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ADVISORY COMMITTEE IN RESPECT OF s. 2(2)(b) SCHEMES

Part of Orders of the Day — SCOTTISH DEVELOPMENT AGENCY (No. 2) BILL [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st October 1975.

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Photo of Mr Jo Grimond Mr Jo Grimond , Orkney and Shetland 12:00 am, 21st October 1975

I have some sympathy with the thinking behind new Clause 2, but the Agency will anyway probably do what is suggested in the clause. It will presumably have discussions with managements about financial prospects and undertake to have regard to the desirability of obtaining a reasonable return on capital. I imagine that from the annual report we shall be able to see how the Agency is doing. All these things are necessary, but I think the Government will believe it is not necessary to have such a specific statement written into the Bill, although I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

I have the gravest doubts about new Clause 5. The most recent experience we have of an agency similar to that now being established is the Highlands and Islands Development Board. It is a common complaint already that the board is getting too bureaucratic and is suffering from Parkinson's well-known disease, for ever increasing its staff and resources in Inverness. This is causing serious delays; I have constituents who complain that applications for grants and loans made last winter were not passed until this autumn. In a time of inflation it is even more serious, because costings are thrown out not annually but every few months. As I understand the proposed new clause, it will prevent the Agency from making decisions till it receives the go ahead from the advisory committee. This would entail considerably more delay.

Who is to serve on this committee? Will its members be part-timers employed in industry or, worse still, not employed in industry, or would they be full-time members? Where does Scotland have all these people? Can we afford to have the SDA and also the additional staff to advise it? Presumably the advisers would have to be people of equal or even greater expertise. The advisory committee would need accountants, lawyers, and a large staff and would, in turn, contract Parkinson's disease, so that before we knew it we would have a very large development agency and another very large agency looking over its shoulder. I cannot believe that this is the intention of the Opposition, but it is what the new clause seems to entail.

Unless I have missed something, this seems to be the wrong direction. I have great doubts about increasing the number of bureaucrats in Scotland. We have enough already, and there is no telling how many more might be recruited to look into every proposal to which the SDA might be attracted. I hope I shall either hear something more about the purpose of new Clause 5 or that it will be quietly buried.