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Volume 642: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2018

The Secretary of State was asked—

British Transport Police Scottish Division

1. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the plan to merge the British Transport Police Scottish division with Police Scotland. (905612)

The UK Government are working closely with the Scottish Government, the two police forces and police authorities through a joint programme board to ensure that effective arrangements are in place for cross-border railway policing once responsibilities have been transferred. The safety and security of rail passengers and staff remains our No. 1 priority.

I hear the Minister’s reply, but does he agree that this proposal would let down hard-working and dedicated British Transport police officers and staff in Scotland, who are largely against these changes, and that this ideologically driven merger should not go ahead?

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As he knows, we are committed to the devolution of powers for railway policing to Scotland and the Scottish Government. We are keeping the promises made in the Scotland Act 2016. Our priority is that the powers are transferred safely and orderly. How the powers are used, however, is a decision for the Scottish Government and they should be rightly held to account by the Scottish Parliament. My hon. Friend will know that our colleagues in Holyrood share his serious concerns and they strongly oppose the SNP’s plans. I am sure that they will have heard the point he has made today.

Does the Minister agree with the Scottish Government that the BTP merger will deliver

“continuity of service for rail users and staff”,

or does he agree with the chairman of the British Transport Police Federation, who says that a failure to look at the alternatives would be “somewhat reckless”?

The UK Government are committed to working with the Scottish Government, the British Transport Police Authority and the police authorities to ensure that the terms and conditions of officers and staff transferring to Police Scotland are maintained. However, this is one of the reasons why there has been a delay. It is important that the staff are properly consulted and we would encourage that to happen.

Leaving the EU: Economic Growth

2. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of growth in the Scottish economy. (905613)

10. What assessment the Government have made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the level of growth in the Scottish economy. (905621)

The Government are undertaking a wide range of ongoing analysis in support of our EU negotiations and preparations. We want our future relationship with the EU to be a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security co-operation.

The UK Government’s own analysis shows how devastating Brexit will be for GDP. That has already been felt with crippling uncertainty—so much so that Mr and Mrs Mitchell of Allanhill farm in my constituency have written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wondering whether or not they should plant their crop for 2019, because of the uncertainty about seasonal workers. Will he give them certainty today?

The Government have already acknowledged that there will be an ongoing need for a seasonal workers scheme that will support the constituents of the hon. Gentleman, but I thought that he might focus on other constituents, given the report yesterday by the Scottish Government which said that, with Brexit, there will be a huge increase in the number of potential jobs in the fishing industry, which impacts on his constituency, with a £540 million potential boost to the Scottish economy.

Non-UK EU nationals in Scotland contribute around £4.5 billion annually to the Scottish economy. Both the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Prime Minister have failed to rule out an immigration skills charge on companies employing EU nationals in future. Will the Secretary of State oppose any such charge applying in Scotland after the UK leaves the EU—yes or no?

The hon. Gentleman knows very clearly that I oppose there being a separate immigration system in Scotland. Scotland has specific issues in relation to immigration, but those issues also arise in other parts of the United Kingdom. When the Government announce their new immigration policy in relation to leaving the EU, I want to see a policy that takes into account the concerns of Scotland and the whole of the United Kingdom.

Increasing trade is critical to the success of Scotland’s economy as we leave the European Union, and I was delighted that the first ever meeting of the Board of Trade in Scotland was held in Stirling just last month. It was a hugely successful day, not least for Stirling’s businesses. What lessons has my right hon. Friend taken from listening to Scottish businesses about their experiences in exporting?

I echo my hon. Friend’s comments about the suitability of the location of the meeting in Stirling and the beauty of Stirling castle as the setting for such an historic event. It is clear that businesses in Scotland want to get ahead with focusing on taking up the trade opportunities that will arise when we leave the EU.

Figures last month revealed that since 2007 the SNP Scottish Government in Edinburgh have missed five of their economic targets. Does this not demonstrate the incompetence of the Scottish Government in managing Scotland’s economy?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there are real concerns. My view is that the single greatest threat to the growth of the Scottish economy is a second independence referendum, which would put business on hold, disrupt our economy and drive away investment.

11. Given that all of Scotland’s projected population growth over the next 25 years is from migration, does the Secretary of State not agree that reducing net migration would be devastating to Scotland? Does he agree with the leader of the Scottish branch of the Conservative party that a tailored solution for Scotland must be the answer? (905622)

I am clear that we need an immigration policy that is right for the whole of the United Kingdom and that takes into account the very specific needs that we have identified in Scotland. However, we know that the Scottish Government have powers that have very significant effects on immigration, such as the powers on the level of tax, and that making Scotland the highest-taxed part of the UK is not a way to encourage people to come to Scotland.

Does the Secretary of State agree that what really matters to the growth rates and success of the Scottish economy is the Union of the United Kingdom? Does he agree that that is most demonstrated by the border area?

I absolutely agree. That is why I am astounded that the SNP now even disputes that there is an internal market in the United Kingdom; even by SNP standards, that is astounding. That internal market is worth four times as much to Scottish business as the whole of the EU put together.

Leaving the EU: Scotch Whisky Industry

3. What assessment the Government have made of the effect on the Scotch whisky industry of the UK leaving the EU. (905614)

The UK Government work closely with the Scotch whisky industry and particularly with the Scotch Whisky Association to assess the industry’s market access needs. As we leave the EU and build our future trade policy, we are also working to ensure that geographical indications are protected and potentially extended around the world.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his response, but given the potential trade war with the US, the Government’s strategy to throw in the bin 63 bilateral trade deals when we leave the EU, and reports on both sides of the Atlantic that the three-year designation for Scotch whisky could be removed in any trade deal with the US, what is he specifically doing to protect that vital industry for Scotland and the UK in the Brexit negotiations?

First, the hon. Gentleman will recognise that the industry itself has been very clear that exciting opportunities can flow from trade deals post Brexit. That is what the Scotch Whisky Association has said, but the points he makes are very serious ones. I make sure that they are absolutely at the heart of the Brexit negotiations.

Scotch whisky is hugely important to my Moray constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most immediate threat to the industry is the possibility that the EU could include bourbon as a counter-measure against US trade tariffs? Therefore, does he agree that we should urge the EU not to include bourbon for fear of the retaliation action that the US could take?

My hon. Friend is a great champion of the whisky industry and raises an extremely serious and important point. I reassure him that I am in direct contact with the Scotch Whisky Association on that issue and will ensure that the points he has made are fully understood within the UK Government and the EU.

The Scotch whisky industry is very important, but does the Secretary of State agree that the construction industry in Scotland is, too. Crummock, a construction firm in my constituency, went bust last week, with almost 300 redundancies. What is he doing to protect construction in Scotland?

I recognise the issues that the hon. Lady raises, because unfortunately a construction company in my own constituency, Graham’s in Langholm, also went into administration last week. There are significant challenges facing the industry and I would be happy to meet her to discuss the specific issue in her constituency.

These dilations are of considerable interest, I am sure, but they are not altogether related to the matter of whisky. I fear that the Secretary of State was drawn away from the path of virtue, to which I know he will now speedily return, aided and abetted by the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers).

In future trade talks with India, will the Secretary of State place a priority on improving access for our exports of whisky from Scotland and Northern Ireland, as it is one of the United Kingdom’s greatest products?

I will indeed, and the Secretary of State for Wales would be unhappy if I did not also reference Penderyn, the whisky made in Wales. I can assure my right hon. Friend that I will take exactly that action in relation to all the United Kingdom’s whisky products.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, once we leave the EU, trade deals with countries such as Taiwan will open up massive new markets for Scotch whisky exports?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why the Scotch Whisky Association and various companies in the industry recognise that there are exciting prospects out there for future trade arrangements, and I see that they have the confidence and the determination to achieve them.

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

4. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905615)

5. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905616)

13. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905624)

15. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament's decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905626)

Having worked closely with the devolved Administrations on significant amendments, I am of course disappointed that the Scottish Parliament has not yet granted legislative consent to the Bill. The Welsh Assembly agrees that these arrangements fully respect the devolution settlements. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office is in correspondence again this week with Mike Russell, and the door remains open for the Scottish Government to reconsider.

Can the Secretary of State tell us whether he has explained to the Prime Minister that, by a 3:1 majority of MSPs, four of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament withheld legislative consent? What has he advised her to do to recognise that overwhelming expression of the democratic will of the Scottish people?

What I have done is explain the constitutional settlement in the United Kingdom fully to the Prime Minister, which she was already aware of. I know that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) does not like the existing constitutional settlement and wants to see another one, but the current settlement, the arrangements within it and the Sewel convention are quite clear.

This is the Secretary of State who vowed to make Holyrood

“one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments”

in the history of the known universe, so why is he prepared to see this Westminster Parliament override the ruling of the Holyrood Parliament, which has withheld its consent? How does that square with his vow to respect and empower Holyrood?

I am not going to take any lectures on devolution from the SNP. Only today, Nicola Sturgeon has written, ahead of the SNP conference, that this weekend

“marks the start of a new chapter in Scotland’s road to independence”.

That does not sound very much like standing up for devolution to me.

I have recently learned that the great saviour of the Tory party, and perhaps the next Prime Minister, Ruth Davidson, did not actually believe in the vow. Is it not the case that the chickens have come home to roost and that we are now seeing the anti-devolution party once again riding roughshod over Scotland?

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman—the anti-devolution party is riding roughshod over Scotland, but it is the SNP. It does not back devolution; it only backs independence.

The Tory-friendly Spectator magazine has said that no self-respecting Scottish Government of any party could give consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in its current form. So instead of expressing disappointment in the Scottish Government, what is the Secretary of State going to do to engage in cross-party talks and to try to find a solution that respects the will of the Scottish Parliament?

I have wanted to reach an agreement all along, and we have made it clear that we still want to reach an agreement in the exchanges with the Scottish Government this week. Either the Scottish Government need to reconsider their position, or a new proposal needs to emerge.

Why does the Secretary of State think that the UK Government’s proposals on the withdrawal Bill were acceptable to a Unionist Government in Wales but not a nationalist Government in Scotland?

Order. Mr Law, behave in accordance with your surname. Compose yourself, man. Indeed, I advise Members on both sides of the argument to seek to imitate the statesmanlike repose of Mr Alister Jack, from whom we have just heard. He has been attending to our proceedings in a most courteous and civilised way, as is his wont.

The Welsh Government, Welsh Labour representatives in the House of Lords and, indeed, the former Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace, who is also in the House of Lords, have been clear that the Government’s proposals did not in any way undermine the devolution settlement.

I can forgive some members of the Cabinet their ignorance in not understanding the effect of their policies on the devolution settlement, but that is not a quality that we expect from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Does he not agree that it takes a particular form of arrogance to try to force through a position that is supported by only one of the five political parties in Scotland and by less than one quarter of the Members of the Scottish Parliament?

Again, this comes down to the fact that the hon. Gentleman does not accept the current constitutional arrangements, including the Sewel convention. That can probably be explained by this obsession with pursuing independence. The current constitutional arrangements are quite clear, and the Government are proceeding in accordance with them.

Four out of the five political parties in Scotland now understand that this is the first Secretary of State for Scotland in history who seeks to lessen the control of the Scottish people over their own affairs. Will he now stand down and make way for someone who will respect the wishes of the Scottish people and respect the national Government of Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag with his final words. Scotland has two Governments. In 2014, Scotland voted to be part of this United Kingdom, and I will continue to stand up and defend Scotland’s place in it.

The Secretary of State should be aware that Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, wrote to the Minister for the Cabinet Office on 10 May asking for Scottish cross-party talks. If the Secretary of State really has been standing up for Scotland, what has he done to get his Cabinet colleague back around the negotiating table?

The hon. Lady knows that I regard the position of Scottish Labour in the Scottish Parliament as pitiful, kowtowing to the SNP and not honouring its proud Unionist credentials. We are clear that, if any new, different proposal emerges, the door is open and we will discuss it. However, no such proposal has come directly from the Scottish Labour party.

That door is open. That invitation is there, but the blame for this lies squarely at the doors of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. I have a copy of correspondence between the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Richard Leonard, and the Secretary of State is not even mentioned—he is not even at the table. Does that not epitomise the fact that the Secretary of State is Scotland’s invisible man in the Cabinet and that his colleagues are excluding him from future negotiations because of the mess he has already made?

I do not think the hon. Lady follows the media in Scotland very closely, otherwise she would know that Scotland’s invisible man is Richard Leonard, leader of the Scottish Labour party, who has simply gone along with the SNP at every turn. I am proud, in the Cabinet and elsewhere, to stand up for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, and I will continue to do so.

The founding principles of the devolution settlement have been turned on their head in the unelected House of Lords with its amendments to clause 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, yet we, Scotland’s directly elected Members, will have next to no opportunity to debate and scrutinise what their lordships have decided for us. In what sort of world can that possibly be acceptable?

In exactly the same sort of world in which, two or three months ago, we heard the hon. Gentleman setting out all the virtues of the House of Lords and how it would stand up for the Scottish Government’s principles. With your discretion, Mr Speaker, there will be an opportunity in this House to discuss clause 15 next week, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to do so.

Leaving the EU: Common Frameworks for Business

6. What UK-wide common frameworks the Government have assessed as being essential to business after the UK leaves the EU. (905617)

In March, the UK Government published their provisional analysis of where we believe frameworks may be needed. This showed that, of the over 100 areas in which powers are coming back from Brussels, we think 24 areas may need legislative common frameworks to make sure we maintain the UK’s internal market—a market that is worth four times as much to Scottish businesses as the rest of the EU put together.

Services account for over half of Scotland’s exports to the United Kingdom, so ensuring there are no new barriers to trade in services between Scotland and the rest of the UK is vital for Scotland’s economy. Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that, if the Scottish Government really wanted to put Scotland’s interests first, they would be working more constructively with the UK Government to preserve, and indeed enhance, the ability of the Scottish services sector to trade with the rest of the United Kingdom?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The Scottish Government could start by retracting their bizarre recent argument that the UK’s internal market does not exist. We all know they might want the UK’s internal market not to exist, as we realise they have reached such a stage of denial. The truth is that the UK’s internal market is vital to the prosperity and jobs of people across Scotland.

Will the new public relations post in the Cabinet Office covering Scotland and Northern Ireland be one of those essential frameworks that are being built? Is the Cabinet Office riding to save the Secretary of State’s bacon?

As the hon. Lady is aware, the Cabinet Office performs a vital role in operating an overview of the devolved settlements in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and in bringing together those constitutional arrangements.

The hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) is no longer committed to coming in. Never mind. We will get him in another time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that common frameworks in areas such as fisheries, agriculture, food labelling and animal welfare are crucial to ensuring that trade within the UK is not disrupted when the UK leaves the EU?

I absolutely agree. One of the first frameworks we want to agree is in the area of fisheries, because this Government want to take Scotland and the UK out of the common fisheries policy, exactly the opposite of the SNP.

Universal Credit: Low-income Families

7. What assessment he has made of the effect on low-income families of the roll-out of universal credit throughout Scotland. (905618)

Universal credit is transforming lives across the country. Research also shows that universal credit claimants spend more time searching for work and applying for work than those on previous benefits. It is great news that employment in Scotland is up by more than 190,000 since 2010.

People in my constituency and elsewhere, especially low-income families across the UK, have been suffering as a result of the roll-out of universal credit. In Scotland, there have been numerous reports of people having to apply for emergency support, such as crisis grants and food parcels, to meet their immediate needs, because of the six-week waiting period. Does the Minister think there should be such occurrences in the sixth largest economy in the world?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, we have been careful to roll out universal credit and where changes have been needed, we have made them. What is really important is that 77% of people on universal credit are looking to increase their earnings from work, which compares with a figure of just 51% for those on jobseeker’s allowance. Universal credit is a pathway to work and that can only be a good thing.

The roll-out of universal credit and personal independence payments has led to £56 million of cuts in disability payments every year, hitting Scotland’s poorest the hardest. Six out of the 10 worst-hit constituencies are in Glasgow, and the annual loss to disabled people in my constituency is £2 million. If the Secretary of State is really standing up for Scottish interests, what is he doing to stop this atrocious assault on disabled people?

I point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Government are spending billions and billions of pounds on disability payments, and we are ensuring that we give the support to those people who need it most and encourage people in receipt of such benefits who want to work. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—[Interruption.]

Order. There is considerable noise in the Chamber. The Minister is a most courteous fellow who is delivering an informative reply, which very few people can hear. Let us pay him the respect of hearing what he has to say.

That is very kind of you, Mr Speaker. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is also attending the joint ministerial group on welfare this Thursday, where all these issues are discussed regularly.

Yesterday, I was told by a senior member of the Scottish Prison Service management that discharged prisoners in Scotland are now routinely taken to food banks because prison staff know that the six-week lead-in time for universal credit payments will lead to their using food banks. Does that fact alone not illustrate why the roll-out needs to be paused?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, we made some changes in the Budget, which were announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, following the raising of many of the issues. I should also point out that the Scottish Government do have powers of their own; if they feel they should make further discretionary payments to individuals in Scotland, they have the powers to do so. They have not done so yet.

RBS Branch Closures

I have met RBS to discuss its decision and made it clear that its plans are disappointing for customers and communities across Scotland.

Yesterday, I, along with other Members of this House, met representatives from RBS to voice the frustration of our constituents about how they have been treated by RBS. Will my right hon. Friend meet me to see what more can be done to pressure RBS to think again about its branch closure scheme in constituencies such as mine?

I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I must say that I am very disappointed at the response from RBS to the significant report by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs on this issue.

With great swathes of Scotland losing bank branches while they are still awaiting decent broadband from the Scottish Government, what steps are the UK Government taking to support local authorities in the next round of the broadband roll-out, so that people losing local banking services can at least have good broadband?

First, I commend the hon. Lady for her part in the excellent Scottish Affairs Committee report on RBS. She will have heard the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport make it absolutely clear that in future this Government are not going to rely on the Scottish Government for the roll-out of broadband and will engage directly with local authorities in Scotland.