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Volume 662: debated on Wednesday 19 June 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

Leaving the EU

I should like to begin by wishing Shelley Kerr and the Scotland team all the best in tonight’s women’s World cup match against Argentina. Although results have not necessarily gone the team’s way to date, they have been a credit to Scotland and have transformed people’s views on women’s football.

I have had regular discussions with the Prime Minister on a range of matters relating to EU exit. It is the Government’s position that leaving the EU with a deal is in the best interests of Scotland and the UK.

One thing that the Secretary of State for Scotland and I can agree on is wishing our colleagues well in the football, and, of course, things always go very well for the Scots where Argentina and football are concerned.

It seems clear that the Conservative party is on the verge of electing a new leader and Prime Minister whose primary purpose will be to deliver a no-deal Brexit. Is the Secretary of State prepared to be part of a no-deal Cabinet that will shrink our economy by up to 7% and put 100,000 people in Scotland out of a job?

Obviously, I am answering questions on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government and not on behalf of the leadership candidates, but I am clear that those aspiring to the leadership of the Conservative party want to leave with a deal. Throughout this process, I have voted on every occasion to leave the EU with a deal. The hon. and learned Lady has never done so.

According to every piece of the Secretary of State’s own Government’s analysis, there is no version of Brexit that fails to harm Scotland. New YouGov polling shows that Tory members would prefer Scotland to be an independent country, rather than stopping Brexit. Which choice should the Scottish Secretary make: a devastating no-deal Brexit Britain, or giving the people of Scotland the choice to be an independent European nation?

Mr Speaker, it will not surprise you to hear me say that Scotland has already made its choice on whether to be independent or part of the United Kingdom. The poll to which the hon. Gentleman referred was based on a false premise. This Government are about delivering Brexit and keeping Scotland at the heart of the United Kingdom.

Will the Secretary of State tell us how much money the Scottish Government have given to local authorities in Scotland to prepare for our exit from the European Union?

As far as I understand it, the UK Government have made more than £100 million available to the Scottish Government to help to prepare for Brexit—and, indeed, a no-deal Brexit—but precisely none of that money has been allocated directly to local authorities or to Police Scotland.

Further to the reply that the Secretary of State gave a few moments ago, does he agree that the majority of Scots voted in the 2017 general election for parties that were committed to delivering the 2016 referendum, and that it would be a dereliction of our democratic duty not to do so?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. That is why this Government are committed to respecting the outcome of both the referendums that have taken place in Scotland: the 2014 independence referendum, in which people voted to remain in the United Kingdom; and the 2016 EU referendum, in which people across the UK voted to leave the EU.

10. Given that the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly have both said that the economies of Scotland and Wales would fall by between 7% and 8% on no deal, what has the Secretary of State said to the five leadership candidates about the impact of no deal and why they should avoid it? (911396)

This is not just about the five leadership candidates. Both in this House and elsewhere, I have been clear that a no-deal Brexit would be bad for Scotland, and we want to avoid that. We want to leave with a deal and, as I understand it, the leadership candidates are all setting out how we could leave with a deal.

9.   Brexit is already having an impact on East Dunbartonshire’s major employers. Aviva has announced that there will be job losses in the coming years, and a major engineering firm—an award-winning exporter—has told me about the negative impact Brexit is having on its business. Knowing what he does about the devastating impact on Scotland, how can the Secretary of State possibly countenance the no-deal or hard Brexit being offered by his colleagues in his party’s leadership election? (911395)

I thought for one moment that the hon. Lady was going to refer to her own leadership campaign, and if I did not think it would stymie her chances I would wish her well. She knows that the current uncertainty is the more serious problem for businesses in Scotland and elsewhere, but we could have ended that uncertainty much earlier by voting for a deal.

My right hon. Friend spoke about the £100 million being given to the Scottish Government to tackle Brexit. Will he confirm that Scottish nationalists have chosen to spend £10 million of it on plugging holes in their own budget?

I fear that there are so many holes in the Scottish Government’s budget that a mere £10 million will not fill many of them.

I join the Secretary of State in congratulating and sending our best wishes to Scotland’s women’s team, particularly to Leanne Crichton. She is from Dennistoun in my constituency, and it was a pleasure to meet her just a couple of weeks ago.

Speaking of team players, the Secretary of State has refused to rule out working with the calamitous former Foreign Secretary, who is prepared to see the United Kingdom leave the EU on disastrous no-deal terms. A majority of Conservative party members would rather see the economy crash, the United Kingdom fragment, and their own party destroyed to secure Brexit. The party is now better described as the “English nationalist party” rather than a party that wishes to preserve the unity of the British people. Has it now dawned on the Secretary of State that he may not have left the Conservative party, but the Conservative party has certainly left him?

I am sure that that read better as a press release. This Government’s position is quite clear: we are about honouring both the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the 2016 EU referendum. I will take no lessons from the hon. Gentleman on party affairs when his colleague Neil Findlay used his resignation letter to describe the Scottish Labour Party as having a “toxic culture” and “eternal” infighting.

The Secretary of State has been consistent, if nothing else, in denying the Scottish Parliament’s aspirations to offer the people of Scotland a choice between remaining in a Brexit Britain or taking control of their own affairs. Indeed, he made it a central plank of his party’s election campaign last month. In that election, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party received 11.6% of the votes. Given that only one in nine people support his proposals, is it not time to demonstrate some grace and humility and stop behaving like a colonial overlord?

If anyone requires grace and humility, it is the SNP, which still fails to recognise that in the 2017 general election, in which Brexit was a key issue, its vote fell by more than 500,000 and it lost 21 seats.

Many of us appreciate that this may well be the Secretary of State’s last outing in this Chamber in his current role, so his mind may be somewhat distracted, but he must surely recognise that the circumstances have now changed. His party is about to elect a leader and force upon us a Prime Minister hellbent on a no-deal Brexit. If that happens, will he continue to refuse the right of the Scottish Parliament to consult Scotland’s people on their own future?

I understand that the Scottish Parliament will consult via a people’s assembly process, although I do not agree with it. When we have a Scottish Parliament and 129 elected representatives, I feel that is the forum in which these matters should be discussed.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong in how he characterises the Conservative leadership candidates, who have made it clear that their preference is to leave the EU with a deal.

Household Incomes

2. What assessment he has made of the effect of recent changes in the personal allowance on levels of household income in Scotland. (911387)

We are helping families to keep more of what they earn by raising the personal allowance, which has gone up to £12,500. As a result, 2.4 million Scottish taxpayers received a cut in their tax in 2019-20 compared with 2015-16.

As well as letting hard-working families keep more money in their pockets—in stark contrast to the Scottish Government, who are taxing 22,000 of my constituents more than they would be taxed if they lived in England—raising the personal allowance also takes some of the lowest paid out of tax altogether. Will my right hon. Friend confirm how many people in Scotland have been taken out of paying income tax by the Conservative Government?

Thanks to this Government’s increases in the personal allowance, 135,000 Scots no longer have to pay any income tax at all. That is the record of this Conservative Government: cutting tax, as opposed to the SNP Scottish Government who are making Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK.

14. Does the Secretary of State realise that people on universal credit automatically lose 63% of those tax benefits? That is contributing to the fact that more than 34,000 tenants on universal credit in Scotland now owe over £21 million in rent arrears, an average of £644. Will he look at the impact of universal credit on Scottish people, and particularly those in low-income households? (911400)

I am always willing to look at specifics. Of course, we are working with the Scottish Government to bring forward the variations in universal credit that they are seeking, and one of those variations relates to the payment of rent. Another point I have made many times at this Dispatch Box is that the Scottish Government also have wide-ranging powers to make additional payments to people in Scotland, if they choose.

Our armed forces serve the whole United Kingdom, and, as an English MP, I am proud that our United Kingdom Government are supporting our armed forces personnel stationed in Scotland to the tune of £4 million. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is only the UK Government who can stand up for our armed forces personnel?

The Ministry of Defence again made a very positive announcement this year confirming extra payments to servicemen and women who have been sent to Scotland for operational requirements to ensure that they are not penalised for serving in Scotland by the SNP’s high-tax policies.

I note what the Secretary of State says about taxation. However, people living in remote parts of the UK, such as my constituency, are paying crippling delivery charges for goods. Would we not help the income of those families by tackling this serious problem?

I recognise this issue and, obviously, it has been raised many times in this Chamber by my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Douglas Ross). The Government are seized of this issue and are looking to try to resolve this inequity whereby people living in remote and rural areas are asked to pay disproportionate delivery charges.

Although the lowest-paid members of the armed forces in Scotland pay less tax than their counterparts in England, can the Secretary of State confirm that the mitigation payments made by the United Kingdom Government to the highest earners in Scotland are subject to tax?

Every payment made is subject to the tax system, as is self-evident, but what these payments do is mitigate the reduced payments that our armed forces personnel are receiving due to the SNP’s high-tax approach.

Intergovernmental Relations

This is a joint review between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, and it is incumbent on all Administrations to make progress. There are ongoing discussions across the review’s work streams, which will be discussed at the next meeting of Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations), which is next week.

The frontrunner to become the next Prime Minister has published an anti-Scottish poem. He believes that a pound spent in Croydon is of more value than a pound spent in Strathclyde, and that a Scottish MP should never be Prime Minister. Does the Secretary of State agree that if the former Foreign Secretary became Prime Minister, it would be a disaster for intergovernmental relations and a boost for Scottish independence?

At every Scottish Question Time we hear the assertion that this or that will be a boost for Scottish independence—it has got to the stage where if the chicken crosses the road, it will be a boost for Scottish independence. It is for individual candidates in the Conservative leadership elections to answer questions about their own position and background.

During an open session of the Political and Constitutional Affairs Committee on Monday 20 May, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was asked whether he could give an update on the progress of the review of intergovernmental relations. He replied:

“I cannot put a firm timescale on this. Perhaps, if we were looking towards the end of this year”.

Given the time that has elapsed, and the uncertain political times we are living through, is that good enough for Scotland?

I believe that progress is being made, and I am hopeful that next week’s meeting of the JMC(EN) will provide an opportunity to discuss the principles that would underpin the new IGR agreement. That was discussed with Welsh Government Ministers and Mr Mike Russell at the last meeting of the JMC(EN).

The current frontrunner to become Prime Minister has previously written that

“government by a Scot is just not conceivable in the current constitutional context.”

Does the Secretary of State agree? Does he believe that such an opinion is helpful to intergovernmental relations?

I do not agree, and I am sure that the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), should she lead her party, will aspire to the office of Prime Minister. No, I do not agree with that analysis.

The Scottish Affairs Committee should be holding the Secretary of State to account, but he keeps refusing our invitations. As this is his last Question Time before leaving office in the great Tory purge to come, does he agree that the Scotland Office is no longer fit for purpose, that its function as a propaganda unit is unbecoming of a Government Department, and that it needs serious reform and overhauling—or quite simply to be abolished? What is the point of the Scotland Office?

Like me, the Secretary of State has served as a councillor, an MSP and an MP, so does he agree that we can have political differences within and between the various levels of government, but that that should not be misconstrued as a breakdown in intergovernmental relations?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Many of the disagreements between the Scottish and UK Governments are over political differences, rooted in the fact that this Government want to respect the outcome of the 2014 independence referendum and the SNP Scottish Government want to have another referendum. They are political disagreements.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that £1.3 billion has been allocated to Scotland through the city and growth deals? Lessons learned through the city and growth programmes are being played into the Union strategy and intergovernmental relations, so we take the positives out of the incredible investment that is coming to Scotland through the UK Government.

I have always believed that the city and growth deals are a clear example of the fact that the two Governments can work together constructively for the benefit of the people of Scotland. That is what people in Scotland want to see.

In congratulating the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire on a particularly splendid tie, I call Mr Pete Wishart.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

The Scottish Affairs Committee has just released our report on intergovernmental relations. It is an evidenced-based, wide-ranging report on a number of important issues. This cross-party report states that the Scotland Office has failed to keep pace with devolution and that most direct intergovernmental relations are conducted outwith the Secretary of State’s Department. I have noticed in some of the press comments that he is not taking this at all seriously, so will he now agree to a proper review of his Department?

I do not know to which press comments the hon. Gentleman refers, because although we have our political differences, I respect the work of his Committee and have been clear that I welcome the opportunity for a review of the Scotland Office. I am confident that such a review would result in an enhanced Scotland Office, not the loss of it.

First, I associate myself with colleagues’ remarks and wish the Scotland team all the very best in their final match tonight.

Two parliamentary Select Committees have now recommended that the Secretary of State’s role should be abolished. The Secretary of State ignored Labour’s warning about the democratic deficit of the Joint Ministerial Committee, he botched the devolution element of the Brexit Bill and he has failed to secure funding for Scotland as part of the stronger towns fund. Does he accept any responsibility whatsoever for presiding over the mess that has led to the unprecedented step of two parliamentary Committees calling for his head?

I do not know whether the hon. Lady has read the Scottish Affairs Committee report; it might have been helpful, because it does not call for the abolition of the Scotland Office. The SNP obviously wants to see the Scotland Office abolished—the SNP wants to see the UK Government abolished. The report calls for a review, and after 20 years of devolution a review is a perfectly appropriate step to take.

The issue is how we got to this point. The right hon. Gentleman’s handling of all the issues I have outlined confirms why we are in this mess. Given that he is unhappy in his work, his threats to resign may well be fulfilled by the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) in a short period.

Both the Secretary of State and Ruth Davidson have flip-flopped on whether they would work with the former Foreign Secretary if he became Prime Minister. Does the Secretary of State think that if the former Foreign Secretary is elected as Prime Minister, his diplomatic skills will come to the fore and he will improve relations between the Scottish and the UK Government, or would it be another Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe moment?

I am very clear: I respect democracy and will respect the result of the Conservative leadership election. All five of the candidates who are still in the race are clear that they are Unionists, which is what makes them different from the Leader of the Opposition. They will not be cosying up to the SNP to have a second independence referendum.

The Union

Strengthening and sustaining the Union is a key priority for the UK Government. The Government deliver for the people of Scotland day in, day out, whether through creating jobs, opportunities and long-term growth, or keeping our citizens safe.

One obvious way further to strengthen the Union is for key Government Departments, such as the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Work and Pensions, to move more jobs and activities to Scotland. What is the Secretary of State doing to pursue that agenda?

My Cabinet colleagues are present, and I am keen to ensure that as many UK Government jobs as possible are in Scotland. Last week, I was delighted to launch the new UK Government hub in Edinburgh, which will house 3,000 UK civil servants.

The Scottish Government have launched an independent review of the joint campus of Buchanan and St Ambrose High Schools in my constituency, after health and safety concerns were raised by parents, pupils and staff. Does the Secretary of State agree, like me, with the concerned parents, pupils and staff, who think that an independent review must properly assess the water quality and the site of both schools, including for air and soil contamination—for the past, present and future of these children?

Obviously, that matter is ultimately for the Scottish Government, but I know that the hon. Gentleman is a real champion for the parents and pupils at those schools, and I will do everything to assist him in taking forward their concerns.

Fisheries Bill

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on the Fisheries Bill. (911391)

I continue to work closely with colleagues on the Fisheries Bill, which will allow us to manage our fisheries sustainably and deliver on our promise to take back control of our waters. It will allow us to decide who may fish in our waters and on what terms as we become an independent coastal state.

The last time that I asked the Secretary of State about the Fisheries Bill, he deflected the question by saying that

“we will see what happens when the Bill returns on Report.”—[Official Report, 16 January 2019; Vol. 652, c. 1152.]

That was five months ago, and we have still not had the Fisheries Bill on Report. When are we going to get it?

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear me say that it will be in due course.

Oil and Gas Industry

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the Government’s role in supporting the oil and gas industry. (911394)

I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on a range of issues relevant to Scotland. That has included discussions about the support that this Government have provided to the oil and gas sector. The UK Government are committed to ensuring that this key industry has a long future.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. May I congratulate him and the Scotland Office on supporting Scottish industry, when the SNP Scottish Government do not? It is due to his hard work that transferable tax history was delivered to the oil and gas industry. Does he agree that Opposition suggestions that we should divest ourselves of the oil and gas industry would threaten 120,000 highly paid Scottish jobs?

That goes into the matter of Opposition policy. That would be impure, and I am sure the Secretary of State would never knowingly be impure.

Since joining this Parliament, my hon. Friend has become a real champion of the industry, and it disappoints me to hear Opposition Members describing oil and gas as a dirty technology with no long-term future. We can be clear that this party and this Government will always stand up for Scotland’s oil.

Drug Consumption Room: Glasgow

13. What discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the potential merits of establishing a medically supervised drug consumption room in Glasgow. (911399)

There is currently no legal framework for the provision of drug consumption rooms in the UK. The Scottish Affairs Committee is undertaking an inquiry into drug use in Scotland. As with other inquiries, the Government will consider the Committee’s report.

I am sorry, but that is just not good enough. People in my constituency are dying for want of a safe consumption room. Will he come to meet people in Glasgow to see why such rooms are very much needed to reduce harm and to save lives?

I hear what the hon. Lady says, but I do not think that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) would accept that we would not want to take seriously his Committee’s serious inquiry—the Committee is visiting many overseas examples. We want to look at its report, and that is what we will do.