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Supreme Court Judgments: Scottish Parliament Legislative Proposals

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

2. What discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on the implications for the Government's policies of the Supreme Court judgments of 6 October 2021 on the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament relating to its legislative proposals on the (a) UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and (b) European Charter of Local Self-Government. (904188)

I welcome the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court to agree with the Law Officers that all provisions raised by virtue of our reference under section 33 of the Scotland Act 1998 were outside the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. It is for the benefit of all citizens throughout the UK that both Governments operate within their respective powers, as set out in the Scotland Act 1988. That is why this decision is important.

I thank the Attorney General for her answer. Many, indeed all of our laws are crafted carefully, thoughtfully, and often after vigorous debate, and many offer important protections. Will my right hon. and learned Friend reassure the House that any devolved gender recognition legislation will not constrain or reinterpret the protections under the Equality Act 2010?

My hon. Friend raises an important point about our devolution settlement, and the Government are clear on their position as set out in our recent response to the consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004. First, the protection of single-sex spaces is extremely important; secondly, we must ensure that transgender adults are free to live their lives as they wish, without fear of persecution, while maintaining checks and balances in the system. Finally—this is not directly related to the GRA, but it is important nevertheless—we must ensure that under-18s are protected from decisions that they could make that are irreversible in the future. Any legislation that the Scottish Parliament may pass in that regard will not affect this Government’s position on our Gender Recognition Act.

To return to the original topic, perhaps the Attorney General should take this opportunity to congratulate the Scottish Parliament on voting unanimously to incorporate the convention on the rights of the child, and follow Holyrood’s example, instead of trying to stymie it. Three little subsections of the Act were ruled incompetent, as they would limit the powers of this Parliament and reserved public authorities to contravene children’s rights. Will the Attorney General explain why her Government fought so hard for the powers to breach children’s rights, and will she ensure that the powers are transferred to Edinburgh to complete the job? In short, let us prioritise children’s rights instead of this Parliament’s rights to trample all over them.

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I take greater instruction from the President of the Supreme Court who stated in paragraph 77 of his judgment that there had been a decision by the Scottish Parliament to draft and enact a provision whose plain meaning did not accurately represent the law. That could not have been Parliament’s intention in enacting the Scotland Act 1998, and that is a decisive and emphatic statement from the Supreme Court. I say gently to the hon. Gentleman that if the Scottish National party really cared about children’s rights, it would stop obsessing about constitutional division and instead focus on reversing the plummeting standards in Scottish schools.