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House of Commons

Wednesday 16 June 2010

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before Questions






Motion made, and Question proposed,

Hon. Members: Object.

The debate stood adjourned; to be resumed on Wednesday 23 June.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked-

Electricity Generation

1. Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive on future electricity generation in Scotland. [1835]

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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Michael Moore): The first person I spoke to after my appointment was the First Minister. I have since had further discussions with him and Scottish Ministers, including on the subject of the fossil fuel levy and transmission charging. I remain committed to having constructive discussions with Scottish Ministers.

Mr Brown: I welcome the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary to their new posts. For the Under-Secretary it will be déjà vu, recalling his initial days as a Social Democratic party councillor sitting with the Liberals. On future nuclear electricity generation, can the Secretary of State explain to the House how his position and that of the Energy Secretary squares with the stance taken by the Under-Secretary?

Michael Moore: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. I am sure that as a fellow south of Scotland MP, he is delighted to see the region so well represented in the Scotland Office.

On energy policy and particularly electricity supply, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Government have set out clearly in the coalition programme our commitment to ensuring that under our policy we tackle the twin issues of climate change and a secure, clean and affordable supply of energy. We have set out how we intend to go about that in respect of all forms of energy, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will support us in developing that programme to ensure a successful and productive future for Britain's energy and Scotland's energy within it.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): In those discussions with the First Minister, did my right hon. Friend take on board the great potential that Scotland has for marine renewable electricity generation? In that context, will he make a commitment to an early visit to the north-east of Scotland to see the sub-sea engineering skills that have been developed in the oil and gas industry, which have so much to offer that marine renewable industry?

Michael Moore: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Yes, indeed we discussed marine and other renewables-briefly, it must be said. There are many areas in which, under the new arrangement whereby we will engage constructively with one another under the respect agenda, we can work productively together. I have already had discussions with representatives of the oil and gas industry, who made the very point to me that my hon. Friend makes about the skills and how those may apply to marine renewables. I would be delighted to come to the north-east of Scotland to further my understanding of those issues and discuss them with him and others in due course.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): Is the Secretary of State aware that Peterhead power station pays £29 million every year in transmission charges, whereas a similar facility in London would attract subsidy of about £3 million per annum, and that as a consequence Scottish and Southern Energy is planning up to 50 job losses at the Peterhead plant? Does he accept that the transmission charges regime is discriminatory and is discouraging investment in renewable energy in
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the very parts of Scotland best equipped to produce it? When he comes to the north-east of Scotland, as he has just pledged to do, will he agree to meet me and representatives of the management and work force at Peterhead power station to discuss the transmission charges regime and the future of the Peterhead plant?

Michael Moore: As the hon. Lady knows, the transmission charging regime is primarily a matter for the National Grid. It is an issue that others have raised with me and Ofgem. I shall be keen to talk further about it with her and others from the Scottish Government. There have been representations from all sides of the House already-it has been a busy few days-and I look forward to taking forward those discussions in the most appropriate form in the future.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I welcome my right hon. Friend to his position. I am pleased to hear what he said about marine renewables, for which Scotland clearly has a massive potential, yet six years after it was set up, the marine renewables development fund still has £42 million lying unclaimed and unused because of the criteria attached to it. Will my right hon. Friend look into the matter and ensure that under this Government the support announced for green energy becomes reality?

Michael Moore: I thank my hon. Friend for her kind welcome. I take on board her observations about the criteria that have been used, and I look forward to having further discussions with her and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Expenditure Reduction

2. Mr David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the likely effect on economic growth in Scotland of the programme of expenditure reduction announced on 24 May 2010. [1836]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): Dealing with the deficit and continuing to ensure the economic recovery is the most urgent issue we face. We must tackle the deficit to restore confidence in our economy and support the recovery.

Mr Hamilton: Next week the Under-Secretary and his Liberal colleagues will be making massive cuts throughout the United Kingdom. When he has his first meeting with the First Minister of Scotland, could he explain why, when the Scottish Government have got a substantial increase in the amount of money they are receiving this year, they are overseeing thousands of cuts throughout Scotland? Will he do what I think he will do, which is to roll over whenever the First Minister wants him to?

David Mundell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his, as usual, spirited question. I am sure he will be in agreement with the Scottish Parliament Finance Committee, which called on the Scottish Government to show far greater leadership by discussing in more open and realistic terms the impact that the cuts will have and the options that are available to deal with those cuts.

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Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): I warmly welcome the Minister to his new post.

It is really important for economic growth in remote and rural areas to ensure that businesses, particularly small businesses, in such areas have access to broadband. What will the Government be doing to ensure that broadband is rolled out to the whole country, including remote and rural parts of Scotland?

David Mundell: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm welcome. He will already know that the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has set out his clear objective of turning Britain into a digital economy. The hon. Gentleman specified with clarity the needs of rural areas, for which the Secretary of State and I will continue to fight within Government.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): I congratulate the new Ministers on taking office. However, I draw to the House's attention the fact that they are huddled together in one section of the country; I hope that they will, at times, travel out to look at other parts of the country, including my own constituency.

What actions have been taken so far to ensure that any expenditure reduction does not result in a cut or a delay in the aircraft carriers upon which so much of the economy of the west of Scotland, and Scotland as a whole, depends?

David Mundell: I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his elevation to the chairmanship of the Scottish Affairs Committee, on which I was pleased to serve with him. I am sure that he will bring his own distinct style to the Committee's proceedings.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, this Government's position on the aircraft carriers is, despite attempts to suggest otherwise, no different from that of the previous Government. There is to be a strategic defence review. The nuclear deterrent is excluded from that review, and it would be wrong to prejudge the review in any other way, other than to say that sea-borne defence is obviously very important to this country.

Commission on Scottish Devolution

3. Richard Ottaway (Croydon South) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on implementation of the recommendations of the final report of the Commission on Scottish Devolution. [1837]

5. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen South) (Lab): When he expects to bring forward proposals to implement the recommendations of the final report of the Commission on Scottish Devolution. [1839]

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Michael Moore): I have had a positive dialogue with the First Minister on a number of subjects, including the Government's commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Commission on Scottish Devolution. On the question of timing, I have asked officials to work for the autumn introduction of a Bill to take forward legislative proposals, with non-legislative recommendations taken forward on a similar timetable.

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Richard Ottaway: Is my right hon. Friend aware of the growing concern at the disparity in public services between England and Scotland? If he wants to retain support for the Union in England, he will have to address this sooner rather than later. Will he set out a timetable to deal with these financial disparities now?

Michael Moore: May I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new position as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee? I am sure that that will be a very interesting and challenging role for him to fulfil, and I wish him all the best with it.

The Commission on Scottish Devolution was set up with the remit of ensuring that it reviewed how devolution was working for Scotland, and particularly whether it was serving the interests of the people of Scotland. It was designed to increase the financial accountability of the Scottish Parliament, and thereby the Scottish Government, and also to secure the Union. On two of those three counts, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would agree that it is a very well-focused commission. I look forward, later this year, to introducing the proposals that I have set out; we are determined to get on with that as quickly as possible.

Miss Begg: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new job, and I very much hope he is enjoying it. When he introduces the Bill in October, will the proposals include a measure either to abolish or to keep the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Michael Moore: I congratulate the hon. Lady on her new position as Chair of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions and wish her all the best. Clearly, that will be an important part of Government policy and the Committee will be an important place for debate.

The Calman proposals envisage that at some point in future, a Secretary of State for Scotland will no longer be required. The hon. Lady knows that that was a part of Liberal Democrat policy for a long time, but right here and now the position is important, particularly in delivering that legislation and in focusing on the economy, so it holds.

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that the fiscal relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole is more complex than just the Barnett formula or crude overall spending-per-head figures, and that great care should be taken in any review to consider all aspects of the fiscal relationships between all parts of the UK?

Michael Moore: I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is perhaps a broader discussion we can have with some of our colleagues over the next little while. The Commission on Scottish Devolution looked exhaustively at fiscal relationships and the need to ensure not only greater financial accountability but the ongoing equity and stability of finances. All those strands together mean that we have a good package which, under the proposals in the Bill, will improve Scotland's accountability and the devolution settlement.

Mr Jim Murphy (East Renfrewshire) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State to his first Scotland Office questions. Of course, it is a very big day for him: it is his 16th day in office, which is exactly the length of time his predecessor survived in the job. I hope the rest of today goes well for him and that he is still here tomorrow. I have always got on very well with him. In fact, I was delighted, just
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before the election, to meet a delegation that he led, pleading for the extension of the future jobs fund in his constituency.

On the Calman commission, the right hon. Gentleman has previously argued for the abolition of the Scotland Office. When did he change his mind?

Michael Moore: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his typically generous welcome. I am happy to confirm that we were able to work very productively across party lines in the last Parliament, but may I just correct him on a matter of fact? When I went to see him with that delegation, the focus was on bank lending, on which the previous Government, frankly, did not have a good record. If he wishes me to remind him of the specific issues that were raised by those four companies, I would be happy to do so, but I shall not detain the House on that now.

On the position of Secretary of State for Scotland, I am not changing Liberal Democrat policy one bit-it is eventually to see the position abolished. However, in the course of getting the coalition agreement together, and recognising the exciting opportunity to get this settlement through and deliver improvements to Scottish devolution, I was very happy to support the continuation of the office, not least because the economic legacy of the previous Government, of whom he was a member, is something that we seriously need to tackle.

Mr Murphy: I again welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his position. It is clear that he is one of a minority in the Cabinet and may from time to time find it difficult to have his voice heard-he is, of course, one of the few non-millionaires sitting around the Cabinet table.

Turning to the success of the Calman commission, should there not be an independent commission to look into the abolition of the future jobs fund? Will the right hon. Gentleman support an independent commission, perhaps to be chaired by Sir Ken Calman, on the impact of the shameful decision of a gang of millionaires to turn their backs on the unemployed of Scotland?

Michael Moore: Mr Speaker, you will not be surprised that I reject the right hon. Gentleman's analysis of the situation. Like him, I care very deeply about unemployment, not least among young people, in Scotland and anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The reality, however, is that the future jobs fund was set up on an unsustainable basis. We need to ensure that we get a sustainable basis for the future of youth unemployment support. Those proposals will come forward in very close order. In the meantime, before he sets up too many scare stories, let us remember that existing bids will be honoured under the future jobs fund.

Mr Speaker: Order. We really do need a bit of order in the House. There are far too many private conversations taking place. It is a very unattractive spectacle so far as those outside the Chamber are concerned.

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