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Cross-border Trade

Volume 593: debated on Wednesday 25 February 2015

2. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on cross-border trade between the north of England and the border region of Scotland of the proposals of the Smith commission. (907628)

As a result of the clear no vote in the referendum, there remain no barriers to trade across the whole of the UK. Nothing in the draft clauses changes that.

Does the Secretary of State agree that all political parties need to come together to ensure that airports such as Newcastle in the north-east have air passenger duty support so that they are not unfairly disadvantaged by the proposals of the Smith commission?

I assure my hon. Friend that the basic principle of the Smith commission proposals is that there should be no detriment to any part of the UK—that was very much what the people of Scotland voted for on 18 September. Of course, it remains to be seen what will happen to levels of APD, once it is devolved, but he should take comfort from the fact that the principle is already well established that variable rates within the UK are possible, and he would be well advised to speak to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that regard.

Had the Smith commission been faithful to the famous vow and had the Better Together parties not watered down the tepid Smith commission, does the Secretary of State think that the benefits to the north of England, as well as to Scotland, would have been greater?

I know that it hurts the hon. Gentleman and causes him genuine pain, but the truth of the matter—he will have to accept this sooner or later, so he might as well get on and accept it now—is that the Smith commission has delivered on the vow. That was why his party signed up to it, even if, having done so, the Scottish National party could not run away from its commitments fast enough.

The single market of the United Kingdom is vital to the fish processors and agricultural producers of Berwickshire, the coat hanger manufacturers of Jedburgh and the world-class knitwear manufacturers of Hawick, among others, so does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the major achievements of the Smith commission was to bring more powers to Scotland, but preserve that single market?

Yes, absolutely. I particularly enjoyed joining my right hon. Friend recently in his constituency and learning from him about not only the challenges but the opportunities facing the knitwear industry. I know that that industry is of great importance to the economy in his area, and he has been a remarkable champion of it over the years.

There is obvious eagerness within local authorities in the south of Scotland to have closer trade links with their counterparts in the north of England, as evidence from the work of the Scottish Affairs Committee suggests. Does the Secretary of State intend to engage with the Scottish Government to ensure that the borderland areas are able to exploit their full potential?

Indeed. I am well aware of the work of the borderlands initiative and am more than happy to engage with it in any way it considers would be helpful. That has been very much the approach that I have taken in dealing with Scotland’s island communities—the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland—on their “Our Islands Our Future” campaign. I suggest that this Government’s willingness to hand power back to communities in Scotland bears very favourable contrast with the SNP Government in Edinburgh, who seem determined to centralise everything.