Since the EU referendum, Scotland Office Ministers have held over 50 meetings with Scottish Government Ministers, Scottish organisations and trade bodies to discuss the implications for Scotland. We intend to hold further such meetings in the coming months, to ensure that Scottish business interests are fully represented in the negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU and in any future trade arrangements.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that when we negotiate free trade deals outside the European Union, we can remove some of the protectionist tariff barriers that the EU has erected, thereby reducing consumer prices for consumers in Scotland—and, indeed, across the United Kingdom?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and I believe that this Government and this country can be advocates around the world for free trade. Trade liberalisation between advanced economies can have a positive impact on the consumer, and that is what we want to see in Scotland and across the UK.
Will the Secretary of State reassure the House that as he is conducting discussions around the world and engaging with British business, he gets the maximum opportunities for Scottish business, uses his opportunities to demonstrate that Scotland is better as part of the United Kingdom, and knocks on the head all this talk of independence that we incessantly hear from the Scottish National party?
I agree with my right hon. Friend. It is vital that we promote Scotland’s interests in that way, and do so working in conjunction with the Scottish Government. Both Governments have a role to play—in, for example, as the Scotch Whisky Association identified, developing new markets and promoting that product, which is vital to Scotland’s economy.
I was pleased to read last month that exports of Scotch whisky were up for the first time in three years, with a surge of exports to India. Does my right hon. Friend agree that everyone in the UK should work together to support the export of great British products, including great Scottish products such as whisky?
I am sure that that is the type of speculation that will constantly be sought from Ministers in the weeks and months ahead. The Prime Minister has set out the process for negotiating our exit from the EU, and at the conclusion of that process I am confident that we will be able to achieve the best possible deal for Scotland and the rest of the UK.
The Secretary of State has, on many occasions, extolled the trade benefits of the single market for Scotland. Regardless of whether or not the UK is a member state of the EU, does he still believe that it is in Scotland’s interest to have membership of the single market, rather than trying to negotiate third-party access?
What I have also said on many occasions, as the hon. Lady will know, is that the UK will have a bespoke arrangement with the EU when we leave. It is not appropriate or sensible to see the negotiating process in the context of existing arrangements with other countries or, indeed, the existing structure of the EU. We should seek to get the best possible deal for our businesses.
Crucial to promoting trade is the need to support apprenticeships. However, training bodes, organisations, businesses and employers in Scotland have told me that they are struggling to get clear guidance on how the apprenticeship levy will work. Will the Secretary of State ensure, unlike his colleague the Business Secretary, that he works urgently with the Scottish Government to give those people the information that they need?
I am absolutely committed to doing that, and I can confirm that the apprenticeship levy will be discussed when the joint ministerial council meets on
One area in which apprenticeships could work is the oil industry and the decommissioning of oil rigs. We have already seen the loss of 80,000 jobs in that industry, and that will be compounded if we continue, as has happened recently, to lose decommissioning contracts to other countries. Do the Government have any strategy at all to ensure that those crucial jobs remain in Scottish hands?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are committed to the industry, and a £2.3 billion investment and associated tax changes were exactly the support that it asked for. We have also established, along with the Scottish Government, the £250 million Aberdeen city deal, which will have at its heart a new technology centre to ensure that skills and jobs remain in the north-east.