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Public Expenditure

Volume 494: debated on Wednesday 17 June 2009

The Calman commission considered these issues. 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.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that response, and I am delighted that he survived the night of the blunt knives. He is, of course, a highly respected Minister, but more importantly, he is a strong Unionist. My constituents have a third less public expenditure spent on them than is spent in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that this imbalance weakens the Union?

I do not share the view that the Barnett formula or the method of funding across this disparate Kingdom in any way fuels extremism or is a cause of the vile British National party support. I do not agree with that. In Scotland, on occasion, there is complacency about what happens in respect of the British National party. Of course we all know that its members are racists and anti-Semites, but their vote in Scotland has gone from near zero a decade ago to 27,000 at the European elections. The proportion of the BNP vote in Scotland was higher than the ethnic minority proportion of the population in Scotland as shown in the most recent census. Despite the complacency that sometimes creeps into Scottish politics, I believe that the BNP is also a Scottish problem.

Is it not clear that public investment is vital to the Scottish economy, especially at a time of recession? Is not one of the strengths of the Calman commission report the fact that its recommendations will give the Scottish Government of the day greater scope and flexibility over public spending?

The Calman commission report has been welcomed across Scotland, except by a small number on the Opposition Benches. The Calman commission is about a different type of devolution. It is about making decisions that affect the people of Scotland in Scotland, and it delivers a stronger Scotland inside a stronger United Kingdom. It also ensures that there is greater responsibility in the Scottish Parliament for the decisions that it makes on spending.

The Secretary of State is right to point out that the Calman commission recommended limited additional powers for the Scottish Parliament. The First Minister has offered to test that proposition and independence in a referendum. Does the Secretary of State not agree that the people should decide that?

The SNP does not know which way to face on the report. We have the ludicrous sight of a nationalist party opposing more power for a Scottish Parliament. It could not be made up in any fantasy world of politics. Although the Scottish Government have confirmed again today, as I understand it, that they will not do the right thing by participating in the steering group on Calman, I ask the hon. Gentleman to have words with his friends in the Scottish National party and persuade them to do the sensible thing, and not to ban Scottish civil servants from helping to make the Calman commission the type of report that it can be—a report that strengthens the Union and delivers responsible devolution to Scotland.

I add my tribute to you, Mr. Speaker, for your support and for your service.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Calman commission is a very radical and positive step forward for Scotland, and that when the Scottish Parliament is spending public money, it should be accountable for it?

My hon. Friend and I were elected on the same day in 1997 on the manifesto commitment to deliver devolution for Scotland. Devolution has been a remarkable success, but it can be better still: more power for Scotland, doing what is best for Scotland and ensuring that Scotland stands strong within the United Kingdom. I believe—but, more importantly, most people in Scotland share the view—that Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are stronger together in the United Kingdom. We would be weaker if we followed the SNP’s policies of separating Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.

The Secretary of State will be well aware of the sterile exchanges in recent days about the future of public expenditure in the United Kingdom. Will he promise to put aside the smoke and mirrors and to level with the people of Scotland about the consequences for public expenditure of the inevitable and necessary efforts to reduce record deficits?

As I have said from this Dispatch Box on numerous occasions, the budget for the Scottish Government has doubled over the past 10 years. The current First Minister has more than double the budget of Scotland’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar. Of course, the Scottish Government have to try to make savings, but even after any efficiencies they will have more money next year than they have this year, and that is because of continued Labour investment. We are determined to ensure that that money continues to go to Scotland to help Scottish families.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for your unfailing friendship over many years. I appreciate it very much.

The Calman commission might be good for Scotland and it might be good for the United Kingdom. What is unacceptable, however, is that the Scottish Parliament has passed a resolution on the commission’s terms of reference but we have never done so. That is wrong. There is a United Kingdom, which I, in part, represent by representing an English constituency, and it really is unacceptable that Calman has not addressed our interests. I illustrate the fact by noting that we had a Secretary of State for Scotland, from a Scottish constituency, putting tolls on the Dartford-Thurrock bridge across the River Thames while tolls were being removed from the bridge across the River Clyde. We really have to address the West Lothian question; if we do not, other people will.

There are many things for which I am responsible and there are occasional mistakes that I have made, but I have never introduced tolls on the bridge in my hon. Friend’s constituency and I have never even visited it. However, I take his remarks as a well intended invitation to go and do so.

I shall certainly get into my hon. Friend’s constituency, but I may not get out of it.

The important point that my hon. Friend makes, however, is about the devolution arrangements throughout the United Kingdom. The Calman commission is about strengthening the Scottish Parliament, but it is also very clear about strengthening the United Kingdom. I believe in the United Kingdom and think that the United Kingdom—the four nations of the UK—is the most successful gathering of nations anywhere in the world. Additional work needs to be done on constitutional renewal throughout the UK, and I look forward to my hon. Friend participating in those endeavours.

I am sure that over the past 30 years, Scottish questions will have been the highlight of your parliamentary calendar, Mr. Speaker. May I use this occasion not just to thank you and Mary for the personal kindness that you have always shown me, but to recognise the outstanding contribution that you have made to public life in Glasgow, in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom?

Does the Secretary of State agree that, unlike the First Minister of Scotland, the Calman commission based its analysis of public expenditure in Scotland on research and fact, rather than on soundbites? Does the Secretary of State welcome the commission’s suggestion of an updated needs assessment for the overall level of spending in each part of the United Kingdom? In the meantime, how does he envisage the welcome steering group that has been established taking forward the commission’s recommendations for reshaping the mechanism by which Scotland receives 60 per cent. of its public spending, and over which the Scottish Parliament has control?

Of course, the Government and the Treasury continue to consider the wider needs assessment and keep it under review. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues in the Scottish Parliament will serve on the steering group, which I will chair. It is about maintaining the consensus that has developed around Calman and building the momentum to deliver on the Calman proposals.

It is not too late for other parties to become involved in the process. Unfortunately, however, the Scottish National party has said that it rejects in principle the invitation to become involved. However, it is surely not too late for it to decide not to ban Scottish civil servants, to help make a reality of this work, which will require better working relationships. Doing that would be an early way of proving better intent on the part of the Scottish Government.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Does he agree that the past year has seen the three Unionist parties working together for the people of Scotland on the future of devolution, putting Scotland’s interests first? That is in stark contrast to the national conversation, which is the pursuit of a separatist agenda at public expense.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the First Minister is out of touch with what the people of Scotland want—a devolution settlement that works, not separation? In the best interests of the Scottish people, will the Secretary of State try one more time to persuade the First Minister to put aside petty party politics, join the mainstream of the constitutional debate and leave behind the backwater that is his national conversation?

The fact is that there was an open invitation to the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government to become involved. I do not know what the hon. Gentleman thinks, but I reckon that there comes a point when it is rude to invite people continually to something in which they do not want to participate. So the next move is for the SNP Government. Even if they are not willing to do the sensible thing and participate in the steering group, they have to do the right thing and not block its progress. Scotland and the United Kingdom will never forgive a party that puts its interests before the needs of our country.