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Unemployed Persons

Volume 932: debated on Wednesday 25 May 1977

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what further plans he has for reducing unemployment in Scotland.

I believe the economic policies that we are pursuing offer the best prospects of reducing unemployment. At the same time, we have recently announced the allocation of substantial additional resources to our programme of special employment and training measures designed to limit the impact of unemployment in the coming months. Such measures have already helped more than 54,000 people in Scotland.

Does the Minister realise that whatever measures the Government take they are pouring water into a bucket with a hole in the bottom? Has he any comment to make on the position of Beattie's biscuit factory in Glasgow, which is a subsidiary of Rank Hovis McDougall, because that factory is closing with a loss of 250 jobs? Why did the Government refuse to give temporary employment subsidy to keep that company going?

On the first part of that question, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be as encouraged as I have been by the fact that unemployment fell by 6,000 during the past month. One does not want to jump over the moon about such figures, but a cautious optimism is worth while.

As for Beattie's, that factory has sustained a substantial loss for many years. I have seen the management there and the people concerned, but no application was made to the Scottish Office for temporary employment subsidy. Such an application would have been made to the Department of Employment. We were ready to give any assistance required, but any decision taken must be one of purely commercial judgment for the company itself.

Are the Government yet in a position to give an assessment of Strathclyde Regional Council's prediction that the West of Scotland will lose 70,000 jobs in manufacturing industry between 1976 and 1983?

We have already indicated our response to Strathclyde Regional Council. That is a rather pessimistic outlook, allowing for the fact that we have been doing rather better in the manufacturing sectors and exports. I hope that that will continue.

We appreciate the extension of special development area status to Arbroath, but does not the Minister consider that it should be extended to Brechin, which, as the Minister knows and has fairly acknowledged, will face difficult employment prospects in the months ahead?

I appreciate the hon. Member's concern about Brechin. He and others have spoken to me about it. But no doubt he will also appreciate that with our limited resources we cannot make every area in the country a development area or a special development area. That would negate the fundamental aim of the regional policy and the initiatives that come from it. I hope that the visit that I have promised to Brechin and the work that has already been done will go some way to ameliorate the difficult conditions in that area.

What assessment has the Scottish Office made of the effect on unemployment of the withdrawal of the regional employment premium?

It has been explained to the right hon. Gentleman on numerous occasions that one of the reasons why we decided to withdraw the premium was so that we could spend the resources thereby released on other things, such as increasing the money available to the Scottish Development Agency and the work creation programme.

Will there be a Government statement soon on the proposals now before the Scottish Development Department for a foundry in Central Scotland to serve not only the motor industry but other industries as well?

Any application for a foundry would come to the Scottish Office. My hon. Friend knows that foundry developments have taken place in two major plants in the past year. Any further announcement will be made in the normal way.

Is it not deeply disappointing that after three years of Socialist administration we have the highest ever level of unemployment and no improvement in the seasonal figure for the latest month? Does the hon. Gentleman realise that it is the view of almost all commentators that this situation is due to the Government's policy of knocking the stuffing out of British industry and preventing it from providing more jobs in Scotland? Will he pay some attention to this point?

The hon. Gentleman should bear in mind that most commentators on both sides of industry agree that we are in the midst of an international recession and that conditions in the United Kingdom are little different from those in other parts of the world. The measures that we have put forward recently to improve employment prospects in Scotland, including our proposals for British Leyland, Chrysler and the Scottish Development Agency, have not been supported by the Opposition. Indeed, there has been total opposition from the Conservatives to the initiatives that the Government have taken.