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4 Feb 2003 : Column 131continued
Pete Wishart : I thank the right hon. Lady for that non-answer. Can she even begin to justify and explain the near-doubling of Scotland Office staff since devolution, despite the fact that the Scottish Parliament does most of the work previously done by the Scottish Office? The right hon. Lady will know that the Constitutional Committee of the House of Lords could find no explanation for the inflated staff numbers. Indeed, it found that the Scotland Office employs twice as many staff as the Wales Office.
Mrs. Liddell: I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman's surprise at receiving my answer to his inquiry as to when I would announce the proposed staff levels. I have said that I will announce them in the spring.
The hon. Gentleman is woefully ill informed. The Scotland Office did not exist before devolution; it was established in 1999. Its staff levels were established as a result of a Treasury review undertaken in 1999, and announced to the Scottish Grand Committee in July of that year.
We all know where the hon. Gentleman is coming from: he wants to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom. This Government have provided devolution settlements for both Scotland and Wales. The hon. Gentleman asked about the Wales Office. An independent review of its staffing concluded that it has too few staff, and requires more.
Let me point out to the hon. Gentlemanin his onerous role as Chief Whip of a party of fivethat Sir William Kerr Fraser, former permanent secretary at the old Scottish Office, is amazed that 80 civil servants can cover the Scotland Office's range of responsibilities.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk, West): Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Institute of Directors in Scotland, the Confederation of British Industry in Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress all support the current arrangements vis-à-vis the Scotland Office? Does she agree that those who argue for change are arguing against the interests of the people of Scotland?
Let me tell the hon. Member for North Tayside (Pete Wishart) that the relationship we have been able to build up with the business community has been to Scotland's advantage, and that only a party opposed to the best interests of Scotland would want to reduce Scotland's voice in Government.
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): What discussions did the right hon. Lady and her current staff have with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister before the Deputy Prime Minister announced that he would activate powers relating to pay and conditions in Scotland during the firefighters' dispute?
Mrs. Liddell: My office is in constant contact with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. In relation to the firefighters' dispute, my office is represented on the civil contingencies committee by me and by officials. What is more, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister communicated with the Scottish Executive before the Deputy Prime Minister's statement in the House last week.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the hon. Lady asks another question, let me remind her that the main question is about staffing arrangements in the Scotland Office. Her first question was, in fact, out of order.
Mrs. Lait: I hope that this question will be in order, because I want to ask the right hon. Lady whether her new, increased staff, when they are appointed, will be able to help her to fulfil her real role as Secretary of State for Scotlandthat of representing the views of the Scottish people to the Cabinet? She was clearly unable to perform that role during the recent fishing crisis and in regard to compensation for those suffering from hepatitis C; and I am sure Jack McConnell was delighted to know that he was consulted early when he learned of the proposal from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister on Monday evening. Or will the right hon. Lady, with her new staff, simply continue to have regular discussions and meetings and achieve nothing?
Mrs. Liddell: I am delighted that the hon. Lady gives me an opportunity to point out that the complement of the Scotland Office is 121, and that our total establishment is 130. I was privileged to be at Scotstoun last Thursday and to be party to the announcement of two aircraft carriers, which will completely revive the fortunes of the Clyde and of Rosyth. My office was heavily involved in all the preliminary discussions, and it will continue to be so.
David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): Is my right hon. Friend certain that she has allocated enough staffing resources within the Scotland Office to conduct its consultations, especially the excellent consultation currently under way on whether Scottish shop workers should enjoy the same legal protection as shop workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland? If she has allocated enough staffing resources to carry out that excellent consultation, will she now encourage as many people as possible to submit their responses before the deadline on 14 March?
Mrs. Liddell: I thank my hon. Friend for that point, and I wish him well in his private Member's Bill, which is due to come before the House on Friday. My office has been heavily involved in promoting the consultation, to which there have been a number of responses. My office will be proud to work with my hon. Friend to ensure that Scottish shop workers and betting shop workers are no longer discriminated against, and are able to observe Sunday as they see fit.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): I have every confidence that the Scotch whisky industry will continue to make a vital contribution to the Scottish and UK economies as a wealth creator and export earner.
The Scotch Whisky Association's recent study on the impact of the production of Scotch whisky, which I launched with the association a couple of weeks ago, also concentrated on the production of gin and vodka in Scotland. It highlighted the fact that the industry provides some 9,500 direct jobs in Scotland.
On the wider contribution to the Scottish economy, it is estimated that a total of 43,000 jobs in Scotland are supported by the industry, 7,000 of which are in the more rural areas, including, I believe, the hon. Gentleman's constituency, where an excellent whisky is produced.
The report to which the right hon. Lady referred suggested that a cut in duty would lead to increased export sales, which might increase the Treasury's take. Will she argue that case with the Chancellor of the Exchequer between now and Budget day, to ensure that
It is true that the industry always argues for reductions in taxation, as, indeed, do most industries. However, the Government have delivered five successive duty freezes, which the industry has welcomed. The current duty on spirits is more than 30 per cent. lower in real terms than it was 20 years ago, which is largely due to the duty freezes of the past five Budgets. The price of a bottle of spirits is now 73p lower than it would otherwise have been. The Scotch Whisky Association will be making representations to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The hon. Gentleman may be aware that I have established a series of seminars with key industry figures across Scotland as part of the pre-Budget report, to allow a specific chain of representation on all matters Scottishnot just the Scottish whisky industry.
Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): Does my right hon. Friend recognise the vote of confidence that the Chancellor gave the industry by not introducing excise duty strip stamps, which secured jobs in bottling plants that could otherwise have been put out of business such as Kyndal in Grangemouth? At the time, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor spoke of the great loss to the Treasury as a result of fraud in the whisky industry. What action has been taken to combat that fraud?
Mrs. Liddell: I pay tribute to all right hon. and hon. Members who joined the campaign on strip stamping. Indeed, my own office was heavily involved. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced that he would not proceed with strip stamps he made it clear that the industry would be consulted on finding methods of reducing the volume of fraudulent and duplicitous products. That is a useful way forward, and one that the industry has widely welcomed.