HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc1043-4
4. Mr. Craigen

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland on what dates since coming to office he has met representatives of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress at official meetings; and what plans he has in mind for future discussions.

Mr. Younger

I have met representatives of the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland four times and of the Scottish Trades Union Congress nine times at official meetings since May 1979. In addition, my hon. Friends and I have frequent informal contact with representatives of both bodies. We have made it clear that we are willing to meet representatives of both bodies whenever that would be useful.

Mr. Craigen

How seriously does the Secretary of State treat the Scottish CBI's latest economic findings on export orders and manufacturing capacity? Will he consider setting up a Scottish NEDC to involve the STUC and the Scottish CBI?

Mr. Younger

I take seriously forecasts produced by the CBI, the chambers of commerce or anyone else. The survey published in May was the third in succession to show a more optimistic trend, but I understand from more recent statements by the Scottish CBI that at present it sees less favourable trends. I am watching the trends carefully and will of course be glad to discuss them with the CBI.

Mr. Ancram

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in the CBI regionalised statement last week a lack of improvement rather than a deterioration was reported for Scotland, in sharp contrast to other areas of the United Kingdom? Although that is gloomy, does he agree that, taken with the fact that unemployment is rising less fast in Scotland, it is a reason for optimism?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. Compared with the same period a year earlier, industrial production in Scotland from March to May 1982 was up 2 per cent., and manufacturing production was up 1.7 per cent. Manufacturing output in Scotland has fallen since 1979 by 8.3 per cent., but that compares with an overall United Kingdom fall of 14.5 per cent. Scotland has weathered the recession remarkably well.

Dr. M. S. Miller

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that meeting the Scottish CBI and the STUC will not produce the necessary increase in employment while the Scottish Development Agency continues extortionately to increase rents? Is he aware that a factory in my constituency has had its rent increased by almost 100 per cent. in the past year, and that such increases are driving factories to the wall?

Mr. Younger

I shall look into any complaint by the hon. Gentleman. However, like the rent for other factories, those for SDA factories should be on a proper commercial basis. Whether an increase is fair depends on the previous rent and how long it had appertained.

Mr. Bill Walker

Have the Scottish CBI and the STUC welcomed the new training initiative?

Mr. Younger

The CBI has warmly welcomed it and pledged all possible support to make it a success.

Mr. Millan

Is not the CBI in Scotland, as elsewhere, expressing anxiety about the economy almost as strongly as the trade unions have done over the past two or three years? Is the Secretary of State aware that, even though he may be satisfied with the 8.3 per cent. reduction in industrial production in Scotland, the rest of us, including the CBI, certainly are not? Will he comment on the disturbing reports today from Russian sources that the John Brown contract may be irretrievably lost?

Mr. Younger

I have no reason to believe that the contract is lost. We have kept in close touch through my right hon. Friends and directly with John Brown, and pleged every support, right up to the level of the Prime Minister, and the firm has expressed its appreciation. But I shall look into what the right hon. Gentleman says.

What the CBI is saying comes after three successive surveys showing a more optimistic trend. The CBI suggests an element of reflation paid for by increased public spending cuts. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman would fully support that.