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Economic Situation

6. Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with representatives of business and trade unions on the economic situation in Scotland. [317406]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): I hold regular discussions with trade unions and business representatives from across Scotland. As I said earlier, last month I co-hosted a national jobs summit in Easterhouse with the Scottish Government, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and CBI Scotland.

Mr. Hamilton: Last week, when I addressed a meeting at the Rotary Club of Dalkeith, it became obvious to me that the co-operation that has been delivered locally between employers and trade unions is very important if we are to get through the current crisis. May I invite my right hon. Friend to come to Midlothian, meet employers and trade unions, and help them to agree on measures that will allow them to get through the crisis jointly?

Mr. Murphy: I am disappointed to learn that I was not invited to the Dalkeith rotary club event, but I am delighted that it obtained the better speaker in my hon. Friend. Of course I shall be happy to visit his constituency. He has put his finger on something very important: as I have said before, the global importance of the current recession requires a team approach to be taken throughout Scotland by the Labour Government, the SNP Edinburgh Government, business and trade union leaders, so that we can get Scotland through the recession more quickly and more strongly. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Far too many rather animated private conversations are taking place in the Chamber.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (LD): Gaeltec Ltd in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye faces liquidation at the hands of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs because PAYE and national insurance contributions have not been paid as a result of financial constraints. Will the Secretary of State reassure the business community that liquidating a company over
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non-payment of £28,000-leading to redundancy payments that would amount to about £120,000, as well as subsequent unemployment and related benefits-would make no sense whatsoever to the public purse, and that he will lobby HMRC and try to make it see sense?

Mr. Murphy: I am always happy to listen to the right hon. Gentleman when he argues a constituency case so passionately. I will not become involved in the specific detail of the business relationship between HMRC and that one company, but I think he will be reassured to learn that the business payment scheme set up by HMRC has allowed 17,000 Scottish companies to delay their payment of taxes totalling £300 million. However, I will happily look into the specific matter that he has raised.


7. Mrs. Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on reducing unemployment levels in Scotland. [317408]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): Long-term unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 91 per cent since 1997, but there are still too many people out of work, and we are reforming the welfare state and investing in the jobs of the future.

Mrs. McGuire: The number of long-term unemployed people in my constituency has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s, and the unemployment rate is half what it was during the 1992 recession. Does my right hon. Friend agree that public investment is essential to sustaining private sector jobs? Will he ensure that the Government reject the flawed economic analysis which calls for an immediate slash and burn of the public investment that is crucial to maintaining many of the families in my constituency who work in the private sector?

Mr. Murphy: I hope that my right hon. Friend, who has again argued passionately on behalf of Stirling and the surrounding area, will be reassured by the fact that I agree with what she says, but I know that she will be even more reassured by the fact that the International Monetary Fund agrees with her. During this unprecedentedly severe global recession, it has been necessary for the Government to intervene, such as by supporting the banks, and in particular the Scottish banks, and by supporting people who would otherwise be out of work to stay in work. However, as my right hon. Friend says very clearly, we know that we still have much more work to do to get Scotland through this recession, and we should have no truck with either Conservative plans for immediate cuts or the cloud cuckoo land economics of the Scottish National party.

Rail Services

8. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the adequacy of rail services between England and Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [317409]

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.

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Malcolm Bruce: Does the Minister acknowledge that there would be no better way to develop the economies of the north of England and Scotland than to make a commitment to invest in a high-speed rail link, as that would stimulate investment there and ensure that Scotland and the north of England can fully participate in the development of the country? Are the Government committed to that step, and do they understand why the Conservative party is not?

Ann McKechin: The right hon. Gentleman correctly refers to the great possibilities high-speed rail offers to the whole country, including Scotland. This Government are committed to making sure that high-speed rail reaches the northern part of the United Kingdom-as well as the west midlands, where the first phase of the project will take place, and which we will report on later this spring. The right hon. Gentleman is also right that we require cross-party political consensus, because this project will take several decades to complete. It is very disappointing that the official Opposition reject the opportunity to take part in dialogue now, on an issue that is important both for the future of this country and for reaching our climate change targets.

Job Opportunities

9. Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the number of job opportunities in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [317410]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): Despite the global recession, there are 234,000 more people in work today in Scotland than when this Government came to power.

Mr. Donohoe: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. He will also want to congratulate both Ryanair on the expansion of its maintenance facility at Prestwick, and the Minister for having the summit tomorrow. However, will he take a look at an issue that is of concern to at least one of my constituents: the whole question of education maintenance allowance, where there is a disparity between Scotland and England? Will he look into that? [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House must at least make an attempt to contain itself, and I know- [Interruption.] Order. The House will listen to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend's question must be a very popular one, Mr. Speaker! Amidst all the hullabaloo and excitement on the Opposition Benches, he asked about the important issue of supporting young people in Scotland through the recession. It is very important that politicians in Scotland do not take their eye off the ball in terms of the recession, but that has sometimes happened in the Scottish Parliament. Some people seem fixated with the constitution, at the expense of dealing with the recession. When we talk about over 230,000 more people being in work in Scotland, that is not just a large figure, but it tells of an enormous number of families whose lives have been transformed. It is the equivalent of the entire population of the city of Aberdeen being in work today who were out of work during the previous Government's time.

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Public Expenditure Levels

10. Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): If he will hold discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to seek to reduce the difference in the per capita level of public expenditure between Scotland and the rest of the UK. [317411]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): In 2007-08, the total expenditure on services per head in Scotland was £9,032. Scotland and England have seen similar percentage increases over the past decade.

Mr. Bone: In Wellingborough, people have £2,199 less public expenditure spent on them than people in the constituencies of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Is that fair?

Mr. Murphy: The fact is that the Barnett formula has survived in various versions for more than a century. It survived 18 years of a Conservative Government. That funding formula has been in place, in whichever form, since 1888. It has been protected and has survived those 18 years of Conservative Government, but it now seems to be under threat from this Conservative Opposition.

Search and Rescue Services

11. Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on search and rescue services in Scotland. [317412]

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. Reid: Privatisation of the search and rescue services has caused great concern in my constituency, particularly given the reported reduction in the number of helicopters from 38 to 24. I hope that the Government have rigorous plans in place to monitor the effectiveness of search and rescue services once they are in the private sector and that the Minister will be able to reassure me on that today.

Ann McKechin: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that there will certainly be no degradation of the existing service, from which I know his constituents benefit. In particular, I should say that the new helicopters that will be introduced will have more capability and a faster response time, which I am sure will be welcomed.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [317416] Mr. Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 24 February.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Before I answer the question, may I pay another tribute to our troops? They are working with incredible bravery, with fortitude and with dedication to defeat those who would bring terrorism to the streets of Britain by denying the
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terrorists both land and support and by offering the population of Helmand in Afghanistan a more secure and more prosperous future. I know that the House will join me in paying tribute to the seven soldiers who have lost their lives since the House last met: from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, Lance Corporal Darren Hicks; from 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, Lance Sergeant David Greenhalgh; from 6th Battalion The Rifles, attached to 3rd Battalion The Rifles, Rifleman Mark Marshall; from 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, Kingsman Sean Dawson; from 36 Engineer Regiment, the Royal Engineers, Sapper Guy Mellors; from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, Lieutenant Douglas Dalzell; and from 1st Battalion Scots Guards, Lance Sergeant David Walker. These were men of exceptional bravery, of great courage and great skill, whose loss is deeply felt. Each and every one of them was a hero, dedicated to their colleagues and to their mission. We send our profound condolences to their families and loved ones.

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

Mr. Reed: I am sure that everyone in the House will want to associate themselves with the Prime Minister's comments.

My constituents never shared in the bankers' bonuses yet they paid to bail out the banks. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that they will get their money back, that we will not allow bankers' greed to threaten our core public services and that we will not, ever, squander this investment on a half-baked public share offer?

The Prime Minister: First of all, we have imposed a 50 per cent. national insurance tax on bank bonuses, which has to be paid by everybody who is paying cash bonuses over the course of the next year. We have insisted on the application of the G20 rules, which means that cash bonuses above a certain amount cannot be paid-they can be paid only at a later date. We are also working for a global banking levy; we are in discussions with other countries and making progress on how that could be administered. At the same time, we are determined that the banks pay back every penny that is owed to the British public. That is an essential means by which we reduce the deficit, and any plan to give cut-price shares would mean that the deficit would be higher and the public would be denied the money that they should have returned.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): First, may I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to the seven servicemen who have been killed in Afghanistan since the last time that we met: Lance Sergeant David Walker; Lieutenant Douglas Dalzell; Sapper Guy Mellors; Kingsman Sean Dawson; Rifleman Mark Marshall; Lance Sergeant David Greenhalgh; and Lance Corporal Darren Hicks? We are paying a high price for the operations we are undertaking in Helmand, but it is an essential mission and our forces and their families need to know that they have the support of the whole House and the whole country in the work that they are doing.

While the report into the Stafford hospital has only just been published, I want to ask a couple of questions before turning to other subjects. Hundreds of people
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went into that hospital-some with relatively straightforward ailments-and ended up dying because of the way they were mistreated. Talking to the relatives, as many of us in this House have done, is absolutely heartbreaking. Does the Prime Minister understand that these victims will never be content with an inquiry that was conducted in private, behind closed doors and without any public hearings? Does he understand their clamour for a public inquiry?

The Prime Minister: Let me say, first of all, that we understand both the sadness and the sorrow of all the relatives who lost their loved ones in the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. We know that every single one of those cases where relatives have doubts or questions are now being investigated individually. I understand that more than 300 cases are being investigated and every one of the families deserves to have the answers that are necessary. That is the first form of inquiry that is being done.

The second form of inquiry is the Francis inquiry, which, as the Secretary of State for Health will report in a few minutes, will continue its work on the regulation and supervision of foundation hospitals and, in particular, of this hospital. What happened in this hospital was completely unacceptable. What happened was a management failure in the hospital. When it comes to accident and emergency, I am shocked not only to read the stories but to find that where there should have been four consultants, there was only one, and that where there should have been 55 nurses, there were only 37. This is a failure in management that has to be dealt with. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for Health for bringing forward a series of recommendations including a recommendation that where management fails, just as with doctors, we should be able to strike off from a list those managers who are not acceptable to health authorities.

Mr. Cameron: I am grateful for that answer, but is not one of the tragedies of Stafford the fact that people were dying because of bad practice-not just bad management, but bad clinical practice and an over-adherence to processes-year after year. Death rates at the hospital were far too high and were out of line from 2005, yet the Healthcare Commission started investigating only in 2008. Is it not clear that the structure of primary care trusts, strategic health authorities and the Healthcare Commission did not bring this to light early enough? Does the Prime Minister agree that we need a better way of publishing results and patient outcomes in our hospitals and that we need openness, clarity and transparency to stop this happening again?

The Prime Minister: Yes, but the right hon. Gentleman should recognise the action that we have already taken: a new quality test for foundation trusts; a new requirement for approval by the NHS medical director; a Care Quality Commission investigation; reviews are under way; we can remove the chairs of the trusts more easily; and there is already an early-warning system in place. All those things have been done already but, at the same time, the Secretary of State will announce later that there will be an inquiry into mortality ratios and whether that is the best way of judging whether a hospital is successful. There will be proposals about the deauthorisation of foundation trusts and, of course, we know that there are also disciplinary hearings under way. We have done
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everything we can to ensure that after this was exposed we have not only investigated the individual worries of families who are affected but learned every lesson possible so that it will not happen again. We have a statement this morning from the interim chair of the Care Quality Commission that says:

I want to reassure people on that and also to reassure them that we are constantly tracking the situation.

Mr. Cameron: Just as we need openness in the health service, we need openness at the heart of Government. After the Chancellor's extraordinary statement last night, the Prime Minister said this morning on GMTV:

Will he try to stand up with a straight face and tell us that that is true?

The Prime Minister: Not only is that correct, but this is the nearest that the right hon. Gentleman has ever got to talking about the economy in the past few months.

Mr. Cameron: If the Prime Minister wants to talk about the economy, we can talk about- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Members must calm down. The Leader of the Opposition must be heard.

Mr. Cameron: We can talk about the Prime Minister trebling the deficit, about wrecking the pension system, about ruining the tax system and about bringing this country to its knees. Right now, six weeks before an election, with a record Budget deficit, at the end of a long recession, I want to ask why the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are at war with each other. This is what we are told- [ Interruption. ] If they get any closer, they will start kissing. We are told that Damian McBride, Gordon Brown's spin doctor, was "spreading poison against Darling" and that he

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