HC Deb 18 July 1984 vol 64 cc297-9
4. Mr. Robin Cook

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future assisted area status of the Scottish new towns.

Mr. Allan Stewart

The future assisted area status of the Scottish new towns will be considered in the forthcoming review of the assisted area map. The review will take account of the views which have been expressed by the new town development corporations in their responses to the White Paper on regional industrial development.

Mr. Cook

Will the Minister take this opportunity of removing the uncertainty raised by his speech three weeks ago? Does he not appreciate that that uncertainty must limit the effectiveness of the new towns in attracting investment to Scotland, which they have done effectively over recent years? Is he aware that Livingston new town is in the same travel-to-work area as Bathgate? In view of the repeated statements by himself and his right hon. Friend about their concern for the rocketing unemployment of that area, does he not realise that those expressions will ring hollow if the development area status of Livingston is downgraded?

Mr. Stewart

I am fully aware of the position at Bathgate. My right hon. Friend and I met Lothian regional council and West Lothian district council to discuss that subject earlier this week. Livingston, as the hon. Gentleman says, has been a tremendous success as a new town, with over 1,000 new jobs in the past year. I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that any suggestion in various speculative articles in the press that a decision has been taken to single out the new towns to bear heavy cuts in regional assistance is absolute nonsense.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Will the Minister reiterate the view, which he has expressed before, that Scotland's new towns have led the field since the war in the attraction of inward investment? In view of that, will he give an assurance that no adverse decisions will be taken about the future development area status of the new towns, because of the damage that that would do to Scotland's economy as a whole and to the new towns in particular?

Mr. Stewart

I am happy to assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will take into account the distinctive contribution that the new towns have made and are making, not just to the regional and sub-regional economies, but to Scotland as a whole. The hon. Gentleman knows that Cumbernauld has shown an increase of 1,000 jobs in the past year.

Mr. Lambie

Is the Minister aware that Irvine new town is an unemployment black spot, not only in Scotland, but in the United Kingdom, and has an overall unemployment rate of just under 23 per cent. and a male unemployment rate of about one in four? Against that background, would it not be criminal if any future formula for allocating regional aids to new towns in Scotland downgraded Irvine? Will the hon. Gentleman assure us that the Secretary of State will stand up for the Scottish new towns, will resist the demands of the Treasury and will give some protection to Scottish new towns, instead of killing them?

Mr. Stewart

The hon. Gentleman is a renowned devotee of conspiracy theories. I assure him that we are aware not only of the contribution made by Irvine new town but of the problems to which he has referred. He will know that Irvine attracted 700 new jobs in 1983–84.

Mr. Dewar

The Minister referred to press speculation, but does he not realise that our anxieties are based on his speech, which was circulated in the Scottish Grand Committee, in which he referred to the support given to the Scottish new towns and said that it was only to acknowledge reality to say that continued assistance to the new towns would have to be considered? Surely those comments are open to the interpretation that the new towns are under threat.

Will the hon. Gentleman give an assurance that large parts of Scotland will not be downgraded and lose their status in respect of regional and industrial incentives? Does he accept that if that happens in Livingston, my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) will have been right to say that that gives the lie to the concern expressed by Ministers about unemployment at Bathgate and suggests that that was no more than hollow hypocrisy?

Mr. Stewart

I have already told the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) that the Government acknowledge the problems at Bathgate. I said: It is only to acknowledge reality to say that the case for continued assistance to the special development areas will have to be considered against the claims of other parts of the country. That is virtually a statement of the obvious.