09/11/2011 Scottish Questions


09/11/2011

Coverage of today's Scottish Questions from Westminster.


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Hello, ain't very warm welcome to Westminster for November's Scottish

:00:21.:00:24.

Questions. Some pretty familiar themes on the order paper for MPs

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today. Renewable energy, the constitutional question and the

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economy. Also some changes, Labour has a new Scotland team in the

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Commons and we will see how they got on. Proceedings got under way

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with a question from Russell Brown, a specific question about what can

:00:44.:00:51.

be done to help the construction industry in Scotland. Order,

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questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Mr Russell Brown?

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Question number one. A with permission, I will answer one and

:01:00.:01:02.

seven together. I recognise the vital role that the construction

:01:02.:01:06.

industry plays at the Scottish and UK economy. The plan for growth

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includes a wide range of measures to support the industry across the

:01:10.:01:15.

UK. I have regular discussions with Scottish ministers on these and

:01:15.:01:19.

other matters of importance to the Scottish economy. Can I say to the

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Secretary of State, his minister and I have one thing in common. We

:01:22.:01:27.

still have construction workers that remain unemployed after

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Aberdeen Construction went into administration. Does he recognise

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that throughout the UK, and especially in Scotland, that there

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are far too many unemployed construction workers that are

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desperate to get back to work? He does need to encourage the Scottish

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government to stimulate that sector. I quite agree with the Honourable

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Gentleman that we should take all of the appropriate measures to get

:01:51.:01:55.

the economy on the right footing. As he will appreciate, we have a

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big challenge clearing up the mess left behind by the previous

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government, and in the context of the challenging situation in the

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eurozone. We are determined, through a credible deficit plan and

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strong economy, to get construction and other sectors in the right

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place. The Secretary of State may be aware that there is a major

:02:15.:02:18.

lobby today of construction workers throughout the UK, many from

:02:18.:02:25.

Scotland. They are concerned about a proposal by six national

:02:25.:02:27.

construction companies to change the national agreement for

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electricians. Given what is going on in Scotland, next time he meets

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with the First Minister could he remind him of the excellent work

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done in both parliaments in terms of providing a quality partnership?

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These proposals could undermine all of that good work. I certainly

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agree that it is vitally important that the UK government and Scottish

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government worked together. Whether it is on terms and conditions or

:02:51.:02:56.

the general state of the economy, that is really important. We, as

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the UK government, have taken important steps to support the

:02:59.:03:04.

Scottish government with the economy. Is my right honourable

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friend aware of the considerable construction activity that is

:03:07.:03:15.

taking place prior to deployment of Marine Energy in the Pentland Firth,

:03:15.:03:17.

particularly in the harbour? What more can the Government do to

:03:17.:03:20.

ensure that the right infrastructure is constructed now

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so that we benefit from the opportunity of marine energy in the

:03:24.:03:28.

future? As my Honourable Friend will be aware, through all our plan

:03:29.:03:34.

for growth, which is setting out the important basis on which we

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support the economy through these difficult times, cut in corporation

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tax, reducing the burden of income tax and the national insurance

:03:41.:03:47.

burden, a huge investment in Marine renewables, reforming the market,

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we are laying the foundations for that important sector to develop. I

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think it is very important that we don't have a undermined by the

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uncertainty that an independence referendum is causing in Scotland.

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If a competitive tax position is vital for the construction sector

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and the Scottish economy, which is why the Scottish government is

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calling for devolution of corporation tax powers. Will the

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Secretary of State confirm that the UK government is actively

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considering the devolution of corporation tax to Northern

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Ireland? The Honourable Gentleman knows full well that we have had a

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consultation about corporation tax devolution to Northern Ireland. We

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are reviewing the responses to that. I wish we could say the same about

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the Scottish government's proposals. We have asked a series of

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fundamental questions about them which have gone unanswered. We have

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yet to see the consultation responses. I suggest that the

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Honourable Gentleman asks the First Minister to get on with that.

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Secretary of State has taken the opportunity in the past to say that

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the UK government will consider the devolution of corporation tax

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powers to Scotland. However, an adviser to the Northern Ireland

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Secretary confirmed in evidence to the Scottish parliament that the UK

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government has already ruled out the devolution of corporation tax

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under any circumstances. Both statements cannot be true, so which

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one is? We have said that we want to consider any ballot proposals

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brought forward by the Scottish government. However, they have to

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establish some credible position, some detail, maintain the consensus

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across the parties and make sure there is not a detriment, not just

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to Scotland, but to the rest of the UK. So far, the SNP and the First

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Minister had failed to deliver the details. Margaret Curran. The new

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Scottish Secretary. Ken Knight return to the construction industry

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and ask about the specific concerns, where 10,000 jobs have been lost

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this year and the number of Scottish companies facing

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bankruptcy have risen by 135% in the last two years. With this in

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mind, will the Minister support Labour's call, and that of the

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Scottish Building Federation, for a one-year cut in VAT to 5%, a

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specific action to help boost the construction industry and get the

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Scottish economy moving again? First of all, Mr Speaker, may I

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welcome the honourable lady to her position? Without wishing her too

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much success in it, if I may say so. She brings a great deal of

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experience to this house. I look forward to our encounters. We have

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heard the Labour Party's proposals for reducing VAT. When it was last

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done, it didn't deliver what was hoped. I have to tell her, as we

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are seeing a cross in the eurozone at the moment, you cannot borrow

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your way out of a debt crisis. You have to have a credible plan and

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you have to deliver on it. That is what we are doing. Can I thank the

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Secretary of State for his kind opening remarks? I look forward to

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robust debates and work in the years to come. But that is an

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inadequate answer. The failed policies of this government mean we

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will borrow more command not reduce the debt. In reality, Scots are

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facing a double whammy from this Tory-led government cutting too far

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and too fast. From an SNP government, presiding over cuts to

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capital spending. In fact, Scotland is now in the midst of a crisis, a

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jobs and growth crisis. If he will not follow Labour's 5 point plan to

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boost jobs in Scotland, what specific action will this

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government taking Scotland, for Scotland, to get our economy moving

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again? The Honourable Lady cannot skip so lightly away from the mess

:07:56.:08:01.

we inherited from her previous government, where we inherited the

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highest deficit in peacetime history. We were borrowing �1 in

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every four that we spend. It was not a sustainable position. It is

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vital that we keep to our credible deficit reduction plan and deliver

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on the plan for growth, which has cut in corporation tax, maintaining

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low interest rates and reducing regulatory and national insurance

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mergers. As far as Scotland is concerned, I agree that a tax hike

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from the Scottish government in the spending review is bad for business.

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They must acknowledge that we have helped on pre-payments, we have

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helped with the availability of land from the MoD. Dad are many

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ways in which we are helping the Scottish government. Kevin Brennan.

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STUDIO: This is a question about the threshold for votes in a

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referendum. The Government has no such policy.

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The Scottish government has said it will bring forward proposals for a

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referendum. We urge them to end the delay and uncertainty by doing so.

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Whenever there is a referendum, the United Kingdom government will make

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the case for a prosperous Scotland in the UK. Shouldn't any referendum

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that has profound implications for Northern Ireland, Wales, England

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and Scotland itself involve a clear and straightforward tries between

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remaining in the UK and separation, and not muddy the waters with what

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my Honourable Friend has called, I can't believe it's not independence

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option? The Honourable Gentleman makes a very fair point. Perhaps it

:09:31.:09:35.

is not a great surprise, after the BBC poll at the weekend showed

:09:35.:09:39.

barely a quarter of Scots in favour of independence, it is maybe no

:09:39.:09:43.

surprise that the SNP are taking Scotland for granted and running

:09:43.:09:47.

away from an independent poll. It is creating uncertainty, that is

:09:47.:09:52.

damaging for business. Let's have a clear question and get on with it.

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In considering Scottish independence, has the Secretary of

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State seen recent legal advice that states that an independent Scotland

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would either be outside the European Union, and therefore lose

:10:03.:10:07.

EU funding and access to free markets, or be required to join the

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euro as a new accession state? Does he agree with me that it is further

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evidence that breaking up the United Kingdom would be bad for the

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people of Scotland? STUDIO: Eleanor Laing is the MP for Epping Forest,

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in Essex. The idea that the SNP could take for granted that

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Scotland would enter the European Union without negotiation or

:10:30.:10:34.

consideration to these kinds of issues is entirely fanciful. We

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need to get that sorted out. It is part of the uncertainty that needs

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to be resolved, sooner rather than later. On 8th May, the Scottish

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Secretary ruled out a 40% rule in a rigged referendum. He also said it

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was entirely a matter for the Scottish government and he would

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not be raising constitutional questions regarding a referendum on

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that matter. Does he stand by that? I don't think we should take any

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lessons on rigged referendums from the party opposite! They are

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determined not to have a straightforward referendum about

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the whole reason they exist, to make Scotland independent, but to

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bring other issues in as well. Let's get a straightforward

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question and end the damaging uncertainty. STUDIO: This is a

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question about cutting the costs of the Scotland Office. Scotland

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offers ministers are determined that the Office contributes to the

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task of reducing the deficit. I and my officials are bearing down hard

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on administrative costs by a range of administrative measures

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including sharing resources with other officers and making more

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efficient use of leasehold property. Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister

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wants to see small and more effective government. The Secretary

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of State for Scotland, only last year, called for the abolition of

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the Scottish Office. Would not the very capable minister be making a

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career enhancing move if he suggested at the dispatch box now

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that we abolish the Scottish Office, the Welsh Office and the Office for

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Northern Ireland and replace it with an office for the union?

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Absolutely not, Mr Speaker. At this time, when the United Kingdom faces

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the greatest danger from separatists that it has ever faced,

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the Scotland Office is a bulwark against independence. Is that what

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is called cutting the Department to the bone, Mr Speaker? I wonder if

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the minister will name all of his department? I always remember

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telling a previous Secretary of State that it must be the only

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empire in the whole of Westminster where the Secretary of State is

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able to name all of his staff. Can he? Mr Speaker, I pay tribute to

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the staff in the Scotland Office. With a small number of staff, we

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have pursued the Scotland Bill, which is a very significant piece

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of legislation through this house and into the other place. The

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Scotland Office has a key role to play as we move forward to preserve

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Scotland's place in the United Kingdom. STUDIO: This is a question

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about the benefits of the union to Scotland. Scotland's economic

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opportunities are larger, our finances are more robust. Our

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defences are stronger, influence on international stage greater, the

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welfare system more secure and family ties closer. These are just

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half a dozen reasons why we are stronger together. Does the

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Secretary of State agree that, given the tough economic crisis

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facing small European countries, the worst thing for Scotland would

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be a small, independent country, dependent on the eurozone, apart

:13:53.:13:57.

from the United Kingdom and the strength that brings? I think my

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Honourable Friend is absolutely right to highlight the issues that

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face Scotland if it chooses to be independent. The fact that we

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cannot go down that process without some very hard-nosed negotiations

:14:10.:14:13.

with European partners, who are facing real difficulties all over

:14:13.:14:19.

the Continent at present. What we need is to get the SNP's plans

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spelled out, and then let's get on with the referendum. Does the

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Secretary of State agree that the Social Union, the Commonwealth, the

:14:28.:14:31.

monarchy and the current Queen would be important, whatever

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constitutional arrangements that Scotland has in the future? This

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will their independent Canada, New Zealand and Australia, with

:14:39.:14:47.

Scotland being the Queen's 17th independent realm? I understand

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what the Honourable Gentleman's passion for Scotland's Independent

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it's his. I wish it was shared by some of those wanting to get on

:14:55.:15:04.

with the debate. What are they My right honourable friend has

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outlined the benefits to Scotland of its membership of the European

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Union and the uncertainty which would surround these benefits in

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the event Scotland was to become independent. Does my right

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honourable friend agree that it would help to resolve that

:15:19.:15:21.

uncertainty if the Scottish Government would publish the legal

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advice it has had on this point so that it may contribute properly to

:15:25.:15:31.

the debate? My right honourable and learned friend makes a very

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important point. The idea that we would somehow simply get membership

:15:36.:15:39.

of the European Union without discussion with complete agreement

:15:39.:15:42.

and without needing to worry about the terms and negotiations is quite

:15:42.:15:47.

fanciful. It's a journey into the unknown. We need to have the detail.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. One of the many benefits associated with the

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union is the certainty it provides in Scotland's continuing membership

:15:55.:15:59.

of the European Union. Has the Secretary of State seen research

:15:59.:16:03.

that the impartial House of Commons library published yesterday which

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indicates Scotland might have to go through an accession process to

:16:06.:16:10.

stay in the EU if it became a separate state and that even if

:16:10.:16:15.

accepted as a member state, on the most recent data, net annual

:16:15.:16:20.

contributions to the EU from Scottish taxpayers would rise to

:16:20.:16:24.

�92 per capita compared with only �57 per capita from the rest of the

:16:24.:16:29.

UK? Would it not be contrary to Scotland's national and economic

:16:29.:16:32.

interests to separate from the rest of the UK if that meant Scotland

:16:32.:16:39.

ending up out of the EU or paying more to stay in the EU and only if

:16:39.:16:46.

it adopted the euro? These new Shadow Scotland Minister. May I

:16:46.:16:52.

welcome the honourable gentleman to his new role. I am delighted he's

:16:52.:16:57.

put his point across. I agree with him, the uncertainty this cause.

:16:57.:17:01.

This is a question about energy prices in Scotland. I recently

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discussed this issue with OFGEM and other key stake holders at the

:17:05.:17:14.

summit in Bathgate on October 20. This Government is determined to

:17:14.:17:19.

reduce energy bills. I welcome this. The right honourable gentleman's

:17:19.:17:27.

government is wanting to put a bonfire under quangos, so how does

:17:27.:17:36.

OFGEM's chairman's �200,000 a year salary set with not drawing above

:17:36.:17:41.

the Prime Minister's own salary? We're talking about energy prices

:17:41.:17:45.

rather than salaries, but I am sure the talents of the Secretary of

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State will allow him to remain in order. Secretary of State. I am

:17:49.:17:53.

delighted to say to the honourable gentleman he's right - I recognise

:17:53.:17:57.

his long-standing concerns on all of these issue, salaries, but also

:17:57.:18:00.

energy prices. That's why our proposals to simplify, help people

:18:00.:18:04.

to switch and get greater transparency in their bills and all

:18:05.:18:11.

the other reforms introduced by OFGEM are crucial. Thank you, Mr

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Speaker. One of the key groups of customers facing high energy prices

:18:14.:18:19.

this year are those not on the gas main who heat their homes with oil,

:18:19.:18:24.

LPG and other fuels. OFGEM sadly at the moment do not have a remit for

:18:24.:18:29.

them. Will he discuss with the Secretary of State for Energy and

:18:29.:18:33.

Climate Change whether there is any way those suppliers can be made to

:18:33.:18:38.

engage with their consumers who are vulnerable in the same way mains

:18:38.:18:43.

gas semiers have to? I know my colleagues in the Energy and

:18:43.:18:45.

Climate Change department will be meeting to discuss this in the next

:18:45.:18:48.

few weeks. I think my right honourable friend is right to

:18:48.:18:52.

highlight this issue. I look forward to picking it up with him

:18:52.:18:55.

at some point in the near future. Following on for that the Secretary

:18:55.:19:01.

of State for DEC sent around a letter yesterday promoting the

:19:01.:19:06.

Government's policy of checks which insulate. How does he suggest off-

:19:06.:19:10.

grid customers with either check or switch when in many areas there is

:19:11.:19:15.

a virtual monopoly of home fuel oil? There are far too many private

:19:15.:19:18.

conversations taking place in the chamber. We need to hear the

:19:18.:19:22.

Secretary of State. As I say, in answer to the question from my

:19:22.:19:26.

honourable friend, these are issues which we want to discuss and I

:19:26.:19:29.

recognise representing a big rural area without gas grid access that

:19:29.:19:33.

this is an important issue. I am happy to discuss it with him too.

:19:33.:19:38.

This is a question about a report from the Electoral Commission into

:19:38.:19:45.

the Scottish Parliamentry commission.

:19:45.:19:50.

- was voter focused. Given the Scottish Commission didn't complain

:19:50.:19:52.

about the Electoral Commission being involved in the elections,

:19:52.:19:57.

doesn't he think it's odd they now want to set up their own

:19:57.:20:01.

independent commission on the referendum? Mr Speaker, I agree

:20:01.:20:04.

with my honourable friend given that the SNP had no complaint about

:20:04.:20:07.

the Electoral Commission's involvement in the Scottish

:20:07.:20:12.

Parliament election and the AV referendum at great tax to the

:20:12.:20:15.

taxpayer, they intend to set up their own commission to oversee the

:20:15.:20:18.

referendum. No wonder so many people are speculating that is an

:20:18.:20:24.

attempt to rig that referendum. Will the Minister be meeting the

:20:24.:20:30.

Electoral Commission in Scotland on the 30th of November, or will he,

:20:30.:20:32.

like me, be supporting the public sector strike against Tory cuts and

:20:32.:20:39.

pensions? What I do welcome is that the honourable gentleman, as

:20:39.:20:45.

convener of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee brought it before

:20:45.:20:48.

his committee and will provide valuable evidence in the debate on

:20:48.:20:52.

the role that they should play in any referendum.

:20:52.:20:55.

THE SPEAKER: Mr Ian Stuart. Thank you, Mr Speaker is my right

:20:55.:20:59.

honourable friend aware of any recommendation in that report about

:20:59.:21:04.

changing the electorate in Scotland in the same way the Scottish

:21:04.:21:06.

Government wants to gerrymander the electorate for their independence

:21:07.:21:13.

referendum? Despite the accept, Ian Stuart is the Conservative MP for

:21:13.:21:17.

Milton Keynes South. The Electoral Commission report that my right

:21:17.:21:21.

honourable friend is correct to highlight those issues causing such

:21:21.:21:24.

uncertainty in relation to the Scottish separatists' referendum,

:21:24.:21:30.

namely, the franchise, the question and the timing.

:21:30.:21:33.

THE SPEAKER: Order. I appeal to the House to come to order and listen

:21:33.:21:39.

to Mr Frank Doran. This is a question about carbon capture in

:21:39.:21:43.

the north-east of Scotland. My most recent meeting with the Secretary

:21:43.:21:49.

of State for Energy and Climate Change was in October. Although it

:21:49.:21:53.

wasn't possible to reach a deal, the Government remains firmly

:21:53.:21:59.

committed to carbon capture and storage. I welcome the �1 billion

:21:59.:22:06.

of funding will be made available for future projects. Given that in

:22:06.:22:10.

the '80s we refused to invest in wind power and threw away the lead

:22:10.:22:16.

we had in renewables, is this government going to make the same

:22:16.:22:21.

mistake in the carbon capture? don't agree with the honourable

:22:21.:22:25.

gentleman on that, but I do agree with him that we're determined to

:22:25.:22:29.

see Britain take a leading role in this important technology. That's

:22:29.:22:35.

why the �1 billion of investment is still available and why Peter Head

:22:35.:22:40.

-- Peterhead and other parts of the UK will be able to bid for it.

:22:40.:22:43.

Speaker, I hope the Secretary of State will welcome the announcement

:22:43.:22:46.

by Scottish and Southern Energy this morning and Shell that they're

:22:46.:22:50.

bringing the project to Peterhead one step closer. What assurances

:22:50.:22:54.

can the Secretary of State give us that that project will not be

:22:55.:22:59.

shelved like the last Peterhead project from the last government

:22:59.:23:05.

and that we will see this investment to the place where -

:23:05.:23:09.

THE SPEAKER: Minister - Can I say to her in a week when we have seen

:23:09.:23:12.

a major international bank talk about the uncertainty of

:23:12.:23:17.

independence and the impact that's having on renewables investment in

:23:17.:23:24.

Scotland, I don't think we'll take lessons from the SNP about this. As

:23:24.:23:30.

I said to the gentleman, it is vitally important Peterhead and

:23:30.:23:34.

others come available with their bids. There is �1 billion to help

:23:34.:23:39.

them. This is a question about the Common

:23:39.:23:46.

fisheries policy. I have frequent discussions with the Cabinet

:23:46.:23:51.

Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, including a meeting

:23:51.:24:01.

last week on the Common Fisheries Policy and other matters.

:24:01.:24:06.

THE SPEAKER: Macintosh. Order! It's very unfair to the member asking

:24:06.:24:09.

the question, and indeed the Minister answering it. Let's have a

:24:10.:24:14.

bit of order. Ms Ann Macintosh. Does the Minister agree that the

:24:14.:24:19.

direction in which the negotiations on fisheries are going are entirely

:24:19.:24:24.

in the interests of the Scottish and UK fisheries to end discards

:24:24.:24:31.

and to allow for regional fisheries agreements going forward? I do

:24:31.:24:34.

indeed agree with the honourable lady, as I agree with Bertie

:24:35.:24:38.

Armstrong, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Fisheries Federation,

:24:39.:24:43.

who stated in his evidence to her Select Committee that the UK should

:24:43.:24:49.

speak with one voice in fisheries negotiations. How many

:24:49.:24:54.

conversations has he had with the fisheries commission to make sure

:24:54.:24:59.

they're not taken advantage by multinationals to use the UK as a

:24:59.:25:03.

flag of convenience? A I am sure the Minister will have understood

:25:03.:25:07.

the point that the honourable lady is making and she, like me, will

:25:07.:25:11.

welcome the fact there will be a backbench committee debate on

:25:11.:25:15.

fisheries next week. This is a question about unemployment in

:25:15.:25:18.

Scotland. Mr Speaker, my right honourable friend, the Secretary of

:25:18.:25:23.

State, and I are in regular contact about unemployment in Scotland with

:25:23.:25:28.

John sweenny, the Scottish Minister responsible for employment matters.

:25:28.:25:31.

Scottish Government agencies have been involved in all the employment

:25:32.:25:35.

seminars. My right honourable friend, the Secretary of State, has

:25:35.:25:41.

held over the past six months. the Minister tell the people of my

:25:41.:25:48.

constituency who have lost their jobs since he got his job - is

:25:48.:25:52.

unemployment a price worth paying for a deficit reduction plan that

:25:52.:25:57.

is choking off growth and raising Government debt? Well, I can

:25:57.:26:00.

certainly tell the honourable lady to be slightly less predictable,

:26:00.:26:09.

and I can also tell her to finally take some responsibility for the

:26:09.:26:13.

situation which her Government left this country in with the biggest

:26:13.:26:20.

peacetime deficit in our history. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Unemployment

:26:20.:26:25.

could be reduced if the community bid to take over the former RAS and

:26:25.:26:27.

PROBLEM WITH SOUND Goes ahead. I hope the Ministry of

:26:27.:26:30.

Defence will make a contribution towards making the water supply fit

:26:30.:26:34.

for purpose so the communities bid is viable. Will the Minister please

:26:34.:26:38.

have a word with the Ministry of Defence to encourage them to do so?

:26:39.:26:42.

Mr Speaker, I am happy to meet with my honourable friend and take

:26:42.:26:47.

forward his concerns with the Ministry of Defence. To take

:26:47.:26:51.

responsibility for something his Government has done. This morning

:26:51.:26:57.

House of Commons figures show youth unemployment in my constituency has

:26:57.:27:01.

risen by 200.82%. What is he going to say to the people of the

:27:01.:27:05.

Sterling constituency that they have done over the last 18 months?

:27:05.:27:09.

Well, what the right honourable lady knows is that youth

:27:09.:27:14.

unemployment rose under her Labour Government too. It is a serious -

:27:14.:27:20.

it is a serious issue which should not be the subject of party

:27:20.:27:24.

politicking, and we should all work together to resolve youth

:27:24.:27:28.

unemployment. I am afraid that's all we have time for at the moment

:27:28.:27:31.

and indeed for 2011 because the way the parliamentary calendar works,

:27:31.:27:36.

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