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Volume 657: debated on Wednesday 27 March 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

Government Policies: Implications for Scottish Economy

1. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implications of the Government’s policies for the Scottish economy. (909972)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has regular discussions with fellow Cabinet Ministers regarding all matters that are of importance to Scotland.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that direct engagement by UK Government Departments, such as the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury, in growth deals such as the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city region deal is the best way to ensure that all economic objectives are met?

May I reassure my hon. Friend that discussions are held right across Whitehall Departments, including those to which he refers, to ensure that the city deal projects, including the Stirling and Clackmannanshire city deal, are as successful as possible? I also recognise the extraordinary amount of work, effort and drive that he has personally put into helping ensure that they are a success.

The Secretary of State and I had a conversation in the Tea Room on Monday, but given that he is not answering this question I will have to ask about something else. Brexit is obviously the biggest issue with regard to the impact on the Scottish economy, so can the Financial Secretary tell us how much the Scottish economy will shrink by if the Prime Minister’s deal is passed in this House?

The cross-Government analysis that we have already come forward with shows, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that, on the basis that we are leaving the European Union, by far the best outcome is to support the Prime Minister’s deal.

Under the Conservative Government, the Scottish budget has been cut by £2.6 billion in real terms over 10 years, and yet the confidence and supply deal with the Democratic Unionist party means that the Barnett formula has been broken to the tune of £3.4 billion. When is Scotland going to get that money?

The Barnett formula has been honoured. As the hon. Gentleman will know, there are Barnett consequentials where moneys are allocated to devolved matters within England. That is not the case in the recent additional amounts to support the Northern Ireland budget. It is also the case that in the recent autumn Budget the Chancellor announced changes that resulted in an additional £950 million for the Scottish Government.

The economy of rural Scotland would suffer serious damage if the Government’s proposals for tariffs on foodstuff were ever to be implemented. The National Farmers Union of Scotland has called for that to be rethought. Are the Government listening to it?

The Government are most certainly listening to all those who have concerns about the introduction of tariffs where they are not in existence, as is currently the case between ourselves and the EU27. Once again, that is why the deal that is before the House, which has been negotiated with the European Union, is so important—because that would mean that we would not run into those particular difficulties.

This question is specifically to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland has three responsibilities: strengthening and sustaining the Union; acting as Scotland’s voice in Whitehall; and championing the UK Government in Scotland. Which one does he think he is doing best, and why?

I have no hesitation in answering on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, bound as I am to do so, given that I started this series of questions and convention dictates that I have to reply on his behalf. Those are all absolute priorities for my right hon. Friend, and he will continue to speak up for the people of Scotland.

I have to express the Opposition’s disappointment that the Secretary of State for Scotland is repeatedly not standing up and being accountable. Once again, this question is directly to the Secretary of State for Scotland, because it is he who holds the office, not the right hon. Gentleman sitting next to him.

I am afraid that I have to tell the Secretary of State that I disagree with the previous response. His record is abysmal. He has failed on the stronger towns fund; failed on Brexit funding for Scotland’s businesses; failed to stand up for Scotland’s shipbuilding communities through his non-action on the fleet solid support ships contract; and failed to respect the devolution settlement. He has even failed to follow through on his own resignation threats. Secretary of State, how bad does it need to get for the people of Scotland under this Tory Government before you do the right thing and actually resign?

I categorically do not accept the points the hon. Lady makes. My right hon. Friend does indeed stand up for Scotland, which is partly why—[Interruption.] The reason why he is not at the Dispatch Box, as the hon. Lady well knows, is to do with the way in which the conventions of the House operate in respect of the answering of questions. She knows that and it is a little unfair of her, if I may say, Mr Speaker, to try to make political capital out of that particular procedural element. My right hon. Friend has stood up for Scotland to the extent that there was £950 million additional budget for Scotland as a consequence of the last autumn Budget, with £1.3 billion going into city growth deals across Scotland. That is to support Scotland, the economy and the Scottish people.

Leaving the EU: Public Services

2. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential effect on public services in Scotland of the UK leaving the EU. (909973)

I have regular discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union. The best way to ensure that public services in Scotland and across the rest of the UK are protected is to ensure that we leave the EU with a deal.

May I share with the Secretary of State an email from one of my constituents, Ian? He says:

“As a doctor, I have already seen the adverse impact of Brexit on the NHS. Staff shortages are already hurting us…We cannot have Brexit and give the NHS resources it so badly needs. I know which people in our local community would prefer.”

Which does the Secretary of State think the people of Scotland would prefer: a decently funded NHS or Brexit?

I think everybody in Scotland wants to see a decently funded and supported NHS. I disagree with the hon. Lady on Brexit—her position is well known. If we want to encourage doctors like Ian to come to Scotland, what we should not be doing is taxing them £1,900 more than they would pay in the rest of the UK.

Is it not the case that what we have just heard is a complete scare story? The Government are making millions more extra available for the health service and all EU nationals who are currently here are welcome to stay. Surely, in the future, we will be able to have an immigration system that treats people equally regardless of where they come from in the world?

I agree with the points my hon. Friend makes. In the future, we have to make Scotland an attractive place to come to. If we want doctors and senior health service professionals to come to Scotland, we should not be taxing them significantly more than they would be paying in other parts of the UK.

The number of EU nurses applying to work in the UK has fallen by 87%, and more than 7,000 nurses and midwives from the European economic area have left the UK since the EU referendum. Can the Secretary of State say, with any honesty, that his Government’s pursuit of Brexit, and their hostile immigration policy, has not seriously harmed the NHS?

I could absolutely say that, because the Government are committed, as they have demonstrated across the UK for which they are responsible, to the additional funding of the NHS. We have set out an immigration White Paper, a route for engagement, to ensure that going forward we have EU and other citizens in our country to support the NHS and other services.

It is nice to get a chance to actually shadow the Secretary of State, instead of myriad other Departments that turn up from week to week, particularly as his own Government analysis shows that their plan for Brexit will result in a 4% drop in gross domestic product. If his party’s track record tells us anything, it will choose to impose austerity and poverty pay on public services and workers to make up for that decline. One of the worst consequences of austerity is rising food insecurity, resulting in food bank use rising faster in Scotland than across the rest of the UK. Given the pressure that the failed austerity agenda is putting on our public services, will the Secretary of State say how many food banks are currently operational in Scotland and does he predict that the number will go up or down under the current policies of this Government?

I thought the hon. Gentleman might have begun with an apology for his shameful remarks, when he said that people who did not agree with him in the Labour party leaving was “necessary cleansing”. I do not know if Labour Members are aware of those comments, but I believe that they are truly shameful. Of course, in relation to food banks, everybody regrets the need that people have in emergency situations to use food banks, but we are clear that the support that we are providing to people as we leave the EU will be sufficient to meet their needs.

Leaving the EU: Discussions with Scottish Government

I recently chaired the joint Scottish Business Growth Group and regularly meet the Scottish Government in a number of other forums, including the Joint Ministerial Committee, to discuss a range of matters related to EU exit.

I am sure that the Scottish people will be comforted by that fact. I am pretty certain that the Secretary of State has been able to have a look at the petition to revoke article 50. If he has not, I can tell him that nearly 10% of his constituents have now signed it. The Scottish people just want this chaotic Tory Brexit gone, but with the UK options quickly diminishing for Scotland to remain, surely he agrees that at some point, the Scottish people will have to decide whether they want to go down with this disastrous, isolating, ugly Brexit Britain or whether they should determine their own way in Europe as an independent nation.

I became aware that the hon. Gentleman did not support the First Minister’s policy of a people’s vote when I did not see any pictures of him cuddling Alastair Campbell at the weekend. At least the hon. Gentleman is honest—he wants to revoke article 50. I do not agree with him. That would not implement the outcome of the referendum. The best way for Scotland and the UK to proceed is to leave the EU with the Prime Minister’s deal.

We know that the Prime Minister, yet again, has had private discussions with the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, who is not a Member of this House and does not represent any Government. She represents only a minority view within one nation of these islands. When did the Prime Minister last speak to the First Ministers of Scotland or Wales? What has the Secretary of State done to ensure that such important discussions take place between now and 12 April?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not aware that the First Minister of Scotland was invited to join a Cabinet committee, chaired by the Prime Minister, to discuss Brexit preparedness, as was the First Minister of Wales. Surprisingly, the First Minister of Wales has attended and the First Minister of Scotland never has.

I am surprised to hear the Secretary of State suggest that the best future for the people of Scotland is to leave the EU, because the UK Government’s modelling shows that any Brexit will mean that the people of Scotland are worse off as a result. Will he now do his job, stand up for the people of Scotland and vote against any Brexit?

I am presuming that the hon. Lady is part of the “Remain elite” that Alex Neil MSP and Jim Sillars referred to in their letter to the Scottish Daily Mail, when they encouraged all Scottish National party MPs in this House to back the Prime Minister’s deal as the best way forward for Scotland. They should listen to them.

Almost all future population growth in Scotland is predicted to come from inward migration, so a welcoming immigration policy and freedom of movement are critical for our public services and our rural communities. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary about meeting Scotland’s needs or devolving the power so that we can do it ourselves?

I was going to answer that I had regularly raised the issue at Cabinet, until the hon. Lady raised the last bit about devolving powers. I have been very clear at this Dispatch Box that the Government, in line with the Smith commission, does not support the devolving of immigration.

Sixty-two per cent. of people in Scotland voted to remain, so that is an elite that I am pretty happy to be part of. Some 7,500 of his constituents and 14,500 of mine have signed the petition to revoke article 50. The right hon. Gentleman is supposed to be the Secretary of State for Scotland and Scotland is against Brexit, so when is he going to do his job, stand up for Scotland and stand up to the Prime Minister, and stop Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will?

Clearly the hon. Gentleman’s view is not shared by Alex Neil MSP and former deputy leader of the SNP, Jim Sillars, who I know commands great respect in Glasgow. The issue at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s question is an unwillingness to accept the outcome of the 2014 referendum. We had a United Kingdom referendum, and the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave the EU.

Will the Secretary of State join me in commending the hon. Member for Watford (Richard Harrington) not only for threatening to resign over this Government’s ruinous Brexit policy, but for actually having the courage, honour and conviction to follow through, or is that an alien concept to this Secretary of State?

As we see repeatedly from SNP Members, they want a chaotic Brexit—and the chaos and disruption that no deal or no agreement would bring—because they believe that chaos and disruption are the best ways to advance their independence referendum agenda.

I am aware that the UK Government have provided the Scottish Government with millions of pounds for Brexit preparations. In the rest of the UK, that money has gone to local authorities. Can the Secretary of State tell me how much of that funding the SNP Scottish Government have given to Moray Council or any other council in Scotland?

I am sure the whole House will join me in congratulating my hon. Friend and his wife Krystle on the birth of their son, Alistair, and on using the proxy voting system to reflect his views throughout his paternity leave.

The House might not be aware but the UK Government have provided nearly £100 million to the Scottish Government for Brexit preparations, but, at the weekend, the First Minister of Scotland was unable to identify a single penny that had been paid directly to Scottish local authorities.

From my right hon. Friend’s discussions with the Scottish Government, can he tell us what preparations they have made for a smooth exit from the EU and to take advantage of the benefits that will apply to Scotland?

I would commend the Scottish Government for their actions in relation to preparing for a no-deal outcome in the imminent future—that these preparations were being made was acknowledged by Mike Russell, their own Minister, in a TV interview at the weekend. The Governments are capable of working on that basis. That said, in response to the point of my hon. Friend’s question, no, the Scottish Government have not embraced Brexit or the opportunities it could bring to Scotland.

Twice the elected representatives of the British people have rejected the Government’s withdrawal agreement, and today we move on to consider alternatives. I know that the Secretary of State is conflicted on this matter, but I would like to give him an opportunity to be clear with the people of Scotland. Will he still rule out a no-deal Brexit, and if the only way to achieve that is by revoking article 50, will he support that?

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. I do not support a no-deal Brexit, but I do not support revoking article 50 either.

We can only interpret that to mean that there are circumstances in which the Secretary of State for Scotland would consent to a no-deal Brexit. In doing so, he stands against the views of the national Parliament of Scotland, of Scottish civil society and of the overwhelming majority of the Scottish people. Is it not time now to rename his post “Secretary of State against Scotland”?

I am sure that that line sounded better when the hon. Gentleman practised it in front of the mirror. He clearly misconstrued my response. The House has made very clear that it will not accept a no-deal Brexit, but we are committed to ensuring that we deliver on the referendum result. That means leaving with a deal, and that is why I continue to support the Prime Minister’s deal.

Borderlands Growth Deal

In his spring statement, the Chancellor announced the provision of up to £260 million for the borderlands growth deal, which will take the total investment to £345 million.

Extending the borders railway to Hawick, Newcastleton and on to Carlisle would bring economic prosperity and jobs to the Scottish borders and the wider borderlands area. Will the Minister join me in asking for some of that £260 million to be spent on a feasibility study?

I can certainly confirm that the Department for Transport will be considering a feasibility study on the extension of the borders railway.

Has the Minister looked at anything to do with local transport in Scotland? Has he looked at the shambles of ScotRail, and the shambles of local communities that have been left isolated?

We are totally committed to supporting infrastructure in Scotland. That is why we have announced £1.3 billion to support eight city growth deals that will promote economic growth, prosperity and jobs in Scotland.

10. Perth city centre is just outside my constituency, but it is nevertheless a cultural and commercial hub for many of my constituents. Is my right hon. Friend considering further funding applications for the city centre and the rural areas of Perth and Kinross? (909981)

Regeneration is of course a devolved matter, but I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government will be supporting Perth via a £150 million commitment to the Tay cities deal.

Elite-level Professional Tennis

7. What information his Department holds on the amount of elite-level professional tennis that will be played in Scotland in 2019. (909978)

I know that you, Mr Speaker, take a particular interest in this question.

Although my office does not routinely hold information on this matter, I acknowledge the great opportunity to build on the continuing legacy of Andy and Jamie Murray to develop tennis throughout Scotland.

If Scottish Office Ministers invested in access to the internet, they would discover that there are no elite-level events in Scotland, which is why many people feel that the Lawn Tennis Association is failing to take the opportunity to build on the legacy of Andy Murray’s success. Will the Secretary of State meet representatives of the LTA and the Scottish Government to see what more can be done to ensure that this huge opportunity is not missed once and for all?

I should be happy to give that undertaking. Perhaps you will join us, Mr Speaker, given your passion for tennis and your attendance at major events in Scotland.

I entirely agree with the Secretary of State. We all commend the heroic successes of Andy and Jamie Murray and want to build on them this year and beyond. I think that we should also acknowledge and salute the extraordinary efforts of Judy Murray, one of the greatest women in the world of tennis.

Of course Scotland’s reputation in elite tennis extends beyond the Murray brothers to the likes of Gordon Reid, Jonny O’Mara and the late and much missed Elena Baltacha. Will my right hon. Friend join me in calling on the Lawn Tennis Association to provide the money that will enable Tennis Scotland to take advantage of this golden opportunity to ensure that children, no matter where they live in Scotland, can take part in and enjoy the benefits of tennis?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend, and I will do that. Perhaps he would like to join me, along with the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) and you, Mr Speaker, at the meeting with the LTA and other interested parties.

Spring Statement: Block Grant

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the effect of the spring statement on the Scottish Government’s block grant. (909982)

The spring statement builds on the autumn budget, which resulted in an extra £950 million for the Scottish budget, and also at the spring statement my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced a further £260 million commitment to the borderlands growth deal.

Scotland clearly receives a very fair share of funding, but the Scottish Government have decided to increase taxes. Does the Minister agree that becoming the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom risks undermining Scotland, particularly through investment and in its wider economy?

Substantial tax powers have been devolved to the Scottish Government, including those relating to the rates of income tax, but the UK Government are committed to bringing taxation down, first and foremost by increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 one year earlier than our manifesto commitment and reducing tax in total for over 32 million people throughout the UK.

I hope colleagues across the House will want to join me in extending a warm welcome today to the United States Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, Woody Johnson. Woody, welcome, it is a pleasure to have you here.