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Economic Affairs

Volume 884: debated on Wednesday 22 January 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will publish a White Paper outlining his plans for the Scottish economy in 1975.

I have nothing to add to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars) on 6th November.—[Vo1 880, c. 107.]

Is the Secretary of State aware that there is concern and alarm in Scotland about the almost daily reports of factory closures and extended short-time working? Has he the agreement of the Cabinet to an emergency package of measures if unemployment reaches an unacceptable level in Scotland?

The answer to the first part of the supplementary question is "Yes, I am aware". To the second part of the supplementary question, the answer is "No". The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the plans that we have put forward about the Scottish Development Agency, the legislation for which we hope to get through the House in the present Session of Parliament if certain hon. Members do not obstruct the Government's legislative programme.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems facing the Scottish economy is the lack of public accountability of private industrialists who are not slow to take advantage of public funds, such as Government grants and the regional employment premium and advance factories? Is he aware that in my constituency in the past few months four advance factories have been closed, throwing more than 400 people out of work? What steps does the Secretary of State intend to take to make private industry more accountable to the Scottish work force?

Accountability is one matter which we shall be discussing and hope to cover in the proposed Industry Bill.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the vitally important part that a large number of small businesses play in Scotland's economy and the catastrophic effect on these businesses of the current proposals in the Finance Bill? Will the right hon. Gentleman summon a special meeting of the Scottish Economic Council, of which he is chairman, to discuss this before it is too late and small businesses have all gone under?

On the matter of summoning a special meeting of the Scottish Economic Council, I do not know what the council is because, if the hon. Gentleman remembers rightly, the Conservative Government let it lapse. Things were going so well that the Tories obviously forgot about its existence.

On the point which was raised about small businesses, I appreciate the important part they play in the development of the Scottish economy and I have made it my task to ensure that these firms take the initiative, in terms of expansion. This is one of the tasks which the SDA will be able to perform. We shall have for that purpose an instrument which we have not had hitherto in Scotland. I do not accept all the implications of the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the Finance Bill.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the announcement of new oil platform construction sites is maintaining the pace of oil-related developments in Scotland? Will he see that it is given greater depth when the Prime Minister visits Scotland next month, so that momentum is imparted to the steel and heavy engineering industries?

There is no doubt that industry in Scotland, small and large, is playing a greater part in the opportunities afforded by oil developments. This is one of the most heartening features of the Scottish economy at present. I have seen figures showing that, directly and indirectly, the number of jobs created in this respect is approaching 28,000.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the best ways of curing industrial problems today is to support the call made by the SNP for an easing of restrictions which the Bank of England has imposed on Scottish clearing banks, thus preventing those banks from making available as much resources as they would like to afford to Scottish industry, or is he content to see Scottish industry suffer from credit restrictions and from an economic medicine being administered for an economic illness which does not exist in Scotland?

It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman, in his prepared supplementary question, did not take account of the fact that the Scottish banks have disowned the attitude of the SNP.