Scotland in the World: A New Perspective

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Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Gentleman makes a very valid point. Sometimes in the past when we have seen activities aimed at rebranding Scotland, we have thrown away the thing that is our distinctive selling point—our history and tradition. The hon. Gentleman is right; I did not refer to agriculture, but I did refer to Scottish food. Sometimes we need to promote Scottish agriculture in a different way. Last night we ate some of the produce from Scottish agriculture, put together by three of Scotland's greatest chefs—indeed, three of Europe's greatest chefs. Sometimes in telling the story, we need to use different angles to get our message across.

John Thurso: I completely accept that, and I am glad that the right hon. Lady accepted it. However, we must not lose sight of the importance of agriculture, particularly in the more remote and rural areas of Scotland.

In looking at the figures for Scotland, one is actually very deceived, because the figures for the whole of Scotland hide the fact that within Scotland there are many different economies in different areas. Although I am delighted that some parts of Scotland have done extremely well, such as the regeneration in the central belt and silicon valley, other large geographical areas of Scotland have not enjoyed the same prosperity. It would be useful if the figures on the regional split of the Scottish economy were more readily accessible. We would then begin to see that what looks good as a broad picture conceals some high spots and some depressing valleys. When we go out and sell Scotland, we must be aware that we must sell the industries in those valleys, as well as the more modern peaks.

The right hon. Lady mentioned tourism and it would be impossible for me, having spent 25 years in the business, to allow a debate to go by without referring to tourism. One interesting fact is that Scottish tourism is 80 per cent. dependent on the United Kingdom and only 20 per cent. dependent on overseas visitors. If I may mention the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, West (John Barrett)—[Interruption.] There was extremely good Talisker on the table last night.

The point about flights into Scottish airports is that they are largely a domestic market and, being particularly driven by business, it has recovered extremely well. It is not a reflection of what is happening in Scottish tourism. Anyone who is dependent on the overseas market in Scotland has seen that market virtually wiped out. We face an immense job in bringing people back from overseas.

We have touched on the concept of branding. I congratulate on its new strategy. It is right that we should seek to sell by looking at products. People do not come to Scotland because they want to go to places, unless they are genealogical tourists; they come for golf, walking or another activity and's recognition that that is the way in which tourism should be promoted is absolutely right. Tourism is worth almost £1 billion to Scotland and is one of its largest employers, particularly in the highlands where 13 or 14 per cent. of the population are employed in that industry.

The Secretary of State spoke at length about our place in Europe. It is Scotland's most important export market and around £979 million of EU funds will come to Scotland between 2000 and 2006. Scotland will receive around £368 million in economic regeneration this year.

The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) referred to the relationship of Scotland working through Westminster and we must make some progress in that area. Referring again to agriculture, my good friend Ross Finnie tried extremely hard to persuade Europe to make the less-favoured-area settlement more generous and he tried very hard to improve the poor level of sheep annual premium subsidy. In both cases, he felt that the support that he received from DEFRA was way below what it might have been.

Angus Robertson: Will the hon. Gentleman explain why Ross Finnie has turned up at only five of 23 Agriculture Ministers' meetings?

John Thurso: By common accord, Ross Finnie has been doing what Ross Finnie should be doing: his job in Scotland. I hear from the constituents that I speak to that he has been doing a very good job for Scotland.

We must ensure that Ministers at Westminster who have responsibilities in Europe are urged to give us as much support as possible.

Mrs. Liddell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, given that he has taken a more appropriate approach to matters concerning the European Union. Scottish Executive Ministers have attended the following Council of Ministers' meetings: three education, eight fisheries, three environment, five agriculture, one lifelong learning, one justice and home affairs, one health, one transport and one regional policy. Scottish Ministers have led the UK delegation to Council meetings on three occasions, two on education and one on health. Those figures are slightly dated because 13 July 2001 is the latest date for which figures are available. Ministers have attended meetings on a number of occasions since then.

John Thurso: I am extremely grateful to the right hon. Lady for that information, which I am sure will be of great benefit to the entire Grand Committee.

On the economy, there is and always has been an historic difference between the economies of Scotland and the United Kingdom when expressed in terms of GDP. During the past few years, that gap has narrowed and improved and it is good news that our export performance was better than that of the whole of the United Kingdom. However, there is an underlying lag and we must catch up. It is a shame that almost all the available figures are for 1999 or early 2000. I suspect that if we had figures dating from late 2000 to early 2001 we would see a different picture. There have been considerable job losses and the manufacturing industry is having a torrid time throughout the United Kingdom and particularly in Scotland.

Mrs. Liddell: I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the figures and the time lag. The monthly unemployment and employment figures are an important means of measuring economic performance, and have been consistently good. There has been a dip during the past couple of months, not unexpectedly, but we still have record low levels of unemployment, which are the best for a generation, and more people in employment than at any time for 40 years. Those are important indicators and, believe me, in my constituency and that of the hon. Gentleman those are the figures that affect people's lives.

John Thurso: Indeed. However, I have to say that I am concerned—as, I am sure, are many hon. Members—by the fact that the figures have now turned and I am worried about where the economy is going. During the Chancellor's bravura but complacent statement yesterday, he seemed to suggest that the United Kingdom would be the only economy to survive. I do not share the Chancellor's confidence and I am concerned about that.

I return to where I started and congratulate the Secretary of State on her initiative. I enjoyed the video. What she is trying to do with the friends of Scotland initiative is important and should be welcomed as a cross-party initiative. I believe that it will deliver for Scotland. However, despite all that she is doing, I hope that she will not throw away the baby of tradition with the bathwater of the past. Will she please not forget our traditional industries, particularly agriculture, and the economic split between the powerhouse of central Scotland and some of the remoter areas?

11.59 am

Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South): I welcome the friends of Scotland initiative that was announced last May. It is an important initiative and some meat has been put on the bones today. This debate is not only important, but timely. It may be coincidence that last night's dinner was held just before this debate, but the advent of the euro is important in the context of the debate. The events of the past month, and particularly of 11 September, have ensured that the people of every country are looking beyond their own shores and borders, and it is on that basis that we should consider Scotland's position in the world. Scotland has always been an outward-looking nation, and that habit is vital in the world today.

My remarks will be pro-European and I make no apology for that, but I do not dismiss the importance of exporting and importing goods world wide. None the less, I believe that Scotland should focus on Europe; if we do not, other European countries might leave us behind. Scotland has taken the lead in promoting Scottish business on the continent. Figures provided by sources such as the Department of Trade and Industry, Customs and Excise and—of all people—South Bank university are very impressive and worth reiterating.

Some 70 per cent. of Scottish exports go to European Union countries. France is Scotland's top export market, with 17 per cent. of our exports. In 1999–2000, France became the first individual market to important more than £3 billion of Scottish goods. Six of Scotland's seven export markets are in the EU, and nearly 300,000 Scottish jobs depend on exports to the EU. Some 1,000 foreign-owned businesses serve their European and global customers from bases in Scotland. Despite the recent downturn in the communications industry, silicon glen constitutes the largest concentration of electronic companies in Europe. Those figures show how successful Scotland has been in the past two years.

By striving to be at the heart of Europe, Scottish business has shown a pragmatism that national political figures have not always shown in the past. That is why I welcome this important initiative. Working in partnership with the Scottish Executive, we can do much more for the people of Scotland. We need to state the case for Europe repeatedly, and we should tell our people openly how important Europe is. We must convince people that, when the time is right, we should move closer to Europe through the euro.

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Prepared 28 November 2001