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Devolution in Scotland

Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 29 November 2023

With devolved powers, the Scottish Government can tailor policy in areas such as health, education and justice, as well as in tax and welfare through additional powers in the Scotland Act 2016. The UK Government are working with local government and local partners to deliver on their needs and wishes. That is real devolution in action.

Climate change talks at COP28 begin tomorrow, and one of the most important issues to be agreed is the climate loss and damage fund. The Secretary of State will know that Scotland has led the way on that, becoming the first country in the global north to pledge financial support to address loss and damage, but he and his Conservative colleagues are intent on limiting the Scottish Government’s international engagement. Can he tell me why he wants to silence Scotland’s voice and prevent us from providing that global leadership?

It is very straightforward. We understand that there will be environmental engagement overseas by the Scottish Government, and that is a devolved matter. What we have tried get a grip on is the Scottish Government travelling overseas, meeting Ministers, discussing reserved areas such as constitutional affairs and foreign affairs, and straying away from the portfolio of matters that are devolved to them. That is our position.

It is obvious that in order to cement a sense of economic resilience Scotland requires a population growth strategy, but the devolution settlement, unfit as it is, will not come anywhere near that, and the Government continue to set their face against it. Can the Secretary of State explain why?

If the Scottish Government want more people to settle in Scotland—and immigration is at a record high—they need to build more housing, have lower taxes and better public services, and make Scotland more attractive to people.

Does my right hon. Friend share my disappointment that the SNP-Green Scottish Government continue to use the devolution settlement as a platform to pursue constitutional grievances? In reality, would not achieving the best outcome for the people of Scotland and our constituents mean the two Governments working together on a project, for example the A75? If the Governments work together, that will actually be delivered.

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. The A75, along with the A77, came up as a vital route in the Union connectivity review by Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill—Sir Peter Hendy as he was at the time. We are finally working with the Scottish Government, and the UK Government are funding a feasibility study for the upgrade of the A75. I am delighted that progress is being made.

Is it not the case that the Scottish Government have consistently strayed outside the limits of the devolution settlements, so it is very difficult to take the SNP seriously as a defender of devolution when it has so little respect for the current settlement?

My hon. Friend is right. Everyone forgets that the Scottish Government get up every day and go to work to destroy devolution and the United Kingdom. The defenders of devolution and the strengtheners of the United Kingdom are this Government.

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Michael Shanks) not only on his vast—and fast—promotion to the shadow Front Bench but on the 20.4% swing from the SNP that brought him the by-election victory.

The announcement of the closure of the refinery at Grangemouth is a hammer blow. Too many communities are still living with the devastation of being left behind after coalmine closures in the 1980s. That must not be allowed to happen again. Grangemouth’s owner is buying football clubs and investing in plants elsewhere, while the workers lose out. The Prime Minister has decided that a culture war on the environment trumps getting the UK into the global green energy race by backing Labour’s green energy superpower plans. The devolution settlement demands that both Governments work together, but they certainly do not. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Scottish Government to protect jobs at Grangemouth? What impact will the closure have on the Acorn carbon capture and storage project?

First of all, it is a very worrying time for those whose jobs are at risk at the Grangemouth refinery. This morning, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont), and a Minister from the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero met Neil Gray from the Scottish Government, and yesterday my hon. Friend had a meeting with the local authority. Work is going on. It is ironic that the Scottish Government want to shut down oil and gas, because when that happens, people suddenly realise the need to manage a transition and take us gradually to net zero while protecting people’s livelihoods.

On Acorn and the Scottish cluster, I have spoken to the chief executive of Storegga, which is pulling the project together. He told me that the refinery closing has little impact on its project, because Grangemouth was supplying the blue hydrogen to the refinery and others, and the emissions from that were being put into the North sea.

It is the 25th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament next year—one of the Labour party’s proudest achievements. However, recently it has been riven by failure and scandal, from one in seven on NHS waiting lists to ferries, iPads and camper vans. Much has been made about the dual role of the Government-appointed Lord Advocate, who sits in the Scottish Cabinet while presiding over prosecutions in Scotland. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Scottish Government about Anas Sarwar’s idea to split the dual role of Scotland’s top law officer, to maintain the separation of powers between the Government and the judiciary?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Director of Public Prosecutions in England is appointed by a panel, which removes the risk of perceived interference by Government. Many learned friends have expressed their concerns to me about the structure in Scotland and the closeness between the judiciary and the Government, and I find their concerns understandable. It is vital that the public perception is that the prosecution service is very independent from Government.

I am sure the Secretary of State will agree that his mission to constrain and bypass the Scottish Parliament has been an absolute disaster for devolution. Relationships across the UK have never been as such a low level. Will he acknowledge that his version of aggressive Unionism has utterly failed? As he is leaving his office, will he pledge to abandon it entirely?

I am not entirely sure what I have done that has been a failure, to be honest. This Government protect devolution and the settlement. If he is referring to the section 35 order that I used, that was in the Scotland Act 1998 and was voted for at the time by SNP MPs. It is there to protect devolution when a devolved Administration legislates on Great Britain or UK matters.