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Volume 725: debated on Wednesday 11 January 2023

The Secretary of State was asked—

Impact of Leaving the EU

1. Whether he has made a recent assessment of the impact of the UK leaving the European Union on Scotland. (902927)

11. Whether he has made a recent assessment of the impact of the UK leaving the European Union on Scotland. (902937)

There are many benefits of leaving the EU for Scotland. They include: the ability to agree new trade deals and strategic partnerships, controlling our borders, ensuring that regulation fits the needs of the United Kingdom, control of our fishing waters and the ability to improve the competitiveness of our economy while maintaining high standards.

Statistics from His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs show that Scottish exports have plummeted by £2.2 billion over the two years since Brexit, which has already cost Scotland’s economy around £4 billion. The consequences of Brexit have been invariably harmful. What is the Secretary of State for Scotland doing to protect Scotland from this Tory-imposed act of economic self-harm?

The hon. Lady quotes statistics for the two years following Brexit, but those of course are two years where we had other factors to take into account, not only covid and many lockdowns across Europe, but the illegal war in Ukraine. In the first two quarters of 2022, the United Kingdom did more trade with the European Union than it did in any quarter when we were members of the European Union.

Brexit has cost the UK £40 billion a year in tax revenue. That would be enough to fill the black hole caused by the Tory mini-Budget, along with yet another round of Tory austerity. Scotland did not vote for Brexit, for this Government, the last one or the one before that, so does the Secretary of State think it is right that Scotland should suffer due to his party’s extreme Brexit ideology?

This Government respect democracy. We respect the outcome of referendums. There was a referendum in 2014 on Scottish independence. We respected the result; the Scottish National party has not. In 2016, the United Kingdom, which we are all part of, voted to leave the European Union, and we delivered on that.

A report from the Nuffield Trust has found that Brexit is worsening NHS workforce challenges, particularly the recruitment of specialities. Trade barriers have driven up costs and made shortages of medicines and medical devices worse in the UK than in Europe. Why should the people of Scotland suffer worse health outcomes as a consequence of a Brexit they did not vote for?

I would say that the people of Scotland are suffering worse health outcomes because of the incompetence of the Scottish Government to run the health system. Regarding NHS recruitment, I further add that we have a points-based system. It creates flexibility and allows us to deal with the skills gap, and a points-based system was the former policy of the Scottish National party.

Brexit has demonstrably been a disaster for the Scottish fisheries sector. The catchers and the processors are having a dreadful time, but even these trading arrangements are due to end in 2026 under the trade and co-operation agreement. What thought has the Secretary of State given to the future trading arrangements after 2026, or will it be just another betrayal?

We have taken control of our waters. We have left the hated common fisheries policy. We have seen our quota increase by 30,000 tonnes this year in negotiations. We are going to take full control of our waters at the end of the five-year period, and with the other things we are putting in place to support industry, we will increase the processing business, as well.

It is interesting to follow the previous question. Does my right hon. Friend agree that additional UK fishing opportunities totalling about £750 million—that is on top of the TCA agreement—have been secured in recent end-of-year negotiations? Does he agree with me and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation that Scottish industry and Scottish Government Ministers and officials have a stronger voice in the annual negotiations since leaving the EU, and the hated common fisheries policy, than ever they would have when we were still in the EU?

My hon. Friend is a great advocate for the fishing industry, and I agree with everything he says. We have a stronger voice. We have increased our tonnage by 30,000 tonnes, and we will continue to increase it. Everything he does to support that industry is laudable.

This Government seem hellbent on destroying the Scottish seafood sector. Some £60 million has been spent on additional Brexit paperwork alone, while export delays and exclusions undermine our export potential. What has happened to the Brexit sea of opportunity that was promised, and does the Minister accept the assessment of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association that Brexit has

“failed to deliver any benefits”

of a coastal state?

I do not accept that assessment. Certain sectors of the fishing industry have made much progress and seen many benefits. On the processing sector, we are looking at what the shortage occupation list could do to help the sector and at further investment in the north-east. I am confident that there is a sea of opportunity, which we will see over the five-year period, and that, at the end of those five years, the fishing sector will not be jumping up and down saying, “Let’s get back into the common fisheries policy.”

The brilliant EU citizens who contribute to Scotland’s communities, public services and economy include more than 100,000 people who currently have the precarious pre-settled status. The High Court in England recently ruled that the requirement of a further application to preserve their rights here was unlawful and contrary to the withdrawal treaty. Will the Secretary of State agree that the judgment is welcome and should be respected—providing, as it does, security for those EU citizens and protecting their ongoing contributions to Scotland and the UK?

We welcome all EU citizens with settled status and think it is absolutely right that those systems are in place. If the hon. Gentleman has any further questions regarding the matter, I suggest he raise the matter at Home Office questions. I think the system that we have is working and is fair.

When conducting his assessment, did the Secretary of State include figures for the impact of implementing the Schengen borders code between Scotland and England, including the requirements for border infrastructure, that would be required if we listened to the SNP and implemented its policies?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is not just the issue of freedom of movement of people across the United Kingdom, but the fact that while 20% of Scotland’s trade is with the EU and 20% with the rest of the world, 60% is with the rest of the United Kingdom.

My colleagues have highlighted just some of the negative impacts of Brexit on individuals, businesses, universities and public services in Scotland. There simply are no real Brexit opportunities or sunlit uplands. Does it therefore come as a surprise to the Secretary of State that a poll last year showed that 69% of Scottish voters want to rejoin the EU?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role, and thank the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black) for her positive engagement in the role previously.

Opinion polls come and go; we have seen that. Last week, we saw that 59% of Scots want to remain in the United Kingdom—I notice that that opinion poll was not quoted. As for the benefits of Brexit, we can make our own trade deals, and we have made 71 to date. The SNP has never seen a trade deal it liked—it has never voted for a trade deal in the European Parliament or in this Parliament. There are further benefits: we have left the hated common fisheries policy; I know the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) is very keen on the health sector, and we had an accelerated vaccine programme roll-out; we had a fast and decisive response to the war in Ukraine; and we are able to make our own laws, one of which is precision breeding, which, again, we would like the Scottish Government to support.

I thank the Secretary of State for his warm welcome, but I must point out that June Raine, the head of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, has said innumerable times that the accelerated roll-out was under European Medicines Agency legislation. With the Labour party having now lashed itself to the mast of the floundering Brexit ship, does the Secretary of State at least recognise that the only route back to the EU for Scotland is as an independent country?

The deficit in Scotland is considerably higher than 3%, which is the Maastricht criteria, so that is not the route back. The currency is a problem as well—as we know, the Bank of England is the bank of last resort, and there would have to be a new currency in Scotland following membership of the EU. There is no desire in Scotland to have membership of the EU. I believe that when Scots stop and look at the detail, whether it is on their pensions, trade or currency, they know that their home is the United Kingdom.

Community Assets

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Scottish communities have benefited from the UK Government’s £150-million community ownership fund, which is a key pillar in our levelling-up agenda. To date, more than £2 million has been invested in 10 projects across Scotland through the fund, including more than £200,000 to restore the not-for-profit community-run Old Forge pub on the Knoydart peninsula, and £250,000 in Perth and Kinross’s Rannoch hub to provide the historical building with new business and leisure facilities for the local community.

As it is 11 January, I wish everyone in Burghead a happy Clavie. In a historical tradition dating back to the 1750s, tonight, as his predecessors did, Clavie king Dan Ralph and his crew will carry a barrel of burning tar and oil through the streets up to Doorie hill to welcome in the new year. It is an incredible sight and I wish everyone well tonight. The Minister mentioned levelling up. He will know that Moray Council has submitted an ambitious bid that will see jobs and investment in Elgin and across Moray. Can he give us an update on that bid?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the activities taking place in Burghead tonight, and I wish Dan Ralph and his team well in the Clavie this evening. I welcome Moray Council’s engagement with the levelling-up programme. As he will know, the levelling-up fund invests in infrastructure that improves everyday lives across the United Kingdom. To date, eight Scottish projects have been successfully funded to a value of more than £171 million. The United Kingdom Government will shortly make an announcement on the successful bids from round 2 of the levelling-up fund, and I look forward to seeing more successful Scottish bids as part of that announcement.

Can I ask the deputy assistant junior viceroy to be honest at the Dispatch Box that Scotland is being short-changed as a result of being dragged out of the European Union? We used to benefit from much more regional development money, rather than the poxy pork barrel politics of levelling-up money.

I am disappointed that the hon. Member does not welcome the Government’s additional investment into communities across Scotland. We are making decisions based on real devolution and supporting local councils across Scotland by investing in local communities, while the Scottish Government increasingly take more powers away from local councils.

International Trade Links

3. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on strengthening Scotland’s international trade links. (902929)

6. What recent discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on strengthening Scotland’s international trade links. (902932)

Scotland is, of course, already benefiting from the United Kingdom’s independent trade policy. To date, we have signed 71 trade deals with non-EU countries and the European Union, which were worth £808 billion in 2021. We have further high-value deals in sight with the trans-Pacific region, India and the Gulf states. My priority is to ensure that Scotland’s best interests continue to be represented in our ambitious programme of free trade agreement negotiations.

The UK Government have an extensive overseas network via its embassies, the British Council and so on. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that the UK Government work collaboratively with Scottish businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, and the Scottish Government to maximise opportunities and utilise resources to best promote the Scottish brand and businesses overseas?

Our response to the recent Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry into promoting Scotland internationally highlights the wide range of activities that the Scotland Office, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for International Trade are undertaking around the world to promote Scottish interests across diverse areas, including trade and investment. UK Export Finance has provided £2.1 billion to Scottish companies since 2016-17, supporting a range of businesses, including food processors, hydro research, manufacturing and renewable energy. Our approach to attracting foreign investment in Scotland is driven by the Office for Investment, which launched in 2020. The successes of the programme are clear, with 4,408 new jobs created by overseas investment.

Does the Minister agree that the United Kingdom securing the double taxation agreement with Brazil, with its 212 million population, is a very significant event for many Scottish exporting businesses, and that the UK’s work to agree geographical indication for Scottish whisky in Brazil will help secure even more jobs in Scotland?

Yes, I do agree, and I commend my hon. Friend for his efforts as the Government’s trade envoy to Brazil. As he will know, Scotland exports the most goods from the United Kingdom to Brazil, so it stands to benefit greatly from the agreement on double taxation, when implemented. Given the importance of the Brazil export market, I also share his ambition of securing GI protection for Scottish whisky in Brazil as soon as possible, with the obvious benefits this will bring to both producers and consumers of our national drink.

Mr Speaker, I assume you will be surprised and delighted to learn that last summer a Bollywood biopic was filmed in Caithness in my constituency. That was a lot of dosh being spent in the north of Scotland. Screen tourism brings in almost £65 million for Scottish businesses, and more than half the people in the UK think that Scotland is one of the finest film and TV locations. Can I ask the Minister what he will do to promote Scotland as one of the best film locations in the world?

I very much agree with the hon. Member’s points about the Scottish film industry. I know he had a distinguished career on the stage during his time in the pantomime season. There is a real opportunity here for Scotland. We can see the benefits for Scottish tourism of TV shows such as “Outlander” and the BBC’s recent “The Traitors”. I am meeting those from VisitScotland next week, and I look forward to discussing these opportunities further with them.

I do not know where all this tosh that we have heard comes from this morning, but the reality of trade arrangements in Scotland and the UK is that, because of Brexit, £15 billion less was spent in the last quarter of 2022 than would have been. What does the Minister have to say to businesses in Scotland suffering under this calamitous Brexit that they did not vote for, and when is he going to do something—or anything—that will help Scotland to escape this Brexit disaster?

I know the hon. Member and the SNP have historically been anti-trade, but this Government are unquestionably committed to expanding trade opportunities for Scotland. Trade continues to grow, trade continues to be an opportunity for the Scottish economy and trade creates jobs for Scotland.

Inflation and Cost of Living Increases

4. What recent assessment he has made of the impact of increases in (a) inflation and (b) the cost of living on Scotland. (902930)

7. What recent assessment he has made of the impact of increases in (a) inflation and (b) the cost of living on Scotland. (902933)

Like many countries around the world, the UK faces the dual challenge of a recession and high inflation. That is why the Prime Minister has made tackling inflation a key priority. As outlined in the Chancellor’s autumn statement, this Government are committed to supporting the most vulnerable households across the United Kingdom with £12 billion of direct support in 2023-24. Alongside this, the energy price guarantee is saving a typical household in Scotland £900 this winter.

I thank the Minister for his response. He will know that, in contrast to the UK energy resources that were privatised under previous Conservative Administrations, France’s publicly owned company can cap energy prices at 4% and Germany has cut VAT on energy to 7%. May I ask him what representations he has made to Government colleagues about following European examples and preventing costs going up at source, saving money for people, businesses and taxpayers?

This Government are committed to supporting the most vulnerable in Scotland through this inflationary crisis with the extra support that is going to the Scottish Government—the record-breaking block grant, together with £1.5 billion of additional funding through the Barnett consequentials. That is on top of the energy support packages that have been put in place by this Government. This compassionate Conservative Government will continue to work to support the most vulnerable in Scotland and across the United Kingdom.

Data from the UK Government shows that standing charges for Scottish households are above the UK average, yet Scotland is an energy-rich country in her own right, producing over 60% of the UK’s gas and a third of its green electricity. This broken Westminster system results in people in my constituency of Airdrie and Shotts and those across Scotland struggling with the cost of living, so can the Department explain why people in energy-rich Scotland are paying more, despite being energy producers?

As the hon. Lady will know, Ofgem is currently reviewing the charging structure, and the UK Government continue to engage with Ofgem as part of that process. Ofgem is independent of the UK Government, and we look forward to the recommendations it brings forward.

Last week, analysis of average wages in Scotland showed that they are almost £800 lower in real terms than when this Government came to power 13 years ago. In my constituency, they are £6,000 lower. That is the result of 13 years of Tory and SNP incompetence and not growing the economy. Does the Minister agree that after 13 miserable years of Tory wage stagnation, and with inflation now soaring into double digits, the cost of living crisis for families in Scotland is made in Downing Street?

No, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government are committed to ensuring that wages go further, and that people keep more of what they earn. From April 2023 we are increasing the national living wage by 9.7%—the biggest ever cash rise—meaning an extra £1,600 a year for a full-time worker over the age of 23. Since 2010 this Government have also increased tax-free allowances for income tax and national insurance by more than inflation, roughly doubling them in cash terms and taking millions more people out of paying tax altogether.

I am sure when workers in Scotland cannot afford to pay their bills this winter they will be delighted to hear that! Workers in Scotland see their wages lower today in real terms than they were in 2010. It is no wonder that in Scotland teachers are on strike, and that nurses from the Royal College of Nursing and ambulance workers in the GMB have rejected the Scottish Government’s pay offers. It is the same across the UK, yet we now learn that instead of negotiating in good faith, the UK Government want to strip those workers of their rights. Does the Minister think it is right to clap nurses, teachers and many more public sector workers one year, only to propose sacking them the next for asking for a fair pay rise?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, public sector workers are striking in Scotland because of the incompetency of the SNP Government in Edinburgh. This Government are taking action to ensure that public services are protected through anti-strike legislation, which is ensuring that people who use the NHS and other essential services are protected from those types of strike action.

Energy Bill Support

The Government’s energy price guarantee continues to support households across Great Britain, including in Scotland. The Chancellor’s autumn statement set out how the scheme will be adjusted by reducing typical household energy bills to an annual equivalent of around £3,000 from April 2023 until April 2024, saving an average of £500 per household.

A constituent contacted me before Christmas because she was struggling to keep up with her home energy costs. When my office contacted her provider, we found there was little support for her as a victim of Home Energy and Lifestyle Management Ltd, with the huge costs related mostly to the green deal. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with his Cabinet colleagues about tailored energy support for Scottish victims of the green deal scam?

As the hon. Lady knows, the green deal was designed to ensure that people were able to make their households more energy efficient, but we have always been clear that the repayments should not have been greater than the savings delivered. If her constituent has been mis-sold something, it is important that a complaint is made to the loan provider, and ultimately to the Financial Ombudsman Service. If that route has been pursued and the hon. Lady still needs some assistance, will she please contact me as I am happy to meet her to discuss the matter further?

One reason families in Scotland are paying some of the highest electricity bills in Europe is that there have been 13 years of failed Tory and SNP energy polices. Scotland is a key contributor in delivering a secure, affordable low-carbon energy system for the whole UK. Under Labour’s proposals we would lower bills for Scottish households and be energy independent, with a plan for clean power by 2030. The former Conservative energy Minister, Claire Perry O’Neill, said:

“Labour are serious about Britain’s energy crisis—unlike my former party”.

Does the Minister agree with his former colleague?

I do not agree with the hon. Lady’s analysis. The Government remain committed to ensuring that the UK has a green, secured energy supply. I do agree with her assessment of the SNP’s failings—we saw that yesterday in its botched energy statement to the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland's Future

10. Whether he has made an assessment of the potential implications for his policies of the decision of the House on 14 December 2022 on the motion on Scotland’s Future. (902936)

I trust the hon. Gentleman recalls that the House overwhelmingly rejected the motion to which he refers. The Government are focused on delivering for the people of Scotland. That means helping to tackle the cost of living, protecting our long-term energy security and growing our economy.

I remember how in this place the Secretary of State for Scotland, while explaining the UK Government’s lack of appetite for a referendum on Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, repeated many times that the route to a referendum in 2014 involved “consensus between both Governments.” Given that democracy is fuelled by consensus, is the Secretary of State for Scotland working towards establishing that consensus or is he content to deny the people of Scotland their democratic voice?

The Secretary of State for Scotland and the Government will continue to work with the Scottish Government to deliver on the priorities of the people of Scotland. They are: dealing with the cost of living; dealing with the NHS; and dealing with our education system, as well as a long list of other issues that the Scottish Government are completely failing to deliver on—certainly not another independence referendum.

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