HC Deb 22 November 1995 vol 267 cc642-4
2. Mr. Salmond

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met representatives of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to discuss economic matters; and if he will make a statement. [772]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

I met them on 6 September. Scotland's economy is buzzing with success.

Mr. Salmond

When the Secretary of State next buzzes along to the Scottish Council—many of whose members seem to be deserting the Unionist cause, perhaps agreeing with the Prime Minister that independence is perfectly feasible—will he discuss with its members the results of a survey that appeared in The Times last Monday? It revealed that, apart from punishing low earners, 21 Tory tax rises since the last election had cost average earners £1,000 each.

To avoid any suggestion of who is responsible for that, and before disparaging the policies of Opposition parties, will the Secretary of State tell us how many of those 21 Tory tax rises he has personally voted for over the past three years?

Mr. Forsyth

On the subject of surveys, the hon. Gentleman will have seen the survey by Scottish chambers of commerce showing that 0 per cent. of businesses connected with the oil industry, which he is so keen to talk about, support his party's policy on independence. As for tax rises, the hon. Gentleman supports a tartan tax for Scotland—a tax on people working in Scotland—so he has a brass neck to talk to us about tax cuts. The only party in the House that is in favour of lower taxation, and delivers it, is the Conservative party.

Sir Hector Monro

Does my right hon. Friend remember the warm welcome and endorsement by all the Opposition parties of the Fraser of Allander report? Yet now that we have seen the report we know that only 14 per cent. of industry in Scotland would put up with the tartan tax. Are not all the Opposition's policies therefore in disarray?

Mr. Forsyth

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. Indeed, I was much struck by the fact that before they had seen the survey, the leaders of the Opposition parties commended it and said how splendid it was, but that when they saw that only 14 per cent. of respondents would support a tax-raising Scottish Assembly, they started saying that they were rather concerned about the low response rate. The fact is that the businesses that responded spoke for Scotland, and it is high time that Opposition Members listened to the voices of those on whom Scotland's jobs depend.

Mr. Wallace

I am sure that the Secretary of State and others will wish to express their congratulations on the successful creation of 3,500 jobs at Moss End through inward investment from Taiwan. Although it is estimated that those jobs will each produce 1.5 more jobs in the Scottish economy, does the right hon. Gentleman accept the figures given to several hon. Members at the Highland Park Parliamentarian of the Year lunch, which showed that for every job lost in the whisky industry in Scotland—sadly, many jobs have been lost in recent times—3.5 more jobs are lost as a result? Bearing that fact in mind, what representations has the right hon. Gentleman made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reverse the real tartan tax of last year—the additional 26p on a bottle of whisky?

Mr. Forsyth

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the splendid success by Locate in Scotland in attracting new inward investment to Lanarkshire, and a stake in the new industrial revolution. It is a pity that he did not go one stage further and abandon the tartan tax, which would send elsewhere the inward investment on which we depend. As for whisky taxation, the hon. Gentleman should not tempt me to say things that I should not say, but I have made my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer well aware of the concerns of the whisky industry. If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues would stop calling for extra expenditure, they might have a little more credibility when they call for less taxation.

Mr. Bill Walker

When my right hon. Friend meets the august body mentioned in the question to discuss the economy, will he remind its representatives that the estimates clearly demonstrate that Scotland, excluding the oil industry, would have an £8.1 billion deficit? Will he also tell them how Scotland benefits enormously from being part of the United Kingdom, because this Parliament has always taken that fact on board? That is why the Scots are so prosperous today.

Mr. Forsyth

I agree that Scotland benefits from the Union. England, too, benefits from the fact that Scotland is part of the Union. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that if the nationalists had their way we should have to fund a structural deficit of about 15 per cent., or £8.1 billion—that is an independent figure. The deficit could be funded only by higher taxation—including taxation on whisky—by higher borrowing or by higher inflation, and I suspect that all three would be used. Most people want nothing whatever to do with such an assault on our standards of living, or with the destruction of our vital public services, which would be the consequence of going down the independence road.

Mr. George Robertson

Will the Secretary of State accept from me the fact that when he meets the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) it will certainly not accept his propagandist interpretation of the survey by Scottish chambers of commerce? Despite a sustained campaign of smears, distortions, accusations and downright lies about devolution, there has been a decisive swing in the Scottish business community towards the idea of a devolved Scottish Parliament. Will the right hon. Gentleman not accept that fact now? Whereas 67 per cent. of the business community supported the status quo in 1991—the Secretary of State still does—88 per cent. of those who responded to the poll were against the status quo, with only 9 per cent. on the right hon. Gentleman's side. When will he recognise that he is wrong and that business opinion now realises that devolution will be good for Scotland, for Britain and for Scottish business? Will he change his mind before it is too late?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman is beginning to sound rattled. He claims that his position has been distorted, but when he was invited to speak for himself on "On the Record", he spent 20 minutes failing to answer the West Lothian question, which his hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) asked all those years ago.