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Constitutional Law

Volume 658: debated on Wednesday 10 April 2019

I beg to move,

That the draft Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2019, which was laid before this House on 4 March, be approved.

Thank you very much for the opportunity to debate this order this afternoon, Madam Deputy Speaker. The order is made in consequence of the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014, which I shall refer to as the 2014 Act and which received Royal Assent on 19 February 2014. Some may say the matter we are debating—essentially regulatory alignment between two routes of appeal under two separate pieces of legislation—is very minor, but the provisions have come from the Scottish Government’s very welcome distinctive Better Regulation agenda, which is based on principles of requiring regulation to be transparent, accountable, proportionate, consistent and targeted. If we assent to the regulations today, we will remove a disparity that could cause delay and cost to people seeking remedies under particular Acts.

The order is made under section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for necessary or expedient legislative provision in consequence of an Act of the Scottish Parliament. In this case, a provision is required in consequence of the aforementioned 2014 Act. I have talked about what has driven the requirement for better regulation. We have seen in all four nations a desire for better and more proportionate regulation. I think we all agree that that is required and it creates a more benign business environment for investors. In this case, which pertains to energy installations, it can deliver benefits for the environment.

The 2014 Act accelerated the procedure by which certain appeals are determined: first, appeals in respect of decisions taken on applications for consent for energy-generating station development; and, secondly, appeals against a decision to hold a public inquiry with respect to such applications for consent. If there is a challenge on those particular issues, the order will ensure that the same appeal mechanism applies whether there is a challenge against a decision of the Scottish Ministers on either an application for a marine licence or on an application for a section 36 consent for energy developments within Scottish internal waters, territorial sea and the Scottish part of the renewable energy zone—REZ. The order ensures that by making two amendments to the Electricity Act 1989 to extend a statutory appeals procedure to the Scottish part of the REZ. It does so by substituting a new definition of “relevant waters” to include those waters in the Scottish part of the REZ.

I note that a change to the definition of “relevant waters” was inserted into the 1989 Act by an earlier order in 2015, with the intention of providing for the statutory appeal. However, the change related only to renewable energy installations to be sited in Scottish internal waters and the territorial sea adjacent to Scotland, not the REZ.

Can the Minister confirm that the geographical location is based on where the turbine or renewable energy is located, rather than the company, the licence holder or any applicant?

I believe that it is based on the location of the site, but I will double-check that and write to the hon. Gentleman to confirm it.

The order ensures that the statutory appeal is now also available to the section 36 consent applications in the Scottish part of the REZ, thereby fulfilling the policy of providing the expedited appeals procedure for decisions on section 36 consents on which Scottish Ministers have executively devolved functions and control. The order therefore might seem very small but is actually an important amendment and correction to the 2015 order.

For information, the instrument was laid one week after another related instrument, the Scotland Act 1998 (Transfer of Functions to the Scottish Ministers etc.) Order 2019. That order was passed by the House of Commons on 2 April. The effect of that order is to confirm that environmental impact assessment regulatory functions connected to energy consent within the Scottish part of the REZ are available to Scottish Ministers.

The UK Government and the Scottish Government, as is always our desire and intent, have worked closely together to ensure that the order makes the necessary amendments in consequence of the 2014 Act. I believe it demonstrates once again that the UK Government remain committed to strengthening the devolution settlement and that Scotland’s two Governments are working well together. As indicated, the order might be small, but it is absolutely necessary. I hope all Members agree that the practical result is something to be welcomed. I therefore commend the order to the House.

I do not plan to detain the House for long, as the order before us is purely technical in nature. It is necessary to amend previous legislation with regards to the Scottish section of the renewable energy zone and to correct amendments that were previously made to the Electricity Act 1989 by the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2015.

As part of the 2015 order, there was an oversight in its definition of “relevant waters”. It did not include the Scottish section of the renewable energy zone. The order before us today corrects that oversight and will ensure that the same appeals mechanism applies where there is a challenge against a decision of Scottish Ministers on application for a marine licence in relation to an energy-generating station or site development that would be situated in Scottish internal waters, territorial sea or the Scottish section of the REZ.

We all know the benefits that renewable energy can bring to our society and ultimately our planet, which is why I am delighted that the Labour party is committed to a green industrial revolution and fully committed to our target of net zero emissions by 2050. In Scotland, we are all too familiar with what happens when infra- structure projects of a crucial nature, such as renewable energy, are delayed due to court challenges. In fact, the man who now sits in the Oval Office of the White House and is known as the President of the United States is among the more prominent individuals who have challenged offshore renewable infrastructure projects because they happen to dislike the physical or visual impact of them on their golf courses. The order should prevent court challenges of this kind being dragged out and accelerate the procedure by which appeals are determined by fast-tracking legal challenges to minimise the impact of delays on such infrastructure projects.

The Labour party will not oppose the order because, as I said, it is a necessary but simple technical amendment and correction to the 2015 order.

I rise to give my support to this statutory instrument, brought before the House in the name of the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is important because it is about facilitating twin areas of vital national interest: the need for us to continue to support the efficient development of cheap, clean energy generation; and the crying-out-loud need for us to double down on our efforts to stick to hitting our legally binding carbon reduction budgets. Scotland is playing a massive role in giving the UK a lead on clean energy in the G7. That is not just something to take quiet satisfaction from; it is something to shout from the rooftops. In short, that is why I wanted to speak in support of this SI. Yes, it is about a couple of technical amendments, but they point towards a couple of greater things that need to be highlighted.

The first is perhaps a little subtle, but it is significant—it is a political and constitutional point. The SNP in this place and elsewhere—in fact, everywhere that it is given a platform or a microphone—will go on and on about how outrageous everything is and how blatant the UK Government are in their dealings with Scottish interests, saying that they do not listen, they do not co-operate, and so on. My Scottish Conservative and Unionist colleagues in this House and I bear the brunt of this kind of rhetoric through the vile abuse that we receive from fundamentalist nationalists. A Cabinet Secretary in the Scottish Government even called us all traitors—yes, a Cabinet Secretary.

The truth is a very long way away from that kind of bare-faced politicking. It needs to be said and this SI illustrates it well: there is actually a very good working relationship between the SNP Scottish Government and the Conservative and Unionist UK Government. Privately, the Scottish Government’s Ministers get on with getting on with the UK Government. While things can always be improved upon—as Members will know, I have many ideas about how that might be done—the day-to-day business of co-operating and collaborating is going on, largely insulated from the faux rage and grievance manufacturing of the SNP.

I was talking to an SNP Member the other day—someone I quite like and respect—who said something to the effect that we always disagree on everything. I said, “No, we actually agree on a lot of things a lot of the time.” That Member said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t tell my supporters in my constituency that.” That sums up the SNP attitude for me.

How is the hon. Gentleman getting on with encouraging his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland to ensure that Ministers are rolling back on the cuts to onshore wind subsidies, which is obviously a crucial industry for Scotland and the hon. Gentleman’s constituency?

I will come on to say something specifically about the importance of this sector, particularly for the Scottish economy, but the important thing that I am trying to say about this SI is that it brings about harmonisation. Harmonisation is something that I am very much in favour of—I say, up with that sort of thing. Whenever it is possible—and it nearly always is, despite what we would imagine from listening to the noises from those on the SNP Benches—the people of Scotland expect their two Governments to work together for the commonweal and they want to see that partnering in action. This SI is a good example of that. It might not go down well with the SNP fundamentalists in the conference hall, but I am afraid that the reality is not always the perception that people want to hold on to for the sake of stoking political prejudice.

The second thing I want to mention is how strategically important the offshore wind energy sector is in Scotland, and this SI facilitates it. May I say how much I welcomed last month’s announcement of the offshore wind sector deal? It spells out the ambition of the industry and the UK Government to produce a third of British electricity from offshore wind by 2030. Environmentalists in my Stirling constituency say that the UK Government do not get enough credit for the work that they are doing on sustainable energy sources.

The sector deal clearly states the ambition to make the UK a global leader in renewables, with more investment potential than any other country in the world, as a part of our modern industrial strategy. It spells out the ambition of the offshore wind energy industry, with its investment of £250 million—including a new offshore wind growth partnership—to develop the UK supply chain, as global exports are set to increase fivefold to £2.6 billion by 2030. That deal will mean for the first time in our history that more electricity will be generated from renewables than fossil fuels, with 70% of British electricity predicted to be from low carbon sources by 2030 and over £40 billion of infrastructure investment in the UK. I am proud that Scotland is at the forefront of it all.

The UK offshore energy sector has massive potential. There is a significant appetite for new offshore wind energy, and investors are willing to put their money to work investing in Scotland. We need infrastructure and policies that allow development, and we need all levels of Government—local, Scottish and UK-wide—to be fully seized of the opportunity and the moment. The fact that this SI brings the different levels of Government together to ensure a smooth process for applicants and a fair process for interested parties is to be welcomed. It is to the credit of the UK Government and the Scottish Government, who are working together because by working together we can achieve great things for the people of Scotland. Seeing this SI through is what this Government ultimately stand for, in terms of our attitude towards making the Union work for all its people. I welcome the SI’s passage through the House today.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr). He has made my day and cheered me up—honestly, I had to check my notes to see whether I was in the right debate or whether he was, because we seemed to go slightly off topic. It also seems strange to complain about SNP complaints, while continuing to put the boot into the SNP—so, that was hypocrisy writ large. However, I take his point: where they can, it is good that the two Governments work well together. He kept talking about this good working relationship. He did not answer the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Airdrie and Shotts (Neil Gray) about how the Secretary of State for Scotland is currently blocking the development of onshore wind in Scotland. I want to challenge the Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, who is at the Dispatch Box—if she could look up, please. Her Department and the Secretary of State for Scotland have refused to release correspondence between the two Departments where it is quite clear that he has voiced his objections. For full transparency, will they release this information so that what the Scottish Secretary is doing to block onshore wind in Scotland is out there in the public domain?

Let me turn to the SI. Its title on the Order Paper is “Constitutional Law (Motion)”—how grand does that sound? No wonder a constitutional law motion is in the main Chamber. Then we look at paragraph 2.1 of the explanatory notes:

“The purpose of this…is…to correct amendments made to the Electricity Act 1989”.

Paragraph 6.3 states:

“This instrument is made to correct an oversight in the 2015 Order by amending the definition of ‘relevant waters’ in section 36D(6) of, and paragraph 5B(6) of Schedule 8 to, the 1989 Act”.

Paragraph 14.1 on monitoring and review states:

“The instrument will achieve its policy objective of amending a legislative oversight and therefore monitoring and review are not required.”

This is a simple, technical amendment, as has been said, so why it is in the main Chamber? It is a complete farce and another indication of this zombie Government who have nothing to do because everything is stalled because of Brexit. We keep hearing about getting on with the day job, but it is quite clear that the Government are not getting on with their day job and that everything is stalled. We had a similar SI in a normal Delegated Legislation Committee and it took 10 minutes. Partly because the hon. Member for Stirling talked longer than the two Front-Bench spokespersons, we have thankfully managed to drag this out, and I am doing my wee bit to drag it out in the main Chamber as well.

That said, we welcome the streamlining of this process for challenging Scottish Ministers’ decisions about marine licence applications. As the hon. Gentleman was good enough to say, the Scottish Government are a world leader in the fight against climate change and in advancing renewable energy. The Scottish Government want to have 50% of all energy sources supplied by renewables by 2030. It does figure that it would be much better for the Scottish Government to have even greater powers over energy policy and for that not be blocked by the likes of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

In Scotland, we have the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney, which is also a world leader, with the world’s largest tidal steam array and the world’s most powerful tidal steam turbine. A recent announcement heralds the world’s first centre aimed at accelerating the development of materials and structures for tidal energy, which will be based in Rosyth. It is a collaboration between Babcock and the University of Edinburgh. The FASTBLADE project is worth £2.4 million, so we look forward to seeing that being developed. What funds, if any, will the Government provide for that and for future projects? I note that the offshore wind sector deal gives the University of Hull £5.5 million for its technology development. We should like to see the same provision for marine development in Scotland.

When will the Government change the regulations on the Electricity Act 1989 to define electricity storage as a distinct subset of generation? That change will facilitate the co-location of batteries with renewable energy, as the Minister acknowledged in a parliamentary answer in March and in another last week. She described the amendment as “an important measure” and said that it would be implemented “when parliamentary time allows.” I suggest that a full debate in the main Chamber provides sufficient parliamentary time to amend the regulations. That is part of the day job that the Government should be getting on with.

The Government also need to move away from their obsession with nuclear power. It is too dear; it is a dead duck; and it is clear that investors are walking away from it. I do not understand why they continue down that path.

We welcome the corrections of the previous oversight. They should mean that the appeal process is clear, within the remit of Scottish Ministers, and within the remit of the Scottish legal jurisdiction. The intention of the 2014 Act was to streamline the planning application and appeal process for renewable energy to facilitate business deployment and to give investors more certainty. We therefore welcome this measure, which has been agreed with Scottish Ministers. As the Minister said in her opening remarks, better regulation is good for everyone.

I think we have seen an outbreak of consensus, which is always welcome on the Floor of the House. I welcome the comments of the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), and commend him on his tartan tie: I feel that I am a little underdressed for this debate.

The hon. Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield), who is no longer in the Chamber, asked me to confirm that the Act applies to the geography of the site and not to the business location. I can confirm that to the House.

I was delighted when my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) raised our eyes beyond this narrow definition of the law to the real prize, asking what we could do to facilitate our ongoing leadership in the decarbonisation agenda. The answer is much more. I was also delighted by his support for the offshore wind sector deal, which is utterly transformational. We have the best location in the world for offshore wind generation in terms of wind speed and the shallowness of the marine basin. As he knows, there is an important opportunity for the transfer of skills from the world-leading oil and gas industry to offshore wind generation as part of the transition.

There is, of course, a series of questions to be asked about onshore wind. One concerns the size of wind farms. I have debated that subject many times with Opposition Members, but I should point out that the Scottish Government’s own analysis shows that more than 2GW of wind is already at the planning stage. Not all of that will come to fruition, but we are engaged in an enormous process of re-powering and upgrading existing onshore wind farms.

My hon. Friend also mentioned—and this is absolutely my experience as well—that the day-to-day working relationships with the Ministers in the devolved Administration are excellent. I chair a quadrilateral meeting which we hold regularly to discuss Brexit preparations, and our conversations are professional and focus on working together. There is a great deal of trust. Like the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), I would far rather see harmonisation than dissent in such conversations. It is always dispiriting that we almost never hear his party welcome any of the progress that the UK Government are making. [Interruption.] I am afraid that his speech was delivered in such a welter of negativity that I may not have picked it up.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman and allow him to congratulate our four nations on the progress that they have made.

The Minister is obviously not familiar with my personality. That is how I deliver compliments—in amongst that wave of negativity.

What I was going to ask the Minister was this. Will the Government release the correspondence between the Secretary of State for Scotland and her Department, rather than hiding behind the freedom of information exemption, claiming that it is Government policy formulation?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will regain his usual sunny nature should we have an Easter break next week. As he will know, what he has asked is not for me to decide. These observations are made to the Secretary of State, and it would be wrong for me to comment.

I will give way again briefly, but I sense that the House would like me to wrap up, and I also want to give way to the Leader of the Opposition. [Laughter.] I mean the potential future Leader of the Opposition, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East.

If the Minister was so keen for the correspondence to be released, she could just release it and publish it now. She does not have to wait for an FOI inquiry.

We should not tempt fate.

The Minister has made an important point: it is frustrating that the Secretary of State for Scotland is not here to make his comments directly and, perhaps, shed more light on the issues that Members have raised. She also made an important point about the opportunity to exploit renewable potential in the coastal waters of the United Kingdom. However, that is not being matched with an effort to build the British industrial base on renewables. We are seeing significant threats to major industrial capacity such as a BiFab project in Scotland for the industrial development of renewables. We may be in danger of losing that opportunity altogether. Is it not incumbent on the Minister and, indeed, on her Scottish counterparts to redouble their efforts to maximise British industrial content and renewable manufacturing projects?

I welcome the opportunity to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the offshore wind sector deal focuses on exactly that. What had happened historically was that we had essentially given out contracts for difference without requiring developers who were taking advantage of them to commit themselves to UK supply chain investment. What I have set out in the sector deal is that in return for terming out the auctions to a 10-year look ahead, which will give us the most secure market look-ahead in this sector in the world, we expect UK content to rise to more than 60% of the supply chain. The hon. Gentleman made an important point about BiFab. We have, of course, worked closely with the Scottish Government throughout that process. It has been another example of very co-operative working.

There is another important point to be made about the sector deal: I should like workforce diversity to improve dramatically. We have set a target of over 30% of the jobs in that sector going to women.

I think I have covered all the points that I wanted to cover. I commend the order, but I also commend what I think will be a marvellous slogan for politics in the future: up with harmonisation, and down with dissent!