[Relevant Documents: Eighth Report from the Scottish Affairs Committee, The Relationship Between the UK and Scottish Governments, HC 1586; Fifth Report from the Welsh Affairs Committee, Devolution of Air Passenger Duty to Wales, HC 1575; and Eighth Report of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Devolution and Exiting the EU: reconciling differences and building strong relationships, HC 1485.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered 20 years of devolution.
It is with great pleasure that I open this debate on 20 years of devolution on behalf of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs and the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. Twenty years of devolution—it is hard to believe. It has been 20 years since our Parliaments opened their doors, transforming our nations and redefining the political culture of our countries. Our nations are better because of devolution. Our national life has been transformed, and we now have a distinctive voice because we have Parliaments within our nations.
Devolution has come of age and there will be no going back to before our Parliaments opened their doors to the world. I remember that day 20 years ago: I was going to be a candidate for the Scottish Parliament, and it was only the finishing of a Runrig album that got in the way and delayed my parliamentary career by two years. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if had I managed to secure a place in the Scottish Parliament—[Interruption.] I am hearing that there is still time yet, but as someone approaching the autumn of their career I will maybe just think about that one.
I remember the expectation in the air that day—the sense of anticipation and excitement that at last we could get down to the business of designing our own future because we had our Parliaments. I will never forget the look on Donald Dewar’s face when he said, “There will be a Scottish Parliament,” and he just had to add, “I like that.” And I will never forget Winnie Ewing taking the chair for the first time—Winnie Ewing, whose 90th birthday was yesterday, a celebrated figure in Scotland to whom we owe a great debt—and saying:
“the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened.” —[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 12 May 1999; c. 5.]
We have had our disagreements like any other normal Parliament or Assembly, and we have scrutinised Governments just as they do everywhere else, but we have worked with a great deal of consensus. There have been fantastic examples of cross-party work, pioneering and innovation in the Scottish Parliament, and it is worth looking at some of the things that we have achieved in the course of those 20 years.
There has, for example, been pioneering health work. We were the first country in the United Kingdom to introduce a ban on smoking in public places, and we know about the health dividend that has resulted from that piece of legislation. We recently introduced minimum unit pricing for alcohol, and there is already reasonable evidence that that is starting to have an impact on health outcomes. We have also made democratic reforms: 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland now have votes, and we have proportional representation in local government elections, just as we do in the election of the Parliament itself. Then there is the social agenda: free personal care for our elderly in Scotland, free higher education, and free prescription charges. All those initiatives, and many more, are helping to make ours a better and fairer country.
This is often credited to Donald Dewar, but it was in fact a Welshman, Ron Davies, who said:
“Devolution is a process…not an event”.
What a process it has been, and what a journey we have been on! As a legislative body, the Scottish Parliament is an entirely different creature from the one that opened its doors back in June 1999. Two further Scotland Acts—the 2012 and 2016 Acts—followed the 1998 Act, which established the Scottish Parliament, and have significantly increased its powers. It now controls large swathes of welfare legislation, and its taxation powers mean that we can set our own income tax rates in Scotland. The Welsh Assembly is about to become the Senedd, and Scotland now has a Government. We in Scotland have had coalition government, majority government—although the rules are supposed to forbid such a thing—and two episodes of minority government, and still we move forward.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Welsh Assembly has advanced even further, given that we were somewhat behind our Scottish friends at the start of the process? It has travelled from being essentially a glorified county council to being a law-making body, which will hopefully proceed very quickly to take on many more law-making and tax-raising powers, leading eventually to independence.
I am more than happy to agree with my hon. Friend. As we observe what has happened in Wales, we see that the pace of the change has been quite dramatic. My hon. Friend is right to point out that Wales now has a law-making Assembly. There was some discussion yesterday about its being renamed the Senedd, which I think will prove very worthwhile and valuable. We are on a journey, and it is not finished yet.
The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case for what has been achieved in the last 20 years, and I welcome that. Does he agree that, by virtue of the make-up of the Scottish Parliament and the system by which we elect our MSPs, it is right for parties to work together—that there should be no demarcation lines for who will work with whom, but that we should always be working together for the benefit of Scotland?
There is nothing in what the hon. Gentleman has said with which I could possibly disagree. We have seen examples of coalition government in the Scottish Parliament, and, indeed, it was designed on that basis. When Labour and the Liberals, in the main, put together the Scottish constitutional convention, that was what was anticipated. The fact that we have been on a particular journey and have had a variety of different arrangements for government demonstrates our resilience.
I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I want to make sure that the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), who chairs the Welsh Affairs Committee, has a chance to speak.
There has been a flurry of devolutionary activity recently. A review initiated by the UK Government is to be conducted by Lord Dunlop, and there is an ongoing debate about completing the powers of the Scottish Parliament with independence for Scotland. That continues to be the most debated and defining issue in Scotland’s political and public life. One thing that can be said about devolution is that it is never boring. Our Parliament has brought Scotland to the attention of the world. Our international footprint has increased because of devolution, and as a consequence more people know about our beautiful country and what it does.
I think it is still the case, and it was certainly the case at the time, that when the Scottish Parliament passed the Bill that became the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014, there was a larger majority in favour of equal marriage in that Parliament than in any other legislature in the world. In fact, the Scottish Parliament is the only legislature in the world which, whenever it has been presented with legislation to extend equality to its citizens, has voted in favour of it. Is that not a good thing, and does it not constitute progress that should always be protected in future?
My hon. Friend has made a valid and strong point. He is absolutely right about equal marriage, and about the way the Scottish Parliament responded. There have been other progressive developments on social issues, and I am particularly proud that our Parliament has taken up such causes so dramatically and consistently. I look forward to seeing further examples of progress in the future.
It is right for us to keep devolution under review, and I am proud of the work that my Committee has done over the past few months in assessing it after 20 years. We focused particularly on intergovernmental relations, and suggested a number of far-reaching reforms. We believe that, if implemented, our conclusions will make a significant difference in the quality of the inter- governmental relations that currently exist throughout these islands.
I think we can all agree that, institutionally, the Scottish Parliament has functioned well and is now an immovable feature, secure in the fabric of our democracy. It is there to stay. However, the relationship between the two Governments has not kept pace with developments, and the machinery for dialogue and engagement has not kept up with the evolving dynamics of devolution. What we have found is that intergovernmental relations are under pressure as never before. It seems that, having emerged from the experience of the independence referendum, they have been challenged to within an inch of their lives by Brexit.
Before I go into that further, I will give the House the good news. The relationship between the two institutions seems to be functioning well at a sub-political level: the work between civil servants, for example, continues unabated. Our Committee heard solid evidence from senior civil servants that everything was being conducted perfectly well, and that work was being done behind the scenes. However, we were concerned about the quality of the relationships across these islands, and we made a number of recommendations in that regard.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very strong case, but does he agree that responsibility for the relationship between the two Governments is not something that we should dictate through paperwork, or something for which we should have to resort to legislation? Is it not up to the two parties in government to be grown up, to sit round the table and to take part in constructive discussions, rather than engaging in what we often witness here—petty bickering about just about everything when an excuse can be found for it?
The hon. Lady is an assiduous member of the Scottish Affairs Committee, and as I look around the Chamber I see other assiduous members. I agree with what she has said, but I think it is incumbent on us to have the mechanism, the infrastructure and the machinery to ensure that when Governments disagree—as they will when they have particularly different policy objectives —we can accommodate that disagreement, shape it up, and resolve some of the tensions and difficulties that are encountered.
Let me now go back to the beginning, because, as the hon. Lady knows, the Committee looked into this in great detail and heard a great deal of evidence. In the early days of devolution, everything was straightforward and easy. The Labour party was in government in Cardiff, Edinburgh and London, and intergovernmental relations were conducted among comrades, friends and colleagues who would just pick up the phone and get in touch with each other to resolve any difficulties. They were generally resolved very easily; I am sure that you remember those days, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Only one issue was not resolved, and it remains in the name of the bar in the Scottish Parliament. In a dramatic rebuke to Scottish colleagues who dared to suggest that they should become a Government, Big Brother down here—in the form of Labour Members—said, “They can call themselves the White Heather Club, but they will never be a Government.” To this day, the bar in Holyrood is called the White Heather Club as testimony to that fantastic rebuke from our Big Brother Westminster Labour colleagues.
It took the UK Government three years to keep up with developments and acknowledge the change when Alex Salmond rebranded the then—it has to be said—pathetically named Scottish Executive the Scottish Government.
I think it is fair to say that the cosy relationship that existed in the early days of devolution was pretty much shattered with the arrival of the SNP minority Government in 2007. This was an SNP Government who were prepared to push the boundaries of the devolution settlement and who tried to define a new means and method for us to assert ourselves as a nation, and they were not content being restricted to what was available in the then devolution settlement.
Then of course came the independence referendum, and who will ever forget that? Curiously, inter-Government relationships survived the referendum relatively intact, and that was because there was a need for engagement between the two Governments and we had the Edinburgh agreement and rules were set up for that. That taught us the lesson that things can be done if there is structure, rules and a means to come together for agreed objectives, and the agreed objective during the independence referendum was that it would be done properly and constitutionally.
Brexit has broken that, however. What we have with Brexit is two Governments, one in Scotland and one in London, with totally different objectives on the issue of leaving the European Union. Scotland wants nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit; it returned one MP with a mandate for an EU referendum, and we have consistently said we find this counter to our national interests. But of course we have a UK Government determined to deliver Brexit. We should have in place, however, a means to be able to accommodate that—to be able to ensure that these types of differences can be dealt with and negotiated smoothly.
That brings us to the machinery of all this. At the very top is the Joint Ministerial Committee. We looked at a number of options for transforming or even replacing it, but came to the conclusion that replacing it would not serve any great purpose. So we suggested a number of things that we could do to improve the functioning of the JMC, because it is not working properly; it does not have the confidence of the Scottish Government and it does not particularly have the confidence of the Welsh Government. The UK Government set the agenda, and they are responsible for all the dispute resolutions, and they seem to be the arbiter of what happens and how things are conducted.
We said that things have to change dramatically, and there is one phrase that runs through almost every chapter of our report: “parity of esteem”. We therefore propose that the JMC be a body where all four of the Governments are treated as equals, and as such we recommended that JMC meetings should be hosted and chaired by each of the UK Administrations on a rotating basis, and that meetings should be held frequently and have a set schedule with agendas agreed in advance between all parties.
We also asked the Government to explore third-party mediation, because again we received a number of pieces of evidence that suggested that this was not working. We also said that the JMC should look at dispute resolution and made a number of recommendations about Whitehall Departments becoming devolution-proof.
We have recommended that the Government look at the JMC having its own secretariat, and the UK Government have now said they are prepared to explore that. However, I want to come back to the Government’s response to our report, and I think that what the Government are prepared to do will delight the hon. Gentleman.
Under the suggestion the hon. Gentleman is making about everyone having an equal say, presumably the First Minister of Northern Ireland, when that Assembly is set up again, would have a veto over what was happening in the rest of the United Kingdom.
With all great respect, I think that the hon. Gentleman misunderstands and possibly does not really appreciate what we are saying. We suggest in our report that parity of esteem be established. It is not right that the UK Government should chair all proceedings and set the agenda; that should be the responsibility of all Governments and the chairing should be rotated—just the chairing, so not having a veto but just ensuring that that sense of equality exists between the four Governments in a setting and a forum that is supposed to be able to accommodate that.
What we said about the Scotland Office and the Secretary of State’s role probably got most of the headlines and caught most of the attention when our report came out just a few short weeks ago. When we looked at the Scotland Office and the Secretary of State’s role, we found a Department that has more or less been bypassed in two very important functions. One of them is at the highest level of inter-Government relations such as the bilateral meetings between First Minister and Prime Minister. That now seems to be conducted by the de facto Deputy Prime Minister; he does all that and there does not seem to be much of a role for the Scotland Office in those proceedings. The second thing we found, which is probably more important, is that bilateral arrangements between Ministers from Scotland and Whitehall were being conducted by themselves and they were not going through the Scotland Office. If a Minister in Scotland wanted to deal with an issue that was of importance to the UK so it was something that needed to be done together, that would go straight to the relevant Whitehall Department down here with no role for the Scotland Office. So we asked what the Scotland Office therefore really does, and why it is in place, with all the paraphernalia of a civil service and so on.
An additional point is that there needs to be formal consideration of the interplay between legislation that is created here and that now being created in the Welsh Assembly. There is a recent example with the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill: there is a piece of legislation in Wales concerning violence against women. There is no formal mechanism to examine how legislation created here and legislation being created in other places intermeshes and to ensure they do not contradict one another.
That points to some of the evidence we took in the Committee. It is an important point, and I know that it will be looked at when these matters are being progressed.
We found, however, that the Scotland Office did the following. It is its right and prerogative to do this, so of course it can, but it wanted to make sure that the role of the UK and the workings of its Government are asserted in Scotland. That seems to be the basis of the Dunlop review: how we can make Scotland better love what the UK does. This seems to involve a relatively large resource and budget, and it seems as though we will have to expect a lot of new UK branding with all the associated flagging paraphernalia that goes with it. It seems like some sort of bold attempt to make us love that just that little bit more by visibility.
We asked the Secretary of State about this yesterday, and I got the sense that the UK Government are trying to do a rebranding exercise. [Interruption.] Scottish Conservative Members do not like that and are saying that is not the case. We shall hear their opinions about what the Dunlop review will do, but we are very encouraged by the Secretary of State’s response to our report. I think they have agreed to look at almost every recommendation we made; we are excited that they have said they will look at most of the things around the JMC and that that will form part of the review. They are even prepared to look properly at a review of the Scotland Office and tell us what it will be doing, so we remain encouraged. [Interruption.] I did not want to sound bitter or unhappy with things, but that was what I was hearing yesterday, and the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) was at the same meeting. We have to be positive where we can be and thankful for the fact that most of that response seems to have been quite good so far, so we will just keep things going, and I say to colleagues on the Scottish Affairs Committee that we have a role in this, so we will make sure that that happens.
Just to be absolutely clear to the Chairman of the Scottish Affairs Committee, he knows that I welcome and support his Committee’s report, but the Dunlop review is about how the United Kingdom Government work better to bring the benefits of the Union to all parts of the Union; it is quite clearly mischievous on his part to suggest something different.
I think that I am actually repeating what the hon. Gentleman said: the review will show us what the UK Government do in Scotland. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman can tell us what he thinks they are doing; I am just saying what I think, but there we go. [Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman just calm down a little? He does not need to get over-excited; this is a consensual debate. We will see what happens, but I congratulate the UK Government on their positive response. It is right that we continue to look out for devolution and continue to ensure that it is properly assessed and continues to work in the best interests of all our nations across the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend is making an important speech marking 20 years of devolution and where we go next. Right at the start, he spoke about Winnie Ewing reconvening the Scottish Parliament and that historical continuity is very important for the next steps. The Scottish Parliament was never abolished; it was adjourned and then it was reconvened, and where it goes next will be a matter for the people of Scotland. And this House of Commons should recognise that now as well and endorse the claim of right and the fact that the sovereignty will lie with the people of Scotland.
It is almost as though my hon. Friend has read my mind, because he anticipates that that is exactly what I was going to come on to, in closing this short introduction to the debate. He is right: this is a matter for the people of Scotland to determine.
We have to agree that the Scottish people should always get what the Scottish people want. We have now said that we agree on the sovereignty of the people of Scotland through the claim of right, and I am delighted that this House passed that. However, there is an ongoing debate just now, and what I do not like hearing is people saying that democracy will be denied in Scotland and the Scottish people will not get their way if that is what they decide. We have to end that sort of talk. We have to say in the House that the Scottish people should always get what they want, and that it is right that the future of Scotland remains in Scotland’s hands. We have had 20 years of a Scottish Parliament. It has been thoroughly good, and we all agree that it is a transformed Scotland and made such a difference to our national life. We now look forward to the next 20 years and whatever future awaits.
The House will appreciate that a great many people wish to speak this afternoon and we have limited time, so we will have to start with a time limit of six minutes. I apologise to the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) for not having been able to give him notice of this.
I thank the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for bringing forward this important debate, although I cannot see the past 20 years in quite the same positive light that he has set out. Slightly more than 20 years ago, I was part of the anti-Welsh Assembly no campaign. That was one of my first entrées into politics. We lost, but I felt as a democrat that it was important to respect the will of the people of Wales, so there was no suggestion afterwards that we should try to challenge the result in the courts or say that people had been tricked by Welsh Labour—although I think to some extent that they were; I will come back to that in a minute—or say that people had changed their minds the next day.
We simply respected the fact that the people of Wales had spoken, and I want to put on record right now as a Conservative and as somebody who opposed the Welsh Assembly 20 years ago that it would be absolutely wrong to try to undermine the Welsh Assembly, take away its powers or get rid of it in any way at all. I say that as somebody who was very strongly opposed to it 20 years ago. It would be wrong to do that because the people of Wales voted not once but twice to have a Welsh Assembly and it behoves us all as democrats to respect the voice of the people of Wales, to work with the National Assembly for Wales and to make sure the whole thing is a success. Similarly, had Scotland voted for independence in its referendum, we would have been expected, quite rightly, to respect the voice of the people of Scotland.
It is a bit of a disappointment to me that, having made this clear over the past 20 years, the Welsh Assembly Members who owe their jobs to a referendum that took place 20 years ago are now doing their utmost to try to ignore the will of the people of Wales in the subsequent referendum on Brexit, where a much larger number of people turned out and voted by a much clearer majority in favour of Brexit. I hope that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, who believes that we should to listen to the will of the people, will agree that Wales spoke clearly for Brexit, that Britain spoke clearly for Brexit and that Members of Parliament have an obligation to honour the result and bring it in in some way.
One could build an argument—one would be wrong to do so—against the Welsh Assembly on the basis that it has failed to deliver on the promises that were made 20 years ago. We were told that we would have a better health service, better education, a better economy, better transport and so on. The reality in Wales at least has been that we now have longer hospital waiting lists, longer responses and waits for ambulances, longer waits in accident and emergency units and less access to cancer drugs.
I will in a moment, but let me just make this point because it may be relevant to Scotland as well.
We were promised that we would have better standard of education, but in reality, the independent programme for international student assessment—PISA—tests have shown that Welsh pupils are less likely now to get GCSEs and A-levels, or to go to the best universities, than their counterparts in England.
I would be very happy if I had to wait only 18 weeks instead of 26 weeks for an operation, and I would be very happy if I could get access to the cancer drugs that are available in England but not in Wales. As the hon. Lady should know, many people in Wales come to our surgeries to ask to be treated in England. As far as I am aware—I have tabled a question about this—nobody from England has ever asked to have their health service treatment delivered in Wales. The reality is that the people of Wales are voting with their feet because they know that a Conservative Government are delivering a better health service than Welsh Labour—
I will not, as I have apparently got only one minute left, and I am still on my first page.
There has been a failure on transport in Wales. There has also been a failure on the economy. Even the Economy Minister in the Welsh Government has said that we do not know what we are doing with it. There has also been a significant failure on value for money and an inability sometimes to see through the boasts and exaggerated claims that are made by people who are seeking grants. That is a matter of some disappointment to me, but of course it is actually Welsh Labour that is responsible for this, not the National Assembly for Wales. That is why I am looking forward to seeing Conservatives being elected into government at the next Welsh Assembly elections and, yes, if necessary, to working with members of Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats to ensure that we get a change from the one-party rule that has dominated Wales for far too long.
By a strange irony, here I am 20 years later making an argument for more powers for the Welsh Assembly, because where there is a case to be made for it, I am happy to see the Assembly getting powers over issues such as air passenger duty, which is something that we recommended strongly in our report. It is a pity that I have not got time to get on to Brexit and to point out the obvious contradiction in the fact that, while the Scottish National party and Plaid Cymru rightly make points about Catalonia, it is the European Union that is opposed to regional entities such as Catalonia becoming nation states. The real supporter of devolution is the Conservative and Unionist party. Not only are we handing powers over to the Parliaments of Scotland and Wales, but we want to hand more powers over to them, because the biggest exercise in devolution is going on right now. We are taking powers away from Brussels and bringing them back to London, whereupon we will start to distribute them out to Edinburgh, to Cardiff, to Belfast and, of course, to the regions of England. So all those who support devolution and believe that power should be brought back closer to the people should also be supporting Brexit and democracy.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, for bringing forward this debate. It is right for us to celebrate 20 years of devolution. Back in 1997, the Scotland Bill was the first Bill that the new Labour Government brought forward from their manifesto. They promised to bring it in early, and it was the very first Bill to be presented to this House. Then we had the referendum in 1999, which gave a yes vote. That is the only time I have ever voted yes in a Scottish referendum, and it is the only time I am ever likely to do so. That referendum brought us the Scottish Parliament. Donald Dewar, who has always been known as the Father of the House in the Scottish Parliament, said at that time this was not about politics and legislation but about what kind of country we were, how we looked upon ourselves and how we were shown to the rest of the world. I think we should carry that through in this debate and in everything we do when talking about the Scottish Parliament.
I was eight when the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999—I am glad that nobody in the House can do maths—but the big question 20 years later has to be whether we now have home rule within the United Kingdom. That is the big question, because for all of us who are devolutionists and not nationalists or Unionists, devolution is a journey. The Calman commission and the Scotland Act 1998 were always a journey and the question has always been about whether the Scottish Parliament should progress and where devolution should go on that journey.
There was lots to celebrate in the first part of the Scottish Parliament in terms of the laws it was able to pass. About 280 laws have been passed since the Parliament came into being, and we should look on that as progress, because there was never any ability in this place to pass anywhere near 280 laws for Scotland in a 20-year period. It is probably accurate to say that 10% of that number could have been passed under the previous arrangements. We have had land reform, feudal law reform, the smoking ban and free personal care for the elderly, as well as proportional representation for local government, which was huge. We have also had world-leading legislation on homelessness as well as more schools, teachers, teaching assistants, nurses and doctors, and the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland. All those things have been better for Scottish life and have cemented the Scottish Parliament as the centre of Scottish politics and the centre of Scottish civic life. Anybody who argues that Westminster is the centre of Scottish politics and civic life has not moved on over the past 20 years, because that can be seen in the way the Scottish Parliament operates.
Now is a good opportunity to reflect on what the Scottish Parliament is delivering. I always thought that the Scottish Parliament should be part of a devolution journey that would provide subsidiarity, and everyone would have a grown-up conversation about the powers that lay at the Westminster Parliament, the EU level, the Scottish Parliament, our local authorities, or even local communities—I firmly believe in the idea of subsidiarity—and about where powers are best placed to lie. I am slightly disappointed that that is not being portrayed by the Scottish Parliament, because all our arguments about powers are never about powers for a purpose, but about powers for where power should lie.
I firmly believe that, since the formation of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish local authorities, which used to be the vanguard of local service provision, have turned into administrative arms of the Scottish Government. That may be by design, or it may be by accident, but we should reflect on that. Councils no longer have the ability to shape the lives of their local services, not only because of significant financial constraints that have been placed on them, both by this place and by the Scottish Parliament, but because they do not have the ability to shape new policies in the way they once did. The Scottish Parliament, certainly in the past 10 years, has sucked up power into Holyrood, rather than being a devolutionist Parliament that moves things back down to local government. Whether a nationalist who believes in independence, a right-wing Conservative who believes in scrapping the Scottish Parliament, or anywhere in between, we should have a discussion about the best place for powers to lie.
Powers are not being used, and it frustrates me that we have not had an honest argument about that. If somebody stands up and says, “We are not using power A because we do not believe that it should be used for the reasons of sorting problem B,” I will argue all day about the principle of that and whether it is the right thing to do, and then the voters can decide. To say that the Scottish Parliament does not have the powers to do something when it does is disingenuous and undermines not just the Scottish Parliament, but the whole Scottish political system and, indeed, our entire civic system.
For example, the Leader of the House was asked a question earlier about the WASPI women, and the Scottish Parliament has the power to do something about that issue. It could look at a whole range of issues. If it so wished, it could set up a commission to look at how to deal with pensioners in Scotland, but it chooses not to use that power. Let us argue about why the Parliament may decide not to choose that or why it wants to choose it, but let us not say that there is no power to do anything about it. Sections 25, 26, 27 and 28 of the Scotland Act 2016 say that the Scottish Parliament has the power to introduce any top-up benefit to any reserved benefit, and pensions are a reserved benefit under section 28.
I turn to the questions about what we should do next. Intergovernmental relations is a big one. I fundamentally agree with the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire that intergovernmental relations are used as a cover for people to hide behind, rather as a way of having constructive discussions across Governments. Let us look at whether the Scottish Parliament needs a second Chamber. Let us look at whether the Committee system provides proper scrutiny. Let us take an audit of the powers that are being used and the powers that have not been used. Let us look at whether we should examine the subsidiarity and reflect on what other powers should be considered. Let us look at reform of the UK. Let us look at a federal structure or at the House of Lords or at a senate of the nations and regions that could help deal with some of the big issues. Twenty years on, we should sit and reflect honestly and on a cross-party basis.
The hon. Gentleman is right, because where devolution goes next is not really a problem for Scotland; it is a problem for England. That is why when we are looking at devolution and where it goes next, we have to look at what England does. We cannot look at this in the context of the United Kingdom without dealing with England. That is why we need a senate of the nations and regions and a proper constitutional convention. What we do not need is a citizens’ assembly that is just a talking shop for how to get to independence. We need a proper, sober assessment 20 years on. Let us celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament, but let us look to the next 20 years.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Just across the road, parents whose children are dying from cystic fibrosis are lying in Parliament Square to bring this House’s attention to the urgent need for their children to have access to drugs that could save their lives. The campaign has been supported by the Daily Express and thousands of our constituents. Could you advise me on what I can do to raise this issue, so that all parliamentarians are aware of the vital need to support the parents and the children suffering with cystic fibrosis?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order, and I am sure the House will agree that he has just achieved what he set out to achieve. I do not think he needs my advice on how to bring this matter to the attention of Parliament, because he has just done so most eloquently and effectively. I am sure he will consult the Table Office about questions and the possibility of an Adjournment debate or, indeed, an urgent question to a Minister, but we all heard what the hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that his remarks will be noted widely.
May I first associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths) about cystic fibrosis?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), and I join him in saying that this is a celebration. Unlike my good friend the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies), I was in favour of establishing the Welsh Assembly. While it has not been perfect, I would place the blame for its failures primarily on the Welsh Government, not on the institution per se. However, some of the failures highlighted by my hon. Friend are issues that we should be worried about. In education, for example, we genuinely need to look carefully at ourselves in Wales and ask whether we are delivering the educational standards to which we actually aspire.
However, I took one exception with my hon. Friend’s comments about the health service. It is fair to have a political debate about the health service in Wales, and it is fair to say that people can be genuinely disappointed with the health service in Wales. However, we must be honest enough as politicians to recognise that some of the challenges facing the health service in Wales are unique. The age profile of my constituency and many others in north Wales brings particular problems, and I speak as somebody who is represented from a health perspective by a health board that is both the largest in Wales and probably the most problematic in Wales. Although many of those problems are blamed, rightly, on decisions made by the Welsh Government, it would be naive and wrong to blame all those problems on the Welsh Government. Some of the problems we face in north Wales are unique.
In fairness, the Assembly Government are doing some good things in that regard. For example, they are using the Rutherford group to offer cancer care in parts of south Wales, which is an excellent example of using the private sector within the NHS. Of course, that is completely different from nationalising the NHS. The Conservatives are often accused by Labour in England of nationalising the NHS, when Labour is doing exactly that, and quite rightly so, in Wales.
I agree with my hon. Friend.
Turning to how the Welsh Assembly has worked over the past 20 years, I will first touch upon some of the successes. More and more powers have been offered to the Assembly and the Welsh Government. That has happened in a piecemeal fashion, and it has been frustrating in many ways, because it has taken time, but I am proud of the fact that this Government and previous Governments since 2010 have actually delivered more powers to the Welsh Government, and rightly so.
I was pleased to be one of the Ministers who took the Wales Act 2017 through this place, and I am particularly proud of the fact that the way we worked in tandem with the Welsh Government resulted in that legislation being the first piece of constitutional law to pass through both Houses without amendment. That was testament to the fact that we worked in a co-operative fashion, which is important. Co-operation between the two Governments needs to develop quite significantly, and there is no doubt that the challenges of Brexit mean that that is becoming more and more important. We want services to be delivered to the people of Wales effectively, and the way to do that is to acknowledge that both Governments actually have an impact.
When I was at the Wales Office, I kept on making the point that Wales has two Governments and that we should take advantage of that, not see it as a problem. I will provide an example from when I was the Minister for Defence Procurement, because I saw how contracts awarded to Welsh companies by the Ministry of Defence led to those companies being supported by the Welsh Government through their economic development remit. We saw seamless working between the Government in Westminster and the Government in Cardiff Bay for the benefit of communities in Wales, which is exactly how we should aspire to work. We should aspire to acknowledge where the devolution boundary lies, and obviously we can have political arguments on where we need to change that devolution boundary, but we should see the potential of working together and how having two Governments serving the people of Wales is an advantage, not a disadvantage.
I welcome the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee on the growth deals and city deals, and so on. This is a fantastic opportunity to make a difference for the Welsh economy, and that difference is being made by the two Governments working together. The funding coming into those growth deals is coming from Westminster and from Cardiff Bay. More importantly, it is proper devolution, because the ideas and the initiatives are coming from the regions.
If there is one thing I would like to say, and I concur with the hon. Member for Edinburgh South on this, it is that the first 10 years of the Welsh Assembly probably saw powers being sucked into Cardiff Bay to make up for the original settlement in Wales being very weak. Every new institution has this need to feel it can make a difference, and in Wales we often saw powers being taken into the Assembly from local government, and I still believe that far too many decisions are demanded of the Government in Cardiff by local authorities, such as my own local authority in Conwy, rather than their being allowed to be made by the people on the ground.
Yes, we need co-operation between the two Governments, but I strongly argue that we need a more mature attitude in the Welsh Assembly and the Welsh Government, which should trust their partners in local government. That is entirely the right thing to do. The growth deals are seeing the three partners—Westminster, the Welsh Government and local authorities—working constructively together, and we should try to build on that.
On the powers of the Wales Office and how it works for Wales within Westminster, I remember listening to a speech by Lord Elystan-Morgan back in 2013. He highlighted that the creation of the Wales Office in the 1960s was, in fact, the first step towards devolution.
The powers of the Wales Office have changed quite dramatically, and it was advantageous for me to be a Wales Office Minister and a Government Whip, because the Wales Office, in effect, has a cross-Government remit. That cross-Government remit is challenging, because Wales Office Ministers often find themselves being the nuisance who turns up in another Department to say to a spending Minister, “Do not forget that this issue has an impact on Wales as well.”
The Dunlop report is extremely important because, if we are to govern well for Wales from Westminster and from Cardiff, it is imperative that we understand the role of the Wales Office. We genuinely need to ensure that the understanding of Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish issues in Westminster is enhanced, and the way to do that is either by accepting the need to strengthen the Wales Office and the Scotland Office or by acknowledging that we need to change how we do things. I look forward to that report, which is important for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) and other right hon. and hon. Members.
This is the 20th anniversary of devolution, but it is a bit more than that really, because I refuse to believe that devolution started 20 years ago. There is a real history to it, and one thing I praise Plaid Cymru colleagues for is how they have often acknowledged the work of their predecessors Gwynfor Evans, Lord Dafydd Wigley and Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who kindly supported my 2017 election campaign in Clwyd South. Lord Elis-Thomas is now serving in the Welsh Government, and he is a good man.
The Labour party does not always do that quite enough. I read the book by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Wayne David) about his predecessor, “Morgan Jones: Man of Conscience,” and I was struck that, in his 1922 general election address, Morgan Jones supported self-government—not separatism, but self-government—to address Welsh needs in an appropriate and distinctive way. In June 1938, he was part of a cross-party delegation that met Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to put the case for a Secretary of State for Wales. Neville Chamberlain did not accept the proposal, but perhaps his judgment was not too good anyway.
Of course, it was not until the reforming Harold Wilson Government of the 1960s that there was a Secretary of State for Wales and a Wales Office. Jim Griffiths was the first Secretary of State. It came from that Keir Hardie tradition of Home Rule all round.
I want to be partisan, not as a Labour Member of Parliament but as a north Walian, in paying tribute today to those great devolutionists: Cledwyn Hughes of Ynys Môn; Goronwy Roberts of Caernarvon; Eirene White of Flintshire; Robert Richards, James Idwal Jones and Tom Ellis, representatives of Wrexham, although the latter two came from Rhosllanerchrugog; Thomas William Jones and William Edwards, representatives of Merioneth, with T.W. also coming from Rhosllanerchrugog. All Labour and all north Walians.
I also pay tribute to Wales’s first female MP—Liberal, and later Labour—Megan Lloyd George, who once recorded a party political broadcast for the Liberal party that ended
“hunan lywodraeth i Gymru. Nos da.”
Or, “self-government to Wales. Good night.” I shared that story when I did occasional Welsh-language voiceovers for Welsh Labour, and people were very interested in my observations.
There are three things we need to consider. Six minutes is not very long, and two minutes and fifty seconds is even shorter. First, devolution offers a real chance for distinctive policies—not distinctive for their own sake but distinctive because they can be innovative and they can work. We have seen it with the minimum pricing of plastic bags, which was an innovative policy introduced in 2011, and the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. We have to look to the future, considering all the factors.
The Human Transplantation (Wales) Act 2013 introduced the principle of presumed consent, and it saved lives in doing so. There was the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016 and now, with our excellent First Minister, there are proposals for social partnerships. Those policies are distinctive, and they are good.
Secondly, let us not fall into the trap of seeing devolution through the prism of the home nations. It is fine for the rugby, but we miss out when we just look at England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Our late, great colleague Paul Flynn was a passionate devolutionist, and he once told me he felt there was no problem in Wales that could not be solved by an east coast. I think he was joking but, whether he was or not, we do not have one.
Some 50% of Wales’s population live within 30 miles of the border, so devolution has to interconnect between the nations and regions of our country. We see connections between north-east Wales and north-west England in the economy, health and so much more. We also have to see the debate in terms of London, and we have seen greater moves towards devolution. It may not help us, but we have to look to London and the home counties, which want to keep more of their tax take.
It is an intelligent contribution to the debate that we consider good policies, wherever they come from, on both sides of the border, in Scotland and, indeed, elsewhere in the world. We must not become insular.
Thirdly, and this is especially true for those of us who fall in the social democratic or democratic socialist traditions, structural and constitutional devices are never an end in themselves. It is about empowerment, wellbeing, connectedness, education and culture. I pay great tribute to all those who are fighting the campaign to reach 1 million Welsh speakers—it is not a maximum, and we can go above it—in Wales, which is very important. It is also about the ability to reach out globally, across continental Europe, the UK, NATO, the Commonwealth and so much more. What was important about the initial devolution settlement was the sense that we had to work consensually. Sometimes the electoral system was devised for that and sometimes, to be honest, that consensual working could be a pain in the neck, but I do believe that without it we would not have had that breadth of support for devolution.
If I am quick, I will be able to end—stereotypically, being Welsh—with a quote from a poem: a not-very-good translation of a Welsh poem. It reads:
“Old Welsh customs need must change
As years progress from age to age.
The generations each arrange
Their own brief patterns on the page.”
That is not how Ceiriog said it, but that is the English translation. Most of us will not be here in this place in 20 years’ time, but what is important is that we work together, we get the best for our country and we do it through that devolved settlement.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) and, in particular, to hear the translation of some Welsh poetry at least. I am pleased that the Scottish Affairs Committee, of which I am a member, and the Welsh Affairs Committee have secured this debate to mark 20 years of devolution. It is an important landmark in the history of the United Kingdom and an appropriate time to reflect on the progress we have made towards more representative and more effective government in Scotland and Wales—and Northern Ireland, when we get its Assembly back.
Over the past 20 years, Scotland has seen multiple rounds of devolution. It was a Conservative-led Government who oversaw the Scotland Act 2012 and the Scotland Act 2016, which devolved additional powers to the Scottish Parliament, making it one of the most powerful devolved legislatures in the world today. The Scottish Affairs Committee’s recent report on inter- governmental relations highlighted the many other upheavals that have influenced the devolution settlement during that time, including the change of Government in 2007 and the independence referendum in 2014. It is clear that the devolution settlement that Scotland enjoys today is very different from the one created back in 1999. With 111 additional powers due to be devolved from Brussels to Holyrood as we leave the European Union—87 immediately and another 24 to follow—it will soon be changing further.
As the Member of Parliament for Banff and Buchan, the heartland of Scottish fishing, I know that my constituents will be glad to see overall fisheries policy being determined closer to home, rather than by distant bureaucrats on the continent. I also know that many of my constituents have been frustrated by the SNP’s apparent desire to keep all those powers in Brussels, by keeping us in the EU and, by association, in the common fisheries policy.
Brexit or no Brexit, however, it is right that the UK and Scottish Governments should be investigating how intergovernmental relations can be improved, but this is not the time for talk of radically rewriting the devolution settlement. While we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of devolution as a whole, it is worth recognising that the last Scotland Act came into force just three years ago. In fact, we are still implementing that last rewrite of the devolution settlement, and earlier this year it emerged that the SNP-run Scottish Government will not be ready for the full devolution of welfare powers until 2024. This from the same party that told voters in 2014 that it could set up a whole new country in just 18 months.
Instead of plotting a rematch against the voters on independence or devising increasingly left-field proposals to overhaul the devolution settlement yet again, the focus of this review should be on ensuring that the devolution settlement we have got is implemented smoothly and effectively.
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point about the devolution settlement. We in the highlands and islands have identified something of a democratic deficit: we feel our voice is not being heard by those in power in Edinburgh and that power is being dragged out of the highlands to Edinburgh. That does not suit highland people, and what we get is elected Members turning around and blaming the Highland Council, but it gets its money from the Scottish Government. I believe there should be a Minister for the highlands and islands, in whatever Government, of whatever colour, who would speak up for the highlands and islands and would actually exercise some power to the good of the highlands and islands. We do not have one at the moment and we should.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point. I am going to raise a similar one about the north-east of Scotland, where I come from—that will come as no surprise.
The work involved in this review is vital if the Scottish people are to enjoy the good governance they deserve, from both the Westminster and Holyrood Governments. I was pleased, therefore, with the UK Government’s response to the Committee’s report on intergovernmental affairs, which showed their commitment to such a review. It remains to be seen whether the Scottish Government will put the interests of the Scottish people first and work constructively with the UK Government. We may see more of the same from the SNP: this is the party that is delaying the implementation of the Scotland Act 2016—particularly on welfare, as I have mentioned—and is desperately trying to keep agricultural and fisheries policy under Brussels’ control. This is the party whose own Brexit Minister has said he does not like the devolved settlement. This is the party that ran roughshod over the procedures of the Scottish Parliament and the advice of its Presiding Officer to ram through its continuity Bill, only for swathes of it to be struck down by the Supreme Court.
The choice is the SNP’s, and I hope for the sake of the Scottish people that the SNP chooses a more constructive path. If it fails to do so, I suspect that come 2021, when we have the next Holyrood elections, the Scottish people will bring that nationalist era to an end and elect a new Government who will take that constructive approach—
With Ruth Davidson as First Minister, yes. Like the majority of people in Scotland, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party supports the Union. We are invested in the devolution settlement and we want it to succeed. That is because localism is a core Conservative principle.
It is a source of endless disappointment to me and to my constituents in the north-east that the spirit of devolution, of decisions being taken closer to home, has not taken root entirely within the Scottish Government. Successive Labour and SNP Scottish Governments have hoarded power in Holyrood and, it has been suggested, governed primarily for the central belt. While English city regions are getting more control of their own affairs, to accompany growth deals, Nicola Sturgeon is ensuring that Scotland remains rigidly centralised.
Scotland’s diversity, from region to region, across the whole of Scotland, is one of the many things that makes Scotland a nation that I and my immigrant wife are proud to call home. It is tragic that the political structures that the SNP has imposed on our nation do not reflect that. When the revenue grant for local authorities in the north-east is falling by £40 million this year, even when the SNP have made Scotland the highest taxed part of the UK, with the north-east taxed more than most areas in Scotland, it is clear to see that the north-east is missing out.
My message for the Scottish Government on this anniversary is simple: it is time to work constructively with the UK Government to make the most of the existing devolution settlement, and ensure that the new powers coming to Holyrood from both Westminster and Brussels are transferred.
My colleague on the Scottish Affairs Committee talks a lot about constructive working of the two Governments together. The SNP tabled more than 100 amendments in the debates on the Bill that became the 2016 Act and they were completely ignored by the Government. Would the hon. Gentleman describe that as constructive working?
I thank my fellow Committee member for her intervention but I would not necessarily recognise voting against those amendments as ignoring them. We just voted against them because we did not agree with them, and that is how democracy works.
In summary, it is time for a fair deal for the north-east, and more powers for local and regional communities across Scotland. It is time to respect the fact that although the Scottish people voted for devolution 20 years ago, at no point—either in 2014 or in any election since—have the people of Scotland expressed a desire to break up the United Kingdom.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), and I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) on securing this debate.
Twenty years ago, our Parliament, Y Senedd, opened its doors for the very first time, and with it a new door was opened in Wales—to possibility, to hope and to a new radical kind of politics. We had decided that, yes, we wanted Wales to be out there as a country in its own right on the world stage and that, yes, we could govern ourselves. Devolution has created so many opportunities: space for greater policy experimentation, and potential for different Governments to learn from each other. The devolved legislatures tend to be more representative and politically balanced, which was of course the designed intention; there was the opportunity to put that into effect.
However, devolution has evolved in a piecemeal manner, with separate devolution processes in the separate nations. There is an absence of guiding principles, and an over-dependency on convention, which has led to disagreement about the nature of the post-devolution constitution. The 2016 referendum and its aftermath have made it more urgent that these big questions be considered by the Governments, by political parties and, potentially, through a deliberative exercise involving citizens from across the UK. I have made the case before, and I will make it again, that it is time for a formal written UK constitution and of course a new Wales Bill.
Yesterday, Plaid Cymru Assembly Members held a debate on strengthening our Senedd. We called for clear, positive and urgent reform. We also called for an increase in the number of Assembly Members, so that the Senedd can properly hold the Welsh Government—we have seen the problem of the dividing line between the Welsh Government and the Welsh Assembly—to account, to improve policy development and fulfil the Senedd’s potential as a Parliament for all the people of Wales. Policy and its implementation depends very much on the quality of scrutiny. If the scrutiny is not there, we can guarantee that the policies formed and the way they are carried out will not be up to scratch. Increasing the number of Assembly Members has been recommended by every commission that has examined devolution since 1979.
Plaid Cymru Assembly Members also called for an immediate move towards a fully proportional electoral system. Implementing a single transferable vote system by 2021 will ensure that we have a strong Senedd that is able to operate as an effective Parliament by reflecting the diversity of the population it represents.
The hon. Lady makes an important point about accountability. Is she not dismayed, as I sometimes am, that in Wales the true test of accountability, which is the ability to remove a party of government, has not been exercised under devolution? Throughout the past 20 years and all the turbulence of British politics, during which we have seen big changes in Scotland and in Westminster, we have not seen any major changes in Welsh politics. We still have, basically, one-party rule, so accountability is not ever fully exercised.
The dynamic of change is a critical aspect of how we have accountability, quality of policy and innovation of ideas. We have yet to see that—it can be interpreted in many ways—in Wales. I believe we can very much strengthen democracy in Wales in that respect.
Let us be honest: a change of Government in Wales would demand a coalition between parties other than Labour. Is the hon. Lady of the view that the right way forward should be a coalition, and that that coalition should not exclude the Conservative party?
From Westminster to every Parliament of the United Kingdom, the adversarial way in which we operate is not serving any of the nations of the United Kingdom effectively. I urge us all to find new ways of working, rather than this duality of adversarialness, which frankly does nothing but score points.
The reforms that Plaid Cymru put to the Senedd yesterday are evidently—it was interesting to hear agreement from Conservative Members—in the interests of our country and of Wales, yet Labour refused to support our motion. Instead, Labour put in place obstacles to avoid achieving immediate reform. Many of us present feel that the need is urgent for Wales. Wales deserves a world-class Parliament and a Senedd that makes decisions in the best interests of the country, not in the best interests of the Labour party.
With the impending threat of a no-deal Brexit and the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) as Prime Minister, change is more vital than ever. Brexit has shone a pitiless light on the inadequacies of the UK constitution. The European Union (Withdrawal) Act will, with the aiding and abetting of the Labour Welsh Government, weaken the devolution settlements that the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have enjoyed for the past two decades. Not only did the Labour Welsh Government capitulate on the withdrawal Bill; they withdrew the only means of protection that the Senedd had against the Tory Government: they repealed the Welsh continuity Act.
First Minister Mark Drakeford’s whole argument for repealing the Act was premised on his belief that the Scottish Government would lose the Supreme Court case over their equivalent legislation. He said that if Scotland lost it would have nothing, while Wales would still have its paltry agreement with the UK Tory Government. It is sad to recount that his wager backfired in spectacular fashion. Scotland won the case, meaning its powers are legally protected. It is Wales that is left with nothing, defenceless. We have nothing left but a bad deal that gives away Welsh powers to Tory Ministers, with no guarantee that we will ever get them back.
My party’s position for Wales’s future is clear: we want the people of Wales to run our own affairs. In all honesty, who aspires to come into politics and into government but would not aspire to that? In truth, who would not aspire to that? Sometimes, when we spell this out, we are told that to call for independence is somehow irrational and unreasonable—something to which we should not aspire—but in all honesty, who among us would ever have come into politics unless the people we represent had the chance to represent themselves? Why would we ever tell people that they do not have the means, the means to aspire or the potential—that they do not have it in them to manage their own affairs? That is what motivates many of us here on the Opposition Benches.
I acknowledge that, in the interim, we need a collaborative procedure for the creation of UK-wide frameworks, given that the Government are so determined to press ahead and remove us from the already functioning EU frameworks in which we know where we stand. Such UK-wide frameworks would have a significant impact on the existing evolved devolution settlements and therefore must be created jointly by all the sitting Governments, not dictated from this place by Ministers of the Crown. This is only the first step to ensuring that devolution is not just respected, but upheld in the upheaval that the Government are creating and forcing on us by leaving the European Union.
In future, there must be no first among alleged equals, but equality of respect, means and potential. Welsh democracy is facing its biggest existential threat of its 20-year anniversary. We face a stark choice of two futures: will Wales be a peripheral geographic unit, crumbling under the pressure of an increasingly London-centric Unionist Government, or will we be an independent European nation, with a fit-for-purpose and dynamic Parliament? I know which future I would choose for the people of Wales and the people I represent.
The first thing I wish to say is that devolution has been a very good thing for Scotland. The Scottish Parliament has matured over the past 20 years, and so has also grown in the affections of the Scots. I am proud of the fact that the Conservative and Unionist Government have given more powers—and yet more powers to come—to the Scottish Parliament. I am also proud that so much has been achieved in the Scottish Parliament on a cross-party basis. I am certain that the best legislation in any Parliament is legislation that commands the broadest possible support.
On the subject of supporting the principle of devolved power, I was proud earlier this week to stand and be counted for the devolution settlement in the votes on the amendments that were hung on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill like adornments on a Christmas tree. I understood then and understand now that my votes would be wilfully misinterpreted and misrepresented, but I do not regret for one moment defending the devolution settlement. Those who did not defend the devolution settlement may have reason at some future point to regret that. This place is driven by precedent: to drive a coach and horses through the devolved settlement was a big mistake for every Scottish Member of Parliament.
Mr Speaker, you and I are probably among the few current Members who put the devolution Bill through around 20 years ago. Since then, I have served on the Scottish Affairs Committee and got to know some of the difficulties that Scotland faces. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the biggest problems is that we somehow have to stop people leaving Scotland, because Scotland’s population is falling? Something has got to happen to change that, but does he agree that, by and large, the devolution settlement is working quite well, regardless of political parties?
It is important that we make Scotland the best place to live in the United Kingdom, and that people aspire to live in Scotland, to build a business in Scotland and to have their family grow up in Scotland.
I am certainly very proud of Scotland and I feel keenly my responsibility and duty to speak for my constituents in Stirling and to speak up for Scotland’s place at the heart of the United Kingdom. That is why I was delighted last week to welcome my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Stirling, where she gave an important speech on the Union. Among other things, she outlined the nature of the Dunlop review—I recommend that text to the House.
I am proud to be the only person present in the Chamber who was elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999. I served there for 12 years. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the best years under Governments of whatever colour were the first three terms. When in the fourth term one party had absolute power in Holyrood, that was when we got almost a dictatorship, which was very much to the detriment of the highlands and islands.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I think specifically of the first SNP minority Government who were sustained in power on many occasions by the Scottish Conservative MSPs when they were passing their legislative business through Holyrood.
I mentioned the Prime Minister’s speech. I also wish to mention the significant address that was delivered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in Edinburgh the week before the Prime Minister’s visit. Both addressed the matter of the strength of the Union in the 20th anniversary year of devolution, and both concluded, on the basis of their assessment, that the Union must be strengthened, and they are both right. The Union has been too much neglected.
Talking about the Union is good. I recommend it to colleagues from all parts of the House, because there is an understanding gap in certain quarters of the parties on both sides of this House about what the Union is and its importance. However, talking about it is simply not good enough; we must now do something about it.
I say to my friends on the Conservative Benches that what concerns me the most is that we have this important debate about devolution brought to this Chamber by these two Select Committees, but there are no Members of Parliament representing English constituencies here to make a contribution to this important constitutional issue, other than the Minister whom I welcome to his place.
The Conservative and Unionist party must continuously rediscover its Unionist soul. We should affirm now, more than ever before, that we have the word “Unionist” in our party’s name, because strengthening the Union is core to what we stand for. We need to put strengthening the Union at the very heart of our Government. Setting up a unit of one sort or another for the Union in No.10 or putting titles on the end of other job titles is lip service only; we need the very structure of Government to be changed to put the Union at its heart. I have said this in the past, and I want to say it again here and now: there are missing pieces of the devolution settlement, and those missing pieces are at this end of the country.
I will make a very short list of the things that I believe we need to attend to, or at least consider and debate, because I very much welcome the Select Committee report of the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and the recommendations contained therein. My first suggestion is to look very carefully at the case for a powerful Department of the United Kingdom, led by a First Secretary of State for the Union, the primary purpose of which would be to test every action of the UK Government based on its impact on the Union. The Department would be further tasked to ensure greater cohesion and communication across Government on issues affecting the devolved Administrations to ensure that better understanding and knowledge of devolution and the Union.
Secondly, we need to put in place those missing pieces of the constitutional machinery that will establish stronger intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary working relationships to move from confrontation to close collaboration on crossover areas of public policy. These changes must be done on a cross-party basis, and they are essential for the post-Brexit operation of the Union.
Thirdly, the Departments of the UK Government with a Union-wide remit must engage with stakeholders and other bodies on the ground in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as they already do in England. It is simply not good enough that that does not happen today.
Yes, I do.
The Government should bring forward primary legislation to enable direct UK Government spending in devolved areas on a partnering basis with the devolved Administrations. The Scottish Government already spend money from the block grant in reserved areas.
Fifthly, the Government should bring forward detailed proposals on how the replacement fund for the EU regional funding will be administered. It should be administered at a UK level in partnership with the devolved Governments including councils.
Sixthly, and finally, there must be an urgent review of English votes for English laws, because, in my opinion, it was a badly advised and an unnecessary circumvention of the work of the United Kingdom Parliament from its very inception, and the sooner that it is gone, the better for the Union.
I celebrate 20 years of devolution; now let us invest in the Union consistent with the principle of devolution. The United Kingdom works best when we have shared endeavour, when we have co-operation and collaboration between our different nations and regions, and when we realise that our similarities and shared experiences bring us together far more than they divide us.
This debate today feels deeply personal to me. I have campaigned all my life for devolution and was part of the cross-party campaign back in 1997 to secure that yes vote in the referendum. I remember that night in Cardiff. I had made my way up from Carmarthenshire that day, exhausted after a long, hard-fought campaign there and across Wales. It was looking bad for us, but when the last result came in from Carmarthenshire not only had it voted yes, but it had voted yes with a big enough majority to ensure that we secured devolution and the beginning of that exciting journey for the people of Wales, and that journey continues. For 20 years, the Welsh Assembly has grown, and it has grown also in the hearts and minds of the people of Wales.
Today’s Senedd is a very different Parliament from the one that was established in 1999, and as its powers grow, so too does the case for increasing its capacity to create an institution that is worthy of representing the people of Wales. It is worth reminding ourselves of the journey so far; how that institution, that legislature, has affirmed itself—asserted itself—in the hearts and minds of the people of Wales, far beyond its geographic boundaries. I am immensely proud to have played a part in that journey, too.
In 2008, I was lucky enough to be brought in to work with Welsh Ministers and with the father of Welsh devolution, Rhodri Morgan. His approach to devolution was far-reaching and forward-thinking. After a close-run referendum, he saw it as his responsibility to reach out to those who did not vote in favour of devolution and to persuade them that this institution in Cardiff belonged to them. Beyond anything else, he wanted to give confidence that that institution would matter to them. And he did that. It was the winning of the second referendum a decade after the Assembly was formed, when full law-making powers were transferred, that showed his ability to build that trust and confidence in an institution that brought those powers closer to the people.
Wales has trodden its own course and continues to tread its own course, challenging anti-trade union laws, tackling zero-hours contracts, increasing and improving the rights of tenants, introducing sprinklers to new build and public buildings, protecting people from the worst of austerity and genuinely leading the world in legislation on the environment, with the second best recycling rates in the world.
I am proud to have helped to bring forward the internationally progressive Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which has enshrined a framework for public decision making, linking wellbeing factors, including equality, community, climate change and culture to the laws and decisions that are being made for the people of Wales by the people of Wales. This legislation shows what the best of Wales has become: a confident, modern democracy that innovates and is good for its citizens, confident and proud.
The future promises more powers to Wales, with powers taken closer to the communities on which they have an impact. I am really proud that, yesterday, Members in the Assembly voted to change the name to Senedd—to Parliament—and that they will lower the voting age for the next election to 16 and 17.
Ahead of us lie some very, very dangerous times. With the risk of Brexit on the horizon and the challenge that that poses to us as a devolved nation within the Union, we must tread very carefully. For me, what is paramount is to have a Government in Wales who are fit for purpose and to have a Senedd—a Welsh Parliament —that delivers effectively for the people of Wales, ensuring that the framework of our democracy is fit for purpose and that it is rooted not just in its legislature but in the hearts and minds of the people of Wales.
We need the political courage to take that argument out to the people. We must increase the size of the legislature, to ensure that it is fit for purpose, and to ensure that it works effectively—and to ensure that, it needs more Members. Three major independent inquiries have all reached the same conclusion, and as it stands, without counting Ministers or other office holders, there are only 44 Members in the Welsh Parliament who are able to hold the Government to account. That compares with 113 in the Scottish Parliament and 522 here, in the English Parliament. [Hon. Members: “It is not an English Parliament.”] To finish, let me say this—[Interruption.] Let me say this. Labour delivered on the process of devolution, and it continues to be a fiercely devolutionist party. I am proud to have played my part, and I hope that it will continue on that path.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), and I want to add my thanks to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for securing today’s really important debate, in which we can celebrate 20 years of devolution. In 2016, I was elected to the Scottish Parliament. It was a privilege to serve in Holyrood, and it is also a huge privilege to serve here in Westminster and to take an active part in the devolution story of this country.
Devolution takes decision making closer to people, offering a greater voice for and more accountability to communities across these islands, while ensuring that those communities enjoy the huge benefits of being part of our wider United Kingdom. Devolution has marked the next chapter in our Union’s successful story—that of an increasingly vibrant and diverse country, in which devolution not only lets the unique nature of our four nations shine but celebrates the shared values that bring us together.
Devolution means that we can have distinctive Scottish policies taken forward to address distinctive Scottish problems. The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire listed some of those achievements. However, I feel that the full potential for that has not been realised, sometimes due to a lack of ambition on the part of successive Administrations but also to a real paralysis that has been caused by such an obsession with the constitution. Although there are substantial powers to make positive change, it is disappointing that on important areas such as health and education, time is squeezed out by the constant prioritisation of the constitution. Even the First Minister says that independence “transcends” all these important bread and butter issues.
I believe that devolution and a strong Scottish Parliament is good for Scotland. Sadly, however, there are Members on the SNP Benches in this Chamber who do not believe in devolution. They have no vision for the good that it can do, or trust in the strength that it brings to all four nations in our United Kingdom, because they want to ensure that devolution does not succeed. They want to see the devolution settlement ripped up, the constitution upended and our Union torn apart. But devolution is the evidence of an inherent strength to our Union that allows debate to prosper with a diversity of views from all corners of the country. Devolution also allows resources to be directed to those who most need them, often in areas that are hard to reach.
My hon. Friend is making a very good point about the opportunity that devolution provides to fit public policies to policy objectives that are particular to Scotland, or parts of Scotland. Are there not, though, many similarities between the different parts of the United Kingdom when it comes to some of the difficulties that we face, so would it not be a good idea if we shared more of what we are doing, so that there was a strengthening together?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, and there is not much more that I can say, because I wholeheartedly agree with him that there is far more scope for us to work together, to collaborate and share—for example, by sharing best practice and sharing policy that has been a success. Just because it has happened elsewhere in the United Kingdom does not mean that we should not do the same thing in Scotland.
When we leave the EU, the Scottish Parliament will gain new powers in a vast array of areas—forestry and carbon capture, crucial in tackling climate change; ports and harbours, which will be vital in supporting our fishing industry and offshore industries; and voting and employment rights, which will be key to securing a sound civil society. So I am proud that a Conservative Government are ensuring, once again, that the Scottish Government have the tools to deliver for the people of Scotland. However, it is up to the SNP Scottish Government to make sure that they live up to their duty to deliver.
Devolution unambiguously shows the strength of our United Kingdom. It has given us the security we need to share the risks and the rewards as a family of nations. It is important to remember that the devolution settlement continues to have the support of the people. We saw that in 2014, when the people of Scotland voted, clearly and decisively, to stay in the United Kingdom. We have seen that in Wales, where the people have backed devolution in successive polls to afford their elected representatives more powers. What we have seen over the past few years—indeed, over the past few weeks—is that devolution can work only when those elected to represent people across these four nations do so in good faith and live up to their commitments to uphold devolution.
Intergovernmental relations have come under strain at the political level—that is reflected in the Scottish Affairs Committee report, which I commend to colleagues—but it is not surprising that there is friction when different political Administrations hold unreconcilable positions. We need to look at what more we can do to ease that friction and to ensure that, where there is dispute, we can get resolution.
The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Would he accept my party’s position that perhaps what we need to resolve the issues is an independent dispute resolution mechanism, so that when the two Governments of Scotland are in different positions, there is an independent process for finding a way forward?
I thank the hon. Lady. There is a lot of merit in what she has suggested; it would be a constructive way to resolve disputes.
As has been said, devolution is not the end of the road; it is a process, not just an event. I wish to say as part of my contribution today that we often, even in this place, view devolved issues in a very binary way—either a matter is entirely reserved, so it is just to do with Whitehall, or we see it as devolved, so it is only to do with Edinburgh. But some policy areas fall into reserved competence that do have an impact on devolved matters, so perhaps we should start to look at things slightly differently. Perhaps we should take a more shared, joined-up approach. An example would be to have representatives from the devolved Administrations on UK-wide regulatory bodies, such as the Trade Remedies Authority. That would be helpful and constructive.
I echo the points raised by my colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr), that we need to see some more Union in Scotland, too. I do not think there is anyone from the Treasury in the Chamber, but I would like to see the Treasury supporting more projects in Scotland directly. Just because an issue is devolved does not mean that we cannot spend money on it—not at all—and if there is a great project that merits it, which will provide benefits, then absolutely the Treasury should support it.
I believe that devolution can strengthen the bonds between our communities right across the United Kingdom. I look forward with optimism to the future of devolution and to the enduring strength of our Union. With a passionate belief in devolution and in our Union at the heart of this Government, I am sure that the best days of devolution are ahead of us and, if I may say so in closing, more so when Scotland has its first Scottish Conservative Government in 2021.
George Robertson, Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary in 1997, told Brian Taylor of the BBC that devolution would
“kill the SNP stone dead”,
and it was imagined that the consequences would surely be that Labour would continue to return a substantial number of MPs from Scotland to Westminster. Labour accepted that the new Parliament should be elected by proportional representation, and with that Labour might not be able to win an overall majority, and that would involve sharing power with the Liberal Democrats. However, the attraction was that Labour thought it would be impossible for the SNP to win an overall majority. Devolution was meant to kill the SNP. But as we know —as every Scottish schoolchild knows—
“The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley”.
Instead, we have now had 12 years of SNP-led government, and we have shown that even with limited powers, we do not just talk the talk, we can and we do walk the walk.
What has happened during 20 years of devolution? As the trust and understanding has grown, the Scottish electorate have come to the decision that the Scottish Government have more influence over them than Westminster does. As a result, turnouts at Holyrood elections are higher than Westminster elections. When asked how Scotland should be governed, the response over a 20-year period has shown that independence is now favoured over devolution. This does not happen by accident: it is the result of considerate and compassionate governance.
Most recently, Holyrood has not been paralysed by the Brexit process. It has continued to legislate, passing nine Bills in the past two months. These include Bills to tackle fuel poverty; to create a new social security system with dignity and respect at its heart; to reform our justice system, raising the age of criminal responsibility and extending the presumption against short sentences; to extend social care to under-65s who need it, through Frank’s law; and to enshrine safe NHS staffing in law. All this has happened while Westminster has ground to a halt and the SNP Government at Holyrood have been getting on with the day job.
Now that the United Kingdom is, against Scotland’s wishes, leaving the European Union, the UK will have to change its constitutional arrangements. As the UK Government have made clear,
“the current devolution settlements were created in the context of the UK’s membership of the EU”.
This is what has prompted the power grab. While the UK Government continue to distrust the devolved Parliaments, a constructive relationship is extremely difficult to maintain. The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report, “Devolution and Exiting the EU: reconciling differences and building strong relationships”, states that
“the shifting of Wales from a conferred to a reserved powers model indicates that the reserved powers model is now the constitutionally preferred model for devolution within the UK. Powers are not conferred by the UK Parliament onto the devolved legislatures, rather particular matters are reserved to the UK Parliament and all other areas devolved.”
It is time for the UK Government to recognise that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) mentioned, Winnie Ewing celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday. She said at the opening of the Scottish Parliament:
“The Scottish Parliament, adjourned on 25 March 1707 which is hereby reconvened.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 12 May 1999; c.5.]
If you are Scottish and a democrat, that should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, because those are far more than just words. They are words dripping with purposeful intentions, because devolution is not just about a building or the Government within it: it is a spirit, a belief, a self-belief. It is about power. It is about who has the power to define the present and the future of a nation. What we are really asking is, who gets to decide what is best for Scotland, and why should the people of Scotland settle for a supporting role in that when we are big enough, rich enough and smart enough to play the lead? The intention of devolution may have been to satisfy the hunger, but instead it has fed the beast—and across Scotland, that glorious beast is roaring once again.
Order. [Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman should resume his seat. I am not responsible for adjudicating between one Member and another on the veracity of what is said in the Chamber. Every Member is responsible for what he or she says in the Chamber. I say in a very gentle and understated fashion to the hon. Gentleman, who detained the House with considerable eloquence for a significant period earlier, that others have not yet spoken, and I know that he would not be so selfish as to interrupt the debate for any length of time, because that would be wrong and he would not do it—I know him too well to think anything of the sort.
It is a pleasure to be able to speak in this debate. I thank the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for securing it.
I would like to return to a point made by the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), who said that the Scottish Parliament had not been paralysed by Brexit in the way that this one had. That may be the case, but it was certainly paralysed by the independence debate. There was an entire year of the 20 that we celebrate today in which the Scottish Parliament had no legislation before it—not a single law was passed. That, for many of us, perhaps goes down as one of the most disappointing aspects of devolution—that for a whole year our Parliament was paralysed by an argument over independence, which the majority of people of Scotland then rejected.
Those 20 years have indeed been an achievement. The hon. Member for Edinburgh North and Leith (Deidre Brock) recently commented from a sedentary position, “How long did devolution take?” Well, Liberal Democrats know that it took a century because it is a century since we first proposed home rule. It is great to see that, 120 years later, each of the parties in this Parliament is backing devolution, supporting the principle that was originally put forward by the Liberals. We worked on that with the Labour party in the constitutional convention, before eventually being joined by the Scottish nationalists and then, after the fact, by the Conservatives. It is perhaps the biggest single achievement of devolution that it has won over both the Scottish National party and the Conservatives to the position that we had all held before.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reminder that the SNP did not, in fact, take part at all.
During those 20 years, it has been important to differentiate between devolution and the work of the Scottish Parliament and of the various Scottish Governments. Yes, there have been achievements—they have been mentioned already—including free personal care, the Borders railway, and the growth in our economic, perhaps, independence. There have been huge achievements, but there have also been significant failures. Our education system is suffering. Our NHS, despite what we regularly hear, is suffering. Independence is constantly put forward as the answer to everything, with Westminster always being at fault. However, perhaps those who advocate independence would do better to spend more time on the day job, working for the people of Scotland to improve the areas that are falling down—most significantly, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) said, in the sucking in of power to Holyrood at the expense of many different areas of life in Scotland. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (Jamie Stone) mentioned, the highlands and the north-east of Scotland have suffered greatly from this centralisation and the whittling away of the powers of local government in order to aggrandise the Scottish Government at their expense.
For those of us who worked hard for independence—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!”] I mean devolution. [Interruption.] I can honestly say that will never happen. Those of us who worked hard for devolution for more than 20 years, who campaigned between 1979 and 1997, and for whom devolution is the most significant achievement of Scottish politics of the last 300 years, will defend it, will work to improve it, and will always support those who put their effort into the good governance of Scotland.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) and, indeed, the many contributions in this debate. I compliment the Chairs of both Committees for securing it.
Devolution, in its modern context, started with the Tony Blair Government’s confirmation of their first act in bringing together the referendum and the creation in 1999 of the Scottish Parliament. It is worth remembering that, in that first period, between 1999 and 2007, under Donald Dewar, Henry McLeish, and, of course, Jack McConnell, we saw the introduction of the smoking ban and of proportional representation in local elections. Schools were built, teachers were recruited, and there were smaller class sizes. Nursery places were secured for every three and four-year-old. Free personal care was brought in. Radical land reforms were introduced, which ensured that we conserved and enhanced our national parks and wild camping.
Crucially, devolution has ensured that lawmaking reflects the traditions of Scotland’s distinct and separate legal system. We required a Parliament because the cultural norms within both our legal and education system differ from those in England and Wales. Pre-devolution, most laws—bar a handful each year that were Scotland-orientated—were created here in Westminster and applicable to Scotland but fashioned in the framework and legal spirit of England and Wales.
I am extremely fortunate that one of my predecessors was John P. Mackintosh, the former MP for Berwick and East Lothian. With the greatest respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), I feel that J.P. Mackintosh is the true father of devolution in Scotland. From the outset, he recognised the imperative to form institutions that met Scotland’s demands. Mackintosh was one of the finest politicians never to hold public office, but his writings and ideas were arguably far more transformative than those of many of his peers who served in Government.
Mackintosh’s central argument was that devolution is about empowerment, not the glorification of a nation state. In the 1970s, he spoke of a settlement that was remarkably similar to the one forged through the convention in 1999 and that was receptive to citizens’ concerns and empowered Scottish communities. When making the case for a devolved Parliament, Mackintosh spoke of holding a “dual identity”—that of being Scottish and British. I stand here today proud to represent the seat of East Lothian in a UK Parliament, as a member of the European Union, embodying that tradition. I can argue without contradiction that I believe in a union of nations working together and staying together, whether that be the UK or the European Union. Neither the Conservatives nor the nationalists who sit in this place can make that commitment.
Recognising multifaceted identities has never been more important. We live in divisive times, with the unhealthy prospect of nationalist and nativist movements strangling UK and global politics. In that context, devolution is still crucial to the UK’s political landscape. We face international policy challenges such as climate change, surging global inequality and a changing face of work that will undoubtably impact on jobs. Never before have we required more the forces of interdependence, collective action and solidarity among the nations of the UK.
The devolution settlement keeps the constitutional bond intact. As Gordon Brown said in 2016:
“If we are to meet and master the global challenges ahead, we need to get the balance right between the autonomy people desire and the co-operation we need… we should help the nations and regions realise it and give them the power to do so. The alternative is a Britain that looks in on itself without the means to bridge its divisions and to bring people together.”
Devolution was the greatest achievement of the last Labour Government. It is forged on confirming the identity of individuals, not as a step to independence, but so that a child born in my constituency can see themselves as being Lothian, Scottish, British and European. Long may that continue.
I am delighted to speak in this debate on 20 years of devolution. We now have an entire generation in Scotland who have never known a Scotland without its own Parliament, and that is something of which we can be proud. The Scottish Parliament was born out of disappointment and frustration with the monolithic and remote set-up of Westminster, and that created a thirst, a desire and a burning need for Scotland to have its own democratic Parliament.
What a 20 years it has been! Many of the policies delivered by the Scottish Parliament have been creative, innovative, progressive and worked hard to create a more socially just Scotland. There has been legislation on areas such as land reform and the ban on smoking in public places—championed by Kenneth Gibson MSP, who was the very first politician in the entire United Kingdom to promote that innovative idea. We have had the most ambitious climate change legislation and minimum unit pricing. I could go on, but those examples show that Scotland’s Parliament sets a legislative agenda that others need to follow.
The more the Scottish Parliament does, the more we find it can do—and that is just as well. As Westminster lies paralysed by Brexit chaos and the Government eat themselves alive, with 30 Ministers resigning in the last year alone, the Scottish Parliament under the SNP has got on with the day job. Nine Bills have been passed in two months alone. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), those Bills focused on issues such as tackling fuel poverty, enshrining safe NHS staffing in law, extending social care to under-65-year-olds who need it through Frank’s law—which the Tories voted against, by the way—and a whole range of other measures to improve the lives of the people of Scotland. Of course, recently the Scottish Government have been forced to concentrate their mind on doing all they can to halt or prevent Scotland from the most damaging aspects of Brexit. All of this is in the context of a £2.5 billion cut to the Scottish Parliament’s budget over the last 10 years under successive UK Governments.
I will not.
In Scotland, we think about politics differently. We do not consider this Parliament sovereign. We do not consider the Scottish Parliament sovereign. In Scotland, the people are sovereign. It is the duty of the Scottish Parliament and all who seek to serve Scotland in the political sphere to continue to work to improve the lives of the people of Scotland, and the voice of Scotland’s people must be heard.
The hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) lamented the lack of English MPs in the debate, but I put it to him that that might well be down to the fact that UK Governments of all colours have come to regard devolution as an inconvenient irritation. We know that not every political party in Scotland shares the SNP Government’s view of Scottish independence, but the Scottish Government stand ready to work across the political spectrum to continue to deliver improvements to the lives of the people of Scotland, despite the fact that some Tories have never really reconciled themselves to the existence of the Scottish Parliament. All we have to do is remember the words of former Tory Prime Minister John Major, the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) and, of course, the former Tory leader and Member for Richmond (Yorks). I will not even talk about the behaviour of the elusive current leader of the Tories in Scotland. The Scottish Tories in this place love devolution so much that some of them could not wait to get out of the Scottish Parliament to come and sit in this Parliament.
The first 20 years of the Scottish Parliament has had a materially positive influence on the lives of the people of Scotland, and I am sure we will continue to see such improvements in the next 20 years. We were told by the once high-profile Labour MP Baron Robertson that devolution would kill nationalism stone dead. As he sits in the other place wrapped in ermine, he must surely at times reflect on his underestimating and misunderstanding of his fellow Scots. The fact is that Scotland is making more and more decisions for herself, and she likes it. There is no going back.
The process of devolution will one day, I am sure, lead Scots to demand their full independence, when we can complete our journey to a more prosperous, more just and more equal society. To complete that journey and to continue to improve the lives of the people of Scotland, we need all the levers of taxation and spending powers, and that day will come. The first 20 years have brought so much improvement, and as we embark on a new constitutional journey over the next 20 years, things can be—and, I believe, will be—even better. I pray that I am alive to bear witness to that, and that I will live to be part of a flourishing, just, equal, independent Scotland.
It is a genuine pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), who, in her inimitable style, delivered a passionate speech. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) for opening the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran spoke about a whole generation of young people in Scotland who have never known anything other than devolution. I was just seven years old when the people of Scotland voted for a devolved Parliament, so it is on that basis that I want to make some reflections about where we are and where we are going. Quite deliberately, I have not written a speech today. I want to try to avoid some of the party point scoring. I do not intend my speech to be that this House has confidence in the Scottish Government, tempted though I am after some of the various remarks, but I think it is worth reflecting on the record not from 2007 until now, but all the way back to 1999.
When I came to this place I did so as a nationalist MP, and we have an understanding—I sometimes think that it is missing in other parts of the House—that our primary job is to come here to scrutinise reserved matters. There are Members of this House who may have served in the Scottish Parliament, but they seem to speak more about devolved issues in this Parliament than they do about reserved issues, and I think that they are doing an enormous disservice to their constituents. [Interruption.] If the Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Luke Graham), who is chuntering away, wants to stand up and intervene, I am happy to give way, but he appears not to be taking that opportunity.
The point I want to make is that one of the first things I put up on my office wall when I came here was the metrics of the Scottish index of multiple deprivation. It is no secret that there are a number of challenges in the constituency I represent. The metrics we have in the Scottish index of multiple deprivation cover employment, income, health, crime, housing, education and access, some of which are devolved. The argument I want to develop over the next four minutes is about how much progress we have made in the last 20 years, but how the reality is that our hands are tied behind our back, particularly on the first two—employment and income.
The reality is that legislation relating to the national minimum wage and all these things is still held at Westminster, and limited taxation powers have come to Scotland. The Conservative party would say, “Well, you’ve got your taxation powers—use them”, but when we use our taxation powers to try to lift people out of poverty, we get accused of the nat tax and all these other things. That seems a bit of a joke when we reconsider the council tax comparison between Scotland and England.
As I go around my constituency, I reflect on what devolution has actually meant. Particularly over the past few months, I have found that pretty much every single week there is a sod-cutting in my constituency where we are going to open a housing development. That is because of the record investment that the Government in Scotland are putting into housing.
I want to turn to some comparisons between devolution and the Union. The first one I will look at is the right to buy. The Scottish Government have decided that we are abolishing the right to buy because we want to invest in social housing; yet, down south, there is a major problem with housing, so I think that there is an opportunity for the UK Government to look at.
There are other areas as well. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) has been campaigning very hard on the issue of drug consumption rooms. There is a recognition and a realisation that, on a public health issue, we have a problem there. Many politicians in Glasgow understand that drug-related diseases and all those things are a major challenge for us. We have a Scottish Government and local authority in Glasgow who realise this is a challenge—that it is a public health issue we want to try to sort out—but we have the Home Office standing in the way. That highlights some of the challenges we have as a result of still being tied to the United Kingdom.
My hon. Friend the Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) has been campaigning for a very long time for recognition that immigration is not a problem in Scotland, but emigration is. He has been consistently asking the UK Government to look at a regional approach to immigration policy. Any Member who comes to this House and represents Scotland but does not recognise that we have a challenge when it comes to migration, and that the one-size-fits-all policy pursued by this Government is not helping, is doing a disservice to their constituents.
On defence policy, the vast majority of people in civic Scotland do not want to have nuclear weapons on the River Clyde—whether it is the Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland or the trade unions. Public polling consistently shows that in Scotland and it is the view of the majority of MSPs, yet the Government just say, “That’s fine—you’re just leaving it there”. That does not strike me as much of a respect agenda.
May I briefly add one to the hon. Gentleman’s list that is often forgotten—the Scottish Government’s decision to ameliorate the bedroom tax? I was very grateful for that when I was a councillor, as I was then. That actually made a very great difference to my constituents, and I give credit where it is due.
I always think the hon. Gentleman is a very thoughtful Member of the House; when he has the opportunity, he fairly calls out when the Scottish Government have done something right. Again, that highlights the reality. What is the purpose of devolution? Is devolution just to be a sticking plaster for bad decisions that come out of Westminster? In that case, the reality is that we have had to use money that would have been used for other areas of devolved policy to deal with the bedroom tax, so he is right to highlight it.
The final area I want to touch on is the European Union. Whenever we talk about the Union—or what has now become the precious Union—Members in this House say, “Well, you know in 2014 Scotland voted to remain a part of the Union”. They are right: Scotland did. But in 2016, there was a referendum on our position in the European Union, and people in Scotland voted by 62% to remain in it. That decision has been ignored.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on making a very powerful speech. In fact, is the situation not even more profound than that? As the First Minister of Scotland has said, the Union that people voted for in 2014 no longer exists. That is the fundamental constitutional change that has taken place. [Interruption.] That is the fundamental reality.
My hon. Friend makes the point. In 2014, people were told, “Oh, you’ll have the triple A credit rating, and you’ll be a member of the European Union”, but the reality is that that has changed. When the facts change, we need to look again at the options. We are not saying that we will unilaterally declare independence from the United Kingdom, but the reality is that the facts have changed and that the Union people voted for in 2014 no longer exists.
If Conservative Members are so confident that people in Scotland would give a ringing endorsement of the Union, the first thing the Cabinet Office will do is to release the polling information that they are hiding. If they are still confident that people in Scotland wish to be a part of the United Kingdom, ask them. Put the question to the people.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me in this important debate.
We recently held a moving debate in this House to mark the 25th anniversary of John Smith’s death. Members who participated reflected on John’s unwavering support for Scottish devolution. In 1994, John referred to the creation of a Scottish Parliament as
“the settled will of the Scottish people”.
In 1997, the referendum proved him right, with 74% of voters supporting the creation of a Scottish Parliament.
I would like to pay tribute to all those involved in the campaign for Scottish devolution, from Keir Hardie onwards and right throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Groups such as the Scottish Constitutional Convention brought together civil society, political parties, trade unions and others in support of devolution. Its tireless campaigning was in no small part responsible for ensuring that we now have a Scottish Parliament.
I also want to commend those individuals in the Labour party, such as John Smith and Donald Dewar, who championed the cause of Scottish devolution, and others such as Tom Clarke, who served this place for 33 years as the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill. Their efforts led Labour to adopt a firm commitment in favour of devolution to Scotland. I will always be proud of the fact that it was a Labour Government who created the Scottish Parliament and delivered devolution to Scotland. Let us never forget that the Tories opposed the creation of the Scottish Parliament, and their reckless pursuit of a no-deal Brexit poses a real risk to such devolution today.
The Scottish Parliament has achieved significant changes, which have had a positive impact on the lives of all people across Scotland. We have heard about many of them. They include free personal care, land reform, the smoking ban, free bus travel, votes for 16 and 17-year-olds in Scottish Parliament and local government elections, and the passing of the equal marriage Act for same-sex couples. All these changes highlight the real potential of a Scottish Parliament to deliver positive change for Scotland.
However, the potential of a Scottish Parliament to deliver real change is not being met. We have entered a period of constitutional politics in Scotland that has seen the powers of the Scottish Parliament go unused in the pursuit of social justice. The SNP and the Scottish Government in Edinburgh are focused solely on pursuing independence, and their Tory opposition in the Scottish Parliament has just one policy: to oppose a second independence referendum. The people of Scotland are being badly let down by both the SNP and the Scottish Tories, who have chosen to put the constitution before the interests of their communities.
Nearly 500,000 workers in Scotland do not earn the living wage. [Interruption.] I will repeat that in case the House missed it: 500,000 workers in Scotland do not earn the real living wage.
I will not; the hon. Gentleman cost me two minutes earlier on.
Over 70,000 Scottish workers find themselves with exploitative zero-hours contracts. There is a housing crisis, and those in the private rented sector find themselves facing rip-off rents. Nearly a quarter of all children in Scotland are living in poverty, and one in 10 Scots is living in food poverty. That is the Scotland that we live in today.
It could not be clearer that we need to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to deliver real change for the people of Scotland. We could be using the new tax powers to introduce a 50p top rate of tax to raise revenue for our public services. We could be using new welfare powers to end the two-child limit and top up child benefit by £5 a week. We could be using the Parliament’s existing powers to extend free bus travel to those under 25, cap rents and end exploitative zero-hours contracts. That is what Scottish Labour would seek to do, because we recognise the potential of devolution to deliver for the many, not the few.
John Smith was right to say that the creation of a Scottish Parliament was
“the settled will of the Scottish people”.
Most Scots do not want independence; nor do they support a Tory Government attacking devolution. They want to see a powerful Scottish Parliament, but crucially they want a Scottish Government who are prepared to use those powers to tackle poverty, invest in public services and deliver a fairer society. Twenty years on, it is clear that Labour is the only party to settle the will of the Scottish people.
The Minister must be re-seated by 2.58 pm, so I am looking for speeches of no more than eight or nine minutes from the Front-Bench spokespersons. People must not be precious about it—I am sure they will not be—but we have to deal with the realities of the situation.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to follow the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney).
I want to look forward in this debate, but to do that I first have to look backwards. The Act of Union of 1707 gave protection to many aspects of Scottish life. In our churches, classrooms and courts, things were preserved. That aside, that Act of Union led to the creation of a single unitary state with a centralised government apparatus. It was not a federation or a partnership or even, in the proper sense, a union at all, but the creation of a single polity into which Scotland was subsumed. That represents a central weakness and fragility of the United Kingdom, which has been exposed in the time since. Everything that has transpired in this debate about devolution and decentralisation should be seen in the context of the United Kingdom’s imperfections and the ability to compensate for them to enable the state to represent the aspirations and needs of the people in Scotland.
That did not matter so much in the early days, but government expanded rapidly throughout the 19th century, so that by the end of the century there was a demand for decentralisation. In 1885 we saw the creation of the Scottish Office and the position of Secretary of State for Scotland, but not until the 20th century did the demand arise for political decentralisation, devolution and constitutional change. The home rule movement at the beginning of the 20th century was widely reflected in Scotland, leading in 1913, more than 100 years ago, to the passing through this House of the Government of Scotland Bill, in which some elements of home rule for Scotland were embodied.
That legislation was not enacted because of the advent of the first world war, and economic disruption and a further world war meant that the debate was not re-joined until the 1950s. Then we were in a completely new world. The old order had changed utterly. Empires were disintegrating and almost every couple of months a new nation state was formed somewhere on the globe, such that the demands of Scottish nationalism—the demands for Scottish self-government—were not cast in terms of the past or romantic notions of pre-Union days, but were a contemporary proposition very much in touch with the modern world. That was typified in the 1967 Hamilton by-election, when Winnie Ewing said:
“Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”.
The 50 years since have seen a series of reports, from Kilbrandon and Smith, and a series of Bills, which have all tried to dissipate and placate the demands for self-government from the people of Scotland. The central paradox is that despite all that has happened, that placation does not seem to have worked. I can understand why Unionists must be frustrated. The old dictum of Enoch Powell—that power devolved is power retained— does not appear to hold. Unionists must be tearing their hair out, thinking, “What more do we have to do for these rebellious Scots to be satisfied?” The Scottish social attitudes survey shows that about 8% to 10% of people think that there should be no Scottish Parliament at all, yet once we discount that small minority, a clear majority of the remainder believe that the Scottish Parliament should be independent rather than part of the constitutional arrangements of the United Kingdom.
Why has that happened? I think it has happened for two reasons. The first is that devolution has been a resounding success. It has led to perceptible benefits for the people of Scotland and changes in how lives are lived that people really appreciate. Other Members from across the Chamber have talked about the achievements of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government, so I will not repeat them. However, I want to make it clear that I do not regard those achievements as the preserve of any one political party. I am proud of the last 12 years of the SNP Scottish Government, but I acknowledge fully the progress made by the Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition in the first two terms of the Scottish Parliament. However, many people are now open to the idea that if some devolution can make positive changes to their lives, why not just devolve everything and take all the powers that we need to run our affairs in Scotland?
The second reason why the demand for self-government has not been dissipated is that the exercise of power throws into sharp relief the powers that we do not have. This is now a raging argument in Scotland. People say that there are things that could be made better, but we do not have the competence and capacity to do it. To give a few brief examples, we want to reduce carbon emissions in Scotland. The Scottish Government are now committed to having an all-electric road system, with charging points throughout the entire country, but are powerless to shift the transition to electric vehicles because they have no control over vehicle excise duty. We might want to give incentives to small businesses in Scotland and start-ups in key sectors of the economy, but we have no power at all over corporate taxation. From drugs to broadcasting, food standards to employment law, there are many aspects of life that could be improved, but we do not have the powers to improve them.
Now, that adumbration is not by itself a compelling argument for independence, because we could respond to that lack of competence with further devolution. However, it is a mystery to me why many proponents of devolution, who in many ways brought us to this point, now seem to think that it is time to pull up the drawbridge—to say that devolution is complete, that the process is over and that nothing can possibly be added to it. They therefore vote against every amendment that we table to legislation to try to increase the powers of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government. That obstinacy and refusal to see devolution as a process that is still continuing is fuelling the appetite for independence, because people wonder whether that is the only way to take these powers to ourselves.
When we talk about the devolution of powers, there is another role for the state to play: to represent the character and intention of the people who live within its boundaries. In that respect, independence provides an answer that devolution cannot. There are many, many people in Scotland now—more every day—who question whether the British state is able to articulate their views and their character, either in this country or abroad. That change has been turbo-charged by Brexit and the growth of right-wing English nationalism, so that many more people than before are now open to the prospect of Scottish independence.
There is much more that I want to say, Mr Speaker, but I appreciate that you want us to be brief. Let me finish with this point. It will be for history to judge whether devolution has succeeded in sustaining the British state and the United Kingdom as a constitutional set of arrangements by trying to remove its imperfections, or whether, in fact, it will be seen in history as a step along the way to full self-government. We have to wait and see what the outcome is. The important thing is that that decision is not a matter for me or for you, Mr Speaker. It is a decision for the people who live in Scotland to take. My party’s pledge to the people of Scotland is that we will take on all comers and meet all resistance in order to allow the people of Scotland to make that decision. I believe they will get the opportunity to do that in a very short space of time.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I want to start by conveying the apologies of the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Lesley Laird). She is not able to be here as she has a medical appointment that she was unable to move. However, it has enabled me to commemorate a memorable anniversary in this way.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), the Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, on securing the debate. He mentioned Donald Dewar, Scotland’s first First Minister, in his opening remarks. I was struck by a quote from Donald:
“Cynicism, together with unrealistic expectation, are the two great bugbears of politics.”
That is certainly a quote that has stood the test of time, particularly when considering the pretenders to the office of Prime Minister at the moment.
It is certainly a privilege to close today’s debate on behalf of the Labour Front Bench. I admit to being a child of devolution. It feels surreal to be standing here not just two years since I made my maiden speech, but after 20 years of devolution. I remember that year very well indeed, because I was very unwell in Yorkhill Hospital. I watched the opening ceremony of the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood from a hospital bed. Watching it as a young child, I was struck very deeply in particular by Sheena Wellington’s fantastic singing of “A Man’s s Man for a’ That” by Robert Burns and the great words of Donald Dewar.
In my view and in the round, devolution has been a bit of a mixed bag, as has probably been reflected in the speeches today. When I reflect on the positive changes that have been made during the devolution era, there have certainly been some successes that show exactly why we need a Scottish Parliament and, indeed, a Welsh Assembly. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) mentioned, that was hard fought for for many years. My hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South (Susan Elan Jones) mentioned Keir Hardie. Labour has been fighting for home rule for well over a century. It has been at the heart of Labour and progressive politics throughout the party’s existence.
The first great success of the Scottish Parliament that comes to mind is the smoking ban, through the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005, which was introduced by the Scottish Labour Government in 2005. From what I can remember, I think it is fair to say that that was the first time that the Scottish Parliament truly led the way with reform that was then adopted by the UK Government and rolled out across the UK—a really progressive step. In the light of the decision by this place on Tuesday to legislate for same-sex marriage to be legalised in Northern Ireland, it is absolutely right to put on record the success of the Marriage and Civil Partnerships (Scotland) Act 2014, which was introduced by the SNP Government. It was the first legislation of its kind in the UK and a perfect example, mentioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), of the Scottish Government leading the way in an area of social policy.
The Scottish Parliament has had other great successes, such as free concessionary bus travel, free tuition for university students and free prescriptions. Those are policies that have changed the social landscape in Scotland for the better. I congratulate every politician of every party who played a part in ensuring that those policies were enacted. Indeed, a litany of achievements have been elucidated in speeches throughout the Chamber today. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) mentioned that 280 Acts have been passed in the 20 years of devolution.
We have seen innovation in the form of the post-study work visa in Scotland, which was championed by the then First Minister, now Lord, McConnell. He regards that as his greatest achievement in his time as First Minister and it led to the reversal of Scotland’s historical population decline. There have been other transformative policies. The writing off, by Wendy Alexander, of Glasgow’s £1 billion social housing debt transformed social housing for Glaswegians and enabled the mass reconstruction of the city’s municipal housing stock, as the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) mentioned in his speech.
Sadly, I am not convinced that devolution has been the unequivocal success that many hoped it would be. It is probably fair to say that progress in many areas of domestic policy has stagnated. Education reforms have been a failure. The health and social care sectors have been mismanaged by health boards and Scottish Ministers. We have yet to see a Scottish Government implement what I believe are fundamentally sound policies, such as public ownership of our railways.
On that point, I like to highlight the case of the Cally rail works in Springburn. That is a particular case where devolution has not been a success. I understand the reason is that the Tories are opposed to public ownership. Their long-standing principle of laissez-faire capitalism and free market thinking means that that is not surprising. What is surprising is the fact that the Scottish Government have been completely unwilling to countenance the prospect of public ownership of the Cally. For me, that is exactly the kind of policy that the Scottish Parliament should be focusing on. Indeed, it is in stark contrast to the robust interventionist policies of previous Secretaries of State for Scotland, such as Willie Ross and Tom Johnston. Indeed, one of the first acts of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Executive in 1999 was to ensure the safety and the continued operation of the Govan shipyard.
We have a dangerous level of pollution in Scotland, especially in cities. We have dangerous disparities in income and wealth, which are reflected in child poverty, homelessness, health inequalities and huge disparities in life expectancy between rich and poor, predominantly determined by the postcode in which they live. That has not significantly changed throughout the life of the Scottish Parliament. I remember Jimmy Reid in the early 1990s saying that, depending on which district in Glasgow people lived in, the difference in life expectancy could be a life sentence. That is a terrible indictment of the failure of social policy.
Growth and productivity have been in decline since 2000 and are still 20% below Government targets. That is simply unacceptable. The Governments in both the UK and Scotland need to address that issue robustly. We have Scottish workers in insecure work earning poverty pay and lacking even the most basic protection against unscrupulous employers. Those who are on benefits have been subjected to vicious Tory austerity, but with little protection from the Scottish Government, typified by the timidity on using the social security powers and enacted in the Scotland Act 2016.
SNP Members do not like to hear that the Scottish Government have done next to nothing to protect people in Scotland from Tory austerity, but I draw attention to the fact that the Scottish Parliament’s independent research body points out that the Scottish Government have cut the budget of local authorities by four times the amount that the Tories have cut the Scotland Scottish block grant. That is the independent parliamentary research body at the Scottish Parliament saying that, not just me. That is typified by the fact that the Scottish Government have cut addiction services by a quarter in Glasgow, despite record, epidemic levels of drug-related deaths in that city.
Rural towns and villages are losing shops and services, and even simple things such as access to cash. Manufacturing and service industries are increasingly owned outwith Scotland, and land ownership remains concentrated in the hands of a few ultra-rich individuals. The Scottish Government have the powers to ameliorate the worst of those impacts, but, sadly, they have failed to do so in the vast majority of cases. That is why my assessment, and that of the Labour Party, is that the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament must be used more effectively. New powers may well be needed to make a real difference in tackling the problems I have listed above, but not simply to supply more fuel to what Gordon Brown calls the constitutional Punch and Judy show, which we have seen enacted in this debate today and which typifies the attempts to distract from the records of both the Scottish and UK Governments.
I am a firm believer that we must be able to invest in our manufacturing base. To do that realistically, we need more borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament. That investment must ensure that the Scottish people have a stake in any future development and that we are not simply giving handouts to foreign investors who can up sticks and leave whenever they wish to do so, as typified by the Cally. That is why Scottish Labour leader, Richard Leonard, has outlined his desire to have employment rights devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I do not trust the Tories to legislate for a proper living wage, or to legislate to ensure that public contracts cannot be awarded to blacklisted companies. I am not sure that I trust the SNP Government to do that either.
I am a firm believer in the fact that, within reason, power should be as close to the people as possible, and that the principles of subsidiarity should reign, rather than those of separation, as J.P. Mackintosh rightly said, as was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield). It is on that point that I want to acknowledge that although devolution has been a mixed bag, with regard to its success, I do not think that the current system of governance in the UK is working terribly well either. I agree that the Brexit process has highlighted the flaws in the devolution settlement, and I do not believe that the settlement currently works for people in Scotland. However, I am not entirely convinced that the SNP’s answer of separation is a way forward either, and the main reason for that is the undeniable fact that the SNP Government are guilty of centralising power in Holyrood and undermining the ability of local government.
As has been mentioned, devolution is a process, not an event, and I believe that its destination lies in further constitutional reform and federation, rather than separation. As Donald Dewar said at the opening of the Scottish Parliament 20 years ago,
“This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves… today there is a new voice in the land, the voice of a democratic Parliament. A voice to shape Scotland, a voice for the future.”
That has been a mixed legacy. We have to remember, however, as we stand on the 20th anniversary of that opening day, that it is not an end but a means to a greater end. I wish the Parliament every success in its deliberations over the next 20 years.
May I begin by congratulating the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney), on a very effective first appearance at the Dispatch Box? I did not agree with everything he said, as he will not be surprised to hear, but he certainly made a very good start and I am sure that we will hear many more such speeches in future. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) on securing the debate. It has generally had a reflective tone, despite some obvious differences in where we believe the devolution journey should take us.
Devolution has allowed space for the four nations of the UK to pursue their own domestic policies, reflecting the distinct circumstances of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Equally importantly, it combines all those benefits within the wider strengths and advantages of the Union. Devolution means that the nations and regions of the UK can work together, with their voices and interests amplified by being part of something bigger. It means drawing from and contributing to the strength of the Union and combining our resources to be the world’s fifth-largest economy and a leading player on the international stage. Around the world, the voices of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are amplified by being part of this United Kingdom as we participate in diplomacy, sport and international aid. When we come together as one people, we benefit from the security and stability that comes from being part of one of the largest economies in the world, pooling risks and sharing benefits. But devolution is not about the UK Government just forgetting an area.
In Wales, we are working with the Welsh Government, businesses and local councillors to support the Cardiff capital region deal, which will provide investment funds for the region and support electrification of the Valley Lines railways, and the Swansea Bay city region deal will deliver over £1 billion of investment to the region and support investment in digital infrastructure and next-generation technology. We have also committed £120 million towards the agreement of a north Wales growth deal and continue to support a mid-Wales growth deal—all three levels of government working together in the interests of those we represent.
The UK Government have also committed over £1.35 billion to support economic development in Scotland through city and growth deals. When it comes to research and development programmes and funding, the UK benefits from the talent and expertise in the devolved nations, and the devolved nations punch above their weight as part of this United Kingdom. Scotland benefits significantly from the UK life sciences industry, and the life sciences industrial strategy is a UK-wide strategy.
We continue to work towards the restoration of devolved government in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that all Members of the House look forward to the day when Stormont—
I am clear that I am a Unionist and that I want to see the Union remain together, and that poll is absolute rubbish.
Employment in Northern Ireland is at near record levels, rising to a record high of 70% at the end of last year. Northern Ireland remains the most popular location for foreign direct investment outside London and the south-east, and exports are up 11% since 2011. We will continue to build opportunities for Northern Ireland’s economy, even in the absence of the devolved tier of government. In March, we agreed the heads of terms for the Belfast city region deal, which will see the UK Government invest £350 million in the Belfast region over the next 15 years to boost investment and productivity, and we are making progress on a Derry/Londonderry and Strabane city region deal.
Devolution means that decisions can be made at the most appropriate level of government, and it should mean that. People and businesses expect those different levels to work together to deliver for them.
It is always welcome to see how people wish to participate in elections to this Union Parliament, and the fact that it has the higher turnout shows the importance that people attach to it.
Devolution allows for different approaches alongside one another, each the democratic choice of electors who hold their own politicians to account, yet we should not limit this to thinking about the UK Government and the devolved Governments. The Smith commission recognised that when it called for powers to be devolved, not taken away from, local communities in Scotland. We have championed this approach in England, devolving powers to new Mayors in Manchester, the west midlands, Liverpool city region, the west of England, Cambridge and Peterborough, Sheffield, North of Tyne and Tees valley. This enables decisions on services to be made closer to the people that are affected by them and gives a powerful voice to the communities the Mayors serve. This approach to local decision making could also benefit the great cities in other parts of the UK, but of course I respect that that would be a decision for the devolved Assemblies.
For devolution to continue to succeed, it must evolve with changing circumstances and respond to new challenges. The UK Government have adapted to meet this changing constitutional landscape, while maintaining our primary responsibility of being a Government serving the whole United Kingdom.
As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, and given the changes to the devolution settlements in recent years, it is timely for us to consider whether the institutional structures we have used over the past 20 years remain fit for purpose in terms of intergovernmental relations. At the Joint Ministerial Committee plenary in March 2018, Ministers from the UK Government and devolved Administrations agreed to review the existing intergovernmental structures. On 3 July, the UK Government published the agreement on joint working comprising a set of principles developed jointly by a working group of representatives of all four Administrations. Their publication demonstrates that the UK Government and devolved Administrations are committed to working together to develop inter- governmental structures that will remain fit for purpose after the UK’s exit from the EU. I was pleased to hear some reflection on that today.
The Government have been clear that EU exit will mean an increase in decision-making powers in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. As we prepare for the UK’s departure from the EU, the UK Government are working with our counterparts in the devolved Administrations to establish common frameworks that uphold our UK internal market. On 3 July, the UK Government published a set of further updates on common frameworks. These detail how we are working together to put frameworks in place and how, across the UK Government, the Welsh and Scottish Governments and the Northern Ireland civil service, we plan to share this work with stakeholders, legislatures and interested parties.
It is also right that, while marking 20 years of devolution, the UK Government also consider whether we are working in the most effective way possible to realise fully all the benefits of devolution within a United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has established an independent review of how the UK Government works with the devolved level of government, which will report to the new Prime Minister in the autumn. It will consider and make recommendations on whether UK government structures are configured in such a way as to strengthen the working of the Union. Let me be clear that this is not a review of the devolution settlements.
As a Government, we are committed to ensuring that devolution continues to serve this Union well. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster recently gave a speech to the Law Society of Scotland on the importance of devolution, emphasising that the UK Government’s vision for the UK is one of strong devolved Parliaments within a strong United Kingdom. Just a few days ago, the Prime Minister restated the paramount importance and value of the Union in Stirling. Devolution is not an alternative to the Union. It is not either/or. It is an integral part of a modern Union that will last for generations and serve all parts of our United Kingdom well.
I thank everybody for contributing to the debate. We know it will be a good debate when it is contrived between the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee. It was good to see so many members of both Committees taking part.
I have just a couple of reflections on what I have heard today. First, it is really encouraging that no one now talks about abolishing or doing away with the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly. They are such a feature in our democratic tapestry that no one even suggests that anymore. Secondly—I think that the hon. Member for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) mentioned this—not one contribution was made by an English Member of Parliament, and that sort of says a little about the interest that there is across the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] Well, the Minister has to make a speech, of course, but I think that says something about the interests in devolution across the rest of the United Kingdom, which was reflected in the poll disputed by the Scottish Conservatives that found that members of the Conservative party are probably more interested in Brexit than the Union.
We all look forward to what will come in terms of devolution, but can I say ever so gently to the hon. Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Sweeney)—I also congratulate him on his first outing at the Dispatch Box—that we have spent £500 million mitigating Tory austerity in the Scottish Parliament? We cannot be a mitigation Parliament; the money has to come from other budgets, so let us look positively at how we go forward. I am glad that we have now agreed and that this is now a firm feature in our democracy, but let us look forward to the next 20 years, too.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered 20 years of devolution.