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Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:24 pm on 20th April 2004.

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Photo of Mr Calum MacDonald Mr Calum MacDonald Labour, Na h-Eileanan an Iar 5:24 pm, 20th April 2004

It has declined at the same rate in every decade except one since the 1920s. It did not decline in the 1970s, when a Labour Government were in power. That, however, was not a big factor in the change—it was the fact that local government reorganisation led to the setting up of a single-tier local authority and a consequent increase in employment in the islands. The hon. Gentleman is right that there has been a constant decline in the population in the Western Isles and other remote and rural parts of Scotland. In the past, the search for jobs drove people out, but nowadays things are a lot more complicated. In 1987, unemployment was over 20 per cent. in my constituency, but it is now 4.3 per cent., and has never been lower. We are now doing something that was inconceivable 20 years ago—importing immigrant labour. I go to factories in my constituency where Russians, Romanians and Bulgarians are working. I talk to the skippers of fishing boats, who tell me—the west coast industry is in a very different position from that of the Scottish east coast, and is much more prosperous and stable—that they are paying the best wages ever but are still short of people to man their boats, so they have to tap into the east European labour market. The population decline is continuing to some extent, but it is underpinned by different factors are equally serious and in need of remedy.