Industry and Employment

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th June 1993.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party 12:00 am, 9th June 1993

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met representatives of chambers of commerce to discuss industrial and employment trends in Scotland; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

My ministerial colleagues and I have frequent opportunities to discuss a range of industrial and employment issues with representatives of chambers of commerce and other organisations. I visited Aberdeen chamber last December and Glasgow chamber in February, and I attended the first annual dinner of the Scottish chambers of commerce in Edinburgh at the end of April.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Leader, Scottish National Party

The Secretary of State will know that Aberdeen chamber of commerce, among many other organisations, is concerned about the impact of the oil tax changes that were announced in the Budget. The best estimates are that it could cost 10,000 jobs in the north-east of Scotland. Is it possible to have a straight answer to a straight question from the Secretary of State on this issue? Treasury Ministers have told the House that other Departments were consulted before the tax changes in the Budget. Was the Scottish Office consulted, and if not, why not?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

Consultations on all kinds of aspects of the Budget take place with a number of Departments. As the hon. Gentleman knows, internal consultations within Government are never disclosed. What is clear from the changes proposed to the petroleum revenue tax is that some companies will benefit and some will suffer. What is also clear is that, in the longer term, there is every prospect of improved after-tax cash flow to companies as a result of the reduction in petroleum revenue tax.

I have no doubt that the great success story of offshore exploration, reinforced by re-siting Department of Trade and Industry engineering and exploration jobs in Aberdeen, and reinforced again by the welcome announcement by Conoco only last week of the relocation of 200 jobs to Aberdeen, will continue.

Photo of Mr George Kynoch Mr George Kynoch , Kincardine and Deeside

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the percentage of the working population in Scotland in employment is one of the highest in the European Community, way ahead of that of Germany, France, Italy and Spain? That is most encouraging news, which we never hear from the doom and gloom mongers opposite.

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Only two countries in the European Community have a higher percentage of their population in employment. The encouraging statistics in the north-east of Scotland, where my hon. Friend's constituency is located, reinforce the encouraging prospects we face throughout the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mrs Irene Adams Mrs Irene Adams , Paisley North

The Secretary of State will recall that I have visited his Department on several occasions regarding the industrial devastation that has been wrought on my constituency. The latest casualty is Babcock in Renfrew, where we are to suffer yet another large redundancy, probably of 450 people. That is on top of 500 last month at Rolls-Royce. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), I have continually asked for an initiative in Renfrew district to tackle the industrial problems we face. The Secretary of State has continually refused that. Will he now reconsider the matter?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The hon. lady is being extremely unfair. There have been a number of initiatives in Renfrewshire over the past few years. The establishment of the Renfrewshire enterprise company is a major new initiative to encourage the regeneration of the economy of that area. The hon. lady should draw comfort from the Scottish Chambers' survey which shows optimism up in almost every quarter and in almost every sector of the economy in Scotland.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

In his discussion with chambers of commerce, has the right hon. Gentleman had representations on the importance of maintaining the dockyard at Rosyth, not only in terms of jobs in Fife, but in terms of jobs throughout the Scottish economy? Those jobs include more than half the engineering apprenticeships in Scotland. Given that his predecessor, lord Younger, has said that if the contract for the refitting of the nuclear submarines goes to Devonport, it will be an unacceptable breach of faith, is the right hon. Gentleman prepared to put his job on the line for the jobs of thousands of Scots?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

The hon. Gentleman knows very well where I stand on that issue. I am sure that he is well aware of my involvement in the consideration of these issues within Government. However, as the matter is not yet resolved and not yet decided, I cannot say any more in detail about it today, except to underline to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that I shall lose no opportunity to ensure that every argument in favour of Rosyth is advanced.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Does the Secretary of State accept that that was a miserable reply, as the future of Rosyth is one of the most serious issues that Scotland has faced since the war, and certainly since Ravenscraig? Is he prepared to see 18,000 jobs lost? Is he prepared to see the merchant shipbuilding industry largely lost, along with an important dockyard? Will he, in addition to the right hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) who has some say in this matter, get off his backside and make it clear to the Prime Minister that if Rosyth closes, the Secretary of State is willing to go as well?

Photo of Mr Ian Lang Mr Ian Lang , Galloway and Upper Nithsdale

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman did not listen to my previous answer or to the announcement made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence some weeks ago. He made it clear that there would be two yards regardless of where the Trident refit contract was placed. The Opposition would carry more conviction on this issue if they had not systematically campaigned against our nuclear submarine and had not systematically campaigned for the cancellation of the last Trident submarine. They therefore carry no conviction on the issue whatever.