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Unemployment

Volume 114: debated on Wednesday 8 April 1987

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12.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he proposes to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss unemployment in Scotland.

My right hon. and learned Friend met representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 30 January to discuss a wide range of economic issues, including unemployment. I hope to meet representatives of the STUC tomorrow to discuss Caterpillar.

While I welcome the Minister's answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that unemployment is one of the major issues affecting Scotland? In my own constituency of Midlothian unemployment has increased relentlessly since the Government came to office. Does the Minister agree with the statement by the Pope this week that unemployment is evidence of moral disorder?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the rise in unemployment. However, I hope that he, like me, draws comfort from the fact that unemployment fell by about 8,000 in Scotland last month. That is the largest monthly fall for nine years, and if we persist in our economic policies we can look forward to continued falls in the future.

When my hon. Friend meets the Scottish Trades Union Congress, will he discuss with its members the real danger of unemployment among the beef stockmen in the specialist beef sector? Unless action is taken as a matter of urgency to give a fair opportunity to the beef producers of Scotland, we shall see substantial unemployment and a repetition of the Highland clearances.

My hon. Friend who is responsible for those matters will have heard what my hon. Friend said. Certainly we are very keen to see employment maintained in rural areas.

When the Minister meets the STUC about Caterpillar, will he have some specific proposals to put before it? Unless the Minister gives some evidence that the Government are prepared to act directly to save 2 per cent. of Scotland's manufacturing capacity, all the talk about wishing unemployment to drop will be seen as simply pious nonsense.

The meeting is at the request of the STUC. However, I shall take the opportunity to point out that as soon as the sit-in ends and we are able to gain access to the plant, with the Caterpillar management, and complete the profile, we shall be in a better position to try to market the facility around the world and thus to secure employment at the plant.

Will the Minister confirm that one of the ways in which the Government are trying to reduce unemployment is by encouraging health boards to use YTS youths in the hospitals and paying them £27·50 a week, instead of employing further, although cheap, nursing labour? Is he aware that five health boards in Scotland already employ 300 of those youngsters at pittance wages? This is no excuse for treating nurses as scandalously as the present Government are doing.

I have no responsibility for health matters. However, the hon. Gentleman will know as well as I do of the substantial expansion in the nursing population in Scotland. I hope that he, like me, welcomes the opportunity that young people are given by YTS to secure training and work experience and obtain a vocational qualification, and thus a better chance of finding a job after the training is completed.

When my hon. Friend next meets the STUC, will he ask why it supports the introduction of a minimum wage, the abolition of the civil nuclear power programme, the cancellation of Trident and the rating of agricultural land and buildings in line with the Labour party, when that policy will result in 100,000 jobs being lost in Scotland?

My hon. Friend has hit four nails very firmly on the head. He is absolutely right. Almost every one of the Opposition's policies, when carefully analysed, would lead us to a drop rather than an increase in unemployment.