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Employment

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 November 1977

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3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the success of Government measures to reduce unemployment in Scotland.

More than 52,000 persons are currently benefiting from the various employment protection and creation measures introduced by the Government in Scotland.

It is welcome that 52,000 persons should be benefiting in this way, but will not the Government give a St. Andrew's Day present to the Scottish Development Agency and meet its request that it should share in the oil revenue to aid development in Scotland?

The agency will have a significantly improved budget next year, and will have much more than it has spent in the past year. It will have more than £80 million, which is a considerable sum of money.

May we have an assurance that the Government are still doing everything possible to find a speedy solution to the unemployment problem at Scottish Timber Products? Will the Minister condemn the SNP, which last night voted against financial assistance for an English mill which will help to provide jobs for Scottish forestry workers, and condemn the cynical opportunism—

Order. Questions must be addressed to the Minister only on matters for which he is responsible.

Order. I have just explained to the hon. Gentleman that the Minister is not responsible for how others vote.

I am glad that you said that, Mr. Speaker, because I should not like to be held responsible for the completely cynical behaviour of the SNP during last night's debate.

On my hon. Friend's specific question, yes, we are making every effort to find a solution to this difficult problem, and I hope that we shall do so.

Does the Minister agree that the latest figures show that there are now 15 unemployed Scots for every vacancy and that in some areas the figures are worse? Can he give an assurance that there will be no cut-back on the major new steel investment programme which is needed to revive Scotland's steel industry?

The problems in the steel industry are not just in Scotland or the United Kingdom, but world-wide. One of the things that the Government wish to preserve in this difficult situation is a large forward investment programme, and we intend to do that.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what recent discussions he has had with the Scottish CBI and Scottish TUC relating to unemployment and if he will make a statement.

I have had no formal discussions this month either with the Scottish Section of the CBI or the STUC about unemployment. But I am always willing to consider requests from these bodies for discussions on any topics within my sphere of responsibility.

This is a serious situation. Will the right hon. Gentleman consider with his right hon. Friends the possibility of reconsidering the differentials of the Government's incentives for special development areas? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that where there is really high unemployment of 14 per cent., 15 per cent., or more, such areas should receive rather more and specially favoured areas rather less, which would keep Government expenditure at the same level?

There has always been a case for having larger differentials. I remember arguing that when the House was considering what is now the Industry Act 1972, when the differentials were introduced. However, there is much to be said—this must be the dominant consideration at present—for maintaining some certainty in regional policy. I do not see that there is any prospect of a change in the differentials in the near future. What we have done recently is to bring more areas—for example, Cumnock and Dundee—into the special development area category.