Orders of the Day — Scottish Development Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:33 pm on 21st October 1987.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Donald Dewar Donald Dewar , Glasgow Garscadden 11:33 pm, 21st October 1987

Was ever an hon. Member tempted thus? However, I have to weigh carefully not only whether I would be good for the Select Committee, but whether the hon. Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) would be good for the Committee—which may be a more difficult matter. I know that he made his intervention seriously and I take it up. I have seen stories in the papers in which the hon. Gentleman and, I think, the hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) have made it clear that they would never serve on the Committee. Labour Members were genuinely sorry to see those statements. If the hon. Member for Tayside, North is saying that in certain circumstances he might reconsider his position, that might encourage his hon. Friends to advance the setting up of the Select Committee, and that would be a good thing.

But I am being distracted,. I was about to say that back in 1980 the Select Committee carried out a lengthy inquiry into the attraction of investment into Scotland. It is a matter of peculiar interest, because I constantly hear from Scottish Ministers, including the Under-Secretary who opened the debate, much praise for Locate in Scotland. I endorse that praise; the agency has done well and has showed imagination and been successful, often in a highly competitive market.

However, I find it extraordinary — I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will at least understand my puzzlement even if it may not be professionally proper for you to share it—that Conservative Members should be so enthusiastic about Locate in Scotland when they were so hostile to its birth.

I was chairman of the Select Committee during its investment inquiry and a chairman's report emerged under my name. It gave heavy and proper emphasis to the opportunities for marketing Scotland and the importance of preserving the independent offices of the SDA, especially in north America. It became a matter of very great contention and the Conservative majority on that Committee threw out that Chairman's report and substituted its own. The report was finally adopted by a majority vote of the Committee and it argued that there should be no independent attempt to market Scotland abroad, that the independent offices of the Scottish Development Agency should be closed, and that every effort should be made to merge Scotland's interests in something called an "Invest in Britain" bureau.

Perhaps I could give a hint of the summary by reading from part of it to give hon. Members a taste of it. It says: Abroad, a separate Scottish effort alongside the FCO network would result in duplication of effort and would confuse potential investors. It went on bravely to argue that one might second Scots into appropriate consulates on a temporary basis to give a little bit of expertise to the British selling effort.

That report ran totally counter to the independent selling of Scotland abroad and totally counter to the whole spirit of Locate in Scotland. That was forced upon us by the Conservative majority led by the hon. Member for Eastwood who moved the amendment and in turn, although passingly, became Scotland's Minister for Industry. He was loyally supported, I am sure with total sincerity, by the present Minister for Industry, the hon. Member for Galloway and Upper Nithsdale (Mr. Lang). I do not know whether he is now in sackcloth and ashes and penitent, but I find his praise for Locate in Scotland and his pride in that institution just a little hypocritical, given the extent to which he fought against its founding. That is a cautionary tale because it illustrates the true colours flown by the Minister, despite the presentational exercise carried out by his Department. We are entitled to be sceptical about his bona fides.

I could be tempted to say a few words about the general economic climate in Scotland because it fully justifies anxiety. There is no doubt that many storm signals are still flying. I welcome any improvement in the unemployment figures and the Minister will rightly point to some decline in recent months. When he looks at our industrial base he will agree that there has been a great loss in manufacturing jobs. That was tellingly and effectively dealt with by the director-general of the CBI in a recent speech in Glasgow. When the Minister looks at the problems that we face in many sectors he will understand my concern. In expressing that concern I am echoing what is felt by many people throughout Scotland.

The important thing is to try to improve that situation. I hope that the Minister will think again about the way in which the Scottish Development Agency has been dealt with in recent years. I recognise that he has doubts about the tradition of intervention and about the role of public investment. But if he looks at the considered judgment contained in the report of his own review group set up by the Secretary of State when the SDA was under pressure from the Treasury—there may be some credit there for the Scottish Office—he will see that it contains a strong recommendation for the kind of work carried out by the agency. Paragraph 2.28 says: The Agency has had a substantial and positive impact on Scotland's economy and environment. On balance, we are satisfied that over the first ten years of its existence the Agency has borne out the expectations that considerable benefits would flow from such a body in Scotland. The hon. Member for Darlington, who has great expertise in this matter, will agree that there is great interest in the north of England in the development agency model. It is a cliché to say that imitation is the best form of flattery, but I do not regard it that way. It is good that the model that we have pioneered in Scotland should now get such sympathetic consideration in other parts of the country which also suffer from Britain's metropolitan obsession and where structural difficulties are very apparent and the unemployment so scarring.

There is an enormous amount of work to be done and that is why we decided to raise these issues in the debate and decided not artificially to foreshorten discussion. We have done it because we feel strongly that we cannot be satisfied by the Government's record and have every reason for pressing and pressing again and returning again and again to the themes and the crisis which is undoubtedly a major cause for worry in the everyday lives of Scots in every part of the country.