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Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): The recent Defence Committee report made it clear that the Scottish Executive were not giving high enough priority to the medical care of our service personnel. Last year, Scottish nationalist MSPs supported a ban
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on the Army visiting schools. Does the Secretary of State agree that the SNP’s treatment of our soldiers as second-class citizens is simply the worst kind of politics? Will he seek an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence to ask him to raise that matter with the First Minister, in order to remind the First Minister that our armed forces personnel are part of the British Army, and that we stand together and fight together?

Des Browne: I will do what I can to get an early meeting with the Secretary of State for Defence, but I know that his diary is very busy. However, the hon. Gentleman has made the good point that one party in the House plays around with those issues for political purposes. In the absence of a coherent defence policy, it is not surprising that it chooses to exploit circumstances as it does. Members of that party should not continue to believe, however, that our armed forces do not recognise that. Those Members do not provide the coherent strategic support that our armed forces need, and they should not play about with those issues as they do.


4. Ann McKechin (Glasgow, North) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on Government support to assist unemployed people to return to work in Glasgow. [190396]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (David Cairns): I have discussed the issue of Government support to assist unemployed people to return to work in Glasgow with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform on a number of recent occasions.

Ann McKechin: I welcome the good work of the Department for Work and Pensions in Glasgow and Glasgow city council in focusing on employment in the city. They have identified two main challenges, namely the lack of skills among low-paid workers and the lack of appropriate after-school care for lone parents. When my hon. Friend next meets the First Minister, will he remind him that Glasgow needs more, not fewer, apprentices and more funding for comprehensive after-school care rather than taking money out of the voluntary sector?

David Cairns: I agree with my hon. Friend that, after many years of decline, the city of Glasgow has undergone an astonishing renaissance in recent years. It is now important that economic opportunity is expanded out from the centre to all Glasgow’s inhabitants. We will be able to do that only if we ensure that people have the right skills and training to be part of Glasgow’s economic success. That will not happen by capping the number of available apprenticeships, which is what the SNP has done, in sharp contrast to the big expansion in apprenticeships that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced. We have ambitions for Glasgow, but it seems that the SNP does not.

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Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): One way of getting more people into employment in Glasgow and elsewhere is through the Department for Work and Pensions’ Workstep programme, which provides job subsidies to employers of people with severe disabilities. What would my hon. Friend say about a local authority that signed a Workstep contract with the DWP to supply work for 35 disabled people a week after SNP and Liberal Democrat councillors effectively voted to close the same factory in which those people work? How can that help people get into employment?

David Cairns: My hon. Friend is an acknowledged and nationally respected champion of disabled people, who has championed many programmes to help disabled people get into work not only in Glasgow, but in her own Aberdeen constituency. I am very concerned to hear about that proposed cut by Aberdeen city council, so I beg it not to take any action that would make it more difficult for disabled people to get into work, which would be entirely wrong.


5. Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the devolution settlement. [190397]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Des Browne): I have discussions with the First Minister on a range of issues and I look forward to further constructive discussions in the interests of the people of Scotland in the future.

Sir Nicholas Winterton: I speak as a Conservative and Unionist Member. Will the Secretary of State explain why the Minister of State, who is sitting alongside him, has concluded:

of the current fiscal arrangements for Scotland, when apparently the Labour leader in the Scottish Parliament believes that they should be fundamentally reviewed? May I have a straightforward answer?

Des Browne: The hon. Gentleman does not need to remind us of his qualifications to ask that question, as the whole House knows who he is. May I say that if I infer from his question correctly, he is a welcome convert to the improvement of the devolution settlement? This Government believe in devolution and we delivered it. I am delighted to be working with the Conservative Front Benchers both here and in the Scottish Parliament to devise a method for the review of the devolution settlement in order to improve it for the people of Scotland. I welcome his contribution.


6. Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): If he will make a statement on employment levels in Scotland. [190398]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (David Cairns): The employment level in Scotland stands at 2.53 million, with the rate of employment at 76.5 per cent. In my hon. Friend’s constituency, the employment rate stands at 78.4 per cent.

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Mr. Devine: Unemployment in my constituency stands at 2.4 per cent., but that figure will increase because of the cuts being implemented by the Scottish National party. Along with a 6 per cent. increase in rents, there are cuts in the Education Department, cuts in the Health Department and cuts in the Development Department, yet the SNP is spending £70,000 on a tent. Does my hon. Friend agree with me about that?

David Cairns: My hon. Friend is right. Since 1997 there have been more than 250,000 additional jobs in the Scottish economy thanks to Labour’s management of the economy, and it is a great shame to see that good work being undone by the SNP, both in the Administration in Edinburgh and locally. I am sure that the voters of Livingston will bear that in mind the next time that they go to the polls.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—


Q1. [191537] Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 5 March.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I list my engagements, let me say that I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending condolences to the family and friends of Royal Air Force Sergeant Duane Barwood, who died in Iraq on Friday. To him and to others who have lost their lives we owe a huge debt of gratitude.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Mr. Hamilton: I endorse the Prime Minister’s comments.

Poverty pay in this country was largely eradicated by the national minimum wage legislation introduced by this Government 10 years ago. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents and the House that the minimum wage will continue to rise in line with average earnings, and that he will maintain his commitment to high employment and investment in our public services?

The Prime Minister: I am pleased to announce that the minimum wage will rise to £5.73 this October. That is a 60 per cent. increase on the original minimum wage introduced in 1999. Some people said that the minimum wage would cost us 2 million jobs. We have a rising minimum wage, and we have created 3 million jobs. I am also delighted to say that in contrast to what others are suggesting—£10 billion of tax cuts will be paid for by huge cuts in public spending—we will maintain public services in health, education and transport infrastructure, and those for children and pensioners. We will keep our promises on public services.

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Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Sergeant Duane Barwood, who was killed in Basra on Friday. His family live in my constituency, and our thoughts and prayers are with them as they honour his memory.

Does the Prime Minister think that if he held a referendum on the Lisbon treaty he would win it?

The Prime Minister: No country in Europe apart from Ireland is holding a referendum on the constitutional treaty— Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should not be shouting down the Prime Minister, or the Leader of the Opposition.

The Prime Minister: If this were a constitutional treaty, we would hold a referendum. If there were a vote on the euro, we would hold a referendum. But the constitutional concept was abandoned, and that is why the nine countries that proposed a referendum—including Ireland—are not holding one.

The question that the Opposition must answer is this. If after ratification they hold a referendum, they will essentially be renegotiating our membership of the European Union, and that would put thousands of jobs in this country at risk.

Mr. Cameron: Everyone who is watching will see that the Prime Minister will not answer the question. The truth is that all of us in the House promised a referendum. We have the courage of our convictions and are sticking to that promise. The Prime Minister has lost his courage, and that lot—the Liberal Democrats—have lost their convictions. So let me ask the Prime Minister again: does he think that if he held a referendum, he would win it?

The Prime Minister: The last time a referendum was held on Europe, it was won with a massive majority. Let me also say to the right hon. Gentleman that his proposals put our membership of the European Union at risk. When will he wake up to the fact that three and a half million jobs are dependent on our membership of the European Union, that 700,000 companies are trading with Europe, that 60 per cent. of our trade is with Europe, and that all that is put at risk by Conservative intransigence on Europe?

Mr. Cameron: And answer came there none.

The Prime Minister says that the constitutional concept has been abandoned, yet this treaty includes provision for an EU Foreign Minister, an EU president and an EU diplomatic service. I do not think that Tony Blair is running for president of some feeble organisation. He is running for president of the United States of Europe.

This treaty gets rid of dozens of vetoes, and gives the European Union, for the first time, the ability to get rid of further treaties without another treaty. If it looks like the constitution and sounds like the constitution, that is because it is the constitution. Tony Blair found the courage to back a referendum; why will not the Prime Minister?

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The Prime Minister: The Conservative party is wrong: this is not “the United States of Europe”. The Conservative party is wrong: foreign policy is decided at intergovernmental level. As far as what the right hon. Gentleman says about this institutional arrangement, a former Conservative Chancellor says:

—and their party did not have a referendum on Maastricht.

Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister wants to trade quotes, why does he not try this one from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who was Labour’s appointment to the organisation that drew up the constitution? She said:

Does not the Prime Minister understand that this is one of the reasons why our political system is so badly broken? All three main parties in this House made a promise to our constituents for a vote on the EU constitution. When we turn around and say, “You can’t have it any more,” it is no wonder people feel cheated and cynical because promises are being made and broken. Why cannot the Prime Minister see the damage that he is doing?

The Prime Minister: I have explained to the House that if this was a constitutional treaty, we would be having a referendum. The constitutional concept was abandoned. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to persist in talking about “the United States of Europe” and a “constitutional treaty”, he will have no support in the rest of Europe. Indeed, the only party that supports him in Europe, the Czech ODS party, says:

If the right hon. Gentleman’s party had truly changed and moved to the centre, he would be standing up to his Back-Benchers: he would be leading them instead of following them, he would be standing up to the Eurosceptics instead of appeasing them, and he would be moving to the centre of Europe instead of being left at the margins of Europe.

Hon. Members: More, more.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): The opportunities for young people to receive a higher education are greater than ever before. Is Swindon, with its high employment level but low skills base, a suitable candidate to bid for a much needed new university?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many towns and cities in this country will want a university or higher education institution in the next few years. We are expanding higher and further education because we are investing more in education and not cutting it, and as we do so there will be scope for towns and cities in this country to apply to have universities or higher education institutions. That is the right way forward for Swindon and for many other towns and cities, and I hope that people will support the increase in education investment that makes that possible.

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Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): May I— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I call the right hon.— [Interruption.] Order. I call the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Clegg: May I add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Sergeant Duane Barwood?

The Prime Minister once said that he would,

How does he think he can achieve that by colluding with the anti-European Conservatives to block the in out referendum that the British people really want?

The Prime Minister: By not walking out of the House of Commons, for a start. By not saying that there is a principle in abstention when it comes to a European issue. I tell the right hon. Gentleman that we will lead the agenda on the future of Europe, and that we will lead on the environment, international development, the approach to globalisation and security. There is not much principle in recommending abstention.

Mr. Clegg: The Prime Minister talks about leadership, but the fact is that he has bottled it and, as far as I can make out, the leader of the Conservatives wants to leave the European Union but has not got the guts to say it. Is not the truth that this country will never lead in Europe until politicians who believe in the European Union have the courage to stand up for it, and politicians who want to leave it are flushed out in an honest debate on our membership?

The Prime Minister: I agree with the right hon. Gentleman entirely. The Conservative party leadership is being driven by the Eurosceptics on the Back Benches. I also agree with him that we need to put the pro-European case in the country, but I have to say that to go back to the 1970s and relive a referendum in the 1970s is not the way to plan for the future. The way to plan for the future is to have an agenda for a global Europe, which is exactly what this Government have.

Q2. [191538] Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes) (Lab): In a couple of weeks’ time, free national bus travel is being introduced for pensioners. However, North East Lincolnshire council is chucking pensioners off the bus before 9.30 in the morning and blaming the Government. Will my right hon. Friend tell the residents of Grimsby and Cleethorpes that it is not the Government doing this, but a case of the Lib Dems stealing their bus passes?

The Prime Minister: I am proud that this Government have made it possible to have free local pensioner travel and now free off-peak national pensioner travel. That is why we have made available £650 million over the next three years. We consulted local authorities and we agreed to the scheme that they put forward. There is no excuse for local authorities denying pensioners their right to travel throughout the country. This is a scheme that is right, that can be done and that should happen from next month.

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