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5. Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): What recent discussions he has had with the Home Office about immigration into Scotland. [92539]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with Home Office colleagues about a range of issues as they affect Scotland.

Stewart Hosie: I thank the Minister for that answer, but he will be aware that the population of Scotland has now risen for three consecutive years, that the population of Glasgow has risen for two years and that last year the population of Dundee rose for the first time in a generation. Will he and the Secretary of State make representations to the Home Secretary that, no matter what he does in managed migration from the new EU-accession states, he should do nothing that will jeopardise the fragile recovery of Scotland’s population?

David Cairns: The hon. Gentleman mentions the increase in Scotland’s population as though the figures fell out of a clear blue sky without any effort by the Government and the Scottish Executive to bring them about. He should pay tribute to the First Minister for the fresh talent initiative that has helped to attract some of the brightest and best young people to come to study in Scotland and to stay in Scotland. The strength of the Scottish economy, which is benefiting from the strength of the United Kingdom economy, makes Scotland a very attractive place. What would happen if Scotland broke away from the rest of the UK? Can we imagine anybody wanting to come to a Scotland governed by the Scottish National party, as the country would be economically unviable and would not attract any—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend discuss immigration with their colleagues, will they seek to ensure that asylum decisions are taken much more quickly? A great deal of distress is caused to families who have put down roots once a decision goes against them. The quicker that asylum decisions are taken, the better.

David Cairns: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and the new asylum model is designed to make sure that the initial decision is taken much more quickly and that any appeals that subsequently follow also happen more quickly.

May I make a point that I have made on previous occasions? Our immigration policies will have to be about the economic needs of Scotland as the host country and the UK in general, but asylum policy must
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never be about that. Asylum policy has to be about whether an individual has a well-founded fear of persecution and we must make that judgment, and make it quickly. If the person meets the criteria, we will welcome them and integrate them into Scottish society. If they do not, they will have to return to the country from which they came.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Does the Minister acknowledge that immigration into Scotland has been very beneficial right across the economy? Does he accept that those who have come in under the skills initiative and who were given the indication that they would have a right to permanent residence after four years, but who are now being told that they will have to wait five years, have effectively been misled? Will he make representations to the Home Office to make sure that those who applied for a four-year time limit will be allowed to qualify for it?

David Cairns: I do not know the answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question, but I will certainly look into it on his behalf.

The right hon. Gentleman makes a very serious point. While we welcome immigrants to Scotland, we have the right to specify the particular skills that we wish to come to the UK in general. That is what the managed migration policy and a points-based migration policy are about, so that we can have an independent body that recommends what the skills needs of the UK are and then respond to that. I will get back to him on the particular point he mentions.

Scottish Airports (Security)

6. Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): What discussions he has had with other Government Departments about the security of Scottish airports. [92540]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of matters.

Mr. Donohoe: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but does he accept that there is a need for an assessment to be made following the new regulations that seem to be in force across airports in Scotland? As part of that assessment, will he look at the position at Prestwick, which seems to have a far more efficient service than those that operate in other airports in Scotland?

Mr. Alexander: I assure my hon. Friend that we keep the security regime at all the UK’s airports under constant review. It is determined on the basis of level of national threat, and clearly there have been changes both to the threat level and to the security regime implemented at our airports since the events of 10 August. However, it would be remiss of me both in relation to Prestwick and the operation of other major airports, including Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, not to take the opportunity to place on record my personal gratitude as Transport Secretary for the work that was done in Scottish airports during August. It is significant that the level of performance not just
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at Prestwick, but at other Scottish airports, was outstanding in what were very demanding circumstances.

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): When the right hon. Gentleman is having these discussions, will he make sure that his colleagues are aware of the excellent work done by the staff and management at Inverness airport, not just in security, but in developing new routes and services that are bringing substantial benefits to the economy of the highlands and islands?

Mr. Douglas Alexander: I am not quite sure with whom I am due to be having conversations—perhaps with myself. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I am fully aware of the level of service that was provided at Inverness, as well as at other airports. I know that he has been pursuing the matter of the route development out of Inverness airport for some time and that he continues to raise it with the Government.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to congratulate the management and staff at all UK airports—particularly those at Glasgow airport—on their work during the recent security threat. Will he also welcome the recent announcement by BAA of the significant investment at Glasgow airport, which will enhance the security at that airport and also make it easily accessible for people to travel from?

Mr. Douglas Alexander: As a regular traveller through Glasgow airport, I am fully aware of the outstanding service that was provided, although the support for the new security regime has not been universal. When I was travelling with my four-year-old son a couple of weeks back, he had to take off his wellington boots at the security comb. He asked, “Why do I have to take off my wellies?” and the security guard replied, “Because your dad’s making everybody take off their wellingtons.” [Laughter. ] Notwithstanding that one rather sceptical voice, I am happy to place on the record my admiration of the staff and management at Glasgow airport.


7. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What recent devolution issues the Advocate-General has considered. [92541]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): Since 4 July, 161 devolution issues have been intimated to the Advocate-General. Of these, 102 related to civil proceedings and 59 related to criminal proceedings.

Miss McIntosh: I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he join me in congratulating the new Lord Advocate on her appointment? Will he also confirm whether the Advocate-General was consulted on that appointment and whether there are plans to distinguish the office of chief legal adviser to the Cabinet in Scotland on Scottish legal affairs from that of chief prosecutor?

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David Cairns: I am very happy to join the hon. Lady in welcoming the new Lord Advocate, who is the first ever woman to hold that post. The daughter of a coal merchant from Govan has risen to the top of the legal and political establishment in Scotland. That is a great tribute to her talents and abilities. As the hon. Lady knows, the role of the Lord Advocate as head of prosecutions is enshrined in the Scotland Act 1998. The independence as such is enshrined in that Act. Other arrangements, such as whether the Lord Advocate is a member of the Cabinet in the Scottish Executive, are matters for the First Minister.

Business Environment

8. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): What steps the Government are taking to ensure a long-term stable environment for Scottish business. [92543]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): This Government’s strong macro-economic policies have delivered the strongest Scottish labour market in decades, with record levels of employment. The Government's monetary policy framework has delivered the longest period of sustained low and stable inflation since the 1960s.

Mark Lazarowicz: I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be aware of recent research that shows that the success of the Nordic countries is, above all, due to their long-term political and economic stability. Does he agree that that is what Scotland needs as well, and will he ensure that he resists the calls of those who would jeopardise tens of thousands of Scottish jobs by plunging us into years of constitutional uncertainty and chaos?

Mr. Alexander: I find myself in full agreement with the hon. Gentleman and I pray in support not simply the research carried out by the Government, but the most recent headlines in Scotland. Only yesterday, on 9 October, The Scotsman led with the headline:

The Herald led with the headline: “Scotland’s economy going strong”. Of particular significance in that story was a quote from Andrew Wilson, the deputy chief economist of the Royal Bank of Scotland, who said:

Clearly, the consensus that the Scottish economy is strong and strengthening extends even to those who previously belonged to other parties.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the relative economic success of the Republic of Ireland, with its low corporate tax rates? Is that not a lesson that the Scottish economy would find hugely advantageous—if corporate tax rates in Scotland were cut to the level of those in the Republic of Ireland?

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman may have forgotten that corporation tax has already been cut by this Government. His point about Ireland has to be taken somewhat cautiously. If we look, for example, at the competitiveness of western Europe in computing
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and IT, there was a time over the past 20 years when we could secure what is inherently mobile international capital investment by having reduced rates of corporation tax. That level of investment in Ireland preceded the rise of not just China, but India, Vietnam and other economies in the far east. The economic restructuring that has taken place in recent years suggests that there is no single silver magic bullet. The determination to provide the economic stability that we have provided, together with education and training, also has a key role to play.

Economic Policy

9. Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): When he next expects to meet the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss economic policy in Scotland. [92544]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I regularly meet representatives of the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

Mr. Clarke: In my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the STUC, has he been able to offer it reassurance about his support for the manufacturing sector, which is so important for the Scottish economy?

Mr. Alexander: Yes, just a few weeks ago I met with the STUC general council and we discussed at length the interests of Scottish manufacturing. Immediately preceding that meeting, I had held discussions with Scottish Engineering, and it again placed on record its determination to continue to support modern manufacturing strength for Scotland.


The Secretary of State was asked—

Decent Homes

15. Mr. David Anderson (Blaydon) (Lab): What progress has been made towards meeting the decent homes standard in the north-east of England; and if she will make a statement. [92550]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): In the past four years, 57,000 homes in the north-east have been brought up to decent homes standards, with 48,000 new kitchens, 31,000 new bathrooms and 48,000 new central heating systems having been installed.

Mr. Anderson: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Can she advise the House whether the principles enshrined in composite 10 at the recent Labour party conference will be used to ensure that the Government reach their aim of having decent homes for all, including those tenants and councils who rejected private finance initiatives, arm’s length management organisations and stock transfers?

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Ruth Kelly: I am aware of my hon. Friend’s continued interest in these matters, and I respect his contribution to the debate on them. However, he knows, as do other Members who are present, that we have a pledge to try to meet the ambitions, right across the country, of every tenant in council or social housing to have a home of a decent standard. If we were to go down the route of not levering in the money from the private sector that we could through housing associations, that could cost the Exchequer an extra £12 billion. That is £12 billion that we could spend on more kitchens and more central heating—on homes of a decent standard—and my hon. Friend and other Members should agree that that money could be better spent.

Mr. Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Does the Secretary of State realise that many people in the north-east will not have a chance of having a decent home if the regional housing board continues with policies, done at the behest of her Department, to restrict the number of houses built in areas such as Alnwick and Berwick to about 60 a year, which will mean that there is no social housing and still higher prices for the remaining houses in the private sector?

Ruth Kelly: The right hon. Gentleman will know that we have an ambition to build more than 200,000 extra homes a year by 2016. In order to achieve our ambition, and to meet the housing aspirations of people throughout our country, we need to have a system in place that will provide the extra supply that we need—more homes in every region. Within that general framework, we aim to give as much flexibility as we can for local authorities to build on brownfield land rather than greenfield land and to decide the appropriate places where homes can be built. But the bottom line is that we must have extra homes if people’s housing aspirations are to be met.

Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): On meeting the decent homes standards, will the Secretary of State tell us when she will announce the successful bids in round 6 of the ALMO—arm’s length management organisation—programme?

Ruth Kelly: I can tell my hon. Friend that we will announce the extra money very shortly, and I hope that many more millions of people will be able to benefit from the modern kitchens, central heating and new bathrooms that that money will buy.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con): Further to the matter of the 200,000 new homes, the question is: where? Is it not the case that the drive towards decent homes in the north-east, and in the north generally, is being undermined by a stealthy transference of regeneration funding to the south of England? Why has English Partnerships’ spending in the south risen sevenfold, to some 59 per cent. of its budget, which is a massive swing away from its previous funding pattern? Is that not further evidence that commitment to reviving cities in the north is taking second place to the dash for concrete in the south?

Ruth Kelly: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman at all. If he were serious about providing the extra
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homes that people need and ensuring that they are of a sufficiently decent quality and standard for them to live in, he would back our housing market renewal pathfinders, which are regenerating communities throughout the north and giving people a decent place to live. But ultimately, we need the extra homes for people to live in if we are to meet their housing aspirations. Young couples today find it difficult to take their first step on to the housing ladder. If we are to stabilise the house price affordability ratio, we need to deliver 200,000 more homes, and we need those homes in the places where people want to live.

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