Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 7th June 2005.

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Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons) 2:30 pm, 7th June 2005

If he will make a statement on the performance of the Scottish economy by comparison with the English economy.

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Both the Scottish and English economies continue to benefit from the stability delivered by the Government. We are currently benefiting from the longest period of sustained low inflation since the 1960s. Interest rates remain low, and strong labour market policies have boosted employment across the UK.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Opposition Whip (Commons)

What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the effect on Scottish business of higher business rates north of the border? Does he think that those might have contributed in any way to the fact that Scotland's gross domestic product grew by more than 1 per cent. less last year than the United Kingdom's as a whole?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

The Scottish economy is growing well. The Scottish Executive has taken a number of steps to reduce the impact of business rates to make sure that they protect businesses as far as possible. I remind the hon. Gentleman—I am not sure how detailed his studies of the Scottish economy are—that all current business surveys are optimistic that Scotland's economic growth will continue and that Scotland has a higher employment rate than any other European Union country bar Denmark, and higher than in England. That shows that the Scottish economy is strong. Of course, other measures need to be taken to continue that growth, both to support business as well as more general steps, but I assure him that, should he care to come to Scotland, he will see a picture in many cases of great optimism, which stands in stark contrast to the position 10 or 15 years ago when his party was in government.

Photo of Jim McGovern Jim McGovern Labour, Dundee West

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the growth of research and development in life sciences and biochemicals is crucial to the Scottish economy generally and to my constituency in particular? Can he give assurances that the Government will continue to support the pioneering work being done by, for example, Dundee university, whose principal I will meet later this week?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Let me congratulate my hon. Friend on winning his seat in Dundee, West. I am sure that he will be a worthy successor to Ernie Ross, whom many on this side of the House, and in all parts of the House, will remember with great affection. In relation to research and development, he is right: Dundee is an excellent example of substantial investment and research in the new biosciences in universities and other institutions. That has been good for the universities, which have a worldwide reputation, and has seen companies built up on the back of that research and beginning to exploit the fruits of it. Dundee university and others in Tayside have been extremely active in promoting that, and I am glad that my hon. Friend is drawing the House's attention to that.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond Parliamentary Leader (Westminster), Spokesperson (Constitutional Affairs; Treasury), Leader, Scottish National Party

Is the Secretary of State aware that one of the reasons why we have had three quarterly downturns in growth in Scotland since 1997 has been the loss of more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs? What has he done as Secretary of State—or what has his deputy done—to point out our vital jobs, such as those at Fergusons in Port Glasgow, and to explain to the Liberal-Labour Ministers in the Scottish Executive that fisheries protection vessels are allocated elsewhere in Europe as grace ships, which would allow the award of a vital contract to a suitable Scottish yard, such as Fergusons?

Photo of Alistair Darling Alistair Darling The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

The commissioning of fishery protection vessels is a matter for the Scottish Executive, as the hon. Gentleman knows. If there is any discussion as to what classification they ought to have, that is a matter for the Scottish Executive to pursue with the European Commission.

In relation to employment generally, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman did not draw attention to the fact that his constituency has seen a dramatic reduction in unemployment since 1997. Nor did he draw the House's attention to the fact that the Scottish economy has grown strongly since 1997, and as I said a few moments ago, the employment rate in Scotland is higher than in most other parts of Europe. I remind him that were we to pursue his policies of tearing Scotland away from the rest of the United Kingdom, they would undoubtedly cause large-scale unemployment in Scotland.