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Scottish Trades Union Congress (Meeting)

Volume 887: debated on Wednesday 5 March 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the meeting between members of the STUC and the Prime Minister and himself on 27th–28th February.

Both parties to the meeting agreed that it provided a most valuable opportunity for wide-ranging discussion of matters vital to the Scottish economy. In recognition of its success, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has proposed that the meeting should be repeated at annual intervals.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's reply, but is he aware that Lord Beswick appears to think that Hunterston is near the Arctic Circle? Following the talks, he stated that there was a shortage of houses and social amenities in the area. Did not my right hon. Friend inform the noble Lord that Hunterston was within nine miles of Irvine new town, which is building one of the most modern shopping centres in Western Europe and is committed to building houses for incoming steel workers? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Cunninghame District Council, which is the local authority in that area, is committed to building houses for incoming steel workers? Will my right hon. Friend remind Lord Beswick that there are only two niggers in the woodpile, of which he is one, because he has prevented the construction of a motorway to improve the road system around Hunterston. The other is his right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport, who has allowed British Railways to lift up tracks one after another in this important development area, so making impossible the provision of adequate railway services. Will my right hon. Friend do something? We are fed up with saying this.

My hon. Friend should be careful what he says. I attended the Press conference at which Lord Beswick spoke. My hon. Friend has attributed words to Lord Beswick that were never uttered.

They were uttered by a journalist from the South. I asked him whether he thought that Hunterston was in a remote Highland area and made the point that my hon. Friend has just made.

As unemployment must clearly have been on the agenda at this meeting, what indication did the Secretary of State give of when the unfortunate trend of unemployment in Scotland is likely to reverse and the figures to start coming down? As the visit was regarded by many people as a bit of a washout, what was its cost to the taxpayer?

I cannot answer the last part of the supplementary question without notice. If the hon. Gentleman had been at the meeting he would have heard that the discussion on employment was on a constructive basis and was concerned with what could be done. The STUC recognised that the rise in unemployment in recent months was not the Government's responsibility but resulted from past conditions and from the present world position. Understanding was expressed of the Government's policies. I hope that we shall be able to pass those policies through the House with the help of everyone concerned as quickly as possible, particularly the establishment of the Scottish Development Agency.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that what was discussed in Glasgow last weekend is of vital importance to all of us? We should all like to have taken part in the discussion. Will he arrange for the matter to be debated in the House? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that he is not blinded by the promises from Hunterston and remember that retaining the finishing mills of DL and Clyde Alloy is of equal importance with looking after our steel making capacity?

I assure my hon. Friend that these matters were discussed and that everyone was aware of all the facets of the Hunterston development and the steel industry. I regret that my hon. Friend was not there, and I am sure he will be the first to appreciate that it was right for us to discuss these matters with the people who are responsible for industry and are familiar with the industrial situation. We also wish to see re-investment, real growth and modernisation in the Scottish economy.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the report in the Daily Record that the Scottish Assembly is intended to have some tax-raising power and control over trade and industry is correct?

The hon. Gentleman had better wait until we come to our final decision. What has been said and repeated is that the paper on devolution put forward by the STUC for discussion is one of the best we have seen, and certainly much better than the one put forward by the hon. Gentleman.