Skip to main content

Scotland Office

Volume 561: debated on Wednesday 24 April 2013

The Secretary of State was asked—

David Livingstone: Anniversary

1. What steps his Department has taken to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of David Livingstone. (150798)

The Scotland Office is working closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the David Livingstone 200 partnership on the programme of celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dr David Livingstone. On 19 March, the Scotland Office hosted a reception at Dover House following the commemorative service at Westminster Abbey in the presence of President Joyce Banda of Malawi.

I am sure the whole House will be pleased to hear what the Scotland Office is doing. It is fitting, especially to those of us who well remember childhood trips to Blantyre, the birthplace of David Livingstone, that tribute should be paid to him here in Parliament. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although a minority of Scots want to put artificial barriers around Scotland, the vast majority of Scots believe in the pioneering, enterprising spirit of David Livingstone, and want Scotland to play its full part in the United Kingdom, and indeed in the world in general?

I could not agree more. David Livingstone was both a great Scot and a great Briton, who had an outward, progressive-looking attitude to the world, which exemplifies why Scotland and Britain are better together.

I place on record my thanks to the Scotland Office and the Foreign Office for ensuring that President Joyce Banda was able to visit Scotland, particularly Blantyre in my constituency, to mark the start of the celebrations. May I draw the attention of the Minister and the House to the wide range of events happening through the year, and encourage as many people as possible to come to Blantyre in my constituency and visit the centre there and take part in the celebrations?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for noting the work the UK Government, and indeed the Scottish Government, have done on the matter. He, too, is to be commended for the part he has played in promoting the David Livingstone bicentenary. He is correct: there are a number of continuing events, and all those who wish to do so should take the opportunity to take part in them.

I very much welcome the various celebrations that the Minister has announced today. Does he agree that there could be no finer commemoration of that magnificent missionary, scientist, statesman and explorer than his gravestone in Westminster Abbey? It does not list any honours, or even his dates of birth and death or his parenthood; on a piece of Scottish granite, it simply says the magnificent words “David Livingstone.”

Indeed, that is a poignant memorial to Dr Livingstone. It was particularly memorable to see members of his family laying a wreath on the gravestone, along with President Banda, at the commemorative service.

I presume that Dr Livingstone was a great educationalist, who believed in education. What has the Minister’s right hon. Friend the Secretary of State done to set up the school-industry liaison committees that he promised me some months ago?

Order. That is very tangentially related to the 200th anniversary of the birth of David Livingstone. The hon. Gentleman should not speculate about what Dr Livingstone would have said, because the fact is that he did not—he was not in a position to do so and he cannot do so now. I think we had better move on. I call Iain Stewart.

Caledonian Sleeper Train

2. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the future of the Caledonian sleeper train. (150799)

The UK Government provided £50 million to safeguard and improve the Caledonian sleeper service in 2011. Responsibility for taking the project forward is now with the Scottish Government. We look forward finally to seeing some progress.

I am pleased that the Government have invested in the future of the Caledonian sleeper, which is a vital transport link for business and tourism alike, but does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that the Scottish Government have not shown the same urgency on upgrading that vital link?

I agree with my hon. Friend. He might be aware that, since the spending review, the Scottish Government have received over £1 billion in additional funding for what they said were shovel-ready projects, but the only shovelling of which they seem capable is digging the sort of hole that we saw yesterday regarding the currency.

The Scottish National party Government have in fact invested £130 million in the sleeper service—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) wants to be quiet, he can be. The SNP Government understand the importance of linking mega-regions, which has been identified by Professor Richard Florida as a win-win for all concerned. In Spain, the linking of Seville to Madrid has benefited not only Seville as intended, but Madrid far more. With the sleeper service maintained to Inverness and Fort William, when will the UK Government ensure that there are high-speed links and landing slots at Heathrow to maintain full connectivity between mega-regions, because we want England, in particular, to keep pace with Scottish prosperity post independence?

The Government are committed to ensuring that there is connectivity within the United Kingdom, just as they are committed to ensuring that we stay a United Kingdom.

Has my right hon. Friend considered that the sleeper service might be better served if there were electrification of the east coast main line between Edinburgh and Aberdeen? Coincidentally, that passes through my constituency, and the project would provide a better service for the stations of Ladybank, Cupar and Leuchars.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is rightly always keen to promote his constituency interests, but he will be aware that that was one of the many projects that the Scottish National party said in opposition it would deliver—yet it does not seem to be on the agenda any more.

Does the Minister accept that the Caledonian sleeper is a vital link between the Ministry of Defence in London and the shipyards on the Clyde? Does he accept that trade on the Caledonian sleeper will drastically reduce in the event that we have separation and the Clyde shipyards close?

What I accept is that if we were to have separation, there would be a great deal of uncertainty, and not just for the operators of the Caledonian sleeper service. As we saw yesterday, for example, those promoting independence have no idea what currency would be used in an independent Scotland, which will be a significant factor in creating additional uncertainty.

Ryder Cup

3. What recent discussions he has had with the organisers of the Ryder cup in Scotland regarding their voluntary charging policy. (150800)

I am very pleased that the Ryder cup is coming to Scotland in 2014. We will work with the Scottish Government and the organisers to make it a success.

I thank the Minister for that response. Does he agree that having to pay to volunteer is a contradiction in terms, and that that debars many people from participating in a sport such as golf? Will he make further representations to the Ryder cup’s organisers that they should follow the lead of Glasgow city council by creating genuine volunteers?

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, which I will take forward with EventScotland and Shona Robison, the Scottish Government Minister with responsibility for the Ryder cup.

The Ryder cup is a unique golf tournament, because the competitors compete not for cash prizes but for the pride of representing their country or continent, so it is perverse that volunteers will be asked to pay to deliver their services. Will the Minister add that point to his representations when he meets the event’s organisers?

I will certainly be happy to add the hon. Gentleman’s concerns to those expressed by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan).

Welfare Reform

4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government's welfare benefit reforms in Scotland. (150801)

5. When he last met the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to discuss the effects of welfare reform in Scotland. (150802)

My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I are in regular contact with ministerial colleagues in the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions on matters relating to welfare reform in Scotland.

We now know that more than 100,000 Scots will be affected by the Government’s bedroom tax, which is opposed by over 90% of Scottish MPs and has appalled civic Scotland. It is opposed in every locality in Scotland and there have been protests in Glasgow. Does the Secretary of State agree that the bedroom tax is quickly becoming his Government’s poll tax?

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, as he will not be surprised to hear. My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have been going around Scotland talking to councils and groups that have an interest in the matter and are concerned about different aspects of implementation, and we will continue to do that. However, people are clear that we want to keep together within the United Kingdom the universal and shared values that created the welfare state and the NHS, rather than for Scotland to become an independent country.

A family in my constituency with children aged two, three, four and five who have been hit by the bedroom tax were yesterday advised by those on the Government Benches in the Finance Bill Committee to take in a lodger. Does the Secretary of State think that was good advice?

I obviously cannot comment on the constituency details that the hon. Lady has brought to the Floor of the House today or on the full extent of the exchange yesterday. As I said to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) a few moments ago, we need to look carefully at how the measure is implemented. I would be happy to hear further details from the hon. Lady on that case.

13. The Secretary of State will be aware that by far the largest single part of the welfare budget goes on pensions, including the state pension, pension credit and related pensioner benefits. What discussions has he had with the Scottish Government about how pensions would work in a separate Scotland? (150811)

The hon. Gentleman raises a hugely important issue which will be one of the big questions that we ask in Scotland as we build up to the referendum next year. The security and the scale of the United Kingdom allows us the solidarity of common provision across the United Kingdom, and we have the means to pay for that, even in difficult economic times, as we have had recently. We have not seen or heard anything from the Scottish National party or their supporters about how they would do that in an independent Scotland.

There is a link between welfare and the use of food banks, and I have raised the topic of food banks a number of times in this place through questions and petitions and directly with the Prime Minister, which have all seemed to go unanswered. The Secretary of State will have seen today’s report from the Trussell Trust revealing that the number of people using food banks in Scotland has increased from fewer than 5,000 last year to more than 14,000 this year. Can he tell the House why he is letting this happen?

My right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I have met people at food banks, and recently I met the executive chairman of the Trussell Trust. As the chief executive would point out, as I am sure he has to the hon. Gentleman, there is a range of complex reasons going back many years for why people need access to food banks. We continue to look at this very carefully. I do not want people to have to go to food banks to get support. I am happy to continue that dialogue with the hon. Gentleman.

Budget 2013

The Budget will support businesses, create jobs and help households in Scotland. Against a challenging international economic backdrop, the Budget has set out a range of measures to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

Ministers will be aware of a report published today by the Fawcett Society showing that three times as many women as men have suffered long-term unemployment in the past two and a half years. That is hardly surprising given the Budget decisions from which women have suffered the most. Does the right hon. Gentleman think it is tolerable for women to continue to bear the brunt of his Government’s failed economic policies?

I obviously do not accept the hon. Lady’s analysis, but I commend her for campaigning long and hard on that issue, at which we need to continue to look very hard. In the Budget we have introduced proposals on child care which take us much further than we have gone before. We are focusing on helping low-income families in Scotland by taking more than 200,000 Scots out of tax altogether and reducing the income tax bill for 2 million people in Scotland. We will continue to take a range of measures to make sure that we recover from the awful inheritance of her Government.

The unemployment figures in Scotland have not been helped by the devastating news of the closure of a number of open-cast coal sites in the area covered by my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne). As 348 people have lost their jobs in our area, I am sure the Minister will want to do everything possible to ensure that a potential buyer is able to come in. In that context and in the context of discussions following the Budget, will he make representations about the track access charges and the increase due to come into effect in 2016, which might put Scottish companies in the coal sector at a disadvantage?

First, I join the hon. Lady in her concern about the future for the families affected by that hugely significant administration of Scottish Resources Group. She and others has been working tirelessly on the issue, and we will work with her and the Scottish Government to see what we can do to support the families and communities affected. She raises the issue of track access, which I will be happy to discuss with her further.

I congratulate the Government on cancelling Labour’s planned fuel duty increase and introducing an island fuel duty discount in the Budget, which means that fuel duty on the mainland will be 13p a litre cheaper than it would be under Labour and 18p a litre cheaper on the islands. A Labour Government would have destroyed the Argyll and Bute economy. I congratulate the Government on supporting the rural economy, unlike the Labour party, which did not care and wanted to increase fuel duty by 18p a litre. [Interruption.]

Just in case Labour Members did not hear that, I repeat that the measures taken by our Government have saved remote island communities, such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, 18p a litre, and they have saved those on the mainland 13p a litre. That is a huge help to hard-pressed families the length and breadth of the country.

Many jobs in Scotland, especially in north-east Scotland, depend on investment in the oil and gas industry. Does the Secretary of State recognise the important role that the Budget has played in delivering tax certainty on decommissioning to unlock that vital investment?

My hon. Friend always makes a powerful case for the oil and gas industry, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Sir Malcolm Bruce). It is important to recognise their input in the decisions about decommissioning, which give certainty and good news for investment, not only now but for decades to come.

The International Monetary Fund has cut the UK growth forecast and questioned the Government’s austerity programme, and the UK’s credit rating has been downgraded yet again. Why should anyone believe a word that the Chancellor or the Financial Secretary to the Treasury say on the Budget, the currency, or for that matter anything else?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that nobody will be listening to him or his party when it comes to currency. I think that everybody recognises that the best deal for Scotland is to stay part of the United Kingdom and to continue to share the currency, unlike his party, which keeps changing its mind about what might be the best option for Scotland. We know already what is best for Scotland: staying part of the UK.

Everybody watching will have noted that the Secretary of State did not answer the question. The UK is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world, and today we learnt that the number of people using food banks has doubled. Citizens Advice Scotland has said that that increase illustrates “the devastating impact” of his Government’s policy. Why should people in Scotland put up with a Government they did not elect making those damaging decisions?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s analysis, which of course assumes that everything would be rosy in an independent Scotland, despite the hard realities we keep confronting him with. We are absolutely determined to get the economy on a strong footing, invest in our future and support hard-pressed families. That is what the Budget was all about.

This Government promised that they would get people back to work. By how much has long-term unemployment in Scotland been reduced on the Secretary of State’s watch?

I am interested to hear that the hon. Lady did not welcome the reduction in unemployment announced last week. The number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in Scotland is below 200,000 and the unemployment rate is 7.3%, which is below the rate for the UK as a whole. We have some very long-term, deep-seated problems that we inherited from her Government that we continue to tackle. We have credible plans; where are hers?

Shockingly, the number of people in Scotland who have been out of work for two years has increased by 517% during the Secretary of State’s time in office, which is far worse than across the UK as a whole. Is there anything specific he can offer those people out of work long term in Scotland, or is he just content to be a Tory puppet repeating their lines on the Budget?

The hon. Lady knows, because she and I visited the Shettleston jobcentre in her constituency, that we are working hard to ensure that we provide support for people in very difficult circumstances in Scotland. She picks just one statistic, which is important, and ignores all the rest. Some 70,000 more people are in employment in Scotland over the past three years. We are determined to ensure that we get the economy back from the brink, where her party left it three years ago. We continue to work hard to do that.

Scotland Referendum

8. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on how many non-UK EU nationals will be eligible to participate in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. (150806)

On 15 October 2012, the UK and Scottish Governments signed an agreement to ensure that a legal, fair and decisive referendum on Scotland’s future can take place. It is for the Scottish Parliament to determine the franchise for the referendum.

Would it not be completely outrageous were the Scottish Parliament to decide to use the local election franchise and therefore allow the possibility of the future constitutional make-up of the United Kingdom to be decided by some several hundred thousand non-UK EU nationals?

It will be for the Scottish Parliament to determine the franchise, but my hon. Friend is incorrect: the number of EU nationals able to vote on the Scottish Parliament franchise is less than 2% of the total.

Those who defend our country should be allowed to take part in deciding its future. What steps will the Minister take to make sure that armed forces personnel serving abroad will be able to cast their votes in the referendum?

This is an important matter. A service declaration is already in place which allows armed forces personnel with a link to Scotland to register at an address in Scotland. It will be for the Scottish Parliament, if it so chooses, to put additional measures in place.

Does the Minister agree that another difficulty with regard to the people who will be able to vote in this election is the issue of 16 and 17-year-olds? Has he had any discussions with the Scottish Government to see whether they have found a solution to the severe problems that that will cause, including putting 14 and 15-year-olds on the register?

The Scottish Parliament will have the ability to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote in the referendum. A draft Bill has been introduced for debate in the Scottish Parliament, which is the appropriate place for those issues to be considered.


I would be very happy to visit Corby, where, as a Scot, I understand I would feel very much at home, with plentiful supplies of the Daily Record, Irn-Bru and my favourite Scotch pies.

I thank the Minister for his reply and will take him up on his offer. Corby people are very proud of their Scottish connections, but they are worried that, if the break up of the Union goes through, they will no longer be able to move or trade freely or even to use the same currency. Will the Minister ensure that my constituents’ voices are heard?

Corby is a great example of the British family of nations and we should celebrate it. I urge the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to tell their friends and families in Scotland to vote no in the referendum.

When the Minister visits Corby, will he get the train to Peterborough on the east coast main line? What discussions is the Secretary of State having with his Cabinet colleagues to keep that line in public ownership?

The hon. Gentleman is aware that the east coast main line is going to return to the franchise arrangements.

Common Agricultural Policy

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions on CAP reform with a range of industry stakeholders in Scotland. On 27 March, we facilitated a meeting between my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the National Farmers Union Scotland on CAP reform-related issues. The UK Government are pressing hard for a new CAP that takes account of the range of interests across the UK, including in Scotland.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Has he considered the impact of greening the CAP and, in particular, is he confident that there will be match funding from the Treasury?

This is one of the many issues that have been discussed. I and the Secretary of State for Scotland continue to argue for Scotland’s interests in these matters.

Does the Minister support the efforts of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to end direct payments out of pillar 1 of CAP? What effect does he think that would have on Scottish farming?

The hon. Gentleman is misrepresenting the situation. Scotland will have flexibility to determine its own arrangements in relation to CAP reform.

With rising food prices and food poverty, has the Minister made any representations to colleagues about the need to grow more food in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman will know that in his constituency, as in my own constituency, there is a strong view that we should grow more of our own food. I encourage local farmers to do so.