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Strengthening the Union

Scotland – in the House of Commons on 25th March 2020.

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Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

What steps he is taking to strengthen the Union.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

Before I respond to my hon. Friend’s question, I would like, on behalf of myself, the Scottish Secretary and the Scotland Office, to express our gratitude and appreciation to everyone across Scotland and the United Kingdom who is helping to fight this virus. Under extraordinary pressure, our NHS is again demonstrating why we cherish it so dearly. So to our nurses, our doctors and all the staff at the frontline in the NHS right now, thank you. To the other emergency services, to carers and to teachers, thank you. To those providing childcare or working in our supermarkets, our farmers, and other food producers and processors, thank you. And to everyone who is following the Government advice to keep themselves safe and, in turn, saving lives, thank you. We are fighting a battle like never before, but it is a battle we will win, and win together. In these bleak times, I know our spirits will be lifted by the way we respond to this emergency as one. We will not let coronavirus define us; instead, let our legacy of this pandemic be one where our choices reflected our hopes rather than our fears.

This Government’s No. 1 priority is to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom are supported throughout the current crisis. It is evident how valuable the Union is to our collective ability to respond. I have regular engagement with the Scottish Government, and I am confident that through continued collaboration we will beat covid-19.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer and for his thanks to all our NHS and key workers, and all our communities and volunteer groups, in Scotland and throughout our one nation, for all the work they are doing together to combat this virus.

Does my hon. Friend agree that leaving the EU has provided many opportunities for Scotland, including becoming an independent coastal state with control over its own fishing waters?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

I do agree with my hon. Friend. For the first time in 40 years, we have the chance to control who manages our own waters. Before we get to that stage, however, we have to address the current crisis. In stakeholder discussions with the Scottish Seafood Association, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation and the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, I have been listening to their concerns on behalf of the Government and responding to how we, as the UK Government, can address their needs and concerns at this time.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I very much associate myself with the Minister’s comments commending our public services. I commend in particular our NHS staff in Scotland, who are performing a job that is second to none. They truly are heroes every day.

I want to take the Minister back to the original question about steps to strengthen the Union. For two and a half years, Christian Matheson served on the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill Committee, fighting against the Government’s attempt to reduce the number of seats in this House from 650 to 600. I welcome their screeching U-turn on that, but will the Minister tell me if there are any plans to guarantee 59 seats in Scotland going forward?

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that yesterday’s written statement by the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend Chloe Smith, guarantees that the seats across the United Kingdom will remain at 650. I am sure his question has been heard by those in the Cabinet Office. I am in regular discussion with the Minister and we will be discussing that going forward.