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Brexit: Devolution

Volume 637: debated on Wednesday 7 March 2018

1. What discussions he has had with (a) Cabinet colleagues and (b) the Scottish Government on the devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament upon the UK leaving the EU. (904136)

The Government have intensified their discussions with the Scottish and Welsh Governments on both the significant increase in powers that we expect to see for the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly and some common UK frameworks following the UK’s EU exit. We are making good progress in those discussions and will meet again tomorrow for the next Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, at which I hope further progress can be made.

The Secretary of State and fellow Scottish Conservatives say that clause 11 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is deficient. He gave an undertaking to this House that he would table amendments, which he failed to do. He now says that he will deliver amendments in the other place, which he still has not done. Will he set out what happens if he runs out of time to deliver his much-promised amendments?

I am confident that we will be able to bring forward such amendments. We are in significant discussions with the Welsh Assembly Government and the Scottish Government, which both acknowledge that we have tabled to them a significant proposal for changing the Bill. I hope to hear their detailed response to that tomorrow.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it is the Government’s wish that as powers are returned from Brussels to the UK they will be devolved, not only to Scotland but to Wales and Northern Ireland?

Yes, indeed; that is the Government’s wish, although we acknowledge that to make the common market within the UK function effectively, some powers and responsibilities will have to be conducted at a UK-wide level.

Will the Secretary of State set out for the House the mechanism he will use to amend clause 11 of the EU withdrawal Bill, should no agreement be in place by the time the Bill completes its passage in the other place?

I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s pessimism that there will not be agreement before the Bill completes its passage in the other place. I remain positive about being able to reach an agreement with both the Welsh and Scottish Governments. I believe that they are sincere in their expressed view that they wish to reach such an agreement, and we will take every step to ensure that we negotiate to a position at which we can reach an agreement.

Leaving the EU means taking back control of our waters, which is a huge opportunity for Scotland’s fishermen. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Scottish Government’s EU continuity Bill and stated position of remaining in the single market and customs union would simply sell out Scotland’s fishermen by handing all those new powers straight back to Brussels?

It is incredible that that is indeed the position of the Scottish National party and the Scottish Government. Although at one point SNP Members came to this House and talked about a power grab, they are now willing and want to hand back powers over fishing to the EU right away and to go back into the common fisheries policy.

Will the Secretary of State explain why, if he believes that Brexit is going to have a profound effect on the devolution settlement, he was excluded from the recent meeting of his Cabinet colleagues at Chequers to formulate the UK’s Brexit strategy?

I know that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise the result of the 2014 referendum and therefore that the UK Government Cabinet is a Cabinet for the whole United Kingdom, as are all its sub-committees. The decisions on the Prime Minister’s approach to the EU negotiations were agreed by the whole Cabinet.

There was no indication that the hon. Gentleman was seeking two. In an hour-long session, yes, but not otherwise. I do not know why the hon. Gentleman’s brow is furrowed; he has got what was his entitlement and has nothing about which to complain, so he can sit down and we are most grateful to him for doing so.

The Secretary of State stood at the Dispatch Box and promised the House that the devolution settlement would be protected. Three months on, we are facing a constitutional crisis. What exactly is the Secretary of State doing to fix the mess he has made of the EU withdrawal Bill?

I will not take any lessons from the hon. Lady whose party was quite prepared to play the SNP game in the Scottish Parliament and vote for a piece of legislation that was quite clearly ruled as not competent by the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament.

Good communication is very important in these matters. My office was notified of the intention of the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) to ask a question, which he has asked. If he wants to ask a second, so be it, but he should not be flailing and gesticulating as though he has been the subject of some sort of adverse treatment, because he has not. If he wants to get up and blurt out a second question, he is most welcome to do so. Let’s hear from the fellow. Come on!

Thank you, Mr Speaker—I did want to ask the Secretary of State a second question. He has previously said that the most important thing about changes to the withdrawal Bill is that they should command the support of all sides. May I ask him: is that still his policy, and does he believe that any framework arrangements should require the consent of the Scottish Parliament if it changes its operations?

I have set out clearly that, in the process of leaving the EU, I want to ensure that the Scottish Parliament has more powers and responsibilities than it does today. I also want to ensure that we have an arrangement in place to allow us to agree frameworks as we move forward, and that frameworks, as I have previously said, should not be imposed.

These exchanges are far too slow. We need short questions and short answers. I want to make progress. Lesley Laird, a couple of brief inquiries, please.

My party is the party of devolution, and we will continue to protect that. We are 20 months on from the EU referendum, and a year away from leaving the EU, and yet Scotland’s invisible man in the Cabinet cannot even blag himself an invite to the awayday at Chequers to discuss Brexit. Does the Secretary of State have a plan to fix this mess, or will he continue to front up a Government who are trampling all over the devolution settlement for Scotland?

The Scottish Labour party will be judged on its actions, and I do not see it standing up for the devolution settlement in the Scottish Parliament. Instead, I see it kowtowing to the SNP. In relation to devolution and commitment to the United Kingdom, the hon. Lady, above all people, should know that we have a United Kingdom Cabinet, a United Kingdom Chancellor, and a United Kingdom Prime Minister. Again, she should not kowtow to SNP arguments about separatism—