HC Deb 19 November 1971 vol 826 cc879-924

1.52 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

The House will know that next week there is to be a censure debate on the Government's record on unemployment. It might, therefore, be thought inappropriate that I should use this opportunity of raising that very matter so far as it relates to Scotland; but I make no apology whatever for doing that very thing.

The censure debate next week will be thoroughly deserved, and this debate is thoroughly justified by the atrocious figures of unemployment for Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom which we had yesterday. The scourge of unemployment, with all its waste, misery, degradation and poverty, will be debated in this House and outside at every available opportunity.

Yesterday, Mr. Vic Feather of the T.U.C. demanded a General Election on this issue. It is well known that no General Election ever takes place on one specific issue, but, come what may, whenever the next General Election may take place, this monstrous betrayal and deception by the Government will be a predominant theme.

We all know the expressions which were used at the last General Election: getting rid of unemployment and price rises "at a stroke"; the new imaginative regional policies which were to work wonders; the Chancellor of the Exchequer's constant expressions of confidence that we were about to turn some corner or other; the Prime Minister's "Better Tomorrow" which never seems to come and is further off now than when he first used that stupid phrase. We had the great reflationary measures taken in July and the Chancellor promising results in a month or two. We are now getting them. These are the bitter fruits which we are now reaping from the dogma and deception of this Government over the last 18 months.

There has been an increase in Scottish unemployment in the last month of 5,000, and there is no sign of any fall anywhere. There is not a glimmer of light anywhere to be seen. On the contrary, all the signs are that we could well reach 200,000 unemployed in Scotland in February or March of next year, depending on the severity of the winter. Last winter unemployment in Scotland went up by about 23,000 between November and March. If that is repeated this year and we get a winter as exceptionally mild as last winter, the Scottish figure will be not less than 165,000 by next February or March. I guess it will be worse than that.

Nearly 107,000 men are wholly unemployed. Taking men and boys together, the total is 114,000. That is 6.3 per cent. against 4.6 per cent. a year ago.

Whilst the percentage rate for unemployment in Scotland rose in the last month from 6.3 to 6.6 per cent., in Britain as a whole it went up from only 3.9—I say "only", because in the context of what we have been suffering in the last 12 to 15 months that is a low figure—to 4 per cent.

Taking various parts of Scotland, in Dundee the figure is now 7.8 per cent. In the Greenock—Port Glasgow area, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) will no doubt speak, the current figure is 8.3 per cent. In North Lanark it is 8.9 per cent. Worse figures have not been seen in Scotland since the 1930s.

These figures have been growing constantly month by month; yet what do we discuss in this House of Commons? What are we going to discuss and what have we been discussing in the last few weeks? Next week I shall be on a Committee which starts discussing local commercial radio to provide profits for a few speculators. One day next week we shall be debating the selling off of Messrs. Thomas Cook and Son, again to private profiteers, because it is a profitable public undertaking. We shall be debating the Housing Finance Bill which seeks to put up the rents of council house tenants throughout Britain. And the prissy Secretary of State for Education and Science announced last week that she will be handing out £2 million to the middle-class parents of children who go to direct-grant schools. All the time that is going on, the numbers in the dole queues go up, and up, and up, and show no signs of coming down.

I was amazed to read Mr. David Wood's column in The Times this morning. It never ceases to amaze me by its appalling mixture of ignorance, inaccuracy, distortion and, sometimes, downright lies. It says that the Opposititon Chief Whip last night urgently approached the Government's business managers to cancel the unemployment debate and stand on the original programme". That is, to discuss the Scottish Housing Bill.

I have never in my life heard such unadulterated rubbish. We do not want anything to do with the Scottish Housing Bill next week or the week after, or at any time at all, because the effect of it will be at least to double the rents of most council houses We would be willing to debate unemployment every day next week and the week after and the week after that. As The Times said this morning in its editorial, there is little room for optimism on any point. It goes on to make some pertinent criticisms of the Government, and to put forward pertinent suggestions for the solution of the problem, and then says: When the last war was declared in September, 1939, there were in the United Kingdom 1,395,600 men and women registered as unemployed. By May of 1940 the numbers had fallen below a million to 947,800. With the exception of the one fuel crisis month of February, 1947, unemployment has been lower in every month for 31½ years until this month. That is, until this month of November 1971.

It goes on to say: What should be done now that total registered unemployment in the United Kingdom is within about 30,000 of one million, the unemployed percentage in Britain has reached 4 per cent. and the seasonally adjusted hard core total has topped 850,000—all for the first time in thirty years? The next paragraph says that: it is morally, economically, socially and politically intolerable that unemployment should remain at its present level", and it then poses certain alternative courses which the Government might adopt. After saying that it would be unwise to reflate the economy—I do not take that view; I think we need some further reflation, but that is by the way—the editorial continues: This does not, however, exclude the possibility of selective action in the development areas and of a kind which can be relied upon to act directly on unemployment in the very short-term without adding unduly to general demand in 1973. Then comes the paragraph to which I hope the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will direct their attention both today and between now and the debate next week: The collapse of significant regional policies under the present Government, although understandable in terms of their measured search for a new regional strategy, has been particularly unfortunate. The simultaneous loss of the regional employment premium, effective investment incentives and a determined industrial development certificate policy has been too much. I could go on at length, but I shall not do so. It is an editorial that is well worth examination.

I now turn to our own Scottish newspapers.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

Before my hon. Friend refers to the Scottish newspapers, may I refer him to the South London Press which appeared this morning, and which says: The local Young Conservatives have embarrassed their party officials with a series of attacks on issues including colour, unemployment and education. It is not only The Times editorial which is manifesting dissatisfaction. Even in Dulwich the Young Conservatives are dissatisfied.

Mr. Hamilton

Anybody in the country with a social conscience must condemn not only the current unemployment figures but the policies which have led to them, because they have been policies deliberately intended to create this situation. It has not happened just by chance.

Let me give just one example. By deliberate policy council house building has been cut back throughout the country.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Not in my constituency.

Mr. Hamilton

Local authorities are cutting back house building because of the Government's policy as set out in the Housing Finance Bill. Local authorities know that if they continue to build houses the Government will impose rents—local authorities will not have freedom to charge what they regard as proper rents—which will mean that they will not be able to let their houses. That is one example of the Government having sought deliberately to create a situation in the hope thereby of disciplining the trade unions; but, of course, it has not worked.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) is right. The conscience of the nation is rightly aroused by the obscenity with which we are faced of the dole queues lengthening day by day and week by week even in areas which at one time were regarded as prosperous, such as London and the Midlands.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

And Swindon.

Mr. Hamilton

And Swindon, as my hon. Friend says.

Today's Scotsman says in its editorial: There are reports that the Government are considering further measures, like speeding up investment by state industries and more spending by local authorities. This is unlikely to be of immediate help, but, as far as Scotland is concerned, what is more worrying is the lack of long-term plans. And there are no plans. There is no strategy, long-term or short-term. The Government have said that they are pouring millions of pounds into the economy now. The Chancellor produced his mini-Budget last July, but none of these things is going to affect, other than adversely, the unemployment situation in the next 12 months.

The Scotsman goes on to say: Incentives for development areas, even in better times, hardly keep pace with the labour losses in contracting industries. Mr. Campbell may have visions of far-reaching developments at Hunterston and in the West of Scotland, but Mr. Davies and British Steel show no signs of being impressed by the Scottish Councils ideas. Ministers are counting up the jobs in prospect for the East coast with the exploitation of North Sea oil, but they are very cool about proposals that the proceeds should be used to transform the Scottish economy. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) will probably say something about that.

I now propose to quote from another newspaper. I went through as many as I could when I realised that I might have a chance of getting this debate. The paper from which I propose to quote is the Daily Telegraph. One can imagine the writer of the article sitting in his plush editorial chair, in his lush office, secure in his job—or at least as secure as newspapers can be today under this Government—saying: What is wanted now is patience …". How easy for a man in that situation to say that. Patience for the million on the dole? Patience for over 7 million pensioners who are literally facing the prospect of starvation in the next two years? For the families whom this Government are preventing from getting homes by cutting back on the housing programme? It will soon be Christmas and we shall be wishing peace on earth, goodwill to all men, including those at the employment exchanges, the 7 million pensioners, and the million on the dole and their wives and families. What kind of Christmas will they have?

Why not give the pensioners an immediate increase? This would at least get rid of a little of the misery which the Government have created. Why not give local authorities carte blanche to get on with their house building? At least a quarter of the unemployed in Scotland are building trade operatives who are idle while we have thousands of people waiting for houses. There are thousands of acres, particularly in Scotland, of dereliction caused by the first Industrial Revolution. Why cannot the Government give local authorities a 100 per cent. grant to clear up this unsightly mess?

Mr. John Nott (St. Ives)

I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman's remarks, particularly in the fact that 25 per cent. of the unemployed in Scotland are in the building trade. Purely as a matter of information—this is not a partisan point—what is the state of the building trade in the private sector in Scotland? Is that doing as well as it is in other parts of the country, or is it flat?

Mr. Hamilton

The hon. Gentleman has no right to make a non-partisan point; that is not what this House is for. That is not what I am here for, anyway. I am here to get this Government out and mine in. No doubt my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock on the Front Bench, will be able to answer better than I, but I know that, by tradition, there has never been the proportion of private house building in Scotland that there is in England. Under the Labour Government the proportion of houses built for private ownership went up faster than under the previous Tory Government, but it is still a very small proportion of the total Scottish house building programme.

The answer to Scotland's housing problem is not in the private sector but predominantly in the public sector, through the Scottish Special Housing Association, the local authorities and the new town corporations. Wages are so low and employment prospects so insecure that relatively few people want or are able in Scotland to take on a 25-year mortgage.

I want to return to what the editor of the Daily Telegraph, sitting cosily in his chair, said: Neither the Labour Government nor the trade unions can prevent the Government's economic strategy from working; but the Government can certainly do so if it loses its nerve. What strategy do they have? The situation is now out of control. Whatever the Government do now will not stop us from having well over one million unemployed in the next few months.

Probably the worst feature is the unemployment among our youth. In Cowdenbeath, in my constituency, 55 youths were unemployed in October, 1969, and 87 in October, 1971; in Kirkcaldy, in the neighbouring constituency, the figures were 40 in 1969 and 93 in 1971; in Airdrie they were 267 and 704; in Bellshill they were 56 and 297; in Hamilton 46 and 235; in Motherwell 110 and 409; in Rutherglen 60 and 141; in Kilmarnock 27 and 142. Even in Edinburgh the figures were 187 in October, 1969, and 427 in October, 1971. In Bridgeton, in Glasgow, the figures were 22 and 156; in Springburn they were 174 and 605; in Glasgow, Southside, they were 188 and 509. These figures are appalling and indefensible.

When the Scottish unemployment was 134,000, the Chancellor was reported in the Press as having said in the House on 28th June: On the basic problem of unemployment, I have repeatedly said, taking account of the Budget's measures, I expected that the rate of increase in unemployment would after a time slow down and then stop. He went on: That has been happening, as is apparent from the figures published in recent months. We have seen how they have been going down; we have seen the accuracy of the Chancellor's forecasts.

One need not quote Ministers. We know how inaccurate and misleading they have been. Instead, let me quote what Mr. Lindsay Aitken, the industrial policy manager of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said about the figures announced yesterday: The figures are disturbing however they are measured. They represent not just a single situation but an accumulation of trends in manufacturing and other fields. These trends have been growing since the summer of 1969. There may be no easy solution in the short-term, but the trends cannot be allowed to continue. A new look at regional policies as a whole is required. The C.B.I. for the Scottish area said more or less the same: We are very disappointed that the actions which the Government have taken are not biting". The Glasgow Herald said in an editorial this morning: Short-term factors apart, the chronically high level of unemployment from which Scotland has suffered since the war looks like becoming chronically worse, not better. Short-term measures like public works schemes and naval orders for the Clyde are welcome in that they keep the dole queue shorter than it would otherwise be, but there is an urgent need, as the Scottish Council emphasised yesterday, for the Government to take a new look at regional policies as a whole. This is not merely a question of replenishing the begging bowls; it is primarily a matter of exploiting to the full such economic advantages as each of the regions of high unemployment possesses. In Scotland the Clyde's potential as a deep-water port is unrivalled in Europe. This is the catalyst that could eventually rid of us our unemployment problem. Any British Government who turn their backs on this reality do so at their peril. Wherever one looks—at any paper in the political spectrum; on the Right or Left, in the centre or with commentators with no political persuasion at all—the answer is the same: the Government's policies have failed, are failing and will continue to fail unless they reverse the policies they have been pursuing in the last 15 months.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Walthamstow, East)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a factor which he should bring into his speech if he is to give a balanced view, and that is the types of person unemployed? For example, how many unfilled vacancies are there? He is implying that it is total unemployment.

Mr. Hamilton

From memory, 20 men are looking for every one situation vacant in Scotland. Indeed, the position may be even worse. I was about to say that I had given the hon. Gentleman a conservative estimate, but I cannot do that because I hate the word whether it is spelt with a small or capital "c".

One of the most disturbing features is not that the majority of the unemployed are unskilled or even semi-skilled but that unemployment is working its way through to teachers, highly skilled professional people and business executives. In other words, the spread is much wider than it was. I have the figures of vacancies for youths, men and women, but I have no doubt that the Minister will wish to deal with that aspect.

The intervention of the hon. Member for Walthamstow, East (Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson) stresses the fact that the problem facing the Government and the nation is one of the greatest social evils and challenges of our time, if not the greatest. The mood of the people is angry and ugly. The right to work is a basic human one which any Government deny at their peril, and the dogmatic assertions of hon. Gentlemen opposite, before, during and after the General Election have led directly to the present fury and sense of betrayal in all parts of the country.

The Government have made matters worse by seeking—indeed, they are still doing this—to put the blame on other shoulders, including the former Labour Government and the trade unions. Hon. Gentlemen opposite pretended that they had immediate solutions to the problems that are now plaguing our people—on prices, unemployment and industrial efficiency. We have had all the shibboleths hurled at us about lame ducks and the need to stand on one's own feet, not to mention non-intervention by the Government.

What of all the talk about the need to get back to the free working of market forces? Now, nearly 1 million chickens are coming home to roost. But they are not chickens. They are bitter, angry, determined, dignified men and women about whom the Government have said, "They do not matter".

Not only are we deeply concerned; we have reached the point when we can do very little about it. We look around our country and see public squalor in every corner. We see squalid housing with millions of people living in terrible conditions. They are better off in some of their huts in African villages than are some of our people in the slums of Britain today.

We have slum hospitals staffed by ill-paid nurses. We have slum schools, and I do not mean only primary schools. When the "headmistress" comes here and says that she is dealing with the primary schools, she should reflect that she is telling local education authorities throughout the country, including Scotland, that they cannot do anything about their secondary schools, a lot of which are in a deplorable condition and more than a century old.

I have talked about the dereliction in my constituency. I suggest that without exception the same can be said of the constituencies of every hon. Member here today. Environmental pollution is taking place on a massive scale, and we have with it the fact that millions of our people are starving, unwanted, rejected and desolate—but nevertheless determined to fight for their rights.

All this means a complete revision of the Government's priorities. It means an admission of failure from them. It means that there must be greater Government intervention than hon. Gentlemen opposite either promised or threatened the electors in June, 1970, or have even contemplated since then. The country is not prepared to put up with the kind of policies that have divided the nation in a way that I have not known since the 'twenties and 'thirties.

I remember the 'thirties well. Indeed, that memory makes me the kind of fellow I am today. I shall never forget those days when I lived in the area of Tynemouth. I regret that its parliamentary representative, the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), sits there asleep in the corner.

Hon. Members


Dame Irene Ward

Whatever I am, I am certainly not asleep.

Mr. Hamilton

That situation will not be allowed to repeat itself, and as soon as the Government care to go to the country—on their record, on unemployment, on prices, on the social services or on the division of the national wealth—they will get their answer. In the meantime, we demand action that will seek at least to stern the flood which now seems to be uncontrollable—this tidal wave which has been creating and will create untold misery for millions of innocent men, women and children.

2.30 p.m.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

I assure my hon. Friends that my rising to speak does not imply that I shall monopolise the time or that I do not want to hear their contributions. I should explain to the House that, unfortunately, there has been a serious incident in my constituency in which a number of people have been killed or injured, and I should like to leave the House at 3.15 p.m. so as to get there as quickly as possible. I hope that the Minister who replies to the debate will forgive me if I am not here when he does so.

This Adjournment debate, fortuitous though it may be, is nevertheless very welcome. While we do not expect the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture at the Scottish Office to be here with a complete brief to answer the debate, we should like him and his hon. Friend, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, to take away our inquiries and questions and the points of substance which we should like answered—not for answer today, because that may be too much to ask, although we should welcome replies if possible—and to have these questions answered in the great debate next Tuesday.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on his enterprise in obtaining the debate. He was able to make perfectly clear the erroneous report by Mr. Wood that in some way or other we on this side of the House did not want a debate about unemployment and that we wanted the abominable Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Bill in its stead. I am glad that my Chief Whip is present now to confirm that what my hon. Friend said is the understanding of us all—that we do not want that Bill at all and would much prefer to keep this debate on Tuesday.

If the debate on Tuesday is successful in the sense of putting at least some assurance in the minds of those who are unemployed, or who may fear that they may become unemployed, it will be a useful debate. I hope it will not be entirely polemical, from either this or the other side of the House, and that it will aim to be constructive. The only way to succeed in that is for the Government to make positive announcements. The emotive phrase "one million unemployed" is something that the party opposite cannot live down if it happens. A figure of 970,000 is bad enough but to get any higher than that is a most serious political error for the Tory Party to have made. In the post-war years we have never had extremely high unemployment, except for occasional bad weather conditions and in 1963. Then we had very bad unemployment; but nothing like this. The Tory Party looks as though, voluntarily or involuntarily, it is drifting towards a situation where it is now the party of unemployment again. If it does not want that albatross hung around its neck again, it will have to do something urgently.

When I read newspapers and am told that Ministers are worried, I believe that. If I were a Minister now—God forbid—I should be sick with worry. I could no longer shove the blame for this situation on my predecessors. First, the people would not believe it. Second, there have been three Budgets. There are the declarations of Ministers on these occasions that unemployment is being tackled. The Government have run out of excuses on the matter of inflationary wage rates being the main cause of unemployment. That is fast disappearing.

Very few people, apart from one or two dedicated Conservative Party men believe that that is true any more. The Government have had 17 months. No Government can continue to tell the people, "It is not our fault because we have only been in office for 17 months." No one will believe that.

I want seriously to imprint on minds of hon. Members, both those present and those who may read this debate, that it is essential for the Conservative Party to realise that it is in government, that it is responsible and that it must act. If it does not act and we top the million mark and go even to worse figures than that, I warn the Conservatives that they will be dubbed, as they were before the war, the party which causes unemployment.

I will not recite the figures of unemployment in my constituency, because it gives me great agony. But I should prefer the Under-Secretary to tell us the figures because, in so doing, his party will believe the more what we are asserting.

There are thousands unemployed in my constituency. It is one of the most difficult constituencies in the country in which to bring down unemployment. In our best years since the war, the lowest unemployment rate in Greenock has been 4 per cent. So I readily concede that it is not a representative constituency in that sense; it is like some highland areas or chronically bad areas of Scotland in which, for various reasons—not mainly the people's fault—there is a chronic incidence of unemployment. But when there is an acute phase of unemployment in Great Britain the Greenock picture changes alarmingly and rises very substantially.

The Minister may say that the Government are helping to provide jobs in Greenock. That is true. We have a most successful series of shipyards grouped on the Lower Clyde which has an enormous amount of orders. It is one of our best order books for years. We now have the advantage of the naval orders announced by the Government. They are not new orders, but at least they have been brought forward in the programmes. By the way, this is not all good for future naval programming because they have been simply brought forward. If this unemployment situation is not cured, in the long term we may have to face a difficult period of shortage of orders later.

But that is not true now in the Lower Clyde. We have 8,000 shipyard workers and we hope to raise that figure to 10,000. The Minister may say, "That is marvellous. What are you worried about? Your unemployment figure will drop." But that is not true. Constituencies are not islands. As John Donne said, "no man is an island"; and no constituency is an island, and there are at least 4,000 experienced shipbuilders with long years of craftsmanship behind them, not unskilled men but good shipbuilders, who will be unemployed very soon in the upper reaches of the Clyde some 18 to 19 miles away. Some of them on the other side of the river, on Clydebank, will now have the advantage of the new Erskine Bridge to come across the river more directly and work in our yards. So in my constituency we cannot expect to get those additional 2,000 jobs.

Local factories are anxious to expand. Although I have been arguing the general case, I have been trying for a long time to give specific examples of firms in my constituency where as few as 10 or as many as 200 jobs could be provided if local industry were helped. I wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry about a firm that hopes to get 300 to 400 new jobs if it can get the same incentives as those allowed the incoming firms in the special development areas. The Government have not yet refused this. They have not said that it is not on the cards, or "Do not agitate any more about this because you are not having any".

All along the Government have encouraged us to believe that if we can provide evidence that jobs will be created by local industries, they will consider seriously a way of bringing them up to the same level of advantage as those outside firms coming into our area—and very welcome they are—to create more jobs for our constituents.

The Prime Minister wrote to the Scottish Labour Members only a few days ago saying that he was considering this. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has agreed that he will consider this, and, as I said, I have written to him today giving another positive example of a firm in my constituency, with all its documentation. He will have the letter tomorrow. All the documentation shows that this expansion would not only benefit the firm and exports but provide jobs in this locally bad situation.

Therefore, I hope the Government will stop hesitating over this issue. I read some awful news in a good article in The Guardian about eight days ago saying that the Government had postponed their decision on new regional policies for another year. I should like that to be denied on Tuesday, if it cannot be denied now. I should like it confirmed that the Government intend very quickly to announce some modification of the present incentives to local firms, modification that will make the situation better for areas not in special development areas which are now being adversely affected. I should like their position to be examined. Let us look also at the position of Kilmarnock and of Troon in Ayrshire, outside the special development area and yet very much in need of this kind of assistance. Cannot the boundaries of the special development area be extended? What about Dundee and Tayside?

The Government have said: "We are asking the chambers of commerce in Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock to collect all the facts and figures, and then we will decide whether we extend special development area incentives to local firms." I know that much information has been submitted, but I do not know whether people will put up with this much longer without getting a decision. The Government are just dangling us along. I know of at least five cases in my constituency proving conclusively that if this is done there will be success in some measure, certainly in the short-term, in providing jobs. In the urgency of these crisis debates—and it is not an exaggeration to call the present unemployment situation a crisis—we tend to run for short-term solutions. The Government's emergency public works programme is an example. We must have short-term measures, it is true, but long-term solutions are perhaps more important.

In the Daily Mail, which is a very good friend of the Government, there is a report that the Cabinet yesterday made important decisions about the nationalised industries and, more specifically, about steel and the railways. I do not know how reliable the Daily Mail is on this score, but it put that information on the front page. If the report is reliable, this action can be seen as the first fruits of the demand made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins) in the unemployment Amendment to the Address, when he called for higher investment in the nationalised industries.

I do not expect the two Ministers present who, however hard they work, are still junior Ministers, to make substantial announcements now, but we want announcements on Tuesday, and I hope that hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Front Bench will tell their seniors of our anxiety.

The Scottish Labour Members are to see representatives of the British Steel Corporation next week having in mind not only the redundancies at Falkirk, which are quite substantial and which are happening now, but the possible redundancies looming up in the administrative headquarters of the tubes division in Glasgow. But, while we welcome the chance to discuss these things with the Corporation, we should like to be told by it that the Government, after very long consideration by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, are allowing a very substantial investment in the steel industry.

Redcar is waiting to know whether there is to be a brown field site development for that important area of England, while we in Scotland are waiting to hear whether we are to get the £1,000 million green field site investment at Hunters-ton. Such an investment would make Hunterston a reality as a deep water port. While what is being done by the Hunters-ton development corporation is welcome—though why it was not done in this way I do not know—it is far too slow, and not a few people believe that it is a blind, a piece of window dressing to conceal the fact that no decisions about Hunterston are being made. The greatest single message of joy and hope for Scotland in these bleak days would be an announcement by the Government next Tuesday that we are to have this steel plant on that peninsula.

We would also like to see more investment in the railways. In the Adjournment debate the other night on the future of many railway workshop employees in Troon, and around Troon, and Kilmarnock, and elsewhere, resting on the future of the Barassie railway workshops, we were told that everything hinged on the creditworthiness of Yugoslavia, and whether its contract would be guaranteed. The Government promised to do something about it. Within the last fortnight Her Majesty the Queen has been welcoming President Tito while at the same time we are told that Yugoslavia's creditworthiness is in doubt. This contract means a lot to these workers, and by failing to bring work to railway workshops and guaranteeing their future we are again prejudicing the position of these workers not yet in the dole queues. I therefore urge the Government to look into investment in the State industries and realise that both in the long-term and in the short they can do a great deal.

I am very worried about what the Government have so far done to reflate the economy, because so far it has not proved as effective as they said it would. I welcome the series of decisions taken over several months not only to reflate the economy but to introduce an emergency public works programme of some substance, but all the reports I receive, not from politicians but from employers and trade unions, is that the programme is not being taken up at the rate the Government hoped. We must find out why this is so, and remove what obstacles there are to a full take-up of the programme. I am sure that the Government will not quarrel with me on that score.

The other day representatives of the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors came to the House to see several hon. Members, including myself. They told us that unemployment in civil engineering, in Scotland in particular, though it must apply to other regions as well, is growing. If one examines the Government's roads programme—and there is a roads element in the emergency public works programme—one finds a considerable slippage on major road schemes over the last six months.

I have compared what is said in the July 1971 and the January 1971 editions of the S.D.D. review—and no doubt on another occasion I shall be able to give positive examples—and I find in the Highlands, in the south-east, in the central belt, and elsewhere, examples of major road developments being pushed back. I do not necessarily say that it is being done deliberately but it is a reason for saying that the Government should advance other items in their programme.

If the Government cannot prepare large programmes, which tend in any case to go to large contractors—and, alas, we in Scotland do not have as many large contractors as we would like—let them prepare smaller programmes. As it is, many smaller men are being employed by the large contractors as sub-contractors. We know that work in any form is better than none, but it would be better if our own contractors could be put to work on smaller schemes which could be done quickly. It would be good if these men were given a chance to tender now for such schemes, so as to get them going in the spring, and summer of next year—because we all know that schemes like this need a good deal of preparation.

I urge the Under-Secretary of State to ask his right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and for Scotland to look at this charge quite solemnly made by the Federation that there is not enough of the kind of work its members can do quickly, and that the road programme is slipping. I will not be put off by statements that this year we have been spending more rather than less. That is all right for the long-term but I want to see specific contracts going out now if the Government are to realise their own objectives.

The same argument applies to other public works such as reservoirs, sewerage, and many others that are directly under the Government's charge. And do not let us embarrass local authorities. Local authorities have been arguing that the only kind of programmes they can adopt are those where they get so much of the cost from the Government but have to raise the rest from the rates. This, after all, is just an accident of time. The rate support grant has been calculated, has been passed through Parliament, and cannot be amended. As things are, therefore, local authorities will find that while their expenditure will now be higher, they will not get the compensation through the rate support grant for undertaking these schemes which, in other circumstances, they would get. The Minister should promise that in the next rate support grant order there will be money compensation in the first year for the expenditure incurred but not paid through the support grant in this current financial year and in the next.

Meantime, there is a certain irritation among local authorities about this question. Perhaps this is why unemployment is steadily rising in the building trades. Yet the Government are supposed to be encouraging the new house building programme. It has fallen by 16 per cent. of the June, 1970, figure. We are supposed to be embarked upon the best housing improvement schemes in double quick time. The coming into operation of the new Act has deliberately been spaced over two years to take up unemployment. Therefore, judged by the Government's own policy and by yesterday's figures, it is not working.

Hon. Members will agree that I am not arguing an exclusively partisan case. I am arguing also about bad administration. Perhaps the truth is that the Government are not trying. If they do not pull up their socks and make their declared policies work, no one will believe them.

I welcome the little that has been announced by the Government about remedying unemployment, but the proposed action is not enough. I want to see more done quickly.

This debate will have been of some use if these two Ministers, whose presence we welcome, will impress upon their colleagues in the Government the need to make Tuesday's debate significant, not only in that present measures will be supported with fact but also that substantial future measures will be announced. If the Ministers do not do that, they will fail as Ministers. If they do that and their colleagues do not listen to them, they should take my advice and leave the Government. This is a Government which, if they allow this situation to drift further, will go down in history as the Government of neglect of the common people.

2.52 p.m.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I welcome the chance to make a brief intervention in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on his assiduity or whatever it was which enabled him to secure this Adjournment debate. The present unemployment situation is the most vital and catastrophic situation which has faced the country for many years, if not since the end of the last War.

I need not repeat the sombre and disturbing picture painted by previous speakers of the present situation in Scotland. Suffice it to say that today's Glasgow Herald has pointed out that the figure of unemployment in Scotland is now 120 per cent. beyond the limit of the tolerance which was laid down by Beveridge.

I do not wish to be an apologist for the present Government, but I realise that the unemployment level had started to rise under the Labour Government. However, what is disturbing and unacceptable is the way in which this Government are standing by with apparent indifference and apathy. In the light of the progressively worsening situation in Scotland, the Government's attitude makes fiddling while Rome burns look like a fairly rational way of passing the time.

It has been said that this Tory Government resemble more than anything else the Tory Governments of the 1920s and the 1930s. There is great substance in that charge. However, there is one difference. Just as the second World War could not have been fought by the methods used during the first World War, because the people would not have stood for a repetition of the Battles of the Somme and Passchendaele, so the Government will find that, if the situation is allowed to drift, people will not stand for a repetition of what the Tory Government said in the 1920s and the 1930s. The Government should be warned now before the matter becomes any worse.

The Government say that increasing unemployment is due to increases in wages. This silly canard should end as regards Scotland. According to official figures. Scotland has lower average wages than the whole of Britain and double the unemployment; so there is nothing in that tale. There is nothing in it even in an English context.

I regard myself as being mote entitled to speak on unemployment than is any other hon. Member. There is 25 per cent. unemployment in my constituency, though I do not claim that hon. Members who represent constituencies with unemployment levels of 6 per cent. or 8 per cent. are not having a hard time. Scotland is on the way to a level such that, if it ever got halfway to it, the Government would be swept aside by methods which would be unacceptable to all of us.

There are several places in Scotland known to me, and no doubt known to Ministers, where huge quantities of bricks are piling up, where bricklayers are on the dole, and where there are waiting lists for houses. Is it beyond the wit of the Government to marry these three factors and to get something done about unemployment and housing at the same time?

I will not go into details as to what the Government could do. As Sir Winston Churchill said, what I am demanding is that the Government address their minds to the point and take the necessary action. This situation cannot continue for much longer. The Government must grasp this nettle now and ensure that action is taken to end the appalling catastrophe facing the unemployed in Scotland.

2.57 p.m.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. The hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) has rightly drawn our attention to the gravity of the situation in his part of Scotland. Because the vast bulk of the population of Scotland lives in the central belt, we tend sometimes to forget just how serious the problem is up there. It was therefore appropriate that the hon. Member was able to take part in this debate.

I add my congratulations to those which have been tendered to my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on the ability and constant vigilance which enabled him to obtain this Adjournment debate. As my hon. Friend said, our overriding responsibility as Scottish Members must be to expose the Government's policies, constantly to attack the Government for their relative indifference to the unemployment position and, if possible, to drive the Government from office. On this issue the Government are massively unpopular in Scotland.

We know the figures. They have been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West and by others. It is interesting to see the extent to which hon. Members from the West Midlands and from the South-East are now raising the problem of unemployment. A comparison of their unemployment figures with ours does more than anything to bring home the present tragic situation in Scotland.

In passing, perhaps I may mention the position in Edinburgh. There was a time when Edinburgh was much more prosperous than the rest of Scotland. Indeed, when the last Government decided not to include Edinburgh within the Scottish development area, although I was not happy with the decision at that time, I could see some justification for it, because the employment situation in Edinburgh was much better than in the rest of Scotland. In fact, it was comparable with that in the United Kingdom as a whole. The people of Edinburgh, although not happy about it, could see the argument then. But that argument has gone.

I want to drive home to the Under-Secretary of State—I hope that he will impress it upon his right hon. Friends—that male unemployment in the Edinburgh area is now 7 per cent. By no stretch of the imagination can it now be said that Edinburgh is such a prosperous area that it should be given treatment different from that given to the rest of Scotland. At the absolute minimum, we must now be included in the development area.

The response and attitude of the Secretary of State for Scotland to this issue has been rather surprising. He does not seem to be aware of the changed situation. It is not enough to say that part of Edinburgh has been given intermediate area status. Let Ministers talk to their own friends in Edinburgh, to the Chamber of Commerce, and the like. They will soon hear what their friends think about the present discrimination against Edinburgh.

On the central issue, the Government try to make out that the present level of unemployment is not their fault. At the beginning, they said that it was the Labour Government's fault. Then they told us that it was the unions' fault Neither of those excuses were true, and they are so plainly untrue now that the Government can no longer kid the public.

When they came to power, this Government had two overriding considerations in their economic policy. First, they would win the battle against inflation by damping down the economy, by not allowing it to expand. They took a deliberate decision to try to contain wage inflation by creating and maintaining a high level of unemployment. We know that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not use those words, but, casting our minds back to his Budget, we recall the effect of what he said and did.

Many of us on this side argued that what the Chancellor was doing was not enough, that we must have more expansion, but he and the economic experts in the right-wing quality papers said that the Government could not afford to do that, that it would encourage more wage increases which would lead to more inflation.

That argument was not accepted by the trade union movement, and industrialists I spoke to did not accept it, either. They did not for a moment believe that by creating unemployment the Government could contain wage inflation. In fact, by holding down production, they made it harder for industrialists to cover their costs because, with production cut down, and with the same overheads, it was almost unavoidable that industrialists would have to pass on wage increases by putting up prices.

But the Government were trying to force the workers to accept a cut in their standard of living. They insisted that they accept increases of less than 10 per cent., which obviously meant a cut in their standard of life. They wanted to intimidate the workers in an effort to solve the inflation problem. That is why we have a such a serious situation now.

The second major economic policy consideration in the Government's mind was their obsession with the need to cut the level of public expenditure. They have gone back on that to some extent, but the fact remains that the most important policy documents which the Government published were their forward estimates of public expenditure. One can see it in almost every issue one cares to read. I was speaking this week at a meeting of scientists some of whom work at Government research stations. They are affected by this philosophy. The Government's housing policy is part of the same philosophy—the need to cut public expenditure. Virtually every sector of the economy is affected by the Government's obsession to cut the level of public expenditure, which means reducing the level of demand, reducing the number of jobs, and putting people on the dole.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West was right to point out the absolute nonsense of the Government's legislation and their plans for Scotland in the context of the problems which we now face. I recall that the Secretary of State had a piece in the Scotsman six months or more ago, at the time when we were debating education in Scotland. He was speaking not about education but about the Scottish economy, and one of his arguments about how he would help the Scottish economy was that he would give freedom to the local authorities to do what they liked in education, and that this would encourage people to come to Scotland. We have heard this before. The idea is that, with fee-paying schools in Edinburgh, business executives will want to come in and run new industries.

The House will recall the Education (Scotland) Bill, that total irrelevance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) referred to it last night. Incidentally, if all the Labour councillors had been in their places when the crucial vote was taken in the Edinburgh council, we should not have had fee paying in Edinburgh, and all the hours of work and effort which the Scottish Office put into that irrelevant Measure would have been nullified. As it happens, however, it looks as though we shall have some fee paying in a few schools. But look at all the effort that the Scottish Office and the House put into that Bill and compare it with what is needed to tackle our present problems.

Today—the Scotsman makes it very clear—school milk is to be the Government's big issue in Scotland. They intend to force Midlothian and other local authorities to stop giving school milk to young children. This is to be their next big diversion to take attention away from unemployment.

The Government's whole philosophy is a disaster for the people of Scotland. We have the most divisive Government since the 1930s, a Government obsessed with the need to sell off chunks of public enterprise to their friends. That is what it comes to. It is government by gangsterism. The first thing they did was to sell off the State breweries to the private breweries. Now, it is commercial radio. Next week, we shall have legislation providing for the sale of Thomas Cook & Son.

The Government's excuse amounts to this: "We are sorry about unemployment, but we have done a lot. We have been taking action". They have produced three inadequate Budgets. They have created the Scottish special development area. This will have very little impact. Everyone knows that, unless there is economic expansion, it cannot have much impact, and it is no good citing that as a big move to help Scottish employment.

The winter works programme is welcome, but it is only a matter of the Government's going back a little on their basic philosophy of cutting public expenditure. It is not just a winter works programme; it stretches into next year. It is nothing great. The Government have simply decided that they cannot go ahead as quickly as they would like with cutting public expenditure. They have been forced by economic circumstances to let up a bit. The jobs provided are only temporary.

There are two big issues on which the Government could take decisions now to help the Scottish economy. The first concerns Hunterston. It is all very well for the Government to say, "It is up to the British Steel Corporation", or, "It is up to this or that body. We are prepared to give planning permission." The fact is that they have already intervened more in the activities of the British Steel Corporation than previous Governments did. They have become responsible for the Corporation's investment programme. If the Government made up their mind that the unemployment position in Scotland was so disastrous that we must get the Corporation's investment in Hunterston, we would get it. The Government have only to take that political decision. They need not kid themselves or try to pretend to us that it is something to be decided by the Corporation, independent of them. At the end of the day it will be a political decision. If we could bring home to the Government the gravity of the situation, they could respond by saying, "All right. We are going ahead with Hunterston flat out", and they could tell the Corporation that.

The second issue is North Sea oil, on which an interesting debate was obtained by my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas). The most striking thing about the debate was the appalling concluding speech by the Under-Secretary, whose whole approach was to say, "This is happening. This is the way it would work. We welcome what the Scottish Council and the Aberdeen Corporation are doing. We are glad that some Scottish capital has become involved."

Let me give a small example of the hon. Gentleman's approach from near the end of his speech. It is a small point, but it is symptomatic of the Government's whole approach. In replying to the debate, the Under-Secretary of State said: The question of the supply of pipes has been mentioned. This, of course, is a matter for the oil industry and the pipe producers in the light of commercial circumstances but I know that the British Steel Corporation has had difficulties in supplying pipes of the required specifications. It is working strenuously to overcome those difficulties in the face of strong overseas competition."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th November, 1971; Vol. 825, c. 799.] According to the Government, this is a matter for the oil industry and the pipe producers, nothing to do with the Government.

The Government have failed abysmally with North Sea oil. They have responsibility for evolving a strategy and they should be taking charge. I do not mean that they should put in all the capital, but they should decide how to exploit North Sea oil to the best advantage of the Scottish people and how to get the maximum amount of investment in Scotland. But they are standing back and saying that the things which are happening have nothing to do with them, when they should get in and take the lead.

It is not just the Labour movement which is saying this about Hunterston and North Sea oil; the industrialists have completely lost confidence. They want a lead from the Government and, if they could get a lead, they would follow with investment. The main indictment in Scotland of the Government is that they are always saying, "It is their responsibility and nothing to do with us."

An example much closer to the Under-Secretary of State who will be replying to the debate is the sugar beet factory at Cupar. The hon. Gentleman will, no doubt, say that the Labour Government took this decision. My Government did take the decision, although I did not agree with it at the time and said so. But we have come a long way since then. A private consortium wanted to take over the factory. The appalling situation in Scotland now bears no comparison with the position when the Labour Government took their decision, although I am not trying to defend that decision.

The basic case for retaining the sugar production was the agricultural case. But we cannot now afford to lose a single job in Scotland. Quite a number of jobs are involved here, not just in the factory but in ancillary undertakings related to sugar beet. What is the Government's approach? Again, they are standing back when they should intervene and see that this sugar beet production proposal goes ahead and is viable, at least in the short term. They have the power to do this if they want to, but they are not prepared to intervene.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Would my hon. Friend care to comment briefly on this point? It is alleged that the B.S.C. is asking for almost £750,000 for the factory in Cupar, whereas the Plessey Works, with much more sophisticated machinery, were sold for £600,000.

Mr. Strang

That is a good point. That is the bone of contention in the negotiations between the British Sugar Corporation and the private consortium. There is no doubt that the Government could sort this out, but it is part of their non-intervention philosophy not to do so. The agricultural industry in Scotland is appalled at the way in which the Scottish Office has handled this issue.

I come to what I think the Government should do to help the position. First, there should be a freeze on redundancies in the public sector. This will involve difficulties. Neither British Rail nor the National Coal Board will like being told that it cannot reduce the number of jobs. The British Steel Corporation will not like being told that it cannot put any more men out of work while unemployment is at the present level.

Of course there will be difficulties, but this issue is so serious in terms of the misery and hardship it causes that there must be intervention. We must not think of unemployment only in terms of figures. We must think of it in terms of the hundreds of thousands of men in their late 50s who have been made unemployed and who have little hope of ever working again. We must also consider the younger men who have been subjected for the first time in their lives to the demoralisation of being in the dole queue. Many young people are permanently scarred by the fact that on leaving school they find that society has no place for them; they are sometimes unemployed for a year until they finally get their first job.

The Government must take a decision right away. They are intervening in the nationalised industries to tell them to hold their prices, and they realise the difficulty of British Rail in trying to stick to a figure of 5 per cent. in relation to costs. Therefore, they can intervene on this issue if they are prepared to face up to the problem of unemployment.

The Government's decision to replace investment grants by tax allowances has been an absolute failure. This is not a partisan point since the great majority of industrialists in Britain believe we should carry on with investment grants.

The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)

indicated dissent

Mr. Strang

The hon. Gentleman disagrees with that, but I am convinced that the majority of Scottish industrialists are in favour of grants as opposed to allowances. We have already put forward all the arguments on this matter, but the Government have not assessed the situation to see whether allowances will help to ease the situation. The Government took a crude, doctrinaire decision. If they now decide to change their minds and to stick to grants rather than allowances they will not be running any political risk. It would show that they were prepared to put the solving of this problem before their pride.

Thirdly, they could double the regional employment premium in Scotland and continue it for a longer period. Many of us may have reservations about the premium, but we now have a disaster situation and it would help if the premium were doubled and were allowed to continue until at least 1978. The Government may not be fond of such an approach and I have had slight reservations about the premium; but in the present situation it would help the employment position and therefore they ought to do something about it.

My fourth point is that they should grant special development area status to the whole of Scotland. They could also give the maximum encouragement to firms to come to Scotland, no matter where they wished to go. This is surely relevant when we realise that there is high unemployment all over Scotland. I have given the figure in Edinburgh, a so-called prosperous area, where male unemployment amounts to 7 per cent.

The Government should also institute a public works programme and make changes such as have been suggested to the Minister in this debate. Let us get away from the idea of a winter works programme. It was never all that successful in creating jobs when Labour were in power. Let us go for a big, sustained policy of public expenditure on the construction of roads in Scotland. We have a fantastic slack in the building industry in Scotland which will not be taken up merely by a winter works programme.

Thousands of building workers are unemployed in the Edinburgh area including electricians, joiners and other craftsmen, and the unemployment figures do not apply only to building labourers. These skilled men in Edinburgh could be used to clear the slum areas and to create new houses, to build new hospitals, and to rebuild the atrocious school buildings which need to be tackled. The Government are allowing these men to stay on the dole when the country is crying out for buildings which they could construct. One does not have to be a Socialist to believe that there is something wrong with a system which can allow that to happen.

My next point relates to investment which has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) and is a subject I raised in Scottish Questions earlier this week. Winter works programmes are all very well, and we welcome anything that we can get. We want anything that will give us a few jobs in the short term, but if we want new permanent jobs in Scotland we must have a massive upsurge in the level of investment in Scotland.

The Government can control the nationalised industries. They can say, "We shall support you. Invest." I have referred to Hunterston, but there are many other ways in which the Government can use the nationalised industries in Scotland massively to increase the level of investment in Scotland and thus create jobs. I hope that we shall get something along these lines. It would appear from the Press reports that the Government are coming round to this thinking. We hammered away for a winter works programme because it was better than nothing: we asked for the small thing first. We have that. We are now hammering away for a massive increase in investment in the nationalised industries in Scotland, and I hope that we shall get it. I trust that the Government will respond to that plea more quickly than they responded to the last plea.

There was a series of interesting articles in the Scotsman about three weeks ago on the regional problem in Scotland. I wish to make two points on it. First, if we are to solve Scotland's regional problem we must have tight controls on expansion in the rest of Britain. If the Government get the expansion which they talk about getting in the Midlands and other areas, they must be prepared to operate strict controls on industrial expansion. One of the articles in the Scotsman was by a man called John Donnachy. I assume he is not a Labour man; he is associated with a private firm. He made the point that the only time that we in Scotland have had a large share of industrial investment in the United Kingdom was between 1945 and 1950, when we had 20 per cent. of new investment in Britain.

Mr. Donnachy concluded that on the basis of what had happened, much as industry talks about the need for a carrot to get expansion in the regions, we also need a big bit of stick. The problem is that this is alien to the Government's philosophy. Their philosophy is to stand back and let big business get on with it. They say, "Let them make profits. People can come next." They put profits before people. They had better start thinking of changing that philosophy. If they do something about helping private investment in Scotland, they had better be prepared to tighten their approach to industrial development certificates.

The Government should be more flexible in getting involved in specific deals. The Southern Ireland Government have been enterprising in this respect. They are prepared to select industries and say, "We think you can contribute something to the country, so we shall help you to do it." People object to this, saying that it is not fair. There is a stereotyped reaction from private enterprise, which says "You should not single this lot out." Jobs are important, and private industry has no right to expect everything to be made easy for it.

Industry exists to serve the people. If it is in the interests of the people, the Government should be more prepared to do specific deals with industry, as local authorities such as Midlothian have been doing in Scotland. There are people in local authorities who are on good terms with industry, but they are limited in what they can do to help. The Government could adopt the approach I have suggested; it would be feasible.

This is a debate on Scottish unemployment. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West was quite right when he said that we must keep hammering away at the Government on this issue. Indeed, we would debate this matter every day if we had the chance, because this is the issue in Scotland which transcends in importance all the other issues together.

A junior Minister, speaking in England somewhere—I am not sure what the local unemployment situation was there—said that people are getting too obsessed with unemployment. What a commentary that was on that Minister's approach to this social problem.

We, in Scotland, are obsessed with unemployment. We are obsessed with the need to get the Government to pursue policies which will solve that problem. We are obsessed with the need to rid this country of a Government who are addicted to their private enterprise philosophy, their free enterprise doctrinaire approach, of, "Stand back and let industry do what it likes." Profits before people; this is where it has got us. It is our responsibility to get them out as quickly as we can. I hope that this debate will succeed in making a small contribution to doing just that.

3.26 p.m.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) on his assiduous attention to matters of interest in his constituency and, indeed, in Britain by raising this subject today. I sincerely hope that he will not mind an English Member intervening in what is really a Scottish debate. I hope that he will understand that my connection with and interest in Scotland is not only that I have a Scottish Lowland name. I assure him that people in the South of England have an interest in what is happening in Scotland. It is extremely serious, because what is happening in Scotland affects the whole country. I am glad, therefore, that he has raised this matter, and I hope to show a relationship between what is happening in Scotland and the rest of the country.

I take, for example, my constituency, Swindon. There was a time when people could with confidence move from various parts of Scotland to Swindon and be assured of a house and a job. We welcomed people from Scotland. The diversity of accents in the town makes it a far more interesting and lively place.

But what is the situation now? We can still offer people houses in Swindon, although, after two years of Tory local government, they have to wait 18 months instead of six weeks. Nevertheless, eventually we can offer people houses. What we cannot do—I regret this very much—is to offer them jobs.

Taking account of the numbers on short-time working in Swindon, there are 20 men looking for one job. Even if we do not take into account men on short-time working, there are in Swindon, which is in the south of the country, 16 men looking for one job. So we have this relationship between what happens in Scotland and what happens in England.

Swindon also has the British Rail workshop—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not want to be unduly restrictive, but there is to be a general debate on unemployment next Tuesday. I considered carefully the rule about anticipation but decided that a debate on unemployment in Scotland would be in order. The hon. Gentleman should be careful how far he goes.

Mr. Stoddart

Yes, Mr. Speaker. I was about to relate that situation to the position in Scotland. Swindon has a connection with Scotland in that we, too, are tied up with the policy adopted by British Railways and the proposed closure of the Barassie Works. As in Scotland, the people of Swindon are faced with the prospect of between 800 and 1,000 redundancies. The situation at Barassie and in Swindon has arisen because of the Government's attitude to the nationalised industries generally, and the railways in particular. If the Government want to assist, they can help the Railways Board with its cash flow problems and enable the works to which I have referred to be kept open and work at full stretch on renewing wagons and locomotives which ought to be repaired.

There can be no doubt that the position in Scotland is serious indeed. I agree with my hon. Friends that the situation there could have been avoided had the right measures been taken at the right time, but the Government have been so obsessed with cutting back public enterprise works and allowing the market to do the job that they have failed to take the necessary action.

During the General Election people were told that if public expenditure were reduced everything in the garden would be wonderful. They were told that they would be able to get tax reliefs, and be able to do what they liked with their money. Many people have received tax relief. Many of them who are now on the dole do not pay any tax at all, and I suppose in that respect the Government's policy has worked.

Until the Government get rid of their doctrinaire approach to public expenditure they will never be able to run the economy on the basis of full employment, because it is from investment in the public sector—which is a vital and important sector of the economy—that activity generally is generated. Until the Government get rid of their doctrinaire approach to publicly-owned industries, and to public works generally, they will not be able to deal with the problem of unemployment.

I join my hon. Friends in appealing to the Ministers concerned to go back to the Cabinet and say that the Government must change their direction and be prepared to make money available for greater investment in public industries, and in works which are urgently needed all over the country, not only in Scotland. There are bad school buildings. There are bad hospitals. There are bad roads. There are all kinds of public works which need to be done, and now, when there are nearly one million people unemployed, is the time for these works to be carried out.

If that were done, two problems could be solved at once. Men and women now out of work would have a job to do, and at the same time we should get rid of public squalor. What is more, we should get rid of the fear and uncertainty of people now in industry that tomorrow they may be out of a job. I sincerely hope that that action will be taken.

I have only one or two more comments to make, because I understand that the House wishes to rise fairly shortly.

Mr. Speaker

Order. It is not so much that, but the hon. Member has been rather out of order; perhaps he would continue for just a moment or two.

Mr. Stoddart

I think that my hon. Friends have taken the right course all the way along, and in particular in their call for a General Election and in their support for Mr. Victor Feather's call for an election. I hope that that call will soon be answered.

3.35 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Agriculture, Scottish Office (Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith)

I am very glad to be able to answer this debate. One of the reasons why I am doing so is that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Develpoment, Scottish Office, who normally deals with these subjects, is on a visit to West Germany with representatives of the Scottish Council. That demonstrates the kind of initiative the Government are taking to make sure that not only within Britain but also overseas the attractions of Scotland as a place in which to invest are fully brought home to those who may wish to take up investment opportunities.

I pay particular tribute to the work of Lord Taylor, who is leading the mission, and I am sure that I speak for everyone with a genuine interest in bringing new work to Scotland when I wish the mission every possible success. It demonstrates the kind of initiative the Government are taking to deal with the problem of the future strength of the Scottish economy.

On a personal note, may I extend on behalf of the House our sympathy to the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) on the accident in his constituency earlier today. He is not present now, but we should also like to extend through him our sympathy to the relatives of those who lost their lives and to the injured.

I do not begrudge the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) the opportunity to bring the subject of unemployment before the House today. He is always very assiduous in taking opportunities to raise matters. I am pleased that he raised this subject, because it is one of concern not only to himself and his hon. Friends but equally to the Government and all on this side of the House. I am glad to have the opportunity to answer some of the hon. Gentleman's points.

We have been entertained to a characteristic degree of overstatement in much of what the hon. Gentleman said. In many ways he painted a lurid and subjective picture not entirely borne out by the facts of Scotland today, and showed a considerable lack of accuracy. I felt that I was listening to him in his capacity as a professional purveyor of woe; everything appears to be wrong, and nothing is ever right. That is not the kind of image of Scotland that I and those of us who believe in its future want to go out from Scotland, and it is not a true image. Whilst the present situation is worrying, the future picture is not the dismal picture that the hon. Gentleman tried to paint.

The hon. Member for Greenock spoke much more temperately. He pointed out some directions in which he thought the Government should take action, but he did not paint anything like the dismal picture of his hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) raised many topics, and tried to suggest a large catalogue of solutions. Almost every one of his solutions would involve direct Government intervention.

Mr. Strang

What else is required?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

From the philosophical point of view, he adduced totally and completely Socialist solutions in every possible respect, and that will be obvious to any who may read the OFFICIAL REPORT of his remarks.

I was glad that the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Donald Stewart) took part in the debate because I appreciate his concern for, and the problems of, his constituency. I visited the area last summer and saw for myself at first hand many of the difficulties his area is facing.

While, on the one hand, he knows that the biggest single problem is the general recession in the tweed industry, on the other he is fair-minded enough to admit that in certain respects there are some encouraging signs in his constituency. I saw these when I was there in the summer. I have in mind developments in, for example, fish processing and small industrial activities like seaweed processing, and fishing generally. While I do not belittle the problems his constituents face, it is clear that individuals in the area are showing a considerable degree of initiative. In other words, the situation is not one of unmitigated gloom.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East said that the Government were indifferent to the problems of unemployment. That is poppycock. We are by no means indifferent to them. We are particularly concerned about them, as I will show by citing some of the actions that we have taken. We have put in train steps which are in the long-term interest of Scotland in coping with some of these problems.

The hon. Gentleman raised, I suggest in an unfair way, the problems of the Edinburgh area. I recognise that problems exist, but if the hon. Gentleman is to be fair he must recognise that the roots of many of those problems rest with the former Labour Government, particularly in their attitude towards the status of the area and the help it should receive.

One example of this is an incident in the area next to where I live. In this area a paper mill has had to go into liquidation in the last two weeks. When it carried out its modernisation programme some years ago it was the only paper mill at that time not in a development area. It did not qualify for the help that it would have got had it been in a designated area. However, I hope that as a result of the negotiations that have been taking place in this instance some good will emerge and that the future will not be gloomy. That is only one example of a problem the roots of which go back to the Labour Administration.

Mr. Strang

A paper mill in my constituency closed and more than 300 jobs were lost. Its closure had nothing to do with development area status but with E.F.T.A. ending the tariff on imports of paper. The hon. Gentleman knows this and it is wrong of him to try to make out that the Labour Government were to blame. In any event, if he complains about our not giving development area status to the area which he has been speaking, does he intend to give it that status?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

A combination of factors will affect any industry. We appreciate the difficulties being faced by the paper industry as a result of the E.F.T.A. action. Nevertheless, it does not help if a paper mill must carry out a big modernisation programme without help and at the same time bear the other burdens which were laid on it by the then Labour Government. Since we came to power we have altered the status of this area. We may not have gone as far as the hon. Gentleman would like, but we have moved considerably in the right direction—and the hon. Gentleman has admitted that he regards this as the right direction.

The hon. Member for Fife, West condemned the policies which, he claimed, had led to unemployment. If he chooses to talk on that basis, he must accept that the same charge can be laid against the former Labour Government. We do not change economic policy overnight. The seeds of many of the problems, the harvest we have had to reap over the last few months and the harvest being suffered by the unemployed in Scotland, by no means can he laid at our door, but they can be found in the policies of the previous Labour Government. I only wish that the hon. Gentleman had been more vociferous in debates of this nature under his Government in condemning the policies which have led to this situation. I deplore unemployment just as much as he does.

It is absolutely untrue—I refute it at once—that all the unemployment in Scotland today is due to this Government alone. Many of the problems that have emerged since the hon. Gentleman's party relinquished office were problems of his party's making. When we look at what the situation was earlier—I want this to be on the record—and at any question of a slowdown in the rate of economic growth and the development of the economy, we have to look at it historically and examine what happened under the Labour Government. The Labour Party took power in 1964 and the national growth rate, which had been 3.8 per cent. per annum in the six-year period up to 1964 under the previous Conservative Government, was reduced to 2.3 per cent. in the period 1964 to 1970. By the time we took office in 1970, that rate had dropped to 1.7 per cent. When we look at it in relation to the number of new jobs—this is the hon. Gentleman's particular charge and he made no attempt to admit this in any sense—in the period 1960 to 1964 we saw in Scotland a net gain of 30,000 jobs, but in the period 1966 to 1969, despite all the promises made by the Government of the time, there was a net loss of jobs of 45,000. It does not lie in the mouths of hon. Gentlemen opposite to make the kinds of criticism that they have made today.

I do not say that in any attempt to minimise the seriousness of what has happened in the last year, but simply to set the record straight. The record is clear. There were major economic problems facing us when we entered office which hon. Gentlemen opposite would have had to face had they been returned to power. We were faced by wage inflation and low growth in the economy, and many other serious matters which we have endeavoured to tackle at their roots.

It is abundantly clear to everyone that we can never have healthy growth, either in Scotland or in other development areas, until the economy as a whole is in a much better state. Our priorities over the last one-and-a-half years have been to get the national economy moving again, to provide a basis and support for healthy and profitable economic growth in Scotland, and to do everything possible to make additional employment available in the short term by authorising additional expenditure on public works. If hon. Gentlemen opposite would only look objectively, instead of subjectively, at what the Government have done to attain these goals, they will see that we have taken firm action in all these directions.

I reject absolutely the charge that we have done nothing to tackle the problems with which we have been faced. Looking at the national scene, prosperity for Scotland and other development areas can be based only on a sound national economy with which we can achieve expansion at a satisfactory rate. In the last 18 months we have shown that we can tackle inflation, and there are solid grounds for believing that we are having some success.

Let us look at what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done. I do not pour on it the scorn poured on it by hon. Members opposite, nor do many people outside. We have had two cuts in corporation tax, totalling 5 per cent. Restrictions on bank credit have been relaxed. Bank rate has been cut twice, and is now at its lowest level for nearly seven years. Income tax has been reduced. Selective employment tax—that pernicious tax which drained the strength from the Scottish economy—has been halved and we have promised to abolish it by 1973. In July, my right hon. Friend announced a whole range of measures—which I am glad to say, in fairness, some hon. Members opposite welcomed—which will stimulate the economy.

All these are positive steps, welcomed by the country though for which hon. Members opposite may have been ungrateful because they are steps which in the long run will help to put the Scottiwh economy on a much stronger basis. What we have to do is to get the Scottish economy to a stage where industrialists can again, as they did before under Tory Government, contemplate expansion, and realise that capacity for growth which we believe exists in this country.

Turning now—

Mr. Donald Stewart

What about the short term?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I will come to the short term, if the hon. Gentleman will have patience. I have said that I wanted to deal with the country as a whole and then with what we have done by way of regional policy, and I will be pleased to deal in conclusion with what we have done in the short term.

We have a record of regional policy about which I am not in the least ashamed to speak here, because it is a policy which has been generally welcomed, which will prove to have been the right policy, and which will have good results. We have implemented this policy in many different ways. We have increased rates of building grants for new factories and extensions. These grants are now as high as 45 per cent. We are continuing indefinitely the 40 per cent. initial allowance for new industrial building. Had this not been done, the allowance would have been due to revert to 15 per cent. next spring. We are making much more flexible use of the powers to make loans—this is very important to new industry coming to Scotland—under the Local Employment Acts, and the powers under the same Acts to give grants towards basic infrastructure services and for clearing derelict land, a subject in which I know the hon. Member for Fife, West is interested.

We have introduced a system of free depreciation for various purposes in the development areas. This enables the whole expenditure on new plant and machinery to be written off in the year in which it is purchased. If free depreciation cannot be used against current profit it can be carried back against trading profits for the three previous years—another flexible measure—and allowances can be carried forward to later years.

One of the most important things we have done in regional terms is to extend free depreciation to the service industries in the development areas. These industries were always regarded by the Labour Government as the poor relations in industry, yet anyone who has studied the Scottish economy or lived in it as I have had to knows that the service industries are one of the major strengths of the Scottish economy. What we have done in this one respect has been to give encouragement to one of the most important sectors of the Scottish economy whose job creation potential was totally ignored by the Labour Party.

In all this we have demonstrated our aim of linking aid for industry far more closely to the creation of employment, and at the same time we have made it absolutely clear that we shall continue to operate firmly the use of industrial development certificate control on the location of industry so that as the growth of the national economy gets under way again, the needs of the development areas, and of the special development areas in particular, are fully recognised.

In addition, we have made West Central Scotland a special development area with the strongest package of inducements to attract new jobs that has ever been offered. We should be given much more credit for doing that than hon. Members have been prepared to give us. I have already mentioned the extension of intermediate status to Edinburgh.

We have backed up all these measures with the increase in Government support for training and retraining efforts. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment is listening to this debate. The question of training and retraining is fundamental if we are to have the right work force with the right skills for the future of Scotland.

The Government have direct responsibility for the acceleration of the naval shipbuilding programme in Scotland. This point was passed over very swiftly by hon. Members opposite. I do not think that hon. Members should be grudging about this. This extension is of major importance and was greatly welcomed by our shipyards in Scotland.

I turn to the question of the provision of more employment by the extension of the public works programme. On 13th July my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State first announced that local authorities and other local bodies would be encouraged to embark on additional public works in Scotland which could be started in the near future and substantially completed within 18 months. This is the critical point, because if a programme is to have impact it must take place in the reasonably near future to deal with the immediate problem.

Our estimate then was that the additional work might total about £33 million, including £8 million for roads. I was asked this afternoon about the response of the local authorities. The immediate response at that time enabled us to announce that in West Central Scotland alone the programme of road works would be £3 million more and the programme of school- and hospital-building about £7 million more than we had originally thought possible. The latest estimate of the work that we shall be approving for the whole of Scotland under this additional public works programme is £60 million.

This demonstrates the Government's concern about the situation in Scotland and the very positive action that we are taking to beat it. The response we have had from the local authorities in relation to what we have offered them does not indicate any hesitation on their part. I compliment the Scottish local authorities on their readiness to take up what the Government are offering.

It is worth noting that not one project which satisfies the criteria of starting soon and being finished by March, 1973, has been turned down. This demonstrates the Government's willingness to co-operate with local authorities to ensure that this public works programme goes forward quickly with the maximum amount of help that the Government can give.

In addition, we have increased the grants for house improvement by 50 per cent. This is an important matter, not only to those who want to improve their houses but as an injection of money and as a boost to the building industry. This is taking place over the next two years and I believe that it will do much to utilise the surplus labour in the construction industry.

In addition, we have promised Glasgow Corporation a grant of 85 per cent. of the cost of reclaiming the Queen's dock. We have told Glasgow that we are happy in principle to give a grant of three-quarters of the cost of the scheme for modernising the Glasgow underground. Glasgow Corporation has been offered help amounting to £5 million over five years for improving the amenities of the city.

This scheme has been extended to other parts of West Central Scotland and has had the effect of doubling the expenditure.

The expenditure on environmental improvement of one kind or another is not confined to the West of Scotland but extends to other areas, as I know that the hon. Member for Fife, West has in mind.

In the course of this debate I have tried to demonstrate—

It being Four o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Rossi.]

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Although hon. Members opposite have high-lighted the problems facing Scotland today, they have had very little to offer by way of positive remedies for the long-term future. This is not altogether surprising. At the same time, however, as I said at the outset, they have tried to paint a picture of unmitigated gloom in Scotland.

I have tried to dispel that picture. I have tried to paint a true picture by outlining what the Government are doing both in Scotland and on a national basis to put the economy on sounder lines. For example, there are our tax reduction policies, for which hon. Members opposite give no credit whatever. What we have done in regional policy demonstrates that we are a party of positive action. Moreover, as I have explained again, the Government have injected a huge amount of money into Scotland through the public works programme, and this also will assist in solving our present problem.

It comes very ill from the hon. Member for Fife, West, in particular, to make the comments he did about our public works programme, since in answer to a Question which he put to my right hon. Friend earlier this month he was given a detailed programme, local authority by local authority and class of expenditure by class of expenditure, which even he cannot call unambitious.

Mr. William Hamilton


Mr. Buchanan-Smith

My goodness!—it takes something to feed the hon. Gentleman. It shows how greedy he is. But perhaps that is not surprising.

I am above all concerned that it should not go out from the House that there is such a gloomy situation in Scotland that, when the national economy improves again, and we have the results of the initiative taken by my hon. Friend in Germany, for example, to get new investment coming to Scotland, people will think that Scotland is not a good place to invest in, that it is a country which has lost its confidence and does not know where it is going.

That is totally untrue. We have every confidence where we are going. The whole picture is not gloomy. I remind the House of the number of firms which have opened in Scotland in recent months, at Irvine, for example, and the other plans for new building. There are the discoveries of oil off our coasts which are having a substantial effect on the East Coast ports and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Gray). There are enormous developments which are bringing jobs and opportunities which we in Scotland are glad to take up.

This is not a record of inaction. What I have said today gives the lie to the charge that the Government are not concerned about the high level of unemployment. Of course, we realise the personal hardships which the global figures conceal, but the measures we have taken show our determination to get the national economy and the Scottish economy moving again on a path of sustained growth.

Mr. Strang

We have every confidence in the long-term future of Scotland. What worries me is that the hon. Gentleman seems to imply, because we complain a great deal about the level of unemployment in Scotland, that we are somehow making things worse. It is our responsibility to do all we can to persuade the Government to do more. All we are asking is that the Government do more. We are not trying to make the situation worse. On the contrary, we are doing everything we can to help.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The hon. Gentleman has now made his third speech this afternoon. I am sure that he is sincere in his views, but if he believes that the kind of language he used does any good to the people of Scotland, including his own constituents, I suggest that he thinks again, and very deeply. We can do without that kind of thing in Scotland if we believe, as I do, that Scotland in the future will be a place of opportunity.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes past Four o'clock.