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House of Commons

Tuesday 4 February 2003

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Fishing Communities

1. Angus Robertson (Moray): What discussions she has held with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on new funding for fishing communities following the European Union decision on quota cuts. [94185]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I have regular discussions with the Chancellor on that and a wide range of other subjects.

Angus Robertson : Has the Secretary of State read the letter that Mr. Jim Cuthbert, the former chief statistician of the Scottish Office, sent this week? He wrote that Scotland was effectively insulated from the beneficial effects of EU structural funding in connection with the fishing crisis. Will the right hon. Lady explain to my fishing constituents and others around the coast why the Spanish fleet can access additional resources from the European Union to build new boats whereas the Scottish Executive cannot access any EU additional funding even to scrap boats?

Mrs. Liddell: Mr. Cuthbert is a more regular correspondent of the hon. Gentleman's than of mine. The Scottish Executive have already received £55 million in funding from the EU to assist in the transformation of the fisheries industry. I draw it to the hon. Gentleman's attention that the Scottish National party's fish recovery plan, which argues against decommissioning, would lead to a reduction in the number of days at sea from 15—negotiated by the Government—to nine. He would not know a fish recovery plan from a fish supper.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): As my right hon. Friend said, a new package was announced on 28 January; I hope that part of it will go to the processing side. The catching side has obviously been emphasised, but processors are important. Will my right hon. Friend commend the work of Aberdeenshire council, Aberdeen city council and Scottish Enterprise Grampian, which are conducting a feasibility study to ensure that any money that goes into processing is well

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spent? It is crucial that any aid package ensures the future of the fishing industry rather than managing its decline.

Mrs. Liddell: I join my hon. Friend in commending the local authorities that she mentioned. Last Monday, Mr. Robert Milne of the Scottish Fish Merchants Federation invited me to visit the producers in my hon. Friend's constituency and those of other hon. Friends.

I am conscious of the importance of the fish producing industry. We held a detailed discussion on that with the Prime Minister last week. The SNP's fish recovery plan would take £30 million away from the fish producers. Last week, the Prime Minister met representatives of the fishing industry and commissioned a paper from the No. 10 strategic policy unit, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the devolved Administrations to provide a strategy for the next five to 10 years so that the industry in the United Kingdom can have a long-term, sustainable future. The document will give us options for the future. There will be further discussions with the industry and we aim to reach a broad consensus that will inform our further policy and enable us to enter into discussions with other member states and achieve that outcome in Europe.

Mr. Peter Duncan (Galloway and Upper Nithsdale): What exactly has the Secretary of State done to identify new sources of assistance for Scotland's fishing communities? Does she agree that our fishing communities have been right to highlight a double failure: that of the Scottish Government to target their pathetic package on everyone in need, especially onshore industry, and, most starkly, that of the Scotland Office to stand up to the Treasury and provide genuine assistance to communities in crisis? When will she cease to be Gordon's gopher in Scotland?

Mrs. Liddell: I am delighted to support my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, in the most recent comprehensive spending review, provided £18 billion to £21 billion in the Scottish block grant. That is a greater sum than was achieved under any Administration the hon. Gentleman supported.

Mr. Duncan: Fishing?

Mrs. Liddell: As I have already pointed out to the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson), £55 million of EU funds have been provided for fishing. Last Monday, the Scottish Executive announced a £50 million package. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is belatedly turning into a subsidy junkie. The Government's policy is to secure a sustainable future for the fisheries industry; sloganising will not achieve that.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): The Secretary of State has demonstrated that she is not in command of the subject. Will she answer a specific question? Did the Scottish Executive specifically request additional Treasury resources to fund the fishing strategy plan? What role, if any, did the right hon. Lady play in that request? If it is right to fund a recovery strategy after the

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foot and mouth epidemic to the tune of more than £1 billion of extra resources, why is there not a penny piece of additional money for the fishing communities?

Mrs. Liddell: Labour Members now have a new game whenever we see SNP Members: we try to work out which one is a snake and which one is an assassin, in the words of Mrs. MacDonald. The Government have this year made available to the Scottish Executive £18 billion in the block grant; £55 million is already available through European Union funds. The Scottish Executive, unlike the Scottish National party, have the resources available to fund a £50 million package, and I commend to the hon. Gentleman his party's own fishery recovery plan, which endorses that £50 million package.

Health and Safety Executive

2. Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire): What steps she is taking to promote the activities of the Health and Safety Executive in Scotland. [94186]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I hosted an informal discussion yesterday on how best to deliver in Scotland the targets laid down under the revitalising health and safety programme. The Scotland Office will shortly write to employers, trade unions and other bodies about tackling violence at work.

Jim Sheridan : My hon. Friend will be aware that the number of reported accidents in the workplace in Scotland is, unfortunately, above the national average. Will she give the House a commitment that when she next meets representatives of the Health and Safety Executive she will emphasise the Government's determination to track down unscrupulous employers who pay scant regard to health and safety in the workplace, especially in industries such as the construction industry, where most of the accidents take place?

Mrs. McGuire: The Health and Safety Executive is well aware of some of the difficulties in the construction industry, and has targeted a priority programme on that sector. The Government are keen to ensure that we reach the targets that we identified under the revitalising health and safety programme, which will cut the rate of deaths and major injuries by 10 per cent., reduce the rate of work-related ill health by 20 per cent. and cut working days lost due to health and safety failure by 30 per cent. My hon. Friend is right, however, to highlight some of the difficulties in the construction industry, and I hope that I can reassure him that those who are employed in that industry will be subject to the same vigorous scrutiny under health and safety legislation as anyone else in Scotland.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): The Minister will be aware of the massive rise in employers' liability insurance premiums this year, and of the consequence for many small businesses. Given that the work of the Health and Safety Executive is critical in reducing death and injury in the workplace—

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and thereby reducing these costs—what are the Government doing to assist that aim, and to help those small businesses?

Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Department for Work and Pensions is consulting on employers' liability insurance, about which there is genuine concern. The Chancellor highlighted the issue in his pre-Budget report in November. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that part of the discussions that we held yesterday with the Health and Safety Executive and other stakeholders in health and safety included talks with a representative from the insurers' organisations, and there was an exchange of views on this issue. The DWP consultation is key to the way forward on employers' liability insurance.

Mr. Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw): The Minister will be aware that the Health and Safety Executive has a huge role to play in steel fabrication and shipbuilding. Indeed, the thousands of jobs recently announced in shipbuilding in Scotland will be most welcome and will no doubt keep the HSE very busy. How does the Minister think that it would be kept busy if the shipbuilding industry only had to build tartan dinghies and tartan rowing boats in an independent Scotland, divorced from the United Kingdom, withdrawn from NATO and led by John Swinney—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The policies of another party have nothing to do with the Minister.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What will be the relationship between the Health and Safety Executive in Scotland and the new rail accident investigation branch that is being set up under the Railways and Transport Safety Bill, which is in Committee today?

Mrs. McGuire: The Health and Safety Executive obviously has an overarching health and safety role in Scotland, and discussions with the new regime that will be established under the railways legislation are ongoing. [Interruption.] I assure the hon. Lady that the Scotland Office has regular meetings and proactive discussions with the Health and Safety Executive, and it ill behoves Opposition Front Benchers to denigrate such discussions on health and safety issues in Scotland.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): Is it not both worrying and mysterious that the number of accidents in Scotland is higher than in England? Will my hon. Friend ask the Health and Safety Executive to set up a specific inquiry to try to find out the reasons for that? Will she also ask it to report on how many firms in Scotland have appointed health and safety officers, as they ought to be doing, to ensure that the appalling level of accidents is reduced?

Mrs. McGuire: My right hon. Friend is correct to say that some areas have a worse health and safety record. That may have something to do with the as yet unproved assertion that we may have a more macho culture when it comes to health and safety. As I have said, however, a campaign is continuing with the Health and Safety Executive. Companies have been clearly targeted as having to identify health and safety officers. The safe

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Scotland initiative and the new helplines to assist Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises with health and safety issues are part of the continuing campaign to raise the profile and change the culture.

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