§ 1. Mr. Donohoe
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise to discuss the Scottish economy.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Ian Lang)
My ministerial colleagues and I frequently meet both the chairman and the chief executive of Scottish Enterprise to discuss a range of economic development and training issues. I last met the chairman last week.
§ Mr. Donohoe
When the right hon. Gentleman met the chairman, did he discuss the Government's intention to cut the training budget of Scottish Enterprise by up to 10 per cent? That cut will mean the loss of £2 million to £3 million from the Ayrshire economy, although it is a part of the country which has already been devastated by high unemployment, not least in south Ayrshire where the mines have already been shut down by policies introduced by the Government. There have been further redundancies this week in my constituency at Amkor Anam—a factory which the Secretary of State visited about two years ago—
§ Mr. Donohoe
Yes, Madam Speaker. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the intended training cuts do not go ahead?
§ Mr. Lang
The hon. Gentleman is premature in his speculation as to the budget next year of Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. He might like to reflect on the fact that the combined budgets of those two bodies have been far in excess of £500 million this year, and that that is a remarkable increase on the paltry resources put in the hands of the old Scottish Development Agency by the last Labour Government.
As for the hon. Gentleman's constituency, of course I regret the loss of jobs at Amkor Anam, which reflects world trading conditions. The hon. Gentleman might like to recognise the good news in his constituency—the arrival of another 125 jobs at SCI and another 50 jobs at Volvo in Irvine. So it is not all bad news.
§ Sir Nicholas Fairbairn
Will my right hon. Friend reflect on the analysis in The Times on 15 October, showing that pay in Scotland is 2 per cent. above the national average 418 and that Scotland is so successful that costs are 2.5 per cent. less, and the average standard of living and quality of life is 4.5 per cent. above, the rates in any other area of Britain, apart from Greater London?
§ Mr. Lang
My hon. and learned Friend is right to draw attention to the quality of life in Scotland and also to its advantages as an industrial location. I would not wish to disguise the fact that Scotland is suffering in the world recession, just as every other modern industrialised economy is suffering, but gross domestic product is at an all-time high, output and exports are close to an all-time high, and we should not lose sight of those facts.
§ Ms. Rachel Squire
Is the Secretary of State for Scotland aware of the high unemployment throughout Scotland and of the desperate need to create jobs and to fill them rapidly? Is he aware that there are parts of Fife where the official unemployment figures are 23.4 per cent? If the right hon. Gentleman is aware of that and is concerned about creating jobs, why does he not tell British Coal to reopen the Frances colliery, to create 1,100 direct jobs and to create and maintain many hundreds more jobs throughout Scotland in manufacturing and engineering?
§ Mr. Lang
I am as keen to see unemployment fall in Scotland as elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Unemployment in Scotland has been rising at half the rate of that elsewhere in the United Kingdom, which reflects the greater strength of the Scottish economy in the past few years. The headline total fell in Scotland by 8,000 last month. I hope that the return of confidence that will follow the recent falls in inflation and interest rates will lead to further employment in Fife and elsewhere in Scotland.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
When the Secretary of State breathtakingly talks about good news, does that not show the complacency that has all too often been this Government's hallmark, particularly in relation to Scotland? Does he not think that he should be explaining that unemployment has risen every month since the election, that even with the fiddled figures, a quarter of a million Scots are unemployed and that, because of the Government's failed economic policies, there are bankruptcies, job losses and repossessions on an unprecedented and unacceptable scale? The party that promised recovery has delivered a major slump.
The Scottish people expect the Secretary of State to display at least a fraction of the commitment to the Scottish economy shown by the Scottish miners lobbying the House today who are committed to jobs and a future for Scotland. The Scottish people expect more from a Secretary of State than they receive from one who merely wrings and washes his hands.
§ Mr. Lang
If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the Government are doing nothing to help the Scottish economy recover, he should consider the establishment of Scottish Enterprise and local enterprise companies all over Scotland. He should recognise the extra resources that are going into the urban programme and the specific area initiatives that we are taking, including the Monklands initiative in his constituency. He should also recognise that, under the Government, inflation has fallen by two thirds in the past two years and interest rates have very nearly halved. Those are the conditions for recovery. That will come with returning confidence and would be helped if the hon. Gentleman did not seek to talk Scotland down.