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Volume 609: debated on Wednesday 11 May 2016

The Secretary of State was asked—

EU Membership

7. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. (904919)

I congratulate Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish National party on achieving the largest number of seats in last week’s Scottish Parliament elections. I look forward to working with her and the new Scottish Government for the benefit of the people of Scotland.

The Government’s position is that Scotland and the United Kingdom will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed EU. Membership of the EU reduces costs for Scottish businesses; supports jobs in Scotland; and provides an export market currently worth £11.6 billion.

A re-run of “Project Fear” from the Prime Minister will not win the European referendum. Stories of war, genocide and economic crashes are not in keeping with making a positive case for the EU. When will we will hear the positive case for remaining in the EU?

I would like to add my congratulations to the hon. Lady’s husband on his re-election to the Scottish Parliament, where I am sure his witty repartee will once again be welcomed.

The hon. Lady and her colleagues repeatedly call for a positive campaign for Scotland to remain in the EU, but all we hear about from them is process and calls for a second referendum on independence. I call on them to disregard that approach and actually start setting out the positive case themselves.

The UK Government have shown disregard for Scotland’s higher education sector, severely damaging the talent pool by scrapping the post-study work visa against the unanimous wishes of business, civic society and, uniquely, all Scottish political parties. Does the Secretary of State accept the crippling effect that the Government’s EU referendum is having on the ability to attract young talent to Scotland?

The biggest issue facing Scotland currently is the uncertainty over the Scottish Government’s inability to rule out a second independence referendum, which they could quite easily do. I look forward to the First Minister, if she is re-elected to that post, setting out clearly that we will not have a second independence referendum. The Scottish Affairs Select Committee has produced a good report on the work study visa, and the Government are looking at it.

Does the Secretary of State consider that with 60% of UK landings in Scotland, a Scottish fisheries Minister should lead during the period of the UK presidency of the EU? Would not such an initiative be widely welcomed by Scottish fishermen, or is the Secretary of State still stuck in this Westminster rut of some nations being “more equal” than others?

My position is that Scotland voted decisively to remain part of the United Kingdom, and that the United Kingdom represents Scotland’s interest on fishing in the EU. The hon. Lady may be aware that the Scottish Government and the UK Government have been in discussions on intergovernmental relations, and particularly on how these issues of representation should work in the EU. My understanding is that the previous SNP-led Scottish Government were in agreement with those proposals.

This week’s EY report was critical of the UK Government’s approach to the energy sector, stating that it is not only stalling project development and investment but jeopardising UK energy security. Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way for Scotland’s energy policy to develop is within the EU?

I absolutely agree that it is in the best interests of Scotland to remain in the EU, and it is also in the best interests of Scotland to remain in the UK, because it has been clearly set out that what is best for the future of Scotland’s energy sector is a UK-wide common market.

While we obviously want the UK to remain part of the EU, I am seriously beginning to wonder whether the Secretary of State’s mission is to antagonise as many Scots as possible before the referendum. Will he at least agree that should Scotland be dragged out of the EU against its will, that would be a major constitutional change?

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that tomorrow night I shall share a platform with the former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Sillars. I shall make the positive case for Scotland’s remaining in the EU, and I understand that he will make the case for Scotland’s leaving the EU.

Professor Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, has warned that the UK’s withdrawal from the European convention on human rights would remove safeguards that have been

“bolstering the rights of psychiatric service users for decades”.

Will the Secretary of State join me in safeguarding mental health services, and oppose any attempts to withdraw Scotland from the convention?

As the hon. Lady knows, the Government is to launch a consultation on the introduction of a Bill of Rights after the EU referendum. However, I agree with her that the UK’s remaining in the EU benefits everyone in Scotland.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the Government are split on the issue of whether we should remain in the European Union. Just like the SNP, with Jim Sillars speaking for the leave campaign? Does he not think that it is somewhat embarrassing for the Government to be associated with that lot?

What the Government do, and what the Scottish National party does not always do, is respect the fact that people have different opinions. My view is very firmly that Scotland should remain in the EU, but I recognise and respect the fact that there are people in Scotland, including SNP voters and supporters, who want Scotland to leave the EU. That is why we are having a referendum, and that is why we are having a debate, and the people will have their say.

Why has my right hon. Friend not emphasised that when we leave the European Union, the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government and the Scottish people will have sole control over Scottish fishing waters?

I do not believe that the best interests of Scottish fishermen, Scottish farmers or the general population of Scotland would be served by our leaving the EU. My hon. Friend—who now serves on the Scottish Affairs Committee—will know that, for example, large amounts of fish, particularly shellfish caught off the west coast of Scotland, go to a European market.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Scotland, like the rest of the United Kingdom, would be safer if it left the European Union because, as Sir Richard Dearlove, the former head of MI6, has said,

“Britain is Europe’s leader in intelligence and security matters and gives much more than it gets in return”?

What assessment has the Secretary of State undertaken of why the SNP is so keen on the EU when it is clear that the EU is in the global economic slow lane, when the EU’s unemployment rates are so much higher—including youth unemployment of more than 50% in certain countries—and when it is an indisputable fact that the common fisheries policy has, over the years, decimated the Scottish fishing fleet?

I note the inherent contradiction in SNP Members’ position, because every argument its members use for Scotland remaining in the EU is an argument that was dismissed when it related to Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom. However, on this occasion I will forgive them because, like them, I believe that it is in Scotland’s best interests to remain in the EU.

Mrs Freer, a pensioner in my right hon. Friend’s constituency, would like to say how pleased she now is to have two Mundells to choose from. She is also seeking reassurance that, as a pensioner, she would be better off in a reformed EU.

I am absolutely clear that the reforms that the Prime Minister brought forward will improve the EU for pensioners and citizens right across Scotland. I also believe that this is not the end of the reform process. The EU is not perfect, even after these reforms, but it is up to the UK to lead in reforming the EU, not to withdraw from it.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the EU is based on its current member states. What assessment has he made of last week’s Scottish Parliament election results in regard to ensuring the integrity of one of its largest members and removing the prospect of Scotland having to apply to join as a new member?

There was one clear message from last week’s Scottish Parliament elections: the people of Scotland do not want another referendum. I hope that the First Minister has heard that message loud and clear. The EU referendum is about the UK’s membership of the EU. It is not a rerun of the Scottish independence referendum.

May I also take this opportunity to congratulate all the MSPs who were elected last week, and to congratulate the SNP on its historic third term in government in Scotland? However, on a bad night for my party, my own seat of Edinburgh Southern saw a net gain from the SNP. I also want to congratulate the Secretary of State on his son Oliver being elected to the Scottish Parliament. His family now has two elected members, and they both have fetching beards—the word “fetching” being used loosely in this context.

The evidence is clear that the UK and Scotland are stronger in the EU. In the Scottish context, for example, as the Secretary of State has already said, the benefits include a market for 42% of our exports, a quarter of a million jobs, 10% of our higher education spending and a whole host of social protections. Can he assure the Scottish people that all Conservative MSPs will campaign to stay in the European Union?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations to my son. I have to say that the high point of the election for me was when someone on the doorstep said, “You look a lot like your dad.” That aside, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be a robust and proper debate in Scotland. Ahead of this referendum process, Ruth Davidson made her position very clear on supporting Scotland remaining in the EU. However, we cannot hide the fact that there are people in Scotland who would like to leave the EU, and I think their views should be reflected. The Conservative party in Scotland is not frightened to hide the fact that there are different views. Indeed, there are different views across Scotland.

The Secretary of State has not told us what Oliver’s response was when the constituent told him he looked awfully like his dad. Perhaps he could tell us when he comes back to the Dispatch Box. Everyone knows that this EU referendum is more about settling old scores in the Conservative party than about doing what is best for the UK, and indeed Scotland. We also know that the Scottish National party is desperate for any excuse to trigger another independence referendum. However, the truth is that the UK is better off in the EU, and that Scotland is better off in the UK. So is it not the case that this Secretary of State and his Government have taken a huge gamble with the UK’s future, and with Scotland’s future too?

Absolutely not. What we have done is to allow the people of Scotland and the people across the United Kingdom to have their say on this important issue, and they will do so. We need to have a debate in Scotland, and I am campaigning vigorously—as the hon. Gentleman appears to be—for Scotland to remain in the EU. The SNP parliamentary party here at Westminster is campaigning for that as well. People like Jim Sillars are campaigning for Scotland to leave the EU. Let us have a vigorous debate in Scotland over the next few weeks. I look forward to sharing a platform with the hon. Gentleman and with SNP colleagues.

May I also congratulate Oliver Mundell on his election to the Scottish Parliament?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will continue to champion the Scotland Act 2016, which he steered through the House and which has given so many powers to the Scottish Parliament to ensure that the Scottish people continue to benefit from being not only in the UK, but in the EU?

I thank my hon. Friend. I must get my son elected more often, because there have been more plaudits today than I recall at previous Scottish questions.

We will of course move forward with the implementation of the Scotland Act, but we will also work hard to achieve a positive outcome for Scotland in the EU referendum on 23 June.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the already high support in Scotland for remaining in the European Union could be improved further still if Scottish farmers could be confident that they will get their CAP payments when they are supposed to?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point. The reason CAP payments have not been made to Scottish farmers is entirely due to the previous SNP Scottish Government. Any attempt to suggest that it is down to the EU is incorrect. Farmers and others know the benefits to Scotland of being in the EU and will vote to remain.

Were the UK to withdraw from the EU, what impact would that have on Scotland and the EU’s relationship with Malawi, to which I know my right hon. Friend has recently been?

My hon. Friend knows that I recently visited Malawi, and, without being indiscrete, I can firmly say that the Malawian Government are in favour of Scotland and the UK remaining in the EU.

There is little evidence that Scotland wanted this Tory EU referendum, and it seems like only a minority of the Scottish people want to leave the EU. When the Secretary of State is putting Scotland’s membership of the EU at risk, what is his message to the Scottish people if we are taken out of the EU against our national collective will?

That is another positive campaigning point from the SNP. It is not for me to give advice to the SNP, but if my vote had fallen by 500,000 between the general election and the election for the Scottish regional list I would be focusing on getting my supporters out to vote on 23 June to ensure that Scotland votes to remain.

In the run-up to the European Union referendum, we are delighted on these Benches that the Scottish electorate has returned a pro-European SNP Government with the highest vote of any current party in any national election anywhere in western Europe. Most people in Scotland are pleased that, when given the opportunity, the Scottish electorate did not return a single MSP from the Europhobic UK irrelevance party and that there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament for Scottish independence as a member of the European Union. On the powerful case for remaining in the EU, will the UK Government please concentrate on making a positive, inspiring case to stay, rather than on rewarming endless scare stories?

I have made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that that is my exact intention. Perhaps he could undertake today to stop obsessing about process and a second Scottish independence referendum and to concentrate entirely on the positive reasons for Scotland to remain in the EU.

Scotch whisky is the largest net goods exporter to the European Union, both from Scotland and from the United Kingdom as a whole. Does the Secretary of State agree that the European single market is profoundly important and positive for that £1 billion trade, meaning that there is no need for customs forms, duplication of labelling, and safety requirements? Will he stress the positive advantages to the whisky industry, and all exporters from Scotland, to jobs and to profitability of remaining within the European single market and the European Union?

I am absolutely clear that what the right hon. Gentleman states is the case, and I am sure he will have welcomed the visit to Scotland made yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to stress the importance to the whisky industry of remaining in the single market. The particular points he makes about duplication in relation to labelling, certification and licensing are ones the Scotch Whisky Association has made, and I am sure the public will take them into account when they vote in the referendum.

North Sea Oil and Gas

Of course this is an important sector and it faces difficult times. That is why I am delighted that the Chancellor announced a £1 billion package of measures in the Budget: a reduction in headline rates of tax; major investment opportunities and encouragement in relation to exploration, infrastructure and late-life assets; a quarter of a billion-pound Aberdeen city deal; and the creation of an inter-ministerial group specifically targeting the oil and gas sector.

Does the Minister agree that we need a long-term approach to secure the future of the jobs in the oil and gas sector in the North sea, and that part of that future is about making sure the skills that have been developed over many decades are not lost at a time when world prices are very low?

I could not agree with my hon. Friend more, which is why we have established an inter-ministerial group specifically looking at this and many other issues, and in a short period of time we will publish our workforce plan.

The North sea oil and gas industry provides vital home-grown feedstocks to Britain’s chemical industry—Britain’s largest manufacturing sector. Will the Minister assure the House that the Government will continue to take steps to support the many jobs that depend on this vital sector?

The short answer is, of course, yes. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he does on the all-party group on the chemical industry. This is a very important sector. I meet people from it on a regular basis and I am very pleased to see the sort of work they are doing to increase exports.

Last week, I raised concerns about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the threat to our public services, only for them to be dismissed by the Prime Minister as

“the reddest of red herrings.”—[Official Report, 4 May 2016; Vol. 609, c. 170.]

Since then, several high-profile organisations, including Unite, have rejected his claims. Will the Secretary of State make representations to the Prime Minister to insist on specific exemptions to protect Scotland’s NHS and public services?

At this Dispatch Box, I and other Ministers repeatedly have said that these sorts of claims—[Interruption.] I am waiting for the right hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) to take his seat. I do not wish to be rude to the hon. Lady, but I must say that this is absolute rubbish that she puts forward, as others do. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is absolutely right: this is a red herring. I undertake to share with her all the letters from impartial sources who have written to support our contention that public services, especially the NHS, face no threat whatsoever from TTIP—it is a good idea.

I hope that the Minister is aware of the increasing anxiety of Scottish and indeed Teesside workers about reductions in investment in safety offshore and the failure in many cases of companies to work co-operatively with trade union safety representatives. What recent assessment has she made of safety offshore? What can we say to our constituents to reassure them that the Government are on the case?

The hon. Gentleman makes some very important points and I am more than happy to meet him to discuss them, including any allegations that the unions are not being fully engaged with. As he knows, I do not have a difficulty with trade unions, having been a shop steward. I am more than happy to have a meeting to discuss this important matter.

Trade Union Bill

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Ministers of the Scottish Government on the potential effect on Scotland of measures in the Trade Union Bill. (904917)

10. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Ministers in the Scottish Government on the effect on Scotland of the measures proposed by the Trade Union Bill. (904922)

The Trade Union Bill is now waiting Royal Assent. It is about employment and industrial relations law, which are reserved matters, and it will apply consistently across the United Kingdom. We have engaged with the Scottish Government through the passage of the Bill, and we will carry on with that work.

Despite the Trade Union Bill’s worst elements being removed or watered down, it is still a bad Bill. Does the Minister agree that a bad Bill will not make for good industrial relations in Scotland?

I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s views on the Bill. It is an excellent Bill and I fully support it and its aims.

Parties in both Wales and Scotland have prepared legislative consent memorandums on the Trade Union Bill on the basis that the Bill clearly impinges on devolved competences. In the light of that, does the Minister not now agree that the Bill should be subject to legislative consent motions? What action will the Government take to ensure that similar circumstances do not arise in future?

I am reliably informed that that has already happened. The hon. Lady is just not up to date on all of this.

With the relegation of Labour to third place in last week’s Scottish elections, does the Minister agree that now is exactly the right time to introduce an opt-in system for union members who wish to contribute to political funds rather than it being the default position?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I pay handsome tribute to the outstanding Ruth Davidson. Like the Prime Minister, she is a moderate, sensible, one nation Conservative. She has turned the skies of Scotland blue with, if I may say, a rather pleasing tinge of pink at the edges.

The Government made a number of concessions on the Trade Union Bill, but the Bill still seeks to undermine constructive social partnership and, as such, it is at odds with the democratic will of the people of Scotland and Wales. Given that the Government say that they believe in mutual respect between central Government and the devolved institutions, will they now hold immediate discussions with the devolved institutions about how the Bill will relate to Scotland and Wales?

Discussions are always continuing. Again, this is another red herring and the hon. Gentleman is out of touch on this. This Bill is good: it is good for Britain, good for trade unions and good for future working relations.