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Secretary Of State For Economic Affairs (Scotland)

Volume 763: debated on Thursday 2 May 1968

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asked the Prime Minister if he will define the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs in Scotland.

I would refer the hon. Member to the Answer I gave on 7th December, 1967, to a Question by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. G. Campbell).—[Vol. 755, c. 1660.]

While the National Plan has been decently buried, the corpse of the Scottish Plan is still laid out in a back room of the Scottish Office. Since the Secretary of State for Economic Affairs has precious little else to do, could he not pay a visit to Edinburgh in order to put this stinking document beneath the sod?

The hon. Gentleman must be responsible for his own choice of elegant language. He will doubtless be aware of the special responsibility of the Secretary of State for Scotland in all matters affecting economic co-ordination in Scotland, and perhaps he can find suitable adjectives to describe not only the effective assistance by the Government to industry in Scotland last year, which, exclusive of the Regional Employment Premium, was about £42 million—an all-time record figure—while the annual rate for the Regional Employment Premium itself is about £40 million.

The hon. Gentleman will also no doubt find language to express pleasure in the fact that the latest unemployment figures in Scotland are lower than in any single month in 1963, when his party had been in office for 12 years.

While my right hon. Friend is thinking of this matter, will he again take a look at the responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the fact that all the power is concentrated in London? Does he think this a good way of running the affairs of the country today?

The problems of the right division of functions between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and other Ministers is always being considered, but I should have thought that it would be regarded as right for Scotland that the Secretary of State for Scotland should have these very wide-ranging functions. I think that it has been the view of the majority of right hon. and hon. Members, from all parties, that, in certain aspects of economic affairs—for example, the Board of Trade being responsible for the industry of Britain as a whole—it is a great advantage to Scotland to have this done on a United Kingdom basis.

Is the Prime Minister aware, with reference to a previous remark of his, that flying a flag upside down is a well-known signal of distress? Is he aware that there is considerable distress in Scotland over the application of economic policies which may or may not make sense in the south of England, where the economy is over-heated, but which do not suit the Scottish situation? Will he look seriously at the possibility of strengthening the economic side of the Scottish Office and also providing Scottish Members with more statistics about the situation in Scotland, which differs from that in England?

Those who were flying the flag upside down showed anything but distress and were singularly unaware that it was upside down.

On the broader issues, one must judge these matters by the increasing help being given to industrial development in Scotland and by such revolutionary and at one time controversial proposals as the Highlands and Islands Development Board, which is now getting into its stride and is providing help for a part of Scotland which had been neglected for generations before it was established. The Government are by no means satisfied and I accept, as I have said many times, the economic necessity for Britain as well as for Scotland itself of narrowing the differentials in unemployment and economic prosperity between Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, from practical experience, I consider that the Department in Scotland having one Minister provides all the advantages which he is now seeking to achieve by co-ordinating the social services in England, and that it has been a great success, because multi-Ministers lead to multi-arguments and a waste of time in Scotland?

As the previous Answer in December to me which was referred to was extremely uninformative, and, as the Prime Minister has since then relinquished his responsibility in this sphere of activity, will he now make a statement about the divisions between Ministers as they are now?

I have not relinquished my general responsibility for economic affairs, which is the duty of every Prime Minister, and, in particular, the very keen interest that I have taken from the moment that we came into office in problems of regional development, including those in Scotland and Wales. Following the change referred to by the hon. Gentleman, there is no difference in the relations between the Department of Economic Affairs and the Department of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.