§ 12. Mr. Macdonald
To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on levels of unemployment in the west highlands and islands.
§ Mr. Stewart
The latest unemployment statistics indicate that the downward trend in unemployment in the highlands and islands enterprise area is continuing and has indeed fallen in seven of the past 12 months. In the western isles, the fall in unemployment over the past year exceeds the Scottish average.
§ Mr. Macdonald
The Minister will know that tackling unemployment in the highlands and islands requires good transport links, particularly for island constituencies and islands such as Barra in my constituency. Many islanders work on the mainland and in the offshore oil industry. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are continuing to monitor the Loganair service between Barra and Glasgow? That service is continuing to cause concern. Does the Minister agree that the bottom line is that that service must be at least as reliable or as good as the previous service?
§ Mr. Stewart
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of that service. Indeed, he has made strong representations to the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton), on behalf of the local community about the reliability of the Glasgow-Tiree-Barra service. I confirm that my hon. Friend and his civil servants are in close touch with the company as a matter of urgency. I am aware that Loganair is working hard on measures to improve reliability. As for the bottom line, I give the hon. Gentleman the absolute assurance that the Government agree fully with him.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy
Will the Minister confirm the crucial contribution that the oil-related fabrication 888 industry makes to employment prospects throughout the west highlands and islands? In that context, will he redouble Scottish Office efforts and Department of Trade and Industry pressure on the European Commission, following this week's merger of Highlands Fabricators at Nigg with McDermotts at Ardersier, to ensure that we have a level playing field for fabrication contracts within the single European market? Many of us still believe that the unfair competitive practices in other EU member states are not being adequately policed by the Commission.
§ Mr. Stewart
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman, first, on the importance of the industry to the part of the country that he represents and, secondly, on the crucial importance of maintaining pressure on the Commission to ensure the level playing field to which he refers.