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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): The terrorist attacks in the United States have had significant implications for the aviation industry worldwide. It is inevitable that airline operations in Scotland should be similarly affected. The Government have already announced measures to assist airlines in dealing with the immediate implications of the events of 11 September and I maintain contact with the industry to monitor further developments. Indeed, I am calling senior representatives of the industry together on 3 December so that we can have fuller discussions on those matters.
Jim Sheridan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. She may be aware that my constituency, like many in Scotland, is heavily dependent on air and sea transport, so will she assure the House that, following the events of 11 September, the Government will seek improvements in all transport links throughout Scotland and between Scotland, Europe and beyond? That would protect jobs in that vital industry.
Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I would expect nothing less from him given the nature of his constituency and its history of shipbuilding. It is important to the economy of Scotland that we have the best possible transport links to our main markets in Europe. I am therefore pleased to announce that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions today agreed in principle to provide £12 million of freight facilities grants to Forth Ports plc and Superfast Ferries SA to establish a ferry link between Rosyth and Zeebrugge in Belgium. The grant is subject to state aid clearance by the European Commission, and that is being sought. The service will save thousands of long-distance lorry journeys on Britain's roads and will be of enormous help to Scotland's exporters.
Mrs. Liddell: The events of 11 September have caused much rethinking across the aviation industry and my office is in constant contact with it. Although we are disappointed with the delayed start of the second centre, we are encouraged by the fact that the commitment to it remains in place. I intend to invite representatives of NATS to meet me to discuss how quickly we can get the project up and running again.
Mrs. Irene Adams (Paisley, North): My right hon. Friend will be aware that Rolls-Royce has announced some 3,800 redundancies in the United Kingdom as a result of 11 September. We are not aware of the extent of redundancies at individual plants, but given that there is a plant at Hillington in my constituency and the likelihood of a knock-on effect, will she use her good offices to do everything she can to assist Rolls-Royce to deal with that blow to Paisley, North?
Mrs. Liddell: I understand my hon. Friend's concern. Indeed, she has articulated it to me before. We are all aware of the importance of Rolls-Royce to the economy of the west of Scotland, but all companies that are involved in the aerospace sector need to balance capacity with demand. Yesterday, however, Emirates Airlines announced a £15 billion plane order that will benefit Rolls-Royce to the tune of at least $50 million. That may not have an immediate impact on the redundancy programme, but it is good news for the company and the industry, as is the Lockheed-Martin joint strike fighter announcement. If my hon. Friend wants to bring representatives of the company and work force to meet me and my hon. Friend the Minister of State, I am happy to afford her that facility.
Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): Is the Secretary of State aware that the consumer confidence barometera monthly survey compiled for the European Commissionshows an alarming drop in confidence in the UK, including Scotland? That is bad news for the aerospace industry and jobs, as is the Prestwick announcement. Does she know that the figures show the biggest drop in confidence since last year's fuel crisis? Have not increased taxation, increased red tape and increased burdens on businessall of which were introduced by Labour in Scotlandleft the aviation industry less well placed to face a world economic downturn?
Mrs. Liddell: On confidence in the airline sector, in September 2001 BAA released figures on airport usage in Scotland. Compared with the previous year, passenger numbers through Edinburgh have risen by 13.4 per cent., through Glasgow by 6.9 per cent., through Aberdeen by 0.5 per cent. and through Prestwick by a massive 37.9 per cent., so there is still confidence in the airline sector.
The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): We work effectively together on our anti-poverty strategy, as we do on many issues. For example, the Executive played a full part in preparing the UK national action plan on social inclusion, which we recently submitted to the European Commission.
Mr. Luke: I commend my hon. Friend for his evident commitment to the joined-up campaign to banish all aspects of poverty, which afflict both young and old, to the dustbins of Scottish history. Does he agree, however, that despite the progress that has been made, areas such as mine still suffer from high levels of poverty and unemployment? Will he give a commitment to visit Dundee to meet the organisations and agencies involved in the anti-poverty strategy, including the very active pensioners groups, to review what more the Government can do to remove the blight of poverty from my city?
Mr. Foulkes: As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already visited Dundee, but I should like to take up his kind invitation. I want to go up there to say what the Government are doing for pensioners: the minimum income guarantee, the winter fuel allowance and the pension increase, which this year is higher than inflation. [Hon. Members: "More."] We are going to do more. We are introducing the pension credit. I told all that to the Scottish Pensioners Forum, which is led by my old friend Phyllis Heriot, when it visited the Secretary of State and me at Dover house today, and I am willing to go to Dundee, or anywhere else in Scotland, to say what we are doing for pensioners.
Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): Is the Minister aware that poverty in Scotland does not end at Stepps or Abington? With farm incomes declining to new lowsthe Government's own figures suggest as low as £30 a weeksub-post offices closing from Wigtownshire to Shetland and rural business closing under the weight of Government red tape, what will the Government do to reverse the decline into devastating poverty of Scotland's rural communities?
Mr. Foulkes: My right hon. Friend congratulated her friend from Strathclyde on her appointment. May I commiserate with the hon. Gentleman, because it would have been nice to have a shadow Secretary of State who represents a Scottish constituency and who can speak from personal experience that is current, rather than from the 1960s?
The Government have committed £7 million to help Dumfries and Galloway, because of foot and mouth disease. We have made a pledge that no rural post office will close unnecessarily. [Laughter.] None has closed in my constituency in the past four years. If any post office in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has closed, he can come and see me afterwards and I will take the matter on board.
The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): In February this year, my right hon. Friend launched a major publicity campaign to encourage people in Scotland to register to vote, following the introduction of rolling registration by the Representation of the People Act 2000. However, from 1 July, encouraging people to participate in the democratic process became the responsibility of the new Electoral Commission.
Mr. Harris: During the general election, I encountered a number of constituents, many of them young people, who had not registered to vote despite being legally obliged to do so. Is my hon. Friend aware that Glasgow city council expects to identify no more than 80 per cent. of all eligible voters for inclusion in next year's electoral register? Given that it is pointless to encourage people to come out and vote unless they are registered in the first place, does he agree that it is about time that we reminded the public that they face individual fines of up to £1,000 for failing to return a completed electoral registration form?
Mr. Foulkes: Low registration certainly depresses me. Glasgow city council aims for 100 per cent. registration, and I encourage people to register. After all, women fought for the votethey chained themselves to railings and threw themselves in front of race horses to get the vote. When visiting Chile after the dictatorship, I saw people queueing to vote because they recognised the importance of democracy. After 11 September, we, too, ought to recognise the importance of democracy. Young people, above all, should recognise that, register to vote, then voteand vote Labour.