HC Deb 25 October 1967 vol 751 cc1703-8
7. Mr. Monro

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what steps he is taking to reduce the level of unemployment in Scotland.

9. Mr. MacArthur

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what measures he will adopt to reduce unemployment in Scotland.

Mr. Ross

The reduction of unemployment has been an objective of all the regional development measures introduced by the present Government. Their success is reflected in the proportionately smaller increase in Scottish unemployment over the past year compared with that for Great Britain as a whole and the underlying trend is now downward. As special further measures to safeguard employment in Scotland this winter, additional public works have been authorised and the National Coal Board has agreed to defer the closure of six pits employing over 2,000 men.

Mr. Monro

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that hon. Members will be glad to hear the further proposals which have been announced in Scotland today, but will he take steps to suspend the payment of S.E.T. to help the unemployment situation in the service industries?

Mr. Ross

I think that the hon. Gentleman over-estimates the effect which that will have, and under-estimates the position which existed when my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduced this measure.

Mr. MacArthur

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is of little comfort to an unemployed man to be told that unemployment in Scotland has gone up by only 48 per cent? Will the right hon. Gentleman take further note of the S.E.T. proposals made by my hon. Friend because of the larger impact which this tax has in the remote areas which are on the point of laying off men in the service industries, and where there is no alternative manufacturing employment for them?

Mr. Ross

The whole point of the S.E.T. was to strengthen the economy, and not to put a burden on manufacturing industry. It is on the basis of a prosperous manufacturing industry that the economy will be able to expand, and expand into the various areas mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Woodburn

Is it not a misconception to think that we should employ people doing useless work? Is not the real solution to utilise the people being set free by science-based industries, which do not use so much manpower, in new occupations, instead of trying to keep them in industries which do not need them?

Mr. Ross

I think my right hon. Friend will appreciate that with the modernisation of industry there has been created a further problem in relation to its continued expansion. I am pleased about the rate at which we have been able to expand during the past two and three-quarter years, and indeed in the year before that. I think all the indications are that we will maintain, and if possible increase, this rate of progress. It is this which has changed the whole pattern of Scottish industry and made some of the prophets of gloom look rather silly.

Mr. Dewar

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that there is good ground for an encouraging reply in this matter as was underlined by the remarkably optimistic note struck by the Confederation of British Industry's 30th Report on industrial trends for Scotland, published the other day?

Mr. Ross

It is true that it struck an optimistic note, and indeed this is reflected in the fact that for two months in succession, when measured against the seasonal trend, the unemployment figure was lower than one might have expected.

Earl of Dalkeith

When the right hon. Gentleman is making further plans for dealing with this terrible situation, will he recognise that the situation is very much more critical than one is led to believe by the unemployment figures themselves, taking into account the fact that 120,000 Scotsmen have left the country during the two years since he took office?

Mr. Ross

I would not like to get involved in a debate about that with the hon. Gentleman, and he would not like it if I started to deal with the number of people who have emigrated during the past 15 to 16 years, but it is true that all our considerations of this matter take into account the need for new jobs for those who are unemployed, and for those whom we would like to retain in Scotland. One of the difficulties that I see now in relation to migration is a change of attitude. It is not a drift south. It is the attraction abroad of people who are already working in highly skilled jobs which we have to combat.

11. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received from the Scottish Trades Union Congress and other representative bodies regarding the level of unemployment in Scotland; and what replies he has sent.

Mr. Ross

I have recently had a full discussion with the S.T.U.C. during which it put forward its views on the level of unemployment and on other questions affecting Scotland's economy. Other representative bodies, including local authorities, have also brought their views to my attention. In reply I have stressed the positive achievements of the Govern- ment's regional development policies, which in Scotland are being reflected in the continuing high level of new industrial building and in the relative stability in employment compared with the rest of Great Britain.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

Can the right hon. Gentleman explain the implications to Scotland of the Government's policy of maintaining a pool of employment, as recently explained by the Governor of the Bank of England? Is the current level of unemployment high enough for the Government's purpose, or do they wish it to go higher?

Mr. Ross

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the questions which I have answered, it would have been clear to him that the Government intend to continue with their policies to reduce the level of unemployment in Scotland.

Mr. G. Campbell

What estimates has the right hon. Gentleman made of the approximate levels of unemployment for January and February, both on the basis of a good weather winter, and a bad weather one?

Mr. Ross

I have not made any estimates, and I shall not enter into the realm of prophecy as right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite did last winter when they were proved unfounded in their gloom.

34. Earl of Dalkeith

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what emergency measures he is taking to reflate the Scottish economy in the field of public expenditure on services within Scotland so as to minimise the growth of unemployment during the winter months.

Mr. Ross

It is not the policy of the Government to embark upon a general reflation of the economy at the present time. But, as part of our plan of selective help for the development areas, I have authorised the bringing forward, by local authorities, regional hospital boards and certain other public bodies, of minor works of improvement and maintenance to the value of over£5½ million, provided that they can be completed during the coming winter.

Earl of Dalkeith

Would I be right in thinking that the limited and belated action which the Government are taking to get some reflation in the Scottish economy is a clear admission that over the last few years they have been deflating the Scottish economy? Was not this an act of criminal folly in the light of the experience gained by previous Governments, and should he not therefore draw this to the attention of the Prime Minister by tendering his resignation?

Mr. Ross

The experience of previous Governments is sad indeed. We can remember that through the winter months of 1962, the whole of 1963 and the spring of 1964, the monthly average of unemployment in Scotland was 100,000 and over. I can understand the hon. Gentleman's concern. What we are doing here is additional to what has already been done. I would not have thought that the regional employment premium, which means£40 million per year of reflation in Scotland, was something to be laughed away.

Mr. Rankin

Would my right hon. Friend not agree that one of the very important methods of reducing unemployment in Scotland would be by going ahead with the industrial retraining schemes for new industries, which we have already been promised?

Mr. Ross

If my hon. Friend has been following announcements that have been made he will know that this is one of the areas in which we have gone very well ahead, both in relation to Government training centres and in relation to the grants to incoming industry. Incoming industry has received, in Scotland, over£400,000 to train about 22,000 workers. The "in plant" training is additional to that, and recently the Minister of Labour made an announcement increasing grants in relation to training in Scotland. It is one of the interesting things about the C.B.I. report in Scotland that it still talks about shortages of skilled labour at a time when we have this high rate of unemployment.

Mr. Stodart

When the right hon. Gentleman says that the condition is that the money must be spent before the end of the winter, is the sort of thing on which the money is to be spent perhaps the resurfacing by hospital boards of approach roads that are already in a beautifully tarred condition?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman should have a little more faith in the local authorities and regional hospital boards in Scotland than to put a question like that. The work that they are doing will be work that is essential and which they have long wanted to do.