Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 2nd February 2022

(6 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The UK Government are taking action. The energy price cap is being maintained and will be renegotiated—that is ongoing work for the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We are providing a £140 rebate on energy bills for 2.2 million households with the lowest incomes, and we have the £300 winter fuel payment for pensioners.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
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The strength of any Union rests upon the confidence people have in those who are running things. I know that I disagree with the Minister’s political judgment, so let me appeal to his business judgment. Hypothetically, if he were handed evidence that the man running his company had been incompetent and dishonest, and was subject to a police investigation, bringing the entire company into disrepute, would he let him carry on in the role, or would he expect him to step back?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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As has been said many times at this Dispatch Box, the Prime Minister is very sorry for what happened—he has apologised. He has said that if he could have done things differently, with hindsight, he would have done. It is also the case that no one has said that he is the subject of a police investigation. The police are looking into the events that have been passed on to them by Sue Gray, and we will wait for the outcome of that inquiry.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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I find it quite incredible. Many of the public believe that this Prime Minister has a long history of racism, homophobia and misogyny. He has lost numerous jobs due to his level of dishonesty. He has presided over 150,000 deaths and the loss of nearly £5 billion of public money to fraudsters. Eighty per cent. of people in Scotland want him to resign, and the leader of the Scottish Tories wants him to resign. Let me ask the Minister this: as Scotland’s only representative in Cabinet, what would it take for him to ask for the Prime Minister’s resignation?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The Prime Minister is doing a fantastic job. He is focusing on the things that matter: delivering on the recovery from this pandemic, the vaccine programme that he backed early on, the booster programme that he led before Christmas, trade deals that will improve outcomes for Scottish food and drink, and many other things. He is a very good leader. The hon. Lady is absolutely prejudging the outcome of the police inquiry.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 15th December 2021

(8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The hon. Gentleman makes a very serious point. Hospitality is under a lot of pressure across the United Kingdom, not least in Scotland. The Treasury announced yesterday afternoon, just ahead of the First Minister’s statement, that we were giving the Scottish Government certainty over their finances, and that is the first point I would make. What the Scottish Government have failed to do is set out what measures they believe are right for Scotland and how much these would cost, and that is an important thing to understand. They have also failed to explain how they cannot afford to act on their own, given that they have a record settlement this year of over £41 billion of block grant—the highest block grant settlement in real terms since devolution began.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
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Following on from the shadow Secretary of State, could I ask the Secretary of State whether he was invited to any of these parties in Downing Street and whether he had any knowledge of these parties?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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If the hon. Lady had been at the Scottish Affairs Committee last Monday, when I was one of the witnesses—or if she had read the briefing from that—she would know that I was asked that question by the Chairman, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), and I answered very clearly that, first, I had no knowledge of the parties, and secondly, I was not at any of them.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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I am sorry for the floundering social life of the Secretary of State, but if I could, I will move on to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Steven Bonnar) made. We talk about the Prime Minister’s vision, but does that vision not go against what the majority of people in Scotland voted for, given that they are against Brexit, the majority are against the Prime Minister and they are against the Conservatives? So is it not the case that the best chance this Prime Minister has of saving the Union and rebuilding trust in our covid response is by resigning?

Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. I am going to allow that, but we really need to be within the scope of the question. It is party politics, and I do not want us to get into that, but it is Christmas, so I am sure the Secretary of State will want to answer.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 3rd November 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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My right hon. Friend is spot on. Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK is three times more than her trade with Europe. It is worth over £50 billion, it is worth over half a million jobs, and it is critical that we keep the border open.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)
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The Secretary of State will remember that Scotland voted to remain part of the European Union, and that despite every compromise offered, this Government ploughed ahead with Brexit, knowing full well the damage that it would do to Scotland and that it was against the wishes of the people in Scotland. Now, the Office for Budget Responsibility has projected that the UK’s economy will be 4% smaller because of Brexit, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs found that Scottish exports were actually higher last year, during the height of the pandemic, than they are this year, after Brexit.

I know that the Secretary of State mentioned the pandemic, but that means that Brexit is having a worse impact on Scottish exports than the pandemic. Although he could have fooled me with his lack of mask, Mr Speaker, I am going to presume that the Secretary of State is not in favour of the pandemic and its effects. Given that the effects of Brexit are worse, why does he support it?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The hon. Lady quotes the OBR. Actually, the OBR prediction was for economic growth to be 4% in March. The reality is that it has corrected that, and its prediction is now for economic growth to be 6.5% in 2021 and 6% in 2022. Actually, our economy is recovering strongly, and it is the fastest-growing economy in the G7.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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This alternative reality is an international embarrassment. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) already mentioned, the EU provided over €1 billion to Ireland as a Brexit compensation fund to combat its effects. Since we know that Brexit is damaging Scotland’s economy and since this place clearly thinks itself so superior to the EU, without mentioning existing funds can the Secretary of State tell us when Scotland will receive its Brexit compensation fund and how much will be in it?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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We have just had a Budget where the Chancellor has given £41 billion in the block grant, up £4.6 billion and the largest ever block grant received by the Scottish Government since devolution began in 1998. On top of that, this week there was almost £200 million in structural funds support through the levelling up fund, the community renewal fund and the community ownership fund. More money is going into Scotland than ever before to support Scotland as we go through the pandemic. It is a matter of enormous regret that last night, when the Budget vote took place, the SNP did not support all that extra funding for Scotland.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

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

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

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

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

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 28th April 2021

(1 year, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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You will not be surprised to hear, Mr Speaker, that I do agree with my hon. Friend. I note with astonishment the comments of the South Scotland MSP Emma Harper that a border would be a good way of creating jobs, despite the fact that 60% of our trade is with the rest of the UK. All I would say is that if the SNP thinks that a border is such a good idea for jobs, I am surprised it does not want to go the whole hog and propose building a wall.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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Particularly as we rebuild after covid, we have an opportunity and a need to make radically different economic choices. After a week of troublesome allegations about the Government and the Prime Minister, it should be no surprise that many in Scotland want to take a different, independent path to that of this Government. If that request is reflected in the upcoming Scottish Government elections and a majority of pro-independence MSPs are elected, will the Minister and his Government respect that as a mandate for a second independence referendum?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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First, let us not take the outcome of the election for granted at this stage. Let us recognise that the focus for Scotland must be on pandemic recovery. We have saved lives through the vaccine procurement, and it is now time to save livelihoods and to rebuild as one United Kingdom.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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I did not hear an answer to my question there. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives was asked multiple times on recent media, “What would be the democratic path for Scotland to an independence referendum?” He could not answer the question, so can the Minister tell us what the path is?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(1 year, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. People in Scotland want to see politicians across the United Kingdom working in partnership to focus on defeating the coronavirus. That remains the top priority of the UK Government, who have supported jobs and businesses across the United Kingdom through the pandemic —as I say, there has been unprecedented support—and now more than ever, we should be pulling together to strengthen our country, instead of trying to separate it.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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On this Holocaust Memorial Day, let us remember those who were persecuted and those who are persecuted now, and never forget the horrors that can happen when bigotry goes unchallenged.

I do not remember that same sense of responsibility when Brexit was being bulldozed through during the same pandemic that the Secretary of State has just mentioned. If he is so sure of the strength of the Union, why is he so afraid to test that strength in another independence referendum?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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First, I align myself with the remarks that the hon. Lady made about the holocaust.

The referendum took place in 2014. We respect that; it was a democratic outcome. The hon. Lady mentioned Brexit: that referendum took place in 2016, and again, it was a democratic outcome. We are the party that respects democracy.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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I know the Secretary of State is aware that a lot has changed since 2014. Scotland has been taken out of the EU against its will; we have had three Tory Prime Ministers we never voted for; and now, 20 consecutive polls have shown that a majority of people in Scotland now support independence. Given that he is the defender of democracy, I ask him how, with that in mind, can the people of Scotland secure that preferred choice of independence?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Scotland receives over £1,600 more in support per man, woman and child than the UK average—that is incredibly important. Added to that is the £8.6 billion of extra coronavirus support, and on top of that, the furlough support. An independent Scotland would have the largest deficit in the European Union, and it would break member state rules. I remind the hon. Lady of what the SNP’s own economic adviser, Andrew Wilson, said: that an independent Scotland would face austerity like it had never been seen before, with increases in taxation and cuts in public spending. I believe that as we focus on coming out of the pandemic, all being in the rowing boat together and pulling on the oars in these choppy waters is the best place for Scotland and for the United Kingdom.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 9th December 2020

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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What the Prime Minister said was that devolution was a mistake when it was set up to be put in the hands of separatists, and I completely agree with that. I totally agree with it. The Scottish National party is a campaigning organisation for independence—for separation of the United Kingdom—masquerading as a party of Government.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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The Secretary of State has regularly explained that, as we leave the EU, the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill will serve to strengthen the UK’s economy and the Union as a whole. Does he feel that the announcement yesterday from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office that Northern Ireland will have the “best of both worlds”, meaning that Northern Ireland will still have access to both EU and UK markets after Brexit, undermines his claims about the Bill?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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No, not remotely. What we have delivered on is unfettered access. We promised unfettered access at the time of the withdrawal agreement and we have delivered it.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black [V]
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As the Secretary of State knows, Scotland voted to remain in the EU. The Scottish Government subsequently published a framework for how Scotland could still have access to the single market post Brexit. That was rejected outright by the UK Government. Given that Northern Ireland has been promised the very same thing, will he now make the case for Scotland to get the same concessions, and, like his predecessor, will he consider his position if such a request is not granted?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Scotland is in the fortunate position as part of the United Kingdom of not having a land border that it needs to worry about. The Northern Ireland situation is different—it has special circumstances. We have resolved the problem as we promised we would.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 11th November 2020

(1 year, 9 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I agree with my hon. Friend. There has been substantial extra funding, guaranteed funding, to the Scottish Government—£8.2 billion, as he correctly identified. That is money received through the Barnett formula. The Scottish Government must not shirk their responsibility to be open and transparent about how that money is being spent. We need accountability so that the people of Scotland can judge whether it is being spent wisely.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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The Minister has recently said that the job retention scheme will last into next year, but he has also said that there will be no referendums on Scotland’s future for a generation. The Edinburgh agreement, signed by a Tory Prime Minister, provided the legal framework for the 2014 referendum, so can the Minister quote me where it says in that agreement that there cannot be another referendum?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I commend the hon. Lady for trying to get a referendum into questions about the job retention scheme. While we are all fighting this pandemic and trying to secure and support people’s jobs, it beggars belief that the SNP carries on talking about independence referendums and about separation. I find it really quite disappointing. The answer to her question is that it was mentioned many times in the White Paper that the SNP Government produced in advance of that referendum. The words “once in a generation” were mentioned on a number of pages.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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I thank the Minister for confirming that there is no legal basis for his assertion on the timing of a future referendum. Given that it was also agreed cross-party that nothing in the Smith commission prevents Scotland from becoming an independent country in the future, can he tell us whose decision is it whether Scotland has another referendum?

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 7th October 2020

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I thank my right hon. Friend for the invaluable work that he did in bringing the borderlands growth deal to fruition. I am also delighted to inform him that the business case for the mountain bike innovation centre was delivered by the Borderlands Partnership only yesterday. It obviously has to go through further assessments in the usual way, but I am well aware of and support the initiative, because mountain biking in what is a very beautiful part of Scotland is an incredibly popular sport, and it is locally a very popular initiative.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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Knowing as we do the negative consequences that the delay to the autumn Budget will have on the Scottish Parliament passing its budget, will the Minister tell us if he made his Cabinet colleagues and the Chancellor aware of these negative consequences, or was he himself unaware?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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We have had one Budget this year in March. That was slightly delayed and, at the time, the then Finance Secretary in Scotland, Derek Mackay, said that that was going to be disastrous for Scotland and that it would be unable to set its budget, but that was incorrect. The Finance Secretary was able to set her budget, and the message goes out now from the Treasury, as it did then: if she has any problems setting her budget, Kate Forbes should come forward and talk to us.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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Just to ask the Secretary of State again, because I did not hear an answer in there: can he tell us if he made his Cabinet colleagues aware of the negative consequences that would happen, and what was the result of these conversations?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I say to the hon. Lady that I do not agree that there are negative consequences. The Chancellor and I have had discussions on this matter. I make it quite clear that if Kate Forbes has any questions on setting her budget, she should come forward and ask us. The offer was made to Derek Mackay when he made similar cry-wolf stories back in March, when there was a delay, but no questions were asked and nothing came forward because they had all the information they needed to set their budget.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 9th September 2020

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Well, Mr Speaker, as you have asked me to be brief, I shall answer that question with a firm yes.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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I echo the congratulations to the shadow Secretary of State. However, I will not echo the congratulations to the Union. Today, the UK Government have published their United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. I want to ask specifically about clause 46, which states that any UK Minister of the Crown may promote and directly provide economic development, effectively allowing the UK Government the powers to legislate in the following devolved areas: health; education; water; electricity; courts and pension facilities; housing; and the list goes on. Am I correct in my understanding that when the Government says that they are strengthening the Union, what they really mean is dismantling devolution?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Absolutely not. We are strengthening devolution. We are bringing a power surge to Scotland—more than 100 new powers. We are not taking a single power away, and I invite the hon. Lady to name one that we are. I say that we are the party that backs devolution. The SNP is the party that wants to destroy devolution by leaving the United Kingdom.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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Will the Secretary of State tell me, if he is not dismantling devolution, specifically where in the Bill does it say that the UK Government must acquire the consent of the devolved Administrations?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The UK Government would like to get a legislative consent motion from the devolved Administrations, but we are quite clear that we need to bring forward this UK legislation to protect jobs, to protect producers, to protect manufacturers and to protect consumers. This is a piece of legislation that, through mutual recognition and non-discrimination, strengthens our United Kingdom economy. That is important to Scotland because over £50 billion of trade is done with the rest of the UK—more than Scotland does with the rest of the world.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 1st July 2020

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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We now go to the SNP spokesperson—[Interruption.] Order. Who is clapping? We do not clap. We want to hear the SNP spokesperson, Mhairi Black.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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I would like to echo the remarks of the Secretary of State with regard to the events in Glasgow. Our thoughts are with all those affected.

The Secretary of State says that the Chancellor will be updating the House with regard to the furloughing scheme, so I will note that with interest, but could he tell us specifically what recommendations and requests he has made to the Treasury with regard to Scotland?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Discussions that we have with the Treasury ahead of a statement are confidential, but I have highlighted the threats around tourism and hospitality, and I say again to the hon. Lady that the First Minister’s remarks about the border are irresponsible. If we think back to 26 April and “The Andrew Marr Show”, she admitted that it was a border that she had no control over, so let us not undermine the Scottish economy by moving too slowly as we come back—we need to crack on—and let us not undermine Scottish business by talking about keeping people from other parts of the United Kingdom out of Scotland.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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Let us also not undermine public health when it comes to the decisions that we make. Scotland has sought to trial universal basic income in four separate locations. Given that the Scottish Government would be providing the funding for this, does the Secretary of State know why the UK Government are blocking it, and what assistance will he provide in unblocking it?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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On the hon. Lady’s first remark about public health, it is absolutely imperative that we protect lives, but we must also protect livelihoods. On universal basic income, we do not believe it is the best way to deliver social security because it is not targeted at those who need it most. We believe universal credit is the best thing because it gets people back into work, and getting people back into work gets them out of poverty. Countries such as Finland and Canada have tried universal basic income and walked away from it. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation also found that it can increase poverty and it said that it is not the way forward in the report that it released two years ago, so we will not be moving towards a universal basic income.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Alister Jack and Mhairi Black
Wednesday 20th May 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The testing capacity in Scotland is 12,000 tests a day. On Monday, they only used 4,559 of those. That is a matter for the Scottish Government, because health is devolved, and they determine what tests are undertaken. I want to make it clear that the UK Government have funded for the Scottish Government five operating drive-through test centres in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Perth. The Ministry of Defence is operating 30 pop-up units across Scotland. Again, they can go at the behest of the Scottish Government. There is plenty of capacity there. It is not being used. It should have been used more in care homes; I agree with him on that. There is a firm line between the Scottish Government being cautious and being slow, when in fact, they could be less cautious about easing the lockdown if they had been a lot quicker on testing.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP) [V]
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I welcome the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), to his position. Given that England has decided to ease lockdown measures earlier than the other three nations of the UK, can the Secretary of State give assurances that the citizens of the devolved nations will still have access to the UK furlough scheme for as long as lockdown must continue in the devolved nations?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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This is the first time that the hon. Lady and I have met, in virtual circumstances, and I welcome her to her role. The answer is one for the Chancellor. That is a matter for the Treasury.

Mhairi Black Portrait Mhairi Black
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If this Parliament insists on following a policy of England’s way or no way and does not leave any leeway for the devolved nations, will the Secretary of State, as Scotland’s representative in Government, lobby the Prime Minister for the devolution of the fiscal powers necessary for the Scottish Government to implement their own furlough scheme?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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This is not the time for the Scottish fiscal framework to be opened up and looked at again. The UK Government have given huge support to the whole United Kingdom through the furlough scheme, the self-employed scheme, the bounce-back loans and the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme. There has been a huge package of measures to keep money in people’s pockets and to keep the economy as strong as it can be when we return to something near normal. Have I argued Scotland’s case? Yes, I have. We have an extension coming on 1 August, running to 31 October. I hope that we can get people back to work over that period and get the economy up and running, to save people’s livelihoods. While we are very focused on saving people’s lives, we must remember that after that comes saving their livelihoods.