As I have said on previous occasions, the Scottish economy cannot be insulated entirely from the world recession which has seriously affected almost all industrial countries. The present level of unemployment in Scotland is a matter of grave concern, although the increase in the past year has been well below the average for Great Britain. Sustained economic progress in Scotland, as in the British economy as a whole, will depend on success in the fight against inflation and on achieving satisfactory growth in exports and investment.
Is not the Secretary of State ashamed to be a leading member of the Administration when there are 162,000 unemployed in Scotland? Bearing in mind that the Government's present policies appear to be offering no prospect other than a lot more unemployment when other countries are recovering, does not the right hon. Gentleman have an obligation to Scotland to resign his post and make way for someone who can offer a better prospect to the people of Scotland?
We are faced with a grave situation, but it will not be assisted by that kind of comment. The hon. Gentleman mentioned today's unemployment figure. The unemployment figure quoted in the Press this morning was a count taken on 8th January when 12,100 students from universities and colleges were included. Already most, if not all, of them are back at university or college.
The hon. Gentleman should deal objectively with the facts of the situation. In Scotland there is a leaving date at the end of the Christmas holidays. People know exactly when these holidays fall. The number of school leavers plus adult students amounted to over 22,000.
I do not deny that, even if we dismiss seasonal factors, the figure is serious. The total of unemployed rose by 4,300. That is a serious situation, but if we had taken the advice of Conservative Members, who voted against the Chrysler settlement, that figure would have been up by another 8,000.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the action which the Government have already taken to support the Scottish ecenomy is welcome? Will he accept that it is a developing situation? In view of the pressures on the steel industry and the employment situation in that industry, will my right hon. Friend give an assurance, first, that the agreed dates of closure of plant under the Beswick Report will not be advanced and, secondly, that any change in the long-term manning position in the British steel industry will be taken into account in future employment policies for Scotland?
My hon. Friend knows quite well that I am not the Minister responsible for the steel industry, although that does not mean that I do not have an interest in it. I am certainly concerned about the developing position in the steel industry. Late last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced some measures, but not all the results have yet fed through into the economy. We cannot ignore that we are faced with a difficult situation and that unemployment has implications in policies beyond purely employment policies. Let no one think that we are complacent about it, but let us not be counselled by hysteria, propaganda or panic.
Will the Secretary of State accept that exchanges such as those he has had with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) are of little relevance to Scottish unemployment, which is extremely grave and deteriorating? The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Dr. Bray) spoke about the steel industry. Is the right hon. Gentleman making representations—if, as we are told, he is Scotland's representative in the Cabinet—to ensure that the British Steel Corporation places a fair share of orders with the Scottish steel plants and does not cut them by three times the rate that it has cut orders to plants in the rest of the United Kingdom?
Is it not a fact that there are two areas in England with a higher rate of unemployment than that of Scotland, and that this is not a geographic problem but one of the breakdown of capitalism?
It is no great joy to say that the position in Wales, the North of England or the North-East is worse than that in Scotland. What it demonstrates is the effect upon the Scottish economy of the world recession. It is towards that and towards United Kingdom policies to deal with the whole country that we must bend our minds
Despite the arithmetical gloss that the right hon. Gentleman might try to put on the figures, does he accept that one of the most disturbing features of these figures is the number of young people unemployed? Analysis shows that between 2,500 and 3,000 school leavers have been unemployed since they left school last summer. Putting that fact together with the Euroscot Report from the Scottish Standing Conference of Voluntary Organisations, which demonstrates a very high level of despair among young people in Scotland today, will the right hon. Gentleman say specifically what he is doing for young people, whose problem is the most acute?
The hon. Gentleman is right. The number of unemployed young people in December was 2,900. That compares with nearly 15,000 when we had the last big school-leaving date, which was in August. I remember the posters of Opposition Members: they should now be changing them every week as young people find jobs, because 19 out of 20 of those who left school last summer have found jobs. [HON. MEMBERS: "Some have gone back to school."] They are not all back at school. The number of unemployed school leavers today is less than it was in August, despite the fact that between 16,000 and 18,000 youngsters—I do not have the precise figures—left school at the New Year.
However, we have been producing plans for the employment of young people. Perhaps some of the conditions about how long they have to be unemployed before being eligible for schemes could be looked at again. However, hon. Members should not think that we are complacent about the figure: we are very concerned about it.