HC Deb 18 December 1996 vol 287 cc947-8
18. Mr. Stewart

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the latest estimate of employment and unemployment in the Eastwood constituency. [8149]

Mr. Kynoch

The figures announced today show that 10.1 per cent. of the work force in the Eastwood constituency were registered unemployed and claiming benefit in November. This shows a fall of 9.7 per cent. since November 1995 and confirms the extent to which Eastwood, like the rest of the country, is benefiting from the Government's very successful economic policies.

Mr. Stewart

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving the House and my constituents those extremely encouraging figures. Does he agree that they show the sustained improvement in employment trends throughout my constituency, in large measure due to the expanding small firms and self-employed sector? Does he further agree that that expansion would be wholly undermined by the increases in business rates threatened by the Labour party?

Mr. Kynoch

My hon. Friend is absolutely right on that. The policies of the Opposition parties would be counter-productive to the future success of small businesses. That is recognised by the small business owners whom I meet as I go around the country.

Mr. Home Robertson

Given that a number of people from Eastwood work at Scottish Power's headquarters in Cathcart, just as a number of my constituents work at Scottish Power's Cockenzie power station, will the Minister acknowledge that it is vital for the people of Eastwood and of East Lothian that the interconnector between Scotland and Northern Ireland should be constructed, in the interests of both Northern Ireland and Scotland? Will the Secretary of State therefore withdraw the ridiculous, unwarranted and unprecedented conditions that he has attached to the route across south Ayrshire so that this vital project can go ahead in the interests of people on both sides of the Irish sea?

Mr. Foulkes

indicated dissent.

Mr. Kynoch

The hon. Gentleman should look to his left at the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who was shaking his head throughout the hon. Gentleman's comments. That is yet another split between Opposition Members which I hope the whole House has recognised.

Mr. Beggs

Despite the reply that the Minister has given, does he accept that there are economic benefits for constituents in Eastwood and elsewhere in Scotland if interconnection happens: that jobs will be secured in Scotland, that new jobs will be created, and that we in Northern Ireland will have security of supply and real competition to bring down electricity prices to domestic and industrial consumers, thereby benefiting both Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Mr. Kynoch

Of course I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says, and he will be aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has stated that he is minded to accept the interconnector, with the condition that four sections should be undergrounded. My right hon. Friend has put that proposal out to swift consultation with interested parties, and responses have to be in by 20 December. Once the responses have been received, my right hon. Friend will reconsider the issue. I am sure that he has heard what the hon. Gentleman has said.