Orders of the Day — Scottish Development Agency Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:31 am on 21st October 1987.

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Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling , Edinburgh Central 2:31 am, 21st October 1987

Until about an hour ago the House was discussing the economy of Scotland, and the Scottish Development Agency in particular. It is a matter of particular regret that a Minister has tried to stop that debate.

I think that I speak for all Opposition Members when I say that we should have been happy to go through the night, if necessary, to discuss the problems facing Scotland. Conservative Members obviously do not want to discuss the economic problems of Scotland; indeed, they do not even want to discuss the motion to close the debate. There is a simple answer for them: they can go home—just as they have been sent home in Scotland.

I said that I think that I speak for all Opposition Members, but I am not sure about the tartan threesome, because they seem to be content to trade gratuitous insults and attack the Labour party instead of attacking the Government. It is no wonder that the SNP is Scotland's fourth party and is even behind the alliance.

If the debate had been allowed to run its course, I, as the hon. Member representing the constituency in which the headquarters of the SDA is sited, would have developed the theme touched on by the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), who mentioned that the problems facing Scotland involved not only the firms that the SDA could or could not help, but the major structural problems in our country. He cited the failure of Guinness to move its headquarters to Scotland, despite the promises made to the Government and the Scottish people.

My constituency would have benefited from the jobs created by the establishment of the Guinness headquarters in Scotland, and the rest of Edinburgh and Scotland would have benefited because Guinness would have been a magnet to draw many other firms away from the cosy insularity of the south-east of England. Until the lopsided nature of the British economy is addressed by the Government and the work of the SDA and other Government action is directed to taking some of the heat from the economy in the south-east, the structural problems that afflict Edinburgh and Scotland generally will endure. That problem was not addressed in the debate, but if it had been allowed to continue Labour Members would have addressed the issue.

It is ironic that the closure motion was moved by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). The Minister of State made the valid point that public cash creates jobs, but the hon. Member for Stirling and many other Conservative Members do not agree with that philosophy. The hon. Member for Stirling sat and said nothing, but I think that there is one element of the SDA's recent conduct with which he does agree, and that is the disgraceful decision by the Scottish Development Agency to lend a large sum of public money for the building of a private hospital in Clydebank.

The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh is beginning to crumble because of lack of investment and has identifed £6·8 million worth of work that needs to be carried out to bring it up to modern standards. Despite that, it has been allocated only £400,000. The hospital is in my constituency, and had the debate been allowed to develop I would have made the point that if so much public money is available for a private hospital, surely it could be made available to build a valuable teaching hospital within the National Health Service.

The Minister said that when the Scottish Development Agency was set up he saw it as being an instrument of change and, more importantly, a creator of the image of Scotland. I would have liked to make the point that the image of Scotland is not one of profiting from providing medicine but one of providing medicine on the basis of need. That aspect of the conduct of the Scottish Development Agency ought to be debated, and I am sure that it would have been explored at great length if the debate had been allowed to run its course.

It is necessary for the House to discuss the Scottish economy and not just the role of the Scottish Development Agency. Many points could have been developed in the debate. We also need to discuss the structural problems that face Scotland. The hon. Member for Stirling said that we are to be offered a debate next week.