Unemployment

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 5 February 1997.

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Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South 1:47, 5 February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the level of unemployment in Scotland. [12890]

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Unemployment in Scotland has fallen to 7.4 per cent. and has fallen by 10,000 in the past two months.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, and for the fact that unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 71,200 since December 1992. [HON. MEMBERS: "Fiddled figures."] Does he agree that the rate of unemployment, at 7.4 per cent., is lower than that in Germany, France, Italy and Spain—[Interruption.]—all of which follow the economic policies put forward by the Opposition? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that the only hope for continued reductions in unemployment is the re-election of a Conservative Government?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not know whether he noticed, but he was being barracked throughout his question by Opposition Members who, on this occasion, seem to have seated themselves as far away from the Opposition Front Bench as they can. I do not know whether that is symbolic. Opposition Members were shouting. "Fiddled figures." When unemployment in Scotland was increasing, Opposition Members were happy to quote the figures time after time, and they accepted them; but, now that we have a success story with falling unemployment, they do not want to acknowledge it. That is the kind of commitment that Labour has to Scotland—a commitment to decline, which we in government have reversed.

Photo of David Marshall David Marshall , Glasgow Shettleston

Is the Secretary of State not ashamed by the unacceptably high levels of unemployment and poverty in Glasgow? By how much would the 11 Glasgow constituencies have benefited in total if they had received the same preferential treatment pro rata as the constituencies of his fellow Tory Members, especially his own constituency of Stirling?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

If we are talking about public expenditure and the constituencies were funded on the same basis as those of my hon. Friends, there would be a reduction. The hon. Gentleman surely recognises the transformation that has been brought about in Glasgow as a result of a partnership between the Government and local authorities, and I pay tribute to all concerned. I agree that there are areas in Glasgow—and elsewhere in Scotland—where unemployment is far too high. There are a number of proposals to achieve a reduction in unemployment and to encourage investment in Glasgow. I will happily work with anyone from any party who wishes to achieve that purpose.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith , Chingford

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is ironic that the parties that claim to want to reduce unemployment want at the same time to impose a new tax on the Scots? Labour also talks about running headlong into Europe, but when it shares out the oil as a common resource after it has committed itself to do so, it might well share Spain's unemployment rate of 23 per cent. Does he not find that ironic also?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I agree with my hon. Friend. The only jobs that a Labour Government would create in Scotland would be jobs for the boys in their Parliament on Calton hill. [HON. MEMBERS: "And the girls."] That is right, because Labour would impose a gender balance quota on that Parliament. We still have to hear from the shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), where the money will come from to pay for that Parliament—more than £70 million in the first year. If there is to be no increase in the overall Budget, the money will presumably come out of the health service or local government.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

Has any of the Scottish Office team visited any of the project work pilots in Hull or Maidstone to see exactly what the scheme to be foisted on Scotland consists of? If any Minister has done so, could he tell us exactly what benefit Scotland will receive from the scheme?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

The hon. Gentleman should know that there has been some marvellous development work in Glasgow, for example, where we have had schemes in which the long-term unemployed have been encouraged to carry out work that is useful to the community, and have received payment for doing so. These projects have been built on and developed.

The hon. Gentleman will recall that—during a period of absence from the Scottish Office—I was an Employment Minister, and I have seen for myself some of these projects. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman—or certainly new Labour—will welcome the Government's commitment to ensuring that people who have been on unemployment benefit for many years are given the opportunity to work and to make a contribution to the community, and that he will therefore welcome and support the pilots.

Photo of Mr Phil Gallie Mr Phil Gallie , Ayr

Is my right hon. Friend aware that unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 35 per cent. in the past five years? Will he take on board the words of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg)—whom we all respect—and look at the money that is to be spent on the A80? Considering the opposition that is coming from north Lanarkshire, would not that money be better spent on the A70 in Ayrshire? Such a move would increase the employment prospects in my constituency and those of other Ayrshire Members.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

Perhaps I could add to the discomfort of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth by paying a tribute to him as well. He is an excellent Member of the House. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie) know that, where lines of route have been proposed for the roads, if there are a sufficient number of objections, a public local inquiry has to be held to resolve them.

I welcome, and acknowledge, my hon. Friend's continuing lobbying for the interests of his constituents. No sooner than we have delivered on one of his proposals than he appears with another, which is why I am sure his constituents will return him as their Member of Parliament, not just at the next general election but for many years to come, particularly if they contrast his behaviour with the way in which the other Members who represent Ayrshire constituencies behave in this Chamber on these occasions.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , Linlithgow

What does the Secretary of State say to worried officials of the Scottish Office who read in the newspapers that they are likely to be faced with redundancy?

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

They should do as I do, which is not believe everything they read in the newspapers.

Photo of Mr Allan Stewart Mr Allan Stewart , East Renfrewshire

Is my right hon. Friend aware that unemployment in my constituency of Eastwood has been falling very sharply and is a great deal lower than it was five years ago, because of the excellence of the Government's policies in Scotland, including the important policy of controlling the level of business rates, especially for small business men? What would happen if a Scottish Parliament threw that policy out of the window, business rates went into the stratosphere and the Scottish Parliament also imposed a tartan tax, about which Opposition Members are enthusiastic? If they were elected, they would not pay that tax, because they work in England.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

My hon. Friend may have stumbled on something. Perhaps it is the fact that Members of Parliament would not have to pay the tartan tax that makes some of them so keen on voting for it, or at least having an opportunity to do so. I agree that the effects of putting us back to the bad old days, when Labour councils discriminated against Scottish business through the business rate, would be disastrous for jobs and for those people who are struggling to run small shops and corner shops and who are already facing difficulties because of competition because of changes in shopping patterns.

When Labour in local government says that it wishes to broaden the tax base so that it is not so dependent on central Government, that means introducing new taxes—it is a bed tax and a tax on business. As a Scottish Parliament, if it were established, would be 97 per cent. funded by revenues determined here, why would the same arguments not apply to such a parliament? Of course they would, and it would mean raising the tartan tax well beyond the 15 per cent. extra that is planned and promised by Labour at present.

Photo of John McFall John McFall , Dumbarton

Why is there no commitment to reducing youth unemployment? The Secretary of State is aware that each of the 50,000 unemployed under-25s costs the taxpayer almost £8,000 a year. Would it not be better for Scotland's economic and employment future to have policies like the Labour party's, to get a quarter of a million young people in the entire country off the dole? After the Government's 18 years of neglect, is not the true message that Tory policies have left 50,000 young people with no jobs, no hope and no future? That can be remedied only by the election of a Labour Government.

Photo of Mr Michael Forsyth Mr Michael Forsyth , Stirling

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has noticed, but youth unemployment has been falling. He asks why we have no proposals, but we have a proposal—we have got skills vouchers, worth between £3,000 and £8,500, which are offered to every 16-year-old so that they can choose the training that they wish. The Labour party cannot stand vouchers and the idea that youngsters should be able to buy the training that they require.

What is happening in the countries that have adopted the social chapter and the minimum wage—policies of the Labour party? Those are the countries where youth unemployment is going through the stratosphere. That is the generation that has been betrayed by socialism, and that is what the hon. Gentleman would do to Scotland.