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House of Commons

Wednesday 4 June 2008

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): What discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive on the transfer of fishing licences and fixed quota allocations from Scottish fishing vessels. [207929]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (David Cairns): I have had no discussions with the Scottish Executive on the transfer of fishing licences and fixed quota allocations.

Mr. Goodwill: We have some experience of salmon poaching on the River Esk, but this is the first time we have come across Salmond poaching of quota. The First Minister has imposed a one-way valve, in effect, on quota transfers, whereby quota can be transferred into Scotland but not out. Does the Minister agree that the First Minister is getting a bit big for his boots and is exceeding his powers? Will the Minister take legal action to enforce the rule of law?

David Cairns: The hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue affecting fishing communities, not just in Scotland but around the coast of the UK. The unilateral moratorium imposed by the Scottish Executive without any warning or consultation will be damaging not just to English fishing interests, but to fishing interests in Scotland. It is not just me saying that; the secretary of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, George MacRae, said it was unfortunate that a moratorium had been placed on

In these circumstances, there can be little doubt that the Scottish marine directorate—that is, the Scottish Government—has scored an own goal.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): Does the Minister believe that the moratorium is legal? What steps are he and his colleagues taking to tackle that issue? More broadly on quotas, he will be aware that as a result of the climate conditions in the North sea and of boats not leaving the harbour because of the fuel crisis, the east coast nephrops fishery in the Farne deeps is down 50 per
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cent. this year. Given those circumstances, will he give an assurance that there will be no reduction in quota next year?

David Cairns: Issues to do with next year’s quota have to be decided at the Fisheries Council. On the first point, the Marine and Fisheries Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw), has been in long discussions with Richard Lochhead and the Scottish Executive about ways in which these quota exchanges can be managed and carried out more professionally, but the reality is that to circumvent all of that with no warning and to impose a moratorium that is not universally welcomed in Scotland, let alone elsewhere, is deeply irresponsible.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South) (Lab): The fact that Richard Lochhead and the SNP Administration have taken such a unilateral decision blows a rather large hole through the SNP’s desire that a Minister from the Scottish Parliament should lead on UK fisheries negotiations in Europe. Obviously they do not think of the good of the fisheries industry across the whole of the UK, or even, as my hon. Friend the Minister has said, in Scotland.

David Cairns: My hon. Friend is right, which is why this will be seen to be a very short-sighted decision. The reality is that when it comes to negotiating the UK position within the common fisheries policy, the SNP is all over the place. It does not want to be in the common fisheries policy and will not even be in the room when these things are being negotiated.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): I recommend to the Minister that he read the latest editorial from Fishing News , which says:

That is the SNP Government in Scotland. The editorial goes on to say, importantly:

Why does Scotland have the highest fuel prices when we are the biggest oil producer in the EU?

David Cairns: Is it not absolutely typical that on a question about fishing the hon. Gentleman neglects his core policy, which is to pull out of the common fisheries policy? He knows that such a move will mean renegotiating the entire treaty of Rome, which means getting 27 nations to agree with him. This very point was put to the hon. Gentleman’s colleague Richard Lochhead by Gordon Brewer, who asked:

Richard Lochhead replied:

How on earth is he going to negotiate the treaty of Rome from scratch if he does not even ask other member states what their opinion is?

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Carer's Allowance

2. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the carer's allowance in Scotland. [207930]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (David Cairns): I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on a range of issues. The carer's allowance provides financial support to more than 472,000 carers across Great Britain, including 44,170 in Scotland.

David Taylor: In the east midlands of England, we can only aspire to the admirably high standards delivered by the Scottish social care system, rooted in the Care 21 report on the future of unpaid care in Scotland. How is the idea of devolving the carer’s allowance to Holyrood being implemented? What will be the source of funding for any subsequent increases in the allowance rate and in the new kinship carer’s allowance, details of which were announced yesterday?

David Cairns: My hon. Friend has a long tradition of, and reputation for, campaigning on these issues. I am aware that he has raised the issue of the carer’s allowance with my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for disabled people. He rightly points out that Scottish standards in social care are excellent and have been through various Administrations, and I commend Scotland’s social care practitioners on that. I shall reserve judgment on the kinship carer’s allowance until I have seen the colour of the Scottish National party’s money, because what we have got used to in Scotland over the past year are high-falutin’ announcements with absolutely no money to pay for them.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): Given the increase in child care places in England following the Aiming High review, does my hon. Friend agree that if that were replicated in Scotland, as intended, the need for the carer’s allowance would decrease as more parents would be able to find jobs?

David Cairns: I think the whole House acknowledges the role that my right hon. Friend has played in campaigning in this area, particularly for the rights of disabled children and their carers. It is simply a matter of growing national scandal that the money that has been allocated, thanks to the report that he offered, precisely for carers of disabled children in Scotland has simply not got through to them. The issue must be pursued with the First Minister to ensure that money that should be going to the families of disabled children actually gets to them.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): Given that next week is carers week, it is important to recognise just what a vital role carers play in supporting their family and those in need. Could the Minister say what reassurance he can give carers who collect their carer’s allowance at post offices that following his discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions they will continue to be able to do so after 2010?

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David Cairns: It is our intention that people will be able to carry on collecting carer’s allowance on a universal basis, but, obviously, negotiations on the Post Office card account are ongoing. I commend the hon. Gentleman on getting in a question about post offices, though.

Antonine Wall

3. Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on the nomination of the Antonine wall as a world heritage site. [207932]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Des Browne): This is a very exciting opportunity for Scotland, which already boasts five world heritage sites. In 2003, the Government endorsed the working up of a formal bid for world heritage status for the Antonine wall, and in 2007 the nomination was submitted to UNESCO as an extension of the frontiers of the Roman empire transnational world heritage site. As my hon. Friend knows, between 2 and 10 July in Quebec a decision will be made on the bid by the World Heritage Committee.

Michael Connarty: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply; obviously, he has researched the matter well. He will know that one third of the Antonine wall runs through Falkirk district, starting from Borrowstouness—or Bo’ness—in my constituency, and passing through Camelon, where the most northerly fort of the Roman empire, Rough castle, is well preserved. Will he join me in praising the work of Falkirk council and, in particular, the chair of the cultural committee, Adrian Mahoney, who has made this his priority for Scotland? Can the Secretary of State assure us that the resources of the UK Government will be put together with the efforts of Falkirk to ensure that this is delivered as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008?

Des Browne: I commend my hon. Friend and Falkirk council, which is one of five councils across Scotland supporting this bid and has sustained the infrastructure of the Antonine wall in its present state. That allows it to become part of this international application for world heritage status. I have no difficulty in commending Falkirk council on the work that it has done. In 1999, it secured lottery funding to improve the infrastructure, and it continues to discuss with the Heritage Lottery Fund not only how to exploit the tourism potential, but the restoration and maintenance of the sites, as indeed do other councils. My hon. Friend can rest assured that not only the United Kingdom Government but the Austrian and German Governments, who are also involved in this international bid, will put all the resources necessary behind it to secure this important status.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s comments. I am sure we all wish the Antonine wall bid team well and congratulate all those involved in preparing the bid, including those in East Dunbartonshire, which also contains a section of the wall. If, as we hope, the Antonine wall secures world heritage status next month, will he facilitate discussions between the Scottish Government and those involved in the Glasgow 2014
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Commonwealth games project to ensure that that opportunity is taken to promote this fascinating piece of Roman heritage in the cultural activities surrounding the games? That would also help to bring the wall to an international audience.

Des Browne: The hon. Lady and her local council deserve credit for the energetic support that they have given to the bid. She will be aware that the Scottish Executive are part of the international group of those who are supporting the bid. Securing that status will generate significant potential, not just in cultural terms but in terms of tourism, and will present a good opportunity to combine the exploitation of that potential with the 2014 Commonwealth games. I shall do everything I can to ensure that all these objectives and opportunities are exploited fully. For my own part, I have already written to the committee to express the support of the Scotland Office and the UK Government at that level for this bid.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): It would appear that the whole House is in agreement with the efforts to ensure that the Antonine wall is regarded as an important and historic site. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to add to the representations of the Labour-led North Lanarkshire and East Dunbartonshire councils for this recognition to be awarded to the wall, significant parts of which run through my constituency?

Des Browne: It may only be a coincidence, but conspicuous by the absence of their support for the wall are those who were kept out by it when it was built. We may hear from that part of Scotland as well. It is good that there is cross-party support for the bid, for obvious reasons. My hon. Friend is a champion of this bid and deserves recognition for that, as do her local councils for the work that they have done. This is an important part of Scotland’s heritage and we are proud of it. It is now getting the recognition that it deserves after a significant time. It links Scotland into international relationships across Europe, of which Scotland is very proud and has been for some time.

Postal Services

4. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on postal services in Scotland. [207933]

The Minister of State, Scotland Office (David Cairns): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues.

Mr. Carmichael: The interim report of the Hooper review concluded that the only people who had benefited from the liberalisation of the letter post market were a handful of banks and credit card companies and that it had also led to a real threat to the universal service obligation. Was that what the Government intended when they undertook this enterprise? What are the Government doing now to ensure that the threats to the universal service are not realised, because once it is lost we will never get it back?

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David Cairns: We remain committed to the universal service obligation, which is why we are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in a sustainable post office network. I know that some closures of post office branches in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency have recently been announced, with six to close and 66 to remain open. If we were not investing to the degree that we are in sustaining the post office network and the universal service obligation, those figures would most likely be reversed. We are committed to a universal service and a vibrant post office network, and that is why we are putting the money in.

Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): With the closure of Montgarrie post office, and the announcement of the closure of— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The SNP group must behave themselves in the Chamber. It is bad manners: when an hon. Member is putting the case for his constituency, he should be heard.

Malcolm Bruce: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. With Montgarrie post office closed and Rhynie, Lumsden, Kennethmont and Collieston suffering reduced hours, does the Minister acknowledge that those communities will lose both income and services? More to the point, with uncertainty over the future of the Post Office card account, no post offices in my constituency or any other can feel confident about the future, even if they do not face closure now.

David Cairns: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. There have been several closures but, as he recognises, the future is now more certain for many post offices because we are providing help and support. As I said to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), discussions on a replacement for the Post Office card account are under way and we are committed to its continuation. The right hon. Gentleman knows that people’s shopping habits have changed, and they are now accessing services in different ways. The Post Office has to adapt to that new reality, but we are not walking away from our commitment. Indeed, we are investing massively to sustain the network.

National Identity Register

5. Mr. Philip Dunne (Ludlow) (Con): Whether personal data held by the Scottish Executive and their associated public bodies will be held on the national identity register. [207934]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Des Browne): The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is no. The national identity register will hold basic personal identity information obtained during the enrolment process and maintained by the applicant.

Mr. Dunne: If the Scottish Government refuse to use the ID card, does the Secretary of State not agree that having a separate scheme in Scotland from that in the rest of the UK will fatally undermine a national ID card?

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