HC Deb 27 June 2000 vol 352 cc703-5
4. Mr. Alasdair Morgan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale)

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Scottish Executive concerning the current economic environment for businesses in Scotland. [126339]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

My right hon. Friend has regular contact with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and with Scottish Executive Ministers to discuss a wide range of matters.

Mr. Morgan

Specifically in relation to the effect of the climate change levy on small businesses, the Government have set aside about £150 million to assist such firms. What specific steps has the Minister taken in Scotland to ensure that the take-up among small firms is a fair one and that such firms are aware of the existence of this money?

Mr. Wilson

It is clear from the wide range of correspondence that the climate change levy has engendered that there is a high level of awareness of it within business. I would welcome any suggestions from the hon. Gentleman or from any other quarter of what we could do more specifically in Scotland to ensure that awareness is heightened.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I give a warm welcome to the Glasgow employment zone, which the Minister launched recently. How will the initiative benefit both business and employment in Glasgow?

Mr. Wilson

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. The Glasgow employment zone is important. It is one of a few zones that have been designated throughout the United Kingdom that contain an increased battery of measures, greater flexibility and additional resources. They are designed to try to crack the tough core of long-term employment. The scheme fully involves employers, who have backed it enthusiastically. It is much in the spirit of the new deal, where the maximum resources are provided and the maximum personal needs of the individual are met, to get them back into the labour market. The more that people know about what is available within the employment zone, the better. I pay tribute to the work that the Employment Service and others have done in putting it together.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

In his discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is the Secretary of State making sure that the concerns that I heard at the royal highland show from both farmers and those in the food processing industry about the delay in getting into the euro and preparing for it are being fully reflected, together with the Scottish economy's dependence on agriculture and on trade with Europe?

Secondly, will the Minister ensure that the Chancellor is fully aware that the issue is not only a relationship with the euro, and that he should ignore the calls from the Conservative party to pay no heed to the relationship with the dollar? Dollar investment in the oil industry is crucial not only to the economy of the north-east of Scotland, but to the whole of Scotland and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Wilson

I am pleased to hear a Liberal Democrat acknowledge the dollar's importance—that is a major statement. The Government are committed to Britain entering the euro; we have set five tests and when they are met, we shall put the issue to the British people. That is the proper way in which to proceed. There is a world of difference between us and the Tories: we recognise the importance of the euro to Britain and vice versa. However, the timing and the conditions must be right—we shall not compromise on that.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil)

When making representations to Brussels about adjustments to the assisted area map, will my hon. Friend take into account that the settlement previously offered for Clackmannanshire, which is part of my Ochil seat, contained an error tantamount to a slip of the pen, whereby the Sauchie-Carsebridge area was denied access to financial support, which could have serious implications for attracting new employment to the area? Will he ensure that that matter is drawn to the attention of Commission officials?

Mr. Wilson

We have done everything possible to secure the most effective conceivable result for Scotland on the basis of the population allocation and the rules set by the European Union. It simply is not possible to go around Scotland, the UK or any other EU member state cherry-picking every area that has investment potential or unemployment black spots; there has to be contiguity between the selected areas and their populations. Because of that difficulty, our original map was not accepted by Brussels. We have done our best to get the optimum result for Clackmannanshire and every other part of Scotland. I am afraid that that is the only reassurance I can give my hon. Friend.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

How many times in the past six months has the Secretary of State met the Chancellor of the Exchequer? When he goes to such meetings, does he take with him the First Minister—to whom we all send warm good wishes for a proper recovery—and, if so, who argues for what? What particular things does the Secretary of State argue for that the First Minister cannot argue for?

Mr. Wilson

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that meetings take place bilaterally, unilaterally, multilaterally, and every other way, so he can rest easy that there is a sufficiency of meetings with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The purpose of our meetings with the Chancellor and other ministerial colleagues is to ensure the best possible deal for Scotland—especially in those matters that account for 50 per cent. of all public expenditure in Scotland and are still funded from Whitehall Departments—and to ensure that the Scottish Parliament and Executive are properly funded for the other 50 per cent. of public expenditure in Scotland. In other words, our lives are committed to getting Scotland the best possible deal under a Labour Government.

Ms Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the recent order for 22 Mega-3 rail freight wagons for Rosyth dockyard is an example of the Government's economic policies and defence diversification policies securing jobs in an area that was devastated by the previous Government? Does he also agree that the greatest risk to the economic regeneration of Rosyth and other parts of Scotland would be the return of a Tory Government and a Scottish National party-style divorce?

Mr. Wilson

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. I pay tribute to her for the assiduous interest she has taken in this matter, which has yielded excellent results for her constituents, and for her general work in making Rosyth's future look brighter than it did a few years ago under the previous Administration. I can assure her that every job in Scotland is fought for: we fight to defend jobs and to create them. That the unemployment rate is now less than 5 per cent. for the first time since the mid-1970s provides a pretty reasonable testimony to our efforts.