Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD):
East Dunbartonshire has lost a third of its post offices in recent years, and others have been threatened. What other plans do the Government have to build on their belated, but very welcome, decision to save the Post Office card account, in order to deliver many more
Government services through the post office network and to give the remaining post offices a much more secure future?
Ann McKechin: I recently met Ian McKay, the director of Scottish affairs at Royal Mail, and I know that Royal Mail is considering bringing a number of innovative products to market through the Royal Mail services. It believes that it now has a sustainable network in Scotland, and it is working hard to ensure that the universal service is maintained. That is exactly why the Government have set up the Hooper review, which will report to the Government later this year on how we are going to sustain the universal service in the long term.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Is my hon. Friend aware of the discussions that are currently taking place on the possibility of post offices offering credit union services in their branches? The credit union movement is particularly strong in Scotland, and it is playing a particularly important role in the current financial situation. Will my hon. Friend ask her officials to look into this possibility, to see whether such an arrangement could bring added business into the post office network in our communities?
Ann McKechin: My hon. Friend has had long experience with personal debt advice services, and has supported them through his chairmanship of the all-party group on debt and personal finance. I fully agree that there is an important possible link-up between Royal Mail and the credit unions, and I would be happy to work with him to pursue that matter with Royal Mail.
Mr. Harper: I am very disappointed by that. The First Minister has a tendency to conflate the interests of the Scottish National party with the interests of Scotland. It would very much be in the interests of Scotland if Scottish Government civil servants were able to give evidence to the Calman commission. If the Secretary of State manages to have that conversation, perhaps he could use his undoubted charm to persuade the First Minister to remove the ban and let them give evidence.
Mr. Murphy: It is, as I said, both disappointing and surprising that Scottish Government Ministers will not give evidence; and Scottish Government civil servants cannot give evidence to the process. I want to strike a tone whereby I work with all Scots in Scotlands interests and I am just disappointed that that offer has not been taken up by the First Minister and the Scottish Government.
Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con):
It is clear that by next summer the Calman commission will have completed its work and a final report will be published. In the light of the fact that Scotlands First Minister and the Scottish National party are not really
interested in better governance for Scotland [Interruption.] We hear about the Tory-Labour pact, and I am in favour of pacts so far as the Union of the United Kingdom of Great Britain is concerned, as opposed to the arc of insolvency offered by the SNP and its swivel-eyed supporters. Will the Secretary of State please tell us his plans for the Government timetable when the final report is published in the summer?
Mr. Murphy: We cannot dictate to the Calman commission the timetable for the publication of its report, but we continue to engage with it and we will respond to it. The fact is that Scotland gets the best of both worlds: it has the benefit of a devolved Parliament in Edinburgh and the security of the UK Parliament, which provides a sense of security and stability in these very difficult times.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): My right hon. Friend and I have not received any recent representations on the management of the UK fishing quota in Scotland, but I am aware of current industry concerns.
Mrs. McGuire: Does my hon. Friend agree that the current EU proposals on fishing quotas will have a devastating impact on the west coast and island fishing communities in Scotland if they are not vigorously challenged and changed at the Fisheries Council on 18 and 19 December? Will she further suggest to Ministers in the Scottish Government that, at this crucial time, some of their proposals such as dual registration have more to do with a separatist agenda than with benefiting fishermen in Scotland?
Ann McKechin: My right hon. Friend has always taken a keen interest in the western isles and the fishing industry there. Our focus next week is on the year-end negotiations and, despite the different policy approaches, we will not jeopardise the UK position in them. We are working closely with all Administrations within the UK. Last week, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has responsibility for fisheries, and I met west coast fishermen to discuss what viable alternatives we could offer at next weeks negotiations. We believe that we are working hard to put forward a package that will preserve fishing in the west coast.
Mr. Angus MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Will the Minister join the Scottish Government in supporting Scottish fishing communities and retain the quota in Scotland? We know that the Minister has been silent on the staggering £1 billion of cuts that Labours pre-Budget report will deliver to Scotland. We know of the £120 million of consequential prison spending to come to Scotland and of the HBOS measures, but there has again been silence, endangering 20,000 jobs in Scotland [Interruption.]
Ann McKechin: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman takes so little interest in his own fishing communities and refuses to listen to them when they have made it quite clear that they do not want any change in the current fishing quotas system or the terms of the ability to transfer licences within the UK. We are not prepared to take risks with the UK fishing industry as a whole and we are working hard, along with the industry and all the other devolved Administrations, to achieve the best possible deal next week. It is time that the SNP Government, rather than producing a Christmas card with a fishing boat on top of it, actually spoke up for fishermen.
Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that although it is vital to secure in Brussels the best results in the fisheries negotiations on quotas, it is also important to secure an extension of local fisheries management schemes so that we can move away from the policy of discards that requires fishermen to throw fish out of quota back into the sea? We need to make real progress for our fishermen and real progress on conservation.
Ann McKechin: I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. I very much welcome the agreement that has just been reached between the EU and Norway, which will mean a significant reduction in discard in North sea fishing, while at the same time see 30 per cent. more fish from Scottish fleets delivered to Scotland. That represents the success and strength of a united approach to the discussions.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): I met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport last month. I am passionate about our national sport and national team. If there is to be a one-off under-23 football Team GB at the London Olympics, I want to make sure that it does not affect any of the home nations.
Pete Wishart: Will the Secretary of State not get it into his skull that the Scottish Football Association, the tartan army and the vast majority of Scottish football fans want nothing whatsoever to do with his Team GB, and that his and the Prime Ministers attempt to bully Scotland into a Team GB threatens the very continuation of the Scottish football team? Will he now take the advice that Sebastian Coe so sagely offered the SFAGo away and do absolutely nothing to threaten our team?
It is true, of course, that all politics is personal, and for the hon. Gentleman all politics is personal insult. He does not want a one-off British Olympic football team, but nor does he want a British Olympic cycling team that Chris Hoy did so well in, a British rowing team that Katherine Grainger did so well in, and a British Paralympics team that Aileen McGlynn did so well in. The fact is that he does not believe in a country called Britain, so it is hardly surprising that he
does not want to see any representation of Britain at the Olympic games, but I am pleased to say that the majority of Scots continue to support the United Kingdom of these great islands.
The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Lance Corporal David Wilson of the 9th Regiment Army Air Corps, who died in Iraq on Thursday. We owe him and all those who have lost their lives serving our country a deep debt of gratitude.
Businesses, including small businesses, have welcomed the measures brought in to help them through the current downturn. They are, however, concerned about the do nothing, Lets just see what happens from the Conservative party. They also have concerns about the way in which, and the speed at which, banks are responding to their requests. Will the Prime Minister please reassure me that this Government will do all they can for home owners, those businesses and the people who work in them?
The Prime Minister: We will do everything it takes. We led the way in recapitalising our banks. We led the way in arguing for a fiscal expansion, which other countries are now taking up. We will be leading the way in the next few days with more help for the unemployed, announced in the welfare reform White Paper that we are putting forward today to help people into work; more help for home owners when we have the mortgage summit tomorrow with the housing and building society industry; and more help for small businesses when we announce our new measures that are in addition to the national loan guarantee scheme that we have proposedin addition also to the work that we are doing to help defer the expenses of people who are faced with big bills as a result of income tax. We are taking action. The Conservatives would do nothing.
Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Lance Corporal David Wilson. His family, including his fiancée, Michelle, and his young daughter, Poppy, have suffered a devastating loss, and the whole House will want to send its condolences to them.
I am going to ask the Prime Minister again about the need to get banks lending to businesses. Putting taxpayers money into the banks was something supported by all parts of the House in order, yes, to rescue the banking system, but as the Governor of the Bank of England says, the purpose of recapitalisation was not
merely to protect the banks,
the flow of lending to the real economy could continue at normal rates.
The Prime Minister: The first point of recapitalisation was to save banks that would otherwise have collapsed. We not only saved the world [Laughter . ]saved the banks and led the way [ Interruption. ] We not only saved the banks [ Interruption. ]
The Prime Minister: Not only did we work with other countries to save the worlds banking [ Interruption. ] Not only did we work with other countries to save the worlds banking system, but not one depositor actually lost any money in Britain. That is the first thing. The second thing is to get the banks into a position in which they can resume lending, and that is why interest rates have come down by 3.5 per cent.something that the Opposition said was not possible, but which actually happened. The third thing to do is to work to remove all the barriers to interest rates and to the lending of money by the banks, and that is what we are doing in discussion with the banks now. The Opposition may not like the fact that we led the world in saving the banking system, but we did.
Mr. Cameron: Well, it is now on the record. The Prime Minister is so busy talking about saving the world that he has forgotten about the businesses in the country that he is supposed to be governing. All over the country there are businesses that have had interest rates increased and overdrafts restricted. I have one here: a business in Derbyshire whose overdraft facility was restricted even though its order book was full, and which has had to lay off 11 people as a result.
This recapitalisation scheme is not working. It needs to change if the banks are to start lending again. The Prime Minister keeps saying that everyone in the world has copied it, but no one has copied the details. He is lending to the banks at 12 per cent. and expecting them to lend out at 6 per cent. Other countries are not copying that, even though he thinks he is saving the world. Is that not one of the things that need to change, and change now?
The Prime Minister:
The right hon. Gentleman forgets that in addition to recapitalising the banks, we have set up the small business loan guarantee scheme with an extra £1 billion. That would not be possible if we took the advice of the Conservative party. We have put an extra £1 billion into export credits for small businesses, which would not be possible if we took the advice of the Conservative party. We are getting £4 billion from the European Investment Bank. Four banks in Britain are already using that scheme, which will enable money to flow to small businesses. And, at the same time, the
Inland RevenueHer Majestys Revenue and Customsis saying to people that we will defer payments of VAT, national insurance and income tax, and corporation tax, to enable them to have the cash flow that is necessary.
So we are taking the measures that are necessary. Unfortunately, to do that one has to be able to put a fiscal injection into the economy. Unfortunately, the Conservative party opposes the extra investment that is needed. Unfortunately, the Conservative party is still clinging to the failed policies of the 1980s.
Mr. Cameron: The fiscal stimulus has nothing to do with saving the businesses that are going bust and that need lending from banks. The Prime Minister talks about the loan guarantee scheme. Does he know what percentage of loans to business the loan guarantee scheme covers? Does he know? It is 0.2 per cent.: that is how big it is. I know that the Prime Minister has been around the world boasting about his recapitalisation scheme, so he is reluctant to change it but, for the good of the economy and our businesses, it has got to change.
The government needs to decide on its key priority. The tug of war with lenders being pulled in every direction at once needs to end.
The Prime Minister: The Council of Mortgage Lenders has just supported our proposal to deal with repossessions in the mortgage market, something that not even the Conservative party was able to support. We are taking the action that is necessary. I am sorry to have to teach the right hon. Gentleman what an economy is about, but if we are putting money into the small business loan guarantee system, if we are putting money into export credit, if we are putting public money into supporting businesses through a difficult period by deferring income tax and corporation tax and national insurance and VAT, we are using taxpayers money rightly to help small businesses.
Unfortunately, the difference between our two parties is that the right hon. Gentleman would do absolutely nothing and let the recession run its course, while we are prepared to take the action that is necessary but accept that it costs money. It is no good him complaining about extra borrowing if he is not prepared to take the action that is necessary to help small businesses.
Mr. Cameron: The difference between us and the Prime Minister is that while he thinks he is saving the world, we are talking about businesses in the real world in the British economy. The Governor of the Bank of England says:
The single most pressing challenge to domestic economic policy is to get the banking system to resume lending.
Just as the Government supported lending between the banks, is it not now time to underwrite lending to businesses? Is that not the way to keep them afloat and to keep people in work? Will the Prime Minister now finally accept our proposal for a national loan guarantee scheme to make sure that happens?