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Volume 619: debated on Wednesday 18 January 2017

The Secretary of State was asked—

Welfare Powers

1. What progress has been made on transferring further welfare powers to the Scottish Government. (908165)

As this is the Scottish questions immediately preceding Burns night on Wednesday 25 January, may I wish all those organising Burns suppers or other events in Scotland, across the UK, including here in this House of Commons, and around the world the very best? Robert Burns’ legacy is as relevant today as ever.

The UK Government are committed to a safe and secure transfer of the remaining welfare powers. The majority of welfare powers commenced in 2016, and the transfer of the remaining powers will be overseen by the joint ministerial working group on welfare, which will meet again next month.

The Scotland Act 2016 gives the Scottish Government powers over benefits in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government must now set out the detail of how they plan to use those powers to shape Scotland’s welfare system?

My hon. Friend is right about that; the power for the Scottish Parliament to create new benefits in devolved areas came into force in the autumn, and it now has the power to shape that welfare system as it chooses. Some modest measures have already been announced, but it is time that we hear more about the proposals for a new welfare system. A consultation has been held and I look forward to hearing the Scottish Government’s response to it.

The fact that the UK Government plan to close half of Glasgow’s jobcentres without even knowing the number of affected people is a dereliction of duty. Will the Secretary of State commit to having a word with his Cabinet colleagues and getting those plans dropped?

I do understand the concerns that have been raised about jobcentre closures in Glasgow. I have spoken directly with my colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It is the Government’s determination to ensure that there will be no change to the level of service offered to the people of Glasgow. As the hon. Lady and other Glasgow Members will know, there is a public consultation for people who have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes, and it is open until 31 January. I encourage all those affected, and all hon. Members with constituencies affected, to take part in it.

13. What progress has been made on transferring further welfare powers to the Scottish Government. The transfer of significant powers over welfare decisions clearly raises complicated issues, as we have seen over the past few months. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the recent work of the joint ministerial working group on welfare and give his assessment of progress? (908177)

That group has played an important part in establishing the links between the DWP and the Scottish Government. I have been in regular recent contact with Angela Constance, the relevant Minister in the Scottish Government, about their latest proposals on universal credit. Inevitably, the complexity of this area means that as the transfer takes place new issues arise that need to be dealt with. The joint ministerial working group is the ideal place to do that.

I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the family of Canon Kenyon Wright, who, sadly, passed away last week. He was a principled man whose legacy should serve as a reminder to all of us that when we work together it is possible to deliver the impossible.

This Tory Government are currently moving disabled people from the disability living allowance to personal independence payments, and it is estimated that the people of Scotland will lose out on £190 million a year as a result. If that was not bad enough, the Government did this a year ago but they withdrew the timetable and have not issued a new one. So can the Secretary of State please inform the House, and indeed the people of Scotland, when they can expect to lose out on this £190 million a year?

First, may I welcome the hon. Gentleman back? He was missed at our last Scottish questions, although the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) entertained the House—I think I can say that. I knew Canon Kenyon Wright and he was indeed a very principled man, with strong personal conviction. He played a very important part in the constitutional convention that led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. As we have seen in the media, he is widely mourned.

The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) will know that disability benefits are to be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and the funding of those benefits was dealt with in the negotiations for the fiscal framework. It is now for the Scottish Government to come forward with their proposals for disability benefits in Scotland.

11. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to hear less from the Scottish Government about the powers they want and more about how they are going to use the powers we have given them? (908175)

My hon. Friend makes a very relevant point. The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) referred to personal independence payments, to which, I know, the Scottish Government are opposed, but I have no idea what they intend to replace them with, or on what timetable.

May I begin by joining colleagues in paying tribute to Canon Kenyon Wright? He not only played a significant role in helping to deliver devolution to Scotland but, of course, in 2014 supported a yes vote for Scottish independence.

The UK Government are planning to close half the jobcentres in Glasgow without even knowing the number of people who will be affected by such a radical change. Was the Secretary of State consulted in advance of the closures, and when did he show enough interest to find out which specific locations would face closure?

I have taken a very close interest in this issue and worked closely on it with my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Scottish Government. The Government and I have never suggested that the procedures followed during the process have been perfect, but we have put forward a public consultation for people who are affected and will have to travel more than 3 miles or for more than 20 minutes. I encourage everyone involved to take part in the consultation.

The devolution of powers hangs very much together with the hard Brexit plans of the current Government. The Secretary of State has said that his role is

“to ensure Scotland gets the best possible deal and that deal involves clearly being part of the single market.”

Does he still believe that, or has he changed his mind after being told what he should say by his Tory bosses in London?

I do not recognise the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday as a hard Brexit plan. I do not think that the 500,000 Scottish National party voters who voted for Brexit will take kindly to being referred to as right-wing Tory Brexiteers. They were independently minded people in Scotland who voted for what they thought was the right thing for Scotland. It is absolutely clear, as the Prime Minister said yesterday, that we want to have access to the single market, and that is what the quote from me that the right hon. Gentleman just read out made clear. On the other hand, membership of the single market is a quite different thing, as Mike Russell and, privately, the Scottish Government accept.

Order. I say gently to colleagues that progress is far too slow; we need to hasten the pace. Some reduction in the decibel level—not least from the Chair of the International Trade Committee—would be heartily welcomed across the House.


I regularly meet Cabinet colleagues to discuss a wide range of matters. I recently met the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to discuss a number of issues relating to the Scottish agriculture sector, and will continue to do so.

Last year, the farming Minister told us that there would be an £18 billion Brexit dividend. He said that farmers would continue to get

“as much support—or perhaps even more”

after Brexit. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be unacceptable if funding to Scottish agriculture was cut after 2020?

There is no suggestion that funding to Scottish agriculture will be cut, but there is the opportunity to move forward from the constraints of the common agricultural policy, which farmers throughout Scotland have often complained about. We need to seize this opportunity to reshape the support for farming to make it more effective, but to continue to sustain those areas of Scottish farming that need sustaining.

My right hon. Friend is aware that my family are extensive farmers in the Scottish borders. Does he not agree that Brexit presents the United Kingdom with a magnificent opportunity to fashion an agriculture policy that is required not by French farmers, but by British farmers, and will he assure the House that hill farmers in Scotland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom will be given proper consideration?

I can absolutely give that undertaking. I hope that, in conjunction with the Scottish Government, we can move forward to shape a new basis of support for Scottish agriculture, especially for those who farm in less-favoured areas. There have been multiple complaints about the operation of the common agricultural policy and its need to take into account farming practices across the continent. We now have the opportunity to have our own support mechanism and we need to work to shape it.

14. Will the Secretary of State confirm what he said to The Sunday Times in November that the Scottish Parliament will retain full responsibility over agriculture and fisheries following Brexit and that“no powers will be re-reserved to Westminster.”Will he tell us: yes or no? (908178)

Almost two thirds of the UK’s agriculture exports are to the EU. After what we heard from the Prime Minister yesterday, there is an increasing possibility that we could revert to World Trade Organisation trade rules on exit from the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree with the NFU Scotland, which says that the potential for 20% tariffs as a result of WTO trade rules will be increasingly damaging for the profitability of Scottish agriculture?

The Prime Minister made it clear yesterday that her objective is to achieve the best possible access to the single market, with the minimum of barriers and tariffs. That will be to the benefit of Scottish agriculture. Scottish farmers see the opportunity that leaving the EU provides them, and I am sure that they will seize it and that we will be able to provide the environment in which they will succeed.


3. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on recent changes to its taxation powers. (908167)

4. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on recent changes to its taxation powers. (908168)

The Scottish Government will take on their first major new tax power from the Scotland Act 2016 in April, enabling them to set rates and thresholds of income tax. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended a Joint Exchequer Committee with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance in November. They discussed ongoing work, and there are regular ongoing discussions.

The Prime Minister says that she wants income tax rates on hard-working British people to be as low as possible. Should Nicola Sturgeon be sufficiently brave or bonkers to increase the rate of taxation on hard-working Scottish people, what economic impact would that have on Scotland?

May I thank my hon. Friend for his important question? In taking over income tax powers, the Scottish Government now need to account for how they use them, particularly if they plan to make Scotland the highest tax part of the UK.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish National party’s plans to tax middle-income families more in Scotland for doing the same job as families in England would bode very, very badly for the Scottish economy?

The UK Government are doing everything they can to support our economy and boost jobs and growth. Where the Scottish Government now make choices that have a different impact, they will need to explain them to the people of Scotland.

Again we have heard erroneous claims that Scotland is somehow the highest-taxed part of the United Kingdom. In actual fact, the average cost of a band D council tax property in Scotland is lower than in England. Will the Minister now welcome the Scottish Government’s approach to council tax policy in Scotland?

What I will say is that the SNP should focus on making a success of its new powers for the benefit of the Scottish people. [Interruption.]

Order. Mr Docherty-Hughes, you are a very curious denizen of the House. I had you down as a cerebral and academic type, but you are becoming increasingly hysterical—very curious behaviour.

12. The SNP wants to levy the highest level of income tax anywhere in the United Kingdom. It already receives more per capita funding than England, yet Scotland’s schools are conspicuously worse than those in the rest of the United Kingdom. Does the Minister put that down to the incompetence of the Scottish Government or their prioritisation of nationalist posturing over proper administration? (908176)

I may not like the Scottish Government’s plans to make Scotland a higher-tax nation, but that is up to them. What they will have to do is explain to the people of Scotland why they are having to pay more tax than their friends and families who have the same jobs south of the border.

In a week when the chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland has warned that the NHS in Scotland is “at breaking point”, is the Minister as surprised as I am that the so-called progressive SNP Government in Holyrood consistently refuse to use the powers afforded them to protect the NHS in Scotland?

Scotland’s new devolution settlement delivers one of the most powerful and accountable devolved Parliaments in the world, giving the Scottish Government unprecedented power to shape the future economy of Scotland.


Migrants from outside and within the UK make a significant contribution to Scotland—to its economy, of course, but also to its society and wellbeing. The Government will always welcome the brightest and the best who have come here to work.

We know that about 180,000 EU nationals make a hugely valuable contribution to the Scottish economy and that Governments such as Canada’s and Australia’s successfully apply different immigration rules to different parts of their countries. Going beyond warm words, will the Secretary of State listen carefully to proposals for a different arrangement for Scotland, allowing EU citizens freedom to continue to come and live and work there, benefiting us all?

I will always look at evidence-based proposals; that is our commitment, for example, in relation to the Scottish Government’s paper produced just before Christmas. However, it was clear within the settlement agreed under the Smith commission that immigration would remain a reserved power.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems that Scotland will face under the SNP Government is the flight of individuals from high taxes, who will have to be replaced with further immigrants, as well as the fact that businesses will fly down to London rather than be in Scotland?

I find it surprising that the Scottish Government always seem to fail to acknowledge that they have very significant powers to attract people to Scotland. At the moment, about 4% of migrants who come to the United Kingdom go to Scotland. Clearly, more needs to be done to encourage people to come to Scotland, and the Scottish Government need to address that. Making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK is not, in my view, the way to do it.

I associate myself and my party with the expressions of condolence about the late Canon Kenyon Wright—a truly lovely man, for whom it was once my privilege to act as election agent, albeit unsuccessfully.

Will the Secretary of State explain to the Home Secretary the importance of non-EU nationals in making up the crews of many fishing boats, especially in the white fish sector, that operate out of Scottish ports?

I certainly will take that issue forward for the right hon. Gentleman. I am aware of the concerns that have been raised and I would be more than happy to meet directly with him to discuss the matter further.

City Deals

The UK Government have spearheaded these deals, which will be transformative for the cities of Scotland. The city regions are engines of economic growth, so they will drive forward Scotland’s economy, which means more jobs and a secure future. That is why I am so pleased that the Government have now committed to a city deal for every one of Scotland’s seven city regions.

In the autumn statement, the Chancellor gave welcome support to city deals. Will the Secretary of State assure me that he will support the borderlands initiative as part of the programme?

The borderlands initiative is an innovative proposal that seeks to bring together Dumfries and Galloway Council, Scottish Borders Council, Carlisle City Council and other councils in the north of England to recognise the significant economic area that crosses the border. I am delighted to give my support to that proposal.

As well as city deals, the Secretary of State will be aware that the Ayrshire growth deal has been submitted to the Scottish Government. In yesterday’s Treasury questions, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury wrongly said that it is for the Scottish Government to advance that deal. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Treasury colleagues about supporting the Ayrshire growth deal?

May I first welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman’s colleague, the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), has secured an Adjournment debate tomorrow that will focus specifically on the Ayrshire regional growth deal? I have met the councils and I want that deal to receive support from the UK Government in the way that is most appropriate to make it happen.

At this Scotland Office questions, I am pleased to inform the House that I have just been notified that Andy Murray has won his second round match in Melbourne.

Exiting the EU

7. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the Scottish economy of the UK leaving the EU. (908171)

Mr Speaker, I noted that in congratulating Andy Murray, you did not display the usual exuberance that you have demonstrated in support of him and the rest of the British team at Davis cup matches.

The UK Government have taken a number of measures to support Scotland’s economy, including by committing to city deals for each of Scotland’s cities, as I just said, and providing an additional £800 million for the Scottish Government’s capital budget through to 2021. Leaving the EU opens up real opportunities for Scotland and we must always remember that the UK market is worth more than four times as much to Scotland as the EU single market.

Adam Smith gave us the theory of modern capitalist economics and William Gladstone put it into practice. Would not those two fine Scotsmen be delighted by the opportunity that Brexit offers to ditch the socialist protectionism of the Scottish Government, and to implement the free trade and free markets that made the country such a powerhouse in the 19th century?

My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a robust case for the benefits of leaving the European Union. Perhaps to his list of posthumous figures from Scottish history I could add David Hume, whose essay “Of the Balance of Trade” predates “The Wealth of Nations” and provides an effective rebuttal to the so-called jealous fear of free trade among merchants at the time.

A hard Brexit outside the single market threatens to cost Scotland 80,000 jobs over a decade and to cost people an average of £2,000 in wages. What action will the Secretary of State personally take to keep Scotland in the single market, even if the rest of the UK leaves?

It is absolutely clear that Scotland cannot be a member of the single market if it is not a member of the EU, and the United Kingdom will not be a member of the EU. The Scottish Government accept that proposition. What is important is access to the single market and, as the Prime Minister set out yesterday, we aim to achieve the best possible access to that market.

15. Has my right hon. Friend considered the effect on the Scottish economy if a further independence referendum is held? (908179)

My hon. Friend may be aware that today, in relation to labour market statistics, unemployment is up in Scotland, employment is down, and economic activity is also down. I am in no doubt that the uncertainty caused by the constant reference to an independence referendum is having an impact on the Scottish economy.

An important part of the Scottish economy is the rural economy, particularly crofting. Yesterday I asked the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what exactly, after her careful thinking and planning, would happen to crofting after 2020. The Secretary of State for Scotland set out earlier that he thought that there would be no cuts to funding. Is it the case that we will we see no cuts at all to agricultural support in Scotland post-2020? Will he confirm what he alluded to earlier?

The hon. Gentleman has already heard me answer that question. I have set out that leaving the common agricultural policy is an opportunity. The common agricultural policy has not suited Scotland, particularly those farming in less favoured areas. We now have an opportunity to do something different—we should seize it.