HC Deb 22 July 1987 vol 120 cc359-62
5. Mr. Fairbairn

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will list the sectors of the Scottish economy which have experienced improvements since 1979.

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. and learned Friend will appreciate that time is too short for anything Like a full list. Since 1979 manufacturing productivity in Scotland has gone up by an average of 4.9 per cent. per annum; service sector employment is up by nearly 38,000 and self-employment is up by 45,000. Net company registrations are up by 15,000 and average male weekly earnings are higher than in any other part of the United Kingdom except the south-east. Scotland is now third in terms of personal disposable income per head, behind only the south-east and East Anglia, as compared with sixth in 1979. Since 1981 Locate in Scotland has attracted investment of about £2.3 billion and has helped to create or safeguard over 42,000 jobs in Scotland.

Mr. Fairbairn

Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect on the fact that I regret the necessity for brevity on this occasion? The list of economic improvements is long and the benefits that Scotland enjoys, and which no other part of the kingdom enjoys, are huge. Will he use all his efforts to remind the Opposition that if there is a north-south divide at Hadrian's wall all the benefits are north of it in terms of transport, employment, prosperity, inward investment and all the qualities of life?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. and learned Friend is right to point out that any fair and objective assessment of the Scottish economy identifies not only the difficulties that Scotland undoubtedly experiences, but the major advantages and achievements that Scotland has realised over the last eight years. Any attempt to concentrate on one factor to the exclusion of the others shows a basic disinterest in the problems that Scotland faces.

Sir Russell Johnston

As the Secretary of State is in a fair and objective frame of mind, he will agree that there are a great many English Members here who have never before attended Scottish Questions. One can see the wonder in their eyes. Can he explain this sudden surge of intellectual hunger south of the border? Is it because of his own charismatic appeal, or have they been dragged here on the promise that they will not have to go to the Scottish Grand Committee?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind about what he and other Opposition Members really wish. On the one hand they seek to deplore the lack of interest that English Members allegedly have in Scottish affairs, but when my hon. Friends attend the House and seek to ask intelligent and constructive questions the Opposition take exception to this interest in our affairs. I am delighted to see in this Chamber of the United Kingdom Parliament my colleagues from other parts of the kingdom showing a sensible and constructive interest. Indeed, sometimes they seem to show a better awareness of circumstances in Scotland than do some Opposition Members.

Mr. Darling

Does the Secretary of State not regret the remarks by the chairman of Guinness plc in the June edition of the Scottish Business Insider, that it now looks unlikely that Guinness will set up its headquarters in Edinburgh, despite promises made at the time of the takeover of Distillers? Does he not accept that the proposal to restructure Distillers into a company that might be called United Distillers with those chiefly responsible for running it living largely in the south of England represents a slap in the face for the Scottish business community? Does it not illustrate how powerless the Government are in attracting the very sorts of office and business developments that they say they have managed to generate in other parts of the United Kingdom? Does this not demonstrate that the Government have misplaced their trust in private enterprise? They ought to be doing far more to get jobs into the capital of Scotland.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken on his general point. He represents an Edinburgh constituency and should be aware that in recent years Edinburgh has established itself as the second financial centre of the United Kingdom. It has experienced enormous growth in jobs related to the financial sector. The hon. Gentleman asked about Guinness. As Secretary of State for Scotland, my main interest is in where the control of the Scotch whisky aspects of the Guinness company are concentrated rather than in from where Guinness beer is controlled. I understand that thought is being given to some restructuring of the company which may lead to greater and more effective control of the Scotch whisky aspect of Guinness in Scotland. If that turns out to be the case, I am sure that it is something about which we should all be satisfied. However, we must wait and see exactly what the company's proposals will be. I do not think that anyone would dispute that Sir Norman MacFarlane will have Scotland's interests firmly in mind in the work that he does in the company. I understand that he will be anxious to ensure that commitments to Scotland, especially those to the Scotch whisky industry, will be properly honoured.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, certainly as far as the Scottish economy is concerned, the private sector has performed well in creating new jobs? With regard to the Guinness affair, if I can describe it as that, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important to ensure that those who did things incorrectly, wrongfully or illegally are dealt with properly? That will happen only when the inspector's report has been presented to the Department of Trade and Industry, and we can then look forward to action in the courts.

Mr. Rifkind

I agree with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Maxton

Does the Secretary of State believe that the Scottish Economic Bulletin, which is published by his own Department, is a fair and unbiased account of the Scottish economy? If he does, why does he not accept the view of the bulletin that the Scottish economy is growing considerably less than the United Kingdom economy and that there is no prospect of growth in jobs during the next 12 months?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman has not given an accurate description of what the bulletin stated. I think he will acknowledge that the bulletin referred to the fact that the Scottish economy is growing—a phenomenon that one would not believe if one listened only to the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends. The Scottish Economic Bulletin referred to the setback that occurred last year because of the recession that was then taking place in the North sea oil industry. However, in recent months we have seen a tremendous upturn in the Scottish economy, as evidenced by today's survey published by the Fraser of Allander Institute, which in the past has been perfectly willing to be critical of the Government, but which now reports the most optimistic survey since its reports began. When one adds to that the 40,000 drop in the Scottish unemployment figures in the past 20 weeks alone, hon. Members have to be positively blind not to acknowledge the major progress that is now taking place.