The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Immigration
This has been a momentous week for Andy Murray, so I am sure you will agree, Mr Speaker, that it is appropriate that at this Scottish questions we acknowledge in this House Andy’s extraordinary contribution to British sport, and his personal resilience and courage, and express our hope that we will once again see Andy Murray on court.
I am in regular contact with the Home Secretary on a range of issues of importance to Scotland, including future immigration policy after the UK leaves the European Union.
Apart from his enormous talent, can I agree with the Secretary of State more widely about Andy Murray? He is the embodiment of guts and character, and the most terrific ambassador for Scotland, for tennis and for sport. His mother Judy must be the proudest mother in the world.
The Tories’ obsession with slashing immigration to the tens of thousands will see Scotland’s working-age population decline by 4.5%—that is 150,000 people—by 2041. Is the Secretary of State happy standing over such a policy that will cause economic harm to our country?
The hon. Gentleman does not correctly characterise the situation. The immigration White Paper that this Government have set out is an undertaking to embark on a year-long engagement process across the whole UK to enable businesses and other stakeholders to shape the final details of a post-Brexit immigration policy and process.
May I concur, Mr Speaker, with your comments and those of the Secretary of State regarding Andy Murray? I would encourage all Members to sign my early-day motion recognising his achievements.
Immigration has been and continues to be good for Scotland. Scottish Government modelling suggests that a Brexit-driven reduction in migration will see real GDP drop by 6.2% by 2040, which has a monetary value of about £6.8 billion and a £2 billion cost to Government revenue. Does the Secretary of State believe that this cost to Scotland is a price worth paying for his Government’s Brexit mess and immigration folly?
I do not want to end up repeating my first answer on seven occasions. I want to make it clear that the immigration White Paper that we have published is a consultation. It is an undertaking of a year-long engagement process across the whole UK, including Scotland. I expect Scottish businesses, Scottish stakeholders and, indeed, the Scottish Government to play an active part in that process.
Scrapping freedom of movement will make recruiting staff for NHS Scotland harder. Despite being paid the real living wage, lab technicians, admin staff and social care workers do not earn anywhere close to £30,000. So what did the Secretary of State do to try to convince the Home Secretary to take into account Scotland’s needs?
I am not going to take any lectures on Scotland’s needs in relation to the NHS from the hon. Lady or the SNP—a party that has put up tax in Scotland such that doctors and nurses in Scotland pay more tax than anywhere else in the UK.
I was interested to hear the Secretary of State’s comments about Scottish businesses. CBI Scotland has said that White Paper proposals “don’t meet Scotland’s needs” and were a “sucker punch”. Is it not the case that this hostile immigration policy proves that the Tory Government are anti-business?
I am really pleased to hear the hon. Lady supporting the CBI, because it could not have been clearer that it does not want a separate Scottish immigration policy. It wants one immigration policy for the whole United Kingdom, and I agree.
I am sorry, but this is absolutely pathetic. We have an ageing population, and we need people to come and look after the folk at Greenfield Park care home in my constituency, for example. The Secretary of State is out of touch. When will he get a grip and understand that Scotland’s immigration needs are entirely different from the London-centric policy pursued by this British Government?
I well understand the issues facing Scotland, and I do not believe that it would be better served by a separate immigration policy. I also do not believe that immigration into Scotland is well served by a Scottish Government who put up tax and have a poor record on infrastructure and housing.
The policy chair of the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland has said:
“The UK Government’s obstinate approach to immigration is a clear threat to… local communities”
“nigh impossible for the vast majority of Scottish firms to”
get the labour and skills
“they need to grow and sustain their operations.”
With what part of that comprehensive statement would the Secretary of State care to disagree?
I set out in my previous answers that the immigration White Paper is a consultation. The FSB and others are contributing to it, and we will listen to them. I am clear that Scotland benefits from a UK-wide immigration policy, but I also believe that there are things that the Scottish Government could do to make Scotland more attractive.
Following the disgraceful Christmas video aimed at EU nationals and then the Government’s catastrophic defeat last night, will the Secretary of State urge his Government to end the hostile approach to our EU friends, neighbours and colleagues, who are vital to the Scottish economy and Scotland’s communities?
I agree that EU nationals have played an enormous part in the Scottish economy and more widely in civic society. I want to give them certainty on their position, which is why I voted for the deal last night.
Is the Secretary of State aware that The Times reported on 10 January that a study conducted by one of Britain’s leading social surveys showed that Scots do not want immigration to be devolved? Does he agree that that is a hammer blow to the Scottish National party’s calls and that the biggest danger to Scotland is the SNP’s drive towards another independence referendum, which puts people off wanting to come to Scotland?
It is certainly clear that the SNP does something to put people off coming to Scotland. I read last night that Boy George was going to be moving to Scotland, but the Scottish First Minister engaged with him this morning, and now we hear that he is not coming.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the Home Office and the Government in general have been engaging and will continue to engage with Scottish businesses on the consultation around the immigration Bill?
Yes, we will continue to engage. The White Paper is part of an engagement process. My hon. Friend, who is a great champion of the fishing industry, has already raised issues in relation not just to fishing vessels, but to fish processing.
I welcome this Government’s move to guarantee EU citizens’ rights here in the UK. That is unlike the SNP in 2014, when it threatened EU citizens that 160,000 of them would be stripped of their right to remain in Scotland. No unilateral guarantee was given to EU citizens by the SNP in 2014, but this Government are doing so now. Will my right hon. Friend clarify the direct communications that this Government are having with EU citizens in my constituency and elsewhere in Scotland to ensure that they know that they are a welcome and valued part of our community?
The Government are not just engaging with EU citizens, but setting out how they can proceed in the settled status process.
The borderlands area needs to attract more people to live and work on both sides of the border. Does the Secretary of State agree that the way to do that is through investment, both private and public, and by creating the business environment for that investment, not by increasing taxes and regulation?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. As he knows, this Government fully support the borderlands initiative. It is investing in the improvement of infrastructure and housing that will make the south of Scotland and the north of England more attractive, not putting up taxes.
Tax divergence by the Scottish Government is damaging my Gordon constituency, which is struggling to attract overseas workers to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and the oil and gas industry. Does the Secretary of State agree that this is economic madness and that it makes Scotland unattractive?
As I have said many times in the Chamber, I remain at an absolute loss to understand why the SNP thinks that making Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom is an attractive proposition to bring people to Scotland.
May I, as the Member of Parliament for Dunblane, add my admiration for Sir Andy Murray and, indeed, for his mother?
On the White Paper on future immigration, does my right hon. Friend agree that the salary floor of £30,000 makes it difficult for Scotland to retain international graduates when the average graduate salary is £21,000? There has to be the opposite of London weighting, does there not?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which I am sure will be taken into account as we move forward with the engagement process on the White Paper.
The Secretary of State’s Government have been responsible for pursuing an agenda in which immigrants are demonised. We saw it over the past year with the hostile environment policy; we saw it over the Christmas break as the Home Secretary declared a national crisis when a handful of refugees made the perilous journey across the channel; and we now see it in black and white in the immigration White Paper. My question is simple: will the Secretary of State apologise for his Government’s demonisation of immigrants and its harmful consequences for the Scottish economy?
Of course I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s characterisation of events. Scotland remains a place where migrants should be welcome, wherever they come from. The White Paper sets out the basis for a consultation on developing a new immigration policy post Brexit, and I encourage everyone to take part in that consultation.
The Ministry of Defence spent nearly £1.6 billion with Scottish businesses in 2016-17, supporting some 10,500 jobs. This demonstrates the vital contribution of the workforce in Scotland to defending the UK from the growing threats we face from across the globe.
At Defence questions on 26 November, I raised concerns about the desperate shortage of Royal Navy coastal defence vessels, which number just three according to the Minister for the Armed Forces. It is also the case that Scottish shipyards have suffered from major cuts in defence orders. Will the Government now right both those wrongs by allocating new orders for coastal defence vessels from Scottish shipbuilders?
I am afraid that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We have secured 20 years’ worth of work for the Clyde shipyards. We would be hard-pressed to find any industry in the UK that could say it has secured 20 years’ worth of work to help its workforce for the future.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this important issue. The Ministry of Defence is reviewing the Scottish Government’s plans for next year’s tax, and we await the final outcome and ratification from the Scottish Parliament. We will review the situation and determine whether the impact on the UK armed forces warrants an offer of financial mitigation. Once a decision has been made, an announcement will be made to this House and to those affected personnel.
Happy birthday, Mr Sweeney. I gather it is a significant birthday—30 today and you do not look a day older than 20.
The defence sector is critical for the Scottish economy, but so are other sectors, such as financial services, higher education, food and drink, and fisheries. So will the Minister have a chat with the Secretary of State to make sure that in Cabinet the Secretary of State is insisting that a no-deal outcome is ruled out?
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ingenious way of bringing in defence industry issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is constantly fighting for Scotland around the Cabinet table and he will continue to do so long into the future.
As I said, we are trying to build in a good shipbuilding programme so that shipyards around the country know what the Ministry of Defence’s requirements are going to be for the next 30 years and they can plan accordingly. We also want them to be incredibly competitive, so that they are able to compete for commercial lines, and not just in this country—we want them to be able to compete for opportunities around the world.
What would the impact of the break-up of the Union be on defence supply companies based in Scotland?
I wish to start by adding my sentiments to those expressed by the Secretary of State on our wonderful sportsman Andy Murray.
The Secretary of State has turned his back on Scotland’s great shipbuilding tradition by putting the fleet solid support contract out to international tender. He will no doubt trot out the line, “These are not warships.” However, the Minister of State for Defence, Earl Howe, responded to a written question by saying that a ship such as this is a “non-complex warship”. I grew up in a shipbuilding community. A warship carried weapons, explosives and ammunition, which is exactly what these ships do. So if these are not warships, what are they?
I have made this point consistently, as the hon. Lady will know: the national shipbuilding strategy defines warships as frigates, destroyers and aircraft carriers. The primary role of the FSS ships is the replenishment of naval vessels with bulk stores. They are non-combatant naval auxiliary support ships, and therefore they will go out to international competition. What I am delighted to see is that there is a British bid in that competition.
May I suggest to the Secretary of State that he might want to visit a shipyard, as I am sure plenty of workers there would like to give him a different account of that strategy? We are talking about highly skilled, high-paid jobs that could return £2.3 billion of revenue to the Treasury, while providing sustainable employment and ensuring that communities continue to thrive. Instead, the Secretary of State is torpedoing Scottish shipbuilding in favour of bargain basement deals. So will he allow this Prime Minister to continue the destructive legacy of Thatcher or will he support the Scottish Labour party and the Labour party by backing our plans to finally stand up for Scottish shipbuilding, and protect and create jobs in the industry?
It may have escaped the hon. Lady’s attention but I am not the Secretary of State, and I have visited many of the shipyards around this country and in Scotland. I have seen for myself how well they are doing. We want them to be competitive, so that they can have a long-term future. We have 20 years of work guaranteed for Scotland’s shipyards, and Conservative Members can be proud of that.
Moray Growth Deal
We have been making good progress since the Government’s intention to negotiate a Moray deal was announced in September 2018. The partners there have submitted a number of project proposals, which are currently being scrutinised.
I am grateful to the Minister for that response. The Ministry of Defence is one of the largest employers in Moray, and it is set to get even bigger after significant UK Government investment. Given that local personnel at Kinloss barracks and RAF Lossiemouth are already engaged with the Moray growth deal, will the Minister confirm that his Department will now play a significant role in this important deal for Moray?
First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he is doing on this deal; I know that he takes a keen interest in it, as does the MOD in terms of surplus land being released at Forthside as part of the Stirling deal. He is right that as a local employer we are an important player in that area. I can confirm that the MOD is exploring opportunities for involvement in my hon. Friend’s local growth deal.
Leaving the EU
I regularly meet the Scottish Government in a number of forums to discuss a range of matters related to EU exit. The Joint Ministerial Committee plenary met on 19 December and was attended by the First Ministers for Scotland and Wales, along with the head of the Northern Ireland civil service.
Will the Secretary of State encourage the Prime Minister to extend article 50?
The Prime Minister has set out quite clearly that it is not her intention to request an extension of article 50.
Scotland wanted nothing to do with this ugly, self-defeating Brexit, but last night 10 Scottish Tories voted to defy their constituents, with the other three wanting something much worse for Scotland. What should the Scottish people therefore do to ensure that they are suitably democratically rewarded?
We are not taking lectures from a man who repeatedly defies the democratic will of the Scottish people by ignoring the outcome of the 2014 independence referendum.
Although we were in different Lobbies last night, I appreciate that the Secretary of State genuinely felt that the Prime Minister’s deal was the best way forward, but he can read the runes as to how likely it is that that deal, or any reincarnation of it, will get through the House, so what personal commitment will he give that he will do everything in his power to protect Scotland from the catastrophe of a no-deal exit, including by putting his country above his party and his own position?
I have been very clear about the ramifications for Scotland of a no-deal Brexit and why I want to avoid that, which is why I voted for the deal. I am also clear that I stood in the 2017 general election on a manifesto commitment to deliver an orderly Brexit for Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, and that is what I intend to do.
May I begin by associating my colleagues on these Benches with your comments, Mr Speaker, and those of the Secretary of State, regarding Andy Murray? He is indeed a great ambassador for his country, and I believe that in that capacity his best is yet to come.
Last night, this place made history: we defeated the Government’s plans by an unprecedented majority. They are plans on which the Secretary of State has staked his reputation and on which his fingerprints are indelibly printed. Given that massive defeat, will he now commit to meaningful engagement with the Scottish Government and consideration of alternative plans, including remaining in the single market and customs union?
I make no apology for supporting the Prime Minister’s deal; I believe that it was the right deal for Scotland and the United Kingdom. We will of course engage constructively with the First Minister and the Scottish Government, but if we are to do so, they must bring forward proposals other than stopping Brexit and starting another independence referendum.
I was going to suggest that the Secretary of State is ill-equipped to take this process forward in Scotland, but he makes the argument for me. Given his refusal to engage properly in discussion about alternatives, and given the fact that he is so out of step with opinion in Scotland at every level, will he now do the decent thing and resign—step aside so that someone else can take this forward?
That is getting a little tired; I thought the hon. Gentleman could think of another soundbite. I am not out of step with opinion in Scotland. People in Scotland do not want another independence referendum, and they recognise that the SNP has weaponised Brexit to try to deliver such a referendum.
Leaving the EU: Common Fisheries Policy
Leaving the common fisheries policy will allow the UK to take back control of our waters, becoming an independent coastal state. We will negotiate a fairer share of fishing opportunities to benefit fishermen in Scotland and across the whole United Kingdom.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the positive assessment that he has just given the prospects not just for Scotland’s fishing industry from leaving the EU’s common fisheries policy, but for the whole UK’s. Does he agree, though, that those benefits will be lost if we listened to the arguments of those who want to separate our Union but reunite Scotland with the European Union’s common fisheries policy?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The SNP is a false friend to Scottish fishermen. It wants to keep Scotland in the CFP by staying in the EU, and, failing that, it wants an independent Scotland to rejoin the CFP. Throughout the negotiations, this Government have shown that they have put the interests of Scottish fishermen and those across the UK at the heart of our approach to leaving the EU.
Would no deal not be a disaster for the fishing industry and its support industries, and should we not say no to no deal now?
If that is the hon. Gentleman’s view, he should have voted for the Prime Minister’s deal last night.
If the Government’s commitment to ending the CFP on 31 December next year is sincere, why do they continue to resist amendments to put that date in the Fisheries Bill?
I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman, a former colleague, will find that that is an accurate interpretation of the Government’s position. Colleagues such as my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) have argued strongly for that case, and we will see what happens when the Bill returns on Report.