HC Deb 24 October 1979 vol 972 cc397-8
3. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the operations of the Scottish Development Agency.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alexander Fletcher)

The relevant provisions of the Industry Bill, published yesterday, and the new industrial investment guidelines which we shall be issuing provide the basis for the Agency to operate more effectively.

Mr. Knox

Does my hon. Friend agree that the small business counselling services are a particularly important part of the work of the Agency? How many firms have taken advantage of this provision so far? Are there any plans to expand it?

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, Sir. The small businesses part of the Agency's functions is very important. We have plans to expand it. I cannot say off the cuff how many companies have sought help from this body, which has been in existence since before the formation of the Agency. I am sure that many hundreds of firms have taken advice from it.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Why did not the Minister publish the revised guidelines for the Agency when the Bill was published? As the Agency has been a paper tiger in relation to its investment in in- dustry, will not the Minister encourage it to spend more money on the provision of employment in Scotland rather than make money available for environmental improvements, as it is the jobs aspect that is becoming desperate in many areas?

Mr. Fletcher

The guidelines could not be published until the Bill had been published. The Bill gives the Agency powers to invest, but the guidelines lay down the principles under which the Government of the day wish those powers to be conducted. The Agency has our full support in investing in those cases where the jobs will be productive and viable and where no false hopes will be raised. People taking employment in companies that have these investments will know that they have a secure future.

Mr. Dempsey

Will the Minister ensure that nothing will be done to impede the successful efforts of the Agency to contribute to employment prospects, especially in areas of high unemployment? I refer to the policy of building new factories, investing in others and clearing away areas of dereliction, thus making our neighbourhoods more attractive to incoming industrialists.

Mr. Fletcher

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. The purposes of the exercise, the Industry Bill and the guidelines, are to make the Agency operate more effectively in these spheres.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the criticisms made of the present powers is that they may be used to assist one possibly inefficient firm and, as a result, undermine the competitive position of other efficient firms? Will he confirm that the new guidelines will take that point fully into account?

Mr. Fletcher

Yes, Sir. The existing guidelines require the Agency to ensure that its subsidiaries compete fairly in the market. I have no evidence to suggest that this is being abused. However, if my hon. Friend has any cause to think that that is happening I shall be obliged if he will write to me.