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House of Commons Hansard
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24 January 2018
Volume 635

The Secretary of State was asked—

Leaving the EU: Devolution of Powers

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1. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament after the UK leaves the EU. [903398]

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It would be remiss of me not to point out that tomorrow marks the anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, and I am sure that the whole House would like to join me in wishing well not only to those who are organising and participating in events around the world but to everybody who celebrates the life and legacy of Scotland’s great bard.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, we are intensifying our discussions with the devolved Administrations on powers returning from the EU. I had a useful discussion with Mike Russell early in the new year, and I am confident that discussions will continue to be productive.

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The hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) said during the Committee stage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill:

“I will not support a Bill that undermines devolution and does not respect the integrity of the Union.”—[Official Report, 4 December 2017; Vol. 632, c. 733.]

If that is the position of the Scottish Conservatives, why did they vote against the Labour amendment that would have safeguarded devolution?

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It is quite easy, in opposition, to pursue stunts and gimmicks, and that is what the Labour amendment was. This Government have made it quite clear that we would agree an amendment to the Bill with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, and that is what we are doing.

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Figures published today show that trade between Scotland and the rest of the UK is four times more important to Scotland than its trade with the European Union. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that, as powers return from the EU to Scotland, we must ensure that we protect the UK internal market so that businesses in Scotland may continue to flourish?

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I would point out that those figures were produced by the Scottish Government themselves. Trade within the UK is worth four times as much to Scotland as its trade with the EU. When “Scotland’s place in Europe” was published last week, it disappointed me that that fact was not recognised.

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Will the Secretary of State tell the House what he thinks is wrong with the devolution powers in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and how he would like to see them fixed? Or is it that, in this week of Burns celebrations, he is just the great puddin’ o’ the chieftain race?

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The hon. Gentleman always has an interesting take on events, but I am clear that we want to work with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, and with the Scottish Parliament, whose Finance and Constitution Committee has set out its views on clauses 10 and 11 of the Bill. I want to reach agreement with them, so that the Government will recommend a legislative consent motion.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that Brexit presents an enormous opportunity for the Scottish Parliament to gain even further powers?

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It represents not only that opportunity but an opportunity to use those powers. We never hear the Scottish National party talking about how the powers devolved to Scotland after we leave the EU will actually be used. That is the debate we should be having now.

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First, on behalf of the lassies, may I echo the sentiments expressed by the Secretary of State and wish everyone in the House a happy Burns day? In December, I stood at this Dispatch Box and was comforted to hear the Secretary of State commit to bringing forward amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill on Report. Sadly, he did not keep that commitment. Will he now please tell us why?

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The answer is very simple: we could not meet the timescale that we had aspired to. I take responsibility for that. I gave a commitment at the Dispatch Box that we would bring forward amendments on Report, but we were unable to reach agreement with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government on those important amendments within the timescale. Significant work is ongoing in that regard, and the commitment to amend the Bill is unchanged. However, it will involve an amendment that can command the support of the Scottish Parliament, not a gimmick amendment.

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That lack of planning is extremely disappointing, because the Secretary of State, in failing to keep his commitment, has now singlehandedly put the future of the devolution settlement in the hands of the other place. Given his lack of judgment in his previous commitment, how confident is the Secretary of State that an amendment will come back to this place that all parties will find acceptable?

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The hon. Lady is relatively new to this House, but she will know that this Chamber will be able to discuss the amendment, which will be discussed by the Scottish Parliament when we seek its legislative consent. The Scottish Labour party has been all over the place on the EU, and I have no idea how it will vote on a legislative consent motion when it comes to the Scottish Parliament, but I hope that it will be yes.

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2. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [903399]

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5. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [903402]

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6. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [903403]

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9. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [903406]

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10. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [903407]

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13. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [903410]

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14. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [903411]

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15. What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on devolving powers to Scotland after the UK leaves the EU. [903412]

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My answer is “many.”

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And yet the Secretary of State cannot name one. He failed in his promise to amend clause 11 in this House to avoid undermining the principle of devolution to Scotland and Wales, as not just Scotland’s governing party, but all Scottish MPs will be excluded from the next stage of the debate. Will he tell us now what proposals will be brought forward in the Lords?

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I echo the remarks that Michael Russell made yesterday in Holyrood, where he said:

“The Scottish Government… aims to agree amendments to the bill with the UK Government that would allow a legislative consent motion to be brought to the chamber and passed.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 23 January 2018; c. 31.]

Mr Russell and, indeed, Mark Drakeford in the Welsh Assembly have not given a running commentary on the negotiations, and I do not intend to do so either.

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Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution Committee has stated that clause 11, as currently drafted, is incompatible with the devolution settlement in Scotland. Does the Secretary of State agree?

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I have committed to amending the Bill—my commitment remains exactly the same—so that it meets the concerns of the Committee set out in its report and so that a majority of Members of the Scottish Parliament can vote for a legislative consent motion in respect of the Bill.

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The Secretary of State was left looking a bit glaikit this morning when the Brexit Secretary said that the Secretary of State had potentially made a promise that he could not keep. Is not the reality here that all the talk from the Tories about giving power back to Scotland is nothing less than a power grab and that that lot—the Scottish Conservatives—are just Lobby fodder?

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The pantomime season is over, and the hon. Gentleman’s theatrical tone strikes a discordant note with the tone set yesterday by Michael Russell, the Minister in the Scottish Government responsible for such matters. There was no suggestion of a power grab. The suggestion was that both Governments are engaged in intensive negotiations to agree an amendment to the clause.

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I appreciate the Secretary of State’s honesty in saying that he ran out of time to get the amendments in, but unfortunately that is not good enough. How can he justify it being okay that Michelle Mone and Alan Sugar will have more of an impact on the Bill than Scotland’s elected Members, some of which sit on the Secretary of State’s side of the House?

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From everything that I see and read in Scotland, the hon. Lady has a considerable impact on events in Scotland, and I am sure that her views on the Bill will be well recorded. The amendment will be debated in the House of Lords. I regret that it is being brought forward in the other House, but we simply did not meet the timescale to which we aspired. There will be a further opportunity to debate the amendment in this House, and the Scottish Parliament, which SNP Members say they are concerned about all the time, will also be able to have an extensive debate and vote on the clause.

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Will the Secretary of State’s colleagues in the House of Lords make the changes he promised us he would make to the Brexit Bill? And will he sit down with the Scottish Government thereafter to discuss what further powers need to be devolved?

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I intend to sit down with the Scottish Government next week to discuss progress on amending clause 11. In relation to further devolution, the Smith Commission determined the nature of the settlement, to which all parties in the Scottish Parliament signed up. This Government do not support changes to the devolution arrangements, as agreed in the Smith Commission.

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The Secretary of State has failed to answer for his broken promise to this House and to his Tory colleagues in Scotland on clause 11. That means Karren Brady, Sebastian Coe, Joan Bakewell and 26 Church of England bishops now have more say over Scotland’s future than Scotland’s elected MPs. Will the Secretary of State finally apologise for that sad state of affairs?

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I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s views and mine on the future of the House of Lords are closer than he would anticipate. I have taken full responsibility for not meeting the timescale I originally set out. We are committed to amending the Bill, and to amending the Bill in agreement with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. I would have thought that that is something even Opposition Members would recognise.

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In a rare lucid moment, the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) said

“the Government made a clear commitment to the House on the amendments to clause 11, and I took those commitments at face value. As a Conservative Member, I never want to get to the point where I cannot take commitments given to me…at face value”,

and that

“they have let this Chamber down by not delivering on what they promised.”—[Official Report, 16 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 819-21.]

Will the Secretary of State apologise to his own colleagues, to this House and, more importantly, to the people of Scotland for letting us all down?

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I think the hon. Gentleman seeks to conflate two issues. The commitment to amend the Bill remains unchanged. The Bill will be amended in agreement with the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. We failed to meet the timescale to which I aspired, and I take full responsibility for that.

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Resistance to further devolution of powers comes from many quarters, such as the Constitutional Research Council led by the Secretary of State’s friend, and prominent Scottish Tory, Richard Cook. As we all know, the CRC funded the Democratic Unionist party’s version of hard Brexit in the campaign. Does the Secretary of State now agree that it is time for full disclosure of those funds? If he does not, it undermines the very principles of liberal democracy that he says he stands up for.

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That is an entirely separate issue. As you will recognise, Mr Speaker, a whole range of procedures are in place for people who have issues or concerns about the funding of political activity.

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Will the Secretary of State confirm that, when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the flag of this nation will remain the Union flag and that no devolved Assembly should try to restrict it from being flown, whether at the white cliffs of Dover, Land’s End or John o’Groats?

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As my hon. Friend knows, in September 2014 the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain within the United Kingdom, and the Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom. It beggars belief that, at a time when children’s hospital wards are being closed, educational standards are falling and Police Scotland is in chaos, the priority of the First Minister of Scotland is flags.

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The Secretary of State talks a good game but, unfortunately, delivery does not appear to be his strong point. Speaking of auld acquaintance, it turns out that his key adviser tasked with increasing awareness of devolution across Government is none other than the interim chief executive of Carillion. Given the shambolic handling of clause 11 last week, how does the Secretary of State think that is going?

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First, it is not correct to suggest that non-executive directors take policy decisions in relation to Government Departments. Keith Cochrane has done an excellent job as a non-executive director of the Scotland Office, and I pay tribute to him as one of Scotland’s most respected businessmen. However, in order not to become a distraction at a time of very important work for the Scotland Office, he has decided to step aside from his responsibilities until the investigation into Carillion and any subsequent inquiries are complete.

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May I also wish you a very happy Burns season, Mr Speaker?

The Secretary of State talked of a powers bonanza and could not list one new power. He promised amendments on clause 11 and no such amendments were tabled. Can we now believe another word he says in this House?

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I know that the hon. Gentleman does not necessarily have the best of relations with some people in the Scottish Government, but perhaps he could have a word with them about the publication of the frameworks. I am keen that we publish what has been agreed in relation to frameworks, but the current position of the Scottish Government is that that should not be published.

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The right hon. Gentleman is personally responsible for a breakdown in the relationship between this House and the Scottish Government, and the breakdown in relationships between all the Members of this House. The Brexit Secretary today has suggested that the right hon. Gentleman is the blockage to progress. He has accepted full responsibility for not producing these amendments. Has he now had the time to think about his own position?

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Again, the hon. Gentleman strikes a completely different tone from Michael Russell, who has pursued a very professional approach to these matters. They are complicated and difficult matters, and it is important that they are thoroughly debated, discussed and agreed. The reason the Government did not bring forward an amendment at that stage was that no amendment had been agreed with the Scottish Government, but we are committed to delivering that.

Economic Development: Cross-border Co-operation

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3. What plans the Government have to further cross-border co-operation on economic development between Scotland and the rest of the UK. [903400]

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Today’s figures from the Scottish Government again show that Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is worth nearly four times that with the EU. We know that more than half a million Scottish jobs depend on the vital UK internal market, and that people in Scotland want a UK-wide approach to trade. As the UK prepares to leave the EU, it is essential that we ensure that the important UK internal market can continue unimpeded.

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My right hon. Friend will be aware that the First Minister of Scotland recently said that,

“independence must be an option”,

highlighting once again some people’s interest in separation, not governing. Does my right hon. Friend agree that keeping separation on the table makes constructive, co-operative working difficult, and that opportunities will be missed both for Scotland and the UK as a result?

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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It has just become absolutely clear that when Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are asked what they want from Brexit, the answer is another independence referendum.

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Brexit poses the biggest risk to Scotland’s economy. If the Government want to show co-operation with the Scottish Government, does the Secretary of State agree that the sectoral reports that are available to MPs in this place should also be made available to MSPs?

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I understood that they had been made available to MSPs. If that is not the case, I will ensure that it is.

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This week, Moray Council discussed the projects that will be included in the ambitious Moray growth deal. The Secretary of State knows of my strong support for the bid, so will he join me in Moray to meet the people involved in the Moray growth deal bid, to show the UK Government’s commitment to take these from proposals to projects delivered?

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These growth deals and city deals across Scotland are very important to the economy as we prepare to leave the EU. I am excited by the proposals that have been brought forward by stakeholders in Moray and I would be delighted to visit with my hon. Friend.

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Does the Secretary of State agree that today’s export statistics show the importance to Scotland of remaining in both the EU and the UK, despite the SNP’s latest attempt to break that link by taking down the flag?

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The hon. Lady will expect that I will agree with part of what she said. Of course, as the people of Scotland voted, Scotland must remain in the UK and benefit from the UK internal market, but the people of the United Kingdom have voted to leave the EU, and we are leaving the EU.

Renewable Energy Sector

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4. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Government funding for the renewable energy sector in Scotland. [903401]

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Thanks to the investments that we have all made in the future of renewables and the Government policy framework, Scotland’s renewable energy is thriving. A quarter of the UK’s renewable capacity is based in Scotland because of the climate and the geography. That capacity has more than doubled since the Conservative-led Government came to power in 2010, and we will be going further in bringing forward energy from remote offshore wind projects in the next auction, in 2019.

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That is not what Scottish Renewables says. It says that, with the exception of offshore wind, growth across all other technologies is low to stagnant. How much funding will be available to Scotland under the Government’s clean growth strategy? Has the Minister assessed the impact that it will have in Scotland?

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As I was pleased to set out in the clean growth strategy, we will make almost £560 million available up to 2025 to support all forms of renewable energy. As we have now set out, we will enable offshore wind projects, which are so vital to the remote islands, to bid in that next auction. We want to keep it going; Scotland is doing incredibly well. Last year, renewable energy right across the UK contributed a third of our electricity generation. We are on a renewables road.

City Region Deals

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7. What recent discussions the Government have had with the Scottish Government on the implementation of city region deals in Scotland. [903404]

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I spoke to the Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work last week. We will meet again shortly to discuss our joint approach, including how we can deliver for my hon. Friend on the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal.

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Will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that the UK Government are committing new money to the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal, not simply rebadging existing funding? When he next meets the Scottish Government, will he secure a similar commitment from them that they will put new money into the deal and not just rebadge existing funding?

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I confirm that the UK Government will definitely put new money into the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal. That has always been our approach to such deals, and that is why they have such a transformative effect. I will speak to Keith Brown on the issue my hon. Friend raises, but I know Mr Brown takes a particular interest in that deal.

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All the city region cash that has gone Inverness’s way is most welcomed by residents of Inverness. However, other communities in the Highlands such as Wick, Thurso and Tain struggle to see the benefit. It is supposed to be a city region deal. Will the Secretary of State look into why it is not working as it should?

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I will of course look into the hon. Gentleman’s point, which was also raised with me when I was on Skye. May I use this opportunity to rebut the fake news that Skye is full and not open for business to tourists? It is open for business and a great destination.

Leaving the EU: Economic Opportunities

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8. What recent discussions he has had with businesses in Scotland on the economic opportunities available to them after the UK leaves the EU. [903405]

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It is always a pleasure to speak to Scottish businesses. In fact, there have been more than 100 such conversations in the past year in my Department. I look forward to meeting many more businesses this Friday, when I travel to Aberdeen as the Government’s oil and gas champion, including a visit to the Oil and Gas Technology Centre, which benefited from £180 million as part of the Aberdeen city deal in 2016.

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As Corby is the most Scottish town in England, I am well aware that Scotland produces some of the UK’s best-known products, including Scotch whisky. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that, as we leave the European Union, new opportunities are taken, for the benefit of the whole of the United Kingdom economy?

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I am told that Corby is a great place in England to buy an Irn-Bru and a pie. As we know, whisky is one of the UK’s greatest exports. Forty thousand people are employed in the industry, and the value of exports is more than £4 billion. It absolutely stands to benefit from post-Brexit trade opportunities. Both our industrial strategy and—[Interruption.]

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Order. This is rather discourteous. The Minister is giving us a detailed answer, which I think the House should hear.

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I am sure whisky drinkers everywhere will be grateful for that intervention, Mr Speaker.

The industrial strategy sets out other opportunities with industries across the UK to grow their productivity, improve their exports and create high-value jobs. I am pleased to say we are working closely with the Scottish Government to implement the strategy.

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To mitigate the extreme hard Tory Brexit and create further job opportunities in Scotland, will the Minister commit to speaking to onshore wind developers and allowing them to bid in future contract for difference auctions?

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As the hon. Gentleman knows from conversations around the Dispatch Box, we are keen to bring forward renewable technology at the right price for bill payers and consumers right across the UK. We will continue to offer opportunities for all sorts of renewable businesses to get involved in CfD auctions going forward.

Leaving the EU: Common Frameworks

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11. What progress the Government have made on ensuring that common frameworks with the Scottish Government are in place when the UK leaves the EU. [903408]

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The UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments agreed the principles that will guide how we approach common frameworks in future at the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations on 16 October. Those principles have facilitated constructive engagement at official level, and we expect to make significant further progress in the coming months, including publishing our analysis.

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During those constructive discussions, has the Secretary of State received any indication from the Scottish Government about how they intend to use the plethora of new powers that they will receive?

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As I said in response to a previous question, we have heard nothing from the Scottish National party or the Scottish Government about how they intend to use the new powers that will be available after we leave the EU. Let us have a debate about using powers for Scotland’s benefit, not about process.

Hospital Car Parking Charges

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12. Whether he has had discussions with the Scottish Government on their abolition of hospital car parking charges. [903409]

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I have not had discussions with the Scottish Government regarding hospital car parking charges. The policy falls wholly within their area of devolved competence.

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The vast majority of national health service hospitals in Scotland do not charge for car parking. Will my right hon. Friend initiate discussions with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to explore the options for extending that to England?

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I am sure that my colleague the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care will have heard my right hon. Friend’s comments.