The Secretary of State was asked—
Green Industrial Jobs
The Secretary of State for Scotland meets Cabinet colleagues regularly to discuss all matters of importance to Scotland. This Government are committed to levelling up across the whole United Kingdom, and that is why the Prime Minister has set out his ambitious 10-point plan for our green industrial revolution, which will support up to 250,000 jobs.
The SNP has joined the Tory party in abandoning workers at BiFab, forgoing the green industrial jobs they claim to want to encourage. Within days of the Scottish Government withdrawing their support for BiFab, they launched the Scottish National Investment Bank, stating it would support Scotland’s transition to zero carbon emissions. They say one thing and do another. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Scottish Ministers about protecting jobs at BiFab and developing a green supply chain in Scotland to facilitate the expansion of its offshore wind capacity?
After exploring all options, both the UK and Scottish Governments have concluded that there is currently no legal right to provide further financial support to BiFab in its current form. A joint working group will be formed between the Scottish and UK Governments to consider ways to strengthen the renewables supply chain in Scotland and to secure future possibilities and opportunities. Both of Scotland’s Governments have committed to exploring options for the future of the yards and to strengthen measures to support the renewables supply chain.
The Minister’s seeming disinterest belies the whole problem. His original words were fine. The reality is that when BiFab, the only manufacturer of the steel cases for these turbines, went into administration, the Edinburgh Government and the London Government walked hand in hand away from that situation. What does that say about the ambition to be the Saudi Arabia of offshore wind production, and what does it say to the workers and the skills base at BiFab when the Government simply abandon them?
The situation at BiFab is a culmination of a number of issues, the main one being the unwillingness of the parent company and majority shareholder, JV Driver, to provide working capital, investment or guarantees for the company. We are determined to secure a new future for the yards in Fife and the Western Isles, and we will explore options for the future of these sites and, through the new working group, work with the Scottish Government to strengthen the renewables and clean energy supply chain.
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment at the SNP Scottish Government’s continued dogmatic opposition to nuclear power, despite the fact that in recent weeks it has been the leading source of zero carbon generation in the UK? Does he agree with me that the refusal to contemplate a replacement of the Chapelcross power station at Annan in my constituency is depriving the area of the high-quality green jobs from which it has benefited from the last 60 years?
It will come as no surprise that I do share my right hon. Friend’s disappointment. This Government believe that nuclear has an important role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear power stations provide the dependable, low-carbon power that is required to complement renewable energy to ensure a low-cost, reliable, diverse generating mix to meet our net zero ambitions for 2020.
Mr Speaker, this is the first Scottish questions since the Scottish football team qualified for Euro 2020, so I am sure you will allow me to pass on my congratulations to Stevie Clarke and his team for cheering up our nation, and of course we look forward to being further cheered when we win at Wembley in the championships in June next year.
I am sure the Minister is aware of the Proclaimers song “Letter from America”, which includes the line “Methil no more”, and that is what the decision of his and the Scottish Governments have delivered in reality for that community in Fife. Just a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister announced that he was launching a 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution that would deliver a quarter of a million new green jobs. I did not of course realise he meant jobs that were overseas. Can the Minister inform the House how many current and potential green jobs will be lost following the Scottish and UK Governments’ joint decision, in the words of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, to collude to “pull support” from BiFab in Fife?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s enthusiasm. As a former card-carrying member of the tartan army myself, I might be enthused about rejoining it, but being a member of the Whips Office, I am not sure I would always get slipped to attend the matches.
We understand from the Scottish Government, who are closest to the company, that there is no commercial way forward that is compatible with state aid. The UK Government are equally bound by the state aid rules, at least for the moment, and therefore there is no legal way for either Government to intervene at this stage.
I am sure that it will not have escaped anyone’s attention that the UK and Scottish Governments have just hidden behind EU state aid rules—the irony of that. The Minister did not give a figure, so let me give the figure: 500 highly skilled green jobs in Scotland abandoned. And it is not just the Tories who are to blame; unbelievably, the SNP has repeatedly hidden behind the same EU state aid rule, despite initially agreeing to support BiFab and then pulling it without notice. It has ignored a Scottish parliamentary vote to sort it out, and on the SNP’s watch fabrication contracts for offshore wind farms have recently gone almost exclusively—where? —overseas. The post-covid recovery has to be about jobs, yet both Governments are unnecessarily abandoning good clean jobs, and this Government are risking a disastrous no deal Brexit, which will further decimate jobs. So I ask the Minister this: the Prime Minister has broken his promise of an oven-ready Brexit deal, so how many jobs will be lost in Scotland as a result of the Tories delivering a no deal Brexit?
I have already discussed this Government’s commitment to the 10-point plan and the up to 250,000 jobs across the whole of the UK. That is still in play, but this is obviously a disappointing situation, and the recent revelation that a private firm bought a majority stake in BiFab for just £4 before it went into administration raises serious questions about how the SNP Scottish Government could pour tens of millions into a company without securing that yard’s future. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this whole matter requires a proper inquiry.
My Department meets regularly with the Ministry of Defence to help raise concerns that are specific to Scotland. British armed forces personnel in Scotland play a crucial role in defending the whole of the United Kingdom, keeping us safe both at home and abroad, and assisting with such dedication at the height of this covid-19 pandemic.
I welcome the landmark £24 billion investment in our UK armed forces, as announced by the Prime Minister just last month, bringing economic and security benefits to all four nations of our great United Kingdom. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree, therefore, that this demonstrates the true value of the Union to Scotland, bringing jobs to Scotland, enhancing the security of the nation, and delivering on the Prime Minister’s levelling-up agenda across the country?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Scotland has always played a crucial role in the UK’s defence, and the projects that are supported by this spending, including shipbuilding on the Clyde, will directly benefit the people of Scotland, bringing security and economic benefits. This level of spending and investment is only possible through Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.
I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s response, but can he set out what support the British Army is providing to the Scottish Government to ensure the efficient delivery of the coronavirus vaccine in my constituency in the borders, but also across Scotland more widely?
The Scottish Government requested a military planning team to assist with the planning for the roll-out of the vaccine in the borders and across Scotland, and I am very pleased that I was able to approve that request. The scale of the task is very considerable, but the logistics expertise with the British armed forces is making a huge difference.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the work that soldiers from Kinloss barracks in Moray have done throughout this pandemic in our fight against covid-19: they have been in Liverpool since last month, and earlier this week started assisting Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council in its community testing programme. This is in addition to the work they did throughout the highlands in the summer, covering 80,000 miles and conducting well over 3,000 tests. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating everyone at Kinloss on the effort they have put in during this pandemic, and agree that it underlines yet again the outstanding work they do in Scotland and across the United Kingdom?
I absolutely join my hon. Friend in thanking everyone at Kinloss barracks. At the start of the pandemic our British armed forces distributed essential equipment and personal protective equipment. They helped build hospitals across Scotland and were instrumental in getting vital equipment to the Glasgow lighthouse lab. They operated the mobile testing centres, and, currently, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), there are 21 military planners working with Scottish health boards and the Scottish Government on logistical planning for vaccine deployment. Our offer remains open: if the Scottish Government require further assistance from our amazing armed forces, they are standing by and are ready to help.
Tay Cities Deal
Good progress has been made on the Tay cities regional deal. The Chancellor announced at the spending review on 25 November that the UK Government investment will now be compressed to 10 years. We are working with local partners to get the full deal signed on 17 December.
It has been almost a year since I was elected, and in all that time we have been assured that the Tay cities deal is just around the corner. I am delighted to hear that the deal is over the line. It will be a Christmas present for North East Fife and elsewhere, for which people have been waiting for some time.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for those comments. I know of her hard work especially in helping the Eden Campus project in her constituency to be a leading part of the deal. I had hoped to be up visiting it a few weeks ago, but unfortunately covid restrictions precluded that. I very much look forward to visiting in the new year when circumstances allow.
I too thank the Minister for the reprofiling of the Tay cities deal from 15 years to 10 years. That will really help the projects. We now need to know when it will be signed. He will also know that we have an issue with the internationally renowned James Hutton Institute in my constituency. That is primarily a UK Government-financed project, but its place in the Tay cities deal has been put in jeopardy because of all the delays. To ensure that it can be started in year one, the Hutton needs the Government to draw down its funding early. Will the Government do that? If not, how do they intend to ensure that this crucial project can be guaranteed?
I have had many constructive dialogues with the hon. Gentleman on the Tay cities deal, and I am happy to confirm that we look good to go next Thursday to sign the deal. The delay was for a very good reason: as he alluded to, we were trying to get the UK Government side of the deal down from 15 years to 10 years. I am aware of the specific circumstances at the James Hutton Institute. I had a very constructive meeting with it on Friday last week, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are exploring every option to ensure that it gets its funding but that all the other very worth- while projects in the deal do too.
As confirmed in the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution, the Government are committed to the development of hydrogen as a decarbonised energy carrier for the UK. We are developing our strategic approach to hydrogen and its potential to deliver against our net zero goals, and we will set out our plans shortly.
SGN has just secured vital funding from Ofgem to progress its landmark trial of green hydrogen in a new domestic gas network. I congratulate everyone at SGN and those working on the project in Fife on achieving that. Does the Minister agree that innovations such as that trial and the H21 project in Teesside, which is led by Northern Gas Networks, prove that the UK is leading the world in the hydrogen economy?
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I congratulate him and the all-party parliamentary group on hydrogen, which he chairs, on their work advancing the hydrogen agenda. I also congratulate SGN on achieving up to £18 million from Ofgem’s network innovation competition to support development of a hydrogen demonstration network in Levenmouth, bringing carbon-free energy to around 300 homes from late 2022.
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
I have frequent discussions with Cabinet colleagues on the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, which is vital to protect seamless trade and jobs across all four corners of the United Kingdom following the end of the transition period.
Of course, what the Secretary of State did not say is that the internal market Bill is a blatant attack on devolution. That should not come as a surprise, because just three weeks ago the Prime Minister said that devolution was Tony Blair’s biggest mistake—a bigger mistake than even the illegal Iraq war. Does the Secretary of State disagree with the Prime Minister?
What the Prime Minister said was that devolution was a mistake when it was set up to be put in the hands of separatists, and I completely agree with that. I totally agree with it. The Scottish National party is a campaigning organisation for independence—for separation of the United Kingdom—masquerading as a party of Government.
The Secretary of State has regularly explained that, as we leave the EU, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will serve to strengthen the UK’s economy and the Union as a whole. Does he feel that the announcement yesterday from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office that Northern Ireland will have the “best of both worlds”, meaning that Northern Ireland will still have access to both EU and UK markets after Brexit, undermines his claims about the Bill?
No, not remotely. What we have delivered on is unfettered access. We promised unfettered access at the time of the withdrawal agreement and we have delivered it.
As the Secretary of State knows, Scotland voted to remain in the EU. The Scottish Government subsequently published a framework for how Scotland could still have access to the single market post Brexit. That was rejected outright by the UK Government. Given that Northern Ireland has been promised the very same thing, will he now make the case for Scotland to get the same concessions, and, like his predecessor, will he consider his position if such a request is not granted?
Scotland is in the fortunate position as part of the United Kingdom of not having a land border that it needs to worry about. The Northern Ireland situation is different—it has special circumstances. We have resolved the problem as we promised we would.
The Secretary of State would do well to remember that the SNP is a democratically elected party of Government in Scotland. Although we take nothing for granted, pollsters continue to suggest that the SNP will win a majority of seats in the Holyrood elections this coming May, and 15 consecutive polls show a clear majority mandate for Scottish independence. Does he believe that his Government’s disastrous internal market Bill has contributed to that rise in support for the SNP and Scottish independence?
There is nothing disastrous about a United Kingdom Internal Market Bill that has mutual recognition and non-discrimination at its base, and that protects jobs in Scotland and people’s livelihoods, when 60% of Scotland’s trade is to the rest of the United Kingdom, worth over £50 billion and, as the Fraser of Allander Institute said only last week, providing 554,000 jobs.
As Mark Fletcher is not here, would the Minister like to give the answer to his substantive question? Then I can bring in shadow Minister Elmore.
The Secretary of State for Scotland and I have frequent discussions with colleagues on the opportunities for COP26. That includes through the COP26 devolved Administration ministerial group, which brings the COP president, territorial Secretaries of State and devolved Administration Ministers together to ensure effective engagement and collaboration on COP26 and net zero.
I am exceedingly grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing the Minister to answer the question.
COP26 in Glasgow, as the Minister knows, is no ordinary summit. It is a huge opportunity to set the global agenda we need to tackle the climate emergency, but in my opinion the Government have so far not afforded it the attention and weight it requires. That has to change—urgently, I would argue—to make the summit the success the planet needs it to be. Cutting overseas aid has had a devastating effect on countries on the frontline of the climate emergency. That will undermine our role as hosts of COP26, as well as our international standing and moral authority around the world. What steps is the Scotland Office taking to ensure that, as hosts of COP26, we are leading by example and not turning our back on those who are living on the frontline of the climate emergency?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. I point out that we will still be one of the world’s largest net donors to the most deprived communities around the world. That commitment remains absolute. We will be working over the next months to ensure that COP26 in Glasgow is as big a success as it can be. We will lead the global climate change agenda and I can think of nowhere better than my home city of Glasgow to be the showcase for that. There are lots of partners, from very small local companies right up to big multinationals, who will be playing a part. My colleagues and I will be engaging with them very much over the next few months.
End of the Transition Period: Preparedness
I have regular conversations with the Scottish Government on preparedness for the end of the transition period, including meetings of the EU Exit Operations Cabinet Committee and the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I know he will agree with me that the Scottish Government have failed to prepare for the end of the transition deal and are letting the Scottish people down, in particular by failing to recruit the required number of environmental protection officers to assist our fishing industry as we leave the transition deal at the end of this year. Will he confirm that the British Government stand ready to assist the Scottish Government, should they require it, to get the required number of protection officers in place to support our fishing industry?
As my hon. Friend knows, it is the Scottish Government’s responsibility to ensure adequate certifier capacity for exports to the European Union. The UK Government have been engaging closely with the Scottish Government, Food Standards Scotland and Scottish local authorities to clarify the capacity in Scotland for certifying export health certificates, and with them, we have determined the level of additional capacity that is needed. That is the sort of boring answer. I would add that we have provided the Scottish Government with £138 million of Brexit preparedness support for this purpose.
Dearie me, Mr Speaker. Let me try this one. NHS Tayside has stated that a hard Brexit could
“lead to an inability to deliver safe and effective care”,
and NHS Lanarkshire says that Brexit poses a “very high” risk to the delivery of healthcare services. We also know that the Ministry of Defence is putting plans in place to fly the Pfizer vaccine into the UK to avoid the Government’s entirely self-inflicted border ports chaos. Given that we did not vote for any of this and that 15 polls in a row now show support for independence, does the Secretary of State still believe that the Union is “firing on all cylinders”, as he wrote at the weekend?
The Union is absolutely firing on all cylinders, whether it is the support of over 900,000 jobs in Scotland, the UK Government procuring, supplying and paying for all the vaccines for the United Kingdom, or the armed forces helping with the roll-out. As regards the scare story the hon. Gentleman is trying to start over the MOD flying the vaccine into the United Kingdom, all good Governments have robust contingency plans. That is No. 5 on the list of contingency plans, and they are not just for the transition period outcome. Those contingency plans are made for potential strikes, weather events and so on. It is entirely responsible to plan that way.
The end of the transition period has been described by Scottish businesses as a “catastrophic” situation. Some have argued that if they cannot trade with the EU, they are out of the game—it is an existential threat. Can I ask the Scottish Secretary to actually show some authority in the Cabinet and insist on a minimum six-month grace period, so businesses do not fall foul of regulations which are not yet developed for a deal that is not yet agreed, but which is supposed to be in place in barely three weeks’ time? This needs to be done; it needs to be done today. Otherwise, businesses will struggle dreadfully on his watch.
There has been a major public information campaign running for businesses and citizens, telling them exactly what they need to do. We have always been clear that, whether it is deal or no deal, there are steps that have to be taken when the transition period comes to an end. We are not going to delay the end of the transition period, because it is only by sticking to that date that people can prepare responsibly, and it also holds the EU’s feet to the fire in getting a deal. We have been clear what measures they need to take. They need to look at the UK Government website, where they can see very clearly what preparations they need to make for the end of this month.
An effective response to covid-19 does indeed need to be a co-ordinated response across the whole United Kingdom, informing every aspect of the UK Government’s response. For instance, on 24 November, the UK Government and the three devolved Administrations published a joint statement on UK-wide arrangements for the festive season. We are currently working with the devolved Administrations on the deployment of vaccines and community testing across the UK.
Last month, an opinion poll revealed that 68% of Scots want the Scottish and UK Governments to work more closely together. Minister, why is it that, despite that, the Scottish and UK Governments are not able to work in a co-ordinated manner, and why are we constantly seeing mixed messages and infighting?
It is not for me to say what mixed messages the hon. Gentleman might see in the press or get from political parties. The UK Government and all assemblies across the whole UK work together on a co-ordinated basis to deliver not just what has been delivered up to now; there was the excellent news yesterday of the first vaccines being provided across the whole UK—not in one part of the UK or another but across the UK on the same day. Vaccines are an excellent example of that co-operation between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations, and the UK Government are procuring vaccines on behalf of the UK as a whole. The prioritisation of the vaccines is a devolved matter—
Order. We must go on to the next question.
The news of the vaccine’s approval is incredibly encouraging, but we now face the greatest organisational challenge perhaps since the second world war in distributing it to all who want and need it across the four UK nations. Given the botched roll-out of the flu vaccine in Scotland this year, how is the Minister going to ensure that Scottish Ministers are able to get the delivery of the covid vaccine right?
I am conscious of the time, so I shall give a very brief answer. Local deployment of the vaccines is a devolved matter, but Ministry of Defence Ministers have made military planners available to the Scottish Government to facilitate the complex task of mass deployment.