HC Deb 14 March 1984 vol 56 cc386-8
10. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the impact of the Government's public expenditure proposals on the Scottish economy.

Mr. Younger

The Government's expenditure plans are consistent with our overall strategy for keeping public spending, taxation and public sector borrowing under firm control, and this will be of direct benefit to Scotland by helping to sustain the present combination of low inflation and steady growth in the economy.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Minister concede that one of the most fearful statements ever heard was the Chancellor's statement yesterday that there would be a continuation of the public expenditure and budgetary policies that have been in operation since 1979 and have caused massive unemployment? What real hope will there be from this socially divisive Budget, bearing in mind that thousands of young people have not worked since 1979 and, if the Government's policies continue, are unlikely to work during their adult lives?

Mr. Younger

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman was listening to my right hon. Friend's Budget with his usual attention. Whatever else one may say about yesterday's Budget, it was geared towards income tax changes to help lower-paid taxpayers, of whom more than 750,000 will no longer have to pay tax, and towards business and industry, which is the critical factor in trying to get people back to work. The hon. Gentleman should have warmly welcomed those priorities.

Mr. Steel

Does the Secretary of State accept that, as a result of the Chancellor's statement yesterday, our economy in 1984–85 will have the lowest proportion of public spending of any Western industrial country and the highest level of unemployment? Does he accept that those two facts are related and could be altered if the Government only had the political will to so so?

Mr. Younger

I do not believe that the right hon. Gentleman's statements are facts. We do not have the highest level of unemployment in the Western world, although it is much higher than we should like. The right hon. Gentleman must face the fact that in the past few years we have been through the worst recession ever, at a time when the nature of our industrial base has been changing rapidly in response to changes in the world economy. The most encouraging factor, which the right hon. Gentleman should have welcomed, is the huge inflow of brand new high technology industry to Scotland which the Government have achieved in the past few years.

Mr. Fairbairn

Has my right hon. Friend noticed that the Opposition constantly complain about unemployment, but never say a word of welcome for new employment or for the measures announced yesterday to promote it?

Mr. Younger

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. Other great omissions by the Opposition are their failure to accept the causes of unemployment and the need to introduce realistic policies to put the situation right. That is what the Government have been doing.

Mr. James Hamilton

Will the Secretary of State recognise that Opposition Members listened very attentively to the Chancellor's statements on the economy, as did many Scottish industrialists? Those to whom I have spoken have made it crystal clear that the Budget will have no impact on the Scottish economy. Is the Secretary of State aware that today 24 per cent. of the male population of Lanarkshire are without employment? As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, there have been several liquidations in my area, with one or two pending. I acknowledge that the right hon. Gentleman has done something for the area. While that is true, however, will his actions be beneficial to construction in Scotland, bearing in mind the Chancellor's statement?

Mr. Younger

No doubt the hon. Gentleman listened carefully to yesterday's Budget, but he must have been very selective in the business men to whom he spoke this morning. The official spokesmen for the CBI in England and Scotland have made it clear that yesterday's Budget was very favourable and helpful to business.