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Volume 630: debated on Wednesday 25 October 2017

The Secretary of State was asked—

Jobcentre Closures

1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the proposed closures of jobcentres on local communities in Scotland. (901324)

Most jobcentres are staying put. We are merging some into neighbouring offices to create bigger, multi-skilled teams, moving them into better buildings, or placing them into shared local authority space, all of which can lead to better customer service.

In Glasgow, unemployment has consistently been higher than the national average, child poverty is rising, and the use of food banks has increased by 20% in the past two years. How can Ministers justify closing so many jobcentres, which provide vital support for people struggling to access the labour market?

I can confirm that Glasgow will continue to have a considerably higher concentration of jobcentres not only than the large cities in England but compared with most other large cities in Scotland. We have redesigned the estate to make sure that we can provide well for our client base, but from bigger jobcentres. There are a number of things we can do from larger jobcentres to help unemployed people that it is not so straightforward to do from smaller ones.

Bridgeton jobcentre in my constituency will close and people will have to take two buses to get to Shettleston. Will the Minister give a commitment that not a single one of my constituents will be sanctioned for being late because they could not get there on time because of his cuts?

We expect people who are not in work to have the working week effectively available for their job-search activities, including visiting the jobcentre and, of course, applying for jobs. As I think the hon. Lady already knows, the rate of sanctions is down significantly. The vast majority of people do not get sanctioned every month, and we run a policy of having a reasonable approach. If people have a good reason for not being at an appointment, they will not be sanctioned.

The Department for Work and Pensions claims that the need for jobcentres is declining with the growth of online services, but in the constituency of Glasgow East, which has one of the highest claimant rates in Scotland, at around 35%, many do not have access to the internet and 51% are not IT literate; yet the Government are still closing three jobcentres, one of which serves three homeless shelters. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of closures on service users, many of whom rely on face-to-face interaction with jobcentre staff?

We did of course make an assessment of the effect of the changes. Where the changes would involve people having to travel more than 3 miles or 20 minutes by public transport, we had a public consultation. [Interruption.] In one case, we changed the plan in the light of the consultation, as the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald) well knows. We think it is right to move to larger jobcentres in which we can do more. They are better equipped and have computers to ensure that that facility is there, and there are specialists in the jobcentre who can help people with the computers and get through the problems of digital exclusion that the hon. Lady mentions.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but I am afraid it is not very convincing or particularly reassuring. He knows full well that equality impact assessments have been conducted, as the Secretary of State for Scotland told me in response to my letter. The Secretary of State also said in his letter that if I wanted to access that equality information, I would have to make individual freedom of information requests for every single jobcentre. It is outrageous that the Government are covering up this vital information. They claim to value openness and transparency, but they refuse to publish information that should be freely available, no matter how much it shames them. I have in my hand an FOI request—

Order. I am sorry, but I need a single sentence and a question mark at the end of it. There is a lot of pressure on time. I apologise to the hon. Lady, but she is taking far too long. She must be very quick.

The key point is that an equality impact assessment is not just a document; it is an entire way of thinking and working and it runs throughout these processes. I can confirm that we have been absolutely compliant with our duties under the Equality Act 2010, as we should be.

Brexit: Further Devolution

2. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901325)

8. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901331)

10. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901333)

14. What his policy is on devolving further powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU; and if he will make a statement. (901338)

We are in agreement with the devolved Administrations that common frameworks will be necessary in some areas but, as I have made it clear, we expect that there will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved Administration.

We hear about this powers bonanza all the time, but the Prime Minister was unable to give us details on Monday, and it seems that the Secretary of State was unable to do so yesterday at the Scottish Affairs Committee. Let us give him another opportunity: can he name one power that will definitely come to the Scottish Parliament as a result of Brexit?

We hear repeatedly from the Scottish National Benches about engagement with the Scottish Government, and this engagement will be with the Scottish Government. That is where the discussions are going on in relation to the transfer of powers. I am absolutely certain that, at the end of this process, the Scottish Parliament will have more powers and responsibilities than it does right now.

Among all the fluff of that answer, there was absolutely no substance. For a second time, may I ask the Secretary of State what new powers will be coming to Holyrood as a result of Brexit?

Order. Mr Linden, you are a most over-excitable individual. Calm yourself. I understand your interest, but the question has been put—[Interruption.] Order. There is no need for excessive gesticulation. Whether or not you like the answer, Mr Linden, you must pay the Secretary of State the respect of hearing it, preferably with courtesy.

This is all about grandstanding; it is not about the substantive issue of ensuring a transfer of very significant powers from the 111 powers that were listed to the Scottish Parliament. I believe in devolution. I am committed to devolution and I want to see the maximum number of powers transferred. The Scottish National party does not believe in devolution.

Can I, for the third time, ask the Secretary of State to name one power that is coming? If he is struggling for powers, may I suggest that he considers immigration, so that we can tackle things such as the skills immigration charge, which will be causing a skills shortage and damaging the economy in my constituency?

I can give the hon. Gentleman a definitive answer on the last part of his question. Immigration is not being devolved to Scotland. The Smith commission process identified those areas of responsibility to be devolved, and immigration was not one of them. The Scottish National party accepted that report and, on the basis of that, we implemented it in the Scotland Act 2016.

I am disappointed that, after three questions, we still have not had an answer. On immigration, I am disappointed that the Secretary of State was disinclined to listen to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day). Perhaps he will listen to Nobel laureate Joe Stiglizt who, over the weekend, said that Scotland should have the powers to go its own way in migration policy. He knows a bit more about this than we do, so is he right?

I seem to remember that Professor Joe Stiglizt supported independence for Scotland, but the people of Scotland knew a bit more than the professor and decided to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.

My right hon. Friend has been crystal clear that Brexit offers opportunities and powers. The SNP talks down Scotland, and specifically Aberdeenshire, the city that has managed to recover from the oil downturn. Why cannot it recognise that the new powers and EU withdrawal offers opportunities to Scotland, specifically to Aberdeenshire?

I am disappointed that the SNP is here in Westminster adopting this sort of pantomime approach to the very important issue of powers rather than engaging in a constructive way. Fortunately, it appears that the Scottish Government are adopting a more responsible approach, which is why there are substantial discussions between the UK and Scottish Governments.

12. May I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to the new inquiry on devolution and Brexit launched by the Select Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs? As well as promoting discussion among the governments of the United Kingdom, we want to promote discussion among the parliamentarians in the four parliaments of the United Kingdom in order to resolve these very difficult issues. (901336)

I very much welcome the contribution to the debate of my hon. Friend’s Committee. Of course, it is very important that there is engagement across Parliaments, and I will be appearing before both the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee and the Finance and Constitution Committee of the Scottish Parliament in the next couple of weeks.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that Scotland’s trade with the UK is worth four times as much as its trade with the EU. Does he find it confusing, as my constituents and I do, that the SNP is quite happy for us to stay in one single market, but advocate Scotland leaving the greatest single market right here on its doorstep—the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that some of the powers and responsibilities that come back from Brussels are subject to UK-wide frameworks so that we can continue to benefit from our internal market in the United Kingdom.

Leaving the EU will inherently make the Scottish Parliament more powerful as we take back control from Brussels. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SNP Government’s confused EU policy would simply see the new powers gained handed straight back to Brussels?

It is very important that the 500,000 yes supporters who voted to leave the European Union are absolutely clear that the SNP’s position is to take Scotland right back into the EU.

We all know that the Tories have a dubious record on devolution. After all, they opposed the creation of the Scottish Parliament in the first place. In stark contrast, the Labour party laid the foundations for the Scottish Parliament and will always act in its best interests. The Secretary of State says that the Scottish Parliament will get new powers eventually. Well, new powers require additional resources to deliver, so will he tell us how much more money the Scottish Parliament will obtain to fund these new powers? Will he also guarantee, unequivocally, that Brexit will not result in the Scottish Parliament’s budget being cut?

I take issue with the hon. Gentleman’s analysis of devolution. I have been in this Parliament to see through both the Scotland Act 2012 and the Scotland Act 2016, which have seen a significant transfer of powers to the Scottish Parliament. I am determined that Brexit will see a further transfer of powers and responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament. Of course, it will need to be done in an orderly way, which will be the purpose of clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. We will work closely with the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament to ensure that that transfer of powers is orderly.

Does the Secretary of State agree that Scotland’s two Governments—the UK Government and the Scottish Government—should work together in co-operation to get the best Brexit deal for the people of Scotland?

The London School of Economics has said that a hard Tory Brexit will cost Scotland £30 billion, the Fraser of Allander Institute has said that 80,000 jobs could go and a former Department for Exiting the European Union official has said that Scotland will be get the hardest impact. The Secretary of State said at the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs yesterday that economic impact assessments are available for Scotland. Will he release them to the Scottish people so that they can examine them and know the full scale of this disastrous Tory Brexit?

It would not be Scotland questions if we did not hear from the doom-monger-in-chief. Let me be quite clear, as I was in my appearance before his Committee. Both Governments have carried out important analysis, which they will share and discuss, but this Government—as Parliament has approved—will not be publishing anything that would be detrimental to our negotiating position.

In evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday, the Secretary of State suggested that a common framework should not be imposed on the devolved Administrations by the UK Government but should instead be the output of a collaborative process. Will he confirm that that is indeed the Government’s position?

I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s important question, which gets to the heart of the issue—in marked contrast to the pantomime stuff we had earlier. I can absolutely confirm that. A UK framework does not mean the UK imposes a framework; it means agreement is reached between the UK Government and the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

Four times the Secretary of State has been asked to name a single power that will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and four times he has declined to answer. I see little point in asking him a fifth time, but let me ask him this: when will the Government publish a schedule setting out which powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and which will not? [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) really should not walk across the line of sight.

I am grateful for the apology. It was unfair to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard).

If the hon. Gentleman had not prefaced his question with those initial remarks, he would have asked a sensible question. I have set out that there is a dialogue ongoing with the Scottish Government in relation to the 111 powers. I set that out in much more detail at the Committee for which he was present yesterday, so I will not repeat what I said, but I am hopeful that, in early course, we will be able to publish exactly that sort of list.

The right hon. Gentleman’s refusal to name a single power, or even to set a timetable for saying when he will do so, can lead us to only one conclusion: that there are forces in his Government that do not want to see any powers devolved at all. How does that sit with his Department’s responsibility to protect the devolution settlement?

I have rarely heard such complete and utter nonsense. I will be judged by the Scotland Office’s record on devolution, and that means implementing the Calman commission in full, implementing the Scotland Act 2016 in full and taking forward the return of powers from Brussels, with a presumption of devolution. We will deliver, and the people of Scotland will see that we have.

Oil and Gas Industry

3. What steps the Government are taking to support the oil and gas industry in the north-east of Scotland. (901326)

4. What steps the Government are taking to support the marine oil and gas industry in the north-east of Scotland. (901327)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Scottish Government Ministers on a wide range of issues, including fiscal policy across the UK, fisheries, and the oil and gas industry.

My right hon. Friend will know as well as I do the importance of the oil and gas industry in north-east Scotland. Considering the recent decision by the First Minister in Scotland to abolish the Energy Jobs Taskforce, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the UK Government remain fully committed to our North sea industries and will work with colleagues from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure the brightest future for the oil and gas industries in the north-east of Scotland?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I share his disappointment. Through challenging times, the broad shoulders of the UK Government have supported the oil and gas industry to the tune of £2.3 billion. We have invested in surveying the seabed, established a new independent regulator and invested in developing world-leading infrastructure, research and technology through the Aberdeen city deal. [Interruption.]

These are very important matters affecting the people of Scotland, and I think we ought to respect them by having some attention to our proceedings.

I welcome the announcement last month of the Scottish Business Taskforce. Would my right hon. Friend like to expand on what its role will be with the oil, gas and sub-sea industries, which are predominately based around my constituency?

I recognise that my hon. Friend, although a new Member, has become a champion of the oil, gas and sub-sea industries. I can confirm today that the Scottish Business Taskforce, which was announced last month, will meet for the first time on Friday. The taskforce will provide expert advice and guidance on how best to support our most important sectors—not least oil, gas and sub-sea—and strengthen Scotland’s economy. I will be announcing its membership later today.

It is difficult to see how we can support the oil and gas industry in Scotland when the Secretary of State refuses to release the assessment of the impact of Brexit on the Scottish economy. Will he tell the House whether the Secretary of State for Brexit was correct today at the Exiting the European Union Committee that that assessment has been shared with the Scottish Government? When will it be shared with the Scottish people?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not follow the Scottish Affairs Committee’s deliberations; he used to be a very prominent member of it. I made it very clear yesterday that there was a sharing of analysis, as is appropriate between Governments, but we will not be publishing anything that will be detrimental to our negotiations, and that is what the people of Scotland would want.

Given that, as we have heard, information has been shared with the Scottish Government, would it not be appropriate to make it public and perhaps to impress on the Scottish Government that they should also do that? The people of Scotland should see what the impact of Brexit is going to be in order to make a proper assessment of it.

We are regularly called on to respect the Scottish Government. I respect the Scottish Government and this Government respect the Scottish Government—that is why we are working with them on Brexit. But it would not be in the interests of Scotland or the United Kingdom to publish any information that would be detrimental to our negotiating position.


5. What recent discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on VAT exemptions. (901328)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues and Scottish Government Ministers on a wide range of issues, including fiscal policy across the UK.

Will the Secretary of State have a word with his very good friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about VAT in Scotland to try to help clear up the mess created by the Scottish Government when they centralised police and fire services in Scotland, making them liable for VAT?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will have heard the hon. Gentleman’s contribution.

Borderlands Growth Deal

Only last week I hosted a meeting with local MPs to review progress. I am pleased to report that we are driving forward the innovative, cross-border borderlands deal and hope to agree a deal next year that will see investment to transform the local economies within the borderlands area. [Interruption.]

I want to hear the question and I want the people of Dumfries and Galloway to have the chance of hearing it.

Hear, hear to that. Will my right hon. Friend commit to ensuring that local communities have the opportunity to feed their thoughts into what the final deal will look like?

I am sure that the people of Dumfries and Galloway will be absolutely delighted to hear what my hon. Friend says. I was very pleased to receive a submission from all five local authorities involved in the borderlands growth deal. I hope that we can now move forward with local communities being able to include their ideas and contributions in this process.

There is a risk that the Secretary of State is prioritising the borderland deal over the Ayrshire growth deal. In a simple written question, I asked how many meetings he has had on the borderland initiative, with who, and on what dates. His answer was that he has had numerous meetings. Will he answer the question directly, or otherwise I will report him to the Procedure Committee again?

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman displays an unpleasant SNP trait of seeking to create division within Scotland. I want to see all areas of Scotland benefit from growth. At least the people of Ayrshire know that in their new Member, my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Bill Grant), they have a real champion of Ayrshire.

Brexit: Joint Ministerial Committee

7. What discussions he has had with his Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on the role of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations in the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. (901330)

The Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations provides a valuable forum for the UK Government and devolved Administrations to discuss exit issues. We held a very constructive meeting on 16 October and I hope to convene another meeting shortly.

It was agreed at the last JMCEU that common frameworks would be needed in certain areas. What update can the Secretary of State give the House on talks with Scottish Government Ministers on the establishment of common frameworks for progressing, and is he able to identify areas where the need for common frameworks is anticipated?

I gave very extensive evidence on this matter to the Scottish Affairs Committee yesterday, and the hon. Gentleman will be able to access the transcript.

13. When the time comes for decisions to be taken about the fate of the 111 devolved powers coming back from Brussels, will the Secretary of State give an assurance that those decisions will be taken by consensus at the JMC rather than unilaterally by the UK Government? (901337)

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), he would know that the position is that although there is a UK framework, the framework is agreed between the constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

Universal Credit Roll-out

9. What assessment he has made of the effect of the roll-out of universal credit on families in Scotland. (901332)

Families are benefiting from real, positive employment outcomes as people move into work faster and progress in work. Of course, and rightly, extra support is there for those who need it.

Almost 2,000 universal credit claimants in my constituency, along with thousands more across Scotland, are stuck in limbo after seeing the vote in this place to pause the roll-out but no action from the Government. What is the Secretary of State doing to reassure and represent those people?

We will continue with the roll-out in a very careful and staged way. It is happening over nine years, and we continue in very active dialogue with Members across the House and people outside it.

Welfare Powers Devolution

11. What progress he has made on the transfer of welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 2016. (901335)

We have made significant progress on the Scotland Act 2016 welfare powers. All DWP sections of the Act have been commenced, and we are working with the Scottish Government to support them in taking on these responsibilities, to ensure that the transition is safe and secure.

I am surprised to hear that only a small portion of the powers that have been devolved to the Scottish Government are being used, given the complaints that we hear from some Members in this House. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is yet another example of the Scottish National party griping rather than governing?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I am sure that the people of Scotland agree that it is of concern that we have no clear plan from the Scottish Government for how they will use many of the powers. This Government are focused on delivering for the people of Scotland. It is time for the SNP to stop ducking its responsibilities and use its considerable powers to do so as well.