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Mr. Reid: The European rules on subsidised ferry services in Scotland are clearly a piece of useless bureaucratic nonsense. They have already forced the Scottish Executive to waste more than £15 million on a pointless tender exercise, and are putting at risk the future of vehicle-carrying services between Dunoon and Gourock. Will the Secretary of State, who represents the UK on the European Transport Council, go to Brussels, tell the Transport Ministers what nonsense the rules are, and get them altered before the Scottish taxpayer is forced to waste even more money,
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and vehicle-carrying services between Dunoon and Gourock are brought to an end?

David Cairns: May I begin by declaring that the headquarters of CalMac are in my constituency? That allows me to say that I am aware of the concerns over this protracted tendering exercise, which is, as I have said, a matter for the Scottish Executive. Both the Executive and the UK Government agreed that we had to go through the tendering process, although it has led to some slightly ill-informed speculation, and comparisons with the Paris Metro. There is a different regulatory regime for the Metro system and the maritime system—and as far as I am aware, there are no boats on the Paris Metro. People who want to make that comparison should think twice before doing so.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): My hon. Friend is aware that I have the island communities of Arran and Cumbrae within my constituency. Has he given consideration to what more can be done to make the lifeline ferry services in Scotland affordable for Scotland’s island communities?

David Cairns: Yes. I know those communities very well indeed, and I was pleased to be in Stornoway two weeks ago with the First Minister when he announced that, if he is re-elected as First Minister, there will be a ferry discount commitment. [Hon. Members: “What’s his name?”] I understand why Opposition Members do not want to hear about the ferry discount scheme that will benefit the lifeline communities in the islands in the west of Scotland, but they will have to. If re-elected, we are going to introduce a scheme that will give a 40 per cent. discount to inhabitants of the islands—not just the Clyde islands such as Arran and Cumbrae, but the western islands. The move to introduce that important ferry subsidy is due to the intense lobbying and great activity of Alasdair Morrison, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Western Isles, who, more than anyone else, has helped to bring this scheme about. Great tribute is due to him.

Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Can the Minister properly explain why £15 million was wasted in the CalMac tendering? Was it because Scottish Executive Liberal Ministers did not get on with the Department for Transport? Yesterday we saw the reality of Labour’s own co-operation between Westminster and Holyrood, when the Health Secretary did not know the First Minister’s name. Some £15 million has been wasted—enough for three years of free travel to my constituency, and especially Stornoway. My constituents have been kept on tenterhooks. CalMac crews have not known is going on. Would it not have been much better for Scotland to have dealt directly with Europe on this matter, rather than involving imperialist Whitehall Departments—not least, to save money?

David Cairns: It is absolutely astonishing that when we are discussing a 40 per cent. ferry discount proposal that will benefit the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, he does not even have the grace to welcome that announcement or say that he is going to support it. That is because he did nothing whatever to bring the announcement about. That stands in sharp contrast to
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Alasdair Morrison, the Labour MSP, who worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents and who has secured this great victory for them.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware—

Mr. Speaker: Order. Why not say, “No. 5”? That gets us started.


5. Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on recent changes in unemployment levels in Scotland. [128979]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): It is almost as if my hon. Friend had prepared his supplementary question in advance, Mr. Speaker.

The stability generated by this Government's management of the economy has delivered the strongest labour market in decades. Scotland has a higher employment rate than the rest of the United Kingdom and nearly all other countries in Europe. There is, of course, no room for complacency. Last week’s Budget shows that work continues towards the long-term goal of employment opportunity for all.

Mr. Davidson: I apologise, Mr. Speaker. These events are just so exciting that I got carried away.

Does the Minister agree that under the benevolent guidance of the comrade Chancellor, unemployment in my constituency has fallen by over 50 per cent. in the last 10 years, youth unemployment is down by over 80 per cent. and long-term unemployment is down by over 90 per cent.? Is he aware that the major employers in my area are the National Savings bank at Cowglen and the Govan shipyards, both of which depend on customers in England and the rest of the United Kingdom for the vast bulk of their business? Is he aware that if bad people wrench the United Kingdom apart, there will be enormous unemployment in my area?

Mr. Alexander: I certainly am aware of the final point that my hon. Friend makes. I have campaigned on the issue of National Savings in Cowglen and on BAE Systems and the Govan yard and the Scotstoun yard, along with him. Independent research published by the Fraser of Allander Institute on 19 March concluded that the Clyde yards contribute more than £238 million to the Scottish economy and support almost 4,500 jobs across Scotland. The fact is that those yards—and the tradition of shipbuilding on the Clyde—have been sustained because of naval orders placed by the British Government. I leave it to the electors of my hon. Friend’s constituency and across the west of Scotland to reach a judgment on whether, if there were not a United Kingdom, they would see those United Kingdom orders coming to the Clyde.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Is the Secretary of State aware of the impact on unemployment of Ministers’ decisions, especially regarding the loss of jobs in the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and
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Customs because of relocation away from such current offices as Wick? Will he ensure that when Ministers take such decisions, they understand their impact on remote regions?

Mr. Alexander: Of course, I am happy to examine the specific point that is of direct constituency interest to the hon. Gentleman. However, I can assure him that the DWP and other Departments are in the process of increasing the computerisation of systems that are inevitably and appropriately being upgraded in the light of continuing customer demand.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on, or respond to, the fact that HMRC employs 1,000-plus people in my constituency, which has a good employment record? What would happen in the event of Scotland being ripped away from the rest of the UK?

Mr. Alexander: My hon. Friend is entirely right to recognise the risks that would be caused to jobs coming through the DWP, Customs and Excise and other Government agencies that employ people in the United Kingdom. Both the public and private sectors have made a contribution to the uplift in employment that we have seen in recent years. While, of course, we have seen more doctors, nurses and teachers, the private sector too is growing. That is why I welcome the recent statement by Andrew McLaughlin, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group’s chief economist, in which he said:

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The Secretary of State will be aware of the support employment projects run at Falkirk football club and at Dens and Tannadice in Dundee, which take small groups of people and build them up with confidence, motivation skills and the soft skills that employers need. He might also be aware of the community project in Leith called Working Rite, which takes young unemployed people and gives them, pre-apprenticeship, one-to-one mentoring with journeymen and experienced tradesmen. All those projects have a massive success rate, so does the Secretary of State agree that for that group of people, who have traditionally found it hard to get into employment, such a one-to-one, soft-skill, motivation, mentoring and coaching process might be more applicable than the traditional one-size-fits-all approach on finding employment that Governments have historically taken?

Mr. Alexander: Of course, the challenge that we face on worklessness has evolved. When we were first elected in 1997, there were many people who had found themselves unemployed as a consequence of two recessions in as many decades. Now we are addressing people with specific needs, such as those who are not job-ready because of numeracy or literacy problems, or drug dependency. That is why it is important that a range of providers is working to offer the necessary assistance. In my constituency an organisation called Working Links is undertaking such work, and I welcome the progress that it has made.

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David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): Perhaps there is one matter on which the Secretary of State and I can agree: Scotland’s place in the Union has contributed greatly to employment levels in Scotland over the years. The commitment to the Union is absolute among Conservative Members, but does the Secretary of State really believe that bullying and scaremongering is the way to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom? Does he not agree that it is incumbent on all Unionists to make a positive case for the Union?

Mr. Alexander: I hope that there is common ground between us that the way not to make a case for the Union is to have a large group of students turning up with megaphones without batteries in them.

Inward Investment

6. Mr. Mohammad Sarwar (Glasgow, Central) (Lab): What recent estimate he has made of the level of inward investment in the Scottish economy; and if he will make a statement. [128980]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): There are no official estimates of the level of inward investment in Scotland, but the most recent data produced by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the UK was the world’s largest recipient of inward foreign direct investment in 2005, while Ernst and Young’s inward investment monitor showed that Scotland attracted more of that inward investment than any other part of the UK, apart from the south-east of England.

Mr. Sarwar: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the level of inward investment to which he referred is due to the United Kingdom’s strong and stable economy? Does he further agree that on 3 May, if Scottish nationalists are given the chance to start divorce proceedings from the United Kingdoms, it will damage our—

Mr. Speaker: Order. That is out of order.

Mr. Alexander: I certainly agree that inward investment has a key role to play, and the competitiveness of the British economy and the Scottish economy is essential in attracting that inward investment. That is why I welcome the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness report of 2006, which ranked the UK 10th in its table of international business competitiveness. It is 11 places above Ireland, and it is above Norway, Iceland, Canada and France.

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Affordable Housing (North Yorkshire)

16. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): What assessment she has made of the affordability of housing in North Yorkshire. [129830]

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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Yvette Cooper): There have been significant increases in the number of home owners in North Yorkshire over the past 10 years. However, house prices have gone up, putting pressure on first-time buyers, and the number of homes being built in Yorkshire still falls short of the number of new households. That is why we are increasing investment in affordable housing in Yorkshire—but we need to build more homes of all kinds.

Miss McIntosh: Does the Minister share my concern that not only is the average cost of housing in North Yorkshire, and Yorkshire and the Humber as a whole, higher than the average price in the rest of England, but average earnings are lower, so there is a double effect? In addition, the impact of council tax increases has been stark, and in 2005 some 10,500 affordable homes were lost through the right-to-buy scheme. What exactly are her Government doing to promote affordable housing in North Yorkshire?

Yvette Cooper: The hon. Lady will be aware that we put in place a series of safeguards on the right to buy—a policy that, as she knows, her party introduced. We are doubling investment in affordable housing in Yorkshire, but she, and councils across Yorkshire, need to realise that we need to build more homes. Local councils can themselves do more, for example through section 106 agreements, which still deliver only a small proportion of the affordable homes across North Yorkshire.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): House prices in York have increased faster than house prices across the country as a whole. They used to be lower than the average price nationally but now they are considerably higher, and young working couples are being priced out of their own city. York has built 600 homes under section 106 agreements, and could build more if it got more social housing subsidy from the Government. Will more Government subsidy be coming to York?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need more affordable housing across Yorkshire. That is why we have already doubled investment in affordable housing in Yorkshire, as I said. We want to support the provision of more affordable homes through the spending review, but we think that local authorities need to do their bit. Certainly, across the northern regions fewer resources come from section 106 than in other areas, and we believe that by working alongside other programmes, we can do more to get those additional affordable homes.

Michael Gove (Surrey Heath) (Con): The Government are, crucially, responsible for key elements of housing supply in North Yorkshire and the wider Yorkshire and the Humber region. One respect in which Ministers are directly responsible for the area is through the millennium community scheme. Ten years ago, in 1997, the Government announced that they were creating seven new millennium villages. One of them, Allerton Bywater, is in Yorkshire. The scheme has so far cost a massive £131,565,732, but in Allerton only 44 houses have been built. Can Ministers explain why the scheme has been such an expensive failure? Where has all the money gone?

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Yvette Cooper: I invite the hon. Gentleman to come to Allerton Bywater and see the huge progress that has been made in turning round a derelict pit site that needed considerable investment and remediation. That coalfield community had been abandoned by the Conservative Party for many years, but it is now receiving new investment in new facilities. There are major new programmes, in which homes are being built and new facilities provided for the local community, including community centres and new parks and spaces. He should come and see the impact of new investment, not only in Greenwich millennium village, but in Allerton Bywater millennium village and a series of villages across the country. He knows from reading the answers to his own parliamentary questions that he is utterly misrepresenting the figures. He should recognise the important benefits that are being created for communities, which he would be dishonest to ignore.

Inter-faith Forums

17. Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Portsmouth, North) (Lab/Co-op): What steps her Department is taking to promote inter-faith forums as a means of tackling religious extremism. [129831]

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Ruth Kelly): Inter-faith initiatives play a key role in tackling and isolating violent extremist activity. My Department supports the Inter Faith Network, which represents the collective voice of all main faith communities and helps regional and local bodies to contribute to community cohesion. The work of community groups is at the heart of our response to the challenge that we face from violent extremism.

Sarah McCarthy-Fry: I am aware of the good work done in Portsmouth with Portsmouth Interfaith Forum in building networks in hard to reach communities across the faiths, largely due to a full-time inter-faith co-ordinator. However, because of the vagaries of the faith communities capacity-building funding, what is funded in year 1 cannot be funded in year 2, so the work looks as though it may go to waste. Will my right hon. Friend agree to look into the matter for me?

Ruth Kelly: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she is doing in championing the needs of her constituents. Clearly, I am not familiar with the particular programme that she mentions, although I am happy to look into that. She is right to draw attention to the work that inter-faith activity can do. The Department has invested £5 million this year, and the same last year, in that work. We are also working extremely closely with the Office of the Third Sector. In its review of voluntary sector activity, including faith communities, we are thinking about how we can ensure the sustainability of funding going forward, which I know is of huge interest to those involved in the field.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): Has the Secretary of State filled the post of director general, equality, in her Department, a post that is supposed to be in charge of leading the tackling extremism together strategy? If she has, why did it take over a year and a half, and thousands of pounds worth of advertising, to fill that space?

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