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Scotland

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th July 1972.

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Photo of Mr Frank McElhone Mr Frank McElhone , Glasgow Gorbals 12:00 am, 27th July 1972

I have had persistent interruptions from the hon. Gentleman in the past, and they are welcome, because he is always wrong, but I should like to continue addressing myself to the Secretary of State.

The right hon. Gentleman underestimates the position in Scotland. He painted a glowing picture today of the Scottish economy, but it was a false picture. Anyone reading his speech in Hansard or in the Press to-morrow will be misled if he does not know the truth of the matter. It is a credit to my hon. Friends, who could have made very emotional, angry speeches, that they contained themselves and made well-researched speeches of factual content. I refer in particular to the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) and South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars). I should like to continue in that vein.

I must refer to the situation in the United Kingdom as a whole, because it is acknowledged that that situation must be extremely healthy before we in Scotland can benefit in a small way. To counteract the false impression of Scotland today given by the Secretary of State, I should like to mention a few figures. If he has read the figures produced by the Central Statistical Office he is probably aware that, while productivity in the United Kingdom as a whole has risen by 7 per cent., investment, certainly in Scotland, is in a very poor way. The figures for overseas trade in the past quarter have taken a sharp down-turn, and public expenditure rose by just under 1 per cent in that period.

What I have to say next relates to Govan Shipbuilders and the position on the Upper Clyde. A distressing feature is that 495,000 gross tons of shipping had been laid up by the end of May. I understand that that is the worst figure since July, 1963. It must be a cause for serious concern, especially in view of the Government investment in Govan Shipbuilders and the position of Scottish shipbuilding as a whole.

The right hon. Gentleman will not be unaware that the position in Scotland is contrary to his glowing picture. This is shown by job availability in other parts of the United Kingdom compared with Scotland. In skilled engineering, of which we in Scotland have an abundance, there are five workers for every vacancy in the country as a whole, but I regret to say that in Scotland we have 28 workers for each vacancy. Whereas there are eight workers for every precision fitter vacancy in the United Kingdom as a whole, we have 56, and that job is the livelihood of many Scots. Where there is an average of 11 labourers for each vacancy in England, we have over 200 men chasing one labouring job in Scotland. I was told yesterday that there are 25 per cent. fewer engineering apprentices being taken on compared with 1969–70. This presents the honest picture which the Secretary of State should have given us today.

We would perhaps be mollified if the Scottish situation for 1973 gave reason for hope. We all recognise that the impact of Government legislation such as VAT, high rents through the Housing (Financial Provisions) (Scotland) Act, which received the Royal Assent today, and the effect of food prices following our entry to the EEC will bear heavily upon the domestic purse. The average worker in Scotland still earns a great deal less than his counterpart in England. The Secretary of State has no doubt read the Finacial Times of 3rd June which carried out a survey of business concerns. We can accept that the Financial Times usually does a realistic type of survey. It said: On the basis of this survey no increase in the number of workers in the private sector can be expected over the next year. Even the situation in 1973 will be as dismal as at present.

I hope the Minister for Industry will not make the same mistake as his predecessor, who said that we had an enormous obsession with unemployment. We confess to that. That has been our predicament for all too long. We are told that the reason for the present situation is cost inflation and the fact that trade unions are pressing wage claim after wage claim. I will not go into all the facts and figures from the Stock Exchange which support my case but it is worth referring to two brief statements from The Times of 24th June when it said: In spite of record unemployment and stagnant or declining industrial production, share prices in the 1971–72 financial year shot ahead, spurred on by the property boom and the 1971 Budget concessions for the rich…The total market value of all securities quoted on the London Stock Exchange in the year ended 30th March, 1972 jumped by 24 per cent. to reach a total level of £149,531 million. For ordinary shares, the increase in the value was no less than 58 per cent. to reach a level of £57,500 million. Even the figures bear out that there has been a substantial increase in dividends and profits.

It is a nonsense to say that the legitimate claims of workers have been the cause of the inflation. In this month's issue of Scotland there is a comment on two years of Tory Government. It is not a very flattering report, and this is by no means a Socialist magazine. It speaks of: …a course of action which if followed fairly quickly, would have enabled the Government to use the strong balance of payments and fairly material goods and currency reserves to buoy up the level of demand. It also says that: The scope for manœuvre was unquestionably available. An opportunity was missed by the Government in 1970 and certainly in 1971. They were eager in the 1970 Budget to give away £350 million to the taxpayers, particularly the corporation tax and surtax payers who had supported them.

There is no point in criticising unless we are prepared to put forward sensible suggestions about what should be done. We do not claim to have the immediate panacea but we on this side have a genuine concern which is absent on the other side of the House. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be present tomorrow when the Industry Bill is dealt with. I would like him to support a Clause which I have tried to insert into the Bill to give executive powers to the industrial regional boards, particularly in Scotland. Anyone reading the Select Committee report in the Glasgow Herald today can see that there is justification for this. The Glasgow Herald says that many millions were spent on regional aid without any real accountability or any knowledge of how the money was spent. The report says: There must be a few areas of Government expenditure in which so much is spent but so little is known about the success of the policy. This is one reason why we in Scotland should have some executive powers to deal with the way in which the money will be spent. The days when the man in Whitehall decided how the money was to be spent in Scotland have gone. I hope that the Secretary of State will be here tomorrow with his junior Ministers to support Opposition Amendments.

I will run through some suggestions which the right hon. Gentleman should be considering along with the Minister for Industry. First, there should be an urgent major investment programme dealing with a number of projects in the nationalised industries. That is a cardinal feature of any plan to deal with the agonising unemployment position in Scotland. There should be a massive injection of public money which would create private investment, because there is a crisis of confidence in the private sector in Scotland and the best way to correct this is for a massive injection of Government funds to give a boost to the private sector. When we consider the amount of money that has been invested in other parts of the world, sometimes Scottish money, we are deeply concerned about the loyalty of Scots to Scotland.

We must have a bold new initiative in the oil industry. We should pay attention to what Sir William McEwan Younger said. It is galling when the Chairman of the Conservative Party in Scotland has to tell it what to do about the Scottish oil industry. Regard must be paid to the plan put forward by Lord Melchett for the Scottish steel industry, also mentioned in the Glasgow Herald today. A strong commitment must be made to the Oceanspan project.

We are deeply concerned about high unemployment among clerical workers in Scotland. The right hon. Gentleman must fight and fight again in the Cabinet to get Government offices to come to Scotland. He should have the reputation of being the Lazarus of the Cabinet. He compares very badly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) when he was Secretary of State. He fought for every £ and every single job.

Perhaps I may make a novel and possibly worthwhile suggestion about the high unemployment among construction and building workers. In Germany there is a useful plan which gives 100 per cent. interest-free loans to enable families to purchase their own homes. That is a highly commendable scheme. We have always accepted the need for public housing but we have also accepted the desire of people to own their own homes. What prevents many people from taking part in this exercise is the difficulty of obtaining the initial deposit and the high interest charges which they must bear. We all know that there is little owner-occupation in Scotland because of the lack of continuity of employment. If the Government would seize the initiative and give 100 per cent. interest-free loans, particularly to people with families, it would encourage many building industry workers to come off the dole and obtain a job.

One could be very emotional and angry about this subject, but it is accepted on this side of the House that the Government are bankrupt of ideas and have an indifferent approach. It is not a question of dogma when we say that the only solution to the dreadful problem of unemployment in Scotland is for the stewardship of this country to be put back in the hands of my right hon. and hon. Friends.