HC Deb 11 March 1981 vol 1000 cc876-9
13. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the rapidly growing numbers of the long-term unemployed in Scotland.

Mr. Younger

I share the hon. Member's concern about the increasing numbers of people in Scotland who have been out of work for some time. The expanded community enterprise programme will make a useful contribution towards alleviating the worst problems of the long-term unemployed, but the best solution is the creation of new jobs in the growth industries of the future. The Government's policy is firmly directed to that end.

Mr. Hamilton

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the number of consistently long-term unemployed—those unemployed for more than 52 weeks—has increased from 3,000 in the previous year to more than 14,000 in the year to January 1981, and that this situation is likely to get progressively worse as a result of the disastrous Budget yesterday? Does he also agree that, using any yardstick that he wishes, the Scottish economy is worse off now than it was when the Government started out two years ago, and that it is likely to get worse still in the next 12 months? What on earth is the right hon. Gentleman doing to prevent the Chancellor of the Exchequer from pursuing his criminal activity?

Mr. Younger

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there has been a serious increase in the numbers of long term unemployed, but I do not agree with what he said about the Budget. However, I did not expect the hon. Gentleman to be sceptical about the importance of and success in getting new industries to replace the old, because within a few miles of his constituency there is General Instruments at Glenrothes, Nimslo at Dundee, Shell-Esso at Moss Morran, Sinclair Electronics at Dundee, and at Glenrothes, Jackson Davies Engineering, Beckmann Instruments and WSK Electrical, providing over 2,500 jobs in the long term and many more in the construction phase. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased about that.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government cannot continue to spend thousands of millions of pounds on supporting jobs in British Leyland, British Steel, British Shipbuilders and British Rail, to mention but a few, and make that same money available to maintain other jobs? It just does not make any sense.

Mr. Younger

Yes. It is worth remembering that all money that is spent—one hopes usefully spent—on keeping important industries going at a difficult time has to come from someone else. It is the consequence of raising the money from someone else that the Labour Party has to face.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Secretary of State tell the long-term unemployed and the 200 constituents of his and mine who are about to be made redundant by the Scottish Stamping works in Ayr when they will be able to get jobs again, and in which of these growth industries in Ayrshire they will get them?

Mr. Younger

I note what the hon. Gentleman said. I share his concern about the impending redundancies at Scottish Stamping. I dare say that the people concerned might be able to get jobs at the expanding industries of Digital, Caledonian Airmotive and British Aerospace, all of which are expanding their employment.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

In view of the effect of the Budget on the long-term unemployed, will the Secretary of State answer the question that his hon. Friend refused to answer—namely, what participation did he have in the preparation of the Budget prior to its being unveiled in the Cabinet, because Scotland's interests seem to have been overlooked?

Mr. Younger

It does not seem anything of the kind. Scotland, more than any other part of the United Kingdom, depends upon the recovery of the United Kingdom's economy as a while. As the hon. Gentleman will know, that is what my right hon. and learned Friend's strategy is designed to achieve.

Mr. Lang

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest single cause of high unemployment is high inflation? Does he therefore agree that my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was right to concentrate on defeating inflation as the top priority of his budget?

Mr. Younger

Yes. My hon. Friend is perfectly right in saying that high inflation is by far the greatest evil. The Labour Party must come to terms with the fact that many people have become redundant in recent years because our industry has become uncompetitive compared with its competitors, and the Labour Party bears a heavy share of the blame for that, over many years.

Mr. Millan

Will the Secretary of State tell us what has happened about the approaches that he was to make to the Talbot company following the meeting that he had with the ad hoc committee? This is now a matter of considerable urgency. We should like to know what is happening.

How can we accept the Secretary of State's protestations about his concern for the unemployed in Scotland when he supports a Budget which, on the Government's figures published yesterday in the White Paper on public expenditure, will substantially increase unemployment in the United Kingdom over the next few years?

Mr. Younger

The right hon. Gentleman knows very well, because he is an accountant, or an economist, or both, that the Government's long-term strategy is to make British industry more competitive. Only when British industry can sell its goods more successfully will it be able to recreate employment.

I have had further meetings with the management of the Talbot company. I raised with the company all the points that were raised with me by the ad hoc committee, and I shall be writing to the ad hoc committee on those matters. The management reaffirmed yet again that, despite any offer, it could see no way of extending production at Linwood beyond the date already announced.

Mr. Millan

I should like to pursue that point. The Secretary of State took on a commitment to offer to the company some Government financial assistance if it would at least delay its decision to close the plant. What has happened about that offer? What proposals were put to the company by the Secretary of State?

Mr. Younger

The right hon. Gentleman is correct. I put this forward repeatedly on many occasions at these meetings, including the most recent one, to Mr. Turnbull representing the PSA. He repeated yet again that he could conceive of no sum that would persuade the company to carry on production at Linwood. Eventually, when pressed by me, he said that he supposed that if we undertook to buy every car that was made that might be possible, but obviously that is not practicable.