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Is that a reference to the Secretary of State, or just to the reduced status of his office?

David Cairns: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has raised the issue of that report, which gives me the opportunity to read out its conclusion— [Interruption.] He would do well to listen to this. It states:

His argument is completely demolished.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): For once I can agree with the Minister. Can he shed a little light on the lack of clarity in relation to the future role of European Commissioners in respect of immigration and all other issues in Scotland if it were torn out of the United Kingdom, and if it had to reapply, as it surely would, for EU membership?

David Cairns: It is entirely clear that if Scotland were to secede from the member state country, it would secede from the European Union, and would have to reapply. The French have recently altered their constitution to show that Scotland would not be allowed back in the EU unless there was a yes vote in a referendum in
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France. We would therefore be handing over Scotland’s future membership of the EU to the French electorate. Even were that not the case, the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) proposes to take Scotland out of the common fisheries policy, which means that he would not even be at the Fisheries Council to take part in such discussions. Twenty-five countries would be debating the common fisheries policy in one room, and he would be in the next room, talking to himself. I know that he is never happier than when talking to himself, but that will do Scotland no good at all.

Military Bases (Security)

5. Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on security at military bases in Scotland. [116346]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on a number of issues.

Sandra Osborne: Scotland has a proud tradition of peaceful protests, and I have taken part in many for causes in which I believe, not with the sole purpose of getting arrested for a cheap photo opportunity. Does the Secretary of State agree that the recent irresponsible conduct of some MSPs, who say that they aspire to run our country, has been not only a waste of police time but has deprived some of our poorest communities of the increased police presence that they richly deserve?

Mr. Alexander: I recognise, as does my hon. Friend, the right to peaceful protest. Those elected representatives who organised some kind of pantomime arrest at Faslane should answer to their constituents as to whether they regard that as a good use of police time when we face challenges such as antisocial behaviour, and not least when the police have been given new powers to deal with such issues, notwithstanding the opposition of some parties represented in this Chamber.

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Has the Secretary of State had discussions with the Ministry of Defence about the so-called Trident tax and its possible effects on the MOD budget and therefore on security in military bases in Scotland? [Interruption.] If so, did he consider whether the tax might be illegal, and whether it was in fact pointless to impose any tax, because any taxes collected would result in cuts in the Scottish Executive budget in the long run? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must tell members of the Scottish National party that it is only courteous to allow hon. Members to be heard in the Chamber. That also applies when Ministers are replying. [Interruption.] I am trying to put the case against intervening, and there is the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) opening his mouth. That does not help.

Mr. Alexander: The story that appeared in the Scottish newspapers at the weekend about the so-called “tax on the taxpayer” tells us far more about Opposition parties’ desperate need for headlines than about any serious
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attempt at policy-making. Once again we have a party that, while professing to want independence in Europe, seems intent on ignoring European Union law.

Green Energy Generation

6. Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): What steps are being taken to expand the use of green energy generation from wave and tidal sources in Scotland. [116347]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Since 1999 the Government have committed £29 million to the research and development of marine energy technologies. In addition, we have created the marine renewable deployment fund with a further £50 million allocated to help projects move from the research stage to demonstration. Moreover, we have invested in infrastructure. That investment includes £15 million for the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, a dedicated test facility for wave and tidal technology developers.

Mr. Vara: Given the Government’s intention to introduce a climate change Bill, has the Secretary of State considered the impact that the Bill will have on the Scottish Executive’s approach to the environment?

Mr. Alexander: In the normal course of events, we discuss such matters with the Scottish Executive. However, it is entirely consistent to recognise in statute—as the Bill will—the considerable change described in the Stern report and other academic studies of the science of climate change.

I pay tribute to the labour-led Executive in Scotland. They have taken a pioneering role, particularly in relation to renewables, and recognise not just the challenge but the responsibility to develop such technologies in the years ahead.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): The Secretary of State will be aware of the immense potential for tidal energy in the Pentland firth and, indeed, other remoter areas off the coast of Scotland. Is he also aware that one of the potential barriers is the lack of transmission capacity? Does he agree with the many experts who now believe that an undersea interconnector would be a more effective way of reducing the lack of transmission than pylons?

Mr. Alexander: A number of technical challenges will need to be overcome in what is still, at this stage, a relatively immature technology. The main challenge is to move that technology forward. I assure the hon. Gentleman that all such matters are given due consideration. They have been dealt with in discussions that I understand he has had with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, and also in other discussions that take place in Government, particularly with the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Would not the most important help be not requiring energy producers to pay £20 per kWh to connect to the national grid, as opposed to the subsidy of £8 per kWh that is provided in London?

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Mr. Alexander: The suggestion that greater connections to the English market somehow make sense is certainly an interesting line of argument coming from a nationalist, given that the nationalists seem intent on putting up new barriers.

Asylum Seekers

8. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with Home Office Ministers on dawn raids to remove failed asylum seekers in Scotland. [116349]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with Home Office Ministers on matters that affect Scotland.

Mr. Carmichael: When the Minister next meets the Minister responsible for immigration, will he convey to him the revulsion that is widely felt in Scotland at the practice of dawn raids, especially when children are involved? It is now matched by the revulsion at a new practice involving the luring of children and whole families to immigration offices for signing-on purposes.

If the Minister will not listen to the people of Scotland, will he listen to the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland? They all deplore the practice as well.

David Cairns: Absolutely no one wants early-morning removals to continue. They can only ever be justified as a last resort, when families and individuals have been invited to leave over and over again, when they have been offered financial assistance to leave over and over again, and when they have refused to leave over and over again. If we are to have an immigration and asylum policy that has any meaning at all, we must reserve the right as a nation to say no to some people, and if they refuse to go we must reserve the right to remove them by force if necessary. I do not want to see that happen. I want to see a situation, which we will have under the new asylum model, where decisions are made much more quickly, one caseworker works with individuals throughout their case, and individuals, when they have exhausted their appeals and are invited to leave the country, actually leave.

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Lyons Review

13. Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): What assessment she has made of the implications for the local government White Paper of Sir Michael Lyons review. [117381]

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Phil Woolas): The pre-Budget report stated that Sir Michael’s report would be published around the time of the Budget 2007. In developing the White Paper, the
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Government took full account of his work to date on the future role and function of local government. That included in particular his discussion paper on the future role and function of local government, national prosperity, local choice and civic engagement, which was published in May last year.

Chris Mole: May I thank my hon. Friend for his response and ask him to confirm that, while Sir Michael Lyons is due to report in March and further legislation may be required at that time, it is the Government’s current intention, on the back of the White Paper, to increase the amount of funding that councils receive that is not ring-fenced? Will the Minister confirm that he will increase the sums pooled in local area agreements?

Mr. Woolas: I thank my hon. Friend for that important question, which gives me the opportunity to confirm that that is the case. The Government’s policy is to have a presumption against ring-fencing in funding. May I tell the House through you, Mr. Speaker, that this year the local area agreements will receive £520 million of pooled money and that that will rise to up to £1.5 billion in the financial year 2007-08, so I can confirm that the answer to the question is yes.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): When the Government report on that White Paper, will they include a new local business tax?

Mr. Woolas: I think that the hon. Gentleman is referring to Sir Michael Lyons report rather than the White Paper. I appreciate the importance of his question. The answer to that question is that neither I nor the Government know what Sir Michael is going to report on that matter. Of course the distribution of non-domestic rates is a hugely important part of local government funding, contributing around £17.5 billion this year, so we await his report with interest.

Mr. Clive Betts (Sheffield, Attercliffe) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that if Sir Michael’s report is to be a success, it will have to find ways of ensuring that local authorities can raise more of the money that they spend. It is also important that it finds a way of dealing with the perversity of gearing in local government finance, and a way of giving local authorities incentives to consider favourably planning applications for business and commercial developments. Is not the easiest way to do that simply to denationalise the business rate and to give control of the rate back to local authorities?

Mr. Woolas: I am aware of my hon. Friend's long-standing advocacy of that point. I note that he said it was the easiest way; he did not say that it was easy. It would be best if I were not drawn on that matter. Suffice it to say that the Government have introduced the local authority business growth incentives scheme that incentivises and rewards local authorities that achieve a growth in the number of businesses created, or indeed a slowdown if it is in a negative area. That scheme will be distributing some £1.5 billion. That is real money from which local authorities are benefiting.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden) (Con): Last night, the Minister said that the Lyons’ review had to be delayed until after the Local Government and Public
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Involvement in Health Bill to deal with form and function first, but after the publication of the Lyons interim review Sir Michael made it clear that he had views about devolution and fewer targets, and he warned against another massive restructuring, so what is it in the Lyons review that the Government are trying to hide?

Mr. Woolas: I was as confused by that question as I was by the hon. Lady’s contribution to last night’s debate. I repeat what I said: it makes perfect sense—to me it is common sense, and I think that the Opposition are trying to find ways to oppose for the sake of opposing—to have the White Paper and the Bill on local government functions before looking at financial proposals and any legislation that might be produced, because if that is required, it will have to be introduced in the next parliamentary Session.

Mrs. Spelman: In his report of last May, Sir Michael Lyons clearly stated his views about political boundaries being redrawn. That has nothing to do with finance, but everything to do with form and function. In the interests of common sense, will the Government now give an assurance that Sir Michael will be asked to give evidence to the Bill Committee, as requested?

Mr. Woolas: I cannot give that guarantee. With respect, I think that the hon. Lady is rather confused about what her own policy is. The Opposition have asked for a permissive regime that would allow local authorities to put forward proposals for restructuring, where they wish to do so. The deadline for initial proposals is the end of the current week, and I suspect that there will be proposals from local authorities of all types and all political colours from across the country. Some of them will be Conservative and some will not, and I await all the proposals with interest.

Mr. Neil Turner (Wigan) (Lab): Central and local government have an agreed formula to distribute grant to local authorities. Not all councils receive the grant that that formula dictates. Can the Minister give an assurance that at the end of the next comprehensive spending review all councils will receive the agreed level of grant?

Mr. Woolas: No, I cannot guarantee that. My hon. Friend again raises that important point on behalf of his four-star council. To be fair, it is a point that has been raised by Members of various parties. It concerns authorities that would receive more money if the Government had not put in a floor to protect those authorities that would lose significant amounts quickly if we had not put in that damping effect. The Government’s position is that we retain damping to protect those authorities, but as we move into the next financial settlement, which will be for a three-year period from April 2008 onwards, we will review decisions in the light of that important announcement.

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): The Minister has just repeated what he said in yesterday’s debate, which is that he thinks that it is an advantage to Members that we are considering his Bill prior to the Lyons report. It is my understanding that that view is not shared by Sir Michael himself, nor by many in the
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local government family who find it astonishing that we are being expected to take one set of decisions without being aware of what the Government intend to do in respect of another set. Can the Minister say exactly what he thinks the advantage is in our dealing with the Bill in the dark without the Lyons report; and can he give us an assurance that when the Lyons report is published he will take quick action to abolish the council tax and to repatriate the uniform business rate to local councils?

Mr. Woolas: I strongly advise the hon. Gentleman who speaks for the Liberal Democrats seriously to revise his policy on business rates. At present, £17.5 billion is redistributed through the non-domestic rating system, as opposed to £3.335 billion through the remainder of the revenue support grant—RSG. Of that £17.5 billion, some four or five councils contribute almost 10 per cent. The redistributive effect of the national non-domestic rates—NNDR—in the absence of the dedicated schools budget from the RSG renders his policy one that would significantly damage the poorer areas of this country. Therefore I cannot give him the guarantee that he asks for.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): When considering the Lyons review findings, can my hon. Friend look at better developing ways to ensure that those—sometimes not insubstantial—areas of the country that have pockets of deprivation and real need but which are located in local authorities that are considered to be affluent do not miss out on the additional funding that they need and deserve?

Mr. Woolas: I commend my hon. Friend for raising again a problem that one of the local authorities in his constituency faces. Members of different parties point to wards or sub-ward areas that have poverty and deprivation that are not recognised in either the neighbourhood renewal fund or, it is argued, the RSG—although it is, of course, weighted within the RSG. I cannot give my hon. Friend the commitment that such changes will be made in the current financial period, but I do give the commitment that I will look at it for the future spending review period.

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