HC Deb 30 July 1975 vol 896 cc1792-5
5. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on the outlook for the Scottish economy.

10. Mr. Sillars

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish CBI to discuss Scottish economic problems.

13. Mr. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the outlook for the Scottish economy over the next year.

Mr. William Ross

I would refer to the reply I gave to the hon. Members for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. Henderson) and Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Campbell) on 9th July.—[Vol. 895, c. 506–8.] The success of recent Government measures to attack inflation, which the House has supported, is as important to the Scottish economy as to the rest of the United Kingdom.

I am prepared to meet the STUC and Scottish CBI as the need arises, and shall be discussing the economic situation with the STUC again tomorrow.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Secretary of State explain his apparent utter complacency and lack of success in safeguarding Scotland's interests at a time of crisis, when Scottish living standards, employment, investment and business confidence are all sliding disastrously and we have a major steel crisis? Where has his fighting spirit gone? Why has he become so silent these days? If he has lost his fighting spirit, would it not be appropriate for him to make way for a fighter when Scotland needs a fighting Secretary of State more than ever before?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman must not take too much out of himself. He must save himself for the fighting which is going on within the Conservative Party, regarding the terms of its policy. I am not prepared to take that kind of nonsense from him. The hon. Gentleman was a Member of the Conservative Government when the figure of unemployment in Scotland was higher than it is today. That went on for more than two years. Indeed, there was then no economic crisis and world recession, and there was no spiralling increase of oil costs. That was the Conservative Government's unique achievement, which considerably changed the whole situation in Scotland. Indeed, they left the whole country at a standstill and in despair, and we had to pick up the pieces.

Mr. Taylor

What is the right hon. Gentleman doing about it?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman asks what we are doing about it. If he is so concerned, I suggest that he should have been here at 5 o'clock this morning, when he would have heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment deal with this situation.

Mr. Sillars

Given the magnitude of our present unemployment problems, especially among young people, will the Secretary of State discuss with the Scottish TUC and press in the Cabinet for the acceptance of the idea of work creation schemes proposed by the Manpower Services Commission and the TUC? When the Cabinet further discusses the temporary employment subsidy, bearing in mind the importance of small firms to the Scottish economy, will he argue for that subsidy to apply to firms with fewer than 100 employees?

Mr. Ross

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his constructive approach. As he knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has already referred to this matter. My right hon. Friend will very shortly be making a statement which should cover many of the points made by my hon. Friend, particularly affecting young people.

Mr. Henderson

Does the Secretary of State recognise that the exchanges in both directions with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) are of little help to the unemployed or to anyone else in Scotland? Does he accept that this is a serious situation? Is he not in a position to demand a much larger budget for the Scottish Development Agency than was originally suggested?

Mr. Ross

I should be happy indeed if we could provide the Scottish Development Agency with all the powers that it requires. I remind the hon. Gentleman that in Committee the Scottish National Party did not help towards that aim. I should be grateful to see a speed-up in the provision of the powers which we think are necessary to deal with this situation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that £300 million is not a bad start, in addition to what is already being spent. I hope that the House as a whole will appreciate that we are concerned and are doing something about the matter. However, so far I have not heard a single constructive suggestion from the Opposition. Indeed, the SNP has suggested that we slow down operations in the North Sea. That would create more, not less, unemployment.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The dialogue that is going on below the Gangway is not appropriate.

Mr. Galbraith

If the right hon. Gentleman has recovered from his display of pyrotechnics, will he please direct his mind to the Question, which refers to the outlook for the Scottish economy? Will he tell us whether he considers that the outlook for the Scottish economy is the same as, worse than, or better than, the outlook for the English economy? We all know about his concern, but what is the outlook for our economy?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman should know that the outlook for the Scottish economy is brighter than that for the English economy. He should also know that the Scottish economy and the British economy generally are so interlinked that we require an overall solution. Anyone who shakes his head at that is not living in this world.

Mr. Buchan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the main problem facing the Scottish economy and that of other areas of Great Britain is the failure of capitalism and private enterprise to invest? Is it not abundantly clear that British and Scottish industry require investment of a nature which must now come from public sources, and would it not be a help if the Tory Party and the SNP removed their resistance to our attempts to invest in this way?

Mr. Ross

I do not like to think what would have happened to our economy if we had taken the non-interventionist line of the Opposition. What would the people in Edinburgh have felt about Ferranti, and the people in the rest of Scotland about British Leyland and Rolls-Royce? We must appreciate that there is a lack of confidence which is created by inflation and the world recession. Unemployment is higher in Australia than it is here, and the unemployment level of 8.6 per cent. in the United States is much higher than the British figure of 4.1 per cent. The Scottish unemployment figure is not as high as it was when the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) was in office. We shall need to invest, and we require mobile industry, but we cannot get that in a period of world recession, and this will affect our ability to achieve improvements at the rate we wish.

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