HC Deb 30 April 1986 vol 96 cc920-2
4. Mr. MacKenzie

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what plans he has for reducing the number of people unemployed in the west of Scotland.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

The Government's strategy is keeping inflation down, stimulating enterprise and restoring competitiveness to industry. This is the best means of improving employment prospects in the west of Scotland. In addition, the full range of the Manpower Services Commission's special employment and training measures is available in the west of Scotland as elsewhere.

Mr. MacKenzie

Is the Secretary of State aware that we have been hearing that answer for the past seven years? If he cannot change his policy, will he ask somebody in the office to change the words in the answer? We keep hearing from the Prime Minister and others about the number of new jobs being created throughout the country. All that we want to know is whether we in the Glasgow travel-to-work-area may have a wee shot at getting some of them too.

Mr. Rifkind

Over the past two and a half years there has been a net increase of 27,00 in the number of people employed in Scotland. Therefore, it would be right for the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to acknowledge that the total number of those employed in Scotland over the past couple of years has been rising, not falling.

Sir Hector Monro

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in some non-assisted areas in the west of Scotland there are pockets of high male unemployment? Will he give an assurance that in such towns as Annan the Scottish Development Agency has the initiative to build advance factories and has enough resources to promote development in those circumstances?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend raises a fair point. Clearly, although significant parts of Scotland benefit from regional assistance, there are other localities, such as the kind to which my hon. Friend referred, which do not come within those regions. It is part of the responsibility of the Scottish Development Agency to take account of the needs, not just of those areas with regional status, but of any part of Scotland which can benefit from the facilities that it provides.

Sir Russell Johnston

Does the Secretary of State agree that if the Highlands and Islands Development Board had more money it could create more long-term jobs at a lower cost than keeping people on the dole? Will he speak to his reactionary accountant friends in the Treasury about that.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman should realise that the Highlands and Islands Development Board already receives substantial resources, which are available for the benefit of the Highlands. The suggestion that one can somehow cure unemployment simply by pumping more resources into public expenditure may be a view held by the hon Gentleman, but it is not a view which even his party believes can solve the problem of unemployment in Scotland.

Mr. Hirst

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that he worst thing that Scots can do is to continue to talk down their country? Will he take this opportunity of reminding the Opposition of the recent optimistic business survey and of the hundreds of jobs which have come to my constituency so far this year, thanks to the Government's encouragement? Does he further agree that if the Labour party had its way and got rid of the nuclear deterrent, thousands of jobs in the west of Scotland would be destroyed?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct in saying that defence-related employment provides jobs for many tens of thousands of people in Scotland. Undoubtedly those jobs would be jeopardised if ever Labour policy were to be implemented. Indeed, whenever one is in a locality where there are either defence or nuclear-related employment prospects, one finds that sometimes that has an educational effect even on the local Labour party. One has only to look at the views of the Caithness Labour party on nuclear energy to see proof of that point.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Is the Secretary of State aware that British Oxygen recently announced 100 new jobs in my constituency? Is he further aware that in the town centre of Cumbernauld, 4,000 people queued to apply for those jobs? Does he understand that that was a queue of real people, not just a creation of Saatchi and Saatchi? What positive steps will he take to provide employment in Cumbernauld, which is faced with such a situation, where 4,000 people queue for 100 jobs?

Mr. Rifkind

I think that the hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit that Cumbernauld has been the recipient of several announcements bringing new jobs there over the past few months. For example, Isola will bring between 100 and 200 jobs to Cumbernauld. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that it is the work of the Government, both directly and through the Scottish Development Agency, which has helped to persuade such companies either to put new investment in Cumbernauld or to increase investment that they already have there.

Mr. Ron Brown

Is the Secretary of State aware that if Edinburgh's multicultural centre closes, thanks to the maladministration of the Scottish Office, the employees will be forced to go to the west, thereby forcing up—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I was hoping that the hon. Gentleman would say something about the west of Scotland.

Mr. Foulkes

I shall say something about the west of Scotland, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Douglas.

Mr. Douglas

While addressing the issue of the west of Scotland, the Secretary of State gave statistics for Scotland as a whole for the increase in the numbers employed. How many of those jobs are in oil-related activities? Does he expect that level of activity to persist in the west of Scotland and in Scotland as a whole, in view of the decline in the oil price?

Mr. Rifkind

In Scotland as a whole, about 60,000 jobs have been provided as a result of oil-related activities. It is impossible to predict with any certainty what the effect will be of the recent fall in oil prices. One knows that certain oil companies are reconsidering their investment decisions. I hope that, in coming to a view on those matters, they will take into account the likely development in the oil price, not over the next six or 12 months, but over the next 10, 15 or 20 years. That is the likely length of any investment that they may contemplate. If they use that sensible time scale, there is a powerful case for substantial investment in future.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Foulkes.

Mr. Foulkes

I am grateful to you for calling me, Mr. Speaker.

Does the Secretary of State recall that I wrote to him pointing out that unemployment in Cumnock and Doon Valley is the second highest in the country, not just in the west of Scotland, and that it is due principally to the loss of 3,000 jobs in the mining industry which, in Cumnock and Doon Valley, is the equivalent of the closure of Ravenscraig in Lanarkshire? Will the Secretary of State say exactly what the Government will do about that? In particular, will he support the proposals in the Coopers and Lybrand report and make the necessary resources available?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is aware that we are considering various ideas and proposals. Naturally, one is concerned about the high unemployment in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. He will be aware that regional assistance is available, given the nature of the unemployment level. We shall also be prepared to look at any other sensible and constructive ways in which those problems can be ameliorated. However, I cannot suggest, nor do I think that the hon. Gentleman would wish me to suggest, that somehow there is a magic formula that will solve the problem in the way which, theoretically, we would all like to see.