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House of Lords

Thursday, 18th March 1999.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by Lord Bishop of Norwich.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

The Marquess of Cholmondeley--Took the Oath.

Scotland: Unemployment Statistics

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What was the total number of unemployed people in Scotland in February; and how this compares with the numbers in January 1999 and February 1998.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Macdonald of Tradeston): My Lords, the total number of people unemployed, on the Government's preferred measure of ILO unemployment, is not available on a monthly basis. However, the total number of people claiming unemployment related benefits in Scotland in February 1999 was 136,100. That is 300 higher than in January 1999, but 4,100 lower than in February 1998.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, first, perhaps I may welcome the noble Lord to his first outing at Starred Questions. I commiserate with him on having to reply to a Question on Scottish unemployment, which has risen pretty consistently since he was invited to take the poisoned chalice of the industry job at the Scottish Office. On the preferred ILO count, does the noble Lord agree that over the year for which the latest figures are available the number of unemployed in Scotland has increased by 12,000 and now stands at 7.5 per cent? There are job losses in Scotland day after day, to such an extent that the Labour supporting Daily Record recently ran the headline:

    "Scotland the Grave--Union warning to Labour as job losses reach crisis point".
When will the Government take responsibility for the policies that are bringing this about?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the signals from the latest unemployment figures for Scotland are mixed. Certainly, the ILO count was up. However, the ILO count in Scotland is unadjusted. The sample allows a range in the present circumstances between 169,000 and 202,000. Therefore, while the figure has risen to 7.5 per cent. on the ILO count, I am delighted to say that that is 4.1 per cent. below the unemployment rate for London.

In the year following the 1998 count employers in Scotland have reported the creation of 32,000 extra jobs. That is not based on a random sample. There is an increase of more than 2,200 job vacancies on the total for the same time last year.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that unemployment in Scotland will worsen

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considerably if the trade dispute with the United States involving cashmere woollen goods is not settled quickly, and that it will affect northern Scotland, where there is also a textile industry, as well as the Borders?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord. He will be pleased to hear that the Secretary of State for Scotland is presently in the United States and that he met the President yesterday. I am sure that at every opportunity he is pressing the case of the textile industry, and in particular that of the producers of cashmere.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are 26 parliamentary constituencies in London with unemployment levels higher than in any parliamentary constituency in Scotland? Does my noble friend therefore agree that the time has now come to think again about the Barnett formula for distributing public expenditure?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the formula that is presently used is based on need. It can be reassessed in discussion with the Scottish executive in the future. It is important to bear in mind that, while Scotland faces a tough year, especially in relation to employment in the oil and gas industries which represent over 100,000 employees in Scotland, we fight back from the strongest base. The claimant count of 5.5 per cent. has remained steady for six months. That is the lowest rate for 22 years. I can say with some pleasure that the unemployment rate among young people is the lowest for a generation.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, my noble friend referred to something which I did not know was a formula 20 years ago when I invented it. Will he recognise that if, as he said, the formula is based on needs, there is a case for changing the formula--keeping the name of course, but calling it a Mark II?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, if that judgment were left to the people of Scotland, I am sure that in appreciation of what my noble friend has done for them over the years they would preserve the name for posterity. I am certain that the formula will be under review in the years to come. That will be a matter for the Government and the new executive in Scotland.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, the generally accepted figure in the media for the increase in unemployment is around 7 per cent. That is before the impact on the textile industry that was mentioned by my noble friend. Have the Government undertaken an evaluation of the increase in unemployment as a result of the swingeing increase in fuel duty as it affects road haulage and industry generally?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, by increasing fuel duty we have continued the policies of the previous government. We take very seriously our concerns about the environment, which I am sure are

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shared by the whole House. We believe that the policies that we are pursuing will create jobs in Scotland. Considerable public spending will go into health and education and other social areas. We estimate that 30,000 new jobs will be created in areas such as childcare, classroom assistance, and in the construction industry if our radical plans for the transfer of housing stock are implemented. We believe that tens of thousands of new jobs will be created simply as a result of government investment in public services.

Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a great deal of public confidence in the policies that are being pursued by Her Majesty's Government in Scotland? That is instanced by an opinion poll published in today's Scotsman indicating that the Labour Party has increased its lead in Scotland over its opponents by 14 per cent. and that the Conservative Party does not appear to have benefited at all. Does my noble friend agree that the policies offered by the Scottish National Party whereby working people in Scotland would pay more tax for doing the same work as those in England and Wales are nonsense?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, I readily agree with my noble friend. We should be aware that 224,000 sole proprietors and partnerships in Scotland would be affected were the Scottish nationalist measures on tax ever put into effect. It would be very damaging for employment in Scotland. It would be damaging for inward investment to Scotland, where we have an unmatched record in the United Kingdom. It would allow the Welsh Development Agency and the nascent regional development agencies of England to try to persuade inward investors that Scotland was a uniquely high-tax enclave, and that is certainly something that the Government would not welcome.

Scottish Parliament: Ceremonial Arrangements

3.11 p.m.

Lord Napier and Ettrick: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as a descendant of one of the most ancient noble families in Scotland.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government what arrangements have been made for the ceremonial, and for the attendance of the Peerage of Scotland, at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament by the Sovereign on Thursday, 1st July 1999.

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, arrangements for 1st July are being developed by the Opening Ceremony Working Group, which includes representatives from a range of interested organisations. Details of the plans for the day will be announced shortly.

Lord Napier and Ettrick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that chink of light. Does he agree with me

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that when this event occurs it will be the most momentous thing to have happened in Scotland since the last sovereign Scottish Parliament adjourned on 1st May 1707? Is it not of paramount importance that nobody should rubbish our history and traditions if we are to maintain this Kingdom united?

Lord Macdonald of Tradeston: My Lords, the opening ceremony for the Scottish Parliament will be a ceremony appropriate for a modern parliament, while fully recognising Scottish traditions. It will be a dignified ceremony appropriate to the occasion. Careful planning and consultation are in hand for the ceremony, including continuing discussions between the Scottish Office and Buckingham Palace. However, no final decisions have been taken. The events of the day will be full of colour and pageantry and will be an opportunity to celebrate the establishment of the new Parliament. I hope no noble Lords in the House today are related to any of those Lords denounced by Robert Burns as a parcel of rogues for voting in favour of the Union!

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