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Volume 586: debated on Wednesday 15 October 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Joint Ministerial Committee

The Joint Ministerial Committee is an important mechanism for the UK Government and the devolved Administrations to discuss shared priorities and matters of mutual interest. The European session of the JMC met on Monday 13 October.

Given that all parties now want to see further devolution to Scotland, does he agree that it is time for a review of how that Committee operates and how we can strengthen the way in which the Scottish Parliament, the UK Parliament, the Scottish Government and the UK Government work together in the best interests of the people of Scotland?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. I hope that discussion about the relationship between Scotland’s two Governments will be part of the outcome of the Smith commission’s work; if not, I am sure it will form part of future debate in this House and elsewhere.

Surely the key question for the Committee to take to the Scottish National party Government is that no means no?

I certainly hope that it is now clear that the decisive result of the referendum is respected and that we move forward on behalf of all of Scotland to deliver the new devolved Scotland that everyone wants to see.

The Minister may be aware that in the past hour or so Tata Steel has announced its intention to sell the long products division—more or less, the plate mills in Scunthorpe, Workington, Teesside, Cambuslang and Motherwell—of its company. Throughout the United Kingdom, workers will be affected by this potential sale. Will the Minister ensure that he and other Ministers in both Governments intervene in this national issue for the sake of the workers and for the sake of the construction and manufacturing industry and the infrastructure of the United Kingdom?

This is a serious issue for both Governments. In the past it has been demonstrated that the Scottish Government and the UK Government can work together on serious issues that affect employment in Scotland, such as Grangemouth. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will follow exactly the same approach. The Secretary of State and I will raise this issue with ministerial colleagues and do everything we can to work with the Scottish Government, North Lanarkshire council and other interested parties.

It has been officially confirmed today that Nicola Sturgeon will become the next leader of the Scottish National party and Scotland’s first female First Minister. I would like to extend congratulations to her. She will be outstanding in those roles. Will the Minister be discussing the vow signed by the three UK leaders and the extensive new powers that it promises? What extensive new powers does the Minister especially support being devolved to Scotland?

I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Nicola Sturgeon on emulating Margaret Thatcher and becoming the female leader of her party. I most certainly look forward to working with her as the first female First Minister of Scotland. My previous experience of Nicola Sturgeon is that she has adopted a constructive approach to discussions with the UK Government.

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Smith commission has been established. All the political parties in Scotland have submitted their proposals. I particularly welcome the fact that the SNP will be part of that process. He will know that my leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, has made it quite clear that we see the Strathclyde commission proposals from the Conservative party as a floor and not a ceiling to those discussions.

I am sure the Minister would not be wanting to create a false impression. There is absolutely no comparison between Nicola Sturgeon and Margaret Thatcher. Nicola Sturgeon will be leading the most popular political party in Scotland. Margaret Thatcher destroyed the Tory party, and he is the living proof of its having only one seat in Scotland.

I am sure that most people in Scotland think that extensive new powers would help the economy grow, create jobs and deliver greater social fairness, so let me give the Minister another opportunity to outline which ones he is in favour of. Will he please, at the Dispatch Box, outline which extensive new powers he is in favour of devolving to Scotland?

I am very disappointed that the hon. Gentleman has not read the Conservative submission to the Smith commission, which clearly sets out, for example, our support for the devolution of 100% of income tax powers to the Scottish Parliament. I welcome the comment from the hon. Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran) that she is open to those discussions. We have made it clear that the Conservative position is one of flexibility, and we welcome the fact that the Scottish National party is taking part in the discussions. However, the place for those discussions is the Smith commission, so rather than constantly trying to portray the vow or other commitments as having been broken, let the SNP put its time and energy into the Smith commission process.

May I begin by paying tribute to the great Scottish journalist Angus Macleod, who died recently? On behalf of the Opposition, I send condolences to his family.

During the referendum campaign, many voters expressed their deep desire for change in our politics and society. Does the Minister believe that the Joint Ministerial Committee should address the figures published today that show growing poverty across Scotland? That one in three children in Glasgow now live in poverty should not just shock us, but shake us into immediate action. What are the Government doing to give greater priority to the fight against poverty in Scotland? Does the Minister believe that Labour’s policy of increasing the minimum wage to £8 would help in that fight?

I certainly agree that the people of Scotland are fed up with the politicking they see on a range of issues. Nobody in Scotland wants to see child poverty. The people of Scotland want politicians to work together to deal with these issues. The Scottish Parliament already has extensive powers that have not necessarily been used while we have been distracted by the referendum process. I hope that a new First Minister in Scotland will be less divisive and that there will be less politicking on these issues, and that we can all work together to reduce levels of child poverty in Scotland.

Referendum Outcome (Government Policy)

2. What assessment he has made of the implications for Government policy of the outcome of the referendum on independence for Scotland. (905359)

3. What assessment he has made of the implications for Government policy of the outcome of the referendum on independence for Scotland. (905360)

7. What assessment he has made of the implications for Government policy of the outcome of the referendum on independence for Scotland. (905364)

8. What assessment he has made of the implications for Government policy of the outcome of the referendum on independence for Scotland. (905365)

I wish to echo the words of the hon. Member for Glasgow East (Margaret Curran), the shadow Secretary of State, about the sad passing of Angus Macleod. He was a true highland gentleman and a thorough professional, and our political and public life in Scotland will be much the poorer without him.

The referendum result ensures that Scotland remains part of our United Kingdom. I welcome the fact that all parties have chosen to participate in cross-party talks chaired by Lord Smith to deliver further devolution. On Monday, the Government published a Command Paper. Following receipt of Lord Smith’s report, we will publish draft clauses before Burns night.

I, too, welcome the convincing outcome of the Scottish referendum.

Does the Secretary of State agree that in transferring further powers to the Scottish Parliament, we should have commensurate changes for England, and English votes for English laws?

This matter was dealt with at length yesterday in the House. I have always been of the view that completing the job of devolution will unlock the door to further constitutional reform across the United Kingdom. I caution the hon. Gentleman, however, that in seeking to devolve within Parliament without devolving within the Executive, we could be replacing one messy system with another.

I call on the Government to stop the clock on decisions on fracking for ethane in Scotland under the present reserved powers for the UK. It is quite clear that the matter should now lie with the Scottish people in the Scottish Parliament. I am calling for that to be devolved as a policy response to the referendum decision.

I look forward to reading the hon. Gentleman’s full submission, making that case, to Lord Smith’s commission. The hon. Gentleman will be mindful, however, that significant powers have already been given to the Scottish Parliament and Government through control of planning law, which would have a significant effect on the issue that he raises.

In June, the Prime Minister signed a joint statement with the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, committing himself to “full representation” for Scotland in the House of Commons. Did the Prime Minister’s commitment extend only to the first UKIP win?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Prime Minister remains committed to the level of Scottish representation on which he had previously given an undertaking.

In light of the high level of public engagement in the referendum—97% registered to vote, 85% voted, and there was an electrified public debate that debunked the view that people are not interested in politics, particularly in the future of the UK—will the Secretary of State confirm that the Smith commission will engage not only with all parties but fully with the public across the UK before putting forward its recommendations?

I can certainly confirm that. That has been hard-wired into the remit that the Government gave to Lord Smith to undertake his work. It is a very important part of how, over the years, we have built consensus in Scotland about constitutional change. This is too important to be left to the political parties. We must have—I am confident that we will—the voice of business, trade unions, churches and wider civic Scotland.

The UK Government’s devolution policy was outlined in this week’s published Command Paper, which sought to devolve, in a number of ways, about a third of Scotland’s revenue base or less than half of the funding requirements of the Scottish Parliament. Given that this is not the unprecedented devolution of major powers promised by the Prime Minister, will the Secretary of State confirm that the Smith commission will not be restricted in any way by the contents of the Command Paper?

If I may correct the hon. Gentleman, the purpose of the Command Paper was to bring together and to outline the proposals of the three parties. It is not a statement of Government policy. As I said when I launched the paper in a statement on Monday—I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman was here or not; I suspect not—it is clear that the publication and the content of the Command Paper are without prejudice and do not seek to limit or prescribe in any way the work that we have given to Lord Smith to undertake.

When the Secretary of State goes to the population summit in Dunoon, will he remind the Scottish Government that devolution should be not just from Westminster to Holyrood, but from Holyrood to local communities in Scotland? Will he tell the SNP Government that they should reverse policies such as centralising the police and fire services and closing local courts, which are taking people and jobs away from rural Scotland and into the central belt?

I am very much looking forward to joining my hon. Friend, leaders of his local council and Ministers from the Scottish Government in Dunoon. What he says is very much the message that Ministers from the Scottish Government will hear. It is a message that they get throughout the highlands and islands. Seven years of SNP Government in Edinburgh have given Scotland the most centralised system of government in western Europe. That has got to change.

As the Secretary of State knows, extensive new powers for Scotland are being proposed by the Smith commission. As he also knows, a number of substantial changes to income tax in Scotland have already been legislated for by this Parliament. A document that I have obtained from the UK Government indicates a number of risks to implementation—notably, that of a decision from the Scottish Government being delayed around the time of a referendum. Will the Secretary of State update us on any delays that are taking place and on what plans he has to begin to communicate with taxpayers in Scotland about imminent changes to the income tax proposals?

I do not know the document to which the hon. Lady refers. If she sends it to me, I will be more than happy to consider it, if I have not already seen it. I can tell her that discussions between Treasury Ministers and Ministers of the Scottish Government about the fine details of the transfer of income tax powers are ongoing. Once those are nailed down, a joint effort by both Governments to communicate what it will mean to Scotland’s taxpayers will obviously be of prime importance.

Referendum Campaign (Intimidation Allegations)

I hope that we can all agree that the referendum campaign was carried out in a democratic and open way, giving Scotland the debate it deserved. Given that the people of Scotland voted decisively to remain part of the United Kingdom, what matters now is respecting the result and working together to secure the new devolution settlement.

Elections and voting in the United Kingdom have traditionally been viewed as free and fair, and free from intimidation, but only yesterday the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Mr Davidson) described being called a traitor and a Judas. A former Deputy Leader of the Scottish National party was reported as saying that there will be a day of reckoning for those opposed to separation. There has been graffiti stating that those who voted no will be shot. That is disgraceful and a shame on those responsible. Notwithstanding the devolution of justice, will the Minister ask the Advocate-General for Scotland, Lord Wallace, to see whether further action should be taken and whether there was any criminal activity during the referendum campaign?

It is evident that there was some appalling behaviour during the referendum, not least towards people such as J.K. Rowling, when they expressed their views. However, I think we must regard the referendum overall as a triumph of the democratic process. After all, 85% of the Scottish population voted, and voted decisively to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

It is clear that there was intimidation during the referendum, but a more important question for the Minister is: when does he see the possibility of another referendum? The last thing we need to get in the way of politicians’ day business is another referendum in a generation.

I absolutely agree. It is disappointing that in the days before the referendum the First Minister of Scotland was able to say that he did not foresee another referendum in his lifetime; then he said a generation; and now he is saying a few months. That is totally unacceptable. The sovereign will of the Scottish people is that Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. We should all come together to forge the new devolution settlement.

On the Tuesday before the referendum, I was present in Inverurie when a small group of Better Together supporters who had been manning a street stall day was suddenly surrounded by a flash mob of 150 nationalists waving banners, shouting, playing music and creating an intimidating atmosphere. The Better Together supporters stood their ground sufficiently to ensure that the people of Gordon rejected independence by a majority of nearly 2:1.

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to highlight the fact that such intimidatory and bad behaviour in the street and on the internet did nothing to further the cause of Yes Scotland. If demonstrators had not been outside the BBC but had been knocking on doors on the Sunday before the referendum, the result might have been closer.

May I tell the Minister what intimidation feels like? Banks threatened to leave Scotland; supermarkets threatened to put up prices; big business threatened to relocate to London; No campaigners told pensioners they would lose their pensions. The premise of “Project Fear” was built, designed and packaged to scare Scottish voters from voting for independence.

It disappoints me that the hon. Gentleman has so little faith and confidence in the voters of Scotland. I believe they were quite capable of seeing through bluff and bluster from any campaign. They voted in the way they wanted, which was to keep Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.

Constitutional Reform (Timetable)

Lord Smith of Kelvin has agreed to oversee the process to take forward devolution commitments to Scotland. Lord Smith will publish his proposals by the end of November. The Government will publish draft clauses by 25 January 2015.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that compliance with the vows given to the Scottish people ahead of the referendum will in no way be contingent on other constitutional reform within the United Kingdom?

I can confirm that absolutely for the umpteenth time from this Dispatch Box. There will be no delay while the rest of the UK catches up with Scotland.

When the Government look at the timetable for constitutional reform in Scotland, will they take account of the fact that more people live in Essex than voted yes in the referendum and that if United Kingdom residents are to be treated fairly and equally, what is good enough for Scotland is good enough for East Anglia.

I can only repeat to my hon. Friend that the timetable that we have given to Scotland will be met. Let me add, however, that the distinction between Scotland and England is that we already have a well-established consensus. The main thing that was apparent to me from yesterday’s debate in the House was that the people of England still have some way to go in building that consensus, and I wish them the best of luck.

The Secretary of State at the Dispatch Box and many Opposition Members continue to repeat that the timetable is on track, but the nationalists keep putting it about that it has been broken. Why does the Secretary of State think that is, and what does he think we can do about it?

I confess that that timetable has been broken, because the Command Paper that was published on Monday was published two and a half weeks before the deadline that had been set for publication. The nationalists will have to speak for themselves, but every time they seek to undermine the work of Lord Smith and his commission, it raises a suspicion in my mind, and among a growing number of people in Scotland, that although they are part of the process, they are not acting in good faith. [Interruption.]

Order. There is excessive noise in the Chamber. However, I feel sure that there will now be an atmosphere of hushed anticipation for Sir William Cash.

Given what the Secretary of State has just said, and given what he said yesterday in regard to the issue of English laws for English voters, how does he reconcile his statement from the Dispatch Box with collective responsibility in this Government? In the light of that question, is it not time that the coalition was brought to an end?

No. I am confident that the coalition will continue until the end of this Parliament. As my hon. Friend will know, the Prime Minister has set up a Cabinet Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, which is intended to establish Government policy on this issue if that is at all possible.

In 2010, the Secretary of State called for a citizens’ convention on the constitution. Yesterday, at the Dispatch Box, he said that the constitutional convention should not be seen as kicking devolution into the long grass. Does he still stand by what he stood for in 2010 in his manifesto, and what he said in the House yesterday?

I think there are lessons that the rest of the United Kingdom can learn from the way in which we have gone about building consensus to achieve constitutional reform throughout the United Kingdom. Bringing together not just the political parties but the other interested voices is absolutely essential. It is the best way in which to proceed, and I hope very much that the rest of the United Kingdom will take a leaf out of Scotland’s book.

Scottish Constitutional Settlement

Lord Smith of Kelvin has agreed to oversee the process to take forward devolution commitments to Scotland. He will publish his proposals by the end of November, and the Government will publish draft clauses by 25 January.

My constituents are very much in favour of the direction of the settlement, but they fear that it may enshrine the £1,600 per annum public sector differential between England and Scotland. Can the Secretary of State assure us that that will be reviewed as part of the process?

One of the express elements in the vow that was delivered to the people of Scotland was an assurance that there would be no change in the Barnett formula. I should add, however, that once we have delivered the extra tax-raising powers that I believe will go to the Scottish Parliament, the formula will obviously account for a lesser proportion of the Scottish Government’s income than is currently the case.

Does the Secretary of State accept that if fundraising powers such as the power to tax income are transferred to the Scottish Parliament to a greater extent, adjustments will have to be made to the Barnett formula to take account of fluctuations, just as account will have to be taken of fluctuations in the oil price?

Adjustments will certainly have to be made to the way in which the Barnett formula operates in detail. That is already being undertaken by Treasury officials and Ministers in relation to the powers that are going to Scotland under the Scotland Act 2012.

Any future constitutional settlement must make it easier to build a fairer society in Scotland. According to a report published by Oxfam, inequality should be measured in terms of welfare, housing, health, education, justice, and employability. Five out of those six have already been devolved to Scotland. Does that not demonstrate that we have two Governments who are failing the people of Scotland?

What it shows is that these are complex problems that will require close working by Scotland’s two Governments in order to tackle them. I very much hope that, now we have got the referendum behind us, we will be able to see the cross-party and cross-government working that the people of Scotland need and demand.