HC Deb 11 February 1976 vol 905 cc421-6
3. Mrs. Bain

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with current economic indicators in relation to the Scottish economy.

16. Mr. Gordon Wilson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with current economic indicators in relation to the Scottish economy; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. William Ross)

A broad range of indicators in relation to the Scottish economy is currently available and continuing efforts are being made to improve the reliability of existing series. There is scope for the development of additional series, and preparation of a revised index of industrial production for Scotland is in progress.

Mrs. Bain

In view of the complacency of the Secretary of State's reply and his abysmal contribution to last week's debate on the Scottish economy, may I ask him whether he has seen a report published by the Scottish Standing Conference on Voluntary Youth Organisations in which young people in Scotland are compared to their counterparts in Norway, the Netherlands and West Germany? Is he aware that by every economic indicator—job opportunity, income level, and so on—the young people of Scotland come off very badly indeed?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Even for a Celtic lady, that was a lengthy supplementary question. If every hon. Member would come to the point and cut out preambles, it would help us all.

Mrs. Bain

Why is the right hon. Gentleman so complacent about the situation?

Mr. Ross

I am not complacent in answering the hon. Lady's question, but SNP Members always manage to get things wrong. They have their own attitude to statistics. I can well understand why the hon. Lady and her party did not like my recent reply on the subject of hypothermia.

Mr. Wilson

May I express my dissatisfaction with the Secretary of State's feeble reply? Has he taken note of that part of the Fraser of Allander Report, from which he has given selective quotes, stating that there will be a decline in employment and output? What message will he give to the Scottish people during 1976 for an uplift in their hopes and prospects?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman is very good at selective quotations, too. I quoted a passage from the report which clearly suggests that the long-term outlook for Scotland is good.

Nobody denies that there are immediate difficulties and that we have to face them, but I should like to know what proposals the hon. Gentleman and his party are putting forward. So far as I can see, they are putting forward none at all. If he studies the report mentioned by his hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) he will see that the nation is in no position even to guess what the SNP intends to do.

Mr. Fairgrieve

Further to the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain), has the Secretary of State ever heard a more abysmal commentary on a debate on the Scottish economy than that initiated last week by the SNP?

Mr. Ross

The only thing that was worse than the first speech in that debate was the penultimate speech.

Dr. Bray

Will the Secretary of State confirm that in regard to two key indicators—wage rates and unemployment—the position of Scotland compared with the rest of the United Kingdom is better now than it was two years ago?

Mr. Ross

That is correct.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Does the Secretary of State recognise that what matters to the people of Scotland lies less in the situation in the past than the situation for the future? Will he answer the question that has been posed to him on many occasions and to which we have been given no answer: what investment are the Government planning through their agencies, particularly the Scottish Development Agency, to bring about an improvement in the job situation in Scotland and to bring in new industries? What money will be made available this year and next year to that Agency?

Mr. Ross

The hon. Gentleman should await the document to be published shortly on that subject.

Mr. Heffer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problems in the West of Scotland are similar to those experienced on Merseyside and elsewhere? Is it not clear that the Government need to change their economic strategy and get down to the job of reducing unemployment, on Socialist lines?

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend has made that point effectively in recent speeches. He will appreciate that we are dealing not only with unemployment but also with the problem of inflation. The extent to which we succeed in that, and how quickly, will determine the rate at which we can proceed to a more general reflation, which my hon. Friend and I want to see.

Mr. Donald Stewart

What credence can the Scottish people put on the right hon. Gentleman's sunshine forecast when they recall that in his term of office between 1964 and 1970, although he promised more jobs for Scotland, when he went out of office there were 80,000 fewer jobs in Scotland?

Mr. Ross

We underestimated the number of new jobs that we would provide. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the reports produced at that time, he will dis- cover that to be the case. We provided more new jobs than we estimated we would need.

7. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the economic outlook for the West of Scotland.

Mr. William Ross

The longer-term economic outlook for the West of Scotland, as for the United Kingdom as a whole, is dependent on the success of the Government's anti-inflation policy and on achieving satisfactory growth in exports and investment. However, the measures which the Government have already taken to alleviate unemployment in the worst-affected areas will help to maintain employment in the West of Scotland, as will the further measures that are soon to be announced. In addition, the Government's intervention to prevent the closure of Chrysler's Linwood plant has saved several thousand jobs.

Mr. Taylor

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that shipbuilding and ship repairing are vital industries for the west of Scotland? In view of the present serious situation, which could soon become alarming, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman is willing to initiate talks with the Secretary of State for Industry and his other Cabinet colleagues about the position of shipbuilding in Scotland? Can the right hon. Gentleman say how much extra money is available this year to the Scottish Development Agency, in addition to the money needed for the functions that it has inherited from other bodies?

Mr. Ross

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Scottish Development Agency has enough money to keep going until the annual announcement about Government expenditure, which will be made fairly soon. The shipbuilding issue is a serious matter, not merely for Scotland but for the whole of the United Kingdom and, indeed, Western Europe. I do not need to initiate talks with my right hon. Friend, because I am in constant touch with him about it to see what can be done to stabilise the position.

Mr. Sillars

Does my right hon. Friend recall page 13 of the Labour Party's manifesto in Scotland, on which it was said that we would not use unemployment to fight inflation? Is it not the case that the Government are using unemployment as one of the ways of fighting inflation?

Mr. Ross

I am aware of that quotation. I know most of the other quotations that I hear occasionally from manifestos. I assure my hon. Friend that his interpretation of Government policy is not accurate.

Mr. Monro

Is the right hon. Gentleman in any way satisfied with the progress made by the job scheme for young people, which many of us want to see succeed? Does he not feel that he should put much greater pressure on local authorities and industries in Scotland to take up a chance that will cost them nothing?

Mr. Ross

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the present uptake of jobs. Dr. Docherty has been doing good work on this and has been in contact with local and other authorities. I hope that uptake will be improved. It may well be that some good news along these lines will come later.

Mr. Crawford

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the economic future of the West of Scotland should not depend upon the central demand management policies of this House but, rather, on the indigenous efforts of the people of Scotland? Does he not further agree with me in totally deprecating the crocodile comments made by the Conservative Party about the Scottish Development Agency since the Conservatives voted against its creation?

Mr. Ross

I remember that in relation to one vital aspect of the Scottish Development Agency the hon. Gentleman joined the Conservatives. Of course, the future depends entirely on the people and the extent to which the opportunities are made available by this House. What is required is a co-operative effort on the part of management, men and Government—and responsibility from the Opposition. We find that the sniping at Scotland by some is to a certain extent destroying part of the political stability of Scotland, on which inward investment depends.

Mr. Selby

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing perturbation being expressed by large numbers of workers in the smaller factories in the Govan area which are dependent on orders streamed off from larger factories, and which are now threatened by redundancies? Is he further aware that such workers do not regard a proposed Clyde-side Walkway as an answer to their problems?

Mr. Ross

My hon. Friend should not exaggerate, or take one part of our programme concerning Glasgow and think that that is the only thing that is being done. If he looks at what we have already done for Glasgow in terms of new jobs and the new focus that we have given it through such things as the British National Oil Corporation and the Offshore Supplies Office, he will see that we are containing the position as far as possible and building up a new long-term future for Glasgow such as it has never had before. I assure my hon. Friend that the letters I receive from people in responsible positions in Glasgow show a due appreciation of what the Government have done.

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