HC Deb 11 March 1987 vol 112 cc287-9
10. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what are the five travel-to-work areas in Scotland currently with the highest levels of unemployment; and what special initiatives his Department or the appropriate Government agency has set up in each of the five areas concerned.

Mr. Lang

The five areas are Cumnock and Sanquhar, Forres, Girvan, Irvine and Skye, and Wester Ross. A special initiative for the Cumnock and Doon area is now well under way. All the other areas are assisted areas under the Government's regional policy.

Mr. Foulkes

That is certainly a list that one does not wish to be on. I regret to say that two areas in my constituency are in the top five. Does the Minister appreciate that 400 jobs in the mining industry in Cumnock and Sanquhar have been lost over the past seven years? Although we welcome what is being done following the Coopers and Lybrand report, it is in no way enough to tackle the enormity of the unemployment problem in the Cumnock area. Will the Minister ask the Scottish Development Agency to adopt one of the special initiatives that have been instituted in other areas in Scotland? Girvan, which is No. 3 on the list, does not even have development status. Will the Minister give serious consideration to Girvan's problems, make sure that it is awarded development area status as a matter of urgency, and find some special initiative scheme for the area?

Mr. Lang

I must tell the lion. Gentleman that we have no plans to reconsider the map in the immediate future. The maps were drawn up only two years ago. There is a necessity for stability to enable the situation to be properly assessed. The Cumnock and Sanquhar travel-to-work area straddles the boundary between the hon. Gentleman's constituency and my constituency. I know that he is appreciative of the speed with which the SDA has responded in the case of UK Opticals in Mauchline. I am sure that he will join me in welcoming the successful takeover of Brocks Fireworks in Sanquhar, which has secured a number of jobs, and the establishment of Fisher and Holden in Kirkconnel in my constituency, which has brought 100 new manufacturing jobs to the area.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

Will my hon. Friend confirm that unemployment in each area would be much higher if we were to follow the advice of the Labour party and close down nuclear power stations, thereby putting up electricity prices by 25 per cent., and to allow rates to rip?

Mr. Lang

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, almost all the policies of the Labour party seem to be designed to raise unemployment and cause problems for the economy. I have not yet been able to see details of its policy for jobs, announced today. As far as I understand it, the Labour party relies largely on artificial, unproductive public sector jobs, which may be best characterised as postmen going around in pairs.

Mr. Lambie

As the urban travel-to-work area in my constituency is also on the list read out by the Minister, will he see that his officials in the Scottish Office and officials in the Scottish Development Agency realise that something is still needed for the Cunninghame area? Is the Minister aware that the Irvine area received a further blow to unemployment during the week, and one at the weekend, when Marlow Textiles went into receivership, causing the loss of another 100 jobs? Today I heard a rumour that Dawson International, in carrying out the process of rationalisation, is considering closing McKinnon's Textiles in Irvine, which will involve the loss of another 100 jobs. That cannot go on. I do not want the area to top the unemployment list. In spite of all the initiatives coming into the Cunninghame area. the Minister must ensure that officials do something, go to Irvine and try to get more jobs.

Mr. Lang

As the hon. Gentleman may know, I recently had the pleasure of visiting Irvine new town. I spent a considerable time in the area. The hon. Gentleman may welcome the fact that, last month, Scottish-based companies announced project; promising almost 2,000 new manufacturing jobs as a result of orders received. One major inward investment that was recently announced was the establishment of the Finnish paper mill at Irvine, which will create up to 1,000 direct and indirect jobs in his constituency and a further 1,000 or more jobs in the construction period.

Mr. Pollock

Does my hon. Friend accept that the figure that he gave for Forres is artificially high because of the distortion caused by the presence of RAF Kinloss in the travel-to-work area? Apart from the assisted area status to which he referred, does he recall that, in Elgin last year, our right hon. Friend announced the extension of the Highlands and Islands Development Board boundaries to embrace the Forres travel-to-work area? That was a clear sign of the positive steps that the Government are taking to battle with the problem.

Mr. Lang

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome to our response in extending the Highlands and Islands Development Board area. It will enable the Forres area to have access to all the resources of the board. I hope that it will assist the unemployment problem in that part of his constituency.

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