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Leaving the EU: Devolution Settlement

Volume 659: debated on Wednesday 8 May 2019

1. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Scottish Government on the potential effect on the devolution settlement of the UK leaving the EU. (910698)

2. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Scottish Government on the potential effect on the devolution settlement of the UK leaving the EU. (910699)

3. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Scottish Government on the potential effect on the devolution settlement of the UK leaving the EU. (910700)

6. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Scottish Government on the potential effect on the devolution settlement of the UK leaving the EU. (910704)

7. What recent discussions his Department has had with the Scottish Government on the potential effect on the devolution settlement of the UK leaving the EU. (910706)

Mr Speaker, may I take this opportunity to mark the 20th anniversary of the first elections to the Scottish Parliament? Three current Members of this House were elected to that Parliament back in 1999, including me, but, far more importantly, it is a good time to reflect on devolution and the potential of the Holyrood Parliament to improve the lives of the people of Scotland.

The UK Government, including my Department, continue to engage in frequent and extensive discussions with the Scottish Government in a number of forums to discuss all aspects related to EU exit. Leaving the EU will of course result in substantially increased powers for the Scottish Parliament.

The Secretary of State reinvented history at the weekend when he said:

“I reject the…myth that people were told they would stay in the EU if they voted to stay in the UK”.

The truth is that Scotland voted to stay within the UK but is being dragged screaming and shouting out of the EU against its national collective will. Better Together in fact said:

“What is process for removing our EU citizenship? Voting yes. #scotdecides”.

What part of that tweet did he not quite understand?

I was inclined to vote for the hon. Gentleman to succeed your good self, Mr Speaker, before that intemperate question, although I note from his manifesto that he would no longer support independence if he was in your Chair.

I would point the hon. Gentleman to the debate around the EU at the time of the independence referendum, when the former First Minister of Scotland asserted that Scotland would automatically be in the EU as an independent country. That statement proved to be false.

It is because of nonsense like this and Brexit being imposed on Scotland that many Scots now want a say in their future as regards independence. The Secretary of State’s Government accepted the Scottish National party motion on the Claim of Right, which states that it is the sovereign right of the Scottish people to decide their form of government and their constitutional future. Does he still agree with that principle?

Of course I agree with that principle, but I would point the hon. Gentleman to the recent opinion poll showing that only one in five people in Scotland want another independence referendum before 2021.

In the four parliamentary elections in Scotland since the 2014 referendum, the people of Scotland have voted overwhelmingly for pro-independence parties. Will the Secretary of State recognise that mandate and support moves for indyref2?

My recollection of the 2017 general election is that the SNP lost 500,000 votes and 21 seats and came within 600 votes of losing another six.

During the Scottish Tory conference, Ruth Davidson told STV that she was getting ready to fight an independence referendum. Is there something the Secretary of State would like to tell us? Has the Tory party finally realised that it cannot deny the people of Scotland their right to have a choice over their own future?

As I myself told that conference, there is only one guaranteed way to get an independence referendum off the table and discussion of independence away from the Scottish Parliament, and that is to elect Ruth Davidson as the First Minister of Scotland. [Laughter.]

It’s comedy hour in the House of Commons.

I am not sure whether the Secretary of State fully recognises the implications of accepting the Claim of Right, as he did last year. Can he really believe that 20 years after devolution, once the Brexit process is complete constitutional perfection will have been reached on these islands? Is he really channelling Charles Parnell in reverse and saying to Scotland, “Thus far shalt thou go but no further”?

I am channelling the Edinburgh agreement, which said we would have an independence referendum in 2014 and that both sides would respect the result.

As part of our devolution settlement, air passenger duty was devolved to the Scottish Parliament by the Scotland Act 2016, but yesterday Nicola Sturgeon broke her promise to cut APD. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me and business bodies that this tax disproportionately hits Aberdeen and the north-east and that, despite Derek Mackay trying to blame Westminster, the SNP would be better served arguing against this APD U-turn than arguing for independence?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the SNP Government would do better to focus on the domestic issues that are important to the people of Scotland rather than on independence. As we reach this 20th anniversary of devolution, there remains some scepticism about the Scottish Parliament, but I remain very positive about the Parliament; it is the Government in that Parliament who are not delivering for Scotland.

Given the Scottish Government’s failure to take on the welfare powers that have been devolved under the Scotland Act, what confidence has the Secretary of State that they will be able to take on the vast range of powers that will come to them as we leave the European Union?

It is obviously a matter of concern that welfare powers are being delayed, some of them until 2024. However, my hon. Friend may not know that this morning Derek Mackay, the Finance Secretary in the Scottish Government, asked for VAT assignment to be delayed until 2021. It does not seem to me that the Scottish Government are focused on taking on these powers; instead, they are focusing on their independence obsession.

How much funding for Brexit preparation has been received by the Scottish Government, and how much of that has been passed on to councils in Scotland?

The sum is in the region of £100 million. As far as I am aware, none of it has been directly made over to local government in Scotland, although I am sure that the Brexit Secretary and Mike Russell will discuss that topic when they meet in Edinburgh this morning.

What really matters to Scotland, and to many parts of the north of England, is the Union of the United Kingdom. Does the Secretary of State agree that initiatives such as the borderlands growth deal can enhance the economic success of the Union? Does he also agree that part of the success of that initiative was due to the work done by MPs, councils and Ministers, and that perhaps the SNP Government could learn something from that?

I commend my hon. Friend—as I have done previously—for his work on the borderlands initiative, which demonstrates that in the south of Scotland and the north of England, so much more binds us together than drives us apart. The one thing that would be absolutely disastrous for the borderlands area is the introduction of a separate Scottish currency, and my constituents have made it very clear that they do not want Nicola Sturgeon’s chocolate money.

I have the honour to be one of those three people who were first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999, and I am very proud of that. As the Secretary of State will recall, during the years that I spent at Holyrood I spent a lot of time arguing for the interests of my constituency, which we often felt was being neglected by all Governments, including one of my own colour. Today my constituents still feel that they are being left behind by the Scottish Government, who seem to be interested only in the central belt. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is crucial for the interests of all parts of Scotland to be brought to the fore and acted on under devolution?

I commend the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace), the two other Members who were in that first Scottish Parliament back in 1999. I am very aware of the hon. Gentleman’s efforts to promote the highlands in those days. It is a great disappointment to me, given the range of powers that have been devolved to the Scottish Parliament, that this Scottish Government are one of the most centralist Governments in history, seeking to draw power to the centre rather than to devolve it within Scotland.

Now the SNP says that in its independent Scotland we would have a brand-new currency. Does the Secretary of State agree that the people of Scotland do not want a bureau de change at Berwick, and that the people of Stirling still want to use sterling?

I absolutely agree. It is completely ridiculous to suggest that my constituents in Annan should use one currency to get the bus to Carlisle and another currency to get the bus back. This is a ridiculous proposal, and the people of Scotland already see through it.

Two weeks tomorrow the people of Scotland go to the polls, and the Scottish National party will be fighting that election not just resisting the shambles of the Tory Brexit but demanding that the voice of Scotland be heard and the people of Scotland be given a choice over their own future. If my party wins that election, will the Secretary of State abandon his resistance to the Scottish Government being able to consult people on their own future?

I do not know what the hon. Gentleman’s definition of winning that election will be, but that election is to elect Members from Scotland to the European Parliament for as short a period as possible, and that should be the focus of that election.

That does not answer the question, and it certainly does not sound like the response of someone who believes in the Claim of Right. Is it not really the case that it does not matter how many elections we win and it does not matter how many times the people of Scotland demand a say in their own future, because the Secretary of State is part of a crumbling Government and his party, which has the support of one in five people in Scotland, will continue to deny them the opportunity to determine their own future?

The fundamental issue is that when the people of Scotland determined their own future in the 2014 referendum and voted decisively to remain in the United Kingdom, the hon. Gentleman and his friends did not like the answer, and their position is to keep going—to challenge that result until they get what they want. But I have been very clear: this Government will not agree to another independence referendum before 2021.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, contrary to the manufactured myth of a power grab, on our leaving Europe the Scottish Government will receive significantly more powers?

That is absolutely the case, and the power grab myth has been deconstructed on many occasions. The reality, as we have heard in previous questions, is that significant powers on welfare and VAT are going to the Scottish Parliament, and the Scottish Government are asking for those powers to be delayed.

I share the Secretary of State’s sentiments in reflecting on the second decade of the Scottish Parliament. As someone who has served in both Parliaments he will be well aware of the importance of the Barnett formula, which is the financial mechanism that ensures that the resources of the UK are pooled and shared across each nation based on the needs of the population. In March the UK Government announced the stronger towns fund, which allocates £1.6 billion of funding for towns in England. However, no Barnett consequentials have been announced with respect to Scottish towns. So can the Secretary of State enlighten us on how much Scottish towns will receive from this fund, when they will receive it and who will administer the payments?