HC Deb 31 January 1996 vol 270 cc991-3
9. Mr. Salmond

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to meet representatives of the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) to discuss the trends in the Scottish economy; and if he will make a statement. [10795]

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I met representatives from the Scottish Council (Development and Industry) shortly after I was appointed and following my invitation to organisations throughout Scotland to meet me to discuss their concerns.

Mr. Salmond

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the 250 job losses at Buchan Meat in Turriff doubled local unemployment at a stroke? In a community the size of Turriff, it is the equivalent of thousands of job losses in an urban conurbation. Does he recognise that he should respond to that problem as a matter of national priority and not simply leave it to local agencies? Is he aware that the workers action committee in Buchan Meat is keen to advertise the fact that there are many excellent, expanding and profitable product lines in the factory, not least Boeuf D'Ecosse, a new packaged product that was to be trial launched on the French market in a £1 million venture this week? There are many products in that factory which would prove extremely attractive to alternative investment.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the message is that alternative investment in the people and products of the area will be warmly welcomed, but that those interested only in asset-stripping—removing machinery, products or jobs from the factory—will be as fiercely resisted in Turriff as they are in Workington?

Mr. Forsyth

I am sure that all hon. Members are well aware of the difficulties created in Turriff by the liquidation of Buchan Meat. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman an assurance that Scottish Enterprise will be involved. Indeed, it and the local enterprise company tried to prevent the liquidation, albeit—unfortunately—unsuccessfully. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about the impact the loss of jobs could have on Turriff and the surrounding areas—not least the farmers and others who are shareholders in the company.

I shall be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss what can be done. I shall ask Scottish Enterprise to pull out every stop—I know that it will—to try to ensure the continuation of local employment. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are great difficulties, but I am sure that, on this matter, we can be of one mind and share a single-minded determination to do what we can to prevent further job losses in his constituency.

Mr. Stewart

When my right hon. Friend next meets the Scottish Council (Development and Industry), will he ask it to carry out a full and objective economic analysis of the effect of a tartan tax on the Scottish economy? In particular, will he point out that the reason why Scottish Labour Members are so fanatical about a tartan tax is that they would not have to pay it? They would be at Westminster, on full pay, with nothing to do except speak on English matters—with no liability to pay the tartan tax.

Mr. Forsyth

I do not know whether this is correct, but I am told that even the people who work in Labour's research department in Scotland would not have to pay the tartan tax because they are paid from Walworth road. My hon. Friend has pointed out an anomaly—[Interruption.] I say to Labour Members who laugh and jeer about the tartan tax that it is not a joke. In the unlikely event of Labour ever getting into power to set up its tax-raising Scottish Parliament and introducing the tartan tax, the result would be £6 a week extra in tax for the average family. It would mean losing the family holiday and I do not think that most people in Scotland are prepared to give up their holidays to give politicians an opportunity to be put out to grass in Edinburgh.

Mr. Home Robertson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that IBM is transferring the manufacture of its computer keyboards from LEMAC in Haddington to the far east, thereby destroying the jobs of 252 of my constituents? Why are the Government allowing that multinational giant to have free access to the European market without accepting responsibility for the low-paid employees of its contractors in Scotland? When the right hon. Gentleman next meets the council, will he discuss what the Government intend to do to create more jobs for my constituents in east Lothian?

Mr. Forsyth

The first thing that we are doing is resisting idiotic proposals such as a tartan tax, the social chapter or a minimum wage—all of which would add to employment costs. If the hon. Gentleman has begun to realise that jobs are mobile and that we must fight like tigers to get them, we may be making some progress with the unfortunate circumstances that exist in his constituency. When I met IBM recently to discuss inward investment, it became clear to me that we are in a fiercely competitive market and that we need a low tax, low regulation economy. The hon. Gentleman, with his support for a tax-raising Parliament, is the enemy of jobs in Scotland.