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This is the first Scottish questions since the passing of the former Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber. Charles Kennedy was a regular participant at Scottish questions and I wish to pass on my personal condolences to his family at this sad time.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome the Secretary of State to his new role and wish him well. In my constituency RBS has announced the closure of branches in Kelty and in Aberdour, a further sign of withdrawal from the banking sector that should be supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and communities. What is the right hon. Gentleman’s view of the retail banking sector in Scotland? Has he had discussions with the Chancellor about creating challenger banks out of RBS?
This is a momentous question because it is the first time that a Member representing Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath has asked a question at Scottish questions. I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about RBS’s approach to branch closures, its commitment to smaller communities and its breach of a commitment not to be the last branch to leave a community. I will certainly take up with RBS the issues he has raised.
The Secretary of State will know that my Dual the A1 campaign has achieved committed funding from this Government of £290 million for the 13 miles of dualling towards the Scottish border. I will need cross-border support to build the economic case for the remaining 35 miles to complete the dualling between London and Edinburgh. Will my right hon. Friend support my campaign?
I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the comments of the Secretary of State in respect of Charles Kennedy, and I welcome the right hon. Gentleman back to his place in his role as Secretary of State for Scotland.
The next UK Budget is going to continue the austerity course of the Tory Government, and it will hit the poorest in society. Will the Secretary of State be up front and explain who it will hit when £12 billion of cuts hit families and communities across Scotland?
When it comes to being up front, it is the Scottish National party that needs to be up front about its proposals for taxation and spending. It used to tell us it wanted full fiscal autonomy, but now it does not seem to want that. It is for the SNP to answer the question where the additional spending in Scotland would come from.
The last time I looked, this was Scottish questions, where it is the Government who have to answer the questions on the powers for which they are responsible. They are about to bring in £12 billion of cuts and the Secretary of State for Scotland has not been up front about where they will hit. On a related topic, the living wage can make a huge difference to those on low incomes, and I am very proud that the SNP Scottish Government are the first Government in the UK to become an accredited living wage employer. When will his Department and his Government follow the SNP lead on the living wage?
A number of businesses in Pendle trade with Scotland, including Carlson Filtration in Barnoldswick, which supplies products to the Scotch whisky industry. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that we are better together?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend that businesses right across the United Kingdom benefit from the continuance of our United Kingdom. This Government’s commitment particularly to the Scotch whisky industry is evidenced in the last Budget, which was warmly welcomed by the Scotch Whisky Association.
The Secretary of State will have seen at the weekend reports indicating that the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to use next month’s Budget to start increasing fuel duty again. As the economic recovery starts to take hold, does the Secretary of State understand the very serious impact that that could have on the economies of rural Scotland, and will he use his office to argue against such a move?
I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on his superb election victory and his appointment as Secretary of State for Scotland. Does he agree that, with greater fiscal devolution to the Scottish Parliament, places such as Carlisle will assess the potential effects on Carlisle of measures in the Scottish Government’s budgets as well as the national Budget? Does he also agree that the Carlisle principle set out during the election campaign is important not only to the north of England but to the south-west of Scotland?
Indeed I do agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, the nature of the devolution settlement means that different decisions will be taken in Scotland on those matters that are devolved, so inevitably different policies will be pursued on one side of the border from the other. I think that the Carlisle principle set out by the Prime Minister during the general election should be followed.
As this is the first Scottish questions, I also pay tribute to Charles Kennedy. He was warm, he was witty, he was kind, and our condolences go out to his family, his friends and his party, and, of course, his son Donald.
How many more Scottish children of working-age families will fall into poverty as a result of his Government’s decisions on welfare?
There is no evidence that there will be a further increase in the number of children falling into poverty as a result of welfare changes in Scotland. Indeed, the evidence shows that since statistics began there has been a relative decrease in child poverty in Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Scotland Bill is devolving extensive welfare provisions to the Scottish Parliament, and if the Scottish Parliament believes that there is any detriment in Scotland it will have the opportunity to top up or create new benefits.
The Secretary of State says that there is no evidence. I find that answer contemptible. Let me give him some evidence. John Dickie, the head of the Child Poverty Action Group, has said that the Government’s £12 billion cuts to welfare could lead to a “child poverty crisis”. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that those most likely to be affected are low-income working households with children. Is it not time that the Secretary of State stopped ducking the question and came clean about the impact this will have on vulnerable Scottish families, given that 50% of children in poverty in Scotland are from families who are in work?
The Government’s position is clear: the best way out of poverty is into work. There is a record low number of workless households in Scotland, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes that. I also hope that he welcomes the Government’s decision to devolve significant welfare powers to the Scottish Parliament so that if there are specific issues in Scotland decisions can be made in Scotland to deal with them.