HC Deb 11 March 1987 vol 112 cc283-5
7. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what has been the total expenditure by the Scottish Development Agency since its inception.

Mr. Rifkind

On the assumption that provision for 1986–87 is fully spent, the Scottish Development Agency will have spent at the end of March a total of £1.03 billion in the period since it was formed.

Mr. Knox

Can my right hon. and learned Friend say how much the agency has spent on average, each year, since the Government came to office and how that expenditure compares with the amount spent on average, each year, under the Labour Government?

Mr. Rifkind

I cannot immediately give an average figure, but what I can say is that, in constant prices, the gross expenditure of the Scottish Development Agency has gone up both in cash terms and in constant prices. I believe that that is a measure of the great significance that the Government attach to the role of the agency in dealing with the economic and infrastructure problems of Scotland. That important role was recognised in a recent review of the agency carried out some months ago.

Dr. Godman

It is reported that, following the deal with Trafalgar House over unused land, the Scottish Development Agency will spend several million pounds on the redevelopment of unused land for new industrial sites. I take it that that money is in addition to the financing of the Inverclyde initiative. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman now sanction an increase in the staff of the Inverclyde initiative? Will he now respond to my request for consultancy support for the Inverclyde initiative?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman's latter point concerns detailed matters that are currently under consideration. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman joins me in expressing pleasure that the discussions, which the Government authorised the agency to have with Trafalgar House, have led to such a great success. I am aware that when the Inverclyde council came to see me it correctly pointed out that the availability of land for potential investors was the single most important consideration in achieving the regeneration of Inverclyde. Now that over 40 acres of land have been released as a result of the arrangements with Trafalgar House, it will enable the SDA, which in agreement with the Government, attaches great priority to the regeneration of the area, to prepare the land for potential investors from other parts of the country and from overseas.

Mr. Pollock

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the SDA has an important, positive role in rural coastal seats, such as my constituency, and in the central belt? Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, at present, the SDA has undertaken to help to try to regenerate the somewhat parlous economy of Buckie, which is facing problems? Will he ensure that the agency is given adequate resources to do what it deems to be necessary?

Mr. Rifkind

I happily confirm what my hon. Friend said. The SDA has a role to play throughout the whole of Scotland. Indeed, it is estimated that some 25 per cent. of its expenditure is within the rural as opposed to the industrial areas of Scotland.

Mr. Canavan

What proportion of SDA expenditure has been spent on environmental, tourist, hotel and prestige projects, such as the garden festival, and how much has been spent on genuine public investment in industry? Such investment was one of the key roles for the SDA when it was set up by the Labour Government.

Mr. Rifkind

I believe that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken in' trying to draw a distinction between what he chooses to call the genuine role of the SDA and that which he presumably believes to be of no great significance. He should be aware that, to many parts of Scotland, the tourist industry is of great economic significance. He will also appreciate that people are interested in finding jobs and his rather superficial arid spurious distinction is of little relevance to the needs of Scotland.

Mr. Maxton

In view of the answer that the Minister gave to his hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) can the Minister explain how it is that at 1986–87 prices SDA expenditure was £133.2 million, for the coming year it will be £131 million, while in 1979–80, the last year of the Labour Government, expenditure was £134 million? How does the present figure represent an improvement?

Mr. Rifkind

I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the last full year of the Labour Government was 1978–79 and the figure then was £124 million. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has noted the remarks made by a large number of American companies which have studied the role of the SDA and identified the SDA, as reformed by the present Government, as the most successful agency of its kind anywhere in western Europe. Those companies went on to say that the prospects for further investment in Scotland were splendid and could only be marred by the return of a Labour Government. That was not the view of politicians, that was the view of overseas business men whom we are seeking to persuade to invest in Scotland.

Mr. Kirkwood

In the absence of any properly co-ordinated rural development agency north of the border—as the Secretary of State will know, such an agency is available to places such as Northumberland south of the border— will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider giving the Scottish Development Agency a modest increase in funds so that it can begin to play a part in the current debate in Scotland about new development and alternative uses of land in rural areas? With modest funds, a rural development agency in Scotland could provide significant help.

Mr. Rifkind

The Scottish Development Agency already carries out such a role. The hon. Gentleman should be aware of two proposals, development of rural area workshops— DRAW— and programme for rural initiatives and developments—PRIDE— which have already involved significant investment in various rural areas in Scotland, including, I suspect, the hon. Gentleman's constituency.

Mrs. McCurley

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on yesterday's announcement about the Inverclyde initiative. I add my warm congratulations in respect of the part played by the SDA in breaking the logjam in Inverclyde, which will enable the initiative to take off at a great rate.

Mr. Rifkind

I thank my hon. Friend. She is absolutely correct. All those who know Inverclyde know that non-availability of land was proving to be one of the most serious obstacles to progress. That obstacle has now been removed.