26/06/2013 Scottish Questions


26/06/2013

Coverage from Westminster of Scottish Questions.


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June's Scottish Questions. A mixed bag this month with questions on

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employment, the independence referendum and the common Common

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Agricultural Policy. Proceedings began with a specific questions

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about the blacklisting of employees in Scotland.

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THE SPEAKER: Order. Order. Questions to the Secretary of State for

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Scotland. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Question one.

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Mr Speaker, I regularly meet with Scottish Government Ministers to

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discuss a wide range of issues. I commend the work of the Scottish

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Affairs Committee. The Committee's final report will be given careful

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consideration by the Government. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I thank the

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Minister for his response. Perhaps the most ridiculous case of

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blacklisting that I'm aware of. One of my constituents lost the sight in

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his eyes serving his country. He found himself on the blacklist. What

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was his crime? He wrote to a newspaper condemning a decision to

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buy a portrait of Nelson Mandela. What can the Government do to wipe

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out this practice of blacklisting? What I am able to undertake is when

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the Scottish Affairs Committee report is published I will undertake

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to discuss the recommendations in that report with appropriate

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Scottish Government Ministers. someone who has been blacklisted

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three times in the past, I can tell him that it is an obnoxious way to

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go about business. Will he make sure legislation is in place so many

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others are not facing such a practice in future? Thank you. The

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Government takes this matter very seriously. There is already

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legislation in place in the Employment Relations Act 1999. We

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await the Scottish Affairs Committee report to see whether they propose

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any further measures. This practice has been going on for decades. The

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law is not working. Has the Minister looked at the legislation to see

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whether further action is required to make sure we bring an end to this

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practice? We have looked at the regulations which were obviously

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brought forward by the previous Government. We do very much respect

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the work of the Scottish Affairs Committee and if it identifies that

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the current legislation isn't working, we will look at that.

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Question two. This is a question about what is being done to keep the

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UK and Scotland together. To allow voters to make an informed choice.

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We are publishing papers on all the key issues throughout this year and

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next. Does the Secretary of State agree the programme already

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highlights clear benefits from Scotland being part of the UK and

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the UK having Scotland within it? certainly agree with my honourable

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friend on that. It demonstrates Scotland enjoys the best of both

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worlds, a strong Scottish Parliament and a strong voice here at

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Westminster. An economy able to benefit from the support of the

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whole UK, our place in the world is all the stronger as a result of

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being part of the United Kingdom. Yesterday, the Chamber of commerce

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highlighted information gaps. What will the Government do to make sure

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that all voters in Scotland have the facts, not assertions that we get

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from the SNP and the Scottish Government? I commend the Scottish

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Chamber of Commerce for the work they are doing along with other

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others. -- along with others. Both with our devolution paper, with the

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currency paper and also the financial services paper, we are

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showing that we are setting out the arguments and the analysis so

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Scotland makes an informed choice. May I commend my right honourable

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friend for the positive case he's making, but since he's been joined

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on the Treasury bench by his right honourable friend the Secretary of

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State for Defence, will he ensure that all Government departments,

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including the Ministry of Defence, take every opportunity to examine

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critically the defence proposals of the Scottish National Party and

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Government which were yet again this week subject to great criticism from

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an independent report? My right honourable and learned friend makes

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an important point. I can assure my my right honourable friend is

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engaged in this debate. Central to this debate will be the SNP's

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attempt to have it both ways by signing up to NATO but not being

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willing to accept the obligations and rules that go with it, which

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include a nuclear umbrella. emerged at the weekend that those

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insiders at the "no" campaign against Scottish independence called

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the campaign Project Fear. This is a campaign based on scaremongering and

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negativity. Is the Secretary of State embarrassed? Well, I do think

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that anybody on the proUK side of the campaign can show what

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negativity and scaremongering is all about. I think the honourable

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gentleman should be a little careful about casting aspersions and

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concentrate on getting on with the proper arguments that Thank you, Mr

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Speaker. Could my right honourable friend comment on the possible

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independent Scotland would have an army and would that independent

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Scotland be able to employ the same number of Scottish soldiers that the

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British Army employs at the moment? Bob Stewart is a Conservative MP.

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makes a very important point. Again, this week, the Scotland Institute's

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report has asked real serious questions of the SNP and the "yes"

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campaign which they cannot answer. This is a question about housing

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ownership. The Government is providing wide-ranging support to

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help people buy their homes. That support includes UK-wide help to buy

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mortgage guarantee scheme and opens in January 2014. The Treasury have

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worked with the Bank of England to implement the Funding for Lending

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Scheme. Next year, homebuyers in Scotland will have the opportunity

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to access the Scottish Government's shared equity scheme, the Scottish

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Government mortgage guarantee scheme and the UK Government scheme. What

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it is doing is leading to confusion now amongst people that what is the

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best way to access these schemes? Why doesn't the Government take more

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action to ensure there is a close relationship between what the

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Scottish Government is doing here to make sure that the benefits of these

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schemes go not to second homebuyer homebuyers, but actually to people

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who need them on modest incomes? honourable gentleman will be pleased

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to know we are working close closely with the Scottish Government in

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relation to their equity scheme which is the equivalent, not the

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same, as the equity loan scheme available in England. The home buy,

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the home to buy mortgage guarantee scheme will be available in

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Scotland. We are working with the Scottish Government to ensure there

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is a communications plan so potential homebuyers fully

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understand how all the schemes work. As my honourable friend has pointed

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out, the limit is �600,000. This is hardly designed for those on low and

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modest incomes. Would the money not be better spent in providing social

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housing which is badly needed across Scotland? Mr Speaker, I would have

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thought the honourable lady would have welcomed the fact there has

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been a 10% increase in loans to first-time buyers in Scotland in the

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first quarter of 2012. The limit of the scheme reflects house prices

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across the United Kingdom and I believe is fair and equitable.

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Number four. This is a question about the working of the common ag

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kul Common Agricultural Policy. aim to deliver a strong outcome for

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farm eR farmers in Scotland. Notwithstanding the proven need for

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environmental schemes, does the Secretary of State agree it is very

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important to enable farmers to make decisions about their own production

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methods so they can improve production and provide more

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sustainable food for this country's future? I agree with my honourable

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friend. I spoke to the Secretary of State for environment, Food and

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Rural Affairs, after he had his all night ne go Asians in --

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negotiations in Luxembourg. He wants a scheme that is regionalised for

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Scotland. We have an arrangement which will be fair to farmers,

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consumers and to taxpayers. While the Minister will be aware that the

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most important issue for my constituents is the future of the

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shipyards threatened by separation, nevertheless they are also concerned

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about the way in which the Common Agricultural Policy provides public

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money to landlords who have surplus acres while the Government finds

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tenants who are deemed to have surplus bedrooms. Is this fair?

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will pay tribute to the chairman of the Select Committee who has

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returned to robust good health and welcome that fact. I agree about the

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importance of the shipyards in this debate on independence. On

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agriculture, he is a long time campaigner on the reform of the CAP.

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I hope what he will see delivered is one that is fair to his constituents

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and to farmers. Regionalisation is just as important to delivering the

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CAP as it is to delivering the CFP. Is my right honourable friend aware

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of the cross-border impact on those constituencies close to Scotland,

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what the effect might be on the way that the reforms are implemented in

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Scotland? I obviously defer to the honourable lady and her expertise in

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this area. I'm very well aware of the issues that she raises. What the

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Secretary of State has been negotiating in Luxembourg is an

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arrangement which regionalises for the whole of the UK and makes it

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fair to farmers around the UK and allows us to design the CAP fit for

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local circumstances. Mr Speaker, I am disappointed the UK Government is

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set to negotiate a CAP deal which will leave Scottish with the low

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lowest rural budget. Does the Secretary of State accept that being

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tied to the UK will cost Scottish farming �300 million a year for the

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next seven years? I'm disappointed by the tone from the honourable

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lady. I hope she might just have studied the tweets from the Scottish

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agriculture minister. We have done it as a member of the UK at the top

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table with the clout to deliver a regionalised CAP. It is for Richard

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Lockhead to get on designing a policy that suits Scotland's needs.

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If agreement is reached this week on the common agriculture policy that

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works to the benefit of farmers across Scotland, is this not more

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evidence that Scotland speaks with a louder voice in EU negotiations as

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part of the United Kingdom? I'm in complete agreement with the

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honourable gentleman. The moral of these negotiations reinforces his

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point, the fact that the Scottish Farming Minister has been involved

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in discussions with the Secretary of State for Environment, food and

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Rural Affairs all the way through this process. Number five, Mr

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Speaker. This is a question about employment in Scotland. The most

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recent Labour statistics show that from February to April 2013,

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employment in Scotland has increased by 47,000, while unemployment has

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dropped by 6,000 and jobseeker's allowance claimants have reduced by

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900. The Government will continue to take the necessary steps to build a

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stronger economy in a fairer society. Mr Speaker, unemployment in

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Scotland has fallen for seven months in a row. Does he agree that this

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could be put at risk should Scotland vote to become independent?

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believe that Scotland as part of the United Kingdom has the most

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appropriate opportunities, as the great strength of that economy, not

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just for businesses there, but for consumers. They get greater choice

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and greater security as part of the United Kingdom and when times get

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tough, as we saw with the banking crisis, the UK is there to help out.

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That is a good deal and we should stick with it. Like my honourable

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friend from Glasgow South West, the main employer in my constituency are

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the shipyards. 2,000 people are employed. What will happen to these

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2,000 people if independence is voted for next year? Well, once

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again, the honourable gentleman makes a very important point. It is

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a question that is directed to the SNP routinely and for which they

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have no answer. The arrangement we have with the shipyards, with the

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construction, is very good for Scotland and we should continue to

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be part of the UK. Can the Secretary of State confirm that many of the

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jobs in the offshore oil and gas industry, where we must not forget

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what a dangerous environment it is to operate in, especially as we mark

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the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster. Will he study the

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outcome of the conference held last week to see if we can make the

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industry as safe as possible? honourable friend is right to draw

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the House's attention to the tragic events of 25 years ago. The loss of

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167 lives is something that the communities, the families are still

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dealing with 25 years later. We all remember that tragedy and remain

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committed to ensuring that we have the highest possible standards of

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health and safety in the North Sea and, as a Government, we remain

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committed to working with the sector to ensure that is the case. Of

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course, we will study the recommendations from the conference

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to which he referred. THE SPEAKER: There has been - I know

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members will want to be quiet for Margaret Curran. Thank you very

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much. For those who are in employment, can the Secretary of

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State for Scotland tell the House have average wages gone up or down

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since in last election? I would have hoped the honourable lady would have

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welcomed the fact that more people are in employment as a result of the

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measures we are taking, that we have created 150,000 private sector jobs

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in Scotland. Of course, there are still challenges facing the economy,

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but she will remember the legacy that she left us. She can see for

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herself the crisis in the eurozone. We remain committed to taking the

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steps that will get us on the road to recovery. Once again, the

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Secretary of State doesn't let the facts get in the way of the same old

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answer. Average wages in Scotland have gone down by �1,100 since he

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took office. That is the equivalent of 14 tanks of petrol, 15 weekly

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shops or over nine months of gas and electricity bills. The Secretary of

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State has said in the past the horrible truth is everyone is going

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to have to make a contribution. Is this what he had in mind? Well, the

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honourable lady, despite the changes from the Shadow Chancellor, doesn't

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seem to have caught up with the new script, the recognition that the

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Labour Party left the decks burning when it went out of office three

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years ago. She is not going to be credible until she faces up to that.

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What I have said is these are tough times, they continue to be

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challenging, but what we are doing by raising the tax threshold so that

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224,000 Scots are out of tax altogether, two million Scots are

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enjoying a �600 per year reduction in their income tax bill. That is

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very important. We continue to work for fairness and for a successful

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economy. Number six.This is a question about housing payments.

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right honourable friend, the Secretary of State and I, met with

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the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The Minister will know

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that some 80% of affected households in Scotland contain a disabled

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adult, yet they only get 6.5% of the total budget. Instead of

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concentrating on his pathetic scaremongering Project Fear, will he

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concentrate on the real fears of real Scots under his Tory-led

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Government? Mr Speaker, what I'm concentrating on is the real

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concerns of local authorities in Scotland. That is why the Secretary

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of State and I have met with every single local authority in Scotland

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to discuss the specific issues that they - and the concerns they have -

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and we will meet at the end of July to discuss the outcome of those

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discussions. Number seven. This is a question about the general state of

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the economy in Scotland. Against a tough economic backdrop, we are

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taking the measures necessary to create a rebalanced economy with

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sustainable public finances. Scottish economy needs people in

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work. Last year, the Government supported the closure of the Remploy

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factory. Since then, nearly a year later, very few of those disabled

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workers have found a full-time job. How does that help the economy?

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recognise the issue that the honourable gentleman raises on

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behalf of his constituents. I will be very happy to meet with him to

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discuss this issue further. What we want to do is help those with

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disabilities to get into the workplace.

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THE SPEAKER: There's far too much noise in the Chamber! The House must

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and will hear. Super-fast broadband is so important

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for the economy of rural areas, the Government's target is 90% coverage

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by 2015. In the ghlands, the target is only 75% in each local authority

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area by December 2016. Will my honourable friend meet me to discuss

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how we can get this target up to something comparable with the rest

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of the country? Can I say my honourable friend is right to

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champion this cause. It is very important. Indeed, we need

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super-fast broadband in the Highlands. Thank you. As part of the

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Project Fear abbing ticks, there has been a ridiculous level of --

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tactics, there has been a ridiculous amount... Will the Secretary of

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State apologise for the scaremongering tactic tactics that

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he is a part of? The honourable gentleman needs to relax a bit and

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address this sensibly. What he surely recognises is that that

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record investment comes from the back of a United Kingdom economic

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framework that is supportive to businesses wherever they locate in

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the United Kingdom and where businesses can get access to the

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whole of the United Kingdom economy without any false barriers created

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by him and his friends. Mr Speaker, the failing of policies are not

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delivering the gross we require in the UK. Will he take the opportunity

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to welcome the help and support he is getting as part of the Project

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Fear campaign, by those who agree with the Conservative spending cuts

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that have been announced and agree with the bedroom tax? Another neat

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diversion. He can't avoid the central fact - he and his colleagues

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have no answers on the central question of Scotland's economy. How

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the banks and other also be regulated, how trade will work

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across the United Kingdom, on every single important question there are

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no answers from the SNP. They will not be listened to until those

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answers come. Later today, the House will debate the High Speed Two

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preparation bill. Does my right honourable friend agree that this

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project will lead to Scotland's economic growth? This is absolutely

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key to the whole of the UK's economy. I look forward to the

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benefits being enjoyed by all parts of Britain, north and south.

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Speaker, this Government has delivered one-fifth of the promised

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growth since 2010. Is the Minister also aware that the working age

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employment rate in Scotland has fallen by 2% from five years ago,

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leaving a jobs gap for Scotland of more than 71,000? Doesn't that make

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the case for a jobs guarantee now to get Scotland's young and long-term

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jobless people back into work, generate more tax revenues and help

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cut the deficit which... Let me put this to him. Yet again, there's

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denial from him and his colleagues about the good progress we have been

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make making on unemployment. I hope he would recognise that. It is

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essential we take the measures to support individuals into work, which

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we are doing with the Work Programme, which we are doing with

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the Youth Contract. He can shake his head. He needs to get with the

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reality. Does my right honourable friend agree that connectivity

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through regional air hubs to international hubs are vital to the

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performance of the Scottish economy? In that regard, can I ask what the

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Government is able to do to assist in maintaining those links,

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particularly at Inverness and to the Highlands? My honourable friend is a

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real champion of those vital air links to the north and the far north

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which he represents. I know he has been making strong representations.

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I will be happy to meet with him further. The OBR states real wages

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in Scotland will be lower in 2015 than when Labour left office. Why

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isn't the Secretary of State standing up for hard-working Scots

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protecting tax credits, but instead giving a tax break to millionaires?

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There we go again. The honourable lady chooses to ignore the absolute

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crisis that the Labour Party left for the incoming Government three

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years ago. She forgets the measures we have taken to take low-paid Scots

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out of tax altogether. She forgets all those things. Without the firm

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measures we have taken, we would not be moving from rescue to recovery as

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we are. That is all we have got time for at the moment and because of the

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parliamentary calendar, that is the last Scottish Questions before the

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