Mr Lansley: I applaud what my hon. Friend is doing and I am sure the whole House looks forward to seeing the exhibition in the Upper Waiting Hall. Members support grassroots football and football at every level

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and want to see the best possible governance of football, and, as I know from my experience as Leader of the House, they have frequently asked for a debate on football. There has not yet been an opportunity to have one, but Members might collectively wish to talk to the Backbench Business Committee about that.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan) (Con): The Secretary of State for Education is rightly placing demanding expectations on schools, pupils and teachers in efforts to drive up standards with testing, longer school days, and improved discipline. Sadly, constituents in the Vale of Glamorgan and across Wales will not benefit from these expectations and innovations. After 15 years of Labour rule in Wales there is a worrying divergence in standards, and the programme for international student assessment outcomes shows an even greater divergence from England in recent years. May we have a debate on education to consider the different approaches that are taken so we can compare and contrast the best practice across each of the nations?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an important point and I wish it were possible. There are so many issues on which it would be helpful to have a debate, not least to be able to look at how the measures being brought forward by our right hon. Friend the Education Secretary and his colleagues are promoting improvements in standards, including making sure that we have the right discipline in schools and the right academic ambition. Progress has clearly been made as shown by the improvements in results and the dramatic reduction in the number of pupils in underperforming schools. There is still some distance to travel in terms of the PISA results, and that is being undertaken by the Government, but the continuing disparity between England and Wales must concern my hon. Friend and his constituents in Wales, and I am sure it would be helpful for this House to address that.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): While I was in Green Lanes, Palmers Green yesterday morning, I counted 12 betting shops along that stretch of road, which is saturation level. Following the welcome Department for Culture, Media and Sport review of fixed odds betting terminals, may we have a statement on any necessary additional local planning or licensing powers, such as a cumulative impact test, so that our local communities can regain the power to control their local high streets?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend rightly raises an issue that has been the subject of debate in this House, including quite recently when we were looking at the Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill and related issues. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government is sitting beside me, and if I may I will ask him to respond particularly in relation to the powers of local authorities in respect of betting shops in local areas.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): Over the past two years, four new multi-million pound primary schools have opened up across Pendle, addressing the huge shortfall in school places that was left by the previous Government who ignored rising birth rates in the area and let immigration soar. May we have a debate on the funding of additional school places as part of this Government’s long-term economic plan?

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Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an important point. The previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme, which did not build any schools, completely ignored the demographic changes that were already evident in relation to births and the number of youngsters coming through into primary schools. I am delighted that he points to what we are doing. We will be spending £18 billion on school buildings over this Parliament, which is more than double the amount that Labour spent in its first two terms combined.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): When I had the pleasure of visiting Silkmore community primary school in Stafford, the inspirational head, Julie Mowbray, said how important the pupil premium and the funding for child care for two-year-olds were in her school, which has a high percentage of children receiving the pupil premium. May we have a debate on the effect of the pupil premium and child care funding for two-year-olds?

Mr Lansley: I am glad that my hon. Friend has had this opportunity to pay tribute to the work that is being done in his constituency. I cannot promise a debate immediately. He will have heard what I said about opportunities for questions, but it is important, none the less, that we have the opportunity to discuss how the implementation of our commitment to increase places for two-year-olds—this follows the introduction of our scheme for three-year-olds—will enable all young people to have access to the best possible early start in education.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): At yesterday’s Welsh Grand Committee, the Opposition completely torpedoed what we thought was an all-party agreement to grant tax-raising powers to the National Assembly

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for Wales and to make the Welsh Government fiscally accountable. May we have a statement in this Chamber on what was a stunning U-turn by the Opposition so that we can expose Labour as an anti-devolutionary and anti-Welsh party?

Mr Lansley: I am interested in what happened at the Welsh Grand Committee. In fact, the Deputy Leader of the House and I visited it yesterday morning for the first hour of the debate. Like my hon. Friend, I was astonished to hear the Opposition saying that they were opposed to this major extension of devolution to Wales. We are in a position to give the people of Wales the opportunity, through a referendum, to decide whether they want devolution. The Opposition seem to be against that.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): In Harrogate and Knaresborough, we have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the country. I recognise that we are seeing falls in youth unemployment nationally, but the level still remains worryingly high. Please may we have a debate about preparing young people for work?

Mr Lansley: I hope we will have further opportunities to debate that matter. The coalition Government can be proud of their achievements, including the 1.5 million apprenticeships during this Parliament, the extension of traineeships, and the commitment that young people should be in education, employment or training and that the skills they acquire should be increasingly appropriate for work in the future. We should take opportunities to discuss those achievements and support them.

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Winter Floods

11.38 am

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Eric Pickles): With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government on the action taken in the light of the recent floods and extreme weather. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is unable to update the House today, but I am sure that we all wish him a speedy recovery to his usual robust health.

One of the defining characteristics of Britain is the weather, but in recent months it has been particularly savage. Part of the country has been subject to flooding by the sea, rivers, surface water and ground water. In December, we saw the highest surge on the east coast for 60 years and this January has been the wettest since George III was on the throne. We will continue to face severe weather well into next week.

I want to put on the record my utmost sympathy for those affected. I know from my constituency the effects of flooding, and once the floodwaters go down there is the smell, the sludge and the enormous time it takes to dry a building out. Flooding has devastating effects on communities. I know it has been especially difficult for those families that have been flooded for many weeks and for those that have been flooded on more than one occasion in recent months. I think we have all been struck by the stark images of the stranded residents on the Somerset levels and their brave resolve to continue their daily lives, be it by boat or tractor.

I also want to pay tribute to the hard work of councils, the Environment Agency’s staff on the ground and our emergency services, who have supported communities 24 hours a day, literally going through hell and high water. Britain’s flood defences have protected more than 1.2 million properties since 5 December and the Thames barrier has protected £200 billion-worth of property. None the less, it is evident that those defences are taking a pounding. There is damage to transport infrastructure and sea defences, including the railway line at Dawlish, as well as to power networks.

More than 5,000 properties have been flooded, including 40 in Somerset. There are two severe flood warnings in the west country, 61 flood warnings and 223 flood alerts in place. Cobra has met regularly since 29 January and has responded to every local request for assistance. The Prime Minister will chair a further meeting of Cobra later today.

Following the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday, I can now report to the House the Government’s plans for further funding for flood and coastal erosion risk management. In the short term, I can announce that the Government will provide an additional £130 million for emergency repairs and maintenance, £30 million in the current year and £100 million next year. That will cover costs incurred during the current emergency response and recovery, as well as essential repairs to ensure that defences are maintained.

Emergency work on repairs started during December’s coastal surge. However, the full picture of the damage caused to flood defences has not yet emerged and the weather conditions have proved savage. The Government

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will therefore carry out a rapid review of the additional work needed to restore our flood defences and maintain them in target condition.

In addition, I am putting before the House today details of how my Department is enhancing the terms of the Bellwin scheme, which helps local authorities in England to meet the exceptional and unexpected costs associated with protecting lives and properties. The changes I am announcing today include paying Bellwin grant at 100% above the threshold instead of the normal default 85%; allowing upper-tier authorities with responsibility for fire to claim on a comparable basis to stand-alone fire authorities; reducing Bellwin thresholds for all county councils and unitary authorities; and extending the eligible period until the end of March 2014.

No council has yet made a formal claim under the Bellwin scheme, so no council has lost out as a result of these new announcements. Indeed, far more councils will be eligible to claim. The enhanced scheme terms reflect the exceptional nature of the recent weather events and the challenges facing local authorities in their roles as first responders. However, it is clear that the Bellwin scheme needs further reform, an opportunity that was sadly missed under the last Administration. We will be undertaking a full review of the Bellwin scheme in due course, while ensuring that councils continue to have the right incentives to stop flooding happening in the first place. I can also tell the House that immediately after this statement, Ministers will be holding a teleconference with council leaders from across the west country to discuss further flood recovery measures.

Of course, flood prevention is as important as flood recovery. The additional funding that we have outlined today will allow the Government programme of capital investment to continue, fulfilling our commitment to improve defences throughout England. We have already put in place investment plans to improve the protection of at least 465,000 houses by the end of the decade. In addition, we are today announcing 42 new flood defence schemes for 2014-15. Together with other projects beginning construction in 2014-15, this will protect more than 42,000 households. This includes schemes in Salford, which will improve protection for more than 2,000 homes and businesses; Clacton, where more than 3,000 homes are currently at risk; and Willerby in the east riding of Yorkshire, where more than 8,000 properties will be better protected. There are also smaller, but no less important, schemes in Lincoln, Stockton and Todmorden.

We will work to defend both town and country. For the record, and with respect, I have to say that I do not agree with the comments of the noble Lord Smith, who implied that there was a choice between town and country.

Looking further forward, we have made an unprecedented long-term six-year commitment to record levels of capital investment in improving defences: £370 million in 2015-16 and then the same in real terms each year, rising to over £400 million by the end of this decade. By the autumn statement, we will have published a six-year programme of work running right up to 2021, including a new long-term investment strategy on flood defences. We will provide an assessment of the future need for flood and coastal defences, taking account of the latest risk maps and economic analysis.

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We should certainly look at how councils plan and mitigate flood risk, yet I note that the level of development on flood-risk areas is now at its lowest rate since modern records began, and 99% of planning applications for new homes in flood-risk areas are in line with expert advice. But, as the dark skies clear, there will be lessons to be learned, from the way in which we help local authorities to the role of quangos and the need for their local accountability, the influence of man-made policies on dredging, the effect of tree planting on our landscape and rivers, and the resilience of our nation as a whole throughout the 21st century.

The measures that the coalition Government have announced today provide a clear commitment to reduce the risks of flooding and coastal erosion. The additional funding means that, over this Parliament, this Government will be investing more than £3.1 billion, compared with £2.7 billion in the previous five years under the last Labour Government. This is more than ever before, in both cash and real terms, and we will spend it well and wisely. We cannot control the weather, but we can and will provide the security that hard-working families deserve to allow them to get on with their daily lives. I commend this statement to the House.

11.49 am

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, and for early sight of it. I begin by joining him in conveying, on behalf of the Opposition, our best wishes to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—we very much hope that he makes a speedy recovery. Can the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government tell us which of the Under-Secretaries of State will be dealing with DEFRA’s response in the Secretary of State’s absence?

As the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government rightly said, the situation facing communities in the Somerset levels remains extremely serious. The floods have not only left homes wrecked, but have left businesses facing ruin, and severe difficulties in accessing schools, workplaces and essential services. More families have faced the trauma of being evacuated from their homes overnight. The emergency services and Environment Agency staff continue to do an excellent job on the ground and have been consistently praised by residents, despite the serious criticisms of the lack of national leadership since the crisis began.

The fact is that the Government were caught out by the floods and Ministers took far too long to recognise the seriousness of the situation. Does the right hon. Gentleman understand why the Prime Minister’s claim yesterday that the Government’s response has not been slow will have been met with incredulity by the people of Somerset? The fact that DEFRA cannot answer parliamentary questions on when it first received requests for assistance from Somerset county council and Sedgemoor district council says everything about the chaos and confusion that has beset its response. There have now been 21 meetings of Cobra, but it is far from clear what all the talking has achieved. It is no wonder that the Prime Minister became so exasperated that yesterday he put himself in the chair.

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The funding announced by the Prime Minister yesterday, and by the Secretary of State today, is welcome, but let us be clear that that is simply restoring, and for just over one year, the reduction in annual spending on flood protection that has taken place under this Government. The Government’s own figures, published last month by DEFRA, show that they reduced the budget from £670 million in 2010-11 to £573 million in 2011-12, a cut of over £97 million. The budget has remained at a similar level for the past two years. Reversing that cut for just over a year is a complete admission by the Government that they got it wrong. Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the additional resources will be added to the baseline of the flood protection budget for future years, or is the intention to cut the budget again next year?

How will the Government close the £80 million hole in the partnership funding that Ministers claim they will be able to secure from external contributions but which they have not yet been able to secure? Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Prime Minister was wrong when he again claimed yesterday that more would be spent in the four years between 2011 and 2015 than in the previous four years?

DEFRA’s own figures show that £2.37 billion was spent between 2007-8 and 2010-11 and that £2.34 billion will be spent between 2011-12 and 2014-15. The Prime Minister and the Government really must stop fiddling the figures. The Secretary of State again used numbers today that are different from those that the Prime Minister used in the House yesterday. Thanks to a freedom of information request, we know that the Environment Secretary cut more than 40% from the domestic climate change budget last year. Was that really the right priority for the biggest cut to any DEFRA programme?

With regard to the immediate challenges facing people in the south-west, councils will welcome the announcement that support under the Bellwin scheme will now be paid at 100%, but why did the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government say last month that he would pay only 85% of the eligible costs, when the scale of the damage was already clear? Will he also confirm when he expects the electricity supply to be restored to the homes that have been affected by power cuts?

What specific assurances can the right hon. Gentleman give regarding the restoration of rail services west of Exeter? He will understand the disastrous consequences for the region’s economy of the loss of that service. We have all seen how serious the damage in Dawlish is and understand that this is not straightforward, but can he be clearer than the Prime Minister managed to be in his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) yesterday about what can be done in the short and long term?

After the 2007 floods, the previous Government commissioned the Pitt review, and Pitt’s report provided the blueprint for action to improve flood resilience and response. Why did the Government stop producing progress reports on the 92 recommendations in January 2012 despite 46 of them still being badged as “ongoing” and many having no planned completion date? At the time of the final update, the recommendations that had not been implemented in full included all the recommendations on knowing where and when it will flood, six on reducing the risk of flooding, 10 on being

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rescued and cared for during an emergency, and seven on maintaining power supplies. Why have the Government chosen not to establish either the Cabinet Committee on improving the country’s ability to deal with flooding, or the national resilience forum, both of which were recommended by the Pitt review? Will the Secretary of State make a clear commitment to publishing a further progress report on each of the recommendations in the Pitt review by the end of this month?

Yesterday the Prime Minister tweeted that there would be “no restrictions on help” for those affected by the flooding. Will the Secretary of State explain precisely what that means? Will he tell the House whether people are still being charged at a premium rate when they call the floods helpline?

Mr Pickles: I thank the hon. Lady for her kind remarks about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The very able Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), will be dealing with these matters.

I am quite surprised that the hon. Lady is in a position to reply to the statement, because given all the chuntering that took place during my delivery of it, I did not think she was paying an awful lot of attention. I had the opportunity—this is like a double whammy for me—of listening to her on Sky this morning, when she explained to viewers that the previous Government had enhanced the amount of money that was available for flooding following the problems in 2007. She is condemned out of her own mouth, because the facts are straightforward and out there—under the last five years of the Labour Government, they spent £2.7 billion and we will be spending £3.1 billion. You cannot argue with those figures.

The hon. Lady said “What a shock” about our providing 85% of Bellwin. That is the normal course of events. Perhaps she does not understand how the system works. This is money that we use to compensate, and no claims have been made as yet. It is normal procedure to set it at 85%. Perhaps she may consider this: in the 30 years that Bellwin has been in existence, this is the very first time that the threshold has been reduced. This is a real help to local councils, and she should not be so parsimonious about it.

With regard to the railway, the hon. Lady said, “Why didn’t we know?” She just needs to look at those dramatic television pictures of the railway at Dawlish—Brunel’s great, beautiful railway. We are not in a position to make an assessment of how long this is going to take because right now, as we speak, people are working to shore up the bank and protect the damaged railway from the next surge that is coming. It is utterly ridiculous to expect anything other than that.

The hon. Lady asked why we have not updated the Pitt review. She will recall that we set up the Flood Forecasting Centre, which has been producing very straightforward predictions. Perhaps she should spend a little less time in the television studios and more time with Google.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): May I convey our best wishes to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for his recovery?

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Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government confirm that the Prime Minister yesterday stated that he is ordering a review of all the spending, including the 2004-05 points system that we inherited, which has led, I believe, to some of the problems? Will he indicate how the allocation of spending has been divided between capital and revenue, and how maintenance spending within the revenue allocation has been divided among repairs, dredging and desilting? Will the facilities, including pumps, be returned to the drainage boards—as we hope will be the case—in order for them to pay for them to be repaired and returned to a good state?

Mr Pickles: My hon. Friend makes some reasoned and telling points. I have spoken several times this morning to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who mentioned a letter he had received from my hon. Friend. We certainly hope and are keen to update the figures given to the Select Committee. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited my hon. Friend’s constituency to look at the damage and potential problems. My hon. Friend’s experience in everything she does is of great value to the House.

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): In response to a question asked yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), the Prime Minister said:

“Where extra investment and protections are needed, they must be put in place.”—[Official Report, 5 February 2014; Vol. 575, c. 269.]

Those good words were followed today by a £30 million pledge from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, yet the local enterprise partnerships, local authorities, local transport boards and people in the south-west simply do not believe them. Last year we were promised £31 million—more than the £30 million—for resilience work, but it has disappeared. It is not good enough.

Mr Pickles: Our discussions with local authorities in the south-west area have been far more constructive than the hon. Lady has been. It is extraordinary for her to just dismiss £130 million as though it were a mere bagatelle. This Government have shown real commitment and we will consult local government leaders on the Bellwin threshold straight after this statement.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): May I indulge myself by thanking the emergency services, the Environment Agency people on the ground and everybody who is at this precise moment trying to get people out of houses in Moorland and Fordgate?

One of our problems is that Sedgemoor district council, which the Secretary of State knows well, is dipping into reserves to try to make sure it does everything it can, including evacuating cattle. Is there any chance that the Bellwin formula could be used to help Sedgemoor district council in particular to recoup the money it is now having to spend to safeguard its areas?

Mr Pickles: I thank my hon. Friend for that question. That is exactly what Bellwin is designed to do. I can confirm that, as yet, Sedgemoor council has not made

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any claims. I also give my hon. Friend an undertaking that when formal claims are made—we do not require everything to be in at one time—we will do our best to ensure that the payment is made promptly. I assure him that the changes will be very helpful indeed to Sedgemoor.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op): My constituency and parts of Cumbria are still suffering with fresh outbreaks of flooding. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the local authority will be eligible for the extra resources he has pledged? Is he as concerned as I am by the determination of South Lakes district council to build new houses on floodplains? It is not Conservative-controlled, in case he is worried about criticising his chums.

Mr Pickles: I suspect that might concern my coalition partners. I can recognise an elephant trap when it is there.

With regard to eligibility, absolutely—the local authority will of course be eligible for the scheme. The hon. Gentleman’s council has not yet made a claim, which is not unreasonable, and that is why we have extended it to the end of March.

The amount of building on the floodplain is at an all-time low. In fact, it is the lowest—[Interruption.] I am terribly sorry, but there are noises off. As I was trying to say before I was bullied by Opposition Members, such building is at the lowest level ever. I think that about 99% of objections by experts in relation to floodplains have been successful.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I do not think that we need to worry about the Secretary of State being bullied. Any Bradford Bulls supporter well knows how to deal with being bullied.

Mr Jeremy Browne (Taunton Deane) (LD): To offer a balanced view, it is fair to say that many residents of Somerset feel that the Government were slow off the mark, but they are now grateful that the Government appear to be acting in a way that matches the enormous size of the challenge, particularly in dredging the River Tone and the River Parrett. Will the extra funding support, which the Secretary of State talked about today and the Prime Minister talked about yesterday, be made available in the long term for long-term solutions? There is now flooding right across Taunton Deane, not just on the Levels, and dealing with the problem requires a river catchment approach and a longer-term view, not only immediate responses to emergencies.

Mr Pickles: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that the question is one of river catchments and long-term solutions. Our priority is obviously to deal with the immediate aftermath, but we clearly need to look at dredging. The previous Government probably made a mistake in ending the dredging.

For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Deputy Speaker, when I referred to being “bullied”, I was using the term ironically.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I have just heard and read the Secretary of State’s statement on behalf of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and there

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was no mention of resources for emergency services. Between September and December last year, my East Cleveland constituency suffered badly from the surges and floods on the east coast of England. Instigated by the Secretary of State, there has been a cumulative cut of £4 million to Cleveland fire brigade over this Parliament, and there will be a further cumulative cut of £5.96 million to 2017-18. It is not a statutory requirement to respond to flooding, so how will emergency services deal with flooding in the future?

Mr Deputy Speaker: Before the Secretary of State stands up, may I say that we need quick questions and brevity in answers? I want to get every hon. Member in on this important statement, but there is a very important and over-subscribed debate to follow.

Mr Pickles: The hon. Gentleman asks whether we should make responding to flooding a statutory requirement for our fire authorities. I am afraid that that is a rather old-fashioned view. How we respond to emergencies is well set out through local resilience forums: it relates not just to the fire authority, but goes right across local authorities, including to the health authority and the like. Frankly, those obligations are laid down in legislation and work perfectly well.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): I very much welcome the Secretary of State’s comment that we need to protect both town and countryside. I believe that we have to force the sea back and keep it out, not retreat from it, as we have done for years. We need a tidal sluice on the end of the Parrett, and to make sure that we dredge our rivers, such as the Exe and the Axe. I really welcome today’s statement.

Mr Pickles: It is important for us to emphasise that we should not just look after people who live in towns or rural areas, but ensure that agriculture can survive and thrive in rural areas, so my hon. Friend makes an absolutely excellent point.

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): The Secretary of State said that the Government will work to defend “both town and country” and that there are lessons to be learned about the “resilience of our nation”, so I assume that he regrets the swingeing cuts to flood defence work. In view of the increased extreme weather, will he accept that it is time to implement the Pitt review in relation to the statutory responsibilities of the fire and rescue services, and to reverse the cuts that he is making to firefighters? [Interruption.] There will 5,000 fewer firefighters by 2015 than there were in 2010. They do heroic work in rescuing people—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I think that the Secretary of State has certainly got the message. It is not helpful for other hon. Members to join in, because I may have to ask for the question to be repeated if I cannot hear it. I want to get you all in, but please help me to do so.

Mr Pickles: Heaven forbid that the last question should be repeated! The hon. Gentleman is simply gullible if he believes everything that comes from the unions. He seems to be more interested in union rights than in the people who are suffering because of the flooding.

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Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I met the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whom I wish well, on Monday to talk about dredging. He seemed to suggest that there could be local input. By that, I think he meant input from local councils. What discussions is the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government having with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Environment Agency about reintroducing dredging for many of our rivers?

Mr Pickles: My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point. I recall going around Tewkesbury with him and looking at the damage that was done to a local public house. I remember the resilience of the people in that area. Dredging is particularly appropriate for man-made landscapes like the levels. It might not necessarily work terribly well elsewhere. I have fields that are flooded in Essex. That works extremely well and has protected the area. We are willing to have those discussions, but there is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): On 25 November in Communities and Local Government questions, I asked the Secretary of State about the contradiction in the Government’s Help to Buy scheme being heavily promoted in areas that are at risk of flooding. He promised to get back to me, but I have not heard anything. I wonder whether he might answer that question now.

Mr Pickles: I apologise for not getting back to the hon. Lady. If she heard the statement, she will know that building on floodplains that have a high risk of flooding is at an all-time low.

Diana Johnson: Your Government are promoting it!

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order.

Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con): This winter in Oxford West and Abingdon, flooding has led to loss of life, community chaos and property flooding. It is not only deeply distressing for residents but has brought our economy to a standstill. I am very grateful for the commitment to provide emergency funding and I hope that my council will apply. However, does the Secretary of State agree that it is long-term solutions, such as the western conveyance that we are campaigning for in Oxford, that will ensure we are not back here having the same debate every year?

Mr Pickles: My hon. Friend is a redoubtable campaigner for her constituents. I have no doubt that she will raise that issue with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs when he returns. We are looking for long-term solutions.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): On Christmas eve, 35 properties in my constituency were flooded, not because any flood defences were overwhelmed but because of the failure of the Environment Agency to keep a culvert clear. Its failure to accept responsibility for that has major implications for future insurance premiums for my constituents. In addition, it has altered the area of the floodplain. When my constituents renew their

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insurance, they are finding that it has gone up from an average of £500 a year to nearly £6,000 a year. Will the Secretary of State discuss those matters with the Environment Agency? Will he get it to accept responsibility for that event and discuss with it the implications of the floodplain for my constituents’ insurance policies?

Mr Pickles: The hon. Gentleman has a deserved reputation for dealing with his constituents’ problems assiduously. I will ensure that the specific case that he makes is raised with the agency.

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Will the Secretary of State join me in offering sincere condolences to the holiday towns and villages in my constituency that have suffered from severe coastal flooding? Looe, Polperro, Seaton, Tregonhawke, Cawsand, Kingsand, Cremyll and the Wild Futures monkey sanctuary have all been affected. Will he send out the clear message that he will do everything that he can to help those places, and with half-term coming up, will he send out a message to the wider public that south-east Cornwall is still very much open for business?

Mr Pickles: Many Members of the House are familiar with my hon. Friend’s constituency and have many happy memories of it. The changes that we are making to the Bellwin scheme will benefit Cornwall directly.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): Following serious flooding in England in 2007, the UK Government accessed €162 million from the European Union solidarity fund. Why have the UK Government not accessed that fund, as a member state, following the storms this year, which have hit west Wales hard? In failing to do so, are they not guilty of absolving themselves of their responsibility to help Welsh communities in times of crisis?

Mr Pickles: Matters relating to flooding are devolved—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will let me answer his question, I will remind him that that scheme also has a threshold, which I believe is €3 billion.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. We want brief questions, and I will cut off the debate at 12.30 pm. It is up to hon. Members to look after themselves.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and the extra help for Somerset, and I recognise the expertise of the Axe Brue Internal Drainage Board and the whole catchment approach. Will the Secretary of State consider extraordinary changes to the planning laws, so that any statutory consultee that relies on a historic view of an 100-year floodplain changes that because it is no longer appropriate?

Mr Deputy Speaker: That is a bad example of being brief. Hon. Members must be brief; otherwise, they will stop colleagues getting in.

Mr Pickles: I will have a look at that.

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Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): Flooding from failed sewers has a devastating effect on householders and is a health hazard. In Romsey there is a particular problem with Victorian sewers that have been overwhelmed by the ingress of surface water. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend provide that the extended Bellwin scheme will assist fiscally prudent counties such as Hampshire to help our communities?

Mr Pickles: I think Hampshire has behaved particularly well throughout the crisis, and in liaising with my Department and with DEFRA it has been exceptionally good. It is not about the type of activity; there is a threshold, and the decisions we have just made will help Hampshire with the threshold on Bellwin.

Mr Henry Bellingham (North West Norfolk) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that Norfolk’s sea defences held up remarkably well against a record surge? Most repairs have been carried out, but one section that has not been repaired is along Beach road at Brancaster. Will he talk to the Environment Agency about that important stretch of flood defences?

Mr Pickles: I certainly will. We tried to use that period to get a lot of emergency work done, but I suspect it might not have been possible or safe to have looked at those defences then. I will remind the Environment Agency, which I am sure will be round as soon as possible.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): As well as taking on extra responsibilities, the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson), will chair a committee for action on the Somerset levels. Will the Secretary of State ensure that funds and resources are available immediately for the important work that needs to be done?

Mr Pickles: My hon. Friend does not need to rely on me; the Prime Minister said so loud and clear yesterday.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The floods have caused huge anxiety not only in south-west England but in some parts of Shropshire. Does the Secretary of State agree that one way to mitigate future flooding is to ensure that new home development is not excessive, and also bears in mind the physical infrastructure such as drainage in local towns and villages?

Mr Pickles: My hon. Friend is perhaps one of the cleverest people to lobby a Minister. I got the message.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Government have put forward £4.6 million for better weather forecasting by using space technology, and that we are only one of three countries in the world doing that, so in future the Met Office will be able to predict these incidents better?

Mr Pickles: I have been involved with Cobra right the way through this process, and one thing that has genuinely surprised me is how frighteningly accurate the weather forecasting has been. If that is because of space technology, it is money well spent.

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George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) (Con): Many of the villages in my constituency are currently flooded, but none more so than Hambledon where 1 foot of water has been running up and down the high street for four weeks, and probably will for another four. Spending £3.5 million will sort that out for ever. Please will the Secretary of State intervene?

Mr Pickles: That is a good illustration of the effect of ground water, and we should be particularly proud of the way that community organisations have worked together, especially in looking after the vulnerable.

Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): When hundreds of homes flooded in my constituency in December, it unfortunately coincided with the death of President Mandela and did not get the coverage we are seeing at the moment. I welcome the commitment made today, particularly in relation to Bellwin and the funding measures announced at Snaith of £3.2 million. May I commend to the Secretary of State North Lincolnshire council and Councillor Liz Redfern, who made £300 available to every flood victim within a week? The council has set up interest-free loans of £1,000 for all victims, to be paid back over five years.

Mr Pickles: Liz is a terrific leader and this is an example of how adaptable councils are. One thing has been noticeable: when we look at the television pictures of what is happening, we can always spot a local councillor, filling up the sandbags, taking care of the locality. That is what it means to be a local councillor—not just talking about politics, but offering practical help.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): Parts of my constituency flooded twice over Christmas, though floods are predicted to take place only once in every 100 years. Bournemouth council and local agencies met affected residents on Monday and the big question was how Bournemouth applies for part of the £130 million emergency funding. Could the Secretary of State please write to Bournemouth borough council to explain the process?

Mr Pickles: I am looking at the schemes here and it appears that my hon. Friend has been successful. Perhaps we could have a word afterwards.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): The statement today will be very reassuring to people in Cornwall. What assessment has the Secretary of State made about the money that Cornwall will get as a result of the welcome reform to the Bellwin scheme?

Mr Pickles: We will be talking carefully with local authorities about the level at which the new threshold should come in. Although we have not yet made an announcement, we are consulting informally. I can safely say that the sum will be an awful lot more than my hon. Friend would have got under the previous regime.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): The announcement today on the reform of Bellwin, including thresholds, is welcomed by many of us who have been lobbying for change since the Calder Valley floods of two summers ago. Does the announcement on river

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dredging include rivers like the Calder in the Calder Valley, despite the fact that the Environment Agency is against dredging?

Mr Pickles: Oh my goodness, I have the schemes here. Four schemes have been approved in my hon. Friend’s constituency, which will help enormously, and of course we are willing to talk to the Environment Agency about what is needed.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): Given the multimillion pound damage to communities around my constituency this very week, can the Secretary of State assure me that of the £130 million available, some will be available for the rail service, and that there will be greater evidence of collaboration between Network Rail and the Environment Agency?

Mr Pickles: The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point about the railways. We recognise that they are an important economic asset. I know that it is something that the Prime Minister personally is very concerned about, and arrangements are being made as we speak.

Dame Angela Watkinson (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con): What discussions have been held or are planned with the insurance industry to reassure people with properties in flood-risk areas?

Mr Pickles: We regularly talk to the insurance industry. The Water Bill will go some way towards providing reassurance. Its passage through Parliament will show that we have agreed to continue to abide by the commitments under the 2008 statement of principles. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall, has just whispered to me that if my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Dame Angela Watkinson) has a particular point in mind, he would be happy to deal with it.

David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): I welcome the statement today. Looking beyond the current situation, can my right hon. Friend tell the House what plans the Government have to speak to countries like s Denmark and the Netherlands about how we can share experience in managing flood risks in the future?

Mr Pickles: Dutch companies, not surprisingly, are already in contact with us about the levels, and as the Dutch built them, they are probably in the best position to help us out.

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Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): I welcome the proposed changes to the Bellwin scheme, which will help Suffolk councils help Suffolk families and businesses. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to think about sending the Royal Engineers to repair the railway in Dawlish, although that is not in my constituency? They did the job in Cumbria in a very short time. I think they could get Cornwall and Devon back on their feet quickly.

Mr Pickles: The Prime Minister has made it clear—I hope my hon. Friend will like this—that there is no restriction on the use of the armed services. Should local authorities require them, they will be there, but I emphasise that we do not know the level of the damage. Right now what we are trying to do is protect the track.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): I welcome what the Secretary of State has said today about the Government response to the floods. However, my constituent Linda Barker has contacted me to ask how people like her, in areas unaffected by flooding, can help to support people who have been affected. Charities like the British Red Cross provide support to flood victims, but will my right hon. Friend tell the House how he is ensuring that people like Linda can support charities that work with flood victims?

Mr Pickles: Churches and voluntary organisations are doing a terrific job. The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis), has had discussions with voluntary organisations. If my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) would care to discuss this with him afterwards, we might be able to help his constituent.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): There has been much debate about how we can move flood water efficiently to the sea to save areas that are being flooded, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is every bit as important to retain flood water where the rainwater falls? There is a brilliant scheme in Plynlimon in my constituency in Wales, which has a positive impact on the whole of the Severn valley in England.

Mr Pickles: I agree with my hon. Friend. I said earlier that no single solution should be applied right across the board. I have experience of a similar scheme that has been very effective, although such a scheme would obviously not work in the Somerset levels.

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Backbench Business

Scotland’s Place in the UK

[Relevant documents: second report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, The Referendum on Separation for Scotland-The Need for Truth, HC 828]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): There will be an opening speech of 10 minutes. I warn everybody that there will be a five-minute limit on speeches thereafter, apart from the wind-ups.

12.26 pm

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House has considered Scotland’s place in the UK.

Let me begin by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and other hon. Members who serve on the Backbench Business Committee for granting the House the opportunity to debate a proposition that will dominate much of this referendum year across our islands: Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. As we shall no doubt hear in the debate, this is a question of identity and economics. Above all, it is a battle of visions for the future of Scotland—one with huge implications for the future of other multinational states across the world.

I reject the binary and false choice that some seek to make in this debate that people have to choose between Scottishness or Britishness and cast their vote accordingly on 18 September. I am a proud Scot, but see no contradiction between that patriotism and my strong sense of Britishness—or, indeed, my additional citizenship of the European Union. In an increasingly interconnected world characterised by ever-evolving apps and networks, the concept of mutually exclusive identities does not reflect the real lived experience of billions of people.

Before I was elected to this House, I worked in universities in both Glasgow and London. I saw the challenges they faced in common. I never looked on the young people from east London, whom I taught in this great city, as strangers or foreigners; in fact, they were often fascinated by the study of devolution in my constitutional law classes. I knew them as people with whom I share an identity, and want to continue sharing a state with, for the benefit of all of us.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): In this debate on the future of the Union, will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the Union is not merely between Scotland and England, but Wales and Northern Ireland too?

Mr Bain: My hon. Friend makes an important point and I am pleased that we have Members from all parts of the United Kingdom in the Chamber for this debate.

As a student, I campaigned for a devolved Scottish Parliament and marched to The Mound in Edinburgh; never with a flag in my hand, but with hope in my heart that powers should be exercised at the most appropriate level for the purpose of improving the lot of ordinary people in Scotland. I did so because I believed, and still believe, that decision making in many public services and on many economic policies is best exercised at a more localised level. However, I strongly believe in

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retaining the advantages of a collective macro-economic framework, of a collective social security system and of cross-UK business, borders and diplomatic policies used to promote greater justice at home and across the world.

We ought to recognise the great force for good the Scottish Parliament has been in Scottish politics, whether on housing policy, land reform or other policy areas, and never has it been greater than this week, when it passed a Bill, in its own way, to secure equality before the law for LGBT people living in Scotland. This was an expression of Scotland’s values being complementary to, not divergent from, those in other parts of the United Kingdom.

The devolution settlement has evolved before, it will change again in 2015 and 2016, with the introduction of significant new financial responsibilities over borrowing and income tax, and it can accommodate further reforms in the future. In the 1997 referendum, the late John Smith was proved correct—strong devolution within the United Kingdom was the settled will of the Scottish people—and I believe we will express that loudly and clearly again in this upcoming referendum.

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): As I understand the position of the Labour party in Scotland, it favours the full devolution of income tax powers to the Scottish Parliament. Yesterday, we heard a speech from the 1970s from the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Owen Smith), in the Welsh Grand Committee, in which he said that fiscal devolution was tantamount to destroying the fabric of the British state. Will the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) explain to the House and the people of Scotland what exactly is Labour’s position on fiscal devolution?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): It might help Mr Edwards to know that he was on the list to speak, and I do not want to keep banging people down the list because they intervene. I do not want to stop debate—I do not mind interventions—but please ensure they are brief and not continual.

Mr Bain: I want to keep the focus on positivity in this debate, and I would simply point out to the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) that the one party that was inconsistent in its approach to tax powers being devolved in the Scotland Act 2012 was the party he sits alongside on those Benches.

As a result of the Edinburgh agreement, Scotland faces a choice between two futures in the 18 September referendum: an optimistic path that builds on the strength of the devolution settlement and our common institutions, such as the Bank of England, to make our economy more productive and where ordinary people share more in the benefits of growth; and a pessimistic path implying that erecting borders is more important than bringing down barriers in terms of inequality and lack of opportunity across these islands.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman says he wants to make a positive case. In a debate about significant constitutional change, to take such a tone is a good thing, but if he is making a positive case and if the Labour party knows what further powers it wants to

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give to the Scottish Parliament, will he say whether it is true that some of his colleagues are going to boycott his own party conference?

Mr Bain: That is an odd intervention, because I am looking forward to my party conference in Perth—I have already booked my rail ticket—and I will enjoy campaigning in the city of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) when I am there.

No silver bullet comes from statehood and no instant answer to declining living standards will come from redrawing lines on a map. It will take politicians at every level of governance, together with civic society and engaged citizens across these islands, to work together so that ordinary people share more fairly in the wealth they produce, to reform our banking system, to work towards a more universal child care system and to reverse the crises of long-term youth unemployment, low business investment and weak productivity before they cause long-term damage to the fabric of our country. We must reshape lives, not reorder our geography.

I am optimistic about Scotland’s future. It is the home of groundbreaking initiatives on science and research, supporting high-level manufacturing and enhancing the huge international reputation of our universities and colleges. Scotland’s economy can have a great future as a beacon for investment in renewable energy, if we combine our natural resources with the strength of UK investment networks and markets. I see a Scotland where, through UK Trade & Investment, we increase our share of global trade, creating thousands of jobs in manufacturing, including in our largest manufacturing sector, our burgeoning food and drink export industries.

We can remove the barriers to work for tens of thousands of women in Scotland by creating a more universal child care system, which is one of the biggest drivers of increased prosperity in working households with children; we can support sectors of the economy that create high-skilled, higher-paying jobs; and we can deliver a revolution in workplace skills to make progression within a job and a career a reality for millions. Our ambition must be to create a society that has better health and educational outcomes and that uses the strengths of every level of government to eliminate the in-work and out-of-work poverty in Scotland described so starkly this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Such a vision can be delivered only on foundations that are secure, not built on sand. If Scotland is to prosper, rather than merely survive, we need sterling as our strong and guaranteed currency, backed by a monetary, fiscal, banking and political union and anchored by the Bank of England as our central bank. If Scotland is to thrive rather than languish, we need a single market in goods, capital, labour and products across the United Kingdom, with no internal barriers to ambition or trade. If Scotland is to walk tall in the world and tackle global poverty, hunger and disease, as well as climate change, we need the strongest representation through the United Kingdom in a range of international bodies, stretching from the G8, to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Commonwealth, the UN Security Council, the Council of Europe and—yes—the European Union.

The only way we can bolster these foundations is by rejecting separation and endorsing devolution and full partnership within the United Kingdom. I look forward

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to hearing the contributions in this debate, but I reflect on the fact that the nature of politics has to change in Scotland too. The spirit of unity in 1999 has sadly turned into an air of rancour and bitterness. If, as I hope, we achieve a strong and decisive vote in favour of devolution and against separation, people in Scotland will need to move forward not as divided tribes of devolutionists and nationalists consumed by enmity, but filled with a shared political destiny.

I hope we can reach out the hand of friendship to those on the other side of the debate and begin the conversation that my right hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mr Alexander) mentioned in order to move from the low divisiveness of these times to the uplands of a Scotland that can thrive within a strong United Kingdom. I look forward to hearing the rest of this debate, but my wish is that by the end of this year we can proceed in one direction, as one people, one Scotland, as part of one United Kingdom whose best days are ahead of us.

12.38 pm

Mr Andrew Tyrie (Chichester) (Con): Unusually, I agree with just about every word I have just heard from the Opposition Benches.

In the short time available, I want to say a few words about the consequences of independence for currency arrangements in the rest of the UK and Scotland, but I ought first to make it clear that the Scots are not without options: they could create their own currency, whether pegged or free floating, they could create a currency board or they could join the euro. All these options are available. But the frontrunner in some quarters seems to be the creation of a formal single currency with the rest of the UK. In the current economic and political circumstances, this should not be attempted, and in the four minutes now available to me, I will try to explain why.

The primary reason is that a British monetary union would need something dramatically tougher than the eurozone rules—so tough that, on both sides of the border, if it was fully explained, I am confident our respective electorates would not want it. And they would be right. It would amount to a common fiscal policy between independent countries, which would be a massive undertaking to design and sustain.

John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Was my hon. Friend struck, as I was, by the Treasury output graphs that we saw at the end of Governor Carney’s speech? They showed that banking in Scotland would represent 12.7 times the economy—five points greater than the seven times for Iceland—and that it would be unsustainable without the currency union provisions my hon. Friend is describing.

Mr Tyrie: I think it crucial for us to understand that a banking union could well trigger the migration of banks to London, where they would be able to benefit from the “lender of last resort” facilities provided by the Bank of England.

Let me say something about what a common fiscal policy would entail. It would mean, for instance, pre-approval of budget proposals, which would be accompanied by intensive and very intrusive oversight of budgetary

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outcomes. It would require rigorous powers to insist on overshoots being corrected quickly and reversed, backed up by credible sanctions for non-compliance.

In order to carry credibility, such powers would probably need to be directly applicable in law on both sides of the border. What that means in practice is that the Bank of England and the Treasury would have the power to direct a large part of Scottish economic and financial policy. For example, the Scots would probably be required to seek their approval before they could borrow in order to build schools and hospitals.

Is it realistic to imagine that all those in Scotland who had just voted for independence would readily accept such intensive supervision and direction from the rest of the United Kingdom? I doubt it.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP): The Chair of the Treasury Committee is making an interesting assessment, but what he is saying is not necessarily the case. If the stability arrangements were made at the aggregate deficit or debt level, and if both countries were required to adhere to them, the line-by-line scrutiny of spending plans he describes would not be necessary, would it?

Mr Tyrie: Countries in the eurozone were required to abide by the stability and growth pact, and look where that took us. We need something much more robust than that to make a currency union work, and I am pretty confident that it would not be any more acceptable in Scotland than it will be in England.

Let me now say something about the effects of a currency union on the rest of the United Kingdom. It would, after all, have to be a two-way street. Is it realistic to expect the rest of the UK—much the bigger partner, both economically and in terms of population—to accept Scottish oversight of fiscal policy here? Is it realistic to expect the rest of the UK to risk the need for what most durable currency unions have eventually required, namely fiscal transfers? Is it realistic to expect the rest of the UK to sign up to a currency union that could carry the risk that all those rules, albeit tough rules, would fail, and whose failure would trigger the need for bail-outs? I do not think that such arrangements would be acceptable to the electorate. What is more, I doubt that a majority could be mustered for them in the House of Commons.

Of course, the leaders of both countries might try to get a currency union past their respective Parliaments without fully explaining the consequences, but I am on my feet now because I want to try to prevent that from happening. There would be shades of the eurozone in such an attempt, but it would be a fool’s errand.

A currency union created in such circumstances would, sooner or later, be tested by the markets. Either the rules would be tough enough to bite, or, if they were not tight enough, there might be a bail-out. Alternatively, we might experience both the pain and the bail-out, as happened in the eurozone: we might experience the pain of the bail-out south of the border, and the pain caused by the biting of the rules north of the border.

Not enough attention has been paid to the political consequences of botching these currency arrangements. Whatever the economics of trying to create a currency

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union, I think that it is bad politics for these islands at this point. The eurozone has provided a reminder not just of the economic difficulties of creating durable currency unions, but of the political damage and fall-out that come with flawed arrangements. We need, above all, to put what Lord Lang, in the other place, described as “the politics of grievance” behind us as we make our efforts to renew the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK. But it seems to me that a currency union would risk the opposite. As its full implications became clear, it would create the conditions for lasting resentment on both sides of the border, and it is just such resentment that we must do everything possible to avoid in the search for a stable economic and political relationship between those on the two sides of the border.

I urge the Governments on both sides of the border to explain how all the difficulties that I have outlined could be addressed, well before the Scottish referendum. Not to do so would be to deceive our respective electorates into believing that there is some third way, some relatively painless option, enabling the Scots to imagine that they could be fully in control of their own affairs and that the rest of the UK could avoid large contingent obligations. If, as I have concluded, those difficulties cannot be adequately addressed in the current circumstances, the two Governments should rule out a currency union now.

12.46 pm

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow Central) (Lab): The next few months will be big ones for Scotland. The decision that Scots will make on 18 September will shape our country, our families, and generations to come. I am proud of the fact that, during the campaign, I will argue loudly for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. I am proud of the part that Scots have played in the success that is the United Kingdom, and proud of the role that the Labour movement has played in that success. I am proud of our achievements over the past 100 years, when we worked together to meet the common challenges that people faced in towns and villages throughout the UK.

When, 70 years ago, people were faced with inadequate health care and opposition from vested interests, it was the Labour movement that thought of, fought for, and created a system of health care for everyone—based on need, not nationality—right across the UK. We did that together. When there was no safety net for people who were out of work, no support for families and children, it was the Labour movement that thought of, fought for, and created the UK-wide welfare state. We did that together. When some workers were paid just £1 or £2 an hour, it was the Labour party that thought of, fought for, and delivered the national minimum wage for everyone, right across the UK. Such has been the impact of the living wage that it is now seen as the expectation, not the exception.

No one in the Labour movement said that we could not do any of that because we were part of the UK. We all did it because we were part of one family in the UK, not because we were competing with each other within the UK. The NHS, the welfare state and the national minimum wage are examples of the real transformative effect that working together across the UK can have.

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Those are big examples, because we are a big movement with big ideas: ideas that are bigger than independence will ever be. We have never been a movement that turned its back on others. We have never said “You are on your own.” We have never said “You fight your own fights.” We have always said that we will pool and share our resources for the benefit of all.

Mr William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give us an idea of his colleagues’ thinking about the extent to which they would agree to allow devo-max, including a greater degree of fiscal autonomy that would fall short of complete independence?

Anas Sarwar: That is an interesting point. The hon. Gentleman, like everyone else, will have to wait for our full devolution commission report, which will be published during our conference in March.

When the Governor of the Bank of England was busy sinking the SNP’s plans for a currency union last week, he was keen to point out that a key ingredient of a successful union was meeting the need to

“mutualise risks and pool fiscal resources.”

That is exactly what we have now: we have a redistributive union, a wealth-sharing union, in which a contribution from all to the common pot enables those most in need to benefit from the common weal.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): I certainly agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend’s comments so far. I was alarmed when I read a tweet allegedly from a leading member of the Yes campaign saying:

“Wouldn’t it be great if @Tesco @Sainsburys @Morrisons @Asda just left Scotland after Yes vote”.

What kind of message does that send to the people who are trying to create productivity and jobs in the braw brave new Scotland?

Anas Sarwar: Given the continuous pursuit of positivity, I must point out that that quote was not from a leading member of the twittersphere but from the communications director of the Yes Scotland campaign. That demonstrates that the positivity exists only on one side of the debate in Scotland.

Corporation tax is a good example of what I have been talking about, because the tax raised not only from Scottish companies but from the biggest businesses across the UK is redistributed across the UK to where it is most needed. Similarly, we all remember when the Royal Bank of Scotland was in trouble and needed bailing out, and taxpayers from across the UK stepped in to help, with no questions asked and no IOUs demanded. We see today the tragic circumstances across parts of England resulting from flood damage. Again, it is taxpayers from across the UK who will pool and share resources to help out, and again with no questions asked or IOUs demanded. There is a recognition that in times of trouble people from across the UK stand shoulder to shoulder. Now, with energy bills going up and the value of wages falling, and with household budgets being squeezed and household incomes not keeping pace with the rate of inflation, the answer is not to turn our back on the rest of the UK but rather to come together as we have always done to tackle our biggest challenges head on.

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It is also right that Scots should be in the room when the big decisions that affect them are being taken. When interest rate decisions affecting the cost of Scottish mortgages and car loans are being taken, it is right that Scottish voices should be heard. When the regulation of financial and banking markets—which affects every one of us across the UK—is being agreed, it is also right that Scottish voices should be heard. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with that; there are some whose position is to diminish or mute the voice of Scots and to take us outside the room when decisions are being taken. Do not take my word for that: the SNP’s own Jim Sillars described the proposed currency union this week as “stupidity on stilts”. I am clear that Scots speak louder and do more as part of the UK. We have a can-do attitude, but it is unfortunately not shared by some others.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that a Government who have the power to introduce further provisions for child care should decide that they will deal with that only if and when they get the right result in the referendum?

Anas Sarwar: That demonstrates that we have a Government in Scotland who are determined to win women’s votes but not to change women’s lives. That is why we need a Labour Government in this place and in Holyrood.

Some people argue that we can deliver social and economic change only when we have constitutional change, but the truth is very different. The fact is that the big challenges we face in reducing poverty and inequality cannot be put on pause until after September 2014. It is not surprising that the SNP is using the extent of constitutional change as its measure of success. Labour is, and always has been, about so much more. The Labour movement has never argued for the status quo; indeed, it is something we have always fought against. For us, the real measure of success is the extent of economic and social change and the positive impact it has on people’s lives. That is why, for those on either side of this debate, this is a change referendum. We will argue for a strong voice across the UK, and for a strong Scotland within the United Kingdom.

12.54 pm

Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): I congratulate the Backbench Business Committee on allocating the time for this important debate. I also congratulate those who have contributed to it so far; their speeches have been very thoughtful. I hope that we will be able to maintain that tenor throughout the afternoon, although that might be wishful thinking. Everyone who has spoken so far has acknowledged the fact that we have a big moment coming up in a few months’ time. The election in 2011 was transformational, and we are finally focusing on the big choice for Scotland between going it alone and staying part of the most successful family of nations in the world.

It is hardly a surprise that I want Scotland to stay part of the United Kingdom. That desire is based not only on my upbringing and experience in the borders and elsewhere in Scotland but particularly on my experience as Secretary of State for Scotland. It was a great privilege to hold that post, not least because of the people I

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worked with, including the great team of civil servants, special advisers and others who did an immense amount, even though it was a small team. They helped to produce the Scotland Act 2012, which brought about the biggest transfer of financial powers from this place to Edinburgh since the Act of Union, and supported me in the work that we did on the Edinburgh agreement. It was not just those two moments that were important, however. As Secretary of State, I also had the chance to get out and about and see the fantastic country that we all call home and that we are proud to be from and to represent.

I am thinking of the young woman in Glasgow who had been given an opportunity through the jobcentre and Skills Development Scotland to get some training and to work up a business plan, which she wanted to develop into something big. She had the vision, and she wanted to go for it. I am also thinking of the woman business leader in Fife who had taken her small family agricultural business and, with her family, developed it into a business that operated across the United Kingdom and Europe. Her vision was an expansive and positive one.

I am thinking, too, of the oil and gas sector. For Members representing Aberdeen, and for those on both sides of the House representing the north-east of Scotland, including my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), that sector is a precious jewel. We argue about the politics involved all the time, but I doubt that we truly appreciate all that it does, and all the highly skilled people working in Aberdeen and the north-east, including those from all our constituencies. They have a great future, but they will also face a big challenge in a few decades’ time, and that is something that we should all be thinking about now. It was a great privilege for me to learn much more about that sector, and to see the opportunities that exist now and that will exist in the future, when the oil and gas are finished.

Travelling all those miles around Scotland over three and a half years reinforced my sense of Scotland’s place in the UK. We have fantastic economic opportunities. That is not just about being part of the huge single market in the UK, or about having a great platform from which to promote our goods and services throughout the world through UK Trade & Investment and other channels; it is also about having the right attitude and approach to connecting with the international business sector.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (Gordon) (LD): Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern among some businesses that have taken advantage of UK representation around the world that, if Scotland became independent, the UK Foreign Office network would effectively be competing with a Scottish network, rather than acting as an ally working towards achieving economic success?

Michael Moore: That would be a terribly sad situation. Last March, I was part of an energy showcase in Rio de Janeiro, at which Scottish Development International was working in partnership with UKTI and the consulate there to promote Scottish business and Scottish skills on the international stage. We were supporting each other, and we do not want to lose that scale and that ability.

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This is not just about opportunity, however. It is also about our resilience. We have already heard references to the banking collapse of a few years ago. The right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, is in his place today, and I am sure that he will say more about this. The fact that we in Scotland had the whole of the UK standing behind us at the time was massively important and gave us the ability to work through those difficult times, the legacy of which is still with us today.

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the evidence given by the Business Secretary yesterday to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, in which he said that he thought it likely that RBS would relocate its headquarters to London if Scotland voted for independence?

Michael Moore: My right hon. Friend’s evidence has been well reported, and most people who look sensibly at the options will understand that that is a real possibility—perhaps more: perhaps a probability. The reality is that we have to think through all these issues. We have to think about what we have at the moment that is very special and that might have to be given up if we were to vote for independence.

Apart from the economic issues, which I am sure we will debate at length, we also need to think about our place in the world. Because of our proud record of reaching out to the world, Scots are delighted that we have half of the Department for International Development’s work force and policy makers in Scotland, a few miles from Glasgow in East Kilbride, the constituency of the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann). That is a fantastic place to visit.

There we are—Scotland—punching above our weight internationally, not only through that policy work, but because we are part of a country that is now reaching the United Nations target on international development. We also have greater security, as part of NATO, by being at the top table in the UN Security Council and through so much else. As others have said, this is because we are part of this great family of nations. We may be temporarily divided about the rugby this weekend—we might be hiding under the duvet, depending on what we expect the outcome to be—but we will set aside our differences shortly after.

In my part of the world, in the borders, we understand more than most about the family of nations that we have; the 500-year echo of Flodden that we think about at this moment reminds us of what went before and why we must not let those divisions ever return. I do not want to see that, and I do not believe that most people in Scotland do either. Of course we face challenges, on health, inequality, infrastructure, and transitioning and transforming our economy, but I simply believe that if we use the powers we already have and the new powers that are coming, if we sensibly discuss further powers that might be added to them, on tax, borrowing and employment support, and if we work together across parties, across Scotland and with the rest of the UK, we have a very positive future. We should channel our energies into that, not seek division or separation. I am proud to be Scottish, I am proud to be British and I hope that, together, we can keep this family of nations together.

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1.1 pm

Mr Jim Hood (Lanark and Hamilton East) (Lab): My first comment will come as no surprise to any of my colleagues in here, including the Secretary of State and the two former Secretaries of State: it is good to have a debate on Scotland. There is a long list of speakers and people are already complaining about the length of time they are going to be given to participate in the debate, yet both Front-Bench teams deny themselves eight Grand Committees a year to discuss Scotland. Today, the Leader of the House was boasting about being at a Welsh Grand Committee yesterday where he was discussing devolution. I just make that point as I get on to making my contribution—I have got it off my chest, so I can move on.

I wish to make a few points in the four minutes or so remaining to me. First, I wish to discuss membership of the European Union. I was the Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation from 1992 to 1998, and of its successor, the European Scrutiny Committee, from 1998 to 2006. For 14 years, I was the Chairman of the Select Committee dealing with European legislation and, in particular during that term of office, enlargement. Along with my Committee colleagues, I scrutinised the applications of Finland, Sweden and Austria, and then the big bang of the accession of the three Baltic states and the seven central European states. I also began the process of dealing with the Romanian and Bulgarian accession—that was six years ago and they have only just joined the European Union fully. So although I have never claimed to be an expert on anything, I do know a little about European legislation.

A lie was told to Andrew Neil in a television interview: that the First Minister from the Scottish Government had legal opinion to back up their having automatic membership of the European Union. That was proved to be a lie, and it is distasteful that this important debate is wasted by that sort of atmosphere. This place is about debating and democracy, and has been for centuries. Surely this is a debate on the merits of what the proposition is, and not a debate based on the quality of propaganda. Propaganda is not about political debate; it is about selling a pup. There is a pup for sale in my country and in my constituency, and I am strongly against it.

I know that the Scottish National party is lying about Europe, as it is about pensions and welfare, and about keeping the pound. Even if the SNP was right and there was a grand, great thing at the end of the rainbow for the SNP and its debate for independence, I would still be against it. If the Scottish people are going to be better off economically and so on, I would still be against breaking away from the Union. That is part of my history. I was proud to be born into a mining family in a mining community, where it was not about self-betterment, and where judgments are not made about people on the basis of which side of the road or of the bed they were born on.

Katy Clark: I very much welcome my hon. Friend’s comment that his views are not based on whether individual Scots would be better or worse off. Does he agree that many Labour Members have a bigger vision which is about the whole of the country and redistribution within it, and that we need to see real distribution to all the poorer areas in this country?

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Mr Hood: Well, of course. Wherever we see poverty, we have empathy with those who are suffering it. As we have heard said many times, poverty is just as important to us if it is by the River Thames or the River Clyde. That has always been the case. [Interruption.] I hear what is being muttered behind me and I will try not to be put off—I am becoming a bit used to it.

Thirty years ago, on 5 March, I was proud to be involved in the miner’s strike, fighting for my community, for my campaign and for my values and mining community values. We were fighting against a lying Westminster Government then, and I am fighting against a lying Government now in the Scottish Parliament. In 30 years’ time, when somebody asks what I was doing in 2014 and which side I was on, my grandchildren will be able to say, “He was on the side of Scotland, and he opposed devolution and—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Time is up, unfortunately, much as I wanted to hear more. I call Rory Stewart.

1.8 pm

Rory Stewart (Penrith and The Border) (Con): Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker.

One thousand nine hundred years ago, Rome divided Britain with a wall. Britain is an island whose natural boundaries are the sea, and this wall split families and split tribes. Ever since that moment we have been debating this issue. These two fundamental principles for Britain are what we are debating today. They are in competition: are we divided nation against nation, or are we unified by culture and language? There is only one answer to that question, and it cannot be simply economics. If a relationship is going wrong—if a marriage is going wrong—the answer cannot simply be to say, ‘You can’t afford to break up because you are going to lose the house.” The answer has to be only one thing, which is, “I love you.” We in this House are struggling to express the nature of our love for Scotland. We are not very good, as politicians, at talking about emotions. We have become very bad at it, but we need to learn to do it, because otherwise a party that is trying to reduce, to shrink, to vanish will win.

What do we mean when we say, “I, as a Member of Parliament for an English constituency, love Scotland”? It would be personal to every single one of us. It could be that we love intellectual seriousness. I was paddling along in a canoe with the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) a few months ago, and I would really miss him from that canoe. People in the United Kingdom would miss Scotland for different personal reasons—Scotland’s egalitarianism, its intellectual seriousness, its sense of realism and its sense of humour. I would be very ashamed and embarrassed to be part of a country that did not have Scottish Members of Parliament here.

Mr Frank Roy (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is an expert in foreign affairs. Can he tell the House how much stronger Scotland would be as an independent country in relation to the world?

Rory Stewart: There are two answers to that question. First, Scotland must of course embrace the potential of being part of the United Kingdom in foreign affairs.

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Secondly, the hon. Gentleman himself represents what is good about our political settlement. He sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, so there is a Scottish voice on that Committee raising Scottish issues again and again, forcing us to focus on Scottish issues when we think about foreign policy, and that is something that we would deeply miss.

There is a great appeal to Scottish nationalism. We all feel it in our gut, and it is because the world is bewildering. People are angry. Some 85% of people in this country feel that politics is broken and 87% feel that society is broken. Our voters feel that Westminster is out of touch and that their lives have never been so complicated. Those are real feelings that we have to acknowledge and accept. But the answer to those problems is not to get smaller. When we face complexity and things that are bewildering in our everyday lives—when we feel angry or disappointed—the answer is not to get smaller, shut the door and pretend that we can shut those things out. The answer is to expand.

I have three suggestions on the lessons that we need to learn from Scottish nationalism. The first lesson is that it is not that Westminster is too far away: it is also that Edinburgh is too far away. The answer to the problems of our communities is to represent the issues of Argyll separately from the issues of Perthshire and the issues of the Borders. They are not the same issues. One of the great weaknesses in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland is the lack of real localism. Whether talking to someone in Muthill struggling with planning or someone in Kelso worried about economic development in their area, we need to learn from Mitterrand in France in 1983—hyper-localism and mayors at a local level—and not try to fool the Scottish people by pretending that transferring power from Westminster to Holyrood will solve those human problems.

The second thing that we need to do—and this is true for the north of England as much as for Scotland—is not to pretend that London and the south of England do not exist. We need to accept that they exist, that they are a challenge, that they have huge potential, and that we need to make them work for us, not pretend that they are not there.

The third thing is cultural links. It is a tragedy that the educational policy of the Scottish National party has made it more difficult for English students to study in Scottish universities and for Scottish students to study in English universities. We must reinforce the cultural links.

Finally, what we need is the human expression. On 19 July this year, I hope that 100,000 people will gather along that old Roman wall—English, Welsh, Irish and Scots—holding hands and linking arms across the border. Because in the end what matters is not the wall that divides us but the human ties that bind us in the name of love.

1.14 pm

Sandra Osborne (Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), who is a fellow member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. I hope his wish to get all those people to the border is fulfilled, and I would certainly be pleased to be there on the day.

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Next September, we Scots will take one of the most important decisions in the history of Scotland and of the UK as a whole—whether to stay in the UK or walk away to become a separate state. It is extremely important—we owe it to all the people of the UK, especially Scots—that this debate is conducted in a measured, respectful and positive manner, and is informed by proper analysis rather than the name calling that has been all too common until now. This has been an affront to the people of Scotland and does nothing for the case of those involved in that puerile bullying and infantile behaviour.

On whichever side of the argument we fall, or even if we have yet to decide, we should go forward on the basis of what we believe is best for Scotland, not necessarily just for the generation represented in the Chamber today, but for our children and grandchildren and those who will follow them. That does not mean that the debate should not be robust, however. The fact is that Scottish people in general do not subscribe to the idea of “knowing your place”, and I would argue that Scots have punched well above their weight as part of the UK and internationally in many different fields, and that continues today.

In that regard, I congratulate Sir Tom Hunter not only on the success he has achieved as a New Cumnock lad, but on what he gives back. He certainly has not forgotten where he came from, as local people will tell you, but he is also to be congratulated on his initiative to provide a forum for people to ask questions and get the answers they need to help them make this important decision about the future of their country.

We need answers to the difficult questions. The more that is asked about the consequences of separation, the more we get talk of

“shared responsibility with the rest of the UK”,

the best example recently being the SNP’s plan for a sterling union. Leaving aside the fact that it takes two to tango, it is yet another proposal that is unravelling. Once it was to be the Scots pound, then the euro, now sterling, but maybe it should be the Scots pound. Even Jim Sillars, erstwhile deputy leader of the SNP, has dismissed a currency union as “stupidity on stilts”.

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I support everything that the hon. Lady has said. Does she recall that James VI of Scotland, who became James I of the United Kingdom, called for a new currency, to be called the unite?

Sandra Osborne: I am a proud member of Unite the Union, but the hon. Gentleman’s Scottish history is obviously much better than mine.

As I was saying, Mr Sillars is well known in Ayrshire for changing his mind—sometimes he does not seem to know which party he is in or whether he is for devolution, for separation or for staying with the UK.

The First Minister seems to be leading a campaign with the slogan “Don't frighten the horses” and suggesting that nothing is really going to change. When we do get any policy promises, such as the child care initiative outlined in the White Paper, we find that nationalists are proposing something that could be delivered right now under the powers of devolution. Instead, in a

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cynical attempt to win women’s votes, child care is offered as a bribe to vote yes. Well, Scottish women are not so easily fooled.

We in Ayrshire have a special regard for Keir Hardie as one of the great Scots of the Labour movement. Keir Hardie believed in devolution, but in the context of promoting social justice across the whole of the UK. He started the Scottish Labour party and the British Labour Party, and he helped build trade unionism in Scotland and in Britain. He was an internationalist in outlook, and an MP for a Welsh and then an English constituency. Look at the Scots who followed in his footsteps, like John Wheatley, Tom Johnston and Willie Ross—another of Ayrshire’s own. They all made a tremendous contribution to Scotland but did so from within the UK Cabinet. That is not to mention Scottish influence in the last Labour Government and indeed the present shadow Cabinet.

We have no desire to “know our place” in any deferential sense, or even to be content to be a junior partner—Scots are not a subjugated people. We have been free to choose independence since universal suffrage almost 100 years ago. Instead, Scots have positively chosen in election after election to remain a partner in the United Kingdom, and I believe that will be their choice in the referendum vote in September.

1.19 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne) and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) on securing this debate and the Backbench Business Committee on recognising the importance of addressing this issue.

I want to take a positive approach to Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. It has played a dynamic role and it is one that has evolved. With 300 years of common history, we have still got our distinctive legal system, our distinctive education system, our national identity, and we have recreated our own Parliament to deal with those issues that directly affect us in our lives in Scotland, so we do, as the slogan says, get the best of both worlds: a say in those decisions that affect us that are taken at the UK level, and a say in those decisions that affect us directly in Scotland in the Scottish Parliament.

In putting the positive case for voting no, I return to what the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) said, and point out that the best and simplest way of keeping the pound sterling is to remain part of the UK. That is most easily achieved by voting no in the referendum. It gives us a say in how our currency is managed and it keeps us part of a borderless fully internal market, with a more diversified economy. The banking crisis reminded us that Scotland’s heavy dependency on the financial services sector—a great achievement by many people working in that sector—presents a challenge when it goes wrong. It was the rest of the UK’s economy and diversification that helped to sustain us through that crisis.

The oil and gas industry is also a great success story in Scotland, as the former Secretary of State my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Michael Moore) mentioned. It is a great technical achievement and there are a lot of people with

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a lot of skills and the work they do has a lot of export potential. It is also a very unstable source of revenue to the economy, however, because it depends on the global oil price. When the price is high, the economy does well. When the price is low, being part of a larger economy, when other parts of the economy can benefit from the low oil price, gives the ability to transfer resources and sustain the economy. The UK’s diversified economy also allows us to come up with tax incentives to stimulate exploration, forgoing cash flow now for long-term benefits.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): The hon. Gentleman talks about being part of a larger economy. Norway is not part of a larger economy. Is he suggesting it is not successful with its oil and gas and its general economy?

Sir Robert Smith: Norway is far more dominated by the oil and gas sector and has a successful economy, but if there is a downturn in the oil price Scotland does not have the economic resources and reserves to take that hit, yet we have the benefit of being part of a wider, dynamic, more diversified UK economy—and we will be, too, when the oil eventually runs out.

As has been mentioned, we also have access to a global network of embassies and trade missions that work positively to benefit Scotland and promote Scottish trade and investment in Scotland. We will continue to enjoy that positive benefit if we vote no in the referendum.

As has been highlighted in recent speeches, the business community does not have a vote in the referendum. The referendum is for the people of Scotland to decide Scotland’s future. It is one person, one vote and it is up to the people of Scotland to make that decision, but they are entitled to know the concerns of business. We want to hear the voices of business. Yes they cannot tell people how to vote, and yes they cannot dictate the result of the referendum, but if they remain silent and then quietly implement what they plan to do in the event of a yes vote in the referendum, the people of Scotland will have voted for a future without knowing the consequences and being able to take that on board. It is therefore extremely important that the business voices have the courage to speak up and inform the debate so people can make a clear and decisive choice in the referendum.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Having talked to some businessmen in Scotland, I have discovered there is a feeling of nervousness on their part. They feel that if they were to put their heads above the parapet and express a view in favour of the Union, they might get picked on and discriminated against by the SNP.

Sir Robert Smith: There is an undercurrent of a bullying culture in respect of some of the voices that come forward in this debate, but I notice that people of the level of Bob Dudley, who is high up the pecking order, are less easily bullied. That is an important point, however, and I hope the fact that these voices are coming forward will encourage others to speak up. Businesses do not, of course, want to fall out with customers and their work force, but they can put their concerns in a way that says, in effect, “It’s up to you how you vote, but we have this concern and the consequence of voting that way is that there will be the following implications for our business, and you need to take that into account.”

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With a yes vote, there is no turning back. It is not an experiment. The message that must go out to the people of Scotland is that if they vote yes it is for life, so they need to be very confident and certain about their decision. A no vote is a positive vote for the benefits of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom, with the best of both worlds. We are better together and I urge people to vote no in the referendum.

1.27 pm

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith), and may I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) on ensuring we have this important, but all too short, debate today? May I also say to hon. Members that I will not be taking any interventions? Members of the other parties will get 90% of the time so it is only fair to the people watching this debate that they get the opportunity to hear from the other side.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that next Tuesday the SNP is in control of Opposition business in this House and that it has not tabled a motion to discuss independence for Scotland?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. That matter is on the record and certainly does not need my confirmation.

Pete Wishart: What a chance; what an opportunity: on 18 September this year we can make the choice to become a self-governing nation once again—to walk tall in the world with national self-respect and dignity like all other normal independent nations do, being responsible for ourselves and blaming no one else for our setbacks. The most exciting thing for me is that our independence will release and ignite a tsunami of energy, creativity and imagination as we get down to the business of building and creating our new independent nation—a new nation according to our Scottish priorities, built on our sense of community, always securing the Government we vote for, pursuing the agenda we want.

We will run an independent Scotland better than the Westminster Tories because of one key and very important fact: we care more about Scotland than the Westminster Tories do—of course we do, and that is why we will run it better. Never again will we have a Tory Government without our democratic consent. We want no more picking on our vulnerable; no more obscenities such as the bedroom tax; no more of Labour’s illegal wars and no more Tory or Labour weapons of mass destruction defiling our beautiful country—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Can I have a bit of calm? In fairness, it has been a good-hearted debate so far, and I know that no one wants to spoil the harmony of the House.

Pete Wishart: We will ease pretty seamlessly into a new independent status. The day after we secure a new nation, it will be pretty much like the day before, but

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something remarkable will have happened. All of a sudden, the country will be ours to shape and to determine. If things do not work out, we can change them. We can change them because we have the power of independence. For the first time in 300 years, our nation will belong to us, and nothing could be more exciting and transformative.

It is all down to this choice. If we vote no, we are accepting that this is as good as it gets. This is what we have to settle for. It signals a contentment with Westminster rule and Westminster politicians’ ability to deliver for Scotland.

Mr Weir: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Pete Wishart: Of course I will.

Hon. Members: Oh!

Mr Weir: My hon. Friend will no doubt remember, as I do, campaigning in the first referendum on devolution in ’79. We were promised, “Vote no and you will get more powers”, and he will remember what happened. We got absolutely nothing.

Pete Wishart: I do indeed remember that, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing that up because it happened in my constituency. In Perthshire, we have long memories when it comes to these issues.

If we vote no, we will be saying that we approve of Westminster government and whatever future the rest of the UK decides for us. Well, I do not like where the UK is going.

Anas Sarwar rose

Pete Wishart: I am not giving way. I do not like where the UK is going at all. I do not have much time, so I will mention just two examples. The first was last week’s appalling Immigration Bill, which would charge visitors to our country fees for health care and turn those who rent houses in the private-rented sector into immigration officers. It is a nasty, pernicious and rotten Bill that is designed to counter the threat of the UK Independence party. We do not do UKIP in Scotland; we barely do Tory. We have a national treasure on the Front Benches; our one and only Tory Member. None the less, we will get that Bill, because this Government took it through on a Labour abstention. I object to my country being dragged into this monstrous race to the bottom between this Government and UKIP about who can be the hardest on those who might want to come and live in my country. Scotland is better than that, yet the Bill was passed. It was passed on the same day as the House of Lords debated our country. I do not know whether you saw that, Mr Deputy Speaker. That bloated, unelected Chamber stuffed full of party placement cronies and donors had the audacity to tell our nation what it should do. Then it also had the effrontery to defile the memory of our war dead and insult the many brave veterans who have served this country with distinction just because they happened to support independence for our nation. One thing we will get with independence is the ability to wipe away that ermine-wearing unelected Chamber from the face of Scottish public life, and our nation will be much better for that. Scotland is so much better than that.

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We know that if we gain control of our own resources and secure all the necessary powers, there is nothing stopping us becoming an economic powerhouse, and that is what we look forward to.

Sir Robert Smith: The hon. Gentleman is putting an emotional case for independence, but he is not taking on board the wise words of the Governor of the Bank of England who talked about the illusion of independence if an independent Scotland keeps the pound sterling. The voice of Scotland will be taken away from the decisions that will affect its very core monetary policy.

Pete Wishart: I have had enough of that “You cannae do that stuff”, so I thank the hon. Gentleman. We have a decision to take. It is a choice between negativity and positivity—[Interruption.]

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I want to hear the hon. Gentleman. It is not fair that you are enjoying yourselves. I want to hear the speech.

Pete Wishart: We have listened to their speeches with as much respect as possible, but we are shouted down. It seems impossible for Members to listen to the other side of the debate. I do not know why this place thinks that that is attractive. It is a choice between negativity and positivity. No European country has done what we are about to do. As an exercise in democracy, this is huge. This is Scotland’s great choice, because it is a choice between two very different and distinct futures. We can decide that this is as good as it gets, or we can decide to do something much better—to take control of ourselves and to put the nation in the hands of the Scottish people. If we get this chance, this once-in-a-generation chance, we will vote for the positive, because positive beats negative. What a prize there will be when we vote yes in overwhelming numbers. When we go to the polls in September, we will vote ‘yes’. What a prize there will be—a country of our own.

1.35 pm

Iain Stewart (Milton Keynes South) (Con): I am honoured to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) on securing the discussion today. Like the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), I want to make principally an emotional argument. My birthday is on 18 September, and I want to celebrate it—hopefully for many years to come—with a glass or two of a good single malt and a celebration of my country. I do not want it to be a permanent reminder of the day that my country was lost. My nationality is British and my country is the United Kingdom. I want to speak up for my constituents and everyone on both sides of the border who feel the same.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP) rose

Iain Stewart: I have a great affection for the hon. Gentleman so I will give way.

Mr MacNeil: What sort of birthday present does the hon. Gentleman think the people of Scotland would like to give a Tory MP on 18 September?

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Iain Stewart: There are some very good distilleries, and I have a taste for the water of life, so I would be happy to send the hon. Gentleman a list. Perhaps he will buy me one on the day.

We have more than 300 years of a forged special identity. That does not diminish the importance, the history or the culture of the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. Initially, it is like a marriage, in which two separate families come together. Over the centuries, those two families forge something unique together, and a shared identity comes about. Something special is created whether it is through triumph, disaster, adversity or opportunity. We dismantle that at our peril.

My second point is what I see as a fundamental flaw at the heart of the Scottish National party’s position. It is not a proposal I agree with, but there is a logical coherence to the argument that Scotland, as a separate nation, should become independent and a master of its own destiny with the ability to shape its own future, as the hon. Gentleman has set out. Quite apart from the huge emotional costs that would have to be paid, there are many uncertainties and other costs that would flow. None the less, I understand the emotional appeal and the logic that goes behind it. What is not logical is to go through all that pain, cost and uncertainty only to argue that nothing would change for this new separate, independent sovereign country. The hon. Gentleman admitted it himself. He said that the day after would be the same. Why go through all that, particularly on the point of currency union, which has been the subject of much discussion? I do not often agree with Jim Sillars, a former Member of this House, former deputy leader of the SNP and one-time ally of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, but his article in the Sunday Times last weekend was spot on. He said that

“a currency per se, like sterling, is a badge of sovereignty printed by a sovereign government”

and that will be the badge of the United Kingdom.

He went on to argue that

“you don’t pool sovereignty, you transfer it and lose it.”

That is what would happen in a separate Scotland according to the SNP’s argument.

Should independence happen, Scotland, England and the rest of the United Kingdom would survive. I do not subscribe to the theory that we would be reduced to an economic wasteland, but I believe we would all be poorer. Time does not permit me to go into all the arguments about the practicalities, but the strength of the Union is greater than the sum of its parts. If we split up, we are all diminished.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): May I point out that the influence of Scotland is enormous? There are three Stewarts on the Government Benches today and there is a Douglas behind me. Scotland has huge influence in the United Kingdom and should remain in the United Kingdom.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): I think there may be a question there.

Iain Stewart: My fellow clansman puts the point eloquently. Scotland punches above her weight in the United Kingdom. England punches above her weight

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by being part of the United Kingdom. Be it in international affairs, defence or economic clout, we are stronger together.

Devolution is a dynamic process and I think that was always the intention when the Scotland Act 1998 was passed. In 2012 we passed a further Scotland Act, which contains a substantial transfer of powers, principally fiscal powers, from this place to Holyrood. That transfer has huge implications, particularly for businesses in Scotland as they adjust to the new fiscal arrangements. I support that, as it makes Holyrood responsible for more of the money it spends. It finds as much of a welcome in my constituency in England as I know it does in Scotland. Surely the sensible thing to do is let that major change happen and bed down before we see whether there are further practical changes that can be introduced so that we have the optimal arrangement between Scotland, England and the rest of the United Kingdom, rather than gambling on the one-way ticket to uncertainty that a yes vote on 18 September would represent.

Let me conclude by returning to my principal point. Whatever the economic, strategic or practical arguments about Scotland’s remaining part of the United Kingdom, for me the principal point is emotional. This is my country. I will not rest until we see a no vote on 18 September. I do not want to swap my country for dual citizenship or whatever other arrangements come about. I am British, I want to stay British and I will fight with every fibre of my body to keep us British.

1.42 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow such a thoughtful and emotional contribution from the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart).

I want to talk about the reasons why Scotland is stronger when we pool and share our resources as a United Kingdom, but let me start by outlining what I believe to be the three main elements of the debate on the streets of Scotland. First, it is about the things that we know will change. Secondly, it is about the things that would not change. Thirdly, it is about the issues that would require negotiation. It has become apparent that there is a nationalist plan to move as many items as possible from the negotiation box into the box for things that would not change: the pound, membership of the European Union and membership of NATO, to name just three. It is pretty clear that the motivation for that move is to create an atmosphere in which people in Scotland feel that separation is not a risk. I hope that the yes campaign will change its strategy and tactics because a victory based on a deceit would be no victory at all.

We also know that many people have stepped in to make their views known, most notably and recently the Governor of the Bank of England. I hope that people will continue to do so without fear and will make positive contributions to the argument on both sides, but I must place on record my concern that the apparatus of the state is being abused by those in power. The White Paper, which I have in my hand—Members will be delighted to know that it is not my speech—was

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billed as the document that would answer all the questions on independence, but it does not. Sir Peter Housden, the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government, must explain why taxpayers’ money was used to create and issue that document. The Secretary of State, the Cabinet Office and the head of the civil service should explain why they have maintained their silence while the impartiality of the civil service has been compromised.

Let me give just two examples. On page 37, the White Paper states:

“The Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government in Edinburgh are responsible for a range of ‘devolved’ matters”

before going on to list them. It then states:

“The Westminster Government—currently a coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties—and the Westminster Parliament have ‘reserved’ responsibilities”

before going on to name those rights. What can we take from those two statements? There is no mention of the United Kingdom Parliament and it refers to a Westminster Parliament and Westminster Government that do not exist. It is factually incorrect, so why did civil servants allow the document to be released and published at the taxpayers’ expense?

It does not end there. Each page is filled with similar partisan comments that belie the Scottish Government’s position that the document was designed to illuminate. One example really makes my blood boil, and it was mentioned a few moments ago by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). Page 13 is entitled “Gains from independence” and states:

“Abolition of the ‘bedroom tax’ which will save 82,500 households in Scotland—including 63,500 households with a disabled adult and 15,500 households with children—an average of £50 per month”.

What could be more despicable and reprehensible than preying on the fears and concerns of the most vulnerable people in Scotland? That statement and the words of SNP Ministers on the issue were designed to create the impression that the Scottish Parliament could not remove the tax without independence. This week, by their own actions, they have confirmed that as a deceit.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, not just dissecting the White Paper as what it is, a work of fiction, but saying that the Scottish Government’s current powers can be used in such a way. Does he think that the people of Scotland will be asking serious questions of the SNP Government about why they have waited more than 12 months to abolish the bedroom tax in Scotland?

Mr McCann: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. There are many more examples and each page of the document is filled with similar deceits. It is not fair on the people of Scotland, who should be relying on informative documents from the Scottish Government to inform the decision they will have to take on 18 September.

Scotland is part of the most successful political and economic union that the world has ever seen, as has been mentioned by other hon. Members.

Mr Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Is it not also the case that the UK has not been invaded by a foreign body for more than 750 years? Surely that in itself demonstrates just how successful the Union has been.

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Mr McCann: I will defer to my hon. Friend on the amount of time, given that he was probably there for most of it. He is absolutely correct.

If people vote no in the referendum, they can wake up on 19 September knowing that they will keep the pound, that the United Kingdom will remain a member of NATO and that we will retain our EU membership. They will know that brave men and women, a lot of them Scots, are looking after our national security and much more. They will know that those matters will not be subject to negotiation.

There is one more crucial point. The United Kingdom is successful because we pool and share resources. Money earned in more prosperous parts of the United Kingdom can be shared with areas that have fewer resources and, as history tells us, areas of wealth are not always fixed. The size, depth and sheer diversity of the United Kingdom mean that we will always have sources of wealth for redistribution, even when certain natural resources cease to exist. Our ability to pool and share our resources, coupled with the certainty of currency and international agreements to which we are party, insulates us as a United Kingdom in ways with which smaller nations cannot possibly compete.

There is a human element too. I was a trade union official, elected and full time for 26 years of my career, and I have worked with colleagues and friends across the United Kingdom. Walking down a street in London, Darlington, Cardiff or Belfast is, apart from the accent, no different from walking down the streets of Glasgow, because people have the same problems. We share much more than currency and membership of international agreements. We share a history, and we share the same hopes and aspirations for future generations. Last night, there was an addition to the McCann family. My niece Maria had an 8 lb 4 oz baby boy in Wishaw general hospital. Members will be delighted to know that mother and child are doing well. I hope that that child gets the same chance to grow up in the United Kingdom as I have had.

1.50 pm

Sir Gerald Howarth (Aldershot) (Con): I am delighted to follow the powerful contribution made by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann). I am sure that I speak on behalf of the whole House when I congratulate him on the addition to his family.

Much of the debate has been on the forthcoming referendum and has centred on the economic issues, which are a bit clinical. Bob Dudley’s warning that BP would question future investment in a foreign country called Scotland will surely not be the last such intervention. The Business Secretary’s statement that the Royal Bank of Scotland would move its headquarters to the place where it is regulated will doubtless be followed by others. The Governor of the Bank of England has warned of the consequences of secession. It would not be in Alex Salmond’s gift to decide whether an independent Scotland could keep the pound, a case that was strongly and brilliantly made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), so I will not repeat it.

Defence is another critical area. The defence industry in Scotland employs 12,600 people, many in the Clyde shipyards and in Rosyth, where the largest warships

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ever built in this kingdom, the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers, are being assembled. Under Article 346 of the European treaty, the British Government are not required to put out to tender across the EU any contract for defence equipment. In a separate Scotland, all that would be lost.

Jim McGovern (Dundee West) (Lab): I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that since the second world war, the MOD has never placed a contract for any defence ship anywhere other than in the UK. If Scotland is no longer part of the UK, obviously it will not get those contracts.

Sir Gerald Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and it is terribly important that the people of Scotland understand the significance of defence in this debate. I am grateful to him for his contribution.

There is also the strategic risk to the rest of the United Kingdom if the defence of our northern borders were to be entrusted to a foreign country, not to mention the ludicrous situation regarding the UK’s critical nuclear deterrent, which would have to be removed from Scotland at massive expense and huge danger to the whole of the current United Kingdom.

But these are all matters of the head; like my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) I want to address matters of the heart. My father was born in Lancashire, but my mother was a Douglas, the daughter of a Scottish Border farmer, himself a Border Reiver. I am a product of the Union and I am intensely proud of it. I do care about Scotland, even if I do not have a Scottish accent. My closest relatives have farmed that magnificent rolling border country for centuries, and are doing so today as we debate this issue. My uncles, together with MOD representatives from the Northumberland side, defined the border between England and Scotland along the Cheviot in the 1950s. My uncle played flanker for Hawick, two of my cousins played for Jedforest, and my second cousin, the late W. I. D. Elliot, was hailed by The Daily Telegraph as the greatest post-war Scottish rugby player, with 29 caps for Scotland. This is no foreign country; this is where a large part of my soul resides. When I cross the border back into Scotland, I think of the words of Sir Walter Scott:

“Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!”

I trace my roots to nowhere else but the soil of this United Kingdom and the Scottish Borders is where half my soul resides.