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House of Commons

Tuesday 12 February 2002

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Mersey Tunnels Bill (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Tuesday 26 February.



Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Dalmuir Credit Union

1. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie): If she will make a statement about her visit to Clydebank to open the new premises of Dalmuir credit union. [32332]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): Dalmuir credit union is an excellent example of the success of the credit union movement. Everyone has a right to financial services, which are a key tool in the fight against poverty. At Dalmuir, the Scottish principles of self-help and thrift are plainly to the fore in one of the most successful community credit unions ever.

Tony Worthington: We were grateful to the Secretary of State for coming to open the credit union, which marks the arrival of the credit union movement in a very different way. Since she came, 85 extra members a month have been added to the credit union's membership, which now totals 5,500, and it has share capital of £3.7 million. It is easily the largest community-based credit union in the United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, alongside the universal bank in the Post Office and

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other Government measures, the credit union is a powerful means of tackling poverty and increasing social cohesion?

Mrs. Liddell: I agree wholeheartedly. Of my many engagements, that visit was probably one of the more successful. I was able to meet people whom I had not seen for quite some time, and the warmth of the response was outstanding. With my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to Rose Dorman, the doyenne of the UK credit union movement. To a large extent, it is her vision that has made that credit union so successful.

The fight against financial exclusion is important. Most Members of Parliament can pay their utility bills by direct debit, thereby reducing their bills, but people who are very poor often do not have bank accounts, so access to financial services is often a guarantee of lower bills. Conservative Members may mock, but they have never had to deal with poverty to the extent that the Government have.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): The Secretary of State is right to say that credit unions play a valuable role in protecting ordinary people who are financially disadvantaged from the likes of loan sharks. The hon. Member for Clydebank and Milngavie (Tony Worthington) is right to say that Dalmuir credit union is a model. As one of the biggest credit unions in the country, it should be used as an example for others.

The Financial Services Authority has done a lot to protect members, which should encourage people, but although the Scottish Executive have made some quite encouraging statements about developing and supporting credit unions in future, we have not yet seen much of substance. The people of Clydebank would probably benefit from the right hon. Lady's working with her partners in Edinburgh to get further action as soon as possible.

Mrs. Liddell: I agree with the hon. Gentleman's general sentiments about the value of credit unions, but it was only a few months ago that, with Jackie Baillie, then the Scottish Minister for Social Justice, I opened another credit union in Edinburgh's Leith area. It is important to recognise that the Scottish Executive and the Government work hand in hand.

The FSA has now taken over responsibility for the regulation of credit unions, and a new wave of regulation comes in from 1 July 2002 to ensure that credit unions have the base of protection that other financial services sector companies have. In addition, the Treasury has just finished a consultation exercise on ways in which the credit union movement can be given further assistance; an announcement will be made shortly.

I take this opportunity to congratulate Scotland's banking sector, which has worked closely with the Government to ensure that we increase banking opportunities for all. The banks have been instrumental in giving a great deal of support to the credit union movement, despite the fact that some in their number regard credit unions as competitors.

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BP Grangemouth

2. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): What discussions she has had with the Scottish Executive's Minister for Enterprise regarding the future of BP at Grangemouth. [32333]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (Mr. George Foulkes): I have regular discussions with all the Executive Ministers on a range of issues, although not all of them appear in my diary. My hon. Friend will be aware that I met BP shortly after its announcement in November to discuss the future.

Mr. Connarty: I am sure that my hon. Friend shares with the people of Grangemouth and the communities of central Scotland the anguish that they felt as 1,000 people were called into the offices of BP's management to be told that, despite the service that they had given, they were now on the scrap heap. I seek an assurance that the ministerial taskforce, which I have been invited to join, and the partnership action for continuing employment group, which has set up an office in my constituency, will focus on making sure that those people are not put on the scrap heap.

When this is all over, will my hon. Friend ensure that that pain and anguish was not for nothing? There is a rumour going around of the impending closure of one UK refinery, which would make the UK a net importer of petrol. Will he fight to ensure that it is not Grangemouth?

Mr. Foulkes: I commend my hon. Friend and his colleague, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for the area, Cathy Peattie, on their assiduous work in defending the interests of their constituents who are working at BP, and all the families involved. I am pleased that my hon. Friend has been able to join the taskforce. I talked to Wendy Alexander about that and other aspects of BP at Grangemouth, and I shall continue to have discussions with her. I have also discussed with the Health and Safety Executive its concerns about Grangemouth, and I am willing to talk to it further if my hon. Friend would find that helpful.

I am surprised by what my hon. Friend says. He will recall from our meeting with BP that the purpose of the downsizing at Grangemouth was to safeguard the remaining jobs in the long term. In the light of what my hon. Friend says, I shall seek a further meeting with BP to discuss the matter.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): Given the potential of BP axing 40 per cent. of the work force at Grangemouth and given the problems of job losses in key areas of the Scottish economy, such as Grangemouth, does the Minister share the Secretary of State's complacent view that the Scottish economy is performing well? Will he now take seriously the problems of Scottish industry?

Mr. Foulkes: The House should compare the positive and constructive attitude of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk. East (Mr. Connarty) with that of the Scottish National party. SNP Members remind me of carrion crows. They hover, waiting for a corpse, so that they can

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pick up some political advantage from it. They will not be able to do that. The latest polls show that Scotland continues to reject the narrow nationalism of the SNP.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): One of the problems that is faced by BP and others is a lack of tradesmen, especially pipe fitters. What representations has my hon. Friend made to the Scottish Executive about the training programme for tradesmen in Scotland?

Mr. Foulkes: That is not a planted question. Heaven forfend. By a strange coincidence, not only did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discuss this issue with Transco, but I discussed it with Wendy Alexander when we met and launched the Clyde taskforce report. We are actively looking into the matter. I shall talk to my hon. Friend about it immediately after questions.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire): In these and other discussions, has the Minister made any assessment of what effect Labour's policies of more regulations, higher taxes, excessive fuel duties and oppressive congestion charging will have on the long-term future of BP and the oil industry generally? Is it not crystal clear that the continuation of those policies will lead to ever more job losses in Scotland?

Mr. Foulkes: I invite the hon. Gentleman to come to Scotland. I will take him round and show him some things. He might like to know that there have been substantial new announcements in the oil industry in Scotland. In November, the Department of Trade and Industry gave approval for phase 2 of the Juno field, with 1,200 jobs underpinned, and for the first phase of the Clare field. In January, three new oilfields—Madoes, Mirren and Maclure—were approved. Those are all BP fields. I thought that the SNP Members were bad enough, but the Tories seem to want to trump the SNP in talking down Scotland. We will not let them do that.

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