Orders of the Day — Development Areas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd August 1966.

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Photo of Mr Hector Monro Mr Hector Monro , Dumfriesshire 12:00 am, 2nd August 1966

The hon. Lady the Member for Exeter (Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody) spoke of the South-West and touched on the very important question of transport. I, in company with others on both sides of the Committee, have always said that one of the keys to solving Scotland's problems is transport. The supreme snarl-up the hon. Lady has in Exeter in the summer is now duplicated at Carlisle. One of the greatest difficulties of getting industry, goods and tourists into Scotland is that of getting round Carlisle. Going through it is impossible.

The Government are dragging their feet over the Carlisle by-pass. I should like to be told that the Minister is doing something about this and that development in Scotland will not be hindered. The sooner the Carlisle by-pass is joined up at the southern end of the A74, which is progressing slowly southwards to the Border, the better, and then on to the M.6. The South of Scotland will then be within weekend travelling distance for tourists, which we shall welcome.

I want to speak about the effect of the Government's policies, coupled with the effect of the Selective Employment Tax, on Scotland's economy, and particularly on development areas far from the central belt. These remoter areas lean heavily on service industries. We know how hard hit they will be by the tax. The Minister of State may be thinking that he has heard all this before, but the fact that Scottish Conservative Members have attended and spoken in numbers today is an indication of how important this matter is to Scotland. We are becoming infuriated at the fact that the Scottish Office takes no notice of our protest on matters which are vital to Scotland's future.

The Secretary of State was in Fife ten days ago. He said that he could see a silver lining for Scotland in the measures announced by the Prime Minister. He must be about the only gentleman in Scotland with such devastatingly perceptive eyesight, because nobody else can see it.

It is accepted that the unemployment rate in Scotland is above the national average, and I certainly welcome the fact that it has been falling because of Conservative measures under the Local Employment Acts. Hon. Members opposite have been unfair and wrong to criticise the Acts, which have done a great deal of good in Scotland. There is now a tendency for the unemployment rate to rise.

It would be interesting to know how many of the advance factories announced by the present Government in Scotland have been built and occupied and provided employment since 1964. There was some doubt earlier about whether the President of the Board of Trade was talking about Scotland, or Scotland, England and Wales. I am glad that the Government are to continue our policy of advance factories, including the two new ones announced for my constituency. It still seems that some months will elapse before the first sod is cut. I pay tribute to the officers of the Board of Trade who have been working hard to find a site, but the factories have not yet been built.

This is an area, I am talking of the Sanquhar and Kirkconnel development district, which should certainly have priority and which, with most of Scotland, is to be a development area. Its unemployment rate is still about 10 per cent., a relatively small pocket, but still a high rate of unemployment. It is an area threatened with pit closures and not just the closure of one of several pits, but the closure of the only pit. That is what makes the position so desperately serious, because about 1,000 men will be affected, 60 per cent. of all the men employed in the area. Not only is employment now needed, but if the pit closes, alternative employment for the men concerned will be essential. I hope that the Government will say that there is to be no reduction in the money available to the National Coal Board for the development of pits and no accelerated pit closures resulting from the measures recently announced by the Prime Minister.

But advance factories are not of the slightest use without a tenant. How can we encourage industry to expand into these factories in the middle of a continuing economic crisis? I know that the Scottish Council and the Board of Trade are doing their best to attract tenants to these factories, but if they are to come the climate of expansion must be right. Nobody imagines that starting business in a new factory is anything but expensive, and this is certainly not the time to borrow money for working capital. There is also the natural reserve about the new grants, because the old allowances and free depreciation discounted over seven years were more attractive than the grants.

I am also concerned about the Government's move away from the concept of development districts to that of development areas which will bring in the whole of Scotland, excluding Edinburgh and Leith. I am surprised that we have not had more vociferous attacks on the Government by hon. Members opposite about the exclusion of Leith and Edinburgh.