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Volume 617: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2016

The Secretary of State was asked—

Tourism: LIBOR Funding

1. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the amount of LIBOR funding available to museums, galleries and tourist attractions in Scotland. (907316)

Lots of good causes across Scotland have put bids in to the Treasury for the next round of allocations from the LIBOR fund, but I am afraid we will need to be patient and wait for the Chancellor’s autumn statement this afternoon to hear which have been successful.

The Secretary of State knows that there is no greater cause in my constituency than Holmwood House, a fine piece of Alexander “Greek” Thomson’s architecture. Next year is the bicentenary of his birth, and the Secretary of State knows how keen I am, and the Alexander Thomson Society is, to promote that, both around the UK and internationally. Will he assure me that the full weight of his office is behind making that happen?

The hon. Gentleman is to be commended for his efforts in promoting the bicentenary of Alexander “Greek” Thomson, who is perhaps an underappreciated icon of Scottish architecture. I can assure the hon. Gentleman—especially after my own visit to Holmwood House and meeting the Alexander Thomson Society—that the UK Government will do all we can to support and promote that bicentenary.

I have written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggesting that LIBOR money could be used to help fund opencast coal restoration in Scotland. Has the Secretary of State had any similar discussions with the Chancellor, or has he done nothing about the opencast pledge in the 2015 Green Book?

The hon. Gentleman knows that I—and, indeed, the UK Government—have done a great deal to work with East Ayrshire Council to ensure that opencast restoration could proceed in that area following the collapse of various companies involved in opencast mining. We continue that dialogue with both the Scottish Government and East Ayrshire Council to try bring the matter to a satisfactory resolution.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. Scotland has some wonderful tourist attractions, many of which are in the border region and Cumbria. Does the Secretary of State agree that there are real opportunities to promote tourism in the border areas, but that that will involve close co-operation between councils on both sides of the border, and is not just about finance?

My hon. Friend knows that I am very keen to promote cross-border working between Cumbria County Council, his own local authority, Dumfries and Galloway Council and Scottish Borders Council. That is why I am a very big supporter of the so-called borderlands initiative to bring those councils together to try to secure economic development for the area, in which tourism would play a very important part.

Scotland Act 2016

2. What progress has been made on the transfer of powers to the Scottish Government under the provisions of the Scotland Act 2016. (907317)

We have made significant progress in transferring powers in the Scotland Act 2016 to the Scottish Parliament. A large number of provisions of the Act are already in force and we are continuing to work with the Scottish Government on the smooth transition of remaining powers.

The Scottish National party Government have failed to introduce a single piece of legislation in the past six months; the First Minister prefers grandstanding across Europe to block Brexit. Is it not time she used the powers devolved to her under the Act to start governing, rather than engaging in pointless photo opportunities?

I can update my hon. Friend. The Scottish Government have now brought forward one piece of legislation since the Scottish parliamentary elections in May. He may be interested to know that this Government currently have 19 pieces of proposed legislation before this Parliament. Of course I agree with him, and I think the majority of people in Scotland want the First Minister and the Scottish Government to get on with their day job of running Scotland and seeing to the devolved responsibilities, rather than constantly talking about independence.

The Scottish Government have announced that the new powers over benefits will be used to end the misery being meted out to disabled Scots by the UK Government. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to reduce the need for assessments for personal independence payments and disability living allowance, in particular for those with long-term illness. Will the Secretary of State take the opportunity to welcome that and urge his UK Cabinet colleagues to follow suit?

What I will welcome when I see it is some detail behind those fine words. We have heard lots and lots of fine words on welfare, but to date we have absolutely no detail as to what the Scottish Government plan to do.

I suppose we should view it as progress that the Secretary of State believes they are fine words, and perhaps he will follow the Scottish Government’s initiative, but it is fair to say that the majority of welfare and economic powers are not being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has no plans to devolve powers to deal with Scottish legal partnerships, and the risks they pose in the fight against global money-laundering and organised crime? I have raised this matter with the Prime Minister and spoken to the right hon. Gentleman. Will he now tell the House what he and the UK Government will actually do about it?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the settlement in the Scotland Act 2016 was the outcome of the Smith Commission. The Scottish legal partnerships issue was not a part of that arrangement and will not be devolved, but I take it extremely seriously. I commend him for the way in which he has highlighted it in this House and elsewhere, and I commend The Herald for the way in which it has highlighted the issue. Colleagues in the UK Government are looking at how we can best take the situation forward to end the abuses, which are evident.

I was concerned to read in The Sunday Times that the Scottish Government are delaying the introduction of the devolved welfare powers. Can my right hon. Friend confirm whether that is the case?

All Members have access to the minutes of the last meeting of the joint welfare group between myself and Scottish Government Ministers. Those minutes confirm that the introduction of the welfare powers in Scotland is indeed being delayed, potentially until 2020.

Will the Secretary of State consider the transfer of power on visas to the Scottish Government? In the Outer Hebrides, fishing boats are currently tied up because the UK Government will not enable non-EEA fishermen to come in and work on them. People are welcome and are required, but they are blocked from economic activity by the UK Government. This threatens jobs and industries in the Outer Hebrides. Will he act and do something about it, or will he do nothing as usual?

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, which others have also expressed. There are specific rules on who can work on fishing boats, but immigration remains a reserved issue and the responsibility of the Home Office.

It is always a pleasure to follow Hurricane Angus. Mr Speaker, may I thank you for your generous indulgence in allowing me to appear at the Dispatch Box in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson), who is simply unable to be with us today? I have been immersing myself in Scottish legislation—and Irn-Bru—over the past week.

Many of us on the Labour Benches would give our eye teeth to have the powers contained in the Scotland Act 2016. Does the Secretary of State feel that the apparent reluctance of the Scottish Government to take more advantage of them indicates a surfeit of modesty, or, possibly, a lack of ambition?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the Dispatch Box at Scottish questions on behalf of the Labour party. The one question I have is, “Who next?” because we have had a selection of individuals. I say to the hon. Gentleman that these are very significant powers over tax and welfare. The autumn statement in this House is a very important event, but on 15 December we will see the Scottish Budget. For the first time, the Scottish Government will be able to raise income tax at their will in the Scottish Budget. That is a very significant moment in terms of taking responsibility and accountability.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

3. What steps he is taking to ensure that Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises are protected from economic uncertainty. (907318)

The Government will continue to provide an environment where small and medium-sized enterprises everywhere can thrive. That means cutting red tape, keeping taxes low, tackling late payment and improving access to finance. We are committed to ensuring the whole of the UK is a great place to start and grow a business.

Figures produced by the Scottish Government show that SMEs constitute 99% of all private sector enterprise and more than 50% of employment in Scotland. If the economy suffers any form of setback—and the Chancellor is predicting one—these enterprises will be hardest hit. Given their importance, what is the Minister doing to reduce uncertainty and to support their growth?

The UK economy is strong in spite of uncertainty. Scottish SMEs currently benefit from nearly £400 million of investment from the British Business Bank and Innovate UK aimed at helping them to grow and capitalise on new technologies and new export markets.

13. Does the Minister agree, given that the UK market is four times the size of the EU market in Scotland, that it is clear why businesses are saying loud and clear that they do not want talk of another independence referendum, but instead want stability to strengthen the economy? (907330)

I quite agree with my hon. Friend. SMEs in Scotland trade four times as much within the single market of the United Kingdom as with the EU. Indeed, they trade more with markets in the rest of the world than across the entire EU.

One of the key things that the Scottish and UK Governments could do to take away uncertainty for SMEs and businesses across Scotland is to take a second independence referendum off the table. Something else the Government could do—I hope we will hear this in the autumn statement—is conclude the Edinburgh city deal. What discussions has the Minister had with the Chancellor to make sure we hear that in the next few minutes?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm for that city deal, but we will have to wait another hour for more detail, and I could not agree more that the uncertainty in Scotland is coming far more from talk of another referendum than from the outcome of the EU referendum.

Yesterday it was announced that over 500 jobs in the Tannochside area of my constituency were under threat, as Ageas Kwik Fit Insurance has announced plans to axe its entire Scottish operation. If these plans proceed, it will be a devastating blow to the local community just before Christmas. What assistance can the Secretary of State and his Government provide for these constituents and families at this difficult time?

Obviously this will be a very difficult time for the Kwik Fit workforce and their families, particularly in the run-up to Christmas, as the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I understand that Kwik Fit is consulting on closure by the end of next March, and I hope that the affected workers will quickly be able to move into alternative employment. The UK Government will assist with support from the Jobcentre Plus rapid reaction service, working also with North Lanarkshire Council, to help all those being made redundant.

10. Given the importance of exports to England from Scotland, what is my hon. Friend’s estimate of the number of jobs involved in this process, and does that figure not demonstrate the importance to Scotland and its economy of staying in the UK? (907327)

The answer should relate specifically to SMEs, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman intended to mention.

The unemployment rate in Scotland is lower than that in the rest of the UK, and SMEs in Scotland, as my hon. Friend points out, benefit from this trend as much as any other businesses in Scotland.

On 12 October, in response to a question about the deal struck with Nissan, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and said—you can probably quote it verbatim, Mr Speaker—that

“whatever support is put in place for businesses in the north of England will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 287.]

Is the Secretary of State or the Minister willing to confirm that this is still the case? If so, will they provide us with more detail of the support? SMEs need to know.

My right hon. Friend was exactly right in what he said about the Nissan deal. The same level of support will indeed be available to Scottish businesses, but, as for the detail, the right hon. Gentleman will have to wait another hour for the autumn statement.

I am very grateful to the Minister, especially for my promotion to the Privy Council. I welcome her commitment, which I am sure will reassure SMEs and businesses of all sizes, but there must have been an analysis of the costs. What assessment has been made of the cost of this support?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be making an assessment of the costs and the benefits of all such deals on an ongoing basis.

EU Convergence Uplift Funding

5. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on achieving a fair allocation of the convergence uplift funding from the EU. (907322)

The Secretary of State for Scotland has had numerous discussions with me about the intra-UK budget allocations under the common agricultural policy. I have also had discussions on this issue with the National Farmers Union Scotland, Scottish Members of Parliament and the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity.

The convergence uplift is worth €230 million, and the UK Government are withholding that money, which should be supporting Scotland’s rural economy. Scotland’s farmers deserve fairness. When will Scotland’s man in Cabinet, by which I mean the Secretary of State for Scotland, do something about this, or will he continue to do nothing?

I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that we will provide an update on the review of CAP allocations before the end of this year. I add that the context has changed fundamentally, following the decision to leave the EU. Some argue that the area-based payments as required under the CAP have never suited Scotland very well. Indeed, NFU Scotland has previously raised concerns about the level of payments going to very large landowners, arguing that we should instead direct support to farmers and producers through livestock payments. We now have an opportunity to look at all of these issues, and I shall work closely on that with NFU Scotland and its talented team of officials.

What we really seek in Scottish questions is the confirmation that the Secretary of State for Scotland backs Scottish farmers and will get this promised money delivered. It is fantastic that we have the Minister with responsibility for farming here, but all we have heard so far is no detail and “just warm words”, to quote the Secretary of State. Can we have the detail put in place and give Scottish farmers what they deserve?

I completely disagree with the hon. Gentleman. As I made clear, the Secretary of State for Scotland discusses this issue with me regularly. I am passionate about Scotland, and I have discussed this issue with NFU Scotland from January onwards. We are working on joint proposals and joint agreements as regards post-Brexit agricultural policy.

Leaving the EU: Scottish Businesses

6. What discussions he has had with Scottish businesses and other groups on the UK’s negotiations to leave the EU. (907323)

Since the referendum, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has held 60 meetings with well over 100 Scottish organisations to hear their views. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has met businesses in Aberdeen, while the Minister for Trade has met business leaders in Edinburgh.

Will my hon. Friend encourage Scottish businesses to seize the opportunities of our new relationship with Europe and the wider world, including, of course, my own constituency of Louth and Horncastle? Will she urge the Scottish Government to support their businesses, stop moaning about referendums and get on with governing?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I am happy to give that encouragement. The message that the UK Government have heard loud and clear is that businesses in Scotland want stability and not another divisive referendum. Talk of independence is disruptive. What people want now is the economic stability that can be provided only by Scotland remaining in the UK.

12. In July, the party leader of the Secretary of State told the BBC:“I want to stay in the single market, even if the consequence of that is maintaining free movement of labour.”Ruth Davidson was 100% correct, so can the Secretary of State explain the shoddy U-turn? (907329)

There was no U-turn whatever on that. The UK Government will seek the best possible deal for all parts of the United Kingdom. That will include limits on free movement and the best possible access to, and trade within, the single market for British companies.

The creative industries in Scotland are one of the most successful areas of Scottish business, but there is real concern about the regulatory regime that Ofcom presides over and about what the future relationship with the European Union will look like. What discussions has the Minister had concerning that regulatory regime?

My ministerial colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will have had discussions, and I will ask one of them to notify the hon. Gentleman of their outcome.

In the Northern Isles some of our most important exporting businesses are in the very successful food and drink sector, but representatives of the sector tell me that it is almost impossible for them to plan for their future until they know what access they will have to EU markets. Will the Minister ensure that their voices are heard in these negotiations, as well as those of the big boys in financial services and the automotive industries?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has regular meetings with representatives of the Scottish fishing industry and the agriculturel sector, and Ministers throughout the Government engage in many discussions with representatives of the Scotch Whisky Association about how they can continue to build on the strengths of their exports beyond the EU as well as within the single market.

During a live televised debate two days before the Brexit vote, Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said that the EU provided “a level playing field” for small businesses, and that if the UK were to leave the EU, the rest of the EU would impose tariffs and taxes. Will the Minister please tell us how many of the 1.2 million jobs provided by small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland she estimates will be at risk from those tariffs and taxes once they come into force?

As I have said, the Government are committed to gaining maximum access to the single market and trade within it for all British companies, and that includes Scottish SMEs.

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. A number of very loud private conversations are taking place. Let us have some order for a very senior and respected Member of the House of 33 years’ standing, Sir David Amess.

Food and Drink Industry

7. What discussions the Government have had with food and drink companies in Scotland on the importance of the UK market for that industry. (907324)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland held round-table discussions with representatives of the Scottish food and drink industry in August and October, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs met representatives of a range of food and drink businesses during her visit to Scotland earlier this month.

Given that Scotch whisky is the finest in the world and such a valuable export, does my hon. Friend agree that the UK’s decision to leave the European Union may result in even more opportunities?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Scotch whisky is a fantastic success story for this country: in 2015, overseas sales were worth £3.9 billion. Earlier this year I attended an event in Tokyo to promote great British drinks, including Scotch whisky, which is particularly popular in Japan.

Order. I do not think that the hon. Lady has ever fully realised the extent of her own popularity on the Government Benches.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the value of exports from the rest of the UK to Scotland is more than £50 billion? That is more than the value of Scotland’s exports to the rest of the United Kingdom. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, regardless of any constitutional arrangements that may be made in the future, the trading relationship between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom is important to both constituent parts?

I think that what the hon. Lady has said underlines the fact that the union that is really vital to this country is the United Kingdom, because there is very close trade within it.

Independent Fiscal Commission

8. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the work of the Independent Fiscal Commission. (907325)

I have regular meetings with Scottish Government Ministers. I last met the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Constitution at the Finance Quadrilateral on 21 October. Both Governments are committed to providing all necessary support for the Scottish Fiscal Commission and the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is a core principle of stable, accountable, mature government that Governments must not fiddle their own forecasts, but must instead answer for their choices, and the consequences of those choices, to the people whom they govern?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and the transfer of income tax and welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament does just that. No longer will the SNP and the Scottish Government simply be able to complain. If they genuinely have ideas, they will be able to do something about it, and the people of Scotland will understand the tax implications.

9. Exports from the services sector could be cut by 60% if the UK is out of the single market. That would result in a £2.3 billion hit for Scotland. Given that, can the Secretary of State tell us why his Conservative colleagues at Holyrood voted against the Scottish Government motion to protect Scotland’s position? (907326)

With reference to the work of the Independent Fiscal Commission, I call the Minister to answer.

I am sure that the Independent Fiscal Commission will have noted that my colleagues in the Conservative group in Holyrood voted against the SNP’s motion because we have absolutely no idea where the SNP stands in relation to the UK’s future relationship with the EU.