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Regional Aid

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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18.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on current regional aid to industry in Scotland.

The net provision for regional assistance by the Scottish Office in 1987–88 is £120 million.

A recent opinion poll in Scotland suggested that 70 per cent. of Scots do not believe that the Government care, especially about jobs in industry. Does the Minister acknowledge that there has been a dramatic cut in regional development grant over the last few years from a peak of £339 million in 1982–83? Is he also aware of the chronic problems facing some sectors of the Scottish economy and some areas because of the need to restructure their industrial base over the next two or three years? Will he take seriously the problems of industry in Scotland, have discussions with Lord Young of Graffham, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, and come up with an effective regional policy that will start to reduce in number the 330,000 Scots who still languish on the dole queues eight years after the Government were elected?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the dramatic success of the Government's economic policy in reducing unemployment in Scotland by some 55,000 this year. So far as regional assistance is concerned, this party needs no lessons from the Labour party, which slashed the regional assistance budget for Scotland in one year by 46 per cent. when it abolished the regional employment premium.

Will the Minister confirm that it is part of regional policy to attract the head offices of major corporations to Scotland and to maintain in Scotland the head offices of major corporations that are already there? In view of the Government fiasco over Guinness and Distillers, may we have an assurance that the same thing will not happen over Britoil? Is he aware that just a year ago the chief executive of Britoil told Glasgow Members that the company would not welcome a takeover, that it wanted the protection of the so-called golden share for at least five years, and that it was committed to staying in Glasgow? If the BP takeover succeeds, all that will be prejudiced. May we have an assurance that the Government, who can stop this takeover, will stop it?

I was not aware that BP had made a takeover bid for Britoil. It is desirable for company headquarters to remain in Scotland. Sadly, the nationalisation of many fine old Scottish companies took the headquarters of those companies forth of Scotland to the south of England. However, we are now developing the enterprise culture, as a result of which the number of companies in Scotland is expanding rapidly, and those companies will have large headquarters in Scotland in the future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, despite the fact that the standards of living of the Scots are far higher than those of people living in the east midlands, taxpayers in the east midlands, including my constituents, have to pay a huge subsidy to the Scots in the form of regional aid, which is not available to my constituents? Is it not time that Opposition Members stopped whingeing and wrote letters of thanks to my constituents, who are subsidising them?

It is certainly the case that the share of regional assistance going to Scotland has risen from 21 per cent. in 1979 to 31 per cent. of the total, but that reflects the special Scottish circumstances that have made it necessary. We are concerned to achieve value for money for United Kingdom taxpayers—and there, I am sure, I am at one with my hon. Friend.

When will the Minister carry out an investigation into abuses of regional aid in view of the correspondence that I recently sent him on two firms in the Cunninghame district?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a matter that is being closely considered at the moment. I hope to be able to write to him about it shortly.