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Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will take further action to reduce unemployment in Scotland.

Our first priority is to reduce inflation and establish a sound economy in which industry will be encouraged to expand and to create secure jobs. The measures announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 26 March will make a further contribution to this objetcive.

In the light of the deterioration since the Government's first Budget, with the dramatic drop in the rise in the number of people in employment, the increase in the long-term unemployed and the decrease in the number of vacancies, is there anything in the Budget to which the Minister can specifically allude that will benefit Scotland?

I understand that the hon. Gentleman taught economics before coming to the House. He will therefore know that the difficulties experienced in Scotland at the moment in employment are a direct result of the policies of the previous Labour Government 18 months or 2 years ago.

On the particular points that the hon. Gentleman makes, there are many items in the Budget that will be helpful towards creating new jobs in Scotland. Tax changes and incentives to invest and the way that these have been accepted by industry mean that the Budget is a good omen for the future.

Will the Minister accept that his reply to the hon. Gentleman was one of the best pieces of party political codswallop for a long time? In view of the fact that unemployment is increasing in Scotland startlingly and that Scotland will not receive any share of oil resources lying off the coast in terms of budgetary revenue, will the Minister say how the Government intend to reduce unemployment in Scotland? Will he give a simple answer—how?

Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, is enjoying the benefits of North Sea oil. About 60,000 to 70,000 jobs in Scotland are a direct result of North Sea oil. Jobs are still being lost in Scotland as a result of the previous Government's indiscriminate support for industry without regard to viability. The hon. Gentleman should know that in his area of Dundee and elsewhere new jobs are being created as industry expands with the incentives provided in the Budget.

Since the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill) asked my hon. Friend to point to one thing in the Budget that would help cut unemployment in Scotland, will my hon. Friend remind him that there were no fewer than 15 proposals to help small businesses in Scotland? These could make a massive contribution to cutting unemployment in Scotland. If he wanted another, what about the enterprise zone in Clydeside?

My hon. Friend is correct. The Budget is the most remarkable and the best in many years for small businesses and investment.

Order. I shall call one further hon. Member from either side before the Front Bench, but we shall have to move quicker afterwards.

Did the Minister check, before answering that question, the speech made yesterday by his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry, one of the most gloom-laden speeches this House has ever experienced? Is the hon. Gentleman saying to the people of Scotland, as a result of the Budget, that there will be almost ¼ million unemployed in Scotland as a consequence of his Government's policy? Is that what he is telling the people of Scotland?

We are telling the people of Scotland that our first priority is to reduce the rate of inflation without which there can be no prospect for jobs in Scotland or anywhere else.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that few things could be more damaging to the prospects for employment in Scotland than the serious threat of a Scottish Assembly with economic interventionist powers as proposed at the last Scottish Labour Party conference? Is it not just as well that wild-eyed, bearded fanatics who dominated that conference have no influence with either the Shadow Cabinet or the Parliamentary Labour Party?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. The Gentleman to whom he referred is equally lacking in influence in this place.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman so complacent about unemployment? Why does he not answer the question about the projected rise in unemployment for next year? Is it not now inevitable, given the current rate of inflation and the Government's disastrous economic policies, that by this time next year we shall have no fewer than 250,000 unemployed in Scotland? That will take us back to the conditions which obtained in the 1930s.

We have never shirked the fact that unemployment in Scotland is at present on a rising trend. None of us knows what figures might be reached before economic circumstances improve. But the right hon. Gentleman will know that when his party took office unemployment stood at half the level it had reached when his party left office. We are starting with the high level we inherited and we intend to reduce that level over the next few years.

Order. I hesitate to say it, but Scots questions are getting as long as Welsh questions.