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Joint Ministerial Committee

Volume 586: debated on Wednesday 15 October 2014

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.