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House of Commons

Wednesday 24 February 2010

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

business before questions

Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust


Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked-

Youth Unemployment

1. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on youth unemployment in Scotland. [317401]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): Good morning, Mr. Speaker. Youth unemployment in Scotland has increased in recent months, but since 1997 the number of 18 to 24-year-olds in Scotland claiming unemployment benefit is down by 40 per cent. That issue was discussed at the recent jobs summit in Easterhouse.

Mr. Robathan: After 13 years of Labour Government we discovered yesterday that one in six young people in England between the ages of 18 and 24 are not in employment, education or training. What is the figure in Scotland?

Mr. Murphy: The figures in Scotland have gone down 40 per cent. In Scotland the number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming unemployment benefit for six months or more was 8,800 in January 2010, so hopefully that answers the hon. Gentleman's question. I would have thought that it would be a matter of consensus across all the political parties that we have to do more together to challenge youth unemployment, because it dampens expectations among the most idealistic and energetic generation, and has the potential to ruin young lives. However, based on the hon. Gentleman's question, it is clear that he does not understand very much about unemployment among young people in Scotland.

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Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Youth unemployment is a massive problem in Ayrshire, with North Ayrshire having some of the worst levels of social deprivation in Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend welcome the Ayrshire jobs summit, which is taking place tomorrow, and does he agree that economic growth and job creation are key for the most successful future for Ayrshire?

Mr. Murphy: It is very important that we take a team Ayrshire approach to trying to overcome youth unemployment, and not just youth unemployment. We are keen to ensure that those over 50, who have perhaps not experienced unemployment or been in a job centre for a considerable period-or perhaps never in their lives-do not become used to unemployment and do not spend that period in advance of their retirement settling for a life on unemployment benefits. It is therefore essential that we do more together across all the generations, in Ayrshire and across Scotland.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): In 2000 the then Secretary of State for Scotland boasted that

After 10 years of Labour Government youth unemployment has not ended; it has actually shot up by 60 per cent. Last week the Secretary of State said that the onus was on bankers to deal with unemployment. Then he claimed that Scotland's economy had been boosted by the recent snowfall. Has it not occurred to him that youth unemployment in Scotland is high not because there are too many bankers or not enough snow, but because the Government's economic policies are not working?

Mr. Murphy: It is a fact-I thought that the hon. Gentleman would share this view-that a minority of bankers in Scotland have a moral responsibility for their actions and the way they behaved in destroying fantastic international banking institutions, the consequences being, in part, a global recession and rises in youth unemployment. However, because of the actions of this Labour Government, 50,000 jobs have been saved in Scotland. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman does not care about that, because he is so fixated on trying to get only one job, and that is my job, at the next election. The people of Scotland know that. They see through it and they see the Conservative party in Scotland for what it is: less popular today than even in Mrs. Thatcher's time.

David Mundell: I do not think that the Secretary of State should give lectures on people who are seen through. He will acknowledge that a stable and supportive family environment plays a major part in equipping young people with the personal skills needed for employment. Yet Cardinal O'Brien has warned that the Secretary of State's Government are undertaking a

Last night the Secretary of State was due to say, "When the Cardinal speaks, people listen." The cardinal has spoken. Is the Secretary of State listening?

Mr. Murphy: It is right that we focus on how we get through this recession together. We are determined to ensure that we support families, through tax credits and the national minimum wage, for example. It is sobering
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to reflect on the fact that during the 1980s Tory recession, it took 19 years for the jobs situation to return to pre-recession levels. Nineteen years-nearly two decades-is how long it took Scotland to recover from that recession. The fact is that the Conservative party has not learned the lessons of the 1980s, because it remains committed to cutting tax credits from many families throughout Scotland. It is no wonder that Scotland sees the Tories as a real danger to its well-being.

Gordon Banks (Ochil and South Perthshire) (Lab): I wonder whether my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State could comment on the success of the future jobs fund. He will be aware that his ministerial colleague the Under-Secretary of State visited my constituency recently and saw some of the fruits of the scheme. Is it working in this area?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously in his constituency on the future jobs fund, which is testimony to the way he carries out his politics. He is a fantastic constituency Member of Parliament. We announced 1,300 more jobs in the future jobs fund last week, and there are now 9,000 opportunities in the fund in Scotland. That is the Labour Government subsidising the opportunity for young people and others to have the chance of a job during this recession. The Conservatives are committed to abolishing the future jobs fund, which is 9,000 more reasons in Scotland not to vote for them.

Intellectual Property (Statutory Protection)

2. Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on statutory protection of intellectual property arising in Scotland. [317402]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of matters concerning Scotland. My Department recently made two orders under the Scotland Act 1998 relating to intellectual property for the Commonwealth games and the register of tartans.

Mr. Pelling: What will be done to protect the intellectual property rights of the people of Stirling if the excavations at the Dominican friary show that the bones that have been found there are indeed those of Richard II, and to provide Government moneys to support DNA analysis and perhaps to allow for an exhibition before the bones of that English king are returned to this country?

Ann McKechin: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for providing me with a little advance notice of his supplementary question. It gave me an opportunity to look at the reign of Richard II, which was marked by particular acts of violence. He crushed the peasants' revolt, built up a group of unpopular favourites, arrested, imprisoned and executed the people he worked with, or banished them and confiscated their estates. It sounds a little like a Conservative party selection meeting. More seriously, I am sure that we are all very interested in the results of the archaeological investigation, and that the Scottish Government and the local authority will be more than pleased to promote any find that might be discovered.

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Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Is the Minister aware that there is a tremendous amount of intellectual property involved in building aircraft carriers on Clydeside? Is she also aware that, at this very moment, convenors from trade unions from across the United Kingdom are meeting representatives of the Liberal party to try to get them off the fence on the question of whether they are prepared to support the aircraft carriers?

Ann McKechin rose-

Mr. Speaker: Order. May I just say to the hon. Lady on the Treasury Bench that I know that her answer will contain a closely argued reference to the importance of statutory protection?

Ann McKechin: Thank you for your guidance on that point, Mr. Speaker.

My hon. Friend has been a doughty fighter for the aircraft carriers in Glasgow, and he is well aware that the project is important not just for Glasgow but for Scotland and the whole of the UK, and that many people will benefit from it. We should cherish and support the talents and skills of the engineers and workers in our shipyards at all times.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): Does the Minister agree that it would be naive, misguided and wrong for anyone to claim false ownership, whether in business or in matters of faith?

Ann McKechin: When it comes to intellectual property, we have a good example of the Scottish and UK Governments working together, and we fully support the measures that have been taken on the Commonwealth games order. That has been one of the successes of the devolution settlement, but the hon. Gentleman unfortunately fails to appreciate that because he has only one aim for Scotland, which is to take it out of the United Kingdom and damage it.

Calman Commission

3. Lindsay Roy (Glenrothes) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had on taking forward the recommendations of the Calman commission; and if he will make a statement. [317403]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): The Government are committed to strengthening the Scottish Parliament and making it more accountable to the public in Scotland. We will bring forward a Bill early in the next Session of Parliament.

Lindsay Roy: I thank the Secretary of State for his response. Has his commitment to implementing the Calman recommendations diminished in any way following the discussions on them?

Mr. Murphy: As I said, it is important that the powers of the Scottish Parliament should be increased, and that there should be an increased sense of accountability to the public in Scotland. There is a weakness in the way in which the architecture of devolution has been designed, in that the Scottish Parliament is largely responsible for spending money but does not take decisions about how
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large its budget should be or how the money should be raised. That is why it is an important part of the Calman recommendations-the vast majority of which we accept-that a patriotic Parliament should be given not only additional powers but, importantly, new accountability.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): Only last weekend, we learned of another tragic incident in which a three-year-old boy was shot with an airgun. How many more incidents like that do we have to see before the Secretary of State takes immediate action? The Scottish Government are ready to go, and it is his prevarication that has led to this situation. Will he now get his finger out?

Mr. Murphy: It is pretty cheap and nasty-of course, unusually so for the hon. Gentleman-to try to make politics out of an accident involving an airgun. We are determined to act on this under the Calman recommendations, in great contrast to the Scottish National party's plans for a rigged referendum. A decade after legislating to ban foreign donors in British politics, the SNP's referendum would allow money to flow in from all over the world, in a system that is now found only in the Borda counting systems in Nauru and Kiribati. The SNP's plans for a rigged referendum are absolutely and utterly Kiribati.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): The Secretary of State is aware of my view that the present White Paper procedure is unnecessary and that we could have a Bill before the House now. However, since we have this period of delay, will he use the time to ensure that when he brings the Bill forward, it will include a provision to end the practice of double jobbing, whereby people can sit in this Parliament and in the Scottish Parliament, taking two salaries for doing only one job? Surely that has to end.

Mr. Murphy: This is an important issue and we are keen to phase it out. The Government are committed to taking a UK approach to this matter, as it affects Northern Ireland and the Welsh Assembly as well as the Scottish Parliament. I am not that keen to get into the politics of it all, but the issue of whether politicians should have two salaries is important. The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. The Government are committed-towards 2011, I think-to phasing out this system of a double mandate and two jobs.

Mr. Carmichael: We can guess why the Secretary of State does not want to get into the politics of it since both Margaret Curran and Cathy Jamieson are seeking to come here as Labour MPs on a dual mandate. When he says that a UK approach should be taken, he ignores the fact that the other place has already decided to deal with this problem for Northern Ireland. Surely that is the example that we should follow, and double jobbing should end now, not at some future date of his choosing.

Mr. Murphy: I do not agree. I think everyone in Scotland knows that there is only one prominent person who is currently double jobbing, but I do not want to make a party political issue of it- [ Interruption. ] Of course, it is the First Minister. The two people whom the hon. Gentleman alludes to are phenomenal campaigners
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and powerful women who I hope will be elected to the House of Commons. The Liberal Democrats suggest that that is a foregone conclusion, and the hon. Gentleman's lack of confidence might encourage me to be arrogant, but I am not going to do that.

Devolution Settlement

5. Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the relationship between the UK Government and the Scottish Executive under the devolution settlement. [317405]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): My right hon. Friend last met the First Minister on 11 January at the national jobs summit in Glasgow. He also wrote to the First Minister calling on him to delay the referendum Bill and join us in focusing attention on supporting people in Scotland as we move from recession to recovery.

Mr. Harper: I am grateful for that answer. Is the Minister able to tell us why during the financial crisis, which the Secretary of State pointed out hit Scotland hard because of the impact of the banking crisis, the Prime Minister did not meet the First Minister to discuss these important issues for almost a year?

Ann McKechin: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we continually work constructively together with the Scottish Government on a whole range of issues, including those around the recession and the banking crisis. There have not only been regular meetings between the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State, but regular joint ministerial meetings on domestic issues as well as European and financial meetings. The devolution settlement is working well.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Surely there can be no more important discussion between the Government here and the Scottish Executive than about the confidence of people in the electoral system that elects the Scottish Parliament, which was set up by this Parliament. It seems to me that if the proposal is to put a confused question in a referendum and to have either what was called the Condorcet system, which was last abandoned 80 years ago in Michigan, or the de Borda system, which is used to elect the two Slovenian ethnic minority members, that must undermine the confidence of the people in the electoral system. Surely the Scottish Executive must be called to account on that question.

Ann McKechin: My hon. Friend raises an important point about the lack of proper priorities on the part of the Scottish Government at this time. Our sole priority should be to tackle the recession and to get people back into work, instead of trying to create yet another quango at considerable public expense for no good purpose whatever and conducting a referendum that no one wants at this time.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): More than eight weeks ago, the finance committee of the Scottish Parliament made a perfectly reasonable request for a Treasury Minister to
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come to Holyrood and explain the implications of the pre-Budget report for Scotland. No reply has yet been received. The Chancellor may well have been distracted by fighting back the forces of hell, while the Secretary of State may have been distracted by appealing to the forces of heaven. Is there any hope that the two of them might now come down to a more earthly plane, show respect to the Scottish Parliament, and grant that request?

Ann McKechin: This Government have paid respect to the Scottish Parliament by setting up and supporting the Calman commission. The hon. Gentleman took part in that process, and will be aware of the commission's recommendations. We have agreed that we are more than happy for the Secretary of State to visit the Scottish Parliament to discuss issues relating to the Queen's Speech and other issues of government, but regrettably the Scottish Government have been completely unpersuaded to join in and become seriously involved in matters of parliamentary protocol.

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