Leaving the EU: State Aid, Public Ownership and Workers’ Rights — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:55 pm on 11th December 2018.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 2:55 pm, 11th December 2018

It is, as always, a great pleasure to see you in the Chair for this afternoon’s proceedings, Mr Hollobone.

I warmly congratulate Laura Smith on securing this debate. In some respects it is timely, because the actions of the Prime Minister yesterday have perhaps moved us a little closer to a no-deal scenario, which would be catastrophic for jobs and our communities, although my argument is that that is not a new phenomenon.

The British Government have left key Scottish industries without support for decades, and are now set to subject our firms to a Tory Brexit race to the bottom. Communities in Scotland, whether those of Linwood, Ravenscraig or Methel, know fine well that British Governments simply cannot be trusted to protect jobs and people’s livelihoods. I welcome the opportunity to shine a bright light on the stark contrast between the privatisation-obsessed British Government and a Scottish Government who believe in a thriving, healthy public sector. Westminster, not the EU, sold off our public services.

Thanks to the Scottish National party, Scottish Water, the island ferries and our NHS have all remained in public hands. In sharp contrast to the increasing health privatisation by Westminster Governments, the SNP Scottish Government have kept, and will always keep, Scotland’s NHS in public hands. Unlike water suppliers elsewhere in the UK, Scottish Water has remained a statutory corporation that provides water and sewerage services across Scotland, and it is accountable to the public through the Scottish Government.

Caledonian MacBrayne is the major operator of passenger and vehicle ferry services between the mainland of Scotland and the 22 major islands of Scotland’s west coast. Glasgow Prestwick airport is also operated on a commercial basis, at arm’s length from the Scottish Government, in compliance with European Union state aid rules, and Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd is a public corporation wholly owned by the Scottish Ministers, which operates 11 Scottish airports that are vital to the social and economic welfare of the areas that they serve—some of the most fragile communities in our country. The reality, however, is that they are loss making and supported by subsidies from the Scottish Government.

The Scottish Government are also pressing ahead with plans for a national investment bank and a public energy company, supporting our position as a leading EU mixed economy. Last September, the First Minster announced plans to establish a Scottish investment bank, and we may hear more about that later this week. On a personal level, as someone who wants to see much more state ownership, I am genuinely delighted that the Scottish Government are on track to deliver their ambition of a public energy company by the end of the Parliament in 2021. Even better, there will be a public sector bid to run the railways in Scotland—long overdue, in my view. In Scotland, we have a good story to tell about our commitment to workers’ rights, protecting jobs and putting more services in public hands.

I now turn to the real threats to workers’ rights as a result of our exit from the European Union. History shows us that the EU has forced successive Westminster Governments to improve workers’ rights. Such rights must not be put at risk by a Tory Brexit race to the bottom. It is important that we reflect on them and take stock of just how much EU membership has improved workers’ rights. For example, the EU’s working time regulations were introduced in the UK in 1998, meaning that employees cannot be forced to work more than an average of 48 hours a week and should get a rest time of at least 11 consecutive hours. Equal pay between men and women has been enshrined in EU law since 1957, and the 1992 EU pregnant workers directive guarantees women a minimum of 14 weeks’ maternity leave.

Make no mistake: leaving the European Union and allowing the British Government to take charge of those rights is a deeply retrograde step that will lead to a bonfire of workers’ rights. That is why, even at this late stage, I appeal to Members on the Conservative and Labour Benches to join us to end the Brexit chaos. If they do not, or will not, they should not be surprised when Scotland unhooks the tow bar and takes us on a different path of independence.