HC Deb 26 April 1990 vol 171 cc588-90


Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in page 15, line 43, after 'to', insert— '(i) any additional subsidiary functions as he deems necessary for it to meet any needs which may emerge in the future; and (ii)'. I am conscious of the constraints of time and I assure the hon. Member for Dunfries (Sir H. Monro) with whom I am sharing a sleeper later this evening—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—in the same coach, but in different compartments—that I shall not take too long dealing with this issue.

The purpose of my amendment is to make a belated and brief attempt to persuade the Government to look again at the possibility of creating some additional functions when the new local enterprise companies are set up. It will come as no surprise to the Minister of State to hear that one new function which I believe will be worthy of consideration for Scottish Enterprise is a social function.

The Standing Committee, on which I was not privileged to serve, considered at some length the possibility of creating a social function for Scottish Enterprise, and I pay tribute to the way in which the arguments on that were adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Mrs. Michie). I do not wish to rehearse those arguments again, but the Minister will know that the Highlands and Islands development board has been strengthened in the recent past by having an explicit legal and social function, which it has used to great effect.

10.15 pm

The Government's rebuttal of the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute was based on the assumption that, because the Highlands and Islands development board previously had certain powers, Highlands and Islands Enterprise should have those powers for that reason if for no other, but that the Scottish Development Agency did not have the social function previously, Scottish Enterprise should not have it in the future. That does not seem to he a positive argument.

The Minister must address his mind to why he is seeking to exercise blatant discrimination against the areas that I represent in the Borders and those represented by the Minister and his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries. The provision of the social obligation on the HIDB has been a success. No one denies that. Geographical factors are more of a problem in the highlands than in the south-east or the south-west of Scotland. If the experiment has been successful in the highlands, and if there is now an opportunity to create a social function in Scottish Enterprise, it is incumbent on the Government to say why they will not countenance extending the social function now, never mind in the future.

My amendment seeks to address the need at some future date. It is a probing amendment, intended to draw the Government's attention to the existence of the social obligation. The Minister still has time in the remaining stages of the Bill in the other place to examine the positive arguments for creating a social oligation, and a legal right and title for Scottish Enterprise and the subsidiary local enterprise companies to have a social function.

If the hon. Member for Dumfries were here, I am sure that he would agree with me that the Scottish Development Agency did some splendid work in the Borders and in Dumfries. It was clearly moving in the direction of rural initiatives, which were achieving considerable success in the Borders. It was doing that by stretching its economic development powers to the limit. It would have been easier for the SDA to achieve even more success, and to carry out its village and rural projects with greater flexibility, if it had had explicit powers.

I have the highest respect for those involved in setting up the local enterprise company in the Borders. I am sure that they will do their best for the area, subject to the constraints of the legislation, but the company would be better able to serve the needs of local people if the two words in my amendment were added to its remit. When the Minister devolves power to local enterprise companies in the Borders and to those in south-west Scotland, will there be no social element in the contract? It makes sense to consider the special circumstances which surround local enterprise companies. The market forces in the Borders are completely different from those which apply in Strathclyde.

The Government ought to consider all the arguments again. The discretionary power could be used sparingly. It would not lead to the expenditure of a great deal of additional money. It would be pig-headed and bureaucratic of the Minister not to accept that argument. The Government's answer—they have used this argument before—will no doubt be that the Borders do not merit special treatment. The people in the Borders do not accept that argument; nor do those who are running local enterprise companies. The Minister should at least give the House an undertaking that he will consider again carefully the arguments for creating a new social obligation.

Mr. Lang

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) was not a member of the Standing Committee which considered the Bill, so he was unable to take part in the debates on this issue.

The amendment would give the Secretary of State sweeping new powers and enable him to bypass Parliament. The reason that the hon. Gentleman gave for seeking to amend the Bill is unacceptable. A social function used to exist in the Highlands and Islands development board area. We gave a commitment that the HIDB powers would be incorporated in the new legislation. The social function is therefore maintained in the highlands and islands area. That reflects the difference between the highlands and islands area and the rest of Scotland, which in turn reflects the reason for having a separate board for the highlands and islands and a separate board for the south of Scotland.

It would not be in the interests of the effective delivery of what we plan through Scottish Enterprise or the Highlands and Islands development board for that social function to come through in the dominant way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. The delivery of employment and of the economic and training measures in the Scottish Enterprise area must not be diluted or vitiated by the inclusion of a social function. That would damage rather than improve its capacity to deliver successful schemes in the Borders and elsewhere.

The new bodies are economically driven and they will inherit the functions and powers of the previous bodies. A social function should not be added to the list of those activities. Worded as it is, therefore, I must resist such a sweeping amendment.

Amendment negatived.

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