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House of Commons Hansard
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06 December 2017
Volume 632

The Secretary of State was asked—

Superfast Broadband

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1. What recent discussions he has had with (a) the Scottish Government and (b) Cabinet colleagues on the roll-out of superfast broadband in Scotland. [902715]

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May I start by paying tribute to Jimmy Hood, who died earlier this week? Jimmy was formerly my neighbouring MP and a constituent, and although I have to say that we did not agree on very much, we always got on very well. I remain grateful to Jimmy for his help and support when I was first elected to this House. Jimmy would have been proud to see himself as a traditional Labour man through and through, a fighter for mining communities and mining interests and, obviously, a parliamentarian of 28 years’ standing who held many important roles in this Parliament. Our thoughts are with Marion and his family at this time.

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues, the UK Minister for Digital and the Scottish Government regarding the roll-out of superfast broadband. Just last week, the Minister for Digital met the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity to discuss broadband roll-out and the delays that we have seen from the Scottish Government.

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May I join the Scottish Secretary in paying tribute to Jimmy Hood? Jimmy was a friend of mine, and a friend of many of us here. He would have appreciated my saying that he was a bear of a man, and our Parliament was better for him and his kind.

On broadband roll-out, the Prime Minister recently told the House that the Government intend to work through Scottish local authorities. Will the Secretary of State tell us exactly how he will work with local authorities to ensure that, as we roll out broadband, it is delivered to the homes, communities and businesses that are not yet properly connected?

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I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. The Minister for Digital made it very clear that his approach to local authorities was based on the fact that the Scottish Government, who previously had responsibility for the roll-out, are three years behind on rolling out broadband in Scotland, and that is not good enough for people living in any of Scotland’s local authority areas. The Minister and I believe that local authorities will give greater priority and expertise to this task than the Scottish Government, which is why we are engaging with them.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that the borderlands initiative is a real opportunity to ensure that digital connectivity in that area is greatly improved, which will enhance the economy of the borderlands area?

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Connectivity is at the heart of the proposal that the five cross-border local authorities have brought forward in the borderlands package. My hon. Friend will be aware that the original intention for the roll-out of broadband in Scotland was to focus on the south of Scotland but, in their centralising way, the SNP Scottish Government put a stop to that.

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10. I echo the Secretary of State’s comments about Jimmy Hood, who will be sadly missed by all on this side of the House.Superfast broadband is very important for those who want to access banking. There are now more cash machines in this House than there are on Cambuslang Main Street in my constituency. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Royal Bank of Scotland about its programme of branch closures? [902724]

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I very much accept the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. It is not good enough for RBS to say that people can rely on internet and mobile banking when so many people in Scotland do not have access to the internet or effective mobile services. When I meet the Royal Bank tomorrow, I will convey the concerns—I think from across the House—about its programme of closures.

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12. In an area that is entirely reserved, the UK Government allocation of £21 million to Scotland’s R100 programme—the Reaching 100% programme—is less than the amount that Devon and Somerset received. Is the Secretary of State not ashamed that, on his watch, he has allowed Scotland to be so chronically underfunded? [902726]

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This is not even about funding; it is about spending the money and taking action to roll out broadband. Three years ago—I repeat, three years ago—there was an allocation of funding, and no action has been taken to procure the roll-out.

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Does the Secretary of State not think the Scottish Conservatives should just stop embarrassing themselves on the issue of broadband? Thanks to the added value of the Scottish Government’s investment, we have the fastest broadband roll-out in the whole of the UK. Without that investment, only 41% of premises in my constituency would have access to fibre broadband; instead, 82% have. In the Secretary of State’s constituency, the figure is 80% instead of 39%. Perhaps the Scottish Conservatives should avail themselves of Scottish broadband and google how not to embarrass themselves in this House?

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If anyone has embarrassed himself, it is the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity, who sent out 35 tweets to tell people what a good job he was doing. The First Minister of Scotland sent my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) a seven-tweet thread to tell her what a good job she was doing. People up and down Scotland who do not receive adequate broadband services know who is to blame: the Scottish Government.

Revenue Budget

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2. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of the autumn Budget 2017 on the level of Scotland’s revenue budget. [902716]

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The recent Budget shows that we are delivering for Scotland, including £347 million in additional resource budget as part of £2 billion extra as a result of Barnett consequentials.

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Under the Secretary of State for Scotland’s watch, Scotland’s revenue budget has been cut by £2.6 billion, including a £200 million cut next year alone. Under this Secretary of State for Scotland, more than £200 million of common agricultural policy convergence funding has been stolen. He also voted against the VAT exemption for police and fire services. Why has the Secretary of State done nothing to prevent those Tory measures?

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The hon. Gentleman suggests that we have done nothing, but the day before the Budget, that £347 million of additional resource budget was not there. That was announced in the Budget statement, along with another £1.7 billion of additional capital to support the businesses and people of Scotland.

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I am sure that Members on both sides of the House appreciate the role that oil and gas play not just in the north-east economy, but in the UK economy. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the transferable tax history that was set out in the Budget is a desperately needed shot in the arm for the industry, and a step in the right direction to making Aberdeen a global hub for decommissioning? That shows that 13 Scottish Tory MPs get things done.

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My hon. Friend is entirely right. I know that the oil and gas sector has warmly welcomed the changes that we are making to provide additional tax relief through transferable tax history. Many in the sector believe that that measure will lead to tens of billions of additional investment during the lifetime of the North sea reserves.

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I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s kind remarks about the late Jimmy Hood, who was a fine champion of Labour values and of his community. The whole House offers condolences to his family and all those who knew him.

The Government claim that Scotland has received an additional £2 billion in the Budget, yet the Fraser of Allander Institute says that the revenue budget will be about £500 million less in real terms within the next two years. Who are the people of Scotland to believe: this redundant Secretary of State, or a world-renowned economic think-tank? Will the Financial Secretary address that question directly?

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The figures speak for themselves. As the hon. Gentleman should know—I am sure that he does—by 2020 the block grant to Scotland will be £31.1 billion before devolutionary adjustments, and that is a simple real-terms increase.

Joint Ministerial Committee

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4. What progress the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) is making. [902718]

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7. What progress the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) is making. [902721]

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The Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) provides a valuable forum for the UK Government and devolved Administrations to discuss EU exit. We took an important step forward at the last meeting in October by agreeing a set of principles to govern the consideration of frameworks. Another meeting will be held next Tuesday, and I hope to see significant progress then.

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I welcome the constructive approach that is being taken to the Joint Ministerial Committee. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital that both sides keep this up and make real progress on the substance, so that as we leave the EU we have a stronger Scottish Parliament as part of a stronger United Kingdom?

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I agree with my hon. Friend. I look forward to the opportunity to continue the good progress that we are making in our framework discussions, which will lead to significantly more powers for Holyrood while maintaining the integrity of the UK’s internal market.

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As my right hon. Friend will know, fishing is a totemic industry in my constituency of Banff and Buchan, where there is real concern that the Scottish Government want to take Scotland back into the common fisheries policy. Can he reassure me that in all conversations and negotiations in the JMC (EN), he stands firm on taking Scotland’s fishermen out of the CFP, and keeping them out?

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In his short time in this Parliament, my hon. Friend has already come to be seen as a champion for the fishing industry. I can give him an absolute guarantee: unlike the Scottish National party, which would take us straight back into the common fisheries policy, this Government will take Scotland and the rest of the UK out of that discredited policy.

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The Secretary of State rightly argued in September 2014 that if Scotland left the United Kingdom, there would be a barrier at Berwick because of Scotland leaving the UK single market. Can he tell the House why it is any different for the island of Ireland? Is not his Brexit shambles a threat to the United Kingdom?

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I have been, and remain, absolutely clear that nothing will be done in any Brexit deal that will threaten the integrity of the United Kingdom, and particularly Scotland’s part in it.

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Given the miasma of despair that hangs over this dying Government, Scotland needs a competent and cogent voice at the Cabinet table. To prove that that voice is his, will the Secretary of State tell us his red lines, in Scotland’s interests, that he has laid out to the Prime Minister?

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I am quite clear that my red line is the integrity of the United Kingdom, and keeping Scotland in the United Kingdom, which people in Scotland voted for in 2014. We are leaving the EU as a United Kingdom, and nothing that the SNP does will stop that.

Industrial Strategy

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5. What steps the Government plan to take to ensure that Scotland benefits from the new industrial strategy. [902719]

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The industrial strategy is a comprehensive plan for boosting productivity to raise the earning power of people and businesses. We have been working constructively with the Scottish Government, who hold many of the policy levers that will help to make the industrial strategy a success in Scotland. We have proposed a review of inter-agency collaboration to maximise the coherence and impact of both Governments’ work in Scotland.

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This UK-wide industrial strategy is extremely welcome in my constituency. Southampton airport connects Eastleigh to Edinburgh and Glasgow by two busy routes across the UK. Does the Secretary of State agree that regional airports and vital connectivity will increase prosperity in Scotland and England?

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I was delighted to hear that Edinburgh airport has had its busiest year ever, so I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend and recognise that regional airports across the UK make a vital contribution to the economic health of the whole country. That is why we are developing a new aviation strategy that will consider how best to encourage and improve domestic connectivity, to the benefit of both Scotland and the whole United Kingdom.

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First, may I associate myself and my Liberal Democrat colleagues with the Secretary of State’s comments about the late Jimmy Hood? Every inch of his not insubstantial frame was Labour, but he was always capable of moments of humour and kindness across the party divide, and I am sure that he will be fondly remembered in the House and beyond.

If the industrial strategy is to reach all parts of the United Kingdom, it should be an opportunity for Scotland to develop its potential for wave and tidal power. That will require a dedicated funding stream. What is the Secretary of State doing in collaboration with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that we get that dedicated funding stream?

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My colleagues in that Department are well aware of the issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises, which are important in ensuring the development of tidal energy in particular. We will continue to look at what funding can be made available for that.

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Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Government support Scotland’s efforts to be at the forefront of the clean energy and technology industries, which are crucial to our future economic prosperity?

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I absolutely will do that. My right hon. Friend will know that, at the recent conference of the parties event in Germany, there were considerable efforts on the part of the whole United Kingdom—the Scottish Government working with the UK Government —to deliver just that.

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At the last Scottish questions, the Secretary of State said that he had shared analysis with the Scottish Government. This morning we discovered that there is no impact assessment, so what analysis was shared with the Scottish Government?

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First, the material that has been provided to the Exiting the European Union Committee has also been provided to the devolved Administrations. The position was—and is—that officials from the UK and Scottish Governments are working together on the basis of analysis that they have both done.

Leaving the EU: Devolution

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6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [902720]

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9. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on devolving powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU [902723]

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13. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on devolving powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU [902727]

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14. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on devolving powers to Scotland as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU [902728]

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The UK Government are working with colleagues in the devolved Administrations to carefully consider our approach to powers returning from the EU. At the last meeting of the JMC (EN) we agreed a set of principles and I am confident that we can take further steps at the next meeting to be held on 12 December.

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Does the Secretary of State agree with his Scottish Tory colleagues who described clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill as “not fit for purpose” and said that it

“needs to be…replaced with a new version”—[Official Report, 4 December 2017; Vol. 631, c.731]?

If so, how does he propose to amend it?

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I heard the eloquent speech that my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) made during Monday’s debate. Of course, the Government will respond to the issues that he raised.

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The Secretary of State will remember that when the Scotland Bill was on its way through Parliament, we submitted 60 amendments, every one of which he and the Government opposed, but most of which they then adopted through the back door of the House of Lords. Do the Secretary of State and the Government intend to use the same discredited, undemocratic process to correct the faults of clause 11?

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If the hon. Gentleman has concerns about the procedures of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, he can raise them through the Procedure Committee. He acknowledges exactly what happened: we had a debate; the Government listened and responded; and the Scotland Bill was amended for the better.

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The Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, the Institute of Directors Scotland, the Scottish chambers of commerce, Universities Scotland and many other Scottish organisations have called for a differentiated approach to immigration for Scotland. The problems that my constituents such as Françoise Milne face have crystallised the issue and the human cost. Will the Secretary of State table amendments to clause 11 to support the devolution of immigration and visa controls to Scotland?

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I do not support the devolution of immigration to Scotland. Three years ago, the Smith commission deliberated on what powers and responsibilities would be held in the Scottish Parliament and what would be held here in Westminster. It was agreed by all parties that Westminster would retain immigration.

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During Monday’s debate on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, Scottish Tory MPs said that clause 11 was “not fit for purpose”, but is not the reality that while we hear much talk from them, they are actually just Lobby fodder for the Government?

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Conservative Members are happy to be judged by our actions. We heard all these things when the Scotland Bill was going through the House of Commons, yet at the end of the process, Lord Smith said that it met his committee’s requirements in full. In this House we will deliver an EU (Withdrawal) Bill that can generate the consent of the Scottish and Welsh Governments.

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May I commend to my right hon. Friend the most recent report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which was published last week, on inter-institutional relations in the UK? Will he accept that there is a strong consensus that devolution arrangements are not finished and we need far stronger institutional underpinning of the relations between the four parts of the UK, and that this is an opportunity to achieve that?

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Of course I have seen my hon. Friend’s excellent report, and the Government are continuing to consider it. Obviously I believe that intergovermental institutions and relations can be improved, and we must continue to work on that.

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It is welcome news that good progress was made at the last meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee, when principles underpinning common frameworks were agreed. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is vital for Scotland’s two Governments to work together as we leave the European Union, so that the common frameworks that we need to maintain the UK internal market are retained while all remaining powers are devolved?

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and that is our approach. I am happy to put on record that I welcome the Scottish Government’s constructive approach to these matters in recent weeks.

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Let me first thank the Secretary of State and other Members for their condolences, on behalf of Jimmy Hood’s family.

On Monday night, the Scottish Tories were herded through the Lobbies and told to trample all over the devolution settlement. Who issued those instructions, the Prime Minister or Ruth Davidson and the Secretary of State?

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I know that the hon. Lady does not like it, but the Bill is going to be amended not at the behest of the Labour party’s incoherent approach or the Scottish National party’s nationalist approach, but because Scottish Conservatives have tabled practical amendments.

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I welcome that clarification, but the question was really “Why could the Secretary of State not have presented those amendments the other night?” Throughout Monday’s debate his Scottish colleagues acknowledged that there were deficiencies in the Bill, but were unable to name one. Will the Secretary of State now do what they could not? Will he tell us first what deficiencies there are in the Bill, and secondly why they voted for the Bill to be passed unamended when they all knew that it was fundamentally flawed?

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If the hon. Lady had been in the Chamber at the time, she would have heard the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton). He set out very clearly why clause 11 needed to be amended, and what type of amendments would be tabled.

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May I associate myself and the Scottish National party with the Secretary of State’s comments about the late Jimmy Hood?

We are more than halfway through consideration in Committee of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and, in particular, its effect on devolution. I think that the people of Scotland need clarity during this process. The Secretary of State knows that there is widespread concern throughout the House, and in his own party, about the measures in clause 11. He has indicated that there will be amendments, so may I ask him this? Will the Government table amendments to clause 11, yes or no?

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I hope that the hon. Gentleman’s second question is shorter.

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May I ask the Secretary of State when that will happen?

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The answer is that it will happen on Report. We have been very clear about this. The Committee stage is about listening and adapting to issues that have been raised; we have listened to my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire, and we will table amendments to clause 11.

Capital Project Funding

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8. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government since the autumn Budget 2017 on plans for capital project funding in Scotland. [902722]

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Further to our discussions with the Scottish Government and the announcements made in the Budget, an additional £1.7 billion will be available to Scotland in capital resources. That is a 33% increase in real terms.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that while the sum is much less than might have been hoped for, the Barnett consequentials for housing should be ring-fenced by the Scottish Government for that purpose alone, and not for another high-profile, faulty bridge?

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The hon. Lady is, I know, most vexed about the Queensferry crossing, and she is right to be so. It was widely trumpeted by the Scottish Government and the SNP as a great infrastructure success, yet I understand that it is currently partly closed, and is likely to be suffering from closures for many months to come, at great inconvenience to the hon. Lady’s constituents. [Interruption.] She should address her comments to the SNP and the Scottish Government. [Interruption.]

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We are grateful to the Financial Secretary—or at least those of us who could hear him were. We now come to the question of the hon. Member for Fylde (Mark Menzies) who wants to ask about Scotch whisky, so I ask for a bit of order.

Scotch Whisky: Exports

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11. What steps the Government are taking to increase exports of Scotch whisky. [902725]

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I was delighted to host the ever-popular Scotch Whisky Association reception at Dover House last night. The UK Government work closely with the association, individual distilleries and companies across a range of issues from market promotion to market access.

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The Chancellor’s Budget announcement that he would freeze duty on Scotch whisky is a sign of support for one of Scotland’s great industries. As one of the Prime Minister’s trade envoys, I have recently been in Colombia, Peru and Chile banging the drum for Scotch whisky; does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scotch whisky industry has an enormous opportunity to boost trade with growing markets as we look to build a truly global Britain?

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that there are huge opportunities for Scotch whisky as we leave the EU, particularly in South America, and I commend him for his activities. I also commend Diageo for the 20th anniversary of the creation of the company on 17 December.

Jobcentre Closures

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15. What assessment he has made of the effect of proposed jobcentre closures on local communities in Scotland. [902729]

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We continue to provide excellent support to those seeking work, or who cannot work, through a network of offices which are modern, accessible and meet future requirements. Most jobcentres are staying put. We are merging some neighbourhood offices to create bigger, multi-skilled teams and moving to better buildings, all of which will lead to better customer service.

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Unemployment in Glasgow has been consistently higher than the national average, child poverty is rising and the use of food banks has increased by 20% in the past two years, so how can the Secretary of State justify closing so many jobcentres, which provide vital support for people to enter the labour market?

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I set out in my original answer that this was a system to provide better services, and the hon. Gentleman should know that there was a full review of the proposed closures in Glasgow and that the proposal was changed in response to a public consultation.

I would not be doing my duty as Secretary of State for Scotland if I could not in my final words wish Paisley every success in the city of culture competition.