05/02/2014 Scottish Questions


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Hello and a very warm welcome to Westminster for February 's Scottish


Questions. We may still be seven months away from the independence


referendum, but as far as Scottish politics is concerned, everything is


being put through a referendum prism. Proceedings here began with a


question related to independence. Thank you. I speak to businesses


from across Scotland regularly and frequently. We highlight the


importance of the decision the Scottish people will make on the


18th of September and encourage them to get involved in this important


debate. As my right honourable friend the


Secretary of State seen the recent intervention of Bob Dudley, the


chief executive of British Petroleum which has a major stake in Scotland


and whose view should be taken seriously. Does he agree that other


business leaders with a big interest in Scotland's future should follow


his example and set out clearly the implications and consequences of


independence for their employees, shareholders and suppliers?


Thank you. I have, indeed, seen and studied the intervention from Bob


Dudley yesterday. The terms of that intervention do not surprise me.


It's very much reflects the concerns I hear expressed to me when I speak


to businessmen and businesswomen across Scotland in representing


businesses of all sizes. They tell me the same thing. They see


independence as being bad for business. It brings -- brings


uncertainty and that is risk and bad for their business in the future.


As the Secretary of State had any meetings with Sir Tom Hunter who has


been pretty vocal on the whole question? If not, will he have?


I recently met Sir Tom Hunter at a business breakfast organised by the


Prime Minister in ten Downing St. The honourable gentleman will have


seen the recent initiative taken by Sir Tom which is an invaluable part


and it sits very well with the efforts of Her Majesty 's government


in ensuing there is a solid piece of information to inform the electorate


in relation to the decision they are being asked to take.


Can the Secretary of State assure the house he is aware of business


concerns about the uncertainty posed by an independent Scotland, not only


in terms of cut this -- currency, but that borrowing costs and


interest rates can be set outside of Scotland?


The honourable lady makes the point that was made very eloquently and in


a very measured way, I thought, by the Governor of the Bank of England


last week in Edinburgh. He made the point that a currency union such as


that proposed inevitably involves ceding some degree of national


sovereignty. The very opposite of what independence is supposed to be


about. You wonder why any nationalist would, in all sincerity,


genuinely want one. This week, the Financial Times


reported that an independent Scotland should have healthier state


finances than the rest of the UK. So far, more than 1200 business owners


and directors have declared their support for a yes vote by joining


the pro-independence business group. Does the Secretary of State


recognise their role in the Scottish economy and welcome their


contribution to the referendum debate?


I speak to businessmen and businesswomen of all views at any


time. The difficulty is, however, that the recent polling exercise


taken in the polling -- business community shows that three quarters


of people were intending to vote no and that is because they know


independence would be bad for their business.


All the evidence in recent weeks show there has been a substantial


swing to" yes". The polls also show that the public by a majority of 4-1


wish to see a debate between the Prime Minister and the First


Minister Alex Salmond. How long can the Prime Minister continue


supporting everyone else becoming part of the debate but ran away from


one himself? Make no mistake, we know exactly why


the Nationalists want to see this debate between Alex Salmond and


David Cameron and it is because they are trying to set the decision up as


being one of a contest between Scotland and England, which it


absolutely is not. It is about Scotland's constitutional future and


it is to be decided by Scots in Scotland.


If my right honourable friend aware that the First Minister dismissed Mr


Dudley 's remarks as being a personal opinion? In the light of


that, maybe take it that all of those who apparently have subscribed


to independence on the business sector can have their opinion


dismissed in the same way? I would dismiss nobody 's opinion


and I would engage with people of all shades of opinion across this


debate. The fact is that Bob Dudley is not a lone voice. He is part of a


growing corn -- chorus in the business community in Scotland who


highlight the dangers of independence and they say the same


thing. It is the risk that comes from the uncertainty regarding the


future. Also currency position and membership of the EU. On those two


key issues, the Nationalists have got no comfort for business.


It is, indeed, welcome as this Secretary of State has said that the


chief executive of BP and the outgoing chief executive of


Sainsbury's have spelt out concerns about independence. Does the


Secretary of State agree that what ever side of the debate you are on,


all businesses, voluntary organisations and trade unions have


a right to be heard without insult, intimidation or fear of the


consequences? I do, absolutely. In that regard, I


would commend the efforts of the Scottish Daily Mail who, in recent


days and weeks, have sought to highlight the poison that is coming


into this debate from some of these cyber interventions. Others in this


House have also raised this issue. The truth is, whatever the outcome,


we all will have to work together in Scotland for the best future of


Scotland and that is not going to be possible if we allow the well to be


poisoned in the way that some seem determined to do.


Perhaps I will press him further. In fact, business leaders have told me


of intimidating the tactics used in an attempt to stop them intervening


in the independence debate. One leader of a Footsie company told


Robert Preston of the BBC that the Scottish Government, " became very


aggressive" when he tried to raise concerns regarding independence. But


Dudley of BP was dismissed yesterday by the yes campaign as "a British


nationalist" is. Will the Secretary of State join with me in condemning


this pattern of behaviour we are beginning to see in Scotland and say


in the strongest possible terms that it has no place for us Scots as we


debate our future? I can, indeed, agree with that in


the strongest terms. She knows as well as I do that these incidents


are by no means isolated and we hear them and it totally all the time. I


would encourage anybody who finds themselves bullied or intimidated in


that way to follow the example of an academic from Dundee University who


appeared at a Better Together event and found a Scottish minister on the


phone to his employers saying he should be silenced. That is no way


to conduct this debate on Scotland's future and it is deplorable.


In recent months I met with every local authority in Scotland as part


of an ongoing dialogue with local authorities and other stakeholders


in Scotland on what the impact of welfare reforms have for them, their


services and their tenants. The Minister will know that 80% of


households in Scotland affected by the bedroom tax in a home with


someone with a bid -- disability, he will know of the mismatch. People


voted overwhelmingly against this policy, including his own


backbenchers. Will his own government now live legal


restrictions on discretionary housing payments to allow the


Scottish Government to mitigate the impact of this nonsense of a policy?


The honourable lady has a brass neck. She is a member of the


Scottish affairs select committee yet fails to take up her place. This


issue was debated in detailed yesterday and if she had been


present she would know the Scottish Government already have the power to


take measures if they genuinely believe there are concerns with


welfare policies. I believe the government listens


when I point out problems over the withdrawal of the spare room subsidy


and what it would cause for tenants. I'm delighted the


government has given over for thousand pounds to one council to


help affected tenants -- 400,000 pounds.


I can commend the honourable gentleman in pointing out the


specific issues made on island issues and rural issues. That is why


we have come forward with a discretionary housing payment for


rural areas. We are in regular dialogue with


institutions with regard to funding for Scotland. People are living


longer and we all need to save for retirement. Councils are struggling


to protect local services because the SNP government is not funding


Council Cats fees. Will the Minister stand up for Scottish councils and


make representations to met -- relevant ministries to protect


councils from this budgetary problem? I note what the honourable


lady says. I will ensure her comments on the agenda for our


forthcoming meeting. It would be useful if the minister


in those discussions would push forward statutory overrides which


would help companies manage to a single tier pension because it will


have an effect when they are not able to opt out of Serps. The


honourable lady is chairman of the relevant select committee and we


take her comments very seriously and I will ensure they are part of that


discussion. Rising energy bills are a serious


concerns for consumers in Scotland and across the rest of the UK. We


are sustaining vitals financial support for the most vulnerable


consumers and reforms are opening up the market to competition. We are


working to ensure suppliers put customers on the cheapest tariff


possible. Energy prices have risen


dramatically since the coalition came to power and, in rule and


island communities, people pay a greater proportion of their income


on fuel prices. There was a sevenfold increase last year in


people approaching them for advice about mis-selling in the energy


sector. Is it now time for manic -- a radical reform of the energy


sector and a price freeze until we put the reforming place?


I know the honourable lady has taken a long term interest in this and has


a notable record on it. The phenomenon of energy price increases


is not something that just started in 2010. It was a feature of the


years of the Labour government as well and it was a consequence of the


reduction of the number of companies operating in the market. That would


be a problem that was recreated if we were to undertake her policy of a


price freeze. We have already seen the number of energy companies rise


from six to 14 but a price freeze would be a real threat to that.


We have two governments choosing to side with energy companies. Is it


now clear that the only families across the UK can see some relief in


their cost of living is a freezing of their bills and a break up of the


monopoly of the six energy companies and to vote no in the referendum. I


agree with the first part of the prescription. A no vote in September


is important. I have to remind him, there was one year in the Labour


years where there was an increase of 20% in energy prices and there was


no suggestion of a price freeze then. When they were in government


they knew the reality. A price freeze would see prices going up


before the freeze on going up again afterwards. We are delivering help


to vulnerable people in the here and now.


Whatever the headline of the average increase, it hides a multitude of


sins. A constituent approached me this week who is a low electricity


user and is facing a 50% increase in his unit cost. Others find they are


being handed by high standing charges -- hammered. Isn't it about


time these practices were stopped? These are real reasons why it is


important that there is transparency within the market and the range of


tariffs is improved. That is a result of the action we have been


taking. Under the last government, there were 400 different tariffs


available and there was no surprise that people were getting confused.


Simplicity is the way ahead and that is something that the government


works on -- with the regulator. We know that energy bills have


rocketed, and as my right honourable friend said this morning, one third


of Jewish investment in renewables comes to Scotland but Scots


contribute less than a 10th of this. -- British investment. Does the


Secretary of State agree that the best future for renewables in


Scotland and the best way to keep costs down. Lund is by Scotland


saying part of the UK? That is absolutely the case. Scotland has a


tremendous opportunity to contribute to the growth of renewable energy as


part of the UK. That is going to take subsidies that come from


consumers bills. That is a cost which is spread across the whole


nation, not simply the household of an independent Scotland. It would


emerge is for the renewable energy industry to support independence for


Scotland in the future. Question five, but the minimum wage and the


nonpayment of it. They have been no persecutions or naming and shaming


since at least 2007. A revised scheme came into place


which makes it simpler to name and shame any such employers. I would


urge anyone with information about such an employer to use that scheme.


I know he cannot tell us of any instances, but it is a scandal at a


time of economic difficulty that people are being exploited by being


paid less than the national minimum wage. The policing of this act or to


be strengthened, then there ought to be vigorous persecutions and they're


certainly ought to be a question of naming and shaming. Will the


government can't write with any investigation of the Scottish


affairs committee, conducted into this matter? Are recognised the


Scottish affairs committee has done much valuable work on this area, and


of course we will continue to work with them. In Scotland, prosecutions


are a matter for the Lord Advocate and I'm sure he will have heard the


honourable member's contribution. What representations has the


Scottish office made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer but


increasing the national minimum wage disempowered an hour and what effect


does he think they would be on living standards in Scotland would


that come about? I can say that I agree with the Chancellor Willy said


that I believe England can afford and above inflation increase in the


minimum wage, so to restore its real value and make sure that work always


pays. The Conservative MP for Central Devon, the. Near-record


highs of least 2.5 million. These figures reflect how well


Scotland is doing as part of the UK under the government's long-term


economic plan I thank him for that positive


response. Would he agree with me that the biggest threat to Scottish


job is the promise of the SNP and its plan to remove Scotland from the


UK labour market? That is indeed the case. We talk about business people


having concerned, that means there is a threat, not just to business,


but jobs as a result. The UK is now the fastest growing economy in the


G7 and unemployment in Scotland is at 6.4%, significantly lower than


the average across the UK, which is 7.1%. That is something we have


achieved because we are part of the UK, not despite it. It is a result


of Scotland, with our own Parliament, being represented here,


having the best of both worlds. Unfortunately within my own


constituency, unemployment levels appear to have stagnated. Does the


Secretary of State agree with me that the Scottish Government needs


to be doing more for people even living in the capital city of


Scotland, who are still without jobs? There remains a great deal


still to do. I share, I suspect, many concerned she would have about


the continuing high level of youth unemployment, the number of people


who have been unemployed for a longer period of time. I see


encouraging signs of growth in these areas but they are by no means to be


taken for granted. There are tremendous opportunities for the two


governments in Scotland, along with councils in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and


elsewhere, to work together to get the best possible arrangements for


the unemployed. When the Secretary of State visits the Highlands at the


end of the week and addresses people in Inverness, I'm sure he will be


hearing a lot from those present about one of the most exciting


potential job prospect is for the Highlands and the Scotland as a


whole, which is the potential of a site in my own constituency for


offshore wind development. Can I courage him and his colleagues to


continue to work with Edinburgh to promote the interests of this


exciting project, and I wanted to get my plug in now because due to a


previous long-standing engagement, I won't be there on Friday night


myself! I shall in fact be carrying out other engagement although I do


understand that gets for that supper are still available and are


reasonably priced! -- tickets. The honourable gentleman raises an


important local concerns his constituents, he has a long and


proud record of doing so, I would suggest to him that this is sorted


development we're now seeing growing across the whole of the UK,


particularly in Scotland, and it is happening because our plan worked.


He may think that everything is rosy but isn't it the fact that we are


seeing the most sustained fall in real wages since records began 50


years ago? Isn't it the fact that the jobs market is not working for


ordinary Scots and both governments are failing the people we represent?


I really wish that they could find it within themselves to recognise


the substantial progress we are making in relation to the improving


employment situation in Scotland. There is significant progress and


that makes a real difference for her constituents and mine. Wage levels


will doubtless need to see some improvement to catch up, that as a


consequence of the steps we had to take clear up the mess she made.


Questionable seven. The White Paper shows that the case


for independence is unravelling. They promised answers but fail to


key -- address key issues such as currency and the EU membership.


Can the Secretary of State explain why there are issues about the


funding of pensions in Scotland? Indeed, the most pertinent


intervention was that which came from the Institute of chartered


accountants of Scotland. Not a political party, not a body that has


any axe to grind, the people who know what they are talking about,


and they told us what we already know, that our substantial questions


on pensions and other areas have not been answered. Surely one of the


great weaknesses of the White Paper is when it comes to the future of


the pound in Scotland. Surely the simplest way the people of Scotland


can be guaranteed to keep the pound is to vote no in the referendum.


That is indeed the case and I'm confident they will do so because


the people of Scotland value having the ? their currency. They value


having the Bank of England as a lender of last resort and the value


that the risks and opportunities are spread across the whole UK. The


Tories and Labour are worried but still the Prime Minister is afraid


to debate with Alex Salmond, the First Minister. In this week the FT


tells us an independent Scotland could expect to start with healthier


state finances than the rest of the UK, our GDP per head is higher than


France and Italy. Will he make sure that people know these facts and


stop people making the best decision for Scotland? Indeed I will, these


are all things we have achieved as part of the United Kingdom, it


ultimate streets what is possible for Scotland as part of the United


Kingdom. As for any question of debate, we have dealt with that


already. Isn't it remarkable that when they could be answering


questions, all they want to do is have a debate about the debate? A


question about pensions. Despite publishing a paper


specifically on pensions in September and a much vaunted White


Paper in November, the Scottish Government has left many questions


on pensions unanswered. The honourable member will be aware that


the UK and Scottish governments have agreed there will be no pay


negotiation ahead of the independence referendum in


September. The Institute of chartered


accountants in Scotland published a report for the White Paper and we


are told by the SNP that the answers would be in the White Paper. This


week the Institute of chartered accountants gave their response,


there are not the answers in the White Paper to give Scots certainty


about their pensions. This is the Secretary of State aware of any


intention to answer the crucial questions on Scottish pensions? I am


pretty certain that any answers that would come from the Nationalists


would be ones that would not find favour with the people of Scotland,


so I am pretty sure we will not be hearing much by way of answers in


the future. The people of Scotland will hear what the Institute of


chartered accountants have to say, they will want to hear from the


Scottish Government but their answer is.


That is all we have time for. The next Scottish Questions will be on


Wednesday 19th of March, which also happens to be a get day down here at


Westminster. -- I get a. Join us then if you can. From all of us,




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