HC Deb 14 April 1976 vol 909 cc1360-2
7. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the most recent assessment by his Department of current economic trends within Scotland; and when it will be published.

Mr. Millan

The edition of the "Scottish Economic Bulletin" recently published by my Department contains an assessment of current trends.

Mr. Wilson

Does the Secretary of State realise that that answer will cause tremendous disappointment in Scotland in view of the CBI report published at the end of March on short-term trends? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is need for positive freedom of economic expansion in Scotland and that it is necessary for the Government to do something towards that end rather than floating out on each economic tide like a jellyfish?

Mr. Millan

I know that any factual answer disappoints the SNP, because factual accuracy is the last thing in which the SNP is interested. I was interested to see Lord Clydesmuir's statement yesterday expressing considerable optimism about the long-term future of the Scottish economy. There are certain short-term actions that have to be taken and certain negative aspects that have to be avoided, such as SNP policy on oil development, which would immediately lead to the loss of about 25,000 jobs.

Mr. Sillars

Does the Secretary of State think that this time next year there will be fewer than 100,000 unemployed in Scotland?

Mr. Millan

I never make forecasts of that kind. My hon. Friend knows that it is the absolute purpose of the Government through their Budget proposals and in other ways to reduce unemployment as rapidly as possible.

Mr. Younger

How long does the Secretary of State think that it will take him to get Scotland's output and employment up to the highest levels achieved during the previous Conservative Administration?

Mr. Millan

I do not accept that as an accurate statement of the situation. Output is expanding very satisfactorily at the moment. From the figures published yesterday, the hon. Gentleman will know that the average level of industrial wages in Scotland is now higher than the average in England.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Given that unemployment in Scotland is at an unprecedentedly high level, will the right hon. Gentleman say precisely on what his optimistic statements of last week are based?

Mr. Millan

The progress of the Scottish economy over the last year compared with that in the rest of the United Kingdom shows that there are considerable grounds for optimism. I have always made clear—and make clear now—that the level of unemployment in Scotland is unacceptable and that we must get it down as quickly as possible.

10. Mr. Henderson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a further statement on the prospects of the Scottish economy during 1976.

Mr. Millan

The outlook for the Scottish economy is strongly influenced by the prospects for the United Kingdom and world economies, and evidence that recovery has begun both at home and abroad is now accumulating. In addition, the performance of the Scottish economy relative to the United Kingdom during the past year has been encouraging.

Mr. Henderson

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for repeating so well the words of his predecessor when he answered Questions of this kind. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is cosiderable disquiet about work being taken out of Scotland? In particular, is he aware that the Scottish Transport Group has placed an order for re-engineering the "Glen Sannox" in Norway while a company capable of producing the engine, British Polar Engines Limited, in Glasgow, has declared several redundancies? Has the right hon. Gentleman power to intervene?

Mr. Millan

No. The question which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is strictly within the responsibility of the Scottish Transport Group, and there was no question of its asking for my approval for the order. However, I have already made clear to all nationalised industries that I expect them to give the maximum amount of orders to this country, and particularly to Scotland. I very much regret any order going abroad. I am aware of the problems at British Polar Engines Limited and I have discussed them with both management and men.