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Volume 506: debated on Wednesday 24 February 2010

The Secretary of State was asked—

Youth Unemployment

1. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on youth unemployment in Scotland. (317401)

Good morning, Mr. Speaker. Youth unemployment in Scotland has increased in recent months, but since 1997 the number of 18 to 24-year-olds in Scotland claiming unemployment benefit is down by 40 per cent. That issue was discussed at the recent jobs summit in Easterhouse.

After 13 years of Labour Government we discovered yesterday that one in six young people in England between the ages of 18 and 24 are not in employment, education or training. What is the figure in Scotland?

The figures in Scotland have gone down 40 per cent. In Scotland the number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming unemployment benefit for six months or more was 8,800 in January 2010, so hopefully that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question. I would have thought that it would be a matter of consensus across all the political parties that we have to do more together to challenge youth unemployment, because it dampens expectations among the most idealistic and energetic generation, and has the potential to ruin young lives. However, based on the hon. Gentleman’s question, it is clear that he does not understand very much about unemployment among young people in Scotland.

Youth unemployment is a massive problem in Ayrshire, with North Ayrshire having some of the worst levels of social deprivation in Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the Ayrshire jobs summit, which is taking place tomorrow, and does he agree that economic growth and job creation are key for the most successful future for Ayrshire?

It is very important that we take a team Ayrshire approach to trying to overcome youth unemployment, and not just youth unemployment. We are keen to ensure that those over 50, who have perhaps not experienced unemployment or been in a job centre for a considerable period—or perhaps never in their lives—do not become used to unemployment and do not spend that period in advance of their retirement settling for a life on unemployment benefits. It is therefore essential that we do more together across all the generations, in Ayrshire and across Scotland.

In 2000 the then Secretary of State for Scotland boasted that

“For the first time in generations, the end of youth unemployment is a real possibility”.

After 10 years of Labour Government youth unemployment has not ended; it has actually shot up by 60 per cent. Last week the Secretary of State said that the onus was on bankers to deal with unemployment. Then he claimed that Scotland’s economy had been boosted by the recent snowfall. Has it not occurred to him that youth unemployment in Scotland is high not because there are too many bankers or not enough snow, but because the Government’s economic policies are not working?

It is a fact—I thought that the hon. Gentleman would share this view—that a minority of bankers in Scotland have a moral responsibility for their actions and the way they behaved in destroying fantastic international banking institutions, the consequences being, in part, a global recession and rises in youth unemployment. However, because of the actions of this Labour Government, 50,000 jobs have been saved in Scotland. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman does not care about that, because he is so fixated on trying to get only one job, and that is my job, at the next election. The people of Scotland know that. They see through it and they see the Conservative party in Scotland for what it is: less popular today than even in Mrs. Thatcher’s time.

I do not think that the Secretary of State should give lectures on people who are seen through. He will acknowledge that a stable and supportive family environment plays a major part in equipping young people with the personal skills needed for employment. Yet Cardinal O’Brien has warned that the Secretary of State’s Government are undertaking a

“systematic and unrelenting attack on family values.”

Last night the Secretary of State was due to say, “When the Cardinal speaks, people listen.” The cardinal has spoken. Is the Secretary of State listening?

It is right that we focus on how we get through this recession together. We are determined to ensure that we support families, through tax credits and the national minimum wage, for example. It is sobering to reflect on the fact that during the 1980s Tory recession, it took 19 years for the jobs situation to return to pre-recession levels. Nineteen years—nearly two decades—is how long it took Scotland to recover from that recession. The fact is that the Conservative party has not learned the lessons of the 1980s, because it remains committed to cutting tax credits from many families throughout Scotland. It is no wonder that Scotland sees the Tories as a real danger to its well-being.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could comment on the success of the future jobs fund. He will be aware that his ministerial colleague the Under-Secretary of State visited my constituency recently and saw some of the fruits of the scheme. Is it working in this area?

My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously in his constituency on the future jobs fund, which is testimony to the way he carries out his politics. He is a fantastic constituency Member of Parliament. We announced 1,300 more jobs in the future jobs fund last week, and there are now 9,000 opportunities in the fund in Scotland. That is the Labour Government subsidising the opportunity for young people and others to have the chance of a job during this recession. The Conservatives are committed to abolishing the future jobs fund, which is 9,000 more reasons in Scotland not to vote for them.

Intellectual Property (Statutory Protection)

2. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on statutory protection of intellectual property arising in Scotland. (317402)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of matters concerning Scotland. My Department recently made two orders under the Scotland Act 1998 relating to intellectual property for the Commonwealth games and the register of tartans.

What will be done to protect the intellectual property rights of the people of Stirling if the excavations at the Dominican friary show that the bones that have been found there are indeed those of Richard II, and to provide Government moneys to support DNA analysis and perhaps to allow for an exhibition before the bones of that English king are returned to this country?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing me with a little advance notice of his supplementary question. It gave me an opportunity to look at the reign of Richard II, which was marked by particular acts of violence. He crushed the peasants’ revolt, built up a group of unpopular favourites, arrested, imprisoned and executed the people he worked with, or banished them and confiscated their estates. It sounds a little like a Conservative party selection meeting. More seriously, I am sure that we are all very interested in the results of the archaeological investigation, and that the Scottish Government and the local authority will be more than pleased to promote any find that might be discovered.

Is the Minister aware that there is a tremendous amount of intellectual property involved in building aircraft carriers on Clydeside? Is she also aware that, at this very moment, convenors from trade unions from across the United Kingdom are meeting representatives of the Liberal party to try to get them off the fence on the question of whether they are prepared to support the aircraft carriers?

Order. May I just say to the hon. Lady on the Treasury Bench that I know that her answer will contain a closely argued reference to the importance of statutory protection?

Thank you for your guidance on that point, Mr. Speaker.

My hon. Friend has been a doughty fighter for the aircraft carriers in Glasgow, and he is well aware that the project is important not just for Glasgow but for Scotland and the whole of the UK, and that many people will benefit from it. We should cherish and support the talents and skills of the engineers and workers in our shipyards at all times.

Does the Minister agree that it would be naive, misguided and wrong for anyone to claim false ownership, whether in business or in matters of faith?

When it comes to intellectual property, we have a good example of the Scottish and UK Governments working together, and we fully support the measures that have been taken on the Commonwealth games order. That has been one of the successes of the devolution settlement, but the hon. Gentleman unfortunately fails to appreciate that because he has only one aim for Scotland, which is to take it out of the United Kingdom and damage it.

Calman Commission

3. What recent discussions he has had on taking forward the recommendations of the Calman commission; and if he will make a statement. (317403)

The Government are committed to strengthening the Scottish Parliament and making it more accountable to the public in Scotland. We will bring forward a Bill early in the next Session of Parliament.

I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Has his commitment to implementing the Calman recommendations diminished in any way following the discussions on them?

As I said, it is important that the powers of the Scottish Parliament should be increased, and that there should be an increased sense of accountability to the public in Scotland. There is a weakness in the way in which the architecture of devolution has been designed, in that the Scottish Parliament is largely responsible for spending money but does not take decisions about how large its budget should be or how the money should be raised. That is why it is an important part of the Calman recommendations—the vast majority of which we accept—that a patriotic Parliament should be given not only additional powers but, importantly, new accountability.

Only last weekend, we learned of another tragic incident in which a three-year-old boy was shot with an airgun. How many more incidents like that do we have to see before the Secretary of State takes immediate action? The Scottish Government are ready to go, and it is his prevarication that has led to this situation. Will he now get his finger out?

It is pretty cheap and nasty—of course, unusually so for the hon. Gentleman—to try to make politics out of an accident involving an airgun. We are determined to act on this under the Calman recommendations, in great contrast to the Scottish National party’s plans for a rigged referendum. A decade after legislating to ban foreign donors in British politics, the SNP’s referendum would allow money to flow in from all over the world, in a system that is now found only in the Borda counting systems in Nauru and Kiribati. The SNP’s plans for a rigged referendum are absolutely and utterly Kiribati.

The Secretary of State is aware of my view that the present White Paper procedure is unnecessary and that we could have a Bill before the House now. However, since we have this period of delay, will he use the time to ensure that when he brings the Bill forward, it will include a provision to end the practice of double jobbing, whereby people can sit in this Parliament and in the Scottish Parliament, taking two salaries for doing only one job? Surely that has to end.

This is an important issue and we are keen to phase it out. The Government are committed to taking a UK approach to this matter, as it affects Northern Ireland and the Welsh Assembly as well as the Scottish Parliament. I am not that keen to get into the politics of it all, but the issue of whether politicians should have two salaries is important. The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. The Government are committed—towards 2011, I think—to phasing out this system of a double mandate and two jobs.

We can guess why the Secretary of State does not want to get into the politics of it since both Margaret Curran and Cathy Jamieson are seeking to come here as Labour MPs on a dual mandate. When he says that a UK approach should be taken, he ignores the fact that the other place has already decided to deal with this problem for Northern Ireland. Surely that is the example that we should follow, and double jobbing should end now, not at some future date of his choosing.

I do not agree. I think everyone in Scotland knows that there is only one prominent person who is currently double jobbing, but I do not want to make a party political issue of it—[Interruption.] Of course, it is the First Minister. The two people whom the hon. Gentleman alludes to are phenomenal campaigners and powerful women who I hope will be elected to the House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats suggest that that is a foregone conclusion, and the hon. Gentleman’s lack of confidence might encourage me to be arrogant, but I am not going to do that.

Devolution Settlement

5. What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the relationship between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive under the devolution settlement. (317405)

My right hon. Friend last met the First Minister on 11 January at the national jobs summit in Glasgow. He also wrote to the First Minister calling on him to delay the referendum Bill and join us in focusing attention on supporting people in Scotland as we move from recession to recovery.

I am grateful for that answer. Is the Minister able to tell us why during the financial crisis, which the Secretary of State pointed out hit Scotland hard because of the impact of the banking crisis, the Prime Minister did not meet the First Minister to discuss these important issues for almost a year?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we continually work constructively together with the Scottish Government on a whole range of issues, including those around the recession and the banking crisis. There have not only been regular meetings between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, but regular joint ministerial meetings on domestic issues as well as European and financial meetings. The devolution settlement is working well.

Surely there can be no more important discussion between the Government here and the Scottish Executive than about the confidence of people in the electoral system that elects the Scottish Parliament, which was set up by this Parliament. It seems to me that if the proposal is to put a confused question in a referendum and to have either what was called the Condorcet system, which was last abandoned 80 years ago in Michigan, or the de Borda system, which is used to elect the two Slovenian ethnic minority members, that must undermine the confidence of the people in the electoral system. Surely the Scottish Executive must be called to account on that question.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about the lack of proper priorities on the part of the Scottish Government at this time. Our sole priority should be to tackle the recession and to get people back into work, instead of trying to create yet another quango at considerable public expense for no good purpose whatever and conducting a referendum that no one wants at this time.

More than eight weeks ago, the finance committee of the Scottish Parliament made a perfectly reasonable request for a Treasury Minister to come to Holyrood and explain the implications of the pre-Budget report for Scotland. No reply has yet been received. The Chancellor may well have been distracted by fighting back the forces of hell, while the Secretary of State may have been distracted by appealing to the forces of heaven. Is there any hope that the two of them might now come down to a more earthly plane, show respect to the Scottish Parliament, and grant that request?

This Government have paid respect to the Scottish Parliament by setting up and supporting the Calman commission. The hon. Gentleman took part in that process, and will be aware of the commission’s recommendations. We have agreed that we are more than happy for the Secretary of State to visit the Scottish Parliament to discuss issues relating to the Queen’s Speech and other issues of government, but regrettably the Scottish Government have been completely unpersuaded to join in and become seriously involved in matters of parliamentary protocol.

Economic Situation

6. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of business and trade unions on the economic situation in Scotland. (317406)

I hold regular discussions with trade unions and business representatives from across Scotland. As I said earlier, last month I co-hosted a national jobs summit in Easterhouse with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and CBI Scotland.

Last week, when I addressed a meeting at the Rotary Club of Dalkeith, it became obvious to me that the co-operation that has been delivered locally between employers and trade unions is very important if we are to get through the current crisis. May I invite my right hon. Friend to come to Midlothian, meet employers and trade unions, and help them to agree on measures that will allow them to get through the crisis jointly?

I am disappointed to learn that I was not invited to the Dalkeith rotary club event, but I am delighted that it obtained the better speaker in my hon. Friend. Of course I shall be happy to visit his constituency. He has put his finger on something very important: as I have said before, the global importance of the current recession requires a team approach to be taken throughout Scotland by the Labour Government, the SNP Edinburgh Government, business and trade union leaders, so that we can get Scotland through the recession more quickly and more strongly. [Interruption.]

Gaeltec Ltd in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye faces liquidation at the hands of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs because PAYE and national insurance contributions have not been paid as a result of financial constraints. Will the Secretary of State reassure the business community that liquidating a company over non-payment of £28,000—leading to redundancy payments that would amount to about £120,000, as well as subsequent unemployment and related benefits—would make no sense whatsoever to the public purse, and that he will lobby HMRC and try to make it see sense?

I am always happy to listen to the right hon. Gentleman when he argues a constituency case so passionately. I will not become involved in the specific detail of the business relationship between HMRC and that one company, but I think he will be reassured to learn that the business payment scheme set up by HMRC has allowed 17,000 Scottish companies to delay their payment of taxes totalling £300 million. However, I will happily look into the specific matter that he has raised.


7. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on reducing unemployment levels in Scotland. (317408)

Long-term unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 91 per cent since 1997, but there are still too many people out of work, and we are reforming the welfare state and investing in the jobs of the future.

The number of long-term unemployed people in my constituency has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s, and the unemployment rate is half what it was during the 1992 recession. Does my right hon. Friend agree that public investment is essential to sustaining private sector jobs? Will he ensure that the Government reject the flawed economic analysis which calls for an immediate slash and burn of the public investment that is crucial to maintaining many of the families in my constituency who work in the private sector?

I hope that my right hon. Friend, who has again argued passionately on behalf of Stirling and the surrounding area, will be reassured by the fact that I agree with what she says, but I know that she will be even more reassured by the fact that the International Monetary Fund agrees with her. During this unprecedentedly severe global recession, it has been necessary for the Government to intervene, such as by supporting the banks, and in particular the Scottish banks, and by supporting people who would otherwise be out of work to stay in work. However, as my right hon. Friend says very clearly, we know that we still have much more work to do to get Scotland through this recession, and we should have no truck with either Conservative plans for immediate cuts or the cloud cuckoo land economics of the Scottish National party.

Rail Services

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the adequacy of rail services between England and Scotland; and if he will make a statement. (317409)

Does the Minister acknowledge that there would be no better way to develop the economies of the north of England and Scotland than to make a commitment to invest in a high-speed rail link, as that would stimulate investment there and ensure that Scotland and the north of England can fully participate in the development of the country? Are the Government committed to that step, and do they understand why the Conservative party is not?

The right hon. Gentleman correctly refers to the great possibilities high-speed rail offers to the whole country, including Scotland. This Government are committed to making sure that high-speed rail reaches the northern part of the United Kingdom—as well as the west midlands, where the first phase of the project will take place, and which we will report on later this spring. The right hon. Gentleman is also right that we require cross-party political consensus, because this project will take several decades to complete. It is very disappointing that the official Opposition reject the opportunity to take part in dialogue now, on an issue that is important both for the future of this country and for reaching our climate change targets.

Job Opportunities

9. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the number of job opportunities in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. (317410)

Despite the global recession, there are 234,000 more people in work today in Scotland than when this Government came to power.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will also want to congratulate both Ryanair on the expansion of its maintenance facility at Prestwick, and the Minister for having the summit tomorrow. However, will he take a look at an issue that is of concern to at least one of my constituents: the whole question of education maintenance allowance, where there is a disparity between Scotland and England? Will he look into that? [Interruption.]

Order. The House must at least make an attempt to contain itself, and I know—[Interruption.] Order. The House will listen to the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend’s question must be a very popular one, Mr. Speaker! Amidst all the hullabaloo and excitement on the Opposition Benches, he asked about the important issue of supporting young people in Scotland through the recession. It is very important that politicians in Scotland do not take their eye off the ball in terms of the recession, but that has sometimes happened in the Scottish Parliament. Some people seem fixated with the constitution, at the expense of dealing with the recession. When we talk about over 230,000 more people being in work in Scotland, that is not just a large figure, but it tells of an enormous number of families whose lives have been transformed. It is the equivalent of the entire population of the city of Aberdeen being in work today who were out of work during the previous Government’s time.

Public Expenditure Levels

10. If he will hold discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to seek to reduce the difference in the per capita level of public expenditure between Scotland and the rest of the UK. (317411)

In 2007-08, the total expenditure on services per head in Scotland was £9,032. Scotland and England have seen similar percentage increases over the past decade.

In Wellingborough, people have £2,199 less public expenditure spent on them than people in the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Is that fair?

The fact is that the Barnett formula has survived in various versions for more than a century. It survived 18 years of a Conservative Government. That funding formula has been in place, in whichever form, since 1888. It has been protected and has survived those 18 years of Conservative Government, but it now seems to be under threat from this Conservative Opposition.

Search and Rescue Services

11. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on search and rescue services in Scotland. (317412)

Privatisation of the search and rescue services has caused great concern in my constituency, particularly given the reported reduction in the number of helicopters from 38 to 24. I hope that the Government have rigorous plans in place to monitor the effectiveness of search and rescue services once they are in the private sector and that the Minister will be able to reassure me on that today.

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there will certainly be no degradation of the existing service, from which I know his constituents benefit. In particular, I should say that the new helicopters that will be introduced will have more capability and a faster response time, which I am sure will be welcomed.