HC Deb 11 February 1981 vol 998 cc853-5
11. Mr. Michael Martin

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures in Scotland.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

On 15 January 1981 seasonally adjusted unemployment in Scotland stood at 252,300 or 11.2 per cent. The problem of unemployment will be solved by keeping to our objectives of controlling inflation and restoring industrial competitiveness. At the same time we are greatly expanding the help available under the special employment programmes.

Mr. Martin

I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he prepared to come to my constituency, in which the only area of expansion is the employment exchange, and speak to the unemployed in my constituency and tell them that the Government's work is successful? Is he prepared to do that, or will he have the guts to resign?

Mr. Fletcher

I have no objection to visiting the hon. Gentleman's constituency, meeting his constituents and explaining to them, if he does not, the real reason for the high level of unemployment in Britain.

Mr. Henderson

There is widespread concern about unemployment in Scotland. The fact is that industrial help is particularly loaded in favour of Scotland generally. Will my hon. Friend take particular note of the dissentient view in the Stodart report, which would leave with district councils the duty and reponsibility of dealing with industrial matters?

Mr. Fletcher

There is one thing of which I am aware in dealing with my present responsibilities and that is that there are too many who are in on the act of industrial development in Scotland.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that since he became a Minister there has been a catalogue of catastrophe all along the line? Does he realise that there is a factory in my constituency that will close in June? In addition, there is the Talbot catastrophe. Does he not think that it is a travesty of justice and a downright disgrace that the Secretary of State is not present to answer these questions from the Dispatch Box?

Mr. Fletcher

I do not think that Scottish fishermen would agree with the hon. Gentleman's last comment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is in Brussels today defending the interests of Scottish fishermen, and he is doing that to the very best of his ability. The hon. Gentleman's complaints about unemployment in his area are well understood on this side of the House, but he should also know that the Government have given hundreds of millions of pounds to the British Steel Corporation and to British Leyland and are planning a gas pipeline into Scotland from the North Sea. There are 1,400 new jobs at Torness, and in recent weeks private enterprise in Scotland has been able to achieve a great number of orders against competition from overseas. Therefore, there is also good news with regard to Scottish business, and not just the appalling gloom suggested by the Opposition.

Mr. Sproat

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is grossly misleading to paint a picture of unrelieved industrial gloom when exports are running at £1 billion per day and when more new companies are starting up than ever before? Certainly far more new companies are starting than there companies are closing down.

Mr. Fletcher

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Anyone looking at the Scottish industrial scene today, while deploring the unemployment in traditional industries, must be encouraged by the new investment that is taking place in oil-related activities and electronics.

Mr. Millan

Does the Minister realise how ridiculously complacent are his answers today, given that we have the worst unemployment figures since the 1930s and we have had the calamitous announcement today about the closure of Linwood, which is another betrayal of the West of Scotland? Does he not realise that there is now an air of desperation in Scottish industry and that only a wholesale reversal of Government policies can hold out any hope at all for the people of Scotland who are desperately anxious and worried about the lack of effective action by the Government in relation to Scottish industry?

Mr. Fletcher

The only desperation that I note is on the Opposition Benches. While I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a great deal of worry and concern in Scotland, I find that the reasons for this, and the fact that the whole of the Western world is in recession, are better understood and accepted among the people of Scotland than by the Opposition.