Scottish Government: Devolved Competences

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Wednesday 13th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I actually think that the joint committees are important and give a sort of discipline to business. Where I am with the noble Baroness is that it is actually important, on specific bits of policy, to work together with the devolved Administrations. Certainly, in the areas that I deal with, I really try to do that—with things like borders, for example; the country is borderless, so it is very important. We can always do better, but there are differences of view, and sometimes that complexity makes it hard, such as with statistics, which I was giving evidence on yesterday.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, Scotland has two Governments, both of which are dysfunctional and very unpopular north of the border. Will the Minister accept that what the people of Scotland would like is for each Government to accept their relative responsibilities, do them competently and not try to compete with each other to say how badly they are delivering for Scotland?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I do not recognise that as a description of the UK Government. I have tried to explain that we are taking a responsible approach. The UK Government make very large sums of money available to the Scottish Government—quite rightly—and it is for both countries to make sure that they are spending money well, in the interests of their citizens, in all sorts of different ways on which we have been touching today.

Devolved Authorities: Expenditure outwith Competences

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Monday 5th February 2024

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend. This is a live issue, because there was the example of a meeting between the Scottish First Minister and Turkish President Erdoğan with no FCDO official present. I regret that and think it contravenes the protocols, which are designed to ensure that a Minister within the UK lands is properly informed and is making the right points on such a sensitive area—and also reports back, so that we have a joined-up understanding of foreign affairs. Foreign affairs are a UK competence.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I return to the problems that the Scottish Government wish to be independent, pretend they are independent and then complain when they find that things they are trying to do do not conform to the devolution settlement, and that they are using UK Government premises overseas to promote their campaign for independence. Does this not have to be brought to a halt, and the division between what is devolved, what is reserved and what is shared clearly set out and enforced?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I agree that we need to consider the presence of Scottish Government offices in UK Government posts, but there is a case for having individual officials knowledgeable about Scotland engaged on issues such as fishing, where there is an important Scottish interest. I have seen that working well, so there is a balance here—but I agree with the general direction of the noble Lord’s comment.

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland: Follow-up Report (European Affairs Committee)

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Monday 11th September 2023

(10 months, 1 week ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, I echo all the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and the committee, not only on a very good piece of work and on bringing so many disparate voices together but on providing a very valuable service to the House in detail and—I say to the Minister—to the Government, if they are prepared to address what is in it in detail. That is what has been provided and what the Government need to do.

To go back to the beginning of Brexit, it has been mentioned that we were promised unfettered access between the markets of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and frictionless trade. That was a lie from the start; that was not possible once we had left the single market and the customs union. The people who said that knew it perfectly well. So it was inevitable that there would be a problem and it was equally inevitable that Northern Ireland would be the focus of that problem. Unfortunately, it became subsumed in the bigger debate about Brexit, and the details of what Northern Ireland needed got overlooked to some extent.

As has been said, we all know that there is a real political divide, but businesses operating in Northern Ireland simply want clarity and the minimum amount of red tape that they can get away with. If there is to be red tape, they want to know what it is and how—indeed, whether—they can deal with it. That is where we have to get to. We know that the Windsor agreement does not get them there, but at least it sets the framework to try to help to achieve that. That will be achieved only if relations between the UK and the EU, and to some extent the UK and Ireland, remain on the basis of constructive engagement and developing trust, and if the relationship between Northern Ireland and the other components is based on a genuine desire to try to meet, wherever possible, the needs—not the political needs, but the economic, social and practical needs—of the people of Northern Ireland. That seems to be where we need to get to, and this is a really helpful process.

The noble Lord, Lord Frost, in his speech, said that you never get a good deal if they know you want one. My question to him is: how are you going to get a deal if they know you do not want one? Where does that take you? That was how he seemed to approach it—as well as threatening to breach international law and bring the whole reputation of the country into disrepute. The reality is that trade is a bargain, and a bargain is achieved by negotiation and agreement. Every trade agreement requires concessions and give and take. We had that when we were inside the EU; we decided to leave, but we want to continue to engage, and if we want to continue to engage we will have to negotiate and compromise. We can tease each other about who got a better or a worse deal, but we will know nevertheless that it is a compromise and a deal and it cannot be perfect.

This debate has served a useful purpose to provide that degree of focus. Every speech has had real merit. I absolutely accept from the DUP Members, for example, that they can focus on all kinds of details—everybody can—that are not perfect or right and could have and should have been done better. However, I would plead with them not to use that as an excuse not to try to secure progress. Everybody here is making the point about the need to re-establish the Assembly and the Executive. I absolutely accept the situation in the past—the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, made the point that Sinn Féin kept the Assembly out of action for three years—and I can recall that I criticised that in this Chamber, because I did not think that it was justified, any more than I think what the DUP is doing is justified. Democracy requires people who are elected to participate in the process—and, my God, the people of Northern Ireland need it more than they have ever needed it, if these issues are going to be addressed.

I have a simple plea to the DUP: how long are you going to leave the people of Northern Ireland abandoned at a most critical time, economically, socially and politically, without leadership or engagement or the recognition that they depend on you? Indeed, the British Government are not going to engage properly if there is no one to engage with. It is a passionate plea and genuinely sincere. It does not mean that I do not recognise the difficulties, but they must know that they are getting towards the end of the road with regard to how long this process can continue.

To conclude on what I think has been a very good debate, the argument has been made that we all supported the protocol, but it was an improvement on nothing. Many of us knew that it was critical and said that it should be changed, but the Windsor Framework took it forward. It has not resolved it all, but this committee has identified where it has and has not and where it can be improved. That is a very practical piece of work; it is to be welcomed and the committee is to be highly commended.

Devolved Governments: Public Expenditure

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Thursday 20th January 2022

(2 years, 6 months ago)

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Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend that any wastage in government is extremely distressing, certainly to me. In October of last year, we reached an agreement with the Scottish Government to jointly commission an independent report covering the block grant adjustment arrangements. The independent report will inform a broader review of the Scottish Government’s fiscal framework later this year.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, the Scottish Government have a Minister for consular affairs. Does the Minister believe that this is consistent with the delivery of devolution? Following up on the intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would the Scottish Government not better serve the people of Scotland if they concentrated on protecting and delivering public services and developing a strong economy, instead of fiddling in a way that has had a disastrous effect on the economy and job losses?

Lord Agnew of Oulton Portrait Lord Agnew of Oulton (Con)
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My Lords, in 2005, the then Labour Government agreed to allow the Scottish Government to have international development involvement. To my knowledge, they are involved in three countries—Rwanda, Malawi and Zambia. I can only come back to my earlier point that it is for the Scottish electorate to decide whether that is a good use of public funds.

Devolved Administrations

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Thursday 16th September 2021

(2 years, 10 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, as a proud and passionate native of Scotland, my noble friend brings pertinent facts before your Lordships’ House. I cannot answer for the actions of the Scottish Government, but I say to them—and indeed to everybody—that now is the time not to stoke divisions but to focus on what unites the people of Scotland and all of us around the rest of the United Kingdom.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, setting aside the anti-British obsession of the SNP, do the Government not recognise that post-Brexit legislation has left all the devolved Administrations concerned that the Government are taking powers back from them and are seeking to take United Kingdom decisions using English Ministers as the final buttress? Does he recognise that that approach is not acceptable and not consistent with his opening remarks?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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No, my Lords. I do understand that there have been rhetoric and statements about this. I repeat what I said to the noble Baroness opposite: the Government are deeply committed to strengthening the union. Part of that, obviously, is showing full and appropriate respect to our partners in the devolved Administrations. I think that, when your Lordships come to see the outcome, it will be understood that the new intergovernment relations protocol and approaches will fully reflect that mutual respect.

Covid-19: Co-ordination with Devolved Administrations

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I understand the concern of the noble Lord and many citizens of the United Kingdom about the future and how we move forward. The Prime Minister made a considered statement last week and will make another statement on Monday about the next steps forward as he sees them. Throughout the crisis we have been more aligned than we are apart. There have been scores of calls between the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the First Ministers in the three Administrations.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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Ideally, devolution allows for divergence across the nations and co-operation to deal with common interests and issues. That has been demonstrated throughout the pandemic, but Great Britain is an island with open borders and right now Scotland has the highest infection rate in Europe. The two main hospitals in the Grampian health board area—the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary and Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin—along with Raigmore Hospital in Inverness are on black alert dealing with only urgent and emergency cases as a result of catch-up for non-Covid, increasing Covid admissions and staff shortages because of Covid and isolation rules. Will Ministers across Governments work to ensure that as we move to lift restrictions we do so in a co-ordinated way that avoids the chaos and confusion that might otherwise occur?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there has been extraordinary support from the United Kingdom Government to the devolved Administrations, Scotland not least, both financial and practical. Indeed, I believe the UK Government have provided around 55% of tests in Scotland. However, I return to the fundamental point. I shall not comment on the performance of the devolved Administrations as I do not think that is appropriate, but they have devolved authority to act on public health within their borders.

UK Government Union Capability

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Thursday 1st July 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for initiating this important and very timely debate. I also want to show appreciation for the very helpful review conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, which was too long delayed in publication. I thank noble Lords who have made a wide variety of extremely good speeches, for which the time constraint was not adequate.

It is clear that, if the UK is to have a constructive future, a fundamental reset of relations between nations, Governments and communities is needed. Brexit and the domestic legislation that followed, and is following, has put severe strain on the settlements. As a member of the Common Frameworks Scrutiny Committee—along with four other speakers in this debate, as has been mentioned—I believe the approach being taken in this process in most cases offers a constructive way of taking policy issues forward. In particular, it seeks to allow divergence, encourage constructive engagement, avoid disputes and, where they do arise, to set out mechanisms—although as yet untested—that are fair and at least try to be objective and independent. However, the default position remains that UK Ministers have the last word. In addition, the policy areas covered by common frameworks are restricted to those areas previously under EU rules designated at the outset of the process. These can be overridden by new legislation being enacted post Brexit, ranging from the trade agreement to the internal market Act, Agriculture Act, Environment Bill and Professional Qualifications Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, called for a dedicated Cabinet Minister for the union, supported by a Cabinet committee and a Permanent Secretary. Although the noble Lord did not say so, the Prime Minister appointing himself to that role does not hack it. Not only is he personally and politically unsuited but, more fundamentally, he as Prime Minister has far too many other responsibilities to deliver on it. However, the appointment of Sue Gray to the new position of Permanent Secretary for the union is certainly welcome.

The proposal made by the noble Lord, Lord Dunlop, for a new UK intergovernmental council to replace the Joint Ministerial Committee, which has been largely sidelined, makes sense. It is clear that the understanding of and commitment to devolution varies enormously across departments, so the suggestion that career development in the Civil Service should be conditional on having spent time in a role in the devolved Administrations—and vice versa for those working in the devolved Administrations—should be developed further.

Although there is scope for debate as to whether the UK should head towards a federal or quasi-federal constitutional settlement, there is nevertheless a clear opportunity to learn from the experience of federal countries. At the very least, there needs to be clarity on where powers lie—not only what is reserved and what is devolved but, perhaps most importantly, what is shared. There also needs to be a respectable process for any change in the apportionment of powers and the resolution of disputes.

This debate needs to be put into its current political context. Brexit is far from done. UK trade with the EU is declining rapidly, with none of the emerging trade agreements offering anything close to significant alternatives. Northern Ireland is subsiding into renewed and dangerous political and economic uncertainty. Although the threat of independence in Wales falls short of confrontation, the breakdown of trust between the Welsh Government and the Senedd is a manifestation of political storm clouds.

Scotland is stalemated, with pro-independence and anti-independence sentiment deadlocked. Whatever the SNP’s bluster, advancing the case for independence —or even for another referendum—is nowhere in view and beyond credible. The UK Government should resist the temptation just to say no. It may suit the short-term political advantage of the Tories and the SNP to entrench this deadlock, but it is no good at all for the people of Scotland caught between them. There must be a constructive appeal to engage in co-operation and joint working.

The changes made so far, and the strengthening of the UK Government’s presence in the devolved Administrations, need to set the foundation for a new and positive relationship, not just window dressing. The UK Government are understandably keen to ensure that the impact of UK-wide spending within the devolved Administrations is clear and understood. The city deals have been positive examples of joint working on funding involving Governments, local authorities and the private sector. Replacing UK structural funds with a UK shared prosperity fund presents another opportunity for the UK Government to be seen to be spending in the devolved areas—but only if it is done in co-operation with, not over the heads of, the devolved Administrations.

During Covid, billions of pounds have been poured into economic support through furlough, business loans and other measures. In Scotland, it is in excess of £10 billion. However, spending by the UK Government should be used not to patronise or demean but to show the value of co-operation and sharing. It requires transparency by all levels of government. By the same token, it is not helpful for the people they serve if devolved Governments misrepresent the relationship or use it to further the political argument. How many more years will voters in Scotland put up with being told that problems cannot be addressed this side of independence, which is not on the horizon and would take years even in the best-case scenario?

Covid has shown up the best and worst aspects of devolution and the relationships. The devolved Administrations have had the freedom to determine their own way through lockdown. However, the science is common and, for the most part, the differences have been cosmetic or timescale-related. The mismanagement of border controls, especially in relation to the delta variant, has been monumentally incompetent. The attempt to restrict movement between Scotland and England has degenerated to the absurd, with an unenforceable ban on travel to Manchester while unrestricted travel to London is allowed for Scottish football fans, with adverse consequences. The development, procurement and rollout of vaccines has been a positive demonstration of the benefits of the United Kingdom and co-operative working. The economic capacity of the UK has been of benefit to all our citizens.

Given that Scotland is not leaving the UK any time soon, and may never leave, there is surely an obligation to show how the Scottish and UK Governments can co-operate for the greater good of the citizens of Scotland, rather than endlessly picking fights at the expense of today’s priorities. All Governments need to show understanding of the different needs of communities. Too much centralisation has undermined effective local decision-making. Nationalism, all kinds of nationalism, is weakening the UK and its constituent parts and preventing it presenting its best face to the world. The UK Government are risking the UK’s reputation for consistency and trustworthiness. The irreconcilable conflict over the Northern Ireland border risks the Belfast agreement, yet the constant denigration of all things British by SNP politicians makes it harder to find the appropriate and, dare I say, co-operative approach to decision-making.

Trying to drive policy centrally for differing local circumstances is proving problematic. Balancing the expectations of red wall and blue wall constituencies is changing the political landscape. The tectonic plates are not just moving but crumbling. We desperately need a new settlement from all sides, and that requires more localism, less nationalism and more internationalism. It needs politicians of all shades to show integrity and contrition. Above all, it requires leadership. Is it there? Time will tell.

Financial Services Bill

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Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con) [V]
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for raising these issues. All three of the amendments that she has tabled are important. They are to do with the FCA and PRA regulators, and I agree with them. However, I am particularly concerned about the FCA and its linkage to the Financial Ombudsman Service, the FOS, and how that is reported to Parliament. There seems to me a particular concern in this area.

I will take just one key case history. The leading company in the home-collected credit market has been around for 150 years. It has basically produced a credit product of choice for working-class communities for all that time. It is small-scale. It is now suffering from regulatory indifference. There is a model here for home-collected credit that works. It is flexible and forgiving and is the right design for consumers on a low income. The FCA has traditionally supported it and given it a tick all along the line. To put what has happened bluntly, the Financial Ombudsman Service has ignored the understanding of this market, which is part of the consumer credit loan market, and lumped it all together.

The net result is that the FOS is basically taking a summary judgment approach to complaints involving all HCC firms. It is therefore faced with a huge volume of complaints manufactured by the claims management companies. To get round this huge volume, instead of playing its statutory role and looking at each claim on its merits, it is taking a short cut. It is saying, “Okay, we’ll look at 25 properly; anything above that, we won’t”—and so it goes on. That is quite wrong—so wrong that there must be some parliamentary means of ensuring that the FCA carries out its role in relation to what the FOS should be doing, in the knowledge, of course, that the FOS is an independent body. So there is a lack of linkage somewhere in this, which should be another area for parliamentary scrutiny.

That was only a shorthand case history, but it demonstrates that what is behind the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, has great value. I shall think very seriously about supporting them, depending on what my noble friend on the Front Bench chooses to say in his closing words.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am happy to speak briefly to the amendments moved by my noble friend Lady Bowles. I am grateful to her and to my noble friend Lord Sharkey for their expertise both in drafting the amendments and in explaining in detail why it is important for the Government to consider the points behind them.

As a member of the EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee and, until last month, of the EU Services Sub-Committee, for the last four years, I have been involved with scrutinising the financial services sector. Nobody should doubt the importance of this sector to the UK economy; it is worth reminding people of that, even though this is a technical amendment. I will not rehearse the statistics on the share of the economy, jobs, tax revenues, the balance of payments and so on. Apart from that, it is also the lubricant of the whole economy, and when it goes wrong, a few people make a fortune but most people suffer—some severely.

The regulation of the sector has been subject to the scrutiny of this House and, importantly, as has already been mentioned, the resources of the European Parliament, with British MEPs taking the lead in many instances. My noble friend Lady Bowles was one of the most distinguished of them in that department. Yet the financial crash was the consequence of light-touch regulation and there are concerns that this Bill may be creating a framework for similar mistakes. Certainly, without effective accountability to Parliament there is a danger that regulators might—intentionally, but more likely otherwise—allow financial services to be regulated in ways that could put individuals’ pensions and savings at risk and prejudice the viability of businesses, especially SMEs.

Outside the European Union, it is more important than ever that financial services regulation is effectively scrutinised. Without the resources of the European Parliament, we need a dedicated committee, with the necessary resources and expert support, to ensure that regulation is understood and fit for purpose. We all know that the Government want flexibility in the post-Brexit age in order to compete globally. Of course, that is not wrong in principle, and the sector repeatedly argues that its ability to do so will depend on transparent and effective regulation, because that is what gives confidence to the users of financial services. Get it wrong and, as we stand alone, it could have disastrous consequences.

I also support the argument that requiring financial regulators to engage with Parliament as part of the process of implementing regulation is not obstructive. It actually serves the regulators’ and the Government’s interests much better, because it ensures a better understanding of their purpose and helps highlight whether or not there may be consequences which had not been thought through and which could have negative implications for the sector.

By positive contrast, if the Government, regulators and Parliament can work together as partners, we can consolidate and enhance our world lead. We have been one of the most important financial sectors in the world and we all want that to remain the case, but we have created a challenging and difficult circumstance for ourselves. If we get this wrong, we could suffer a great deal. We need to get it right and it is important that the Government acknowledge that these amendments are designed to support the regulators and the Government in ensuring that our financial sector still has the confidence of the world market it seeks to serve, and is not subject to a closed, unconsulted, unscrutinised form of regulation that, without intention—or maybe with intention, if some Ministers wish to push it—could compromise the integrity of the sector. That will serve nobody’s interests, and I hope the Government recognise that.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Deputy Speaker (The Earl of Kinnoull) (Non-Afl)
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I call the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle. We are having difficulties with the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. We shall move to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.

Budget Statement

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Excerpts
Friday 12th March 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, a radio ad currently running in Scotland says, “If you are producing shortbread in the Highlands or prime beef in Aberdeenshire, the UK Government can help you find markets in Toronto or Tokyo.” That could have been done years ago, but what has happened to the established markets in Toulouse, Turin or Toledo?

Facing the combined impact of Brexit and the pandemic, I was looking for a Budget that put recovery first. As we look forward to an easing of lockdown and an uptick in economic activity, should we not be doing more to give our young people the education and skills training that they need? Should we not be making climate change and the digital economy the drivers of recovery?

In Scotland, four sectors are of key importance. Our food and drink industry is creative and dynamic but has been hit hard by lockdown and new frictions in traditional export markets. Fishing has been betrayed. Of course we should seek new markets, but not at the expense of established markets at home and across the EU. What measures do the Government propose?

The hospitality sector has been dealt a body blow and will struggle to survive and rebuild. When will hotels reopen and what will the Government do as furlough ends to enable them, and pubs and restaurants, to recoup losses and thrive?

In our strong financial services sector, jobs and assets are already being relocated out of not just Scotland but the UK. How will the Government ensure that we retain and grow Scottish jobs in the sector?

I live in the north-east of Scotland, which has made a huge contribution to the UK economy over the last 50 years. We have a wealth of resource and expertise of global importance. As the oil price recovers, the sector will pick up, but the industry is fully aware of the drive towards net-zero carbon and committed to using its capital and expertise to contribute to the transition. I welcome the support secured for the sector in the UK and Scottish Government Budgets but urge both Governments to work together with local authorities and the industry to secure jobs and investment for the future, especially in north-east Scotland, which has seen substantial job losses in the past year. What is the Government’s strategy for these key sectors?

Covid-19: Vaccination Passport

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Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I note the noble Lord’s enthusiasm for ID cards, but it was not shared universally either in Parliament or outside. I am certainly not going there on this issue.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I understand the frustration of the travel, hospitality and leisure industries that want to get their businesses up and running as quickly as possible. However, does the Minister accept that there are some concerns? The first is that with the rollout of the vaccine continuing over the summer, many young people, including students who want to study overseas, may be excluded from the chance to travel. Is there not a risk that the demand for passports, if they were introduced, could create a bureaucratic logjam that could interfere with the vaccine rollout and may unhelpfully aggravate the arguments over which vaccines are the most effective?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I hope very much that that is not the case. The Government’s objective is to see a safe and sustainable return to international travel for business and pleasure. To achieve this, my colleagues in the Department for Transport will be leading a successor to the Global Travel Taskforce. It is important that we work towards that objective.