Emergency debate (Standing Order No. 24)
We now come to the emergency debate, and before the three hours allocated starts I state that, subject only to the constraints of time and the willingness of colleagues to help each other, my main ambition is to try to maximise participation.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Sewel Convention.
First, if I may, I want to commend all those involved in trying to save the iconic Mac building in the early hours of Saturday morning, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) who attended to make sure that her constituents were safe. I also offer grateful thanks both to the fire service and for the fact that they are all safe from this great tragedy for all of us.
I would like to start by thanking you, Mr Speaker, for granting time for this important debate on the issue of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, devolution and the Sewel convention. I should also mention that some members of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs cannot be here today as they are hearing evidence elsewhere; I know that many of them would have wanted to contribute to the debate if they had been here.
I am grateful to you for granting this debate, Mr Speaker, but it is not a substitute for the absolute failure of the UK Government to allow appropriate time for debate on the withdrawal Bill and the failure of the UK Government to protect devolution. Make no mistake: the events of last week demonstrated utter arrogance and the contempt that the UK Government have for the devolved nations. Scotland’s voices were silenced while the Secretary of State for Scotland stood by and did nothing as the UK Government enacted a grab on the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
It is notable that the Secretary of State for Scotland is apparently not leading for the UK Government in this debate. Can the Minister responding to the debate please tell us why the Secretary of State for the Scotland Office is not leading on it when we are discussing Scotland’s devolved institutions? He is the Secretary of State for Scotland: he should face up to the debate on the power grab; he cannot hide from what has been a failure to protect Scotland and to protect devolution. Where is the leadership? He should have insisted on speaking in this debate, which is, after all, a debate about his ability—or, more importantly, lack of ability—to defend the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
Is the Secretary of State for Scotland yellow? Will he stand up and defend the interests of Scotland? Perhaps the Secretary of State has not got the gall to do so, particularly when we know that he came to this House and said from the Dispatch Box that amendments would be put and that Members of Parliament in this Chamber would have the ability to discuss what was happening—but none of that ever happened. Why did the Secretary of State promise that we would have that engagement with Members of Parliament and yet fail—fail miserably—to make sure that Scotland’s MPs had the ability to debate this important issue?
When the Secretary of State did bother to show up last week, we saw him come to this Chamber seeking to justify the attack on the Scottish Parliament, claiming that these are not normal times. Of course these are not normal times, because this Government are acting against the interests of the people right across the UK, rather than acting in their best interests.
It is a bit rich for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he was gagged when he put the gag on himself by stomping out of the Chamber.
I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman has to say, however, because we are debating an important point. The architect of the convention, Lord Sewel, has said he does not think this can
“fairly be described as a power grab”,
because the legislation establishing the Scottish Parliament says
“quite explicitly that it doesn’t affect the power of the UK parliament to make laws for Scotland.”
It is absolutely clear that sovereignty rests with the Parliament of the United Kingdom—
Order. May I just gently say that interventions should be brief?
What the hon. Gentleman has identified is that there is no defence of the rights and powers of the Scottish Parliament. What has been proven by the events of the last week is that the Sewel convention is, sadly, unworkable. We have the ridiculous situation that the Conservative Government—in the teeth of opposition from the Scottish National party, the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, who have said they do not support handing powers over to the Government here in London—have used the majority that they have from England to take powers back from the Scottish Parliament and from the people of Scotland. That is the reality.
The people of these islands have been dragged into the political chaos of Brexit; that is what is not normal. But that is no justification for breaking the convention that states very clearly that the UK Government should not normally legislate on devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. What clearly is not normal is the attack on devolution by the Conservative Government; that is what is not normal. The Scottish Parliament that many fought so long and hard to establish is being emasculated by an anti-Scottish Tory Government here in London.
We used to talk of the settled will of the Scottish people, not the will of the UK Parliament to grab powers from the Scottish Parliament against the will of the Scottish Parliament. The events of last week have shaken the very stability of our devolved settlement, and then the Secretary of State informs us that in his opinion Scotland is not a partner in the UK, but is part of the UK, despite the fact that the Prime Minister had claimed that she wanted:
“a future in which Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England continue to flourish side-by-side as equal partners.”—
as equal partners. In one sentence, in the mind of the Secretary of State, we have been downgraded from a nation to a region. That is not the equal partnership that the Prime Minister talked about, but a subordinate relationship that the Secretary of State for Scotland has acquiesced in. He is not so much standing up for Scotland as trampling over our parliamentary settlement.
As Members know, I am one of five former MSPs in this place. The other four are on the Conservative Benches. I served in Holyrood for 12 years, and I am very proud of that. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one way out of this impasse, from which we could learn for the future, would be to put in place some kind of cross-Parliament arbitration system involving Members of this place and MSPs? We have Mr Alex Neil in the Gallery today, joining us from Holyrood. Such a system would be a way of achieving harmony and working together for the good of the people of Scotland, and we should learn from it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that useful contribution. We have the Joint Ministerial Committee, but let us not forget that it did not meet for six months last year because the Westminster Government would not engage with it. He is quite correct to say that there must be respect for the Parliament, and I would argue that there has to be respect for all the political parties that represent our Parliament and our country.
The right hon. Gentleman refers to the Joint Ministerial Committee, but that is a mechanism for communication between Governments. Surely what is required here is something that I identified 15 years ago—namely, a formal mechanism for communication between the Parliaments. If the Governments cannot be relied on to treat this matter seriously, it is down to the Parliaments to fill that gap.
I want to give credit to the other parties in the Scottish Parliament, where there has been a strong level of engagement. We need to improve on that and enhance it. In principle, I am very happy with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his passionate speech. Does he agree that, when the British Government deal with Wales and Scotland in these very sensitive discussions, they would do well to reflect on the wise words of the great French philosopher, Voltaire, who said:
“Injustice in the end produces independence”?
I am grateful to be reminded of that quote.
I would say to hon. Members on the Government Benches: be careful. This is not about the offence that has been taken by the Scottish National party. Conservative Members need to take on board the fact that they have offended the Scottish Parliament and all the parties in it that I have talked about. All of us on these Benches were back home in Scotland over the weekend, and I can tell the House that Scotland has changed. The strong message that is coming across is that the people who voted for devolution in 1997 can see clearly what is going on. However the Government want to try to define it or spin it, this is an attack on the powers of the Scottish Parliament in the teeth of the opposition of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people. The Conservatives will pay a heavy price, as they have done in the past, if they do not listen to the voices of the Scottish people.
My right hon. Friend will recall that the Conservative party fought tooth and nail against the re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament. What we are seeing on the Conservative Benches are apologists—[Interruption.]
Order. The House must calm down. There is too much noise. Mr Bill Grant, you are a most amiable fellow, and it is unusual to see you so animated. It is true that you are beaming, but you and Mr Luke Graham are also in the process of making a considerable cacophony. I think it would be better if you were to calm yourselves for now.
The Conservatives opposed the re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament, and we now see the apologists defending the undermining of devolution itself. Does my right hon. Friend agree that they were hostile to the very concept of devolution in the first place?
My hon. Friend is quite correct. They have form, and it goes back over a century.
If I may, I would like to make some progress. I will allow interventions again later.
If the UK Government have a free hand to bend the rules, and to state when a situation is normal and when it is not, in order to undermine the Sewel convention, we can never, ever protect the powers of our Parliament. Westminster can do as it pleases, and we have to take it. Our Parliament in Scotland, which is supposed to be permanent, can see its powers being changed on a whim by Westminster, which defines these times as not normal. Can the Secretary of State for Scotland not see what is wrong with that? He is here to defend Scotland’s interests, yet he is able to put his hands up and state that the times are not normal, at which point powers over fishing, agriculture, the environment and many other areas defined in the Scotland Act 1998 as being devolved are taken back by Westminster.
The UK Government have got this wrong. Last week, Scotland recognised that a power grab was taking place against our Parliament, at a time when Scottish Members of the UK Parliament were not even allowed to debate the matter here. The devolution settlement was being ripped up with no debate. Where is the democracy in Scotland’s Parliament having its powers stripped and Scotland’s MPs not being given the chance to speak?
The right hon. Gentleman says that Conservative Members opposed devolution in 1997, but will he take this opportunity to confirm that his own party also opposed it at the time, because its only aim was the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom? Also, he speaks about a power grab, but can he tell me how many powers the Scottish Parliament currently has, and how many it will have after this Government have enacted the legislation? He knows that it will be considerably more—[Interruption.]
No answer? To use a football term, that was miles offside. If the hon. Gentleman looks on Google, he will be able to see what my party did in the 1997 devolution campaign, when we worked collectively with everyone else. I can tell him that I was tramping the streets of Scotland, together with all my colleagues, to ensure that Scotland could get its Parliament—[Interruption.]
The Scottish people voted overwhelmingly for that Parliament, and one of the reasons for that was that we had suffered so badly during the years of the Thatcher and Major Governments, who destroyed communities up and down the land. It is little wonder that the Tories then paid the price and were wiped off the political landscape in Scotland. Today, we see the Scottish Conservatives behaving exactly as they did in the past, and I make this prediction: they will pay the price again, because they have stabbed the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland in the back by taking these powers back.
Scotland is watching, and it is not just the supporters of the SNP who are alarmed. Those who cherish our Parliament are outraged by the attacks on Scotland’s Parliament—[Interruption.] I have to say that the behaviour we are seeing here is illuminating. We should be having a respectful debate, as others have called for—[Interruption.] I am generous in allowing interventions from both sides of the House, but this braying and shouting does nobody any favours. Members on the Government Benches really ought to think about their behaviour and about how it comes across to the people of Scotland. The mood in Scotland has changed. There is a widespread recognition that the Conservatives have reverted to type and that they are attacking devolution—nay, attacking the interests of the people of Scotland.
Last week, when we divided on the Lords amendments, we on this side of the House voted for more powers for the Scottish Parliament. The SNP voted against additional powers for the Scottish Parliament.
Dear, oh dear, oh dear. The hon. Gentleman should listen to and watch the reaction in Scotland, because everybody knows that he and his colleagues last week went through the Lobby to vote to strip powers from the Scottish Parliament without a debate in this place. He really ought to be ashamed of himself.
Since the Tories like to talk about referendums, let me remind the House that 74% of those who voted in our referendum in 1997 voted for a Scottish Parliament—our Parliament—and it belongs to all of us. We should not forget that the Tories opposed devolution from the introduction of the home rule Bill in this Parliament in 1913 right up to 1997 and that the Tories have form in standing up against the Scottish Parliament. The remark from the Secretary of State for Scotland that we are not a partner within the UK is simply confirmation of how he sees Scotland’s place. It is little wonder that he fails to stand up for Scotland as a country and for our Parliament. He sees us as subservient. That is the nub of the problem and that is why the Secretary of State for Scotland needs to go. The Secretary of State is simply unfit for the office that he holds. He cannot fight Scotland’s corner because he will not fight Scotland’s corner.
By ignoring the Scottish Parliament during the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the UK Government have risked the security of the devolution settlement. This is an extremely serious development. Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act 1998 confirms that Westminster retains its unlimited sovereignty. The devolution settlement provides through the Sewel convention that the legislative power will not be used if there is disagreement and the devolved legislatures do not give consent. There has been no agreement. The Scottish Parliament voted by 93 votes to 30 not to consent to the EU withdrawal Bill. Why did the Secretary of State for Scotland not stand up for the Scottish Parliament? Why does he not get up now and tell us that he will stand up for the rights of the Scottish Parliament? Grow some backbone and stand up for Scotland.
The UK Government’s website states:
“The main role of the Scottish Secretary is to promote and protect the devolution settlement.”
My goodness, he has been found wanting on that one. While the Secretary of State has not done very well at defending devolution, he is the one who wants to kick the legs away from the agreed settlement. What a disgrace. He has been a dismal failure on living up to the definition, which the Government have stated, to protect devolution. The Secretary of State has ambushed devolution. At every turn, he has failed to defend the devolution settlement. Where are the amendments to protect our interests that he promised? He should have told the UK Government that there must be protected time to debate the effect of the withdrawal Bill on Scotland’s position, but he failed again. The Secretary of State for Scotland has no credibility. There is no coming back from this. He must resign or the Prime Minister must sack him.
The EU withdrawal Bill is the biggest attack on devolution that we have ever witnessed. The UK Government’s power grab aims to keep Scotland’s powers in London, not in Scotland. As currently drafted, the legislation would keep devolved powers coming back from Brussels here in London—[Interruption.] It is shocking—24 powers in devolved areas, such as fishing, agriculture, the environment and food labelling. That is an absolute scandal.
Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on the remarks of his party colleague, Jim Sillars, who lays the blame at Nicola Sturgeon’s feet for “displays of foolish hostility”? Is that not exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is doing? Does he not respect the fact that there are two Governments in Scotland and that the Scottish people elected two Governments? He must show that some respect.
I think some of the hon. Gentlemen on the Government Benches should be auditioning for comedy hour. Let me remind the hon. Gentleman that the Conservatives have lost every single election in Scotland since 1955, but they want to put a veto on the Scottish Parliament and the people of our country. That is the reality.
Powers must be in Scotland’s hands, and it is not just the SNP saying it. Every party except for the Conservatives has stood up to defend Scotland’s Parliament. A recent survey by 38 Degrees showed that—[Interruption.] My goodness, the contempt. 38 Degrees does a valuable job of ensuring that our constituents keep us informed of what is important to them, but we get mocking contempt from the Conservatives. They should keep it going, because people in Scotland are watching their behaviour. A recent survey by 38 Degrees showed that 62% of Scots agree and want to see responsibilities over devolved areas currently held by Europe transferred straight to the Scottish Parliament.
Legal experts such as Professor Rick Rawlings have also criticised the EU withdrawal legislation for riding roughshod over the devolution settlement. He said:
“The sooner clause 11 of the Withdrawal Bill is cast aside, the better. Constitutionally maladroit, it warps the dialogue about the role and place of the domestic market concept post-Brexit.”
John Downie at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has also advocated for powers to return to Scotland, not London. He said:
“We have consistently pushed to enhance the powers of devolved parliaments—where it makes sense to do so—and believe more devolved powers would better enable Scottish and Welsh Ministers to react to unique regional challenges and shape tailored solutions… We feel the transfer of powers to the devolved administrations would make it easier for the sector to influence their use in a positive way.”
The Scottish Trades Union Congress leader Grahame Smith also warned:
“The UK Government must accept the legitimacy of devolved institutions and realise that proposals which create a situation where the UK could legislate on any area of devolved competence without the agreement of the Scottish Parliament would be an erosion of devolution and would not be acceptable.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Tory Government’s re-reservation of powers and the rest of their preferred post-Brexit constitutional arrangements effectively strip decisions about fracking from the Scottish Government? If decisions about the future of fracking in Scotland are to be made in Whitehall, does he agree that the Secretary of State for Scotland’s office has been permanently undermined, no matter who occupies it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct and makes a valuable point. We must be careful about the threats to Scotland from fracking. Scotland is an energy-rich country, with a wide range of energy sources, and we lead the world in renewables. However, we have a Government in London who want to bash ahead and risk ruining Scotland’s environment. We cannot stand aside and allow that to happen.
The right hon. Gentleman correctly points to 24 powers, but will he explain which of those creates a constitutional outrage? Assuming that the answer is “some”, why then did his colleagues in the Scottish Government agree back in December that each and every one of those 24 should be subject to a UK-wide framework?
You’re supposed to be good!
“You’re supposed to be good”? You have got to be kidding. May I respectfully suggest that the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) reads the Scotland Act 1998 because—[Interruption.] I can see Conservative Members shaking their heads, but this is the nub of the problem. Devolution and the Scottish Parliament are defined by that legislation, and that legislation defines what is devolved and what is reserved. The simple fact is that each of those 24 areas is devolved, and the powers belong in the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government have said repeatedly that they want to reach agreement with the UK Government, but that agreement must be based on mutual respect. We will not unreasonably withhold consent on setting up framework agreements, but it has to be done on the basis of the consent of the Scottish Government and the consent of the Scottish Parliament. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why this is such a difficult concept to grab. I am somewhat surprised and disappointed in the hon. Gentleman.
Last week, Scotland’s voices were silenced and ignored.
Because you walked out.
Is that a fact? What happened on Tuesday night, and it is a matter of record—it can be looked up in Hansard—is that the hon. Gentleman went through the Lobby to strip the Scottish Parliament of powers, and not a single Scottish MP was allowed to debate the issue. That is the fundamental point.
The behaviour of the UK Government is disgraceful. The Conservatives really think they can do whatever they want with Scotland and get away with it—it is back to the days of the poll tax under Thatcher. The very fact they railroaded this legislation through with no time for speeches from anyone other than the UK Government Minister shows utter contempt for Scottish democracy.
I regret that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not down to speak tonight, and I will give him another opportunity. Stand up and defend the indefensible. He cannot. He is sitting there and playing with his iPhone. Playing with his iPhone and stabbing the Scottish Parliament in the back—that is the reality. Come on, up you get. Come on, speak up.
Order. That is a sort of rhetorical device, but it is up to the Secretary of State if he wishes to intervene. One cannot have people intervening against their will.
The tone of this speech—I suppose it can be called that—by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) is not worthy of a response. He calls for respect but focuses entirely on the personal in his comments. This may be a performance for his colleagues, it may be a performance for his core voters, but it does not impress Scotland.
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what does not impress Scotland: a Secretary of State for Scotland who does not defend our Parliament. He should do the decent thing, the honourable thing, and resign, and he should do it now.
SNP Minister Mike Russell said last week that it had been a “dark day for devolution.” Despite countless representations from the Scottish Government seeking to work with the UK Government to protect our interests, the intransigence of the Tory party has seen our concerns, our mitigations and our solutions blatantly disregarded and disrespected—that is the reality.
Although the UK Government accept that clause 15 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill requires the legislative consent of the Scottish Parliament, they decided to ignore Scotland’s democratic wishes when consent was not given. Last week we saw the Secretary of State for Scotland come crawling to the Chamber to explain the UK Government’s position after the SNP had exposed the Tory power grab but, rather than reassure the people of Scotland that the UK Government—
Absolutely, it is painful. It is painful that the people of Scotland are seeing their powers taken back from them.
Rather than reassure the people of Scotland that the UK Government are committed to protecting our devolution settlement, the Scottish Secretary’s statement effectively turned Sewel on its head by saying that if there is disagreement, such as no consent on a legislative consent motion, the UK Government can proceed to legislate. That is cause for huge concern, and it is a pity he is clearly not that concerned, or he would have made sure to respond to this important debate.
Under the constitutional rules, this Government should not proceed without the Scottish Parliament’s consent. By constitutional convention and invariable practice since 1999, the Bill should not complete its Westminster stages in its current form without that consent. Despite the murmurings of the current Secretary of State, the Scotland Office stated back in 2005 that the UK Government
“considers that the continuation of the Convention is vital to the success of devolution.”
What has changed? The only thing that has changed is that the Scottish Parliament has not given its consent and the UK Government, showing utter disrespect, have decided to proceed.
We all heard the Secretary of State’s statement to the House on Thursday morning. Can the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) give a commitment on behalf of the Scottish Government, and indeed on behalf of his party, that, if the Secretary of State were to convene cross-party talks, his party would take part?
Yes. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. One of the things I would say to him, and to the Government, is that I do not believe it is in anybody’s interest not to have an agreement on this. We all have a responsibility to defend the powers and interests of the Scottish Parliament. I implore the Secretary of State to get back round the table. Let us resolve this issue. I do not want us to be in a situation where the Government in London take back responsibility for our powers, and they really must listen to the voices coming from around this Chamber and, indeed, from around Scotland.
My right hon. Friend is making a powerful speech, with which I am happy to associate myself. I also know from speaking to constituents at the weekend that many of them will associate themselves with these points. The last time I saw such outrage from my constituents was during the opposition to the Iraq war and to the poll tax. Does he agree that Scotland has now reached a tipping point as a result of the actions of this Government?
My hon. Friend is correct, and that is borne out by my own experiences over the past few days. We have only to look at the increased membership of the Scottish National party. There are people coming to the SNP who have not supported the SNP previously, and who have not supported Scottish independence, but who are simply appalled that there is an attack on the Scottish Parliament and on devolution.
I simply say to the Secretary of State: by all means, carry on down this road, because the people of Scotland will ultimately have to decide where their future lies. What he is doing, as he continues down this road, is helping to strengthen the case for Scottish independence. I suppose we should be grateful for that.
Last week the UK Government had a duty to amend the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to respect the will of the Scottish Parliament, and they failed to do so. Although SNP MPs sought to be constructive with our amendments, we were shut out of the debate while the Tories ploughed ahead without any consideration of our proposed solution. The complete contempt for the people of Scotland shown by the Tory Government is sickening. Not only were our amendments ignored, the entire debate on devolution was allocated less than 20 minutes of discussion, with no Scottish MP allowed to speak up for their constituents. Instead, the UK Government Minister ate up all the time for himself.
The Scottish Tories said that they would come here to stand up for Scotland. Well, what did they do? They trooped through the Lobby to take away Scotland’s powers—Theresa May’s poodles, whipped to vote against Scotland’s interests. Scotland was aghast. The actions of the UK Government have been an affront to democracy.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing this debate and on his fantastic speech. In the Scottish Parliament, the Labour party in Scotland, the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, the SNP and the Scottish Greens are on one side and the Tories are on the other. On this issue, it has become Scotland versus the Tories.
That reminds me of the line said to the woman watching her son on parade: “They’re all out of step, apart from your Johnny.” In this case, Johnny is the Scottish Tories.
When I confronted the Prime Minister on the shambolic handling of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill by her Government, we were given more bluff and bluster. It is not good enough. Over the past few days, my party colleagues and I have been criticised in this place for standing up to the Prime Minister, for making our voices heard and for standing up for the people of Scotland. I put the Prime Minister on notice that SNP MPs will not stand by while her Government seek to rip up the rulebook. This Government have an opportunity to do the right thing. With the clock ticking, we have only days left in which to save Scotland’s devolved settlement. The solution I put to the Prime Minister last week is still on the table, which is that she should act immediately to bring forward emergency legislation to remove clause 15 and schedule 3, in line with the Scottish Parliament vote. That is the only way that this Government can undo the damage they have caused and the only way the Tories can show the people of Scotland that their Scottish Parliament’s rights are recognised and respected. That is the only way we can save devolution in Scotland.
The Scottish Parliament has passed a continuity Bill to protect its powers. Unbelievably, the Scottish Parliament is being taken to the Supreme Court by the UK Government over the matter. They should immediately withdraw this threat over the Scottish Parliament—stop attacking our Parliament and start to show the Scottish Parliament some respect. The days of a UK Tory Government threatening Scotland must end. It is little wonder that the Tories once again are seen as anti-Scottish.
Let me put all of this in an historical context. The campaign to establish the Scottish Parliament has been a long one. The Scottish Home Rule Association was established way back in 1894. There was a Scottish Government Bill that passed its Second Reading in 1913 and would have established a Scottish Parliament with greater powers than the one we have today. Scotland voted in a referendum for a Scottish Parliament in 1979, but the incoming Tory Government refused to deliver the Scottish Parliament that Scotland had voted for. Right through the 1980s and 1990s the demands for a Scottish Parliament grew. These growing calls were ignored by the Conservatives until they were swept out of office. In 1998, the Scotland Act establishing a Scottish Parliament was passed, in the teeth of opposition from the Conservatives. Majority Scottish opinion demanded a Parliament; it was, as was stated, the settled will of the Scottish people. When Winnie Ewing rose to address the opening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 she said:
“the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on March 25, 1707, is hereby reconvened.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 12 May 1999.]
That Parliament, which we all on these Benches take pride in, had its powers defined in the Scotland Act. Schedule 5 of the Act defines what areas are reserved. The UK Government also accept:
“The act does not specify which matters are devolved to the Scottish Parliament, rather it specifies those matters that are reserved to the UK Parliament. Those matters not reserved by the Scotland Act are devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament has primary legislative powers, ie the power to pass acts.”
That is clear cut and it is why we cannot allow the Conservative Government to take back responsibility over 24 matters which, by the Scotland Act, are devolved. It is wrong and we will do everything in our power to stop it.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on a stunning speech. Does he agree that, as the suffragettes said, we shall be judged on our deeds not our words, and that this Government will be judged and shown up for the farce that they are? The Secretary of State will be the first Secretary of State for Scotland in history to have seen a reduction in powers to the Scottish Parliament. This Government will be judged and the Scottish people will neither forgive, nor forget.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and she is absolutely correct in what she says. There is a wonderful book called “The Scottish Secretaries”, which talks about some of the great and not so great Scottish Secretaries. Let us reflect on people such as Tom Johnston, who did so much to transform Scottish society, and then look at the current Secretary of State, who fails to stand up for Scotland and sees our powers taken back. [Interruption.] Someone may want to stand up to tell me what is personal in that. I am focusing on the fundamentals: his party is working against the interests of the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament, and is “taking back control”.
It is therefore simple: Westminster, without consent, is changing the devolution settlement and is prepared to undermine the Scotland Act. None of us can stand back and allow this to happen—it is a point of principle. Westminster should not have a veto on the Scottish Parliament. It is pretty rich that last week we heard accusations that Scotland was seeking a veto over Westminster—the Secretary of State has said that repeatedly. Let me be clear: that is not the case. All we are seeking to do is to ensure that the powers in the Scotland Act are defended, not dismantled.
We have our own constitutional history in the case of MacCormick v. the Lord Advocate in 1953. When Lord Cooper gave his decision, he said:
“The principle of unlimited sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctly English principle which has no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law.”
That is to say: in Scotland, the people are sovereign. Westminster must respect the will of the Scottish Parliament, through its Members having been elected by the people of Scotland.
I should remind the UK Government that they have lost every single election in Scotland since 1955, and it is hardly surprising. The Conservatives are isolated in the Scottish Parliament in not standing up to defend our devolved rights. This is not about the SNP; it is about the settled will of the Scottish people and of the Scottish Parliament. History will judge all of us on our actions at this critical and challenging time. Therefore I say to every Scottish MP in this place: do not fall on the wrong side. I say to the Secretary of State: stop hiding out, and instead stand with us, stand up for Scotland’s Parliament and stop the power grab, or go down as the Secretary of State who allowed our Scotland’s Parliament to have its powers reduced. History will remember this defining moment when this Parliament chose to reject devolution—when the Tories chose to end almost 10 years of constitutional convention, only to tell the people of Scotland that their voices will be silenced. But I say again that there is a choice before the UK Government: act now to bring in emergency legislation to recognise the Scottish Parliament and to protect our devolved settlement. Anything less risks constitutional crisis. We are days away, the clock is ticking and the Government must act. I urge them to choose to be on the right side of history, do the right thing by the people of Scotland, and bring forward emergency legislation immediately to delete clause 15 and schedule 3, in order to protect Scottish devolution and our Scottish Parliament.
In closing, I recall the powerful and pertinent words of Charles Stewart Parnell:
“No man has a right to fix the boundary of the march of a nation; no man has a right to say to his country, ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no further.’”
I share the disappointment that has been expressed in the Chamber today that we were not given the opportunity to discuss these very important issues during last week’s debate. However, that is where my agreement with the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) ends. It is worthwhile highlighting why we did not have the time to debate these matters last week: 11 times last Tuesday the Labour party caused this House to divide. Labour Members knew exactly what the consequences would be in terms of timings, but they persisted and sacrificed the time available for Members to contribute to the debate. So I am delighted that we have the opportunity to discuss the ramifications of clause 15 today.
Once we leave the European Union, the Scottish Parliament will be even more powerful than it is just now—that is a fact. Every one of the powers being repatriated from Brussels after Brexit is already with Holyrood at implementation level, no power that currently resides there is being removed. We could be having a debate about how those powers could be used to improve the lives of our fellow Scots, but instead, unsurprisingly, we are doing what the SNP loves best and talking about process. Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, I regret that the Scottish Government were not able to agree a deal with the UK Government on the transfer of powers, but I have to be honest and say that I was not surprised. It really is questionable whether Nicola Sturgeon was ever going to do a deal in the first place. Let us not forget that within hours of the EU referendum result being declared two years ago, she summoned the media to Bute House and instructed her officials to start drawing up the necessary legislation for a second independence referendum. She knew fine well that a deal with the UK Government would have been detrimental to her plans for a re-run of 2014.
Does my hon. Friend agree with Jim Sillars, the former deputy leader of the Scottish National party, who said:
“Let me be blunt: the stand-off between Holyrood and Westminster is primarily the fault of Nicola Sturgeon”?
Obviously, I do agree with that, and I also agree with Jim Sillars—[Interruption.]
Order. People were talking about mutual respect, so may I explain to the House that it is discourteous for side conversations between Members to take place when another Member has the floor? The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) has just intervened, and he should then alert himself to the response to his intervention, rather than engaging in a squabble with the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law).
I also agree with Jim Sillars that it is ironic that Nicola Sturgeon wants to take powers from the Prime Minister and return them to Mr Juncker, but there we are.
Let me go back to the point I was making about a deal with the UK Government being detrimental to the planned re-run of a divisive referendum. Despite the best intentions of her Brexit Minister, who I believe wanted to do a deal, the First Minister would never have agreed to anything that he went back with. For the SNP, it is all about grievance and division with Westminster. The people of Scotland are rightly sick of it.
Once we leave the European Union, it is vital that the integrity of the unified internal market of the United Kingdom is upheld. It is of benefit to everyone, not least Scotland, where our trade with the rest of the UK is worth four times more than our trade with the EU. To maintain that internal market, we need to agree common frameworks—something on which even the SNP agrees. Such frameworks will provide certainty to businesses in our home nations that there will be no barriers to doing trade within the UK.
Whether they are in areas such as agricultural support, animal welfare, environmental standards, food labelling, or public procurement, common frameworks are required to ensure fairness throughout the UK, to maintain standards, and to ensure co-operation between the four home nations. As we leave the EU and become a global free-trading nation again, common frameworks will ensure that the whole UK is able to benefit from the trade deals that will be signed with countries around the globe. Without those frameworks, we could end up with different regulatory systems throughout the UK, which could potentially make it harder for us to sign comprehensive free trade deals.
One would think that all that makes complete sense, but it was not enough for the Scottish Government. In effect, they wanted a veto over the powers in the frameworks, which would, it is important to bear in mind, also affect the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. To my mind, the UK Government were right not to give in to that demand. Is it not just a bit suspicious that a Unionist Government in Wales were able to sign up to the final deal, but a nationalist Government in Scotland were not? I do not think it will have escaped the people of Scotland’s notice that Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP have used this process to further their desire to take Scotland back down the road of a divisive second independence referendum that the people of Scotland do not want.
If it could, the SNP would take us straight back into the European Union, sign us back up to the hated common fisheries policy and, ironically, hand the powers that are so contentious to them straight back to Brussels. However, we will not let that happen, which is why the Government are respecting the democratic will of the British people to leave the European Union.
It is a great pleasure to be involved in this important debate and to follow the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack), although I take umbrage at his claiming in opening his speech that this debacle, which has actually been made by his own Government, is somehow the fault of democratically elected politicians going through the Lobby to vote for Lords amendments to a major piece of legislation. That is our democratic right. I am sure that many of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents wrote to him last week to ask him to support the 15 amendments that came back from the other place, in the same way that many of my constituents wrote to me. That is what we committed to do and it is certainly what we did last week.
The blame for the House having only 19 minutes to deal with the devolution issues lies squarely with the Government’s programme managers—the Leader of the House and the usual channels—who decided to make it a six-hour debate, with a knife at three hours, so that the second three hours was eaten into by votes. They could have taken a completely different approach to the programme motion and allowed the votes to happen and then another three-hour debate after that. This travesty and devastation, and the grievance that has been given to certain parties in the House, is of the Government’s own making.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the answer did lie in the timetable. The Government could have protected the time for debating that string of amendments but they chose not to. Does he agree that, especially considering the nature of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, to suggest that this House should somehow have to choose between debating the amendments from the other place and voting on them is quite ridiculous?
It is quite ridiculous, and I cannot help but feel that the programme motion was put in place for that very purpose. The Government would have known that the House would divide on the vast majority of those amendments, such that that three-hour knife would, by the nature of the process of amendments coming back from the other place in ping-pong, reduce the time available for debate.
I shall come to why it affects the Sewel convention, but the reason why everyone is so frustrated and angry about the process is that the Secretary of State—I will not get into the personal politics; I disagree with his politics fundamentally, but he is an honourable man and has always dealt with me fairly, and I think he will perhaps look back and regret some of the Government’s actions in this process—promised at the Dispatch Box, on several occasions, that this elected House would get to debate the amendments on devolution that were being put to the other place. He promised that the amendments would come in Committee, and they did not, and that they would come on Report, and they did not. His own Back Bencher, the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), who is in his place, said that he would reluctantly back the Government’s position on the Opposition amendments, after he was given assurances by his own Front Benchers that the amendments would come on Report.
The very fact that the amendments have been tabled in the other place, meaning that the elected House has been unable to debate them or, indeed, have any kind of say in them, has left us with a grievance to exploit, because we have not even debated on the Floor of this Chamber the fundamental issues relating to the Sewel convention, the individual parts of the amendments, the impact on the Scottish Government, the impact on the Scottish Parliament, the impact on the UK Government or the impact on UK-wide frameworks that are being put in place as part of the process.
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman’s comments on the programme motion, but on the vote itself, he tried last week to justify Labour’s abstention by saying that had we defeated the Government on the amendment, it would have reverted the devolution clause back to an even less satisfactory position. Is it not the case that had we defeated the Government, the Bill would have gone back to the Lords for further amendment, so we could have made the amendments that we were looking for?
The hon. Gentleman misinterprets the Labour party position; in fact, misinformation is the SNP’s role in this debate. I am clear about our position. The amendment tabled in the House of Lords would get us to around 80% of where we would like to be. The old clause 11 was deficient, as everyone in this House—including the Secretary of State himself and the Minister for the Cabinet Office—has said. There has been a process of negotiation, and in such a process one cannot always get what one wants. I would have liked the Government to go much further, but on the basis that the amendment was in my view 80% acceptable, it did not seem right to vote for it or to vote against it. That is a principled position to take. I say to the hon. Gentleman that it is completely and utterly fundamentally disingenuous to claim that powers are being taken back from the Scottish Parliament. It is equally fundamentally disingenuous to say that Brexit will be a powers bonanza. Both positions are wrong. The powers of the Scottish Parliament will not increase by one iota as a result of this process, and the number of powers that will be taken from the Scottish Parliament as part of this process is zero. Because the Conservatives and the SNP have it in themselves to continue to fight with each other because it is politically expedient for them to do so, all these kinds of arguments and the pragmatic approach to this process are lost.
I will give way to the hon. and learned Lady, my constituency neighbour, if she wants to dispel the myth and agree that the Scottish Parliament will receive no fewer powers than it has and will have no powers taken from it as part of this process.
Is the hon. Gentleman seriously disputing the fact that, as a result of the amendments passed last week, 24 powers will be taken back to this Parliament for up to seven years and that, at any time during that seven years, the UK Government can alter them as they see fit? Has he read the amendment and is he seriously disputing that?
The hon. and learned Lady’s question touches on the bit of the amendment from the House of Lords that we disputed. In fact, if she looks at our Front-Bench amendment in this place—[Interruption.] I do not understand why the behaviour of the Scottish National party has to be so hostile when I am actually on its side for the vast majority of this issue. There is no respect in this Chamber for people who want to make their points.
I agree 80% with the amendment that came back from the House of Lords. This is the bit that I do not agree with. In fact, the shadow Secretary of State put forward an amendment in lieu of the Lords amendments that stated the very fact that this was where the contention lay with the sunset clauses. I have the 24 areas of legislation in front of me, and I would like to say to the people of Scotland who are perhaps watching this debate that we do need UK-wide legislative frameworks on some of these matters, because it is important for the operation of Scotland, the UK Government and the UK economy. For example, let us look at environmental quality and standards in chemicals. Nobody could possibly suggest that, in the pragmatic world in which we live, we do not need both Governments to come together and propose a proper UK framework for that kind of issue. That is just one of the 24 issues—there are 153 issues—that has come up in this particular process.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not give way again to the hon. and learned Lady, because others wish to speak. She will get her opportunity to speak in this debate.
We must take the politics and the heat out of this debate. During the statement last Thursday, I asked the Secretary of State whether there was any possibility of people continuing to talk on this matter. He said that he was willing to talk, but that the Scottish Government will not move from their position. In reply to my intervention a few moments ago, the leader of the SNP said that the Scottish Government, in his view, would be willing to talk. When can we possibly get both Governments around the table to try to flesh some of this out? The nub of the problem—one of a number—is that the Joint Ministerial Committee does not meet regularly enough. As was said by Lord McConnell, who set up this particular process, it should have been scrapped a long time ago. During the passage of the Scotland Bill in 2015 in this Chamber—all the SNP Members were here—I put forward amendments from that Dispatch Box to put the JMC on a statutory footing to allow minutes and agendas to be published publicly, so we did not get into this situation of “he said, she said” and the whole matter becomes a political football.
When the Minister gets to the Dispatch Box, I urge him to give a clear commitment that every single piece of communication that has happened in the JMC with regards to the devolution amendments is published. I shall tell him why he should do that. While this whole process is secret and while people are kept in the dark about who said what and who agreed to what, all we get is: this is a power grab, or this is a powers bonanza. The people of Scotland then have to decide which one is the most appropriate. As the compromise was made, I want to know, and the people of Scotland want to know, how far apart the two sides are. Is it the case that it is two minor things on which the Scottish Government are deliberately withholding consent, because it is not in their interest to give consent? I agree with the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr Jack) that the Scottish Government never intended to give consent, even if they got 100% of what they wanted. It is not in their political interest to do so. Let us have a little bit of transparency about this process, so that we can see, in black and white, where the gap is and how we are able to bridge that gap.
Further to my earlier intervention on the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees with my suggestion that many of us will not be on Joint Ministerial Committees, but that some sort of Back-Bench liaison, cross-party body of MPs and MSPs would be constructive for the future operation of both Parliaments?
I think that it would be constructive. If this process has shown anything, it is that the inter-governmental relationship between two Governments when they are of different colours does not work. The consequences of it not working is not that the Secretary of State cannot get what he wants, or that the First Minister cannot get what she wants, but that it is bad for the people of Scotland. We cannot have an orderly withdrawal from the EU—if that is what happens and let us not get into the issues of whether or not we will leave the EU; I have my own views—unless we have a proper structure in place where both Governments can be confident, and the people of Scotland can be confident, that both Governments can work together. It is in both Governments’ interests to fight over these particular issues, because they cannot resolve some of the major problems with regards to leaving the European Union. Therefore, a fight between flags, between the Conservatives and the Scottish National party, suits both political agendas down to the ground while every other issue ends up being on the agenda.
I will not give way, because we will run out of time. I would hate it if the hon. Gentleman had to walk out because he was not able to get his say in this particular debate.
I will make two other brief points. I think that we are all in the same place in this Chamber in terms of what we want to try to achieve. If we leave the European Union, we want to be able to have a legislative framework in front of us that works for the things that we need it to work for. It is quite clear from the people who speak to me that we cannot have different frameworks with regards to the movement of animals across the UK, because we need the UK internal market to work. We cannot have different food labelling or we will have a situation like I have in my constituency where we have a wonderful Mexican deli which imports all this stuff from Mexico but has to relabel it with all the different labels. We could not possibly have that situation, so we do need some UK-wide frameworks that work and operate for the UK internal market. It is not in the SNP’s interests to make that work, because it wants out of the UK internal market. That is part of the problem that we have here with the politics. It comes down to the nub of the issue, which is: are the UK Government right on this particular issue? I do not think they are. They could have gone much further and they have made a hash of it and they are architects of their own misfortune. But are the SNP Scottish Government willing to move to be able to get an agreement on this? I think the answer to that is no. In the absence of two parties that are willing to talk to each other or willing to compromise, where does it leave us in terms of the overall devolution settlement?
I will finish on this. When he set up the Sewel convention, Lord Sewel said quite clearly that it should not be used for major policy issues on which there is a major political disagreement, and we are seeing that play out now. I do not know how we can get to a place whereby the Scottish Government can give this a legislative consent motion. I suspect that if clause 15 and schedule 3 were deleted from the amended Bill, they would still not give the legislative consent motion because it is not in their interests to do so. In the absence of two Governments willing to work together, how do we get to a position where this Bill can be passed and the Scottish Government can say that they will give it legislative consent? This is no power grab and it is no powers bonanza. Both Governments should tone down the rhetoric, get back round the table and think seriously about making sure that the JMC operates properly in the future and that it is transparent about its minutes and agendas.
Order. With immediate effect, a five-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches now applies because I am keen to accommodate the maximum number of colleagues.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) who said so many things with which I agreed and so many things that made great sense.
We are here discussing the Sewel convention because of Brexit and because of the SNP’s aim of separation. In 2016, the EU referendum was not a Scottish vote any more than it was a Yorkshire vote or a London vote; it was a UK vote. To respect the UK result, we must deliver the will of the people. The 2014 independence referendum makes Scotland democratically, beyond doubt, a vital part of the UK. We hear cries of “Scotland’s watching”. Yes, the people are watching. They are watching the SNP not respecting the independence referendum. They are watching the SNP not respecting the fact that it lost 21 seats in the 2017 general election, against the Conservative and Labour parties which were both running on Brexit manifestos. The SNP is ignoring the democratic will of the Scottish people. The Sewel convention, as the Supreme Court made clear, is a political doctrine recognised by the court. The SNP shouts, “Scotland’s voice was silenced.” It claims that amendments curtail the authority of the Scottish Government and that the nature of devolution has been changed forever. After months of ministerial negotiation and painstaking discussions by civil servants, the claim of a power grab is simply a grievance.
Which powers is Holyrood losing? Which powers will Holyrood not implement? Twenty-four powers previously governed by the EU will be reserved temporarily to address trade issues and open borders. Common frameworks are essential to business and jobs in our constituencies, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) said. Eighty powers are immediately handed over, so where is the power grab? The Conservatives wanted amendments made in this House. That they were not is regrettable, but the Lords moved a long way. Did the Secretary of State and the Cabinet Office work with the Scottish Government in good faith? Yes they did—in good faith.
The SNP is acting as a fifth column. Industry can now see that Holyrood cannot be trusted to represent it and that jobs will be undermined. In my constituency in Aberdeenshire—the most prosperous and effective part of the economy in Scotland—people are asking why we are still squabbling over this and why it is not being implemented. The EU referendum was about the UK, which Scotland chose conclusively to be part of in the 2014 referendum. Nicola Sturgeon has seen the EU withdrawal Bill as a saviour to precipitate independence referendum 2. It is the last-chance saloon. The SNP has planned all along to try to wreck the Bill. If hon. Members fundamentally believe that the UK should remain borderless, retaining some powers in Westminster was a sensible stop-gap. How else could we negotiate an all-UK trade area? Mike Russell thought he had a deal. SNP MPs thought they had a deal. Frameworks are a no-brainer. Unfortunately, as the Lib Dems and Labour have just realised, this is simply a false flag. It has always been, and always will be, about independence ref 2 in Scotland.
As I said earlier, Jim Sillars lays the blame at Nicola Sturgeon’s feet. What happened the other week undermines the institutions of this democracy and damages Scotland’s position in Brexit negotiations. Nicola Sturgeon is clearly not acting as an honest broker.
The hon. Gentleman talks about this democracy and compares the EU with the UK, which I find peculiar. Can he tell me of any other EU member state that is a democracy, where a party has lost an election 21 times in a row, but finds itself in power?
I remind the hon. Gentleman that this is the United Kingdom. We had an independence referendum. He and I are part of the United Kingdom. I want to protect the Union; he wants separation from it.
Jim Sillars also said:
“I cannot remember one hostile speech that could be construed as an outright attempt to trash Scotland’s constitutional position.”
That is interesting, given that he is from the SNP. So this is not an attack on devolution and it is not a power grab.
What I really wanted to come on to is that language such as “Martini strategy” and “hit and run” radicalises those supporters to ignite the democratic process, undermines the rule of law and weakens Holyrood’s role. Frankly, it can endanger politicians, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned earlier.
On the hon. Gentleman’s comment about undermining democracy, the point has been made many times in this House that the parties in the Scottish Parliament have voted time and again to ensure that our powers were retained. Four out of five parties supported that, voting no to a power grab. What part of no does the hon. Gentleman not understand?
In the 2014 independence referendum, Scotland clearly said no. My predecessor, Alex Salmond, said that the referendum was a “once in a generation” event, and here we are. Which part of no do we not understand? I think that the problem clearly lies with the SNP.
Are we defending the integrity of the UK and protecting the devolution settlement? Yes we are, because the Scots want their two Governments to work together. Using guerrilla tactics to undermine this place, the democratic norms and the very basis of our liberal democracy, is deeply disappointing. Taking the advice of my predecessor in Gordon, Alex Salmond, this may rally the SNP hardcore, but it will alienate the law-abiding, taxpaying Scots who play by the rules. We are here as democrats. We should not let our constituents down.
I rise as one of those law-abiding, taxpaying Scots that the hon. Member for Gordon (Colin Clark) so clearly has such disdain for.
Regardless of what Government Members would have us believe, it is now clear to everyone that, following last week’s unprecedented power grab on the Scottish Parliament and its powers, the Conservative party and this Government have finally abandoned any pretence of having even the remotest commitment to devolution. That a power grab of this scale can be enacted by one Parliament over another demonstrates once and for all that the Tories have not the slightest interest in respecting the fundamental principles of devolution.
The contemptuous way in which Scottish democracy was dismissed by this place last week, with a 15-minute lecture from the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), was simply further proof that Scotland has no future in this United Kingdom and that the sooner we are free from it, the better. The Tories’ disgraceful disdain for the will of the Scottish people as expressed by the democratically elected Members of the Scottish Parliament shows the Tories in their true colours—anti-democratic, narrow-minded, backward-looking and insular. Let us never forget that these are people who, as devout British nationalists, were vehemently opposed to the creation of a Scottish Parliament from the outset.
For a century or more, the official Conservative party position was to oppose even the slightest devolution of political power from London to Scotland. Only when confronted with the inevitable, and in the face of overwhelming public opinion, did the Conservatives—publicly, at least—embrace the idea of a devolved Parliament in Edinburgh. They may have changed their tune but, like the leopard, they have not changed their spots, so it should not come as a surprise to anyone that, at the first opportunity, they are using Brexit as an excuse to roll back on the devolution settlement—a settlement that they never believed in—to try to claw back to London as many of the powers and competencies of the Scottish Parliament as possible.
Last week, the Secretary of State made the excuse of these not being “normal times”, as if these circumstances somehow justified him carrying out this power grab. What he of course failed to mention was that the UK Government’s own lawyers, when they recently went to the Supreme Court, said:
“Whether circumstances are ‘normal’ is a quintessential matter of political judgment for the Westminster Parliament.”
There we have it. The UK Government will decide what is and is not normal. They alone will decide what powers the Scottish Parliament has and what powers will be restricted for up to seven years, without that Parliament’s consent. Is there anyone so naive that they really believe that, having grabbed those powers for themselves, the UK Government will return them to Scotland after seven years? Not a chance.
No one should be in any doubt what is at stake here. Once the precedent is established that Westminster can overrule a majority vote in the Scottish Parliament whenever there is disagreement, a standard will have been set and the ground rules will have been established. It is my genuine fear that if we allow this to happen, it will be used by the Tories as a pretext to seize powers again and again and again, whenever it suits them. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) said, this is not about the SNP versus the Tory Government, because the SNP, the Labour party, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats in the Scottish Parliament all recognised that what the Tories were planning was nothing less than a power grab—an outrageous attack on the democratically elected Parliament of Scotland. Let me be clear: this is Scotland against the Tories. If that does nothing else, it should send a message to Downing Street and Dover House that their Tory power grab on our Parliament will not be tolerated by the people of Scotland.
Let no one in in this House be in any doubt that the people of Scotland are furious at what is taking place. We have heard much about how these 87 powers are to be returned directly to Holyrood, and only 24 are to be appropriated by Westminster. To me, that is akin to a burglar being caught breaking into someone’s house and defending himself by saying, “You should be grateful that I only nicked your telly.” It is an absolute nonsense of an argument. A power grab is a power grab is a power grab, whether it is one power, 24 or 111. The precedent will have been set, and that is why it has to be opposed. The theft of just one of Scotland’s powers is one too many.
Before I get on to my speech, I want to say that the language used in this debate about Scotland versus the Tories and our being anti-Scottish does not help to heal the divisions that we have in Scotland. It is because of that kind of rhetoric that my office regularly gets targeted by vandals. Only a couple of weeks ago, someone who is not a constituent of mine was arrested for intimidating my staff. I would really urge Opposition Members to mind their language.
The SNP’s fundamental argument is based on an untruth that there is a power grab. Let us be absolutely clear that none of these powers is currently exercised by the Scottish Parliament or by the UK Parliament. These powers are exercised by the European Union since we ceded that sovereignty to it. The only reason the Scottish Parliament will be receiving any additional powers is that we are leaving the European Union, and that is something that the SNP has vehemently opposed to the point that it is threatening another referendum in order to send those powers back. The SNP does not want these powers—not a single one of them—and it is doing everything imaginable to keep them in Brussels.
Let us look at the reality of what we are actually dealing with, which is a massive SNP power giveaway to Brussels. SNP Members argue that these new Brexit powers constitute a power grab, but we know that they will not let facts get in the way of great political rhetoric, or of Twitter. I was amazed that the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) was able to tweet while speaking—a great gift that I wish I could also adopt. There is no power grab, and that is why the SNP cannot answer the simplest of questions: which power that the Scottish Parliament currently exercises will it have taken away? The answer is none. In fact, as clause 15 of the withdrawal Bill makes clear, these powers are returning from Brussels and will pass by default to Holyrood, as they will to Cardiff Bay and Stormont. In a number of areas, with the agreement of the Scottish Government, there may—“may” is the operative word—temporarily be freezes of existing frameworks as they are handed down from Brussels, so that both Governments work together on common wide frameworks to ensure short-term stability. The UK Government agreed to the SNP Government’s request for a sunset clause, meaning that any of those freezes will be strictly temporary and last for five years maximum before the area is devolved. This will not be a permanent part of the devolution settlement.
To be crystal clear, over 80 new powers will go immediately to Holyrood, while in 24 areas the UK Government will maintain the existing EU arrangement protecting the integrity of the UK internal market. It is due to the UK Government flipping clause 11 into clause 15 and making significant concessions that the Welsh Labour Government were able to sign up to the deal offered as being fair, respecting devolution, and protecting the UK internal market. The deal was reasonable and met the SNP’s own test. We understand that Mike Russell was ready to sign up but was overruled by Nicola Sturgeon, because she wants to put the interests of the nationalists ahead of the interests of the nation.
The SNP has seized on the failure to reach agreement and called on the Secretary of State to resign, following one of the most incredibly personal speeches I have ever heard. This is not new. On 20 May, an SNP press release went out saying, “Mundell must go”. On 21 May, its press release said, “Mundell must go”. On 6 June, it said, “Mundell must step aside”. On 13 June, it said, “Time for shambolic Mundell to go”. On 14 June, it said, “Mundell must go”. This is an SNP broken record. It is a childish contribution. There are two Governments involved. Two people worked on this, and the person who could not reach an agreement is Mike Russell. Perhaps he should consider his position.
The people of Scotland are watching and they see through the SNP’s stunts. They simply see the SNP as standing in the way of the national interest as part of its desire and so-called reason for a second independence referendum.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to contribute to this debate and, indeed, for allowing the debate to happen at all.
There are a number of issues of some significance relating to our constitution that stand to be examined here. Regrettably, we have managed to avoid most of them thus far in the course of the debate, but I hope to be allowed a few minutes to touch on them. This is not just a debate about the constitution in the abstract. I represent two island communities whose economy overwhelmingly depends on fishing, farming and crofting. These communities will absolutely need to know what the future holds post Brexit. They will need to know what is going to come in place of the common agricultural policy—for agricultural support, in particular. When I met representatives of the National Farmers Union Scotland in Orkney on Friday, these were the questions that they were asking me, and time after time I had to say, “I’m sorry—I do not know because nobody knows.” This is not just about the constitution; it is about something that is going to have a very serious and profound effect on the livelihoods of my constituents.
I want to say a word or two about how we got here. The Government have mishandled this whole aspect of Brexit just about as badly as it is possible to imagine. They have certainly managed it as badly as they have managed the whole of the Brexit process. Amendments were promised at the Dispatch Box and we were told that this House would have the opportunity to debate them. Those amendments did not appear. We were then told that they would come in the House of Lords, and indeed they did eventually come, at a late stage, in the House of Lords. In the meantime, the Scottish Parliament, for a variety of different reasons, voted against legislative consent. There was no single reason why the different parties in the Scottish Parliament voted in the way that they did but, notwithstanding that, they all decided that they would withhold legislative consent when the question was put to them.
The timetable that we were given last week should have protected the time available to debate the amendments from the other place. It did not—and that was not an accident. The Government used the procedures of this House to avoid a debate rather than to engage it. For that they are culpable and with that we are now all having to deal. Moreover, the consideration of Lords amendments should not have been presented to us as an either/or. This is the most significant piece of constitutional legislation that we will debate in my lifetime, and we should not at this stage, when it comes to voting on Lords amendments to it, be given a choice of either voting or debating.
The context for this debate is the abject failure of the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government to reach agreement. It is apparent to all who look on from the outside that there has been a lack of good faith in the negotiations between our two Governments. Let me say quite candidly that it is apparent to me that, if it is left to the Scottish and the United Kingdom Governments, then they will never reach agreement because they have no interest in doing so. They are both approaching the Brexit issue through the prism of their own party interest rather than the national interest.
Does my right hon. Friend share my frustration at the impasse that the two parties have reached—the two parties that initially, and for a considerable period, did not back devolution but now claim to defend it? Both the SNP and the Tories failed to engage in the first stage of the debate.
Of course, we all know that the Conservatives opposed devolution, as did the Scottish National party. I remember the days of the campaign for a Scottish Assembly and of the constitutional convention. I remember a whole series of SNP walkouts. What we saw on Wednesday was just the latest in a long line of these things. When it mattered, the SNP were never to be found, because they are not interested in devolution; devolution is not what they want.
I come back to the frameworks that will be so necessary to my constituents post Brexit. [Interruption.] I do not know if anyone from the SNP Benches wants to intervene.
I hear the right hon. Gentleman’s disgust at the idea that someone could walk out of the House of Commons in protest at a decision they feel strongly about. Can he tell us how many times he has been part of walkouts in the House of Commons?
I have indeed been part of walkouts. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me this extra minute, because it will not take the full minute to explain it. It was not perhaps the finest example of my parliamentary career, and if the SNP had been wise, they would have learned from my mistakes. They will now have to learn from their own.
The question of the frameworks is at the centre of this. The time we have left is ticking down quickly, and there is still no mechanism by which these frameworks will be agreed. My suspicion is that the Whitehall default is that it will have the final word. Clearly, that will not be good enough. If our Governments cannot decide on a mechanism between them, my suggestion to the House tonight is that it is for us as parliamentarians to come up with that. I do not have all the answers to this, but we already have mechanisms in our Standing Orders through which these things can be discussed. God forbid I would ever want to go back to us hosting the Scottish Grand Committee, but that is one forum in which we might reasonably expect to debate these things, on amendable motions, to reach a common position on which we can all ultimately agree.
As I said earlier, it is apparent that one weakness of our constitutional settlement is that we have no mechanism for Parliament to speak to Parliament. All the mechanisms are about Government speaking to Government. The other weakness of our constitutional settlement is that there is no mechanism for an honest broker in the middle of disputes between the Governments. That is where we now need to focus our attention. We need to move away from this mix of black letter law and constitutional convention, and ultimately, everything should be written down in a constitution.
Over recent months we have heard increasingly bizarre claims from SNP politicians in both this place and the Scottish Parliament. They have repeatedly said, without a single shred of evidence and not one example to back up their claims, that a power grab is under way. That is simply a fantasy. When questioned in the Scottish Parliament or asked for further detail in this place, no SNP representative can name a single power that is currently devolved that would be taken back to Westminster. That is because, as Conservative Members know and welcome, Holyrood is on the verge of receiving a vast array of powers that it would never have had if we had remained in the EU.
While I welcome that enhanced devolution, I do so with a certain caution about how the SNP will use those powers—not because of any objection to the powers being devolved, but because when the SNP are set to receive more powers, there inevitably emerges a nervous press release from Bute House saying that actually, it is quite complicated, and they need more time to decide before taking the powers on.
Leaving aside Nicola Sturgeon’s inability to grow the economy, take over welfare powers that the SNP have been demanding for years, deliver farmers’ payments, boost education standards, roll out broadband beyond the central belt or ensure that those living outside cities have access to health services, I have full confidence in the SNP’s ability to manage this massive influx of new powers to what we must never forget is one of the most powerful devolved Parliaments in the world.
In fact, I know why the SNP are reluctant to talk about specific powers in the context of this debate. It is because they want nothing to do with these powers and have zero interest in taking them on. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the only thing they want is for someone else to have these powers. They do not want these powers because all the SNP want to do is to give every single one of them back to Brussels. Do they want to manage agriculture to diversify and grow our rural economy? No—far better to leave the European Commission to tell them how to do it. Are they interested in revitalising our coastal communities by leaving, in the words of their idol, Alex Salmond, the “dead hand” of the common fisheries policy? No. They would see our fishing industry tied to the disastrous CFP indefinitely—a stance that was reinforced by their MEPs only a couple of weeks ago. Will they ever take responsibility and get on with governing? No, because they would rather campaign for an unwanted referendum than get on with the day job.
I know full well that the SNP are not interested in being constructive because, at the end of the day, they are not interested in governing. They have a single objective, which overshadows every policy, every press release and every negotiation, and that is to break up our Union—the Union that Scotland voted to remain part of in 2014. Scotland’s opinions have not changed. In fact, the last election allowed voters the chance to voice to the SNP their concerns and outrage at them riding roughshod over the referendum result, and half a million people voiced their concerns loudly and clearly.
Nicola Sturgeon’s Government are not an honest broker looking to get the best outcome for Scotland. Her Government are a wrecking ball designed to tear our nation apart. It is incredibly disappointing, but not at all surprising, to see that mentality in SNP Members, who take their instructions from the party machine with no regard for representing their constituents. If they did, they would listen to their constituents’ views and reach agreement. However, we can only reach agreement with those who have the desire to come to an agreement.
I want to start on a consensual note by echoing the tributes that have been paid to the heroic work of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Police Scotland in responding to the tragedy at the Glasgow School of Art. I send my sympathies and condolences to Professor Tom Inns and the whole community. I had the privilege of seeing some of the restoration work last year. I share the sense of devastation and hope that some legacy and restoration can be achieved.
There are two aspects to the power grab. The first was explained by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act is very clear: if it ain’t reserved, it’s devolved. What is happening now is that powers that are not reserved to this Parliament are being stopped in their tracks from Brussels and reserved to the House of Commons, rather than being devolved to the Scottish Parliament. That is the first aspect of the grab of the 24 powers that have been spoken about so many times.
The second and more important aspect of the power grab is the contempt with which the refusal to grant a legislative consent motion is being treated. The decision of the House of Commons last Tuesday to vote through amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill that the Scottish Parliament had expressly refused its consent to is a fundamental change to the nature of the devolution settlement. It fundamentally undermines 20 years of devolution. That is the real power grab: this Parliament expressing its sovereignty in the face of the sovereignty that the people of Scotland expressed in their legitimately elected Parliament.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He says that these powers being reserved is a fundamental challenge to devolution. Can he tell me how agricultural fertiliser regulations pose a fundamental challenge to devolution? How do powers relating to elements of reciprocal healthcare pose a fundamental challenge to devolution? Those are two of the 24 powers being reserved. This is not a challenge to devolution; it is just common sense.
The hon. Gentleman has a far more rural constituency than I do. Perhaps the farmers in his constituency are happy with the idea that this Parliament will simply legislate on those issues and ride roughshod, without the elected Members of the Scottish Parliament having a say, but I am not sure that the farmers in my constituency of Glasgow North would share that view.
The saddest thing is that it did not really have to come to any of this. This simply has not been on the Government’s radar. Whether that is because of a failure by the Secretary of State for Scotland to make Scotland’s voice heard in Cabinet or because Scotland is simply not important to the Tories does not really matter. The reality is that on Tuesday and Wednesday last week, we saw Government Whips running around the Benches negotiating with their rebels and Ministers at the Dispatch Box negotiating amendments to the withdrawal Bill in real time. Months of meetings in the Joint Ministerial Committee and of messages, statements, questions and debates led by Members from all the different parties in Scotland in this House seem to have had absolutely no effect on the UK Government. That is a demonstration of the contempt, of the power grab and of them riding roughshod over the views of Scotland expressed in the Scottish Parliament.
Ironically, and I have raised this before, there are still ways out for the Government, but they have so far refused to take them. On Thursday, I raised the issue of Royal Assent. It is up to the Government when the final version of the EU withdrawal Bill is put forward for Royal Assent. The Minister could stand up now and commit that they will not do so until agreement has been reached with the Scottish Government. Otherwise, presenting a Bill for Royal Assent while consent has been withheld is in blatant breach of the Sewel convention, which was put on a statutory basis in the Scotland Act after 2015—the greatest, most devolved Parliament in the entire history of the known universe snapped out and snuffed out just like that by this House of Commons after a paltry 19 minutes of debate, or one minute of debate for every year of devolution.
Let me say this on devolution and the Scottish National party—I say it with the greatest of respect to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). In 1997, when I was 17 years old, I was out on the streets of Inverness knocking on doors for the yes, yes campaign. I do not remember that many Liberal Democrat activists joining us, and that was a Liberal Democrat seat at the time. The reality is that the Scottish National party helped, on a cross-party basis, to deliver devolution and it has consistently delivered success in devolution, and the only people isolated throughout that period have been the Scottish Conservatives.
Will the hon. Gentleman remind us of the role in the constitutional convention, building the blueprint that created the Scottish Parliament, of the SNP?
Of course, in the early days the Scottish National party had an interest in the process of the constitutional convention, but the constitutional convention decided that it would not consider independence. There was a founding document of the constitutional convention—I am very happy to discuss it, because this is of fundamental importance to the Conservatives. I defy any of the Scottish Conservatives to get up now and say that they will endorse the claim of right for Scotland; it is one of the founding documents. The claim of right for Scotland says that it is the fundamental sovereignty of the people of Scotland to determine their own constitutional future. The only party that has never signed the claim of right for Scotland—it refused to sign it in 1989 and it refused to endorse it when it was put to the Scottish Parliament in 2012—is the Scottish Conservatives. If one of the Scottish Conservatives wants to get up now and say that they endorse the claim of right for Scotland, I will be very glad to hear it. No? And a silence fell upon the assembly.
Of course, the great irony in all of this—this is the question which the Minister for the Cabinet Office must answer—is the fundamental damage that is being done to the UK constitution as a whole. We regularly have the farce of the English votes for English laws procedure in the House of Commons, when the English Grand Committee—the English Parliament—is asked to grant a legislative consent motion to whatever it has already debated and already consented to. What is the point of that EVEL procedure now if legislative consent motions from the Scottish Parliament—and potentially from the Welsh Assembly and, indeed, the Northern Ireland Assembly—are not even going to be paid attention to?
The reality is that the Government have completely failed to respect the outcomes of both the independence and the Brexit referendums. They have refused to respect the differential result in Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and Gibraltar. This goes beyond the simple question of the Sewel convention as it applies to Scotland; it is about how it applies across the whole of the United Kingdom. The Government are so determined simply to cling on to office that they do not seem interested in the consequences of the decisions they are making and the constitutional havoc they are wreaking.
Whether by accident or design, things have changed. The 20th anniversary of the Scotland Act heralds a new era of devolution and it is not the era that was promised by the no campaign in 2014. I am very fond of Alasdair Gray’s saying that we should
“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”.
There is another saying that the darkest hour comes just before the dawn. This is a very dark hour for devolution, but perhaps that means the new dawn of an independent Scotland, where full powers are in our own control, is on the way and those really will be the early days of a better nation.
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
“All this crowd are interested in doing is performing stunts and disrupting Parliament.”
Those are not my words, but the words of the SNP’s Deputy First Minister in Scotland, John Swinney, when an Opposition party in Holyrood performed the same theatrics that we saw from SNP Members last week. Their own Deputy First Minister thinks that they should be in Parliament standing up for their constituents and listening to the debate, rather than walking out. I agree with John Swinney, and I hope, in the cold light of day, that SNP Members will reflect on what they did last week and also agree with their Deputy First Minister.
I want to move on to the points I put to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford). In my intervention, I made two specific points, neither of which were answered. I asked, first, how many powers the Scottish Parliament currently has and how many it will have after the implementation of the legislation in this Parliament, because if it is a power grab, there must be fewer powers afterwards. I am giving an open invitation to all SNP MPs in the Chamber to stand up and intervene on me to tell me how many powers the Scottish Parliament currently has and how many it will have after the legislation has gone through the Westminster Parliament. How many fewer powers will there be? Come on! Nobody? Nobody, because they cannot answer. They cannot defend their claim of a power grab because it does not exist. Their leader could not answer the question in my intervention, and now the entire parliamentary party cannot intervene to tell me the answer, because it is not happening and will not happen. They are not losing any powers; they are gaining powers as a result of this Government.
The second question I put to the right hon. Gentleman was: what was his party’s position in the 1997 general election? He stood up and said that the Conservatives opposed devolution in 1997, but the SNP opposed devolution in the 1997 general election. I have read its manifesto for the 1997 election, because the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) was so perplexed at my point, and it said:
“The SNP are proposing a fully-costed manifesto for an independent Scotland”.
Devolution was never mentioned: in those 37 pages, it was never once mentioned. Why? Because it is all about separation for the SNP. Every year, every month, every day, every hour—it is about separation for the SNP. It opposed devolution in the 1997 general election, and they are working against it now because it is not in the interests of separation.
Several of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues have referred to the deal struck by the Government of my country with the UK Government. However, during a session of the External Affairs and Additional Legislation Committee of the National Assembly, Professor Tim Lang was asked what he thought the consequences would be for Welsh agricultural interests, and he said that Welsh interests would now be “steamrollable” following the Welsh Government’s capitulation. Is that what the hon. Gentleman wants for Scotland?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention because I am about to speak about Wales and about other people.
The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber said that the people of Scotland are watching. They are watching, but does the SNP know what they are saying? They can see the grievance politics of the SNP. They will come to their own conclusions about why the SNP Scottish Government have ignored the Scottish Parliament’s Presiding Officer, who has said that its continuity Bill was outwith the remit of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish public will have to wonder why the SNP does not accept the concessions from the UK Government that have met with the approval of the Welsh Assembly and of Welsh Labour. The SNP told us that it was hand in glove with the Welsh Government in these negotiations, but all of a sudden, with concessions from the UK Government, we have agreement in unionist Wales, but not in separatist Scotland.
The people of Scotland have to ask why Labour and Liberal Democrat peers are wrong when they say that the devolution settlement will be respected. Many of those peers are the architects of devolution itself, yet they can agree with what the UK Government are putting forward. The public in Scotland will also have to ask why the SNP thinks that Lord Sewel is wrong. The man who gave his name to the convention we are discussing today says that he backs the UK Government position. Lord Sewel has said today that he backs what the UK Government are doing, which is respecting the devolution settlement of our country.
Yes, the people of Scotland are watching, and they see the SNP working in the nationalist interest rather than in the national interest. I want more for Scotland: I want Scotland to get more powers from this UK Government, and that is what is happening. People will have to ask: why does the SNP not want these powers, and why does it want to give these powers straight back to Europe? As my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair) said, it wants to do so for fishing. That is hugely important in my constituency of Moray, yet the SNP does not want fisheries powers to come from Westminster to Holyrood; it wants them to go back to Europe.
My final message to SNP Members today is: if they do not want these powers, Scottish Conservatives do, and after the next election in Scotland, Ruth Davidson will use these powers as First Minister of Scotland. The public can see that those who do not want and cannot use these powers need to be replaced, and the Scottish Conservatives are ready to do so.
I have news for the hon. Member for Moray (Douglas Ross): the SNP supports independence.
When the story of independence is told, as it surely will be, some key events will be highlighted as critically important: the election of Winnie Ewing to this place in 1967; Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister and her imposition of the poll tax; the fall of new Labour and the illegal invasion of Iraq; the creation of the Scottish Parliament and subsequent election of Alex Salmond as First Minister; and the election of an SNP Government in 2007 and every election since.
However, I suspect that last Tuesday’s disgraceful events, when the devolution settlement was ripped up in 15 minutes with no Scottish speaker, will, in due course, go down as perhaps the key moment when Scotland’s fate as an independent country was sealed. Since the 2015 election, the SNP group has worked hard to represent our constituents and hold the Government to account. As this Parliament’s third party, we have, in large part, played the Westminster system. While the Labour Party has been in disarray, we have acted as the main Opposition. We have remained consistent and principled on so many issues, such as Brexit.
The Westminster system does not come naturally to the SNP; I am sure that viewers watching in Scotland, where a modern efficient Scottish Parliament has such witchcraft and wizardry as electronic voting, will also find the archaic system here strange and unusual. We have tried our best to highlight these strange procedures, but also worked with them as best we can, so that we can stand up for our constituents and for Scotland. But last week’s events said it all: no matter how hard Scottish MPs of any party work in this place, no matter how much patience we show, the Sewel convention and Westminster itself do not work for Scotland.
As we have heard already, the Tories are no friends of the Scottish Parliament; they campaigned against its very creation. Their Brexit power grab shows that they want powers that should rightly be transferred directly to Edinburgh, as per the Scotland Act 2016, kept in this place—the Palace of Westminster.
The issue now extends beyond Brexit. It is not about whether someone voted for Brexit or to remain, but about whether Westminster can serve Scotland. The Tories’ behaviour over the past week has brought people of all political persuasions and none together in believing that Scotland’s time at Westminster may be coming to an end. Murray Foote, former editor of the Daily Record and the architect of “the vow”, is one of those who now support independence, calling Westminster’s behaviour last week a “democratic abomination”. [Interruption.] I am not entirely sure what the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) finds so funny: the former editor of the Daily Record, who campaigned against independence, now supports it. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should listen.
We have heard about the surge of people who have joined the SNP following last week’s events. This past weekend, I was at street stalls in Renfrew and Erskine and spoke to some of the new local members who had joined the SNP over the past few days. Many of our new members have long been sympathetic to Scottish independence. Some have historically been uncertain, and some even voted no in 2014. However, Westminster’s behaviour last week pushed them to join the SNP. The Government should listen to the message that they are sending in doing so. The people of Scotland are starting to come to the conclusion that Westminster does not represent the interests of Scotland.
The Tories hoped that no one in Scotland would notice or care about Westminster’s power grab and the lack of time afforded to the debate itself. How wrong they were. I actually disagreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) when he said that it was Scotland versus the Tories; it is the Tories versus Scotland. Let me assure the people of Scotland, including my constituents in Paisley and Renfrewshire North, that the SNP will continue to stand up for them and their Parliament. We will campaign to bring forward emergency legislation to end the power grab, protect the powers of the Scottish Parliament and ensure that Brexit does not harm jobs and living standards in Scotland. I lay that same challenge down to the Scottish Tories: will they stand up for Scotland, or will they continue to treat voters in Scotland with utter contempt?
This issue is relatively simple. The EU referendum was a UK-wide vote, and more than 1 million people in Scotland voted to leave the EU. In 2014, a referendum decided that Scotland should remain a part of the UK; the separatist argument lost by 10 percentage points—a significantly greater margin than in the EU referendum whose business currently preoccupies the House.
Respecting the will of the people of Scotland, which is constantly brought up by SNP Members, is exactly what the Government side of the House is doing. People in Scotland voted to remain Scottish and British—to have a devolved Parliament in Edinburgh, but also have their Parliament here in Westminster. It was a constitutional decision that reinforces our current structure of government and made sure that we still keep this Parliament of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland here in Westminster and sovereign, with directly elected representatives.
Section 2 of the Scotland Act 2016, which was shaped by the cross-party Smith commission, is unambiguous in asserting the UK Parliament’s power to make laws for Scotland and that devolution does not diminish that power. The Act also recognises the Sewel convention, which states:
“it is recognised that the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.”
But these are not devolved matters and these are clearly not “normal times”, as Mike Russell MSP recently acknowledged.
The convention also does not apply to reserved matters. Schedule 5, part 1 of the 2016 Act defines, among others, the constitution and foreign affairs as explicitly reserved powers for MPs in this House to discuss and decide. The European Union could not legitimately be defined as that
“which is normally dealt with by the Scottish Parliament”,
but very clearly comes under the powers reserved to this place. It is for those very reasons that the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament deemed the SNP Administration’s EU continuity Bill—rushed through, by the way, as emergency legislation, with just 25 hours of debate—to be outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament. Indeed, far from protecting, or even respecting, the devolution settlement, the SNP is showing complete contempt for it and for our constituents.
The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and this whole debate is concerned with where powers that previously sat in Brussels will now sit in the UK. It is ironic that the SNP is fine with having unelected Brussels bureaucrats set laws for Scotland, but finds it an outrage when this Parliament, which is also Scotland’s Parliament and has its own directly elected MPs, makes laws. It cannot be a power grab if Holyrood never had those powers to begin with. Finally, even today, Lord Sewel, who I imagine has some insight into these matters, stated clearly that Westminster needs the power to move ahead and that there is no constitutional crisis.
To recap, that is the Scotland Act 2016, the Smith commission, the SNP MSP responsible for the constitution, the former SNP deputy leader and Lord Sewel himself all clearly acknowledging the validity of the Sewel convention and reinforcing the sovereignty of this House. We should take a moment to remember what devolution was truly meant to be about—not erecting a wall between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, but bringing power closer to communities throughout the UK.
Furthermore, the Smith commission went one further by saying that powers should come from Holyrood to individual local authorities. Has that happened in Scotland? No—there has been a clear centralisation of power in Edinburgh. Powers are being taken from Westminster and centralised in Edinburgh with no respect. This is not good devolution or bad devolution—it is deliberately dysfunctional devolution, stoked by an SNP that is so obsessed by separation from the United Kingdom that it cannot countenance even making an agreement with it.
As I outlined earlier, it is really clear that this is not about the 24 powers in relation to the UK common framework; this is about fertiliser, food labelling and standards. When I was looking, there was no one in my constituency saying, “We want them to be so drastically different from the rest of the UK, it is an assault on devolution.” That is what the 24 powers are about. If we want to get into the detail, we should engage with it.
We have been threatened tonight with disruption, with another referendum, with “paying a price” as the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) said. Well, you carry on with the threats. We will focus on delivering for our constituencies. What we have seen in the last week is very, very simple: the mask has slipped and the façade has fallen. What is revealed is naked nationalism. While SNP Members fight to separate the United Kingdom, we will be fighting to unite it.
Diolch yn fawr, Llefarydd. It is an honour to be the first to speak for Wales in the debate this evening. I welcome the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Minister for the Cabinet Office, the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr Lidington), back to his seat, from which he has been absent for much of the debate.
It is impossible to overstate the seismic implications of Brexit for Wales. At the heart of this debate is how the British state will function post Brexit and what the British state considers to be normal. We can no longer assume that the rightful trajectory of power coming closer to the people will continue in the way it has done since 1997. What we are facing is a shock tactic, a vortex of centralisation, a self-affirmation of self-interest in sovereignty by and for Westminster.
What will this mean in practice? We have been talking about 24 powers, haven’t we? Well, in Wales there has been some mission creep, with two more—state aid and food geographical indications—to make it 26 powers. That means something in practice for Wales. It will mean the denial of state aid for threatened industries, such as steel, by a Government who believe in an unfettered free market. It will mean an agricultural policy no longer designed to protect farming and the rural economy, and all that means for Wales in terms of the environment, our language and our culture. It will mean slash and burn procurement policies hardwired to ignore social and community benefits of public expenditure. It will mean enabling once again the selling-off of Wales’s fish stocks to the highest bidder, something our Government should have been able to prevent and will now not be able to do.
Developing common frameworks for the UK as a whole should require mature co-operation between the national Governments of the UK, and should not be a case of one country asset-stripping powers from the others to impose a once-size-fits-all England-first framework across all the UK’s countries. Yet at the very same time, Westminster will only be bound by political promises while the devolved Governments face legal constraints—Westminster acting again as judge and jury.
The disregard for Welsh democracy is endemic. Despite Labour’s half-baked attempt at improving the power grab clause, the people of Wales would be forgiven for thinking the Opposition and the Tory Government were colluding to deny Wales its voice. To rub salt into an already aggravated wound, the Labour party needlessly pressed ahead with 11 consecutive votes, some of which were duplicates that it knew full well would lose, all the while eating into time for the devolution debate. Not only did the Labour party facilitate the farce of a debate that took place last Tuesday, with the exception of one hon. Gentleman it abstained. I note the presence of just one Labour Member from Wales this evening. Labour abstained on amendments that took powers away from our National Assembly for Wales.
It speaks volumes for the lack of respect on the part of the British Government that they are ploughing ahead with the Bill before the Supreme Court reaches a verdict on the Scottish continuity Bill. As we know, as part of the deal between the Unionist parties, the Labour Welsh Government agreed to withdraw the Welsh continuity Bill and its referral to court. In what can only be described as a convoluted turn of events, I understand that the Labour Welsh Government have requested to re-participate in the Scottish continuity Bill Supreme Court case, but this time, as obedient good Unionists, in defence of the UK Government’s position.
When my party argued in favour of remain in 2016, we did so because we believed—and believe—that small nations like Wales are served better sitting alongside the other successful small nations of Europe as equals. We argued that the inbuilt inequality of the UK would make Wales expendable political collateral to the overriding interests of England. And we were right. While Tory and Labour Unionists—40 MPs, remember, out of 650; look at the maths for how the inequality is written in—work hand in glove, I am confident that Brexit will be a landmark in the journey Wales takes to our own conclusion. Only our own, radical solutions will prove the answer to our needs. Westminster and its parties will always treat Wales like an adjunct, an afterthought, an inconvenience. All that does is make the case for Welsh political independence.
I am grateful for the chance to speak tonight, because I, too, was frustrated by the Labour party’s determination to silence the voice of Scotland last week by dividing 11 times on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I am grateful for the opportunity to give up my evening to talk about important issues.
Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act 1998 reads as follows: this Act
“does not affect the power of the Parliament of the United Kingdom to make laws for Scotland.”
The White Paper, “Scotland’s Parliament”, published in July 1997, states that
“there may be instances (eg international obligations which touch on devolved as well as reserved matters) where it will be more convenient for legislation to be passed by the UK Parliament”.
The Scotland Act and the White Paper that preceded it are very clear: this sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom can legally legislate for the entire United Kingdom. However, as is normally the case, we desire consent from the Scottish Parliament, and that is exactly what this Government have sought to achieve through months of dialogue and talks with the Administrations in Edinburgh, and of course in Cardiff, with regards to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. But as Mike Russell has said, these are “not normal times”.
It is simply wrong to suggest, as the SNP has tonight and prior to this, that Her Majesty’s Government are trying to ram through legislation that somehow threatens the devolution settlement. They have not and it does not. In fact, the only conclusion one can really come to as to why the Welsh Government appear content with new clause 15 and the Scottish nationalists do not is that the Scottish Parliament has never wanted to come to an agreement. The destruction of our United Kingdom is the raison d’être of the SNP, and nothing else—not the economy, the internal market of the UK, or the common frameworks for agriculture or fisheries—no, nothing matters but the break-up of our United Kingdom, hence their manufactured constitutional crisis and their temper tantrum last week during Prime Minister’s questions when, in the words of a constituent of mine on Friday afternoon,
“yon loons fairly embarrassed themsels.”
The SNP leadership claims that the people of Scotland are not being listened to. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), I spent the weekend—[Interruption.] I regard him as a friend, actually—I do not know how that will go down in Paisley, but I will leave that to him. I was out this weekend talking to my constituents in Echt, Tough, Sauchen, Monymusk and Drumoak, and I was listening to what the people there were saying. I tell you what, if Brexit and the constitution came up at all—which, I have to admit, it rarely did—the people said that they were sick to death of the childish games being played by the nationalists. They told me that what we should be doing is respecting the result and working together to guarantee a fruitful future for our farmers, our fishermen, our businesses and our people. That should be what we are doing now—not fostering gripe and grievance or manufacturing a constitutional crisis, for that is what they are doing. Even Lord Sewel, my constituent and the author of the Sewel convention, agrees that there is no crisis and that the Government are absolutely right to move ahead without consent due to Brexit being a major adjustment.
This Government have been open, honest and willing to make changes, and in new clause 15, there have been changes. For the avoidance of doubt, although it does not bear being repeated again, let us be absolutely clear: there is no power grab. Not one single power is being stripped from the Scottish Parliament. In fact, 80 new powers are returning from Brussels straight back to Holyrood, where the SNP would have them remain, and another 24—all of them agreed with the Administration in Edinburgh—will be temporarily held at Westminster, subject to a sunset clause, which, again, the Scottish Government asked for.
This Conservative Government are legislating for the entire United Kingdom and all its people. We have made concessions on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill to make it work and for it to be acceptable to the people of all of our country. We are the party that is committed to building a Britain fit for the future, making a success of Brexit and enhancing devolution. In fact, we are the only party of devolution, governing in the national interest—a one-nation party for one nation, for every part of the UK. The Conservatives are getting on with governing, while the SNP is just getting on with girning.
I got the impression over the weekend that Government Members and the metropolitan commentariat were rather surprised at the strength of feeling displayed by SNP MPs last week at the pitiful amount of time that was allowed for debate of these matters, but they should be in no doubt that that strength of feeling is felt across Scotland. On the flight home and in my constituency at the weekend, I was inundated by members of the public congratulating us on taking the stance that we did. In douce, undemonstrative Edinburgh, I was unable to get my messages done in Marks & Spencer at Slateford for people coming up to me wanting to shake my hand and tooting their car horns, shouting out that we had done the right thing.
Lest it be thought, then, that this is only about what we individual SNP Members think, I want to devote what little time I have to some of the views held by members of the Scottish commentariat, Scottish civic society and a prominent Scottish constitutional lawyer. The position was neatly summed up at the weekend by the distinguished journalist and commentator Kevin McKenna, who is not afraid to criticise my party when he does not agree with it, when he wrote in The Observer at the weekend:
“The UK government has sought to portray the SNP’s anger over the power grab as illusory to the point of non-existent. ‘The 24 powers will eventually make their way to Holyrood, so what’s the problem?’ they ask. The problem is threefold.”
“It could take up to seven years for these powers to return, a period that would outlast a term of government on either side of the border.”
“At any time, during this period the UK government could alter them as they see fit.”
Thirdly and perhaps most importantly:
“A precedent has also been set allowing any UK government to override the Sewel convention by which Westminster won’t legislate on devolved competencies without Holyrood’s permission.”
That is not my view but the view of Mr McKenna.
The Sewel convention provides that Westminster will “not normally” legislate on a devolved matter without devolved consent. I am afraid that an awful lot of nonsense has been talked about what the word “normally” means. Fortunately, the House need not take my word for it; Aileen McHarg, professor of public law at the University of Strathclyde, very helpfully set out at the weekend some of her views on what “not normally” meant. She says it does not mean:
“Goodness me, this situation is a bit unusual; we can therefore ignore the usual constitutional rules.”
It does not mean, she says: “I say”,
“it’s jolly difficult if we have to agree stuff with”
the Scots and
“the devolved institutions; let’s just ignore them.”
Nor does “not normally” mean, she says:
“So long as we make some kind of effort to reach agreement (even if it’s a bit late and we have to be forced into it), it doesn’t matter if we can’t actually reach agreement.”
What “not normally” means is as follows. The Sewel convention is a rule, not merely a description of practice, so the word “normally” has to be understood as an exception to the rule. According to the principles of legal interpretation, we make exceptions to a rule either where the underlying rationale for the rule does not apply or where there is some overriding competing principle.
The rationale for the Sewel convention is protection of devolved autonomy. It is not clear to me or Professor McHarg why the protection of devolution should be suspended by the Brexit vote, particularly when Scots did not vote for Brexit by a majority of two to one. Professor McHarg concludes, on the basis of what few precedents there are, and of the discussions at the time of the enactment of the Scotland Act and in relation to the old Stormont convention, that devolved consent can be overridden only in cases of necessity or where the devolved legislature is abusing its power. There is no evidence that the devolved legislature is abusing its power, and, in order to have frameworks, there is no necessity for those frameworks to be imposed from above.
Given what my hon. and learned Friend has just informed the Chamber of, could not the Executive in London be accused of abusing their power?
Indeed. It is the Executive in London who are abusing their power. In the words of the BBC’s “Reality Check” website, the Sewel convention was “ripped up” and thrown away by last week’s amendments.
I will conclude with a word of warning for the Tories from another commentator, Dani Garavelli, who wrote in The Guardian:
“As for ordinary voters, they may not be greatly exercised about the finer points of the constitution… But they can hear the mood music; they know when their parliament is being slighted. Already frustrated over the democratic deficit that allows Scotland to be taken out of the EU when every part of the country voted remain, many of them will look askance at the dismissive way Conservative politicians behaved in the chamber on Wednesday.”
In relation to displays of anger from me and others last week, she says that such anger
“will be echoed around much of the country. Anyone who doesn’t understand the potential impact of such condescension on the psyche of Scottish voters wasn’t paying enough attention last time around.”
I look forward to putting pictures of their jeering faces on the leaflets at the next independence referendum.
Aviation—compensating public service obligation air routes; carbon capture and storage; control of major accident hazards; electronic road toll systems; elements of EU social security co-ordination; marine environment issues; the energy performance of buildings directive; the environmental impact assessment directive; environmental law concerning energy industries; flood risk management; water quality; water resources; domestic forestry; genetically modified micro-organisms contained use; heat metering and billing information; implementation of cross-border healthcare rights to treatment and reimbursement; land use; maritime—public service contracts; ports services; onshore hydrocarbons licensing; the renewable energy directive; road infrastructure safety management; charging of heavy goods vehicles; voting rights and candidacy rules for EU citizens in local government elections; blood safety and quality; applicable law in contracts and non-contractual obligations; cross-border mediation; jurisdiction and recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters; enforcement of judgments: instruments in family law; legal aid in cross-border cases; service of documents and taking of evidence; uniform fast-track procedures for certain civil and commercial claims; efficiency in energy use; elements of the regulation of tobacco and related products; air quality; biodiversity; marine environment; natural environment and biodiversity; spatial data infrastructure standards; waste management; equal treatment legislation; good laboratory practice; high-efficiency cogeneration; late payment for commercial transactions—the list goes on and on.
There is no power grab. More than 80 powers that the Scottish Parliament does not currently have, and would not have if we were not leaving the European Union, will go to it on the day we leave the European Union, and 24 other areas—each and every one agreed with the Scottish Government—will remain temporarily with the United Kingdom under common frameworks.
There is no power grab. What we are seeing is the honouring of a commitment given by this Conservative UK Government to respect and strengthen the devolution settlement, and to protect the integrity of our United Kingdom.
Order. The Front-Bench spokesmen will now speak. I know that they will try to stick to 10 minutes each, because I am keen to accommodate remaining speakers, but we will see how things go.
Let me begin by echoing some of the sentiments that have been expressed tonight about the fire at the Glasgow School of Art. Let me also thank my colleague the junior shadow Minister for the efforts that he has made to raise the profile of this issue, appearing on Canadian television tonight. That demonstrates that it really is a global issue.
I remind the people in this Chamber, and the people we represent, that the debate is of the utmost importance. I also acknowledge that several Scottish Members are unable to attend today, as they are otherwise engaged with the Scottish Affairs Committee.
At the heart of the debate are concerns about the future of the Scottish devolution settlement, and about the future of the United Kingdom itself. In that context, it is unbelievable that the Minister responsible for these matters has chosen to absent himself. Let us be clear: responsibility for the position in which we find ourselves today sits squarely in the lap of the Conservative party. This Tory shambles is epitomised by the Secretary of State, the invisible man in the Cabinet, who is now missing in action rather than being at the Dispatch Box. This is not a personal attack, but it is a critique of a performance. The Secretary of State has been AWOL on many fronts. He is not at the Brexit negotiating table; he is not able to keep his commitments to the House; he is not able to deliver for the Scottish Parliament; and he is not able to deliver on the commitments that he made to his colleagues on clause 11.
Today’s debate, and the Tory shambles, were totally avoidable. The Tories’ approach involves playing fast and loose with devolution, and with the future of the United Kingdom. The current approach of a party that claims to want to protect the Union serves only one purpose, and that is to play into the hands of the Scottish National party, which—let us all be clear about this—does not want to protect devolution, and which never wanted it in the first place.
In contrast, let me set out the grown-up approach taken by the Scottish Labour party. As the party of devolution, we want to protect devolution and protect the future of the UK at the same time. That is why Labour in the Scottish Parliament voted along with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens to withhold consent for the EU withdrawal Bill, particularly due to the provisions in clause 11. At that point the Tory Government must surely have understood the depth of concern about the way they were proposing to utilise the new powers, but, alas, they did not. Instead, they carried on regardless, ignoring the Scottish Parliament and playing into the hands of the SNP. In acting in this way, it has become abundantly clear that the Tories are as much a threat to the UK as the nationalists.
Let me outline how and why this shambles came about. We are here because the Secretary of State for Scotland and his UK Government decided when they drafted the EU withdrawal Bill that all powers coming back from the EU would come to Westminster and be devolved to the devolved Administrations at a time of their choosing, something that is entirely incompatible with the devolution settlement, a fact that their own Scottish MPs acknowledge.
The Secretary of State for Scotland then promised on four different occasions that he would fix this flawed course, but he did not. Last Tuesday he managed to do something that I do not think anyone in this House could have envisaged: be complicit in a situation where no Scottish MPs or the Secretary of State for Scotland were able to speak about devolution, truly taking this process to a new level of farce.
A number of hon. Members have suggested that it was Labour that somehow disrupted this debate—that Labour somehow stopped democracy happening—but it was the Conservatives who set the timetable. In fact, they wished to set the debate for only one day, and only on our pressing did they set it for two. But that was still not enough to debate what are some of the biggest constitutional issues this country is facing.
Labour throughout this process has tried to play a constructive role. We have tabled amendments and made suggestions to both Governments. These could have helped break the deadlock; but instead what we have seen is two competing nationalisms entrenched and intent on cancelling each other out.
Throughout this process only Labour has genuinely sought an agreement that protects devolution and breaks the impasse. The leader of Scottish Labour and I wrote to the First Secretary of State asking for cross-party talks; so far he has refused.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I will not give way; the opposition has had ample time to state its case.
I have spoken to the Secretary of State for Scotland urging him to facilitate these talks; so far he has refused. On each occasion the mantra has been, “Unless there is something new to discuss we will not meet.” If that is the Government’s approach, it is a defeatist one. That is why it is time to freshen up the Treasury Bench. As other Members have said, it is time to take a fresh approach and bring new thinking to the table: to bring experts on law and the constitution to the table, and to bring in people from industry and business who ultimately will have to make sense of it all. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) pointed out, the NFU and others are waiting to see what that will look like. The Government have clearly run out of ideas, but openness to new ideas is of course predicated on having a genuine desire to resolve the issue, and so far their reluctance to do that may suggest that they are indeed content with the way things are.
Once again it will be Labour that brings forward proposals to break the deadlock. I will again be writing to the First Secretary of State and also Mike Russell with a further proposal that, at the very least, should compel all parties and experts to get around the negotiating table and find a way to resolve this issue, because while we may have the luxury of standing here debating the constitutional implications of the Sewel convention, we must remember that behind all of this constitutional wrangling, people and businesses require certainty, and require both of Scotland’s Governments to work constructively together to reach a solution. We understand the need to negotiate on the common UK frameworks, but we do not understand why the industries and sectors that will be impacted have not been actively involved in the negotiations.
Let us be in no doubt that we are in this mess because of the UK Government. There has been no Joint Ministerial Committee meeting for eight months. That is eight months of time wasted that could have been used to sort this out. It is also my understanding that two JMC meetings have been cancelled in recent weeks. It is abundantly clear that deeds are not matching words. The Secretary of State for Scotland has stated:
“Scotland is not a partner of the United Kingdom; Scotland is part of the United Kingdom.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2018; Vol. 642, c. 1129.]
That really tells us all we need to know.
Since Brexit, it has become clear that the intergovernmental and constitutional mechanisms in the UK are inadequate, and the debate that we are having about the Sewel convention serves only to reaffirm that case. The Secretary of State for Scotland cannot even be compelled to come to the Dispatch Box to answer for his decisions and his quite obvious failings on this matter. We also have a situation in which the UK Government can ride roughshod over the wishes of a democratically elected Parliament in Scotland, and there is no recourse. [Interruption.] That is why it is called democracy; that is why it is called devolution. People in Scotland will be looking on at this and wondering whether the UK Government have any real intention of trying to fix it. They will be wondering whether not getting a deal and causing a constitutional crisis are actually politically beneficial to those who are nationalists on both sides of the argument. Constitutional debates only fuel the politics of grievance; they do not fuel economic stability, equality or social justice. They just divert us from addressing those real issues in our society.
In closing, I ask the First Secretary of State to be bold and to demonstrate the courage this situation requires by committing to four simple things. First, will he show political leadership by getting back to the negotiating table and convening a cross-party meeting—which the Leader of the SNP in this House has indicated he would be willing to attend—including legal and constitutional experts, to resolve the issues on the devolution settlement and to use the new offer that I will send him to resolve the impasse?
Secondly, clause 22 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill allows for consequential amendments to be made to the Bill where that is appropriate. Has the right hon. Gentleman explored this avenue, and will he be open to consequential amendments to the clause? Thirdly, the Secretary of State for Scotland has so far refused to publish the minutes of all meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee. Will the Minister for the Cabinet Office agree to do so now and also set a date for a JMC meeting before the recess? Finally, if there is no agreement between the UK and Scottish Governments, will he ask the Prime Minister to sack the Secretary of State for Scotland? By virtue of his standing here today, it is clear that the Minister for the Cabinet Office does not have confidence in his colleague to deliver for the people of Scotland.
I should like to start on what I hope will be a note of consensus by expressing on behalf of the Government and personally my deep sorrow at the appalling news from the Glasgow School of Art over the weekend. I reiterate what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland said at the weekend—namely, that the United Kingdom Government stand ready to help, just as we did when we came forward with assistance after the last such tragedy a few years ago.
I will try to respond to the various points that have been raised during the debate, and I will try to keep to time in doing so. For that reason, I intend to be perhaps less generous than I would normally be in admitting interventions, in order to allow other hon. Members to take part after I have sat down.
It might help us to get a bit of perspective about the subject we are discussing to take note of what none other than Lord Sewel himself said today. He observed that there has been no power grab and that there is no constitutional crisis. The UK Government’s two objectives in the negotiations and the various debates on what is now clause 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill have been consistent and clear.
The first is to provide greater reassurance to the devolved Governments and parliamentarians on how returning EU powers will be managed where they intersect with devolved competences. The second is to maximise legal certainty right across the United Kingdom, particularly for the sake of the businesses not only in Scotland, but in Wales, Northern Ireland and England that have been making it clear that they want clarity and certainty about the regulatory framework within which they will have to operate in the United Kingdom after we leave the European Union.
If we look back at October 2017, a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU Negotiations, which included Ministers from the Scottish and Welsh Governments, agreed
“to work together to establish common approaches in some areas that are currently governed by EU law, but that are otherwise within areas of competence of the devolved administrations or legislatures.”
The same meeting secured agreement on a set of criteria to establish the need for a UK-wide framework, including to enable the functioning of the UK internal market, to ensure compliance with international obligations and to ensure that the UK can negotiate, enter into and implement new international trade agreements and treaties. To respond briefly to what the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) said, the communiqué from that meeting, like other communiqués from the Joint Ministerial Committee, was published and is on the gov.uk website to this day. That meeting also agreed that some frameworks, although not all of them, would need legislation.
The original clause dealing with devolution—what was then clause 11—was strongly criticised in this House, in the Scottish Parliament, in the Welsh Assembly and by both devolved Governments. In the months since the debate here, there have been frequent, detailed discussions at both ministerial and official levels to try to meet those concerns. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) asserted, we have responded to those criticisms. First, we heard that it was wrong to require, as clause 11 did, that all powers returning from Brussels should be held at Westminster until a decision to transfer them to devolved competence had been made. That point was made by the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee and by the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) during the debate on 4 December 2017. Having listened to those criticisms, we reversed that approach. The Bill now provides for every power to be transferred straight to devolved level unless a specific order is made to stay it at Westminster.
Secondly, it was said that too many areas of policy were covered by the freezing power. Intensive discussions between officials and experts of both the United Kingdom and devolved Governments led to the list of now only 24 out of 153 areas of competence where a legislative framework might be required. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) pointed out, the long list of new powers going straight to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly is extensive indeed.
Thirdly, there were calls for a sunset clause from, again, the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Constitution Committee and from the hon. Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock), so we have included one. The power to make a freezing regulation will lapse automatically two years after the Bill receives Royal Assent, and any regulation made under that power will have a maximum term—I stress “maximum”—of five years. Our intention is that they should not last as long as that.
Fourthly, the Scottish Parliament asked for the Scotland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 to be protected, as the Northern Ireland Act 1998 is, from being modified under the deficiencies procedure in the Bill and, again, that is what we have done.
We now have a strictly time-limited power that applies only to a small number of policy areas returning from EU level. Where a framework freezes current powers for a short time, the situation will be exactly the same as it is now. We are not seeking, contrary to some suggestions in this debate, a power to change current EU rules; we seek a power to continue them for a maximum of five years while we sit down together and try to agree a long-term UK framework. As it is the Scottish National party’s declared objective either to stay in or to rejoin the European Union, it is hard to see why SNP Members should object to the continuation of EU rules, with which they are currently content.
In addition to far-reaching changes to the Bill itself, made in response to the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber and others, we have given a binding political commitment, embodied in a formal intergovernmental agreement, to continue to apply the Sewel convention. Again that is something the Welsh and Scottish Governments specifically asked for in the negotiations, and we agreed to make the changes.
The IGA states the commitment of both the UK Government and the Welsh Government to proceed by agreement. It makes it clear that the Sewel convention will be fully respected, and we have made it clear that, despite the fact the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have so far rejected a legislative consent motion, we will act in our future dealings with the Scottish authorities in the same way as we propose to act in relation to Wales, by observing in full the political commitments into which we have entered under the intergovernmental agreement.
I regret very much that the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament did not agree to the package, in the way the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly did. It is pretty fairly summed up by Mark Drakeford, the Welsh Minister who led the negotiations for the Welsh Government, when he said
“the amended Bill, and the inter-governmental agreement that goes with it, does both things we set out to do. It safeguards devolution and it safeguards the future of a successful United Kingdom”.
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, the Labour party’s Front-Bench spokesman in the other place, said
“everything that could have been done in areas where we have no precedent to appeal to has been done.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 June 2018; Vol. 791, c. 1818.]
In answer to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), work is already under way on the detailed frameworks. My officials and the officials of the territorial Departments are working with devolved Government officials on that task, and of course he is right that we will have to take account of the views of industry, of farmers and of other interests.
I believe we have a good, balanced compromise package available, and what the people in all parts of the UK now expect is that their different Governments and different legislatures will work together constructively to represent them. That is what people expect, and that is what this Government want to deliver.
There are fewer than 24 minutes left and 10 speakers want to contribute. You can do the arithmetic for yourselves—a formal limit of three minutes, but if you speak for two and a bit, everybody should get in. Otherwise, people will not get in.
It is important in this debate that we distinguish between competences, which are a list of nominal responsibilities, and power, which is the ability to exercise change in those particular areas. I have no doubt in my mind that we are in the middle of a process that is seeing a major transfer of power from the devolved authorities of the United Kingdom to the centre. I caution the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) to look at the detail of what is happening, and not to be seduced by Conservative Members who say, “There is nothing to see here. Move on. Keep calm.”
The truth is that this is happening in two ways. First, a convention that has existed for 20 years is being torn up, which is extremely important because the genesis of the Sewel convention was to give assurance to those who wanted to believe that devolution actually meant something, that power would be exercised by the devolved authorities. The convention was there to say that it was not a matter of the Scottish Parliament making a decision that could be overridden. If we set the precedent where this is reversed, the situation is that it can be at any time in the future.
The second way in which power is being transferred is through the talk of joint arrangements. I am not against having joint arrangements—there are plenty of opportunities where we should be co-ordinating things—but the devil is in the detail and the principles that the Government are putting forward are not fit for purpose. Let me illustrate that with an example. Imagine you have a committee that is to discuss farming policy. On that committee, Scottish farmers will be represented by the Scottish Government and Welsh farmers will be represented by the Welsh Government, but who will represent the interests of English farmers? It will be the United Kingdom Department. I think English farmers should have a say, but I do not think it is fair that the body that advocates for them should also sit as judge and jury if there is a difference of opinion in that committee. That is what is being proposed. That means that every time there is a difference of opinion the smaller party will lose out to the larger one. So if the Scottish Government want to take a policy on genetically modified crops, they could be overridden. If they want to take a policy on weighting subsidies for a cold climate, they could be overridden. On and on there is the opportunity to do that. That is what we mean by a power grab.
I believe in devolution. I tell the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) that I was a member of the Scottish constitutional convention.
My hon. Friend rightly says that he believes in devolution. Are not the actions of the UK Government at the moment just the latest in a long pattern where the Conservatives have been against devolution? They have voted against it at every opportunity.
That is absolutely the case.
I say to the right hon. Gentleman that I do believe in devolution. I was a member of the Scottish constitutional convention that drew up the proposals, but I, like many people involved at that time, also respect the right of the Scottish people to become a self-governing nation if they so wish. It is disingenuous to say that, just because we support independence, that means that we are not genuine in our desire to protect devolution.
Mr Speaker, I will take your admonishment and I will finish there, even though I have so much more to say.
I am sure you do. It was not admonition; I just want to accommodate colleagues.
Let us consider the following:
“Castigating the Tories for a ‘power grab’ of repatriated powers while acting like a fifth column for the EU in Scotland, has left the SNP in the ludicrous position of demanding powers from Theresa May that Nicola Sturgeon promises an independent Scotland will hand back to Jean-Claude Juncker.”
They are the words of Jim Sillars, the former deputy leader of the SNP, and as the current deputy leader is currently in the Chamber, it is appropriate to mention them. There is no such thing as a power grab here—it is a myth. The devolution settlement is not being undermined, overturned or dismantled. Devolution is not being destroyed by this process; it is being enhanced. Powers now held in Brussels are returning to Edinburgh and I, with the zeal of a convert to the principle of devolution, would not countenance anything less. My party in power has a proud track record of delivering more powers to the Scottish Parliament and safeguards are in place to ensure that the powers we are repatriating as we leave the EU flow to Edinburgh, to make our powerful Parliament even more powerful. I voted last week for more powers for our Parliament—the SNP voted against those new powers.
It would be good if the SNP in Edinburgh could even begin to get their arms around the powers they are already have and use them for the benefit of Scotland. They promised an independent Scotland in 18 months, but they cannot get to grips with social security powers passed to Holyrood until 2021. They say that they can create an independent Scotland for £400 million but they have budgeted £200 million to set up the Scottish social security system. They had to spend £180 million on a computer system to manage farm payments and still they are failing. But we are told there is a power grab and that, frankly, is gobsmacking.
Time is very much against me, so I wish to say just that I truly believe that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has the good will of the vast majority of the people of our country—by that, I mean Scotland. She has a difficult and complex task in hand, but she is being principled and pragmatic. We are leaving the European Union, the customs union and the single market, and this House should, if I may paraphrase the common sentiment of the people of Stirling, “Just get on with it”.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this debate, and I thank the SNP group leader, my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford), for applying for it, but it comes too late, because Government MPs have already voted through clause 15 and it cannot now be amended, because of the way the procedures of this place work.
In Scotland, we believe that the people of Scotland are sovereign. In Westminster, this place, they believe that Parliament is sovereign, but that idea is currently being attacked. Only at the weekend, the Prime Minister said that Parliament cannot tie the hands of Government, but surely that is Parliament’s job. If Parliament cannot tie the hands of Government, it means that power is being so far removed from where it should be. It should be with the people. The fundamental difference between the two countries is that we in Scotland believe in democracy and that decisions should rest with the people, not in the power of the Executive.
It is impossible to overstate the fundamental shift in the relationship between the Westminster and Scottish Parliaments caused by the UK Government’s actions last week. The Government talk about the Scottish Parliament being the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world; if it is the most powerful devolved Parliament in the world, yet its powers can be removed at the whim of the UK Government, I dread to think what the other Parliaments’ powers are like if they are less powerful than ours in Scotland.
Since I came to the House, I have been shocked by Westminster’s attitude to Scotland. As a Scottish nationalist Member, I was under the impression that Westminster did not care very much for Scotland and tended to overrule the will of the Scottish people; I then came here and discovered that the Government do not even think about Scotland. They put forward legislation like the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, we say, “What about Scotland,” and they look at us like a rabbit in headlights—like they are thinking, “What are you talking about?” They do not even consider the people of Scotland and the fact that we are a separate country with different views. We did not support Brexit.
What do the UK Government imagine that people outside this place think of their behaviour? Are they proud of their legacy? Are they proud of the fact that in years to come people will look back at the behaviour of this UK Government last week—at the fact that they did not even allow a debate on this matter—and see that in the face of the Scottish Parliament refusing legislative consent, they have pounded on anyway and taken powers away from the Scottish Parliament? This will go down in history.
Democratically elected Members of Parliament have the right to express their views on behalf of their constituents and to air their political views on a wide range of subjects—before they are voted on. The recording of dissent is important; otherwise, the record would show that everyone agrees, and apathy would prevail. That is why the suppression of the voices of the SNP MPs in the House of Commons last week was a travesty. The Conservative Government used the processes of the House to silence the dissenting voices. We were not allowed to voice our disapproval, and that is a dangerous path to go down.
When it came to a vote, Scottish Labour Members abstained on matters that have been fundamental to the devolution settlement since 1999; on the other hand, Scottish Conservative Members voted for the Westminster power grab. The great joy that they took in doing so had to be seen to be believed. By denying the Scottish Government the powers that are coming back from the EU, they limit Scotland’s ability to fulfil its potential
The Sewel convention—the unwritten rule that Westminster would not legislate on devolved matters in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament—is now worthless. Previously, it had been considered unthinkable that Sewel would ever be overturned. In the aftermath of Scotland’s 2014 referendum, the Smith commission was initiated to placate the Scottish voters who voted against independence but wanted more power for the Scottish Parliament. The commission achieved agreement from all five of the participating Scottish political parties, including the Tories, that the Sewel convention would be put on a statutory footing, yet here we are today reading the Sewel convention’s epitaph, because the UK Government could not care less about what the Scottish Parliament actually wants.
In the void of respect we have instead a constant demand for Scotland to trust the UK Government: “Trust us to deliver an untouchable Sewel convention enshrined in law. Trust us that voting no to independence is the best way for Scotland to stay in the EU. Trust us that we want Scotland to lead within the UK.” Let me be clear: the anger and frustration in Scotland is rising, and it would be naive to think only SNP voters or independence supporters feel that way. As Brexit Britain staggers from one calamity to another, the electorate of Scotland are no longer prepared to accept the “Trust us, we know what is best for you” attitude that emanates from the halls of power in Westminster. Ultimately, this debate is about only one thing: control. The UK Government want the ability to act on the behalf of Scotland irrespective of whether or not the Scottish people have given their consent.
In the last few months there has been an unprecedented attack on Scotland’s distinct political identity. If the UK Government continue on their present course, they do so at their own peril. It will not be long before the Scottish people decide that independence may be the only way genuinely to protect our political institutions.
My predecessor, J. P. Mackintosh, shared with his great friend Donald Dewar a passion—a passionate commitment for the cause of Scottish devolution, even before it had been articulated by many people.
As Donald Dewar said, articulating Mackintosh’s view, devolution is, at its core, about democratic control. It is about empowering people. It is not for the nationalistic glorification of the nation. He said:
“It was never Scotland right or wrong.”
It is about good government. It is about equitable democracy that borrows, elevates, and creates opportunity for the citizen.
Where are we today? I look to the Secretary of State sitting on the Benches opposite. When I asked him why he cannot have talks, he said that there had to be a precondition, which is that something was brought to the table. I say to him, in all honesty, that the people who look upon this House, from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, want a little bit more. He should offer talks without any preconditions. We have heard today that they would be accepted by the Scottish Government, and I think that that is a way forward.
The Sewel convention speaks of respect, and respect that needs to be shown by all parties. We have more in common, so let us sit down and talk, without preconditions or planned stunts. The people of the United Kingdom demand that of this place. The people of the constituency whom I represent demand that. As is written on the threshold of the Donald Dewar room in Holyrood:
“It is not beyond the wit of man to devise institutions”
to make it so.
I have to say that I am somewhat confused by Scottish Conservative Members. Indeed, the Secretary of State seems aghast at the idea that Scotland could be in a partnership in the United Kingdom. It could never be in a partnership, according to the Secretary of State. In doing some research, I found the Government’s White Paper from the previous majority Tory Government before devolution called “Scotland in the Union: a partnership for good.” Therefore, it used to be the case that the Tories believed that Scotland was in a partnership. In looking at that paper, presented by the then Secretary of State, Mr Lang, I found that it had a few interesting things to say. First, in its European section, it said that Scotland was poised to benefit enormously from the single market. Apparently, that is now not to be the case. There is a really interesting part in it—rather dry to some, I admit—on parliamentary procedure. It says that it is often the case that there is insufficient time in its crowded schedule in Parliament for Scottish affairs. It also suggested that, from time to time, there are few opportunities for proper debate on Scottish issues.
Well, Mr Speaker, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The dogs in the street have even worked that one out. In reading Hansard at the time of the Secretary of State’s statement to the House, the then Member for Aberdeen South, Mr Robertson, said that the “dynamism” in the change of the Union is the only reason it survives. Well, they were wrong then, and they are wrong now.
It is hard to believe that the Secretary of State has laboured away for two years and this is what he has come up with. He looks to me a haunted figure, and so he might be, although he does have a spring in his step. Is it not quite remarkable that 11 of his Scottish colleagues have all turned up this evening presumably to eye up the poisoned chalice that is the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland, so he should feel like a haunted figure? He is a man whom I like and who has helped me on occasion. He has messed this up big time and I think that he knows that himself. Indeed, I also want to say to Scottish Conservative Members that they could learn something from the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and her so-called Brexit rebel colleagues. When they are conned by the Government, what do they do? They show some muscle. They flex some muscle. In response to a con, what do we get from the Scottish Conservatives? Nothing but a supine approach to Parliament. On that basis, every one of them is qualified beyond belief to take up the position of the next Secretary of State for Scotland. This is a Government in search of an empire; Scotland will have no part in it.
The Secretary of State called for perspective. From my perspective, what happened last week was that the British constitution and the devolved settlement were unilaterally rewritten by the Government in the blink of an eye.
In Australia, a power grab like the one that we saw last Tuesday could not just be bulldozed through Parliament; it would require a double majority in a referendum of Australian citizens. If we were in Canada, such a power grab would need resolutions in both the Senate and the House of Commons, and then resolutions in the legislative assemblies of at least two thirds of the provinces—resolutions that could not then be ignored. In the United States, such a power grab would need a two thirds majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives, or two thirds of the states would need to call a convention and three quarters of them agree to the proposals.
The contrast with the shoddy process followed by the UK Government last week could not be starker, with one Parliament unilaterally removing powers from another against its express wishes in a way that should not be countenanced in any self-respecting constitutional democracy. The Sewel convention, as operated by the Government last week, is clearly not worth the paper that it was eventually put on. In short, the UK constitution is looking increasingly beyond repair.
What happened last week was completely unacceptable, with deplorable antics from the Tories when it came to the time allowed for debate on one hand, and the counterproductive antics from the SNP, including walking out of this place in an orchestrated media stunt that further curtailed debate, on the other.
As the party that delivered devolution, Labour has been driving a sensible and constructive position throughout the process, exploring options to safeguard and improve the devolution settlement as we leave the EU. Only Labour has been working constructively to try to break the deadlock between the UK Government and the Scottish Government. We tabled amendments to clause 11 at every stage of the Bill, and the Tories voted them down every single time.
We started from a position where the UK Government wanted 111 powers to be reserved to Westminster following our withdrawal from the EU. We got this down to 24 powers, which was clearly a substantial improvement, but I also respect that this was not seen as good enough by the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament’s position, however, does not justify the SNP’s vote on Tuesday night. That was a vote for us to go back to the original position of 111 powers being reserved to Westminster. Can any SNP Members stand up in here today and defend that absurdity?
The blame for the mess we are in lies squarely at the door of the UK Government. They have taken us to the very brink of a constitutional crisis, despite repeated promises that clause 11 would be fixed in time for Members of this House to debate it. Both the UK Government and the SNP are perfectly intent on causing a constitutional crisis. It fits their narratives, with the Tories trying to sow division in order to secure the Unionist vote, and the SNP sowing division to appease its supporters and agitate for another independence referendum. The Tories have played directly into the SNP’s hands on this. We all know that the SNP are only interested in sowing division and talking about the constitution. The Tories’ complete inability to fix the mess that they created has allowed the SNP to claim that Scotland’s voice is not being heard. It is an absurdity. I urge the parties to seek compromise as a matter of urgency.
Given the time, I will be brief, which is not a phrase that my colleagues hear often.
Tonight’s debate has been important for devolution, for the future of Scottish governance and for the future governance of us all. But it has also been profoundly disappointing because, rather than make progress, we have simply demonstrated the problems that got us here in the first place—intransigence on both sides, with Members dug into positions, both pro and anti-devolution and pro and anti-Conservative. The red mists of nationalism descend on both sides whenever devolution is discussed.
I have to disagree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman); it is not too late. We should perhaps listen to the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and get back around the table. My party and I would like the opportunity to be taken to create an enduring dispute resolution procedure that would prevent us from coming to this stage again. We need a procedure to prevent us from getting to the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) described and which I have experienced—as I am sure many others in this House have—whereby constituents and businesses across the country ask us, “What will happen next?” and we have to say, “We don’t know.” Can we please abandon the positions and get on with finding a solution?
My remarks have been very truncated, so I will simply say the following. What happened last week was a clear attempt to strangle Scotland’s voice: to put us back in our box; to silence Scotland’s Parliament; to ensure that we eat our cereal. We will not eat our cereal. We will stand up for Scotland. It is time that the Secretary of State for Scotland did the same, to be the voice of Scotland in the Cabinet, not a Tory apologist for Scotland. The Tories have precipitated this crisis, but they will learn one thing and they will learn it the hard way—in Scotland, Westminster does not carry the affection that the Scottish Parliament does. We will stand up for Scotland because the people of Scotland know that in Scotland they are sovereign.
18 June 2018
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That this House has considered the Sewel Convention.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for the debate we have had this evening. This is an important juncture in Scotland’s constitutional history. In the debate, I asked whether the Government would bring forward emergency legislation in order to respect the wishes of the Scottish Parliament. Moreover, we have now had a Division in the House in which a majority of Scottish MPs have voted to show their lack of acceptance of what has happened by voting against the motion, and once again, Scotland has been outvoted because Conservative MPs who were not in the debate came into the House and outvoted those sent here to represent the interests of Scotland. May I ask for your advice about what I may do to take forward this matter so that we can ensure the UK Government listen to the legitimate demands, through the Scottish Government, of the people of Scotland?
Nothing disorderly has happened this evening. If the right hon. Gentleman is asking what he can do, the answer is: persist through interrogation and argument. Knowing the right hon. Gentleman as I do, I know that he will require no further encouragement from me.