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Sub-post Offices (Closures)

4. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Whether he has made an assessment of how many sub-post offices in Scotland may close when (a) the rural subsidy ends and (b) the Post Office card account is phased out. [60659]
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): The Government have committed £300 million to rural post offices over the next two years. No decision on the future funding or size of the network beyond that time has yet been made.

Malcolm Bruce: I thank the Minister for that answer, but is not it the case that phasing out the rural subsidy and ending the Post Office card account—a betrayal if ever there was one—will leave pretty well every post office in rural Scotland non-viable? What will he do to ensure that those post offices have a viable future? Will he co-ordinate with other Government agencies to ensure that they do not face oblivion? Earlier, the Minister criticised the Liberal Democrats, but at least we have a plan for investment in the Post Office. What is his?

David Cairns: It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman used one "p" word, plan, but did not use another, privatisation. Privatisation is the Liberal Democrat solution, coupled with their plan to abolish the Department of Trade and Industry, which is where the subsidy comes from, and spend its budget elsewhere. The Liberal Democrat peer Lord Greaves said that if the plan to privatise the Post Office goes through,

That is hardly a healthy position for the Liberal Democrats to be in.

Child Poverty

6. Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): What assessment he has made of progress in Scotland towards the Government's target of reducing the proportion of children living in low-income families by a quarter by 2004–05.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): In 1998–99, there were an estimated 290,000 Scottish children in relative low-income families. By 2005, that number fell to 190,000, a reduction of 34 per cent., which exceeds the Government's child poverty target for the period.

Mr. Sarwar: I thank the Minister for that reply and I hope that Members from both side of the House welcome that progress. Does my hon. Friend agree that there are still low-income families in the east end and south side of Glasgow? Does he further agree that the increased minimum wage and better jobs are the best ways to help disadvantaged children?

David Cairns: Absolutely; I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said a moment ago, there are more people in work in Scotland today than at any time in the nation's history. With measures such as the minimum wage, the working tax credit and the child tax credit, we are making work pay for those families. Spending per head in Glasgow is higher than in any other part of Scotland, which is quite right because of the deprivation and poverty that still exist there. An enormous amount of progress has been made. We are making tremendous inroads into reducing poverty, with a view to eradicating it altogether, but all of that would be put at
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risk if we stopped the funding going into areas such as Glasgow, which would be the inevitable consequence of the election of the Conservatives.


8. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What devolution issues the Advocate-General has considered since 28 February. [60663]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): I should declare an interest: I am a non-practising member of the Faculty of Advocates.

As the House will know, Her Majesty the Queen has approved the appointment of Neil Davidson, QC, as Advocate-General from 21 March. I am told that since 1 March, 59 devolution issues have been intimated to the Advocate-General.

Miss McIntosh: May I declare a similar interest? I am also a non-practising member of the Scottish Bar. I think that it is rather longer since I ceased to practise.

I add my congratulations, as I have already done in writing, to the new Advocate-General and welcome him to his position. I regret that this is the first time ever that we have had a Law Officer who is not a Member of either House and so cannot be exposed to the full scrutiny of the House. Will the right hon. Gentleman take the earliest opportunity to ask the new Advocate-General his views on why, increasingly, the public are being excluded from criminal trials before the High Court in Scotland? Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern at that and will he look closely at the reasons for it?

Mr. Darling: I can correct the hon. Lady on one point: Neil Davidson is a Member of the House of Lords. Unless I am very much mistaken, he was introduced about 20 minutes ago. If I am wrong and a message comes from the other place, I will happily stand corrected—and I will want to know why, as well. In relation to her other point, I am not aware of people being excluded. Clearly, the conduct of affairs in the Scottish courts is a matter for the Scottish Executive and the Lord Advocate. If there is a problem, I will certainly look into it, but I am not aware of one.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I, too, add my words of congratulation to Neil Davidson, QC, who was a very good Solicitor-General in his day. One of the functions of the Advocate-General is to ensure that legislation coming before the House is Human Rights Act compliant. How on earth did the previous Advocate-General manage to make that judgment in relation to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill and will that now be considered again?

Mr. Darling: I shall pass on the hon. Gentleman's good wishes. I think that I am right in saying that the new Advocate-General specialised in human rights legislation when he was in private practice, so I am sure that he will be only too happy to consider the issue from the other side of the fence.

In relation to the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill, I am aware of the general concern in the House and outside it. The objective was to try to introduce legislation that would make it easier to get rid of what might loosely
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be called red tape. It is also important, though, to make sure that we have a correct balance between doing that and having proper safeguards. I understand that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office is reflecting on that at the moment.

Labour Market Statistics

9. Mr. John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the most recent labour market statistics for Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [60664]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): I refer my right hon. Friend to the answer that I gave earlier to Questions 3 and 7.

Mr. McFall: Has the Secretary of State seen the recent Royal Bank of Scotland report that indicates that private sector employment in Scotland has risen in each of the past 12 months? Given that situation, will he take up the challenge that the Chancellor set out in his Budget last week so that we plan for long-term challenges, ensure that the globalisation agenda, with the increasing drive from China and India, is taken on in Scotland, and ensure that Scotland's private sector is indeed the engine of growth for the country?

Mr. Darling: I did see that recent report. It was encouraging that the bank said that Scottish manufacturing appeared to be in better shape than that in many other parts of the country. My right hon. Friend is also right that at a time when there is huge expansion of the Chinese and Indian economies, as well as in other parts of the world, we must ensure that we can adapt and capitalise on our strengths, such as education, so that we can continue to generate jobs and see our economy grow.

Mr. Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con): What specific measures are the Government taking to make Scotland an even more attractive place for doing business to the private sector and, especially, to encourage high-skill industry in Europe to locate to Scotland?

Mr. Darling: The single most important thing is to ensure that we have a stable economy with low interest rates so that firms coming into Scotland can plan ahead for the future. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the help that the Scottish Executive give on training and supporting companies, when that is necessary. They generally help firms and encourage them to come and invest, and that policy has been hugely successful. As I said a moment ago, we must be mindful of the fact that there are challenges from all over the world, but I am confident that Scotland will continue to do well, and many recent surveys recognise that.

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