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The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): The process to establish an independent commission to look at boundary differences and voting systems in Scotland is under way. I hope to announce its chairman and membership shortly.
Mr. Foulkes : I welcome the setting up of this commission, not least because I was one of the people who suggested that it be set up. The Secretary of State can answer this question directly as it does not relate to the Budget or any other such matters. Can he get the commission up and running as soon as possible, and will he ensure that it reports in time for us to legislate for common boundaries for the Scottish elections in 2007?
Mr. Darling: I doubt whether this issue will be covered in the Budget, so perhaps I can be a little more helpful. As I told the House when we discussed these matters, I am anxious to get the commission up and running as quickly as possible. The question of voting systems is a live issue in Scotland, and no good would be served by simply letting things drift. I have written to the leaders of all the parties in this House with Scottish representation, asking them to put forward names for consideration. That process is under way, but I am anxious to get the membership established as quickly as possible, because I want the commission to start its work and to reach its conclusions as quickly as it can, insofar as that is consistent, of course, with its obligation to look at all these matters thoroughly.
Mr. Darling: What the commission will not be able to do is to reopen the question of whether there will be a reduction in the number of Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies. If I remember rightly, that is one of the matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) was concerned about. It cannot do that, but it will examine the consequences, assuming that the changes to Scottish local government go through, of having four different systems for electing people in a comparatively small country. As to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I am anxious to make progress in setting up the commission. In that respect, if he would like to have a word with the leader of his Scottish party about replying to my letter, that would be most helpful.
Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): When the commission meets, will my right hon. Friend ensure that it reflects not just on the problems caused by having five different electoral systems in Scotland or the problems of having different boundaries for MSP and MP constituencies, but on the fact that different boundaries will applyas well as to MSPs and MPsto local authorities, local enterprise companies, health boards and many other aspects of government? Will the Secretary of State work with the First Minister to ensure that the commission begins to tackle those problems, too?
Mr. Darling: It will certainly look into the problems that arise from the lack of coterminous boundaries between Westminster parliamentary constituencies and those that apply in Holyrood, but I am anxious not to pile too much work on the commission. Otherwise, the point made by the my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is relevant, and we will end up with the commission never reporting, which would not be helpful. There is some concern about the fact that, for the next few years, boundaries will not be coterminous, which can lead to all sorts of difficulties and misunderstandings. This is a matter on which there is almost a parliamentary consensus that something must be done, but probably no consensus on what precisely should be done. I have explained what issues need to be examined and I should like, through you, Mr. Speaker, to urge party leaders who have yet to reply to me to do so rather quickly if they have any names to recommend.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): The specific forms of treatment for individuals are regarded as a decision for medical practitioners and the treatment regimes for heroin addicts in Scotland are devolved and a matter for the Scottish Executive.
John Mann: It is unusual for Scotland to keep its achievements under wraps, but the methadone programmes in Scotland are significantly more advanced and better than those in England and Wales. Does the Minister agree that, having been ahead of the game by some 10 to 15 years, Scotland should now catch up with other countries, such as Sweden, France and Australia, that are even further ahead? They not only have effective methadone programmes in place, but have moved on to even more successful programmes using buprenorphine and naltraxone.
Mrs. McGuire: I thank my hon. Friend for his interest in the way in which we have tackled this terrible blight in Scotland. I know that he has actively campaigned on the issue of drug misuse and treatment in his own constituency and that he facilitated a recent heroin inquiry, which has driven some of the agenda in his own area. He is right to say that we have invested significant energy and resources in tackling drugs in Scotland: additional resources have certainly been invested in recent years. I will draw my hon. Friend's comments to the attention of my colleagues in the Scottish Executive.
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Alistair Darling): The financial services sector in Scotland remains of crucial importance to the health of the Scottish economy. Output has continued to grow in recent years and the sector currently employs more than 100,000 people in Scotland.
Jim Sheridan : I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, but does he share my concern that despite the excessive profits, which of themselves are welcome, the workers who have generated them are worried about losing their jobs through outsourcing? Some of the profits should be reinvested into training employees who are rightly concerned about losing their jobs.
Mr. Darling: I fully understand people's concern about the outsourcing of some jobs within the financial services sector, particularly in call centres. However, it is encouraging that some institutionsthe Royal Bank of Scotland, for exampleexamined the position and decided to keep the work in-house. In any growing and dynamic economy, some jobs will be relocated
Finally, in relation to the general profitability of Scottish companies, it is a very good thing that there are so many profitable institutions in Scotland. If we want a growing economy and more employment in Scotland, we need to encourage the growth of profitable companies. That is the best way for our economy to thrive in the future.
Mr. David Marshall (Glasgow, Shettleston) (Lab): I welcome the success of the Scottish financial sector, but does my right hon. Friend accept that most people would agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrewshire (Jim Sheridan) that some of the profits are excessive and unfairly distributed? Those profits benefit the few, not the many, and employees and consumers should get a fairer and better deal from the financial sector. Will my right hon. Friend convey to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the suggestion that a windfall tax be levied on excessive profits?
Mr. Darling: No. I have to tell my hon. Friend that I am not attracted to that. The distribution of a company's profits is a matter for its shareholders or members, and employees must sort out their remuneration with their employers. However, the problem in Scotland has too often been that we have not had enough companies that were profitable. More people would be employed if we had more profitable companies, and such companies would expand and continue to do well. Scotland happens to be the home of some of the largest banks in the world. I, for one, would like to encourage that. I am sorry that I cannot agree with my hon. Friend's proposal. Instead, we should concentrate on trying to get more profitable sectors in the Scottish economy, because that is the way to achieve long-term success.