HC Deb 19 January 1972 vol 829 cc581-604

9.28 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I wish to raise the problems of Scottish unemployment. I am particularly glad to see the Lord President in the Chamber because he will admit that I am a believer in parliamentary manners. I do not believe in Ministers being given just a few minutes' notice of a debate and then being expected to be in their place to answer it.

Hon. Members may be wondering why there is not a Scottish Minister on the Government Front Bench. As soon as the main debate collapsed I expressed to the P.P.S. at the Department the hope that a Scottish Minister would be present to answer this debate. I then sent mes- sages to three of the five Scottish Ministers.

Although, perhaps understandably, the Secretary of State cannot be here because he is busy on a major and official engagement, it strikes me that there are such things as duty Ministers. When a Department has not one or two, but five Ministers in the Commons, the House is surely entitled to hope that one of them will be present.

I do not apologise for raising this subject because the need to observe parliamentary manners can be carried only so far. One must remember when talking about the unemployment situation that now faces us in Scotland, with the prospect tomorrow of the announcement of a United Kingdom figure of 1 million unemployed, that there are a great many people in the nation who think that the substance of this issue is rather more important than the decorum and manners of Parliament. Most of us abide by those manners, but if my hon. Friends can be here, so at least could one Government Minister out of five.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I apologise for not being a Scottish Member, but my mother is Scots and lives in Scotland, and I know a little about the northern part of the kingdom.

The hon. Gentleman was seeking to be eminently fair. He has said that the Secretary of State has an important engagement elsewhere. Being a fair man, the hon. Gentleman will accept that my noble Friend the Lady Tweedsmuir could not come here to answer his debate.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

My hon. Friend has merely given way.

Mr. Wells

I am seeking to make my point, if the hon. Member would be quiet.

There are five Ministers in the Scottish Department. Two of them are hard working, on duty and unable to be present, as the hon. Gentleman recognised. It is not unreasonable that the other three should not be here. The hon. Gentleman also said that he gave notice. At what time did he give notice that he would raise this matter?

Mr. Dalyell

In the North there are 140,000 unemployed. Really, that is not an excuse but a reason for having such a debate. A fortnight ago I wrote to the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) specifically saying that I hoped, if the House were to collapse at an early date, to return to a subject I raised with him during the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill on 15th and 16th December. It is this matter I hope to raise, because I have a fairly clear idea of one constructive way of combating the unemployment problem.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

Now that we have the privilege of the presence of the Lord President, would it be possible for my hon. Friend to suggest that the Lord President might explain why the duty Scottish Minister is not here.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

Perhaps I can help the House. I understand that the hon. Member who wishes to raise a matter on the Adjournment—this is normal and I do not complain about this—should give the specific notice on the particular night when it happens. However, I realise that this has not happened tonight. I do not complain about it. I do not think that the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), in giving a sort of general view that if the House were to come to the adjournment early on some night in the next month or so and saying that he would then wish to raise the matter, is in fact giving notice for the night. I do not complain at that. But, on the other hand, this is a very important matter. No one appreciates that more than I.

I heard of this matter. I have come here myself and I am prepared to listen to the debate. I have done my best to find a Scottish Minister to come to the debate. If one does not come, I shall remain myself. I shall listen to the debate. I do not think the House would expect me to reply in detail to the debate but, on the other hand, in general terms I would certainly be prepared to make some off-the-cuff comments, which would probably be limited in their type. But nevertheless, I would do so, because I recognise that this is a very important matter. On hearing of this I came here because I recognised that. That is an earnest of my intention.

I am prepared to listen to the debate and hear the views expressed and say, as is my duty and task as a Cabinet Minister, that I will see that they are brought closely to the attention of the Secretary of State. If one of the junior Ministers can be produced, I am sure that the House would understand if I leave the rest of the debate to him; but if he is not, I will be here for the debate.

Mr. Dalyell

I count myself peculiarly fortunate. The truth is that I would much rather direct my speech to the Lord President, having absolutely no doubt as to how important a member of the Cabinet he is, as Chairman of the Legislation Committee of the Cabinet. There is no one to whom I would rather make my speech.

On 16th December I raised in detail, on the Consolidated Fund Bill, a scheme that had come out of a conference that was organised by the Scottish National Trust and its director, Mr. James Stormonth Darling, at which the Civic Trusts were represented and at which they put forward, coherently and in detail, a plan for urban conservation of large towns and cities and small towns.

If I were to be asked what effect this has on employment, I should reply that this is something which could affect short-term employment prospects, because money that is put into the renovation of cities is extremely labour-intensive-using public money. I argue in favour of this scheme that it is perhaps the best value, from the point of view of creating employment, per pound of public money spent.

The proposition is that the Government should set aside some millions of pounds quickly, to make it possible for Scottish local authorities to renovate, not only cities, but small towns, and, indeed, to preserve many buildings which would otherwise deteriorate. I think that the Lord President knows the Gorbals area of Glasgow and the centre of Glasgow. One of the striking things about Glasgow—it is true also of Edinburgh, Bo'ness and many other towns—is that many of the buildings which have been condemned as slums were beautiful buildings only 20 years ago. I am not saying that Glasgow Corporation was wrong to schedule certain buildings for demolition. The point of my argument is, as many of my hon. Friends know, that there are many buildings in Scottish cities and towns which, if something is not done to them quickly, will get into the same state which has led to the demolition of buildings in the Gorbals, in Govan Hill and in other areas of Glasgow. Therefore, there is a very powerful argument for a renovation scheme such as was proposed by the Scottish National Trust and the Scottish Civic Trust.

The immediate issue which arises is whether it is practicable. The Under-Secretary of State for Development said that as much money was available as was needed and that he saw the problem in terms of management. I quote from what the hon. Gentleman said in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill: I thank the hon. Member for West Lothian for his interesting and carefully thought out suggestions. This is not the first time that we can congratulate him for raising a matter in such a manner. The way in which he has done so is tremendously helpful. I will look most carefully at all his detailed suggestions to see how far we can go along the road that he has suggested, and to see what possibilities there are. All his constructive suggestions merit close attention, and I will give them close attention in the days immediately ahead. I also agree with the hon. Member's general proposition that there is now a major need for more concentration than at any time, in the recent past anyway, on conservation of some of the better old buildings in our towns and cities. I agree that our emphasis on this, for many good reasons, has not been all it should be and that the time is now ripe, apart from all other considerations, for much greater attention and more resources to be devoted to trying to conserve what we have.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1971; Vol. 828, c. 807.] That was the rough flavour and tenor of the Under-Secretary's speech. In the unemployment situation in the North, it is not months that should be taken to decide such things. We are now talking in terms of weeks, because the unemployment situation is getting out of hand. If the money is available, it becomes a matter of the Government's will. That is why I am so glad that I have the good fortune that the Lord President is standing in tonight, because I know perfectly well that the Under-Secretary of State, whose intentions I believe to be good in this matter, has not the power to implement by himself the kind of detailed proposals that I made in the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. For the hon. Member for Ayr, the Lord President, would be a valuable ally indeed in Whitehall.

We are very fortunate tonight in having with us the second most powerful man in the British Government. I have a suspicion that if the Lord President gave his mind to the matter and told the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Scotland, "Here is a practical scheme worked out by nonpolitical people in some detail. They know what they are about really is a socially useful scheme and has the advantage that it would provide many jobs quickly", that might have considerable effect.

One of the unfortunate aspects of the present situation is that it is not good enough simply to pump in millions of pounds of Government money. If £20 million is spent on bringing forward motorways, that will not create many jobs. But the kind of urban conservation programme put forward by the National Trust and the Civic Trust, and spoken about in detail in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate, can at least give hope to many thousands without a job including—and this is the realistic part—many thousands in the building industry. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) will catch the eye of the Chair. He knows better than I that many of the skilled building workers in his union are precisely those who have not got work. I am glad also that my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Douglas) and others who have taken an interest in the shipbuilding industry are here. John Gerrard of the Civic Trust has said that the skills associated with ship repairing are easily transferable to the kind of urban renewal I have in mind. It goes without saying that the Scottish Trades Union Congress is very sympathetic, and any union difficulties would vanish overnight if a thought-out scheme were accepted and financed by the Government, to be carried out through the local authorities and with their help.

These are practical proposals put forward in no partisan spirit. The Lord President is a sensitive man, and if he casts his mind back to the time when he was a candidate in the West of Scotland he will appreciate what the unemployment statistics actually mean in human terms. The time has come for him to use his very great influence in the Government to implement the kind of scheme I have put forward on behalf of the National Trust and the Civic Trust.

9.43 p.m.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

I hope that my hon. Friends will sustain the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). I rise now to invite the Lord President, defending the fortress by himself, to say something before the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland arrives. He may not arrive at all, in which case I should not like the Lord President to be embarrassed by having to answer specific questions raised by my hon. Friends. When I sit down he might be kind enough to say a few words. I am asking him not for factual answers but simply to make some essential points to back up my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian. [Interruption.] I am merely stating some of the things we should like the Lord President to answer. My hon. Friend pointed out that we are lucky enough to have with us the second most important Minister in the Government taking an Adjournment debate. That is most unusual; I have never seen it in my parliamentary life, which has now lasted more than 16 years. We should embrace the Lord President with all the affection at our command in the hope that he will answer the points raised.

Tomorrow we shall be told of the worst unemployment figures since the Second World War. My hon. Friend has said that certain Government measures to deal with unemployment are not working. For example, the house improvement grants have not taken up the excess of labour in the repairing and building trades as we should like. We hope for a progress report on that. The scheme began in the emergency Act the Government rushed through last summer and was to end by the summer of 1973. Therefore, we hoped that we should see the pick-up taking place during this winter and enlarging itself until next winter, when it should reach its peak.

We should like the Lord President at least to agree to examine the figures in relation not only to Scotland but to other parts of the United Kingdom and to see whether all those who are supposed to be engaged in construction or repair work are so engaged. The same point can be made in respect of the other matter raised by my hon. Friend about road construction, hospital expansion and schools. We know that the take-up is not as great as it should be—in other words, the Government's policy is not functioning as well as it ought. We ask tonight that the Lord President should tell us that he is not complacent about the situation, that he realises the policy is not working to the Government's expectations and that he wants to see it improving.

I do not believe, and I am sure that he does not, that the present measures even if fully operative would be enough. The figures to be given tomorrow will be shattering, really calamitous for the Government and it will take a long time for the Government to live them down. Let us not concern ourselves with that for the moment, let us concern ourselves with the simple proposition: how do we get these figures down more rapidly? That is in the interests of everyone, especially the unemployed.

Would the right hon. Gentleman be kind enough to tell us, not only that progress will be accelerated but that the Government are now willing to review regional policy and, for example, to look at the question of the denial to native industry of incentives equivalent to those given to incoming industries in special development areas? This is a fundamental defect in the Government's regional policy, as is the decision to move from investment grants to investment allowances. There are not unfair propositions to put to the right hon. Gentleman without notice and I hope that he will respond to my invitation to speak so that my hon. Friends can at least add to whatever omissions he may make in his short address.

9.47 p.m.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)

I think it would be right for me to respond to the generous remarks of the hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon). It is obviously a most dangerous exercise for an hon. Member from outside Scotland, even a Minister of Cabinet rank, to seek to reply to any debate on Scotland. It is perhaps surprising for the Leader of the House to reply to an Adjournment debate but I do not worry about that too much because this is a serious situation and I regard my duties to this House as being such that I should be here to respond to serious situations when they arise. I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman has said. Perhaps I do have slight merit in intervening in a Scottish debate even though I am one of the worst things that there could be, a Scot who has left Scotland and who has not, so far, returned to it, because I have left it by the narrowest of margins—there could not be a smaller margin. I live up against the Scottish Border.

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) reminded me of the time when I stood for Parliament in Scotland. It hardly needs to be added in view of what has happened since that I was not successful—[Interruption.] I am nevertheless delighted to be reinforced now by my hon. Friend from the Scottish Office, the Under-Secretary of State for Development—more delighted than I can say. Nevertheless, having got to my feet, I ought to say a few more words and I hope that he will reply to the other matters which are raised later.

The hon. Member for West Lothian raised the scheme for the renovation of towns and cities with which I have the greatest sympathy. It is fair to remind him that considerable sums have been provided for infrastructure work in Scotland and the other development regions. I remember specific measures in Glasgow for the underground and other things. The schemes which he has put forward should be carefully considered and I can assure him that they will be. I appreciate the fair way in which he has put them forward and I will ensure, and I know my hon. Friend—now that he has arrived—will do likewise, that these matters are carefully considered by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

The hon. Member for Greenock said that some of the measures already taken such as the house improvement grant scheme had not had the effect they should have had. He would not expect me to comment on that without being fully conversant with what has happened and what has been achieved. I undertake to ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to look into these matters and to inform the House about what has happened. No one can doubt that considerable measures have been taken by the Government, particularly concerning the infrastructure, and they should have had a considerable effect. If they have not, the reasons will be carefully examined. I give that undertaking.

With those remarks I have exhausted any credibility that I am likely to have in a Scottish debate. However, I hope that I have shown the importance which the Government attach to the particularly difficult employment situation in Scotland. I realise that there are Scottish Members present who would prefer to make their own points rather than listen to me. I therefore hope that they will think it reasonable if I sit down and allow them to make them. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Development will be pleased, at the end of the debate, to reply to what they say.

9.51 p.m.

Mr. James Hamilton (Bothwell)

Hon. Members on this side of the House are ready at all times to talk about unemployment in Scotland. In October, 1971, we tried to discuss it under Standing Order No. 9. We attempted again to discuss it in November and December, and no doubt the opportunity will be afforded to us to do so again when the next unemployment figures are known.

All sorts of things have been said by the Government. Only last week the Prime Minister, in one of his many speeches outwith the House, said that we were on the eve of a great expansion and that the country was booming. We must therefore expect from the Prime Minister an assurance that the present policy is adequate to deal with the situation or, if it is not, be told what the Government intend to do about it.

Last week a delegation from the Scottish Development Council was met by the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Scotland and, I believe, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—the three Ministers primarily concerned with the unemployment situation in the development areas and in the rest of the country. The view has been expressed by the Scottish Development Council, it has been repeated tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) and it has been put many times from this side of the House that the departure from the investment grant policy of the Labour Government was the start of the serious unemployment.

Assurances have been given to the Scottish Development Council and the Scottish T.U.C. and in reply to representations made to the Government by hon. Members on this side that there would be a change of policy. During the Summer Recess, some of my colleagues and I met the Secretary of State for Scotland at St. Andrew's House when he told us that the Government were contemplating a change of policy. But it was only a question of contemplation and since then there has been a terrific upsurge in unemployment.

The Leader of the House mentioned that he has Scottish connections. In fact, he has a considerable connection with my constituency in that he has very valuable land in Bothwell—in Holytown, to be precise. I am sure that he is desirous that that ground should be used for fruitful and progressive reasons.

We have been talking about infrastructure and money available to local authorities but, if certain local authorities are not prepared to use the money, obviously the infrastructure will not be done. It must be recognised by the Government that the infrastructure policy is only short-term because that work has to be completed by March, 1973. By that time, if Government policy has not changed, the figure of 150,000 unemployed which we expect by next month will have increased considerably.

On 14th February the Scottish Trades Union Congress is to convene a convention in the capital of Scotland. At that convention we shall have representations from all shades of opinion. Members of Parliament have been invited and the Church of Scotland, which has expressed itself clearly about unemployment, has made it clear that it will be represented. I know that the Roman Catholic Church will be represented at this convention. Unemployment has now become, therefore, a matter of national concern. It is now away from the political arena.

The only people who do not seem to be putting forward any sort of thesis about it, any thesis to give us any hope of reducing the unemployment, are the Government themselves. I can only hope that the Lord President of the Council will be able to do something about it. He, incidentally, has spoken in many debates here about unemployment. I believe I am correct in stating that on the last three occasions when we have discussed unemployment he has participated in the debate.

It is not good enough that we should just be talking about it in this House. It is no great credit to any of us to be talking about the unemployed. What we conveniently forget—I have said this many times—is the social consequences of unemployment. Many people throughout the country will never work again. We have discovered, from figures presented to us when we have put Questions to the appropriate Ministers, that men have been or will be thrown on the scrap heap at the age of 52 and that their prospects of getting further employment are virtually non-existent, because employers at the present time are looking for younger people. We have to consider also the contraction which is taking place in various industries. I can mention with some authority only the steel industry in Lanarkshire. Undoubtedly contraction is taking place in that industry there, and that will continue unless the Government do something sensational—and the opportunities are there for them.

Many of my colleagues want to participate in this debate, and therefore I shall say only very briefly that the Government have a duty and responsibility to the people of Scotland to tell them where the Government stand about Hunterston. Lord Melchett told us when we met him that the iron ore terminal is an absolute necessity for the steel industry in Scotland—and that is apart from the complex as a whole. We are entitled to demand the iron ore terminal for Hunterston.

We all appreciate that if and when we get the oil industry going with the rapidity for which we all hope, we have to take cognisance of its effects—and I am thinking of pollution and the things which go with it. So there is a great deal of thought to be given to these problems by the Government.

Most important, we do not want thoughts only, we do not want thinking only. What we demand for the people of Scotland is action. We hope that the Government will, at a very early stage, be able to tell us that they have had a reappraisal of their existing policy which has proved to be a failure and that they will give Scotland a policy which equals the amount of work which we on this side of the House have done, and the amount of energy we have applied, to try to solve this very serious problem. We look for a change which will prove conclusively to us that the Government have not, by their political record, written off the people of Scotland.

It being Ten 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. Gray.]

10.0 p.m.

Mr. Dick Douglas (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I know that several of my hon. Friends wish to speak in the debate, so I shall be brief. The first point I make touches on the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell). If we are to reform local government in Scotland, and if we are to reduce the number of local authorities, the detailed administration of this change will involve some local authorities in taking over what might be considered liabilities rather than social assets in certain of our towns.

At this point in time, therefore, we should carry forward the suggestion made by my hon. Friend. The Government should take the initiative and give to the existing local authorities an incentive to refurbish certain town centres. I am not just thinking of the cities. There are a number of villages which may be absorbed into the new authorities which ought to be refurbished and become an asset not only from the point of view of the existing population but from the point of view of tourism, too.

One such village which comes to mind —I hope that I do not embarrass my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Mr. Adam Hunter)—is Kincardine. Kincardine ought to be looked at from the point of view of tourist attraction. Assistance could well be given—I hope that I do not embarrass Fife County Council by this suggestion—so that an opportunity is taken here to create a tourist attraction on the Forth along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian.

My next point is directly related to the type of incentive or initiative which the Government should take. We are today losing into unemployment highly skilled Scottish manpower. In shipbuilding on the Clyde, design teams are being eroded and run down. If we are to move into the era of the high-cost liquid natural gas carrier, the Government should give design contracts for this costly work.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) said, we expect incentive and initiative also in relation to North Sea oil. I want the present opportunity to be used so as to bring to Scotland a much more solidly and indigenously based petroleum technology. If the Department of Trade and Industry were showing real imagination, it would be doing something to help to bring the building of these ships to the Clyde. We are trying to get them built at the moment, albeit by an American company. They are costly and highly complicated vessels. Nowadays, the difference between a naval ship and a merchant ship is narrowing until it is virtually imperceptible. If this type of work is to be brought to the Clyde—we have already built some—it is most important that design contracts be given.

We are looking for an opportunity to stabilise employment. It is hard for us Scots to say that we are thinking only of stabilising employment rather than raising it, but that is our position just now. The Government should back the building of liquid natural gas carriers on the Clyde by giving a design contract, and if the Secretary of State for Scotland were worth his salt he would be battling for such a move in the Cabinet now.

The whole Scottish economy, as we move into the last quarter of the twentieth century, depends on a decision at Hunterston. There is no doubt about that. If we are to have all the activities we want in relation to the bringing in of cheap bulk raw materials and working on them, with Scottish skills, by developing new industries, it is essential that the Government give the go-ahead at Hunterston. The Clydeport Authority and others are discussing the ore terminal, but the Government have to create a specialised agency to do this job. It is no use waiting for the reform of local government. Some form of industrial holding company has to be created in Scotland to do the job. The Government should throw away their dogma that it can be done on the basis of existing private enterprise or awaiting the reform of local government.

The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office, is here. He happily got the Leader of the House out of the bunker he was in. I urge the Under-Secretary of State to press on his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the need for the initiation of studies to see how an industrial holding company can be created in Scotland to make use of the natural advantages of Hunterston as an industrial project and take-off base for Scotland in the last quarter of the twentieth century.

10.6 p.m.

Mr. Harry Ewing (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)

I am delighted to have this opportunity to join my hon. Friends in pleading the cause of the unemployed in Scotland. I should declare my interest, inasmuch as I have been unemployed as a young married man with a young family. Again, it is a year from tomorrow since I joined the Post Office strike which began on 20th January last year. This, too, was a period of extreme difficulty for me, and I know the social consequences of being out of work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton) mentioned that the Scottish Trade Union Congress regards unemployment in Scotland so seriously that it has taken the almost unprecedented step of convening the Scottish Assembly on Monday, 14th February, at which delegates of all persuasions have been invited to join their ideas to try to find a solution to this problem which has plagued Scotland for so long and which is of such large proportions at this time in our history.

I have recently emerged from a by-election in Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth, a highly industrialised constituency. I well remember saying in September, 1971, that my constituency was not insulated from the effects of unemployment. I am sorry to say that I have been proved correct and that weekly, and almost daily, people in my constituency are being thrown out of work in industries that should be expanding and developing but which, because of the Government's economic policies, are neither expanding nor developing. This is a tragic situation not only in my constituency but throughout the length and breadth of Scotland.

I also said in September—and I make no apology for repeating it tonight—that we in Scotland probably have the best educated unemployed in the world. The unemployment figures conceal the fact that many pupils who have left school have had to return to school because they have been unable to find employment in any industry of any description.

I will refer briefly to specific proposals such as Oceanspan, a project of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), which requires close study and which would go some way if not all the way to solving the problems of Scotland.

I also wish to refer to the oil industry since the centre of that industry in Scotland is in my constituency. I plead the cause once again that, if we do not get this development right, no benefits will accrue to Scotland or to Great Britain as a whole. If we allow indiscriminate development of the oil industry in Scotland, and if the whole process is not co-ordinated by the Minister at the Scottish Office, I am sure that from an economic point of view the second chance we have will slip through our fingers. If this is allowed to happen, we shall live to regret it for generations to come.

I also wish to refer to an industry on which we base great hopes for the future, namely the electronics industry of Scotland. This industry has collapsed and requires special measures to be taken to protect it and build it up once again. When I went into my constituency there was an electronics factory there employing about 700 people. That work force has now been reduced to less than 400. I should not like to hazard a guess at that factory's future. I emphasise that we look to the electronics industry as a basis for the future.

I do not want to be ungracious, or spiteful or mean, but I wish to point out that during the last Conservative term of office in 1963, we had the highest unemployment figures in the history of Scotland. At the end of that Government's term of office we were left with a financial deficit of £800 million. But the deficit which will be left at the end of their present term of office will be a deficit of lives blighted by unemployment. This will be the tragedy of the economic policies operated by this present Government, which so far have failed. I plead with the Government to change their ways before the situation gets much worse.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)

We should be grateful that the Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office has now arrived to take his seat on the Front Bench since the question of unemployment is of great moment and seriousness in Scotland. When I was working in industry it was always the practice to penalise workers for arriving late for duty—in fact they lost their bonuses. I do not know what will hapen to the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) because he was certainly very late in arriving.

Mr. James Sillars (South Ayrshire)

He might lose his seat.

Mr. Eadie

My hon. Friend says that the Minister might as a consequence lose his seat. I tend to agree.

In the short time at my disposal I do not wish to deal with the long-term situation. We all know that the unemployment figure in Scotland is quite obscene and it will give nobody any pleasure tomorrow to see that the figure has probably increased even more. The figure at present is over 140,000.

The problem is that the present Government never listen to anybody. When they came into office they said they would cut unemployment at a stroke and would do certain things to prices. But they were oblivious to any advice that was sought to be given to them by outside bodies. It has already been said that the Scottish T.U.C. is to hold a special assembly in February in the Usher Hall. I hope the Government will listen to that body this time. The Scottish T.U.C. told them that unemployment in Scotland would escalate to the present figure, and indeed it is now predicting that it will go even higher.

We know that the Conservative Party was decisively rejected in Scotland at the last election. The voters did not trust the Conservatives then. Heaven knows how they feel at present. Nevertheless, there is a moral obligation on the Government to see that the people of Scotland are not punished any more severely as a result of the Conservatives having gained victory at the General Election.

During the term of office of present Government, we have seen some rather significant things happening. For the first time in history, 80 local authorities of every political complexion have come to Parliament to lobby hon. Members. They have decided to do that because unemployment in Scotland has become so serious that they have flung away their political differences and come here to try to explain to hon. Members on both sides how local authorities could help in dealing temporarily with the problem of unemployment in Scotland.

What did those local authority representatives say to hon. Members? They said that the problem of unemployment—a million unemployed in the country as a whole, and more than 140,000 in Scotland—is running away with the Government and they do not know how to control it. They told us that the way for the Government to tackle the problem is not by talking about giving local authorities 75 per cent. grants to carry out certain projects. There are projects which local authorities could carry out, and if the Government gave them 100 per cent. grants on some of their programmes they would be able to have some effect on the present unemployment position.

The Under-Secretary has a moral obligation to persuade his Government that this is a matter that they should consider in the short term rather than in the long term, with a view to tackling the obscene figures that we see in Scotland today.

The second thing that the hon. Gentleman's Government—[Interruption.]—the hon. Gentleman need not look at the time. He was late coming into the Chamber. I was about to refer to the possibility referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton). It is the possibility of building more houses.

Since this Government came into being, they have been hell-bent on reducing building output. As a consequence, the amount of unemployment amongst building trade operatives is scandalous. If the Government scrapped the Housing Bill which is at present being considered by a Scottish Standing Committee, they would go some way to relieving the present unemployment problem. If they really want to do something about it now, let them accelerate local authority house building.

The third thing that they can do is to realise that the so-called consumer boom that the Chancellor of the Exchequer talks about is not striking Scotland. The realisation of a 4½per cent. growth would probably result in only about another 10,000 jobs in Scotland. An improvement of that sort in the context of 140,000 or 150,000 unemployed is not even beginning to look at the problem. If the Government want to create a consumer boom in Scotland, they should increase old age pensions immediately. If they increase the pension by £5 a week, one thing is certain. It is that if old people get £5 a week on their pensions, they will spend it. If they do that, there will be an increase in consumption generally which will help immediately to improve the economy.

Finally, in any approach that the hon. Gentleman makes to his Government he would do well to bear in mind the present miners' strike. The fact that Scottish miners are on strike will make the unemployment position even worse. Many of Scotland's industries are dependent upon the mining industry. I have in mind engineering and industries engaged in producing consumer goods. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will tell the Cabinet Ministers who spoke in yesterday's debate without any heart and without any hope of being able to solve this industrial dispute that they should realise the serious unemployment position in Scotland and invite the miners to talks and give them more money, since they have put an unanswerable case before the nation. If these things were done by the Government they would help to solve the terrible problem of unemployment in Scotland. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take heed of what we regard as a very important debate tonight.

10.20 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Development, Scottish Office (Mr. George Younger)

I have known the hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) for a considerable time. I respect and appreciate the sincerity with which he has spoken about this subject. He feels very strongly about it. However, it is unlike him to be so unfair in his references to me. The normal convention of the House is that a Minister from the Scottish Office would always wish to be present if any subject affecting Scotland were to be discussed. It would be my wish always to be present on such occasions. I think that I have always been present at these times and I always will be.

I should like to mention two points. The first concerns the time which I have been given to reply to the debate. It was carefully arranged that I should get up to speak at a quarter past ten. I could so easily have prevented the hon. Gentleman from speaking tonight by getting up after the hon. Member who spoke before him. I think that probably somebody from this side would have been called and, as I was the only Member getting up, that would have been me. However, I gave the hon. Gentleman an opportunity to speak. But he then proceeded to take far longer than the time which I had been given.

Mr. Eadie

How long did I take?

Mr. Younger

About seven minutes.

Mr. Eadie

That is not a long time, is it?

Mr. Younger

I should be pleased—

Mr. Sillars

On a point of order. Would it not facilitate the business of the debate if the Minister came to the point instead of arguing in this manner?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

I think that the debate would be facilitated by agreements about time being fulfilled.

Mr. Younger

It would indeed be convenient if I said nothing about this to the hon. Member for Midlothian, but I feel that this is one of the rare occasions on which I have not been fairly treated.

I turn now to the timing of the debate. The House went on to the Adjournment at five minutes past eight this evening. I was in the House at that time. I had received no notice of any intention by any Scottish Member to raise any subject affecting either me or anyone else. If I had had such a notice, I assure the House that I would have cancelled anything I was going to do and been here and done my best to obtain any information necessary to answer the debate.

I want to be specific about this matter. I have the notice which I was given of this debate. It is from the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) who is usually very courteous and punctilious in these matters. The message reads, "If the debate collapses try to raise supply of Scottish unemployment and my Consolidated Fund debate, 16th December".

This is a telephone message which is timed at 8.45 p.m.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Younger

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished this part of my speech, because he is always courteous in these matters and I want to be courteous, too.

The message is timed 8.45 p.m. I had left the House, as I was perfectly entitled to do, the Adjournment having started and I having had no notice of any Scottish matters being raised. It is not a bad effort, the message being timed at 8.45 p.m., that I should be in the House less than an hour afterwards, having been located, ready to answer the debate. I claim that as one of the best records that any Scottish Minister can have for coming to a debate without notice.

Mr. Dalyell

Part of the difficulty was that a P.P.S. at the Scottish Office did not conceive it his business to pass on a message to Ministers.

Mr. Younger

The hon. Gentleman is usually very good about these matters. I do not want to blame him. No doubt he did his best. My only concern is the implication by some hon. Members that I should have been here. I am most willing to come and answer debates. I have shown that in the past and will do so in future.

I will now come to the content of the debate.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. I was given notice half an hour after he was. I suggest that he should say that he is sorry he was not here and immediately get on to the business.

Mr. Younger

I think I have said that three times already. I am extremely sorry that I was not here. I hope that, with the help of both sides, we will not allow this to happen again, because it is a bad thing.

I now come to the subject matter of the debate. I share the concern of hon. Gentlemen opposite about Scottish unemployment. One matter on which we can be united is the deep concern that all must feel about it.

Some hon. Members mentioned the social consequences. One hon. Gentleman—it may have been the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. James Hamilton); I apologise if it was not him—said that we are sometimes unaware of the social consequences. I agree that sometimes some people are, but I assure him that the Government are not unaware of the social consequences. It is a matter which constantly comes to our attention day in, day out. That is why we have spent so much time, energy and money in the past year and a half trying to reverse this trend which was going like a fire when we came into office. One has only to look at the figure of 93,000 unemployed in June, 1970, when we came to office. I should like to know what statistical analysis would have led one to expect, in July, 1970, that the figure would go up to the extent that it did in the following winter.

What on earth do hon. Gentlemen opposite think the measures taken by the Government since then have been designed to do? They have been designed to move away from the policies carried out by the Labour Party. There was a reduction in corporation tax from the rate fixed by the Labour Party. How much would it have helped unemployment if the rates fixed by the Labour Party were operating now? We halved the rate of S.E.T. We removed half the tax which the Labour Party put on the economy. How much would it have helped the unemployed now if the Labour Government's rate of S.E.T. had been in operation? Purchase tax was reduced for the first time since the Conservative Government were last in power. How much would it have helped the unemployed in Scotland if the purchase tax rates operated by the Labour Government were in operation now?

What about the changes in house improvement grants? Would it have helped the unemployed to have had the Labour Government's rates? How much would it have helped the unemployed in Scotland if we had abolished any idea of proper rent rebates for everybody in Scotland? Would that have helped the unemployed? What about rent allowances for private tenants? How much would it help the unemployed to remove them and refuse to put them into action?

All those measures are moves away from the economic policies which the Labour Party practised for five grim years in Scotland. The harvest we have reaped is the harvest of the policies introduced by the Labour Party and operated for five years. It is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite trying to ignore these facts of life. They do not like my mentioning them.

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ewing) had the courage to mention the alleged deficit of £800 million in 1964. Where has he been since 1964? Has he been travelling all over the Far East? As he knows, that deficit, if it vere was a real genuine deficit, was surpassed by his Government. The hon. Gentleman would like to forget that.

What about the balance of payments? The hon. Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mabon) does not have much to say about that. He talks about his housing figures. When did we start to see a decline in the number of housing starts? Was it when this Government were in office? The answer is, of course not. It started in 1968 and 1969. When did the squeeze start which has led to the present unemployment? It started, not in 1970, but in 1966, with the measures introduced by his Government.

I share the concern of everyone for the plight of the unemployed, but what I do not accept is the idea that this is something for which hon. Gentlemen opposite have no responsibility. My authority for saying that they are responsible for the present situation is the hon. Member for Greenock himself, because, in an Adjournment debate a few weeks ago, he agreed that he could not say that his Government had no responsibility for the present unemployment situation.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

indicated dissent.

Mr. Younger

That is what the hon. Gentleman said, and he can look it up in HANSARD. Had I been given more notice of the debate, I should have brought the reference with me. Hon. Gentlemen know that the reason for the present unemployment situation is to be found in their six years of grim squeeze and high interest rates, and if it is ever allowed to happen again the consequences could be even more serious. This Government are committed to policies designed to get the economy expanding again, which it never did under the Labour Party, and once we get it expanding we shall see the problem being solved.

According to hon. Gentlemen opposite the whole of this business should be forgotten and written off as something which the Government could have prevented from happening. When we came to office there were 93,000 unemployed, which is more than half whatever the figure was last month. Hon. Gentlemen opposite know that when we came to office the figure was increasing rapidly.

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at half-past Ten o'clock.

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