Oral Answers to Questions

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Wednesday 6th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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It is nice to see that the hon. Lady and her colleagues have turned up for work today, even if that is in defiance of the deputy Leader of the SNP, who thought they should not bother coming. Let me be clear on resource spending and the capital budget: the Scottish Government are able to divert their resource spending for capital infrastructure investments; and they can also borrow to enhance capital investments if they so choose.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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The Secretary of State is correct that the block grant from the UK Conservative Government to Scotland is the highest it has ever been. Despite that, just last week the SNP/Green Government pushed through their “tax and axe” budget in Scotland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the nationalists have got the wrong priorities for Scotland by cutting services while increasing income tax rates for anyone earning more than £28,867?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I agree with my hon. Friend, and I add further that the Scottish Government’s six tax bands, as opposed to the UK Government’s three tax bands, are really holding Scotland back.

Scotland: Further Independence Referendum

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Tuesday 21st November 2023

(6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Neale Hanvey Portrait Neale Hanvey
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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and that is a key element of my contribution to this debate.

Put plainly, a section 30 order to temporarily transfer those powers to the Scottish Parliament is entirely in the gift of Westminster. That underscores the unavoidable truth that our Parliament is in reality part of the fabric of the British state and is increasingly being squeezed under the heel of Whitehall. Securing mandates to ask for a referendum on independence only to be rebuffed is now the equivalent of Monty Python’s parrot that has ceased to be. It is as stone dead as a mandate can be. The Tories have become increasingly bolder in this regard, and while they persist with their assertion that this is a voluntary Union, they refuse to set out the means of withdrawing consent. This Government have also made it clear that they will plunder Scotland as a cash cow until the wind stops blowing. Westminster plans to rob our resources at its leisure. There is no way, even if the First Minister were to ask, that the Prime Minster would agree to an independence referendum in his final months in office.

In a Westminster Hall debate on this subject, the Minister responding this evening claimed that

“the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom have never been more apparent.”

Where is the benefit for the one in three households in Scotland living in fuel poverty? Where are the benefits for the north-east of Scotland when the Acorn carbon capture and storage project still waits for a go-ahead from the UK Government? The Minister proclaimed that Scotland has

“one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world.”—[Official Report, 30 November 2022; Vol. 723, c. 384WH.]

But Scotland remains powerless to stop the plunder.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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When the hon. Member speaks about opportunities to improve the lives of people in Scotland, we could of course do that through our NHS, through our education system, through our justice system and through local government. All of those issues are devolved fully to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, but they are of course ignored by the SNP and Green Government—the nationalist Government—because they are always focused on independence, rather than on the real priorities of the people of Scotland.

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John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
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The hon. Member speaks of “crumbs from the table”, but this is significant investment going into communities across Scotland. Scotland is receiving hundreds of millions of pounds through our levelling-up agenda and a record block grant amounting to more than £40 billion, but SNP Members oppose and fight every bit of the investment that this United Kingdom Government are making there. I am saddened by that, and I know that the residents and communities that the hon. Member and his colleagues represent will also be disappointed by the hostile and negative response to investment that has been used to improve the communities that we represent.

Together, the UK Government’s interventions will drive innovation and long-term economic growth, restore pride in place, and help cities, towns and villages in every part of Scotland to flourish. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath referred to

“the sovereign right of the Scottish people”

to determine their future, and I suppose that that reference to self-determination gets to the nub of the debate that he has initiated. In 2014, the year of the referendum on Scottish independence, there was consensus between the UK Government and the Scottish Government—both Scotland’s Governments—and there was consensus in civic society in Scotland and consensus across the population of Scotland, which is why both Governments agreed to the referendum. The ultimate act of self-determination, of course, came in September 2014, when, in record numbers, the people of Scotland turned out to vote to remain part of the United Kingdom.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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My hon. Friend has given a strong defence of the Union, as he always does in his ministerial role and on behalf of his constituents. Would he agree that the nationalists have had more plans for Scottish independence than Michael Matheson has had excuses for his £11,000 iPad bill? And just like that £11,000 iPad bill and their different plans, none of them are honest, none of them are convincing and none of them have the support of the Scottish people.

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We hear about plans for referendums endlessly from SNP Members. I just wish they had a clear plan for ferries in Scotland or a clear plan for Scotland’s NHS and Scotland’s schools, but no—referendums, referendums, referendums are all we hear about and all they talk about.

I would like to finish by reminding those on the nationalist Benches yet again that our different views on the constitution should not distract both of Scotland’s Governments from working together to tackle the sheer challenge of delivering growth, easing pressures on the cost of living and supporting the NHS. The Scottish Parliament is one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world, and we believe that the devolution settlement strikes the right balance. This United Kingdom Government are committed to devolution, and we are working collaboratively and constructively with the devolved Administrations, including the Scottish Government, to deliver better outcomes for the citizens of Scotland and the entirety of the United Kingdom.

Question put and agreed to.

Scottish Football Association: 150th Anniversary

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Monday 11th September 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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I begin my remarks by reminding the House of my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a match official operating for the Scottish Football Association.

I am delighted to lead this Adjournment debate celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Scottish FA. Throughout my speech, I will look at the past and to the future, but it is also right and fitting that we look at the present and the current qualification status of the Scottish men’s national team. Friday’s 3-0 victory over Cyprus made it five wins out of five in the qualification for Germany 2024. Scotland sits proudly at the top of group A. Another table that Scotland is at the top of is goal scorers, where we see Denmark’s Højlund, Belgium’s Lukaku and Scotland’s McTominay, each of whom scored six goals in this qualification round. Not only is Scotland leading its group, but it is leading in goal scorers as well.

When preparing for this debate, I went on the UEFA website for the Euro 2024 qualification. There, the picture was of two Scottish players—John McGinn and Scott McTominay—celebrating another victory. Scotland is featured in the picture and caption because as soon as tomorrow night, Scotland might have sewn up its qualification for Euro 2024. If my maths is correct, Scotland would then be the first team to have qualified, along with the hosts, Germany. They are the only team able to qualify on matchday six, which shows how impressive the current team is under the expert management of Steve Clarke.

Hampden will be rocking tomorrow anyway when the heritage match against England takes place as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations. It will be an outstanding match—on which I will say more in a moment—but at the same time results up in Oslo could go our way and see Scotland qualify for Euro 2024 tomorrow night. What an atmosphere there will be at Hampden if that score comes true and we qualify directly for the tournament.

The Scotland-England heritage game is part of a series of events held over the past year to celebrate the 150th anniversary. Earlier today the two team captains, Andy Robertson and Harry Kane, met at the West of Scotland cricket club to promote tomorrow’s match. That was the site of the first ever international match between Scotland and England. The game will be the 116th meeting of the two nations. So far, England have won 48 and Scotland have won 41. I note that few English colleagues are present in the Chamber; I think that reflects their concern about the match tomorrow. It is called a friendly, but there is never a friendly between these two nations and it will be competitive to the very end. Given the way Scotland are currently playing, I do not think many people would bet against them.

As I said, I want to look back at the history of the game. Given that the Scottish FA is celebrating its 150th anniversary, it was of course formed in 1873, but football has been played in Scotland as far back as the 15th century, when the public played royalty. At that time, and for many decades, football was prohibited under the Football Act 1424. It was felt that the game interrupted the men’s marital duties, so football was not allowed. I am pleased that that idea has now been dispelled. Indeed, the law fell into disuse, but it was not actually repealed until 1906, after the Scottish FA was formed.

It was at a meeting in Dewar’s hotel in Glasgow on 13 March 1873 that the Scottish Football Association was formed. Clubs including Queen’s Park, Clydesdale, Vale of Leven, Dumbreck, Third Lanark, Eastern and Granville met there, and Kilmarnock FC sent a letter of support. On that day, the Scottish FA was formed, making it one of the oldest associations anywhere in the world. Archibald Campbell from Clydesdale was the first president and Archibald Rae of Queen’s Park was the First Secretary.

Of course, the formation of the Scottish FA followed others. In 1886, the Scottish FA, along with the FA, the Football Association of Wales and the Irish Football Association, set up IFAB, the International Football Association Board, which to this day still acts as the guardian of the laws of the game. IFAB’s most recent annual general meeting was held here in the Palace of Westminster, when representatives from across world football came into Parliament.

Scotland is home to the Scottish cup, which is the oldest knockout trophy in the game. The Scottish women’s cup—I will come to this when I speak about women’s football—was revamped this year, and the new trophy that was presented is the newest knockout trophy in world football, so we have both the oldest and the newest.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I commend the hon. Gentleman for securing the debate. He is absolutely right that we all celebrate football, whether it be Scottish football or football all around the world, and as a Northern Ireland supporter I do as well. As an avid Rangers fan, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I can only take my hat off to the teams that make up a tremendous sporting section. Knowing that the Scottish FA has been in place for 150 years, I, along with other Rangers fans and, indeed, Celtic fans back home in the Province will have one thing to say in one voice: long may the Scottish FA continue.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I am very grateful for that intervention. Football needs a ball, two teams and a referee; an Adjournment debate needs an intervention from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), so I am glad we got that. I know that the hon. Gentleman’s sentiments will be well received by everyone connected to the Scottish FA.

Scotland has a great tradition of managerial successes, whether for home nations or clubs or, indeed, around the world. The names Stein, Shankly and Ferguson echo through history, and Scotland has been a hotbed of managerial excellence for generations. It is a country that has created leaders and innovators in the game, with some of the world’s most celebrated coaches and managers.

I want to take a short time tonight to remember the Scotland manager who most recently took the team to qualification in a World cup. France ’98 was the last World cup tournament for which we qualified. I remember being at school and watching the first match against the holders Brazil, and Craig Brown, an outstanding manager, leading out the team with great pride. Craig Brown sadly died earlier this year at the age of 82. He was Scotland’s longest-serving manager, being in charge of 71 games from 1993 to 2001, and qualifying not just for that World cup in 1998 but for the Euros in 1996.

Anyone who was fortunate enough to have played under Craig Brown or to have met him at a football match or after-dinner event at which he spoke so well about his career and how he helped others remembers him extremely fondly. I looked up a couple of quotes from people who spoke immediately after Craig Brown’s death. Aberdeen chairman Dave Cormack said:

“He was one of those rare individuals who was not only effective at what he did but universally loved by all who got to know him. A gentleman who loved his family, friends, and football.”

One of Brown’s great friends and colleagues, Sir Alex Ferguson, described him as a “thoroughly wonderful man”. He continued:

“When I was given the honour of managing Scotland at the World Cup finals in Mexico there was one man I had to take, for all his attributes and knowledge, and that was Craig. He had a great career as a manager of several clubs but his service for his country stands out. In an industry that questions a man’s capabilities, Craig never wavered in that situation, he always kept his head and his composure.”

He really was a giant of our game and is sadly missed by many people across Scottish football.

I want to touch on another area, because although, understandably as a Scottish fan, I want to highlight and praise the current achievements of the men’s team, as in many other parts of the country the women’s game in football has developed greatly in recent years. In 1974, the Scottish FA officially recognised women’s football, then in 1998 affiliated with the Scottish Women’s Football Association. Since 1998, the Scottish FA has been responsible for the Scotland women’s national team. Indeed, in 1998 they had their biggest ever win: a 17-nil victory over Lithuania. The side has had significant success in recent years, qualifying for the World cup in 2019 and the women’s Euros in 2017. We have legends of the female game such as Rose Reilly, a truly inspirational footballer both on and off the pitch who has rightly been recognised at home and abroad for her outstanding contribution to the game.

Closer to home, away from the national team, I have mentioned previously in the Chamber the success of Buckie Ladies, who won their inaugural trophy, the Highlands and Islands league cup, in 2022, only five years after having been established. What is so special about that club is that not only does the team perform at that level in the women’s game but the club has a pathway right down to under-10s. What was so special about that win last year—I think it was at Nairn County’s ground—was that all the under-10 players and those in the age groups right up to the full women’s team joined in and went along to see that cup final success on penalties. It is great to see the team go from strength to strength.

I also want to look at disability football or para football. In 2017, the Scottish FA rebranded its work in disability football with the new brand of para-football. The brand was created to allow greater emphasis on the diverse work carried out by the Scottish FA in this area of the game, as well as to create a stronger voice for people living with varying conditions. In 2017, the Scottish FA launched its new strategy called “PlayAbility...Our Game is the Same”, which aims to create greater opportunities in para football that will allow participants to reach their full potential.

I also want to focus briefly on Street Soccer Scotland, which was announced earlier this year as the official charity partner of the Scottish FA. I was fortunate enough to be at a reception in the Scottish Parliament where we had a presentation, as part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, looking at Street Soccer Scotland and the incredible work it does. At the moment it is running more than 60 projects across the country and has 2,500 registered players, on top of the 25,000 players who have been helped by Street Soccer Scotland throughout its existence.

It is great to see males and females getting involved in football both at home and abroad in the homeless world cup, at which Scotland had success back in 2007 and 2011. In the 50 countries that have been represented at both the male and female tournaments, it is great to see that 94% of people said that the homeless world cup positively impacted their lives, 83% said it improved social relations with family and friends, 77% said their involvement in football changed their life significantly and 71% continue to play sport today because of their involvement.

There are many areas I would like to focus on tonight. I am grateful that we have a little more time because the Adjournment debate has come earlier. I want to look at the leagues across Scotland. We have the different areas within the national game—male and female, disability and other areas—but the leagues are important as well. The Scottish league was established in 1890. A league closer to home is the Scottish highland football league; many Moray clubs have had success in that league in the past and I am sure will do in the future, including Forres Mechanics, Lossiemouth, Rothes, Keith and Buckie Thistle. The league was established on 4 August 1983 in Inverness Workman’s Club, so, as part of the Scottish FA’s 150th anniversary, the Scottish highland football league is celebrating its 130th.

The Scottish highland football league continues to go from strength to strength. It draws big crowds for some of the big matches throughout the season and it is renowned for its hospitality and for the welcoming approach that the clubs take to each other and to spectators of both clubs. That is why it is so highly regarded across Scottish football and, indeed, renowned in many parts of the world as well.

If I may remind the House of my declaration of interests, I wanted to mention the referee, who is sometimes forgotten about in the history of the Scottish FA and other FAs—but not tonight, when the debate is led by a referee. Sadly at one point there was a joke, “What do you call a Scotsman at a major footballing finals?” The answer then was, “a referee”, because when our national team was not qualifying, our referees were. Some of the giants of the game—literally—were the match officials. Tom “Tiny” Wharton was an imposing figure on football pitches around Scotland and around the world, highly regarded as a FIFA match official, a FIFA observer and the chairman of the referee supervisors committee in Scotland for many years.

Other names are also well known: Bob Valentine, Jim McCluskey, George Smith and many others have made a huge contribution to the game in Scotland and abroad. Most recently, when we were not qualifying for those tournaments, that lone Scotsman at the international tournaments was likely to be Hugh Dallas. He was at France ’98; four years later, at the next World cup in 2002, there was no Scottish men’s team, but Hugh Dallas was there, not just officiating at the highest level in the world, but for the duration of the tournament. He was the fourth official for the final match, Germany versus Brazil—a Scotsman on the pitch at a World cup final. It was an incredible achievement, not only for Hugh Dallas and his family, but for Scottish football.

In 2004, Stuart Dougal was a fourth official at the Euros. William Collum led a team of officials, including Frank Connor as one of his assistant referees, Bobby Madden and John Beaton, at France 2016—again, Scottish referees at the top of the game. At home we are extremely well served in the referee department by referee observers, my own association manager Bill Machray and many people outwith the limelight of the professional game on the TV every week, who put so much into association training, the development of new referees and mentoring new referees.

Referees are an integral part of the Scottish FA, and so too are our fans. It is right that in this debate we recognise the incredible fans of Scottish football, both at home and abroad. They say if there is no Scotland, there is no party, so we certainly hope there will be a good party in Germany when Scotland qualify. The fans are the lifeblood of our game, domestically and internationally.

I must say that I joined the fans in being insulted and disgusted by the ludicrous proposals last week from the senior traffic commissioner for the United Kingdom, who suggested introducing a series of draconian rules that would have impacted fans going to and from football matches. The proposals were rightly condemned by those at the very top of Scottish football, by people from across the political spectrum and, most loudly and passionately, by the fans themselves, who could see they would be an absolute mess and completely not required in our game. Those proposals were rightly shelved very quickly, which we all welcome; they should never have seen the light of day in the first place, but it is right that they will now not be taken forward.

Another area where many fans unite is the screening of Scottish national team matches on terrestrial television. Tomorrow night people will be able to watch on Channel 4 the match between Scotland and England at Hampden Park, but too many can only watch the qualifiers on pay-per-view. Many Scottish fans reluctantly pay their subscription to ViaPlay, which won the rights to the UEFA bidding contract, only for ViaPlay to say it will not continue with the coverage in the medium to long term.

It is vital that there is work done between the Scottish FA and UEFA on that, and that the Parliaments at Westminster and at Holyrood do whatever they can. When I mentioned this issue at the Scottish Affairs Committee earlier on today, the Chair was very keen that I highlight that the Scottish Affairs Committee is looking at it and seeking to work with everyone to try to get a resolution that will allow Scottish qualifying matches to be seen on terrestrial television at all times.

I also want to mention how important football is to families. Football is a sport that brings families together, and sometimes we forget about that. We look at the big prices paid by players and the controversial decisions taken on the pitch, but we forget that this is a sport that brings people together. People take their sons and daughters and go with their husbands and wives to watch that 30-yard screamer hitting the back of the net, to complain at decisions that go against them or to be frustrated about losing a game they never should have lost. We saw during the covid-19 pandemic just how important the football community was to many individuals and families. It was often the thing that made people pick up the phone to their parents, to discuss what had happened on the livestreams that they were watching because they could not get into the stadium together.

We should never forget that the wonderful successes we have had in football across Scotland are down to fans and down to families. Anyone involved in the game at any level is doing that for the spectacle it has become and continues to be. It is so important that we recognise that involvement.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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The hon. Gentleman referred to families, and I know that when my three boys were small, one of the great things we enjoyed doing was going over to the Rangers matches. We went on the bus with Ballywalter Loyal Rangers Supporters Club before Christmas and after Christmas. The boys were small and it was one of those great family occasions that I look back at with much joy and fun. The boys had an education on Rangers football club in the Broomloan stand, where the Rangers supporters all united and sang those songs. My boys enjoyed it and those are memories for our family that I will never forget.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I am grateful again to the hon. Gentleman. Those memories last a lifetime. My own oldest boy watched me officiating at his first match—thankfully, he did not understand all the abuse directed at me—and he has just started off his own interest in football at the Mini Dribblers at Elgin City football club, a great community resource that I will speak about in a bit. It is about being able to share that interest at an early age. Some families grow apart, and people leave their home area, but often the one thing that brings them back is the love of a team, of a sport, or certainly of successes for the Scottish team more generally, as is the case at the moment.

Another area that deserves recognition is that the family experience can sometimes be over an entire day—not just from the kick-off at 3 o’clock, or a lot earlier or later depending on television—and in many cases involves travelling the length and breadth of Scotland to go to the match. That goes back to what the independent traffic commissioner was trying to do. It is sometimes a whole day; sometimes a whole weekend. I travel a lot to get from my home in Moray to matches across the country.

The people who are with me for most of those journeys are Stuart Cosgrove and Tam Cowan of “Off the Ball”, which is described as:

“The most petty and ill-informed sports programme on radio!”

It is anything but; it is entertainment. Tam is a big Motherwell supporter and Stuart is a St Johnstone fan, and they are both extremely well informed about the Scottish game. They get incredible guests on every week, including Kirsty Wark, Lorraine Kelly, football stars and many others—they are part of the package. Next year, “Off the Ball” will celebrate its 30th anniversary. There are no guarantees, Mr Deputy Speaker, but we might be back here in a year’s time having a debate about “Off the Ball”. I mention it because sometimes we think about what happens on the pitch and between clubs, but people are involved in a whole process. Stuart and Tam are motivated by trying to ensure that the football experience is enjoyed by all. For me, certainly, and for tens of thousands of football fans across Scotland, “Off the Ball” plays an important part in that.

The last couple of things I will mention relate to grassroots football—the lifeblood of the game in Scotland —and our facilities. It is fair to say that Scotland is facing a crisis in football facilities and for people playing grassroots football. Now more than ever, many communities face the stark reality either that there are not enough facilities to ensure that all levels and areas of the game are fully serviced, or that, in too many cases, young people are priced out of facilities. Many new facilities get built by local authorities and others, but then simply become unaffordable; often, only the clubs that have money coming in can afford them. Even if we do nothing else after this debate, I would like us to look more seriously at the lack of facilities and availability in Scotland and ensure that they are there for the next generation.

I welcome the announcement by Department for Culture, Media and Sport of £20 million for facilities and infrastructure development, but we need to think smarter about that. Grassroots football in Scotland generated £1.3 billion in social return on investment, according to a landmark UEFA study. I hope that the people who make decisions about sporting facilities across the country, particularly football facilities, think ahead and spend to invest going forward. That money will be extremely well spent if we have facilities for our game available for all ages in all communities across the whole of Scotland.

Finally, as I was preparing for the debate, I contacted the president of the Scottish FA, Mike Mulraney, who took on the position recently. I asked him what he would say if he had the opportunity to speak in this Chamber. These are his words:

“We are grateful for the opportunity to celebrate the impact and legacy Scottish football has had on the game globally, across the UK and in communities across Scotland. My role as President is to harness that power of Scottish football and to ensure it can inspire our nation. Football should be a vital tool in the national agenda to improve the health and wellbeing of our society. In that regard, we are at your disposal: ready, able and willing to help the fight against poverty, ill health—both physical and mental—and inequality in society. I ask that we pool our resources to ensure that this game is accessible to all with no barriers. For that we need urgent investment, innovative thinking and a collective will. Football transforms lives. Football saves lives. Use our national game as a valuable team-mate in the challenges I have outlined, not a political football.”

I could not have said it better myself, and I think it right that the president’s words are heard in this Chamber and recorded in Hansard for the future.

For those who support a club, football can, at times, be challenging and frustrating, but it is always, always inspiring. It does not matter whether someone is a male player or a female player, old or young, playing at home in the United Kingdom or watching their team abroad, or whether their game is on the local pitch or at an iconic stadium around the globe. Football inspires at every level for every generation. Scotland’s place in that historical and inspirational game has already been secured. Steve Clarke and his men are writing the next chapter in the history of Scottish football. Let us ensure not just that we recognise the 150th anniversary by celebrating the past and praising present successes, but that we prepare for the future to give young people in Scotland the ambitious, outward-looking prospect of playing at whatever level they wish, at whatever ground they wish and for whichever team they wish, understanding that, over the last 150 years and the next 150 years, the Scottish FA has been and will be there to help and develop them.

Oral Answers to Questions

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Wednesday 17th May 2023

(1 year ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The hon. Gentleman should not be taking all the credit: that work is done by the United Kingdom Government. We have 282 embassies, high commissions and consulates in 180 countries, we work very hard promoting Scotland’s interests overseas and Scotland has a wonderful Foreign Secretary in the form of my right hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly).

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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The SNP Scottish Government’s attempts to promote Scotland internationally include awarding ferry contracts to yards in Turkey rather than in Scotland. However, given that just yesterday the SNP accepted it would be cheaper to build new ferries from scratch rather than complete the current ship at Ferguson Marine, does the Secretary of State agree with me that Scotland’s international reputation for shipbuilding has been severely damaged by the SNP, and worst of all, that islanders have been abandoned by these contracts, which are now six years late and more than three times over budget?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Yes, my hon. Friend is of course right. The island communities have been terribly let down by this Scottish Government. I know he is referring to the ministerial direction yesterday to carry on with the second ferry. Ministers should always spend taxpayers’ money efficiently, even if it means losing face.

Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill: Section 35 Power

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Tuesday 17th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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I entirely agree; perhaps the hon. Member for Moray would like to address that.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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The hon. Gentleman is talking about people who supported and opposed the Bill. Can he confirm that a Scottish Government Justice Minister resigned to oppose the Bill; a former Scottish Government SNP Cabinet Secretary voted against it; and in total, nine SNP MSPs felt that the legislation was deeply flawed and wrong, and voted against it?

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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The hon. Member, although he sits in this Chamber, already sits in Holyrood as well. He will be familiar with the fact that the overwhelming majority of parliamentarians elected to Holyrood voted in favour of the legislation. I appreciate that he lost that debate in Holyrood, but he should not support this Government trying to overturn the decision. I would be interested to hear about the conversations that he has had with his elected colleagues in Holyrood about the decision.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. Of course, I did have conversations, because I was the only party leader in Scotland to make this a free vote and allow my party Members to come to a conclusion, as Jamie Greene did. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP refused to do that, which is why she lost Government Ministers as a result.

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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If we are going to talk about losing, the hon. Gentleman lost the debate in Scotland. I repeat once again that it is not democratic to try to overturn that legislation here in this place.

--- Later in debate ---
Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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I do not agree with the hon. Member on that. I think it is healthy in a democracy for discussion to be had within a Parliament, and that is exactly what has happened in Holyrood. It may have escaped his notice, but I will repeat that parliamentarians from each and every party in Holyrood voted in favour of the legislation. The question to him and his colleagues is: why are they seeking to overturn Scotland’s democratic view in this way? I am more than happy to invite him back in to answer that specific point. He is not interested.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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rose

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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I have been generous in giving way so far.

Of course, this is not just about the Conservatives; it is about the Labour party, too. Should Labour Members rise from their seats and remove the splinters on this topic? Labour is the party that last year released a document by Gordon Brown that was meant to put devolution front and centre. Critics like me said, “We’ve all heard it before. It’s not going to happen,” and when Scotland’s Parliament is under attack from Westminster, where is the Labour party? It is nowhere to be found.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way; this is the final time that I will intervene on him. Do all his SNP MPs in the UK Parliament support the SNP’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill?

Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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I will tell the hon. Member what my colleagues support, and that is enabling the people of Scotland to make decisions over their future without interference from his Westminster Government.

We have heard it all before from the Conservatives in their culture war, and we know that, under the Leader of the Opposition, the Labour party is rowing back from its support for the LGBTQ+ community on this topic. It is deeply disappointing to hear that. When we go to the Scottish electorate again, we will have a Labour party that is against the biggest issue that dominates Scottish politics at the moment. It is also against Scotland having its view in respect of our membership of the European Union, and supports the UK Parliament overriding Holyrood. Shame on Labour, too.

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Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray
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Let me make some progress. I wanted, because of accusations that have been made, just to go through a little of the Scottish Labour party’s response to the Bill in the Scottish Parliament. We had a multitude of concerns about the initial Bill. Nobody could have said that the Bill that was presented in draft to the Scottish Parliament was in any way fit to become final legislation, but we worked constructively with the legislation, with the UN rapporteur for women and girls, with the LGBTQ+ community and with women’s groups, which were raising concerns about the Bill. We tabled amendments. We got the Equality Act on to the face of the Bill, which is referred to in a lot of the adverse effects in the Government’s document. We made many other amendments to that Bill to help alleviate concerns, but, unfortunately, the only way we are going to settle these arguments now is through the courts.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I am grateful to the shadow Scottish Secretary of State for giving way. The leader of the UK Labour party said at the weekend that he had serious concerns about reducing the age from 18 to 16. However, when my Scottish Conservative colleague, Rachael Hamilton, moved an amendment to keep the age at 18 rather than reducing it to 16, Labour MSPs joined the SNP to vote the amendment down. What is the shadow Secretary of State’s position on the age limit in Scotland?

Ian Murray Portrait Ian Murray
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We put in protections on the age limit in Scotland. We have the leader of the SNP at Westminster accusing the Scottish Labour party and the UK Labour party of different positions on this. There is nothing between the positions, but we should have devolution at the same time. The leader of the UK Labour party has made his position perfectly clear, and Anas Sarwar, the leader of the Scottish Labour party, and his team put in significant protections for 16 and 17-year-olds, including the notary public measure, which means that a person has to swear in front of a notary public for this to take effect and they have to get a responsible adult over the age of 18 to be able to do any of this under the age of 18.

Essentially, the hon. Gentleman is challenging people not to have different views on this, but two of his Front-Bench MSPs voted for the legislation. People are entitled to have slightly different views on what is an incredibly important subject. He has managed to do only one thing in the past week, which was not to get both Governments together to try to resolve this, but to write to me to ask my position on the Bill. I would rather that the two Governments came together. [Interruption.] We want the Bill passed and we want section 35 resolved; it is as simple and as straightforward as that. It has been our position for some time that we should modernise the GRA. That position has been eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, and it is still the one that we hold.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) made the crucial point—and this goes back to an earlier intervention—that gender recognition certificates can already be issued under the Equality Act. As we sit here today, single-sex spaces are protected by exemptions under the Equality Act. The adverse reasons that the Government are giving us on that are not about the process of getting a GRC, but about the process that is currently already in place. The Government are all over the place on this, and it is little wonder that the only result is to fan the flames for people who wish to break up the United Kingdom.

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Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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I speak in this debate as someone who is extremely privileged to serve in both this Parliament and the Scottish Parliament, so I am able to bring some points of view that were not accurately articulated by the leader of the SNP, the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn). It is sad that he is leaving the Chamber—I think it is important, because I will refer to a number of points he made.

The hon. Gentleman spoke about legal advice. We had a situation in the Scottish Parliament where, the night before crucial amendments were debated, the Cabinet Secretary wrote to Conservative, Labour and SNP MSPs about their amendments and the legal advice surrounding them, but told them that that legal advice could not be shared. Yet here we have the UK Government sharing their statement of reasons with Parliament, and I think that is—[Interruption.] Well, it is based on legal advice. I am just showing the different approach by the two Governments. It is based on legal advice; that was clear from the Scottish Secretary.

It is also important to recall that, although the SNP leader in this place and others have correctly said that this debate has been raging in Scotland for over six years, I have not yet heard—I am willing to take interventions from any SNP Member who can explain it to me—why the Bill had to be passed by December of last year. What was the rush, in the lead-up to Christmas, that meant it had to go through the Scottish Parliament before the end of the year?

Kirsten Oswald Portrait Kirsten Oswald
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I am delighted to remind the hon. Gentleman that, as we have heard a few times today, the Bill is the opposite of rushed legislation. It has been in the works for six years, it has repeatedly been a manifesto commitment from a number of parties and it has been the most consulted-on legislation. He might reasonably ask why it took as long as it did.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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The hon. Lady misses the point. Yes, there has been a debate for six years, so why then did the Bill have to go through stage 3, looking at amendments until midnight or 1.30 in the morning, to be rushed through before the end of the Session, when there was so much debate and controversy? Remember, there were 150 amendments; if that legislation had not been rushed, there would not have been a need to look at 150 amendments. I have yet to hear any SNP Member saying why the Bill had to be put through in December of last year.

Amy Callaghan Portrait Amy Callaghan (East Dunbartonshire) (SNP)
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Does the hon. Gentleman not recall that the debate in the Scottish Parliament went on until those hours and votes occurred at those hours because of his stalling?

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I was not stalling. Indeed—[Interruption.] Well, I am sorry, but some people might say that the 12 or 15 points of order that we had earlier from SNP Members were stalling. I do not believe that; I believe they were politicians making a point in Parliament, just as, in the Scottish Parliament, we were looking at 150 amendments because the SNP had rushed this Bill through.

Ian Blackford Portrait Ian Blackford
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The hon. Gentleman brings up the 150 amendments, but that is the point: effective scrutiny took place. He and his colleagues and other parties tabled those amendments and they were looked at in the correct manner, and of course the Scottish Parliament had to take time to do that. We should be proud of that.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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And I am—that is why I wanted that debate. That is why I am asking why we could not we have continued that debate into the new year. What was the big issue that caused the SNP and the Greens to force the Bill through by the end of the year?

I have a couple more points to make on the process in the Scottish Parliament. The leader of the SNP refused to even acknowledge that, while there are Members of all parties who supported the Bill, there were a significant number of SNP opponents to it. SNP Ministers resigned in Scotland as a result of this legislation.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I will give way in a moment. I gave my MSPs a free vote, and I think it was right that they were given that opportunity. In fairness, one of our former colleagues in this place, Michelle Thomson, who is now an SNP MSP, spoke about the “dark arts” of the Whips within her party who were trying to stop debate—[Interruption.] No, no; this was Michelle Thomson, who used to be an SNP MP. She was speaking about the dark arts of her Whips in this debate, so I am interested to know about the SNP MPs who oppose this legislation. I am not sure whether any of them are in the Chamber today, but I am sure the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) will tell me that there are SNP MPs who oppose his Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Alan Brown Portrait Alan Brown
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I do not beg to speak for the rest of my colleagues. It is a matter of record that some SNP MSPs voted against the GRR—that happened—but the point of democracy is that it was the will of the Scottish Parliament as a whole, and the hon. Gentleman and his Government are trying to thwart it.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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No, we are not, and I will explain that in a moment.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen South, who leads the SNP here, spoke about the Government taking a view on the Equality Act. I can only assume that he is unaware of the letter from the Equality and Human Rights Commission to Shona Robison, the SNP Minister who led on the Bill, dated 21 September of last year—long before the Bill came back to the Scottish Parliament. It said that there were potential cross-border implications. Indeed, the commission said:

“In our view, there are implications for the operation of the Equality Act 2010”.

It is not the Conservatives or the UK Government saying that, but the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It made that very clear to the Scottish Government and to the SNP.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I have two minutes left and a lot to get through, so I apologise to the hon. Lady for not giving way. I would have liked to hear from her, as a Liberal Democrat MP, because it seems that, both in Holyrood and here, the Liberal Democrats and Labour are supporting Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP on this.

I worry that the Scottish Government are treating the issue in the same way that they treated children and young people in passing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. We were told then that it was absolutely essential legislation. The Scottish Government then legislated under the competencies of the UK Government, and the UK Government took the Scottish Government to court. That was controversial at the time. Nicola Sturgeon said it was an “absolute outrage”. Yet after the Supreme Court ruling on 6 October 2021, which said that the legislation was flawed, the legislation went back to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament.

What has happened since 6 October 2021? Well, let me tell the House. On 1 February 2022, the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, John Swinney, wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland and said that the Scottish Government were looking to reintroduce the amended legislation to the Scottish Parliament. Given how important the UNCRC was to SNP Members and the SNP Government, can any SNP MP tell me when that Bill will be reintroduced to the Scottish Parliament?

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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I will give way to the hon. Lady if she can tell me.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
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I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware, but over the last two and a half years there has been this thing called the covid pandemic, which kept several Governments fairly busy.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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Perhaps the hon. Lady did not hear me. I said that there was a letter from the Deputy First Minister on 1 February 2022—almost a year ago. We had passed omicron by then, and John Swinney was telling us that he would reintroduce the legislation. This is another example of the SNP—the Deputy First Minister—using legislation and vulnerable people to promote a battle between the UK Government and the Scottish Government. We can do far, far better than that.

None Portrait Several hon. Members rose—
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Scotland Act 1998: Section 35 Power

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Tuesday 17th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Well, if any are not addressed, I am sure that others in the Chamber will ask those questions.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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The Secretary of State outlined in his statement how the UK Government had sought to engage constructively with the Scottish Government during the passage of the Bill prior to its being voted on in the Scottish Parliament, yet Nicola Sturgeon has tried to turn this into a political battle between the Scottish and UK Governments when, as I understand it, all that the Scottish Secretary and this Government are trying to do is protect women’s rights. [Interruption.] Despite the howls from the SNP, will the Scottish Secretary confirm that all the SNP has to do is bring forward a Bill in the Scottish Parliament that protects the rights of women and girls across the United Kingdom?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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Yes, and fortunately that addresses one of the points that the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland raised. I can address it here. I have written to the First Minister and suggested that we meet to resolve these issues. It is the case that the Scottish Government’s Bill has adverse effects on those two pieces of legislation. We can see that in the statement of reasons that has been produced by our legal advisers. What is missing are sufficient protections and safeguards for women and children that are reflected in existing Westminster legislation, and that is why I have had to lay this order.

Oral Answers to Questions

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Wednesday 11th January 2023

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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The deficit in Scotland is considerably higher than 3%, which is the Maastricht criteria, so that is not the route back. The currency is a problem as well—as we know, the Bank of England is the bank of last resort, and there would have to be a new currency in Scotland following membership of the EU. There is no desire in Scotland to have membership of the EU. I believe that when Scots stop and look at the detail, whether it is on their pensions, trade or currency, they know that their home is the United Kingdom.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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2. What steps he has taken to help Scottish communities protect community assets.

John Lamont Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (John Lamont)
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Scottish communities have benefited from the UK Government’s £150-million community ownership fund, which is a key pillar in our levelling-up agenda. To date, more than £2 million has been invested in 10 projects across Scotland through the fund, including more than £200,000 to restore the not-for-profit community-run Old Forge pub on the Knoydart peninsula, and £250,000 in Perth and Kinross’s Rannoch hub to provide the historical building with new business and leisure facilities for the local community.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross
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As it is 11 January, I wish everyone in Burghead a happy Clavie. In a historical tradition dating back to the 1750s, tonight, as his predecessors did, Clavie king Dan Ralph and his crew will carry a barrel of burning tar and oil through the streets up to Doorie hill to welcome in the new year. It is an incredible sight and I wish everyone well tonight. The Minister mentioned levelling up. He will know that Moray Council has submitted an ambitious bid that will see jobs and investment in Elgin and across Moray. Can he give us an update on that bid?

John Lamont Portrait John Lamont
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the activities taking place in Burghead tonight, and I wish Dan Ralph and his team well in the Clavie this evening. I welcome Moray Council’s engagement with the levelling-up programme. As he will know, the levelling-up fund invests in infrastructure that improves everyday lives across the United Kingdom. To date, eight Scottish projects have been successfully funded to a value of more than £171 million. The United Kingdom Government will shortly make an announcement on the successful bids from round 2 of the levelling-up fund, and I look forward to seeing more successful Scottish bids as part of that announcement.

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Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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I am very sorry to hear about the case raised by the hon. Gentleman, and I am happy to look into that specific one more closely. As I said in answer to an earlier question, we have recently reformed the NHS dentistry contract, and the hundreds of millions of pounds more funding and more dentists should make a difference around the country, but I will write to him on that specific case.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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Scotland’s oil and gas industry supports 90,000 Scottish jobs, but yesterday Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP Government published plans calling for the shutdown of the industry as fast as possible and an end to new exploration. These plans are naive and reckless and were previously described by the SNP leader in this House as “crazy”. Will the Minister reaffirm his support for Scotland’s oil and gas workers and the future of our industry?

Rishi Sunak Portrait The Prime Minister
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We know that we will have to rely on hydrocarbons for decades to come as we transition to net zero, and consuming oil and gas from the North sea means less than half the carbon footprint of importing that same oil and gas, so it obviously makes sense to do it here and in the process support tens of thousands of jobs in Scotland. I can reassure him that the Scottish oil and gas industry has this Government’s wholehearted support.

Shipbuilding and Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd Insolvency

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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Indeed, the framing of company law is a reserved matter. I would need to take advice from officials, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, as to whether a breach of that law was a reserved matter or, as I suspect, more a devolved one.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)
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We have been discussing reserved issues and devolved issues tonight. That is something that pupils at Logie Primary School will be looking at this week through UK Parliament Week. Will the Minister congratulate the young people at Logie Primary School, and the staff, on their interest in UK Parliament Week? I will be seeing them on Friday and I am sure one of the questions I might get asked is, “How do you get a mention of Logie Primary School in UK Parliament Week into an Adjournment debate about shipbuilding?”

Iain Stewart Portrait Iain Stewart
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I am happy to say that my hon. Friend has given them a masterclass in how to do that. Referring back to the subject of this debate, I very much hope that among the pupils at Logie Primary School we will see future mariners, shipbuilders, engineers and technicians. I wish them all very well in their future endeavours.

I was surprised to see that the procurement of these new ferries to Islay did not include Ferguson Marine in the tendering process. The delays of the two ships currently under construction may well have played a part in that, but again, it is not for me to comment at this stage. It is very disappointing, given the maritime history on the Clyde in Scotland, and its shipbuilding history more generally, that these ships could not be included and are being lost to overseas orders. But, as I say, these are matters primarily for the Scottish Government to answer, and the hon. Member for East Lothian should pose them to his former colleagues in Holyrood and the Scottish Government. From the UK Government’s perspective, we are investing in the future of Scottish shipbuilding. That demonstrates the strength of our Union, and I hope to see many more ships built on the Clyde.

Question put and agreed to.

Oral Answers to Questions

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Wednesday 28th April 2021

(3 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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In all the conversations I have had with the Prime Minister—and I have them on a weekly basis, in person, one to one, by telephone—his passion for the United Kingdom and the strength of the United Kingdom burns brightly.

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con) [V]
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As of yesterday, 61.3% of Scots aged 16 or over have received at least one dose of covid vaccine, compared with just 24.3% of people aged 18 or over who have received a vaccine in the European Union. Does the Secretary of State agree that the outstanding efforts of our NHS staff, our British armed forces and our vaccination volunteers have been possible here in Scotland only because of the success of the UK vaccination programme, and that Nicola Sturgeon’s claims that, somehow, an independent Scotland within the EU would have done it differently are complete rubbish?

Alister Jack Portrait Mr Jack
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I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Just once, on something as important as live-saving vaccines, it would be nice to see the First Minister congratulate the Prime Minister and the United Kingdom Government on our highly successful UK-wide vaccine procurement programme.

Scottish Independence Referendum

Douglas Ross Excerpts
Monday 22nd March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Douglas Ross Portrait Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con) [V]
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Nokes. I thank the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) for introducing today’s debate.

We have had many of these arguments. Last week in the Chamber, the SNP used its party business time to debate a similar topic, but on that occasion it was about holding another independence referendum. As we heard from the hon. Member for Islwyn, today we are debating opposition to another independence referendum. The petition was signed by well over the 100,000 threshold needed to have the matter debated in Parliament.

Given the decision that millions of Scots took back in 2014, they must be looking at the SNP Scottish Government’s news today and wondering why Nicola Sturgeon and her party just turned two fingers up at them and said, “We don’t care what you think. We’re forging ahead with another Independence Referendum Bill in the next Parliament”. The draft Bill was launched today, taking us back to the divisions of the past, rather than focusing on our recovery from covid-19 and rebuilding Scotland after this most damaging pandemic.

It hit home to me when the hon. Member for Islwyn said that the lead petitioner wished to remain anonymous because of the state of the debate in Scottish politics right now. Today I found out from the police that someone has been charged with making a very graphic death threat against me and another Scottish politician. That is the state of politics in Scotland right now. That is what the SNP wants to take us back to, and it is what the SNP wants us to debate in the days, weeks and months ahead. We do not need the division that separates families and workplaces and that divides communities all over again. What we need is a laser-like focus in the next Scottish Parliament on ensuring that we can recover from covid-19 and rebuild from this pandemic. That should be all politicians’ and all parties’ No. 1 priority, but again today we have heard that that is not a priority for the SNP, which believes in separation over securing a recovery for Scotland.

I hope that what we get today from the SNP spokesperson and the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (John Nicolson), who is speaking straight after me, is some answers to some very basic questions that people across Scotland will be asking right now. If the SNP’s desire is to take us back into that divisive debate, will its Members answer some basic questions that I put to the SNP shadow Chancellor on numerous occasions in the debate last week? Can any SNP Members in today’s debate tell us what currency an independent Scotland would have? Can any SNP Members in today’s debate tell us what independence would mean for a border between Scotland and England? Can any SNP Members in today’s debate tell us what it would mean for our armed forces here in Moray, at Kinloss barracks, at RAF Lossiemouth and across Scotland? As long as those questions go unanswered, the SNP will continue to seek separation without telling the people of Scotland what it will mean for individuals, families and communities up and down the country.

We can move beyond such division. We can say to people that we do not need another independence referendum, and we can focus on rebuilding Scotland. People can give their votes to the Scottish Conservatives at the election in a few weeks’ time to ensure that our focus is on recovery and rebuilding, not on more referendums.