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House of Commons

Tuesday 8 May 2007

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Private Business

Whitehaven Harbour Bill [Lords]

Order for Second Reading read.

Read a Second time, and committed.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Defence Spending

1. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): How much was spent in Scotland by the Ministry of Defence in each of the last three years; and if he will make a statement. [135091]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): Around £1.4 billion of the defence budget has been spent directly in Scotland in each of the past three years. That reflects the vital contribution that Scotland makes to defence, both in terms of the brave men and women who join our armed forces and the high-quality Scottish companies that provide the sophisticated equipment used on the modern battlefield.

Miss Begg: Has my right hon. Friend had time to work out how much of that spending might be blocked by a political party that may be in government in Scotland and that has policies that are likely to prevent some of that vital work from being done in Scotland —[ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I see that I may have to keep a tight rein on proceedings today. As it is the hon. Lady, I will allow the question.

Mr. Alexander: As ever, I will endeavour to keep my answer brief and factual. As at 1 April 2006, there were 13,520 regular forces serving in Scotland. The Ministry of Defence employs some 20,000 people in Scotland, including approximately 13,500 regular members of the armed services and 6,100 civilians, not including contractor personnel.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Has the Secretary of State made an assessment of the effect on all that military investment in Scotland if the party that came first in the elections succeeds in persuading the party that came last to overcome the vestiges of its principles and join a coalition targeted, as usual, against the military?

Mr. Alexander: As he watched the Scottish elections from afar, I fear that the hon. Gentleman may not fully have appreciated the fact that two thirds of the Scottish electorate voted against separatism. Indeed, both the principal parties—my own and the Scottish National party—secured between 32 and 33 per cent. of the vote. Therefore, some of the more cataclysmic headlines that have been written in recent days do not reflect the overwhelming consensus still in Scotland that we are proud to remain part of the United Kingdom.

John McFall (West Dunbartonshire) (Lab/Co-op): May I inform the Secretary of State that for the past 40 years defence has been an integral part of the economy of my area? In the past three years, more than £300 million has been put into the local economy each year. With direct and indirect jobs at the Clyde naval base, we have more than 10,000 jobs. While words may come easy to some people, we cannot play fast and loose with people’s jobs. Defence is an important part of our area and may it continue to be so.

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Mr. Alexander: Her Majesty’s naval base on the Clyde, which incorporates the Faslane base, is one of the main naval bases in the United Kingdom and the headquarters of the Royal Navy in Scotland. I am sure that it will continue to have a strong future based on the Clyde and serving the defence interests not only of Scotland, but of the whole of the United Kingdom.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Will the Secretary of State confirm that there are less service jobs in Scotland, less bases in Scotland, less shipbuilding jobs in Scotland—[Hon. Members: “Fewer.”]—and fewer Scottish regiments than when Labour came to power?

Mr. Alexander: Obviously our forces have to reflect the nature of the challenges that the country faces at any point. I am not convinced that the alternatives that were offered in recent weeks in Scotland would produce a better future for Scottish regiments or—certainly—for Scottish shipbuilding.

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): How many jobs does the Secretary of State believe would be created in Scotland by the construction of two aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, and how many aircraft carriers would be needed by an independent Scotland?

Mr. Alexander: I shall not indulge in answering the second, hypothetical question because, as I have said, Scottish voters once again overwhelmingly rejected independence only last week. On the first question, it is the case that significant opportunities in shipbuilding and refitting will arise not only from the potential orders for the Royal Navy aircraft carriers but from the pre-existing programme of work, which has brought new life to the Yarrow yard and will do the same for the Rosyth base in the east of Scotland.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): Given that defence is just one of the issues on which the new Scottish Executive will have to work with the UK Government, does the Secretary of State regret his complacency in not putting in place proper mechanisms for interaction between the Scottish Executive and the UK Government? Perhaps he can tell us now just what will happen when the prospective First Minister and his Lib Dem allies, in or out of coalition, seek to thwart the upgrade of Trident.

Mr. Alexander: The hon. Gentleman’s question shows the risks involved in preparing a question ahead of events. He has repeated it many times in the past, I will give him that much, but it would be unwise of me to prejudge the appropriate conversations taking place between all the parties that failed to secure a majority in last week’s Scottish elections.

David Mundell: It is clear from that answer that no proper mechanisms are in place to enable the Scottish Executive to work with the UK Government when those bodies are led by parties of different persuasions. The Government have had eight years to put such a mechanism in place, and the fact that they have failed to do so is a reflection on them. Will the Secretary of State clarify what will be his Government’s relationship with the prospective new First Minister—

Mr. Speaker: Order. We are talking about defence. I think that we must move on.

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Climate Change Bill

2. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): If he will make a statement on the application of the draft climate change Bill to Scotland. [135092]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Cairns): The draft climate change Bill is out for consultation on a UK-wide basis. It has not yet been determined how the functions of the Bill would be performed. The UK Government and all the devolved Administrations are committed to working in partnership to combat climate change.

Mark Lazarowicz: It is patently obvious that the only legislation likely to get through the Scottish Parliament in the current circumstances is that which has broad political support. Does my hon. Friend agree, therefore, that it would make sense for the UK Government and the Scottish Executive and Parliament to work together to ensure that a Scottish climate change Bill is brought forward that complements the UK Bill which, as he has noted, has now reached an advanced state of consultation?

David Cairns: Clearly, various devolved responsibilities are involved in promoting renewables and in the work across a range of sectors to promote climate change measures. It is self-evident that global warming can be tackled only by nations working together, irrespective of national or international borders. It is therefore incumbent on all nations to do everything that they can to tackle climate change. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he has done, especially with his private Member’s Bill, to raise awareness of these matters, in this House and throughout Scotland.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does the Minister accept that the current scientific consensus is that we need a reduction in emissions of 80 per cent. rather than 60 per cent. to prevent climate change raising temperatures by 2°? The new Administration are likely to have a higher target than the UK, so how will that fit into the proposed UK Bill?

David Cairns: The previous Scottish Administration set separate targets, so it is entirely up to the new Administration, whatever their hue, to set their own target. However, a target set at a high level will not be achieved if the party in power opposes every application for a wind farm that is submitted. It is easy for the Scottish National party to demand higher targets here, but the truth is that it opposes every application for a wind farm to help promote renewable energy.

Act of Union

3. Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): What events (a) have taken place and (b) are planned in Scotland to mark the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union. [135093]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): A number of events have taken place and are planned to mark this very significant anniversary.

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Mr. Evennett: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. Does he agree that there are ongoing benefits arising from the continuation of the Union between Scotland and the UK? Is it not our duty in this House and across the country to ensure that those benefits are promoted in a very positive way?

Mr. Alexander: Unusually, I find myself in complete accord with the hon. Gentleman. An interesting fact worth noting is that, as the argument has been discussed north of the border in recent months, support there for separation and for ending the Union of 300 years has fallen consistently. I take great heart from the fact that the overwhelming number of voters in Scotland rejected the parties that wanted Scotland to separate from the UK. They did so for the very basic reason that, in the 21st century, the two countries are stronger together and would be weaker apart.

Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that many people in Scotland, Wales, England and—probably—Northern Ireland believe that the best way to celebrate the Act of Union would be to abolish proportional representation elections?

Mr. Alexander: I was anticipating the West Lothian question today, but not the West Bromwich question. I know that my hon. Friend and his trade union have long held trenchant views on the merits of first past the post. It is for each individual Member of the House to reach a judgment, in light of recent elections, as to where he or she stands in that particular debate.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I was just wondering whether the Secretary of State thinks that all these celebrations are going well and to plan. Does he agree that some of the debate we have had about the Union has been brutal at times, overwhelmingly unhelpful and totally negative? Does he accept that the Scottish people have made their choice and that it is now incumbent on him, his Department and every Member of the House to ensure that the positive choice that the people of Scotland made on Thursday is accepted and respected?

Mr. Alexander: It is significant if the Scottish National party now accepts that the choice that the Scottish people made was overwhelmingly to reject separation, because there is nothing more negative in politics than seeking to blame Westminster or the English for Scotland’s challenges. In that sense, I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that we can all move on from a politics defined by difference; but that remains the policy of the Scottish National party—the ball is squarely in its court.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): It is undeniable that over the past 300 years the Act of Union has had a positive effect not only on Scotland but on the rest of the UK. Does my right hon. Friend agree, therefore, that the First Minister of Scotland, whoever that may be, should be encouraged to make a speech on behalf of Scotland and not party, emphasising the benefits of the Act of Union?

Mr. Alexander: At this particular moment I would be cautious of offering advice during the 28 days set following the election last Thursday to whoever turns out to be First Minister of Scotland. I simply say that I
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agree with my hon. Friend; the benefits of the Union are overwhelming and I have been encouraged by the fact that, as that argument has been engaged in Scotland in recent months, support has moved in favour of the Union and against separation. I believe that that remains the settled will of the Scottish people, as the late great John Smith once described it.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): Two days after the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union two thirds of people in Scotland voted for pro-Union parties. Does the Secretary of State agree that although the SNP has won the right to try to form a Government, it certainly has not won the right to take Scotland down the road to separation?

Mr. Alexander: Somewhat unusually again—I suppose this is a reflection of the new politics—I find myself in agreement with the Liberal Democrats, which is not something that every party in the House can claim today. Two thirds of Scottish voters have supported the Union and rejected separation, and for all the windy rhetoric of moral authority the fact remains that the Scottish National party secured less than a third of the votes in Scotland last Thursday. The only party with the moral authority to move a country towards independence would be a party that secured majority support and then majority support in a referendum, and I do not believe that the Scottish National party has the prospect of either.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): Perhaps the Secretary of State will also agree with me that the vast majority of people who voted for the Scottish National party did so not in an attempt to break up the Union but as an expression of dissatisfaction with the Labour and Liberal Democrat-led Scottish Executive. Does he accept, too, that Labour’s clunking fist approach to promoting, or rather brow-beating, Scots into supporting the Union failed and will he encourage the Chancellor and others to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) in his positive promotion of the Union?

Mr. Alexander: I say this with the greatest of respect: I have never regarded the views of the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), or indeed those of the hon. Gentleman, as my lodestar in terms either of defending the Union or winning popular votes in Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman has advice to offer parties in Scotland, perhaps he should write another memo to his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament.

International Sporting Events

4. Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): What steps he has taken to secure future international sporting events for Scotland. [135094]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): I have recently secured the full support of the United Kingdom Government for Glasgow and Scotland’s bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth games. The bid will be formally submitted tomorrow. Scotland’s strategy for attracting, organising and delivering major events is the responsibility of Scottish Ministers.

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Mr. Hands: I, too, support the Glasgow bid for the Commonwealth games. Looking forward another four years, the Conservatives have been urging a joint England-Scotland bid to host the World cup. There are many merits in a joint bid—the excellent stadiums and the fantastic fans in Scotland—yet the main obstacle continues to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would have thought that in the current climate the Secretary of State and the Chancellor would be looking at means to strengthen the Union. The SNP is opposed to a joint bid for the World cup—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Alexander: I am not aware that the Scottish Football Association is giving that matter serious consideration at present. It is principally a responsibility for the SFA and the football authorities, so although I hear what the hon. Gentleman has said, I do not want to prejudice the continuation of the four home nations competing in international competitions.

Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his efforts to bring the 2014 Commonwealth games to the city of Glasgow. Does he agree that the UEFA football cup final to be played in Glasgow this month will be an excellent showcase for the city, which should lead to many more football finals being played in that football-mad city, and that it will also be a major boost to the Commonwealth games bid that is being launched tomorrow?

Mr. Alexander: I am certainly happy to identify myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend. It is right to recognise the centrality of football to the city of Glasgow. Only on Saturday, it was a great privilege for me, as Secretary of State for Scotland, to accompany His Eminence the Cardinal of Scotland and the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland to Ibrox to see Rangers play Celtic in what I hope was an eloquent testimony to their shared determination to challenge sectarianism, which for too long has blighted football in that great city.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): In supporting Glasgow’s bid for the Commonwealth games, may I remind the Secretary of State that in the north-east of Scotland we have a crowd of very talented swimmers, including European record holders, who will hopefully participate in both the Commonwealth and the Olympic games? Will he support the bid to ensure that we have an Olympic swimming pool in the north of Scotland so that those swimmers get the training facilities on the ground that they deserve to help them win medals for both Scotland and Britain?

Mr. Alexander: If the right hon. Gentleman writes to me about his specific proposal, I will certainly ensure that his points are passed on to those who would make a decision on an Olympic-size swimming pool.

John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): At a time when the Glasgow bid for the 2014 Commonwealth games is on its way to London, will my right hon. Friend make sure, as well as supporting the bid, that the 2012 Olympic games have the knock-on effect of ensuring that facilities in Scotland are second to none and that we are given the platform that we need for 2014?

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