Skip to main content

Renegotiation of EU Membership (Devolved Administrations)

Volume 602: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2015

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the role of devolved administrations in UK renegotiation of EU membership.

This is the first time I have had the opportunity to lead a Westminster Hall debate—and the first time I have served under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. It is good to see the Minister again. I know he will have had a long day, but I am sure he is as delighted to see me again as I am to see him. The debate is timely; it is fortuitous that it has come about on a day when a great deal of attention has been paid to European Union renegotiation. I am sure the Prime Minister wrote his letter just in time for our debate. I was pleased to see it.

EU renegotiation will have a significant impact on all parts of the United Kingdom. We often forget in this place that the impact of EU laws does not begin and end in this House or in London; it goes out to all parts of the United Kingdom, not least the devolved Administrations. As I mentioned in the main Chamber earlier today, Scottish National party Members think there has been a sore lack of formal consultation. I am glad that the Minister spoke to Fiona Hyslop earlier today and that there is some merit in these Westminster Hall debates—they can prompt such things—but we need more in the way of formal consultation.

What a difference a year makes! Just last year, the Prime Minister told us that independence would risk Scotland’s place in the European Union, and now here we are, closer to exit than ever before. Having reflected briefly on that debate today, let me say that the Minister has his work cut out in keeping his allies on the Conservative Back Benches on side.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on obtaining this debate about the UK’s possible exit from the European Union. There is a potential impact on businesses within the devolved regions. Is he aware that we, in Northern Ireland, are in a unique position because we have a land border with the Republic of Ireland, which will remain within the European Union?

There is also an impact in terms of the euro exchange rate mechanism. Does the hon. Gentleman have any comments on that?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. I want to talk today about all devolved Administrations, not only Scotland. I am particularly pleased to see Members here from Northern Ireland, Wales and elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Renegotiation will have a significant impact in Northern Ireland, not least given the particular situation of its land border with Ireland and the large number of jobs that depend on EU membership. That is why I am particularly keen for the UK Government to tell us what they will do to consult with Northern Irish Ministers and Welsh Ministers, not only Ministers in Scotland. The hon. Lady raises a valid point.

There is a key issue here: mutual respect. We should have mutual respect for all democratically elected Governments. The lack of a formal consultation so far has been nothing short of a democratic disgrace, especially given the significant impact that renegotiation will have. The first question I pose to the Minister is not about the consultation that has taken place. What formal consultation process—not a phone call—will there be as we take the Prime Minister’s letter today forward?

As a former special adviser who had the privilege of attending Joint Ministerial Committee meetings on Europe and enjoyed the contributions from Fiona Hyslop as a braveheart for Scotland, does the hon. Gentleman agree that that, as a formal structure, is perfunctory? It meets on a three-monthly or four-monthly basis, and no meaningful engagement can take place in that timetabled way when negotiations are proceeding.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, as a former special adviser—a noble trade—who has taken part in Joint Ministerial Committee meetings. It is good that the Minister said today that this will be top of the agenda, but it is just not enough, given the immediacy. The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point indeed.

I say to the Minister that he can win friends and influence people, should he just liaise with his colleagues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. We can look to Richard Lochhead, Europe’s longest-serving fisheries Minister, who has been making the case for farmers and fishermen, Aileen McLeod, who has been promoting Scotland’s world-class climate change action, or Roseanna Cunningham, who has been championing the European Alliance for Apprenticeships.

The EU matters to the devolved Administrations, and the agenda driven by the UK Independence party and Conservative Back Benchers just does not cut it. I will give the Minister a little point of information: UKIP has never saved its deposit in a parliamentary election in Scotland. That will gladden his heart; UKIP is almost as unpopular in Scotland as the Conservatives are.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. By the sound of it, he is not in favour of a referendum, but surely it is about time the British people had a say—and it is the British people. It is not just the devolved Assemblies and Parliaments or just the Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh people; it is the English people too. This is a reserved matter, and surely it is right that it is taken on a whole-UK basis.

Let me give the hon. Gentleman another point of information: the Scottish National party stood on a platform of not having a referendum. We won the election in Scotland—you didn’t. You had the worst election result since 1865. Unlike a number of other parties here, we are quite keen on maintaining our manifesto commitments, so we stuck to them. However, the referendum is taking place, and I will come to that in a minute because we have a few things you might want to listen to.

Order. Can I make the point that no Member in the Chamber or in Westminster Hall is referred to as “you”? Thank you.

Thank you. My apologies, Ms Dorries.

The Scottish Government set out renegotiation priorities in their agenda for EU reform, which I make Members aware of once again. I also refer Members to a speech made in June 2015 by Scotland’s First Minister, in which she looked at areas such as more local decision making on health, for example. The fact that the Scottish Government were not able to act on minimum pricing for alcohol was a disgrace: the democratically elected Scottish Government saw it as a particular priority to tackle a particular Scottish public health issue. The First Minister also looked at a single market in energy and digital services—especially our renewables industry, which has taken such a battering recently—and more local discretion in implementing regulation.

As part of our renegotiation, we need to look at how the devolved Administrations work and co-operate with member states. A few years ago, under the previous Labour Administration, a memo was leaked that showed devolved Ministers were not having an impact. In fact, one of them was being sent to the salle d’écoute—for Members whose French is not quite up to scratch, that is the listening room—which is no place for a Minister who oversaw areas such as agriculture and fisheries. Europe matters to the devolved Administrations. It matters in Northern Ireland, as we have heard, given the long land border and the ramifications for the Good Friday agreement and the common travel area. In Wales, up to 200,000 jobs are said to depend on EU membership.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for being gracious in giving way again. Is he aware that my local council in Northern Ireland—Newry, Mourne and Down—held a significant conference two weeks ago, which was addressed by the shadow Minister for Europe, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), on that very point? [Interruption.]

Order. There is a Division in the House. We will suspend the sitting until after the last Division, as we do not know how many there will be. Could Members make their way back here as soon as possible? Thank you.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming

As a result of the Division, this debate will now continue until 17.40. Four people have applied to speak after Mr Gethins has finished, so I am going to impose a voluntary time limit of five minutes per speech. If people adhere to that, the Minister and Mr Gethins will have adequate time to respond, but, of course, that is entirely up to you.

Thank you, Ms Dorries. Before we went into the Division, I was talking about areas that the Scottish Government have identified where there could be reform, and a lot of that focused on areas for reform where powers could come back. I will come back to this point later, but if there are powers to come back, and if those powers directly relate to the responsibilities of the devolved Administrations, I hope that they will not be devolved back from Brussels just to reside in London and that there will be further devolution to reflect that.

On renegotiation, we often talk about less Europe, but maybe we should sometimes talk about more Europe. The Scottish Government have gone further than elsewhere in the United Kingdom on areas such as climate change or our energy union, where maybe we should be looking at more powers. We could also be looking at more powers in areas of security policy. No one country can possibly deal with the refugee crisis on its own, and the Scottish Government have already set out their willingness to work with European partners and the UK Government to take more refugees.

Let me recap why Europe matters for the devolved Administrations. There are big issues that affect us all in areas such as agriculture policy, fisheries, energy, investment and transport—devolved areas where the EU has a big role and the devolved Administrations have direct responsibility. I have mentioned Northern Ireland. In Wales, up to 200,000 jobs are said to be dependent on EU membership. Even the Isle of Man has a relationship with the EU through the UK as set out in protocol 3 to the UK’s Act of Accession. That is worth bearing in mind.

Key areas for Scotland are set out above, but we often hear about sovereignty. I will read a quote from Professor Douglas-Scott of the university of Oxford and would like the Minister to bear it in mind:

“A UK exit from the EU does not save UK sovereignty. The Claim of Right for Scotland 1989 entrenched the fundamental principle that ‘the people are sovereign’ and that the people have ‘the sovereign right to self-determination and to choose freely the form in which their state is to be constituted’.”

Professor Douglas-Scott’s argument is that

“Therefore, any UK exit of the EU against Scotland’s wishes will create a constitutional crisis rather than save the UK’s sovereignty.”

I leave that with the House to consider.

The hon. Member for Woking (Jonathan Lord), who has not been able to return from the vote yet, referred to the referendum. We were a little disappointed with the European Union Referendum Bill. We wanted to see whether there would be a referendum and we obviously voted against that—that was in our manifesto—but if there is to be a referendum, we want EU citizens and 16 and 17-year-olds to be engaged.

In Dublin yesterday, Fiona Hyslop highlighted the fact that 173,000 EU nationals make their home in Scotland. They made an invaluable contribution to the Scottish independence referendum and make an invaluable contribution to Scotland’s day-to-day life. We want them also to be involved. We want a positive campaign that puts forward a positive vision for Scotland. That is why I was a little concerned about some of the language from the Minister’s Back Benchers on some of these issues.

As we have heard from other hon. Members, Scotland and the other devolved Administrations reap the economic benefits of membership in exports, jobs and so on, but those benefits are not just economic. As Fiona Hyslop said in Dublin last night, solidarity, social protection and mutual support must underpin a modern Europe and we want Scotland to be a part of a progressive European Union with European citizens—despite what we said in the referendum last year, we are all still European citizens—at the heart of decision making. The Scottish Government are committed to making the positive case for reform and I have set that out a little.

I do not want to take up too much time because I know that other hon. Members want to come in, but I want to pose some questions for the Minister to answer in his response. Will he set out the formal role for devolved Administrations in the renegotiations—the formal role; I am not talking about an ad hoc role over the phone? We want to hear about a formal role in the same way as the Prime Minister said today that there should be a formal role for other capitals.

Will the Minister comment on the Scottish Government’s priorities in Scotland’s agenda for EU reform? In future, will devolved Administrations be consulted as a matter of course on decisions that affect them and are made at EU level if we remain part of it? This is not just about changing the EU’s relationship, but perhaps about changing the way we, as a member state, interact. I would like a much more formal role for the devolved Administrations.

In the past, we have seen civil servants or Ministers with no direct responsibility for an issue, such as the Minister for bees, leading fisheries negotiations when the Scottish Minister was present. Will the Minister look again at where Ministers from the devolved Administrations can take a lead, with particular reference to fisheries and agriculture?

My hon. Friend makes a particularly good point on fisheries, given that the Faroese fisheries Minister—a Minister for 50,000 people—is in a quad situation because he deals with Iceland, Norway and the entire EU. The Faroese fisheries Minister is in a far more powerful position not only than the Scottish Minister but the one based here at Westminster. There needs to be some understanding of the context of fisheries in Scotland, which has the majority of the EU fisheries.

My hon. Friend makes a particularly good point. I referred to Richard Lochhead, the fisheries Minister in Scotland who is responsible for around 70% of the fishing industry. He had to sit behind the Minister for bees and an unelected civil servant during common fisheries policy negotiations. Will the Minister deal with that situation when he responds?

In his statement today, the Prime Minister rightly highlighted the Dutch quote:

“Europe where necessary, national where possible.”

If powers are to be devolved from Brussels and back to London, will they, when appropriate, be devolved back to the devolved Administrations where they have responsibility? Will the Minister give that commitment today?

On the Dutch quote, one of the problems in Scotland is that we have a middle man in London and we cannot go directly to Brussels.

Again, my hon. Friend makes a valid point about Edinburgh having to do its business with Brussels through the middle man of London. While we are where we are and the United Kingdom is a member state, it is in the interests of everyone across the House to make sure that this relationship works as effectively as possible.

Will the Minister respond to my questions? Will he also reflect on the fact that although he may not have many friends on his Back Benches, he has many potential friends in the devolved Administrations? The saltire is the only flag that flies on Scotland House on Robert Schumanplein at the very heart of Brussels. We are in there making friends and influencing. The Prime Minister is struggling with that, but I am sure the devolved Administrations will reach out that hand of friendship.

I thank the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) for bringing this important matter to the Chamber for our consideration. My flag, the Union flag, is also flying in Brussels and I am proud of that. I say that for the record.

Not for me. There is no confusion whatsoever.

We are aware that at Chatham House this morning the Prime Minister outlined his objectives for renegotiation. I am sure his attempts to renegotiate will be followed closely by hon. Members and many members of the public. How much and what the Prime Minister can achieve is one question; how that will that link up with the regions is the other. We wait with bated breath, as the hon. Member for North East Fife said.

This is a truly monumental stage in our country’s history. The questions are: do we stay in the European Union and what will that relationship look like; or do we leave altogether? I come from a region with a devolved institution, so this debate is of much interest to me, my party and my constituents. I am sure that many of them, and indeed the constituents of colleagues across the Province and the whole UK, are keen to hear what will be said, and to see how the debate will unfold between now and the referendum.

Opinion on the UK’s membership of the EU is divided within Northern Ireland, as it is in most places. There are positives and negatives, and the subject is a hotbed of debate. As a region that has emerged from conflict, Northern Ireland has seen the beneficial aspects of EU membership, with extra funding for peace projects that seek to help with the conflict transformation within Northern Irish society. The EU enabled us to come from conflict to conciliation and from war to peace, so we are grateful for its contribution. However, as in other British regions, there are negative aspects of membership, and we have seen our EU membership devastate traditional industries such as fishing.

Membership has had an indisputable impact on Northern Ireland, for better or for worse, and it is imperative that the Province is taken into account. Giving our devolved institutions—not just in Northern Ireland—a say in the renegotiation process would be a positive step because it would ensure that regionally sensitive issues could be taken into account and that any outcomes of the renegotiation could be tailored to best fit the devolved regions’ needs.

When the Minister replied to my question earlier today about the fishing sector, his response was along the lines that the localised control that we hope to have would come through the common fisheries policy. I respect the Minister, as he knows, but we might disagree about how that will happen on the ground. I represent the village of Portavogie and the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), who has just left the Chamber, represents Ardglass and Kilkeel. We are not convinced that the renegotiation on the common fisheries policy will provide the localised control that is necessary. We want local people to have control—we said that earlier and I say it again now. The bureaucracy and red tape, and the loss of fishing boats, jobs and quota, are all having an impact on the fishing industry.

The farming industry is affected as well. I personally live in a rural community, and although the Strangford constituency contains a port, it is also the milk centre of Northern Ireland. We have large numbers of dairymen who look after pedigree herds. We do not see the flexibility from Europe that would make things easier for us.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point that can be expanded further. If the Prime Minister was serious about European renegotiation, he might have opened some sort of consultation across the country to find out what people wanted. What he really wants is four or five points to spin in a newspaper headline prior to a referendum. There is no depth and no thought in what the Prime Minister is doing. He should have gone to consult the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, whether they be fishermen or dairy farmers.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Farmers are not convinced that their future is necessarily within Europe, so the Prime Minister has a job to do to convince them of that. I understand that if the money that we put into the EU was taken out again, we could still help the farming communities and give the assistance that is needed. Perhaps that shows that there is a story to be told.

I make the observation that about 13,000 people from outside the United Kingdom, but within the EU, are in receipt of state benefits in Northern Ireland. The proportion is considerably above the average for those born within Northern Ireland and, indeed, the entire United Kingdom. I am not seeking to demonise anyone, but I believe that that is evidence that illustrates that this issue is having just as much impact on Northern Ireland as it is on Essex, Cardiff, Sheffield or Aberdeen. Consequently, I believe that we should have at least a consultative role in the renegotiation of our EU membership.

I hope that hon. Members will take my comments on board and that the Minister will respond. I look forward also to hearing from the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). The EU is a thorny subject. There may be division on it in the House, but one thing on which we are united is in wanting input into the process.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on securing his first Westminster Hall debate. As he said, it is timely that it has occurred on the same day as a ministerial statement on renegotiation and, indeed, on the same day as the Minister was able to have a phone call with his counterpart in the Scottish Government. It would have been very disappointing to come to Westminster Hall to find that there had been no consultation or discussion with the Scottish Government or other devolved Administrations.

The Prime Minister has been at pains to demonstrate how determined and wide ranging his renegotiation strategy has been. He has been jet-setting across Europe to meet almost anyone who will listen to him, forging interesting alliances in the process, but there has been scant evidence of communication, let alone negotiation, with his most important European allies of all—the constituent nations of the UK.

The Prime Minister’s letter to Donald Tusk that was published today states:

“I want to enhance the role of national parliaments, by proposing a new arrangement where groups of national parliaments, acting together, can stop unwanted legislative proposals.”

Well, Ms Dorries, Scotland has a Parliament, and Wales and Northern Ireland have Assemblies. Surely they should be working with the UK Parliament and Government to protect and enhance our position in the European Union. During the referendum in Scotland, as my hon. Friend said, Westminster politicians, led by the Prime Minister, were falling over themselves to tell us that we should lead the UK, not leave the UK, and that Scotland’s only hope of remaining in the European Union was to remain in the United Kingdom. Now it seems that both those propositions were without foundation. Scotland’s membership of the European Union is now at far greater risk, and its opportunity to minimise that risk by being an equal partner in the renegotiation process is also threatened by the lack of consultation with the UK Government to date.

I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to the range of questions raised by my hon. Friend, especially with regard to a formal process. In June, the First Minister called for a distinctive forum in which the views of the devolved Assemblies could be heard in the renegotiation process, so I hope that the Minister will tell us about progress on that.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Prime Minister has now held talks with every single constituent member of the EU, but that nine of those member states have smaller populations than that of Scotland?

It does not surprise me at all to hear that. I look forward to seeing the photographs of the Prime Minister. He met the Scottish First Minister to negotiate the Edinburgh agreement in advance of the independence referendum, so I hope that he will sit down with his counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to—

Exactly: to show us respect—the respect agenda—and to forge a platform on which we can all campaign for the UK to remain in the European Union.

The Minister said earlier in the main Chamber that he had spoken to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs this morning, so he will no doubt be aware of the speech that she made on Monday, to which my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife also referred. That speech laid out the value of EU membership to Scotland, and not just the economic benefits, although they include more than €18 billion of exports and more than 300,000 jobs, but, as we have heard, the solidarity, social protection and support that EU membership has brought to these islands over the decades and the peace that it has brought to the continent throughout its history. In the same speech, she laid out areas in which reform is needed: competitiveness, regulation, climate change and energy. Above all, she spoke about the need to tackle the growing disconnect between individual citizens and the institutions of the European Union.

Too often these days, the European Union is used, especially by this Government, as a useful scapegoat—a useful source of blame for, or disassociation from, policies or practices that people do not like. However, that is a very dangerous game for the Government to play. When it is combined with increasing brinkmanship in the renegotiation process, the Prime Minister and the Government risk provoking a backlash among the wider public. If the Government are not careful, as they were warned in the Chamber today, they risk turning the referendum into a vote on the popularity of the Government, or even the Prime Minister himself, in which case there is a danger that a genuine debate about the importance of the EU to people’s lives will become a surrogate Tory party leadership contest, and voters could opt to leave simply to express their dissatisfaction with the current political leadership. If there is a differential between the result of that kind of vote in traditional Tory heartlands and the rest of the UK, we really will be in uncharted constitutional territory.

We usually talk about a large English majority to leave trumping a Scottish majority to stay and, as we have heard, a UK vote to leave while Scotland voted to stay would certainly violate the Scottish claim of a right to popular sovereignty, but as I said to the Minister in the Chamber today, what if a narrow English majority to leave is trumped by the votes of the other constituent nations to stay? That also takes us into uncharted constitutional territory, and I doubt that many Government Back Benchers would be happy with that kind of result. The answer is to put in place the kind of double majority that the SNP has called for consistently since we got here. The principle of a double majority is good enough for the House of Commons on the question of English votes for English laws, so I am completely unclear about why it is not good enough for this referendum.

The European Union Referendum Bill is in the House of Lords, and the Government are determined to give all those Lords a vote in the referendum. That is very important, because those 800 votes could swing the result. The Government are disfranchising European citizens and 16 and 17-year-olds, but the Lords are to have a vote in the referendum. Why not take the opportunity to put in place the double majority and the other things for which the SNP has been calling since the general election?

I hope that the Minister will see today’s debate as an opportunity to signal his intent to work constructively with the devolved Administrations on the EU negotiations and the case for continued EU membership. As my hon. Friend said, if the questions in the House are anything to go by, the Government will need friends and allies, and they are having difficulty finding them on their own Back Benches. I have no doubt that the devolved Administrations want to work for a positive outcome in the referendum. That means getting a positive outcome from the negotiation process, which in turn means ensuring that the devolved Administrations are heard, because they represent the most important stakeholders in this process—the voters of those constituent countries.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on securing his first Westminster Hall debate. I was pleased that he scotched the rumour—forgive the pun—that there was some sort of collaboration between him and the Government regarding this debate. I was glad that he clarified that it is a mere coincidence that the debate is being held on the same day as the Prime Minister’s letter to the President of the European Council has been published.

Consultation is vital. There must be consultation based on mutual respect for devolution as a reality, and for the institutions of the Scottish Parliament, the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Welsh Assembly. I am slightly concerned, however, about the Scottish National party’s emphasis on the constitution yet again with regard to this issue. Rather than the constitutional relationship, most people in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom are concerned about bread-and-butter issues.

No, I will not give way. I know that my constituents are not really interested in where, or at what level of government, power resides. They are interested in the quality of their lives, and how the European Union does or does not impact on their lives. Another concern is that the SNP is apparently demanding that it be taken into account and be part of the United Kingdom’s renegotiation process.

No, I will not give way. My time is limited, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

My concern is that while the SNP says that it wants to be part of the United Kingdom Government’s renegotiation process, the reality is that the party is yet again giving credence to the Tory Government here in Westminster to which it claims to be implacably opposed. In practical terms, it wants to sidle up to the Government and get as close as it possibly can. We saw that in the debate last night with the collaboration between the SNP and the Conservative Government on the reactionary proposal about abortion rights—

No, I will make my point. The proposal that abortion rights should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament is a totally reactionary measure, and it shows the true reactionary nature of the SNP that it wants to sidle up as close as possible to this Tory Government. We are not seeing the SNP demanding that workers’ rights be maintained. The previous speakers made hardly any reference at all to workers’ right—they are not concerned about workers’ rights.

Order. Mr MacNeil, there has been an indication that you will not be allowed to intervene, so please keep some order.

Thank you, Ms Dorries. We are getting used to heckling and barracking from SNP Members. They cannot win the argument, so they try to shout people down and interrupt. That is their style of politics up there. That is, sadly, what nationalism is all about. It is infecting the United Kingdom as well, which is a great shame.

The SNP is today apparently giving credence to the Conservative Government. I believe firmly that this so-called negotiation is an absolute sham. We heard from the Prime Minister in his letter that he sincerely hopes, with all his heart and soul, that he will be in a position to advocate Britain remaining inside the European Union. To ensure that he is able to do that, he will have a superficial façade of a renegotiation to allow him to justify Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union. The SNP should realise that, so why does it want to be part and parcel of that process?

The SNP should be adopting a principled position of arguing in favour of Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. It knows that that is in the interests of the United Kingdom as a whole, and of the Scottish people. At the same time, it should have a long-term perspective on the sorts of radical changes we need inside the European Union. Successful negotiation, if it is to be done properly, cannot be carried out in a matter of weeks or even months. Renegotiation has to be a long-term process, and we have to work with people and to make allies. The Scottish nation cannot stand in splendid isolation; it has to work with other people.

When we come to the referendum, the Labour party will certainly put forward its own campaign, and I imagine that the SNP will do the same. I hope to goodness that the SNP campaigns in favour of our continued membership of the European Union, but I cannot be absolutely certain that that will be the case. The SNP must abandon its inward-looking nationalism for once and work with others across the United Kingdom to make sure that we have a coherent and strong message in support of a yes vote throughout the whole United Kingdom.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on securing the debate and making it possible for us to take part.

I have a certain amount of déjà vu. A number of us took part in the debate on the Scotland Bill in the Chamber yesterday, where we were treated to a succession of MPs who represented English seats telling Scotland and the Scots what was good for us. Although I am delighted that our good friends across these islands have so much concern for the wellbeing of Scotland, the length of those speeches, and the fact that they often drifted to subjects that were closer to the speakers’ hearts than the subject matter of the debate, suggest that that was perhaps not their primary motivation. At times, I wondered whether Scotland would even get a mention in the midst of the discussion about English devolution, who did what in Parliament in the 1970s and Dicey’s theory of the constitution.

Order. Ms Brock, although I appreciate your comments regarding yesterday’s debate, could you keep your remarks to the subject matter of today’s debate and not make the same mistake?

Of course, Ms Dorries. My point was that Scotland’s voice was being drowned out even in the midst of a debate about Scotland’s future. I am sure that that was not the intent, but it is a reflection of how politics and political discourse are very different here from the engagement that we see in the Scottish Parliament and throughout Scotland, despite the remarks of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David). The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) made it quite clear that the same is true of Northern Ireland. I assume that the same is true of Wales, but the hon. Member for Caerphilly seems to prefer the Conservatives to negotiate on Wales’s behalf in Europe. Each institution has established its own ways of working, which affect the politics of the areas that it serves. In turn, that affects the politicians who operate in each area.

My hon. Friend has mentioned the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David), who was not keen on debating or engaging with anybody at all. Did she find his speech, in which we were simultaneously accused of being isolationist and of cosying up to other people, strange? I could not understand which way he was going.

On a point of order, Ms Dorries. I have been accused of not taking interventions, but the hon. Lady will not take interventions from me.

Thank you, Ms Dorries. We have not only different ways of talking, but different priorities and different political and social aspirations, and the people we represent have different needs. Whatever the hon. Member for Caerphilly says, there is no common mindset across the UK driving the thinking on the EU; there are many. The Government have to recognise and salute that multifaceted approach to the debate in the EU negotiations. That is why the Scottish Government should be consulted at an early stage and throughout the process. The same is true of the Scottish Parliament, especially considering the proportional representation aspect of its elections. Equally, the people of Wales and Northern Ireland deserve to have their devolved institutions feeding into any consideration or reconsideration of any agreement that affects our trading and social links to such a depth and degree. Scotland needs immigration to drive economic growth, and that need does not sit so well with the implied resistance to immigration in the proposals that the Government are pushing, some of which seem to be supported by the loyal Opposition.

We have strong and strengthening devolved institutions representing the interests of a wide range of people from across the UK. A Government who were sure of themselves and sure of the future of the UK would surely feel no fear of consulting those institutions at every stage of the process and ensuring that their views were included in the proposals. It cannot be that the Government lack confidence, or that, as some have suggested, they have contempt for the devolved institutions. Neither can it be that there is no time for consultations with the devolved institutions, given that the Government have found time plenty of time to consult other Governments of European Union member states.

The Minister mentioned in answer to questions on his statement earlier today that he was always willing to listen and that he had had a phone call with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Europe and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop, this very morning. If that indicates a change in approach, it is very welcome. I understand that Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and the Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones, both recently expressed their concerns that they had not been involved enough in the production of the proposals published today. The Prime Minister has made it clear that his direction is towards the exit if his renegotiations are not welcomed. Might not it be a good idea for the Government at least to attempt to get the support of the devolved Administrations before going into the negotiating room?

Our European allies do not seem to be overly willing to reopen treaties or to give advantages to one member state that are not offered to all. With that before the Prime Minister and the Government, and the Eurosceptic brigade panting at the Prime Minister’s back, surely he could do with all the friends he can muster. It would be a mistake for him to try to sell the devolved Administrations a pig in a poke. Opening up and embracing the assistance that the devolved Administrations could offer is a better strategy. I certainly look forward to a far more collegiate approach from the Government in the coming months, and I look forward very much to hearing what the Minister has to say.

I am pleased to sum up for the Scottish National party. I commend my next-door neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), for securing the debate and for the eloquent way in which he presented the positive case that the SNP will continue to push for our continued membership of the EU.

The events of yesterday and today make me convinced of one thing and very unconvinced of another. I am convinced that in 10, 15 or 20 years’ time, Scotland will still be playing a full part as a member of the EU. I am increasingly convinced that it will not be doing so as a member of the United Kingdom. We may, in fact, see a reverse of the situation described by my hon. Friend. In the not-too-distant future, the United Kingdom’s negotiations with the EU may well have to be done through Scotland because we could be the only part of the current UK that is left in it.

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) correctly highlighted the fact that the experts on matters such as fishing and agriculture are very often the people who work in those industries. If we do not listen to them from the very beginning of the process, we will get it wrong. The Prime Minister got it wrong by not even including those important economic drivers anywhere in his list of demands. Possibly, if he had spoken to the devolved Administrations earlier, he would have realised that he had to do that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) presented the positive case and benefits of EU membership. If the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) had been listening, he would not have had to hope to goodness that the SNP was in favour of EU membership. Indeed, if he had spoken to the ambassadors of any one of the 21 EU member states who came to a reception in Portcullis House about a week ago, he would have heard that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife explained as clearly as possible that the SNP wants to remain in the EU because that is where Scotland’s future lies. The hon. Member for Caerphilly did his country one service because, having listened to him, I am convinced that he has significantly shortened the odds on Leanne Wood becoming First Minister of Wales next year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) highlighted the fact that there are very distinct views, not only on Europe, but on lots of other matters, across the nations that make up this Parliament and this Union. We only have to look at the fact that the devolved Governments are all held by different parties. No party leads the Government in any two of the four nations. Different parties won the general election in each of the four member states of this Parliament.

The separate identity of Northern Ireland is recognised by the fact that it has its own political parties. It does not operate with the same parties as we do. The parties that won the election in Northern Ireland do not exist to any great extent in other parts of the United Kingdom. Having said that, the parties that won the election in England and Wales are in serious danger of ceasing to exist in Scotland if they continue to present the kind of patronising, disrespectful, contemptuous view of our ancient nation that we have seen far too much of over the past couple of days.

The reason for this debate is that we want the Prime Minister’s negotiations to succeed, not because we like the Prime Minister or because we have ever had any intention of running a coalition with the Tories to persuade any nation how to vote on its own future, but because, if the Prime Minister fails—it looks increasingly likely that he will fail—we will go into a referendum based on a promised reform that has not been delivered. That referendum is likely not only to result in us being dragged out of the EU—[Interruption.]

Order. Mr Grant, would you wind up your comments so that we can have a meaningful debate with comments from the Opposition and Government Front Benches?

I will, Ms Dorries. My real concern is not only that a failure by the Prime Minister will lead to a vote to take the devolved Administrations out of the EU against our will, but that it might lead to a debate that is not about the benefits of EU membership but about an antipathy to immigration and an antipathy to anyone who was born outside these islands. It may become a referendum on the popularity of the Prime Minister, and that is a referendum that the Prime Minister cannot possibly win.

Indeed. Thank you, Ms Dorries. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am reminded of the words of the great Yogi Berra, who said:

“It’s déjà vu all over again.”

The Minister has certainly earned his ministerial stipend today. He took questions for an hour and a half to two hours earlier in the House and is now about to reply to this debate. I do not know if the Prime Minister is a generous man in personal terms but he certainly owes the Minister a drink for what he has been put through today. The only consolation for him is that his colleagues are not here for this debate as they were for the statement earlier. He is at least spared their unstinting support in the endeavours that the Government have set out today.

I do not know whether the debate is well timed or—possibly, more accurately—a few hours late. The horse has somewhat bolted on this. The Prime Minister has made his speech. The Minister has made his statement. The letter to the President of the European Council has been written. I do not propose to go over the exchange that we had earlier or the questions that we exchanged, except to add a point about the negotiation that was perhaps not covered so much in statement. We are seeing this through British eyes and the four demands have been put together by the Prime Minister and the Minister in that sense. The rest of Europe is coping with an unprecedented refugee crisis. An official from another member state said to me last week, “The trouble is that we are in two different movies.” That is one of the issues for the process.

The issue before us is the consultation and involvement of the devolved Administrations, which, of course, should be appropriately consulted and involved. Quite rightly, people have said that different issues are viewed in different ways in different parts of the UK. Not every issue has the same impact everywhere. I want to speak specifically about Northern Ireland because I attended the debate mentioned by the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), which was organised by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council a couple of weeks ago.

We had an excellent debate about cross-border movement of people, movement of goods, business, trade and farm subsidies—the whole thing. The team for staying in the EU were me and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. I am pleased to say that a vote was taken by 300 or 400 people—mostly small businesspeople—at the end of the debate. The proposal to stay in was carried by 92% to 8%. I make no predictions or claims that that was necessarily a representative audience of everywhere in the UK, but the debate should go to every part of the UK. Every part should have the widest possible involvement. Ultimately, the question—all the things that have been raised about representation and so on—revolves around whether we view the situation through nationalist eyes. If we do, we will effectively see the UK as four member states. Those who are not nationalists will see it as one member state. We joined as one member state, we will have this referendum as one member state, and we will make the decision as one member state. The issue about appropriate consultation and involvement should be seen in that light.

As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I congratulate the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) on securing this debate.

I, too, want to avoid reprising the greatest hits from today’s ministerial statement in the House, but it would be remiss of me if I did not start by putting it on the record that today the Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council setting out four key areas on which he seeks reform: on sovereignty and subsidiarity; on competitiveness; on eurozone governance; and on migration and welfare. Anyone who examines the Prime Minister’s speech this morning or the text of his letter to Mr Tusk, which was released slightly later, will see that many areas in which we are seeking reform match the views often expressed by members of the devolved Governments of the United Kingdom.

The Scottish Government have published their agenda for reform, which includes calls for greater focus on competitiveness; deepening the European single market, and particularly for the creation of a Europe-wide digital single market; and progress on an internal energy union. The United Kingdom Government have embodied all those things in their approach to European reform. Our proposals for smarter, less burdensome and less complex regulation will be particularly welcome in Northern Ireland, which is overwhelmingly a small and medium-sized enterprise economy.

If we look at previous economic reforms, we find that the EU-South Korea free trade agreement, for example, is worth up to £500 million a year to the British economy. That agreement is already bringing advantages to sectors such as whisky and financial services, which are important in Scotland and in the two other devolved parts of this country. The Scottish Government’s agenda for reform also mentioned a stronger role for national Parliaments and the need to secure a stronger focus at European level on subsidiarity and proportionality—those ideas are meant to be written into the DNA of the way in which the EU operates.

I was asked why certain other matters were not included in the Prime Minister’s letter. Of course, the Government have already delivered quite a lot of effort on securing reform on some of those issues. Earlier, in the House, I mentioned the Damanaki proposals on fisheries reform, which have delivered things such as the ban on discarding, which successive British Governments have sought for many, many years and which have led to a shift towards greater local and regional management of fisheries. It is no secret that British Ministers would have wished to go further, and I am sure there will be an opportunity to return to the charge; but in the meantime, the real priority in fishing is to ensure that we implement those reforms in full.

Similarly, a measure of reform was achieved in the last common agricultural policy round, but, of course, the timing of the agricultural reviews matches that of the multi-annual financial framework, so the next opportunity to seek more thorough reform of agriculture will be in a few years’ time, as we approach the review of the MFF.

Many contributions to today’s debate focused on the negotiation process. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is leading a clear process to secure reform, which is now well under way. He has already met the leaders of all the other 27 member states, as well as the President of the European Commission and the Presidents of the European Parliament and the European Council. In parallel, talks on technical issues have been taking place in Brussels to inform our analysis of the legal options for reform. There will now be a process of negotiation involving all 28 member states leading up to the European Council in December, which will be the next time that Heads of Government will substantively discuss these issues.

We attach great importance to our engagement with the devolved Administrations on this issue, as we do on others. Having said that, all hon. Members will be aware that foreign policy issues, including the United Kingdom’s membership of international organisations, are reserved matters and that relations with the EU are the responsibility of the Parliament and the Government of the United Kingdom as a whole. Of course, Scottish National party Members have a mandate from their electors in Scotland to hold the United Kingdom Government to account for the policies that we adopt on those reserved matters, so the hon. Ladies and hon. Gentlemen from the SNP who spoke this afternoon are doing precisely what it is constitutionally right for them to do on behalf of the people of Scotland.

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I would like to make a bit more progress. I will try to give way, but I am conscious of the time and wish to try to respond to the points made in the debate.

We try to involve the devolved Administrations as directly and fully as possible in decision making on EU matters that touch on devolved areas. We have held discussions with representatives from the devolved Administrations throughout the renegotiation process, and I will be continuing those discussions when I visit Edinburgh tomorrow. I am actively looking for dates to visit Cardiff and Belfast in the near future. The UK’s renegotiation is now also a standing agenda item at meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee on Europe, which I chair. The renegotiation will also be an issue for discussion at the next meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee chaired by the Prime Minister and involving the First Ministers of the three devolved Administrations, which is next due to meet in January.

It has been implicit in a number of speeches this afternoon that it will not be enough simply to rely on a series of formal meetings at set intervals. If the consultation process is to work effectively, it will rely not only on UK Ministers arranging meetings or conversations, but on devolved Ministers getting on the phone when an issue arises that concerns them or when they wish to express a particularly important point of view to a British Minister, so that view is registered and can be taken into account in framing the UK position. That, after all, is how we now work in respect of EU policy generally. There is an agreed position across the Government that every Department, before it seeks collective agreement within the UK Government on a negotiating position in relation to a European issue, should analyse whether that question touches on devolved responsibilities and, if it does, should consult the devolved Administrations. In their written submission to fellow UK Ministers, Departments should summarise the views and interests of the devolved Administrations, so that we can take them into account when making our decisions.

As the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) said, we are one United Kingdom. There will be one in/out referendum, which will be decided on a majority of those who vote. It is the UK that is the member state of the EU, so it is right that the electorate of the member state as a whole has a say on continued EU membership.

I was also asked about the Government’s approach to involving the devolved Administrations in EU business, and I strongly maintain that we always try to ensure that the interests of the devolved Governments and the people of all parts of the UK are defended and advanced. The Scottish Fisheries Minister, Mr Lochhead, is in north America this week, and our embassy in Washington has been active in arranging meetings for that visit. Our officials in the United States have been active in seeking benefits for Scottish business of the kind sought by Mr Lochhead, such as the lifting of the US ban on the import of haggis.

We have a system under which we welcome devolved Ministers to join delegations in Brussels, and I have welcomed a Welsh Minister to meetings of the General Affairs Council more than once when we have been due to discuss cohesion policy, which is of particular importance to the Government and people of Wales. All three devolved Administrations sent Ministers and officials to the fisheries talks, where collectively they usually far outnumbered the UK delegation.

Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).