HC Deb 22 October 1986 vol 102 cc1152-5
7. Mr. Willie W. Hamilton

asked the Secretary of Slate for Scotland if he will make a statement on the latest unemployment figures for Scotland with special reference to youth and long-term unemployment.

Mr. Rifkind

The full range of employment and training measures is being brought to bear on the problem. The YTS in particular is showing successes, with over 38,000 participants in Scotland in 1986–87 expected to reach a target of 51,000 for the year as a whole. Under the restart programme over 26,000 long-term unemployed have received assistance towards finding a job or training.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that, despite the fiddling of unemployment figures no fewer than 16 times since 1979, the basic brutality is that unemployment is going up and up? There is no indication whatever that they are likely to come down between now and the general election, even if the Government change their policies—which they have no intention of doing. Does the Minister not recognise that 17 people in the dole queue are chasing each vacant job? Is that the image that the Government seek to portray, the image of a caring Government?

Mr. Rilkind

If the hon. Gentleman was prepared to use his normal compassionate and flexible attitude in considering these matters, he would acknowledge that the situation in Scotland bears good comparison with the situation in many other parts of the developed industrial world. I remind him that in Italy 54 per cent. of the adult population are in work. In Germany the figure is 59 per cent. and in France it is 60 per cent. In Scotland no less than 63 per cent. of the adult population are in work. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to give an objective assessment of employment in Scotland, he should explain why Scotland has more of its adult population in work than any other comparable European country.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ask the civil servants in his Department to estimate how much unemployment in Scotland would be increased if the Opposition had their way and we saw the cancellation of Trident, the destruction of nuclear power generation in Scotland, with the resulting costs for industry, and the rating of agricultural land and buildings? It is widely believed that those factors would add some 20,000 people to the dole queue. Does he agree that the Opposition are hypocritical on this as on everything else?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is right. Quite apart from the Opposition's defence policy leaving Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom defenceless, it would result in severe damage to the employment prospects in a number of parts of Scotland, especially parts of the west of Scotland which depend on defence-related jobs. The Opposition have not even begun to come to terms with the employment implications of their foolish policies.

Mr. Martin

Unemployment in Scotland is terrible. The redundancies in the railway workshops in my constituency mean that in some streets not one young boy or girl has a proper job. The only thing offered to them is the youth training scheme by which young people are being exploited. Will the Minister take action to provide proper jobs in my community?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman has made the most disgraceful remark that I have heard for a long time—

Mr. Martin

I will get the evidence. The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows it.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that of those in Scotland who complete youth training schemes more than 50 per cent. go straight into full-time employment and that a further 10 per cent. go into further training—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is exploitation he should discuss it with the youngsters who have got jobs through youth training schemes.

Mr. Allan Stewart

Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the SSEB has estimated that the Labour party's nuclear energy policy could increase electricity prices in Scotland by up to 25 per cent.? Is there any better recipe for wiping out manufacturing industry?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. Not only would such an increase in electricity prices be extremely unpopular with the wider public, but it would also have a devastating effect upon the ability of our industry to compete internationally. That factor gives rise to great anxiety.

Mr. Ernie Ross

What involvement has the Secretary of State had with his colleagues in the Department of Employment in the awarding of approved training organisation status under the new two-year YTS scheme? In my constituency young people involved in the scheme and their parents are worried about the lack of reviews and the lack of continuous assessment by many of those companies. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at this problem to ensure that companies that are given approved training organisation status have the structure and the facilities to back up the claims that are made?

Mr. Rifkind

Naturally, we shall look very carefully at any suggestion that they are unable to respond and I shall ensure that any information the hon. Gentleman wishes to draw to my attention is properly looked at.

Mr. Eadie

Surely the right hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware, since he has called for objectivity, that there is a feeling abroad in Scotland that, politically, his party has written off Scotland, and vice versa. Is he not concerned about this, particularly when one listens to some of the speeches of his Prime Minister? Unemployment in Scotland, however much the right hon. and learned Gentleman may try to wriggle today, is an absolute disgrace, and something must be done about it.

Mr. Rifkind

Given that unemployment is indeed at an unacceptably high level, the unemployment percentage in Scotland, nevertheless, is lower than it is in several parts of England. It is lower than in Wales. It is also lower than in Northern Ireland. It is false to suggest that Scotland has a particular problem that is unique in the United Kingdom. The simple fact is that Scotland's relative position with regard to unemployment is more favourable now than it was in 1979, compared with the other parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Forth

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the view that has been expressed in the United States and Japan that the future increase in employment throughout the developed world is almost certain to come from the service sector and that an undue preoccupation, if not obsession, with manufacturing will not help future employment? Will he therefore agree that the main policy thrust should be to seek to take advantage of the service sector, not only in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom? Will he confirm that this will be the policy of his Department?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not agree entirely with what my hon. Friend has said. While I believe that he is undoubtedly correct that many jobs are coming and will continue to come from the service sector, and while it is also correct that some of the older, traditional industries cannot expect to offer the same employment opportunities in the future as in the past, there is evidence to suggest that a large number of small businesses are being created in the manufacturing sector that will be able to produce important employment opportunities both in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Dewar

I take the right hon. and learned Gentleman back to his Government's application for assistance under the regional development fund. Does he seriously agree with his junior colleague who suggested that it was highly irresponsible for either the Opposition or anybody else to take an interest in what clearly was a considered judgment and prediction by the Department of Trade and Industry? Will the Secretary of State say whether he accepts the quite clear prediction that there will be no significant reduction in unemployment in Strathclyde and in most of Scotland in the year 1990?

Mr. Rifkind

As the hon. Gentleman has said, in putting forward its proposals to the European Commission the DTI seriously considered the case that needs to be put to create the maximum opportunities for regional investment in the various parts of the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman is well aware that we are talking about 17 volumes of evidence and that that part of it which refers to Scotland covers some 200 pages. If, in seeking to acquire regional funds for Scotland, the hon. Gentleman were to put a submission to Brussels which concentrated purely on what had already been achieved and on the remarkable achievements in many areas of employment, he would have very little prospect of a continuance of the major funds that we have obtained from the European Community. No fewer than £600 million of regional funds has been acquired from the European Community to be spent in Scotland. It is on that basis that that report ought to be accepted.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman can escape for a moment from the mass of verbiage in which he has sought to bury that question, can he tell us whether the DTI was seeking to mislead the Commission, or whether it was telling the truth?

Mr. Rifkind

I am always happy to accept advice from the right hon. Gentleman on questions of verbiage. We were seeking to highlight those aspects of the situation in the United Kingdom that would maximise our prospects for achieving—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I am trying to get on so that we can reach Question 14.

Mr. Rifkind

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well how the European Commission operates. He knows exactly the criteria which would best achieve maximum regional funds for Scotland as well as the United Kingdom as a whole.