|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Devine: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that some pensioners in my constituency will not be able to spend that money? They are like the more than 10,000 pensioners in Scotland whose heating systems have been condemned and will not be sorted until next April at the earliest. Although it is easy to condemn the Scottish National partys Government for complacency, we should not play politics with pensioners lives. Will he convene a meeting to ensure that we get the problem sorted so that our pensioners can have a warm Christmas?
Des Browne: The central heating programme has made a very significant contribution to combating fuel poverty in Scotland. Since it started in 2001, more than 89,000 installations have been done. It is singularly inappropriate that people who qualify for inclusion in the programme, pensioners in particular, should be left waiting over the winter for the installation of a new heating system. There has recently been an increase in the number of people coming to my constituency surgeries complaining about this matter, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss itbut as he points out, this is a devolved responsibility.
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Secretary of State is right to point out the significant achievements of the central heating scheme promoted by the previous Scottish Executive. Is it not ironic that many Scottish pensioners will not be able to use the central heating systems that were installed because of exceptionally high fuel prices this winter, particularly oil prices? Does he not accept that historically high oil prices present a particular threat to Scottish pensioners, and that his Treasury colleagues should try to find a solution this year?
Des Browne: I think that we all agree that when fuel prices go up, the least well-off are the most challenged by them. We have an agreed definition of what constitutes fuel poverty. The hon. Gentleman cannot suggest with a straight face that this Government have not been alive to that issue across the United Kingdom. He will recall that winter fuel payments were £20 when they were introduced in 1997 for the first time, but they have now risen to £200, and to £300 for households containing someone who is more than 80 years old. They represent more than a third of an average pensioner households winter fuel bill. He should congratulate the Government on what they have achieved.
The Minister of State, Scotland Office (David Cairns): I speak regularly to Digital UKs national manager for Scotland about switchover, and I also speak to Ofcom in relation to a number of issues, including switchover. Preparatory work is proceeding apace.
Mr. Hamilton: I thank the Minister for his answer. However, 20 per cent. of my constituents do not, and will not, receive digital transmissions, and we will not get the digital changeover until 2010. Surely, as the BBC offers a universal service, we are entitled to a rebate until that changeover takes place.
David Cairns: I have some sympathy with my hon. Friends point, but he must consider this: if we were to take money out of the BBCs budget as he suggests, it would be difficult for it to meet the challenging timetable that we have for digital switchover. I cannot therefore offer him any comfort in that regard. What matters is that we proceed as quickly as we can with switchover, as is happening throughout the rest of the world. We need particularly to ensure that older and more vulnerable people are given the help and support that they needI know that he has been campaigning on this issueand that remains the Governments top priority.
Sandra Osborne: My constituents in the Girvan area are in the first tranche for digital switchover in Scotland, but are currently subject to a postcode lottery for both analogue and digital, whereby some people get Ulster TV, some people get Border, and others get access to STV. Now that the digital switchover is happening, can the Minister guarantee that everyone will be able to access STV as their default ITV channel?
David Cairns: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she has been doing on this issue. I know that she is due to meet Ivan Kennedy, the community liaison executive from Digital UK, in the coming week. I have alerted Digital UK to the fact that that is the issue that she wants resolved, so I hope that when she has that meeting it will be able to provide her with the answer. In the meantime, I understand that there is a website that people can visit, and if they put in their postcode they will be able to find out exactly which channels they will receive.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): As the Minister will be aware, these are tense times for the new Gaelic television channel. The political expectation from meand from him, I hopeis that it will come into existence in the springtime. When does he hope that it will be available on digital terrestrial television?
David Cairns: The hon. Gentleman is correct. The Government have been firmly supporting that service. He will know from the article that I wrotein Gaelicin Scotland on Sunday how committed we are to it. It is our expectation that the service will be up and running this financial year. I understand that it cannot go on Freeview until the switchover, but will be available on other platforms in the meantime. We are committed to ensuring that it happens.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Des Browne): The Scotch whisky industry is of massive importance to the Scottish economy, and that is why the Government have announced steps to enhance the protection of Scotch whisky. Exports of Scotch whisky are worth £2.5 billion annually to the Scottish and UK economy.
Gordon Banks: My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are soon to bring forward new legislation to protect the Scotch whisky industry, especially in the important overseas market. Can he assure me, and the House, that that legislation will be relevant solely to the Scotch whisky industry, rather than being part of wider regulation, so that the industry can be better protected in the vital overseas market?
Des Browne: I recently had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friends constituency to see the importance of the whisky and related industries to the economy of his area. While I was doing that, my hon. Friend the Minister of State was engaged in continuing discussions with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the issue that he raisesthe translation into legislation of a European directive to protect the intellectual property rights of Scotch whisky. We had already announced that we as a Government would consult on the legislation, and we are determined that it will be in the best interests of the Scotch whisky industry. Like everyone else, my hon. Friend will have to wait until we announce and publish the legislation that will be consulted upon, but I suggest that all of those who share the best interests of the Scotch whisky industry are unlikely to be disappointed by the legislation.
Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The Secretary of State will be aware that the duty the Chancellor charges on whisky is far higher per unit of alcohol than on wine. Will the Secretary of State lobby the Chancellor to equalise rates of duty in the next budget to create a level playing field for the Scotch whisky industry?
Des Browne: I suppose I should declare an interest in this matter, because I have one of the biggest Scotch whisky bottling plants in my constituencythe world-famous Johnnie Walker plant in Kilmarnock. I have a long-standing interest in ensuring a level playing field for Scotch whisky in the United Kingdom and throughout the world. I am pleased to remind the hon. Gentleman of what he already knows, which is that since we came to power, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has frozen the duty on Scotch whisky year on year in order to achieve that very competitiveness.
Shona McIsaac: Veterans in my constituency welcomed last weeks news that priority health care is to be extended to them. However, many of the scars of war are mental and psychological, and I would like my right hon. Friend to tell me what he proposes to do to extend treatment to the soldiers, sailors and air force men affected by them.
The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for taking up the cause of veterans in her constituency. She is absolutely right; last week the Health Secretary announced that veterans would be accorded priority treatment in the national health service, as they should be. He also announced that there will be a new community-based veterans mental health care service, which will run for the next two years with independent evaluation. There are 150 mental health professionals working throughout defence, employed by the Ministry of Defence, and we are determined to do what we can to support not only our veterans but all those in our armed forces who do an outstanding job and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude and a duty of care.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): The Prime Minister told us that he would deliver honest government, that he would be open, that he would end spin and restore trust, and that he would deliver competence. After the events of the last few days, can he honestly stand there and say that all over again?
The Prime Minister: That is why I have acted immediately to set up two inquiries. All of us on all sides of this House have an interest in integrity in the funding of political parties, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that political party finances are transparent and that everything is above board. That is why what happened was completely unjustifiable. It has got to be investigated as a matter of urgency. Two internal inquiries have been set up within the Labour party, and the Electoral Commission will investigate. I am determined to make sure that political party finances are above board.
The Prime Minister: That is a matter, as the right hon. Gentleman should know, for the Electoral Commission. The commission has announced an inquiry into this matter. We reported the matter to the Electoral Commission; we have told it that we are setting up two separate inquiries. The commission will run an inquiry and it is its decision as to whether the police are brought in. We are happy to co-operate in any way because, in my view, this is something that has to be cleaned up in the interest of the whole of public life, and I am determined to take that action.
Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister is wrongit is not the exclusive competence of the Electoral Commission. I am asking him a simple question: if he thinks that something unlawful has happened, does he not have a duty to call in the police himself?
The Prime Minister: Under every convention, we report the matter to the Electoral Commission, which was set up under a law that we passed with the support of the other parties in the House. The Electoral Commission will decide whether the matter is for the police and we will co-operate in any way possible with it, the police or both. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is in everybodys interests for action to be taken against something unjustifiable. The procedures that were followed were not acceptable and any necessary changes in the law will be made. I believe that all parties have an interest in sorting that out.
Mr. Cameron: We learned this morning that Jon Mendelsohn, whom the Prime Minister appointed, knew for a month about a situation that the Prime Minister called unlawful and unacceptable. How can that person possibly still be in post?
The Prime Minister: Mr. Mendelsohn has issued a statement clarifying what happened. On 3 September, he started employment in the Labour party. He has had no involvement in the donations that have been made. Those donations were happening for four years before he took office. That is why the investigation that should take place is the one that I have set up internally in the Labour party. The inquiry will be led by Lord Harries and Lord McCluskey, a senior High Court judge and a retired Bishop of Oxford. [Interruption.] We will do everything in our power, as the terms of reference have said, to show that the standards that will be followed in future are acceptable in every area of public life.
The Prime Minister: If I can put the right hon. Gentleman right, Mr. Mendelsohn says in his statement, which has just been issued, that he was led to understand by the general secretary of the party that this had been cleared with the Electoral Commission. That was the issue before him. He also says that he was unhappy in principle with those arrangements, and that he had approached one of the people involved and was seeking a meeting to sort matters out.
Mr. Mendelsohn started on 3 September. He was involved in none of the donations that were made. He is not the registration officer reporting to the Electoral Commission, but of course, if anything untoward has
happened in that respect, it will be a matter for the inquiry and we will take whatever action is necessary to sort the matter out.
Mr. Cameron: I have to say that the Prime Ministers explanation beggars belief. It takes us to questions about the Prime Ministers own integrity. Does he expect us to believe that someone whom even Labour Members believe to be a control freak was preparing for an election, sorting out the finances, sitting around the table with everyone who is caught up in the scandal, yet did not have the first idea about what was going on?
We have had 155 days of this Government: disaster after disaster, a run on a bank, half the countrys details lost in the post and now this. The Prime Ministers excuses go from incompetence to complacency and there are questions about his integrity. Are not people rightly asking, Is this man simply not cut out for the job? [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister: Our party introduced legislation in 2000 to restrict foreign donors, register donors, have a comprehensive framework for elections and have an Electoral Commission, and we are ready to take any further measures. I hope that there will be all-party support so that everything in party politics is above board, including the use of third-party sources for donations.
As for competence, I remind the right hon. Gentleman that in 1992, he sat there when interest rates reached 15 per cent. Competence is the lowest interest rates for a generation, the lowest inflation for a generation, the highest employment for a generation, doubling investment in the health service, a minimum wage and properly financing education. We will continue to do our best by the country. [Interruption.]
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): While we let the hot air settle, may I tell my right hon. Friend that wind farms are enormously popular in my constituency, with 80 per cent. of people responding to a survey saying that they think they are attractive, produce clean energy and tackle global warming? Will they have to continue to wait for the planning process to produce the wind farm that they want? Will we have to wait and listen to the windbags[Hon. Members: Hoorah!]or will we get a wind farm?
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|