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Volume 717: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2022

The Secretary of State was asked—

Shipbuilding Sector

As you were notified, Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State is unable to attend today as he has long-standing commitments in Scotland. However, I am very pleased to be joined by the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), and the Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea and Fulham (Greg Hands).

We published our updated shipbuilding strategy in March, and it sets out a comprehensive package of Government support to further a shipbuilding renaissance for the whole UK. There will be well over £4 billion of investment in UK shipbuilding over the next three years alone, including a range of opportunities for Scottish shipbuilders.

The UK Government’s refreshed national shipbuilding strategy commits £4 billion to deliver 150 new naval and civil vessels over the next 30 years, in stark contrast to the Scottish Government’s squandering of £250 million on ferries that do not float. Does my hon. Friend agree that, when it comes to shipbuilding, it is the UK Government who are delivering for the sector in Scotland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. SNP Members are usually only too keen to tell us about what the Scottish Government are doing and how the UK Government should follow suit. That clearly does not apply in the case of shipbuilding, on which the Scottish Government’s record is shameful. It is the UK Government who are delivering for Scotland, not just on shipbuilding but on levelling up, energy security and transport connectivity. We are taking the lead.

The SNP has not built any of the planned replacement ferries announced in its 2012 ferries strategy and, since it came to power, the average lifespan of these lifeline vessels has soared from 17 to 24 years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government need to address this as a matter of urgency?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only are the two overbudget ferries languishing in the yard, but the head of CalMac’s engineering division has revealed that the existing vessels could fail at any time. At the weekend, he said that there are no spare ferries, so stand-ins are deployed from other services when one goes out of action, and that has a knock-on effect on other routes. The ships are so basic

“we do not have time to do deep maintenance.”

It was reported that more than a third of CalMac’s fleet is beyond its 30-year design life, making breakdowns more likely. These are the issues on which the Scottish Government should be concentrating, rather than an unnecessary and unwanted rerun of the independence referendum.

Does the Minister agree with the Minister for the Armed Forces, who went on the record last week to confirm that the record of warship building in Scotland is based on engineering excellence, outstanding quality and the role of higher education in defence manufacturing in Scotland? It is not charity or any kind of gesture politics; it is about skill and ability.

Scotland has a long and proud history of shipbuilding. What I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that the biggest threat to future orders is his party’s plan to break up the United Kingdom.

I come from a shipbuilding community and I saw the decline of shipbuilding on the Clyde, but my constituents in Edinburgh West are concerned about building up our industries and creating jobs. Does the Minister agree that moves to improve shipbuilding are far more important than money wasted on vanity projects, ferries that do not work and a referendum that the majority of people in Scotland do not want—[Interruption.]

Order. I want to hear the question. If Members do not want to hear it—[Interruption.] I would not challenge me.

Unfortunately, in Scotland we are used to the SNP shouting down people with whom it does not agree.

Does the Minister agree that the people of Scotland would be far better served by addressing these problems, assisting the UK Government in rebuilding our shipbuilding industry and helping constituents such as mine in Edinburgh West, rather than by wasting £20 million on a referendum on an issue we do not want to discuss again?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. Our shipbuilding strategy gives a long-term vision and yards in Scotland and the supply chain confidence to make the investments and deliver the ships, whether for military or civilian use, that we want.

Carbon Capture and Storage

2. What recent steps he has taken with the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to support carbon capture and storage in Scotland. (900698)

The Government recognise the importance of Scotland in achieving our goals on carbon capture utlilisation and storage. We have supported Scottish CCUS projects through the industrial decarbon-isation challenge fund, and regularly meet project developers and stakeholders.

I am glad to hear about those regular meetings. During COP26 in Glasgow, both the UK and the Scottish Governments rightly spoke of the importance of doing everything we can at home to reduce our emissions. Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon re-announced her plans for an independence referendum, so action on the environment, the cost of living crisis, kickstarting the economy and upgrading the health service have taken a back seat to greater constitutional division. Has the Department estimated what impact a divisive referendum would have on investment in carbon capture and storage in Scotland?

I thank the hon. Member for her question and I agree with her sentiments. We are engaging continuously on CCUS with the Acorn cluster and other possibilities. I agree with her on the impact that the SNP would have on energy policy. The SNP is anti-nuclear and anti-oil and gas. It is hard to see where it thinks it is going to get its energy from in the event of independence; perhaps it has some idea of a future deal with Vladimir Putin.

Carbon capture and storage is critical for the production of blue hydrogen and, therefore, in helping us to reach the Government’s 2030 hydrogen target. What opportunities does the Minister see for the potential of the hydrogen economy in Scotland, Teesside and the rest of the UK?

I thank my hon. Friend, the chair of the all-party group on hydrogen, for his continuing support for hydrogen-related and CCUS-related projects. We see that as offering opportunities for the whole of the UK. Teesside will play a big part in it, as will Scotland and other parts of England and Wales. We see it as a big whole of the UK effort, crucial to levelling up and to the Union.

Union’s Impact on Scotland

The United Kingdom is the most successful political, economic, social and cultural union the world has ever seen, and is the foundation on which our citizens and businesses are able to thrive. This Government are committed to protecting and promoting its combined strengths, building on hundreds of years of partnership and shared history, because when we work together collaboratively, as one United Kingdom, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous, better able to draw on the skills of our great shared institutions and better able to respond to challenges, such as the pandemic and supporting families with the cost of living.

Last year, the Scottish Tory manifesto stated that a vote for them was a vote to stop an independence referendum, yet they achieved only 22% of the vote. Does the Minister accept that the people of Scotland have a right to have a vote on 19 October 2023 because their campaign message has failed?

The constitutional issues were so far down the list of people’s priorities when that poll took place. What the people of Scotland want are their Governments, whether that is local, Scottish or UK, to be working together on addressing the issues that matter to them and responding to the big challenges we face as a country and a world.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I am sure the Minister would wish to join me in congratulating the Bridge café in Gilmerton in my constituency on winning café of the year yesterday and the Rotary Club of Braids on its 50th anniversary. We have had some wonderful achievements locally, and good luck to Andy—no relation— Murray at Wimbledon this afternoon.

In the latest poll in Scotland, the Prime Minister has a net approval rating of minus 71. Included in that negative figure of course are the Scottish Conservative leader and every Conservative MSP and Scottish MP —except for the Secretary of State. So does the Minister think that the threat to the Union posed by the Prime Minister clinging to his job is a price worth paying?

First, I would be delighted to congratulate the café in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and when I am next in Edinburgh I will endeavour to pay a visit.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. This Government and this Prime Minister are focusing on the big issues that face Scotland and the whole United Kingdom: keeping the west safe from Russian aggression; dealing with the global economic challenges from the pandemic and the war; and addressing the long-term challenges such as energy security and climate change. That is what we are focusing on.

The very fact that the Minister has to read that list tells its own story. The simple truth is that the Prime Minister puts the Union at risk every single day that he clings on. The country knows that, his party’s Back Benchers know it and even the First Minister knows it—which is why she wants him to stay. Yesterday was nothing more than an attempt by the First Minister to deflect from her horrendous record in government and to hinder the prospect of a future Labour Government replacing the Prime Minister’s Government. That is what she fears the most. The only thing that matters to Nicola Sturgeon is, of course, independence—not soaring NHS waiting times, hungry children, drug deaths, increasing poverty, a widening educational attainment gap or Scots worried about their bills. Why will the Minister not recognise that the Prime Minister is nothing but a gift to the SNP and put the future of the UK ahead of his blind loyalty to the Prime Minister?

I do agree with one part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, and that is about the real focus of the Scottish Government: it is, as he says, not about addressing the real challenges in Scotland; it is about appeasing the hard-liners in the separatist party. We are not going to be deflected from getting on with the job we were elected to do.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Minister when he says there are multiple priorities that should be at the forefront of the attention of the First Minister and SNP Members in this House. All of those are very challenging, but one simple thing the Scottish Government could do is adopt the UK Government’s approach to genetic technology and precision breeding. Does my hon. Friend agree that that would be a simple way to meet the priorities of Scottish farmers, food producers and research institutes?

The gene editing of crops is an important issue, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it. There is a widespread view in the agriculture sector in Scotland that it is a good move and would improve crop yields and resilience, which are part of our food security. It is only the dogma of the SNP Government that prevents Scotland from joining the rest of the UK in adopting this important technology. The door is open for them to put aside their blind adherence to EU laws and join us in developing this important technology.

Given that the UK wields the most control over the Scottish economy, my question is pretty simple: why is it that independent countries similar to Scotland are wealthier and more productive and have higher social mobility, lower poverty levels, a smaller gender pay gap and lower inequality? In other words, can the Minister not see that, when it comes to Scotland, it is this Government and this Union that are holding us back?

Before I answer the hon. Lady’s question, may I congratulate her on her recent wedding? Although we will disagree on many subjects, on this one I hope we can agree that a union is better than independence.

On the substance of the hon. Lady’s question, this Union has been one of the most economically productive in history. Only the separatists could believe that creating a hard border between Scotland and England, when 60% of Scotland’s exports are to the rest of the United Kingdom, would be in our economic and social interests.

I welcome the Minister’s warm words, but I remind him that unions have to be voluntary as well. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives has changed his view on the Prime Minister three times in six months, so why do this Government refuse to let people in Scotland change their view after eight years?

The Union is, of course, voluntary. The question in the referendum was put and decisively answered. Of all the comments recently, the most revealing was from Cabinet Secretary Angus Robertson, who basically said that, even if there was another referendum and Scotland voted to stay part of the Union, the SNP would keep going—it would be a neverendum. That uncertainty and chaos would be bad for Scotland and bad for the United Kingdom. We want to level up the country and address the challenges; the SNP wants to divide Britain and divide Scotland.

Union Connectivity

I regularly discuss important issues on improving Union connectivity with ministerial colleagues. Earlier this year, for example, I co-chaired a roundtable discussion with Transport Ministers and Scottish stakeholders.

The Union connectivity review provides a boost for regional airports and domestic aviation by suggesting ways in which public service obligations could be reformed to support regional flights. Does the Minister agree that restoring commercial passenger flights between Blackpool airport and locations in Scotland would boost economic growth and help to create jobs and investment in both locations?

Scotland’s love affair with Blackpool has existed for decades and is well known. The more Scots who can visit my hon. Friend’s lovely constituency, the better. We of course recognise the importance of maintaining a thriving and competitive aviation sector in the UK. I know that he is a strong campaigner for more air services to and from Blackpool, and we will continue to consider whether there are further opportunities to utilise public service obligations to meet our Union connectivity and levelling-up objectives.

The Union connectivity review recommended that the UK Government work with the Scottish Government on an assessment of the east coast transport corridor to include improvements to the east coast main line and the A1. Can my hon. Friend update the House on progress in bringing forward that recommendation?

The Government are grateful to Sir Peter Hendy for his work and we are considering his recommendations carefully. The Prime Minister has welcomed, and intends to accept, the proposal for the creation of UKNET, a strategic transport network spanning the entire United Kingdom. The funding that the UK Government have set aside for this review will put us on the right path to strengthen and maintain our transport arteries for people and businesses across the UK.

Connectivity between Scotland and England matters, especially for the area that I represent in Cumbria, and south-west Scotland. Does the Minister share my concerns that the Scottish Government are not helping to deliver the investment, especially with regard to the Borders rail feasibility report and roadbuilding generally?

Yes. I was pleased to be able to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and see the value of the levelling-up projects in his area as part of the growth deal in and around Carlisle station. I am keen to see the feasibility study work commence on extending the Borders rail line. I have recently met the Minister of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Wendy Morton), to progress that project.

Belfast harbour has reported levels of trade and an increase in turnover and profits of 17%, to £73.3 million, for 2021, so improving Union connectivity for Northern Ireland, even with a tweaked protocol. Why will the Secretary of State’s office not campaign for Union connectivity with the greatest booster of our economy, the European Union?

What we are focusing on in terms of the trade from Northern Ireland to Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom is that part of the Union connectivity recommendations on upgrading the A75 and the A77. We want to do that. I have been very keen to meet the Scottish Transport Minister, who continues to refuse to meet me or my ministerial colleagues. Perhaps the hon. Member could have a word with her to get that meeting in place.

The decision to leave the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service satellite programme last year has had catastrophic implications for the reliability of lifeline air services, and even the Air Ambulance Service, across the highlands and islands. We were told at the time that it was done on the basis of cost, but we now know that, for every pound spent on EGNOS, there is a £2.60 benefit to the UK economy. This was one of Dominic Cummings’ madder ideas. Is it not time to admit as much, rejoin EGNOS, and improve air services in the highlands and islands?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I am aware of the EGNOS issue and discussed it with the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts), some time ago. I am aware that Loganair has written to the Secretary of State for Transport, pointing out additional evidence. I would be very happy to meet him to discuss that further, but I do know that my colleagues in the Department for Transport are working with the industry to deliver a good replacement.

We were promised a bridge to Northern Ireland, which everybody knew would not happen, but we have not seen the money for that. We were promised that High Speed 2 would run to Scotland on day one. Not only is it not running on day one, but the Government have now taken away the Golborne link. Is it not the case that this UK Government are running a scorched-earth policy on Union connectivity and the Union overall?

The hon. Gentleman is, I am afraid, completely wrong. Scotland will be connected to HS2 from day one and the project will deliver enormous capacity and journey time improvements. On the specific issue of the Golborne link, Sir Peter Hendy’s review found that it was not the optimal way to connect the high-speed line to the classic network, but we are looking at better alternatives to deliver that increase in capacity.

Freeports: Economic Impact

5. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential economic impact of building two freeports in Scotland. (900701)

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Scotland Office are delighted that the UK Government’s freeport programme is being extended to Scotland. UK Government funding of up to £52 million for two new green freeports will boost Scotland’s economy by regenerating communities, creating high-quality jobs and supporting the transition to a net zero economy.

The UK Government expect the existing confirmed freeports to add £24 billion to the UK economy. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that all political parties get behind the green freeports initiative to maximise the benefits they will bring to Scotland and the whole UK, rather than a divisive, costly and unwanted referendum on Scottish separatism?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have received five competitive bids for Scottish green freeports and the two Governments are working closely together to assess the proposals. I am confident that we will announce two outstanding winners that will create highly paid jobs, help to regenerate the areas around the ports and become global and national hubs of trade, innovation and investment.

There are five excellent bids from across Scotland for the two proposed green freeports. Each of the bids is of such high quality that it would be a great shame not to support the local economies in Inverness and Cromarty, Orkney, the Forth, the Clyde, and Aberdeen City and Peterhead. Will the Minister’s Department consider what support can be given to unsuccessful areas, and whether that support can be widened?

We will certainly look at that. Of course there is intense competition for the freeports, which will create huge benefits not only for the local area, but for all of Scotland.

High Speed Rail 2

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on the effect of High Speed Rail 2 on Scotland. (900703)

As I just said in answer to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), Scotland is set to benefit from the boost in connectivity and huge economic benefits that HS2 will bring. Scotland will be connected to the HS2 network from the day it opens, and further work will be done in the years ahead to optimise the journey times and capacity. In addition, I am very pleased that 100 permanent jobs will be created at the new HS2 Annandale depot in Dumfries and Galloway.

On the day of the confidence vote in the Prime Minister, the Government tried to sneak out the news that the HS2 Golborne link, a £2 billion rail link between Glasgow and the north-west of England, had been scrapped. How can the Minister say that Scotland will benefit from connecting to HS2 when the Government are secretly trying to get rid of lines linking the north of England with Scotland and reducing the overall connectivity between the nations of the United Kingdom?

As I have just said to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, the removal of the Golborne link was because Sir Peter Hendy’s connectivity review had found that it was not the best way to address the capacity constraints between Crewe and Preston. However, we are looking at better options for it; we are committed to HS2, and I believe the line will help connectivity between Scotland and England and encourage a modal shift to more environmentally friendly forms of transport.

With millions of tonnes of soil being moved across Lichfield, roads closed and the canal obstructed because of HS2, perhaps we can help Scotland by giving them our bit of HS2?

I know my hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner against HS2, but we have had that debate, I am afraid. I am always happy to discuss with him how we can optimise the building work. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary, who is sitting next to me, has heard his representations. I am an enormous believer in the potential of high-speed rail links to transform the economic potential of this country.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on