HC Deb 30 January 2001 vol 362 cc159-62
2. Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

What recent discussions she has had with the First Minister regarding manufacturing employment. [146181]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell)

I have had a number of meetings with my right hon. Friend the Member for Central Fife (Mr. McLeish)— the First Minister of Scotland; I keep forgetting that I must not refer to him as an hon. Member in this place—on the support and development of employment in all sectors of the Scottish economy. It is an exciting time for the Scottish economy, and we shall work together to strengthen that economy.

Mr. Brady

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for those comments. It is clear that, despite having, as she claims a 35-year friendship with the First Minister, she has not necessarily had the fullest discussions possible about the loss of manufacturing jobs in Scotland. With manufacturing jobs going across the country at the rate of 100,000 in the past year, and going at the same rate in Scotland, why does the right hon. Lady not give proper priority to the loss of manufacturing jobs? What is she going to do about it? Is it the responsibility of the Government here in Westminster or of her friends in the devolved Administration in Edinburgh?

Mrs. Liddell

I will take no lessons from the hon. Gentleman on manufacturing industry. He may have forgotten that, last Thursday, there was an Opposition-day debate on manufacturing employment; I know because I replied to it. I can tell him that looking at the Opposition Benches was like looking at the Mary Celeste.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

I was here.

Mrs. Liddell

Yes, the hon. Gentleman was present. The SNP Benches were singularly empty.

What the Government are doing for manufacturing industry in Scotland is to create a stable economy, with low inflation. Employment in Scotland is at its highest levels since 1960, and claimant-count unemployment in Scotland is at its lowest level since February 1976. So no one in this House will take lessons from Opposition Members about manufacturing industry in Scotland.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, for the first time in 20 years, the Scottish coal industry is starting to recruit workers? Does she agree that the announcement of 150 vacancies is tremendous news, for the central region of old and for west Fife? The revival of the industry means that we will be able to get cheap coal—and therefore cheap electricity—which will fire Scotland's manufacturing industry and secure employment for years to come.

Mrs. Liddell

My hon. Friend makes a poignant point. Like him, I represent a mining constituency. [Interruption.] We can hear the barracking from Opposition Members, whose Government sought to destroy the coal industry and coal communities in Scotland. I was very proud to be the Minister who was able to negotiate the deal that will save Longannet. I wish the work force there every bit of luck in the future. The complex has modern technology and committed people with great drive who deserve the support of everyone in this House.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Inverness, West)

I welcome the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, respectively, to their new posts. I am sure that they would both acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by the onshore oil fabrication sector to the manufacturing base of Scotland and the UK as a whole.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the downturn in employment in that sector, with some large-scale redundancies being the order of the day of late. In her previous ministerial capacity, she will have learned that McDermotts is seeking to retain about 65 per cent. of the surplus in its pension fund. Representations to the firm are in order: can we seek the right hon. Lady's support?

Mrs. Liddell

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his good wishes, and I should be happy to meet him to discuss these matters. I am well aware of what is happening with McDermotts, and in the offshore supplies industry in general. Because of the partnership that was developed between the Government, the industry and those who work in it, I was able, as Minister for Energy and Competitiveness in Europe, to announce before Christmas an additional investment of £1 billion in the industry in Scotland. That helped to protect the 200,000 jobs that depend on the oil and gas industry. I am aware of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman has raised and should be happy to meet him in a delegation, if that would be of value to him. I am also happy to make representations with him to Treasury Ministers, and especially to my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who I am sure will take an interest in these matters.

Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North)

I, too, extend my congratulations and good wishes on their recent appointments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister of State. Does my right hon. Friend share my fury at the audacity of Conservative Members in raising in this Chamber the subject of manufacturing jobs, on which they have shed crocodile tears both today and last week? When the Conservative Government were in office, my constituency and the area covered by the Paisley postcode lost 95 per cent. of its manufacturing jobs: 10,000 jobs at the mills in Paisley; 5,000 at the Linwood car plant; 5,000 at Babcock; 7,000—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I think the Secretary of State has got the message.

Mrs. Liddell

I am sure that hon. Members will have noted how Conservative Members responded to the catalogue of disasters visited on my hon. Friend's constituency. The actions of the previous Government decimated the manufacturing sector in Scotland. With the exception of the hon. Members for Lichfield and for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), no Conservative Member now heckling from a sedentary position bothered to attend last week's debate on the manufacturing industry. I was there; I replied to it.

Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)

I sincerely congratulate the right hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) on their elevation to the Scottish Front Bench. If we had a decent amount of time for Scottish questions, we might even hear the hon. Gentleman, which would be a pleasure. In particular, I congratulate the right hon. Lady on her historic position as the first woman Secretary of State for Scotland.

Now, more than ever, Scotland needs strong voices here at Westminster, and however much we might disagree with what the right hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman say, I am sure that theirs will be strong voices. This afternoon, however, they have addressed the wrong statistics. The fact is that we are facing yet another broken promise by the Labour Government. They promised to increase manufacturing industry in Scotland but the fact is that 300,000 jobs have been lost. Will the right hon. Lady apologise to the people of Scotland?

Mrs. Liddell

The hon. Lady is a fine product of St. Columba's in Kilmacolm. I am sure that her former teachers will be very proud of her good manners—slightly more gracious than those of some of her right hon. and hon. Friends.

Manufacturing is very important to the Scottish economy, but what is even more important is building a manufacturing industry for the future. The previous industrial revolution was based on coal, on iron and steel, on shipbuilding and on textiles. The new industrial revolution will be based on knowledge. The Scottish economy is well suited to play its part in that knowledge-driven economy. I see my job as Secretary of State for Scotland as promoting that knowledge-driven economy. We will ensure that, in the future, Scotland will have as proud a record in employment as it has today, with the best employment figures for more than a generation.

Mr. John Swinney (North Tayside)

I welcome the Secretary of State and her ministerial colleague to their office. Bearing in mind the fall in manufacturing employment since Labour came to power in 1997 and the Government's responsibility to create the right economic conditions for manufacturing, is the Secretary of State concerned by the expectation of the First Minister and the Scottish Executive that jobs created by inward investment will have fallen by 11,000 in Scotland from last year to this? Is that because the Government have got the economic conditions wrong for Scotland, or is it just another example of the First Minister and the Scottish Executive failing to deliver?

Mrs. Liddell

The hon. Gentleman, in one of his rare forays down here, should have noted that manufacturing output is actually up in Scotland. The stability that has been created by this Labour Government and our reputation for competence make Scotland more attractive to inward investors. Separating Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom would damage the Scottish economy and damage jobs.