I regularly meet representatives of Scottish business and industry to discuss various matters, including investment.
Recent business surveys show increasing business confidence and positive investment intentions in manufacturing and other sectors of the Scottish economy. I welcome this further evidence of the success of the Government's economic policies.
My right hon. Friend has already referred to the article in The Spectator by Leo McKinstry, the former top Labour party aide. Did my right hon. Friend read his comments regarding Labour's proposal to return business rates to the control of local authorities? He said that under those circumstances business rates would soar. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that proposal, along with the tax raising proposals of a Scottish Parliament which would inevitably bring higher taxation to Scottish business, would mean that inward investment would be driven away from Scotland—in short, that Labour's policies are bad for Scottish business, bad for the Scottish economy and bad for the Scottish people?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. He will be aware that, as a result of the Government's policy, business rates in Scotland have fallen from 76p in the pound to 43p. Only last week I wrote to the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), to which letter I still await a reply, asking him to confirm whether the policy announced for England to abolish capping and to allow local authorities to depart from the uniform business rate, will apply in Scotland. Perhaps he will take the opportunity of this Question Time to make his party's position clear.
The Secretary of State's response to the announcement by Rolls-Royce of its intention to axe 600 highly-skilled jobs smacked of complacency and indifference. Does he agree that Scotland and Lanarkshire cannot afford to lose such jobs? Has he any plans to meet the company to seek a reversal of that decision and, if not, why not?
Of course I regret the fact that Rolls-Royce plc is to shed some 600 jobs, reducing its work force in Scotland to about 4,000. It has carried out major rationalisation programmes in all parts of the United Kingdom, and I am sure that it is in its long-term interests to face, in a sensible and realistic way, the commercial decisions that it must make.
I invite the hon. Gentleman to join me in welcoming the fact that, last month alone, unemployment in Scotland fell by 4,500 jobs. In the past seven years, unemployment in East Kilbride has fallen by 2,300 jobs, and unemployment in Scotland is now down to 8.5 per cent. It is falling month by month, and remains lower than unemployment in the rest of the United Kingdom.
When will the Conservative party stop telling lies about Labour's proposals for a Scottish Parliament? We have met business people and put our views to them; it has been accepted that there will be no change in corporate taxation, in the framework of financial regulation or in banking regulation. Does not the Conservatives' peddling of crude nationalism damage Scottish business? Do not they realise that decentralisation and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament will stimulate investment in Scottish industry, and do something for the 2,000-odd unemployed people whom the Government have put on the scrap heap?
I note that the hon. Gentleman asked that question, rather than his hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), whom I invited to answer a question that I had asked him in writing. I also note that, in his long diatribe, the hon. Gentleman did not answer the specific points that I put to him. Will the Labour party abolish the uniform business rate in Scotland? Will it abolish capping? Will it allow business rates to run riot as they did in the past, and will it impose high income tax rates on the people of Scotland through a Scottish Parliament? If the Labour party does that, it will drive away business and drive up unemployment.
When he meets business leaders, does my right hon. Friend encounter any enthusiasm for a national minimum wage or the adoption of the social chapter? Does he agree that the business community realises that, while Labour may promise to freeze corporation tax, that would merely mean a tax-raising assembly having to increase the burden of taxation on individuals in business?
My hon. Friend is right. I have found no enthusiasm whatever in the business community for either the social chapter or the minimum wage—or, indeed, for the Scottish Parliament itself. Business men who are realistic and live in the real world are well aware of the huge burdens that it would impose on Scotland, making it the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom and driving away both inward and existing investment.