HC Deb 18 July 1984 vol 64 cc304-7
9. Mr. George Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he expects to receive the report on the operations of Locate in Scotland's overseas offices.

Mr. Younger

As hon. Members are aware, a review of United Kingdom inward investment promotion, not just the operations of Locate in Scotland's overseas offices, is currently taking place. The Government expect to receive a report shortly from a working group of officials upon which the Scottish Office is represented.

Mr. Robertson

Is it not tame for the Secretary of State to say unambiguously that Locate in Scotland will he able to continue its vital and unique role in attracting industry to Scotland? Could he not today make it absolutely clear that, if he is still in that post by the time the report comes out, he will resign if the Secretary of State for Trade arid Industry gets away with butchering Locate in Scotland's jobs?

Mr. Younger

I must say that there is a great deal of speculation in that. I have always made it clear that I have the greatest admiration for the, work of Locate in Scotland. Until I receive the report, I do not know what will be proposed. I very much doubt whether anyone would be likely to propose abolishing Locate in Scotland, which has been outstandingly successful.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his comments. I am sure that I speak for Conservative Members and indeed for Opposition Members when I say that we shall give him total support in any fight that he has to retain Locate in Scotland in Scotland. As the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) has said, we will not tolerate the removal of Locate in Scotland, and we give a guarantee of our support in that regard.

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said, and for his offer of support. I am sure that he will be as encouraged as I am to find that, surprisingly, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have done nothing but moan about this in the past have now suddenly become great supporters.

Mr. Milan

Is it not a fact that, when the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs investigated this matter, the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), not to mention the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. McQuarrie), resisted any independent role for Scottish representation overseas? That is the historical fact of the matter. Is the Secretary of State aware that it is an open secret that the Department of Trade and Industry has never liked that independent role overseas? We are referring not only to abolition, but to the maintenance of the independent role of Locate in Scotland, because, without that independence, it will be very much less effective than it is at present. That is what we are pledged to defend, and we hope that he, too, is pledged to defend it.

Mr. Younger

I make no apology for my defence of Locate in Scotland, although I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation of history. What he will have to recall, whether he likes to or not, is that, on every occasion when new investments have been successfully achieved by Locate in Scotland, the Opposition have done nothing but criticise them and say that they are not worth having.

Mr. Hirst

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the reason why Locate in Scotland is so successful is that it operates a one-door policy, in contrast with the English authorities, who go in multiplicity to the United States? Will he impress upon his colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry that the important thing for us in Scotland is not that Locate in Scotland takes jobs from other parts of the United Kingdom, but rather that it wins jobs that might otherwise go to Ireland, Germany and other places in the world?

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend. One of the most important achievements of Locate in Scotland is that it broadly has the confidence of all the institutions, local authorities, new towns, and so on in Scotland, which are supporting it and working with it. That is one of the most important features.

Mr. Wilson

As the leak to the Glasgow Herald was caused by alarm either within the Scottish Office or the Scottish Development Agency about the drift of the report, will the right hon. Gentleman now indulge in another preemptive strike by saying categorically that Locate in Scotland will remain or that he or his successor in office as Secretary of State for Scotland will not?

Mr. Younger

I am always happy to indulge in preemptive strikes, but first I like to know which target I must hit. Therefore, I shall wait to see what the report says.

Mr. MacKenzie

Has the Secretary of State's attention been drawn to a statement by the chairman of the Welsh Development Agency this morning to the effect that Wales is now attracting more foreign investment than any other part of the United Kingdom? While I wish the Welsh no harm, will the right hon. Gentleman find out how many representatives and offices in America and Europe the Northern Ireland Office, the Welsh Office and the Department of Trade and Industry have, and then tell the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that we will have no messing about with Locate in Scotland or with any other form of representation that we have in Europe or America?

Mr. Younger

I am not aware of the figures that lie behind the statement to which the hon. Gentleman referred concerning the Welsh situation. I welcome any new jobs that come to Wales. The only thing that I prefer to new jobs coming to Wales is new jobs coming to Scotland. Since it started, the Locate in Scotland operation has been involved in the investment of no less than £800 million in Scotland, with the association of 23,000 jobs. I doubt whether any other part can beat that record.

Mr. Maclennan

When the Prime Minister answered a question on this subject yesterday from the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) she said that the Secretary of State for Scotland would be dealing with the matter. Does the final responsibility for the future of Locate in Scotland rest with the right hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Younger

I heard my right hon. Friend say that, but I think that she was referring to the matter of the question that we were being asked. The situation is that any decisions that are made will be the decisions of the Government as a whole and I expect to be very much involved in them.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Is it not the case that Locate in Scotland is well along the road to announcing further successes?

Mr. Younger

My hon. Friend is correct. It is expected that there will be a considerable number of announcements from Locate in Scotland in the next few weeks and months, as it is doing extremely well.

Mr. Bruce

Has the Secretary of State not basically said to the House today that, because it is so successful, there is absolutely no case whatever for dismantling Locate in Scotland? If those south of the border think that it has been successful, they should not seek to dismantle it and set up some operation of their own for other parts of the United Kingdom. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, regrettably, he has not told the House that he is prepared to resign if the decision — which, he has already said, would be againt the interests of Scotland—were to go ahead against his wishes?

Mr. Younger

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, but as a general rule it is wise to wait until somebody proposes something before expressing one's views against it, and that is what I propose to do.

Mr. James Hamilton

Bearing in mind the number of liquidations that have occurred since the Conservatives took office, and the deterioration that has taken place in the Scottish economy, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman, at the risk of being repetitive, to say that if he finds that the official report recommends that Scotland should lose this body he and his right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will resign, in the interests of Scotland?

Mr. Younger

I have nothing to add to the answers that I have given to that question.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Why, in view of the strongly supportive statements of Locate in Scotland which the right hon. Gentleman has, rightly, made today, has he been a party to the setting up of a committee of inquiry, which inevitably casts a shadow over its future?

Mr. Younger

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation. He may recall that when Locate in Scotland was originally set up it was made clear that the operation would be reviewed in the middle of 1984. There is, therefore, nothing new about this review. That is why I do not regard it as anything sinister. It is a sensible step for Government to be taking.

Mr. Dewar

Does the Secretary of State not recognise that the Opposition strongly support Locate in Scotland and that we fought hard for it at the time of the original Select Committee report? Our only reservations are over Ministers childishly and pathetically trying to use the scheme's undoubted success as an alibi for their total economic failure in the general sense. Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that well-founded and well-informed rumours are circulating to the effect that the axemen in the Department of Trade and Industry are implacably opposed to the continued independence of Locate in Scotland, and that the loss of its independence will be a tragedy and deeply resented? Does he not recognise that any such effort to inhibit or restrict the agency's success would be a piece of insensitive vandalism? We expect the right hon. Gentleman, when the matter reaches ministerial level, to put that view energetically.

Mr. Younger

I have been putting points of view on this matter for a long time. I note what the hon. Gentleman said. The happiest outcome of this controversy is the warm support that the hon. Gentleman has at long last given to something that was introduced by this Government. He has never before been prepared to acknowledge any of its good points.