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Volume 637: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—

Brexit: Devolution

1. What discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament upon the UK leaving the EU. (904136)

The Government have intensified their discussions with the Scottish and Welsh Governments on both the significant increase in powers that we expect to see for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and some common UK frameworks following the UK’s EU exit. We are making good progress in those discussions and will meet again tomorrow for the next Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, at which I hope further progress can be made.

The Secretary of State and fellow Scottish Conservatives say that clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is deficient. He gave an undertaking to this House that he would table amendments, which he failed to do. He now says that he will deliver amendments in the other place, which he still has not done. Will he set out what happens if he runs out of time to deliver his much-promised amendments?

I am confident that we will be able to bring forward such amendments. We are in significant discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government, which both acknowledge that we have tabled to them a significant proposal for changing the Bill. I hope to hear their detailed response to that tomorrow.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is the Government’s wish that as powers are returned from Brussels to the UK they will be devolved, not only to Scotland but to Wales and Northern Ireland?

Yes, indeed; that is the Government’s wish, although we acknowledge that to make the common market within the UK function effectively, some powers and responsibilities will have to be conducted at a UK-wide level.

Will the Secretary of State set out for the House the mechanism he will use to amend clause 11 of the EU withdrawal Bill, should no agreement be in place by the time the Bill completes its passage in the other place?

I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s pessimism that there will not be agreement before the Bill completes its passage in the other place. I remain positive about being able to reach an agreement with both the Welsh and Scottish Governments. I believe that they are sincere in their expressed view that they wish to reach such an agreement, and we will take every step to ensure that we negotiate to a position at which we can reach an agreement.

Leaving the EU means taking back control of our waters, which is a huge opportunity for Scotland’s fishermen. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government’s EU continuity Bill and stated position of remaining in the single market and customs union would simply sell out Scotland’s fishermen by handing all those new powers straight back to Brussels?

It is incredible that that is indeed the position of the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government. Although at one point SNP Members came to this House and talked about a power grab, they are now willing and want to hand back powers over fishing to the EU right away and to go back into the common fisheries policy.

Will the Secretary of State explain why, if he believes that Brexit is going to have a profound effect on the devolution settlement, he was excluded from the recent meeting of his Cabinet colleagues at Chequers to formulate the UK’s Brexit strategy?

I know that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise the result of the 2014 referendum and therefore that the UK Government Cabinet is a Cabinet for the whole United Kingdom, as are all its sub-committees. The decisions on the Prime Minister’s approach to the EU negotiations were agreed by the whole Cabinet.

There was no indication that the hon. Gentleman was seeking two. In an hour-long session, yes, but not otherwise. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman’s brow is furrowed; he has got what was his entitlement and has nothing about which to complain, so he can sit down and we are most grateful to him for doing so.

The Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and promised the House that the devolution settlement would be protected. Three months on, we are facing a constitutional crisis. What exactly is the Secretary of State doing to fix the mess he has made of the EU withdrawal Bill?

I will not take any lessons from the hon. Lady whose party was quite prepared to play the SNP game in the Scottish Parliament and vote for a piece of legislation that was quite clearly ruled as not competent by the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.

Good communication is very important in these matters. My office was notified of the intention of the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) to ask a question, which he has asked. If he wants to ask a second, so be it, but he should not be flailing and gesticulating as though he has been the subject of some sort of adverse treatment, because he has not. If he wants to get up and blurt out a second question, he is most welcome to do so. Let’s hear from the fellow. Come on!

Thank you, Mr Speaker—I did want to ask the Secretary of State a second question. He has previously said that the most important thing about changes to the withdrawal Bill is that they should command the support of all sides. May I ask him: is that still his policy, and does he believe that any framework arrangements should require the consent of the Scottish Parliament if it changes its operations?

I have set out clearly that, in the process of leaving the EU, I want to ensure that the Scottish Parliament has more powers and responsibilities than it does today. I also want to ensure that we have an arrangement in place to allow us to agree frameworks as we move forward, and that frameworks, as I have previously said, should not be imposed.

These exchanges are far too slow. We need short questions and short answers. I want to make progress. Lesley Laird, a couple of brief inquiries, please.

My party is the party of devolution, and we will continue to protect that. We are 20 months on from the EU referendum, and a year away from leaving the EU, and yet Scotland’s invisible man in the Cabinet cannot even blag himself an invite to the awayday at Chequers to discuss Brexit. Does the Secretary of State have a plan to fix this mess, or will he continue to front up a Government who are trampling all over the devolution settlement for Scotland?

The Scottish Labour party will be judged on its actions, and I do not see it standing up for the devolution settlement in the Scottish Parliament. Instead, I see it kowtowing to the SNP. In relation to devolution and commitment to the United Kingdom, the hon. Lady, above all people, should know that we have a United Kingdom Cabinet, a United Kingdom Chancellor, and a United Kingdom Prime Minister. Again, she should not kowtow to SNP arguments about separatism—

RBS Branch Closures

2. What discussions he has had with the Royal Bank of Scotland on the potential effect on local communities of the proposed closure of its branches in Scotland. (904137)

I have met senior RBS management in Scotland to discuss the decision. I made it clear that its plans were disappointing for customers and communities across Scotland, and I urged it to mitigate the impact of closures as comprehensively as possible.

Small businesses have already reported in Wales and across the United Kingdom that they are being refused if they try to pay in large sums of cash at the post office, as it presents a security risk and post office workers do not have the time to count such large sums of money. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that there is no disruption to small businesses or the public as a result of these ill-thought-out closures?

I certainly share the hon. Lady’s view that these are ill-thought-out closures, and I am very happy to take the specific point forward. I am sure that colleagues who serve on the Scottish Affairs Committee will also be prepared to put that view to the chief executive of the Royal Bank, who, I am pleased to say, has finally agreed to appear before that Committee.

The big issue for many rural communities, such as those in my constituency in the borders, will be the access to cash given that RBS is shutting so many branches on the back of previous bank closures. Can the Government do more to ensure that rural communities are getting access to the cash to support the local economies?

My hon. Friend raises a very good point. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that issue further.

The decline in the centres of our Scottish towns is there to be seen. The closure of the branch of the Royal Bank will be a further nail in the coffin. What proposals does the Secretary of State have to try to arrest the decline of our vital little towns in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very pertinent point; the vast majority of these proposed closures, for example, are related to rural communities. We must focus on ensuring that people in rural areas can continue to receive services. There is the issue of cash, which my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) has just raised, and also things such as broadband, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we want the Scottish Government to roll out more quickly.

It has been the custom since 2015 that the SNP lead spokesperson gets two questions at Scottish questions.

The Scottish Secretary is obviously very much aware of the Scottish Affairs Committee’s ongoing inquiry into RBS closures. CEO Ross McEwan has now agreed to appear before the Committee. Bizarrely, the only people who will not go in front of the Committee are UK Government Treasury Ministers, even though they have a 70% share in our interest in that bank. Can he therefore join me in—

Order. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that I need no advice on procedure from him or any of his colleagues. I work on the basis of that of which the office has been notified—one question, and that was why I granted it. I am well familiar with the precedents; I know what I am doing, but I do require effective communication, which was lacking in this case. It is not appropriate for the hon. Gentleman to use his position to try to score some procedural point, which he has spectacularly failed to do.

On 6 February, RBS announced that it would give 10 branches in Scotland a stay of execution, on the basis that they were the last bank in town. However, one branch, in the Secretary of State’s constituency, was given a special reprieve but was not the last bank in town. Why should the Secretary of State’s constituents be given preferential treatment while the last banks in some of the poorest communities across Scotland are closed down?

I know that this is a hostage to fortune, but I would like the hon. Gentleman to name that branch, because the three branches in my constituency that were to be the subject of this so-called reprieve—which I agree with him is just a stay of execution—are all the last bank in town. I think he should do his research a little better.

Referendum on Independence

3. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on holding a further independence referendum. (904138)

Scotland held a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014—a “once in a generation” event, we were told—and the result was decisive. Now is not the time for a second independence referendum. Our entire focus should be on pulling together during negotiations with the European Union, making sure we get the best deal for the whole of the UK.

I entirely agree, but if by some chance the Scottish Government do manage to have another referendum, on leaving the single market and the customs union which they share with the rest of the United Kingdom, will my right hon. Friend show it more respect than they are currently showing to the 17.6 million people across the UK who voted for Brexit?

Not surprisingly, I agree with my hon. Friend. He will be particularly aware that 1 million people in Scotland—most of them SNP voters—who voted to leave the EU have been airbrushed out of history; they do not exist. If one listens to the our First Minister, apparently everybody in Scotland voted to remain in the EU.

Does the Secretary of State not think that, once we have clarity on what Brexit will really mean for the people of Scotland, it is right for them to decide their future, and that it is not for Westminster politicians to stop people making a decision?

We had an independence referendum in 2014. The outcome was decisive. We were told ahead of that referendum that it was to be a “once in a generation”—indeed, once in a lifetime—event, and that is what it should be.

City Deals

7. What progress the Government have made on their plans to deliver a city deal for every city in Scotland. (904142)

The UK Government are either negotiating or implementing a city region deal for all of Scotland’s seven great cities and the regions around them. So far we have committed over £1 billion to this landmark programme, and there is more to come. We are currently negotiating with local partners for both the Stirling and Clackmannanshire and Tay cities deals, and we hope to conclude the heads of agreements in the coming months.

The Secretary of State will be aware that a number of the projects associated with the Glasgow region city deal, including two taking place in East Renfrewshire, are over budget and behind schedule. Does he agree that it is vital that we get to work on these projects as soon as possible, so that local communities can benefit?

I do agree with my hon. Friend about raising those issues with the Glasgow city deal. It is not enough just to sign these deals and to promote them; what we need is delivery, and I will look at the specific issues he has raised.

Will my right hon. Friend help to break the deadlock with the devolved Administration and commit to the amount of money that Westminster is willing to put forward in the Stirling and Clackmannanshire deal, so that Clackmannanshire can realise its true ambition?

My hon. Friend has certainly been a strong advocate for Clackmannanshire in this process. I hope to meet the Scottish Government shortly to discuss both this deal and the Tay cities deal, in the hope that the Scottish Government and the UK Government can go forward with local partners in a collaborative way.

Does the Secretary of State share my frustration at the lack of progress on the Ayrshire growth deal? Does he agree that it is time to get on and kick-start the deal for all the people of Ayrshire?

Further to that question, will the Secretary of State give us a timeline for when the UK Government will agree the Ayrshire growth deal?

The hon. Gentleman’s constant flow of negativity is in marked contrast to the three local authorities that I met recently in Ayrshire, which are very keen to work with the Scottish Government and the UK Government to make the Ayrshire growth deal a reality.

Leaving the EU

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. (904140)

10. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. (904146)

13. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. (904149)

As Members would expect, I have very regular discussions with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet regarding UK Government policy and how it affects Scotland. The UK Government are committed to securing a deal that works for all parts of the UK, including Scotland.

Has the Secretary of State just given up on getting the consent of the Scottish Parliament for any changes to its powers on the devolved settlement that this Tory Government plan to make, or is he so out of the loop that he no longer gets invited to Cabinet meetings and has quite simply become an irrelevance?

I do not know who briefs the hon. Lady, but the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations is meeting tomorrow. We are meeting with Mike Russell and Mark Drakeford, and we hope to take forward the solid progress that we have achieved over the course of these meetings.

One area where the Scottish and UK Governments appear to agree is that plans to take us out of the single market will be devastating for Scotland’s GDP, so can he tell us what plans he has to protect public services in Scotland from that?

The hon. Gentleman usually takes his brief with great seriousness, and therefore I am sure that he will have read the Prime Minister’s speech, if not watched it last week, which set out how the UK Government will approach the negotiations.

We have seen the Secretary of State go back on his words about the single market and have his authority undermined by not being invited to the PM’s Brexit meeting, and we are still waiting for his amendments to the withdrawal Bill. Given that the deadline is next Thursday, will this be just another catalogue of failures for the Secretary of State?

I would be very pleased if, after tomorrow’s meeting of the JMCEN, we are able to bring forward an agreed amendment that can be tabled in the House of Lords. That is certainly the aspiration of the UK Government.

Last week, the Prime Minister met me and colleagues from our fishing constituencies around the UK, including Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the meeting highlighted how this Government are serious about realising the opportunity presented by Brexit, and reminded us that only this Government will take us out of the common fisheries policy?

Absolutely. Since his election to this place last year, my hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate for the fishing industry and the expressed wish of the fishing industry to leave the common fisheries policy, and that is what this Government will deliver for the fishing industry in Scotland.

11. My right hon. Friend is no doubt aware of the enormous benefits that Brexit potentially provides for the Scottish economy, as part of one United Kingdom, but does he also agree with Corby Scots—Scots in my constituency—that the talk of an unwanted second independence referendum far outweighs any risk that Brexit might present? (904147)

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that talk of a second independence referendum is unwelcome and unnecessary. We have reached the point in the negotiations where we all need to come together and work with the Prime Minister to get the best possible deal for Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom.

What progress is being made on ensuring that Scotland’s food producers will still have the protection that they need for important geographic brands such as Orkney beef or Shetland lamb after we have left the European Union?

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that, despite scare stories to the contrary that have appeared in some parts of the media, there will be no change to the protection of those brands or an allowing in of false brands purporting to be them.

Non-UK nationals are essential to the agricultural industry in East Lothian. Can the Secretary of State guarantee that they will still have the same access after we leave the EU?

I very much welcomed the debate in this Parliament on that issue, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) who has been a strong advocate of the need for seasonal workers in Scotland, particularly in the soft fruit industry. The points raised in that debate and in the meetings of the Scottish Affairs Committee have all been recognised by the Government and will be looked at as we move forward.

Stirling and Clackmannanshire City Region Deal

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal. (904141)

My colleague the noble Lord Duncan met with partners recently at the Forth Valley College, and I have met Cabinet Secretary Keith Brown to discuss the Scottish contribution to the deal. I hope to meet Mr Brown again shortly.

It sometimes feels that the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city deal is taking longer to deliver than a baby elephant at Blair Drummond safari park. When does the Secretary of State expect to sign a heads of agreement with the Scottish Government and the local authorities? What discussions has he had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the future use of the Ministry of Defence site at Forthside in the city deal? [Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the answer, to hear whether the Secretary of State is widening it beyond Stirling and Clackmannanshire or not.

We hope to sign that deal soon. The Ministry of Defence intends to dispose of Forthside by 2020, under the better defence estate strategy. We are working with the MOD to look at how the site can be part of that city deal.

I will give the hon. Gentleman the benefit of the doubt, but he must not shoehorn his own constituency into the matter. Let’s hear it.

The Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal does indeed include the transfer of MOD land at Forthside, and the decontamination of that land, to Stirling Council. I understand that that is no longer going to happen. Can the Secretary of State tell us whether it will happen and when will it happen, or is it yet another broken Tory promise?

How disappointing to allow that negative note into proceedings on city deals. City deals have worked because they have been a positive collaboration between the UK Government, Scottish Government, local authorities and partners, and it is exactly that sort of negativity and politicking that undermines the whole process.

Scottish Economy

The latest official figures show that the Scottish economy is growing, but at a slower pace than we would like and continuing to lag behind the UK. The UK Government are delivering for Scotland, including with our UK-wide industrial strategy, and of course with £2 billion of extra spending for Scotland, but the Scottish Government hold many of the levers that could drive growth, and they should be using those to make sure Scotland becomes a competitive place to do business. [Interruption.]

Order. I understand the sense of anticipation in the House, but we are discussing the strength of the Scottish economy, in which colleagues should take a polite and respectful interest.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the proposed closure of the 2 Sisters chicken plant in my constituency, with 450 jobs at risk. Will he join me in calling on the Scottish Government to set up a taskforce to look at viable alternatives? Will he agree to meet me to set out any help the UK Government might be able to offer?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question, and yes, absolutely; the Secretary of State and I were talking about this this morning. He is more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman, and will raise the issue with the Scottish Government on his behalf.

The success of the economy of the south of Scotland is clearly linked to that of the economy of the north of England, particularly my constituency of Carlisle. Does the Minister agree that the borderlands initiative is an exciting opportunity for both sides of the border to boost economic growth?

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. We are of course bringing about growth deals all over the country, and we also need to look at those areas where we can have them across borders, so we completely welcome the project he talks about.

14. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me to discuss the potentially disastrous consequences for workers in and the community of Cumbernauld if the proposed closure of the tax office there is allowed to proceed? (904150)

ATP Tennis Tournament

9. If he will make it his policy to work with the Scottish Government and the Lawn Tennis Association on hosting an ATP World Tour tennis tournament in Scotland. (904145)

We know your interest in tennis, Mr Speaker. The success of Andy Murray in the singles, Jamie Murray in the doubles and Gordon Reid in the wheelchair event has undoubtedly increased interest in tennis in Scotland. We would certainly support measures that encourage more people to engage with tennis and, indeed, any sport in Scotland.

I am very encouraged to hear that. As we look towards the legacy of Andy Murray, the greatest British tennis player ever, it would be great to see the UK Government, the Scottish Government and perhaps even Glasgow City Council working together with the Lawn Tennis Association to make a profitable tennis tournament at ATP elite level.

Indeed; Scotland has been a great venue for tennis. The Scottish Government actually lead on this. It would be welcome to hear anything from the Scottish Government, and we would be more than happy to meet them to discuss the situation.