§ 4. Mr. Pollock
asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the state of the small business sector of the economy in Moray and Nairn; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alexander Fletcher)
As in other parts of the country, the small business sector in Moray and Nairn is facing difficulties from the effects of the world recession, but it is benefiting from the various financial and other incentives introduced by the Government since 1979 and is currently being promoted under the business opportunities programme. The Highlands and Islands Development Board and the Scottish Development Agency are active in support of small firms in their respective areas.
§ Mr. Pollock
I note the terms of my hon. Friend's reply. Will he confirm that one of the most pressing worries in the constituency is the continuing threat of the withdrawal of assisted area status later this year? Will my hon. Friend give an undertaking that there will be no such withdrawal until there has been the fullest and most careful consideration of all the representations in favour of retention?
§ Mr. Foulkes
Are not small businesses in Moray and Nairn suffering to the same extent as all small businesses in Scotland from high energy costs, high interest rates, the doubling of value added tax and the slump, caused not by world recession but self-induced by the Government? Is it not time that the Minister followed the example of the former Solicitor-General for Scotland and resigned?
§ Mr. Fletcher
There is no justification for saying that the recession applies only to Scotland and not to the rest of the Western world. The hon. Gentleman has listed some of the problems. I agree that there are serious problems. I should, however, like to mention some of the 70 measures introduced by the Government since 1979 to help small businesses. We have amended employment legislation, we have introduced the loan guarantee scheme and the venture capital scheme, we have cut the absurdly high marginal rates of income tax and we have also cut corporation tax. These are only a few of 70 measures that help small businesses in Scotland today.
§ Mr. Myles
As my hon. Friend knows, the Moray district covers part of my constituency. Will he pay attention to the fact that the Grampian region scheme for expanding small businesses has a 90 per cent. success 874 rate? Does he agree that this is a vital factor in an area where small businesses are more important than in some other areas?
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am delighted with my hon. Friend's remarks. The business opportunities programme seminars held all over Scotland, not least the seminar held in Aberdeen, have been successful.
§ Mr. Harry Ewing
In view of the important assurance that the Minister has just given about reconsideration of the withdrawal of assisted area status in the Moray and Nairn area and in view of worsening unemployment throughout the whole of Scotland, will he give a similar assurance to every area in Scotland, including the Central region from which assisted area status is to be withdrawn? Will the most serious reconsideration be given to every area before the Government go ahead with their decision?
§ Mr. Fletcher
Yes, Sir. In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Banff (Mr. Myles), I was referring to areas which have been downgraded by more than one step.