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7 Apr 2010 : Column 957

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): I have regular discussions with the Chancellor on a range of issues. The allocated Scottish Government budget for 2010-11 is the highest ever-more than double that available to Donald Dewar in the first year of devolution.

Lindsay Roy: I thank the Secretary of State for the clarity of his response. Can he confirm that the UK Government are still offering a package of financial support to the Scottish Government in relation to the Forth crossing?

Mr. Murphy: Throughout my time as Secretary of State, I have tried to take a reasonable approach to the big issues facing Scotland. Of course, that has often not been responded to by the Scottish National party, but in an attempt to be reasonable, and trying to set aside party political divisions on those big issues, the UK Government offered an unparalleled and unprecedented flexibility package to help the Scottish Government build a Forth road bridge. Unfortunately, they rebuffed it; they are stuck in an old ideology, which means that, as we speak, the bridge is no closer.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The Scottish Secretary has done nothing to stop the real-terms cuts to the Scottish budget this year, part of a package of cuts that will be deeper and tougher than Margaret Thatcher's. Is he proud of his Thatcherite legacy and what will he say to the thousands of Scottish public sector workers who will lose their jobs as a result of British Labour party cuts?

Mr. Murphy: I thought the hon. Gentleman was getting up to thank the Labour Government for the tax credits on innovation in the games industry in Dundee, but he is silent. He cannot bring himself to support his constituents and his city.

I am proud of what we have achieved over the past 12 years, and I thank the people of Scotland, because together we have made Scotland a fairer, more confident place. The last thing we need is a vote for the SNP, to bring in the Tory party by the back door.

Economic Inactivity

7. Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the level of economic inactivity in Scotland. [325092]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin) rose- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Before the Minister replies, there are far too many private conversations-some of them indulged in by very senior Members of the House, who I am sure know better. It is not fair to Members and it is not fair to the people of Scotland.

Ann McKechin: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Secretary of State for Scotland has regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the level of economic inactivity in Scotland.

Mr. Donohoe: I thank the Minister for that answer. Does she agree with me? In Scotland, Labour is working!

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Ann McKechin: My hon. Friend, as always, is short, succinct and to the point. He is absolutely accurate. We are determined not to repeat the errors of the 1980s and 1990s recession. That is why we are helping young people in particular to get back into work. That is why we are growing jobs with our green investment bank. That is why we are helping new industries and renewable industries in the video games industry and in the life sciences. It is by having a managed industrial policy that we will grow our way into recovery.

David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con): The Minister will know that 665,000 working-age people in Scotland are economically inactive. In the past three months, that figure has risen by 21,000. In the past year, Labour has wiped £4.8 billion off the value of the Scottish economy. Since 1997, Scotland's share of the national debt has more than doubled, and almost 150,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost. Those are facts; there is little that the Minister and the Secretary of State can do about them now, but will she take this last opportunity at the Dispatch Box to apologise to the people of Scotland?

Ann McKechin: Well, I will tell the hon. Gentleman what we certainly will not do. We will not halt recovery in its tracks by cutting public investment now and squeezing off our recovery. He can be sure that the Labour Government are determined to ensure that the recovery works.

David Mundell: Like most people, but unlike Labour Members, I am interested in talking about the present-2010. Labour's last manifesto said:

The number of people who have been on the dole in Scotland for more than one year has in fact gone up by 122 per cent. in the past 12 months, yet the Minister and the Secretary of State still want to introduce a tax on jobs that will kill recovery. If she thinks that that is a good idea, is it not she and the Secretary of State who have been misled, not leading Scottish business figures?

Ann McKechin: The hon. Gentleman forgets that since 1997 there are 220,000 more Scots in employment, courtesy of a Labour Government. We are determined to continue the recovery, which is why the national insurance increase will not occur until next year, at which point all predictions show that we will have a strong and sustainable recovery. Under this Government, when we have increased national insurance, jobs have continued to rise.


8. Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on levels of employment in Scotland. [325093]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Jim Murphy): I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about employment in Scotland. Despite the severity of the recent recession, there are almost 250,000 more Scots working today than there were in 1997.

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Mr. Davidson: Has the Secretary of State been discussing the shipbuilding industry with his ministerial colleagues? In particular, has he been discussing the fact that Scotland faces the choice of the Type 45 with Labour or the P45 with the separatists? Has he been discussing the fact that the aircraft carriers are threatened by the Tories and would be sunk by the separatists, but are safe with Labour?

Mr. Murphy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He and others are fantastic champions of shipbuilding in Scotland. He makes a very clear point. The Scottish Conservatives are in favour of industry-destroying cuts, creating elitism and sinking shipyards-we have an unchanged Scottish Conservative party. The last thing that Scotland wants to do is to go back to the old divisions of the 1980s under the Tory party. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. We must have some quiet. I am sure that the House will want to hear Sir Nicholas Winterton.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Speaking in this House as a Conservative and Unionist, may I ask whether the Secretary of State agrees that Scotland's part of the Union has been very beneficial to Scotland, not least in respect of employment?

Mr. Murphy: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman endorses some of what we have been doing over the past decade. Compared with 12 years ago, there are almost 250,000 more people in work in Scotland today, despite the recession. Most people in Scotland are passionate patriots and most Scots are not nationalists. That is why the longer the SNP is in power in Edinburgh, the smaller the support for breaking up Britain becomes.

Immigration Removal Centres (Contraband)

9. Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for the Home Department on levels of contraband in immigration removal centres in Scotland. [325094]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): The Secretary of State has had no recent meetings to discuss levels of contraband in the immigration removal centre in Scotland.

Mr. Pelling: Given that contraband is being sent into Her Majesty's prison in Edinburgh by the use of crossbows, what is the danger of that happening in the immigration centre? Why do Scottish people use crossbows rather than English longbows?

Ann McKechin: The management of prisons in Scotland is, of course, a matter for the Scottish Government's Ministry of Justice. We have policies and procedures in place to prevent contraband from coming into removal centres, but we would not comment on the details because that might compromise the safety of the centre.


10. John Barrett (Edinburgh, West) (LD): What his most recent assessment is of the state of the economy in Scotland; and if he will make a statement. [325096]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Ann McKechin): Official data showing Scotland's gross domestic product for the end of last year have not yet been published by the Scottish Government, but most indications suggest that Scotland emerged from recession in the fourth quarter of 2009, although the recovery is fragile. The Government are committed to doing all that is necessary to help to drive recovery in the Scottish economy.

John Barrett: The Minister and the Secretary of State will be aware that, in the past two years, 466 Scottish companies have been shut down by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs for not paying their bills on time. Currently, many solvent companies in Scotland are being pushed towards liquidation because of HMRC's actions. Will they have a word with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get him to take the heat off those solvent companies, so that they can continue to trade and pay their bills?

Ann McKechin: As I said earlier, the Inland Revenue already has a business support package, which we introduced last year, to defer tax payments. More than 18,000 Scottish businesses have benefited and more than £300 million of tax has already been deferred. It is, however, important that HMRC is operationally independent, and its job is to protect the interests of the UK taxpayer.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked-


Q1. [325639] Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 7 April.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the two British servicemen who have lost their lives in Afghanistan in the past week: from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, Guardsman Michael Sweeney, and from 3rd Battalion The Rifles, Rifleman Mark Turner. We owe them an immeasurable debt of gratitude. Both were engaged to be married, and our thoughts are with their loved ones and their families.

It is because of all our brave men and women in our armed forces that our families, our communities and our country are safer and more secure. At this time, it is right to remember all who have given their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan and all those who serve in our armed forces. I spoke to President Karzai and then President Obama yesterday. Our security forces in Sangin will be increased by about 500 from the Afghan security forces, providing greater security for the people of the region and support to our troops.

We are also sadly reminded today of the sacrifice made by members of our emergency services. We send our condolences to the family and friends of the two brave firemen who died in Southampton last night. We pay tribute to the bravery and commitment demonstrated by all our emergency and public services.

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.

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Sandra Osborne: May I add my condolences to all those who have lost their lives in the service of their country?

If he is re-elected, will the Prime Minister guarantee that he will not take £6 billion out of the economy?

The Prime Minister: The big issue is whether we can secure and assure the economic recovery. To withdraw £6 billion from the recovery now would put jobs at risk, put businesses at risk and put our growth at risk. We cannot cut our way to recovery-but we could cut our way to double-dip recession. In 2011 we will use the rise in national insurance to guarantee that we fund our policing and our schooling, and to make sure that the health services guarantees of cancer care and of being able to see a GP at weekends and in the evenings are kept. Those guarantees will be kept, because of the decisions that we make.

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Guardsman Michael Sweeney and Rifleman Mark Turner, who have been killed in Afghanistan in the past week. Two hundred and eighty British servicemen and women and Ministry of Defence civilians have now lost their lives while serving in Afghanistan. As we prepare for the end of this Parliament, we should remember the sacrifice that they and their families have made and acknowledge the huge debt that we all owe to our armed forces for the bravery that they show, day after day.

I also join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to James Shears and Alan Bannon, the two firefighters killed while tackling a fire in Southampton last night.

As this is the last Prime Minister's questions of this Parliament, it is the last chance for this Prime Minister to show that he is accountable for the decisions that he has made. Will he start by admitting that when British forces were sent into Helmand, they did not have sufficient helicopters to protect themselves and get the job done?

The Prime Minister: I do not accept that in any operation to which we sent our troops our commanding officers gave wrong advice; they told us that they were properly equipped. Every time, in every operation, we ask our commanding officers, "Are we able to do this operation?" and our commanding officers have said yes, they can. So I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that we have done our best to equip our troops, and we will continue to do so. It is right that I take full responsibility, but I take the advice of our commanding officers, and the advice of our commanding officers is very clear.

Mr. Cameron: That answer sums up this premiership. The Prime Minister takes no responsibility and always blames somebody else. Why can he not just admit something that everybody knows to be true-that there were not enough helicopters? Let us listen to Colonel Stuart Tootal, former commander of 3 Para. He said:

as he put it,

yes, the Ministers-

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The Foreign Office Minister that the Prime Minister appointed, Lord Malloch-Brown, said as late as last year:

Presumably, the Prime Minister is going to tell us that all those people were just deceived.

The Prime Minister: We have increased the number of helicopters in Afghanistan. We have increased the flying time by more than 100 per cent. I think that the right hon. Gentleman should recognise that the Merlins were adapted, and are now in Afghanistan. He should also recognise that the Chinooks were also adapted, so that they, too, can be in Afghanistan. He should recognise that we have other helicopters in Afghanistan that are working, and we are part of an international operation in Afghanistan, where we share equipment with our coalition partners. I have to say to him that the amount of money spent in Afghanistan now is £5 billion a year; that is 1,000 extra vehicles, and twice the number of flying time hours for our helicopters. I think that he should accept that our troops, for the operations that they are asked to undertake, have been given the equipment that they need. That is the right position.

Mr. Cameron: Again, no answer. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Government Back Benchers must calm down.

Mr. Cameron: Why should anyone believe this Prime Minister, when he was the first in history to go in front of a public inquiry and not give accurate information about defence spending? Let me ask about another decision for which this Prime Minister ought to be accountable. In the last 13 years, he has robbed pension funds of £100 billion. His own welfare Minister said:

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