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Strengthening the Union

Volume 697: debated on Wednesday 23 June 2021

The value and strength of the Union has never been more important or more apparent. The United Kingdom Government have supported all parts of the UK during the pandemic; that includes the furlough scheme, which at its peak supported nearly 1 million jobs in Scotland, the help of our fantastic military, and the UK-wide vaccination programme which means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel. The UK Government will lead our recovery from the pandemic, investing in communities right across the United Kingdom, getting young people into jobs and improving connectivity between all parts of our country.

The UK Government have been unwavering in supporting Scotland through the pandemic, from providing £14.5 billion in additional Barnett funding to protecting nearly 900,000 jobs through our furlough scheme. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this shows how the UK Government and the Treasury have protected lives and livelihoods across every part of this country?

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. The support provided by the broad shoulders of the United Kingdom Treasury is staggering and simply unprecedented in peacetime. As he said, there are jobs being supported by furlough and an extra £14.5 billion provided to the Scottish Government through Barnett funding, and I would point out that 530,000 claims have been made in Scotland under the self-employment income support scheme, so far totalling around £1.5 billion.

Is it not the case that the success of our vaccine programme, which was a combination of successful UK Government procurement and then an NHS roll-out in the individual nations of the United Kingdom, is a fantastic example of the two Governments in Scotland—the UK Government and the Scottish Government—working together, which is exactly what we should see in the future? That demonstrates the strength of our Union, and we should fight to keep it in place.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. The vaccine programme has been a huge success, and it was UK-wide procurement delivering vaccines on a UK-wide basis.

The A68 links Darlington with Edinburgh and serves as an economic and cultural link between England and Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should be celebrating and strengthening connections between our two nations, and will he lend his support to the proposed improvements to the artery in my constituency as a means of strengthening our precious Union?

Yes, and Darlington has also been supporting the Scottish football team over the last few weeks. It is vital that we have good connectivity between all parts of the United Kingdom. Sir Peter Hendy, in his review, is looking at how we can improve that, and he will publish his report later this year, but I must say—I put it on the record again—that I was disappointed that the Scottish Government told their civil service not to engage in this work because, as ever, they want to put a grievance ahead of improving Scotland’s economy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) successfully pursued a two-year campaign calling on this Government to publish the results of the secret polling that they commissioned, using public funds, to ask people in Scotland how they feel about the Union. Can the Secretary of State confirm that that information will be published in the next three weeks, as the tribunal has ordered the UK Government to do?

The hon. Lady makes a point that is one for the Cabinet Office to answer, but the Cabinet Office is very clear that it does not spend money on political polling or research.

I will move on from that rather bizarre answer. Today, we learned that the UK Government have used emergency covid funds to publicly fund further polls on the Union, in a contract given to close associates of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Would the Secretary of State say that that is an appropriate use of emergency funds, and will he back the SNP’s calls for an inquiry into this misuse of funds?

Again, I say that the hon. Lady should be at Cabinet Office questions asking the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to answer for his Department. Again, I have spoken to the Cabinet Office about this. It does not engage in political polling, and it is very clear about that.

It seems to me that this Government’s plan to strengthen the Union is to first sell out the fishing industry and then betray Scotland’s farmers. Can the Secretary of State explain how the Australia trade deal, which allows the UK market to be flooded with thousands of tonnes of cheap, factory- farmed, inferior-quality beef and lamb, is the golden opportunity the Prime Minister promised? How will it help Scottish farmers’ business?

I am going to answer the question very clearly. The SNP voted against or abstained on all trade deals in the European Parliament and the one we have just done with the European Union. It is an isolationist party. The reality on the Australia trade deal is that it is upholding animal welfare standards. Under the World Organisation for Animal Health, Australia gets five out of five. We have safeguards in place to stop the market being flooded with beef or any collapse in price. We are very clear that we will protect our farmers, and this leads us into the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, worth £9 trillion. That will be a huge win for our farmers, and all the members of the farming community I have spoken to understand that. The SNP should see the big picture and understand that we are not going to reduce our animal welfare standards, that we are not going to flood the market, and that it will be seen very clearly in a few years’ time to have cried wolf.