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Barnett Formula

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 4 February 2009

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on potential changes to the Barnett formula. (253059)

I am not entirely sure that that answers my question. My constituents pay the same taxes as the people of Scotland, yet receive £2,243 a year less public expenditure. Why should every man, woman and child in my constituency pay an extra £2,200 to subsidise the Scottish Government?

That is not the case at all. The four nations of the United Kingdom are, of course, stronger together. We gain great strength from the cohesiveness of that unique union of the United Kingdom. I think the hon. Gentleman would do well to reflect on the fact that there is higher spending on policing in England, that the rate of growth in health spending is 7 per cent. in England while in Scotland it is 4 per cent. and that Sure Start is available in England and not in Scotland, and so much else besides. Of course, it is an issue for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament how they allocate the specific funding available to them.

One of the areas to benefit under the Barnett formula is education, yet colleges of education, including those run by South Lanarkshire council in my constituency, are turning away thousands of potential trainees. Following his meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if he has plans to meet the First Minister, will the Secretary of State raise the importance of further education and ensure that those people who are demanding training and retraining are not denied it under the Administration in Edinburgh?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. I plan to meet the First Minister, the CBI and the Scottish Trades Union Congress in Scotland next month to discuss those and other issues. Further education colleges in Scotland support about half a million Scots every year, including in Lanarkshire. It is essential that those who are unemployed in Scotland, those who need retraining and those who need apprenticeships can gain from those apprenticeships, and that the necessary Government investment is put in place. At the moment, the proposals brought forward by the Scottish SNP Government do not meet that ambition.

It is clear from the Conservative question that the Conservatives want to continue to cut the Scottish budget. Of course, the UK Labour Government’s position is also to cut £1 billion from the Scottish budget. Does the Secretary of State agree with Rhodri Morgan, the leader of the Labour party in Wales, that now is the wrong time to be cutting public expenditure? Will he stand up to the Treasury, demand that the £1 billion cut be frozen or reversed and that Scotland have the opportunity—

Order. This is not an opportunity to make a speech. The hon. Gentleman is asking a supplementary question.

I was in Dundee recently and met business representatives and trade unions. They welcomed the proposals being made by the UK Government. The hon. Gentleman invites me to agree with the comments of a fellow politician; I invite him to agree with the comments of Mr. Swinney, who is from his party. He said:

“we welcome a number of elements of the direction that the UK Government has taken to get the economy moving.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 26 November 2008; c. 12722-23.]

The Scottish Government now have more than double the budget that Donald Dewar had about a decade ago. They should put it to good use and invest in Scotland to get us through this economic storm. I am determined to do what I can and will work with anyone in the interests of Scotland to ensure that that happens.

How can a nationalist-Tory alliance complain about a lack of money in Scotland if they can find £12.5 million to buy a single painting for Edinburgh at a time when galleries in Glasgow have rain coming through the roof and when spending on arts and culture in Glasgow is being cut? Does that not show gross incompetence?

My criticism of the SNP Government is not that they have invested in a single painting, but that they are not investing in thousands of Scots or in Scottish apprenticeships so that young Scots, in particular, have the chance to get the skills and confidence to compete in the labour market. We are joined in that criticism by the Scottish trade unions.

Order. May I remind the House that the criticism of the Scottish Government refers to a devolved Parliament? The Scottish Parliament is a creation of this House—we devolved the power—and prolonged criticism of the Scottish Parliament will give the impression that that is all we have to talk about.

Order. Mr. Robertson, I expect better. Your behaviour is terrible, absolutely terrible. You are a bad example.

I join you in that expectation, Mr. Speaker, but fear that we may be disappointed.

Does the Secretary of State agree that, for those of us who believe in the continuation of the United Kingdom, reform of the Barnett formula is necessary as part of a process that gives the Scottish Parliament more control over how it raises its budget, as well as how it spends it? In that regard, does he agree that the work of the Calman commission is crucial? It has been reported this morning that the Scottish Government are to start engaging with Calman. If so, does he agree that that will be welcome news indeed?

The Calman commission looking at the future of devolution in Scotland is undoubtedly an important piece of work. Ken Calman also initiated the work of the Muscatelli report on the future funding of devolution in Scotland. I shall not pre-empt the outcome of the Calman report today, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is an essential and important piece of work and we look forward to co-operating on it very closely.