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David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): May I be the first to congratulate the Secretary of State on being named best Scot at Westminster? I am sure the Prime Minister is delighted.

Month after month, Scottish unemployment rises; month after month, the Scotland Office issues a statement distancing the Government from responsibility, invoking global factors; and month after month, that looks less credible. If the Government's economic policies have been right for Scotland, can the Secretary of State explain to us why the US, France and Germany have all returned to growth, but over the same period Scottish gross domestic product has continued to fall? Given that unemployment lags behind growth, are we to assume that Scotland will suffer further from Labour's legacy of rising unemployment for many months to come?

Mr. Murphy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his best wishes on my award. It was a very long shortlist, but I noticed he was not on it. I would nevertheless like to welcome the newest Member to the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain).

On the hon. Gentleman's substantive point, there are a quarter of a million more people in work in Scotland today than when his party left power, but we are determined to do an awful lot more. The worst thing we could do is follow the prognosis of Conservative economics in the midst of this recession.

David Mundell: The Secretary of State's monologues about history are almost as predictable as those press releases on unemployment from the Scotland Office. We want to talk about the present. There are 270,000 people in Scotland on incapacity benefit under this Government. That cannot be justified-when will he take steps to get these people re-tested? All those found to be either ready to work or ready to prepare for work should be given support by specialist organisations; instead, they are ignored by his Government. When will he put that right?

Mr. Murphy: We introduced the Welfare Reform Act 2007, which ensures that we provide new support to those on incapacity benefit, particularly those who experience fluctuating mental health conditions, and especially women in their 30s and 40s, in respect of whom there is an additional trend that is worrying for us all.

However, it is nauseating to listen to the hon. Gentleman lecture us on incapacity benefit. We are doing everything we can to support those people in getting off that benefit. The fact is that when his Government were in power, they manufactured the unemployment figures by deliberately taking people off unemployment and sticking them on to a life of dependency on incapacity benefit, for which they will never be forgiven.

Future Jobs Fund

6. Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the operation of the future jobs fund in Scotland. [300129]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): Future jobs fund vacancies are available in every local authority area in Scotland. To date, 44 bids have been approved in Scotland, offering almost 7,000 jobs.

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Sandra Osborne: Between them, North Ayrshire and East Ayrshire councils have secured more than 500 jobs for young people over the next 18 months through the future jobs fund. The Tory-nationalist coalition in South Ayrshire council, on the other hand, has secured none at all. What can the Secretary of State do to put the maximum pressure on councils such as South Ayrshire to allow young people to participate?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend raises a really important point, because we need to support young people who have recently lost their jobs so that they do not spend six months or a year out of work. It would be unforgivable if local authorities did not provide that degree of support, so I will find ways to raise her concerns with South Ayrshire council. However, it is important that we provide that support for the long-term young unemployed and those who are middle-aged in particular problem areas across Scotland.

Robert Key (Salisbury) (Con): Given the Secretary of State's recent decision to reject the QinetiQ proposals for upgrading the Ministry of Defence ranges on Benbecula, is he confident that there will be no job losses on the Hebrides ranges for the next three years? [ Interruption. ] If he cannot be confident of that, will he ensure that the future jobs fund will be applied to the islanders of North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist? [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Just before the Secretary of State answers that question, may I reiterate the appeal that I make every week for a decline in the number of private conversations? I say this to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns): every week he indulges in these conversations, every week it is very tedious and every week it is not necessary. Let us have an end to it.

Mr. Murphy: I am aware that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) does not have much interest in Scotland or Scottish questions, but the decision that was taken about saving the ranges on the Uists was very important. Again, it shows the benefit of Scotland being part of the United Kingdom. We remain committed to those firing ranges on the Uists, but we have to ensure that they attract new business and that we achieve diversity in the economy in the Western Isles, which is important to their future.


7. Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the effect on the tourism industry in Scotland of proposed changes to the furnished holiday lettings rules. [300130]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): My right hon. Friend has discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues.

Mr. Weir: The Minister will be aware that many groups, including the Association of Scotland's Self-Caterers and the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, have raised concern about the impact of the proposed abolition of furnished holiday letting relief. Alternative solutions have been proposed that would be tax-neutral and support the industry. Will she urge the Treasury to look again at this matter to avoid serious damage to the economy in many areas of rural Scotland, including mine?

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Ann McKechin: As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the current rules were understood not to comply with EU law, nor were they fair to other residential landlords. It is also likely that if we had kept the rules as they stood, it would have had a negative impact on tourism, both in Scotland and the UK. There are only 60,000 individuals in the UK claiming this benefit, but there were 15 million overnight tourist visits in Scotland last year, so we consider that the change will not have any major impact on tourism.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): The biggest barrier to tourists visiting holiday homes in Scotland is the lack of a proper transport infrastructure. Will my hon. Friend join the Scottish trade unions and business leaders in calling on the SNP Administration at Holyrood to reverse the decision to cancel the Glasgow airport rail link?

Ann McKechin: As my hon. Friend might suspect, there is only one Glasgow MP who does not support the rail link to the airport, the creation of 1,300 jobs or the ambitions of the city for the future. I deeply regret the decision and I hope that it will now be reconsidered.

Economic Inactivity

8. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the level of economic inactivity in Scotland. [300131]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the level of economic inactivity in Scotland.

John Howell: Office for National Statistics figures show that the number of people in Scotland becoming economically inactive rose by 20 per cent. more than the UK average. Why is Scotland so much worse?

Mr. Murphy: Scotland is better off because it is part of the United Kingdom. The four nations of the UK are stronger together during this recession than would otherwise be the case, and most people in Scotland now accept that. There are 250,000 more people in work in Scotland than when the hon. Gentleman's party left power, and his party has not been listened to on this recession in Scotland because of how it behaved while in government during the last recession in Scotland.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my anger at the Opposition for refusing to vote for any support that we give to the unemployed in Scotland, and for the abandonment of people in the 1980s and 1990s that this Government reversed in 1997?

Mr. Murphy: It is clear that the Labour Government are doing everything that we can to get people through this recession. It is also clear that we cannot stop every job being lost-that is the unavoidable and harsh reality of the world economy these days-but we can do everything possible to get people back into work so that they never suffer from long-term unemployment. That is why the measures we have taken are so important, and the blocking of those measures by the Opposition has been so unforgivable.

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Rail Services (Economic Impact)

9. John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the effect on the Glasgow and Lanarkshire economy of future provision of rail services to the west of Scotland operated by East Coast. [300133]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): My right hon. Friend and I have regular discussions with colleagues on a wide range of issues.

John Mason: Does the Minister agree that the airport rail link, while desirable, is a luxury at present, but the East Coast link is essential to Glasgow's economy?

Ann McKechin: The hon. Gentleman might wish to follow the example of the newest Member of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain), in agreeing with the business community in Scotland that the Glasgow airport rail link project is not only desirable but affordable and will create 1,300 jobs. The hon. Gentleman seems to have no interest in that whatsoever.


10. Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): What discussions he intends to have with ministerial colleagues on the recommendations of the Commission on Scottish Devolution. [300134]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): I have had many discussions with Cabinet colleagues during preparation for the Government's proposals for the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom, and with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement on that this afternoon.

Lindsay Roy: My right hon. Friend is about to make a statement to the House and I do not wish to steal his thunder, so I merely ask whether the commission's report is the outcome of diverse national conversations.

Mr. Murphy: The commission's report is the work of months of research and evidence and is based on the support of the Scottish Parliament. The process is supported by the Labour party, the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats. Only one party stands outside the consensus, and unfortunately the Scottish National party Government continue to boycott the entire process.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [301117] Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 25 November.

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The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements this week, I am sure that the House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Sergeant Robert Loughran-Dickson from the 4th Regiment Royal Military Police who has died in Afghanistan. The debt of gratitude that we owe to him is permanent, and we send our sincere condolences to his family and friends. He, and the sacrifice he has made, will not be forgotten.

All of us will also want to pay tribute to Police Constable Bill Barker, who tragically died in Cumbria in the course of duty, serving the community to which he was so committed. We remember those individuals who lost their lives during the recent floods. Our thoughts are with their families and friends, and all those affected by the serious flooding. They will have our support now and into the future. Let us as a House also pay tribute to the emergency services, armed forces and all organisations doing an outstanding job working round the clock to help those areas of our country affected by the floods.

Dr. Blackman-Woods: May I begin by associating myself with the Prime Minister's comments about the death of Sergeant Loughran-Dickson in Afghanistan?

As the Prime Minister said, in the past week we have witnessed appalling flooding in Cumbria and near-misses in many other places, including in my constituency. We know that the emergency services are providing excellent support now, but will he reassure the House that help will be available for as long as needed to get people back on their feet and to help prevent flooding in the future?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken an interest in such matters over many years. The floods were the worst that we have seen. It was a terrible time, as I found out, and as many others in the House also found out when they visited the area. I pay tribute to the local MP who has done so much to comfort and help people.

It might be helpful if I update the House on what is happening and assure people that our support will continue right throughout the troubles facing the area. Some 39 bridges remain closed. We are examining the possibility of a temporary bridge and temporary station, and this morning, a team of military engineers is assessing the possibility of a temporary pedestrian bridge across the River Derwent. The Department for Transport will fund bridge and road repairs. I believe that 40 people are still in rest centres. Consultations with the insurance industry are taking place to ensure that people can return to their homes or have, as a result of action by the council, alternative accommodation. The Flood and Water Management Bill, which deals with some of those issues in the longer term, will come before the House before Christmas. Let me praise all the emergency services that have done so much to help people in this time of need.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Sergeant Robert Loughran-Dickson, who was killed in Afghanistan last week? As the Prime Minister said, our thoughts should be with his family. I also join him in paying tribute to PC Bill Barker, who died in the line of duty protecting the lives of others from those dreadful floods in Cumbria. As the Prime Minister also said, PC Bill Barker was part of an extraordinary effort by emergency services and voluntary groups such as Mountain Rescue, which worked day and night to keep people safe. As the Prime Minister and I have seen, the community spirit shown by residents in dealing with the floods is a real inspiration.

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As has been said, one of the biggest issues is the state of the bridges in Cumbria. Communities have been cut in half and trips to school that used to take five minutes now take an hour and a half. The Prime Minister spoke about what is being done on a national basis, including mobilising Army resources, and about plans for a temporary bridge. How quickly could that temporary bridge be put up to help families come together?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for all that he has said about the whole range of emergency services on which we depend. It is at times like these that we realise the importance of all the public and voluntary services that help our country. As I said, we are examining whether a temporary bridge could be put across the River Derwent. As he knows, we are also looking at how we can fund and finance the construction of a temporary rail station that will allow transport in the area. I believe from the information that I have had that that could be done fairly quickly, but we await the report of the military engineers who are working with the local authorities as we speak this morning. I hope that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be able to give further information this afternoon. Let me say absolutely that the costs of those repairs will be met by the Department for Transport.

Mr. Cameron: People will be very grateful for that answer and that assurance about the funding. With Christmas coming, it will be incredibly hard on those families who cannot get back into their homes. Whether it is contacting the insurance companies so that they pay out quickly, contributing to the community fund, which is set up in cases of hardship, or contacting public and private landlords so that empty homes are made available, can the Prime Minister assure us that everything that can be done will be done to help those families in the run-up to Christmas?

The Prime Minister: The Minister for Regional Economic Development and Co-ordination met the Association of British Insurers yesterday. She received a full assurance that insurers would act quickly on all claims that were being made to them, particularly those claims that required the provision of emergency accommodation during a period when people are out of their homes. Obviously we hope that people will get back to their homes as quickly as possible.

We know that the insurance industry will act for those people who have claims that allow the payment of money for temporary accommodation, but in those circumstances where the local authority has to act to provide accommodation for people, it will do so. The right hon. Gentleman will recall from being there yesterday that a large number of the people affected were very elderly people who live in accommodation for the elderly. We are determined to ensure that the provision of alternative accommodation is up and running and able to meet their needs as soon as possible. It is true that it takes time when houses are flooded for people to get back into them, but we are doing everything in our power to get people back into their homes as quickly as possible. I have also talked to the leader of the council, Councillor Jim Buchanan, who has satisfied himself that we are doing what we can.

Mr. Cameron: I am very grateful for those answers, and people in Cumbria will be too.

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