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House of Commons Hansard
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08 January 2020
Volume 669

The Secretary of State was asked—

Fiscal Framework Agreement

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1. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the 2016 fiscal framework agreement between the Government and the Scottish Government. [900085]

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I welcome you to your new role, Mr Speaker, and give you my very best wishes for 2020.

The UK Government continue to work closely with the Scottish Government to implement the fiscal framework agreed in February 2016. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands), who played his part in that agreement. A review of the arrangements is due in 2021.

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I also welcome you to your position, Mr Speaker, and the new Secretary of State to his. One of the interesting features of the negotiations was that the venue alternated between London and Edinburgh, which might be an idea for other negotiations that are about to start. The fiscal framework, combined with the Scotland Act 2016, helped create possibly the most powerful devolved Parliament anywhere in the world. Could the Secretary of State tell us, however, what the consequences of fiscal devolution have been for Scottish taxpayers?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the Scottish Parliament is the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world, and with those tax powers it is much more accountable than was previously the case. However, I regret its decision to make Scotland the most highly taxed part of the United Kingdom.

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May I also welcome you to the Chair, Mr Speaker, and the Secretary of State and the Minister to their positions?

The 2016 framework was established before we knew what the impact of Brexit would be. The world has changed. Consideration will now have to be given to what powers pass from Brussels not just to Whitehall and Westminster but to Holyrood. This gives the Secretary of State an opportunity to reach out, cross-party, and to establish a proper future framework on what powers should rightly be with the Scottish Parliament and Government. He also has to take responsibility for ensuring that a financial package goes with those new powers.

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In the spending round, there is an extra £1.2 billion for Scotland. That is quite clear. Discussions on frameworks are ongoing and are proving to be successful. Not a single power is being taken away from the Scottish Parliament as we come out of the European Union. If anyone can think of one, they should write and tell me because, on the contrary, the Scottish Parliament will have more powers after we leave the European Union.

Fishing

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2. What steps he is taking to support the Scottish fishing industry. [900086]

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This is my first opportunity to say what a privilege it is to have been re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Moray, representing my home area, and to now work in the Scotland Office. May I also wish you a very happy new year, Mr Speaker? As we say in Scotland, lang may yer lum reek.

Leaving the European Union will afford the fishing industry in Scotland, and across the United Kingdom, many opportunities. We will no longer be shackled to the common fisheries policy, and we will control who catches what, where and when in our waters. This Government will work tirelessly to that aim with our fishermen and coastal communities across Scotland.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. It is fantastic to see him in his place and I congratulate him on his new role. Scotland has a proud history of fishing the finest seafood, and the same is true of local fishermen in Selsey in my constituency. There is great concern, however, that the next generation are not entering the industry, and the situation is made more urgent given the growth we expect in UK fishing once we leave the EU. What discussions has my hon. Friend had with colleagues to develop an industry pipeline for future fishermen and women?

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I accept that for many years, the fishing industry has not offered attractive job opportunities for young people in Scotland or across the UK. I strongly believe that when we leave the European Union, there is a bright future for this industry. I hope that that will encourage more people to look to fishing as an area where they can have a successful career. My hon. Friend has been a great champion for the fishing industry in Selsey, and I know that she will continue to promote her constituency and its strong links with the fishing industry during this Parliament.

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When the Minister was a Back Bencher, he understood full well the need for non-European economic area crews to come into Scottish waters, particularly on the west coast. What will he and his Front-Bench colleagues do to make sure that can happen? Or will they demonstrate their powerlessness, ensuring that nothing happens, as has been the case for years?

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To prove what will happen, I encourage the hon. Gentleman to wait for question 8 from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), which is about exactly that. I will answer that point then, and I hope that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Angus Brendan MacNeil) will be encouraged by the response.

“Scotland’s Right to Choose”

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3. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Scottish Government’s publication entitled “Scotland’s Right to Choose”. [900087]

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6. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Scottish Government’s publication entitled “Scotland’s Right to Choose”. [900091]

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7. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Scottish Government’s publication entitled “Scotland’s Right to Choose”. [900092]

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9. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Scottish Government’s publication entitled “Scotland’s Right to Choose”. [900095]

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13. What assessment he has made of the implications for his policies of the Scottish Government’s publication entitled “Scotland’s Right to Choose”. [900099]

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I will answer these questions together. There is no independence of thought in the questions.

The Prime Minister has received the First Minister’s correspondence, which contains the Scottish Government publication, and he will respond in due course.

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The Secretary of State repeatedly said to the people of Scotland during the general election campaign that every vote for the Conservatives is a vote to “say no to indyref2”. That went well for them, didn’t it? It saw them lose over half their seats and left them with barely a rump of MPs. Will the Secretary of State now listen to the people of Scotland, as reflected by the 80% of seats won by the SNP, and support their expressed democratic will to choose their own future?

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Some 45% of Scots voted for the SNP in the 2019 election, and 45% of Scots voted for independence in 2014. The numbers simply have not changed. Further, in 2014 the independence referendum came on the back of something called the Edinburgh agreement, which was signed by Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, the then deputy leader. The Edinburgh agreement stated that both parties would respect the outcome of the referendum, and that has not happened.

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A good new year to you, Mr Speaker. The Scottish Secretary has anticipated that the Scottish Parliament will refuse legislative consent for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. He said,

“that’s something we understand and respect because their position is that they don’t support Brexit.”

When consent is refused today, how will the UK Government demonstrate that respect?

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What we are respecting is the democratic outcome of referendums, which the SNP does not respect. The referendum in 2016 was a United Kingdom referendum, and we voted to leave the European Union. We are respecting that. Under the Sewel convention, we have provision for what is known as “not normal”. This is a constitutional matter. Constitutional matters are reserved, and they are not normally under the remit of the Scottish Parliament. We are delivering what the 2016 referendum requested us to deliver.

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This Tory Government are claiming that their 43% of the vote in the last general election provides them with an overwhelming mandate to implement Brexit. Can the Secretary of State therefore explain the absolutely blinding contradiction of his own position when he says that the 45% vote for the SNP, providing 80% of Scottish seats in this very House, does not equate to a mandate for the people of Scotland to choose our own future?

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It was a referendum three years ago. We are speaking for the majority of Scots. The majority of voters voted in 2016 to leave the European Union. We are respecting that decision, whereas the SNP is not respecting it and wants to tear up the United Kingdom.

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The Secretary of State’s performance thus far highlights just how untenable the Government’s position is on this matter. He has completely failed to answer my colleagues’ questions, so I remind him that his party enjoys 43% of the vote to deliver Brexit yet denies the SNP, with its 45% of the vote in Scotland, its right to give the people of Scotland their say. What is his democratic case for denying the people of Scotland their right to choose their own future?

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The First Minister has asked for the right to set and decide the context for future referendums. We are very clear that constitutional matters are reserved. It would be completely wrong for us to hand over those powers to the Scottish Parliament because we would end up with a series of neverendums, which would be bad for the Scottish economy and bad for Scottish jobs. It would reduce tax income and therefore damage already failing public services.

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The UK Government have ignored Scottish people’s voices and votes in every election and referendum since 2016, careering on with both Brexit and austerity. What precise electoral event would convince the Secretary of State that Scotland’s people should have the right to choose their own future?

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First, on austerity, the Scottish Government’s own independence figures show that there would be a £12.6 billion hole in the Scottish finances, which would mean real austerity. On when the time will be right, both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond said at the time of the referendum that it was a once-in-a-generation, once-in-a-lifetime decision. I do not feel that either a generation or a lifetime has passed.

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I welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister to the Dispatch Box.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this document is just another expensive and time-wasting stunt by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP? The people of Scotland chose decisively in 2014 to remain in the United Kingdom, and it is time that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP accepted that and moved on.

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May I start by thanking my predecessor for his four years as Secretary of State for Scotland and, prior to that, five years as Under-Secretary and four years as a shadow spokesman? In all, he spent 13 years as a spokesman on Scottish affairs in this House, and I think the last person to do so for that length of time was Willie Ross under Harold Wilson. I thank him for all the hard work and service he has given to the people of Scotland.

It is quite clear that the Scottish Government constantly harp on about independence and separation because they want to deflect from the main issue, which is that they are failing on our school standards and failing our NHS.

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I welcome the new ministerial team to the Scotland Office. In Scotland, education standards are falling and the NHS is failing patients with missed waiting-time targets. Does the Secretary of State share my embarrassment that the First Minister of Scotland, rather than sorting out these important issues, is obsessing with independence?

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that the SNP has every right to continue making the case for independence, and to do so with passion and force, but that what it does not have the right to do is to keep dragging the people of Scotland and Scottish businesses around the same mountain time and time again to try to get the answer it did not get the first time?

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My right hon. Friend makes a good point. What Scotland needs now is a period of peace and tranquillity, not division and rancour. We need to take the opportunities that Brexit will bring us, not least on the common fisheries policy and other great trade deals, and make 2020 a year of optimism and growth.

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The NHS is a precious asset that is just as important to people in Scotland as it is to my constituents in Redditch. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government’s obsessive attraction to independence detracts from their focus on the NHS? They should focus first on the people of Scotland who are missing the 12-week treatment target, which the Scottish Government have never met.

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Yes, my hon. Friend makes a good point. Today’s The Herald highlights the fact that accident and emergency waiting times have deteriorated in Scotland to a record low, with record numbers of patients now waiting more than 12 hours to be treated.

Block Grant

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4. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the block grant. [900088]

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Ministers and officials have regular discussions with the Scottish Government on many issues, including the block grant. The latest spending round gave the biggest funding settlement for the Scottish Government in a decade, with an extra £1.2 billion to help grow the economy and invest in our vital public services across Scotland.

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Will my hon. Friend reassure the House that, at the upcoming Budget, Scotland will receive its fair share of funding through the Barnett formula and, further, that the commitments made by the previous Government on the eight city and regional deals will be honoured in full?

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I can reassure my right hon. Friend that Scotland will receive fair funding thanks to the block grant and the Barnett formula, and that will continue. On city and growth deals, we are already investing £1.4 billion across Scotland and we are committed to a deal in every part of the country, including in my own area of Moray, where we agreed to £32.5 million from the UK Government matched by the Scottish Government, making this the highest funded growth deal per head of population anywhere in the country. That is a sign to constituents across Scotland of what Scotland’s two Governments can do when they work together.

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First, I want to commend the work that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) did in this role before me. He did a sterling job and could not have set a better example. Yesterday, my colleagues asked the Chancellor for an explanation as to why the UK is delaying its Budget until 11 March, despite the fact that the Scottish Government must pass their budget by 1 April and that 11 March is the legal deadline by which Scottish councils have to have set their budgets and their council tax levels. No explanation was given yesterday and I doubt I will get one now, so instead I want to ask: if and when did the Secretary of State raise this issue with the Cabinet? If he did raise it, what answers was he given?

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Let me begin by welcoming the hon. Lady to her position as shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, following the reshuffle by the Scottish National party recently, and paying tribute to the hon. Member for Edinburgh East for the work he did in that role previous to her. The Chancellor made it clear to the new SNP shadow Chancellor that there is nothing to prevent the Scottish Government from setting their budget ahead of the UK Government setting theirs, and the UK Government have already shared estimates of tax and welfare block grant adjustments, based on the latest Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts in December, to aid the Scottish Government in these preparations.

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It is ridiculous for the Scottish Parliament to be expected to know what money it is going to be getting, given that the UK Government have not told it yet; I am very quickly realising why many believe that this Department is utterly obsolete. Scotland is needing to wait on this place getting its act together and to wait for permission to be told what we can spend money on. Will the Minister at least concede that none of this would be happening if Scotland instead had the full fiscal powers of an independent and competent nation, in order to let us get on with the job properly?

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The hon. Lady is asking for “us” to be allowed to get on with the job, but the “us” is the SNP Scottish Government in Holyrood, who are letting down our health service and education service, and overseeing cuts to local government, which are affecting every local authority in Scotland. Perhaps this is not about the amount of money that Scotland gets from this UK Government, which is the highest level in a decade, but the way it is spent—or, in many cases, misspent—by the Scottish Government in Holyrood.

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Those answers are simply not good enough. The Scottish Government in Holyrood and the Scottish local authorities are entitled to know what the block grant is so that they can plan their future. Anybody who has tried to set a budget dependent on UK central Government funding knows that delay in this makes it almost impossible to manage. When will the Scottish Government be given certainty about what that block grant is, so that they can begin to plan their future?

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I hope that some certainty was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday, when he gave the commitment and the understanding that there is nothing to prevent the Scottish Parliament from passing a budget before the UK Parliament does. We shared the estimates on tax and the welfare block grant with the Scottish Government in December last year, and we will continue to engage with them going forward.

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Again, it is simply not good enough. Not only can the Scottish Government not set a budget, but Scottish councils cannot. That affects non-governmental organisations, businesses and services. What the Minister is doing is a measure of incompetence. When will the Secretary of State say to the Chancellor that he has to do more? There must be certainty; we cannot wait till March.

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As the Chancellor of the Exchequer takes his seat, I am sure he is listening to these discussions, and he answered the points made by the SNP representative yesterday. Before I first entered this place, I was a local councillor for 10 years on Moray Council, so I know the council’s important role in setting its budget. In recent years, that has been made more difficult by the greater cuts the council has received from the SNP Scottish Government in Holyrood, which are affecting local services in Moray and throughout Scotland.

Growth Deal

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5. What steps he is taking to ensure that all parts of Scotland benefit from a growth deal. [900089]

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To date, the UK Government have committed over £1.4 billion in Scotland through the city region and growth deal programme, which will be rolled out to all the other regions of Scotland very shortly.

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I fully support our Government’s ambitious plans to make sure that every part of Scotland benefits from a growth deal. Does the Secretary of State agree that the £1.4 billion that the UK Government have already invested in city and growth deals is another fine example of how Scotland benefits from being in a strong United Kingdom?

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I do agree, and that is just one example of how Scotland benefits from being in a strong United Kingdom. Another example is the Union dividend, which is worth more than £2,000 per annum to every man, woman and child in Scotland. I should add that the Prime Minister has announced a further £300 million to complete the growth deals throughout all the regions of Scotland, as well as Wales and Northern Ireland. In October, I was pleased to announce the quantum for Argyll and Bute, and I shall soon announce the quantum for both Falkirk and the islands.

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I congratulate the Secretary of State on his being reappointed to the Cabinet.

Growth deals are of course important, but have the Government had any conversations with the Scottish Government on how the latter plan to plug their 8% fiscal deficit to meet the European Union’s 3% fiscal deficit rule so that they could enter the European Union in the event of there being an independent Scotland?

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The hon Gentleman makes a good point. Were separation to happen, for an independent Scotland to join the European Union, under the Maastricht criteria its fiscal deficit would have to be 3% of GDP or less. That simply is not the case—Scotland’s fiscal deficit currently runs at more than 7%—so as things stand the economics are pure fantasy.

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The borderlands growth initiative has proven to be very popular in the borderlands region, and the initiatives in it will be implemented in the next year or two. [Interruption.] Will the Secretary of State commit to a second growth deal for the borderlands?

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My hon. Friend will not be surprised that I missed the end of his question because our Prime Minister was being cheered by colleagues. I think that my hon. Friend asked me to commit to the delivery of the borderlands growth deal. We have announced the quantum and we will have the heads of terms very soon.

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Will the Secretary of State put to one side his fluffy rhetoric and answer this? When he considers the regional growth deal for Edinburgh and the Lothians, will he look into the mess that his Government have made in respect of the closure of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs office in Livingston and the move to Edinburgh? Will he do as his predecessor did and come to Livingston and West Lothian, speak to my constituents, the workers, the unions and the elected representatives, and look into what can be done to fill the gap and sort out the mess made by his Government?

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I am happy to speak to the hon. Lady outside the Chamber about her concerns.

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On the subject of the quantum for the islands’ deal, to which the Secretary of State has already referred, will he confirm that he will pursue with the Treasury a basis that is different from the per capita funding of other deals, because otherwise the deal for the islands will never be a meaningful one?

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The right hon. Gentleman raises a very good point. Previously, these deals have been done on a per capita basis, but we recognise that the islands is a huge geographical area and that per capita would bring a very low outcome. We are in discussions with the Treasury about raising the quantum.