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Scotland

Volume 457: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2007

The Secretary of State was asked—

Carbon Capture and Storage Technology

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the use of carbon capture and storage technology in Scotland. (122160)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues. This includes the matter of carbon capture and storage, which may offer considerable potential in the fight to combat the effects of climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He knows of some of the exciting carbon capture schemes under consideration in Scotland, but what is he doing specifically to ensure that such projects receive funding and when will he make a statement to the House about how quickly that can be enacted?

I know of the hon. Gentleman’s considerable interest in the Peterhead project. Consulting engineers are advising the Government and they are due to report to us in March—next month. We have made it clear that in the course of this year we expect to be able to make a decision in light of the engineering report.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the tragedy at Pennyvenie open-cast pit in my constituency where two miners were killed. That terrible tragedy will be felt deeply by the mining community who have lost so many in the past. It is also a reminder that mining remains an arduous and difficult job. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the families; our thoughts are with them and their work colleagues at this time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the development of environmentally sensitive technology to obtain a mixed energy policy is important, and that it is also important that such development is undertaken jointly with the Scottish Executive, the UK Government and international Governments? In that regard, does he welcome the £7 million investment at Garleffan pit in New Cumnock for a conveyor that will allow coal to be taken off the roads and carried by rail at a saving of 54,000 road movements a year? Does he agree that is the kind of practical step—

First, on behalf of the Government and the whole House, I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne). Mining communities the length and breadth not just of Scotland but of the United Kingdom have suffered terrible tragedies in the past and the regrettable incident involving her constituents is a timely reminder to us all of the risks people take whether in open-cast or deep-cast mines. I understand that inquiries are already under way to try to understand the basis of the accident and to ensure that there is no repeat of such an accident in future.

On my hon. Friend’s second point, she is right to recognise the importance of a mixed energy policy, and I understand that within a matter of weeks my ministerial colleague at the Scotland Office is due to visit the project at the new facility that she described. I hope that is testimony both to the Government’s interest and to their commitment to ensuring that mining, along with other energy sources, can continue to make a significant contribution to the diverse energy mixes in the United Kingdom.

May I, too, associate myself with the comments about the open-cast mining fatality? Open-cast mining is an important industry in my constituency and we all know the dangers involved.

It would appear that on carbon capture there is, for once, agreement on both sides of the House. My colleague, the shadow Chancellor said in Aberdeen recently that carbon capture is likely to play a crucial role if we are to meet our international commitments on reducing carbon emissions. I, too, believe that the North sea has the potential to be the centre for carbon capture and storage for the whole of northern Europe, so does the Secretary of State agree that after an energy White Paper, the Stern report, the pre-Budget report and his earlier answer it is time for action, not just warm words, from the Government? They can give business a signal so that it can move forward and enable that technology to fulfil its potential in Scotland and, indeed, so that Scotland can fulfil its potential as a world leader in that field.

In light of the hon. Gentleman’s warm words, I shall explain the action the Government have already taken. The United Kingdom has already taken the lead in proposing amendments to the London convention on the prevention of marine pollution by the dumping of waste and other matters. As a result, the London convention has been amended to allow carbon dioxide to be stored in the sub sea bed, including in the North sea. The Government have also taken action by setting up a joint taskforce with Norway to establish the underlying principles on which such carbon capture and storage can take place. As I said, we have already instructed engineers to advise us and they are due to report to the Government next month so that we can take forward detailed work in relation to the suggestions about funding—for example, to Peterhead.

I am proud to represent the city of Aberdeen, the energy capital of Europe. The potential that we have in carbon capture is to make Scotland a world energy capital, and it is important that we make the right decisions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it is important that the Government research the cost and the technological options, we must remember that the clock is ticking? The main project, the Peterhead project, is a world leader at the moment, but it may not stay that way for very long.

I am certainly aware of Aberdeen’s huge significance, not just in the Scottish or indeed European economy but in the world economy, based on oil production but, I am happy to say, broadening into a more diverse range of energy technologies. I know that my hon. Friend is keen to ensure that energy technologies extending beyond petroleum are added to the portfolio of skills in Aberdeen. On the specific issue that he raises, I am sure that he will be aware, given his Select Committee role, that the Prime Minister talked at some length at the last Liaison Committee meeting about the importance that the whole Government attach to the Peterhead project, and I hope that that will give him some comfort. We will reach a decision within months—in the course of the year.

Let me associate the Scottish National party with the condolences expressed to the mining families.

In a debate in Westminster Hall earlier today, there was no indication that the Scotland Office had done or was doing anything decisive to help the Peterhead project; in fact, there was no mention of the Scotland Office. I know that the Secretary of State is busy with many other things, such as leading the Scottish election campaign, but can he give us an indication of what his Department is doing to push forward that technology, which is not just world leading but potentially planet saving? The project will give us a foothold in the hydrogen economy. What impact does the right hon. Gentleman see that aspect having, and how will his Department support Scotland in this matter?

I am glad to confirm that we see significant technological potential for carbon capture. On the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about my involvement and that of the Scotland Office in the issue, of course we take a close interest in the Peterhead project. Given the two other Ministers directly involved in the matter—the Chancellor of Exchequer, as it is also a Treasury matter, and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, both of whom represent Scottish seats—it is rather difficult to substantiate the argument that Scotland’s voices are not being heard. The time that it would take to address some of the nonsense spoken by the SNP prevents me from extending my remarks across a wide range of policy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the developments taking place which mean that carbon capture can be pushed back into the coal reserves in the United Kingdom, thus allowing methane to come out the other side? At a later stage, we may even be able to extract that coal. Will my right hon. Friend look at some of the developments that are taking place in Scotland and pay a visit to some of the projects in the central region?

I have had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency in recent months. We have had the opportunity not only today but on previous occasions to discuss the potential for such technology in former deep mines, and I believe that it can potentially make a significant contribution in the central region of Scotland in years to come.

UK Borders Bill

2. What recent discussions he has had with Home Office Ministers on the likely effect of the UK Borders Bill on Scotland. (122161)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about the effect of Bills on Scotland.

I thank the Minister for that totally inadequate reply. Given that we are supposed to be a United Kingdom, for the time being at least, with a common border, is it not extraordinary that in the UK Borders Bill there are key clauses that Scotland is to be denied which have to do with the power of detention for border control officers and the forfeiture of property? Is it not extraordinary that the Scottish people will be denied the tighter border controls that the Government want to introduce in the rest of the country?

If my answer was inadequate, that supplementary was completely ill-informed. Border immigration officers in Scotland will have the full suite of powers on immigration, including dealing with allegations of illegal immigration, that officers in England will have. The Bill allows border immigration officers to detain an individual for up to three hours until such time as a constable can arrive for reasons to do not with immigration but with other criminal activity.

The hon. Gentleman may or may not know that most matters relating to criminal justice are devolved in Scotland, so any decision to extend those powers would quite properly be a matter for the Scottish Executive. In the meantime, the Scottish Executive and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland have come to an understanding that an operational solution can be provided. There are only seven international ports in Scotland, as opposed to 44 in England, and they all have a full-time police presence, so it is not necessary to give immigration officers those additional powers because there are police constables at the seven international ports. There is absolutely no difference in the effect, which is that we are protecting our borders and will ensure, not only on immigration but on other criminal activities, that the relevant authorities have the power that they need.

May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to today’s Order Paper, and to the fact that the Northern Ireland Grand Committee is meeting this afternoon at 4 pm? That made me realise that I cannot remember the last time that the Scottish Grand Committee met. Does the Minister support me in thinking that the Scottish Grand Committee would be an excellent forum in which to discuss the UK Borders Bill and its effects on Scotland? [Interruption.]

That was very well done. There is a key difference between the situation in Northern Ireland and the situation in Scotland, which is that there is not yet an Assembly established in Northern Ireland. As part of the arrangements for operating under suspension, there was a commitment that the Northern Ireland Grand Committee would meet on a regular basis until devolution was re-established. The whole House will share the hope that, following the elections in Northern Ireland next Wednesday, there will be a return to a power-sharing Executive, so that the Province can emerge, after decades of sectarian hatred, as a decent and forward-looking place; that is what the vast majority of its people desire. As for the Scottish Grand Committee, decisions on whether it should sit are a matter for the usual channels and the House authorities.

May I for once commend the Minister on achieving, under the Bill, a solution on detention that recognises the integrity and independence of the Scottish criminal justice system? Any hon. Member who thinks that they know better than ACPOS or the Scottish Executive when it comes to the Scottish criminal justice system would need good reason for doing so. Does the Minister accept that we have established the principle that immigration, asylum and nationality matters can be treated with a bit more flexibility in Scotland, and will he continue to promote that within Government?

The Government do not need me to promote that view, as the Home Office entirely accepts the principle that the hon. Gentleman outlines. That is why there is a national director for the immigration and nationality directorate in Scotland, Phil Taylor, and he is doing an outstanding job. I know that he communicates regularly with all the political parties. We are introducing a new asylum model, so that one individual or team can work with an asylum applicant all the way through their application. We have agreement, in principle, on introducing lead officers, who will consider the wider implications for families. That has all been established through excellent, close co-operation with the First Minister and the Home Office. We fully respect the devolution boundaries, but we recognise that matters to do with immigration and asylum are reserved.

Will the Minister look again at clauses 1 to 4 of the UK Borders Bill, which make it clear that the powers that the House is being asked to give to police officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland relate to border controls, which are not devolved? He has not explained why a comparable power is not being sought in this place for the Scottish police. Our border controls are not a matter for the Scottish Executive, and there should be parity of treatment throughout the United Kingdom. I understand that in this morning’s Public Bill Committee, the Minister alluded to the fact that the matter might be sorted out after the next Scottish general election, but what does that have to do with it?

I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that he fundamentally misunderstands the position. On immigration, which is a reserved matter, the immigration officials at ports in Scotland will have the full suite of powers that immigration officials in England have. The measures are about extending those powers to matters that are not related to immigration. For example, if a British national committed a crime in the UK and then attempted to flee the country, and if the crime related not to reserved matters, but devolved matters, that would be a matter for the Scottish criminal justice system, which is devolved. As I said in answer to the first question in this batch, we have an operational solution that respects the devolution divide, but because there are only seven international ports, all of which have a police presence, it is not necessary to extend the powers to immigration officers in Scotland, when it is a devolved matter that is being dealt with.

It is all very well for the Minister to come regularly to the House and lecture us on his party’s Unionist credentials, but on a matter such as protecting our borders, which is pivotal to the purpose of our united kingdom, his Government have failed to deliver a united approach. What possible rationale can the Minister offer to explain why his party proposed different arrangements for immigration officers in Scotland, apart from it being another example of Mr. McConnell allowing the Liberal Democrat tail to wag the Labour dog?

That is a classic example of the perils of writing a question before listening to the first answer. I explained in detail that immigration officers in Scotland will have exactly the same powers on immigration as immigration officials in England. I respect the devolution distinction, and criminal justice on those matters is devolved. The hon. Gentleman spends his entire political career fighting devolution, so we will simply not take any lectures from him on how to preserve the devolution settlement.

2018 World Cup

3. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on Scotland co-hosting the 2018 World cup. (122162)

While I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues regarding matters that affect Scotland, I have received no representations from parliamentary colleagues on this matter.

When the Chancellor launched a feasibility study on the 2018 World cup bid, he said that he wanted England to win. He believed that Scotland was capable of winning but not, it seems, of hosting the competition. The Conservative party is the only one that supports the World cup coming to Scotland. [Interruption.] There is a strong case, as Scotland has fantastic fans and stadiums. The Scottish Football Association says that it would welcome any approach from the English FA, and FIFA would welcome a joint bid. It seems that the only person blocking the move is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why is that so?

I think that I have a slight advantage over the hon. Gentleman, as I was at Hampden Park when Margaret Thatcher, a previous leader of the Conservative party, came to the Scottish cup final and received a very warm Scottish welcome. It will take a little more to convince the people of Scotland either that the Conservatives are concerned about the needs of the people of Scotland or, indeed, that they understand much about football. This is a matter for the football authorities, and essentially it is the FA that has promoted the bid. Of course, there is an option, as in previous tournaments, to submit a joint bid, although I believe that questions have been raised within FIFA, given the experience of the Japan-Korea bid.

While the 2018 World cup is important so, too, is Glasgow’s bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth games. Will my right hon. Friend update us on the efforts by his office to secure those games for Glasgow, Scotland and the United Kingdom?

We were glad to host an event in the Scotland Office, and on the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Glasgow I took the opportunity to discuss the Commonwealth games bid with him. I was accompanied by Steven Purcell, the outstanding Labour leader of Glasgow city council. During that discussion at the Glasgow chamber of commerce, the Prime Minister made clear his support for Scotland’s bid.

Of course, the first opportunity for an international competition is the 2016 European championship. Does the Secretary of State not agree that Scotland’s top grounds—the magnificent Ibrox, the historic Hampden, the splendid Murrayfield and the famous Celtic Park—are tremendous venues, and would make tremendous showcases in 2016 for what will be by then an independent Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman began to lose me when he mumbled Parkhead and missed out Love Street. He lost me completely when he started to talk about an independent Scotland.

Climate Change

4. What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the co-ordination of policy on tackling climate change. (122163)

My hon. Friend will be aware of aviation’s growing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and elsewhere. In Scotland, however, the Liberal Democrat Minister for Transport, supported by other parties, is busily giving big subsidies to airlines to encourage even more flights and cheaper air travel. Will my hon. Friend discuss with the Executive how consistent that policy is with commitments by the UK Government and, indeed, by the Scottish Executive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? .

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important issue. Aviation does contribute to carbon emissions and global warming. That is why we have long argued that it should be within the EU emissions trading scheme. It is important for politicians to show leadership and consistency. Each of us who is a Scottish Member accepts that we fly more often than the average citizen and more often than is altogether good for the planet, but it is important that we are consistent. It ill becomes politicians to declare one day that they will not take any non-essential flights, and the next day to catch a flight down from Aberdeen to London to go to the BAFTAs. Perhaps that is just jealousy because I have never been invited to the BAFTAs, but the Deputy First Minister should show a little more personal consistency.

Is the Minister aware of the statement at the Globe climate change forum in Washington two weeks ago, to which American legislators signed up, that there was a need for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions of between 450 and 550 parts per million? That represents a complete turnaround of attitude in the United States towards climate change, and a great opportunity for Scotland to export energy technologies that will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What is he doing to ensure that Scotland has a full partner role, and in particular that the energy technologies institute comes to Scotland, with a key location in Aberdeen?

On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, he is entirely right to highlight a misconception about the issue in the United States. Some of the most progressive work to develop renewable technologies is happening in the individual states, such as California. I was in Texas in the summer, where I saw the largest wind farm that I have ever seen—well over 1,000 turbines, in Texas of all places. In individual states, a great deal of progress is being made, but the right hon. Gentleman is correct. So much of the technology has been developed and nurtured in Scotland, and we have put in place a system of subsidies, both in grants and in the renewable obligations certificate, that has brought those technologies on. We have spoken about the very good case that he has made for the technologies institute to come to Aberdeen. I agree that an extremely strong case has been made, and I sincerely hope that Aberdeen will be successful. Of course, other places are bidding and a value for money exercise must be carried out to ensure that we get the very best result.

Low Carbon Buildings Programme

To date, 140 applications, totalling £306,000, for funding under the low carbon buildings programme have been approved in Scotland.

I assume, therefore, that when it reopens on Thursday, the scheme will run out in Scotland within hours, as it is anticipated that it will do in England. When the scheme was launched by the Chancellor in the Budget last year, it was a flagship programme for microgeneration. By June, the Minister for Science and Innovation described it as

“a significant demonstration of Government commitment”,

but last week the Minister for Industry and the Regions—that is the relevance—had downgraded it to only a “demonstration programme”. What is it?

The hon. Gentleman is clearly ignorant of the Scottish Executive’s Scottish community and householder renewables initiative which, together with the low carbon buildings programme, has given more than £7 million worth of grants. It has been a very successful scheme in Scotland. On my visit to Argyll and the islands I saw some of the work that is being done as a result of the initiatives being rolled out. We all share a common aim to encourage microgeneration, which we can do through the planning system. We must encourage more efficient use of energy in homes, which we do through the building regulations programme. Those are devolved matters, but the Administration in Edinburgh is working closely with the Government to achieve those aims.

Devolution

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Union that has served Scotland and England for more than 300 years has served the Scottish economy particularly well?

I find myself in full agreement with my hon. Friend. The record levels of employment, the low levels of inflation and the sustained growth that has been achieved by the Scottish economy in recent years make a powerful case that we are stronger together and would be weaker apart.

Given that when they are asked, the favoured option of the Scottish people is neither independence nor the status quo, but for more powers to be given to the Scottish Parliament, why is the Secretary of State so blinkered as to maintain that the current settlement is the end of the road?

Of course, we take a strong interest in the views of the Scottish people, but it is important to recognise the importance of consistency in political debate. The hon. Lady wrote in the last issue of The House Magazine that she was in favour of a further constitutional convention, but her erstwhile leader, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), who is two places along from her on the Front Bench, has said:

“There is always a temptation in human nature, where new institutions are concerned, to be drawn towards pulling up the roots just to see how the plant is growing.”

Once the Liberal Democrats decide their own policy, they can start giving advice to the Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree, as a staunch devolutionist, that devolution is a process, not an end product, and that within the settlement, which is extremely successful, there is the right for discussions to take place if that is desired by the Scottish Parliament, but now is not the time?

Flexibility has always been contained within the Scotland Act 1998, section 32 of which contains powers to facilitate exactly that flexibility. That pragmatic recognition is fundamentally different from a view that says that now is the point at which to tear up the devolution settlement, eight years into what most people judge to have been a highly successful development for the people of Scotland.

Is not the real issue as regards the powers of the Scottish Parliament the way in which they have been exercised over the past eight years by the Lib-Lab pact that has run the Scottish Executive? I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that the people of Scotland do not want any more constitutional wrangling—they want delivery, not divorce—and that the only way to do that is to elect more Conservative MSPs.

It seems that the corpse is twitching. I have for many years struggled to understand how the Scottish Conservatives managed to drive their numbers quite so low; they may surpass themselves once again on 3 May.