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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill: Legislative Consent Motion

Volume 642: debated on Wednesday 6 June 2018

4. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905615)

5. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905616)

13. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament’s decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905624)

15. What recent discussions he has had with the (a) Scottish Government and (b) Prime Minister on the Scottish Parliament's decision not to grant a legislative consent motion for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. (905626)

Having worked closely with the devolved Administrations on significant amendments, I am of course disappointed that the Scottish Parliament has not yet granted legislative consent to the Bill. The Welsh Assembly agrees that these arrangements fully respect the devolution settlements. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office is in correspondence again this week with Mike Russell, and the door remains open for the Scottish Government to reconsider.

Can the Secretary of State tell us whether he has explained to the Prime Minister that, by a 3:1 majority of MSPs, four of the five parties in the Scottish Parliament withheld legislative consent? What has he advised her to do to recognise that overwhelming expression of the democratic will of the Scottish people?

What I have done is explain the constitutional settlement in the United Kingdom fully to the Prime Minister, which she was already aware of. I know that the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) does not like the existing constitutional settlement and wants to see another one, but the current settlement, the arrangements within it and the Sewel convention are quite clear.

This is the Secretary of State who vowed to make Holyrood

“one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments”

in the history of the known universe, so why is he prepared to see this Westminster Parliament override the ruling of the Holyrood Parliament, which has withheld its consent? How does that square with his vow to respect and empower Holyrood?

I am not going to take any lectures on devolution from the SNP. Only today, Nicola Sturgeon has written, ahead of the SNP conference, that this weekend

“marks the start of a new chapter in Scotland’s road to independence”.

That does not sound very much like standing up for devolution to me.

I have recently learned that the great saviour of the Tory party, and perhaps the next Prime Minister, Ruth Davidson, did not actually believe in the vow. Is it not the case that the chickens have come home to roost and that we are now seeing the anti-devolution party once again riding roughshod over Scotland?

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman—the anti-devolution party is riding roughshod over Scotland, but it is the SNP. It does not back devolution; it only backs independence.

The Tory-friendly Spectator magazine has said that no self-respecting Scottish Government of any party could give consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill in its current form. So instead of expressing disappointment in the Scottish Government, what is the Secretary of State going to do to engage in cross-party talks and to try to find a solution that respects the will of the Scottish Parliament?

I have wanted to reach an agreement all along, and we have made it clear that we still want to reach an agreement in the exchanges with the Scottish Government this week. Either the Scottish Government need to reconsider their position, or a new proposal needs to emerge.

Why does the Secretary of State think that the UK Government’s proposals on the withdrawal Bill were acceptable to a Unionist Government in Wales but not a nationalist Government in Scotland?

Order. Mr Law, behave in accordance with your surname. Compose yourself, man. Indeed, I advise Members on both sides of the argument to seek to imitate the statesmanlike repose of Mr Alister Jack, from whom we have just heard. He has been attending to our proceedings in a most courteous and civilised way, as is his wont.

The Welsh Government, Welsh Labour representatives in the House of Lords and, indeed, the former Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace, who is also in the House of Lords, have been clear that the Government’s proposals did not in any way undermine the devolution settlement.

I can forgive some members of the Cabinet their ignorance in not understanding the effect of their policies on the devolution settlement, but that is not a quality that we expect from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Does he not agree that it takes a particular form of arrogance to try to force through a position that is supported by only one of the five political parties in Scotland and by less than one quarter of the Members of the Scottish Parliament?

Again, this comes down to the fact that the hon. Gentleman does not accept the current constitutional arrangements, including the Sewel convention. That can probably be explained by this obsession with pursuing independence. The current constitutional arrangements are quite clear, and the Government are proceeding in accordance with them.

Four out of the five political parties in Scotland now understand that this is the first Secretary of State for Scotland in history who seeks to lessen the control of the Scottish people over their own affairs. Will he now stand down and make way for someone who will respect the wishes of the Scottish people and respect the national Government of Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman let the cat out of the bag with his final words. Scotland has two Governments. In 2014, Scotland voted to be part of this United Kingdom, and I will continue to stand up and defend Scotland’s place in it.

The Secretary of State should be aware that Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, wrote to the Minister for the Cabinet Office on 10 May asking for Scottish cross-party talks. If the Secretary of State really has been standing up for Scotland, what has he done to get his Cabinet colleague back around the negotiating table?

The hon. Lady knows that I regard the position of Scottish Labour in the Scottish Parliament as pitiful, kowtowing to the SNP and not honouring its proud Unionist credentials. We are clear that, if any new, different proposal emerges, the door is open and we will discuss it. However, no such proposal has come directly from the Scottish Labour party.

That door is open. That invitation is there, but the blame for this lies squarely at the doors of the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister. I have a copy of correspondence between the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Richard Leonard, and the Secretary of State is not even mentioned—he is not even at the table. Does that not epitomise the fact that the Secretary of State is Scotland’s invisible man in the Cabinet and that his colleagues are excluding him from future negotiations because of the mess he has already made?

I do not think the hon. Lady follows the media in Scotland very closely, otherwise she would know that Scotland’s invisible man is Richard Leonard, leader of the Scottish Labour party, who has simply gone along with the SNP at every turn. I am proud, in the Cabinet and elsewhere, to stand up for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, and I will continue to do so.

The founding principles of the devolution settlement have been turned on their head in the unelected House of Lords with its amendments to clause 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, yet we, Scotland’s directly elected Members, will have next to no opportunity to debate and scrutinise what their lordships have decided for us. In what sort of world can that possibly be acceptable?

In exactly the same sort of world in which, two or three months ago, we heard the hon. Gentleman setting out all the virtues of the House of Lords and how it would stand up for the Scottish Government’s principles. With your discretion, Mr Speaker, there will be an opportunity in this House to discuss clause 15 next week, and I am sure the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to do so.