[4th Allocated Day]
Further considered in Committee
[Mr David Crausby in the Chair]
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 52, page 30, line 36, leave out “Ministers” and insert “Parliament”.
Amendment 57, page 30, line 37, at end insert—
‘(1A) The Treasury and Scottish Ministers must agree a scheme transferring to the control of each of Shetland Islands Council, Orkney Islands Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (“the island authorities”) on the transfer date all the existing Scottish functions and rights of the Commissioners relating to those parts of the Scottish zone surrounding each of the island authorities.
(1B) The exact extent of the parts of the Scottish zone to be transferred under subsection (lA) will be agreed by the Treasury and Scottish Ministers in consultation with the island authorities and in accordance with the principles contained within the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea articles 16, 74 and 84.”
This Amendment would require the relevant functions of the Crown Estate in the Shetland Islands, Orkney and Na h-Eileanan Siar (the “Western Isles”) to be transferred to the councils for those areas. Articles 16, 74 and 84 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea set out principles for defining geographical extent in relation to the territorial sea, exclusive economic zones and the Continental shelf respectively.
Amendment 125, page 31, line 22, at end insert—
‘( ) The scheme must not include any alteration to the Sovereign Grant Act 2011.”
The Sovereign Grant Act 2011 made provision for the honour and dignity of the Crown and the Royal Family and about allowances and pensions under the Civil List Acts of 1837 and 1952.
Amendment 126, page 31, line 22, at end insert—
‘( ) The scheme must not include any reduction in the pro rata payments due to Her Majesty under the Sovereign Grant Act 2011.”
This amendment is to ensure that Scotland continues to contribute its share towards the costs of the Monarchy.
Amendment 127, page 31, line 22, at end insert—
‘( ) The scheme must not include any permanent alienation of the rights of the Crown.”
This amendment protects the position of future Sovereigns in respect of the rights of the Crown.
Amendment 24, page 32, line 25, leave out “C” and insert “A”.
Amendment 25, page 32, line 31, leave out “then, instead of the type C procedure”.
Amendment 26, page 32, line 31, leave out “I” and insert “A”.
Clause 31 stand part.
Amendment 134, in clause 32, page 33, line 44, leave out subsection (2).
This amendment delivers a more explicit reference to the devolution of competence over gender quotas in respect of public bodies in Scotland but ensures that it is “not limited to” gender quotas, as agreed in the Smith Commission report.
Amendment 167, page 33, line 46, after “2006” insert “(other than enforcement under Part 1 of that Act)”.
Amendment 161, page 34, leave out lines 3 and 4.
Amendment 162, page 34, line 4, at end insert—
“Equal opportunities in relation to an appointment as a member of a Scottish public authority.”
Amendment 123, page 34, line 13, at end insert—
“including a requirement for gender balance among the members of the Scottish Parliament and members of boards of Scottish public authorities;”
The Amendment would ensure continued progression towards achieving gender balance among members of the Scottish Parliament and on boards of Scottish public authorities.
Amendment 168, page 34, line 18, leave out “the Equality Act 2010 and Part 1 of that Act” and insert “and the Equality Act 2010”
Amendment 135, page 34, line 25, leave out subsection (6) and insert—
“In section 2 (power to amend section 1)—
(a) in subsection (7) omit “the Scottish Ministers or”,
(b) in subsection (10), before “Ministers” insert “Welsh””
Amendment 136, page 34, leave out lines 39 to 42 and insert—
‘(4) Part 1 comes into force on such day as the Scottish Ministers may by order appoint so far as it—
(a) confers a power on the Scottish Ministers;
(b) relates to a public authority in respect of which such a power is exercisable.”
This amendment would clarify Scottish Ministers ability to commence the relevant sections of Part 1 of the Equality Act 2010, which was subject to a Legislative Consent Motion in 2010.
Amendment 137, page 35, line 2, leave out subsection (10).
Clause 32 stand part.
Amendment 27, in clause 33, page 35, leave out lines 18 and 19.
Amendment 53, page 35, line 18, leave out sub-sub-paragraph (b).
Amendment 28, page 35, leave out lines 24 and 25.
Amendment 29, page 35, leave out lines 26 to 30.
Amendment 138, page 35, leave out lines 26 to 30 and insert—
“This Schedule does not reserve the transfer of all the functions of a tribunal referred to in sub-paragraph (2) to a Scottish tribunal, so far as the functions are exercisable in relation to Scottish cases or a specified category of Scottish cases, in accordance with provision made by Her Majesty by Order in Council.”
This amendment would ensure that all functions exercisable in relation to Scottish cases or a specified category of Scottish cases should transfer to the Scottish Parliament.
Amendment 139, page 35, leave out from beginning of line 31 to end of line 7 on page 36.
Amendment 140, page 36, line 22, at end insert—
‘( ) For the avoidance of doubt, this Schedule does not reserve—
(a) a Scottish tribunal’s practice and procedure when exercising functions that have been transferred to it by virtue of this paragraph, or
(b) the fees and expenses chargeable for, or in connection with, proceedings before a Scottish tribunal when it is exercising those functions.”
This amendment makes clear that competence over a tribunal’s practice, rules of procedure and fees in relation to transferred cases becomes devolved, as per the Smith Commission recommendation.
Amendment 54, page 37, line 17, at end insert—
‘(7A) Scottish Ministers, in conjunction with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) shall establish and oversee a process, involving Scottish businesses and trades unions, to end the current employment tribunal fee system in Scotland.”
Clause 33 stand part.
Amendment 141, in clause 34, page 37, line 28, leave out from “relating” to “to” in line 29.
This amendment would remove a restriction on the full devolution of speed limits in relation to emergency vehicles.
Clauses 34 and 35 stand part.
Amendment 142, in clause 36, page 41, leave out lines 15 to 18 and insert—
“(a) in relation to vehicles used on roads in Scotland means the Scottish Ministers.”
This amendment would amend section 130(3) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 so that Scottish Ministers are added into the provision as the relevant ‘national authority’.
Amendment 143, page 41, line 19, at end insert—
‘(18) In section 130 (application of Act to Crown)—
(a) in subsection (3) for “Secretary of State” substitute “relevant authority”, and
(b) after that subsection insert—
(3A) In subsection (3) “relevant authority”—
(a) in relation to vehicles used on roads in Scotland means the Scottish Ministers,
(b) otherwise, means the Secretary of State.””
This amendment would amend section 130(3) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 so that Scottish Ministers are added into the provision as the relevant ‘national authority’.
Clauses 36 and 37 stand part.
Schedule 2 stand part.
Clauses 38 to 40 stand part.
Amendment 144, in clause 41, page 42, line 32, at end insert—
‘( ) After subsection (3) insert—
(3A) Without limiting subsection (3), the Scottish Ministers may grant a licence upon the condition that the licence holder makes an annual rental payment to the Scottish Ministers.
(3B) In subsection (3A), “rental payment” means payment of an amount to be calculated by reference to the area of land to which the licence relates.””
In Clause 41, the Secretary of State has retained the power to set the consideration payable for licences. This could restrict Scottish Ministers’ ability to set other charges that form integral aspects of the licensing regime: for example, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) charge a ‘land rental’. This would enable Scottish Ministers to introduce a similar scheme in Scotland.
Clauses 41 and 42 stand part.
Amendment 30, in clause 43, page 45, line 7, at end insert—
“(aa) in the list of subject-matter, leave out “(c) the Estate Agents Act 1979,””.
Amendment 145, page 45, line 9, leave out from “insert—” to the end of subsection (8) and insert—
“The provision of consumer advocacy and advice.
Enforcement and redress for breach of consumer rights.”
(3) In Section C8 (product standards, safety and liability) after the heading “Exceptions” insert—
“The provision of consumer advocacy and advice.
Enforcement of, and redress for breach of, consumer rights.”
(4) In Section C9 (weights and measures) after the reservations insert—
The provision of consumer advocacy and advice.
Enforcement of, and redress for breach of, consumer rights.”
(5) In Section C10 (telecommunications)—
(a) for the heading “Exception” substitute “Exceptions”;
(b) after that heading insert—
“The provision of consumer advocacy and advice.
Enforcement and redress for breach of consumer rights.”
(6) In Section C11 (posts)—
(a) for the heading “Exception” substitute “Exceptions”;
(b) after that heading insert—
“The provision of consumer advocacy and advice.
Enforcement of, and redress for breach of, consumer rights.”
(7) In Section D1 (electricity)—
(a) for the heading “Exception” substitute “Exceptions”;
(b) after the exception relating to the Environmental Protection Act 1990 insert—
“The provision of consumer advocacy and advice.
Enforcement of, and redress for breach of, consumer rights.”
(8) In Section D2 (oil and gas), at the end of the exceptions insert—
“The provision of consumer advocacy and advice.
Enforcement of, and redress for breach of, consumer rights.”
This amendment would provide an exception to reservation C10 in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act which covers telecommunications and devolves responsibility for consumer enforcement and redress to the Scottish Parliament. It also removes unnecessary references to a public body and to the holder of a public office.
Clauses 43 and 44 stand part.
Amendment 146, in clause 45, page 47, line 3, leave out from “insert-“ to the end of subsection (1) and insert—
The number of relevant gaming machines authorised (if any) in respect of premises licences under the Gambling Act 2005.
A “relevant gaming machine” is a gaming machine (within the meaning of section 235 of the Gambling Act 2005) for which the maximum charge for use is more than £10.””.
This amendment replaces the reference to betting premises with a more general reference to gambling premises, giving full effect to Smith Commission recommendation 74.
Amendment 31, page 47, line 7, leave out “for which the maximum charge for use is more than £10”.
Amendment 163, page 47, line 7, leave out “£10” and insert “£2”.
Amendment 159, page 47, line 8, at end insert—
“and the designation of licensing standards officers in Scotland as authorised persons for the exercise of inspection and enforcement functions in respect of such licences.”
This Amendment would allow the Scottish Parliament to include Licensing Standards Officers (LSOs) in Scotland as authorised persons who may exercise inspection and enforcement functions under the Gambling Act 2005 in respect of the number of gaming machines authorised under a betting premises licence.
Amendment 147, page 47, line 13, leave out from “means” to the end of subsection (4) and insert—
“(a) the Scottish Ministers in respect of premises in Scotland in so far as the order varies the number of gaming machines authorised (if any) for which the maximum charge for use is more than £10, or
(b) otherwise, the Secretary of State.”
This amendment replaces the reference to betting premises with a more general reference to gambling premises, giving full effect to Smith Commission recommendation 74.
Amendment 32, page 47, line 17, leave out
“for which the maximum charge for use is more than £10”.
Amendment 164, page 47, line 18, leave out “£10” and insert “£2”.
Amendment 165, page 47, line 18, after “£10” insert —
“( ) the content and the speed of play,”.
Amendment 166, page 47, line 18, after “£10” insert—
“( ) the number of staff required to supervise such machines,”.
Amendment 160, page 47, line 20, at end insert—
‘(4A) In section 304 of that Act (authorised persons), after subsection 4(c) insert—
“(d) Licensing Standards Officers (LSOs) of Scottish local authorities, appointed in terms of section 13 of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005.””
This Amendment would include Licensing Standards Officers (LSOs) in Scotland as authorised persons who may exercise inspection and enforcement functions under the Gambling Act 2005 in respect of the number of gaming machines authorised under a betting premises licence.
Amendment 33, page 47, line 35, leave out subsection (6).
Clause 45 stand part.
New clause 22—Obstructive parking—
‘(1) In section E1 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (Road transport) after “Exceptions”, insert—
“The subject matter of sections 19 to 22 (Stopping on verges, etc, or in dangerous
positions, etc.) of the Road Traffic Act 1988;
The subject-matter of section 41(5) (Regulation of construction, weight,
equipment and use of vehicles) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 in so far as it relates
to the making of regulations making it an offence to cause or permit a vehicle to
stand on the road so as to cause any unnecessary obstruction of the road.”
(2) After section 51 of the Road Traffic Offenders Act 1988 (Fixed penalty offences) insert new section 51A—
“51A Offences under Road Traffic Act 1988
(1) Any offence in respect of a vehicle under regulations made by Scottish Ministers under section 41(5) (Regulation of construction, weight, equipment and use of vehicles) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 is a fixed penalty offence for the purposes of this Part of this Act if it is specified as such in those regulations, but subject to subsection (2) below.
(2) An offence under an enactment so specified is not a fixed penalty offence for those purposes if it is committed by causing or permitting a vehicle to be used by another person in contravention of any provision made or restriction or prohibition imposed by or under any enactment.”
(3) Before proposing a change in regulation of a subject matter falling under this section, Scottish Ministers shall—
(a) consult the Secretary of State, and
(b) publish and lay before the Scottish Parliament an assessment of the impact on road safety of any difference between the proposed change in Scotland and road traffic rules in other parts of the United Kingdom.””
This amendment is intended to ensure that offences in relation to parking on pavements can be enforced by the Scottish Parliament. Other offences would be unaffected. This amendment is based on Mark Lazarowicz’s Private Members’ Bill from the last Parliament, which was supported in principle by the then Secretary of State for Scotland.
New clause 26—Health and safety—
“In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (Employment), leave out Section H2 (Health and Safety).”
This new Clause would remove from the list of reserved matters in the 1998 Act (and so transfer to the Scottish Parliament) the subject-matter of Part I of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (Health, safety and welfare in connection with work, and control of dangerous substances and certain emissions into the atmosphere), the Health and Safety Commission, the Health and Safety Executive and the Employment Medical Advisory Service.
New clause 27—Business associations—
“In section C1 in Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (Business associations) at the end of the exceptions insert—
“(c) the law on partnerships and unincorporated associations,
(d) the creation of new forms of cooperative enterprise,
(e) the creation of new forms of mutual enterprise,
(f) the creation of economic interest groups where the European Economic Interest Group under regulation EEC 2137/85 is not available because the members do not come from more than one member state.””
New clause 41—Scottish Government review of measures taken to promote gender equality in Scottish Parliament—
“Scottish Ministers shall, within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, publish and lay before the Scottish Parliament a comprehensive review of the measures which the Scottish Government is taking to further and to promote gender equality in the membership of the Scottish Parliament and on the boards of Scottish public authorities.”
This New Clause requires Scottish Ministers to publish a review of the measures they are taking to promote gender equality among members of the Scottish Parliament and on boards of Scottish public authorities.
New clause 47—Employment and industrial relations—
“In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, omit Section H1 (employment and industrial relations).”
This new clause would devolve employment and industrial relations to the Scottish Parliament.
New clause 48—Health and safety—
“(1) In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (“the 1998 Act”), omit Section H2 (health and safety).
(2) The Health and Safety Executive is a cross-border public authority for the purposes of the 1998 Act.
(3) The 1998 Act applies in relation to the Health and Safety Executive in the same way as it applies in relation to cross-border public authorities specified in an Order in Council under section 88(5) of the 1998 Act.”
This new clause would devolve health and safety to the Scottish Parliament and designates the Health and Safety Executive as a cross-border public authority.
New clause 49—Equal opportunities—
“In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, omit Section L2 (equal opportunities).”
This new clause would devolve equal opportunities to the Scottish Parliament.
New clause 56—Abortion—
“In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the 1998 Act, leave out section J1 (abortion).”
This amendment removes the specific reservation of abortion, thus transferring competence over abortion to the Scottish Parliament.
New clause 57—Crown property—
‘(1) Part 1 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (general reservations) is amended as follows
(2) Omit paragraph 2(3)
(3) In paragraph 3(3), omit paragraph (a)
(4) After paragraph 3, insert—
“3A Without prejudice to paragraphs 2 and 3, paragraph 1 does not reserve—
(a) removing or altering functions of, or conferring functions on, the Crown Estate Commissioners in relation to the holding or management of property within paragraph 3(1),
(b) where a function of the Crown Estate Commissioners of holding property is so removed, the transfer of any property held in exercise of the function.”
(5) Functions relating to Crown property are, so far as they relate to Crown property in or relating to the Scottish offshore region, to be treated for the purposes of the Scotland Act 1998 as exercisable in or as regards Scotland.
(6) In subsection (5)—
“Crown property” means property within paragraph 3(1) of Part 1 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998,
“Scottish offshore region” has the same meaning as in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 (see section 322 of that Act)
(7) In section 1(2) of the Civil List Act 1952 (payment of hereditary revenues into the Scottish Consolidated Fund), omit “from bona vacantia, ultimus haeres and treasure trove”.
This alternative to clause 31 would reduce the complexity of the current arrangements relating to the Crown Estate by removing the reservation relating to the management of the Crown Estate and provides the Scottish Parliament with full legislative competence in relation to the management of the Crown Estate in or as regards Scotland. It would also transfer any functions of the Crown Estate Commissioners in relation to rights to the continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile limit adjacent to Scotland.
New clause 59—Party political broadcasts—
“In Section K1 of Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 (broadcasting), after the reservation insert—
The regulation of
(a) party political broadcasts in connection with elections that are within the legislative competence of the Parliament, and
(b) referendum campaign broadcasts in connection with referendums held under Acts of the Scottish Parliament.”
In recommending that the Scottish Parliament should have all powers in relation to Scottish Parliament and local government elections, the Smith Commission stated specifically that this would include party political broadcasts. This new clause delivers on that proposal.
New clause 60—Broadcasting—
“Leave out section K1 in Part 2 of Schedule 5 (Broadcasting) to the 1998 Act.”
This new clause would devolve broadcasting to the Scottish Parliament.
New clause 61—Levies in respect of agriculture, taking wild game, aquaculture and fisheries etc.—
“‘(1) In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, Section A1 is amended as follows.
(2) In the Exceptions, after the exception for devolved taxes insert—
“Levies in respect of agriculture, taking wild game, aquaculture and fisheries (including sea fisheries) or a related activity: their collection and management.”
(3) After the Exceptions insert—
“agriculture” includes horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming and livestock breeding and keeping, and the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds.
“aquaculture” includes the breeding, rearing or cultivation of fish (of any kind), seafood or aquatic organisms.
“related activity” means the production, processing, manufacture, marketing or distribution of—
(a) anything (including any creature alive or dead) produced or taken in the course of agriculture, taking wild game or aquaculture, or caught (by any means) in a fishery,
(b) any product which is derived to any substantial extent from anything so produced or caught.””
This new clause would give the Scottish Parliament general legislative competence in respect of agricultural, aquacultural and fisheries levies.
New clause 63—Assessment of the Scottish Parliament having the power to alter the National Minimum Wage in Scotland—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall instruct the Low Pay Commission to undertake and publish, within 12 months of the date on which this Act is passed, an analysis of the economic impact of the Scottish Parliament having the power to alter the United Kingdom National Minimum Wage.
(2) The Secretary of State must require the analysis to assess the effects of the Scottish Parliament having the power to alter the United Kingdom National Minimum Wage on the Scottish and United Kingdom economies, with a specific focus on the following areas—
(a) the risks of establishing a two tier minimum wage across the United Kingdom, including an analysis of any possible negative impact on employment conditions for United Kingdom and Scottish workers;
(b) the importance of maintaining the principle of minimum standards across the UK, and the extent to which low pay issues differ in Scotland from the rest of the UK;
(c) the Scottish and United Kingdom labour market, in particular the effect of a different level of minimum wage in Scotland on the jobs and working hours of Scottish and United Kingdom workers;
(d) entitlement in Scotland to both devolved and reserved welfare payments;
(e) the possible effects on business investment in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom;
(f) any other considerations that would arise from having different minimum wages in communities on either side of the border;
(g) the institutional infrastructure required to establish, monitor and enforce it;
(h) the implications for EU Directives on Posted and Agency Workers;
(i) the impact on wage levels in Scotland and the United Kingdom; and
(j) a report on how the National Minimum Wage can rise faster in Scotland and across the United Kingdom to 58% of median earnings or more than £8 per hour by 2019.””
The new clause requires the Low Pay Commission to assess the impact on the Scottish and UK economies of the Scottish Parliament having the power to establish a different rate of the National Minimum Wage (NMW) in Scotland. The analysis includes what institutional infrastructure would be required, the relationship with EU Directives, the long-term impact on wages, and ways to faster increase the NMW, whilst maintaining the principle of the UK NMW framework.
New clause 64—Enforcement of Part 1 of Equality Act 2006—
“In the Exceptions under Section L.2 of Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the 1998 Act, insert—
“The enforcement of Part 1 of the Equality Act 2006.”
New clause 66—Health and Medicines—
“In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the 1998 Act, leave out “Head J (Health and Medicine)””
The new clause would remove health and medicine, including abortion, xenotransplantation, embryology, surrogacy, genetics, medical supplies, poisons and welfare foods from the list of matters reserved to the UK Parliament, allowing the Scottish Parliament to make separate provision in these matters for Scotland.
I welcome you back to the Chair, Mr Crausby.
We have an embarras de richesses in the range of issues before the Committee for the next three hours, so I will try to keep my remarks as brief as possible. I am pleased that at the top of the list of amendments come those from different parts of the House about the future devolution of the Crown Estate commission.
Perhaps I am on something of a roll today: the future of the Crown Estate commission has been important to me throughout my political life. The Crown Estate was the subject of my maiden speech in this House some 14 years ago, and, revisiting the issue ahead of today’s debate, it was interesting to note that there has been some progress, particularly under the auspices of its current chief executive, Alison Nimmo. We have seen a greater willingness of the Crown Estate to engage with the communities that it most directly affects, and in the previous Parliament we heard about the creation of the coastal communities fund that brought back some 50% of Crown Estate dividends relating to the use of the seabed to coastal communities around the country. That has made a significant difference to a number of projects in a wide range of communities.
It remains the case that the operation of the Crown Estate remains unsatisfactory for island and coastal communities—especially those throughout Scotland that seek to establish a future for themselves in the development of marine technologies and renewable energy generation, which continue to rely on the good will and co-operation of the Crown Estate in relation to the construction and maintenance of piers and harbours, and for which the aquaculture industry remains an important source of livelihoods for many people. We need to see that operation devolved, in particular as it relates to the function of the seabed and territorial waters.
The right hon. Gentleman says that the operation of the Crown Estate is unsatisfactory and needs to be devolved. It was unsatisfactory and needed devolving four years ago when he was in government, and he opposed its devolution. Why did he oppose that devolution and why has he now had a damascene conversion and changed his mind—on devolution not just to Scotland but to councils? Many people do not want the issue left at council level, decided in council boardrooms; they want it devolved to the islands.
Four years ago, I was very much in favour of devolution to the communities: it was something on which we could not build a consensus—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has asked a question; if he calmed down a little, he could listen to the answer.
Four years ago, we could not build a consensus on this issue and that was a matter for regret. I regularly pursued the issue, as I am sure the Secretary of State will recall. I am delighted now to be able to place publicly on the record my enthusiasm for devolution to council areas—possibly even sub-council areas. That is why amendment 57 seeks to facilitate the devolution to the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland of the powers of the Crown Estate commissioners, so that the communities have the day-to-day responsibility and reap the financial benefits.
I have always been of the view that power is best exercised closest to the community affected by it, and the seabed as a resource could be much better managed if it were under the control of local communities—island communities, in particular.
I shall allow the Secretary of State to speak for himself when he has the opportunity to do so later; I am sure we will all be on tenterhooks to hear what he has to say.
It is manifestly the case that the seabed as a resource could be better managed—and it would be if it were managed by the communities most directly affected. That would generate more income. There are tremendous opportunities for generating income from the seabed, many of which are thwarted because the Crown Estate commissioners over the years have taken an especially narrow construction of their duties under the Crown Estate legislation.
I fully accept that amendment 57 seeks to promote the interests of the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. I remind the House that the issue was the subject of two reports to the Scottish Affairs Committee in the last Parliament, and has also been pursued vigorously by the three island authorities in their engagement in the “Our Islands Our Future” process, which I was keen to encourage when I was Secretary of State.
I suggest that if we were able to achieve devolution to the three island authorities first, the way would be smoothed for those in the Highland region area, and Argyll and Bute in particular. I know that the issues relating to the islands and coastal communities in those council areas are very similar to those for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland.
Would it not be a better approach to devolve to the islands? I see the Liberals are now ignoring and forgetting about Mull, Tiree and Islay, but the intention of the Scottish Government—to devolve to the island communities themselves—is a far better approach and we have to make sure we can have it in Scotland. We could have had it four years ago, when I moved an amendment on this issue. We did not get it four years ago, however, because the right hon. Gentleman and his party opposed it.
I seek to build consensus today. It is unfortunate that the hon. Gentleman is not minded to do so. I say to him simply this: if he speaks to his colleagues in the Comhairle, he will find they have enthusiasm for this matter. They pressed me and others in government very hard in the previous Parliament to proceed on this. It would be to his benefit and to the benefit of his constituents if he were minded to give his support.
Amendments 27 to 29 have their genesis, as do many others, in briefings provided by the Law Society of Scotland. They relate to the administration of tribunals in Scotland. This was some of the most difficult and challenging work for both the Smith commission and the Government. The analysis of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee in the Scottish Parliament and the Law Society of Scotland is that what remains in the Bill is imperfect, because it does not give full effect to paragraphs 63 and 64 of the Smith commission report. Paragraph 63 states:
“All powers over the management and operation of all reserved tribunals (which includes administrative, judicial and legislative powers) will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament other than the Special Immigration Appeals Commission and the Proscribed Organisations Appeals Commission.”
Paragraph 64 states:
“Despite paragraph 63, the laws providing for the underlying reserved substantive rights and duties will continue to remain reserved (although they may be applied by the newly devolved tribunals).”
In implementing paragraph 63, there must be scope for the continued reservation of the substantive law and that may take forms that will require some limitation on the functions transfer. However, it is the assessment of the Law Society of Scotland that the limitations on transfer should only be such as are objectively necessary and that they must not be unduly restrictive of the principle in paragraph 63.
It seems to be a notion of some novelty in Whitehall that tribunals can be running independently and applying legislation that goes across the whole of the United Kingdom. I could never share that analysis of novelty, having practised in sheriff courts and watched over many years the practice in the High Court and the Court of Session do exactly that. I never quite understood —perhaps the Secretary of State will be able to explain it tonight—why this is so difficult.
Amendment 30 is another Law Society of Scotland amendment. It deals with the regulation of estate agents in Scotland under the Estate Agents Act 1979. I remind the House that much estate agency in Scotland is done by firms of solicitors acting as estate agents. They do it very effectively within the context of Scottish land law practice and conveyancing which, being Roman in origin, is fundamentally different from the law applicable in other parts of the United Kingdom.
I would suggest in support of the Law Society’s amendment that devolving the regulation of estate agents makes perfect sense. It is another aspect of our business and commercial life, as well as our personal and private life, that is managed completely differently in the Scottish context and in Scottish law. It is an anomaly that we should take this opportunity to address.
Amendments 31 and 32 deal with gaming machines in licensed betting premises. They seek to remove the limitation
“for which the maximum charge for use is more than £10”.
Paragraph 74 of the Smith commission agreement stated:
“The Scottish Parliament will have the power to prevent the proliferation of Fixed-Odds Betting Terminals.”
It is the analysis of both the Law Society and, again, the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee that the Bill does not achieve that end. Removing the maximum charge would most effectively achieve the objectives set out in the Smith commission.
Likewise, the effect of new clause 26 would be to devolve the functions of the Health and Safety Executive. Health and safety enforcement in Scotland is already practically devolved. Control over occupational health issues—many of which are practically unique in profile to Scotland, such as those in offshore oil and gas and in agriculture—should now be formally devolved to Scotland. That would be a recognition of the practice that has developed since devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. It is merely a recognition in law of something that is already widely practised.
Finally, new clause 27 is fairly technical and, again, was drafted by the Law Society of Scotland. It would give effect to the particular models of business incorporation that we have in Scots law and is a recognition that that, too, should be under the control of the Scottish Parliament.
I rise to speak to my new clause 66, on health and medicines, which reads:
“In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the 1998 Act, leave out “Head J (Health and Medicine)”.
In the helpful Member’s explanatory statement, which the Clerks helped me with, I say:
“The Amendment would remove health and medicine, including abortion, xenotransplantation, embryology, surrogacy, genetics, medical supplies, poisons and welfare foods from the list of matters reserved to the UK Parliament, allowing the Scottish Parliament to make separate provision in these matters for Scotland.”
I put forward the new clause hesitantly. I just want to probe the Government for an explanation of why the Scottish Parliament is not going to be allowed, under our Scotland Bill, to debate or decide these matters.
These matters are, of course, of vital interest to any nation. I well recall that whereas our debates on, say, social security, when we are discussing spending extra billions of pounds, are sometimes extremely poorly attended and attract very little interest, as soon as we get into what I would call these “Moral Maze” issues, where people have strong personal views and there are often free votes, our Parliament really comes into its own. That is what makes a Parliament. It is part of being a Parliament, and what we are trying to create in the Scottish Parliament is, in its essence, a real Parliament. Scotland may be a small nation, but it is a proud nation and it has its own individual point of view, which I would have thought was best determined by the Scottish people, through their Parliament.
Yes, I was going to come to that point, which is important. I have obtained the help of the Library in finding out exactly what happens in Northern Ireland with regard to abortion, which I will describe in a moment.
My research assistant shares my generally pro-life view—I suppose it is no secret that I will always take the pro-life argument, whether on capital punishment, assisted suicide or abortion. I have my own views, which I appreciate are not the views of everybody in this place. When I was thinking about tabling this new clause, he said to me, “Is this wise? What would the Scottish Parliament decide? Would its views be more like ours in the UK Parliament?” I said to him, “It’s completely irrelevant what my views are or what your views are. That’s a value judgment. It’s not for me for decide.” Frankly, I have no idea whether, if the Scottish Parliament was allowed to decide the law of abortion, it would take my pro-life view and amend the Abortion Act 1967 or not. I have no idea and it is none of my business.
I would have thought that a self-respecting Parliament could and should be trusted to deal with abortion, especially as I understand that the Scottish Parliament already deals with assisted dying. Indeed, in January 2010, the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill was introduced in the Scottish Parliament by Margo MacDonald MSP. It sought to permit assistance to be given to persons who wished to have their lives ended under certain conditions. The Scottish Parliament disagreed with the general principles of the Bill, which is apparently being reintroduced, and that discussion is going on. That is fair enough. When Lord Falconer introduced his Assisted Dying Bill in the other place, he did not seek to extend it to Scotland. Obviously we trust—quite rightly in my view—the Scottish people, through their Parliament, to decide what is arguably an even more important issue than abortion, namely whether assisted dying should become legal. I cannot see the logic—this is why I am trying to probe my right hon. Friend the Minister—in allowing the Scottish Parliament to decide on assisted dying, but not abortion.
Let me deal with the intervention by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh). I know he has tabled an amendment on this issue and I look forward to hearing from him later. No doubt he can make these points far more powerfully than I can. The Abortion Act 1967 never extended to Northern Ireland, where abortion continues to be regulated by provisions in criminal law. Under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, all abortions are illegal in Northern Ireland, subject to very limited exceptions specified in the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945 and application of case law, chiefly R v. Bourne of 1939. Abortion is currently allowed in Northern Ireland subject to limited circumstances where the pregnancy threatens the life of the woman or where it would affect her physical or mental health in a way that is permanent or long term.
That is the situation in Northern Ireland and, believe me, I have no idea what the Scottish Parliament would decide if it was given this power. In a sense, we already have abortion on demand in this country—that is itself a controversial statement. For all I know, the Scottish Parliament may want to clear up the law in its own way, and I do not see why it should not be allowed to.
I thought it might help the hon. Gentleman if I gave him a little bit of history. If I remember correctly, the late Donald Dewar wanted this power devolved in the Scotland Act 1998, but was prevented by some sort of star chamber that was presiding over that legislation. Given that that was what Donald Dewar wanted to be done all those years ago, is it not more than passing strange that it is not being done even now?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for describing that bit of history. I understand that this was discussed by the Smith commission—again, we can be given further details—and there was disagreement. Presumably a majority did not want the power to be passed. However, this is not the Smith commission. We are perfectly entitled to disagree with the Smith commission and, following the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman, we are perfectly entitled to give the Scottish Parliament that power.
Indeed, this is a power that other devolved Administrations around the world have. In the United States abortion is a state matter, within the framework of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, as altered by subsequent decisions. If I was an American politician, I imagine I would be quite a strong states’ rights person. The United States has an increasingly intrusive and proactive Supreme Court, but the power of states to decide on these important matters, such as the death penalty, is jealously guarded in America. Despite the power that is given to the states in the United States, I do not believe that the republic is any weaker, that the union is any weaker or that these matters cannot be properly decided by people. People can take a different attitude on these great moral issues of the day, depending on whether they live in Massachusetts or Texas, and I think that is probably the case in other parts of the world too. I am therefore not sure I understand the logic—it can presumably be explained to us—of why abortion has been excluded.
When I tabled the new clause, I thought I should try to make it as wide as possible because I was aware that the hon. Member for Southport had already tabled a specific amendment. I included issues such as embryology, surrogacy, genetics, medical supplies, poisons and welfare foods because I did not want this to be a debate only about abortion. It struck me that all those other matters were of great interest, with issues of great national debate raging around them. I see no reason why the Scottish Parliament should not have some control over them.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 established a legislative framework that governs assisted reproduction and embryology research in the United Kingdom. It was amended by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, which set up as a UK-wide independent regulator. I do not claim to have any particular knowledge and there may be powerful arguments why we should have a UK-wide body, but I would have thought that Scotland, with all its expertise, history and traditions, is perfectly capable of having its own human fertilisation and embryology Act and system, but I remain to be advised by the Secretary of State.
Scotland has always had a separate legal system. It might be said, “Surely it is unwise to have a different law for these issues, depending on whether someone lives south or north of the border”. I would have thought that that argument had already been defeated by the fact that the Scottish Parliament can decide on assisted dying. If the Scottish people and Parliament decided to allow it, people would not have to travel to Dignitas in Switzerland; they could just take a train to Glasgow. Have we not already arrived at the principle that, with a separate legal system, there is no harm in having a different law on these great moral issues?
We have a different law in the UK as a whole from that of Northern Ireland, and I would not have thought that the roof would fall in if we had a different law on abortion. We had different laws in the past, and people used to run off and elope to Gretna Green. I am not aware that that subjected the United Kingdom to tremendous stresses and strains.
I thus put forward new clause 66 in a spirit of hesitancy, but I hope that the points I have made are not entirely unreasonable and that the Secretary of State will consider them carefully.
I rise to oppose or to provide a different perspective on the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). I fear that he wants to do two damaging things through his amendments. He wants to bind what the Scottish Government are doing in regard to other islands by devolving to island council authorities when the ambition should be greater and power should be given to communities. What we have is not a defined community, but a community or group of individual communities. His amendments are also restrictive, and I think it is wrong for this Parliament to tell the Scottish Parliament what it should do in the next step of devolving powers. It would be far more useful and far more innovative if the Scottish Parliament had the flexibility to do what it saw as right rather than putting into the long grass the cases of our islands of Mull, Tiree, Coll or Islay, or a number of other islands that are not mentioned here.
If the right hon. Gentleman wants the full input of the Scottish Parliament, why is he trying to bind its hands? He should leave his amendment to one side and leave the Scottish Parliament as the most democratic institution and forum representing the Scottish people, allowing us to arrive at the most democratic, most sought and most wanted forum as the solution.
We know from the island authorities that they are more than happy with the direction of travel that the Scottish Government have taken. I come from one of the minor islands within a local authority area, and I know that the people who live in my island want to control themselves, not be controlled by a council chamber 100 miles away. From Uist, the council chamber is 70 to 100 miles away, while Harris, linked to the same island geographically, does not want to be controlled in Stornoway 45 miles away. In Ness and Lewis, they would rather have control themselves. We need to look at what the communities want, rather than sitting here in Westminster and prescribing what is required in these places. Let us make sure that we give the Scottish Parliament the power and authority, and then we can discuss with the communities exactly what they want, rather than have grandstanding amendments. These amendments stand in direct contradiction to where the right hon. Gentleman was four years ago—in government and in a position to influence, but he did not do so.
I know what they wanted, but it is clear from that answer that the right hon. Gentleman did not take their advice. He had no influence on that Government, but he is now telling us to take their advice. He has a very different agenda. If he had accepted our amendment four years ago, we would already have had control, because the Scottish Government would have given it to us. In fact, he was a blocking force and an obstacle to progress for Scotland four years ago, as he still is. As for his colleagues who were here at the time, as a result of that very attitude, they are gone. Instead, I am one of 56 Scottish National party Members, rather than the mere five last time. I should thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for his intransigence four years ago, because it was that very intransigence that led to this raft of colleagues beside me, together debating the Scotland Bill.
The Crown Estate has tremendous control over areas of life in Scotland. It takes millions out of salmon farming each year, and we want more control over what we are doing there. We could stimulate growth and activity in different areas. If we control the taxes, we can do what we feel like. We could do something about revenues from marine renewable energy going south and ensure that they stay within Scotland. We could also ensure that no development is hampered because of the money demanded by the Crown Estate—rentiers’ money that it is lucky to be getting. Years ago, it got nothing from the seabed, but a lucky windfall has now come its way in the shape of offshore renewables.
What is required is for the powers to go to the Government in Edinburgh and for that Government to decide what happens with the community of the realm in Scotland. That is where power and sovereignty rests—with the community of the realm and the people of Scotland. It is for them to decide exactly what they want. Yes, the powers should be devolved. As the Secretary of State said four years ago, the idea of the SNP was to devolve at any cost. He did not listen then, but by goodness, he is listening now.
Thank you, Mr Crausby—[Interruption.] I did not hear that interruption by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), which is always a great loss because his interventions are some of the most amusing that we ever hear. On this occasion, however, I am going to disagree with him. I do not like clause 31 at all; I think it is fundamentally misconceived. I have tabled a number of amendments, which I hope will improve it—if it is possible to make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.
Let me start by explaining why I do not like the clause in principle. I think there is a danger that it is attempting to give away something that does not actually belong to the state. The Crown Estates belong to the sovereign and are given in trust to the Government at the beginning of every reign. This started at the beginning of the reign of George III and has been recommitted by every monarch subsequently. However, the Crown Estates must return entire to a new sovereign at the beginning of a new reign. It is not possible—it is not right; it is not proper—for the Government to give away the Crown Estates or to put them in such a state that an incoming sovereign could not take them back in their entirety. I therefore have concerns about the underlying principle of clause 31 in that it is seeking to divide the Crown Estates, which ought not to be divisible because of the unity they are required to have at the beginning of each reign.
I also do not like it symbolically because, although I am very sympathetic to the demands of the SNP for more government in Scotland and for more rights for the Scottish Parliament, I think the Crown is more important than the union of Parliaments.
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman is familiar with the phrase “the land belongs to the people”. Surely that applies to the foreshore as well—except the bit that belongs to Caledonian MacBrayne, I suppose.
Does the hon. Gentleman regret jumping at the bait from the metropolitan press? I refer to the silly, foolish, extraordinary story that appeared three weeks ago suggesting that the Crown’s income would be damaged by the devolution of the Crown Estate. Does he regret jumping so quickly at that bait on a hook, and associating himself with such a scurrilous rumour?
I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s characteristically helpful intervention. What was so wonderful about that bait was the outpouring of patriotic royal fervour that it elicited from my friends in the Scottish National party. I must confess that I was thrilled and surprised when a party that I had thought to have republican leanings turned out, to a man and woman, to contain some of the staunchest monarchists in the land. That is desperately reassuring—
I am also grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has described giving way to the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar as a greater honour than giving way to the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond). I wanted to repeat that for the purpose of my own amusement.
May I return to the hon. Gentleman to the quip that I made at the beginning of his speech? I said that he had contributed to this debate four years ago, on 15 March 2011. Times have changed since then, but it clear that, in another sense, times have not really changed, because the argument that he was advancing then—the argument that the Crown Estate was the property of the monarch—is the argument that he is advancing now. Indeed, in many respects it is an argument that has been advanced for hundreds of years. It is time to move on. It is time for the royal windfall to end, and for royalty to end its control of local people. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows—because we have been friends for a number of years—I say that as a staunch monarchist myself.
The hon. Gentleman really cannot have it both ways. He teased the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for being inconsistent, because four years ago he had been against the devolution of the Crown Estate and today he was in favour of it. Now he has objected to my being consistent, in that I opposed it four years ago and continue to oppose it today. Either the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is right to have changed his mind, or I am right not to have changed mine. Both cannot be true.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his consistency, and, similarly, I congratulate myself on mine. I want this power to be moved to Scotland so that the most democratic forum in Scotland—the Scottish Parliament—can decide, in consultation with the people of Scotland, exactly what happens to the Crown Estate.
The problem with that view is that it does not respect the rights of property. The Crown is entitled to protection of the rights of property as much as—indeed, some might say more than—anyone else in this country. If even Her Majesty’s property, the property of the sovereign herself, is not sacrosanct and protected, but can be taken for the benefit of the people—whatever that means—no one’s land is safe.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) for having a word in my ear.
In Scotland, the people are sovereign, whereas here, as the hon. Gentleman will of course know, the Treasury already controls the vast majority of the revenues of the Crown Estate, and gives pocket money—albeit a tremendously large amount of pocket money—to the monarch.
I find the concept of sovereignty coming from the people very attractive. I do not dispute the concept of sovereignty rising from the people to this Parliament, with our sovereign Lady the epitome of it, the symbol of it, the very pinnacle of our society and of our nation. Within that concept, however, all subjects, and Her Majesty herself, have rights of property, and those rights should not be arbitrarily taken away. It worries me that clause 31 is going in that direction in deciding that Parliament can allocate a property right without having established that that property right belongs to Parliament, and that it is for Parliament to dispose of it in the first place.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He is being very generous, as are you, Mr Crausby.
The hon. Gentleman speaks of the personality of the sovereign. He says that the sovereign cannot choose to whom to give the estate, and that it will go to the next sovereign. The important difference between England and Scotland is that in Scotland the people are sovereign. As the hon. Gentleman knows from his history books, there was Mary Queen of Scots and there was Elizabeth of England. There were the people, there was the country, and there were two different nations.
The Queen of England. The two were different, in a sense, and there is a conception of popular sovereignty in Scotland that may differ from that in England—although it is perfectly possible that the reference to “Mary Queen of Scots” may have been due to concern about having a woman as monarch, and to the fact that in earlier times people were happier to have a King of Scotland than to have a King of the Scots. I am not entirely sure that the hon. Gentleman might not be more in tune with the late John Knox and his “blast of the trumpet”. I myself am not sure that I want that particular trumpet to be blown, because I think that it is a trumpet that sounds a rather wrong note. For once I am sounding more modern than the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar! I think that the issue of property rights is fundamental, and I also think that the Crown is indivisible.
I am surprised that such an ardent and professional monarchist as the hon. Gentleman is unaware that the Crown Estate is divided by jurisdiction, and there are other jurisdictions within the Commonwealth in which Crown property is managed separately. For instance, there is a receiver general for the Crown properties in Jersey. If the Scottish people wished to continue with the monarchy, it would be perfectly sensible for the Crown Estate to be managed separately rather than property being divided, as the hon. Gentleman has suggested.
The hon. Gentleman has been more helpful to me than he may have realised. I think that the symbolic importance of this division is that it is symbolic of independence for Scotland rather than further devolution. I think that the indivisibility of the Crown in one nation is such that the Crown Estate ought not to be divided.
The Union of the Crowns happened 100 years before, but in my view it is clear that the constitutional union came about as a result of the Act of Union, and that therefore the Crown Estate is indeed indivisible. The fact that it may be subject to a different jurisdictional framework in Scotland is neither here nor there, and to that extent the example of Canada or Jersey is not relevant to the debate.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend, who I think is absolutely spot on. The indivisibility of the Crown within the United Kingdom is central to the Unionist case, and I think that if a Unionist Government are willing to divide the Crown, that is a very dangerous step. I would rather give the Scottish Parliament other powers—some of which are the subject of other amendments—than give it this very important power relating to the Crown, which, as has already been pointed out, has been indivisible for longer than the Parliaments have been united. It brought the two countries together, and that was then established firmly in law.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his incredible generosity. He said that the Crown property was indivisible, but of course the United Kingdom itself was not indivisible, given that it was divided in 1922. Although most people do not realise it, the United Kingdom is not yet 100 years old. I think that Doris Day is older than the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, the question that is puzzling me is not that of Doris Day’s age, but what happened to the Crown properties that were once held and are now in the Republic of Ireland.
My assumption is that they were devolved to the Government of the Republic of Ireland, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do when one is abolishing the monarchy. If SNP Members were, in fact, closet republicans—which, given the other arguments that we have heard recently, I do not think they are—it would be perfectly rational for them to argue that the estate should be confiscated from the Crown and should go to an independent Scotland. However, that is not the argument that we are having today. Today, there seems to be broad acceptance in the House that the monarchy should remain part of the Scottish settlement—as well as the settlement for the rest of the United Kingdom—come what may, even if Scotland were to become independent.
I think that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. What today’s debate is about is whether the monarch’s estate—the Crown Estate—should be controlled by Her Majesty’s Government here, or by Her Majesty’s Government in Scotland. My colleagues and I are suggesting that Her Majesty’s Government in Scotland would be a far better Government to control Her Majesty’s estate.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman —I was about to say “my hon. Friend”—is bold enough. What he should say, and what I, in logic, would be bound to accept, is that if that is to be determined by one Government, it could be argued that it should be determined only by the Scottish Government in relation to the whole Crown Estate. However, that would not be my argument.
I am able to help the hon. Gentleman with a precedent. It turns out that in 1923 the Crown Estate was given to the Irish Free State Government to be collected. The pertinent point is that in 1923 southern Ireland was under the Crown, as the hon. Gentleman will recall, so we now have an exact precedent for doing what he says is impossible to do.
I am terribly sorry to say that we do not have an exact precedent. We have exactly the wrong precedent, and the right hon. Gentleman is making my argument: we should be very nervous of doing this because it would lead inexorably to a division between the state—we divide the Crown, and we divide the state. There we are: I am finding a good deal of agreement between my position and that of SNP Members, but neither of us is in perfect harmony with those on the Treasury Bench, who seem to want to put this forward with the view that it does not risk a fundamental division in the Crown. That is what worries me; it is why I think it is a mistake, and why I have tabled a number of amendments that I hope will meet with universal approbation. Indeed, I am very surprised that many SNP Members, after all their protestations of loyalty to the Crown following the suggestion that the sovereign grant might lose a bit of money, did not add their names to my amendments. I was hoping for that, but I hoped in vain.
I would like to explain my amendments in reverse order, because amendment 127 is perhaps the key one. It states
“The scheme must not include any permanent alienation of the rights of the Crown.”
No, all my amendment is seeking to do is ensure that at the beginning of a new reign the Crown Estates are returned entire. It is about a
“permanent alienation of the rights of the Crown.”
That does not mean that one property may not be sold for another property; it means that the assets must be retained within a single pool and that they must not be disposed of without receiving counter-value in return. It is a permanent alienation of the rights, not of specific properties, which is why I phrased it this way, rather than relating it to specific properties or the seashore or any of the other elements of the Crown Estate. It is about preserving entire that which does not belong to this House to give away. It would be wrong of this House to exceed its authority and risk giving away something that is not its.
I accept that it is highly unlikely that a future sovereign will exercise his right to have the Crown Estates returned to him, but the fact that it is unlikely does not mean that we should abandon property rights lightly.
Amendment 126 addresses the pro rata payments under the Sovereign Grant Act 2011. I was delighted that the First Minister of Scotland was clear that she did not wish to see any reduction in the Sovereign Grant Act. The Crown estates are 3.9% funded from Scotland; that is the percentage of income that comes from the Scottish Crown estates. That feeds through to the 15% that is received by the sovereign to pay their expenses. This would merely provide a protection for that.
The Crown Estate is public land and its commissioners are a statutory corporation, and the Crown Estate revenues are paid directly to the UK Government Treasury. It has no direct role in paying for the Queen or the royal household. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that that is contrary to the position he is trying to put forward?
No, I do not agree. I enjoyed participating in the Sovereign Grant Act debates, when I thought Her Majesty ought to get rather more than the measly 15% that was being proposed. It is based on the income of the Crown Estates and it is conceivable that if the Crown Estates were managed in a less than efficient way, the total amount raised would be reduced and therefore the grant from the Consolidated Fund would be reduced in a pro rata manner. This amendment is putting in a protection.
The Crown Estate was a brilliant way of settling the issue. It is of course just one way, and we have tried other methods, but the civil list, for instance, ended up failing as a method of paying for the Crown because of inflation. It had historically been set for the lifetime of a sovereign and was done once in a reign, but inflation bit into that and the amount granted to the Queen in 1952 became so small 20 years into her reign that it needed to be increased. The great advantage of the Sovereign Grant Act is that it took the detailed petty politics out of ensuring we have a monarchy that is funded to do what we want our monarchy to do.
Hon. Members may have got the impression that I am a monarchist; I think there are few things more important in this nation than the monarchical system that we have. None the less I am consistent in my capitalist views; I do not want even my sovereign to benefit from subsidies that are paid by the Government and fall on the backs of hard-pressed people in North East Somerset who cannot afford their energy bills. I am not that much of a monarchist.
I certainly am, it would seem, and I can hear the timbers in Buckingham palace quivering as we speak: we have now found limits to the hon. Gentleman’s loyalty. We are talking here about the Queen and everyone else in the country getting the benefits of onshore wind. If the monarch still had the power to shout, “Off with his head,” I would fear for the hon. Gentleman tomorrow morning.
One has to be careful of onshore wind turbines if one is at risk of losing one’s head; I believe the heads of bats get regularly cut off by the turbines.
Subsidies are a different point, but I would certainly not want the sovereign grant to benefit from state subsidies. I think that is a very bad method of funding almost anything. The Government picking winners tends not to work and tends to increase costs.
Amendment 126 would merely ensure that the pro rata amount would remain the same, and amendment 125 would mean the scheme agreed by the Treasury and the Scottish Parliament could not be altered to the disadvantage of the Sovereign Grant Act.
As I have said, the Sovereign Grant Act is an extraordinarily good way of funding the monarchy. It means Her Majesty is the highest marginal tax rate payer in the country. The Queen pays a tax rate of 85% whereas nobody else pays more than 45%. The Crown Estates are taken from the Queen at the beginning of the reign and the revenue is then taken to the Government. So the Queen subsidises her own Government throughout her reign. That is not an unreasonable situation, but the Sovereign Grant Act returns it, and that should be protected in any development of devolution.
Everybody subsidises the Government through their taxes, and we in Scotland particularly subsidise the Government having paid more tax per capita every year for the last 31 years.
Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman might be pleased to know that Doris Day’s birthday is 3 April 1922; I thank the ever-vigilant SNP press officer Stuart Easton for that piece of information.
I wish Doris Day many happy returns, albeit somewhat belatedly, but the hon. Gentleman is not right that all these Scottish taxpayers have paid more tax for 31 years, because some—very distinguished—SNP Members of Parliament are not 31 years old, so certainly have not been paying tax for that long.
My hon. Friend is giving a very fine Tory speech, not one from the Whiggish camp as we have been hearing from others, but I wonder whether in the deepest recesses of his soul he is a Jacobite, and thinks that if there had been a different settlement we may not have had this problem. The serious point, however, is that we must allow the Public Accounts Committees of both Parliaments to look at the royal finances properly, which they cannot do at the moment.
I think that that is a terrible Jacobean, rather than Jacobite suggestion. Although this is not immediately relevant to the debate, I do not think the Public Accounts Committee should be looking at the royal finances. Her Majesty should be allowed some privacy on that, but that is a side issue.
I want to conclude on the fundamental principle: the clause is a move towards independence. It is rightly welcomed by the SNP, but it should be resisted by Unionists. It divides the Crown, which should not and cannot be divided; it is fundamentally indivisible. I have tabled amendments to protect the revenue for the Crown because there was a genuine outpouring of royalist fervour from Scotland, and in particular from the SNP, after it was suggested that that source of revenue was being attacked. It is better to put that into the Bill than rely on generalised assurances of goodwill and good faith.
The other point is that I want to protect that which is not ours to give away. It is important that it is held together as one Crown Estate for the beginning of each new reign, rather than being cut up. If Scotland becomes independent, all that is different, but we should not pave the way for independence by cutting up the Crown. I think the measure was put in as something that is relatively easy to do. There are many more important areas that would give more real power to the Scottish Parliament that the Government and the Smith commission did not hand over, such as full fiscal autonomy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) proposed. The Crown Estate seems to be one of those baubles that can be passed around, but symbolically, whatever else it is, it is not a bauble. It is essential to our understanding of the nation: one nation, one Crown.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Downton Abbey. I want to speak on employment in relation to section H1 in part 2 of schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 and new clause 63. I rose from the Grunwick picket line ultimately to be elected as the deputy general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union. I have believed all my life in the old trade union legends of “unity is strength” and “solidarity for ever.” I have seen the consequences of disunity, including in Scotland. I remember the activities of ruthless gangmasters in the fields and fish farms of Scotland, which our agricultural section was battling against. I remember the shameful pressures that were brought to bear by supermarkets on the slaughterhouses and packing plants of the meat industry. They drove down costs along the supply chain and led to a two-tier workforce. Newly arrived migrant workers—overwhelmingly, they were agency workers—were on poorer conditions of employment. Scottish workers here for generations were directly employed full-time on better conditions of employment. That divided workforces and damaged social cohesion—there was exploitation and undercutting.
Not once did we blame the workers concerned; we sought to unite them, and it was tough. I remember one plant in Scotland where there was a fight involving 100 workers in a car park, such were the strong divisions in the workforce over that two-tier labour market. We united that workforce around a recognition that it was not newly arrived migrants who were the problem, but ruthless employers seeking to undermine and undercut.
Unity was what we achieved, not only among workers in Scotland, but between workers in Scotland and England and across the four nations of the United Kingdom. As a consequence, we won landmark achievements for workers. The Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004 was the most complex private Member’s Bill taken through Parliament in 30 years, and it established the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. Jim Sheridan, a former Transport and General Workers Union convener at Barr and Stroud in Glasgow, sponsored that Bill. We also achieved equal treatment for agency workers and the directly employed. Finally, following a landmark inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into what had happened in parts of the north of England and Scotland, the supermarkets were compelled to end the two-tier labour market in the meat industry supply chain. Those battles, which changed life for the better and the laws protecting workers for the better, would never have been won without a unity of workers north and south of the border, and a Labour Government.
Even under a Conservative Government, great battles were fought and won for Scotland and for Scottish workers—battles that could not have been won without that unity of Scottish and English workers. I will give two examples. First, I was privileged to lead the great battle against the closure of Rosyth dockyard. The yard was privatised in 1987. In 1991, a Conservative Government, encouraged by Conservative Members of Parliament in the south-west, moved down the path of closing Scotland’s biggest industrial establishment, Rosyth dockyard. Some 20,000 jobs hung on that decision. The Conservatives down south were saying, “Close Rosyth. Bring the work down to Devonport and we will see all the Navy’s work done on the south coast of England.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his work in that period in Scotland; we have spoken about it privately before. Does he recognise that the problem of that period was that Scotland had a UK Government, like today, that we did not elect? Had we been an independent country then, we would not have had those problems and we would not have needed his mighty efforts to try to stem the damage that the then Tory Government were doing. The steps they took contribute today to the £1 billion annual defence underspend in Scotland.
Two unions saved Rosyth. The first was the campaign led by the TGWU that united the whole of Scottish public and political life. More than that, it united Rosyth and Devonport. I remember addressing a meeting of 9,000 workers at Devonport. They would have been the beneficiaries of the closure of Rosyth, and they were being encouraged by the Conservatives to back that closure, but they said no—they stood by the workers of Rosyth. The other union that saved Rosyth was the Union of England and Scotland. Had we had a Westminster Government making decisions simply in the interests of England, we would have seen the closure of Rosyth. For me, the lesson of that great battle was that unity and solidarity north and south of the border are critical.
I shall give another example. The only time that British Aerospace was ever defeated on a workplace closure was in 1989, after it had announced the closure of the Bishopton royal ordnance factory. I was proud to lead the campaign against that, too, and we won. The factory ultimately stayed open for another 13 years, employing 500 workers directly and 1,000 in the supply chain. Again, absolutely key to that were the workers down south in the Chorley factory, which was the other explosives factory. They said, “If Bishopton is closed, we will not handle the work.” Although they were English workers being told that it would be in the English interest to agree to the betrayal of Scottish workers, they refused to do it.
I do not fully recognise the rosy picture that the hon. Gentleman is painting of that unity. If we remember, in the lifetime of the last Labour Government some 10,000 defence-related jobs were lost from Scotland, and we also have the £1 billion defence underspend in Scotland. We are told that we have greater public spending in Scotland, but that does not include those defence figures, because they come under non-identifiable spending. These non-identifiable spending figures are grossly and dramatically skewed towards the south-east and south-west of England, and Scotland is seeing an underspend. If the Union was as the hon. Gentleman is presenting it, we would not have that underspend; we would have our own taxes being spent in Scotland in that area and not have those taxes being shipped south in an area of non-identifiable spending.
I used a not dissimilar argument when it came to the lobbying on where the aircraft carriers would be built. I argued that there should be fair treatment of Scotland, with Rosyth playing a key part in the construction and assembly of those aircraft carriers.
The lesson of history on those great battles was that unity of Scotland and England and unity of Scottish and English workers are key. On other fronts, I have to say that some of the proposals emanating from the SNP cause grave concern, such as those on the future of pay bargaining. We fought throughout the Conservative years against the regionalisation of public sector pay bargaining. We were able effectively to see that off. To go down the path of separate agreements for Scotland, then for England, then for Wales and then for the regions of England would once again divide workers when unity is strength.
I respect the hon. Gentleman’s trade union activity. On pay bargaining, though, I fear that he is somewhat confused, as local government pay in Scotland is separate from that in England and Wales. In Scotland, the two-tier workforce agreement is still in place, which the Conservative Government dumped when they were elected in 2010. There are already discrepancies.
Some Scottish national agreements exist alongside agreements covering the rest of the UK, but is it really being said that we want the progressive atomisation of pay bargaining? Where does that ultimately lead?
Another example that surprises me about the Scottish National party’s position is on the transfer of undertakings regulations. Under a Conservative Government, I took the case of the Eastbourne dustmen all the way to the European Court of Justice. The Court compelled the Government to extend the acquired rights directive to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which had been denied coverage for 10 years after the passing of TUPE. The lesson for me is that such fundamental rights are best obtained across the four nations of the United Kingdom.
When I, as First Minister, negotiated a no compulsory redundancy agreement with the civil service unions in Scotland, should I have not done that because the Government down here were not prepared to do so? When I negotiated with the Fire Brigades Union to stop the embezzlement of part of their pensions, which was being pursued down here, should I have not done that because this Government refused to do it?
The hon. Gentleman seems to be very concerned about pay discrepancies. What is his view of the Scottish Trades Union Congress’s position? It said in evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Devolution (Further Powers) Committee that issues such as the minimum wage fitted better in a devolved Scotland.
I shall come to exactly that point. New clause 63 in essence says, “Look before you leap.” I do not want unity and solidarity between England and Scotland and between English and Scottish workers to become history. I do not want the border between England and Scotland to become an exploitation zone with employers able to take advantage of different arrangements.
The hon. Gentleman is right that in some cases collective pay bargaining can bring benefits. We recognise that in the NHS, for example, Scotland has devolved powers to set pay arrangements, as does Wales, but the national pay review bodies recognise that discrepancies and differences in the pay scales and pay agenda in England and Scotland or in England and Wales can drive workforce patterns of behaviour and affect retention and recruitment. That might well be the point that he is trying to make.
That is exactly right. When the national framework, particularly for the national health service, was constructed—I was involved in the early stages of that construction—it provided a framework for the whole of the UK, within which was a certain flexibility that has been used subsequently.
The hon. Gentleman has been very kind in giving way. A few moments ago, he asked rhetorically where this takes us on pay. Had Labour agreed to allow the minimum wage to be devolved to Scotland, that would have taken us to a higher minimum wage. Instead, Labour’s position left control of the minimum wage across the entire United Kingdom in the hands of a Tory Government. Had the minimum wage been devolved to Scotland and gone up, as it would have done, that would have put pressure on that lot on the Government Benches to increase the minimum wage in England. Sometimes, centralised control is worse for the entire body than localised control in various corners.
I am sorry, but the lesson for me from my whole history in the trade union movement has been that battles for a higher minimum wage—and I would like to see the minimum wage become the living wage—are best fought by workers north and south of the border standing together in solidarity and unity.
The Scottish Government are recognised as a living wage employer. Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that having a Government who are willing to push the living wage, as the Scottish Government are, and to push employers to pay it, sets an example that makes it easier to get it followed down here, rather than having everyone in the United Kingdom kept down?
We have been acting on the living wage north and south of the border. I was a founder member of the drive for the living wage in London. TGWU organisers, together with TELCO—the East London Citizens Organisation—and then London Citizens, organised 4,000 cleaners in Canary Wharf and the City of London. I am proud to say that I organised the first strike in the history of the House of Commons to win the living wage here. I am now working to drive up the living wage in Birmingham, which is the most advanced council of any in the country in enjoying the living wage. I have been at conferences of people from north and south of the border, all working together to drive up the living wage throughout the economy. I am sorry, but I will never give way on the thrust of what I am saying: these battles, whether they are for the minimum wage to become the living wage or for the implementation of the living wage, are best fought through solidarity between workers and all our country.
I have listened intently to the hon. Gentleman’s résumé of the actions he has taken, but for how long does he feel that it is appropriate for Members in Scotland to wait for a living wage economy to be introduced when we have such support for it from the Government and from local government across the nation? Should we be going at the pace of the slowest by waiting for the UK Government to take action?
Down south, together with workers from up north, we are working to drive the living wage. We are not waiting for our Government to embrace the living wage. We are driving it, city by city, council by council. In Birmingham, 134 private employers have now signed up to the minimum wage.
The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) mentioned the Scottish Government’s reputation for being a living wage employer. Is my hon. Friend aware of the work they are doing to persuade the contractors on their payroll, such as contract cleaners and others, to pay the living wage?
Let me give an example of what really matters on the living wage. In Birmingham, it affected not just the directly employed but the schools, and then all the contractors. Now, all future care contracts will be based on the living wage. Forgive me, but I say with the greatest of respect to the SNP Members in the Committee today that I have fought a fair few battles in Scotland for workers over the years—I suspect a few more battles than have been fought by Members of the SNP—and nothing will ever persuade me against the notion that the unity and solidarity of workers north and south of the border and of the nations of the United Kingdom is in the best interests of winning for workers.
I had not intended to speak in the debate, but the rather pejorative comments of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) in which he described my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) as representing Downton Abbey prompted me to do so. My hon. Friend might at times appear to have a rather archaic way of approaching some of these issues, but in practice his analysis of the devolution of the Crown Estate that is proposed in the Bill is correct.
The Crown Estate is indivisible, because it is the Crown Estate of the United Kingdom. There is absolutely no reason why the revenue from it should not be allocated in different ways, including to the Scottish Government—I have no difficulty whatever with that proposal—but an issue arises in relation to the duty of this House to fulfil what is both a statutory and, in a sense, a fiduciary duty to ensure that the estate is properly managed and to hold to account the Ministers and, ultimately, the Commissioners who are responsible for that. The point has been made that the provisions in the Bill do not allow for the estate’s alienation, but that does not mean that it could not be so mishandled in the course of its management that its value did not diminish substantially. I assume that, as a result of the Bill and of Sewel motions, this House would no longer be in a position to scrutinise how that management was taking place if that were to happen.
The Crown is a reserved matter, and the running of the Crown Estate is intimately concerned with the affairs of the Crown, so this proposal is a constitutional novelty that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset was quite right to highlight. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us more about the issues relating to alienation, about the management of the Crown Estate and about the extent to which this House—which is ultimately supposed to maintain the dignity of the Crown—will have a role hereafter in respect of those parts of the Crown Estate that are being managed elsewhere.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the proposal as a “novelty”. He might have missed the earlier intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), who said that the administration of the Crown was given to the Irish Free State in 1923. What view does he take of that novel innovation?
I disagree with the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), because the creation of the Irish Free State in 1923 involved the creation of a separate sovereign state. In the light of last year’s referendum result, that is not what we are doing here. We are trying to create a quasi-federal state that will recommend itself to the citizens of all parts of the United Kingdom while preserving this basic unity. One of the bases of that unity is the Crown, and the Crown Estate is intimately linked to the Crown. That is why matters relating to the Crown have always been reserved here. To that extent, the proposed change should not pass without comment, and I will be interested to hear from the Secretary of State how the safeguards will be introduced.
There are other oddities relating to the way in which the clause is drafted. Indeed, I have spent quite a lot of time trying to fathom out why it has been drafted in this way. I think it is understood that parts of the Crown Estate could end up not being devolved, because certain aspects of partnership operations would not allow for that to happen. I would be grateful for the Secretary of State’s comment on the fact that the option appears to have been preserved for the creation of a completely new and separate Crown Estate in Scotland, based on purchases made in Scotland by the Crown Estate Commissioners of the United Kingdom, who are still based in London. Without that option, the wording of some of the provisions in clause 31—particularly of proposed new subsection 90B(5)—would otherwise be incomprehensible. I would be interested to hear what the Secretary of State has to say about that. I must assume that it has been done deliberately in order to allow for the possibility of the Crown Estate’s Commissioners of the United Kingdom to continue to make investments north of the border if they so wish. There is nothing wrong with that, but it raises further questions.
Perhaps I am approaching this from too much of a lawyer’s point of view, but the nature of this debate does not seem to lend itself to simplicity. The lack of simplicity has the potential to undermine the aim that I have, as a Unionist, to find a long-term or permanent settlement—albeit not the one under which I lived 20 years ago—that will last for the United Kingdom and for all its parts. I hope that the Secretary of State will forgive me for saying that this aspect of the legislation highlights an underlying concern that we are gently salami-slicing our constitution.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) raised the question of changing the Standing Orders of this House by means of only one afternoon’s debate. I have considerable sympathy with that point, and I hope that I will be in a position to add to it tomorrow. There might be good reasons why that is the only way we can proceed, but I believe that we shall have insufficient time in which to debate the matter properly.
For all those reasons, I hope that my right hon. Friend will provide the answers to all my specific questions on the details of the Bill in due course. It strikes me that the end product could be two Crown Estates north of the border, one of which has been devolved—although it is unclear how this Parliament would retain its fiduciary duty to ensure the estate’s good management—and another completely new one that could be created some time in the future.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about the possibility of two Crown Estates, but there could be more, such is the potential for innovation in Scotland. The move to give control of the Crown Estate to Edinburgh is not the end of the story. We could see separate Crown Estates for the island of Eriskay, the islands of South Uist and North Uist and the island of Benbecula, for example. Things could change quite a lot. He is very much mistaken to suggest that the Crown Estate is the glue that holds the United Kingdom together. We are looking at what will work practically and for the benefit of the people who live in island and coastal communities.
I certainly do not think that the Crown Estate is the glue that holds the United Kingdom together. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman on that. There are all sorts of other things that provide that glue.
I said that I was perhaps looking at this too much from a lawyer’s point of view, but I like to look at structures that have some coherence. This particular structure is showing signs of not being coherent. One of the problems with these debates in which we try to reach a sensible and lasting constitutional settlement is that although I would love to accept the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), I am conscious of the fact that he does not really want a solution to the problem. Just as the Irish question is said to have changed every time Mr Gladstone asked it, so the hon. Gentleman changes the question each time an answer comes up. He has a desire for certain structures, and although I will do my best at all times to deliver what the Scottish people want, I do not always find it easy to accept the songs that he sings, which are generally designed to lure the Union of the United Kingdom on to the rocks.
My right hon. and learned Friend said that the Crown Estate was not the glue that held the United Kingdom together. Nothing much is going to change in regard to the Union following these changes to the Crown Estate. The Government are to be commended for the fact that we are having four days to debate these matters, enabling us to go into great detail. However, I support something that he said earlier, and I hope that others were listening. When we are discussing a subject as fundamental as English votes for English laws, which has a direct relationship with the preservation of the Union, particularly in regard to the Barnett formula, one day’s debate is simply not enough.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments, but I do not want to be out of order, so I shall not stray too far along that road.
My hope is that we can find a sensible long-term settlement that will meet the desires of the people of the United Kingdom, but my main worry is that that will prove elusive if we pursue a series of measures that do not seem to have been fully reasoned through. I hope that the example in this vignette is one on which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be able to provide all the reassurance I need. Nevertheless, I would not be doing my duty as a Member of Parliament if I did not flag it up.
What my hon. Friend the Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) provides is the Castlebay answer to the Scottish question, to which the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) should listen with great care. It is always put forward with the ultimate good will.
I am in a race against time because I have 3% power left in my iPad and I want to read into the record the following quotation:
“The Scottish Government agrees with the Islands Councils that marine activities in the territorial waters of Scotland adjacent to the islands can have impacts on the community as well as delivering financial benefits to the local economy. The Scottish Government committed in Scotland's Future to ensuring the island communities benefit by receiving more than 50 per cent of Crown Estate seabed leasing revenues.
The marine assets of island communities are key to their future and the wealth that is generated should be reinvested to safeguard that future. The Scottish Government will therefore ensure that 100 per cent of the net income from the islands seabed is passed to island communities.”
That is a clear statement from a document entitled “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities”, which I launched as First Minister last year with the three island convenors from the three island authorities, and which was broadly supported, particularly because it made the point of support not just to local authorities but to island communities, and it encompassed all the island communities of Scotland.
There was a similar declaration of intent in the principles agreed in the Smith commission. The bona fides of the Scottish Government on this matter, I may say to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), have just been demonstrated massively in the general election in the support that was gained across these communities and in Orkney and Shetland in particular. Given these substantial bona fides, the agreement and the Smith commission, why on earth does he feel it necessary to write into the Bill what the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government should do with powers that are devolved?
There is nothing in the actions or performance of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and the massive support that they have received across island communities, that should put anyone in any doubt of the intent, once the Crown Estate revenue is devolved, to make sure that our coastal communities and our island communities benefit in full measure. It is the very antithesis of devolution to write prescriptively into legislation what will be done after the powers are devolved. From someone who admitted in the Chamber today that he could not find agreement, or consensus, as he put it, when he was Secretary of State for Scotland to get the power devolved in the first place, it takes substantial brass neck to put forward the amendment that he tabled.
Speaking of brass neck, although he does it so elegantly, the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) was found out three weeks ago by jumping to the bait of —I was going to say the tabloid press, but the tabloids were innocent in this matter; it was the disreputable press—The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, The Times and so on, added to on this occasion, disgracefully, by The Guardian and Channel 4, which leapt on to the totally misleading, erroneous story that a plot was afoot to cut the Crown revenue. As has been pointed out factually, the Crown revenue does not come from the Crown Estate. It is merely used as a proxy for the level of the royal grant.
The hon. Gentleman attempted to reinterpret his mistake and his charging in to get a few column inches—I had better call them inches in his case, as opposed to centimetres—in those disreputable newspapers, by telling us that it was some elaborate ruse to tempt out the monarchist tendencies in the Scottish Government so that he could ensure that those loyalist noises would come from the Scottish Government, as they were outraged by the very suggestion that any republican sympathies had broken out. The hon. Gentleman would have done himself more credit if he had just said, “The press got it wrong and I got it wrong, and we should all look before we leap where these matters are concerned.”
I was objecting not to the outpouring, but to the suggestion from the hon. Gentleman that he had planned this all along—that this was all part of some dastardly scheme he had dreamt up. That stretched our credulity rather too far.
I know that the acronym IPSA—the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—is not beloved in this Chamber, and on coming back to this House I can see why. How on earth have Members managed to order their affairs and deal with goodness only knows what over the past few years? IPSA is not beloved, but IPSO—the Independent Press Standards Organisation—should be beloved. Today IPSO, the new self-regulating press arrangement, delivered a humiliating rebuff to The Daily Telegraph. Although it is printed on the front page in microscopic form, none the less there it is on the front page, a full-scale apology to the First Minister of Scotland for the totally erroneous story that was published during the general election campaign, with which some Members of the House are familiar and some are very familiar indeed, concerning her views on which UK Government she preferred.
IPSO is on a winning run and should now pursue those dreadful papers—right-wing bastions such as The Guardian, and those even further right-wing bastions such as The Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Daily Mail, which published such a dreadfully inaccurate story and tried to muddy the waters of this debate about the Crown Estate and cast aspersions on the monarchical loyalties of our First Minister of Scotland.
It is important that the reason for the overwhelming wish to see these matters devolved is a real belief in the island and coastal communities of Scotland that local management of these resources will achieve considerable benefits overall. It is a question not of reducing revenues, but of increasing economic activity. For many years I represented a fishing constituency, and I can tell Members that the Crown Estate has not been a popular institution among many of our fishing communities. Many of our small harbours in particular found the harbour dues on the foreshore extremely onerous. The only victory I can remember was in the town of Gardenstown in Banffshire, where the harbour commissioners were suffering from the imposition of a very substantial bill from the Crown Estate commission.
We were able to discover a royal deed from Charles II, from a time when he had been crowned King of Scots but was still to assert his rightful throne south of the border. He had a fantastic time one night in Gardenstown as he was gathering an army before the battle of Dunbar and as a result, in a fit of generosity, wrote an exemption from all Crown dues. We were able to produce that deed from the 17th century, and Gardenstown harbour, I can report to the House, is free from the imposition of the Crown Estate revenue, but other communities in Scotland have not been as fortunate. Members will therefore understand full well why there is a general desire to see such resources being applied to the economic benefit of local communities.
My final point applies to other clauses that we are debating and particularly to the speech that we heard from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). His idea that the devolution of key aspects of labour relations and wage policy will lead to a diminution of standards does not stand up to any examination of the reality of devolution in Scotland. I pointed out to him that the no compulsory redundancy agreement which, uniquely, the civil service unions have was negotiated by the SNP Government. The pensions benefit that the Fire Brigades Union has—a small benefit in terms of the overall imposition on public sector unions, but none the less a benefit that the union values—happened because the Scottish Government were able to negotiate it. Our nursing community—nurses in the national health service—was mentioned. Nurses last year got a pay rise in Scotland because the Scottish Government followed the recommendations of the pay review, whereas the Government down here did not.
Given that experience and given the fact that the Scottish Government are an accredited living wage employer, the suggestion that people sacrifice those benefits so that the hon. Gentleman can get his uniformity, which he seems to think is crucial across the United Kingdom, would explain why there is a divergence opening up between his views and those of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on how best to achieve progressive change in Scotland.
That is a matter of great current interest, because this week we will discuss the Budget, and one of the issues of greatest importance under discussion will be the diminution of in-work benefits. Thousands of people across all our constituencies face the prospect of a substantial reduction in their standard of living as a result of the course that the Chancellor has set. He says, of course, that he wants to end the situation in which huge subsidies are going to a range of private sector employers. One approach that the Scottish Government might take, were we to have control of the minimum wage legislation, would be to increase the minimum wage quickly to the living wage, thereby reducing in-work benefits through the early increase of wages, as opposed to reducing them before any wage increases are forthcoming, which I think is the fate that is in store for workers across our constituents.
The challenge is therefore twofold. First, Members who believe that the right course of action is to increase the minimum wage towards the living wage, or to see the living wage more generally applied, would like to see that as a prerequisite before in-work benefits are cut. Secondly, with regard to the suitable amendments before the Committee, for Members representing Scottish constituents, and for those who are sympathetic to progressive politics, would it not be safer, given all the evidence to place matters in the hands of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government, to achieve that and protect the living standards of Scottish workers?
I rise to support new clause 57. The transfer of the Crown Estate in Scotland and its assets was a key commitment agreed to by the cross-party Smith commission, and I know that the Secretary of State will be keen to deliver it in full. The Heads of Agreement stated, in paragraph 32:
“Responsibility for the management of the Crown Estate’s economic assets in Scotland, and the revenue generated from these assets, will be transferred to the Scottish Parliament. This will include the Crown Estate’s seabed, urban assets, rural estates, mineral and fishing rights, and the Scottish foreshore for which it is responsible.”
We have heard a lot today about the nonsense of connecting payments of the Crown Estate and the royal grant, so I will not go into that. I think it is fair to say that unfortunately we will not be supporting the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg).
The amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) has the look of a sensible proposal. Were it not for the Treasury’s approach to the transfer scheme, it might have been worthy of support. However, when put together with the Treasury transfer scheme, it would have the effect of removing from Ministers the ability to exercise management functions, which would be logical and necessary.
The Bill, as it stands, fails to meet the promises of the Smith commission. New clause 57 would reduce the frankly unnecessary complexity of the current arrangements relating to the Crown Estate. By removing the reservation relating to the management of the Crown Estate, it would provide the Scottish Parliament with full legislative competence in relation to the management of the Crown Estate in or as regards Scotland. It would also transfer any functions of the Crown Estate Commissioners in relation to the rights to the continental shelf beyond the 200-mile limit adjacent to Scotland.
If the Government are truly committed to delivering on the promises of the Smith commission, much needs to be done to reduce the level of unnecessary complexity in the Bill. As drafted, it provides for restrictions on the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate and for retention of the Crown Estate Act 1961 powers. These carve-outs and powers of direction were not envisaged by the Smith commission. For example, the area of the continental shelf beyond the 200 nautical mile limit, where the Crown Estate has “spill over” responsibilities, is not covered by the proposals.
The Bill also excludes assets not wholly owned by the Crown Estate. The most striking example must be Fort Kinnaird shopping centre in Edinburgh. As I pointed out earlier, the Smith commission agreed that the Crown Estate’s economic assets in Scotland, and the revenue generated from them, would be transferred to the Scottish Parliament, and that specifically included urban assets. To be clear, that is economic assets and urban assets. Fort Kinnaird generates net revenue of up to £8.4 million a year—surely a significant urban asset—yet the Bill seeks to exclude it from transfer on the basis that for the Crown Estate it is not an asset. That is nonsense. The Crown Estate is in a 50:50 partnership with a company called Hercules. The seventh labour of Hercules was to capture the Cretan bull. In this particular piece of mythology that we are debating tonight, it is no Herculean feat to capture the bull contained in this exception. This is an asset. Therefore, to honour the Smith commission agreement, it must be included.
Another serious issue—I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) for pointing this out earlier—is the proposal to allow the Crown Estate that is not devolved in this agreement to continue to operate within Scotland, potentially using assets remaining in Scotland, and revenues raised in Scotland, effectively to compete head-to-head with the devolved assets. Although there is a suggestion that that route would not be used by the remaining Crown Estate, there is no guarantee or protection from any future decision taken. It would surely be best to protect against the devolved Crown Estate becoming a “toom tabard”—an empty jacket—as a consequence of corporate power wielded outside Scotland.
Let me turn to the amendment proposed by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). He might not remember that, as a former leader of Highland Council, I was one of the people who asked him over many years for the devolution of the Crown Estate, as did my predecessor in that role, Michael Foxley, the Lib Dem leader of Highland Council, and he, too, received no response—I am looking around for the right hon. Gentleman, but I cannot see him in the Chamber. I am sure that he has tabled his amendment for the best of reasons, but it does not take into account local communities or local authorities with island communities that have supported and have an interest in the “Our Islands: Our Future” proposals, such as the highlands and Argyll and Bute. They, as well as those other communities, must be taken into account.
The Smith commission recommended that, following the transfer to the Scottish Parliament, responsibility for the management of those assets would be further devolved to local authority areas such as Orkney, Shetland and Na h-Eileanan an Iar, and to other areas that seek such responsibilities. As we heard earlier from the former First Minister, the Scottish Government plan to allocate 100% of the net income from the islands’ seabed leasing revenues to island communities, rather than to central Government. That is not for Westminster to decide; it is an issue for Scotland and the ministerial island working group, which incidentally is meeting this Wednesday to progress discussions. In discussions today with a council leader from the island group, I was assured that they are content with the Scottish Government’s proposals on a commitment to further devolution to the islands once powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
In conclusion, there is an opportunity to really deliver on the Smith commission if these obvious issues are addressed through our new clause. Communities across Scotland have been waiting for and are expecting the full devolution of the assets and revenues of the Crown Estate in Scotland. Let us see that promise delivered by making sure that the Bill lives up to the serious expectations of the people of Scotland. I commend new clause 57 to the Committee.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I was incredibly surprised to hear during an earlier point of order that this is apparently an English and Welsh only Bill, so perhaps that is the first point the Secretary of State for England and Wales would like to clear up when he comes to the Dispatch Box. It is a great privilege to speak for the Opposition on day four of the Committee’s considerations. I will speak to amendment 52, which is the first in this group standing in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), and to all the other amendments and new clauses that stand in our names.
The Labour party has tabled 34 amendments to this section of the Bill, and 81 amendments to the entire Bill so far. It is a shame that the Secretary of State, who has been derided for some of this in the Scottish media, has not accepted any of these amendments, although he says that he is looking at the sensible ones. Will he enlighten the Committee on which amendments those are and on his direction of travel? That would allow to us shape some of our thoughts on Report.
That is indeed a mighty number of amendments. I am looking at the lack of support that the hon. Gentleman is carrying on his Benches. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) told us that he had organised the first strike in the House of Commons. From the look of the Labour and Tory Benches, that strike seems to be ongoing.
Given the time limits that we have on this debate, I feel that we have just wasted 30 seconds through a rather unnecessary intervention by the right hon. Gentleman, but, as we always say, it is quality and not quantity when we are having these debates. [Interruption.] I find it strange that I have been on my feet for less than two minutes—I have barely got to the end of the first page of my speech, half of which has been amended—and the baying from SNP Members has already started. If they just sat and listened for a few moments, they might find that I actually agreed with them on some of these amendments. I would have carried on to the second page of my speech had not the right hon. Gentleman intervened on me at that point. [Interruption.] I feel that a bit of common courtesy might be called for in these important debates. In fact, we might get an awful lot further if we had a bit of common courtesy.
These parts of the Bill cover Scotland’s road and rail infrastructure, its Crown Estate territories, and controls over tribunals and equalities legislation. The Secretary of State and the UK Government must deliver on these proposals, and go further. However, it is also for the Scottish Government to explain what they want to do with these powers; to date, they have studiously avoided doing so. [Interruption.] We have heard a lot in today’s debate, but also in the other three debates—
It does say here, because it is a speech, and that tends to be what happens. The right hon. Gentleman chunters from a sedentary position, “It says here”, but he was reading from his iPad earlier—with 3% of its battery left, as he told the Committee. If we are not supposed to read speeches in this place, I am not sure what we are supposed to do.
I was reading from the iPad because I was quoting from the Scottish Government document, “Empowering Scotland’s Island Communities”, released last year, which says exactly what the Scottish Government intend to do with the revenue from the Crown Estate in relation to island and local communities. Having learned that, would the hon. Gentleman now care to withdraw his remark?
The right hon. Gentleman asks me to withdraw my remark, but he asked to intervene before I made it, so he obviously wanted to intervene about something else. As they used to say on the radio, “What’s your point, caller?” [Interruption.] I can stand here and waste time until 8.37 pm if SNP Members want me to. I believe that many of them want to speak, but if they want to continue to waste time, that is entirely up to them. I can stand here all evening and then allow the Minister to speak shortly before we move on.
I believe that most of the clauses in this part of the Bill match the spirit and letter of the Smith agreement, but we wish to make sure that there is clarity, and to go slightly further. We have identified areas where the Bill can go further, primarily by placing more specific duties on the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Ministers, and also on the Secretary of State to deliver on these powers. Labour’s amendments would require the Scottish Parliament to work towards gender balance in the membership of the Scottish Parliament and on the boards of Scottish public authorities; require the Scottish Parliament to establish a process to end the system of employment tribunal fees in Scotland; devolve the enforcement of equalities legislation to the Scottish Parliament; and make sure that Scotland can, if it so wishes, implement a not-for-profit people’s railway.
We have already heard some debate about the Crown Estate, so I will canter through this part of my speech rather quickly to allow other Members to speak. Clause 31 transfers management of the Crown Estate’s Scottish assets and income to Scottish Ministers. That terminology is vital in terms of some of the questions we have for the Secretary of State. These assets account for about 3.9% of Crown Estate revenues. They include several rural estates; commercial property in Edinburgh; mineral and salmon fishing rights; approximately half of the coastal foreshore; and almost the entire seabed, including rights on the continental shelf. Crucially, the clause does not transfer rights over joint investments. As the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Drew Hendry) said, there has been considerable local press coverage about Fort Kinnaird in Edinburgh as it is not owned by the Crown Estate but is merely a joint investment. Why it is specifically excluded given that—the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right—even if it is just a 50% shareholding, it should be deemed to be an asset in terms of a being shareholding? It would be useful if the Secretary of State clarified that.
I largely agree with the clause as drafted, albeit with two small amendments. The first is the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). I understand that the reason for the current wording of the clause is that the Treasury requires the legislative consent of Scottish Ministers before making such a scheme. However, once that consent has been given, as I assume it would be, the wording does not definitely require the formation of a scheme. Our amendment 52 would replace reference in line 36 to “Scottish Ministers” with “Scottish Parliament”. Ministers are transient, whereas the Scottish Parliament is permanent, and that should be recognised in all the clauses of this Bill.
The transfer of Crown Estate assets entails the transfer of staff and tenants to a new employer and landlord. It is vital that that transition is as smooth as possible to minimise unnecessary disruption and anxiety to workers and to tenants. I would welcome an assurance from the Government that every effort is being made to ensure that that will be the case. The right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) asked some legitimate questions that the Secretary of State should take on board and try to answer.
Finally on the Crown Estate, will the Secretary of State deal with the issue of the coastal communities fund? That is not directly funded by the Crown Estate but by the Treasury as part of the revenues of the Crown Estate. Will that situation continue or will the responsibility transfer to the Scottish Government? The fund is hugely important for Scottish coastal communities, and it is important to get clarity on its continuation, whether paid for by the Treasury or by the Scottish Government.
We will support amendment 57, in the name of the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland, as we believe in the concept of double devolution to get powers into the hands of the communities best placed to use them effectively. I agree with what the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) said about coastal communities. I recognise, however, that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland is using this as a probing amendment to make sure that the issue can be on the agenda. He is right that it does not have to be included in the Bill, but I am glad that it has been raised.
Clause 32 devolves powers over equal opportunities bodies to the Scottish Parliament. The Labour party has always been a staunch proponent of women’s rights and the promotion of female representation. As respected organisation Engender has observed, there is compelling evidence to suggest that lack of gendered power balance in the wider public domain has a major impact on equality of outcomes across Government Departments. I therefore welcome the transfer of these powers, which will add to the tools available to the Scottish Parliament to tackle gender inequality in all its guises. There are very few legislative opportunities to provide for meaningful advancement in these areas, so we should grab those opportunities when they arise. We have seen that voluntary quotas or non-statutory targets can go some way towards this but are not as effective as legislation.
Our amendment 123 would amend clause 32 to include a specific requirement for gender balance among Members of the Scottish Parliament and members of boards of Scottish public authorities. That would devolve the issue to the Scottish Parliament and allow for it to be debated and properly implemented there. The Scottish Parliament has achieved much to be proud of, but in this area we are lagging behind our European partners. We should also deal with the dreadful record on such issues in this place. In appealing for the Committee’s support on this, I reassert my belief that equality is not a party-political issue. I want us to work together on it. I thank the cross-party campaigning group Women 50:50 for their support for the amendment and their “It’s as easy as 123” campaign. I hope that Members will also support new clause 41, which would require Scottish Ministers to undertake and publish a review of the measures they are taking further to help and promote gender equality in the membership of the Scottish Parliament and on the boards of Scottish public authorities.
New clause 66, tabled by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and new clause 56, tabled by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), propose the devolution of abortion law and other connected laws, with regard to the relevant section of the Scotland Act 1998, to the Scottish Parliament. We will vote against the new clauses if they are pressed to a vote because we believe that a woman’s right to choose should be determined by robust medical evidence and not by where they live.
There is no reason why women in Edinburgh should face a different experience from women in Exeter. Many would argue that the current system needs to be improved, but that would be best achieved in a UK framework and should be part of a debate separate from that on the constitution.
That is remarkable, because those matters are linked to countries’ constitutions. The limits are different in almost each and every European country. Why cannot they be different or the same across the UK—whatever the most democratic forums in each part of the UK choose? I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman’s negation of democracy.
The hon. Gentleman is chuntering again. I will come on to the Northern Ireland issue. This is an incredibly serious issue and we should discuss it in a sober, proper and mature manner. Whether someone is pro-choice or pro-life, these are incredibly sensitive and emotive issues to which we should give due consideration.
Our opposition to devolving this particular issue is threefold. First, we stand with the 13 organisations from Scottish civic society, including Amnesty International, Scottish Women’s Aid and the Scottish Trades Union Congress, which have called on us to vote against the amendments. We share their concerns that the proposal has not been properly consulted on and that, on existing evidence, it could lead to harming a woman’s right to choose. The statement they have sent to all Members of this House concludes:
“Women across the UK have fought for women’s bodies to be their own and, to this day, fight opposition to a woman’s right to choose. We do not wish this amendment to open the doors to those who seek to undermine this right.”
Well, devolution in a lot of instances is not logical, because—[Interruption.] I am answering the intervention of the hon. Member for Gainsborough. If the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) wants to intervene, I am more than happy to allow him to do so, but he must let me answer the intervention first. A lot of devolution is illogical, because that is how devolution works.
I hope that the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar will allow me to get to the second and third reasons for our opposition to the devolution of abortion at this stage. As I have said, our first reason for opposing it is that we are being asked to do so by women’s organisations in Scotland. Secondly, the Smith commission clearly stated that
“a process should be established immediately to consider the matter further.”
That has not happened. On 21 July, a Scottish Government spokesperson told the BBC that talks with UK Government Ministers on the devolution of abortion law had begun prior to the election. I would welcome an intervention from the Secretary of State or, indeed, anyone on the SNP Front Bench to inform the House about the discussions that have taken place so far, but the Smith agreement is clear and the promised process has not emerged.
This is not the proper process for which Smith asked. I understand that the issue was put on the table rather late in the day at the Smith commission and that it was agreed that there would be a proper process of discussion, debate and dialogue before any particular change is made to the constitution or the law.
There is a point of difference between us on how we interpret this issue. The 13 organisations that have written to us are experts in this field and have asked us to vote against the amendment, and I think we should listen to them. I do not disagree with the hon. Lady. Everyone has their own views, not only on this, but on the devolution process. I just feel that, having weighed up all the issues, we should listen to what the 13 organisations have said, follow the proper process outlined by Smith and see where we go.
The third reason for our opposition is that the UK already has a two-tier system on abortion, with a different legal position in Northern Ireland. That has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations and the United Nations. We do not wish to create yet another category of abortion law in the United Kingdom that could fall foul of them. That is not to say that devolution might not be desirable at some point in the future, but let us go through the proper process.
The devolution of abortion law would mean that the Scottish Parliament would have to start from scratch. The law is established and is operating effectively in the United Kingdom. It should continue to operate across the UK and be determined by the best clinical advice available.
New clause 64 would fully devolve responsibility for enforcement of equalities legislation to the Scottish Parliament. An important principle of devolution is that it should not lead to the exercise of power becoming disjointed across nations. As some of my hon. Friends have made abundantly clear, we believe that legislation on employment rights must remain consistent across the United Kingdom in a single market, in order to avoid any erosion of those rights and a subsequent race to the bottom on pay, terms, conditions and practices.
To quote the Trades Union Congress:
“Any move to devolve responsibility for employment and trade union rights could have profound implications not just for working people in Scotland, but across the whole of the UK. The TUC would strongly counsel against a ‘race to the bottom’, with the Scottish and Westminster governments competing to attract investment by promoting a more de-regulated labour market.”
That is what we see right across the world in terms of competing markets, particularly labour markets. I agree with the TUC. Given that we do not propose to devolve employment law, it would be neither consistent nor desirable to devolve equalities legislation, because they are inextricably linked. I will speak about the specific issue of the national minimum wage at the end of my contribution.
I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman: that is the STUC’s view. The TUC takes a slightly different view. We have to be very careful, as the TUC points out, that we do not create a race to the bottom. As I have said, it strongly counsels against a race to the bottom.
We all want a race to the top, but we need to make sure that we are doing all these things properly, with cross-border agreement between Governments both north and south of the border.
It would not be inconsistent to devolve the enforcement of equalities legislation, as suggested by the STUC and our new clause 64. The STUC argued in its submission to the Smith commission:
“Ultimately equality law is governed by European minimums and…the law as it currently stands is positive and tends to support the advancement of equality. The major barrier to achieving equality therefore is not the law, but practice, culture and indeed discriminatory attitudes. Therefore enforcement is key to advancing equality and major gains could be made if enforcement was carried out in line with Scottish expectations and the needs of the Scottish economy.”
I hope that Members will recognise the logic of that assertion and support new clause 64, which would allow for the creation of a bespoke enforcement regime in Scotland that would take a full view of the distinct nature of the Scottish equalities landscape, but within the UK and EU legislative framework.
Clause 33 devolves to the Scottish Parliament new powers over the administration of employment tribunals. My amendment 54 would add a specific requirement on Scottish Ministers to initiate a process, in conjunction with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and the Scottish trade unions, to end the system of employment tribunal fees in Scotland.
My amendment is barely different from an amendment tabled by SNP Members. We all wish to see the end of employment tribunal fees, because there is no doubt that the figures show that they are a barrier to justice. Those are not just my words; they are also included in a letter to the former Justice Secretary signed by 40 QCs and 400 barristers who argued that
“fees are a significant barrier to access to justice and are preventing employees from being able to complain about contraventions of their employment rights.”
The letter further observed:
“The introduction of fees has had no discernible impact on the outcome of cases.”
It surely cannot be fair for a pregnant woman who is being discriminated against at work and who might have just lost her job to have to find a £1,200 fee at a time when family budgets are more stretched in order to seek redress in an employment tribunal. When I was the shadow Minister for employment relations in the last Parliament, we made those arguments consistently during debates on the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015. You may have chaired that Bill Committee, Sir David, so you will be well versed in those issues. This policy is fundamentally unfair; it is a tax on justice.
Fortunately for those of us in Scotland, the Bill is an ideal opportunity to do something about employment tribunal fees. Amendment 54 would enshrine in law the Scottish Government’s responsibility to establish a proper process to put an end to these pernicious and unfair charges in the Scottish tribunal system. I hope that we will get support for that amendment.
There is agreement across the Opposition Benches on making employment tribunals fairer and eliminating the fees, but is the hon. Gentleman’s strategy not completely wrong? He wants fairness in Scotland that cannot be introduced in England. That is at odds with his arguments about having solidarity on both sides of the border. He is picking and choosing what he will support and what he will not support. He has a lack of strategy, rather than a strategic approach.
This amendment is about people paying a fee to enter the employment tribunal system. It would give the Scottish Parliament full control over how that system operates, under the legislative framework of the United Kingdom. That is how a lot of issues work, including health and safety and the Scottish courts system. That is how the justice system in Scotland, which has always been independent of the rest of the UK, operates and it is a perfectly fair way for devolution to work.
Amendments 159 and 160 relate to fixed odds betting terminals and the supervision, inspection and enforcement under the Gambling Act 2005. My hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) might go into that in more detail if he catches your eye, Sir David.
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) is in her place, but in an earlier sitting of the Committee, she mentioned that the Scottish Parliament controls much of road safety, but does not have legislative competence over pavement parking. As she did not table an amendment to sort that out, we brought forward new clause 22, which has the full support of the Living Streets charity, to rectify the anomaly. It intends to ensure that parking offences such as parking on pavements or by dropped kerbs and double-parking can be enforced by the Scottish Parliament. I am grateful to Living Streets for bringing this matter to our attention. Having spent a day blindfolded with the guide dogs in Corstorphine in Edinburgh, I think we should all take cognisance of the way in which people with sight problems are able to get around our towns and cities.
Clause 39 devolves Executive competence in relation to the policing of railways in Scotland by specifying as a cross-border authority the British Transport police authority. The clause is in keeping with the Smith agreement, but it was not part of the agreement that the British Transport police should be devolved in order that it may be abolished. That is what is being proposed by the Scottish Government, who want to transfer the existing functions of the British Transport police to Police Scotland. The abolition is vehemently opposed by the unions and the British Transport police, and their strong views should be taken into account. Will the Secretary of State comment on that issue?
Finally, new clause 63 calls for an assessment by the Low Pay Commission of the effect of the Scottish Parliament having the power to alter the national minimum wage rate for Scotland. The national minimum wage is one of the proudest achievements of the last Labour Government and we will defend it to the death. However, it has become a maximum wage for too many people and we must encourage the private sector to move beyond the minimum wage to a living wage. Low pay is one of the biggest political issues of our time, particularly in the run-up to the Budget, with the proposed cut to tax credits.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman realises this, but it is the Low Pay Commission that recommends the rate of the national minimum wage to the Government. As someone who sat on the Committee that considered the statutory instruments that implemented the recommendations of the Low Pay Commission, I say that I would like its recommendations to go further, but it is up to the commission to set the rates.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that we had a firm manifesto commitment to ask the Low Pay Commission to increase the national minimum wage over a period of time to 58% of median earnings. We have to be careful in this area. That is what new clause 63 is about. If he reads it, he will see that. We have to be extremely cautious about not undermining the national minimum wage by devolving it to Scotland. The new clause is perfectly clear about what we are trying to achieve. It asks the Low Pay Commission to complete a full analysis of the consequences of devolving this power.
If the hon. Gentleman does not believe me, he should look at what we received from the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union today. It is promoting a £10 minimum wage, so it has no axe to grind in terms of our policy on 58% of median earnings, because it wants to go much higher. It has been campaigning on that rather successfully for some time. It says that devolving the national minimum wage to Scotland could enable the vision of the Prime Minister’s Government of lower pay in some regions to come true, particularly in northern constituencies and in Scotland. It states:
“We need to be extremely cautious over the…demand for devolving powers surrounding the minimum wage. This move would bring about an end to the national minimum wage”
in Scotland. We are saying that we need to be cautious. I ask the hon. Gentleman to read new clause 63 before he intervenes again. I will allow him to intervene again if he does so.
Low pay is one of the key problems of our age, as has been said. The minimum wage is in need of being undermined because it undermines people’s lives. I would be happy for the Scottish Parliament to increase the minimum wage in Scotland and to fundamentally undermine the minimum wage, so that the embarrassment of poverty wages is eradicated right across the United Kingdom.
That is exactly what we want to see. We want the issue of poor wages across the United Kingdom to be resolved in its entirety. The hon. Gentleman will remember that in 1998, many of my colleagues and former colleagues sat all night for three nights in a row to ensure that the National Minimum Wage Act was passed by this House. It eradicated the worst of low pay in our country, such as security guards being paid 60p an hour. As I said, the national minimum wage has become a maximum wage for too many people and we have to drive it up across the United Kingdom to eradicate poor pay. I caution the hon. Gentleman that there is a danger that we will undermine the national minimum wage across the United Kingdom if we fragment it.
As one of the first people to give evidence to the Low Pay Commission in 1998, I think I have some knowledge about this issue. The unions up and down these islands have always said, “Do not vary the rate on a regional or sub-national basis.” There has to be one complete and utter rate across the whole of the United Kingdom, because if there is not, it will open the door for those who want to undermine it, including the people sitting on the Government Benches opposite.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no bigger champion of workers’ rights, the national minimum wage and union rights in this place. We must deal with poverty pay. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar wants to read new clause 63, I am happy to let him intervene again, but he obviously has not because he does not realise that new clause 63—[Interruption.] If he will allow me to explain, new clause 63 asks the Low Pay Commission to do a full analysis of the potential consequences of fragmenting the national minimum wage across the United Kingdom. That is something that Opposition Members of all colours should wish to see, because if we undermine the national minimum wage, we undermine the entire structure that is meant to prevent low pay in this country.
It is terrible that Labour sees the national minimum wage only as something to be undermined; it is something that has to be bolstered. What does the hon. Gentleman think the effect would be on the national minimum wage in England, Wales and Northern Ireland if it were increased in Scotland by, say, 10%? It would drive it higher.
In fact, what the hon. Gentleman has just said is exactly what it says in new clause 63, which tells the Low Pay Commission to look at the consequences. The consequence of undermining the political consensus on the national minimum wage would be fragmentation and a race to the bottom. The TUC is clear in its press release today:
“It is also a complete false economy… Breaking up the national minimum wage would carry similar risks, leaving workers in many parts of the country facing poorer pay in depressed local economies.”
It speaks of a potential “race to the bottom”. We should listen to the people who have fought for their entire lives for the national minimum wage. The difference between me and the hon. Gentleman is that he does not agree that everyone across the entire United Kingdom deserves better pay. The fight to eradicate poor pay in this country does not stop at the border.
Has the hon. Gentleman completely forgotten that some of the biggest advances in progressive social legislation that England has seen in the past 15 years happened after, and only because, they were introduced by the devolved Administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? This place would not have introduced the right to work in a smoke-free environment had it not happened in the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments. The right of responsible access to the countryside happened in the devolved Assemblies, otherwise it would never have happened here. Freedom of information would never have happened here if it had not happened first in the devolved Assemblies.
Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that we need to trust the people of Scotland to elect a Parliament that believes in a legally enforceable living wage? That is the quickest and surest way to make sure that workers across these islands can enjoy a living wage, rather than trusting a Conservative Government to introduce it.
It is clear that the Scottish National party’s strategy is not to have a proper debate and discuss the fundamental points about the risk of undermining the national minimum wage, but merely to paint people as being in the pockets of other Governments or political parties.
The hon. Gentleman is right that many progressive Governments have pushed forward issues such as those he mentioned, but the national minimum wage, freedom of information and the ban on smoking inside were progressive changes pushed through by Labour Governments. The Labour party will fight for the national minimum wage not to be fragmented and undermined in a race to the bottom. The TUC has agreed with that, and the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union felt that it had to put out a press release today to ensure that the minimum wage was not undermined. My new clause 63 suggests that the Low Pay Commission looks sensibly at proposals to ensure that that does not happen.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned the views of the TUC and the BFAWU. Can he confirm that the two largest trade unions in Scotland, Unison Scotland and Unite Scotland, gave evidence to the Smith commission saying that they wanted responsibility for the national minimum wage to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament?
They have argued that, but the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers and the GMB have argued that it should not be devolved because they are worried about a race to the bottom. If the hon. Gentleman reads my new clause 63, he will see that I am asking for the Low Pay Commission to look at the issue and ensure that the minimum wage is not undermined. The worst possible result that this Parliament could leave for future generations would be the undermining of the national minimum wage not just in Scotland but across the entire United Kingdom. I hope that the Committee will support the new clause, to ensure that we do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let us listen to what the unions and the TUC are telling us. I commend all our amendments and new clauses to the House.
Order. I was about to say that five hon. Members were seeking to catch my eye, but now it seems that there are about six or seven. We must also hear from the Secretary of State, and the knife will fall at 8.37 pm. May I ask colleagues to bear that in mind, so that I can call everyone?
I shall be brief, Sir David.
I wish to speak to new clause 56, which Members who survey it will acknowledge is a modest and rational proposal. The Smith commission was minded to make abortion a devolved matter, and the new clause would align the Bill with that intention. It would allow a similar level of devolution to that in Northern Ireland and give the Scottish Parliament the same rights as it has with regard to euthanasia and nearly every other health matter.
There are two reasons for the new clause, one negative and one positive. The positive reason is that the Scottish Parliament and Scottish politicians have proved themselves eminently capable of debating thorny, complex and controversial moral topics without acrimony, maturely, lucidly and in an evidence-based way. That was shown in the recent Scottish Parliament debate on euthanasia. We acknowledge that a Scottish life is worth no more and no less than any other life, but regulating how and when life is terminated in Scotland can justifiably be done in the Scottish Parliament by Scottish authority. It is regulated differently by all nations in Europe.
I rebut entirely the allegation that the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) made that a decision might not be taken in the light of robust medical evidence. The Scottish Parliament would certainly take such evidence into account, but that allegation illustrated the negative reason for the new clause. Debates in this place on any change in abortion regulation, however minor, become polarised horribly and quickly. If abortion is mentioned, up go the barricades to defend the right to life or the right to choose. On no other issue is there such a dialogue of the deaf in this Chamber, with the slightest concession to one side being seen as enabling the wholesale destruction of the other. We witnessed the recent debate on gender discrimination in abortion, during which there was total agreement throughout the Chamber but total stalemate at the end of the day.
The situation is certainly complicated by the fact that Members have wider agendas. That does not particularly help, because people suspect ulterior motives, but to be fair, it is normal in any debate and should not hamper or inhibit the discussion of issues such as gender discrimination in abortion, the advice given to people seeking an abortion or time limits on abortion. It should not, but it evidently and repeatedly does. The House is normally left defending the Abortion Act 1967—with all its weakness, which are acknowledged even by some of its major proponents—as though it were holy writ.
I am charitable enough to think that Scotland, despite its Calvinist past, is not quite so fundamentalist in that respect. Whatever its current values, in the light of the best available evidence it could cope with something a little more sophisticated than our tribal deliberations here, which are laden with history and suspicion. It could frame regulation that, although it would not satisfy every conscience, would at least suit the times and fit the facts. I would sincerely welcome the views of the Government and the Scottish nationalists on the new clause, and I would welcome the Scottish dimension.
Scottish Members of Parliament have been sent a joint statement by the trade union community in Scotland and several third sector and women’s groups in Scotland, urging us to vote against amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) and the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). It is well known that those Members are from the pro-life side of the debate, and the concern of those organisations is not entirely illegitimate. In fact, it is perhaps understandable.
Those Members are right that the Scottish Parliament can handle the abortion debate. I would argue that any hope of curtailing a woman’s right to choose—I accept that hon. Members have not expressly said that they want to do that—would be misplaced, but our Parliament can handle the matter just as it has handled assisted suicide, equal marriage and section 28. I wish to draw on those examples of how our Parliament has matured into the national forum that it is today.
During the debate on section 28 in the early days of the Scottish Parliament, there was a huge noise against its scrapping from the forces of social conservatism. We can compare that with the national debate on the equal marriage legislation. It would be uncharitable of me not to mention that one of the finest speeches on that legislation came from the Scottish Conservative leader in that Parliament. We are not a nation of social conservatives. I understand the concerns of the organisations that have released the joint statement, but we in Scotland have proven that we understand the weight of arguments and can handle them in a sensitive fashion.
It has been suggested that my hon. Friends in the Scottish National party and I will be choosing between nationalism and feminism tonight. I find that a false choice; indeed, I find it an offensive statement. It is a reductionist analysis and a crass comment. I want the power in question to come to Scotland not just because I want all powers to come to Scotland but because I want to improve and protect a woman’s right to choose and to access quality healthcare. I believe we can do that, and I want to make progress at the earliest opportunity. That is my motivation, as it will be for many other Members of the House. Progress was never made without taking control and arguing—not always helpfully—on tough and important issues. This is indeed a tough and important issue, but we must make progress on it. No one knows how hard that can be more than women, and as a gay man I find myself having considerable sympathy with that.
It is worth noting early in the debate that so far we have had 100% participation of male speakers. However, the Labour party also has 100% male representation in the Chamber, and I thank the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) for raising the topic of equality. Before I address the amendments in detail, it is worth noting that the Committee has not agreed to a single proposal that the Scottish National party has tabled to the Scotland Bill. I need not remind anyone that the SNP won all but three seats in Scotland only a few weeks ago. The Scottish people gave the SNP a mandate to speak on their behalf, and this Parliament should take account of that.
Amendment 134 delivers a more explicit reference to the devolution of competence over gender quotas in respect of public bodies in Scotland, but ensures that it is “not limited to” gender quotas, as agreed in the Smith commission report. Amendment 162 creates an exception to the reservation that will clearly cover gender quotas in respect of public bodies in Scotland. One of the most frequent questions that this Government ask is, “What would you do with the new powers proposed, and why do you want additional ones?” The answer is simple: in terms of equalities the Bill does not go far enough. If the amendments are accepted, the Scottish Government could go much further.
The SNP manifesto contained an extensive range of proposals to reduce gender inequality. Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has signalled clearly the need for a more equal representation of men and women in public life, and she has led by example. The Scottish Cabinet is one of only three Cabinets in the developed world to have an equal number of men and women—something that has yet to be replicated by the Conservative or Labour parties.
If these amendments are accepted, the Scottish Government will take action and introduce proposals to ensure 50% female representation on public boards, and press for the same to happen across the United Kingdom. They will encourage this Government to work with the private sector to increase the number of women represented at the most senior levels in major companies. They have called for early action on equal pay audits for larger companies, ensuring that women get the salaries they are entitled to. They have called for regulations to compel employers of more than 250 people to publish annual gender pay gap information, starting in 2016-17.
Does my hon. Friend share my dismay at Scottish Labour’s record in local government on equal pay, which is nothing short of appalling? Will she join me in urging Glasgow City Council to settle its 5,000-plus outstanding claims as quickly as possible?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention—South Lanarkshire, North Lanarkshire and Glasgow councils are in much the same situation, with a Labour administration that has failed to take action on equal pay. There are still a number of outstanding claims.
The Scottish Government will introduce an equal pay Bill to deliver equal pay law that works for women in Scotland. They would consult on how new regulations or structures can be created by the Bill to expedite the equal pay claims process, and ensure that settlements are enforced quickly—something that Labour administrations in Scotland have failed to do. They will seek to maintain the protections provided by the Equality Act 2010, and will ask the Government to engage with key stakeholders on potential improvements. They will support calls to establish a race committee to advise the work of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
I welcome new clauses 56 and 66 on devolving abortion laws to the Scottish Parliament—we welcome powers for Scotland. I hasten to remind Members that I will focus on the substantive subject of who has the power to make laws, rather than on the views of individual Members on this matter. The SNP remains absolutely clear: the Scottish Government have no plans to change the legislation, but we will support and welcome the devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament under the Bill.
Together with our colleagues in the Scottish Government we will demand that section 78 of the Equalities Act 2010 is commenced. Under the Bill, however, it remains reserved, and to see real change we need to go further. The amendments have been tabled for a simple reason: it is unacceptable that 45 years after the Equal Pay Act 1970, the gender pay gap remains. Urgent action needs to be taken, and the Scottish Government have proven that where they have power, they take action. They have extended childcare provision and made it more flexible. They have funded campaigns to promote family-friendly working in Scotland, including an investment of £100,000 in the working families initiative that supports a range of activities to promote flexible working. They have ensured that public authorities with more than 150 employees publish their gender pay gap, and they have provided continued support for CareerWISE, which encourages girls and young women to consider careers in science, engineering and technology.
The Office for National Statistics showed that in Scotland the gender pay gap sits at 8.9% for full-time employees compared with 9.4% for the UK and 9.9% for England. On part-time employment, it sits at minus 7.2% in Scotland, compared with minus 5.5% for the UK and minus 5.6% in England. Although the SNP welcomes the fact that Scotland is leading the way on gender equality, we recognise that more has to be done. I therefore support the amendments and new clauses, and urge us to continue discussing these issues. If the Government will not act to reduce inequality, they should not stand in the way of the Scottish Government.
I declare my membership of Unison and my trade union activity over the past 20 years. It was disappointing to hear the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) shout across to SNP Members that we do not care for workers and working people—I hope he will reflect on that because a number of SNP Members have been involved in trade union activity in the past.
I care about workers across the world, and I will be quoting from the Scottish Trades Union Congress and stating how it views the situation.
In speaking to new clause 47, I will not only outline why we believe it to be necessary, but produce supporting evidence from independent organisations in Scotland that have stated the clear benefits they see from devolving employment law. We believe that having such powers at Holyrood is essential to driving forward fairer pay and better working conditions in Scotland. Our priority is empowering Scotland to tackle inequality, for which we have a clear mandate from the voters. If the route out of poverty is work, it follows that we must argue for real powers to deliver it.
A coherent and integrated Scottish employment policy would address inequality and poverty by helping to get people into work, sustain employment and tackle low pay. That is why we seek the devolving of the national minimum wage to Scotland as a priority, as that would enable the Scottish Parliament to do more to address low pay and in-work poverty.
Our 2015 general election manifesto set out plans to raise the minimum wage to £8.70 by 2020, which is equivalent to the average national minimum wage growth between 1999 and 2007, and would go some way to reversing the below-inflation increases that took place between 2007 and 2014. Putting that power firmly in Scotland’s hands would allow us to legislate for further increases to match the living wage over time. Devolution would also allow the Scottish Government to integrate national minimum wage policy into the devolved income tax and welfare systems to ensure a targeted and joined-up approach to addressing in-work poverty.
Why do we need employment law to be devolved? The recent report by Citizens Advice Scotland, “Fair Enough?”, sets out in detail the problems with the current employment law system. Last year, the service dealt with 46,540 cases of unfair treatment in the workplace, and fully expects that number to rise. Those cases include dismissal for unfair reasons such as sickness, attempting to take holiday or even pregnancy. Some workers were even informed of their dismissal by text message. That backs up my own experiences before arriving in this place, where—even in local government—employers engaged in behaviour that they thought they could legally get away with rather than adhere to best practice.
There is widespread anger in Scotland at the attacks on employment rights, equalities and trade union rights from the coalition, and now from the majority Tory Government. Their approach is leading to an economy in which work is less well paid, less secure and less permanent. Local economies suffer in a low-wage, low-reward economy. A better way is required. For example, devolution of this issue would enable us to end the unfair and exploitative zero-hours contracts that create unacceptable levels of uncertainty and financial insecurity for low-paid workers.
Our policy approach to employment law and workplace issues is evidence-based. In February 2014, the Scottish Government commissioned the “Working Together” independent review of progressive workplace policies and practices in the public and private sectors in Scotland. The review group was convinced that the economic and social challenges and opportunities facing Scotland were more likely to be addressed successfully in an environment where trade unions played their full part.
Following the review, the Fair Work Convention was established to develop a fair employment and workplace framework based on national and international research and leading-edge practice for Scotland, and to deliver a practical blueprint for implementation by 2016. It will provide independent advice to the Scottish Government on all matters relating to fair work, and it could play a bigger role in future years. For instance, the Fair Work Convention could work with ACAS, trade unions and other stakeholders, such as Citizens Advice Scotland, to promote awareness of basic rights at work and how to assert them for employees and employers alike. The convention could also take on a role overseeing enforcement of employment law under Scots law. In other words, we have thought through how this would work in practice.
There is a strong economic argument that devolving employment law would bring opportunities for innovation that would enhance productivity, workplace development, labour market security and resilience. We observe a lack of coherence in the Government’s proposals because they would devolve the administration of tribunals, but not the substantive laws they administer, including employment law. Far from settling the issue, that keeps the pot boiling: a lack of clarity and purpose in legislation means that the only guarantee is that it will be revisited at some point. This is an opportunity to do it right the first time.
I will come back to that point.
Our approach is evidence-based. The 30 detailed recommendations of the “Working Together” report are a strong foundation to build on if we have more powers, and I commend that report to the Committee. We also support the devolution of trade union laws to maintain the largely stable and productive industrial relations in Scotland, underpinned by the long-standing strategic partnership between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Trades Union Congress.
My hon. Friend will be familiar with the Scottish Government’s action to reverse the House of Lords ruling on pleural plaques. If the Scottish Government had not had the power to do that, in the case of a significant condition that was being wrongfully put outwith the scope of industrial compensation, many people in Scotland would be in an extremely disadvantaged position—people who had suffered worry for years. Is not that an example of why these powers should be devolved?
I agree with my right hon. Friend, and he signed two memorandums of understanding with the STUC on improving workers’ rights in Scotland.
The devolution of trade union laws would also allow us to block the proposed assaults on workers’ rights, such as current plans to restrict the right to take industrial action. We seek protection for working people from a Government that are charging down an ideological cul-de-sac with an anti-trade union agenda based on a historical prejudice and a casual approach to legislation that borders on incoherence. The question for the Committee is whether Scotland can take a different approach based on the needs of Scotland.
New clause 48 would devolve the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. That would enable the Scottish Parliament to take responsibility for all aspects of workplace health and safety legislation, regulation and enforcement. The Smith commission did not recommend the devolution of health and safety law, but it did recommend a review of
“the functions and operations of the Health and Safety Executive in Scotland and…how the future requirements to best serve the people of Scotland could be delivered operationally whilst remaining within a reserved health and safety legislative framework”.
In other words, a bit of a waffle, served up with fudge.
We consider that the Scotland Bill would benefit from being strengthened by devolving workplace health and safety legislation and regulation to the Scottish Parliament. In evidence to the Scottish Parliament Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, Dave Moxham, general secretary of the STUC, said that
“the trade union movement in Scotland is looking extremely closely and with a not uncritical eye at the potential to devolve a range of powers relating to what we categorise as workplace protections, including employment law, the minimum wage and health and safety, that in our view fit the committee’s prescription for improving the quality of work and wages and reducing the benefits bill.”
While we recognise the value of being able to deliver a distinctively Scottish approach, our amendment would make provision for the UK-wide Health and Safety Executive to continue to deliver health and safety regulation in Scotland as a cross-border public authority. That would ensure continued enforcement in the short term while allowing the Scottish Parliament to develop an alternative approach in the future. Making the Scottish Parliament responsible for workplace health and safety in Scotland would ensure that regulation is informed by evidence and the needs of Scottish workers and businesses. While providing for the continued role of the Health and Safety Executive in the short term, Holyrood would be able to consider ways to improve health and safety law in Scotland.
Further devolution would also allow for greater coherence across regulatory bodies, with some areas such as fire and environmental protection already devolved. In particular, the tensions across the devolved regulatory duties of local government, such as food safety, and the reserved ones, such as health and safety, could be addressed.
In areas where there are strong cross-border interests and specialist requirements, such as offshore oil and gas, there would be mechanisms to ensure the Scottish and UK regimes complement each other. Devolving health and safety law would thus empower the Scottish Parliament to consider potential improvements to the regime, while being mindful of cross-border needs and sensitivities. The Unison Scotland submission to Smith accurately pointed out that devolution of powers over health and safety could improve Scotland’s poor record in health and safety at work.
Two years ago this August, I sat in an emergency room when a helicopter went down off the coast of Shetland. Sadly, the service company I worked for lost a colleague in that accident. During my time there, I had to communicate a number of offshore industrial accidents. It would be fair to say that my hon. Friend’s views chime with mine. First-hand experience tells me that having powers over regulation could help us to improve our safety record both onshore and offshore, and in industries such as oil and gas.
My hon. Friend gives a first-hand account of why our health and safety laws should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
Scotland has different industry structures that may in part explain the differences. In addition, other aspects of health and safety, including the NHS and local authority roles, are already devolved and could be joined up more effectively if the whole service was devolved.
In conclusion, we have outlined the rationale for greater control over all aspects of workplace policy. We have a policy approach informed by consultation and backed up by evidence. With the electoral mandate from the people of Scotland to deliver, I urge all Members to consider carefully our proposals and respect the good intent behind them.
I was pleased that in the Committee stage, we had an acknowledgment that we have had four full days of debate on the Floor of the House, making this one of a small number of Bills to have received the highest level of scrutiny. The Bill has not been sent upstairs to a Committee Room, but debated on the Floor of the House of Commons so that all 59 of Scotland’s MPs have been able to take part in the debate. I am very pleased that more MPs have been taking part in each day as we have proceeded.
Yes, we have debated the Bill, but no amendments have been accepted by the Government even though that is the express desire of the Scottish Parliament. The Secretary of State said in Scotland on Sunday that he was minded to have amendments accepted in the House of Lords. Does he not believe that these important amendments must see the daylight for elected Members and that it must not be for unelected Lords—that repository for cronies and donors—to make up their mind on what is included in the Bill?
I am sure that sounded good when the hon. Gentleman wrote it down. It should not come as a surprise to Members that the Government have not accepted amendments at this stage of the Bill’s progress. Unlike in Holyrood, which has only one substantive amending stage, this House has two opportunities for Members to table amendments before a Bill passes on to the other place: Committee and Report. We brought to the House a Bill that had already benefited from considerable scrutiny, including by the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, and which contained significant changes from the draft clauses.
If I could just finish my point.
I was interested to hear the rationale for the points made by the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens). In a previous day’s debate, an amendment was moved on why national insurance contributions should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, yet not one Member spoke to that amendment or explained to the House why Scotland would benefit from the devolution of national insurance contributions.
The Committee stage has provided an opportunity for amendments to be put forward. I accept that some amendments are genuine and could, if adopted, make the Bill better. Some amendments have not been genuine amendments. We spent a long time debating full fiscal autonomy when it was quite clear that the SNP Scottish Government did not want to see the amendments relating to that passed. We have had a series of amendments laid before Parliament over the four days. I am giving an absolute commitment that we will reflect on them and come back on Report with amendments to the Bill.
I recognise that there have been many constructive contributions to today’s debate, not all by the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil) it has to be said.
There has been considerable discussion on the Bill. I want to concentrate on a few of the very important issues that have been raised.
The devolution of managing the Crown Estate’s wholly owned assets in Scotland, the revenue arising from those assets and the competence to legislate on those management functions was a significant and important element in the debate on the clause 31 group. The clause gives effect to the Smith commission. It allows for the Scottish Crown Estate’s assets to be managed by the Scottish Government or such other person nominated by them, and that the Scottish Government should receive the revenue from the management of those assets. Going forward, the clause means that the Scottish Parliament will have the competence to legislate for the management of those assets. It provides for the protections envisaged by the Smith commission to ensure the transfer is not detrimental to defence or other UK-wide critical national infrastructure.
I am not in favour of the approach taken in new clause 57. I will explain why. It enables the Scottish Parliament to legislate on the Crown Estate Commissioners, which was not agreed by the Smith commission. It does not provide for the important protections for national security and vital UK-wide infrastructure, and it does not protect Scottish Crown Estate employees who are so vital to ensuring that we transfer the Crown Estate in Scotland as a viable, ongoing enterprise.
I actually agree with the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) on something—this is quite an occasion—because I do not believe that what the Scottish Parliament is required to do in its management of the Crown Estate should be prescribed. I do not accept it is appropriate to table an amendment that suggests what further devolution should take place in Scotland. I have complete confidence in the Scottish Parliament to determine that in an appropriate way.
Let me say in response to the Opposition’s amendment 52 that we believe it is right for the responsibilities to be transferred to Scottish Ministers. The Scottish Parliament is a legislative rather than an Executive body, and for that reason it is not equipped to undertake the management functions that are currently exercised by the Crown Estate Commissioners.
I can assure the Committee, in response to amendments 125 and 126, that the sovereign grant paid to Her Majesty the Queen will not be reduced as a result of devolution of the Crown Estate to Scotland and that Scotland will continue to contribute to the sovereign grant. The annual amount of the sovereign grant is determined in accordance with a formula that is based on the revenues received from the Crown Estate Commissioners. However, there is a mechanism to ensure that the value of the sovereign grant cannot fall below the amount from the previous year. The changes made in the Scotland Bill will not and cannot cause the sovereign grant to reduce. Even though management of the Scottish assets and revenues from those assets are to be devolved, Scottish taxpayers will continue to contribute to the grant, through the contributions to the Consolidated Fund.
We keep hearing from the right hon. Gentleman and the Government about the respect that they have for the Scottish Parliament. In the general election, Scotland returned 56 SNP Members of Parliament, who stood on a platform of delivering home rule for Scotland. Every legitimate amendment that we have brought to this House has been vetoed by Government Members. When they talk about English votes on English laws, why do we not have Scottish votes on Scottish laws?
I think I did hear that contribution on at least one other day during the debate, so I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. I reiterate, once again, that we will reflect on the amendments that have been brought forward. I am meeting the Deputy First Minister on Wednesday to hear what the Scottish Government’s approach to many of these matters is and how we will work over the summer to look at how, together, we can improve the Bill.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will not, because I have very little time to comment on all the issues raised in this debate.
I want to comment on a couple of further matters that were raised in relation to the Crown Estate, one of which was about Fort Kinnaird—which, for Members not from Scotland, is a shopping centre in Edinburgh, and apparently a very successful one. The management of the Crown Estate’s wholly and directly owned Scottish assets is what is to be transferred under the transfer scheme. Fort Kinnaird is not wholly and directly owned by the Crown—
Let me complete this point. Fort Kinnaird is held by an English limited partnership in which the Crown Estate manages an interest alongside other commercial investors. The partnership owns property in other parts of the United Kingdom. Fort Kinnaird has never been wholly and directly owned by the Crown. Revenues from the Crown Estate’s interest in Fort Kinnaird will therefore continue to be passed to the UK Consolidated Fund for the benefit of the UK as a whole.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) raised the coastal communities fund. Coastal communities funding has been allocated for 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17. The Government have committed themselves to the coastal communities fund until 2016-17. Devolution of the Crown Estate in Scotland will not impact on this funding.
In answer to the points raised by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve), the position on the Crown Estate Commissioners is that they will still be able to make commercial investments in Scotland, as and when opportunities arise in the Scottish market.
If I may, I want to comment on the important amendments dealing with abortion. The Abortion Act 1967 sets a common legal framework for abortion to be performed in Great Britain. New clause 56 would give the Scottish Parliament the power to amend that legislation—as, indeed, would new clause 66, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh). Clearly a number of views have been expressed in this Committee and in communications to Members of this House about the devolution of the policy and about the current policy. The Government do not consider the amendment appropriate at this time.
Hon. Members will be aware that abortion was one of the issues identified in the Smith commission agreement for further consideration. However, the Smith commission did not state that devolution should happen now, through this Bill. It stated that a process should be put in place to consider the matter further. In keeping with that recommendation, a process was established between the UK Government and the Scottish Government to consider the issue. Discussions are at an early stage. Accepting the amendment would pre-empt those discussions. However, as has been said a number of times in this debate, there is no reason why the Scottish Parliament should not be able to decide an issue of this significance, because it has demonstrated its ability to do so on numerous other significant issues.
I shall conclude my remarks as time demands. I recognise that there have been a number of constructive approaches from hon. Members, seen in their amendments to the equal opportunities clause. I think we all agree on the outcome we seek—that Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Parliament should have competence for socio-economic inequality and any duties attached to that. I have asked officials to look at the technical suggestions made to improve the drafting, but I want to put some matters on the record in my remaining time.
We believe that the clause provides a broad, flexible framework within the Scottish Parliament so that it can introduce additional equal opportunities measures, including gender quotas. I had a very useful meeting last week with Alex Neil to discuss this issue. The Smith commission agreed that the Equality Act 2010 should remain reserved and that the subject matter of the Equality Act 2006 falls within the scope of the equal opportunities reservation. That is why the clause is clear on this point. No reference was made in the agreement to devolving the functions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The commission is open to discussion as to how accountability to the Scottish Parliament for its activities in Scotland might be strengthened. I would expect that to be a matter of discussion with the Scottish Government, should they wish to make it so.
The Government do not, however, agree that legislation should determine the gender balance of the Scottish Parliament. That is for the electors and the parties in Scotland to decide. As for gender balance on boards, we believe that the clause delivers the Smith commission agreement, but I will take these points away and look further at the drafting suggestions.
I am delighted that the Secretary of State has given way to me. Will he go back to the matter of the Crown Estate? He seems to be proposing a two-tier system in respect of the Crown Estate in Scotland. If the Government are going to bring forward English votes on English laws, the same system will not apply in England, and there is only one Crown Estate in England. It will eventually get all the money, whereas there is a two-tier system for Scotland—
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, 8 June).
The Chair put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83D), That the amendment be made.
Amendment 23 negatived.
The Chair then put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).
Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Amendment proposed: 162, page 34, line 4, at end insert—
“Equal opportunities in relation to an appointment as a member of a Scottish public authority.”—(Angela Crawley.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Amendment proposed: 123, page 34, line 13, at end insert,
“including a requirement for gender balance among the members of the Scottish Parliament and members of boards of Scottish public authorities;”—(Ian Murray.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Clauses 32 to 37, schedule 2 and clauses 38 to 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Gaelic Media Service
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clauses 47 and 48 stand part.
Amendment 157, in clause 49, page 49, line 6, after “operator” insert—
“or not for profit operator”.
Amendment 158, in clause 49, page 49, line 8, leave out “does not” and insert “may”.
Clause 49 stand part.
Amendment 149, in clause 50, page 49, leave out from beginning of line 32 to line 50 on page 50 and insert—
‘(4) The Scottish Ministers may not make regulations under section 9 unless they have consulted the Secretary of State about the proposed regulations.
(5) Subsection (1) does not prevent the Secretary of State making a support scheme in relation to Scotland under section 9, or varying or revoking regulations made by the Scottish Ministers under that section with the agreement of the Scottish Ministers”
This amendment would remove the requirement in Clause 50 for the agreement of the Secretary of State as a pre-requisite to the exercise of certain powers by the Scottish Minister. It includes a requirement for the agreement of Scottish Ministers before the Secretary of State may vary or revoke instruments made by the Scottish Ministers.
Clause 50 stand part.
Amendment 150, in clause 51, page 52, leave out from beginning of line 10 to end of line 3 on page 53 and insert—
‘(5) The Scottish Ministers may not make an order under section 33BC unless they have consulted the Secretary of State about the proposed order.
(6) The power of the Secretary of State to make an order under section 33BC is exercisable so as to make any provision that may be made by the Scottish Ministers under that section, or vary or revoke an order made by the Scottish Ministers under that section, but only with the agreement of the Scottish Ministers.”
This amendment would remove the requirement in Clause 51 for the agreement of the Secretary of State as a pre-requisite to the exercise of certain powers by the Scottish Minister. It includes a requirement for the agreement of Scottish Ministers before the Secretary of State may vary or revoke instruments made by the Scottish Ministers.
Amendment 151, page 53, leave out from beginning of line 45 to end of line 37 on page 54 and insert—
‘(5) The Scottish Ministers may not make an order under section 33BD unless they have consulted the Secretary of State about the proposed order
(6) The power of the Secretary of State to make an order under section 33BD is exercisable so as to make any provision that may be made by the Scottish Ministers under that section, or vary or revoke an order made by the Scottish Ministers under that section, but only with the agreement of the Scottish Ministers.”
This amendment would remove the requirement in Clause 51 for the agreement of the Secretary of State as a pre-requisite to the exercise of certain powers by the Scottish Minister. It includes a requirement for the agreement of Scottish Ministers before the Secretary of State may vary or revoke instruments made by the Scottish Ministers.
Amendment 152, in clause 51, page 55, leave out from beginning of line 28 to end of line 21 on page 56 and insert—
‘(5) The Scottish Ministers may not make an order under section 41A unless they have consulted the Secretary of State about the proposed order.
(6) The power of the Secretary of State to make an order under section 41A is exercisable so as to make any provision that may be made by the Scottish Ministers under that section, or vary or revoke an order made by the Scottish Ministers under that section, but only with the agreement of the Scottish Ministers.”
This amendment would remove the requirement in Clause 51 for the agreement of the Secretary of State as a pre-requisite to the exercise of certain powers by the Scottish Minister. It includes a requirement for the agreement of Scottish Ministers before the Secretary of State may vary or revoke instruments made by the Scottish Ministers.
Amendment 153, in clause 51, page 57, leave out from beginning of line 15 to end of line 7 on page 58 and insert—
‘(5) The Scottish Ministers may not make an order under section 41B unless they have consulted the Secretary of State about the proposed order.
(6) The power of the Secretary of State to make an order under section 41B is exercisable so as to make any provision that may be made by the Scottish Ministers under that section, or vary or revoke an order made by the Scottish Ministers under that section, but only with the agreement of the Scottish Ministers.”
Clauses 51 and 52 stand part.
Amendment 154, in clause 53, page 60, leave out lines 9 to 17.
This amendment removes restrictions on the consultation process with the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament in relation to renewables incentive schemes.
Clauses 53 and 54 stand part.
Amendment 155, in clause 55, page 63, line 18, at end insert—
“() the Scottish Ministers,”
Clause 55 as currently drafted would allow Scottish Ministers to make a reference to the Competition and Markets Authority only in the most exceptional circumstances. This amendment would enable Scottish Ministers to make a reference without the involvement of the Secretary of State.
Clauses 55 to 64 stand part.
New clause 50—Commission on social and economic rights—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall appoint a commission on social and economic rights.
(2) The Secretary of State shall invite the Presiding Officers or Speakers of the House of Commons, House of Lords, National Assembly of Wales, Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament each to nominate no more than three persons to the commission on social and economic rights.
(3) The commission on social and economic rights must report on—
(a) the practicality of making the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government subject to the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and
(b) the consequences of Scottish devolution for the attainment of economic and social rights throughout the United Kingdom.
(4) The Secretary of State may by regulations determine the role, composition, organisation and powers of the commission on social and economic rights.’
The purpose of this New Clause is to create a commission to consider whether economic and social rights could be made justiciable in Scotland, and the prospects for achieving fuller attainment of economic and social rights throughout the United Kingdom.
New clause 52—Office of Wellbeing—
‘(1) Scottish Ministers shall appoint an independent Office of Wellbeing to monitor and report on the wellbeing impacts of fiscal and macro-economic policy in Scotland, with a particular focus on inequalities of wellbeing.
(2) The First Minster must publish at least once a year a wellbeing statement setting out the relevant social, economic and environmental policies of Scottish Ministers and their intended effects on the wellbeing of the people of Scotland.
(3) The Office of Wellbeing may commission independent research.
(4) The Office of Wellbeing must report at least once a year on progress being made against the wellbeing statement made by the First Minister and may report from time to time on any other relevant matter.
(5) The costs of the Office of Wellbeing shall be borne by the Scottish Parliament.’
This Clause establishes an independent Office of Wellbeing, akin to the Office for Budget Responsibility, to ensure that expert consideration is given to the interplay between the economic, fiscal and macro-economic policies of the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments and their environmental, economic and social effects.
New clause 65—Rail Services—
‘In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Act, in section E2, after “Exceptions” there is inserted—
“The provision of rail passenger services that are Scotland-only services (and so far as they include other services, include only cross-border services designated by the Scottish Ministers), including the power to decide who will run such services, the provisions of the Railways Act 1993 notwithstanding.”’
This amendment would devolve rail services in Scotland giving Scottish Ministers full powers and flexibility to decide who would run such services.
Thank you, Sir David. It is a great pleasure to be introducing these clauses. Clauses 46 and 47 deliver the Smith commission agreement and provide Scottish Ministers with greater influence over the strategic direction—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Sir David.
Clauses 46 and 47 deliver the Smith commission agreement and provide Scottish Ministers with greater influence over the strategic direction of the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses and of MG Alba. They achieve that by enabling Scottish Ministers to appoint a member of the Northern Lighthouse Board and by giving Scottish Ministers the power to approve Ofcom appointments to MG Alba.
Clause 48 provides that the Secretary of State will be required to consult Scottish Ministers when setting the strategic priorities in relation to the exercise of functions in Scotland regarding the activities of Her Majesty’s Coastguard and the safety standards of ships. These functions are exercisable by the Secretary of State for Transport, but are in practice carried out in the UK by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, an Executive agency of the Department for Transport.
The Smith commission agreement was explicit in the devolution of the power to allow public sector operators to bid for rail franchises funded and specified by Scottish Ministers, and clause 49 achieves that.
Clauses 50, 51 and 52 implement the Smith commission agreement and devolve design and implementation powers relating to energy efficiency and fuel poverty to Scottish Ministers, while reserving responsibility for the overarching aspects that affect all consumers in Great Britain, such as scale, costs and apportionment of obligations, as well as the obligated parties. The clauses contain safeguards to give effect to the Smith commission agreement that the devolution of these powers
“be implemented in a way that is not to the detriment of the rest of the UK or to the UK’s international obligations and commitments on energy efficiency and climate change.”
It is the Government’s position that such provisions are necessary. Specifically, we believe that it would be in the interests of UK and Scottish Ministers that the benefits provided to consumers in one part of Great Britain should be proportionate to the costs on consumers in that part of Great Britain.
Scottish Ministers should be able to design supplier obligations for Scotland, but costs should be proportionate across regions, removing the possibility of competitive distortions and cross-subsidy by consumers across Great Britain. We will look at ways of making the costs of obligations clear and equitable between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain.
Clause 53 creates a formal consultative role for Scottish Ministers in the design of renewable electricity incentive schemes that will apply in Scotland. Clause 54 will enable Scottish Ministers to take decisions on safety zones for renewable energy installations in Scottish waters by making Scottish Ministers the appropriate Ministers, and it will enable them to take responsibility for ensuring that offshore renewable energy installations are removed or decommissioned at the end of their useful life. It ensures that consent to and decommissioning of offshore renewable energy installations and the management of Crown Estate assets in relation to such installations are the responsibility of Scottish Ministers, rather than being divided between Scottish Ministers and the Secretary of State.
Clause 55 delivers the Smith commission agreement by devolving to Scottish Ministers, when acting jointly with the Secretary of State, the power to require the Competition and Markets Authority to carry out a market investigation reference when they suspect that features of a market are preventing, restricting or distorting competition. Clause 56 requires Scottish Ministers to lay Ofgem’s annual report and accounts before the Scottish Parliament. To enable that, it ensures that copies will be provided to Scottish Ministers.
Clause 57 gives effect to two key elements of paragraph 38 of the Smith commission agreement relating to Ofcom. It gives Scottish Ministers the power to appoint one member to the Ofcom board to represent the interests of Scotland, and it requires Ofcom’s annual report and accounts to be laid before the Scottish Parliament. Clause 58 gives effect to paragraphs 39, 40 and 41 of the Smith commission agreement relating to the appearance of the Northern Lighthouse Board, Ofcom and Ofgem before the Scottish Parliament on matters relating to Scotland.
Finally, part 7 contains standard technical clauses, including general provisions associated with the Bill, such as transitional provisions, commencement arrangements and the short title.
Before speaking to amendments 157 and 158 to clause 49, I would like to comment on clauses 50 and 51, which relate to fuel poverty support schemes and energy company obligations. I would like the Minister to explain—indeed, to justify—why those clauses are constructed as they are. They amend existing primary legislation, but they are far from clear.
Our starting point must be paragraph 68 of the Smith commission’s report, which states:
“Powers to determine how supplier obligations in relation to energy efficiency and fuel poverty… will be devolved. Responsibility for setting the way the money is raised… will remain reserved.”
Importantly, it then states:
“This provision will be implemented in a way that is not to the detriment of the rest of the UK or to the UK’s international obligations and commitments on energy efficiency and climate change.”
Indeed, paragraph 68 is one of the more prescriptive in the report.
Clauses 50 and 51 also state clearly that any action proposed by Scottish Ministers should not be to the detriment of the United Kingdom as a whole. I want to press the Minister on the criteria to be used by the Secretary of State to determine whether a course of action proposed by Scottish Ministers would be to the detriment of the UK. That is clearly stated in clause 50, and at several points in clause 51. Specifically, proposed new section 14A(8)(b) in clause 50 refers to schemes likely to
“cause detriment to the United Kingdom”.
However, it does not state how detriment in all cases may be judged to have occurred. Proposed new section 14A(9) states that
“considerations that the Secretary of State may take into account include the costs imposed on suppliers by virtue of schemes made, or to be made, by the Secretary of State and the Scottish Ministers under section 9.”
That is section 9 of the Energy Act 2010.
In clause 51, proposed new section 33BCA(7) and others make similar references to “detriment” and to “costs”. Here, too, the phrase “may take into account” is used, which strongly implies that the Secretary of State will not be obliged to take costs into account. It seems that he will also be able to take other, non-specified factors into account. The same can be said of other amendments to existing legislation proposed in clause 51.
What I find worrying about the proposed new sections in clauses 50 and 51 is the lack of specificity and the significant discretion placed in the hands of the Secretary of State. Apart from the politics of this, there is a question of the lack of clarity and, with it, the possibility of any course of action being justiciable. I am not a lawyer—I am an ordinary person—but my experiences over the past decade or so tell me that if there is a lack of clarity in legislation, all too often it is the judges who end up providing that clarity.
I am thinking of the action taken two years ago by the UK Government against the Welsh Government. The Welsh Government wanted to protect Welsh agricultural workers after the UK Government abolished the Agricultural Wages Board, and the UK Government lost the case in the Supreme Court. That is simply an example that springs to mind of what can happen when legislative imprecision leads to legal problems. I would welcome the Minister’s response to the points I have made.
Let me turn to clause 49—Rail: franchising of passenger services. It amends section 25 of the Railways Act 1993 to remove the prohibition on public sector operators bidding for a franchise in relation to a Scottish franchise agreement. The Smith commission’s report stated clearly, in paragraph 65:
“The power will be devolved to the Scottish Government to allow public sector operators to bid for rail franchises funded and specified by Scottish Ministers.”
Labour’s amendment 157 would take a small but significant step further, but in a way that is in keeping with the spirit of the Smith commission’s report. In proposing to allow not-for-profit operators, it echoes the proposal by Gordon Brown prior to the referendum.
As things stand, the Scottish Government are already responsible for letting and funding the ScotRail franchise. The legal framework for letting the franchise is provided by the Railways Act 1993, the Transport Act 2000 and the Railways Act 2005. These, collectively, preclude state-controlled organisations from bidding for franchises. Members might find it surprising, however, that state-controlled bodies from other countries are not precluded from holding a franchise. Abellio, an offshoot of the Dutch national state railway, was recently awarded the ScotRail franchise by the Scottish Government. That decision raised a few eyebrows. The general secretary of the RMT union said:
“Scotland could have taken control of its own railways. Instead, they have opted to go Dutch, meaning that profits will be sucked out of the system to underpin investment in fares in Holland.”
That is a real concern for many people. ASLEF’s general secretary spoke for many when he criticised the “perverse” decision by the SNP Government in Scotland.
I will come to that, because it is an entirely predictable response from the SNP.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the decision was indeed somewhat perverse. I say that because the Scottish Government could have delayed the tendering process in the full knowledge that they would soon have the power to award a franchise to a public or not-for-profit operator that could reinvest any profits back into Scotland’s railways, but they chose not to delay. They knew the legislation was coming and pre-empted it.
I am glad that the SNP accepts the point I am making.
It would have been better if, instead of putting nationalist sentiment first, the SNP considered harsh economic reality and the wellbeing of the Scottish people, but no—it decided to press ahead. As SNP Members are well aware, rail passengers are suffering badly as ScotRail has adopted an approach to industrial relations that the Scottish TUC’s Graeme Smith has described as “nothing short of shambolic”. Few would disagree with that comment.
Yesterday, ScotRail cancelled a third of its usual Sunday services after pay talks with train drivers’ union ASLEF stalled. Abellio ScotRail has written to staff to offer voluntary redundancy, even though the franchise was supposed to guarantee that that would not happen. In the light of these developments, it is important for us to say clearly that Abellio’s workforce planning and industrial relations are shambolic—and that is an understatement.
Why on earth is what is happening on the Scottish railways being allowed to happen? Surely what is needed is in-depth scrutiny and a review of the previous tendering arrangements. In tabling amendment 158, our desire is not merely to put the spotlight on the foolish behaviour of the SNP Government in Scotland, but to ensure that they learn the lessons so that their mistakes cannot be made again. I hope that Members on both sides of the Committee will feel able to support our amendment on that basis.
Before I deal with the amendments and new clauses in my name, I should like to address a few words, through you, Sir David, to the other place. The way in which we are considering this Bill means that a large group of new clauses that try to give real life to the Smith commission proposals will not even be discussed this evening. They would give Scottish local authorities the general power of competence already enjoyed by English local authorities. They also refer to subsidiarity and to devolving power genuinely not just to the Scottish Parliament—of which I am one of the biggest supporters—but to Scottish local government. The new clauses would actually allow local government in Scotland to be constitutionally defined so that no one, either in this place or in the Scottish Parliament, could ever take away the rights and liberties of Scottish local government.
It is a flaw in our legislative process when we are not even allowed to debate those very important issues in our own Parliament. They have not even been dismissed. I very much hope that colleagues in the other place will note that those issues have not had a hearing. I think that many people—democrats from all parties—who were excited about the possibilities of what arose from the referendum and the Smith process will feel that this House has cheated them out of a proper debate on some of the wider issues of devolution.
This is going to happen again on another day, when the English version of devolution will be debased and devalued by a mere rearranging of the EVEL deckchairs in the House of Commons. I think people will live to regret that day, too.
I do not wish to be unkind to the hon. Gentleman, but subsidiarity is not stopping at local government in Scotland and many would argue that it is not really started at local government, either. There are many examples of how the Scottish Parliament, over which the hon. Gentleman’s party has majority control—there is no one else to blame—is sucking up powers. That sucking sound we hear from north of the border is the powers going up from local government to Holyrood. On subsidiarity, if it were justiciable, local government and, in fact, any individual, could take the Scottish Government to court if they removed the constitutional powers that I would have suggested had we had time to discuss the new clauses in the next group of amendments, but sadly we are not going to reach them.
Has the hon. Gentleman studied the document by the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy in Scotland? It was a cross-party and civic society exercise in examining how Scotland might go forward. In fact, I as an SNP member was a signatory and co-author of that document and was on the commission.