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Economic Activity

Volume 461: debated on Tuesday 12 June 2007

2. What assessment he has made of trends in the level of economic activity in Scotland since the 2005 general election. (140953)

If I may, Mr. Speaker, I shall begin my answer by placing on the record condolences on behalf of the whole House on the passing of the noble Lord Ewing who served the House and Scotland with great distinction.

Since the 2005 general election, output in Scotland’s economy has grown at above the long-term trend rate. In employment terms, economic activity has increased and is now at a record high.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that such growth and stability in the Scottish economy do more for all our constituents in Scotland than constitutional wrangling?

I certainly find myself in agreement with my hon. Friend. Last week, I had the opportunity to visit China, where I met a range of British businesses, including Scottish businesses, which are investing in that expanding economy. When one has the opportunity to meet such business people and discuss with them the challenges facing Scottish business in the global economy, it is perfectly obvious that the economic stability of the past 10 years has provided strong foundations on which to seek new markets, new prosperity and new jobs for Scotland.

On behalf of the Scottish National party, may I associate myself with the comments that the Secretary of State made about the record of public service of Lord Ewing?

Has the Secretary of State read the newly published survey of success by the Federation of Small Businesses that sadly shows Scotland lagging as the worst-performing country in western Europe? I know that the Labour party has just lost political hegemony after 50 years in Scotland, but what responsibility does it accept for this woeful state of affairs? How long will it take for the only party in Scottish politics that as yet holds out against more powers for the Scottish Parliament—the Labour party—to reassess that, join the rest of us and give the Scottish Parliament the powers to improve the economy and society of Scotland?

Notwithstanding that characteristically gracious question, may I pass on my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman on assuming the leadership of the Westminster group of his party? I fear, however, that he will continue to articulate a case of “Scotland the Victim” rather than “Scotland the Brave”. If one actually takes the opportunity to consider the FSB index of success report, one will recognise that Scotland is above Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Iceland, Denmark and Norway in terms of educational attainment. Scotland ranks seventh out of 32 for employment, representing equality of opportunity and how that comes about.

Of course, it is right to recognise that we face a very considerable challenge in terms of life expectancy and public health. Those areas of responsibility touch on the issue of poverty, for which both this House and the Scottish Parliament have responsibility, but I fail to see from the hon. Gentleman’s argument how additional powers would help the Scottish Parliament, given that it has responsibility for health policy in Scotland. If he is concerned about health inequalities in Scotland, he will be better discussing them with the First Minister.

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the sad passing of Harry Ewing, who contributed an enormous amount to my election in 1992 when I defeated Jim Sillars of the SNP—a fact greatly welcomed by all concerned?

Is the Secretary of State aware that unemployment in my constituency has come down by more than 50 per cent. since 1997, but is he also aware that I am still not satisfied? Can he therefore tell us when he will be arranging for there to be an announcement about the orders for the two aircraft carriers?

I know of long standing that my hon. Friend is always proud but not satisfied in relation to employment in his constituency. His constituency is just one of the many constituencies—not just in Glasgow or west central Scotland but across the whole of Scotland—that has seen unemployment tumble in recent years as a direct consequence of the economic stability of which I was just speaking. Of course, much further work needs to be done in Glasgow, and it is the case that Ministry of Defence orders to British shipyards in Scotland have contributed significantly to the employment success that has been achieved in recent years. However, this Government recognise that more needs to be done.

I echo the tributes to Lord Ewing and, in particular, pay tribute to his role as joint chair, along with Lord Steel, of the Scottish Constitutional Convention that delivered many of the changes that Scotland benefits from today.

May I concur with the Secretary of State that many parts of Scotland are performing well and have the potential to develop more strongly? However, for that to happen in places such as the north-east, we need continual investment in infrastructure—for example, the western peripheral route and a commuter rail service between Inverurie and Stonehaven—and a regime for oil, gas and energy that encourages long-term development and investment. For businesses in my constituency, being part of a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom is an overwhelming priority.

Somewhat unusually, I find myself broadly agreeing with the sentiments expressed by the right hon. Gentleman. It is of course the case that we want to see continued investment on the UK continental shelf in the North sea. Although the primary responsibility is with the Scottish Executive, it is also the case that we want to ensure that there is an infrastructure to support sustained economic growth. It is also the case that that has taken place not just on the platform of economic stability but as part of a significant global economy. That is why Scotland has enjoyed such economic success in recent years.