23/03/2016 Scottish Questions


23/03/2016

Highlights of Scottish Questions from Westminster.


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Hello and a very warm welcome to Westminster for the March edition

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of Scottish Questions.

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Not much springlike weather around, I'll grant you, but, incidentally,

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this is the final Scottish Questions before the Holyrood elections.

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And also the Scotland Bill, which will give Holyrood far more powers,

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completes its passage through Westminster today,

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so no shortage of topics for MPs to concentrate on.

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But proceedings began with a question about the noble

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game of golf, and its importance to the Scottish economy.

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Order, order.

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Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr Tom Pursglove.

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Question number one, Mr Speaker.

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Mr Speaker, can I begin by expressing

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the solidarity of the people

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of Scotland with the people of Belgium at this difficult time?

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Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go to

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all those who were killed and their families and friends and, indeed,

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all those caught up in yesterday's horrific events.

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Golf makes a huge contribution to Scotland's economy.

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Independent analysis in 2013 showed the game contributed

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over £1 billion in revenues and supports some 20,000 jobs.

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There are almost 600 golf courses across the country,

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generating annual revenues of £582 million.

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-Mr Pursglove.

-I thank the Minister for that answer,

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and I very much share the sentiments of solidarity he expressed towards

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the people of Belgium at this very difficult time.

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Given the success he talked about in relation to golf in Scotland,

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what steps is he taking to try to secure further

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investment in this very important industry for Scotland?

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Mr Speaker, there is one new opportunity to support golf

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and young people in golf which arose in last week's Budget,

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and the sugar tax element of it which will see

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investment in the wider UK in sport in schools.

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I hope the Scottish Government will follow through

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and use those funds to develop sport in schools,

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including golf which is a very popular sport, as we've heard.

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We also have the opportunity this year to present

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Scotland's golfing merits to the wider world

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with the British Open at Royal Troon.

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That will be a showcase for the world

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on Scotland's golfing opportunities.

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-Dr Philippa Whitford.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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I thank the right honourable gentleman for mentioning

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my local golf course.

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As the MP for Royal Troon, we look forward to welcoming people in July.

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But I wonder whether the Secretary of State

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would discuss with his other colleagues on the front bench

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about having a regional strategy for smaller airports,

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in that at Prestwick, you fly in over Royal Troon,

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and, perhaps, while the Chancellor is in a listening mood,

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to consider perhaps a VAT reduction for rural tourism,

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which would help many constituencies across the UK?

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Presumably with a view to people then playing golf.

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But they need to come here first.

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Indeed they do, as you pertinently observe from a sedentary position.

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Indeed, and I'd be very happy to meet with the honourable lady

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to discuss those issues further.

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I am also very interested in pursuing the proposed

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Ayrshire regional growth deal, which, I know,

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has golf at the heart of it, in terms of promoting

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tourism in that part of Scotland.

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-Alberto Costa.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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Can I add my contribution on that topic and say it was

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with pleasure that I saw, last week,

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the Secretary of State share a platform with

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the First Minister, who, I'm sure, discussed the topic just discussed.

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But could he also confirm that's an example of the two Governments

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working together for the interests of the people of Scotland?

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'Alberto Costa is the Conservative MP for South Leicestershire.'

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Mr Speaker, you will be pleased to hear that the First Minister and I

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met and shared a platform in St Andrews, which,

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of course, is the world home of golf.

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Of course, on sport, on any matter, Scotland does best

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when Scotland's two Governments work together.

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Angus Robertson.

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This is the first opportunity in Parliament to put on the record our

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total revulsion at and condemnation of the terrorist atrocities

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in Brussels, and our solidarity with everybody affected.

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We join the Secretary of State for Scotland in that.

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Mr Speaker, the promotion of the Ryder Cup in Scotland

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was a huge achievement for the Scottish Government

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and the then First Minister, Alex Salmond.

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Today is the last sitting day of the Scottish Parliament.

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So, given that he is standing down from Holyrood,

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can I pay tribute to him in his remarkable tenure as an MSP

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and First Minister, and to all other from all parties who are retiring?

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Mr Speaker, does the Secretary of State agree that there's much

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that can be built on following the Ryder Cup success?

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And how does he plan to contribute towards that?

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I am sure that that was a most courteous tribute,

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but I hope the right honourable gentleman will not object

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if I say that the first part of his question was way off the fairway.

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Mr Speaker, I do agree that the securing of the Ryder Cup

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to be held in Scotland was a very significant event.

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Indeed, I can agree that the former First Minister of Scotland

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has made a remarkable contribution to Scottish politics,

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the detail on that we'll probably differ...differ on.

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But I believe it's what...

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what the former First Minister's done, many of the MSPs

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who are standing down, who I also pay tribute to,

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have done, and what we all need to do, is promote Scotland together,

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and by promoting Scotland together,

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that's when we get the best results for Scotland.

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-Mr Angus Robertson.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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I'll try to remain on the fairway.

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Tourism is one of the most important industries that Scotland has,

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and golf and whisky are key drivers for people visiting the country.

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Does the Secretary of State welcome local initiatives to better promote

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iconic Scottish regions and locations, such as Speyside?

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What encouragement would he give to public

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and private sector partners in making the most of

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world-class potential as a tourism draw?

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Mr Speaker, I am aware of the specific initiatives

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to purs...to promote Speyside,

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having recently visited the right honourable gentleman's

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very picturesque constituency, and I do wish them well.

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I believe these opportunities only reach their full potential

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with significant public and private sector partners playing a full

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part, and I look forward to hearing from the right honourable gentleman

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about progress from Speyside and other regions of Scotland

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making the most of that potential.

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-Stuart Andrew.

-'And this is a question about

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'the North Sea oil and gas industry.'

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Government Ministers and officials had meetings

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with a wide variety of organisations in the public and private sectors,

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including the oil and gas industry.

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Last week, the Chancellor announced a further package of reforms

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to support jobs and investment in the oil and gas sector.

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This will help the industry respond to the challenging commercial

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conditions caused by the steep fall in oil prices.

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-Stuart Andrew.

-I'm grateful for that answer.

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The excellent Budget package for the oil and gas industry

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has certainly been welcomed by the industry.

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Is this not another example showing

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that when Scotland's two Governments work together

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they can get the best outcome for Scotland in the United Kingdom,

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that an independent Scotland could never have achieved?

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I think my honourable friend makes an extremely good point.

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And the fact is that the United Kingdom is able to absorb

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the shocks of the volatile oil price,

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and take steps to ensure that we have an oil and gas sector

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as strong as it can be, given the very low oil prices.

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-Kirsty Blackman.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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Will the Minister and his front bench colleagues commit

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to taking action to ensure that companies in the oil and gas sector

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have got appropriate access to finance at this time?

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Of course, as a Government, we do all we can

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to support businesses the length and breadth of the United Kingdom

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in all sectors.

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The point I would make is that we are able to take action in this area

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and support the oil and gas sector because we are a United Kingdom.

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And had we been in the position where Scotland became independent,

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it would face a very, very substantial...very, very substantial

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loss of revenue and have great difficulties absorbing that.

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Mina Ahmed-Sheikh.

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'And this is a question about benefit changes in Scotland.'

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I meet my right honourable friend the, Secretary of State

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for Scotland, and counterpart Ministers in the Scottish Government

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on a regular basis to discuss devolution of welfare programmes

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to the Scottish Government.

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-Mina Ahmed-Sheikh.

-I thank the Minister for her answer.

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Last week's Budget saw one of the most iniquitous measures

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proposed by this Government,

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cutting PIP for 40,000 disabled people in Scotland.

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I wonder when the Secretary of State for Scotland,

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and Ministers in the office, first realised that this was the wrong thing to do?

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Around the Cabinet table? During the Budget statement?

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Or on Sunday, when the Prime Minister was forced to backtrack on it?

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I would say to the honourable lady the Government's position

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is clear when it comes to PIP and disability reforms,

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as for being announced by my right honourable friend,

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the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and, of course,

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my right honourable friend, the Chancellor.

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Stewart Malcolm McDonald.

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Will the Secretary of State inform the House

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and the people of Scotland when he realised these cuts were wrong,

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or was he himself planning a resignation over the weekend?

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As I've already said, Mr Speaker,

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the Government's position has been abundantly clear.

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And if he missed my right honourable friend's,

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the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, statement on Monday,

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I will be more than happy to share it with him again.

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-Mr Ian Murray.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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Can I start by echoing the comments of the Secretary of State

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and the leader of the SNP, and pass on my heartfelt condolences

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to all those involved in the events in Brussels.

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Mr Speaker, we will defeat terrorism, but,

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as the Secretary of State said, it will take solidarity and resolve.

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Mr Speaker, last night, the House passed a Budget that was unprecedented.

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It contained a £4.4 billion black hole after the Chancellor was

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forced to reverse his decision on cutting Personal Independence Payments.

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Their long-term economic plan

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turning into a long-term economic scam.

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These savage cuts, following the £1,500 a year reduction

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in ESA and WRAG affect over 60,000 Scots.

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They would have gone through had it not been

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for the resignation of the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green.

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So, can the Minister guarantee that,

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when the Chancellor returns with revised public spending,

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none of these cuts will fall on the disabled and most vulnerable?

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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And I thank the honourable gentleman for his comments. First of all,

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I welcome his comments with regard to the tribute to my right

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honourable friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green.

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What I would say is that we've been very clear as a government

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that we are not proceeding with our changes and we will not be seeking

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an alternative offset in savings.

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-Mr Ian Murray.

-It's clear from that answer,

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and from the previous answer,

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that the Government has absolutely no idea what to do now.

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They are creating untold anxiety for the people in Scotland affected.

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Let me remind the House what the former Secretary of State said -

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he said that the cuts in this Budget risked dividing society,

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that put pounds ahead of people, and were distinctly political

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rather than in the national economic interest.

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Does she agree with her former Cabinet colleague,

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and many on her own side, that these cuts to disabled people

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in Scotland are not defensible?

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And does she want to take this opportunity to apologise,

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on behalf of the Scottish Conservative Party, to the tens of

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thousands of vulnerable and disabled Scots affected by this shambles?

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I reiterate that the point that I've made already. The Government's position is fundamentally clear.

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There will be no further changes to disability payments.

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Secondly, he may have realised that last night the Budget

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was passed by this House, that was right and proper.

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Thirdly, he, of all people, should recognise that we,

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as a government, are delivering on

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the Smith Commission and devolving powers to the Scottish Government.

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We look forward to working with the Scottish Government on

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welfare reform and the delivery of employment and support

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programmes for the benefit and the betterment of the Scottish people.

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-Karen Lumley.

-Number four, Mr Speaker.

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'And this is a question about the wider economy in Scotland.'

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I regularly meet a wide range of business organisations

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to discuss economic issues in Scotland.

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As I've already alluded to, last week, I shared a platform

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with the First Minister of Scotland at the annual forum

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of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry,

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where we discussed the important issue of productivity.

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Given that businesses in Redditch

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have welcomed the devolution deal for Birmingham,

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what representations have business groups in Scotland made

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to my right honourable friend about city deals there?

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Mr Speaker, I've been particularly delighted

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at the welcome from business groups in Scotland

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for the announcement yesterday of the Inverness and Highland City Deal

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which, in combination, the Scottish government, UK government

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and Highland Council will deliver a package of £315 million

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and I also particularly welcome the early day motion

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from the member from Inverness and his colleagues

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and I pay tribute to his part in bringing that deal about.

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Liz McInnes.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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The Secretary of State will be aware

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that around 400,000 workers in Scotland

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earn less than the living wage.

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The government claims to be on the side of working people

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so why have his Scottish Tory colleagues

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repeatedly voted alongside the SNP government

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to thwart Scottish Labour proposals to extend the living wage?

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'And Liz McInnes is the Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton in Lancashire.'

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I will resist the temptation, Mr Speaker,

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to give the honourable lady a lecture

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on the Scottish Labour Party's woes

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and the fact that they have not been a credible opposition

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to the SNP in Scotland.

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This government is very, very clear on its proposals

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to increase the wages of the poorest in society

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by the introduction of the national living wage.

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-John Stevenson.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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Local government quite clearly has a role to play

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in economic development.

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Would the Minister agree that it is important the Scottish Parliament

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also devolves power to local government

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and they could look to England for a lead, such as elected mayors?

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'John Stevenson is the Conservative MP for Carlisle.'

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Mr Speaker, I very much take on board

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what my honourable friend had to say

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but, when I spoke with the First Minister of Scotland

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at the SCDI forum last week,

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I was particularly encouraged about what she had to say

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about her support for city deals

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and I hope that the city deals that we see emerging in Scotland

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will not just include the financial packages,

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but they will go on to include greater devolution within Scotland.

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Dr Lisa Cameron.

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Many thanks, Mr Speaker.

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People in my constituency of East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow

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are extremely concerned by the perceived impact

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on the local economy and local jobs

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of the proposed closure of HMRC sites.

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What impact assessment is being made of these closures

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on our local economy and jobs?

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Mr Speaker, initial proposals have been set out

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in relation to the future shape of HMRC

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and, of course, we repeatedly hear in this House

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about wishes to make HMRC more efficient and more effective

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but no steps will be taken in the honourable lady's constituency

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or elsewhere without full consultation

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with all those involved.

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Stephen Gethins.

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'And this is a question about Scotland and the European Union.'

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As the First Minister and I both confirmed

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when we shared a platform in St Andrews in his own constituency

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last week, the official position of both the UK and Scottish governments

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is that the UK is better off in a reformed EU.

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-Stephen Gethins.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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Firstly, can I associate myself with the remarks on Brussels

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having spent many happy years in that wonderful city.

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Secondly, Mr Speaker, the Secretary of State will be aware

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of the benefits the EU membership has brought us,

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such as paternal rights, holiday entitlement.

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Does he agree with me that we should be focusing on those benefits

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and no rerun of Project Fear?

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I don't know if the honourable gentleman

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saw the details of my speech yesterday

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which set out the benefits to Scotland of remaining in the EU

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and in which I set out a positive case

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and I look forward to sharing platforms over the coming weeks

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with him and his colleagues to make that case.

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-Mr Philip Davies.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

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Given that we have a £62 billion a year trade deficit

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with the European Union, does the Secretary of State think that,

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if we were to leave the EU, the Prime Minister has the ability

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to negotiate a free-trade deal with the European Union

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or does he think that the Prime Minister hasn't got the ability

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to negotiate a free-trade deal with the European Union?

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'Philip Davies is the Conservative MP for Shipley in Yorkshire.'

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Mr Speaker, my position is clear.

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I believe that Scotland and the UK are better off in the EU

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with the reformed arrangement

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that the Prime Minister has already negotiated.

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Douglas Chapman.

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Mr Speaker, thank you.

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Will my right honourable friend recognise that a recent survey

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confirmed that the Scottish Government

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is one of the most trusted governments in the whole of Europe?

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Will he also look forward to the re-election of Nicola Sturgeon

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and her team so we can continue being the most trusted government

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in the whole of Europe beyond the 23rd of June?

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Mr Speaker,

0:19:050:19:07

what I want to ensure is that Nicola Sturgeon and her team

0:19:070:19:10

are properly held to account in the Scottish Parliament

0:19:100:19:14

and that's why I'm encouraging

0:19:140:19:16

people to vote for Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives.

0:19:160:19:20

Clive Lewis.

0:19:200:19:22

Question number six, Mr Speaker.

0:19:220:19:23

'And this is a question about carbon capture and storage

0:19:230:19:26

'and its relationship to Peterhead in the north-east of Scotland.'

0:19:260:19:30

I have regular discussions with the Secretary of State

0:19:320:19:35

for Energy and Climate Change and ministers of the Scottish Government

0:19:350:19:38

on a number of important energy issues affecting Scotland,

0:19:380:19:41

most recently last night.

0:19:410:19:43

Clive Lewis.

0:19:440:19:45

The government's own advisers on energy and climate change

0:19:450:19:48

have warned that the cost of meeting our climate change targets

0:19:480:19:53

could, could, double

0:19:530:19:56

without Peterhead and without carbon capture and storage.

0:19:560:19:59

Seeing as the government are having a good run on U-turns

0:19:590:20:04

when it comes to saving George Osborne, the Chancellor,

0:20:040:20:07

perhaps they would also like to make a U-turn

0:20:070:20:10

when it comes to saving the planet.

0:20:100:20:12

Something I think people feel far more worthwhile.

0:20:120:20:15

Mr Speaker, we're looking carefully at all options

0:20:180:20:21

in developing our approach to CCS,

0:20:210:20:24

informed by Lord Oxburgh's CCS advisory group.

0:20:240:20:27

In parallel, the government continues to engage

0:20:270:20:29

with the CCS industry, including Shell,

0:20:290:20:32

who are leading the proposed Peterhead project.

0:20:320:20:35

Margaret Ferrier.

0:20:360:20:37

At the time of the announcement for the £1 billion of funding

0:20:390:20:43

for the carbon capture and storage scheme at Peterhead,

0:20:430:20:47

the Energy Secretary was forced to deny that it was a bribe

0:20:470:20:51

prior to the independence referendum.

0:20:510:20:53

Now the withdrawal

0:20:530:20:55

of this supposedly ring-fenced capital investment

0:20:550:20:58

exposes it as just that.

0:20:580:21:00

Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity today

0:21:000:21:03

to apologise to the people of Scotland?

0:21:030:21:05

Mr Speaker, if anybody should apologise to the people of Scotland,

0:21:070:21:12

it's the honourable lady and her friends

0:21:120:21:14

for suggesting that oil tomorrow

0:21:140:21:17

would have a price of 103 a barrel.

0:21:170:21:21

What is clear in relation to CCS

0:21:230:21:27

is that the costs are high and must come down.

0:21:270:21:30

We haven't ruled CCS out

0:21:300:21:32

and we're committed to working with the industry

0:21:320:21:34

to bring forward innovative ideas

0:21:340:21:36

for reducing the cost of this potentially important industry.

0:21:360:21:40

Wayne David.

0:21:420:21:43

Mr Speaker, I am reluctant to refer to the Budget

0:21:450:21:48

because we can't be absolutely sure what is in and what is out.

0:21:480:21:53

For example, the Chancellor's support for the oil and gas industry

0:21:530:21:56

is welcome, but it doesn't take us very far forward.

0:21:560:22:00

Unfortunately, it appears that the government here in London

0:22:000:22:03

is taking its cue from the government in Holyrood.

0:22:030:22:06

There, the SNP Government recently axed £10 million worth

0:22:060:22:10

of tax breaks for renewable firms

0:22:100:22:12

and they see themselves as a green administration.

0:22:120:22:16

Aren't we seeing two governments who are confused,

0:22:160:22:19

pursuing contradictory policies

0:22:190:22:21

and not knowing if they're coming or going?

0:22:210:22:24

Mr Speaker, I can point out one very distinct difference

0:22:260:22:31

between this Government and any Labour Scottish Government

0:22:310:22:35

or indeed SNP Scottish Government

0:22:350:22:37

and that is that we are not putting up the tax for ordinary people

0:22:370:22:42

as both those parties propose.

0:22:420:22:45

Mr Speaker, we've made it very clear that the door is not closed on CCS

0:22:450:22:51

but the costs must come down.

0:22:510:22:54

Nigel Huddleston.

0:22:540:22:56

'And this is a question about the financial implications of the Scotland Bill.'

0:22:580:23:02

The UK and Scottish Governments have met ten times

0:23:020:23:04

under the Joint Exchequer Committee since the election last year.

0:23:040:23:07

These discussions resulted last month in the agreement

0:23:070:23:09

of a new fiscal framework for the Scottish Government.

0:23:090:23:12

Agreement on the fiscal framework enables us to deliver

0:23:120:23:15

on the vow we made to the Scottish people

0:23:150:23:18

and delivers one of the most powerful and accountable

0:23:180:23:20

devolved parliaments in the world

0:23:200:23:22

with the economic and national security

0:23:220:23:24

that comes from being part of the United Kingdom.

0:23:240:23:28

-Nigel Huddleston.

-Thank you.

0:23:280:23:30

Does the Minister agree that it would be bad news for Scotland

0:23:300:23:33

if it became the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom

0:23:330:23:36

and does he agree with Ruth Davidson MSP

0:23:360:23:39

that Scottish taxpayers shouldn't have to pay any more in tax

0:23:390:23:42

than fellow Britons in England... Er...

0:23:420:23:44

England, Wales and Northern Ireland?

0:23:440:23:46

The Scottish people have got

0:23:490:23:51

essentially three choices in their elections.

0:23:510:23:54

Two of those choices, whether it be voting Labour or voting SNP,

0:23:540:23:57

would involve paying more in income tax.

0:23:570:24:00

Mr Gavin Newlands.

0:24:010:24:03

Does the Secretary of State agree with me

0:24:040:24:06

that the Chancellor's reckless last-minute intervention

0:24:060:24:09

to tweak the fiscal framework after it had been agreed by the Treasury

0:24:090:24:12

and the Scottish government...

0:24:120:24:14

Was the Secretary of State of Scotland aware

0:24:140:24:17

about the Chancellor's brinkmanship intentions

0:24:170:24:19

that endangered the framework at the very last moment?

0:24:190:24:22

The answer is no.

0:24:250:24:26

An agreement has been reached.

0:24:260:24:28

We're pleased we've got that agreement

0:24:280:24:30

and now it is for the Scottish Government

0:24:300:24:32

to be held accountable by the Scottish people.

0:24:320:24:34

Deidre Brock.

0:24:360:24:38

Question number eight, Mr Speaker.

0:24:380:24:40

'And this is a question about the recent Budget.'

0:24:400:24:42

The Chancellor's delivered a Budget that delivers for Scotland.

0:24:420:24:45

This will be the last budget where a UK Chancellor

0:24:450:24:48

sets out income tax rates and thresholds for Scottish earners.

0:24:480:24:52

The changes to the income tax personal allowance

0:24:520:24:55

will benefit 2.6 million taxpayers in Scotland.

0:24:550:24:59

The Budget delivers on our plans to build a stronger economy

0:24:590:25:02

as part of the UK and put the next generation first.

0:25:020:25:06

-Deidre Brock.

-Thank you, Mr Speaker.

0:25:060:25:09

I congratulate the Minister on finding the Chancellor

0:25:090:25:12

to have those discussions.

0:25:120:25:15

Earlier this week, we thought he'd gone walkabout.

0:25:150:25:18

The budget had £1 billion worth of cuts to the Scottish budget

0:25:180:25:22

and £650 million worth of cuts to the English NHS.

0:25:220:25:27

Given the volte-face on social security cuts,

0:25:270:25:30

does he think he might persuade the Chancellor

0:25:300:25:32

to reverse Scotland's cuts

0:25:320:25:34

and put in a good word for the English NHS as well?

0:25:340:25:37

Can I just remind the House

0:25:390:25:41

that there were three asks coming from the SNP -

0:25:410:25:44

freezing whisky duty,

0:25:440:25:46

freezing fuel duty

0:25:460:25:48

and helping the oil and gas industry.

0:25:480:25:50

That's exactly what the Chancellor delivered.

0:25:500:25:53

Mr Alan Brown.

0:25:550:25:57

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

0:25:570:26:00

Can I ask the Secretary of State for Scotland,

0:26:000:26:02

did he discuss with the Chancellor the merits

0:26:020:26:05

of an £8.5 billion corporation tax cut,

0:26:050:26:08

a 6 billion giveaway on capital gains and inheritance tax

0:26:080:26:11

versus the proposed 4 billion cut to the disabled

0:26:110:26:15

and how that would affect the people in Scotland

0:26:150:26:17

or did he sit there and do what he's told yet again?

0:26:170:26:21

Can I remind the honourable gentleman

0:26:230:26:25

that there are 73,000 businesses in Scotland

0:26:250:26:28

that will benefit from the cut in corporation tax.

0:26:280:26:31

Is he saying he opposes that?

0:26:310:26:33

And I'm afraid that's all we've got time for at the moment.

0:26:350:26:37

Because of the Easter break,

0:26:370:26:40

the next Scottish Questions won't be until Wednesday the 11th of May,

0:26:400:26:44

by which time, of course, we will know the results

0:26:440:26:47

of the Holyrood elections

0:26:470:26:48

so there will be plenty for MPs to talk about.

0:26:480:26:52

But for now, from all of us here at Westminster, goodbye.

0:26:520:26:55

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