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Volume 678: debated on Wednesday 1 July 2020

The Secretary of State was asked—

Economic Recovery

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government’s plans to support economic recovery as the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (903964)

What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government’s plans to support economic recovery as the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (903966)

What steps he is taking to support the recovery of the Scottish economy as the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (903969)

What assessment he has made of the prospects for the recovery of the Scottish economy as the covid-19 lockdown restrictions are eased. (903971)

I would like to take a few moments to pay tribute to Glasgow’s emergency services for the enormous courage they showed in dealing with last week’s shocking knife attack. Our thoughts are with all those who were caught up in that terrible incident. In particular, I know that the whole House will join me in wishing Constable David Whyte a speedy recovery from the injuries he sustained in trying to help others.

I have regular discussions with my Cabinet colleagues, including the Chancellor, on all aspects of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in Scotland. As we emerge from tackling this global crisis, we are determined to get Britain’s economy back firing on all cylinders, and as we do, protecting people’s health remains our top priority. However, just as we entered lockdown together, the best way to ensure the recovery of our economy is by working together across the United Kingdom.

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s opening remarks?

In his insipid word salad of a speech yesterday, the Prime Minister committed barely more money to rejuvenate the British economy post coronavirus than we have committed to refurbishing the Palace of Westminster. The Scottish Parliament lacks the powers to properly borrow and invest that other tiers of government take for granted. Will the Secretary of State commit to look again at the fiscal framework and giving Scotland the borrowing and investment powers it needs for the future?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the fiscal framework is due to be reviewed in 2021. In the interim, we have given huge support to Scotland from the British Exchequer, with £3.8 billion in business support for the covid crisis, and the furlough scheme, which has supported almost 800,000 jobs. There is a capital budget for Scotland this year of £5.4 billion, and there is no shortage of projects that need to be done, so I ask him to encourage the Scottish Government to get on with them.

Some people are facing much more than just a financial meltdown as we emerge from this crisis. A year ago tomorrow, the all-party parliamentary group on terminal illness published a report on heartless Department for Work and Pensions rules that mean terminally ill people can only access fast-track benefits if they can prove that they have six months or less to live. Under pressure from the APPG, Marie Curie, the Motor Neurone Disease Association and others, this Government launched their own review, yet we have had only silence since. In the meantime, thousands of people have died waiting for support. The Scottish Government have already committed to scrap the arbitrary six-month rule when they take over the personal independence payment, but universal credit and employment and support allowance are reserved. Will the Secretary of State urge his colleagues to finally end this pernicious policy?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, universal credit support has been increased during the covid crisis, but the point he makes about the last six months of life is one that I would like to raise with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. If he writes to me on the subject, I would be pleased to push the case for him.

Mr Speaker, I do not need to tell you that Scotland has some of the most beautiful landscapes across our country. My nephews are Scottish, and like many young people, they rely on the tourism and hospitality industry for work. Those industries are likely to take a lot longer to recover. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that businesses and young people employed in those sectors will continue to receive the Government support they need?

As the hon. Lady will know, the Chancellor is making a statement a week today. I have had discussions with him about the support. The furlough will continue for another four months, until the end of October, and there is a variable element to it now, so that people can go back to work part time. The tourism and hospitality industry will effectively go through three winters unless we get it up and running this summer. It is deeply regrettable that the First Minister has encouraged reckless talk. This talk of quarantining people from other parts the United Kingdom is disappointing and divisive, and it is not the language we should be hearing from a First Minister because it undermines the joint efforts we have made in tackling covid-19, and it is bad for business—especially the tourism business.

Unemployment very often causes misery and can lead to a downward spiral of opportunity. With the unemployment rate in Scotland the highest in the UK, what steps will the Secretary of State take to protect and create jobs in Scotland?

The unemployment rate is going up faster than anywhere else in the United Kingdom, and we are proving in Scotland to be slower at reopening our economy—something I regret. It is important that we get our economy reopened as quickly as possible, because that is the best way to save jobs. As I say, we are currently supporting almost 800,000 jobs through the self-employment support scheme and through the job retention scheme. It is important that once we get back to near-normal, our economy bounces back as quickly as possible. The best way to achieve that is to keep money in people’s pockets, and the 80% furlough has done just that.

I echo the Secretary of State’s remarks about our heroes in the public services in Glasgow who responded to the stabbings last Friday. I am sure that he, and the whole House, would wish to join me in expressing our deepest sympathy and all our thoughts to the family and friends of the three-year-old boy who was tragically killed yesterday when a car went out of control and mounted the pavement in Morningside Road in my constituency—a very young life taken far too soon.

As lockdown measures are eased, some sectors of the Scottish economy, as we have heard, will take much longer than others to return to some sort of normality, particularly tourism, hospitality and the creative industries. It is vital that both Governments continue to protect jobs and support businesses by extending the current furlough support to those hard-hit sectors. Even now, far too many are falling through the cracks of Government schemes—for example, many freelancers working through pay-as-you-earn contracts. With many taxpayers in this situation going from full income to no income, will the Secretary of State commit to raising in Cabinet the need for Government to support those taxpayers who have received nothing, and for an extended sectoral furlough scheme for Scottish industries?

Let me start by echoing the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the shocking incident on the pavement in Morningside Road yesterday.

The Chancellor acknowledged right at the beginning that we cannot save every business and we cannot save every job, but there has been a huge rapid response from the United Kingdom Government to covid-19, with unprecedented sums going to Scotland in the form of £3.8 billion for business support and, as I mentioned, the 800,000 jobs that have been supported. I have raised this with the Chancellor and we have talked about how we go through to the next stage. He will be addressing that when he speaks to the House a week today.

I appreciate that answer from the Secretary of State, but there are still too many people who have gone from full income to no income while paying full taxes.

The former SNP finance spokesperson and author of the First Minister’s Growth Commission report has said that Scotland will have the worst performing economy in the developed world post covid. The response by the SNP Finance Minister was to reignite the demand for full fiscal autonomy, which would have the effect of creating a multi-billion-pound black hole in Scotland’s public finances. First, has the Secretary of State undertaken any analysis of the impact that this policy would have on post-covid recovery in Scotland? Secondly, rather than both Governments playing politics, will he work collaboratively with the Scottish Government to seek solutions to the immediate post-covid budget challenges so that we can save as many jobs, businesses and public services as possible?

The Scottish Finance Minister, Kate Forbes, has questioned the Barnett formula and has raised full fiscal autonomy as a preference. I would say to the people of Scotland that, for £100 of spending per head in England, the Barnett formula guarantees £125 per head of spending in Scotland. The Barnett formula has produced the extra £3.8 billion of covid support. Last year, the Barnett formula plugged a £12.6 billion deficit in Scotland’s spending. Along with the furlough scheme, these things would not have been possible under full fiscal autonomy. In fact, had the Scottish Government imposed that on the Scottish people, I would call it full furlough absence.

We now go to the SNP spokesperson—[Interruption.] Order. Who is clapping? We do not clap. We want to hear the SNP spokesperson, Mhairi Black.

I would like to echo the remarks of the Secretary of State with regard to the events in Glasgow. Our thoughts are with all those affected.

The Secretary of State says that the Chancellor will be updating the House with regard to the furloughing scheme, so I will note that with interest, but could he tell us specifically what recommendations and requests he has made to the Treasury with regard to Scotland?

Discussions that we have with the Treasury ahead of a statement are confidential, but I have highlighted the threats around tourism and hospitality, and I say again to the hon. Lady that the First Minister’s remarks about the border are irresponsible. If we think back to 26 April and “The Andrew Marr Show”, she admitted that it was a border that she had no control over, so let us not undermine the Scottish economy by moving too slowly as we come back—we need to crack on—and let us not undermine Scottish business by talking about keeping people from other parts of the United Kingdom out of Scotland.

Let us also not undermine public health when it comes to the decisions that we make. Scotland has sought to trial universal basic income in four separate locations. Given that the Scottish Government would be providing the funding for this, does the Secretary of State know why the UK Government are blocking it, and what assistance will he provide in unblocking it?

On the hon. Lady’s first remark about public health, it is absolutely imperative that we protect lives, but we must also protect livelihoods. On universal basic income, we do not believe it is the best way to deliver social security because it is not targeted at those who need it most. We believe universal credit is the best thing because it gets people back into work, and getting people back into work gets them out of poverty. Countries such as Finland and Canada have tried universal basic income and walked away from it. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also found that it can increase poverty and it said that it is not the way forward in the report that it released two years ago, so we will not be moving towards a universal basic income.

Fishing Sector

At the end of 2020, we automatically take back control of our waters as an independent coastal state. We will be out of the common fisheries policy and we can decide who can fish in our waters and on what terms. This Government will maintain funding throughout this Parliament to support both our seafood industry and the regeneration of coastal communities in Scotland and around the United Kingdom.

The Minister will be aware that taking back control of our waters and regaining our status as an independent coastal state was one of the reasons why 1 million Scots voted to leave the European Union, so can he confirm that the UK Government will not sign up to anything that will take away those provisions and put that status at risk?

Yes, I can indeed confirm that. For the first time in 40 years, we will be free to decide who can access our waters and on what terms. Any access by non-UK vessels to fish in UK waters will be negotiated annually, as is standard practice in many cases between independent coastal states such as Norway, the Faroes or Iceland. We continue to engage with the EU constructively, but we will be making sure our position is understood. We will always defend our rights under international law, just as any other independent coastal state does.

EU Transition Period

What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on the ending of the transition period in relation to Scotland. (903967)

I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster on EU transition matters, including the end of the transition period and the benefits to Scotland of once again being able to control our own laws, our own trade and our own fishing waters.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that while it is outrageous that even last month the Scottish Government were wasting resources on fighting the battles of the past with regard to the transition period, the UK Government are focused on delivering the benefits of free trade not just for Scottish businesses but for all businesses in our United Kingdom?

Yes, I agree. I think Scottish Ministers need to wake up to the fact that we have left the European Union and we will leave the transition period on 31 December. I know that the Scottish Government do not like the outcomes of referendums when they do not go their way, but this is another one we are delivering on.

An opinion poll recently found that 63% of the Scottish people back a Brexit extension—that is on top of the overwhelming majority who oppose the Brexit disaster in its entirety—and the Secretary of State has probably seen an opinion poll that found that 54% of the Scottish people now want an independent Scotland. What does the Secretary of State believe links those opinion polls, and what does that tell him about where our country is heading?

I was going to say I was pleased that for once that the hon. Gentleman had not made it all about independence, but he managed to weave it in. I think the whole House would like to congratulate him on giving up his own independence by getting engaged last weekend.

The answer is that we had a general election and we had a resounding majority across the United Kingdom for a manifesto that said we would honour the result of the referendum. We are going to honour that result: we are going to take back control of our laws, borders and money and we are going to leave the hated common fisheries policy and become—here is the independent bit for the hon. Gentleman—an independent coastal state.

Covid-19 Testing: Care Sector

If he will publish a comparative assessment of the availability of covid-19 testing for (a) care home residents, (b) home care recipients and (c) care home staff in Scotland and England. (903970)

The UK Government, assisted by the British Army, have through six fixed testing sites, 13 mobile testing units and the Glasgow Lighthouse mega-lab significantly increased testing capacity in Scotland to respond to covid-19, in addition to NHS Scotland’s own capacity. It is for the Scottish Government to determine policy for the use of that capacity, including in respect of testing for care home residents, recipients and staff.

Some 1,431 people were discharged from Scottish hospitals into care homes by the Scottish Government. In Scotland, the proportion of care home deaths is much higher than that in England, where it is also too high. Will the Minister assure the House that when the inevitable public inquiry happens, the question of Scottish care home deaths is not lost in the wider questions about the Government’s response but is given very serious attention, because thousands of families will demand that those Scottish care home deaths are investigated?

Based on the latest figures that I have seen, although the number of covid-19 deaths in care homes in Scotland has been falling in recent weeks, it still represents around 41% of the total. That is compared with the proportion in England, which is closer to around 32%. Both of those proportions are still far too high, but what any inquiry will say is a matter for that inquiry.

When the First Minister is questioned about the high rate of care home deaths in Scotland, she merely replies that England does not count in the same way, which is not an answer. The number of care home deaths in Scotland is a national scandal. Despite that, care home staff are still not receiving the level of testing that they have been promised. The Scottish Health Minister said that all care home staff would be tested every week, yet in no week has that happened, and only around a third of staff are receiving tests. Given the fact that the UK Government deliver part of the testing regime in Scotland, will the Minister inform the House of what work is going on across both Governments to ensure that care home staff are receiving the weekly tests they were promised?

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will join me in acknowledging the excellent work done by all our frontline staff, whether in the NHS, care homes or elsewhere. I encourage the Scottish Government to actively promote the fixed testing sites and the mobile testing sites that I mentioned earlier, to ensure that all care homes and care home staff can access the testing that they need.

Scottish Agricultural Sector

The Government have provided unprecedented levels of support to the sector, and, to the credit of all involved, the UK’s food supply chain has remained secure throughout this crisis. Farmers across the UK produce some of the best food in the world, and to the highest environmental, welfare and safety standards. Our farmers have what it takes to compete with the rest of the world, and they can be confident that this UK Government will back them all the way in securing new global markets while protecting those standards.

I thank the Minister for his answer. What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the opportunities that might arise for the agricultural sector in Scotland and the wider United Kingdom—including my local farmers here in Truro and Falmouth—once the EU transition period ends?

There are great opportunities for farmers right across the UK, in Scotland and in my hon. Friend’s constituency in Cornwall. Outside the common agricultural policy, we can provide our food and farming sectors with the opportunity to become more competitive, productive and profitable, while—importantly—taking into account each nation’s unique geography and heritage. We can create our own system of farming support, with each part of the UK being able to meet the specific needs of its farmers.

I welcome my hon. Friend to the Dispatch Box. I represent a constituency which is 75% agricultural land here in north Wales, so he can understand how important our farmers are across the United Kingdom. Recently I met a load of local farmers who are concerned about support for the industry, so may I ask him what steps he and his team are taking to support the agricultural industry once we leave the economic institutions of the EU?

I thank my hon. Friend for his welcome to the Dispatch Box. This Government have guaranteed the current annual budget for every year of this Parliament, giving significant certainty on funding in the coming years not just for Scottish farmers, but for Welsh farmers and around the UK. As I said in an earlier response, we can agree ambitious new trade deals around the world while protecting our own world-class standards.

Growth Deals

We have made a commitment to deliver a deal for every part of Scotland. Five deals are now fully agreed and four are agreed in principle. We are in discussion with the Treasury to agree the parameters of the final two deals and the role that the deal programme as a whole can play more generally in our economic recovery.

The Minister will be aware that the Borderlands is considered a great success. However, to ensure that such initiatives are truly successful and properly implemented requires timely decisions by all parties involved, and that is something the Prime Minister certainly wants to see happen. Will the Minister commit to doing everything he can at UK level and the Scottish parliamentary level, particularly with regard to the Treasury, to ensure that the Borderlands initiative proceeds quickly and effectively?

Yes, absolutely, and I should add that my hon. Friend has been an excellent champion of the Borderlands deal. We are making good progress with it, including the consideration of individual projects such as the dairy innovation centre. We hope to be able to agree the terms of a full deal later this year. I should also mention that I am meeting the Campaign for Borders Rail team later this month to discuss that project, and I would greatly welcome his thoughts on that.

Air Travel Corridors

What recent discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) Ministers of the Scottish Government on establishing air travel corridors as covid-19 restrictions are eased (i) within Scotland, (ii) between Scotland and the rest of the UK and (iii) between Scotland and the rest of Europe. (903975)

The Government have been working closely with the devolved Administrations throughout the covid-19 pandemic to ensure a coherent UK-wide approach. The Government will shortly announce further details on regulations, including a full list of countries and territories from which arriving passengers will be exempted from the self-isolation requirements.

Edinburgh Airport is not just one of the largest employers in my constituency when taken together with all the cargo handlers and the shops on site, but a linchpin of Edinburgh’s economy and Scotland’s economy. During this crisis, 80% of its staff have been furloughed, and it has gone from having 40,000 passengers pass through it on an average day to fewer than 200, and on some days none. Although I am deeply concerned about the airport, the airlines and the directly related jobs, they also feed into the tourism industry, which is worth an estimated £10.5 billion a year to Scotland. With the loss of the Edinburgh Festival, the Royal Highland Show, the incomplete Six Nations this year, and now the loss of tourism, potentially every job in Edinburgh is under threat. Will this Government use their—

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. I do know the importance that Edinburgh Airport in her constituency has not just for the airport but for the wider economy. I would be very happy to meet her to discuss her specific points in further detail, but the global airline industry is facing a huge challenge, and it will require considerable efforts to get it back on its feet.

Strengthening the Union

The Government have always stressed the importance of the Union, and the current crisis demonstrates the value in responding collectively. We have world-leading expertise and the economic strength to support jobs and business with generous financial packages. It is the strength of our Union that will enable us to rebuild our economy quickly and fairly.

I thank my good friend the new Minister and congratulate him on being at the Dispatch Box. Devolution in Scotland has given the Scottish people a localised legislative body. It gives Scottish people greater powers over their own affairs and is replicated in Northern Ireland and Wales. Does my hon. Friend agree that this has caused a democratic deficit for England, and as devolution is now being revisited in my own constituency county of Greater Lincolnshire, what lessons can be learned from Scottish devolution to give the people of Lincolnshire greater powers over their own affairs?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the considerable powers that are being devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but England has also seen significant devolution and that is a process that continues with further deals in the pipeline and the Government’s commitment to a White Paper on devolution in England. I suggest that devolution has given Scotland the best of both worlds: localising decision making, but being able to access the collective resources of a strong United Kingdom.

More than 60% of Scottish exports go to the rest of the UK. That represents three times more than the rest of the EU. Does my hon. Friend agree that, as we emerge from this pandemic, trade between all four of the home nations is going to be critical not only to Scotland, but to the rest of the UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight these figures. We do not need the barriers and division that separation would bring, nor do we need the reckless talk of effectively closing the border when tourism in Scotland needs all the help it can get.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s decision to put off their preparations for a second Scottish referendum on independence while dealing with the coronavirus. Does the Minister agree that, once this pandemic is over, those plans will still be unnecessary and still be unwanted by the people of Scotland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the last thing Scotland needs is the uncertainty and division that another referendum would bring.