Skip to main content


Volume 737: debated on Wednesday 13 September 2023

The Secretary of State was asked—

Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

1. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the potential impact of the UK’s accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership on the Scottish economy. (906278)

I think that we should draw a veil over last night’s football, but I look forward to Scotland qualifying next month for Euro 2024.

Today is the National Farmers Union’s Back British Farming Day, and I am sure that the whole House will join me in marking the important contribution that we farmers and growers make to our everyday lives and to our economy.

The comprehensive and progressive agreement for the trans-Pacific partnership trade bloc is projected to make up the majority of global growth in the future. As a result of joining the CPTPP, a deal that we could not strike while in the EU, Scottish businesses are now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.

The CPTPP is the most exciting and dynamic trading bloc, and a significant Brexit dividend. Scotland, like Wales, has great products to export. My right hon. Friend mentioned farming. Welsh lamb and maybe Scotch whisky have some great opportunities to take advantage of within the CPTPP. Will he encourage the devolved Administrations to work with the UK Government to ensure that we exploit those benefits and this Brexit opportunity for people in Scotland, Wales and elsewhere?

Absolutely. My right hon. Friend is right: the CPTPP is the fastest-growing trade zone in the world, and with the UK included it is worth circa £12 trillion. To that end, we are working with the devolved Administrations. We have also put in a huge network of support centres across the UK, not least in Queen Elizabeth House in Edinburgh.

I am sure that the Secretary of State will be assisted in determining Scotland’s place in international arrangements by the Scottish Affairs Committee’s report, “Promoting Scotland Internationally”, which was released today. In it, he will find that the working arrangements between personnel in both Governments are consensual and productive. Does he not therefore feel slightly embarrassed by the ridiculous diktat from the Foreign Secretary, intended to put the Scottish Government back in their place? The Scottish Secretary told our Committee that it was necessary because, among other insignificant things, Scottish Government Ministers had the temerity to say that Brexit is a bad thing for Scotland. Does he not think that nearly all of Scotland thinks that Brexit is a bad thing for Scotland?

Sheep and Cattle Exports: Quarantine

3. What assessment he has made with Cabinet colleagues of the adequacy of the quarantine period for (a) sheep and (b) cattle to be exported from Scotland to Northern Ireland. (906280)

Livestock can move from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and then return to Northern Ireland, as long as they are hosted at an Animal and Plant Health Agency approved assembly centre and return within 15 days.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that the Windsor framework has created unnecessary bureaucracy around livestock movements from Northern Ireland to GB mainland, particularly into Scottish markets, and has in fact decimated our pedigree cattle trade? What can he do to help me?

The hon. Gentleman is a doughty champion for rural communities in Northern Ireland, and he raises an important point. I will endeavour to arrange a meeting for him with colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as soon as possible.

Poverty and Inequality

4. What discussions he has held with Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on the effectiveness of the steps being taken to reduce rates of (a) poverty and (b) inequality in Scotland. (906281)

The United Kingdom Government are committed to a sustainable approach to tackling poverty and supporting people on lower incomes. We have made substantial investment to help to mitigate the worst of the cost of living impacts, including welfare spending of around £276 billion. The best route out of poverty, of course, is through work. Therefore, our focus remains firmly on supporting people to move into and progress in work.

Scotland has the lowest rates of child poverty in the UK, with the game-changing Scottish child payment helping more than 300,000, and lifting 50,000 of them out of poverty. Why do the UK Government continue to refuse to follow such a successful example?

The UK Government have ensured that the cost of living challenges have been tackled by working in tandem with the Scottish Government and using reserved and devolved levers to get the best outcomes for everybody across Scotland. The benefit cap levels have been increased by 10.1% from 1 April. The national living wage has increased by 9.7% to £10.42 an hour for workers aged 23 years and over. Overall, this Government are working to deliver for the most vulnerable in society, and will do so in conjunction with our partners in the Scottish Government.

After 16 years of SNP Government and 13 years of the Tories, one in four children in Scotland lives in poverty. There are 40,000 more children in poverty compared with a decade ago, and this week it was revealed that three members of the Scottish Government’s own Poverty and Inequality Commission had resigned. Does the Minister agree that both the Scottish and the UK Governments should be working more urgently and more effectively to tackle child poverty?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position. The UK Government are committed to protecting the most vulnerable in our society and we have taken decisive steps to do that, including UK-wide additional spending of £137.5 billion in benefits for pensioners, £67.9 billion in benefits to support disabled people and people with health conditions and £114.3 billion in working-age benefits and child welfare. We have also uprated benefits and pension credit in line with inflation and have raised the national living wage to help to protect the most vulnerable. We will continue to keep the situation under review, but this Government have continually demonstrated our commitment to the most vulnerable across Scotland.

Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage

5. What recent discussions he has held with Cabinet colleagues on supporting the development of carbon capture, utilisation and storage in Scotland. (906282)

Carbon capture, utilisation and storage will be essential to meeting the UK’s 2050 net zero target, playing a vital role in levelling up the economy, supporting the low-carbon economic transformation of our industrial regions and creating new high-value jobs across the United Kingdom. In Scotland, the Acorn cluster has been allocated more than £40 million in development funding by the Government and has been selected, subject to final due diligence, for track 2 CCUS cluster sequencing.

According to Office for Budget Responsibility and UK Government projections, the UK will see between £50 billion and £80 billion in revenue from North sea oil and gas over the next five years. While it is welcome that the Acorn project can now bid for funding, it is important to know that not a penny has been committed. Can the Minister tell me what discussions the Secretary of State has had with Government colleagues to secure at minimum a share of those revenues—say £1 billion over five years—to rapidly accelerate Scotland’s carbon capture industry? If not, does that mean he is content to see Scotland’s people stripped of their vast natural resources without a single penny of that £80 billion being invested in Scotland’s carbon capture ambitions?

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman actually listened to my first answer, but more than £40 million has been allocated by the United Kingdom Government to the development of this technology. The Government will commence engagement and assessment of delivery plans and due diligence on the Acorn and Viking transportation and storage systems and will engage with them directly in respect of the next steps to develop those. We will set out the process by which capture products in track 2 will be selected to meet the stated ambitions in due course.

Scottish Economy

When it comes to growth, the hon. Lady will have noted that the economic data shows that we have recovered better from the pandemic than France, Italy or Germany. Supporting economic growth in Scotland remains a core priority of the Scotland Office, exemplified through our work in investing in the city and regional growth deals and in delivering freeports and investment zones in Scotland, which has brought tens of millions of pounds in investment and has created highly paid jobs.

There is huge potential for offshore wind in Scotland and it is an important part of the transition to a green economy there. What conversations will the Minister be having with the offshore wind sector following the absolutely disastrous contracts for difference round last week?

I personally engage with all sectors of the energy market, including the offshore wind sector. We are very pleased with the announcements that have been made following the announcements last week and will continue to engage with the sector to see it develop across Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom.

I join the Secretary of State in saying how gutted we are about the football result last night—but mark my words, we will be seeking revenge in Germany at the European championships next year.

I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist), who was in the shadow Scotland team but has moved on to do new things after the reshuffle, and to welcome to the Scotland team my hon. Friend the Member for Keir Hardie’s old seat, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones). He is very welcome.

Last week, it was revealed that the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), had secured a book deal. Her book is titled “Ten Years to Save the West”, but it might have been better focusing on the 44 days it took her and her Government, with the support of the Scottish Secretary, to crush the economy. Does the Minister accept that Scots will be paying the price for years to come for the Tories’ kamikaze handling of the economy?

As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the economic challenges we face here in the United Kingdom are no different from those faced by other economies around the world. They have been entirely caused by the illegal war in Ukraine and the covid pandemic. Thankfully, due to the decisive action of this Conservative Government and Prime Minister, the evidence suggests that the UK is recovering from the economic shock far better than France, Italy and Germany.

Ukraine and covid did not crash the economy; this Government did. The truth is that, after 13 years, we have a low-wage, low-growth economy. Let me take the example of residents in a random Scottish constituency, Rutherglen and Hamilton West. Behind every door we knock on, the story is the same: the cost of living. Those voters are paying the price for two bad Governments: the UK Government, who crashed the economy and are asking working people to pay for it, and the Scottish Government, who mismanaged the economy and are also asking working people to pay for it. There is a Tory premium on everyone’s mortgages and rents, alongside the highest tax burden on working people in 80 years, and the SNP wants to increase income taxes further and is proposing eye-watering council tax rates for those residents. Do the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West not deserve a fresh start with Scottish Labour’s Michael Shanks?

It was not so long ago that Scottish Labour was calling for even higher taxes on the people of Scotland. When Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar stood for the leadership, he said:

“I actually think our tax policies will be even more progressive and radical than even John McDonnell’s or Jeremy Corbyn’s tax policies or manifesto”.

Mr Sarwar has now U-turned, of course, but maybe the hon. Gentleman can explain how much Scottish Labour secretly wants to put up taxes in Scotland.

UK Departure from EU

7. What assessment he has made of the potential impact of the UK’s departure from the EU on Scotland. (906285)

The UK Government are focused on opening new international export markets for Scottish businesses. We have trade agreements with 71 non-EU countries and the EU, and those agreements will support growth, jobs and higher wages. The hon. Gentleman will have noted the recently revised numbers, which show that we have recovered better from the pandemic than France, Italy or Germany. Since 2010, the United Kingdom has achieved the third highest rate of growth in the G7—faster than Italy, France, Japan and Germany.

We had a really good trading relationship with the European Union—it was called membership—and 78% of people in Glasgow North, and 62% of people across Scotland, voted to retain it. If Brexit is really delivering the successes that the Secretary of State says it is, why does he think the polls show that those figures would be even higher if the people of Scotland had the choice again?

The recent trading numbers show that we are now doing more trade with the EU in goods and services than we did when we were members.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we are developing a much better relationship with our former colleagues in the EU, including through agreements such as the Windsor framework, and our accession to the North sea group of countries that co-operate on energy and, more recently, to Horizon and other European programmes? That shows that we are on the right footing to have a good future relationship post Brexit.

Yes. On Horizon, we were patient and did the right deal. It showed the future for British scientists, as well as how important British scientists were to Horizon and how much the EU wanted them to be part of it. My right hon. and learned Friend is right: we have a better relationship, and one that does not cost £22 billion a year.

NHS England-NHS Scotland Co-operation

8. Whether he has held recent discussions with Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on increasing co-operation between NHS England and NHS Scotland. (906286)

The United Kingdom Government support collaboration between all our nations to share best practice, improve transparency and provide better accountability for patients. Ministerial colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care have written to the Scottish Government inviting them for talks on how we can work together to tackle long-term waiting lists in all parts of the United Kingdom.

If someone is sick and their life is in danger, is it not the case that the border between Scotland and England should not get in the way of the best possible health outcome?

The hon. Member makes an extremely important point—that is something about which I am acutely aware as a Borders MP. Indeed, I have a constituent who lives in Foulden who has been told that they will need to wait over three years to have their cataracts seen to in Scotland. Meanwhile, their neighbours, who are registered with a GP in England, are being treated by NHS England within six months. My constituent simply does not understand that discrepancy. The SNP Government in Edinburgh should be doing much more to drive down NHS waiting lists and engage with colleagues in Westminster to ensure that all people across these islands get the best possible NHS services.

Government Spending: Public Services

9. What recent assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of the levels of Government spending in Scotland to deliver public services. (906287)

The United Kingdom Government are providing a record settlement of £41 billion per year—the largest since devolution. In fact, the UK Government are providing the Scottish Government with over 20% more funding per person than the equivalent UK Government spending in England. With the generous fiscal framework agreement, the Scottish Government have the certainty and flexibility to manage their budget and deliver high-quality public services across Scotland.

The recent programme for government launched by the Scottish First Minister only revealed a tired Government too distracted by internal squabbling to achieve anything for the people of Scotland. Does the Minister agree that the Scottish people deserve a change of Government in Scotland and Westminster, with a Labour Government focused on tackling the cost of living and improving living standards for the whole of the UK?

The SNP’s programme for government was a complete and utter missed opportunity: rather than focusing on Scotland’s NHS and schools, and our economy and transport links, the SNP is too busy planning independence rallies. Scotland does need change, and I am confident that, in the next general election, we will see that change in the election of even more Scottish Conservative and Unionist MPs.

Seafood Sector

10. What recent discussions he has held with Cabinet colleagues on supporting the seafood sector in Scotland. (906288)

The Government are committed to supporting our seafood sector, which is the lifeblood of some of the most remote and fragile communities in Scotland. This past Monday, I met with ministerial colleagues in the Home Office to discuss in more detail the comprehensive package of support measures this Government have offered to the sector to ease access to labour challenges.

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. What discussions has he had with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero—I see the Minister, our hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), sitting next to him on the Front Bench—and the Scottish Government to ensure that the impacts of offshore wind on the fishing industry and coastal communities will be adequately addressed, along with the impacts of marine protection areas?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his continued, energetic and relentless campaigning for his constituency and the fishing sector. This Government are committed to working with other Government Departments and the Scottish Government on our shared ambition to protect the marine environment and ensure that the increasing spatial squeeze on our sea is managed effectively. However, we also note the legitimate concerns of the fishing industry and continue to engage with stakeholders, other UK Government Departments and the Scottish Government through the Scottish Seafood Industry Action Group. I understand that the Energy Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), is due to meet my hon. Friend shortly.

Fishermen from Portavogie, Ardglass and Kilkeel work hand in hand with fishermen from Scotland, so whatever benefits the Minister can bring to Scottish fishermen will benefit the fishermen and fisherwomen of Northern Ireland. Have any discussions taken place of how Scotland and Northern Ireland can work better together, including here at Westminster?

I am happy to work with all colleagues across the United Kingdom to advance the fishing industry, and I am happy to meet the hon. Member to discuss how we do that together.

Devolution of Drugs Policy

11. What discussions he has held with Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on the devolution of drugs policy to Scotland. (906289)

12. What discussions he has held with Cabinet colleagues and the Scottish Government on the devolution of drugs policy to Scotland. (906290)

Illicit drugs destroy lives and devastate communities. The United Kingdom Government’s 10-year drug strategy sets out ambitious plans, backed by a record £3 billion over three years, to tackle the supply of illicit drugs and build a world-class system of treatment and recovery. This is a UK-wide strategy, and there are no plans to devolve drugs policy to the Scottish Government.

The Lord Advocate has announced that she is not going to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility. Both the Home Affairs Committee of this House and the Scottish Affairs Committee have recommended that the UK Government support such a pilot in Glasgow by creating a legislative pathway under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 that would enable such a facility to operate, or by devolving the power to the Scottish Government. Both cross-party Committees of this House are very clear that the evidence shows that those measures could be lifesaving, so when will the Secretary of State act to save lives in Scotland by persuading his Government to drop their intransigence on this issue?

It was disappointing that the Scottish Government were not prepared to work with the UK Government on Project ADDER. That offer was made with supporting funding. The E in ADDER is for “enforcement”. I believe the police and the Procurator Fiscal Service should be enforcing the laws in Scotland, not decriminalising drugs, because enforcement helps to drive people to health solutions.

The Minister did not answer the question, so I will try again. Scotland needs a caring, compassionate, human rights-informed drugs policy with public health and the reduction of harm as its principles, and the Scottish Government are ready and willing to work with the UK Government to put that progressive policy into practice. Scottish Tory MSP Miles Briggs said on “Good Morning Scotland” yesterday that he hoped the UK Government would not move to block this lifesaving measure. Despite the Minister’s Cabinet colleagues continuing to denounce its effectiveness, what recent discussions has he had with the Scottish Government on advancing this pilot scheme?

Drug consumption rooms are not the easy solution hon. Members may think they are. There is no safe way to take illegal drugs. Drugs devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities. The UK Government believe that the police and the Procurator Fiscal Service should fully enforce the law. However, I say to the hon. Lady that if the Scottish Government and the Lord Advocate decide to proceed with a pilot on DCRs, the UK Government will not intervene.

The Secretary of state will fully realise the challenge it would present for Border Force if we had differing rules on what drugs were lawful and not lawful across the United Kingdom. Therefore, will he assure me that he will not look to devolve drugs policy, and will instead get the Scottish Government to focus on their own responsibilities?

Labour Members always seem to cheer me at this moment in Scottish questions. They are very generous.

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Drug deaths in Scotland are three times higher than the UK average, despite the laws being the same across the UK. I do not believe drug consumption rooms are the panacea to those problems, but we absolutely must have drugs laws that work across the whole United Kingdom because it is a UK-wide problem.

I think we should be clear: the Lord Advocate’s statement on Monday is a game changer. It removes one of the major obstacles to a pilot drug consumption facility, which is designed to prevent overdoses. The Secretary of State has been equivocal in his responses so far, so let me give him another chance to get on the right side of history. Will he actually say that he will support and work with the Scottish Government to see this pilot project through?

I think I have been clear. I have been clear that the UK Government’s policy is not to proceed with drug consumption rooms. We believe, as I have said, that drugs devastate families and destroy communities. I was very clear about those things, but I am also very clear that the Lord Advocate and the Scottish Government appear to have achieved a workaround that allows them to have a pilot drug consumption room, probably in Glasgow, and the United Kingdom Government will not intervene in that, so the SNP now has no more excuses.

Can I press the Secretary of State on this point, because of course he has form on intervening in decisions of the Scottish Government? He says he will not intervene. Can we therefore be clear that he will say, on behalf of the UK Government, that he will not use any administrative or legislative means to frustrate or block this pilot policy by the Scottish Government?

I am very popular today. I will be with SNP Members in particular when I say that the answer is yes.

Cost of Living Increases

13. What recent discussions he has held with the Scottish Government on the impact of increases in the cost of living on people in (a) the UK and (b) Scotland. (906291)

Our Government have taken assertive action on the cost of living. UK-wide support for households to help with higher energy bills is worth £94 billion, or £3,300 per household on average. The United Kingdom Government’s focus has been on supporting everyone with the cost of living with specific targeted support and tailored interventions for the most vulnerable.

I thank the Minister for his answer. He will know that, like his constituents, my constituents in Edinburgh West still face the impact of food inflation, higher energy bills and unfair standing charges for electricity. However, we also now face the potential bombshell of a council tax hike by the Scottish Government, which will affect 14,500 households in Edinburgh West that will have to pay more than £2,000 a year. Will the UK Government be speaking to the Scottish Government—[Interruption.] If SNP Members do not mind! Will the UK Government be speaking to the Scottish Government to try to mitigate this, and what steps do they have in mind to do so?

I share the hon. Lady’s concerns about the SNP-Green Government’s bombshell tax plans to hike up the tax burden for many households, with people already facing pressures on their household budgets. As she will know, along with the record block grant, the spring Budget provided the Scottish Government with an extra £320 million over the next two years, on top of the £1.5 billion of additional funding that we provided in the autumn statement of 2022. Our economic priorities of halving inflation and growing the economy are the most effective way of supporting her constituents.

Strength of the Union

I believe that support for the Union is strong. The United Kingdom is one of the most successful political and economic unions in the world, and the foundation on which all our businesses and citizens are able to thrive. When we work collaboratively, we are safer, stronger and more prosperous.

While the SNP’s First Minister whips up grievance politics at independence rallies, Scotland’s NHS goes backwards, Scotland’s ferries do not work and Scotland’s economy stagnates. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is about time that the SNP stopped obsessing about another independence referendum, and started delivering for the people of Scotland?

Is the truth of the Union not that while we see independent Norway and independent Ireland in budget surplus—independent Ireland with a surplus this year of €10 billion, rising to €23 billion in the next three years—the Scottish Government cannot build small hospitals on small Scottish islands? Is the answer not for Scotland to remove the Westminster handcuffs and to get the independence and budget surpluses of Norway and Ireland, so that we can move forward and move away from the Brexit of the Tories and the Labour party?

They always say independence will sort the problems. Scotland is not building hospitals on the islands because the Scottish Government are squandering the most generous settlement they have had since devolution began.

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I wish to welcome a special guest who is observing our proceedings today—the Speaker of the Jordanian House of Representatives. Mr Speaker, you are most welcome.