HC Deb 05 March 1975 vol 887 cc1463-5
7. Mr. David Steel

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will now hold talks with the Scottish Confederation of British Industry, the Scottish Trades Union Council and the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to discuss industrial devolution.

Mr. William Ross

I and my colleagues have discussed industrial and devolution matters with these bodies on a number of occasions since we came into office. We shall continue to do so as necessary.

The Government's decisions to transfer to the Secretary of State powers to ad- minister selective financial assistance to industry, and to set up a Scottish Development Agency, represents a substantial devolution of responsibility for industry to Scotland.

I hope that industry itself will follow this lead and make the maximum effort to develop management and production capacity north of the border.

Mr. Steel

I am grateful for that reply. But the document containing proposals for discussion on the Scottish Development Agency, which the right hon. Gentleman circulated, is completely silent on the question whether this important agency will be under the control of the Scottish Assembly.

Mr. Ross

I hope that the House will see the Bill to set up the agency before Easter, and that we shall have the agency in operation before the end of the year. As we do not have a Scottish Assembly, it obviously cannot be responsible to an Assembly. It will be responsible to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that if the Government wish to ascertain the views of industry on devolution or any other matter in the future they will consult both sides of industry? Does he realise that the pilgrimage of half the Government to Glasgow Airport via Prestwick Airport last weekend might not have been quite such a propaganda flop if they had had firm proposals to make, and if they had not decided not even to consider interviewing and meeting the Scottish CBI and the Chambers of Commerce as well as the STUC?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is out of date. We have already seen the Scottish CBI and the Scottish Council on the document mentioned by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. Steel). We had meetings with the Scottish Council at a working dinner on, I think, Friday evening, when there was a good exchange on most of these matters, including the very point raised in the Question.

Dr. Bray

Without wishing to see the principle of national rates of pay weakened, or to see Scottish workers paid less than workers in any other part of Britain, may I ask whether my right hon. Friend is aware that there is a case for having the capacity to deal with some aspects of industrial relations within Scotland? Is he aware that the quality of our industrial relations problems urgently needs attention?

Mr. Ross

I do not think that anyone doubts that.

Mrs. Bain

Is the Secretary of State aware that recent estimates put the number of people on short time in Scotland as high as 80,000? How much of this is due to the branch factory syndrome, from which Scotland has suffered for so long? Does he agree that it is a strong argument for an indigenous base of industry in Scotland?

Mr. Ross

I do not necessarily accept the hon. Lady's figures. If she wishes to ask a question of that kind, requiring a detailed answer, I shall be grateful if she will put down a Question.

Mr. Buchan

While considering these matters, will my right hon. Friend keep in mind that there are two distinct approaches on industrial devolution, one concerning those matters which should be decentralised and devolved to Scotland and the other concerning those which can be solved only if we keep cross-border control? On behalf of 7,000 Chrysler workers, who expressed precisely that attitude in order to preserve their jobs—the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Crawford) said that he entirely agreed with what they said and with what I said—will my right hon. Friend keep in mind that we cannot bring industry and jobs to Scotland unless we have total cross-border control on those matters, affecting the macro-economy of Britain?

Mr. Ross

This is an important question for discussion and argument. When one starts on the basis of being concerned to maintain the economic integrity of the United Kingdom, one begins to draw lines in respect of what can be devolved and what cannot be. I look forward to these continuing arguments over the coming months.