Scotland in the World: A New Perspective

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Mr. Salmond: Due to the usual wrath of the Secretary of State and her cheerleaders behind, I missed some of what she said. She admitted that growth in the Scottish economy will be under 1 per cent. compared with 2.25 per cent. in the United Kingdom—that is less than half. Did she actually say, as Secretary of State for Scotland, that that means that the Scottish economy is performing well?

Mrs. Liddell: The hon. Gentleman should listen to other people rather than to his own ranting and raving. He does not like to hear good news. If he wants to make a constructive contribution to the economy of Scotland, he should devote his attention to how we can improve output in Scotland and how our new economy can grow internationally. He should examine how our biotechnology can produce more than the 30 per cent. growth that it enjoys in Europe. Instead, the Scottish nationalists whinge for Scotland. The Minister of State has told me that they were whinging in Westminster Hall, and they are whinging here now.

The Scottish economy is performing well. The hon. Gentleman can talk to people who have jobs now who did not previously. Unemployment in his constituency is at a record low, and employment is at a record high. The hon. Gentleman should reflect on that before he carries on whinging for Scotland.

Scotland's place in the world in the third year of devolution is firmly within the United Kingdom. That was overwhelmingly reconfirmed by the people of Scotland during the general election, and there is no doubt that Scotland thrives in the United Kingdom, despite these unsettled times following 11 September.

Scotland has changed spectacularly in recent years. The Government have transformed the economy as we transformed the constitution. Those forces have combined to create a fresh and invigorating atmosphere in Scotland, and give us a new perspective on Scotland's place in the world. We will seize the chance to promote the new Scotland as a stronger part of a stronger United Kingdom. Devolution helps to highlight the dynamism and diversity not only of Scotland, but of the whole of the United Kingdom. It opens cultural and economic benefits that are brought by widespread international recognition. We use Scotland's place in the United Kingdom and the United Kingdom's worldwide diplomatic and commercial contacts to maximise those benefits.

A key element of devolution has been the partnership between the Government and the Scottish Executive. Together we can present a picture to the world of a country at ease with itself and its neighbours: a partnership of Parliaments that will continue to thrive under the new leadership at Holyrood. The Government are committed to partnership, but not just partnership within the United Kingdom. We have transformed the United Kingdom's influence in Europe through constructive engagement. As with our constitutional changes at home, we seek reform to make the European Union deliver more effectively for all its people. Our commitment to make the EU more responsive is driving our contribution to the debate on the future of Europe that was launched at the Nice European Council last December, and which will culminate in the intergovernmental conference in 2004.

Angus Robertson (Moray): Given that the Secretary of State is talking about the debate on the future of Europe, can she confirm that representatives of the Scottish Executive will be part of the British delegation at the conference—or not, as has happened at the majority of European meetings?

Mrs. Liddell: The European Union has rules about who attends meetings. The Scottish Executive have been represented at the European Council on many occasions. They have also led for the United Kingdom several times, two of which have been on education. I shall give the hon. Gentleman the details: on 24 and 25 September 1999, they led for the United Kingdom at the informal meeting of Ministers on education; on 26 October and 22 November, they met on fisheries; on 13 December, they met on the environment and on 14 December, they met on agriculture. Does the hon. Gentleman want me to detail what happened in 2000 and 2001? [Interruption.] Yes, he would like me to take up the Committee's time because he does not want to hear about Scotland's success in the world. That is a typical nationalist response.

We must take a constructive attitude towards Europe, but we must also be realistic about the extent to which the European Union needs to change. It must be seen as much more relevant to the people of the European Union. We are working to achieve reforms in Europe that will be of great value to Scotland. The Lisbon summit in March 2000 was important in developing information technology, communications technology and the reform of the labour market, which are all elements that we need to secure if we are to improve Scottish productivity and Scotland's position in the European Union and international markets.

International relations is a reserve matter under the Scotland Act 1998. Notwithstanding that, the Government have secured a good and positive relationship with the Scottish Executive. We must use the facilities that they have established in Scotland house in Brussels, and if members of the Committee take the opportunity to visit the institutions of the European Union, I advise them to call into Scotland house. It is a most impressive operation. I was delighted to see it represented last night. It is important that we have a voice in Brussels on exclusively Scottish matters as well those that have an impact on reserve areas.

What about our place in the wider world? Despite being a small nation on the edge of Europe, we have long had an important position in the world. From that small corner of the globe have come some great scientists, engineers, doctors, writers and educators. Those members of the Committee who last night saw the video about our history, the present day and the future will know that we still lead the world in innovation in many areas. We helped to make the world a smaller place by improving the speed of communication. We gave the world the television and the telephone as well as the video recorder and the fax machine, which unfortunately did not work so well for the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso). We have made the world go faster. We invented road surfaces and the bicycle. We did not invent the wheel, but we put a rubber tyre on it. There was even a Scot on the Starship Enterprise, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, is of Scots descent. Our achievements in medicine and biotechnology are well known to Committee members.

However, we need to continue to forge new links and seek new leadership in the world. The instinct to look outward is reflected in the sense of internationalism that has come from the Scottish people, as well as a concern for the downtrodden, which shines through our history. Our history as a trading nation encouraged cultural, social, academic and economic exchanges, which continue today. We must now work on that.

Last night, we reflected on some of the changes of which many Scots are often not aware. Our electronics industry produces 80 per cent. of Europe's workstations. In financial services, we rank no. 4 in international funds under management. Our cashmere knitwear and Harris Tweed grace the world's catwalks, and our biotechnology sector is growing at 30 per cent. a year, which is double the rate of any other country in Europe, and it can go further. That is what we must address, and we must do so positively.

Scottish exports in 1999 were at a record level of almost £28 billion. However, there have been mixed fortunes for our manufacturing sector. Despite that, we continue to outperform the rest of the United Kingdom in manufacturing exports, with Scotland's share rising to 12.4 per cent., which is a record for the Scottish economy.

We also have an excellent record in attracting direct investment from abroad. More than 1,000 investors are located in Scotland, and last year Locate in Scotland, which is now called Scottish Development International and has an office in Dover house—we would be delighted to meet hon. Members who have constituency interests in inward investment—helped to attract projects valued at almost £1.8 billion. That created 14,000 jobs for Scots in Scotland. Even in these more difficult times, new inward investments continue to be announced.

We accept that the first year of the new century has not been the best for our tourism industry—not just because of foot-and-mouth disease but the impact of 11 September. In 1999, the Scottish tourism industry supported 193,000 Scottish jobs. It deserves our serious attention. However, there is also good news. As I mentioned at Scottish questions a couple of weeks ago, Scottish airports seem to be bucking the trend. Glasgow Prestwick recorded a massive 20 per cent. increase in passenger numbers during October compared with that month last year. In September, it was 37.9 per cent. up. There were increases of 13 per cent. at Edinburgh, and 6.5 per cent. at Glasgow. That is a remarkable performance, much of which was led by the strength of the no-frills sectors. That shows that there is still strong demand for air travel to and from Scotland.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West): Airports in Edinburgh and Glasgow may be bucking the trend in the numbers of flights, but the lack of direct international flights from those airports has been adversely affected since 11 September. I agree about the increase in low-cost flights, but there must be improved transport links to the rest of the world. Will the Secretary of State address that point?

Mrs. Liddell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. In fact, I was just about to say that next week I am hosting a summit of the entire airline industry in my offices in Edinburgh, with a view to addressing some of those issues. It had been planned prior to 11 September but had to be postponed because the nature of the airline industry changed so dramatically as a result. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman that there must be more direct flights to and from Scottish airports. That is important not only for tourism, but for industry as a whole.

As part of the Scottish Executive's work on tourism, which is supported by my Department, VisitScotland is increasing its marketing efforts. It is moving into niche marketing of Scotland. Only last week, the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning, who joined us last night, launched a new action plan for the industry aimed at transforming tourism in Scotland not just on the basis of the product—which we all know is of extremely high quality—but in terms of communication, access, technology, quality, skills, training, infrastructure and service.

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Prepared 28 November 2001