HC Deb 26 April 1995 vol 258 cc847-9
11. Mr. Galloway

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next plans to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss the Scottish economy. [19579]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Kynoch)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meets representatives of the Scottish TUC from time to time to discuss a range of matters concerning the Scottish economy.

Mr. Galloway

Does the Minister not understand the shock wave that has gone through Scottish public opinion with the news that plans are afoot to merge Scottish Nuclear with other nuclear facilities in order that they be privatised? Does he not understand that that ultimate privatisation madness—[Interruption.] In response to the cat calls from Conservative Members I should say that I am a lifelong supporter of the peaceful use of nuclear power. Does the Minister not understand that handing over this precious and dangerous jewel, on which thousands of Scottish jobs and millions of Scottish lives ultimately depend, to the Nick Leesons and the Barings banks of the international finance system is an ultimate privatisation madness which will destroy the Government long before the end of their term?

Mr. Kynoch

The hon. Gentleman is once more dealing in matters of speculation and is trying to whip up opinion in Scotland before any proposals have been put forward. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has more than fully answered the question.

Mr. Jessel

In view of the importance of international relations to the Scottish economy, will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the statement by the Indian high commissioner at a lunch today of the Indo-British parliamentary group that the Government of India are hoping to set up a consulate in Glasgow? I apologise for not giving my hon. Friend any warning of my question, but I have come straight from that lunch. Will my hon. Friend encourage his Department to work closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to give that excellent proposal as far as possible a fair wind?

Mr. Kynoch

I am very pleased to hear the news that my hon. Friend brings. Of course, we would welcome such a move and give any assistance that was necessary. My hon. Friend is simply bringing news that reinforces all the other inward investors who have come and been brought to Scotland in recent times, and who have brought increasing prosperity to the Scottish economy.

Mrs. Ewing

Does the Under-Secretary accept that one important issue involving the Scottish economy is the future of manufacturing industry and that it is particularly important in north Scotland? Is he therefore aware of the concern that is felt by the hon. Members for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) and others about the prospect of losing the Conoco Britannia jacket contract to Dragados in Cadiz, Spain? That would have implications for perhaps 1,000 jobs in north Scotland. What action is being taken by the Scottish Office to discuss that matter with Conoco and with the Minister for Industry and Energy to ensure that Nigg and Ardersier have the opportunity to discuss those matters in an open way and not to be undercut—a fact that has been shown in reports by Grampian regional council and Highland regional council?

Mr. Kynoch

I understand what the hon. Lady is talking about and, equally, I understand that Conoco has not yet made any announcement on the Britannia field jacket. Some of the problems of that sector of the industry are brought about by the changing pattern of getting oil out of the North sea, and by the use of floating rather than fixed platforms. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Industry and Energy is in close contact with all the oil companies to try to ensure that the best future is achieved not only for industry but for manufacturers in the UK.

Mr. Gallie

Despite the kidology support for abandonment of clause IV, is my hon. Friend aware that the recent STUC conference voted to renationalise public services and public utilities in the UK? When next he meets the STUC, will he discuss the disastrous effects that that would have on the Scottish economy? Will he point out to it that at least the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) recognises that fact, although his followers do not seem to have latched on?

Mr. Kynoch

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Some of the proposals coming out of the STUC conference were exceedingly bad news for Scottish business. The conference proposed not only renationalisation of certain privatised utilities that have brought enormous benefits to the Scottish public in the form of reduced prices and increased services but the introduction of a national minimum wage, which would cause an enormous number of job losses in Scotland and be detrimental to a major section of the Scottish population.

Mr. McFall

Can the Under-Secretary clarify what the Secretary of State said earlier? Did he tell the House that he would stand by the assurances given to Sir Donald Miller that Scottish Nuclear would remain a distinct entity? Do the Under-Secretary and Secretary of State favour the merger of Scottish Nuclear with Nuclear Electric? In the face of immense security and safety problems, do they personally favour the privatisation of a merged company? That is not the package that the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, but merely a sell-off and sell-out of a successful, high-technology Scottish business. Are the Government not down to selling the last spoon of the family silver?

Mr. Kynoch

I think the hon. Gentleman heard perfectly well what my right hon. Friend said. He was especially concerned to ensure that, in any discussions about the future of Scottish Nuclear or the nuclear industry, we try to achieve the best possible future, not only for Scotland, Scottish Nuclear and the Scottish people but for the UK nuclear industry and power generation in general.