HC Deb 13 January 1971 vol 809 cc51-4
23. Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware of the continuing decline in the population of the North-East of Scotland through migration; and what steps he proposes to reverse this trend.

Mr. Younger

The rate of decline in the population of North-East Scotland has slackened since 1967 and over the last two years the population has been virtually stable. My right hon. Friend has told the local authorities that he will support them in pursuing the strategy and main objectives of the Gaskin Report.

Lieut.-Colonel Mitchell

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. The statistics are extremely confusing. It would be a great help to the public discussion that goes on in the North-East on this subject if my right hon. Friend could publish the statistics on this matter and also his own long-term aims to stop rural depopulation.

Mr. Younger

I will see what can be done to help my hon. Friend with his request for statistics; I agree that it is necessary for people to have them. In regard to the North-East in general, I wish to pay tribute to the most impressive work done by the North-East of Scotland Development Association and also to the work carried out by the local authorities in the area which have made a fine effort to pull together at this time.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the Minister give credit where it is due and confirm that the reason for the slacking off in migration from Scotland was the policies of the last Government? Will he not accept that bodies like the North-East of Scotland Development Association are very much concerned that the kind of economic policy being pursued by the present Government will reverse this trend and will lead us back to the old days of mass migration from the North-East of Scotland?

Mr. Younger

I do not accept the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. The question of migration generally is a wide one, but the picture over the last five years has been of a great decrease in migration within the United Kingdom because of the fact that under the previous Government's policy it was made less attractive to go to England.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

Is the Minister aware that successive studies have shown that our problems of migration in the North-East are fairly standard, with similar trends throughout the rest of the country, but that our difficulty has lain in succeeding in attracting new immigrants into the region? It is in that context that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell) is so welcome in his area.

Mr. Younger

I agree with what my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his question. This is why I am so encouraged at the efforts being made by people in the North-East to encourage others to come into the area and to help the situation.

Mr. Ross

Would it not be only fair for the hon. Gentleman to take back all he said in 1966? He then said that the migration problem would become worse, instead of which it has become better. The fact is that we managed to halve the migration rate. Why does he not seek to get everybody's co-operation in Scotland to improve the situation? Has there been any worsening of the trend?

Mr. Younger

I certainly hope, as would the right hon. Gentleman, that the migration figures could not conceivably have got worse than they were in 1967, which was the worst year for a very long time. I welcome very much the fact that they have now got better and I only wish that the unemployment position were better, too.

24. Lieut.-Colonel Colin Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware of the recommendation of the Gaskin Report that the location in the North East of some of the offices of Central Government should be given serious consideration; and what action he proposes.

Mr. Gordon Campbell

I am well aware of the facilities which the North East of Scotland, and other areas, can offer for additional public sector employment. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friend that I will make sure these facilities are given full consideration whenever locations are being decided for new or transferred Government work.

Lieut.-Colonel Mitchell

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. It would appear that this is an opportunity for creating employment by direct Government initiative, as opposed to encouraging industrialists and others to bring their goods into our part of the world. As it is very much in the gift of Government to take these measures, I hope that he will be extremely strong in pressing these points over the next few months.

Mr. Campbell

The recent White Paper on the reorganisation of central Government stated that we intend to pursue a policy of dispersing Government offices from London. My hon. and gallant Friend will be aware that I was a member of the Government who decided to move the National Savings Bank to Scotland, so I know what can be done.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

In view of this comparative success in the North-East, has the Secretary of State any intention, following the precedents of previous Conservative Governments, to de-schedule any part of the area and exempt it from the advantages of the development area grants, or whatever other benefits his Government may achieve?

Mr. Campbell

I am considering it in the light of the Gaskin Report, which we are not sure that the previous Government accepted. It proposed two growth areas, and there was some doubt whether the previous Government acknowledged that as a method. I am studying the needs of the area and what can be done in future in the light of that Report and other advice.