Skip to main content

Scotland

Volume 663: debated on Wednesday 24 July 2019

The Secretary of State was asked—

20 Years of Devolution

1. What assessment he has made of the merits of the devolution of powers to Scotland over the last 20 years. (912059)

10. What assessment he has made of the merits of the devolution of powers to Scotland over the last 20 years. (912068)

As there will not be another opportunity for Scottish questions before September, I draw the House’s attention to an issue that was raised in an earlier session of Scottish questions. I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, will join me in looking forward to the Murray trophy ATP Challenger tournament that will take place in Glasgow from 16 to 22 September. We all welcome this positive addition to the tennis calendar, and I particularly look forward to welcoming you, Mr Speaker, to the tournament.

After 20 years, I believe that the current devolution settlement is the right balance, with appropriate decisions being taken for Scotland at Holyrood and for the whole UK in this Parliament. Since the first Scotland Act, Holyrood has become one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world.

On the devolution of powers, my question to the Secretary of State is about Falkirk Council’s growth deal bid to both the Scottish Government and the UK Government. To give him credit, he has taken a keen interest in the proposed deal. As he well knows, it is an ambitious bid to bring together horizontal community and business integration. Will he update my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) and me on the timeline for the investment zone and growth deal bid? Will he assure us on where the business case will sit in respect of the new Government?

I commend the hon. Gentleman and his colleague, the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), on their lobbying efforts for the Falkirk deal. The UK Government are committed to taking forward that deal. After a productive meeting with the leader of Falkirk Council earlier this week, we are looking forward to the council’s submitting proposals by the end of August and to a presentation in September.

I am glad the Secretary of State seems to think that constitutional perfection has now been reached on these islands. I wonder whether that means he agrees with his new party leader, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), who told a group of activists that we do not need

“an England-only parliament. We have an England parliament, it’s in Westminster.”

If the Secretary of State does agree with that, does that not make his post and, indeed, all of us who represent Scotland a little redundant? If he does not agree, why has he been so effusive in welcoming his new leader? Is it perhaps because he himself does not want to be made redundant?

If that was a question about a separate English Parliament, I should say that I am clear, as is the new leader of the Conservative party, that England does not need its own separate Parliament.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the incoming Prime Minister must deliver certainty, confidence and prosperity for the whole UK, to counter the politics of grievance and defeat?

Given that, 20 years on, fewer than half the people in Scotland think that devolution has led to better outcomes in education, health or the growth of the Scottish economy, does my right hon. Friend agree that what Scotland needs is a Government who will utilise with full effect Holyrood’s extensive powers, not deflect and delay powers like the Scottish National party has done?

I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend and it is a message that I get back from my own constituents. They want to see the Scottish Parliament focusing on education, health, and transport—the issues that are important to their daily lives—and not pursuing an obsession with the constitution.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the frustrations that those of us who cherish devolution feel is the SNP’s apparent reticence to use many of the Scottish Parliament’s powers. For example, what a difference they could make to the lives of the 6,000 WASPI women in my constituency of Edinburgh West if they used the powers they had to alleviate the difficulties, rather than using them as another grievance.

May I begin by asking the hon. Lady to pass on my congratulations to her new UK leader? It is very good to see a Scottish MP in that role. I agree wholeheartedly with her sentiment. It is well documented that if, having aligned themselves to the WASPI cause, the SNP Government really wanted to do something for WASPI women, they have the power and, indeed, the capacity to raise the resources to do so.

Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the benefits of devolution is when our two Governments work together, such as with the Moray growth deal? The £32.5 million from the UK Government was matched by the Scottish Government, which means that it will make a real difference to the whole of Moray. Therefore, devolution delivers when our Governments work together.

I commend my hon. Friend for his tireless efforts to pursue the Moray growth deal, which has been raised at every Scottish questions during his tenure. Yes, the Scottish and UK Governments working together is the best way to deliver for the people of Scotland. Let us see more of it.

Leaving the EU: Effect on the Union

2. What discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the Union. (912060)

The UK Government’s policy has been to strengthen our Union of nations; it is at the heart of all that we do and has guided our approach to our exit from the EU.

If the Secretary of State were to abide by his promises, it would be his last day in office, so I wish him well and thank him for his unstinting courtesy in that role. The new Prime Minister’s election yesterday means that the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party is now the Scottish Conservative and Brexit party, which means that it is abandoning Unionism. Is not the new Prime Minister now as big a threat to the Union, if not a bigger threat to the Union, than any nationalist, and what will the Secretary of State do about it?

That is a bit rich coming from the hon. Gentleman, whom I have always respected in my deliberations from the Dispatch Box. I think that he would agree with commentary this week that one of the biggest threats to the continuation of the United Kingdom is the total and utter collapse of the Scottish Labour party.

More than 100 powers that are currently held in Brussels are to be transferred to Holyrood after Brexit. Therefore, does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from removing powers from Scotland, leaving the EU will give the Scottish Parliament more power?

What my hon. Friend says is absolutely correct. We have been subjected again, as we have so many times during this Session, to hearing about a power grab, but not once have we heard the identity of a single power that is being grabbed. Instead, what is identified is the fact that more than 100 powers and responsibilities are coming to the Scottish Parliament.

What I am interested in is the conversations that the right hon. Gentleman has had with his soon-to-be Prime Minister, because what he has said in the past is that it would be “extremely difficult” to stay in a Cabinet under the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). Will he ever develop anything approaching a backbone, or are Ruth’s Scottish Conservatives now the exclusive property of their biggest electoral liability?

I have always admired the hon. Gentleman’s consistency. Last week, when I appeared before the Scottish Affairs Committee, he said that he hoped I would not resign and that I would be in post for months and years.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that leaving the EU provides many opportunities for the businesses, communities and people across Scotland, not least for the fishing communities in places such as my constituency of Banff and Buchan when we leave the common fisheries policy and become an independent coastal state?

I absolutely do, and I always commend my hon. Friend for being such a champion of the fishing industry. Yesterday, I met the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, which remains excited and upbeat about the prospect of Britain leaving the EU and the hated common fisheries policy.

Politics is about principles. A few months ago, the Secretary of State told us that the threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom was “the principal issue” for him, but he also told us:

“Mr Johnson and I do not agree on a whole range of issues, and I do not see myself able to serve in this way.”

So how far will the Secretary of State allow his principles to be stretched in defence of the Union, just so he can keep his job?

I am not going to take any lessons on the question of leadership from the hon. Lady. Only yesterday, she said that

“we need a serious, mature politician who can be relied upon to keep his promises”

to be our Prime Minister. I am sure she was not referring to Richard Leonard or the leader of the Labour party.

I think that we would find more maturity in both those quarters than we might in the Prime Minister to be. However, those were the Secretary of State’s opinions, although he has obviously traded them in and got some new ones. He wants us to believe and that this Government are guardians of the Union, yet by pandering to the dog-whistle politics of English nationalism, the next Prime Minister has already abandoned the tradition of the Conservative and Unionist party. The Tory party is now a real and present danger to the integrity of the United Kingdom, so will the Secretary of State now confirm that he will not sell out the people of Scotland and that he will not be part of a no-deal Cabinet?

The hon. Lady has a nerve. Her position has been to sell out to the SNP. She told her colleagues that she would gladly give up her own seat to the SNP so that there could be a Labour-SNP alliance that would inevitably lead to another independence referendum. But to give her credit, she is doing a pretty good job of crashing the Scottish Labour party in the polls—losing two MEPs and finishing fifth in the European elections. Only the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party in Scotland will stand up for our United Kingdom, and I will certainly continue to do so.

Leaving the EU: No Deal

3. What recent assessment he has made of the economic effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912061)

The Government delivered on our commitment to provide objective analysis to Parliament of how exiting the EU may affect the economy of the UK and its sectors, nations and regions in the long run.

Previous estimates have indicated that a no-deal Brexit could cost Scotland over 100,000 jobs. On that basis, will the Secretary of State confirm to the House that he will never serve in a Government whose policy is to leave without a deal?

My position on no deal is quite clear compared to the hon. Gentleman’s. On the three occasions that I had the opportunity to vote for a deal, I did so; he and most of his Labour colleagues did not.

Deal or no deal, Scotland faces a £1 billion financial hole, £737 million of which will be bridged by funds from Westminster funded by other parts of the United Kingdom. What analysis has my right hon. Friend done of how deep that hole would be if Scotland was separated from the rest of the United Kingdom?

It is well known that there would be a multibillion-pound funding gap in the event of Scottish independence that could only be dealt with by significant tax rises or cuts in services. Those who propose independence have still not answered the question on where that money is to be found.

A no-deal Brexit will be catastrophic for Scotland’s hill farmers, especially those looking to export sheepmeat to the European Union. That is not just my view but the view of the National Farmers Union Scotland and the NFU across the four parts of the United Kingdom. Can the Secretary of State give me and them some assurance that he will not just sit in Cabinet and watch their livelihoods destroyed?

I have been very clear throughout my time in Cabinet about the importance of agriculture to Scotland and the needs of Scotland’s agriculture industry, and I will continue to be so.

Drug Consumption Room (Glasgow)

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Home Secretary on the potential merits of establishing a medically supervised drug consumption room in Glasgow. (912063)

The causes of drug misuse are complex and need a range of policy responses. I am aware that the Home Secretary has offered to meet Scottish Government Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick to discuss a broad range of issues around the tragic matter of drug-related deaths in Scotland.

I am glad that the Home Secretary is finally going to meet the Scottish Government on this. When NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde published its proposals for a supervised drug consumption in 2016, the number of drug-related deaths stood at 257; last year, it was 394. So I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland, how many people would still be alive in the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde area if the Home Office had not blocked, for ideological reasons, drug consumption rooms in Glasgow?

As I said in my initial response, issues around drug misuse are complex and need a range of policy responses. I welcome the fact that the summit that my Scottish Parliament colleague Miles Briggs MSP suggested is going to go ahead. I can confirm that UK Government Ministers will take part in that, and I am sure that all the issues will be discussed on that occasion.

Scotland’s drug death rate is three times higher than in the rest of the UK. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that in addition to UK-wide action, the Scottish Government should be using their substantial powers over healthcare, education, housing and criminal justice to tackle this?

I do agree with my hon. Friend. Of course the UK Government want to work closely with the Scottish Government on this. The statistics released last week are shocking to everyone in Scotland and, indeed, throughout the United Kingdom, but it should not be suggested that any of the UK Government’s policy decisions are the sole answer to this issue: it is complex, and the powers that the Scottish Parliament already has will go a long way towards dealing with it.

Two weeks ago, my constituent Chelsea Bruce died in a drugs-related incident. She was just 16 years old. The time for handwringing is over. We know that drug consumption rooms, drop-in testing and even safe clinical prescribing of illicit drugs will save lives. The international body of evidence is unequivocal, yet the Secretary of State has been sceptical and vague on this. If only he would show some leadership in urgently finding a route through the impasse between the Home Office and the Lord Advocate to help to rapidly roll out these facilities in Glasgow and across Scotland. How many more must die before the Secretary of State recognises this public health emergency and acts to save these lives?

That sort of politicking is completely unworthy of this serious debate. The Home Office, the UK Government and, with respect, the Scottish Government take this issue seriously. We are going to have a summit in early course to discuss all the issues around this, and I sincerely hope, because I have had constituents die as well, that we can move forward.

Further Devolution

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the devolution of further powers to Scotland. (912064)

I have regular meetings with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who has been unwavering in her passionate support for our Union. We have regularly discussed the UK Government’s continued commitment to the devolution settlement and to a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.

If the Secretary of State is in his place later, what will he do to keep Scotland in its place in the UK?

I will continue to do as I have done for the past four and a bit years, and that is relentlessly to make the positive case for the benefit of Scotland being in the United Kingdom and to the United Kingdom of having Scotland in it.

11. Britain will be leaving the European Union on 31 October, under our excellent new Prime Minister. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, when we do so, 100 extra powers will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, meaning that Conservatives and Brexiteers are the true friends of devolution and a strong Scottish Parliament? (912070)

My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. This party and this Government have been committed to the devolution settlement and to making it work. There is one party in this Parliament that would destroy devolution, and that is the SNP.

Leaving the EU: No Deal

7. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912065)

12. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the effect on Scotland of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. (912071)

I have had regular discussions with the Prime Minister on a range of matters related to exiting the EU. It is essential that we respect the result of the 2016 referendum vote to leave the EU.

A no-deal Brexit combined with ending free movement of people, which is the inbound Prime Minister’s prospectus, would restrict Scottish business and the public sector from recruiting the staff they need, yet the Secretary of State has welcomed the appointment of the inbound Prime Minister. Can we conclude then that he is prepared to throw business and public services under a bus simply to protect his own career?

What amounts to throwing Scotland under a bus has been the actions of the SNP throughout the Brexit debates in this Parliament—voting three times against an agreement that would have allowed Scotland to leave the EU on an orderly basis and largely in accordance with its own document, “Scotland’s Place in Europe”.

In recent weeks, I have read reports that house prices in London are falling and job vacancies are down—two classic signs of an economy going into recession—and I can add to this mix the potential for a no-deal Boris Brexit boorach. Given these circumstances, what is the Secretary of State’s plan B for the Scottish economy?

The incoming Prime Minister has been very clear that he wants to leave the EU with a deal, and that is the best outcome for Scotland.

Let me read this for fear of misquoting the Secretary of State. He told the last Scottish Conservative party conference:

“Unfortunately Mr Johnson seems to behave in a way that suggests he is only focused on his own self interest and not on the interests of our country, and I find that very disappointing.”

Has the Secretary of State now overcome his disappointment, and will he continue to serve the new Prime Minister?

Just like the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, everything I have ever said is on the record. What I want to make clear is that my priority remains Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom, and that—in government or out—will be my continuing priority.

The House will observe that that is not actually an answer to my question. The Secretary of State sits besides Cabinet colleagues who have demonstrated integrity and conviction in deciding that they will resign over the question of a no-deal Brexit. If he is against a no-deal Brexit, would it not be a better look for Scotland for him to do likewise, rather than wait to be sacked or abolished?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman’s position is not a deal Brexit or a no-deal Brexit; it is no Brexit. That is what he is seeking to bring about. There is no evidence that the SNP has at any time been serious about getting a deal for Scotland. On each occasion it has had the opportunity to vote for a deal, it has voted against it.

I hope that the Secretary of State will stay in post, but apparently that means he will have to sign the pledge, because in order to serve in the next Government he and others will have to agree to leaving the EU come 31 October, deal or no deal. So will he be at the Dispatch Box again—yes or no—or are these his last questions?