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Economic Activity

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

8. What assessment he has made of the recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report, “Boosting Jobs and Incomes”, in respect of economic activity levels in Scotland. (80913)

I have discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of subjects. The OECD’s “Boosting Jobs and Incomes” report shows that, for the first time in 50 years, the UK has a higher employment rate and a better combination of unemployment and inactivity rates than any other major industrialised country. The latest labour market statistics show that economic activity in Scotland is at the highest level ever recorded.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that in the not too distant past unemployment was twice its present level, and youth unemployment three times what it is now? Will he and his colleagues continue to do their utmost to ensure that we never ever return to those days?

I am certainly happy to give that assurance. May I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s endeavours to tackle poverty and unemployment in his constituency for many years? He is right to point out that our labour market position is better than it has been in decades. According to the International Labour Organisation unemployment count, unemployment has been cut by a third since 1997, and more than 160,000 people have been helped into jobs in Scotland since 1997 through the new deal, notwithstanding the opposition of Opposition parties.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply to my question. With the upcoming energy review, there is a massive potential for biofuels. INEOS, which took over the BP refinery and chemical plant at Grangemouth, wishes to establish a massive new biochemical production plant, which may be located at Grangemouth if we all work together. Will my right hon. Friend pledge to join the local council, local management and myself to win that huge investment for Scotland, which is good for energy production, good for the environment and good for the Scottish economy?

My hon. Friend makes a number of important points. Of course I am happy to meet him to discuss the economic proposition that he describes for Grangemouth. He is right to recognise the important contributions that biofuels can make to the energy review, which will be published in due course. In the Department for Transport we have also championed the renewable transport fuels obligation, which will see a biofuels mix being added to the petrol served at the pump in the years to come. I believe that in the years ahead of the target that has been set by the Government, there is further scope for biofuels, but we need to recognise that there are continuing challenges in relation to biofuels, one of which is to be able to secure biodiversity at the same time as addressing the environmental challenges that my hon. Friend describes.