HC Deb 22 July 1987 vol 120 cc362-3
6. Mr. Ernie Ross

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will give the index of industrial production and construction for Scotland in each of the most recent four quarters for which figures are available and for each of the quarters of 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

For successive quarters in 1979, the estimates are 102.9, 107.8, 107.7, 107.1, giving an annual figure of 106.4. For successive quarters in 1986, the estimates are 99.8, 99.6, 101.2, 101.7, giving an annual figure of 100.6.

Mr. Ross

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if he and his colleagues were to address more helpfully the recent housing document issued by COSLA that would help the construction industry and might put more people in Scotland back to work?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Substantial funds have been given for housing. For example, £184 million has been paid, which is an increase of 81 per cent. over the past three years. Expenditure on new build has remained relatively constant at about £60 million per year.

Mr. Steel

Does the Minister agree that the most effective way of giving speedy help to the construction industry would be to restore the house improvement programme in both the private and public sectors? Does he recognise that both the housing authorities in my constituency have plans for house improvement schemes, but with which they cannot proceed because of a lack of funds? Unhappily, I represent the town which still has the highest level of sub-tolerable houses in the private sector in Scotland. Will the Minister make this a priority?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement. I shall consider his point, but I should mention that a larger sum has been spent on the housing associations than ever before—more than £120 million this year.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will my hon. Friend point out to the Labour party what has been achieved on the roads programme in Scotland, for example, the completion to dualling of the Perth to Aberdeen road, and the upgrading of the A74 to a motorway? Does that not suggest the good prospects for the construction industry in Scotland under a Conservative Government?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

About £95 million is being spent and will make a considerable difference to employment by encouraging tourism. It is very much in the national interest.

Mr. Dewar

To return to productivity and the economy generally, will the Minister comment on page 7 of the Scottish Economic Bulletin, where there are undoubtedly references to certain hopeful signs, as the Government see them, especially the growth in self-employment. However, it continues: it seems doubtful whether the sources of growth will be sufficient to lead to any overall increase in the current year. The final sentence of the review states: it is not yet clear how far the changes reflect an improvement in the underlying labour market position in Scotland. Do those judgments in any way justify the complacency shown by the Secretary of State a few moments ago?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The surveys have been encouraging, especially the Fraser of Allander Institute survey, which has come out today. It states that employment has increased in manufacturing, construction and retailing in the second quarter and that this is likely to continue. Unemployment has fallen by 40,000 and vacancies at Scottish jobcentres are at their highest levels since March 1980. These are encouraging signs.