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Act of Union

5. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Whether he has plans to mark the 300th anniversary of the Union of Parliaments. [17066]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): Officials are liaising with other Departments and the Scottish Executive on appropriate ways to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Union of the Parliaments.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am glad to hear that, because the Act of Union with England and its counterpart marked not just the establishment of one Parliament, but the foundation of Great Britain. Although some Members may have different assessments of the success of that Union and of its future, surely no one would dispute its historical significance. It would be bizarre if we did not mark that and consider the historical significance and future of that Union in the same way that other states mark dates of such significance in their history. Will my hon. Friend consider how we can extensively recognise the successes and achievements of those 300 years and the challenges that face us in the future?

David Cairns: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. It is a significant historical event, whatever people's individual views of its merits, or otherwise. It is far too early to be able to put forward any definitive plans, but discussions are ongoing. As well as looking at the tremendous success of the UK over 300 years on the anniversary, I hope that we will be able to look to the future and Scotland's role in the Union in the 21st century—in a globalised economy with the threats of the fast-developing world—so that we can think about not only our historically tremendously successful country, but a confident nation that is looking forward to a confident future and the next 300 years of the Union.
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David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the celebrations of the Union of the Crowns in 2003 were somewhat disappointing and missed out on a lot of the tourist potential that could have arisen in constituencies such as mine? Will he ensure that the Act of Union is properly celebrated and that the politically correct brigade will not get their way and downgrade this important event?

David Cairns: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is of course important to learn the lessons of what happened on the anniversary of the Union of the Crowns. I am sure that the Act of Union, which was an important historical event, will be marked in an entirely appropriate way.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): May I advise the Minister to do what his Department does best—nothing at all? Given that the Scotland Office did not lift a finger—not even a sausage roll—to commemorate this year's 700th anniversary of the death of Scotland's greatest hero, William Wallace, would the population at large not consider it passing strange if the Department started to plan a subsidised booze up and what would obviously be a political party for a parcel of rogues in 1707? Given that half the population does not agree with it and another half does not want to pay for it, will the Minister assure us that he will do what he does best—nothing at all?

David Cairns: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to suggest combining the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union with the 300th anniversary of the SNP winning a by-election—[Interruption.] I am informed that it is not actually that long; it just feels like it.

If the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about the best political way of celebrating the event, which is in May 2007, it would be for the voters of Scotland to consign to the dustbin of history once and for all the narrow nationalism and separatism that would hold Scotland back, as opposed to the strength of the Union that has done Scotland tremendously well over 300 years.

Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries

6. Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): What representations he has made to the EU Commission on the tendering of Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries. [17067]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): The Government see no legal basis to challenge the Commission's view that tendering is appropriate in this case. Scottish Executive Ministers have devolved responsibility for these subsidised services and are pursuing the arrangements to tender.

Ms Clark: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposed tendering makes no economic sense? Does he also agree that if tendering is to proceed, the contractual tendering documentation must be drafted in such a way that the existing work force will be protected and any new operator obliged to take on staff on their existing terms and conditions?
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Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend will know that there has been a lot of discussion of the matter over many years. It is pretty clear that the law is that such services must be tendered, which the Scottish Executive accept. The tender documents and the terms and conditions are devolved matters, so they are entirely the responsibility of the Scottish Executive. I do not really want to start making decisions on matters that are properly theirs, not mine.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): On a matter that is not devolved, I would like to hear the right hon. Gentleman's view of tax avoidance in the run-up to the tendering, with specific reference to CalMac and offshore crewing. Does that tax avoidance bother him in any way?

Mr. Darling: Both the Scottish Executive and Caledonian MacBrayne must act entirely in accordance with the law.

Crime Prevention

7. Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive on crime prevention, with particular reference to a strategy against drug misuse in Scotland. [17068]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): My right hon. Friend and I have discussions with Scottish Executive Ministers on a wide range of issues, but as he knows crime prevention and tackling drug misuse are primarily devolved matters.

Mr. Clarke: While I accept unreservedly my hon. Friend's reply, does he welcome the suggestion that, to tackle the problem of drugs coming into the United Kingdom, the Serious Organised Crime Agency for Scotland should be established in Gartcosh in my constituency? If that is true, can I depend on the full support of the Scotland Office and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State?

David Cairns: I am aware of that suggestion. Should that campus be chosen, it will be due in no small measure to the way in which my right hon. Friend has argued the case of his constituency for the site of such a facility. As well as acknowledging that these are devolved matters, we should pay tribute to the tremendous work of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, which has brought to book hundreds of criminals involved in drug dealing. We are all aware of the scourge of drug dealing in our constituencies. These people should be subject to the full weight of the law, and if the proposal that my right hon. Friend mentioned helps to bring that about we would all support it.
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The Minister of State was asked—

Judicial Appointments Commission

16. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): If she will make a statement on the judicial appointments commission. [18516]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Bridget Prentice): The judicial appointments commission will be launched on 3 April 2006 as part of a package of constitutional change. My right hon. Friend issued a written ministerial statement this morning announcing the appointment of Baroness Usha Prashar of Runnymede by Her Majesty the Queen as the first chair of the commission.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Is the Lord Chancellor suitably chastened by the annual report in which he is criticised for intervening inappropriately to secure the selection of a candidate whom the panel deemed insufficiently qualified, and what is he going to do about it?

Bridget Prentice: My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor does not accept that view. In fact, he told the Select Committee on Constitutional Affairs today that the commissioner's view was unfair and wrong and that it was "inappropriate" to put that person's name in the public domain.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know that the Lord Chancellor has made a number of important statements about the diversity of the judiciary, encouraging the appointment of more women and ethnic minorities. How will he ensure that those important vision statements will be taken on board by the new commission, bearing in mind that it is an independent body, and how will we ensure that the transition from the Lord Chancellor making the appointments to the new committee doing so is as smooth as possible?

Bridget Prentice: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that important question. We should not see merit and diversity as mutually exclusive, and we are assured that the commission will take both into account. People who were previously unrepresented in the judicial system are beginning to be appointed on merit and in greater numbers.

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