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Strength of the Union

Volume 708: debated on Wednesday 2 February 2022

This Government are committed to upholding and strengthening the United Kingdom. My Department works closely with our partners across Government and with Scottish stakeholders. This Government are delivering record investment in Scotland and are ensuring that the many benefits of the Union are shared across the United Kingdom.

The Leader of the House recently described the leader of the Scottish Conservatives as “a lightweight figure”. Does the Secretary of State believe that that comment helped to strengthen the Union?

I have made my position very clear: I do not think that Douglas Ross—[Interruption.] Well, I made it very clear in the Scottish media, which hon. Members may not have noticed, but that is fair enough. He is the leader of the Scottish Conservatives and was put there by the membership, and we are a constitutionally devolved organisation. He is doing a very good job and holds Nicola Sturgeon to account, and he has my full backing.

On the Union, this Government are committed to delivering freeports across the United Kingdom, including at least one in Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the creation of at least one freeport in Scotland will result in investment and thousands of jobs and demonstrates why our Union is so effective at delivering for our communities?

I am pleased to say that, after a lot of initial opposition and resistance, we are close to agreeing two freeports with the Scottish Government. My hon. Friend is a great champion for Wales, and I hope that the Welsh Government will also accept a freeport.

The Sue Gray report released on Monday was utterly damning about the Prime Minister’s conduct, yet the Secretary of State continues to back him against the wishes of his own Scottish Conservative leader, who I notice is not in the Chamber for Scottish questions. We now know that the Metropolitan police are investigating no fewer than 12 incidents in Downing Street, with more allegations every day. It is little wonder then that a recent poll found that the Prime Minister is as unpopular in Scotland as Alex Salmond. Does the Secretary of State think that the Prime Minister, in refusing to do the decent thing and resign, is good for the Union or helps those who want to break it up?

The Prime Minister is resolute in opposing a second Scottish independence referendum and therefore very good for the Union.

What is Groundhog day, Mr Speaker, is the Secretary of State’s defence of this broken Prime Minister.

Tomorrow, the Bank of England is projected to raise interest rates, and inflation is running at a 30-year high. There will be much anxiety in Scottish households that Ofgem will announce the raising of the energy price cap, leading to a massive hike in bills. Last night, my colleagues and I voted to give every single Scottish household support towards the cost of their spiralling energy bills. Under Labour’s fully costed plans, we would save every Scottish household £200 and save £600 for over 800,000 Scottish households hardest hit by the cost of living crisis. That is proper action on this crisis for those both on and off the grid, like many thousands in the Secretary of State’s constituency. Given that the SNP did not back these plans in the vote last night either, why are Scotland’s two Governments refusing to take any action whatsoever to help Scots with spiralling energy costs?

The UK Government are taking action. The energy price cap is being maintained and will be renegotiated—that is ongoing work for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We are providing a £140 rebate on energy bills for 2.2 million households with the lowest incomes, and we have the £300 winter fuel payment for pensioners.

The strength of any Union rests upon the confidence people have in those who are running things. I know that I disagree with the Minister’s political judgment, so let me appeal to his business judgment. Hypothetically, if he were handed evidence that the man running his company had been incompetent and dishonest, and was subject to a police investigation, bringing the entire company into disrepute, would he let him carry on in the role, or would he expect him to step back?

As has been said many times at this Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister is very sorry for what happened—he has apologised. He has said that if he could have done things differently, with hindsight, he would have done. It is also the case that no one has said that he is the subject of a police investigation. The police are looking into the events that have been passed on to them by Sue Gray, and we will wait for the outcome of that inquiry.

I find it quite incredible. Many of the public believe that this Prime Minister has a long history of racism, homophobia and misogyny. He has lost numerous jobs due to his level of dishonesty. He has presided over 150,000 deaths and the loss of nearly £5 billion of public money to fraudsters. Eighty per cent. of people in Scotland want him to resign, and the leader of the Scottish Tories wants him to resign. Let me ask the Minister this: as Scotland’s only representative in Cabinet, what would it take for him to ask for the Prime Minister’s resignation?

The Prime Minister is doing a fantastic job. He is focusing on the things that matter: delivering on the recovery from this pandemic, the vaccine programme that he backed early on, the booster programme that he led before Christmas, trade deals that will improve outcomes for Scottish food and drink, and many other things. He is a very good leader. The hon. Lady is absolutely prejudging the outcome of the police inquiry.

Following the reference to confidence by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black), I welcome the publication of the levelling-up White Paper, and the Government’s commitment to decentralising the UK shared prosperity fund to local areas in Scotland and Wales. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is an example of confidence in local decision-making, of real devolution and of good Union working?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—I know that he is a great champion of the Union. The levelling-up paper, which will be launched today, will contain a lot of initiatives and show that we are using structural funds to practise real devolution by giving that money directly to local authorities.