HC Deb 05 July 1989 vol 156 cc303-4
15. Sir Hector Monro

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last discussed unemployment levels with the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Rifkind

I have frequent contacts with the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland. Its most recent assessment, conveyed to me in a letter from the chairman of the Scottish Council, is of confidence in the continuing buoyancy of the Scottish economy.

Sir Hector Monro

I warmly welcome the fall of 100,000 in the number of people unemployed in the past two years and the fall from 13.6 to 9.6 per cent. What discussions has my right hon. and learned Friend had about Enterprise Scotland and about how the CBI and himself consider that there may be a further fall in the numbers of people unemployed?

Mr. Rifkind

Yes, there is a great degree of interest in the proposal that was published in the Government's recent White Paper which proposed private sector-led local agencies. At the moment we are considering our response to the many constructive comments that have been made. I hope to report to the House in the near future because I have no doubt that the proposals will be relevant in dealing with the need to reduce unemployment further over the months and years to come.

Mr. McAllion

Will the Secretary of State explain why the Scottish Office has allowed the employment services division independently to launch a two-year pilot scheme called the "job interview guarantee scheme" in the Whitfield area of Dundee and in the Castlemilk area of Glasgow without consulting or even informing local Members of Parliament, local councils, local people and the local partnership groups which exist in those areas under the New Urban Life for Scotland policy? When will the Government stop doing things to the long-term unemployed and start doing things for and with the long-term unemployed?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman might be under a misapprehension. This matter is under consideration, but no decision has been reached.

Mr. Ingram

Given the importance of the new towns to the economic health of the Scottish economy, when the Secretary of State met the CBI, did he explain the reason for the inordinate and unacceptable delay in the publication of the White Paper on the future of the new towns?

Mr. Rifkind

There is no delay in that matter. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in the well-being of the new towns, he must be of the view that we should bring our proposals forward only when we are in a position to do so. These are important matters. The winding up of the various new town corporations is a long-term reform of great significance to all those who live in the new towns. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman wishes us to rush such matters before we have reached appropriate conclusions.

Mr. Brandon-Bravo

My right hon. and learned Friend and his Scottish Office colleagues have been rightly proud this afternoon when stating how much help they have managed to give to Scotland. In an earlier supplementary question, the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) said that expenditure on health in Scotland was 25 per cent. more per head of population than it is in England. If that is so in relation to industry and employment also, would my right hon. and learned Friend be surprised if and many of my colleagues who represent English constituencies felt that we were being discriminated against?

Mr. Rifkind

I do not think that it is true in the spheres of industry and employment. However, it is certainly the case that throughout the United Kingdom the Government spend more on those areas which have higher levels of unemployment. That is what regional policy is about, whether it is regional policy implemented in England, Scotland or Wales.

Mr. McLeish

Does the Secretary of State accept that nearly 240,000 Scots were unemployed in May 1989 and that that figure is still 70 per cent. higher than the figure of 140,000 for May 1979? Clearly, there has not been a stunning 10-year success story in reducing unemployment. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the regime of high interest rates and cuts in regional aid is having a crippling effect on small and medium-sized businesses in Scotland? Treasury figures suggest that Scottish companies are facing a bill of £250 million in increased borrowing costs. Finally, why does the Secretary of State have to go to Wales to attack Thatcherism? Why does he not stand up in the Cabinet and urge lower interest rates, lower inflation and a sensible regional aid package?

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman must appreciate that his views are not shared by Scottish industry. That is not surprising because manufacturing output in Scotland grew by more than 7 per cent. in 1988—the fastest rate of growth since 1973. The hon. Gentleman might also like to reflect on articles by the Fraser of Allander Institute which point to the fact that the Labour party's proposals for constitutional change would cause considerable damage to the Scottish economy.

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