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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): My right hon. Friend and I keep in touch with colleagues in the Ministry of Defence on a range of issues, including the current consultation on the Met Office network.
Jo Swinson: Bearing in mind the unique nature of Scotland's weather, does the Minister feel that it is appropriate for Scotland to be left with no civil meteorological office? Is he happy that the Aberdeen meteorological office, which is a centre of excellence with great links to the marine and energy industries, may well close, with all forecasting being done 600 miles away in Exeter?
David Cairns: The hon. Lady pre-empts the ongoing consultation exerciseand no decision has been taken on that, as she well knows. Indeed, I think that she was present during the Adjournment debate in July, which was sponsored by the hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce), when the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), said very clearly that he was willing to consider any representation that might be made. Obviously, the option of keeping the Aberdeen office open as a centre of excellence is part of the current consultation, which is ongoing, and I shall certainly not pre-empt its result.
Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)
(Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the consultation has been full and proper, thanks to the work of the Under-Secretary of State for Defence? People in Aberdeen have been very active in that consultation. I understand that there will be a meeting this afternoon between management
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and the unions. I hope that that meeting and the consultation will result in maintaining the meteorological officewhich is a centre of excellencein Aberdeen.
David Cairns: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. It is true that discussions are taking place today between key stakeholders and officials in the Met Office. Those discussions are the direct result of a clear commitment that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made in the House, namely, that if options were proposed he would consider them very carefully. Those at today's meeting will consider whether the talks can produce another definitive option, which may then result in the consultation period being extended. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) suggests, there has been a clear, open and transparent consultation, which is continuing.
In the knowledge that I had tabled this question for today, I received what can only be described as a grossly insulting letter from British Olympic Association, which had the bare-faced cheek to suggest that a separate Scottish team would not do as well as individual Scots competing in Team GB. Will the Secretary of State dissociate himself from such nonsense? Given that there is no clear and set rule about why we cannot participate in the Olympics, will he wholeheartedly throw himself behind this campaign, which can only be good for Scottish sport?
Mr. Darling: Given the Scottish nationalists performance in recent Scottish elections, they can hardly claim to speak for the majority of people in Scotland. One reason why the nationalists are losing support is their blinkered and prejudiced outlook towards the rest of the United Kingdom. Most of us who are Scots take pride in those Scots in the Olympic team who do well, particularly those who join forces with team mates from other parts of Great Britain.
I have seen the letter that was sent to the hon. Gentleman, and it made the point that Britain does well when it competes with the constituent parts of the country working together. It is interesting that when the Olympics were awarded to London, the nationalists said that it did not matter because it was in London. When the Scottish Executive put in a bid to get the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, Fergus Ewing from
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Inverness said that it did not matter because it would not take place in the highlands. Surely it is time to end such a blinkered, prejudiced outlook on life. [Interruption.]
Is my right hon. Friend aware that thousands of young Scots are excited about the prospect of representing the UK? Is he also aware that today the British Olympic committee announced the formation of a committee of the nations and regions under the chairmanship of Charles Allen, a Scot, to look into bringing the maximum benefits to Scotland and the rest of the UK?
Mr. Darling: I agree with my hon. Friend. The fact that the Olympics are coming to London in 2012 will be good for Scotland and for the whole of the United Kingdom. I am sure that many people look forward to aspiring to compete in the British team when the games take place. It is interesting that it is only from the narrow perspective of a particularly prejudiced and narrowly focused political party that we are getting criticism[Interruption.] Just look at them, Mr. Speaker, they cannot control their bitterness; it is no wonder their support is plummeting.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the strength of the British Olympic team over many, many generations has been the fact that it has been a Great British team made up of Englishmen and women, Welshmen and women, Scottish people, of all ages, and Northern Irish people? It is unfortunate that the Scottish nationalists want to undermine that great British tradition of working together to fly the Union flag rather than another flag over the podium.
Mr. Darling: Most people in Scotland and most people in this country will, I hope, rejoice in whatever successes the British team manages to obtain in the Olympics of 2012, but the point that the hon. Gentleman makes is a perfectly good one.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way Members can encourage enthusiasm for the Olympics and spread their benefits across Scotland is by getting down to the sports clubs across our constituencies and encouraging people to aim for the British team in the Olympics?
Mr. Darling: I think that that is the case and, coupled with the efforts of both the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Scottish Executive in Scotland, there is no reason why, in the next few years, we cannot encourage more people to take part and compete in sport, so that we can build up the strongest possible British team for 2012. It is a unique opportunity in our lifetime for people in this country, and I am quite sure that Scotland, together with other countries in the United Kingdom, will play its full part.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest)
(Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that it is sad that the SNP wants to bring politics into this area of sport and to poison the minds of people in Scotland
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Mr. Speaker: Order. The Secretary of State is not responsible for the conduct of the SNP. In this Chamber, I am responsible for its conduct and also for that of the hon. Lady, so perhaps she could rephrase her question.
I seem to be strangely in agreement with the Secretary of State. Does he agree that this is a time to be positive as members of the United Kingdom, all working together, looking forward to terrific sporting success and to the great opportunity that the Olympics coming to London can bringnot just for the London area, but for the whole country and especially for Scotland, where we have had such wonderful success, from Eric Liddell onwards, in Scottish sport? Does he further agree that we must all work to bring the best of the Olympic tradition to Scotland to benefit young sportsmen and sportswomen in Scotland today?
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