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His party’s local income tax policy is predicated on the belief that a nurse and a fireman are a rich family who should get clobbered more. That is why we will have no truck with a local income tax, which will clobber hard-working families. I would like the SNP to distance itself from it as well.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): An independent study in Edinburgh showed that the typical two-income household in my constituency would be at least £300 a year worse off through the introduction of local income tax. Does my hon. Friend agree that such a massive hike in income tax would have a damaging effect on the economic success in areas such as Edinburgh, and in the rest of the country, under this Government?

David Cairns: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the economic strength in Scotland, where we have more people in work than ever before, where our employment rate is among the highest in Europe, and where we have steady growth and steady investment in schools, hospitals and other public services. Any attempt to clobber hard-working families with a local income tax, under which they would pay hundreds of pounds more, would be very damaging not only to those families but to the Scottish economy.

Economic Trends

5. Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): What his most recent assessment is of economic trends in Scotland. [98829]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Although there is no room for complacency, the Scottish economy is in a strong position, with economic growth exceeding the long-term trend and a higher employment rate than the UK and almost all other countries of the European Union.

Mr. Turner: Annualised economic growth in Scotland has fallen behind that for the whole of the UK in seven out of 10 last quarters, and that is forecast to continue. Why do the Government sound so complacent despite the Secretary of State’s denials?

Mr. Alexander: With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I should direct him to remarks made only yesterday by Tim Crawford, group economist at HBOS, who said:

Growth is, according to that forecast, accelerating, against a backdrop of Scottish unemployment at4.8 per cent., which is the lowest ever and below the rate for the G7, the eurozone and the EU15. Frankly, the Conservatives should do better.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the excellent growth and low unemployment figures to which he refers derive from investment in both the private and public sector? Will he take this opportunity to debunk the argument
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that investment and more jobs in the public sector somehow crowd out the private sector?

Mr. Alexander: Yes, I am happy to take that opportunity. There is absolutely no evidence from the Scottish economy of the public sector squeezing out private investment. Indeed, growth in public sector investment, along with macro-economic stability over recent years, has been one of the critical success factors, bringing low interest rates, high levels of employment and steady growth. I believe that it is the rank prejudice of Conservative Members towards doctors, teachers, nurses, home helps and other vital public services that— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): To what extent does the Secretary of State agree that the constitutional stability that Scotland enjoys within the United Kingdom has contributed to our excellent economic record of recent years? Does he agree that the years of constitutional turmoil that would follow any move to independence would be deeply damaging to Scotland’s economic performance?

Mr. Alexander: This might be a first, but I find myself in full agreement with a Liberal Democrat. Of course, the serious point is that the UK’s macro-economic performance over the past decade has been, as the OECD described it, a paragon of stability. Why would we wish to imperil that achievement by tearing up the macro-economic framework and, presumably, by establishing a Scottish pound, a separate set of Scottish accounting standards and a separate Scottish financial services agency? That seems quite beyond belief and is an idea that could be advanced only by a party bearing grudges and grievances rather than possessing a serious critique of what the Scottish economy needs.

John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): The Secretary of State will be aware that the shape of the Scottish economy has changed drastically over the years with financial services accounting for 8 per cent. of the whole economy and dwarfing the traditional industries of mining, shipbuilding and even whisky. Does he agree that an independent Bank of England and a single regulatory authority have served the interests of Scotland well and that the only guarantee of a prosperous Scotland is a vote for the Union?

Mr. Alexander: My right hon. Friend, in the light of his work in this place, speaks with real authority on these matters. Of course the Scottish financial community has been the fastest growing sector of the Scottish economy in recent years. Anyone who has worked closely with that community recognises the extent to which it is an export-based sector of the Scottish economy that relies dramatically on the ability to sell products on the market, and the largest single market is the rest of the UK. It would make no sense to make those markets foreign markets for Scotland.

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Cross-border Health Issues

9. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Whether he has had recent discussions with the First Minister on cross-border health matters. [98833]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): My right hon. Friend regularly meets the First Minister to discuss a range of issues. Cross-border health issues are, however, primarily a matter for bilateral discussions between the Department of Health and the Scottish Executive.

Mr. Bone: I am rather disappointed with the Minister’s response. I would have thought that, with hospitals closing, nurses being sacked and thousands of people waiting longer than six months for NHS operations, health matters were a priority rather than something that is only slightly discussed.

David Cairns: I have a long list of statistics in front of me, which I shall not trouble the House by reading out, showing that there are more nurses, more doctors and more health workers in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. They also show how the number of patients on waiting lists, which under the Conservatives ran into the thousands, are now only a few dozen. There are 300,000 more people working in the NHS today. The hon. Gentleman’s party voted against every single penny piece of that investment, so it ill becomes Conservative Members to come to the House demanding more spending on the NHS, education and crime at the same time as going outside and promising £20 billion worth of tax cuts. That did not wash at the last election and it will not wash at the next one either.

Domestic Growth

Mr. Speaker: I call Question 7.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): With permission, I shall answer Questions 6 and 7 together.

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Member for Glasgow, Central (Mr. Sarwar) is not present, so Question 6 has not been called. However, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Ms Clark) is here, so I call Question 7.

7. Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the most recent gross domestic product growth figures for Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [98831]

Mr. Alexander: As I have said, Scotland continues to benefit from the economic stability delivered by the Government, which is demonstrated by the recent gross domestic product data. I welcome those figures, which show output growth of 0.6 per cent. in the past quarter and 2.2 per cent. in the past year. That is above the long-term trend rate of growth for the Scottish economy.

Ms Clark: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is no coincidence that the growth figures go together with the highest number of people in employment in
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Scotland? Will he confirm that the Government will continue to have full employment as one of our most important objectives?

Mr. Alexander: I agree with my hon. Friend. When the late John Smith made the claim that full employment would again be at the centre of the Labour party’s economic strategy, it was perceived as a bold, innovative and radical proposal. The fact that people now regard without surprise our extraordinarily successful employment record not only in Scotland but throughout the United Kingdom is testimony to his wisdom and foresight when he said, almost 50 years after the Beveridge commission, that we should again place full employment at the centre of the Labour party’s economic strategy.

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Firefighters (Insurance Cover)

16. Chris McCafferty (Calder Valley) (Lab): Whether the conditions in the 2003 pay agreement in respect of insurance cover for firefighters attending a terrorist incident have been implemented; and if she will make a statement. [99685]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Angela E. Smith): The 2003 pay agreement did not contain any conditions for insurance cover for firefighters attending a terrorist incident. However, the dependants of a firefighter who dies from duty-related injury are entitled to a lump sum payment of up to seven times pensionable pay and enhancements to pensions for widows, widowers and civil partners. A firefighter injured on duty receives an ill-health pension and injury benefits of up to 85 per cent. of salary.

Chris McCafferty: Have there been any outcomes of the inter-departmental discussions on emergency service issues about terrorism exclusions in some personal insurance policies?

Angela E. Smith: Personal insurance policies are a matter for individuals. Discussions took place between Departments and information on the arrangements that we have established was communicated to all fire and rescue service personnel, including all firefighters. There has been no negative feedback and there are therefore currently no plans to take the matter further.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Given that firefighters, other emergency service workers and, indeed, members of the armed forces in support of the civil power may often work side by side in the same dangerous situations caused by terrorism, what contacts has the Department had with the Ministry of
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Defence to ensure that there is equity in the benefits that any of those brave people get if they are injured or—heaven forbid—killed?

Angela E. Smith: Regular and frequent discussions take place, but there is no equity between the arrangements. Indeed, the benefits paid to firefighters compare well with those for any other service.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend appreciates that it is a time of considerable change for firefighters. Co-responding was one change that we believed was being introduced, whereby firefighters who reach a terrorist incident or an accident first can give some emergency medical treatment before the arrival of the ambulance or paramedics. Given the recent court case in Nottinghamshire, in which the judge effectively ruled that that was not part of firefighters’ conditions of service, what are the Government doing to examine the matter, bearing in mind the importance of ensuring that the people involved in incidents receive emergency treatment from the first qualified people to arrive on the scene?

Angela E. Smith: My hon. Friend highlights one specific case, but I can think of two or three authorities that are already involved in co-responding schemes. It is a matter for continuing discussion with the fire and rescue service. We perceive tremendous benefits to co-responding. Fire authorities that are currently engaged in it report back to us the benefits to the public of good engagement with other services.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): Fire and rescue personnel are often the first to enter a disaster scene, which makes them particularly vulnerable to secondary devices. Do not those special circumstances make them a special case?

Angela E. Smith: I am not sure what the hon. Lady is making a special case for. My hope is that we shall never have to use the compensation arrangements that we have in place for our firefighters. We have the best trainers and equipment in the world to ensure that their safety is as great as we can possibly make it. However, in those tragic incidents when firefighters are injured or lose their lives, compensation arrangements are in place for their families.

Local Government White Paper

17. Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on their role in implementing aspects of the local government White Paper. [99686]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): I have had strong and active support from Cabinet colleagues in developing the policies in the local government White Paper. Across Government, we are committed to implementing the White Paper in full so that citizens get the full benefit of a Government focus on key priorities, greater local innovation and stronger leadership.

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Mr. Reed: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. It is only right that she should be commended for taking these issues forward on a cross-departmental basis. With regard to local government reorganisation in the county of Cumbria, and to the borough of Copeland, there are many issues that demand unique attention and special arrangements. Copeland hosts the Sellafield nuclear facility, and it is only just and equitable that future planning issues and powers relating to all aspects of the nuclear industry should reside with the people of Copeland, and not with the people of Kendal and Penrith—

Mr. Speaker: Order. There must be a question, and it must be brief. The Secretary of State will try to answer the hon. Gentleman—

Mr. Reed rose—

Mr. Speaker: No, the hon. Gentleman has finished.

Ruth Kelly: If my hon. Friend is referring to the circumstances surrounding the long-term disposal of nuclear waste, I am sure that he will be aware thatmy right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made it clear that such disposal represents a unique long-term challenge for us all, and that he would like to see voluntary arrangements in which local communities benefit as a result of agreeing the long-term disposal of the waste.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Why is the right hon. Lady seeking to impose a form of authoritarian leadership on local authorities?

Ruth Kelly: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood the proposals in the local government White Paper. It sets out three new relationships: a new relationship between central and local government; a new relationship between local government and its partners; and a new relationship between local government and the citizen. The desire is to reduce the number of targets from up to 1,200, and to concentrate on about 35. If we get that right—I am sure that we will, through the comprehensive spending review—local authorities will be freed to innovate locally, to be creative in responding to local challenges, to lead their areas in relation to the services that they deliver and to speak out for all services delivered. To me, that is equivalent to devolution and deregulation that will set up a new freedom for local government.

Mr. Sadiq Khan (Tooting) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the White Paper, a common thread of which is the wish to reduce central control and to give power to communities and citizens. In that regard, will she tell us more about the new performance framework, which strikes those of us who were previously local councillors and who are keen to ensure that local citizens have more rights than they have now as exciting and innovative?

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