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Volume 588: debated on Wednesday 26 November 2014

The Secretary of State was asked—

Smith Commission

1. If he will give guidance to the Smith commission on ensuring that its proposals do not hamper cross-border trade with the north of England. (906203)

At the outset of this process, Lord Smith set out a number of guiding principles underpinning cross-party talks. They included the principle that the proposals should strengthen Scottish devolution and the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom, and that they should not cause detriment to the UK as a whole or to any of its constituent parts.

My constituents campaigned very strongly so that we remained “better together”, and whether that related to farmers, business, trade or joint air passenger duty, it continues. Does the Minister welcome the borderlands initiative between local authorities on either side of the border?

I very much welcome the borderlands initiative, which is an excellent example of cross-border working. Councils are working together across the Scottish and English borders to maximise economic and cultural opportunities.

I understand that the Smith commission has written to a number of companies asking for their views on the question of what should be devolved. Companies in my constituency are telling me that if Scotland were to be given some of the powers that are being considered, they would leave Scotland. Is that good or bad?

The Smith commission has engaged in a widespread consultation with all aspects of Scottish society. I understand that there were some 14,000 submissions, and the commission will obviously look closely at all of them.

What everyone wants, in Scotland and in England, is the certainty of knowing how we are to move forward. My party is committed to including a Scotland Bill in the Queen’s Speech when we win the general election next May. Will the Minister’s party make the same commitment?

I do not share the hon. Lady’s arrogance, but what I do share is the commitment to delivering the Smith commission’s proposals. We have made it absolutely clear that draft legislation will be produced by 25 January next year, and there will be a commitment to enact that legislation in the next Parliament.

A wide range of proposals have been submitted to the Smith commission which would foster economic growth, job-creating powers, and the ability to tackle social inequality. Is the Minister confident that the commission will recommend the devolution of corporation tax, job-creating powers and the setting of a minimum wage?

I am not going to prejudge the Smith commission. All that I know in relation to the hon. Gentleman’s proposals is that his party had an opportunity to select him as one of its commissioners so that he could argue for those measures, and, as far as I am aware, it did not do so.

Following the independence referendum, survey evidence in Scotland showed that 71% of Scottish respondents wanted the Scottish Parliament to control all taxation raised in Scotland, 66% wanted devo-max—that is, the devolution of all areas of Government policy except defence and foreign affairs—and 75% wanted control of the welfare and benefits system to be devolved. Is the Minister confident that the Smith commission will recommend the devolution of those powers?

The Smith commission includes two representatives of the Scottish National party, and is seeking to reach cross-party agreement. What we all know is that 55% of people in Scotland—more than 2 million—voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.

The Smith commission will report tomorrow. Its report will lay the foundations for greater devolution for Scotland and, hopefully, the devolution of powers from Edinburgh, at the centre, to a more local level. The Minister referred to a closer working relationship between the borderland areas in the north of England and the south of Scotland. Will he guarantee that whatever the Smith commission delivers will add up fiscally, to ensure that it does not work to the detriment of the people of Scotland?

That is one of the principles guiding the Smith commission’s work. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise that, notwithstanding the commission’s recommendations on powers for the Scottish Parliament and more devolution in Scotland, in the south of Scotland we need to continue to work with our friends and neighbours in the north of England.


2. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on shipbuilding on the Clyde. (906204)

First, I would like to place on record my congratulations to Nicola Sturgeon on her recent election as Scotland’s First Minister. I spoke to her on the evening of her election and made the point that Her Majesty’s Government here look forward to working with her and her colleagues in the way I believe the people of Scotland would want.

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on a range of issues affecting Scotland, including shipbuilding on the Clyde, most recently last week with my right hon. colleague the Secretary of State for Defence, during which he reiterated his recent public statement underlining that complex UK warships are built only in UK shipyards. He plans to visit the Clyde again shortly.

I am sure many on the Opposition Benches would echo the comments about the new First Minister and wish her well.

The Secretary of State gave a slightly nuanced answer. I wonder if he will state categorically that the Type 26 frigates will be built, and perhaps he could throw some light on why the First Sea Lord felt he could make the comments that threw into doubt the proposals for those frigates.

I congratulate the right hon. Lady on finding nuance where absolutely none was intended. The First Sea Lord will, of course, speak for himself, but she will be aware that questions of contract are down to Ministers in the Ministry of Defence, and she will no doubt have seen, as other Members did, the comments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence on Monday making it very clear that that is where the orders will go.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the decision by the people of Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom has been exceptionally good news for defence shipbuilding on the Clyde, that defence is an extremely important component of the United Kingdom and that the prospect of more jobs arising out of the Type 26 global combat ship, for which I had some responsibility in the Ministry of Defence, should mean that there will be a really good assurance of jobs on the Clyde in Scotland?

Indeed, the efforts of the MOD—and I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend during his time as a Defence Minister—are exceptionally good news for jobs in shipbuilding on the Clyde. It is also good news for the Royal Navy, because that is where the expertise and the body of skills lie, so that is the best place for these ships to be built.

Are admirals self-employed? Whatever possessed the First Sea Lord to suggest that these ships would not be built on the Clyde? It is clear that separation shuts shipyards, not Scotland being part of the United Kingdom. Has the Admiral been keel-hauled or walked the plank, or would it be better if he was invited to meet the Scottish Affairs Committee?

Having appeared before the hon. Gentleman’s Committee on a number of occasions, I have a small suspicion that of the various options he outlined the last one is the least attractive. As I have said, the First Sea Lord will speak for himself. I have no doubt that in making his comments he felt he was speaking in the best interests of the Navy, but as I have said, the question of contracts is to be determined by Ministers, and the Secretary of State for Defence could not be clearer in his comments in this regard.

My right hon. Friend will understand that, as someone who lived close to Yarrows shipyard for quite a long part of my life, I have a particular attachment, and indeed affection, for the notion of shipbuilding on the Clyde. Will he accept that in the event that orders from the MOD are no longer placed, the impact will be not just on jobs directly associated with the construction of ships, but on all those companies on both banks of the Clyde that supply goods and services to BAE Systems?

Indeed, that is the case. Like my right hon. and learned Friend, I have my own family associations with shipbuilding on the Clyde, and I think we are probably typical of many in Scotland today. The truth of the matter is that if that business had been lost, which of course would have been a consequence of a yes vote, the implications would have been profound not just for those who are directly employed in the shipyards, but for the supply chain right across Scotland.

Will the right hon. Gentleman go back to the Defence Secretary to discuss concerns about slippage in the programme, in order to allay fears about exactly when the work is likely to come to the Clyde and to the work force whose livelihoods depend on it?

I can assure the hon. Lady that I have regular contact with the shipbuilding unions on the Clyde. I listen to their concerns and I hope that I can give them some assurance of the Government’s intentions. However, there must be commercial rigour in the laying of those contracts, and it would be inappropriate for the Government to make any announcements before that point has been reached. I do hope that we have all, on both sides of the House, learned the lessons of the past in that regard.

I am the MP for the Scotstoun yard on the Clyde, in which it has been said that £200 million is to be invested to turn it into a state-of-the-art facility. Given that thousands of jobs are at risk there, is it not time that the First Sea Lord was sacked for causing my constituents, the people who work in my yard, such worry? This is ridiculous and he should stand down immediately.

Perhaps I could just caution the House against getting too excited about the comments—or, indeed, the future—of the First Sea Lord. I cannot over-emphasise the fact that the decisions on those contracts are made by Ministers, and that those Ministers are quite clear that our complex warships are built only in the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman should be able to give that assurance to his constituents.

The Scottish Government took action in the summer to secure the future of the Ferguson shipyard, the last remaining commercial shipyard on the Clyde. Given the doubts that have been cast over the UK Government’s commitment to bringing the Type 26 frigate contracts to the Clyde, will the Government publish the commercial principles agreement with BAE Systems, so that there can be transparency in the process?

Let us reflect for a second on what the hon. Lady has just said. There is no doubt about the commitment to bring the T26 ships to the Clyde. That is an absolute commitment—[Interruption.]

Order. The parliamentary leader of the Scottish National party is behaving as though he were a kind of pre-programmed computer with a monotonous yell. He should stick to sucking his glasses. We do not need to hear that. He wants to be a statesman, but that is not statesmanlike.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Moray (Angus Robertson) behaves exactly as we all expect him to. We have come to expect no more of him than that. The hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) asked about the publication of the agreement. She should raise that matter with the appropriate Department.

Living Wage

The Government support businesses that choose to pay the living wage, where it is affordable and does not cost jobs. Decisions on what wages to set, above the national minimum wage, are for employers and workers. However, we encourage employers to pay the living wage where possible.

Last week, Glasgow Celtic, the football club that I support—indeed, I am a season ticket holder—announced that anyone working there who was not on the living wage would be put on to it. That will mean a major increase for many of the club’s employees. Where Celtic leads, many others follow. We have only to look back to 1967 when Celtic became the first British club to win the European cup. They were followed, famously, by Manchester United in 1968—

What can the Minister do to ensure that more organisations and major employers in Scotland pay the living wage?

On this occasion, I share the hon. Gentleman’s view that where Celtic football club has led, others should follow. We want to encourage all employers who are in a position to do so to pay the living wage.

Pay is one of the most important tools in helping to fight poverty, but it also makes perfect business sense. The Government appear to have absolutely no plans to encourage employers to pay the living wage. The Minister will also be aware that the Scottish National party Government have just refused to put the living wage into Government contracts. Should not the Government be supporting Labour’s “make work pay” contracts, which would share tax benefits with employers, thereby encouraging them to pay the living wage?

I completely refute the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that the Government are not encouraging employers to pay the minimum wage where they are in a position to do so and it does not cost jobs. This Government’s commitment to those on low pay is clear from the way in which we have raised the personal allowance. His party’s position is far from clear—Labour claimed that it would reduce the national minimum wage to a level that is actually lower than it is projected to be in 2020.

As we approach the first anniversary of the tragedy, I am sure the whole House will join me in remembering the victims of the Clutha helicopter crash that happened in my own city. Our thoughts will be with the victims and their families this Saturday.

Does the Minister agree that the living wage is a means of addressing the scandal of low pay in Scotland, and that tackling low pay should be a higher priority for this Government? In the light of that, can he tell the House how many people in Scotland were paid below the minimum wage in the past year?

I join the hon. Lady in highlighting the first anniversary of the terrible Clutha tragedy. It is a credit to all Members of this House and particularly to the people of Glasgow that not just at the time but throughout the past year they have responded to that.

The hon. Lady will know that unlike the Labour Government, this Government have been keen to ease the procedures whereby those who pay below the minimum wage are named and shamed. Earlier this year 25 employers that had not paid the minimum wage were named, three of which were in Scotland.

That is a most disappointing answer. In fact, 11,000 people in Scotland are paid below the minimum wage, and it is shameful that neither the Minister nor the Government know that figure. In the past two years there has not been a single prosecution, and only two companies in Scotland have been named and shamed. Eleven thousand people in Scotland are not paid what they are entitled to. Given the gross failure of this Government properly to enforce the national minimum wage, should not the Minister apologise to those 11,000 people who have been failed by this Government? He does not even know who they are.

It is the hon. Lady who needs to apologise. Anyone watching this exchange would think that there had been were prosecutions under the previous Government. There were absolutely none. If she wants to get her facts right, I can tell her that three companies have been named and shamed in Scotland. They are Sun Shack Ltd in Hamilton, Cargilfield School Ltd in Edinburgh and Perth Hotels Ltd in Perth. If she has the details of additional people who are not receiving the minimum wage, rather than political point-scoring in this House, she should take their details to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs so that their employers can be dealt with.

Smith Commission

4. When he expects the Smith commission to publish its report; and what steps are planned to implement its findings. (906206)

6. When he expects the Smith commission to publish its report; and what steps are planned to implement its findings. (906208)

Lord Smith is expected to publish his heads of agreement soon. In accordance with the timetable, this Government will produce draft clauses by 25 January. I shall, of course, with your assistance, Mr Speaker, endeavour to keep the House informed of all developments.

I was delighted that the people of Scotland voted to keep Carlisle at the centre of the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that we fulfil the commitments made to Scotland and ensure that there is a tight but sensible timetable to bring these commitments to law?

I could not agree more. The commitment was made in all good faith and solemnity by the party leaders during the referendum campaign. It will be kept according to the timetable previously outlined.

Is the Secretary of State confident that the Scottish Government will support the proposals, or will they begrudge what is offered to them?

The Scottish Government—or at least the Scottish National party—are taking part in the Smith process. I believe that John Swinney, their nomination as one of their commissioners, is an honourable man who would not do that in anything other than good faith. I very much hope he and his party will not prove me wrong on that.

10. Is the Secretary of State aware that devolution, like Union, is a principle and not an expedient, so it should apply to all the nations of the United Kingdom, Scotland included? Is he also aware of a letter signed by Mayor Boris Johnson, Councillor Sir Richard Leese and all the senior local government officers and leaders asking for the same package to be applied—or for consideration to be given to its application—to England as Lord Smith wishes to apply to Scotland? (906212)

I share the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of what devolution is actually about. I say to him, however, that in Scotland we have debated our constitutional future over decades. Change can be achieved only by building the broadest possible consensus from the lowest possible level up, taking in parties outside the political process. The people of England will need to do that if they are to have a better constitutional future.

13. Does the Secretary of State accept that the issue of fracking and exploring for minerals in Scotland is one legitimately looked at by the Smith commission? If it recommends that that goes to Scotland, it will stop the clock on using reserve powers and will let Scotland decide about fracking. (906215)

Like everybody else, the hon. Gentleman will have to wait to see what recommendations come from the Smith commission. The Government were responsible for setting it up and we will deliver on the heads of agreement when they are published, but it would not be appropriate for me, standing at this Dispatch Box now, to second-guess what Lord Smith is going to say.

Superfast Broadband

The Government’s superfast broadband roll-out programme has invested £120 million, provided to the Scottish Government to deliver rural broadband services across Scotland. More than 150,000 Scottish homes and businesses now have access to broadband from the work done so far.

The Secretary of State will be aware that 69% of UK premises have access to broadband whereas the figure for Scotland is only 48%. Does he agree that the situation for my constituents in Torhead Farm is unacceptable? That housing scheme is served by two cabinets, one in the commercial scheme and the other in the community scheme, so one person has access to commercial broadband whereas their neighbour does not, because of the Scottish Government’s failing scheme. Can he help the Scottish Government to get a grip of this, so that everyone gets access to broadband services?

As the hon. Gentleman says, the responsibility for the delivery of this money and the improvements that can come from it has been given to the Scottish Government. I hear similar stories to the one he mentioned as I go across Scotland; it is clear that there are problems. If he wishes to furnish me with the details, I will be more than happy to take up the matter with the Scottish Government.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend will be aware of the excellent project to roll out fibre and broadband in Caithness, Sutherland and Ross-shire, with welcome funding from this Government. Is he as surprised as I am to learn that neither Openreach, nor the Highlands and Islands Enterprise is either capable or willing to say who will benefit? What can we do to get transparency into this process, so that these communities know what they are getting?

I am indeed aware of the projects to which my right hon. Friend refers, and I share his disappointment that, apparently, information as fundamental as that has not been given to his constituents. It is difficult to see why people would want to keep it a secret.

8. Superfast broadband could be assisted by the high data speeds given by 4G mobile. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that high data speed 4G comes to rural and island areas sooner rather than later? (906210)

The hon. Gentleman rightly identifies 4G as an opportunity for communities of the sort that he and I represent. He will be aware of the money that has been put into the mobile infrastructure project by this Government. That work is going on and will ultimately assist in reaching 4G.

Income Tax

7. What progress has been made on the implementation of a Scottish rate of income tax; and if he will make a statement. (906209)

Implementation of the Scottish rate of income tax is being led by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and the Work programme includes representatives from HM Treasury, the Scotland Office and Scottish Government. The project is handling the detail of the implementation and operation of the Scottish rate and is on track to make the necessary changes in readiness for April 2016.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the Office for Budget Responsibility has consistently reported that the Scottish tax share of income tax is reducing, which is largely due to the fact that we have a higher proportion of basic rate taxpayers. Will he tell us what discussions he has held on how that will be reflected in the final transitional settlement when the Scottish Government take control of the share of Scottish tax?

That is exactly the sort of detail that informs the ongoing discussions between the Treasury and the Scottish Government in relation to the necessary adjustments to the block grant.

So that the Scottish National party can get its views on income tax heard, does the Secretary of State think that it, and not the Liberal Democrats, should be in the leaders’ debate as it is polling more than the Liberal Democrats?