09/11/2011 Scottish Questions


Coverage of today's Scottish Questions from Westminster.

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


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


today. Renewable energy, the constitutional question and the


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


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


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


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


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


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


seven together. I recognise the vital role that the construction


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


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


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


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


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


still have construction workers that remain unemployed after


Aberdeen Construction went into administration. Does he recognise


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


are far too many unemployed construction workers that are


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


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


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


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


big challenge clearing up the mess left behind by the previous


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


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


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


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


lobby today of construction workers throughout the UK, many from


Scotland. They are concerned about a proposal by six national


construction companies to change the national agreement for


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


the UK government, have taken important steps to support the


Scottish government with the economy. Is my right honourable


friend aware of the considerable construction activity that is


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


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


ensure that the right infrastructure is constructed now


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


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


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


support the economy through these difficult times, cut in corporation


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


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


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


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


uncertainty that an independence referendum is causing in Scotland.


If a competitive tax position is vital for the construction sector


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


calling for devolution of corporation tax powers. Will the


Secretary of State confirm that the UK government is actively


considering the devolution of corporation tax to Northern


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


consultation about corporation tax devolution to Northern Ireland. We


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


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


fundamental questions about them which have gone unanswered. We have


yet to see the consultation responses. I suggest that the


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


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


the UK government will consider the devolution of corporation tax


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


Secretary confirmed in evidence to the Scottish parliament that the UK


government has already ruled out the devolution of corporation tax


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


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


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


establish some credible position, some detail, maintain the consensus


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


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


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


Scottish Secretary. Ken Knight return to the construction industry


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


this year and the number of Scottish companies facing


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


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


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


specific action to help boost the construction industry and get the


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


inadequate answer. The failed policies of this government mean we


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


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


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


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


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


boost jobs in Scotland, what specific action will this


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


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


we inherited from her previous government, where we inherited the


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


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


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


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


low interest rates and reducing regulatory and national insurance


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


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


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


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


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


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


referendum. The Government has no such policy.


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


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


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


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


that has profound implications for Northern Ireland, Wales, England


and Scotland itself involve a clear and straightforward tries between


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


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


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


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


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


surprise that the SNP are taking Scotland for granted and running


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


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


In considering Scottish independence, has the Secretary of


State seen recent legal advice that states that an independent Scotland


would either be outside the European Union, and therefore lose


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


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


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


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


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


Scotland would enter the European Union without negotiation or


consideration to these kinds of issues is entirely fanciful. We


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


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


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


was entirely a matter for the Scottish government and he would


not be raising constitutional questions regarding a referendum on


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


lessons on rigged referendums from the party opposite! They are


determined not to have a straightforward referendum about


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


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


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


question about cutting the costs of the Scotland Office. Scotland


offers ministers are determined that the Office contributes to the


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


on administrative costs by a range of administrative measures


including sharing resources with other officers and making more


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


wants to see small and more effective government. The Secretary


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


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


career enhancing move if he suggested at the dispatch box now


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


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


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


the greatest danger from separatists that it has ever faced,


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


opportunities are larger, our finances are more robust. Our


defences are stronger, influence on international stage greater, the


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


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


Secretary of State agree that, given the tough economic crisis


facing small European countries, the worst thing for Scotland would


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


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


Honourable Friend is absolutely right to highlight the issues that


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


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


with European partners, who are facing real difficulties all over


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


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


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


monarchy and the current Queen would be important, whatever


constitutional arrangements that Scotland has in the future? This


will their independent Canada, New Zealand and Australia, with


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


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


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


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


outlined the benefits to Scotland of its membership of the European


Union and the uncertainty which would surround these benefits in


the event Scotland was to become independent. Does my right


honourable friend agree that it would help to resolve that


uncertainty if the Scottish Government would publish the legal


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


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


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


of the European Union without discussion with complete agreement


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


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


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


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


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


that the impartial House of Commons library published yesterday which


indicates Scotland might have to go through an accession process to


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


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


contributions to the EU from Scottish taxpayers would rise to


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


to switch and get greater transparency in their bills and all


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


of State for DEC sent around a letter yesterday promoting the


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


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


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


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


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


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


recognise representing a big rural area without gas grid access that


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


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


the Scottish Parliamentry commission.


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


about the Electoral Commission being involved in the elections,


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


independent commission on the referendum? Mr Speaker, I agree


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


the Electoral Commission's involvement in the Scottish


Parliament election and the AV referendum at great tax to the


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


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


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


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


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


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


convener of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee brought it before


his committee and will provide valuable evidence in the debate on


the role that they should play in any referendum.


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


honourable friend aware of any recommendation in that report about


changing the electorate in Scotland in the same way the Scottish


Government wants to gerrymander the electorate for their independence


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


Milton Keynes South. The Electoral Commission report that my right


honourable friend is correct to highlight those issues causing such


uncertainty in relation to the Scottish separatists' referendum,


namely, the franchise, the question and the timing.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


bringing the project to Peterhead one step closer. What assurances


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


shelved like the last Peterhead project from the last government


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


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


a major international bank talk about the uncertainty of


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


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


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


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


them. This is a question about the Common


fisheries policy. I have frequent discussions with the Cabinet


Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment, including a meeting


last week on the Common Fisheries Policy and other matters.


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


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


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


direction in which the negotiations on fisheries are going are entirely


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


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


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


Armstrong, the Chief Executive of the Scottish Fisheries Federation,


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


speak with one voice in fisheries negotiations. How many


conversations has he had with the fisheries commission to make sure


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


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


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


welcome the fact there will be a backbench committee debate on


fisheries next week. This is a question about unemployment in


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


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


John sweenny, the Scottish Minister responsible for employment matters.


Scottish Government agencies have been involved in all the employment


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


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


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


unemployment a price worth paying for a deficit reduction plan that


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


certainly tell the honourable lady to be slightly less predictable,


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


situation which her Government left this country in with the biggest


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


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


PROBLEM WITH SOUND Goes ahead. I hope the Ministry of


Defence will make a contribution towards making the water supply fit


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


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


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


forward his concerns with the Ministry of Defence. To take


responsibility for something his Government has done. This morning


House of Commons figures show youth unemployment in my constituency has


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


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


Well, what the right honourable lady knows is that youth


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


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


politicking, and we should all work together to resolve youth


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


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


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