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Volume 654: debated on Wednesday 20 February 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

Leaving the EU

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. It is good to see the Benches so busy for Scotland questions. (909249)

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. (909256)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. (909257)

I share the pleasure of the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) at seeing so many Members present on the Opposition Benches below the gangway. I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and colleagues and have discussed the benefits of the withdrawal agreement and political deceleration for Scotland and the whole UK.

Does Secretary of State accept that no form of Brexit is better for Scotland than our current deal, which is membership? On that basis, will he take the opportunity now to rule out a no-deal, cliff-edge Brexit by extending article 50?

There is one sure and clear way to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and that is to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal; but on every occasion that SNP Members have had an opportunity to do so, they have declined. Indeed, they have sought to bring a no-deal Brexit closer to reality.

Instead of these weasel words and standard answer, will the Secretary of State answer the question? The Government agree that no deal would be a disaster. Does he agree with extending article 50 to rule out a no-deal scenario?

I agree that we should leave the EU with a deal. The SNP position is to contrive to bring about a no-deal Brexit, and the chaos and disruption that they know that would bring to Scotland.

It is just as well that the three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule does not apply here, or the Secretary of State would be one dodged question away from an early bath. On other occasions, the Secretary of State has been very keen to know what plan B was, so what has he told the Prime Minister his plan B is when—not if, but when—the Prime Minister’s rotten deal is rejected again? Is his plan B no deal or is it to extend article 50, and why is he so coy about telling us what it is?

First, I absolutely refute the hon. Gentleman’s description of the Prime Minister’s deal. The Prime Minister’s deal is a good deal. This House, by a majority, has set out changes it wants to that deal, and the Prime Minister is seeking that deal. But if SNP Members really do not want no deal, they should be backing a deal.

Can the Secretary of State confirm that, having spent months propping herself in front of every TV camera going, demanding a seat at the table, the First Minister of Scotland was extended an invitation to a series of key meetings by the Prime Minister, which she could not even be bothered to attend?

My hon. Friend is correct. For whatever reason, the First Minister has chosen not to attend the Cabinet Sub-Committee chaired by the Prime Minister on EU exit preparedness. What she has been prepared to do, however, is to go on television and say that she would not accept any deal; no matter what that deal contained, she would not accept a deal. To me, that is a most powerful advocate for a no-deal Brexit.

Her Majesty’s Government’s Agriculture Bill will give essential legal clarity for farm payments after 2020 and safeguard the UK frameworks as we leave the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is in marked contrast to the SNP Scottish Government who, even at this late stage, have refused to be part of the Bill, leaving Scottish farmers in the dark and at risk?

My hon. Friend has become a powerful advocate for Scottish agriculture in this Parliament. He is correct. We have offered the Scottish Government the opportunity to join us in taking forward the UK Agriculture Bill and providing certainty for Scottish farmers. Instead, they prepare to play politics with Scottish farming and leave farmers with great uncertainty.

In line with the Prime Minister’s ongoing commitment to supporting the growth of the fisheries sector outside the common fisheries policy, may I ask my right hon. Friend what discussions he has had with the Prime Minister, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Treasury about future financial support for the sector, and how best to progress with that and invest in the industry in Scotland?

As my hon. Friend knows, both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have made very clear their support for the industry. Indeed, this afternoon I am meeting the Secretary of State, and that will be one issue on our agenda.

We have seen over the past few weeks the large number of businesses that have been warning about Brexit and the Government’s strategy on Brexit. I keep being told by the leave campaign, “Don’t worry; businesses will adapt.” Well, they are adapting. They are adapting by moving their holding companies and their brass plates to other European Union countries. What will the Secretary of State do in the Cabinet to try to sort this mess out before it is too late? While his party and the SNP fight over flags, some of us are going to have to fight for jobs in our constituencies.

I did anticipate that I would have a question from the hon. Gentleman, but I was not sure whether he would ask it from the Labour Benches. What he needs to do, if he is concerned about avoiding a no-deal Brexit and the disruption and chaos that that would bring to Scottish businesses, is back the Prime Minister’s deal.

Coming back to Brexit, the Secretary of State seems to be completely incapable of answering a simple question: given the choice between no deal and extending article 50 to avoid that scenario, would he choose the latter option? Leaving that to one side, the papers report that he and three colleagues went to see the Prime Minister on Monday this week to discuss this very matter. Did he request that the Prime Minister take no deal off the table, and what was her response?

I am very clear about the implications of no deal for Scotland and the United Kingdom, which is why I want the Prime Minister to achieve a deal. That is why any Member of the House who does not want a no-deal outcome should support a deal.

The right hon. Gentleman seems to be incapable of answering a simple question. If he did indeed tell the Prime Minister to take no deal off the table, let me commend him, because for once—a rare occasion—he is in tune with public opinion in Scotland. He has threatened in the past to resign over matters of detail. When it comes to a matter of principle—having a deal or not—is he prepared to stay in the Cabinet and implement a no-deal scenario?

The hon. Gentleman puts his finger on the key question. It is about having a deal or not. When that question has been asked, the SNP has always been in the not column, contriving to bring about a no-deal Brexit for Scotland. I am in the deal column. I voted for the deal in the meaningful vote, and I will do so again

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is high time that Members in all parts of the House, in the words of the head of Make UK, set aside

“selfish political ideology ahead of the national interest and people’s livelihoods”,

and voted for an EU withdrawal agreement to prevent the catastrophic event of leaving the EU without a deal?

On the 12 October 2016, when questioned about the sweetheart deal that the UK Government struck with Nissan, the Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and told the House that whatever support is put in place for businesses in the south of England

“will apply to businesses in Scotland.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2016; Vol. 615, c. 287.]

In the light of the news that Nissan was offered a financial package worth up to £80 million to ensure that it would not be adversely affected by Brexit, can he detail the financial support that he has made available to Scottish businesses to ensure that, like Nissan, they are not adversely affected by Brexit?

I am pleased to see the hon. Lady on the Labour Benches, as it has been reported that she would be willing to give up her seat to the SNP so that there could be a Labour minority Government propped up by the SNP. I stand by what I said previously: we stand ready to support businesses in Scotland. A huge amount of Government support has gone into supporting businesses in Scotland since the Brexit vote, and that will continue to be the case.

May I gently say to Members on both sides of the House that the style is altogether too languid? A lot of people want to get in: short questions, short answers, and let us move on. I call Lesley Laird.

Let me reassure the Secretary of State that I am going nowhere—I am Labour through and through. [Interruption.] He should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers.

Recently, Nissan, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Airbus, Sony, Panasonic, the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and many others have said that the Government’s incompetence over Brexit already means that jobs are being lost. Everyone here knows that the Prime Minister’s deal is dead, so is the Secretary of State going to let this circus continue or is he going to pull his head out of the sand and take no deal off the table, because that is what business wants, it is what Parliament wants, and it is what the country wants.

What the country wants is to have this sorted. They want to leave the EU with a deal, and the hon. Lady and her colleagues should support the Prime Minister in her endeavour.

Immigration Bill

The Immigration and Social Security Co-Ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill will help us deliver the new single, skills-based immigration system we want, one that maximises the benefits of immigration and demonstrates that Scotland and the UK are open for business.

I have heard the Secretary of State’s answer, but what faith can the people of Scotland have in the new immigration Bill or his Government when even after the issue was raised with the Prime Minister, with a promised intervention from the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary’s office told me yesterday that it has lost the file on Denis Omondi, the serving British soldier in 3 Scots whose young daughter has been denied a visa? Will the Scottish Secretary now get personally involved in this travesty?

Last week, the National Farmers Union Scotland told the Bill Committee that free movement works and should continue, that the Government’s seasonal workers pilot was not nearly enough and that post-Brexit immigration proposals do not make sense and are “very obstructive”. Given that the UK-wide system is not working for Scotland’s farmers, will the Secretary of State argue for different immigration rules to apply in Scotland?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman references the seasonal workers scheme, which my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) did so much to champion, but he is very selective in the evidence he cites. The clear view of businesses giving evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs is that they do not want a separate Scottish immigration system.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the CBI has said that a UK-wide immigration policy is the correct route, including for businesses in Moray and across Scotland?

My hon. Friend is right: that is the position of the CBI and of business organisations in Scotland, because they want workers to be able to move around the United Kingdom. There is no justification for a separate Scottish immigration system.

In both Scotland and Cornwall, many low-paid but skilled jobs are provided by immigrants to the UK. What assurance can the Secretary of State give that that will continue after Brexit?

In relation to Scotland, the immigration White Paper is a one-year consultation and businesses such as those referenced by my hon. Friend should take part in it and make the very point he has made.

It certainly feels different up here on these Benches today, that’s for sure. What does the Secretary of State have to say to the young people of Scotland—[Interruption.]

Order. There is something wrong with the microphone. It is very unusual. I have never been unable previously to hear the hon. Gentleman, but what I would say is blurt it out with vim, man!

I am, Mr Speaker. What does the Secretary of State have to say to the young people of Scotland who, because of his Tory Brexit, will be denied the rights and opportunities to live, work and love across the continent of Europe?

The hon. Gentleman gives a solid reason why he and his colleagues should support the Prime Minister’s deal, which sets out those very issues. Instead, he would far rather have no deal and set about the chaos and disruption that he believes would further the cause of independence.

I must say that, although my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) no longer sits on the Conservative Benches, she remains my hon. Friend.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the immigration Bill must not include provision for Scotland to join the Schengen area? That would undermine the common travel area and potentially result in a border with England.

There are those in this House who would, of course, like Scotland to have a border with England, but that is not true of this Government, who will never do anything that would bring that about.

Does the Secretary of State for Scotland agree with me that Scotland needs more immigrants and needs more workers? Will he therefore support lifting the ban on asylum seekers working when they come to this country?

Asylum seekers are a clear category and are dealt with under some very specific rules, but I do agree with the hon. Lady’s general proposition. That is why I encourage her and others to engage with the consultation set out in the immigration White Paper.

The immigration Bill and the immigration White Paper go hand in hand. The Bill ends freedom of movement and the White Paper sets out the proposed immigration criteria once free movement ends. But the Secretary of State surely should be championing the pressing demographic and skills needs of Scotland at the Cabinet table. My first job in the shipyards, after graduating, paid £24,000. Many of my colleagues from across the EU and further afield earn similar amounts, and they have brought great expertise to our industry. Indeed, given that the average salary in Scotland is about £23,000 and the average care worker in Scotland is paid £18,000, what is he going to do to ensure that this ridiculous, arbitrary salary cap is consigned to the bin, where it belongs?

The hon. Gentleman makes valid points, and I am sure they will all form part of the one-year consultation that is ongoing. I certainly will be advocating those sorts of points in that consultation.

Borderlands Growth Deal

Growth deals lie right at the heart of the UK Government’s support for Scotland, which is why we have committed £1.3 billion to support the existing seven city and region growth deals. We remain committed to the borderlands growth deal.

The borderlands deal is a wonderful opportunity to help economic growth across what we in the borders consider a completely invisible line and not a border at all for practical purposes and day-to-day living. Will the Minister assure me—it is lovely to have a Treasury Minister answering the question—that we will get full support from the Treasury to ensure that we have a really strong, well-built growth deal?

As a Treasury Minister, I can certainly reassure my hon. Friend that the Treasury remains firmly engaged with local partners in ensuring that we have the best possible deal for the borderlands, including her part of the UK.

Rural NHS Hospitals: Public Transport

4. What discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the provision in Scotland of public transport servicing rural NHS hospitals. (909252)

Transport and healthcare policy both fall within the competence of the Scottish Government. Nevertheless, the UK Government remain open to discussing best practice with the devolved Administrations.

NHS car parking charges were scrapped in Scotland in 2008, saving patients, visitors and staff £35 million. Will my right hon. Friend work with the rest of the UK Government to scrap hospital car parking charges across the UK?

I am sure that my colleagues in the Cabinet with the relevant responsibilities will have heard my right hon. Friend’s plea. He has in the past been a very effective campaigner on such matters.

Foreign Direct Investment

The UK promotes UK FDI throughout the world. In 2017, 76,000 new jobs were created in the UK as a consequence. There are 141 FDI projects in Scotland, creating about 4,000 jobs in Scotland.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the reasons behind record levels of foreign direct investment into Scotland is its place in the United Kingdom, the most successful political union in history?

I agree entirely with that. Scotland benefits enormously through being part of what is the world’s fifth largest economy and one of the most dynamic and successful economies in the world.

Does the Financial Secretary agree with me that the First Minister has an important role to play in bringing foreign investment to Scotland and that any criticisms, including those from his own colleagues in Holyrood, border on the provincial to the ridiculous, unless of course they believe that the office of First Minister is a stay-at-home job?

The First Minister of course has a critical role in ensuring that investment is channelled towards Scotland, but I do not believe that promoting Scottish independence is a way of attracting investment.

On the First Minister’s recent trip to Canada, it was reported that she did not mention Scotland’s proudest export, Scotch whisky, once. Does the Minister agree with me that the best way for the First Minister to secure more foreign direct investment into Scotland is to stop prancing around the world flogging independence, and do what she is supposed to be doing, which is to be back in the country she is supposed to be leading? She should be reducing taxes, bettering our public services and making Scotland a more lucrative place in which to do business?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. Increasing investment in Scotland is not about promoting Scottish independence; it is about promoting Scottish products and business. We froze duty on whisky at the last Budget —whisky itself represents about 20% of all the food and drink sales from the United Kingdom. We will stand behind that and other Scottish exports.

Scottish Veterans

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the welfare of Scottish veterans. (909260)

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the welfare of Scottish veterans. (909262)

As members of the ministerial covenant and veterans board, the Secretary of State for Defence and I have worked closely together and with the devolved Administrations on the ambitious UK-wide veterans strategy, encompassing devolved areas, including housing, education and mental health, to address the needs of veterans in all parts of the UK, including Scotland.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that, sadly, some veterans may find themselves homeless. What engagement has he had with the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland to help resolve this matter?

My hon. Friend will be aware that housing is a devolved area and the responsibility of the Scottish Government. However, the UK Government support the veterans gateway, which, among other things, provides advice to veterans on housing and accommodation in Scotland and across the UK.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the first ever UK-wide veterans strategy is a fantastic example of the significant collaboration that occurs every day between the UK and the Scottish Government?

Yes, indeed—I am very happy to confirm that. Although we see a lot of politicking in this Chamber and in Holyrood, the fact is that on a day-to-day basis the Scottish Government, the UK Government and indeed the Welsh Assembly Government can work productively together.

Santander Branch Closures

10. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of Santander on that bank’s proposed branch closures in Scotland. (909261)

Bank branch closures are commercial decisions; they are not for the Government. However, we do recognise the difficulties that they bring. That is why we are committed, among other measures, to banking facilities within a Post Office network—[Interruption.]

Order. A lot of noisy, private conversations are taking place. That is unsound on two counts. First, it is rather a discourtesy to a senior member of the Government and, although he seems modest about it and unperturbed, I am not. Secondly, it means that the House is deprived of the joy of listening to the Minister’s mellifluous tones. The Minister is welcome to continue, at a suitable pace, with his answer.

Thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker. I was concluding by saying that we are fully committed to the 11,500 post offices up and down the United Kingdom, most of which provide banking services.

Santander will be closing 15 branches across Scotland, including in Lanark in my constituency. People and businesses across Clydesdale depend on this service, which cannot be delivered by post offices. Will the Secretary of State call a halt to these closures?

As I have already outlined, these are commercial decisions to be taken by Santander and other banks. We have supported the access to banking protocol, which sets out clear measures that banks must take when they do close branches, to ensure that local customers are supported.

As my right hon. Friend said, some of these decisions are commercial ones, on which the Government cannot intervene. However, they can intervene more on the Post Office side. Will he meet me to discuss access to cash and the campaign that Which? is running, as well as how we can support the communities impacted by bank closures, such as Comrie and Alloa in my constituency?

I gently point out that the issue extends beyond the particular bank branches with which the hon. Member for Lanark and Hamilton East (Angela Crawley) is concerned. If, however, there is a sudden outbreak of unexpected shyness and reticence, the House will note that. It is a most unusual state of affairs: when previously there were significant numbers of Members bobbing up and down, with a view to taking part—

Will the Minister, since he has been so generous in agreeing to meet hon. Members, agree to meet me to discuss protecting the Santander branch in Parkhead and telling the bank to save our Santander?

We are grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) and to the Minister for his characteristically pithy reply. We are much obliged to him for it.