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11 Mar 2003 : Column 147—continued

Friends of Scotland Initiative

3. John Robertson (Glasgow, Anniesland): If she will make a statement on progress with the Friends of Scotland initiative. [101097]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): Friends of Scotland has so far attracted some 250 opinion formers from more than 20 countries around the world. They are already promoting a better understanding of contemporary Scotland. Our website is proving very successful in highlighting Scottish achievements and success in the fields of culture, education and business. In the past month, there were just under 300,000 hits and nearly 9,000 visitors to the site, of whom three quarters accessed the site information from overseas locations.

John Robertson: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the relationship between the Scotland Office and the Scottish Executive is now paying dividends? If so, what are the benefits of reaching out to the millions of Scots overseas?

Mrs. Liddell: The partnership that exists in that setting is proving very useful. Through Friends of Scotland, we are able to access key opinion formers, Prime Ministers, governors-general—for example, those of both Australia and New Zealand—Ministers and senior politicians, all of whom can be of huge value, not least to the Scottish Executive, but particularly to GlobalScot, the ground-breaking initiative of the Scottish Executive to sign up business leaders to act as mentors to inward investors. Those are key ways to bring jobs to Scotland. If only 1 per cent. of the 40 million people around the world who have some connection with Scotland were to visit Scotland, Glasgow's convention and tourist activity would be even bigger than at present.

Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): I hardly think that 250 Friends of Scotland are 1 per cent. of the 40 million Scots around the world. Can the right hon. Lady tell us the total cost of her time per Friend of Scotland, and her Department's expenditure on that programme?

Mrs. Liddell: The total expenditure of the Department comes out of its running costs of about £250,000 per annum. As the hon. Lady was never able to win a seat in Scotland, lives outside Scotland and makes occasional visits, I am sure that we would be delighted to sign her up as a Friend of Scotland.

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Sunday Working

4. David Cairns (Greenock and Inverclyde): What discussions she has had in the course of her consultation on the rights of Sunday shop workers in Scotland. [101098]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have had discussions with various business and retail organisations and trade unions in the course of the consultation on Sunday working in Scotland.

David Cairns : Has my right hon. Friend met a single individual who can justify Scottish shop workers having fewer rights than shop workers throughout the rest of the United Kingdom? Does she agree with the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who said:

Mrs. Liddell: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I congratulate him on introducing a private Member's Bill to ensure that Scottish workers have the same protection as workers in England and Wales. If businesses had been prepared to honour the voluntary agreement that was put in place at the time of deregulation in England, the problem need not have arisen. I am happy to report that almost all the workers from Argos who lost their jobs in Aberdeen have reached a satisfactory settlement with the company, and I pay tribute to all my hon. Friends who made that possible.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): Is the right hon. Lady concerned that many supermarket workers in England and Wales have to put up with five-out-of-seven-day contracts and that there is not much choice for any of them? Is it part of her brief, perhaps at some time in the future, to examine the rights of workers other than shop workers in that regard?

Mrs. Liddell: I would say to the hon. Gentleman that that is a very clear sign of why people should join trade unions. Indeed, at the forefront of the campaign to ensure equality between Scottish and English shop workers has been the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. In a fair society, it is right that the sort of employment protection that this Government have developed should ensure that people have equal rights both north and south of the border. That is something to which the Government give priority.

Asylum Seekers

5. Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): If she will make a statement on recent discussions with the Scottish Parliament on Government policy on asylum seekers. [101099]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I have regular discussions with both Scottish Executive Ministers and Home Office Ministers on asylum and refugee policy.

Mr. Dalyell : What thought is being given to the possible influx of asylum seekers from Iraq?

Mrs. McGuire: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I advise the House that last year, out of 85,865 applications for asylum in the UK, 14,940 were from Iraqis—more than double the number that applied in the previous year. The plans for dealing with the full range of potential consequences of armed conflict overseas are kept constantly under review. I have already indicated the number of Iraqi citizens currently seeking asylum, and Home Office officials routinely revise contingency plans to deal with increases in the number of asylum seekers. At present, there are no specific plans to take refugees from Iraq.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): Does not the Minister see a contradiction between the declared policy of the First Minister in his speech in Edinburgh last month about attracting skilled workers and the practices of the Home Office in Scotland? Let us take, for example, the Chernov family, my constituents. Mr. Chernov is a skilled and highly qualified engineer, Mrs. Chernov is working and their son is at Fraserburgh college. They are a conscientious, hard-working, extremely popular and skilled family who have won a judicial review against deportation, but the Home Office wants to go back through the process to get them out of the country. Why is the Home Office spending vast amounts of public money trying to expel from Scotland exactly the sort of people whom the First Minister says that he wants to attract into the country?

Mrs. McGuire: I am not aware of the specifics of the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, although I would be willing to discuss it with him later. May I advise the House, however, that the Home Office has increased the number of work permits for immigrants coming into Scotland and the United Kingdom to attract those very people about whom, in general terms, he spoke? If he wants me to discuss with him the specific issue that he raised, I shall be delighted to do so.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Reverting to the question asked by the Father of the House, is it not likely that, if the Prime Minister's admirable policy towards Iraq succeeds, which I am sure it will, there will not be much need for Iraqis to seek asylum anywhere?

Mrs. McGuire: I would hope that many Iraqis would feel safe about going home to their own country.

Defence (Employment)

6. Jim Sheridan (West Renfrewshire): How many jobs in Scotland are (a) directly and (b) indirectly related to defence. [101100]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Helen Liddell): The most recently available estimates are that a total of 30,400 jobs in Scotland are directly related to

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defence and a further 10,640 jobs are indirectly related to it. The number of directly dependent jobs includes both MOD personnel and jobs in related industries directly dependent on defence procurement.

Jim Sheridan : I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. Will she estimate the cost to the Clyde and Rosyth of the cancellation of two aircraft carriers? Does she agree that the implications of Scotland divorcing itself from the rest of the UK and adopting the bow and arrow defence policies of others would be devastating?

Mrs. Liddell: I am glad that my hon. Friend has drawn attention to the aircraft carrier contracts that will benefit both the Clyde and Rosyth. The point that he makes is very valid. For many years ahead, security of employment is now available for shipyard workers in Scotland. That would be jeopardised by the policies of the Scottish National party, one of whose members has already said "Oh well, we'll just have one aircraft carrier" without even being able to say how it would be paid for. In these uncertain times, it is important that we have stability and a defence industry that continues to contribute to the excellence of Scottish employment.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): The Secretary of State knows of the quality and talents of the many companies that work in the North sea oil and gas industry. They could benefit the defence industry and the Ministry of Defence. What is she doing to encourage the Ministry of Defence to look wider so that those companies can broaden their base of commercial talent?

Mrs. Liddell: I have held discussions with Lord Bach, the Minister responsible for defence procurement, specifically about the Nigg yard, where there is a great opportunity if the alliance can take it. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point that is especially relevant to heavy engineering and at the high-tech end of the marketplace. Opportunities exist and I am sure that the aircraft carrier contract means the creation of many jobs that will attract back to heavy industry many people who previously worked in shipbuilding and related employment. The Eurofighter helmet is an example of the way in which great engineering skill can make Scotland a centre of excellence. All Scots should be proud of it.

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