HL Deb 25 May 1988 vol 497 cc893-6

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Strange asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are the most recent unemployment figures for Scotland, as compared with previous years, and what measures they are taking to improve the situation.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sanderson of Bowden)

My Lords, on 14th April 1988 there were 309,084 unemployed claimants in Scotland. Unemployment is now below the 1983 level and in the last year alone has fallen by over 50,000. We can best improve the employment prospects in Scotland by the creation of a healthy and vigorous economy. That is what our economic policies are achieving.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Is he aware that, in last week's Dundee Courier and Advertiser, on Monday there were 34 jobs offered, on Tuesday there were 37 jobs, on Wednesday there were 62 jobs, on Thursday there were 56 jobs, on Friday there were 320 jobs, and on Saturday there were 37 jobs? Those figures should be compared with a total of 30 people who were seeking employment during that week.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for those interesting statistics. Looking at the published figures for job vacancies which we know about in the Dundee area, we can see that the number has risen considerably over the past year. That is encouraging news. In addition, in the Dundee area alone unemployment has fallen by 3 per cent. in the last year, from 16.7 per cent. in April 1987 to 13.6 per cent. in April 1988. I am delighted at that move in the right direction.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House what the figures were in 1979?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

No, my Lords; I do not have those figures. I know that the noble Lord is delighted to see that the trend of the last few years is continuing. The difference between now and 1979 is that we now have a reasonable rate of inflation and a reasonable rate of taxation, and not the spiralling inflation rate that there was then, which was so detrimental to industry.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, will the Minister agree with the Scottish Development Agency that the existence of regional development grants was an important contributory factor in the progress which he has reported? In view of that, will not the withdrawal of regional development grants which has just taken place on the initiative of the Government work against similar results in the future?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am well aware of the views of the noble Lord on that matter. I remember that he questioned that change of policy. However, such automatic grants inevitably go to some projects which would go ahead in the same location without support. By concentrating on selective assistance money will be directed where it is needed. Regional enterprise grants are designed to meet the needs of small firms in development areas which may have difficulty in raising finance for growth. I know that the Scottish Development Agency supports that policy.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the evangelical sortie of the Prime Minister north of the Border was intended to convince the natives or to bring more employment to Scotland?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I do not know which evangelical mission the noble Lord means. The Prime Minister has been on two missions to Scotland recently. The most important part of her visits was to try to bring confidence to the business community and confidence to the workforce, as well as ensuring that there are no sales prevention officers in Government, industry or the trade unions.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that the Prime Minister's address to the General Assembly was well received among those who almost certainly voted against the Conservative Party simply because she spoke the truth from her heart?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his comment. I know that the Prime Minister's visit was well received.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I shall not follow the line of the last question. I know the attitude of many people in Scotland on the matter, and I believe that the Minister is aware of that. As regards the Question, since 1979 the number of people employed in Scotland has dropped from 2.1 million to 1.8 million. When the Minister gave a figure of 309,000 people unemployed, he was careful to say that he was referring to claimants for unemployment pay. Because of what has happened recently, many people are not allowed to register for unemployment pay. Does the Minister believe that the figures, which show a drop in manufacturing industry of 34 per cent. since 1979, say little for the benefits which the Government have brought to Scotland?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, manufacturing output in Scotland in the three quarters of last year for which figures are available show an increase of 3½ per cent. CBI business surveys for the first quarter of this year show a trend which is very positive. Some of our severest critics in the Scottish press are well known to the noble Lord and to me. I was very heartened to see that one of them said in the press this week: There have been some solid achievements". I believe that to be the case and I am certain that the noble Lord realises that those who have been involved in Scottish manufacturing, as I have, realise that what we want is a vibrant business sector. That is what is happening at the moment. I think that progress is very commendable and is welcomed by the Scottish CBI and others.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what steps the Government are taking to improve the position of Scotland in view of two forthcoming events: first, the opening of the Channel Tunnel; and, secondly, the European market? For instance, what are they doing to improve transport in Scotland?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I think that that question is some way wide of the Question I am answering. However, I would point out to the noble Lord the opportunities provided not only by the opening of the Channel Tunnel but also by the construction work.

As he himself will know, the Howden group in Scotland has already benefited considerably from the construction of the Channel Tunnel. The opportunities exist. As for the single European market, Scotland, like every other part of the United Kingdom, must realise that there are opportunities but also that it has to be competitive; otherwise it too will suffer from competition from Europe which it may not have experienced up to now.

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove

My Lords, I welcome the increase in productivity, but I should like to ask whether the Minister can give us a base date to which the figures apply. I gave the base date to which the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, referred in his question about 1979. Surely we are discussing the progress of this Government and that is the date we should take as the base line.

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, it is always easy to choose a base date that would allow one to arrive at the figures one wants to arrive at. I am a fair person and I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, that in Scotland 1986 was not a particularly good year because of matters concerning in particular oil related development. The progress that is now occurring in Scotland is beginning to show the turn around which we have fully expected. I think that if one looks at the figures for Scotland as against those for the United Kingdom for the past year one will see that the trend is very encouraging indeed. It is fully in line with what the Government expect, which is a vibrant Scottish economy.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, can the Minister tell us what has been the impact on the statistics that he has just quoted of the transfer of the long-term unemployed from the unemployed register to social security benefit?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, it is quite clear that all the measures which have been brought forward by the Government to help the long-term unemployed and others have helped in bringing down the figures. However, we are in the business of training and retraining and finding real jobs for real people, which is more than happened in the 1970s.

Lord Gray of Contin

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that if some of those from the other side of the House who are making suggestions about statistics were to use their efforts in trying to persuade their friends in the trade union movement that Mr. Gavin Laird and the AEU were very savagely treated by their colleagues and that they should not have been so treated, there would be 400 potential Ford workers in Dundee who could be looking forward to jobs today?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for mentioning the situation in Dundee. I—like many others oh this side of the House at least—do not applaud those who give standing ovations to people who lose jobs in Dundee rather than gain them. Quite frankly, it is time that we put that sad episode behind us. I am very happy to be able to say that progress in getting real jobs into Dundee is going as well there as anywhere else in Scotland.

Perhaps I may remind my noble friend of a quotation which appealed to me: Skilled workers rightly resent heavy tax burdens". That came from Mr. Ken Livingstone.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, will the noble Lord accept another plea to tell us what the figures were in 1979? I have had his lecture on inflation. Now two people have asked him. Does he know the figures?

Lord Sanderson of Bowden

My Lords, I do not have them to hand but I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord.