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Scottish Devolution

Volume 622: debated on Thursday 9 March 2017

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the potential devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the UK leaving the EU. (909136)

10. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the potential devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the UK leaving the EU. (909146)

15. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the potential devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament as a result of the UK leaving the EU. (909151)

It is now questions 10 and 15. That will assist the Secretary of State. We have to keep up with the development of events.

When you get to my age, Mr Speaker, it is so difficult.

As the Prime Minister said in Glasgow last week, as we bring powers and control back to the United Kingdom we must ensure that they are the right powers, at the right level, so that the UK can operate effectively in the interests of all its citizens, including the people of Scotland. Where powers should best sit will be a matter for further consultation and discussion across the United Kingdom.

I remind the Secretary of State that on 27 November, in The Sunday Times, the Secretary of State for Scotland stated:

“Whatever the circumstances, no powers will be re-reserved to Westminster.”

In Scotland, we know that such vows are not worth the paper they are printed on. Will the Secretary of State give the House a guarantee that powers currently exercised by the European Union will be devolved to the Scottish Parliament?

Those are two different questions, if I may say so. It is unfortunate that the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) is not present, because he would have been able to tell his colleagues in the Scottish National party that for many years I have been a strong advocate of devolution. Indeed, I was the first Conservative Member, and probably the only Member outside the SNP, to call for fiscal autonomy for Scotland back in the days of the first devolution Bill. I take this issue very seriously indeed, but there is a distinction between the current exercise of powers over matters such as agriculture, fisheries and the environment by the Scottish Parliament and matters that are dealt with by the United Kingdom Government in the EU on behalf of the whole United Kingdom, with heavy consultation.

Talking of devolved powers, last month the Prime Minister ventured north to tell Scotland just how poor the Scottish NHS is, despite all evidence to the contrary, including information about public satisfaction and A&E waiting times. If the situation is so bad, will the Secretary of State tell us when we will receive our share of the £350 million a week so that we can fix it?

I have generally exercised a self-denying ordinance about not attacking the domestic policies of the Scottish Government, because I think that those are matters for them to worry about, and their day job should be their main interest. The aim here will be to secure the best outcome for the whole United Kingdom, including Scotland, and for Scotland not to lose in any way.

Because we are so generous on these Benches, I shall give the Secretary of State another chance to answer the question. Notwithstanding the key principle of the Scotland Act 1998 and what he said that the Prime Minister had said at the Scottish Tory conference on 3 March, will he please assure us categorically that when non-reserved powers are repatriated from Brussels, they will come directly to Scotland?

I think that the Scottish National party needs a bit more originality in its questions as well.

The simple fact is that no powers that are currently exercised by the Scottish Government will be removed from the Scottish Government. As for other powers coming back from the EU, we will consider—in conjunction with representatives of the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, when they are back in place—what is best for the United Kingdom and the constituent nations thereof. It is very important for us to have as much devolution as possible, but it is also very important for us not to damage the United Kingdom single market, which is four times as valuable to the Scots as the EU single market.

I wonder whether, during the discussions and negotiations, my right hon. Friend raises an issue that the Scottish National party is constantly putting on the table, namely a special arrangement for being in the single market. Recently, the Partido Popular in Spain made it absolutely clear—I wonder whether my right hon. Friend has translated this for the Scottish National party and its leader in particular—that its policy, and that of the other parties in Spain, was that there would be no special arrangement for the SNP, and that, should the SNP seek to leave the United Kingdom and rejoin the European Union, it would be vetoed by Spain on both counts.

My right hon. Friend has made his point as well as ever. I believe that this issue will arise again in a later question on the Order Paper. The simple truth is that it is not solely a technical matter within the United Kingdom; it is also something that we must deliver diplomatically.

Is my right hon. Friend as puzzled as I am that the Scottish nationalists appear to oppose any devolution of powers from Europe back to the United Kingdom and Scotland? It seems that they would rather be governed entirely from Brussels than see some of those powers returned to this place, where they have a great influence, and others returned to Holyrood, where, temporarily, they have a near majority.

My right hon. Friend points exactly at the incredible inconsistency at the heart of the Scottish National party: it believes that it is fine to be ruled from Brussels, but not to be ruled from anywhere else.

Given the huge identity of mutual interests that Scotland shares with the rest of the United Kingdom, will not a good deal for the United Kingdom shower all sorts of benefits that can be devolved on Scotland?

My right hon. Friend highlights an important point: what matters in this negotiation is the outcome, not the mechanism. The Scottish Government have laid a great deal of emphasis on their own preferred policy of separate membership of the single market, but the simple truth is that what we want is a good outcome in terms of access to the single market for everybody in the United Kingdom, and that will achieve exactly the same aim in a different way.

In terms of powers for the Scottish Parliament, the people of Scotland were promised a week before the vote that Scotland would decide its own immigration policy in the event of Brexit. Next week we have a crucial vote on EU nationals—we have another opportunity. If this Government will not use their powers to give EU nationals the certainty they require, will they give those powers to the Scottish Parliament?

Again, we are talking about aims, ends and means. On the Joint Ministerial Committee, the Scottish Government have raised the very important issue of the immigration needs of Scotland. I have relayed their questions to the Home Secretary and I expect that when we come to a UK immigration policy, it will reflect the needs of every part of the United Kingdom.

I look forward to having the Secretary of State’s support for his leave campaign’s promises on immigration power being given to Scotland. As part of that and on the issue of EU nationals, will he consider the 2012 European Court of Justice judgment in the case of Zambrano v. Office national de l’emploi, which gave EU nationals with primary caring responsibilities the right to reside in the member state of which their dependent child or adult is a national?

I am not familiar with the individual case the hon. Gentleman raises. I will look at it in detail and come back to him, as is my normal approach. I say this, however: the European Court of Justice will not rule over the United Kingdom after the date of Brexit. That does not mean that we will not have a very humane, sensible and straightforward policy with respect to things such as family relationships, which the hon. Gentleman talks about.