for the Government to break that confidence. Therefore, I cannot answer the first part of the question. In reply to the second part of the question, the figure given by the British Aluminium Company is 600; in respect of Rio Tinto-Zinc the figure is 700 and in respect of Alcan the figure is 550, possibly rising to a higher figure later.
Can the Minister of State even give an estimate of the date on which a firm announcement can be made about this? Did not the Government underestimate all the factors involved, including the reactions of E.F.T.A., and has not the Government's bungling caused a great deal of unnecessary anxiety in the areas concerned?
I do not accept that a large project involving £70 million of investment and operating to virtually the end of the century is a simple matter which can be answered swiftly. I do not accept the last two points which the hon. Gentleman has made. As for the first part of his supplementary question, the answer is, no, Sir.
Is the Minister aware that the delay in announcing the project is causing very serious doubts about the sincerity of the Government's intentions towards it? Will he assure the House now that he will make a definite decision about the Invergordon project before the beginning of the Summer Recess?
I know that this is causing concern, but I do not accept that it casts doubts on the Government's sincerity, as I hope will become clear when the matter is explained fully to the House at a later stage. I hope that that will be before the end of the Session.
As the Alcan site could be decided in May, why has it taken so much longer to come to a final decision about the British Aluminium site? Is it a question of the electricity supply, or is another site being considered?
Is my hon. Friend aware of the dangers to agriculture because of the fall-out of dust from such an installation? May we have assurances that before planning permission is given any company which succeeds in going ahead with the project will give all the assurances necessary to ensure that there will be no nuisance of that kind?
Does my hon. Friend recognise that it is now time hon. Members were told the position and why the delay is so great? Is it because of difficulties with our E.F.T.A. partners? If so, we should be told bluntly and told what the obstacles are, thus relieving many people of the need to give wrong reasons for the delay.
I sympathise with my hon. Friend, and I should love to tell the House everything that is going on, but I could do so only at risk to the project and, therefore, I must not yield to that temptation.