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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): Scotland's culture is known throughout the UK and beyond. There are now more Burns suppers in England
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than in Scotland. As a fiercely patriotic Scot, I take every opportunity to promote Scottish culture with my ministerial colleagues.

Mr. Pelling: The Secretary of State is an excellent representative for Scotland. Would cultural interchange be further encouraged by promoting the good idea of having both Celtic and Glasgow Rangers playing in the English leagues?

Mr. Murphy: I would have to declare an interest before responding to that question, as I am a part-time follower of one of those teams. I will leave it to the House to guess which one. Of course, that is a decision for the football authorities and the football clubs. What would enhance cross-border cultural exchange is a return of the Scotland versus England friendly football matches. I think that the home internationals will return shortly, with Ireland replacing England, and that there is now a commitment to a return of the Scotland versus England football matches. I have spoken to the Scottish Football Association about that. There was an agreement to have such an arrangement in 2008, but Scotland withdrew from it. Having grown up around memories of the Wembley Wizards of 1928 and 1967, Kenny Dalglish's great goals at Wembley and occasional England victories at Hampden, I think that it would be a remarkable sporting event and a highlight in the football calendar, so I say, "Bring it on."

Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend share my hope that the BBC Trust will respond positively to the current consultation about putting MG ALBA, the Gaelic television station, on to Freeview? That would allow the benefits of that station to be appreciated and its quality output to be seen by a wider audience not only in Scotland, but across the UK.

Mr. Murphy: Despite the comments of all the doomsayers and those who are culturally ignorant, MG ALBA is a fantastic success, which has exceeded its ambitions regarding its share of audience. It is a young and growing medium that deserves and is entitled to our continued support. If it were available to a wider group of viewers across the UK, on different platforms, that would be a real boon. I will do everything I can to make that happen, but the BBC Trust certainly has a responsibility to help to make it happen.

Mr. Jim McGovern (Dundee, West) (Lab): The Secretary of State has spent a great deal of time in my constituency, and I am grateful for that. Is he aware of the proposal to locate an offshoot of the Victoria and Albert Museum in Dundee, and will he join me in supporting that venture? Will he agree to meet me to see how Westminster can help us to locate the V and A in Dundee?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is a doughty fighter for Dundee. He pestered the Government until we agreed to give additional money for the games industry at the university of Abertay, and it is his victory that that money is in place.

The V and A proposal is a devolved issue, but I believe that there is a need for about £15 million of Scottish Government investment, and I urge them to find the money for that fantastic project, so that people across the world have additional reasons to visit the great city of Dundee.

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Cross-Border Transport

6. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the economic benefits to Scotland of proposed high-speed cross-border rail links. [309554]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): I met the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss the high-speed rail link on 5 November, when he visited Glasgow, North-East.

John Barrett: There is now growing agreement in all parties that the high-speed rail network must serve central Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that both Edinburgh and Glasgow must be on that network and that both those cities should work together to that end?

Mr. Murphy: The high-speed rail network could be an enormous investment and make enormous improvements to our infrastructure across the country. Initially, it will run from London to the midlands, but there is a commitment from the Government to try to go further. If we can get that rail link to Scotland, it is important that it should serve two of Scotland's great cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh, and there is a commitment to help to make that happen. We are determined to make that investment, working with the company.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): As well as providing faster rail services from Scotland to London, the high-speed rail network will also offer the opportunity to have faster direct and indirect services to the continent of Europe. Will the Secretary of State do what he can to ensure that opportunities for travel not just to London, but to the continent, are also maximised in the plans for the high-speed rail network when it is developed north of London?

Mr. Murphy: As I said before, initially, the commitment is to a service from London to the midlands and then to go beyond that to Scotland into Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is important to make that investment in those hundreds of miles of rail track to help to make it happen. Such transport connections between Glasgow and London are crucial, which is why it is important that the Scottish Government should reinstate the Glasgow airport link-just those seven miles from Glasgow city centre to Glasgow airport. I find it ridiculous that people can go to Glasgow, Central station and get a train to Manchester airport, but not to Glasgow airport.

New Deal

7. Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the operation in Scotland of the payment for results system for the New Deal. [309555]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): My right hon. Friend is in regular contact with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on a range of issues.

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Willie Rennie: New deal training organisations face the prospect of their income plummeting because they only receive full payment when their clients find a job. In the current climate, when it is harder to find jobs, their income has already plummeted, threatening the services offered. Will the Minister investigate the implementation of the flexibility that the Department for Work and Pensions promised, because in the current climate it is simply not working?

Ann McKechin: I am happy to take up any particular concerns that the hon. Gentleman may wish to bring to my attention, but I can assure him that we are keeping the flexible new deal under review. The whole point of it is to move people into sustainable, long-term and permanent employment, which is why we think that it is important that a payment-by-results scheme is appropriate.

Fuel Poverty

8. Danny Alexander (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (LD): What discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive on steps to assist households in Scotland in severe fuel poverty which are not connected to the mains gas grid. [309556]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): My right hon. Friend and I have had no discussions with the Scottish Executive.

Danny Alexander: May I urge the Minister to rectify that? If people use heating oil to heat their homes, their fuel is likely to be more expensive so it costs more to pay the bills. Those people are more likely to be in fuel poverty and at the end of the queue to apply for measures to help insulate the home. Is not one of the lessons of this cold spell that help should be directed at the homes that need it most, which means that people who use heating oil should be at the front of the queue, and not at the back of it? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: There are far too many private conversations taking place in the Chamber, which is very discourteous both to the Member asking the question and to the Minister answering it.

Ann McKechin: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

This Government have done more than any other in recent history to do more about fuel poverty. In 2007 alone, the winter fuel payment took 200,000 households throughout the UK out of fuel poverty, and we are determined to tackle the problem even further through the new Energy Bill and take a further 100,000 pensioner households in Scotland out of poverty. We are certainly not complacent, although we see no irregularity in the non-oil-gas and electric-fuel market, which might otherwise cause us to consider regulation at this point. However, we will certainly keep these issues under review.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The Scottish house conditions survey shows that those who do not have access to mains gas are twice as likely to be in fuel poverty as those who do have such access. The Secretary of State mentioned earlier the importance of cold weather payments. Given the current situation, will the Minister press her ministerial colleagues to extend and increase those payments to other vulnerable groups?

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Ann McKechin: The cold weather payments are triggered by the temperature and Scotland has, of course, benefited more than other parts of the UK because of its geographical location. It is this Government who increased the cold weather payment in September 2008 from £8.25 a week to £25 a week-an increase of over 300 per cent.-so I certainly do not think that there has been any complacency on the Government's part.

Youth Unemployment

9. John Robertson (Glasgow, North-West) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of policies to reduce the level of youth unemployment in Scotland. [309557]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): We are determined to help those of all ages who are out of work to get back into work. Since 1997, we have seen the number of 18 to 24-year-olds in Scotland claiming unemployment benefits for six months or more halved.

John Robertson: I thank my right hon. Friend and congratulate him on his answer. Is he as concerned as I am at the possibility that, because of the Scottish Executive's proposal to change the rules for the payment of education maintenance allowance, 7,000 young people will end up on the dole, as they will not receive their £10 or £20, given the new threshold of £30? Is that not a disgrace? What can my right hon. Friend do to help these young people?

Mr. Murphy: Many parents and grandparents across Scotland are worried about what their children and grandchildren will be doing when they leave school or university this year. We all have a responsibility to see what more we can do. My worry is that the Scottish National party Edinburgh Government seem to spend so much time trying to get Scotland out of Britain that they spend so little time trying to get Scotland out of the recession.


10. John Howell (Henley) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on measures to promote employment in Scotland. [309558]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about employment in Scotland, and I co-hosted Scotland's first ever jobs summit on Monday this week in Glasgow.

John Howell: What assurances can the Minister give about the quality and permanence of the jobs that he claims to be creating for young people in Scotland?

Mr. Murphy: First, there is a guarantee that those jobs are better than being on the dole-the option that the hon. Gentleman's party took throughout the 1980s when in government; and there are a quarter of a million more people in work throughout Scotland now than there were when we came to power. But of course, the genuine point behind the hon. Gentleman's question is about guaranteeing that those young people get meaningful employment, that the job turns into a career and that such people, when they themselves have children, have the finance and self-dependency to provide for them. We are determined to do all that we can.

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Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Despite the best efforts to promote employment in Scotland, my constituents and constituents in Glasgow will be severely hampered by the decision of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport to withdraw the Renfrew ferry. It has done so because it does not have any funding from the Scottish Government. Will my hon. Friend raise the matter with Scottish Government Ministers in order to reinstate the ferry service?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is always on the case, defending his constituency and promoting employment there. If the Renfrew ferry is another transport project that the SNP Edinburgh Government have cancelled in the west of Scotland, many people in the area will believe that the SNP just does not understand that part of our country.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [310396] Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 13 January.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before listing my engagements, I know that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute to Captain Daniel Read, from 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps. He died in Afghanistan on Monday, undertaking the dangerous work of protecting his fellow soldiers and civilians from explosive devices. The courage and selflessness of this work is truly breathtaking. His sacrifice will not be forgotten, and we send our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

I know that the whole House will wish to join me in paying tribute also to Rupert Hamer, who lost his life in Afghanistan while reporting from the front line, and to his colleague, who was injured. Our thoughts are also with their families, friends and colleagues. We are grateful to all those who put themselves in danger to ensure that the world is aware of the bravery of those serving in Afghanistan and the realities of life there.

Because of the devastating earthquake overnight, Haiti has moved to the centre of the world's thoughts and the world's compassion. The Government will respond with emergency aid, including firefighters, emergency equipment and finance, and give further support to help the people of Haiti to recover from that devastating event.

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

Bill Wiggin: I am sure that the whole House will agree with the Prime Minister's statement of condolence.

Looking back, our economy entered the recession with one of the largest budget deficits of any first world economy. On reflection, does the Prime Minister regret that?

The Prime Minister: No, we had one of the lowest debts-the second-lowest debt-in the G7. Our debt was lower than that of America, lower than that of
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France and of Germany, lower than that of the euro area and lower than that of Japan and of Italy. It is because we had a low debt that we have been able to take the measures that are necessary to help companies to deal with the recession, to help the unemployed get work, to help young people who are leaving school and to help thousands of small businesses survive. We took the right action in the recession; the Opposition advised the wrong action.

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): May I associate myself with the tribute that my right hon. Friend has paid to those who have lost their lives in Afghanistan?

Is my right hon. Friend aware that today marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Tom Hurndall, the British photographer who was shot by an Israeli sniper while trying to rescue children from danger in Gaza? Will he join me in paying tribute to the Hurndall family for their tireless efforts in cutting through so many smokescreens put forward by the Israeli military authorities, to get to the truth about Tom's death and uphold the principles of accountability? Will he agree that as an international community we have no less responsibility to uphold the principle of accountability for the 352 Palestinian children, whose names we will never know, who died last year-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that we have got the drift.

The Prime Minister: The situation in Gaza is serious. As I said last week, the only way forward and the only solution is a peace settlement between an Israel that needs security within its borders and a Palestine that needs to be a viable economic state. I have repeatedly urged the Israeli Government to improve access for humanitarian aid and workers. In addition to what I said last week, I should say that we have already spent more than £20 million on meeting urgent aid needs in Gaza. The Secretary of State for International Development announced a total package of £53 million for Palestine on 28 December, and that was with a particular focus on Gaza. We will meet the humanitarian needs of the Gaza people where we can. Access is important, but everybody knows that it is a political settlement that we need in that area.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Daniel Read from the Royal Logistic Corps, who died in Afghanistan serving our country? As the Prime Minister said, the work of bomb disposal experts is truly inspiring when we hear what they do to protect their comrades.

I also join the Prime Minister in sending our sincere condolences to the friends and family of Rupert Hamer. He and photographer Phil Coburn remind us of the bravery and professionalism of journalists who also put their lives at risk to ensure that they report on the work of our armed services overseas.

Finally, of course, I associate myself totally with the Prime Minister's words about the terrible events in Haiti, and send my support to those involved in the humanitarian effort. Obviously, we look forward to a full statement in the House by the Secretary of State for International Development when appropriate.

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