The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Devolution Settlement
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?
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”?
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.
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?
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.
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?
Universal Credit: Low-income Families
Evidence shows that universal credit is working. We are working closely with the Scottish Government to help them achieve their goals on UC flexibilities. UC Scottish choices are now available to all claimants in Scotland on full service who are not in receipt of a Department for Work and Pensions alternative payment arrangement.
The Scottish choices do not help people to be paid differently if they are receiving less, and Citizens Advice Scotland has raised numerous concerns about the process of migrating on to UC. In one case a 24-year-old single parent was left £90 a week worse off. What are the Government doing to ensure that those on natural migration are aware of their entitlements and do not suffer like that financially?
I am always willing to look into individual cases, and we are working extremely closely with the Scottish Government on their proposals to make the changes they are able to make under the Scotland Act 2016, but of course the Scottish Government are also able to make additional payments to any individual if they choose to do so, but so far they have not chosen to do so.
First, I would like to associate myself with the comments made in relation to the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament—undoubtedly Labour’s finest achievement.
Universal credit is subject to a two-child cap and the subsequent rape clause. In the Scottish Parliament the Tories called it a fair policy; their Scottish leader calls it a “box-ticking exercise”. Can the Secretary of State for Scotland explain why his Government believe it is fair to force the survivors of rape to relive their trauma to claim the support they and their children need?
As the hon. Lady knows, this issue has been debated frequently in this House and in the Scottish Parliament, and the justification for the process has been set out: it is actually to help people in those circumstances. As she knows, the Scottish Parliament has the power to do something different, and if it does not agree with this policy, it could do something different right now. Instead, it is focused on independence rather than on bringing in new welfare arrangements.
That is a pathetic response to what really is a callous and cruel policy. The reality is that the right hon. Gentleman’s Government chose this policy; they chose to cut support to the poorest while giving tax cuts to the richest. They say that the best route out of poverty is a job, but under this Government, jobs are paying less than the living wage and often involve zero-hours contracts. At the weekend, Ruth Davidson talked about the Scottish Tories not wanting anyone to be left behind. Can the Secretary of State explain how cutting tax credits for working families and forcing them to go to food banks is not leaving anyone behind?
What a surprising contribution from the hon. Lady—I would have thought that if she believed that, her colleagues in the Scottish Parliament would be advocating it. Instead, we learned recently that Richard Leonard’s keynote policy for Scottish Labour is an NHS pet service.
European Elections: Voter Registration
I am content that the arrangements are robust. The UK Government have worked to ensure that the “register to vote” website, which has been running since 2014, is secure against malicious attacks and robust enough to manage traffic in line with registration deadlines.
If the hon. Gentleman can bring forward details of any citizens who have tried to register but not succeeded in doing so, I will obviously look at that. There have been many campaigns to encourage people to register, and I particularly commend the Daily Record newspaper for its efforts in that regard.
Leaving the EU: Devolution Settlement
I refer the hon. Members to my answer to Questions 1, 2, 3, 6 and 7.
It has emerged that the polling company Ipsos MORI has been commissioned by the Cabinet Office to conduct polling in Scotland on the state of the Union. That is surely a sign that this Government are deeply rattled by the growing support for independence. Was the Secretary of State made aware of this, and will he support the full publication of this taxpayer-funded polling?
The Secretary of State asked for context in an earlier answer. The House of Commons Library has a Government-issued leaflet from 2014 explaining why people should vote against Scottish independence. Under the heading “An influential voice in important places”, it says:
“As one of the EU’s ‘big four’ nations, the UK is more able to protect Scottish interests”.
Ruth Davidson herself said that voting no meant that we would stay in the EU. Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to get his story straight?
To give the hon. Lady some context, David Cameron made it very clear in 2013 that there would be an EU referendum. The SNP and the former First Minister’s assertion was that Scotland would automatically stay in the EU if it became independent. That was not correct. The question for those advocating a yes in 2014, as it is now, is how an independent Scotland would become a member of the EU.
Many of us in Argyll and Bute have been trying for a long time to pin down the Secretary of State on this question. Will he now take the opportunity to spell out exactly what he believes the economic benefits will be, specifically for my Argyll and Bute constituency, of ending freedom of movement?
We are engaged in a year-long consultation on the immigration White Paper. I am happy, as part of that consultation and engagement, to come to Argyll and Bute, just as the Home Secretary went to Aberdeenshire last week, to hear what businesses and people there have to say.
It was reported at the weekend that the Secretary of State could not even get toast out of a toaster. We cannot get an answer out of him. Are there any circumstances whereby he would support the right of the Scottish people to determine their own future through a referendum?
They asked for more powers over welfare and they have delayed them or handed them back to the Department for Work and Pensions; they asked for the power to cut air departure tax and they have U-turned; they asked for power over VAT assignment receipts and they have postponed it. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, rather than moaning about all the powers they do not have, Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish Government should get on with using the extensive powers they do have to make the lives of my constituents in East Renfrewshire better?
I absolutely agree. The Scottish Parliament has tremendous potential to make a difference for the people of Scotland, but it will not do so as long as it is bogged down in the SNP’s independence agenda. We hear about further legislation being introduced on that rather than on issues that matter: health, education and transport.
People in Corby are overwhelmingly pro the United Kingdom Union, but voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union. What impact does my right hon. Friend believe that ignoring referendum results and not leaving the European Union would have on the devolution settlement?
I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues and we are committed to action that will make a meaningful difference to the lives of disadvantaged children and families. This goes beyond a focus on the safety net of the welfare system to tackle the root causes of poverty and disadvantage. The UK Government will work with the Scottish Government on their child poverty strategy given that this spans both devolved and reserved interests.
In a recent report, the Resolution Foundation projected that the Scottish child poverty rate will hit 29% by 2023-24—the highest rate in 20 years —and concluded that the Government’s welfare reforms are to blame. Will the Secretary of State take a stand in the Cabinet against policies like the unfair benefit freeze or will he allow more children to fall into poverty?
I do not accept that analysis. Of course there is concern about the number of children in poverty in Scotland, but, as I outlined in my initial answer, the best way to resolve it is for the Scottish Government and the UK Government to work together and focus on a really important issue rather than constantly discuss the constitution.
While the Secretary of State gives false assurances about child poverty in Scotland, the Trussell Trust tells me that in my constituency it is giving out more and more food parcels to families and children. How is he using his power to ensure families in Scotland are not relying on food banks?
The first thing, as I have outlined in virtually every answer today, is to get the political debate in Scotland off the constitution and on to the issues that really matter to ordinary families. The idea of bringing forward a new independence referendum Bill in the Scottish Parliament, which would take up time when the Scottish Parliament could focus on issues such as this, is the problem right now.
Scotch Whisky: Economic Impact
I am very pleased to see how this important sector is thriving. The UK Government are supporting the Scotch whisky success story by freezing duty on spirits again this year. That demonstrates clearly how the UK Government are taking the right decisions on taxes and delivering for the businesses and people of Scotland.
The report highlighted that the Scotch whisky industry’s contribution to the UK economy has increased by 10% to £5.5 billion. Due to the UK Government’s welcome announcements, the industry has reinvested £500 million over the past five years in production, distribution and tourism. Does the Secretary of State agree, however, that we can do more to ensure a fairer taxation system for the Scotch whisky industry?
My hon. Friend represents the constituency with the most distilleries in the United Kingdom and is a very powerful advocate for the industry. We consider it to be of very great importance, and we will look at any proposals it cares to bring forward in that regard.