Oral Answers to Questions Debate

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Department: Scotland Office

Oral Answers to Questions

Alister Jack Excerpts
Wednesday 1st May 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)
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12. What recent assessment he has made of the impact of the spring Budget 2024 on Scotland.

Alister Jack Portrait The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alister Jack)
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We have again seen calamitous events in Scotland this week. However, I wish Humza Yousaf very well for the future. I always found him to be a very decent man to work with, and there is no doubt that he was dealt a rotten hand.

Although I do not want to dwell unduly on the private grief of SNP Members, I very much hope that whoever becomes First Minister will work with us on the issues that really matter to people in Scotland, such as public services and our economy, and will not continue to obsess with independence.

This Government are taking long-term decisions to cut taxes for working people and to grow the economy. The spring Budget represented a significant milestone in the UK Government’s levelling-up mission, with investment into Scotland bursting through the £3 billion mark. In addition, the Scottish Government will benefit from a £295 million funding uplift through the Barnett formula for 2024-25.

Anum Qaisar Portrait Ms Qaisar
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The reality is that the Chancellor’s regressive spring Budget left the people of Scotland behind. In contrast, the SNP Scottish Government took the bold step of implementing a progressive tax scheme.

The Westminster establishment argued that Scotland’s income tax rates would somehow cause people to leave the country. Last week, however, it was revealed by His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs that the opposite is true, with many more taxpayers moving to Scotland than leaving. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming this brilliant news and congratulating the Scottish Government on standing up for the people of Scotland?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The hon. Lady’s point would be relevant if that report were not from 2018-19, long before we entered into six tax bands in Scotland, versus three in the rest of the UK. I absolutely do not agree with her.

Chris Stephens Portrait Chris Stephens
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The Secretary of State mentioned levelling up, which is curious. We know that the Budget cut public services across the board and cut Scotland’s capital funding, yet levelling up seems to benefit places such as the financial district of Canary Wharf, which has benefited by £16,000 per head. Is he suggesting that Scotland, but not other parts of the UK, should accept austerity from this Government?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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That is a ridiculous remark. The levelling-up agenda in Scotland has been fantastically successful, and there has been absolutely no austerity. The Scottish Government have received a record block grant of £41 billion, the highest since devolution began. I am surprised that the SNP wants to talk about the Budget, because the Scottish Government’s Budget put taxes up and cut vital public services, so Scots are actually paying more and getting less.

Gavin Newlands Portrait Gavin Newlands
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What utter nonsense. The hypocrisy of this Tory party, which is busy gaslighting the Scottish public by complaining about cuts to capital spending while the Tory Government are busy cutting 16%, or £822 million, from the Scottish Government’s capital block grant allocation, is quite astonishing. With Westminster holding Scotland back yet again, can the Secretary of State tell us, as Scotland’s man in the Cabinet, whether he argued against these cuts? Will he argue for the Scottish Parliament to have the ability to raise more capital borrowing to mitigate these savage Westminster cuts and to help drive Scotland forward?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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In the fiscal framework settlement, we made it very clear and agreed with the Scottish Government that resource funding could be reallocated, if they so wished, from the record block grant into capital funding. That is what has happened. Additionally, they have the ability to borrow £450 million, if required.

David Mundell Portrait David Mundell (Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale) (Con)
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I also begin by passing on my best wishes to Humza Yousaf and his family. I always found him very personable in my dealings with him, although I disagree with virtually everything he has said or done as First Minister of Scotland, particularly putting up taxes and delivering poorer public services.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that businesses in my constituency are struggling to recruit employees from other parts of the United Kingdom because of the higher tax rates in Scotland, which are damaging our local economy?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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My right hon. Friend makes a good point. I am well aware, as are businesses in Dumfries and Galloway, that having six tax bands in Scotland but three in the rest of the UK is not the way to incentivise people to go to work in Scotland or even to relocate their businesses there.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the shadow Secretary of State.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab)
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On this International Workers’ Day, May Day, Scottish Television journalists are striking for fair pay. I am sure the Secretary of State will join me in insisting that STV gets back around the table with its journalists to thrash out an acceptable deal. Given all the news that is happening this week, we need them back on the television.

I too pay tribute to the outgoing First Minister, Humza Yousaf. We may not have agreed on everything, but his historic appointment marked a pivotal moment in our multicultural public life in Scotland, and I wish him and his family well for the future.

The spring Budget was just another moment that exposed the damage done by the chaos of the former Prime Minister’s kamikaze Budget. The Secretary of State has been spinning that it brings taxes down, but is it not the case that the tax burden in Scotland and across the rest of the UK continues to rise? The Prime Minister now wants to mirror his irresponsible predecessor with an unfunded £46 billion policy to get rid of national insurance altogether. The Secretary of State sits around the Cabinet table, so which one of these have they discussed to pay for this: pensioners, the NHS or income tax rises?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the tax burden in Scotland is too high and rising, and people are paying more and getting less. Fortunately, the UK Government have taken the decision to partially offset that, not through income tax cuts but through national insurance cuts, with 4p coming off NI. To pick up on his last point, he was referring to an aspiration that this Government have. We have already reduced NI by 4p, a third, and we aspire to remove it altogether, because it is a tax on jobs.

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray
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This is a £46 billion, unfunded aspiration, and the Secretary of State and the Government will not tell us where they will get the money from. Scotland is trapped between two chaotic and failing Governments; we have had three Prime Ministers, and we will have had three First Ministers, in as many years. All the while, the right hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) thinks he is already the First Minister and calling the shots, although he has been shooting himself firmly in the foot. What is abundantly clear to the people of Scotland is that neither the Scottish Government nor the UK Government are even interested in delivering the change that Scotland needs. With neither Government wanting to let the people decide, will the Secretary of State tell the House who he thinks is most scared of a general election, the Tories or the Scottish National party?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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We absolutely do not fear an election, whether for Holyrood or a general election. As I watch the nationalists implode again, I say, “Bring it on.” I hear them say the same from a sedentary position. [Interruption.] Bring it on! Chaps and chapesses over there, start polishing up your CVs.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the SNP spokesperson.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard (Edinburgh East) (SNP)
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I, too, on behalf of the SNP group, put on record our sincere thanks to Humza Yousaf for his public service over the months and years. I wish him, Nadia and the rest of his family all the best in their future.

Let me also observe that fewer people in Scotland will see our proceedings today as Scottish Television is currently blacked out because of a strike by TV journalists. I implore the management of STV to get back around the table with the National Union of Journalists, improve its pay offer and try to settle this dispute.

The Budget that was approved a few months ago also contains forward planning assumptions on income and expenditure over the next three to five years. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of those assumptions on the Scottish public finances?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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As I have said before, we have a record block grant. It is running over a three-year period and it averages out at £41.6 billion, and then there are Barnett consequentials added to that. This year, that figure is £295 million, based on the spring Budget’s figures.

Tommy Sheppard Portrait Tommy Sheppard
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That sounds like no assessment at all has been made. The truth is that, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, these forward planning assumptions involve public service cuts of up to £20 billion. That can only imply savage cuts to the Scottish block grant in the next two to three years. Sadly, these planning assumptions and the framework are endorsed by the Labour party. So if people vote either Conservative or Labour at the coming election, are they not consenting to massive cuts in public services in Scotland?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Of course I do not agree with those figures. Public services in Scotland are in a desperate state. In their recent Budget, the Scottish Government froze council tax, thereby putting more pressure on local authorities to deliver those public services.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
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2. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the level of defence spending in Scotland.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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14. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Defence on the level of defence spending in Scotland.

Alister Jack Portrait The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alister Jack)
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Scotland Office Ministers have regular discussions with the Ministry of Defence on all matters relating to defence. Defence spending contributes significantly to delivering thousands of high-skilled jobs and investment in Scotland. I welcome the announcement by the Prime Minister that we will increase our defence spending to 2.5% of GDP in response to rising global threats.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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Clearly it is good news for the United Kingdom, and Scotland in particular, that 2.5% of GDP will be spent on defence. Will my right hon. Friend update the House on the number of jobs that will be protected and potentially be created in Scotland as a result of this decision?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The short answer is that the increased investment announced by the Prime Minister will be focused on firing up the UK industrial base. The whole United Kingdom will benefit from that, and it will ensure that our armed benefit from the latest technology. Both of those things will bring economic benefits and support jobs across the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland. At this time of heightened global tension and an illegal war in Ukraine, sparked by the Russians, I am confident that Scotland will play a growing role, as the UK Government ramp up their spending.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
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Thanks to the armed forces parliamentary scheme, I have been lucky enough to meet some of the amazing military personnel and civilians working at His Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the increase in defence spending announced last week by the Prime Minister will bring benefits across the whole country, whether at RAF bases in my own constituency or at the many military establishments in Scotland, and that it is another clear demonstration that it is the Conservatives who can be trusted to defend and protect our entire United Kingdom?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. It is the Conservatives who are trusted to defend the whole of the United Kingdom. The SNP has consistently proposed abandoning our nuclear deterrent, including in its most recent independence paper. The irony is that the SNP wants to be part of the NATO alliance, but not part of a nuclear NATO alliance.

Wendy Chamberlain Portrait Wendy Chamberlain (North East Fife) (LD)
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A vital part of defence spending is ensuring that military personnel live in safe and suitable accommodation. At last week’s debate on the Renters (Reform) Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Helen Morgan) ensured concessions from the Government on the standards of military accommodation. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of that in Scotland?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The hon. Lady is absolutely right. As the father of a serving soldier, I completely agree with her. I hear from members of the military that they are disappointed with the standard of accommodation. I have raised the issue on a UK-wide basis and discussed it with the Defence Secretary. He said the programme of improvements, which started before last winter, amounts to £400 million of spending.

Deidre Brock Portrait Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) (SNP)
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Further to the Secretary of State’s comments about nuclear bases, I hope he is aware of the alarming rise in more serious nuclear safety incidents at Scotland’s Trident nuclear bases on the Clyde. My questions have revealed 179 incidents were logged in 2023 and 2024, including six with a risk of radiation leakage to the environment, the first category A incidents in 15 years. Has he concerns if there was a radioactive leak beyond safe levels in many of these incidents? What reports will his Government produce to reassure crew and those living nearby that the nuclear infrastructure is not, as one former Downing Street adviser described it, “dangerously rotting”?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I have visited Faslane, our base on the Clyde. It is an absolutely fantastic facility. We do not comment on matters relating to Faslane. If the hon. Lady has any more specific questions, she should ask them at Defence questions, but regarding our nuclear deterrent and our nuclear facility, we do not comment on things that happen there.

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Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew (Broadland) (Con)
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11. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Government on the protection of free speech in Scotland.

Alister Jack Portrait The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr Alister Jack)
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This Government are committed to protecting free speech. It is the responsibility of the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament, working with Police Scotland, to ensure that the hate crime legislation is implemented and enforced in a way that protects freedom of speech and has the confidence of people in Scotland.

Jerome Mayhew Portrait Jerome Mayhew
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The Scottish Government’s Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force this month and is already having a chilling impact on free speech. What lessons can the UK Government learn from the introduction of this poor legislation in Scotland?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Yes, and Police Scotland already has stretched resources—not least because it has been checking up on the SNP finances for the last three years. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we do have concerns that the legislation could have a potential chilling effect on free speech, but it is for the Scottish Government to speak to their own devolved laws. For my part, I believe it is an awful piece of legislation; it lacks clarity on what constitutes an offence, and, importantly, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it very clear that the UK Government will not enact similar legislation.

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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I call the Chair of the Select Committee.

Pete Wishart Portrait Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
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Never before has such rubbish been uttered about a piece of legislation as has been uttered about the Hate Crime Act. In one week, the Tories have tried to repeal it—which, given that it mainly consolidates existing legislation, will leave us unprotected against islamophobia, racism and homophobia. Will the Secretary of State now issue one of his famous colonial decrees and tell the Scottish Tories to back off?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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First of all, those laws already existed—that is the important thing. Secondly, I was right about police resources. There were 8,000 hate crime reports in the first week, more than in any of the seven preceding years. It is a ridiculous, unnecessary piece of legislation.

The Prime Minister was asked—