Highlights of Scottish Questions from Westminster.
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Hello and a very warm welcome
to a sunny but, let me tell you, a chilly Westminster
for January's Scottish Questions, the first one of the New Year,
and, like last year, it looks as though 2017
is going to be dominated by Brexit
and the knock-on constitutional implications for Scotland,
including the possibility of a second independence referendum.
More on that later,
but first of all, this is how Scottish Questions got underway.
Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Mr Roberts Courts.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. Number one, please.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, Secretary David Mundell.
Mr Speaker, as this is the Scottish Questions
that immediately precede Burns Night next Wednesday, 25 January,
can I wish all those organising Burns Suppers or other events
in Scotland, across the UK,
including here in this House of Commons,
and around the world, the very best?
Robert Burns' legacy is as relevant today as ever.
Mr Speaker, the UK government is committed
to a safe and secure transfer of the remaining welfare powers.
The majority of welfare powers commenced in 2016
and the transfer of the remaining powers
will be overseen by
the joint ministerial working group on welfare,
which will meet again next month.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The Scotland Act gives the Scottish Government
powers over benefits in Scotland.
Does the Secretary of State agree
that it is...the Scottish Government must now set out the detail
of how they plan to use these powers
to shape Scotland's welfare system?
CHATTER AND CHEERS
Mr Speaker, my honourable friend is absolutely right.
The power for the Scottish Parliament
to create new benefits in devolved areas came into force in Autumn,
and they now have the power to shape that welfare system as they choose.
Some modest measures have already been announced,
but it is time that we hear more about the proposals
for a new welfare system.
A consultation has been held, and I look forward
to hearing the Scottish Government's response to that.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The fact that the UK Government
plan to close half of the Glasgow Jobcentres
without even knowing the number of affected people
is a dereliction of duty.
Will the Secretary of State commit to having a word
with his Cabinet colleagues in getting these plans dropped?
Mr Speaker, I do understand the concerns that have been raised
in relation to Jobcentre closures in Glasgow,
and it is the Government's determination
and I have spoken directly with my colleague, the Secretary of State,
to ensure that there will be no change
to the level of service offered to the people of Glasgow.
As the honourable lady and other members in Glasgow will know,
there's a public consultation
for people who have to travel more than three miles,
or more than 20 minutes in time.
That's open until 31 January.
I encourage all those affected,
and all honourable members with constituents affected,
to take part in that consultation.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The transfer of significant powers over welfare decisions
clearly raises complicated issues,
as we have seen over the last few months.
Could my right honourable friend update the House on the recent work
of the Joint Ministerial Working Group On Welfare,
and give his assessment of progress?
Mr Speaker, the Joint Ministerial Group On Welfare
has played a very important part
in establishing the links between the DWP and the Scottish Government.
I've been in regular recent contact with Angela Constance,
the minister in the Scottish Government,
in relation to the Scottish Government's latest proposals
in relation to Universal Credit.
Inevitably, because of the complexity of this area,
as the transfer takes place,
new issues arise which need to be dealt with
and the Joint Ministerial Working Group
is the ideal place to do that.
Mr David Anderson.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker...
'And David Anderson is of course the Shadow Scottish Secretary.'
We send our condolences to the family of Canon Kenyon Wright,
who sadly passed away last week.
He was a principled man
whose legacy should serve as a reminder to all of us
that, when we work together, it is possible to deliver the impossible.
Mr Speaker, this Tory Government is currently moving disabled people
from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments.
It's estimated the people of Scotland will lose out
on £190 million a year as a result.
If that wasn't bad enough, Mr Speaker,
a year ago, the Government did this,
but the Government withdrew the timetable
and haven't issued a new one.
So, can the Secretary of State please inform the House,
and indeed the people of Scotland,
when can they expect to lose out on this £190 million a year?
Mr Speaker, firstly, can I welcome the honourable gentleman back?
He was missed at our last Scottish Questions,
although his honourable friend entertained the House.
At least I think I can say that!
In relation to Canon Kenyon Wright, I knew Canon Wright
and he was indeed a very principled man
with very, very strong personal conviction,
and obviously played a very important part
in the constitutional convention
which led to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.
And as we have seen in the media, he is widely, widely mourned.
In relation to disability benefits,
the honourable gentleman will know
that these are to be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
The funding of those benefits were put...
was dealt with in the negotiations for the fiscal framework.
It's now for the Scottish Government to come forward
with their proposals for disability benefits in Scotland.
-Thanks, Mr Speaker.
Does my right honourable friend agree with me
that we need to hear less from the Scottish Government
about the powers they want
and more about how they're going to use the powers we've given them?
Hear, hear, hear.
Mr Speaker, my honourable friend makes a very relevant point.
The honourable gentleman opposite
referred to Personal Independence Payments.
I know that the Scottish Government
are opposed to Personal Independence Payments,
but what I have no idea about
is what they intend to replace Personal Independence Payments with
and what timetable they intend to do that.
-Mr Angus Robertson.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. May I begin by joining colleagues
in paying tribute to Canon Kenyon Wright,
somebody not only who played a significant role
in helping to deliver devolution to Scotland,
but of course, in 2014,
supported a yes vote for Scottish independence.
-Mr Speaker, the UK Government is planning
to close half of the Jobcentres in Glasgow
without even knowing the number of people
that will be affected by such a radical change.
Was the Secretary of State consulted in advance of the closures,
and when did he show enough interest
to find out which specific locations would face closure?
Mr Speaker, I have taken a very close interest in this issue
and I have worked closely
with both my colleagues in the Department of Work and Pensions
and the Scottish Government in that regard.
The government and myself have never suggested
that the procedures followed in relation to this process
had been perfect, but what we have...
-What we have put forward
is a public consultation
in relation to those people affected
who have to travel more than three miles or 20 minutes,
and I encourage everyone involved to take part in that consultation.
Mr Angus Robertson.
Mr Speaker, the devolution of powers hangs very much together
with the hard Brexit plans of this current government.
The Secretary of State has said that his role is, and I quote,
"to ensure that Scotland gets the best possible deal
"and that deal clearly involves being part of the single market."
Does he still believes this,
or has he changed his mind after being told what he should say
by his Tory bosses in London? CHEERING
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
I don't recognise the Prime Minister's speech yesterday as
-a hard Brexit.
I don't think, Mr Speaker...
Mr Speaker, that the 500,000 SNP voters who voted for Brexit will
take kindly to being referred to as right-wing Tory Brexiteers.
They were independently-minded people in Scotland who voted
for what they thought was the right thing for Scotland.
As is absolutely clear, the Prime Minister said yesterday,
we want to have access to the single market and that's what...
That is what the quote that he just read out from me made clear.
Membership of the single market, on the other hand,
is a quite different thing.
-As Mike Russell and privately the Scottish Government accept.
I say gently to colleagues - order! - progress is far too slow,
we need to hasten the pace. Some reduction in the decibel level,
not least from the Chair
of the International Trade Select Committee would be heartily
welcomed across the House. Mr Calum Kerr.
This is a question about Scottish agriculture.
Mr Speaker, I regularly meet with Cabinet colleagues to discuss
a wide range of matters.
I recently met with the Secretary of State for the Environment,
Food and Rural Affairs to discuss a number of issues relating to
the Scottish agricultural sector and will continue to do so.
Last year, the Farming Minister told us there would be
an £18 billion Brexit dividend and
he said that farmers would continue to get, and I quote,
"as much or perhaps even more support after Brexit."
So does the Secretary of State agree with me that it would be
unacceptable if funding to Scottish agriculture was cut after 2020?
Mr Speaker, there is no suggestion that funding to Scottish
agriculture is going to be cut.
What there is is the opportunity to move forward
from the constraints of the Common Agricultural Policy, which have
been often complained about by farmers throughout Scotland.
I believe that we need to seize this opportunity to reshape the
support that we have for farming, to make it more effective,
but to continue to sustain those areas of Scottish farming
-that need sustaining.
-Sir Gerald Howarth.
My right honourable friend is aware that my family are extensive
farmers in the Scottish Borders.
Would he not agree with me that Brexit presents the
United Kingdom with a magnificent opportunity to fashion an
agricultural policy not required by French farmers,
but required by British farmers?
And will he assure the House that hill farmers in Scotland and
elsewhere in the United Kingdom will be given proper consideration?
Sir Gerald Howarth is the Conservative MP for Aldershot
-I can absolutely give that undertaking
and I hope that we can move forward.
Actually working in conjunction with the Scottish government to
shape a new basis of support for Scottish agriculture,
particularly for those who farm in less favoured areas.
There are multiple and have been multiple complaints about the
operation of the Common Agricultural Policy and its need to take
into account farming practices across the Continent.
We now have the opportunity to have our own support mechanism and
-we need to work to shape it.
Mr Speaker, can the Secretary of State for Scotland confirm
what he said to the Sunday Times in November that the
Scottish Parliament will retain full responsibility over
agriculture and fisheries following Brexit?
And to quote him,
that "no powers will be re-reserved to Westminster."
-Yes or no?
-Mr David Anderson.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Almost two-thirds of the UK's agricultural exports are to the EU.
After what we heard from the Prime Minister yesterday,
there is an increasing possibility we could revert to WTO trade
rules on exit from the EU.
Does he agree with the NFU Scotland who say the potential
for 20% tariffs as a result of WTO trade rules will be increasingly
damaging for the profitability of Scottish agriculture?
Mr Speaker, what the Prime Minister made clear yesterday is that
her objective is to achieve the best possible access to the
Single Market, with the minimum of barriers and tariffs.
That will be to the benefit of Scottish agriculture.
Scottish farmers see the opportunity that leaving the EU...
that leaving the EU provides to them and I am sure they will seize
them and I am sure we will be able to provide the environment in
which they will succeed.
This is a question about tax powers going to Holyrood.
The Scottish Government will take on its first major new tax power
from the Scotland Act 2016 in April of this year,
enabling it to set rates and thresholds of income tax.
The Chief Secretary to the Treasury attended a joint exchequer committee
with the Scottish Government's Cabinet Secretary for Finance
in November. They discussed ongoing work....
I'm grateful for all this.
We are deeply grateful but I think...
The question is being answered by the Treasury Minister Simon Kirby.
My apologies, Mr Speaker.
With your permission,
-I would like to group this question with number four.
-Very good indeed.
Mr Nigel Evans.
Mr Speaker, as the Prime Minister wants to see income tax rates
as low as possible on hard-working British people,
should Nicola Sturgeon be sufficiently brave or bonkers
to increase the rate of taxation on hard-working Scottish people,
what economic impact would that have on Scotland?
-I think you'll find taxes are lower.
Can I thank my honourable friend for his important question?
In taking over income tax powers,
the Scottish Government now need to account for how they use them,
particularly if they plan to make Scotland the highest taxed part
-of the UK.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Does my right honourable friend agree with
me that the SNP's plans to tax middle income families more
in Scotland for doing the same job as families in England would
bode very badly for the Scottish economy?
The UK government is doing everything it can to support
our economy and boost jobs and growth.
Where the Scottish Government now make choices that have a different
impact, they will need to explain it to the people of Scotland.
-We often hear, and we've heard it again, erroneous claims
that somehow Scotland is the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom
when in actual fact the average cost of a band D
council tax property in Scotland is lower than that of England.
Will the government minister now welcome the
Scottish Government's approach to council tax policy in Scotland?
What I will say is that the SNP should focus on making
a success of its few powers for the benefit of the Scottish people.
You are a very curious denizen of the House, Mr Docherty-Hughes.
I had you down as a cerebral and academic type.
You are becoming increasingly hysterical. Very curious behaviour.
-Mr Michael Gove.
-Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
The SNP want to levy the highest level of income tax anywhere
in the United Kingdom.
They already receive more in per capita funding than
England and yet Scotland's schools are conspicuously worse than
those in the rest of the United Kingdom.
Does the Minister put this down to the incompetence of the
Scottish Government... UPROAR
..or their posturing over proper administration?
Mr Speaker, I may not like their plans to make Scotland
a higher taxed nation but that is up to them.
But what they will have to do is to explain to the people of
Scotland why they're having to pay more tax than their friends and
-families south of the border with the same jobs.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
In a week where the chairman of the British Medical Association
in Scotland has warned that the NHS is in Scotland - and I quote -
"at breaking point",
is the minister as surprised as I am
that the so-called "progressive" SNP Government
in Holyrood consistently refuse
to use the powers afforded to them to protect the NHS in Scotland?
Scotland's new devolution settlement delivers one of the most
powerful and accountable devolved parliaments in the world,
giving them unprecedented power
to shape the future economy of Scotland.
Stuart C McDonald.
-And this is also an economy-related question.
Mr Speaker, migrants from outside the UK and within the UK
make a significant contribution to Scotland,
to its economy of course, but also to its society and wellbeing.
The government will always welcome the brightest and the best
who have come here to work.
Mr Speaker, we know around 180,000 EU nationals make
a hugely valuable contribution to the Scottish economy,
and we also know that countries like Canada and Australia
successfully apply different immigration rules
to different parts of their countries.
So, going beyond warm words,
will the Secretary of State listen carefully to proposals
for a different arrangement for Scotland, allowing EU citizens
freedom to continue to come and live and work there, benefitting us all?
Mr Speaker, I'll always look at evidence-based proposals
that come forward, and that's our commitment, for example, in relation
to the Scottish Government's paper produced just before Christmas.
But it was quite clear within the settlement agreed
in the Smith Commission that immigration
would remain a reserved power.
-Thank you, My Speaker.
Would my right honourable friend not agree with me
that one of the problems that Scotland will face
with the SNP government is the flight of individuals fleeing
the high taxes and therefore...
JEERS AND LAUGHTER
..having to replace with further immigrants,
as well as the businesses that will fly down to London
rather than being in Scotland?
Bob Blackman is the Conservative MP for Harrow East.
Mr Speaker, what I do find surprising is that
the Scottish Government always fail to acknowledge that they have
very, very significant powers to attract people to come to Scotland.
At the moment, about 4% of migrants
who come to the United Kingdom come to Scotland.
Clearly, there is more that needs to be done to encourage people
to come to Scotland,
and the Scottish Government need to address that.
Making Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK is not,
in my view, the way to do it.
Mr Speaker, can I associate myself and my party with the expressions
of condolence with regards to the late Canon Kenyon Wright.
A truly lovely man for whom it was once my privilege to act
as election agent, albeit unsuccessfully.
Will the Secretary of State explain to the Home Secretary
the importance of non-EU nationals to making up the crews
for many fishing boats, especially in the whitefish sector,
operating out of Scottish ports?
Mr Speaker, I certainly will take that issue forward
for the right honourable gentleman, I'm very, very aware
of the concerns that have been raised and I would be
more than happy to meet directly with him to discuss it further.
Question six, Mr Speaker.
And this is a question about city deals in Scotland.
The UK Government has spearheaded these deals and they will be
transformative for the cities of Scotland.
The city regions are the engines of economic growth, so they will
drive forward Scotland's economy,
which means more jobs and a secure future.
That's why I'm so pleased the government has now committed
to a city deal for every one of Scotland's seven city regions.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker.
In the autumn statement,
the Chancellor gave welcome support to city deals.
Can the Secretary of State assure me that he will be supporting
the Borderlands Initiative as part of this programme?
Mr Speaker, the Borderlands Initiative is
a very innovative proposal which seeks to bring together
Dumfries and Galloway Council,
Scottish Borders Council, Carlisle City Council
and other councils in the north of England,
recognising the significant economic area that crosses the border.
I'm delighted to give my support to that proposal.
-Thank you, Mr Speaker.
As well as city deals, the Secretary of State will be aware
there's the Ayrshire Growth Deal that's been submitted
and backed by the Scottish Government.
Yesterday at Treasury Questions, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury
wrongly said it's for the Scottish Government to advance that deal.
What discussions has he had with his Treasury colleagues about
supporting the Ayrshire Growth Deal?
Mr Speaker, can I firstly...
THUMPING ON BENCHES
..the fact that...
Welcome the fact that his colleague from North Ayrshire
has secured an adjournment debate tomorrow in this house
which will specifically focus on the Ayrshire Regional Growth Deal.
I've obviously met with the councils and I want to see that deal
receive support from the UK Government
in the way that is most appropriate to make it happen.
At this Scottish Office Questions, I'm pleased to inform the house
that I've just been notified Andy Murray
has won his second round match in Melbourne.
-David TC Davies.
Mr Speaker, I noted in congratulating Andy Murray
that you didn't display your usual exuberance
which you've demonstrated at the Davis Cup matches
in support of him and the rest of the British team.
Mr Speaker, the UK Government has taken
a number of measures to support Scotland's economy,
including committing to city deals for each of Scotland's cities,
as I've just said, and providing an additional £800 million
for the Scottish Government's capital budget through to 2021.
Leaving the EU opens up real opportunities for Scotland,
we must always remember that the UK market is worth
over four times as much to Scotland as the EU single market.
David TC Davies.
Mr Speaker, Adam Smith gave us the theory
of modern capitalist economics,
William Gladstone put them into practice,
wouldn't these two fine Scotsmen be delighted with
the opportunity that Brexit offers to ditch
the socialist protectionism
of the Scottish Government and implement the free trade
and free markets that made it such a powerhouse in the 19th century?
Mr Speaker, my honourable friend, as ever,
makes a robust case for the benefits of leaving the European Union,
but perhaps to his list of posthumously highlighted figures
from Scottish history I could add David Hume,
whose essay "Of the Balance of Trade" predates
The Wealth of Nations and provides
the effective rebuttal to the so-called "jealous fear"
of free trade in merchants at the time.
A hard Brexit outside the single market threatens to cost
Scotland 80,000 jobs over a decade and cost people
an average of £2,000 in wages.
Can the Secretary of State tell us what action
he will personally take to keep Scotland in the single market
even if the rest of the UK leaves?
Mr Speaker, it's absolutely clear that Scotland cannot be
a member of the single market if it is not a member of the EU,
and the United Kingdom will not be a member of the EU.
The Scottish Government accept that proposition.
What is important is access to the single market, and as
my right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out yesterday,
we aim to achieve the best possible access to that market.
Has my right honourable friend considered the effect
on the Scottish economy
if a further independence referendum is held?
David Amess is the Conservative MP for Southend in Essex.
Mr Speaker, my right honourable friend may be aware that today,
in relation to labour market statistics,
unemployment is up in Scotland, employment is down
and economic activity is down, too,
and I am in no doubt that the uncertainty caused by
the constant reference to an independence referendum
is having an impact on the Scottish economy.
Angus Brendan MacNeil.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
An important part of the Scottish economy is the rural economy,
Yesterday I asked the Defra Secretary of State,
after careful thinking and planning,
what exactly would be happening to crofting after 2020.
The Secretary of State said there'd be no cuts to funding,
he didn't think. Is this the case, we will see
no cuts at all to agricultural support in Scotland post-2020?
Will he confirm what he alluded to earlier?
Mr Speaker, the honourable gentleman has already heard me
answer that question and also set out that leaving
the Common Agricultural Policy is an opportunity.
The Common Agricultural Policy has not suited Scotland,
particularly those farming in less favoured areas.
We now have an opportunity
to do something different and we should seize it.
Well, I'm afraid that's all we've got time for.
We will be back with the next Scottish Questions
on Wednesday the 1st of March, so do join us then if you can.
But for now, from all of us here at Westminster, goodbye.