The number of people in employment in Scotland has increased by over 200,000 since 1997, and is currently at its highest level since quarterly records began. This shows the Government's success in bringing opportunity to all and has been achieved because of sound management of the economy working in combination with the enterprise policies of the Scottish Executive.
I certainly do not regard the concept of full employment as utopian, but when our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that one of his ambitions was to secure full employment, he was criticised by the Conservatives and other parties. The fact that many people are in work, which is bringing them opportunities of which they could only have dreamt years ago, is a tribute to the management of the economy. We intend to continue those policies, because that is the best thing to do for the benefit of Scotland and, indeed, the whole country.
Despite what the Secretary of State said about employment levels, many manufacturers, particularly in my constituency, are seriously worried about the ever-increasing cost of energy. Over the next few months many of them will pay huge costs for their energy, and they are worried that that will impact on their ability to continue. What action has the Secretary of State taken to deal with the rising cost of energy, particularly for manufacturing industry?
The cost of energy is clearly of concern to a number of manufacturers, and we must make sure that we have a competitive supply of energy. The hon. Gentleman is not particularly in favour of that, but it is very important. It is also important, as we discussed a few moments ago, to do everything we can to ensure that we have security of supply, which also helps to bring down the price of energy. We will continue to ensure that those things happen for the benefit of manufacturing in Scotland and elsewhere.
The Secretary of State mentioned that the Chancellor was keen on, and supportive of, full employment in Scotland. I should declare my interest in the oil industry, which appears in the Register of Members' Interests. One of the major contributors to the manufacturing economy of Scotland is investment in North sea exploration and production. Will the Secretary of State make it clear to the Chancellor that he must not impose on the North sea a windfall tax or other surprise taxation, which will frighten off the vital investment that is doing so much both for jobs in Scotland and for the security of our energy supply?
On full employment, I have just told my hon. Friend Mr. Devine that measures such as the new deal, which the Liberals opposed—to be fair, they were in favour of the concept, but against its funding—mean that hundreds of thousands of people are now in work and doing well in employment. That would never have happened but for the Government's policies.
The North sea oil sector is doing well at the moment. Over the past 20 to 30 years, there have been many changes in the regime governing taxation, but I am confident that the Government will do everything that they can to make sure that the North sea oil industry continues to develop and expand, as that is extremely important, particularly for the economy of north-east Scotland.